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Sustainability is critical if we are to ensure humanity's future on Earth. Population increase typically puts a strain on available resources. California is no exception, especially given that, while having just over 4% of the total surface area of the United States, it is home to 12% of the country's population. The assessment of expanding population demands, environmental impact, and solutions and difficulties is critical due to their major impact on the future of California's population.
California's rising population has a few environmental and natural resource needs that must be satisfied in order for the state to remain. They are food, shelter, water, and energy. The arable land in California has been decreasing steadily as the population grows. Population growth translates to the utilization of more land for shelter and infrastructure needs. Most of such land is acquired from arable land which is illustrated by the U.S. Agriculture Census data which shows that California lost more than 1.2 million acres of farmland between 1997 and 2002. Current food needs of California are being met sufficiently with the State even exporting agricultural products in the State.
The shelter needs of a population are usually supported by natural resources such as land, construction materials, water, and energy. As available land for development decreases especially considering competition with agriculture and environmental protection needs, the challenge is real. The pressure on natural resources increases with construction developments which, therefore, calls for careful planning. Water is a necessary resource if the food supply system is to be maintained. Its contribution to urban development is also significant especially if annual precipitation cannot support the needs of the population as is the case in the drier southern parts of California. Water is a key concern since it is usually imported from other regions. Energy is also an important need of a population since it is used in food production, water transport, building and construction, transport, and industrial development. California currently consumes about 30 trillion kilowatts of energy, with petroleum being the most prominent followed by electricity and natural gas. About half of the energy consumed in California is imported from other states. California is top in the country when it comes to producing electricity using non- hydropower renewable sources such as wind power, geothermal power, solar power, and landfill gas.
The environmental impact of the growing population of California can be assessed using a variety of methods. The ecological footprint of a typical resident of the United States is 24 global acres compared to that of a typical world resident which is 5.4 global acres. California is doing comparatively better than other states in this respect with it having among the lowest per capita emission rates. Land degradation is commonplace in California especially in the rigid mountain environment and arid environment. It also widespread in agricultural lands. The effects of land degradation are usually widespread and include decreased agricultural productivity, sediment flow in streams and reservoirs, and loss of native fauna and flora. The environmental pollution status is also a key indicator of the environmental impact of the growing population. While the major source of population in urban areas is transportation and energy consumption, the major source of pollution in rural areas is agriculture. Chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides are considerable contributors to pollution. Irrigation has gradually increased salinity which when coupled with the chemicals is a great threat to the environment. Diminishing biodiversity, decreasing wildlife, and unhealthful living conditions have all come as a result. The impact of global warming is being seen in California with frequent extreme weather events such as prolonged drought. This has negatively affected agriculture in California.
The state of the environment and natural resources can be solved in various ways. First is through the use of renewable and alternative energy sources. California is already a leading state in exploring energy solutions. Solar energy has great potential due to its renewable nature and the fact that it does not pollute the environment. Hydropower is responsible for 19 percent of California’s electricity. It is a clean and renewable source but the interruption of the natural flow of rivers causes alterations of the ecological balance of the immediate environment. Geothermal power is another alternative power source in California with 9 geothermal plants already in operation. Wind power is prominent in California with the state leading the country in wind power production. The associated costs and the instability of the wind as a source are limitations of wind power. Nuclear power is very productive but production of radioactive waste material could be a public health hazard if not disposed of properly. Other alternative sources such as wave- generated power and biomass could also be used.
The production of fuel- efficient cars that consume cleaner fuels, or even reducing the number of motor vehicles could greatly reduce associated air pollution. Electric and hybrid vehicles, biodiesel- powered cars, and hydrogen- powered cars could greatly solve this problem. Land degradation could be solved by using alternative agricultural practices such as using multi- crop rotation, diversifying crops, and basing crop selection on conditions specific to the site. Mobilizing the conservation of the environment and natural resources from the home level could help reduce the environmental footprint due to the significant contribution of homes. This regard water, energy, and waste disposal.
California, like any other State in the United States, is facing a sustainability problem. Securing natural resources for future generations is important and as such necessary steps should be taken to ensure sustainability. The use of alternative energy sources, better and fewer cars, sustainable home practices, protecting and improving biodiversity, and education of the public would help move towards a sustainable California. This would preserve the fate of the future generations.
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