Overpopulation and Its Implications Alexander Stuart



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Overpopulation and Its Implications

Alexander Stuart

December 6, 2015

Throughout its history, humanity has overcome immense obstacles threatening its survival, as well as made such staggering and innovative advances in technology and science. We are one of the most resilient and resourceful species that the planet Earth has ever known, and our cognitive and physical abilities surpass most other species to have ever existed on the planet to date. These advantages however, have presented us with a unique problem: overpopulation. Overpopulation is such a tender topic because it raises issues with something that humans hold dear: reproducing. It flies in the face of many cultural views on family and children. That is the reason I chose to report on this topic. I intend to explore the causes, implications, and realistic potential solutions that may present themselves.

Overpopulation is a function of the number of individuals compared to the relevant resources, such as the water and essential nutrients they need to survive. It can result from an increase in births, a decline in mortality rates, an increase in immigration, or an unsustainable biome and depletion of resources. In essence, it means that there are more individuals in an environment than the environment or its resources can support.

The total number of living humans on Earth is now greater than 7 billion (having reached this number in 2012). This large world population size is only a rather recent development. Just around 200 years ago the world population was less than 1 billion. Due to poverty, high mortality rates and recurring crises and illnesses the world population grew only very slowly in millennia before the onset of the Enlightenment. Since the 18th century however, the population of the world has seen a tremendous and rapid increase; between 1900 and 2000 the increase in world population was three times as great as the increase during the entire previous history of humankind. In the 20th century alone, the world population increased from 1.5 to 6.1 billion.

The causes of this rapid growth phenomenon are not difficult to discern. Centuries of scientific, technological, and medical research and experimentation have provided us with inventions and knowledge that have drastically increased the quality and length of human lives globally. More people also means more potential inventors or researchers, which in turn means greater potential population growth as these inventions save lives and make living easier. Though birth rates are at historic lows worldwide as people wait longer to reproduce, death rates are also at all-time lows due to incredible advancements in medicine. Modern humans are healthier, wealthier, and have much longer lives than humans of previous millennia.

As tremendous and awe-inspiring as these advances are, the problem is apparent. Earth does not have unlimited habitable space, and it does not have an unlimited supply of resources. Humanity is working on solutions, but for the time being, resources are being consumed at an unsustainable rate. A number of scientists have argued that the current global population expansion and accompanying increase in resource consumption threatens the world's ecosystem, as well as straining humanity's ability to feed itself. The InterAcademy Panel Statement on Population Growth, which was ratified by 58 member national academies in 1994, called the growth in human numbers "unprecedented", and stated that many environmental problems, such as rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming, and pollution, were aggravated by the population expansion. Indeed, some analysts claim that overpopulation's most serious impact is its effect on the environment. At the time of the 1994 IAP statement, the world population stood at 5.5 billion, and lower-bound scenarios predicted a peak of 7.8 billion by 2050, a number that current estimates state will be reached in the late 2020s.

Overpopulation not only threatens the food supply of humanity, but the planet we call home as well. Each person adds to the ever-increasing pollution of the earth. If the trend continues, Earth will become less and less habitable, magnifying the overpopulation problem.

In order to reduce the adverse impacts of overpopulation, mitigation measures, such as spreading awareness and education about overpopulation, enacting birth control measures and regulations, and providing universal access to birth control devices and family planning, must be taken. Until recently, China had restrictions in place that limited the amount of offspring that a couple could produce. Many, including myself, do not agree with the enforceability, practicality, or morality of such restrictions.

The absolute best ways to prevent overpopulation are to provide universal access to safe and effective contraceptive options for both sexes, offer age-appropriate sexuality education for all students, end all policies that reward parents financially based on the number of children they have, integrate lessons on population, environment, and development into school curricula at multiple levels, adjust to an aging population instead of boosting childbearing through government incentives and programs, and striving to convince leaders to commit to stabilizing population growth through the exercise of human rights and human development.

In conclusion, we as humans are both the problem and the solution. We just need to be educated and free to control our own reproduction. We are creeping ever closer to 8 Billion, and if we intend to halt the explosive growth, we need to understand the problem and enact the solutions listed above.

Appendix


  • Haub, Carl (October 2011). "How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?". Population Reference Bureau. Retrieved April 29, 2013.

  • Max Roser (2015) – ‘World Population Growth’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: http://ourworldindata.org/data/population-growth-vital-statistics/world-population-growth/ [Online Resource]

  • "Current World Population." World Population Clock: 7.3 Billion People (2015). Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

  • "Overpopulation: Causes, Effects and Solutions - Conserve Energy Future." ConserveEnergyFuture. 3 June 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.


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