Oliver Steinglass

Population growth occurs when the birth rate exceeds the death rate. The world population growth rate has increased as technology has developed. Advancements in technology have helped treat common diseases, increasing life expectancy and decreasing mortality rate. Improvements in agricultural technology have led to increased food production. The risk associated with pregnancy has decreased, and new technology has helped increase pregnancy success. Almost 6 billion people live in developing countries and those countries will see the largest population growth. This is due to the fact that sex education and contraception are less available. Infant mortality rates are higher in developing countries, which means that people tend to have more babies because they do not expect all of their children to live past infancy. Infant mortality rate has halved since 1990, but people’s mindset has not adjusted, so they are having the same amount of children as before, yet more are surviving thanks to new technological advancements in health, adding to the already rapidly growing population. According to Paul Ehrlich the sustainable population level is 2 billion people, we’re already well past that point and some estimates suggest that by 2100 the world’s population will reach 12 billion. This overpopulation poses many risks.

People in developing countries are already struggling with food shortages and an increased population means more mouths to feed, which will increase pressures on food production in the developing world. This pressure leads to increased meat production, which increases greenhouse gases, specifically methane, in the atmosphere, which in turn contributes to global warming. Furthermore, a greater need for food will lead to higher levels of deforestation to make space for farming and raising livestock. This deforestation will also contribute to higher levels of greenhouse gases. In addition, only one percent of water on Earth is drinkable, meaning that one in ten people do not have access to clean drinking water. As mentioned earlier, the vast majority (90%) of the new population will be in developing countries. Many of these countries are already over populated and are already stretching the limits of their resources. If population continues to increase at the current rate many parts of Earth will face serious water shortages in the next 50 years. Water is not only used for drinking. It is also used for cooking, cleaning, and product manufacturing. Every time humans use water for any of these purposes, the quality of the water decreases. For example, water used for irrigation will collect chemical remnants on crops when it drains away. It can be very difficult to remove the chemicals in the water. The greater the population, the greater the levels of water consumption, and the lower the water quality.

Another issue is greenhouse gas production. Nearly 90% of greenhouse gases are from human activity, and more people will result in more greenhouse gases and more global warming. China is already expected to overtake the United States in carbon dioxide production by 2020 because of population growth. In the US the carbon legacy of a single child will be more than 20 times more greenhouse gases than “a person would save by driving a high-mileage car, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs” (http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/climate/). Each new child born will add (on average) 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This carbon footprint is double that of Europe, five times as large as the global average and ten times as large as the average developing country. This is especially an issue because the United States is the only developed country experiencing significant population growth. One-third of carbon emissions in the US is from the transportation sector and more and more people are becoming dependant on cars for transportation. As population continues to grow, even more people will use cars and emit more carbon. One-fifth of emissions are from the residential sector, where the average house size has increased despite average household size decreasing from 3.1 in 1970 to 2.6 in 2000. As a result more people are driving further to live in larger houses that use more energy despite shrinking household size. Essentially a smaller carbon output per capita will improve the US’ carbon emissions, however, if population continues to grow it will outweigh the improved carbon footprint. This is one reason why overpopulation is a huge issue in regards to climate change.

There are several solutions to the potent threat of overpopulation. The main solution is family planning. By controlling the amount of children in a family India’s average number of children per woman dropped from 6 in 1950 to 2.6 in 2011. In Mexico the average dropped from 7 in 1965 to 2.2 in 2011. Currently there is limited access to birth control in the developing world. According to research group Guttmacher Institute there are 215 million women who want to avoid pregnancy but have no access to contraception. By providing worldwide access to birth control hundreds of millions of unwanted pregnancies could be prevented, seriously reducing the population growth rate. Furthermore, improving women’s education would also reduce population growth as educated women tend to have fewer children than uneducated women. Once again most of the uneducated women live in developing countries where there isn’t much access to contraception and where population growth is already high. All of these factors are connected which lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and population growth.

Robert Engelman, former president of Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research group, provided nine means of combating overpopulation in his book State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity. His first solution has already been mentioned, providing universal birth control. Two in five pregnancies are not planned, and providing everyone on earth with safe, effective birth control would slow the population growth rate. The second solution is improving women’s education around the world, especially in developing countries with high birth rates. It has been proven that more educated women tend to have fewer children. Removing gender bias from culture and law around the world will also help decrease growth rate, when women have equal rights to men they tend to wait longer to have children and have fewer children. Sex education for all students can also help prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce birth-rate. Continuing in the vein of education, educating individuals on how their decisions (include childbearing) impact the environment may help further reduce birth rate. Helping families to understand the financial cost of having an additional child may also help them come to the decision that more children are unnecessary, which would also slow population growth. One reason why governments encourage couples to have more children is when a country is experiencing an aging population. A different solution, rather than increasing population growth rate, may be to encourage people to work and add to the labor force. Finally, leaders around the world must all be on the same page about this issue, they must provide their citizens with birth control and education in order to slow the rapid population growth rate.

The issue of overpopulation is clearly related to human nature, technology and the environment. It is human nature to procreate and to develop as a society. This development has led to higher birth rates and lower death rates, and has started to lead towards overpopulation. It is our technology that has allowed us to increase our population so rapidly, and it is our technology that will help us solve this issue. The earth is only able to support so many humans, a point we have passed long ago according to some, and by overpopulating the world we are adding to global warming, deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems. In order to solve many of the issues our world is facing we must first solve the issue of overpopulation.


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