Overpopulation and the Environment:
Is Population Control the Solution?
The current global population is booming: 6.8 billion people, as compared
to only one billion people only about 200 years ago. There’s no end
in sight for our earth’s population growth – the population
is expected to increase by 1.23% per year. This means bad news for the Earth;
there’s no question that the higher the population a country or the
planet has, the more environmental degradation occurs. The more people there
are, the more resource use occurs. Our Earth is already being pushed to
its limits, resource-wise. There’s no question that the population
needs to be controlled – but will it truly improve the state of the
First of all, the adverse effects of overpopulation must be examined. Pollution
of all types increases due to people living in close quarters. More cars
on the roads leads more air pollution, and a higher population leads to
water pollution, since there are more opportunities to dump waste in the
oceans. The oceans will also be depleted because of overfishing.
In addition, with the clustering of people into cities and the increasing
technological advances, global warming has become a problem. More fossil
fuels are being burned, which leads to higher levels of greenhouse gases
(the level of greenhouse gases has increased by 61% by 1970) and subsequently,
warmer global temperatures. This will lead to rising sea levels and the
potential for areas to be flooded and agriculture to be destroyed. Global
warming will also cause more extreme weather events such as severe droughts
and storm patterns, which in themselves can also cause habitats to be destroyed
beyond reasonable repair.
Of course, the more people there are, the more room they must need in order
to build homes and businesses, as well as grow food. Thus, deforestation
is occurring at alarmingly high rates. Eighty percent of the Earth’s
original forests have disappeared and one-third to one-half of the Earth’s
surface has been transformed from its original state. As a result, two-thirds
of Earth’s species might disappear by the end of this century due
to their loss of habitat. The Green Revolution of the 1960s made agriculture
much more fruitful with the introduction of pesticides, fertilizers and
irrigation – more food could then be produced for the Earth’s
burgeoning population. However, agriculture uses most of the Earth’s
available freshwater – more than half of it is currently being used
– by 2025, this percentage could increase to 70%. Increasing numbers
of livestock degrade the land because of constant grazing, and the usage
of pesticides has led to not only the disappearance of certain plants and
insects that are beneficial to the environment, but also the pollution of
rivers and oceans due to run-off.
So, countries around the world have instituted international family planning
(IFP), which offers financial assistance to fund programs that advocate
the responsible planning of the number and spacing of children. IFP prevents
women from having high-risk or unintended pregnancies, provides contraceptives
and education for girls (women who are educated have less children later
in life; in addition, better educated women tend to be wealthier, and therefore
don’t feel the need to have children who can work to support the family)
and provides better overall pre- and post-natal care (if the infant mortality
rate drops, families will feel less compelled to more children to “replace”
the ones who died). IFP appears to be successful; contraceptive use is now
30% higher since the mid-1960s.
The thing is, does IFP really help to slow the rate of environmental degradation?
It remains to be seen. Much of the damage done to the environment has been
so great, it cannot be easily reversed. After all, IFP was only instituted
in the middle of the 20th century, after centuries and centuries of damage
to the Earth. It will take many more years of countries’ meticulous
institution of IFP in order to determine what effects it has, if any.
There are also some ethical issues involved with IFP. China, the most populous
country in the world, instituted a “one-child” policy in order
to control their rapidly growing population. This rule does not extend throughout
all of China – ethnic minorities and people living in rural areas
are exempt. However, the “one-child” policy seems to be working;
established in 1979 by Deng Xiaoping, the population growth has been reduced
by as many as 300 people since then. So if this policy does indeed work,
what’s wrong with it? Human rights advocates cite China’s use
of not only fines to punish those families with more than one child, but
also forced abortions and sterilizations as violations of basic human rights.
After all, shouldn’t people have the right to choose how many children
they want? Also, sexism is inherent in this policy; many families will have
gender-specific abortions and only abort female babies. Now, the gender
ratio for babies born in China is 118 males for every 100 females, as compared
to 105 males for every 100 females in most other parts of the world.
The idea of population control as a way to lessen environmental degradation is a complex one; ethics and human rights are involved, not just global warming and pollution. It is not even clear whether IFP even works in the long run. Thus, the best way to combat our Earth’s growing population and its effect on the environment is to educate people about what they can do to reduce their impact on natural resources.
"China's One-Child Policy." 7 Feb 2006. 23 April 2006. <http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/onechild.htm>
"Global Population Growth: The Numbers and What They Mean." National Wildlife Federation. 30 March 2005. 22 April 2006. <http://www.nwf.org/population>
"The Importance of International Family Planning." National Wildlife Federation. 30 March 2005. 22 April 2006. <http://www.nwf.org/population>
"Population and Agriculture." National Wildlife Federation. 30 March 2005. 22 April 2006. <http://www.nwf.org/population>
"Population and Forests." National Wildlife Federation. 30 March 2005. 22 April 2006. <http://www.nwf.org/population>
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