Is Population the Problem?

A. Tsiongas

In our industrialized and gobal-warming age we’re concerned with sustainability. Sustainability of the industries that keep our economy alive, sustainability of our practices, and probably most of all, sustainability of the natural resources that all humans utilize. The question everyone’s asking about oil is When will it run out? But even in terms of something as simple as food to feed the rising population of our earth, we must ask Will there be enough?

This is a legitimate worry. There are over 6.5 billion people in the world today, and by the end of the year 2050, it’s predicted that the human population will reach 9 billion. As a whole, the human population is growing. But growth is not occurring equally in all places. Almost all of the world population growth is expected to happen in cities in developing countries. (Moss) Africa’s population is predicted to nearly double to 2 billion people by 2050, and South Asia is expected to acquire an addition 1 billion people in the next 50 years.

These are some worrisome figures when we start to wonder what our earth and its natural resources can sustain. It is very easy to match up rising population with depletion of resources. But the crucial element in the population equation is where population growth is taking place. Places like Kenya and Pakistan, for example, have high population growth rates, but their consumption rates are very low. It turns out that the Third World, though it is experiencing the largest increase in population, is using up a marginal amount of resources.

Population growth in the world’s wealthiest and most industrialized nations is dropping. The United States is unique in that its population is increasing at 1% per year, making it the fastest growing industrial nation. And yet the First World (Americans included) is consuming 32 times more resources than the rest of the world. That’s 32 times more gas, more metals, and 32 times more waste such as plastics and greenhouse gases. Put simply, one American equals 32 Kenyans in his or her impact on our world.

The world’s eight most industrialized nations are Britain, Italy, Canada, the United States, France, Russia, Germany, and Japan. Their populations are dropping (expect for the United States). Russia especially is decreasing the most severely of any country. Population, though certainly important, is not the core of the problem of depleting natural resources. Those countries that contribute the most are not growing. And they don’t have to continue the damage they’re doing. Our biggest problem is not how many people there are, but how much those people are consuming.

The First World alone is not consuming at a sustainable rate. Even if the Second and Third Worlds did not exist, the First World would not be able to sustain itself on its current consumption rates. Growing population in the Third World is not so much a tragedy in that it will use up value resources, but in that there will not be resources available for all these people when they arrive.

Population growth is a serious issue. But we need to learn to look past numbers and look toward lowering our own consumption rates. Those places on the globe with the lowest population growth rates are consuming enough to deplete our earth on their own, and this is concerning for all of us, but especially those people in the Third World who will necessarily have to do without.

"Population versus consumption." Living on Earth. Dr. Jared Diamond. 25 Jan 2008.

Moss, Jill. "Population Growth is Dropping in Industrialized Nations and Increasing in Some Developing Ones." VOA News . 18 Apr 2006. 20 Mar 2008

Seoul , Kurt Achin . " Japan Urges Industrialized Nations to Give More Aid, Fight Global Warming." VOA News. 05 Apr 2008. 15 Apr 2008



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last updated 4/15/08