Population growth remains a significant problem with regards to the environment. The strain of the human population stresses the environment and the ecosystem in a number of ways, including the need to clear land for space and the need for water to supply the population with basic necessities. This essay will discuss the problems of population growth and how it impacts the environment in a negative way.
The human population continues to expand in a dramatic way. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, there were approximately 1.6 billion individuals on the planet. Today, there are approximately 7.2 billion individuals on the planet. The world clock counts the number of individuals born daily, and the number rapidly increases. The rate of population growth is unsustainable. It is estimated that by the year 2100, there will be nearly 11 billion individuals on the planet (World Clock, 2014).
The impact of a burgeoning population on the environment is tremendous. While many individuals often discuss climate change in context to environmental problems, many experts actually believe that the overpopulation is the worst environmental crisis. Scientists argue that if overpopulation as a problem were solved, all of the other environmental problems, including climate change, would resolve themselves. Three of the problems that would resolve themselves include climate change, the water problems (or limited water, drought and waterborne disease) and deforestation.
Overpopulation results in the addition of more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Humans expel carbon dioxide as they breathe, which increases the amount of this gas in the atmosphere. Furthermore, humans often seek out energy sources in order to support their lifestyle and civilizations. The energy consumption is in opposition to other species that do not engage in similar activities. The types of energy that are often used by humans lead to the emission of greenhouse gases as well (Science Daily, 2009).
Furthermore, as humans require space on which to live and to raise food, forests are cleared to provide this land. As forests are cleared, there is an irreversible loss of species, as well as the ability for the forests to produce oxygen and reduce greenhouse gases in the environment. In addition, humans also require daily water for basic needs, such as eating, drinking, washing and cleaning. There is a limit to the amount of freshwater on the planet. As population increases, the aquifers have been drained. There have been water wars between communities with regards to who owns the rights to water sources. There have also been a number of droughts. If the population were only one billion, these problems would not be nearly as severe (Science Daily, 2009). Overpopulation truly is the most serious threat to the environment.
Differences in Countries
It must be noted that population growth has not been steady between developed countries and developing or lesser developed countries (LDCs; previously referred to as Third-World Countries). The population growth in many developed countries has levelled off or even begun to show a decline. However, the population growth in many developing countries has continued to expand at an exponential rate. The high fertility countries exist predominantly in Africa and Asia (United Nations Population Fund, 2014). There are several reasons for this difference. These reasons will be discussed in the next section.
Population in developed countries is stable or declining. In many of these industrial countries, the cost of raising a child is prohibitive. Furthermore, a woman delays childbearing due to educational and career opportunities. However, in developing countries, which are still agrarian, additional children can help to work the land. Furthermore, women began childbearing at younger ages, leading to more children. For most of history, the infant mortality rate was much higher than it currently is. (In many countries, it is still tragically high.) As countries become developed, children survive past the age of five. As countries transition from an agrarian model to an industrial model, the family still had a large number of children, but the children live past early childhood. This helps to lead to an overpopulation problem. These situations have helped lead developing countries to have a high level of fertility at a time when infant and early childhood mortality rates have begun to decrease. The overall outcome is an increase in global population. It must be noted that over eighty percent of individuals in the world live in developing countries. By the year 2100, it is predicted that 98% of individuals will live in developing countries (Moore, 2002, pp. 60-65).
While developed countries are often blamed for the environmental problems, such as climate change, this is incorrect. It is true that industrialization does lead to pollution. However, since the first part of this essay discussed that overpopulation is the true cause of the environmental concerns, then the developing countries must be recognized as the place where environmental policy should focus. Environmental policy needs to focus on an interdisciplinary approach, which combines with biology and public health fields to aim towards population control. In the end, the best way to control environmental damage is with birth control in the developing countries. While pollution control in Detroit is critical, controlling the population in the developing countries is paramount.
- Moore, GS. (2002). Living with the earth. 2nd ed. Boca Raton: Lewis Publishers.
- Science Daily. (2009, April 20). Worst environmental problem? Overpopulation. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090418075752.htm
- United Nations Population Fund. (2014). Population trends. Retrieved from: http://www.unfpa.org/pds/trends.htm
- World Clock. (2014). Population. Retrieved from: http://www.worldometers.info/world- population/