What is Overpopulation?
Overpopulation is an undesirable condition where the number of existing human population exceeds the carrying capacity of Earth. Overpopulation is caused by number of factors. Reduced mortality rate, better medical facilities, depletion of precious resources are few of the causes which results in overpopulation. It is possible for a sparsely populated area to become densely populated if it is not able to sustain life.
Growing advances in technology with each coming year has affected humanity in many ways. One of these has been the ability to save lives and create better medical treatment for all. A direct result of this has been increased lifespan and the growth of the population. In the past fifty or so years, the growth of population has boomed and has turned into overpopulation. In the history of our species, the birth and death rate have always been able to balance each and maintain a population growth rate that is sustainable.
Since the time of the Bubonic Plague in the 1400’s, the growth of population has been on a constant increase. Between the time of the plague and the 21st century, there was been hundreds and thousands of wars, natural calamities and man-made hazards. However, none of these have made a dent on the population. Developing nations face the problem of overpopulation more than developed countries, but it affects most of the Earth as of now. When we are talking about overpopulation, we should first understand the causes of it.
Causes of Overpopulation
Decline in the Death Rate: At the root of overpopulation is the difference between the overall birth rate and death rate in populations. If the number of children born each year equals the number of adults that die, then the population will stabilize. Talking about overpopulation shows that while there are many factors that can increase the death rate for short periods of time, the ones that increase the birth rate do so over a long period of time. The discovery of agriculture by our ancestors was one factor that provided them with the ability to sustain their nutrition without hunting. This created the first imbalance between the two rates.
Better Medical Facilities: Following this came the industrial revolution. Technological advancement was perhaps the biggest reason why the balance has been permanently disturbed. Science was able to produce better means of producing food, which allowed families to feed more mouths. Medical science made many discoveries thanks to which they were able to defeat a whole range of diseases. Illnesses that had claimed thousands of lives till now were cured because of the invention of vaccines. Combining the increase in food supply with fewer means of mortality tipped the balance and became the starting point of overpopulation.
More Hands to Overcome Poverty: However, when talking about overpopulation we should understand that there is a psychological component as well. For thousands of years, a very small part of the population had enough money to live in comfort. The rest faced poverty and would give birth to large families to make up for the high infant mortality rate. Families that have been through poverty, natural disasters or are simply in need of more hands to work are a major factor for overpopulation. As compared to earlier times, most of these extra children survive and consume resources that are not sufficient in nature.
Technological Advancement in Fertility Treatment: With latest technological advancement and more discoveries in medical science, it has become possible for couple who are unable to conceive to undergo fertility treatment methods and have their own babies. Today there are effective medicines which can increases the chance of conception and lead to rise in birth rate. Moreover, due to modern techniques pregnancies today are far more safer.
Immigration: Many people prefer to move to developed countries like US, UK, Canada and Australia where best facilities are available in terms of medical, education, security and employment. The end result is that those people settle over there and those places become overcrowded. Difference between the number of people who are leaving the country and the number of people who enter narrows down which leads to more demand for food, clothes, energy and homes. This gives rise to shortage of resources. Though the overall population remains the same, it just affects the density of population making that place simply overcrowded.
Lack of Family Planning: Most developing nations have large number of people who are illiterate, live below the poverty line and have little or no knowledge about family planning. Getting their children married at an early age increase the chances of producing more kids. Those people are unable to understand the harmful effects of overpopulation and lack of quality education prompts them to avoid family planning measures.
Effects of Overpopulation
Depletion of Natural Resources: The effects of overpopulation are quite severe. The first of these is the depletion of resources. The Earth can only produce a limited amount of water and food, which is falling short of the current needs. Most of the environmental damage being seen in the last fifty odd years is because of the growing number of people on the planet. They are cutting down forests, hunting wildlife in a reckless manner, causing pollution and creating a host of problems. Those engaged in talking about overpopulation have noticed that acts of violence and aggression outside of a war zone have increased tremendously while competing for resources.
Degradation of Environment: With the overuse of coal, oil and natural gas, it has started producing some serious effects on our environment. Rise in the number of vehicles and industries have badly affected the quality of air. Rise in amount of CO2 emissions leads to global warming. Melting of polar ice caps, changing climate patterns, rise in sea level are few of the consequences that we might we have to face due to environment pollution.
Conflicts and Wars: Overpopulation in developing countries puts a major strain on the resources it should be utilizing for development. Conflicts over water are becoming a source of tension between countries, which could result in wars. It causes more diseases to spread and makes them harder to control. Starvation is a huge issue facing the world and the mortality rate for children is being fuelled by it. Poverty is the biggest hallmark we see when talking about overpopulation. All of this will only become worse if solutions are not sought out for the factors affecting our population. We can no longer prevent it, but there are ways to control it.
Rise in Unemployment: When a country becomes overpopulated, it gives rise to unemployment as there fewer jobs to support large number of people. Rise in unemployment gives rise to crime as people will steal various items to feed their family and provide them basic amenities of life.
High Cost of Living: As difference between demand and supply continues to expand due to overpopulation, it raises the prices of various commodities including food, shelter and healthcare. This means that people have to pay more to survive and feed their families.
Solutions to Overpopulation
Better Education: One of the first measures is to implement policies reflecting social change. Educating the masses helps them understand the need to have one or two children at the most. Similarly, education plays a vital role in understanding latest technologies like CloudDesktopOnline that are making huge waves in the world of computing. Families that are facing a hard life and choose to have four or five children should be discouraged. Family planning and efficient birth control can help in women making their own reproductive choices. Open dialogue on abortion and voluntary sterilization should be seen when talking about overpopulation.
Making People Aware of Family Planning: As population of this world is growing at a rapid pace, raising awareness among people regarding family planning and letting them know about serious after effects of overpopulation can help curb population growth. One of the best way is to let them know about various safe sex techniques and contraceptives methods available to avoid any unwanted pregnancy.
Tax Benefits or Concessions: Government of various countries might have to come with various policies related to tax exemptions to curb overpopulation. One of them might be to waive of certain part of income tax or lowering rates of income tax for those married couples who have single or two children. As we humans are more inclined towards money, this may produce some positive results.
Knowledge of Sex Education: Imparting sex education to young kids at elementary level should be must. Most parents feel shy in discussing such things with their kids which result in their children going out and look out for such information on internet or discuss it with their peers. Mostly, the information is incomplete which results in sexually active teenagers unaware of contraceptives and embarrassed to seek information about same. It is therefore important for parents and teachers to shed their old inhibitions and make their kids or students aware of solid sex education.
Image credit: Saad Akhtar
Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.
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Over the last half century the population of the world has exploded. At the time of writing there are seven billion people on the planet and this number is projected to grow in a short period of time.
Of all of the environmental challenges facing the planet today overpopulation is one that sometimes slips under the radar. Issues like pollution, climate change and water shortages all seem to take precedence, but overpopulation is one of the main contributors to many other environmental issues.
Overpopulation will place great demands on resources and land, leading to widespread environmental issues in addition to impacting global economies and standards of living.
The issue is compounded by the difficulty in providing solutions for this problem and misunderstanding of the causes and effects of overpopulation.
Here we will cover both causes and effects of overpopulation in order for you to have a more informed view of the risks that come with it.
There are a number of factors that contribute to overpopulation. These are the leading causes:
Poverty is believed to be the leading cause of overpopulation. A lack of educational resources, coupled with high death rates leading to higher birth rates, result in impoverished areas seeing large booms in population.
The effect is so extensive that the UN has predicted that the forty-eight poorest countries in the world are also likely to be the biggest contributors to population growth. Their estimates state that the combined population of these countries is likely to balloon to 1.7 billion in 2050, from 850 million in 2010.
Poor Contraceptive Use
Though the availability of contraceptives is widespread in developed countries, poor planning on both partners’ parts can lead to unexpected pregnancies. Statistics have shown that in Great Britain 76% of women aged between 16 and 49 used at least one form of contraceptive, leaving a quarter open to unexpected pregnancies.
This issue is exacerbated in underdeveloped areas. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that this usage figure drops to 43% in countries that are blighted by issues like poverty, which leads to higher birth rates.
As distressing as it may be to hear, child labor is still used extensively in many parts of the world. UNICEF estimates that approximately 150 million children are currently working, primarily in countries that have few child labor laws.
This can result in children being seen as a source of income by impoverished families. Furthermore, children who begin work too young also lose the educational opportunities they should be granted, particularly when it comes to birth control.
Reduced Mortality Rates
Improvement in medical technology has led to lower mortality rates for many serious diseases. Particularly dangerous viruses and ailments such as polio, smallpox and measles have been practically eradicated by such advances.
While this is positive news in many ways, it also means that people are living longer than ever before. This “delay” in the cycle of life and death has led to birth rates outstripping death rates by over two to one in modern times.
Though it only plays a minor role in comparison to the other causes of overpopulation, improved fertility treatments have made it possible for more people to have children.
The number of women using various fertility treatments has been on the rise since their inception. Now most have the option of conceiving children, even if they may not have been able to do so without such treatments.
Unchecked immigration into countries may lead to overpopulation to the point where those countries no longer have the required resources for their population. This is particularly problematic in countries where immigration numbers far exceed emigration numbers.
In some cases, immigrants may be attempting to escape overpopulation in their own countries, only to contribute to the same issues in the countries they move to. However, data also exists to show the immigration can bolster economies, with the effect in the UK being particularly pronounced.
Overpopulation can have a number of effects, most of which are negative as examined below.
Lack of Water
Overpopulation creates greater demand on the world’s freshwater supplies. As only roughly 1% of the world’s water is fresh and accessible, this creates a major issue.
Some estimates state that human demand for fresh water will stand at approximately 70% of what is available on the planet by 2025. This will place those living in impoverished areas that already have limited access to such water at great risk.
Lower Life Expectancy
While higher life expectancy is leading to increases in population in developed countries, lower life expectancy may be caused by the booms in population that less developed nations are experiencing.
A large proportion of the world’s population growth occurs in less developed countries. This stretches the resources these countries have thinner resulting in less access to medical care, fresh water, food and jobs, all resulting in a fall in life expectancy.
The effect of overpopulation on the world’s wildlife is also a major issue. As demand for land grows, so too does the destruction of natural habitats, such as forests.
Some scientists warn that if present trends continue, as many as 50% of the world’s wildlife species will be at risk of extinction. Data has also been collected to show that there is a direct link between increases in human population and decreases in the number of species on the planet.
As the population grows, so too does the amount of resources needed to keep so many people alive. Food, water and fossil fuels are all being consumed at record rates, placing greater demands on producers and the planet itself.
Ironically, it is the discovery of many of these natural resources – particularly fossil fuels – that have contributed to conditions that are favorable to population growth. A study has shown that the world’s ecosystem changed more rapidly in the latter-half of the twentieth century than at any other point in history because of increased use of these resources.
Increased Intensive Farming
As population has grown over the years, farming practices have evolved to produce enough food to feed larger numbers of people. However, intensive farming methods also cause damage to local ecosystems and the land, which may pose problems in the future.
Furthermore, intensive farming is also considered a major contributor to climate change due to the machinery required. This effect will likely intensify if the population continues to grow at its current rate.
Faster Climate Change
Overpopulation directly correlates to climate change, particularly as larger nations, like China and India, continue to develop their industrial capacities. They now rank as two of the three largest contributors to emissions in the world, alongside the United States.
97% of the scientific community agrees that human activities are changing global temperatures. Larger populations may speed these changes up, especially if more is not done to reduce individual carbon footprints on a wide scale.
So now we know more about overpopulation and the effects it can have, but what can be done about it? There are a number of proposed solutions.
Better Sex Education
A lack of sex education – or poorly-implemented education – has led to overpopulation issues in many countries. The issue is so pronounced that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is calling for improvements to be made, particularly in poorer areas of the world.
Better education will help people understand more about the potential consequences of having sex as they relate to child birth. It will also do away with many of the myths that surround the sexual act and introduce scientifically-proven methods of birth control.
Access to Contraceptives
Access to birth control must go hand-in-hand with better sex education. After all, without it people cannot put what they have learned into practice.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 225 million women who are living in the developing countries would prefer to postpone giving birth but are not using any form of contraception. Many organizations, such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), also support improving access to contraceptives.
Changes in Policy
Many nations offer rewards, whether in the form of financial incentives or increased benefits, to those who have more children. This may lead to some couples having more children than they otherwise would if they needed to worry about the financial consequences.
This is a difficult issue to confront. China’s “One-Child’ policy was recently abandoned, in part, because of the restrictions it placed on freedom, and it is likely that similar policies would be seen as equally restrictive.
Education on the Subject
While a number of organizations exist to provide schools with curricula and teaching materials to cover the subject of overpopulation, it is still a subject that is not covered in schools as well as it should be.
This education should extend beyond talking about sex and into the global consequences of overpopulation. Dialog about the subject needs to be more open, with sites like debate.org offering useful resources that allow the issue to be confronted rationally.
The Final Word
Overpopulation is a crisis that potentially stands alongside climate change as one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today.
Despite this, there is little in the way of education or dialog relating to the issue, particularly in schools.
If this doesn’t change, the issues highlighted in this article may continue to grow unabated. If that happens, this one issue could have a knock-on effect that will lead to untold problems in the future.
If you wish to share your own opinions about overpopulation, please do continue the debate in the comments section below. Alternatively, share this article on social media to encourage a conversation in your own community.
Featured Image Credit: James Cridland @ Flickr