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Human overpopulation refers to a human population being too large in a way that their society or environment cannot readily sustain them. If one tries to imagine a bird’s eye view of just our city, we see humans hustling and bustling on the ground like ants. It makes one imagine how many more humans exist on the Earth and how many have existed before us or will exist right after us. This essay briefly discusses all you need to know about this social issue.
But was overpopulation always a problem?
There was a time when the population of a kingdom was considered to be a form of wealth, as it made it possible to create bigger markets and armies. But now, the tables have turned. With the complexities of the modern lifestyle and the reckless attitude that humans have shown towards the environment, it has definitely become a form of loss.
Human population growth adds 80 million humans annually on the face of this Earth. The population has grown seven-fold over the last 200 years, and it continues to grow exponentially. The fastest growth of the world population took place between 1950 and 1986: a doubling from 2.5 to 5 billion people in only 37 years. This has had many Nobel prize-winning scientists say that overpopulation and destruction of the environment are the two greatest existential threats facing mankind.
What leads to overpopulation?
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The two most important factors which facilitated human overpopulation are medical advancements and increases in agricultural productivity. Usually, before 1350, populations perished to pandemics and epidemics or even random diseases that would kill people in one way or the other. Diseases that we easily recover from today, such as smallpox, measles, and influenza, have claimed countless lives in history. Graver than these, a pandemic called Black Death is thought to have reduced the world’s population, from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million. However, death rates fell during the 19th and 20th centuries due to developments in medical science.
Physicians were then taking new approaches, hospital doctors began more systematic observation of the symptoms of patients in diagnosis, developments like anesthesia, antiseptic, and aseptic operating theatres and the chemistry was blossoming to the fullest. From laboratory techniques to equipment, the wave of science healed mankind significantly. Another facet was that of improved sanitation and child immunizations as a result of which more newborns could now survive, resulting in significant population growth and less death rate. Otherwise, until the 1700s, seven out of ten children died before even reaching reproductive age.
Amidst all this, famines and hunger have also taken a toll on humans. Humans, however, have found ways to make the most out of Mother Earth by the smart application of their minds before even they knew how to dress. It has started in prehistoric times when agricultural methods were developed for the first time. Agriculture has been the driving factor behind human overpopulation in the food supply, more is the population that grows with it.
What facilitated human overpopulation?
The supply increased due to three revolutions—the tool-making revolution, the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution. An exemplary revolution is that of the invention of tools like bow and arrow, which paved the way for primitive humans to better access more high-energy foods like animal meat. Food production further increased with the industrial revolution as machinery, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, agrochemicals, large-scale mechanization, genetic manipulation, and other technologies. The rise of botany, soil science, and even more branches of science over time has led to a drastic change in food availability which in turn has sustained a huge population.
What is the current status of the human overpopulation spectrum?
Human Overpopulation is caused when the available natural resources are under the burden and sustaining the most humans that can be sustained. According to the most recent United Nations estimates elaborated by Worldometer, the current world population is 7.8 billion as of March 2021. This huge population is dangerous to the very main thing it depends upon, the environment. Paul R. Ehrlich, a notable biologist says:
“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cell phones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event … A world population of around a billion would have an overall pro-life effect. This could be supported for many millennia and sustain many more human lives in the long term compared with our current uncontrolled growth and prospect of sudden collapse … If everyone consumed resources at the US level—which is what the world aspires to—you will need another four or five Earths. We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems.”
What are the problems caused by overpopulation?
According to the Global Footprint Network, “today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste”. This has led to economic growth, overconsumption, pollution, and the proliferation of technology. All this has led to the loss of biodiversity. Overpopulation has also increased air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, and soil pollution. In such a situation, an ecological collapse is bound to happen wherein there shall be a mass extinction. Right now, the oceans are on the verge of an ecological collapse. There is an acute depletion of resources.
Apart from the environmental issues that are prevailing, overpopulation has created many new world problems. It is apprehended that due to overpopulation, there shall arise conflict over scarce resources, leading to increased levels of warfare. This can happen between countries or even within a country itself. This has also been connected to the increasing numbers of youth lacking the opportunity to engage in proper employment.
While the rich countries have enough supply of food through trade and technology, overpopulation in underdeveloped countries is chaos. Since the standard of life, there is low, poor diet and malnutrition, diet-deficiency diseases, and even starvation are prevalent. This state is worsened when there is a lack of accessible health care facilities.
Also, the deficiency of food compels them to import food, which strains their foreign exchange resources. In all such problems, the poor are the most vulnerable. Lack of food also causes the productivity and efficiency of the labor force to diminish. The growth of the population also lessens the availability of capital per head, reducing the productivity of its labor force. As a result of this, their income is reduced and their capacity to save is diminished. This significantly affects capital formation. Moreover, there is also a greater chance of an outbreak of new epidemics and pandemics, as we can relate it to the current situation that the COVID-19 pandemic has created.
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Another major problem that overpopulation has posed is that of unemployment. Unemployment, underemployment, and disguised employment are common problems in an overpopulated world. This leads to an increased crime rate as people resort to crimes for survival. The most common crimes being, drug cartels and theft.
Lack of supply of water, energy, and housing for such a humongous population adds to the problems. Rapid population growth puts the governments in a fix as meeting the social needs of so many people is an arduous task.
What is the solution?
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These and many other grave problems irrespective of being related to human overpopulation or not exist and it only makes one feel hopeless. There was hope even in Pandora’s box. Nations have come up with several measures to combat overpopulation. Many governments have come up with regulations on the number of children a couple can have. There is more focus on family planning now. Contraceptive methods are being encouraged and there is more awareness on the issue now. There is also a concept called urbanization under which it is believed that urban planning can minimize environmental damage as it would be limited to those urban areas only.
The other side of the coin
Amongst this paranoid hue and cry caused by human overpopulation, there are a lot of people who believe that overpopulation and resource depletion is just a myth. They believe that now resources are more abundant due to technological advancements and that the earth is not on the verge of population explosion but that of population. Elon Musk and Jack Ma are some prominent personalities of the world who believe in this side of the coin. Either way, it is only reasonable to function as a prudent man would, whether or not we are at the edge of the cliff or not. We may not make a global impact directly, but we can make changes in our personal lives individually. It starts from switching off the lights of your room before you leave, or shutting the tap while brushing. We can always take baby steps and hope for the better.
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