Overpopulation Essay

1014 words | 4 page(s)

One of the most significant environmental issues facing the world today is overpopulation. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the exact definition of overpopulation is debatable, but it generally refers to a situation in which there are too many people in a single location to be supported by the available resources. This is sometimes called the carrying capacity, and it may be applied to specific locations or the planet as a whole (“What Is Overpopulation?”) Whether or not the world has reached that point is up for debate, but there is no doubt that the rising population numbers since the industrial revolution are already causing problems (Maynard). As of June 2017, the world population stands at about 7.395 billion people. There is one birth every 8 seconds and one death every 12 seconds, which means that there is currently a net gain of one person every 13 seconds. The most populous countries in the world are China, which has about 1.38 billion people, India, which has about 1.28 billion people, and the United States, which has more than 326 million people (“U.S. and World Population Clock”).

Overpopulation is contributing to a wide range of problems. When there are more people living on the planet, they all need to meet the three basic needs: a place to live, water to drink, and food to eat. This has led to habitat destruction for both housing and food production purposes, as well as the depletion of freshwater resources. In addition, as more people seek a higher standard of living, they have increased their consumption of natural resources. In particular, the rise in population has led to an expansion in the use of fossil fuels for energy, leading to an increase in carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Having more people on the planet has also led to more pollution of the air, water, and soil (De Sherbinin et al). It is important to note that overpopulation is more of an issue in some countries than in others. Specifically, China and India have experience enormous population growth, so issues like air pollution are worse in those countries (Maynard). However, other population-related problems, like climate change, will affect all countries, regardless of their individual population sizes. Therefore, overpopulation poses a threat to everyone on the planet.

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Finding an appropriate solution to the problem of overpopulation poses a major challenge. In the past, citizens and governments have proposed solutions like eugenics and caps on the number of children a family may have. However, these solutions pose significant ethical issues and have unintended consequences. For instance, the one-child policy in China had a wide range of unintended consequences, including infanticide of females and unbalanced sex ratios (Ebenstein, 2008). Because I believe that placing limits on procreation is not a practical or ethical solution, I propose that the best way to deal with overpopulation is to adopt more sustainable lifestyle and resource use practices, so that the world can support a larger number of people. Currently, there are local, regional, and national legal mandates that help promote sustainability, but I believe that there needs to be a worldwide mandate on issues related to overpopulation that includes an enforcement mechanisms. Specifically, I propose that leaders from every country come together to set caps on carbon emission, pollution creation, water usage, and habitat destruction. If countries violate the terms of the agreement, they will be forced to pay a penalty, which can be used to fund sustainable development efforts.

This solution will inevitably face political problems, as many countries will probably be reluctant to give up their sovereignty and submit to a sustainability mandate. Indeed, it was already extremely difficult to convince most of the countries in the world to join the Paris Climate Agreement, and its standards are entirely voluntary. Nevertheless, the United States pulled out of the agreement (Domonoske, 2017), which suggests that an even broader, stricter mandate designed to address multiple overpopulation issues would have a hard time winning political favor from powerful leaders. A worldwide policy could also receive pushback from citizens in developed countries who do not want to alter their current lifestyle, as well as citizens in developing countries who may be unhappy about having to comply with strict standards to deal with environmental problems that have been caused by wealthy countries. Finally, it will be difficult to institute an enforcement mechanism that is effective, while also avoiding serious conflict between countries.

Originally, I selected the issue of overpopulation because it seems like the most significant environmental issues in the world today. It impacts a broad range of other environmental issues, like climate change and pollution, so solving the problem of overpopulation would automatically bring the world closer to solving these problems as well. The main issue that I encountered in my research was coming up with a feasible solution for the issue of overpopulation. Based on the sources I found, limiting family size is fraught with problems, but implementing a truly effective sustainability policy to increase the carrying capacity of the planet poses major political challenges. There are so many environmental issues related to overpopulation that proposing a single, comprehensive solution was difficult, and I am still uncertain about the practicality of my proposal. Over the course of this project, I learned more about the severity of the problem of overpopulation. In particular, I found the world population clock statistics to be very enlightening. Ultimately, gaining an understanding of the many effects of overpopulation and the lack of suitable solutions elevated my concern about how the world will deal with this crisis in the future.

  • De Sherbinin, Alex et al. “Population and Environment.” Annual Review of Environmental Resources, vol. 32, 2007, pp. 345-373.
  • Domonoske, Camila. “So What Exactly Is in the Paris Climate Accord?” National Public Radio, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/01/531048986/so-what-exactly-is-in-the-paris-climate-accord.
  • Ebenstein, Avaham. “The ‘Missing Girls’ of China and the Unintended Consequences of the One Child Policy.” The Journal of Human Resources, vol. 45, no. 1, 2008, pp. 87-115.
  • Maynard, E. “The Effect of World Population on Public Health.” MAHB, 2014, http://mahb.stanford.edu/library-item/the-effect-of-overpopulation-on-public-health/.
  • “What Is Overpopulation?” Population Reference Bureau, vol. 17, no. 4, 1988, pp. 1-2.

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