Is Overpopulation an Environmental Hazard?

In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote a popular book called – “An essay of the principle of population” which said– “The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”

Looking at the world today, especially this year with COVID19 raging a rampage on the population, the above statement does make sense. However, Mr. Malthus explains something inherent about human nature in his own words – … – “the perpetual tendency of the race of man to increase beyond the means of subsistence is one of the greatest laws of animated nature, which we can have no reason to expect to change.”

Anyone believing in sustainable and indefinite growth in anything physical, on a finite planet like earth, would bean oxymoron with the sentiment of an economist. However, since it is in our inherent nature to exploit nature for our survival, benefit and comfort, the commercialization of a sustainable growth with infinite scalability for human beings is more inevitable. But, we forget that we are just a species coexisting with other variants on earth, and over consumption will always result in scarcity.

History has been a proof of that; a century ago, the overall population on earth was just 1.6 billion. Today it is as much as 7.6 billion people, 7 times more and still growing. The increase in number of people means increase in resource consumption, which in turn has led to higher depletion of natural resources, which by the way is a never-ending process.

By 2025, the global population is expected to reach 8 billion, 9 billion by 2040 and 11 billion by 2100. The rise in population is slowly outpacing the earth’s capacity to support and provide for us.

What will humanity do when the earth turns barren and can’t support it anymore?

Environmental Impacts of Overpopulation

When a region experiences an excessively large population growth that depletes resources and other means of survival, it is termed as overpopulation. There are numerous reasons for overpopulation, some of them being increase in birth rates, low mortality rate, better healthcare facilities etc.

Population explosion in a particular region is characterized by a high rate of resource consumption. Deforestation, air and water pollution, global warming, etc. are the by-products of such consumption, putting strain on the environment as a whole.

Overpopulation – A Controversial Subject

If a country has an abundant supply of natural resources, it is beneficial for the population to thrive easily. Imagine a country having a population far exceeding its supply of natural resources.The survival and quality of life would be substantially lower compared to a country with lesser population.Due to ecological strain of high resource consumption, global hazards like drastic climate change and pollution arise endangering nature as a whole.

Global problems are like dominos stacked neatly waiting to be tipped. With the planet experiencing stress on a region due to human population, the entire ecosystem is bound to experience an adverse reaction. If the number of people increases, these problems also gain wider exposure. This means, eventually, almost everyone will get affected by them.

Overpopulation is one of the driving factors for global issues, resource depletion and future scarcity. However, even among the research communities, overpopulation is not addressed directly due to the stigma it holds and the fact that it contradicts the global idea and philosophy of growth and development.

This is because, we view ourselves as highly evolved beings with superior intellect, and not just a species cohabiting on a planet with other living beings. Addressing overpopulation and its dire impacts on nature poses on challenge when such beliefs tend to overpower logical thinking. Redefining the idea of sustainable growth with an action plan is the need of the hour.

Solution to Overpopulation

For starters, we have to let go of any stigma which hinders our efforts to address global issues such as overpopulation. But it is easier said than done.

Giving birth is a personal decision based on an informed choice. However, awareness about our own decisions and its effects on the environment may motivate us to plan our families better. Empowering women about reproductive healthcare and services will help the cause to a certain extent – especially in developing and under-developed economies. Incentives from government, geographic diversification and regional development, child legislation, adoption, using renewable energy, etc. are some other means to control population explosion.

Meddling with personal opinion would create debates and overpopulation is a controversial topic to be addressed openly for many. However, in the wait for subtlety and diplomacy, we may run out of time and that may lead to a dystopian future with lesser resources and more mouths to feed. Hope we understand this before it is too late for all of us.