“A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive and murderous society.”
Overpopulation: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Overpopulation can be defined as a state in which there are too many people on the planet to supply them with basic things like drinkable water, food, breathable air and so on.
Overpopulation can also be defined as a state where the ecological footprint of humanity is bigger than the planet’s carrying capacity, meaning that the damaging process is faster than the repair process carried out by nature, which eventually will lead to an economic collapse.
In the following, the causes, effects and also solutions to the overpopulation problem will be examined.
Causes for Overpopulation
- Improvement in medical knowledge
- Decline in fatality rate
- Industrial and agricultural revolution
- Progress in food production
- Religious concerns
- Migration and urban concentration
- Family planning
Improvement in medical knowledge
Our improvement in knowledge regarding the treatment of diseases leads to an increase in life expectancy. This in turn leads to overpopulation since with the assumption of a constant birth rate, people live longer and thus more people will populate the planet at the same time.
Decline in fatality rate
Medical improvements combined with a better supply of food since the industrial revolution period means a vast decline in fatality rates. When the birth rate stays unchanged and the fatality rate decreases, this means an overall positive effect on population growth.
Industrial and agricultural revolution
The industrial as well as the agricultural revolution had a big contribution to the overpopulation issue.
Since the production of food and other goods became quite due to the use of machines and the use of fertilizer and pesticides, people were able to raise more children, which in turn also raised more children.
As a result, there had been an overpopulation spiral which resulted in a vast number of people living on our planet right now.
Progress in food production
A related contributor to the overpopulation issue is the progress in food production. Since farmers improved their knowledge of farming techniques, they were able to increase their crop yields significantly. This led to an increase in wealth which resulted in more children and thus in a higher population number.
At first glance, this seems to contradict logical thinking. Why should also poverty contribute to population growth? The reason for that is that poor people often do not have governmental pension schemes. Thus, they have to rely on their children to provide for them when they are no longer able to work.
As a result, especially in poor developing countries, the number of children is often much higher than in developed countries. Moreover, children are often needed to work on their parents‘ field in order to be able to farm their land which also contributes to an increase in population.
Another reason for overpopulation is that many people believe it is a sin to abort or even to use contraceptives. Thus, without the use of contraceptives, population growth is a natural result.
Migration and urban concentration
Migration and urban concentration can lead to a local overpopulation. The urbanization process continued to progress over the last decades. This is due to the fact that work demand shifts from agricultural to the service sector. Thus, people have to move to cities to find work. As a result, this can lead to an overpopulation of certain areas.
Moreover, many people all over the world are forced to leave their homes due to conflicts or famine. This problem will be even bigger in the future due to the global warming issue. Many farmers will no longer be able to sustain their crop yields since they will not have enough water supply anymore.
Thus, many people will try to migrate into countries which are not that much affected by the global warming problem and which provide higher living standards. This also leads to a local overpopulation of certain areas.
In many countries, people get married at a very early age. Thus, they are likely to get more children over the course of their lives. Moreover, due to a lack of education and family pressure, women see it as their responsibility to get as many children as men want since they have often been told it is the only purpose of a woman to raise children. This problem is especially severe in developing countries.
Effects of Overpopulation
- Environmental degradation
- Depletion of natural resources
- Loss in biodiversity
- Increase in pollution
- Ecological collapse
- Water and food conflicts
- Overextensive farming
- Excessive use of fossil fuels
- Loss of arable land and desertification
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- Increasing probability for epidemics
- Malnutrition and starvation
- Increasing costs of living and housing
- Rise in unemployment
Overpopulation has a vast adverse effect on the environmental system. Since we have to produce large amounts of food to provide for an increasing number of people, we have to use more land and resources to accomplish this. However, the use of more land comes with deforestation, which is especially severe in the Amazonian Rainforest.
This deforestation leads to a decline in the variety of species. Moreover, local tribes lose their homes and their whole culture. In addition, in order to produce more goods for our daily lives, a bigger amount of fossil fuels is needed. Burning fossil fuels lead to the emission of harmful chemicals and to acid rain.
Additionally, it contributes to the global warming issue. In addition, overpopulation is also likely to lead to an increase in noise pollution due to higher population density. Overpopulation can also contribute to the urban sprawl issue.
Depletion of natural resources
Another related problem of overpopulation is the depletion of natural resources. Our planet can only provide a limited amount of food and water.
When our population grows further, we will soon come to a point where we will no longer be able to supply the food and water necessary to feed all of them.
Even right now, people are starving every day. This problem will get even worse in the future due to overpopulation.
Another consequence of overpopulation is an increasing number of conflicts. Since people have to fight for their chunk of resources in order to survive, they are more willing to participate in conflicts to be able to provide for their families.
As population grows further, the probability of serious conflicts will do as well since a limited amount of resources has to be distributed to a growing number of people.
The mortality rate, especially in poor countries, is likely to increase due to overpopulation. This relates to the limited capacity of resources of our planet. With an increasing number of people, everyone has to fight harder to get enough food. Those who are not able to do that will be left behind, which results in an increased mortality rate.
Loss in biodiversity
Population growth can also lead to a loss of biodiversity. As we need more space for farming or living, we destruct the natural environment of many species. This problem is especially severe in the Amazonian Rainforest. Due to farming and the related issues, many species go extinct each year.
Increase in pollution
Pollution is likely to increase due to overpopulation. This is quite logical since with a larger number of people on our planet, we have to produce more food and other things for daily life. This production of material goods leads to an increase in all sorts of pollution.
The air is polluted through the burning of fossil fuels. Our rivers, lakes and also the sea are polluted through illegal dumping and waste disposal.
Our groundwater is polluted through the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Agricultural pollution results since there is an excessive need for food production and huge amounts of fertilizers and pesticides have to be used in order to meet the demand for food.
Moreover, overpopulation may also lead to an increase in light pollution due to a higher population density.
Overpopulation can also cause a kind of ecological collapse. The risk for such an event is especially severe if we look at our oceans. Since humans like some kinds of fish much more than others, this can lead to a severe ecological problem. Many of our preferred fishes consume large amounts of plankton.
If the number of these fishes is diminished, the plankton levels in our oceans will increase. This leads to a reduction in oxygen levels, which in turn can lead fishes to leave the affected areas. In the worst case, many sea animals will die from this development.
Water and food conflicts
Due to an increasing number of people who have basic needs, the likelihood of conflicts relating to water and food will increase dramatically. This may lead to states where people literally fight for water and other resources for their daily lives.
In order to meet the demand for food, farmers are likely to use an increasing amount of fertilizers and pesticides. This leads to soil pollution and also affects our groundwater in an adverse way since chemicals through the soil. Moreover, some animals will be contaminated by eating crops containing high levels of pesticides.
Excessive use of fossil fuels
Overpopulation is likely to lead to increased use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used in many different occasions in our lives, for example for driving our cars or also for the production of other daily life products.
However, the use of fossil fuels is harmful to our environment since the gases produced in industrial processes contribute to global warming and also to air pollution.
Loss of arable land and desertification
If an area is used too extensively for farming or other purposes, it is likely to lose its fertility and thus this will lead to desertification. With an increasing number of people, the probability of desertification will increase since the available land will be used more extensively in order to provide bigger crop yields.
With an increasing population, there is an increasing demand for meat. Intensive factory farming is used to be able to meet this demand. However, this increases the likelihood of the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can have immense adverse effects on humans as well as on human-environmental interactions.
Increasing probability for epidemics
Another related topic is the increase in the likelihood of epidemics. A combination of overcrowded living conditions and malnutrition in conjunction with low hygienic standards can lead to severe epidemics or pandemics.
This problem will be especially severe for poor people in developing countries since they also lack the money to afford medical treatment if necessary.
Malnutrition and starvation
Due to distribution problems of wealth, not all people will be able to meet their daily energy supply. As a result, overpopulation will lead to death for many people, especially for the poorest among us.
Increasing costs of living and housing
With a limited amount of space to build houses and other infrastructure, a growing population is likely to lead to an increased cost of living. We already see this nowadays as in many cities, it is almost not possible for people with average salary jobs to live there. This problem will become even worse with overpopulation.
An increasing number of people will strive to live in the best places on earth, which will likely lead to an explosion of housing costs. This is also true for goods of our daily lives. Since all sorts of commodities are limited, increasing demand due to overpopulation will lead commodity prices to go up.
Rise in unemployment
The unemployment rate is likely to increase as a consequence of overpopulation. There are simply not that many jobs to employ all people.
Moreover, due to artificial intelligence, it is likely that the unemployment rate continues to increase since many tasks will be performed by machines instead of humans in the future.
Solutions to the Overpopulation Problem
- Improvement of family planning
- Raising awareness on the topic
- Birth regulation
- Extraterrestrial settlement
Improvement of family planning
People all over the world should be aware of what it means to provide for a family and of the costs relating to it. People should ask themselves if it may be better to limit the number of children they want. It is in our all interest to limit the number of people on our planet in order to keep it intact and viable.
Raising awareness on the topic
Another related point is to increase peoples‘ awareness of the topic of overpopulation. Many people may never have heard of this issue since it is quite normal for them to have as many children as possible.
If they put the number of children in context to the overpopulation issue, it may become clear to many people that overpopulation may kill the whole planet if we do not change our behavior.
Education is key, also in the context to mitigate the overpopulation problem. As we have seen earlier, poor people are likely to have more children than rich people.
This is due to the fact that poor people usually do not have pension schemes and thus depend on their children to provide for them when they are old.
Thus, education can help people to get out of poverty and thus it can indirectly contribute to a reduction in population growth.
If people will not become responsible enough to reduce the number of children, the governments will be forced to intervene and set strict regulations on the number of children that are allowed. A prominent example of this strategy was China with its one-child policy.
Another way to fight overpopulation relates to science fiction literature. With extraterrestrial settlement like colonizing Mars, we could move part of our population to other planets or space habitats and thus could mitigate the overpopulation issue. However, this option can be regarded as quite insecure and has to be validated in the future.
Overpopulation is a serious threat to our whole environmental system. It is likely to cause severe conflicts and wars as people will fight for resources in order to meet their daily energy demand.
It is therefore crucial that we solve this issue through suitable and sustainable measures. Only then, it will be possible for humanity to live in peace in the future.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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