Throughout the history of planet Earth, it seems that environmental problems and threats to survival only became incredibly acute and urgent when humanity began to evolve. With the transition to the industrial system, society began to consume more useful resources, which in itself caused the depletion of the planet’s reserves. Mass production, the release of toxic exhausts into the atmospheric layers, the pollution of groundwater, and the sowing of areas by agricultural crops became the main predictors of the development of increased ecological damage.
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In this context, it is particularly important to discuss the problem of overpopulation since it is assumed that there is a positive correlation between environmental issues and the size of the world’s population. An in-depth study of the historical context to find answers to the hypotheses and patterns of the modern world reveals areas of knowledge and allows to pinpoint that overpopulation is becoming central to most of the greatest environmental threats (Fuller-Wright). For this reason, this essay focuses on evaluating this claim and finding arguments to support the relationship between the problem of overpopulation and harm to harmony in nature.
The Classic Definition of Overpopulation
The human community is characterized by dynamic changes related to numbers, which generally show an increasing trend. However, while it may seem that an expansion in the population characteristics of the planet is a natural property of developed and widespread species, in reality, this effect has negative consequences, including for nature. This effect is most evident in populations’ willingness to consume natural resources: oil, gas, and fossil fuels. Humanity is increasingly moving away from the concept of deep ecology, which implies universal biocentrism and respect for the natural environment (Nelson 206). It is likely that the consequences of this approach will be serious problems faced by future generations.
Terminologically, overpopulation can be defined as an oversupply of the population concerning possible or available subsistence resources as well as to the demand for labor. Generally speaking, certain cohorts of the population find themselves unavailable for work yet continue to consume natural resources. Thus, an imbalance is created between production and consumption, and the planet experiences a recession. It is interesting to note that formula for quantifying overpopulation was first used in Science in 1971 (Ehrlich and Holdren 1212).
In it, the authors defined overpopulation as the multiplication of the excess number of people contributing to the impact by the per capita consumption of resources combined with the waste produced. In any case, the mere fact of an overabundance of people on the planet can be assessed as a negative effect on the well-being of the environment for the reason that greater numbers are associated with greater demands and needs.
The problem of overpopulation has traditionally been associated with threats, both social and environmental. In more detail, one can find in the sources an attempt to link an overabundance of human units to shortages of natural resources, lack of education, accessible and quality medicine, environmental disasters, poverty, employment problems, and especially wars. In fact, the connection between the two sides is transparent: because of the mismatch between population size and available resources, some states have launched military activities against other, richer regions. Thus, the history of the planet knows many examples of military conflicts or enslavement of less developed countries, which were caused by overpopulation in the aggressor region: the phenomenon of colonization, wars over oil resources, occupation of the territory.
However, this is only one of the known aspects associated with the problem of overpopulation. Because of the extremely large number of people per unit area, especially in large cities, structures are developing that certain pose threats to nature (Osborn 175). This is evident in nuclear power, the spread of highly contagious infections, and the increasing use value of plant and animal materials. A historical analysis of these manifestations suggests that although these effects have accompanied humanity before, there has been a significant intensification of their frequency with population growth (Corona 234). Before discussing specific arguments, it should be determined how significant and relevant this problem is.
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Statistics in the Historical Analysis of Overpopulation
It is fairly obvious that planet Earth has not always been populated by such a great number of people as it is today. According to hindsight, the greatest growth rate was seen in the previous two centuries, when the population grew from 1 billion to 7.7 billion (Roser et al.). Historically, the largest population densities were on an island or coastal states: Singapore, Macao, Monaco, Hong Kong, and Gibraltar. In other words, this confirms the hypothesis that civilizations have evolved in close proximity to water resources.
The study of other statistical findings, consistent with significant recent population growth, also attracts attention. In particular, it was shown that the U.S. population tripled in the last century and will double in the next (10 Key Facts). Thus, by the end of the 21st century, the country’s population will surpass the half-billion mark. With these figures, it is worth noting that resource consumption has been increased seventeenfold. It follows that the increase in the number of human units and the consumption of resources is nonlinear, and one should expect the consumption of natural sources to increase even more over the next few decades.
The Relationship between Overpopulation and Human-Made Disasters
It is to be expected that the greater the number of people living in agglomerations, the greater the number of resources required to meet the basic needs of urban dwellers. In particular, larger metropolitan areas with populations of more than millions require more electric supply services to structure and function. Such thermal, hydro, and power plants consume the planet’s useful resources and leave harmful and threatening compounds as waste. It has been numerically proven that population growth is associated with increased electricity demand (10 Key Facts). The introduction of logistic routes, landscape realignment, and the use of waterways, in turn, affect changes in the natural environment.
While recognizing the persistent link between overpopulation and resource consumption, it is important to note that a permanently increasing number of stations increases the likelihood of human-made disasters. The history of the Earth is familiar with the cases of nuclear disasters at Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011), which resulted in global radiation contamination of flora and fauna, local suppression of life, and oppression of ecosystems (Comparing). There is no doubt that one of the predictors of these problems was the intensified consumption of electricity, which led to the construction of potentially hazardous facilities. Consequently, the continuing trend toward overpopulation has the potential to cause many more nuclear disasters.
Overpopulation Causes Pandemics
Another potential threat of overpopulation to the health of both humanity and all living ecosystems is the increased likelihood of the spread of infectious diseases. High population density and the proximity of social contacts dictated by overpopulation, both locally and globally, naturally exacerbate the transmission of possible pathogens between people (Minxi). In other words, as a result of overpopulation, the danger of spreading the most dangerous infectious diseases is intensified, further exacerbated by the possibility of pathogen mutations.
Numerous episodes of epidemics and pandemics have occurred over the history of humanity. The most striking manifestations of this relationship are from the times of the plague, Spanish flu, or COVID-19. The spread of each of the pathogens cited was only possible because, by a particular point in time, high population densities in infected points were relevant (Osborn 173). At one time, infection in 1347 infected more than 50% of Europe’s population, while the Spanish flu of 1918 caused more than 50 million deaths. Although modern medicine is very different from what it used to be, the coronavirus pandemic has already claimed more than a million and a half lives.
There is no doubt that as the population grows, such threats will continue to be relevant. Ultimately, the pathogenic extermination of humanity seems like a very realistic scenario that, in turn, will significantly alter life on Earth in the short term.
Meanwhile, several important points should be further discussed in terms of environmental history. Certainly, as the human population has evolved and expanded, interactions with the environment have become more complex and structured. For centuries, humanity has tried to use natural resources in ways that maximize benefit at a minimal cost. With the development of agrarian, industrial, and even post-industrial societies, humanity has only intensified the ways in which resources are used (Fleming 25).
Moreover, intensification was accompanied by a smooth increase in the planetary population. Modern human, unlike one from the past, is no longer inclined to use stones and sticks as tools, but this does not mean that the integration of the human-nature system has been inhibited. On the contrary, the use of natural resources has become more technological and progressive, which has caused increased ecological damage to nature. In this regard, it seems disastrous how the human being of the future will interact with nature with a widespread overabundance of human units. In the absence of proper management programs, one can expect the use of nature to become even more intense, and thus the death of the planet will be catalyzed.
To summarize the above, it is important to note that overpopulation is indeed the cause of most environmental disasters. In this paper, it has been statistically proven that overpopulation is an important problem that will apparently become an issue in the coming century. In turn, the increased number of people will cause an increase the global demand for food, water, and resources, which means that the Earth will enter an era of exhaustion. History has repeatedly shown that huge fertility increases lead to ecological disasters, including nuclear dangers and pandemics. On this basis, one can predict that in the coming decades, in the absence of adequate population and environmental management policies, humanity will face a series of critical environmental problems that have the potential to alter the order of life on Earth significantly.
“Comparing Fukushima and Chernobyl.” NEI. 2019. Web.
Corona, Gabriella. “What is Global Environmental History? Conversation with Piero Bevilacqua, Guillermo Castro, Ranjan Chakrabarti, Kobus du Pisani, John R. cNeill, Donald Worster.” Environment and Society Portal. Web.
Ehrlich, Paul R., and John P. Holdren. “Impact of Population Growth.” Science, vol. 171, no. 3977, 1971, pp. 1212-1217.
Fleming, Jim. “Excuse Us, While We Fix the Sky: WEIRD Supermen and Climate Engineering.” RCC Perspectives, vol. 4, 2017, pp. 23-28.
Fuller-Wright, Liz. “Historians to Climate Researchers: Let’s Talk.” Princeton University. 2018. Web.
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“10 Key Facts and Statistics About Overpopulation.”Arcadia. 2017. Web.
Minxi, Zhou. “Is Overpopulation to Blame for Pandemics?”CGTN. 2020. Web.
Nelson, Michael. “Deep Ecology.” Yumpu. Web.
Osborn, Henry Fairfield. “Birth Selection Versus Birth Control.” Science, vol. 76, no. 1965, 1932, pp. 173-179.
Roser, Max, Ritchie, Hannah and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina. “World Population Growth.” Our World in Data. Web.