The Population Explosion

The Population Explosion

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The Population Explosion


According to the Population Reference Bureau, in 1991, there were about 5.4 billion people in the world. The global birth to death rate was 27/9, meaning that for every person that dies, three more babies are born. From 1990 to 1991, the population increased by 95 million people, and now has continued to grow at that rate. This may appear to be no danger, but if one were to think of it as a pond doubling its amount of lily pads for 40 days, they'd see it differently. It would start out with one lily pad, the next day it has two, and on the 39th day it is half filled. However, in one day, on the 40th day, it will be completely filled. The Earth's population is doubling about every 40 years. We don't want to wait until the 79th year to fix our problem or else humankind will not have enough time to change the inevitable obstacles that come with overpopulation.

In his book, The Population Explosion , Paul Ehrlich, a famous population controlist, came up with the equation I = PAT. He believes the impact on the environment is equal to the population multiplied by the affluence (meaning the amount of energy and food supply the population consumes) multiplied by the amount of destructive technology a country has. He showed that the impact is directly affected by the population. Therefore with a larger population, there is a greater impact on the Earth's water, air, and land. A common problem that people think is associated with overpopulation is running out of space to live, but there are also many other environmental predicaments that it causes. More people use more cars, need more firewood, drink more water. This causes more air pollution, more land ruined, and more water to disappear. Therefore, population control is necessary on an international level in order to protect our environment .

There are experts who believe that population control is not needed such as in Singapore. The government in Singapore decided that it would be better for the country to grow in population so that they are able to help their economy. Many less developed countries promote population growth because they want their economy to grow. The experts who believe that it is better for us to let the population increase or decrease on its own also think that overpopulation will never become a problem.

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Justification for this argument is that humans will adjust themselves to the growing population because they are a species that are able to think, make decisions, and find solutions when they encounter a problem Advocates for this argument think that there is no need to worry about environmental problems because there is or will be technology to fix the problems. As for with the limited amount of resources, they believe that there would be more people to think of new ways to make it easier or faster to get newer and more food and energy resources. Even during this time period, scientists are trying to discover a new way for people to live elsewhere such as under the sea. Many people believe that overpopulation will cause and has caused many environmental problems, but they don't think telling families how many children they are allowed to have is the way to control the population. However, there has not been any other plausible suggestion on how to lower population growth, so limiting families to two children is the only solution.

The worry about overpopulation started when it was noticed that many of the earth's resources and environment were being hurt. It was traced back to three revolutions that humans populations had grown, where at first it didn't effect the environment, but later on with more advanced technology a lot of damage was done. The graph on the top of the next page shows the world's population growth for 1025 years. The information is from the Population Reference Bureau in 1989. It shows the population is growing geometrically, and will continue to do so unless population control is started.

World Population 1000 AD to 2025 AD

The first revolution was the evolutionary revolution, about 100,000 years ago during the Ice Age. These homosapiens had larger, more culturally elaborate communities than the earlier human forms. They hunted on a large scale, and as the food supply increased, so did their population. At the end of the Ice Age, there were about 5 million humans. The second revolution occurred around 8000 B.C. and was called the Agricultural Revolution. At this time, humans were able to have a reliable source of food at a location of their choice. This was when villages and towns had started to form, and were able to store more food they needed at the time. This caused birth rates to go up, and families to get larger. Up to this point, only 6,000 years after the discovery of farming, the population increased by at least 4000%. Each century afterwards the population grew a little faster, with certain setbacks like during the Black Death, an outbreak of the bubonic plague. This killed a quarter to a third of the people in Europe during the 14th century, but still in 1650, the world population had grown to 500 million. It was the third revolution, a century later, that really increased the population and hurt the environment. This was the Industrial Revolution. During this time coal, petroleum, natural gases, and other new energy sources started allowing the world to have factories, railroads, automobiles, chemical and plastic industries, and automated industries. It was also during this time that the death rate had been lowered, meaning people were able to live longer. This revolution introduced many positive things such as pest-control chemicals, modern sanitation, and medicine. These made life expectancy increase and infant mortality decrease. From 1750, when the Industrial Revolution started, to 1991, the life expectancy increased from 25 years to 65 years, and the infant mortality rate decreased from 400 to 68 per thousand births.

It was during this Industrial Revolution that environmental damage started to occur. In Greece, they had worried about soil erosion from too many trees being cut down in their mountainous region. Deforestation also caused water runoffs, flood, and droughts in China. In Rome, the air and water had been dangerously polluted. In addition it was at this time that negative things started to occur such as oil spills in sea, automobile exhaust making too much smog, and chloroflourocarbon gases that destroy the ozone layer being released into the atmosphere. The landfills were full and water sources polluted because of toxic waste from plastics and chemical manufacture. It was an increase of population that caused these things such as using up more landfill space, releasing more chloroflourocarbon gases, and more toxic waste to be dumped out in the ocean.

Overpopulation is degrading the Earth's oceans and other water sources, and by doing so will not only lessen our water supply for the future, it will also hurt the animals living in the water. It is obvious that we need water to survive, but it will not do any good if the water is polluted. If there is a pond that is being degraded, when the pollution is released slowly, the microorganisms in the pond could break down the pollution. However, if it was released all at once, the pond can not get rid of the pollution fast enough and the water becomes degraded. With fewer people there is less pollution released, leaving more time for the pollution to be degraded. (Randers, 257)

In aquifers or natural underground reservoirs such as in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Egypt, the natural water has been depleted by more than 50 percent. As there is less and less natural water in them, more and more salty water from the Mediterranean Sea seep in contaminating the water. Under the Great Plains in the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer, that supplies one-fifth of the crop land in the United States with water, was half emptied in the late 1980's. If this aquifer is completely drained it may collapse causing sinkholes in the land above, and never allowing it to be refilled again. Not only will low water supplies affect a human necessity, it could also cause "water wars." Ethiopia, for instance, wants to build dams along the upper part of the Nile river. This action, however, could prevent enough water from getting down to other countries that rely on the Nile such as Egypt. Also the Turkish government wants to build 21 dams along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This strategy would cut 40 percent of the water flow from those rivers to Syria and 80 percent of the water flow to Iraq.

Even though about two thirds of the Earth is water, not all of it is available for use. A lot of it is not even in the places where it is needed most. Between 1950 and 1980 in the United States, water use increased 150 percent, while the population grew by only 50 percent. In 1975, 19 countries in the developing world did not have enough renewable water resources, and it is expected that by the year 2000, that number will increase to 29 countries. By 2025, at least 37 nations could experience a severe demand for water. As said by the Population Institute's Werner Fornos in 1991, "The water crises of the 1990s will make the oil crises of the 1970's pale in comparison." ( Stefoff, 67)

Besides water, overpopulation is polluting the air we breath, and causing many unwanted results such as the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer. The greenhouse effect had probably started around the industrial revolution when a large amount of carbon dioxide was released. These gases build up around the earth's outer atmosphere turning the earth into a greenhouse. What happens in a greenhouse is heat is allowed in, hits the ground and reflects back out. But instead of escaping back out into space, it is trapped inside the Earth's atmosphere, raising the Earth's average temperature. This greenhouse effect affects the temperature, which inadvertantly raises sea levels causing natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding, and heat waves not allowing crops to grow properly. (Stefoff, 39)

Along with the greenhouse effect, there is the deteriorating ozone layer. The ozone layer regulates the quantity of UV light from coming down to the earth's surface from the sun. It has started to deteriorate from chloroflourocarbons (CFC's) being emitted into the air. These chemicals are found as fluids in air conditioning systems, as aerosol propellants, and as industrial solvents. Scientists say that each chlorine atom that is a part of a CFC compound can destroy up to 100,000 ozone atoms. However, even if we stop releasing CFC's into the air, it can remain in the atmosphere for 50 to 100 years and continue to degrade the ozone layer. With less of an ozone layer, more UV light enters the atmosphere and causes skin diseases such as skin cancer. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the degradation of the ozone layer will cause 12 million people to develop skin cancer within the next 50 years. Significantly, more than 200,000 of those cases will be fatal. (Keeling, 4)

Acid rain is a direct result of air pollution which occurs when too many people are releasing toxins into the air. Fossil fuel that is burned is released into the air as a gas and reacts with sunlight, oxygen and moisture in the atmosphere. This changes compounds like sulfur dioxide into sulfuric acid, and nitrogen oxide into nitric oxide. It precipitates to the ground and pollutes water and the land, killing fish, damaging forests and crops, and corroding metals. Main causes of air pollution are the needs of too many people for the use of cars and industrial plants, both which release many harmful fumes into the air. An increasing population leads to more CFC's emitted into the air from the car's air conditioning. Also when the cars are not able to be used anymore, they are taken to the junk yard, and occupy more landfill space. Furthermore, cars have damaged terrain when vacationers go over more land with off-road vehicles (Bouvier, 51). Again, increased usage of energy produced by oil, coal and natural gas-fired power plants will have a negative effect on the world's air.

A larger population also increases usage of air conditioning when it becomes warmer. Air conditioners cause more carbon to be emitted, heat to be trapped in the atmosphere, and UV light to enter in. Likewise, if there are less people, less air conditioning is used, and global warming and a deteriorating ozone layer could be prevented. According to the United States Nations Population Fund, they predict the developing countries will double their carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. What the population is causing, air pollution, is harmful to them. With air pollution, humans, plants, and animals do not have clean air to breath. Air is one of the necessities to life, and the cleaner it is, the better. As well as the Earth's water and air, there is another part of the environment that is a threat of too many people. Overpopulation is destroying the land and therefore could end the life of all the creatures on

Earth. There are many examples that there is not enough land. For instance, there is not enough landfill space. Every year, the United States alone creates 13 billion tons of waste. This is 50 tons a person. How can there be enough room for all this trash? An example of this is in the state of Ohio. In 1988, Ohio started running out of landfill space. To solve this problem the government decided to make it easier to open new larger landfills. This allowed the owners of the landfills to lower their prices so businesses will want to use their landfills. Doing this could make people recycle less, take up more landfill space, and ruin the earth more. (Overpopulation, 3) Overpopulation also threatens the Earth's agricultural resources. An example of this is desertification of land. It occurs when fertile land is turned into infertile land. This can happen from overgrazing of cattle as in the southwestern United States, or erosion where the topsoil is carried away. Even irrigation can cause desertification if too much water is used, flooding the land, and not allowing crops to grow there anymore.

Desertification is caused mostly by a growing population. More people need more food, causing more land to be used unproperly. The most serious desertification occurs in places such as China, India, and Africa, all places with large, fast growing populations. Each year about 82,000 square miles, the same size as the state of Kansas, of the earth's surface is made useless by desertification. According to the United Nations Environment Program, by the mid-1980's 13 million square miles of the earth's surface had lost 25 percent of its productivity and 6 million square miles lost 50 percent its productivity. Also in the United States, at least one-fifth of its land (not including Alaska and Hawaii) is desertified or is threatened by desertification.

A third example of the deterioration of the Earth's land because of too large a population is deforestation. The Population Institute and the United Nations estimate that half of all the remaining forests will be destroyed by the year 2000. Forests are cut down for humankind's demand of fuelwood, agricultural space, paper products, and more space to live. However, forests are needed for more than human needs. They stabilize global weather, and when large amounts are cut down soil erosion and siltation of rivers occurs. They also regulate the amount of carbon dioxide let out into the atmosphere. When they are cut down and burned, not only are they not able to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released anymore, they increase the amount released because burning wood makes carbon dioxide (Keelings, 2). Rainfall is absorbed by trees and other vegetations into the ground, and then flows to springs, streams, and aquifers. With no forests, rainfall flows without being absorbed and aquifers and streams are not refilled. This, then, causes water shortages and droughts.

Studies conducted by the United Nations show that between 1973 and 1988, 79 percent of total deforestation was a direct result of population growth. This is greatly due to the fact that 70 percent of all families in developing nations, which is about two billion people worldwide, rely on firewood as their only fuel. If they stop using firewood as their fuel they will have to use fuels that release gases to pollute the air. Already developed countries such as the United States also account for deforestation. In Canada, at least one million hectares are cut annually, and in Siberia, the rate of deforestation can be up to four million hectares annually, which is twice the rate of Brazil. An example of land being destroyed by overpopulation happened in the Sahel, a place along the sothern border of the Sahara desert in Africa. It is not a true desert, usually receiving 10 to 30 inches of rainfall a year. However, in the 1950's and 1960's, it received a high amount of rainfall. Also during this time the population increased greatly. For example, in Niger, one country that is a part of the Sahel, the population increased by 1.3 million in a 14 year period. Everything seemed fine until in 1968 when a 20 year drought started. This affected everyone, but especially the nomads who travel with herds of livestock. The land became infertile, the soil was carried away by the wind in enormous amounts, and any vegetation grown was either burned for fuel or eaten by the starving animals. Also because there was no vegetation to absorb the rainfall, the water quickly ran off, carrying more topsoil with it. Even now, much of the Sahel is still in famine.

With more and more land being destroyed as the population grows larger and larger, there is not enough room for other species. The larger animals that need to travel over hundreds of square miles are left with less and less room as each town grows. Some animals such as frogs, are slowly decreasing in number because of pollution, which is caused by humans, that affect their eggs. Animals that live in the forest are also slowly disappearing because even though you can replant the trees you cut down, the animals that live there can not be brought back. An example of this is the Eastern migratory songbirds in Central America and Northeastern United States. Finally, it is estimated that each year 27,000 species vanish forever, meaning three plants, animals, insects or microorganism disappear every hour. Scientists estimate that about one fifth of all life forms will be gone in the next thirty years. None of them being named, and even less being studied or understood. The key to the answer to a problem could be lost forever. (Keelings, 2)

Overpopulation is not a new issue. Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean is an example of when population control was needed, but was not used; the end results being disastrous. Around 1600, Easter Island had 7,000 Polynesians. They used the trees on the island for fishing boats and housing, and soon all the trees were cut down. When that occurred they were forced to live in caves. Soon they started to group together to fight with each other for resources, and even practiced cannibalism. When the Europeans arrived there in 1722, there were only 3,000 Polynesians left.

Another example is of Mauritius, a tropical island nation in the Indian ocean. Fortunately they have a happier ending than the Polynesians. On this island there were as many people as in Bangladesh. The country had a balance of a good economy and ecosystem. The government officials of the nation had noticed that many ebony forests had been cut down causing erosion and the extinction of the dodo bird. Because of this they decided that they should set up population control and educate the people about stabilizing population growth. Now it is one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. As Richard Grove, an environmental historian of Cambridge University, said, "I would be much less pessimistic about the future if the rest of the world could act like Mauritius." (Linden,70)

It should be known that population control will not end all the problems mentioned above, but they would definitely allow more time for them to be fixed. Also, population control helps alienate environment problems. The alternative, letting the population grow indefinitely could only hurt the environment. Overpopulation is a negative solution for everyone; plants, animals, land, water, and humans. According to the Index of Human Suffering in 1987, sponsored by the population Crisis committee, countries with a larger population increase also had higher suffering.

The Earth's environment is finite and can be destroyed if we do not start population control. Measures need to be taken now to correct the current situation which includes the increase of deforestation and desertification, the decrease of farmland, more water pollution, the deteriorating ozone layer, and the greenhouse effect. Additionally, three new kinds of plants, animals or other species disappear every hour. It is evident that there is no way our population can keep growing at the rate it does now without severely negatively impacting our environment. We should learn from the mistakes of the people on Easter Island, and the solution the people on Mauritius used. It is our obligation to keep the environment in good condition for future generations. As most population scientists say, "Whatever your cause, it's a lost cause - unless we come to grips with overpopulation."
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