Too Many People

Too Many People

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Too Many People


Do people realize that there is a population problem? Can our earth support and sustain the incredible number of 5.6 billion people, constantly increasing at the rate of 1.7 percent each year (conservation 67). At this rate 95 million people are added to our world every year. To bring this into perspective, every month 11,000 new babies are born, every second, three new people are added to the already over populated planet (Ehrlich 14). Every person added to the world has a claim to the earth's food, energy and other resources. We must also realize that there is not a single factor that limits how many people the earth can support. The rising population will only aggravate the problems staring us in the face right now, such as food shortages, and damage to the environment. The Club of Earth, whose members belong to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, released this statement in 1988.

Arresting global population growth should be second in importance only to avoiding the nuclear war on humanity's agenda. Over population and rapid population growth are intimately connected with most aspects of the current human predicament, including rapid depletion of nonrenewable resources, deterioration of the environment and increasing international tensions. (Ehrlich 18).

The human population has drastically increased in the last couple of centuries. The earth will not be able to sustain the growing population due to increasing environmental and economic stresses. We must confront the issue and come up with workable solutions.

Why Are People Not Scared.

In order to come up with solutions, one must first realize the problem. Why are people not aware of the population crisis? Up until just recently, in Cairo, Egypt where a dialog and a Programme of Action was established to confront overpopulation by the United Nation International Conference, there has not been much talk on this issue. One of the main reasons people do not recognize overpopulation to be a problem is it's slow developing nature. Over two thousand years ago there was an estimated 250 million people. It took 1650 years before the population first doubled. Since then the doubling time of the population would shrink to 200 years, and continued to shrink to a time span of just 35 years. But even with these incredible increasing growth rates, it is impossible to notice these "slow motion changes" as compared to an every day event (Ehrilich 15).

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"People aren't scared because they evolved biologically and culturally to respond to short-term "fires" and tune out long-term "trends" over which they have no control (Ehrlich 14)."

Most of our culture's attitudes, beliefs and presuppositions on many things are determined by the information of what we hear and see presented to us by the media. Events covered in today's media are things that are sudden, explosive, something that gets someone's attention, something which is easy to report. This is not the case with the increasing dilemma of over population. The world did not care when the population was increasing by 100,000 a day, or now, when it is increasing by 250,000 people a day. Links are not made between the problems that exist in today's world as a direct or indirect result of overpopulation. There are simply too many factors involved. In Guatemala, an earthquake measured at 7.5 on the Richter scale, killed over 22,000 people and injuring over 76,000 people. Those that had the highest mortality rate lived in adobe casitas, which contained heavy wooden timbers in the roof. These houses were somewhat more expensive and harder to build than simple adobes. Simple adobes were inhabited by the lowest class of people. Despite being cheaper, the simple adobes proved to be much safer than the more expensive adobes. Mortality in the villages were "complexly correlated with socioeconomic status" (Hardin 249). The few that lived in the most expensive concrete houses had the lowest mortality rate, and those that lived in the cheapest houses had the second lowest mortality rate. So what killed these people? If all of the people were able to live in concrete houses then most would have survived. So can we put the blame on poverty? No, because those with the least amount of money lived in the simple adobes and survived almost as well as those in the concrete houses. If these houses were so safe, and easy to build, why didn't more Guatemalans live in these houses, rather than putting more money and effort into building the other adobes. The truth is that the increasing population of Guatemala exhausted the resources needed to make the simple adobes. Are these deaths a result of overpopulation? Certainly, but in the headlines you read, earthquake kills 22,000, rather than overpopulation leads to unnecessary death. The same principle applied when a cyclone struck East Bengal in 1970 killing 500,000.

Food Shortages

Another example of overpopulation leading to human suffering occurred in Pakistan as well. People are forced to the delta coast because of over population. Thousands die there every year as the result of regular storms. If this is such a dangerous place to live, why then do people live there? There is simply no other place to go. So when a cyclone hit this area, and 500,000 people were killed, one could easily say that overpopulation killed these people. If Pakistan were not overpopulated, no logical person in there right mind would want to live on this delta (Hardin 250).

Food Shortages

A major component that is associated with the overpopulation problem, is food shortages. Many people go as far as to say, if food resources were evenly distributed then overpopulation would not be an issue at all. This statement is made in the context that food shortage is the only contributing factor involved. So then why do people believe this? If you look at this issue in a narrow context and in the short term, it is partially correct, although in a limited sense. Approximately a third of the world's grain produced goes into feeding animals to support Americans diet of meat, eggs, and milk. If every body were to eat as we Americans, less than fifty percent of the current world's population would have food (Ehrlich 9). If everybody chooses to eat a primarily vegetarian diet, and we use the food supply of 1985, which was a record setting harvest, we would have enough food to supply roughly 6 million people. This would be enough to supply the world with food, at the moment, but this leaves no room for the 95 million a year population increase. The simple fact is that, if there are too many animals eating on the food supply, this food supply will decline, eventually causing the animal population to decline. There are millions of people around the world starving to death every year, and the number of people consuming energy-deficient diets have also increased in the past decade.

Although it is widely accepted by many experts that there are many social factors that play a role in starvation, the population pressure on the ecosystem has a major impact (Bongaarts 36). It is true that over the past few decades, incredible improvements of quantity of harvested crops have been made. In the short time span of 25 years, from 1965 to 1990, food production rose to an astounding 117 percent in the developing world (Bongaarts 46). Can these improvements continue to grow to meet the demands of our rising population? Food production can be improved either by increasing the amount of land under cultivation or by raising yields on existing cropland through intensified use of water, energy, and fertilizer. Either way, we will run into problems.

Expanding the land that is being used to grow crops is one of the major ways in which to increase food production. The obvious downfall to this solution is, there is only a certain amount of land that can be used (Brown 46). Between 1850 and 1950 the amount of land used increased quickly in order to produce food to accommodate the increasing population. From 1950 till the middle of the 1980's land expansion started to subside. In some areas of the world the amount of land being cultivated began to decline (Bongaarts 47). This is due partly to the competing uses of this land such as recreation, transportation, and industrial and residential development. Very few countries contain policies that will protect agricultural land from these other uses. Also little thought goes into the decision making of how destroying this land now will affect us in the long run (Brown 48).

Places like the Indian Subcontinent, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and many others are loosing massive amount of cropland each year because of severe soil erosion. Environmentalists believe that soil erosion caused by water and wind, as well as chemical and physical deterioration, is destroying much of what land we have left to use. A study that was reported by the World Resources Institute says that "17 percent of the land supporting plants worldwide has lost value over the past 45 years." It is likely that this problem of soil erosion will not get any better.(Bongaarts 37).

Improved methods of cultivation, by use of fertilizers and water irrigation systems has accounted for four-fifths of the annual growth in world food output since the 1950's. Fresh water is needed to make the land we have more productive. As years go by the amount of fresh water we have is decreasing. As our numbers increase the amount of waste products also increase, which in turn pollutes the badly needed water for irrigation systems (Brown p.49). Not only is not enough water available to have irrigation systems, but they are often way to expensive to build. To have better crop yields it is essential to have a well working irrigation systems in most parts of the world (Bongaarts 38).
Fertilizer, already in short supply, is another resource which farmers use to increase crop yield. The high costs of energy put into making fertilizers drive the prices up making them too expensive for the developing countries to use in effective amounts. Many countries are not able to get the amount of fertilizers they need, regardless of the price, because there isn't enough to go around to all the developing countries (Brown 49). "At the moment, farmers in Asia, Latin America and Africa use fertilizer sparingly, if at all, because it is too expensive or unavailable (Bongaarts 38).

Technology is not the answer

A popular myth that people hold, is that technology can solve any problem. We must realize this is not the case. Even though we have made major improvements in the past few decades, there is a limit to what are earth can produce. These improvements have also have proven to be detrimental to the environment. For example, as technology increased we found new ways to feed this technology by finding better way to extract coal, as well as oil, gas and other fuels. By doing this, new problems now exist such as acid rain, oil spills, stripped lands, the increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (cohen 3). Whenever technology has been used to help mankind, one can point out problems where solutions did not come in time or problems that these so called solutions caused. We can not rely on technology to solve the overpopulation problem. To rely on technology to solve problems that are ultimately related to population and are the results of overpopulation does not make very much sense. Why not deal with the problem of overpopulation which will help to solve these other problems such as pollution, soil erosion, and starvation to name a few. (Cohen 3).


So where does this leave us? Without some drastic measures taken to curb population growth we can confidently say we are going to be in trouble. In the past programs that supported family planning were organized to help slow the growth rate. In 1952, organizations such as International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Population Council, appeared in many countries world wide (Bongaarts p. 771). India became the first country to officially adopt a program centered around family planning. However, this had little impact on the continuing growth rate due to the small amount of funding, and the traditional culture values that still determined the behavior of the vast majority of the group (Thomson et. al. 552).

During the 1970's, people were becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of overpopulation. This brought increased funding from developed countries, especially the United States, supporting family planning. Through education, changing the attitudes of the population as a whole and teaching people how to use contraceptives, family planning programs has been a key factor in reducing the birth rate. This is shown by an average decline of almost 2.5 children born per mother, from 6.1 in the 1960s to 3.8 in 1990. The use of condoms by women in these areas has improved from 10 percent up to 50 percent (Bongaarts 772).

The Chinese Government became so concerned about the consequences of population growth that it adopted a controversial one - child policy in 1978 (Bongaarts 772). This policy seems to work but also has a demeaning affect on women. China believes it can not rely on economic growth alone to bring its population rate down. Feminists worry women's "health, education, employment and privacy" have taken a back seat to lowering the population. Generally families are issued a permit to have one child. In some cases, if the first child is female, or the family has higher status in the country, they are allowed to have another child. Any woman, who has had the allotted amount of children they can have, that gets pregnant, is expected to get an abortion. Close to 50 percent of all married women in china have had abortions. Controversial or not, this plan seems to work. This plan has lowered China's growth rate a considerable amount, more than any other country in the world. Is the interest of the whole society more valuable than the interest of the individual? China thinks so.

Even though there has been limited success of family planning, more needs to be done. Sharon L. Camp, senior vice president of Population Action International says, " is possible to stabilize the earth's population at 9 billion-10 - billion through humane and voluntary family planning and women's education programs, but only if major commitments are made" (Kirschten, p 1693).

A major step was taken on September 5 - 13, 1994 in Cairo, Egypt where world leaders, high ranking officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations and united Nations agencies met to agree on a Programme of Action to deal with overpopulation (Programme of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population & Development ). The programme of Action in short deals with sustainable development. Overpopulation is not a simple issue of birth control and better family planning. This problem will only be solved by improving things such as literacy rates, living standards, hopes and dreams of children, and education. Basically, the developed countries need to aid, or become a partner with developing countries in economic development (Krschten 1693).

The Programme of Action is based on several principles. Basically these principles hold human life to be the top priority in solving overpopulation. "People are the most important and valuable resource of any nation. They have the right to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights"(Programme of Action of the UN ICPD). People should have the same rights to education, food, clothing, and people should have equal opportunities. In summary all people are equal.

These principles also address the gender issue. Leaders of the Cairo conference were hoping the media would focus on the gender issue. They were hoping to spread the notion that as women become better educated and gain access to better health care for themselves and the children, birthrates will decline (Kirschten 1017). Empowering women, allowing women to control their own fertility, and by advancing gender equality, are foundations the world must hold to help curb overpopulation. State representative Constance A Morella says, "It is necessary to empower women, so they can exercise control over their own lives. This is done by improved education and access to reproductive health care services" (Kirschten 1695).

Now that a plan of action has been discussed by many nations world wide, how can the Programme of Action be implemented? Money. There is bipartisan support for tripling the amount spent for international population, starting with a 40 percent increase in budget for the first year. Senator Timothy E. Writh agrees that population is the foundation in dealing with economic development, and "major changes" will have to be made in U.S. spending priorities. The foreign assistance budget must not be trimmed, it must get larger. During the Clinton administration, a greater amount of money was sought, however, this is still not enough. As much as 300 million more dollars are needed to get to undeserved parts of the world (Kirschten 1695).


We must make the connection that our population size is accountable for many unnecessary deaths, the depletion of our environment, the exhaustion of valuable resources, and the loss of top soil and water. This should spark up conversation and meaningful dialog on how to obtain solutions to the problem. We can not lie to ourselves anymore, we must come up with a workable solution, otherwise the problem will take care of itself by nature wiping out the surplus. Family planning has had some success in the past but needs more funding. The developed countries must becomes partners with the developing countries in order to overcome the overpopulation problems. The United Nations International conference on population met in Cairo in 1994 and devised a Programme of Action to deal with overpopulation. This delegation recognizes the complexity of the issue and its urgency to come up with solutions. With the population at its current growth rate, it is expected that by the year 2050, more than 10 billion people will populate the earth. Paul R. Ehrilich and Anne H. Ehrlich of Stanford University, are authors of many books dealing with population. They write "Human numbers are on a collision course with massive famines...If humanity fails to act, nature will end the population explosion for us-in very unpleasant ways-well before 10 billion is reached" (Bongaarts 36). This is a problem that will have to be dealt with more than likely in our life time. Who will rectify the problem humans created, will it be nature, more powerful than humans, or will it be humankind that fixes the problem.


Bongaarts, John. "Can the growing Human population Feed Itself?" Scientific American. March.. 1994:36 - 42.

Bongaarts, John "Population Policy Options in the Devoloping World" Science 11 Feb. 1994: 771 - 777.

Brown, Lester R. In the human intrest. New York: Norton & Company, 1974.

Cohen, Joel E. "Ten myths of Population." Discover. April, 1996: 42 - 47.

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich. The Population Explosion New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Hardin, Garrett. Living within Limits. New York: Oxford University Press., 1993.

Kirschten, Dick. "About-face." National Journal. 3 July 1993: 1692-1695.

Kirschten, Dick. "Women's day." National Journal. 30 April 1994: 1016- 1019.

Lawrence, Susan V. "Family Planning, at a Price." U.S. News and World Report. 19 Sept. 1994: 56-57.

"Programme of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population & Development."

Thompson, Warren S. and Lewis, T. David. Population Problems. New York: McGraw- Hill Book Company, 1965.
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