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Over the past decades, population growth has grown significantly and the earth’s resources are not replenishing fast enough to keep up with the growth rate. Increase in population had put more pressure on the earth’s resources as they are being used more. Excessive population has led to congestion, poor living conditions, pollution, and general environmental degradation.
The main purpose of this paper is to determine how population growth is affected the way we live, our environment and consequently, the sustainability of man’s activities. i.e. will the effects of these activities have an effect on the capacity of the earth to sustain humanity?
Method of inquiry
The method of inquiry for this paper will be literature review. Various literatures by different authors will be used to determine whether population growth does pose a threat to humanity.
Limitations of the study
The study was limited to the effects of population growth on humanity.
Humanity – Refers to the human species
Population – Number of species inhabiting an area at a specific time
Over population – Overpopulation refers to the state where a species inhabiting an area put pressure on the ecosystems as the ecosystems can no longer be able to sustain the population
Population growth – Refers to the increase in the population of a certain area over time.
Environmental degradation – Refers to the deterioration of the state of the environment due to man’s activities.
Scope of Inquiry
This paper will cover works of various authors who have written on population growth, over population and the effects of population growth on the environment.
Effects of population growth on the environment
Thomas Malthus argued that means of subsistence affected the increase or decrease of a population. Malthus first brought the population problem to attention; he brought up the issue of food supplies and arithmetical ratios. According to Malthus, while population increased geometrically, food resources would only increase arithmetically. Over time, this theory has proven to be true in the sense that population tends to increase if people have the means of subsistence to maintain the population. i.e. as people’s means of subsistence increase, they significantly increase in population.
As human population continuously growing, the biggest issue facing the Earth is the collective demand humans put upon it. Increase in the total population also increased consumption of resources. Besides that, excessive population growth is responsible for many of our Planet’s issues: traffic congestion, poor living conditions, global warming, employment difficulties, hunger, poverty etc.; it also causes environmental pollution and degradation (Wilson). Yet, land, water, mineral and other natural resources are diminishing due to population growth. As such a large population living on Earth and sharing scarcity of resources like water and food. Humans were compelled extract resources to meet their demands, at the same time, use modern technology abusively to modify the environment.
Of all the humans who have ever lived, 6.4 percent are alive today. The number of people is overwhelming natural systems, destroying biodiversity, and challenging efforts to control global warming. Because of the increased availability of family-planning services, fertility is declining worldwide-from 2.56 children per woman at present to a projected 2.02 in 2050 (Wenner).
Wild fires have become a common phenomenon due to poor land management, increased carelessness by the people, cutting down of trees leaving large tracts of bare land and many other issues like lack of clear policies governing land use. Fresh water is hard to access due to the increased population and destruction of water catchment areas, which has also led to the loss of biodiversity (Shaw 201). Climate change may occur gradually but some of its effects may be irreversible and in some cases, unstoppable. For example, seas levels are rising due to melting of ice. Some areas have become more prone to the effects of earthquakes due to the excavation of these areas in search of fuels. (Herald).
Energy use patterns as a result of population growth
Food is a form of energy; however, it is also a consumer of fossil fuel that is used in its production, transportation, and preparation. A study calculated the energy intensity of food production from agriculture, transportation, processing, food sales, storage, and preparation for 2007 as 8080 ± 760 trillion BTU. In 1995, approximately 27% of edible food was wasted, and the study concluded from this that 2030 ± 160 trillion BTU of energy were embedded in the 2007 wasted food (6464). While the above figures only reflect the United states, the overall increased energy use in the whole world has increased at an alarming rate. This is due to the increased energy demands for purposes of industrialization and mechanization.
Recent food shortages, blamed in part on the growth of the bio-fuels industry, have created a new awareness of the relationship between food and energy. Over last 50 years we have seen increased agricultural productivity thanks to the adoption of new technologies and inputs, which are largely based on fossil fuels. Minimal human labor is therefore being less used and mechanization has been highly adopted.
Mechanization of the agriculture sector, improved fertilizers, more resilient crops, and the development of pesticides, all of which rely on fossil fuels, are the reasons for the increased productivity. The food waste figures do not include food wasted on the farm, in fisheries, and during processing and relies on outdated food consumption and waste data, some of which is from the 1970s (Wenner). Because of economic and population growth, the total amount of food production and consumption has grown since the latest food loss study for 1995, and the portion of income Americans spend on food has dropped. From this, the researchers hypothesized that the current amount of food wasted to be higher compared to the USDA’s 1995 estimates. If this is true, addressing food waste represents an opportunity for avoided energy consumption.
Population growth has led to heavier traffic, rural – urban migration causing urban sprawl, increased depletion of natural resources and increased emission of CFC gases that are responsible for the ozone layer depletion. In the United States, immigration by people from the less developed countries is the main cause of increasing population and it is estimated that over the next four decades population growth caused by immigration will account for 82% of the total population growth. Every year, more than a million people achieve permanent residency and become American Citizens (U.S. Census Bureau). As the immigrants move into the United States, they do not change their consumption patterns and they tend to increase the country’s emission in an alarming rate.
The environmental impact of a society can be measured by multiplying the number of people by the capita influence and the index of environmental damages caused by people. The environmental damage of the society in this case could involve the power used in lighting and heating, paper factories that use trees to manufacture paper and many other industries that people have put up for economic reasons. This does not necessarily mean that the highest level of development have cause more environmental damage. Lower and sometimes the lowest levels of development underestimate the environmental impact e.g. most of the poor people use fuel wood for their daily uses. This therefore leads to massive cutting down of trees though this may occur in small stages but over a period of time, the damage made could be far much worse than estimated. Higher developments on the other hand may overestimate environmental damage. This is because most of the industries in most countries have environmental policies that have been put in place to safeguard the environment. In most cases, higher developments yield more benefits and do less damage to the environment.
Human enterprise has significantly grown from the 19th Century.
. There is therefore a need to develop policies to help curb this predicament. As standards of living and life expectancy continue increasing, there has been need for more technological innovations and therefore, industries have led to increased carbon emissions and this continues rising. The forests have been cleared to create more space for development and the natural ecosystems have been thrown out of balance. The coral reefs face are now on the verge of extinction as they face stress form pollutants in the ocean, tourism, fishing and carbonate chemistry which is a result of the increased carbon dioxide in the ocean surface waters (Shaw 205).
At the lowly levels of industrialization, energy use perhaps underestimates ecological impact. For instance, underprivileged people can cause severe environmental damage through deforestation in search of firewood.
At the uppermost development levels, use of energy probably miscalculate environmental impact; for instance, a given quantity of energy use in Japan, Western Europe, or the US, certainly provides additional benefits with less harm than the same amount used in Russia or Poland due to the greater effectiveness and tighter environmental bylaws. Although these countries pose severe dangers due to increased industrialization, developing countries in Africa affect the environment as people expand their farms for food sufficiency.
A pioneering analysis of the world’s ecosystems reveals a widespread decline in the condition of the world’s ecosystems due to increasing resource demands. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI) if the decline in the World’s ecosystems continues, human development and the welfare of all species could be greatly affected in a negative way since the ecosystems capacity to produce food, water , maintain the biodiversity and storage of atmospheric carbon and provision of recreation opportunities would be thoroughly compromised (Wilson). To make matters worse, as our ecosystems decline, we are also racing against time since scientists lack baseline knowledge needed to determine properly the conditions of such systems.
Population growth has largely been felt in biodiversity where it is now being considered a primary threat (Wilson). This is because, increased population has led to the introduction of exotic species in a bid to satisfy human needs and wants economically and these exotic species are throwing the delicate ecosystem out of balance. Illegal and unregulated hunting, fishing, and trade in wildlife products are also deleting many species (Wilson).
Population growth, therefore, can be considered the greatest threat to humanity it is therefore necessary to curb rapid population to be able to manage our environment and live sustainably. Alternative energy sources also need to be established so as to reduce the dependence on bio-fuels.
Census Bureau. World Population: 1950-2050. June 28, 2010. November 20, 2010
Cuellar, Amanda & Webber, Michael. “Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States.” Environmental Science & Technology. 44. 16 (2010): 6464-6469
Herald. Human population growth. January 20, 2004. November 20, 2010. < http://www.sbbg.org/_ccLib/downloads/Human_population_growth.pdf >
Shaw. “Rapid Population Growth and Environmental Degradation: Ultimate versus Proximate Factors.” Environmental Conservation, 16(1989): 199-208
Wenner, Jennifer. “Population growth.” Population growth and resource depletion. January 02, 2009. November 21, 2010 < http://serc.carleton.edu/quantskills/methods/quantlit/ popgrowth.html>
Wilson, E. Environmental Impacts from Unsustainable Population Growth. October 31, 2010. November 20, 2010.
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