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Impact of Population Growth on the Planet

2929 words (12 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

08/02/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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 Abstract

This paper’s purpose is to describe and address the problem of the growing population on Earth. I will begin by explaining the issue, why and how it is occurring. Additionally, I will examine how this currently impacts and how it will impact the planet from an environmental standpoint. Anyone can see that the ecosystems are hurting as a result of human activities. If we have significantly more humans on the planet, the Earth’s ecosystem may not fare very well. It may even be disastrous for the planet in the long term. The environmental toll of the huge presence of humanity is already substantial. Some studies project the population to rise over the course of this century before plateauing. It may even almost double by the close of the century. If the population grows by the billions, the environment will undoubtedly suffer far more than we’ve already seen. In this paper, I look into several studies that project the population growth and the effects that this may have. The end goal of my paper is to bring to light the details of what may happen to the planet as a result of humanity and our population crisis.

Research Paper

The problem of population growth is taking the planet by storm in the present day. In recent decades, the human population has skyrocketed to levels unprecedented. This large number of humans and their activities has brought about a slew of environmental issues. These problems range from atmospheric pollution, erosion, water shortages, and endangering plant and animal species. The wave of growth doesn’t appear to be coming to a stop either. Many areas of the planet are experiencing exponential growth. If we are already experiencing issues, the planet’s status a hundred years down the line with possibly double the population may not be stable. The evidence shows that at the current rate, we might just run Earth’s ecosystem into the ground in the future.

Global human population has grown at an uneven and fairly slow rate throughout most of humanity’s existence. Modern humans first appeared about 200,000 years ago, it wasn’t until the year 1850 that the human population reached 1 billion. After rising steadily to 2.5 billion in 1950, the population more than doubled by 2005 to reach 6.5 billion. It has been growing exponentially to reach its current 7.7 billion, not even two centuries later. We reached an unsustainable level a long time ago and the most disturbing fact is that the growth doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

According to some studies, this growth is expected to continue until peaking around 10 billion, while others project it far surpassing this. Much of this population spike will take place in third world countries or developing nations. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are anticipated to double, triple, and in Niger even quadruple in population size. This demographic change is unprecedented in human history. These developing nations feel they need to have more children since they cannot guarantee their children will live into adulthood due to very poor living conditions. The birth rate, however, is declining in more developed nations such as the United States which provides a shred of hope, but most areas of the planet have a long way to go before reaching that point.

The extreme growth in developing nations seems to be having serious consequences on our planet’s ecosystem. As with anything else there must be limits to the planet’s ability to provide for our needs. The increasing production and resource usage will eventually be unable to continue. The troubling fact about this is, when limits do present themselves, it will likely be very sudden. This research paper attempts to examine the problems that Earth’s ecosystem is already experiencing due to overpopulation and how these problems will become exasperated in the near future from continued growth, potentially leading to eventual catastrophic consequences.

 The Environmental Protection Agency states, “The momentum of population growth is like that of a giant oil tanker, slow to develop, hard to turn, and very hard to stop”. This truly puts into words how difficult it is to prevent the overpopulation that is upon us. 96% of population growth is occurring in developing countries. A country’s state of wellbeing seems to be linked inversely with population growth. To slow this process even a little bit, immense assistance is required from economically stable nations. There have been successes with lowering the birth rates in developing African nations but only with vigorous development programs and assistance. The portion of the world’s people who are in the most extreme poverty are turning to very harsh harvesting of the planet’s resources.

 Ecological impact by humans is not a new phenomenon, in fact, it has been occurring long before industrialization. Even early humans caused disturbance in the natural processes of the planet. Earth’s ecosystems are filled with intricate processes dependent on contributions from many different plant and animal species. Early hunters even disturbed these natural processes by severely reducing the population of large animals. Today we disrupt animal species to a much more severe degree. Growing infrastructure in almost every human inhabited area is shrinking down the natural habitats of these species. This is causing all sorts of endangerment for animal populations. Marine life is not immune to human impact either. Oil spills are filling the aquatic environment with a soluble chemical called DDT which could cause potential harm to marine life. The dawn of agricultural practices took an environmental toll as well. Improper harvesting and overgrazing have been damaging ecosystems for thousands of years. These processes have turned once thriving areas into desert lands. Large forested areas in Europe and Asia were also deforested in the middle ages. The consequences of this overharvesting of resources is already seen there in the form of recurrent flooding. Undoubtedly, humans have had negative impacts on the planet for a long time now, but with the current growth of our species, the ecological impact is now more realized. With our technological advancements and the rapidly rising population, human impact has significantly increased and statistically speaking, will continue to increase as time goes on.

 The practice of agriculture could potentially be much less harmful to the environment. However, the focus of agricultural innovation has not been focusing much on this. The rapidly rising population has made it a priority to maximize the crop yields before anything else, diverting our focus away from sustainable agriculture. The growing demand for food is unfortunately preventing sustainability in this field from getting the attention it requires, and this is bound to have consequences.

The rain forests are a prime example of large populations taking a toll on the ecosystem. Cattle Ranching and livestock activities are the reason for the majority of Amazon rainforest deforestation. High rates of meat consumption are forcing farmers to clear more and more land to meet the demands. The Amazonian rainforest is considered to be the most important ecosystem on the planet. With this in mind, it is troubling to learn that over 50% of this grand ecosystem is in danger.

The environmental impacts of destroying an ecosystem of this magnitude are immense. The rainforest contains 10% of the entire planet’s biomass. Clearing out this amount of biomass is releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to the already high levels of carbon in our atmosphere. Forests such as this also impact rainfall up to hundreds of miles away. Without this rainforest, this huge area’s rainfall will be decreased, potentially leading to droughts. With an increasing population cutting away the rainforest, 65% of it is at risk of turning into savannah in the next 50 years. The expansion of infrastructure in this area also points towards the amazon’s destruction. If all of the approved construction projects are completed, 50% of the forest will be destroyed. We truly are beginning to drain areas like this dry of their resources as the population continues to grow and continues to take full advantage of their environment. If the rainforest, the most important ecosystem, is anything to foreshadow the planet’s state in the future, then Earth’s future is looking bleak.

 As previously stated, it is often predicted that population will stabilize before the century closes after growing to over 10 billion. However, certain studies are now finding that stabilization may not be on the horizon. In the article “The Heritability of Fertility Makes World Population Stabilization Unlikely in the Foreseeable Future”, Jason Collins claims that there is not much of a chance of the population growth plateauing anytime soon. When looking at population growth from an evolutionary standpoint, fertility is a favorable evolutionary trait. This means that by natural selection, the population is theoretically becoming more fertile since it is an inheritable trait. On average, people will have 0.21% more children than their mother. This statistic has grown fairly steadily throughout history. Any simulations presented in this peer reviewed article to graph the population trend, shows the fertility rate staying above the replacement rate. In struggling nations where population growth is currently extreme, projections do not show it decreasing much any time soon. According to these studies there is less than a 5% chance of global population stabilization in this century. This is just one alternative research standpoint, but it shows that we cannot bank on stabilization saving humanity from growing into disaster.

 Population growth’s toll on the planet is becoming more evident as the years tick by. Humans have consumed more of Earth’s resources in the past 50 years than the entirety of the human population that existed before that. Scientists have yet to determine the human carrying capacity of the planet, but with statistics like these, it seems we’re quickly approaching it. While our massive growing population is consuming all of these resources, we are producing an extreme amount of waste. Population growth’s two major impacts on the planet are resource consumption and waste production. This resource consumption consists of land, food, water, air, fossil fuels and minerals. This consumption produces air and water pollutants, toxic materials and greenhouse gases. All of this cannot be healthy for our planet, and with the rapidly increasing number of humans, comes even more consumption and waste. For this reason, many people think population growth will eventually result in an environmental catastrophe. Based on the evidence at hand, they may not be too far off.

 Planet Earth’s geological epochs, historically speaking, are defined by natural geological and climate processes. Researchers propose that we have entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene. This new geologic era has been brought about by the influence humans and their activities are having on the environment. If humans really are having so much environmental impact that it has caused this significant geologic change, then it is clear we are causing problems.

 Developing nations are on track to cause serious negative impacts on the planet. Increasing populations create more need for employment, and people are gravitating towards urban areas to find work. It is argued that urbanization allows for better resource allocation, but this could have other consequences. The developing infrastructure cannot keep up with the movement of people to cities, leading to a lot of impoverished citizens. This also puts a ton of pressure on the country’s resources. The overconsumption of water, food, and energy will eventually strip the land’s natural resources.This leads to stress on the environment in the area, which could lead to dying ecosystems in the future.

 Government conflicts in areas such as the middle east have caused poor conditions and often mass migration to other countries. Surrounding countries let these refugees into their country out of concern for their safety because it is the humane thing to do. While this does seem like the proper move, it causes some extreme pressure on the local environment. Huge refugee camps are swiftly set up without established infrastructures, water systems, and waste management. This has an effect on water resources, land resources, and creates pollution. With a lack of sewage systems, waste from these refugee camps is not properly contained and heavily pollutes the environment. With a growing population, there will inevitably be more conflict and more refugees that need to be housed. The ecosystem is taking a toll already from this and will likely be pushed closer to its limits in the future.

 The most developed countries are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact. The poorest nations aren’t having much environmental impact due to low industrial activity. The developing nations who have achieved industrial activity but not technology to regulate emissions are the ones causing the most environmental strife. The most feasible plan to control environmental problems caused by humans is innovation in sustainability. People are developing technology that allow us to reduce our environmental footprint. We have the potential to decrease emissions significantly, but we have a long way to go. Switching to more renewable forms of energy that don’t damage the atmosphere is a great way we can go about addressing our growing human population’s damage to the planet. If there is a significant shift away from fossil fuels and towards things like solar, wind, and water energy, it would definitely make a big difference. The trouble is that these forms of energy are not yet economically competitive with fossil fuels. These forms of energy also require significant infrastructural changes before the switch can be made.

 Another way that humans can slow the environmental degradation is reducing modern consumption habits. The consumption rates in some developed nations such as our own are extravagant and more so as time goes on. We live in a culture based around consumption, buying and consuming. This lifestyle is heavily promoted by governments who want to improve their economy. It is a culturally regular thing in our society to strive for more income and be able to purchase large homes and expensive cars to show off success. The practice of this buying and consuming in excess creates a lot of waste and uses way more resources than necessary. Overconsumption takes a hefty toll on the environment. The energy required for each living person increased by over 50% from 1950 to 1970. As time goes on, people are desiring and having access to more luxurious lifestyles. If people in thriving nations only consumed what they needed, the world would have more resources to work with and less emissions from production. The heavy use of fossil fuels to account for the extreme production in these nations is not just a localized issue, it affects the environment on a global scale.

 It is clear that there are some great methods we can utilize to significantly decrease our environmental footprint and extend the life of Earth’s resources and ecosystem. However, this becomes increasingly difficult as a growing amount of people demand products and resources. To address the problem entirely, the planet would need to both decrease and stabilize the human population, as well as produce goods and services in a sustainable manner. Since neither of these tasks are easy and they aren’t often very economical, not many governments are willing to focus their efforts into them. This seems to be the main problem here, that the world’s leadership will not act on these issues, and possibly won’t until it is too late. Hopefully sustainable energy sources become more affordable in the near future, but full sustainability will require much more innovation than that.

The chances of reaching Earth’s carrying capacity are being increased as we continue to increase consumption and population. Nobody can say for sure when we will reach this capacity or the exact consequences of it, but from current evidence we can guess that it could be on the horizon and the results will be severe. It is speculated that reaching this point will at least cause heavy agricultural failures, decreases in the yields of fisheries, and disease epidemics. I believe that we may be able to prevent the world from this ecological catastrophe, but only if the dire situation is realized and the world leaders unite to save our planet and our species from ourselves.

References

  • Collins, Jason. “The Heritability of Fertility Makes World Population Stabilization Unlikely in the Foreseeable Future.” ScienceDirect. N.p., 5 Sept. 2018. Web. 14 Dec. 2018.
  • Mischa. “Population and Environment: A Global Challenge.” Australian Academy of Science, 07 Nov. 2017. Web. 14 Dec. 2018.
  • Silveira, Wolter. “The Amazon Rainforest: The World’s Most Important Ecosystem.” Rainforest Foundation Norway. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2018.
  • “Unit 5: Human Population Dynamics // Section 4: World Population Growth Through History.” Annenberg Learner. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2018.
  • Agarwal, Manju, and Preeti. “A Mathematical Study for the Existence and Survival of Human
  • Population in a Polluted Environment.” Applications & Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, no. 1, June 2018, pp. 217–234. EBSCOhost
  • Bongaarts, John. “Human population growth and the demographic transition.” 364. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
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