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As of right now, our Earth holds over 7 billion people and that number is steadily increasing by 75 million per year. That means every minute, 150 people are added to our population. Now that is a lot of people! Going back, there were about 300 million people living in the year AD 1. By the time Europeans were settling in the United States 1600 years later, the world population had increased gradually to a little over 500 million. It began rising exponentially, zooming to 1 billion by about 1800. Then more than doubling by 1930, and then doubling again in just 40 years. Looking into where the population grows the most, the increases take place in less developed regions. Why would less developed countries be increasing our population more? Well, women have less control over their lives in less developed areas. They also have strict access to birth control, if any. Abortion is also not readily available. Religious or cultural views can also play a major role in reproduction. Which also brings the point that less developed countries rely on farming and other rigorous work and children are able to be put to work at a young age. Some countries also value boys over girls which will lead to families repeatedly trying to have a boy if they have girls first. Overall, it is a combination of high child mortality rates and a lack of social provisions of every type that leads to high fertility rates in the developing world. Now to focus on the developed regions. In 1950, the more developed regions accounted for 32% of the world’s population. However, their share dropped to 20% in 2000 and is expected to further decline to 13% in 2050. Changes are also predicted for the world’s age distribution. The proportion of people aged 60 and over will increase from 10% in 2000 to 22% in 2050, and by 2050 there will be more older people in the world than children. This may seem shocking, but taking a step back, it is easy to see why. The amount of time it takes for a baby to form in the womb and be born is significantly shorter to the long life that baby is anticipated to live. One crazy conversation being passed around the internet is about the Facebook Graveyard. It is estimated that more than 8,000 Facebook users die each day. By the year of 2012, just 8 years after this social media platform had launched, approximately 30 million Facebook account holders had died. Back to the ideas on developing and developed countries. Both have experiences pretty significant reductions in fertility as contraceptive use has increased worldwide. However, this isn’t to say that it has reduced enough to stop a steady growth. Developing countries still have fertility levels that ensure substantial population growth. In fact, in a small number of countries, most of which are classified as the least developed show fertility levels that continue to be very high. Touching on death, statistics show that death rates remain relatively high. Just in the United States, over 7,000 people die every day making for an estimate that at least one person dies every 12 seconds in this country alone. Cancer and heart disease are also the countries lead killers. However, even with health complications being the main cause of death, death rates have decreased in recent years because of public health measures and improved medical care.
Now that we are aware of just how many people inhabit the 15.77 billion acres of habitable land, we can begin to understand how much resources the human race consumes and how much is too much. Also, we can approximate when certain resources will run out if we continue to utilize them in the fashion that we do. The United States has about 5% of the world’s population but uses 25% of the world’s energy. A 2011 report from the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity states that the population’s demand for resources already exceeds the earth’s capacity by 20%. Currently most of the world’s energy comes from nonrenewable sources. This includes oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. As these sources are depleted, the world will have to shift to renewable energy sources, such as hydropower and solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and ocean power. It is argued that at current rates of production, oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54, and coal in 110. We have managed to deplete these fossil fuels, which have their origins somewhere between 541 and 66 million years ago, in less than 200 years since we started using them. With coal, about half of the United States energy is produced. It gives power to our lights, refrigerators, dishwashers, and most other things we plug in. Petroleum, or oil, is transformed into gasoline which fuels the vehicles we use for transportation. Natural gas is used for heating and cooking but can also be used to generate energy just as coal does. As said before, Americans are the biggest energy consumers in the world. We use energy to create electricity, transport us, power our industries, and run our homes. About 83% of the energy we use comes from the fossil fuels described above. The remainder comes from nuclear power and even less comes from renewable energy sources.
Understanding all of the earth’s resources as well as how much the population is actually growing can also help us conclude how rapid growth affects our earth. It isn’t necessarily the population growth itself that is harming our earth, but in fact, how we utilize our resources and how we treat our earth. Of course if our population was smaller, our earth would be able to endure the abuse for a longer period of time and the resources it has to offer would stay abundant. However, when our population is exponentially multiplying, demand skyrockets. It is said that this rapid expansion of population, particularly in the past 50 years, is generally believed to be responsible for most of the stress humans have put on the environment. A large and rapidly growing population makes it more difficult to provide the basic components of environmental health, including clean and disease-free food and water. With food, we are able to see how cruel and unsanitary big corporations are. They are money hungry with the goal to push out as much as they can in as little time as possible. Also seen in Flint, Michigan with their water crisis, when efforts to save money were made, shortcuts were taken to which water became unsafe to drink. Population growth is also a driving force behind many of the relatively more recent environmental health concerns, including chemical pollution, global climate change, and the thinning of the atmosphere’s ozone layer. As the worldwide demand for energy rises and supplies of easily accessible oil dwindle, some energy companies have turned to what are often called extreme energy sources. This term describes fossil fuels that are relatively difficult to access and extract from the environment. Examples include deepwater oil rigs, tar sand oil extractions, and hydrofracking of natural gas. Accessing these energy sources requires new technologies and practices. Critics worry that these technologies have been insufficiently studied and regulated and may pose significant new environmental risks. The critics worries were definitely not ones to ignore as oil spills harm wildlife, threaten water supplies, and can damage local economies. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig which exploded in April 2011 in the Gulf of Mexico was a deepwater rig. It took BP three months to plug the leak, after nearly 5 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf. Chemical dispersants used to breakup the oil had possible toxic effects and may have caused much of the oil to remain beneath the surface in large plumes or to settle on the ocean floor, where it cannot be reached for cleanup. This specific disaster killed thousands of birds, hundreds of endangered sea turtles, and many dolphins and other marine mammals. The Gulf’s ecosystems may need generations to recover fully, and some parts of it may never recover due to the damage. Researchers have also discovered trace amounts of oil in some fish and shellfish from the area of the oil spill. This raises concern as this oil could reach the human food chain. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig is a perfect example of how our population growth causes demand, which then causes companies to do things that can result in absolute chaos and more harm to our earth. This isn’t the only thing affected by population growth however. With a rapidly increasing population, more energy is used. Energy consumption is in fact at the root of many environmental problems, especially those relating to air pollution. Automobile exhaust and the burning of oil and coal by industry and electric power plants are primary causes or smog, acid precipitation, and the greenhouse effect. Briefly going on about the greenhouse effect, it is essentially how all of the heat produced within our ozone layer is becoming trapped. Temperatures all over the world are rising and will continue to rise as we pollute our precious air. To prevent air pollution you can cut back on driving as well as keep your car tuned up and well maintained. Try and buy energy efficient appliances and use them only when necessary and also replace incandescent bulbs with LED and compact fluorescent bulbs. Be sure your home is well insulated with ozone safe agents and plant and care for trees in your yard and neighborhood! Water shortages are a growing concern in many regions of the world. Some parts of the United States, such as the desert west, are experiencing rapid population growth that outstrips the ability of local systems to provide adequate water to all. Matter of fact, less than 1% of the world’s freshwater is readily available for human use. And very few parts of the world have enough safe, clean drinking water. According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion people do not have safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. With a constantly growing population also comes a lot more trash the is produced. The average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash per day. However, only about 1.5 pounds of that trash is recycled. In 2010 alone, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash and recycled 85 million tons of materials. As the statistics show, a lot of trash is being produced by humans and so little of it is actually being recycled. Which bring the question of where all the trash we produce goes. If we continue to produce trash at the rate that we do, landfills would cover our earth. Being mindful of how much trash we produce and how much of that we choose to recycle could help contribute to a healthier planet.
As of our world’s current state, if we keep going in the direction that we are, the future is not looking so bright. Population wise, the United Nations projects that world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and will continue to increase until it levels off above 10.1 billion in 2100. The percentage of population in developed regions is expected to decline to 13% by the year 2050 with many changes in age distribution as well. By 2050 it is anticipated that the world will hold more older people than children. That is just some anticipations regarding population. The environment however, will suffer and struggle much more than it already is. When the environment struggles, so will humans and all living things that inhabit our planet. By 2050, the number of deaths caused by air pollution, which includes tiny particles found in smoke and haze, ground-level ozone typically emitted by cars, and toxic components in household products and building materials, will soar, killing more than 6 million people every year, according to a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. With water, more than half of the world’s population could end up without an adequate source of water. As of right now in today’s world, there is already a sarcity with water for many people. Even in developed countries, water supplies can be contaminated or not suitable for human consumption. However, by 2050, nearly 2 billion people will live in countries, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa, with absolute water scarcity, according to the International Water Management Institute. Also by 2050, MIT researchers say that 5 billion of the world’s projected 9.3 billion people could live in water-stressed areas. Water-stressed doesn’t necessarily mean people won’t have any water, but it does mean that it can be very hard to access and can come from an unreliable source. Water scarcity isn’t the only thing us humans should be worried about however. Food scarcity is a very likely thing, and some of our favorite foods can be depleted in the coming years. Fish, for example, is already doing poorly in our current state. 87% of the world’s fish are classified as over-exploited or fully exploited. If we continue to fish at the same rate we currently are, fish stocks could be completely extinct by the year 2050. Not only will many miss having dishes with their favorite fish in them, but it could severely damage our ecosystem as well as business for many. Just a few more ideas of what could happen to our earth by the year 2050 would be that millions could be without food, rainforests could face complete annihilation, diseases and infections could kill millions of people every year and with that, the diseases will spread faster, and rising water levels could flood major cities and also hurricanes will become more frequent and severe.
So what can we do to impose some control over our population? Well one approach was taken by the country of China. Given that they are the most populated country in the world, they face many social and economic issues which derive from their constantly growing population. In the year of 1979, China imposed the one child per family policy. This policy stated that citizens must obtain a birth certificate before the birth of their children. The citizens would be offered special benefits if they agreed to have only one child. Citizens however, who chose to have more than one child would either be taxed an amount up to fifty percent of their income, or punished by loss of employment or other benefit. Upon those regulations, unplanned pregnancies or pregnancies without the proper authorization would need to be terminated. In 1980, the birth-quota system was established to further tighten the control on population. With this system in place, the government set goals for each region and local officials were held responsible for keeping track of the numbers and making sure the population in their region did not exceed the target goals placed. If target goals were not met, local officials would suffer punishment by the law. Another method introduced in the early 80’s was sterilization. It was made mandatory for people who had two children and at its peak in 1983, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and abortions amounted to 35% of the total birth control methods in the country. Propaganda was used by the government as well. As the economy shifted from agricultural to a more industrious type, the government informed citizens that a growing population would hinder economic growth and success. With these regulations came a lot of issues however. These programs were very difficult to implement and showed to have very low success. With punishment being a big factor on the line, local officials who were in charge of keeping track of growth in their areas were shown to have submitted false reports to avoid being punished. The number of births were significantly underreported by as much as 27% in 1992. Of the almost 15,000 births between 1980-1988, only about half received a legal birth permit. And of those that had a legal permit, 88% were the first born children in the families. Of the second children born in families, typically only 11% of them were authorized. Many people who resided in rural areas also found ways to bend around the birth-quota system as they live farther from a dense society and also need help with their agricultural lifestyle. Compliance with the birth-quota system was overall extremely low. With a strong defiance against the birth-quota system, China suffered social and political consequences as well since testing new waters with their population control. The Chinese government was frowned upon and received much disapproval due to their strict policies. The United States, as well as many other countries, made it very known of their objection to their sterilization policies. Chinese citizens were also very upset about the policies and were found to have acted out and retaliate with violence. There is also a cultural preference for sons in the country. With the one child per family structure in place, it sadly led to a large number of incidences of female infanticide. With the very clear opposition to infanticide, the government was then forced into posing another rule which was if a families first born was a daughter, they would be allowed to try again for a son. As much as China suffered horrible consequences of these population control efforts, there were still some social and economic benefits that came from imposing these regulations. Over the last 50 years, China has raised their standard of living by keeping population growth rates down. Access to natural resources have also increased since the 1980’s. According to the State Family Planning Commission, coverage in tap water had increased from 84% to 94%! Coverage of natural gas also took a leap, going from 16% to 73%. Medical coverage also reached out more and included birth insurance as well as workers compensation for mothers who follow the implemented birth policies. The average life expectancy was also a result of this population control, and there was a very significant drop in infant mortality rates.
Now that we have over viewed the good and the bad that coincide with population control, we begin to question how ethical imposing such a thing would be. As seen in China, enforcing laws and regulations to control the population brought horrifying results, but also showed that it can be quite beneficial to the people, the economy, and the earth. So is it ethical to tell a family how many children they can have? How about to tell men and women to get sterilized? But if the population keeps growing at the rate that it is, the earth begins to die. Would it be ethical for us humans to keep reproducing at rates that would only hurt our planet? Either way, some type of value or principle is being broken. Compromise has to be allowed in this situation. China, for example, noticed a significant outbreak of female infanticide with their regulations, so they compromised and allowed families to try for a boy if their first born was a girl and they were unhappy. As restrictive as it sounds to force a regulation, such as the ones placed in China, onto a family, we also have to become less selfish as humans. If we want to continue reproducing at the rate we are, we should consider being more mindful of the resources we use, what we throw away, how we transport ourselves, and a multitude of other things. It is not necessarily the growth itself that directly harms our earth. It is the selfishness of the human race. We have to understand that we are a species within millions of others that are living on this planet. Our resources are absolutely not unlimited, and once they run out, they’re gone forever. As unethical as population control sounds, I also believe that disregarding our home planet and destroying it with our daily actions is just as unethical. Small actions from everyone on our earth can lead to massive change.
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