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Overcrowding, no problem. One of the world?

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The Earth is a self-sustaining biosphere that has the capacity to provide an effectively infinite yield of resources for humanity. However, this idea has led to the human race growing exponentially with little thought of the consequences. The concept of overpopulation has arisen from debates concerning the carrying capacity of the Earth. Currently, every 12 years, the human population increases by 1 billion people. This level of growth puts an enormous strain on the Earth’s ability to maintain the integrity of the bio-sphere. This leads to shortages of almost every resource, war and social conflict, limits on personal freedom, increased intensity and regularity of heavy pollution, overcrowding and threats to the health and survival of other species (we are currently undergoing the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history). It is possible that human carrying capacity has already been reached. Therefore, the question of population growth and its impacts is becoming increasingly pertinent to the human race.

Can we feed everyone?

Currently, it is estimated that around one billion people are falling asleep without adequate food consumption. Every day, 25,000 people die of malnutrition and hunger-related diseases (almost 18,000 of these are children under 5 years old) while on the other side of the world, many Westerners eat indulgently and throw food in the bin. Terrestrial and aquatic food production systems are being pushed at an unsustainable rate to attempt to feed the growing affluent population. Deforestation is being conducted at a voracious pace, primarily for agricultural purposes. This leads to increased global warming, soil degradation and habitat destruction on a country wide scale. Fishing reserves and marine wildlife are being decimated by unsustainable fishing practices geared towards a maximum catch in order to supply a huge number of people with seafood and other luxuries.

Can everyone drink?

Approximately one billion people do not have access to sufficient water for consumption, agriculture and sanitation. Groundwater supplied aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. The growing percentage of affluence amongst the burgeoning human population is increasing the demand for potable and non-potable water at a thoroughly unsustainable rate. Desalination plants are touted as the solution to freshwater shortages, however, the power requirements for large scale desalination will require a colossal energy input.

Can everyone breathe?

Air quality around the world has been harmed by years of smokestack pollution, harmful nitrous oxides from combustion engines and a myriad of other toxins and pollutants. Some American and Asian cities are frequently covered in a harmful layer of smog. Other places, such as, Australian cities are less populous and do not suffer from poor air quality at this point in time. Air pollution can be of great harm to your respiratory system and overall health. Moreover, ozone depletion in the atmosphere has led to a reduced protection from cancer causing UV radiation. As the human population grows, the severity of these issues will be amplified and become more widespread around the world.

Resource use

Resources such as oil and gas are non-renewable, yet they are a keystone piece in the world economy. Our reliance on diminishing fossil fuels and other natural resources will become increasingly perilous as a result of unsustainable population growth. Keeping our population below critical levels is imperative if we are to sustain our standard of living while shifting to a new major source of energy.

Can our society cope?

Human society is quite resilient and given proper organisation and leadership, many of the effects of overpopulation could be mitigated to an extent. However, civil government is ill equipped to deal with immense population density, reduced freedom, large scale unemployment and resource shortages. These factors can lead to increased likelihood of disenfranchisement among minorities and conflict between countries. Population growth places stresses on various levels of governmental infrastructure, including medical, aged care, consumer market and residential accommodation. Health risks due to population density can cause further strain and damage on a worldwide scale as overwhelming population numbers overpower humanity’s ability to retain government, law and distribution of electricity, food, water and other essential utilities.

Ultimately, overpopulation is a problem which is affecting the entire world. Australia’s desire to stimulate the economy through population growth is born about by a relatively small population within our borders. However, it is this common line of reasoning which has brought about our current problem. The multifaceted impacts of overpopulation will only worsen and the environmental threats and social pressures induced by exponential population growth may become a danger to the very existence of the human race. Nevertheless, there are viable solutions and mitigations to overpopulation, these include: increasing our energy efficiency, introducing viable population checks (such as increasing the availability of contraceptives, government legislation and female education) and investing in long term solutions for the myriad of environmental problems plaguing our generation.

Author: Alexander Burns – Australia

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