Right now, there are 7.594 billion people on planet Earth. The chances are high that there are even more now while you’re reading this, as new people are born all around the globe. Experts expect that if something doesn’t change, we could see 9.7 billion people by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100. While birth and growth might sound like a positive thing on paper, there is an upper limit.
Populations are expanding, but the planet is not. We’re swiftly approaching the point of overpopulation. What is overpopulation, what causes it and what happens if we don’t curtail the currently unchecked population growth?
First, how do we define overpopulation? The Oxford dictionary defines the word as “the condition of being populated with excessively large numbers.” However, that doesn’t capture what the condition really means. You see overpopulation in any population where available resources aren’t enough to sustain the individuals. Food, water and space to live are all at a premium in overpopulated ecosystems.
With more than 7.5 billion people on the planet, we haven’t quite hit the point of overpopulation yet. But we are heading in that direction. So what causes overpopulation?
Causes of Overpopulation
Overpopulation has a number of different causes, and not all of them are negative. In fact, many of the things that cause overpopulation are seen as milestones in modern development. When you improve medical knowledge and understanding, you extend the average lifespan. When people stop dying early, the population explodes. When agriculture advances, and it becomes easier to feed the population, it continues to grow.
On the other side of the coin, you’ve got the negative causes of overpopulation. Countries with high levels of poverty — especially those that offer welfare subsidies for large families — tend to experience more overpopulation. Not only are these families relying on those subsidies to survive, but the adults also tend to live with their grown children, perpetuating the cycle. In developing countries, having large families is also essential for working farmland and keeping food on the table.
Religion is also a concern. Some religions believe that it is a sin to use contraceptives, and take their holy texts’ mandates to “be fruitful and multiply” very literally. Finally, a lack of family planning education — or the focus on abstinence-only sex education — can lead to unplanned pregnancies and overpopulation.
Overpopulation might be the result of positive economic and social development, but it has a number of negative effects that can impact the entire world.
When you have a large number of people living in the same space, food and water become more difficult to obtain. Agricultural infrastructure will struggle to keep up, depleting the nutrients in the soil. The infrastructure will eventually struggle to keep up with the growing population, leading to the overall failure of natural environments.
The scarcity of food and water can also lead to conflicts which in turn lead to increased mortality rates. You’ll also see increased rates of fossil fuel use and excessive use of natural resources. When you have a dense population, you also increase the likelihood of generating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and increase the possibility of serious disease epidemics.
These are just a few of the possible impacts of overpopulation. When we reach a certain population, the planet’s natural resources simply can’t support it, and will eventually lead to a collapse.
Protecting the Future
We know that the population is growing and that it will reach a critical tipping point in the next century. We need to take steps now to steady our population growth so it doesn’t become unsustainable. We’re not sure exactly how many people the planet can support, but experts believe it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 10 billion.
We’re not there yet, but we’re quickly moving in that direction. If we don’t take steps to curtail our currently unchecked population growth, we’ll start running out of everything we need to stay alive.
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