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Population Growth and the Impact on the Environment


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Population Growth and the Impact on the Environment


Human population can be defined as total number of human inhabitants in a specific area at a given time. A specific area can be the entire world, continent, country, city, town or village. Demography is the study of human population with regard to size, distribution, composition and determinants which cause changes in population and the consequences thereof (Mishra, 2010).

World population growth has been phenomenal over the last three centuries. This has been as a result of improving diets and individual food consumption, availability of clean drinking water, ability to employ natural resources such as land, fuel resources, minerals and water. However, effects of population growth do pose a negative effect on the environment. Population growth demands higher consumption levels of both food and water. It also leads to over exploitation, unsustainable use of natural resources, wastage as well as mismanagement of available resources. Population growth has been sustainable in some parts of the world while in other parts there is already cause for alarm over the diminishing resources in light of continued population growth. This has resulted in the need to adequately study human growth so as to find ways with which population growth can be controlled (Mishra, 2010). This paper seeks to address projected concerns as a result of population growth globally, regionally and in five countries which are projected to have the largest population sizes in the next 30 years. The effects of human population growth with regard to the environment will also be comprehensively addressed.

Global population in the next thirty years

In 2002, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projected the world human population to grow to over 8 billion by the year 2030. This is in line with the projected annual growth rate of 1.1%, suggesting that global population density will be quite high (FAO, 2002). From 1960 to 1999, global population is said to have realized an overall growth of 50%, increasing from 3billion to just over 6billion in less 40 years (FAO, 2002). This was as a result of advances in medicine, science and technology which resulted in low child mortality rates, increased life expectancy, better quality of life and healthier populations. As population growth increased, changes in the global environment were observed as to have begun accelerating bringing about increased levels of pollution, continued depletion of available natural resources as well as climate change. This has precipitated scholars to query whether population growth results in increasing reports of environmental degradation (FAO, 2002).

Population dynamics indeed have profound and far reaching environmental implications and population size is not the only factor as population density as well as population flows predetermine the intensity with which the environment will be impacted by the environment (RAND, 2000). In the year 2000, the United Nations provided estimates that population growth in the entire world increased by around 80million people. As much as fertility rates have been reported to decrease significantly in some parts of the world mostly in the developed world, developing countries in Asia, South America and Africa still register high fertility rates fuelling global population growth (RAND, 2000). It is important to note that in places reporting very low fertility rates, population growth continues as a result of what is referred to as population momentum arising when high percentage of the entire populace is young (RAND, 2000).

Regional population in the next thirty years

Population growth rates contrast greatly from region to region. It is important to note that populations in countries in the same region also tend to differ significantly. The cause for such disparities in population data is relative to the degree of industrialization (UNFPA, 1999). A high degree of industrialization implies that a region is developed whereas lower levels of industrialization imply that such a region is developing. Developed regions are home to countries like America, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. Europe is also a developed region. In 1999, developed regions had a total population of nearly 2billion inhabitants with an annual population growth rate of nearly 0.3% (UNFPA, 1999). However, this growth rate was projected to fall considerably towards negative growth rates in the following 30 years, which will be before the year 2025 (UNFPA, 1999). This will mainly be due to decreasing fertility rates as well as factors such as falling numbers of child bearing people as the population ages. One important issue to consider is that developed countries attract a lot of immigrants as students or as workers from developing regions the probable eventuality might actually register further growth in populations in this region based on this fact (UNFPA, 1999).

Developing regions such as Africa, Asia and South America accounted for nearly 4.7billion inhabitants in 1999 and recorded a population growth rate of about 1.6% (UNFPA, 1999). Back in 1999, it was projected that in the following 30 years 98% of the world’s population growth would be realized in the developing region (UNFPA, 1999). It is important to point out that the population growth rate witnessed in Africa as high as it is actually conceals variations in growth rates within the continent. In 1999, population growth rates in the Southern and Northern regions of Africa oscillated between 2% and about1.6% while in the Western and Middle regions of Africa population growth rates oscillated between 2.5% and about2.7% (UNFPA, 1999). The average population growth rate in 1999 stood at 2.4%. Africa’s total population at the time was almost 770million people; this figure is expected to double before 2035 (UNFPA, 1999).

Five countries projected to have the world’s largest population in the next 30 years

Growth in the total global population is basically concentrated in the most populous countries. In the next 30 years or so it is projected that the countries that will exhibit the highest population growth in descending order will be India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and the US.  These nations are expected to account for nearly 50% of the total projected increase in global population (UN, 2010). Since the 1970’s population growth has been decelerating gradually mainly due to decreasing fertility rates in the developed countries. From 2005 to 2010, global population growth stood at about 1.16% per annum and is projected to decrease further to 0.44%  (UN, 2010).

As at 2009, India’s total population stood at 1.2billion as a result of improved healthcare which has seen a reduction in child mortality over the last two decades. Fertility levels in India stand at over 2% (UN, 2010). Life expectancy is also high in India due to the fact that increased health care has improved the quality of life and the fact that food availability is not an issue in India.

Pakistan reported a total population of 173million people. Pakistani women have a relatively high fertility rate of around 4 children per woman. Child mortality rates are low compared to those of Nigeria standing at 94 deaths for every 1000 children born alive (UN, 2010). Pakistan is agriculturally self-dependent with a wide industrial base which can sustain the projected growth figures as provided by the UN report.

According to the UN, Nigeria had a population of about 158 million people, the highest in Africa. This is due to the fact that fertility rates are high at 5.6% (UN, 2010). Child mortality is relatively high for children under the age of 5 standing at nearly 156 deaths for every 1000 children born. Nigeria is rich in natural resources such as oil and agriculture making able to sustain population growth to projected figures in 30 years.

Tanzania recorded a growth 44.8 million in 2010 which showed a low population density of about 47 Tanzanians per square kilometer. Tanzania has a high fertility rate with women being reported to have an average of 5 children per woman (UN, 2010). Tanzania is a resource rich country in terms of arable land and minerals. The availability of land for agriculture provides the population with food security needed to sustain population growth as projected by the UN

The US reported a total population of 310 million inhabitants with a fertility rate of about 2 children per woman. Life expectancy in the US stands at 78 years which is quite high compared to life expectancy in the developing countries discussed above (UN, 2010). The US is the only country from the developed world which will realize phenomenal population growth in the next 30 years. This is due to the fact that the US attracts a lot of immigrants from all over the world each year.

How populations affect the environment and natural resources

The continuous growth in global population has in many ways affected the environment and natural resources. For instance, Asia has a lot of wealth in terms of natural resources as well as rich heritage of biological and ecological diversity (Yamashita, 2000). Economic growth has fueled population growth rates that have resulted in poor sustenance of the biologically and ecologically diverse environment prevalent in the region. Industrial growth in Asia has no equal in the entire world at the moment. The resultant population growth has put an ever increasing strain on the environment as the high populations demand for more agricultural land for food production (Yamashita, 2000). Unrestrained industrial growth as well as the extension of land for agriculture and the intensification of agricultural processes has resulted in the devastation of the environment in rural areas and the mushrooming of urban slums in urban center putting a strain on the available natural resources.

There has been an ongoing debate as to whether environmental degradation and resource depletion are as a result of wasteful use of available resource, unsustainable industrial practices, poor agricultural techniques or unsustainable economic strategies or as a result of continued population growth. It is important to note that Asia is suffering from all these issues (Yamashita, 2000).

56% of the entire global population is in Asia, which basically depends on the 31% of the Earth’s arable land (Yamashita, 2000). Population growth has a direct impact on the environment due to the fact that as fertility rate decline in other parts of the world Asia’s will continue to grow putting an extra strain on the resources available as well as degrading the natural flora and fauna as more land is made available for agriculture. Population densities in cities where most of these industries are based emit pollutants at a rate greater than the environment can replenish itself.

Overpopulation is a major cause of environmental degradation

Changes in human culture have led to the development of new energies which have led to the growth of new technologies. These new technologies have played a great role in how basic needs are met. The securing of basic need of wants has led to an increase in human populations (tpb.itb.ac.id, 2010). Food security, better healthcare initiatives, improved standards of living and longevity of human life have led to exponential growth with ultimately results in overpopulation.

Humanity is dependent on nature for its survival and thus the more populations’ increase the more humanity depends on the environment. The environment is self-sustaining such that it has a way of maintaining a balance to ensure its own survival. It is vital to understand that a bad environment is not safe for humanity. As populations’ increase, the ability of the earth to create it sense of balance fails and adverse effects such as climate change begin to affect the planet. Theses have been gradual to date but with the projected increase in population growth the rate of climate change will increase (tpb.itb.ac.id, 2010).

Industries depend on land, machinery and manpower to thrive. Machines are run by energy derived from fossil fuels which are unsustainable as they are non-renewable sources of energy. Iron and coal are natural resources which have to be mined from the earth. Mining activities destroy entire ecosystems endangering species of both plants and animals (tpb.itb.ac.id, 2010). Manpower sourced from populations, populations depend on the environment to survive putting a strain on land through intensive agriculture, clearing of forests, destruction of ecosystems so as to feed the masses in cities which house industries and the manpower needed to work in them.

How to stem overpopulation

Overpopulation is in itself detrimental to humanity’s survival. Humanity needs the environment for sustenance in every possible manner. Before there was man there was the environment. Overpopulation is therefore a great problem for the environment and by extension for humanity too (Jeantheau, 2005). Raising the quality of life for all persons on the entire globe will serve to increase the amount of resources used to this end. This will also bring about an increase in challenges in pollution management which has led to the increase in climate change. However, this is the right direction in stemming the issue of overpopulation and the only way forward is to look for sustainable solutions.

Policy makers on a global, regional and national scale should all endeavor in creating forums that will serve to address the contentious issues brought about by overpopulation. The world has come a long way from where it was in the 1950’s to date (Jeantheau, 2005). Back then the essence of education had only been fully accepted by the developing nations such as in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. These countries were in the fore front of embracing newer technologies and promoting innovation for better technologies. They provided motivation for other countries to embrace education and the development of technology.

To stem overpopulation there is the need to ensure that areas with high fertility rates are equipped with the information as to the need for family planning services. Women empowerment in the developing regions is also seen as a way to enable them make informed decisions on the family setting as to matters concerning reproduction (Jeantheau, 2005). It has also been suggested that including the adverse effects of uncontrolled population growth in school curricula can go a long way in maintaining sustainable population numbers.


As the world’s population continues to increase and will continue to do so in the near future, it is important to realize that sustainable use on natural resources and the environment is critical to peaceful coexistence both with nature and fellow men. Developed countries have been able to reduce fertility rates and realize a high standard of living. However, this has had a negative impact on its work force making these countries rely heavily on immigrants. On the other hand in developing countries the high fertility rates are high. This tends to strain the economic resources of their governments making it harder for them to access quality education which can be used to address the possible problem of overpopulation.

In my opinion, international bodies such as the UN should actively draw up policies which will ensure that developed and developing countries adopt pollution management strategies that effectively reduce the rate at which the environment is being degraded from soils, to water bodies to the air. The threat of climate change is real and there have been some halfhearted initiatives by the world’s industrial powers. There is the need to work towards replenishing the environment and incorporating new technologies that reduce over reliance on non-renewable sources of energy.


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