Table of Contents
Overpopulation has suddenly become an uncontrollable disaster. The current world population figure stands at an astounding 7.3 billion people. This figure is estimated to increase rapidly, expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 (Cumming). My home country itself, India, is the 2nd most populous country in the world.
This report states my research and analysis of a few causes of overpopulation. It also points out how the connected grave effects of climate change, strain on natural resources and sanitation hinder the march towards sustainability.
An important trend to be studied is urbanization. People migrate in search of a better lifestyle and opportunities. This leads to the concentration of population in certain areas rather than human settlement being spread out evenly across the globe. It is estimated that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas (United Nations). This congestion undeniably contributes largely towards pollution. According to an automotive trade journal, Ward’s Auto, there were 1.2 billion cars on the road by 2010. This number is expected to possibly go up to 2.5 billion cars easily by 2050 (Voelcker). This is a worrying number as cars are responsible for emission of many pollutants including particulate matter, NOx and CO2 (Brinson).
Adding fuel to the fire, greenhouse gas emissions are rising at a faster rate than ever before. As per the UN, nearly 70% of global greenhouse emissions come from cities (Falk). Greenhouse gases are the cause of global warming and even a threat to our ozone layer. The melting of polar caps, changing climate patterns and a rising sea levels are just the tip of the iceberg. In particulate matter, black carbon is the largest man-made contributor to global warming; it absorbs more energy than CO2 (EPA). Global warming is also responsible for disruption of wildlife and ecosystems. 40% of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution (Rinkesh).
As per Census 2011, India has an average population density of 382/km2 (Density of India). It is noticeable how a high population density is affecting the standard of living in this country. With most people illiterate about the consequences of climate change, India’s cities dominate charts listing the most polluted cities worldwide (India cities dominate world air pollution list). India’s main dump covers 40 hectares and receives 10,000 metric tons of waste every day. Similar is the case of Lagos, Nigeria, where nearly 20 million reside mostly in slums. Cities like Guiyang, China and El Alto, Bolivia experience the same situation (Vidal).
Congestion of people can be dealt by re-planning cities. Metropolitans can be made less congested by building satellite cities/towns nearby. The problem is the irregular concentration of people. “If we all lived as densely as people in Manhattan, every human could fit inside Norway and yet have a couple fjords to spare” . To prevent further damage, we can work towards reducing the number of automobiles and controlling car emissions. Laws regarding pollution should be strictly implemented and followed. In the case of industrial activity, subsidies and grants should be provided to those firms who are making efforts to maintain lower pollution rates. A trending policy right now are tradable permits which the governments issue, allocating individual firms’ pollution limits (Grant). Education regarding the topic should be spread, especially in professions like farming. Individuals should be made aware of the importance of reducing their carbon footprint. According to an economic forum, in Bologna, an Italian city, people are rewarded for cycling, walking and taking public transport (Kelly). Treatment of wastes before depositing in water bodies and building good sewage systems are also necessary.
Exploitation of Natural Resources
Overpopulation creates a massive burden on resources. This puts sustainability under grave danger as it generates the risk of running out of crucial resources. According to the Global Footprint Network, “humanity uses 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb the waste. At this alarming rate, we are likely to be using resources equivalent of two Earths to support us and our infinite demands by the 2030s.” The repercussion can be seen all over the world: diminishing forest covers, disappearing coral reefs, increase in greenhouse gases, acidifying oceans and depleting fresh water systems. Increasing famines, mass migrations, conflicts over resources have become everyday news. Naturalist, David Attenborough, explains that though the fertility rate has decreased over the years, the stress on resources has not (Whiting).
Water scarcity is one of major effects of the growing population: according to the UN World Water Development Report, by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water (WWAP/UN-Water 2018). Most of the overpopulated countries like India, the largest user of groundwater in the world, uses up a quarter of the global total of groundwater. At this speed, 60% of India’s aquifers will be at critical condition within 20 years. This can cause massive shock as groundwater accounts for 60% of agricultural irrigation and 85% of drinking water supplies (FAO in India). This affects not only portable water availability but also food security and electricity supply in the country.
To eradicate such problems, the world has to work towards reducing its dependability on non-renewable resources. The sun and the wind are unlimited, renewable resources. We can use them to create electricity, turning the energy around us into usable and sustainable forms. This produces nearly zero pollution and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Local communities have thankfully started using solar energy panels and hydroelectricity to reduce their energy dependence on non-renewable resources. All this is done by using up to 15 times less water than coal and nuclear power. Thus, health of people, ecosystems and wildlife all get a chance to recover. IPCC reports that as much as 43% of global energy demand can be met with renewable resources by 2030 and up to 77% by 2050 (IPCC). Perhaps enforcement of government laws concerning resource exploitation will most certainly be of help.
Sanitation (or the lack of it)
Yet another aspect of overpopulation is the lack of sanitation. With about 828 million people living in slums, many do not have access to proper sanitation (UNDP). It is estimated that 2.5 billion people are unable to access improved sanitation (Global Water). With more and more people being stuffed in the same box of sardines, the right to sanitation becomes a luxury to man. Unsustainable sanitation can cause diseases, hurt economic systems and harm the environment. Problems such as diarrhea, short life-span and stunted growth arise where there is lack of proper sanitation. Over 800 children, around the world, die every day from diarrhea-related diseases (UNICEF). Improper sanitation also comes in the way of day-to-day activities. According to UNICEF, “one in five girls of primary-school age are not in school. One factor accounting for this difference is the lack of sanitation facilities for girls reaching puberty.” Installing toilets will make it possible for menstruating girls to pursue further education (UN) (UNICEF/IRC).
One of the most impactful method to eradicate improper sanitation is educating people, especially those in the slums, about the importance of sanitation and consequences of improper hygiene. Installing sanitation units will increase the number of people having access to hygiene products. Sustainable Sanitation Alliance is an organization educating people about the importance of sustainable sanitation (SuSanA).
How to Tackle the Giant Itself:
The paragraphs above discussed the specific effects and solutions to the respective problems arising due to overpopulation. With the same sense of urgency, overpopulation itself should be tackled.
Primarily, providing quality education to people to help everyone understand the consequences of a population boost. Integrating lessons regarding the environment, population, etc. in the students’ curriculums will help inculcate the appropriate attitude from a young age. Making the idea a more attractive and sensible alternative may show better results in the long run compared to strict legislation (Paul). To achieve this, there needs to be guaranteed education for everyone which includes sex education, age-appropriate for all students.
In addition, laws discouraging families from having more children should be practiced. These are referred to as anti-natalist policies (Gary Skinner). Leaders and other public figures should also participate actively in stabilizing the population growth and creating more awareness amongst the public (Everything Connects).
On studying the above issues, I believe global warming and pollution has the most crucial impacts- compared to sanitation and strain on resources- on the planet as well as us. This not only affects the human race but also significantly influences other species of plants and animals on the planet. It even has an impact on quality and quantity of resources. Both, pollution and climate change have long term effects making them the greatest obstacle to tackle on our march towards sustainability. It requires all nations to work together unlike the issue of sanitation which is concentrated mainly in less economically developed countries. In the case of strain on natural resources, if addressed now, it can be resolved, however, pollution and global warming has already done great damage. In order to eradicate this problem, time as well as combined efforts are a necessity.
Being one of the goals of the UNDP was the main reason I chose sustainable communities as my topic of research. All my information comes from reliable sources. The cited websites and annual reports are mainly of large organization or governmental sites; books are also from trusted publishers, such as the Cambridge University Press; speeches and other documentaries were of people who had expertise on this field.
Before beginning research on this topic, I thought I had a fair idea of how the situation of overpopulation is. However, after reaching towards the end of the report, I realized that what I knew was just a speck of the broader picture. Our carelessness can have dire consequences. The statistics helped me clearly understand the grand scale of the problem and how will it actually impact us. Furthermore, as we try to find ways to take charge of the situation, science is improving rapidly, with new inventions and discoveries every minute. It can be said that it is the principal instrument for the population boom. It is extremely hard to catch up to leaping technological advancements with step-by-step solutions (Thompson). Even though a lot of efforts are being put into keep us on the right track, many of the more effective solutions, providing quality education for instance, are less impactful in the short term.
Increasing population growth poses great challenges for communities. If we do not act now, it will put us on track to alternative futures with severe and potentially catastrophic implications for the well-being of all organisms as well as the environment. The longer the delay, the more radical and difficult measures will be needed. All of us- individuals, non-governmental organizations, both the public and private sectors, have to be a part of the change. It is extremely important that the government office bearers and policy makers take immediate action to address these tough but vital issues. The defining challenge for this generation is to try to eradicate problems like poverty or conflict over resources while ensuring to safeguard the natural processes of Earth in order to maintain well-being of us humans. With consumption and world population accelerating working at distant ideals of sustainable development is not adequate.
It is the need of the hour to reimagine our cities and come up with sustainable methods of correction immediately. This is the only way we can achieve our ambitious goal of sustainable living.
- Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH). https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/wash_statistics.html. 11 april 2016 .
- Density of India. 2015. .
- United Nations. “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights.” 2014.
- Hanson, Joe, Ph.D. Defusing the population bomb. 13 February 2018. Stephanie Noone and Amanda Fox. .
- India cities dominate world air pollution list. 2 may 2018. .
- Paul, Alexandra. Overpopulation facts – the problem no one will discuss: Alexandra Paul at TEDxTopanga. 3 January 2013. .
- FAO in India. India at a glance. n.d. .
- Thompson, Warren S. “The Impact of Science on Population Growth.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science vol. 249 (n.d.): 111-118.
- Gary Skinner, Ken Crafer, Melissa Turner, Ann Skinner, John Stacey. Cambridge IGCSE and O Level: Environmental Management Courebook. cambridge university press, 2017.
- Cumming, Vivien. We do not know if today’s population of seven billion is remotely sustainable, or what the limit is. 14 March 2016. 31 October 2018. .
- Vidal, John. “urban-explosion-kinshasa-el-alto-growth-mexico-city-bangalore-lagos.” 19 Mar 2018. https://www.theguardian.com. English. 24 Novermber 2018.
- Falk, Tyler. UN: Cities contribute 70 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. 30 march 2011. .
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- WWAP/UN-Water 2018. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2018: Nature-Based Solutions for Water. Paris: UNESCO, 2018. IPCC. n.d. .
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- UNICEF. Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH). 11 April 2016. document . .
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- UNICEF/IRC. “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education for Schools .” Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education for Schools Roundtable Meeting. Oxford, UK, 24-26 January 2005. 76. Roundtable Meeting.
- Everything Connects. Overpopulation Solutions. 20 November 2013. .
- Voelcker, John. 1.2 Billion Vehicles On World’s Roads Now, 2 Billion By 2035: Report https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1093560_1-2-billion-vehicles-on-worlds-roads-now-2-billion-by-2035-report. 29 July 2014. .
- Rinkesh. What is overpopulation? n.d. .
- Brinson, Linda C. How much air pollution comes from cars? n.d. .
- Grant, Susan. Cambridge IGCSE Economics. Delhi : Cambridge University Press, 2014.
- SuSanA. Vision. n.d. .