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This article is written by Vinayak Gupta from Dr Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow. The article tries to correlate overpopulation and its negative impact on the environment.

Introduction

Earth is home to millions of species. Among the millions of species, there is a superior species called humans. We are humans! And it is kind of ironic that we are known as superior species since humans are solely responsible for harming and polluting the environment. Recently I witnessed the degradation of the environment in the form of cutting down of the forest to carve a way for an expressway that was to pass from there. It happens every day, every one of us witnesses the degradation of the environment in one form or another but we choose to overlook it because it does not affect us directly. According to The Global Climate Report of 2019 published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average temperature since the 19th century has risen by 1.1 -degree celsius. It might not sound like a huge change but it has some huge effects on the environment and on our future. If the average temperature continues to rise at this pace due to the melting of the ice, sea levels will rise. It will result in submerging and flooding of many new world cities. One of the probable and major causes of degradation of the environment is the rising population and by this time it’s overpopulation. The current world population stands close to 7.6 billion. In 1800 the population was meagre 1 billion and there was almost no threat to the environment. There is not one but umpteen numbers of reasons why overpopulation is the source of degradation of the environment. In this article, we will be discussing some of those factors and will try to look into the details of what’s the relation between overpopulation and the environment.

Causes of overpopulation

There was a time when the cities were not so densely populated, the skies were blue, people could actually stargaze from their homes in the cities at night and the rivers flowing were not toxic. 

It is every now and then that old people become nostalgic telling us about how the times were different in their days and how peaceful it was. There were actually people swimming in the rivers which are now polluted by factory waste, there was no need for air conditioners and whatnot.

In recent times everything has changed. In my lifespan of 20 years I myself have witnessed my house being the only house in the area, now being clustered by other houses. Most of us must have seen the borders of our cities being extended due to the inhabitation of humans. There has been an explosion of population lately and there are many causes and reasons for the same, some of which are mentioned below-

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Increase in life expectancy

With the advancement of science and new technologies being discovered every day to fight diseases, life expectancy has almost doubled since the pre-modern world average life expectancy of 30 years. Now an average person lives up to the ripe age of 70 years. It is a significant reason that there has been an explosion in the population resulting in overpopulation. But it is not the only reason behind the increased population. 

The decrease in infant mortality rate  

In the 18th and 19th century due to lack of knowledge, technology, and vaccinations,  newborn infants could not live long enough to see the world on his/her own feet. There prevailed many diseases and general lack of awareness due to which infants could not live long enough. 

According to the report titled Child and Infant Mortality published in the year 2013, the world has made tremendous progress in curbing the infant mortality death rate. Mortality rate had been brought to half from 43% to 22.5% since the 1800s till 1950 and from 1950 to 2015, the mortality rate has been brought down to 4.5%. The drastic decrease rate of decrease in infant mortality rate has resulted in the rise of the population of the world at a great speed.

Prevailing Uneducation

It is most often seen that the overpopulation prevails more in underdeveloped nations comparative to the developed nations. It is often because of the fact that undeveloped nations lack proper education about reproduction and preventive measures of reproduction, due to this lack of proper education about precautions, there’s a steep rise in the population of the world especially in underdeveloped nations. 

In underdeveloped countries, people are mostly not aware of preventive measures to avoid pregnancies. As a result, there could be seen families that have more kids than they can afford to feed. It also results in a reduction in the standard of life. Many times, it is the government that fails to create awareness and education about prevailing overpopulation and ways to curb it. If people would be well informed about the consequences of having overpopulation they might start using preventive measures.

Poverty

Poverty is a huge cause of overpopulation. Poverty alone might not result in the rise of the population but when it is accompanied by a lack of proper education it can become a formula for a sure short boom in the population Poor uneducated households may give birth to a child considering that another member of the family would only result in more hands that could earn. This could often lead to a negative impact on both, economy and environment. This puts a lot of stress on the already booming population and the already degrading environment to meet the needs of the people. 

Facts about the population around the world

Earth is the home to different kinds of people and populations. Earth inhabits all kinds of people of different races, religions, castes, creed, and belief. It should not come as a surprise that the population around the world is not equally divided but scattered in different numbers in different countries. There are countries that are densely populated and have more people per square kilometre. The more the population is, the more people would be per square kilometre. 

India is the second-most populous country only after China. India has a whopping total population of 135 crore people. According to the report of worldometer, the population density of India stands at 464 people per square kilometre which is almost 12 times that of U. S. A. It should not come as a surprise that the top 3 most populated countries of the world i.e- China, India, and USA are also the top 3 most polluting countries of the world. According to the report of the United States Environmental Protection Agency published on the World Economic Forum website, these top 3 most populous countries account for 52% of the total world carbon emission. 

Clear relation could be drawn from the above facts that overpopulation leads to degradation of the environment at leaps and bounds.

Environmental effects of overpopulation

It is not novel to us that overpopulation does have a negative impact on the environment. The harmful effect of overpopulation is not limited to harming the environment in a single or only one way. There are multiple ways through which overpopulation affects the environment. Some of them are discussed below-

  • Farming impacts

We all know that humans need food in order to survive and for getting food humans are dependent on farming for a very long time. With the advancement of time and with the increasing population, demand for food has risen. There were more mouths to feed than there was food and to overcome this difficulty, farmers with the support of the government started cutting the forest in order to increase their hold on land that was fit for farming. As a result of this practice, forests started to shrink at a great pace thereby damaging the environment and natural habitat of animals at the same time.

Farming impacts are not limited to cutting down of the forests only, farmers in different parts of the world burn stubble after the harvest of the crops. It downright results in a large amount of smoke and pollution mixing in the environment which contains toxic chemicals. One infamous example of this is the burning of stubble in the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan. Burning of stubble in the harvest season in these states results in the Indian capital New Delhi becoming the gas chamber. People in the capital face respiratory problems due to the high toxic content of the smoke that comes from these neighbouring states.

  • Deforestation

Due to population rising at leaps and bounds, it was becoming impossible for the superior species to build houses to live in, it was becoming hard for superior species to pass through the forest in order to travel from one place to another. So they arrived at the conclusion of cutting down the forest altogether to build houses, roads and to increase farming capacity.

The drawback of deforestation is not limited to cutting down the trees which provide us with fresh oxygen but sadly, it also results in wild animals becoming homeless because their natural habitat was captured by humans and turned either into roads, houses, or farms. 

  • Eutrophication

Eutrophication is the process that happens in a water body like a lake or any river. When too many nutrients are added in the system of a lake or the river through the fertilizers or any other human activity, it is called eutrophication. The nutrients are the food for algae which results in an exponential growth of algae. The algae present on the surface of the water makes it impossible for the plants beneath the algae to photosynthesize, and that ultimately results in loss of oxygen in the water. As a result of this, the ecosystem of the water body becomes disrupted thereby leading to loss of life in the water body. The diversity of the water body decreases due to this and due to the high sedimentation process, the lifespan of the lake or the river also decreases significantly.

  • Loss of freshwater

Due to overpopulation and our constant need for factory-made products, there has occurred a loss of fresh water in the rivers and oceans. Factories discharge all its waste material in the rivers and lakes which results in loss of freshwater. Pollution in water bodies is not only limited to the source of factory waste. Domestic sources due to overpopulation also play a significant part in contributing to the pollution and loss of freshwater in water bodies.

There’s an example of the holy river of India which is river Ganga. It originates in the Himalayas and its water is considered to be the holiest by Hindus. The fact Ganga being the holiest river could not prove useful in preventing its exploitation. According to the report of the World Health Organisation, 80% of the total pollution load on the holy river is contributed by domestic activities. Earlier the river used to be crystal clear and a great source of fresh water, now it becomes polluted as soon as it enters the plains into the cities.

  • Global warming and climate change

Another negative impact that overpopulation has had on the environment is clearly visible in the form of global warming and climate change. Scientists all across the world are worried about the changing global weather cycle and constant rise in the average world temperature.

There have been many agreements signed by different countries to control global warming and climate change. One of the major agreements that have been signed by top polluting countries is the Paris Climate Agreement in the year 2016. According to the agreement, the signatory countries are expected to keep their carbon emission in check so as the global average temperature is limited to an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius.

It is yet to see if these agreements prove fruitful in lieu of rising populations and rising demands of the human population.

  • Extinction of species

Climate change, global warming, and overpopulation have terrifying effects on other species. Terrifying to the levels of the whole species being extinct from the face of the earth. The previous five extinction in the span of 450 million years has occurred due to natural causes like volcano eruption or meteorites. Scientists are afraid that the sixth extinction would be caused by climate change and global warming.

According to a paper published in a science journal, current predictions suggest that anywhere between 0-54% of the species may become extinct due to global climate change.

Coral reefs of Australia which is a great tourist attraction is already under the threat of being extinct. These are not only species on the verge of being extinct, but there are also several species that are under threat like Asian elephants, giraffes, whales, and sharks, etc.

  • Increased habitat loss

Due to the population burst, humans needed more home, more space to spend their lives. This only meant cutting down the forest, captivating the natural habitat of animals, and disrupting their ecosystem. Humans are the most greedy species that there is. Due to its greediness, humans have done more harm than it has done benefit.

With the increasing population, needs were increased too and this only resulted in increased habitat loss to other species.

  • Depletion of natural resources

It is only natural that a large number of resources would be used to fulfil the demand of a population that is huge in number. It is already an established fact in economics that there are limited resources and the wants are unlimited. As the population increases, the burden on natural resources increases too.

There are some natural resources that are abundant in nature like air, sunlight, and water while there are also natural resources that are scarce and have limited supply like fossil fuels, coal, and minerals. Due to overpopulation and excessive demand for this limited amount of resources they are sure to run out sooner or later.

  • Increased emergence of new epidemics and pandemics

There is a strong correlation between the emergence of new epidemics and pandemics and overpopulation. According to Dr Peter Daszak who is an expert on disease ecology in his 2008 paper published in Journal Nature Research said that we can predict very confident that with the increasing population every year we can see more and more diseases emerging. 

The case of novel coronavirus is the best example of how overpopulation results in the increased emergence of new epidemics and pandemics. As the population increases, their interaction with animals and their ecosystem increase too. With the growing globalization and international trade and travel, the chances of an increase in the emergence of new epidemics and pandemics rise significantly. It becomes hard to contain the spread of viruses due to the population load. 

  • Elevation in the crime rate

Overpopulation, lack of resources, and unlimited wants ultimately make a man resort to crime in order to maintain a standard of living. This leads to an elevation in the crime rate.

Population spurt has forced village people to move to the cities to make their ends meet. Sometimes what happens is that due to unemployment people resort to unconventional ways to earn money. A large population is the reason behind unemployment and unemployment is the reason behind elevation in the crime rate.

Solutions to overpopulation

Overpopulation is the problem that did not arise overnight and its solution cannot come up in a single day. Controlling overpopulation is a long term process and requires a lot of planning. The government of one’s country has a huge role in checking overpopulation.

It’s a responsibility of the government to generate awareness amongst the people and work towards:

  1. Family planning.
  2. Women empowerment.
  3. Some kind of incentive to people.
  4. Educate people about birth control methods.
  5. Reduction in poverty.

For a long time, women’s education and empowerment were overlooked in the process of curbing overpopulation but according to a research report Three Platforms for Girls’ Education in Climate Strategies published in 2017, there’s a correlation between higher levels of education in women and lower infertility rates. Investment in girl’s education is indirectly an investment towards saving the climate by curbing population growth on the planet. 

People should also adopt smart family planning techniques in order to contribute to the solution of overpopulation. They should be aware that having more children is not contributing to earth in any way. People should be responsible and take the threat of overpopulation and its negative impact seriously.

Conclusion

Overpopulation and a degrading environment bring us to many questions, it also puts our existence in question. One question that should hit us hard is that are we really ready for sixth extinction? Are we really doing justice to the environment? Are we really giving to nature what we are getting from it? Till when will the earth be able to bear the burden of our exploitation.

All these questions are yet to be answered by us and the coming generation (only if they get to see the environment as we are able to). As a fellow human being who resides on earth, it is our duty to check the problem of overpopulation and we should exercise the utmost discretion not to further degrade the environment.

Our small steps could make big changes in the environment. Closing the running tap during brushing teeth is one of them. As a superior race, it is our duty and responsibility to make even the damages we have already done.

References 

    1. https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy
    2. Mark, C. U. (2015) Accelerating extinction risk from climate change. Science, Vol. 348 (6234), 571-573
    3. https://www.activesustainability.com/environment/top-5-most-polluting-countries/
    4. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Climate Report for Annual 2019, published online January 2020, retrieved on July 18, 2020, from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201913.

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