The Enviromnetal Degradation as a Result of Overpopulation


1
Introduction
There are simply too many people on our planet, and the population is not showing any signs of
slowing down(see Figure 1). It is having disastrous effects on our environment. There are too many
implications and interrelationships to discuss in this paper, but the three substances that our earth
consists of: land, water and air, are being destroyed. Our forests are being cut down at an alarming
rate, bearing enormous impacts on the health of earth. Our oceans and seas are being polluted and
overfished. Our atmosphere is injected with increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, which hurts the
entire planet. All of these problems can be traced to our vast, rapidly expanding population, which has
stressed our world far too greatly.

Our Population
In 1994, the world population was 5 602 800 000. This population had a doubling time of only
forty-one years (De Blij and Muller, 1994, p.527). The massive amount of people has had highly
destructive impacts on the earthís environment. These impacts occur on two levels: global and local. On
the global level, there is the accumulation of green house gases that deplete the ozone layer, the
extinction of species, and a global food shortage. On the local level, there is erosion of soils (and
the loss of vegetation), the depletion of water supply, and toxification of the air and water. The earth
is dynamic though, all of these aspects are interrelated, and no one impact is completely isolated. All
of these destructive elements can be traced to our enormous population. As the population increases, so
do all of the economic, social, and technological impacts.
The concept of momentum of population growth is one that must be considered. It states that
areas with traditionally high fertility rates will have a very young structure age. Thus, a decrease in
the fertility rate will still result in a greater absolute number of births,
2
as there are more potential mothers. Populations are very slow in adjusting to decreases in fertility
rates. This is especially frightening when considering that South Asia has a population of 1 204 600
000 (and a doubling time of thirty two years), Subsaharan Africa has 528 000 000 (doubling time: thirty
one years), and North Africa/Southwest Asia has 448 100 000 (doubling time: twenty seven years) (De Blij
and Muller, 1994, p. 529-531)and all of these areas have traditionally high fertility rates.
Although third world countries do have a far larger population than industrialized nations, and
the trend is constantly increasing, their populations should not bear the responsibility for our
population-enduced degrading environment. The impact we make on the biosphere is sometimes expressed
mathematically by ecological economists as I = PAT. I being impact, P population, A affluence
(consumption) , and T technology (environmentally bad technology)(Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1990, p.24).
Concern regarding population increases often focuses on the third world, since it is there that growth is
exponential. Yet, it is necessary to recognize that people are by no means equal or identical in their
consumption, and thus their impact on the environment (see Map 2).









3
Our Forests
ďThe sky is held up by the trees. If the forest disappears the sky, which is the roof of the world
collapses. Nature and man perish together.Ē
- Amerindian legend
Forests are a precious link in the life systems of our planet. They are a part of these vital
ecosystem services without which earth would not have been habitable by the human species in the first
place and would certainly have become inhabitable again. Forests have crucial roles in the carbon,
nitrogen, and oxygen cycles that nourish and sustain life on earth. They protect the watersheds that
support farming and influence climate and rainfall(Lindahl-Kiessling, 1994, p.167). They save the soil
from erosion and are home to thousands of species, and forest peoples whose lives depend on them. They
are also a source for industrial and medical purposes.
In developing countries, much deforestation is for both local purposes and for export. The UNFPA
(United Nations Fund for Population Activities) said in itís 1990 report that population growth may have
been responsible for as much as eighty percent of the forest land cleared between 1971 and 1986 to make
room for agriculture, cattle ranching, houses, roads and industries(Ramphal, 1992, p.55). It is
estimated that in that period nearly sixty million hectares of forest were converted to farmland and a
similar amount of forest was put to non-agricultural uses. This is equivalent to the mass of twelve
hundred square metres of forest added to the