IS THE WORLD'S BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM?
June 10, 2012
inquiry came from an eighth-grader in Pennsylvania.
Q. In science
class, we learned that one day there will be too many people to produce
enough food and shelter for all of them. I asked my science teacher
two questions that he wasn't sure how to answer. What will happen when
the world becomes overpopulated? Will there be limits in the future
on how many children people are allowed to have? I would appreciate
a response to share with my classmates and teacher.
questions are ones that people everywhere should be asking. Because
of space constraints, my answers will be short, but you can find in-depth
coverage of overpopulation issues in publications at a library or bookstore.
Use the Internet to find names of relevant publications as well as to
conduct research on the topic. A good starting place for gathering information
Founded in 1968 (as Zero Population Growth or ZPG), Population Connection's
mission statement begins with this sentence: "Overpopulation threatens
the quality of life for people everywhere." The mission statement
goes on to say that Population Connection is a "national grassroots
population organization that . . . advocates progressive action to stabilize
world population at a level that can be sustained by Earth's resources."
already has too many human inhabitants, and the world's population continues
to increase. Many people do not want to acknowledge the problem, but
a head-in-the-sand attitude will not change the inevitable consequences
of overpopulation. No animal species can exist without adequate food,
water, shelter, and other essential resources. Humans are not exempt
from this rule. So what happens when the human population exceeds the
resources needed to sustain it? The same thing that happens to any overpopulated
species: nature will reduce the population through famine, disease,
intraspecies fighting, or a combination thereof. That reality is already
playing out for people in some Third World countries. And don't think
it can't happen here. It can--and will--unless we address the issue
Because of cultural, political, and religious attitudes, almost no world
leader is willing to acknowledge the problem, much less take the necessary
steps to resolve it. The Chinese government did impose a limit on the
number of children a couple could have. But people used various strategies
to get around the restriction, and there were outcries from social rights
groups around the globe asserting that couples' rights were being violated
because they were not allowed to decide how many children to have. Though
a thorough study would be necessary to determine the program's level
of success in controlling population expansion, one fact is indisputable:
China's natural resources cannot support a billion people. A one-child
policy may not be the best approach for reducing the world's population.
But something needs to be done. Soon.
politicians and religious leaders ever reach accord on appropriate and
effective measures to control human population growth? No one can say
for certain, but prevailing attitudes are not encouraging. Many prominent
authority figures dismiss the idea that overpopulation is a problem;
some even promote programs to increase the population rather than encouraging
people to limit the size of their families. You cannot solve a problem
if you refuse to recognize that it exists. But you have only to look
at the number of starving people in the world to realize that we do
indeed have a problem. Not all the agricultural enterprises in the world
can produce enough food to feed Earth's 7 billion human inhabitants.
The underlying cause of almost every environmental problem in the world
today is human overpopulation. Air pollution, water shortages, habitat
loss, extinctions, invasive species: all are caused or exacerbated by
having too many people in the world. We are unique among all animal
species in having the ability to solve even a monumental problem like
overpopulation. But if we do not solve it ourselves, nature will solve
it for us. And we won't like that solution.
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