Effects of human overpopulation

The overcrowding or overpopulation is a phenomenon that occurs when a high population density causes deterioration of the environment, a decrease in quality of life or famine and conflict. Generally this term refers to the relationship between the human population and the environment. It can also be applied to any other species that reaches critical levels in its number of individuals.

Effects of human overpopulation
The global impact of humanity on the planet is affected by many factors besides the population. Lifestyle (including the use of resources) and pollution (including the carbon footprint) are equally important. In 2008, The New York Times declared that the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources such as oil and metals at a rate almost 32 times higher than those of the developing world, which constitute the majority of the human population.

Some problems associated or exacerbated by the overpopulation and excessive consumption of humans are:

Inadequate fresh water for drinking, as well as poor treatment of wastewater and discharge of effluents. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, use expensive energy desalination to solve the problem of water scarcity.

Depletion of natural resources, especially fossil fuels.

Increase in global energy consumption and its predictions.

Increased levels of air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination and noise. Once a country has become industrialized and enriched, a combination of government regulation and technological innovation causes pollution to decrease substantially, even as the population continues to grow.

The deforestation and loss of ecosystems contributing valuably the overall balance of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide; About eight million hectares of forest are lost each year.

Changes in atmospheric composition and the consequent global warming.

Loss of arable land and increased desertification. Deforestation and desertification can be reversed by adopting property rights, and this policy is successful even when the human population continues to grow.

Mass extinctions and shrinking biodiversity of reduced habitat in tropical forests due to slash and burn techniques that sometimes practiced by migrant farmers, especially in countries with rapid expansion of rural populations; current extinction rates can be as high as 140,000 species lost per year. As of February 2011, the IUCN Red List lists a total of 801 species of animals that became extinct during recorded human history, although the vast majority of extinctions are considered undocumented. Biodiversity would continue to grow at an exponential rate if it were not for human influence. Sir David King, former senior scientific adviser to the UK government, said in a parliamentary inquiry: “It is clear that the massive growth of the human population during the 20th century has had more impact on biodiversity than any other single factor”. Paul and Anne Ehrlich said the population growth is one of the main drivers of extinction crisis Earth. Chris Hedgesreported in 2009 that: “The Yangtze River dolphin, the gray whale of the Atlantic, the black rhinoceros of West Africa, the elk of Merriam, the grizzly bear of California, the silver trout, the blue pike and the dark sea sparrow are all victims of human overpopulation. ”

High mortality of infants and children.

Intensive industrial cultivation to support large populations. It leads to human threats, including the evolution and spread of bacterial diseases resistant to antibiotics, excessive air and water pollution and new viruses that infect humans.

More likelihood of new epidemics and pandemics. For many environmental and social reasons, which include conditions of overcrowding, malnutrition and inadequate, inaccessible or non-existent health care, the poor are more likely to be exposed to infectious diseases.

Starvation, malnutrition or poor diet with health problems and diet deficiency (for example, rickets).

Poverty along with inflation in some regions and a low level resulting from capital formation. Poverty and inflation are aggravated by bad governance and bad economic policies.

Low life expectancy in the countries with the fastest growing populations.

Unhygienic living conditions for many people based on the depletion of water resources, the discharge of unprocessed wastewater and the disposal of solid waste. However, this problem can be reduced with the adoption of sewers. For example, after Karachi installed sewer lines in Pakistan, its infant mortality rate was substantially reduced.

High crime rate due to drug cartels and greater robbery by people who steal resources to survive.

Conflict over scarce resources and overcrowding, which leads to increased levels of war.

Less personal freedom and more restrictive laws. Laws regulate and shape politics, economics, history and society and serve as mediators of relationships and interactions among people. The greater the population density, the more frequent those interactions become, and thus the need arises for more laws and / or more restrictive laws to regulate these interactions and relationships. Even Aldous Huxley speculated in 1958 that democracy is threatened due to overpopulation and could give rise to totalitarian style governments.

Overpopulation does not depend only on the size or density of the population, but on the ratio of population to available sustainable resources. It also depends on how resources are managed and distributed throughout the population.

The resources to be considered when evaluating whether an ecological niche is overpopulated include clean water, clean air, food, shelter, warmth, and other resources necessary to sustain life. If the quality of human life is addressed, there may be additional resources considered, such as medical care, education, proper sewage treatment, waste disposal and energy supplies. Overpopulation places competitive stress on the basic life sustaining resources, leading to a diminished quality of life.

Directly related to maintaining the health of the human population is water supply, and it is one of the resources that experience the biggest strain. With the global population at about 7.5 billion, and each human theoretically needing 2 liters of drinking water, there is a demand for 15 billion liters of water each day to meet the minimum requirement for healthy living (United). Weather patterns, elevation, and climate all contribute to uneven distribution of fresh drinking water. Without clean water, good health is not a viable option. Besides drinking, water is used to create sanitary living conditions and is the basis of creating a healthy environment fit to hold human life. In addition to drinking water, water is also used for bathing, washing clothes and dishes, flushing toilets, a variety of cleaning methods, recreation, watering lawns, and farm irrigation. Irrigation poses one of the largest problems, because without sufficient water to irrigate crops, the crops die and then there is the problem of food rations and starvation. In addition to water needed for crops and food, there is limited land area dedicated to food production, and not much more that is suitable to be added. Arable land, needed to sustain the growing population, is also a factor because land being under or over cultivated easily upsets the delicate balance of nutrition supply.

There are also problems with location of arable land with regard to proximity to countries and relative population (Bashford 240). Access to nutrition is an important limiting factor in population sustainability and growth. No increase in arable land added to the still increasing human population will eventually pose a serious conflict. Only 38% of the land area of the globe is dedicated to agriculture, and there is not room for much more. Although plants produce 54 billion metric tons of carbohydrates per year, when the population is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, the plants may not be able to keep up (Biello). Food supply is a primary example of how a resource reacts when its carrying capacity is exceeded. By trying to grow more and more crops off of the same amount of land, the soil becomes exhausted. Because the soil is exhausted, it is then unable to produce the same amount of food as before, and is overall less productive. Therefore, by using resources beyond a sustainable level, the resource become nullified and ineffective, which further increases the disparity between the demand for a resource and the availability of a resource. There must be a shift to provide adequate recovery time to each one of the supplies in demand to support contemporary human lifestyles.

Although all resources, whether mineral or other, are limited on the planet, there is a degree of self-correction whenever a scarcity or high-demand for a particular kind is experienced. For example, in 1990 known reserves of many natural resources were higher, and their prices lower, than in 1970, despite higher demand and higher consumption. Whenever a price spike would occur, the market tended to correct itself whether by substituting an equivalent resource or switching to a new technology.

Fresh water
Fresh water supplies, on which agriculture depends, are running low worldwide. This water crisis is only expected to worsen as the population increases.

Potential problems with dependence on desalination are reviewed below, however, the majority of the world’s freshwater supply is contained in the polar icecaps, and underground river systems accessible through springs and wells.

Fresh water can be obtained from salt water by desalination. For example, Malta derives two thirds of its freshwater by desalination. A number of nuclear powered desalination plants exist; however, the high costs of desalination, especially for poor countries, make impractical the transport of large amounts of desalinated seawater to interiors of large countries. The cost of desalination varies; Israel is now desalinating water for a cost of 53 cents per cubic meter, Singapore at 49 cents per cubic meter. In the United States, the cost is 81 cents per cubic meter ($3.06 for 1,000 gallons).

According to a 2004 study by Zhou and Tol, “one needs to lift the water by 2000 m, or transport it over more than 1600 km to get transport costs equal to the desalination costs. Desalinated water is expensive in places that are both somewhat far from the sea and somewhat high, such as Riyadh and Harare. In other places, the dominant cost is desalination, not transport. This leads to somewhat lower costs in places like Beijing, Bangkok, Zaragoza, Phoenix, and, of course, coastal cities like Tripoli.” Thus while the study is generally positive about the technology for affluent areas that are proximate to oceans, it concludes that “Desalinated water may be a solution for some water-stress regions, but not for places that are poor, deep in the interior of a continent, or at high elevation. Unfortunately, that includes some of the places with biggest water problems.” “Another potential problem with desalination is the byproduction of saline brine, which can be a major cause of marine pollution when dumped back into the oceans at high temperatures.”

The world’s largest desalination plant is the Jebel Ali Desalination Plant (Phase 2) in the United Arab Emirates, which can produce 300 million cubic metres of water per year, or about 2500 gallons per second. The largest desalination plant in the US is the one at Tampa Bay, Florida, which began desalinating 25 million gallons (95000 m³) of water per day in December 2007. A 17 January 2008, article in the Wall Street Journal states, “Worldwide, 13,080 desalination plants produce more than 12 billion gallons of water a day, according to the International Desalination Association.” After being desalinated at Jubail, Saudi Arabia, water is pumped 200 miles (320 km) inland though a pipeline to the capital city of Riyadh.

However, new data originating from the GRACE experiments and isotopic testing done by the IAEA show that the Nubian aquifer—which is under the largest, driest part of the earth’s surface, has enough water in it to provide for “at least several centuries”. In addition to this, new and highly detailed maps of the earth’s underground reservoirs will be soon created from these technologies that will further allow proper budgeting of cheap water.

Some scientists argue that there is enough food to support the world population, and some dispute this, particularly if sustainability is taken into account.

Many countries rely heavily on imports. Egypt and Iran rely on imports for 40% of their grain supply. Yemen and Israel import more than 90%. And just 6 countries – Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Thailand and the USA – supply 90% of grain exports. In recent decades the US alone supplied almost half of world grain exports.

A 2001 United Nations report says population growth is “the main force driving increases in agricultural demand” but “most recent expert assessments are cautiously optimistic about the ability of global food production to keep up with demand for the foreseeable future (that is to say, until approximately 2030 or 2050)”, assuming declining population growth rates.

However, the observed figures for 2007 show an actual increase in absolute numbers of undernourished people in the world, 923 million in 2007 versus 832 million in 1995.; the more recent FAO estimates point to an even more dramatic increase, to 1.02 billion in 2009.

Global perspective
The amounts of natural resources in this context are not necessarily fixed, and their distribution is not necessarily a zero-sum game. For example, due to the Green Revolution and the fact that more and more land is appropriated each year from wild lands for agricultural purposes, the worldwide production of food had steadily increased up until 1995. World food production per person was considerably higher in 2005 than 1961.

As world population doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion, daily calorie consumption in poor countries increased from 1,932 to 2,650, and the percentage of people in those countries who were malnourished fell from 45% to 18%. This suggests that Third World poverty and famine are caused by underdevelopment, not overpopulation. However, others question these statistics. From 1950 to 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the world, grain production increased by over 250%. The world population has grown by about four billion since the beginning of the Green Revolution and most believe that, without the Revolution, there would be greater famine and malnutrition than the UN presently documents.

The number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished. In a 2006 news story, MSNBC reported, “There are an estimated 800 million undernourished people and more than a billion considered overweight worldwide.” The U.S. has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. However, studies show that wealthy and educated people are far likelier to eat healthy food, indicating obesity is a disease related to poverty and lack of education and excessive advertising of unhealthy eatables at cheaper cost, high in calories, with little nutritive value are consumed.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states in its report The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006, that while the number of undernourished people in the developing countries has declined by about three million, a smaller proportion of the populations of developing countries is undernourished today than in 1990–92: 17% against 20%. Furthermore, FAO’s projections suggest that the proportion of hungry people in developing countries could be halved from 1990–92 levels to 10% by 2015. The FAO also states “We have emphasized first and foremost that reducing hunger is no longer a question of means in the hands of the global community. The world is richer today than it was ten years ago. There is more food available and still more could be produced without excessive upward pressure on prices. The knowledge and resources to reduce hunger are there. What is lacking is sufficient political will to mobilize those resources to the benefit of the hungry.”

As of 2008, the price of grain has increased due to more farming used in biofuels, world oil prices at over $100 a barrel, global population growth, climate change, loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development, and growing consumer demand in China and India Food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world. An epidemic of stem rust on wheat caused by race Ug99 is currently spreading across Africa and into Asia and is causing major concern. A virulent wheat disease could destroy most of the world’s main wheat crops, leaving millions to starve. The fungus has spread from Africa to Iran, and may already be in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Food security will become more difficult to achieve as resources run out. Resources in danger of becoming depleted include oil, phosphorus, grain, fish, and water. The British scientist John Beddington predicted in 2009 that supplies of energy, food, and water will need to be increased by 50% to reach demand levels of 2030. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food supplies will need to be increased by 70% by 2050 to meet projected demands.

Population as a function of food availability
Thinkers from a wide range of academic fields and political backgrounds—including agricultural scientist David Pimentel, behavioral scientist Russell Hopfenberg, right-wing anthropologist Virginia Abernethy, ecologist Garrett Hardin, ecologist and anthropologist Peter Farb, journalist Richard Manning, environmental biologist Alan D. Thornhill, cultural critic and writer Daniel Quinn, and anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan,—propose that, like all other animal populations, human populations predictably grow and shrink according to their available food supply, growing during an abundance of food and shrinking in times of scarcity.

Proponents of this theory argue that every time food production is increased, the population grows. Most human populations throughout history validate this theory, as does the overall current global population. Populations of hunter-gatherers fluctuate in accordance with the amount of available food. The world human population began increasing after the Neolithic Revolution and its increased food supply. This was, subsequent to the Green Revolution, followed by even more severely accelerated population growth, which continues today. Often, wealthier countries send their surplus food resources to the aid of starving communities; however, proponents of this theory argue that this seemingly beneficial notion only results in further harm to those communities in the long run. Peter Farb, for example, has commented on the paradox that “intensification of production to feed an increased population leads to a still greater increase in population.” Daniel Quinn has also focused on this phenomenon, which he calls the “Food Race” (comparable, in terms of both escalation and potential catastrophe, to the nuclear arms race).

Critics of this theory point out that, in the modern era, birth rates are lowest in the developed nations, which also have the highest access to food. In fact, some developed countries have both a diminishing population and an abundant food supply. The United Nations projects that the population of 51 countries or areas, including Germany, Italy, Japan, and most of the states of the former Soviet Union, is expected to be lower in 2050 than in 2005. This shows that, limited to the scope of the population living within a single given political boundary, particular human populations do not always grow to match the available food supply. However, the global population as a whole still grows in accordance with the total food supply and many of these wealthier countries are major exporters of food to poorer populations, so that, “it is through exports from food-rich to food-poor areas (Allaby, 1984; Pimentel et al., 1999) that the population growth in these food-poor areas is further fueled.”

Regardless of criticisms against the theory that population is a function of food availability, the human population is, on the global scale, undeniably increasing, as is the net quantity of human food produced — a pattern that has been true for roughly 10,000 years, since the human development of agriculture. The fact that some affluent countries demonstrate negative population growth fails to discredit the theory as whole, since the world has become a globalized system with food moving across national borders from areas of abundance to areas of scarcity. Hopfenberg and Pimentel’s findings support both this and Quinn’s direct accusation that “First World farmers are fueling the Third World population explosion.” Additionally, the hypothesis is not so simplistic as to be rejected by any single case study, as in Germany’s recent population trends; clearly other factors are at work to limit the population in wealthier areas: contraceptive access, educational programs, cultural norms and, most influentially, differing economic realities from nation to nation.

As a result of water deficits
Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries, may soon do the same in larger countries, such as China or India, if technology is not used. The water tables are falling in scores of countries (including Northern China, the US, and India) owing to widespread overdrafting beyond sustainable yields. Other countries affected include Pakistan, Iran, and Mexico. This overdrafting is already leading to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. Even with the overpumping of its aquifers, China has developed a grain deficit. This effect has contributed in driving grain prices upward. Most of the 3 billion people projected to be added worldwide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. Desalination is also considered a viable and effective solution to the problem of water shortages.

The World Resources Institute states that “Agricultural conversion to croplands and managed pastures has affected some 3.3 billion [hectares] – roughly 26 percent of the land area. All totaled, agriculture has displaced one-third of temperate and tropical forests and one-quarter of natural grasslands.” Forty percent of the land area is under conversion and fragmented; less than one quarter, primarily in the Arctic and the deserts, remains intact. Usable land may become less useful through salinization, deforestation, desertification, erosion, and urban sprawl. Global warming may cause flooding of many of the most productive agricultural areas. The development of energy sources may also require large areas, for example, the building of hydroelectric dams. Thus, available useful land may become a limiting factor. By most estimates, at least half of cultivable land is already being farmed, and there are concerns that the remaining reserves are greatly overestimated.

High crop yield vegetables like potatoes and lettuce use less space on inedible plant parts, like stalks, husks, vines, and inedible leaves. New varieties of selectively bred and hybrid plants have larger edible parts (fruit, vegetable, grain) and smaller inedible parts; however, many of these gain of agricultural technology are now historic, and new advances are more difficult to achieve. With new technologies, it is possible to grow crops on some marginal land under certain conditions. Aquaculture could theoretically increase available area. Hydroponics and food from bacteria and fungi, like quorn, may allow the growing of food without having to consider land quality, climate, or even available sunlight, although such a process may be very energy-intensive. Some argue that not all arable land will remain productive if used for agriculture because some marginal land can only be made to produce food by unsustainable practices like slash-and-burn agriculture. Even with the modern techniques of agriculture, the sustainability of production is in question.

Some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and particularly the Emirate of Dubai have constructed large artificial islands, or have created large dam and dike systems, like the Netherlands, which reclaim land from the sea to increase their total land area. Some scientists have said that in the future, densely populated cities will use vertical farming to grow food inside skyscrapers. The notion that space is limited has been decried by skeptics, who point out that the Earth’s population of roughly 6.8 billion people could comfortably be housed an area comparable in size to the state of Texas, in the United States (about 269,000 square miles or 696,706.80 square kilometres). However, the impact of humanity extends over a far greater area than that required simply for housing.

Fossil fuels
Population optimists have been criticized for failing to take into account the depletion of fossil fuels required for the production of fertilizers, tillage, transportation, etc. In his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, Al Gore wrote, “… it ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five-year period…” Approximately half of the oil produced in the United States is refined into gasoline for use in internal combustion engines.

The report Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management, commonly referred to as the Hirsch report, was created by request for the US Department of Energy and published in February 2005. Some information was updated in 2007. It examined the time frame for the occurrence of peak oil, the necessary mitigating actions, and the likely impacts based on the timeliness of those actions. It concludes that world oil peaking is going to happen, and will likely be abrupt. Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.

Optimists counter that fossil fuels will be sufficient until the development and implementation of suitable replacement technologies—such as nuclear power or various sources of renewable energy—occurs. Methods of manufacturing fertilizers from garbage, sewage, and agricultural waste by using thermal depolymerization have been discovered.

With increasing awareness about global warming, the question of peak oil has become less relevant. According to many studies, about 80% of the remaining fossil fuels must be left untouched because the bottleneck has shifted from resource availability to the resource of absorbing the generated greenhouse gases when burning fossil fuels.

Wealth and poverty
The United Nations indicates that about 850 million people are malnourished or starving, and 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380 percent, but the number of people living on less than 5 US dollars a day increased by more than 1.1 billion.

The UN Human Development Report of 1997 states: “During the last 15–20 years, more than 100 developing countries, and several Eastern European countries, have suffered from disastrous growth failures. The reductions in standard of living have been deeper and more long-lasting than what was seen in the industrialised countries during the depression in the 1930s. As a result, the income for more than one billion people has fallen below the level that was reached 10, 20 or 30 years ago”. Similarly, although the proportion of “starving” people in sub-Saharan Africa has decreased, the absolute number of starving people has increased due to population growth. The percentage dropped from 38% in 1970 to 33% in 1996 and was expected to be 30% by 2010. But the region’s population roughly doubled between 1970 and 1996. To keep the numbers of starving constant, the percentage would have dropped by more than half.

As of 2004, there were 108 countries in the world with more than five million people. All of these in which women have, on the average, more than 4 children in their lifetime, have a per capita GDP of less than $5000. Only in two countries with per capita GDP above ~$15,000 do women have, on the average, more than 2 children in their lifetime: these are Israel and Saudi Arabia, with average lifetime births per woman between 2 and 4.

Overpopulation has substantially adversely impacted the environment of Earth starting at least as early as the 20th century. According to the Global Footprint Network, “today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste”. There are also economic consequences of this environmental degradation in the form of ecosystem services attrition. Beyond the scientifically verifiable harm to the environment, some assert the moral right of other species to simply exist rather than become extinct. Environmental author Jeremy Rifkin has said that “our burgeoning population and urban way of life have been purchased at the expense of vast ecosystems and habitats…. It’s no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world, we are quickly approaching another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild.”

Further, even in countries which have both large population growth and major ecological problems, it is not necessarily true that curbing the population growth will make a major contribution towards resolving all environmental problems. However, as developing countries with high populations become more industrialized, pollution and consumption will invariably increase.

The Worldwatch Institute said in 2006 that the booming economies of China and India are “planetary powers that are shaping the global biosphere”. The report states:

The world’s ecological capacity is simply insufficient to satisfy the ambitions of China, India, Japan, Europe and the United States as well as the aspirations of the rest of the world in a sustainable way.

According to Worldwatch Institute, if China and India were to consume as much resources per capita as the United States, in 2030 they would each require a full planet Earth to meet their needs. In the long term these effects can lead to increased conflict over dwindling resources and in the worst case a Malthusian catastrophe.

Many studies link population growth with emissions and the effect of climate change.

Warfare and conflict
It has been suggested that overpopulation leads to increased levels of tensions both between and within countries. Modern usage of the term “lebensraum” supports the idea that overpopulation may promote warfare through fear of resource scarcity and increasing numbers of youth lacking the opportunity to engage in peaceful employment (the youth bulge theory).

Source from Wikipedia