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Human Overpopulation Causes, Effects and Solutions
We have about 6.8 billion people on a tiny orb just 8,000 miles wide and 24,000 miles in circumference that we call Earth. We are adding approximately one and a half million people to our global population every week! How did we get to the point that many describe as global overpopulation? What is the carrying capacity of our planet? Is zero population growth desirable or achievable? What are the causes and effects of human overpopulation?
The family of humans, known as the hominids, populated the Earth, according to the fossil record, for 5 to 6 million years. Hominids jumped from one genus to another before our genus, homo, appeared about one and a half to two million years ago. We passed through a number of homo species before our species, homo sapiens (“sense humans”) appeared about 150,000 years ago.
For the 5 to 6 million years that we hominids have been here (Earth has been here for 4.56 billion years in a universe that has been here for 13.7 billion years), we have been for the most Stone Age hunters and gatherers. For the 150,000 years that we modern humans have been here, we too have been primarily hunters and gatherers. About 12,000 years ago, with the domestication of plants and animals, our agrarian age began. Since then, we have been above all agrarians. Just over 200 years ago, in the late 1700s, the industrial age began in England. By 1850 it had spread to Belgium, Germany, France and the United States. Over time, it spread to other industrialized countries. About sixty years ago, we transitioned from the industrial age to the post-industrial, high-tech information age that we live in today. It is an age that allows us to broadcast information almost anywhere instantly.
Over time, we have accumulated people. Two thousand years ago, our population was 250 million. In the year 500 AD, it remained the same. In 1000 AD, we soared to 500 million people. We reached 750 million people around 1500 AD We reached our first billion in 1800 when the industrial revolution began. We added people faster and started moving towards human overpopulation quickly. Between 1800 and 1900, we added 600 million people. In 1900, we were at 1.6 billion. In 1960, in 60 short years, we nearly doubled that number to 3 billion.
In 1960, we humans had been here for about 150,000 years. It took us all this time to accumulate 3 billion people. How long did it take us to double that number? Thirty nine years ! In 1999 we reached 6 billion people. It is estimated that there will be 9.2 billion of us by 2050. This is an exponential increase in the birth rate, which raises questions about the Earth’s carrying capacity.
The effects of human overpopulation are multiple and worrying. As birth rates rise, natural resources are being depleted faster than they can be replaced, creating enormous economic pressures at home while living standards fall in the rest of the world. Due to the fact that so many people do not understand our reality and its behavioral demands, we have created an interrelated web of global environmental issues. We are depleting our natural resources: our forests, our fisheries, our rangelands, our cultivated lands and our plant and animal species. We are destroying the biological diversity on which evolution feeds (this is called the sixth great wave of extinction in the history of life on earth, different from the others in that it is not caused by external events, but by us).
Using powerful new electric and diesel pumping techniques, we are draining our aquifers and lowering our water tables. We systematically pollute our air, water and soil, and therefore our food chain. We deplete stratospheric ozone which protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. And we know the symptoms of global warming: heat waves, devastating droughts, dying forests, accelerating species extinction, dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms, and faster spread of diseases.
What is the solution to global overpopulation? What do we need to do to ensure that population growth does not get out of control? The answer lies in education. We humans are a very young species. We’ve only been here a short time. We are like a child learning to walk. We are facing serious challenges that demand a rapid change in our behavior. Our teacher is our parent. Our parent is the natural world from which we emerged. In all ways, in all facets of our existence, we must learn to align ourselves with what sustains life. There is no alternative if we want to avoid catastrophic consequences.
With so many of us on a very small planet, and with so many more being added every week, we can no longer continue to relate to each other, our environment, ecological systems and the biosphere as we have done it or we will succumb to the effects of human overpopulation. Nature, who doesn’t care, will eliminate us. We humans must grow and learn to walk…hand in hand with each other and with our natural world. There is no alternative if we want to support humanity and advance our civilization.
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