Paul Ehrlich Wrote the Population Bomb
“Concerns about the abrupt rise in populations arose in the 20th century. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, in which he warned that population threatened to grow unmanageable, creating shortages, and the solution lay in reducing global growth to zero. Ehrlich advocated the west to ‘’lead by example’’ (Ravitz, Lee. “High Rise to the End of the World: a Brief History of Overpopulation Panic.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Apr. 2016). Not only did we need to reduce consumption but required an active set of policies to limit human births. Unfortunately this warning was not spread to underdeveloped and in most cases exploited countries, in which excessive births are prominent.
As of April 2019 the current population is just over 7.7 billion, although there is still 2.3 billion before we reach our ‘capacity’ we continue to see the detrimental effects that this crowding of the planet has on all of earth’s inhabitants. Scientists agree the reasons contributing to the constant swell of the human population results from from the rise in births thus resulting in poverty and leading to child labor, a decline in the mortality in humans due to medical advancements and revolutionary achievements, and a lack of education and contraceptive use all of which will be discussed in further detail below:
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The earth has an abundance of resources and wealth, enough to ensure the basic living standards be met for every human sadly that isn’t the case. Underdeveloped countries, often the poorest and most poverty prone, are restricted by things such as government corruption, war or conflicts with neighboring countries, colonialism, and exploitation of people and natural resources. Half of the world’s population, lives under $2.50 dollars a day and 80% of the population lives under $10 a day. According to figure 1 below, extreme poverty is most prominent in Africa and Asia. This is because these regions have high populations along with a history of the leading causes listed above. One of the first steps to overcoming extreme poverty is education which will be explored further.
Figure 2 depicts the number of people living in poverty, prominent in Asian and Africa Roser, Max, and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina. “Global Extreme Poverty.” Our World in Data, 25 May 2013, ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty.
Unsurprisingly, poverty is the main cause of child labor. Children in poverty stricken countries, mainly seen in Africa and Asia, are forced to work in dangerous conditions in factories, on farms, mines, in addition to being forced to beg, work as household servants, and sold into sexual exploitation. Children enter labor markets in attempts to make money for their poor families and this unfortunately advances the trend. Poor families will have many children because they are seen as a source of, though limited, income. Not only are underaged workers forcibly exposed to harsh unregulated and often inhumane practices but they are hindered from going to school. Not having adequate education will reduce the chance an individual has for breaking out of poverty thus repeating the vicious cycle.
Technological Advances Industrial/Green Revolution
During the 20th century there was an explosion of agricultural production due to the advancements of technology and research. Norman Borlaug, also referred to as the Father of the Green Revolution sparked the single largest explosion in food production history. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his revolutionary research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico during 1943. He successfully bred high-yielding and disease resistant varieties of wheat which, at the time, helped avoid widespread famine in addition the breakthrough has continued to feed billions of people since. As seen in figure 2 , the population globally increased greatly, especially in China and India, from 1943 onwards due to a greater understanding of grain production.
Medicine has evolved rapidly since the 19th century when anaesthesia was first created and roughly 200 years later we are research and developing artificial intelligence. Furthermore, technological advances in the medical field have led to higher life expectancies, our ability to cure once incurable diseases such as smallpox and malaria, and prolonging the lives of individuals with life threatening disabilities. This means not only has our population steadily increased but those already inhabiting the planet will remain on it longer, exhaust resources, and contribute to the growing environmental issues. On the other hand, as our understanding of the world around us expands and our technological abilities improve we may discover ways to fight arising issues of poverty, climate change, and loss of species by leading more green and sustainable lifestyles.
The constant swell of the human population has upshot the detrimental effects of the rise in global temperatures, loss of habitats and species, social situations evolving to the rise in births thus resulting in poverty and leading to child labor,, and a lack of education and contraceptive use all of which will be discussed in further detail below: It’s not a surprise that as the population increases the quality of the planet decreases. Overuse of nonrenewable fossil fuels its not only unstainable but accelerates global warming. Emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are trapped in our atmosphere resulting in hotter temperatures and physical damage to the ozone. As countries experience an increase of natural disasters, a by product of the planet heating, citizens will be displaced and forced to seek shelter elsewhere. This puts even more strain on the countries, their land and resources, accepting refugees. Natural disasters pave way for more poverty, debt, and death. Population and global warming are directly correlated, as shown in figure 4 below. The most populated country, China with 1.3 billion people, ranks highest for CO2 emissions.
One of the most important ways to combat this seemingly uncontrollable shift of population growth is women empowerment. Educating a woman to aid her understanding of not only her body but her choices is crucial in limiting reproduction. In Shannon Elder’s article, 15 Poverty and Education Statistics she states, “If every girl had access to an education, the number of child marriages could decrease by 14 percent” Not only would young women not be subjected to marriage but they would not be expected to create and provide for their own families. Instead they could focus on schoolwork and enjoy the freedoms of being a child. In addition she states, “According to WE Charity, $26 billion more each year would give every person a basic education, which is “less than five percent of what the U.S. military spent in 2015.” Understanding that overpopulation and lack of education is a serious problem which will hatch into further consequences. Thus prioritizing children’s safety and right to reproduction is essential in fighting overpopulation. In addition, making family planning and contraceptives more accessible to those seeking is another component of fighting population growth.
Throughout history earth has been subjected to horrific weather patterns and natural disasters which has led to the extinction of a majority of earth’s species at the time. In the chart below you can see the sixth extinctions, what caused them, how long ago it was, and the life affected. On going, predictions of 75% of current species dying out. Chart briefly explaining Earth’s mass extinctions, constructed by Nicole Vellingiri. Dunhill, Alex. “Five Mass Extinctions – and What We Can Learn from Them about the Planet Today.” The Conversation, 19 Sept. 2018,
Though the first five mass extinctions occured naturally, the sixth one is ongoing and the fault is ours. Humans have relocated species during exploration, introduced diseases, and hunted animals to the verge of disappearance. In addition our activities, such as pollution caused by fossil fuels, trash and chemicals reaching the ocean, has changed the atmosphere and oceans resulting in rising sea levels, acidification, heating of the planet, extreme weather patterns, and ultimately the loss of species. The global population increase puts pressure on space, land, and resources leading to habitat destruction, overfishing, and in the rapid endangerment and loss of species. Within the last 500 years 865 animal species have gone extinct and 26,500 species are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In an article calling attention to the condition of the ocean Willie Mackenzie, of Greenpeace, said: “”This report confirms the scale of the crisis our oceans are facing. It’s clear that fish and chips will be off the menu within our lifetimes if we don’t act now.” How do we achieve this? She goes on to state: “”We need to ban destructive fishing practices and create a network of large-scale marine reserves.. Globally””. Shown in figure 3 by 2050 scientists predict the fish species currently being fished for food will no longer be able to sustain us which will create further drawbacks as time progresses and the population needs new sources of food.
Thankfully, we are not a lost cause! With appropriate and realistic, yet urgent, changes we can slow and eventually reduce population thus getting one step closer to solving many of the world’s major issues. Global responsibility and agreement must be reached if we are to combat overpopulation. The following are solutions that governments, organizations, and individuals can strive and work towards:
As mentioned previously very poor countries, such as Bangladesh, are at high risk for child labor. As with most of the solutions, the government must get involved to protect those too young to protect themselves. Often countries lack the means to enforce child labor laws and along with a combination of clashing cultures and educational requirements these laws are often violated. With this in mind, encouraging the government to bring change will help abolish these horrific actions. What can you do? Educate yourself and others to raise awareness, contact local and national legislator, be aware of what you are purchasing/ where it was made, share your time and money and put back into the world.
In the 1980s China’s Communist Party Leaders implemented the one child policy to combat the rapid increase in people, China being the world’s most populated country with 1.3 billion people. Couples having more than one child face huge fines and restrictions as well as harassment from local authorities. According to the chinese government, 400 million births were prevented since the policy went into place. Government involvement is required in order to get everyone on board to overcome overpopulation, as it currently and will continue to affect humankind. The one child policy, or other government incentives is the push we need to reduce births.
There are small steps you can take to promote overall change. Being aware of your carbon footprint, the amount of emissions you contribute to the planet, and working to reduce excessive consumption is important (i.e cutting meat out of your diet is a great start for a sustainable lifestyle), Reduce, reuse -refrain from purchasing single use items-, and recycle any recyclables appropriately. Get familiar with laws and policies affecting the environment, lobby for green laws, and be voice your opinion: write letters, visit the state capitol, and vote! Corporations want to sell products and will shift to more sustainable methods if we, as consumers, urge them to do so. Volunteer, educate, and be mindful. By implementing these resourceful habits and taking initiative you can encourage change for a brighter future for later generations.
Overpopulation’s severe effects on the planet are undeniable and urgent. If immediate action is not taken taken to curb the population within the next few, quickly approaching, years we will be the fall of ourselves. As previously stated, according to expert opinion, we will reach the carrying capacity in 2100, fishable marine species will be gone by 2050, and the quality of life for citizens living in poorer countries will dwindle. The wellness of mankind as well as the entire animal kingdom we share Earth with is in jeopardy! Overpopulation affects the scarcity of food, accelerates global warming, intensifies pollution, and puts massive strain on the planets finite resources. By raising awareness, improving global education, and demanding government involvement we can confront overpopulation. Shifting to a sustainable lifestyle, meaning less consumption, reducing carbon footprint, and being mindful of how our actions in the present will impact future generations will help minimize the rapidly arising environmental issues.”