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Population Growth and Its Effect on the Environment

Population growth has been slow for the majority of human existence. However, in recent centuries, it has increased dramatically. Prior to this surge, the world population was generally kept in check by disease, catastrophic weather events, and a variety of other factors. In the 20th century, the population grew more rapidly than at any other period in history.

Currently, the world is home to about 7 billion people. With this number climbing, a challenge to preserve the planet’s natural resources is presented.

From food to fuel, resources are finite and cannot be expected to keep pace with the population boom. When considered in conjunction with the fact that people often consume more of these resources than is actually necessary to sustain life, it’s easy to see how population growth could be a potential crisis waiting to happen.

High Rates of Consumption

gas stationDeveloped countries are responsible for most of the consumption of fossil fuels and other natural resources. For instance, the US makes up only 5 percent of the total world population, yet it contributes 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

One mitigating factor is that population growth in the US has remained relatively steady. Many developing countries continue to struggle with high population numbers. It’s estimated that these developing nations will contribute nearly half of all carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050.

The United Nations reported that the human population rose from 1.6 billon to over 6 billion in the 20th century alone. Greenhouse gas emissions also grew exponentially during this time period as well. Environmentalists remain concerned that the planet cannot handle the added burden of more and more people consuming natural resources.


lumberAnother side effect of population growth is deforestation and the declining quality of leftover land. Just how much land has been lost to deforestation continues to be debated, but some estimate that it ranges from 20 to 61 million kilometers worldwide.

With rising population numbers comes more demand for food, requiring that more land be used for agriculture. This sometimes leads to using land that is less than ideal for farming in terms of soil quality and location.

Increased population inevitably causes increased migration rates. Additionally, large populations tend to spread out while developing more land to accommodate themselves. However, population growth is only one factor in the deforestation crisis – political and economic factors also play a role.

Food Insecurity

Food scarcity, also called food insecurity, is another problem associated with population growth. Food security is loosely defined as when people of all backgrounds and economic statuses have their dietary needs met. Unfortunately, it is estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide are hungry or malnourished.

Despite the fact that more land is being cleared to grow food, hunger is a massive problem in highly-populated, developing parts of the world. Distribution of available food remains a challenge. Additionally, events such as political unrest and natural disasters can hamper efforts made by developed countries to address food insecurity around the world.

starving childrenAnother reason for food insecurity in developing nations is the fact that farming is often done on whatever land is available. This soil may be difficult to farm, and it is often of poor quality.

This expansion of farmland into less desirable areas is often made in an effort to keep up with the increased food demand caused by population growth. When inadequate soil is used for agriculture, several problems typically follow, such as erosion and poor crop yields. In these developing nations, farmers often don’t have access to more sophisticated agricultural methods that could help meet the needs of local communities.

The significance of rapid population growth rate is sometimes downplayed in the face of other environmental issues, but it’s important to address. Despite all the things we can do to reduce individual damage to the environment, the fact is, there are billions of people. The earth’s resources are limited and cannot keep up.

Not only should individuals be cognizant of the potential problems caused by overpopulation, governments should also address the seriousness of the situation. Some government agencies are investigating how rapid population growth can adversely affect the environment and are actively looking for ways to address the problem. With a commitment from citizens and governments, society can begin to search viable, long-term solutions for the population crisis and its associated challenges.