The Issue of Overpopulation and Its Social and Environmental Effects

When researching an environmental or social issue, I tend to irrationally focus on the numbers involved, rather than the author’s discussion. It may sound paranoid, but I have always believed that facts, though true, can altered or worded in a way to better suit an opinion. Numbers, however, are never bias and can never be misconstrued to deceive anyone. In fact, surprising numbers have a habit of shocking people into believing in environmental causes or raising awareness.

I speak of the numbers regarding the world’s population.

Overpopulation is a growing social concern for both developed and less-developed countries and many are unaware of the numbers. Probably, the most shocking concern in this area is a global population boom between 1960 and 1975. According to Humphrey, Lewis, and Buttel’s Environment, Energy, and Society, a world where once inhabited approximately three billion people increased to four billion in only 15 years. Another billion people were added from 1975 to 1990.

Sociologists and projectionists blame the betterment of public health practices.

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In the past few decades, more countries have been accepting child vaccinations which have drastically decreased the infant mortality rates. They have also been receiving increased nutrition from healthier sources of food (Humphrey et al.). The current world population exceeds six billion and is estimated to reach seven to eight billion by 2015. The United States has yet to feel the true impact of overpopulation, because of our privileged and secure lifestyles. Nations like Rwanda have experienced the consequences of population pressure, in the purest form of Malthusian response.

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After decades of sociological segregation between two groups of people in the African country of Rwanda, a genocidal rampage was unleashed in 1994, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The Hutu militia made up the majority of the country and despised the Tutsi minority. The reasons are unclear. Experts believe that the distinction lies with racial differences. The Tutsi evolved to look “more European” than the Hutu and were considered “white.” No matter the reason, the separation created a barrier between the cultures and when the population of both threatened the competition for resources, the country collapsed (Diamond). Population issues need not concern only those in fear of national collapse.

Overpopulation can also affect society in positive ways. Early nineteenth century Europe was increasingly aware of the growing world population and began the practice of neo-Malthusian birth control. Family planning was the educated policy among the upper and middle class and it had spread to the United States, with just as much controversy. This style of informed, sociological regulation falls under the managerial paradigm. New contraceptive technologies became available and with it came female independence. Women were presented with new freedoms and looked to opportunities beyond the role of mother and housewife. The Women’s movement gave way to gender equality in countries all around the world.

So, if it weren’t for European overpopulation, the world may have never experienced feminism or the pursuit of social equality (Humphrey et al.). Another case of population pressure is the overcrowding in China. The most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion people, China currently suffers from the most severe environmental problems and the conditions are getting worse. The country has one of the richest biodiversities, but it has been declining in recent years, leaving deserts in the absence of wetlands and grasslands. Deforestation has increased to the point where erosion and wind driven natural disasters are at an all time high. Air pollution, carbon dioxide, and CFC’s are contributing to global warming more than most countries (Diamond).

The public suffers from economic loss, unemployment, and an overall compact lifestyle. In response to population induced environmental problems, the Chinese government instituted the One-Child policy in 1979. Families bearing more than one child are subject to fines based on income and other factors. Though the policy may seem extreme and intrusive, 75% of the People’s Republic of China agree with it. The One-Child policy is estimated to have reduced the current population by three to four hundred million people (Kinder). The overpopulation by definition is the situation where a community’s numbers exceed the carrying capacity and begin to deplete resources.

Should population control ever fall beyond man’s reach, we can at least prepare for its consequences. Around the world, the depletion of resources is already in effect. World hunger is an issue that goes hand in hand with overpopulation. The global food growth rate is slowing down. Producers simply can’t keep up with the ever increasing demand. Furthermore, the world faces the scarcity of readily available fresh water. Fertilizers, both organic and chemical, are slowly losing effectiveness. Thankfully, these limits to bio-productivity have gained support over the years for humanitarianism. A controversial movement for global food aid is the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution began in 1945 as a request of the US government to develop new methods of producing wheat that would end our dependence on foreign imports. Scientists created seed varieties that would maximize crop yield and ten years later the US became self-sufficient in wheat production. Today, the Green Revolution has introduced new high-yielding vegetation to dozens of countries suffering from insufficient resources. However, despite their good intentions, these genetically modified seeds may have adverse effects on their new environment. Since the seeds are not native, they may less resistant to pests and diseases. Should they require them, the immediate introduction of pesticides and fertilizers may be harmful to the environment.

The new foods will have unknown effects to the quality of the human diet. In cultures where food is hunted and gathered rather than grown, the roles of men and women may change; existing social classes may be destroyed. Authors Roberts and Thanos believe that the Green Revolution is not most practical solution to induced agriculture and relief of population pressure. He believes the only way is reintroduce and improve native produce (Roberts). It appears the world may not be destined to succumb to overcrowding, homelessness, poverty, and resource scarcity. The same projectionists who calculate the incredible population spikes admit that the exponential increase is starting to climax.

This suggests the possibility of a population decrease in the distant future. According to Malthusian theories, our inevitable salvation will take the form of a natural cataclysm, disease, genocide, or some other global epidemic that will “level off” the abundance of human beings. Fortunately, man has evolved to a point where survival of the fittest is best left for the workplace. The new policy is common courtesy. Nations and organizations that can afford relief for less-developed countries do so out of humane principle. Governments share their methods of crop production and family planning and can hopefully find long term solutions to population moderation without jeopardizing civil privacy.

Works Cited

  1. Diamond, J. D. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin.
  2. Humphrey, C. R., T. L. Lewis, and F. H. Buttel (Eds.) 2002. Environment, Energy, and Society: A New Synthesis – 1st Edition.
  3. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. Kinder, Carolyn. 1998. The Population Explosion: Causes and Consequences. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.
  4. Roberts, J. T. and N. D. Thanos. 2003. Trouble in Paradise: Globalization and Environmental Crises in Latin America. New York: Routledge.

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The Issue of Overpopulation and Its Social and Environmental Effects. (2021, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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