Overpopulation: The World's Problem


Vince Busam

English 12
Period 2
11 December, 1995

The world's population will soon reach a level where there will not be enough resources to sustain life as we know it. Growth must be checked to avoid this catastrophe. Many environmental, social, and economic problems either stem from or are increased in magnitude by the overpopulation problem. With an exponentially increasing population, the problems created by overpopulation grow correspondingly. To ensure population stability not only in the increasingly wealthy third-world areas, but also in the industrialized areas, countries and individuals must work together to achieve zero population growth.

The earth does not contain enough resources to indefinitely sustain the current enormous population growth. For instance, there is a limited area of arable land and living space. China, home to 1.2 billion people or 1/5 the world's population, is an excellent example of the kinds of problems that arise in an increasingly crowded society. Trying to increase the standard of living of its people, China has industrialized and the economy has grown (Hanson). This increase in wealth has increased the demand for food in China. The demand is so great that China went from exporting 8 million tons of grain in 1992 to becoming a net importer of 16 million tons of grain in 1994 (China News Digest). This causes a world-wide grain shortage which raises prices, which in turn puts food out of reach of even more people.

In many areas, there is simply not enough food to feed the growing populations. Each day 40,000 children die from malnutrition and its related diseases. 150 million children in the world suffer from poor health due to food shortages (Turbak, 20).

Another resource, which cannot keep up with an increasing population, is water. The supply of fresh water is limited. The recent California drought exemplifies this problem. Conflicts ensue between farmers, municipalities, environmentalists, and others over water rights. Recently, environmentalists battled with Los Angeles over the diversion of water from Mono lake to the LA basin. The Mono Lake incident and the aqueduct fights highlight some of the conflicts that arise over water. Creating fresh water can be expensive. A swelling population may have to turn to desalinization for their clean water. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is the only country for which this process has had any success. However, Saudi Arabia does not require the vast amounts of agricultural water that California and other areas need. Another possible solution to the fresh water shortage is towing icebergs from the polar caps. This is just too costly for many areas.

In addition to depleting resources, overpopulation increases environmental problems. Pollution is an environmental problem whose magnitude is increased by overpopulation. As more people drive more cars, use more electricity, throw away more trash, and cut down more trees, the environmental problems we experience are greatly increased. The earth could easily sustain a small population of highly polluting people. But as more people such as ourselves pollute, massive problems occur. Pollution is magnified in developing nations. As those nations with larger growing populations become richer, their pollution increases with their wealth. Developing nations often promote industries that pollute to compete economically. These industries are less tightly regulated in order to stimulate growth.

Besides causing the environmental strains on the earth, overpopulation causes a large number of the social problems in today's society. One example of this is described in the recent study by Ohio State University showing that children whose family sizes were larger did worse in school. "The research, to be published in October's American Sociological Review, found that as family size increases, parents talk less to each child about school, have lower education expectations, save less for college and have fewer educational materials available" (CAPS).

Each individual's political power is reduced with increased population. As the population increases, each representative in the US and state congresses (as well as senators) represents a wider segment of the population. This problem was initially addressed by increasing the number of representatives. However, when the number of US representatives reached 435, the sheer numbers became unimaginable and led to a cap on the number of representatives. In Lincoln's time, there were 185,000 residents in a congressional district. Today, there are about 600,000 people in each district (Oberlink). The only alternative would be increasing the number of representatives, however this would only decrease congresses' efficiency.

Social funding per capita is also reduced when the population grows. Again, California provides an excellent example. In 1990 there were 5.7 million children enrolled in California's K-12 schools, while there will be 7.9 million in 2000 (Bouvier 41). "Our secondary school population is growing by 177,000 a year. The Dept. of Education projects that 35,333 new classrooms, or approx. 1,399 K-12 schools will be needed by the year 2000. That is almost a school a day. California already has some of the largest class sizes in the nation (Phillips)." With this growth in school needs, the state cannot meet the budget requirements. This has significantly contributed toward the state's deficit, as well as reduced the quality of education.

In the 1980's, there was a 10% population density increase in the US. This led to a 20% decrease in housing affordability. The supply has not kept up with the demand for housing, which caused the real estate boom. This causes continually growing urban communities such as Los Angeles, which has experienced problems due to its sheer massiveness (Johnson).

The traffic problems we face daily are another result of overpopulation. Just in California, 300,000 hours are wasted in traffic congestion each year at an estimated annual cost of over 892 million dollars. In addition, these idiling motors add to the pollution problem (Oberlink).

Many people feel that efforts to stop the rising population are unnecessary. They feel the population is under control and, in effect, the population bomb has fizzed. Ben Wattenberg, in The Birth Dearth, cites that a shrinking population will put developed nations at a severe disadvantage. It will cause military, economic, politic, and cultural weaknesses in relation to other countries.

People against population controls cite statistics in their favor. According to the 1994 US Census, the fertility rate of 59 countries is below 2.1 births per female which is the number of children per family needed to maintain the population. China is down to 1.8, and Spain is down to 1.4 (Verburg). These people also claim Africa is experiencing shortages of laborers, even though they reject technology because of the reduced labor it requires.

Anti-population control advocates feel that the resource problems may not be as bad as earlier expected. Since 1960, the world's food supply per capita has increased 27% and the food production in developing nation has increased 20%. The world's oil reserves have increased from 100 billion cubic meters in 1980 to 158 billion cubic meters in 1993. Only 50% of the world's arable land is used. Grain production increased 2.1% in the 80's, well above the 1.4% necessary to feed the increasing population (Verburg). According to the UN, the world's population may stabilize at 7.5 billion in 2015.

Although opponents to population stabilization cite statistics in their favor, the overwhelming majority of statistics point toward a severe problem. One in four births in the developing world outside China is unwanted (Verburg). It took 123 years, from 1804 to 1927 for the world to produce its second billion people, yet it took just thirteen years, from 1974 to 1987, to produce the fifth billion (UN Population Division). There are three more people in the United States every second with nine births and three deaths every two seconds (Universal Almanac, 173). In 1960 Europe was the most densely populated continent. By 1991 Asia surpassed Europe's denseness with 176 persons per square mile while Europe only had 168 persons per square mile. Americans can barely feel this squeeze with only 43 persons per square mile ("Population," World Book Encyclopedia). If the population continues to grow at current rates with no further decline (a highly unlikely scenario), there will be 694 billion people on the Earth by 2150 (Verburg).

The Catholic Church represents major religious opposition to controlled population. The Church's official stand is against any birth control whatsoever. They believe God should plan families. The problem includes Catholics obeying John Paul II's Human Vitae, the church using its political power in stopping abortion and birth control advances, and protesting the discussion of family planning at world forums such as the UN Women's conferences (Ehrlich, 22).

Zero Population Growth is the foremost American activist organization for population control. They cite several solutions for the population problem including family planning services, international awareness, population education, improving women's status, and economic incentives. Many of these solutions have been implemented in various countries with success. These are easy solutions with few adverse side-effects.

The Chinese government has been able to control population by creating economic incentives for families with less than two children. With 1/5 of the world's population and only 7% of the land, population checks were badly needed. Population control was achieved using education, government propaganda, and community pressures. For instance, a couple promising to have only one child receives a one-time reward of money and rice. If that child does not live to maturity, the couple is allowed another. The child will receive a private plot of 70 square meters of land, compared to 50 for a child in a larger family (Mings, 479).

Similar techniques could be implemented in the United States by slowly removing the tax write-off for more than 2 children. Families will not experience extreme economic hardship if the decline were gradual enough. Moreover, government revenue could increase. An example of such a solution would be amending the current US H.R. 6, a middle-class tax cutting bill, to limit the $500-per-child tax credit to two children.

Birth control and family planning is another excellent way of slowing the surging population growth. Japan is a crowded nation the size of California with a population equal to about half the US population. Population controls were badly needed. Condoms have proven to be an extremely successful way of slowing the growth. With dedicated stores, such as Condomania, and aggressive advertising, condom usage reached 547 million in 1991. This is almost as much as the 561 million the US used with twice the population.

Another factor attributing to the decrease in population growth in Japan is the stressful working conditions. Men concentrate heavily on work and less on recreational activities. Because of the resulting high stress levels, overall sexual activity has declined and the sperm count with it. These factors, coupled with the high condom usage, has slowed Japanese population growth. The slowed growth has resulted in a temporary aging of the population, which creates minor problems, but is unavoidable in any fix to population growth (Watanabe).

Population growth is slowed as women's rights are increased. This is evident in developed nations where fewer births occur as the woman's role in society changes. Elevating women out of their lower-class status in many nations will greatly aid progress. As women gain economic, political, and reproductive power in today's industrialized nations, birth rates drop dramatically and now most of western Europe is at or below replacement level.

Finally, all the people of the world must be made aware of the situation. The problem is not popularized in the media as much as other problems which stem from overpopulation such as the environment, AIDS, and lung cancer. Children and adults are well informed on how to help the environment, how to avoid AIDS, and that smoking is bad for their health. But they are not well informed about all of the problems of overpopulation. Overpopulation information needs to be more widespread than it currently is. This can be reasonably achieved with information in TV segments and in science and social studies classes.

While less developed countries face the biggest problems, solutions also need to be implemented here in the US. In California, the fertility rate grew from 1.947 in 1982 to 2.480 in 1989 (Bouvier 13). Educating the public will ease California's population growth.

Successful steps have been made in fighting the problem. The first step, recognizing the problem, was reached by Thomas Malthus with An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798. Malthus pointed out that population tends to grow at an exponential rate while the food production grows at a geometric rate. Thus population growth must be checked. He mentioned "positive checks" such as war, famine, and disease, and "preventative checks" such as celibacy and contraception ("Population," Encarta).

In 1968 Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb. They were the first to popularize how serious the problem had become. While incorrectly predicting short term large-scale famine and plague, the book awakened the world to the upcoming problems.

Today, the United Nations Population Fund is collecting information on the problem. Events such as the UN Women's conference in support of family planning and birth control have raised the status of women, an important step in reducing population. Family planning was not even on the agenda in the 1972 conference, but it was stressed in the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, as well as the 1994 Women's Conference (Marshall).

With an impending crisis looming over the horizon, the afore outlined steps must be followed to ease the population problem and the many other problems which are directly related to it. When people are educated to the benefits of limiting family size, they respond with lower birth rates. Education, coupled with economic pressure, will end the overpopulation problem and ease many of the other problems faced by today's society.

Works Cited

Bouvier, Leon. Fifty Million Californians? Washington, D.C.: Federation for American Immigration Reform, 1991.

CAPS (Californians for Population Stabilization) (1995, October 16). _grades articls_, [e-mail to Vince Busam], [Online]. Available e-mail: vabusam@hooked.net.

China News Digest (1995, October 17). _China Warns of Ag. Crisis_, [e-mail to Vince Busam], [Online]. Available e-mail: vabusam@hooked.net.

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich. The Population Explosion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Hanson, Jay (1995, November 2). _Who Will Feed China?_, [e-mail to Vince Busam], [Online]. Available e-mail: vabusam@hooked.net.

Johnson, Howard. "Overpopulation Linked to U.S. Prosperity Decline." 1995, August 14. [Online]. Available: http://www.iti.com/iti/kzpg/press1.html.

Marshall, Alex. "Busting the boom: Population control works; but continued progress needs more funding." World Paper. April 1991: 11-12 S.I.R.S. "Population" 29.

McCuen, Gary E. Population & Human Survival. Hudson, Wisconsin: Gary E McCuen Publications, Inc., 1993.

Mings, Turley. The Study of Economics: Principles, Concepts & Applications. Guilford, Connecticut: The Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc., 1995.

Oberlink, Ric, J.D. "Population and Representation." CAPS Newsletter, Winter 1995. Vol. 26, page 5.

"Population." Microsoft Encarta. 1995 ed.

"Population." World Book Encyclopedia. 1986 ed.

Phillips, Jamie (1995, October 17). _Social impacts of population growth_, [e-mail to Vince Busam], [Online]. Available e-mail: vabusam@hooked.net.

Turbak, Gary. "Tick... Tick... Tick..." American Legion Magazine. July 1992: 20 S.I.R.S. "Population" 52.

United Nations Population Divison: Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis. "World Population Growth from Year 0 to Stablization." 1994, July 7. [On-line]. Available: http://www.iti.com/iti/kzpg/milestones.html.

The Universal Almanac. Kansas City, Andrews and McNeel, 1994.

Verburg, Peter. "The Threat of Population is a Myth." Alberta Report. 1994, September 26: 42-43 S.I.R.S. "Population" 98.

Watanabe, Teresa. "In Japan, You Spell Birth Control: C-O-N-D-O-M" Los Angeles Times. 1994, August 23: H1 S.I.R.S. 95b.

Wright, Robin. "The Fuse Still Sizzles on World Population Bomb." Los Angeles Times. 1994, August 23: H1 S.I.R.S. 95a.