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Overpopulation Essay, Research Paper
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970 s the world will undergo famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to stretch the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control.
These words, from Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich s book The Population Bomb, predicted a grim future for the world of 1968 when the book was published. Today, the debate rages on about how much life our planet can hold. With world population estimates currently around 5.5 billion, and a projected population of over 10 billion by 2100, the question of resource scarcity is raised. Will there be enough resources to support the exploding population of our planet? Also, is it true that population growth is necessary for economic prosperity, or is it responsible for problems such as hunger and poverty?
One of the first things that need to be considered in the population debate is the issue of carrying capacity. Many different people define carrying capacity in many different ways, and in this lies a major problem. Basic ecology textbooks define carrying capacity as the number of individuals in a population that the resources of a particular habitat can support. Others define it as the point at which the birth rate is equal to the death rate, while still others define is as the average size of a population that is neither increasing or decreasing.
Each different definition of carrying capacity has different arguments for the earth being above or below its carrying capacity, or of having infinite carrying capacity. Also, many other factors must be considered when estimating the earth s capacity by any of the above definitions. For instance, one must consider the level of prosperity of the people, the technology available, and the distribution of available wealth. Under certain conditions, the world might not easily hold even 1 billion people, while under other conditions a number as high as 20 billion is possible.
Another factor in overpopulation that must be considered is that of life expectancy. According to United Nations estimates, the life expectancy in developed nations in the 1950 s was approximately 66.0 years, while third world nations enjoyed a life expectancy of 40.7 years. Due to substantial declines in infant mortality, the average life expectancy in developed nations was 74.0 years and 64.7 years in developing countries. However, although the majority of this increase is due to decreases in infant mortality, jumps with this large of an increase cannot be entirely explained by that alone. New developments in medicine and technology have increased life spans across the board.
Even more promising, and perhaps alarming, is the fact that predicted upper limits of human life expectancy have regularly been surpassed, and increases in life expectancy even appear to be accelerating. These average life expectancy increases, if they continue, will allow the world population to skyrocket at an even faster rate.
Finally, and perhaps the most important issue that must be discussed in the debate on overpopulation is the issue of resource scarcity. So called experts love to enter the debate and make doomsday predictions that the world will run out of food, or oil, much like Dr. Paul Ehrlich did in his book, The Population Bomb. However, these predictions never seem to come true.
Julian Simon, an economist, has an idea about natural resources which has sparked mountains of debate from both camps in the overpopulation discussion. Simon asserts that all natural resources are infinite. While this claim may seem audacious at first, it becomes clearer exactly what he means when studied. His point is definitely not that there are an infinite number of gold or copper atoms in the earth. The mass of the earth is finite, and current scientific studies imply that even the mass of the universe is finite. Simon is saying that resources are indefinite in the sense that we will never run out of them for whatever we decide to use them for. This contradicts the environmentalist wackos who claim the more of a resource is removed from the earth, the scarcer that resource becomes.
For example, copper has been used for thousands of years for a variety of uses. The amount of copper taken from mines has increased over the last few thousand years, yet copper-based products are cheaper today that at any other time in history. If it were true that the more a natural resource is used the scarcer it becomes, this should not be the case. As the price of copper increases due to scarcity, we will invariably find new sources of copper, find ways to reuse existing copper, or develop alternatives. Essentially, Simon is postulating that people do not buy resources, they buy services. They couldn t care less if a satellite that uses no copper at all has replaced the copper wire telephone systems. This helps to explain why prediction after prediction of impending natural resource shortage has been repeatedly discounted.
It seems as though the real question in the overpopulation debate has to be Is there a problem with overpopulation, or will there be one in the future? Through my research I have found the answer to be an emphatic NO. The world s population has increased exponentially over the past 5,000 years, and without any real approach to that supposed carrying capacity. Although life expectancy is zooming upward at an accelerating pace, the sun still rises and sets every morning and evening. This is not likely to change. However, if at some point conditions change on earth, and that carrying capacity is reached, we must be prepared to deal with that situation.
Many experts have said that technology is the key to our continued existence while the population rises, and I believe they are right. Technology has given us most of the causes of overpopulation: lower infant mortality, higher life expectancy, etc. It stands to reason that technology will solve the problems it has created. I tend to agree with Julian Simon s opinion of natural resources. Effectively, they are infinite. What we may run out of is space. In this case, I think that space colonization, which has been suggested by experts, is entirely ludicrous. We would be better to travel under the sea and live a mermaid existence in glass bubbles than to try and build space stations or outposts on other planets.
Technology will, I believe, allow us to keep up with the population and supply enough food for the entire population of the world as well. It has been stated that there currently is enough food produced to feed nearly twice the world s current population. The only reason people are starving is because of issues with distribution. In the future, possibly even the near future, I can see technology solving even that dilemma.
As you can see, the problems facing us with overpopulation are not nearly as bad as some would have us believe. We must simply take them in stride and see what happens.
45 Years ago in the Bulletin, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August, 1996, p. 7.
Be Fruitful and Multiply, Fortune, September 7, 1998, p. 48.
Carnell, Brian, Food, http://www.overpopulation.com/scarce_food.html
Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. United States of America, Ballantine Books, Inc., 1968, pp. 1-223.
Ehrlich s Fables, Technology Review, January, 1997, pp. 40-47.
The Future of Populous Economies: China and Indis Shape Their Destinies, Environment, July/August, 1996, pp. 6-11.
Gallant, Roy A. The Peopling of Planet Earth. United States of America, Macmillan Publishing, 1990, pp. 1-158.
Holm, Charles F. ed. Population: Opposing Viewpoints. United States of America, Greenhaven Press, 1995, pp. 1-240.
Nardo, Don Population. United States of America, Lucent Books, Inc., 1991, pp. 1-92.
National Security: The Role of Population, Current, May, 1998, pp. 16-22.
Stwertka, Albert Population. United States of America, Franklin Watts, 1981, pp. 1-82.
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