Population and the Environment


Over the course of the Earth’s history the human species has slowly and steadily began to increase in size. Following the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the population began to rapidly increase, causing it to almost double in its size. With the Revolution’s advancement in food production, medicine, sanitation, and hygiene this would cause the beginning spike to the population’s growth. With this spike in population growth there will be a cause and effect from population growth on the environment.

Population Growth and Overpopulation

Currently there is more people alive today than there has ever been previously recorded. With the modernization of the world and its advancements people have begun to live longer and better lives than they have in the past. Death rates related to diseases, famine, childbirth, etc. decreased with the increase in health care, related to food production, transportation, vaccinations, proper sanitation, and a boosted economy. With the better quality of living and evolution of medicine, infant mortality rates also began to diminish causing the birth rates to drop down over time.

Instead of people having an infinite amount of children knowing that some would die, they reduced in size to about half the original amount. According to Rubenstein (2016), the more developed countries that had access to modern hospitals, doctors, and medicine dropped infant mortality rates placing most developed countries at below 20 per 1,000 live births, where places like Africa has as high as 60 and above (Rubenstein, 2016, p. 52). While the world’s total fertility rate averaged at 2.

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5; and rose higher in underdeveloped countries exceeding to 5 in the sub-Saharan Africa. Even though the average family size has decreased the population globally still continues to climb. Rubenstein (2016) stated, “the United Nations estimates that the world population in 2100 could be as low as 6.75 billion, or as high as 16.64 billion” (Rubenstein, 2016, p. 46). Most of the human population can be found in 4 clustered regions. Rubenstein (2016), states, These concentrated “areas of East, South, Southeast Asia, and Europe include 2/3rds of the population” (Rubenstein, 2016, p.36).

With the exponential growth of our species many began to become concerned about whether or not we could keep growing at such a fast rate, because with the increase of population comes an increase in demand for natural resources. So they wondered if there was a limit to how many people could live on the Earth’s surface without depleting it of its resources. The idea of overpopulation formed to explain, when the number of people exceed capacity of an environment to provide them with life and decent standard of living. It could be measured in three ways; with the natural increases, the crude birth rate, and death rate.

Theories began to emerge about the population growth and the possibility of overpopulation. One of the first theorists was Thomas Robert Malthus to propose a theory of population. He believed that the exponential growth of the human population would exceed its resources. Humans would multiply in an algorithmic way more rapidly than their food production. According to Kwat, Malthus predicted that the human population would double in the first 25 years and would continue to increase from there. The result for such an increase would cause worldwide famine, and ultimately despair. He made a plan to slow population growth so that this would not happen. By abstaining from sex until married and waiting longer to get married this could slow the populations growth. Another idea was that through plague, famine, and war the increase would slow.

Thomas Malthus’s predictions were not proven to be correct because while the population did increase it didn’t increase in the way he predicted. It was more random than predicted. While he thought algorithmically the population would grow, that is actually the way food production began to grow. He had no way of knowing that the advances in agriculture and science would change the way food was harvested and boosted crop productivity. These advances changed agriculture production to where there was more than enough food. Currently today, the issue with food is the way it is distributed by wealth.

Another theory developed by Edwin Cannan was focused on population and production of wealth. When combining population with resources countries will produce more income per person. The optimum population would boost the economy, anything other than that would harm it. So its dependant on the area and the resources available to determine this ideal population. It can evolve or change with changes in production and labor. The optimal level is impossible to measure and cannot be fixed.

A third theory was developed called the theory of demographic transition. This theory is the one most accepted by individuals today and its based on the three stages of population growth. The first stage is marked by high birth and death rates making the population show little to no growth. During the second stage economy begins to grow, the death rate decreases, as the birth rate stays the same. The third stage fertility declines and equals the death rate so growth of population declines. It doesn’t have a biased look on population growth or a heavy focus on food supply.

Environmental Issues Related to Population Growth

Through globalization the world became connected on a international scale. To promote the global economy areas began to specialize in specific goods; cash crops or production of merchandise. With the increase in the human population and rise in technological advances, humans began to modify natural environments to suit their needs. Deforestation occurred causing the destruction of natural habitats when the trees and foliage were cleared to be used for building materials and to gain access to other resources such as land. This land was then used to build homes, urbanize areas, or turn into arable land for farming. According to the National Geographic (2015) today, “Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area” ( National Geographic, 2015, para. 1).

Following the increasing demand for food supply a new form of farming began. Commercial agriculture became the method of cultivation for most developed countries. With the increase in cash crops not only were invasive species introduced, but also plant diversity eliminated. Contamination along with the depletion of soil and its nutrients occurred in areas, usually underdeveloped countries, with a high demand in production. In order to boost crop productivity farms sprayed with chemicals or pesticides causing another form of pollution. Pesticides not only affected the soil’s fertility, but it also affected smaller ecosystems within the area. For example, spraying crops has been linked with issues like colony collapse within the bee population. Bees are a very important factor for agriculture because they pollinate the crops; fruits and vegetables. According to Kremen, Thorpe, and Williams (2002) “bees, pollinate one or more cultivars of 66% of the world’s 1,500 crop species, and are directly or indirectly essential for an estimated 15–30% of food production (Kremen, Thorpe, and Williams para. 3). Also without crop rotation the soil becomes depleted of nutrients and is rendered useless for any other agricultural work.

Another result of population growth was the climbing demand of manufactured goods. Manufacturing goods included things such as; food, textiles, and fuel. The large scale production of these items contributed to the earth’s delicate ecosystems in harmful ways. When these large factories run they usually use a lot of resources and energy to produce products, as well as release a lot of chemicals and hazardous bioproducts. Many factories use chemicals in dyes, or on consumers good to boost production. The side effect is a byproduct that pollutes through runoff. For example, in some clothing industries textile mills produced a toxic byproduct called runoff that spilled into and contaminates local water and soil. China’s river water is a example of run off pollution.

In addition to runoff, many factories run powered off of fossil fuel that are burned. The effect of burning these fuels is that they release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and the earth’s atmosphere. Not only is the fuel used to manufacture consumer goods, but also to export and import them on a global scale. Globalization has made it increasingly common for people to buy products from other countries without really thinking about the cost in terms of fossil fuel. According to the EIA (2017) “29% of U.S. energy consumption was for transporting people and goods” (EIA, 2017, para. 1). Petroleum or fossil fuel being the main source of energy used. While the products are boosting the economy worldwide, it is also increasing the fuel used to transport these goods. This increase in fuel usage causes a spike in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This then raises the temperature of the earth causing global warming. Global warming creates an imbalance in delicate ecosystems causing not only an increase in storms and natural disasters, but also a rise in species endangerment and extinction. Coral reefs are a direct link to global warming and the effects of pollution. Since the increase in temperature caused an increase in ocean’s overall temperature it caused coral bleaching to occur. Coral reefs produce some of the earth’s oxygen and without coral the oxygen levels will decrease. National Geographic Education (2018) stated that, “(70%) of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by marine plants” (National Geographic Education, 2018, para. 1).

Population and Environmental Policies Implemented

Developing countries have begun to implement policies to counteract and conserve the natural resources available. They’ve began to come up with solutions and incentives through practicing sustainability. Sustainability is the idea that a balance can be maintained so that the earth does not become depleted. One shift many countries have taken is researching and developing alternative forms of renewable resources instead of fossil fuels. These countries are shifting to green energy such as; wind, hydro, geothermal, and solar power. The movement is hoping to counteract or slow global warming. Countries such as China have converted large cities into energy efficient centers with the use of led lights and electric public transportation. New Zealand obtains a large percent of its energy through dams producing a green energy called hydroelectricity. Even within the United States, Texas has become one of the leading sources of wind power in the U.S..

Through practicing sustainable farming so it may help preserve resources for future generations use. When applied to the environment by managing resources to meet humans needs. The areas of sustainability in the U.S. are sensitive land management, limiting the use of chemicals, and incorporating crops and livestocks.

While the average family household has decreased in size over the last hundred years. Many of the underdeveloped countries still have a higher child birth rate. Places like China went as far as developing laws that limited families to one child. Other countries government is providing contraceptives and family planning in rural areas when the community is poor and less educated on preventative methods.

Summary and Conclusion

With the steady increase in the human population comes a ever increasing demand of resources and materials from our earth’s systems. With modern advances we have not only improved the quality of life, but boosted productivity. While this can be a positive for us in the short term, it is negative for the earth and its many ecosystems. By using the same drive and advancements that we made to take steps towards improving our quality of life we can apply and step towards a more sustainable tomorrow. Instead of modifying the Earth to meet our needs maybe we can modify these needs to preserve the Earth. By setting restrictions to protect wildlife and habitats, by looking into more green renewable forms of energy, and by being careful not to pollute or contaminate when producing goods and interacting with nature.


  1. EIA. (2017). Use of Energy in the United States Energy Use for Transportation. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=us_energy_transportation
  2. Kremen Claire, Thorp, Robbin W., and Williams, Neal M., (2002). Crop Pollination From Native Bees at Risk From Agricultural Intensification. http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/99/26/16812.full.pdf
  3. Kwat, Natasha. The 3 Theories of Population (With Diagram). http://www.economicsdiscussion.net/theory-of-population/top-3-theories-of-population-with-diagram/18461
  4. National Geographic. (2015). Deforestation. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/
  5. National Geographic Education. (2018). Save the Plankton, Breathe Freely. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/save-the-plankton-breathe-freely/
  6. Rubenstein, James M. (2016). Contemporary Human Geography (3rd ed.) Oxford, Ohio: Pearson Education Inc.

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Population and the Environment. (2021, Nov 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/population-and-the-environment/

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