What is Happening with Overpopulation?

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March 25, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

The overarching theme of this column is living with less, so it really shouldn’t surprise me when each week I venture into the comments section to find dozens of people insisting that all efforts to do so are in vain – unless we are also choosing to reproduce less, too.

Recently I began to consider this question more seriously. Is overpopulation really the problem? Were the effects of all my eco-friendly initiatives wiped out the moment I had a child? Does the Earth have some sort of carrying capacity that we are rapidly approaching (or have already exceeded)?

Well, as with many issues, I quickly discovered that it isn’t quite that black and white. One of the main factors muddying the waters seems to be that humans consume resources at different rates. Prominent Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki recalls asking ecologist EO Wilson how many people our planet would be able to sustain indefinitely. His answer? “If you want to live like North Americans, 200 million.”

Determining some sort of final number that the human race can comfortably survive at is virtually impossible without considering the differing way we consume resources. Each American single-handedly produces the same amount of carbon emissions as 20 people from India, 30 from Pakistan or 250 from Ethiopia.

In some respects then, it should come as a relief to note that those of us consuming the most – those in developed countries like the UK, USA and Australia have seen birth rates fall steadily since the 1970s.

According to the 2015 UN World Population Prospects report, several countries are expected to see their populations decline by more than 15%, while “fertility in all European countries is now below the level required for full replacement of the population in the long run (around 2.1 children per woman, on average), and in the majority of cases, fertility has been below the replacement level for several decades”.

So it would seem that those in the developed world have minded the dire warnings coming from the comments section and adjusted their lives accordingly.

Reproduction is declining, there are fewer babies and indeed, that will mean fewer resources consumed by those of us who consume the most. But that’s not the whole story, of course. There’s still Africa. The continent currently home to almost 1.2 billion people is projected to be responsible for most of the population growth over the next 50 years, swelling to 2.5 billion by 2050 and 4.4 billion by 2100.

And, of course, many of the new billion people in developing countries will want to live the same lifestyles that cause disproportionate resources usage by North Americans – and they have just as much (or arguably, as little) right to adopt such environmentally unfriendly practices as we do: driving cars and SUVs, living in homes with central heating and air conditioning, eating imported foods, and filling our homes with clothing, electronics and consumer goods.

The problem is not just the sheer numbers of people inhabiting the planet, it’s also the lives we’re living once we’re here. That cannot be ignored. It’s not enough to say you won’t have kids and then declare Mission Accomplished like some sort of deranged George Bush derivative while you continue to drive your SUV and eat imported strawberries in December.

If we somehow managed to slow population growth so that we ended up with 8 billion people in 2050 instead of the projected 9.1 billion, we’d save 1-2bn tons of carbon emissions annually. That’s fantastic and, of course, there would be other implications for the resources not used by those missing billions, but erasing a billion potential people still wouldn’t be enough on its own to alter the trajectory of climate change.

Furthermore, the likelihood of preventing that billion births is constantly being cut off at the knees by backwards politicians and religious groups limiting safe and affordable sex education, birth control and abortion access. If you’re ranting about population control I’d better see you ranting for women’s reproductive rights too, but that’s an issue for another soapbox.

So, commenters, I concede the inarguable truth that you may be right.

There may well be too many of us, and far, far too many of us if we all wish to live like North Americans. This is why it’s at least as worrisome to me, if not more so, that those of us who are here are – particularly those of us in developed countries – are consuming so much, so fast, with so little regard for the world around us.

A good handful of us will reproduce. It’s inevitable. Instead of getting tunnel vision by focusing so much on population control, why not expand the focus to educating, motivating and assisting those human beings already walking this earth to do less damage to it? Why not add support to environmental initiatives like zero waste and local food sources and reduced consumption (and yes, women’s reproductive rights) rather than bah-humbugging everything?

There’s already 7 billion of us. If we put our collective energy toward creating positive change, it could be incredible. Now, let’s hold hands and sing kumbayah, please.

Adapted from theguardian.

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This was an article on Population Health.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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32 Comments


  1. overpopulation –> complicated, ppl of different countries use resources at different rates | Au: Developed nations should educate and find a way to minimize impact of their lifestyle.

    Reply

  2. Problem =/overpopulation = the way we live + reproduction = inevitable + solution = focus on positive change.

    Reply

  3. Sustainability /= people problem + lifestyle problem + need lifestyle change efforts

    Reply

  4. Problem =/= overpopulation = resource consumption rate
    we should focus on educating & driving positive change rather than population control

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  5. problem = overpop + resource consumption, education to reduce consumption; author positive about change

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  6. M.I-Overpopulation leads to overconsumption of resources. This also contributes to climate change. We need to educate the population and slow population growth for the better.
    Tone: Positive. Sees that the society is already looking towards change.
    Argumentative. Author has a final stand (refer to MI)

    Reply

  7. developed countries birth rates decreasing, focus on consumption

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  8. MIP: Birth rate =/= issue; developed country consume high = improve unity = educate/ resources +

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  9. Overpopulation is not the main problem to solve. Education and changing lifestyle are better ways to protect the earth.

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  10. MIP: problem =/= population growth + problem is consumerist society

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  11. MIP: Overpopulation not the main problem, with it comes over consumption of resources and climate change. Author’s opinion: In the present, the more developed countries must educate the world on how to consume less resources.

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  12. The author describes that overpopulation is definitely a problem, including the high rate of consumption that we want to partake in when we’re alive. He proposes a solution in order to unite and create positive change in the world.

    Reply

  13. MI: overpopulation problem = complex
    MI2: problem = or consumption levels = high

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  14. Overpopulation isn’t the main problem, its consumption habits in North America. Dev countries need to be educated on consumption.

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  15. Resource consumption rate (to live like North Americans) = a real problem not overpopulation. Need changes (education, change late style).

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  16. The author argues against a common notion that overpopulation of the Earth is largely responsible for a number of social and global ills, most notably environmental degradation. If the rate which certain populations of people use up resources are factored into the equation, the issue instead becomes one about over-consumption and reckless waste rather than simply having too many children.

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  17. MIP: humans consume dif rates; consume most–>fewer babies; focus – using less

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  18. overconsumption= issue bc ppl consume at diff rates -> environmental degradation
    focus= using less

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  19. overpopulation is not the only problem, the rate of consumption is the main issue.

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  20. N. American lifestyle =/= eco-friendly

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  21. Overpopulation = not an issue. Environmental unfriendly practice lifestyles + rapid rate of consumption in North America (developed countries) = problem -> Need to educate on how to reduce damages caused by humans

    Reply

  22. Pop control isn’t enough
    Work collectively to reduce resource consumption

    Reply

  23. Over population is a complicated problem and solution is within us.

    Reply

  24. MIP: major prob=how we live (N.A.); should foc on changing this vs. pop
    tone: – towards N.A. lifestyle

    Reply

  25. Humans should join effort to create a positive change ; birth control is not enough

    Reply

  26. Overpopulation =/= problem
    Consumption rate is an issue
    Education is beneficial

    Reply

  27. Overpopulation isn’t the enitre issue with climate change; how North Americans live creates a big carbon footprint

    Reply

  28. decrease in pop =/= stop climate change; solution = inform ppl to decrease damages

    Reply

  29. MIP: focus on limiting consumption > population control; tone = neutral

    Reply

  30. The author is an activist for consuming less to protect the environment; however, people argued that those actions were pointless due to the fact that the world is over populated.
    After providing support for that claim, the author agrees there are too many people, but instead argues for ways to consume less in order to protect the envrionment.

    Reply

  31. MIP
    (1) Ppl consume @ different rates
    (2) Developed countries consume a lot
    (3) Africa = increase size + want ‘NA lifestlye’
    (4) Decrease in ppl =/= enough for environment; must change lifestyle
    ** (5) Lifestyle change >>> population control

    Tone
    Positive towards lifestyle change

    Reply

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