A growing concern in today's world that seems to have no intentions on slowing is over-population. The world population is currently around 7.6 billion according to United States Census Bureau's population clock, with that number rising by the second. Overpopulation is a much larger problem in third world countries than the modernized world, but it impacts the planet as a whole. Overpopulation brings with it numerous negative impacts upon humans and the environment that cover a vast spectrum. While one might be inclined to think that overpopulation only equates to a scarcity of food and space, the effects are far larger than that. Overpopulation is a destructive environmental issue with mental, physical, and social downfalls. This paper will illustrate how the stress of overcrowding, urban pollution, poverty, and increased use of resources makes overpopulation a terrifying prospect.
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Perhaps the most obvious issue with overpopulation is the over-crowding of cities such as Beijing, Cairo, and Tokyo. These cities are all home to populations in excess of 20 million people. As stated in "Environmental Science" by Daniel Chiras, "crowding in urban centers has been implicated in a variety of social, mental, and physical diseases" (Chiras, 2013, p. 137). It has been studied that overpopulation is a contributing factor to many societal issues such as divorce, mental illness, and many other problems (Chiras, 2013). When taken into consideration the numerous social issues of today, it is easy to see a correlation in the rising number of inhabitants in our world. A study done by Mona Marshy of the "Social and Psychological Effects of Overcrowding in Palestinian Refugee Camps" supports these claims with research. Marshy found that "overcrowding contributes to psychological frustrations which, in turn, have a bearing on behavioral responses and residents' ability to cope with the conditions" (Marshy, 1999, p. 1). With these studies being limited to a refugee camp, one can imagine the scale of problems arising in an over-crowded city of 20 million or more. An increase in social and mental issues can be expected due to the conditions found in these cities, and even in those areas that are not currently over-crowded. The Open University states in their WASH: Context and Environment course that over-crowding has a tendency to lead to many negative social impacts. The list includes but is not limited to crime, drug abuse, street children due to impoverished households, and prostitution (Open, 2016, s. 5). Larger cities have higher crime rates, an issue that continues to increase the social disorders in these over-crowded cities. It also plays a factor in the later topic of poverty. Prostitution is another large issue for the same reason, as these women tend to lack needed knowledge on how to not continue the problem. The other aspect to over-crowding is the mental health of the population, though that is harder to pinpoint through research. It seems safe and valid to assume that with the rise of a population, so too would rise the mental health concerns as attached to society. This is an issue that is not easy to combat; social and mental illnesses will always be prevalent in society, and while overpopulation exacerbates the situation, the lack thereof would not necessarily resolve it. However, the negative impact that over-crowding plays in society cannot be ignored.
The following topic of concern goes hand in hand with the above – physical health. As seen in "Environmental Science", overpopulation in cities is leading to major pollution from a number of sources (Chiras, 2013). With more people comes more automobiles on the streets, more factories in production, and more utility plants needed to keep up with the increase of numbers in population. All of these things pollute the environment and that in turns leads to a pollution of our bodies and risk of disease. As seen in WASH: Context and Environment, overpopulated cities are hit with a heavy burden to produce more water and waste treatment, which can be stressful for the city to cope with – particularly in less modernized areas (Open, 2016, s. 5). Water quality, waste disposal, and air quality are all significant factors in the health of a cities inhabitants. Chiras' states that "pollution effects people's health and has significant effects on crops and the natural environment" (Chiras, 2013, p. 137). A study done by NASA demonstrates how a high population count contributes to air pollution in Kathryn Hansen's "NASA Scientists Relate Urban Population to Air Pollution". Unsurprisingly, the more people you get into one area, along with the industrial increase for the population, leads to higher levels of pollution. Just as anything to do with an increase of capacity there has to be an offset; with more humans living on top of each other in one location there will be an increase as each person contributes to the pollution. Poor living conditions due to an over-crowded city is a sure way to introduce health problems and further pollution. Contamination and the spread of illness is also more common when there are large groups present; overpopulation certainly will not help contain viral epidemics. In an info-graphic done by Emily Maynard titled "The Effect of Overpopulation on Public Health", we see that disease is spread easier when there are more people to pass it around, with an example of 8.6 million tuberculosis cases in 2012 due to too-close of quarters in cities (Maynard, 2014). Along with this is the issue of water supplies being contaminated due to pollution in overpopulated cities – an issue that is not easy or inexpensive to reverse. If cities continue to be over-run with too many people and the pollution that comes along with maintaining all of those people, many of our resources will be corrupted or unavailable.
The next concern is one that will affect people now as well as far into the future. With the expanding growth of population comes the need to feed and shelter people with resources that are finite or not even available in some areas. This is the primary topic that comes into discussion when speaking of overpopulation. There is simply not enough resources to sustain the current population, let alone an increase over the coming years. In many third world countries, such as Ethiopia, the massive burden of overpopulation is so great that the environment cannot withstand them, and the degrading and atrocious circumstances people live in is often portrayed in hopes of pushing this issue into the media. "Environmental Science" tells that due to the overpopulation in places such as Ethiopia, there are "unsanitary living conditions, water shortages, food shortages, and disease" (Chiras, 2013, p. 137). Humans are already facing an issue with food shortages and using up more resources than they can replace, as well as destroying the environment in order to maintain the current population. This is not an issue that is limited to third world countries, either. Many modernized countries are contributing to this issue. Tony Fitzpatrick, in his article "Population growth drives depletion of natural resources", makes the point that the U.S is ever expanding and along with it, is using up more resources that are not capable of being replaced at the same rate (Fitzpatrick, 2008). Fitzpatrick interviews Robert Criss, who states that "ground water, fossil fuel resources, cropland and forests all are being depleted or degraded" (Fitzpatrick, 2008, par. 10). These are resources that can't be easily replaced due to their very nature. Once you cut down a forest to make way for more urbanization, that forest is gone. It is the same for creating new cropland or destroying current areas. As stated in Maynard's info-graphic, it's estimated that the earth's supply of natural gas will be used up in the next 35 years if we continue to use the amount we are – and with the population only increasing, it could be sooner than that (Maynard, 2014). If the population continues to rise as it is, what resources will be left to future generations to sustain themselves with?
The last main issue with overpopulation is poverty. As the rise of people in cities continues to grow, poverty becomes more evident and destructive. Poverty comes in many shapes and forms, but primarily it's the issue of having less money than what is needed to survive. The United Nations Population Fund, an agency that aids in family planning, states in their article "Population and Poverty" that poverty is a critical aspect to the overpopulation issue, as young individuals from poor families are not given the opportunities to learn and utilize family planning techniques, and young women from poverty-stricken areas do not have access or the means to pay for family planning if they do know about it (UNFPA, 2014). Past the issue of family planning and then comes the issue of these new individuals being added to the problem, increasing the poverty factor as well as requiring their own share of resources. It can be difficult enough for a family of means to bring a new child into their home, but when it's in an overpopulated area and one riddled with poverty, all new additions are a stress on the environment and the families. This will then lead back to the first issue of mental and health issues. In Marshy's research, she states that "overcrowding physically and emotionally overburdens mothers and other caregivers, increasing health risks of dependents" (Marshy, 1999, p. 1). Beyond family and poverty, there is country and poverty. Countries like the United States have plans in place to help families that are in need of assistance due to poverty, but these plans become more difficult to fund every year, and the number of families in need increase as well. "Trends in the Welfare System" by Rebecca Blank gives a frightening view of all the programs that the U.S funds and how each program has only grown over time. Given that the U.S is a fully modernized country, it is safe to say that third world countries that are dealing with overpopulation and poverty are not afforded the same luxuries as welfare plans to ease the burden. Poverty and it's relation to overpopulation is an issue that is not going to go away, but if we can find a way to lessen poverty or create better circumstances for young adults in need of family planning, we can certainly make a different in overpopulation through this front.
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The problem that is overpopulation is not going to be resolved by any one country or any one means. It will take long-term dedication to solving the problem by implementing various tools and strategies. Until this happens, humans are going to continue dealing with over-crowding in cities and the continuous growth and spill-over of these large populations, as well as the continuing corruption and pollution of the environment, leading to poor health. Humans will continue to see poverty-stricken communities from overpopulation, both as a cause and a result. Most importantly, we will continue to deplete our resources until there is nothing left to sustain future generations of humanity, leaving both the earth and the humans in dire straits. The impact that overpopulation causes to humans is incredibly destructive and will not be lessening the blow any time soon.
- Blank, R. (1998). Trends in the Welfare System. Welfare, The Family, And Reproductive Behavior: Research Perspectives. Washington DC: National Academies Press (US). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230339/
- Chiras, D. (2013). Environmental Science. Burlington: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
- Fitzpatrick, T. (2008). Population growth drives depletion of natural resources. Washington University in St. Louis – The Source. Retrieved from
- Hansen, K. (2013). NASA Scientists Relate Urban Population to Air Pollution. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-scientists-relate-urban-population-to-air-pollution/
- Marshy, M. (1999). Social and Psychological Effects of Overcrowding in Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet. Retrieved from https://prrn.mcgill.ca/research/papers/marshy.htm#3%20social%20and%20psychological%20effects
- Maynard, E. (2014). The Effect of Overpopulation on Public Health. The Millenium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Retrieved from https://mahb.stanford.edu/library-item/the-effect-of-overpopulation-on-public-health/
- Open, U. (2016). WASH: Context and Environment. The Open University. Retrieved from https://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/course/view.php?id=2098
- USCB. (2019). U.S and World Population Clock. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/popclock/?#
- UNFPA. (2014). Population and Poverty. United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved from https://www.unfpa.org/resources/population-and-poverty
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