“Can the earth continue to provide the resources to support a continually growing population?”
By Dr. John J. Hidore
At the time of this writing the global population is estimated to be about 7.7 billion. It is growing at the rate of a billion every 12 years. Earth is a finite object traveling through space with a size which is essentially fixed. An important question is whether the earth can continue to provide the resources to support a continually growing population.
Limits to growth implies that there is an upper limit to the size of population a region can support. There may not be an absolute limit to growth in any region but it can certainly be overpopulated. The resources humans need are those things which provide food, clothing and shelter. Overpopulation occurs when the available resources cannot sustain the number of people without damage to those very resources the people depend on. There are some common symptoms of overpopulation.
Human Health Problems
Among the health problems are undernutrition, dehydration, and declining resistance to disease. Globally undernutrition is probably the greatest health problem. At this time, it is estimated that nearly a billion people suffer some form of it. This is the equivalent of the population of North America and South America combined. Undernutrition does not mean starvation, but that the people in question are in some way being physically affected by not getting either enough food or not getting the right kind of food. Starvation is the extreme case. There are a variety of types of malnutrition based on what is missing in the diet. Essentially malnutrition is the imbalance between the body’s need for nutrients and energy and what the body is actually getting. Another billion do not have fresh water for drinking.
An untold number are suffering from disease related to health problems. Scientific data shows that the most important factor in experiencing physical illness (as distinct from mental illness) is undernutrition. When people are undernourished the probability of getting an infectious disease increases significantly. Children suffer more from undernutrition than adults because of the high demand for energy and protein associated with physical growth. Some form of undernutrition affects perhaps as many as a fourth of all children. A large majority of these children live in the developing countries. The most common form of malnutrition in children is kwashiorkor. It results from lack of protein and manifests itself in distended stomachs.
Resources used to sustain people include a variety of elements in the environment.
Some sort of resource depletion occurs in almost all types of environments. Land degradation has become widespread. In grasslands, where most intensive agriculture takes place, soil erosion is widespread. Soil has been the basis for agriculture for thousands of years. Some of the most valuable land on the planet consists of land with the best soil for growing crops. Soil erosion is widespread. In some areas the erosion has been and is so bad the land is no longer usable for agriculture. In the dryer parts of the grasslands overgrazing is common. Desertification often results. This is the reduction of the land to essentially desert conditions.
Deforestation is another example of resource depletion. Vast areas of the tropical rainforest are disappearing rapidly. It is being cleared for agriculture. The huge band of forest in the sub-Arctic is also disappearing. In this case the timber is being cut for lumber. With the loss of forest cover, soil erosion becomes pervasive. These forests are important to the climate of Earth as well as a means of livelihood for people. Once these resources are reduced or eliminated, overpopulation inevitably results. With land degradation and deforestation animal species are also disappearing. Animals of all variety provide food, clothing and other items. There is currently a global demise of species taking place so great that it is being referred to as a mass extinction.
Human migration is the movement of people from one location to another. It can be from one part of a country to another or across national boundaries. It can involve individuals or numbers in the thousands or millions. The human species has engaged in migration nearly as long as the species has existed on Earth. Present consensus is that the earliest humans developed in an area of East Africa known as Olduvai Gorge in what is now Kenya. The species spread out from there in all directions. It moved southeast through the open forests into what is now the country of South Africa. Later the species spread north and east across the middle east and all the way to Australia, Asia, and the Americas.
People migrate for a variety of reasons. In the past people may have migrated just out of curiosity. A more likely reason is the search for more abundant resources. The massive wave of migration in Europe and the Middle East at the moment is the greatest since the period just before and during world War II. The world is now focused on this current migration due to the problems it is creating. Some of the migration is an attempt to move from areas suffering from overpopulation and a shortage of resources to go around. Another portion is to escape violence in their homeland. Declining employment opportunities is another force driving migration.
No continent is exempt from problems due to migration. An influx of large numbers of people into any region can generate major problems. The building of wall, fences, and moats came into existence by groups of people to keep migrants out of their territory. In the United States Mr. Trump is demanding five billion US dollars to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. Because the US Congress has not provided that money, the government shut down. Now thousands are out of work and many government agencies have ceased to function.
It is predictable that when overpopulation occurs, in some cases at least, there will be violence among individuals and groups. Tribalism, indigenous uprisings and terrorism become predictable. Violence among groups may be along ethnic lines, economic status, or political power. Violence has become pervasive around the world as competition for resources increases. Personal violence is epidemic in many cities and countries. In the United States an emerging atrocity is school shootings.
Indigenous uprisings are violent acts by people native to an area. Indigenous uprisings by tribal people have occurred throughout history and on every continent when an external population becomes too oppressive. Many such uprisings have occurred around the world as Europeans moved to take over land used by the people originally occupying it. Such uprisings are now forcing governments to recognize the native people as a political force.
Terrorism is what appears to be random acts of violence usually directed against groups of people. It almost always involves the killing of unsuspecting people. It is usually carried out to serve the purpose of those committing the act. It can be directed against a political group, a government, religion, or another group. It has been engaged in by individuals, groups, and even governments. These acts of violence are often done in a spectacular fashion so as to attract attention to the perpetrators. Revolutions are an example of violent reaction to government policies
Do these symptoms of overpopulation and limits to growth actually occur?
Even a cursory examination of the world today indicates there is a major problem of overpopulation by the human species. There are examples everywhere. Is it possible that the entire planet has reached this stage? If this is the case there are options. We can foster a population in which there is less undernourishment, less massive migration and less violence. Limiting population growth is an alternative to the dominant economic and political policy of economic growth. It is a viable option that would be healthy for both the human population and the planet. The alternative is to allow uncontrolled growth of the population and decrease the welfare of all but a few.