World Population Day: Can Our Planet Sustain a Growing Number of People?
In 1989, the United Nations dubbed July 11 World Population Day to focus on the urgency of Earth’s growing population. The day’s purpose is to encourage discussion about health care, contraceptives, family planning and much more. With a current population of more than 7 billion people, the Earth is seemingly already at capacity.
Experts are searching for ways to extend our planet’s natural resources. But in the meantime, overpopulation acts as a threat to our species’ existence, with 83 million people added to the population each day. As the years pass and more people are born, it will compound the problem.
The Effects of Overpopulation
Earth’s population is snowballing. As we reach a tipping point and the planet becomes overpopulated, we’ll begin to see several adverse effects.
Water Will Become Scarce
More than 2 billion people already lack access to safe drinking water, and twice as many don’t have access to clean water for sanitation. As the population grows, the lack of potable water will become a major threat. While options for producing clean water exist — such as desalination, which removes the harmful minerals from saltwater — they are often costly and a drain on energy resources. Advancements in technology will determine if a water treatment process ultimately becomes viable in the future.
Animals Will Go Extinct
So many people exist on Earth that it’s driving down the population of other species. Scientists believe we’re entering the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, an event that could wipe out three-quarters of the planet’s animals. As the human population grows, so does the threat to animals’ natural habitats. Humans poach threatened and endangered species, reducing their numbers and preventing the chance of repopulation. We depend on many of these animals to survive and will need to adopt alternative food sources as the population grows.
The Earth Will Warm
The more people on Earth, the higher the demand for fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, which, when burned, release carbon dioxide into the air. CO2 is what traps heat inside the atmosphere, making the Earth’s temperature warm up. The rates of deforestation also rise with the population. Trees can capture CO2, able to mitigate the effects of global warming. However, we lose 8.7 million acres of forest on Earth each year, working against our chances to reverse climate change. Even remote areas, especially those with oil or gold, are susceptible to deforestation.
Diseases Will Spread
Infectious diseases are something we as a species already fight against, developing vaccines to eradicate viruses like smallpox. But people can’t keep all infections at bay, especially when they lack access to clean water. When the planet is overpopulated, the chances of an infectious breakout increase rapidly. Some of the most troubling diseases we face as the population grows are cholera, influenza, Ebola and typhoid fever. Many of these diseases, including cholera and typhoid fever, are infectious and spread through the water supply.
How Many People Can the Planet Support?
By 1800, the Earth’s population had reached 1 billion people. In 1927, the population was 2 billion. By 1974, it was at 4 billion. The more people there are, the less time it takes for populations to double in growth. And this growth is not slowing anytime soon, with the world population expected to reach 8 billion around 2023.There’s no denying the population is rising fast. But the problem might not be as dire as it sounds. While sustainable resources are still a necessity, research shows Earth’s population will peak by 2070, mainly due to the slowdown of population growth in Asia, the world’s fastest-growing region. The steps we take now to mitigate the effects of overpopulation could lead to future sustainable improvements adopted across the globe.
The Future of the Human Race
The future of the human species is hard to predict. The desire to have children can be powerful for many families. How will the growing population shape our planet’s future?
It’s natural for the population to increase. A population decline typically comes with unwanted events like famine, war or natural disaster. But we shouldn’t wait for these events to happen to take action. The problem of the planet’s growing population should remain a global topic of conversation, especially how to control numbers by implementing new regulations and technology.
Experts are discovering more efficient ways to create clean drinking water. Government-subsidized programs can aid farmers and prevent food shortages. Educational programs focusing on proper hygiene, such as washing hands before eating and taking a daily shower, can easily cut down on disease-causing organisms. And we can mitigate pollution and environmental effects by investing in sustainable resources, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power.
About the author
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.