The United Nations estimates that the world population could rise to as high as 10.6 billion people by 2050. As the planet’s population grows, demographers worry that it could outstrip its carrying capacity. A large population puts strain on the earth and its people in terms of human health, economic consequence, and environmental damage.
Currently, 850 million people live without food security; that means that 850 million people live in fear of hunger and starvation. In countries where people are starving, total fertility rates are also high. The ‘food insecure’ are experiencing the fastest growth. One clear problem posed by population growth is more mouths to feed. Increase in the population of the hungry mean more people with weakened bodies. The hungry and children are more susceptible to disease. Sub-Saharan Africa, which is the most food insecure place on the planet, will need to increase its food production by 300% to feed its people in 2050. With unabated population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa and no major increases in food production, it is very likely that the occurrence of disease will continue to be a persistent problem in Africa. Water too remains an issue for about a fifth of the world population. Those without access to clean water are growing in number and face the challenge of further dividing a rare resource. In the absence of an aggressive campaign against child mortality and for food production, the problems of food security will come hand-in-hand with population growth.
There are definite relationships between population and economics. China has been able to use its massive population as a source of cheap labor and a means of growing the economy. However, if the population grows quicker than the economy, then poverty will remain rampant. Many third world nations are crushed by enormous debt. When the population of the poor grows without the growth of the economy, then the population itself becomes poorer. Resource and food prices increase as more people become dependent on them. Increase in the demand for grain or rice can cause skyrocketing food prices. Similarly, increases in population also can increase the price of cooking oil and wood. Further population increases will put a strain on resource markets and harm the impoverished.
One of the more overlooked, yet arguably most important problems posed by population growth is environmental. It’s already been covered that more people mean more food, but what does more food mean? It means increases in land devoted to agriculture, more commercial fertilizers and pesticides, and more gasoline being burned. Current agricultural methods are extremely land and extremely energy intensive. Unsustainable degradation of lands suitable for agriculture is occurring under the use of current agricultural methods; trying to increase food production will further degrade these important lands. Everything down from the plowing of fields to the manufacturing of pesticides to getting crops to markets uses fossil fuels. Increased production of food means an increase in the world’s emissions of Carbon Dioxide and an increase in climate change. Growing populations also need energy for other things. More cars mean more CO2 emissions and more families mean more deforestation for wood. The issue of waste disposal also balloons with a rise population. A growing population has need – more clothing, food, and drink – to increase water consumption; that increase puts more pressure on an already dangerously on-edge resource. The Earth is already being overworked, with consumption at a rate of one and a half Earths. A growing population will only contributed to the problem.
The United Nations has several goals designed to meet the challenge of population growth. The ones that are the most powerful are the promotion of gender equality, the reduction of child mortality, and improvement of maternal health. Without these steps, hunger, poverty, and environmental catastrophe will ravage the planet.