Over the past century, the human population has grown at exponential levels due to improvements in agriculture, healthcare and other conveniences of modern society. Humans have also, in the past several centuries, created a novel form of living-the city-which has in itself also created problems. Alongside these phenomena, human consumption is also at an all time high in many developed countries. These two factors of human overpopulation and over-consumption have lead to situations of reduced sustainability across the world, causing many environmental problems. There are, however, solutions that we can put into place to be able to handle the demand on the earth’s resources that this amount of people will require. I believe solutions that can lead to the improvement of sustainability in the face of massive influx must include birth control, more sustainable means of farming, different plans of many cities among others.
There are three main contributions to the population increase that marked the past two centuries: humans were able to adapt to many more climactic zones, modern agriculture allowed humans to grow more food per land unit, and death rates dropped sharply because of improved sanitation and health care, as well as the development of antibiotics. These three factors lead us to the conclusion that the leading reason for the population increase was a drop in the death rate, rather than a rise in the birth rate. Overall, in the sphere of human health, these are huge steps towards a better life for many, but they have caused a strain on the environment.
Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic substance penicillin in 1928
The rate of population growth has since slowed, but there is still reason to worry about the management of our resources in order to support this population. Many believe, however, that we can avoid seriously over-straining our environment by technological advances in areas such as food production and medicines as well as finding replacements for the resources we are depleting (see, Planetary Management Worldview) but many others, myself included, maintain the idea that we need to make sure the earth does not suffer because of our overexploitation (Stewardship Worldview). Specifically, that there should be a program implemented to slow population growth limiting it to merely the replacement -level fertility rate, or the average number of children couples need to have to replace themselves (slightly more than 2 in developed countries). Although the primary cause of the population growth has been found to be linked to a decline in death rates, obvious ethical implications lead us to examine ideas preventing excessive humans from being born rather than extinguishing life already in existence.
There are ways that we can slow human population growth via childbrith. One way is to promote economic development because it has been proven that people will have less children with the aid of wealth allowing them to be better educated, have a higher status of women, and have planned parenthood and reproductive health care accessible to the population.
Macao, according to the UN, has the lowest fertility rate and also offers all of its citizens a free fifteen year education.
Countries that are considered failing states, or states that can no longer ensure the personal security of their citizens because they have lost control of their own territory, have major problems with population growth. Because the economic prosperity in those countries is so low, citizens feel the need to have more children in order to get them working and contributing to the family income as well as replace those lost to sectarian violence and diseases that plague the countries. These people are in a truly desperate situation.
A typical Somalian family. Somalia (considered the world’s most failed state), has higher rates of population growth, 3%, than it would had it had more resources to fund universal education, or planned parenthood programs.
One way to control population growth would be to give women equal rights in society. Women tend to have fewer children if they are educated, can control their own fertility, earn an income of their own and live in a society that does not suppress their rights.
Women, such as this burn victim from Afghanistan, are abused when they have less rights. Afghanistan is an example of a society that treats women like second-hand citizens and thus have disenfranchised them of their reproductive rights.
The basic inequality of women is staggering-women account for two-thirds of all hours worked but only receive 10% of the world’s income and own less than 10% of the world’s land. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor and 64% of the world’s illiterate. Woman’s inequality, has always been an issue in the sphere of social relations, but few realize the indirect detrimental impact on the environment that occurs when women are no longer in control of their own reproductive rights, and population growth becomes unsustainable. It is truly an issue that must be
Family planning is also vital in the role of stabilizing the population. It provides educational and clinical services to help couples choose the amount of children they will have. When the stigma around such services is erased, then that will result in a major decrease in births throughout the world. The programs, such as FPA India, working alongside economic development, have resulted in a 55% drop in fertility rates in less-developed countries which is significant.
A family planning ad from India to encourage the use of contraceptives
Overconsumption in conjunction with overpopulation, has also been shown to be a serious environmental threat. Some have begun to tend towards the Degrowth movement, which advocates for the down-scaling of production and consumption in general to counteract this phenomena. This is in response to the idea that, although stabilizing the population is important to aid in saving the environment there are factors such as the rate of production and consumption in many countries which will continue to grow unchecked despite the population size of the country. With Degrowth, happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means is emphasized via sharing work or consuming less while devoting your life to simpler pleasures. Implemented in conjunction to family planning, this movement could significantly reduce the strain on our planet’s resources.
Edward Goldsmith, a founding member of the Green Party and founding editor of Blueprint, was a supporter of the philosophy of Degrowth.
Critics to the movement argue that economic growth brings about the creation of wealth, so we should increase resources in order to make and improve on society and standards of living. In general, it is hotly debated as a potential solution, or simply not necessary. This movement is on the fringes of society now, but may become more relevant as the stresses of modern society begin to show. People have already been seen to adapt some of the principles into their everday life by growing their own food or joining the D.I.Y. Movement. Even websites like Instructables provide instructions for people to create their own technology, furniture, and more.
A D.I.Y. project on the website Instructables made with basic supplies
A major culmination of both unchecked population growth and rampant consumption manifests itself in cities. Urbanization, or the transfer of rural are to more urban and suburban land uses has continued to increase steadily since the Industrial Revolution, creating large cities, and even today megacities, or cities with more than 10 million people or hypercities with more than 20 million people. In some cases Urban Sprawl between major cities creates land between them that is unbroken by rural usage called a megalopolis. One example in the United States is called Boswash-the almost 800 km long urban area that sprawls from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington, DC.
Boswash at night, an unbroken cityscape from Boston to Washington
There are inherent reasons that people move to urban areas: the search for jobs, housing, educational opportunities and better healthcare among others. However, with the influx of people from rural areas to urban areas comes problems that cities cannot handle such as an increase of sewage waste that is not treated. Instead it is allowed to flow untreated into U.S. Waterways each year. In general, unless there is economic prosperity that allows the cities to eliminate their environmental and living conditions, these problems go unchecked.
In addition, the urban planning of cities also contributes to its environmental impact. Because cities are not planned with people in mind and rather cars, a huge portion of air pollution and contributor to carbon emissions, they are less sustainable than they could be.
What solutions exist are, again, employable once economic prosperity increases within developing cities in less-developed countries. A better plan will help them interact with the environment and handle the massive, inevitable influx of people to the cities. One great example of a city that utilizes sustainability measures in its planning is Curitaba, Brazil. Although under stress in recent decades because of the spike in population, Curitaba has shaped its city around bus service as opposed to cars, created green spaces around vital waterways and encourages recycling. Its greatest challenge will be to adapt to the problems that result from more people choosing to live in the prosperous city.
Curitaba, Brazil had some of the most efficient mass transit in the world in the 20th century.
Another city that has handled planning the urban environment well is Portland, Oregon. Called the most livable city in the United States, it has reduced car usage by having an extensive network of bike lanes and walkways, encourages cluster neighborhood development, and increasing access to mass transit. They have done so well in creating a light-rail system which carries 45% of all commuters that they were able to turn a former expressway into a waterfront park. Portland shows that urban areas can not only be planned to be sustainable for the environment but also make citizens happier overall.
Governor Tom McGall Park of Gov. Tom McCall’s 1968 Harbor Drive Task Force, which called for the closure of Harbor Drive Freeway.
One major part of the land usage in the United States primarily, is suburbia. Created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the price of gas was cheap enough to encourage people to own land in an area in between the urban and rural environment, suburbs create a plethora of problems. The strip malls that populate the landscape do not encourage mass transit, rather cars are required to get to these spread-out parking lots and buildings and homes are spread out too far to walk or bike to. Although regional rail, such as SEPTA and the LIRR service metropolitan suburban areas to help citizens travel from the suburbs to jobs or entertainment in the cities, this urban sprawl is an unsustainable use of land overall.
Regional Rail service, like SEPTA in Philadelphia, brings passengers from the suburbs to the cities.
Evidently, the suburbs may be headed for a complete overall themselves as hypothesized in “The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream,” a documentary which cites future high oil prices among other factors that will discourage people from living in the suburbs. This phenomenon has already been observed as baby boomers (a sizable demographic) are already deciding to move out of the confines of the suburbs into the more accessible and now livable cities. A continual decrease in crime and continued sustainable urban planning will further encourage this.
Rolling Acres Mall of Akron, Ohio, once hosted 140 stores in 1.3 million square feet of retail space, it declined and ultimately closed in 2011.
There are, however, inherently sustainable aspects of cities. For instance, it is the basic nature of the city to be organized so recycling is more widespread there than in rural or suburban areas. Also, city residents generally live more concentrated, which helps preserve biodiversity by reducing stress on wildlife habitats outside of the city. Finally, cities that are centralized have the ability to have, or may already have, mass transit, bicycle lanes and walking as options, rather than just cars.
I think that it is vital that we do not ignore rampant overpopulation by using such methods as planned parenthood, the education of women, and increasing universal education and we must also reduce our consumption-perhaps by taking ideas from the Degrowth system and planning our cities better. There are basic limits on our growth, due to the fact that we have but one Earth which we cannot replicate, so measures must be taken to reduce the risk of us running our resources to the ground and dooming ourselves. We can change our future for the better to not only help the environment but improve our quality of life.