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Written by Laura Li   
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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Population Issues

There are currently over seven billion humans living on this planet and researchers fear that we may be reaching our carrying capacity. The idea of humans reaching our capacity is not a new idea, however. The theory originated from the pessimist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), who believed that humans are driving themselves into disaster and turmoil by continuing to expand the population and exceeding the capacity of the global food supply.1 However, viewing overpopulation as just a problem of limited resources and space is incomplete and may put in place unfair and unreasonable policies.

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Population Growth
Before discussing current population trends, it is important to understand population growth as a concept. Since the beginning of mankind, the numbers of humans on earth have been increasing. The increase was slow at first due to high mortality rates and short life expectancies. Fertility rates were very high as big families were highly desirable because people knew that there was a large likelihood that their children might not make it to adulthood. However, as medicine and technology advanced, people started to live longer, decreasing mortality rates. There is a lag time between the time mortality rates drop and the time fertility rates follow suit. At this time, the population is boosted and an exponential growth population curve is created.3This effect is known as the population momentum,4 or population-lag effect, and is most noticeable in the history of the developed nations, but can also be seen in developing nations today.

The current state of population growth internationally is unequal in developed and developing nations. Technologically and economically advancing nations such as Germany and Japan have not only stopped their population growth, but are actually experiencing negative growth (more or the same number of deaths as births in a year).5 On the flip side, many developing regions are still having population booms, such as Malawi in Africa which has a birth rate of 5.7 children per woman.6 This disparity between the developed and developing nations’ status, caused by differences in wealth, education, and resources, shows clearly that no singular piece of international policy can regulate population growth. Change in underdeveloped nations is difficult as well because of the positive feedback loop that is created when looking at fertility rates and poverty, known as the poverty trap. Families in poverty usually lack the resources to use contraception and obtain safe abortions. Beyond that, their investment in each child is low because child mortality rates are generally high, and higher education is not a main concern since they rely on unskilled labor job opportunities.



Population and Regulatory Policy
Another huge setback for developing nations is the traditional views that many of these societies hold. A large majority of countries in Africa and other developing nations either prohibit entirely or only allow abortions in life threatening cases.7 In these areas, consisting of 25% of the world’s population,8 maternal mortality is high, and abortions account for 13% of all maternal deaths.9 The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that in developing nations a woman dies every 8 minutes from unsafe abortions!10 Coming back to the issue of contraception is extremely important here as in developing nations there are an extremely high number of unintended pregnancies, two-thirds of which are the result of women not having access to contraception.11

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Numerous policies have been passed across the globe regarding population regulation, some positive and others not so much. The China One Child Policy has been in place since 1979 and is one of the most controversial yet effective population regulatory actions made in the modern world.13 As a quickly developing nation, China’s economy and education standards have risen throughout the years, causing its fertility rate to fall beneath replacement level.14 Replacement level—the fertility rate needed to simply replace the parents—is about 2.1 because of mortality rates. There have been talks about lifting this policy, but the population is not likely to spike afterwards because it is now a societal norm to invest a great deal in every child.15 The negative side of this policy has been the much publicized criticism that this policy has led to a high rate of infanticide and abandonment, particularly of female children. Other nations like the Philippines have focused heavily on family planning, making it a part of the Department of Health’s agenda and created the population management program.16 Their focus is on ensuring family planning is widely available to promote reproductive health and proper birth spacing. Incentives are also used to promote responsible reproduction. Incentives have also been used to encourage population control. Taiwanese parents are given money to support their children through school, but this monetary assistance is halved after the third child and completely cancelled by the fourth.17

Overpopulation is a problem and it should be addressed, but the question is how. Policy makers have made various attempts to mitigate overpopulation, but to label it as the main reason for environmental degradation is pushing the blame to the poor and helpless. The United States has the 147th birth rate, but emits the second highest amount of greenhouse gases .18 Who are we to say that population growth is killing the environment if we continually pollute it? All industrialized nations are continually degrading the planet while the people of developing nations like Niger, with the highest birth rate in the world, struggle to survive. Furthermore, it is not a matter of a global lack of resources; it is a matter of the allocation of the resources. The real problem here is the socioeconomic and political climate of the planet and how they are not being addressed properly. If we can learn anything from this issue, it is that our environment and our lives are governed by a multitude of societal and environmental bounds and barriers. It is our responsibility to understand each of these aspects of both society and the environment to achieve harmony.

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1 http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Malthusian
2 http://www.amerika.org/politics/overpopulation-still-taboo-for-most/
3 http://family.jrank.org/pages/1732/Urbanization-Social-Impacts-Urbanization.html
4 http://www.uwmc.uwc.edu/geography/demotrans/demodef.htm
5 http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/zero.htm;
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/30/world/asia/japan-population-decline
;
    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1991216,00.html

6 http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2012/world-population-data-sheet/data-sheet.aspx
7 http://www.worldabortionlaws.com/map/
8 http://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/460/abortion-laws-worldwide
9 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2709326/
10 Id.
11 Id.
12
13
http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/onechild.htm;
    http://www.bmj.com/content/314/7095/1685

14 http://www.cpc.unc.edu/news/features/low-fertility-rate-of-china
15 http://theintelhub.com/2013/02/12/chinese-government-may-drop-
    compulsory-population-control-policies-to-avert-crisis/

16 http://www.consciencelaws.org/law/commentary/legal055-002.aspx
17 http://www.bsu.edu/libraries/virtualpress/stance/2010_spring/populationcontrol.pdf
18 http://www.actionforourplanet.com/#/top-10-polluting-countries/4541684868




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Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 March 2013 )

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