Overpopulation: when there are too many people living on the planet for the planet to support us, so s*** hits the fan.
It’s a real issue, and I’m not just talking your whole “damn I have to wait 15 minutes for a coffee because the queue is huge” or “ugh I hate peak hour traffic”. I’m talking full blown, unequivocal, ‘holy s***, there’s a dangerous amount of people here, hey’ overpopulation. And basically, everyone knows this is an issue but we just kind of repress it until we are forced to confront it and then it keeps us up until 3 am because it’s entirely consuming and also what even is life – I digress – but let’s sort this out. What direction are we headed, how will it affect our quality of life, and what will it be like to live in an overpopulated world?
*You might want to read this one while listening to ‘Sea Is Rising’ by Bliss N Eso, it’s a tune*
Overpopulation happens due to a variety of reasons; advancements in medicine, lack of educational resources, wars, access to contraception, the list goes on. It has a variety of effects on the planet; loss of natural resources, species extinction, global warming, loss of freedom, greater disparity between rich and poor, again – the list goes on. So when humans first came to be, around 200,000 years ago, there weren’t that many of us. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the population reached the first 1 billion people. We reached 2 billion people just 100 years after that. And since then, we now reach a additional billion people in our population every 12 years. So, following these calculations, and based on the United Nations projected population trajectory, we are headed toward a population of 11 billion people by the year 2100, a little over 80 years from now. Imagine the coffee queue when there are that many people on earth *makes joke highlighting white privilege and access to resources but is low-key really stressed about this because we are all essentially screwed*.
A couple of hundred years ago, many families would have an average of about 5 or 6 children, but this was because the majority of these children were likely to die before the age 6, due to illness or starvation. After the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, there were advancements in medicine and technology, for example, the creation of Penicillin by doctor Alexander Fleming. So, then there was a strong decrease in infant mortality, but people were still procreating as the generations preceding them had. Just after World War 2 ended in 1945, there was a spike in births again, we now call this the baby boomer generation. The average number of children a family would have around this time was 5 children. After that there wasn’t a huge spike in children being born, only in the last decade or two was there another increase in births, because all those baby boomers started having kids of their own. The average number of children a family would have in this modern day and age now sits at a happy medium of 2.5 children (poor half children), but due to this vicious multiplication cycle, we are growing at a rate that our earth isn’t prepared to handle, adding an extra 83 million people to our population every year, and we are seeing the cracks begin to appear in a variety of ways.
Check out this population clock if you really want to see how rapidly the population fluctuates and also if you want to feel tiny and insignificant.
Loss of natural resources: This includes water, coal, oil, gas, fish, reefs, and soil. The average human requires about 2.1 hectares of land to supply their food and water intake (the average American, however, requires 10 hectares.) But, considering that the earth only has 4.1 billion hectares of land, when you compare this number to our population, it’s obvious that not everyone is going to have access to these resources, which is where we see the disparity between wealth and poverty come into play. Currently, 1.5 billion people don’t have any access to food or clean water, even though if our resources were evenly divided there would be more than enough for everybody. Also just to freak you out even more, by 2050 it is expected we will need 70% more resources for everyone to survive compared to what we have today. Greeeeeaaaaat.
Crops: 40% of the earth’s land mass is dedicated to human food production, but this isn’t just for crops and vegetables -It’s for animal agriculture. We need to meet the demands of our growing population, so we use up all of this space to grow crops, so we can take those crops to another large amount of space to feed to the cows, so then we can eat the cows (or we could just go vegan, but that’s a different argument altogether.) Next to these figures about the land we are using for crops, is the effect it is having on soil, which is why we are starting to see soil degradation and erosion. We are now at an epidemic. We shouldn’t be seeing 795 million people starving every single year when we have enough crops to feed 10 billion people. Again, just to really freak you out, did you know that Australians throw out between $8-$10 billion worth of food every single year…. we really need to get our shit together.
Species extinction: The overwhelming contribution humans make with global emissions, loss of plants and habitats, green house gases, and extinction overall is devastating (I’m not trying to make you depressed by reading this, I’m just highlighting the urgency of our predicament). Due to the human activity, another 30,000 plant and animal species go extinct every year. Within a few decades, almost half of the plant and animal species that currently exist on this planet will be extinct, due to effects we as humans have emitted on this planet. One of the most obvious ways that species extinction occurs is when population pressures require deforestation and clearing of areas that animals inhabit to accommodate the growing population. Not only does this destroy the homes of many species of wildlife, but it alters migration patterns, climate, and again – our own natural resources. The first species to go that will greatly alter our eco-system and our way of life is the extinction of all fish species. This is happening through the overuse of commercial fishing (those huge fishing nets attached to ships) which sees us picking up over 86 million tonnes of fish every year. The UN has predicted that by the year 2050, our oceans could be completely fishless. So as soon as we lose our fish, firstly all the cultures that rely on fish as their primary income or source of food will dwindle. The aquatic ecosystem will stop working and functioning the way it currently is, and our oceans will die. Basically, as soon as our oceans die, our land starts to die.
Global warming: 97% of climate change experts agree, the biggest contributor to global warming and climate change is human activity. And we can feel it happening each year when the days get a little bit hotter, the summer lasts just a little bit longer than usual, and the average temperature keeps rising. This happens due to our transportation methods, burning fossil fuels, production and manufacturing, agriculture, and various other factors. Sure, but if we all swapped to electric cars, used reusable coffee cups, and ate less meat then global warming would slow down, right? Wrong. There was a study conducted that showed that the carbon footprint of a single child is 20 times greater than someone who drives an electric car, recycles, uses energy efficient light bulbs and reduces their carbon footprint in a variety of ways. The conclusion of the study states ‘Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle’ – AKA: have fewer babies, and we can slow global warming but probably not stop it.
Loss of freedom: All those sci-fi dystopian movies you watch that are based on some kind of future on earth that involves factions, or classes, or a totalitarian government, and everyone always looks hungry but in a cool way like Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games’, all of that can be viewed as some sort of loose prediction of the future. As the population grows, our natural resources are depleting and our need for these resources is growing stronger and stronger. This is how we see the divide between rich and poor growing wider every day, and this is ultimately how we could lose democracy. The need to maintain control within a growing society is the difference between our survival and our undoing, but what is life if we cannot access the resources we need when we need them, and we are being told what to do and say. So yes maybe we can feed and habitat 11 billion people in the future, but the quality of life looks confined, controlled, and pretty depressing.
YOUR AVERAGE DAY IN 80 YEARS: So you might not be alive in 80 years, but your kids and grandkids most likely will be. But just for fun, let me transport your fun sassy vivacious self to planet earth 2097 and walk you through what life will be like living with 10 billion neighbours.
Rise and shine sweetness, time to get ready for work! From your apartment on the 80th floor, because Melbourne is so highly concentrated now, you get your things, go downstairs, and step outside and MOTHER OF GOD THERE’S WATER UP TO YOUR ANKLES. Alright so maybe that was a bit dramatic and potentially unrealistic, but the sea is rising right (cheers for the heads up Bliss N Eso), so if you live near the coast then there’s a chance in 80 years your house could be underwater. You can check your house 100 years from now here. Time to move. You drive to work in your automatic hovercar (alright that one’s pretty cool, we can keep that one) and stop off to get a morning coffee, except that by coffee I actually mean water because it’s now 3 times rarer, 4 times more expensive, and you need it way more than your daily dose of caffeine. Fortunately, you do have a really cool job working with holograms, or robots, or something futuristic, but you’re stuck in peak hour traffic on the way to work for 2 whole years (again maybe a bit dramatic). Plus side, they’re playing Justin Bieber throwbacks on the radio that make you feel like you are a kid again. In between ‘One Less Lonely Girl’ and ‘Girlfriend’ playing, you hear news stories of how the places you grew up and used to visit have turned into war torn dead zones, with minimal resources, poverty, famine, and little hope for survival. You hear the word refugee thrown around a bit and suddenly you’re feeling really fortunate that you’re on the wealthier side of the scale. You drive past the museum that houses some of the last existing forms of some natural specimens and using the little computer chip you had inserted into your brain you begin reminiscing on the days of natural flora and fauna. And that computer chip part is legitimately going to happen, it’s already begun you can read about it here. So because that chip inside your brain will ultimately be able to fix disabilities, and foresee disease and illness, mortality is something we will be able to almost completely eradicate. For this reason, there will be rules and regulations against how many children you will be able to have, and could even get to the extent of controlling childbirth in a really creepy ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ kind of way.
The future has a lot of upsides in terms of technological capability, access to education, and the potential for development as a species. We are being held back at this point though by how rapidly we are growing as a species. Living in an overpopulated world will decrease our quality of life, our resources, and the extremes of poverty will worsen along with other factors I have discussed. By having fewer children, not only are you ensuring them a better quality of life, you’re lowering your carbon footprint on the planet, and ensuring there are enough resources for everyone. But hey I am not telling you what to do, freedom of choice. Just think about what it will be like in less than 100 years down the track when we have over 11 billion people on this earth, with less to fuel us than what we currently have.