Overpopulation Negatively Affects Everything From Climate Change To Health Care

By Susan Scutti | 18 March 2014
Medical Daily

A new review of nearly 200 research articles reveals how population growth is being downplayed and trivialized by scientists despite its fundamental and negative role in the areas of employment, public debt, human welfare, extinction of species, and climate change. (Photo: Shutterstock)

In 1992, 68 percent of Americans believed population growth to be a pressing problem, according to public opinion polls from that year. In 2000, that number had declined to just eight percent of Americans and, most telling of all, the topic does not even appear in the most recent polls. Now a review of nearly 200 research articles reveals how population growth is being downplayed and trivialized by scientists despite its fundamental and negative role in the areas of employment, public debt, human welfare, extinction of species, and climate change. “More than one billion people live in extreme poverty and hunger, and ecosystems are losing species at rates only seen in previous mass extinction events,” wrote Camilo Mora, assistant professor of Geography in the College of Social Sciences at University of Hawaii at Manoa. “The issue of population growth has been downplayed and trivialized among scientific fields, which may in part account for the reduced public interest in the issue and in turn the limited will for policy action.” His sobering review appears in Ecology and Society.

Mora began his study by examining recent literature highlighting the key role of overpopulation in several pressing social and environmental issues. The majority of the case studies he investigated — more than 70 percent — had been published in the last decade. In particular, he focused on how the issue was addressed in reports on climate change, employment, public debt, human welfare, and extinction of species.

Again and again he found the topic of overpopulation critically underplayed. Net production of greenhouse gases, for instance, may be equal in developed and developing nations due to heavy consumption patterns in the former and large population growth in the latter. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not even refer or address the issue of population growth, family planning, or any related matter. Some of the most authoritative reports on food security, which depends, in part, on how many people there are to feed, similarly lack any reference to overpopulation. Finally, population growth is marginalized, by Mora’s account, in key reports about improving human welfare and health care systems.

With evidence mounting “that overpopulation is a common denominator” to many environmental and socioeconomic issues, “tackling population growth could deliver not only beneficial but also long-term resolutions to a wide range of pressing issues,” Mora wrote. Among the simple solutions that would help keep a growing populace in check he suggests sex education, empowering women, providing affordable family planning, revisiting subsidies that promote natality (such as tax breaks), and highlighting the economic cost for the future success of children.

Population stabilization, Mora noted, is only achieved when the natality rate is equal to the mortality rate. For this reason, the target that is often suggested is 2.1 children per woman (one child to replace the mother, one to replace the father, and 0.1 to account for child mortality). Unfortunately, increasing life expectancy and early reproduction have created an overlap of generations, increasing the size of the general population even when growth rates are kept at replacement levels. Realistically, then, population stabilization may only be achieved at a rate of one child per woman. To change global behavior “will entail increasing public awareness on the issue; and for this, we need greater courage from scientists to take a public stand on the issue of population growth,” Mora concluded.

Source: Mora C. Revisiting the Environmental and Socioeconomic Effects of Population Growth: a Fundamental but Fading Issue in Modern Scientific, Public, and Political Circles. Ecology and Society. 2014.

Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Stephen Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. "Overpopulation" just means "too many people who aren't in my family." There is no ethical way to prevent reproduction by those who want to reproduce, much less to kill people. The only way to combat overpopulation is to make contraception universally available and socially acceptable. Beyond that, any action will be directly oppressive or genocidal toward some group of people or another. Discussion of "overpopulation" is inherently xenophobic; you're thinking of people in Africa, China, India, the South, the inner city, etc., not of your own children or nieces and nephews. But every individual thinks something similar: it's not me, it's them; and thus no one is in the position to declare themselves *not* to be part of the overpopulation problem. It reflects a failure of empathy to assume others' lives are superfluous while one's own existence is inalienable. Other environmental and social objectives must be addressed instead.

    • It is only you suggesting people should be killed, not Ms. Scutti. Neither is she suggesting ethnic discrimination in remedies. She is simply saying that every effort should be made to encourage all humans on the planet not to breed beyond replacement level, through education, and through economic incentives.

  2. The Chinese government have controlled their population growth for decades and so have many western countries, albeit by different means. So it can be done if there is a political will. The largest population growths have been in the poorest countries e.g. Somalia, Ethiopia, and other undeveloped countries where the west has simply thrown money at them in the form of foreign aid.
    We now have mass migrations from the poor countries to the developed countries e.g. Middle East masses into Europe, Mexico and Latin America into North America and which is bringing increased social instability and reducing living standards and the quality of life for the current populations of the receiving countries.
    Of course these mass migrations all fits the U.N. goals of worldwide multiculturalism and their plans for an eventual world government, but what kind of world will they inherit? The existing cultures of many countries are being contaminated, corrupted and eventually destroyed by multiculturalism and that is its purpose so what world culture will emerge? Will ethnic groups still form their ethnic enclaves and ghettos within other countries leading to further internal violence and conflicts e.g. Yugoslavia, Israel/Palestine, India/Pakistan, Sudan, etc etc.
    The world is in turmoil brought about by population growth in countries least able to afford such growth, and no politicians seem willing nor able to resolve the issue.

  3. Charles Gippsland: It's hard to have to watch these population movements towards Western countries today if we live there, however it's the reaction to our forebears' actions who for the past few hundreds of years emigrated or colonized those countries, including the USA, whose native population continued to be stripped of their lands as recently as the early 20th century. I don't think it will be that bad for today and tomorrow's European population.

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