By Haydn Washington and Helen Kopnina | 2 December 2022
The following has been extracted from a paper titled “Discussing the Silence and Denial around Population Growth and Its Environmental Impact. How Do We Find Ways Forward?”. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Key scientific institutions confirm that population growth is a major driver of environmental crises.
— Church and State (@ChurchAndStateN) February 10, 2023
Population at its current size (not to mention its future growth) does not just accelerate species extinction and the climate crisis, it worsens other crises:
Deforestation to create farmland. Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million ha/yr. Agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest fragmentation. As land degrades, people are forced to migrate, exploring new forest frontiers, thus increasing deforestation. The expansion of agricultural land contributes around 60 per cent of total tropical deforestation. Half of this is arguably for large scale commercial agriculture. In Malawi, a 1 percent increase in population growth increased deforestation by 2.7 percent through the increase in agricultural land. Oyetunji et al. conclude that anthropogenic factors, especially population growth, were the major forces responsible for deforestation in Nigeria. Kopnina et al. explain that population growth in Nigeria exacerbates mining and logging.
Land degradation. The FAO notes that one of the six major causes of land degradation is shortage of land due to increased population. The two most important driving forces of land degradation in Asia and the Pacific are limited land resources and population increase. In Ethiopia, population growth is the main cause of land degradation in general, and soil erosion in particular.
Killing more wild animals (known as bushmeat) for food. Population pressure is increasing the killing of bushmeat and accelerating extinction, causing ‘Empty Forest Syndrome’.
Over-fishing. Mora et al. note that demand for fish is expected to grow given escalating animal protein demands in developing countries and the rapidly increasing human population. The Center for Biological Diversity notes that scientists are: ‘calling not only for reduced consumption and better regulation, but for alleviation of poverty and “stabilization of the world’s human population”’.
Wealth is often used as a surrogate for environmental impact. While there is certainly a correlation between incomes and greenhouse gas emissions, many other types of environmental impact, including habitat loss, soil degradation and pollution, are exacerbated by poverty. The ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ are commonly referred to in a binary sense, as perpetrators and victims of environmental damage. Our aim here is to point out that they have different types of environmental impact. Population growth not only multiplies the impacts of individual behaviours, it often forces more impactful behaviours. Rapid population increase in the developing world (for example in Madagascar), has triggered massive deforestation and species extinction as well as degradation of the soils and waterways on which their livelihoods depend. Population growth today in the developing world does not assist the poor to live a ‘better’, healthy, more sustainable life.
Overpopulation – The Human Explosion Explained
Sir David Attenborough on overpopulation
Overpopulation & Climate Change: A Seat at the Table
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