Human Population Growth

frame the "population crisis as an environmental/sustainability problem in the context of the six (schematic) metatheoretical perspectives on ecological problems discussed

The BBC documentary "How many people can live on planet earth?" ( shows that the world population is growing at an alarming rate with several negative consequences. One of the consequences is that there is more competition over resources therefore less resources -- this was shown by a family in Rwanda who had five children. His three acre plot would have to be parceled amongst each of his children. It would be the resilient children who would profit. The rest may starve. This is compounded by families who have as many as fifteen children and more. Without their having sufficient resources to feed and look after these children, these children may be left defenseless in the future.

A second problem is that the growing population is taking up increasingly more of the earth's energy making it more difficult to stretch the oil and gas resources. The BBC documentary demonstrated this with the independent oil profiteer in Texas who won a rare license from the government for offshore drilling. His search to find oil is becoming harder all the time.

The water resources are becoming more depleted. An example was in Mexico which is rich in water fall. Yet, its water supply as to be stretched to reach all of its inhabitants. And the refined water supply is only a percentage of what is available.

Thirdly, the explosion of the human population affects other aspects of the environment such as fish, animal life, vegetation all of which are being consumed by the human population. The growth of the human population leads to larger consumption of animal, fish and vegetation leading to a declining pool of resources of each of these areas. Finally, there is competition over resources and with declining resources it may well be that greed and corruption may flourish. This is another problem.

People, however, have different world views, or paradigms, of seeing the situation and whilst to some over-population is a significant problem that threatens resources of the world, others see it according to other schematic perspectives that include conviction that the technology will evade the problem, that this is simply the way of the world and that we fantasize a problem when there is none, that riches should be distributed, and that there is an inherent abundance in the world. There is a total of six meta-theoretical ways of perceiving the population problem -- if problem there be -- and this essay will discuss each one.

In the meantime, the popular trend lies in acknowledging population explosion as a possible environmental problem and in generating ways to address population control. To curb family growth, for instance, governments that have large populations, such as Africa and India, try to encourage its inhabitants to have smaller families. Their philosophy for doing so lies on the Malthusian theory.

Malthusian Theory.

Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) proposed that human populations double with each cycle while food population grows at an arithmetic rate (i.e. only incrementally). This means that human population grows far faster than food resource does and may, given its current population growth, far exceed resources resulting in the fact that only the very rich will have recourse to the food whilst the poor will be left without.

Strongly against birth control, Malthus did urge that women should marry later in life. This would cause other problems, but would most importantly result in smaller families.

Later writers modified some of Malthus' ideas suggesting, for instance, government intervention in ensuring population control and later marriage as well as the two children law that was for instance practiced in China. The Malthusian League, contrary to Malthus' disinclination against birth control, strongly argued the case for birth control (Malthusian Theory of Population).

The six (schematic) meta-theoretical perspectives on ecological problems and the population crisis as an environmental/sustainability problem

Protecting population growth is an issue of 'sustainability' in that sustainable development is defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of footer generations to meet their own needs" (Dresner, 2002 p.67). This is precisely what curbing population growth seeks to protect. It endeavors to ensure that there is enough food and land for all at the present moment and that the population growth won't get out of hand that an over-abundance will consequent in scarcity of resources and land for further generations.

However, not people view the problem of population control in the same way. Some, in fact, insist that there is no problem or that the issue is over-rated. Each person, race, group has its own paradigm of perception. These paradigms of perception are manifested in the six (schematic) meta-theoretical perspectives on ecological problems. When connected to the issue of population control, they evidence themselves in the following way:

1) Neo-Malthusianism perspective:

Species are disappearing faster than ever, and most/all of this is caused by humankind. Population excess is growing faster than food resources, energy, land, water, and so forth. We are killing our children by senseless and greedy reproduction thereby driving a competition for scant resources and depriving future generations of necessitates. Something has to be done. Malthus recommended focus on people marrying later. Neo-Malthusiasts urge active birth control and encouraging people to have smaller families preferably consisting of no more than two children. The neo-Malthusiast perspective seems to be the dominant scientific / political / popular trend with governments sometimes actively intervening in encouraging and persuading their citizens to curb family growth. Neo-Malthusiasts insist that environmentalism on all levels necessitates public awareness of the problem and this awareness needs to seep down and exist on all levels (Brenton 1989). All levels of society from government to scientists, social workers to individuals, the media, politicians, and everyone in between needs to work on publicizing and addressing the problem. Since our very future is at stake.

2) 'Cornucopia'/dry green:

This theory disputes Malthus theory and worry over population excess. They argue that there is no worry; there will always be an abundance of food; or "God will provide." Species emerging/disappearing is a part of normal ecological dynamics (e.g. dinosaurs and church owls)

Moreover, technology is our answer. We are constantly finding new and better ways of dealing with waste (e.g. The rise of recycling) and we will be able to generate new ways of producing sufficient food and other resources to tide the growing population.

3) Internalizing ecological 'externalities':

If every product would include some sort of tax that reflects actual ecological costs, then there would be no waste problem (e.g. green seats in air transport).

When connected to population control, this may imply placing some sort of penalty on families who violate the law by having more than (for instance) two children. Maoist China implemented such a law. The China of today does too. Communist Russia enforced population control and India, under a former government initially rewarded candidates of sterilization. Then seeing that only heads of already large families came forward, they enforced sterilization for common offenses such as traffic accidents. This caused an outcry leading to collapse of the government (BBC documentary). Today, India has a smarter route to attracting smaller families having social workers who go around and preach and offer contraception and showing how smaller families lead to more intelligent children and to wiser choices for the future. They still try to 'tax' but in different ways. Nonetheless, the main towns and certain villages in India still show poor families who produce children at an alarming quantity.

This strategy represents "Internalizing ecological 'externalities'" where human products were "taxed" for ecological costs, namely for engaging in too much reproduction particularly when they had little resources to feed their offspring.

This sort of meta-theoretical approach when applied to population control is frequently not only controversial. It can be dangerous too.

4) Incompatibility crisis: there are no simple financial trade-offs!

Some of the costs are simply not 'foreseeable', 'measurable', or 'manageable' (e.g. nuclear waste). This is the way that the world has worked -- i.e. always having a large population. It will continue this way. We do not know what will happen in the future. Take the large family in Africa, for instance, the Rwandan war came and wiped out a good deal of their members. And these incidents happen all the time. If not war, it is famine or some other natural disaster.

The world, in other words, seems to have a way of leveling itself out. People are born, but, at the same time, natural and human affairs occur that decimate the population and, so in the end, the population balance is naturally righted without any need for intervention.

5) Ecological modernization: a broad societal/economic shift is required!

This is where transition management comes into focus. One of the strategies being tried is transition management which develops transition policies in areas such as energy, building, health care, mobility…