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Is the World Overpopulated?

March 12, AD2015

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I was flipping through an English textbook and there was a page about overpopulation in which it described the growing amount of people in the world, the lack of resources and solutions to this problem, namely “family planning”. Then there was a writing prompt for an essay on how to save the planet and limit family size.

The myth of overpopulation is not as shocking as the solution which is often given as a “no-brainer” to sterilize people. Is the world really so overpopulated?

There are more people now.

This is true. There are 7 billion people today and in 1970 there were roughly half as many people as there are now (source). Africa is the region with the largest population growth, projected to increase to 2.4 billion in 2050 from 1.1 billion today, followed by Asia (source).

There are fewer resources now.

In some cases, this is also true. The earth’s forest cover shrunk by about 12%, the ocean’s biodiversity by a third and freshwater ecosystems by 55% between 1970 and 2002. African elephants have gone from 1.2 million in 1980 to half a million now (source) and the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years (source).

There are fewer people being born and dying now.

There are more people and fewer resources but that does not mean the world is overpopulated. Why? The birthrate is declining.Population

Europe’s declining birthrate is especially alarming, There is unprecedented aging, with only 16% of the population below the age of 15 (source). The United States is the only developed country where large population increases are still projected, but this is largely because of immigration.

There are also fewer people dying (source), which accounts for this seeming population growth. Maternal mortality ratio dropped from 380 deaths to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births between 1990 and 2013 (source).

The world is not overpopulated.

This pat and dry answer to a non-existing problem underlies the “contraceptive mentality” of our age. The truth is we are not reproducing at a rate of replacement (watch video here) and there is enough food for everyone (watch video here). Overpopulation describes a situation where the number of people exhausts the resources in a closed environment such that it can no longer support that population (source) and that is not our case.

Western society has serious problems with low rates of natality.

“Worthy of our attention also is the fact that, in the countries of the so-called Third World, families often lack both the means necessary for survival, such as food, work, housing and medicine, and the most elementary freedoms. In the richer countries, on the contrary, excessive prosperity and the consumer mentality, paradoxically joined to a certain anguish and uncertainty about the future, deprive married couples of the generosity and courage needed for raising up new human life: thus life is often perceived not as a blessing, but as a danger from which to defend oneself” (Familiaris Consortio, 6).

The world’s fastest growing population is in Africa, but contraceptives and abortion are constantly being pushed there. This brings up issues with eugenics and, as Pope Francis says, it is a type of “ideological colonization“.

We do not need to save the world from overpopulation. Being more eco-friendly has nothing to do with limiting family size. The Church teaches consistently that each life is a gift and doing everything to accept and promote that life is what will truly enrich the world. So do your part to save humanity.

“In a world often marked by egoism, a large family is a school of solidarity and of mission that’s of benefit to the entire society”, says Pope Francis. Be part of the large family that is the Catholic Church, have you own large family or support those that do.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

Filed in: Social Justice • Tags:

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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  • Woodwind Song

    God doesn’t create human beings by accident. Every single one of us matters to Him and has a purpose. The world is not over populated, the numbers of people are not the problem, the problem is sin, mainly greed and love of money. It is this sin that is causing all of our issues and harming us and the Earth.

  • 1000 years ago when you needed to have 6 kids for 2 to survive and the average life span was less than 30 the idea of go forth and multiply made sense. However Reality has changed and what was good in the 11th century isn’t good for us today. We need population control.

  • Leo

    A better question would be
    “Is the world over-consuming?”

    It is not Population, on its own, which is the problem, it is
    Population X Average Consumption

    An average child born in the US will consume 57 times more energy (oil,coal,gas, wood) than an average child in Bangladesh.

    If everyone on earth consumed resources at the average North American rate we would need 7 earths for our current population http://www.consumerismcommentary.com/how-many-earths-would-it-take-to-sustain-you/

    At present US rates of consumption, only 1 billion people can be supported sustainably. Unsustainable means that resources are eventually depleted below replacement level = our survival.

    A large family can live modestly and happily IF they learn to share and not take more than their fair share.

    Similarly, the large human family (ie earth’s population) cannot survive without learning to justly share the earth’s gifts given to us ALL by our Creator – not just now but also for future generations.

    Catholic Social Teaching calls this Solidarity and the Common Destination of All Goods. Unfortunately some Catholics twist Subsidiarity to justify selfishness.
    How many wars has the US (and other countries) fought to secure oil and other resources now and in the future? Do we vote for leaders who espouse solidarity or selfishness?

    I look forward to Pope Francis’ forthcomimg sustainable human ecology encyclical.

    Probably the biggest resource limitation to unlimited consumption is fresh drinkable water. It is difficult to increase the supply. It is far less than you might imagine and has to be shared with other land creatures. I was stunned by this picture showing all the earth’s water in one bubble
    http://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html

    I am consuming more than my fair share.

    Consumption control by the rich (ie us) is more urgent than population control of the poor. some unusual maps which show global inequalities http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=178

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  • Ronk

    All true except for your statement that “The United States is the only developed country where large population increases are still projected, but this is largely because of immigration.”
    Do not Canada, Australia and New Zealand count as “developed countries” to you?

  • Anna

    There is too much people in the world. Even in the western world, technology and corporations eliminate jobs, and without jobs, no money. No matter how good-will exists to make the world sustainable, there will never be a equalitarian share of resources. There might be some more sustainable examples like the Nordic countries, but now everybody wants to emigrate there, and they cannot receive so many thousands of people. Thats how it is, there will never be a solution, and with millions of people wanting to be happy, most will never be able to acheive their dreams. Put it simple, people have no money, therefore should have no children. No more poor souls ranging from eastern starving kids sent to war, to western depressed unemployed graduates. Even there was resources for all, but corporations and capitalism make it impossible. Too many people, dont make it worse. Technology will take our place. Sad as it is, but true.

  • Andre B

    This is somewhat of a strange piece to wrap ones head around. It seems odd that, while discussing overpopulation, we are told: 1) there are more people; 2) there are fewer resources; 3) world-wide population trends are still positive; and yet 4) there’s no overpopulation problem.

    The truth is we are not reproducing at a rate of replacement

    I think it’s much more accurate to say that the video points out that many developed nations are not reproducing at or above replacement rate. As the other materials point out, globally, we are very much still seeing positive population trends.

    there is enough food for everyone

    While this is currently the case, it’s quite easy to conceive of a time where it will not be (eg. climate change). Needless to say, food is not the only resource one needs to worry about us running out of.

    Look, let’s just take all the morality and the politics out of the equation, and focus on math. Now, let’s take out current population growth rate (1.04% according to: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/#pastfuture). Maybe the actual rate is more or less, it doesn’t really matter (as long as we’re stipulating a positive growth rate). Over time any growth rate that remains positive will have some serious implications for populations. I, a child of the 1980s, can reasonably expect to live to see 2060 (by the US’s average male life-expectancy ~80yrs). If we take the world pop of roughly 7 Billion in 2011 and just grow it at a steady 1.04%, in 2060 we wind up with 24 Billion people. In my lifetime, I will have seen the population more than quadruple. Now, perhaps we find eco-friendly ways of sustaining all these extra people, and find ways of housing everyone in a way that doesn’t further wipe out wild-life. Maybe we have some massive wars of famines that wipe out huge chunks of the population, delaying this figure. However, in the end, we have to come back to the issue of math, and wondering whether we should be valuing population growth for it’s own sake.

    • Ronk

      No that is not the case. The “we” refers to the whole world. The world population AS A WHOLE is not reproducing at a rate high enough to replace itself. Yes at the moment this is somewhat disguised from casual viewers like yourself as the population figure is temporarily still increasing clightly, but only because of an unprecedented increase in lifespans. This will not and cannot continue indefinitely. Everybody has to die sometime, and it appears that the human lifespan can’t be increased to more than about 120 years at most.
      Yes of course it’s possible to “conceive” of hypothetical possibilities where the world COULD be overpopulated, but that is planly not the case now nor will it ever be under any realistiuc scenario. IF the average world temperature rises by several degrees, sure that might reduce the populations that equatorial countries can support, but it woudl greatly increase the population supporting capacities of countries like Canada and Russia.

    • Andre B

      The world population AS A WHOLE is not reproducing at a rate high enough to replace itself.

      Show yer work (or just link to something that supports)

  • KarenJo12

    So how will you accommodate wildlife?

  • SnowBlossoms

    God is not going to tell us to go forth and multiply knowing the earth He created won’t support us. God isn’t in time and not bound by it, He knew all about the future when He said this. Every person born is specifically created by God to be here, so it makes no sense to say the world has too many people. It is sin that is causing people to suffer. Greed and selfishness, wars, hatred, genocide, destruction of the earth for profit etc.. If every Country and person helped others, as we should be doing, there would be no starvation and so much less suffering. The idea that there are too many people is straight from Hell and Satan, that’s his mantra.