Finite resources and exponential population growth have been a cause of concern for a while now in the academic, administrative and political circles. The topic has garnered some renewed interest due to the popularity of the Marvel films ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’. In these movies, the chief antagonist, Thanos, seeks to restore balance by eliminating half the population randomly. Although this is a little too extreme, the underlying logic behind the act may not be so far-fetched. Let’s take a look at the effects of exponential population growth.
In the 1800s, human population stood at around 1 billion while the current estimate in 2019 is in excess of 7 billion. There are about 360,000 births per day and the human population growth rate stands at approximately 1.07%. This growth rate may seem trivial but the compounding nature of it makes for a staggering number.
The Malthusian Theory
Thomas Malthus was an English scholar and his book “An Essay on the Principle of Population” provides a structured perspective on demography. He observed that a rise in food production led to an increase in the population and he posited that mankind does not utilize this abundance for improving their standard of living but rather chooses to increase their numbers. The cornerstone of the Malthusian theory is that human population grows geometrically (exponential growth) whilst food grows arithmetically. This was one of the first theories that were proposed with respect to the debate of Population Growth vs. Finite Resources. Malthusian theory is very limited (no calculations were provided by Malthus to support geometric growth) and does not factor in other aspects such as strides in technology, however, the intrinsic message of competition for resources leading to misery is very potent.
Effects of Population Explosion
Let us take a look at some of the effects of population growth. It is to be noted that these are not futuristic predictions as these effects can be observed in the present day.
- Decrease in per capita food availability: As human numbers increase, so does the demand for food. A larger population requires more area for accommodation and this could lead to a reduction in arable land due to urban sprawl.
- Increase in Unemployment: Providing suitable employment opportunities for a growing population in this era of automation is a mammoth task that governments will eventually fail at.
- Inflation: Due to the demand-supply gap, the price of essentials is bound to increase leading to higher rates of inflation.
- Rise in Crime: Mass unemployment and higher levels of inflation will prompt people to take up illegal activities leading to higher instances of crime.
- Quality of Life Deterioration: The quality of life will decrease resulting in derivative effects like chronic depression.
- Increased Pollution: The energy requirement to sustain such a large population would be considerable and this would require the extraction and burning of higher quantities of fossil fuels whose detrimental effects to the environment are well documented.
- Increased Waste Generation: Larger populations will generate larger amounts of waste which would require dispensing mechanisms that are either expensive or take up land such as landfills.
- Rise in Government Debts: Net borrowing would increase, especially for developing countries, which would lead to ginormous debts that could result in financial crises and eventual collapse of economic infrastructure.
- Migratory Trends: There will be an increase in immigration from developing countries to the more affluent developed countries leading to internal tensions and rising xenophobia. Moreover, the fallout from such issues could shatter foreign diplomacy and lead to boycotts and wars.
The effects mentioned above are the immediate repercussions of population growth and there are numerous indirect ramifications such as rising population densities leading to poor housing conditions or illegal occupation (slums). A sizable proportion of the world’s problems in the present day stems from rising population, however, there are almost no effective mitigation measures in place to tackle this. The primary reason for it is denial. People are reluctant to admit that people themselves are the problem and find it easier to transfer blame on more obvious or tangible factors rather than tackling the core issue. Another reason is false optimism. To illustrate this, let me give a personal example. A renowned scientist from Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), India had delivered a speech at my University and during the Q&A session was asked by a fellow student about the massive growing population of India and the measures that the scientific community should take to tackle the issue. The scientist’s response was to dismiss overpopulation/population growth as a cause of concern and he laughed off the question by saying, “If we run out of space on Earth, then we will create colonies on the moon to accommodate the excess!”
The effects mentioned above are more vivid in certain parts of the world than others. I have refrained from citing specific countries/cities in order to avoid being branded as biased. The conclusion is pretty apparent: if we do not curb the rate of population growth, the future of the coming generations would be quite bleak.