Unlike the discussion of environmental issues, the concerns in relation to overpopulation receive less than little media attention. Even a recent adaptation of Inferno has not spurred much discussion on overpopulation either. Notably, the tough solution actually realized in the book has been successfully prevented in the film, making the film essentially different from the book in terms of resolution.
So, is overpopulation a popular myth we have overgrown or an elephant in the room we refuse to notice?
And if the threat exists, what solutions to the problem are viable?
The following sources will help you make sense of the topic and write a great essay on overpopulation.
Should People be Concerned About Overpopulation?
If you argue for, that is you suggest that people should be concerned and should tackle the issue, you have to show the rates of increase in planet’s population, prove that the growing number of people poses a threat to the existence of humankind, and possibly point to the current lack of concern (no national/international policies or approved strategies to reduce population growth).
If you argue against, you should either show there are trends towards the decrease or slowing down of the growth rates or prove that the increase does not pose a threat, in particular, because the promotion of family planning, development of technology, or colonizing other planets solve the issue.
Argumentative or Problem-Solution Essay on Overpopulation
You may discuss all possible solutions to the problem determining the best one or critically assess one of the solutions in particular.
This 2013 The New York Times article has attracted considerable attention and received several responses (one of such is discussed later). The author of this Op-Ed, Erle C. Ellis suggests that there is no overpopulation because there is no such thing as human carrying capacity.
Namely, he points to the fact that people have never relied only on what nature could give them but increased and multiplied the resources necessary for life by using technology and engineering ecosystems so that they could sustain population far beyond the capacities of original ones.
Another point he makes is that if the problems do emerge, people, being “niche creators”, will solve them as they come. One of such “niches” may be colonizing other planets. In particular, the author suggests that,
“The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future.”
You can cite the author’s ideas arguing against the concern about overpopulation or presenting a counterargument in the essay arguing for it.
in-text: Ellis (2013) suggests …
Ellis, E.C. (2013). Overpopulation in not a problem. The New York Times. Retrieved from web address.
in-text: There is no such thing as human carrying capacity (Ellis).
Ellis, Erle C. “Overpopulation is not a Problem.” The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2013, web address.
In The Huffington Post article, Alon Tal responds to Ellis and other technological optimists, providing counterarguments to their ideas.
Here are the sad outcomes of overpopulation Tal points out:
- Shortage of food
Tal suggests it is ironic that Ellis mentions China in his argument, as the later has numerously suffered from famines and eventually introduced a tough one-child policy, which many other nations consider inhumane, to halt population growth. At the same time, the suggestion that current technology can sustain the current population goes against statistics: in the past 20 years, there have been 200 million hunger-related deaths worldwide and one in eight people in the world suffers chronic undernourishment.
- A collapse in global biodiversity
The author shows that settling on new lands people fragment habitats and make species extinct. Tal gives a specific example of Israel, which can be regarded as a microcosm of the global situation, as its population increased from one million in 1949 to eight million in 2013. Despite major investment in conservation programs, almost a third of indigenous mammal species in Israel became extinct and the amphibian population has almost entirely died out.
[More examples of global population ‘footprint’ on biodiversity may be found in the article Earth ‘Will Expire by 2050’, which nevertheless, focuses on the use of resources, not mentioning that the number of people using them might be a problem, too]
- Other consequences
The destruction of open spaces leaves people without free natural protection such as filtering of water, protection from hurricanes, natural pollinators, and recreation resources. Social services suffer too: schools are crowded, medical care resources are unable to face the growing demand, cities are congested.
“It is time to realize that there is a tradeoff between “quality of life” and “quantity of life.” In a planet with limited resources — sustainable growth is an oxymoron”
Although Tal does not concentrate on solutions, he does mentions the promotion of family planning and land reforms aimed to optimize food production, as necessary steps, which should have already been taken long ago.
in-text: Tal (2013) suggests …
Tal, A. (2013). Overpopulation is still the problem. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from web address
in-text: The author suggests that, “Sustainable growth is an oxymoron” (Tal).
Tal, Alon. “Overpopulation is Still the Problem.” The Huffington Post, 27 Sept. 2013, web address.
The author presents the views of prominent scientists, Professor Chris Rapley and Professor John Guillebaud, who are concerned about the fact that overpopulation had fallen off the agenda of the many organizations dedicated to saving the planet.
Without tackling overpopulation, they suggest, it is impossible to adequately tackle climate change and global pollution. Even if emissions are changed dramatically, the contribution of each individual can never be reduced to zero. Therefore, climate change should be considered having the number of “climate changers” in mind, and the measures to reduce the footprint per person should go along with the measures of population management.
The article finishes with several facts and projections in relation to the population, which may be useful to mention in a research paper.
in-text: Rapley suggests … (Connor, 2006).
Connor, S. (2006). Overpopulation ‘is main threat to planet.’ Independent. Retrieved from web address.
in-text: Rapley suggests … (Connor).
Connor, Steve (2006). “Overpopulation ‘is Main Threat to Planet’.” Independent, 7 Jan. 2006, web address.
In the 2013 Live Science article, Mike Wall argues that the promotion of space travel is both the consequence of and the solution to overpopulation. Notably, the suggested solution lies not in the fact that surplus of people will simply settle on a new planet, but that people will collect space’s reaches to meet the resources demand while the settlement on other planets and space tourism will promote a more caring and loving attitude towards Earth.
in-text: The author sees space travels as … (Wall, 2013)
Wall, M. (2013). What 11 billion people mean for space travel. LiveScience. Retrieved from web address.
in-text: The author suggests … (Wall).
Wall, Mike. “What 11 Billion People Mean for Space Travel” Live Science, 27 Nov. 2013, web address.
Limiting Procreation as a Solution to Overpopulation
The prominent article by Garrett Hardin accessibly and consistently persuades that limiting procreation is a necessary and normal step people should take for the common good.
Hardin suggests that it is common for people to want to maximize their gains. Nevertheless, while they may be using their private property to maximize gains, a common one (which includes environment) is exploited in a much less sensible manner. Nevertheless, it is not possible to legislate temperance.
What is more, Hardin suggests that appealing to the sensible use of resources and sensible family planning may have adverse outcomes as intelligent and diligent citizens tend to internalize this appeal and uneducated and irresponsible simply ignore it, which will lead to self-elimination of the first group for the benefit of the second.
Therefore, while not perfect and infringing upon personal freedoms, procreation laws should be enforced by the state as any other laws people agree to for the sake of functioning as a society.
NB: Although I do recommend to read the article, to see a nice example of argumentative writing, in particular, note that the article dates back to 1968 and would most likely be not appropriate as a source for an essay.
In a 2012 research, Kianna Gowdin reviews the works of the philosophers and scientists who argued for limiting the right to procreate as a solution to the problem of overpopulation. Godwin suggests that overpopulation has become a taboo issue because the recognized right to reproductive autonomy is appreciated as ethical and democratic.
Nevertheless, consideration of the threats and trends makes people realize that for the safety of future generations they need to develop alternative ethics, which will carry different perspectives on procreation.
Investing in Child Survival as a Solution to the Problem
In an incredibly accessible and entertaining way, Professor Hans Rosling explains why the only means to fight population growth is investing in child survival in the poorest regions of the world.
how to cite
in-text: Rosling (2013) shows … .
Rosling, H. (2010). Hans Rosling: Global population growth, box by box [Video file]. Retrieved from web address.
in-text: Hans estimates … (5:05).
Rosling, Hans. “Global Population Growth, Box by Box.” TED. Jun. 2010. Lecture.
The Overpopulation Myth
The Overpopulation Myth is a more detailed video of the processor’s views on population growth. Here, Rosling reviews many statistics and visits many developing countries discussing the changes they have experienced explaining what these changes suggest for the global population growth.
The takeaway message is that people should not worry about overpopulation as after a rapid increase in the number of children up to 2 million, the number has remained relatively stable. Therefore, while the population continues to increase in the number, it is due to the increase in the number of the aging population. As this population gradually dies, the growth will steadily level.
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