Population growth: Environmental perspective

Population growth: Environmental perspective

Md Mahfuzur Rahman


Environment refers to our surroundings that include all things living and non-living. According to this definition, our environment consists of living plants, animals and microorganisms and non-living elements such as air, water and soil. The environmental scientists all over the world frequently blame the huge human population and its growing nature for degradation of environment. We will here have a closer look of the population problem and environmental degradation under the same magnifying glass and examine their relationships.

Carrying capacity of the earth: The harmonious co-existence of human kind and environmental soundness can only be ensured if the human population is limited to the carrying capacity of mother earth. Humans induce least harm to the environment when they do not alter the natural condition of the surrounding and, instead, remain satisfied with the naturally available goods and services to meet their basic needs. Let us consider the food sources of mankind. Just think about the amount of foods collected by human kind all over the world from the ecosystems in comparison with the amount of foods grown through agriculture. Again fishes naturally available from fresh water and marine sources cannot meet the protein demand of whole mankind if sustainably harvested. If not sustainably harvested they will be disappeared very soon. So, we are bound to alter the natural condition of our environment when population is above the carrying capacity of the earth.

Agriculture and population: Agriculture popped the lid off natural regulation of human population size. No longer limited by the inherent productivity of local ecosystems, human agricultural societies began to expand immediately. And as populations began to grow, as patterns of political control and the division of labour began to emerge, human life rather quickly took on a semblance basically familiar to those of us living in even the most advanced of modern societies.

Industrialisation and population: Industrialisation itself provoked the need of products among people because with goods from factories it was easier to meet the basic human needs e.g. food, clothes and housing. With the industrial mass production it is also possible to meet the demands of large population with less human intellectual cost and effort. So, the population grows relentlessly based on the foods from modern extensive agriculture and commodities from the industries. In fact in the modern industrial process the high toll of huge production goes on the shoulder of pristine environment .Until recently world wide environmental deterioration was marching ahead in triumphant motion.

Geography changed with increase of population: Satellite images of the earth reveal the human settlement, agricultural land, roads, ports, industrial area and other manmade objects collectively called 'anthrosphere' is encroaching the earth surface very rapidly throughout the recent decades creating growing impacts on the natural landscapes. Growing human population and efforts to improve the quality of life for billions of people are two major causes of widespread environmental degradation.

Population science important tool for environmental sciences: Population science can help us comprehend the environmental risk of population explosion with knowledge of intrinsic devastating force that remains in human population and also as tools to acquire the biological resources in sustainable manner. The humankind plays the role of an invading species for almost all sorts of ecosystems. Humankind is extracting resources from land and oceans. Scientific advances helped man in the process of empowerment .Modern medicine, food security and commodities produced from industries helped to reduce child mortality, adult morbidity and raised life expectancy for the mass people. As the net death rate decreased rapidly the population grew rapidly.

Human population over time: Human population is on a steady increase since the human history through minor fluctuations due to major natural hazards. Population of human kind grew gradually but steadily before the industrialization since the appearance of man on the earth. The total population of the earth was nearly 60 million at the beginning of agricultural revolution about eleven thousand years ago. However, the population of the globe increased exponentially after the industrial revolution with an increase of another 20 millions in only 50 years making it a billion. After that the population doubled to 2 billion in only 70 years. Increasing another one billion population took only 30 years. The next one billion needed only 16 years. The consequence has been the continued pressure on woodlands, wilderness and forested land. The ecosystems of both terrestrial and aquatic environment are disrupted and environment all over the world is on verge of destruction.

Human ecology: People are also part of ecosystems and inseparably linked with the ecological processes to meet their demands as living beings and as intellectual, rational, social and above all creative animals. But the growing number of human population is pressure on the natural ecosystems. The growing population compels to find out new food sources and to be the highest trophic level of the food chain. The case is such that “Man eats everything and nothing eats man” -- it is the ecological viewpoint of population growth.

What will happen if we don't control? Death. Mass death from malnutrition, disease, accidents arising from the competition for limited resources and more vulnerability to natural disasters. Food, clothes, shelter and medicare facilities are in short supply already for the increased population of the earth. In fact before mass death we all must suffer a lot. And not only the poor will suffer but also the rich will be faced with hassle and tussle from the deprived section of the society. Aggravated natural disaster will not offer any exemption to a certain group of people.

An appeal to human intellect: Nature cannot control human population effectively in today's relationship of man with nature. Decision and actual control of population lie solely upon the human intellect itself. Would we like to die like starving microbes? Definitely not. We must try sincerely to find ways out. Our intellect should not fail us in our effort to find the cure as it did not fail us in finding the ladder to growth which also bred the ills.

Md. Mahfujur Rahman studies Environmental Sciences at Jahangirnagar University.

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