Overpopulation and the Environment Essay
During the last century, there has been an exponential increase in the global population, with the rate increasing the most rapidly in the most underdeveloped countries (Stancheva). Moreover, this increase is expected to continue in the coming years, as there are hardly any measures taken by the governments worldwide to answer this issue (Stancheva). This means that there is an ever increasing strain on the limited natural resources and the fragile natural environment. The increase in the population has effected the environment through two agents: the increasing population itself, and the advances in technology that this population has brought with itself (Stancheva). However, currently both the problems have little hope of being tackled, so that the environment continues to be adversely effected. For this purpose, and in this paper, it is assumed that the problem of overpopulation is a fixed entity, and the only variable that can be modified is the way the environment is handled through lifestyle and habits of the general population. This paper, therefore, purports to present some of the problems that are inflicted on the environment, and the way they can be properly handled by appropriate changes in the lifestyle.
The most dire issue related to overpopulation is that of fresh water supply (Stancheva). According to the United Nations, the supply per capita has decreased by one third in the past year (Stancheva). It is the worst in the developing and the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and South America, coinciding with the increase in the population in these areas (Stancheva). Nevertheless, the developed countries and the urban areas are also not prevented from this crisis (Stancheva); with the increase in population in the urban areas due to migration, the demand for fresh water has increased while the supplies either remain constant or have decreased. A case in point is Beijing (Stancheva).
Another problem related to water is its pollution. Again, it is worst in the underdeveloped countries, where 95 of the sewage, especially from factories, is dumped into the water system untreated, which ultimately makes its way into the ocean (Stancheva). Combined with over-fishing, which results in the depletion of fish and coral reef (Stancheva), the ocean’s integrity, therefore, is at stake, which is significant as the ocean not only regulates world’s temperature, but also absorbs a substantial amount of carbon dioxide, thereby, keeping global warming at bay (Stancheva).
Due to the ever expanding population, there is a constant increase in the demand for food, and land for residence and transportation (Stancheva). Therefore, an increasing amount of nutrient-poor and unsuitable land is being used for cultivation, and forests have been cut down to provide additional land for agriculture and residence (Stancheva). Moreover, wood is used for fuel by the majority of the African population (Stancheva). It is estimated that Ghana has lost almost a third of its forest area (Stancheva), with 1.2 billion hectares of land worldwide being devoid of its nutrient value for agriculture (Stancheva). Due to constant deforestation, the Amazon has lost 10 of its animal and plant species (Stancheva), with most not even being discovered yet.
It is evident from the discussion above that there is an urgent need to modify the way humans interact with the environment in order to conserve what is left of the planet. This would be effective only when each and every individual would make an effort to bring a change in his habits and lifestyle toward a more environmental-friendly and green measures. These start from simple acts of conservation, awareness, and change, but the combined result would be enormous and highly beneficial to the environment. The following is a discussion of some of the lifestyle modifications that could be made in this regard.
The first and foremost step should be to cut down on the waste, both domestic and industrial. The less the waste is generated, the easier will it be to dispose it off. Water consumption should be the highest priority. The use of buckets instead of showers and hoses should be preferred, as they minimize water wastage (Yeow). Sprinklers should be used instead of water pipes in gardens to prevent salinity. If the sewage is treated before it is let into the waterways (Hickman), the used water could be easily recycled and reused, thereby decreasing the demand for fresh water. This is important, as according to the UN, an additional three and a half billion people would be deprived of fresh water by the year 2050 (Yeow). An act as simple as turning the tap off when brushing or washing hands (Yeow) could go a long way in making the planet a better place to live.
Decreased garbage generation also means a decreased or an eliminated use of plastic bags for shopping and carrying groceries (Yeow). The modern bags are non-biodegradable (Yeow), and when incinerated, produce huge amounts of toxic gases and residues. The only solution, then, is a complete recycling of the bags_ which does not occur in the underdeveloped countries_ or their discontinued use. Replacing plastic bags with paper or cloth bags is not only economical, it is also environmentally friendly (Yeow). These bags can be made larger in size to accommodate more goods, and are surprisingly tough and durable. Since they are biodegradable, they can be safely disposed off even if they are not recycled (Yeow).
The next important step would be a decrease in transport fuel consumption, which would subsequently result in a decreased toxic gas emission (Yeow). Two major ways to cut down on fuel consumption are a decrease in car travel, and flying (Hickman). Public transport should be preferred for long distances, coupled with car pooling (Yeow). Trains should be used instead of air planes for traveling (Hickman). Unleaded petrol is a better choice than leaded petrol, although a little expensive, as it emits less lead particles into the air. It is estimated that using public transport instead of the car for a year would prevent three tones of carbon dioxide from being produced (Hickman).
Supplementing these actions, and equally important, is the practice of advocating the need for a change in the lifestyle of the public (Hickman). Talking about these issues would make them easier to solve, and would highlight their importance (Hickman). It would generate more and creative ideas for alternate mechanisms of conservation and prevention. There are many movements and organization for the environment; creating awareness on their behalf would make their job easier and would result in a concerted effort against the adverse effects that overpopulation is having on the environment.
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