Report – EV1001 – Overpopulation

Stefan Mårtensson 991009

Overpopulation, is it something to worry about ?


“The Earth’s capacity to support people is determined partly by processes that human and natural sciences have yet to understand, and partly by the choices that our decedents and we have yet to make. (Cohen, J. 1995)

Given these complications, should we worry about the present pattern of human population growth?”

To understand the complicated web of questions to answer the, question i.e. if we should worry about the population growth, we have to be able to determine how many people the Earth can support. And what do we mean by support? Can we all live like they do in the US, or do we who live in the more developed countries lower our standards to meet the support capacity the Earth has for us?

Another issue to be aware of is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and/or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), knowing that about 30 million people were infected by HIV in 1997 (UNAIDS 1997) and about 2 million died in AIDS by 1993 (Cohen, J 1995). The question is obvious, is this the Earth’s way of telling us that we have an over population problem?

If we want to stop the present patterns of human population, should we just stop producing children, if so how? Should we all stop having children? If not all of us then who, the Asians? -Americans? -Europeans?

Are there countries that contributes to the population growth more than other and are there countries that actually decrease their population and by that the world population?

Where should the concentration of work in birth control begin?

Lifestyle – USA and the Carrying capacity issue

Before it can be determined how many people the Earth can support, the question “What do we mean by support?” has to be answered. Does it simply mean to feed, cloth and house people? If so, we must also ask, “At what kind of standard of living? For the whole population or just some percentage of the population?

For example, could the current global population of nearly six billion all live an American lifestyle forever? Considering Americans use roughly one quarter of all energy and fossil fuels, one third of all paper, one fifth of all metals, and generate almost three quarters of global toxic waste, and the Americans are just under five percent of the earth’s population, the answer seems clearly to be, no. (Bureau of Labour Statistics)

All nations and people have the right to improve their living standards. In fact, improved standards of living are essential in combating environmental degradation in the poorest regions of the world. However, unlike any other species that lived on Earth before, humans are changing the climate, lowering and polluting the water tables, shrinking the forests and spreading the deserts. Due to human interaction many plant and animal species have become extinct, and this will be viewed as a catastrophe by future generations. Most of the extinction, land-clearing, pollution comes directly or indirectly from a handful of industrialized countries. Their proven way of living is keenly adopted by the rest of the world. The imitation cannot be sustained, not with the same consumption and waste. Recent studies show that to raise the rest of the world to the same standard of living as the United States using the technology that we have today, would require the natural resources of two more Earths. (Wilson, E.O. 1998)

The answer to the carrying capacity issue depends upon the choices people make about their personal reproduction, their lifestyles and consumption of everyday things. As Paul and Anne Ehrlich wrote in The Stork and the Plow 1995, “Earth can support a larger population of cooperative, far-sighted, vegetarian pacifist saints than of competitive, myopic, meat-eating, war-making typical human beings. All else being equal, Earth can hold more people if they have relatively equal access to the requisites of a decent life than if the few are able to monopolize resources and the many must largely do without. The problems of population, social and economic inequity, and environmental deterioration are thus completely intertwined.”

“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.”

Albert Einstein


The question raised by many people of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and/or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)is, could it be the solution to the over population problem?

Obviously, these issues are complex, and solutions vary greatly due to cultural, economic, geographic, political and not to forget the health issues. The latest estimates and projections by the United Nations (from 1998) indicate that world population growth rates have decreased from the peak levels in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but they are still high. This is partly due to declining fertility in parts of the developing world as a result of improved economic and social conditions, and reproductive health efforts. Unfortunately, it is also due partly to increasing numbers of deaths from hunger, natural disasters, AIDS and other infectious diseases, and casualties in regional and local conflicts. (UN Revision 1998).

According to UN’s 1998 Revision, the 29 countries in Africa that were studied with respect to the impact of AIDS mortality and population loss, the average life expectancy at birth in these countries is projected to only reach 47 years by year 2010-2015, instead of 64 years if AIDS hasn’t been there: 17 years of life expectancy is lost to AIDS.

According to Joel Cohen in the book “How many people can the earth support?” 1995,

Only people who have neither experienced nor observed AIDS could see it as a solution to a problem. Death from AIDS (about 2 million by 1993) are painful and wasteful, wherever they occur. In poor countries, deaths from AIDS that are highest among middle-aged people enhances the difficulties of agricultural and economical development. It also worsens the plight of the surviving people who depend on the middle-aged for care.

UN Population Division and the World Health Organization’s Global Program on AIDS had a meeting in New York in December 1989. The meeting was to find out why different models of HIV infection had such different results. To try to get eight different modelers to start of with the same results, the organizers made up detailed “rules” and assumptions about the infected population so it would be equal for everybody in the start. This would eliminate false predictions. In the best scenario the probabilities of infection were too low to allow the epidemic to continue and all the models showed that HIV would gradually disappear from the population. In the worst scenario, all but one of the models showed that after 25 years the population growth rate would be nil or even negative! Between 30-58% of the population would have become infected by HIV and between 4-12% would have developed AIDS. (Cohen, 1995)

Population growth patterns

Global population are expected to increase by about 80 to 90 million people each year, according to UN’s revision for 1998, for perhaps the next 30 years. At the same time, more nations – and millions maybe billions more people – will reach higher levels of economic change and therefore of production and consumption. This change will radically increase usage of natural resources and energy.

The good news is that according to the 1998 Revision, it was estimated that 61 countries of the world (about 60 % European and 27% of the total amount of countries) show a total fertility rate (TFR), in year 1995-2000, at or below the level of 2.1 children per woman which is necessary for the replacement of generations. In almost all countries of the more developed regions fertility is significantly below the level needed for the replacement of generations (TFR of approximately 2.1).

The combined population of those 61 countries (2.6 billion in 1998) amounts to 44 % of the global population. This means that 44 % of the population will not (if the same fertility rate is held) not increase the world population, which means that we can concentrate on the rest of the 56 % of the population (UN revision 1998). China and India are responsible for almost 38% of the total population of the Earth, and India is responsible for the highest population rates. The Indians increase the population with 43200 people every 24-hour period. India was the first country with family planning program, started in 1952 when the population was about 380 million. The factors to the reason why it went so wrong are social e.g. they have democracy a very heterogeneous population with over 1600 languages, social and cultural standard favours large families and male offspring and 75% of the Indian population lives in rural areas. This is a problem due to not having access to family planning and contraceptives.

The UN states that new empirical evidence is particularly important, as that tends to revise downward on the levels of TFR. Further more, TFR in a number of countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) is 1.3 children per woman or lower which according to UN’s revision, a generation ago, was considered highly uncertain. On the other hand, in the Nordic countries, in particular in Sweden and Norway, fertility was greatly increased in the late 1980s and early 1990s (locally known as the Baby boom) and approached or even exceeded the replacement level, before decreasing again.

This tells us that even though stable countries like Sweden and Norway, that have had a low fertility rate for a couple of decades may have a momentary baby boom. This shows that predictions are very hard to make. Even harder for an unstable country that may have a change in public values and can either have a baby boom or the opposite a change of public value that to that emphasize a low fertility rate, e.g. China, which has the 11th lowest fertility rate in the world (UN revision 1998).

The reason why India is not so successful is due to they having a weak democracy while China have a monarchy and the people have no choice of choosing.


It is quite obvious that we cannot live like they do in the USA, and we really have to re-think our situation because we do not live in a sustainable way. We will use up all of our resources and over populate the Earth if do not do any thing about it. Some people say that the mother Earth herself is tired of being miss-used and show her anger and disappointment for the humans through providing us with hunger, casualties in regional and local conflicts, natural disasters, AIDS and other infectious diseases.

The rate of which children is produced is to high in some countries, the rate can get lower by introducing birth control. Some countries, 26.6% of the total, have a TFR at 2.1 children / woman or lower.

This mean that we have to reduce the rate that 56% of the population above the line of 2.1 children per woman, to or below the line of 2.1 if we want to stop and later reduce our population.

India is one of the countries that need serious help with the birth control problem, many of the 61 countries that were below the 2.1 line, are holding and even reducing the world population e.g. Sweden.

Yes, the world has a problem with overpopulation, and yes, we all should worry about the growing problem of overpopulation. The whole population cannot live with the same lifestyle as they do in the USA. AIDS is not a solution to the overpopulation (Cohen, J). How can the world solve the problem?


Cohen, J.E. (1995). How many people can Earth support? W.W. Norton & Co. New York.

Ehrlich, Paul R., Ehrlich, Anne H. & Gretchen C. Daily. (1995), The stork & the plow: the equity answers to the human dilemma. New York, Putnam’s United Nations (1997)

United Nations (1997) AIDS division. New York

United Nations (1998) Revision of the world population estimates and projections. United Nations Publications. New York

Wilson, E.O. (1998) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Knopf, New York.

Wilson, E.O. (1998) Integrated Science and The Coming Century of The Environment. Science 279:2048

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