Population Growth Affects Most Environmental Issues

By. George P. Nassos

There are many environmental issues, but the three most critically important ones are: climate crisis – the continuing increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions along with continuing increase in atmospheric temperature; natural resources – the continuing over-consumption and associated diminishing of our natural resources; and the decline in available freshwater on the planet. A contributing factor to all three of these environmental issues is the growing population on the planet.

During the time of Jesus Christ, the population on this earth was about 170 million people and it didn’t reach one billion until 1800 years later in 1804. Then it took only a little over 120 years to add another billion people by 1927. What is worse, in the past 96 years we have added six billion people. In other words, in just that period we have quadrupled the population from 2 billion people to 8 billion people, and we are adding 10 million people every 7 to 8 weeks. Just stop to think what the impact has been on each of the three critical environmental issues.

In 1988, James Hansen testified before Congress that the atmosphere is warming since the industrial revolution. For centuries the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm) but it was now increasing and could exceed the dangerous level of 350 ppm. Currently, about 90% of the CO2 emissions come from electricity, heating and transportation. During the period when the population quadrupled, the increase in carbon emissions was about seven-fold. Certainly, the increase in population made a major contribution to that increase. I must argue against anyone that says climate change is not anthropogenic.

The natural resources provided by our planet earth include air, animals, birds, fish, water, forests/timber, agriculture, minerals, and petroleum. Taking a closer look at the over-consumption of these natural resources, prior to 1970 the annual consumption was less than what was being generated. But today, we are consuming the equivalent of 1.7 earths. Again, this huge increase in population has had a major impact on the decline of our natural resources. One way to offset a portion of the decline in our natural resources is to minimize waste. Worldwide we are wasting about 30% of the food that is generated.

Freshwater on this earth is a very limited resource making up 3% of all the water on the planet. And the portion of this freshwater that is available for use is only 3% of all the freshwater, or 0.1% of all the water on the earth. According to a report by the World Health Organization, around 2 billion people lacked safely managed drinking water in their homes and nearly half the world’s population lacked safely managed sanitation. As the world population continues to grow, the lack of water will become an even greater problem.

We have three major environmental issues, and a continuing growth of the world population will make these issues worse. One big question is how long will we continue to increase the population and to what limit. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published his famous book, “The Population Bomb” in which he concludes that the earth can only support 1.5 to 2 billion people. He had predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture. Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall.

What is actually happening around the world in terms of population? Fertility rates in Europe, North America and East Asia have declined to less than 2.1, the minimum rate to maintain a stable population. But in Africa, the birthrate continues to increase such that at least 25% of the world population will be in Africa in 2050 compared to only 10% in 1950.

Another reason for this increase in population is due to an increase in longevity. For example, in the U.S. in 1900, 4.1% of the population was over the age of 65 while today it is 16.8%. Better health care and better diets are major factors for this increase in life expectancy.

The big question is what can we do to overcome these major environmental issues while maintaining a decent population? Since we are talking about the earth created by God for our use, will He have an answer? I believe He sent us a message three years ago when we were confronted with Covid-19. In 2020, carbon emissions were reduced significantly, the consumption of our natural resources was reduced, and freshwater consumption decreased. In addition, the population growth rate reduced significantly as there was less dating and many young couples weren’t sure they wanted to raise children during a pandemic. It was a signal from God that we can still have a decent life without destroying the earth He created for us. Another way to reduce our population is either with a major plague or wars between countries. I pray that is not going to happen.