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Overpopulation: Root Cause of Many Problems

02/11/2008 (LWN) People often speak of the many problems that affect the world as isolated issues that ought to be solved separately. Few realize that a great number of these problems can be directly or indirectly linked to a single root cause: overpopulation. Let's take a look at some examples of this...

POLLUTION: The more people live on Earth, the more homes there are to heat or cool, cars to fuel, products to manufacture and so on. All of this generates pollution; the benefits of stopping population growth are undeniably much greater than those of using more hybrid cars or CFLs.

POVERTY: With some exceptions, more heavily populated countries tend to have poorer people. Guatemala, Bangladesh and Nigeria are a few examples of this. The benefits of a country's natural resources are smaller as they are divided among a greater number of citizens.

RACISM: People frequently look for a "scapegoat", often another race or religion, to blame for their poverty. They sometimes hold beliefs like "if there weren't so many of them, there would be more money, housing and jobs for us."

STARVATION: Nations become incapable of meeting their food needs when populations rise, making them less self-reliant. Famine rarely seems to occur in countries with low population densities, especially if they have a substantial amount of farmland.

TRAFFIC: Clearly, a lower population density would produce fewer "traffic jams" and less crowding on public transportation. Instead of targeting the root of the problem, people talk about building additional highways and adding more lanes to them.

CONFLICT: International and civil wars are often brought about by the desire to gain additional resources and/or territory. As a country's population becomes higher, its needs for resources and land are increased. It may also seek to use war to boost its economy as overpopulation makes it poor.

EXTINCTION: When species of animals become extinct or endangered, it is often the result of humans using them or the things they eat as food. Increasing human populations need to eat more and are less concerned about protecting endangered animals.

DEPLETION: Finite natural resources like oil, uranium and coal are being rapidly depleted to serve the energy and manufacturing needs of people around the world. As the population continues to rise, this will only worsen and the environment will be sacrificed to extract harder-to-obtain resources.

EDUCATION: More children bring about higher education costs and more crowding in schools. Because children do not pay taxes and their parents pay no more property taxes for having more children, this ends up increasing everyone's taxes.

DEFORESTATION: Countries like Haiti and the Philippines suffer from both overpopulation and deforestation. Cutting down massive numbers of trees has greatly increased their vulnerability to flooding, adding to the death tolls and material costs of such disasters.

Undoubtedly, there are other major problems that overpopulation also helps to bring about. This is an issue that a vast number of countries must address. The U.N. Human Development Report has indicated that many nations saw their population rise by more than double in the years since 1975. Significant increases occurred in Greece, Nepal, Australia, the United States and many others.

Instead of attempting to solve the world's problems with expensive new technology and feel-good schemes, we should find a solution to their root cause. This solution could include government incentives for people who have fewer children and efforts to improve the availability of birth control and sexual education in developing countries. The mass media should also cease its promotion of having multiple children as something beneficial to society.