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Historical Pattern of Global Population Growth and Implications on Life

Updated on January 18, 2020
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Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics.

Overview of global population growth

The human population on earth has increased relatively slowly for the better part of its existence on earth. It is estimated that current human beings evolved around 130000 to 160000 years ago. Many challenges including climate extremes and illnesses maintained a low life expectancy and a high death rate inperiods leading to the industrial era (Cohen, 2005). Therefore, it is just up to around 1805 that the population of humans reached one billion people. However, from that time moving forward, population increment accelerated very rapidly.

During the preliminary decades of the industrial revolution, the expectancies of life were down in America and in Western Europe. Infectious diseases, including cholera and typhoid which spread rapidly led to thousands of deaths. The filthy and crowded conditions that characterized the initial factory towns and major cities, and the poor nutrition that was commonplace during the era, worsened this condition. However, from around the years 1850 to 1950, a barrage of medical and safety developments significantly enhanced living circumstances in industrialized countries(Cohen, 2005).

The significant achievements that led to the increased life expectancy included, improvement of quality of water supplied and access; the development of antibiotics and vaccines, promotion of nutrition through technology, including the fortification of vitamins, breads, milk, and cereals; improvement of waste management and sanitation; research on infectious diseases and modes of their transmission; the development of public medical structures to diagnose diseases and quarantine facilities for the invalid; and adopting safety regulations for the workplace and child labor restrictions.

Halfway through the twentieth century, a majority of the industrialized countries had gone through the demographic transformation. As medical technologies were introduced to the developing world, a considerable number of nations entered the mortality transformation and their populations expanded (Cohen, 2005). The explosion of the world population summited in the latter years of the 1960’s at around 2.5 percent in the third world and 2 percent in the first world.

The relationship between human population growth and ecological footprint

The growth of the human population is related to the current ecological footprint in diverse ways. Various researchers observe that human demands on earth are increasing at a rate that may not be unsustainable (Tittensor et al., 2014). Ecological footprint data shows that man’sneed for renewable resources and ecological utilities increased by around 140% between 1960 and 2010, getting to a level where the earth’s bio-productive area is not adequate to support rival demands anymore. This condition has been attributed to the increase in population.

Worldwide, the increase in anthropogenic needs was most noted for carbon footprint as a result of increased use of electricity, fossil fuels, and energy intensive goods as well as components of cropland footprint.However, footprints vary depending on income categories. Per capita footprints rose only in developed countries, indicating improvements in life-style, but fell in low-income nations, which experienced a considerable increase in the population (Goldfinger et al., 2014). Carbon footprint also increased in high-income countries while the cropland footprint decreased in 2005. The same trend was witnessed in middle income nations. However, cropland accounted for the main footprint component in low-income nations in the same period even though its contribution fell. These trends were linked to aspects of population growth.

Experts argue that middle-income and low income countries are adopting a development path similar to high-income countries, that is, shifting from biomass-based to fossil based societies. Many countries are witnessing notable bio-capacity shortages and a difference can be seen between countries driving global displacement of human-induced pressure and those where that pressure displacement is happening.Worldwide ecological overshoot is set to rise. Biodiversity is disappearing at an alarming rate, driven mostly by human pressures on the ecosystem (Tittensoret al., 2014). Human demands on the bio-sphere, examined through the ecological footprint, are linked to direct threats to biodiversity.

Carrying capacity

Carrying capacity is a theory that infers the ceiling of the capacity of the ecosystem to bearthe sustained increase in population within the ceiling of sufficiency of resource and tolerance of the deterioration of theenvironment. The magnitude of the population that can be held up by the carrying capacity of a resource structure is mostly dependent on the requirements of that population. The extent of the requirement can’t be larger than the range of the carrying capacity to perpetuate continuity (Del Monte‐Luna et al., 2004). The major aspects of manipulating the needs of the population are affluence and technology, the population density and number, the formation of harmful wastes in the environment, and the rate of depletion of both renewable and non-renewable resources. It is therefore important to understand the concept of carrying capacity in order to formulate workable policies.

Even though carrying capacity is pertinent to resource’s inherent condition, the surrounding, and the communities found within the structure, man can significantly influence the carrying capacity by harvesting their choice resources, and perpetuating the association among the inhabitants ofthe system. How man treats the system to acquire their well-being will significantly determine how the system moves forward. The relative evaluation of carrying capacity on a temporal and spatial balance establishes how man approaches the structure(Del Monte‐Luna et al., 2004). As policies control man’s attitude to a given structure, comparative evaluation of carrying capacity can possibly avail statistics on the kind of impact policies have on resource maintainability.

Impacts of unbridled population growth

Unbridled and sustained population increment relative to carrying capacity can result to various adverse implications. Exhaustion of natural resources is one such consequence. The major effect of unchecked population growth is the unbalanced and unrestricted use of resources. Planet earth has a finite ability to generate raw materials and every year the natural resource deficiency, that is, the usage of materials more rapidly than earth can generate them, is reached sooner.As a result, in many places around the world, overpopulation leads to serious conflicts over control of scarce resources (Del Monte‐Luna et al., 2004).

Another important implication of unbridled population development is environmental degradation. The unchecked use of natural resources, coupled with the significant growth in the production of energy from fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal has a considerable harmful effect on the environment. Such harmful impacts include desertification and deforestation, the loss of animal and plant species, alterations in the water cycle, and most tragically, the production of large quantities of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Unrestrained population also leads to increasing rates of unemployment. This is because a large number of individuals exist for a limited number of job opportunities causing competition. Increased competition does not only make it harder to find employment but also allows employers to hire individuals at lower wages. Lower wages in turn decreases the purchasing power lowering the living standards of people(Pimentel et al., 2007). Therefore, unchecked population leads to both unemployment and under-employment, both of which can lead to crime and social upheavals.

However, unbridled population can also lead to technological advances. The high number of individuals in towns and cities encourage research in an attempt to find solutions to cater for the populations’ needs. For instance, the success of the information technology industry has for a large part been due to the expanding population. Also, the blossoming of smart Cities all around the world is an attempt to provide cutting edge solutions to provide proper and comfortable living conditions regardless of the ever increasing population.

Co-relation between the humanpopulation and environmental degradation

The magnitude of man’s population leads to environmental degradation in a number of ways. More people need more resources. Therefore, as the population grows, resources are depleted faster. This causes deforestation and loss of biodiversity as the earth is stripped of resources to accommodate the rising population. Environmental degradation factors caused by the human population include air pollution, water contamination, and climate change

One of the worst environmental impacts of the human population is the quality of air. The massive transport industry contributes significantly to air pollution as a majority of forms of transport consume fossil fuels (Pimentel et al., 2007). Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when burned. Also, population growth leads to exponential growth of the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing plants release sulfurs and carbons that are harmful to the environment, causing an irregularity in the composition and quality of air. Some of the chemicals released deplete the ozone layer exposing the earth to harmful radiation from the sun.

Water contamination is another impact of the human population. The growing population endangers the flow and supply of clean water for domestic uses. Factors such as disposal of waste water from commercial, residential, and industrial areas as well as oil spills and runoff from agricultural activities contaminate water bodies. The direct dumping of pollutants into lakes, oceans, and rivers and indirect runoff of harmful substances during the rainy season is detrimental to water sources (Pimentel et al., 2007). Overfishing, which leads to a reduction in marine biodiversity, is another impact on water systems.

Human population factors also lead to climate change. Climate change upsets the natural balance making the climate erratic and less predictable. Climate change causes abnormal phenomena such as dangerous storms; serious floods; forest fires; typhoons and hurricanes; and most unfortunately, tsunamis, which were not common in the past. Climate change also leads to rising atmospheric temperatures, rising levels of the sea, and drought. All these phenomena are indicators of an environment that is not able to sustain human activities caused by unchecked population increase.

Importance of the human population size in environmental restoration projects

It is crucial to consider man’s population when attempting to develop a restoration project. This is because there are many feedbacks between human systems, natural systems, and agricultural systems. Feedback between the planet and human systems must be factored in when developing a restoration project to avoid underestimating environmental hardships that human beings face, and to avoid missing the important dynamics of the coupled system (Tittensor et al., 2014).

Changes in the environment can have an impact on the health of humans, and lower economic productivity and agricultural yields. For instance, increased use of water in highly populated places such as cities can lead to reduced agricultural yields, as ground water, decline, and the quality of freshwater drops. Such over-exploitation of services of the eco-system would be detrimental to the sustainability of intensive agriculture. As a result, projects instituted to restore the environment must consider man’s population to establish balance.

Environmental restoration efforts must also consider the number of people since there are environmental limits and therefore it is undeniable that needs must not go beyond bio-capacity and available resources (Goldfinger et al., 2014). It is paramount that the population of man should not exceed the carrying capacity of the environment to be restored. This is because human influence can cause rapid depletion in the environment to be restored rendering the project unsustainable.


Cohen, J. E. (2005). Human population grows up. Scientific American, 293(3), 48-55.

Del Monte‐Luna, P., Brook, B. W., Zetina‐Rejón, M. J., & Cruz‐Escalona, V. H. (2004).The carrying capacity of ecosystems. Global ecology and biogeography, 13(6), 485-495.

Tittensor, D. P., Harfoot, M. B., Newbold, T., Emmott, S., Hutton, J., Lyutsarev, V., ...&Purves, D. W. (2014). Emergent global patterns of ecosystem structure and function from a mechanistic general ecosystem model. PLoS biology, 12(4), e1001841.

Goldfinger, S., Wackernagel, M., Galli, A., Lazarus, E., & Lin, D. (2014). Footprint facts and fallacies: A response to Giampietro and Saltelli (2014)“Footprints to Nowhere”. Ecological Indicators, 46, 622-632.

Pimentel, D., Cooperstein, S., Randell, H., Filiberto, D., Sorrentino, S., Kaye, B., ...&Habas, A. (2007). Ecology of increasing diseases: population growth and environmental degradation. Human Ecology, 35(6), 653-668.


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