• Bryony Lewis

Breaking Down the Taboo: Overpopulation

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

There are more than 7.6 billion people on this planet, with approximately four babies being born every second.

But why is this an issue?

Our pre-existing and frequently discussed ecological concerns are dangerously aggravated by our ever-expanding population. Climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, water shortages, food shortages, deforestation, eutrophication and a complex variety of other issues are unquestionably affected by the population and its infinite consumption of the planet’s natural resources. Just a few of these issues are explored below:

Biodiversity loss:

We’ve seen David Attenborough’s enlightening and informative programmes surrounding the unique species living on this planet, but have we all taken in his warnings? As just one of the estimated 8.7 million species, we could end up accelerating the extinction of half of these by the end of this century.

While it would be an indescribable loss, it would also hugely change the prosperity of humankind. Biodiversity is the term to describe an assortment of life within a specific area, also known as an ecosystem. While most ecosystems can adapt to small changes, the rate at which particular species are suffering seems to be negatively affecting and even destroying ecosystems.

How does this affect us? We depend on these ecosystems and their prosperity more than you can imagine. Flying insects are critical to our food production, with a third of our food existing due to their pollination routines. However, one study in Germany analysed flying insect population over the space of 27 years, with a result of approximately 76% decline in insect biomass. This is monumental, and yet it was only in one country.

How does biodiversity loss relate to overpopulation? Well, it’s a complicated matter, but habitat loss through unsustainable agriculture or similar activity, overexploitation (including industrial fishing), pollution from a vast number of sources and consequential climate change are all examples of activities created and exacerbated by human population growth, with an undeniable effect on biodiversity loss.


We have all learned about pollution at some time or another, whether it’s through learning that acid rain can be created by air pollution during our rain cycles, at school, or through seeing the Thames and its questionable contents when walking along Southbank. The main cause of pollution, exacerbated hugely by humankind, is consumption. We consume without considering the consequences of the creation of our food, clothes, toiletries and technology. Many argue that the product has been created anyway, so, the damage has been done. Wrong. When you buy something, you create a demand and you invest in that company’s values. That company will then continue to create and supply based on demand. In addition to air pollution produced by factories, noise, light and water pollution can also occur in the areas surrounding production, leading to disruption of natural wildlife routines and often leading to death of those animals from coming into contact with toxic chemicals.

Again, how does this relate to overpopulation? Well, the more we buy, the more demand and, therefore, supply there is. Our population is going to increase, so, we either need to change our relationship with consumerism and aim to reduce the pointless purchasing that is taking place now or aim to slow population growth to aid this effort.

Water and food shortages:

Leading on from the subject of consumption, water and food shortages are, sadly, very much in the cards if we keep doing what we’re doing.

In 2015, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation predicted that due to the current state and rate of soil erosion, there are less than 60 years of harvesting left on this planet. Soil erosion is caused by our current farming techniques, which, ultimately, is creating a vicious cycle, whereby, less carbon is being stored and this leads to warming the earth and spoiling the land. We need to ensure that every person in this growing population has access to food, but we will have none left, within this century, if we do not change our consumption rates, farming techniques, and, fundamentally, our growing population rate.

A large number of articles were released in the last couple of years detailing the rate at which water shortages are going to increase as population increases. This was following a UN report, where they outlined that by 2050, more than 5 billion people will be suffering from water shortages. That’s much more than half of the population within the space of 30 years. Similar to the techniques used to farm, many scientists have suggested a more traditional and indigenous approach to water management, which would likely decrease this risk of water shortages.

However, no matter how many changes we make to the ways in which we manage agriculture and water, attempt to lower pollution rates and avoid biodiversity loss, we still face the challenge of meeting the needs of an ever-increasing population. If we are to supply our population with food, water and material, we must drastically slow or stop our rate of population growth, to help the natural resources we are taking to recover.

Taboo of Population

It’s unlikely you will have read articles that really highlight the impact of overpopulation on the current ecological climate. That’s because human population is a touchy subject to most. Why do we think this is? Could it be due to the inherent and innate ‘need’ to create life? Or could it be that as a society, we are pressured to fulfil and complete this unspoken life stage of having children? Some feel they are destined to be mothers or fathers, while some feel they would rather not have children at all but the latter of the two will often avoid voicing this, due to an undeniable stigma.

Those who want to be parents could, however, consider adopting or having a smaller family, as these decisions will ultimately affect the Earth on which your children will be living.  Having one fewer child will save 58.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. That’s twenty four times the amount you would save if you gave up using your car for the rest of your life. If you want to bring a child into this world, it is your responsibility to do your absolute best to create, not only a safe environment at home, but also in society and on this planet.

Some women in the world do not have the power to decide on whether they have children, let alone when and how many. These women are often in developing countries, where they are taken out of school to be married and become a mother to a number of children who may or may not survive. One way in which we can aid our overpopulation crisis is by supporting projects that educate girls in developing countries. This will keep them in school, maybe even leading onto higher education and work that will empower them to make their own life choices, including how, if and when they build a family.

What’s the solution?

Don’t worry, this isn’t where we suggest you stop having children. Every person should have the right to choose if and when they conceive, which is why supporting charities like Girl Effect, Girls Not Brides and Population Matters is so important. Through doing this, we can empower women to live a life they want and help slow down our population growth. Through simply having smaller families or even adopting, we can also reduce the effects of excessive consumption that come with every new human life on this planet.


The Guardian

Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas.


Population Matters

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