Population monster eating up our natural resources

Most of you have heard about the world population having crossed the 7 billion mark this year.  Population growth is always linked to an additional burden on natural resources.  All living beings on earth need natural resources for their survival. Humans are the only species on earth who consume and exploit a major share of natural resources. We are such a greedy species that we  are always hungry for  natural resources often exploiting much more than our basic needs. Human behaviour demonstrates a strong will to survive, to reproduce, and to achieve some level of prosperity and high quality of life. We have developed technologies to extract and exploit natural resources to the maximum. The fact is that, unfortunately, the resources do not increase as the population increases. Instead the relationship is inverse.

Why the population is growing?

Simply, the natural population increases when the birth rate is higher than the death rate. The world has also seen population declination during last couple of centuries due to wars and infectious diseases. The world population is growing at a faster rate now than for the past 50 years. No deadly wars have been fought at least for the last 50 years. The technology is also changing, becoming more evolved and helping human population to increase life expectancy.  Around the world, death rates gradually decreased in the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Developing countries that were previously more prone to diseases have now considerably reduced the death rate of its population after the devastating World War II. It resulted due to the spread of modern medicine that allowed control of diseases.

Our natural resources are not enough for growing population

Population growth and subsequent economic development are threatening the earth’s environment.  Increasing population contributes to the expansion and intensification of agriculture, the uncontrolled growth of industrialization, intense mining activities and the destruction of natural habitats. The relation between population growth, resource depletion, and environmental degradation is interlinked and adversely affecting our future.

World Pupulation
The world population growth , Source: BBC


Indian scenario

Population of India as per Census 2011 is 1.21 billion (121 Crore). India has an area of 3,287,240 square km. It is the seventh largest country of the world and accounts for about 2.4 % of the total surface area of the world. India’s population in 1901 was about 238.4 million, which has increased by more than four times in 110 years to reach a population of 1,210 million in 2011.

Population density graph_Census 2011
Population density graph, Source: Census of India 2011

As per the Census of India (2011), the population density (Density of population is defined as the number of persons per square kilometre) of India has gone up to 382 persons per square kilometre from 325 persons per square kilometres in 2001. On an average, 57 more people inhibit every square kilometres in the country as compared to a decade ago. Increasing population density triggers resource scarcity and might result in non availability of necessary resources in the future. For example, land is limited but the number of people in the given land is increases hence they will leave additional burden on already limited resource and hence create resource scarcity.

Growing population can threaten our energy and water resources. The world is experiencing rapid population growth from last century; almost at a rate higher than last millennium. Population growth is driving all of our resource problems.  We cannot expect to sustain exponential population growth matched by increased per capita use of natural resources like water, land, minerals, energy, etc. Energy and water use are intimately related. As water tables decline, you have to use more energy to lift the water out of the ground and also need more energy to purify the waste water coming from growing cities and industries. Since the last 50 years, the rates of increase of water and energy use have risen faster than population growth in the whole world.

According to a Reuters article 40% of India’s population, which is approximately 500 million people, are without energy. Furthermore, according to Reuters, “India, which has a total installed power generation capacity of 164 gigawatts (GW), aims to raise it to 187 GW by the end of March 2012. Even this target is modest, given a 12 percent peak-hour power shortfall that crimps the countries near 9 percent economic growth.”

Growing population means more mouths to feed and hence it ultimately results in increasing land area under the agriculture. It is estimated that the production of water-intensive crops is expected to grow by 80% between 2000 and 2050. India had large freshwater reserves in past but the increasing population and overexploitation of surface and groundwater over the past few decades has resulted in water scarcity in some regions. (Know more about water scarcity in India)

As per the FAO (1996), Issues arising from growing human numbers in the face of fixed water resources are indirectly but strongly linked with population growth at the national and urban levels. Such problems are noted by several countries, but usually without explicit mention of population factors. One may also observe that population pressure under fixed or slowly changing technology is a factor in such phenomena as the extension of agriculture, with encroachment on forests or on marginal lands, which accelerates degradation (India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), the overexploitation of the wood cover for domestic uses (same countries) and increased pollution by domestic wastes (all 15 countries).

Due to growing population, India’s future is threatened by shortages of water and energy and these should be addressed on a priority. Population growth leaves an additional pressure on land and further results in habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, water pollution, air pollution, global warming and climate change. We are on the verge of a resource deficient future and it can be anticipated that the major international wars to be fought in the future will be over natural resources. We must rapidly bring the world population under control. Population dynamics is one of the key factors to consider when thinking about development and hence needs to incorporate a strong sustainable criterion for development.

References : Census of India, FAO, Grail Research, BBC

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