Are there too many of us?

Why we should and how to address overpopulation

Aambar Agarwal, Social Media Manager

On Nov. 15, the United Nations (UN) projects that there will be eight billion humans living on Earth. To put that in perspective, there were barely two billion humans alive a century ago—not even a quarter of the current population. The UN further predicts that by 2080, the world population could reach up to 10.4 billion.

The dramatic increase in population makes sense; public health, nutrition, hygiene and medicine have vastly improved in the past few decades. But, can the world sustain such a large population?

As the population continues to grow, humans will consume Earth’s limited resources more rapidly. Food, water, housing, energy and healthcare are just some of the basic human necessities. Seeking out more land to cultivate food or wood to harness energy will lead to greater deforestation, such as in the Amazon rainforest. Greater deforestation and food production efforts will drastically affect the climate, releasing more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and accelerating climate change. Climate change will then impact the lives of humans to a far greater extent than it already has. Extreme weather events will become more powerful and common—such as heatwaves and hurricanes—and disease-carrying vectors and waterborne diseases will expand.

The destruction of wildlife habitats will additionally increase human contact with wild animals carrying novel pathogens. The pathogens could drive the next pandemic, as with COVID-19, and easily spread throughout the overcrowded world. The growing scarcity of natural resources will trigger more conflicts within and among nations as they fight over access, which will cause further unnecessary human suffering and sacrifice.

In seeking more resources to fulfill their needs, humans will ravage the earth and hinder their collective ability to survive in the long term. Thus, the world will not be able to sustain such a large population of humans.

The impact of the world’s limited and ineffectively distributed resources is reflected in the 2.3 billion people who were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 and the 2.2 billion who lacked access to safe drinking water in 2019. If so many humans cannot currently fulfill their basic needs, how can 2.4 billion more people be sustained?

How is it okay to continue overpopulating the world when such a vast number of people cannot access food and clean drinking water, when overpopulation is creating an uninhabitable Earth?

The UN argues that population growth will level off by 2100 and later decline. So, since the population will naturally come down in a few decades, there is no need to address overpopulation now, right?

However, the population may not level off as soon as the UN projects. If climate change continues unchecked, developed countries with low birthrates could be driven into poverty, pushing their birthrates back up.

Even if the population levels off, the world will still have to support 10.4 billion people for several decades. Regardless of whether the population declines in the future, the repercussions will still be felt during and after the population is at its peak. Resources will be scarce, climate change will worsen and rates of sickness and conflict will increase. 

So, if humans want to avoid a slow and excruciating demise, society must address the looming issue of overpopulation. Luckily, the fix is relatively straightforward: humans need to stop having so many kids, if any. The Earth’s population will eventually decrease if the global birth rate dips below the replacement level.

Many share the sentiment that it is our responsibility to society to have kids, and popular media further propagates that. A few months ago, Elon Musk tweeted that the world is undergoing an underpopulation crisis that poses a “much bigger risk to civilization than global warming.” Aside from being blatantly incorrect, Musk is entirely missing the point. This disinterest in having children is especially prevalent in countries where the economy and education system have improved over the decades, leading people to spend more time receiving education and seeking more complex jobs. These take up lots of time and energy, and as a result, people put less emphasis on having children. 

Yet still, many people cannot wrap their minds around the idea that some individuals just do not want to have kids; they feel that everyone should have kids as their responsibility to society or, otherwise, they will regret their decision. For example, when young women try to get their tubes tied, gynecologists refuse them; they say that the women are too young and will likely change their minds in the future, ignoring the fact that it is the woman’s choice to decide whether to have the procedure done. People are denied the right to abortion in various countries, even though it is ultimately their choice to have a child. Furthermore, many politicians worldwide try to restrict contraception.

In short, we must change our societal attitudes toward having children; only then can we fix the growing issue of overpopulation. By accepting and encouraging individuals to remain child-free and providing open access to sterilization, abortion and contraception, we can begin to slow the birthrate and lessen the strain on Earth’s resources. In doing so, we can ensure that humanity survives for at least a few more decades with a better quality of life.

So, don’t feel obligated to have children and even consider going child-free—for the sake of the planet and humanity’s future.