Essay About Environmental Degradation And Poverty

Overpopulation And Environmental Degradation Essay

Overpopulation and Environmental Degradation

At the time of the agricultural revolution, nearly ten thousand years ago, the population of the globe was no more than ten million. Today the world population is estimated at over six billion. In the last hundred years the population has more than tripled. With the population rising at an enormous rate of 1.7 million a week, the world as a whole is being drained of its resources. (Southwick, 1996) Different theories have prevailed on what will occur as the population continues to explode ranging from the Malthusian apocalypse to absolutely no effects at all. Over the last two centuries as agricultural and technological advancements came about, the planet's overall carrying capacity increased dramatically. It is estimated that the world could support over twenty times its current population living at 120 per square meter in 2000-story buildings. (Dolan, 1974) Overpopulation not only adversely affects the "environment," or nature, but also has a large impact on human societies today.

Environmental degradation and population growth go hand in hand. As more people enter the world, there is a greater need for space, furthering damage to our surroundings. As populations grew in response to the agricultural revolution of ancient times more land was required for cultivation to feed the rising populations. Forests were cleared, waterways were diverted, and the soil exhausted, all a result of the expanding populace. Even today in parts of the world, especially third world countries, land is being cleared by slash and burn methods for grazing land and urban development. Whole species of organisms in areas like the Amazon rainforest have most likely been lost due to this method of deforestation. As areas are cleared in the way for future generations, land is becoming extremely scarce. It has been estimated that between 1 and 2 billion people could be supported on this planet in relative prosperity. The estimate comes from the availability of energy resources, agricultural land coupled with increased pollution control, recycling, and sustainability. (Southwick, 1996) The world today faces tremendous problems with poverty, disease, and famine as a result of the booming populations.

Overpopulation has greatly affected today's societies throughout the world. Certain countries, especially in the...

Loading: Checking Spelling

0%

Read more

Overpopulation and the Environment Essay

2154 words - 9 pages Humans have greatly impacted the global environment. Throughout the course of history, human populations have rapidly increased. Especially in Africa, these numbers have reached extraordinary proportions. Out of all the continents in the world, Africa’s population is increasing the most. The type of growth here is exponential. “Overpopulation is a condition when an organisms numbers exceeds the carrying of its ecological niche.” The growth rate...

Speech on Problems of Immigration

693 words - 3 pages Immigration. What is immigration? It is defined as to enter and usually become established. Technically, we are all immigrants or decedents of them. Even before the first pilgrims came, the so-called Native Americans actually immigrated thousands of years ago through Alaska. Although the United States has always been a land of immigration, the last few years have...

The Environmental Impact of Overpopulation

862 words - 3 pages The human population has continued to grow through the decades. The increasingly large number of people that have become apart of the world population has become a major problem. The consequences of the world being over populated has numerous effects which include: Environmental effects, depletion of natural resources, effects on the economy, food and water instability, and mass species extinction. Without a solution to the rise in human...

Overpopulation Is a Growing Problem

1707 words - 7 pages Overpopulation is a growing problem all over the world. This is a very important environmental issue and needs to be dealt with. This environmental problem is affecting many countries in the world, but mostly the poor and impoverished countries that don’t have the resources to help deal with these issues. It also affects the environment like plants animal life and air quality. When the population of people expands we need more natural resources...

Globalization: Problems with Population Growth

1123 words - 4 pages As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the population of the world lingers just below 6.8 billion people. Since the last 200 years we have been experiencing an explosive growth in the earth's populace. This can be attributable to a number of factors such as the agricultural revolution, industrial revolution and advances in health care. The majority of the population growth has been observed to occur in developing...

Overpopulation Problems in China

860 words - 3 pages Overpopulation Problems in China In Spite of the great achievements that China has achieved in the recent years, our country is still a developing country, which is facing many serious social problems. The most serious of all is overpopulation, for it has a passive influence on the national economy, education and environment. First and foremost, overpopulation is the main obstacle of the economic development in China. The limited natural...

Is Limiting the Population Growth a Key Factor in Protecting the Global Environment?

1119 words - 4 pages Is it right to think that population is a threat to the global environment? Is there indeed a direct correlation between population and environment? Is there such thing as overpopulation and who has the power to say that there is what they called overpopulation? These are some of the questions that are running through my mind. Now, in response to the question “Is limiting the population growth a key factor in protecting the global...

The Society of Egypt

1216 words - 5 pages The Society of Egypt Works Cited Not Included The cultural traditions, social behavior and practices of any society in history are inextricably linked to the weather and climate of its region. River mouths have always been popular settling spots, even dating back to the ancient civilizations; these water sources provided life, transportation, and basic survival for these communities. Cairo was founded below the delta on the Nile River in...

The Damaging Impact of Overpopulation on the Environment

895 words - 4 pages The Damaging Impact of Overpopulation on the Environment 6.5 billion…This is not a whole lot of bacteria, but when it comes to humans, it is a very formidable number. The human population has been increasing at an extremely high rate in the last century and unfortunately, not much has been done to slow down this process. Undoubtedly, overpopulation is a global issue. It is global because it pertains to all of humanity, but global also means...

Critical Essay - Population. Controlling population size and growth will solve many environmental problems. To what extent do you agree?

785 words - 3 pages There has been a variety of assumptions made by different authors of how the world population is affecting the environment in terms of overpopulation and population growth.Some assume that controlling the birth rates in developing countries by using legal actions will improve the world´s environment, whereas others contend that overconsumption caused by the...

The New Famine. Debate of causes of hunger in the third world today.

4625 words - 19 pages Over 750 million people are starving in the world today. Understanding what causes hunger and starvation on such a massive scale is vital not only to the welfare of the disadvantaged, but survival as people on this planet. Consensus varies as to why or how a population can go hungry, and how to remedy the situation. There is disagreement on how to deal with famine originating from basic differences in fundamental concepts (or assumptions) of...

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Saturday, February 12, 2005
  • This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/425/poverty-and-the-environment.
  • To print all information (e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links), use the print version:

An edited version of this article appeared in the Summer 2003 edition of Jain Spirit magazine.

On this page:

  1. Introduction—Linking the Environment and Poverty
  2. The Impact of Poverty on the Environment
  3. The Impact of Richer Nations on the Environment
  4. Diverting Resources to Non-Productive Uses
  5. Environment and Poverty are Related Issues

Introduction—Linking the Environment and Poverty

Many readers are probably familiar with the tale of four blind men being asked to identify the object in front of them. Each blind man just investigated a part so no one identified the whole as an elephant. Similarly, both environmental degradation and poverty alleviation are urgent global issues that have a lot in common, but are often treated separately. This article explores some of these linkages.

Both environmental degradation and poverty alleviation are urgent global issues that have a lot in common, but are often treated separately. Consider the following:

  • Human activities are resulting in mass species extinction rates higher than ever before, currently approaching 1000 times the normal rate;
  • Human-induced climate change is threatening an even bleaker future;
  • At the same time, the inequality of human societies is extreme:
    • The United Nations 1998 Human Development Report reveals that,
    • To highlight this inequality further, consider that approximately 1 billion people suffer from hunger and some 2 to 3.5 billion people have a deficiency of vitamins and minerals
    • Yet, some 1.2 billion suffer from obesity
    • One billion people live on less than a dollar a day, the official measure of poverty
    • However, half the world — nearly three billion people — lives on less than two dollars a day.
    • Yet, just a few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people.
  • Sources: Poverty facts and statistics; Loss of Biodiversity; Climate change and global warming.

Issues about environment, economics and politics are inter-related through the way humans interact with their surroundings and with each other.

Biological diversity allows a variety of species to all work together to help maintain the environment without costly human intervention. We benefit because the environment sustains us with the variety of resources produced.

However, there is often a mainstream belief that for poor countries to develop, environmental concerns have to be sacrificed, or is a luxury to address once poverty is alleviated.

Therefore, the approaches to such issues require rethinking. The overloaded phrase must recognize the interconnectedness between human beings and the environment if true environmental and social justice is to be obtained.

As Delhi-based environment organization, the Centre for Science and Environment, points out, if the poor world were to develop and consume in the same manner as the West to achieve the same living standards,

Back to top

The Impact of Poverty on the Environment

Poverty and third world debt has been shown to result in resource stripping just to survive or pay off debts.

For example, Nepal and Bangladesh have suffered from various environmental problems such as increasingly devastating floods, often believed to be resulting from large-scale deforestation.

Forests around the world face increased pressures from timber companies, agricultural businesses, and local populations that use forest resources.

Some environmentalists, from rich nations especially, also raise concerns about increasing populations placing excessive burdens on the world’s resources as the current major source of environmental problems.

This makes for a worrying situation for third world development and poverty alleviation. However, an environment-only approach risks While humans are largely responsible for many problems of the planet today, not all humans have the same impact on the environment. It is important to consider, for example, that the consumption of just the worlds wealthiest fifth of humanity is so much more than the rest of the world, as highlighted at the beginning.

Thus, putting emphasis on population growth in this way is perhaps over-simplistic. However, this does not mean we can be complacent about future population burdens. Sustainability is critical for the world’s majority to develop without following the environmentally damaging processes of the world’s currently industrialized nations.

Also adding to the complexity is that resource usage is not necessarily fixed. That is, while there may be a finite amount of say oil in the ground, we may have not discovered it all, and further, overtime the use of those resources may increase in efficiency (or inefficiency). This means a planet could sustain a high population (probably within some limits) but it is a combination of things like how we use resources, for what purpose, how many, how the use of those resources change over time, etc, that defines whether they are used inefficiently or not and whether we will run out of them or not.

Back to top

The Impact of Richer Nations on the Environment

The relationship between the rich and poor, and the impacts on the environment go deep. Economics is meant to be about efficient allocation of resources to meet everyone’s needs. However, international power politics and ideologies have continued to influence policies in such a way that decision-making remains concentrated in the hands of a few narrow interests. The result is that the world’s resources are allocated to meet a few people’s wants, not everyone’s needs.

Indian activist and scientist, Vandana Shiva, shows in her work that many people have been forced into poverty due to politics and economics such as concentrated land rights, pressure from industry to exploit the environment in ways that destroy diversity and affect local populations, etc. Shiva also highlights that the poor often have a lot of knowledge about their environment and are often sustainers and efficient users of it, as they recognize their link to it for their survival.

Excessive third world debt burden has meant that it has been harder to prioritize on sustainable development. Unfair debt, imposed on the third world for decades by the global institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank through their harsh Structural Adjustment programmes (SAPs) have opened up of economies rapidly, in socially, politically, environmentally and economically destructive ways, while requiring a prioritization on debt repayment and cut backs on health, education and other critical services. They have encouraged concentration on producing just a few cash crops and other commodities primarily for export, using very environmentally damaging , which reduces biodiversity, requiring costly inputs such as environmentally damaging pesticides and fertilizers to make up for the loss of free services a diverse farm ecosystem would provide, and as Vandana Shiva charges,

Mainstream economists and politicians have long been criticized for concentrating on economic growth in ways that ignores humanity and the environmental costs. Perhaps one of the harshest ironies is how food and farm products flow from areas of hunger and need, to areas where money and demand is concentrated. Farm workers, and women especially, are amongst the worlds most hungry.

It is not just a problem in agriculture but other industries too. In 1991, then Chief Economist for the World Bank, Larry Summers, (and later U.S. Treasury Secretary, under the Clinton Administration), had been a strong backer of the disastrous SAPs. He wrote a leaked internal memo in 1992, revealing the extent to which international policies have an impact on nations around the world when it comes to environmental and other considerations:

For years, rich countries have been migrating some polluting industries to poor countries, but still producing primarily for rich countries. This has been possible insofar as it is cheaper than to pay for costly environmentally clean technologies that people demand.

Back to top

Diverting Resources to Non-Productive Uses

It is perhaps natural to assume that we are growing food to feed people, but are struggling to keep up. Reasons are frequently attributed to the effects that rapid population growth places of poor countries as the ultimate cause. However, we make more than enough food to keep up with population growth, although environmentally damaging industrial agriculture threatens future sustainability.

Yet how is it that there is so much hunger, and that farm workers are usually the hungriest people in the world?

An indication of the answer lies in what is less discussed in the mainstream: the purpose of agriculture in today’s world. Like many other markets, food is available to those who can afford it, not necessarily those who need it. Most food is therefore produced to meet consumer demands, not the needs of the poor or hungry. When money talks, the poor have no voice.

This leads to a major diversion, and even wastage, of environmental resources from productive uses to non-productive uses. For poor countries that need to earn foreign exchange to pay off huge debts, cash crops offer the chance of money. For elite landowners, this is the only way they can make money, as the poor have little. As professor of anthropology, Richard Robbins, summarizes:

In addition to minor nutritional quality, or damaging consumer’s health, some major agricultural products also involve production practices that damage the health and safety of workers and the environment.

For example, rainforests are often cleared to make way for grazing animals to be slaughtered for unhealthy fast food meat consumption, while prime land and the surrounding environment is often degraded when producing cash crops for the wealthier parts of the world. The effects are numerous. Vandana Shiva also captures this issue:

Industries such as the fast food industry benefit from people consuming more fast food meats and sugar-based products. Excessive consumption of coffee, alcohol, tobacco, etc, place an extra burden on the poor and on environmental resources, both in production of these products as well as at the other end, where health departments are already strained.

Yet this all contributes to economic measures such as Gross National Product. Economists and politicians look at these to see how well their policies are faring. Selling more sugary products or fast foods to children and adults results in more sales! Many environmental costs are either not accounted for or only partly so. For example, if the full cost of water by the meat industry in the United States was accounted for, common hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound!

We end up in a situation where 1 billion suffer from hunger, while another billion suffer from obesity.

Back to top

Environment and Poverty are Related Issues

The above just scratches the surface, but highlights the interconnectedness of humanity, the environment and all other forms of life. We cannot take the environment for granted. Humanity has a responsibility not only to each other, but to the environment as well, as the environment has long sustained us and can only continue to do so if we do not destroy it.

Technological solutions, such as more environmentally friendly technologies, while extremely important, do not address underlying political, social and economic causes. Just as doctors highlight the need to prevent illnesses in the first place, and resort to cures when needed, so too do we need to understand these deeper issues in a more holistic manner. The interconnectedness needs more recognition if environmental degradation, poverty and other global problems can begin to be addressed.

Concentrating on one dimension without others is similar to those blind men looking at just a part of the elephant. A form of environmentalism that ignores humanity as an integral part of the solution, of economic dogma that forgets about our basic needs, and of forms of development that ignore environmental concerns all add up to numerous problems for the world’s people and fragile ecosystems. Some of these problems are so big we do not even see them even when we think our eyes are open.

Back to top

Where next?

Related articles

  1. Sustainable Development Introduction
  2. Addressing Biodiversity Loss
  3. Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development
  4. Poverty and the Environment
  5. Non-governmental Organizations on Development Issues
  6. Foreign Aid for Development Assistance
  7. Water and Development
  8. Corporate Social Responsibility
  9. Energy Security
  10. Brain Drain of Workers from Poor to Rich Countries

See more related articles

Share this

Bookmark or share this with others using some popular social bookmarking web sites:

Link to this page from your site/blog

… to produce this:

Anup Shah, Poverty and the Environment, Global Issues, Updated: February 12, 2005

Alternatively, copy/paste the following MLA citation format for this page:

Shah, Anup. “Poverty and the Environment.” Global Issues. 12 Feb. 2005. Web. 13 Mar. 2018. <http://www.globalissues.org/article/425/poverty-and-the-environment>.

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Sunday, April 20, 2003
  • Last Updated: Saturday, February 12, 2005

Back to top

0 Replies to “Essay About Environmental Degradation And Poverty”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *