Population Growth: The Multiplication Factor

Ben Stallings
World Population Balance

— When we talk about environmental and social problems, we rarely mention population growth. We’ll bemoan the shortage of affordable housing, the number of cars on the road, and the loss of topsoil to marginal agriculture. We emphasize how each person can make a difference by reducing consumption, but rarely do we consider that most of our problems are multiplied as we continue to add more people to the world.

Why Population is a problem?

The multiplying effect is why population is an environmental problem. If we could support 6.1 billion people in 2001 with the same quantity of resources we used to support 1 billion in 1800, we’d be in great shape! But since we can’t, the continual addition of passengers to Spaceship Earth means we need more food, more clean water and more fuel every year – even though our resources are limited.

It’s easy to think population is only a problem in other countries. Yet population growth is not just about feeding people. Minnesota’s suburban sprawl, traffic congestion, paved-over farmland, and destruction of natural ecosystems are driven by population growth. As we add more Twin Citians, we’ll need more schools, power plants, and sewage treatment plants, and we’ll create more garbage and pollution. (www.sprawlcity.org)

History of an Explosion

For millions of years of human history, there were only a few million of us on the planet. According to the estimates of the United Nations Population Division by the time the world reached its first half-billion in 1500, the growth rate was already accelerating (www.un.org/popin). In 1800, the world had a billion people for the first time ever. By 1930 the population doubled again to 2 billion, and new tools like vaccines to further cut the death rate.

In 1960, the population reached 3 billion. For the first time, population doubled within living memory, up from 1.5 billion in 1900. But that was nothing – when we reached 6 billion in 1999, we had not only doubled the population in a mere 39 years, we had quadrupled it in 100 years! A centenarian alive today has seen the population double TWICE in his or her lifetime.

Our rate of increase is beginning to slow at last. But unless we take further action, world population will still balloon to over 9 billion by 2060. Every country except the United States has a plan to slow its growth. However, many of these plans rely on funding that the U.S. promised – and now withholds! Although population growth is a problem worldwide, it will only be solved locally by each country. It is imperative that all of us do our part.

The Local Picture

Our growth rate in the U.S. is the highest in the developed world, due mostly to our extremely high immigration rate. Since our environmental impact is a function of consumption habits as well as numbers, we have more impact on resource depletion and pollution than any other nation on the planet! In terms of impact, the U.N. Population Division reports that the United States is the most overpopulated country in the world. For example, the average American uses as much energy as 18 Chinese people, 34 Indians, or 526 Ethiopians. This is unsustainable. We cannot continue consuming resources at these rates.

In Minnesota, our only hope for sustainable transit, housing, and environmental solutions is a stabilization of our local population. Yet most politicians, businesses, and nonprofits continue to press for more growth, or they assume growth is inevitable. The challenge is one of education.

What You Can Do

1. Have fewer children, and support family planning so that other families can choose to have fewer children.

2. Contact your local officials and state legislators and educate them about the impact of local population growth on such issues as sprawl, affordable housing, public transit, unemployment, and school funding.

3. Contact your representatives at Congress and educate them about global and national population growth and its connection to such issues as immigration, fuel prices, pollution, and quality of life.

4. Write to newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters. Encourage them to clearly make the link in all of their stories that population growth is a major factor driving all other major issues.

5. Encourage your place of worship, school, college, club or other organization to arrange a presentation by World Population Balance.

Read Up
Act Locally
United Nations Population Information Network

Sprawl City


Learning to Think Environmentally, Lester Milbrath

Earth Odyssey, Mark Hertsgaard
World Population Balance
P.O. Box 23472
Minneapolis, MN 612-869-1640

Population Growth

Our Sponsors