Overpopulation — a phenomenon in which the number of people surpasses a specific threshold, such as the maximum carrying capacity of a place. As the human population has been inclined towards a rapid increase over time, overpopulation is singled out and seen by many as a threat that hinders global development. Regardless, is it merely the issue of overpopulation, and how many people the Earth can hold? Despite overpopulation being a substantial concern itself, there is another issue that highly revolves around it: overconsumption.
Overconsumption is a situation in which resources are being used excessively, at a rate that is higher than the production rate. According to David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, “It is not the number of people on the planet that is the issue – but the number of consumers and the scale and nature of their consumption.” As the number of people in an area increases, many individuals tend to consume immense quantities of natural resources. This enlarges the ecological footprint, which is the quantity of nature needed to supply an individual with the resources they need for survival, including housing, food, and other necessities. Highly associated with overpopulation, overconsumption, and growth in ecological footprints result in a myriad of adverse environmental impacts, including depletion of resources and climate change.
The amount of greenhouse gas emissions is one of the strongest indicators of how high the amount of consumption is in an area. Generally, citizens who dwell in wealthier and more affluent nations consume more resources compared to those in less wealthy or urbanized countries and hence contribute to leaving a greater footprint. Due to the increasing demand for resources in wealthier nations, there has been a resource shortage, in which the supply of these resources isn’t adequate to support the individuals of less wealthy nations. More specifically, the consumption of a single urban dweller from low-income nations is low enough to make little to no contribution to the emissions of greenhouse gases. If the consumption rates in these less wealthy nations increase to correspond and reach that of wealthier nations, a major concern would be raised as it would provoke a more negative influence on society.
Looking at the bigger picture, overconsumption is one of the biggest factors that cause a rapid increase in global warming and climate change, discouraging environmental sustainability. Global consumption has escalated over the years, and so has capitalism and production. As a matter of fact, as industrialization and production increase on a global scale, the environment becomes more susceptible to climate change and unsustainability, taking into account the rise in carbon emissions and toxic pollutants.
For instance, China has been one of the most polluting countries in the present day, still encountering high overconsumption, despite its past one-child policy. Qatar, on the other hand, has one of the highest carbon emissions per capita, and it is predicted by the Global Footprint Network that the Earth would need approximately five times more resources than it has if every individual consumed as much as a Qatari. Also having one of the highest emissions, Australia’s demand per person for resources, such as wood, food, and pasture, uses an area of land that is nearly four times greater compared to what is available around the world, on average.
With the current world population being 7.8 billion, the United Nations has predicted that it could potentially reach 9.7 billion by 2050, equivalent to 11 billion by 2100. If this number of people seems to be unsustainable, how many people, hypothetically, can the Earth be able to support? Experts claim that it is practically impossible to determine the precise number of people, as it is dependent on a series of further complex factors within countries, including the advancement of technology. Furthermore, the utmost indicator of a more sustainable environment is how responsible humans are, regarding the consumption of resources. Only when humans alter their materialistic mindsets will the world be capable of tackling the unfavorable environmental impacts of overconsumption, associated with overpopulation. Like Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”