What does overpopulation do to food security and what are overall possible overpopulation solutions

by rstra3 on April 16, 2015 - 11:08pm

Food security is a term that is used in reference to the food problem and is defined as the condition in which "all people, all the time, have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life” (Childers 2011). This concept of food security is closely linked with the human population because with the increase of people, the demand for food goes up, the land required for agriculture goes up, related environmental consequences goes up, and the food security of the globe worsens.
 
Currently, the issue of food security among populations is greater in developing countries that have a steadily increasing population paired with the least agricultural capacity, or are selling their valuable resources to more affluent countries for economic gain. Of the seven billion people that populate the planet more than one in seven do not have access to sufficient protein and energy from their diet, and even more suffer from some form of micronutrient malnourishment (Godfray 2010). 
Overall, about two billion of the world’s population is food insecure which is constituted by falling short in one of the dimensions listed by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization definition of food security, defined as: 
 
“the availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports; (ii) access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet; (iii) utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met; and (iv) stability, because to be food secure, a population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times (Wheeler 2013).”
 
With the effects of climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the productivity and distribution of land viable for agriculture will change, generally in a decreasing manner. It has been found that impacts due to climate change in tropical regions may be greatest considering effects on crop yield. In addition, tropical regions house those most susceptible to current hunger trends, and may be hit the hardest in terms of food availability and security (Wheeler 2013).
 
In attempt to avoid the compounding problems facing the poorest people of the world in relation to the effects of food and resource security and availability, mass migrations to more prosperous countries have and will continue to occur (Cassils 2004). With an overcrowded world, this primal hunter-gatherer mentality of moving to areas with the desired and necessary resources, will not work; the spread of the population, mostly from under-developed nations, into developed nations, will only overload the worlds carbon sinks in a concentrated manner and even more rapidly exacerbate all of the problems, previously mentioned, that are caused by human overpopulation (Cassils 2004).
 
By now it is evident that the problems associated with overpopulation are numerous, complex and growing right along with the population; but what can be done to alleviate and combat these problems? In terms of fixing the overpopulation problem, the first step that must be taken is a shift of paradigm from believing that economic growth brings prosperity to believing that a decrease in population would provide a better chance at obtaining sustainable prosperity in a finite ecosystem (Cassils 2004). This attitude shift must be the basis and the first step taken if any progress is to be made in decreasing the effects caused by a parasitic population count. The next best step that can be taken in attempts to alleviate overpopulation problems is education. One main area that must be targeted by education, if any positive progress is going to be made, is education about the negative effects our increased population is having, specifically regarding overconsumption. Another area of education that is important is family planning and birth control.
 
One main problem with environmental education is that less than 17% of adults in developed countries are scientifically literate, and it’s expected that this number is lower in developing nations (Mora 2014). Another problem with environmental education that has been pointed out, related to the small percentage of the population that is scientifically literate, is that the ability for people to truly grasp and comprehend the magnitude of the problem is difficult (Gehrt 1996). Seven ways in which to approach environmental education have been presented by one study that seem to suggest the best ways in which to make environmental education successful in the long run. 
 
The seven ways in which to approach and improve environmental education are as follows: (1) Design environmental education programs that can be properly evaluated with before and after treatment control designs; (2) radically overhaul curricula to teach the conservation of consumable products, since changing consumption patterns is one of the most important lessons that can be taught through environmental education; (3) teach that nature is filled with nonlinear relationships, characterized by “tipping points;” (4) teach a worldview; (5) teach how governments work and how to effect change in a given socio-political structure; (6) teach that conservation-minded legislation may deprive us of some of the goods and services that we previously enjoyed; (7) finally, we must teach critical thinking skills (Blumstein 2007). These suggested ways to improve environmental education combined with demonstrating the value of biodiversity in terms of direct or indirect benefits to humans, since we live in such an anthropocentric worldview, are valid attempts to address the overpopulation problem (Gehrt 1996)
 
The second aspect of education that should be addressed is universal family planning, birth control, the removal of incentives that reward population growth and equality and opportunities for women (Cassils 2004). If there was education surrounding the implementation of a universal birth control that kept the amount of children being born to one woman at 2.1, would, theoretically, stabilize the population increase (Mora 2014). The theoretical aspect of this population stabilization is that increased life expectancy and earlier reproduction causes an overlap in generations that further increase the negative ecological implications of overconsumption, since there are now twice as many people relying on significantly decreasing resources (Mora 2004). Instead of having the mentality of stabilizing the population based on children per woman replacement, the mentality of matching the natality rate with the mortality rate should be adopted, since this notion is the reality in terms of successful population stabilization (Mora 2004). It has also been seen that in developed countries, when women were provided with more opportunities in a workplace and economic growth, there have been a reduction in birth rates (Cassils 2004). Universal birth control and the education and empowerment of women can lead to decreased birth rates, and have done so in developed countries; if this can be expanded into the developing world and  increased in the developed world, then there is a chance in beginning to decrease the global population, and in turn the ecological impacts of overpopulation. 
 
The other possible strategy that could be implemented to combat the problems associated with overpopulation is the use of technology. One main technological approach that has been suggested is termed “sustainable development,” which is a contradiction of terms of itself (Cassils 2004). The idea behind sustainable development is that development will meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Cassils 2004). Sustainable development, in theory, is a way to approach solving the ecological crisis our world is in, related to overpopulation, that would be beneficial; but the issue of tackling a decrease in the overall human population must be addressed first, and fast. 
 
Human population is a problem. The problems can mostly be seen through environmental and ecological pathways, but can also be seen in political and economic realms. One area, in which the effects of overpopulation can be seen in all three of these different stakeholder realms at the same time, is agricultural practices. Overpopulation and the overconsumption of resources are illustrated the best in developing nations since they are trying to increase their population in pursuit of developed nation status perks; however the developed nations are not helping the problem either by compounding the effects through further development and global anthropogenic environmental degradation. 
 
The main and possibly most impactful ways to combat the overpopulation problem is through increased environmental education, educating women, implementing universal family planning, and developing technologies or programs that will promote sustainable living overall. “The major challenge for humanity in the twenty-first century is to learn to live within the web of life on Earth without destroying it (Cassils 2004);” and it seems that the only way to accomplish that is to stabilize and decrease the human population and consumption, so the Earth can then begin to rebound.
 
 
 
 
Cassils, J. A. 2004. Overpopulation, Sustainable Development, and Security: Developing an Integrated Strategy. Population and Environment 25: 171-194.
 
Childers, D. L., J. Corman, M. Edwards, and J. J. Elser. 2011. Sustainability Challenges of Phosphorous and Food: Solutions from Closing the Human Phosphorous Cycle. BioScience 61: 117-124
 
Gehrt, S. D. 1996. The Human Population Problem: Educating and Changing Behavior. Society for Conservation Biology 10 (3): 900-903. 
 
Godfray, H. C. J., J. R. Beddington, I. R. Crute, L. Haddad, D. Lawrence, J. F. Muir, J. Pretty, S. Robinson, S. M. Thomas, and C. Toulmin. 2010. Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Science 327: 812-818
 
Mora, C. 2014. Revisiting the Environmental and Socioeconomic Effects of Population Growth: a Fundamental but Fading Issue in Modern Scientific, Public, and Political Circles. Ecology and Society 19(1): 38
 
Wheeler T., and J. VonBraun. 2013. Climate Change Impacts on Global Food Security. Science 341: 508-513
 

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