unit 3 paper

Scott Rateau
Prof. Jason Coats
UNIV 112
April 28, 2015
The Human Population Crisis: An Ethical Argument
At the time of this essay’s writing, there are roughly 7.3 billion human beings
alive on this planet. As a result of groundbreaking leaps in technology over the past
century, the average quality of life for a citizen of a developed nation is now so high that
the rate of growth of the human population has broken free of any restraints that once
held it back; the ratio of births compared to deaths worldwide is over 2:1, and even in
undeveloped or poverty-stricken places the spread of humanitarian aid and modern
medicine has brought about a decline in infant mortality rates and increased life
expectancy. This would seem to many people like something to rejoice in, as now more
and more people have access to life saving medicines and other commodities of an
increasingly industrialized world. However, with these benefits to the standard of human
living also comes a very serious issue: What happens if the growth doesn’t slow down?
The purpose of this essay will be to examine the short and long term effects of the human
population growth trend on our species, as well as the potential methods and my claim for
addressing it.
For the first time in human history we are faced with the issue of producing new
human lives at a rate that is faster than we are able to sustainably provide for. It is no
coincidence, nor is it merely an increased interest in environmental ethics, that has
resulted in the rapid shift in policies towards implementing sustainable energy sources.
Many resources that are consumed for the purpose of human activity have already been
depleted to a critical or near-critical point, most notably arable farmland, freshwater
reservoirs, and fossil fuels (Pimentel 600). Continued human expansion has significantly
reduced the amount of land on which to produce food, as well as having increased habitat
loss and land degradation, and it currently stands at a point where our ability to produce
food cannot keep up with our current population. As resources continue to dwindle, the
natural effect will be an increase in malnutrition, starvation, and related diseases. Despite
the rate of human births greatly surpassing the rate of deaths, there are still tens of
millions of deaths every year just from causes related to the unavailability of proper
nutrition and medicine (Pimentel 605). And even with all of that to consider, there are
still the concerns of pollution, overcrowding, and loss of biodiversity in other species that
could inevitably result in their endangerment or extinction. When all the facts are taken
into consideration, the frightening truth becomes clear. If the human population continues
growing at the rate that it is indefinitely, it will very soon run out of resources with which
to sustain itself, and therefore die out in massive numbers.
One may ask why, if the increase of the human population is such a looming
threat, is there not a greater public awareness of the problem? As addressed in Gary
Meffe’s articles Human Population Control: The Missing Agenda and Human Population
Control: The Missing Awareness, the subject carries a certain stigma with it for several
reasons. Meffe attributes the lack of public interest to societal institutions, such as
religious groups that prohibit birth control as part of their faith, or political and economic
systems that depend on the growth of human capital to stimulate their economic growth.
After all, it was only up until relatively recently in human history that it was the norm to
bear large families in order to make up for higher infant mortality rates and the need for
labor. Such a mindset in the present day, however, is in fact counterproductive to the best
interests of humanity, and needs to be more widely recognized as such.
In examining the methods by which we may reverse this dangerous trend, we will
begin with the potential options in the short-term. The first and potentially most
important method to reversing the population trend is increasing the public awareness of
it through educational courses on birth control. As pointed out by Meffe, the general level
of insight into the current world population possessed by even the average university
student is severely lacking. National law in Iran through the 1980s up until recently
instituted mandatory contraception education courses for any couple applying for a
marriage license, which caused a significant decrease in the birth rate during that time.
Making people aware of the benefits of having small families is a huge step in reducing
the growth problem. However, the problem is still too large to take care of through
simple re-education. There needs to be more methods applied in order to receive the
desired effect.
Abortion of unwanted pregnancies is a potential method for contributing to a
reduced birth rate, but it is still an extremely controversial topic. Abortion’s frequent
association with the idea of human population control is a large part of why there is such
a stigma attached to the topic to begin with. China’s one child per family policy is
another potential method that has become infamous, and understandably so. It removes
the citizens’ rights to raising a family at their own discretion; something widely
considered a basic human right. And even though this policy has had some success in
reducing the rate of births in China, the nation is still suffers from severe urban
overcrowding and pollution.
At this point the implementation of any single method of population control on its
own would not correct the trend. Rather, it will necessitate a collective effort on the part
of the entire human race. With as many differing ideologies and viewpoints as there are
in the world today it seems like that may be an impossible feat. Regardless of whether the
task is accomplishable let’s examine a hypothetical situation that assumes that it has been
accomplished, a situation in which we are able to achieve our desired outcome regardless
of social conflicts or other factors. In his article, David Pimentel contends that if the
current world population adopted a one child per couple rule, the number would reach a
stable number around 2 billion within a hundred years. Proportional to the amount of land
on the planet, a population of around 2 billion humans could all live at a European
standard of living with the implementation of sustainable resources and a limited number
of births per family. However this is simply a hypothetical situation outlining an ideal
outcome from a conservationist viewpoint, not considering the ethical complications that
would arise from many groups over such a plan. So if what it would take to preserve our
livelihood on this planet is ultimately something that is unlikely for us to achieve within
the near future, then the other alternative must be for humanity to eventually leave Earth
The concept of colonization of celestial bodies other than the Earth became
apparent after humanity achieved space travel. In a situation where the human population
swells to a number too great to sustain on Earth, it is hoped that in the future that our
species will be able to colonize other planets or moons throughout the galaxy in order to
continue our livelihood free of the resource and space restraints of our own planet.
However, the technology capable of transporting the equipment and people necessary to
start a colony on another planet is still decades away, and that doesn’t even include the
steps that would have to be taken to make the new environment habitable for humans.
And with this technology still so distant from us, the population keeps crawling higher by
the day.
The issue of human population control is controversial, and with good reason. The
idea of regulating the rate at which humans give birth touches on many ethical issues
outside of itself, and many people are not willing to face that the growing population is a
problem. It most undeniably is however, and it is past time that measures should be taken
to address the issue if we wish to continue living on this planet. The general public
awareness of population issues should be a top priority, and steps to reverse the trend
should be implemented as soon as possible. The human race has accomplished an
incredible leap forward in technological and cultural achievements in the past century,
and it has the potential to achieve so much more. All we need to do is take the necessary
steps to make sure our future generations have a home to do it sustainably for the
centuries to come.
Works Cited
Meffe, Gary, Anne Ehrlich, and David Ehrenfeld. "Human Population Control: The
Missing Agenda." Conservation Biology 7.1 (1993): 1-3. Print.
Meffe, Gary. "Human Population Control: The Missing Awareness." Conservation
Biology 8.1 (1994): 310-13. Print.
Pimentel, David. "Will Limited Land, Water, and Energy Control Human Population
Numbers in the Future?" Human Ecology 38 (2010): 599-611. Print.
"Human Population Control." Wikipedia. Wikimedia, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
Worldometers. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. <worldometers.info>.