Can the Earth Handle a Growing Population?

published Jul 10, 2020
2 min read

Earth and Sustainability

Sustainability is a topic of conversation around the world. People want to know what they can do to help the planet, like recycling single-use plastics or reducing their energy usage. Although those are reasonable efforts to make on behalf of the earth, the growing population is a concern on its own.

The earth once had a fraction of the population that it currently does. With the constant need for innovation and expansion, can the earth handle a growing population? Here’s what recent research shows.

A Quick Population History

Before the advancement of modern technology, the human population wasn’t a concern. It was more vital for people to fight to stay alive in a world without vaccines and natural disaster prediction capabilities. Historical studies have shown that the population of England, in particular, stayed stagnant between 1700 and 1750, which was when the nationwide census began.

Soon after, the first Industrial Revolution began, causing people to migrate to the city. Job opportunities and technological advancements doubled the city’s demographics and made life easier. Other countries benefited from the British advancements, causing a similar population boom to begin around the world.

Now, there are nearly eight billion people in existence, a number which grows by 70 million each day.

An Explanation of Carrying Capacity

It’s a good thing that more people are living longer lives, but now humanity must face the issue of carrying capacity. It’s a phrase that describes how the average population of a species eventually consumes more of Earth’s resources than what it can produce. It leads to starvation, death from exposure and potentially even wars over resource allocation.

At the current population level, the earth is already past carrying capacity. It currently takes one-and-a-half earths to provide resources to keep every person alive. If the human population continues to grow as it is, there’s no way to maintain the resources people would need to sustain future generations.

The Ecological Implications

Another effect of the increasing population is how much pollution humans create. Every time people consume food, water or electricity, they use natural resources and replace them with waste.

Recent reviews of U.K. pollution were not encouraging. At over 2,000 separate cities and sites, air pollution exceeded standard safety limits and contributed to the warming climate. Most often, the source of pollution comes from corporations, factories and other plants that are in production.

The U.K. recycles 46.2% of its plastic, or 371,000 metric tonnes, that comes from everyday things like plastic bottles, containers and bags. That leaves more than half to decay out in the environment, introducing microplastics into waterways and natural habitats. As the population grows, plastic and gas waste are only two forms of pollution that will increase with each person, further degrading the planet.

Figuring Out Solutions

There are many solutions people can engage with to make the planet a better place for future generations. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently published a strategy guide outlining a sustainable way forward for England. It calls attention to eco-friendly means of production and consumer action so that change happens on every level.

Individuals can also do their part in adjusting how they reach their goals. Instead of using machinery that consumes natural gas and produces CO2, people can use green methods of land clearing to construct buildings without destroying local habitats. Changes like these, along with recycling, relying less on natural resources, and reducing your carbon footprint are all ways to help improve the planet.

Long Story Short: Yes and No

The earth can handle a growing population, but not at our current rate of consumption. It will take many efforts on the part of individuals, corporations and countries to reduce humanity’s impact on the earth so it can sustain future generations.

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability freelance writer and blogger from Lancaster, PA. Check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter for the latest updates!