16 Dec 2022


The Impact of Population Growth on Human Development

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Globally, there is an unprecedented increase in the human population. It is projected that by the year 2050, the world population will reach 9.7 billion by the year 2050 (UN, 2015). Against this background, the provision of quality life to the growing population is an issue of concern. This is because the natural resources upon which human beings depend are finite in nature. Therefore, with the rapidly growing population, sustainable provision of the required resources will be significantly affected. Pimentel et al. (2010) argue that human beings should limit the growth in population voluntarily as opposed to giving natural forces the power to reduce their numbers. This is due to the carrying capacity of the world’s natural resources that is limiting. One of the theories that best explain the relationship between man and the exploitation of resources is ‘the tragedy of the commons .’ Advanced by Garret Hardin, it refers to an economic theory in which individuals act in an independent manner as opposed to operating for the common good. Consequently, the depletion of resources is inevitable due to man’s free and uncontrolled quest for them. The tragedy of the commons, therefore, is an analysis of resource distribution and its impact on society. Most importantly, Hardin (2009) analysis the tragedy of the commons and its relation to population growth and damage to the natural environment. The tragedy is fuelled by the assumption that individual decisions are in essence beneficial for the whole society. In the case of grazing lands, each herdsman seeks to maximize the individual use of the common grazing lands. This results in an urge to increase the herd resulting in both positive and negative utilities. On the one hand, proceeds from the sale of the added animal are beneficial to the herdsman. On the other hand, the additional overgrazing resulting from the new animal is a negative utility. However, as opposed to the latter, this negative utility is shared by all herdsmen (Hardin, 2009). Consequently, all the herdsmen increase their herd in a bid to maximize their use of the common land thus accelerating the negative repercussions. It is this phenomenon that makes the ‘tragedy of commons’ an issue of concern since grazing resources are limited. Cox (2005) applies the same theory to the fishing industry. Demand for fish and fish products increases as the human population grows. Consequently, this fuels the need for more fish resulting in overfishing. Due to this, the different fish breeds are bound to plummet before their restocking. Conversely, environmental degradation arising from adverse anthropogenic activities is responsible for reducing the continental ice shelf. Thus, the depletion of the sturgeon fishery in the United States ( U . S ) exemplifies the effects of human-driven environmental pollution.

From an economic perspective, an externality depicts the cost or benefit that can affect a given party. Negative externalities entail the tragedy of the commons ( Hardin, 2009). For instance, driving cars has numerous negative externalities that are inclusive of carbon emissions, traffic accidents as well as increased pollution. Every time an individual gets into a car, environmental pollution is bound to impact another party without a car. Therefore, it is fundamental for governments to develop policies that are centered on the internalization of environmental externality. Such events as global warming, pollution-based health problems, and the mass extinction of diverse animals are attributed to individualistic behavior among people, especially in their approach to natural resource use (Dutta & Sundaram, 1993). The discourse on the human population is controversial historically. This is despite the adverse impacts of a population that exceeds the earth’s carrying capacity as evidenced by the ‘tragedy of the commons.' According to Collins (2009), talking about population may attract such brands as ‘anti-human,' ‘extreme green,' ‘racist’ or even ‘anti-immigrant.' The discourse also commonly tends to digress from the main issue. Thus, varying schools of thought exist. Past efforts to curb population growth include sterilization policies in India and one child policy in China. The two controversial measures significantly influenced the discourse on population control with some terming them as being draconian. Despite this, successful programs have been run in Thailand, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. Recently, immigration has emerged as a challenge that is resulting in increased population and putting pressure on the host country’s fragile environments. However, according to market-oriented thinking, new immigrants are seen as an additional pool of consumers (Collins, 2009). Thus, rather than focusing on the environmental impacts of this unplanned population increase, focus on the bottom line is emphasized. These conflicting viewpoints continue to shape the population growth discourse. Consequently, the real issue is avoided especially by the politicians who ought to establish policies to address the issue. Collins (2009) cites that this policy formulation disconnect exists because, amongst politicians and bureaucrats, immigration and population have become taboo topics. They thus are either unwilling to address the challenge or fail to see existing mutual contradictions. In this scenario, damage to the natural environment is inevitable. According to Gersani et al., (2001) population growth research ought to focus on both the problems and solutions. In the instance that the commons enjoy freedom and an open environment in their interactions, excessive population growth is bound to prevail (Dutta & Sundaram, 1993). The prospect of excessive population growth can lead to a reduction in the number of descendants over time since the provision of basic needs won’t prevail in an efficient manner. This negative feature prevails in most underdeveloped nations. In these countries, population growth is often blamed on the welfare state. According to Feeny et al., (1990), the blame emanates from the notion that the state ought to provide for and support excessive population growth as a fundamental human right. The family is the fundamental unit of the societal framework. Through an appreciation of the family as a right, there is the prospect that any decision regarding the number or size of the family rests with the individuals or couples. Additionally, Smith (2011) points out that the same individuals act on their self-interest, and as a result, are bound to continue fuelling resource depletion. Subsequently, resource depletion directly impacts population growth. This is because it leads to reduced access to the fundamental resources needed to support the population in the long run. Tornell & Velasco (1992) assert that it is implausible to depend on conscience as a way of policing the commons. Accordingly, reliance on conscience results in the problem of free riders who enjoy the resources at the expense of the masses. Addressing the over-exploitation of resources is mandatory in fostering an environment in which population growth can be regulated and hence sustained. Milinski et al. (2002) note that addressing the problem of excess population growth requires a mutually focused approach to the management of resources. Free and unrestricted access to finite resources is harmful and affects human population growth negatively. Thus emphasis should be placed on comprehensive initiatives that are geared towards maximizing the use of resources while ensuring that population growth can be sustained (Dutta & Sundaram, 1993). Further, S mith (2011) asserts that the level at which the process of depletion prevails is dependent on three main factors. These are the size of the human population, the population's consumption levels, and the robustness of the common. Therefore, the analysis of the three fundamental aspects aids in understanding the ‘ tragedy of commons ’, particularly regarding the human population. In conclusion, uncontrolled population growth is detrimental to both humans and the environment. This is because individualistic behavior among people leads to such ills as over-exploitation of resources, environmental degradation, and global warming amongst other challenges. Thus, the adverse impacts of ‘the tragedy of the commons ’ on the overall well-being of any nation cannot be overstated. 

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Collins, P. (2009). The morality of population control. Eureka Street, 19 (24), 9. 

Cox, S. J. B. (2005). No tragedy of the commons. Environmental Ethics, 7 (1), 49-61.

Dutta, P. K., & Sundaram, R. K. (1993). The tragedy of the commons? Economic Theory, 3 (3), 413-426.

Feeny, D., Berkes, F., McCay, B. J., & Acheson, J. M. (1990). The tragedy of the commons: twenty-two years later. Human ecology, 18 (1), 1-19.

Gersani, M., O'Brien, E. E., Maina, G. M., & Abramsky, Z. (2001). Tragedy of the commons as a result of root competition. Journal of Ecology, 89 (4), 660-669.

Hardin, G. (2009). The Tragedy of the Commons. Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research, 1 (3), 243-253. 

Milinski, M., Semmann, D., & Krambeck, H. J. (2002). Reputation helps solve the ‘tragedy of the commons.' Nature, 415 (6870), 424-426.

Smith, R. J. (2011). Resolving the tragedy of the commons by creating private property rights in wildlife. Cato J., 1, 439.

Tornell, A., & Velasco, A. (1992). The tragedy of the commons and economic growth: why does capital flow from poor to rich countries? Journal of Political Economy, 1208-1231.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables.

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