Eugene Cho

is overpopulation our world’s greatest threat?

over population

* Update: Today (October 31, 2011) is the official day that the world’s population hits 7,000,000,000. Not sure how you feel but as my post points out, there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, but I also see this from a different perspective.

I was reading an article from CNN yesterday (and also covered in other news sources) about the growth of the world’s population. It is speculated the the population will hit 7 billion people in 2011  – with the vast majority of the growth happening in developing nations. While the article doesn’t specifically call it out, I read “over-population” between the lines. In fact, the article reminded me of another article I read last year controversially entitled, “Time for them to die…”

In short, the question needs to be asked:

  • Is overpopulation our world’s greatest threat?  And what is the role of the [C]hurch?
  • Are we for birth controls?
  • Are we really committed to education?
  • In light of the fastest population growth taking place in developing nations (aka: the poorest nations), shouldn’t we be more proactive than reactive?
  • Is there another example of hype rather than substance? Isn’t there enough resources to go around in the world?

I’m sensing that while folks don’t want to openly admit it, more and more folks lean towards the view that OVERPOPULATION is a serious threat and something has to happen.  I wonder if it’s a threat to our existence or an inconvience to our way or style of life.

Your thoughts:  Is overpopulation our world’s greatest threat?

Here’s the article from CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The world’s population is forecast to hit 7 billion in 2011, the vast majority of its growth coming in developing and, in many cases, the poorest nations, a report released Wednesday said.

Riders cram into a train last month in New Delhi, India. India’s population is expected to be 1.7 billion by 2050.

A staggering 97 percent of global growth over the next 40 years will happen in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2009 World Population Data Sheet.

“The great bulk of today’s 1.2 billion youth — nearly 90 percent — are in developing countries,” said Carl Haub, a co-author of the report. Eight in 10 of those youth live in Africa and Asia.

“During the next few decades, these young people will most likely continue the current trend of moving from rural areas to cities in search of education and training opportunities, gainful employment, and adequate health care,” Haub continued, calling it one of the major social questions of the next few decades.

In the developed world, the United States and Canada will account for most of the growth — half from immigration and half from a natural increase in the population — births minus deaths, according to the report.

High fertility rates and a young population base in the developing world will fuel most of the growth, especially in Africa, where women often give birth to six or seven children over a lifetime, the report says. The number is about two in the United States and 1.5 in Canada.

A stark contrast can be drawn between Uganda and Canada, which currently have about 34 million and 31 million residents, respectively. By 2050, Canada’s population is projected to be 42 million, while Uganda’s is expected to soar to 96 million, more than tripling.

“Even with declining fertility rates in many countries, world population is still growing at a rapid rate,” said Bill Butz, president of the bureau. “The increase from 6 billion to 7 billion is likely to take 12 years, as did the increase from 5 billion to 6 billion. Both events are unprecedented in world history.”

By 2050, India is projected to be the world’s most populous nation at 1.7 billion, overtaking current leader China, which is forecast to hit 1.4 billion. The United States is expected to reach 439 million for No. 3…

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25 Responses

  1. Erick says:

    I feel like I don’t even know where to begin…but I have a few thoughts.

    First, I am crushed by what has happened to the young girls in countries like China. With the “one child rule” many females have been given to orphanages or worse. I understand that the Chinese government was trying to help slow the rapid population growth, but combined with the country’s cultural values i.e. the “importance” of having a son has made the situation even worse. So, birth control in this regard has been a failure and children are suffering (as well as the families who feel the need to give them up). In other places (Haiti, India, and many more) the children, mainly girls, are forced/sold into sex trafficking and other abusive forms of slavery…

    This being said, I think education regarding adoption should be much greater. First of all, I feel like many see adoption as a “last resort” if a couple is physically unable to have a child. I am not saying that all feel this way or that this motive is wrong; I’m just saying that more education and conversation regarding adoption is a must. I’ll bet that many people in the US do not know about the kind of financial help the government can provide for an adopting family. I think that the Church should be speaking about this more, after all, as Christians we are adopted and grafted onto the Tree of Life.

    Finally, I struggle greatly with the distribution of wealth in the world and mostly in the US. There could be enough resources for everyone, at least I will remain hopeful, but there is so much greed and hoarding happening that many are left empty handed. I struggle with this in my own life, i am not rich by American standards, but wealthy in comparison to many people in the world…Here is a quick scenario that I recently experienced and one that makes my heart ache and my stomach turn. My wife and I went on a cruise with the rest of my family and although it was a lot of fun and much relaxation, piling out of the ship and into areas of natural beauty and extreme poverty and I felt terrible. If I’m honest, I wanted to shrink x1000 as we drove by the shacks to a secluded beach surrounded by brand new condos. It was quite shaping for me and still think about it often, but now I’m trying to think more often about what to do. I don’t have a plan, however, I am trying to live being conscious about those with less in my community, church, city and in the world.

    I’ve felt compelled in the last month to start DOING the aforementioned alongside my church. I am a youth director at a suburban church and I’ve got some youth who are yearning to reach out to the community and to inner city. My heart and my mind are spinning and excited and motivated along with the youth and look forward to spreading the wealth we have as a church.

    So, yes, I think overpopulation is a big issue. But, not in and of itself…the issue is what we are doing with those who have suffered because of it and we ought to be reactive to them. At the same time, we need to be proactive in educating ourselves, our church, community, etc. about adoption, the suffering, and the distribution of wealth.

    Looking forward to further discussion with you all.

    ps- if you want further reading I suggest, Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren. An incredible challenging book.

  2. elderj says:

    I don’t think overpopulation is much of a threat. Humans are endlessly innovative, and if someone had said 100 years ago that the world population would be what it is now, that person would have been laughingly mocked because it was obvious (at the time) that the world could not sustain any more growth.

    That our population has expanded so rapidly is amazing in light of the fact that far fewer people are employed in agriculture than even twenty years ago, even in so called developing countries, which indicates that far fewer people are vastly more productive than they were. Further, much of the shortages of food in the world are due to political, and not economic constraints. Authoritarian socialist regimes (like North Korea) tend to have the greatest difficulties feeding their populations. Likewise under communism what was the Russian Empire went from being net exporter to a net importer of grain in the course of 70 years.

    Growing population is generally a sign of and contributor to economic growth and cultural vitality as more people leads to higher productivity and more economic activity.

    A larger problem is maldistribution of economic opportunity. Developed countries have developed (and continue to expand) large welfare bureaucracies, particularly for the elderly (i.e. health care, retirement benefits,etc.) without having adequate youth populations to pay for it. It will be very tempting for these nations to exploit poorer nations in order to prop up their demographically challenged welfare states.

    • Betsan says:

      So we grow more food and cram more and more people on the planet because we can? The thing is, eventually the carrying capacity of earth will be FULL meaning not enough of anything to go around.
      The elite already know this.

      • kim says:

        doesn’t anyone remember seventh grade science class…..once we use all of our resources the pop will dramatically drop tho its lowest an the the resources will come back and slowly but steadilly rise again.

  3. Its a very difficult topic to get into, and especially given the failings of China in this area. I do believe that education in the area of family planning is the way forwards, especially in dealing with the places where so many children are born that food cannot be shared between all of them. In Britain we had family planning, in China national control; its very clear to me which worked better.

    P.S. Something I wrote a while back about the taboo one has to break to discuss population:

  4. Daniel Azuma says:

    Overpopulation is like global climate change. For the most part, it is, by itself, not a significant issue right now. But by the time it does become a significant issue, it’s already too late to do anything about it.

    The claim that such things are non-problems because “humans are endlessly innovative”– that is, that there’s always a technological fix– seems overly naive. Look at the nature of the technological fixes we’ve put in place so far. Our vaunted efficiency in food production has been accomplished through pesticides, hormones, and genetic engineering. And now we’re so dependent on them that only the rich can participate in the “organic” backlash. Technology is not a panacea. It generally merely trades one problem for another.

    If “growth” is required for economic health and cultural vitality, then we’re doomed, because we live in a finite universe, in which growth is never indefinitely sustainable. Theologically, health and vitality are not rooted in continual advancement, but in Sabbath, in the concepts of completion and rest.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I think overpopulation is a problem, and its obviously going to get worse.

    And, at the same time, I can not imagine saying to another mother, “You should not have given birth to your children.” Children are always a blessing.

    To say, “overpopulation is a problem” make it seem like an impersonal problem that could be solved with a little educaiton and birth control. But where is the dignity for the parents (full grown adults, even if they are very poor) who have chosen to have those children?

  6. andy says:

    A big threat only if society continues to ignore the importance of science and engineering which solves the problems that comes with having such a large population. It’s only “overpopulation” if we don’t figure out how to reasonably and sustainably utilize our resources to support each person on earth.

  7. carol says:

    People living in developed countries eat up the earth’s resources at an alarming rate. It is my responsibility to care for the earth and not to exploit it’s resources. Part of that responsibility includes family planning.

  8. seonghuhn says:

    I am a bit concerned about overpopulation because of the environmental destruction brought on by the growing population.

    On the other hand I think population trend charts tend to be wrong and even alarmist because they assume birth rates in developing countries will remain the same. This typically does not happen though as countries’ economies mature, more people move to the city, and especially as women become more educated.

    In fact much of the developed nations are struggling with declining birth rates. Korea and Japan have many government programs to try to incentivize people to have more children.

  9. Tony Lin says:

    Overpopulation is only a problem if everyone in the world wanted to live as Americans. It’s only a “threat” if everyone adopted the consumer/commercial and highly wasteful lifestyle we engage in. While a billion people in the world lack fresh water, I heard that about 90% of our sewer is mixed with fresh water. If all 7 billion people in the world started flushing fresh water down their toilets the planet will be out of fresh water by lunch…

  10. Erick says:


    What do you mean by dignity? Could you talk about that more? What kind of education would be helpful and how do you think we should go about it?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. Jennifer says:


    Thanks for the question. I guess I’m just trying to say that men and women in very poor countries desere the dignity of deciding how big their own families are. Sometimes the talk about overpopulation sounds a bit like: “those people” are having too many children, and its effecting ME now. (I mean, its not Americans or Europeans we’re worried about here, right?) Who am I to tell a woman in the developing world that she should only have X number of children – when every child is precious to its mother?

    On the micro-level, I would be totally against any kind of populaiton control. But, of course, on the macro level, I can see that overpopulaiton WILL effect me somday. I dont know what to do about that.

  12. matt says:

    Kevin Kelly predicts that world population will peak at around 9 Billion by 2050 and then will start to decline. The implication if this being that more souls will live on this planet in our life time then all that have lived here combined since the beginning of humanity. Pretty crazy to think about!


  13. Maddie says:

    Interesting thoughts, I too believe that overpopulation is a big issue that ties into a possibly bigger issue of the disparity between rich and poor. It is true that people have the right to decide how large their families shall be but making sure that lifestyle is ecologically sustainable is also an important thing that will help this issue more than anything. The toilet flushing statistic is pretty sobering. Also I too recommend ‘Everything Must Change’ by Brian McLaren, it’s a worthwhile read

  14. elderj says:

    @Daniel – I agree that technological progress is a mixed bag, but on the whole it has been a good thing. Otherwise you and I would likely be somewhere scratching out our subsistence on a farm and worried about a sick child dying from some mysterious “fever.” So I am willing to take the trade offs. What is more problematic is the political and economic dominance of the rich countries that deny to poor countries access to the technological wherewithal to advance, combined with tremendous amounts of subsidy to our own agribusiness that makes it cheaper for poor nations to import grain than to grow their own.

    That growth is connected with economic vitality is not a theory. It is a historic fact. The collapse of European populations in the medieval period due to plague was disastrous for literature, arts, learning, economic life and cultural life of all kinds. It was the population rebound that followed that made possible the advancements of the late High Middle Ages which gave us Renaissance, Reformation and the period of global exploration that followed. A mixed bag certainly, but incontrovertibly a time of tremendous economic, social and cultural advance.

    Theologically, there is a tremendous imperative for growth in God’s first command to man: be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. The echoes of this mandate and the blessing of children resound throughout scripture. This is not in opposition to the idea of sabbath by any means.

    I agree with Jennifer about the idea of “those people” which is often embedded in discussions about overpopulation. I would add that concerns for overpopulation very easily become demands for population control that translates into advocacy for “education about family planning” which is really a nice way of saying abortion. Besides it is odd to advocate for education, as if developing world people don’t know where babies come from or how to avoid pregnancy.

    The other thing that puzzles me is what exactly is the definition of overpopulation? At what point is something overpopulated?

  15. “Besides it is odd to advocate for education, as if developing world people don’t know where babies come from or how to avoid pregnancy.”

    In all honesty that is not always the case. In many countries sexual education is not permitted and so family planning (which rarely means abortion) isn’t a widely known option. Advocating for education includes that, but it also means educating in general. Studies have shown that the more education a woman has the less children she has. She knows how to take better care of the children she does have (better nutrition, health care…) and can better understand what it will take to give that level of care to her kids. Also, educated women understand that they are people too – with rights to their own bodies. They can stand up to the cultural mores that insist that they must provide their husbands with sex on demand. Its easy to say that all women love their kids and that they are a blessing – but when given the choice (the right) most women choose not to spend their lives perpetually pregnant or nursing. Education as response to overpopulation is a broad education meant to empower and improves lives – especially for women and children.

  16. elderj says:

    @julie – There’s a lot in your statement that really sounds good, but also sounds rather like something out of a UN commission.

    People reduce the number of children they have generally as a function of increased wealth as happened in the west even prior to family planning or sex education. The growth of populations has much to do with increased access to health care which has led to lower child mortality rates.

    THe question of rights to one’s own body is an interesting one. Speaking strictly as a secularist, this makes sense. Scripturally it is wrong. Neither husbands nor wives have rights to their bodies. But your point is taken.

    Your point about the right of women not to be perpetually pregnant or nursing is interesting. I’ll need to do some thinking about that.

  17. I read this article too. I think a couple things could happen – some good and some bad.

    1. Good: the church responds by planting churches in these developing countries and assisting digging the country out of dire economic straits by educating them and empowering them.

    Bad: islam gets to these areas before we do…

    2. The good: we treat preventable diseases in these areas through our missionary efforts and partnering w/ organizations w/ the medical advancements that can help.

    the bad: preventable diseases mutate and become untreatable and the population is reduced by global pandemics like it did w/ the Spanish flu…

    The bad options sound sick but if you look at human history…its happened before and history does has a way of repeating itself.

  18. danderson says:

    Not too long ago, children were seen as both necessary and a blessing in the United States, back when, on the farm, the more hands the better. In the developing countries, it still holds true. As the saying goes, many hands make light work. Somebody posted that people in the developing world use a lot of resources. I doubt that a large family in Ethiopia with little to no access to electricity or gas-powered vehicles uses nearly as much as, say, Al Gore and his wife use in a year to power their house and heated swimming pool.

  19. Ted says:

    overpopulation is a symptom of a bigger problem. I agree with Derrick Jensen when he wrote in Endgame about Civilized humans deifying themselves, seeing themselves as gods having domain over all the cosmos. Rule over all things. This creates a separation from reality placing Civilized humans at top, as we try our best to impose this worldview onto non-civilized humans. Modern Med is a factor that helps us overpopulate, we are cheating death trying to become immortal gods, we have taken population control away from nature. Even science subscribes to this worldview, most science is used to figure out ways to extend our lives. If anyone is interested in understanding the causes of the Human-god complex read Columbus and other Cannibals by Jack D. Forbes. And to anyone who believes Over-population is not a problem: Whenever a species that has dwindled down to a population small enough for them to decide they should place them on some extinction list, they (civilized people) often take them off that list as soon as they see the population go up a few measly thousand… Yet here we are: 7 billion. Almost all civilized people own cars, we require food, that food often comes from factory farms- more land, malls, roads, factories, landfills, houses, cities, mega-churches, airports… As the population grows so do our conflicts, our problems, the stress of traffic, finding jobs, walking down the street… In this case, Less would be more. Less people would mean a higher quality of life for those living, as tribal peoples used to enjoy until civilization came along. Civilization is another symptom of the this god-worldview, but it’s getting very top-heavy and will topple soon. The sooner the better. By no means am I saying tribal life is utopia, just the other day I saw on the news something about witch doctors in some tribe telling people to kill albinos so they can get their magical powers… But is that very different then a civilized person killing another civilized person for money? Civilized people like to think our ways are so much better and lead to less suffering, but tell that to the animals on extinction lists, the tribes that we force off their lands (or forcing them to assemulate to our way of life that we believe is the Right way, the only way- this needs to end, we need to stop developement), cancer patients, people driven insane by the stress of living in civilization, anyone killed so that corporations can thrive… Most people hate their jobs and are Wage Slaves and More only makes it worse. I wish death on no one, but we must realize Death is a part of life, in fact Life depends on it. Our fear of death is what needs to change, but we cannot change that until we realize that we are not separate or above the rest of nature, but a part of it and equal to the rest of it. I’m not saying that religion’s view of our place in the universe is to blame, but many of the religious have that (separate from nature) worldview and pass it on. Read Endgame by Derrick Jensen.

  20. Den Relojo says:

    Philippines is damn overpopulated already! And what makes this worse is that no one seems to consider this to be a serious problem. Overpopulation causes pollution, poverty, starvation, crimes, and what-have-you’s. Government has to conduct some program and tell the people the effects of overpopulation. Mother Nature does not need more babies so people should stop breeding!

  21. […] Finite resources, Exponential Growth The Wal-Mart complex Questions Overpopulation Overpopulation The Greatest Threat Edward O Wilson Paul Ehrlich Overpopulation and sustainable life Environmentalism and […]

  22. human overpopulation says:

    global warming has already turned nearest forests here in spain in semi desert so just keep ignoring human overpopulation until buying a kg of free pesticide tomato is a luxury for a few.

  23. krisztina says:

    I went to a Bible study in my town and the leaders of the Bible study said we don’t need to worry about overpopulation or environmental stewardship because if we believe strongly enough, God will give us a new planet since we trashed this one.

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