Human Population Growth and its Effects

The world population is now over 8 billion, about 20 times greater than a thousand years ago and probably inconceivable at the time.  In 2022, there were 134 million newborns and 67 million deaths, a ratio of 2 to 1. 

Given the substantial advances in medical care particularly in immunization, child mortality has declined but nature hasn’t quite caught up.  There are all kinds of estimates as to where our population is headed but we certainly do not want it to grow as it did in the past millennium.

One of the consequences of this human population growth is the use of fossil fuels.  Bear in mind that at an individual level in rural areas of the developing world (think of India for example) there is no other choice.  The subsequent global warming is evidenced by surprising temperatures in many places.

Spain is now hitting 40C (104F) as early as Spring, and most of Europe is bracing itself for a heat wave.  Worse, dry weather, high temperatures and a blowing hot wind increases the chances of wildfires.  Meteorologists identify the cause of all this as the hot air coming from Africa — and the hot air from Africa? 

That is not all for the suffering Iberian Peninsula.  In December 2022, a couple of severe weather events triggered flooding, affecting even the capital cities of Lisbon and Madrid,  It destroyed houses and roads, flooded vehicular tunnels and even parts of Lisbon airport.  The Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere recorded 82.3 mm (3.24 inches) in 24 hours on December 7th.

A second storm brought more wind and heavy rain to sections of both Spain and Portugal.  The weather station at Tapada da Ajuda in Lisbon recorded 65.6 mm (2.6 inches) of rain in 3 hours early in the morning of December 13th.  In Madrid, metro services were suspended after tracks and a number of stations were flooded.

Such severe weather incidents are not limited to Portugal and Spain.  Brazil was hit by torrential rain in the third week of February 2023.  It devastated coastal areas in southeast Brazil leading to the cancellation of many carnival activities there.  Major cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were impacted.  A total of 54 people lost their lives in an event that poured over 600 mm (23.6 inches) of rain over the course of a day. 

Another consequence of population growth is what became known in early 20th century Germany as ‘lebensraum‘ or living space.  Too many people, and the difficulty in earning enough to survive or growing enough on a plot of land for an expanding family, leads to migration.

It’s what humans have done from their earliest times, first from Africa and then onwards and onwards.  Will this cause conflict in an already populated world?  It all depends on how well those humans of the future are able to manage problems and handle potential conflict.

We can hope it is better than we do.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.