The Overpopulation Problem


by Simon Ross, Chief Executive at Population Matters

Population is about both scale and detail. In terms of scale, it can be hard to grasp. There are seven billion of us now, according to the United Nations. That is twice as many as fifty years ago, and our numbers will rise by almost half again over the next seventy-five years. That must have some sort of impact. The more of us there are, the more pressure we surely put on the environment, on resources and on our own quality of life. We all know about falling fish stocks, deforestation, climate change and concerns over future supplies of food and water. Yet that impact is hard to measure. And there are other contributory factors too, including inequality, consumption rates, technological practices and government priorities, making the precise effect of population growth less clear.

Population is about detail, too. It is about how long we live and how many children we have. That is one reason why it can be a sensitive subject. Families are a very personal matter and are often tied into one’s beliefs about religion and one’s place in the world. Another reason that population can be a sensitive matter is that population can get pulled into other debates rich vs. poor, developed vs. developing world, men vs. women and individual choice vs. social norms. These are legitimate debates, but population does not stand on one side or the other of them. It is too important a factor to be reduced to a debating point.

In much of the world, birth rates are gradually falling, and this can lead to a dangerous complacency. There remain many countries where women have few rights, are married off at an early age and have on average four or five children. The consequences can include health problems and a limited life where their full potential is not developed. Family planning programs should not be seen as something which will come along eventually as part of globalization but as an essential way of changing people’s lives for the better right now.

However, the big picture is about more than maternal health, individual rights and social development, important though these are. The world is industrializing and per capita demands on agriculture, water, energy and other resources is rising rapidly. Many of these resources are limited. While some can be developed further, climate change will limit production levels and itself is a consequence of rising human activity. In the long term, we can only achieve reasonable living standards for all and sustain the biodiversity of other species if we think in terms of overall human numbers falling, not rising, from their current levels.

That brings us back to the detail, to individuals choosing to have smaller families as part of an environmentally conscious lifestyle. In developing countries, with currently high birth rates and low consumption levels, we should be helping them to manage their fertility better through funding appropriate family planning. In developed countries, where access to family planning is assumed, and consumption levels are much higher, we should be ensuring that public health programs are in place to minimize unintended pregnancies and making the environmental case for smaller populations. Many people do already have smaller families for this, or other reasons, but the scale of future challenges and the long term impact of human numbers mean that we should be having the discussion more publicly. The reality is that anything one does to reduce one’s personal impact on the planet has less effect in the long term than having that extra child.

For more about why we are concerned about population go to Population Matters or visit us on Facebook.


Population Matters campaigns to change the way people think about population. Our vision is for a human population size for the earth that affords people a good quality of life, maintains the habitat for other species and is environmentally sustainable.


Related Stories:

What’s Your Number?

Welcome To The World’s 7th Billion Person!

The Global Water Crisis, Shrunk



Bette M.
Bette M.4 years ago

Amen past member.......Amen!!!!!!!
There rightfully should be eight billion
animals on this planet instead of earth
sucking destructive humans!!!!!!
But, I do see a day will come when a world
law will be mandated to have only one child
or no for x amount of time.
And it is coming soon..............

Wherever you go there once was a forest.
Plant & protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.

Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

The government should be rewarding me for not having any children. I am 43, single, no children. Where's the tax break for being responsible? 0 children, money to that person. 1 child, child benefit. 2 children keeps the world at its present overpopulated rate, so they should be taxed on that child. 3 children and you pay heavy tax. 4 children and you should then be sterilized. In fact you should be branded as being irresponsible. Drastic? Idiotic? No, realistic. At least I have no children born to suffer their future fate now.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton4 years ago

Glad that this 'elephant in the room' is finally being acknowledged - at least by some. Unfortunately, western Governments will not have the intelligence or the courage to act until it is too late.

Bette M.
Bette M.4 years ago

Aimee A. China only allow one child per family & hopefully it is a boy as far as they are concerned. But, in the past few years they are permitting some familys to have two children due to extreme circumstances. China now realizes it needs many more females born than ever before. In the past they killed all baby girls to have a large quota of males.
The whole thing has back fired on them.
Finally, with seven billion people on this planet there is a desperate need for all countrys to limit a family to one child no matter the sex.

Wherever you go there once was a forest.
Plant & protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.

Aimee A.
Aimee A.4 years ago

We need to follow China's lead and limit the amount of children allowed per person. Maybe do China one better and allow two children per person. That's fair, I think! Thanks for posting!

Bette M.
Bette M.4 years ago

XiL......Excellent comment.

Plant & protect Danny's trees for life.
Trees are the lungs of the earth.

Xil Lidom
Xil L.4 years ago

We must face facts, detached from stigma, taboo and dogma : The way the world is being marketed today by advertizing, internet, cinema, media and television, to keep global industries and economies running, we cannot rely on abstinence alone. Sex and violence oriented messages soar worldwide and to all audiences and both those deprived of education and those holding degrees are targeted by the "ideals" the functional consumerism will claim to keep markets blooming. The church must admit the dangers of banning contraception and the consequences of censuring the overpopulation facts over time. Sexual Education and family planning must be available and accessible to all as part of a basic education program and media must help promote this and question airing irresponsible messages. I see vunerable teenagers biting into dangerous ideals no end and parents too busy surviving or unconscious of facts themselfs to guide the future generations up a safe and substainable path. They cannot be relied upon alone to make the right choices and are under constant unethical and sexually charged influence tailored to glorify seduction and adapt the means of succeding at it.The quantity and quality of our common global ressources are at stake as is the economic wellbeing of worldwide nations. We need leaders that endorse and defend the right, concious and educated message. Contraception and gay couples are free will gestures to combat overpopulation that should be welcomed and acclaimed, not c

Citizen G-Karl
Karl Heinemann4 years ago

Here we have the root cause for many of the other worrisome issues presented and discussed on this "Care2 Causes" site. In today's issue (19 October 2011) alone, I've picked out another "cause" that I mostly attribute to our ~existing level~ of overpopulation: the Anti-Homework / "Race to Nowhere" piece. I view all this hyper-pressure around "performance" in school as a new "global arms race" in education, that ultimately is fueled by anxiety about and competition over dwindling resources that already are way insufficient to support "all the world's people" in "The Great American Dream" lifestyle.

A noteworthy "construct", the Georgia Guidestones ( offers the statement: "Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature." (and among ourselves). I intuitively feel this the "right" level for human population on Earth. With our actual population at 7 billion, we already exceed this limit by a factor of 14, and it still is growing every day.

What ~will~ we do???!!!!

Robby C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Katherine W- I agree 100%!!!

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright4 years ago

Let's start by culling all the animal abusers and let's not forget politicians either...but the animals abusers must go first........