The history of human kind goes back to the Paleolithic era or the Early Stone Age. The Neolithic revolution has changed the history and set the human kind on a new pathway. According to some estimation, the population of the world at that time (between 8000 and 5000 BC) was approximately five million. The change in lifestyle had led to the development of settlements that continued to grow and turn into bigger formations that were city-like settlements. The development of cities contributed to the development of civilization and, thus, to the population growth. October of 2011 was a breaking moment for the whole world as the world’s population had reached seven billion. Along with its fast growing rates, it also set new challenges to the world community as people strive for the existence since then.
The changes in population rates heavily rely on a number of internal (events occurring within community) and external factors (wars, natural disasters, epidemics) and have a geographical pattern of the development. The first milestone for the population development is connected with the transition from the nomadic lifestyle to a settled one that favored the population growth. It also has led to the development of cities. The development of latter led to the raise of civilization. The population rates at the beginning of millennium have increased to 600 million with a growth rate under 0.05% per year. The world population growth underwent a logarithmic function development. For example, the population of Europe between the 6th and 8th centuries AD decreased by 50% due to the plague.
During the 14th century, Eurasia continent had faced a significant dropdown in the population dynamics. For Europe itself, the Black Death pandemic decreased its population from 450 to 350-370 million. China and the Asian region have faced population decline from 120 million to approximately 65 million in the beginning of 1300s. The origin of the population rate decline lies between the synergic effect of famine, aggressive Mongol invasion and dispersion of the plague. However, towards the mid-1600s, the population of the region encountered around 150 million of inhabitants. Many scientists believe that the significant rise in the population growth for Eurasia in the 17th century is connected with the introduction of new crops – maize and cassava.
It is obvious that social improvements have a direct impact on the population dynamics. Starting from the eighteenth century, the world population fluctuations were more or less similar despite the geographical location. The life expectancy and birth rates drastically changed in comparison with the pre-industrial era. The residents of factory towns were subject to a poor nutrition, contagious diseases (cholera and typhoid) and horrible living conditions. The industrial revolution is another milestone that has changed the course of the population development. Starting from 1850, a rapid industrialization introduced the new set of social standards, which favored the population growth. The main undertakings were as follows:
improving the urban sanitation and waste removal; improving the quality of the water supply and expanding the access to it; forming public health boards to detect illnesses and quarantine the sick; researching causes and means of transmission of infectious diseases; developing vaccines and antibiotics; adopting workplace safety laws and limits on child labor; promoting nutrition through steps such as fortifying milk, breads, and cereals with vitamins (“Unit 5: Human population dynamics // Section 4: World population growth through history”, n.d.).
According to the statistical data, in 1804, the world’s population has reached its first million. From that time, the population growth is at its accelerating pace of the development. In 1927, more than one hundred years later, the population reached the two billion marker. 33 years later, the population reached three million inhabitants, four million in 1974, five in 1987 and six in 1999. The annual growth rate averaged from 2.0 to 2.5% percent. The United States Census Bureau predicted the seven billion rate in March of 2012. However, this threshold was reached in October 2011.
The current predictions state that by 2030, the world population will rise to eight million and by 2050 - nine million, and this growth will be especially evident in developing countries. However, the future growth depends on fertility rates. If the fertility rate will fall from its current rate 2.52 children per woman to 2.0, then the population of the Earth will be above ten million by 2050. According to different scenarios, if the fertility rate will be declining to 1.5 children per woman until 2050, the population will be around 7.7 million (“Unit 5: Human population dynamics // Section 4: World population growth through history”, n.d.).
The accelerating, exponential growth of population is currently at its rise due to the stemming of population momentum in developing countries during the 1950-1960s. According to the United Nations’ research, in 2000, the annual population growth was at the level of 1.14%, which is equal to 75 million per year, contrary to 88 million per year in 1989 and 2.15% rate growth in the 1960s. This drastic decline is the consequence of demographic transition processes in some countries, lower rates of infant mortality, access to education, labor market for women and popularization of services of family planning.
The long-term population growth is hard to predict, and many scientists say that it is uncontrolled due to a number of reasons like birth rates, death rates, wars and other unpredicted circumstances. The current trends show that 5 most populated countries are China, India, USA, Indonesia and Brazil. China’s ethnic contribution to the world’s population is approximately 20%, which makes it one-fifth of the total. If the trends remain at the same level, what will be the fate of humanity?
Unfortunately, resources available to use are limited, and the current trends lead to threatening human species in general. The overpopulation of some territories is the first issue that already arises from the current population development dynamics. It happens when the population exceeds the carrying capacity of the ecological niche it lives in. In other words, the overpopulation leads to the lack of some substantial resources such as potable water, food and depletion of natural resources. Some scientists relate the overpopulation with a number of the most burning global issues: famines, malnourishment, depletion of natural resources, land degradation and climate change.
In 1992, William Rees introduced the concept of the ecological footprint. According to Rees, the ecological footprint is a measure of the human demand on ecosystem of Earth. It is a standardized measure of the demand for the natural capital that is contrasted with the ecological capacity generated by our planet. It represents the biological ability of land and sea to supply necessary resources for the human consumption and distribution of wastes associated with its production. The introduction of this assessment methodology allows evaluating how many resources are required for our planet to produce under the equal lifestyle. In 2007, our generation already overused what was available for us. It was calculated that the use of ecological services is 1.5 times higher than the ability of the planet to recreate them. It helps to assess the correlation between the available biocapacity and its use by humans.
The ecological footprint usually represented by the biological productive area per person and is measured in global hectares (gha). The initial studies of Rees showed that the average biological capacity suitable for six million inhabitants was approximately 1.3 hectares per person, excluding bioproductive marine areas. In practice, the ecological footprint as for 2007 was on the level of 9.0 gha in USA, 5.6 gha in Switzerland and 1.8 gha in China. It serves as an indication of the sustainability of the environment and a tool for the resource management.
The introduction of the ecological footprint concept has led to the development of other important tools for measuring human environmental demands. Every year, the Earth overshoot day is calculated for marking the date, when the humanity exhausts resources available for the current year. The overshoot day for 2013 was August 20. From that date on, people used resources available for next generations, and it means that our needs exceed the replenishment capabilities of the planet.
Starting from 1993, the overshoot day arrives earlier each year. Not surprising that the overuse of natural resources has started since the mid-1970s as it coincides with a number of historical events. The introduction of ecological footprints and marking of the overshoot day are tools to point out invasive lifestyles people lead.
The population growth depends on the ability of the planet to support its existence. Unfortunately, the awareness of the fact that people live in debt does not change a lot. The humanity needs to rethink a lot in terms of the harmonization its relations with nature. This cannot be done with the blink of an eye, but a lot of could have been pursued already. Gradual changes in economies of leading countries as well as the environmental education are essential tools for changing the current trends of the overuse of natural resources.
The availability of non-renewable natural resources is critical for the human existence. The investment into the alternative energy research, along with its implementation into practice will lead to another milestone of the human development. We will not be considered as invaders any longer. However, this is not enough to research and implement. People always want to know why! Thus, the environmental education, which will explain what happens and what can be done to prevent disasters, is another significant approach to be implemented for our own sake. I truly believe that we are in charge of our own fate on the global scale.