Overpopulation and Its Impact on the Natural Environment

In last week’s blog I shared my reaction to the environmental theme of the Rio Olympics’ opening ceremonies in which I opined, it would have been more effective to pass out condoms to the athletes as they paraded into the stadium than seedlings to be planted after the event. As expected, I did receive a few calls on the blog. Most approved of my point of view. However, a few did not and would have preferred I post something more positive. Something that short of not having more children, people, inhabiting the planet now could do to help the environment.

Speaking for myself, I don’t know what more can be done to help the environment than have fewer, if not any children. I know that is a tall order because the choice to “not” procreate or procreate for replacement only, flies in the face or our biological programming. I don’t think there is a species around today, or has ever existed that would not overpopulate itself out of existence if it could. To not do so requires a triumph of intellect over biology.

When I discuss overpopulation and its impact on the natural environment, I am quick to point out one need not go beyond our own borders to understand the urgent need to stabilize and eventually reduce the population. Granted there are many countries that have far higher fertility rates than the US. For instance, Egypt’s fertility rate is 3.5%. This means that by 2050 Egypt’s current population of 88 million will increase to 140 million! Contrast that to Germany with a fertility of 1.4%. What this means is Germany’s current population of 80 million will shrink to roughly 70 million by 2050. Anyone want to take bets on which country has the brighter future?

A country such as China produces more greenhouse gases than the United States. However, when we look at the individual carbon footprint of someone from the United States vs. China, we see that on a per capita basis, emissions are much higher in the United States.

In 2008, Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax, of Oregon State University prepared a treatise entitled, Reproduction and Carbon Legacies of Individuals. To my knowledge, it is the first in depth study that delineated the carbon footprint of someone in the United States relative to other countries. For instance, the per capita emissions of a person living in China is 3.62 metric tons per year compared to the Unites states where it is 20.18 tons per year. So, from a global climate change perspective, where would be the most effective country to start looking at reducing population? And given that Mexico’s per capita emissions were pegged at 3.67 tons per year, does it makes sense from the global climate perspective to allow unbridled immigration to the United States from that country?


According to Murtaugh and Schlax, attempts by consumers to mitigate our impact on the environment through things like recycling, adopting energy efficient lights, more fuel-efficient cars, etc., look pretty feckless when compared to making reproductive decisions. But, there are things we can do and should be doing.

Although I am ever hopeful that The Union of Concerned Scientists (TUOCC) will one day come on board with the need for population stabilization, they have offered some good advice on choices we can make as consumers to help the environment. So, for those that were looking for me to offer something more positive as to what those who are already here, on the planet can do, I offer this infographic. The infographic was drawn from the advice presented by TUOCCC in the book entitled, The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.


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