We are pleased to announce the winners of our 2013 NPG Essay Scholarship Contest. Each year, NPG conducts an Essay Scholarship for high school and undergradute students.
Explain how population growth has negatively affected your community. What solutions do you propose to ensure a decent quality of life for your generation 30 years from now?
Talking about Population Growth: The First Step to Sustainability
by Jayme Pruett
In the year 2011 the world population exceeded 7 billion, with over 315,000,000 people in the United States alone. These numbers should be alarming, yet overpopulation is still treated like a taboo subject. We need to address the 7 billion “elephants in the room” in order to ensure quality of life for my and future generations. In the United States we acknowledge that population growth is an issue in other countries, like China and India, but refuse to say the same about ourselves. Population growth is a serious problem that has affected my life in negative ways and is threatening the quality of life for future generations. This is an especially frustrating problem, because the solutions are obvious.
I live in the most populous city in the United States, New York City. Population growth has not merely affected my community, it practically defines it. As of the 2010 Census, Manhattan had a population of 1,585,873 people, giving us a density of 70,595 people per square mile. I attend a public university in New York City where we have a “vertical campus,” whereupon a university is supposed to fit atop one city block. I wake up in the morning and ride the overcrowded subway to race to a classroom with fewer desks than students. Unless I pay a visit to Central Park, I can go days with seeing anything resembling nature.
Just this week it was announced that for the first time in decades, more people are moving into New York City than moving out. The mayor’s office is claiming this as a victory for NYC quality of life. To me, it is difficult to imagine how any resident of NYC could think this is in any way a good thing. We are already seeing dangerous effects of overpopulation. Due to the extremely high population density on the Northeast Coast, the Category 1 Hurricane Sandy affected millions of people and caused extreme destruction. I am not going to discuss whether climate change was responsible for Hurricane Sandy, but I have no qualms with stating that if the Greater New York area had a healthier (lower) population density it would have been much easier to evacuate the millions of people in the forecasted path of the storm.
The obvious solution to the population growth problem is education. History has shown that once women are more educated, they naturally make better decisions about their bodies. We also need to educate the entire population. Anyone who has a solid grasp of compounding interest rates should be worried about population growth. People read news articles saying the rate of growth is decreasing and are put at ease. Well, when you are working with such large numbers, a decrease from 1 percent to 0.9 percent growth is still just that: growth.
Counting the population of the United States is easy; it is simply the fertility rate and immigration, minus death and emigration. Naturally, to get a handle on the population problem we need to lower the fertility rate and decrease immigration. The United States government can take steps to encourage lower fertility rates. I do not mean that we need to curb reproductive rights, but we can encourage people to make decisions that will mean a better future for themselves and any children they choose to have. We can make birth control easier to attain and lower teen pregnancy. We can encourage women to have children later in life, thus creating larger gaps between new generations and slow the rate of growth. My grandmother had her children when she was right out of high school, my mother waited until after she was 30 and has encouraged me to do the same. New York State is beginning to achieve this in a landmark decision to make Plan B available to teen students, and as a result is seeing a drop in teen pregnancy. Another possible idea is to stop tax benefits after two children per family.
Perhaps the most critical step to fixing this population problem is also the simplest. That is, to admit that the problem exists. We need to accept that our rate of growth is destructive and unsustainable. Naysayers try to take the focus from population growth to over-consumption. Unfortunately, it is impossible to lower consumption while increasing population. Even at lower rates, everyone consumes. As long as population growth is perceived as a taboo subject, it will be hard to make any changes.
World population, now over 7.3 billion, is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, an increase of almost two billion, or 23%, in the short space of only 34 years from now.In the highly unlikely event that per capita greenhouse gas emissions could possibly be decreased by an equal percentage in such a short space of time (a blink of an eye) the total amount of worldwide emission would remain the same!
From this simple illustration it would appear that without drastically reducing the size of world population, there is no solution to the problem.None at all.So then why do our world leaders pretend that there is one?What is to be gained by pretending rather than by proposing a solution that would solve the problem – a reduction in the size of world population to not more than 1- 2 billion?
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