Overconsumption or Overpopulation: Which Is the Bigger of Two Vices to the Progress of Sustainability Today?

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Global and Regional Sustainability
Over-population or Overconsumption: Which is the bigger of two vices to the progress of sustainability today?

In the age, where the collective value of goods and commodities, the strength of economic markets and the accumulated wealth of individuals dictate the ease of life and the standards of living within society; it is imperative that we as a species reiterate to ourselves that the natural resources that enable us to fulfil all our basic needs, fashion all our desirable wants; and provisions the framework on which we build our cities, economies and daily lives remains limited and finite (McMahon, 2001 ; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board, 2005). The finality of such finite resources demands the attention for them to be sustainably managed so as to ensure their prolonged availability for the future. Similarly, the natural processes that support our existence and facilitates the conditions for us to provision for our needs; demand mindful care so as to prevent the impairment of such natural functions and services for future generations (United Nations, 2008). Whilst resource availability as well as ecosystem services and turnover remain finite and paced; the goods and services demanded by a growing affluent yet wasteful global population can be seen to rise steadily (United Nations Environmental Programme, 2002; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board, 2005). As such, over-population versus over-consumption and which poses a bigger threat to the idea and practice of sustainability has been and remains a highly contested issue amongst sustainability proponents. This essay therefore seeks to examine and distinguish the intrinsic components that define the terms overpopulation and over-consumption, whilst attempting to shed light on which poses a more significant threat to the development and practice of global sustainability by examining the effects of both within arenas of food production and ecosystem function. I believe that whilst both these elements remain significant barriers to sustainability; a shift in paradigm with regards to consumption and waste, coupled with limits placed upon the level of consumption would foster greater progress in achieving global and sustainability.

Butler (1994) and United Nations (2009) simply define overpopulation as the condition whereby the increase in population numbers that exceed the threshold carrying capacity of the natural habitat or environment on which the organisms survive in and depend upon. Within the realms of sustainability, Price (1999) and Engelman (1998) agree that overpopulation relates to the extensive and rapid growth of human populations globally over the last 2 centuries resulting in a strain upon the intrinsic relationship between the ever growing population and the Earth’s ability to provision for all its needs. Overpopulation can therefore be considered a key driving factor that heavily influences the demand of basic needs such as food, water and energy; as well as natural resources that fuel the development of goods and products that form the basis of our networked global markets and economies (Jackson, 2008; Goodland & Daly, 1998; Myers, 1998). The magnitude and scale of current population growth and resultant overpopulation issues can be, identified and subsequently attributed to the tripling of the global population since the start of the 20th century coupled with an approximate 1.4% annual growth rate (United Nations Environmental Programme, 2007). Both Brown (2009) and United Nations (2009) note that population growth rates remain uneven across regions globally, with underdeveloped and developing regions boasting high growth rates; and a stabilizing population trend witnessed within the wealthy and developed regions. Therefore although the net population growth rate has seen a notable decline from 1.7% in 1987 to 1.1% in 2007; the world population continues to increase (United Nations, 2009). This effect...
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