Interviews by William Ryerson, S Irudaya Rajan

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World’s leading population expert,William Ryerson, President,Population Media Center, USA, spoke to Brainfeed on the impact of overpopulation. Excerpts:

Do you feel that our earth can support more population growth in future?

The earth is in many ways like a giant forest. It can supply lumber and other resources sustainably at the rate they grow. If the trees in a forest grow 1 percent a year, it is possible to harvest 1 percent each year for human use without depleting the size of the forest. Of course, it is possible to cut half the forest each year and realise far more profits for the lumber companies, but that approach would lead to the forest being gone
in just two years. Human numbers and consumption have outgrown the ability of the planet to provide the natural resources we need on a sustainable basis. Like the greedy lumber company, we are depleting the natural capital of the planet through over consumption, thus making the planet less able to support human needs in the future. According to the Global Footprint Network (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/), we are now using the natural yield of 1.7 Earths each year. In the short term, we can add more people to the population, but in the long term, we cannot sustain the number we have, at our current lifestyles.

How is overpopulation affecting our environment?

One of the major impacts of expanding human habitation and farming to feed the 225,000 people
who are added to the world’s dinner table each day is loss of biodiversity. The web of life that makes the planet habitable is being depleted as a result.This puts the future of all species,including humans, at risk.Another sign we have outgrown the carrying capacity of the planet is climate change. We are spewing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a rate that exceeds the ability of the atmosphere to absorb them, and the result is overheating of the Earth and erratic weather. The condition of overpopulation in India One of the most serious areas of overuse is fresh water. Rivers, lakes,and underground aquifers are being depleted as we pump more water than is replaced by rain and glacialmelt to use in irrigating crops.India alone has about 200 million people living on food that is grown unsustainably through over-pumping of underground aquifers. As a result,the water table in India is falling rapidly, and growing numbers of farmers are no longer able to drilldeep enough to find water. Their farms are becoming barren. The lives of people living on food grown unsustainably are at risk. India faces many additional consequences of its 1.3 billion population, which is expanding by about a new Mumbai every year, including severe poverty, pollution, and loss of open space.

How can youth support this cause?

Youth will live with the consequences of population growth throughout their lives. It is very important for young people to express their concerns to governmental authorities and to
support and volunteer for family planning organisations. In addition,since elevating the status of women and girls is key to reducing family size and slowing population growth,
young people should push for equal treatment of females in all realms of life and advocate for stopping all forms of violence against women that now occur with great frequency.

Professor and demographer S Irudaya Rajan, Centre for Development Studies, Kerala, educates the readers about this major issue.

Does rapid population growth adversely affect the overall performance of the economy?

Population growth is a function of birth rate and death rate in any population. When both birth and death rates are high, there is no population growth rate; however, when the society experiences sharp decline in death rates and moderate decline in birth rates, it leads to high population growth rate. The high population growth rate in a population is sometimes called “population bomb” because there is a huge young population (aged 0-19) and reasonable elderly population (aged 60 and above), to be supported by the working age population. At this stage, the population growth rate affects the overall performance of the economy because there is an active population to support to the non-active population. However, after thirty to forty years, the society will experience the demographic dividend as in the case of India where working population growth rates are more than the general population growth rate which will create a boost in the economy.

In what way overpopulation causes effect?

Overpopulation is a dynamic concept. India is the second most populous country in the world after China. The size of population in India has increased by three times during the period of 1951-2011. Population growth and economic development causes many serious environmental problems. These problems include pressure on land, land/soil degradation, destruction of forests, and loss of biodiversity, changing consumption pattern, rising demand for energy, air pollution, global warming and climate change and water scarcity and water pollution.

What is demography? How is demographic survey conducted in our country?

Demography is the science of the people – as it affects us all. Demography is also destiny. Demography deals with three components, which affects the society – births, deaths and migration. In between our birth and death, some of us move from one place to another. The most important source of the demographic data in India is the census. It provides valuable information about the count at given point of time. The census is conducted once in every 10 years. Government servants duly appointed will visit each and every house and collect the information required. After the field work is done the forms are transported to data processing centres located at 15 cities across the country where all the calculation is done and the birth and death rate is calculated.

What measures are taken by the international and national bodies related to this issue?

There are several organisations and departments dealing with population issues. For instance, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare runs several programmes to reduce births and deaths, especially infant, child and maternal mortality. Similarly, the Ministry of External Affairs coordinate the activities of international migration from India. On the other hand, many international organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) among others work on all facets of fertility, mortality, migration and its consequences.

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