Great healthcare improvements — including improved nutrition, better hygiene and progress in treatment — are driving growing longevity. Better education is one of the causes of improved productivity. Yet, population growth is putting a serious strain on healthcare and education services.
The world faces a wide range of health threats. On the one hand, it has to deal with malnutrition and communicable diseases in the developing world. On the other hand, high obesity rates and the growth of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, are a cause for concern in developed nations.
While the development of vaccines is ongoing, rapid population growth makes it difficult to eliminate the health threats that many people living in poverty face. Not only are they more susceptible to contagious viruses and bacteria due to a poor diet, but also their poor housing conditions and a lack of sanitation facilities make their situation worse. All three issues are made harder to solve by further population growth.
At the same time, unhealthy lifestyles in the developed world are aggravated by population growth as well. More people means less space per person, and less space per person affects human well-being adversely. A lack of green space makes regular exercise more difficult, while overcrowded housing triggers mental health problems and air pollution causes premature deaths.
Education is one of the most powerful tools for reducing inequality and poverty. Not only does improved literacy allow individuals to learn skills that improve the quality of their lives, it also enables the formerly vulnerable to participate in decision-making.
The right to education has been recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet population growth poses a threat to education worldwide.
Research shows that bigger families are more likely to remain poor. In the developing world, poverty is one of the reasons that keep children out of school. Parents may be too poor to afford school fees or to feed their children, hence they often are used as cheap labour instead.
At the same time, schools in the developed world struggle to offer each child the quality education he or she deserves. Overcrowded classes and increasing education costs pose a threat to the well-being of children.
Without affordable and reliable utilities, notably energy and water, our quality of life suffers.
Energy usage is directly linked to prosperity and well-being, as it allows our societies to produce goods and provides humans with transport and domestic comforts.
Meeting the growing global demand for energy is a challenge. On the one hand, the world faces depleting fossil fuel reserves and environmental degradation. On the other hand, we face rapid population growth and an increasing demand for energy.
Life in developed nations is predicated on energy-intensive economies. Energy consumption has increased massively since the industrial revolution. While it is unrealistic and undesirable to reduce energy consumption per capita to the pre-industrial level, it is clear that a lot must change to maintain or improve well-being.
The majority of the electricity that is used worldwide is produced by fossil-fuel powered generators. These are not only unsustainable because they run on resources that are limited in supply and increasingly costly to extract, but also because they emit a lot of C02 and N0x, both of which are very damaging for the atmosphere. This has a damaging effect on the well-being and quality of life of mankind.
It is expected that both the electricity demand per capita and the size of the population will continue to grow. This poses societies with a great challenge: to replace finite or polluting sources with sustainable, i.e. renewable, ones before the Earth’s resources are depleted.
Fresh water consumption has increased six-fold in the last hundred years. It is projected to grow even further as population size increases. It is expected that there will no longer be enough water to quench the thirst of all humans and satisfy the demand from industry and agriculture.
Population growth influences water demand adversely in a direct and indirect fashion. Naturally, as more people live, more people consume water. Extra lives not only increase over-abstraction of water, but this also creates greater pollution, and thereby aggravates climate change.
Climate change causes draught and flooding across the world. Developing nations are particularly vulnerable to great damage as a consequence of these weather-extremes. It is also likely to become increasingly difficult for developed parts of the world to deal with new climate conditions.
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