There are currently around 7.47 billion people living on our planet, a figure that's made all the crazier when you consider that there were only 2.3 billion in 1940. But as that number continues to steadily rise, what will it mean for us as a civilisation?
Overpopulation is one of those issues that many people think might lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. And on paper, it makes sense: if we have too many people, we will exhaust our resources, leading to famine, war, and many other devastating issues. David Attenborough certainly thinks so.
The problem here, though, is that overpopulation isn’t really that simple. The good news for us is that Kurzgesagt is back with another video (below) to break down the truth behind the hype.
As the video explains, the concern about overpopulation started back in the 1960s when a population boom – spurred on by the end of World War II – caused a bunch of doomsday hypotheses to emerge about what would happen if the Earth were covered head to toe in humanity. Eventually cities would be overrun and we'd all run out of resources, right?
Kurzgesagt argues that this is a misconception, because population growth is not a runaway problem. It’s controlled by a four-stage process that intricately connected to economics, and much of the world has already been through most of the steps.
This four-step process – known as the demographic transition – is a model of how populations change over time in industrialised societies. In summary, the transition happens when economies foster better life expectancy, leading to a boom, then a slowdown, and finally an evening off of population growth.
To illustrate this, the video jumps back to the 18th century when the world wasn’t as industrialised as it is today. Back then, women had, on average, between four and six children, though only two of them were likely to make it to adulthood, meaning that a lot of people were born during this time, but many died. This is stage one.
But that high mortality rate shifted once the industrial revolution took place, because it allowed families to flourish more than ever before. Now, instead of having only two out of five children reach adulthood, all five of them were reaching it, creating the population boom that characterises stage two.
After parents realised that children would make it through childhood, they stopped having so many, and population growth slowed – creating stage three – because parents were only having two or three children instead of the previous five or six.
Eventually, in stage four, society had advanced enough to the point that fewer people were dying and fewer babies were born every year, creating a balanced system that many industrialised nations are still maintaining to this day, according to the video.
But if this balance exists, why do we still hear the term 'overpopulation' thrown around all the time? We’ll let Kurzgesagt explain in the video above, but it just goes to show that nothing is as black and white as we think it is – not even overpopulation.