Overpopulation vs. Overconsumption

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  • 0:05 Population Growth and Stress
  • 0:38 Overpopulation
  • 1:49 Overconsumption
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

How many people can the Earth support? In this lesson, we will explore population growth and some of the concerns associated with this growth, including overpopulation and overconsumption.

Population Growth and Stress

How many people do you think will be on Earth in 50 years? It is hard to predict the answer to this question because the human population has been growing at such a rapid pace over recent years. In the 1960s, the population was three billion people and after around 50 years, in 2011, the population had exploded to over seven billion people. Based on this trend, the human population might double again in the next 50 years.


As the human population continues to increase, there is a great deal of concern about whether or not the Earth can sustain the large and increasing population. One of the major concerns related to population growth is overpopulation, which is when the number of individuals of a species exceeds a certain threshold. In most cases, the threshold that is exceeded is the carrying capacity, which is the maximum population size of a species that an ecosystem can support indefinitely.

When the human population is below the carrying capacity, there are more than enough resources available for all individuals to survive without depleting the availability of the resources. As the population approaches the carrying capacity, resources become more limited because more people are relying on the same amount of resources.

If the human population was to exceed their carrying capacity, the rate of resource depletion would increase rapidly. This would lead to an inability to provide basic resources, such as shelter, food, and medical care, which could lead to increased competition for resources and increased mortality.


Although overpopulation is a major concern, there is another problem associated with population growth that puts humans in danger. The second major concern related to population growth is overconsumption, which is when resources are used in excess and at a rate that is higher than the production rate.

We live in a world of material objects, and our culture has been referred to as a 'throwaway' society, meaning that we are accustomed to utilizing products that are short-lived or disposable. This is especially true in wealthy countries where individuals consume the most natural resources. The average American citizen uses over 10 times more resources than the average citizen of Zimbabwe or Zambia.

When discussing consumption of natural resources, the term ecological footprint is often used. An ecological footprint is an estimate of the amount of land that is needed to supply a person with the resources they need to survive. The resources included in the ecological footprint include all materials and services that a person needs, such as housing, food, energy, and land to dispose of waste.

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