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Population Growth, the Environment & Environmental Change

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  • 0:01 Population Growth &…
  • 1:03 Impacts
  • 3:48 Positive Impacts
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Human populations are growing at an incredible rate, and this could have serious impacts on the environment. Explore these impacts and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Populations Growth and Climate Change

How many living dinosaurs have you seen? Probably not many. Because they're all dead. Why are the dinosaurs dead?

Some people blame a giant asteroid that hit the Earth 65 million years ago, which created a cloud of dust so thick it blocked out the sun for years, creating a period of extremely rapid climate change. Others claim that the dinosaurs were pretty much already extinct by the time the asteroid hit, due to a period of rapid climate change caused by volcanoes. Either way, most researchers now believe that the dinosaurs were killed by rapid climate change.

So, we've got good reason to be nervous when modern scientists observe signs of rapid climate change in our own times. The concern really comes from the fact that this isn't a result of natural phenomenon but because there are so many humans in this world, around 7 billion in fact, and this has some dramatic implications for our environment.

Impacts of Population Growth

The 20th century was an unprecedented era of population growth. In fact, the global population has more than doubled just since 1950, when there were between 2.5 and 3 billion people in the world. Now, there are two main ways we can see the impact of population growth on the environment.

The first is consumption, or the use of natural resources. Humans are using tons of natural resources, from the minerals used to make the wires in your computer to the fresh water we drink and the things we eat. Eventually, these resources will run out.

One of the big concerns here is deforestation, or the clearing of forests. Not only are people using trees for things like paper, but forests are being burnt down to make room for houses and farms. This is a problem for the environment. The vast majority of terrestrial species on Earth live in forests. If the current rates of deforestation continue, up to 1/4 of the species on Earth today could go extinct within the next 50 years or so. On top of that, trees produce oxygen, which is something that we generally like to have in our daily lives. As human populations grow, the strain on natural resources increases, and we consume faster than the Earth can naturally replenish.

The other big way that human population growth impacts the environment is through waste, the unused byproducts of consumption. Basically, trash. Think about the things we're putting back into the environment. The United States alone generates 220 million tons of garbage per year, most of which ends up in landfills. Beyond that though, we are creating other waste products through our factories, pumping immeasurable amounts of chemicals into the environment. And of course, there's pollution. That's one of the big worries. The more the population grows, the more people we have who want to breathe fresh air, but we just keeping filling the world up with carbon dioxide from factories, cars, what have you.

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