Overpopulation in China

Nearly 4,000 cities on our planet today have populations of 100,000 people or more and these figures are only increasing as the world plummets into a state of extreme overpopulation. Overpopulation refers to the human population, the environment and the deepening concern that Earth doesn't have enough resources to support the growing global community.

“The world population is currently growing by 74 million people per year – the equivalent of a city the size of San Francisco every three days” (ABF U-Pack Moving). This rapid growth of the world’s population can be seen extensively in high density nations such as India, USA and particularly, China. However, there is much debate concerning the nature of the fast expanding populace of China and its impact on not only the Chinese society but also the global community. In last 50 years, China has seen the most significant increase in population growth due to medical advancements and increases in agricultural productivity.

This growth has also been attributed to a number of factors such as, an increase in births, a decline in mortality rates, an increase in immigration and depletion of resources. “If fertility remained at current levels, the population would reach the absurd figure of 296 billion in just 150 years” (McKibben 1998). In 2010 over half of the world's total population (3.5 billion people) lived in cities – and that percentage is expected to reach 70% (6.2 billion people) or more by 2050.

Today, there are 1,313,180,218 people (almost 4 billion) currently living in China alone, accounting for 60% of the world’s population. Thus, it has the largest population in Asia and the world as a whole. However, the immense number of people residing in cities like Beijing is creating an employment crisis in China where there are too many people and not enough jobs.

The current Chinese unemployment rate was last reported at 4.1% in the second quarter of 2012. Historically, from 2002 until 2012, China unemployment Rate averaged 4.15%reaching an all-time high of 4.3% in December of 2003 and a record low of 3.9% in September of 2002 (Trading Economics, 2012). “China's job market could suffer a downturn and the government needs to step up efforts to create more positions” (Jiabao, The Telegraph, Friday 28 September 2012).

If predictions for a further increase in the population are accurate then “China's employment situation will become more complex and more severe," (Wen, 2012, The Official China Securities Journal). Many tactics are currently in action to decrease the population, such as China’s One Child Policy.

The one-child limitation is part of the population control policy of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It officially restricts couples to having only one child, while allowing exemptions for several cases, including twins, rural couples, ethnic minorities, and parents without any siblings themselves. Approximately 35.9% of China's population is currently subject to the one-child restriction.

The policy was introduced in 1978 by the Chinese government to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China and authorities claim that the policy has prevented more than 250 million births from 1980-2000 and 400 million between 1979-2011 (Rocha da Silva, Pascal 2006). The Chinese government and many environmentalists claim that population control is essential if humanity is to move on to a more sustainable track (Watts, 2011).

In contrast, an article in The Age written by Peter Cai in July 2012 claims that the one child policy will not reap the desired benefits that the people of China are anticipating. He claims that the Chinese Government needs to “take immediate action to change its controversial one-child policy, or face the consequences of economic and social catastrophes in the near future” (Cai, 2012). Zhang Erli (a former senior official from the Family Planning Commission) further claims that ''If the current policy is not changed immediately, China will face an extremely serious labour shortage and ageing problems in 20 years' time. The pressure on society will be unbearable” (Erli, 2012). In contrast, an article in The Age (published 2008) states that “25 years ago, China was concerned it had too many children to support.

Today, however, China faces the opposite problem: as a result of the success of its "one-child" policy, the country faces the prospect of having too few children to support a rapidly aging population” (Kaneda, 2008). Thus, there is much controversy surrounding the policy in regards to its impact on overpopulation. What is more, recently in China, there has been not only a focus on the one child policy but also on smart growth, containment, urban growth boundaries, compactness, density and many other concerns.

The big concerns in regards to overpopulation are the size and density of a population; the ratio of population to resources; whether these resources are available and sustainable and how resources get distributed – and these concerns are inevitably creating a real world crisis. However, overpopulation is causing a negative impact beyond just the availability of resources. It is forcing China into a state where there is a lack of renewable and non-renewable resources; diminishing sustainable food and fresh water supply; growing disease; epidemics; overcrowding and environmental pollution. Population densities are four times greater in the developing world than in the developed world. Developing nations are likely to more than triple their developed land areas by 2050 (Bee, 2012).

However, because China is a developed nation yet still so heavily populated, the carbon footprint of China is even greater. The three main causes of pollution in China are industrialisation; increased vehicle use and population growth. Recent statistics show that 656,000 people die per year in China from air pollution, that 50% of the earth’s tropical rainforests have been lost since 1947 and 388,000,000 barrels of oil are used per year for fuel, food production and the manufacturing of plastic products.

An article in The Age by Matt Wade claims that “China has become the largest contributor to the global increase in greenhouse gas emissions” thus, causing massive air pollution. The more people consuming, the more waste results and more waste means more stress endured on the environment. Water supplies that are contaminated because of the mass amounts of waste continue to be consumed because of the human need for water to survive.

Hazardous waste is also causing major health problems which are contributing to the many diseases and illnesses affecting humans. “Pollution is blamed for 300,000 deaths and 20 million cases of respiratory illness a year” (Wade, 2011) and has a direct link to overpopulation. Overpopulation and the pollution that comes as a result of it, has an impact not only on quality and quantity of human life, but also on the worlds already diminishing sustainable food supply.

We are five years into a severe global food crisis that is not likely to ease until the global population has considerably declined from its likely peak of over nine billion people in 2050. One billion people were classified as 'undernourished' by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009, and nearly a billion undernourished in each of 2007, 2008, and 2011. 3 billion people in the world today struggle to survive on US$2/day, and food prices are rising.

Experts seem to agree that we need to increase food production by somewhere between 60 – 100% by 2050 to sufficiently feed this many people (Grantham, 2012). Food shortages are the major cause of malnutrition, susceptibility to disease, stunted growth, stunted brain power and starvation and China’s current situation will only get worse unless the population is quickly stabilized and an agricultural advancement is discovered.

If the one child policy was to be relaxed, only a slight increase in average fertility would increase China's population and mouths to feed by hundreds of millions. Olivier De Schutter, a UN expert, argues in an article published in The Guardian that “the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to ensure the world's biggest population has enough to eat”, however the countries’ ability to “feed a fifth of the world's population will become tougher because of land degradation, urbanization and over-reliance on fossil-fuels and fertilizer” (De Schutter, 2011).

The widening rural-urban gap has hit supply and demand of food with nationwide nutrition levels rising and the growing income disparity has left sharp discrepancies in access to food. China is running out of arable farmland and water resources necessary to feed its massive population. The nation has one of the lowest ratios of arable land relative to population, and the situation has been exacerbated as industries consume scarce water resources necessary for farming. “Government officials are warning that that situation is getting worse, not better” (Fernando, 2010, The Business Insider).

Zhang Ping, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission claims that acute shortages of reserve farmland and water resources are now the main restraints for the country to ensure its food security. In contrast, many believe that China has the ability to ensure food supply regardless of the changes in population size. "The problem of food shortage does not exist in China. Although the grain prices and people residing in urban and rural areas are fluctuating, China's grain production capacity still can reach more than 500 million tons as long as we support farmers and stabilize the grain sown area” (Hongyu, People’s Daily, 2011).

Thus, there is some confidence that China has enough arable land and water to feed its projected population of 1.48 billion in 2025 and that food availability will remain satisfactory regardless of overpopulation concerns. At current fertility rates the world's population will only stop growing if people die at a faster rate, which is what will happen when we run out of natural resources.

Despite experts who claim that China is capable of maintaining their growing populace without compromising the current/previous standard of living, the nation is still at extreme risk of a domino effect with food shortages, job shortages, and severe health concerns from pollution in the near future – all as a result of overpopulation. Nevertheless, on a global scale the world population is increasing rapidly and many environmental sustainability issues are eventuating as a result.

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