POPULATION, LAW & ENVIRONMENT:

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Introduction:

With the emergence of environmental movements in the last decade, one of the major problem concerning the environment if the swift increase in the population all over the world. But many times the problem of population is not mapped with that of the environmental degradation. The impact of the environmental movements which disengaged themselves from the problem of overpopulation has a very little impact. The environmental concern and the concern of overpopulation are interconnected. One needs to understand that both these problems cannot be solved by dealing them separately, but can only be solved if both the problems are kept in one bucket and then we look after both these problems collectively. The major questions before ourselves regarding the issue are: whether we humans are pressing the Earth more than what it is capable of? What laws and what policies have we adopted internationally and within specific countries to overcome the problem of overpopulation? Are these laws and policies are effective enough to control environmental degradation and resource depletion? All these questions are not just questions, these are all hurdles before us to sustain ourselves on the mother Earth. We need to understand that not only the government is answerable to these questions/problems, but we as a human, as the most intelligible being are answerable to these. Because at the end of the day, nature sees no government, no boundaries, and no development, if we continue to destroy and overuse it, it will destroy all of us collectively, because as Newton has wisely said, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. If we do not check out over actions, the reactions are going to be equally worse from nature’s side.

Inter-Relation of population and environment

The population growth since 1920 is both alarming as well as challenging. From 1.86 billion people in 1920 to today’s 7.50 billion, the population has increased in a very swift speed. This swift growth of population and the degradation of the natural resources are both inter-related. In the global world today, the average of children per woman is 2.5 children per woman and this ratio is growing day by day especially in the underdeveloped and the developing countries. To face this problem, many governments have initiated to address these problems and an effort was made by many countries’ government to control the growth rate. The governments have deployed many print media, radio, televisions, and pre-marriage counseling to educate and aware the people about the alarming growth of the population. The results of these initiatives were also dramatic. One of the major examples of this success is that of Iran wherein 1986 the average was 6 children per woman and after the initiatives taken by the government to control the growth, it has dropped to merely 1.65 children per woman.[1] It is therefore quite evident that without the policy implementation the crash of the world is inevitable. The basic concern of environmental degradation is its overuse and high aggregate consumption. Aggregate consumption is the product of the population size and per capita consumption. This environmental overshoot is causing humans to live on its natural capital and not on the interests that flow from it. Natural capital not only includes the fossil fuels, timber and minerals, but it also includes soil, fish stock, natural destroyers of crop pest, disease vectors, And more importantly it now also includes the plastic trash, sinks for carbon dioxide and other pollutants and toxins. Talking about the signs of this overshoot; they are just everywhere. Millions of people are starving and sleep with a hungry tummy, millions are mal nourished due to lack of nutrients, large decline in the energy, global warming which is heating up the planet day-by-day, melting glaciers, rise in the sea level, the increasing extreme weather, the pollination crisis, the weight of the plastic trash in the oceans increasing every single day which soon will exceed the weight of fishes in the oceans, ocean dead zones, global toxification and most importantly the automatic decline in the democratic government due to an increase in the population as each individual’s voters say is diluted. These symptoms clearly show us that the growth in the population is exceeding the Earth’s long term carrying capacity. This undoubtedly impacts on the environment as more people on the Earth means more energy is required for their consumption and hence resulting in the overconsumption of the natural resources. The relationship between the growth of population and that of the environment is a complex relationship. As the global population continues to grow, limits on the global resources came into a sharper focus. Current technology, policies, and cultural influences are some of the mediating factors which influence the relationship between the population growth and the environment depletion. Among these, technological changes were the most influencing for the change in the environmental conditions due to energy use. The consumption of oil, natural gas and coal have increased with a drastic rate in the last 100 years. The industrialization has resulted in not only overconsumption of the natural resources but also it is responsible for the pollution because of its polluting production processes. Two specific areas where the complex relationship between the population and the environment can be understood are 1) Use of Land, and 2) Global Climatic change. Talking about the former area i.e. the Land use, the increase in the population in the last century has resulted in the decrease of farmland which further contributed to the growing concerns about food production. We all know that to fulfill the resource requirement of the people, we need land, to provide for the food. But the increase of the population has resulted into the clearance of forest to intensify the production of cultivated land to meet the food requirements of the people and to develop infrastructure to meet the housing needs of the ever-growing population. According to a survey, during the last three centuries, the cultivated land has increased by 450% and it’s apparent that to increase the cultivable land, reckless cutting of forest has been done over the past centuries.[2]Decline in the forest cover over the past years has affected a lot to the environment and ultimately affected us.  Now the second area which is the global climatic change, in which few years have been the warmest on record. The temperatures have been influenced by the increasing concentration of the greenhouse gases, which absorbs the solar radiation/energy and warm the temperature. And there is no doubt that the change in temperature is not natural but human-induced. This is due to the carbon dioxide and other toxic gases which are produced by the industries. Also, the deforestation has affected the exchange of the carbon dioxide between the Earth and the atmosphere. The impacts are not unidirectional in the Human-Environment system, rather they are reciprocal.[3]

International policies to curb the problem of population

Now the main and the most important question that arose is that what should the policymakers do to control environmental degradation? Now, we have clearly understood that the rapidly growing population is the primary culprit in the environmental decline. Addressing the problem of overpopulation by making policies to control it will surely serve the environmental problem as well. Over the period of time, there have been numerous attempts made by the international organizations to deal with the issue of the overpopulation. Soon after the establishment of the United Nations, in 1946, a commission was created in order to create awareness and generate knowledge targeting the population dynamics. The 1994 Cairo meeting played an important role in providing technical assistance to the countries which are members of the United Nations and safeguarding human rights in terms of reproductive health and rights. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) set a broad agenda for population work. It provides for basic family planning, poverty eradication, and reproductive health services. It also talks about environmental protection and Human Rights. [4] In 2000, UN summit issued a Millennium Declaration[5] and after this also issued Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and talks about expanding access to sexual and reproductive and health information which is one of the MDG.

India’s concern over overpopulation

In India, the approach towards family planning policies taken after the 1962 census when the growth rate of the population came to be more than 20%. The approach came up with the adoption of the educational approach to family planning and not only this, the family planning program was made target oriented and about Rs. 27 Crore were allocated during the Five Year Plan. The efforts were directed towards social acceptability for a small family and increasing information and knowledge about the family planning methods. In 1976, National Population Policy was announced which includes providing education to the women, raising the age of marriage for both boys and girls, and raising the monetary incentive for persons who are undergoing sterilization according to the number of children in the family. The targets for sterilization were fixed for each and every state and within the span of 3 years, the number of sterilizations rose from 9.4 lakhs to 82.6 lakhs. Despite all these policies, the population growth tends to increase in India and in 2000, India reached a population of 100 Crores. National Population Policy of 2000 came up with the objective to address the unmet needs of contraception, health care infrastructure and hence to lower down the population growth.[6]

Conclusion

So, we can see that the efforts were already been made by the international organizations as well as the governments of the individual countries but the problem today remains as it is. The government can only make policies, accepting them and working on those policies is our job. As of 2017, there are over 200 million women of reproductive age worldwide with an unmet need for family planning. Unless their needs, demands, and reproductive rights become a priority, the necessary balance between population growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability will not exist.[7]We all know what to do, all we need is to do it.

Endnotes

[1]Aghajanian A., Merhyar A. H. 1999, Fertility, contraceptive use and family planning program activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Int. Fam. Plann. Perspect. 25, 98–102

[2]Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), “The State of the World’s Forests, 1999”, Rome, Italy: FAO, 1998.

[3]Cohen JE. How Many People Can The Earth Support? New York: Norton; 1995

[4]UNFPA 1995Summary of the ICPD program of action. See http://www.unfpa.org/icpd/summary.cfm, accessed 3 February 2019

[5]United Nations. United Nations Millennium Declaration. 2000. General Assembly resolution 55/2, Sept. 8.

[6]Singh S., Darroch J. E., Vlassoff M., Nadeau J. 2003, Adding it up: the benefits of investing in sexual and reproductive health care New York, NY: Guttmacher Institute

[7] Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C. www.eli.org. Reprinted by permission from The Environmental Forum, March/April 2017


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