The Population Explosion
It is not possible to determine the exact timeframe of human existence on Earth. According to renowned scholar Haub, the United Nations Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends indicate that the initial signs of human life date back to 50,000 BC (Haub).
In very simplistic terms, the human population can grow only if the death rate is less than the birth rate. It appears that this was not possible in the beginning and the world population grew very slowly. Initially, the food supply was scarce and human life was dependent only on hunting. Weather conditions were harsh, and the living conditions were unfavorable. Earthquakes would wipe off whole civilizations from the face of the planet. The average life expectancy was as short as ten to twelve years in France during the Iron Age, for example. Diseases like plague used to claim millions of lives, reducing the population significantly. Even seemingly common diseases like pneumonia, malaria or chicken pox used to be fatal. Famines wiped out huge settlements. The pattern of growth was diversified around the globe, depending upon the food supply and other factors like diseases and warfare. Human dependence on nature kept the population from growing until the agricultural revolution occurred almost ten thousand years ago.
Around 8000 BC, the world population is speculated to have been approximately around five millions. Around that time, human civilization experienced a breakthrough in terms of agricultural revolution. Before that change, hunting was the only means of subsistence which was neither reliable nor plentiful. The food supply based on agricultural produce helped stabilize the world population. It was a milestone and it finally became possible to maintain bigger families and keep them healthy through nutritious agricultural produce. However, medical science was still lagging and disease played havoc at will, keeping the average life expectancy at relatively low rates.
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The total human population constituted only one billion in 1804, barely two centuries ago. At that time, an amazing population explosion took place. The population growth rate increased exponentially and has now reached approximately 7.1 billion, according to the United States Census Bureau population clock. This clock provides constant updates and shows the current United States and global population (US and World Population Clock).
Hence, the population explosion is a relatively current phenomenon as it occurred during the past two centuries. One may directly link this phenomenon with the agricultural advancements and industrial revolutions in Europe in the eighteenth century. The population in Europe was around 190 million in 1800; but it reached the phenomenal figure of 460 million by 1914. Compared to this, the population of the rest of the world was only about 200 million. Europe was the epicenter of this population boom. It is difficult to determine what exactly caused the population explosion; industrial revolution, agricultural advancement and technological improvements were taking place almost simultaneously.
The increase in population happened due to multiple factors. Women, on the average, began to marry three years earlier. This way, they were able to produce more children. Increased food supply meant better health and chances of survival. The number of deaths from war, famines and other diseases also reduced during this timeframe. Vaccination became mandatory and life expectancy increased dramatically. Hence, more births, higher mortality ratio and increased life expectancy contributed to the sudden surge in Europes population.
The agricultural sector improved in England tremendously between 1750 and 1900 AD. This period coincides with the time of the Industrial Revolution in England as well. The Industrial Revolution meant more people moving to cities. Higher urbanization caused a thinning out in the countryside population. Farmers were forced to improve their agricultural techniques and invent new ways to utilize their lands and labor. The increased agricultural produce could sustain a bigger population besides keeping them healthy. They began to transport and sell surplus food products around this time.
The world population also grew at such a tremendous rate over the past two centuries due to technological advancements. Discovery of vaccines for previously fatal diseases, improved sanitation, better housing facilities providing shelter from harsh weather are the factors which contributed to a higher average lifespan and, consequently, population growth. The Industrial Revolution provided better employment opportunities to people as well. The social development followed as a consequence, which further improved the chances of survival of human race in these new times.
Another population explosion has been observed in Asia. There has been rapid population growth in countries like China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and it occurred only during the past century. With China leading the list, the other three countries also have a place in the top ten most populous countries of the world, according to the US and World Population Clock. In addition, these countries have geographical proximity, making this a densely populated region on the globe. The United States is the third most populous country of the world. Its population grew to 317 million from a mere 3.9 million in 1790.
One can conclude that population explosions are directly related to technological advancements in agriculture, industry, medicine etc. The concern over negative effects of overpopulation is also being felt. However, the population growth is already showing a negative trend in some western countries.