Population is the number of inhabitants living in a specific area. Human population specifically pertains to the sum of human individuals that live in an area, country, or region. Over the last few centuries, there has been a dramatic increase in human population. This is largely thanks to advancements in technology, agriculture, sanitation, and health care. Along with these, the beginning of the twenty-first century witnessed the global population’s transition from predominantly rural settlements and into primarily urban settlements. The common notion is overpopulation, but underpopulated countries do exist.
Population and its many components such as population growth, distribution, and movement, are potent forces that drive both human and physical events. One characteristic of human populations is that they have a strong influence on both natural and artificial environments. Issues with population, such as overpopulation, are often talked about with regard to the interaction between human populations and their environment. These discussions include concerns such as the availability of natural resources, and people’s relationship with these resources.
In 2021, the global human population was estimated to be at 7.9 billion people. Scientists project that this number will continue to rise in the years to come. Some studies suggest that the Earth has a maximum carrying capacity and can only adequately support 9-10 billion people. However, this estimate depends on a variety of other factors such as the distribution of population, and how fast we consume important resources such as food, water, and energy. Global human population is estimated to reach 9 billion by the year 2100.
A majority of world population growth happened only in the last century, and mostly in the world’s developing countries. Human population, its patterns, and its effects, has therefore become an important point of scientific inquiry. Ecologists suggest that the world’s human population has grown past our planet’s carrying capacity. It is estimated that if every person on earth were to adopt the average American lifestyle, the Earth’s resources would not be enough to support the current world population.
World Population Distribution
In reality, humans only occupy a small percentage, around 5 percent, of the Earth’s surface. This is because our planet is covered with a variety of geological features that are hard to occupy such as deserts, rainforests, oceans, and glaciers. Areas in which human populations permanently reside are called ecumene. The growth of human populations and the development of technology contribute greatly to the increase of human ecumene. Additionally, these also have significant effects on many of the Earth’s ecosystems.
The nature of the Earth’s irregular geography is largely responsible for the distribution of human populations around the world. People are not spread out uniformly around the world, rather they live in clusters. Human habitation is limited by the natural factors in our environment. Populations are usually lower in environments that lean towards the extreme. Oftentimes, humans avoid living in areas that are too hot, cold, dry, wet or mountainous. On the other hand, larger populations tend to be located in areas near large bodies of water, or are abundant with natural resources or mineral deposits.
These factors have led the global human population to live in three major clusters, namely, East Asia (China), South Asia (India and Indonesia), and Europe. A great majority of people live in East and South Asia.
Overpopulation is the state wherein the size of a population is too large to be sufficiently supported by the resources of a specific region or country.
In contrast to this, underpopulation is a region or country’s lack of sufficient workers in a population to efficiently make use of their resources, to support older populations, and to aid in economic growth. In other words, underpopulation is where there are too few people to efficiently maximise the resources of an area.
Underpopulation may occur in rural areas as people flock to urban areas, or are otherwise displaced by natural hazards, war, and infectious diseases such as HIV. Depopulation and the decline in agricultural production are also contributors to the underpopulation of rural regions. At present, a majority of areas considered to be underpopulated are those large in size and rich in resources.
Underpopulation can have many negative impacts on the region or country’s economy. A few examples of the impacts of underpopulation include limitations in workforce, fewer taxpayers, the wasting of a region’s resources, and the closure of various services.
Australia is the world’s sixth largest country. It has an area of 7,682,264 square kilometres, making it nearly the size of the United States of America. Australia has a total population of 25,499,884, ranking as the 55th country with the largest population in the world. It has a population density of 9 people per square mile. From the years 2015-2020, Australia had a population growth rate of 1.3%, landing it a spot as the 21st country with the slowest population growth in the world.
Most of Australia’s population is condensed in its coastal regions. The centre of the country is dry, arid, and has extended periods of drought, intense heat waves, and wildfires. Climate change and the rise in global temperatures have made these areas even more inhospitable to its inhabitants.
Canada is the world’s second largest country by area, having an area of 9,093,468 square kilometres. It is also the world’s 39th largest country by population size at 37,742,154. Canada has a population density of only 11 people per square mile. Although its sheer size lands it in the spot for the world’s second largest country by area, much of Canada has temperatures too low to be comfortably inhabited by people. The majority of Canada’s inhabitants settle along its southern border, which it shares with the United States. In this region, the climate is much milder, and agriculture is possible. Canada has the world’s 15th slowest population growth rate at 0.9%, which is largely the product of immigration.
Greenland is an island-nation considered part of the North American continent. A great majority of this island, 80% to be specific, is covered by a large glacier. In the summer, Greenland’s arctic and subarctic temperatures range from -1.11 to 10 degrees centigrade. Greenland’s temperatures in the winter stay consistently below -18 degrees celsius.
Greenland is the world’s 12th largest country with an area of approximately 410,448 square kilometres. At the same time however, it is also the world’s least densely populated country. Greenland has a population density of 0.4 people per square mile. In 2020, Greenland’s population was estimated to be 56,770–the 5th smallest population in the world. A majority of this population is made up of the Kalaallit, an Inuit people. More than 80% of the Kalaallit live on Greenland’s southwest coast. This is largely because this region has the mildest climate. In between the years 2015 till 2020, Greenland had the world’s third slowest population growth rate at 0.1%.
Iceland is the second largest island in Europe. Located right underneath the Arctic Circle and in between Greenland and Scotland, it has an area of 100,250 square kilometres. Iceland has a population of roughly 362,860 people. A majority of this population, around 63 percent, lives in the vicinity of its capital Reykjavík. At present, Iceland’s population growth is at 0.7 percent, a healthy rate on par with its other European neighbours. Iceland has a population density of 9 people per square mile.
The country’s interior is characterised by its unforgiving arctic climate. Most of Iceland’s population inhabits the mild-weathered coastal areas. An estimate of over 95 percent of Iceland’s population lives in the urban areas dotted along its coast. In the summer, Iceland has 24-hour daylight, leading to bright nights. In contrast to this, Iceland’s dark winters allow the northern lights to be seen by the naked eye.
Mongolia, found in the continent of Asia, is the 19th largest country in the world with an area of 1,553,552 square kilometres. Its landscape largely consists of steppes, desert, and semidesert environments. Mongolia’s population of 3,278,290 people makes it the 19th smallest population, and third least populated country. Mongolia’s population density is estimated to be around 5 people per square mile. Approximately 45% of Mongolia’s population inhabits its capital Ulaanbaatar, which is also the world’s coldest capital city.
Located in the continent of Africa, Namibia is the world’s 18th largest country with an area of 823,827 square kilometres. Namibia also holds the title of the world’s 18th smallest population at 2,540,905 inhabitants in 2020. It has a population density of 8 people per square mile. In the 1990s, Namibia experienced a drastic decrease in population growth due to the AIDS epidemic. However recently, its population growth was the 20th fastest, measuring at 1.9% in 2015 to 2020.
Namibia’s geography consists of desert regions rich in minerals but with limited land available for agriculture. This makes Namibia especially prone to long periods of drought. More than half of Namibia’s population–55 percent–lives in rural areas along its northern and northeast borders. This is mainly because water is more accessible in these areas.
French Guiana is a country located on the eastern coast of South America. Saddled in between Brazil and Suriname, French Guiana has a small area of roughly only 82,198 square kilometres. In 2020, its population was estimated to be at 298,682. Most of French Guiana’s inhabitants live in the cities along its coast, while the dense rainforests at its centre remain mostly uninhabited. This explains the country’s low population density of 9 people per square mile. French Guiana has a relatively fast population growth rate at 2.7 percent between the years of 2015 to 2020.
Suriname is the smallest country that belongs to the South American continent, with an area of 156,000 square kilometres. Similar to its neighbour, the aforementioned French Guiana, most of Suriname’s area is covered with dense tropical rainforest. In 2020, Suriname’s population was estimated to be around 586,632. Nine tenths of its population resides in Suriname’s capital city, Paramaribo, found on its Atlantic Coast. Since most of its people are condensed on the edges of the country, Suriname’s population density is around 10 people per square mile. Its population grows at the rate of 1.0 percent.
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