The past fifty years have witnessed two simultaneous and accelerating trends: an explosive growth in population and a steep increase in resource depletion and environmental degradation. These trends have fueled the debate on the link between population and environment that began 150 years earlier, when Malthus voiced his concern about the ability of the earth and its finite resources to feed an exponentially growing population.
The purpose of this study is to review the literature on population and environment and to identify the main strands of thought and the assumptions that lie behind them. The author begins with a review of the historical perspective. He then reviews and assesses the evidence on the relationship between population and environment, focusing on selected natural and environmental resources: land use, water use, local pollution, deforestation and climate change. The author also reviews selected recent macro and micro perspectives. The new macro perspective introduces the environment-income relationship and examines the role of population growth and density in mediating this relationship. The new micro perspective introduces the close relationship between poverty and environmental degradation, also examining the roles of gender in decision-making and the role of children as economic assets in fertility decisions. Finally, the author carries out a comparative assessment of the approaches and methods employed in the literature to explain the wide variation in findings and predictions.
This literature review demonstrates that there is little agreement on the relationship between population and growth, and even whether any relationship exists at all. Empirical research has been unable to resolve the issue because of limited data, divergent methodologies, and varying levels of analysis.