Sunday, March 1, 2015


We will be discussing how overpopulation has led to larger consequences of pollution. The issue of overpopulation, coastal migration and pollution spans every spatial scale, but we will focus on local and regional issues, more specifically the urban, coastal cities of China. Geographically, The Eastern coastline of China is classified as a Deciduous Forest, characterized by “long cold winters, and warm, humid summers,” along with heavier rainfall ( Located around 30-45 degrees North latitude, the Deciduous biome of China is characterized by tall trees with lateral branches, an adaptation to capture sunlight that shines at an angle. Further, trees of the deciduous forest lose their leaves in the winter, a mechanism to deal with the cold winters and prevent freezing of internal piping. By losing its leaves, trees essentially enter a dormant season, avoiding both photosynthesis and water transport through leaves. Trees of this region are not adapted to fire. In addition to eastern China, Deciduous Forests can also be found in eastern North America, western Europe, Japan, and New Zealand.

Specifics of the problem

China’s population boom began around 1949 following World War II. Under Mao Zedong, a large citizenry was viewed as a way to bring wealth to China and promote economic growth. As a result, China experienced exponential population growth during the next 30 years, which can be classified into six distinct periods. We will highlight a few of them:
  • Initial High Fertility Period (1958-1961) - Population exploded from 118 million to 540 million from 1949 to 1960. As a comparison, the U.S. population is around 318 million. China’s population grew by more than the current U.S. population during the 1950’s. In addition, high birth rates and declined death rates were common. The Initial High Fertility period was the initial, immediate result of Mao’s encouragement and push for more children.
  • Post-Famine Recovery (1962-1969) - China reaches its highest point of fertility, with a Total Fertility Rate (TFR),  the number of children born to an average woman, of 7.4.
  • Rapid Fertility Decline (1971-1979) - Total Fertility Rate in China decreased from 7.4 to 2.8. Regardless, population growth continued into the 70’s, adding 290 million more people to China, totaling at 712 million.
  • Stagnation Period (1980-1989) - China’s one-child policy was introduced, and Fertility Rate decreased in 2.5
  • Below-Replacement Fertility Period (1990-present) - Fertility rate dropped to 2.1 children per average woman.
China’s Population Pyramid (pictured above) illustrates a tapered bottom with a bulge in the middle. This indicates a future decrease in population size.

 Chinese migration from rural areas to coastal cities is often described as the “largest- scale urbanization in human history” ( Beginning in 1978, a drop and decline in rural incomes sparked the initial migration of rural China. Unable to sustain life, Chinese farmers and rural workers began migrating in search of industrialized jobs with higher wages. The rise of factories in coastal cities and towns led to a demand in cheap labor, thus resulting in migration from rural farms into urban, coastal cities.
A major consequences of urbanization, industrialization and overpopulation is severe pollution, especially in the concentrated, crowded coastal cities of China. Such an issue is further discussed below under our blog post on larger consequences.

Other social consequences include China’s implementation of its one child policy. Consequences include:
  • China is a lineage based ancestry, with family trees that date back thousands of years. Such a policy disrupts familial relations, communities, and general health
  • Forced abortion, crime, snitching, financial strains on family with more than one child
  • Recently reformed the policy, allowing rural families to have more than one child. Example: If the family works in fishing, they are permitted to have a second child without punishment.
  • Social consequence of over 90% of urban children, and 60% of rural children having no siblings.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Larger consequences of the problem

Every large and developed country today at some point went through rapid urbanization and population growth.  One of the most notable cases of this was the Industrial Revolution in England in the 19th Century, which saw an explosion in population, particularly in urban areas.  Just as in China in cities like Shenzhen, many tiny rural communities grew into large cities in a matter of decades (  This came with a slew of environmental problems, most notably pollution and disease.
As these industrial centers increasingly turned to coal to feed their growing energy demand, air pollution became a major health issue as there were no regulations limiting emissions.  The “smog” that plagued many European cities during this time has many similarities to the smog in Chinese cities today, and took decades to alleviate.  As late as 1952, a smog incident killed over 4,000 people in London (  Since overpopulation, urbanization, and industrialization are all occurring on a much larger scale in China than in England, there are serious concerns about the possible effects of air pollution in China.

Image result for industrial revolution
Another major issue to arise from urbanization in 19th Century England was lack of sanitation and disease.  Since cities grew faster than the ability to properly plan them, there was no good system of sewage and pest-control, so disease grew rampant and cause many deaths (  While this is less of a concern in modern-day China because sanitation systems and technologies are more well-known and easier to implement, it is still something to consider as many formerly-rural towns quickly grow into large cities that need careful planning.
There are many global consequences to this issue as well.  First of all, a growing population obviously requires greater resources, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions and less food and water availability.  Even more significant, however, is rising affluence level.  As China continues to industrialize and improve its economy, its residents will continue moving to cities and demanding more and more resources.  One of the most glaring examples of this is China’s demand for cars, which has increased exponentially over recent years (Nova, 2004).  This has vastly increased the amount of Carbon emissions released by China, leading it to pass the US to become the world’s biggest emitter of Carbon Dioxide, and thus the biggest contributor to global warming.  In addition, China’s smog and air pollution has become severe enough that it has begun spreading to other countries, in some cases reaching as far as the Western United States (Nova, 2004).  

Another global concern with overpopulation and urbanization in China is the allocation of resources.  As China’s population shifts from rural to urban, there is a greater demand for food yet less farmers to produce it, leading to a possible famine.  This could become a global phenomenon, as more and more countries follow the same trend as China and most countries are unable to export food.  This concern applies to other resources as well, particularly non-renewable energy sources such as oil and coal.  


Although the issue is far too broad to have just one simple solution, there have been attempts and proposals of ways to reduce the environmental impacts of urban population growth in China.  As explained above, China’s One Child Policy is one of the largest attempts to control the population.  Although there are and have been many humanitarian concerns over such a policy, it has been effective at slowing population growth and stabilizing China’s population.  Recently, the Chinese government has become more lenient on the One Child Policy for rural inhabitants, which has helped to slow the rate of urbanization and has somewhat addressed humanitarian concerns.  

Another popular solution to overpopulation is women’s empowerment.  By increasing the educational and economic opportunities available to women, they are more likely to make decisions to limit childbearing.  Another important factor in this is the availability of contraceptives, which greatly decreases fertility rates (Kavanaugh, January 22, 2015).

One important solution to urbanization is careful urban planning.  As explained above, a lack of planning led to serious problems in many cities during the industrial revolution.  Especially for previously rural areas, good urban planning can ensure proper sanitation, decrease pollution, and prevent a loss of biodiversity in and around the city.

The availability of resources, however, is perhaps the biggest long-term concern to a country like China.  As food and water demand increases and supply decreases, China must find new ways to maximize food production using fewer inputs.  One way to do this is to use treated waste water for irrigation, eliminating the need for Nitrate-based fertilizers while also saving large quantities of water (  

Organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) are working with Government organizations, nonprofits, and businesses in China to find economically feasible ways to address the country’s environmental issues.  EDF has started a series of initiatives which give incentives to businesses that limit carbon emissions and adopt green-friendly practices.  In offering similar rewards to poor farmers that adopt low carbon farming methods, EDF and China have also reduced poverty and increased agricultural efficiency.  These programs have been very successful in reducing China’s carbon footprint so far, and look to continue increasing their scope (  


China is currently undergoing the most rapid case of overpopulation and urbanization any country has ever seen, leading to a multitude of environmental problems.  Although China's population growth has slowed considerably, its ecological footprint is increasing faster than ever before due to the country's rising affluence level.  Some of these environmental effects are well known -- particularly urban air pollution and carbon emissions, while other go largely under the radar such as declining supplies of food and fresh water.

As China increasingly becomes the world's leading superpower, it's consumption and emissions are unlikely to decline in the near or intermediate future, so in that sense the issue may never be resolved. However, measures are being taken to encourage businesses and individuals to adopt more eco-friendly practices, and as concern grows and green technology improves, China's ecological footprint will only improve.  Hence, it seems that the most realistic solution to China's overpopulation problems is not to decrease the population, but rather to decrease the consumption per capita.

In the next 50 years, we will likely see more countries begin to resemble modern-day China such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia.  These countries - those that have large populations but are still underdeveloped - can learn from the trajectory China has taken and what measures have worked and have not worked.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Works Cited / Reference List


Dudek, Dan. "To Understand China's Environmental Solutions, You Have to Think Big." Environmental Defense Fund, 27 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

"Effects of the Industrial Revolution." Modern World History: Interactive Textbook. Bellermine College Preparatory, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

H., Maria. "Northeast Asian Deciduous Forest." Northeast Asian Deciduous Forest. N.p., 2003. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

Kavanaugh, Kyle. "Demography." GEOG 5. UCLA, Los Angeles. 22 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

"Overpopulation in China." Codewit World News. Asia Pacific, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.

Scutti, Susan. "One-Child Policy Is One Big Problem for China." Newsweek. N.p., 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Seto, Karen. "Yale Insights." What Should We Understand about Urbanization in China?, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

"The Consequences of China's 'one-child' Policy." Washington Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

"The Great Smog of 1952." Met Office Education, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

"World in the Balance: China Revs Up." NOVA, 20 Mar. 2004. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

Yang, Li. "China Must Manage the Largest Urbanization in Human History." N.p., 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles:

Grimm, N. B., S. H. Faeth, N. E. Golubiewski, C. L. Redman, J. Wu, X. Bai, and J. M. Briggs. "Global Change and the Ecology of Cities." Science 319.5864 (2008): 756-60. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

Digital Images / Videos:

CO2-by-country--1990-2025. Digital image. Energy Information Administration, 28 Mar. 2006. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

"The Largest Migration in History." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.