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Chapter 15 Population and the Environment

Social Problems in the News

“India’s Air the World’s Unhealthiest,” the headline said. A study by researchers at Columbia and Yale Universities ranked India as having the worst air pollution on the planet. India’s levels of one component of air pollution, fine particulate matter, were almost five times higher than the safe level for humans. The head of an Indian environmental organization attributed her country’s air problem to its numbers of motor vehicles. Although India has fewer vehicles per capita than wealthy nations, its vehicles are very polluting, and it still has a very high number of vehicles because of its huge population. Adding that India has very weak emission standards, she called for stronger standards: “We need to take big steps or the problem will overwhelm us.”

Source: Timmons & Vyawahare, 2012Timmons, H., & Vyawahare, M. (2012, February 1). India’s air the world’s unhealthiest, study says. New York Times. Retrieved from

This news story reminds us that air pollution is a worldwide problem. The story also reminds us that a major reason for India’s air pollution problem is its sheer population size, as India ranks second in the world with 1.2 billion people, just behind China. As India’s example suggests, population and environmental problems are often intertwined.

This chapter examines problems such as food scarcity and climate change associated with population growth and the environment. We will see that these problems raise complex issues without easy solutions, but we will also see that these are urgent problems that must be addressed. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the fate of the earth depends on adequate solutions to these problems.