Human Health and Environmental Impact

Human Health and Environmental Impact

The majority of Americans apparently first became aware of the fact that human interaction with the environment could have harmful effects when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962 (Mayo, 2003). Since that time there have been multiple legal, community, and political campaigns to protect the environment and/or to control human population's growth to protect the environment. Doctors McMichaels and Powles reviewed the impact of human population growth not only on the environment, however, but also on human health, an area that has not been extensively reviewed. Their article, “Human numbers, environment, sustainability, and health,” first published in the British Medical Journal in 1999, is an important article because the comments and predictions made by its writers over ten years ago can be reviewed for accuracy today. This is the main reason this article is reviewed below.

Doctors McMichaels and Powles indicate that the majority of the research and focus on the impact of human populations in the world have focused on economic and environmental results (McMichaels & Powles, 1999). Their focus was to provide an analysis of not only how economics and the environment are impacted by human populations but also how human populations, economics, and the environment interact to affect human health. Their article pointed out that research at the time suggested that the “disruption of natural systems on a global scale ... [seemed] a more serious potential harm from excessive numbers than ... the occurrence of local difficulties in subsistence” (McMichaels & Powles, 1999). Although the world's population growth has mainly occurred in less developed countries the populations of the more developed world have placed more demand on the planet. However, as global expansion and economic growth occurred, the average income of less developed countries may rise closer to that of populations in more developed countries. Once this occurs, the authors, proposed, the demand on the planet's resources would be too great for sustainability. Further, this demand would likely contribute to decreased health due to increased air, water, and other pollution and harms (McMichaels & Powles, 1999).

As Miller and Spoolman point out, human populations have caused many problems for many different reasons. For example, 82% of the human population lives in underdeveloped nations that cannot sustain this population but the “high per capita resource” consumption in the world's developed countries is destroying the planet (Miller & Spoolman, 2008, 122). The review of how the increasing global development of the underdeveloped world, as in China and India, will continue to harm the word, points out that the problems is both the use of resources and the number of people who demand those resources. Indeed, these authors also indicate that death rates may rise due to health issues caused by overpopulation and the effect of that population on the world and itself. It would seem, therefore, that McMichaels' and Powles' views regarding population impacts were accurate, particularly given the globalization, resource use, increased health impacts, and rising demand for resources that has occurred in the last decade.


Mayo, L. M. (2003). The Legacy of Silent Spring. Chesapeake, Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. Retrieved February 20, 2010, from

McMichael, A.J. & Powles, J.W. (1999). Human numbers, environment, sustainability, and health. British Medical Journal, 319(7215), 977-980. Retrieved February 20, 2010, from

Miller, G.T. & Spoolman, S. (2008). Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions. Belmont, CA: Brooks Cole.

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