Thursday, 7 October 2010



Population and specifically population overshoot are very complex topics which have many contributing factors. A population is the number of inhabitants in a given place and so it is inevitable that it will experience growth and if excessive result in overshooting i.e. overpopulation.

A population grows and declines by a particular combination of births and deaths, growing when births exceed deaths and declining when deaths exceed births. (Sarre and Blunden, 1995) At a closer glance there are many reasons for these changes and many global problems which have resulted from overpopulation, this being when a population becomes so dense it results in environmental depletion, a population crash and a reduction in quality of life.

“We can’t resolve many of our most pressing long-term problems until we reduce human population. Overpopulation is the engine behind global warming, pollution, peak oil, social injustice and poverty, crime, resource wars, biodiversity crash, deforestation and drought -- just to name a few.” (Burr, 2009)

Many scientists and researchers have various opinions on this topic, population overshoot and many questions get posed such as whether it is a cultural problem?

One of the most influential statements on overcrowding was the Reverend Thomas Malthus’ famous essay on the principle of population where he argued that overcrowding was inevitable because population tends to grow geometrically. (Sarre and Blunden, 1995)


Many of the worlds greatest historians agree that changes in population have changed the world and by the end of the 19C observers began to see how fertility, mortality and migration were interconnected. (Connelly, 2008)

One may argue that there are limits to growth. This was a phrase introduced in 1972 by a group entitled ‘the Club of Rome.’ The researchers in this specific group made interesting projections through use of technological advances such as computer modelling of the world system to find that “humans are likely to overshoot the earth/’s resource capacity.” (GeoDZ, n.d.) This projection throws many factors into the equation such as sustainability and designing for the future.

In the past vast measures have had to be taken by governments to attempt to control their countries populations. The key example of this would be China. In 1980, the government introduced a policy that each family was only allowed to have one child. However, shortly after this drastic decision was introduced a shocking discovery was made. By 1990, the Chinese population had overshot by 14 million than “ the government had thought, according to the country’s most comprehensive cenus.” (Long, 1990)

This however is believable and understandable when one takes into account what Connelly, the author of ‘Fatal Misconception: The struggle to control world population’ stated in 2008, that the earth was gaining around 80 million inhabitants every year by the 1980’s. (Connelly, 2008)

The UK’s population particularly in the past century has also varied quite a bit. To begin with a brief statement of fact; in 2004, the UK contained a population exceeding 59.8 million people.

The population in the second half of the 20C began to noticeably age due to many advances made within the medical sector therefore giving a higher survival rate and low birth rates due to an improvement in sex awareness education in schools. This diagram below states that the percentage of the population aged 65 and over has risen from 15 per cent in 1984 to 16 per cent in 2009 equalling an overall increase of 1.7 million people. Furthermore by 2034 it is projected to have reached an impressive 23 per cent. (Office for National Statistics, 2010)

Population by age, UK, 1984, 2009 and 2034

Source: Office for National Statistics, 2010

The rate at which a population grows at can vary immensely and from 1951 to 2001 in the UK, the population grew at a very unsteady pace. As previously mentioned this was mainly due to reasons causing the fertility rates to exceed the mortality figures with an exception in the year 1976. (Jefferies, 2005)


Design is a vital element within society today if we are going to attempt to deal with the global dilemma of population overshoot. Burr states that, “We have overshot the carrying capacity of our planet.” (Burr, 2009)

As designers for this generation and the future we have to be thinking ahead innovatively on how to combat such vast issues and push boundaries. The textile industry needs to accommodate its wide variety of consumers but at a rate which fits in with the worlds resources.

Mass production has become a global trend resulting in well known high street brands such as Primark churning out goods for cheap prices. There is a total of 127 primark stores across the UK and Ireland alone.(Jones,2006)

Is this the answer to providing for the needs of an overshooting population?

Many people would argue that mass production of clothing detracts from the quality of the product and the amount of detail and attention possible. In an article based on research in denim trends in Great Britain entitled ‘Britain’s Bargain Boom’ Nina Jones states,

“High Street stores counter that the same amount of research and development goes into a pair of their jeans and they said they don’t skimp on quality.” (Jones, 2006)

Contradictory to this statement George Wallace, ‘chief executive officer of U.K. retail analyst Management Horizons Europe’ said,

"With the High Street denim brands, there will always be a certain compromise on quality." (Wallace, 2006)

The issue of whether the sheer quantity of the world’s population is being economically friendly is also an upfront topic in the sense of the resources available and what the textile industry needs. Designers strongly need to take this into account as resource depletion seems to be a growing concern which could potentially in extreme circumstances put an end to society and the textile industry due to the complete exhaustion of the worlds ecological resources. How do we then design to combat this suppressing disaster?

With the population continually expanding and therefore the demand for textiles growing it is vital that the textile industry takes the direction of designing with a lower environmental impact.

In a short clip based on technical textiles, Rob Holoway, the sustainable design consultant for Giraffe Innovation states,

“Any designer should be interested in new materials, processes and new opportunities for designing things that people want to buy, something which has a lower environmental impact.”

Technical textiles and sustainability work alongside each other as the theory behind technical textiles is to improve materials and products to deliver better quality and performance to the consumer. This evidently would then provide a garment or product which would last longer. Furthermore, this would have a knock on effect on reducing landfill as a large percentage of the population today throw things away instead of recycling and reusing.

The textile industry has a duty to create an awareness of prominent environmental issues and to design according to these especially if the population is projected to continue to grow and overshoot the worlds carrying capacity. In the short clip on technical textiles previously referenced it is stated that if everyone was to wash at 30 degrees instead of 40 degrees it is estimated that this would save the equivalent of up to the amount of energy used by 2500 villages annually. Furthermore, ‘The Saving Energy Trust’ states that, “Washing at 30 degrees instead of 40 degrees would save the same amount of CO2 as taking 300, 000 cars of road per year.”

This without a doubt would create a significant difference which could have the potential to be a break through for future generations.


BBC, Learning Zone, available [online]: [Accessed:2/10/10]

Burr, C. (2009), Overpopulation is a cultural challenge, available [online]: [Accessed:30/09/10]

Connelly, MJ. (2008), Fatal Misconception: The Struggle To Control World Population, available [online]: [Accessed:2/10/10]

GeoDZ, the earth encyclopedia, available [online]: [Accessed:2/10/10]

Jefferies, J. (2005), The UK Population: past, present and future, available [online]: [Accessed:30/09/10]

Jones, N. (2006), Britain’s Bargain Boom, WWD: Women's Wear Daily, Vol. 191 Issue 112, Special Section p46-46, available [online]: [Accessed:30/09/10]

Long, S. (1990), Chinese Population overshoots government forecasts by 14m, The Guardian [0261-3077] Long yr:1990 pg:10, available [online]: [Accessed:29/09/10]

Office for National Statistics (2010), Ageing, available [online]: [Accessed:30/09/10]

Sarre, P. and Blunden, J. (1995), United States, New York: Oxford University Press Inc., The Open University.

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