Category Archives: Overpopulation

Speaking Out About (Over-)Population

There is a sizable number of people concerned about overpopulation. They are being drawn together by a new initiative, the Global Population Speak Out, aiming at undermining “a taboo of sorts against public discussion of overpopulation”:

GPSO was born of a simple idea: What if a large number of qualified voices worldwide, many of whom might not have emphasized the topic previously, were to speak out on overpopulation all at once? The strength of numbers might help weaken the taboo and bring population issues to a more prominent position in the global discussion.

You can see the efforts of the participants in this page. The main topics are the concern of overpopulation as a major driver in resource depletion (i.e. there are too many people consuming too much too quickly) and especially in ruining the environment.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I do not believe in gloomy forecasts, and particularly so in the gloomiest of them. I am also not convinced that there is a present situation of overpopulation right now: some back-of-the-envelope calculation seems to suggest full capacity would be around 15 billion people, even allowing for everybody to become a well-fed American. And who can forget that the current size of human population is the consequence of a struggle that must have lasted for a good part of the last million years?

Still, I also believe GPSO has a good point to make.

Let’s start considering their sensible attitude to past abuses of the overpopulation issue. Simply too many people have married the cause in the past because afraid of having to deal with millions of poor, black or Asian people. And still to this day, it is not difficult to find pea-brained arguments pitting children against the environment.

I do not see any trace of that in the original GPSO letter.

What I can see among the unfortunate repetitive claims about upcoming disasters, is a concern for what perhaps should not be, but still can develop in a big issue. My model for human activity in general is that of the long-distance travelers putting their stuff into the car’s trunk. No matter how much they plan to take with them, still they will more likely than not occupy the full trunk.

In other words, it is not much a matter of the size of the car, or the volume of things they want to bring to their destination: as far as humans are concerned, the whole available space is always to be wholly used. For another example, just check how many 1-h business meetings amazingly last for a full hour; and how easy it is for thousands and thousands of newspaper editors to fill up exactly all their available print areas, day after day, down to the eighth of an inch.

This ability for making full use of all resources within reach is something we should be very proud of; and wary, as there is little indication for when limits are actually reached. It always looks like there is more space in the trunk, and by speaking just a little faster more topics can be crammed in a meeting. But there is a limit, and the wise traveler will make sure loading is stopped early enough as to avoid damaging the car (or the stuff already loaded).

That’s why population should not be a taboo subject. And besides, it is also a topic closely related to personal freedom. For reasons too long to deal with now, women the world over have always seen their worth measured in the number of children they could bear. In theory, there is no actual need for that to continue any longer, and yet it still happens in one form or another pretty much everywhere.

Population sizes, from this point of view, can be seen as a symptom of an underlying bigger social problem. And who would want to make a symptom a taboo subject?

Children as Enemies of the Environment? A Good Riposte

Joanna Benn ponders in the BBC web site if “baby decisions” are “adding to the world’s woes”.

Yeah, right.

Luckily among the general doom and gloom, there is at least one reader making a very important comment to Benn’s absurdist thinking:

Hearing Ms Benn wonder aloud “how green it is” to have a child is chilling. My parents lived in a time when certain people asked each other, in deadly earnest, how “Aryan” some personal choices might be. One might turn and ask Ms Benn “how green it is” for HER to continue to walk the earth. After all, Ms Benn, with a residence of her own, undoubtedly consumes more valuable resources than an infant who simply
lives with its parents. But that is what we come to when we start running life by the numbers.
Seajay, Seattle, Washington

What Ms Benn does not realize, and what many people concerned about overpopulation don’t realize, is that it is one thing to wish a more manageable number of people to roam the world; but it is another, wholly different thing to behave and to reason as if children were things to hate.

And the latter is, frankly, monstrous.

Overpopulation’s Roots

One day within the last three hundred thousand years, a human not yet Sapiens cried the loss of a child.

Humanity has been trying since not to survive its progeny.

I say, even if mortality rates vary a lot across the world, all in all as a species we have achieved such a goal.

Overpopulation should be a source of pride, not just of worries

Sustainable People

Planet-wide Overpopulation?

(a) Acres needed to feed a person at US dietary standards = 1.2 (= 0.49 hectares)

(b) # of people = 6.5 billions

(c) Land needed to feed them = (a) * (b) = 31.5 million sq km

(d) Land available = 74 million sq km (from Wikipedia = half of the planet’s “dry” land area)

—-> “Current occupation index” = (c) / (d) = 42.4%

In other words, even if all humans were fed according to US dietary standards, there would be space for 15 billion people.

Even by being very conservative on the figures, it is hard to imagine why the planet would not be able to feed 10 or 12 billion humans.

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Interestingly, in an article published in Nature (“The end of world population growth” Nature 412, 543-545, August 2001), Lutz et al. forecast a maximum of 8 billion people, around 2075.

And I haven’t even mentioned likely, incremental agricultural improvements.

Planet-wide Overpopulation, then? Not at all.

And there goes another myth of contemporary catastrophism…