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Population will soon hit 8 billion. Here’s why that scares people

Population will soon hit 8 billion. Here’s why that scares people thumbnail

Any day now, global population will hit 7.5 billion. Experts predict that we humans will reach 8 billion in number sometime around the year 2024. Does that fact fill you with trepidation? Chances are that it does, even though it’s only a number, after all. “8 billion” says nothing about innovations in agriculture or renewable energy technologies, and certainly nothing about global social justice. How we will live as 8 billion, and how we will interact with our planet’s ecosystems is still a question that is very much up in the air. Yet I can predict with relative certainty that the stories that will appear when population reaches 8 billion will be couched in terms of grave concern, perhaps even catastrophic foreboding, and not solely because this is how we discussed population when we reached the milestone of 7 billion in 2011. I know this because the tendency to talk about potential cataclysm when we talk about population dates back to the origins of the word “population” itself. We literally do not have the words to discuss our collective numbers with each other without invoking potential devastation.

For the first century of what we would now retroactively call population science, both population and depopulation could have similar meanings, even though today they sound like opposites. This came about in part because of etymology and in part because it has always been easier for rulers to count dead bodies (corpses need to be buried or otherwise disposed of; and unlike living people, they don’t move about on their own accord). We inherited the etymological difficulty in part because the Latin “poplo-,” meaning army, is among the word’s roots. With this martial connotation, variations of the Latin term can refer to an army and what the army does to a place when passing through it. Moreover, the Latin noun “populatio” can refer to colonialism, so when we talk of “population,” we are also invoking the after-effects of colonialism. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that writers first crafted this English word in the early 1600s, and for nearly a century, it included the meanings both of a gathering of people and a “wasting” of people; of a deliberate collection of bodies and the havoc those bodies have wrought.

Bubonic Plague
Bubonic plague-en.svg by Andy85719. COM: GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

Even if we dismiss all this as semantics, we still find that the history of counting people sets us up to discuss population in terms of cataclysmic events. The first censuses took place in the aftermath of invasions, such as the Norman Conquest, or as ways of taking stock after devastating events, like the medieval bubonic plagues. It was in response to terrible losses of life that local authorities in Europe and America would print the earliest forms of population statistics, called “bills of mortality,” or counts of how many people had recently died. The earliest speculations about population projections we have—including by people like Benjamin Franklin—came from these counts of the dead, not from counts of the living.

Finally, the element of foreboding that undergirds conversations about numbers of people endures in perhaps its most influential form in the Old Testament of the Bible. The first people to advocate for regular state censuses (like French political theorist Jean Bodin) had to spend considerable time dismantling the idea that the Bible forbade taking state-sponsored counts. The prohibition was known as “the sin of David,” and mentioning it had the power to shut down debates about keeping national counts of living people all the way up until just a few years before Thomas Malthus wrote his influential Essay. It comes from a moment in the book of Samuel in which God sends a devastating plague to the Israelites as punishment for King David’s hubris in telling his servant to “Go, number Israel and Judah.” Unlike other Biblical censuses, this one provoked God’s wrath because it wasn’t divinely ordained. Here again, daring to talk about population means talking about frightening devastation.

By the time Malthus intervened at the dawn of the nineteenth century, telling a story about the future of a world population overstretching its resources, anyone paying attention to population would have been accustomed to speaking about numbers of people in apocalyptic tones. The difference was that, before Malthus, talking about population was a way of talking about a cataclysm that had happened in the past, and after him, we all talk about the cataclysm that is to come. This is not to say that our struggles with access to resources like healthy food and health care—especially reproductive health care—aren’t real, or most importantly, that climate change and ecological devastation aren’t frighteningly real problems. On the contrary, this history shows us that these problems are all too real—they are human problems that require human ingenuity to address them. Despite the deeply ingrained history of speaking about population, the problems we face are not, in fact, mythic, or inevitable, or supernatural, or to be taken for granted.

39 Comments on "Population will soon hit 8 billion. Here’s why that scares people"

  1. Davy on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 8:27 am 

    The problems we face with overpopulation and overconsumption are catastrophic and unpredictable. They cannot be separated and are in effect a two sided coin. Smaller populations that consume more are little different than those who consume less with more population. Where this gets messy is when people are claiming per capita fairness or criticism. The messy is when either are defended. Both represent our predicaments of limits. They are now and will continue to worsen. We are in denial of overpopulation and it is in effect a “slow boil”. Overconsumption is central to our social narrative. Population growth and depletion never sleep so these incongruities will meet at some point.

    Our fantasy knows no bounds in its ability to discount and dismiss the future as needed with that which is unpleasant. Fantasy is an amazing tool to excite techno optimism and progress. This is now a disease of modern man. We no longer seek wisdom because “no” and “less” are dead. In killing “no” and “less” we have signed our death warrant. Increasingly the lies will be exposed and the dreams destroyed. These are the end days of the world as we know it. We just don’t know it yet or are pretending it is not the case.

  2. John Kintree on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 8:30 am 

    Some of the oldest artifacts found at Jericho, dating back almost 10,000 years, are fertility figures. The imperative in the Bible was to go forth and multiply.

    It takes a while to figure out a new imperative.

  3. Midnight Oil on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 8:37 am 

    The surprise is when I bring this topic up the people I told to think there is no least as far as there own reproduction choice.
    To be honest, it is far too late to even think about turning back a sustainable level without famine, ect, ect.

  4. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 8:58 am 

    Human are Cancer to the Earth

  5. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 9:07 am 

    Humans are viruses?

  6. onlooker on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 9:18 am 

    All comments spot on.

  7. JuanP on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 9:19 am 

    We should aim for trillions and gazillions more! Mere billions are not enough. “It’s never enough! Do you want more?” Smart people have less children and stupid people have more so the average intelligence of humanity is lower with every generation. This has been going on for a few generations already. We are a devolving species. I didn’t read this pseudo intellectual crap but I really liked the colours on the map. It was a very colorful map! LOL
    GOD, are we STUPID!

  8. onlooker on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 9:44 am 

    Yeah, Juan at some point we should have said its enough. Enough economic growth, enough people, enough wars, enough racism and bias. So not only stupid but in conflict with each other. What is that malicious stupid. LOL.

  9. Jef on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 10:16 am 

    All we need to do about population and over consumption is make sure 90% of the population only has enough money to barely live and allow 10% to live like Gods.

    That is how the problem is solved now all we have to do is implement it…oh…wait a minute… By jove I think we are on the right track already!

  10. rockman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 10:22 am 

    OK, let’s see if we agree on the definition of “overpopulation”: insufficient resources to sustain everyone at an acceptable lifestyle level. Of course, even that isn’t good enough: is it a question of how much resources exist or how they are distributed? There are many hundreds of millions who are very “resource poor” because they can’t afford to buy those resources…not due to a lack of resources in the world.

    So that leaves playing the “how overpopulated” are we game. Maybe that’s close to the question “how pregnant is she”? If you’re resource poor or pregnant it does matter to you if there are 7 billion more in your condition or just 7.

    So the important aspect of the population dynamic is the potential to change your status. And just as important: not having that status downgraded. Especially as resources diminish while demand for them increases.

    Thus the population stat isn’t as important as the per capita resource avaibility. Or actually per capita resource AFFORDABILITY. So the important aspect of population growth is how much of the resource base will the newbies acquire. And even more important: how much will the oldies lose to the newbies?

    China is a perfect focal point of that aspect. The Chinese newbies (as well as many of the oldies) have greatly increased their per capita resource share. And since we haven’t increased the resource base to the same extent who has lost a portion of their previous share?

    The obvious bottom line: probably the vast majority of the newbies won’t have a resource satisfied life. But some will. And some with a resource satisfied life today will see some of it slip away over time.

    Which brings us full circle back to the theme of this web site: peak oil.

  11. penury on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 10:27 am 

    Bob used to ask “are humans smarter than yeast?” the answer in most cases was “NO” people like yeast and other invasive organisms does not identify limits, population reductions always occur by methods not of human choice and the on going extinction event will affect humans also.

  12. onlooker on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 10:28 am 

    Jef yes we sort of have that right now. The problem is it is NOT working very good. The excess poor masses continue reproducing like with no incentive and little capacity to stop. And the elite few having the capacity and incentive to engage in overconsumption

  13. Davy on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 10:32 am 

    Pen, yeast is pretty smart considering they turn mash into whiskey. At least their overshoot leaves a quality beverage.

  14. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 11:01 am 

    Deadly new wheat disease threatens Europe’s crops

    “Last year, the stem rust destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops in Sicily. What’s particularly troubling, the researchers say, is that GRRC tests suggest the pathogen can infect dozens of laboratory-grown strains of wheat, including hardy varieties that are usually highly resistant to disease. The team is now studying whether commercial crops are just as susceptible.

    Adding further concern, the centres say that two new strains of another wheat disease, yellow rust, have been spotted over large areas for the first time — one in Europe and North Africa, and the other in East Africa and Central Asia.”

    “He doesn’t know why, but speculates that it could be down to warmer autumns and milder winters attributable to climate change, combined with changes in farming practices, such as sowing wheat earlier in the season. Increases in international travel — potentially spreading spores on clothing — could also be a factor, speculates Brown.”

    New, Aggressive Rust Imperils Wheat Crops in Europe, Africa, Asia

  15. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 11:11 am 

    Cost of climate change grows steadily in Europe

    ““Climate change poses increasingly severe risks for ecosystems, human health and the economy in Europe,” the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) four-yearly report, published on Wednesday (25 January), stated.

    Extreme climate events, such as flooding and heatwaves, are among the most obvious effects of climate change. According to the EEA, the combined cost of these episodes to 33 European countries reached €393 billion between 1980 and 2013.

    The single most costly natural catastrophe was the flooding that hit Europe in 2002 (€20bn), followed by the summer heatwave of 2003 (€16bn) and Storm Lothar in the winter of 1999 (€14bn).

    Most damage in Germany, Italy and France

    The three worst-affected countries in absolute terms were Germany (€79bn), Italy (€60bn) and France (€53bn). In terms of GDP, extreme climate events caused the most damage in the Czech Republic over the 33-year period (0.24%), followed by Croatia (0.2%) and Hungary (0.18%). France’s losses between 1980 and 2013 were worth 0.9% of GDP.”

  16. Plantagenet on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 11:32 am 

    The US would have zero population growth if not for the massive influxes of immigrants and refugees backed by liberals.


  17. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 11:39 am 

    PIOMAS February 2017

    “Things just keep getting worse. After this year’s trend line went well below all others last month, I was hoping January would bring some relief, some cold weather. The weather was cold, colder than November and December, but evidently not cold enough for some seriously anomalous ice accretion. And so the gap has widened.”

  18. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 11:48 am 

    Vice President Mike Pence fired up the crowd at Friday’s March for Life in Washington, telling the pro-life throng their movement is succeeding.

    Keep shitting them little consumers out.

  19. curlyq3 on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 12:33 pm 

    Why is this population question always presenting itself? The environment will sustain whatever number of lifeforms that available resources will allow. Has there ever been any deviation from this relationship? Humanity will thrive when resources are abundant and Humanity will die off when they are not.


  20. Cloggie on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 12:50 pm 

    The three worst-affected countries in absolute terms were Germany (€79bn), Italy (€60bn) and France (€53bn). In terms of GDP, extreme climate events caused the most damage in the Czech Republic over the 33-year period (0.24%), followed by Croatia (0.2%) and Hungary (0.18%). France’s losses between 1980 and 2013 were worth 0.9% of GDP.”

    That’s over 33 years. So it is not 0.24% per year but 0.24% over 33 years.

    These figures are meaningless, unless compared with earlier periods. Typical scaremongering for a public hungry for collapse-tales.

  21. GregT on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 1:10 pm 

    “The US would have zero population growth if not for the massive influxes of immigrants and refugees backed by liberals.”

    Unfortunately the US happens to be on the planet Earth, and seeing that overpopulation is a planetary problem, the US is not magically exempt. Immigration or not.


  22. Kenz300 on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 2:11 pm 

    Too many people demand too many resources, yet the worlds population grows by 80 million every year
    How many charities are dealing with the same problems they were dealing with 10 or 20 years ago with no end in sight. Every problem is made worse by the worlds growing population.

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    Birth Control Permanent Methods: Learn About Effectiveness

  23. Anonymous on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 2:35 pm 

    Tell us more about this ‘birth control’ thingy kenzbot. It sounds fascinating.

    O Wait! You’ve already said the same fucking thing at least 1000x’s or more. Who here do you think doesnt ‘get it’ yet? The exceptionalist? He already practices effective birth control by spending his saturday night in his sheep pen. The reg’s here dont seem to be prolific breeders. Why dont you hop a plan to New Dehli and preach directly to them there? Might be more effective than telling boat and plantard they shouldn’t be breeding.

  24. aidan on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 2:47 pm 

    Imagine that the creationists are right (they aren’t, I hasten to add) – and it all started 4000bc with 2 people.
    Now imagine a population growth rate of 1%.
    How many people would that give us 6000 years later?
    The answer is a seething mass of human flesh bigger than the entire solar system.
    We currently have a growth rate over over 1%, so at various stages there must have been some pretty horrific setbacks for humanity in the past -not 6000 years, but hundreds of thousand of years.

  25. onlooker on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 3:10 pm 

    Hey Anon, let Kenzbot continue his routine sermonizing haha, we may not want the genes of a few here who post their inane chatter to be propagated

  26. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 3:36 pm 

    Clogscam, you can play muddy the waters all you want, but I know you know.

    The cost of the AGW jacked disasters are climbing quickly and are going to BREAK THE FUCKING BANK BITCH.

    U.S. Communities Clobbered by $53 Billion in Extreme Weather and Climate Disasters in 2016

    Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Table of Events

    Fort McMurray wildfire costs to reach almost $9B, new report says
    ‘This is an underestimation of the actual cost’

    “The ferocious wildfire that forced nearly 90,000 to flee the city and reduced thousands of homes to rubble came with a staggering financial cost.”

    3 towns burn down within 9 months and techno industrial man and all his fancy technology and resources are helpless to prevent it. This is just the hors d’oeuvres, cloged, wait til the main course comes.

  27. Apneaman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 3:42 pm 

    Sydney’s 40-plus summer of sweat: The record scorchers continue

    Moree’s ‘unprecedented’ heatwave

    Turtle hatchling deaths attributed to extreme heat and climate change in Australia…

    Read more at:

    Soon it will be the little human hatchlings and the elderly. Just one power outage away.

  28. onlooker on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 4:09 pm 

    Hey AP, we got a preview of all this in the summer of 03 in Europe specifically France.
    “The 2003 European heat wave led to the hottest summer on record in Europe since at least 1540.[1] France was hit especially hard. The heat wave led to health crises in several countries and combined with drought to create a crop shortfall in parts of Southern Europe. Peer-reviewed analysis places the European death toll at more than 70,000. Wikipedia.

  29. rockman on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 4:53 pm 

    curly – “The environment will sustain whatever number of lifeforms that available resources will allow.” In general terms perhaps but not completely true. Folks will who can acquire the available resources will be sustained. And those who cannot won’t regardless of the resources available globally.

    Same old joke: when a bear is chasing you and a stranger how fast the bear runs isn’t as importantvto you as how fast that stranger runs.

  30. makati1 on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 7:19 pm 

    Rockman,”Thus the population stat isn’t as important as the per capita resource availability.”

    BINGO! It is not that we cannot support 8 million with a reasonable lifestyle, it is that some would lose what they have to balance it out. All the fuss about “over population” is coming from those who will lose, not those who would gain. Greed.

    Just eliminating the billion plus cattle we raise for food in the 1st world would feed more than a billion new humans. But, again, the ‘losers’ do not want to see that fact.

  31. Davy on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 7:49 pm 

    I love how makati rationalizes the overpopulation he lives over in makatiland. He thinks you just get rid of some westerners and some cows and BINGO you can add a cool Billion. What a lugnut! Obviously he is nervous about what he is living in. 20MIL people as far as the eye can see and his legs can walk. This in a small Island nation of 100MIL that had 7.5MIL in 1900. Get the picture!

  32. Sissyfuss on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 8:12 pm 

    This conversation is so anthropocentric as to be disgusting. How do we feed more useless eaters? By continuing to destroy habitat and the countless fora and fauna found there. Even the so called enlightened members of this menagerie think it’s all about man and his dilemma. Our lives are no more valuable than any insect you may name and the denial of that
    condition will to the destruction of all.

  33. DerHundistlos on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 11:03 pm 


    I do appreciate the information you post since it could not be more relevant. I read the negative remarks and thought to myself, ‘why are some people so ugly in their comments?’ Do the negativists realize that this site receives new readers for whom your information could not be more prescient. So thanks for the good information and please keep posting!!!!!!

  34. Davy on Mon, 6th Feb 2017 5:49 am 

    Der Hund, his message is OK. It is a nice traditional green liberal message that is clearly failing. It is failing because it is not reality it is just more of the fantasy of hope that is everywhere. That fantasy is now becoming part of a nightmare called decline and decay of an unsustainable human civilization. Kenz’s problem is the message delivery vehicle. He does not converse and defend his libertard and techno vision potentiality. What a wonderful world if only we were all Kenz. It is a made up world of contradictions. It is American centered and disrespects the 3rd world by acting like papa Kenz. He is stupid and pathetic like an Uncle Sam. Kenz is talking about Kenz but on a public site that requires debate. Kenz just regurgitates and pukes copy and paste. He has never said hello like a human. Many of us are sick of it.

  35. Hubert on Mon, 6th Feb 2017 12:09 pm 

    Europe is just about done.

  36. Kenz300 on Mon, 6th Feb 2017 12:11 pm 

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    Endless population growth is not sustainable.

    Around the world we can find a food crisis, a water crisis, a declining fish stocks crisis, a Climate Change crisis, an unemployment crisis and an OVER POPULATION crisis.

    Wrap it up.. get it snipped.

    Birth Control Permanent Methods: Learn About Effectiveness

  37. peakyeast on Mon, 6th Feb 2017 4:31 pm 

    “Population will soon hit 8 billion. Here’s why that scares people”.

    It really should scare people!

    If not then perhaps they should take google earth map and zoom around the globe.

    Look at the state of the world: Its either mountains, desert, ice – or human settlements with traces of original nature.

    Anyone can see that the world is nearing 100% “utilisation” of anything resembling arable land – at that same time we will have exterminated any spoils people get from bush meat and similar items of interest from the “old” world.

    And at that same time the amount of arable land will nosedive until humans stop destroying it.

  38. George Busching on Mon, 6th Feb 2017 9:14 pm 

    Humans are subject to the same laws as all biologic entities: given a suitable ecological niche their population will expand to occupy that niche until a limit is reached. Unfortunately, humans have made the entire earth their “niche” and the limit now is total ecological exhaustion.

  39. GregT on Mon, 6th Feb 2017 11:12 pm 

    You’ve been posting the same cut and paste idiotic crap, almost every single day for at least the past three years Kenz.

    Give it a fucking rest already.

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