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The Biggest Problem Remains Over-Population

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Today, Earth Day, behooves all of us to give serious consideration on alleviating the horrific problems that plague our world, and threaten to make it uninhabitable in a very short term. At the root of all the problems, including fouled water, polluted air and soil, melting glaciers, severe crowding – not to mention mass panic migrations (such as claimed over 850 lives this week) is overpopulation.

Already multiple lines of research are questioning the UN estimates that project a global population of 10.9 billion by 2100. If, however, women – mainly in the poorest nations and without access to contraceptives, have even 0.5 more offspring each  (than projected)  that 2100 estimate could turn into 12.3 billion or even 15.8 billion. The latter pointing to a certain ‘Soylent Green’ world. Meanwhile, Adrian Rafferty of the University of Washington, publishing in a recent issue of Science, computed there’s an 80 percent probability that world population – now 7.3 billion – will increase to between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion by 2100.  I personally don’t buy into that, firmly convinced – as Isaac Asimov once pointed out in a Barbados lecture, e.g.

Isaac Asimov makes a crucial point  concerning overpopulation and carrying capacity at his Queen’s Park Lecture in Barbados, on Feb. 6, 1976. He argued  that we either control our numbers ourselves, or nature will do it for us.

That assorted life-destroying forms of blowback (new diseases, mass starvation, antibiotic failure, disasters, wars) will limit that to the carrying capacity by that date. So we may well see only 3 or at most 4 billion inhabiting Earth by then. As Asimov bluntly put it:

“We can either control our numbers, or…..let nature increase the human death rate”

A serious marker is the fact we humans are currently consuming the equivalent resources of 1.5 Earths per year, which is clearly unsustainable. In fact, it is now approaching 1.6 Earths because of the added humans – more than eighty million per year (1 million added every 4.5 days according to Alan Weisman).   The excellent BBC documentary last year on the Earth’s population (hosted by Richard Attenborough) entitled: ‘How Many People Can Earth Hold?‘ also provided much needed realistic insights on sustainability and the planet’s bio-support capacity.

Attenborough didn’t pull punches or mince words, noting that every current major societal, environmental problem:  from clogged highways, to overflowing hospital ERs to crowded schools, as well as scarcity of commodities (reflected in their much increased prices) to fouling of our water and atmosphere and the greenhouse effect, can be laid at the feet of too many people on this planet – each needing food, air, water and energy from the time it’s born.  The more people generated the more CO2 produced as a result of their gobbling resources and assorted carbon footprints. While the latter are greatest in the West, because our societies are based on consumption, the lesser footprints also matter in the sense that wars, tribal unrest and religious wars can results in millions fleeing their home nations and disrupting the balance of life in those countries fled to.

Of all the resources, the most critical is water because no one can live without it for very long. Even now, 1 billion people live in water-stressed conditions, meaning that renewable water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters per capita. One notable ‘State of the World’ report (2000, pp. 46-47), warned that the ever increasing water deficits will likely spark “water wars” by 2025. As one Mexican water-truck driver observes on the BBC special (while making his rounds in Mexico City): “Not very long from now, we will see wars over water. It will be more important than oil. Even now, we can see how little people think of it and how much they waste it”. Indeed!

Attenborough reinforces this observation by noting the water intensity of the various beverages, foods we produce. For example, merely to produce one cup of coffee requires the consumption of 120 liters of water. To get a single can of beer requires 150 liters, and to obtain that ‘Big Mac’ or quarter pounder takes some 8,000 liters.

And we won’t even get into fracking for oil shale, given that each well fracked requires up to 5 million gallons of freshwater which is then despoiled for further use after being re-evacuated as “brine”..If 10 million frack wells are projected world wide by 2020 (according to T. Boone Pickens) then you can do the math and figure out that means 4  million gallons (on average)  x 10 million wells = 40 TRILLION gallons of water lost for human consumption – in a world already running dry from climate change.

Obviously, there is a link between fracking and population since the more people there are the more energy is needed to support them. Whether driving their cars, or using planes for trans-national business, or even their computers. (And we won’t even go into how much electronic waste is generated each year by sheer obsolescence.)

There is also the issue of the carrying capacity, or rather the bio-support capacity of the planet. If one divides the total output of bio-productivity (determined in terms of food crops generated per hectare, water volume per hectare, etc.) and divides that by the population, one can get some idea. One expert (seen on the BBC documentary) has calculated that based on his models – if we wanted a planet with equally shared bio-productive output – each human would get TWO hectares. If we inhabited such a world, then the planet might support 15 billion people. One could get this to eighteen billion if one reduced the hectare average to 0.5 per person, or about that for each Rwandan.

The reality is that the bio-productive output is not equal, and using a map of the world, Attenborough showed the divergences, with the UK consuming 5.5 hectares per person, and the USA, 9.5 hectares. Thus, the average USA person is consuming more than four times that which is defined as a fair, equal apportioning of resources across all the numbers on the planet. According to Attenborough’s expert, by this reckoning of such unequal apportioning of output, the planet can only hold 1.5 billion people.

Population Pollyannas might argue, ‘Well, no problem, just get everyone to reduce to Rwandan hectare consumption level’.  Right, and if you can show me any practical way that would be politically implemented I have a patch of beach in Barbados for you – for free!

There are, of course, more draconian solutions that have been used in over-populated nations, such as India and China. In the former, forced sterilization saw nearly 8 million males sterilized during Indira Gandhi’s reign but that had to be stopped on account of massive public outcry. Then China, trying to escape from its famine-ravaged past,  enacted “one child only” laws with serious sanctions. While people may seethe at such a law, they enabled China to achieve economic superpower status within a generation and now compete directly with the U.S. As Attenborough notes, if that law hadn’t been enacted China would now have 400 million additional people and still be at the mercy of famine from too few grains, foods or ability to import them. Nor would it have the military and civilian infrastructure it displays today – including for alternative energy.

The U.S. doesn’t need such draconian methods-  yet-   only minor tweaks to its tax code. Taking away the child tax credit, or having a sliding scale of increased taxes when people have more than 2 children, while giving credits when they adopt more kids in need is one possibility. The problem is, the U.S. is already overpopulated in terms of the resources it can deliver for 315 million people.

brane space

32 Comments on "The Biggest Problem Remains Over-Population"

  1. ffkling on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 7:27 am 

    Brought to you today by Soylent Red, and Soylent Yellow. And, new, delicious, Soylent Green: Due to its enormous popularity, Soylent Green is in short supply, so remember—Tuesday is Soylent Green day!

  2. ffkling on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 7:35 am 

    When I Ecosia (not Google), “How Many People Can the Earth Hold”, released last year according to the article, nothing comes-up, although there is a doc titled, “How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth” produced in 2009. So which is it? Any help, please?

  3. Davy on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 7:39 am 

    Article said “The U.S. doesn’t need such draconian methods- yet- only minor tweaks to its tax code.” Oh, how nice, lets leave it to the tax code. What a cat piss article like most of the articles I read on population. The projections mentioned are slop in slop out.

    At most we have 5 years of growth with at 500MIL more people. This is based upon peak oil dynamics and a significant contraction of the financial and production system we call BAU. We cannot grow without increasing oil and a growing economy, period. In 5 years we will have excess deaths over births with the economy declining. Oil will be in a vicious cycle of supply and demand destruction. Social fabric will be fraying everywhere rich and poor nations.

    We have a few short years to begin the transition to less with less. We can try to cooperate globally with an acceptance of a descent paradigm or we can go it alone attempting growth with cold, hot, and trade wars. We know growth is not possible in an environment of conflict.

    I challenge you to read this link and at least consider the implications as the devil’s advocate. Then compare the BAUtopian message that technology, innovation, and markets will deliver continued growth albeit smart growth. This BAUtopian message is a turd of a message.

  4. Kenz300 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 7:47 am 

    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

  5. welch on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 8:02 am 

    Kenz you are right. Concerned about our predicament? Have at most one child. The best thing you can do.

  6. dohboi on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 8:22 am 

    Yep, the biggest problem IS overpopulation…overpopulation of the top 20% global consumers that are using up 80% of the world’s resources!

    Get rid of them, and there is no overpopulation problem.

  7. keith on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 8:27 am 

    If you accept the 6th great mass extinction, climate change, over fishing, pollution, loss of rain forest, all other environmental damage, etc. Then we can still grow our population. If you remove oil from the mix, then the U.S. hit it’s carrying capacity in the 1930’s hence the dust bowl caused by normal agricultural practices humans employed for centuries. The Green revolution came about as a result, but it should be called the black revolution because its to do all with oil to grow food.

  8. Davy on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 8:40 am 

    Doe, it would be so nice if it were that easy. Lets eliminate overconsumption and everything will be fine. That just ain’t so Doe. Overpopulation and overconsumption are a twin predicament. Neither can be mitigated without upsetting BAU’s growth paradigm.

    Decreased consumption will destroy BAU. That is called demand destruction. This is precisely what is leading to oil supply destruction that is setting up as we speak. There are consequences and unintended consequences when you mess with a interconnected complex system.

    The only solution is embrace descent with mitigation and adaptation policies. Descent will create food insecurity and liquid fuel shortages. This will begin the rebalance of population and consumption. Bad lifestyles and attitudes will be abandoned out of the necessity of crisis.

    There will be no turning back when we step through that door. Excess deaths over births for a generation are in store. Economic descent the norm. This will be a painful and ugly time.

    It is coming either way. One way we can enter it with acceptance. The other with denial and chaos. Either way chaos will be involved but at least with acceptance better decisions can be made. Denial will lead to poor decisions, anger, and greater suffering. Now is the time to act. In 5 years the denial path will break and all hell will be let lose. That appears to be the path with BAUtopians fully in charge.

  9. joe on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 8:47 am 

    Blaming birth rate’s and poor people in poor countries is not a way to solve population control. Like global warming it’s clearly a problem that ‘free’ democracy has totally ignored because politicians today are not accountable to people not born yet. Therein lies the seed of our downfall. Civilisations fails because they exhaust their economies and don’t adapt to global changes. Rome fell because it became rich, dominant, liberal and socially pacifist and legalistic. It relied more on laws and amicable settlement rather than focusing on the issues which undermined it, they were relying on resources (wheat) from Africa which had regimes that hated Rome. They had unfettered immigration and allowed multiculturalism which divided up society and made it hard to maintain when resources were finally cut off and free state bread handouts could no longer be relied on.
    The same underlying social relationships exist today only in a more intense way. As much positivity brought us up to this point, when things trend the other way when our main resources reduce the negativity and downfall will be met with more woe and decrying god for leaving us sinners as and late roman period monk would have decried the arrival of barbarians (extremists) in their area.

  10. penury on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 9:04 am 

    As the local “church” teaches “God never gives you more children than you can take care of” religion the opiate of the masses,? or an excuse for the stupidity of the masses?

  11. Lawfish1964 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 9:46 am 

    We’re on a giant version of Easter Island. Yet we keep building Moai. And the trees are running short. You know how that story ended. Like ffkling said, “Soylent green” for everyone.

  12. Rodster on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 10:48 am 

    Over population is one of the byproducts of our money system which has gone global. You NEED ever more babies to pay for future debt. Exponential growth in ALL sectors are required for the system to function. If the population flat-lines or contracts, the system implodes.

    Human population will continue to rise until either we change the money system or we collapse.

  13. penury on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 11:01 am 

    “Human population will continue to rise until either we change the money system or we collapse.” This sentence tells you all you need to know. Collapse is inevitable, Thnx Rodster, its nice to see that someone understands the predicament.

  14. Plantagenet on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 11:55 am 

    Its no longer politically correct to talk about zero population growth, so why bother. Even the Sierra Club closed down their ZPG group when liberals complained.

  15. Mike989 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 12:21 pm 

    “Liberals” complain about the senile right-wing claims about euthanasia policies the right always sees coming.

    The solution has been know for years:
    Educate young girls and you slow their reproductive cycle. But the GREED of the 1% Hoarders will never allow that to happen.

    Nature will find a way.

  16. zoidberg on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 12:55 pm 

    Im having as many kids as possible. However I encourage the eco worriers to stop reproducing. The future is mine.

  17. Apneaman on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 1:56 pm 

    Overpopulation leading to overshoot is self correcting. The universe does not care about our plans and schemes. A decade here or there is nothing. Now that the rainy season is almost over in Brazil…….let the count down begin. Good luck Brazil.

    With rain below average Grande SP comes to the drought with less water than in 2014

    “We are much worse than last year. We are now in the dead volume and [in 2014] we were in the useful volume,” says on the Cantareira system, Marcelo Seluchi, general coordinator of research and development of the National Center of Monitoring and Alerts Natural Disaster (Cemaden), the federal government. “We’ll have to make do with what’s in the water tank.”

  18. Adamc18 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 3:27 pm 

    Here’s a fun calculation.
    1) Imagine that the creationists are right and humanity started with 2 people, 6000 years ago.
    2) assume growth rate of 1%, with the third member of Homo sapiens arriving around 30 years later.
    3) assume that 14 average human bodies occupy a volume of 1 cubic metre.
    4) THE QUESTION; using the following assumptions, what should the human population be today?
    5) THE ANSWER; a solid mass of humanity equal in volume to 11 times that of planet Earth.

    Population is currently growing at around 1.7% and started growing a couple of million years ago, so there must have been some stunning population crashes in our distant past for us only to have reached around 1billion in the 19th century.

  19. zoidberg on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 4:24 pm 

    Were all the descendents of survivors. First though you descendents to survive.

  20. Plantagenet on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 6:24 pm 

    @Mike 989

    Your attempt to smear the idea of “Zero Population Growth” with the phony label of “euthanasia” is silly.

    Haven’t you ever heard of birth control? The best way to reach ZPG is to restrict immigration and encourage birth control. Euthanasia has nothing to do with it.


  21. Makati1 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 7:47 pm 

    I don’t read these articles anymore. Not one has been realistic. All look at some “if only” answer as the solution. There is no solution, other then those we see approaching rapidly over the hill. Famine, disease and war. The same ones that have curbed all populations for millions of years. There are no ‘exceptional or indispensable’ areas that will escape the culling. None.

    I chose to witness it here in the Ps as you have chosen to do so in your area. I chose a semi-3rd world country for numerous reasons mentioned in previous comments. You have chosen yours for other reasons, some shared with us.

    All we, that have the means, can do is try to make the event as painless as possible. We cannot avoid it, no matter where we choose to hunker down. I am aware that the coming pain of the bottleneck will vary only by degree, not avoidance.

  22. dohboi on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 8:57 pm 

    Davey wrote:

    “Decreased consumption will destroy BAU.”

    Why in hell would we want to preserve BAU??

    “The only solution is embrace descent with mitigation and adaptation policies.”

    That’s exactly what I’m talkin’ about–policies that RAPIDLY embrace descent. the ONLY way to _rapidly_ descend (and that is what we must do) is to _rapidly_ cut consumption. The only place where big cuts in consumption are both most possible and least morally offensive is–surprise surprise–from the folks who are doing nearly ALL THE CONSUMING–the top 20%.

    Yes, aggressive policies should be put in place that will be the MOST likely to lead the FASTEST humane population control and reduction–mostly educating and otherwise empowering women.

    But that by itself is just going to take TOO LONG given the IMMEDIATE EXISTENTIAL threats we face RIGHT NOW.

    (Sorry about all the caps. Is there a way to do bold or italics in these little boxes?

  23. Mike989 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 10:19 pm 

    Plantagenet, right wing pretzel brain, did I beat you to your SMEAR of Liberals, and the New World Order, with the Youth-In-Asia?


  24. Mike989 on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 10:20 pm 

    Leave the Youth-in-Asia ALONE, and Educate the Worlds Children.

    Problem Solved.

  25. Davy on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 11:48 pm 

    Doe, I am no fan of BAU. I am constantly slapped in the face by offensive BAU activities I see daily. I walk around in a half daze of surreal-ness-es at modern life. I cringe when I see our Mother Nature being destroyed. I feel dirty when I must participate in BAU. I hate hypocrisy but I am a hypocrite by virtue of being a BAU child.

    My point Doe is not that I want to preserve BAU. I am concerned how do we exit BAU and when. This is a theoretical question because BAU is not manageable. It is a self-organizing organism that will follow its lifecycle. Yet, as a doomer I feel we need to have an understanding of the implications of actions in relation to BAU’s lifecycle. We also should be clear what will happen when BAU ends. We should not be preaching the end of BAU without also preaching a period of population rebalance IOW excess deaths over births, economic contraction, and a locust effect of desperate people.

    Doe, I am with you on the anti-BAU sentiment. I just want to consider the alternatives before we pull the trigger. Once the trigger is pulled there is no turning back. Again, not that any of us can pull the trigger to end BAU but we can clarify good and bad decisions. We can call out denial and lies. There are actions that different groups may pursue or preach but then they deny the negative consequences. We can at least get closer to the truth of what will be in store for us when the descent gathers steam and BAU decays into nothingness.

  26. Perk Earl on Fri, 24th Apr 2015 12:12 am 

    Forget about population because we ran past the 3rd base coach trying to slow us down a long time ago, much like we never read the signs from another 3rd base coach trying to keep CO2 below 350ppm.

    Our species seems to pride itself on throwing caution to the wind on many fronts. At this point we are all just along for the ride wherever it may take us.

  27. apneaman on Fri, 24th Apr 2015 1:52 am 

    Here comes the final solution to over population. Just 1 of dozens of positive feedback loops we have triggered. This will not stop no matter what we do now.

    Thawing permafrost feeds climate change

  28. Davy on Fri, 24th Apr 2015 6:59 am 

    Ape Man, this carbon release feedback is serious climate mojo. I know enough to be dangerous with climate science and basic physics. This appears to be the first climate trigger. All the ingredients are in place it seems for a large carbon release from the northern latitudes. This could further pressure the release of methane from the ocean. We know the deep ocean is warming where copious amounts of methane are deposited.

    From a doom perspective I wish I had a better handle on time frame. This is what is so frustrating with AGW. These AGW changes are on a global scale with earth wide atmosphere, ocean, and carbon/methane deposits. My mind sees the other doom issues as more immediate but I also know this may not be the case.

    These AGW conditions we are seeing currently have been proven by historical science to cause abrupt climate change. We are talking in as little as a decade significant and profound changes. Let’s say we have one of those abrupt changes in motion now. Let’s say this is a decade event and we are now halfway through it. I feel that is plausible but not yet apparent. What might this abrupt change be? Are there counteracting natural forces involved that could delay and magnify the abrupt climate changes?

    I feel for purposes of doom and prep discussions need to focus on the ten years or less. The reason I say this is our minds and lives revolve around the immediate as far as time value and planning. We struggle to live and enjoy the here and now often wasting good times with anxiety of the future. We humans are far too preoccupied with the future next 6 months. Yet, bills come due monthly and bigger bills are amortized leaving us slaves to payment periods. We also fantasize about the next period of our lives for example marriage, motherhood, and retirement. It is the immediate one year or less that has significant human value. We are especially tuned into monthly. Most of us have our I-calendars guiding us through the month.

    My point is AGW is frustratingly off the time value radar per human concern triggers. This is deceptive because we may be within an abrupt change. How can I doom and prep on something like AGW other than to say when the other near term doom hits AGW will be the knockout blow for BAU and our species. Rightly or wrongly this is what I see.

    I feel the climate folks are in delusion. There is little we can do to change AGW doom. Effective carbon changes will kill BAU. BAU’s death kills billions. Quid pro quo doom to doom. AGW folks try to paint the shiny AltE picture with smart grids and happy faces. This is so far from the truth as to be dangerously delusional no better than the BAUtopians. Yet, the carbon changes proposed also serve as good mitigation and adaptation policies for the end of BAU so the greenie delusions are a lessor of two lies.

    BAU is decaying and will die but its death will likely still be dirty and environmentally destructive because of the locust effect of 7BIL desperate people. AGW in the pipeline will likely leave less of a chance of avoiding a painful collapse. After BAU decays and dies it will be stable climate and the resulting agricultural conditions that will be the primary driver of human well being. That my friends is double doom of a BAU death with a destroyed environment and climate. We will try to rebalance in this situation for food and shelter. Hard to be optimistic about the end of BAU with those thoughts.

  29. apneaman on Fri, 24th Apr 2015 10:42 am 

    Davy, I guess the consequences of climate change depends on where you live and such. For example, here in Vancouver, I recently witnessed a number of visually stunning sunsets from the smoke and particulates of the Siberian fires, while some of the people there burned to death. It is so dry there the earth it self was burning – new normal and another feedback. Refugee boat people (dead and still alive) from the ME and N Africa are victims of climate change too. You can argue to what degree CC is at the root, but it doesn’t really matter since our response to long term stress of any kind is almost always to harm each other.

    Dahr Jamail is as up to speed on the bigger picture as any reporter out there.

    Species Extinctions, Human Chronic Disease on the Rise, as Climate Disruption Mounts

  30. American Idiot on Fri, 24th Apr 2015 10:47 am 

    Expect more wars…

  31. Makati1 on Fri, 24th Apr 2015 6:50 pm 

    It appears that the US drought is spreading.

    Apneaman mentioned beautiful sunsets from pollution. Imagine a sunset in clean air. No colors at all. Of course, no human has seen one in hundreds of years. Since the beginning of coal burning, I would guess.

    Speaking of burning, I wonder how many forest fires we will see this year in the Cali-Washington belt?

  32. Kenz300 on Sun, 26th Apr 2015 8:09 am 

    Endless population growth leads to more poverty, suffering and despair.

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

    Every additional child takes resources away from a previous child. How many pieces can you cut a pie into before everyone starves………

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