Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Overpopulation, is it really a problem?

with 9 comments

World Population Growth

Overpopulation. This was a big issue in the sixties and seventies. One hardly ever hears of it anymore, at least in the popular arena. Partly this is because birthrates have gone down over much of the world, and it looks like the human population will level off at about 9 billion or so.  So of course, the problem has been solved, and we don’t need to worry about it anymore? There are certainly those claiming the population bomb has been defused.

I don’t think so. Overpopulation was one of the topics I promised to write about in my “coming apocalypse” posts this spring. My basic theory, which I have been refining since the 1970s, is that a number of things humans are doing are all going to hit the fan around 2015 or so. It’s not a terribly original theory, many have made similar predictions. And in my particular theory, overpopulation is one of the really big factors that’s adding up to this critical explosion.

There’s several facets to this topic that make it of particular interest when examining the human condition. The first though is the fact that this is a real issue. For example, if the world’s population had continued to grow at the rate it was growing in the 1960s, by the year 16,000 or so, all matter in the Universe would have been converted into human beings. Clearly an unsustainable rate of growth. The situation has improved since then, but the world’s population continues to grow. The world’s population will hit seven billion any day now, blithely assuming that adding another two billion people is “no big deal” is missing the point.

The point is we don’t know what the actual carrying capacity of the planet is, estimates range from 2 billion to 40 billion. The 2 billion figure is if everyone lives at the American average standard of consumption. 40 billion if we all live at the lowest possible consumption level, like 75% of the human population currently does. Since we don’t actually know what the number is, claiming that everything is fine while the number of people is still going up is like claiming a dam won’t break even though the reservoir is still filling and we don’t know how strong the dam is. And since the total mass of human beings is already far greater than the mass of any other single species that has ever lived, I think it’s safe to say that there is still cause for concern.

Another problem is that the 7 billion people currently living are already degrading the environment, and thus lowering the Earth’s carrying capacity. Ground water depletion, topsoil erosion, deforestation, pollution, over-fishing, soil desalinization, and others are still significant problems over much of the globe. So we have a situation where the world population is still going up, while the ability to support said population is still being degraded over much of the Earth. Um, as long as these two trends are diverging, I think it’s safe to say that we aren’t out of the woods yet.

And sadly, this is an issue where religion has played and is playing a truly ugly role. Catholicism and Evangelists in particular have worked very very hard around the globe to discourage family planning and birth control. There’s no telling how many extra mouths the world has to feed because of this, and it’s a problem that may be getting worse not better as America’s Evangelical movement becomes ever more powerful and ever more influential in US government operations. Once again an example of just how devastating ideology is, because it causes people to act against their own best interests, or even against the best interests of everyone on the planet.

In fact I have come to believe that when people use ideology to support their beliefs, it’s because they lack any rational reason  to hold said beliefs. That however is a topic for a future post.

(The above image as released into the public domain by it’s creator, and may be copied and used freely. I used it because it graphically shows just how stunning the spike in human population has been the past two centuries, and that the idea of it going up by another 2 billion in the next few decades just makes it even more extreme. Especially since the majority of these new people will live in abject poverty in slums, hardly an inspiring thought. And I’m pretty sure when God said “be fruitful and multiply” he didn’t mean “breed like there’s no tomorrow.”)


Written by unitedcats

October 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Just look at Tampa for instance, where I live. It was a clean place years ago, and now Tampa is filthy. They have tried to clean up Tampa Bay, but there are just too many people dumping too much crap into the waters around Tampa.

    Chris@Apple Roof Cleaning

    October 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm

  2. I find it incredibly irresponsible and narcissistic for people to breed the way they do. I don’t care whether they can “afford” their kids or how much money they have. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and there is only so much this planet can handle. Overpopulation is the root of many of our societal ills, too. Humans are animals, and as with all animals, when there are too many competing for too few resources, things get ugly. Joy of joys, we have bombs to get ugly on a grand scale.


    October 24, 2011 at 10:10 pm

  3. I am not claiming any prescience about the problems we are facing with the population at the level it is now. However, I too was a population control supporter in the 60s and 70s and had my tubes tied in the 70s after I had two sons. That was to support the idea that I only replace my husband and myself. Even then, I had to fight the doctors to get a tubal at such a young age. I have never regretted doing it. The simple truth is that America has been living on a material bubble that had to collapse at some point. We live in an artificially created economy. Money has no real value and never has. You can’t eat gold or silver or the paper we print our money on. I agree that the Evangelical movement has caused problems but the far left that wants to save everyone is at fault too. Not everyone should be saved. It doesn’t make us a better and stronger species. In fact, it weakens us. Many of the problems that we face as a nation would be lessened if we still lived as extended families. We would be smarter if we still listened to our elders with respect for their knowledge and wisdom. We should be proud to care for our own elders. Unfortunately, many of our elders are no longer knowledgable or wise.

    Lee A Whittaker

    October 25, 2011 at 6:07 am

  4. “And since the total mass of human beings is already far greater than the mass of any other single species that has ever lived, I think it’s safe to say that there is still cause for concern.”

    Not sure that’s quite accurate, though I agree with the general thrust of your article. There are two general estimates for biomass, dry and wet. For humans, the most recent figure I can find is about 100/335 million tonnes for the dry/wet mass. Several other kinds of animals out-mass us pretty dramatically … cattle, for instance are estimated at 156/510 million tonnes, and ants are estimated at as much as 9000 million tonnes (or 9 billion tonnes). Paradoxically, the largest biomass on the planet belongs to one of the very smallest … single celled prokaryotes are estimated as high as 550 billion tonnes, almost 6 times the upper limit on ants. It’s worth adding that the total plant biomass is estimated at as much as 1000 times the total animal biomass as well, so that puts humans pretty far down the list of total biomass since the beginning of life on earth.

    But in general, your point is bang on … population is absolutely an issue.


    October 25, 2011 at 9:25 am

  5. In the developed western world, population is actually shrinking. It is in the developing world that generally has the growing population.. and those societies are the least able to deal with the fallout.

    The sooner peak oil deals with us the better. The outcome will be a lot fewer folks.

    John Galt

    October 25, 2011 at 10:10 am

  6. Doug, I am going to pray for you. This post gives some real insight into where you are spiritually at the moment. I have read you for years and did not think I’d see you towing the company line like this…
    I do recall you mentioning at one time that the world has resource allocation issues not resource shortage issues.
    The ‘Human Condition’ is sin Doug.
    Bless you all,


    November 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    • Scott, While you are praying for Doug, please add a few words for the rest of the life on this planet that may be running out of time due to man’s over-population and greedy grasping for all of the Earth’s resources.

      Lee A Whittaker

      November 2, 2011 at 5:41 am

    • I’m a little puzzled by this comment. What company line? And no doubt, the dreadful poverty the bulk of the human population lives under is indeed a resource distribution issue rather than any shortages per se. No matter how it’s divided up though, if one adds more people, one is adding more consumption to the system. Spiritually I am guided by compassion and reason, I think general education, especially and including family planning and birth control, and more equitable wealth distribution is the best way to address the issue. —Doug


      November 2, 2011 at 6:41 am

      • Doug,
        I share your fears my friend. If we (humans) don’t act rationally and control population growth, we will be fighting one another like wild animals for food and water. Birth control measures have to be taken if we want to save our planet. Latin America, Asia and Africa are the countries of concern..


        August 1, 2013 at 11:50 am

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