Is over population a dire problem or is it being blown out of proportion

So I have been arguing with some people at another site about over population. We have all seen many films like Soylent Green,and many tv shows depicting over population. After doing some reaserch I feel that over population is not as big a problem as originally thought. With advancing technology and a declining birth rate I think the problem can be managed effectively. What are your thoughts on over population and do you agree with me or think I am wrong and being over simplistic in my opinions.

[quote=“a_dudes_thought_s, post:1, topic:819735”]

So I have been arguing with some people at another site about over population. We have all seen many films like Soylent Green,and many tv shows depicting over population. After doing some reaserch I feel that over population is not as big a problem as originally thought. With advancing technology and a declining birth rate I think the problem can be managed effectively. What are your thoughts on over population and do you agree with me or think I am wrong and being over simplistic in my opinions.


It is not necessarily catastrophic if that’s what you mean. We probably won’t be eating other people any time soon. Malthusian Crises do happen though they tend to be regional. We haven’t seen anything that would tell us that we’re screwed worldwide yet. We’re not even close to max food production which is usually what precipitates a crisis. If Europe just decided to let in GMOs, productivity would gain substantially, so that’s something very, very simple to do that would stave off any impending doom. Our big limiter is really energy. If we can find a way to go completely renewable, there’s really no reason to think that we will reach peak population before we see population decline due to rising incomes. Water is obviously the other big concern, but if you solve energy, then water will follow. I’m not saying that there is zero reason to worry. Obviously, we’re putting a lot of stress on the environment now and that’s not good in either the long or short term, but we’re a very long way from a true global Malthusian collapse and there’s every reason to think that we’ll see population peaking somewhere between 8 and 12 billion somewhere in our children’s lifetime which is well within our capacity. Most of the world has already seen the start of their levelling bend (and some countries have hit it and are on the down side) and Africa is really the only hold-out. It seems reasonable that at some point they’ll start to see that bend as well and then it’s just waiting for the peak. Africa is really the only question mark and it’s possible that they never bend and push us off the Malthusian edge, but I’m more inclined to think that even IF they don’t, the Malthusian crisis will be limited just to Africa and leave the rest of humanity roughly unscathed, which is honestly(and unfortunately) pretty much the situation that we’re in now.

Overpopulation is a problem partly for psychological and partly for physical reasons. There is some evidence that living in an artificial and overpopulated society can increase stress and anomie when an individual cannot find a meaningful role. Surplus humans have always been a problem and humanity as a whole has never really figured out how to guarantee that each person can make a meaningful contribution. But this is admittedly poorly explored and largely hypothetical.

Resource consumption and environmental damage are a much bigger problem. Countries can peak and flatten, or even decline, but collectively our destruction of places like the rainforest is very problematic. Even if we produce enough food and energy, we will still face obstacles such as lack of oil, loss of forestry, and limited access to clean water. Inevitably, humanity will have to revert to a lifestyle that has less consumption and less use of non renewable resources.

I think that it’s a very big problem. We are over 7 billion now, and projections are for 10 billion or more some time past the half-way mark of this century. Not only does it produce a tremendous strain on resources, it also creates a whole lot more socio-political strain in the world. In addition, if the warming climate trend continues, and there is no logical reason to believe that it won’t, coastal and island flooding will create a huge number of refugees seeking a livable environment. Approximately 60% of the world’s population lives in coastal regions.

Soylent Green is a pretty old film. It seems like “peak overpopulation panic” set in in the 70s-80s. Now we can see where the trend is going to top out – people stop having so many kids when they are assured that most of them will survive childhood.

I consider modern sci-fi where people are suffering from “overpopulation” akin to modern horror films where a group of six American teenagers all don’t have cell phones. A necessary contrivance for the plot, but not realism.

If you take the USA population and average it’s population to see what each person has for food, housing, clothes, cars, power, health care products, just everything, you will find that as of right now, today, this minute, that if the whole world, every person just tried to make that for every person on the planet, that there is not enough raw material to do it.

And as long as there is those who have less and those who want more than that average, we will eventually end up killing each other over it.

The population will stabilize when the ‘haves’ decide & are mentally OK with & physically able to force the ‘have nots’ to not increase their population.

Humanity is not intrinsically good enough to not do this, or to self limit.

I am glad I am too old to see this happen but I think it will have to happen eventually.

It is really what wars are about. One group wants what the other has and will kill them to get it.

YMMV hopefully

Let’s be sure we know exactly which question we’re asking.

Question 1: Will it be possible for the Earth to support 11 billion humans (a current projection for 2100) for many tens of thousands of years into the future?

Answer: Perhaps, though even this is unclear. Biodiversity is being devastated; scarce resources are being drained; even oceans are being devastated. As poorer countries insist on an American diet, huge amounts of land and other resources will be needed to support the human population. Simple needs like clean drinking water are already problematic. Until fusion power is developed, all sources of energy will have severe drawbacks. New strains of bacteria and virus will target the over-populated cities.

The strains of over-crowding and destruction of natural habitat will degrade the human experience and perhaps lead to widespread neuroses. Expect political problems and civil wars.

But “optimists” think that man’s cleverness will lead to ever-better technologies, and man will be able to muddle through. The oceans will become giant food factories.
Perhaps human population will go to 20 billion or even 30.

Question 2: Would the world be a better place, human life happier, and economic needs easier to fulfill if, somehow, human population were limited to just 1 or 2 billion?

Answer: Yes.

It’s a question of poverty. Poor areas will have a major problem with overpopulation; rich areas won’t. For example previous posters mentioned land for agriculture. Well greenhouses and multi-story factory farming work fine for to grow food–and use a lot less land–it’s just a lot more expensive. Or clean fresh water: you just need desalination plants and pipelines. Again money.

IMHO the overpopulation problem is overblown and misstated.

First, most of the first world (and second world) has reached zero population growth. Some of the more extreme, like Japan, are poised for population shrink.

There are a few areas, like Africa, Middle East and Indian subcontinent, where this may be an ongoing problem. But the rest of the world, there does not appear to be the potential to grow by billions of people - certainly not North America or Europe. This means that Africa would have to grow from 1.2 billion to 3 billion. That is where the effects of overpopulation would play out. It’s already pushing the limit of what the land will support. China is close to levelling off in population. Even India seems to have stopped growing.

So population issues will be regional. Perhaps we are already seeing the effects, in the large number of people from sub-sahara Africa trying to make it to Europe. That flood will only get worse.

Explore here:

Take Bangladesh. Used to have growth rates in the 5-7% range. Down to 1.05% now. That is remarkable. A lot of it has to do with improving the lives of women.

OTOH, it is still the most densely populated good sized country in the world with a ton of very poor people.

So there have been good signs here and there. The point where everything goes to crap has been pushed farther and farther off. OTOH, it’s still there.

There’s also no such thing as a regional population problem. It’s all global now. No country is isolated from the effects of what happens on the other side of the globe.

While food is an obvious limit, the core issue has been and will always be reasonably priced energy. With said energy you can grow more food, mine metals that are harder to get at, etc. Many industrialized countries are doing quite well at exploiting better energy sources. But poor countries can’t do that and their problems are spilling over to the rest of the world. Plus the US dragging its heels on moving into the 21st century isn’t helping.

The real scary thing is global warming and how hard it’s going to impair growing food in many parts of the world that are hurting already. Even with instant ZPG things are not going to go well.

Better technology mitigates the effects of increased population, to a significant degree. This is mostly why there are so many more humans on the planet than there ever were of any of the other great apes. Eventually, it wouldn’t be enough, but the question is what that maximum population is, and whether we’ll actually reach that number. Current projections have the world reaching a maximum population that’s not too much greater than it is now, so we’ll probably make it.

Population is leveling off, but technology continues to improve. If we manage to make it as far as leveling off around 11 billion without catastrophe, then I’d be extremely surprised if we didn’t manage to sustain that for millennia. Even if it was rough going at first, it’d just keep getting easier.

Global Climate Change will cause overpopulation problems to get worse. Expect massive famine and disease. But it will still be relatively isolated and ignored by the world in general.

It’s also a country that’s going to be devastated by climate change.

Just because we humans have managed to make it this far with this many people doesn’t mean we can sustain things in the future. For instance, I’ve read descriptions of the vast schools of cod that were present in the North Atlantic. Those are all gone now. Similarly, we’ve reduced other ocean populations.

A key issue is how sustainable our food-producing technology is. Most of our technological solutions have been based on the consumption of finite resources. These technologies can produce a short-term increase in food production. This extra food leads to increased population. But when you run out of the resource that was necessary for the technology, the food production will revert to its original level. And you now have a much larger population that can’t be fed by that original level of food production.

Some people just dismiss this problem. They figure that we invented new technologies in the past and that we’ll just invent some newer technologies in the future as needed. But that’s not really the case. Most technological developments have been based on seeing a large untapped resource and figuring out a way to use that resource. Which means that the resources we’re using up were the ones which were available in the largest supply. Any theoretical new technology will be based around a resource which we have a smaller supply of. If we had a two hundred year supply of the old resource, we might only have a fifty year supply of the new resource.

This obviously doesn’t solve the long term problem. It just postpones it for a few decades while making it worse.

And this is a best-case scenario. It assumes we still have new technologies to discover that won’t work as well as the ones we have now but will provide some results. What if that isn’t true? What if we’re at the end of the new technology parade instead of the middle of it? It’s possible that when we run out of the resources we used to feed the technologies we developed in the twentieth century, we’ll just revert back to the technological level we had in the nineteenth century. Nobody promised us that we were going to get a bunch of new technologies in the twenty-first century.

Nineteenth century technology worked well enough in its time. But it was only called upon to support of population of around a billion people. We’re now approaching eight billion people. If we revert back to nineteenth century technology, what’s going to happen to those other seven billion people? I don’t believe they’re going to quietly disappear. Sure, if we have eight billion people in a world that can only feed one billion then eventually at least seven billion people are going to disappear - but I don’t think the process will be quiet.

Don’t rule out natural disasters.

It is god’s way of culling the herd.

No natural disaster has had any real impact on global population levels since the 16th Century.

Let’s move this to Great Debates.

General Questions Moderator

When all coastal areas are underwater, you will see a devastating population problem. Current US policy is to strive to make it happen faster. I won’t be around to see the result.

You won’t be around, Hari, but you do have a recovery plan to leave behind, no? :slight_smile:

A lot of population charts seem to assume that people will continue to live to a greater age than their parents and grandparents. My generation grew up in the 40s and 50s; in the UK at least we had food rationing which enforced a healthy diet and we are benefiting from that today. Elsewhere, our generation did not have computer games or TV so tended to occupy themselves with more healthy activities.

Today, we see a huge increase in obesity and heart problems, much of which is related to diet and stress. Medical science has kept the inevitable at bay, but there must be a point of diminishing returns where the average life expectancy begins to reduce.

Add this to the tendency for smaller families and lower fertility and you have a recipe for a different disaster - that of too many old and sick people with not enough young people to support them.