# Is overpopulation unnoticeable?

There’s the concept that population growth is deceiving and will be our demise. This is based on the exponential function theory. Assuming a rising growth rate supported by

For example…

Let’s imagine bacteria divide every second
If in 30 seconds the bacteria fill up half of the bowl. How long will it take them after that to fill the entire bowl?

One second

I hope that’s straight forward

So will we be living in a world that is not so noticeably overpopulated RIGHT before there’s no more room left for anyone?

“Right before” meaning some arbitrary number of years 10, 100, 1000, whatever

The world’s population is currently 6.8 billion. It was 3.4 billion in 1965 so it has doubled in 45 years.

Worked out from this population clock: http://math.berkeley.edu/~galen/popclk.html - however add another 45 years and it spits out a mere 8.7 billion.

This site: http://earthtrends.wri.org/updates/node/61 claims that 60% of the Earth’s resources are “currently being used at a rate exceeding their capacity to provide goods and services”. If this is true than it puts a limit on the number of new borns that are able to be supported. This is already a problem in some parts of Africa, but we in the West aren’t growing our populations at such a rate, in fact many populations are actually decreasing.

Your purely exponential approach doesn’t take feedback into consideration. There is always negative feedback keeping the population from careening out of control. The question is whether we want that feedback to be in the form of healthy citizens voluntarily limiting their reproduction, or in the form of starvation, war, disease, crime, et cetera. Also, this is more a local phenomenon than global, so there isn’t so much “filling up the bowl” as “butting up against the edge in various places”.

Population is not rising exponentially.

It’s hard to answer a question in which a key term has been defined out of meaningfulness.

I think the planet is already overpopulated.

Hell the entire universe is. The Milk Way has over 100,000,000,000 stars in it alone and there are at least hundreds of billions of galaxies. There are also about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects in the world at any given moment.

Pee-wee: Exhibit “Q”: a scale-model of the entire mall! X marks the scene of the crime. These arrows here show the exact position of the sun at the hour of the crime. Jupiter was aligned with Pluto! The moon was in the seventh…
Chuck: Pee-wee!
Chuck: Well, when will that be? A long time, we wait! We’ve been here for over 3 hours now, and I’m not sure if any of us can see what all this is supposed to mean.
Pee-wee: Supposed to mean? Supposed to mean?
[breaks his pool cue]

I think we need to ask how you would know if we were ‘overpopulated’ and in what that would mean? Additionally, what is the ideal size for human population as a whole and as a geographic and socioeconomic distribution. Otherwise, it just becomes a rant about traffic problems in a given area or vectors for disease but the world has never been short of either of those.

going beyond the carrying capacity of a local area is noticed in overcrowding or resource depletion.

over crowding can be seen by too high population densities in locations suitable for habitation. hardships and energy costs of transporting people daily to work is an indication of overpopulation.

resource depletion can be seen in having to import water over huge distances to sustain a population. restrictions on uses of water from what was previously acceptable is an indicator of overpopulation. clean air is also a resource that is being depleted, restrictions on pollution causing devices that were was previously acceptable is an indicator of overpopulation.

that some resources can be transported between hemispheres can mask some resource depletion at high costs. world trade of scarce resources is necessary though immense political and economic problems are occurring because of the scale that is needed.

i agree with many scientists that the world is very over populated and well beyond a sustainable carrying capacity.

Alright I’ll be Clearer.

Determining how long it takes for a population to double is by discerning a standard growth rate over time. Maybe every decade the population grows 7%. In order for the population to double, we would have to wait 10 decades. So 100 years about to double??

I saw someone said 65 years. In the next 65 years it’ll take longer.

What I’m saying is that as our collective knowledge improves then the “feedback”
may take a shift to another end.

We can slow population growth by promoting things like contraception, but i think you’ll find that advertising warfare and disease are dead ended ventures.

What IS garnering much attention, in terms of morally supportable issues, and funding and advertising are things like medicine, public service announcements to deter the public from behaviors that promote the spread of disease…
With developments in stem cell research, the human genome project, the advancement of synthetic biology. I imagine we will be increasing the life expectancy, along with decreasing the death rate, and possibly diminishing birth related deaths.

In a world advanced as it is , we spend a lot of time promoting things that increase our time on this earth, but not much time on investing in the sustainability of our environment, this means not only food and water and fuel, but space to live in. Space to move out into. ETC…etc…etc…

I’m seeing that the responses aren’t taking into consideration how quick 100 years is in human history.

It takes centuries for people to begin to take action to change things about the way we go about living, to succeed in those intentions it takes a lot longer.
It is much easier to consume or destroy than it is to create or sustain.

So no the world does not double in 1 year or in a decade. But based on a growth rate in a number of turns of a time set like a decade, we may very clearly and simply see the process of the exponential function.

The thing that may not be inherently obvious in this thread so far, and I admit I may have not been clear in the OP, is that everyone who has responded so far is ignoring the possibility that this could be overlooked and are proving that YES, we are very capable to overlook the possibility for these reasons:

1. The time frame doesn’t speak to us so we shall claim exponential function does not apply

2. the world is already overpopulated so the question isn’t relevent in my opinion

3. negative feedback is not considered, and the growth rate is diminishing

1. Time frame is irrelevent, just see how many turns for doubling it would and you know then that, when the world is half full in capacity, then YOU MAY HAVE NO ROOM LEFT in the NEXT turn of 100 years, or 65 years or whatever the time it takes to double the population at that time.

Is 65 -100 years enough time to realize that theres no more room???

1. The world is overpopulated is an opinion based on the definition: Definition is question is… TOO MANY PEOPLE TO HAVE ROOM TO MOVE AROUND

2. Negative feedback and positive feedback are not considered. Average out the growth rate of the population over time and you don’t need it to answer this question. UNLESS you can come up with a drastic occurence that woudl diminsh the worlds population by alot of people. elsewise, thanks for your input but it didnt help.

That’s an absurd “definition.” We’ll have billions dying of famine and pestilence before we approach that kind of crowding, planet-wide.

Factual answer? I’m still not seeing even a question.

The number of the people in the world, the distribution of population density, the resources currently available in the world, the distribution of those resources, and the amount of resources available in the future, are already being watched obsessively by everybody who is paying attention.

Distribution is key. Many countries have birthrates that will drive their population down within a few decades, leaving an aging population to be paid for. Immigration would solve many of those problems, though. Sheer numbers are not relevant. The distribution of population is.

Same with feedstocks, energy production, and just about everything else.

What is the answer? There is no answer. There are millions of questions that nobody can agree even how to word.

The OP appears to want a free-form discussion of the entire development of the future of the planet. Maybe this should be cut down about 99.99999999999999%.

And then moved to GD. And somebody can list the 500 previous threads on this.

It sounds like you are trying to do a math puzzle from the back of a magazine when that is only a small part of the story. When I was in elementary school, we watched a film about how fast aphids could reproduce and (simplifying here), by the time I was grown, the whole whole world would be covered with nothing but aphids and hardly any plants would exist. I was terrified of aphids so badly that I could barely sleep for a week or so until I started building a fort on our property and forgot all about it. I can’t speak to where you are, but we don’t have a huge aphid problem around here. That math didn’t work out worth a damn when you combined it with whole natural systems with feedback.

I can come up with with plenty of examples of a [sic]a drastic occurence that would diminish the worlds population by alot of people[/sic]. How about AIDS in Africa or the Bubonic Plague not to mention war, famine or genocide? I am not sure you are aware of this but the crisis in many developed countries like Japan, Italy, France and others is that the population is the birthrate is falling so fast that it is going to create some big social problems in upcoming decades when there aren’t enough young people to support the older ones in the ways that they have become accustomed to. A high standard of living combined with education and effective birth control causes the birthrate to plummet in those populations. It is happening in the U.S. as well. Massachusetts has to use immigration from other countries to keep its population from falling for example.

In short, I have no idea what your point is. This is a complex problem with many factors involved. There will never be time when the world is literally filled up with people. In places that starts to happen, we will simply start killing each other off or nature will breed disease to do it for us just like it always has.

Since the OP is rather vague, it certainly doesn’t belong in General Questions. I don’t see it being up to a Great Debate yet, so IMHO it is.

Moved from GQ to IMHO.

samclem Moderator, GQ

The reason human population growth rate is not exponential is that while the population is growing, the rate of growth is decreasing, and shows every sign of continuing to decrease. This means that the projected population level is not an exponential growth curve but a sigmoid growth curve.

This is not a case where I claim that because it takes 100 years to double in population, therefore we don’t have exponential growth because 100 years is a really long time. No, exponential growth is a mathematical function. If population increases at X% every Y time period, that is exponential growth. However, if the population growth % changes over Y time period, then that is not exponential growth.

And this is what has happened in the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, for a while there was a period of more than exponential growth, because during the early part of the 20th century not only was population increasing, the rate of increase was also increasing. So if the growth rate was 2%, then starts creeping up to 2.5% and 3% and 3.5%, then we have more than exponential growth. Likewise, if the growth rate is 3%, then it decreases to 2%, then 1.5% then 1%, then we have less than exponential growth.

Right now there are large parts of the world in Europe and Asia that have negative growth rates, and in most parts of the developing world growth rates are declining. World average population growth rates have been declining for decades, despite being positive. That means we do not have exponential population growth. We have population growth, but not exponential growth, because exponential growth requires the rate of increase to remain constant.

Right now most people are predicting that the decrease in the rate of increase will continue. That is, growth will continue, but the rate of increase will get smaller and smaller. And since in many parts of the world the rate is negative, it’s entirely possible for the world growth to become negative in a couple of decades. Of course, it’s possible for current trends to change, and growth rates could shoot up again, or plummet even faster. So we could go back to exponential growth, or more than exponential growth, or continue on our current less than exponential growth.

Note that even negative growth is a form of exponential growth, as long as the rate of change is constant. If we have -1% growth constantly, then that’s a exponential function, and we’ll halve the population every ~72 years.

There is no set definition of what “overpopulation” means, but vaguely, overpopulation is the idea that resources available do not meet the needs of the existing population. The idea that overpopulation = not enough room for people to move around is pretty silly, although I am entertained by the mental image.

You can have two cities the exact same size, but if say, one of them is surrounded by desert and one of them is surrounded by well-watered farmland, you could make a case that the first is overpopulated and the second is not. What may feel like overpopulation can also be the result of really poor planning. I spent last summer in Hyderabad, India and holy shit I have never felt so crowded in my life. People everywhere. I practically did feel like there was no room to move around. But Hyderabad only has about four million people in the city proper. I’ve been in a number of much bigger cities and never felt like I was going to die in a crush of people. Unfortunately (for me; the Indians didn’t seem to notice or care), Hyderabad has really abominable urban planning and isn’t physically big enough for its population, so you get a level of insanity that isn’t matched by, say, Chicago, which is roughly comparable in population level, or even much bigger cities, like Istanbul or London.

(I just looked at Wikipedia for these numbers, and I see that Ahmedabad, India - where my friend just moved and is encouraging me to visit - has a population density more than three times higher than Hyderabad. Jesus no, she has to move somewhere else before I can visit.)

Human populations do not grow exponentially, once a nation achieves a basic level of per capita income (around \$5000 per person) people stop having more than 2 kids per woman on average (one woman may have 4, another 0, etc).

So if it takes 2 parents to have a kid, and each woman has 2 kids on average, the population stabilizes. In fact in virtually every western country, every ex-soviet state and every east asian country the population rates are declining.
It requires 2.1 kids to stabilize a population, and there are already 74 countries where couples have less than that.

Japan has about 1.27 kids per average per woman (Germany about 1.35). At that rate Japans population will go from 130 million now to about 65 million in 2100.

If anything underpopulation may become a problem because not wanting to have kids seems to be a byproduct of obtaining a high degree of national wealth. Every wealthy nation except Israel has fewer kids than they need to stabilize the population.

Countries like Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. may not be able to function with such a high number of elderly and so few kids. The average TFR in OECD nations is 1.6.

North America isn’t experiencing overgrowth of population, but we are using far more than our fair share of resources.

I agree. The writing is on the walls, but we haven’t undeniably bumped into a global limit yet, so the debate continues.

I think the point you’re missing is the critical one; our growth rates have declined, but our population still increases (especially as we increase life expectancy and reduce infant mortality). Technically being out of exponential growth does not mean that we will have a sustainable amount of people on the planet in the future if the only thing that changes is an increase in the doubling time of human population.

People surviving doesn’t require much. All people really need is basic food, basic medicine and basic shelter. You can get that extremely cheap, and it is getting cheaper all the time.

However if people don’t just want to survive, but also want to live lives where they have cars, private apartments, advanced medical care, etc. then you run into the problem of resource depletion.

However I don’t forsee any major dieoffs anytime in the future. Humans aren’t going to sit by and let millions starve. Malnutrition rates have declined dramatically in the last 30 years (down from about 40% of earths population down to about 18%),

So my point is there will never be a big die off, because it doesn’t require much to keep people alive. High standards of living may go down but I doubt many will ever die.

Besides, there are benefits to a high population. More scientists and researchers. China was a dirt poor nation 30 years ago but due to exponential economic growth they are starting to become a world leader in innovating sustainable ways of living.

But either way, population growth isn’t much of a problem IMO. World population is set to stabilize at about 10 billion in the 2050s. And as more and more nations become wealthy, their populations will decline.

My big fear is that all the decent nations (the ones with decent economies, human rights, political stability, advanced scientific infrastructure) will crumble while the basket case nations will continue to grow. Taiwan and South Korea cannot sustain themselves forever at their repopulation rates. If 1000 parents only have 650 kids, and those 650 kids only have 425 kids, and they have to take care of a 1000+ elderly, society won’t function. This is actually becoming something these nations are investing to change by things like cash incentives to have more than 2 kids, etc.

But nations like Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia have TFRs in the 6s and 7s. A world where east asian and western european nations crumble (nations who pioneer global science, medicine, human rights, etc) but basket case nations like Afghanistan and Somalia have 200 million people each is going to suck.

I’m just about finished reading a book that models various scenarios for sustainability for the earth (Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update), and every scenario they modelled except one ends in collapse within the next 100 years. The only scenario that doesn’t end in collapse is population control, perfect birth control effectiveness, modest limits set on material production to not overuse resources, develop and employ technologies to increase the efficiency of resource use, decrease pollution emissions per unit of industrial output, control land erosion, and increase land yields to feed everyone. If one of these factors is neglected, collapse due to overshoot (population, pollution, etc.) or depletion (resources, land yield, etc.) happens in every scenario.

(This is a paraphrase from page 244 of the book previously referenced, not my own work.)

And how do their scenarios account for what we don’t know about what will happen in the future?