Overpopulation - How Many People Can the Earth Hold?

How many people is too many for our tiny planet? What is the human population, and the carrying capacity of our earth? How many acres are needed per person? What is world over population? Is the world overpopulated? How many people can live on the ea

How many people are too many for our planet?  What are the real numbers of human overpopulation?  Even scientists cannot agree on what a sustainable human population for our planet should be. Many insist we have already surpassed our long term capacity, while others insist we can almost double our numbers before we will see any kind of massive die off.  Thomas Malthus warned us back in the 1800's about world overpopulation problems.

One thing is certain, world human population numbers have skyrocketed from less than a billion only a thousand years ago, to over 7 billion as of October, 2011, and although many people disagree, problems with human overpopulation are already evident.

Many people argue that we can continue adding people to the planet without over populating it. Presumably these are not the people who live in an area where they have to walk 5 miles a day to get drinking water that isn't even safe. Or in an area where warring factions are fighting over land, committing genocide out of a survivalist type of need.  Perhaps they don't live in a smog filled city where the drive to work is over an hour long.

The foolish argument against overpopulation that is often given is that there is enough land on the planet for everyone. Well... there is currently just under 5 acres pf land per person. Now... if you took everyone out of the cities and were to allot them to their nearly 5 acres of land, a good many would end up in Antarctica, the Sahara Dessert, or on top of a mountain. Some people would have control of water, others would not. If you had kids, you would have to cut them off a portion of your land. If you had two kids and allotted your land fairly, you would lose half your land, and so-on.

Could you survive if you had to grow your own food on 5 acres of swamp? Don't think the farmer down the road is going to help you, not too many folks will have enough land for cattle production on the scale it exists today. None of this allows room for other, wild, species. You see how foolish this argument is?

We cannot just consider land, and the apparent abundance of it, as a factor to how many people our tiny planet can hold. If you look at the planet now, as it is, you should be able to see evidence that we have exceeded our long term carrying capacity.

Carrying Capacity

In 2008 the earths human population used more resources than our world could continue to produce. In fact (according to the Living Planet Report) we used 30% more resources. We did this by over exploiting our limited resources, over fishing, massive deforestation, relying heavily on non-renewable resources like fossil fuels, and so on. We cannot continue to do this forever.

If we look at the chart regarding our Global Footprint we see the red vertical line on the left representing 2.1 hectares per person (roughly 5 acres) that the planet has. This is limited and will never increase (although it may shrink with rising water levels through global warming). The dots are countries. The further to the right a country is, the more its nation consumes. You will see that people in the United States use almost 10 hectares per person, more than 4 times what the planet even has to offer.


photo source

The horizontal line is a measure of the standard of living. According to this chart, Cuba is the only country where a high standard of living is attained without the problem of over consumption.

How Many People is Too Many?

Nobody can agree what the maximum human population of the planet should be. A few years ago the United Nations suggested 5 Billion was a sustainable number (where we were around 1990). Many scientists at that time thought this was ridiculous and countered with a sustainable maximum world human population of 500 million (which is where we were only 500 years ago). A few argue that we might be able to support 9 Billion, which is where we will be, if current birth rates continue, around 2040 – 2050.

Most agree that as human populations soar above this level there will be a massive die off, either from famine, war, disease, or some other cause.

Some people live in a fantasy world, believing we will start exporting people to colonize other planets. Of course they fail to realize that it is this planet that will be sending most of its resources to care for those people until they become independent.

How long can our world continue to support uncontrolled growth? It can't!  Our Planet is very likely already over populated unless we drastically reduce our consumption levels. 

As long as people live in denial of our impact on this planet, the streams we have poisoned, the seas we have drained (eg. Aral Sea), the species we have hunted to extinction, the wars we have for our own survival, the areas of forest we have stripped, and so on, we will continue to fall down a slippery slope to our own destruction.


photo source

Our children do not replace us. We are still alive. How ignorant are we not to look around and the long term problems we are creating for them? Our tiny planet cannot continue to support our numbers, and our lifestyle. We have done a pretty good job of screwing up the planet already, when will we change?

Further Related Reading

The Human Overpopulation Problem

The Greatest Global Disaster of our Lifetime


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Richard Wing
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Amanda Bradbury
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Martine Pauwels
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