Is overpopulation a threat to the Earth?

Many people will read the title of this post and immediately shout YES! Others will read it and immediately shout NO! It is an interesting question that inspires powerful and quick responses, usually. I haven’t conducted any survey’s with experimental design, but I’ve had a lot of discussions with people and have seen decent amount of coverage of the topic on television programs to assume my statement is accurate. I’m speaking in generalities anyway (speaking being used generally in this very sentence). After reading an article from a blogger whose writing I enjoy, I decided to write about this spin-off topic for myself. For my own increased understanding of the topic (I’ll admit to being one of the folks who immediately shout NO! in response to the title question) I will present arguments for and against this debate, and then sum up with my personal point of view. Or try to at least.

Overpopulation is a threat to the Earth

It’s an older article, but this one from The Independent suggests that climate change is directly linked to human population increases over the past 50 years or so. It isn’t necessarily the actual emissions from human beings that threatens the atmosphere and influences changes in climate, but the use of fossil fuel energy for each individual. Along with the emissions problems from using fossil fuels is environmental pollution in general, which increases along with the population, although it doesn’t have to. More people means more resources used and more pollution created.

Dr. Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado at Boulder cites political correctness as the reason why overpopulation isn’t talked about more.  Bartlett suggests there is nothing, no aspect of life, that would get better with increased population. All that follows an ever larger population is fewer and fewer resources such as food and fuel, and more and more pollution and green-house gases hurting the atmosphere.

Finally, a video presentation on the matter:

Wow. Bitter? Do you hate being a human? I digress.

maximum occupancyIf the production of people outgrows the production of people-supporting resources then it follows that people will die in large scale due to famine and a damaged environment, or war and human-imposed control over resources. So if we believe that we are facing a population problem, how do we fix it? Is there a way to determine the maximum occupancy rating for the planet? Are we currently exceeding the safety limits? Someone ask a firefighter.

Overpopulation is not a threat to the Earth

Well, obviously this is a difficult subject to discuss because there really isn’t any empirical evidence, at least not any that everyone will agree to. One side argues that too many people means not enough resources, while the other argues that there are far more resources available than needed, people just don’t have access to them. And even that gets support from both sides, but for different reasons. For a more entertaining (in my opinion) presentation of this side of the argument, I offer another embedded video:

From Forbes.com, the problem isn’t too many people, but not enough people instead. This article suggests that we don’t face a problem of too many people, but that the balance between people who produce and people who don’t is getting out of whack. As the population ages and leaves the workforce, there needs to be an adequate number of younger people to replace them in the workforce. We aren’t seeing that happening. Check the birth rate per woman, it doesn’t quite match up to the sustainable need of 2.1 children per woman (one boy to replace dad, one girl to replace mom).

As reported here by the Huffington Post (it was just the first link that came up in Google with the necessary statistic) the average age of farmers is approaching 60-years-old. The implication here is that the folks producing the food for the rest of us are about to retire without an adequate labor force ready to replace them.

So is the problem really that there are too many people and not enough resources, or that there are plenty of resources but not enough good will, desire to work and effort to get those resources to more people?

My opinion

The Earth is adequately large and stocked to sustain as much life as we can throw at it. Where do I get my evidence to support this? God. He said so through revelation. I accept that you might not readily accept that, we are each free to believe as we choose. But this is my opinion, and I say that God has given the Earth to be inhabited by his children, all of us, and so long as we act responsibly there will be enough resources for however many billions of us there are at any time. Overpopulation is not a problem unless we make it one.

We can’t take the environment for granted, it sustains us. God has given us the Earth to provide a place wherein we can live and learn all that we need to. Part of our responsibility is to take care of this precious gift he has given us. All creation is God’s, will we disrespect his creations? Well, we do, often, but we probably shouldn’t. I don’t believe there will be a time when we will destroy the planet, not until God’s purposes are accomplished. This means that we don’t have to freak out over climate change or population numbers. All we need to do is make better use of what we have. Use our combined intelligence and creativity to find alternate methods of living and obtaining resources. But more importantly, we need to unite as a human population and develop charity and love for one another. That’s my answer to everything: unity, charity, love. It’ll work, but it requires humility and meekness.

I don’t think overpopulation is a real threat. The same problems will exist no matter how many people are around. This is because the problems we face the most don’t come from external sources. The problems we face are internal. The purpose of life is to overcome those internal problems. When we fix that we fix the rest. But that’s just my opinion.

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About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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13 Responses to Is overpopulation a threat to the Earth?

  1. dmcmahon2019 says:

    Reblogged this on Dustin McMahon and commented:
    This is a post written by Paul Brodie in response to one of the arguments I used (and that is commonly used in the debate concerning the damage that we are/are not doing to planet) for the post: Cloudy With a Chance of Acid-Rain / http://dustinmcmahon.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/cloudy-with-a-chance-of-acid-rain-how-to-turn-our-blue-planet-green/.
    .

    Paul and I usually have spirited discussions about political topics (although I don’t think global warming/greenhouse effect should be considered a political topic) and he brings a strong conservative view into the debate. Though I do not agree with many of the views he holds (and he would say the same about me), his strong convictions are compelling and it is important to understand all sides that are willing to work together.

    Read this, stop by his blog, and give him some comments if you wish. He would love to have a discussion with you too.

    • paulbrodie says:

      Good point, Dustin. Concern for the environment shouldn’t have a political slant to it. Democrats, republicans, liberals and conservatives all breathe the same air and live off the same process of eating food and drinking water. Like with many debates, perhaps the politicizing is more about the method of delivery than the product itself?

      Thanks for being a great discussioner!

  2. mrhugo2013 says:

    This is a very interesting albeit difficult subject. Good post! I agree with your thoughts to an extent. I think that the main threat to the earth is more to do with the extent and rate in which we use unrenewable sources. I believe that if the world population learns to co-operate better and fully rely upon sustainable sources and implement a more appropriate type of design (especially in urban areas) there should be no issue with the level of population.

    • paulbrodie says:

      Unrenewable resources are an issue. I think it comes down to, like you said, unity across the globe and better planning. With a little more forethought and a lot less selfishness then 10 billion people shouldn’t be a problem for the Earth.

      Thank you for contributing to the discussion

  3. Well, if you believe “god says…” then there’s not much room for discussion, and apparently your mind is made up, set in concrete, etc, evidence be damned. Your definition of empirical evidence – evidence “that everyone will agree to” means, essential, that there is no such thing as a fact. People on various fringes – particularly the deeply religious – will always refute evidence in front of their very noses.
    Too bad. Look around you. Dr. Bartlett and others are right – and their positions don’t show that they are “bitter” – their positions show that they have studied this matter with open minds : we are losing species, desertification is taking more land out of production every year, and we are emptying out rivers and aquifers to meet humankind’s need for water. We are very concerned that many religious groups continue to advocate for increasing human population.

    • paulbrodie says:

      I appreciate your comment. I’m sorry that you think I’m one to say evidence be damned. I wouldn’t say evidence be damned, but I do believe there are multiple perspectives and influences that we can’t always account for. So, maybe “evidence be questioned” would be better? But I do understand what you are saying and there is a strong, accurate stereotype of religious people not being open to other perspectives. Believe me, as a religious person I can tell you I have seen it.

      I do believe that God has provided the Earth with enough and to spare to be the home to all of his children. That doesn’t mean we won’t do a lot of damage to it in the process. What it means to me is that we can’t kill the Earth, and no number of people would be too much. I certainly believe we can make the Earth a miserable place to live and create many situations that make it difficult to live well, such as the scenarios you mentioned.

      I recognize that by saying “God says…” it does prevent discussion, for if God says so, then how can anyone disagree? Well, not everyone believes in God or has the same concept of God. My intent was to express my thoughts on the subject and why I think that way, not to shut down the conversation.

      My comment about being bitter was directed to the fellow in the first video, his delivery, to me, seemed to indicate a dislike of human beings.

      As to deeply religious people always denying evidence right before their noses, I understand the stereotype you are referring to, but I think it is unfair and false as a general rule for deeply religious people. True religion invites and embraces a scientific concept of experimentation, it just doesn’t rely on the outer sense for finding and analyzing data. This is all my concept of life and my opinion. I thank you for sharing yours.

      • Well, you’re obviously giving this matter a good deal of thought. Thanks for the post and the reply, Paul. Jack and Barbra

      • paulbrodie says:

        You’re welcome. I am pretty convinced in my beliefs, but I always like to see things from another perspective. Without challenging my ideas I won’t only have a bias but I’ll likely act from it as well, and that’s where the danger really comes in, I think. Thanks!

  4. cvdanes says:

    Most evidence suggests that the planet has a sustainable carrying capacity of about 1 billion people at the U. S. standard of living. Obviously, the planet can sustain much more if we accepted a much lower standard of living, but it’s hard to see 7 billion people living sustainably at anything higher than subsistence level, which is to say, barely at all.

    The reason this is not discussed is that the solutions involve mass depopulation of the planet and/or mass reduction in real or desired standards of living. Since we can’t even agree to slow down our carbon emissions despite the overwhelming evidence that we are irreparably altering the environment, I doubt that discussions on population control will get much traction.

    • paulbrodie says:

      What evidence suggests the planet has a sustainable capacity of 1 billion? Aren’t we at 7 billion right now? I don’t understand how such a number can be determined. I assume it has something to do with estimations of how much food can be produced based on available lands for growing it?

      Do you think we are going to outgrow the Earth?

      • cvdanes says:

        I don’t think the question is “are we going to outgrow the earth” so much as “how much more can we outgrow it before we have a total systemic crash.”

        Farmland, fresh water, oil, seafood, precious metals for manufacturing, etc., are all either directly non-renewable, or can only be harvested at certain rates so as to be continuously replenishable. We only have so much of the precious metals, and then they are gone. That’s why they are called “precious”. Oil and fresh water (in aquifers) are replenished on geological time scales (millions and tens of thousands of years, respectively), so when they are depleted, they will be effectively gone, too. Farmland can only produce so much food before it becomes exhausted (as in the Dust Bowl of the early U. S. 20th century), and fish stocks can only breed at a certain rate before they collapse. We have mathematically computable burn rates for all of these, and we are way over-allocated on every single one of them.

        “God,” if you will, presented us with a space ship with a certain sustainable capacity. We are way beyond what this space ship can indefinitely support. So, just like astronauts on International Space Station will run out of food, water, and energy if they consume it too fast, so are we. One may think that God had assumed we could figure this out when he presented us with this unique paradise, but apparently we’re not as smart as he thought he made us.

      • paulbrodie says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I like the symbolism of the space ship. I think God has a more involved relationship with us, however, and it may sound Pollyanna-ish, but I don’t think he’ll let us destroy the planet. I believe he will let us destroy ourselves, but not the planet. I guess it’s kind of a contradictory way of thinking in some ways, how I view the situation. On one hand I think the Earth was created for a specific purpose and it will fulfill that purpose. But on the other hand, I believe a major part of that purpose is for us, humans, to learn and have experiences with individual will and natural consequences.

        I like what you said, in fixing my last question, you said its more “how much more can we outgrow [the Earth] before we have a total systemic crash.” That makes a lot of sense to me. I think I was approaching this topic in absolutes, which I always am disappointed when I find myself doing it, but I seem to a lot. The absolute I’m referring to is my belief that God is in control and that he will maintain the life sustaining qualities of the Earth so that people can always exist. I still believe this is true, but I have to acknowledge that that existence can become very difficult and uncomfortable if we aren’t responsible stewards over the Earth.

        I appreciate the evidence you offered. This isn’t a topic I’m well versed in, which is part of the reason for doing this post and why it is so valuable to me to have comments like yours. I throw out my thoughts on a subject and then see what kind of reaction I get and continuously improve and work on my beliefs. I do read a lot too, I’m not just throwing a line in the way and waiting for someone to teach me, but this is an effective supplement to my quest for knowledge and understanding. I digress.

        I don’t think we’ll ever make the Earth completely uninhabitable as I believe that would thwart God’s purpose. This is my personal conviction. But I do see scenarios where our population, more importantly how we manage what we have, can lead to troubles like war, famine and loss of resources and other animal life. I think the current status of my conclusion is that if we are not wise stewards then an increasing population can present fatal difficulties, but if we are wise then there may be no limit to what kind of population the Earth can sustain. Again, I’m not a scientist, I’m not well-versed in Earth science or agriculture, so a lot of this opinion comes by way of faith, but I don’t think that invalidates it. I am always open to evidence and other perspectives, even if I denounce them now. I’m a work in progress.

        Thanks for the discussion!

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