World Population Growth Projections

World Population, estimated, actual, and projected: 1800-2100

Some people look at the graph on the right and conclude that the population appears to still be in the midst of exploding, and there are wildly different projections for what the population will be in the near future.    Some probably assume they left off another curve that keeps rising even faster.

Is that what you see?  Is that what this graph really shows?  It is a nice graph, for what it shows, but it doesn’t really show a lot, and it is interesting to find out how others have interpreted it. Read the rest of this entry »


Letter to an Overpopulation Alarmist

I really dislike becoming as outraged as I do, but what you are saying is simply outrageous.

Perhaps you should write up your proposal for the elimination of at least 9/10 of the world’s population, with reasons why it makes sense to you.  That way I can pick it apart and then later remind you of what you have forgotten we agreed on.

Why do you think this is necessary again?  Some ecological catastrophe?  I believe we have agreed that any particular ecological catastrophe is uncertain, though you would like to believe it is inevitable that some disaster on a scale of a mass extinction event will occur.  Since you can’t actually prove there will be any particular catastrophe, that belief in its certainty seems unfounded.  This is not a reason to ignore the possibility, but nor is it a reason to assume its certainty.

You must be aware that the 200 year history of the Malthusian catastrophe argument about over-population was based on precisely the same kind of fears, fear  that we will run out of food and we will never adjust in time.  But it never happened, and it is illuminating to understand why.  That doesn’t prove it will never happen, certainly.  But it should take some wind out of your sails, and motivate you to prove your point rather than merely assert once again that it is an inevitable certainty.  You are basing the desire and willingness to unconditionally eliminate at least 9 out of 10 people on an uncertain conjecture of some catastrophe. Read the rest of this entry »

Population Growth is Not the Problem

I have a friend who believes that the high population of humans in the world (almost 7 billion in 2009) is a problem in and of itself, and the population growth is only making things worse.  I maintain that the population is not the right thing to focus on and that the real problems are elsewhere.

What are we honestly going to do about the size of the population and the rate of growth in order to have any sufficient impact on the real problems?

What is your guess about how overpopulated we are, assuming we are?  Are there 10 times too many people?  Would you advocate that we somehow eliminate some large number of people (9 out of 10 people!?) to reduce the population to what you believe is OK?  Of course not (or I certainly hope not, but I do worry about a few deranged extremists who believe that would be a good idea)! Read the rest of this entry »

World Population is Stabilizing

You may be surprised to learn that the average human lifespan across the planet is now over 60 years.   When did that happen?  It has been happening all along, gradually increasing with each new increase in health and food production.  And the average life expectancy increased dramatically as we radically reduced the number of deaths in early childhood.

But another surprising consequence of reducing childhood mortality is that people are having fewer children.  Makes sense when you think about it, but we do it without thinking about it.  At this time,  most of the world has families with about 2 to 3 children.

Please watch this great video: Hans Rosling: no more boring data.

Read the rest of this entry »

World Population Extremes

I hear that the subject of World Population is a sensitive issue.  It essentially involves the touchy areas of reproduction, birth and death.  Basically sex and violence.   It is also a very complex issue, dragging in the total carrying capacity of the earth, projected rates of growth, the entire history of the world, evolution, life, the universe and just about everything else.

I’m going to charge ahead anyway because it is vitally important that we get this right and come to a common understanding of the facts and possibilities.  There are a lot of extreme views regarding these issues, and some strongly held beliefs in myths, it turns out, or alternatively, blind faith that it will all work out.  These extreme views have passionate believers, thus increasing the volatility of any attempt at rational discussion.

On the one hand, we have people who believe the planet is way over-populated, on the order of 5 or 10 times its carrying capacity, or even 20 times or 100 times.  Many of these people believe we are reproducing at a rate that effectively assumes we have infinite resources, and we will soon slam into a wall of impossible density and total environmental collapse.

On the other hand, we have people who believe the extreme opposite, that there is plenty of capacity on the Earth for many more people, on the order of 2 to 10 times more, or even 100 times more.   Generally, they expect that advances in technology will take care of all our problems, and that the more people we have, the more potential geniuses there will be to advance us even faster. Read the rest of this entry »