Is overpopulation real or legend?

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Which is the stage where politicians and economists figure out how to manage a world of finite resources and environmental degradation?


Part of the problem with population debates is knowing how much the Earth’s ecosystem can sustain. It’s not like we have another Earth to use as a control sample. Is there a tipping point at which human influence on the ecosystem causes a major collapse? If third world countries embrace major industrialization what effect will that have? Is it wise that our dominant economic system is reliant on “growth”? And is it better that we have a huge human population but lose many other species, or is that just easier to deal with politically?


Japan might be in stage five. Their population is shrinking, although it’s not clear whether the decline is cultural or the next stage of societal growth.


I can’t wait to watch this. I love their videos. Though I think I already know the answer.

  1. Population fertility rates fall as population gets more and more wealthy and advanced. This is why the “immigrants will out number us in 3 generations” never pan out, because immigrant fertility rates match the population they move into within a generation. They can’t afford to keep their old rates in a new environment.

  2. There were some valid worries about being able to feed everyone, but the green revolution made our food output jump significantly.

  3. Of course there is still hunger in the world. But this isn’t because we can’t make enough food, but rather that we can’t distribute it well, and some of the population has trouble getting money to buy it. But it is a logistics issue, not a population issue.

Fun fact: The fact that the world population is the largest in history and still growing shows, even with all the bad still in the world, we are living in the most peaceful an prosperous times in human history.


Not so fun fact: you may well be right.


I find it weird how the so much of the left has jumped on the supposed population explosion problem bandwagon recently when this argument is traditionally straight out of the conservative handbag. Malthus, anyone?

This is a massive oversimplification of the issue, and does not discuss the intermediate points between stages. Also, there is an assumption of “improved economic conditions, an increase in women’s status, and access to contraception”. There are places where stage two has come, especially with decreased infant mortality, but there is no sign of improved economic conditions. In addition, there is cultural resistance to Women’s rights and contraception. So the next stage is either mass migration, societal collapse, or both.
This model relies on steadily improving economic conditions, and a move towards secularization to function. Without those elements, famine and civil unrest can easily bring a society back to stage 1.


The term ‘over-population’ implies that there is some arbitrary optimal level of people, so it’s kind of a loaded term. It’s seems like a scale to me: fewer people means less stress on ecosystems and resources, more people means more of those things. I don’t understand why it’s verboten among environmentalists and anti-cap types to start suggesting we plan growth (i.e. try to slow down population growth as a means of mitigating climate change). I realize any such message is incredibly unlikely to succeed in America, not to mention globally, but why is it not discussed as an option? Oddly enough, I’ve been wondering why pre-19th century lit and fantasy are so appealing to me, and I think one part of it might be because a world with less people, more space, and slower change sounds charming.


I was under the impression that Malthus’ simplified assumption (linear growth of food production, exponantial growth of population) has nearly no role in scientific discourse since decades?


It’s nice to see data showing that macro trends can bury some aspects of human stupidity (e.g. religious fundies and/or ethnic supremacists who have lots of kids because Bronze-Age texts and/or racial anxieties say they should). However, I still wonder if there are some hard limits that a world with 9- or 10-billion people all wanting a Western middle-class lifestyle will run up against. For example, even though the video assumes medical technology will improve, antibiotics are also losing their efficacy. Unchecked climate change alone will radically change the assumptions the video makes about the kind of planet all those humans will be sharing 60 years from now.


I was under the impression that non-scientific types felt free to point at Malthus and say, look the science backs me up! Actual scientists not so much.


I agree, Malthus entered the lexicon of popular metaphors long ago. This has nothing to do with science, but it is what Colbert might call “sciency.”


And that people really like the sex


Sort of. Thomas Malthus was a big influence on Charles Darwin, and the tenant that more organisms are born than can survive is something borne out by observations of natural populations all the time. This was one of the factors that lead to Darwin to propose natural selection. So, while he’s there in the background, I’ve never actually cited Malthus for anything.

Humans? Who knows. Like @gracchus points out, there are a lot of assumptions in the video that we have no way to verify.

I think if we consider the economic dimension, overpopulation looks different. @Mister44 points out that there’s probably enough food for everyone, but affordability and distribution is the issue. With automation shrinking the amount of labor required and countries resisting a minimum income, many more people will soon be priced out of anything but scraps. Are we ‘overpopulated’ if people are simply priced out of living life?


The USA has a plateaued as far as population, not including waves of immigrants that periodically flow in, and we are still choosing to sprawl, deforest, frack, drill, and completely fuck up our land, water, and air. We CHOOSE to deplete our resources with or without over population. This term becomes true the moment shortages affect just one person on this planet, whether it’s due to lack of a resource itself, or simply being priced out.

Over population? Let’s figure out how to meaningfully measure this idea first before we discuss the world as a whole.


The good news is that we survived 2005.

“And if you survive till two thousand and five
I hope you’re exceedingly thin
For if you are stout you will have to breathe out
While the people around you breathe in”


This is scary wrongheaded propaganda.

If I told you there might be enough ice to melt to raise the ocean-levels by, let’s say, 104 meters.
And it is melting.
Would you be relieved to hear that the increase of snowfall guaranties a continuation of some glaciation, and would cause for one quarter of the current ice-mass to never be released into the oceans.
Oh yay, there’s a natural cap!
It’s all good then.

Earth doesn’t have nearly enough resources to allow for a current western standard of living for everyone, for seven and a half, or so, billions of people. Ffs, there isn’t even enough Lithium on earth to make e-cars the future.
It takes betting on and believing in the magic ability of science to always stay one step ahead of humanity’s direst needs to think our growth was sustainable.
The relatively few people who lived in the last few hundred years have used up much of what earth offered. The many of the next few scrape together what is left?
In a world without giraffes and cheetahs. Or elbowroom.


In a sense that has more to do with how we humans behave than how many of us there are. 7.4 billion vegans who live in energy-efficient communes that exercise sustainable farming practices would have a very different impact on Earth’s ecosystems than 7.4 billion meat-eaters who use privately owned fossil-fuel-burning cars for their daily commutes.

Population growth has been leveling off for some time, but per-capita consumption has not. It’s the latter problem that’s most likely to screw us and our planet in the foreseeable future.


It won’t really make much of a difference tbh. The greatest population growth is mostly found in countries with per capita ghg emissions that are far lower than average. In high ghg per capita countries population growth is generally relatively modest. Consumption is really the big issue when it comes to climate change, not population.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be striving to increase economic welfare, education, healthcare, family planning etc in the developing world, and that will have an effect on population growth, but it won’t fix climate change.