Overpopulation is a myth. This myth has caused human rights abuses around the world, forced population control, denied medicines to the poor, and targeted attacks on ethnic minorities and women.
Most people think that the world is overpopulated. The problem is: it isn't, and the science behind that idea is outdated and false. Sound science has long ago debunked this idea, showing that the human race is in no danger of overpopulating the planet, and in fact is facing a demographic collapse. And yet, the vast majority of people worry that there are too many of us.
We work to educate the public on the myth of overpopulation—but we realize that most people don't want to spend their time in a classroom learning about demographics. So we created a web site called http://overpopulationisamyth.com, which takes difficult topics and distills them down into forms that are easy to understand. Our series of wry, humorous cartoons has become a hit on YouTube, and every piece of information that we present is backed up in easy-to-validate format on our web site.
Episode 1: Overpopulation: The Making of a Myth
Where did this myth come from? When was humanity supposed to end?
Did Malthus really say to kill off the poor?
Yep. In his Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus calls for increased mortality among the poor:
All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons… To act consistently therefore, we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. (Book IV, Chap. V) — Read it online.
Malthus thought doctors shouldn't cure diseases?
“But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. (Book IV, Chap. V) — Read it online.”
Did Paul Ehrlich really say that famines would devastate humanity in the 1970s?
Yep. In his 1968 work The Population Bomb, Ehrlich stated:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
What's the UNFPA? How do they profit from fear?
The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) was founded in 1969, the year after Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. They have been involved in programs with governments around the world who deny their women the right to choose the number and spacing of their children. Their complicit work with the infamous “one-child policy" mandated by the government of the People's Republic of China, uncovered by an investigation of the U.S. State Department in 2001, led the United States to pull its funding.
The wealthy of the West, in their terror of poverty, have given copiously to the UNFPA and its population control programs. Visit Population Research Institute for more info.
No way everyone could fit in Texas …
According to the U.N. Population Database, the world's population in 2010 will be 6,908,688,000. The landmass of Texas is 268,820 sq mi (7,494,271,488,000 sq ft).
So, divide 7,494,271,488,000 sq ft by 6,908,688,000 people, and you get 1084.76 sq ft/person. That's approximately a 33' x 33' plot of land for every person on the planet, enough space for a town house.
Given an average four person family, every family would have a 66' x 66' plot of land, which would comfortably provide a single family home and yard -- and all of them fit on a landmass the size of Texas. Admittedly, it'd basically be one massive subdivision, but Texas is a tiny portion of the inhabitable Earth.
Such an arrangement would leave the entire rest of the world vacant. There's plenty of space for humanity.
Where are you getting these numbers?
U.N. Population Database. While they provide Low, Medium, and High
Variants, the Low Variant is the one that keeps coming true, so the Low
variant numbers are the ones used in this video. Check their online database.
The world's population will peak in 30 years? Prove it.
According to the U.N. Population Database, using the historically accurate low variant projection, the Earth's population will only add another billion people or so over the next thirty years, peaking around 8.02 billion people in the year 2040, and then it will begin to decline. Check their online database.
Episode 2: 2.1 Kids: A Stable Population
What does it take to replace ourselves? Are we doing it?
Which scientists say it takes 1 person to replace another?
Where does the 2.1 come from? Wouldn't replacement rate fertility be 2.0?
Replacement rate fertility requires each woman to replace herself. According to the CIA World Factbook,
there are 107 boys born for every 100 girls. Thus each 100 women need
to bear 207 children, on average, in order to produce the 100 girls
needed to replace them. Dividing 207 children by 100 women equals 2.07
children per woman, which convention rounds up to 2.1.
The population doesn’t decrease that quickly! People stick around.
But not indefinitely. Everyone will eventually die. Medical advances have managed to extend lifespans, masking the effect of low fertility rates on population size for a time. But when the generations that failed to replace themselves begin to die off, the population begins to rapidly shrink. Dramatic reductions in population are now underway in most developed countries. It is a vicious cycle, and one that, because of the scarcity of young people, is very difficult to escape from.
What economic hardships will happen if the fertility rate is too low?
Society is made up of old people and young people. Old people didn’t start off old; they were once young: working, having families, and paying taxes. These young people gradually age until they are old and no longer able to work. When this happens, it is important for them to be fully replaced by a new generation of young people. These young people will in turn work, have families, and pay taxes, which go in part to supporting the elderly population which can no longer support itself.
However, this setup only works if the young are more or less equal in number to the elderly. If the number of workers becomes too few to support the number of elderly, then the whole system faces the danger of a catastrophic collapse. Witness the debate over Social Security.
Why is the replacement rate higher in developing nations?
Many developing nations have very high rates of infant and child mortality. As a result, the total fertility rate needs to be higher in order to offset these losses.
Where are you getting these numbers?
The list of developed countries is taken from the U.N.'s list of countries with very high human development (page 213).
The Total Fertility Rates for these countries are taken from the CIA World Factbook for 2010. Check it online.
Big deal. If future generations need more people, let them have more kids.
Would that it were so simple. When a population decreases in size, the number of potential mothers also decreases. We say that countries with very low birthrates--like Japan's 1.21 children per woman--are in demographic collapse because each new generation is little more than half the size of the one that preceded it. At this rate, it would take only four generations to reduce the size of population to 10 percent of its initial size. To offset this decline and restore the population to its initial numbers, each woman would need to have 20 children! Hardly a tenable solution.
Episode 3: Food: There's lots of it
Are people hungry because there's not enough food on Planet Earth, or is the answer more complex?
Who says there is enough food for everyone?
Both of the world's leading authorities on food distribution (the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] and the World Food Programme [WFP]) are very clear: there is more than enough food for everyone on the planet. The FAO neatly summarizes the problem of starvation, saying that "the world currently produces enough food for everybody, but many people do not have access to it." Food is a lot like money: just because some people have none doesn't mean that there isn't enough of it--it's just spread unevenly.
What do you mean when you say we are producing more food on less land?
Exactly that. Thanks to continuing increases in crop yields, the world's farmers are harvesting hundreds of millions of tons more grain each year on tens of millions acres less land than they did in the 1970s and '80s. For instance, according to USDA figures, the world was producing 1.9 million metric tons of grain from 579.1 hectares of land (a hectare is 2.47 acres) in 1976. In 2004, we got 3.1 million metric tons of grain from only 517.9 hectares of land. This is quite a jump.
This is not to say that we won't possibly need to dedicate more land to farming in the future. The point is, a rise in population is not always matched by a rise in the amount of land required to feed that population.
Download the data on world grain production from the FAO website.
The U.S. government pays farmers not to grow food?
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service's web site, "the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides technical and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner." What this means is that the government has created a fund to allow farmers to give their land "time off" from growing crops. This is done by "renting" the land from the farmers, so that things like grass and trees can be planted there instead of crops. This helps prevent soil erosion and encourages wildlife habitats, and reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes.
The upshot of this is that our nation would never be able to afford to do this if we were anywhere near maxing out our food growing capabilities. Our current food surplus means that we are able to give some of our farmland back to the wild, instead of frantically using it all to feed a supposedly exploding population.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program
List of payments to date from the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program
Where has barren land been turned fertile?
Lots of places. Northeast Thailand and parts of Brazil, for example, were once considered inhospitable farming environments. According to the FAO, these places had disadvantages like "unreliable rainfall patterns, poor soils and a high population density in the case of Thailand; and remoteness, soils prone to acidity and toxicity and low population in the case of the Cerrado [Brazil]."
In both countries, the government was able to help farmers overcome these obstacles. This was done through methods like better irrigation, adding nutrients and chemicals to make the soil more suitable for planting, and finding crops that would adapt well to the local environment.
This was so effective in the case of Brazil that that country is now considered an agricultural superpower--largely due to farming on the "unfarmable" Cerrado.
Africa could feed the world?
Theoretically, it wouldn't even require all of Africa. According to a 2009 report published by the FAO, about 400 million hectares of African savannah are quite suitable for farming--but only 10 percent of that land is currently cultivated. Called the Guinea Savannah Zone, this stretch of arable land winds through 25 African countries. And, even though Africa has a dire history of war and unstable government, things have recently begun to look up for many of these nations, which means this land is more likely to be cultivated in the future.
According to the FAO, "Africa is better placed today to achieve rapid development in agriculture than either northeast Thailand or the Cerrado when their agricultural transformation took off in 1980 . . . There are a number of reasons for this: rapid economic, population and urban growth providing diverse and ample domestic markets; favourable domestic policy environments, improved business climates in many countries; increased foreign and domestic investment in agriculture; and the use of new technologies."
What does this mean? In the short term, fewer starving Africans. In the long term, possibly an incredible source of food for the rest of the world.
How does blaming overpopulation for things distract from the real problems?
Since overpopulation isn't the cause of hunger, "fixing" overpopulation won't fix these problems. In fact, the obsession with overpopulation often leads to precious aid money being spent on population control rather than real aid. "Family planning" programs miss the real point, especially in places like Africa--which is that the people need legitimate, concrete aid.