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Posted by on Oct. 12, 2011 at 11:40 PM
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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 The problem is: it isn't, and the science behind that idea is outdated and false.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, 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?

::polite cough::

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.

Coverage by the Food and Agriculture Organization
Coverage by The New York Times

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.

Guinea Savannah Zone -- by the Food and Agriculture Organization
Africa's Sleeping Giant -- by The World Bank

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.

Continued below...

by on Oct. 12, 2011 at 11:40 PM
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by Diane - Group Owner on Oct. 12, 2011 at 11:58 PM

Episode 4: Poverty: Where We All Started

Why poverty isn't caused by "overpopulation."

How is poverty defined, for the purposes of this video?

For the purposes of this video, we use the World Bank's definition of poverty. The World Bank defines poverty as:

… pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions. It includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity. Poverty also encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one's life.

You can find this definition of poverty online here. At PRI, we like this definition because it recognizes the true nature of poverty — that poverty is not just a state of having less money or posessions than others around you. Although those details are an integral part of poverty, real poverty is the lack of dignity and quality of life that results from that lack of money or possessions.

In other words, human beings require more than simple survival to make our lives worth living. This is why talking about poverty in terms of statistics can be tricky sometimes, as we will see below.

If overpopulation doesn't cause poverty, what does cause it?

The thing to remember about poverty is that it isn't a disease or a “condition,” like the measles or a broken leg. Poverty is the state of not having what we need. It is a terrible state to be in, to be sure, but it is the state we all revert to when our support structures are removed. Poverty is like darkness: it isn't a thing. It's the lack of a thing.

Essentially, the only way that poverty has ever been defeated, anywhere, is by infrastructures that humans have set up. So, when poverty does exist, it is when these infrastructures either 1) don't exist, like in underdeveloped nations, or 2) are broken or have holes in them. Essentially, fixing poverty is about fixing bad infrastructure, not about eliminating people.

This is made obvious by the fact that the poorest nations in the world are often among the least populated. Take the Congo, for instance, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a meager per capita GDP of only $300. The Congo's population density is only 75 people per square mile, a fairly light population density. Compare this with the Netherlands, one of the wealthiest countries in the world with per capita GDP of $39,200. The Netherlands has a population density of 1,039 people per square mile. (these numbers come from the CIA World Factbook.

You claim that when people move to more crowded areas, they're actually more likely to get out of poverty. Prove it.

In 2008, the World Bank put out a paper called “Urban Poverty: A Global View,” which discussed the effects of urbanization (the process of more and more people moving to crowded, or “urban” areas). According to the World Bank, people who moved to urban areas were not only more likely to escape poverty, but were also likely to be better off over time because “urbanization contributes to sustained economic growth which is critical to poverty reduction.” (emphasis ours)

“Overall,” the World Bank continues, “the urbanization process has played an important role in poverty reduction by providing new opportunities for migrants and through the second-round impact on those who stay in rural areas …the urban economy provides opportunities for many and is the basis of growth and job creation.”

Of course, poverty in crowded areas still exists (which is the larger point of this paper). But the point is that it continues to exist in spite of, rather than because of human population.

You can read the whole paper here and judge for yourself.

What is it that brings human beings out of poverty?

Like most things, the answer to poverty isn't any one simple thing. However, we can say with certainty that every method to alleviate poverty requires one primary ingredient: community.

Basically, in order for human beings to escape poverty, they need other human beings. Solitary human beings are incapable of solving some of the most basic problems that need to be solved in order for their lives to improve. With community, there is a collection of minds and a multiplication of labor that allows human beings to solve problems and accomplish more difficult and complicated tasks. The larger the community, the more effectively and creatively this division of labor is likely to occur.

According to acclaimed economist Julian Simon, the multiplication of humans has directly led to the improvement of our species:

“It is a simple fact that the source of improvements in productivity is the human mind, and a human mind is seldom found apart from a human body. And because improvements — their invention and their adoption — come from people, it seems reasonable to assume that the amount of improvement depends on the number of people available to use their minds.”

— Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource

Of course, this doesn't mean that simple population growth leads to human improvement. There are plenty of places with large populations that remain poor. The point is, any time human beings get the opportunity to work together and better their situation, the percentage of poor people is likely to drop significantly.

You claim that as population has grown, the percentage of poor has gone down. Prove it.

According to demographers Joyce Burnette and Joel Mokyr, as humanity's numbers have grown, our average standard of living has grown as well. These scientists wrote a paper entitled “The Standard of Living Through the Ages,” found in the book The State of Humanity (you can get the book from Amazon here). In it, they point out that every single statistic that we have on this subject points to one simple truth: that as population has grown over time, the average person has become better off.

They measured this in almost every way imaginable. Burnette and Mokyr have graphs showing rising per capita income. They have graphs showing average life expectancy, average height, caloric consumption, sugar consumption, cotton consumption, even beer consumption! Every single one of these averages has been steadily increasing over time as the population has grown.

This is in direct contradiction to overpopulation alarmists, who hold that as population increases poverty becomes more severe. They claim that this is simple common sense. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, science actually shows the opposite. As population grows, productivity and innovation grow, which means that more and more people have access to the goods and services that they need.

Maybe population control isn't the answer to poverty. But does it actively hurt the poor?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is very, very yes. Population control programs don't just miss the point on poverty … they distract from it. Poverty can be alleviated by a number of different programs. But when the focus is on bringing down population, valuable time, energy, and resources are spent solving a “problem” that doesn't exist, rather than the real problems at hand.

"Family planning" programs miss the point, especially in places like Africa — which is that the people need legitimate, concrete aid. People who are hungry, cold and exposed need food, water, and shelter — not population control.


Episode 5: 7 Billion People: Will Everyone Please Relax?

It's a huge number. But it's not what you think.

You are very confident about the earth’s population leveling off and then falling. How can you prove this? After all, population is still growing.

Population is still technically growing, but according to the United Nation Population Division’s numbers, that growth is slowing dramatically.

The United Nations Population Division (UNPD) is the most reliable source of population statistics in the world, which is why we use their numbers for our videos. And, according to the UNPD, population growth will continue to slow down over the next few decades. In fact, if current trends persist, our growth will halt right around 8 billion by 2045. After that, our numbers will start to fall off, slowly at first, and then faster.

If you find this whole idea counterintuitive, don't worry! You're not alone. At first glance, it really does seem like population is skyrocketing. That’s because we're still adding a billion people every few decades . . . and a billion people is a lot of people. But the way we can tell that population is not ballooning out of control is precisely the fact that we’re only adding a billion people each time. And soon, we won’t even be adding that many.

You claim that the UN’s predictions are reliable. How reliable have they historically been?

Again, it depends on which variant you use. In our research, we’ve looked at the UN’s predictions and how they have compared with real life--and in every case the “low variant” has been the most accurate. You can run the numbers yourself here

Even if population growth is slowing down, a billion people every 15 years is still a lot of people. Isn’t this still a problem?

It is a lot of people. And of course, greater numbers bring their own challenges and issues. But there isn't any convincing evidence to show that the size of our population is the cause of the world's most pressing issues, like war, famine, disease, and poverty.

Let's put it another way. Since we have more people, our wars are bigger. Our famines may affect more people, and more people will have diseases and be poor. But population growth didn't create these problems--they have have existed since people have existed.

In other words, we can't blame population for problems that have been around forever. The only difference is, since there are more of us now, these problems affect more people.

Why has the global total fertility rate dropped so much?

Scientists are still debating exactly why, but there's no doubt that it is happening. All over the world, birthrates have been dropping quickly, and for nearly 50 years now.

Many demographers think that it is because more and more people are urbanizing (moving into large cities). When families live out in the country on farms, it makes more economic sense to raise larger families, so that they have people to help them and care for them in their old age. It’s also true that cities tend to have better healthcare facilities, which reduce infant mortality. This in turn means that parents end up having fewer children, since more of their existing children are surviving to adulthood.

Demographic expert Philip Longman observes, in his book The Empty Cradle, “As more and more of the human race find itself living under urban conditions in which children no longer provide any economic benefit to their parents, but are rather costly impediments to material success, people who are well adapted to this new environment will tend not to reproduce themselves. And many others who are not so successful will imitate them.” (p.31, available here)


Episode 6: Urbanization: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad City?

Cities are overcrowded. The world is not.

Innovation, Collaboration, and Economic Development are possible only in cities. Why is that?

When more people are grouped together, they are able to put their minds together and come up with better ideas and ways to improve in their society. Because of this, the city is able to offer more opportunites, so people move there. According to the UNFPA on urbanization:

In principle, cities offer a more favourable setting for the resolution of social and environmental problems than rural areas. Cities generate jobs and income. With good governance, they can deliver education, health care and other services more efficiently than less densely settled areas simply because of their advantages of scale and proximity.

The acclaimed economist, Julian Simon, agrees with the fact that there is a direct link between community size and human improvement:

“It is a simple fact that the source of improvements in productivity is the human mind, and a human mind is seldom found apart from a human body. And because improvements — their invention and their adoption — come from people, it seems reasonable to assume that the amount of improvement depends on the number of people available to use their minds.”

— Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource

You claim that birthrates are lower in urban areas than they are in the country. Who says so?

Many studies show that birthrates are lower in urban areas than in rural areas.

This document from the UN shows the urban vs. rural birthrates for a lot of countries (See table 11).

Another study from the DHS (Demographic and Health Surveys) website. They did an extensive fertility study in Malawi in 2000.

This study shows a drastic difference between rural and urban dwelling women. The Total Fertility Rates for rural vs. urban being 6.7 and 4.3 respectively.

The promise of better jobs, prestigious schools, modern healthcare, and high culture calls people to leave the countryside and move to the city.

The urban population is on the rise. (see graph here)

Since 2008, more than half the world’s population has become urbanized. There is a clear rural to urban draw going on globally. Given the connection between population numbers and human improvement (see question 1 above), it makes sense that the urban population percentage is growing. There are more opportunities in the city than in the countryside.

to be continued...

by Diane - Group Owner on Nov. 27, 2012 at 4:12 PM


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