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Are eight billion humans too many for planet Earth? As we reach this milestone on November 15, most experts say the bigger problem is the overconsumption of resources by the wealthiest residents.
“Eight billion people, it is a momentous milestone for humanity,” said United Nations Population Fund chief Natalia Kanem, hailing an increase in life expectancy and fewer maternal and child deaths.
“Yet, I realize this moment might not be celebrated by all. Some express concerns that our world is overpopulated. I am here to say clearly that the sheer number of human lives is not a cause for fear.”
So, are there too many of us for Earth to sustain?
Many experts say that this is the wrong question. Instead of the fear of overpopulation, we should focus on the overconsumption of the planet’s resources by the wealthiest among us.
“Too many for whom, too many for what? If you ask me, am I too many? I don’t think so,” Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Populations told AFP.
He said the question of how many people Earth can support has two sides: natural limits and human choices.
‘Stupid and greedy’
Our choices result in humans consuming far more biological resources, such as forests and land, than the planet can regenerate each year. The overconsumption of fossil fuels, for example, leads to more carbon dioxide emissions, responsible for global warming.
We would need the biocapacity of 1.75 Earths to sustainably meet the needs of the current population, according to the Global Footprint Network and WWF NGOs.
The most recent U.N. climate report mentions population growth as one of the main drivers of an increase in greenhouse gases. However, it plays a smaller role than economic growth.
“We are stupid. We lacked foresight. We are greedy. We don’t use the information we have. That’s where the choices and the problems lie,” said Cohen.
However, he rejects the idea that humans are a curse on the planet, saying people should be given better choices.
“Our impact on the planet is driven far more by our behavior than by our numbers,” said Jennifer Sciubba, a researcher at the Wilson Center, a think tank.
“It’s lazy and damaging to keep going back to overpopulation,” she added, as this allows people in wealthy nations, who consume the most, to cast the blame for the planet’s woes onto developing countries where population growth is highest. Really, it’s us. It’s me and you, the air conditioning I enjoy, the pool I have outside, and the meat I eat at night that causes so much more damage.”
If everyone on the planet lived like a citizen of India, we would only need the capacity of 0.8 Earths a year, according to the Global Footprint Network and WWF. If we all consumed like a resident of the United States, we would need five Earths a year.
The United Nations estimates that our planet will be home to 9.7 billion people by 2050.
Women’s rights
One of the trickiest questions that arise when discussing population is that of controlling fertility. Even those who believe we need to lower the Earth’s population are adamant about protecting women’s rights.
Robin Maynard, the executive director of the NGO Population Matters, says there needs to be a decrease in the population, but “only through positive, voluntary, rights-respecting means” and not “deplorable examples” of population control.
The NGO Project Drawdown lists education and family planning among the top 100 solutions to halt global warming.
“A smaller population with sustainable levels of consumption would reduce demands on energy, transportation, materials, food, and natural systems.”
Vanessa Perez of the World Resources Institute agrees that “every person that is born on the planet puts additional stress on the planet.”
“It is a very thorny issue,” she said, adding that we should reject “this idea that the elite capture this narrative and say we need to cap population growth in the South.”
She believes the most interesting debate is not about the number of people but “distribution and equity.”
Cohen points out that even if we currently produce enough food for 8 billion people, there are still 800 million people who are “chronically undernourished.”
“The concept of ‘too many’ avoids the much more difficult problem, which is: are we using what we know to make the human beings we have as healthy, productive, happy, peaceful, and prosperous as we could?”
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Vanessa Perez of the World Resources Institute agrees that “every person that is born on the planet puts additional stress on the planet.”
Humans are part of the earth and we belong here.
Every live born is precious and infinitely valuable.
Don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have a right to be alive.
We should however live in symbiosis with nature and stop polluting the world and our bodies with chemicals.
Technology, short term fix and convince, leads too over population, destruction of environment, the disease of rampent materialism, the rise of control technologies called Robots and AI which will be the cancer of humanity, the most devistating part the destruction of our home world. Technology might be a short term fix but in the long run an utter failure.
Development of technology at a slower rate, not for convinence nor control (NO ROBOTS, NO AI) and mindfulness to nature, the eco systems of this planet, and saving the planet not destroying it.
Not buying this. There’s more than enough space on the planet to hold 8 billion.
As for resources, if people learned to grow their own food, they wouldn’t have to rely on manufactured garbage.
I’m not buying this UN load of sour grapes. This is what the lowest common denominator sounds like.
Let’s take this Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS beauty by the AFP writer:
“If everyone on the planet lived like a citizen of India, we would only need the capacity of 0.8 Earths a year, according to the Global Footprint Network and WWF. “
Yeah right, India, that has on average 3 to 4 kids per family. Great if you’re on a farm, terrible if you’re living in in overcrowded squalor already.
I don’t think India is the greatest paradigm. If everyone lived like a citizen of India we’d all be defecating in the open, have limited access to running water, unreliable sewage systems, and be choking on smog and pollution and be reproducing like rabbits even though that goes against our own self interests because we can’t even afford the 6 children we already have. No offense India but the world would be totally effed if we followed your model.
I am a nobody, unable to recall all the information needed to make a sound assesment on this topic. For this reason my mind has found a way to reduce variables to the core. Find a way to control the driving forces of absolutely all living creatures (survival/reproduction) and you have solved all problems. I know that such a task is impossible, as it is to appeal to the consciousness of the human race. I walk the path of acceptance and feel very well, perhaps you can.
Indian women have 2.2 children each. Just above replacement level of 2.1. But, hey, don’t let facts get in the way.
Remember all that food aid to the Third World?
This is the result, artificial population growth…
Some people displeased that the (over)consumption patterns of the US were singled out, so attempt to disprove by saying something about India…but then talk about unrelated things like defecating in the open.
The salient point is that we need to reduce our consumption of resources if we want to save the planet. The fact is that the rate and amount of resources that the US consumes is unsustainable, whether or not you agree with their political system/foreign policy/self-appointed role as “leader of the free world” etc.
Should there be some sort of notice on this article that says, “brought to you by the WEF, you will own nothing and be happy slaves!”?
Planet Earth – 8 billion humans & dwindling resources:
More energy needed immediately with population growth.
Compounded by increasing demand of more energy to upgrade people’s standard-of-living, more energy to be expended.
Thus, greater energy waste that ends up in heat enveloping the globe.
Temperature rise is unavoidable..
I remember when the news people talked about reaching the 3 billion milestone, back in 1960. Seems like we are on the wrong track.
brought to you by the WEF, you will own nothing and be happy slaves
Perhaps somewhat better than owning nothing and being an unhappy slave, which is what many in the world experience now.
When I was born the world population was about 2 billion.
The majority of people are some type of slave. Labored, indentured, and wage slaves.
I hope that readers are aware that most projections of population growth are negative.
I hope that readers are aware that most projections of population growth are negative.
Please supply evidence. I see predictions of population growth until the end of century, peaking at almost 11 billion.
Of course this depends upon our ability to provide food for that amount of people, and that is getting increasingly difficult due to rapid climate change.
We are too much people..
Have less kids and adopt more pets..
Remember all that food aid to the Third World?
This is the result, artificial population growth…
Ooohh, only the whites can eat, pathetic..
I hope people do not have resort to cannibalism,
Buy the things you really need, buy quality products that are not throw aways, take good care of them, fix them when they break instead of throwing them away and buying something new. Most high quality home appliances and furniture can last decades given reasonable care. Example I have perfect working Sunbean Coffee Master vacuum siphon coffee makers from the 1950s that work perfectly and make fabulous coffee. My main vacuum is a 40yo Kenmore product. I have had to make some repairs over the years but it is cheaper than always buying new ones every couple of years. I see people toss serviceable appliances out because something really easy to repair failed. People don’t even think of repairing what they have any more. Same with furniture. You can get sofas and chairs reupholstered at a fraction of the price of new ones. This is a good way to reduce overall consumption. You spend less money too, and thus don’t need to work ridiculous hours to pay the bills which gives you more time for family and your spouse.
The earth has enough resources for three or more times the current population of humanity.
Consider someone who is born poor, works hard, makes smart choices with their money, and lives a comfortable life afterwards.
Then consider how many sports stars you hear who make millions in their contracts, and a few years after retiring, are broke.
If the first person had the money of the second, think of how much further they could take that money, and how many other people living in a similarly fiscally responsible manner could also live on that money. Yet the sports star goes broke, because of poor money management.
Right now, humanity is the athlete, and we got given this planet that seemed to have enough to keep us all going forever. Humanity needs to instead be the responsible person. Unbridled capitalism leads to excess, and is using up the resources of our planet at an unsustainable rate.
8 billion is clearly way too many. The graph of the historical global greenhouse-gas emissions growth is exactly the same curve as that for earth’s population growth. A horizontal hockey stick. Too many people is at the root of most of our most critical problems and will lead to our demise as a species unless something isn’t done about it.
The most affluent societies have low birthrates and small populations. China’s economic miracle came after the effects of the single-child policy were felt. It’s critical that we get our population down.
I agree that we have the land and resources to comfortably support twice the population if we eliminate greed.
However, this argument is moot as we will soon face depopulation in almost every corner of the world. The reason the world’s population is still growing is not because of too many children. It’s because people are living LONGER. 50 years ago, it was almost unthinkable that people would live to see 90, but now more and more people are. This is a good thing as tech and advancements in medicine has allowed us to increase our life span. However, we will soon face a population decline. We may or may not reach 9 billion but after that, we will start to decline. The proof is in the fertility rates.
China and India have a combined 36% of the world’s population. China’s fertility is logged at 1.6 (although some demographers dispute this and say that its actually closer to Japan’s 1.3) while India’s is at 2.0 The replacement rate is at 2.2. That means Both countries are below replacement rates. India at a much slower rate, but it is still below replacement. That’s 36% of the world population and we STILL have not even started to talk about the low fertility in the West (especially Europe) and Asia such as Japan, Taiwan and S Korea among others.
Here are some Youtube videos to watch talking about these issues
The World’s Shrinking Population – YouTube
Urbanization plays an important role in shifting population rates — Darrell Bricker & John Ibbitson – YouTube
Basically go to YouTube and type in Darrell Bricker & John Ibbitson. They are 2 Canadian demographers that have been studying population trends.
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