Saturday, September 27, 2008

Overpopulation: Boon or Bane?

This article that I stumbled upon some weeks ago is now over 10 years old. It doesn't contain any brand new information, but it is pretty insightful and informative in it's own way.

Those who fear overpopulation share a simple insight: People use resources. They eat food, drive cars, and take up space. Because resources are scarce, the only way to improve living standards, Malthusians argue, is to limit the number of people with whom we have to share these resources.

The rebuttal to this argument is equally simple: People create resources. They bring into the world their time, effort, and ingenuity. Before deciding whether world population growth is a curse or a blessing, we have to ask ourselves whether an extra person added to the planet uses more or less resources than he or she creates.

Do read the entire thing. It's rather pertinent to us living in India, at least, with all the "let's blame all our country's woes on the population".


Anonymous said...

Sorry, people do not create resources. People do create technologies, which use resources. In addition, people eat (or want to) and create lots and lots of waste, toxic and otherwise.

We’ve already exceed global carrying capacity. We are now in “overshoot”. Global population is nearing 7 billion. Global carrying capacity is only about 2 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a moderate, low by US standards, standard of living.) We will get to that 2 billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily).

Yes, I mean all of us, yes I mean everywhere.

Yes a drop in population will cause problems, but none of those problems are as big as the problems, suffering, and environmental collapse that is certain to occur if we don’t.

No technological / "alternative energy" options have the capacity or can be ramped up fast enough to avoid major global calamity.

That isn't to say we shouldn't do them, aggressively shifting to alternative energy is necessary, just not sufficient.

It’s too late for any “us” vs “them” arguments or any belief that national boundaries will do much to help anyone in the long run. This is a global issue with local and nation-state consequences. For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it. Likewise, global climate change is not impressed by national boundaries.

Some argue that all this is less important than some “right to reproduce”. If there is any "right to reproduce" it's in the concept that one has the freedom to nurture a child or children and form a family - biological reproduction is not necessary to do that and there are many in need of this sort of nurturing.

Being a parent is much different from the romantic and oxytocin enhanced notion of “having a baby”. Parenting is something you do for 18+ years, not a one time biological act. In addition, at least one criterion to reproduce would be to not only have the necessary skills and resources to parent a child for 18 years or so, but that doing so would not cause suffering for others either now or in the future.

Since we are beyond our global carrying capacity, no one can truly biologically reproduce and meet that criteria.

One of the key factors in this scenario is also our sense of time. This is a slow motion crash that requires immediate action, a bit like trying to steer a supertanker on a crash course by putting in consistent input over a multi year time frame, and the one effective input is to stop making babies. (Yes all of us and yes everywhere.)

The supertanker analogy is also apt because it was oil that allowed us to get this far out on a limb, and peak oil has already happened.

For more comprehensive analysis of this I strongly recommend Approaching the Limits ( and The Oil Drum | Peak Oil Overview - June 2007 (

Arnold said...

@anonymous: Interesting points and those two links, though haven't gone through them carefully as yet. But I will sometime this evening. Thanks for the comment. Well written.

ruhey said...

Very interesting, and optimistic... essay, try and visit It's probably the kind of thing every nation should be doing, it's difficult but a possible solution. Humans are supposed to live on Earth for a certain time, but what we are doing is shortening it, and destroying it for any future species.
One person can do what a lot of people can do and vice versa, it's the way you do it.

RT .. hXc?LqD said...

are u goin go to germany?

Ace of Spades said...

people may create resources

but people take up valuable real estate, jobs, food, water, electricity and fuel

we look at most of the developed nations and marvel at their roads and other infrastructure

well ... those things will never be possible in india because of the space crunch

our carbon foot print and harmful emissions are increasing because of our larger numbers

i will always blame overpopulation for our problems

konika said...

celebrate the homosexuals.

celia said...

hey guyz i hav got a debate in mah skul... reagarding dis plz help me out..

Anonymous said...

very interesting and meaningful...