‘Ideal Global Population Under 2 Billion,’ Sustainability Experts Say

September 6, 2016 at 11:29 pm

When people argue overpopulation is a myth, their arguments typically revolve around the amount of “open” space on earth not yet occupied by humans.pewsg80mndk1p441pyjd

“Ever flown across the country and seen all the vacant land between New York and California?” or “Did you know every single person on Earth could fit into the State of Texas?” they say.

What they fail to mention is it takes a lot more land than one’s body or house stands on to sustain a human life. Just because we can cram a few billion more human bodies here, and few billion more there, doesn’t mean there is enough fertile farmland or clean water to sustain all those people.

According to the Global Footprint Network, if every person on the planet were to enjoy the standard of living of the average European – who consumes about half as much as the average American – the Earth could sustainably support about 2 billion people, at most.

If all 7.5 billion people on Earth were to enjoy the standard of living of the average American, we would need five Earths.

So the question we should be asking is not “how many human beings we can cram onto the planet?” but “what quality of life do we want the average human to enjoy?”

Once we determine that, we can determine the ideal population and how many babies we should be having, on average. There are several factors humanity needs to ponder in determining this number:

1. Fossil Fuel Can’t Be Part of the Equation

Fossil fuel has already caused us to overshoot Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, and we are already on track for a massive human die-off when the oil runs out.

It’s important to start with an understanding that the human population never would’ve gotten this big without fossil fuel.

The “Green” Revolution of the 1960s and 70s – in which scientists learned how to fertilize the globe’s depleted topsoil with petroleum – is credited with saving at least a billion people from starvation. But what it hasn’t gotten enough “credit” for is creating 4 billion more mouths to feed.

Just as the baby boomer generation entered adulthood, scientists launched a modern agricultural revolution, powered by synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and new high-yield varieties of cereal grains.

So instead of a global population of about 3.5 billion in 1968 dropping back down to a pre-WWII level of 2.5 billion, we enabled the population to double to 7 billion by 2012, and are now expected to hit 10 billion by 2050.

This has been the history of agriculture since it began. Agriculture creates a false sense of food security because of temporary surpluses. So people have more babies. But when the soil has been been stripped after a few hundred years, farmers, and kings, move on to new land, pushing aside anyone with smaller weapons who stands in their way.

Today, instead of warring for new farmland, we just go to war for more petroleum to pump minerals back into our depleted soil.

But most scientists agree oil production has already peaked and is now declining. So haven’t we only delayed and worsened the inevitable catastrophe when the oil finally runs out?

2. Quantity vs. Quality

It takes longer for Americans to feel the effects of global overpopulation, as each of us, on average, consumes 32 times more resources than the average Kenyan. But if we’d take the blinders off, we’d see that the vast majority of the human species already lives in abject poverty.

In non-European countries around the world, people are starving,  working in factories like slaves, and living in squalor in crowded, filthy slums.

Living conditions are difficult for many in Bangladesh.


In Europe and America, the middle class is working harder and harder each year to keep a roof over their heads in a safe part of town. Most of us can’t afford real food and live with cancer, diabetes and heart disease because of it.

We can tell everyone to consume less, but how much less do we want to consume? And how much space do we want?


Hong Kong

“Middle class living standards in the US peaked some time ago,” says The Platonist in an article titled – What is the Ideal Population of the Earth?

“The average house now contains much less land than it did in the 70s, when the average person could still reasonably expect to have a whole 1/3 acre of their own (this should be the minimum size for suburban lots, to ensure enough space between the houses, visually, and for the children of the place to run in and feel free from built-up areas). But compare this to the 1700s, when every American could have 100 acres for the taking!”

Jenne Farm

Additionally, the American lifestyle requires a lot more than the land we build fences around.

The average American requires approximately 22 acres of land (and a ton of slave labor) to produce the amount of food and resources he consumes. If all 7.5 billion of us used 22 acres worth of resources, we’d need 163 billion acres of productive land. Unfortunately, there are only 36 billion total on earth.

And of course, the only reason we can have such a luxurious lifestyle from so few acres is because of industrial agriculture. When the oil runs out, industrial agriculture is going to disappear. People are going to have to return to more primitive modes of farming and spend a lot more hours producing their own food (or learn permaculture.)

Unless, of course, we want to return to the ways of hunter-gatherers, who enjoy much more leisure time than agriculturalists and consume far less energy per capita than any type of human being ever. Hunter-gatherer population densities rarely exceeded one person per 10 square miles.

3. How many can we destroy before we destroy ourselves?

Every time we build a new city, suburb or farm for humans, we are shrinking the amount of space for bison, bears, deer, lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, zebra, non-human apes, rabbits, squirrels, fish, insects, trees, grasses, bacteria. You may not particularly care about any of those species, but the species at the top of the food chain are utterly dependent on those below.

Because of our interdependence, the extinction of one species can create a domino effect, wiping out dozens of other species.

Earth is now losing species 1000 times faster than before modern humans evolved. According to environmental activist Lierre Keith, we will lose more species in the 65-year period between 1980 and 2045 than we have in the last 65 million years.

Some scientists are calling it the sixth great extinction crisis, akin to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

The Solution? Stop Having Kids

Ok, you can have one (or two if you convince your neighbor not to have one) until the population stabilizes:

So, why don’t we see big billboards advocating that we all have one child?

The economy, Stupid. Because corporations, and the global economy, are guaranteed to grow each year so long as population grows. If they aren’t growing, they’re dying, says The Platonist:

“More mouths means more consumers, more consumers means more bottom line, especially for the largest global firms … The gigantic companies like Coca-cola, McD’s, Dow, Bayer, Proctor & Gamble, etc, all depend on having more mouths to buy their products each year for their continued economic growth.” 

“To witness firsthand how highly pro-population growth the economics field is, one need only turn to The Economist, where one continually sees editorials on how countries with low projected population growth rates are decried as economic minefields, while places with high population growth are declared to be economic Nirvana, even if, as in Eastern Europe, these places’ spiralling population is leading to a drastic reduction of living conditions and well-being for the average person.  Generally, economists aren’t in the business of caring about quality of life per capita.”

So now, we’ve come to a rock and a hard spot – do we allow the economy to suffer or continue to kill the planet that feeds us? I opt for the first.

RELATED: Earth is Overpopulated, And No, We Cannot All Live in the State of Texas

RELATED: Agriculture: “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”

RELATED: Civilization is Inherently Unsustainable