One Finite Planet

If the earth is overpopulated, so what?

Yes, the Earth is overpopulated by normal definition of overpopulation: population beyond sustainable carrying capacity. Clearly we are not existing sustainably at this time. The environmental footprint per person, multiplied by the number of people, equals a total footprint that is too large for nature to absorb. However, as is repeated over and over, we can reduce ‘footprint per person’, by a variety of means: Sustainable living…. stop with fossil fuels etc… The elephant in the room is that most people saying such things (David Attenborough aside), is that while all these steps increase to carrying capacity by lowering impact per person, will achieve nothing if the population keeps growing.

The points:

  • Things are not as bad as it may seem.
  • A “Purge” is not needed, and would not help!
  • The Battle: the evil forces.
  • The solution.

Things are not as bad as it may seem.

Fortunately, birth rates are already at a level that would produce population stability, and just a slight nudge courtesy of the correct messages, will reach peak population.

Here is why population control is within humanities grasp:

  • Current population growth is almost entirely due to population lag.
  • Birth rates have already reached a point of stability and are on a downward trend.

A “Purge” is not needed, and would not help!

From time to time people float the idea that as there are too many people, some form of ‘cull’ is required. This very approach fails to recognise that overpopulation is about a ratio: the ratio of people to carrying capacity. Almost any form of cull creates a catastrophe that reduces the carrying capacity of the Earth even more than it reduces the population.

Overpopulation occurs when the environment cannot sustainably support the population. The environment supports the population, just not sustainably. If the environment did not support the population in the short term, then population drops immediately, rather than remaining too high until the environment eventually collapses.

It is important to remember that mankind already does many things to increase carrying capacity of the planet. If society collapses, all those steps to increase carrying capacity break down. An catastrophic event that reduces the population, would also see society break down. We could have a planet with 1/10 the population that is still overpopulated because, for example, farming fails and the remaining people have to hunt and destroy natural fauna to survive.

The Battle: Combating Population Growth Provocateurs.

There is however a battle to control population, with “provocateurs” advocating for maximum population growth. The path to wealth is accumulate some wealth from as many individuals as possible. The wealthiest individuals do not need to concern themselves with overpopulation, as they will always have all the land and resources they need, which means they have no reason for population control to matter to them. On the contrary, it is in the financial interest of the most for population to keep increasing, as their wealth accumulates from as many individuals as possible. Even if population growth is lowering the living standard of the average individual, having more individuals to ‘tax’ or earn profits from still appeals to the most wealthy and powerful. The most wealthy would continue create propaganda claiming ‘perpetual growth is the only path to prosperity’ even if there were 100 billion people on the planet.

Whilst scaling back population can benefit individuals on average, it does not necessarily benefit the largest global businesses and their managers or owners. Nor does it benefit from politicians who see their importance increasing with population and their donations increasing with donations from the most wealth who benefit from population growth.

Another force for ever increasing population is the ‘othering’. The claim that “we” must increase our population or we will be out numbered by “others’.

The Solution.

Overpopulation is about a ratio of two numbers, not a single number. The equation is the quotient of population/carrying-capacity, and if that ration is greater than 1 there is overpopulation.

The fact that the environment is under threat is extremely well recognised. Aside from David Attenborough, surprisingly few people join the dots between the deteriorating environment and overpopulation. However, it is very important those dots are joined, as efforts to lower the ‘footprint’ per person will mean nothing if population is not also controlled.

So the solution is in two parts:

  1. Increase the planets ‘carrying capacity’ of humans by lowering the per ‘footprint’ per person.
  2. Stop population growth.

Step 1 is urgent, and getting a lot of attention.

Step 2 is important, and getting very little attention. Despite that low level of attention, only the mildest push lower in birth-rates is required to produce an optimal solution. It just needs pushing the message that the ideal is not aim for 2, not more. If the people feeling it is their duty to have more kids realised this was not true, it could be enough.

Original 2014 viewpoint:

I have long been of the belief that we have more humans living on earth than is ideal. But what should we do about this?

Well, from my perspective, the main step is to have an awareness out there such that governments seeking to use policy to increase national populations use policy of immigration, not policies to artificially increase birth rates.  This is the big and positive step!

Beyond the change of attitude and increased awareness, there is little that we can do. I will post the logic on my statement that we have moved beyond the ideal population at a future time, but to put that aside for the moment, if that statement is true what can be done?

I recently say a paper entitled 'Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems'.  My immediate reaction is 'oh my!  did they seriously even contemplate it could be a quick fix?'

The only possible fix we can do is to prevent active steps to make problems caused by population get worse by policies to INCREASE population, there is nothing we can seriously contemplate doing to REDUCE population. Perhaps very gradually over time, but the idea of a quick fix seems to me absurd.

I already regard planning the level of human population as the greatest moral challenge of our time. Any suggestion to decrease population quickly sounds like the greatest immoral proposal!

Surely the quickest fix is to reduce the environmental impact per person.  The long range issue is to ensure we do not counteract such steps by then increasing population to undo any positive outcomes.


Table of Contents


Ghost cities and ghost homes: housing finance crisis?

Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”

Attributed to Kenneth Boulding in: United States. Congress. House (1973) 

This applies to not just to population growth, but just maybe also to the growth in value of housing.

This page is a look at ‘ghost cities’ and ‘ghost homes’, and the window they provide into how distorted investment can become in the pursuit of growth.

The end result of the distortions can be overvalued assets funded by highly leveraged ordinary citizens. If that is the case, not just with ghost cities but beyond, the correction will clearly present a financial crisis.

Read More »

The EV climate change lag problem: Don’t buy an EV just to save the planet.

The bad news is EVs won’t help in time to keep global warming below +2.0oC, or reduce emissions in the critical years up to 2040. The EV transition means things still get worse before they get better, until late as 2050. The problem is not the ‘long tailpipe argument‘, but the challenge of the transition to EVs. EVs do, over their lifetime, result in a reduction in emissions, but the whole process can take decades, does not alone solve immediate climate problem. Emissions can even be worse if too many people buy EVs too soon.

Read More »

Big Oil, AKA Big Fossil: How real, and what about ‘big climate’?

It is clear that significant funding is directed to promoting the continued use of fossil fuel.

Time after time I find the need to make this claim, and as I do not make claims without supporting evidence, so each time it triggers a search for supporting evidence.

I have now decided to create a page with links to supporting evidence, as an improving over multiple pages each linking directly to one or two pieces of the puzzle.

For balance, I examine the idea of ‘big climate’ or ‘big science’, being a source of funding bias data applied against the arguments of ‘big oil’.

Read More »

Can Peter Dutton repair the democracy ‘loyal opposition’.

Democracy is under threat, and a significant part of the problem stems for the distortion of the current model of ‘opposition’. While the politics of division and polarisation of the USA Trump republicans vs Biden democrats attracts most attention on the world stage right now, what happens in Australia following the recent election which saw democracy strike back (page coming soon), has the potential to provide the world with an alternate blueprint for the role of the opposition party, which could reinvigorate democracy and spread to the US and elsewhere.

Is there an alternative to the current Republicans vs Democrats style, where ‘opposition’ is about each party demonising the other?

Read More »

the surprises hiding in life expectancy numbers.

The main surprise is that life expectancy reveals very little about how long people typically live. From the 1500s till around 1800, life expectancy throughout Europe hovered between 30 and 40 years of age, and it was only as recent as the 20th century, that life expectancy rose from 49.2 to 80.3 years. Yet famous historical figures from 2,000 years ago, typically lived to around 70 or longer.

Looking far back as we can know, a full lifespan has always been around 70 years or longer. The biggest change has not the length of a human lifespan, but instead, the dramatic increase in percentage of people who get to enjoy that lifespan. How ancient people lived was nothing like life expectancy suggests, and we have not yet extended lifespans to the extent you may think.

Read More »