One Finite Planet

Environmental Damage: The Overpopulation Indicator

First Published:

In nature, we define overpopulation as when the population is beyond number the environment can sustainable without environmental damage.

Those warning of overpopulation, will often resort to warnings on the eventual starvation that would occur following environmental collapse. However, there are those who profit from overpopulation and are so rich they would not starve anyway, then point out ‘the world is not starving yet, so environmental collapse is fine!’ But can we risk the entire the world really becoming an Easter Island story.

To set things straight: famines are not a useful indicator of overpopulation.

Carrying Capacity: The Limit Before Environmental Degradation.

The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitatwater, and other necessities available in the environment

Wikipedia: Carrying capacity .

Every creature ‘damages’ the environment, but when the number of creatures is below the ‘carrying capacity’, the environment repairs itself at a rate equal to, or faster than, the rate of damage. Caterpillars eat the leaves of a tree, but if within carrying capacity, the leaves grow at a rate to ensure there will still be leaves.

This means the test for exceeding carrying capacity, is the presence of environmental damage that does not self repair.

Under the definition of ‘overpopulation’ as ‘exceeding carrying capacity’, it is difficult to mount an argument that our species is not currently exceeding the carrying capacity of our planet. We have exceeding the maximum population size that the environment can sustain indefinitely, which in turn, degrades the environment. As the environment degrades, carrying capacity is further reduced.

Humans And Increasing Carrying Capacity

Although carrying capacity is still applicable with humans, the definition of carrying capacity as quoted was not designed with humans in mind. Humans introduce a new factor: the ability to change their impact on the environment, and therefore change the carrying capacity of the environment.

The reality is how many humans can the environment “sustain indefinitely” is significantly changed by how the humans behave. Clearly, without technology and advanced farming techniques, we could not even house and feed the current over 7 billion people on the planet. Our challenge is that technology that enables us to house and feed this number, does not at this time do so sustainably.

In fact, the very technology itself creates challenges to sustainability. In fact, if we consider cities with the latest in technology, and compare those with major cities with older technology, it is clear environmental impact is not decreasing. We not are getting better at living sustainably, so technology is not always a solution to the problem. No matter how we balance living ‘naturally’, which tends to support lower numbers of humans in a given area, against maximum use of technology, which supports more humans in a given area but has far reaching implications in terms of resources consumed and waste produced, we simply do not yet have a solution for housing the current human population in a sustainable manner.

Good News and Solutions.

The great Hans Rosling.

Simply put, the good news is that we have already largely tackled the biggest issue: birth rates that drive population growth. Despite this, as best explained by Hans Rosling, the population will continue to grow until the ‘pyramid’ for the entire globe becomes a rectangle. As long the greed for perpetual growth does not intervene, then population will start a very gradual decline. Later than ideal, as yes with a population already too large, but with an end to growth in reach.

With an end to population growth in sight there is some chance that technology can help improve sustainability, to a point where we can support the population of humans on the planet. How well we deal with this issue will determine the number of humans at the time we achieve sustainability again, and the living standard of the typical human at that time.

The solutions are simple and largely already well known:

  • move as quickly as possible to reduce environmental impact per person
  • ensure no disruption to current trends of birth rates
  • educate on the benefits of flat population or even gradual population reduction

The Legacy Of The Explosion.

Despite the good new of population now being able to be controlled, we have still undergone an unprecedented population explosion, which has left a legacy of world were existing sustainably is now an incredible challenge. Everything we can do to limit any further population growth and more to a planned and slow relaxing of the population pressure is essential, and must be combined with some dramatic steps to save the planet in the meantime.

Beware of Disinformation

There are active ‘voices’ declaring ‘overpopulation is a myth’. Declaring, we are not yet starving, so we are not overpopulated. Consider arguments raised to support this position, against the case that the symptom of exceeding carrying capacity is damage to the environment. Exceeding carrying capacity being ‘overpopulation’. We are overpopulated, and cannot survive if those pushing for further population growth, as a means to drive economic growth, have their way.

As put by leading environmentalist David Attenborough:

“But it is very alarming at the rate we’re going, and although people will say, ‘In the long run, we are going to stabilize’, they’re going to stabilize – as far as I can see – at a rather higher level than the Earth can really accommodate.”

David Attenborough on population. World Economic Forum

Further, consider the motivations of voices declaring ‘overpopulation is a myth’:

No matter where you stand on any of these issues, and I will discuss each one in further posts, each simply provides a reason for denying we are overpopulated. In other words, each is a reason for hiding the truth, rather than a dispute of the truth. In many cases, a self serving reason for hiding the truth, and I suggest hiding the truth is never a desirable solution to any problem.


The evidence of that the sum of human population is damaging the global environment is overwhelming.

“For the past 20 years I’ve never had any doubt that the source of the Earth’s ills is overpopulation. I can’t go on saying this sort of thing and then fail to put my head above the parapet,” Attenborough told George

David Attenborough: New Scientist Interview with Alison George.

Basically, unless population growth maintains the lower end of current projections, the consequences will be dire. The answer lies in balancing the position of two greats, which I surmise as (not exactly their words)

  • don’t panic population growth is under control (Hans Rosling)
  • we need to do all we can to ensure population growth remains under control (David Attenborough)

One Response

  1. OIL is the resource that made possible this massive & excessive human population & as OIL declines, our ability to just feed ourselves will also decline, no amount of technology can change this.
    those “renewables” that corporations & the government is shoving down our collective throats is just another way for big corporations to PROFIT by BURNING MORE OIL, COAL & NATURAL GAS & we should all have figured out by now that you cannot replace declining resources with a resource dependent technology like “renewables”.
    Our rulers are still pushing for more GROWTH because they profit not us, we suffer.

    With such a huge mass of poorly educated, ignorant, religious & propagandized population, it would take many decades to turn this around, we don’t have decades.

    Population growth is NOT “under control” the still GROWING human “cancer” continues to grow, just a little slower but it’s still killing us & everything else we claim to love, cherish & protect.

    Climate disruption is already causing crop failures, flooding, heat waves,drought etc, all the usual suspects are increasing & will continue to increase as uncontrollable climate disruption worsens.
    We now have positive feedback loops that no matter what we do now, they will continue to cause the climate to become ever more unstable increasing deaths through starvation, heat waves or excessive cold, there will be millions then billions of desperate migrants, where will they go? where CAN they go?
    The fences & walls are going up, soon armed guards will man towers behind those fences, those forcing themselves over,under or through the fence will be SHOT.
    When your own people are suffering, migrants will be rejected, deported or killed.

    Read history, there you can see why I feel that this will be our “future”.

    Heck, read the BIBLE to see how the Israelites treated those who were in the way of them occupying the land their “god” “gave” them.
    Ever receive a “gift” that required you to kill ALL of the current owners?
    I hope not!

    NEVER in my life have I seen so many HOMELESS, JOBLESS & HOPELESS people in THIS, the richest country on earth, EVER!

    Do a quick search on Youtube for “homeless” or if in Europe, look for “rough sleepers” & see the horror for yourself.

    Do a brain excercise, WHAT WOULD YOU DO if EVICTED from your apartment or home?
    Could you get help? Or would you just have to do what ever it took to survive, steal, beg, rob, migrate or even kill?
    I have read some history, in the black death, when most of Europe was starving, starving parents ATE THEIR OWN CHILDREN! They preferred that to watching them starve.
    In Greenland when the climate turned cold again, those who could, left, those who didn’t had to watch as their livestock slowly starve to death, in the end, the starving Viking settlers even ate their dogs before starving to death themselves.

    No “god” no “Jesus”, no “virgin Mary” showed up to help any of them no matter how good, pious or faithful they were.

    If your old, be greatful you lived through some of the most amazing eras with unbelievable advances in technology & knowledge & we will die before, I hope, this house of cards collapses, if your young, be afraid, be very afraid & try to prepare for a much lower quality of life IF you can survive.
    Most of you won’t.


Table of Contents


Optimum population of humans: Ideally, how many people can, or should, the Earth support?

It can seem like the human population can grow forever, but analysis makes it clear growth must stop eventually. The question becomes at what level should it stop?

Do we go for the maximum possible people before everything collapses, even if average living standards could be far better with a smaller population? Is it like a chicken farm in an egg farm, where having less chickens is seen as preferable if it means chickens get better living conditions? What population strikes the right balance for humans?

Read More »

COP27: Climate change action sabotage?

Reports from COP27 seems indicate the key initiative this year to make wealthy nations cover the cost of the damages poor nations will incur as a result of emissions that have main originated from those wealthy nations.

The proposal as it stands has a missing an essential piece, and trying to cover for that essential piece, appears most to likely to increase emissions, and move COP away from a focus on solving the climate crisis and instead toward just fighting over the cost.

This is a troubled look at the key flaw in what has been put forward and the real solution that should be in place.

Read More »

Did Al Gore nail it: Is climate change merely inconvenient, or is it an existential threat?

Claims that +1.5oC warming would be ‘catastrophic’, and that climate change represents an ‘existential threat’ can be quite vague as just what is ‘catastrophic’ or an ‘existential threat’?

This webpaper, seeks to translate ‘catastrophic’ outcomes and ‘existential threats’ into more concrete outcomes.

“We recognise climate change is a serious problem and are committed to net zero by 2050 in order to prevent the disastrous consequences anticipated to occur by around 2026”

Typical government position: Is it ok?

Read More »

The Power struggle in Australia.

From “the biggest corruption scandal ever” in Brazil, problems in Venezuela, human rights in Saudi Arabia and Iran, to the problems caused by lobbyists against action on climate change, an abundance of fossil fuels is a source of political power, yet rarely force for good, and Australia, with a wealth of coal and gas, is not spared.

The current crisis in Ukraine not only drives up energy prices globally, but it also creates a dilemma for gas producing nations.

Read More »

Why Population growth even before the explosion?

Throughout history, although no other species on Earth has experienced such long term overall population growth, even before the recent population explosion, the human population kept slowly growing.

Yes, we recently had an unprecedented population explosion, driven by is hidden by by the near elimination of previously tragic infant mortality, but against the background of long term growth, many of us never didn’t even realise their was an explosion.

But what drove population growth even before the explosion? What will now happen as the explosion ends?

Read More »

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 »