Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is overpopulation a current reality? (question 2 of 3)

I am neither competent to declare whether the world is currently in this situation nor whether it soon will be. Those in the sciences seem to be the ones best suited to answer this question. I will take a moment, however, to describe the situation as it looks from out here.

To start with, those in the sciences do not appear to be in agreement, as is typical in all disciplines, leaving those outside the discipline with clueless expressions on our faces. Well, in some cases, our expressions are smugly arrogant regardless of the subject being discussed, but that is another matter.

Speaking of intradisciplinary (to coin a word) disagreement, a reader pointed out that my comment about lemmings committing mass suicide to alleviate overpopulation is a disputed point. So it is. Scholastic unhesitatingly repeats the same old story: "The suicidal tendencies of the lemming to 'off' themselves in times of over-population is most assuredly the fact that characterizes this animal." Alaska Fish and Wildlife News, on the other hand, reports, "Lemmings do not commit mass suicide. It's a myth, but it's remarkable how many people believe it." This is actually an interesting article; I recommend following the link.

Enough of lemmings. As I’ve written, it is only possible to speak of an overpopulation of humans if the number of humans is depriving some of those humans of the necessities of life. As a fact, many many humans on this planet are deprived of the necessities of life. Hundreds of millions of people in the world do not have enough to eat. Millions die of starvation every year. That said, the same organizations that gather these statistics also tell us that the world currently has the resources to feed its entire population. It is not a problem of too many mouths to feed but a problem of too few hearts that care enough to feed them.

I believe it. According to, a study from the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson indicates that the United States wastes forty to fifty percent of all the food it grows. According to The Guardian, the UK throws away thirty to forty percent of its food. I recommend Food for the Poor to any willing to help alleviate the problems of hunger and poverty in the world today. I also recommend a life less gluttonous and wasteful than the average American's.

It is worth remembering that there were people starving to death when the world was far less populous than today. Then, as now, the problem was not overpopulation but lack of compassion. There is no shortage of space. There is no shortage of air. There is no shortage of water. There is no shortage of food. There is no shortage of necessary resources. Yet, some claim the world is overpopulated. Those making that claim must either dispute the definition of overpopulation that I have provided or else they must know something I don't about resource shortages - which is entirely possible.

Overpopulation may be a fact of our near future even if it is not our present reality. The rate of world population growth has fallen every year since 1986, but even if it continues falling at its current rate, the world will reach more than nine and half billion people by 2050 - this according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 9.5 billion is a heck of a lot more than the 6.7 billion we have now. It may well be that 9.5 billion people will create a situation of genuine overpopulation. I don't know, as I stated at the beginning of this piece, but I will say that I doubt it.

I would like to know how many people the world can feed, clothe and shelter and I would like to assert that it is not until we have surpassed this number that earth will be overpopulated - however many inconveniences are brought about by the numbers of people, however few cars each person has to himself, however close the houses must be built, however little oil there is to run machines. I would rather see the world technologically reversed to before the industrial revolution than see one person's life sacrificed on the altar of convenience.


Anonymous said...

Hello John,

Thanks for the interesting post. A few points:

1) "The human body is the greatest material good thing." After the Blessed Sacrament, of course. But a good point.

2) Surely there is a difference between "overpopulation" as a genuinely detrimental situation and "overpopulation" as ill-advised? The world can support many more people than perhaps it should be required to support. Hence the prudential application of NFP, etc.

3) Noble and true though it is to suggest that a return to pre-industrial modes of life is preferable to "sacrificing" anyone, it is only industrialization that allows us to easily support so many people. Our ability to produce food vastly exceeds that of the pre-industrial world.

When famine threatened in antiquity, it was not lack of compassion but actual lack of food that caused death. Joseph, for example, saved Egypt not by being merciful, but by having foresight and being prudent.

- Ian Gerdon

John R.P. Russell said...


Thank you for your comments.

As regards the Blessed Sacrament, I actually considered the point that you make. It then occurred to me that the Blessed Sacrament is a human body. It is the Human Body. So I thought I could perhaps leave my statement the way I did.

Anonymous said...

Well said, sir.


Nathaniel said...

Good post and I thank you for trying to lay out relevant facts while maintaining neutral-saying you don't know if overpopulation is going to happen.

I have heard estimates of the number of people the planet can support go from a few hundred million to 40 billion. People use different reasons to justify which number can be used. I have difficulty defining for you which reasons are accurate and which not.

I admit that I don't know the future for certain so I don't know if we will ever hit a cap (or one that we cannot find our way around).

That said, I lean against saying we are near a cap simply because of reasons relating to the potential for the food supplies to be expanded from what we have now (which is already more than enough if food would be distributed more).

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