Research

Is the world really overpopulated?

They say we rush at full steam to a certainPopulation apocalypse - that there is a line, overcoming which, we will inevitably come to mass starvation and that the whole planet will be like the Moscow metro during rush hour. These thoughts inspired fear and sold books for more than a century. This whole topic seems so toxic that you don't even want to dive into it. Looking around, we see people everywhere: happy and not very, hungry and fat, having many children and not. But they are everywhere. Is the planet really bursting at the seams?

Overpopulation problem

Jesse Osubel, Director of the Human Environment Program at Rockefeller University

"In most animal populations, niches in whichthese populations fit, have a constant size. Animal societies growing in this niche have a dynamic, clearly defined by equations with a constant limit or ceiling. In short, from a niche point of view, resources are limit numbers. But access to resources depends on technology. When animals learn to invent new technologies - for example, bacteria produce a new enzyme that will stir up the sleepy component of their broth, a problem is born. Suddenly, new growth impulses appear, growing more than ever.

Homo faber, instrument maker,Invents constantly, so our restrictions are gradually removed. And these floating restrictions do not allow to predict the long-term size of humanity. Niche expansion, access to resources and their redefinition - all this happens to people all the time.

Thanks to the invention and distributiontechnology people change and expand their niche, redefine resources and violate population projections. According to Raymond Pearl, a leading demographer of the 1920s, the world could be supported by two billion people, but today there are about 7.7 billion people living in it. Many Earth observers today seem to be stuck in their petri dish. The resources around us are resilient.

The biggest threat to future well-being is the abandonment of science. Having traveled so far, 7.7 billion people cannot take it back. Without science, we will bounce back like a stretched elastic. ”

Where to take food in an overpopulated world

Matthew J. Connelly, Professor of History at Columbia University

“When people ask if our world is overpopulated, I’mI ask them in response: in a sense? Do you know someone who should not have been born, in your opinion? Perhaps there are large groups of people - millions of people - which, in your opinion, should not be here? Because I think that if you just take the number of people in the world, it will not tell you what is really important. If you want to get specific information about what people really care about - is there enough food? Are there many emissions of carbon dioxide? - then you really need to ask those who consume it. Do they really lack food? And if we are talking about global warming, where does it come from?

Since the time of Thomas Malthus, people concernedoverpopulation, worried about whether there was enough food for everyone. The good news is, yes, a lot of food. In fact, calorie intake has only increased with each decade. If we ran out of food, it would be difficult to explain why people eat more and more, despite the fact that most of us live a relatively sedentary lifestyle.

When it comes to CO2 emissions, you shouldask yourself: who produces most of these CO2 emissions? Four years ago, Oxfam published a study that 1% of the richest people in the world probably emit 30 times more carbon into the air than the poorest 50% of the planet. ”

Betsy Hartmann, Professor Emeritus, Hampshire College

"For some people, the world was overpopulatedover the centuries - Malthus wrote about the "problem" of the population in the late 1700s, when the world population was about one billion. Many people are still afraid of overpopulation - they are concerned that this leads to environmental degradation and a lack of resources, be they ecological, economic or social.

But this approach has a lot of problems. He ignores the fact that all people are different: for example, it is important to determine who actually causes environmental damage and why. There is a big difference between a poor peasant who works the land and the head of a fossil fuel corporation. Talking about overpopulation is trying to push all people into one broad category, making no distinction between their various impacts on the planet. The focus is on negative impacts, not taking into account the positive role that technological innovation and sustainable resource management can play in restoring and improving the environment. All this feeds on apocalyptic sentiment, especially in the USA, where many people believe in the approach of the end of the world. At the same time, the US is most afraid of overpopulation - which is funny, given that they have so much land and resources.

And although over the past century we haveincreased population, and in this century, growth has declined significantly, the average family size worldwide includes 2.5 children. Fertility remains relatively high in some countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but this is mainly due to lack of investment in health care, poverty eradication, education, women's rights, and so on. In other countries of the world, a decrease in the population is observed, the birth rate falls below the replacement level. In the United States, at least two babies are currently giving birth on average. In Russia, for every three babies born, four die.

I think people are very nervous - and thisit is clear when they see numbers: we now have 7.6 billion people, and this figure could rise to 11.2 billion by 2100. But what people do not understand is that the demographic impulse embedded in these numbers is related to the distribution of age: at present, there is a significant proportion of people of reproductive age among the population, especially in the global south, and even if they have only two or fewer children, this means an absolute increase in population. We must understand that the population is likely to stabilize or even decline in the future as the younger generation ages, and this impulse will become depleted. Meanwhile, the real challenge facing us is how to plan population growth in environmentally sustainable and socially just ways. Since most people in the world now live in cities, landscaping urban spaces and transportation is vital.

Talk about overpopulation as the reason for the changeClimate can be convenient for some people - they allow you to ignore other, more powerful forces that in the past and now contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

We live in an era of incredible concentration.wealth: globally, 50% of adults own less than 1% of global wealth, and the richest 10% own almost 90% of wealth. And the top 1% owns 50%. These numbers are staggering. Let's talk about serious world problems, and not about the fact that the world's poorest people have too many children.

Is it worth fighting with overpopulation?

Warren Sanderson, honorary professor of economics at Stony Brooke University

“There is a better question: Are we releasing too much CO2 into the atmosphere? The answer to this question: throw it away, yes. Another interesting question is: do we properly handle our groundwater? The answer to this question is wrong, unstable and unstable. The goal should be to put the planet on a firm footing. Should we do this by sterilizing women who have more than two children? Will it help reduce carbon emissions? Of course not. Do we need to spend more money on education in Africa? This will reduce the birth rate, but a more educated generation will become richer and, therefore, will pollute the environment more. It is necessary to put the planet on a sustainable basis. Attempting to bring the planet on a sustainable path by reducing the population is dangerous rhetoric.

Kimberly Nichols, Professor of Sustainable Sciences, Center for Sustainable Development Studies, University of Lund

“The recent IPCC studies tell us thatTo avoid the more dangerous effects of climate change, we need to cut today's climate pollution by half in the next decade. This means that it is essential to reduce emissions today. The biggest system changes will include the rapid abandonment of burning fossil fuels and reducing the livestock we grow. ” Currently, higher income tends to correlate with higher climate pollution. This is a relatively small number of people who account for the majority of climate change. About half of the world lives on less than $ 3 a day; they cause very little climate pollution (15% of the global). Those of us who are in the top 10% of world income (live on more than $ 23 a day or $ 8,400 a year) are responsible for 36% of global carbon emissions.

The fastest way to cut emissions today isit is precisely those of us who are responsible for high emissions that reduce them. Our research has shown that three important choices that will help reduce carbon emissions are to give up meat, a car, and less to fly by plane. These choices will also be beneficial to health and society. It is necessary to strive at least to reduce the use of these three options.

In particular, flights are fraught with large emissions. For comparison: you would have to recycle all the garbage for four years to equalize the climatic benefits of giving up meat for a year, but in one flight you can equalize two years of eating meat or eight months by car. ”

The threat of overpopulation: truth or myth?

Reywat Deonandan, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Sciences, University of Ottawa

"It all depends on what you mean and howmeasure these things. A region is usually considered overcrowded when it exceeds its carrying capacity, that is, the number of people that can be maintained by the resources of this region (usually food). But this assessment will depend on what these people eat and what they would like to eat. For example, it is well known that a vegetarian diet is easier to maintain than a carnivorous one. Product well-being will also depend on our ever-changing ability to produce food.

And it's not just about food. The point is also whether there is enough energy, water, jobs, services and physical space to support people. With innovation in urban architecture, the issue of space can be solved. Depending on the level of development of society will vary the needs for energy. Softer factors, such as jobs and services, will depend on political leadership and global socio-economic factors that are difficult to measure and predict.

The way we determine population density is alsodepends on where to count it. The population density of the whole world is about 13 people per square kilometer, if you take the entire surface of the globe. But if you just count the earth's land (no one lives in the ocean), the density will be 48 people per square meter. km We call it arithmetic density. But there is also “physiological density”, which takes into account only the amount of arable land on which to live. And with the rise of sea level and desertification, every day it becomes less and less arable land. It might be wiser to look for an “environmental optimum,” the size of the population that can be supported by the region’s natural resources. According to some estimates, so that everyone can live in the comfort of the American middle class, the Earth could support about 2 billion people. For a more modest European life, this number will exceed 3 billion. With other changes in lifestyle, this number will rise again, perhaps radically. What cuts in lifestyle we are willing to endure?

When we talk about "overpopulation", we are reallyWe are mostly talking about food, because it’s all about it. Food shortages will be noticed faster than environmental collapse. When the fears of overpopulation began to inflate in the 1970s, the forecast was that soon we would all die of hunger. But even in the poorest areas of the planet, the stock of food usually exceeds 2000 calories per day. This is mainly due to the improvement of food production and technology practices. 1.3 billion tons of food produced for people is thrown away every year. This is about a third of all food produced. Most of the losses are caused by improper storage and transport. This means that we have a huge buffer of calories for a larger population growth, provided that the food chains are managed correctly.

However, given the exponential population growth,you probably think we will soon exceed this food threshold, right? Not really. There is a so-called demographic transition, according to which the richer the society, the less children it gives birth. Poverty is now lower than ever in human history, and all trends show that in the foreseeable future we will see consistent success in the fight against poverty. In other words, we expect that the growth of world wealth will manifest itself in a slowdown in population growth and, ultimately, in population decline. Estimates vary, but most of them show that the population will reach a peak in the 2070s at the level of 9-11 billion, and then begin to decline.

Will we reach overpopulation officially beforehow things will subside? Nobody knows. After all, the problem is not the number of people. The problem is how much these people eat. With increasing wealth, people tend to get more environmentally harmful products, such as meat. There may be less of us, but each of us will leave a bigger mark on ecology. Another way to look at overpopulation is to ask not about whether we have enough resources to support the existing number of people, but about whether the existing population creates unacceptable environmental damage. A poor person in a low-income developing country produces one ton of CO2 per year. A rich person in a developed, high-income country can produce 30 times more.

In other words, significant population growth inLow-income countries are probably not as destructive as moderate population growth in high-income countries. Perhaps we could provide many more people if people in rich countries consumed a little less. Relatively speaking, it is better to give lectures to people of the First World about how wasteful they live, rather than twisting the hands of people in large families with low incomes.

If you want to hear a direct answer, then no, the worldnot overpopulated. I say this because: 1) most people in the world do not overeat; it is the richer people in the low birth rate groups who behave more destructively; 2) the greatest growth is observed in those groups of the population that are least responsible for environmental damage; 3) we actually have enough food for everyone and more, but there is not enough organizational and political acumen to make it publicly available; 4) the rate of population growth in the world has already slowed down, and by the end of the century we will see a decline. ”

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