• Categories

  • Most Popular Questions

  • Recently Viewed Questions

  • Recent Answers

    How To Make a Digita… on What does a frequency of 100 H…
    Daigrepont on Can an earthquake cause air tu…
    Benedict on How did God come into exi…
    joshua on How does the human body g…
    Ian on How did God come into exi…
  • Recent Questions

  • Blog Stats

    • 2,224,852 hits
  • Visitors since 11-3-08

    counter create hit
  • Terms and Conditions

  • Warning

    We are doing maintenance on this site, so some posts may disappear for a short time. Sorry. Normal service will soon be resumed...
  • Pages

  • February 2008
    M T W T F S S
        Mar »
  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Advertisements

What is the maximum human population that this planet could sustain?

What is the maximum human population that this planet could sustain and when do you predict that the limit could be reached?
Steve Wells from Hertfordshire (age 55+)


One Response

  1. The idea that the Earth has a fixed “carrying capacity” has been around for a long time, and estimates of the maximum number of people the Earth can support have varied widely. Today it is common to hear that we will need the equivalent of more than one Earth if we continue consuming resources at current rates.

    The idea of carrying capacity has also been applied at more local scales, for example in terms of livestock or people in a particular area of land. However, many of the theories of carrying capacity that were popular before the end of the twentieth century have been discredited as they have been confounded by reality, for example in the Sahel region of Africa. A severe drought in the Sahel in the 1970s was initially blamed on overstocking, overgrazing and subsequent land degradation. However, the causes of the drought are now thought to be linked to cyclical variations in the strength of the African monsoon, driven by changes in ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Since the drought of the 1970s human populations and livestock numbers have increased, and agriculture has intensified in some parts of the Sahel. This has been achieved with no loss of soil fertility or productivity, despite a decline in rainfall (somewhat reversed in recent years as the region becomes wetter). This “adaptation” to harsher climatic conditions (and harsher global economic conditions) has been achieved as a result of changes in agricultural and soil management practices, and livelihood diversification. By changing the way the land is managed, people have managed to sustain population growth and agricultural intensification in a marginal environment in the face of climatic deterioration.

    The point of the Sahel example is that it illustrates how the numbers of people and livestock that can be supported in any given area depend on the way that area’s resources are managed. Similarly, at a planetary scale, the number of people that can be supported will depend on how we manage our resources. Clearly the Earth cannot support an infinite number of people and there will be limits to the number of people that can be supported sustainably. But these limits are not fixed – the more carefully we manage our resources, the more people the planet will be able to support.

    Perhaps the best approach to the “population problem” is to try and establish what sort of systems for managing the Earth’s resources will be needed in order to support sustainably (i.e. indefinitely, without catastrophic disruption or collapse) the global population we have, and the population we can expect, while at the same time putting the relationship between population and sustainability more firmly on the policy agenda. If world population growth is likely to lead to a resource crisis or a collapse of environmental and social systems under current developmental models, we might seek to adopt new models.

    For example, we might ask whether the growing demand for animal protein and energy consumption can be sustained. If not, changing our patterns of consumption might represent a less ethically and practically problematic solution than attempting to limit population growth in the short term. In the longer term we need to develop ways of supporting a higher global population while at the same time seeking to understand the relationship between population and sustainability, and if necessary limit population growth using the carrot rather than the stick. It is often argued that increased affluence leads to lower birth-rates; if so, improving the economic status of the world’s poorest people, coupled with a reduction in consumption of resources by the world’s wealthiest people, is likely to provide the best means of securing development while avoiding environmental disaster(s). This is likely to be a big challenge, and we might not rise to it sufficiently to prevent large-scale social disruption due to climatic and environmental change. However, in principle there is no reason to believe that we have reached, or are likely to reach this century, an absolute maximum number of people the Earth can support. Much more likely is that it’s a question of how we manage our resources.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: