Overpopulation: A Persistent Myth Rescheduled Many Times

It was always drilled in to us when I was growing up that the planet was overpopulated. We were promised famines, and disease by the doomsayers. Clearly we were headed for disaster and only contraception could save us. Some also suggested forced sterilization and abortion for recalcitrant reproducers, like they have done in China.

But really! How overpopulated are we? What kind of a physical footprint do we really have on this planet? Try this on for size.

  1. There are currently about 6 Billion people on this planet.
  2. Lets put them, four to house on a quarter acre of land. This is the typical size of a traditional suburban lot.
  3. Now, physically, how big is the suburb of houses we’ve created?
  4. Let’s see, 6,000,000,000 four to a house is 1.5 Billion houses.
  5. 1.5 Billion Houses on a quarter acre each  is 375 Million Acres.
  6. What does 375 Million Acres compare to? Well lets see, The state of Texas is 171904640 acres. 375 Million Acres is just over twice the size of the State of Texas (2.18 Texases to be exact). It also equates to 3.6 Californias. Why Alaska at 420 Million Acres could hold them all and still have 45 million acres left over.

So there you have it. “But Father, but Father… we can’t all live in a suburb like that. We need roads, shopping centers, parks, farmland, schools, etc.”  Yes indeed, but as you can see there is a lot of land left over. I think we’ll squeeze it all in somehow. Point is, there’s plenty good room. We are a long way from fulfilling God’s mandate to “be fruitfull and multiply to fill the earth and subdue it.”  (Gen 1:28)

What of famines? True there are shortages in the world here and there. We have plenty of food here in America but it is sometimes hard to get it to  famine regions due to war and corrupt governments. We have the food, it’s getting it there that is the problem. That’s why allowing starvation is so immoral. We have so much abundance in the god ole USA that our government actually pays farmers not to plant to help keep prices higher.

What of water? Fresh water is limited. But we can desalinate. Right now it costs too much but I have little doubt that as the need grows for more fresh water we will find more cost-effective ways to desalinate.

What about climate change?  – not too sure about that. It does seem clear that the climate’s always been changing, quite radically actually, and we have adjusted.

Why is this on a Catholic blog? Well think about it, contraception, abortion, sterilization, even euthanasia all march under banners that, among other things, appeal to fear about overpopulation. The Church has often been ridiculed for being out of touch and insensitive to the great question of overpopulation. This little presentation has had as a goal to spark a discussion if such fears are really justified or is it just another fear mongering myth? How say you?

The following video gives a little more background to the history of overpopulation concerns. I think its a good video but, as you will see, I think they underestimate a little the acreage necessary to house six billion. They say one Texas I say two. But hey, it’s all pretty clear, we’ve got a lot of land, God’s been generous. Also, the video says population will peak in 30 years and then start to go back down. I am not sure how they say that or know it.

18 Replies to “Overpopulation: A Persistent Myth Rescheduled Many Times”

  1. My wife and I raised four children on about your quarter-acre. But my lot was bigger than most of those in my neighborhood. I’d think a lot half the size of mine would be on the small side, but certainly within the parameters of many working class neighborhoods in the United States. So, for the purposes of the video, I think it works.

  2. They can say that the population will peak and then go down in 30 years because that is how long it will take the aftermath of Roe v Wade to become frighteningly clear, when the missing billion children who would have been there will fail to materialize and fail to reproduce. What we will be left with in 30 years, after the baby boomers and the golden agers die off, is the gen xers and gen yers who are a woefully smaller population group thanks to those who bought the line on overpopulation hook, line, and sinker.

  3. Thought I would simply add a bit of information from the website of the video.

    Where are you getting these numbers?
    U.N. Population Database. While they provide Low, Medium, and High Variants, the Low Variant is the one that keeps coming true, so the Low variant numbers are the ones used in this video. Check their online database.

    The world’s population will peak in 30 years? Prove it.
    According to the U.N. Population Database, using the historically accurate low variant projection, the Earth’s population will only add another billion people or so over the next thirty years, peaking around 8.02 billion people in the year 2040, and then it will begin to decline. Check their online database.

    As for fitting in Texas, the website gives “33′ x 33′ plot of land for every person on the planet”. “Given an average four person family, every family would have a 66′ x 66′ plot of land, which would comfortably provide a single family home and yard — and all of them fit on a landmass the size of Texas.”

    1. Thanks for the link to the site.

      I think you and I agree on the essential point. My numbers are only from various things I’ve read and they are rounded. 6 Billion is the general estimate of current population. I know there is a more accurate # probably slightly higher than 6 Billion. You however seem more familar with the data and hence I will yield to your insights. As for me, the 6 billion aside, I think the rest is simple math. 6 Billion divided by four is 1.5 Billion. 1.5 Billion times .25 (quarter acre) yields 375 Million Acres. Now Texas has 171 million acres according to what I looked up in the almanac. Hence 2.16 Texases are required to give everyone a quarter acre. Now I guess the video as you state does not use a quarter acre as the propsed land for each house is not .25 acres but rather a plot 66×66. Now 66×66 is 4356 sq feet whereas a quarter acre is 10,890 Square feet a little more than double your alotment. So your numbers give them 66′ x 66′ whereas my premise gives them about 104′ x 104′ So this seems to be the why my calculations presume 2 Texases not just one as does the video. Perhaps my presumption that the average suburban house is on a quarter acre is incorrect and the average lot is smaller.

      But anyway, I get your point. The video is not wrong, 6 billion can still fit in texas on smaller lots. Ah but isn’t it nice to note that we can double their land and still barely make a dent in the planet! 🙂

      As for population peaking in 2040 at 8.02 Billion. I do not deny that possibility I just wonder how such a claim can be made? What are the premises? Do we have some evidence of this happening in other populations of other speicies. I am willing to be convinced, but I am just asking to be taught.

      1. How dillusional… factories, farms, and all kinds of land needed to create the very things humans need to exist, takes up monumental amounts of space. They are increasingly necessary as more people are occupying the planet. In the U.S. alone, almost 20% of the population is on some form government assistance. That means the rest of us pay for our ‘neighbors’ to exist. In my neighborhood alone, I have gone to the grocery store or pharmacy and I have repeatedly been the only one to pay for my groceries and medication. The rest have ‘benefits’ cards that are basically food stamp atm cards. When that’s not enough, more and more I watch the news and see people being arrested for robbery or theft, and they reveal the suspect has 5 kids (this is the example I saw just today). If you cannot afford to take care of yourself, why on earth would you burden the rest of us with your irresponsible decision to create more humans so that I have to watch my paycheck decrease to pay for your mistake? I live in a formerly affluent suburb in New Jersey right next to NYC. Recently my rent was once again increased because the apartment complex falls in under section 8. Someone moved in next door and he qualifies for section 8. Not because he doesn’t make enough, but because he has 3 kids and his wife doesn’t work. Therefore 4 dependents an 1 income (not including himself). So the gov’t says the apt is worth $1200 a month, yet they raised my landlords taxes so many times, he needs at least $1350 a month just to break even. So, what happened? He raised the rents of everyone else in the building, that were not on section 8, which is legal if you are no longer in a lease. So I am directly paying for a stranger’s family without my consent. I won’t even go further on the fact that he doesn’t speak english, and the previously mentioned freeloaders at the grocery store and pharmacy don’t either. I believe all cultures have the same rights and are beautiful in their own right, but the least you can do is be able to communicate with your neighbor who was born here. If you have one child and are on assisted living and welfare, why would you have another? And another? And another? I mean get a condom, pull out, whatever it takes. Most of the most intelligent people I know don’t have children, are waiting for the right time or person, or are able to take care of their own families. It is the poor and undereducated that have the most children, and foreigners hat have arrived here to take advantage of systems put in place decades ago to help Americans who have worked hard, then have fallen on hard times. I have heard stories on how they manipulate the system. Anything from fake names, to using a relative’s ID to mutiple social security #’s, etc to get these benefits. Then the few that do finally make enough money to no longer qualify for the low rent they pay or the gov’t benefits they receive, of course don’t say anything so they can continue to have the rest of us pay their bills, while they buy a new car. My ex girlfriend’s mother has 2 apts, she pays $200 a month each, one is under a dead relative’s name. She lives in one and the other, her daughter, niece and nephew live in. She runs an illegal daycare out of her apt but doesn’t pay taxes, because that ‘business’ doesn’t exist as far as the gov’t knows. She is on welfare, section 8 twice, and goes gambling every weekend and sends the extra money to family in the Dominican Republic. Oh an she has lived here for over 25 years and cannot form a complete sentence in english at all. So these are the true effects of overpopulation, not ‘space’. Spend one week in my neighborhood and you will agree. There are thousands of scenarios like this and it is only increasing. As a matter of fact, overpopulation is easily the root of all problems at least in this country., The economy, the price of food and other resources, unemployment, under-education, etc. Those who are not in the position to take care of themselves or their children have the most children. I want to have children one day and will when the time is right, not because I was horny and didn’t care. I’ll leave you with this…The island of Manila in the Philippines. They have so little space, and so many people, families literally set up camp anywhere. On top of graves, and tombstones…anywhere. There was an interview with a man and wife in their thirties…They have 7 children, and each day they have to figure out how to feed 9 people. He and his wife were in that position before they had children, yet they have 7 now. How is that right? How is that fair for the little ones that are suffering and didn’t ask to be here? When asked why he was in that situation, the father said he only recently learned that sex with his wife caused pregnancy?!?! This is our future….2 Texas sized states won’t fix that….learn about what’s really going on before you ignorantly decide that you will look the other way. These are people with feelings, dreams, and needs, not math equations.

  4. This is a very interesting discussion. If I may add a couple more observations: Demographics are incredibly difficult to predict as people are finicky about reproducing according to plans. Also, once a country falls below the replacement level, as most of Europe, Japan, South Korea, and yes, even China has, the population will quickly age, level off, then begin a downward spiral. The only thing preventing Europe from a population crisis is immigration and the Muslim birth rate. Speaking of which, did you hear the most common male name in London in 2008 was Mohammed? (See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/6194354/Mohammed-is-most-popular-name-for-baby-boys-in-London.html)

    The global warming propaganda is yet another method to scare and intimidate. The overpopulation fear-mongers weren’t successful in predicting the end of the world due to overpopulation, so now they’re trying this new tactic. Yet, if the planet really is warming, wouldn’t it be more cost effective to simply adjust to the new climate rather than trying to adjust the climate?

    When my husband and I were expecting our third child, concerned family, friends and even strangers would ask us questions about how well we were equipped to pay for such things as food, clothing and college expenses. Perhaps they were honestly concerned or perhaps they were merely afraid we would end up on the welfare rolls. Now that we’ve added another seven children to the brood, those fear mongers have decided to leave us alone. After all, our four oldest are putting themselves through college and they’ve all been contributing to the dwindling social security resources since they began working at around age 15. In other words, the fears of our own little overpopulated family were unfounded; in fact, we’ve done more than our share to stimulate the economy.

  5. I don’t know enough about the science and specialized knowledge to make many conclusions about this.

    Although there is one thing that does come to my mind when thinking about this in that if the people pushing for birth control and abortion really cared about stopping famines and disease as much they seem to claim, then why aren’t we giving much more of our resources here in the west towards alleviating those things? There is lots of food in the world today which could be used to save the lives of all sorts of people in the parts of the world afflicted by famines, but it doesn’t seem (perhaps I imagine though) as though there is as much effort, emotion and energy being put towards that purpose as there is in spreading abortion or contraceptives. The pornography industry has higher revenues than the money spent on global relief.

    Why is that the media places its cross-hairs on the pope whenever he talks against contraceptives, but it doesn’t have the same fury when people across western culture don’t share their affluence with the impoverished people who can benefit by it? Why isn’t the same anger against the pope for his position on abortion and contraception also directed towards actually solving the problems that are supposedly produced by those things? If society cared so much about famines, then why doesn’t it do something about them?

    I’m sure that many famines could be averted if we stopped spending our resources on our selfish desires and instead used them to solve those things. Instead of trying to decrease the number of people, why don’t we instead learn how to live differently and more charitably?

    Maybe it’s just my imagination though that this dynamic exists though. However, I do wonder if this whole doom-saying is just an excuse to promote these things by a society that otherwise doesn’t really care that much about the people who would be doomed.

    Thank you for your blog and ministry Fr Pope, and God Bless,

  6. I find in reading those sites that say that population problems are a myth that their evidence is very sparse and inconclusive. Recently I read Book 1 of the free e-book series “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info), it blasts their lack of evidence relative to their calling overpopulation a myth. The book, actually the last half of the book, takes on the skeptics in global warming, overpopulation, lack of fresh water, lack of food, and other areas where people deny the evidence. I strongly suggest that anyone wanting to see the whole picture read the book, at least the last half.

  7. It is not raw space to hold the people that it ls the problem, it is the resources required to support each person. As a layman you might think people only consume a glass or two of water a day. But in reality they consume thousands of times that for the industrial processes, agriculture, cleaning etc that supports them.

    Consider how much energy each person consumes. We have already consumed half of the oil there is in the ground. We have already damned nearly every river for electric power that could be.

    Consider how much land it takes to grow each person’s food and graze the animals he eats. As Mark Twain said, “Buy land. They aren’t making any more of it.”

    It is hard enough to increase support by 10%, but we are on course to increase population by 30% by 2050. There is no way we can come up with more water, energy etc. We stripped the soils, poisoned the rivers etc even with the population we have. We are levelling the forests to make room for ever poorer agriculture. We are killing off the lungs of the earth.

    What you are doing is incredibly irresponsible and ignorant. Shame on you. You belong in the same basket with Glenn Beck spreading ignorance deliberately.

      1. If the author were living in a place like Lagos he might look at the world a bit differently. Especially trying to obtain food, clothing and shelter for his family. How big is a lot in Lagos?

    1. Yes. Reasonableness and sanity. I don’t subscribe to the 2012 End of the World hype, but, people, if we don’t make some global changes soon, the shit is going to hit the fan in a big way. Overpopulation is the ONLY reason we have all the problems we have today. How long would soil, oil, water, lumber, etc. last if the population was only, say, a billion? A helluva lot longer than it’s going to.

  8. Well it is a good thing we do not need land to grow food on and to switch to when OUR soil is exhausted. And isn’t it going to be lovely when we dump our human waste into our back yards instead of at sewage treatement plants? And what are we going to do with the sick and dying, chuck them out the front door? No sorry, I am just not into YOUR version of Overpopulation utopia. It stinks. It always amazes me how the very same people who bitch that America can not afford health care for 300 million people in America manage to claim that we can support 6.8 to 9 billion people in the world, no problem, over the next 50 years … forever. Somebody is LYING.

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