The Human Overpopulation Crisis -- Eric R. Pianka

FS 301. The Human Overpopulation Crisis

Eric R. Pianka

Traffic Jam in China (161 miles long!)
Watch Domino Effects
LA Times 5 part story on overpopulation

Why are humans in such a state of total denial ("temporal blindness") about what we are doing to this planet?

People are becoming aware of some of the many consequences of overpopulation, but most still refuse to recognize the underlying causes: an economic system based on perpetual growth, and too many people. Just as the pharmaceutical industry targets symptomatic relief for man-made ailments rather than addressing underlying root causes, widespread attention to the many spin offs from growthmania and overpopulation diverts attention away from the real problem.

Watch Nina Paley's cartoon The Stork (3 min.)

Watch Ernest Cline's Dance, Monkeys, Dance (3.5 min. turn up volume).

Watch ERP on The Human Overpopulation Crisis (26.5 min.).

Watch Class Video The Human Overpopulation Crisis (8 minutes).

Watch NASA's "Average Temperatures 1884-2012" (45 seconds)

Exponential population growth is threatening to destroy Spaceship Earth (perhaps a "Lifeboat" is a better metaphor) and its life support systems (see also Can humans share spaceship earth?). This course examines the human crowding dilemma from a wide diversity of perspectives, primarily from a scientific point of view, but we will also briefly consider the impact of religious mythology (George Carlin video). First, we will recognize and study the path to ruin we are presently on (see also Kaplan "The Coming Anarchy") and read this LA Times story). Then, after developing a thorough understanding of natural selection and population biology, we will critically evaluate the multitudinous side effects (symptoms) of overpopulation.

Finally, we will ask what, if anything, can be done to mitigate the mess we have made. We will stop denying what can happen and confront reality head on. We will examine possible future scenarios, including prospects for colonization of space, the inevitable collapse of civilization (anarcho- primitivism), and, ultimately, our return to a hunter-gatherer mode of existence.

A Texas hognosed snake Heterodon in a threat display.

Why should I take this course?

Professor: Eric R. Pianka

Office: Patterson 125 (471-7472)

Office Hours: Mondays and Fridays 1-2 PM (or by appointment)

Lectures: Tuesday and Thursday, 8-930 AM, Patterson 141SL

The same hognosed snake Heterodon feigning death.

Download Syllabus

Texts (available in paperback):

Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac.
Oxford University Press. " . . . perhaps our grandsons, having never seen a wild river, will never miss the chance to set a canoe in singing waters . . ."

Brown, L. R. 2005. Outgrowing the Earth. Norton.

Supplementary Texts:

Pianka, E. R. 2000. Evolutionary Ecology,
6th ed. Addison-Wesley Longman.

Morrison, R. 1999, The Spirit in the Gene:
Humanity's Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature
Comstock. Download excerpt1, Download excerpt2

Heinberg, R. 2003. The Party's Over. Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies. New Society Publishers. Synopsis

Dowthwaite, R. 1999. The Growth Illusion. New Society Publishers.
Download excerpts

Catton, W. R. 1982. Overshoot. The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press.
Download more excerpts

Wells, S. 2010. Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. Random House.

Flannery, T. 2002. The Future Eaters. Grove Press. Summary

Cohen, J. 1995. How Many People Can Earth Support? W.W. Norton Amazon

Meadows, D., J. Randers, and D. Meadows. 2004. Limits to Growth. The 30-Year Update. Chelsea Green Publishing Company. Watch Video

Ruddiman, W. F. 2010. Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum. Princeton University Press.

Supplemental Reading


A knowledge of High School algebra and geometry is assumed. You will be expected to be able to understand 3-dimensional graphs and be able to interpret and manipulate simple equations. You will be expected to learn basic ecology and evolution that everyone should know. You will also be encouraged to think.

This class has a substantial writing component. After thoroughly researching background material, you will write a polished original synthetic essay on some aspect of the human population dilemma (
some suggested possible topics/themes). After your name is removed, your paper will be read and evaluated by the entire class. You will read and evaluate papers by all other students as well. Your grade will be based on your performance in class discussions, exams, and your paper(s).

How to earn straight A's

Outline of Subjects to be covered in this Course

The Human Overpopulation Crisis

Professor Eric R. Pianka

Creation Mythology (Intelligent Design?)
Scientific Methods and Human Knowledge
Basic Thermodynamics
Fundamentals of Population Biology

Natural Selection
Life History Theory
Optimal Reproductive Tactics
Population Growth and Regulation
Earth's Life Support Systems (EoE_Link)
Oxygen and Temperature
Cities are unsustainable
Food, Water, and Shelter
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Symptoms of Overpopulation (EoE_Link)
Impact of Humans on the Environment
Air Pollution
Global Warming (or the politically correct "Climate Change")
Water, Ocean Fisheries
Unburnable Fossil Fuels
Insane Economics
Economic Collapse
The Weakest Link
Human Nature
Vanishing Book of Life
Humans: The Scourge of Planet Earth
Reg Morrison's "Evolution's Problem Gamblers"
Noam Chomsky: Security and State Power
Noam Chomsky: Prospects for Survival
Watch "MegaSlums" (50 minutes)

Solutions to Overpopulation

Birth Control
Changes Needed
Space Travel?

Our Future
Spaceship Earth
The Age of Consequences
Let's put everybody in Texas!
When Civilization Collapses
Can Human Instincts be Controlled?
Selection for Uncaring Humanoids
Return to the Hunter-Gatherer Mode
Packing Your Survival Kit

Class Lecture notes

Go to Pianka Lab Homepage

Last updated 23 July 2008 by Eric R. Pianka

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