People are Good, More are Better -- Eric R. Pianka

People are Good, More are Better

© Eric R. Pianka

"Malthus believed in artificially limiting population, but found that it could not be done by talking. One of the most practical exponents of the Malthusian idea was Herod of Judea, though all the famous soldiers have been of the same way of thinking." -- Ambrose Bierce

Let's begin with the premise that "people are good." Extend it to "more people are better." If the second premise is allowed to perpetuate itself, positive feedback leads to runaway population growth. Paul Ehrlich (1968) famously called this "The Population Bomb." But, how many is too many? Can there be too many people? Food, land, and water constitute a zero sum game: per capita shares of all these commodities are decreasing continually as human populations increase. More people requires more regimentation, more traffic, traffic lights, and longer waiting lines . . .

People sometimes ask "what is the carrying capacity for humans?" Each year, the human population increases by nearly 100 million, a daily increase of more than one-quarter of a million souls. Each hour, every day, day in and day out, over 11,000 more people are born than die. Seven billion of us occupy roughly half of Earth's land surface, consuming over half the freshwater and using about half Earth's primary productivity (Vitousek 1986), but lots of those persons are living in poverty and not even getting clean water or adequate nutrition. Many millions are just little babies, still living under their parent's roof, who in a couple of decades, will need their own houses and cars. Certainly if our population continues to double in the next few decades as it has during the past few, we will finally have reached our carrying capacity at 14 billion by about the year 2050 -- at that population density, humans will occupy the entire surface of Earth (there won't be any more wilderness or any wild animals), and we would be using every drop of freshwater as well as every photon that intercepts the surface! Moreover, many will be living in dire poverty. Is that what we want?

Last updated 10 September 2014 by Eric R. Pianka