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cockswain's avatar

What do you think the population of the Earth will be in 200 years?

Asked by cockswain (15186 points ) July 3rd, 2011

In light of climate change, the existence of nuclear energy, Malthusian population theory, insanity, peak oil, and anything else you can think of, what do you think the human population will look like in a couple centuries? I don’t think humans will be gone, but the resources and energy to feed 7 billion people won’t be there.

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51 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Sure there will…Soylent Green YUM!

ucme's avatar

Twelvetytrillionsquillionbazillion, give or take.

talljasperman's avatar

0. The survivors will be in the stars.

ragingloli's avatar

0. Or so we hope.

FutureMemory's avatar

2–3 billion. Wars and class struggle will thin things out considerably.

flutherother's avatar

The Earth’s human population must decrease. If we won’t do it Mother Nature will. In the year 2211 the population will be down to 6 billion. The choice is between fewer people and a high quality of life or many people in misery.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Hopefully between 1–3 billion. We can feed a lot using sustainable methods, but we need to smarten up and do it and stop fucking up good land too. Could be only a few thousand if we fuck things up too badly.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t remember the exact number I read a year or two back, but demographers think the Earths population will stabilize—maybe around 9 billion, after having gone up to 12 billion.

Remember, many nations are already having problems with declining birth rates. In the US, were it not for immigration, our population would be declining. As education becomes more and more universal, birth rates will decline and eventually the whole world will be in Japan’s position of having to pay scads of money for women to have children.

YARNLADY's avatar

I suspect a few thousand or so will survive.

cockswain's avatar

I’m sort of the opinion that resources and energy will become more expensive, driving down the birth rate. Climate change will kill off a lot who’s local resources are quickly depleted. Sadly, I think the death toll will be the poorest, most exploited cultures. The “haves” will fare fine, the world’s middle class will get pushed towards the lower class, and the current lower class will get very desperate. People won’t want to have as many children because of the expense and lack of gov’t resources to back them up if they are poor.

I’ve also heard the population will top off at 9 billion, but that’s an unsustainable number I think. Renewable energy will get cheaper, but nothing will likely ever be as cheap as cheap oil was for the last 150 years. Water resources are a very real problem, as well as topsoil erosion/depletion, but don’t get a lot of media attention.

I’m guessing all of our advances in nano and biotech will keep a lot of us alive, and our overall intelligence will allow us to find new ways to survive we haven’t conceived yet. I’m guessing the longer term population will be around 3 billion. This is barring nuclear strikes or a nasty plague. But again, bio and nano tech will probably be able to counter just about all viruses in the next 100 years or less.

mattbrowne's avatar

We should never underestimate the power of ideas and of creative thinking and imagination.

Imagine all the new ideas we don’t know about yet. All the new ideas that will be brought forth in the years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050, 2060, 2070, 2080, 2090, 2100, 2110, 2120, 2130, 2140, 2150, 2160, 2170, 2180, 2190, 2200 and 2210.

That’s a lot of ideas in the next 200 years.

The world has been getting better for most people over the past thousands of years and the future is likely to be better as well. Challenges will be dealt with.

One of the greatest challenges is actually the spread of pessimism. That’s even more serious than dealing with climate change which is difficult enough.

flutherother's avatar

@mattbrowne Whew, I thought those numbers were your estimate of the Earth’s population for a minute, but I agree, pessimism isn’t good but we do have to be realistic and we can’t assume we will always find answers to present day problems.

cockswain's avatar

@mattbrowne So what do you think the sustainable human population figure might be given our current situation? I am with you that there will be lots of great ideas, but our current rate of resource consumption with current technology would require 1.5 Earths. If the whole planet consumed like the U.S., it would take 3 Earths. I don’t see there being a lot of trees, oil, and fresh water in 200 years. Let alone the diversity of wildlife we still enjoy.

mattbrowne's avatar

@flutherother – Ideas will increase widespread prosperity and slow populatation growth.

mattbrowne's avatar

@cockswain – It depends our technological level. The ideal population is not a number, but a function of civilization’s level of technological advancement. Here’s one example for such a function:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale

I’d say our current level of 0.72 is not enough to sustain 6.9 billion people, so right now there’s overpopulation. But a level of 0.85 might be enough to sustain 8 billion people. So the challenge is to drive up the level faster than our current population growth rate. The key are renewable energies and recycling of rare metals (cradle to cradle manufacturing). A level of 1.2 might not require 1.5 Earths.

cockswain's avatar

That’s a pretty interesting article. A bit sci-fi, but interesting still. The concept of us harnessing the energy from a local star, and eventually a galaxy is wild stuff. But considering this question is really just about educated guesses, that’s a solid answer. Very optimistic though. I personally fear there will be a lot of death before we get to level 2.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, it’s a bit like Jules Verne talking about going to the moon in 1865 which happened 104 years later. When you read this article

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerating_change

it might sound less wild and a bit more realistic. Progress isn’t linear. It’s exponential.

cockswain's avatar

I’ve actually read a couple articles by Ray Kurzweil, who has accomplished many significant engineering feats and has successfully predicted future trends in technology advancement. I’m aware of this exponential relationship for certain. This is why I have tremendous hope for the future of nano and biotech. The computer that used to fill a room is less powerful than the one in our phones. In a couple decades that computer will be the size of a blood cell. That’s when things will start to get really interesting, particularly as we unlock all the secrets of the genetic code. But I really believe fresh water resources and climate change are going to wreak havoc. Throw in a nuclear terrorist or two with widespread flooding and suddenly increasing the lifespan of humans doesn’t seem as important anymore.

There’s an interesting documentary about Kurzweil you can check out called “Transcendent Man.” I just watched it a couple weeks ago.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ll put the DVD on my wish list !

cockswain's avatar

You can watch it online through Netflix if you have an account.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Since technological complexity is subject to diminishing returns and necessarily involves increased cost for increased complexity (most of that is in the production phase, but some in the infrastructure/upkeep), it hardly makes sense to promote pursuing methods that require increased use of resources. There’s also the ethnocentric fallacy of organizing societies according to the perceived “advancement”, which is anthropologically unsound. There are numerous methods for feeding the world (and healing, clothing, etc.) that do not require increased technological complexity, resource extraction, or soil loss. The only reason this isn’t promoted is because it must be localized and taken out of the centralized control of corporations.

cockswain's avatar

Agreed.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Relevent quote from someone I really respect, Vandana Shiva:
“Globalized industrialized food is not cheap: it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient.”

cockswain's avatar

Yes. I recently watched “Blind Spot”, which does a good job discussing economics, energy consumption, and depleting resources. In it they said that it takes 30 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food. That doesn’t require anything beyond common sense to see that as wasteful.

mattbrowne's avatar

@cockswain – Photovoltaics is considerable less complex than a nuclear power plant. Progress often makes things simpler.

cockswain's avatar

I have little doubt that solar will become cheaper per watt than oil in the not too distant future. We couldn’t have been there 20 years ago if not for lack of funding/interest. Too bad we wasted so much oil as an energy source that all future petroleum based products will need to be more expensive than otherwise.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@mattbrowne Good example. Although PV cells aren’t exactly what I’d recommend wide scale, they have better payoff and less resource drain than nuclear. But they still require a lot of mining and precious metal use to create, and a huge infrastructure to maintain. They make a half-decent means of transition, though.

cockswain's avatar

Well, it really depends on how efficient you can make them. If you can make cells that are, say, 80% efficient, that would make a fine long-term solution. Plenty of cheap, renewable energy at that point. But if all that cheap energy just fuels us to consume more non-renewable resources faster, that’s not very helpful overall.

I think people should read more books for entertainment.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@cockswain That’s just the thing, there’s no level of efficiency that negates the destructive resource extraction inherent in the creation and upkeep of solar power. They continue to require copper being mined in addition to the rare earth metals, both of which poison miles upon miles of land to get and render numerous rivers devoid of life. Not to mention Jevons Paradox, which has repeatedly shown that the more efficient we get at using a resource, the more we exploit it. This is a feature of for-profit, extractive economies that is impossible to avoid.

All of this fancy talk also overlooks the fact that, hey, we don’t need “power” to live. The food cultivation methods I spoke of above don’t require infrastructure, and at most would include some small degree of mechanization to set it up. And there are food resources we’ve completely destroyed through these processes, like the millions of fish each year going up large rivers. 90% of the large fish in the oceans are now gone, due to the combination of overfishing, damming, and industrial/agricultural runnoff.

cockswain's avatar

You’re preaching to the choir. I personally am thoughtful about what resources I use and what food I eat (not that I don’t indulge myself in total hypocrisy/failure at times). I share your sentiments completely.

incendiary_dan's avatar

I figured, it just gave me the perfect launch point for that little shpiel. :)

mattbrowne's avatar

@incendiary_dan – What about PV cells in 2020? I expect more progress to be made.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@incendiary_dan Will they magically work without rare earth minerals and extensive infrastructure?

mattbrowne's avatar

Progress does not require miracles. Only good science and engineering. Again keeping

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerating_change

in mind is useful.

cockswain's avatar

Correct me if I’m wrong, but @incendiary_dan is stating that the result of cheap energy will be lots more consumption of the Earth’s resources.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@mattbrowne The link you’ve presented is simply the dogma and faith of the scientific research community. It’s progress turned into dogma. But it’s never born out in reality. Nothing, nothing can change the fact that these technologies require resources, and making them more efficient will mean more resources being used.

Technological progress/complexity follows bell curves, or often peaks with dramatic falls a the other end. We even see it already in computer processing speeds, which have approached a peak.

Industrialism would need miracles to be sustainable. It’s an inherently unsustainable way of life.

flutherother's avatar

@incendiary_dan The only ‘miracle’ that might make our present industrialism sustainable is fusion energy, which would give almost limitless energy from cheap and plentiful resources.

The gorilla in the room that people refuse to see is the diminishing energy resources of the planet which means our way of life will almost certainly come to an end.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@flutherother Yup. Might as well start working on one that doesn’t require unsustainable energy to feed us. So it all comes back to the permaculture and companion planting, I believe.

I wanted to draw back to the point that, as I’ve clearly shown, we do not need energy to feed ourselves, and the most efficient forms of cultivation in terms of space and soil growth are those that require little to no energy input. Industrialism causes habitat loss no matter what “green” products we buy, so in terms of keeping the world’s population fed it seems practically criminal.

YARNLADY's avatar

@incendiary_dan Your comment “we do not need energy to feed ourselves”, brings up a question my grandson once asked when we were picking our vegetables from our garden. “Grandma, I want to give this to the starving kids in Africa. How do I do that?”

Without energy, how do we get the produce from the haves to the have nots?

cockswain's avatar

We give them solar panels so they can start using renewable energy to improve their agricultural practices.

YARNLADY's avatar

@cockswain Hmmmmm, Solar Panels don’t grow in my garden. What kind of energy makes and distributes them?

And they will get their water from where

cockswain's avatar

Not a problem to which I have an answer. Maybe they’d be able to find some aquifers.

YARNLADY's avatar

@cockswain If you do come up with an answer, please share it with the world, because leaders everywhere are clueless.

cockswain's avatar

Thanks, @YARNLADY. I’ll be sure to do that. But I really don’t know if a lot of world leaders outside of that region care enough to substantively help them. Or else they’d probably have adequate help given the excessive consumption of resources by the rest of the world.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@YARNLADY Permaculture expert Geoff Lawton has gone to places like Ethiopia, Jordan, etc. to implement and build upon existing sustainable agricultural methods. In “Greening the Desert”, he even tells a story of the setup in Jordan, where one of the people maintaining the burgeoning food forest calls him up all freaked out. He’d found something under the mulch and he didn’t know what it was. It was mushrooms. The area had been so dry for the past few thousand years that few of the locals had seen mushrooms. What it meant was the vibrant soil life was growing.

Permaculture models are drought resistant because they conserve great amounts of water. After initial setup, most don’t require any groundwater be pumped, even those food forests surrounded by deserts.

All the areas where sustainable cultivation is encouraged see drastically improved circumstances. By growing our own here, one might say we’re also decreasing demand for the industrialized economy. I think finding ways to help people in disadvantaged areas gain food sovereignty is abundantly important. I forget who it was, but a famous quote from a South American indigenous rights activist (or maybe it was Central American, I forget) said something to the effect of this “We know how to grow our own food. We just need to be allowed to do that”

Food sovereignty is dependent on dismantling totalitarian regimes of any kind, ultimately.

mattbrowne's avatar

@incendiary_dan – Kurzweil analyzed the past quite thoroughly to come up with a projection of the future.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@mattbrowne Limited analyses of partial and incomplete data necessarily come out to incorrect conclusions. Not taking into account principles like Jevons Paradox, energy decline, and diminishing returns on complexity means physical reality has not been taken into account. Nor does anything on that page you linked mention anything about the genocide and ecocide intrinsic in industrial activity, and therefore in my mind makes it not worth considering as a worthwhile concept in terms of social justice and economic equity.

AGAIN I’ll state: We have numerous working and historically proven models for ensuring high qualities of life sustainably, and without exploiting or robbing disadvantaged populations elsewhere. We do not need machines to do that.

GracieT's avatar

Does the earth have a carrying capacity? Have we reached it yet?

incendiary_dan's avatar

@GracieT All places have a carrying capacity, so I suppose you could say the earth as a whole has one. The question is what is that carrying capacity? I think that depends on the method of feeding ourselves, which is why I promote sustainable polycultures featuring mostly perennial plants. Many people who study the idea of carrying capacity and energy-decline related collapse have stated that we’ve artificially inflated the carrying capacity by first turning all of the biomass we can into humans through monocrop agriculture, and then through intensifying that agriculture through oil use, in effect turning oil into human biomass. Since those methods don’t produce as much per acre, I’m more inclined to say it has more to do with social structures before the introduction of oil.

I’m pretty sure we’ve exceeded it, but not by as much as some people say. Whatever the case, we need to use food cultivation methods that are both highly productive and build soil. Have I mentioned yet on this thread that a mature oak can produce up to 29,000 acorns in a year? I think oak-centered permaculture guilds and setups like it are going to be the major things we use to feed a lot of people. If not, well, I’ll be well fed.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here’s an interesting example from Matt Ridley: “If you sat and read a book by the light of an 18-watt compact fluorescent light bulb and you read by that light for an hour, you would consume 18 watt hours of electricity. If you’re on the minimum average wage (£479 a week) and pay the average tariff for your electricity (9p per kWh), that hour will have cost you about a quarter of a second of labour – a little more if you include the cost of the bulb. To get the same amount of light with a conventional filament lamp in 1950 and the then average wage, you’d have needed to work for eight seconds. Using a kerosene lamp in the 1880s, you’d have needed to work for 15 minutes; a tallow candle in the 1800s, more than six hours. From a quarter of a day to a quarter of a second is an 86,400-fold improvement.”

GracieT's avatar

I think that we cannot have so much hubris that we assume we can continue to use the resources available on this planet. I believe the movie Wall-e was correct. There is a tipping point. We will bypass the amount of resources on this planet eventually.

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