General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

How much of a population can the Earth hold?

Asked by AstroChuck (36570 points ) September 15th, 2008 from iPhone

Are we near the maximum occupancy? How long before natural resources become so overpowered that the population begins shrinking?

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17 Answers

JackAdams's avatar

Respectfully, we’ll know, as soon as the limit is reached, I guess.

I know that probably appears to be a flippant remark, but human beings don’t occupy as much of the planet’s land mass, as we imagine.

There are many places on our Big Blue Marble where humans are not found, and those areas are referred to as unspoiled regions.

robmandu's avatar

Personally, I don’t think there’s a way to really know. Advances in agriculture and related sciences improve yields markedly over time. I don’t think that’s slowing down.

The problem, as I see it, is the approach of just-in-time supply chain management. That is, only growing just enough to sell… and not any more. Then, in the future, when some rainy day (or droughty day) comes, we won’t have stockpiles of provisions. We’ll simply run out of our just-in-time supply.

willbrawn's avatar

Just a guess but I would imagine we could hold atleast double of what we have now. Ive drove a lot around the western part of the united states and sometimes its just barren.

willbrawn's avatar

@robmanu reminds of of the Joseph in Egypt thing, a think its good advice to have food supply incase of an emergency, or like how we are talking a food shortage crisis.

robmandu's avatar

@willbrawn, I think a food shortage crisis would likely be artificial based on the techniques on the rise today. The tipping point, though, would be caused a natural event, like drought or famine… or even possibly man-made, like war.

For example, the problem with getting food supplies to many 3rd world places isn’t the lack of enough, but moreso the ability to get it there thru hostile confrontations, oppressive government regimes, warring factions etc.

loser's avatar

Are you including animals? Elephants take up a lot of space and I think that could definitely be a factor.

charybdys's avatar

I’ve read 12 -17 billion people. But I imagine with increased technology 50 billion wouldn’t be impossible.

I recall hearing that with optimal food growth and redistribution with today’s technology, 36 billion could be supported.

marinelife's avatar

Also in what circumstances? Abject poverty for all.

willbrawn's avatar

I gotta throw this in. In our current day do you really think its probable that too many people would really happen. I mean look at the United States, so many career driven people. I know so many women that if they do have a kid they only want one or two. I think the days are gone where people have 7–8 kids. Our society thinks thats strange and way to many. I personally dont see how we could get over-populated. Even China the country with the largest population controls how many children are born.

charybdys's avatar

I am probably very optimistic, but here goes: We need to curtail govt corruption regarding food distribution. That will help tremendously. Then if we managed to build solar power and cover 1% of the world’s deserts, we wouldn’t need much coal or oil. Next we would need to improve recycling and garbage disposal. I think that involves engineering bacteria and fungus to help. That could take decades, but we already engineer plants. Next people would have to live more like New Yorkers, and less like sub-urbanites. Less cars, mostly walking and public transportation. Foodwise, some people are working on growing meat in a factory. Its sterile so there’s no anti-biotics. Doesn’t sound appealing, but much better than slaughtering animals in a sense. If we could manage all that, well, the population limit would dramatically increase. Then there’s the arcology idea (as seen in Simcity 2000 and othe rplaces). Huge, self-sustaining habitats. Currently they are impossible, but technology marches forward. Finally there’s terraforming. That might be ridiculously hard, but perhaps worthwhile. There are small examples of adding earth to shallow coastal waters in very tight spots like Singapore, Hong Kong and areas of Japan. Also think of those artificial islands in Dubai. That could increase land surface area dramatically. I don’t think there’s much of a limit given some or all of these improvements. Sure our life styles would have to be very different, but not necessarily much worse.

Yeah this is a utopian vision and a bit unrealistic, but most of it is possible.

gooch's avatar

Don’t worry about overpopulation we will always have war to thin out the masses. We may even have WWIII that really would thin down the population.

windex's avatar

WATERWOOOOOOOOOORLD!!!

Zaku's avatar

Depending on how much each person needs to consume, and how much land we want to use for our roads, farms and industries, I’d say the ideal human population is considerably lower than it is now, in order to make room for the abundant survival of other species on the planet in appropriate habitats.

mathang's avatar

sorry people i know this isn’t an answer but this is a comment. People i think the earth is gonna come to an end not now or 5 years later but soon, and if we don’t do anything about it we will kill our self’s and kill our mother earth which we found in perfect condition and now humanity has come to end it with stores we don’t need and cars we don’t need and cutting down trees or ruining a nice field of grass for a skate park, like come on we need to be responsible and start taking some action we don’t know how long we got t live maybe tomorrow or today or next weak the earth could end any day if we don’t start taking care of it we need to recycle and use the bus instead of our cars or get some bikes instead of a car, if u don’t know how to ride a bike than learn how to ride one, because we need to live and we need our children healthy and we need us to be healthy. in the past people took out like 2 garbage bags in two wreaks and now we take out like 3 or 4 garbage bag a weak like this is gross if ur with me lets start making earth better and healthier and start growing some trees in a field or something and water it like everyday come. When we grew on earth it was nice and clean and when we leave or die we need it to be like how we found it nice and clean and lots of trees if i was in power for a month i would hire some people to plant lots of trees every where but not too much and i would make it illegal to throw or leave a can or peace of paper lying anywhere. well i know i type a lot sorry but that’s what i am saying for today it just pisses me off how we found earth clean and we killing it. soon earth gonna blow or over float. bye cya guys next time. and thank you for reading.

mathang's avatar

and by the way the earth can only hold about 32 billion people on earth otherwise earth gonna flood i think.

willbrawn's avatar

@mathang “earth gonna flood i think” comments aren’t good comments. Are you a hippie?

dabbler's avatar

Without the infusion of unsustainable energy resources (fossil fuels), all the intelligent analyses of carrying capacity indicate about one to two billion. If we have some breakthroughs in fusion power or ?? then it’s a different story.

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