Debunking the Myth of Overpopulation
We are contacted all the time by people asking for how they can refute the arguments of those who believe that the world is overpopulated. So we have decided to create a short primer called “How to Debunk the Myth of Overpopulation in Three Easy Steps.”
Before we start, however, let’s define overpopulation. Overpopulation describes a situation where the number of people exhausts the resources in a closed environment such that it can no longer support that population.
Let’s imagine that our PRI offices were to suddenly become a closed environment, with nothing allowed in our out. Obviously, I and my colleagues would exhaust the available resources very quickly: The water cooler would be drained dry, the refrigerator would be emptied out, and the oxygen would be all used up.
Obviously, my office has too many people for its natural resources, but I haven’t started trying to eliminate my co-workers to ensure my own survival. I haven’t launched a sterilization campaign against my younger colleagues or encouraged my older colleagues to jump out of the windows. Why?
Well, of course I am constrained by Catholic moral teaching. But aside from that, I know that my office is not a closed environment. Neither are most instances cited by overpopulation zealots, such as crowded cities or poor countries. None of these are closed environments.
Other instances of phony overpopulation occur when humans create artificially closed environments. If someone locked me in my office, most people wouldn’t blame my resulting demise on “the overpopulation of the office” but on the cruel person who locked me in. Similarly, if government policies prevent food from being transported to where it is needed, or distributed to those who are hungry, “overpopulation” is not to blame. It’s the policy, stupid.
In addition, overpopulation is defined as a problem created by the numbers of people, not their behaviors. If every person demanded his or her own continent or island, the world would seem “overpopulated” very quickly.
Let’s keep these things in mind as we consider the argument that the earth, as a closed environment, is overpopulated. Is Spaceship Earth (as they like to call it), running out of resources? Let’s evaluate:
1) “Food: there isn’t enough!” Since the time of Thomas Malthus, who lived in the early 1800s, doomsayers have gloomily predicted that mankind would outbreed its food supply, resulting in catastrophic famines. Yet the world currently produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, and there are only 7 billion of us. That is, with 7 billion human minds at work, we produce enough food for 10 billion human bodies. Imagine how much food we can produce with 10 billion minds!
“But there are still hungry people in the world!” Yes, hunger remains a problem in some parts of the world, but it is not caused by the number of people. Commenting on the recent Somali famine, Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization, stated, “Famines are not natural phenomena, they are catastrophic political failures.”
“Well, we got lucky with the Green Revolution, and food production shot up, but we can’t count on something like that to occur again!” Why not? There is no reason to think that we are running out of human ingenuity. If anything, a larger population means more opportunities for the kind of scientific collaboration and increased specialization that results in such scientific leaps forward.
“Ok, but humans now eat higher up the food chain that we used to. We can’t keep that up and still have enough for everyone!” Sure, people in the developed nations eat more meat, which require much more energy input per calorie eaten than if we ate grains and plant proteins. But that doesn’t mean that we will run out of food. We are eating higher energy foods because they are relatively cheaper than they used to be—and prices don’t fall when goods are scarce. The falling price of high energy foods indicates that they are becoming more plentiful, not less so. According to the World Education Service, “world agriculture produces 17% more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago...This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day.”
2) “We are running out of water!” The earth is awash in water. Oceans cover 70 percent of the planet’s surface to an average depth of 6,000 feet. That’s why the earth looks blue from space. You cannot use up or destroy water; you can only change its state (from liquid to solid or gas) or contaminate it so that it is undrinkable.
“That’s a great theory, but if I’m thirsty, theory doesn’t mean much to me. There is not enough fresh water for everyone!” There is! Since 1900, freshwater withdrawals (i.e. production of usable water) have increased much faster than the human population has increased. Freshwater withdrawals have increased seven-fold since 1900 while the world population has increased only four-fold. This suggests our ability to access usable water increases faster than population growth.
“Tell that to the people living in the Sahel!” You’re correct, lack of water is a serious humanitarian issue. But it is not an overpopulation issue. Water, although plentiful, can be difficult to move to those who need it, hence local water scarcity. As Karen Bakker (2003) states: "Water is one of the heaviest substances mobilized by human beings in their daily search for subsistence....Water is expensive to transport relative to value per unit volume, requiring large-scale capital investments in infrastructure networks which act as an effective barrier.” In other words, we need more dams, canals, and pipelines, not more abortion, contraception and sterilizations.
3) “But we’re growing exponentially!” Um,...No. We’re not. We are growing, but definitely not at an exponential rate. In fact, our rates of growth are declining. Between 1950 and 2000, the world population grew at a rate of 1.76%. Between 2000 and 2050, it is expected to grow by 0.77 percent. So yes, because 0.77 is greater than zero, it is a positive growth rate, and the world population will continue to grow.
Most of this growth will come from developing countries—their life expectancies are expected to shoot up in the next 50 years, contributing to their population growth. Africa’s growth is not something to worry about.
Europe’s decline, however, is something to worry about. A UN report titled “World Population to 2300” paints a picture of Europe’s future if European fertility rates don’t rise above current levels: “The European Union, which has recently expanded to encompass 452-455 million people (according to 2000-2005 figures) would fall by 2300 to only 59 million. About half the countries of Europe would lose 95 per cent or more of their population, and such countries as the Russian Federation and Italy would have only 1 per cent of their population left.” In other words, the French, German, Italians and British will virtually cease to exist. Arrivederci, Roma!
Other fun thoughts:
- Human knowledge can be passed on through the written and spoken word in ways that evolutionary or biological advantages can’t be.
- Demographers estimate that at least 20 billion people lived on earth between the years 8000 B.C. and 0 A.D. (That’s right, the idea that half of all people who have ever lived are alive currently is a myth!)
- Plankton make up 3 times more biomass than all 7 billion humans combined.
- Every man, woman, and child on earth could each have 5 acres of land. 
- Every man, woman, and child on earth could each have a half acre of arable land.
- If we wanted to squeeze close, everyone in the world could stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the island of Zanzibar.
- About 48% of all people live in a country with below-replacement fertility.
- The global total fertility rate is 2.53 children per woman.
- By 2050, Nigeria is projected to have a larger population than the United States.
 Holt-Giménez, Eric, et al. "We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can't End Hunger." Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36.6 (2012): 595-598.
 Gleick, Peter H. "A look at twenty-first century water resources development." Water International 25.1 (2000): 127-138.
 "WORLD POPULATION TO 2300." The Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (2004): <http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf>.
 Wachter, Kenneth W. "Cohort Person-Years Lived." Essential Demographic Methods. Berkeley: University of California, 2012.
 Garcia-Pichel, Ferran, et al. "Estimates of global cyanobacterial biomass and its distribution." Algological Studies 109.1 (2003): 213-227.
 Calculated from numbers found on: "Central Intelligence Agency." The World Factbook. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2097.html>.
 "World Population Prospects the 2012 Revision." The Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (2013):<http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/news/2013/KEY%20FINDINGS%20WPP2012_FINAL-2.pdf>.
"A Tale of Three Islands." Demography. The Economist, <http://www.economist.com/node/21533364/print>.
Bakker, Karen J. "A political ecology of water privatization." Studies in Political Economy. 70 (2003).
Barnes, Hannah. "Is Population Growth out of Control?" BBC News. BBC, 28 Sept. 2013. Web. 01 Oct. 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24303537>.
"Central Intelligence Agency." The World Factbook. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2097.html>.
Garcia-Pichel, Ferran, et al. "Estimates of global cyanobacterial biomass and its distribution." Algological Studies 109.1 (2003): 213-227.
Gleick, Peter H. "A look at twenty-first century water resources development." Water International 25.1 (2000): 127-138.
Holt-Giménez, Eric, et al. "We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can't End Hunger." Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36.6 (2012): 595-598.
Michael, Webber E. "How to Make the Food System More Energy Efficient: Scientific American." Scientific American, 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=more-food-less-energy>.
Wachter, Kenneth W. "Cohort Person-Years Lived." Essential Demographic Methods. Berkeley: University of California, 2012.
"World Population Prospects the 2012 Revision." The Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (2013):<http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/news/2013/KEY%20FINDINGS%20WPP2012_FINAL-2.pdf>.
"WORLD POPULATION TO 2300." The Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (2004): <http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf>.
“2013 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics by World Hunger Education Service." Weblog post. World Hunger Education Service. Hunger Notes, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world hunger facts 2002.htm>.
For more articles, click the first link in each drop-down menu, e.g. 2010 (v12).
- Weekly Briefing: Español
- La próxima batalla legislativa: el Proyecto de Ley sobre la toma de conciencia sobre el dolor
- ¿La legalización reduciría el aborto en América Latina?
- Las interrogantes de la demografía actual
- Informe de los Medios de Comunicación: Depo Provera es peligrosa para su salud.
- Canadá: una sorpresa ingrata
- Enfermeras dan el ejemplo: renuncian para no distribuir la Píldora del Día Siguiente a
- Ampliación de la Noticia: La desaparición del matrimonio
- Recordando a Reagan
- Population Research Institute expande su actividad; incorporándose en la fundación de
- Frenando la Expansión del HIV/SIDA mediante la Abstinencia (y la Doctrina Católica)
- Los Programas de Planificación Familiar de USAID merman los esfuerzos para frenar la promiscu
- Weekly Briefing: 2014 (v16)
- Weekly Briefing: 2013 (v15)
- Russia Chooses Life
- The Numbers Don’t Lie: Babies are Blessings for Everyone
- Controlling Women’s Desires in Kenya
- Why Do Filipino Women Die in Childbirth?
- Franchising Abortion and Sterilization
- Open response to: “Overpopulation: Should America have a one-child policy?
- What Does China Want?
- One Small Snip for Man, One Giant Snip for Mankind
- The End of America—as America
- Refugees Subject to Population Control
- Debunking the Myth of Overpopulation
- Contraception as a "Solution" to Abortion: No way!
- Cutting Foreign Aid to Save Lives
- A Crime in Time—and Again
- Catholic Relief Services Leaves Many Questions Unanswered
- Weekly Briefing: 2012 (v14)
- Will Russia Come Back to Life?
- China's one-child policy itself leads to forced abortions
- Why is Government (and Society) Discouraging Childbearing?
- UNICEF Should Rename Itself the United Nations Sex for Children Fund, or UNISEX
- America’s Pediatricians Claim the Right to Contracept Your Kids
- The Mirena IUD is Becoming More Popular - and the Lawsuits are Piling Up
- America's Depressed Birthrate
- Question: What Can we Expect From a Second Obama Administration on the Life Issues?
- Attending the Abortionists’ Annual Pep Rally
- Norplant is Back--Under a Different Name
- Sorry, Mr. Vice President, That Is Not a "Fact"
- Teenage Girl Becomes Infertile after Gardasil Vaccination
- The Contradiction of WHO
- Is Abortion Ever “Necessary?” The Evidence Says “No!”
- Of Mice and Men: New Study Touts a Male Contraceptive
- Weekly Briefing: 2011 (v13)
- Merry Christmas from PRI
- T-Shirts Are Available NOW!
- Catholic Health Care in Jeopardy
- Ban Sex Selective Abortions in the U.S.
- Pro-Life Amendment Defeated in Pro-Life Mississippi
- Baby Seven Billion, Welcome.
- Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics ... and Population Graphs
- Traditional Family Values
- We're In For A Scary Halloween (If You Listen to the Population Controllers)
- Take Good Care of Your Health Care Records - Or the Government Will!
- China's One-Child Policy Toll Reaches 400 Million
- Catholic Bishops Weigh Into Budget Debate
- Latest PRI Video Shows Collapse of Russia
- "Understanding" Joe Biden Perfects the Kowtow
- U.N. Climate Models Flawed - Grossly Exaggerate Warming Effect
- Weekly Briefing: 2010 (v12)
- Fourth Episode of Overpopulation Cartoon Series
- Turner Calls for Global One-Child Policy
- Love and HIV/AIDS
- Pope Benedict Misquoted on Condoms -- Again
- Planned Parenthood Wants to Abort Us into Prosperity
- As Elections Draw Near, PRI Releases Groundbreaking Video
- Does Obamacare Fund Abortion? Let Us Count the Ways.
- Islamic Terrorism and Fertility
- China's Thirty Years War Against its Own People Slated to Continue
- Time to Pay an "End-of-Life Visit" to ObamaCare
- PRI Updates Web Site, Releases New Video
- Radical Environmentalists Disclaim Responsibility for Eco-Terrorist James Lee
- A Farce: The UN's World Youth Conference
- After Passage of Pro-Abortion Constitution, Kenyan Bishops Urge Immediate Amendment
- The United Nations must love Catholics, we give them their best ideas.
- Weekly Briefing: 2009 (v11)
- In His Push for Socialized Medicine, Harry Reid Trashes the Hyde Amendment
- Global Warming Science? Nope, Global Warming Scam.
- Senator Max Baucus Wants to Teach Your Kids About Sex
- Blasted Ovaries: The Failure of Contraceptive Vaccines
- The Overpopulation Movement Struggles to Stay Relevant
- What's Next for the Pro-Life Movement in Health Care Reform?
- Sneak Attack on the Mexico City Policy
- Spain Awakens Against Abortion
- Merck Researcher Admits: Gardasil Guards Against Almost Nothing
- With 19 You Get Heaven
- Population Control to Combat Climate Change?
- Illegal Abortion Hot-Lines: A New Attack on the Unborn
- Obama to Seniors: Take Two Aspirin and Call Me When You're Dead
- Washington Feels the Wrath of Pro-Life Voters
- People Are The Enemy
- Weekly Briefing: 2008 (v10)
- Doug Kmiec's Departure from the Pro-Life Movement
- The Huffington Post Gets It Wrong--Again
- Abortion and Intolerance: Constants of the Left?
- China Frees Pregnant Mom after International Outcry
- Executive (Dis)Orders: Pro-life Policies Set to be Jettisoned
- Payback Time: What Planned Parenthood Expects from Obama
- Killing The Economy: Dennis Howard's "Elephant In The Living Room"
- How to Sell Out Your Country With Just One Word
- Is Immigration the Answer to the Current Economic Crisis?
- Wisconsin Offers "Free" Birth Control -- with Your Money
- USAID Denies Funding to Abortion Group Implicated in Forced Abortions and Sterilizations in China; PRI Applauds Action
- A New Front in the Abortion Wars
- Cyclebeads: The UNFPA Discovers Natural Family Planning, Sort Of
- Sarah Palin, An American Original
- "Kids: Your Time Is Up" -- Global Warming Game Targets Vulnerable Youngsters
- Weekly Briefing: 2007 (v09)
- Preserving Parental Rights in Panama
- Saving the Mexico City Policy
- How Family Planning Programs Cause Sex-Selective Abortion, Female Infanticide, and Other Forms of Ch
- Patrick Carroll's Research and the ABC Link Debate
- What Women Want (Hint: Not Reproductive Health Care)
- Fighting for Our Rights
- Reproductive Health Mortality
- House Democrats Stage Hearing on the Mexico City Policy
- Gender Equity and the Demeaning of Men's Issues
- The Obstetric Fistula Fallacy
- Chimeras, Great Britian, and the Brave New World
- Are There Too Many Columbians
- US Bishops Issue a New CALL to Latinos
- HillaryCare, 2.0
- HIV/AIDS: Western Failure and Ugandan Success
- Weekly Briefing: 2006 (v08)
- Irish Exceptionalism at an End?
- Suicide of the West?
- 300 Million and Immigration: Separating the Issues
- A Cut for Population Control Money?
- 300 Million, Social Security, and Solvency
- Pro-Life Politics
- The Small Problem of Suburban Sprawl
- Three Hundred Million and Counting
- Abortion the Cheap Easy Way
- Life in the News
- Restricting Women's Rights
- FDA Prepares Sell-Out on MAP
- Senate Democrats'Make-Believe on Girls' Abortions
- Kinder, Gentler Genocide in Mongolia
- World Population Aging 2006
- Weekly Briefing: 2005 (v07)
- What Mexican Women Want
- Will making pregnancy profitable save Italy from demographic destruction?
- House Takes an Interest in the RU-486 Poison Pill
- Getting U.S. Out of Abortion
- Time for a RU-486 Rollback
- A Feast for Life
- More Smiles for Scalito
- Abuse of Chinese Women and Children
- France's End
- Smiles for Scalito
- Abortion Doubters at the Washington Post?
- Mostly the Same, But UNFPA Discovers Fatherlessness
- UN AIDS Envoy Cant Stomach Abstinence
- Living the Gospel of Life Down Under
- Pro-Abortion Court Revolution Targets Colombia
- Weekly Briefing: 2004 (v06)
- Unlike Europe's, U.S. Population Continues to Grow--And in the Right Places
- Abortion by Other Means
- China's Persecution of Women and Children: More of the Same
- Canada Cuts off Chinese Women's Freedom in Order to Spite America's Face
- Would Legalization Reduce Abortion in Latin America?
- The Conscience Protection Amendment and NARAL's "D"
- The Abortion Pill Can Kill Mothers, Too
- Will Families Benefit from Tax Reform?
- The Unacceptable Arlen Specter
- How to Reduce the Number of Abortions (Hint:
- UNICEF: The Mask is Off!
- Secularism's Demographic Conundrum
- Despite Bumper Harvests, Lester Brown's Sky is Still Falling
- Peruvian Congress could punish prolife congressmen.
- Media Reports: Depo Provera Is Hazardous to your Health
- Weekly Briefing: 2003 (v05)
- Exposing Domestic Abortion Strategies
- New Revision Points to Underpopulation Crisis
- PRI needs your help for continued success in 2004
- The Coming Demographic Victory
- In Thanksgiving to God for People
- People: the Greatest Unmet Need
- Gates, Microsoft Urged by Shareholders to Cease Making Charitable Contributions
- President Bush Signs Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003
- The BBC's Method of HIV/AIDS Prevention
- Judge Robert Bork in Lincoln Nebraska
- USAID-funded FHI Exploits Women
- Population Control on our Shores
- The Two Sides of the Culture of Death
- Secretary Powell Cuts $25 Million More from UNFPA
- USAID Undercuts U.S. Global HIV/AIDS Initiative
- Weekly Briefing: 2002 (v04)
- Casting Lotts and Throwing Stones in the U.S. Congress
- Bush vs. Bangkok, Abortion as 'Reproductive Health'
- UK Pro-Aborts Seek to CHANGE Peruvian Health Policy
- UNFPA Seeks Drinking Friends to Fund Forced Abortion
- Condom Kingdom Deflated by Failure (Are You Listening, Bill?)
- USAID "Shifts" Focus to More Aggressive Population Policy for the Philippines
- Making "Reproductive Rights" (Read: Abortion) a Relic of the Past
- Broken Promises: Reproductive Rights Agenda Betrays Women and Children
- EU to Increase UNFPA Funding? Not so Fast!
- UNFPA Admits it Has No Way to Monitor China's Forced Abortion Population Program
- Graduating Countries from Population Control
- Foreign Aid in a Grown Up World
- ABOUT FACE: Norplant Victim Sues Wyeth, OBGYN for $120 Million
- How to Save Lives with $34 Million
- Project Afghanistan: A Situation Report
- Weekly Briefing: 2001 (v03)
- Urgent Action Alert! Call on President Bush to Zero-Fund UNFPA
- UNFPA Whitewashes Forced Abortion in China
- Hillary Clinton Forces Abortion Rights Agenda on Afghan Women
- Pro-Family Groups Condemn UNFPA
- Abortion Zealots Threaten Afghan Women
- Muslims Shocked by Western-led 'Genocide' in Refugee Camps
- UNFPA Hides Coercion Behind a Green Front
- An open letter from Steven W. Mosher to Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Popu
- PRI Investigation of UNFPA Prompts Hearing on Forced Abortion in China
- UNFPA Supports Coercive Family Planning—Including Forced Abortion—In China (and PRI Has
- Abortion Group Targets Vulnerable Victims of Terror
- China's Role in Osama bin Laden's 'Holy War' On America
- America's Frozen Population
- What African Women Want (not "Reproductive Health Care")
- About Face
- Weekly Briefing: 2000 (v02)
- What the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link Means for Women in the Developing World
- Executive Orders to Save Lives
- Heedless of Demographic Dangers, Beijing Pushes Ahead with One-Child Policy
- Amend U.S. China Policy
- United in Opposing People
- RU 486 and Our Ties to China
- Abortion and Population Control
- Drowning Babies in Dollars
- AIDS and Population Control In Africa
- Family Planning Costs Lives
- Another Country
- Population Growth and its Enemies
- Immigration verus Population Control
- Land of the Setting Sun
- The Ordeal of Chinese Mothers Continues: New Evidence of Massive Female Infanticide
- Weekly Briefing: 1999 (v01)
- Planned Giving
- Depopulation Strikes New England
- Albright Scrambles to Appease Population Control Allies
- Wei Jingsheng Calls for Democracy in America
- UNFPA Bribes Kosovo Gynecologist
- Chinese Freedom Fighters to Meet at Historical Summit Conference
- Population Control and the New Global Racism
- Welcome Baby Six Billion!
- UNFPA Spokesman Lies About Milosevic Partnership to Preserve US Funding
- Know Your Rights!
- Feminist Rights Agenda Storms United Nations
- When Family Planning Is Ethnic Cleansing
- New York Post Faults UN Agency for Ethnic Cleansing of Albanians
- Reversing Itself, UNFPA Admits Ties to Milosevic Regime
- Disney Continues to Propagandize 'Myth of Overpopulation' in Public Schools