Overpopulation’s False Doom and Gloom

There’s a widespread belief that the world is or could soon become overpopulated. Some career-driven women don’t want children because of “overpopulation,” and others think war can be necessary to cull overpopulation. Although most commonly seen in the environmentalist left, some political moderates and even libertarians fear overpopulation.

Aside from libertarians, most believers of overpopulation think governments should help reduce the world’s population through promotion of contraception and other efforts. Many who fear overpopulation think we’ll run out of space and all the world’s cities could become like Mumbai, India, in this video:

However, this fear is the easiest to dispel. The blog Per Square Mile published the series of maps below showing the relatively small area on Earth needed to house the world’s seven billion people at different population densities. For example, the world’s population could fit in Texas if that state had the population density of New York.


Regardless, most developed countries have fertility rates below the levels needed to replace the population. By the end of this century, the United Nation’s World Population Prospects predicts a mid-range global population increase of only five billion people, a number that could easily fit in just the United States.

Of course, being able to fit in a given area like Texas won’t ensure people’s survival. Having access to enough food and water may be the biggest determinant of survival.

But overpopulation alarmists are also wrong to suggest there could be food or water shortages. The folly of Thomas Malthus, a British economist in the 1800s, comes right to mind. He famously predicted that overpopulation would cause a food shortage and other problems. Obviously, the Green Revolution of the last century undermined Malthus’ theory and actually tripled the world’s food output in the past 50 years.

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, Earth is capable of producing 72 billion tons of grain each year, 26 times what we produce today. And with companies making advances in producing artificial meat, the future of food production looks positive.

Concerns have also been raised about the availability of drinking water necessary for a growing population. The solution put forward is to have governments enforce water-conserving policies. However, simply recalling the water cycle about which every schoolchild learns should dispel this worry. According to Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, every day through evaporation the salty oceans produce 45,000 gallons of drinkable rainwater per person. For one, more people could use water barrels or other cheap and safe technologies to help capture this rainwater.

It’s hard to keep up with all the false doom and gloom from “overpopulation” alarmists. Wikipedia lists several possible effects of overpopulation that alarmists have mentioned, including “mass species extinctions,” “intensive factory farming,” “elevated crime rate[s],” and “increased levels of warfare.”

But we should stop worrying about overpopulation. As long as we have free markets, we can “leave all creative energies uninhibited” to solve “overpopulation” problems.

C. Harrison Myers About C. Harrison Myers

C. Harrison Myers studies political science, international relations, and economics at Towson University, where he is president of the Towson Classical Liberals student organization. Follow him at @_freeradical.


Your data is wrong.  How can you be trusted to draw accurate conclusions with bad data?


Your data is wrong.  How can you be trusted to draw accurate conclusions with bad data?