Can the planet sustain our rapid population growth?

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It’s the population, stupid! The United Nations is warning that rapid population growth, which will likely see the number of humans living on the planet explode to 9 billion by 2040 – will condemn billions more to a life of poverty. As the U.N. cautions in a new report – a surging population, “runs the risk of condemning up to 3 billion members of our human family to a life of endemic poverty.”

By 2030 – the U.N. estimates the world will need to produce 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water to sustain more people on the planet. But, with new research showing that global demand for oil will outstrip oil supplies in the next few years – these targets cannot be met. We should have been preparing for a world without oil back when President Carter told us to – and we need to educate and empower more women worldwide – which is the most effective way to curb population growth.

Thom Hartmann Administrator's picture
Thom Hartmann A...
Dec. 29, 2009 10:59 am


I was happy to hear one caller mention the Monty Python song "Every Sperm is Sacred." Lyrics are at

But seriously... the planet is finite, and there is an absolute limit on how many people there can be on this planet at a given time. The only thing in doubt is how close to the absolute limit we will get. IMHO our descendents would be better off if the global population were to gradually decline back to one billion or so.

Realist1948's picture
Dec. 28, 2010 2:30 pm

Thank you Thom for mentioning this!!! For some reason liberals and conservatives have been whistling past the grave yard on this issue. It has been played down or ignored.

We don't need to find a solution yet. We need to start with awareness. Most people are clueless. Awareness and social pressure alone can solve a lot of issues. Lets get moving.

rigel1's picture
Jan. 31, 2011 7:49 am

The party is over in about a decade. Univ. of Colo. lecture: "Arithmetic, Population and Energy"

On another note, we have about 5 years left to address global warming before it's irreversable. We should probably get started.

Sending a corporate lacky (Obama) to Copenhagen to single handedly sabotage the global warming conference wasn't our greatest moment..

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disesae"

Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Thanks Thom for mentioning the “elephant in the room.” We need to talk about the social and environmental impacts of population growth and support positive and sustainable solutions. Empowering women is an excellent place to start – when they have more control over their own lives and bodies, including access to contraceptives, women tend to have more educational and employment opportunities, enhanced social and economic status and improved well-being of their families.

Another place to focus on is reducing consumption levels and promoting alternatives to economic growth (especially replacing GDP) on a planet with finite resources.

HowMany's picture
Feb. 1, 2012 4:22 pm

Soylent Green and Logan's Run come to mind.

Bush_Wacker's picture
Jun. 25, 2011 7:53 am
Quote Bush_Wacker:

Soylent Green and Logan's Run come to mind.

When deceased humans were turned into edible wafers, did they use an organic green dye or the toxic variety to increase food supplies?

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Okay. So how do we keep this issue on the front burner? Right now it's not even on the stove.

rigel1's picture
Jan. 31, 2011 7:49 am

Glad to see such an important issue raised, its amazing how little on this is published online. The root of the problem is politicians (moreso liberals) and religions (namely Islam) who are stupid or ignorant on the matter - the truth is nobody cares what happens outside their lifespan as long as they make a quick buck.

This is my account on the chain of future events.

1) 2020-2050. The saturated workfore of China/India is first hit where the plastics industry crumbles (as a result of increased oil prices) - i.e. manufacture industires go bankrupt, loss of jobs, extreme poverty etc

2) Oil demand and oil price increases to a point where inflation cripples countries. Countries most affected are ones with far distances - food inflation (this is basically why food prices are continually rising to this day i.e due to oil usage)

3) 2050-2150 Oil begins to offially run out and world reverts back to coal - Some communications become useless i.e. planes, vehicles become unaffordable to the poor and people (starting from poor to rich) cant work.

4) 2050 onwards. HUGE global depression arises. This is only made worse due to the fact most countries are in debt to the World Bank and have no money to start sorting their own issues. China/ Germany (which im assuming will still be nations in credit) begin siezing assets off countries in debt i.e. USA, UK - Political issues arise. Possible disputes/wars?

5) 2050 onwards. Worldwide refugee camps and exteme poverty arises, increased crime, war and world population decreases. Not much can be done due to lack of communications. The bottom line is billions of people will die.

6) 2200 (once world population falls to 3-5 Bn). The world relies on coal and moreso subsistance with a few renewable inventions thrown in.

What can we do now?

Act immediately - it may sound farfetched but in 2100 people will wish to turn the clock back 90 years and start a change of plan. First we need to persuide governments to cap families (including Muslim families) to 2 children per couple (penalties introduced). Countries need to increase plastics recyling and immediately cap oil usage. To sort national debts we need to sieze money (non returnable) from the very wealthy to pay off the world bank. Counties with power need to work alongside poorer counries and enforce population caps. Countiries need to meanwhile focus on GM crops/ genetic engineering to possibly evade a future world where genetic diseases are common (i.e. cystic fibrosis, diabetes, thalassemias) as there is no natural selection in such a liberal world. Scientists (with rational minds) need to start controlling counties rather than corrupt politicians.

In full, It is impossible to avert a global depression in my opionion becuase 7Bn (soon to be 9Bn by the time oil runs out) is unsustainable without oil. If we act now we can prevent a lot of poverty/ suffering and general problems. It is selfish and stupid not to do so.

RNAUGH's picture
Aug. 8, 2012 9:33 pm

Someone needs to tell the people in Tennessee this information. I just heard about a family with 19 kids and counting on maybe having MORE! They believe that God should be their birth control! I was shocked and now they are going to have a TV show. Wow, we are making them celebrities! That is certainly sending out the wrong message!! I hear they are tied with another family who also has 19 kids!

MrsBJLee's picture
Feb. 17, 2012 9:45 am

I mentioned the population powderkeg we are sitting on to my class recently, and the next day I saw an article in the Los Angeles Times about it. Actually, we have done a good job of bringing down birth rates around the world, for the most part, but there is just so much momentum from high birth rates in previous generations, and modern technologies such as vaccinations have so reduced death rates among children, that the world's population continues to grow exponentially, so I guess we have previous generations to blame. We still need to educate people on population issues and empower women globally.

Rnaugh, I never heard of you before, but are you actually blaming liberals for overpopulation? In the next few lines, you blame religion and people who are only concerned about making money, which are both conservative things. Talk about being inconsistent. I don't know what you think liberal politicians are doing to increase the birth rate, unless you mean assistance for poor people with children. I think it's been demonstrated, however, that assisting poor people around the world, actually reduces their birth rates.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

The America I Knew Has Almost Disappeared

Like an alcoholic family that won't discuss alcoholism (and proving Don Quixote's warning to never mention rope in the home of a man who's been hanged), far too many Americans are unwilling to acknowledge or even discuss the ongoing collapse of democracy in the United States.

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