Are 7 Billion People a Problem?

By Arlen Grossman/ The Big Picture Report


The Earth, in case you haven’t noticed, is a big mess right now. All living things, humans included, are suffering the effects of a planet stressed to the breaking point.  

(At the time of Jesus, there were about 200 million people on Earth.)

Consider the problems we face:

GLOBAL WARMING. Carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants are collecting in the atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat and causing the planet to warm up.  Already we are experiencing record heat (the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1990), drought, storms and fires, and they are expected to get worse.  According to the United States Global Change Research Program (which includes the Department of Defense, NASA, National Science Foundation and other government agencies): “global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced” and that “climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.”

(In 1000 A.D. the population of the world was about 300 million.) 


SPECIES LOSS. The planet is losing species faster than at any time since 65 million years ago, when the earth was believed to have been hit by an enormous asteroid. The National Wildlife Federation estimates we are losing 27,000 species a year. Dr. Richard Leakey, the famed paleontologist, believes that half of the earth’s species will vanish within one hundred years, a mass extinction that “threatens the entire complex fabric of life on Earth, including the species responsible for it: Homo sapiens.”

(By 1500, the world population was roughly 500 million.)  

POVERTY. According to a World Bank study, more than half the people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day. More than half of the world’s nations cannot grow or import enough food to adequately feed their population. One-third of all deaths around the world, according to UNICEF, including 22,000 children a day, are a result of poverty.

(By 1800, the world population reached nearly one billion.)

POLLUTION. About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, according to a 2007 Cornell research study.  With 1.2 billion people lacking clean water, the World Health Organization estimates 3.4 million people a year, mostly children, die from water-related disease.  According to the WHO, another seven million people every year die from air pollution.

(By 1850, the population of the world grew to about 1,200,000,000.)

WATER SHORTAGES. More than 1 billion people are currently living without clean drinking water. The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies.  By 2030, nearly half of the world’s people will be living in areas of acute water shortage, according to a U.N. report.

(By 1900, the world’s population rose to about 1,600,000,000.)

LOSS OF RAINFORESTS. We are swiftly losing the one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems.  Experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.  Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson called the depletion of rain forest areas “the greatest extinction since the end of the age of dinosaurs.”

(By 1950, there were over 2,500,000,000 people in the world.)

These are just some of the serious problems fouling the environment and ruining the health of our home planet. We haven’t even touched on many other quality of life concerns: education, medical care, traffic congestion, waste disposal, crime, war, violence, etc.  

(By 1975, world population increased to over 4,000,000,000.)

What is the cause of all these societal problems and global degradation? Some readers might examine one issue at a time–global warming, water and food shortages, etc.– to look at causes and solutions. Some may think they can find answers by reading between the lines. In this brief essay, more astute readers merely need to read between the paragraphs in this essay to recognize a major contributor to all these problems.

(In 2011, world population reached 7,000,000,000.)

It shouldn’t be hard to grasp, but for too many it is: humans have been and will continue proliferating at a far faster pace than the Earth can handle. When the consequences of overpopulation are widely understood–and when human impact is acknowledged and resistance to population control overcome–only then can we begin reversing this dangerous course. Only then will there be a realistic hope of healing and saving the only planet we have. The longer we wait, the harsher the consequences.  

(By 2050, the population of the world is expected to be about 9,300,000,000.)


Also published at OpEdNews, June 21, 2014

(This is a revised and updated version of my essay first published in The Big Picture Report and OpEd News in 2011.)

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9 Responses to Are 7 Billion People a Problem?

  1. Surely, Steven, you can see how too many people can make the problems I mentioned–global warming, pollution, poverty, etc–that much worse. In my lifetime (I was born in 1949) the population of our planet has nearly tripled. That is not natural or normal. The Earth is strained to capacity with more people than it can handle, and it shows! The Utopian view of the world that you envision will never happen with an overpopulated world.

    • Steven says:

      Of course I can imagine how too many people might make the problems you mentioned worse, or even be the cause of those problems as your article suggests. Anyone can. But I have thought about the issue and come to believe the planet has supported much more life in the past, and still can into the future. Which to me means that overpopulation is not the problem.
      I am sure you can also imagine different decisions being made which could alleviate some portion of the poverty, pollution, global warming etc.
      Calling better decision making Utopian has become a buzzword for an impossible goal used to deny personal responsibility for that portion of the problem that are more likely caused by poor choices.

      • The planet may have “supported much more life in the past,” Steven, but not human life. Humans cause significantly more devastation in the world than any other species, past or present. Just look around you. Personal responsibility is ideal and desirable, but has never happened on a large scale in any human civilization I am aware of. We have to work with what is realistic.

        • Steven says:

          Maybe. Just because humans are doing badly right now does not mean we will be proven the worst. Neither you nor I actually knows whether or not humans cause significantly more devastation than any other species past or present.
          Humans, however have definitely responded to solve problems on a large scale in the past. Universal health care in many Nations, Environmental Protection Agencys. In my lifetime we have made LI Sound, The Great Lakes, and many rivers cleaner while leaving some with additional challenges. And we have been lulled by our successes to let things slip. We have solved ozone, lead, acid rain; all large scale problems that required large scale solutions.
          While I certainly agree we may not solve the problems we are creating, we can solve them. I believe the planet can certainly support us all, enough of us just have to insist that we let it.

          • Are you not aware of human impact on this planet, Steve? Our “carbon footprints”? No other animals are in our league. Re-read my article to see how humans have affected our world. Yes, ideas and technology can fix a lot of things, but the task is made so much more difficult by a planet populated by 7 billion people, and billions more on the way.

  2. Steven says:

    How did you calculate your estimate of what population of humans the earth can support?

    • The environmental, economic and political problems we are facing tell me we’ve passed the population breaking point a long time ago.

      • Steven says:

        Then I disagree. The economic and political problems have been with us forever, regardless of how small a population we were. The environmental problems, I believe, are the result of being to lazy/unwilling to make the right choices and instead opting out for denying personal responsibility.
        Once upon a time there were enough Bison in North America that they were very likely twice the weight of the current human population of North America. So I think we should be able to support twice the current population that we have. Plus all the deer, elk, antelope goats, etc.

  3. Karen Boerboom says:

    Thank you for your editorial on population. Thanks, also, to the Ehrlichs who have been speaking out on this issue for more than a half century. So what is it that we need? Obviously, the calls for people to contain themselves has not work. Therefore, a la Star Trek, find a way to another earth-type planet in another solar system…quick! Onward the “outward movement” before it is
    too late!

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