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How many people can Planet Earth support?

Poverty comes from an unfair sharing of resources. Bono's naive idea to eliminate poverty to the benefit of mankind flies in the face of the fact that we live on a finite planet. Historically the world has been able to support around 1.5 to 2 billion people, The age of oil changed that 150 years ago and we now have nearly 4 times that. The resources to support 7-9 billion people will have to continue to impact on nature to the detriment and eventual extinction of both.

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    Mar 18 2013: Exponential population growth is one of the biggest problem faced. Humans are depleting resources 21 % faster than earth can recharge.
    Environmental scientists usaually describe this in terms of number of planet earth need to support human activities. currently we need 1.21 (might be greater) earths to support present consumption of resources.

    (Source: Renewable Energy Sources and Method by Anne Maczulak)
  • Mar 15 2013: Bono's idea to eliminate poverty is not naive.
    That's not the right way to think about it.
    Poverty, as just one human ill, should have been eliminated a long time ago.
    We knew decades ago that it was possible. We haven't done it.
    It is because of the mismanagement of the earth's resources and that management must be taken away from those in control of them.
    Ownership doesn't apply. One cannot own any part of the earth. That is a lie that needs to be illuminated and eliminated.
    There are tremendous amounts of resources in Greenland, the Antarctic, the Russian Federation, South America, Africa, and perhaps the Arctic. It's management that is crucial and you are right calling it an unfair sharing of resources.
    We must get rid of the reasons and causes for corruption: Money, for starters, politicians, bankers, countries, nationalism, police, laws and so on.
    I will have to watch his video. If he talks about the cost to eliminate poverty, how it will be paid for and so on, then I would agree with you that he is naive and anyone else who thinks monetarily.

    Things don't......."get done".......... because of money.
    Things.........."don't get done"........because of money.
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      Gail .

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      Mar 16 2013: Thanks for saying that so well.
  • Dan F

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    Mar 20 2013: How many people can Planet Earth support?

    Why would we want to find out? We are experiencing first hand monumental population growth rates that will take us there. In fact, it is clear we are experiencing this problem now. It does seem to me that those of reasonable judgement should be concerned.

    As we approach that population limit perhaps included in the weather report will be a "miserably index" as we discover what we already know. There are factors (such as drinkable water) that will come more and more into play as the sheer numbers of our fellow human beings makes it more and more difficult not just to be happy, and not just achieve our wants, but meet our basic human needs for survival.

    David Attenborough's production, "How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth (FULL)," and thoughts on this topic reflect an intelligent perspective. He is one of several individuals that rank at the top of my admiration list as a naturalist. He would be an excellent person to provide a TED TALK on this subject.
    • Mar 21 2013: Thanks Dan F - that was my initial proposition - We need Attenborough to speak at TED because it appears to me that many scientists and speakers live in silos. None address all the imperatives of water resources, air quality, species extinction through habitat destruction (land and sea) and energy. His finding is that there is a limit to the numbers of people who can live on planet earth. However there is a knee-jerk reaction to exploring the impact of population. Even to discuss suggest a 'hidden agenda' and an intention to limit it by force (see Random Chance's comments) Nathan Cook's response is succinct. So let's push TED for a talk from Attenborough himself - it a deeply researched, penetrating and balanced - TED viewers deserve nothing less..
  • Mar 19 2013: What happens to animals when there consumption rate becomes greater than that which is consumed? The problem solves itself.
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    Mar 18 2013: First let me state my bias as a supporter of permaculture. The limitations of soil formation and regeneration have been largely dismissed by the green revolutionists of modern agriculture. Even the "progressives" rarely pay much attention to the fundamental importance of healthy soil. For a while, we have been able to use large and increasing amounts energy to produce an excess amount of food and so can feed/breed more humans, but this a diabolical deal. We are mining soil and will eventually face diminishing productivity. Soil is not an inert physical/chemical medium. As a living system, it is prone to threshold effects, meaning that we can live off the accumulated excess of millennia of soil formative processes and be lulled into a belief that we can do whatever is expedient to us. In many landscapes, we are already seeing the rapidly descending side of the soil depletion curve. On the other hand, it is evident from the permaculture movement and agroecology, that soil regenerative systems of production can be designed. This implies that the long term historical numbers of sustainable human population can be increased somewhat through design that is based on agricultural practices that are regenerative rather than parasitic. My guesstimate is somewhere around double to triple the long term human population levels, representing a real increase in agricultural production of at least 4 times historic averages... Remember that few people today would choose to be as malnourished as even the aristocracy of past centuries. One of the interesting side effects of a more permacultural approach to agriculture is that it is more labour intensive. For those who consider agricultural and food production work to be "menial", this will be seen as negative. Others of us will get on with the pleasure of leading good purposeful lives.
  • Mar 17 2013: We now have around 7 Billion people but by 2030 will be 9 billion ? I think lots of wars over food and water on the horizon let alone pollution.

    7 billion is too many already and is the Elephant in the Room. Some poorer countries have 50 million millionaires and 170,000 million middle class (in Population of 1.5 Billion), yet pay NO tax, so do not help their poor. I'd like to see United Nations insist on tax to help their poor.

    Too many kids born into poverty - how can you expect anything else if one family has 7 children or more. Then these kids .....just to eat are sold into slavery, prostitution, child soldiers etc. etc. It's wrong.

    I know contraception is still a dirty word for some but a great solution. Medicines sans Frontiere I think it is (correct me if wrong)can give microchip type contraception lasts 2 years and when taken out pregnant immediately.
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    W. Ying

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    Mar 17 2013: .
    Our life goal is to keep our DNA alive;
    not to make big population.

    (See also the 1st article, points 1-3, 10, 14, at
  • Mar 15 2013: "How many people can Planet Earth support?"

    The only good answer to this question is, no one knows. Further, in all probability, no one will ever know. At one time it required a huge area of land to support a small tribe. If you do the math using those figures, we have already exceeded the planets calculated capacity. We have done so by using technology to harness resources that were previously unavailable. No one can possibly predict how efficiently we will be using the planet's resources in the future. There is certainly some limit, but with our technology advancing at an increasing pace, we have no way of predicting what that limit might be. If someone invents an extremely cheap method for capturing and delivering sustainable electric power, a great many problems will be solved very quickly. For example, cheap power could make hydroponic and other methods of growing food very competitive, requiring much less land.

    Using this concept, that the Earth has limited resources, and there is a limit to human population, is a very weak argument to advocate conservation. There are many good reasons to promote conservation.
  • Mar 20 2013: Even the quote unquote 'developed' (UK is still as such; very much, I feel) even more quote unquote civilized worldbursting at the seems: Unless you believe US that we are all drunks and French that we all eat beef (UK is actually one of populations in world with largest percentage of vegetarians, but beef consumption still high). Yet, from a country full of crack addicts and cocaine snorters, is hardly damning! 阿弥陀佛
  • Mar 19 2013: It's a tough question to answer right now at the moment. Much depend on success in transitioning to sustainable urban life styles. Curitiba Brazil provides a wonderful success model. But it's tought to do what they have done over 20 years and more while maintinaing a democracy platform.
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    Mar 19 2013: Now, we can't answer this question that how many people the earth can support. Because we don't know how much is the bottom line for the earth support.Something is unpredictable in future. As my opinion, the number of people the earth support is a constant value, we don't know how much is in it.The only thing we can do that starting from oneself, to protect the earth.
  • Mar 19 2013: The question should be how many people can the universe support? And the answer is Infinite. We need to invest some our resources in space travel and colonization. We have all our eggs in one basket (planet Earth ). Not good for the human race. It makes extinction more likely either by our hands or something beyond our control, Like a comet hitting us. There are alot of doomsday scenerios that I could state, but the bottom line is foresight, co-operation and just plain old common sense. There is a big universe out there. There is plenty of room for all. Start looking at the bigger picture and not just one little section.
    • Mar 19 2013: How wrong you are with infinite everything is finite and there will be shortage to space... The only thing is mankind expands quite fast on this planet imagine how fast it will go in the future... Other planets galaxies... Our universe is finite to space and energy... So we will have to cease expansion at some point :/ same rule goes for our planet space is finite there will be only a certain amount of people sustainable on this planet
      • Mar 20 2013: The meaning of what i wrote was that to survive possible extinction the human race needs to consider colonizing other planets in case this one gets destroyed by something beyond our control. The dinosaurs were arround a lot longer then we have been and one asteroid destroyed them. whether it is next year or fifty or five hundred years away, sooner or later we will face possible extinction and considering that I am not aware of any other humans in the universe other than us. Have not met E.T. Would you not think about putting some out there. We could seed the universe with the human race, It might take a few millon years but you gotta start somewhere.
  • Mar 18 2013: If people start listening to experts and not thinking,
    then those who post to this question may find themselves entertaining and thinking along the lines of:
    "Well, who should "we" eliminate?"
    Certainly not I. I'm white, or male, or still young, educated, have money, am physically healthy at present,
    think more critically than the rest of the world, or even, I'm from Amerika.

    It is certainly, in my mind, dangerous and foolish to allow oneself to be tricked into thinking this way.
    If one does, and one really believes population is our number one problem, then please kill yourself.
    How dare anyone of you -this collective you - entertain killing others.
    The resources of the earth are finite. Many of them. Perhaps most of them but we don't know what the earth can decide to produce without our knowledge and without our continuing to fuck with her.
    The problem is not overpopulation. It is the pollution of populations and the population of pollution that is near the top of the list.
    Also, the mismanagement of resources for profit contribute heavily to scarcity, which is used to produce fear, loathing, a sense of impending doom, and the moral high road of thinking, "yes, someone has to make the tough decisions."
    But the tough decision is to stop what we are doing and manage properly.
    Economy isn't about money, unless one has been brainwashed into believing that.
    Economy means saving, not wasting, being prudent and frugal and managing properly.
    Do people still want to be corralled, intimidated, bullied and terrorized into next looking at their neighbor and thinking, "They are taking from me, they have to go!" whether that neighbor is across the street, next door or across an ocean or another continent?
    People have to take a chance on what they believe in but most don't really trust what it is they say they believe in when push (from the war, terror mongering elite) comes to shove.
    Together, living is possible for all, but with less prudence with love than we have shown.
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    Mar 18 2013: put a hundred canoes and sail boats, on a lake, and no one will bother any one, room for all (depending on the lake size) all remains, in peace and quiet. . put one motorboat or sea do on and the silence retreat fast as the darkness does when you turn on a light
    we have yet to build floating cityes on the oceans. . , humanity as always been inventive enough to meet the challenge. . . . a wee better distrubution and sharing. . all you hold back on, eventually, bits ya in the but.
    some have got to the payforward stage. I figure life's jsut mine to pass on, pass it on, pass it on, share the wealth and U'll find yourself richer with every passing day..
    I suspect, we are seeing an influx of souls upon the face of earth for celebration its big turn around, a grand IMPlosion, with youth taking over and our ALL, living in respect of youth, with no ifs, buts or excuses, for reasons don't matter and excuses don't count.. It only a matter of time. Presently timing is just PURRfect, for setting the wheels in motion, for having this year become the year of celebration. The year Obama starts listening to the kids instead of all those entrenched in laws celebrating the meaning of life. Man has prove he cannot be trusted with a gun in his hand, I would not wish count on a woman, nor on one who's all business. just a mum, like the yellow mums from tigertown . . home lies in your schooling. .me? I Trump the Gump with my Slumdog enducation. know, that as soon as humanity begins to take the birthrights of a baby into consideration, know our food needs be grown around our homes ,cause its the breath of air,, it a 24 for 7, instead of 3 meals a day, from far away and as such, totally foreign to oru own molecular structures. since each reflects eathrock bed from neath where it grew. , more work for our bodyes. life's about working at opetimum capacity on minimum effort for maximum benefit, all round. time we operate as nature does. continually clear way for youth. living conscientiously.
  • Mar 17 2013: For us to be able to support 9B citizens we may need to redefine "property" and "borders". The 1.5-2B people and the 4x gain in population that you mention can also be attributed to disease control (including agricultural "blights"). The main question is can 9B people co-exist? Will strong nations plunder dwindling resources from sovereign nations? We rely so much on technology, that first runs on electricity (or engines), and also needs specific resources for production. Will we run out of resources to produce or assemble the very products we have come to rely on fully for convenience?
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    Mar 16 2013: my estimate is 1500 billion
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    • Mar 16 2013: Please watch this video:

      Then ask yourself where the water will come from.
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        Mar 19 2013: Malcolm

        I appreciate your asking this question and have seen the Attenborough documentary. I suggest that there is some flexibility in the carrying capacity due to the advantage conferred by human intelligence...particularly design when it is informed by ecological knowledge. This is relevant in that some of the pre-industrial natural Process limits can be stretched...but that is not saying that they can be denied or ignored. Please see my general post yesterday regarding soil and permaculture. Water processes are more open to technological mitigation than are depleted soils. So the flexibility that I am guessing at is a hopeful 3 times natural limits on human population, and then only if we can broadly adopt agroecology approaches to production, which will be a big challenge.
  • Mar 15 2013: ok yes the world "previously" had1.5-2 billion people but its not like that's the limit no body knows what earths limit is and it was because of modern medicine not oil and the truth is we have plenty of recourses the problem is just getting them the food before it's to late if we divided all the food evenly throughout the world every one could have over 2000 calories per day
  • Mar 15 2013: After viewing the second talk: "How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth (FULL)"

    "Bono's naive idea to eliminate poverty to the benefit of mankind flies in the face of the fact that we live on a finite planet."

    Bono is not naive. Bono has been working to eliminate poverty for years, and he is well aware of ALL of the factors influencing poverty and poor people.

    "The resources to support 7-9 billion people will have to continue to impact on nature to the detriment and eventual extinction of both."

    The possibility that humans will cause the extinction of the natural environment is so remote as to be unworthy of serious consideration.

    There is the distinct possibility that the human species will damage the natural environment to such an extent that it will negatively affect the growth of the human population, possibly causing a reduction in the population or even our extinction. That is a possibility, but it is not inevitable. We can make choices that will reduce damage to the natural environment. IMO, the more important question is whether we actually will make the correct choices. There is another conversation that comes closer to addressing that question: "Is capitalism sustainable?"

    Nothing was said in either of the videos that attempts to answer your original question, "How many people can Planet Earth support?" My original reply to that question still stands.

    The eradication of poverty is not naive. The work has been effective and there is every reason to believe that the goal of zero poverty is feasible, even as the challenges become greater. As Bono said, the key is believing that it is possible. Today the primary causes of poverty have nothing to do with limited resources. The primary causes are politics and corruption. It is poverty that limits the resources available to the poor,
    • Mar 16 2013: I take it from your comment that "Nothing was said in either of the videos that attempts to answer your original question, "How many people can Planet Earth support?" that you have actually watched the video. The question is clearly intimated and, I believe answered... For 200 000 years homo sapiens +- 1.5 billion. This 150 year spike to 7 billion and climbing is.... unsustainable.
      You comment "The possibility that humans will cause the extinction of the natural environment is so remote as to be unworthy of serious consideration." And then in your next paragraph you go on to consider and actually agree! You go on to add that "We can make choices that will reduce damage to the natural environment and ask the question, will we?" I ask the question "Why haven't we yet?"
      What is very clear is that we humans see ourselves as separate from the 'natural world' and have forgotten that we are part of it. You say it is poverty that limits the resources available to the poor. The point is that we live on a finite world of finite resources. I agree they have been shared 'unfairly'. The solution proposed unwittingly in Bono's model is just as obscene, because its not just a simple 'take from the rich and give to the poor" . We take habitats and environments from the natural environment you referred to earlier and reshape or destroy them to suit our short-term wants. Grasslands, forrests, oceans ... all being plundered to support an insane injunction to "go forth and multiply". We are the most efficient predators the world has ever seen and we behave as though the world is 'ours' and we aren't really a part of it. Check out the famous foxes and rabbits simulation - there are any number you can Google and try.
      Finally, let me agree - zero poverty IS feasible. 10 billion people is not.
  • Mar 15 2013: Forgive me but I am not going to respond to any further comments or continue a discussion unless you tell me you have seen the video. Otherwise we are wasting each other's time.
    It is on YouTube and you will need simply to search for "how many people can live on planet earth". It is a BBC Horizon program. Or you can use this link:
    It is a deeply researched and persuasive case.
    I take this position because I am not here to argue for it - I want simply to ask that you see it for yourself before you make up your own mind. Or, as proposed in my original post, ask David Attenborough to speak at TED.
  • Mar 15 2013: Actually the Earth's carrying capacity is pretty much fixed - for around 200 000 years until just 150 years ago when, having been stable at around 1.5 to 2 billion, it rocketed to where it is today... and it continues to grow. And we lose species at an unprecedented rate. Please watch the BBC video referred to in my first post.
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    Mar 15 2013: Poverty comes from the inefficient sharing of resources, there's no intentional withholding. In any case, the Earth can, and will, support the 10 billion people at which the Earth's population is predicted to stabilize, per Hans Rosling.
    • Mar 15 2013: You need to see Attenborough's video. So does Rosling. That is why I've proposed TED invite Attenborough to speak. Or you watch it in the same way I watched Rosling. When he can answer the questions relating to water, pollution, energy and the destruction of the world ecology we can have a discussion.
  • Mar 15 2013: A man that owns nothing in a city is a bum.
    A man that owns nothing in a forest is a tribesman. Indian. Possibly very highly looked upon.

    Our society has constructed the walls of our reality to be one where only farmers grow their food, and that the only wealth is that of possession of an arbitrary currency from which luxurious leisure can be purchased. The more you break down our system, the less it makes sense.. if we must use the same currency to purchase land, entertainment and food, why not buy land, grow food, and build entertainment? Can a man who owns an iPhone be considered happier or better off than a man who willingly has no phone and lives in his private country home?

    I believe we are victims of our expectations, for if the poor man from the streets were to walk to a forest with an axe and a bow, set to build his life in the wild, he would no longer be poor. In summary, I am in fact "surprised" that poverty still exists.
    • Mar 18 2013: Are you proposing that if the poor in the city became like tribesman in the forest there wouldn't be poverty?

      Because there isn't enough forest to sustain that many poor.