TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Overpopulation cannot cause death by starvation, because the human body has a mechanism to prevent starvation death when food is limited.

Every day, human beings starve to an early death.

How does this happen?

We know that for every person that starves to death in th eworld today, there is plenty of excess food that goes unused and uneaten, more than enough to have kept that person alive.

Any large scale starvation to death only occurs as a result of disaster causing an abrupt stoppage of resources, or as a result of human choice not to redistribute resources.

To test this, consider a thought experiment given these parameters: in a closed community of people, food is distributed to each individual according to need. To mimic a starvation scenario caused by finite supply and population but not by natural disaster, we keep the rate of food production constant and the population's desire to reproduce constant.

Given a supply of food, the people in the thought experiment will naturally multiply. As they multiply, they will eventually start using all of the food supply. As they continue to multiply, each person's share of food is decreased.
This will contnue to happen until population is high enough to mean that each full grown person will lose weight.

Eventually, each grown individual loses weight and begins losing fat stores.As the sexually mature women lose weight and fat stores, they become infertile. As a result of infertility, population ceases to rise.

Thus, the body makes reproduction impossible in the absence of excess, and therefore, rising population cannot cause death by starvation because people become infertile because they starve to death. As female athletes often prove, a woman can be infertile yet quite fit and healthy until she reaches old age.

The biological mechanism is that the human body becomes infertile before it starves to death..

The purpose of this conversation is point out that how we treat each other is more critical to our survival than any population number we attempt to adopt.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 8 2013: What makes you think that overpopulation is considered to cause death by starvation and by whom? Especially as the mechanism you describe is well known.
    • thumb
      Nov 12 2013: 18th century scholar Thomas Malthus predictions of overpopulation leading to massive worlwide starvation, despite not coming to pass have lingered on until now. Some still ascribe to them. Simply put from Malthus' arguments the claim remains that exponential population growth is destined to overtake food production.

      While it is true that exponential curves increase more quickly than, say linear growth, human population growth is not perfectly exponential. My opening statements explain why: humans depend on food excess to be fertile in the first place.

      (Comment posted 3 days ago but added here in case you did not see it.)
      • thumb
        Nov 12 2013: Thank you for adding your comment again via reply function, as I didn't come back here so far and would, most likely, not have noticed otherwise.

        I understand now the motivation of your idea and like to point out, that its base is only valid under steady state conditions and without abrupt changes within food production. A single harvest below average can already cause starvation, the moment the minimum calories produced drops under the minimum calories needed to maintain malnutrition above lethality levels.

        A very sensitive equilibrium and many variables are either in gray-scale, such as fertility dropouts and food distribution equality, or even unpredictable, such as harvest results, which all together should not be confused with a save, harmless and automatic 'stabilization mechanism' in human population.

        The great famine in Ireland between 1845 and 1852, also known as the 'Irish Potato Famine', is exemplary, that sudden drops in food supply, caused at that time by a potato pest, can not be adjusted to via fertility adaptation, as the harvest result already cuts to short on the existing population.

        Also important is the given and exclusive dependency of our worldwide food production on fossil fuels and the fact, that nobody can foresee its decreasing behavior, which effects the price development, which effects the cost of food and which may also result in the situation, that the leached out soil wasn't productive enough for conventional farming methods without fossil fuels before alternative farming would manage to cope with it. If this happens suddenly, within a view years, fertility couldn't cope with it either and mass starvation would be the result.

        All in all a theoretical method which we should carefully examine to learn from, yet not to rely on. But without doubt a very interesting theory indeed!

        Thank you for bringing this up!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.