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Christian Salgado

Is the world really overpopulated?

- The impacts and repercussions that high population density entails compel us to rethink efficient formulas to reduce the impact.

Is the world really overpopulated?

What is the biggest problem facing humanity today? For many, poverty and famine are problems that urgently need to be addressed. Others, on the contrary, consider that the real problem we are facing is climate change and choose to "try" to live a sustainable life with the least possible ecological impact. However, despite how difficult it is to prioritize problems without discerning, there are those who assume that the cause of all this "apocalypse" is overpopulation.

Today, we live in the world close to 7.7 billion people[1]. More than half are concentrated in just three countries and the high density that exists in the main cities of the world creates the perfect mirage for the fear of overpopulation to spread. However, there are a series of unknowns that need to be resolved to clarify our doubts and culminate in hate speech. Is the world overpopulated? How much population can the Earth support?

The population bomb and the mirage of overpopulation

Many have been the theorists who have brought to debate the "danger" that overpopulation represents for the future of humanity. One of them was Thomas Malthus who, in 1798, through his "Essay on the principle of population", predicted a chaotic future for human beings, who would reach their extinction in 1880, due to the unsustainability of the production of food in the face of the rapid population growth of his time. Of course, all of his predictions were not true. Two centuries later, the biologist Paul Ehrlich, through his controversial work "The population bomb", brought to debate the need for population control due to his widespread warning of a terrible famine which, according to Ehlrich's estimates, would would arise during the 1970s and 1980s. Its solution, the massive sterilization of the population of those developing countries that had a higher population growth.

Despite the fact that Ehrlich's estimates were not entirely accurate, there are those who, sheltered under an environmental banner, decades later, continue to replicate discourses that opt for forced sterilization as a method to stop the population increase. All this due to a false conception that indicates that the Earth is incapable of sustaining more people and that the more people inhabit the planet, the faster climate change will occur. However, how true is this? Despite fatalistic conceptions, population growth in the world has slowed down. At the end of the 20th century it was estimated that by the year 2100 close to 14 billion people would live in the world. However, the Population Division of the United Nations estimates that, for the same year, the world population will have stabilized at approximately 11 billion inhabitants[2].

The reason for this drastic reduction is mainly due to the fact that women are having fewer children. Today, a woman procreates an average of 2.5 children, half of the number women had in the 70's[3]. However, this significant reduction is not due to the spread of draconian discourses that opt for sterilization, but rather to a significant increase in access to education and opportunities for women.

In various societies of developed countries where women have greater opportunities for professionalization, the average family size is small. In fact, it is below replacement level. Countries such as Canada, China, South Korea, the United States and Japan, as well as several Western European countries, will have, by the year 2050, an aging population[4].

"In 2050, approximately 30% of Americans, Canadians, Chinese and Europeans will be over 60 years of age, as will 40% of Japanese and South Koreans" Jack A Goldstone

The main problem reflected in these figures lies in the decrease in human capital available in the countries. It is expected that for that year Europe will lose close to 24% of the population of working age[5], which would result in a higher proportion of retirees and a lower proportion of active workers.

The scenario is totally different in other regions. While aging will be a constant in industrialized countries, regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, Latin America, and Southeast Asia will have drastically young populations. Despite the large number of people of working age, the truth is that these regions do not have the capacity or adequate structures to provide employability to such a young and drastically increasing population.

This situation will cause young people to choose to migrate to countries with greater employment opportunities and, by then, they will drastically need a break to help sustain a paging population. Such parity seems to be the perfect equation that will provide balance to population problems, however, the truth is that it will only continue to replicate a formula that is present today, enriching developed countries based on migrant human capital and continuing with the lack dynamics. development in less favored regions.

Migrants on their way to the United States. Photo: Mario Toma

The myth of overpopulation and the dynamics of overconsumption

It is no coincidence that the anti-natalist discourse comes, in most cases, from individuals who have a privileged structural position in relation to others. Its justification lies in the belief that overpopulation is the main factor that accelerates climate change, all based on a premise which dictates that the more we are, the more we pollute. In this way, said individuals derogatorily point to those poor families that are numerous, exercising a sense of moral superiority, which their structural position has given them, to indicate that the poor should stop having children.

The curious thing about these statements is that the problem is not the number of people on the planet, but the number of consumers, as well as the nature of their consumption. Citizens of richer countries are known to leave a higher carbon footprint than people living in poorer countries.

Proof of this can be found broken down in a study carried out by Oxfam, where it indicates that close to 50% of the CO₂ emissions emitted year after year come from only 10% of the world's population (the richest), while the rest It is divided among the rest of the population, with the poorest being the one that generates the least emissions (only 10%)[6]. This contrasts with the classist discourse that prevails in Western society, where being poor and with children is a sign of "ecological irresponsibility."

Graph that represents the percentage of CO₂ emissions worldwide. Source: Oxfam

“North Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Australians, who make up 20 percent of the world's population, consume more than 80 percent of the world's resources. We are the main predators and looters on the planet, so we blame the problem on overpopulation." eo wilson

However, this does not mean that there are no environmental problems due to the increase in population. Various local crises such as the fall in water tanks, soil erosion, as well as noise pollution are mainly due to accelerated urbanization that seeks to subdue existing density problems in large metropolises. However, this is not a reason to continue blaming the less fortunate for the state of the planet, but rather an opportunity to rethink our levels of consumption.

Although the year 2100 will represent a stabilization in population growth, what is really worrying would be that societies in developing countries begin to generate consumption systems similar to those already existing in high-income countries. If this happens, the impact of population growth could be much greater, the scarcity of resources would increase and the problems caused by it would have a greater impact.

What to do?

It is impossible to know if the future population will live optimally and sustainably. The truth is that, today, the more than 7 million inhabitants of the world are facing real problems that need real solutions. Our way of life, as well as the consumption systems implemented for decades, have caused our ecological footprint to have a greater impact. Only on August 22, the natural resources destined for the year 2020 were exhausted. In just eight months, humanity consumed more natural resources than the Earth can generate in a year[7].

If Western societies reduced their consumption to what they really need, the Earth would have the capacity to house a greater number of individuals. In addition to this, if the optimal conditions for an equitable distribution of wealth existed, the world population would live more sustainably, reducing problems such as famine and poverty.

Each individual, as well as each country, experiences the phenomenon of overpopulation in a different way. The impacts and repercussions that the high concentration of people entails force us to rethink efficient formulas to reduce the impact. Various investigations show that the best way to stabilize and reduce population growth is through greater protection and respect for women's rights.

Give women the right to their own bodies, give them the opportunity to have a greater influence political and social structures, as well as making education and contraception available to all will help mitigate the risks that overpopulation could generate. The future may seem uncertain, the problems that continue to arise as a result of our way of life are a reality. It would be deplorable if our decisions caused the suffering of future generations, so the construction of inclusive and sustainable new systems is absolutely necessary.


    [1] Naciones Unidas. World Population Prospects 2019 > Highlights. P. 1.

    [2] Kelsey, P. “We’ve worried about overpopulation for centuries. And we’ve always been wrong”, 2019, Vox. Disponible en:

    [3] Pearce, F. “It’s not overpopulation that causes climate change, it’s overconsumption”, The Guardian. Disponible en:

    [4] Goldstone, J. La nueva bomba poblacional, Revista Foreign Affairs, Volumen 10, Número 2, México, p. 84

    [5] Op. Cit. p. 84

    [6] Oxfam, las desigualdades extremas de las emisiones de carbono, 2015, p. 4

    [7] Garduño, M. Este sábado la Tierra agotó sus recursos naturales destinados para 2020, Forbes. Disponible en:

    Australian Academy of Science. How many people can Earth actually support? s.f.

    Cumming, Vivien. How many people can our planet really support? 14 de marzo de 2016.

    García, Sierra. ‘We’re the virus’: The pandemic is bringing out environmentalism’s dark side. 30 de marzo de 2020.

    Georgetown University. Is our planet really overpopulated? 2015.

    Pearce, Fred. It’s not overpopulation that causes climate change, it’s overconsumption. 2015.

    Piper, Kelsey. We’ve worried about overpopulation for centuries. And we’ve always been wrong. 20 de agosto de 2019.

    Susuki, David. Overconsumption, not overpopulation, is the biggest problem. 2011.

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Salgado, Christian. “¿El mundo realmente está superpoblado?.” CEMERI, 7 sept. 2022,