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World Population Growth

This article is populated with solutions to world population growth and overpopulation.

Eco-Logical cartoon graphic of cube-shaped globe

Putting World Population Growth Statistics in Context — and Finding Solutions to the Problem

When we talk about world population growth statistics, we get into very large numbers with many confusing zeroes at the end. While lots of 0's may bring back fond memories of our days of test scores and playing hooky from school, they do nothing to help us understand a factual sentence like: "The earth's population is projected to rise from 6,400,000,000 in 2004 to 8,900,000,000 in 2050." graphic of many faces

That means we will likely increase world population by 2.5 billion people in the next half-century, but how do we put such a large number in context to make it easier to grasp? Does population growth just mean a few more people at the next block party, or will the teeming masses start falling off the edge of whatever cliff they're closest to?

In this article, we'll try to make sense of world population growth statistics, and then we'll discuss why this increase in global population is significant.


For simplicity's sake, we'll assume the population increase between now and 2050 will be linear. (Experts predicts that population growth will be faster in the early part of the period than in the later part, but for our purposes, working with an average increase will be fine.) Remember, we're talking about the NET population growth—the number of new people born minus the number who die.

If we convert the total population growth of 2.5 billion for the first half of the 21st century to an annual rate of growth, we can expect 54 million additional people per year to occupy the planet. That large a number still seems pretty hard to relate to, though, so if we take it down to a per-day figure—which would be 149,000 net additional people per day—it's

more understandable because we can compare it to figures we're familiar with. For instance, 149,000 is two or three football stadiums worth of people (depending on the stadium capacity). Maybe that doesn't seem like so many people at first, but remember how shocked we were when we were told about the death toll from the December 2004 Asian tsunami—several hundred thousand people died. Yet today we're adding that many new people to the planet's population every two days.


In 2005, the actual global population growth rate is estimated to be 76 million additional people per year.

Earth Policy Institute

So, should we be cold, calculating statisticians who see that a high number of deaths from a natural disaster or, say, the one million people who die each year from malaria don't matter because we've got so many new humans coming down the population-growth conveyor belt anyway? No, of course not. One of our top goals as a society should be to reduce and eliminate suffering wherever and whenever possible.

Does this leave us with the seemingly conflicting goals of keeping humanity's numbers at a reasonable (sustainable) level vs. not wanting people to suffer and die?


Before we discuss how we can support reducing world population growth and still be humanitarians, let's recount why population growth is a problem in the first place.

The earth is a "closed system," meaning that we have to recycle or store all of the wastes we produce, and until we establish the Mars Alfalfa and Mining Colony, we only have one planet's worth of land and water to provide resources for agriculture, energy, and other needs. How well we do at these two factors—resource use and pollution management—basically depends on two factors:

  • the number of people on the planet; and
  • the average amount of resources available (per person) and the average amount of pollution produced.

In basic terms, the average global standard of living is directly related to the resources available. The health of the planet (in terms of pollution) is related to how much stuff, on average, each person uses. The total impact we have on the planet, therefore, is roughly the total number of people times the average standard of living. (This basic concept is sometimes called "ecological footprint.")


Technological improvements factor into how efficiently and effectively we use our resources and manage our pollution, but overall, technology tends to cause just as many problems as it solves.

The world's current population is already estimated to be unsustainable at today's rates of consumption and pollution, and another 2.5 billion people over the next half-century—all rightly striving to raise their standards of living—will only exacerbate the problem.

Since none of us is clamoring for a decreased standard of living, we must assume that the other side of the equation, population, is where we can most realistically expect to act to keep our Closed-System Earth in balance.




Rating: 3 of 5 - Good, worth a listen Uprising

Cancer—Environmental Factors and Genetics vs. Plain Ol' Bad Luck — A new study has found that 22 types of cancer are the result of sheer bad luck, blaming the cancers largely on random mistakes in tissue-specific stem cells and stating that the cancers arise in a manner unrelated to genetic or environmental factors. Julia Brody of the Silent Spring Institute offers a countering opinion, noting that a different team looked at exactly the same data and concluded that only 10% of cancers were attributable to random bad luck.
Go to page  |  Download/listen   12:28

GP comment:  This is a pretty tepid report, but the takeaway should be that the defenders of corporations' toxic products and processes now have a study to point to and say, "see, no problem" ... which no doubt was the intention of whoever funded that particular data analysis. As Mark Twain cautioned, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Original Show Pub Date: 07.Jan.2015 ~~ Original story title: The Science of Health: Silent Spring Inst. Cautions Against New Cancer Study


Rating: 4 of 5 - Very good Radio EcoShock

Catastrophic Failure of the Planet—Satire or SITREP? — Joseph D'Lacey writes eco-apocalyptic/horror fiction as a way of exploring the way in which the human condition is broken. Here he discusses his fictional post-apocalypse books, which include the Black Dawn series, which extrapolates from our real-life era when corporations are literally sucking the earth dry of its high quality resources; and Meat, where a combination of powerful corporations and organized religion completely control the food supply, with living standards for animal welfare and human rights falling by the wayside. ~~ Then Stanford's Mary Kang explains the data on leaking methane from abandoned gas wells. ~~ A clip from the fictional show "The Newsroom" has an EPA scientist going non-linear, predicting absolute climate doom, with no possibility of escape. Real-life climate scientist Michael Mann gives his take on our climate prospects.
Go to page  |  Download/listen   1:00:00

GP comment:  Given humans' demonstrated inability to elevate their actions above their parochial interests, I think the "we're screwed" conclusion of the fictional EPA official will prove more likely than the hopium-based "we can still take meaningful action" assertion expressed by Michael Mann. That said, Alex Smith does a nice job at the end mediating the two extremes and adding more scientific—and psychological—context.

Original Show Pub Date: 10.Dec.2014 ~~ Original story title: Eco Horror ... Is "The Newsroom" Climate Doom for Real?


Rating: 4 of 5 - Very good Resistance Radio

Has Capitalism Captured the Environmental Movement? — Tom Butler of the Northeast Wilderness Trust talks with Derrick Jensen about the problematic trend among mainstream environmental groups trying to steer capitalism in a better direction. The problem with that approach is that capitalists, when push comes to shove, will always prioritize corporate profits over natural preservation. Even more troubling is the shift in the framing of environmental issues, where the comfort, convenience, and continuation of modern life is a given, and any sacrifice along those lines to preserve species or protect the biosphere is not even up for discussion.
Download/listen   50:59

GP comment:  This is a good talk, though the general tack is that this problem is mostly one of evil corporatists, venal politicians, and a lackey media. There are those aspects, for sure, but the general populace has fully embraced the benefits of modern industrial society, regardless of the environmental costs, and the gains in comfort and convenience will not be given up willingly, no matter how right the goals.

Original Show Pub Date: 19.Oct.2014


Get more audio clips on environmental issues and many more topics in Grinning Planet's biweekly downloadable audio news feed.

Once we recognize the fact that overpopulation is a problem and that increasing standards of living around the world will add to our resource-use and pollution-management challenges, it's tempting to start thinking that disease, poverty, and premature death are unfortunate but necessary (as long as they happen to someone else, of course). We must resist any such temptation and work toward better solutions.

We should:

  • continue to strive to reduce suffering by combating disease and poverty around the world;
  • continue to improve resource efficiency and pollution control so that standards of living can rise without negative impact; and
  • keep human population to numbers that are sustainable.

On the population front, that means:

  • making sure people around the world have access to family planning services;
  • empowering women in developing countries economically, socially, and legally in a manner that results in them having an equal say (with their husbands) in reproductive decisions;
  • modifying school curricula to include information on population levels and implications for the future;
  • reforming tax laws in a way that encourages couples to have no more than two children. (They would still be able to have as many kids as they want, but the tax code would no longer subsidize more than two.)

People are a good thing, but population growth without limit is not. The US and all developed countries should reinvigorate their international efforts to slow population growth. The future of the world depends on it!

Know someone who's feeling crowded by overpopulation?
Send this World Population Growth article.

Publish date: 05-JUL-2005


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The Connection Between Population Growth, Sprawl, and Traffic Congestion

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Songs for a Better Planet

All the people I see in the world,
They're growing like pearls . . .
All the people I see in the world
Are paying for playing their parts in this world;
But ask them to leave,
Would you believe
That they would ask you for more . . .   more (at Dyniss site)

Song: "All the People"

Artist: Dyniss

Album: The Green Anthem

Category: Modern Rock


album cover for Dyniss, The Green Anthem Dyniss' own description of his music goes something like this: "quirky power-folk music—sometimes political, sometimes dreamy, sometimes weird." That's fairly apt, but lest you think those three adjectives—political, dreamy, weird—mean this is some sort of sappy hippie music, rest assured that it is not. It's excellent Modern Rock/Indie Pop that throws in the occasional quirk to make sure we're paying attention. The style is reminiscent at times of bands like The Chills, The Connells, The Posies, and The La's—but Dyniss brings his own fresh, unique spin into the mix. The CD opens with the shimmering "All the People," a hauntingly cool song. "Less than Me (v.2.0)," with its soaring, harmonized vocals could easily be a hit in today's modern musical world (if that world had any sense beyond pre-packaged plastic personalities). "Arms Around Me" and "Paper Page" are bouncy bits of pop music that just feel good to listen to. The title track to "The Green Anthem" fits into both the political and dreamy categories, an excellent presentation of how things could be good in the future. (The song is so good, in fact, that it was Canada's official Y2K Green Party song.) On "Dear Dog," Dyniss offers a clever send-up of XTC's "Dear God." In XTC's masterpiece, the failings of religion are the target, but here the song is more about seeing grace, goodness, and godliness in all things—in particular, the dog. "Naturus Interruptus" makes it's point amusically—can you figure out the message? The Green Anthem presents an excellent blend of message and melody, of pique and pop. It's ironic that justice in the world is one of Dyniss' themes, because the fact that this talented musician is not a big star makes it obvious that the Universe prefers irony to justice. You, however, can pass on the cosmic irony, sit back, and enjoy the excellence of The Green Anthem.

To hear clips, see more lyrics, or get purchase information, see the Dyniss web site

Or see more Songs for a Better Planet

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"We have been God-like in our planned breeding of our domesticated plants and animals, but we have been rabbit-like in our unplanned breeding of ourselves."

— Arnold Joseph Toynbee


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