Chart displaying projected exponential growth in world population from 1800 to 2100Humanity faces a turbulent future. Human-caused global warming and climate change are considered by many to be the main issue that needs urgent attention. Others point to the potentially destabilising shifts in world power, as the dominance of the US hegemony is being challenged by the rise of China and India. This shift in global power is currently being reinforced under the Trump presidency by unilateral decisions, e.g. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, along with US withdrawal from international involvement. A current example is US resignation, in mid-June, from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Among the other pressing issues are loss of biodiversity, diminishing supplies of freshwater and overpopulation. A look at the exponential rise in world population shows why we should be very concerned about the continued growth in the number of humans occupying and using up the Earth’s finite resources.

World population is estimated to reach 7.6 billion this year. As the table below shows, it now takes a little more than a decade for the next billion people to be added.

Table displaying projected world population from 1804 to 2042

As the human population grows, most other species are being pressed into smaller and smaller areas, as human use of the Earth’s resources expands. The result is massive numbers of species going extinct, producing destabilized and threatened ecosystems.

The need to curb population growth was widely discussed in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. However, as techno-science applications improved food yields, the illusion that human ingenuity could solve all problems took hold. Indeed the number of people dying of starvation and famine has been falling, yet in sub-Saharan countries it is rapid population growth combined with drought caused by climate change that is creating millions of refugees. Many others are fleeing the war-torn areas, Syria being a key example. Both types of refugees are seeking safe haven in more developed countries like Europe, US and Australia. This is a massive humanitarian problem acerbated by unchecked population and climate change.

In adding to humanity’s problems, the flood of refugees has caused a backlash by some citizens in the developed countries, who are agitating for greater restrictions on the inflow of refugees. Italy’s new government is turning boats away, and Trump wants to turn Mexicans away at the US border.

In much the same way that governments and the international community are paying less attention to overpopulation, it seems to have slipped off the radar for Humanists as well. It is worth remembering that when IHEU was formed in 1952, those at the inaugural congress passed five resolutions, two of which called for action on the world population problem.

One policy urgently needed in Australia is a national population policy that takes into account the carrying capacity of this very dry, highly eroded and ancient land. Those who have spoken out this topic, like Tim Flannery (AHoY 2005) and Dick Smith, believe Australian has already exceeded its carrying capacity.

This issue won’t go away. Either humanity undertakes effective measures to curb population growth or begins preparing to face the destabilising consequences of too many people, struggling to survive on diminishing resources.

Reproduced from Victorian Humanist, Vol. 57, No. 6, July 2018

Photo of Rosslyn Ives

Copyright © 2018 Rosslyn Ives

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10 Responses to Action on overpopulation still urgent

  1. john neve says:

    We don’t have an over population problem
    We have an over consumption problem

  2. Leslie Allan says:

    Thanks, Jordan, for your extensive comments. Let me make these comments.

    With the UN graphs for world population (your Link 2), you say “the upper 95% probability bound being on a growth slowing trajectory (ie curving downwards)”. Yes, but that’s the lower growth bounding curve for 95% probability. The upper bounding curve has the population following almost a straight line UP, with the world’s population still increasing alarmingly in 2010. Couple this with the inescapable fact that we live on a finite planet with finite land and resources, we are far from being in the comfort zone on population growth.

    I agree with you that, globally, we have made huge strides in managing population growth, and education, as you point out, has played a pivotal role in this success. This is a big success so far for globalism and a humanist approach to solving the world’s problems. We still have a long, long way to go. The median curve of all of the predictions in the UN graphs for world population shows population still rising in 2010. That median projection shows that in 2010, the world will have 3.5 billion more people than we do today, and still rising. It’s time, I think, to redouble our efforts.

  3. Rudi Anders says:

    We are still clearing or damaging land where other species live, which makes them more prone to extinction. That must stop if we want bio-diversity. Humans have sent too many lifeforms to extinction already. More people or more rats puts more pressure on the other animals. We could fit more people in an artificial world but that would be unfair to other animals

  4. Scott Clark says:

    This article disappointingly follows the old over population fear of the early greenie era and fails to recognise the rapid advancements being made in sustainability through technology. In many previously famine-ridden and disease-filled countries, water purification, bio-medicines, and population control have turned those countries around. Please read “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker to gain another perspective on the “looming over-population crisis”

    • Leslie Allan says:

      Hi Scott. Thanks for your comment. It turned out that the radicals in the “early greenie era” were right. The very wicked thing about population growth is that growth is exponential, coupled with the fact that our Earth is a finite size. The United Nations, in their latest report, remains very concerned about the rapid population growth in some countries and its negative impact on achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (See, for example, You even concede that we need to reign in population growth when you point to “population control” as a key factor that turned some countries around. I think we are largely on the same page.

      • Jordan says:

        Hi Leslie,

        Like Scott, when I read this article it didn’t quite pass the sniff test. I was glad to see someone had raised the question, and equally glad to see you connect us to some data which you believe supports Rosslyn’s position, as well as your own.

        Still curious, I followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole and wound up on the UN World Population Prospects navigation page (Link 1 below). Here, being the data nerd I am, I was immediately drawn towards the Graphs link (Link 2), where I followed the options of Probabilistic Projections > Population > Total Population, and found the graph for the World. This graph displays a very different story from what is suggested by Rosslyn and yourself. Far from exponential growth, what I see here is a slowing population growth rate, with even the upper 95% probability bound being on a growth slowing trajectory (ie curving downwards).

        Conscious that this could be confirmation bias on my part, I went looking in the Publications section of the website (Link 3). Aside from the Key Findings Report which supports my interpretation of the graphs (Link 4), I found two articles that may be of interest in explaining the global population trajectory.

        1. The end of high fertility is near (Link 5) which explains that fertility rates are dropping, driving the slow down in population growth; and
        2. The impact of population momentum on future population growth (Link 6) which identifies that much of the population growth anticipated during the next 100 years is inscribed already in the current youthful age structure of the global population.

        These articles to me point towards the big ticket item that Scott missed in his well made point – the link between education and slowing population growth, through which reduced global fertility rates are achieved by educating women. That link, supported by other aspects of human progress, are actively helping to turn things around in some of the poorest countries (Link 7 & 8) – now that is Humanism in action.

        I hope that the above information which you referenced helps broaden your perspective on the topic at hand, and bolsters your society’s position on what is a humanistic triumph, rather than the doom and gloom of an issue that won’t go away.

        (Also, Props to Scott for referencing Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now – If you’re interested enough in this topic to have read this far and haven’t read it, this is your next book.)

        Link 1:
        Link 2:
        Link 3:
        Link 4:
        Link 5:
        Link 6:
        Link 7:
        Link 8:

        • Scott Clark says:

          Thanks Jordan. Pinker points out that population growth will/has steadily decline/d as poor countries are lifted out of poverty. While population growth has behaved exponentially as humankind has flourished and expanded, the next phase is a levelling of growth, which has already been experienced in many (most?) developed countries.

  5. Rudi Anders says:

    Unsustainable consumption is the problem and the more people the more difficult it is to keep consumption to sustainable levels. Distribution is also a serious problem.

  6. john neve says:

    We don’t have a population problem

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