Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented By Global Population Growth

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Adam Taggart via Adam Taggart via Peak Prosperity,

As we embark on a new year, it's important to keep the really big elements of our global predicament squarely in mind. To that end, we're surfacing this excellent discussion on population growth that Chris recorded in 2012 with Bill Ryerson of the Population Institute

At the heart of the resource depletion story that we track here at is the number of people on earth competing for those resources.

The global population is more than 7 billion now and headed to 9 billion by 2050. If world population continues its exponential growth, when we will hit planetary carrying capacity limits with our key resources (or are we already exceeding them)? What are the just, humane, and rights-respecting options that are on the table for balancing the world’s population with the ability of the earth to sustain it?

Population management is an inflammatory issue. It's nearly impossible to discuss without triggering heated emotions, and rare is the leader who's willing to raise it. And by going unaddressed globally, the risk of problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality...the list goes on.

Which is why we feel we need to have the courage to address this very important topic directly. And to have an adult-sized conversation about these risks and what can done about them.

In this podcast, Chris talks with Bill Ryerson, founder and president of the Population Media Center as well as the president of the Population Institute. They explore the current forecasts for world population growth, the expected future demand on world resources, and the range of options available for bringing them into balance sustainably.

We are adding about 225,000 people to the dinner table every night who were not there last night. So that is net growth of the world’s population on an annual basis of a new Egypt every year. In other words, 83 million additional people net growth annually. And that, from a climate change perspective alone, is a huge increment. Most of this growth is occurring in poor countries, so on a per-capita level, the people being added to the population have much lower impact than, say, if Europe were growing at that rate. But nevertheless, just from a climate perspective, with most of that 83 million additional people in low per capita greenhouse-gas output countries – this is between now and 2050 – at this rate of growth, it is the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.


Clearly resources like oil, coal, and gas are non-renewable and will eventually run out or become more and more expensive and therefore not reliable as a source of energy. But what is the renewable long-term sustainability or the carrying capacity of the environment in each geographic territory, and globally? What is the current and projected future human demand for those resources, and do we have sufficient natural resources to meet our needs?


Doing this kind of accounting is not difficult. There are very good robust scientific designs for measuring resource capacity and human demand, and projecting out what do we need to do in some time in the next few decades in order to get from what is clearly population overshoot to achieving something that is in balance. Because as long as we are in overshoot – and the global footprint network’s calculation is we are now at 50% overshoot –  that means we are digging into the savings account of our ecological systems, as you mentioned: the fisheries being one, forests being another. We are eating into the capital to sustain the growing population.

They also explore why population management is such a uniquely controversial topic. Not only are moral, civil, and religious beliefs in play, but the debate is also heavily influenced by large corporate and governmental organizations protecting their interests. So it's no wonder that a calm, respectful, and reasonable conversation on population remains so elusive.

But we're going to try to have one here.

Needless to say, our moderators are on high alert and will step in if they are needed. Thanks in advance for your conscientious, levelheaded, and respectful comments. We have the chance to do substantial thinking on some really meaty questions here. Let's make good use of it. 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Bill Ryerson (46m:26s):


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quasimodo's picture

One can't help but think with the obesity problem we face in the US that we will soon see numbers drop off.

otherswise, ,more twinkies and sugary sweets for aunt Jemima

#walmart "snack aisle"

Headbanger's picture

I think it's going to be a much worse reduction of population from a pandemic of drug resistant pathogens along with a rapid cooling of Earth cause the solar activity is dropping fast now.

Society and all technology will collapse leaving millions of ravaging barbaric suburbanites who slaughter each other by the millions before billions starve and freeze to death  from the cold climate.

Several very large asteroids then pummel the Earth causing massive tsunamis, fire storms and clouds of dust and smoke blocking what's left of sun light.

The Earth becomes a frozen ice ball lasting millions of years.


G.O.O.D's picture

Yellowstone is getting flat assed scary. That mudderfvker is getting ready to blow and all the other volcanoes going off.. KerrrrrBlammmm bitchez!

Headbanger's picture

I just wrote that very scenario into my above comment but was denied posting it.

That along with the New Madrid Fault letting go and causing a massive 11 Richter scale earthquake that drops millions of square miles  of land to drop below sea level causing  the ocean to flood all the way up to the Great Lakes before freezing solid.

Did I leave anything out?

RaceToTheBottom's picture


"but was denied posting it."

How were you denied?

0b1knob's picture

Seems the biggest problem facing Japan and the Euro countries is DECLINING population.    At least declining working age population.   And the same coming soon for the USSA and China.   Russia is also facing a  demographic apocalypse.

Otherwise this is just another rant from a wealthy westerner complaining that there are somehow too many poor people eating food when the land should all be used to grow ethanol for his hybrid car.

I find the whole "too many people" argument distasteful. If Bill Reyerson were sincere he would kill himself.

Sincere by the way is  derived from an Italian word meaning "without wax".    Damaged statues were once touched up with a mixture of wax and ground stone to hide damage.   Good statues were advertised as being "sincere" or without wax.

There are very few sincere people.   There is an endless supply of people who are full of shit however.

El Viejo's picture

After Israel became a nation the UN sent a team of 'experts' there to estimate how many people the area could support agriculturally.  It is old data but at one time they supported 5 times the UN estimate.  They export Tulips to Holland.  They are called the fruit basket for Europe.  I've heard this too many people argument my whole life and I am an old dude.

merizobeach's picture

The world allegedly produces enough food to feed 12 billion people, but like with capital distribution across the population, the distribution of food is inequitable and poorly designed resulting in tremendous waste and starvation.  (I am not espousing a statist 'solution' to what is obviously a problem but rather just making a point about global food production capacity.)

That said, even if waste and starvation could be alleviated, and/or production further increased, who wants to live in a world with 12 billion people?  Anyone who thinks the world isn't already over-populated hasn't traveled much, especially Asia.  It's true that here in Taiwan people have among the highest standards of living in the world, by several metrics--and this despite the world's 2nd highest urban population density, but people here are packed on top of each other, and 'quality exposure to nature' is not one of the metrics by which this society can be said to enjoy the highest standards; and according to my observations, it horribly retards aspects of their intelligence, individually and collectively.

Population growth has enabled amazing things like labor forces and tax bases large enough to construct space programs and enough geniuses to design them.  I have no doubt that the acceleration of technological development has been related to increased population--whether those people were the inventors or the tools.  I don't know what the ideal number of people might be, but I do believe that the great urban and suburban sprawls are divorcing people from nature and resulting in lower quality people; it's irrelevant to discuss how many or few would be ideal if those who would comprise society are cancer cells in it.

vie's picture

Too many people argument is how they get everyone to accept killing off large swaths of the population.  TPTB seem to think this is necessary to keep humanity from devolving as all our technological advancement enables a sort general de-evolution of human-kind back into beasts.  Not that I agree.  But as long as people percieve everyone else to be a threat to their own survival though they're willing to look the other way, and it seems TPTB get away with it.  The irony is that as long as they get away with it, you could say it proves them right since for them to get away with it requires the majority of people to be too focused on themselves and driven by fear rather than logic.

Some of the most left leaning empathetic people I know seem to be onboard with the idea that humans are destroying the planet. Ofcourse it has nothing to do with governments or debt based currencies that inevitably lead to the whole world living beyond our means.  They wouldn't say it outloud, but you can tell if there were much fewer people on the planet tomorrow that would be just fine by them.

BorisTheBlade's picture

The ideas of Thomas Malthus are older than any living human being, Neo-Malthusian catastrophe is essentially the same idea of demographics outpacing carrying capacity of Earth only with oil and energy in general this time around. Not to say there are no ecological problems caused by rapid economic growth, but they are not a function of population growth per se, but rather insanely wasteful allocation of resources. In that regard, 3rd World countries are not the ones contributing most of it, because their lifestyle restricted to only a fraction of standard in the developed world, both monetarily and resource-wise.

bilejones's picture

Not to mention the hemmoroids

Bangin7GramRocks's picture

If the Tyler's denied every wacko spouting bullshit, the comments section would be really sparse.

G.O.O.D's picture

Chemtrails and the HAARP is going to fry us with the return of the Nephliem who is going to feed us to their reptilian gods that are riding on the backside of Nibiru.

chunga's picture can't edit a comment after somebody replies to it.

masterinchancery's picture

And the worst part is that the intelligent and creative are being replaced demographically by the unintelligent and unskilled.

jefferson32's picture

This "overpopulation" story is statist/eugenist propaganda. The scarcity meme is a hoax. And the most effective factor to limit natality is free industrial development, not .gov depopulation.

Nexus789's picture

One simple question. Is the Earth a closed and finite system? If your answer is yes then you might wnat reconsider some aspects of you comments.

vie's picture

Lets assume it's a closed system and we can't possibly go populate and trade with people on Mars or the Moon for some odd reason.  To his point, the market will self-regulate the number of people on earth.  As efficiency increases more people will survive, and for longer, as resources become scarce we will either be foreced to increase efficiency or come up with alternatives as we have done through-out history.

Finite resources is managable, in fact, I believe that's what markets are best at.  More than having finite resources, the problem is having a debt based monetary system, and not having truely free market competition, one that doesn't let companies run to the government to regulate out the competition and create artificial dependencies in order to maintain control (ie. oil).  So, yes over-population is a made-up problem. 

X_mloclaM's picture

"problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality"





G.O.O.D's picture

The ugly truth is we are way overshot. Billions are going to starve as cheap oil runs out. Not to mention the Pacific is dying which in of itself is going to starve more billions. I think we might peak @ 8 billion and then the wheels fall off.

Skateboarder's picture

In my opinion, seven billion can easily be sustained, with an acre for every family. The problem isn't that there are too many people; the problem is that there are too many mooches.

Kill the mooches - fix homo sapiens.

Messiah - Final Warning, 1984 (Christian Metal done right without biblical references).

"People we've gotta change, but who's to blame?"

ForTheWorld's picture

I'm not sure I agree with your assertion that an acre for every family would be fine. Sure - there's plenty of land available, but unless these families stop having children, there's going to be an ever increasing need for more arable acres. That means a number of things - mainly, removal of forests and grassland to allot these acres, which leads to soil erosion, which then means a loss of nutrient and water storage capacity etc.

An acre for every person only considers the food consumption aspect of the problem, and doesn't cover the transportation portion, or even the most crucial part - water and its storage. If everyone was knowlegeable enough to use methods of farming that weren't water intensive and didn't require any pesticides, an acre for each family MIGHT work.

Moving forward from there though, can you imagine enacting that? It WOULD require MASSIVE population redistribution - can you imagine trying to provide an acre for each (successive) family in China or India? Millions of Africans would have to relocate as well because of the large swathes of desert throughout the continent. Siberia would be colonized, and people there would have to use animal husbandry to make sure there's enough wildlife reproducing each year to support their killing for food (because unless there's a major change in weather patterns, they'd be eating like the Inuits in Northern Canada/Alaska).

bilejones's picture

Don't worry. eventually they'll get the avian flue thingy right. End of problem.

G.O.O.D's picture

Where we going to get the water for all the crops that have to be raised on that acre?  What is going to happen when the locust eats half of those acres. Remember the dustbowl? That was supposed to be able to support the people also. You are too simplistic with your "acre for everyone" theory.

Bangin7GramRocks's picture

The water is under New Jersey. Monster pipeline to all points of the world. More lucrative than the internet! 

Matt's picture

Over 3000 feet under the surface of the ocean, but more than 1000 feet above the ocean floor, there is supposedly unlimited fresh water due to hydraulic pressure and being at 4 celsius. If you remove water from that layer, the pressure from above will just result in it getting replaced.

Andre's picture

I would say we really don't know how many people are alive today. When you check out the gov census site and look at the references, a lot of those are from the 1950's and 1960's. When you consider Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" came out in 1973 and was based on computer modeling from that era, I really have to wonder.

HAVE they updated the actuarial tables? Has the population decline in many areas of the world been factored in?

Another question, are we over-populated or over-developed? It costs less to cover farmland with concrete than it takes to tear down old factories and warehouses in inner city or former industrial areas and re-develop.

What about the fact we are using land for GMO corn for biofuel instead of corn for feed or food? Or the pollution of the water table by fracking?

This whole thing seems like a way to blame people instead of governments or corporations.

Sudden Debt's picture

I don't think so. People are tough creatures.

Did you know that in the developped world, even poor people are getting fat?

I don't think that's because of a lack of food.

Shortages means money to be made for a sollution. And when people get hit in the face they come up with sollutions.

But why come up with a sollution right now when there's no need? There's no reason to do so.

In Azia, they eat bugs.

We'll keep growing like the US deficit. The only thing that will lower the numbers will be wars. And damn... the more we are the bigger the war. It will be epic! :)

G.O.O.D's picture

Bugs my ass, they live on fish and the fish are soon going to be a thing of history books and the fvkin  ants are not going to feed 4 billion asians.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Poor people get fat from all carb diets. Carbs are cheap, but do not offer satiety in the bargain.

Matt's picture

Yes, widespread obesity is more a sign of malnutrition, stress, endocrine disruptors, lack of excercise than a sign of prosperity. 

Ranger_Will's picture

This problem of course will be resolved by the age old solution when populations collide and compete over resources:


G.O.O.D's picture

War, this day and age is NOT the answer. Might have worked b/4 weapons of dead earth. Not any longer.

Ranger_Will's picture

There is a large difference between the answer and the result of a problem.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

"And by going unaddressed globally, the risk of problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality...the list goes on."

I'm calling bullshit on this. None of these problems are "caused" by overpopulation. We had plenty of all these things back when the population was 1/100th of what it is today.

Our planet is huge and could support a gigantic number of people if we could only start behaving ourselves properly. It's not rocket science and the answers on how to do so have been around for literally thousands of years.

G.O.O.D's picture

Behaving ourselves, now thats a hoot. Maybe we should have told the Military that b/4 they used depleted uranium?

spanish inquisition's picture

I wish all these people bitching about overpopulation would lead by example and off themselves. Of course, they don't mean themselves, they mean darker skinned people breeding while sitting on a pile of resources that lighter skinned concerned world citizens could get rich exploiting.

G.O.O.D's picture

and b/c  the darkies are so backward they can only do tribal hacking and fvking chicken dances while most of the sorry bastards starve.

giggler321's picture

Got any masonic mates in the west?  I'm sure they're doing similar things.

G.O.O.D's picture

All the masons in these parts farm millions of acres.

Ranger_Will's picture

"I wish all these people bitching about overpopulation would lead by example and off themselves."

What I wish is that they'd offer a solution or two. 

Me personally, I'd have to say that using what rare resources we have left to explore space is our only hope. And not through bureaucratic government bullshit like NASA but actual for-profit entreprenuers. I'm firm believer that when populations get too large or even precieve themselves as too large a "release valve" is nessary to offer an alternative to those that no longer wish to find themselves surrounded.

ForTheWorld's picture

Space isn't the answer. It WAS the answer in 1969 (the peak of human intelligence and ingenuity - not just because of the (alleged) Lunar missions). If NASA had capitalised on the gains it had made and pushed forward towards even long-term missions to the Moon, we might have had a chance then of coming up with, and enacting, solutions to live somewhere else. Alas, we dropped the ball on that one.

That all pales in comparison with the major problem of living in space - access to water. There's only so many times you can recycle water through a filter before the filter needs to be replaced (and the water becomes undrinkable), and you'll need a constant supply of filters (either made where you are, or transported to you) or water (start trying to land a large ball of ice with a heavy line and large hook).

Ranger_Will's picture

"That all pales in comparison with the major problem of living in space - access to water."

Right...because there is no water in space...

You know like on say, Europa:

or Mars:

or the freaking Moon:

or on extrasolar planets:

Yep, definitely no water out there.  Just like the early explorers couldn't find fresh water after sailing across the oceans.

ForTheWorld's picture

You must have missed the end of the second paragraph where I joked about catching a large ball of ice with a line and a big hook - insinuating that there IS water available in space. At no point did I say there was no water in space, so it's probably better you stick to what I actually wrote.

So, there's water on Europa - how much time and fuel are you going to have to spend building equipment, going there, extracting the water (considering it can reach as low as -200 degrees Centigrade, it's going to be hard to get any people or equipment to function properly), and bringing it back to somewhere that's at least in a near Earth orbit? Nevermind that we can't successfully drill much past 15km on Earth, and your Wiki link suggests the liquid water may be between 10km and 30km beneath the ice. If we simply try for cutting out the ice below the surface, it would only be beneficial to bring back multiple tons of ice. Those tons of ice though require LOTS of storage space and fuel to move it, depending on the gravity of Europa.

Or, even more energy intensive: living on a moon like Europa. Humans have trouble functioning for short periods of time at -50 degrees Centigrade - how are they going to survive constantly in much lower temperatures while building even basic shelter?

It's great that there's the possibility of water in other places, but the only one even remotely practical with our current technological capabilities is the Moon. Lets try and get there first, establish some sort of presence, use that water, and then we can consider moving on to other places.

merizobeach's picture

"What I wish is that they'd offer a solution or two."

I have one, but not many people seem to like discussing it: euthanasia clinics.  Let the religious zealots shout themselves hoarse in protest; they're irrelevant.  Society should de-stigmatize death and euthanasia.  It is the selfishness of the survivors (and the greed of the sick-care industry) that necessitates the maximum lifespan for all, even the unwilling.

Instead, have clinics in every town, open to all--any of the miserables, regardless of age, health, or economic status; no appointments necessary, walk-ins welcome; optional counseling; in-clinic attorney for handling last-minute legal wills; post-mortem services available..  As you approach the door of the clinic, it is opened from inside by a beautiful and serene nurse who smiles as she gestures and greets you saying, "Come in, you're welcome here.  We'll take care of you."  She leads you through a beautiful atrium in the lobby, past a fountain, and you hear soft classical music playing as you are taken to sit in a comfortable reclining chair.  As you sign the few documents she hands you, another nurse gently administers an IV to your arm, and you begin a peaceful, dignified voyage back to the eternal nothingness from whence you came.

Billboards can be put in highly visible places with supportive messages, perhaps for example:

"Euthanasia: The Noble Choice"

"Actuality, Boldness, Courage, Dignity: Euthanasia"

Furthermore, if government is to be involved, then school teachers can ask children as they grow up to be mindful of not procreating poor genetics into the future: if they feel that their own genetics may be inferior, they could consider tax-credit-incentivized sterilization.  For pensioners or other dependents opting not to burden family or society further, single end-of-life pay-outs to next of kin may be offered.  The CBO might finally be able to confront the issue of unfunded liabilities: "Within three to five years of implementation, we forecast a 3-5% reduction in total population, with similar decreases occuring annually thereafter..."  Put the clinics in shopping malls, office towers, apartment complexes, factory compounds, next to elementary schools with a big blue, happy Doraemon on the door, next to high schools with a poster of Derek Jeter doing an Uncle Sam "I want you!" pose, and next to universities where they can have photos of Freud, Hemingway, and Hunter Thompson.

Oldwood's picture

Exactly what population groups/countries/continents are growing in population? No one I personally know is even replacing themselves much less growing the population. Europe and Japan have been declining in population for years. So yes, I guess it is the dark skinned people who are breeding like rabbits, eh? As it apparently is not our responsibility to be the world's policemen, is it not a fair assumption that we are not their grocery store either? It seems a bit of madness that we are hell bent on doing everything we can to bring these forth-world backwater countries into the 21st century while at the same time bemoaning the fact that they will be burning oil and eating more western type diets. We are also struggling to get our mortality rates to the lowest in the world while complaining that all us old farts are going to bankrupt America. Am I the only one seeing some serious conflicts going on here?