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The Overpopulation Myth PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2009 10:30

As many have come to expect, I typically deal with financials and numbers.  I am not an economist or CPA or even MBA by trade; I am an engineer, so I actually understand numbers, rather than merely pushing them around.  And most of the last editorials have been about finances, but I felt it was time to take a short respite and address a different topic for today.


Recently, as I prepared for another jaunt to my second home in Shanghai, China, a friend of mine asked about the population of that nation.  I answered it was somewhere beyond 1.3 billion people at the time, and that China, India, and Southeast Asia together combine for just over 3 billion people.



This was apocalyptic and frightening, my friend replied, for clearly there is no way the Earth can support 3 billion people, let alone the nearly 7 billion living and breathing on the face of planet today.  So I sat down and - as a good engineer is led to do by some inate, twisted drive buried deep within, whipping our minds unmercilessly - plunged into the straightforward facts of the situation.



According to the US Census Department, the World population is shy of 6.8 billion; for purposes of this editorial and to keep things relevant for the next few years, I will round up to 7 billion.  And in the interest (or tortured masochism) of fellow mathematical-leaning folks, I will include the relevant calculations as entered on my trusty Hewlett Packard HP-28S calculator (a true beauty of a computing device) I will show the appropriate RPN keystrokes as well.



The population of the world we will define as 7 billion.  What is the density of a large US city, say New York City as a whole?  Well, New York City is 790 square kilometers, and has a population around 8.3 million people, giving us a density of (8.3<EEX>6<ENTER> 790 ÷) about 10,500 people per square kilometer.  Now granted, NYC is not the wide-open spaces, but it is a density that millions live with in a space-loving nation like the US, so it shouldn't be considered too packed.


So how much land would we need to house all 7 billion of us if we lived in such density?  Well, we would need (7<EEX>9<ENTER> 8.3<EEX>6<ENTER> 790 ÷ ÷) 666,265 square kilometers.  A big area, no?  Well, let's look further...


Upon examining the US, we find out that Texas fits the bill nicely.  In fact, Texas has 261,797.12 square miles of land, and that is (261792.12<ENTER> 1.602<ENTER> 1.602 × ×) 671,877.17 square kilometers!  Which is, in fact, more than the area we need to house all 7 billion of us at typical New York City densities.  Meaning every man, woman, and child living and breathing on the face of the Earth could fit in relative comfort within the land territory of the State of Texas.


The other 49 states: empty.  Canada?  A wasteland as empty as the northern extremes of Nunavut.  Europe?  Empty.  Asia?  Nobody home.  Africa, Australia, South and Central America, all the islands?  None left.  The entire world outside of Texas contains not a single living, breathing person.


But how realistic is that?  Surely water would be a problem wouldn't it?  Well, let's find out...  It is recommended that 50 liters per person, per day, be used as an adequate amount for consumption, sanitation, and cooking.  That works out to (7<EEX>9<ENTER> 50 × 1<EEX>9 ÷) 350 billion liters of fresh water, per day, to keep all of us properly hydrated.  That's a lot of water!  Given  there are 1000 liters per cubic meter, we need 350 million cubic meters of fresh water, every day.  Yes, a large volume!  But is it really?


Take the Columbia River, the 4th largest in the US, and the main division between the States of Washington and Oregon.  The average outflow of water is 7,500 cubic meters per second.  How long would it take the Columbia to give us our 350 million cubic meters of fresh water?  Well, it would take (350<EEX>6<ENTER> 7500 ÷) 46,667 seconds.  Or (46667<ENTER> 60 ÷) 777.8 minutes.  Or (777.8<ENTER> 60 ÷) just under 13 hours.


With just over half the daily average outflow of the Columbia River, we could meet the freshwater needs of the entire world's population.  Now, that is a big pipeline to Texas, but if we could get everyone there in the first place, the pipeline is child's play!


To recap: so far, we can put every living person on the planet within the land territory of Texas, with density about equal to New York City (not just Manhattan; all 5 boroughs).  And we can give them all adequate water with just over half the water from the Columbia River.


But what about food?  Clearly that is of concern!  Well, apparently 300 square meters will feed one person for one year.  Since a kilometer is 1000 meters, we could feed (1000<ENTER> 1000 × 300 ÷) 3333 people per square kilometer.  We'll call it 3000 people per square kilometer to make things even.  And that means (7<EEX>9 <ENTER> 3000 ÷) 2,333,333 square kilometers to feed everyone.


The total farmland in the US is about 922,000,000 acres.  There are 247.1 acres per square kilometer, so that is (922<EEX>6<ENTER> 247.1 ÷) 3,731,282 square kilometers.  Hey, that's more than 2,333,333!  In other words, the farmland in the US could feed everyone!


So what have we ended up with?  Well, every person in the world could live inside of Texas without overcrowding.  We could all have water with just the Columbia River alone.  And we could easily feed ourselves with just the farmland within the US as it exists.


Canada.  Mexico.  Alaska.  Central America.  South America.  Europe.  Asia.  Africa.  Australia.  Greenland.  All the islands.  All the oceans.  The Great Lakes.  All empty, devoid of people.  No need to farm or live there.


Now that we have the numbers, are we really overpopulated?  I would argue a resounding "NO" and I think any who say otherwise are simply not adding it up.


Last Updated on Sunday, 17 October 2010 23:21