Two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus worried about overpopulation, when the world had a billion people. A hundred years ago, that had doubled to two billion people. Now we have seven billion. Is the world overpopulated? That question was posed to a variety of scientists, economists, and ethnographers. Each one had to clarify the meaning of the question, and explained how societies and technology have managed to expand our available resources to accommodate more people than Malthius could imagine. Raywat Deonandan, a Health Sciences professor at the University of Ottawa, says, in part.
When we talk about “overpopulation” we’re really talking mostly about food, since that’s the rate-limiting step. Insufficient food would be a crisis clearly noticeable well before ecological collapse manifests, I would think. When fears of global overpopulation were at a fevered pitch back in the 1970s, the prediction was that we would be beset by constant famines by now. Instead, even in the poorest areas of the planet, the food supply typically exceeds the recommended 2000 calories per day. This is mostly due to improvements in food production practices and technology. In fact, the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption goes wasted each year. This is approximately 1/3 of all food produced. Most of the loss is caused by improper storage and transportation. This means that we actually have a huge calorie buffer for greater population growth, assuming that food management can be made more efficient.