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Fourth echelon

Can the Earth feed 11 billion people? Four reasons to fear a Malthusian future

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Humanity is on course for a population greater than 11 billion by the end of this century, according to the latest analysis from the UN’s population division.

In a simple sense, population is the root cause of all sustainability issues. Clearly if there were no humans there would be no human impacts. Assuming you don’t wish to see the complete end of the human race – a desire that is shared by some deep green thinkers and Bond super-villians – then the issue is whether there is an optimal number of humans on the planet.

Discussions on population growth often start with the work of Rev Thomas Robert Malthus whose An Essay on the Principle of Population published at the end of the 18th century is one of the seminal works of demography. Populations change in response to three driving factors: fertility – how many people are born; mortality – how many people die; and migration – how many people leave or enter the population.

Malthus observed that more births than deaths would lead to exponential growth which would always outpace any improvements in farming and increases in yields. Consequently, unchecked growth was doomed to end in famine and population collapse. Malthus was right about exponential growth, but he was famously wrong about his dire predictions for the consequences of such growth.


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I would say the earth could support more than 11 bn . If you take into consideration the amount of waste, the Hording of resources by the elite, and the wasteful pollution brought on by greed. We could feed, house and clothe every man, woman and child on this planet. Even with proper stewardship our water supply could handle it. The earth could handle it unfortunately our greed wouldn't stand for it.

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