Is a Population Correction on the Horizon?

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Is Earth on course for a population correction? How would a population drop affect the economy? What is the world’s carrying capacity?

Population ecologist William Rees thinks the human population has overshot what Earth can support. As a result, the world’s population could course-correct, decreasing by more than a billion by the end of the century.

Continue reading to learn about this ecologist’s prediction.

Renowned Ecologist Says a “Population Correction” Is Looming

The human population has skyrocketed over the past 200 years—we’ve gone from roughly one billion people on Earth in the early 1800s to over eight billion today. However, some experts now warn that humanity has grown too quickly, and sometime this century the population is going to plummet. 

William E. Rees—a prolific population ecologist—recently published a study warning that humanity’s growth and resource consumption are unsustainable and a “population correction” is imminent. The ecological term for this is overshoot.

Furthermore, Rees contends we’re already seeing the impacts of humanity’s overshoot. The most notable of these effects is climate change, which is happening because of human activity. In other words, overshoot includes the waste we produce as a species, as well as the resources we consume—both are currently at higher levels than the Earth can sustain. 

Why Is This Happening?

According to Rees, humanity is near the tipping point of a boom-bust cycle; in other words, our population has been growing too quickly for too long, and soon it’ll start shrinking instead. In brief, Rees’s argument is:

  • The human population grows exponentially. Each generation is larger than the one before it, and the more people there are, the more quickly the population increases.
  • Our technology protects us from natural limits to our population, such as disease, predators, and food shortages.
  • However, we sustain our population growth by overexploiting the world’s resources and generating large amounts of pollution. Therefore, we’ll soon reach a point where the planet can no longer sustain all of us.

In ecological terms, Rees is saying that humanity has exceeded the world’s carrying capacity and so a population crash is inevitable.

How Much Will the Population Drop?

Exactly how big of a population crash do researchers expect? Estimates vary, but all of them are attention-grabbing. For instance, one study estimates that the population will rise to just under 10 billion in the 2060s, and then plummet to 8.79 billion by the end of the century. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean billions of people will starve to death over the next century. Much of the population decrease could simply be the result of people having fewer children as resources become scarce.

Economic Impacts of a Population Crash

No matter how it happens, losing more than a billion people over the course of a few decades could severely disrupt the global economy. Perhaps the most obvious effect will be a labor shortage. Fewer people in the world would also mean fewer people paying taxes, possibly leading to increased government debts. 

Furthermore—assuming the population crash is the result of lower birth rates—there will be a shrinking workforce trying to support a growing body of retirees. That could mean increased taxes to support government programs for seniors, as well as delayed retirement for people who don’t have anyone to take care of them. 

Counterpoint: Innovation Can Overcome Population Limits

The threat of a population crash is based on the idea that humanity will reach a point where there are too many people to support. However, some scientists believe that human ingenuity will continue to overcome barriers to population growth.

For example, biologist David Sinclair points out that estimates about the maximum population are generally based on the technology that exists when those predictions are made. By the time the population reaches the predicted number, the actual maximum could be much higher

In fact, Sinclair questions the idea that there even is a maximum human population. He argues that there’s no telling what new advancements we’ll see in science and technology, or how many people those advancements will allow us to support.

Is a Population Correction on the Horizon?

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

One thought on “Is a Population Correction on the Horizon?

  • November 18, 2023 at 3:47 pm

    Science, ingenuity and technology will continue to overwhelm any limitations that any population explosion could or would have imposed. Thomas Malthus and others have unambiguously ALWAS BEEN WRONG no matter how many times they get resaurected.


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