How many people can our planet support?
I recently wrote an article on how Africa can become self-sufficient in the near future. But while I was writing, I began to question whether the continent of Africa, as well as the whole planet has enough resources to support our growing global population.
Africa is set to reach a population of 2 billion people by 2050. By that time, the world population is estimated to be just below 10 billion people.
Yes, 10 billion.
Our current population is approximated at 7.4 billion people and we are already stressing our planet’s resources.
So what does the future for our planet hold for us? Can we support 10 billion people by the midway point of the century? Can we support 20 billion people someday? How will living conditions have to change when populations reach these numbers? Keep reading to find out.
Food / Agriculture
Crop production is expected to increase over the next 40 years as poorer countries with lots of land will find better ways to produce food. Africa will soon receive better technology that helps farmers grow crops. But will this increase in crop production be enough to feed the growing demand for food?
Well, food production has to increase by at least 70% by 2050 to meet a global population of just under 10 billion people. With Africa’s agriculture sector soon to experience a boom, and new technologies being released constantly that improve the efficiency of crop production, we could reach this number.
Judging by the figure shown above, Africa will see the largest spike in population growth on the planet from now until 2050. This means we must all contribute to African agriculture initiatives if we are to support a global, and growing African population.
The question here is: Do we have enough space on earth to support a 70% increase in agriculture?
I believe so. According to experts, the world already produces more than 1 and a half times the food needed to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to already be feeding 10 billion people.
Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. But the people making less than $2 a day — most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating enviably small plots of land — can’t afford to buy this food.
Thus, in terms of food and agriculture production, we have the resources to feed 10 billion people, but the challenge lies in letting more people access this food, and ensuring less food goes to waste. These are things that we need to strive to accomplish as a society if we are going to feed a growing population.
We are already stressing the world’s water resources as it is, with 7.3 billion people. So it leads me to think how things will change with 10 billion+ people living on the planet.
The great lakes in Canada (the world’s largest resource for fresh water) has recently been opened to the United States for draining. If we aren’t careful, we could easily deplete this precious water resource.
Not to mention, global warming is drying up the soil across the planet, which means farmers will require more water to make their crops grow. As global temperatures increase, people will need more water just to live, and with 10 billion people, it makes me wonder whether we can support this amount of people in terms of water supplies.
However, experts say that we can in fact, support 10 billion people on Earth.
As we grow over the next several decades, we will come up with new technologies that will help us make the most of our resources. We will be able to grow food more efficiently, cut back on water usage, cut back on CO2 emissions with clean energy resources which will in turn, reverse the effects of global warming (slowly, of course).
Our population of 7.3 billion has already put a massive strain on the health of our planet, and if we don’t cut back on our carbon footprint, the environmental damages caused to the planet alone, will be hard to live with sufficiently.
So we know that our planet can hold 10 billion people relatively comfortably, but what is the maximum number of people our planet can handle?
Well, considering that if everyone lived the way Europeans or westerners lives, the Earth could only support around 2 billion of us, 10 billion people seems pretty optimistic, but it can be done.
Unfortunately, with a population of 10 billion people, it is impossible for everybody to enjoy a similar standard of life. There simply aren’t enough resources to support that kind of living style for 7 billion people, let alone 10 billion.
Our population will soon grow to 10 billion people, and there will still be people trying to ‘end’ poverty. But I hope these people will soon realize that there will always be poverty, as bad as it sounds, because there aren’t enough resources on our planet to effectively end malnutrition.
Even if Africa becomes self-sufficient, and we cut back on carbon emissions and water use, we are using our water resources 3.5x faster than they can be replenished. Someday, it HAS to run out. We are drying up the world’s soil and cutting down rainforests. We are polluting oceans and destroying habitats, the ice sheets in antarctica are melting which will rise sea levels, along with all of this, the world is getting warmer, which doesn’t help us sustain water resources and food resources.
No amount of global initiatives to cut back on global warming (CO2 emissions) and water use will reverse the harmful effects we have caused our planet. Because of our harmful living habits, our resources won’t last as long as they could, and we need to find answers on how to deal with this.
Although there is no definitive answer as to how many people the Earth can support, I’m going to go ahead and say we won’t be able to go past 15 billion people. There simply isn’t enough resources to feed any population above that number. Hell, experts argue that that number is around 11 billion people, but I’m going to try and be a bit more optimistic on this.
Either way, we need to reduce our harmful living habits if we are to someday support 10 billion people.
Maybe colonizing Mars doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now, eh?
Founder at The Global Millennial
David is a 19-year-old Canadian student currently attending the University of Guelph. He currently studies Public Management and economics with hopes of one day becoming an accomplished journalist. David enjoys reporting on global events and actively try to make a difference in the world.
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