The Global Population Situation - An Overview

While the facts of overpopulation are very challenging, remember: we can choose our future. Forecasts might lead you to believe that a population of 9,10, or even 11 billion is inevitable. But a dramatic and voluntary reduction in births starting now can begin to create a more positive and sustainable future for our planet. See our "Take Action" section to learn what you can do!

  • World Population in 2021 will reach over 7.8 billion.
  • It has more than doubled in the past 50 years! Earth's population is increasing by over 150 people every minute. That's equivalent to adding the combined populations of California and Canada every year. Over the past few hundred years humanity's growth in sheer numbers has been truly explosive!

  • Right now, with over 7 billion of us:
    1. We are ravaging wildlife populations. The population sizes of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, 68% less than 50 years ago.1
    2. We are rapidly losing farmland. An area of cultivated land the size of Iowa and Wisconsin combined (75 million acres) is lost every year due to soil erosion and urban sprawl.2
    3. We are rapidly destroying forests. On average, between 2015 and 2020 the rate of deforestation averaged 25 million acres per year (about the size of Kentucky).3
    4. We are consuming non-renewable resources - fossil fuels, minerals, and metals - at an enormous rate. Over time, these resources are decreasing in quality, increasing in cost, and their extraction is causing greater pollution of land, water and air.4 
    5. We are depleting global groundwater over 3 times faster than rainfall can recharge aquifers. Over 3 billion people live in agricultural areas with high to very high water shortages or scarcity, of whom 1.2 billion people – roughly one-sixth of the world’s population – live in severely water-constrained agricultural areas.6
    6. We are eroding soil 10-40 times faster than soil can naturally form.7
    7. We are over-fishing, acidifying, and polluting our oceans.8
    8. We are rapidly disrupting the relatively stable climate that human civilization and all other species have experienced for thousands of years through our greenhouse gas emissions.9 
    9. We are creating massive amounts of waste and pollution. Each of us contributes to: 1) proliferation of ocean "dead zones" and dying coral reefs; 2) rivers, lakes, and underground aquifers filling with industrial and agricultural pollution; 3) soil contamination; and 4) destruction and fouling of other species' habitats. 
    10. We are increasing a wide range of social problems: resource conflicts and wars; refugee migration; overcrowding and traffic congestion; dilution of representative democracy; increasing bureaucratic complexity and loss of personal freedoms; higher food, energy, and housing costs; and rising youth unemployment...that continue to worsen as our numbers increase by more than 80 million people every year. 
  • Around a quarter of the world’s population live on less than $3.20/day, while almost half live on less than $5.50/day.10
  • Based on data from the Global Footprint Network, the Earth can generate renewable resources and absorb humanity's wastes for only about 2 to 3 billion people at an average European's level of consumption. It is important to understand that this analysis omits two tremendously important factors.  It does not factor in the alarming depletion of all the non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, metals, and minerals that make industrial civilization possible. Second, the footprint calculation does not set aside significant habitat for other species.
  • If all countries followed the lead of countries with the lowest fertility rates - including Taiwan, Spain, Portugal, South Korea, and Poland - we could reach a global population of less than 4 billion by 2100!11

Footnotes

  1. World Wildlife Fund. Living Planet Report 2020. Accessed September, 2020. livingplanet.panda.org/en-us/.
  2. UN Report to General Assembly, October 21, 2010.  Accessed September 2015. un.org/press/en/2010/gashc3985.doc.htm.
  3. UN FAO. The State of the World's Forests 2020. Accessed January 2021. fao.org/state-of-forests/en/.
  4. UN Environment. Global Resources Outlook 2019. Accessed January 2021. issuu.com/zoienvironment/docs/gro-layout-en-web.
  5. Tom Gleeson, Yoshihide Wada, Marc F.P. Bierkins, Ludovicus P.H. van Beek.  "Water Balance of Global Aquifers Revealed by Groundwater Footprint". Nature 488, (2012): 197-200. Accessed October 2015. nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7410/full/nature11295.html.
  6. ​UN FAO. The State of Food and Agriculture 2020. Accessed January, 2021. doi.org/10.4060/cb1447en.
  7. David Pimentel and Michael Burgess. "Soil Erosion Threatens Food Production".  Agriculture 2013, 3(3): 443-463. Accessed April, 2018.  mdpi.com/2077-0472/3/3/443/htm.
  8. UN FAO. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020.  Accessed January, 2021. doi.org/10.4060/ca9229en.
  9. "The Effects of Climate Change". NASA. Accessed January, 2021. climate.nasa.gov/effects/.
  10. "September 2020 global poverty update from the World Bank". World Bank. Accessed January, 2021. blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/september-2020-global-poverty-update-world-bank-new-annual-poverty-estimates-using-revised.
  11. "Total Fertility Rates and Avoiding Catastrophe". Eric Rimmer and Andrew Ferguson. Accessed February, 2017. populationmedia.org/2011/12/26/three-short-pieces-on-fertility/.