Assignment, Should You Decide to Accept It

OK, here’s my challenge to everyone out there.

Name a major world problem that would be here even if there were only 6 million people in the world rather than 6 billion.

My claim is this, all of the real problems we have to deal with are caused by there being too damn many homo sapiens on the planet. Please note that inter-tribal skirmishes and warfare cannot be considered a global problem regardless of whether they are among chimps or humans.

Prove me wrong.

14 Responses to Assignment, Should You Decide to Accept It

  1. bobbo says:

    I’ll say – – all the problems would still be with us. Most problems pretty much originate within ourselves and a small group of intimates. Those problems remain as you size up or size down the population – – -although 6 million is kinda small? You can take this for its truthiness, or with only a little bit of torture make it work for most “problems” that are labeled as such.

    Making reasonable assumptions, I think some problems exist in low populaition scenarios that don’t exist in large popultion scenarios and vice versa? Also–unstated assumption of the 6 Million from 8 Billion number? Many problems/issues simply by how the 6 Million is arrived at?

  2. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Hi bobbo,

    As for where I picked 6 million, mostly, the source for that is PIOOMA (pulled it out of my ass). I don’t think I made any pretense about that. I do think it’s probably a sustainable number, if we could hold it at that. See my other post on what I think of as a lower limit for non-sustainability, which was the only way I could puzzle out the logic for how many could be sustained.

    Kind of odd being this self-referential, I know. But, I haven’t heard any good estimates for a sustainable population. My other post comes to the conclusion that 300 million is too many. See if you agree. As stated on that topic, it is a non-scientific estimate. I think the logic works though.

  3. bobbo says:

    OK–I was on a different tack==6 million magically in a parallel universe, or 6 million from current levels by design/government enforcement?

    But what is the maximum sustainable level of human occupation of Mother Earth assuming an equal distribution of wealth/resources?–Does that mean nobody lives in the desert regions of africa, or no more eskimos? or no more small islands with people living off coconuts???–ie, assuming everyone has “the same” desired level of resource consumption?

    Letting that pass, just a thought, the carrying capacity could be 10-15 times greater if all humans became vegetarians rather than meat/fish eaters? So, what modifications are needed/allowed to find the greatest carrying capacity?

    Think I heard the greatest “weight” of multicelled animals on earth is termites? Seems the earth could support many millions more than now with a simple genetic change to allow direct consumption of celluose?

    So–as with your complaint about Gross National Product===many more variables/constraints need to be identified before your question can even be approached.

    BUT THAT WAS NOT THE QUESTION YOU POSED.. So before I go farther==please list any comfortable number of “problems” we face that are exacerbated by population as you see it.

  4. Misanthropic Scott says:

    6 million how? Good question. I think this was so hypothetical that the parallel universe where humans decided there were enough people on the planet at 6 million and limited their own numbers was probably what I was thinking when I wrote this.

    I was not assuming pure Utopian socialism in my hypothetical world. I was assuming people living any way you like to imagine them, but with a sustained population of 6 million total. Whatever you think that means, fine. I think it does not mean equal distribution, but I bet it would be more fair than current distribution. Within any geographic region, everyone would know everyone or nearly everyone they came in contact with. This makes it harder to be unabashedly greedy, or at least harder to get away with it.

    As for vegetarianism, that would be a huge win over beef. However, carp, tilapia, and catfish can be raised in ponds on farms that grow grain and provide more protein per acre than soy, the best plant for growing protein. So, we could stop beef, pork, and chicken, and go to tilapia and catfish. I haven’t seen much carp for sale.

    However, I doubt this would provide for 10-15 times greater population. Besides, greater than what? We are currently so far beyond sustainability that the idea of more people just scare the screaming heebie jeebies out of me.

    I had not been thinking of GM humans, maybe Chrysler humans, but not GM.

    Problems I see with current population (a very small subset):

    1. Climate change.
    2. Pollution, including air toxicity, water toxicity, persistent chemicals, plastics, etc.
    3. Deforestation.
    4. Mass extinction.
    5. The oceans are already 90% dead, at least for species we eat.
    6. Desertification.
    7. Erosion of top soil.
    8. Depletion of aquifers.
    9. Threat of nuclear and other means of global warfare.
    10. Poverty and starvation.
    11. Disease. (Most of the really bad ones could never spread much without dense populations.)

    OK. That’s probably a good enough start. I may come back later and add more.

  5. bobbo says:

    First found google site said it takes 10 times the fossil fuel to create meat protien/calories rather than plant. I’ve seen 15 times used elsewhere.

    I think it is “impossible” to grow fish protein more resource saving than soy. Simple formula proves this—Total Food Fed Fish = Total Fish By Weight + Excrement.
    Its the excrement that kills ya!

    As a pure scientific question, even now humans have organized themselves to waste earth resources as if they were unending. Hence alot of waste and under that model, very low carrying capacity. Ultimately, the model will be “sustainable use while nuturing earth”, it might even be part religious ethos, and the carrying capacity will be much larger. How large?? How religious can you be????

    Everything you listed is currently igonored (model #1) and might be very subject to management for nuturing if we ever get the motives to do so.

    In other words, I too have no idea what in the abstract the carrying capapcity of the world is, but the powers of science with a willing population are likewise unknowable, but I assume potentially “awesome!” Absolutely, I would add a zero to your number, and maybe even another one. Wait 100 years, then maybe double it?

  6. Misanthropic Scott says:

    I’ll read your link later bobbo. I have to respond to this now.

    I think it is “impossible” to grow fish protein more resource saving than soy. Simple formula proves this—Total Food Fed Fish = Total Fish By Weight + Excrement.
    Its the excrement that kills ya!

    But, soy is a highly intensive plant and is the one that does best for creating protein. Specifically for creation of protein, it makes more sense to grow grain, which has a much higher yield per acre than soy, then feed it specifically to herbivorous fish like carp, tilapia, and catfish. The output, because of the much higher output of grain, will be a higher amount of protein than soy.

    As for the power of science, don’t forget that nearly every scientific solution to one problem has caused another problem. Cars were the solution to the noise and stench of horses in NYC, for example.

  7. BubbaRay says:

    One thing you may wish to consider besides the exponential population growth is medicine. Not only are there more people, those living in developed countries are living much longer than only 40 years ago. Disease seems to be balancing some of that out, but that’s just my opinion.

    I’m still a firm believer in science and the space program. If we can spread out amongst the Solar System and then the stars, at least we won’t be extinct. Unlimited resources along with truly inexpensive fusion power would go a long way to solving a few of the major problems of today, such as:

    * Why fight over oil, when the power’s cheap, non-polluting, etc.
    * Goodbye global warming (except for the Sun), fusion doesn’t pollute and electric cars will replace the internal combustion engine.
    * Advances in agriculture – we’ll quit this nonsense of growing corn for fuel

    Someone else help me out here.

  8. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Nice dream BubbaRay. However, our pathetic little species can’t even find our way back to the moon. We haven’t been outside LEO in over 30 years. And, as for terraforming a planet such that we can actually live a normal life there, hell, we can’t even keep this one terraformed and it started out that way. That said, I like the sci fi dream too. Before we get there though, we have to survive the next couple of hundred years. If we make that, things look promising for our species. However, making it past the next 200 years doesn’t look promising to me. (Just an opinion, of course.)

  9. bobbo says:

    The original question was: “Name a major world problem that would be here even if there were only 6 million people in the world rather than 6 billion.”

    I think ALL those problems would remain if the culture was based on “using” the earth rather than respecting it. Rate of deterioration would be slower, but still unavoidable until the culture came to respect the earth and see it as our home to be lived in rather than a resource to be exploited.

    Space colonization is a pipe-dream==as in you are smoking something to think it is anything but sci-fi. Keep your feet on the ground.

  10. Misanthropic Scott says:


    Maybe you’re right. If so, the sustainable human population of the planet just may be zero. But, I still think that if the population stuck at 6 million, by definition, people would be thinking a bit differently just by not breeding like rats, though I have nothing against rats breeding like rats. R selected species tend to do that. K selected species like us, should not.

  11. bobbo says:

    Huh? All that space? We would do what we do best==breed like cockroaches.

    Good circular proposition though==”IF’ population “STUCK” at 6 million, then yes, we would not be breeding like rats (ok, atleast they are mammals)==and if that was a purposeful self imposed limitation, then yes most likely some respect for the earth would be present==for why else reduce birth rate with all that empty land out there?

    But I do see one point–there is a curve for any life style regarding carrying capacity however ambiguously we don’t define it. Two people could spend their entire lives laying waste to the earth without enduring effect. So we do know the carrying capapcity is somewhere between two and 6 billion.

  12. Misanthropic Scott says:


    Well said. I think I could narrow that range quite a bit. I can’t imagine our species dropping below the per capita impact of native north americans. By my calculations on my sustainable population page, I can’t imagine a sustainable number at or above 300 million. At the low end, two would not really be sustainable. A breeding population of at least a tribe, say 200 would be required. More realistically, we’d need a few tribes so that some of the children could marry outside the tribe to maintain a healthier gene pool. The minimum number is probably at least 500 or so. That narrows the range, at least in my mind to something between 500 and 300 million.

  13. BubbaRay says:

    “Nice dream BubbaRay”

    Yes, it certainly is. Just think of where we might be right now if NASA’s budget was the same as the VietNam war and LBJ’s Great Society, etc. etc. You know the drill.

    I want my ticket to that “big wheel in the sky” (Steely Dan)

    One other thing I can’t find a bit of research on — I’m just guessing that the next Einstein or Hawking has a better chance of being born from a population of a few billion than a few million. Just my 2 cents (2 new gold dollars) worth.

  14. Misanthropic Scott says:


    All else being equal, you’d be right. But, look around you. We’re breeding stupider. All else isn’t equal. And, how is that Einstein/Hawking going to get into science with an education system that will probably be calling ID a theory any day now?

    (There’s such a fine line between cynicism and realism.)

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