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Reducing human population

  1. Yes, of course.

    28 vote(s)
  2. Probably.

    8 vote(s)
  3. Maybe, maybe not.

    10 vote(s)
  4. Probably not.

    2 vote(s)
  5. No, of course not.

    7 vote(s)
  1. Apr 2, 2007 #1
    Here is the full question:

    Reducing human population, disregarding the difficulty, would be the most effective way to:
    - reduce pollution (air, water, soil, noise...) and
    - avoid depleting natural resources (fish stocks, oil, forests...) and
    - prevent extinction of living species, as well as
    - control world hunger, and on top of that
    - increase average standard of living.

    Let's see what a typical, forumist, poll-participating physicist would think...

    EDIT: I meant to post this in "Social Science" and goofed. Can someone more it please? Thanks!
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2007 #2


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    "Effective" is such a vague word in this context, the question isn't very precise, and the answers to the different criteria aren't necessarily the same or necessarily directly related either.

    Heck, from a practical standpoint, if we disposed of all of our nuclear weapons by spreading them out over Africa, we'd see a marked improvment in global statistics on many of these issues, but then if a meteor wiped-out north america, we'd see a marked worsening of most of those stats.

    So it doesn't seem like all that meaningful of a question to me.
  4. Apr 2, 2007 #3
    To clarify then:

    - "Effective" means that it would have the mentioned effects. It also means all of them, from the use of "and" everywhere. You can strongly agree that it would obviously do all that (or fail to do so), possibly do all that (or fail to do so), or be undecided.

    - The concept of reducing human population is meant to be general. It is not about one continent over another. It is not about catastrophic or abrupt events. It is nothing more than the opposite of population growth.
  5. Apr 2, 2007 #4


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    Well, that's exactly the problem. The opposite of population growth where? Everywhere equally? Population isn't currently growing equally everywhere. In proportion to population (ie, big countries lose more)? Based on economic development level? And do we base the comparison on every other variable staying the same? Is that even possible? The scenario is still too ill-defined to have a meaningful answer.
  6. Apr 2, 2007 #5
    Unfortunately you require a level of details that is well beyond what my little poll intended to provide. That's ok, not everyone needs to answer every opinion poll. I hope you did not put in any answer if you find the question meaningless because that would not be meaningful either. Those who can relate to the question will hopefully contribute so I can get an idea of the overall sentiment.
  7. Apr 3, 2007 #6


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    like said, it would depend on where, how and how many. It's not a linear problem like you're treating it to be. You can't see how y changes with x in this case, because y is a function of more than just x.
  8. Apr 3, 2007 #7
    Values don't have to be linearly related to be related. They can also be related even though other factors also apply.


    The question is not about specific reductions here but not there. Obviously, reducing the population of a western nation would not do much to relieve hunger where it is not a problem. But it should slow down depletion of natural resources. Conversely, reducing the population of a starving nation will not help much with air pollution. But it can leave more available food per capita to reduce hunger. Think globally.

    The idea of reversing the trend in human growth seems unpopular. Some people react like they're being told to give up smoking or their car. Maybe it's because people love children and the more the merrier. Maybe it's because every group hopes to dominate every other group. I don't really know. Yet aiming for a smaller population could be a practical long term strategy to improve human condition. At least, the topic should be discussed more than it is.

    Consider two opposite scenarios: a hundred years from now, would we be better off if our population was evenly doubled to 12 billion or halved to 3 billion? I was hoping that this would be the meat of this thread. It should be more interesting to discuss problems associated with a reduction or increase in human population instead of the wording of the poll (sorry for the semantic shortcomings).
  9. Apr 5, 2007 #8


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    I think all you need to do is look at how segments of the population can be incredibly wasteful, and such poor stewards of the environment in spite of having very small families (i.e., 1 or no children per couple), and you'll see why such a broad proposal isn't likely to hold up as a solution. You can also look at countries where restrictions on population growth are mandated by law and see the social conditions of the people there to note that it is not a cure-all for everything wrong in their society.

    As for things like famine, without outside interference, it is nature's solution to overpopulation in an area where the environment is poorly suited to sustaining large human populations. So, the problem becomes more complex as we pick and choose when to interfere when to stand back and allow things to happen naturally. Do we send aid to a place that is facing famine and then tell them we will make their reproductive choices for them and allow them to only have one baby per couple? Or do we not provide aid and say, "It's your choice; you can choose to have only one or two children and put all your energy into ensuring they survive, or you can have many, many children, and roll the dice that one of them survives on the limited food available."

    Anyway, the answer is that there is no simple answer. Meddling with one thing doesn't fix everything else.
  10. Apr 5, 2007 #9


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    What CAN be said with certainty is that if we reduce the human population to 0, then most of the man-made environment-damaging mechanisms will not be put in motion any longer.
  11. Apr 5, 2007 #10
    Ha, there's the proof! :smile:

    Of course there is no reason to exempt the incredibly wasteful groups you mention. Wouldn't waste be reduced by reducing the population of wasteful members along with the rest? If this had no effect on waste reduction then we would have to conclude that the remaining individuals would pick up the slack by wasting even more to fill the natural "waste vacuum". I see no reason to assume this, on the contrary: the spirit of moderation and conservation necessary to reduce the population would more likely discourage waste instead of encouraging it.

    China springs to mind. A government policy on child limits has been instituted there, I think it started 20—25 years ago. It is difficult to estimate the impact that this policy alone has had because capitalistic policies have also been implemented, Hong Kong was repatriated and various modernization measures happened concurrently. However, it would appear that the overall policies have been quite successful in that country. The quality of life has increased considerably, if not evenly (as can be expected). My wife was born in mainland China. She grew up there and in Hong Kong. She visits relatives in both places on occasion and can see notable improvements in all places: housing, electricity, transportation, personal freedoms have greatly improved from twenty years ago. Obviously China is not the ideal place to live and it still seems far from western society in all aspects, but the gap is slowly closing. If we have Chinese participants reading this, it would be interesting to hear more opinions.

    As I said, it does not prove that this advance is due to population control alone. Yet consider a country of comparable size, say the USA. But now, quadruple the population. Count your neighbours; you now have four times as many. This is what China is facing. If you think there is a water shortage in the US, or that oil is pricy, or housing is unaffordable, or the air stinks, or Starbucks' coffee is overpriced, or there is too much traffic in your morning commute, you may get a good feel for the benefits of limiting the population.

    Here, I have to agree. Where there are too many people for the amount of food, people die of hunger, which indeed limits population growth. It is natural. It may not reflect all that humans can be, but it is natural nonetheless.

    This is the challenge. Do we, can we teach family planning to an uneducated starving population? If we feel a responsibility to preserve nature's balance and endangered species, do we also feel a responsibility towards vulnerable human populations? There is a moral question. Rich countries already provide food relief to the starving masses. It becomes debatable if it is morally acceptable to impose conditions on this relief. Is it morally acceptable to make food contingent on family planning? Or is it morally reprehensible not to do so? Has anyone asked these starving people what they think?

    It is true that as a rule, meddling with just one thing does not fix everything. The exception to this rule is if it happens to be the main cause of the problem. If overpopulation is at the root of so many problems, trying to fix other effects while ignoring the cause is just rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
  12. Apr 5, 2007 #11


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    It can be said with absolute certainty that population control was not the largest factor in China's advancement over the past 20 years. China's economy has been growing by double-digit percentages for most of that time, while population growth wouldn't ever have been above 2% without population control.
    Again, too broad. Where the reduction or increase happens is critical for answering whether it would help or hurt. It is important to remember that humans are a resource like any other and that population growth is part of economic growth. Right now the average human condition is improving despite the fact that most of the population growth is in the low-end of the scale. If population growth were even across all countries, the average human condition in the world would be improving much, much faster.
    Overpopulation is not a root cause of any of the world's problems today. Population (notice I didn't say overpopulation..) is a secondary influence on many things, but a secondary influence only. That's the whole point of what people are telling you - it's the whole reason why your questions are ill-conceived. There is quite simply no direct correlation to be drawn between population and the human condition in the world today.

    For example, your example of China. Despite what Kyoto proponents will tell you, China is the world's worst air polluter. Nowhere else in the world do people regularly wear masks outside so they can breathe and the statistics people use are based on CO2 alone, which is a flawed way of looking at air pollution. But is the air pollution problem because of the population or is it because of the fact that China makes it's electricity from the crappiest coal in the crappiest power plants on the planet? The US makes more electricity, but our plants are orders of magnitude cleaner in every sense except total CO2 production (and it needs to be understood that CO2 is the primary and most desirable product of combustion of coal).
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2007
  13. Apr 6, 2007 #12
    I don't have hard data on this. You must have some since you are absolutely certain, so I will accept this on your word. It is certainly interesting to witness how an economy can grow by double-digit percentages without relying on population growth.

    Reducing the size of wasteful groups would reduce waste. Reducing the size of starving groups would reduce starvation. Reducing the size of polluting groups would reduce pollution. There would be little benefit in reducing the human group that does not consume natural resources, does not waste, does not pollute anything but is not starving either. But do we have those?

    Evidently not an essential part based on your China figures. An economy that relies on population growth is a pyramid scheme, eventually the pyramid collapses. You can have a stable economy based on a stable population, and you have shown that you can even have a growing economy that does not rely on population growth.

    That's good. Let's make it stable at least if we cannot make it smaller. It's a reasonable first step.

    I think you must admit that man is definitely the root cause of man-made problems, by definition. Regarding overpopulation, you don't see any causal relationship between the number of humans and the intensity of man-made problems. I do.

    What then is the primary influence if not people?


    Why do you think this is, stupidity? Or are they going through the she same natural steps as the Western world while it was developping its industrial base and its economy?

    That's good, but I don't know if the situation would remain as rosy as you make it sound if you had to produce power for four times as many people.
  14. Apr 10, 2007 #13
    That's the rub. The problem is a decreasing labor force. In order to compete sucessfully in a global market, nations must have sufficient production capacity, which is dependent on having sufficient workers. I would argue that China's and India's rapid economic growth is due in large part to their huge population, i.e. availability of labor.

    In Japan and Russia, a decreasing population is portending severe economic troubles in the coming generation. Russia's Putin is struggling to devise and implement a plan that would increase his country's population, not only for economic reasons but for national defense as well. Siberia is so sparsely populated that China could roll right in.

    In addition to global competition, the U.S. has the near term problem of Social Security. There isn't enough of the generation now entering the work force to pay for the Greatest Baby Booming Generation when it retires. More retirees than employees is not sustainable. This is one reason why the Federales are now willing to allow employed illegal aliens to remain and become citizens, so they can pay into Social Security.

    Perhaps some sort of new global economic model is necessary before we can seriously attempt to reduce human population to a level that would be both good for the planet and good for the world.
  15. May 14, 2007 #14
    An excellent site for this subject is:


    It is the website of the The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. It has been very well put together, is very well written, and very interesting, in my opinion.
  16. May 14, 2007 #15
    I wish those whiners on vhemt.org would quietly phase their illogical selves out, but I do not support there vision of "life on earth".

    Everything they describe as 'excorable horrors' commited by humans are things which have happened many times on a much larger scale then we are now facing.

    Everyone should know that that website is spewing falsehoods and rhetoric. They are no better then doomsaying mystics, motivated by genuine delusion rather then profit.
  17. May 14, 2007 #16
    Such as? That is a rather general comment to make, especially considering the size of their site.

    I gladly introduce people to their site, and I do maintain that it is a good site. However, I have likely not seen all of the material published by the VHEMT, and it has been a little while since I spent any real time on their site. So if there is anything on that site that you truly feel is bunk, then maybe you could post of it here? And if there truly is fallacious material on the VHEMT site, I would bet the genuine, worthy, and accurate information greatly outnumbers it.
  18. May 14, 2007 #17
    The problem is the mixing of two ideas:

    1) That the human race should voluntarily phase into extinction by not reproducing.

    2) That a reason for doing so is that the planet would be better off.

    Now (1) is a deep idea that everyone should consider, but (2) is an extreme recommendation based on a under-informed opinion that the earth would be better off without us. For that matter, would the universe be better off without us?

    In other words, I would have liked a more careful discussion of pros and cons of (1) and less of a blatantly uneducated enviromentalist tirade in support of (2).

    I submit no examples because I don't want to fight over nonsense, and anyone who is open to what I am saying can check how my comments apply to the site.

    Actually, I submit the following page which is so pathetic is speaks loudly and clearly for itself:


    Main problem: The website is a narrow tirade.
    Last edited: May 14, 2007
  19. May 14, 2007 #18
    Okay, I couldn't resist the sheer badness of this site. This text is included in a context that is every bit as serious and superficially straightforward as everything on the site:

    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
  20. May 14, 2007 #19
    I think that by ‘the Earth’, VHEMT actually means nature and all other creatures that live in balance with it. What, I feel, is actually meant is that humans are ravenous creatures with an insatiable appetitive for destructive activities under the pernicious guise of ‘progress’ and convenience. The activities of the human race cause widespread harm; everything in the path of the dominant race suffers. The entire planet has changed, for the worse, and continues to do so.

    But, what also could be meant is perhaps (although I admit to not having studied it) in line with the Gaia Hypothesis. Maybe the Earth is a spiritual entity unto itself and is adversely affected by the despicable ways of its human residents? Many people, of some considerable academic and social standing, support this notion. But perhaps I should say no more of that here as I know how enthusiastic the moderators are when it comes to closing threads and claiming almost everything to be ‘crackpot’!

    Maybe it would:


    Maybe that site is designed more in line with what the common person is willing and able to read and understand. If you join one of the VHEMT e-groups (linked to from the site. Or, if not and anyone is interested, let me know and I will find a direct link) I am sure the VHEMT founder, Les U. Knight, will engage in the most eloquent, erudite, rational, scientific, and in-depth discussion with you.

    Perhaps what is written on the VHEMT site, and the portion you linked to, is at odds with your personal belief system? I am not saying this is the case, but one must always be aware and try to always maintain an open mind and remain objective.

    I disagree with you over that page, but there you go!

    So, I see your link and I raise you:


    (scroll down a little to the table)

    It is hardly that.
  21. May 14, 2007 #20
    This cartoon protects 'deep environmentalists' from facing the fact that without us the solar system would be an unconcious pile of rocks, and moving gooey rocks.

    Your right, rationality is too uncommon and in my case it prevents me from understanding the website. Following your advice, I will try to have a dialogue with the originator of these views.
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