How many people could live on Earth?

23 Mar 2016

If there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s populating the planet. However, at what stage does this become a very real worry?

It’s pretty clear that we’re wrecking Earth. For every wonderful new shopping centre, with a high roof and spacious mezzanine, there’s added strain on an already buckling planet.

Among the many ways nature shows us this – including species’ die-offs left, right and centre – is climate change, with reports this week that some climatologists believe its catastrophic consequences aren’t as far in the future as we once thought.

While many thought major environmental problems would become tangible realities in centuries, some now think we may see these realities in decades instead.

Fossil fuel addiction

Led by former NASA climatologist James E Hansen, a new paper says that our burning of fossil fuels so far and in the coming years will contribute to a radical climate shift due to the introduction of fresh water from melting land ice.

Elsewhere, Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year – comes earlier and earlier each year. In 2015, it landed on 14 August, meaning we’re running at about 150pc of the planet’s capacity.

Worse still, if this isn’t addressed satisfactorily, we’ll actually need two Earths to create the resources we consume as early as 2030.

The effects can be seen everywhere: deforestation, drought, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is affecting all states, to varying degrees.

The carbon dioxide build-up will exacerbate all other issues, according to current climate models, with the world’s carbon footprint doubling in the last 45 years.

How many people could live on Earth?

How do we change this? Well, according to BBC Earth Unplugged, there are three ways. Using a pie to explain the planet’s resources, Maddie Moate explains that we can either reduce the number of people eating it, make it bigger (meaning using our resources more efficiently), or get everybody to share.

There are 7bn people on the planet but, if we all lived the average American lifestyle, Moate explains that Earth could support just one-third of that.

It’s clear we’re walking headfirst into some pretty nasty scenarios in the near future. This video should explain it all.

Main image of dying Earth via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic