Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Overpopulation? Bah! The Whole WORLD Could Live in Texas Easily

An extremely provocative essay by Greg Rehmke. Incidentally, I've known his name for a few years now, but just met him at the APEE conference. I think his work warrants more attention from free market fans than it has thus far received.

I didn't read this whole essay word-for-word, but I think the one major stumbling block is that densely populated cities such as New York and Hong Kong rely on imports of food etc. So it's a bit too flippant just to say, "If NYC can have that density, so can the rest of the world!" But as I say, maybe Greg deals with that objection and I just didn't see it.

Generally, I am aghast when people say things like, "Our Earth can't support so many people," and when even free market types like Tyler Cowen lecture us on the number of our children being the biggest determinant of our "carbon footprint." Next time you are in a plane, just pay attention to how much empty space you fly over. Then realize that the Earth is 70% covered with water.

Once humans figure out how to profitably build floating colonies, the Earth could easily support one quadrillion people. And in terms of us using natural resources? We have quite literally only scratched the surface of the material wealth in this oblong spheroid.


  1. A fun book on population issues is "Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition." The subtitle is "Science Slightly Over the Edge." The book reviews hard science estimates on the number of people the Earth could support. A couple septillion, says one accomplished scientist. If everyone lived in Texas today, there would be over 1000 sq feet per person--so a family of four could have a house with a small front and back yard.

  2. Yesterday, taking a train from Amsterdam to Paris, across some of the most densely populated areas of the Earth, I passed mostly open fields.

  3. Physical scientists, of course, are prone to ignore the psychological side of this question. With a couple of septillion people on the planet, I think everyone would be bat-shit crazy and attacking each other like rats packed in a cage, which apparently will become violent if over-crowded even when food supplies are plentiful.

  4. With a couple of septillion people on the planet, I think everyone would be bat-shit crazy and attacking each other like rats packed in a cage...

    Like they do in Hong Kong?

  5. There are a couple septillion people in Hong Kong?

  6. There are a couple septillion people in Hong Kong?

    No, but if you had the population density of Hong Kong over the entire surface of the planet, including the oceans, it would be a big number. And if it weren't yet a couple of septillion, you could then add more skyscrapers a la the capital city in Star Wars Episode I (and II, and III).

  7. BTW I just ran some quick calculations and if I did it correctly, you would only have 3.2 trillion people if you had the population density of Hong Kong spread out over the entire surface of the earth.

    I'm not even sure what septillion is. Is it a trillion trillion? I.e. it goes billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, septillion? Or maybe I'm missing one in between...

    Anyway I withdraw my sarcastic question to Gene.

  8. Andy Stedman9:46 PM

    A septillion is 10^24 in the US standard, 20^42 in the UK standard.

    Even at 10^24 there is no possible way to fit that many (corporeal) people on the planet. That many people would have a volume approximately equal to a sphere twice the diameter of the Earth. If they were very good friends. And indestructible.

  9. Bob, can you count to ten in a Romance language? If so, just work off of that. "sept" would be the seventh "illion" - you missed the sixth, which I believe is "sex".

    In any case, the people of Hong Kong still have the possibility of escqping to some open space, which I think makes a difference even if they don't use it.

    In other notes: George Bush is in a meeting when a military aid rushes in and announces, "Bad news Mr. President - 7 Brazilian soldiers just died in a bombing in Iraq."

    Bush, to the shock of the assmbled persons, breaks down in tears. After a minute or two, he looks up at the others and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

  10. Gene,

    Yeah, that's why I thought I missed one group. And are you saying I'm as ignorant as George Bush?

    Hey Greg, can you give us a little more on the assumptions in that "accomplished scientist"'s figure? Was he assuming people would cover the world with skyscrapers that were thousands of miles high?

    I mean, if Andy's calculations are even in the right ballpark, what the heck is that scientist picturing?

  11. Yikes! I was quoting the claim (from memory) in Great Mambo Chicken. At the higher population density, space habitation of course becomes more attractive. I remember one of the scientists suggested crumbling Jupiter and reshaping into a giant sphere to capture all the sun's rays. Gravity is generated by spinning this sphere (with a very large internal surface area). Maybe a solution used now with advanced alien races? (which would explain why we don't observe them).

    But for Earth, if 5 billion can live comfortably in Texas (1,200 or so sq. ft per person), and Earth surface is 752 times larger than Texas, then 3.7 trillion for all of Earth (including oceans with floating cities). (3 am calculations, so would need to recheck.)

    I would guess that the Mambo Chicken scientists had in mind additional layers of cities and civilizations deep (and not so deep) in the oceans, and also floating cities (like the "sky liner" in the great movie The Fifth Element, which features a wonderful vision of future NYC, except for the fairly silly pollution claim (though that could be explained by the very foolish world government in place).

    Maybe it is best to stick to the more reasonable few trillion estimate for people living comfortably on Earth with current technology.

    However, Vernor Vinge argues we can expect to reach The Singularity before populations grow so dense.

  12. Anonymous7:48 AM

    Anyone who seriously believes this nonsense, must be retarded. The quality standard of living for the amount of populations listed, especially if the whole world's population now were to live in Texas, it would be devastating.

    Not to mention, who says that Human Beings are to be the largest population of creatures to dominate the planet? We were given the gift that we can change the environment like no other animal can, however we must do so with respect to nature. We cannot just invade and cut down as many forests, and take over land that belongs to other animals and wildlife, and destroy important crops, herbs and other things from nature.