So let's talk about population

Back in the thread on my radio interview with Jason Bradford, there were requests for a thread on population issues (which came up at the end of the interview as we ran out of time). So let's dig into the United Nations' World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.

UN population projections through 2050. Click to enlarge. The medium scenario (dark green) is the UN's best guess as to what will happen. High and Low represent their best estimates of the range of reasonably likely outcomes. The Constant Fertility line is their estimate of what would happen if world average fertility did not decline any further. Source: World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.

Let's start by panning the camera back to take a look at the big picture. Every person planning to live through much of the twenty-first century should spend at least a little while staring at this graph, and thinking about the implications. If the world feels at all crowded to you, this is why. This is what the scientific and industrial revolutions have wrought.

Growth of human population since AD 0. Click to enlarge. Source: US Census Bureau. Also here -- my graph before 1900 is an average of the McEvedy/Jones and the Biraben estimates. After 1900 I use the UN numbers.

To understand population growth, you need to know a little bit about how the demographers think about the world. Human population growth is sort-of-exponential, but not really. It's sort-of exponential in that the rate of change of the population is sort-of proportional to the number of people now. The more people, the more kids they can have, other things being equal. However, other things are not equal, and so the rate of population growth varies over time, and thus the graph doesn't follow an exponential curve with much precision. In fact, the growth above is mostly super-exponential - the growth rate increased over time until quite recently:

Population growth rate since AD 0. Click to enlarge. Source: Interpolated approximately from population figures in prior graph.

The population growth rate is controlled by two things: the number of babies born each year as a proportion of the people currently alive (known as the crude birth rate), and the number of people who die each year (known as the crude death rate). These can be illustrated as we look at the most important concept in demography: the demographic transition. Here's data for Sweden, for illustration.

CBR = Crude Birth Rate (blue), and CDR = Crude Death Rate (red) rates in Sweden. Click to enlarge. Source: The Demographic Transition, Keith Montgomery.

The general idea is that in undeveloped countries, both birth rates and death rates are high. Development first causes a decline in the death rates, due to improved public health and sanitation, antibiotics, etc, etc. At first, birth rates don't come down and the population thus grows. Later, birth rates begin to come down also, and the population stabilizes with both fertility and mortality at low levels. Like pretty much all developed countries, Sweden completed it's demographic transition gradually and has largely finished. Most developed countries are now at population stability, and some, like Italy and Germany, even have fertility substantially below replacement level and are likely to have shrinking populations in the future.

The UN divides countries into three groups, which are politely named "more developed" (places like the US, Western Europe, and Japan), "less developed" (India, China, Mexico, Brazil, etc), and "least developed" (Afghanistan, Niger, Botswana, etc). The following graph looks at mortality and fertility data for the the less developed countries (excluding the least developed).

Birth and Death rates for UN less developed countries (excluding least developed). The lines through 2000 are data, and after that the lines are the UN's medium projection. Source: World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.

Now, this group of countries - generally the better-off developing countries - comprised 59% of world population as of 2000. Several things stand out from the graph:

  • The demographic transition is well under way in these countries. Death rates fell early in the twentieth century, are continuing to fall, but are stabilizing. All of that "Save the Children" activity has worked to a considerable degree. Birth rates have also fallen significantly, but there is a big gap between births and deaths still, which accounts for the enormous population growth in these countries.
  • The demographic transition is happening much faster in this group of countries than the centuries-long process in the developed countries.
  • The UN's medium projection assumes a business-as-usual continuation of the same trends in these countries that have enabled the demographic transition to date.

The next graph shows the exact same thing, on the same scale, for the UN "least developed" countries (mostly poor African and a few exceptionally poor Asian countries).

Birth and Death rates for UN least developed countries. The lines through 2000 are data, and after that the lines are the UN's medium projection. Source: World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.

These countries comprised 11% of the world's population as of 2000, but are obviously increasing their share at a good clip. They are much less far along in their demographic transition, and have huge gaps between births and deaths, hence the large population growth rates. The UN is projecting that they will, nonetheless, go through the transition. What the modelers basically do is take a composite average profile of countries that have gone through the transition in the not-too-distant past, and assume these countries will follow the same path.

Just to complete the story, here's the final 20% of the world's year 2000 population in the UN's more developed countries. These are the countries that have more-or-less completed their demographic transition.

Birth and Death rates for UN more developed countries. The lines through 2000 are data, and after that the lines are the UN's medium projection. Source: World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.

All in all, the UN medium projection strikes me as generally plausible if one assumes that demographic change plays out while holding geology and economics on a steady business-as-usual course. Alas, with peak oil, most of us don't believe in that assumption set. Thus we are left to wonder how those dotted lines for the developing countries might really evolve in a post peak world. Certainly there is not enough oil for them to end up looking like the developed countries that have just completed their demographic transitions in recent decades. As we can see further in this next graph, population growth rate has a good deal to do with affluence. Wealthy countries (high GDP/capita) tend to have low population growth rates, and poor ones tend to have high rates. The most obvious exceptions are oil exporters which presumably tend to function like a poor country with a small super-rich elite grafted on.

Population growth rate against log GDP/capita. Source: Demographic Transition: An Historical Sociological Perspective, David Allan.

The situation is even clearer if we look at fertility alone - total fertility is the expected number of children a woman will have over her lifetime.

Total fertility (children/woman) against log GDP/capita. Source: Demographic Transition: An Historical Sociological Perspective, David Allan.

Now, if we think there's a near term peak, even if it's soft as I argued from this graph the other day:

Hubbert-style prediction of future global oil production decline rates, together with recent year-on-year change in BP production data (inc NGLs), and a linear fit to the BP data.

Then the barrels/capita goes like this (in the medium case):

Barrels/capita of world population assuming a Hubbert curve with URR=2350gb, peak = 2005, and K=5%, together with the UN medium population growth curve.

The all important decline rate in barrels/capita is:

Annual growth/decline in barrels/capita assuming a Hubbert curve with URR=2350gb, peak = 2005, and K=5%, together with the UN medium population growth curve.

Can those less developed countries continue enough development to achieve their demographic transition while we all collectively save that much oil/person? This post is already long, so fuller consideration will have to wait for another time, when I'll try to look at the potential role models.

Finally, I'd like to mention some resources on population issues besides the UN report. There's a superb set of lectures from the Global Change Program at the University of Michigan. Another nice online discussion is by Keith Montgomery. There's a book How Many People Can The Earth Support, by Joel Cohen. This book is an incredible piece of scholarship, and while I don't agree with all of it, it's must reading for anyone wanting to understand the issues. Finally, I'll mention The Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000 by William Stanton. Despite his deplorable politics, it's the most peak-oil aware population book I know of, and does have a lot of interesting data and discussion on individual countries. Then there's the classic Limits to Growth series, and Catton's Overshoot. The case for why no-one should worry about population growth has been made by the late Julian Simon, an economist, in The Ultimate Resource 2. I can't say I found this book very well argued, but I'm not aware of a better argued version of the same thesis elsewhere - certainly this is the famous one.

To me, the second graph says it all. We're breeding like rabbits, or possibly clever monkeys? There must be a break in that curve sooner or later. Nature has a way of regulating runaway populations in a species. Plague or famine. We clever monkeys also have great big knifes, AKs and thermonuclear weapons to kill each other off with once resources get scarce enough. As always, hard times will hit poor people the worst, as the rich man probably will defend what he's got with said weaponry.
I once travelled through Java, Indonesia. The lasting impression of the trip was the insane amount of people everywhere- it seemed completely unsutainable, and it probably is.
Actual bbl/capita peaked in 1979.  The penultimate graph is not a good reflection of what actually occured.

Total world fish catch peaked 1989.

Total world grain production peaked 2000.

Correct - the Hubbert model only gets production right to within 10-15%, and only illustrates the general trend - I don't claim it gets details right.  In particular, it doesn't get the structural break in the world production that occurred in the 1970s.
Hi MicroMan, can you please reference that?
Albert Bartlett, physics professor emeritus at Univ. of Colorado in Boulder, is the main person who's publicized this. You can see it in his Physics Today article from July 2004. It's online at:

The Bartlett reference is for the per capita oil production peak, not the fish and grain peaks.
Thanks for the interesting link. The FAO stats for total world fishing production appear not to show a peak: for 2003, the last year in their series, they have production at over 135 million metric tons, the highest ever.
Not a peak in per capita fish production, either.
Seconded. I'd love to see some links/references especially any with graphs, thats quite amazing (and concerning).  
Grain Yields Rise, But No Respite for the Hungry

grain In 2004, global grain production broke 2 billion tons for the first time in history, marking a 9-percent increase from the 2003 level. Also in 2004, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of hungry people around the world increased for the first time since 1970. Starvation now kills more than 5 million children each year.

The biggest factor behind this record grain production in 2004 was an increase in average yields: with the same amount of hectares for planting, farmers were able to harvest more crops. However, most people go hungry not because of a global food shortage but because they are too poor to buy food or to obtain the land, water, and other resources needed to produce it.

Vital Signs                          
This is a pdf file or purchase. 96 to 03 leveling off re grain production. 85 peak per person, but fairly level. Of concern is grain stocks decreasing since 60, possibly by choice.   The tractor, irrigation, chemical fertilizeres/pesticides/herbicides and some hybrid grains, particularily rice are how we have matched hyper-expotiental growth. All these are so oil/gas dependant. The 2005 grain increase was a good year probably due to weather ,good in the right places.

And manny are so poor due to civil war and diktatorships.

One of the largest problems is not peak oil making fuel for growing food scarse in itself but the scarsity making it easier to start conflicts. Wars eat resources and is in the way for distribution and trade and that gives starvation.

The political risks worry me more then the physical problems.

Peak farmland probably occurred several years ago. , and a good deal of this is marginal cropland; only  usable with irrigation- a high energy user,even with water readily available. Developement is eating up a lot of farmland. I think irrigation is way underrated in importance.
Well Stuart thank you very much, it's never too much to acknowledge the work thoroughly done by the drummers. Not only for the quality of the stuff you guys post, but also for the time and effort you invest in it - priceless for us mere mortals, that can't afford to do it.
When I was in the 9th grade my Geography teacher give us this table with world population figures since 1500 and ask us to plot it in a blank sheet. Amazing! That line suddenly went out of the paper!
Later we studied the problems of ageing population in Europe, and the efforts governments where doing in changing that (like subsidies that afford for a woman with more than 2 kids to leave work). Wait a minute! Where will that line go? What appends outside the paper sheet?
By then oil was a very frail word to me, and peak wasn't in my dictionary. Things are much clear now. Population is a key variable in the Peak Oil issue, demographic growth has fed on Oil, and consequently pushed Oil consumption. That's the reason of the hyper-exponential growth where the growth rate also growths exponentially.  
As long we have population growth, we have Oil demand growth, simply because we feed on Oil. I don't know where this will lead us, but we surely have a time bomb in our hands.
Stuart please continue this analysis, try to give us an insight on the Easter Island.
I think you're right about "eating oil" in a very real sense. We humans like to think we're special because we're the only animals that can talk, or that we're the only animals that make tools etc. etc. Each of these has been shown to be only quantitatively different between humans and other animals.

There is however one difference that I think is qualitative and goes to the heart of the discussions on this (rather excellent) site:

Humans are the only animals that have worked out how to metabolise energy outside our bodies. And that's why we've managed to get so out of whack with the rest of the ecosystem.

Hello, this is an excellent idea!  For those familiar with Jay Hanson's website: this thread is what I call the last half of the Thermodynamic-Genetic Collision.  Everything concerning fossil fuels and energy has been well discussed on all the forums, websites, books, and orgs like ASPO, EIA, etc.  But I argue that the most social good in achieving wise energy use and preserving future biodiversity will come from focusing on the last half of the Thermo-Gene Collision.

This can be a fascinating topic for discussion, but it can be politicized very easily.  I belong to four energy-related Yahoo forums, and discussing population curve matching to the Hubbert downslope can lead to quite contentious arguments, and the creation of a zillion off-shooting threads.  I urge all posters to consider their words carefully and leave your egos off-screen.  Then we all can learn together.

I, among others some time back, started a discussion of ASPO newsletter #55, item 573 "Oil and People", whereby the author: William Stanton's essay is about reducing population in step with oil depletion.  It was unbelievable: the amount of discussion generated, both pro & con, when BOTH PARTS of the Thermo-Gene Collision come together into a 'critical mass' for debate.  There were so many postings that it was hard work to keep track of all the topic directions.  I hope the same can happen here.

I suggest a moderator might be needed for this topic.  Jay Hanson, and helpful others, already had many years of practice to hone their moderating techniques at Yahoo.

The graph showing pop. shooting to near 7 billion since we discovered fossil fuels tells it all.  If Humanity can somehow finesse pop. curve matching to the energy downslope without huge levels of violence, it will be amazing.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Can you give a reference on that Thermodynamic-Genetic Collision? Google returns 3(!) results for such query.

I would like the discussion not to go right down to reduction. I'd prefer a few more posts before that. Personally I do not believe in that finesse, around here we've been working with cellular automata and some time ago we've tried some populations models. There's grass and little beings that eat grass. If grass can regenerate fast enough, population will follow a logistic curve and stabilize, if not, population will grow to a peak and suddenly fall way below carrying capacity.

No one has ever seen oil regenerating itself (perhaps except Mr. Corsi).

Hello Lads,

It was only after I had studied for awhile that I realized Jay's incredible website boiled down to entropy as explained by the Laws of Thermodynamics, and human behavior, in all aspects, are in constant collision as explained by Darwinism.  I merely coined the term: Thermo-Gene Collision, as a concise encapsulation of the Total Equation as explained by Jay's Magnum Opus.  Full credit to Jay for pulling it all together as evidenced by the hundreds of pages on, and his years of Internet discussion.

Fossil fuel discussion, such as here on the OilDrum, generally talks about the Thermo-half and ignores, or overlooks the Gene-half repercussions.  That is why I was glad to see a population thread on this site.  I am a hardcore Doomer, but I hope some mitigation can be achieved by the world becoming Dieoff aware, then agreeing to new behavioral changes such as a widely accepted one child policy.

ASPO's Oil Depletion Protocol is a good example of focusing only on the Thermo-half.  Now we need to generate a matching Gene-half so the whole equation and the long term view is considered.  Is William Stanton's proposal in ASPO Newsletter #55, item 573 the best method?  I have no idea, but it seems like an excellent start.  How do we get universal discussion and political action jumpstarted when the politicos and Media are not screaming for everyone to study  How can we get Peakoil deniers to come to their senses?  Can it be done in time to avert violent catastrophes?

If the proles become Dieoff aware and encourage their leaders to implement beneficial policies for everyone's welfare, then the energy downslope will not be that big a deal.  If not, then I predict the depletion rate will be near 10% yearly, and all hell will break loose.  A proactive response is far better than a convulsive reactive response.  The elites will have to take drastic measures if the proles cannot get their act together.

Most political discussions I have participated in eventually breakdown to every man for himself.  This is not a solution, but an admission of political failure, and a willingness to accept anarchy and violence.  I think some kind of common ground can be achieved.  Time will tell.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Is William Stanton's proposal in ASPO Newsletter #55, item 573 the best method?  I have no idea, but it seems like an excellent start.

You call beefing up capital punishment, and euthanizing the retarded, elderly and handicapped, an "excellent start"?

Sorry, but that is an 'unlimited energy' viewpoint.  Imagine it this way: 100 people on a big rowboat, but only enough oars for fifty, and the only way to have ANY survivors is to remove fifty.  How do you choose?  Survival of the fittest, of course, so that they can work together to reach the shore.  Yes, it is very tragic that fifty have to be thrown off, but if you don't--> you might as well go ahead and punch holes in the hull so everyone will die.

Dieoff suggests 95% plus of us will die if we do nothing.  If we are smarter than yeast, we have to do something.  A planned powerdown with voluntary birth control and voluntary Euthanasia is far better than the 'every man for himself' mindset.  Man is a political animal: we CAN come up with some kind of mitigation, but it won't be easy.

Your thinking could result in the wrong mix of people to row.  Imagine a selfish older man who knocks a fit teenager overboard to guarantee himself the last rowing seat.  His singular action has just Doomed the entire rowboat because he will be exhausted long before shore is reached vs the teenager's greater energy reserves.

"Your thinking could result in the wrong mix of people to row."

Perhaps his thinking could, but so could yours. How do you decide who is the fittest? Are you sure that your fitness function will lead to increased survival? What if you're wrong? The fact is that you have no idea how one individual will really affect the groups survival.

Take your example. You throw the older man overboard and keep the teenager. You lose the old guy's knowledge about all kinds of things that would contribute to the survival of the group.  The teenager ends up being a lazy loud-mouth who instigates fights in the group. You all die. Sucks being you.

The truth is that there is simply no good way of choosing who lives or dies in such a situation. Voluntary birth control is an acceptable (for some) way of lessening the problem before it occurs. Voluntary euthanasia is probably the least objectionable way of coping as it occurs. After that, you might as well pick names out of a hat or let nature take its course. Frankly, my vote is for nature because I think I'm a lot more prepared than your average Joe, and I see no reason that I shouldn't benefit for making myself so.

There can never be just process whereby someone decides who live and who dies.  You are absolutely right in that no one can truly foresee what characteristics will be the ones that are most needed.  I find the rowboat scenario to be so contrived and oversimplified as to be meaningless.  What if you found out that if you did not make it to shore with at least 80 people you would not have enough people to survive?  Who the hell can know for sure what will happen?

I believe there are too many people, but don't know how many we can support.  Nor do I know how quickly we would have to reduce to avoid disaster.  To make a decision that others must die requires absolute certainty, which cannot be achieved.  I think that all such logic is just using a difficult situation as an excuse to justify aggressive behaviors.  What's next - should we go hunt down anyone who does not meet our criteria for being fit enough to survive?  Wouldn't want them to drag us down now would we?  There is no way to make a line of separation once you start down that slope.  

Far better to find ways to reward lower birth rates (birth control, people!), and help each other survive.  You may be helping out someone who will do you a good turn later, or perhaps that person will turn out to be key in our survival somehow.  I'll bet on the lesson of history, which is that those societies that can work together collectively, cooperatively, and sustainably will have an advantage in survival.  People have mentioned the Amish - from what I know, they aggregate a large portion of their wealth (both of money and labor), as opposed to keeping it within individual families.  This is a big part of their strength - they do not operate alone.  

I find it greatly disturbing when people use a crisis to abandon any pretense of morality.  

This is the Douglas Adams plan for who lives and who dies:

It was decided that three large Arcs were to be built which would carry the whole population across the galaxy to find a new planet for them to colonise. In the `A Arc' would go all the leaders, the brilliant scientists, the great thinkers and clever politicians, in the `C Arc' would go all the doers, the builders and fabricators, the people who made things. The `B Arc' would therefore carry all the middlemen such as telephone sanitisers and management consultants.

As I recall there were also a lot of hair dressers and insurance salesmen, probably a fairly well-educated bunch.

Anyway, the plan involved the building of the B Arc first. All the 'middle' people were rounded up and sent off to find a new home, oblivious to the fact that the A and C Arcs would never be built.

I find this way of deciding who lives and who dies very clever, despite my belief that my B.Arch. would put me in the B Arc.  Someone has already complained that the C Arc folk are breeding faster than the A and B Arc folks, so perhaps we should send them away first.  But then who would do the work?  A case could clearly be made to send away the A Arc folks, too, since they led us into this mess.  Sending away Daniel Yergin, Prince Ali al-Naimi and Dick Cheney sounds about right, but we'd probably lose our great thinker, Stuart, too.

My personal feeling is it's really not constructive to begin this discussion until/unless we are 100% sure we have an insoluble problem.  I don't think we understand peak oil well enough to have anything like that confidence, let alone the potential alternatives.  Thus I think any discussion of anything other than voluntary birth-control measures, education, etc, is not very helpful (particularly because it's incredibly alienating to anyone who would potentially be in the disfavored groups).
Stuart,  As I am a 'newbie', I will defer to your request.  I assume you wish to delay discussing this topic until the oil depletion rear view mirror is crystal clear. Is a confirmed 12% world oil depletion reduction considered sufficient to re-assess this topic?  If our global economy has not yet collapsed at 75 mbd, along with widespread rioting and military bloodshed--> I would hope this forum can then discuss mitigation.  As you wish.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


 Just one possible scenerio:  Selfish Old man, Has knowledge to feed the people, and that by the time they reach shore he has thought of his mistake at killing the young man, and decided to help his fellow passegers and show them all the fruits of the land that he knows so much about.

 BUT As an above poster said, WE have no formal way of choosing the survivers and have only had a few tid bits of it in some good Psychology Courses.  Man Has never been good at choosing the survivers.  Some History Lovers have gone back and pulled apart history and saved through Fiction the ones that died early.  

 I guess my heart is in this issue a lot more than most of you,  I have a retarded cousin, ( He has an excelent memeroy for anything he sees, or reads, but is still retarded in the ways we judge mental ability).  My second Wife was in a Car accident that nearly killed her but didn't and By God's Grace she walked again, But for all practical purposes she is listed as handicapped.  

 What would you do, take out all obese people too, ( there goes america ) , Or all under fed?  IT's the old thing of who is making the choices, and are you going to get a population faced with this sort of thing to actually stand still and let it happen?

 I doubt it, I think that it will be the basis for the next major crisis, if someone were to go and plan to take out the unfit from those that are fit to live.  Baseball bats and and riot gear thats how your scenerio would end.  

Most humans don't willingly die to save another.  It's not in our nature.

 Your row boat would end in a lot of fighting, the "30 to 45" left get to row to shore.

Where are from man?

I'll get into to understand those concepts. I share your visions on politics, the current dominant economic/political thinking is not prepared for this huge problem. The political systems of most states of Europe, North America, and spreading elsewhere are based on a bourgeois democracy shielded by an ultra-liberal economic agenda. This mainly translates to "Every Man For Himself".

This system might have worked inn the first half of the oil age, but it won't in the second. The liberal thinking will lead to the "Dariwnistic" reduction of population and resource consumption. A completely different political system would be required for a "Draconian" reduction.

Of course, I'm no devilish fascist. I just don't know which way is worse, Simply let the strong overcome the weak, or politely help the weak overcoming themselves. This thoughts make me torn inside.

"...and remember, Survival means:
Every Man For Himself
Statistically more people survive if they think only of themselves.
Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, or loved ones.
You have only a few seconds to escape
Use those seconds sensibly or you will inevitably die..."

Robert Calvert

"If Humanity can somehow finesse pop. curve matching to the energy downslope without huge levels of violence, it will be amazing."

If not capital-H Humanity, then who? Jay Hanson wrote that when the crisis hits, the elites will decimate the world population with a bioweapon. Who are the elites? Can we answer that?

Some of you think as I do.

SR, The "elites" are as muddled as any of us if not more so and too busy to enjoy themselves. Occam's razor suggests incompetence is always a better explanation than conspiracy. Most of the cornucopian elites are generationally too far removed from the ones that extorted their founding fortunes from the rest of the population and would have had a mindset suggested in "kill off" scenarios.
JH: "Who are the elites?" was a rhetorical question. Because it doesn't have to be "the current rulers/quislings/parasitic overlords/etc". Perhaps those who can, having calculated their odds, take certain steps -- perhaps they are the elites. Maybe they don't exist and will never. But that isn't something we can know. I don't think the future is determined. But I do think it will be tricky. I do not think I should be any plainer. Thank you, JH.
Thanks SR, yeah, sometimes I have the numb feeling and disturbing thought that we are the elites seeing that we seem to the ones staring the ogres in the eye while everyone else seems to be busy partying.
Occam's razor (if useful at all) is best applied to science-based theories, not sociology, politics, or history.  there are many cases where the more convoluted explanation is true in complex human situations, which are quite different from nice, tidy blackboards.

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple"
-Oscar Wilde

Isaiah, there is a good deal of truth to Occam especially in social contexts, please consider:
  • laziness is anticonspirational
  • humanity has been around social systems long enough to have learned that spending increasing amounts of energy on control of complex system like social networks results in steeply diminishing returns and ultimately systems collapse
  • social systems are of evolutionary/biological origin and are energy efficient down to molecular levels to a degree we can't fathom yet. They don't lend themselves to waste. Now don't get this wrong, they can certainly waste energy as system output but the workings of the system itself are highly efficient, have to be after a few billion years.

So if social privileges can be maintained without conspirational efforts they will be. 100% guaranteed. One of the most disturbing comments I have come across in the 'elite' preparation for PO is that 'we might be beyond the point where it is profitable to do any mitigation'.

Thanks for your comments Isaiah.


the elite aren't lazy.  why?  because they have too much to lose.  do you think corporate execs, political leaders, and central banksters are going to sit around being lazy when their empires go down in flames?  the institutions they run (transnational corporations, which are legal psychopaths, private central banks, which manipulate money supplies and credit, and political states that demolish human/civil rights and disempower the people) are tyrannical and oppressive, no matter who is at the helm.  we don't need a "conspiracy" theory, we just need to understand how history has worked and continues to work.  did the monarchy, the Church, imperialism/colonialism, slavery, and other means to control and oppress the masses for centuries require a "conspiracy"?  

the legal definition of conspiracy is simply: An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.  sounds like that happens all the time.  in devastation there is opportunity.  great opportunity.  

i have no idea what you mean about social systems being efficient down to a molecular level.  how can you relate efficiency to a social organization?  it's also ridiculous to think that social systems are purely biological/evolutionary in origin.  this sort of reductive analysis will end in failure as sociology, culture and history cannot be described in such terms.  not only is biology horrendously inefficient (e.g. photosynthesis is about 0.1% efficient in tranforming solar energy to chemical energy, and a factor of 10 loss in energy results from each further level of consumption) but social systems are meant (theoretically) to promote community and quality of life.  this has nothing to do with efficiency, which smacks of individual subjugation for greater production and consumption (read: 1984).  

by "elites" I think we're talking about the banksters and their ilk. They control the interest rates and effectively own the governments. The Money Masters. They can make anything happen, and rumor has it that population reduction and stabilization is near the top of the agenda, when the time is right of course.
So I hesitate to post this link, since it's kind of throwing condensate on this particular fire, and I've no idea if this alleged speech by the former Chinese Defense Minister is actually authentic or not, but oh, what the hell...
Just needed to stir things up, huh?  It will be interesting to see what becomes of this fellow in the future.
Considering these article from the same site:

Terrorists in Afghanistan and Insurgents in Iraq were nothing compared to the animalistic brutality of typical American niggers.

Traitorous White - or is she a jew?- (in blue dress with sign) deserves to be hunted down and killed for what her little sign reads.
This woman is MORE DANGEROUS to white Australians than the non-whites she's defending. . . . .

I'm not very convinced of the authenticity

I originally stumbled across it in The Epoch Times, which seems to be a newspaper with a strong Chinese dissident streak which is available free in the little cafe run by nice Chinese ladies where I sometimes have breakfast.  Their version is here.  They say it was first published on (Chinese only site) in February, long before Hal Turner got hold of it.  So it seems to have come out of the Chinese dissident community.  Whether that makes it more or less credible than the right wing talk show site where I initially found it when I came to Google it, I don't know.  Presumably it could well be the work of some Chinese Chalabi.  I hope so.
It's certainly not something I'd put much stock in.  Aren't there areas to the north of China proper that are not so heavily populated?  The whole thing is so improbable.
It would appear that China plans to take Taiwan with no interference, and trying to call the USA's bluff with nuclear war option on the table means they are serious.
nuclear war I don't think the USA will stand in the way either. China has the largest armed forces in the world, twice the size of USA's armed forces. And the USA has the second largest armed force in the world.
Plus if they wanted to punish the US, all they have to do is curtail any shipments to the nations Walmarts' for about 3 weeks. That would teach us to mess around with them!
Peak Electronics. Oh the Horror!
And all the US would need to do would be to stop shipments, especially oil, to China.
China is less dependent on imported oil than US, both in % of consumption terms and, even more so, in absolute terms. They are trying hard to avoid the proportion of their oil needs from imports rising.
I don't think one can completely dismiss the possibility that this speech (or something like it) actually happened. I've never seen a reported speech this explicit about plans and it seems odd that such possible detailed plans would be discussed outside very restricted cabals. However, I have seen slightly similar comments relating to how China are managing the economic relationship.

'Rogue' Chinese functionaries have given totally off the wall speeches and comments in the past and some have been relieved of their position. This chap is a bit high up the hierarchy though.

I'm no expert in Chinese politics. Could be some factions within the ruling elite do subscribe to such views but also likely that other factions are very opposed to them. Who knows how their internal machinations might play out?

Nor can one dismiss the possibility that the US security branches have read similar maybe speeches and have contingency plans, they have put creedence on perhaps less probable reports and, indeed, apparently taken military action on them.

If such views take hold on either side then we could be in for a very big and nasty die off scenario. I, perhaps wishfully, don't think it's more than an extreme possibility but it must be considered a real one.

Ultimately it will come down to whether humans collectively choose to cooperate and fairly share this planet's resources or fight over them as we mostly have done so far. For cooperation and sharing to stand a chance the pre-eminent empire (currently USA) must be magnanimous, share its wealth and power so the whole of humanity becomes strong enough and equal enough to withstand the temptation of conflict and to resist nations which seek conflict for selfish advantage. Signs are not good so far, maybe the dire possibility is more real than I previously perceived.

My highschool term paper was on Nuclear Energy, but a friend's was on Population.  I helped them with getting the information, because well, I loved digging in the Library. That was, um, Thinks real hard, 25 years ago.  The CRISIS was on the wall then,  But we were going to have 10 Billion by 2010,  so maybe they were off a bit, but we have almost doubled in population since those early days of wonder.

One thing that does concern me and I have mentioned this before on several threads, is PEAK FOOD.

 As We get to PEAK OIL we will also get to PEAK FOOD because as most of us know "WE EAT OIL".  The Green Revolution allowed the growth rates to shoot up a bit higher.  We will face the day when our death rates far out pace our birth rates.  When that time is no one knows, though there are guesses.

 P.S.  Hey Bob Shaw,  You finally made it to the best Peak Oil discussion I have found.  I posted on those same sites as ceojr1963.  Welcome.

Interestingly I think peak per capita food happened in about 1979 too, mirroring peak per capita oil, but I don't think I saved the link. The implications are somewhat ominous.

Just as with peak oil all the best food production land has been used, fish stocks have depleted, soil erosion increasingly affects production. Can we squeeze out another 50% food for the estimated 50% increase in population over the next 50 years? Hope will still have fertilisers, pesticides etc. Could be a lot of hungry people around in the near future.

World per-capita cereal production occured in 1984, according to World food trends and prospects to 2025, a paper presented at the National Academy of Sciences colloquium "Plants and Population: Is There Time?" held December 5-6, 1998, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  The article includes a series of interesting charts, but fails to make any mention of peak oil, and comes to a rather rosy conclusion:

... the main thrust of this paper has been to show that, in general, the world food situation has been improving. And I have argued that this trend probably will continue during the next few decades. World food output will continue to rise, although there will be a growing degree of mismatch between the expansion of food demand and the capacity to supply that demand. Accordingly the balance will be met by a considerable expansion of the world food trade. As a result, most people probably will be better fed in 2025 than is the case today.
Google World Grain harvest 2005 to find some interesting updates on the situation:
Example is
To my knowledge Wheat&Rice will be down in absolute terms, not just per capita this year. Climate change is ripping into our production base, just look at the South European and African harvests this year.
Also it looks like Fertiliser production is collapsing due to NG pricing.
Here's the FAO's Food Outlook report for this month.
Back in 1998 we didn't have the same foods in some of our stores as we do today.  Walmart, and other big chain stores have been trying to get better supplies of foods in the USA winter time, like fresh fruits that can't be had through normal USA production.

 Within the last decade 1993-2003 the imports and growth of foods that aren't normal to several South American countries has been on a fast upswing.  Chile produces a vast array of crops that just aren't native, but can grow there. Peru grows Asparagus, which needs a freeze in the winter time, which is the USA's summer.  We are reaping the benifits of the trade from Our Own "Down Under".
 Check out the foods you see in the stores these days, especially fresh fruits and canned fruits and you will notice that they are imported from other countries.  Produced on massive scales, all of them using the cheap OIL that was available back when the trend started.

 As we get closer to the first few bumps, or the peak itself we will see the prices of these items go up a bit here and there.  

 If you have ever shopped in Ethnic markets, ( I live in a city that has a wide vararity of Foreign born, and or Foreign Nationals living here) Cross world trade in "home grown" products can be found, labels and all ( some with US looking labeling over stamps ).  I buy a lot of products that you just can't find in the US stores.  I grew up in an AIR FORCE family, and we moved a lot, and I love foods that aren't native. But even these stores you are seeing prices going up, to levels that I am surprized that they keep the customers they do.

 As we will see the USA and the other big ELITE old world markets will go through yet again another transfer state, where those foods that most kids under 18 have grown to love, will over time stop being offered, and then go totally away.

 Well at least Peru and Chile will have lots of getting cheaper by the day food sources.

As We get to PEAK OIL we will also get to PEAK FOOD because as most of us know "WE EAT OIL".

Actually, it would be a lot more accurate to say "WE DRIVE OIL". Most of the oil produced today is being wasted on frivolous end-uses like unnecessary motoring, traffic jams and sprawl. It's ridiculous to say that there will not be enough oil to produce and distribute food, even for a very long time after peak oil. The idea that person A's right to drive trumps person B's  right to eat is clearly cynical and immoral.

BOTH are true!

Just look at where your food comes from, you will see a lot of transport going on, moving food from farm A in South America, to Customer B in Ohio.

 When Peak OIL gets here, sure we will see less transport, but our system is RIGGED, no transport no food.

 As we have less and less Drive time, we will be doing a lot of adjusting in the ELITE countries, but the small thrid world countries will still be as bad off or worse.

 How far is your nearest farm, or food patch?  How Far is your nearest store that sells food?  These things we ALL have to look at in the coming days, weeks and years. Does that Farm grow Cotton, or Food crops, or things you can just go out and pick in season?

 ASK that of the folks that live in any city over about 50,000!  If you can not walk to your food,  How will you get it without spending OIL to drive there?

 Sure we will do away with going to Entertainment, and might limit some of our commute, but do to much and JOBS fail, and the cycle gets worse.

 All in All, we are in one mess of a pickle, No easy answers. ONLY a lot of TRUTH staring at us in the face and DEMANDING we do something about it.

Nice work Stuart! you should add the actual observed data on your last two graphs about barrels/capita/year like this one:

What's striking to me the most is the constant barrel/capita/year around 4.43 that has been observed for the last two decades.

I must again call attention to the fact that 2350 Gb is quite an optimistic number. BP yearly production worked with ASPO comulative numbers turns in a URR of 2160 GB.  
I think that difference is likely less than the error bars in what the number is.  (I keep meaning to post on error estimation for Hubbert linearization, but keep not quite getting to it).
Yeah, I should have put the data in, but I went to bed instead :-)  I was going to just use your graph, but I wanted to use the UN medium scenario, not the high scenario.
Here's a question for you, Stuart.  You mentioned that you found Julian Simon's book THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE to be not-very-well-argued.  Could you summarize what you found to be the chief fallacies underlying his position?
Simon's cornucopian arguments are prefigured by Henry George in "Progress and Poverty". George, writing in the 19th century, had of course a more enjoyably readable style. He really disses Malthus. You should be able to judge the arguments there without needing to choke down Simon's tendentiousness.
Deserving of a long post, but that would force me to read the book again, and I'd rather not :-).  In a nutshell, 1) you can't tell the difference between an exponential and a logistic or a peak-and-crash when you are on the upswing by looking at past data (which is most of what Simon does), 2) he chooses his time series to almost all be post-industrial revolution (ignoring the long history of civilizations that didn't make it), 3) he's totally ignorant about thermodynamics, and proud of his ignorance, 4) he engages in a considerable amount of intellectual dishonesty about how many doublings it really takes before exponential growth overwhelms any finite anything (he keeps going on about 8 billion years, IIRC, in a specious manner), and 5) in the final analysis he is relying on space colonization to save us in the further future.  That looks rather unpromising post-Einstein.

That said, there are some good arguments in the book that I agree with (roughly that many other problems are soluble if you only have enough energy to solve them with).

Incidentally, my previous question to Stuart is also directed to anyone else who may have read the book, or even to anyone who has a general familiarity with the thought-paradigm of which Simon's book seems to be a leading proponent.
Even if the whole world were to go through the demographic transition by 2010 (which it won't), the question remains "Could the earth SUSTAIN a human population of even 6 billion over the long haul --to say nothing of 9 to 12 billion?"  Even now --just to keep going-- we are drawing down the earth's capital of fresh water, ocean fish, forests, arable land (through massive soil erosion) etc. And projected climate changes are not going to help any.  "We eat oil" is a good phrase.  The current world population level is a direct expression of this truth.  (Even the USA population has doubled since I was 10 years old in 1950). What happens when oil and natural gas peak and inexorably decline?    
One additional factor to add to this analysis is declining EROEI (per the e-mail I ironically sent you late yesterday, Stuart)  For example, if we have the same raw production of say, 25 Bb/y, at an EROEI of say 7:1 because we're extracting a much greater proportion of polar, deep water and heavy oil than we did when we produced 25 Bb/y on the upslope, when we had an EROEI of perhaps 25:1, then we'll have a net availability of 21.5 Bb/y on the way down vs. the 24 Bb/y we had on the way up. Assuming a population of 7 billion, we'd have 3.07 b/c instead of the 3.43 b/c we had on the way up.  So declining EROEI has a significant impact on the back side of the curve.  Perhaps someone with a better handle on the EROEI both historically and looking forward might care to expand on this point.
An interesting population chart indeed. Since approx. 1940 till present the world population has tripled. from 2 bil to 6 bil. A lot of comments i've seen/heard was how people managed to get by in WW2 during difficult times. And while that may have been true, the same does not apply today, due to finite resources and 6 billion people wanting the same thing water,food and wood.
Even if you were take the total area of land on earth and divide by the present world population, i don't think we would get 1 or 2 acres per person. I haven't done the math but it would be interesting. Besides, some of the land is worthless for growing food thus having land does not always equate to growing food.
I can't help but see a Die-off coming around the corner. A mother earth correction will be in order. Whether that comes from avian flu, terrorist jihad, or starvation. And then how big of a correction? 10%? 20%?
A 50% correction would leave us with 3 billion world wide.
Things that make you go.....Hmmmm!
Most definitions of overshoot describe it as population rising significantly above what the ecosystem can support. In the case of human beings, we've tied together all our nations and communities so our ecosystem is really the entire world. Now it's pretty clear that we are in overshoot and the only question is how far into overshoot we are. But another observation is that when observing animal populations in their various ecosystems, dieoff can often reach 90% and the correction does not restore population to the "peak" that the ecosystem can carry but instead restores it to levels far lower.

As someone elsewhere once noted, we've been dealt a bad hand by natural selection - we're prolific breeders and our brains are primarily there to support our prolific breeding habits. We can talk about changing those habits but we never actually do on any scale that matters so the conclusion is that we'll get dieoff from some factor. As I noted yesterday in another thread while quoting Professor Bartlett, our only real choice is how we reduce population. We can choose to do it ourselves in a controlled manner that attempts to respect one another as much as possible or we can let nature reduce the population in its own way, which won't give a damn about how we feel about the topic.

We can choose to do it ourselves in a controlled manner that attempts to respect one another as much as possible or we can let nature reduce the population in its own way, which won't give a damn about how we feel about the topic.

Would you please explain who the "we" is here?  Exactly WHO would be doing this controlled change and under what auspices?  While you're at it you might explain to my feeble brain why "our" decision would not be "nature's" way of dealing with the problem.  Are you suggesting we exist outside of nature?

I fail to see how the word "choose" is relevant to situations like this.  We are observers of collective actions mediated mostly by money.  To think that the monied interests are going to "respect one another as much as possible" is true only if "one another" is other rich folks.

I value the conversation here at TOD and I don't mean the above comment as a diss.  It's just that there's so much talk about what "we" have to do to prevent calamity.  You?  Me?  Who?

I think I know what you're saying: that if we collectively fail to plan for more expensive energy the consequences in terms of human suffering will be worse than if we do.

Sadly, we won't because it would be psychological death.  Next time you drive down a commercial street count the number of businesses that directly or indirectly are based on the automobile?  Next time you eavesdrop on conversations in the line at Costco listen for how many are about cars and trucks.

I watched the American Film Theatre's production of The Iceman Cometh last evening.  I recommend you watch it and imagine Hickey proposing that we give up our cars instead of our pipe dreams.  We'd respond just like the drunks.  It's a parable for our time.  The car is the pipe dream of the world.

When I say "we" I mean the human race as a whole. When I suggest that we make a choice instead of nature, I am suggesting that our species make a collective yet rational decision about how to address the problem rather than letting willy-nilly probabilities kill billions.

You suggest that such a choice is "psychological death" but fail to support your assertion at all. Why do you believe this is so? If the values and goals of individuals and groups of people from the hunter-gatherer era up til now can vary so widely, why can't we find yet another set of values and goals?

Or is what you are really saying is that you'd rather die with the worldview you know than live with one you don't? I don't accept that but if the majority of the species does, then yes, we are headed back to the Olduvai Gorge. Given that choice and any alternative other than suburban consumerism, I know that I'd prefer to give the alternatives a look before I dove headlong back into the caves. And if the choice is between some form of moderate technology steady state society and a total fall back to hunter-gatherer living, I'll take the steady state society, thank you very much.

It would be a lot more informative if you described the exact measures you are advocating for reducing/stabilizing population. That would explain who the "we" is a lot better. For example, it's clear that the 1st world has generally stabilized its population, while 3rd world regions like Africa are exploding. Clearly there would be racial questions involved in the 1st world "solving" the 3rd world population boom -- particularly if the methods do not show the highest respect for the affected persons.

Also, it's not at all clear that human beings are in overshoot. For those interested in a balanced treatment of the subject of carrying capacity, see "How Many People Can the Earth Support?" by Joel E. Cohen.

We are intelligent beings but collectively we are not intelligent.  Our actions as a species are controlled by social and cultural rules that do not yield to individual intelligence.  If we were an intelligent species we would immediately begin to reduce our breeding and curtail our consumption, especially as related to irreplacable fossil fuels.  It won't happen.  Population and consumption will be diminished but not as a result of conscious decision.  We will go down kicking and screaming, as usual.

I was wondering, by the way, about the behaviour of the death rate and birth rate on the downslope.  With reduced per capita energy we will propably reverse the demographic transition.  We observed a lag of the birth rate on the upslope.  Taking longer to start decreasing than the death rate.  Will there also be a lag on the downslope? In other words will the birth rate take longer to start going back up once the death rate accelerates?  Won't that lead to a quicker stabilization?

Then, perhaps, we must become more intelligent collectively, as a species. Else we will likely become extinct - not through random ill chance or through being out competed, but through our own foolishness and flaws. Surely that makes us the most stupid of beings?

Our epitaph might be: Here lies an intelligent monkey, once the pinnacle of evolution on this planet. But it used its intelligence for greed and selfish purpose, failed to live in balance, and after a very brief period as the pre-eminent species, vanished as rapidly as it had appeared.

The downslope will be very bumpy, sudden dieoffs due to all sorts of human and semi-random causes, and brief periods of relative stability. Since infant mortality will be significantly higher, as will mortality for breeding age population, increased birth rates would be unlikely to result in significant increases in population.

Looked at in a historical perspective the decline will be vertical. Who can guess what the population growth after maybe stabilisation might be? Odds are life will be hard for a while.

Just to put some emotions back into this and get the juices flowing:

All voluntary population control measures human societies have come up with to-date that actually work are profoundly unpalatable to our western societies and especially our dominant religion. (see J. Diamonds rendition of the Pacific Islands approach that worked). It is perfectly acceptable under virtually all religious frameworks for natural catastrophies to cull population but not for planned reduction (even excluding cullng, just control). We just don't want to and won't, forget it, it won't happen. To die starving is noble. To control population is fascist. Culling by catastrophy is the path of our choice.
Let's just see what are the moral arguments?
Any birthcontrol is bad, we need more children.
Suicide is bad.
Overshoot is caused by an absence of birthcontrol.
Overshoot is collective suicide.
Suicide is bad.
But rejoice .. after the collapse we can breed again.

To control population is fascist? And we need to control the population? It would help a person out, cognitive-dissonance-wise, to be a fascist. Hmm.
Let's get to some facts here. There are profoundly different dynamics occurring in different parts of the word, as Stuart points out. The least and lesser-developed countries do need fertility reduction, and there are both cultural and economic barriers to effective birth control. Help is needed.

But in the developed world, it's very different:
"United Nations projections indicate that over the next 50 years, the populations of virtually all countries of Europe as well as Japan will face population decline and population ageing." This report lists 33 countries that are expected to have population declines by 2050.

Why is this happening? Worldwide, when socio-economic improvements occur (more education, income, and health care), fertility drops. There's no need for these societies to take "measures" to drop fertility--it just happens, with no complaints or coercion. Italy and Singapore are trying hard to get their birthrates up, not down.

Religious attitudes towards contraception are complex, but religions in general (and the people who practice them) are far more accepting of birth control than you infer (see

Population reduction can occur by catastrophe, and we're often morally culpable for that. When people die of exposure in Kashmir this winter, because the world did not give them shelter, we will bear responsibility. The West is going to allow much of Africa to suffer and die from AIDS, when it need not be so.

If it gets to the point where we allow or promote population culling, we will be collectively guilty of terrible crimes which resulted from our own bad management.

Rick, thanks for the comments and link.

The point I am trying to make is that we are already way in overshoot. Maybe by as much as 4 - 5 billion. Look at Stuart pre-industrial phase in the graph at the top. We need to reduce population fast if we want to avert a 'natural cull'. And I have a nasty feeling we will not be able to do that precisely because even thinking about it makes most of us - me included - sick in our hearts. Radical birth control measures are not viable. We don't want them (which politician is going to vote for less voters?), they are cruel and we will fight them (like the one child policy). And I am not even talking about killing people like the esteemed Chinese sage Stuart referenced, just not breeding.

All the measures that you pointed out have reduced population growth in the 1st world will be victims of PO. In fact you mention yourself that instead of welcoming population contraction we are trying to prevent it. Doesn't make sense to me. Population contraction has always a morbid taste to it.

Taking the average number I have seen in my life of about 57,000,000 Square miles of LAND area, then multiplying 640 acres per square mile, then dividing roughly 6.4 Billion people you get about 0.702 (rounded) Acres per person.

 The above 57,000,000 Square miles, inculdes all the deserts, all the ice fields, and all the land masses.

 So no, we fall way short for good food production using any method but heavy Fossil Fuel Energy imputs.  
 Now I know folks that can grow a lot of food on a city lot,  average size in this example being 60 feet by 150 feet with house foot print, OR about 2/10 ths of an acre.  

 But most land is not great for growing everything you will eat in a year.  We got where we are today by a "Green Revolution" FOSSIL FUEL ENERGY imputs on a vast world wide scale.

500,000,000 Km2, 360,000,000 is water, 140,000,000 is land, at, 14,000,000,000 total hectares, divided by 7,000,000,000 pop is 2 hectares each, assume one hectare is not north of the barley line or too dry, so 330 feet by 330 feet per capita. Assume that we get some fish, too.
Thank god for fertilizer and irrigation. And especially thank god that both the above can run on coal.
We had better work on getting some biologically engineered wild food plants upgraded to crop status soon. We can't afford the pesticides and the pests are starting to get used to the ones we have.
Figures showing TFR/Pop. Growth versus log(GDP/capita) are interesting, It would also be interesting to plot log(barrels of oil/capita) versus log(GDP/capita) to see how the different countries are clustered and in particular where India & China are placed.
World Population Distribution by Region, 1800?2050
 just scroll down on the page to see the distribution.

Right here

note North America has been stable, Europe has declined. Latin America, Africa saw the increases. While Asia has been fairly stable with a slight increase. Interesting.

"Stable" in percentage terms is a bit misleading.Here's a different perspective:

Looks about as stable as bacteria in a petri dish...

Discover magazine had an article about the "The Population Bust," about a year ago.  The world population growth rate has slowed, and this was not predicted 30 years ago.  

They listed three main reasons for the change: the empowerment of women, increasing urbanization, and improved nutrition and healthcare.  Women who are empowered are able to tell their husbands "We enough kids, we aren't having any more."  Children are valuable free labor on a farm, but just get in the way in a tiny city apartment.  And people are willing to have fewer children, when they know the ones they have are likely to survive.  

Sadly, I think all those are likely to reverse in the post-carbon age, and when that happens, the population growth rate will increase again.  

Leanan, you mentioned urbanization, nutrition and healthcare. All three will be reversed or suffer in a big way down the depletion curve. Any idea if that will reverse the trends you mentioned having corrected the growth rate?
I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but I would guess yes.  If people leave the city and go back to farming, suddenly having more kids will be seen as necessary again.  Even China exempts rural families from their "one child only" policy.  And if there's a high infant mortality rate, people will have more kids, just to make sure some survive to adulthood.  
Just to give you some idea of what one is up against when discussing the global population problem with some people, I recall that about 6 years ago Rush Limbaugh argued that the world is not really overcrowded and that all this concern about too many people was just the fantasies of a bunch of leftist greenies.  

The 'proof' he offered was a real gem. He argued that if one assumes an average of 5 people per household, then the entire world population could fit inside the state of Texas and still be housed in single-family dwellings, each situated on an approximate  60 x 90-ft lot.

Brilliant argument!  But if you do the arithmetic, he is technically correct. I guess his concept of supporting a population is just finding a place to put the people. For that matter, if you stacked people in boxcars, you could easily fit the entire world's population inside the state of Delware.

This is the level of technical sophistication that one must often deal with. But if you want to persuade people, I guess you've got to start somewhere.

(for demonstration purposes) The New Orleans superdome housed quite a few people for only a few days after hurricane Katrina. We and the world quickly saw how the quality of life dropped off like a ton of bricks. It could not have been sustained over a pro longed period of time.

Like they say... "Only the strong survive".

He must be one of those people who puts 30 goldfish in 10-gallon tank, and wonders why they die.  
Now that was so funny my sides hurt! And the milk i was drinking has just come out of my nose!
Put in perspective, my grandfather back in the late 70's, had many children, and grandchildren. At Thanksgiving dinner he stood at the end of the very large dining table, his seat had been taken, he looked around, grinned and said out loud "It seems I have screwed myself out of a place at the table".

collectively speaking this may be true on a global prespective.

If memory serves, world population is currently increasing at the rate of about 1.4 million people per week.  Because of Peak Oil, Richard Duncan (Road to the Olduvai Gorge) predicts that in 2008 we will start seeing a net dieoff of about 2.1 million people per week.

I assume most Peak Oilers have read his treatise, but here is a link:

Do they take AIDS into account here?  I realize that the current infection rates are small enough on a worldwide basis to not really make a difference, but in some countries the infection rates are truly horrifying.

At the moment I don't see any hope for arresting the progress of the disease.  Many nations simply don't take it seriously enough until the disease has spread far and wide, and treatments are only of use for those of means and those who can afford expensive drugs, and really aren't relevant to the 3rd world.

Any efforts to stem the tide of the disease seem to center on having an effective central government that is able to provide resources.  Mainly in the form of education to prevent infection in the first place.   I cannot help but wonder if governments will be weakened around the world as energy and resource shortages will rear their ugly heads, and this will cause infection rates to skyrocket.

just as depletion rate is the crux of peak oil production discussions, population is the crux of peak oil socio-political discussions.
 i am not an apocolipticon when it comes to peak oil. actually i'm a very happy person,although peak oil discussions seem to bring out the dark side. but population and food is a rather dismal thought.
 i have thought quite a bit lately about my own situation. i can see muddleling through with my shelter/transportation problems. that's doable. and i'm only putting this into the perspective of "what if i can only depend on myself".....but food, that's another story.
  my family has gardened and farmed for the last 28 years. not large scale,mind you, but i do have some idea what is involved in the process. our production, although fruitful, and hardily helped by fertilizer on rocky soil, is still minor in comparison to our yearly food requirements.
 this is where i get stuck.

     what about food??

stuart's second graph tells it all. overlaying oil production is basically the same graph. i'm the product of an affluent country. most of those 6 billion are not.

     what about food?

Also consider what will happen when a farmer can earn more $ from growing oilseed crops for energy instead of food crops.

The scary thought I have is that of a year when a huge group of farmers all decide to plant energy crops instead of food crops, and how that will affect the availability of food the following winter.

Re:  food crops versus energy crops

This has been a problem in Brazil, where a big shift to sugar cane production has had two adverse effects:  (1)  rising food prices, as less land is devoted to food crops, and (2)  increasing unemployment rates in agricultural areas (apparently sugar cane requires far fewer man-hours than do typical food crops).

Yes I think this is the question,What about food? The pop. explosion chart almost matches the fossil fuel use chart.I think with detoriating farmland/ water etc., even without peak oil we were in trouble. Only 10% of earth is arable. With farmland maxed out, the only solution is better yields.One glimmer of hope I have is that more intensive planting, raised beds etc. could get better yields, and this requires hands on work. Well we'll have lots of hands. Also info is a major help here too.  But politically and mindset wise this will not be chosen until necessary on a large scale. God help 3rd world countries: for ex. Africa imports which imports 20% of it's food.   But the day the local groceries are empty, with unknown delivery will be a bad day in any U. S. city. The more we can get local food production/purchasing  going ,we'll be so much better.
I've been looking into purchasing a greenhouse, in which vegetables can be grown intensively either hydroponically or organically. Apparently the technology has advanced quite a bit, and one can now grow food year 'round, even in winter conditions.

Some farmers are getting into this as a way to supplement their cash flow while they wait for their field crops to mature each season.

I'm thinking of getting the hobby version (capable of producing 3/4 of a ton of tomatoes) prior to thinking seriously about a commercial version. The way I see it, the more food that is grown locally in the future, the better.

For $4.50, I received a thick packet of information along with a DVD. If you're interested, visit Crop King.

Thanks for the great link George.
It is my pleasure. And thanks to you for the wealth of useful information you have shared in this forum. I saved the postings you wrote recently about batteries for future reference. I am rather envious of your backup systems!

Oh and by the way, to all, I found the discussion about the future of nuclear energy between Whitehall, Magnus and others so interesting a few days ago that I saved the entire thing. At 12 point type it came to 55 pages in Word! Where else would anyone willingly spend so much time reading 55 Word pages? Kudos to all.

George, how are you going to heat the greenhouse in the middle of a Vermont winter?
Somewhere buried on my desk is a photocopy of an article about insulating greenhouses with soap bubbles. The greenhouse has two layers with a gap in between and the gap is filled (and refilled periodically) with soap bubbles. Light passes through, but heat is mostly contained. The greenhouse still has to be heated, but not much even in a northern winter. If the article turns up, I'll try to pass on a reference. I can't remember the details off the top of my head.
Here's a link for a soap-bubble insulated greenhouse:
Great stuff!
I know, sounds crazy doesn't it? That was my first question as I started looking into this. Apparently the new plastics/construction methods can insulate sufficiently to make it possible.

From what I've seen so far in the material, it looks like every greenhouse has a big propane tank attached to it. With rising NG prices and falling supplies that will be an issue of course. However, I know of at least one commercial greenhouse near here that uses an efficient wood burner, and there's plenty of wood around here, let me tell you! Especially since the big blizzard last month destroyed many trees in this area!

There's already a few people up here doing this. In our local shops we find tomatoes grown hydroponically in central Vermont in the middle of winter. Here's one grower.


They have Greenhouses all over the place, growing crops all winter long.  Banana trees with bananas on them.  And this was when I was there in 1975-1977.  The ability has been around for over 30 years, nothing new about it.

In some climes, you don't need cooling for summer, but that can be had with swamp coolers. In cold climes, you can heat with even wood stoves as they did in the old days of the "rich man's gardens under glass" .  Forced air over the wood stove can heat a small green house rather nicely, as well as planning thermal heat sinks,  I used Black recycled Olive barrels ( 5 gallons each stackable) filled with water, and set at an angle that the sun hit them in winter and at night they radiated their heat back out.

There are a lot of methods to do the heating and cooling in a low energy environment, just a bit of planning and you can do a lot.

Though food scarcity is still mostly a distributional issue, peak per capita food was in the mid 80s while all those farm aid concerts were happening.  

I have many population and resource graphs in presentations available in pdf here:

and in html here:

This later presentation includes a primer on population biology in the context of peak oil, climate change, etc.  

Thanks for the link, Jason, looks a good site on quick scan.

Once upon a time I had a link to a simple table that gave year 2000 population and forecast 2050 population by country, on a UN site I think, but it seems to have vanished :(

Found this though, dated 1999, I've not read the pdf yet:

At present more than 3 billion people worldwide are malnourished; grain production per capita has been declining since 1983; irrigation per capita has declined 12% during the last decade; cropland per capita has declined 20% during the past decade; fish production per capita has declined 7% during the past decade; per capita fertilizer supplies essential for food production have declined 23% during the past decade; loss of food to pests has not decreased below 50% since 1990...

A couple of other useful reads on population:


Do you have any insight into why food/capita is decreasing even though world GDP in increasing and on the whole developing countries have been getting wealthier (with the exception of the very poorest).  It seems implausible to me that we've hit the limits of food production given there's a lot of land that used to be in food production that no longer is (eg New England, sequestered land in the EU, etc).  What else are we using land for?  Or is it a yields no longer keeping up with pop growth issue (Malthus was right after all).  Your graph with the inverted parabola is quite compelling, but I don't understand the dominant causes yet (to know whether I would believe the extrapolation or not).

Of course this is very complex, Stuart.  But I'll give it a try.

Some land is kept out of production to keep markets getting over saturated.  But this doesn't really tell the story.

More importantly, almost no methods of Agriculture employed are sustainable, so the quality of arable land is in constant decline.  It is sort of like the depletion of existing oil fields. Right now we are in a total ag output stagnation period balanced between some area expansion and depletion of old 'fields.'  

While the depletion of ag land is made up by expanding ag area, there are severe limits to this.  Food output ca. doubled since the 1960's, even though ag area increased by less than 10%.  This is what the 'Green Revolution' was able to do and why the population bust didn't happen and surprised the 70's era Malthusians.  

However, high tech ag is capital intensive, so even though GDP is increasing, with a global ag system it is often not cost effective to put marginal lands into production and get only so-so yields.  

Even so, marginal ag lands are going into production, but historically this has spelled disaster.  Poor quality ag land is depleted even faster than high quality land with its good topsoil and balanced nutrients.  In an ag sense, this is analogous to tapping smaller deposits of natural gas and having them run out in a short while.

Regarding the U.S., we do have theoretically a lot of potential ag land, but much of the best land in the U.S. is now under suburban sprawl, e.g., Santa Clara valley where I grew up, so we are left with more and more of marginal quality too.  

Largest expanding ag region is South America, especially southern Brazil.  Subtropical dry forest making way for soybeans.  

Furthermore, there are possible climate change feedbacks already kicking in that are hurting ag output, though this is hard to sort out behind background variation.  

Meanwhile, population is increasing by about 200,000 people per day.  Each person in the U.S. uses about 3/4 of an acre of ag land, whereas in Rwanda it is more like a 1/10th an acre.  Somewhere in between is the per capita global addition of ag land required to keep food production flat.

I guess my point is that as long as we have obvious options for increasing food production (like farming new England again), the fact that food production/capita is dropping has to be about economics and distribution, not sheer physical limits.  Well, maybe it's never possible to disentangle the two.  But at any rate, food production could go up if we farmed New England.  We aren't doing so, presumably because we (collectively) would rather have second homes (or paper production or something) in New England than export more food to Niger.

Also, the peak food/capita has not translated into higher crude death rates in the least developed countries, at least not as of 2004.

Are there separate data series for ag land and yields globally?  (Ideally by crop?)

The FAO keeps really good track of what is grown where.  Also tracks which countries are import dependent.  

You point is well taken.  In the US we do have more options, but that ain't so everywhere.  

One of the big worries conservation biologists have is with a collapse of industrial ag and decline of fossil energy that people are forced back to the land into desperate forms of subsistence agriculture and a biomass energy system that erodes and deforests more than now.  

About 70% of US grains are fed to animals now I believe, so there's lots of room for using food more efficiently.

If everyone were a vegan and food was distributed evenly, the world could feed about 20 billion people.  This is from FAO data.  

There's no severe gross shortage of food of course because population is still rising!  Human population change fits the simplest of population models where carrying capacity (K) is simply given as food supply.  But this model is never even studied by UN demographers.  

What is falling is the quality of the land, the levels in the aquifers, and the material base for fertilizer production that sustains this high ag output.  

If the converging exponential trends of population growth and resource decline meet then we have some real suffering.  

I suspect you will look at the systems models that attempt to work out all these feedback loops.  GUMBO may be the best.

The fact that food production/capita is dropping has to be about economics and distribution, not sheer physical limits.  Well, maybe it's never possible to disentangle the two.

You got it more correct in the second sentence. Sheer physical limits only set theoretical maximums for what might be possible. However, the systems we have now are path dependent, and to restructure and reorganize all of them in order to reach those sheer physical limits would be a monumental task. There is a marginal returns curve on sociopolitical complexity as well, not just food and oil production. Joseph Tainter explores this in his classic The Collapse of Complex Societies. (If you've not read it, see summaries here and here.)

Also, while food production per capita is probably going to be the best measure there is, this data does not necessarily measure how much food is actually being eaten. There will be inefficiencies, and much of the food that is produced each year is wasted. Theoretically, as long as efficiencies in distribution are improving faster than agricultural yields are dropping, net end-user consumption could continue to increase. Further, as there are other contributing factors to population equations besides food, populations in the Third World countries may have been limited not by food availability but by other factors such as disease. Thus a decline in food production would not necessarily contribute to a net increase in crude death rate. Finally, there is the element of feedback lag. Populations can (and will) continue to increase for a time even when food production levels off or declines. All this says is that negative feedback of decline in food availability does not have an instantaneous effect.

The best discussion of Julian Simon's book I have seen was written by Brian Czech in his book "Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train."  Simon's work is full of errors and unsubstantiated "facts."  Brian's web site is
Look, folks, all we gotta do is find something more fun than sex, Opium? Marathon races?  TV showing impossibly attractive sex partners making any available real sex partner unattractive? Space travel?

Or, just manufacture a bunch of sterile impossibly attractive sex partners and put them out for sale.  (Yes, I know.)

There's lots of solutions available to the minds of bad little boys. Come on!

Maybe you heard that the most effective contraceptive in India was the TV series, Dallas, wherein lots of sex and no offspring?  People asked why and found out.  Population rate of rise slowed.  Or maybe I just made this up.

Simple - encourage people to smoke marijuana.  It is well known that this supresses the libido, and people seem more than willing to make this tradeoff.
But... what about the munchies? Surely there wouldn't be enough food?

And speak for yourself on libido, provided I don't overdo the weed it makes me (and others I know ;) ) more horny, LOL.

Population growth in itself is not a problem. Exceeding carrying capacity is.
To date we have increased population through industrial fossil fuel based agriculture on ghost acreage which cannot continue. Not just because we are converting oil into food and we are running out of it but because in the process we are strip-mining the soil, water, nutrients and biosphere in the process of that conversion.
Permaculture offers a practical approach of designing compact, high diversity, integrated eco systems carefully optimised for human food production and minimal or no fossil fuel input. (I have done this in practice, it works).
To my knowledge there is however very little scientific data to ascertain carrying capacity under permaculture regimes in different bio regions compared with what we are doing now. Any pointers on this would be appreciated.
This to me is the only sane way to deal with carrying capacity/overshoot which would give us some breathing room to come up with the a solution to the curse of plentiful humans.
I have read 1000 sq. ft./person. Having done a little of this I would say that is in the ballpark but small. This is very, very labor intensive requiring at least daily care.And presuming good soil, water,etc. I know of no studies. Also an acre/work animal.  
Thanks creg, I assume the 110 sm (I have come across this one too) or so doesn't allow for animals and fuel growing require under permaculture to keep it 'permanent'?

Isn't it strange though that here we are, discussing culling billions without any studies and conclusive information what the actual carrying capacity of our respective bioregions are under ideal ag regimes?

Clueless to the bitter end.

I recall something Richard Heinberg said in a lecture earlier this year: using no fossil hydrocarbon inputs but maximum organic input (in the form of composting, manure, sewage) one hectare ( = 2.2 acres, I think) can support 10 people on a mainly vegetarian diet, but adding our currently available fossil hydrocarbon use it can support 40, and on a more varied diet.
I'm a bit surprised no one has mentioned one of the successors to the "out in the weeds" Cornucopian Julian Simon here, namely the notorious Bjorn Lomborg of The Skeptical Enviromentalist fame. Specifically, here is a critque by Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute, formerly with the Worldwatch Institute) called Bjorn Again: On Bjorn Lomborg and population
Actually, China has had success reducing its population rate to 1.7 (2.0 is the replacement rate), and its population will begin to age rapidly beginning in 2020.  India is projected to overtake China as the most populated nation in 2050.  The UN's population projections are fascinating, but in the context of resource depletion, somewhat irrelevant, since as nations reduce their population growth, energy use increases, the US being the prime example.
By 2030 (that India overtakes China in population) when I checked the UN population stats earlier today. But China is still increasing past 2040.

Ummm... it should be manifestly obvious to almost everyone here that US energy consumption must decrease, by hook or by crook - unless the US takes control of nearly all the world's energy resources somehow (aka the 'Cheney Plan').

It is all very clear to me.  America is setting itself up to survive the extreme die-off the world is going to face over the next 30 years.   The current obesity problem has actually been traced back to the Nixon years (farming policies, etc).   Old Tricky Dick was in the thick of the OPEC Embargo in 1973, as you old timers like me will remember!  So Nixon, through the CIA, was probably the first President to be briefed on Peak Oil.

Fast-forward 30 years and you now have a country of very obese people.  Nothing like an extra 80 pounds of fat to get you through the die-off period!  Our government is actually looking out for us by letting us get so fat.  When the die off begins in China (because Americans have begun spending all our money on $7 a gallon gas and $10 bags of Fritos, therefore not buying cheap plastic toys anymore, thus the Chinese workers begin to starve), we will have plenty of excess fat to keep us going...  

Also, if you recall, Nixon was the one that took us off the Gold Standard.    A future President will most likely make a Social Security number mandatory for redeeming US Saving Bonds and Treasury Bonds - thus cancelling all foreign debt - that will probably cause a few food riots in China and India when all the capital dries up over there.   We will always have a few ICBMs laying around in silos in Kansas to keep our "creditors" at bay.  

In nature, Wolf packs commonly swell to large numbers during times of plenty.   However, the years that game is scarce, the Wolf pack thins down to only the Alpha pair and their direct blood pups.   Die off is common in nature.  Could it be our government is actually aware of die off and getting the Alpha's fattened up on elk meat for the long harsh winter ahead?  


Ah, but how many Americans get to be Alphas, Dr. Strangelove? [laugh]
   gawd!...fat coach potatos as alphas????....whats with that?..and what happens when they run out of lipitor?...puleeze..if your going to concoct a conspiracy theory, you need to be more ominous than that!
One obvious, but perhaps obscure, conclusion: the US powers that be can't consider GW Bush to be an alpha ;)

Another possibility: they are being fattened up as a source of protein and fuel. Has anyone calculated how much productive fuel hydrocarbons can be produced from rendering the average 250 pound human?

The Chinese would be able to eat the plastic toys - kung po Barbie Doll anyone?

Not much hope here.  If you take 300 million americans, assume all of them are eating 1000 calories (actually 4E6 joules) per day too much, then you burn this in a steam power plant you get only maybe 4000megawatts of juice.   Not worth much in the big picture.

Of course it would be sublimely stupid to burn the food instead of just not making it in the first place, but we are just enjoying a little BS here for comic relief.

But you had better check out these numbers, I flunked 4th grade arithmetic because I couldn't see.  I still can't see.

As for the "average" 250 lb. american, he's only worth maybe 1/4 that in petroleum at best, and its a one shot burn.  Of course the big advantage  is that that guy is no longer there to burn his 10kW of available energy, so, a big gain for those of you still around. I won't be.

But back from never-never land, the real problem, as so many of you good people have pointed out, is that while we know damn well how to fix our problems technically, we can't seem to be able to act together to do it.  Homo Sapiens; hell we are!

Ahh,  but bear in mind that China went through famine before, the worst in history. approx. 30 million starved.

  The Chinese Famine: 1958 to 1962
China has traditionally been a 'land of famine'. At least 30 million people had starved to death making it the worst famine in human history.
But world population has doubled since then.

Of course the Soviets had their share of famine too. 7 to 10 million. but world population has more than tripled since then.

desperate times lead to desperate measures. Any Die Off will be very, very ugly. when? I have no clue, i'll leave that to the alleged experts.

For a fascinating look at China in this century, I'd recommend Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. The Cultural Revolution was frightening indeed, and so many of the horrendous consequences were entirely self-inflicted.
The Year Without A Summer, also known as Eighteen Hundred And Froze To Death.
It wasn't just that the frosts in late June and early September restricted the growing season to seventy days, it was that the rains failed all over the dryland areas of the world.
We have another volcano like that, we don't have to worry about the price of oil any more. Even with irrigation we aren't going to make it. North Korea type famines all over the world.
Good point wkwillis. In the same way you don't want to have your oil supply figures anywhere near your oil demand figures having food production just match demand is suicidal in any kind of natural disruption scenario.

Don't even mention the vulcanos, we are wrecking enough havoc with climate change already. We are starving ag production inputs with PO and assaulting production conditions by carbon loading the atmosphere.

Zimbabwe's problems are frequently blamed on peak oil. Nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa's problems are self inflicted. Adding these together is likely to dwarf what happened in China.
I see the Japanese government is worried about population decline I'd guess the ecological footprint for the average Japanese is a Western type figure of about 20 acres or 8 hectares. That's 0.05 people per acre, not 25.00 or whatever the real figure is. Officialdom obviously thinks there will never be any need to live on what Mother Nature currently provides. On the other hand with fast breeder reactors Japan's resource well may not run dry as quickly as for others.
The Japanese population is expected to decline in 2005.

Japan's population will decrease this year, with the number of deaths exceeding births by about 10,000 in 2005, according to an estimated annual population survey released by the government Thursday.

There are about 128m Japanese. The birthrate is app 1.29. The total area is app 375000 square km from which half is either forest or mountains. That gives a density of app 700 people per square km.

According to the report, the number of couples who got married in 2005 is estimated at 713,000, the fourth year in a row in which the figure has fallen.

It doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.

The barrels per year per person graph is scary enough.

... but we should not forget that the energy intensity of the global population is itself changing (going up, on aggregate).

In other words, the number of bbls of oil produced per person per year is going down, but demand growth for energy per capita is going up by even more than the population is growing.

So the situation may actually be worse than what the graph shows.  This may be the case of the unstoppable objet hitting the proverbial undestructible wall.

I was just browsing around and came across an interesting statistic. With the current agriculture practices it takes approximately 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food. What I was looking for was a stat on how much oil it took to produce one battery for an electric car.