The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
4 Points

The world is overpopulated.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/6/2011 Category: News
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,949 times Debate No: 19154
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




Recently the UN has announced that the world population has surpassed 7billion [1]. This is a landmark achievement, and the world population is expected to continue to grow.

This debate will argue whether or not the world is overpopulated based on the ability of the world to sustain its current population with regards to food, natural resources and environmental sustainability/stability given the current conditions.

Rules and Debate Structure
This debate will contain four rounds, with 48 hours of arguing time. You will be arguing the Con side (i.e. that the world is not overpopulated and is able to sustain the current population). You may make an opening argument in the first round if you would like. The last round will be a closing round which should not introduce any new arguments.

This is my first debate, but good luck to anyone who accepts the challenge.

Some background, as well as the announcement of this achievement can be found at the UNFPA’s webpage. Here’s a link to get started.


This is also my first debate.

I find it noteworthy that Pro argues, "the world IS overpopulated," as in seven billion people will consume more resources than they can produce, so someone or several someones, must be eliminated/allowed to expire without replacement, and no one/only certain people should be allowed/should choose to reproduce, or less likely we must immediately colonize other worlds. If that is not the intent, I would like to know what it is.

That could be another debate in itself, so here I will show that:

1)Natural resources such as minerals and hydrocarbon-based fuels will not run out at current population's consumption levels.
2)The earth as a whole will not run out of food or productive farmland from current population levels.
3)Environmental stability is not in danger from current population levels. Despite correlation in some regions, causation is not present.
4)There is good reason to believe population can continue to grow from its current level by significant amounts without endangering the amount of resources available to the population as a whole.
+Mineral resources are too numerous in variety to list in this argument, so I will limit myself to the example of iron, which has been in use for thousands of years, and local deposits have been exhausted in the past, so I hope Pro will agree that it is a good example of a critical mineral that would be in danger of exhaustion if overpopulation is a danger.

"Andrew Carnegie, a pioneer of the American steel industry, worried about the impeding depletion of the richer [iron] ores, consisting mainly of iron. In his address to the Conference of Governors at the White House in 1908 he said:
I have for many years been impressed with the steady depletion of our iron ore supply. It is staggering to learn that our once-supposed ample supply of rich iron ores can hardly outlast the generation now appearing, leaving only the leaner ores for the later years of the century. It is my judgement, as a practical man accustomed to dealing with those material factors on which our national prosperity is based, that it is time to take thought for the morrow.
But again, technology has expanded such that today we can exploit ore with just 30-40% iron. It is estimated that the currently identified reserves leaves us with 297 years of consumption at present levels. As we can see...there were actually many more years (sic)of consumption left in 2000 than in 1957, despite the fact that annual production has more that doubled. Actually, since the US Geological Service in 1957 estimated the world resource at 25 billion tons, we have used 35 billion tons and now the reserve base estimate is at some 300 billion tons."
-The Skeptical Environmentalist, p141, 142

Humans, and other creatures, will instinctively go for the proverbial "low hanging fruit" first. Bog irons and other easy pickings went first, then smelting lower quality ores found on the surface, recycling already refined scrap, and digging shallow pits for high quality ores, then digging deeper for them, then learning to refine slightly lower quality ores when the prior are exhausted, and so on, is a logical progression for any metal producer, and one that we see throughout history. As the higher quality ores are exhausted, prices will temporarily go up, making costlier refinement methods practical, and once the development costs of those methods are paid for, cost for the product will decrease with free market competition. More efficient methods will be invented, until a more economical alternative is discovered (such as an eventual surplus of aluminum 1), and more remote regions will be opened for exploitation. Recent metal finds Afghanistan 2 and Africa 3 continue to increase the world's supply of untapped raw materials, and many regions remain largely unexplored for minerals. (Antarctica 4, the ocean floor 5)

+Hydrocarbon products are currently critical energy sources around the world, so I will use them as my energy source example.

"True, Earth is spherical and limited, but this is not necessarily a relevant objection. The problem is rather how large are the deposits that are...accessible for exploitation. These deposits can seem limited, but if the price(sic) increases this will increase the incentive to find more deposits and develop better techniques for extracting these deposits. Consequently, the price increase actually increases our total reserves, causing the price to fall again. … is clear we have more oil left, not less and less...How can we have used ever more and still have even more left?

"Known resources" is not a finite entity. It is not that we know all the places with oil, and now just need to pump it up. We explore new areas and find new oil. But since searching costs money, new searches will not be initiated too far in advance of production. Consequently, new oil fields will be continuously added as demand rises. This is part of the reason why we see years of consumption increasing and not decreasing.
Actually, it is rather odd that anyone could have thought that known resources pretty much represent what is left, and therefore predict dire problems when these have run out. It is a little bit akin to glancing into my refrigerator and saying: "Oh, you've only got food for three days. In four days you will die of starvation." No, in two days I will go to the supermarket and buy some more food. The point is that oil will come not only from the sources we already know but also from many other sources which we still do not know. U.S. Geological Surveys have regularly been making assessments of the total undiscovered resources of oil and gas, and writing in March 2000 they state: "Since 1981, each of the last four of these assessments has shown a slight increase in the combined volume of identified reserves and undiscovered resources."
...An initial drilling typically exploits only 20% of the oil in the reservoir. Even with present-day, advanced techniques...more than half the resource commonly remains in the ground...It is estimated that the ten largest oil fields in the US will still contain 63% of their original oil when production closes down. Consequently there is still much to be reaped in this area. In the latest US Geological Survey assessment, such technical improvement is expected to yield more than a 50% increase of identified reserves."
-The Skeptical Environmentalist, p124, 125

I can't judge Pro too harshly since I've never set up a debate before, but I might have provided more time with this many rounds, so in order to post this in a timely manner, I will put up my argument on food during the next round.

Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this challenge and wish him good luck.

Clarification of Topic
My opponent has asked in his initial response for a clarification as to the topic being debated. My opponent was correct in his initial assessment of the statement, as pro I will attempt to demonstrate that the world is overpopulated in the sense that:

  1. The present demand for food natural resources exceeds the present supply.
  2. The present population has reached or has exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet, where carrying capacity is defined as the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment [1]. This assertion includes the argument that the resources which are essential to support the human population will be exhausted at their present rate of consumption.

As this topic is quite vast, I will focus on food supply and the sustainability of humanity's current population.

My opponent has made an opening argument about resources, citing examples related to iron ore and hydrocarbons. Both examples share common arguments, namely that as technology advances, so does our ability to extract unconventional minerals/resources and that as demand forces the price of a resource to increase, previously unviable means of extraction become economically viable. My opponent utilizes an example with a refrigerator to illustrate his point, stating that if one opens their fridge and realizes they will run out of food in a few days, the merely need to go to the store to restock their fridge. Similarly, as we deplete our resources, society simply needs to “restock” their reserves through exploration. This example is flawed because it assumes that the store is an infinite supply of food (the supermarket), implying that resources are also infinite. Crude oil is formed from decaying plants and animals, and the process can take many years (potentially millions [2]). The fact that fossil fuels are non-renewable and thus limited is an established fact that is not the focus of this debate. It is therefore reasonable to state that the present consumption of hydrocarbons is unsustainable because it is a finite resource that will eventually be exhausted. The same logic would apply to other finite resources.

My opponent’s argument relating to the economic viability of unconventional resource sources is irrelevant because sustainability does not only apply to economic sustainability, but also sustainability of the resource’s source. Although many resources are renewable and reusable, many of the resources used presently are not.

In order to support human life, a number of things are necessary. The fundamental needs for each human being are a house, healthy food, clean water and proper health care. Additional needs in modern society also include transportation, sustainable income and education. The actions of all members of society also need to be weighed in, and the ability of the planet to mitigate humanity’s impact and continue to support our population is important.

Access to Food and Water
Access to food does not only include the ability for the planet to grow food, but also the ability of the world’s population to obtain food. Presently about one sixth of the world’s population is unable to obtain enough food, 98% of which live in developing countries [3]. Of those in developing countries, 75% survive off marginal lands that are frequented by floods, droughts and other natural disasters [3]. Simply feeding all these people represents an insurmountable cost, and despite decades of efforts, hunger still remains a significant problem that will only worsen. The role of water is also important, as it is both essential to life and agriculture. Changes in climate, be they natural or man-made, pose serious problems for stable food growth. Changes in the hydrological cycle, droughts and glacier loss (which supports 40% of the world’s irrigation) will all impact the world’s food supply [4]. The simple fact that despite decades of attempts by global nations, hunger remains a significant problem is a testament to humanity’s overpopulation.

Ecological Footprint and Sustainability
The other component of this argument is that humanity has exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. As humanity continues to draw resources from the planets, the environment we live in is also impacted. An example of this is a population of wolves, which continues to grow and hunt deer. If the wolves kill more deer than are born, they will eventually run out of food and their population will suffer. Similarly, as humanity continues to draw resources, their supply will diminish. We are already seeing the impacts of this in the form of collapsing fisheries, decreasing forest cover and increasing concentrations of pollutants. The ecological footprint of humanity is a measure of the amount of land that is required to mitigate the actions of one human being. It is estimated that the equivalent of 1.5 earths is necessary to sustain the actions of human beings indefinitely at this present time [5]. In simpler terms, humanity draws resources 50% faster than the planet can naturally resupply them. It is estimated that about 5 billion people can be reasonably supported with the resources currently on our planet [6], and action needs to be taken immediately to avert the inevitable problems that will arise from our present population.

[1] Carrying Capacity, definition



I thank my opponent for clarification of the topic.

I agree that Earth is finite and has finite resources. However, in his rebuttal, Pro disappointed me by focusing on my quote from The Skeptical Environmentalist where Bjorn Lomborg makes an analogy, rather than the information he provides from US Geological Surveys about differences between “known resources” and actual resources. My point is this:

The only reason we think we're near the end of our resources is because it's not economically feasible or technically possible to find all of our resources at one time, and the trend during this population explosion of the last 150 years or so is to discover that there are continually more resources when we actually look for them.

I refer to my previous argument to show that despite higher use rates through time of many mineral resources, we have a consistent trend of ending up with more years left of the mineral than we did before. I know this does not mean unending resources, but rather, we have plenty left for a long time from current known reserves, and every year, there are more years left of use of those minerals, and when there is a downward trend in availability, we have always successfully found more when it becomes economically feasible. We have 2 entire continents, and much of the ocean floor mostly unexplored for resources. All trends indicate we're just scratching the surface.

In order to support human life, a number of things are necessary. The fundamental needs for each human being are a house, healthy food, clean water and proper health care.”

I find this assertion to be historically inaccurate. Generations of people lived and had children, with shelter, yes, but not very healthy food (and not much of it), dirty water from muddy wells, creeks, and cisterns, and what we would consider very poor healthcare. Anyone who's reading this who has European ancestors has had ancestors who were brought up with the dominant thought among the learned that all ailments are caused by Humors. Look up medieval medicine if you think “proper heath care” is necessary “in order to SUPPORT human life..”

The fundamentals for each human being are adequate; shelter, food, water, immune system, and something to live for.

“Access to food does not only include the ability for the planet to grow food, but also the ability of the world’s population to obtain food.”

No disagreement there. Nor do I see any problem with your statistics about where the poor are located, or their hardships. I do wish to refute the supposed cause.

Pro is correct in saying access to food includes the ability to grow AND obtain it. Is there enough food produced on Earth to support 7 billion people? Let's use one of Pro's sources to answer this. If you go to round one, you'll see this link as source 3

Click on the tab to the immediate right of that, “What causes hunger?”

Food has never before existed in such abundance, so why are 925 million people in the world going hungry?”

If you check the UN's FAO website they'll back them up

Observe the number of poor people on earth has been flat, despite the number of total people doubling:

If we're using up all of our resources from overpopulation, how can this be?

Observe the concentration of hungry people, as a percentage of their national populations, is highest in Africa, so let's take a look at them.

I knew my assumptions of Africa's problems probably weren't accurate, so I decided to call my brother-in-law to get a first-hand account. He was born and raised in Africa, spending much of his childhood in Kenya, and living in several other nations: Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi.

Why are there so many hungry people in Africa?

It's a two-fold issue. People move to the cities because that's where the good paying jobs are, but a lot of them can't pay for an education to get a good enough job to pay for the higher prices in town. Food has to be imported or driven in from the country but people in the country don't grow more than they need, and they don't grow much variety. They eat a lot of field corn, like what we feed cattle here.

Why don't they grow anything besides corn?

Well, lack of education. Many of them don't know they should have a variety in their diet. They eat field corn...and that's it. After we educate them, they start mixing things into the corn, like sorghum. Fruit is scarce, too. We had an orchard at our place and after watching us, the other people wanted to try it, too.

Why don't they have any fruit?

They have a survival/nomadic mentality that doesn't let them invest in a tree that takes 3 years to grow it's first fruit. Westerners don't understand that. They go in there with good intentions and teach them all these new techniques to care for the land, but it's too much at once. They have the mentality that if the land isn't productive, you move. You don't become attached to the land and make it work. So the Westerners leave, and when the system breaks down, they revert to their old ways. The wells aren't maintained, the land becomes infertile, they get hungry and slaughter a goat, then when they're down to their last goat, they eat it and...well, they're left with nothing. It's a completely foreign concept for them to say 'This is my land, it isn't working, so I'll have to do something to make it work.' Another problem is they'll give a kid underprocessed food. They won't crack the corn, so it will just pass through them; they do that because they're not educated.

So when Westerners go in there to help, do things just revert to like they were before, or do they get worse?

I've seen it get worse sometimes. They see Europeans and Americans they want to emulate, and they feel they need a cell phone, so you'll see Africans all over with cell phones, but it will cost them most of a year's wage to buy.

Kind of like a new car for us?

Exactly. But I see the same thing when I'm working with people in trailer parks in the US. They'll have a huge 56” screen that you or I wouldn't buy unless we had a ton of money saved up. Poor people all over have a survival mentality to use what you can today, but they always have one luxury they hang onto, even if they can't afford it. It's a foreign concept to think of the future.

So people aren't hungry in Africa because of overpopulation?

Definitely not.

“The ecological footprint of humanity is a measure of the amount of land that is required to mitigate the actions of one human being”

You can see from this chart that world food production has only increased over time, all the while less total land is used with more yield resulting. More food from less land does not show that we are running out of land to farm.

Your comparison of people to wolves is flawed. Wolves are consumers. Humans don't have chlorophyll in our skin, but we're smart enough to act as producers. When people raise livestock, we try to INCREASE the herd size, not eat what we want and decimate the population. Overall, yield increase is the goal. We DO recycle, we DO increase efficiencies. Metal recycling is as old as metal use. The people of Rhodes used scrap from the Heliopolis to build the Colossus of Rhodes.

“It is estimated that the equivalent of 1.5 earths is necessary to sustain the actions of human beings indefinitely at this present time[5]”

Yeah, I dug for a while through's methodology paper.

One of the common verbs in that paper is “assume,” and it is often used in conjunction with how data that cannot be practically attained will be input into key parts of their equations. I am not impressed with this site.

Debate Round No. 2


exempli_gratia forfeited this round.


I guess Pro's busy, so I'll elaborate on a couple points, but won't put too much down, as I already have a significant amount for him to respond to.

1.) “...the facts about the coming catastrophe are so obvious. Just apply a little grade-school math and economic common sense: Our planet’s natural resources can reasonably support about 5 billion people. That’s a fact. Another: Today we have 7 billion. That’s a problem, 2 billion too many. We’re consuming commodities and natural resources at a rate of 1.5 Earths, according to estimates by the Global Footprint Network of scientists and economists.”

This was from Pro's cited article. The author here is citing Global Footprint Network's conclusions that Pro also cited. It is reasonable to assume that if we are using 1.5 Earths worth of resources, we have a serious problem. So let's take a look at some analysis by someone who's DAY job it is to dig into the numbers that are so central to Pro and his supporters' claims.

2.) “The fact that fossil fuels are non-renewable and thus limited is an established fact that is not the focus of this debate. It is therefore reasonable to state that the present consumption of hydrocarbons is unsustainable because it is a finite resource that will eventually be exhausted. The same logic would apply to other finite resources.”

No, it's not the focus of the debate. But if you cite an article to back that up (as you did) that has no citations or hard scientific data, just a statement of conventionally held ideas, and I cite a published paper with many citations to the contrary,

I suggest one should draw back from the claim of factuality until more research is done, and a more scientifically transparent source is presented.

I do not claim this paper establishes fact as I have not yet made time to study his claims and figures thoroughly, I am just saying that my source's claim calls yours into question, and seems to do a better job at presenting the argument, and actually cites research.

Debate Round No. 3


exempli_gratia forfeited this round.


I genuinely regret that my opponent has forfeited the last two rounds as this is an important debate that has historically affected real policy. I will assume he is too busy, or is experiencing technical difficulties. If he would like a rematch, I would be open to that.

I believe I have won the debate on a technicality, which is kind of like kissing your sister.

However, I have not conceded the point. I won in that I showed my opponent's arguments wrong through logic and well researched evidence. Furthermore, I demonstrated that my opponent's sources and claims are:

Misunderstood by him (FAO)
Lacking in scientific evidence or citation (
Based on questionable and faulty logic (

I'd be open finishing this debate with anyone else who genuinely disagrees with me.
Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Skynet 6 years ago
I'm not sure if this is fair, but I just found out the number of times viewed can be artificially inflated by hitting refresh.
Posted by Skynet 6 years ago
Exempli_gratia has said he doesn't want to debate here whether or not petroleum is available in effectively limited quantities or not, so I'll just post this here for extra curricular pleasure.

It might be a fairly in depth science paper, but on the upside, it's written by a perturbed Russian, which really comes through and makes it enjoyable to read if you're familiar with the technical terms he uses.
Posted by NerdDestroyer 6 years ago
I think that the world is overpopulated in certain area's but countries like Australia have two small of a population for the area taking the desert into consideration. But countries like China are packed with people and have a 20% population growth. Go EXEMPLI_GRATIA
Posted by exempli_gratia 6 years ago
Just as a note, when you're doing the formatting, you need to click that "Rich Text" thing on the left of the input box, otherwise any text you paste in comes in as plain text. When you push this button a toolbar should show up allowing you to format, as well as allowing the use of the "Paste from Word" button.
Good Luck!
Posted by Skynet 6 years ago
I see some of my punctuation and bold/italics didn't carry through when I copied and pasted from my word processor. I apologize to anyone reading this debate, and will attempt to make it easier to read in the next round. I also see we have 48 hours per round, not 48 hours total, so I apologize for not understanding that we have abundant time for this many rounds.
Posted by larztheloser 6 years ago
I second what dovalojd says.
Posted by dovalojd 6 years ago
Looks like a good topic, but I don't have time to debate it right now. :(
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Chrysippus 6 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Points go to Con due to forfeit.