Some people deny the problem of population. They insist that neither the present world population size nor its continuing growth is a problem. Some of these folks are influenced by certain writers, often far to the right politically, and typically focused on mainstream economics, who espouse this sort of population denial. (We’ll look at some of those writers in the future.) Others are merely drawing conclusions from their everyday observations. From neither contingent have I seen a very substantive argument, but a common argument from the second group is especially silly.
Texas is great, but this is ridiculous
Usually, it goes something like this: “There’s no population problem. It’s a myth. You could fit every human being on earth inside the state of Texas with plenty of room for everyone.” You can see an example of this in comments on Anderson Cooper’s blog on the CNN site. (Search the page for the phrase “state of Texas” – without the quotes.) 
The assertion may, at first blush, have some intuitive appeal. But by rewording it we can begin to see how silly it is. In essence, it’s saying, “As long as there’s plenty of room on earth in which to fit people physically, the population is not too large.” Is that starting to have a little less appeal? Well, let’s extend the argument a little. We might compare the size of Texas to the world’s land area.
The area of Texas is 678,051 square kilometers, while the earth’s land area is 148,940,000 square kilometers. That makes the earth’s land surface about 220 times the size of Texas. Thus, taking the world’s current population of 6.5 billion and multiplying, we could fit over 1.4 trillion (i.e., over 1,400 billion) people on earth with “plenty of room for everyone!”
Alright, everyone squinch in a little closer to El Paso
My reason for pointing out this absurdity is that it brings the problem with the “Texas” argument into clear relief. “Fitting” is not the same as “supporting.” The question isn’t, “How how much room is there for people on earth?” It’s, “How many people can the earth support at a decent standard of living, without damage to the biosphere that would prevent future generations from enjoying the same standard of living?” In other words, when we ask whether population growth is a problem, we must consider issues such as carrying capacity and ecological footprint. If we were to put everyone into Texas, a fair number of the scientists who’ve examined such issues would say we would need all the rest of the earth’s surface, and likely more, to support those people in Texas.
We’ll touch later on carrying capacity and ecological footprint as well as estimates of optimum population size. They are not cut-and-dried, but are important topics in any discussion of population growth. For now, you know what to say to anyone offering the “Texas” argument: “Yeah, and we’d need the rest of the earth and probably more to support them!” 🙂
For more depth on this topic, featuring evidence that we’ve overshot the planet’s carrying capacity, try the PNAS article mentioned in comments here by Bill Harris.
 There is an editor’s note saying the blog receives hundreds, sometimes thousands of comments each day, and so cannot post all of them. It’s curious that a comment making this goofy argument about fitting the world’s population into Texas was one of the chosen few.
Image source: Uncyclopedia, posted under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
“that makes the earth’s land surface about 220 times the size of Texas. Thus, taking the world’s current population of 6.5 billion and multiplying, we could fit over 1.4 trillion (i.e., over 1,400 billion) people on earth with “plenty of room for everyone!”
Does that include water? If it doesn’t, then there’s even more room. Both under the ocean and we could build floating cities. Or how about the moon? Or just space stations.
You gotta get creative, people.
Ross — Heh, no that’s just dry land. God only knows how many trillions we could fit if we lived under water etc.
Actually, space colonization is what economist Julian Simon had in mind when he said we could (and should) keep growing the population for the next 7 billion years. The math of his assertion has been pretty thoroughly debunked though.
“Actually, space colonization is what economist Julian Simon had in mind when he said we could (and should) keep growing the population for the next 7 billion years”
I have a confession to make. I don’t give a damn what happens 7 billion years from now. Hopefullly, though, our sun will go red giant long before then.
Oh come on, Ross. Time is relative. When you’re as old as I am, 7 billion years seems like a couple of days! 😉
Houston? Houston? Are you there? Houston? Can anyone hear me? Houston? Houston? Er. Houston .. ?!
John: I think I shall have to say something about this eco blog of yours. Right here, and right now. I’m very happy that I found it. Interesting to see someone else caring about the taboo issue that has been the curse of my life for ages, and still is. – — lol . ..
Hey: You’re doing a very good job!
Thanks Magne! I appreciate the kind words. I’ve enjoyed your comments and look forward to further discussion. 🙂
Come on now, Alaska is much larger than Texas. Plus, since it’s so cold, putting people there will slow down their metabolic rates. Or kill them in large numbers. At the very least, it’ll help keep all those packed together humans from cooking each other with their own body heat.
You may have hit on the the solution. But maybe Texas in the winter, Alaska in the summer. I’ll have to think about it… 😉
Ask anyone in Houston how they would feel if the New Orleans evacuees became their permanent neighbors.
Now ask that person if they would accept billions more people who are many orders of magnitude poorer and have cultures completely different from the US.
It wouldn’t work.
Heh, well yeah, I guess that would be one more problem with the Texas argument. 😉
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