The 'O' Word: Are We Overpopulated?

Are there too many people on the planet, or just too many overconsumers?. (Photo: Anton Gvozdikov/Shutterstock)

Everyone can't live like an American.

If all 6+ billion humans on the planet lived the life of an average middle-class American, polite society would all but collapse. There wouldn't be enough food, wood, steel, water or fuel to support all of us having a nice house in the 'burbs with two cars, a grassy yard, and 2.3 kids running around with the family dog. Forget about having enough gas to power the minivan and Prius in the driveway — the demand from all the other car owners would drive fuel prices out of reach for all but the super rich.

If everyone were a Walmart shopper, there wouldn't be enough bunker oil to ship their plastic trinkets from the factories in China. Heck, there wouldn't be any oil available to make those plastic trinkets in the first place.

I'm going to make an assumption here about you, the reader. You are probably, like myself, in the top 10 percent of the world as far as your quality of life goes. Even (most) poor people in the U.S. have it better than the wretchedly poor in places like India, various African countries, and anywhere else where people have to deal with soul-crushing poverty, daily violence and hopeless despair. Life, for most people on the planet, is pretty crappy.

But we average Americans have it pretty damn good. I am lucky enough to live in an apartment with good plumbing, clean water, and heat in the winter. Those three things put me ahead of a good chunk of the world's population.

I have easy access to a large selection of affordable food, when I get really sick I can go and get medicine to make me better, and no one tries to shoot me or force me to fight in wars when I go ride outside on my bike.

Too many people can't say the same. Too many people live terrible, terrifying lives.

And right now, we couldn't afford to change that even if we wanted to. There just aren't enough resources on the planet and we use the ones we have too inefficiently to lift everyone up to a similar level of living. We're able to live well BECAUSE they live so badly.

Is that fair? Do first-worlders have a right to live so much better than everyone else? What are the next 50, 100 years going to look like? Are more people going to be lifted out of poverty? How do we pay for it, are we willing to make drastic changes in our lifestyles to afford it? What does it say about our society if we're not? How does going greener play into it all? How many first world people can the Earth sustainably support? Is it even possible to control the population? And where the bleep is Waldo!?

It's an enormously complex issue with lots of things to think about, I'd love to hear any thoughts, comments, whatnot.