Are we overpopulated already?

With the world’s population growing by more than 80 million annually, the environmental case for addressing population growth seems clear. But is Earth overpopulated already? And what might be a sustainable human population? Recent episodes of EarthX TV’s The Population Factor address these questions and explore solutions to humanity’s continued demographic expansion.

by The Overpopulation Project

The Population Factor, streaming on EarthX TV, is a new TV show dedicated to exploring all aspects of population and the environment. Episode four features Karin Kuhlemann and João Abegão discussing the question: “Are we overpopulated right now?”

In this wide-ranging discussion, Karin, João and host Phil Cafaro explore different ways to think about the optimal human population. They speculate on what a sustainable number of people might be, and argue that humanity has no right to monopolize Earth’s resources at the expense of all other species.

Karin Kuhlemann holds degrees in law, politics, and biology. Her doctoral dissertation, from University College, London, reconciles the human right to procreate with the legitimate need for government policies to limit population. She is the author of several terrific articles on population and the environment, including “Any size population will do? The fallacy of aiming for stabilization of human numbers.”

João Abegão’s academic background is in Ecology and Environmental Health, and he’s now writing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Lisbon on the theme of societal and systems collapse. João helped organize a panel discussion on population and climate change at COP25 in Madrid in 2019. He’s also the author of the Human Overpopulation Atlas.


When we at TOP bring up the population / environment connection, one of the most frequent responses we hear is: “I get it! But what can we do? What are the solutions to continued population growth?” Episode five of The Population Factor considers “Solutions” with expert guests Bill Ryerson, President of the Population Media Center, and Karen Hardee, principle of Hardee Associates consulting.

Bill and Karen share the fruits of decades of personal experience in family planning efforts around the globe. They discuss how to scale up access to contraception in patriarchal societies, when targets for family planning programs are appropriate and when they are not, and the strength and weaknesses embedded in “the Cairo Consensus.” They also consider how to change the visceral reaction against declining populations in the developed world, broaching the question: should PMC develop a telenovela aimed at central bankers to get them to accept smaller populations?

The Population Media Center creates and broadcasts radio and television dramas that promote family planning, environmental stewardship, and gender equality. Their many shows have reached tens of millions of people on five continents, and include the Emmy-nominated “East Los High,” which ran for four seasons on Hulu.

Karen Hardee provides expert consulting on issues related to sustainable development, reproductive health and planning, and women’s rights. Dr. Hardee was a reviewer for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report chapter on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” and she recently contributed to the development of a National Gender Strategy for the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan.


The Population Factor aims to become the spot for honest and probing discussion of population issues in the English-speaking world. Keep an eye out for future episodes!

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10 thoughts on “Are we overpopulated already?

  1. It seems to me that on a very basic level the cheapest investment to decrease climate change would be to just start by making contraception free throughout the world.

  2. Given the way human overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities are occurring synergistically and causing an ecological and climate emergency; and in light of the virtual mountains of scientific evidence that indicate how the unbridled growth of human enterprise is leading to the extirpation of Earth’s biodiversity, the dissipation of its finite resources and the degradation of its environs, how many people do you believe our ravaged planet can support by 2025? And 2050?

  3. Interesting to hear the thoughts in the videos here.
    Unfortunately I can’t really see any workable solution to the overpopulation.
    As long as people can survive, populations all over the world are only going to increase further at some rate.
    And the only thing that can change that is some catastrophic limiting factor out of humanity’s control.

  4. Nature will have a hand in it. It will be a painful hand at that. Much better to handle population decline ourselves. Though, looking back in history, war is often used to modify population.

    1. War doesn’t do that. Look at the baby boom after WWII (which was one of the worst such events in history). Look at how many babies are born in refugee camps. If anything, there could be an instinct for breeding after disasters.
      I think it’s gonna be either contraception, or mass infertility (already happening to an extent), or repeated waves of disease. Or nothing, and the planet will remained overpopulated by us.
      We should be grateful we have good contraception available.

  5. I agree. the recovery from war usually leads to lots of babies after the deaths.
    A different approach. Did the USSR population decline on the ending of the USSR circa 1990? Because it seems people stopped having children when the future looks grim. OR when things look easy. Like when the Chinese moved to the megacities, hey stopped having kids. (And yes, there was the one-child-policy but it is said they just started to have less anyway and didn’t need that. This one or two child trend continues_)

    1. Some have theorized that optimism about the future leads to having more children, but I don’t remember who or where. It makes sense though. A worrying trend seems to be emerging of large families, in the west or in countries with average low fertility, as a sort of marker of wealth and status (political leaders, celebrities…) Like it’s the ultimate luxury or something. These people should be called out (respectfully), especially when they start talking about sustainability.

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