Unlimited Carrying Capacity?

Fr. Bloom,

I recently came across your web site and have found it most interesting. However, I'm not sure I can agree with you regarding overpopulation. I am totally opposed to abortion (which I consider an atrocity of the first rank) and contraception. Still I'm somewhat concerned about overpopulation, though not to the extent of the anti-human attitude of the popular media.

I used to live in Wyoming and enjoy wide open spaces. In my opinion, a comepletely or mostly urbanized planet would be an unpleasant place to live. In one of your articles, you state "Some experts have estimated the planet could carry forty billion people with current technology. Others, like Julian Simon, have maintained the earth's carrying capacity is unlimited..." 40 billion people on the Earth sounds believable if somewhat crowded. However, it is mathematically impossible for any finite space (such as the Earth) to accomodate an unlimited number of anything. There is some maximum number of people the Earth can comfortably or even possibly hold. The only real alternative in the long run is the exploration of space and colonization of other planets. Unlike the Earth, the universe is for all practical purposes infinite. The main problems are monetary (mostly caused by a lack of interest in space exploration) and technological. However, as a solution to planetary overcrowding, space exploration is a much more worthy goal than the current attitude of killing off people.

So we can choose one of these: An overcrowded planet; A coldhearted and kind of lonely global society where a certain percentage of each generation is killed off to allow the survivors to live well; or an expanding culture with a meaningful program of exploration.

Dan Desai


Dear Dan,

Thanks for the thoughtful email. I may not have represented Julian Simon exactly right. I made it sound too absolute and as you point out, you cannot put an unlimited number of anything into a finite space. However, Julian Simon argues that, given human ingenuity and the planet's resources, which are vast and recyclable, the number of inhabitants on the earth could continue expanding almost indefinitely. At the same time he notes current population trends are declining and in many countries below the replacement level.

In the website I more talked about square feet per person because there is a certain amount of misunderstanding around those figures. But of course talking about "square feet" is unrealistic because each of occupies not two but three dimensions. In that sense the space available per person is immense.* Here in Seattle the most desired (and most expensive) properties are multi-level condominiums which put a great number of people in very small area. With that kind of trend, large parts of Wyoming, even of Washington, can continue to be free of permanent human habitation.

I have nostalgia too about the place in the country I was brought up. It has changed considerably, but is still a very nice spot to visit. By the way, where are you now, Dan?


Fr. Phil Bloom

P.S. I appreciate your recognition of abortion as an atrocity and your opposition to birth control. Even if we really were pressed together the way some people fear, it would not justify inhuman solutions.

*To illustrate: I recently spent a most relaxing week on the Norwegian Sky (length: 853 feet, breadth: 105 feet) with a carrying capacity of about 2750, passengers & crew. At that rate you could fit the present world population (6.095 billion) inside the state of Massachusetts (7,826 sq. miles). The ship had plenty of room for recreation, shops, storage, etc. because it used three dimensions.


Have We Already Filled the Earth? (cf. Gen 1:28)

The amazing example of Hong Kong

Population Research Institute offers an in-depth study of these questions.

Population Reference Bureau "providing timely and objective information on population"

A letter from Brian Carnell who operates a popular website which discusses both sides of this issue.

Your comments or questions are welcome.