Side by Side in Jacksonville

Hi, I was just looking at your pages on population and noticed the following error on the page entitled Are we Overpopulated?

Here is what it says at one point:

"But suppose we allowed each person on the planet just enough space to lie down without touching the next person (about 2 x 6 feet) into what U.S. city could we fit the world's entire population? (Source: Population Handbook)"

Then, if you click on "U.S. city", you're taken to a map of Jacksonville, Florida.

The calculation that the entire world population would fit into Jacksonville is based on the assumption that each person receives a 2 x 2 feet plot--i.e., 4 square feet--rather than 2 x 6 feet--i.e., 12 square feet, which is 3 times as much. This is SRO ("standing room only"), not room enough to lie down.

The calculation is easy when you know that Jacksonville is around 800 square miles. This is over 22 billion square feet, which works out to just under 4 square feet per person (for a population of 6 billion). If, instead, one had a 12 foot plot, the world population would have to be under 2 billion.

Aside from the erroneous calculation, the point is misleading because Jacksonville is "one of the nation's largest cities in area", to quote the Encyclopedia Brittanica. This is because Jacksonville consolidated with Duval county, so that the city limits include the entire county. In comparison, L.A. is only about half the area of Jacksonville.

I thought that you would at least want to correct the mathematical mistake, since it weakens the argument you are making.

Gary Curtis Ontologist Cycorp (
3721 Executive Center Drive, Suite 100 512-342-4024
Austin, Texas 78731
"All things swim in continua."--Charles Sanders Peirce ================================================================

Dear Gary,

Thanks for your email. I will make the correction. I have to say it is refreshing to receive an email which is both courteous and thoughtful. Most who write disagreeing with my position on population are along the lines the one below.

I should clarify that the error was mine, not Robert Sassone's (Handbook on Population). He posited people lying down on their sides thus taking up three square feet each. It sounds pretty uncomfortable, but I suppose it would depend on who you are sandwiched between. :) The way I misread him would have required the entire metropolitan area of Jacksonville (2,836 square miles). L.A. metro is 3397 square miles.

You are correct that Jacksonville city limits encompasses much more area (841 sq. miles) than most U.S. cities. Still, others are bigger - Sitka has some 2900 sq. miles! I found that in an article on open spaces in the U.S. from the Thoreau Institute ("responding to Henry David Thoreau's call for preserving the environment without big government.")

Another thing which needs to be factored is that we live not in two dimensions, but three. A cruise ship would be an example of that.

Anyway, Gary, thank you for writing. If you find other errors, please let me know.

Fr. Phil Bloom

(Response from Gary)


From: paul grady
Sent: Sunday, October 01, 2000 10:12 AM
Subject: The Church

More more more just keep having more children, no birth control!

Look everybody LOOK LOOK LOOK at all that starvation over there QUICKLY give me money! Think about the Poor! If that was you starving to death you would want someone to give you something wouldn't you!

$1, $2, $3, $4, $5, $6, $7, $8, $9, $10 Here all you starving people! Here's a dollar for ALL of you. Jesus love's all of you!

Well I got to go and build some more churches in all the rich neighborhoods.


Is Catholic Position on Birth Control Irresponsible?

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

The "Baby Bust" and the Future of Social Security

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.