How Many People Can the Earth Support?

That is the title of an excellent book by demographer Joel Cohen. Though it’s over a decade old, I still highly recommend it for getting the big picture.

Apparently there is a quasi-official UN estimate in answer to this question. The relevant web page explicitly forbids hotlinking or reproduction, so please just go have a look. Apparently the sustainable population at western consumption levels is under 2 billion, and at under 6 billion at “medium” consumption levels. The demographers’ consensus prospect that the population will settle at perhaps less than 10 billion over this century is therefore not really all that reassuring.

There are some source documents listed in text embedded in the graphic. It would be interesting to see how they arrived at these numbers.


  1. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs population Division HomepageWhich includes:World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision, volume III: Analytical Report which appears to contain the detailed data.An updated version with an on-line calculator is here.The Global Footprint network home page contains a Results Page (hectare version). I haven’t actually run the numbers, but they look like they fit.

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