Exponential growth?

The first time overpopulation is brought up in Inferno, Zobrist claims that population growth is exponential.

Additionally, he presents these two graphs to strengthen his point, which supposedly show exponential population growth.

Development of population size Zobrist presents in Inferno

Development of population size Zobrist presents in Inferno


Another graph that Zobrist presents

Zobrist wants to show the link between population growth and other problems we face (such as C02-emissions, forest depletion, etc.)

However, in reality population growth only seemed to be exponential until approximately the 1970‘s and since then its rate has decreased immensely and continues to do so.

Here is a comparison of the actual population growth and what exponential growth would look like.

Exponential growth compared to real population growth

Exponential growth compared to real population growth


As you can see we would have reached 16 billion in the 1980‘s if it were exponential. But according to the UN and other estimates, population size will peak between about 8 and 11 billion around 2050 and will then start to slowly decline.

The view Brown presents turns out to have been popular in the 1970‘s following “The population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich in which he wrote about the imminent dangers of what looked like exponential growth back then.

But what does overpopulation even mean?

Is the world currently overpopulated or will it be in the future? Is there an optimal size? And, if so, is it 4 billion as Brown suggests?

This matter is far more controversial in the scientific world. Some claim that the earth is not overpopulated nor that it will be in the future, and others go as far as stating that 1 billion is the ideal size.

But why is overpopulation such a controversial issue? The reason lies within its definiton, or rather definitions, as there are quite a few.

To give you one example, Jesper Rydberg puts it like this: „With regard to the moral values which we think should be promoted, there is/are one (or some) population size(s) which is/are, under a set of circumstances, preferable.“

From this you can understand why it is such a controversial topic. Different people have different values which they think should be promoted. One person may believe that a certain living standard for the people on earth is moral, and once this is not met, the earth is overpopulated, while another may believe in a higher or lower standard. Moreover, as technology progresses, the set of circumstances may also change substantially, affecting the living standard.

How can you fight overpopulation?

However, if it could be shown that the world is overpopulated, what would solutions look like?
Would they be as grim as Zobrist’s solution or are there effective and more positive alternatives?

The short answer is: YES! Although there have been renowned scholars who have suggested approaches similar to Zobrist’s, there are other ways to tackle the problem, which have proven to work. When comparing developed and developing countries one can see that developed countries are growing a lot less than developing one’s, in some cases even declining in population size. This is largely due to the role of women and their liberties in society. Women in developing countries often find themselves in patriarchal structures. They are often expected to have many children and not pursuit an education and/or career. Moreover, parents also have kids to secure their own future. And obviously the more children you have, the better. And the high infant and child mortality rates only lead to women bearing even more children, just so that enough will survive. Thus, access to health care and sanitaries is also a crucial factor.

As you can see, there exist alternative and supposedly even more sustainable solutions to counter population growth.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.