The UN has predicted that the world population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050–nearly 2.5 billion more people on Earth than we have at the moment. In 2013, the annual day in which humanity consumes more natural resources than the planet is capable of recovering from in a year came early, once again. Overpopulation also just happens to be one of those words that immediately triggers images of the apocalypse, despite the fact that nothing in human existence seems more routine than birthing a child.
But before anyone takes Rush Limbaugh’s advice that environmentalists ought to save the planet by committing suicide, let’s take a step back and unpack what “overpopulation” really means. The good people at Wait But Why have come out with another set of dazzling infographics (we first saw them when they made this shocking piece about the death tolls of major disasters) that deal with rethinking population density and space. For example, if we lived at the density that people live in Manhattan, the entire global population could fit in New Zealand:
Or, look at the possibilities if we lived as they do in Bangladesh and New Jersey:
“Space is certainly not the problem,” one of the creators of Wait But Why (who prefers to remain anonymous) tells me. “I’m walking right now through Manhattan. It’s crowded, but it’s not that crowded,” he adds. “The point is when we talk about all the issues we have with growing population, the thing that’s scary about that is not space, it’s of course resources, and the distribution of resources.”
In some ways, the infographics are mildly comforting: When we talk about overpopulation, the implication should be that we’re talking about systems of consuming and producing waste that desperately need to be overhauled and made efficient. It’s a big task, but not completely dire.
The space comparison works both ways. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s also Alaska:
For the whole set of comparisons, head on over to Wait But Why.