The Optimum Population of the World Should Be About One Hundred Thousand

Arthur C. Clarke? Fred Hoyle? Georg Borgstrom? Donald W. Mann? Gretchen C. Daily? Anne H. Ehrlich? Paul Ehrlich? Kenneth Smail?

Question for Quote Investigator: The world population is projected to exceed 8 billion in 2022. Also, the United Nations Population Division forecasts that before 2100 the population will exceed 10 billion. Interestingly, some countries currently have declining populations.

One prominent person suggested that the optimum human population should be dramatically smaller—only one hundred thousand. This notion has been attributed to science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke and prominent English astronomer Fred Hoyle. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In April 1968 Arthur C. Clarke published an essay titled “Next: On Earth, the Good Life?” in “Vogue” magazine. Clarke credited Fred Hoyle with suggesting that the ideal number of Earth inhabitants was relatively small. Boldface added to excepts by QI:[1] 1968 April 15, Vogue, Volume 151, Issue 8, Next: On Earth, the Good Life? by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 84, Quote Page 142 and 143, Condé Nast Publications, New York. (ProQuest)

There is no doubt that, with proper organization, our planet could support a population of many billions at a much higher standard of living than today. But should it? In a world of instantaneous communication and swift transport, where all men are virtually neighbours, is there any point in a population of more than a few millions? The answer to this question depends upon one’s philosophical and religious views concerning the purpose of life.

Fred Hoyle, for example, once suggested to me that the optimum population of the world should be about one hundred thousand—as that was the maximum number of people one could get to know in a lifetime.

Intriguingly, this low number was not due to fears of environmental impact; instead, Hoyle’s number was based on the limits of interpersonal relationships.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

An upper bound for the optimum population was mentioned in the 1954 Master’s Thesis of John B. Minick at the University of Southern California titled “An Analysis of Recent Expert Estimates of Maximum World Population at a Minimum Adequate Standard of Living”. The world population in 1954 was 2.5 billion:[2]1954 February, Master of Arts Thesis Title: An analysis of recent expert estimates of maximum world population at a minimum adequate standard of living, Author: John B. Minick, Quote Page 3, … Continue reading

The consensus among population theorists is that the world is already overcrowded–is far in excess of the optimum population. And certainly there is much evidence throughout the world to support this view. Over-population is looked upon by many as one of the most pressing issues of the contemporary scene.

In February 1968 world food expert Georg Borgstrom of Michigan State University presented an estimate for the optimum world population during a lecture:[3] 1968 February 29, Mennonite Weekly Review, Tabor College: ‘World Can’t Feed Its People,’ Says World Food Expert, Quote Page 12, Column 1, Newton, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

“The next ten years will decide the fate of the world. The world is in dire straits. Optimum population for the world is one and a half to two billion people; the present figure is three and a quarter billion. The world can’t feed properly this number of people. It simply hasn’t got the resources.”

In April 1968 Arthur C. Clarke credited Fred Hoyle with a statement about optimum population as mentioned previously:[4] 1968 April 15, Vogue, Volume 151, Issue 8, Next: On Earth, the Good Life? by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 84, Quote Page 142 and 143, Condé Nast Publications, New York. (ProQuest)

Fred Hoyle, for example, once suggested to me that the optimum population of the world should be about one hundred thousand—as that was the maximum number of people one could get to know in a lifetime.

In March 1969 a columnist in a Hackensack, New Jersey newspaper printed a letter from a person who did not want to be identified which presented a tentative number for optimum population:[5] 1969 March 14, The Record, In Defense of Optimism by William A. Caldwell, Quote Page A18, Column 6, Hackensack, New Jersey. (ProQuest)

“What’s optimum world population? What level of consumption must be maintained to assure that the locust will live well 10,000 years from now? Is it a billion people? I doubt it could be more. We are beyond that now by 2 billion.”

In 1970 Jerome Agel published “The Making of Kubrick’s 2001”. One chapter was about Arthur C. Clarke’s promotion of the film “2001”. Clarke received credit for several remarks including the following three items:[6]1970, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, Edited by Jerome Agel, Section: Arthur Clarke Went On a Whirlwind Tour Promoting 2001, Quote Page 312, Signet: The New American Library, New York. (Verified … Continue reading

One of the prominent changes of the future will be the disinvention of work.

The sheep and the cow today are less than ten percent efficient as a mobile food producer and will go out about the end of the century.

One hundred thousand people is the optimum population for a world in which the work will be done by robots.

In July 1971 “The Rotarian” published an essay by Clarke that repeated the attribution in the 1968 essay:[7] 1971 July, The Rotarian, Volume 119, Number 1, 2001: An Earth Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 15, Quote Page 17, Column 2, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link

Fred Hoyle, the widely-known astronomer, once remarked to me that the optimum population of the world should be about 100,000 people because that is the maximum number you can get to know in a lifetime. This is rather a self-centered view, but interesting.

In 1974 “The New York Times” printed a letter from Donald W. Mann who was the president of activist group Negative Population Growth who presented a limit for the optimum population:[8]1974 August 8, New York Times, Section: Letters To the Editor, Letter Title: Birth Control: ‘The Price We Must Pay’, Letter From: Donald W. Mann (President of Negative Population Growth), Letter … Continue reading

The weight of scientific evidence supports the view that, in an industrial society, the optimum population of the world could not possibly exceed 500 million, or about one-eighth the 1970 level. We recommend this number as a longer-range goal.

In 1977 “The Boston Globe” of Massachusetts printed a letter from Donald W. Mann which presented a higher limit for the optimum population:[9]1977 July 16, The Boston Globe, Section: Letters To the Editor, Letter Title: Reduce population, Letter From: Donald W. Mann (President of Negative Population Growth), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Boston, … Continue reading

The weight of scientific evidence supports the view that, in an industrial society, the optimum population of the world could not possibly exceed one billion, or about one-fourth the 1970 level. We recommend this number as a longer-range goal.

In 1994 the journal “Population and Environment” published an article titled “Optimum Human Population Size” by Gretchen C. Daily, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich which presented the following conclusion:[10]1994 July, Population and Environment, Population and Environment, Volume 15, Number 6, Optimum Human Population Size by Gretchen C. Daily, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich, Start Page 469, Quote … Continue reading

To summarize this brief essay, determination of an “optimum” world population size involves social decisions about the life styles to be lived and the distribution of those life styles among individuals in the population. To us it seems reasonable to assume that, until cultures and technologies change radically, the optimum number of people to exist simultaneously lies in the vicinity of 1.5 to 2 billion people.

In 1997 the journal “Politics and the Life Sciences” published a piece by Lindsey Grant which contained the following passage:[11]1997 September, Politics and the Life Sciences, Volume 16, Number 2, In Support of a Revolution… by Lindsey Grant, Start Page 200, Quote Page 200, Published by Cambridge University Press. … Continue reading

Very few writers seem to recognize that growth cannot continue forever in a limited space, and that that mathematical truism applies to the real world, today. Kenneth Smail is one of those few who do. Moreover, he suggests that human numbers have already passed the long-term capacity of the Earth to sustain us and that an optimum world population lies perhaps in the range of 2 to 3 billion.

In conclusion, Arthur C. Clarke published an essay in 1969 in which he credited Fred Hoyle with suggesting an optimum world population of about one hundred thousand. Other values have been suggested, and they are usually larger.

Image Notes: Pictures of human faces mapped onto a sphere. Illustration from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been resized.

References

References
1, 4 1968 April 15, Vogue, Volume 151, Issue 8, Next: On Earth, the Good Life? by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 84, Quote Page 142 and 143, Condé Nast Publications, New York. (ProQuest)
2 1954 February, Master of Arts Thesis Title: An analysis of recent expert estimates of maximum world population at a minimum adequate standard of living, Author: John B. Minick, Quote Page 3, Institution: University of Southern California. (ProQuest Dissertations Publishing)
3 1968 February 29, Mennonite Weekly Review, Tabor College: ‘World Can’t Feed Its People,’ Says World Food Expert, Quote Page 12, Column 1, Newton, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
5 1969 March 14, The Record, In Defense of Optimism by William A. Caldwell, Quote Page A18, Column 6, Hackensack, New Jersey. (ProQuest)
6 1970, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, Edited by Jerome Agel, Section: Arthur Clarke Went On a Whirlwind Tour Promoting 2001, Quote Page 312, Signet: The New American Library, New York. (Verified with scans)
7 1971 July, The Rotarian, Volume 119, Number 1, 2001: An Earth Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 15, Quote Page 17, Column 2, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link
8 1974 August 8, New York Times, Section: Letters To the Editor, Letter Title: Birth Control: ‘The Price We Must Pay’, Letter From: Donald W. Mann (President of Negative Population Growth), Letter Date: July 27, 1974, Quote Page 32, Column 4, New York. (Newspapers_com)
9 1977 July 16, The Boston Globe, Section: Letters To the Editor, Letter Title: Reduce population, Letter From: Donald W. Mann (President of Negative Population Growth), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
10 1994 July, Population and Environment, Population and Environment, Volume 15, Number 6, Optimum Human Population Size by Gretchen C. Daily, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich, Start Page 469, Quote Page 474, Published by Springer. (JSTOR) link
11 1997 September, Politics and the Life Sciences, Volume 16, Number 2, In Support of a Revolution… by Lindsey Grant, Start Page 200, Quote Page 200, Published by Cambridge University Press. (JSTOR) link
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