Which side are you on, Cornucopian or Cassandra?

The purpose of this blog is to further explain the human population growth issue.  In this blog I will present to you two different views: Cornucopian and Cassandra and talk about what each group believes and different members of each group. I will also introduce to you to the IPAT equation and inform you of the different causes and effects of human population growth.

Human population growth is one of the biggest problems the Earth is facing. Not only are we increasing the human population at an exponential rate, but we are also using resources much faster than they can be replenished; therefore, these resources are no longer renewable. Right now, there are approximately 7 billion people on the Earth. This number will continue to grow exponentially if we do not find ways to cut down on births. The Earth does have a carrying capacity, which means there is a certain number of people that the Earth can provide resources for. No one truly knows this number, but I believe that we have passed that number because of how fast we are using resources. It is hard for most people to grasp the number of people that inhabit this planet; J. Withgott and S. Brennan lay it out in a much more understandable way, “Our global population grows by over 80 million people each year. This is the equivalent of adding all the people of California, Texas, and New York to the world annually – and it means that we add 2.6 people to the planet every second(1)” (p. 199). It might also help you to grasp this number by looking at this website.

There are several reasons that our population is increasing at an exponential rate. J. Withgott and S. Brennan say the main reasons for our population growth is, “… from technological innovations, improved sanitation, better medical care, increased agricultural output, and other factors that have brought down death rates and infant mortality rates (2)” (p. 199). Some of the main consequences of our increasing population is that the Earth will not be able to support a certain number of inhabitants,  more resource consumption, more fossil fuel use, and war, conflict, and refugees.  The chart below better outlines the causes and effects of population growth.

This is a chart that shows the impacts and causes of population growth (3).


There are two different views on human population growth and the impacts it will have.  One of the views is the Cornucopian view, which states that population growth poses no problem if new resources can be found or created to replace ones that have been used up.  They believe that there is enough technology out there that will allow us to find new resources so we can compensate for the ones that we are currently using up.  This view is strongly supported by many economists because they think that as the price of rare resources rises, people will be tempted to turn to new resources.  The other view is known as the Cassandra view, which is strongly supported by scientists and states that resources are finite.  The Cassandra’s have run models that show how our economy will fare in the future based on resource consumption and resource availability.  The graph below shows one of the model’s of the Cassandra’s.  It shows how they think population will start to fall once resources have been depleted.  The main point of this graph is to show that resources, population, food, and industrial output will fall once all our resources have been depleted and there is no way of getting them back (4).

Personally, I think there is a population growth issue.  I think we have well surpassed the number of people which the Earth can support.  I hope that we can find a way to solve our population issue, but I think this will only be achievable if we educate countries who raise a lot of children and do not realize the impact they are having on the Earth.

One of the strongest supporters of the Cassandra view is Paul Ehrlich, who believes that there is a chance our population will grow so fast that we will not be able to produce and supply food.  This, he believes, will lead to famine and conflict that would consume the human civilization by the end of the 20th century.  Ehrlich developed the IPAT equation, which represents how our total impact on the environment results from the interactions of population, affluence, and technology.  This model explains how population increases our impact on the environment because we add more people and use more resources.  Affluence adds to the per capita resource consumption.  Technology can have positive and negative impacts because we can use it to exploit more minerals, fossil fuels, and destroy forests, but it can be beneficial because we can use it to reduce emissions and create renewable energy sources.

I = P x A x T

The IPAT equation in reference to China shows that they have a negative impact on the Earth.  They have one of the largest populations in the world, but they have taken measures to try and solve this issue by only allowing one child per family.  They have a very high GDP, which means they use a lot of resources.  Their state of technology is very high, so they can be using it in a negative and positive way, but they are using it more in a negative way since they are the leading producers in many products.  In reference to the USA, the IPAT equation shows that we are having an even worse impact on the Earth because our population is continuing to grow and we have not done anything to try and fix that issue.  Our affluence is only going up, meaning we are consuming and using resources at a very fast rate.  However, our technology is being used in very positive and very negative ways as well.  We have been finding ways to create renewable energy sources, but we also consume a lot of resources and are using them much faster  than they can be replenished.  I believe that the country with the worst impact on the Earth with respect to the IPAT equation is India because of their ever-increasing population, which is not being fixed.  They are also one of the leading countries in resource consumption and GDP.  In addition, they have been using technology in bad ways, not using it in a ways to benefit the Earth.

Hans Rosling is another scientist who has developed a software that can track the changes in certain variables, such as family income and size.  Rosling is a supporter of the Cornucopian view because he believes that if goods are distributed in the right way and if technology continues to increase, poverty and hunger will be prevented in a growing world.  One of the topics that I liked the most about his talk was when he mentioned students in the university and their view on the world population.  He says that they think of the world with respect to two different groups: “we” and “them”, or Western and Eastern.  The graph that he shows explains how there were two different groups of people in the 1950’s: the ones with small families and longer lives, and the ones with large families and shorter lives, but as time went on, the larger families with shorter lives are now living longer and longer.  I like this view because it shows how the population has been increasing in the developing countries and they are the ones with the most family members; therefore, they are the ones contributing to the population the most.

Below i have used Gapminder to map out the change in the human population from 1940 to 2009 in all the countries of the world.  Also, these graphs show the life expectancy of each country.  The purpose of these graphs is to show why our population has been increasing at an exponential rate.  Because the life expectancy has gone up so much since 1940, more people are living longer and there are not as many infant mortalities.  The main reasons for our higher life expectancy is increased medical care, better medicine, higher technology, and more food.  A higher life expectancy is definitely a good thing, but the population rising at such a high rate is not a good thing.  It is rising at this rate because certain countries, such as India are having several children per family and they do not realize the impact this is having on the Earth.  The two leading countries on the graph below for 2009 are india and China.  The industrial and agricultural revolutions are the main reason the population has skyrocketed.


In this blog I have further informed you about several different topics relating to the human population growth.  I hope to have given you a better grasp on the current population and how it is continuously rising.  I have provided you with an in-depth graph showing you the different causes and effects of human population growth and how the relate to one another.  I outlined the different beliefs of the Cornucopian’s and Cassandra’s and talked about different scientists who belong to each of the groups.  I have also introduced you to the IPAT equation, which can be used to determine a countries impact on the Earth by examining their population, affluence, and technology.  In the last section of this blog I used Gapminder to compare and contrast the population in 1940 to the population in 2009 compared to the life expectancy to show how and why the population has been growing at an exponential rate.


1. Withgott, J. & Brennan, S. (2010). Environment: The science behind the stories. 4th Ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education.

2. Withgott, J. & Brennan, S. (2010). Environment: The science behind the stories. 4th Ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education.

3. Human Population”Consequences of exploding population” Accessed November, 23rd 2012 from http://legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu/gcaplan/eco/note%20withgott/eco%20note%20l%20%20human%20population.htm

4. Casandra’s Curse: how “the limits to growth” was demonized “State of the World” (March 9th, 2008) Accessed November, 23rd 2012 from http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3551

5. TED ideas worth spreading “Hans Rosling: Let my Dataset change your Mindset” (August 2009) Accessed November, 23rd 2012 from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/hans_rosling_at_state.html



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