Too many people take it as read that there are too many people. The assumption of overpopulation as a reality is the great myth of our time, held despite the obvious figures on the table to show that this planet of ours could comfortably support many multiples of the present population even with today's technology. It is the legacy of the success of the environmentalist movement, which transcended the reasonable portions of the original agenda to transform itself into something of a civic religion somewhere along the way. It is a strange twist to the cultures we create to see that the average person in the street now thinks that many of our greatest achievements should be torn down or relinquished and even that human existence is a net negative.
Yet where there is poverty and suffering, that state exists despite present wealth and opportunities to generate wealth, not because of the number of people involved. There is more than enough food, more than enough resources, and more of an excess of both are being created with each passing year. These are political and distribution issues, problems of organization, kleptocracy, and simple inhumanity. Waste amid the potential for plenty.
The prevalence of the overpopulation myth is, I think, one of the important contributing factors to public opposition to extending healthy human life span. Much of the public is convinced that there exists a present crisis of population that will lead inevitably to some form of resource collapse - which is far from the case, but facts in evidence never played much of a role in these sorts of slow-moving hysteria in the past. These patterns of belief even extend into the community of futurists and supporters of longevity science, and hence you'll sometimes see articles such as this one:
When our most precious and hard fought for successes give rise to yet more challenges life is revealing its Sisyphean character. We work as hard as we can to roll a rock up a hill only to have it crush us on the way down. The stones that threatens us this time are two of our global civilization's greatest successes - the fact that children born are now very likely to live into old age and the fact that we have stretched out this old age itself so that many, many more people are living into ages where in the past the vast majority of their peers would be dead. These two demographic revolutions when combined form the basis of what I am calling the Longevity Crisis.
Ultimately in terms of the sustainability of our species [the present] decline in the birth rate is a very good thing. Demographics, however, is like a cruise ship - it is hard to turn. In the lag time the world's population is exploding as societies are able to save the lives of children but continue to have nearly as many of them. We are living through the turning. [It] took humanity roughly 250,000 years to reach 1 billion of us in 1900, but thereafter the rate of growth skyrocketed. There was only a little over a century between our first billion and second billion. 40 years later in 1960 we numbered 3 billion. Only 14 years after that we reached the 4 billion mark and the time between adding another billion would shorten to about a mere dozen years with 5 billion reached in 1987, 6 billion following 12 years later in 1999, and 7 billion a dozen after that in 2011.
Thankfully, the rate of population growth is slowing. It will take us 14 years to pass the 8 billion mark and 20-25 years to reach what will perhaps be the peak of human population during this era - 9 billion in 2050. Though comforting we shouldn't necessarily be sanguine in light of this fact - we are still on track to add to the world the equivalent of another China and Europe by the middle of the century. Certainly, these people will, with justice, hanker after a middle class lifestyle putting enormous pressures on the global environment. Add to that the effects of climate change and it seems we are entering a very dangerous and narrow chute through which humanity must pass.
Some people feel threatened by large numbers. But numbers alone mean nothing and say nothing. They carry no information or context, and to base fear of the future rather than optimism on the fact that one number is changing is an emotional reaction, not a rational analysis.