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How many people can the Earth hold?




Photo: Foto: Heikenwaelder Hugo, CC BY-SA 2.5

Currently, more than seven billion people live on planet Earth; by the year 2050 that figure will have grown to nine billion. More cautious prognoses predict that there will be around 10.7 billion people in the year 2100, but other estimates put the figure at over 16 billion!
All these people will want to eat, drive a car, and live in an air-conditioned home. Will there be enough resources to go round? If we continue to manage our resources as we are now, there are sure to be shortages of food, water, land, energy sources and raw materials. Experts, journalists and associations are warning of wars over resources, catastrophic climate change, and an ultimately uninhabitable Earth.
Scientists are trying to find a way to measure resource availability and consumption in order to quantify the issue. One such measure is the “ecological footprint”. This is the amount of land required to keep up a specific person’s lifestyle and standard of living given current production conditions.  According to the Global Footprint Network, humanity is currently exceeding the Earth’s capacity by 50 percent! If everyone on the planet had the lifestyle of the average German, we would already need 2.5 Earths to support us all.
To put it shortly, the answer to the question is:  We are already living beyond our means!

Dr Susann Beetz of the Ideas 2020 team answered this question.