Matters of Scale - Population and Food

Average increase in human population each 1,000 years during the hundred millennia of evolution prior to the development of agriculture
40,000 (or less)
Average increase each 1,000 years in the ten millennia since the development of agriculture
Number of individual years in the 2 millennia before 1910 in which famines were recorded in at least one province of China
Number of years during that period when no famines were recorded
Approximate population of Easter Island in 1550
Approximate population of Easter Island three centuries later, after increasing demands on limited resources triggered a chain-reaction of deforestation, destruction of biodiversity, and collapses of natural and agricultural systems
Population of Ireland in the early 1840s
8.5 million
Population of Ireland a few years later, following the potato blight, failures of food distribution, and famines of the late 1840s
4.5 million
Population of the Earth in another two centuries, if growth were to continue at the same rate it has between 1990 and 1995
135 billion
Maximum population that could actually be reached, according to rough estimates by researchers who believe that exceeding this level would likely trigger declines or implosions of population through famine, disease, or war
11 billion
Sources: Past population increases and declines: Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World: the Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (New York: Penguin Books, 1991); Maximum population capacity: Worldwatch Institute; Projected population if continued without constraint: David Malin Roodman, calculation based on global rates in Vital Signs 1997, New York: W.W> Norton, 1997.