Can the planet sustain 10 billion people?

20 November 2014


A panel of leading academics came together at the Oxford Martin School this week to discuss the problem of the world's burgeoning population.

The panel discussion, entitled 'Is the Planet Full?', followed the publication of the book of the same name, earlier this year, and focused on a variety of the topics and implications surrounding the issue in question.

Introducing the panel, Professor Ian Goldin, Director of the Oxford Martin School and editor of 'Is the Planet Full?' acknowledged that the subject has already been widely discussed: "This is an old debate, but we've tried to provide fresh perspectives."

Speaking on the topic of food, and the problems that arise in trying to feed our growing population, Professor Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food stressed the dangers of overconsumption of animal produce, stating "the single most important thing I'd suggest is that we eat less meat".

Professor Sarah Harper, Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, discussed the implications of population growth as a result of ageing, as opposed to increased birth rate. Professor Yadvinder Malhi, Director of the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests, came at the question from an environmental standpoint, focusing on the planet's "metabolism", and the constant battle between the physical limitations of available space, and the need for innovation.

Dr Toby Ord, James Martin Fellow at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, questioned the inherent value of an individual, and asked what it would mean to "have an ideal population". All five of the speakers agreed that if we are to support a population of 10 billion people, we drastically need to rethink our attitudes to consumption.