Fill the earth

God’s first commandment to the human race was to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue (or have dominion over) the earth. We have certainly multiplied! But have we yet ‘filled the earth’? Have we gone too far? Have we multiplied too much? Is the current population level sustainable?The population of the world dramatically increased in the 20th century. Some people believe that this is a major cause of poverty – but the facts do not support this and I don’t believe this to be true.

When the world’s population was small, virtually everybody lived in a state which we would now describe as extreme poverty. As the population of the world has grown so too has the number of people living in poverty. But the percentage terms, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has actually reduced!  (From 90+% in 1800, 50% in 1982, to 25% now)

The World Food Programme has calculated that there is enough food currently produced for every single person in the world to be well fed! The amount of food produced has always increased in line with population increases. The amount of land needed to produce the food has in fact decreased as more modern forms of farming are used. Someone has calculated that the continent of Africa has enough cultivable land, which if used efficiently, could feed the whole world!

The main causes of poverty and hunger are:

  • War and conflict
  • Famine and undernourishment
  • Disease
  • Natural disasters
  • Oppression and injustice towards the poor

Please note that overpopulation is not one of the reasons for poverty. The dangers of overpopulation have been grossly over-stated and have their root cause in fear and in racism.

The world’s population is now about 7 billion people and has been growing at about 1 billion people every 15 years. The United Nations Population Division estimate that the population growth is slowing down and if current trends persist the growth in world population will level off  around about 2045 at around 8 billion people. After 2045 the population of the world should start reducing and by about the year 2085 we should be back to 7 billion people like today.

Why is the population growth slowing down? it all depends on the “Global Total Fertility Rate”, which is the average number of children born to women throughout the world. Sometime back this figure was about 5 children per woman, but the figure has been steadily reducing and is now approaching 2. As it approaches the population growth reduces and if it falls below 2 then population decreases.

Fertility Rate
Country 1959 2009
United Kingdom 5.9 2.7
United States 3.6 2.1
India 5.9 2.7
China 6.1 1.8
Nigeria 5.9 5.7

It is clear that as a country becomes more prosperous the fertility rate reduces. In the above table this is obviously true for the United States and the UK. It is also true of India and China. For most African countries the fertility rate remains high but is this area of the world which remains mostly affected by extreme poverty.

Why does prosperity bring about a reduction in the fertility rate? In the past, people wanted larger families for 2 reasons. The infant mortality rate was so high that the only way to be sure some children survived was to have more children. Also, parents were dependent on the children, particularly sons, to look after them in old age.

But larger families are at greater financial drain on the family. So, as more children survived childhood diseases it became less necessary to have many children. Smaller families become more prosperous, and as people see that, they will be imitated. Overpopulation does not cause poverty.

Poverty is caused by war, famine and disease not by overpopulation. But a decrease in poverty does result in a smaller population!

Much of the material in this article comes from

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

5 thoughts on “Fill the earth”

  1. Poverty seems to last forever, because if you are born into poverty you really do not know about money, so even if you get some money you will most likely loose it again.


    1. I am sorry Tracy, but I cannot agree. I have met many thousands of desperately poor people around the world and they are only too aware of how the better off live. Television, radio and the Internet now reaches practically everybody.

      but poverty is in fact reducing. 30 years ago 52% of the world lived in extreme poverty. That figure is now 26%. This generation could see the elimination of extreme poverty! Is it up to the task?


  2. Perhaps you could say a little more about the true causes of poverty. While I agree with war, famine,disease, injustice and oppression being reasons for poverty they seem more like the symtoms than the cause. Behind war and injustice are very ugly issues like power, greed, control, prejudice, indifference and sadly these are not shared only by the war mongers.


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