Michelle Duggar On Overpopulation, and Why She’s Wrong

Posted on March 30, 2012


In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Michelle Duggar explains that the world is not overpopulated, because if you stood the entire population of the world shoulder to shoulder, they would all fit within the city limits of Jacksonville, Florida.  I was just about to fire off my rage at this absolute nonsense, but then I scrolled down and saw that commenter “FriendBean” astutely points out some facts:

“Jacksonville–which is really all of Duval County–is 874.3 square miles. There are 27878400 square feet in a square mile. So, there are 24,374,085,120 square feet. Allowing 9 square feet per person, that’s 2,708,231,680. There are about 7 billion people in the world. Duggar is allowing about 3.5 square feet per person. That’s 1 and 1/2 feet by 1 and 1/2 feet. Seriously–people are 18 inches by 18 inches? Maybe the airplane companies are employing her to figure out how wide to make their seats. In order to get all the people in the world crammed tightly together so that they could not do anything more than stand up, you’d still need about three full counties. Given that there are only 12 million square miles of arable land, and that it takes about 1.5 acres of arable land to feed one person, and that there are 640 acres in a square mile–that means we have 7,680,000,000 acres of arable land, and that’s enough for 5,120,000,000 people. So, yeah, we’re maxed out here on planet Earth. Apparently Duggar doesn’t realize that people have to eat and that eating takes land and that arable land is sort of maxed out–God provided us only so much, and he expects us to live within our means. Good husbandry doesn’t seem to be something that Duggar has a grasp on–well, that and math.”

I love you, FriendBean.  But you also left out the part about needing to raze the city of Jacksonville to the ground to give the Earthlings each their 18″x18″ plot of land, with no shelter, and no methods of food or water delivery or sewer service.  This is why statements about how small a space could accommodate the whole population of the planet are patently false and nonsensical.  People need space.

And people need resources.  Many of these resources should be sustainable – water, ocean fish, grasslands, forests  – but we are overdrawing those resources faster than they can be replenished.  Climate change, whatever the cause, is real and will exacerbate these resource shortages.  Already there are international disputes over water use – between India and Bangladesh, for instance, and between Kazakhstan and China, and among the countries of Central Asia.  As for food, at least 900 million people have been chronically malnourished every year since 2008 – that’s almost one in seven people on the planet.  And every year, hundreds of millions of children die from chronic malnutrition – a statistic that is only projected to get worse.

One might argue that these are problems of distribution, of markets, of the economy, of wars.  And some of it is.  But that’s only going to get worse, not better, as resources dwindle.  Wars are never really about religion, or color, or ethnicity; they are about resources.  All those other convenient labels are just ways to divide us from them.   That psychological separation that makes them different, the enemy, not as deserving, not even as human as us.

Duggar, in her comfortable home in her first-world country, is concerned about having more children to provide social security.  The Duggars economize by buying used goods.  Well, good for them.  She cannot imagine her counterparts, that 10% or so with no access to potable water or reliable food.  She cannot compare her situation to the 1.3 billion people who scrape by on about $1.25 per day, or the billion who live in slums.  She will probably never know what it is to spend most of the day worrying about how to get water in a city like Delhi.

But her children might.

Original publication at The Color of Lila