What If All 7.1 Billion People Moved To Tunisia?

I’ve always been interested in the distribution of the human population across the globe. It’s far from an even spread—this map shows where people are most squished in (dark colors) and where they’re spread out (light colors):
And the East Asian countries in particular are so jam-packed with people that there’s this insane fact:
(Parts of Malaysia and Indonesia have been intentionally left out—without them, the red regions still contain more than 50.2% of the world’s population.)
To gain perspective on just how differently people are living on this planet, I looked up the average population density of a particular city, state, or country, and imagined all humans living at that density. Or put another way, how many square miles would be needed to fit all 7,103,900,000 members of the human race if all of us were living at the exact density of various places in the world. Here are some of the findings:

(While we’re here—if all the habitable land on Earth were as dense as Manhattan, you could fit 1.73 trillion people on the planet. Let’s not do that.)


  • Nice.

    Is the graphic that identifies Australia as Tunisia a gag or a mistake?

    • Definitely a mistake. All fixed now. Thanks for catching!

  • Anonymous

    If we all lived in Tunisia, where would we grow our food?

    There are areas in Hong Kong that have population densities of 10 people per square meter. But you can’t grow enough food for 10 people in one square meter. All of that has to come from rural areas and farms. Coincidentally, Canada grows a significant proportion of wheat consumed by the rest of the world.

    The human foot print is far larger than what we call our house or city. It includes the places we get our food, the spaces that we use for work, and even the places we go on vacation.

    • Anonymous

      Um, you would grow it outside the city…

    • if everyone lived in tunisia they would grow the food in europe and north america. duh

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

  • If everyone lived as dense as Antartica. I don’t know how many earths? :p 😉

  • Amy

    This is interesting for visually putting human population into perspective, but it sounds like this information is giving some readers the wrong idea about the number of people the earth can support.

    The areas in which people are living in high densities are importing their natural resources from elsewhere. How many people in Manhattan are growing all of their food in their apartment space? How many are getting their drinking water from their apartment space? None — they are importing their water from a large watershed in the Catskills and are importing their food from all over the world. The only reason they can exist at those densities is because they import their resources from outside their physical living space — the landbase which they occupy cannot support that many people on its own.

    An “ecological footprint” is a good indicator of how much land is required to provide all of the natural resources (food, water, fuel, wood, etc.) and ecosystem services (pollination, nutrient cycling, waste assimilation, temperature regulation, etc.) per capita at the current standard of living. At the US standard of living as of 1996, Wackernagel and Rees (authors of the Ecological Footprint) calculated that the ecological footprint, or the amount of land needed by one average US citizen to fulfill all of their consumption, was 5.1 hectares. In comparison, the average Canadian had a 4.3 hectare footprint, and the average Indian had a 0.38 hectare footprint. There’s an interactive map here that shows which countries are in “ecological deficit” and which are in “ecological surplus” based on the per capita footprint in hectares times the total population versus the number of hectares of productive land area in each country: http://storymaps.esri.com//globalfootprint/ . Red countries use more land than their country contains, and are therefore net importers of resources. They are in ecological deficit.

    So sure, the current picture all works out fine for now (kind of, if you accept environmental degradation and massive rates of species loss), because the countries in ecological deficit are importing resources from those in ecological surplus. BUT, not every country on the planet can operate in ecological deficit — all countries would be net importers. It’s physically impossible. Where would the imports come from? You can see by the above referenced link that even those countries in ecological surplus are in less surplus over time as ecosystems are degraded. And while it’s true that city dwellers, per capita, have a smaller ecological footprint than folks living suburbs (a lot of this is due to reduced per capita energy and transportation costs in cities), there is not enough ecologically productive land available on the planet to sustain even the current global population at the US standard of living. Dividing the ecologically productive area on the planet (i.e., that which is not covered by ice) by the 1996 global population (everyone knows it is larger now), leaves us with 1.5 hectares per person — IF resources were distributed evenly to every human. We are likely in ecological overshoot already; remember that overshoot of carrying capacity happens before widespread consequences are observed (lag time). To top it off, these ecological footprints assume that all land is available only to humans– it assumes NO land/resources available to other species.

    This is why reasoning that we can have many more people on the planet just because their bodies would physically fit in that area, is wholly mistaken.

    And just a side note — the use of fossil fuels has temporarily increased our carrying capacity. But fossil fuels are an unsustainable resource (because we use them faster than the planet can produce them). So, sure, we can sustain a larger human population on the planet, but only if the per capita resource use drops dramatically in many areas across the globe.

    [Sorry for the wordiness]

    • Anonymous

      Everything you say is basically correct but not anything to get too worked up about. If resources become more scarce, they become more expensive and people use them more efficiently and find ways to produce more of them or find alternatives. This all happens spontaneously and does not require a panel of experts to direct and control. Nor does it require the loss of a single night’s sleep for anybody.

    • Anonymous

      Except for the lag issue. Overshoot is not a smooth bell curve – it is an increasingly steep curve on the growth side, (aka for resource usage), and then on the other side there is a sudden precipitous drop. Symptoms of the coming drop in resources (and thus wealth or population) lag well behind the actual change- Example Gold production in northern Nevada – Acording to most estimates 40 million units are in the ground. They (mining companies) can currently extract 3-4 million units in a year, so 10 years or so left right? NOPE the mining companies are trying to EXPAND OPERATIONS so that they can get their gold sooner and increase the short term profits. Once the gold is out of the ground there will be NO MORE (significant) gold in the ground in that area. Sure we can recycle the gold extracted- but some is always lost, and energy is always needed for the recycling. The same situation to a greater or lessser degree holds for ALL the consumable resources of our planet. The mining companies have no long term plans. The government doesnt share any such plans (beyond planting trees over the holes that is). So what happens to the entire regions economy?
      The only sustainable economic model is one that gathers incoming energy from solar, tidal, or geothermal processes and uses that to convert /recycle other resources.
      It doesnt matter if we switch to a nuclear energy – uranium is a perishable natural resource,
      It doesnt matter if we are more efficent in our energy usage (take a look at what happens when one region gets more efficent with other regions able to take the ‘freed’ energy) usage overall always goes up with population growth.
      We could have a years worth of oil or a hundred years worth of oil AT CURRENT CONSUMPTION RATES that means we run out in a year or 20 years we never reach that hundred! BECAUSE consumption doesnt stay static it always increases.
      Until of course, population overshoot, and then population crash.
      The survivors will long for our current golden age. Or dismiss it as a horrid myth of greed and ignorance.
      Only a new form of highly concentrated nearly free energy has any chance of saving us.

      • JeffS

        OK. You can believe what you want. Just do me a favor and make a nice specific prediction like for instance “Once Nevada runs out of gold there will be a gold shortage.”, or “An environmental apocalypse due to resource depletion will occur by such and such a date.”. When you are inevitably proven wrong in your dire predictions you can scratch your head and say “I may have been wrong in my predictions but predictions are hard, especially when it comes to the future.”

  • Anonymous

    Well, if all humans moved to places that cannot be used for producing food etc. anyway, (like the Sahara), we could produce plenty of food. Hahah.. I saw a documentary once that said that the US alone throws away enough edible food each year to feed all of the earth’s population three times. Maybe we just need to get better at sharing, instead of complaining that there “isn’t enough” for everyone.

  • Very interesting article indeed. Never thought of population in this way. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    This is hilarious. I love how your mind works.

  • Anonymous

    The last part makes no sense, Alaska is the least populated state in the USA, with right at 600,000 total residents and one third the land mass as the entire lower 48 states combined. Our population is 1.2 per square mile. The most recent census for the USA has a population of 87.4 per square mile.

    • Anonymous

      I thought about this again and now I see where you were going with this, you saying if we spread out to match Alaska’s low density to land mass. I get it now.

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  • atti

    i feel bad for alaskans. It feels pretty lonely . Imagine all those earths how sparse it would be

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  • Bobi

    Nice advert for Agenda 21. All we need is a jolly good war/ epidemic. But really, haven’t y’all read the Georgia Guidestones solution? LOL, brave new world.

  • K.

    An interesting site and good comments, too. It would be even more interesting if you also showed how much actual space is habitable in a particular country –since climate and certain characteristics of terrain or other limiting factors may make a large land mass almost uninhabitable.

    • tn

      I think it might be tricky.

      A large land mass is almost uninhabitable, as you just said. I think “almost” is the keyword here – e.g. is Sahara uninhabitable? Or Northern Siberia? Both are huge territories but have had local nomads sparsely populating these areas for ages, and also some population nowadays. On the other hand, if these people changed places where they live with each other, they would probably have a lot of difficulties getting used to the climate and they’d possibly consider each other’s homeland uninhabitable.

      Is Antarctica uninhabitable? No permanent population lives there but mankind is capable of creating inhabitable conditions in the research stations. It’s possible to make almost any dry place on Earth survivable and inhabitable but in some places it needs a lot more effort than in some others – and it’s not possible to rule out all the places that are made inhabitable artificially because if you considered a place uninhabitable if you can’t survive there without well-heated houses, food import etc, a lot of actually inhabited territories wouldn’t count.

      To sum up, no matter how “uninhabitable” was defined, it would still be an artificial category as most of the uninhabitable territories are actually in some kind of grey zone. Anyway, I would still also love to see comparisons about population density in habitable land – it would still be absolutely interesting despite my doubts 🙂

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