Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Go forth, multiply and fill the provinces

When biological anthropologist Helen Fisher appeared on The Joy Behar Show in November to help celebrate women who choose not to have more than one or two children, she tossed out a provocative term to describe women who do: littering. ("We have too many people on this planet," she said.) It's fashionable to go childless these days - as birth rates in wealthy countries attest. But surely it isn't necessary to demean women who choose to have more children than the national average. From a purely evolutionary perspective, giving birth remains an important mammalian responsibility.

By tradition, we still welcome the New Year metaphorically: as a child - a male child, for some reason, in top hat and sash. But the old vaudevillian razzle-dazzle doesn't suffice any more. With its national birth rate in decline and with its persistent aversion to procreation, Canada urgently needs babies. The country's biological instincts were healthy enough in 1921 (30 births per 1,000 population). Now (10 births per 1,000 population), they are not. This is important: Baby shortages age countries and weaken them. By some analysis, half of the public debt of OECD countries has arisen from the premature aging of European societies.

Of all the reasons women don't "litter," one is utterly untenable: the Malthusian myth that there are too many people on the planet. In a country such as Canada, with 3.3 people per square kilometre, this delusion is absurd.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada is one of the least densely populated places on Earth. Check out the vast emptiness of this country: Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon are statistically empty: 0.0 people per square kilometre. British Columbia has 4.4 people per square kilometre. Alberta has 5.1, Saskatchewan 1.6 and Manitoba 2.1. Ontario has more, of course: 13.4. Quebec has 5.6, Newfoundland and Labrador 1.4. And, finally, we reach Canada's most densely populated provinces: New Brunswick (with 10.2 people per square kilometre), Nova Scotia (with 17.3) and Prince Edward Island (the most densely populated province, with 23.9).

The fact is, most of our provinces and territories don't have enough people to populate a decent-sized city. New Brunswick, which could easily accommodate millions of people, has a population of 750,000.

For that matter, though, it was once said - most famously, back in the 1970s - that the world's population could fit comfortably into Texas. As it happens, this apparently idiotic assertion has been fact-checked once again. Here (from the Simply Shrug website) is the methodology and the math.

The global population is roughly 6.8 billion people. For this exercise, say seven billion. Use Metropolitan New York (population: 8.3 million) as a guide to tolerable density. With an area of 790 square kilometres, the Big Apple population density is 10,500 people per square kilometre.

How much land would be required to accommodate seven billion people with the same density of population that New York already has? Answer: 666,265 square kilometres. But New York City is already taken. Where could you find space for the rest of the world's people? As it happens, Texas fits the bill perfectly: The Lone Star State has 678,051 square kilometres of land - or roughly 10,000 square kilometres more than needed.

What about water? People need 50 litres of clean water every day for consumption, sanitation and cooking. Right, says Simply Shrugs: Since there are 1,000 litres of water in a cubic metre, you'll need 350 million cubic metres of fresh water a day - the same quantity of water that flows out of the Columbia River (7,500 cubic metres a second) in 13 hours.

What about food? On average, it takes 300 square metres of farmland, Simply Shrugs says, to feed one person for one year - or one square kilometre to feed 3,333 people. Thus it would require 2,333,333 square kilometres to feed seven billion people. But the U.S. alone has 3,731,282 square kilometres of farmland - one-third more than needed to feed everyone on Earth.

Story continues below advertisement

It's a silly set of calculations, of course, but not entirely without illumination. Earth can sustain more people - and some countries (such as Canada) need them. Go forth, then, multiply and fill the provinces.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to