Line by Line

Can we all fit in Texas?

posted May 03, 2010

Tags: fact-checking, math, myths, population

I'm sure you've heard of overpopulation. And if you have heard it debated at all, then you've probably heard the claim that everyone on earth could fit into the state of Texas. As skeptical as I am about overpopulation (I'm pretty sure it's a myth),I'm equally skeptical about the Texas claim. It's something I've heard repeated over and over again but never substantiated.

So I decided to find out, once and for all, whether it's true or not. The first time I ran the numbers, screwed up by converting linear instead of square units, and wound up with the badly inaccurate figure of 2.5-ish square inches per person. It's actually closer to 1,100 feet.

Here are the data I used to reach this calculation:

So far, so good. Now for the actual math. For which I will of course be using a calculator. Okay, here goes:

  1. Convert square miles to square feet. Correctly this time.
    268,820 mi2 x 27,878,400 mi2/ft2 = 7,494,271,488,000 ft2 (Yup, that's over seven trillion.)
  2. Take the total area and divide it by the number of people:
    7,494,271,488,000 ft2 / 6,818,760,074 people = 1099.0666054633204857942329765568 ft2/person

Round off those unnecessary decimal places, and there you have it. Using readily available numbers and math so simple even I can do it, we've proven that the area of Texas is enough room for everyone on the planet to have over a thousand square feet. Now we just have to turn the entire Lonestar state into one giant suburb, and we're golden! (I kid, of course!)

And I'm not done. See, before I caught my math error, I did some more math (with the same error) and concluded that the entire landmass of the earth was only enough for everyone to have about 45 square feet. So I wondered, with all the space on Earth that's used for things other than housing, how do we all fit? The answer: build up.

I've heard versions of the Texas claim (and similar claims about various U.S. cities) that are qualified with something along the lines of "if it were as densely populated as Beijing." Figuring that a city full of high-rises could contain more people than a flat, Texas-sized parking lot, I turned once again to Wikipedia to find a list of the most densely populated cities. The top spot went to Manila, in the Philippines, with a density of 111,576 people per square mile.

Multiply that by the area of Texas, and you get 29,993,860,320 people. Almost thirty billion people could squeeze into Texas if it were as densely populated as the most densely populated city in the world.

The Population Research Institute has a site called Overpopulation is a Myth that demonstrates pretty much the same thing. In fact, part of what made me want to write this post was seeing an ad for the site that read, "All of humanity fits in Texas. That's right. Texas." I guess I could have just posted the link, but I wanted to check it for myself.