“Unlooked for but swift, we have come on like a swarm of locusts: a wide, thick, darkling cloud settling down like living snowflakes, smothering every stalk, every leaf, eating away every scrap of green down to raw, bare, wasting earth…There are too many men for Earth to harbor. At nearly seven billion we have overshot Earth’s carrying capacity”. Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First.
The Consumption of Wealthy Nations is the problem. Not the Poor.
It’s both, obviously. Not one or the other. The famous equation to describe this is I = P x A x T, which translates to Human Impact (I) on the environment = (P)opulation times (A)ffluence times (T)echnology.
The population growth of the poor is dismissed as inconsequential compared to the consumption of the industrialized nations. It’s certainly true that the wealthier nations are destructive at a global scale. All the more reason to limit immigration to North America and wherever else consumption is grotesquely out of scale. Even if Americans cut consumption in half, continued immigration levels of a million people a year will undo any savings.
But the poor have tremendous impact at a local scale. Yet it is politically incorrect to blame the poor for environmental destruction, despite these obvious effects:
- Slash and burn non-native peasants migrate on illegal logging roads and destroy tropical rainforests with slash-and-burn agriculture
- Bush meat is shot for food, jaguars, Bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and many other endangered species slaughtered
- Deforestation to cook food, sell illegal timber
- Competition over scarce water, i.e. ten countries in the Nile basin have rapidly growing populations
- Sewage and chemical pollution because pour villages/countries can’t afford treatment plants
- The sheer numbers of poor – billions, overwhelms resources of all kinds
- The poor relieve their excess population by migrating to developed nations or nearby nations, so population growth remains unchecked and the need or desire for birth control lessened
- Adopting the consumerism of rich nations and consuming more meat and other goods
In much of the world, Catholic and Evangelical churches oppose contraceptives, and politicians look the other way as the last wild lands are destroyed to delay potential social unrest as an escape valve for a society with little upward mobility.
In North America many scientists have found evidence that the first people to migrate to North America wiped out the megafauna – the mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, giant beavers, and saber-toothed lions. So certainly the poor can impact the environment by hunting, fencing off migration routes of wild animals (i.e. wildebeest migration in Africa, etc.)
We all have an impact on the environment. Giant tractors, with combustion engines the energy equivalent of 500 horses, plant and harvest crops, mining, compressing, and destroying the topsoil ten times faster than past civilizations were capable of doing. The poor may not be driving the tractors, but the rich are exploiting their land by mining and farming with fossil-fueled machinery.
It’s taboo to mention the link between poverty and population
Obviously the misery and starvation in Niger is caused by having the highest birthrate in the world. But reporters never mention this connection.
Don’t worry, America’s birth rate went down
By 1973 the birth rate dropped below replacement level, so the media ran headlines declaring that the population problem was solved, our nation was at Zero Population Growth.
Huge mistake! The population was still growing. In fact, it would take up to 70 years before growth was stopped. We could have stabilized around 250 million people. According to the census bureau, we could have 750 million to 1 billion people by 2100.
And it was only wealthy countries where this was happening. As Dave Foreman puts it “elsewhere, babies were still coming down like hailstones in a High Plains thunderbuster”.
Feminists and Human-rights groups took over the Sierra Club
After feminists and human-rights advocates were put on the population committee at the Sierra Club, they fought to have empowerment of women as the main goal. Dave Foreman was on the committee and opposed this since the goal was population stabilization and then reduction. Empowering women might be a key path to that goal, but was not the goal itself.
The newcomers replied that any implied restrictions, such as a goal of population stabilization, was an assault on women rights to choose how many children they had. The mere mention of limits to growth was coercive.
The takeover of the Sierra Club population platform by people unaware or unable to understand “The Limits to Growth” and “The Tragedy of the Commons” was a tragedy. Like bowling pins, it wasn’t long before goals of population stabilization and reduction were knocked over in virtually every other environmental group as well. The Sierra Club was instrumental in making the topic of population taboo and politically incorrect.
Consider the impact every child has. Businesses and government construct buildings, roads, airports, etc. So even if you’re off-the-grid, on your behalf society is consuming 7 billion tons of minerals a year. This means the average person is consuming 47,769 pounds of a year — 1400 pounds of copper, 9 tons of phosphate rock, 300 tons of coal, 16 tons of iron ore, 700 tons of stone, sand, and gravel – and more.
Cornucopian and Leftists Environmentalists also destroyed immigration and population stabilization goals
You’d think the Left would support conservation, but there are splinters who saw talking about overpopulation as blaming the world’s poor for their plight. Better to stop wealthy countries from consuming so much.
In 1998 the Bay Area Marxist group “Political Ecology Group” succeeded in killing a Sierra Club immigration-lowering initiative. Leftist ideologues also suppressed talk about overpopulation at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment because Chinese and India’s attempts to gain population stabilization were seen by them as coercive.
Well Leftists – look at the evil you have wrought, the suffering. Despite your objections, China kept going with its one-child policies and malnutrition was sharply reduced. Only 7% of children in China under 5 are underweight. In India, where the program to stabilize population stopped, 43% of children under 5 are underweight. 230 million people are hungry (25% of all hungry people in the world).
Since the 1980s there’s been little media attention to population growth, and close to none since 1994.
Not only did the Sierra Club and other environmental groups stop writing about issues, they stopped reminding people that overpopulation is responsible for every single problem they were fighting for. A growing population worsens:
- Climate change
- Oceans: acidification, overfishing, pollution
- (Rain)forest destruction for agriculture, cattle, construction
- Biodiversity loss (6th mass extinction)
- Providing a good education to children everywhere
- Feeding everyone
- Making jobs available for record numbers of unemployed youth
Martha Campbell puts this even more strongly – she sees hostility towards mentioning the population question because universities have taught students for the past 20 years that even discussing the connection between population and environment is not a tolerable topic of discussion. Indeed, it is politically incorrect to even suggest that slowing population growth might protect the environment for future generations.
The American public is anti-science and ignores warnings
Anyone who denies overpopulation is a problem is as deliberately stupid and ignorant as a “Climate Change Denier”. People and environmental groups continue to ignore the many warnings of top scientists:
- 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus
- 1968 The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin
- 1968 The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich
- 1973 Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows et al
- 1980 Overshoot by William Catton (especially Chapter 2)
- 1992 World scientists’ warning to humanity. 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued this appeal
- 1993 The Arithmetic of Growth: Methods of Calculation by Albert Bartlett.
- 1995 The Immigration Dilemma: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons by Hardin
- 1999 The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia by Garrett Hardin
- 2001 Global Biodiversity Outlook
- 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
- 2006 The Essential Exponential: For the Future of our planet by Albert Bartlett (video)
- 2014 Nobel laureates call for a revolutionary shift in how humans use resources. Eleven holders of prestigious prize say excessive consumption threatening planet, and humans need to live more sustainably.
Educating Women to lower population a nice idea but…
I love this idea, but as far as lowering population, Virginia Abernethy has some valid criticisms about whether this will work in “Population Politics: The Choices That Shape Our Future”.
The main reason it won’t work is that it’s too late. But it is still a great idea, because perhaps women in the future will fight harder, and resist total male control over their lives by knowing it doesn’t have to be that way. Before fossil fuels and state-level societies, men engaged in endless battles, mainly over women, and up to a third of men died in these skirmishes. In most poor countries even now, women are property, die early from childbirth, and are treated like slaves.
After fossil fuels, will most societies and women go back to this dismal state?
Only humans matter, screw the other species on the planet
Nearly all the optimistic books that have been written with the general theme of “YES WE CAN SUPPORT 10 BILLION PEOPLE” ignore or don’t give a damn about all the other species on the planet. All that matters are human needs.
We’re already causing the 6th mass extinction, the idea that we can kill off most other species and maintain a population of 10 billion is absurd, again revealing the incredibly poor education in ecology and science of even well-known “intellectuals”.
Since high population growth rates are also the cause of the worst poverty in the world (i.e. Niger, Uganda, Nigeria), there’s also a bit of a “screw the poor” philosophy behind the rhetoric of overpopulation deniers as well — could this be racist? Also, no country has gotten out of poverty and also had high fertility rates (except Saudi Arabia and a few other oil producing nations).
Anyone who wants to limit immigration or population is a racist
Huh? How’s that? You will never hear people interviewed in the media who support lower immigration and more birth control for ecological reasons. But you can count on gun-toting, uneducated, poorly groomed people doing their own border patrols in Arizona being interviewed.
The Sierra club and other environmental groups abandoned immigration level goals
Conservationists feared alienating leftist and racial rights groups and dropped immigration to stabilize population from their platforms.
It is so ironic that the politically correct crowd, rather than the endless growth Wall Street crowd is the most responsible for the coming die-off ahead, as well as the loss of prime farmland to sprawl, and depletion plus pollution of topsoil, forests, fisheries and all other resources consumed by what will be at least 100 million more people than would have been here if immigration levels had stayed at 200,000.
Until the 1990s this wasn’t true – in 1989 the Sierra Club’s stand was that “immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S.”.
For 40 years immigration was 200,000 a year
In 1965 it leapt to 1,000,000 – five times as many people.
In 1990 it leapt to 1,500,000 – seven times as many
Immigration is the main cause of increasing population growth in the United States.
Between 1900 and 2000 the population almost quadrupled (76 to 281 million). The largest ten-year-increase was between 1990 and 2000 (32.7 million).
We must have more population growth to fund retirees
That’s crazy, an unsustainable Ponzi scheme. We’re on a finite planet after all.
Immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want
Right now, over 110,000 immigrants are allowed to come here every month from Mexico, where they can live off the paltry wages paid just across the border where the cost of food and rent is much lower. These jobs are taken away from recent immigrants and the growing numbers of (long-term) unemployed could have taken, would have taken if the wages hadn’t been driven down so low.
Even more arrive illegally, further driving down wages, safety laws, working conditions, but the desperation of the workers that take these positions means that the decent conditions and wages that could provide good jobs to American workers are never going to happen. The wealthy owners getting hundreds of times the wages of the workers benefit, and since cheap labor drives down the cost of the goods being sold, Americans look the other way. But as Henry Ford figured out a long time ago, if you don’t pay workers good wages, then who’s going to buy your products? Eventually this scheme collapses as few are left who can afford to buy anything.
We’re wealthy, so we’re obliged to offer shelter to immigrants, we are a nation of immigrants
Righto – and we’re on the way to turning our wild lands into slums and polluting our water and air, paving over our best farmland to accommodate everyone that within a few generations there will be little difference between our country and all the other poverty-stricken nations. No more dreams for future generations, no beautiful places to vacation and find renewal.
Americans consume 40 times as much stuff as people in India. So multiply the environmental impact of every immigrant by 40
Nature keeps us alive
People are so removed from nature inside their heated and air-conditioned homes, flush toilets rather than outhouses, store bought rather than hunted meat, water piped in at the turn of a faucet rather than hauled in a heavy bucket – totally out of touch with the ecosystems that keep us alive, all of them being polluted or paved, oblivious because oil-driven ships and trucks can bring us stuff from abroad, we don’t even realize how far we’ve gone past carrying capacity.
1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development
Activists at this conference shifted the goal of population stabilization and growth to empowering women. They labeled attempts by China and India as coercive, and thereby killed family planning, replacing it with empowerment and reproductive rights and health, because now family planning was spun as being coercive.
This is pretty outrageous when you consider that women are coerced into unwanted pregnancies and often die or are severely injured in childbirth. It’s outrageous that this conference is a key reason why poor women have no access to family planning today — unable to control their bodies, how many children they have and when they have them.
This conference discouraged discussing the connection between population growth and environmental destruction, because to do so was seen as anti-woman. Anyone who persisted in talking about population growth was dismissively labeled a Malthusian.
Standard demographic theory
It was assumed that women would want fewer children as their nation modernized and more women were educated.
A better theory that matches reality, is that if men and women can gain easy access to birth control, they will have fewer children.
For example, in Thailand, where family planning is easy to obtain, women with no education use birth control as much as educated women. In the Philippines, where birth control is hard to get due to the Catholic Church, uneducated women don’t use contraception because they can’t get it.
If women could gain access to birth control, the population growth rate would go down.
Women aren’t stupid, they know that childbirth is dangerous – the risk of death or injury is very high. Women would rather stay alive to take care of their existing children (and because let’s face it – being alive is pretty wonderful). One million children are left motherless every year – childbirth kills 287,000 women and injures another 10 million every year according to the World Health Organization.
It’s Human Nature not to worry about overpopulation
In the end it may be that we’re not wired to worry about this issue.
Everyone loves babies.
Don’t worry: the fertility rate and disease are driving population down
Worldwide, family planning brought fertility rates down from 5.5 to 2.5 children per woman. Therefore the media reports: the population explosion is over. Which gets back to a lack of understanding of exponential growth, ecology, and basic math. Diseses like AIDS, malaria, TB, cancer, heart disease, and so on are having no effect at all, since the number of births exceeds the number of deaths by 82 million people a year.
Propaganda from anti-abortion activists, religious leaders, and right-wing think tanks
The most extreme are not only against abortion, but even family planning. Catholics and Right-to-Lifers strategized to convince people that there was no population problem, since that’s one of the reasons many people supported legal abortions.
Islamic countries are thought of as living in the Dark Ages, but some Muslim countries are the most advanced in family planning. In Iran, subsidies stop after a third child and classes in modern contraception methods are required before a marriage license can be obtained.
Capitalists have succeeded in painting environmentalists with negative terms such as being overly concerned about the environment, which threatens jobs. Their concerns about pollution and endangered species are overblown.
Population doubling times
Year Billions Years to add 1 billion more
1800 1 ~200,000
1930 2 130
1960 3 30
1975 4 15
1987 5 12
1999 6 12
2011 7 12
Aldo Leopold: “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss. Had the funeral been ours, the pigeons would hardly have mourned us”.
Leon Kolankiewicz “Our species is unique, because here and now only we have the ability to destroy, or to save, biodiversity. Only we have the ability to care one way or the other. The destiny of all wild living things is in our hands. Will we crush them or let them be wild and free? Limiting human population will not guarantee success, but not doing so means certain failure”.
Isaac Asimov: “Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears”.
APPG 2007. Return of the Population Growth Factor: Its Impact on the Millennium Development Goals. All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.
Beck and Kolankiewicz. 2000. “The Environmental Movement’s Retreat from Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization”
Cafaro, P, (ed) et al. 2013. “Life on the Brink. Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation”.
Erb, Karl-Heinz, et al. 2009. Eating the Planet: Feeding and fuelling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely–a scoping study. Social Ecology Working Paper no. 116. Institute of Social Ecology and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Erlich, P. 1970. Population Resources Environment: Issues to Human Ecology.
Hays, S. 1987. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985.
IUGS (International Union of Geological Sciences) 2013. Geoindicators. Soil and Sediment Erosion.
Levinson “The Box”
Meijer, R. I. Apr 16 2014: Overpopulation Is Not A Problem For Us. Theautomaticearth.com
Scheidel, W. 2003. “Ancient World, Demography of”. Encyclopedia of Population.
Homer-Dixon, T. 2001. Environment, Scarcity, and Violence.
UNFAO 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.