The problems of overpopulation, overdevelopment and overshoot continue to be largely ignored in discussions about global climate action. As a ‘book champion’, ‘campaign activist’ and ‘campaign friend’ of the Global Population Speakout network, I’m pleased to share the following excerpts and resources showing that we are literally standing shoulder to shoulder in many areas of our world. (Rolly Montpellier ~ Managing Editor, BoomerWarrior).
Angry Crowd in Haiti | Carolyn Cole/LATimes
In the last 200 years the population has grown exponentially, at a rate of 1.9 percent per year. If it continued at this rate, with the population doubling every 40 years, by 2600 we would all be standing shoulder to shoulder. –Stephen Hawking
Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally. —Albert Bartlett
Standing Shoulder to Shoulder
Angry Crowd in Haiti | Carolyn Cole/LATimes
(Excerpts from the Introduction of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, by William Ryerson)
Most conversations about population begin with statistics—demographic data, fertility rates…the latest reports on malnutrition, deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change, and so on. Such data, while useful, fails to generate mass concern about the fundamental issue affecting the future of the Earth.
In reality, every discussion about population involves people, the world that our children and grandchildren will live to see and the health of the planet that supports life.
The population debate is not about the maximum number of people that could be packed onto the planet. The crucial question is how many people can the Earth sustain, at a reasonable standard of living, while leaving room for the diversity of life to flourish? There is no precise answer to this question, but the facts overwhelmingly support one conclusion: We cannot go on the way we are going. We are already doing severe and irreparable harm to the planet. Something has to give.
If we cannot live sustainably with 7.2 billion people, how are we going to support billions more by the end of this century? The United Nations’ latest “multi-variant” projection indicates that we could have 10,9 billion people by 2100, but that may be an underestimation. In 2014 the global fertility rate—the number of children born to each woman during her lifetime—was 2.5. If this rate were to remain unchanged, demographers suggest that we could have 27 billion people on the planet by the end of the century. Given our limited inheritance of soil, water and arable land, sustaining a global population that size is not even remotely possible.
The Global Footprint Network estimates that humans already use 150 percent of the Earth’s renewable capacity annually…that by 2030 we will need “two planets” to sustain us. Further growth simply deepens the crisis of ecological “overshoot” as we draw down Earth’s carrying capacity, and it comes at the direct expense of our own children and grandchildren.
Food and Water Scarcity
Because of population growth and changing diets, the world’s demand for food is expected to rise by 70-100 percent over the next forty years. Water scarcity in many parts of the world has already reached crisis proportions. Demand for water is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent within the next twenty years. By 2030, an estimated 3.9 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, will be living in areas of high water stress.
In his review of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, Alan Weisman writes “that the reasons why we became so many seemed at first like such an obviously good idea:”
The universal cultural imperative to be fruitful and multiply protected our ancestors from being usurped by more powerful competitors. Medical advances that, beginning in the 19th century, dramatically lowered infant mortality and nearly doubled average human life expectancy – who could object to those?
But by far the most powerful detonator of Homo sapiens’ volcanic explosion was our 20th-century discovery of how to grow more food on this planet than nature ever could.
At the present rate of a million more of us every 4¼ days, we’ll hit 11 billion by the end of this century, which is probably impossible. For one, it means that in just the next 50 years we’d need to produce more food than has been consumed in humanity’s entire history. Unfortunately, for every 1º C. increase in average global temperature, grain yields are expected to drop 10%. And, since we’re currently on track for a 4º C. increase by 2100, rising seas will swamp our most fertile lands – river deltas – and everywhere else that agriculture occurs near sea level (such as for much of the world’s most important foodstuff, rice).
Viewed from almost any angle, addressing population is a win-win proposition. Given the central role that population dynamics will play in determining the welfare of future generations, what the world needs today is a wake-up call. Time, however, is beginning to run out.
The size of population now, with the scale of the problems it creates, leads to an increasingly chaotic situation. More population exacerbates any efforts to solve humanity’s problems, anywhere, be they immediate or long term. –Walter Youngquist
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer) and Global Population Speakout.
Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest.
It’s too easy to say it’s “too many humans” than to admit that it’s too many of *us* humans. The world’s handful of the wealthiest use an obscenely much higher percentage of the world’s resources (and spew far more greenhouse gases) than billions of the world’s poorest. It’s too easy when we talk “population” in general terms to blame *those people* — you know, the ones with different coloured skin who live in some other place.
It’s not the *numbers* of people, but the habits of people. It works pretty much like this — if we have the time and means to sit around talking about environmental problems, then we’re the biggest environmental problem! I don’t want to talk population until we’ve dealt with the income (and therefore output) inequities built into our globalized fossil-fuelled economy.
I think it’s possible to say both “too many humans” and also “too many like us”. The way I see it the problem is both about overconsumption and overpopulation. If everyone on the planet was one of “us”, we would need 7 planet earths to feed ourselves. I’m certainly not condoning the socio-economic injustice rampant in our world. Just saying.
Thank you for the comments Julie.
The problem is both consumption and our numbers. But I think the biggest problem is our ever-growing population. Here’s why. If we only reduce our consumption and keep growing in number, eventually we are doomed. We cannot consume zero, so we will at some point become so numerous that we cannot survive. If we, on the other hand, limit our numbers, we can continue to consume at a comfortable level. It would be nice to have equality, but even if we all consumed exactly the same, we would still have to limit our numbers. Another problem with the “the poor are not the problem” argument is that the poor will consume more if they ever get a chance, and nobody is going to volunteer to limit their consumption to the abysmal level that most poor are forced to endure. Saying that it doesn’t matter if poor people have large families is saying that they and their offspring will be dirt poor forever.
Excellent observations Joan. Of course injustice is totally undesirable but as developing nations progress, citizens want what we have in the west. Overpopulation is the problem – more people eating fish, driving cars, travelling, buying goods spells disaster.
Thank you for your comments and welcome to BoomerWarrior
Why do I never hear from women on this matter of overpopulation? It is almost always discussed by men, who, except for Alan Weisman in Countdown, agonize over this as if it weren’t at least 1/2 their fault. (Mass castrations, anyone?)
There are too goddamned many men, who seemingly are insatiably greedy, cause all the wars, have to show off their superior masculinity to peers, and are responsible for all the destructive digging, among other perversities. There is a reason the Iroquois left major decision-making to the grandmothers.
Overpopulation is a direct consequence of patriarchy. Educating and empowering women always stabilizes or reduces population without coercion, everywhere. Yet men just can’t bear to part with their male privilege to stop the destruction of the ecosphere.
Thank you for your comments Barbara.
I agree that this is not a “women” problem. Patriarchal societies and leaders are the problem. Men have screwed up our planet. Surely a more feminine focus would have given us a better world. Now “mass castrations” sounds like a very painful way to solve the problem of overpopulation but maybe that’s what it will take. But don’t leave this up to the predominantly male world leadership to decide. Ain’t gonna happen.
I don’t understand how population discussions always turn into a cesspit of whines that include “social injustice!” from the radical left, or “baby killer!” from the radical right, yet they always do. Every time I mention that we ought to be balancing our own desire to reproduce with the dwindling numbers of our fellow creatures I get to hear something along the lines of “You sound like a eugenicist” or “That’s just your white privilege talking!”, not to mention epithets like “Racist! You just want to stop blacks from having babies, right?”)
What do buzzwords like “diversity” and “multiculturalism” mean anyway if we are not at all concerned with the fact that human populations are destroying every other creature that we don’t serve on a platter or make into a pampered pet??
Every time someone asks me to donate money to the poor I just feel asking “Why did this person decide to have five children out of wedlock or why are you having kids when you can’t even feed yourself?” This isn’t a judgement, to me it’s just common sense. I don’t mind giving money to children but I DO mind giving money to their stupid parents.
How hard is it to use a condom anyway? It takes 5 minutes to purchase and it’s a heck of lot cheaper than raising a child! Yes, I’m concerned about the burgeoning populations of places like India and Africa, but I’m far more concerned about the fact that our government gives people tax incentives to people for what amounts to having unprotected sex, and buffers welfare checks on a per child basis. I’m sorry, but I don’t care about your so-called social injustice. What I care about is that the people having the most babies in this world are also the people who are least financially prepared to raise them. That is the real social injustice in my book.
It isn’t fair to the conscientious people who are paying the taxes to raise them and most of all, it isn’t fair to the children who are living with families of eight in 2 bedroom apartments, or, worse still, living on the streets.
I’m concerned with the fact that we have millions of charities and government programs to feed, house, and bring health care to families here in the US and around the world, but only one program — Planned Parenthood — that helps women get contraceptives and reproductive health care, and that very program is under constant attack and regulation.
I’m also concerned that our country, and politicians and economists in general, actually think that bringing millions of immigrants to this country — most of whom have religious objections to birth control — is a good way to “grow the economy.” But most of all, I’m worried that as a society we are more concerned with the GDP and how the stock market is doing than we are for the future of this planet and the future of the children we are so anxious to fill it will, as if there were not enough children living in poverty already.
Thank you for your comments Tina. Your response is quite a rant. I understand your frustration.
Unfortunately, it’s all about growing the economy, as you point out. I’m not opposed to immigration on humanitarian grounds but the receiving countries already have their own challenges meeting their citizens’ needs. That said, when I see Syrian families arriving in Canada and the smiles on their faces, it’s worth the effort.
As for the population explosion, I’m simply astounded that nobody is really talking about it in any meaningful way. Our species will kill itself off by the sheer numbers we will be by 2050 – another 2 billion people to feed and provide for on a planet already at its limits.
I will be on GreenDivas Radio out of New York talking about this very subject on February 2. Watch for a blog post about this guest appearance sometime soon.
I think the reason no body will address population is because of the power of religion.
Most people are believers in an invisible being in the sky that is all powerful & created everything, boom! They also believe that this being “gave” them this world to use as we please & to multiply.
The large, organized religions have a lot of wealth & power, most of our politicians are also believers & follow the teachings of their church which all seem to teach that sex is only for procreation, masturbation is “dirty” & a “sin” so don’t do that, if you marry, it’s to have children, many little “blessings” are what the churches want & they want them to be brought up in the faith, that’s how the faith grows & gains more wealth & power.
These churches have enough power to stop almost all discussion about overpopulation, birth control or abortion & don’t even mention “sex education”! oh my, we can’t let the “little” ones know where they came from can we!
I think it is the power that organized religion has over so many of us that has doomed us to collapse because we refuse to act or even discuss the one thing we must do if we are to have a future, limit reproduction & reduce our numbers through birth control, abortion should be safe, legal & rare.
Our instincts overrule our intelligence, that’s why I’m certain we will collapse like so many other civilizations have, overpopulation & resource depletion.
Great piece, Boomer! You hit it right on top of it’s head! they will talk about needing to feed more people but never discuss what will happen when we can’t & that day is fast approaching.
Overpopulation is the problem no one will discuss, so we just keep pecking away at the symptoms while the cancer spreads, we all know how that will end.
Sheila – for more on exponential population growth, check out this website.