So, is there really an ‘overpopulation’ problem? Sure, some places are way too crowded, but that hardly means we have a global overpopulation problem. ‘Overpopulation’ is the wrong way to frame the nature of our shared dilemma.
If we continue to behave in the same mindless ways – using fossil fuels, over-eating to the gills, creating plastic islands in the Pacific – then I’m afraid we were already overpopulated decades ago and we are as good as fried.
But, since world population is set to peak at 9 billion, stabilize or even decline thereafter, we can definitely feed everyone and meet everybody’s basic needs if we merely continue to accelerate the behavioural changes that have already begun in many places around the world. Here is a summary of some of the most effective solutions that I know of, which have already begun to reduce the impact of our population on the biosphere. I am sure you are aware of more wonderful initiatives.
- Increase economic equality and gender equality. Fertility rates (as well as crime and conflict) will spiral down.
- Increase the proportion of bio-diverse, small-farm agriculture, especially organic permaculture. Yields will skyrocket. Transport and pesticide costs will drop sharply. Deserts will shrink. Global warming will reverse.
- Eat a little less red meat. There are far more efficient uses of land! And global warming will reverse.
- Complete the transition to renewable energy sources. Wind and solar are already on par with or cheaper than fossil fuels. Global warming will reverse.
- Several brands of fully electric cars are already here. The recyclable car is already here. Fast-track our adoption of these technologies, and global warming will reverse.
- Convert sewage treatment plants to complete water recycling centres, producing potable water plus phosphate-rich fertilizers for sale.
- Use the high population numbers to our advantage (more hands on deck), and replant bio-diverse native forests. These are carbon sinks and sources of sustainably harvested timber and medicines, as well as permaculture havens. Not to mention: global warming will reverse!
- Embrace and support the circular economy revolution; totally recyclable and biodegradable and renewable products. Favour Cradle to Cradle certified products.
More than likely, by the time you read this blog, newer, bigger and better solutions will have already appeared. I bet that some of those solutions yet to come are inconceivable to me as I write, in what is now your past: March 2014. Such is the state of flux and dynamism that humanity has entered into – a crowd-sourced, wiki-consciousness, creative hyper-drive.
Why do so many people believe in ‘overpopulation’? And who stands to benefit from this myth?
If you are the sort of person who believes that a fundamental paradigm shift is urgently needed in our age, but you feel disheartened, hopeless and resigned – then you are no threat at all. And those who wish to preserve the status quo want you to stay that way. Your confidence is inconvenient, but your despair makes you manageable.
You will ruffle fewer feathers if you accept an ‘obvious’ need for GM foods, the ‘inevitability’ of fossil fuels, the ‘certainty’ of warfare and the supremacy of business-as-usual.
‘Overpopulation’ is a magic word. It works as an instant dialogue-suppressor, a diversionary ploy, declared as an incontestable post-modern reality. The favoured dernier mot for the neoconservative. ‘There are simply too many of us, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Sustainability is for hippies; pointless and idealistic!’ Game over. How very pragmatic. To those in favour of weak government, regulatory vacuums and open-slather for mega-corporations, public inertia is a tactical master-stroke. When those who gain from clinging to tradition cry out: ‘It’s futile!’, too many of us fall into the futility-trance.
So, what can you do? For one: don’t buy into the myth. Understand what can be done, and what is already being done, to keep our populations at sustainable levels. Don’t put up with anyone telling you that violence is logical, that war is a natural way to trim populations ‘down to size’.
For many people, however, the horror at our swelling numbers is genuinely believed and a legitimate cause for fear. When people frame our global problems in ‘overpopulation’ terms, what they are really saying is that human behaviour is immutable. To these individuals, information such as I have shared in this blog may bring some welcome relief and encouragement. It should also be uplifting to remember that one of the most pervasive characteristics of human behaviour is its plasticity. The myriad and ever-changing cultures that we have produced should be testament enough to the human capacity for social invention and re-invention.
Accelerated by modern communications and mobility, the era we now live in is ushering an international uprising of radically new cultural patterns and new scientific approaches to living on this planet. The knowhow that would make us a sustainable species is already here and it keeps being improved. This means that excuses for non-transition are sounding ever-thinner and are diminishing fast.
Culturally speaking, we are living in an age of rapidly expanding frontiers; with every year bringing us new benchmarks for what is ‘normal’. Societies now evolve faster than ever. If you have any doubts about this, consider for instance how modern nations gallop towards marriage equality, prohibition of corporal punishment of children, land-rights for indigenous peoples, anti-vilification laws and more – and then check out a day in the life of 1950s societies. There is nothing in human history to rival or even resemble this lightning-fast transformative wave, and it is picking up speed.
What can you do to add your muscle to our shared, transitional imperative? Too many of us are possessed by a sense of the bleak and of insuperable obstacles. Based on what I have shown here and much more, that state of resignation is entirely unwarranted. It can be hard to feel energized by a sense of the possible, a sense of what has already been accomplished, and sense of direction grounded in concrete reality – until we actually hear about the mounting triumphs in the realm of positive social and industrial change. These triumphs are so rarely highlighted in the mainstream media. Share these news far and wide. In live conversation, via social media, whatever your means; share this empowering information in your world, celebrate with your friends and family, and use it to fuel the personal commitments you have made to co-creating a better civilization.
As for me, I do not consider myself an optimist nor a pessimist. My beliefs about humanity’s future viability are entirely conditional. I have no way of knowing whether we as a global family can change our hearts and alter our behaviours quickly enough to avert the unthinkable. A call to action should not wait for a guarantee of success. But I suspect we are a long way yet from manifesting humanity’s fullest potential. So as we deepen our connection as one human family, I would love to know how the information I have shared has touched you, and if this has inspired you in some way. Have my words in any way added to your commitment, the pledges you make, your mobilization – or perhaps just your enjoyment of living on this earth?