Overpopulation is not the problem – a sustainable world begins!

For ease of reading, I have re-posted this six-part series in the right order, all together as one piece. I loved writing it. It is chock-a-block full of great news. If you find yourself sometimes thinking that humanity is on a doomsday-gloomsday path, below is a lot of powerful evidence that maybe, just maybe, we may pull through. In flying colours, even.

As long as….well, you’ll see.

Read on!

Overpopulation: ‘Oh-oh! – or Myth?

(Part 1)

You have heard it said so often it’s like a mantra.

The world is overpopulated- dangerously so. In fact, if we believe the press, therein lies the source of our worst problems. Case closed – right?

The overpop theory seems reasonable enough if you take a look at any footage of the slums of Calcutta, Nairobi, Rio – or the London Tube at rush hour. No doubt about it: it’s getting crowded around here.

Oh my God, I remember when my Dad told me there were 4 billion of us, about the time I started high school. The world already sounded like a big mosh pit back then!

In the old days, when the queues got too long and people started to quarrel over stuff, some got on their bikes in search of new lands more peaceful and promising. But those days are over. You can’t pack the globite and migrate like grandad and grandma did, not today. No brave new worlds left. Where are we going to go to avoid elbow hockey with our neighbours? Patagonia? The Falklands? Antarctica?

So, to all scaly green aliens plotting invasion; don’t bother to re-fuel the UFO. This planet is full.

Some facts just seem so, um, ‘factual’; that you don’t even think of questioning them anymore – at least not in public. Well, I’m going to stick my neck out here and make the case that overpopulation is not the problem many people think it is. But wait, there’s more. I’ll propose there are vested interests with a stake in your blinking acceptance of this myth – and they don’t want you asking questions. There is a ton of moolah to be made and hoarded if we all dance to the piper on this particular tune. The myth of overpopulation is a handy conversation-stopper; for those who benefit from a mollified public. I’ll say more about who benefits from this bogey-man later.

But first, just to be clear: there is a biiiiiiiiiiiig difference between overcrowding and overpopulation. No question, there are hundreds of spots around the world that would earn us a sardine’s pity. That is; up until the planners fix some woeful infrastructure problems. When does crowding feel overcrowded? When planning really sucks. Shitty planning and inhuman development does not mean the world is overpopulated. Dig into shitty planning, and you’ll find greed and corrupt politics at its core. So then: is the problem about numbers – or about bad behaviour?

I believe there are several myths related to the concept of ‘overpopulation’. Each of these myths is ripe for explosion. In fact, these myths have already been exposed, and so have those who profit form the overpop myth. So, can we hold those plans to terra-form Mars, and freeze the fund-raising for that Lunar colony? Whoa there! Maybe there is better use for the megabucks – let’s find out!

Next week, I will post Part 2 of this series, where we will look at the first of four commonly held myths related to ‘overpopulation’. See you then!

Overpopulation Myth Number One:

“There is not enough food to go around”

or: “Call Monsanto honey, and order up some GMOs!”

(Part 2)

They said there is not enough food to go around. Sure about that?

In Australia we waste at least 20% of the food we buy – $8 billion of edible food is chucked out. You think that is unavoidable?

Chew on this: in the USA, over 30% of all the food produced each year is trashed – that’s 40 million tonnes of food, or 140 trillion calories. That would be enough to feed one billion malnourished people; and it all goes in the dumpster.

Around the world, just the water used to irrigate the food wasted each year is enough for the domestic needs of 9 billion people.

The USA, the UK and Europe together have about twice the food they need to keep their entire populations well-fed and healthy. What do they do with the extras? Overeat, get obese and waste the rest. Up to 40% of excellent fruit and veggies are discarded in Europe before they reach the shops – because they don’t look pretty enough.

Wait a minute…don’t we yell at our kids to stop playing with their food? Don’t we scold them for throwing their food? Woops! The kids better not find out what the parents have been up to!

OK. I’m raving now. So don’t just take it from me. Check this out: CLICK! 

And this: CLICK!

Better still, see this hair-raising Ted Talk!!! CLICK!

The world already grows enough food for 10 billion people. We don’t have a scarcity problem. We have a distribution problem. We have a snobbery problem. We have an inequality problem. ‘For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet.’ CLICK! 

So, even if the population keeps climbing, and even if we did nothing to change what we eat – if we just stopped wasting food and spread it around and shared it, the whole world would eat and drink and there’d be lots of leftovers in the fridge.

But that is not all. The above is a massive underestimate of what we could achieve; we can do much better than that! Eat less red meat, and you reduce bowel cancer and gout and lengthen lives. Eat less red meat and you can regenerate vast lands as bio-diverse carbon-sinks. Eat less red meat, and arrest the methane emissions (bovine flatulence) that fry our atmosphere 8 times more powerfully than CO2. How about that? Our health is also the planet’s health! CLICK!

Big Agribusiness, with their mono-cultural mega-farms, are giant sitting ducks for pests. These inefficient industrial farms require huge expenditure on pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Some of the pesticides they use have decimated bee and butterfly populations around the world. Who is going to pollinate the plants when all the bees are gone? Who pays for the chronic illnesses and slow deaths that these toxic chemical cocktails bring us? Who pulled the wool over our eyes and said this is the only way to feed the masses? CLICK!

A return to smaller farms that mix their crops (especially if they use permaculture), can increase yields dramatically while reducing the farmer’s workload and the need for pesticides. Small farms with diversified cropping can be up to 10 times more efficient and productive than large-scale agribusiness monocultures. The problem isn’t overpopulation then: it is oversupply. CLICK!

Watch this powerful brief talk by economist Helena Norbert Hodge. She shows us how people can increase employment, build strong communities, slash transport costs as well as carbon emissions by reverting to localized bio-diverse cropping. These folks increase yields by up to a factor of 10!

Still think the problem is ‘overpopulation’? CLICK!

And what about the growing deserts and despoiled lands? We now have all the know-how necessary to change climates for the better and rehabilitate huge tracts of land. The key is planting combinations of bio-diverse native forests interspersed with poly-cultural cropping. The proven result: steep gains in employment, vast improvements in public health through diversified diets, restored local climates, reductions in violence, lucrative ecotourism as habitats return – all of this side by side with sustainable farming. For example: did you hear about the Great Green Wall in Sahara? Africans are planting a 15 kilometer-wide buffer of native forest along the entire southern edge of the Sahara, all the way from the west to the east coast of Africa. The extraordinary benefits of this Great Green Wall are already flowing in Senegal, the first country to implement this project.

Check it out! Here is a short film about the Great Green Wall. Be amazed by what humans can achieve when we put our minds to it (and when we refuse to kowtow to vested interests): CLICK!

Another jaw-dropping example is in Borneo, where a huge forest was re-planted in the wake of devastating logging practices. The locals now have a whole new rainforest that works as an orangutan habitat and it is honeycombed with diverse food-cropping. Employment has surged, health and wellbeing improved for the locals and even the local climate and rainfall have been renewed. Get your organic popcorn, sugar-free sparkling Kombucha drink, and watch this short film! CLICK!

Not convinced yet? Have a look at how permaculture has been used to green the most bone-dry, salt-dead desert in Jordan. We can re-green any desert, we can re-green the Middle-East and we can desalinate the desert soils. Hard to believe? See this – it left me speechless! CLICK!


Now take a look at how they are greening the desert and making it productive in Qatar, using some ingenuity, industrial waste, salt water and solar energy: CLICK!


And more and more and more. Here are some miraculous stories from the Loess Plateau in China, from Ethopia and from Rwanda. The replanting of native, bio-diverse ecosystems has begun to restore aquifers and waterways, greening their deserts, rejuvenating depleted soils and returning their lands to abundance and economic sustainability. CLICK!


Is hunger caused by over-population? Like hell it is. In each of the above examples, high populations are in fact an advantage: more hands to do the work! Our problem is not about numbers; it is about old, stale and dysfunctional behaviors. I mean; entirely optional, replaceable – and frankly, dumb! – behaviors.

So: what about the Frankenfood/GMO thing? As it turns out; it’s not only seriously scary in terms of health and environmental outcomes. It is also an unnecessary ‘solution’ to a wrongly defined problem. We don’t need faster growing wheat, soya beans you can drown in poison, bigger bananas, potatoes-on-ice or zucchinis that play the piano.

OK, let’s be fair. The shareholders do need GMO, poor buggers. What if we all just gave them a big hug. Or something.

Meanwhile, the rest of us (can one of you go and find out what is 99% of 7 and-a-bit billion?) can be fed and watered by this earth most magnificently if we rely on natural farming methods, sustainable and wholistic land-management, better waste management, dietary improvements and more egalitarian distribution.

Hunger and malnutrition still affect many people around the world: it is horrific, inexcusable and begs our urgent attention. ‘Overpopulation’ is a false and inadequate explanation of the problem, and far from being a solution; GM food is a Trojan horse.

But food insufficiency is not the only rubber leg the ‘overpopulation’ myth stands on. The are more! Next week in Part 3 of this series, we delve into the second big myth about ‘overpopulation’. Until then, have fun watching some of the videos I mentioned, I think you will love them! See you in a week.

Overpopulation Myth Number Two:

“As more people make more money and want more stuff, we will deplete all resources and fill all waste dumps”

(Part 3)

How does the story go? By the most conservative estimates, if we all keep consuming and rubbishing at current levels we will need one-and-a-half earths by 2030. In other words, we have 16 years to come up with Warp Drive and find a nice half-planet somewhere out there in the cosmos. Hopefully far from Klingon territory.

Except…what if we could make all our stuff entirely recyclable? Or at least close to it? Wouldn’t that mean we could drastically reduce all that digging and chopping, stop fouling our waterways and stop making gigantic mountains of bleargh? A recyclable and renewable economy, where waste does not exist and where stuff never runs out because it just keeps going round and round. A bit like Norman Lindsay’s Magic Pudding. Ridiculous, right?

This is no joke. The circular economy is a real prospect and designers, engineers and manufacturers of all stripes are taking this very seriously, and innovations are popping up everywhere like mushrooms. After all, a ‘by-product’ takes as much money to make as a ‘product’ does – and that’s before you pay for the disposal. Creating any waste just hurts the ‘bottom line’, and restricts a company’s growth. Manufacturers get that and in their own interest they are driving a new industrial revolution; and it is gathering speed.

Meet architect, designer, and winner of a Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, William McDonough. Also meet his sidekick, chemist Dr Michael Braungart. Dynamic duo, ground-breaking creators of: ‘Cradle to Cradle’, these guys are Time Magazine’s ‘Heroes for the Planet’. Haven’t heard about ‘Cradle to Cradle’ manufacturing yet? The opposite of our industrial ‘Cradle to Grave’ tradition? Well, fasten your seatbelts, here it comes.

C2C is a new approach to production in which all waste is reused, and virtually all components are recyclable. Their logic: ‘waste equals food’ – or else; zero-waste protocols. By-products must be fully biodegradable, or able to be made into fertilizer. Manufacturers love this for the most selfish of reasons: it saves them a heap of dough. To get Cradle to Cradle certification, your goods must be entirely a source of reusable materials. No more digging huge pits into the Earth. Raw materials are mined from old stuff. You are not dreaming, you are wide awake, and this is really happening. Cradle to Cradle is not an idle philosophy; it is an established practice. Manufacturers are racing to qualify for the international ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certification.

To those of us who grew up in the age of the ‘take, make and discard’ economy, the new circular economy pushes the bounds of our imagination. What once seemed entirely ordinary and indisputably normal; will soon be viewed as anachronistic and stupid.

To find out more about ‘Cradle to Cradle’ production: CLICK!  and: CLICK!

Oh, what the hell, it’s easier to watch this on your screen: CLICK!

And here is another example of the growing trend towards complete recyclability; an almost entirely recyclable car: CLICK!

Hey, let’s go back to William McDonough. What do you mean you haven’t heard of him? Where have you been hiding? He’s totally mega-famous! OK, listen: you got two bucks? Want to listen to some world-saving genius? Go here, and buy the interview podcast: CLICK!

Don’t have two bucks? No probs. I’ll give you a couple of highlights:

In his matter-of-fact tone, William McDonough talks about his work with chemical engineers who are developing new polymers (plastics) that will not only be degradable, they will also act as nourishment for plankton. He assures us that there is no such thing as ‘sewage’, no such thing as ‘treatment’. New generation ‘sewage’ plants in Holland, Canada, USA and Japan have been retooled, while keeping the existing infrastructure in place. Using solar energy (almost free of charge!), they take all of our poop and give us back potable water, methane for energy, nitrogen and slow-release phosphate fertilizer. As if that wasn’t enough, these cheeky buggers sell the phosphate to farmers at profit. Imagine that. Your municipal poop-plant makes money for your town. These phosphate pellets save farmers money (cheaper than importing it from the few, worryingly depleted sources that remain, in Morocco for instance). Being slow-release, they do not leech into waterways and create toxic algae blooms. And you get to feel like a hero each time you take a dump. Kiss the water shortages goodbye, kiss pollution goodbye – our grandchildren will be scandalized as they read about the waste-people of the 20th century. Welcome to the new world, where pollution is almost non-existent. Hello. It is here. CLICK!   and:  CLICK!

Did I mention that the rhetoric about ‘overpopulation’ is a crock? Maybe we won’t need that extra half-planet after all. Maybe we just need to learn to behave a little better and a little smarter, and to treat this Earth as if She is finite. Duh! All that’s required is for us to keep everything in a circle – that way it goes on forever. We humans have already shown ourselves capable of doing just that. You realize what this means? A big population is no biggie, if we are not destroying, discarding, wasting and polluting. But my guess is that it will take a while before the lion’s share of stuff we make is ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certified, or otherwise degradable and reusable. In the meantime, let’s take a look at what is actually going to happen to our population numbers around the world. Stay tuned for Myth number 3, which will be ready to roll next week, in Part 4. I’ll see you back here next week!

Overpopulation Myth Number Three:

“Unless the whole world gets tough and enforces a one-child policy as they do in China, we are all screwed. Population growth will keep accelerating until we completely gobble up the entire planet, regardless of how ‘sustainably’ we live”

(Part 4)

Yeah. People actually say that. Only…that is one big load of donkey shyte. In fact, not long from now, folks will start fretting about population shrinkage.

Around the world, as millions climb from poverty into a ‘middle class’ lifestyle, fertility rates go into reverse. Not long from now, we won’t even be replacing ourselves. At the current rate of slowdown, we will peak at 9 billion (less than it takes to eat all the food we already make!) by around 2050 – then our numbers will level off or perhaps even decline.

Hans Rosling explain this beautifully in this fascinating Ted.com talk: CLICK!

As religious fundamentalism retreats (thank God!) and modernisation transforms old and mouldy patriarchal cultures, the genders become more power-balanced. Women gain more access to education, employment and political participation. Wherever this happens, birth rates nosedive. Empowered women who have choices and are not subservient to men, rarely allow themselves to have more children than they can have time for, give attention to, and actually enjoy. With every extra year of education, the average fertility rate drops by 0.23 births. Have a look at this brief report (its mostly power point slides with diagrams): CLICK!

Have you ever wondered why so many people brood about overpopulation while in developed countries, people agonize about shrinking birth-rates? CLICK!

In authoritarian China the one-child policy is most brutally enforced, because that is how authoritarians do everything. Typical and predictable: the sledge-hammer approach. How have other nations (such as Sweden) arrested population growth without using iron-fist tactics, in fact without even trying? Just a little prosperity, fair distribution, and some egalitarian safeguards, and the injunction to ‘go forth and multiply’ just vaporizes. Perhaps more accurately; we still seem to like ‘going forth’ – we just multiply by about 1.8 these days.

Now, there is one of these guys in every neighbourhood: the guy that loves to pontificate that war is, and has always been, the natural method of family planning. Oh, and, by the way; we are well overdue for another Big One. This guy talks about the ‘need’ to cull people with the same tone you use when you say you are due for a haircut. I’m sure you have met him. I have. He is everywhere. OK, maybe he just needs to go play Paint-ball, or something. Come to think of it, he might own shares in weapons manufacturing. Next time I meet one of these guys I must remember to ask.

So: what if population growth stalls as predicted? What will happen to our demographics? With less young people in the mix, who will look after all those extra old people? That brings me to the fourth myth about population. Coming up next week, in Part 5.

Overpopulation Myth Number Four:

“If we all have less babies, then the old people will overwhelm us and blow economies to smithereens. So, either way we are all screwed. I mean, really reeeeeeeeeeeally screwed”!

(Part 5)

OK, sorry grandma and grandpa. We like you and your cute purple hairdos and fluffy slippers and everything, but we think you are, well… useless. Sorry! But where are we going to put you all, as you keep getting older and unhealthier? I don’t know how to tell you, dear grandparents, but you are just another bunch of mouths to feed; a huge drain on the economy.

Not that we don’t appreciate your funny inability to use computers properly and the endearing way you keep forgetting our names. So entertaining! But who is going to pay for all the mashed pumpkin and bingo cards?

OK. Let me come clean here. I am tired of hearing all this moaning and groaning about the ageing population. As people get older and they live longer, they get wiser – don’t they? Maybe if we stop treating old people like burdens, if they feel more valued, a lot of them would begin to feel healthier, and even act healthier. I am willing to bet all the purple hair-dye in the world on that. Want to destroy someone’s health, brain function, digestive function and cardiovascular health in a jiffy? Tell them they are a drain on the economy and treat them like they are in your way. This babble about the ‘ageing population problem’ is self-fulfilling prophecy par excellence.

Is the solution to cull old people perhaps? Should we call the Paint-ball fanatic we mentioned earlier and ask for a quote?

Look: I know plenty of people who love their work, who never want to retire until they croak. If societies invest in the human right for work to be enjoyable and safe, then an increase in the retirement age is natural. Later retirement might then be tolerable at worst, a boon to health and wellbeing at best. Want to eliminate the ‘ageing population problem’ in two generations? Tell your children to do what they love when they grow up and leave school, not what you think will give them ‘status’, a McMansion and a couple of HumVees in the shed. Loving the work you do should be a self-evident human right.

Is longevity extending while peak health remains static? If not, then of course retirement must come later, especially for those who still enjoy some measure of work. But what about those elders who prefer to – or for reasons beyond their control – retire with grace when the time comes? Beyond paid work, is there any other benefit that our elders bring to society?

Tragically, the Western world seems to need a little reminder about the value of its seniors. Elders constitute a huge pool of loving hands to support and guide young families – we need our grandparents in order to thrive.

Somewhere along the line, evolution decided to give women an early menopause, that is, while they are still young and fit. This peculiar trait is rare in the animal kingdom; humans share it with rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees, elephants and short-finned pilot whales. The ‘Grandmother Hypothesis’, in a nutshell, goes something like this: menopause evolved in humans because it promotes the survival of grandchildren.

Since we climbed down from the trees, for over 95% of human history, each child could count on the love and support of about 4 adults. Our success as a species pivots on parents who can rely on grandparents for backup. Lets face it. The in-laws might be a bit irritating – but we can’t do without them. Maybe we should be a bit less cavalier about the so-called ‘ageing population problem’.

In my work as a psychologist, author and parent educator, one lesson I have learned is that children need multiple attachment figures. The nuclear family is inherently dysfunctional and a risk zone for high stress, premature divorce and post-natal depression. Bring on the ageing population, I say! It is the best news imaginable for the sake of children’s wellbeing and health. As we reach new and unchartered age-brackets, humanity is reaching new depths of wisdom and experience unknown in history. This is likely to advance social evolution to new heights.

Old people pump millions of hours into the ‘invisible economy’, by volunteering, child-minding or mentoring. Our elders can be an invaluable community asset if they get the support they need to contribute within their limits.

This is what the Australia Institute said, in a recent report:

“Far from being net receivers of help and support, older people are, in fact, net providers, at least up to the age of 75 years. They provide childcare, financial, practical and emotional assistance to family members including helping people outside the household with the tasks of daily living. Such unpaid caring and voluntary work adds up to a significant proportion of GDP, around seven per cent on some measures (Ranzijn et al. 2002; De Vaus et al. 2003).

Grandparenting has become an important social role in an age when people tend to have more living parents than children. Not only does it benefit grandparents themselves who find that grandparenthood is an important aspect of their lives, but it also appears to benefit grandchildren substantially.” CLICK!

Modern fears about an ageing population are based on two rather bizarre assumptions:

Bizarre assumption number one: “Even though people are living longer, they are getting senile and frail at the same age as before. It’s just an extended vulnerability. Medicine has prolonged life without doing anything to prolong health”.

Bizarre assumption number two: “As soon as people reach retirement age all they care about is stopping work even if they live to 95. That’s all old people want to do. Play golf at your expense, for 30 years.”

People with white hair do not subtract from our communities. We could well do with more of them. By the way, I feel obligated to disclose this conflict of interests: I am finding more snowflakes on my head and chin these days. That’s going to be me, complaining that someone stole my bathrobe, not long from now. Am I biased? You decide!

OK, so: we don’t have an ‘overpopulation’ problem. But we do have a problem. Unless we make the transition fast enough and soon enough, from being dominators of Nature to partners with it, our future looks very grim. Solutions abound and each year there are more and better ones. The question remains: can we move quickly enough to reinvent ourselves culturally and industrially, so we can meet the global challenges of our era?

In next week’s post (Part 6), we’ll review and celebrate some of the most exciting solutions already unfolding, and touch upon what everyone of us can do to bring forth a new sustainable and harmonious society.

Beyond the ‘Logan’s Run’ solution (snuffing all people over 30 unless they are rich and powerful).

(Part 6)

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.

  1. Increase economic equality and gender equality. Fertility rates (as well as crime and conflict) will spiral down.
  2. 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.
  3. Eat a little less red meat. There are far more efficient uses of land! And global warming will reverse.
  4. Complete the transition to renewable energy sources. Wind and solar are already on par with or cheaper than fossil fuels. Global warming will reverse.
  5. 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.
  6. Convert sewage treatment plants to complete water recycling centres, producing potable water plus phosphate-rich fertilizers for sale.
  7. 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!
  8. 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, 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 uncontestable 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, 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, this era 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’. Society evolves 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?


Robin Grille











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5 Responses to Overpopulation is not the problem – a sustainable world begins!

  1. Robin,

    It was lovely to meet you on Sunday at the Pittwater Festival.
    I have read much of your blog and looked at over half of the links you have added.
    It is wonderful! Your outline of the major ‘myths’ of population growth are simple and powerful. You have found some amazing videos to add huge support to your words and all I can say is thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.

    Can I copy your blog url to lots of others?

    Yours Ecologically


  2. Robin Grille says:

    Thanks Pete, glad you enjoyed the article – yes of course, please share it far and wide, that is its purpose. I have always respected your ecological work and you have been a great inspiration. Power on!

  3. This was a fascinating article to read and yes I have heard the many arguments you have raised but I also believe that the population discussion is a necessary one. It’s not about “overpopulation” it’s about “breeding” mindfully.

    Many studies show that with increased education, job opportunities and access to birth control, birth rates slow down which is a wonderful thing. For me the issue is resource and wealth distribution as we know the richer countries tend to get richer and with 1 billion not having access to food (or the land in which to grow their own food) and the richer nations wasting so much of it, this continues to be an issue. Consumption and waste are the key issues when we discuss the population issue.

    Any discussion about our consumption rates, ways to mitigate environmental impact and application of sustainable practices is a necessary discussion. Population is just one part of the sustainability agenda (not the entire agenda) and should be treated as such.

    Jennifer Nini

    • Robin Grille says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Jennifer Nini. I agree with you. I think it is really interesting to open this up beyond the superficial concern with numbers. Better distribution and equality are demonstrable mitigations against overcrowding and warfare. With the growth of the middle class, fertility sharply declines. So the best and perhaps the only solution to unsustainable civilization is distributed capitalism and the share-economy. Combine this with circular economy and permaculture, and we have a joyous and abundant planet. Excess income in the form of solar energy, free of charge (no pun). As you say, people naturally “breed mindfully” when they emerge from two evils: 1. poverty and 2. cultural patriarchy. So the solution is behavioral and cultural. We don’t need the butchery of a one-child policy, when we understand that “mindful procreation” is the natural outcome of a balanced economy and culture. Behavioral change, not culling.

  4. Pingback: Menace de la surpopulation : un mythe ! – Le Monde...

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