Overpopulation is blamed for the destruction of the planet, yet have we ever thought of pointing fingers at the unsustainable practices WE continue to perform in the name of “profit” despite the many existing alternatives? It is not a question of the number of people inhabiting our planet, it is a question of the laws of capitalism. The truth is, if we all shifted towards an earth-friendly lifestyle and designed sustainable cities that would allow for self-sufficiency and collaboration for the good of all, we would no longer be considered a threat to the planet. We would work with nature and not against it. We are a part of nature after all and it is about time we stop feeling guilty for existing. What we should be critical of are our actions and the destructive system we continue to uphold – not our species itself – which can all be changed if we stop pretending we are separate from nature and each other.
Overpopulation describes a situation where the number of people exhausts the resources in a closed environment such that it can no longer support that population. Our over-crowded cities or poor developing countries are not closed environments. The economic laws of capitalism prevent food from being transported to where it is needed, or distributed to those who are hungry, “overpopulation” is not to blame. Hunger is a problem in many parts of the world, but it is not caused by the number of people. Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s current food supply. Enough grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories per day – 1,500 more calories per day than recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.
The world currently produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, and there are only 7 billion of us. That is, with 7 billion human minds at work, we produce enough food for 10 billion human bodies. Imagine how much food we can produce with 3 billion extra pairs of hands and 3 billion more minds. There is no reason to think that we are running out of human ingenuity. If anything, a larger population means more opportunities for the kind of scientific collaboration and increased specialization that results in such scientific leaps forward. Human knowledge can be passed on through the written and spoken word in ways that evolutionary or biological advantages can’t be. If we built this world, what makes us believe we cannot build something different? As of now, we use most of our manpower, creativity and intelligence to build weapons of war, unsustainable technologies and meaningless products. We mostly unite forces for military action. We waste incredible human potential inside of small cubicles for tasks that could be automated, or that serve no higher purpose.
What if we used all of our manpower, creativity and intelligence for the betterment of all life instead of using it solely to empower the few at the top? What if we united forces not for war and destruction, but for peace and creation? What if we instead used this same potential to create sustainable technologies, beneficial products and harmonious systems that would allow humanity and the earth to thrive? Imagine if we united as a people, stopped complying and created a more beautiful world—not because of some piece of paper we would get in return but because it only makes sense.
We are growing, but definitely not at an exponential rate. In fact, our rates of growth are declining. Between 1950 and 2000, the world population grew at a rate of 1.76%. Between 2000 and 2050, it is expected to grow by 0.77 percent. So yes, because 0.77 is greater than zero, it is a positive growth rate, and the world population will continue to grow. Most of this growth will come from developing countries—their life expectancies are expected to shoot up in the next 50 years, contributing to their population growth. Africa’s growth is not something to worry about.
Europe’s decline, however, is something to worry about. A UN report titled “World Population to 2300” paints a picture of Europe’s future if European fertility rates don’t rise above current levels: “The European Union, which has recently expanded to encompass 452-455 million people (according to 2000-2005 figures) would fall by 2300 to only 59 million. About half the countries of Europe would lose 95 per cent or more of their population, and such countries as the Russian Federation and Italy would have only 1 per cent of their population left.” In other words, the French, German, Italians and British will virtually cease to exist. 48% of all people live in a country with below-replacement fertility.
Every man, woman, and child on earth could each have 5 acres of land. Every man, woman, and child on earth could each have a half-acre of arable land. If we wanted to squeeze close, everyone in the world could stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the island of Zanzibar. Many believe that overpopulation is a question of lack of space. It isn’t. Today, there are approximately 7,268,730,000 people on earth. The landmass of Texas is 268,820 square miles (7,494,271,488,000 square feet). If we divide 7,494,271,488,000 square feet by 7,268,730,000 people, we get 1031 square feet per person. This is enough space for everyone on earth to live in a townhouse while altogether fitting on a landmass the size of Texas. And we’re not even accounting for the average four-person family who would most likely share a home! We’re not saying that creating such a massive subdivision would be a smart, sustainable or practical thing to do. Cramming together a population that continues to over-consume, waste and poison the environment the way we currently do would be a recipe for disaster. This is just to give an idea of how it isn’t space itself that is lacking.
The urban population is on the rise. Since 2008, more than half of humanity has become urbanized. The reason is that there are more opportunities to make money in the city than in the countryside. A city is crowded because people come from miles and miles away to move there, not because of wreck-less reproduction and overpopulation.
The world is abundant in resources and could provide for everyone’s needs, yet every year rich countries waste more than 220 million tons of food. All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.
Meanwhile, the poor still starve to death – not because resources are scarce, but because they don’t have the money or have rights to enough land. In those countries where the poorest 20 % of the population earned a smaller percentage of a nation’s total income, they had less to eat. In other words, poverty and inequality cause hunger, not overpopulation. Africa has enormous still unexploited potential to grow food, with theoretical grain yields 25 to 35% higher than maximum potential yields in Europe or North America. Beyond yield potential, ample arable land awaits future use. In Chad, for example, only 10% of the farmland rated as having no serious production constraints is actually farmed. In countries notorious for famines like Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Mali, the area of unused good quality farmland is many times greater than the area actually farmed.
Don’t think people starve because the world is overpopulated. The world isn’t overpopulated at all. It’s just very badly managed. It is easy to blame some so-called “natural” phenomena that require artificial measures such as GMOs to “solve world hunger” or population reduction plans, but how about criticizing the actual values behind our system and ways in which it promotes inequality for the benefit of the few? How about questioning the belief that opportunities and abundance can only exist where money flows when we live on a spacious planet that could provide for everyone if we were to use it intelligently?
Alternatives to unsustainable agricultural practices do exist. The success of organic farmers in the U.S. gives an idea of the possibilities. Cuba’s success in overcoming a food crisis through self-reliance and sustainable, virtually pesticide-free agriculture is another great example. Environmentally sound agricultural alternatives can be more productive than environmentally destructive ones. Permaculture is a great example. Sustainable housing and city planning is also an alternative that should be globally implemented instead of simply pointing fingers at a growing population. The possibilities are endless. Sustainable housing and city planning is not only a great idea for the planet, it would solve all hunger problems we face today. For example, every home is outfitted with one or two greenhouses that grow crops year-round, no matter the climate. This means that people can feed themselves with only the plants growing inside their own house. A fish pond and/or chicken coop can also be built into Earthships for a constant source of meat and eggs. Hunger is NOT just an “inevitable” part of life.