(Project Possible/La Nacion. 2019. Mt Everest)

Introduction

Section
5. Reduce Population
Page
5.1

This was the top of Mt Everest in 2019. Even here, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overpopulation is a problem for us and a problem for the earth.

Everywhere you turn, this vital topic has been shutdown or diverted. The fine, and otherwise very ‘modern’ Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis dismisses it (see Section 1.10.2), the splendid ‘Collision Course’ of Kerryn Higgs so often referred to in T10 (see Section 1.3.4) addresses it nervously and with numerous caveats and qualifiers before finally plucking up the courage to say: “population is one key driver of environmental impact and cannot be excluded from an examination of the dynamics of unfettered growth”. Elsewhere, normally rational environmentalists and commentators descend into a rage of bigotry, impugning the motives of anyone who dares to mention the problem (see Section 6.1 & 6.4, ‘Media’). Why is this so?

On the Right, population is one of the three engines of growth alongside consumption and technology and thus is seen as laudable, essential, perhaps even revered. It is an article of faith of the modern world religion and this is presented as not just an economic necessity, but as a social one, as well. Grafted onto this is a deep belief in the great ‘human project’, the fundamentalist ‘rightness’ of all human wants and deeds, of which procreation, expansion, and subjugation of the earth are a defining act, of our destiny and superiority.

On the Left, attention to population was seen as a trick of the rich and the First World, as a way of displacing blame and causes away from the overconsuming ‘North’ and onto the vulnerable ‘South’. They saw it as a way of avoiding addressing the very real problems of global inequality and as insensitive to, or even disrespectful of, Third World cultures and cultural needs and practices around family size.

Coming from two very different directions, these stances have been highly successful in shutting down meaningful examination of the issue since the 1970s, while at the same time global population has more than doubled – from 3.7 billion to 7.8 billion today. Herman Daly has been one of the few people, along with Paul Ehrlich and a few others, to say that this is an irrefutable problem that just can’t be ‘magicked’ away by bluster and ideology: “As the absolute load is increased, the watermark will reach the Plimsoll line, even in a boat whose load is optimally allocated (my note: for ‘optimally’ read ‘equitably’, and/or ‘sustainably’). Optimally loaded boats will still sink under too much weight, even if they sink optimally!”1

Tim Jackson of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission similarly identified the pointless evasion of the issue by Left and Right when he says, unequivocally, that the famous Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology equation (see Section 2.1, ‘Consumption’) still stands, and that “it is the overall impact (on the environment) that must be stabilised or reduced”2. The environment is ‘blind’ to how this is comprised, and we know that invariably it is a combination of too many of us, consuming too much (with the aid of extremely powerful technology), producing too much waste, for the globe to deal with (see Section 1.1.4. ‘Articles’). To deny this is to be profoundly anti-human, anti-future, and anti any sort of worthwhile world for us and Nature.

 

1 Daly, H. 1991. Steady-State Economics: Second Edition with New Essays. Island Press, Washington D.C., USA.

2 Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity Without Growth: The Transition to a Sustainable Economy. Sust. Devel. Comm., London, UK.

 

Explore Other Reduce Population

5.1 Introduction

This was the top of Mt Everest in 2019. Even here, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overpopulation is a problem for ...

5.2 Total Ecological Footprint

In Section 2, ‘Consumption’, we displayed the global footprint of countries divided by population so as to concentrate upon consumption only. This was useful to highlight the predominance of consumption and overconsumption by the First World. But,...

5.3 Earth Overshoot Day, The Population Podcast, William Rees

William Rees is a terrific speaker: clear, concise, honest. The following podcast is one of my all-time favourites because it so crisply dissects the environmental problems of the world and logically lays out the foundations and process of Ecologi...

5.4 Scale

I have talked previously about the problem of sheer scale when dealing with environmental issues, and perhaps the greatest example of this is population. We seem to have difficulty coming to grips with any large numbers, anything bigger than, say,...

5.5 Population Films and Documentaries

Dave Gardner is the perfect heretic: softly-spoken, mild-mannered, unflappable, and with a sense of humour, very hard to demonise and marginalise as ‘crazy’, ‘eccentric’, ‘dangerous’, ‘racist’, or ‘anti-people’. Heretics are, at best, dismissed, a...

5.6 Population Projections and Biocapacity

One of the many ways in which a concern about population is shutdown is through the curious application of declining-growth-rate projections. Even before this spurious argument is applied, the glaring assumption is that current population is not a...

5.7 A Possible Target

As mentioned previously, global biocapacity was exceeded at around 3.7 billion people at 1970s technology and consumption levels, but this didn’t account for the needs of other creatures, so an actual sustainable level for all life would have to b...

5.8 The Ageing Population Bogeyman

If Growth is the god and the economy/capitalism the religion, then the human is nothing but a widget in the system whose sole role is to procreate, produce and consume. In such a mean and tortured belief system, those towards the start and end of ...

5.9 Population Case Study: Australia

I am wary of saying more about my home country as I have vowed to try to be as global in outlook as possible, but I hope I can be forgiven in this instance because I think the information is good and the example is very relevant to much that is ha...

5.10 Solutions

We listened to Chris Tucker’s interesting podcast #57 in webpage 5.7 where he talked about the overall population issue and a potentially sustainable population for the world. In this, the second part, #58, he elaborates on ways to get there. My n...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...