The overpopulation myth threatens to overtake the human nature myth as the chief explanation for the evils of the modern world where hunger, disease, the retarded development of backward countries, social unrest, political instability, urban sprawl, destruction of wildlife, city squalor, crowded mental hospitals, violence, all kinds of pollution and ecological upset, the shortage of housing and the desecration of the countryside are all confidently attributed to the problem of an excess of human beings. The readiness to accept the "overpopulation" argument arises from a lack of understanding of the way capitalism works.
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14% of all the people who ever existed were alive today and there may be 12 billion humans on Earth by 2100, latest projections suggest. A worldwide one-child policy would mean the number of people in 2100 remained around current levels, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While the overall figures have been growing, the world's per-capita fertility has been declining for several decades. If China's much criticised one-child policy was implemented worldwide, the Earth's population in 2100 would still be between five and 10 billion, one of the latest studies says.
Even a catastrophic event that killed billions of people would have little effect on the overall impact, it said. They found that even an event that wiped out two billion people would still leave about eight and a half billion in 2100.
The team constructed nine different scenarios for population change up to the year 2100, using data from the World Health Organization, and the US Census Bureau's international database. They also used "catastrophe scenarios" to simulate the impacts of climate disruption, wars or global pandemics on population trends. According to the study, attempts to curb our population as a short-term fix will not work. The world should focus on curbing consumption and designing ways to conserve species and ecosystems.
"Society's efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation," said Prof Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide.
The catastrophes that the report describe as hypothetical are actually a reality and taking place today. Nine million of under-5 children die each year, which means that a child dies every 4 seconds (22,000 per day) in the world. 92 million children dying between 2000 and 2010 and that the silent killers are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. Despite the scale of this daily ongoing catastrophe, it rarely manages to achieve, much less sustain, prime-time, headline coverage even when movie stars such as Brad Pitt tells us: “Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right for life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”
The Socialist Party offers a solution and argues that the relentless quest for profit has distracted us. We urgently need to see the big picture, connected it in our minds and in our activism. We must never lose sight of how it all comes together. People procreate more when they expect more of their children to die. They produce fewer when their current children survive. Improving opportunity, education and family planning to girls will have some influence on the problem. Socialists are not opposed to birth control. On the contrary, we say that everyone should have free access to the most effective contraceptives which science can devise. However, birth control is really a red herring: it concentrates attention on the population rather than on food supplies and why they are not being increased at anything like the rate they could. What we do say is that talk of overpopulation misdirects attention from the real cause of the problems in question, and that birth control will not solve them.
We do have a finite planet but the carrying capacity is higher if resources were shared out rationally and equitably. Carrying capacity is not a fixed number. If everyone on the planet consumed only what he or she needed, 40 billion would be the feasible upper-limit number, it is estimated.
It is true that the human population cannot grow without affecting the natural environment, sometimes with the risk of dangerous ecological chain-reactions. But the vast majority of pollution, from pesticides, herbicides, industrial waste and so forth, is quite unnecessary, and could easily be avoided upon the abolition of capitalism with its reckless race for profits. But basically, every additional mouth to feed is a pair of hands to work. Where countries have low life expectancies, such as Gambia at around 40, you are being deprived of the useful work, knowledge and skills of those people who are dying young. Calls to cut the population are calls to make us all the poorer as a species.
There is no difficulty about producing enough food for the present population of the world, or even twice that number, but the problem is, can politics and economics arrange that the food that is produced is dispersed and consumed in the countries that needed it? The Socialist Party holds that the only social system which will ensure this is one in which wealth is produced solely to meet human needs on the basis of the common ownership of the resources of the world by the whole of mankind. Today under capitalism, food is not produced to meet human needs and indeed could not be since the resources of the world do not belong to mankind but only to a privileged few. That food is not produced to meet human needs cannot be denied, otherwise there is no sensible reason why, with the possibility of adequately feeding everybody, millions starve and many millions are undernourished. Food is produced to be sold on the world market with a view to profit. The starving and undernourished millions of the world do not constitute a market as they cannot pay for the food they need. So they are left to starve. The stark fact is that capitalism is responsible for the starvation of millions of people.
Not only is capitalism in effect a system of artificial scarcity, it is also a system of organised waste. The most obvious example is the huge amount of wealth used up in training and keeping armed forces and in developing the most destructive weapons of war. Capitalism also diverts the labour of millions into work that would be useless in a rationally-organised society, namely, those engaged in commerce and finance; the check-out cashiers, the accountants, the sales-persons and the bank clerks, the ticket collectors and the host of others working in activities concerned with buying and selling. Overpopulation is used to make those of us who possess a few elementary comforts, feel that we are on the brink of a vast pit of scarcity, and we ought to be thankful for what we have. Yet if we examine the potential for satisfying human needs which has been released by modern technology, we see that the opposite is the case. In order to survive, the capitalist system must continue to develop its potential for plenty, even plethora, but in order to preserve the poverty and scarcity which are its life-blood, capitalism must restrict, waste and destroy on a colossal scale.
The Socialist Party's case against this and other population scares is that the "overpopulation problem" is really a misuse of resources problem. Capitalism, as a system of rationing via the market, is justified in people's minds by a belief in scarcity. "There isn't enough to go round", so we must be restricted in what we are allowed to consume. It has become a cliché to speak of "this overcrowded planet” yet if, for example, the entire world's population were now placed in the United States, the population density in that country would still be little more than that of Holland.