Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Its the system, not the numbers of people

At this year’s annual World Economic Forum famed primatologist Dr Jane Goodall remarked at the event that human population growth was responsible for the worsening climate and ecological crisis , and that most environmental problems wouldn’t exist if our numbers were at the levels they were 500 years ago. People must be prepared to challenge and reject such overpopulation arguments. 

The idea that there were simply too many people being born a serious misreading of the underlying causes of the current environmental crises.

In reality, the global human population is not increasing exponentially, but is in fact slowing and predicted to stabilise at most around 11 billion by 2100. More importantly, focusing on human numbers obscures the true driver of many of our ecological woes. That is, the waste and inequality generated by modern capitalism and its focus on endless growth and profit accumulation. Inequalities in power, wealth and access to resources – not mere numbers – are key drivers of environmental degradation.

In 2018 the planet’s top emitters – North America and China – accounted for nearly half of global CO₂ emissions. In fact, the comparatively high rates of consumption in these regions generate so much more CO₂ than their counterparts in low-income developing countries that an additional three to four billion people in the latter would hardly make a dent on global emissions. 

Blaming human population growth – often in poorer regions – risks fuelling a racist backlash and displaces blame from the powerful industries that continue to pollute the atmosphere. Developing regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America often bear the brunt of climate and ecological catastrophes, despite having contributed the least to them. 

The problem is a system that prioritises profits over social and ecological well-being. This is where we should be devoting our attention. 


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