Saturday, November 24, 2018

There Is No Over-population Problem

“All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons.” Thomas Malthus

The zoologist David Attenborough is the doyen of the BBC nature documentary but that does not make him an expert on everything. He is quoted as saying, “What are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They're about too many people for too little piece of land. That's what it's about.” He has called mankind a “plague on Earth”. "The world's population is increasing out of control," he told the BBC.

Proponents of an ecological balance like Attenborough and green activists who consider themselves as liberal progressives need to take a long hard look at themselves. With refugees, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger filling our media around the world every day, those emotional images appear more convincing than the actual facts. 

Yet the fertility rates - the number of babies that a woman has over the course of her life - in very large parts of the world are now below what is needed to replace the population. Population growth is slowing.  There are holdouts, of course. In parts of rural Africa, women still have five or more children. But even here they are being very rational. Women mostly run the farms, and they need the children to mind the animals and work in the fields.

Attenborough's overpopulation argument is flawed. His idea of overpopulation oversimplified and inaccurate. Today's overpopulation hysteria is inhuman and an obscenity. The concept of overpopulation can easily suggest that part of the people do not really deserve to be there, or that they should not exist. From there, it is only another step to hating part of the human race and to feel justified in wiping that part out (or at least subject people to compulsory sterilisation which has been done). If people believe that each human being has a right to be there and enjoy life, there cannot be "overpopulation". Overpopulation justifies the scapegoating and human rights violations of poor people, women, people of colour and immigrant communities: Too often the subtext of “too many people” translates to too many poor people, people of color and immigrants. At most, one could say that there are too many people living in a particular area. But even so, people can get used to living with remarkably little personal space.

 The world’s population is still rising, of course. This is because there is a time lag: the huge numbers of young women born during the earlier baby boom may only have had two children each. That is still a lot of children. But within another generation or two, the world’s population will almost certainly be stable and is very likely to be falling by the end of the century. The second myth about population growth is that it is the driving force behind the destruction of our planet. Overpopulation is defined by numbers of people, not their behaviours: Industrialised countries, who make up only 20% of the world's population, are responsible for 80% of the carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere. The United States is the worst offender with 20 tons of carbon emission per person. Therefore it is not just the amount of people that leads to degradation but what they are doing.‘Over-population’ focuses illogically on those people who consume the least. Unwarranted focus on population results in charging the local victims with the burden of environmental pressures which they are not responsible for. We can dispel the notion that overpopulation is a root cause of environmental degradation.

Except in extreme, rare famine conditions and other natural disasters, food scarcity is largely created by economics and power, rather than actual availability. There is considerable potential to provide more food for all. We could quite easily provide food for 10 billion people on the planet. Calorie intakes of people in poor and rich countries are surprisingly similar, but those in rich nations consume more protein. This adds about a further 1 percent growth to food demand which means that the world will need to produce approximately two percent more food annually if today’s poor become rich. Will we be able to sustainably supply that extra two percent? The answer is most likely yes. If we consider that the family would become richer and shift its consumption patterns to include more milk, meat, and eggs, it would need more cereals because animals would need to be partly fed with cereals. If we consider a grain-based diet with an already-moderate consumption of protein, current world cereals production could feed more than 10 billion people if distributed well. between what’s needed and what’s being produced is still very high. Farmers in the Netherlands produce 8.6 tons of cereals per hectare, Ukrainian farmers produce 4 tons per hectare, and yields in Nigeria are stagnant at 1.5 tons per hectare. Humanity could provide more food and use it more efficiently to ensure food security for all in an environmentally sustainable manner, using existing technology.

It is true that millions of people are lacking basic resources such as food and water. But the Socialist Party does not equate this poverty to a lack of resources on earth to support the total number of humans and argues that there are enough resources on earth for all but resources are unequally distributed generating poverty.

Overpopulationists because they repeatedly concentrate on what would happen if nothing else changed except population increase, encourages a biased version of the future. There’s lots of food, but not everybody can afford to buy it.

The idea that growing human numbers will destroy the planet is nonsense. But continuing capitalism may very well will. We must not blame the world’s poor for the environmental damaged caused overwhelmingly by the economic irrationality of the capitalist system. The real population problem is too few people owning too much of the world. Overpopulation points the finger at individuals not systems: This lets the real culprits off the hook. When we look at the true causes of environmental destruction and poverty it is our socio-economic system, not individuals. It is the capitalist economic system that puts profit over people and the environment. Murray Bookchin said, “If we live in a grow or die capitalistic society in which accumulation is literally the law of economic survival and competition is the motor of progress, anything we have to say about population being the cause of ecological crisis is meaningless.” Vandana Shiva said, “Hunger and malnutrition are man-made. They are hardwired in the design of the industrial, chemical model of agriculture. But just as hunger is created by design, healthy and nutritious food for all can also be designed, through food democracy.” Rachel Carson, one of the pioneers of environmentalism, was clear that the primary blame for destruction of the natural world lay with the “gods of profit and production” as the world lived “in an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at any cost is seldom challenged.”

Many environmentalists will tell us that we live on a planet with finite resources and that there cannot be unlimited growth. They remind us of Earth’s carrying capacity. We are told by them that populations must have their limits and must ultimately reach a balance with their environments. Not to think so would be to misunderstand physics: there is only one earth, of course!

It is essential to challenge such a skewed interpretation of our planet’s resources especially when these greens choose to say we have a population problem of too many people. Resources are not fixed or knowable; what is considered a resource changes over time.  Evidence of increasing population fed by successive productive revolutions ( the Industrial Revolution and the Green Revolution, for instance) demonstrates that a fixed human carrying capacity for our planet is nonsensical. People confronted with scarcity don't just accept it; they create more or new resources, i.e., they expand carrying capacity.  There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity. The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history. Humans transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation, farmers produce more than the necessary nutrition requirement to feed the world population. This supports views that not limited world resources but the unequal distribution of resources mainly explains the current poverty and hunger problems in the world.  The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been. Since prehistory, human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered “natural” ecosystem.

“Overpopulation” is a thinly veiled racist and capitalist myths that is accepted by both right-wingers and progressives alike as an obvious self-affirming fact. People who claim to hate genocide and eugenics who push this myth and advocate population control have no sense of irony. Those accepting the overpopulation argument obscure the more immediate causes of suffering under capitalism. Because of its short-termism, its unrelenting drive for profits, and international conflict, capitalism expresses a tendency toward planetary crisis, regardless of the total number of humans living on earth. The amount of waste and pollution under capitalism is enormous with its preponderance of the production and distribution of useless products, the wasted labour and the creation of mounting piles of garbage as a result of planned obsolescence and single-use products.  Population growth is not primarily responsible for the many accelerating global environmental crises. Even if population growth were to end today ecosystem collapse would continue more or less unabated. The concentration on so-called overpopulation confuses symptoms with causes, validating apologists for the system and perpetuating Malthusian anti-poor, nationalist, and racist arguments. This central concept in the ideological armory of capitalism is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around. Hence we are confronted with the idea that there isn’t enough food, aren’t enough jobs, isn’t enough housing, or aren’t enough class-room places or too long hospital waiting lists because there is a certain fixed amount of all these things. People who claim that population growth is the issue are shifting the blame from the rich to the poor.

His nature documentaries has made David Attenborough famous but it is sad to see him use that fame to endorse the overpopulation myth. So long as the capitalist system remains in place, hunger and poverty will continue, no matter what happens to birth rates.It’s this social and economic system that treats food as a commodity, to be bought and sold and puts profit above people. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Boyd Orr, former director of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, was candid in stating: ‘a world of peace and friendship, a world with the plenty which modern science had made possible was a great ideal. But those in power had
no patience with such an ideal. They said it was not practical politics’ (Daily Herald, 29 July 1948).
What Lord Boyd Orr failed to recognise - and his counterparts today - is that food, like every other commodity in our modern world, is produced primarily for profit, as this headline from Asia Times (31 October) attests:
'In Yemen, plenty of food but few have the cash to buy it'.
'While agriculture and food distribution suffer from the war, food remains available in markets across the country - but few can afford it. "All kinds of food and other items are available in the market. The problem is not a shortage of food in markets but that we do not have money to buy food that is now expensive," Sofi said' (Middle East Eye, 9 November).