Overpopulation: Maybe It’s Time to Offend a Few Folks

By Alexandra Paul | 23 April 2013

(Credit: Shutterstock.com)

Speaking out about human overpopulation is not an easy thing, as I have been told that people get offended. I have not personally experienced offending anyone, but perhaps those folks have been too polite to tell me. I have not read any studies that prove people are offended, but perhaps I have missed them. If I offend you in this video, please let me know.

I once asked the executive director of the Rainforest Action Network why RAN didn’t discuss the huge number of people on the planet as a factor in rainforest devastation and encourage smaller human families, as everyone in that nonprofit organization probably understands that the demand for resources from 7 billion people on the planet is causing extensive damage to the earth. They know that if the UN projection of 10 billion people on the planet by 2050 is right, it will be disastrous for forests everywhere. She admitted, abashedly, that she did not want to alienate donors.

RAN is an organization whose members break into corporate offices and hang banners out the windows excoriating Big Oil, yet they are afraid to talk about human overpopulation in their pamphlets or on their website. If RAN won’t admit the link between diminishing natural resources and a population that grows by 220,000 people every day, then what large environmental organization will?

It turns out, none.

Even within the population community, there is disagreement on how to approach the topic of lowering fertility. Some activists believe that the word “overpopulation” is too strong, even though by all accounts the world IS overpopulated: An article in the journal Nature reports that the global groundwater footprint is about 3.5 times the actual amount we have in our aquifers. Scientists have estimated that humans consume 50% more of the earth’s resources than she is able to restore each year. If people continue to consume the planet’s resources at this rate, by 2030 humanity will need two planets worth of resources to support the world’s population.

My message is clear: I recommend one child per couple to lower the population, avert future famines, and avoid wars over water. If that sounds radical, then maybe it is time for radicalism. In a culture that bemoans a falling fertility rate because it will damage the economy — instead of praising smaller families because it means less crowding, more nature and better quality of life for all — there is great need for more voices of sanity. Voices like Edward Abbey who said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

For those of us in the United States, this message is especially important. Although our families average 2 kids per couple, our consumption outweighs that of larger families in Africa and Asia. The average American consumes 20 times more resources than someone from Mozambique and generates 169 times more carbon dioxide than a Bangladeshi. We have even outdone ourselves: a family of four today lives in a house twice as large as one the family would have occupied in 1950.

I believe that we must stabilize and then lower the world population if humans are to survive on this planet. If advocating a culture that encourages smaller families is offensive, then I must offend. Too much is at stake to be polite.

Alexandra Paul is an internationally recognized actress and an environmental and social activist. You can learn more about her on her official website.

Overpopulation facts – the problem no one will discuss: Alexandra Paul at TEDx

Overpopulation – We Beat Around the Bush

Al Bartlett – Democracy Cannot Survive Overpopulation

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  1. I apologize if this is a duplicate — I think I mistakenly closed my browser window before my previous comment posted.
    I am not offended by your proposal or video, Alexandra. I do think it’s misinformed and oversimplified. If you look at the carbon footprint per capita in the US, Europe and other financially wealthy countries, it is far higher than in “underdeveloped, poorer” countries. So the footprint of a family of 3 or 4 (1 or 2 children) in the US will have an almost exponentially higher carbon footprint than a much larger family in, say, Africa. And there are still places in the world where multiple children are needed to contribute to the family’s sustenance. So once again, a policy of “one child per family” applied across the globe has a far greater impact on poor families than on rich… and that is not acceptable to me, and I hope not to you.

    • Alexandra did an outstanding job of addressing the massive footprint of even 2-child families in the industrialized world. Let’s unsimplify this, Nancy, because it is more complex than you indicated. In parts of the world with high fertility rates, having more children to help carry water or work a small farm may seem necessary for “the family’s sustenance” in the short term, but these areas do not have the soil and water to support their current population, let alone the huge population their fertility rate is setting them up for. Also, if you subdivide a family farm among 5 or 6 children every generation, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to realize in just one or two generations the farms are too small to support a family. “One child per family” turns out to be an important step OUT of poverty. In fact, lowering fertility rate has always preceded economic advancement, contrary to the myth that economic advancement lowers fertility.

      • I will add that frequently when third world countries have high birth rates their populations end up fleeing war and/or famine and settling in first world countries, where they quickly adopt our lifestyle. The area where I live is full of immigrants who used to have low footprints.

        Even in poor countries, if there is education and equality of women, there will be low birth rates.

    • Hmm… I also left a post earlier and it never appeared.
      I would disagree with your argument because 1. When a country has a high birth rate they are more likely to suffer from war and/or hunger. And then the population often migrates to wealthy countries where they quickly adopt our high-consuming lifestyle. My region is full of immigrants who started out in poor countries. So just being poor does not guarantee that you children will not have a high carbon footprint. 2. Even poor countries can experience a big dip in family size when the people are educated and women have equal rights. The state of Kerala in India is an example of this. Many poor families find that they can get along just fine without the extra “free labor” from having many children.

    • All those children in the underdeveloped countries aspire to live like the rich people. Since their own countries can not provide for their aspirations, they simply find a way to go to the rich countries. The process has been gaining momentum for a few years and will only escalate. With them they bring cultures destructive to the Western way of life, including a high birthrate. They are already pouring into Europe at a pace rendering education impossible. In a few decades the wonderful West will also be a festering rathole. The earlier these people are “offended” where they are now, the sooner they may come to their senses and save themselves.

  2. Population growth should be controlled and educated people realize it. Muslim’s, on the other hand, are intentional about having as many kids as possible. It’s called Jihad by population growth.

  3. Missionaries of all religions push for more “soldiers” of their sects. Capitalism requires more consumption all the time to please their boards of directors. I agree with the points made by both previous commenters. I think about overpopulation a lot and all possible answers lead to human rights crushing eugenics for people who are not on board.

    • It’s not a right to have children, it’s a privilege. It’s a right junk was ok to say when the population was 1-2 billion, now we are over 8.5 billion and will hit 10 billion by 2030, NOT 2050. The numbers are much worse than what is being published by wingnuts. Anyone who says they won’t follow laws passed to lower population are delusional and selfish and only thinks about themselves. We are killing the planet and if you haven’t noticed, there is no where else to go.

  4. There’s only one thing needed to control population – to defend the right of women to control of their own bodies.

    That’s a lot more than just defending the right to abortion in the USA for women who can afford one.

    Mexico, for example, has fallen from nearly 7 children per woman to 2.2 in 40 years. The primary reason for this is that the government fully funds tubal ligation (caveat, i do believe you must have a child, be over 30, or have one of several conditions to qualify. I am not saying Mexico is perfect but illustrating the point).

    Leave the choice to women – make it truly theirs – and the birth rate falls to between 1.2 and 1.8 very quickly. If you go further and give women positive reasons to delay first childbirth, for example by giving them educational opportunity, you slow overall growth even more.

  5. Thanks for your advocacy on this critical subject.
    I’ve just returned from Uganda, the “pearl of Africa” as Churchill described it. It was a very friendly and safe place (from what i saw). They have one of the highest rates of religious observance (about 85% Christian, 12% Muslim) and some of the last special rain forest habitat with mountain gorillas and chimps .. The parks are well organised and well protected. There population of 35 million is scheduled to double in less than 2 decades. There are small children everywhere you go. Everyone I spoke to there is positive about the future of their nature conservancy (recognizing it’s rarity, ‘specialness’ and economic benefit) but no one was concerned about population or it’s likely impacts on land use. I still don’t understand how people cannot see the inevitable and diabolical problem posed by population growth
    Dr George Crisp

    • Thank you for noting this, George! My husband and I were just in Uganda as well and felt the same way about the situation. They can barely sustain their current population and every park border is within inches of agricultural development. These parks and animals within them are doomed if the population continues to grow. There has to be a force within other cultures to help normalize the idea of minimal to no children families, and within all religions as well.


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