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

By Alexandra Paul | 23 April 2013

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.

  6. I loved this. Thanks for bringing the message of overpopulation in the open. What gives human rights to think his species are the only ones to able to reproduce and populate, especially when he destroys all other animals and nature around him.

    If bacteria cannot limit its own reproduction growth, starvation and disease will do it for it.

  7. Why do most people make kids? They (not all though) make kids because – of course – they do love kids and want to give them something. But more and most importantly parents want their kids to excel and have a better life than the parents had (something along the way what Maslow’s pyramid suggested).
    In developing countries its never about the future of the kids. Kids are made for the future of the parents.
    So my suggestion is that people who do not advocate Maslow’s pyramid should not have kids at all.

  8. You can discuss overpopulation until the cows come home (if there are any left) but the fact remains that overpopulation will finally lead to the extinction of the human species.

  9. Having a kid is part of human experience. Having more than one for rich is selfish. Shall we provide a brother or a sister for our for the first one so he or she is not lonely is foolishly asked by a billion couples at each generation.

    • No, sterile sex is selfish. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth," is our command. If that's not for you, don't have sex.

  10. More totalitarian nonsense. You see, of course, how well this experiment worked for the Chinese? It was disastrous. I hope you are leading the way Alexandra, by refusing to have any children yourself.

    • Many nations have proved that you don’t need “totalitarian nonsense” to greatly reduce fertility rates. As pointed out in many of the comments, educated women who are not oppressed by men rarely choose to have 7 kids. Most of Europe has very low fertility rates and those have not been legislated. Thailand is another excellent example. I believe Alexandra is leading the way, by conceiving no children. As for China, the disaster would have been far worse (massive numbers dying of starvation) had they not instituted the one-child policy. But now we know there are other ways. Great advice from good-hearted, enlightened people like Alexandra is a start.

  11. China worked this out 35 years ago and what a huge success story that has been.

    But of course it takes more than that as China has made the consumerist mistake of the west to the peoples’ detriment.

    The other part of the issue is migration with countries like Saudi Arabia with neither food nor water resources and a booming population what can happen. Why should say China move to help the eventual victims of an evil dictatorship when nobody will but their oil?

  12. Spot on Alexandra, I find it lonely talking about population in marine circles too … Absolutely necessary, as are reducing consumption, and reducing waste to zero!!

  13. The author Peter D. Kiernan argues that charities are not optiminally run and Alexandra Paul just provided a good example, the Rainforest Action Network refusing to address the issue of overpopulation. So, how does RAN use the money to curb destruction of the rainforest? Is it effective?

    Casey Taft says that animal rights groups aren't aiming convert people to veganism, but rather trying to inspire them with some Murder Free Mondays. I thought that PETA promoted the vegan lifestyle, but then I realized that not all of their board members are even vegan (such as Bill Maher, for example.) Thus, PETA is not necessarily run optimally either. You would also think that PETA would also endorse anti-natalism if they say not to breed or buy while animals die.

  14. I really don’t see over population as an issue the way things are moving. By 2050 at least half of the earths human population will be dead from the effects of climate change – and of course the effects of unregulated pollution (we have a massive problem with autoinflammatory diesase, autoimmune diseases and various cancers that are the result of human greed). This leads into one of the unstated population issues – that is – why there is lower population in industrialized nations. It isn’t just education and family planing. We are (medically speaking) sterile. The USA for example) had males with half the sperm count of their fathers by the mid 70s. It was an ongoing joke (you are only half the man your father was), and since then sperm counts have dropped to less than half that amount.

    Essentially the people using the most resources are being sterilized by the corporate oligarchy in charge of their nations… and the people using the least resources are at the highest risk of death from global warming. With a hotter planet we will see famines, a rise in many diseases, a lack of a viable source of fish as protein which most of the world relies on (the oceans are dying). All of this is from ongoing global warming. The future is going to make the Black Death look “nice”.

  15. Well said, I have been trying to make this point for years. I got pregnant with my daughter before I planed on having children so I considered it a blessing. By the time I was 30 (the age I thought I'd start at) I started noticing the effects of consumerism. I decided at that point not to have anymore unless I adopt. Single children families are just as happy if not happier than big families. It about quality NOT quantity.


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