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. Unfortunately, the obvious fact that the crushing weight of the bloated worldwide human population, and the depletion and destruction of land, water, and all other life on this planet that is the direct result of this proliferation, has, is, and will continue to be absolutely unaddressed in any realistic fashion.

    Best of luck getting the “politicians” to solve the problem of overpopulation, or even mitigating the situation in any realistic fashion. Their actions are motivated by obsequious attention to corporations, the military, and organized religions desire for soldiers, proselytes, consumers, and slave labor, concerns which are antithetical to solving the problem of overpopulation.

    Nature,( or the planet’s synergistic system of self regulation, or balance, whichever term you prefer) is “fixing” the problem, ignoring our inability to co exist with the finite resources existing. This remedy is always brutal, and not negotiable.

    That “fixing”, would be by extirpation of he offending entity, the “Sixth Extinction”

  2. I didn’t read all the comments so forgive me if I’m covering old ground. China had a one child policy and they have a lopsided ratio of elderly to workers. In their case, they also have many more young men than young women. If we encouraged two children or less children per family, population would still shrink due to accidents and disease but it wouldn’t be quite so unbalanced. I would suggest we encourage small families in various ways. Discontinue tax deductions for children. Make education more available (there is a correlation between education and smaller family size.) Easy accessibility to birth control. We could look at the western countries that have negative population growth and try to determine why in order to imitate them.

  3. The problem isn’t the number of children….but the foot print of each person…. how much one person consumes….. a large family all in one tiny apartment , no car, no air travel…is using less resources then two old people in a retirement village… playing golf and flying around travel…Their food is mostly like coming from further away, their two cars, their large chemical cared for lawn, large McMansion…more resources, carbon, power and waste…it is not the number of people we need to lower, but how much the people on the higher end are consuming…. most kids live in poverity and are not the issue. Teh US is around 6% of the worlds population, but we use up around 40% of the resources… we exploited the natural resources of teh countries we have military bases in all over the world… leaving them poor, after we take their oil, metals, food ….. but hey we ship them the waste…… Poor people having less kids sounds nice, but the issue is middle class Americans need fewer cars, iphones , oil and coal consumption…

    • It's not either consumption or population, it's both.

      Over-consuming westerners deplete oil, create emissions, and our industries have largely created climate change. Agreed.

      But Africa's population, set to treble this century, may not consume much energy per head but will still be hungry for land to feed themselves, converting wilderness to agriculture that will eradicate that Continent's precious megafauna, the last on earth. (We killed ours off centuries ago).

      So each group are causing different aspects of environmental destruction.

      Humans are humans, let's not try and lay blame at one group or another. We are all self-serving.

      We are collectively causing the Sixth Mass Extinction, likely followed by our own demise.

      An intelligent species?……..We flatter ourselves!

  4. It sounds to me like the numbers for US resource consumption is more the problem. One less US child seems to equate to 4 or 5 Bangladeshi children. Those numbers are deceiving since there is a structural deficit in global resources. For instance, US water consumption has little to do with the amount of water available for Central Africa or India. The US could stop water consumption completely and not help an arid region even by one liter.

    There is a connection between regional carbon emissions and the total carbon loading of the atmosphere which alters the amount of fresh water in arid regions. That we must address.

    The rain forests of Brazil are cleared mainly for farming and not for the wood. Yes the wood is part of the problem, but forest clearing has many causes. People need a place to live. Food to eat. They do not have the luxury of planning for the next generations or sustainability of resource use.

    Population size has two components. One, is the birth rate. the other is longevity. We as a species are able to live to an older age in this 21st century. We have the means to extend life but not the resources to sustain it. Who is in favor of limiting how long a person is allowed to live to support the births? Both options seem equally controversial. Both have been tried.

    • Immigration from developing countries into developed has been ongoing for decades now, turning those supposed low impact people into people with just as large of an environmental footprint as people born in said developed country. The consumption problem needs to be addressed, as well as the overpopulation around the world, simultaneously. It's not either/or.

  5. I agree completely thank you. If it's offensive to make this important connection and sensible conclusion world-wide then we must offend. The continents with the top three populations, top three in growth, most poverty, and highest misery index need to take this to heart. In the United States in particular to protect resources, protect the environment, and protect quality of life for everyone living in the country of all races, colors and creeds from continued population growth and over-crowding we need to reduce immigration levels drastically. US birth rates are already below replacement – people have wisely voted for lower population, but the insanely high immigration numbers are solely responsible for continued growth engineered by Congress so the population increase accelerates rather than levels off. If you consider how to house people in cities and divide the growth by the average size of the largest cities to calculate the number of new cities of the same size that must be built while the existing cities have aging infrastructure problems that our economy can not keep up with, it's a national crisis, a crises and bleak future we can prevent and not pass down to our kids, and future generations. Sorry to offend — the pain of ignoring this will be much more painful than hearing this uncomfortable truth.


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