By Kirsten Stade | 6 December 2022
There is an unfortunate trend among some of our allies on the Left of denying the relevance of our growing human population to the mounting environmental crises that pose an existential threat to our species and most others on Earth. Adherents to this trend believe that our impact on the planet is rooted exclusively in overconsumption by the wealthy, and that to suggest otherwise is to deflect blame from the capitalist class that is the true architect of our mounting environmental calamities.
Sections of the environmental movement bemoaned the birth of the world’s eight-billionth person, but the Left should have no part in this misanthropy. The cause of food insecurity and climate change is capitalism's irrationality — not rising populations.https://t.co/BLf6u6CYkO
— Jacobin (@jacobin) November 26, 2022
And the basis of this argument is no doubt understandable, given the gross wealth inequality that accounts for the richest global one percent generating more than double the carbon emissions of the poorest half of humanity. But in dismissing the size and growth rate of the human population as a concern relevant not only to sustainability but to the well-being of human societies, its adherents do real harm to the vulnerable human communities for whom they profess concern.
Globally, 257 million women have an unmet need for contraception – a grim reality that results both from inadequate funding for family planning services in many developing countries with high fertility rates, and from strong social, cultural, institutional and familial pressures on women to bear children regardless of their own desires. These pressures, collectively known as pronatalism, are a primary driver of the population growth that some on the Left would like to dismiss, and are a source of enormous suffering both to the women forced to bear children against their will and to the human and nonhuman communities that must live on an increasingly depleted resource base.
The term “Neo-Malthusian” is often leveled against those concerned with population growth, but misses its mark as a pejorative for those who fear not food scarcity but climate change, biodiversity collapse, and other ecological crises not foreseen by Malthus. In fact, the Green Revolution that enabled food production far in excess of what Malthus imagined was powered by fossil fuels, whose advent has brought about the ecological calamities that we are unlikely to innovate our way out of before they bring extraordinary suffering to millions already alive and as yet unborn.
I see the Guardian is just giving neo-Malthusian drivel a platform https://t.co/9CclrNIdiW
— Deondre A. Smiles, Ph.D. (he/they/wiin) (@DeondreSmiles) November 17, 2022
Indeed, while the rich indisputably generate the vast majority of carbon emissions, the assumption that the majority’s contribution will always be negligible relies upon the global poor remaining that way. In addition, while climate change claims most of our limited cultural bandwidth for environmental news in these times of record heat waves, devastating floods, and brutal droughts, it is hardly the only crisis mounting along with our population. The biodiversity crisis threatens more than a million species with extinction, many of them casualties of the subsistence agriculture driving roughly a third of global deforestation. Indeed, many aspects of our current crisis of ecological overshoot, defined as the straining of Earth’s systems faster than they are able to regenerate, are rooted not just in consumption by the wealthy but by increasing pressures on wildlife, fisheries, fresh waters and soils by human communities that are deeply tied to their local ecosystems for subsistence.
What is most puzzling, though, about refusal from some on the Left to acknowledge the dangers of our swelling population is its blind spot surrounding the beneficiaries of this extraordinary growth. They are certainly not the women who have lost access to family planning as international funds have dried up in response to misguided accusations like those voiced by some on the Left, nor are they the impoverished communities contending with depleted fisheries, dwindling freshwater supplies, and dessicated topsoil. It is instead the corporations eager for an endless supply of cheap labor, the political elites reliant on an expanding tax base, and the military which depends on disposable humanity to throw into war. The Left is doing these entities’ dirty work for them when it silences discussion of the population growth that occurs on the backs of the most vulnerable.
Reprinted with permission.
Overpopulation – The Human Explosion Explained
Sir David Attenborough on overpopulation
Overpopulation & Climate Change: A Seat at the Table
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