The Quixotic pursuit of sustainability

By The Overpopulation Project | 29 December 2023
The Overpopulation Project

(Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash)

As TOP turned six in 2023, we continued to explore and encourage discussion of the population / environment connection, particularly regarding climate disruption and biodiversity loss.

In 2023, the world held the 28th (or was it the 82nd?) annual “conference of the parties” climate meeting in the United Arab Emirates, a leading fossil fuel exporter. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, served as meeting President. In the inspiring words of the Sultan:

“Progressive climate action is not only necessary, it can also be a powerful economic driver, and if we do it right, it can actually put the world on a new low carbon/high growth development trajectory. So we need to start looking at the climate challenge as an opportunity.”

Similar neoliberal, win/win, pro-growth verbiage has been spoken by Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Barack Obama, Boris Johnson and 10,001 other political leaders over the past few decades. Meanwhile atmospheric carbon topped 420 parts per million this year, higher than at any time in the past 3 million years. The last time atmospheric carbon was this high, the global surface temperature was 2.5–4 degrees Celsius warmer than during the pre-industrial era and sea levels were 7 to 25 metres higher.

With ferocious fires, floods and droughts across the globe, 2023 might go down as the year “green growth” finally stood revealed in all its absurdity. What lies beyond — reform or collapse? What is clear is that an honest and realistic environmentalism must embrace limits. Limits to growth, limits to corporate power, limits to personal indulgences, and above all, limits to human numbers.

Meanwhile, it was a productive year for The Overpopulation Project. We published eight scholarly articles in 2023:

Demographic Delusions: World Population Growth Is Exceeding Most Projections and Jeopardising Scenarios for Sustainable Futures. Jane O’Sullivan. World (2023).

Human fertility and religions in sub-Saharan Africa: A comprehensive review of publications and data, 2010-2020. Nicola Turner and Frank Götmark. African Journal of Reproductive Health (2023).

World Population Growth: A Once and Future Global Concern. Karl-Erik Norrman. World (2023).

Procreation and Consumption in the Real World. Philip Cafaro. Environmental Ethics (2023).

Population Effects on Biodiversity and Climate Change: Evidence from Recent Scientific Literature, 2010-2022. Philip Cafaro, Pernilla Hansson, and Frank Götmark. Indian Journal of Population and Development (2023).

Advancing the Welfare of People and the Planet with a Common Agenda for Reproductive Justice, Population, and the Environment. Joseph Speidel and Jane O’Sullivan. World (2023).

Fewer people would help preserve biodiversity: A response to Hughes et al. (2023). Philip Cafaro, Pernilla Hansson, and Frank Götmark. Biological Conservation (2023).

An Analysis of Three Decades of Increasing Carbon Emissions: The Weight of the P Factor. Lucia Tamburino, Philip Cafaro, and Giangiacomo Bravo. Sustainability (2023).

TOP also published 47 new blogs on our website, by 27 authors from 5 continents. These short essays ranged widely, from biodiversity to religion, Plato to population projections, overshoot to identity politics. They are a valuable resource for scholars, activists and anyone looking to keep informed regarding news, policies, publications, and all things population/environment related. Here are some of our favorite blogs from the past year:

Walk the talk: the world needs more Gretas and fewer Leonardos. Gaia Baracetti.

What you should know – but didn’t know to ask – about overshoot and the ‘population question’. William Rees.

How environmental professionals acknowledge overpopulation – and then ignore it. Leon Kolankiewicz.

Overpopulation as a local problem. Jan van Weeren.

To advance humanity and save nature we need a common agenda. Joseph Speidel and Jane O’Sullivan.

No need to hold COP 29: Just follow Japan’s lead! Terry Spahr.

Boiling frogs. Brad Meiklejohn.

Fertility decline in developing countries does not depend on economic growth but follows contraceptive use. Frank Götmark and Malte Andersson.

Adversity for biodiversity: A reflection on my experience at COP15. Rob Harding.

Why overpopulation should be a women’s issue. Karen Shragg and Madeline Weld.

Wildlife in decline: the impact of human population growth and consumption. Nastaran Rahnama.

We are grateful to all our blog authors: Malte Andersson, Jon Austen, Gaia Baracetti, Denis Garnier, Richard Grossman, Rob Harding, Leon Kolankiewicz, Theodore Lianos, Oskar Lindvall, Brad Meiklejohn, Kathleen Mogelgaard, Anastasia Pseiridis, Nastaran Rahnama, Bill Rees, Bill Ryerson, Karen Shragg, Terry Spahr, Joseph Speidel, Lucia Tamburino, Nicola Turner, Jan van Weeren, Madeline Weld, Stephen Williams, Sustainable Population Australia and the European Alliance for a Sustainable Population.

We gratefully acknowledge a grant in 2023 from the GAIA Initiative for Earth-Human Balance for help in maintaining TOP’s website. Special thanks to Dan Carrigan, CEO of the GAIA Initiative, for his generous support in recent years.

To all our friends across the world: thank you for your support, and for your varied efforts on behalf of ecological sustainability. Be well and stay in touch.

Reprinted with permission from Frank Götmark – Project leader of The Overpopulation Project (TORP); Professor, Animal ecology and Conservation Biology, University of Gothenburg.

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