Don’t blame over­pop­u­la­tion

Franklin County News - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - JOHN ALLEN

OPIN­ION: Over­pop­u­la­tion is not the cause of the prob­lems we face.

A reader has con­tested my as­ser­tion that our eco­nomic sys­tem is the prime cause of many so­ci­etal is­sues we face to­day (FCN, March 15, 2018).

He be­lieves the prime cause is over­pop­u­la­tion and ‘‘… un­til we solve that prob­lem, we will make no head­way what­so­ever.’’

Is over­pop­u­la­tion a prob­lem? I think it is not even an is­sue, let alone a prob­lem.

For two rea­sons. First, from the per­spec­tives of the things peo­ple need - food, wa­ter and shel­ter - we have suf­fi­cient land for a world pop­u­la­tion of 10 bil­lion.

Glob­ally, land avail­abil­ity is two hectares per per­son, more than enough to feed the world.

And wa­ter is not a prob­lem in this coun­try. In places where it is, the so­lu­tion is to move the peo­ple to where the wa­ter is.

Like­wise, there is suf­fi­cient land on which to grow the tex­tiles and build­ing ma­te­ri­als to cloth and home the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

But so­ci­etal prob­lems there are around food, wa­ter and shel­ter.

It is the net­works used to dis­trib­ute food to peo­ple, that leads to hunger, not a short­age of food be­cause there are too many peo­ple.

This is a func­tion of our eco­nomics sys­tem.

It is the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of fresh­wa­ter that re­sults in short­ages for some.

This is a func­tion of an eco­nomic sys­tem that sells rights to wa­ter, to the own­ers of cap­i­tal.

It is the multi­na­tional cor­po­rates that con­trol the seed sup­ply, in­dus­tri­alise the agri­cul­tural sys­tems and en­gage in in­ter­na­tional trade that set prices and avail­abil­ity.

That con­trol is ex­er­cised in the eco­nomic in­ter­ests of share- hold­ers, rather than for rea­sons of so­cial jus­tice or en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

Se­cond, if over­pop­u­la­tion were the cause of our prob­lems, then the short-term so­lu­tion must be to cull the pop­u­la­tion.

Who has the moral au­thor­ity to choose the sur­vivors?

That ques­tion has no moral an­swer and there­fore, makes over­pop­u­la­tion a non-is­sue in a moral so­ci­ety.

In the longer term, such a so­lu­tion is not even nec­es­sary.

Al­ready, in some coun­tries, the rate of nat­u­ral pop­u­la­tion growth (births mi­nus deaths) is be­low the rate needed to sus­tain that coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion.

Ex­perts ex­pect the world’s pop­u­la­tion to peak at less than 10 bil­lion by 2050.

One rea­son for this peak­ing is a de­cline in fer­til­ity driven largely by ed­u­ca­tion which gives women dif­fer­ent choices.

So if over­pop­u­la­tion is not the root cause of to­day’s prob­lems, then what is?

To me, it is our ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of stuff that we want but do not need.

That con­sump­tion is driven by the eco­nomic im­per­a­tive to grow the econ­omy and by sell­ing more so that the own­ers of cap­i­tal can re­ceive a greater re­turn from their in­dus­tries.

The Earth can­not sus­tain un­fet­tered eco­nomic growth.

We are al­ready ex­ceed­ing the eco­log­i­cal bound­aries of what the planet can give us.

The so­lu­tion then, is for an eco­nomic sys­tem bounded by eco­log­i­cal lim­its.

* John Allen is the di­rec­tor of Ru­ral Con­nect, www.ru­ral­con­nect.org.nz www.smal­l­Wind.co.nz www.small­block.org.nz

John Allen

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