Don’t blame overpopulation
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