Overpopulation: the real problem

There are too many people. Many people are working hard on the big problems the world is struggling with: climate problems, sustainability, biodiversity, migration problems. However, the dominant cause of all these problems is, too often forgotten, the fact that there are far too many people in the world. And we can tinker with all kinds of problems, but above all we must not forget that this structural problem has to be solved. Any other action, such as eating less meat, producing less CO2, is pointless, if mankind then thinks that more people could be added. Mankind must set limits to the number of people with whom we inhabit the earth. And the choices are roughly: either we live on earth with a lot of people, but in that case we all live in poverty circumstances. Or we live on earth with fewer people, then we can live prosperous. We should talk about that kind of choices.

How many people on earth would be optimal? At this moment humanity counts almost 8 billion people. This can roughly be divided into 1 billion relatively rich people (in Europe, North America, Japan and some other large countries) and 7 billion fairly poor people. The consumption of the 1 billion rich people per person is roughly twenty times that of people in poor countries. The current climate problems and other major global problems are therefore almost entirely due to the rich people of the world, given the low consumption pattern of the 7 billion.
In the year 1960, the world had 3 billion people. That is a reasonable number of people, who in all probability could live “eternally” prosperous on earth with conditions that are pleasant for everyone, without exhausting the earth. Although it has to be said right away that even that, with the current level of consumption in Western countries, would be a considerable challenge. But the situation would be many times more favorable than it is now.

David Attenborough: a life on our planet. It is clear that we are in big trouble right now, as David Attenborough’s latest film shows once again. The earth is dying, millions of animal species are in danger of extinction, large areas of land are becoming uninhabitable, millions of square kilometers of forests have been cut down, ice caps are melting rapidly, causing sea levels to rise, and so on and so forth. But the situation is still basically reversible. Provided the right decisions are taken quickly and globally.
Attenborough’s recommendations are expecting and hoping that through better education and economic development in many countries, fewer and fewer children will be born, to rigorously increase solar and wind energy at the expense of hydrocarbons, to drastically reduce meat consumption, so making much more arable land available for vegetarian products.

Unfortunately, the efforts are insufficient. All this is wise, but, if it succeeds, is it enough ? As indicated, the richest part of the world consumes much and much more than the poorer people. The big problem is that those poorer people are doing everything to consume just as much as the now rich people as soon as possible. Thanks to numerous development programs, the world’s poorer people have more and more money to spend. Where China was until recently a developing country, it is now a country with the largest number of millionaires and therefore consumption is also increasing by leaps and bounds. The same goes for many other countries in Asia and Africa. While Asians, partly because of their culture but partly because of poverty, used to eat little meat, they have now become big meat consumers. On the one hand, China promises to be CO2 neutral by the year 2060, but by now, with the installation of more and more coal-fired power stations, it is the largest CO2 polluter on earth.
In short: while the rich countries still have to start diminishing their consumption in many areas, consumption in many other countries is increasing rapidly.

All countries less people. It is strange and irresponsible not to put much more effort into reducing population growth. Both in rich countries, because of their current excessive consumption, and in poorer countries, because of their upcoming consumption. An argument of developing countries is that rich countries should not interfere with their policies. But that is outdated thinking. In today’s world, everything will have to be taken out of the closet in terms of policy in order to master the many and common world problems. And this is by far the biggest problem of all. Moreover, with this attitude developing countries are cutting themselves into their own flesh: the rich countries will neither be able to absorb the population surpluses of other countries, resulting in hunger and destruction of nature for those countries that let population growth get out of hand. And rich countries are quite willing to make all kinds of aid available to countries that are serious about tackling this problem. But these rich countries do not have to come up with plans to increase the number of their inhabitants due to the ageing of their populations. If they want to do so at all, they should do so by encouraging the immigration of foreigners and not by encouraging their own population to have more children. The latter is totally irresponsible. But it is also better to have fewer people in rich countries.

We will have to make an extra effort. Attenborough’s optimistic story that we can solve the problems within a hundred years is, however sympathetic, extremely unrealistic, given the state of contemporary politics. The world must throw more into battle than Attenborough’s, otherwise excellent, suggestions. Population reduction in all countries, both rich and poor, should be at the top of all environmental measures. Every mouth that consumes less is profit. China’s one-child policy has saved us as many as 400 million Chinese. This policy has been extremely positive for the world and is worthy of the Nobel Prize. If we could keep the world under 8 billion people, that would be a huge gain. That is why politics should put this issue at the top of the agenda in every country. Because it is simply more effective and faster than almost any other measure to save the climate or biodiversity. And above all, because of the ageing of their populations, countries should not come up with plans to increase the number of their inhabitants. If they are already doing so, it should be done by encouraging the immigration of foreigners and not by encouraging their own populations to have more children. The latter is totally irresponsible.

2 thoughts on “Overpopulation: the real problem

  1. Unfortunately western countries like Australia are still chasing economic growth by increasing population ! Because of the pandemic immigration has stalled and the forecast is less growth which they try to rectify !

    • Well, that is anyway the wrong way. Every extra mouth implies more consumption. If Australia needs more people, the better solution is to allow migrants from friendly countries, fitting in the Australian culture. Thus preventing more people in the world, but just replacing people from one place to another. As long as countries only count own people for their economies, the overpopulation at world scale will not go down. And that is what is most urgently needed.

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