A population decline already seems imminent.
Earth’s surface area is a little more than 510 million square kilometres. To a human being, that’s pretty big, but it’s hardly infinite. There’s only so many resources on the planet, and that means that there’s a limit to how many lives it can support.
Environmentalism tends to focus on the climate, but it’s the tip of the iceberg of the ways our skyrocketing population is overstressing ecosystems. Earth Overshoot Day measures how much. In 2022, humanity had used up all of the resources the Earth can renewably provide by July 28th. We’ll do it even quicker this year. After that, we cut deeply into the principal of our investment, diminishing the natural world’s capacity even further.
It only took twelve years for seven billion hungry mouths to feed to grow to eight billion.
Cue lots of hand wringing
A google search for news articles about overpopulation points at 187,000 results, so the common refrain that “no one’s willing to talk about this” is patently false. If anything, I see discussion about this topic increasing. It’s appropriate: we’re trashing the planet, and more of us means we trash it even faster. But as with every other issue under public discussion, there are bad faith arguments in play.
Easily the worst of these is the way that it encourages thinking of lives as cheap. If there really are too many people in the world, then getting rid of a few must be a good thing, right? This is the doorway to eco-fascism. Extremists like New Zealand’s Christchurch shooter use “lifeboat ethics” arguments about resource scarcity and population to justify mass murder. Far too many people raising the alarm about overpopulation turn out to have come to the table with strong ideas about which groups they personally consider “surplus.”
More importantly, a monofocus on population numbers ignores the magnifying factor of lifestyle. Our impact on the planet is the product of our individual lifestyles, and the resource use that goes along with it, more than it’s about our number of feet. To pretend that today’s ecological crises is all about the number of humans and has nothing to do with consumerism is like claiming that…