Why is Overpopulation ‘Widely Discredited’?
Just the word can cause eye rolling.
News articles, pundits, and so-called ‘experts’ often preach that overpopulation is widely discredited, arguing that the theory of overpopulation has existed for centuries, but humanity still has not experienced an epic die-off of our population, nor will we anytime soon.
‘Overpopulation’, as a word and a concept, was first popularized by the British scholar Thomas Malthus in the 18th century, who predicted that human population growth would outstrip food supply, and scores of people would die of hunger.
Nearly 300 years on, Malthus’s prediction has largely not come true.
The planet currently has just about 8 billion people, and, by most estimates, has enough food. It’s widely written that much of world hunger is due to distribution inefficiencies and not an overall shortage.
Arguments that overpopulation as a concept is false and ‘widely discredited’ account for the Malthusian definition of overpopulation:
Malthusian Overpopulation = Too many people relative to food.
Malthus’s world in the 18th century, however, was a vastly different landscape of demographics, technology, conservation (or lack thereof) and agriculture. What I will term the Modern definition of Overpopulation accounts for endless factors beyond just human food supply and Malthus’s definition.
Modern Overpopulation = Too many people relative to all resources needed for humans and nonhumans (plants, animals, etc.)
Likely, earth could produce enough human food for 10, 12, perhaps even 15 billion people IF we all followed a vegan or mostly vegan diet and IF we cut down every forest to convert to farmland and IF we dammed every river so no water flows. We’d also have to scale back our consumption on pretty much everything, and all live like crowded third world societies,
But who would want to live in such a hot, dry, flat, crowded biologically empty world?
Discussions on food aside, realistically, most other resources humans ‘need’ to survive just aren’t present in enough quantities for everyone today, and certainly not for the billions more that are coming. I’m talking about:
Rare earth mineral
Phosphorus (note: this is a critical ingredient in common agricultural fertilizers!)
Nuclear energy such as uranium
Fish species, both freshwater and saltwater
Productive topsoil (note: again critical for agriculture, and essentially finite)
And on and on.
We are, indeed, an overpopulated planet of humans relative to resources.
Grizzly bears, giraffes, vaquita porpoises and poison dart frogs do not have much of a contribution to human survival. Some humans cherish the presence of having these fascinating species, even if they never physically see them, but the vast majority of human lives on earth are unchanged as species populations decrease and go extinct.
I argue that despite so little direct, meaningful connection between humans and biodiversity, it’s wholly immoral, unethical, and just plain wrong to assume we can destroy populations of nonhuman species just to add even more humans.
We are, indeed, an overpopulated planet defined as humans relative to wild animals.
While many humans are indifferent to ‘nature’ or the ‘natural world’, some of us cherish and have had some of the most meaningful experiences of our lives in wilderness settings. A world without wilderness is not a world I wish to live in.
And fewer and fewer wilderness areas remain. As the human population grows, wilderness areas are either destroyed to make room for farms and civilization, or burn and are permanently altered by human-induced climate change.
We are, in my opinion, already in a deficit of wilderness areas worldwide, with many, if not most, of humanity not living near any large, pristine, unaltered ecosystems. As I write these words on the plains or North Dakota, I look out towards an expanse of wheat farms and cattle grazing grounds stretching towards every horizon. Long gone are the tall grass and the millions of majestic wild bison that once roamed the Great Plains.
We are, indeed, an overpopulated planet relative to the amount of wilderness that remains.
A world of solely farms and civilizations to support billions and billions more is theoretically possible, but such a world would eventually become unsustainable due to exacerbated climate change and decreased crop yields. We’d also have to average a third world level of lifestyle.
However, such a world is too high a price to pay just to accommodate ever more humans. I do not wish to live in a world where we all live at a third world level of living, without so many animal species and wilderness, and do not think it’s fair that anyone could be forced to live in such a world.
Modern Overpopulation, as I define it in this article, cannot be discredited like Malthusian Overpopulation has been.
We are, inarguably, an overpopulated planet relative to nonrenewable resources for humans, space and resources left for nonhuman species, and wilderness areas for us both.