By Brian Merchant, TreeHugger
We hear it all the time, and have heard it since Malthus: That overpopulation is the primary cause of the world’s environmental ills. It makes sense in simple logical terms: The more people there are consuming natural resources, the greater a threat humanity poses to exhausting them. Hard to argue with that. But the issue is of course more complex — and there’s an interesting back-and-forth over at Grist on the subject to prove it. One writer argues that fears of a rapidly expanding population are overblown — constituting a “green myth”, even — and that those fears should be redirected towards consumerism. Is that right?
Related: Too Many Children?
Here’s Fred Pearce arguing that population isn’t the problem it’s cut up to be:
A green myth is on the march. It wants to blame the world’s overbreeding poor people for the planet’s peril. It stinks. And on World Population Day, I encourage fellow environmentalists not to be seduced …
For a start, the population bomb that I remember being scared by 40 years ago as a schoolkid is being defused fast. Back then, most women round the world had five or six children. Today’s women have just half as many as their mothers — an average of 2.6. Not just in the rich world, but almost everywhere.
He goes on to argue that fertility rates are dropping, and that even in developing nations, mothers are having children roughly equivalent to the ‘replacement rate.’ He notes that population will likely stabilize at 2 billion more people, around 2050, as many other economists and scientists have projected. And he says that obsessing over population issues removes the focus from the true threat to greater worldwide sustainability: Consumerism.
In a rebuttal piece, Robert Walker, vice president of the Population Institute, counters that population growth is still very much a problem:
Earth to Fred: 2 billion more people is a lot of people to a world that is already struggling to feed 6.8 billion people. It’s a lot of people to a biosphere that is threatened with what leading biologists refer to as the Sixth Mass Extinction. And it’s a lot of people to a planet that is already threatened with the effects of climate change.
He notes that though fertility rates are down in many places, they’re up in others, and many poor nations still face severe problems over resource access. And he says that every person born in a rich nation — regardless of whether the birth rate has declined — still consumes a disproportionate amount of resources and energy.