Population and Environment

??????????????????In light of the upcoming World Population Day, I’ve focused a lot of my Internet browsing on articles with the theme of world population. After absorbing as much information, opinion, science, and pseudoscience as possible, I’ve reached some conclusions: Humans, as a species, are reckless. We live on a tiny, fragile planet with limited (perhaps scarce) resources and yet we consume every product that we can before throwing its plastic packaging into the nearest body of water. Our potential for waste and environmental destruction is limited only by the impending anthropogenic apocalypse. It’s the kind of thought that can really ruin your day.

Bad feelings or no, something needs to be done about humans. But what can we do about us? How can we offset or undo the damage that we are causing? The answer, some people argue, is to simply limit the size of the population, thereby lowering humanity’s overall environment impact. Genius! But wait – limiting the amount of humans that can and/or do exist can be risky business, if not morally, then at least politically speaking.

Thankfully, despite our obsession with clear-cutting, nobody is advocating anything quite so inhumane. We’re looking for a more gradual process. Not a way to get rid of humans, but just a way to gradually phase them out.

I’m not so much concerned with the tactics people are coming up with for curbing the world’s population, but rather with why people are coming up with them in the first place. There’s a popular understanding that the number of humans are, due to our Earth-pillaging nature, the problem with humanity. I can’t help but feel like this point of view deserves a little more thought.

Is it really a matter of humans being wasteful, destructive, and insatiable consumers on the whole? Or is it more that humans like me, who live in developed (read: privileged) nations, are wreaking more than our fair share of havoc and are now desperately trying to shift the average amount of havoc-wreaked-per-person to more sustainable levels, without actually feeling a marked difference in our lifestyles? I’m convinced of the latter.

The imperative many have behind reducing human population growth is that the environment is suffering as a result of our actions. I find it odd then that most of the nations identified as contributing to overpopulation are developing nations that are made up of people who live very modest lifestyles. So modest, in fact, that their individual carbon footprints are virtually negligible compared to my own (and by extension, every other person in North America).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m fully aware that there is a great deal of advocacy for ‘greener’ practices in the developed world. But from what I can see, it’s accomplished nothing more than allow for some great marketing for hybrid vehicles and ‘chemical-free’ toilet bowl cleaners. The lack of progress on this issue hasn’t been due to lack of activism or even lack of awareness. Rather, we haven’t curbed our own excessive consumption habits because we don’t think that it’s OK for our respective governments to tell us how and what to produce, buy, and consume. In other words, we don’t want anyone else to regulate how we live our lives. Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m getting onto a topic that is better suited for Earth Day, and fair enough. I’ll get back to the point.

The greatest concern about overpopulation is the environmental damage caused by human consumption. We also know that the majority of resources are being consumed by developed nations. Yet we continue to point fingers at nations with burgeoning populations out of fear that someday their people will start living as irresponsibly as we do. In short, nations that refuse to regulate something as non-essential as their own consumer liberties cannot presume to regulate something as inherently valuable as the very existence of others.

By John Wright, a WYA member from Canada.