A few people have posted about how overpopulation isn’t a problem, how it is actually a ruse to gain greater control over the poor and disenfranchised by those at the top of the world’s power hierarchy. While the issue of overpopulation certainly can be wielded in such a fashion where oppressed peoples are forced deeper into deprivation (it has a very classist and racist history, after all), and while the related issue of scarcity can pretty much be debunked as currently manufactured for profit, I rarely see the problem of carrying capacity being dealt with in the same conversations.
For the newcomers, carrying capacity is a concept which recognizes that any piece of land can only support a limited number of animals
before resources are depleted. Exceeding the land’s
resources results in poorer living conditions, eventual damage to ecosystems, and an inevitable reduction in population (die-off). Overshoot is what it means to consume more from an ecosystem than it can recuperate to sustain a population. The most fortunate of us haven’t gotten to the point where we see the immediate consequences of global overshoot, but it is happening in conjunction with climate change.
In crude but simple terms, imagine a bank account with a monthly balance of $1,000. You spend the entire balance every month to survive. As long as the balance replenishes and the cost of living remains the same, you are fine. Now imagine another person is added to the account. You spend less to compensate, but you each spend $600 – meaning the account is overdrawn by $200 by month’s end. The overdrafted amount will come out of next month’s allowance ($1,000 - $200 = $800). The pattern repeats and in a few months your entire allowance is wiped out by the previous month’s overdraft.
This is how we have been treating the planet. The problems of population and consumption are inextricably related because every human being requires a minimum standard of living to survive – food, water, and shelter, at the very least. Aggregated together, these minimums can, and arguably have, reached their limits. Theoretically, it does not matter if it is one person, ten people, or ten billion who consume more than the planet can regenerate to sustain life, but it is far more likely, and indeed inevitable, that we will be unable to live within the Earth’s carrying capacity with an ever-increasing population.
Even if we could say the planet is not overpopulated right now because we can produce enough food and shelter for every person alive, that does not mean we could do so indefinitely. On several occasions we have been told we are in constant overshoot, meaning we withdraw more than can be put back. Years ago the Global Footprint Network told us that by the year 2030 we would need two Earths to sustain current growth rates in population and consumption. That means it would take the Earth two years to regenerate what we use in a year.
Now, according to a report recently conducted by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, we are again informed that we are headed for irreversible catastrophe. And it is not just the fault of the rich or the poor (though the former certainly hold a large majority of the blame, Western powers most of all), but rather, as Tom McKay put, “it is the entire fundamental structure and nature of our society.” In other words, capitalism is the crisis – and all the exponential growth that comes with it.