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People graphic
Vectors, Pixabay)

Screenshot from Vsauce video How Many Things Are There? (±23s, posted 28 April 2014, accessed 22 November 2020; fair use, educational)

Grand Canyon map screenshots x2 from Wikipedia (accessed 22 November 2020)

UK population density map
(Adapted from Steve Carver, posted 20 November 2020, accessed 24 November 2020)

Peanuts comic strip
(Charles M Schulz, 22 September 1963, Peanuts Worldwide; cited at BBC, posted 13 November 2018, accessed 23 November 2020; fair use, educational)

Tree of Life

(geralt, Pixabay)

People under Stars
(geralt, Pixabay)

'Who Consumes Most?' map
(WWF/BBC, posted 30 October 2018, accessed 29 November 2020; fair use, educational)

Distorted Peoples
(geralt, Pixabay)

Panda Cub
(sharonang, Pixabay)

No to Racism
(Samilustrando, Pixabay)

Female Leadership
(geralt, Pixabay)

Solar Population
(geralt, Pixabay)

Love & Peace Population
(geralt, Pixabay)
Graphic of silhouetted colourful people Population Control

Population - specifically 'excessive human population' - is often used to explain why we have a Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) and why there is insufficient food and resources for us all.
Usually, this 'overpopulation' is imagined to be far away from you, usually Asia or Africa, and usually brown or black skinned. They are believed to be 'breeding like rabbits' (3 to 7 litters per year). This is usually heartlessly conflated with the terrorist threat of immigrants.
Population Control is often given as the solution. It is usually advocated by stubborn ignoramuses or even more likely by hateful white supremacist racists.
Let us look at some of the issues.
First, I'd like to make it clear that there is enough space for everybody.
Contrary to David Attenborough's claim, the planet is not overrun with people.
Here is all the humans in the world in the Grand Canyon:

7.2 billion humans in a pile in the vastness of the Grand Canyon (screenshot from Vsauce video 'How Many Things Are There?', ±23s)
7.2 billion humans in a pile in the vastness of the Grand Canyon.
All humans that have ever existed (estimated 106 billion) would only make 15 such piles.
Grand Canyon is 446 km/277m long, up to 29km/18m wide, up to 1.85km/1.15m deep.
(Screenshot from Vsauce 2014 video How Many Things Are There?)

Here is the Grand Canyon in the context of the USA and North America:

USA North American

Here is the population density of the UK:

Map of UK showing almost entirely of very low population density
±97% of the UK has <1 person per square km
>81%  of people live in urban areas
(Adapted from Steve Carver, 2020)

To put it simply:

Peanuts comic strip - Looking at the horizon, Lucy motions to Charlie Brown that there is so much room for everybody
Peanuts comic strip (Charles M Schulz, 22 September 1963, Peanuts Worldwide)

So we can see that the amount of space on the planet for humans is vast.
But we need to share it, which isn't happening.
It's being hogged by corporations and wealthy landowners (see here).
This means that almost everyone feels as if we have no space.
Every adult needs their own patch of land where they can grow their own food and cultivate the beauty of a garden - and not be dependent on the human system to survive.
This is an issue of inequality (see below), greed and power.
Not lack of space.

Graphic of large amount of silhouetted people underneath a huge solar tree of life

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Population is most likely Peaking then Declining
Population size is a mix of fertility rate, death rate and migration.

Previously, human population was expected to keep rising. In 2013, when the population was 7.16 billion, its projected size was 40 billion by 2100.
"Out of control" said David Attenborough.

Levelling Off?
However, then it was reckoned to be levelling off.
Trends show a remarkable worldwide decline in the fertility rate (see 2013, 2018, 1/2020, 7/2020). This is due to: fewer childhood deaths; greater access to contraception; more women in education and work.
It was expected to level off at around 11 billion by 2100.

Peaking then Declining?
Now it seems it may peak around 2050 and then decline to 7 billion by 2100.
This declining population creates a different challenge (see here, here, here), as there will be far more older people than young.
Is this sustainable?
Surely yes - with the help of robots and a world focused on a Culture of Love.
It definitely helps the environment, but as this article is trying to state, it is capitalism and our greedy lifestyle and culture (see below) that is far more significant than the population size, whether bigger or smaller.

CEE Impact on Population Size = most likely seriously Declining soon
According to climate scientists (& XR & Greta), the evidence for the 
Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) is 'clear and unequivocal'. However, the politicians, the superrich and the media are not preparing us for its existential threat. CEE will vastly accelerate the devastation of ecosystems and biodiversity in the 2020s and beyond.
The planetary fires, hurricanes and floods of 2020 are forcing us to wake up. It is already locked in because of the greed of the political and financial elite. There will unfortunately be much migration, famine, war and death to come.
If we continue to say and do little and there is massive biodiversity collapse, there will even be catastrophic societal disintegration in the comfy Rich World. Not just the far-off Poor World.
This will all tragically affect Earth's human population.
A declining population is most likely.

Graphic of large group of silhouetted people under the Earth and a starry night sky

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Rich World Overconsumption and Inequality
It is important to acknowledge that the more mouths there are, the more food that is required to feed them all. More humans do need more resources.
It is also worth mentioning Malthusianism, which a few centuries ago stated that whilst the population can rise rapidly, food supply cannot. But this is not true. Anyway, the poor were blamed. There was a great fear that the supposedly slothful and dependent poor would overpopulate. This enabled the rich to limit charity to the poor. Structural inequality was never examined, and this intentional blindness continues to this day (see here, here).
Blaming overpopulation is also used to deny that there is anything we can do about the Climate & Ecological Emergency (CEE). Or even deny that there is a CEE. It scapegoats the poor - who will be worst affected by the CEE - and again allows the rich to continue their wicked ways.
But the truth is this. The majority of people are getting by on few resources and only a few in the Rich World are consuming excessive amounts. The 'more mouths' or 'more humans' argument is extremely misleading. The rich - not the poor - are to blame!
For example:-
  • The richest 1% cause double the carbon dioxide emissions of the poorest 50%.
  • The wealthiest 10% guzzle 20 times more energy and 187 times more fuel than the poorest 10%.
  • The poorest 20% of the UK use over 5 times as much energy as India's poorest 75%.
  • You [David Attenborough in A Life on Our Planet] mention population growth, which is mainly taking place in Africa, as the leading cause of increasing food consumption. But what about ourselves: the enormous and ever-increasing consumption per person in western countries? On average, Europeans consume seven times as much energy and six times as much meat as Africans, and both numbers keep rising. (Thomas Oudman, The Correspondent, posted 6 November 2020, accessed 19 November 2020)
  • The average UK person consumes 4x as much as the average person in India, whilst in the USA it is 7x as much. (Extinction: The Facts, BBC 2020 documentary, ±21m30s)
  • 'Who Consumes Most?' map (WWF/BBC, 2018, accessed 29 November 2020; click to enlarge):
'Who Consumes Most' map showing Rich World consumes far more than Poor World

Capitalism, colonialism, slavery and rape of the Earth over the past few centuries have created this dystopian world.
So, what is really relevant is that the Rich World adjusts its lifestyle and consume far less. There will be plenty to go around and we can live comfortably if we live more frugally and compassionately. Part of this is for humans to transition to a plant-based diet.
We need to reduce inequality and get back into balance with the natural world. The issue is NOT the population, but rather global inequality and its associated political and money systems like capitalism that create that inequality.
These points are well summed up by 
Sam Knights (Jacobin, posted 16 November 2020, accessed 18 November 2020):

'Demography is obviously a factor in the climate change calculation, but it is by no means the most important one. Population growth is now flattening out, while other, more important parts of the calculation are growing exponentially. Consumption and inequality are far more pressing concerns. Even taking into account the current trend in population growth, we have enough wealth and resources to provide a decent standard of living for every person on Earth while still reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.'

Graphic of lines of silhouetted humans distorted into mindboggling patterns

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Population Reduction
Here we are talking about both the individual choice not to have a baby, as well as national policies such as China's one-child policy (which later became a two-child policy). The more sinister Racist Eugenics is further below. Here is a simple answer:

In fact, she [Blythe Pepino, co-founder of BirthStrike] says, population reduction has been shown to be an ineffective strategy. A 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA explored various scenarios for global human population change by adjusting fertility and mortality rates. It found that even imposing one-child policies worldwide and “catastrophic mortality events” would not significantly reduce the global population by 2100. It proposes instead that “more immediate results for sustainability would emerge from policies and technologies that reverse rising consumption of natural resources”.
“Even with drastic, draconian, eugenic policies of population reduction – which are completely immoral,” says Pepino, “we wouldn’t save ourselves. We have to change the way we live.”
A different 2017 study did find that having one fewer child was the most effective way a person could cut their own carbon emissions – but there is damning evidence that the crisis is well past the point of being able to be mitigated by the choices of individuals.
(Elle Hunt, The Guardian, 12 March 2019, accessed 27 November 2020)

There we have it. Attempts to reduce population by individuals or by governments do not work. We all have to change our lifestyle - to a much simpler yet comfortable existence. And women must be empowered (see below).
The real issues are then:-
Finally, the claim by China that its one-child policy (1979-2015) reduced its population by 400 million is disputed (see here, here). And - no matter the truth - at what cost? Here are some of its hugely destructive and painful effects (sources below):-
  • It does not work long-term (as just stated). 
  • Too few young people. There are too few new workers, which harms the economy (see here, here).
  • Too many old people. There are too few to care for the country's rapidly ageing population (see here, here). One child has become the norm and people are now resistant to have more.
  • Too many men. There is a huge gender imbalance. Many men can't find wives, as female foetuses have been aborted, as males are preferred (they will be better paid). These men may kidnap women, or get involved in sex trafficking or crime. This persists for many years after the policy's abolition.
  • Gendercide. For every 100 girls born, there were 117 boys. The patriarchal prizing of males and its associated sex-selective abortion is female infanticide. When practised widely, as in China, this is a type of genocide called gendercide. 
  • Gender war. If not killed, many girl babies were abandoned or orphaned.
  • Murder/forced abortion. Killing of a second child by authorities happened even when the mother was nine months pregnant or when the baby was in the birth canal or straight after birth.
  • Human rights violation. It is brutal control of a woman's fertility. 
  • 'Little Emperor'. The over-indulging of the only child, usually male. This is little researched but may lead to a child's poorer social and adaptive skills.
  • Inequality. The rich could pay fines and have as many children as they wanted. Or they could practise 'birth tourism', having subsequent children abroad (the child then becomes a citizen of that country). Bribery and corruption also took place.
Very cute panda cub climbing up a wooden log structure

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Racism & Eugenics
A more evil consequence of the overpopulation myth is the solution of racist eugenics.
Eugenics is defined here as breeding humans in such a way that the 'undesirable' (e.g. disabled, diseased, minorities, stupid) are bred out.
They do not consider the social, economic or political causes.
Forced sterilisation can be used to eliminate the 'undesirable' and even genocide (e.g. Hitler).
Today, ecofascism believes that the planet is overrun with people, that we need to cull people or send them back to their 'shithole' countries. Events like disasters, famines and pandemics are seen as the way that the cull is happening, as they affect the disadvantaged more severely.
Here is George Monbiot

"Everywhere I go I meet people obsessed with population growth who say, “This is the thing which is destroying the living world.” It is white people blaming brown people, for a problem being created primarily and overwhelmingly by rich white people [i.e. racist]...
What the whole obsession with population is about... is the denial of our common humanity. It’s about othering the people from other nations, people of different colours, people of different cultures – and saying they are overpopulation. We are population. They are the problem and their very existence is a problem. And that all ties into the narrative of those other people are coming over here, and they are invading us, and they are swamping us. And this is how we can demonise people to the extent that we would rather see them drown at sea, than grant them safe haven on our own shores."
(Is The World Really Overpopulated?, 0m0s and 4m26s, posted and accessed 13 October 2020)

Graphic in B&W of many raised fists protesting with 'No to Racism' placards

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Female Empowerment & Equality

In the modern patriarchal world, women who are empowered by uncontrolled access to contraception, to reproductive rights, to education - have far fewer children (sources below).
This brings less time procreating - and more opportunity, more money, more status.
Then disadvantaged women can emulate the empowered women and also have fewer kids.
Extreme poverty means higher (infant) mortality, which in turn means large families.
Equality for women = declining population.
Empower women = declining population.

"...we know that the strongest determinant of falling birth rates is female emancipation and education. The major obstacle to female empowerment is extreme poverty. Its effect is felt disproportionately by women."
(George Monbiot, The Guardian, posted 26 August 2020, accessed 1 December 2020)

"You’ll discover in countries where women have control over their own bodies, where they have education, where they have birth control, where they have facilities and where they are literate, when those things happen, the birth rate falls. Always. Always." (David Attenborough cited in The Independent, posted 4 May, accessed 20 May 2016)

"Where women are given the rights over their own bodies; where they have political independence; where they have medical facilities to enable them to control the number of children they bear; where they are literate; where they have the vote; When those things happen, the birth rate falls. And that is a great start so that should be a lesson to us as to why we should send more help and not less to the parts of the world that face those problems."
(David Attenborough cited in The Independent, posted 4 May, accessed 20 May 2016)

Graphic of a female leader outline and so many colours surrounding her. The word 'leadership' is repeated many times around her.

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Overpopulation arguments are a dangerous distraction to the CEE, inequality and poverty.
Population is of far less importance than other factors.
Population control is far less needed than empowering women and tackling Rich World overconsumption and inequality.
Further, population control is of dubious efficacy.
Even worse, population control tends to be advocated by racists.
Remember, population control seems unnecessary as population seems to be peaking and then declining.

There is enough space but it is largely owned by the superrich, the corporations, the colonial nations.
There are enough resources but they are unequally distributed.
There are enough resources but they are overconsumed by the Rich World, especially the richest 1%.

The solution to a peaceful world is multiple and overlapping:-

  • Capitalism.
  • Overconsumption.
  • Inequality.
  • Poverty.
  • Population Reduction strategy, whether by coercion or by monetary manipulation.
  • White Supremacy.
  • Racism.
  • Eugenics.
  • Forced Contraception.
  • Forced Sterilisation.
  • Forced Abortion.
  • Fossil Fuels.
  • Livestock.
  • Food Waste.
  • Ignorance.
  • New Money System. We need Universal Basic Services and Income.
  • Lifestyle - Live more frugally and humbly, simply and naturally. Learn how here.
  • Equality - Racial, Gender, Inter-Species, with Nature, etc. Share!
  • Female Empowerment (also see here).
  • Educate about CEE & Racism & Happiness Economics, etc.
  • Regenerative Farming (e.g. see here, here, here).
  • Plant-based Diet (also see here).
  • Clean, Renewable Energy.
Graphic of large amount of silhouetted people in a solar landscape, with a map of Earth faded into it
PWP usually recommends a Solar Culture, a Culture of Love!!

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Sources & Resources

Overconsumption & Inequality
Food Waste
Plant-based Diet
Population Reduction
Eugenics, Racism, White Supremacy
Female Empowerment & Equality
Graphic of many silhoetted people under a giant red heart, which two white doves adorn

"A poor man shames us all." (Tribal saying)

Also see:-

Population Quotes

Environment articles

Society articles

10+ World Delusions #19

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Page last updated: 10 April 2022.