Discussing limits to human population growth is always fraught with controversy and misunderstanding. In 2004, the Sierra Club fractured over disagreements on population control policies, and even today maintains an anti-population control stance, based on a misconstrued “Overpopulation Myth”. Their interpretation, shared by many so-called “Progessives” is that patterns of human consumption of natural resources, not absolute human numbers, are responsible for climate change and other environmental ills.
Nevertheless, no matter how low one reduces one’s personal consumption, population growth trumps reduction in per capita consumption. 7 billion times 10 is the same as 10 billion times 7. Reducing human impacts on the natural world requires both consumption reduction AND limits to population growth.
While the rate of human population growth is slowly decreasing in some countries, of necessity, overall human population is still increasing and we are still too many to be supported on this planet. We must reduce our numbers considerably and achieve zero population growth overall at a sustainable total population.
The 70s Zero Population Growth slogan was “Stop at Two”. That was then. Now we have to look at a global population goal of “Stop at One”, real replacement level. That means each individual can be responsible for only one child, no matter how many serial relationships one is involved in. We each get to bring one new life into this world.
Getting from here to there is extremely difficult, since humans have the same reproductive imperative as any other species. It’s natural for us to want children, and until recently, having large families was important for economic success and support for elderly or infirm parents.
The argument that population limits are racist ignores the fact that there are too many humans on this planet in general, regardless of how they are distributed across its surface. Population limits are necessary everywhere, not in some countries but not others. Reduced resource consumption is needed everywhere, by everyone, not in some societies but not others.
Beyond unsustainable consumption, human population growth creates a myriad of additional social problems. In every society there are people who do bad things, people who take advantage of others, people who seek power and control over others, people who have mental problems, people with drug addictions, people who never learned to get along with others. In the bell curve of human diversity, a percentage of the people in any society ignore local morals and ethics, engage in criminal behaviors or lack necessary medical or psychological professional care.
One percent of one million is 100,000. One percent of 10 million is one million. As population increases the total number of antisocial individuals increases, creating more and more problems for local governments and residents.
The social and environmental problems we encounter here in Our Fair County are the result of rapidly increasing population and economic growth over the past twenty years that I’ve lived here, resulting in increasing homelessness, petty crime, assault and murder, and a multiplicity of sirens splitting the air throughout the day and night. Add to that traffic congestion, resource limitations, and increasing government size and complexity, as we build a society that cannot continue on this course indefinitely.
What to do?
- Education: The stigma of population limits must be removed from the minds of residents, voters and government officials. Residents must become aware of the consequences of unlimited growth on our communities and on the natural world upon which we depend. Principles of sufficiency, humility and conservation must be taught to children and adults at all economic and social levels.
- Government reform: Government incentives and encouragement for population and economic growth must end.
- Economic Development: The mindset of Economic Development departments, if there need be any at all, must change from growth for the sake of growth to steady state economics. The insane push to build more and more multi-story residential towers must be thwarted and disallowed.
- Politics: We must encourage and support candidates for City Councils and County Board of Supervisors who understand the degrowth imperative and are willing and able to stand up against city and county staff pushing for more and more population and economic growth.
- Localization: Political and economic power must be dispersed throughout the populace, out of the centralized hands of politicians and economists meeting behind closed doors. Neighborhood and avocational assemblies must become meaningful, legitimate avenues for public participation in local government, no longer perfunctory rubber stamps to ratify foregone decisions.
- Finally, bioregionalism (See HERE, HERE and HERE) must become the primary principle for all political, economic and environmental decisions, from neighborhoods to city and county governments. It is only at the regional level, defined by our unique environments, that truly sustainable government and personal decisions and plans can made and implemented.
If we are to build and maintain a sustainable life here in this county/bioregion, we must not violate the basic natural principles of ecology, biology and geology that allow all life everywhere to continue.