Copyright © 2016 - 2018, The Troy Press
Copyright © 2016 - 2018, The Troy Press

Overpopulation: Problem or Myth?

Is overpopulation really a problem? Is it a false problem perpetrated by overt and covert racists in order to demonize non-white people? Is it an imagined problem that doesn't really exist? Let's examine this issue and see whether overpopulation is really a problem.

 

 

 

 

PHOTO: Overpopulation in Ho Chí Minh City, Vietnam, credit Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This analysis will begin with the needs of ecosystems and wildlife. In order to be healthy, ecosystems need many wilderness areas of at least 50,000 acres. In order for plant and animal populations to be healthy and thriving, ecosystems must be healthy. Healthy ecosystems also need wildlife corridors between wilderness areas so that wildlife can move between them in order to not interbreed. "Wilderness" as it's used here means land in its naturally evolved state, not changed by modern humans: no roads, power lines, farms, domestic animal grazing, logging, mining, drilling, dams, or any other modern or industrial human activities. Humans could live in wilderness areas as pre-industrial hunter gatherers, or they can visit them by walking and hiking so long as they don't leave anything behind when they leave. But humans cannot be present in wilderness areas in any other way if the areas are to remain wilderness.

There are so many people in so many places taking up so much land now (directly and indirectly) that having many wilderness areas of at least 50,000 acres with wildlife corridors between them in every ecosystem is becoming impossible. Between the spaces that humans directly occupy and travel through regularly, human infrastructure, and agriculture, humans now take up more than half of the terrestrial (dry) land on Earth. Think about that for a minute: over half the planet for just for one species! Needless to say, this hoarding of land on our planet precludes having sufficiently large and a sufficient number of wilderness areas in most areas. So due to human overpopulation many if not most ecosystems, along with their plants and animals, are prevented from being healthy.

PHOTO: Dhaka street crowds. Credit: Wikipedia.

Additionally, wildlife needs space that is not unnaturally disturbed by humans as described above in defining wilderness areas, and large animals need a lot of space. If humans take up so much space that animals don't have the room they require in order to survive in a certain area, those animals will die and no longer exist in that area. This is called being "extirpated." Where a species' habitats are all taken up by human activities, that species becomes extinct. Not only is this blatantly obvious, but it is also shown by the fact that species extinctions track almost exactly with human population growth since approximately the year 1800, when there were 1 billion people on Earth (there are now 7.6 billion). According to the Center for Biological Diversity, human overpopulation is the root cause of almost all harms to other species throughout the world.

And it's not just species extinction. The numbers of large animals, both at sea and on land have been drastically reduced. Populations of large ocean fish have been reduced by about 90% over the past 50 years. The cause of this massive reduction of large fish populations is industrial fishing that is used to feed the overpopulated masses. The number of terrestrial megafauna (large land animals) has also been greatly reduced as human population has grown, even where they haven't yet become extinct.

In addition to the loss of wild animals, wild plants have also been greatly reduced by human overpopulation. If more than half of the terrestrial land on Earth has been taken over by humans, that means that the plants that evolved and lived on half of the Earth's terrestrial land are now gone, and much of what's left isn't suitable for them. While most people don't empathize with plants as much as they do with animals for obvious reasons, plants are actually more important to our planet, because they are more fundamental to life. Plant life existed on Earth well before animal life, and no animal life here could exist without plants.

Naturally free-flowing water is another victim of human overpopulation. Fresh water supplies, on which all terrestrial life depends, are running low worldwide. In many parts of the U.S., people drink water that is transported long distances from dammed rivers hundreds of miles from where they live. The reason for this is that these areas are so overpopulated that people can't live on the local water. Damming rivers causes serious harm to fish, including fish like salmon that need to travel past the dams but can't, to the wildlife along the rivers, and to the rivers themselves.

 

 

PHOTO: The Trinity test in 1945 that started the nuclear age is identified by some scientists as the start of the Athropocene, with a clear and unmistakable sixth great extinction event, this time caused by humans.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, all environmental and ecological harms are that much worse with more people. For example, assuming that we'd be living the same way with, say, 10% of the current population, human greenhouse gas emissions would be 10% of what they are now. So overpopulation exacerbates every environmental and ecological problem in addition to being one of the two root causes of them.

These are some of the extreme harms caused directly by human overpopulation. It is thus clear that overpopulation is not imagined and that this problem really exists. As to overpopulation being used as an excuse by racists to exclude non-white people from the U.S., that certainly happens. But human overpopulation is not limited to the U.S.; it's a global problem. There are too many people of every color everywhere, including white people in the U.S. It's not a question of which color people live in the U.S., but instead it's a question of how many people live here.

Human overpopulation and overconsumption are the twin root causes of all environmental and ecological problems. Both of these problems must be solved if we are going to fix our environmental and ecological problems, but overpopulation is more fundamental to these problems. My next column will explore the beginnings of human overpopulation, how we got to where we are now, and what we can and should do about it.

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