Population Overshoot Is Determined by Food Overproduction

Even after more than ten years of trying to raise awareness about certain overlooked research, my focus remains riveted on the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population and scientific evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel that the size of the human population on Earth is a function of food availability. More food for human consumption equals more people; less food for human existence equals less people; and no food, no people. This is to say, the population dynamics of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other living things.

UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan noted in 1997, “The world has enough food. What it lacks is the political will to ensure that all people have access to this bounty, that all people enjoy food security.”

Please examine the probability that humans are producing too much, not too little food; that the global predicament humanity faces is the way increasing the global food supply leads to increasing absolute global human population numbers. It is the super-abundance of unsustainable agribusiness harvests that are driving population numbers of the human species to overshoot, or explode beyond, the natural limitations imposed by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably damaged planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth.

The spectacular success of the Green Revolution over the past 40 years has “produced” an unintended and completely unanticipated global challenge, I suppose: the rapidly increasing supply of food for human consumption has given birth to a human population bomb, which is exploding worldwide before our eyes. The most formidable threat to future human well being and environmental health appears to be caused by the unbridled, corporate overproduction of food on the one hand and the abject failure of the leaders of the human community to insist upon more fair and equitable redistribution of the world’s food supply so that “all people enjoy food security”.

We need to share (not overconsume and hoard) as well as to build sustainable, human-scale farming practices (not corporate leviathans), I believe.

For a moment let us reflect upon words from the speech that Norman Bourlaug delivered in 1970 on the occasion of winning the Nobel Prize. He reported, ” Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.”

Plainly, Norman Bourlaug states that humanity has the means to decrease the rate of human reproduction, but is choosing not to adequately employ this capability to sensibly limit human population numbers. He also notes that the rate of human population growth surpasses the rate of increase in food production IN SOME AREAS {my caps}. Dr. Bourlaug is specifically not saying the growth of global human population numbers exceeds global production of food.

According to recent research, population numbers of the human species could be a function of the global growth of the food supply for human consumption. This would mean that the global food supply is the independent variable and absolute global human population numbers is the dependent variable; that human population dynamics is most similar to the population dynamics of other species. Perhaps the human species is not being threatened in our time by a lack of food. To the contrary, humanity and life as we know it could be inadvertently put at risk by the determination to continue the dramatic, large-scale overproduction of food, such as we have seen occur in the past 40 years.

Recall Dr. Bourlaug’s prize winning accomplishment. It gave rise to the “Green Revolution” and to the extraordinary increases in the world’s supply of food. Please consider that the sensational increases in humanity’s food supply occasioned by Dr. Bourlaug’s great work gave rise to an unintended and completely unanticipated effect: the recent skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers.

We have to examine what appear to be potentially disastrous effects of increasing large-scale food production capabilities (as opposed to small-scale farming practices) on human population numbers worldwide between now and 2050. If we keep doing the “big-business as usual” things we are doing now by maximally increasing the world’s food supply, and the human community keeps getting what we are getting now, then a colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort could be expected to occur in the fairly near future.

It may be neither necessary nor sustainable to continue increasing food production to feed a growing population. As an alternative, we could carefully review ways for limiting increases in the large-scale corporate production of food; for providing broad support of small-scale farming practices; for redistributing more equitably the present overly abundant world supply of food among the members of the human community; and for immediately, universally and safely following Dr. Bourlaug’s recommendation to “reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely.”

Steve Salmony is a self-proclaimed global citizen, psychologist, and father of three grown children. In 2001, Steve founded the AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population to raise consciousness of the colossal threat that the unbridled, near exponential growth of absolute global human population numbers poses for all great and small living things on Earth in our time. His quixotic campaign focuses upon the best available science of human population dynamics in order to save the planet as a place fit for habitation by children everywhere. Read other articles by Steve.

18 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. lichen said on May 1st, 2010 at 3:59pm #

    The author seems to assume that there should be a “global food supply.” Indeed, I think the globalness of it is a huge part of the problem–where locales, instead of just producing a sustainable amount of food for the people who live there, are pressed to wear out their finite water, soil fertility, and land to export cash crops while the people who live there starve–both due to low wages from working this export-food and from not having any food themselves. Why should you “redistribute” the soil, water, nutrients, land, from one place to another as opposed to growing a local, sustainable, organic food supply based on what fruits/vegetables grow where you are right now?

    It is this exportation and “redistribution” that is killing the amazon; that has driven neoliberal WTO and colonial food policies for decades. It should be illegal to export, it should be illegal to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. So, indeed, we do need to lower our population levels by stopping the petrochemical revolution.

  2. dan e said on May 2nd, 2010 at 11:49am #

    thank you Jonathan Swift:)

  3. Joe Veragio said on May 2nd, 2010 at 12:05pm #

    Would this be the same Green Revolution that’s responsible for vast swathes of grain producing land being turned over to Bio-Fuel production, in a vain attempt to allay global warming ?
    The resulting food shortages which caused food prices to multiply, and starvation & food riots in the poorer developing countries.

    No, it is poverty that drives population. Prosperity causes population growth to stabilise naturally, as we have seen in developed Western countries.

    Starving the poor doesn’t work, as a means of population control. Education and prosperity does.

  4. lichen said on May 2nd, 2010 at 12:19pm #

    If poverty drove population, then the levels should have peaked during feudalism; but no, they were low before industrialization and most important chemical, machinist, bio-killing agriculture was developed. The unsustainable, extremely destructive consumerist “prosperity” that western countries like america have experienced is not something the whole world can obtain;n it would require ten more planets. Like it or not, the earth isn’t going to put up with this much longer; people will starve as they do now.

  5. lichen said on May 2nd, 2010 at 12:39pm #

    And “green revolution” has nothing to do with green politics, environmentalism, or alternative energy; it is a euphemism for industrial, pesticide/chemical fertilizer/corporate hybrid-gm seeds, and water-wasteful agriculture. Everything was not peachy before biofuels.

  6. Deadbeat said on May 2nd, 2010 at 8:47pm #

    If poverty drove population, then the levels should have peaked during feudalism

    Western “society” hadn’t quite completed its conquest of planet earth during the time of feudalism. It was transition of feudalism to capitalism that finished off the conquest and left destruction and poverty in its wake. It wasn’t “industrialization” that caused the tremendous level of poverty. It was capitalism. Joe Veragio is correct in his assessment. I’d suggest lichen that you need to cozy up with some Marx to understand this dynamic.

  7. Deadbeat said on May 2nd, 2010 at 8:59pm #

    Population Overshoot Is Determined by Food Overproduction

    This is absolute NONSENSE. There is NO basis whatsoever for such a false correlation. The problem is MALDISTRIBUTION that is causing POVERTY and MISERY. That is the greatest determinate in population. There is plenty of food yet there are billions who don’t have access to clean water, food, and access to resources.

    NO WHERE in the author’s article does he mention CAPITALISM. This is the ROOT of the problem. Not “MANKIND”. The problem is you got a bunch of RICH WHITE MEN who CONTROL the access to resources. And if you demand better redistribution will KILL YOU ON THE SPOT!!!

    People are OPPRESSED. GET THAT! PEOPLE ARE OPPRESSION and it is OPPRESSION that leads to DEPRESSION that is the impetus for having large families. When there is better distribution — not just of food but ALL RESOURCES and essentially for life and liberty — will you then be able to stabilize population growth.

    There are studies after studies that have show this to be the case. Religiosity is another problem but once again that is another form of OPPRESSION that must also be challenged.

  8. bozh said on May 3rd, 2010 at 6:51am #

    It is people who are maintaining iniquitous societies who cause hunger, famine, poverty, powerlesness, estrangement, lack of interest in conducting own business, etc.
    In US, it seems that just a few powerful families run all US affairs. These people divide americans into first, second, third, and,broadly,fourth class.
    Once this is accomplished, the top classes have it made in shade.
    Actually such structures have been set up ca 7-10 k yrs ago.

    Growth in pop; availabilty of food-cannon fodder-medical care-education-etc. appear as parts of a whole; thus me hyphenating these aspects of one reality.
    Top keep calmer and thus a better thinker, setup of classes can be viewed as a natural event.
    As natural as floods, drought, tornados, storms, cancer, etc. And we can protect selves from flood, cancer, etc., and we can protect selves from the ravages of an iniquitous society.
    And some people in US are already doing this. EG, there is more talk ab this than ever. There are at least to partys that strive for a better life for all people! tnx

  9. lichen said on May 3rd, 2010 at 12:11pm #

    I’m not surprised that marx would be so right wing as to believe in the delusion that the past was good; I bet he dreamed of being a fuedal lord himself. Regardless, it is clear that the population tripled in the 20th century, especially in the most prosperous places, such as the US in postwar times. So yes, industrialization and ecocidal industrial agriculture caused the population bomb. Redistribution is ecocidal; industrialization is killing the earth, mining is killing the earth, transporting food long distances is killing the earth.

  10. Deadbeat said on May 3rd, 2010 at 1:04pm #

    If anyone is right wing it is those so-called “ecologists” who use it to promote their racist agenda.

  11. JE said on May 3rd, 2010 at 1:37pm #

    I’m all for population control if we start off by sterilizing the rich…

  12. duaner said on May 3rd, 2010 at 2:22pm #

    Throwing food at a population problem is akin to to throwing gas on fire. If you provide enough food for 10 people for one year, you may count on having at least 11 people next year. If the food supply does not correspodingly increase, you’ll eventually get back to 10. If, on the other hand, you provide food for 11 people, you can count on having 12 people next year. Food availability and population are linked, and I’d say more food eventually means more people.

    However, I am not advocating letting people starve – I am merely agreeing with the premise that there is a causal relationship between food availability and population. That strkes me as self-evident. If you provide enough food to feed the current population, the population will expand. We don’t want that, we all agree. So what else can you do to slow population growth, aside from restricting food availability?

    It looks to me like the best way to control human reproduction is the education of women. Which is not to say teaching them how to avoid pregnancy. I’d certainly put that in the curriculum, but the point of educating women (from a population-control perspective, that is) would be to provide them with career options other than motherhood at 13.

    From what I’ve read and observed, women that get an education tend to postpone childbearing, and that act of postponement also limits the number of children they are likely to have due to biological-clock issues. So, send your women to school, get less kids out of the deal (not to mention a better-educated citizenry). A lower child-to-parent ratio, better-educated and more mature (age-wise, at least) moms might not be such a bad thing.

    And then there’s the issue of local economic development. I hate to be a traitor to my own gender, but it really seems like women are the way to go on this issue as well. It seems that when you educate women and provide those women with start-up loans to fund local initiatives, you don’t get hotels and golf courses. Instead you get stuff like vegetable gardens, wells, and schools. I guess women are more focused on making sure the kids have something to eat and a place to play. I know I’m being sexist here, but I’m trying to call it as I see it.

    Anyone who is serious about reducing human population should start with empowering women. In Marxist terms, you could say that women ‘own the means of (re)production’ (at least where forced marriage and rape are outlawed), so women can have more direct and dramatic influence on it.

  13. lichen said on May 3rd, 2010 at 3:01pm #

    The best way to reduce population is with hard laws and policies that directly encourage and provide social change towards the one-child-per-family form. Trying to go at it a hundred different ways from highly skewed, unrelated politics is quite useless; especially because the earth cannot handle more right wing industrial marxism.

  14. splashy said on May 3rd, 2010 at 5:41pm #

    Food production is a minor player in population growth. The only sustainable way to limit population growth is to hand all reproduction decisions to women after educating them and giving them power over how their lives go. In every country that has been done, the women themselves will very practically limit their reproduction voluntarily.

    It’s hard and dangerous to give birth. If women know their children will get health care, food, shelter, education and opportunities they will limit how many children they have to give each one the best chance.

    Men, on the other hand, don’t do well at all, for various reasons. If you see a country that has exploding populations, you are seeing a country where women are treated very badly.

  15. lichen said on May 3rd, 2010 at 6:06pm #

    More anti-environmentalist feminists come in here, having no knowledge of the biosphere, and trying to pretend that using limited resources (furthering impoverishing and abusing men in the process, trying to prop up the fascist gender roles that women impose upon them, enabling mothers in abusing their male children) to further impoverish men for the sake of women will somehow work better than laws at lowering human population. It doesn’t matter to them because they don’t understand the urgency involved.

  16. lichen said on May 3rd, 2010 at 6:07pm #

    Indeed, wherever women are treated badly, men and boys are treated worse.

  17. Jeff White said on May 6th, 2010 at 7:59am #

    What a load of misogynist nonsense, lichen. It’s well established that moves toward stable and sustainable population levels correlate strongly with improvements in the health, education, and empowerment of women.

    If you don’t understand that, it’s no wonder you don’t understand Marx.

  18. lichen said on May 6th, 2010 at 3:34pm #

    It’s well established that the population tripled in the 20th century, because of industrial agriculture and regardless of feminism; funny that you don’t identify the sexism-against men here as mysoginist as well. Oh well to you.