Standing Room Only

There’s this woman I know, I’ll call her Doris, and she has a son, I’ll call him Mike. Mike and I did some temporary wage-slavery in the same warehouse about ten years ago, but I can’t say I know him, and we probably wouldn’t even recognise each other now.

I bump into Doris quite often, and because half a lifetime ago we came from the same town on the other side of the planet, and because she’s a nice person, we usually stop and have a chat. She’s quite old now, even older than me, and Mike has a family of his own.

Mike is some sort of animal expert, and has worked in some pretty exotic places around the world. Like most mothers, Doris is really proud of her boy and his professional achievements. About a year ago she was telling me all about a contract he had with an Asian government. It was a contract to research the economic benefits of farming snakes as a source of cheap protein for human beings. She was really proud of his efforts, because it seems he showed that farming snakes is one of the most cost-effective methods of providing enough cheap nutritious protein to help keep human beings healthy.

Then last week I started to watch this new food programme on TV. It’s a documentary series about new innovations in food, and sells itself as telling us all about how we’re going to be eating in the future. The opening story showed the presenter walking towards this large warehouse-type structure. She was excitedly explaining about this project where insects were being experimented on as a marvellous new source of cheap food protein. I don’t know how it played out because I switched channel at that point.

This is not about the revulsion of eating snakes and bugs. Technically there’s not much difference in the principle of farming snakes and insects for food, or cows and chickens. I don’t know if this new TV series is going to explore the economic viability of mass-producing vegan food proteins, but if so it certainly wasn’t mentioned in the trailer.

The recent conference on climate change in Paris produced nothing of major significance – pretty much as expected. And what little good that may have emerged was quickly forgotten in the joyful news that Britain’s newest war criminal, David Cameron, has finally got what he’s long been after – his very own illegal war. The Paris climate conference was quickly forgotten in the gleeful media hysteria that met the announcement that “we” will finally start officially bombing those nasty ISIS/ ISIL/ Da’esh monsters in order to support “moderate” terrorists – in their illegal efforts to overthrow the lawful government of Syria – and that it’ll take “at least” two years to do it.

But I begin to digress. This article is not about the criminal actions of the British government, it’s about human overpopulation.

Although just about everyone acknowledges that human beings are a significant contributory factor to global warming, almost no one seems to connect the dots to recognise that burgeoning human population growth is therefore a major issue. It’s pretty obvious that if human beings are contributing to global warming, increasing the numbers of those human beings must therefore be making the problem worse, not better. Instead of encouraging the obvious solution – stop the growth rate of human beings – strategies are put forward that reduce the impact of human beings on the environment, such as waste re-cycling and green energy production – and feeding them with snakes and bugs. Whilst some of those strategies may be useful, they don’t begin to address the elephant in the room: too many people.

Some think that human overpopulation is a myth. They point to vast expanses of sparsely populated terrain, such as Siberia or the Australian Outback, and scoff at the notion of overpopulation. But these are not the places to look at, as environmental degradation there is relatively minimal. We need to glance at the rest of the planet instead.

A 2010 study by the University of Michigan showed how global deforestation is increasing at the rate of 100,000 sq. km. a year. That’s about the size of Scotland and Wales put together — disappearing…every year. Natural forests not only play a huge part in reducing global CO2 — a well-known greenhouse gas — as well as supplying life-giving oxygen, they’re also hugely significant in balancing atmospheric water. Not unrelated to the fact of massive deforestation, are reports that the rate of species extinction is currently higher than it’s been since dinosaurs disappeared. The “natural” extinction rate is believed to be about one to five species per year, but the current rate is said to be 1,000 to 10,000 times as high, with “literally dozens [of species] going extinct every day”(2). In our over-fished seas 90% of large predatory fish stocks, like cod and tuna, are already gone. Contrasting with these cataclysmic effects on ancient forests, our planet’s wildlife and its over-fished oceans is the fact that human population growth is exploding. Although this rate of growth is believed to be slowing, there is nevertheless a billion more human mouths to feed and water, clothe, house and supply with energy every dozen years or so. In other words, every fifteen years or so an area of wild forest as big as France, Spain and Germany put together disappears, about a hundred thousand living species are permanently eradicated, and the numbers of human beings increases by the same amount as the current population of India. And our life-sustaining planet gets hotter, and hotter.

Human population growth must not only stop, it needs to decline in order for our planet to heal itself. The beautiful Earth we had just a few short generations ago has already gone. This precious living gem that’s taken billions of years to evolve is on the cusp of annihilation. If human beings do not control their numbers, within a generation or so, our fragile planet will start to look like a combination of Easter Island, the Sahara Desert and the Antarctic — enclosed by almost lifeless oceans.

This point is so obvious, the really enormous elephant in the room, it shouldn’t need stating. But it does. Why might that be? Why have the tens of thousands of experts in these fields not joined their voices in calling for an immediate reduction in the numbers of human beings?

One reason, I suppose, is that to do so sounds a bit like an appeal for legalised infanticide or something similar. But that is not the case. No one needs to be killed, we just need to reduce the numbers of human babies being conceived, so the rate of growth of the human population stops, and then declines. For our planet to heal itself and regenerate once again into the most beautiful place in the entire universe (as far as we know), a place of stunning wilderness areas and millions of diverse species of plant and animal life, a place capable of sustaining such diversity for future generations to enjoy for as far ahead as we can see, human beings must reduce their own numbers.

But I think that human overpopulation is not identified as a major problem for a far more cynical reason than imagined terrors of infanticide. Human numbers must continue to increase, our great trusted leaders would tell us, because the economic model that rules the planet demands it. Permanent growth is as essential for this parasitic model as petrol for a Ferrari – no matter that permanent growth out of impermanent resources is obviously impossible. If the numbers of human beings were to decline economic growth (as it’s currently measured) would decline, the number of consumers and wage-slaves would fall, CEO bonuses would shrink – and that would never do.

But the economy does not need permanent growth – an impossibility in any case; it does not need More, it simply needs Enough. We don’t need to wreak environmental and ecological catastrophe to have Enough, we simply need to ensure that the number of human consumers never exceeds our ability to live in harmony with the wilderness areas of our planet, and never results in the extinction of any species that isn’t doing us any harm.

When China used a socialist economic model it also had a one-child policy, because the problems of too many human beings were known and recognised by the Chinese — and compared with some countries (like Britain) China didn’t even have the highest population density in the world. Although the one-child policy was often not well or fairly managed, it showed the importance China placed on it as an essential element for its long-term sustainability. Now that China’s been sucked into the gangster-capitalist model that rules us, there’s growing pressure to scrap its one-child policy.

A global one-child policy is not necessary – yet. Population reduction can be brought about, quite quickly, in a far more humane manner – simply through education. First and foremost, the paramount importance of it must be recognised. The single most important thing needed to rescue our planet from cataclysmic environmental and ecological collapse is to recognise and acknowledge the fact that there are far too many human beings. Government intervention is unnecessary except for educating people to that fact. Women need to take primary responsibility for this, as women produce babies. If women ensure they have no more than two children each, population reduction will slowly, humanely and manageably take place (as not all women want to have any children at all, or are quite content with just one, or are not able to have children). Two-child families are enough to provide the extended family structure (cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces) that a one-child policy cannot do, so the sense of family that’s so important to many people can still be maintained at the same time as doing the single most important thing for saving our planet – reducing the number of human beings it has to sustain.

No doubt the organisers of the Paris climate conference and some participants will be claiming outstanding success, but the truth is it failed us, the 99%, and failed our fragile life-sustaining planet. It failed because the single most important factor contributing to human-induced climate change — human overpopulation — was totally ignored… again. We need our “experts” to stop wasting time on figuring out how to produce enough snakes and bugs to cheaply feed a billion more new human mouths every decade or so, and start educating the planet on the essential need to just stop producing so many human mouths in the first place.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.