Why Population Matters

I link this post to challenge an assertion that limiting population is wrong.

I regularly take part in XR actions because I want to save the ecosphere from destruction. Just before the lockdown I was blocking an opencast coalmine near Durham. That makes more sense than bothering ordinary people in Leeds or London who are new to the idea that they are doing anything wrong. Of course capitalists are responsible for most ecological breakdown. But capitalists sell things. How many schoolchildren used to a ‘Western’ lifestyle realize just how drastically ‘system change’ will limit their lives? And the majority who still live in impoverished communities reasonably expect to share the same standard of living.

But there are already far too many people on the planet. It is true that 100 companies produce 70% of global emissions, and the poorest half of people in the world produce only 10%, but we still need to keep sheer numbers down to what the ecosphere can provide, A few more now is a very different matter from when there was plenty of room. Try pouring another gallon of water into a bathtub full to the brim.

You will find plenty of internet explanations as to why Population matters. My approach is to draw attention to growth – exponential growth – doubling in equal intervals of time. What works for coronavirus (and fooled too many ‘authorities’) or turning milk sour, works in exactly the same way for anything which is growing, but if the doubling time is decades or even centuries rather than hours, the suddenness of explosive expansion can easily be missed. It has been.

But how do you decide when enough is enough? The answer is you don’t. Not only does your society continue doing what used to work just fine, but somebody is still making a profit. This is the Tragedy  of the Commons.

Plastics, cars and air travel were all useful progress when they first appeared. Other species have all found ways to limit their impact on their environment. Homo, which claims to be Sapiens is the only species which has not yet found a way to stop growing. Sheer numbers are no different from the more obvious examples.

A ghastly future seems to be the most probable, Humans are the only species to practice genocide. Why? The exponential principle. If you do not immediately see the connection, please re-read the above three paragraphs. If this seems extreme, I admit it is not the norm. Humans have mostly just fought when shortages were perceived,, But we are the only species to fight other than at territorial boundaries, or for sex.

But there is an alternative. I can envisage many details which would appear unrealistic unless explained more fully than is possible in a weblog, but which would make it possible to scale up the concept. If only I could work with someone more prominent.

In his book Poverty and Progress,  Richard Wilkinson tells of a tribe in  New Guinea with stone age technology, which had indeed solved the problem of limiting population without either bloodshed or exploitation (though these may have occurred many generations previously).  Their system of sharing unconditionally whatever they deemed to be necessary, alongside a ‘free market’ in everything else gave everyone, according to Wilkinson “An identity of interest when dealing with ecological limits.

It was a moneyless form of a basic income.




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