March 15, 2011
Why be so radical? Why not say just 'population'?
Population Growth: More of us, less for all
Overpopulation: Too many of us, not enough for all
"Overpopulation" means we (humankind) are approaching, or we have exceeded Carrying Capacity.
"Population", or "population growth" means we are concerned about population growth, but does not say how serious it is. To simply mention "population" gives people the idea that some mitigation can solve the problem, like discouraging sprawl, cutting consumption, or coming up with new agricultural products or technology.
Population is almost always awkward to talk about. It's freighted with sexuality, contraception, abortion, immigration, gender bias, and subjects that are too hot to press into conversation.
Many people grasp the idea that population may be a problem, especially when the topic moves away from the human species and towards the plant or animal kingdom.
In the U.S., in areas where spay and neuter programs are not operating, and people let their pets run wild, we often experience a population problem with cats or dogs. The problem is that there are so many cats (or dogs), that there are not enough people who want to take care of them, and the animals are turned out to run wild, having to fend for themselves, and often suffering malnutrition, disease, and early death because these are domesticated animals and not particularly capable of surviving on their own. Often, local authorities euthanize excess animals, but, fortunately only a few tyrannical despots have done such a thing with humans.
It's not that people don't like pets, they usually do, but most people only want a limited number of pets, while the wild pets tend to produce many more offspring than will be taken in by humans.
Do we say that there is a 'population' of cats? Or an 'overpopulation' of cats? Population only means that there are a number of cats in an area. It does denote that there is a problem with how many.
Moving the topic back to human population, we see by the cat example that 'population' alone does NOT mean that there is a problem with human numbers. Throughout history, there have been areas where human numbers exceeded the resources available, for example: Easter Island, the Yucatán Mayans, the Anasazi in the American Southwest, but today the problem has become global, and can no longer be solved simply by having people move elsewhere, or by distributing more food to the hungry. Over one billion people are malnourished, and over two billion make less than $2 a day.
When human numbers exceed the resources available, we say that their 'carrying capcity' has been exceeded, and that there is now an 'overpopulation' of humans. We also say that the population growth has become 'unsustainable'.
Are we targeting poor people or foreigners? No! The consumers in the U.S. have the biggest 'footprint'. The bigger the footprint, the bigger the impact on the world's resources. One U.S. resident has the footprint of 20 Bangladeshi's. Residents of the U.S. need to severely cut back on their consumption. In fact, it won't be long before they are forced to cut back, because depletion of important resources such as water, oil, and soil will soon seriously impact their life style. The task of cutting back on consumption gracefully, for the developed world, will be more difficult than the task set for the developing and least developed world, which is curtailing their birth rate.
And U.S. Americans need to stabilize their growth because the world does not need any more over consumers to use even more of the world's resources. Even immigrants to the U.S. soon reach a footprint larger than most people in developing countries, particularly if you count the amount of driving anyone in the U.S. has to do to hold a job (oil is subsidized, keeping prices low).
Many developing countries have already cut their birth rates. The world average TSR (target sampling rate, or expected number of offspring) is only about 2.5 children per woman. Most countries have a government plan for slowing population growth, recognizing that high population numbers means more poverty, fewer taxpayers, and more strain on infrastructure and social services.
Through media like billboards, plays, radio or TV soap operas, and education of midwives, people are getting the message that smaller, healthier families would be more desirable. Contraception is being made more widely available. But funding from developed countries is necessary to facilitate this process.
ZPG (Zero Population Growth) is a population advocacy group which renamed itself to Population Connection. Some members have regretted the name change. This web publication, WOA!!, has two names, World Population Awareness, and World Overpopulation Awareness. It is time to stress the 'Overpopulation' name. The problem of human numbers has become serious, and it would be negligent to not talk about 'Overpopulation'.
I have learned that organizations that don't want to use the word 'overpopulation', don't talk much about unsustainability or carrying capacity. Apparently they haven't done the math yet. These organizations will talk about Climate Change, but are unmindful of Oil Depletion, the sister of Climate Change, and equally or even more destructive to Life as We Know It.
We MUST start talking about Overpopulation, and not just Population. Otherwise, the message of Collapse (financial, food supply, life style, civilization) is lost.
The downside of the word "overpopulation" is that people think that nothing can be done, or that we are advocating killing the excess people. There are more gentle ways of handling the problem, but religious conservatives stand in the way. Unfortunately, the less we do about overpopulation, the more the problem will be solved in a terrible way: starvation, conflict, and weather extremes.