On Overpopulation and Ecosystem Collapse

Earth’s biosphere is collapsing and dying as human industrial growth overwhelms ecosystems and abruptly changes climate. Equity, education, condoms, and lower taxes and other incentives to stabilize and then reduce human population are a huge part of the solution.

Over-population

Earth has become dangerously overpopulated threatening biosphere collapse

THE FALL
Earth in overshoot;
human growth is killing her;
the end of being.

 

The global ecological system is collapsing and dying under the cumulative filth of 7 billion people INEQUITABLY devouring their ecosystem habitats. It is impossible to avoid global ecosystem collapse if humanity continues to breed like bunnies; tolerates exorbitant inequality, abject poverty and conspicuous overconsumption; and destroys the ecosystems and climate that – rich or poor – are habitat for all of us. As I have written previously and will write again, the human family either comes together to address converging ecology, rights, and injustice crises – largely brought on by inequitable overpopulation – or faces global ecological collapse and the end of being.

It is not possible to go from 1 to 7 billion people in 135 years – while still growing exponentially – without profound impacts upon natural ecosystems that provide air, water, food and livelihoods. If you don’t understand this, you are uneducated, dumb, and/or indoctrinated; you need to study ecology and get out and see the world. Or go and look at an overgrazed cow pasture and extrapolate. Merging climate, food, water, ocean, soil, justice, poverty, and old-growth forest crises – all which are to some degree caused by inequitable overpopulation – are destroying ecosystems and threaten to pull down our one shared biosphere.

Earth has lost 80% of her old-growth forests, 50% of her soil, 90% of the big fish – and many water, land, and ocean ecosystems, as well as atmospheric stability, as human population has soared more than sevenfold. The human family is living far beyond its means, devouring natural capital principal and ravaging its own ecosystem habitats, which can only end in ecological, social and economic collapse. Earth’s carrying capacity has been exceeded, and we must equitably and justly bring down human population and consumption inequity or else face global ecosystem collapse. We can start the necessary social change or an angry Earth will sort it out herself by killing billions; as we possibly pull down the biosphere with us, ending most or even all life, during a prolonged collapse.

Earth is not designed for 7 billion people (and growing), some of them destroying ecosystems globally as they live in opulence, others more locally through their grinding poverty and need to survive. Overpopulated, inequitable, unjust human industrial growth ravages ecosystems; destroying all that is natural, indigenous and good, heralding a brief era of opulence for some and abject misery for many, before collapsing the biosphere and causing the end of being for all.

Together the human family must find a way to first limit and then reduce human population to avoid collapsing the biosphere. Infinite economic growth in a finite world is impossible; either we embrace a steady state economy together, or we die.

Solutions to overpopulation – to ensure humanity’s cumulative consumption remains within Earth’s carrying capacity – include more equity (fewer extremes, basic needs met, hard work rewarded, without communism or authoritarian regimes), educating all girls, free birth control, and lower taxes and more social benefits for families with one to two children. Ensuring every girl in the world is educated and empowered to make her own life decisions, especially about fertility, is the key. Those who cling to ancient superstitions or contemporary greed to resist these policies must be ridiculed and ignored or overthrown.

There are many other common sense ways to keep population in balance with ecosystems. Some obvious and essential global ecological solutions include agroecology, ending fossil fuel dependence, protecting and restoring ecosystems including ending old-growth forest logging, and an embrace of ecology, truth, justice, wisdom, and love as the meaning of life.

The human animal is fundamentally an ecological being – as with all organic life, part of and springing from natural ecosystems. Without natural ecosystems and a healthy atmosphere, there is nothing. Tragically, centuries of advancement in human rights and welfare are at risk as climate and ecosystem collapse are being misdiagnosed and met with authoritarianism rather than ecologically based policies.

The global ecological system upon which all life depends is being systematically dismantled in the name of “development”. Whatever became of aspirations for real human advancement in justice, rights and duties, truth, equity, love and peace? Instead most postmodern humanity seems only to want more stuff, self-aggrandizement, and comfort at any price including our shared future. Now is the time for moral and political courage as together we stop and reverse abrupt climate change, ecosystem collapse, and rising tyranny – by rationally and logically using humanity’s accumulated wisdom and knowledge to craft and implement together the required social change for global ecological sustainability.

Again, to survive and achieve universal well-being, humanity must choose ecology – by leaving fossil fuels in the ground, protecting and restoring natural ecosystems, embracing organic permaculture, and reducing our own numbers equitably and justly – or, it cannot be said enough, we face ecological collapse and the end of being. There is no other way.

The challenge of the present and perhaps all time left to us is to remain free as we sustain the biosphere. Together, as one human family, we must embrace our duty to protect nature, end fossil fuels, reduce human numbers, and share with other people and kindred species.

There is nothing normal about being well adjusted and silent as ecosystems and climate collapse globally, threatening the imminent death of us all. Living in such a manner can no longer be tolerated as acceptable. As global ecosystems and society collapse, chances for future survival and well-being depend critically upon holding onto our shared humanity as together we restore ecosystems, care for each other and all life, and find new ways to live well sustainably.

 

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34 Responses

  1. David Dunn says:

    Great summary of the situation. Fundamental tax reform is the first priority, as this will fundamentally change the mindset of everyone so to appreciate the real cost of using natural resources, and the subsequent damage to the planet.

  2. Hartson Doak says:

    Yup. Back when my wife and I had twin sons, the Earth’s population was 3.5 billion human. I thought that was too many. I had a vasectomy. My siblings followed suit. Our family is in population decline. Our children are following in the same path and having one child or none. The solution is female education. The more educated a woman is, the fewer children she’ll have. The more educated woman are the smarter the next generation will be. This will then lead to fewer humans.

    That being said, I fear it is too late to prevent a collapse of the global society as it now exists. That is GOOD. The consumer society is wrong. The use it once and throw it away is wrong. Mother only has a limited amount of resources and we are reaching the end of them. Solar, wind, geothermal, wave energy ocean currents zero point energy are all resources that need to be developed rapidly. If they are not, then society will collapse and many will die of starvation, war and disease. If we all start growing some of our own food in back yard or community gardens, reduce, reuse, recycle, or whatever one can do to ease the burden we have put on Mother then maybe we’ll pull through this with attrition and not mass death.

  3. tanya marquette says:

    Don’t buy into this paradigm. First, it is infuriating that the origin of the environmental movement is never discussed. It was devised as a total manipulation by the Rockefeller group Club of Rome. Very concerned with depopulating areas of coveted resources, they created the overpopulation myth and decided that the middle class would buy into an environmental argument.

    This essay in a subtle way proves my point when it talks about the vanished resources of earth such as rain forests which protect the earth’s biosphere. The focus needs to be on controlling the capitalistic greed for control and power. It is that 1% ruling elite that don’t want so many people as they don’t want the responsibility of seeing them fed. This has nothing to do with earth’s ability to feed the world’s people.

    It is about 4 yrs now that the UN WHO reported that organic/sustainable agriculture in Africa could feed that continent’s population. GMO agriculture will not do that. It is about how resources are shared on the earth. It is about looking at the waste and destruction that occurs. For example monoculture in the US mid-west has been destroying the top soil and its productivity. We do have the technology and science to produce more food in more ecological, less chemical and diverse manner. However. chemical agriculture, monoculture,, and GE seeds will never do it. It is an increasingly self-destructive process.

    And it is always interesting that is it is the white middle-class that voluntary rejects childbirth while it is the people of color that are targeted for genocidal practices including war, austerity economics, starvation, infertility, and other methods that decrease life. So there are class and race issues that never seem to be addressed either.

    • What a bunch of conspiracy theory ridden crap, utterly devoid of rational thought and scientific knowledge. You are the problem exemplar.

      • Ron Hart says:

        Hold your fire, Glen!

        I have trouble with the conspiracy analysis too but Tanya’s comments on and reminder about the UN WHO position that organic/sustainable agriculture in Africa could feed that continent’s population deserves serious consideration. Arunda Roy’s analysis comes to much the same conclusion about agriculture generally and in India in particular. Bad news for Monsanto; but good news for the planet.

        There is also an argument that growth and population while problematic, are not the core problem.

        John McMurty argues that the mindless production of worthless junk to satisfy manufactured wants (capitalism’s main focus) is the problem. He argues that after satisfying basic life-needs, we need to encourage growth in processes that increase life-value: education, social services, creativity etc. that make life better for all life and our environment. Neoliberalism won’t get us there; but a re-commitment to social equality and justice and true innovation that adds life-value, will. We are faaced with a failure of governance.

        What McMurty is suggesting is basically what William Mcdonough and Michael Braungart are proposing in The Upcycle. We have to stop producing junk and start designing for life. Capitalisms’ goal is to make money. The Upcycle’s intent is to make a better world with more growth and more true abundance. It’s a design problem.

        • To note there are biological limitations to how many people Earth can support is NOT genocide.

          • Ron Hart says:

            Yes, of course.

            Still, I believe that great deal of misery in the world that is the result of racism, sexism, and slavery, even when there are abundant resources.

            Neoliberalism produces winners and losers and the winners are those who quickly cash in the scarce environmental resources before they disappear. We have an economic system based on greed and inequality.

            We proclaim all men are created equal (women? not so much) which implies that we should treat each other with a modicum of respect and compassion. Instead, in Western culture, we compete with each other and strive to get ahead by largely ignoring others and trashing the environment in the process. Under neoliberalism, biological limits become simply signs of scarcity and hence ever more valuable as resources to grab before the next guy. It’s an accelerating cycle of destruction.

            The solution? Here’s my kick at the can.

            We can stop designing and producing junk to satisfy trivial, manufactured needs. We can recognize that co-operation is more effective than competition when addressing a crisis. (This is something we do instinctively in times of war.) We can make a determined effort to embrace equity for all people. We can make an effort to satisfy fundamental needs for all people; we can restrict what we want to goods, services and relationships that result in ever-increasing life-value. We can upcycle.

            Our destiny is interconnected with the web of life. One cannot increase life-value by destroying the environment. Any economic system that does not recognize this basic fact, ultimately does not value life. In a trade off between greed and life, sane people will choose life. We have to bet on sanity.

            If people co-operate to prevent ecocide, we can experience true abundance and flourish.

  4. I think there is no one solution. Reforms must come from all levels: government, business and the general public. At the end of the day, these are all individuals we are talking about. Everyone needs to play their part to advocate for sustainable development practices. Education is absolutely key. The focus of my (very new) website is educating people on how to be responsible consumers and create demand for sustainable products. Overconsumption is a problem but consumption is an inevitable side effect of living so we have to do it better.

  5. Toni says:

    A lot of what Tanya M says resonates with me, in particular her final paragraph and also her comments about polyculture vs monoculture agri practices. But of course, I am a breeder & so therefore dumb and uneducated/indoctrinated. I practice permaculture in my own backyard, grow some food, all our furniture is hand-me-down and used as long as possible, I always try to talk with my kids about not being wasteful and also about kindness and compassion (because really, who wants to live in a world of arseholes no matter how ‘stable’ it is). We live by vegan practices because we feel it is a kinder way to be – and yes I already know that vegans still cause death and use up resources.

    As for being uneducated, I definitely am uneducated in the formal, academic sense. Interestingly some of the most ‘educated’ folk I know are also the most ignorantly wasteful, condescending, blind, overpaid, self entitled and MATERIALISTIC consumers out there. Furthermore they “tut tut’ about women having too many babies whilst they jet around the globe consuming more resources than my little family unit all put together who SHARE our resources. They have criticised me for staying home with my children and not contributing to the sacred economy. And rants like yours, Dr Barry, further compound the message I am constantly given that I have no positive contribution to make to a healthier mother earth, she whom I love and even worship in my quiet moments. I am just a simple gardener, mother, homemaker, and volunteer. What would I know about resourcefulness and chipping in to help my community and feeding people in a less intensive manner. You know your stuff but you should also know who it is exactly that you are alienating from the conversation and any subsequent solutions.

    • No problem with self-education at all and did not mean to imply formal education, or even that science is the only way to know. Yet while you are welcome to your own opinions, you are not welcome to your own facts. In your education, you need to know how to tell the two apart. We write on many topics here and overpopulation is not the only – and yes, the level of materialism and many other factors figure in. The point is that in sum the Earth has a limit to how much consumption it can sustain (the famous IPAT equation, Google it).

  6. Rudy Haugeneder says:

    We are suffering global dementia.

    • Arne says:

      Insane rulers and mass ignorance by choice is the problem . In this age of global internet availability , ignorance is an irresposible choice . TV is a mass-brainwashing tool . Most people are sheep …

  7. Linda Staelens says:

    Who ever we may be as individuals, educated or not, we know in our hearts when we are taking our responsibilities or not. It’s a matter of goodwill
    and unitized cooperation between all people and nations. Only integrity of spirit on all levels of existence will bring solutions. Where as humanity do we stand at this time?? Who are we and what are we doing?? Each unit will come to his own soul evolution’s conclusion and nature will take it’s course accordingly.

  8. Serena says:

    How about making a real impact and switching to a VEGAN diet?

    A major variable in the pollution equation is meat consumption and dairy: they are key factors to deforestation, water consumption, green-house effect, third-world starvation, antibiotics’ resistance… Need I say more?

    A pound of meat, which needs 13 pounds of grain to be produced, will feed 1 person for 1 day, whereas those same 13 pounds of grain can feed that person for several weeks. And that’s without even considering the ethical aspect (that an animal, with the same desire to live that you have, has been exploited and killed to become your food).

    As to water, just think that nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food… It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. You save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you do by not showering for six months!

    And even antibiotics resistances (as in antibiotic medicines that have become ineffective): it’s not so much the GP who too easily prescribes an antibiotic to his patients, it’s the MEAT and DAIRY industries who, by default, feed literally tons of antibiotics to their animals to make sure each and every one of them can turn into a sausage or burger and not make them lose any profit. The reason why so many VITAL antibiotics, medicines that could save your own or your child’s life from meningitis or major bacterial infections, are becoming inefficient is because of the excessive and irrational use of antibiotics by the meat and dairy industry.

    You have at least 10 good reasons to go vegan: for the planet, for your own health, for animals, for the legacy you leave to your children, for your ethical conscience, for keeping antibiotics efficient and saving lives etc etc.

    And to those who will reply (because yes, some people still think so) “But you need meat”, please do some research and ask yourself how can it be that vegetarians and vegans are scientifically proven to live longer and healthier (i.e. lower risk of cancer). We are millions, we have been millions in the past (see India, Buddhists communities, Jainists etc.) and the physiology of the human body (i.e. lack of real canine teeth, carbs-specific enzyme in our saliva, long intestinal tract, lack of claws etc etc.) is the proof that we were not made to eat flesh but rather grains, fruit and vegetables (I could agree that we are made to eat insects too, although I personally respect those animals as well). Besides, saying that we have been eating meat since we have appeared on the planet is a joke. We all know that we are lousy, slow hunters who have added meat only recently to their diet (and look at how we look like now…). Just 100 years ago, even in “richer countries” it was a luxury to have meat often. For millions of years our race has actually survived on berries, fruit and insects and that is reflected in the physioogy of our body.

    Please consider going vegan. You’ll feel much better on so many levels, too.

    Read more: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-wastes-natural-resources/#ixzz3250GacNl

    • Joan P says:

      It is good to go vegan, but lowering population is more urgent for the environment. If we don’t reverse population growth, then the earth is ruined, even if all of us are vegan. If there are fewer of us, then we can all eat as much meat as we want without harm to the environment.

  9. Sa says:

    Older people all remember what the world was like before this enormous population explosion. There were beautiful forests. Unpolluted waterways. Clean air. Abundance. Animals had their own place in the world. Too many people has destroyed all this. But this is such a complex problem many refuse to address over-population.This is a discussion we need to have. Best if not done with egos and anger. That does no good. We need to step back & view it objectively. Too bad all those religions get in the way.

    • Hartson Doak says:

      Too bad all those religions get in the way. ?? God’s command is to be stewards of the earth. Man changed the meaning of stewardship to mean rape and pillage. God’s creation is beautiful. It is in balance. Nothing is wasted. This is the opposite of what humans are doing to His Creation.

      • Luis Carlos Zardo says:

        You may be right, but, that´s exactly what religions are commanding people to do…

        As Mahatma Gandhi said: your christians are so unlike your christ.

        Even if you do believe in god or whatever it´s insane to not see that religions are evil, all of them!

        • Hartson Doak says:

          I’ll use your example. Gandi states here that the christians are not followers of Christ.They have perverted Christ’s religion to something opposite of what Christ taught. It is not the religions fault. It is the people who control it that are evil.There is a big difference. This is why Christ had to appear on the Earth. The Jews had messed up the religion of Moses. Christ had to be here to put man back on the right path again. Then Mohammed had to come after Christ to straighten the path again.

    • Luis Carlos Zardo says:

      I´m 43 years old, I remember this world and I´m not that old, I think I saw the very beggining of such environment catasthrophe, at least in my area.

  10. Julian says:

    This essay makes me think it is too late to avert disaster I am afraid. It personally makes me depressed. Keep trying though, we all do our little bit in these end times. Keep up what ever little hope we can, love one another, don’t let hate or anger consume you. Still see the joy in little things you do as you try to avert the disasters, I will anyway even though this article makes it all seem hopeless to me. Glen Barry speaks with the authority of the scientist. He is a ‘high priest’ of ecological science. Not long ago he was criticizing religion and people who believe in spiritual matters. I countered that while it is true that many had been killed in the name of God and Religion, many have also been killed in the name of progress and of course science was a big part of that deadly progress. Secular science lovers are just as deluded in their own way as the religious are/were. Science just makes more sense, we can see why we are dying and yet we keep on doing it. Neither science nor ecology nor religion are changing what we are doing much. If anyone sees more hope an wishes to share it I welcome it. Good luck with your good works everyone.

  11. Johan Streulens says:

    To late, my opinion. Even ..not the overpopulation is the problem, but all the needs for a newborn human in this world. What pollution we need to be born till to die. Economical.. cool,..but nature..? More like a killing field for every plant, animal, rock or what so ever. Knowing the the human kind: They don’t care! Carpe diem is their way of life. They don’t care about the future..didn’t learn about the past! You’re thinking to wake up some people whit this manifest..it’s brave..(tried a manifest on internet 5 years ago: response; only 1), but useless. No one cares!! That is what humans are! Me, myself and I…let’s have fun..a good life “now”! What our kids have to find out..”not my problem!” Their kids? “What are you talking about?!” Kids a beautiful..you know..but NO ONE cares about those children in an adult stage..that they to would like to have children! No One! No one cares!..We live today..the future isn’t our concern! Not yet..only when it’s to late..like always. I even don’t care if we “humans” survive in the future..we are to arrogant, selfish, destructive all around. Better for the world we don’t survive..: We..Humans..the most intelligent creature on earth! But so stupid as a grain of sand! (Even..I think that the grain of sand is more intelligent then us..) We can do all we need to make a difference..but..we are to brainwashed for capital, religion, science..and a bunch more. We are “gods”on earth..only for our selves..not for others..not even for our children .children..children without a future..But we love our children!..We love them till the end!..Don’t believe it!..We love our selves as parents..selfish as always. Show our children what we can do, have, “WE” are gods for them!! Be shamed parents..we are those who destroyed your future..only to show how big..goddess..strong..we are. Do we love our children? I don’t believe it..we created a future for those to come..in hell! For me..everything you tried with this blog..it’s to late. Even our kids..(I don’t have any..with reason) did learn one thing: Carpe diem! And be sure..they want to have what they want..today..now! Because..we are humans! By the way: Carpe diem..isn’t the whole phrase..it is followed by : quam minimum credula postero. Look it up, and you know the real explanation.. I’m human..and not proud of it..ashamed to be one. I’m over the 50 and still learning myself after studied to much..the wrong way: The human way..school, law, religions, science, culture, humanity..etc. Still learning today..day by day..Independent..Knowing to live in a surrogate life..Rules of power and madness, to hold us..humans..”straight” for human being. It’s madness: Power, religion, capitalism, Me better then you..stronger..greater..only by rules we made in history. Rules of lies to keep us together..to be those to be sheep’s. Stupid as we are..following those rules for those who needs us..used us to have a world like today. Those some who have all the power..and at the same time..killed the future for those to come…those next generations we “love” so much!! (Let me laugh..! The only you love is yourself..big, great god..human!) Carpe diem to your all.. have fun to explain your children how greedy you’ve bin for yourselves!

  12. Lucia Tilyard says:

    I don’t like this article. The idea of ecosystems was/is just that, an idea, nothing more. There is an interesting series of documentaries called, ‘All watched over by machines of loving grace,’ made by Adam Curtis. – Well worth watching. Some fellow in about 1910(?) came up with the idea of Ecosystems. but this idea was eventually found to hold no water.

    “If you don’t understand this, you are uneducated, dumb, and/or indoctrinated; you need to study ecology and get out and see the world.” is the sentence in this piece that annoys me the most. Please watch this series of documentaries Dr Barry, before you tell people that they are ‘dumb and indoctrinated”. I couldn’t find the link, a little of it is on You Tube, but there is a documentary site with the full series. Curtis carefully follows trails leading back to where this particular piece of mythology came from. I’m afraid that it is YOU who are indoctrinated.
    http://thoughtmaybe.com/all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace/:-

    • No ecosystems? lol case in point.

      • Mak says:

        The commentor is unlikely to be familiar with the work of Wilson and MacArthur (1967) on Island Biogeography and subsequent almost innumerable scientific study and experiment.

        Interacting systems are visible to indigenous and experimenter alike: Dr. Robert Paine in WA removed sea stars, and found that changes in the ecosystem led to disappearance of formerly even dominant forms of life.

        Thus, even the loss of one vital species, not as numerous as many others, but key to maintenance of complex interactive groups of life, can tip a web of life into failure to support a species – even though she derides your work and the work of now countless others, she fails to understand that the refusal to save wholesale, species and habitats, has a likelihood of supplanting her own species, removing it from earth’s systems.

        ( I do not think that will be a more immediate, direct result, as an organsim dispersed into nearly all terrestrial ecosystems has many opportunities to persist than does any not closely commensal; however, it is possible for faster-evolving organisms to establish a niche in collapsing and impoverished ecosystems. Those might be as inimical as Homo sapiens has been, perturbing interactive systems of species; it thus can become successively more probable that something will come along which can help to reduce or eliminate H. sapiens. )

        Interesting signs of incipient instability increasing in the simple ecosystems generated by human overpopulation and elimination of more complex systems include SARS, MERS CoV, the persistence of the recent Ebola outbreak, MRSA, and even the innate psychological problems induced in a species evolved to live in small groups within the more complex large ecosystems we call wild.

        It appears that you are indoctrinated indeed; your indoctrination appears to be into the capacity to critically evaluate, while some others may be more susceptible to indoctrination into fantastical and simplistic hubris.

        Long-winded is my attack on such rhetorical trash words like “indoctrinate.” Can you refer users to a doctor qualified to cure them, or at least alleviate the symptoms of phoney rhetoric? It’s highly contagious, and endemic in much or most of humanity.
        Refer me, too: I lost my brother Wolf who was silent enough to teach me without words, those symbols so unrelated to what is real.

  13. debbie steele says:

    Women have to have the right of control over thier own reproductive capacity.Education and equal rights is fundemental.Available and affordable birth control is a neccissity.

  14. Anonymous says:

    As the Bible says., “God will bring to ruin those ruining the Earth”.
    Humans are destroying something which is not theirs. They are annihilating entire ecosystems, animals and plants….they are not able to understand that it is possible to choose balance and creating a perfect harmony between mankind and nature.
    But with the population boom…that will never happen.

    • Anonymous says:

      Its not humans its A certain sector of breeds of creatures that is Bent on destroying humanity n Nature Any mean Necessary!!! Because Of Selfish Greed. The Earth Will Never Be Over population because Devine Mother Nature Knows What She Doing She’s have Perfect Balance!! Humans Die n Humans Born!!!!

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