Overpopulation, Overproduction, Overconsumption

By Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A / Image: CC BY 3.0

One voice from the wilderness is too weak to be listened to. My voice, for example, is not clear enough, strong enough, loud enough or adequately established so as to be heard. How can any person in a position of influence among our most wealthy and powerful leaders possibly be expected to receive a ‘best available science message’ until we and others who are similarly situated speak out, as if with one voice, about what could be somehow real, according to the best available science and ‘lights’ we possess?

Declining fertility rates virtually everywhere on Earth need not blind us to the undeniable, ongoing annual increases of absolute global human population numbers. Human numbers have exploded by more than 5 billion on earth in the past three score and ten years. This population growth ‘trajectory’ is patently unsustainable on a planet with the size, finite resources and frangible ecology of Earth. Please consider how the growth of human numbers worldwide is caused by the spectacular production and distribution of food for human consumption. With each passing year more people are being fed and more people are going hungry.

For years we have been encouraged to ‘think globally’. Let us hope that it is not too late to begin ‘acting globally’. There is no time to waste because untethered overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species are on the verge of causing a global ecological wreckage of the planet we inhabit by turning Earth’s land surface into mountains of human detritus and its seas into sewers.

As things stand, the leading self-righteous elders in the world, on our watch, are charting a course to the future that will wreak havoc on what is surely sacred and normalize what is plainly profane…come what may. And these self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ erroneously believe that they can have some faraway island or mega-yacht to which an escape from the global ecological wreckage would be possible. More evidence of immaculate hubris, I suppose.

Those few with power would like the status quo to remain as is; whereas, the many, too many, without power want necessary change and a ‘course correction’ while a ‘window of opportunity’ remains open. Note to us all: the window is closing steadily in our time. When unbridled production, consumption and propagation activities of the human species are occurring synergistically, expanding rampantly and effectively overspreading earth, perhaps this moment in space-time is an occasion to do something that is different and somehow right… for a change.

No one knows what is possible once we begin somehow to do things differently from the ways that we are doing things now here on our planet. At the moment we know that silence has overcome science; that greed has vanquished fairness and equity; that ignorance and stupidity have almost obliterated common sense and reason; that hubris has virtually annihilated humanness. Like it or not, ready or not, we are presented with enormous challenges.

Let us hope that our most able responses to the human-induced and -driven existential ecological threats looming ominously before humanity do not come too late to make a difference that makes a difference. There is much to do. Human limits, global planetary limitations and time constraints are the factors to which we are called upon to respond ably with all deliberate speed.

If only the world worked the way we want it to! That all-too-human creatures of Earth were actually self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ in more ways than ‘name only’. By evading extant scientific knowledge about our distinctly human creatureliness and the biophysical limitations of the planet we inhabit; by widely sharing and consensually validating utterly false, hubristic thinking regarding our seemingly god-like super-human capabilities and Earth as a maternal presence eternally giving; by denying that earth is relatively small and finite with a frangible environment, it may be that the human community is not able to evade the consequences of our patently unsustainable behavior. Can we rise above our apparent incapacity to respond ably or not? Can we do so in a short time-frame so we avoid insurmountable ‘doomsday scenarios’?

Note the exquisite talents demonstrated by the savants among us or the teachers, poets, artists from whom there emanates universally shared, humane values, principles and practices for living or the leaders who have not sold out their souls for the poisoned fruits of power, gluttony, greed, wrath, pride, envy and effortless ease. The global challenges presented to our generation of elders are likely different from the threats to human well-being that had to be confronted by our ancestors. But that does not mean, even for a moment, that their challenges were either more or less difficult from the ones we face.

If our ancestors had not acknowledged, addressed and overcome the challenges before them, I dare say that we would not be here now. It does not appear that our generation of elders has so much as begun to struggle in a meaningful way with the global challenges before us. We collectively have been running away from our responsibilities and duties to the family of humanity and Earth’s well-being in general.

Our children and their children after them will say that we have failed them. Their true statement, perhaps spoken someday soon as a refrain, is not acceptable and cannot become our enduring legacy to life on this planet and to the planet, itself. We cannot luxuriate in our willful ignorance and self-serving hysterical blindness any longer.

The moment to step up, take hold, and move forward courageously is at hand. The time has come to accept the challenges already dimly visible in the offing.

Let us speak out as if we are a million voices because so many of us remaining electively mute make us complicit in the destruction of Earth and life as we know it. Are better, more responsible courses of action available to us? If so, other ways of going forward need to be discovered, discussed and implemented, fast.

Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. established The AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population in 2001. He lives in Fearrington Village, NC, USA and can be contacted at sesalmony@aol.com.

7 thoughts on “Overpopulation, Overproduction, Overconsumption”

  1. The problem with collective action to democratically do what is necessary to save the planet is that the solution to growth (de-growth, or contraction) is contrary to everything humans are taught from birth. “Strength in numbers,” “Be fruitful and multiply.” The adages, whether from folk wisdom, economics, or religion, all tell us to do the opposite of what must be done to survive.

    The politician who tells us we must sacrifice and get by with less will lose in a landslide to the Trump-mouthed caricature who promises to cut our taxes, and tells us to race ahead toward more profits and “opportunities.” The CEO who asks his board of directors to plan for long-term sustainability will either be voted out of office, or will see his fiscal year dividends swamped by the competition, resulting in the same thing: unemployment.

    It appears that our only option is simply to throw a wrench into industrial capitalism at every opportunity, as was glamorized in the Edward Abbey novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

    But we can’t just lash out blindly at “the system,” or we would be destroyed by a backlash that took us to be nothing but destructive nihilists. The initial targets must be clearly identified with unsustainability. Examples include the airline, beef, and fracking industries, with care taken to destroy property and facilities. Eliminating the culprits behind capitalism’s worst excesses should come later — though I don’t think any sane person would react negatively if, hypothetically speaking, something terrible were to happen to the current president of Brazil.

  2. “Throughout our history the deal was: We left the world a better place than we found it. That was progress. The wheel. The Rule of Law. Anything. It was our covenant with our children and grandchildren. My children weren’t angry with me for breaking the covenant. They were too busy trying to stay alive to waste energy on blame, trying to negotiate their way through food riots and refugee camps and the collapse of society. But I think my grandchildren would have been angry – had they survived into adulthood.”
    — The ‘Archivist of the future’ in [the imo brilliant film:] “THE AGE OF STUPID” (2009), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1300563/quotes?item=qt2001047

  3. Just what is this article suggesting? No solution of any specific kind is proposed for what the author describes as a “patently unsustainable” growth in the human population. All he demands is that we “step up, take hold, and move forward courageously… to accept the challenges already dimly visible in the offing”. Usually, underlying this kind of vague handwringing about the number of people on the planet is a fascistic contempt for the poor who have the temerity to keep breeding, unlike we clever, superior white people who have few or no children.

    I challenge Mr Salmony (oh do stop with the letters after your name, you’re no more significant than the poorest migrant crossing a desert) to tell us exactly what he thinks are the solutions to this alleged problem of too many humans.

    1. Editor’s response: the most effective known method of reversing population growth is empowering and educating women and girls. That is why we at DGR see feminism as a critical element of environmentalism. Many population reduction advocates fall back on racism. We refuse to do so. Most global environmental destruction is driven by the wealthy (who are predominantly, but not exclusively, white and European or U.S. American). Nonetheless, overpopulation is a real and massive problem. We need to confront and discuss it, rationally and humanely—and then solve it.

  4. > this *alleged* problem of too many humans
    “It seems, the biggest challenge we face is no longer the problem itself, but our inability to see it.” — Andy Johnston in (www.)ADBUSTERS(.org) #57, 2005/1+2

    e.g., “From 1990 to 2008, the average energy (ab)use per person increased 10% while world population increased 27%.” (WP)

    To me, for one, the solution to “OVERpopulation, OVERproduction, OVERconsumption” seems so obvious that i’d have thought it’d hardly need spelling out.

    “One can reason with ignorance, but it is futile to argue with stupidity.” — Ed Fitch

    > Usually, underlying this kind of vague handwringing about the number of people on the planet is a fascistic contempt for the poor … alleged problem …
    One wonders, what [usually] might be underlying THIS kind of writing.

  5. My thoughts (not all of them original, and some of them an affront to most religions) on overpopulation:

    Where girls and women are educated, the number of children per family usually falls below the replacement rate. But ignorant cultural and religious traditions have to be overturned, too — such as masculinity being measured by the number of children we produce, and a religious fundamentalism that demands more babies, so as to increase the number of the faithful.

    Case in point: The nation with the highest population increase since 1950 is Ivory Coast, at close to 1000%. The only place higher is the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel’s illegal settlements, where Islamist Palestinians and religious Jews are consciously trying to outbreed each other, and thus become the majority in a land too small to support either of them. To be blunt, stupidity for the glory of God.

    Underlying all this is the belief basic to all religions (and Marxism, a latter day, virtual religion), which is that humanity is the entitled species, with all the Earth’s “resources” ours to plunder.

    As Derrick Jensen said in one of his videos, we COULD follow the simple formula to save the planet. We could, but we won’t.

    We could adopt a global one-child policy for 200 years (getting us back to a population of approximately 700 million, which is roughly where we were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution). We could de-industrialize, de-globalize, de-urbanize, and adopt lifestyles more like Silicon Valley before the Spaniards, Hawaii before the Brits, or Bhutan, until it was opened to “modernity,” barely a generation ago.

    But we’re probably too proud to do anything that intelligent — too proud and too brainwashed by the inevitable triumph of technology. As a group, we see only the phenomenal growth and illusory progress of the Industrial Age, and continue to convince ourselves that science and industry will “find a way,” or that “someone will surely think of something.” We forget the simple arithmetic of perpetual growth on a finite planet, which is a global analogy to metastatic cancer.

    In 1900, 1.6 billion people used around 7 billion tons of raw materials. By 2016, 7.6 billion of us used over 60 billion tons. And by 2030, the forecast is 8.5 billion using 100 billion tons, while producing 70 billion tons of waste. That isn’t progress. It’s insanity.

    In 50 years, we’ve destroyed 1/3 of the world’s topsoil, while climate change and sea level rise guarantee a dramatic decrease in fresh water, and the loss of huge tracts of coastal farmland, such as the Mekong Delta, Bangladesh, Louisiana, Florida, etc.

    We’re also running out of the ability to produce the two things most basic to industry — concrete and steel. Concrete is mostly sand. But desert sand isn’t gritty enough for concrete. Instead, we have to use beach or riverbed sand. And at over 10 billion tons a year, we’re fast exhausting the supply, with devastating ecological effects on coastal areas, riverbeds, and estuaries.

    Meanwhile, steel production between 1967 and 2016 more than tripled, from less than 500 million tons per year to over 1.6 billion tons. The rate of increase has since declined. But if it continued at the rate of the last 50 years, steel mills could grind to a halt by 2036.

    The U.N.’s recent report on biodiversity describes our species as the most destructive that ever lived, currently driving dozens of other species to extinction, EVERY DAY.

    Obviously, we can’t be both the most intelligent species on Earth and the most destructive. So it’s time to decide who we are: an animal with sense enough to see the problem and act on it, or just lemmings in SUVs.

    Sadly, my guess is that greed and self-worship (we created our gods in OUR image — not the other way around) will drive us to ruin, believing until the last moment that either the techies will bail us out, or that Jesus, Maitreya, or the Twelfth Imam will come down from the clouds, and lift is up to a totally undeserved paradise — not unlike the one we had here, before we destroyed it.

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