Now That I'm a Dad, I Can Finally Be Honest About Overpopulation
The most pro-human thing you can do is have fewer children
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
— Edward Abbey
My beautiful baby boy, Concord Brock, just turned six months old today.
What a breathtaking joy to parent such a cheery little dude.
It has been the happiest ~180 days of my life.
Like most parents, I could weep for how fast it has flown.
But unlike most parents, having Concord has further clarified my thinking around the one issue most parents will rip your head off for even bringing up:
Before we had Concord, parents always gave me the same look when I tried to discuss overpopulation. Occasionally, a brave and honest soul would actually voice it:
You’re not a parent, so you wouldn’t understand.
Can you fathom how dumb this statement is?
As if people can’t critique billionaire monopolists because they’ve never stolen $1,000,000,000+ or taken advantage of 10,000+ workers.
As if people can’t decry Putin’s war crimes because they’ve never been the dictator of a nuclear nation (…or the victim of a war crime.)
That’s not how critical thinking works.
If anything, not having kids puts you at a much-needed emotional remove so you can think clearly about overpopulation.
(It’s also super offensive to people who weren’t able to have or adopt kids but want to. As if childless people can’t love children just as fully as everyone else!)
But now that I’m a parent, I can bounce Concord on my knee and simultaneously be brutally honest about overpopulation.
So here we are.
How to lose friends and infuriate people
Writing about overpopulation is extremely tricky because people are far more emotional than rational.
Like most of the contentious issues I write about, it isn’t personal, but everyone takes it personally.
I hate land-lording, but not any land-lorder.
I loathe Airbnb, but one of my dear friends runs a full-time Airbnb.
I deplore value-extraction, but I have tons of friends who regularly rake wealth off the backs of the working poor via stock speculation.
Overpopulation is no different.
My best friend has six kids.
My wife’s best friend has six kids.
That’s literally a dozen kids who I adore.
I have about forty kids in my life and would die for each and every one of them.
Overpopulation is a systemic issue, not a personal issue.
But parents never see it that way.
They willfully put on blinders and say stupid things like “So why do you hate my kids?”
There’s not much you can do to convince people who engage in bad-faith arguments.
Overpopulator parents refuse to see the broader context in which they live
Three hundred years ago, when the world’s population was 600 million, it literally did not matter if you had a dozen kids.
Land was free, building materials were plentiful, soil was rich, food was everywhere, and there were so few people that having twelve children was totally fine.
Times have changed in our 8 billion person world:
All the land and materials are privately-owned (AKA monopolized)
The majority of the ancient forests are gone
Hundreds of millions of jobs are disappearing to robots
Shelter costs skyrocketing and are only getting started
Our water and air are poisoned
The planet is heating up like a sauna on fire
We’re facing imminent resource collapse
We are already way past sustainability. If we didn’t add another single human being to this planet and kept on our current trajectory, we will run out of natural food, fuel, clean air, clean water, and living soil.
Sadly, most overpopulator parents have their heads purposefully jammed in the suburban sandbox. Most have never traveled widely and witnessed planet-scale degradation, unfathomable poverty, and all the other underbelly effects of loading a finite planet with an infinite number of voracious consumers.
They’re too busy shopping with their kids.
We need to establish something: Every stable person on earth believes in population control
Don’t let the fundamentalists fool you: Every sane person on earth believes in population control.
(Even people with twelve kids.)
Wearing protection is population control.
Taking the pill is population control.
The “rhythm method” is population control.
Abstaining is population control.
It’s just a matter of scale.
Unless you’re so hardcore that you treat your wife like a broodmare and have unprotected sex every literally single time you ejaculate, you have participated in population control.
And that’s a very good thing, because it gives us common ground.
Only insane people don’t believe in reasonable population limits
There isn’t a lucid person alive who doesn’t believe there is a reasonable limit to how many humans should be on planet Earth at one time.
Don’t believe me?
Just take it to the extreme:
Should planet Earth contain 500 trillion people?
Not one rational individual would say yes.
What I’m suggesting is that all humans in their right minds believe in limiting the population — it’s simply a matter of picking a personal number.
There has to be a limit.
If someone legitimately believes there should be absolutely no limit on the human population, I’m sorry to say it, but this person is a dictionary-definition threat to civil society and should be sent back to school with some documentaries on poverty and planetary collapse so they wake up to reality.
For everyone who isn’t mentally deranged and profoundly anti-human, there is a human population limit. And since most people already believe in reasonable population limits, now it’s just a matter of figuring out biology’s natural and sustainable number.
Anti-sustainable-population arguments are embarrassingly stupid
Here are a few of the most common (and utterly irrational) arguments for continuing to populate an overpopulated planet:
1. “Limiting population is playing God.”
As a person of faith, this one makes me want to scream.
Because the same people who make this argument already rely on a “playing God” technology called the Haber-Bosch Process. The process is how we affix nitrogen into the soil via fertilizer. Nicknamed “detonator of the population explosion”, it allowed the human population to soar from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 8 billion today.
It’s also horrible for the planet.
Without “playing God” by using Haber-Bosch, we’d only be able to feed a maximum of three billion people organically and sustainably.
And that’s just one way humans “play God.” (Which is a dumb term — we aren’t God.) We have vitamins and GMOs and vaccines and electricity and all sorts of not-naturally-occuring-in-nature technologies. Unless someone rejects all of these — including the wheel — this argument is just hypocritical misdirection.
2. “There’s plenty of room!”
No, there isn’t, suburban mom. Not if you know basic math and science.
Earth has just 36.79 billion acres of land… divided by ten billion people, it’s just 3.7 acres per person — to supply all our oxygen, air filtration, soil, food, water, clothing, shelter, mining, transportation, iPhones, Pelotons, and still leave room for the 1.74+ million other species with whom we share the planet and with whom we are deeply interconnected to ensure our mutual long-term survival. It’s not nearly enough to live naturally and sustainably.
3. “My nation’s population is shrinking!”
The biggest pushback from rich Americans/Canadians/Brits/Aussies is that because our populations are shrinking, we can have as many kids as we like. Overpopulation is Africa’s problem.
But this doesn’t hold water in a parched world.
Developed nations are the biggest polluters on the planet. One American consumes more resources than 32 Kenyans.
Automation will eliminate Western jobs faster than in developing nations. We need a population drawdown, otherwise, we will face unfathomable unrest from hundreds of millions of unemployed people.
Though continued population growth is clearly unnecessary as jobs disappear, immigration can easily keep numbers steady for nations that still insist on population growth. Nigeria alone is projected to have more people than all of Europe by 2050 — expect our best, brightest, and/or richest Nigerian brothers and sisters to relocate to depopulating nations.
But let’s be honest: We’re too racist to let that happen. We’re rather see them starve to death in Africa and feel good about ourselves by donating once or twice.
4. “It’s not population, it’s consumption!”
Another argument is that it’s our ecological footprint that’s the problem. (And they’re not entirely wrong, just trying to misdirect you.) That we all just need to live like impoverished Africans and we can easily fit ten or twelve billion on the planet.
But ultimately, it’s not an either-or thing. Avoid false dichotomies — and focus on the things we can change. Because there are several huge problems with this it’s-not-population’s-fault line of thinking:
The first is the assumption that people in developed nations will ever willingly decrease consumption. We won’t. Why not? Because our corporatist global economy needs us to consume more and more.
The second assumption is that poor people will stay poor forever. And they can’t. One million people per day are moving into slums. Millions still starve to death each year, and hundreds of millions go to bed hungry. We need to end this. And capitalism wants to end this — which is why they’re rapidly gaining billions of new customers across Africa and Asia. In fifty years, everyone on earth will be a full-time, planet-extracting consumer like we are.
So be honest, what’s better — a few hundred million people living a super high-quality sustainable life, or twelve billion of us suffering like Sub-Saharan Africans? Clearly the former.
5. “The earth will take care of itself!”
Is that really what we want?
To overpopulate Earth to the point that a super-bug wipes out the human species in a pandemic of unstoppable proportions? To create untold, widespread, horrific human suffering? Why are some people such gleeful Armageddonists, hellbent on our mutual destruction via the next bubonic plague? How is that a loving, pro-human, pro-life stance? And is that really better than simply having fewer children?
I’d rather have some humans than no humans, or half a billion humans flourishing instead of 10+ billion suffering.
And who’s to say humanity won’t conquer nature completely? On our current path, we could end up with a WALL-E world, where a few remaining robots rule a planet where 99.9999% of all forms of biological life have ceased to exist. Just look at the moon — who’s to say Earth might not be the next dead rock?
6. “Technology will save us!”
No, it won’t.
Just like the techno-absurdists who think we can thrive in uninhabitable space, homo sapiens aren’t adapted for uninhabitable earth, either.
If we’re forced permanently indoors or underground because of extreme heat or extreme cold… if we’re forced to eat lab-grown vegan “food”, bugs, and electric-grown plants because of soil extinction… if we blot out the sun and stars in our attempts to geo-engineer a new biosphere… if we have to produce our own oxygen because of global drought… if we have to play God — it will not end well for us.
We are a biological species that requires a biological world. Digital technology can only take us so far.
What’s interesting is that the rich already know that we were made for fields and forests and rivers and oceans and mountains and sun and moon and stars and wind and rain and snow. At the same time, the elites cannot fathom a world in which you do not live in a hyper-dense megacity while they live on sprawling estates, private islands, and super-yachts.
We were made to live on Earth, but we shouldn’t assume that indoor screen-based techno-living is the ideal way to live on this earth. It’s not.
7. “But the population rate is falling.”
If your house is on fire, do you add more wood before starting to put out the flames?
Hyper-capitalists like Elon Musk love to fear-monger about the impending “population collapse” while they simultaneously automate away human jobs. It’s important to note that the word population collapse is a total misdirection. Not a single prediction chart sees us dropping from ten billion to, say, one billion, in the coming century. A leveling out and a tiny deflation over many generations is not a collapse. That’s called fearmongering.
The overpopulationists are also cherry-picking data. If you look at the actual UN predictions, they give a range: While fertility decline could ease us back to 7 billion, they also see a future in which we hit 16.5 billion within 79 years. Their best middling guess? 11 billion.
Any meaningful population declination isn’t going to happen in our lifetime. We’re on track to grow to at least ten billion, potentially even twelve by the century’s end, before we crest and trend slowly back toward sustainability. But we don’t have 100 years. Each generation’s job is to deal with the challenges in their time, and ours is a collapsing ecosystem caused by overpopulation.
The real reason why Silicon Valley billionaire-types are worried about depopulation is that their insane business models require aggressive exponential growth forever. Depopulation threatens their profits. (The corporate state is the same with their unsustainable pension funds, as is the general populace with their unsustainable retirement funds and sell-to-the-next-generation-for-more-than-we-paid real estate mindset.) At present, the whole planet is set up as a Ponzi scheme rather than a sustainable and circular bioeconomy. Billionaires want more people fighting over limited supplies so they can keep jacking prices and pocketing the profits.
When automation/AI machine learning takes over the way it’s projected to do, we’ll be begging God for a population collapse, because otherwise, we’ll have billions upon billions of “economically unviable” people desperately fighting to survive.
It also makes a massive assumption: That things will continue to get better for the average person.
See, when economies improve and women get educated, they start having fewer kids. This is a good thing, as it leads to a far higher quality of life for all.
But does anyone really believe things are going to be better fifty years from now? With 10+ billion on the planet? With billionaires controlling the entire global economy? With corporatists privatizing healthcare and education and sinking the working class back into serfdom? With nationalist fascism taking over? With shelter prices through the roof?
No freaking chance.
There’s nothing to say we won’t see population growth rates pick back up again if we continue to see these declines in wealth, health, democracy, freshwater, soil nutrition, and education. And there is nothing that suggests that our trajectory is shifting toward the positive.
Either way, the idea that we should continue adding billions of people to our already-overtaxed planet because we might see declines in the future is, frankly, a preposterous notion.
I can’t believe people birth more than two kids when there are 210 million orphans in the world
Having one or two biological kids I can fathom, but knowing how overpopulated the planet is, and knowing that there are 210,000,000 orphans and still continue to have more than the replacement rate? I honestly don’t have a box for it in my head for it.
Is it genetic narcissism, thinking their bloodline is somehow special?
Is it pure laziness, not willing to go through the adoption process?
Is it a money thing?
Is it racism?
Is it fear?
Is it a mix of all of these and more?
The math in my head is simple: If you want tons of kids, and you live on a dying planet that is full of orphans, kill two birds with one stone.
Overpopulators are anti-human
If you believe in planetary sustainability viz a viz the homo sapien population, you are de facto more pro-human than the overpopulationists.
Read that sentence again.
It’s counterintuitive, but it’s a mathematical fact — people who want to have fewer kids today so we can have more kids in the future are more pro-human than the overpopulators who want to have more kids right now.
The most pro-human thing you can do right now is have fewer children.
Let me put this as simply and concretely as I can:
Would it be better to add another 3+ billion children in the next few decades and witness 7-10 billion people suffer in horrendous poverty and privation as the natural food chain collapses…
Or would it be better to practice reasonable population restraint so that we can sustainably produce 50 million babies per year for tens of thousands of years to come?
One scenario sees billions of children grow up to suffer and die in anguish, the other scenario sees many hundreds of billions living a flourishing life.
If you are truly pro-human, you want to maximize the most amount of babies over the most amount of time.
That means sacrificing a tiny bit today for long-term human gain.
Sadly, overpopulationists are insanely short-sighted.
Child birthing should be radically de-incentivized
We need to stop subsidizing overpopulation immediately.
Overpopulation is just part of the rules-free-market grow-forever capitalist scam. Corporations need more consumers, so they get their puppet politicians to subsidize short-sighted parents to birth more kids who will grow up, attend propaganda school, work as serfs for corporations, and overpay those same companies for the products they created.
We need a genuinely fair and progressive tax system to incentivize reasonable family sizes and dis-incentivize overpopulation:
Offer a mega-bonus to people who adopt and foster, and make adoption free.
Offer a single or double bonus to couples who get a free vasectomy + tubal ligation combo after two or fewer kids.
Stop making childless families pay the heavy costs of public education and healthcare for overpopulator families.
Make overpopulator families pay the full tax cost of healthcare and education costs.
Notice there are no fines or punishments for having more than the replacement rate. People can still do what they want to do — you just have to take responsibility for your own choices instead of relying on others to carry your extra cost load. It is not right or fair that society should have to pay the costs of such a dangerous and short-sighted anti-commons decision.
The ultimate solution to the overpopulation crisis is stupidly simple
Have fewer kids.
Not an Orwellian one-child policy — just a culture and tax system that encourages sustainable human production.
If you want ten kids, have three and adopt seven.
If you want four, have two and adopt two.
Pick your number, then be slightly less selfish and think about others.
(I want twelve kids, but we’re committed to max two biologicals.)
Think about your current kids and the overpopulated world they’re growing up in.
Think about your future adopted kid who is currently languishing without parents because you haven’t adopted them yet.
Think about all the kids that could be sustainably born for millennia to come, if you do the right thing and have fewer biological kids today.
Ideally, try to birth two or fewer kids — that’s the human replacement rate, and we need to slowly but surely draw down the human population to get back to sustainable levels.
This is just the start
I have plenty more to say about overpopulation and sustainability.
That’s because I love babies.
I am willing to fight anyone and everyone to protect them.
I want them to live on a flourishing planet that can naturally and sustainably provide for their needs without undue pain and suffering.
I want this planet to be chock full of billions of babies for millennia to come, because I want people to experience the joy and happiness I’m currently experiencing with baby Concord.
And now that I have him, I can finally talk honestly about overpopulation.
You should, too.