The First Rule of Earth Club: Don’t Talk About Overpopulation
The second rule of earth club: don’t talk about overpopulation
The second rule of earth club: don’t talk about overpopulation
Earth has a major problem. While five heat domes kill hundreds of people and billions of aquatic species, while fires rage and old diseases emerge from the Russian tundra, while China and Europe drown and the American west gasps in drought, while food shortages loom and house prices skyrocket, while real inflation soars and corporations extract obscene wealth from people and the planet, while glaciers melt and Earth starts to shut down, we continue to ignore the very thing that caused this problem in the first place.
But we can’t talk about it.
Instead, we endure politicians who shatter any remaining sense of civil unity with fringe policies that only enrich their powerful backers:
Joe Biden wants to print trillions of more dollars.
The radical left wants us focused on identity politics.
The radical right wants fascism.
Mitch McConnell wants corporate oligarchy.
Majorie Taylor Greene wants civil war.
…And bitboys want to pump altcoins to the moon.
But none of these things will heal the planet, restore ecosystems, cleanse our water, re-grow our forests, re-wild our countryside, improve our depleted soil, reverse biodiversity loss, and rapidly take us to perpetual sustainability.
The fix to the planet’s most pressing issue is actually quite simple:
We need to have fewer kids.
For the love of children
I love kids. Like, really love kids. I’ve been teaching Sunday school for six years. My best friend has six kids, my wife’s best friend has six kids, my brother has a third on the way, and I get to play Uncle to more than thirty kids across my closest ten friends.
My wife and I are having our first baby in nine weeks. I can’t wait. I’ve wanted to be a dad since I was six years old — every morning, my mom placed my baby brother on my chest and we’d cuddle for thirty minutes while she got ready for the day. I knew then, with certainty, that parenting was for me.
But I didn’t want any biological children. The planet has more than enough already. But my wife wanted to have the experience of carrying a baby, and I respect her desires. But hopefully, this is our only biological child.
I want a huge family. Like, unreasonably huge. Four at the very least. If I had the money — or if landlords didn’t exist and house prices weren’t a rigged game, I’d like twelve kids. Enough for 5-on-5 basketball with subs. The kind where you get group discounts at museums and stared at in restaurants. I don’t want a family, I want a society.
But one biological child is more than enough. There are over 200 million orphans on earth, plus our planet simply cannot sustain more consumers.
Why do people have so many kids?
There are lots of reasons, but none of them are good enough to continue our apocalyptically destructive course.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve gotten pregnant by accident. And I’m not talking I-had-a-vasectomy-and-we-got-pregnant accident. I’m talking Tuesday-afternoon-couldn’t-be-bothered-to-reach-for-a-condom careless.
Children deserve intentionality. They deserve to be brought into families with a plan in place. They deserve to be desired and fought for.
This is a big one, especially for men. As if our bloodline is so special. To favor biological children over adoptive children is deeply prejudiced and exclusionary. (It’s also ironic, considering everyone on earth is at most 70th cousins. Even though we rarely act like it, we’re all family anyway.) Sure, biological children will have more overlap with their biological parents, but it doesn’t make parentless children worth any less. We must overcome our narcissism and put the real needs of parentless children before our own selfish wants.
Let’s be really honest: who knows if it’s biologically hardwired or deeply culturally ingrained, but many men want to sire a son and will generally keep having kids until they do so. As if our family name really matters whatsoever at all. On the flip side, many women express their desire for a daughter. The desire for children is a very good thing, of course, but continue to have kids until you hit the gender lottery isn’t.
Fostering and adoption take loads of effort. Too much effort. We’ve already started looking into the adoption and fostering process and it is absolutely absurd because it is controlled by politicians and bureaucrats with moral agendas.
But none of that should stop us from adopting every single orphan on earth. What is worth fighting for more than family?
I would like to think that my motivation for growing our family is because I adore children and want to be a dad and want to have a family and want to pass on everything I know. But the harsh reality is that, at the end of the day, even these “good” motivations are entirely self-centered. To continue to birth child after child after child shows a huge lack of love for all the other children out there who don’t have a family, and for all the future children who will live in a scorching world of disease, hunger, droughts, and war.
I want to provide a loving and caring home for lots of children, but I need to do so in such a way that ensures other parents can experience that same joy for a thousand generations to come.
Arguments against depopulation
The arguments put forward against depopulation are incredibly weak, thin, and maddeningly dumb:
There’s plenty of room!
No, there isn’t. Not if you know basic math and science. 36.79 billion acres of land divided by ten billion people is just 3.7 acres per person — to supply all our oxygen, air filtration, soil, food, water, clothing, shelter, 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.
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.
We just need to trust that God will take care of it!
Religious fundamentalists are deeply troubling. God created this beautiful world and that means it’s okay for us to destroy it instead of stewarding it? It makes no sense.
The Genesis creation poems give us a beautiful, vivid picture of an Edenic garden and tasks “Eve” (meaning beginning) and “Adam” (meaning man) to steward and expand a beautiful garden into a world of chaos. God also tells the couple to be fruitful and multiply.
Clearly, we have fulfilled this command.
God’s plan wasn’t for humans to destroy all of creation as we keep multiplying forever, was it? Even if a fundamentalist thinks we can blow past eight billion, they surely must have an upper limit number somewhere, right?
There surely must be a maximum number that a finite planet can contain.
Use your head.
We need quality over quantity. Fewer people, but a far higher standard of living… and done so sustainably forever.
Right now, we are heading back toward chaos.
With fewer people, we can make our way back toward Eden.
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.) That we all just need to live like impoverished Africans and we can easily fit ten or twelve billion on the planet. (And they’re not entirely wrong.)
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.
Honestly, 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? It’s a ridiculous question.
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? 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.
And who’s to say humanity won’t conquer nature this time around? On our current path, we could end up with a WALL-E world, where 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 we might not be the next dead rock?
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 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 who require 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-density megacity while they live on vast 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.
Population isn’t growing, it’s collapsing!
The top pushback against depopulation is that we’re actually facing a looming “population collapse.” That in a century or so, population growth could stall and our numbers could decrease.
It’s a gigantic if. Every model I’ve seen assumes we’ll all be wealthier, better educated, and that women will be free to choose how many kids they want to have. But based on our current trajectory — the rise of nationalist fascism, the skyrocketing shelter prices, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the decline of democracy for the fifteenth year in a row — are you really willing to bet your great-grandchildren’s future on it?
These predictions also seem to forget about religion — fundamentalists have no plans to slow down their birth rates, even if they somehow manage to become wealthy and educated on a resource-constricted and cost-elevated planet where education is being supplanted by political ideology.
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 slow deflation over several generations is not a collapse. To call it so is fearmongering.
We are already facing a joblessness crisis at the hands of AI and automation. A century from now, our technology will be so advanced that shedding billions from our numbers will be an extremely welcomed trend.
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 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.
The overpopulationists are cherry-picking data. If you look at the actual UN predictions, they give a range: While fertility decline to 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 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.
We need to talk about overpopulation.
But we can’t.
It makes right-wingers think there’s a left-wing conspiracy. And it makes left-wingers think they’re superior to their unenlightened relatives.
And it especially makes parents furious. Mention overpopulation and they immediately claim you hate their kids. Which, of course, we do not. We simply want them to grow up in a world without unnecessary suffering, on a planet that enables them to continue the human race in a sustainable fashion. (Maybe we love kids even more than they do?)
Depopulation is pro-life.
“We should not coldly calculate exactly how many people the earth can support, but how many lifetimes.” — Surviving Tomorrow reader Paul Taylor
Any rational person can see that overpopulation is a serious threat to the long-term flourishing of all earthly species, ourselves included.
But there’s a major problem: humans aren’t rational.
Or rather, we’re rarely rational.
We fall in love.
We pretend like voting matters.
We buy Bitcoin and Tesla stock.
We’re emotional beings, easily herded along by the loudest talk radio voice or the prettiest mommy blogger. But the science is clear — there are too many homo sapiens and too few of every other life form.
So how do we fix this?
We don’t need more abortions.
We don’t need a one-child policy.
We don’t even need a two-child policy.
We just need to have far fewer kids.
And stop subsidizing population growth.
And start giving tax breaks to people who choose to have fewer kids.
And make vasectomies and tubal ligations free and rewarded.
And make it far easier to foster and adopt.
And teach all those biological and adopted children to do the same.
When we choose to birth fewer children today, we enable humanity to have more children in the future.
Choosing to have fewer children becomes a life-giving act.
Our goal isn’t to pack as many people onto Earth now, it’s to maximize the number of lifetimes over the longest period of time. We limit life so we can have unlimited life.
But we can’t talk about overpopulation.
It’s the first rule of Earth Club.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a second Earth.
Follow Jared on Medium and subscribe to Surviving Tomorrow.