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The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

July 11, 2020 4 min read

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

Our current world population is 7.7 billion people. That number includes lots of people you will never meet, it also encapsulates you, your family, your friends, and many other people you care about. It represents the number of humanity and is a gauge of our species. It does not separate us by our differences, but counts us as a whole. It’s important we acknowledge our individual role in the population, rather than feel removed from it. When we hear the term overpopulation, it instills fear that we will reach a point when the Earth cannot sustain us. This is a dangerous myth, with roots deep in white supremacy. As the world undergoes a revolution in the way we understand race, it is vital that we take this World Population Day to address the controversy of it. 


The UN utilizes World Population Day to draw attention to our growing global population and sustainable development goals. The continued observance of this day grew from the Day of Five Billion, which was held on July 11th 1987. The Day of Five Billion was one of the first times the growing population was recognized as an international political concern by the UN. From their website, “On World Population Day, advocates from around the world are calling on leaders, policymakers, grassroots organizers, institutions and others to help make reproductive health and rights a reality for all”.Their main ways of achieving this are through boosting family planning and education for women, primarily in less developed countries. These efforts are primarily focused in countries that have low environmental impacts (carbon emissions, waste, pollution) despite being the most affected by the consequences of these. If the goal of World Population Day is sustainable development, then the efforts should be focused on large corporations and developed countries, like the U.S., that are primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and waste.

 

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

So, why is the focus of WPD on women of less developed countries?

WPD was instated about 20 years after the release ofThe Population Bomb by Robert Erlich, which sent a shockwave through its readers, especially in the environmental and political communities. This book incited fears of overpopulation, following a Malthusian perspective. Thomas Malthus predicted that the population would grow too fast, for its demands on the Earth, leading to catastrophes like famines and wars, back in 1798. Despite the lack of statistical evidence for Malthus’s prediction, it informed the British social policy around this time. Peak colonialism, if you will. The wide acceptance of this theory of  “overpopulation,” was used to promote eugenics and the idea of a superior race or white supremacy. Their solution to controlling population growth relied on the unfair sterilization of women in poverty and less developed countries, as a way to conserve resources for the superior class. While Malthus’s theory and Robert Erlich’s book have been proven wrong in thought and in practice, their ideas are still promoting fear and harm on women’s bodies around the world. 

 

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

What happens when Malthusian population-control efforts are instated?

In 1980 China implemented its One-Child Policy in order to slow the growth of their population, amid fears of overpopulation. This was enforced by making contraceptive methods widely available, giving preferential benefits to those that obliged, and in some places forcing abortions and sterilizations for those who didn’t. Male babies were highly favored as they could pass on the family name, this led females to be aborted, abandoned, and victims of infanticide. The scar of this policy can still be seen on their current population being skewed with almost 4% more males than women. Policies like this target women disproportionately by focusing too heavily on decreasing fertility rates, compared to sustainable development. Sadly, this is just one example out of many.

 

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

Shifting the Focus of World Population Day From Women to Sustainability

It is vital that women have the options to choose motherhood or to pursue a career or both if they wish. In many cultures and for many women, motherhood is valued and seen as the role of a lifetime. Forcing women to choose a certain path instead of what they want is inherently patriarchal which follows the myth of overpopulation. It is time we shift the pressure of environmental degradation and the climate crisis from women in less developed countries to policymakers in sustainable development. By focusing on developing sustainable infrastructure and technologies, we can create a safer world for everyone. While our world population will continue to grow, we can too. Those of us living in developed countries need to become more conscious of our individual impacts and advocate for policies that help push for sustainable development. While it may seem daunting at first, there are simple actions you can take daily to help

 

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

1. Learn Your Individual Carbon Footprint

It is an easy way to learn how you can divest from fossil fuels in your daily life. Increasing carbon emissions are often cited as a concern with growing populations, limiting our individual carbon contributions can lessen the concern. 

 

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

2. Reduce Your Plastic Waste

At The Earthling Co. we are dedicated to creating sustainable alternatives to household items, such as shampoo and conditioner bars. Simple swaps like these can significantly help reduce your waste over time. Being aware of our individual plastic pollution can help limit the waste that accumulates globally.

 

The Dangers of the Overpopulation Myth

 3. Get Politically Active 

Educate yourself on policies and candidates that promote sustainable infrastructure and technology. Also, advocate for policies that give women the option to choose what they do with their bodies and provides them access to education. Empowering women is essential to achieving gender equality, which is better for everyone.


Finding ways to live more sustainably can influence those around us to do the same, thus creating an even greater change. Our world population encompasses all of us, so it’s imperative we each take accountability for our role in creating a sustainable future. 

Let’s kick the myth of overpopulation to the curb to protect women and the planet!


Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Malthus

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/book-incited-worldwide-fear-overpopulation-180967499/ 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/one-child-policy 

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-malthus-is-still-wrong/

https://www.pnas.org/content/114/46/12103 

https://www.un.org/en/events/populationday/ 

https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/population/index.html 

https://www.unfpa.org/events/world-population-day 

https://www.pnas.org/content/114/46/12103 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4255510/ 






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