Whenever politics or environmentalism is discussed, the “fact” that the world is overpopulated is bound to come up. It is a central tenet of groups like “Earth First!” and “ZPG”, and has even been an issue agreed upon by GA vote of the UUA... but these votes don’t make it true. The arguments are based on two things: world hunger, and mankind’s “footprint”. Let’s discuss hunger first.
Is hunger caused by there being too many people for the available food supply? Not according to the United Nations! George McGovern, (U.S. Senator, 1963-1981; Presidential candidate 1972; first Director of the United States Food for Peace Program, United States Ambassador to the United Nations agencies on Food and Agriculture in Rome) writes in the United Nations Chronicle : “Hunger is a political condition... the world now produces a quantity of grain that, if distributed evenly, would provide everyone with 3,500 calories per day, more than enough for an optimal diet. This does not even count vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, poultry, edible oils, nuts, root crops, or dairy products.” I took the initiative of counting those foods he left out (the numbers are readily available from the UN and the US Dept. of Agriculture): including protein cakes and edible oils from soybean, rapeseed, cottonseed, groundnuts, etc; fish; eggs; meats, including beef, lamb, pork, and poultry; milk and cheese; vegetables; and fruits: 2.59 billion metric tons per year! That’s .43 metric tons per person per year, or 2.6 lbs of meats and vegetables per day- on TOP of 3,500 calories worth of grain products! That’s enough to make every man, woman, and child on Earth morbidly obese- so why is there world hunger?
Is it because the developed countries refuse to share? Not according to the U.N.- again quoting Ambassador McGovern: “...78 per cent of the world’s malnourished children live in countries with food surpluses.” What he doesn’t say, and again is readily available information, is that nearly all the rest live in countries bordering those with surpluses. The answer is politics. War. Dictators routinely withhold food to punish provinces that revolt. Civil wars prevent food distribution. Remember the famines in Ethiopia and Eritrea? Remember those commercials with Sally Struthers telling us that pennies a day would save those starving children? What she didn’t say was that even as she was begging for pennies, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea were spending millions a day on a twenty year long war!
So much for food- what about the damage Humankind is doing to the Earth? Again, it’s a matter of mismanagement, not necessity. For example, outside of the G-8 nations, agricultural practices are- and let’s be generous- 100 years out of date. In large portions of the third world, agriculture still means a wooden plow pulled by an ox, with the ox providing the fertilizer as he goes. Production per acre in the U.S. has increased twenty-fold in the last 100 years; if the third world were to build tractors and combines instead of tanks, and processing plants instead of nuclear weapons programs, world output could easily be increased three-fold in the next ten years. As there is already enough food, that means we could reduce the number of acres under cultivation by two thirds, allowing tens of millions of acres to return to nature! That means enough vegetable protein to replace most fish production, giving the beleaguered oceans a break! And if we used modern mass hydroponics technology, even those acres needed for farming could be moved to the deserts and badlands, where there’d be plenty of solar power to run them!
How do we get there from here? Not by unencumbered foreign aid- only the oligarchies in the countries involved will ever see any benefit of that. If there’s any lesson to be taken from the last half-century, it’s that one. Even though McGovern does call for some money in the article I referenced, he stumbles into the real necessity: “Education and democracy may be the most powerful combatants in the war on hunger and poverty.” That’s George McGovern talking, not the much-hated neo-cons. Democracy is the answer. During the 1930s, there was real hunger in both the US and the USSR... Stalin solved it liquidating the kulaks; FDR started government food programs and the WPA. If the North Korean people were allowed a vote, I’m guessing they’d prefer food to nuclear weapons.
Blaming the world’s problems on overpopulation is, it seems to me, a cop-out. Since population cannot be reduced in the short term, blaming overpopulation allows you to think that passing a resolution about zero population growth is actually doing something about hunger. If you blame overpopulation, then you don’t have to do anything about the evil regimes that starve their populations into submission. It allows you to be non-judgmental about other cultures, while assuaging those faint nagging doubts by denouncing excessive consumption in the West instead.