Conservation Magazine: Are There Too Many People on the Planet?
... Here’s what I bet goes on when this question is posed—and I want to say up front that I think this way myself. I do not like long lines and traffic jams. I do not like that I have to drive 60 minutes to get to a decent natural area or that when I get to the Cascades for my hike, I’m likely to run into dozens of others on the same trail. I do not like how built up our coastline has become and how hard it is to get access to beaches. And so on.
In other words, I do not like the impact of “too many people” on my personal happiness. Rarely do we admit that this is the basis of our concerns about human population. Instead, we couch them in terms of “exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity” or “causing the extinction of species.” ...
... And when we so easily jump to the conclusion there are too many people on the planet, what solutions does it suggest? Who should be eliminated? Who should not be allowed to have children? And who gets to decide? Is it really that there are too many people on the planet? Or is it more about the kinds of settlements and economies we have built?
Lastly, the entire notion of too many people neglects those studies showing that large numbers of people, especially concentrations of people in cities, are engines for innovation and cultural advances. (4) For example, new patents and inventions overwhelmingly come from cities—and the larger the city, the more patents and inventions are produced. ...
... More importantly, the question of whether there are too many people is the wrong one for conservationists to ask. The right questions are: What quality of life do we want all people on the planet to share? And how can we achieve that quality of life while preserving as many species and ecosystems as possible?
Conservation of nature has a lot to contribute to answering those questions and to enhancing that quality of life. So don’t automatically nod in agreement when a colleague says: “The problem is, there are too many people on the planet.” People can be the solution as well as the problem.
It is popular these days to decry consumerism ... and rightly so. Voices in our world tell us that our life consists of the products we buy and the things we own. It is materialism.
But the irony is that many consumerism critics fall prey to is their own form of materialism. They see human beings primarily as subtracting from a fixed stock of resources. Human beings are parasitic, adding nothing. Reduce the number of humans and you save the planet.
Human beings do not just consume, though that is part of our reality. All forms of life consume. But human beings also add to the world in a way that other beings in the created order do not. They add creativity and intelligence to the world. With creativity and intelligence come beauty, ingenuity, community, and flourishing.
There are challenges. Through unlocking powers of productivity and exchange we have found we can radically improve the material status of people around the world. But we find we have to adapt our methods and perspectives to sustain the changes we have made ... doing more and more with less and less, as we minimize our destructive impact. We have to find ways to be stewards of the world that recognize more than just our material quality of life. As Christians, we know that sin often twists our creativity and intelligence toward destructive behavior. The answer to these challenges is not to dehumanize people by framing them in materialistic terms as consumption units. Rather it is to work toward unlocking and unleashing the creativity and intelligence of everyone as we work for a flourishing shalom-filled world.