Common clichés and deceptions:

"Overpopulation is a myth." You only hear this line from people who don't care about what's being lost to growth. They have economic stakes in resource consumption and are apathetic about its effects on nature. Many of them are religious and believe all this crowding has a purpose, though they never define it. They pretend that food and human welfare are the only real population issues and the ongoing destruction of nature is irrelevant. Once these biases are removed, the impacts of overpopulation are obvious. They include water shortages, wilderness destruction, the paving of farmland, species extinctions, chronic malnutrition, air and water pollution, increasing congestion (on land, air and water), a feeling that one is just a number, lack of personal service from institutions, a welfare cycle that promotes childbirth, an increasing need for prison cells, year-round schooling for lack of classroom space, etc. Where is the "myth" in all this hard reality?

"We have enough food to feed the world, it's just not distributed equitably." Although it's becoming more difficult to feed people, the above statement might be true IF everyone had a spartan vegetarian diet. But the real world will never work that way. When deer outgrow their local food supply we don't claim that we could easily ship in hay from Russia to feed the animals. We admit that they've exceeded the local carrying capacity of the land, and we're quite comfortable using the term "overpopulation." But when human beings are trapped in cycles of chronic starvation, people tend to change their perception and the whole world is seen as a local resource that should be available to everyone. What's logically interpreted as overpopulation in an animal habitat becomes a "complex economic issue" when people are involved. This denial is not helping anyone except food-aid groups that will be in business forever if we keep dwelling on surface causes of hunger. The fact that we've developed a global transportation system is no excuse for ignoring local carrying capacity.

"My calculator shows that the entire world population could fit inside Texas with room to spare." This is one of the worst excuses for overpopulation ever invented, yet it keeps appearing in cornucopian rhetoric. Its origin would be interesting to trace; it couldn't have come from a demographer. Such simplistic calculations ignore the vast amounts of water, land and energy required for modern life. They also ignore other species' need for shrinking habitat. People have dissected the landscape, leaving nature in broken pockets cut off by development. People also gravitate to the most livable areas, which further restricts land-use scenarios. For life to be sustainable, ecosystems must remain quite large in relation to densely populated zones. Calculations vary, but the "ecological footprint" of the average American is said to exceed 5 acres. For 300 million people (as of late 2006) this equates to 1,500,000,000 acres (about 1,500 x 1,500 miles) or 80% of total U.S. land acreage. If you tried to fit 6.6 billion people (2006 world population) in Texas, there would be about 25,000 per square mile over the entire State. That's about 7 times as dense as the Dallas metro area. Texas can't even sustain its actual population without imports; true of most modern nations. These "Texas Hold 'Em" fallacies are mindless variations of the food distribution arguments above.

"Birth rates are dropping and the situation is under control." Is a forest fire under control just because it's burning at a slower rate? There's a critical difference between birth rates and net population growth. The base population is too large to allow significant changes for decades. Nothing short of worldwide celibacy can prevent an average gain of at least 60 million annually for another 50 years. Projections show a minimum of 9 billion people by 2050 and up to 12 billion by 2100 if sanity doesn't prevail. The worst impacts are yet to come, so we must work even harder to beat the most optimistic projections. It's disturbing to see countries like Japan calling for more births to offset "shortages" of younger workers. This demonstrates addiction to economic growth, fueled by global population growth. A steady-state economy (vital for long-term survival) will demand that we accept a higher ratio of old to young.

"We need growth to generate more wealth." This deeply embedded fallacy is based on the idea that each generation can be wealthier than the previous in a finite world. It just doesn't make sense beyond a certain point - a point which we've already passed. Illusions about the value of money are at the core of this concept. People who look beneath the veneer of society will notice that overall per-capita wealth has been decreasing and much of the world remains poor. In America this manifests itself in the need for two-income households and the comparative difficulty of affording new homes and cars. People are working longer hours and "quality time" must be rationed. Fancier technology gives the impression that we're better off (and we are in some ways) but the basic essentials of life; land, food, water and bulk goods, are getting more costly. When people talk of the good old days when you could buy X for a dime, they aren't just overlooking "cost of living increases;" they're noticing that the cost of living has increased. Growth for the sake of growth is making people at the top of the pyramid scheme monetarily rich, but it's destroying true wealth by depleting natural resources.

"Technology knows no limits." Some people assume that every aspect of life can be shrunk like a silicon chip and/or made exponentially more efficient. Computer people are notorious for this cure-all optimism. They focus on one narrow sector where the potential for improvement is enormous and extrapolate this to other realms, like energy and food, where it's only applicable to a point (witness the peaking of the Green Revolution). This explains why many technophiles show minimal concern for the sheer space and resources being used by Man. In a fantasy world where we could reduce people to the size of plastic action-figures, billions more could be accommodated. But people are not scalable like computer chips. No matter how far technology progresses, humans will still take up space and consume resources at a rate commensurate with population size. A disconcerting number of Hollywood-brainwashed people still buy the panacea of space-colonization, even though it would require transporting billions of people to relieve pressures on Earth; a complete fantasy in any useful time frame, if ever. Technology must be combined with a zero-growth plan or it will continue to be a patch instead of a cure.

"You growth-control nuts just hate people. We need to save the humans, not the whales." This is as absurd as telling visitors to a barber shop that they must hate their hair since they never let it grow indefinitely. A finite world can only offer a finite degree of human expansion, just as hair must be cut before it's tripped over and becomes a hazard. People who refuse to face the realities of overpopulation tend to be strong champions of individual freedom, but they miss the irony of their position, since population growth is one of the biggest threats to personal freedom and human dignity. Much of what's mistaken for government control of people's lives is just the effect of overcrowding and smaller pieces of the pie per capita. If promoting ZPG is "anti-people" then promoting pet birth control is "anti-pet." It's interesting that those who claim to be the biggest champions of life generally treat non-human life as expendable in the path our own runaway growth.

"Humans are part of nature. We have a right to compete." It's ludicrous to claim that the playing field is level among humans and other species, and it's arrogant not to care. We may be "natural" in the sense that we came from natural origins, but we left them behind centuries ago. The existence of agriculture, the exploitation of petroleum and the harnessing of the atom are just a few ways that Man has stepped outside of nature. The wise among us recognize that we must temper our abilities. No other species thrives on exponential population growth and sidesteps natural controls like Man. No other species has generated such a rapid rate of extinction among others. Just because we can pave and trample the world doesn't mean we're obliged to. If modern human activity is "part of nature," so is cancer.

"Man will never destroy nature; we're too puny to accomplish that." This argument is often used after a growth-apologist concedes that Man isn't quite operating within the limits of nature. They change the angle from denial of our impact to a feigned humility in the face of something much larger than ourselves. But ecologists have never claimed that Man can literally "destroy" the entire surface of the planet, short of a nuclear war. The real issue is the damage we're doing that wouldn't have occurred without us. Examples are species extinctions, forest destruction, water diversions, and general damage to ecosystems, including potentially serious climate change. Of course nature will always exist in some form, but the issue is the scale and quality of what's left. Comedian George Carlin did a flawed monologue on this, claiming that nature will eventually be rid of us so we shouldn't worry about our impact. Such fatalistic apathy is just an easy way to avoid accountability, and we'll probably be around long enough to do plenty more damage. What we ought to do (instead of saying "who cares?") is minimize our impact in order to maximize our long term survival and the quality of life.

"The ten billionth resident of the Earth may be the one who figures out how to feed everybody." This is an unbelievably stupid argument. Who would want to push carrying capacity to its limits just to prove we can cram X-billion people on the planet? It's like saying "they may find a cure for lung cancer in the year 2030 so why should I quit smoking now?" Likewise, billions of dollars are lost at casinos because people hope that their 100th quarter will hit the jackpot. Smoking may give some people pleasure and gambling can be fun, but logic needs to prevail when the Earth's future is at stake. A good rebuttal (plausible in a desperately overcrowded future) is that the ten billionth resident of the Earth will be the next Adolph Hitler.

"No one has any business suggesting that I limit my family size." On the surface this may sound like a declaration of individual freedom, but when the broad context of the population problem is considered, it's no less selfish than saying "I don't care if there's not enough to go around; I'm going to use what I want - the hell with the rest of you." These types of statements are often coupled with outright lies about the world's carrying capacity.

"I'm doing fine, MY kids aren't starving - so what's all the fuss about?" This is classic "I got mine" thinking. Some people are able to filter out almost everything but their own existence. This may be a good way to stay happy but it's no way to make policy decisions for the entire world.

"All this talk of population control is a government plot to take away my freedoms." This is a variation of the above. Self interest mindlessly triumphs over broad concerns. The larger context is deleted and everything is seen as a conspiracy to get ME. For detailed arguments against this mindset, see Critiques Of Libertarianism.

"Environmentalists are hypocrites because they drive cars and use electricity." This tired generalization implies that technology must be embraced 100% and never criticized. But it's perfectly reasonable to enjoy the benefits of technology and understand its limits. It can more rightfully be said that right-wing reactionaries are hypocrites when they visit parks preserved by "ecofreaks" (preservation has always been the underdog in the face of growth). Very few environmentalists want to abandon modern advancements and live like the Amish, and many are pioneers in the latest efficient technologies. They are just looking for ways to make society sustainable, with some help from technology and the rest from growth cessation.

"If you want to save the Earth, why not start by killing yourself?" This ugly cliché is often used by growth-addicts when they're backed into an evidentiary corner. It's an oxymoronic Freudian slip because it admits that there is a population problem yet it seeks to eliminate the very people concerned about said problem! Such evil remarks show that many in the anti-ecology crowd are just punks.

"It's elitist to talk about growth control. You are merely trying to repress my culture." While it's true that eugenics and other arrogant theories have been used to promote growth control among specific populations, this has nothing to do with modern concerns about carrying capacity. When one examines the hunger and living conditions in overcrowded poor countries it should be clear that prolific ethnic groups are hurting themselves with population growth. Many third world citizens cling to the old belief that large families will help them on the farm, etc., but large families usually exacerbate existing economic and ecological problems, destroying resources that future generations count on. Those who think economic empowerment will inevitably reduce birthrates are ignoring that this may never happen in many parts of the world. Birth control must come first, followed by whatever economic progress can take place once chronic social burdens are eased.

"I won't even be alive when things get really bad, so why does it matter?" This is a shallow, all too common attitude toward the future. There's nothing wrong with living for the moment, but total disregard for anything but one's own existence reveals extreme selfishness. People with this outlook don't even care about their own descendants, let alone other species that are being pushed aside by population growth. It's hard to say whether more people share this type of fatalism or the following (religious) type.

"Environmentalism is a religion." Respecting or revering processes that directly sustain life makes far more sense than blind faith in unseen, unprovable deities. As "faiths" go, environmentalism is very pragmatic. Functioning ecosystems are tangible, not supernatural. No faith is required to understand that we can't survive without an atmosphere, water, soil, plants and animals. The environmentalism-as-religion argument is used when empirical evidence can't be denied. Smokers use the same angle when they claim non-smokers are zealots for wanting clean air.

"God will be the one to decide when there are too many people." No god of any religion has ever been proven to exist, regardless of all the testimonials. One cannot pile assumptions on top of hearsay and ask other people to live (or die) by the personal beliefs of a certain group. We need to heed the phrase "the Lord helps those who help themselves" rather than throwing up our hands and leaving population trends to chance.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." (Bertrand Russell)


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