The Myth of Overpopulation

The Global Economic System, Not A Lack of Resources, is to Blame for So-Called "Overpopulation"

What people who say that “population explosion is a phenomenon within itself” might not have considered is that most problems attributed to overpopulation are actually caused by political, social and economic conditions. The “overpopulation” movement is a disguise for the wealthy in their Malthusian attacks on the poor. Population is not the root cause of poverty in the Third World; it is a symptom. It is not population size that causes poverty, but rather economic and social conditions, including distribution of resources.

Thomas Malthus, the man who is more or less responsible for the myth of “overpopulation,” was a clergyman in the 1700s who made an unscientific observation—he proposed that while human population grew exponentially (2, 4, 16, 32…) production grows in a straight, linear line (1, 2, 3, 4…). He argued that humans would eventually outgrow the “carrying capacity” of the Earth. Malthus’ methods and research have been thoroughly debunked thousands of times by other scholars, as well as common sense, which shows that in reality people can produce many times what they consume through work, production and the development of technology. Despite this, the “overpopulation” myth continues today.

No one, even “cornucopianists,” believes that the resources of the planet Earth are unlimited. Usually the position they take is that there are more factors involved in the issue of overpopulation than simply the idea of too many people and not enough resources. The real problem is how those resources are distributed. This is the real problem–this class division among human beings and the uneven development of nations due to the global imperialist system.

The widespread ownership of land is also a major problem to be combated. As land is a natural product, it should not be a commodity to be bought and sold. If one person owns a huge plot of land, far more acreage than any single man—no matter how rich—should ever need to own, that complicates the possibility of building proper housing, schools, hospitals, etc. When the concept of land ownership is not in question, it becomes apparent that little land is actually needed to give most people comfortable living space. The figure below illustrates the land area per person in nations that the popular opinion labels as “overpopulated”: (1)

And this figure from the same source illustrates how land distribution factors into “overpopulation”: (1)

Yes, there are cities that are overpopulated, crammed to the brim with people. However, the Earth is not overpopulated in area—most of the land area is empty. While the earth does have a finite number of resources and a finite area with which to cultivate those resources, again, most of it is political and economic, i.e., the world’s supply of crude oil running out due to the financial interests of those in charge of the oil companies, the lack of an alternative being developed due to capitalist interests holding back science, the crises of overproduction and waste due to the market, international conflicts and of course, poverty.

There is also the matter of pollution. Political and social writer Joseph Barter says that, “At the very least, human overpopulation and increasing industrial activity are causing the extinction of large numbers of other species, and could potentially lead to the biological death of the planet. This destruction began with the advent of modern technology several centuries ago, and accelerated tremendously with the advent of the petroleum age” (2).

The ecological harm caused by the increase of industry is not directly due to the number of people, but rather the methods with which these resources are produced. If more sensible and environmentally-friendly options were adopted by developed nations as well as developing ones, the carbon footprint of the average person and the pollution of the air, water and food could be drastically reduced.

Womens’ rights must also be a central issue when addressing the “population explosion.” As they become more empowered in the home and workplace, women have fewer children, as reproduction and homemaking is no longer considered their only purpose for existing. Phillip Longman, writer for Foreign Affairs, says that, “Today, the average woman in the world bears half as many children as did her counterpart in 1972” (3). Some blame the “explosion” in population for problems such as environmental degradation, the crises of overproduction and the widening gap between the rich and poor, but the problem is not so much overpopulation as it is distribution of resources.

Works Cited:

(1) Image: Originally researched: Gale Lyle Pooley, Environmentalism and the Gospel, Analytica, Sun Valley, Idaho, 1995, p. 92

(2) Phillip Longman (2004). The Global Baby Bust;. Foreign Affairs, 83(3), 64-79. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 629530201).

(3) Joseph Barter (2000). Global war and the human population problem. The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 25(2), 241-250. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 58392241).

Categories: Colonialism, Economic Exploitation, Environment, Imperialism, International, Theory

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Earth is NOT overpopulated. On YouTube there is a video on the problem with zero population growth, and the entire state of Texas can support all of us currently living with one-fifth of the land still used for parks. Problems are corruption, government, infrastructure, etc., but all is pessimism. In fact, Earth can support up to 100.2 trillion people for now!

  2. I must counter to Jose that no state in the United States is capable of producing enough food for all of the citizens within that state, thus showing in the US we are overpopulated.

  3. Very good info. Lucky me I ran across your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have book marked it for later!

  4. Interesting take on this. If theoretically the world could sustain this many people for o e hundred years or so, would it be worth it to have that many humans walking around? How would it affect us and once we reached one trillion and somehow had not perished from disease, would we continue to endlessly multiply? Is this what we like to call progress?

    Not sure where I stand on this but I almost always feel like there are more of us than what is a healthy balance. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Overpopulation as a cause of poverty was thoroughly debunked in *Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity*, by Frances Moore Lappé about 30 years ago, and by Henry George in *Progress and Poverty* in 1879. Overpopulation doesn’t cause poverty; poverty causes overpopulation.

    The comment that no state can grow enough food to supply its population is beyond stupid. Whether it does and whether it can are two very different things. Raised-bed organic gardening can feed ten to the acre, even in Pennsylvania with our limited growing season.

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