Overpopulation is a racist argument against climate change…and it’s designed to distract you.
On the day when we learnt news that shocked *literally nobody* – rich people hate paying taxes, and the slightly more shocking news that Donald Trump paid $70,000 for his hair to look like that…
It’s disappointing to see that news closer to home is yet again relying on eco-fascist arguments to give airtime to the climate emergency.
Sir David Attenborough broke records this week when he joined Instagram, ahead of his upcoming book and series “A Life on Our Planet”, and the book publicity has well and truly begun as he took to BBC Breakfast this morning.
Of course, much of what he said made sense. We should all be treating the natural world as if it is precious, because it is. And we all have a responsibility to do something.
He even challenged the familiar “what about China?” question so many people use to absolve themselves from taking any action, to point out that there are a lot of interesting developments happening in the complex country the world seems to use as climate scapegoat. (That’s a blog post for another day).
Unfortunately though, Sir David blames the fact that “we’ve overrun the planet” and encourages everyone not to waste – as if individual action will solve the climate crisis.
And that’s where I have to disagree with him.
Overpopulation is a racist argument against climate change. It rarely comes up in conversation without thinly veiled views on which populations should be reduced. And even if it is discussed by well-meaning environmentalists, it’s steeped in colonialism and fails to acknowledge the power imbalance of carbon emissions.
It’s true that our global population is increasing, the amount of habitable land is decreasing, and we’re facing more food insecurity and resource scarcity.
But the overpopulation argument suggests that developing countries are killing the planet, when actually they are the least responsible (and facing the most dangerous impacts).
Half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people – is responsible for just 10 % of global carbon emissions.
Around one sixth of the world’s population is so poor that it produces no significant emissions at all.
And many of the carbon emissions coming from developing countries are caused by factories making goods for wealthy western consumers, or from deforestation and agriculture involved in producing food for export. So technically, as the end consumers, we should be responsible for those emissions as well.
The problem is inequality, not overpopulation.
Wealthy people have a disproportionate negative impact on the planet. Being wealthy doesn’t just mean higher levels of consumption. It also gives you more political influence. The rich fund political parties and campaigns, have control over corporations and access to law makers and lobbyists. The wealthy hold power over the businesses and industries which produce the majority of carbon emissions and exploit the majority of natural resources.
The wealthiest 1% is made up of a select group of billionaires who have made their fortunes from the carbon-intensive fossil fuel industry and are directly responsible, through consumption or control, for the majority of the world’s emissions.
And because they’re profiting from climate change, they continue to invest in advertising, infrastructure and policies that prevent meaningful emissions reductions or zero carbon transitions.
The problem with both the overpopulation and the overconsumption arguments is that they push responsibility back to the individual to “make the right choice”. But the individual is operating within the constraints of a unfair system where they are at a disadvantage.
And while we’re busy blaming each other for taking that flight, eating that steak, or even having an extra child, we’re not challenging those that hold power, which is why we’re struggling to save the planet – even when we stop wasting things.
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