Image of a cartoon planet earth crowded with people, some of which are falling off.

China recently announced that it would replace its one-child policy with a two-child policy, adding more than 30 million people to the country’s labor force by 2050. Many have criticized the most populated nation in the world for such a draconian law because infringes upon people’s freedom and reproductive autonomy.

Yet the same logic behind the policy is often used by people who claim to care about the environment. The earth can’t support many more people, the environmentalists say in response to population estimates of over 8 billion. Under this view, in order to preserve natural resources, we must slow global human population growth. They talk about “overpopulation” and cite projected rates of population growth in the global south and subsequent wildlife loss and environmental degradation.

Yet, when many of these environmentalists already gobble up more than their fair share of natural resources, it’s laughable for them to complain about too many people and point to projected growth in Africa and Asia. Their fears of “overpopulation” for the environment’s sake can hardly mask their fear of an “explosion” of Black and brown people—a “population bomb“.

There isn’t any consensus that there are “too many” people. For one, our species produces way more food than we can eat: hunger is the result of food-hoarding nations and wastefulness. Access to potable water is another concern, but then there are places that are more water-scarce compared to others, and advances in water purification technology may make this less of an issue in the near future. Resource management seems to be the biggest problem that comes with more people. As one environmental consultant explains, “resources are distributed so inequitably, and used so wastefully, that it is virtually impossible to determine how many people the planet can sustain.”

The real threat of “overpopulation” is that the people in the wealthiest nations may have to start living like the rest of the world, when we are no longer able to appropriate resources from other people to maintain our lifestyles. Personally and professionally, I would advocate for adoption over procreation, not because there are “too many people”, but because so many children languish in foster care or on the streets without stable homes or families, but wealthy couples will spend thousands of dollars for fertility treatments or get a poorer woman to serve as an incubator for their child.

With foster children and fears of overpopulation of poor Africans on one hand, and IVF and surrogacy tourism of westerners on the other, it’s a rather twisted scenario.

 

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