Monday, May 17, 2010


Julia Whitty's long piece on overpopulation in Mother Jones is worth reading, but by and large makes the biggest mistake environmentalists are guilty of when talking about this problem--blaming the developing world.

Whitty focuses on India, talking about rapid population growth among rural people who then move to the cities, problems with topsoil depletion, water, growing consumption rates, etc. That's all fine and good.

Whitty however only pays lip service, buried in the middle of the article, to the real problem with overpopulation--first world people. Americans, Europeans and the Japanese may have far fewer children than mothers in India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, but their impact upon the globe has far greater ramifications. To be fair to Whitty, this part of her piece has great value. As you can see above, she includes this useful graphic demonstrating that 2 American children have the global impact of 337 Bangladeshi children.

So why focus so much on India? Why not say that while we do need to lower birthing rates in the developing world, we are on a slow progression to success? Why not say that what absolutely MUST happen is that first world parents stop having kids? Because that's what must happen. If 2 American children=339 Bangladeshi children, then we absolutely have to not have kids. If we do choose to have children, we need a Chinese style population law, limiting children to 2 per couple. If you have more than two, then there is a real financial penalty to you for doing so.

Of course, making these kinds of policy decisions will never happen in the U.S. But that's a big reason why we are plunging into an abyss of environmental catastrophe.

Whitty also mentions how anti-immigration racists tried to take over the Sierra Club during the 2000s on a platform of population restriction. But her own piece doesn't repudiate those ideas to a necessary extent.  By making overpopulation an Indian problem as opposed to, say, a Utah problem, she doesn't focus enough attention on the real issues at stake with population growth.