Permaculture and the Myth of Overpopulation

Permaculture and the Myth of Overpopulation:


Six talking points to use when debunking the myth that overpopulation is the root of the environmental crisis:

1. Rates of population growth are declining: Between 1950 and 2000, the world population grew at a rate of 1.76%. However, between 2000 and 2050, the rate of growth is expected to decline to 0.77%.

2. Overpopulation is defined by numbers of people, not their behaviors: Industrialized countries, who make up only 20% of the world’s population, are responsible for 80% of the carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. The United States is the worst offender, with 20 tons of carbon emission per person. Therefore, it is not the amount of people that leads to degradation, but what they are doing. Permaculture design illustrates how humans can have a positive impact on the health of our ecosystems, bringing greater health and equity.

3. Overpopulation justifies the scapegoating and human rights violations of poor people, women, people of color, and immigrant communities: Often times the subtext of “too many people” translates to too many poor people, people of color, and immigrants. This idea has been used to justify such practices as the forced sterilization of 35% of women of childbearing age in 1970′s Puerto Rico, under the control of and with funding from the US government. This is a human and reproductive rights violation. 

4. Overpopulation points the finger at individuals, not systems: This lets the real culprits off the hook. When we look at the true causes of environmental destruction and poverty, it is often social, political and economic systems, not individuals. We see militaries and the toxic legacy of war, corrupt governments, and a capitalist economic system that puts profit over people and the environment.

5. Supports a degenerative mental model of scarcity: Much of this ideology was created by Thomas Robert Malthus, an 19th century English scholar. Malthus gave us the erroneous idea that the reason there is famine is because there are too many mouths to feed. This hides the reality that we have a distribution problem, not a scarcity problem. Malthus’s work has been used as the philosophical bedrock to justify many human rights violations throughout history.

6. Focusing on overpopulation prevents us from creating effective solutions and building movements for collective self determination: Permaculture teaches us that how we define a problem determines how we design solutions. How does viewing overpopulation as a root problem impact the way we think of and design solutions? What would solutions look like if we viewed people, all people, as an asset? The myth of overpopulation has lead to solutions of population control and fertility treatments, rather than overall health care and women’s rights. The more we blame humans and think we are bad and evil, the harder it is to believe in ourselves, count on each other, and build a collective movement for justice and self determination.