Tropical Leaves

Overpopulation: Fact or Fiction?

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By Aanya Bhola

“Nature is healing” is a seemingly innocuous statement that’s been ubiquitous on social media this past year. It’s a joke to many who claim that this pandemic has been the earth’s so-called “detox juice” or “self-care year.”

Of course, some take it further. Alt-right groups and Ecofacists have claimed Covid-19 to be Nature’s gift to this world: a virus to help control our growing population. It’s a dangerous sentiment tied very closely to eugenics—the idea that certain groups of people must go if our world is too crowded. That viewpoint is incredibly ableist, xenophobic, and racist. However, these ideas do raise a valid question: is our world overpopulated?

In this era of fake news, it’s impossible to tell what’s true and what’s not. So, let’s analyze this, here and now. Overpopulation: Fact or fiction?


Fiction:
The Black Death solved an overpopulation problem in 14th Century Europe.

Fact:
This is false. Sure, after the plague, wages increased, rent decreased, wealth was more evenly distributed, diet improved, and life expectancy increased. However, none of those issues were caused by overpopulation in the first place. The changes after the Black Death were caused by workers gaining bargaining power due to a shortage of labor, as well as the motivation to cause radical shifts after the upper classes had done nothing to help them during the famine. It didn’t take place across the entirety of Europe either—just Western Europe, whose upper class maintained a less united front than their Eastern counterparts and were hence forced into treating the working class better. Historically, violent and dramatic events such as plagues and wars have been the causes of the most positive changes because they changed the status quo and brought a greater shift towards equality, not because they fixed any sort of population problem.


Fiction:
Population growth is potentially exponential while the world’s food supplies or other resources’ growth is linear; this difference will eventually reduce living standards to overpopulation.

Fact:
Overpopulation is a Malthusianism myth. 95% of the world’s population is concentrated in just 10% of this world—if everyone lived as densely as in New York City, the entire world population of 7.8 billion could fit into the state of Texas. Enough food is produced every year to feed 10 billion people. People get brainwashed on the topic of overpopulation so easily because of the current world’s condition—if we produce so much food each year, why does world hunger exist? Why does homelessness? The answer is that we don’t have a people problem, we have an equitable distribution problem. Restaurants have to throw out any unbought food every day, which leads to enormous food waste. Hotels can’t rent out rooms unless they’ve been paid for. As long as we have a wealth inequality, the distribution of resources will never be equal.


Fiction:
Without population control, the number of people in the world is just going to continuously increase.

Fact:
Actually, fertility rates have never been lower. It’s currently less than “replacement-level” (two children per couple) which means that people aren’t having more kids, older folks are just living longer. This trend is explained through medical developments that allow people to routinely live into their eighties or nineties. The real issue with this statement is that it can be very easily twisted to say that certain groups of people shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. This markedly affects women particularly from marginalised social groups, who have often been seen as targets for achieving fertility goals. Eugenics has always been a big problem, but when combined with ideas of overpopulation, it leads to the violation of women’s bodies as a way of controlling population. Sterilization and permanent contraception are primarily used nonconsensually on women, destroying their autonomy and freedom. Unlike overpopulation, it’s a real issue that affects millions across the globe.


In conclusion, overpopulation is nothing more than a myth. People are the only species on earth that can both intentionally save nature and vastly increase its potential. To imply that all people can do is destroy is a gross oversimplification and ignores the efforts of everyone that works towards helping save the earth.