The myth of over-population

2009-12-02

Richard Moore


I’ve been looking quite a while for a good article on the ‘over-population problem’. This one is very good. The URL, and excerpts from the article, are below.

This is not to say population can keep growing indefinitely, but it is not over-population that is causing mass starvation today. If we were to reform agricultural methods, and economics, so that everyone had a good life, which could be done, then history shows people would reduce family sizes. Some European countries are experiencing population reduction, if you discount immigration. And immigration pressures would be reduced if people weren’t fleeing poverty.

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Human Population and Arable Land

Of the five general causes of the latest mass extinction event, the current crop of the world’s richest philanthropists focuses its attention on over-population as the problem to be solved. But, are there too many people?  Is this the most significant problem facing the biosphere, requiring massive philanthropic funding?
Researchers David Pimental and Anne Wilson suggest that “the minimum area considered essential for the production of a diverse, healthy, nutritious diet of plant and animal products like that enjoyed widely in the United States and Europe” is a half hectare (1.2355 acres) per person.
Somewhere between 12 and 18 billion acres of human-habitable land (i.e., arable, or, capable of producing crops) covers the globe. Even at the low end of 12 billion acres, we have more than enough arable land. With a global population of nearly 6.8 billion, to provide “a diverse, healthy, nutritious diet of plant and animal products,” 8.4 billion acres is needed.

Soil Degradation – Too Many People or Too Much Pollution?

The amount of arable land decreases annually. Encroaching deserts and rising seas reduce this acreage, while technology can increase it. Overall, however, many scientists from varying fields agree that the amount of arable land is decreasing. None of the reasons given for this loss is over-population. Instead, agricultural practices, over-grazing, development and deforestation are blamed. 
Agricultural practices not suited to local conditions cause nutrient loss and soil erosion, destroying arable land. Massive chemical inputs pollute the soil and groundwater. Biovision explains: “Soil toxicity can be brought about in a number of ways, but typical examples are from municipal or industrial wastes, oil spills, the excessive use of fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides, or the release of radioactive materials and acidification by airborne pollutants.”
In Soil degradation in the United States: Extent, severity and trends (CRC Press, 2004), Rattan Lal, et al., write: “Soil degradation is a biophysical process, driven by socioeconomic and political causes.” On page 5, they produce this chart:

Lal, et al. (2004)

The increasing loss of arable acreage is attributed to agricultural practices, not over population.

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