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About the Author

Giedre Steikunaite
Student (London, United Kingdom)

Currently an editorial intern at the New Internationalist magazine ("The people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice"), I'm studying journalism and contemporary history in London, UK. Freelancing for various publications, back in Lithuania I was a reporter for a current affairs weekly Panorama. Development, climate change, and social issues are my main topics of interest.


Global Population Crisis II: Case Against

Published 16th April 2010 - 9 comments - 5557 views -

Following Global Population Crisis I: Case In Favour, here is the other side of the arguments regarding (over)population. The Case Against argues that there are not too many people in the world, that our planet can accommodate even more, given a change in politics and fairer distribution of wealth.

Quote of the Case Against:

"The Earth is one but the world is not. ... We all depend upon one Earth, one biosphere, for sustaining our lives. Yet each community, each country, strives for survival and prosperity with little regard for its impact on others. Some consume Earth's resources at a rate that would leave little for future generations. Others ... live with the prospect of hunger, squalor, disease and early death." Our Common Future, Brundtland report on sustainable development, 1987.


The Case Against:

Lifestyles. The problem is not one of numbers, but rather of lifestyles. The rich are the biggest polluters in the world, but the poor are the ones who suffer the consequences. Climate change is caused mainly by industrialized countries, but the poor pick up the bill. If an average North American is responsible for 20 tonnes of CO2 a year, and an average African for around 2 tonnes, it is clear who should change their behaviour.

Food distribution. There is enough food in the world for everyone. The problem is its distribution. Social injustice is the root cause for this. It is estimated that Africa would be able to provide enough food for its people, if rich countries left massive tracts of lands where they currently grow food for their own populations. And remember that in Britain they throw away around a third of the food.

Racism. Element of racism: Too many who? “The others”? Too many Africans, Asians and Latin Americans? Honestly, who would you like to get rid of? Vanessa Bird of The New Internationalist tells this story: “A survey conducted in the Netherlands asked people three questions. One: “Are there too many people in the world?” Yes, replied the majority. Next: “Are there too many people in the Netherlands?” Yes, again came the reply. Finally: “Are there too many people in your community?” No, they replied. The story is told by demographer Nico van Nimwegen and it illustrates a key point. “too many people” is almost inevitably too many other people. Not us.”

Sexism. China’s example shows that population control can be fuelled by sexism. After its One Child Policy was imposed in 1979, many baby girls were killed or abandoned in orphanages because of the cultural preference to have male children. Women face pressure to give birth to a baby boy who, it is often believed, can provide better for the family.

Survival. In some regions, you need to produce many children to make sure some of them survive. Children help parents to work and take care of them when they grow old. There is also an element of cultural traditions of big families which have to be respected.

Fertility rates. They had been falling for some time now. If this trend continues, it will help stabilize the world’s population. According to the UN, in 76 countries fertility rates had fallen below the replacement level, which is 2.1 children. This means the current population in those regions is not reproducing itself and is shrinking.

Policies gone wrong. In order to deal with overpopulation, governments have imposed horrific policies. Their practices include forced sterilization or punishment for not complying with child quotas. Who can make sure this does not happen again if we are to enforce population policies?

Work force. Massive population means massive work power. This is economic growth, which everyone should benefit from. It then follows that bigger populations can still provide for themselves.

Technology. Power of technology should not be underestimated. Human beings have already proved their capacity for innovation and imagination. Technology and science could be used to address certain issues: think GM (genetically modified) food, for example.

Declining populations. Some countries are complaining that they don’t have enough people, let alone too many. Declining birth rates and emigration in search of a better life leaves some places half empty. Someone said that at this speed, countries like Bulgaria will be empty in 100 years (I cannot verify this claim, it is here just to illustrate the point).

Migration. People could move around and compensate for under-populated areas.


A great debate on population crisis: BBC (if it doesn't play outside the UK, I will put it here).

What do you make of this? Which case makes more sense, In Favour or Against?


Picture: woodleywonderworks via flickr

Category: Crisis | Tags:


  • Hemant Jain on 16th April 2010:

    Those were two superb posts. You have brought out the relevant issues in the great population debate.
    I think it is a very complicated issue. Countries like India need to control their population with effective measures. What are those measures - that, unfortunately is itself a huge issue.

    But as years go by and climate change makes some areas difficult to live in , there will be migrations. The trouble is, countries will start closing their borders to climate refugees. I think it is evident from the strict visa regimes that are coming into act around the world.

    GMOs are no solution. They would elad to monoculture and loss of biodiversity. That is something we cannot afford. There are some very interesting debates on how GMOs are NOT the solution for world hunger.

    Work force
    I think this and racism are entwined so much that it is difficult to separate those. When I was working in the west I got asked uncomfortable questions all the time. Don’t think the world will ever accept foreigners working in their land. Or will do so less and less and the battle for resources grows bigger and bigger.

  • Elsje Fourie on 16th April 2010:

    I really like this idea of covering both perspectives in successive posts, because every issue we discuss in this forum has two sides.  I firmly believe we need to understand both if we are to make a difference in some way.  And with this issue, as usual, I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle - my own feeling is we need to work on slowing down population growth, but that this is not an isolated issue and so we need to work around it as well.

  • Jodi Bush on 17th April 2010:

    @ Giedre - you brought out some key issues, and it was good to explore both sides of the debate. I’d say however, that not all issues in your “against” actually have genuine bearing on whether overpopulation is a problem. I.e. can the world accommodate an ever increasing population? Racism, culture, and sexism might be underlying issues but they don’t actually tell us whether there are too many people or if the world can support bigger populations. Food distribution, adaptation through technology, changed lifestyles, migration (to a degree) and fertility rates are all key points however. Going back to your first post my question would be - is it enough for us to survive, or is it important to us what type of world we live in. If the natural habitats are destroyed, if we have to live in high rise apartments, if we are forced to only eat processed foods and if we’re only able to communicate and live through technology would that be an acceptable trade off for being able to support a growing population? For me, the answer is no. Part of keeping the population down has to be about protecting what makes this world unique and beautiful. How we do so however, is more complicated. That’s where the issues around racism, sexism, bad policies and cultural issues come in. And they need to be managed. What I did find in the course of my post however, was that fertility rates naturally come down when life-chances, and women’s education are improved, thus reducing family sizes naturally. So that, in my view, is what we should be focusing on.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 19th April 2010:

    Thank you for participating in this discussion and all the important points you make. I very much appreciate that.

    In my personal opinion, the situation is summed up in the following quote from a book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want by Robert Engelman: “We are bulls in a china shop. Almost any turn we make sends the porcelain flying.” This can be interpreted in two ways. Is the china shop too small? Or is the bull too big and too aggressive?

    I agree some arguments are not as strong as others, e.g. the GMOs might not be the solution, as Hemant pointed out. And if racism in itself doesn’t tell us if the world can accommodate even more people, it is nevertheless a very important issue in the debate. It challenges the comfortable “western” assumption that there are too many “others”, but not “us”, so “we” can continue destroying this planet as long as African women stop having children. It is also connected to other solutions or consequences (depends on one’s own view) of the problem, such as migration, as Hemant said in his comment.

    @Jodi, sorry for not making myself clear. I do believe education and accessible family planning measures are necessary, but doesn’t this imply that there are indeed too many people in the world if their numbers are to be limited? My aim with these two posts was to compare the arguments of both sides and encourage a discussion rather than focus on what needs to be done (although this follows, inevitably). I bet all of us would agree we want to live in a nice and beautiful world eating fresh food and with a clear conscious of not having wiped all the other species out.

    With this last sentence, I can’t resist putting another quote from the same book as mentioned above. smile

    “The planet is in the early stages of a species extinction episode not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared. If you could somehow ask Mother Nature what she attributes this to, I think she’d likely say not just “people,” but “this many people.”

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 19th April 2010:

    A creative, funny and controversial solution by Steward Brand (author “Whole Earth Discipline) “in strict terms of greenhouse gases, fewer people are better. In those terms the best thing for the world would be an all-out nuclear exchange between the US and Russia. And that’s not on anybody’s…”

  • Jodi Bush on 19th April 2010:

    @ Giedre - I didn’t think you thought they were unimportant, I was just highlighting what I thought was key out of what you’d said and from what I’d looked at. I think you did a good job bringing out the key points of the debate. And I think we’re agreed on the fact that the population explosion can’t go on unchecked…

  • Jodi Bush on 19th April 2010:

    I might add a friendly grin to the end of that! Sometimes comments come across as being terse when you mean anything but!

  • Clare Herbert on 19th April 2010:

    Great follow up! Have bookmarked this for future reference.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 20th April 2010:

    Cheers again Clare! smile

    @Jodi, I’m really grateful for your valuable participation in the discussion! I guess one can’t always guess the tone rightly from a written text, but hey - that’s not so important, considering the seriousness of issues we’re discussing here… Cheers to that!

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