It’s a dead end. A discussion killer. When I have discussions with people about sustainability I hear it all the time: ‘there are just too many of us on this planet’. It simplifies the problems we face and I think that’s unfair. We give up and say that overpopulation is the problem. The only solution therefore is to do nothing if you ask those people. And so, that argument makes us passive. Today I want to share with you that this argument is not true and why overpopulation is not a problem.
Much to Save Still
I get that the problems we face today are overwhelming. Right now, it’s a matter of extinction. The easiest thing people can do is nothing. Complain about how we’re all lost anyway. That’s where the argument of overpopulation comes in too. That’s something we obviously can’t change and so we can’t do anything. We’re doomed. In a minute, I’ll explain that this is not true. I am doing that because we have a lot to save! The situation is horrible right now, but we have time to do something about it. We can’t change it all, but a big part of it can be saved. We could prevent human extinction. If that’s not something we should fight for, I don’t know what is. A lot of people are working hard to do something and so should we.
Not Enough Room
Now, I asked myself (and them), why would you say there are too many people on earth. The main reason is: there is not enough room for everyone. People take too much room. They take the biggest part of the planet and that’s why there is so little room for nature. Sound logical, right? We humans take up too much room. This is in fact the truth. We take up the biggest part of land on earth. But why is this so? What do we do with this land? The entire area on earth consists of only 29% land, 71% is water. From this land, only 71% is habitable. You think humans take up the biggest part of that? You’re wrong. Urban and built-up land take up only 1% of our habitable land. What takes up most?
Agricultural land, 50% of our habitable land is used for food production. That seems to make sense, we all need to eat right? But it’s about what we eat. From that 50% of land used for agriculture, 77% is used for livestock (meat and dairy). 40 million m2 from the 104 million m2 is used just to produce meat and dairy which we don’t need. However, this 40 million m2 is only accountable for 18% of the global calorie intake. Humans gain 82% of they calories from plant-based crops, while this take up only 11 million m2. If we make that 100%, we’d free up about 37,5 million m2! The space is not the problem, we have more than enough space. Our diet is the problem.
So yes, there is enough room for humans on earth. We just use more than we should. If we fix this problem by all going vegan, there is still the emissions problem. If we all went vegan there would be almost 40 million m2 available for nature, which then takes up CO2. But we then still emit way too much greenhouse gases for nature to take up. We use too much non-renewable energy. But as we all know, we can fix that! We can switch to renewables and we’re doing that. We’re just not doing it fast enough. But at least it’s something we’re currently doing. Going vegan is not something we’re doing on such a large scale. Renewable is the future. If we have 100% renewable energy it doesn’t matter anymore how many people we have. That part can be fixed too.
Consumption and Circularity
Of course, we also consume way too much as human beings. This behavior causes the biggest amount of emissions (source) and so lower consumption is something we should do. I admit it, we should do something about that too. Resources are running out and we are destroying the planet for stuff. But! Again, that’s something we can fix as well. We need a circular economy in the first place, which leaves no waste. Then we need to consume less and make sure production is clean (but that is also part of a circular economy).
The UN projects that the world population would peak at around 11 billion (source). New research shows that this peak could be much lower, 2 billion in numbers (source). It is mostly up to women’s rights. If women have a better life worldwide, the population increases slower and will peak earlier. That’s because a lot of women don’t have access to education or contraception. But let’s say the world population peaks at 11 billion people. Right now, we have about 7,8 billion people (source). We then need to feed 3,2 billion more people. With the room we have, that’s possible. We would currently use about 13,5 million m2 to feed every human if everybody ate vegan. We have 37,5 million m2 more if we get rid of livestock (meat and dairy). So, that proves again that we could feed everybody up until the peak in population.
Compassion or Selfishness
The numbers tell us very clearly: we don’t have too many people on earth. Overpopulation is not the problem. Right now, the problem is how we behave. The main problem is our diet when it comes to the amount of land we as humans take. We should follow a plant-based diet and leave the land that then gets free for nature. We should have a circular economy with 100% renewable energy. Then we live within the earth’s boundaries. It’s really a matter of compassion. If we have compassion for others we will change our behavior. If we are selfish, we will not. I think humans are inherently good, but aren’t always properly educated. Now that you know this: will you give room so that everybody on the planet can live by going vegan? Will you do everything you can to buy renewable energy and support the circular economy?
I will, because I know the problem is not overpopulation. Our behavior is the problem.