Why So Rarely The “P” Word?
Saying we’ve got a population problem is nearly taboo
HOW IS IT that most environmental writers won’t acknowledge the role that overpopulation plays in destroying nature and impoverishing people? I find it truly amazing.
For example, consider these two articles on deforestation that just came across my newsfeed:
In the World Economic Forum, Morgan Erickson-David asks, What is the link between rising deforestation and poverty in Nigeria? She explains that deforestation results from fire, logging, and farming driven by high rates of poverty. Morgan mentions that "Nigeria’s population has exploded in the last century, from 36.7 million in 1950 to 158.3 million in 2010” [it's now at 206 million], and that “job creation has not kept pace, forcing people to choose between forests and their families.” But she fails to draw the connection between population growth and forest loss.
What would be wrong in adding that surging population growth drives poverty, and both drive deforestation? Certainly, there’s a solid case to be made in support of such a statement (if one chooses to do the research).
Morgan’s article appears in the World Economic Forum, a bastion of pro-growth ideology. It concludes by saying "it’s possible for rural economic development and conservation goals to go hand-in-hand to create jobs and absorb those whose livelihoods had always come from the forest.”
But isn’t it equally possible that rural economic development combined with rapid population growth would accelerate deforestation? Again, a dearth of questioning and critical thought.
(Full disclosure: my gut reaction to that closer was: Yeah sure. Overpopulation, economic development, and conservation. One big happy family. Dream on!)
Priya Shukla writes in Forbs that Forests in India are Disappearing Faster than Previously Thought. Priya, a scientist herself, links decreased forest cover to climate change, based on a research paper by Alice Haughan and colleagues. While the focus is on the effects of climate change, she notes that “Despite these research findings, climate change is only the secondary driver of forest loss in India; humans converting landscapes for their own purposes is still the main cause.
According to Dr. Haughan, “India has seen dramatic forest loss in recent decades, with land use changes to accommodate crops, livestock and a growing population cited as causes. While the contribution of land use change to forest loss has been studied extensively, little attention has been given to the role of climate change in recent decreases.”
At least the “P” word appears here, but only as a shadow to forest loss from land use changes. I’d ask why far less attention, if any, has been paid to the role of human population growth in deforestation. After all, over the past 50 years, India’s population has increased from 555 million to 1.4 billion people.
Why do mainstream writers typically fail to identify population growth as a cause of forest loss, climate change, wildlife extinctions, pollution, and the like? Certainly, they understand multi-causality. Are they fearful of being shamed as old-fashioned Malthusian theorists? Labelled as racists? Afraid they won’t get published? Or simply ignorant of how our numbers affect our demands on the natural environment?
What do you think? It would be nice to better understand why news analysts are so reluctant to mention overpopulation as a cause of Earth’s ecological woes. We should be asking them at every turn.