Let me present to you a narrative that is common in mainstream environmental thought: this is an argument that you have surely heard before, and while it can be a tantalizing explanation for the phenomenon of the current environmental crisis, it quickly fails when further investigated. This is the argument that the human population is becoming too large and that soon there will not be enough resources for everyone. That is, humans soon reach the natural carrying capacity that the planet can handle, and once it does, social collapse will ensue.
This theory can be qualified as ecoscarity, and according to its supporters, it is this so-called demographic crisis which is at the origin of all the environmental crises characteristic of this period, of the Anthropocene. Overpopulation is responsible for the depletion of the world’s biodiversity stocks, the pollution of the world’s rivers, lakes and streams, the excessive depletion of the world’s soils and land, and all the other obstacles that stand in the way of those dreaming of sustainability and environmental well-being.
The prospect of ecoscarcity began with Thomas Malthus, and his notorious publication, Essay on the principle of population. Malthus argued that the population was growing exponentially and food production would not be able to keep up, leading to starvation of the poor. Malthus saw this result as a natural solution to the problem and went so far as to assert that poverty reduction was a bad idea, as it would perpetuate the so-called “problem of the poor” – after all, it was the working class that. contributed the most to the development of the population, so it must be their fault for so much reproduction.
Rather than questioning the social and economic conditions that have perpetuated environmental degradation, this thesis misses the big picture.
It may be clear now where this is heading: this thesis of overpopulation being the root cause of all environmental degradation and resource depletion is twisted. Rather than questioning the social and economic conditions that have perpetuated environmental degradation, this thesis misses the big picture. By attempting to look at environmental issues from a purely ecological perspective, Malthus effectively naturalized (i.e. desocialized) inherently social issues such as poverty, disease, and inequality. He sums up the problem to a question of humanity as a species.
Before going any further, I would like to clarify that I am not trying to claim that there is no impact of population growth on environmental health, but rather that it does not explain on its own the massive amount of environmental degradation this planet has suffered.
The ecoscarity argument is an oversimplification, which fails to criticize the society itself and the models of our daily life (especially those of us in the countries of the Global North) which are contributing to the destruction. ecological environment that we are currently witnessing. This does not call into question our patterns of production and consumption, and the mere fact that many of us consume far more energy, food and other resources than we need. Malthusian theory fails to address the massive inequalities inherent in the way goods are distributed in the world market and in the violent political processes that underlie the capitalist economic system.
Thinking of the environmental crisis in terms of ecoscarity is dangerous. This perspective is often used as a way to legitimize marginalization and the forced “modernization” and displacement of communities. An example of how dangerous this kind of thinking can be can be found in Irish history, with the Irish Potato Famine. I mentioned earlier that Malthus believed that reducing poverty would only perpetuate the problem – it comes into play here.
The ecoscarity argument is an oversimplification, which fails to criticize the society itself and the models of our daily life (especially those of us in the countries of the Global North) which are contributing to the destruction. ecological environment that we are currently witnessing.
The British elite in London at the time of the famine were only too happy to follow Malthus’ example and blame the poor for their misery, seeing them as lazy and unproductive. They were thus claiming that Malthus had postulated half a century before that the population had grown too large for the limited resources of this small island of Ireland. Of course, surprise, it wasn’t. Today it is widely believed that the most glaring cause of the famine was not plant disease, in fact, but England’s long-standing political hegemony over Ireland and the exploitative nature of the country. movement of products from Ireland to England.
It is true that man is at the origin of the environmental crisis. Carbon dioxide concentrations are reaching new heights, due to the anthropogenic combustion of fossil fuels. We consume a lot, and pollute the planet in our wake. However, when we talk about this, we need to make sure we consider which humans we are talking about. It is not because of the poor, and not because we, as a species, have overstepped the natural limits of the planet. Rather, it is a complex problem caused by a number of factors inherent in our current modes of socio-ecological systems.