Gambling on Our Future: Overpopulation and Overconsumption

October 10, 2013 • Family Planning, News

Gambling on Our Future: Overpopulation and Overconsumption

By Chantal Lyons

Last month, Matt Ridley writing in The Times said:

there is almost a perfect correlation between the severity of conservation problems and poverty, because the richer people get, the less they try to live off the land and compete with nature — the less they seek bushmeat and charcoal from the forest.

There are so many things wrong with this statement that it’s hard to know where to start. I’m presuming that Ridley hasn’t noticed any of the environmental crises that have reared their heads over the last century or so, including but not limited to anthropogenic climate change, overfishing, and the trade in endangered animal parts. Many of these may be fuelled by poverty but ultimately they are driven by wealth. Elephants and rhinos wouldn’t be massacred with such wild abandon if there weren’t countless consumers in Asia with the money to pay for their ivory and keratin. Overfishing isn’t helped by destructive subsistence practices but the brunt of the blame belongs to the over-efficiency of industrialised fleets. We remain chained to fossil fuels in our insatiable appetite for their energy.

Ridley’s article (and his book of the same vein) is indicative of a growing trend of optimism, with various academics and commentators pronouncing that development will solve both poverty and overpopulation. What ‘development’ do they mean exactly? Western-style development? If that’s the case, then we can look forward to a future where we’ll need somewhere between 2.5 to 4.1 planet Earths to sustain the requisite lifestyle for every human being alive, as this infographic shows (and even if we all lived like Costa Ricans we’d still need more than the one planet we have). In the face of exponentially increasing consumption the alternative of sustainable development, the blueprint for which was launched by the UN at Rio in 1992, seems barely realised yet.

To read the full article, please click here:

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