It's Not a Numbers Problem

The New York Times

Give our species some credit: We’ve learned a lot in the half-century since Paul Ehrlich warned that overpopulation would spell our doom.

Start with the term "overpopulation." It implies that there are too many people in relation to the planet’s resources, a concept that has fallen out of favor. We now know that resources are distributed so inequitably, and used so wastefully, that it is virtually impossible to determine how many people the planet can sustain.

We’ve also learned that it’s absurd to attribute any environmental problem to human numbers alone. Americans, for example, comprise about 4 percent of the world’s population, but produce over 17 percent of climate-changing carbon emissions. So, for the global climate, consumption in the U.S. is a much bigger problem than, say, population growth in Niger.

Does that mean that human numbers are irrelevant to environmental sustainability? Not exactly. Current inequities are not — and must not be — set for all time. Yet the planet could not support today’s 7 billion people living as Americans now do, much less a future world population of up to 11 billion.