Population and the Environment Wrong Diagnosis, Wrong Solutions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Partido Lakas ng Masa   
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 11:29
According to the United Nations the world’s population reached 7 billion people in October. This has produced a wave of articles and opinion pieces blaming the world’s environmental crises on overpopulation. In New York’s Times Square, a huge and expensive video declares that “human overpopulation is driving species extinct.” In London’s busiest Underground stations, electronic poster boards warn that 7 billion is ecologically unsustainable.

However, there are some basic facts that must be acknowledged. No reduction in the global population would have prevented BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year, or prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.

While universal access to reproductive health services, including birth control, is a fundamental human right, it would not have prevented the poisoning of the people and water on Marinduque Island by the Australian mining company Marcopper. Neither would it prevent the heavy metal contamination and poisoning of the fish in Laguna Lake – a major industry controlled by powerful politicians and fish cage operators -- and the health risks to some 1.5 million people living in and around the lake basin.
Protestors in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more, and destroy more than all the rest of us put together. Most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.

Even in the rich countries of the global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about the protection of the environment and humanity’s survival. The richest 1% own a majority of all stocks and corporate equity, giving them absolute control of the corporations that are directly responsible for most environmental destruction.

A recent report prepared by the British consulting firm Trucost for the United Nations found that just 3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environmental damage every year. Outrageous as that figure is — only six countries have a GDP greater than $2.15 trillion — it substantially understates the damage. In the case of oil companies, the figure covers “normal operations,” but not deaths and destruction caused by global warming, not damage caused by worldwide use of its products, and not the multi-billions of dollars in costs to clean up oil spills. The real damage those companies alone do is much greater than $2.15 trillion, every single year.

The 1% also control the governments that supposedly regulate those destructive corporations. Through the government, the 1% control the U.S. military, the largest user of petroleum in the world, and thus one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Military operations produce more hazardous waste than the five largest chemical companies combined. If the birthrate in Iraq or Afghanistan falls to zero, the U.S. military will not use one less gallon of oil.

Corporations and armies aren’t polluting the world and destroying ecosystems because there are too many people, but because it is profitable to do so. If every African country adopts a one-child policy, energy companies in the U.S., China, and elsewhere will continue burning coal, bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.

We do believe that there are limits to growth. Capitalism’s overall aim is exponential growth and the accumulation of larger and larger amounts of capital to the benefit of the 1%, poses a fundamental and growing contradiction between capitalism and the environment. Therefore we must put forward systemic alternatives to the environmental crisis. We believe that in an ecologically rational and socially just world, where large families aren’t an economic necessity for hundreds of millions of people, population will stabilize.

The best population policy is poverty reduction based on wealth redistribution.  In the Philippines, where in the last decade the net worth of the five richest families has increased 72.5% to over $9 billion, while a worker on the minimum wage earned only around $2000 per year, wealth redistribution is the only solution to achieving poverty reduction.

The too many people argument, with its racist and anti-immigration overtones, blames the principal victims of the crisis – primarily the poor in the global South -- for problems they did not cause, and women’s bodies invariably become political battlefields. Above all, it ignores the massively destructive role of an irrational economic and social system that has gross waste and devastation built into its DNA. The capitalist system and the power of the 1%, not population size, are the root causes of today’s ecological crisis. As pioneering ecologist Barry Commoner once said, “Pollution begins not in the family bedroom, but in the corporate boardroom.”

We put forward an eco-socialist alternative to the capitalist system. This will be a major topic of discussion at a conference this November 28 on “Global Crises, Global Upsurge” at University of the Philippines -- Diliman Campus. Please contact Van on 0906 130 5951 for more information about the conference or visit our website at www.masa.ph.



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