Sadly, it's a subject matter that's pretty difficult to avoid. I really do wish I had answers. I mean real, tangible, workable solutions. But I guess we won't get any of those if we don't first realistically examine the root causes of our world's enormous environmental challenges.

Most of us are facing up to the uncomfortable fact that climate change is roaring forward at an astonishing pace. We’re experiencing the 6th mass extinction event whilst, all over the world, natural resources such as freshwater are becoming increasingly difficult to source.

It's quite clear that we humans are causing all of these issues but there seems to be some odd questions being bandied about on whether humanity is causing them through overpopulation or through overconsumption. Logically, the reality is that both these factors are occurring concurrently; the former being the catalyst for the latter. Makes sense to me.

Over consumers

There’s no question that, as a whole, western society are over-consumers. We chomp through an extraordinary amount of resources on a daily basis. There's no question that we, in the gluttonous West, are unconscionably wasteful and really do need to take urgent steps to reduce such matters as food waste. We also need to reduce plastic waste, move away from fossil fuels and rationalise our use of land. In general, the West needs a more sustainable approach towards what we consume, and how we consume it and thereafter deal with the inevitable consequences. Waste.

So, Western overconsumption is a given, right? Every aspect of our Western existence seems geared towards someone trying to sell all of us more and more stuff. It's often just tat, but we still want it, by the container full.

My argument is that overpopulation actually is a very real issue. OK, there's a whole plethora of nuances that need to be taken into account. But, bear in mind that I adhere to the core thesis that pretty much all of the world’s environmental woes would be far easier to resolve if the human population wasn’t as ginormous as it currently is.

Let me be clear, like I said earlier, I’m simply discussing the actual problem, I'm not trying to come up with any harsh solutions. I'm simply describing my personal realisation that heads cannot forever be buried in the sand in relation to this important topic. Before anyone gets too hysterical, I'm certainly not advocating eugenics nor do I wish to discuss anything else that's in any way particularly conspiratorial in nature. Because that's not what I’m talking about. I am simply concerned about the magnitude of the actual problem and the fact that all forecasts suggest that the global population will continue to grow.

Without a doubt, we all need to massively reduce consumption because today's consumption will end up being tomorrow's waste. Agreed?

I agree with those who lecture me that broad statements such as “the world has too many people” is too generalised. But, I can never simply ignore the fact that consumption rates and population growth rates aren't equal across the entire world. Strangely, countries with the highest consumption rates tend to have the very lowest population growth. Without paying attention to such nuances, it would be all too easy to blame overpopulation on the wrong group of people and even end up looking racist in the process.

As things stand, America currently has a staggeringly small population growth rate (0.6% per year). Astonishingly, America is home to only circa 4.2% of the world’s population. Yet, the USA produces more than 14% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, India has an average population growth rate of 1.14% per annum with the subcontinent being home to around 18% of the global population. Yet, India produces just 7% of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Fewest resources

To put all of that into some bitesize chunks, the countries that contribute the most to population growth are also the ones that use the fewest resources per capita.

There's a fundamental reason why I think we have to address overconsumption and overpopulation simultaneously because it's clearly logical to deduce that they are actually simply two sides of the same coin. Understanding this correlation and not getting too bogged down by political correctness is critical for a world which will have to develop appropriate solutions to these problems. Logically, both factors are at play and therefore both need to be addressed in tandem, rather than stubbornly insisting that only one of them is the elephant in the room.

What does overpopulation mean for all of us? Well, overpopulation means more people than the planet can actually sustain. It means more people than the world can provide for whilst still preserving biodiversity. We all crave a sustainable future where we can still enjoy pristine coral reefs, massive rainforests, healthy savannas, magnificent plains and vast deserts filled with bizarre creatures. We all want to enjoy crystal-clear rivers in well-managed national parks with glorious landscapes that stretch as far as the eye can see. But all that’s crumbling slowly but surely. It's barely noticeable on a year-on-year basis but if we examine what’s been happening over the last 40 years, it's actually quite scary!

Admitting that there’s a problem will hopefully help us conserve all the unique and wonderful plants and animals that share this world of ours. We all need the splendour of Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot to thrive for all our sakes. Right now, the simple reality is that every additional person makes achieving that goal that little bit more difficult.

Creature comforts

So how much creature comforts are we actually willing to give up in order to safeguard some kind of sustainable future? Are we willing to give up our cars? What about food waste? I could go on, but the point is clear. Whilst we should do all we can to reduce resource usage, there is a limit to how much we can reduce without diminishing our own living standards.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a comfortable lifestyle. A lifestyle which makes the best use of all our modern wonders. But, we’ll have to face up to the fact that adherence to that high standard of living inherently comes at a high cost to our environment.

The world is losing biodiversity incredibly quickly. Clearing land for expanding the human population is a huge part of that process. We cannot realistically afford to ignore what’s happening around us simply for the sake of political correctness and a quiet life.

To be clear, I’m not blaming anyone in particular because I'm just as guilty as the next person. But all this isn't about blame. It isn't about any one of us as individuals because as I've already admitted, we’re all responsible in our own little way. And it all adds up!

All of us will be impacted if, going forward, we choose inaction. That's a given.


Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring. 

Douglas Hughes