October 26, 2011 -- Grist via Climate and Capitalism, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protesters in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%
This article, published today on the environmental website Grist, has provoked a vigorous discussion there. Many of the comments defend variations of the “consumer sovereignty” argument, that corporations only destroy the environment in order to provide the products and services consumers demand. We encourage readers to join that conversation.
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By Ian Angus and Simon Butler
The United Nations says that the world’s population will reach 7 billion people this month.
The approach of that milestone 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.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestseller The Population Bomb declared that as a result of overpopulation, “the battle to feed humanity is over” and the 1970s would be a time of global famines and ever-rising death rates. His predictions were all wrong, but four decades later his successors still use Ehrlich’s phrase — too many people! — to explain
But 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 humanity’s survival.
No reduction in US population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year. Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.
Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.
Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protesters 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.
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