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Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis

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Too Many People? provides a clear, well-documented, and popularly written refutation of the idea that "overpopulation" is a major cause of environmental destruction, arguing that a focus on human numbers not only misunderstands the causes of the crisis, it dangerously weakens the movement for real solutions. No other book challenges modern overpopulation theory so clearly a Too Many People? provides a clear, well-documented, and popularly written refutation of the idea that "overpopulation" is a major cause of environmental destruction, arguing that a focus on human numbers not only misunderstands the causes of the crisis, it dangerously weakens the movement for real solutions. No other book challenges modern overpopulation theory so clearly and comprehensively, providing invaluable insights for the layperson and environmental scholars alike. Ian Angus is editor of the ecosocialist journal Climate and Capitalism, and Simon Butler is co-editor of Green Left Weekly.


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Too Many People? provides a clear, well-documented, and popularly written refutation of the idea that "overpopulation" is a major cause of environmental destruction, arguing that a focus on human numbers not only misunderstands the causes of the crisis, it dangerously weakens the movement for real solutions. No other book challenges modern overpopulation theory so clearly a Too Many People? provides a clear, well-documented, and popularly written refutation of the idea that "overpopulation" is a major cause of environmental destruction, arguing that a focus on human numbers not only misunderstands the causes of the crisis, it dangerously weakens the movement for real solutions. No other book challenges modern overpopulation theory so clearly and comprehensively, providing invaluable insights for the layperson and environmental scholars alike. Ian Angus is editor of the ecosocialist journal Climate and Capitalism, and Simon Butler is co-editor of Green Left Weekly.

30 review for Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    WJT Mitchell’s ‘Seeing Through Race’, has a lovely line where he says that one of the great constants in life is that there are always too many of them, and too few of us. The notion of population growth has been connected with environmental destruction forever, I guess. It would be hard to argue that more people don’t put added strain on the environment, and that certainly is not what the authors are arguing here. However, they do want to get us to stop and think before we just assume this is m WJT Mitchell’s ‘Seeing Through Race’, has a lovely line where he says that one of the great constants in life is that there are always too many of them, and too few of us. The notion of population growth has been connected with environmental destruction forever, I guess. It would be hard to argue that more people don’t put added strain on the environment, and that certainly is not what the authors are arguing here. However, they do want to get us to stop and think before we just assume this is merely basic common sense or a simple question of arithmetic. A better question would consider who is doing the most damage and how we might best address that damage. Far too often in the history of population studies the people who have been blamed have been seen as the teeming multitudes of ‘them’. That is, the ‘over-populated’ nations of the world – almost all of whom are ‘developing’ nations. And so, the developed nations have done what they can to ‘help’ these nations – most often by sterilising large sections of their populations. This has frequently been done without the informed consent of the populations being sterilised. It also has often been demanded before the poor nations can get any aid at all. Reducing the local population is seen as the surest path to helping these countries to grow economically. That view is challenged in this book. Not only are these actions presented as morally reprehensible (on the basis of sterilising people without their proper consent), but they are also reprehensible because they are also likely to damage these people economically and socially at the same time. Instead, the book asks if you wanted to stop environmental damage by changing the behaviour of people, are the world’s poor the most obvious people to start with? The authors quote a PBS television special that says: “Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world’s population (and by Americans, of course, PBS mean the people living in United States, rather than the people living on the two continents of North and South America), in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican (who, again, is clearly not from North America, despite what the maps might show), 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.” So, if the problem is the excessive and unsustainable use of the world’s resources, the population that most obviously needs controlling is that of the rich world, rather than the dirt poor. But, again, this book makes the point that ‘averages’ hide as much as they reveal. There basically is no such beast as the ‘average American’. And thus we are brought back to the politics of the 99% and Mill’s Power Elite. The people at the top of the developed world are shown to consume obscenely more of the world’s resources than everyone else. So that even though the US consumes so much of the world’s resources, it still has eye-watering levels of poverty – the US Census estimates that 12% of the US population lives in poverty. Of course, that was prior to the depression we are likely to be entering now with Covid-19 and where poverty is already skyrocketing. It seems almost inconceivable that a nation that hordes so much of the world’s resources can still have about one-in-eight of its population living in poverty – but I guess that just proves that the ‘them’ we separate ‘us’ from don’t really need to live somewhere else. The bit of this I found most interesting was the discussion on Malthus. As the authors say, people often think that Malthus was arguing that there was a famine coming – that food production grows linearly and that populations grow geometrically and that therein lies the problem. He did argue this, but it wasn’t an argument for a coming famine, but rather for confirmation of that quote from Jesus – the poor are with you always. It was, in fact, an argument against ever dreaming of a better world, since the first step towards a better world would be to increase food production – but that as soon as you increase the supply of food you get an automatic increase in population, which the depletes that supply of food so that people are forced into poverty all over again. This logic is the same as that of many in the environmental movement who see a key instrument in tackling climate change and environmental destruction as population control. The problem is that populations don’t tend to grow as Malthus predicted. In fact, the rate of population growth has slowed, despite there being today more food available than ever before. The idea that ‘if you feed them they will breed’ simply doesn’t hold. The authors argue that population is an all too simple explanation for environmental destruction, and that it gets brought out often because it makes intuitive sense. The problem is that even if we were successful in reducing the world’s population by say a tenth, it isn’t at all clear this would slow us on our path towards environmental crisis. A similar paradox is witnessed with people installing solar panels and using other sustainable energy sources. Yet this has done nothing to slow the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. This problem comes back to a central way that we are confounded in our attempts to impact change. As soon as we start to believe that something needs to be done, a central tenet of our society is wheeled out by those in power, ‘individual responsibility’. A perfect example is the Keep America Beautiful campaign, something that was started by companies that had the most to lose if complaints about single use packaging had been successful. Instead, these companies helped set up Keep America Beautiful and thus shifted the blame from the people producing the pollution towards the people forced to buy the packaging. It was now up to the consumers to dispose of the packaging responsibly, rather than up to the producers to make more responsible packaging. Similarly, households are asked to be responsible in their use of energy and so on – all of which is great – but at the same time those who are the main users of energy – the largest corporations and the US military – are virtually ignored due to the atomisation of the problem. Those how have the least ability to affect change are made responsible, while those making the largest contributions to the problem are ignored. It would make a great comedy, if we weren’t all quite so likely to die at the end. This book really did get me to think again about the problem of population. There are a number of times in this when the sheer racism behind ‘population control’ becomes too much to handle. Some far right groups, who don’t even believe in climate change, have set up as environmental groups because it provides a forum for them to espouse their racist views. Be warned, parts of this book are almost certainly going to make you very upset.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John

    A couple years back I was sitting in my sociology class as we discussed the correlation between population growth and environmental degredation. The teacher began talking about population control and many in the class started jumping in, talking about state enforced child limits and sterilization programs as if these were desirable steps towards progress. I raised my hand and said that discussing such drastic population control methods was a little premature, and quite repulsive to me. I said th A couple years back I was sitting in my sociology class as we discussed the correlation between population growth and environmental degredation. The teacher began talking about population control and many in the class started jumping in, talking about state enforced child limits and sterilization programs as if these were desirable steps towards progress. I raised my hand and said that discussing such drastic population control methods was a little premature, and quite repulsive to me. I said that before anyone should start talking about sterilizing people, limiting families in their own decisions to increase or encouraging the aging of societies and a lower birth rate, we should talk about how resources are distrubuted and used, how an economy that encourages more and more consumption and waste, as well as military and state structures that depend heavily on fossil fuels and constantly increasing rates of growth and production contribute to environmental crisis. This caused a bit of an argument in the class and I couldn't beleive I was the only one that seemed to see the ridiculousness of it all. Since that day in class, I've only heard those argument more and more. It seems at times that everyone thinks there is no problem with unnecessary consumption and waste, but that the problem stems from starving third-worlders with little or no consumer goods on the other side of the planet having children (while we self-righteously buy "green" products, shop at Whole Foods, eat organic and drive hybrids... ironically believeing we are solving the worlds environmental problems by consuming MORE rather than less). When I read this book I felt relief that I was not the only one that saw a flaw in population bomber's arguments, as well as relieved to discover that there is a history behind this argument that goes back well beyond todays emphasis on environmentalism as market supporting cultural and fashion trend. I kept thinking "if I had only read this sooner!"

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dan Sharber

    the best book i've read so far for explaining and then taking apart the malthusian/populationist arguments. a must read for environmentalists. very thorough book without a lot of overlap from other general surveys of environmental problems and solutions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mat

    This book showed me how simplistic my own thinking was on population. It exposes the theory that there are too many people in the world as politically naive, and does it in a clear, well-argued way. Here are a few quotes that jumped out at me: "For the planet-destroying rulers of the world, the excess people are never themselves. The excess people are always somebody else." "As Mahmood Mamdani showed, bigger families made economic sense in very poor agricultural communities that had no social secur This book showed me how simplistic my own thinking was on population. It exposes the theory that there are too many people in the world as politically naive, and does it in a clear, well-argued way. Here are a few quotes that jumped out at me: "For the planet-destroying rulers of the world, the excess people are never themselves. The excess people are always somebody else." "As Mahmood Mamdani showed, bigger families made economic sense in very poor agricultural communities that had no social security benefits or reliable medical care: having fewer children 'would have meant to willfully court economic disaster'." "In the hands of the self-seeking, humanitarianism is the most terrifying ism of all." "The impact of the super-rich on the environment results not primarily from their individual greedy gluttony but from their ownership and control of organisations and institutions whose ecocidal activities far exceed those of any individual or group of individuals." "In the end, the idea of consumer sovereignty doesn't add up. It is a myth convenient for those who would locate responsibility for social and environmental problems on the backs of consumers, absolving those who truly have market power and who write the rules of the game and who benefit the most." "It's important to remember, whatever lens you use, that it lets you see some things but it prevents you from seeing others."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rishab

    This book is thoroughly sourced and offers lucid explanations. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter were well-chosen. It doesn't spend a whole lot of time talking about Malthus or Mathulsianism (the appendix has a great section on that) but is instead more concerned with everyday populationists, and it frequently refers to Ehlrich's The Population Bomb and similar works. Main idea/thesis: to address ecological crises and rampant inequality, we must target the overarching social and politic This book is thoroughly sourced and offers lucid explanations. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter were well-chosen. It doesn't spend a whole lot of time talking about Malthus or Mathulsianism (the appendix has a great section on that) but is instead more concerned with everyday populationists, and it frequently refers to Ehlrich's The Population Bomb and similar works. Main idea/thesis: to address ecological crises and rampant inequality, we must target the overarching social and political structures that produce astronomical waste and maldistribution of resources, not the predominantly poor and powerless victimized by these structures and with little control over their circumstances. Populationist thinking obstructs and obfuscates from real, positive environmental change so long as the goal is nonexistence of fellow comrades instead of building a mass movement with them. To populationists, less feet on the ground becomes the goal in and of itself. If you read one chapter from this book, let it be Chapter 3: "Dissecting Those 'Overpopulation' Numbers." It presents a devastating critique of the misuse of numbers and the tendency to draw spurious conclusions from otherwise valid, accurate statistics. The authors provide insight on the conflation of correlation with causation used to wrongly attribute increasing CO2 emissions to more or higher density of people. The disguising of the ratio "pollution per capita" as a rate leads to hilariously circular reasoning and self-contained models akin to dividing any number by population and then multiplying by population again to get the same number. The alluring I=PAT formula is so groundbreaking to say: total impact = average x number of people. As silly as these antics are, they are intentional and speak to a larger point about of the assumptions besides statistical models. If scientists make the assumption that population growth causes emissions over time, then they will design and run computer models that tell them that (garbage in, garbage out.) Scientists are necessarily immersed in their social, political, cultural milieu, and as the purveyors of science, they exercise their normative values and conceptions of what is true or just. (This is the subject of other books. See Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA and Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health) Another thing this book does a good job at is highlighting the ideological project of redressing complex social and political problems as simple mathematical equations or biological buzzwords. And it has been successful, with crude DMT graphs presented in high school human geography textbooks as laws rather than models. Poverty and hunger simply becomes facts of life rather than a product of social, political, economic, and historical determinants. Terms like “carrying capacity” are borrowed from animal ecology and fudged onto humans, because math. The authors go on to show particularly strong arguments for why so-called “humanitarian” family planning agendas exported to developing countries only serve to restrict reproductive autonomy, as sterilization effectively becomes a contingency for social mobility and even survival. They demonstrate that starving people not having enough food to eat does not necessarily mean that there is not enough food to around; rather, global food production is in the hands of big agribusiness, which seeks to reroute production in profitable areas only, convert grains into beef, corn into biofuel, and straight-up dispose of surplus food. They make the distinction between productive consumption and individual consumer-side consumption. For each of these points, populationists either never realize, or worse, don't care. But when populationists do decide to look at the evidence, it does not seem to matter whether it has borne out in their favor or not. If food and resources are scarce, these comprise the doomsday predictions at the cornerstone of populationist argument. Conversely, if an unprecedented agricultural revolution happens that far outstrips any growth in population, then the trend is only temporary and unsustainable. The putative conditions can be molded to fit their agenda as needed. After reading this book, you will see that there is no need to label poulationists as "Malthusians" or "ecofascists" since outright calls for involuntary sterilization or “let them starve” have fallen significantly out of fashion. More often than not, they’re just plain old racist liberals who actively partake in victim-blaming and the greening of hate.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Victor

    I love when non-fiction teaches me something new about a topic I felt I knew a lot about. Somehow in all my efforts to support nature I never happened across the populationist argument about climate change. Populationists blame climate change and food shortages on rising population. Most propose anti-immigration laws and strict control of births. On its face, populationism seems feasible. More people = more mouths to feed. More people = more carbon emission. Seems straightforward. Perhaps that's I love when non-fiction teaches me something new about a topic I felt I knew a lot about. Somehow in all my efforts to support nature I never happened across the populationist argument about climate change. Populationists blame climate change and food shortages on rising population. Most propose anti-immigration laws and strict control of births. On its face, populationism seems feasible. More people = more mouths to feed. More people = more carbon emission. Seems straightforward. Perhaps that's what's appealing about it. But the studies Angus and Butler cite seem to tell a different story. For food, studies show that there's a surplus being produced, but not a lot of it gets to the people who need it most. Instead it goes to wealthy nations who go on to waste a large percent of it. For personal pollution, the average person can't come close to polluting as much as a factory or coal mining operation or nuclear power plants or any other kind of large money making endeavor. The common thread between those two examples is money. Uh oh, is this book arguing that capitalism is to blame for climate change? Yep! And it's right, too. Angus and Butler create some very eye-opening arguments. The first bit of the book spends time refuting your typical populationist propaganda. They really cut it to bits and it's quite amusing. Angus and Butler must have a good sense of humor about all this, despite the catastrophic troubles. The later bits of the book go on to show how really it's capitalism. How the richest something percent pollute more than some countries. Grossly wasteful existences dwarfed by wasteful capital gluttony. The rhetoric here is quite effective. It's brief, entertaining, and very well argued and supported. There's an appendix I scanned through with some other interesting articles. And as with most Haymarket books there's a chunky section of notes. Tons of stuff to really dig into this topic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    A really great book for exploring how the world’s poor gets scapegoated for the environmental crisis.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Di Bravo

    I started and finished this book during the winter break. It guided me through the history of conservatism and environmental movements. The ideas and 'science' behind the myth that overpopulation is the root cause of ecosystems' exhaustion. It describe step by step (15 chapters), putting numbers in context, the idiosyncrasy of our social and economic system. A system which 'growth of die' profit-based order will never stop for the sake of preserving or protecting the environment. I could not sto I started and finished this book during the winter break. It guided me through the history of conservatism and environmental movements. The ideas and 'science' behind the myth that overpopulation is the root cause of ecosystems' exhaustion. It describe step by step (15 chapters), putting numbers in context, the idiosyncrasy of our social and economic system. A system which 'growth of die' profit-based order will never stop for the sake of preserving or protecting the environment. I could not stop reading given the logic and the abundant references the the authors provided for a more comprehensive research. Goodreading!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jorisla

    I recommend it

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Hermann

  12. 5 out of 5

    Martin Empson

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris Pesterfield

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michaelpaulhermann

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shantal Murillo

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Insightful look into the arguments for and against population control as a means to stave Of The environmental crisis. It's Capitalism, stupid.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jo

  19. 4 out of 5

    Miguel Gosselin Dionne

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lara Perkins

  21. 5 out of 5

    Samantha McGuire (Mirror Bridge Books)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Fleurène

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beatrice Crowl

  24. 4 out of 5

    Guy Warburton

  25. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Zera

  26. 4 out of 5

    Adam Karapandzich

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  28. 5 out of 5

    Simon Butler

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  30. 5 out of 5

    João Pedro

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