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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

The dangerous myth of overpopulation

There are not too many people in the world. Rather, there is too much capitalism.

Overpopulation, conceptual illustration

An illustration of overpopulation is pictured.

Last November, the world’s population reached eight billion. This milestone was accompanied by a renewed interest in the concept of overpopulation — the idea that Earth has too many humans on it. Articles entitled “Eight Billion People in the World Is a Crisis, Not an Achievement” and “Planet Earth: 8 billion humans and dwindling resources” have become widespread. However, overpopulation is not a serious issue — the idea of overpopulation excuses capitalism’s worst excesses. To make matters worse, the far-right is weaponizing the idea of overpopulation for its own nefarious aims. In order to actually end world hunger, we must move towards socialism.

Unfortunately, poverty and destitution are disturbingly present on Earth. One in five children does not have enough water to meet their everyday needs. 29.6% of people worldwide are experiencing some form of food insecurity. There are almost 600,000 homeless people in the United States  the richest country on Earth. However, these problems are not inescapable. According to researcher Jonathan Chenoweth, there is enough freshwater on Earth to satisfy everyone’s needs. The world produces enough food to feed 1.5 times the global population, and in the U.S., there are 28 vacant homes for every homeless person.

However, capitalism requires that some people be starving and homeless. Under capitalism, profit is prioritized above human needs. In a market system dominated by massive agricultural corporations, a lower amount of supply raises prices and profits to a certain degree. Therefore, capitalism requires the limiting of water, food and housing in order for capitalists to make greater profits. The reason people sleep on the streets and die of starvation amidst so much abundance is that capitalism’s barbaric rationing of resources ensures that only people with money can have their human needs met.

Under a global capitalist system, poorer countries are largely forced to produce cash crops for corporate profit instead of producing food to meet their people’s needs. Madagascar, for example, a country where one million people live on the brink of starvation, exports massive amounts of vanilla and cloves. I have personally heard a wealthy capitalist spice trader brag about coercing developing nations into producing cash crops instead of meeting the needs of their people.

To make matters worse, fascist groups are using the idea of overpopulation to justify their hatred towards Black and brown people by asserting that higher birth rates in Africa and Asia are destroying the planet. Such statements have recently come from the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader of the neo-fascist National Rally party (currently the main electoral opposition in France), who was recently fined for downplaying the Holocaust. LePen suggested that Ebola could help ameliorate the problem of overpopulation and immigration to France, primarily by lowering immigration from the Middle East and North Africa.

Rather than depopulating the Global South, the solution to resource scarcity is a transition to a socialist economy that prioritizes human needs over profit. Under socialism, healthy food, clean water and stable housing could be inalienable rights guaranteed to all citizens. Instead of forcing poorer countries to produce cash crops, international organizations could work on providing family planning, educational opportunities and contraception to the Global South, while allowing those countries to assert their agricultural independence.

One example of socialism working in practice to solve these issues was Burkina Faso under President Thomas Sankara. In 1983, a popular communist revolution in the country established a socialist state with Thomas Sankara as its leader. Sankara transformed Burkina Faso, a country once on the brink of famine, into an agriculturally self-sufficient nation. In four years, Burkina Faso’s literacy rose from 13% to 73%, helping women to make informed decisions about family planning. In his first year as president, Sankara also vaccinated more than one million children from various diseases and planted 10 million trees to stop the southward spread of the Sahara Desert. Though Sankara was assassinated in 1987 (possibly with help from the French government, wishing to restore capitalism), his legacy remains a shining example of how socialism can change lives for the better.

The harmful myth of overpopulation has existed for centuries and led to historic atrocities. For example, in the 19th century, the British government refused to send famine aid to India and Ireland because they believed the logic of Thomas Malthus, the first proponent of human overpopulation. We must not repeat the same mistakes. Like poverty in the Global South today, the underlying causes of the Indian and Irish famines were primarily colonialism and capitalism, not an excess of humans. In order to truly end poverty and destitution, we must transition our economy away from capitalism and towards socialism.