The Overpopulation Myth

Nature & the Environment, Philosophy & Ethics, Politics & Public Debate

Just because Thanos erased half of all life in order to bring balance to the universe it doesn’t mean that everyone who is concerned about overpopulation is also an eco-fascist beset on subjugation and murder. It is quite probable that they’re simply anxious about the climate and ecological breakdown and see overpopulation as a legitimate cause. We needn’t assume to know any more than that; whom they blame, if they blame anyone, and what solutions they endorse we cannot assume to know. Sure, there is a distinct risk that arguments about overpopulation and their purported solutions can, and have been, subverted by fascist reasoning. However, concerns about overpopulation are not intrinsically fascist. On the contrary, in many cases such concerns are typically apolitical, much like “iceberg ahead!” implies “politics aside, we need to avert disaster!”. Such proclamations deserve our attention.

After all, the Malthusian premise that exponential human population growth will one day inevitably exceed Earth’s finite stock of resources is a compelling one. Just watch a few episodes of David Attenborough’s Our Planet and one will discover that we are already “totally out of balance with nature”.

In today’s prevailing global capitalist context, overpopulation is already in effect, for the logic of capitalism implies that we prosper today in lieu of living tomorrow.

Despite this present imbalance, however, there is an increasingly fashionable argument permeating amongst social thinkers contending that global society is maturing to a point where overpopulation needn’t be an issue of concern. Call this the Sub-Replacement Argument. This argument is made on the assumption that the ‘third-world’ societies predominantly responsible for global population growth, due to their (delayed) industrialisation and socio-economic development will soon have greater access to education and contraception (importantly, education and contraception are proven to be essential in reducing reproduction rates in developed countries). Couple this with current statistics showing that developed countries have a collective ‘sub-replacement fertility rate’ – meaning new generations are less populous than preceding generations – and there is a strong argument to suggest that: Once capitalism pulls Africa and Asia out of the third-world, they too will have sub-replacement fertility rates! Thus, their populations, just like those of the world’s better, more advanced nations, will begin to diminish and those cries of ‘global overpopulation!’ will all be in vain.

Nonetheless, this covertly neocolonial argument fails on two accounts. Firstly, the fact that now, during the human epoch – the Anthropocene – Earth is experiencing its 6th Great Extinction, at a rate 100 times faster than normal, we can be certain that the issue of overpopulation is already pressing. Even if the third-world does attain sub-replacement fertility rates in the not-too-distant future, it’s already too late; innumerable irreversible tragedies have already come to pass.

I implore you to rebel against yourself.

That being said, maybe what counts as ‘overpopulation’ differs depending upon what politico-economic system the term is applied. Indeed, one may argue that in the context of the currently prevailing system overpopulation is already underway because capitalism’s tautological requirement for growth guarantees exponential ecological degradation. This inevitable degradation inexorably leads to agricultural collapse and thus the Malthusian premise is a priori fulfilled. In accounting terms, we are already overpopulated; theoretically speaking, humans exceeded Earth’s finite stock of resources long ago, it’s just that the effects are yet to be properly experienced on a global scale.

Perhaps, therefore, in order to prevent that from happening, moreover to prevent it from getting worse, we should transform the system into one that doesn’t necessitate the decimation of ecosystems. It’s already blindingly obvious that this is what’s required in order to sufficiently mitigate the climate breakdown, so this makes sense, right?

YES! Yet, this is unfortunately where the Sub-Replacement Argument fails again. We cannot possibly assume that a post-capitalist world is necessarily capable of enabling third-world countries to meaningfully develop. It may be, but we cannot assume it will be. For it is quite possible that in such a world standards of living in third-world countries would stagnate, whilst standards of living would by necessity have to decrease in ‘developed’ countries. This could arguably lead to increasingly limited access to education and contraception worldwide. So, it is possible that even if we manage to overcome the climate breakdown, there could well be another existential crisis lurking in the shadows of the future: overpopulation.

This is the overpopulation myth, the myth that overpopulation isn’t a legitimate cause for concern, when of course it is. In today’s prevailing global capitalist context, overpopulation is already in effect, for the logic of capitalism implies that we prosper today in lieu of living tomorrow. And we cannot be sure how overpopulation might feature if our dreams for systematic change become a reality.

So, we are left with two options. We can choose either certain death-by-capitalism, whereby the climate breakdown and overpopulation will kill us; or we can choose a transition out of capitalism into the ominous unknown, the shadows, wherein overpopulation might kill us. I know which I’d choose. My question is what one would you choose? In any case, I implore you to rebel against yourself.


A.C. Stark

First, Rebel Against Yourself.

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

In Owen Jones’ recent interview video with Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam criticises the political ‘left’ as having been perpetually dishonest about what economic action is required to mitigate the climate breakdown and what cultural changes this will necessitate. He contends that the ‘left’ have become so embroiled, so entrenched in the (conceptually politically right-wing) neoliberal ideal they are unable to conceive of human life “in anything other than cost-benefit, materialistic terms”. Their proposed resolutions have therefore assumed that market forces are enough to tackle climate change: business as usual WILL work, it just needs tweaking! They were wrong, whilst Roger is correct: The ‘left’ – the supposed political guardians of justice and equality – have fundamentally failed to realise that at the very heart of any suitable action to mitigating the climate breakdown requires a redefinition and restructuring of our society and economy. Just like all life on this planet, justice and equality depend upon this for their survival.

It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.

So, the political ‘left’ need to become Left again. For many of us, this has long been clear to see. Thankfully, it appears that they’re (just) starting to see the light. But we, and they, need to be clear about what the necessary changes in our society will require of us culturally and personally. Roger was unequivocal about this. It requires us to accept, moreover embrace, lower standards of living. For freeing ourselves from our capitalist indoctrination involves repudiating everything tied up in capitalism’s tautological relationship with growth. So we must retract from our supposed inter-generational contract with every consecutive generation to give them a better standard of living than the previous (I say ‘supposed’ because I’ve never seen nor signed this thing). It’s a faulty contract, the objectives of which cannot be sustained by virtue of its very design. We pursue its fulfilment in vain, and at what price? At best, the end of civil society, justice and equality; at worst, the end of human existence altogether.

Therefore, we need to redefine ourselves, every one of us; we need to change our expectations of what life entails. Reducing our standard of living involves changing a whole host of our own personal life-defining ideas. We need to be willing to fully extend the service life of everything we own, instead of repeatedly repurchasing unnecessary replacements. We need to re-skill ourselves so as not to be reliant on corporate manufacturers. We need to be canny, creative and imaginative. And we can be! We must reuse, recycle, repair and adapt our clothes again and again and again, until they are literally unusable as objects of clothing; and then up-cycle them into rags and quilts. We must re-green and re-wild our concreted areas, reconnect with the wilderness, walk upon, re-learn, appreciate and cultivate our privately owned microcosmic lands. We must localise ourselves (without vulgarising ourselves into xenophobes), so that we can walk, push or cycle ourselves to work, the grocer, to our friends and families. Concede that animal husbandry is one of the greatest causes of environmental degradation, and thus accept that meat ought to be reserved for special occasions, or better yet not be consumed at all. Accept that we needn’t pollute our drains with noxious chemicals when we wash ourselves and our possessions; realise that we needn’t shower every single day in order to be sanitary.

And this needn’t amount to austerity as we currently understand it – as a degrading, unrelenting existence at the margins of civilisation, wherein nothing possesses beauty or meaning. Kings and queens of empires old had austere lives compared to many of us. Ingenuity in practical utility can be appreciated in aesthetic terms. Yes, the story, the history and destiny, and the scars of our possessions can cause us to marvel over them, giving them aesthetic merit. Further still, in the process of changing ourselves, our conceptions of objective perfection will entirely evaporate, but the ‘civil’ part our civilisation will not. THAT is what we are doing this for. There is meaning in all this. So, don’t mistake reduced ‘living standards’ for reduced ‘quality of life.’ They are very different things. Happiness and contentment are in this imagined society, and can wholly be found in the process of transitioning to it.

I’ve said it before: the changes required will not be easy. We will all experience some strife in the process of challenging and changing ourselves. I’ve experienced it myself, and last week I met many people at the Extinction Rebellion protests in London that had, are or were beginning to experience their own internal mental rebellions: I am not you anymore, I am someone else; I wish there was another way but there isn’t, so leave me be! This internal, somewhat subconscious self-rejection is relentlessly tiring because redefining ourselves, re-finding ourselves is a tortuous task. There is no physicality to this kind of lost-ness; we are truly alone in an ethereally grievous mental-state. Those who’ve experienced it may now know very little about who they are, but they have realised that our self-image is inextricably bound up in our culture, and that culture has been hogtied by a now rotting politico-economic system. For us, denouncing this system is like pronouncing in the 19th century that “God is dead”. It can feel as though we are left in possession of nothing, yet still have everything to lose. It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.

Yet there is something that keeps us going. There is hope. There is solidarity and love. More importantly, there is a new social contract to draw up, and quickly. Its objectives may just about be attainable, if we really try; if we continue to rebel. This contract won’t catalyse injustice, inequality and global extinction. No, neither will this contract aspire to give our future generations a better standard of living. Instead, it will aspire to give them life. No luxuries. Just food to eat and air to breathe. In essence, that’s all Extinction Rebellion are asking for: that we allow our children to live.  

We rebel for life. Viva la Rebellion.

A.C. Stark

This article was recently posted on the Extinction Rebellion blog, XRblog.

The International Extinction Rebellion

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

Extinction Rebellion is a breath of fresh air, you might say literally. I could almost taste the oxygen in the London air this week as I paraded around Parliament Square, stood in solidarity with my sisters and brothers at Waterloo Bridge, and received abuse whilst heading the Edgeware Road blockade at Marble Arch.

Extinction Rebellion continue to display a form of activism that has been remiss in the UK for an extremely long time. Finally, a small collection of people (Gale Bradbrook,Roger Hallam and Jamie Kelsey Fry being key players) have managed to consolidate the world’s many grassroots activist organisations and convinced them to re-brand under as single banner. And, surprisingly, their objectives are not muddled. They’re clear and easy to remember and regurgitate, which is especially useful when a naive and myopic passer-by aggressively asks and asserts, “Oi, you prick! Tell me – just tell me! – what do you want out of this?! It’s a F###ing joke!”

Well, kind Sir, we would like the following:

  1. Tell the truth
    The government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

2. Act now
The government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 (as advised by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Change Report).

3. Beyond Politics
The government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

This is not vague. Neither is it unreasonable.

The most up-to-date scientific projections of climate change tell us that at best we are facing the end of civil society as we know it: A world partially submerged by water, ravaged by extreme weather events, wherein humankind struggles to subsist because of food and water shortages and where masses of people are displaced and/or die because of conflicts waged over basic resources. At worst, on the other hand, the projections tell us that the Earth will no longer remain inhabitable: No human life.

I agree! Neither possible world is one I want my children growing up in. It’s a case of picking the best of a bad bunch of options. Yet, to do that, we need to start telling the truth.

Scientists began speculating about the possibility of climate change back in the 19th century. In the 1970’s the evidence really started to shine bright, and since the late 80’s there has been a concerted effort by scientists and activists alike to better know and share the truth about climate change. Due to the structures of power pervading our societies, these truths still fail to permeate through our shared consciousness and popular culture. The only way to at least try to improve those projections is to speak truth to each other and collectively speak truth to power.

I really am sorry about the inconvenience, Mr Commuter we all are. Yet, dare I say, your personal inconvenience is a small price to pay in order to prevent the collapse of civilisation.

Don’t be a dinosaur! Get involved!

A.C. Stark

#4

Poetry

Great arrestive Goldfinch,

What are we to wonder?

Where did you retrieve

That gold which you plundered?

By flap or by flutter,

Unruffled, serene,

You endure the unfolding

Of a heavenly dream.

Past dreams made trial

Of that appreciable feat.

What wonder engendered

Your life-given tweet?

That power in the sky;

That’s how you were done.

Neatly worn upon the face

You wear a mask of the sun.

Speared through by that beak,

If from heaven It spied,

God would reach for that sun

But place it back in the sky.

Darkness betwixt light,

That power now faded;

God brings to the earth

A goldfinch which is jaded.

Great arrestive Goldfinch,

What are we to wonder?

Where did you retrieve

That gold which you plundered?

By flap or by flutter,

Unruffled, serene,

You endure the unfolding

Of a heavenless dream.


A.C. Stark

© Copyright of A.C. Stark

#3

Poetry

Those grandest of all arrangements promote

The tyrants of incessant legacies.

Inspiring an appetite for war to tote

For aeons with devious efficacies.

Complex, seem those ignoble noblemen

With their prerogatives to forge order,

Thought their aloof livestock, their heinous-men,

Whilst, privileged, they’d broadly marauder.

Cunningly went that ‘noble’ politic,

Conceiving an epic for brighter minds

To receive upon their scrambled schematic

Of thought; it in thought to cull what logic finds.


A.C. Stark

© Copyright of A.C. Stark

#2

Poetry

As long as there’s a life, there is a nature.

Abundant from its means – which nature brings –

It thought itself an almost godly creature;

Sang louder than that song which nature sings.

So, when the crow cried “can’t” to cast an omen

The creature called “I can!” and cursed it back.

Then, taunted by that cheek went nature’s foremen

From hell to serve it seven shades of black.

Through having tainted men all birds deceased.

The virtues men cherish take many shades;

With blackness overshadowed life increased

Whilst nature’s beasts lived life in retrograde.

If men prayed, ‘deliver us from nature,’

That creature would then smile down on its stage –

In its shadow live men with pious features

Reciting words it scribed upon their page.

As long as there’s a life, there is a nature.

Abundant from its means – which nature brings –

It thought itself an almost godly creature;

Destroyed itself through killing natural things.


A.C. Stark

© Copyright of A.C. Stark

#1

Poetry

Here, upon bark, smoke embers from fire,

Armour of soldiers from the erstwhile wood.

Myopic men with heedless desires

Ravage their slaves for the greatest of good.

Beads of remorse take passage on cheeks;

Meander down from a tortuous line.

Born forlorn, unfastidious freaks;

Gorging antecessors spill brine from wine.

Reminiscent of that prior state;

One picker condemns other men to fail,

And taunted by their prospective fates

They too attempt for the Holy Grail.

In the flood the arc reset the board.

Enabled, some pieces reassembled.

My request: please, re-submerge us, Lord –

Of that prior state the world resembles.


A.C. Stark

© Copyright of A.C. Stark


2018 Birding Highlights

Interests

I have long been somewhat interested in birds. Who isn’t? However, I think it is fair to say that in 2018 I finally evolved into a fully-fledged birder. Here is a small collection of what I spotted throughout the year. All of these images are my own and were captured on my phone (albeit attached to a spotting scope). Double tap for a close-up and please feel free to leave any comments.

The Greatest Gift that I Possess

Philosophy & Ethics, Politics & Public Debate

Everywhere I look I see countless miniature empires. This makes sense when one considers the many necrophilous sectarians ostensibly populating Britain, as their morals seem to be founded (if Brexit is anything to go by) in the delusional glory of this little island’s historically imperial sovereignty. Small-man syndrome is a natural phenomenon, even at the state level. However, worryingly, even members of today’s ‘hipster’, left-wing subculture – cultural decedents of a cleaner living, hitchhiking, happy-go-lucky, hippy era – revel in the excesses of their individual realms. Today everyone is an emperor. Myopic, capitalistic narcissism is pervasive. It’s killing humanism and the planet with it.

Taken from his recent book, Happy (his recent and a fascinating serious prose on welfare philosophy), Derren Brown hits the nail on the head, when he says, “‘Get what you want’ remains a mantra of modern living, as if we each had the birthright to accumulate whatever we think will make us happy.” We’re programmed to desire, indoctrinated even. Society is set up to consume. Without our desires being quenched by consumption, we’re destined to be miserable. This is the message we’re sold.

As a result, we’re constantly seeking to expand our empires in the pursuit of something more addictive, more socially corrosive than crystal meth. Purchasing is the tool by which we seek our little hits of serotonin and dopamine, each dose a sparrows-step toward securing a peculiarly phantom mental state: happiness. Obsessively, most of us seek it, but in vain. The era of achieving happiness collaterally is long over. Now, we seek it as an end in itself. More fool us.

We’re so addicted to these minute hits of gratification that we don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of our attaining them. This is not a clean drug, its cut with numerous toxins. It kills. Collateral damages, in the form of physical (1, 2), mental, environmental (1, 2, 3, 4) and cultural sickness (1, 3, 2), have been normalised. It’s an unfortunate necessity but a necessity all the same; a small price to pay for “happiness”. Crucially, we reject that our pursuit of happiness is damningly self-defeating (perhaps through fear of self-loathing). Moreover, those that indiscriminately pursue happiness are often considered virtuous. This is despite their holding a complete disregard for traditional virtues such as moderation, wisdom, morality, or empathy and a sense of community.

Regretfully, and rather non-virtuously, Conspicuous and invidious consumption (purchasing goods to flaunt economic power and incite envy), the bread and butter of capitalism, affect us greatly (the recent #OOTD appeal is a hideous example). Products are designed and marketed specifically to create and then cure anxietynot to promote happiness – which stimulates us to indulge in further self-destructive retail therapy. Possessions are seen and brandished as symbols of identity, wealth and “happiness”. This is no conspiracy theory; it is advertising theory (1, 2). It’s business. As a result, western society has entered a mental health crisis (1, 2) as its free markets mass produce depression and narcissism, as we are all miss-sold happiness.

Social media compounds the issue, providing “short term, dopamine-driven feedback loops” (1, 2) which manipulate us into to further embellishing and flaunting our lively possessions – the flags of our empires – in the virtual world, as we unwittingly encourage one another to consume more still.

What is deeply disconcerting is that the means by which we might relearn the value of empathy, community and virtue, and consequently rediscover happiness as contentedness, is being dismantled. With central government stripping powers of discretionary spending from local councils and redirecting the cash to Whitehall, our communal infrastructure is rapidly disintegrating. With it go the remnants of a once humanistic, community-based Great British culture. Youth centres, libraries, care homes, parks and public gardens are being left to ruin, so that the state can financially compete on a global scale in order to recreate the illusion of a “Great British Empire”.

It’s difficult to decide which of Britain’s politico-economic ideologies are causing all this: sectarianism, capitalism or neo-liberalism? It could be any or all of them. However, all of them scream the same battle-cry, wealth and empire are all.


A.C. Stark

Recommended Reading
Happy; Out of the Wreckage; Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered;
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World