We apologize for the sound quality but this was recorded from a distance. You can find an article we created from the speech here.
This post is a summarised, written version of a talk which we have presented at many vegan festivals in the UK. We have the video version on Youtube that was shot at London Vegfest 2015 and can be watched HERE.
The population number at the top of this article is from this very handy website. It's quite scary to sit and watch the numbers increasing rapidly, in fact the human population is increasing by 230,000 people a day (this is after deaths). Should that worry us? How many people can the earth sustainably host?
It really depends on what you mean by sustainability. The Global Footprint Network suggest the planet could support 2 billion humans if we all lived at standard European levels of consumption (this is lower than American standards). Other studies however have suggested 500 million to 1 billion. We must take into account too that these studies very rarely factor in other animals and the impact of the number of human on other earthlings. How much of earth are we due as a single species and how much is due to the millions of others?
The current (conservative) predictions by the United Nations is that human population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion (and rising) by 2100.
Human population affects all of us earthlings this includes human animals, other animals and not least the new human who is forced into existence.
There is a huge taboo around discussing population. It is sometimes lazily tied to past ideas of eugenics and other human rights violations. This taboo exists in the environmental and animal rights movements. Sadly even the film Cowspiracy has a segment that plays down population concerns when compared to animal agriculture. Consumption and the number of consumers are two sides to the same coin.
Some exceptions are the Center for Biological Diversity and in the animal rights movement 269 have been outspoken on the impossibility of a vegan world with ever more people being added who will likely never even hear of the ethic. The Vegan Society magazine published an article called "Should Vegans Procreate?" which you can find HERE it would highly recommend reading it.
More humans means more demand for animal exploitation and breeding farmed animals. This chart doesn't even include marine animals or the growing demand per head among "emerging economies".
Humans have huge and disproportionate demands that are unrivaled by any other animal. These basic needs are only scratching the surface. Even vegans will, at best, all require fuel/energy, finite resources, housing, land for agriculture, clean water etc. All will impact wild animals who have seen their numbers halved in the the last 40 years, as human animal number doubled (Study published in journal "Science").
This graph shows the correlation between species extinction and human population. From the US Geological Survey
Currently we are undergoing the Sixth Great Extinction Event in the history of the planet and this is the only event that is attributable to one species; humans. We are the volcano. We are the asteroid. We are causing other species to go extinct at 1000-10,000 x the standard rate that would normally be seen. There is a very good YouTube video from The Center for Biological Diversity on how human numbers tally with species extinctions which can be viewed HERE.
Meanwhile we continue to call other species overpopulated and enact culls against them whenever they interfere with human enterprise. i.e. badgers and dairy cows or the persecution of birds of prey and the grouse/pheasant shooting industry.
We have interfered so badly with the ecosystem and killed so many apex predators that it has led to an abundance of certain herbivores. For example deer in Scotland whose predators were the once common place bears and wolves.
This image is from a fantastic but heartbreaking book Overdevelopment,Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) in which they chart the rise of man and the impact our numbers and consumption have on all animals. We cannot recommend this book enough and it can be viewed FREE on this website.
This graph on the left shows how the terrestrial vertebrate biomass of the planet has changed. We’re using up more and more of the finite resources, hence the lowering carrying capacity. We are wiping out free living animals and replacing them with more humans and “our” domesticated animals. Domesticated animals includes chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, cats, dogs etc
With less and less habitat, saving other animals seems doomed to failure unless we reduce our numbers drastically by not adding to further growth.
Now to look at the issue from an anthropocentric (human focused) perspective. The reality is the future is set to be very harsh for all Earthlings. As such it could be said to be a poisoned chalice to add more humans. Not only will they suffer but they will also make the existing problems even worse for existing animals (human and non human). So who says the future is looking so harsh?
1. Limits To Growth Study from The Club of Rome warns collapse of civilisation is inevitable. There are other studies that say exactly the same thing.
2. Global Warming - latest studies say it is coming faster and hotter than expected (March 2016)
4. We go into ecological overshoot at an earlier point every year
5. James Hansen (NASA scientist) and 15 other authors have spelled out the huge risks if we can't keep global warming under the 2*c mark. We are in what has been termed the Anthropocene and Hansen et al would go as far as to call it a hyper-Anthropocene.
6. Wars over food and water are predicted to become ever more common. Society has been predicted to collapse by 2040 due to food shortages.
Lets take the UK as an example:
*100 harvests left in UK soil, London alone consumes all the natural capital of the UK a year.
* In 2009 40% food was imported from elsewhere. This is increasing and believed to be heading to over 50% by 2050
This means we are reliant on taking resources from other nations. How long will they be happy for this to continue as climate change hits, their populations grow and they need more food? Believing we should/we have the right to add to an already ecologically overshot country/nation that relies on imports could be said to be colonialist and elitist.
"I asked one of the most rational, brightest scientists I know – a scientist working in this area, a young scientist, a scientist in my lab – if there was just one thing he had to do about the situation we face, what would it be? His reply? "Teach my son how to use a gun" - Professor Stephen Emmott -Author of Ten Billion and Head of Microsoft Research at Cambridge University
If we all went vegan though?
“Overpopulation is defined by the animals that occupy the turf, behaving as they naturally behave, not by a hypothetical group that might be substituted for them.” Professor Paul Ehrlich (Our interview with him HERE)
We should not use the hope or the plan to reduce our consumption/adopt a vegan lifestyle as an argument that humans are not overpopulated.
As we stated earlier, vegans also require huge numbers of resources.
Consumption is the Real Problem isn't it?
We calculate human impact by multiplying our numbers by our consumption and affluence. It makes no sense to remove half of the human impact equation. Both are important and two sides to the same coin. This equation can be found here
Very few people or nations on Earth are asking to consume less. On the contrary most wish to consume more and see greater opportunities still for their descendants. We can’t replace ourselves with a new fantasy animal.
If we miraculously cut consumption by 25% per person, a 50% population rise to 10bn immediately cancels it out and we're on course for 11.2 billion.
If we just got rid of capitalism?
Every new birth is a vote for capitalism. Every new human will be born into a globalised capitalist system and used as the worker/consumer cogs that the machine needs to continue.
All other industrial economies and ideologies have been just as destructive environmentally and have also been speciesist. They all harm other animals.
Although other systems such as socialism might share the resources more fairly among humans, the same problems of growth, industrial pollution and harms to other animals still remain.
Shouldn't we be more concerned with sexism/feminism/racism/poverty?
All social justice issues rely on a habitable planet in order to stage them. With 230,000 new humans being added to the planet, all causes are lost causes and all problems are made worse. We need to look upstream instead of dealing with the downstream symptoms.
If we just have one/two that’s replacement/reduction?
Unlike some animals we don’t reproduce and then die. Instead we multiply exponentially. Children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents all live at the same time and make impacts simultaneously. Other people will continue to have as many as they want. Yours will be additional on top of the existing growth.
Exponential growth is very important to understand, this is a great video which explains it in a easy to understand way.
The human population of the world has doubled twice in the past hundred years. Energy consumption is doubling about four times faster than that, and the number of automobiles in the world is doubling ten times faster than population. These are just a few examples. Any time you hear that something is increasing by a percentage -- say, 5% per year -- that means it's growing exponentially.
Won’t humans go extinct if we listen to you?
There are 7.3 billion of us currently. Very conservative UN estimates say we’ll reach 11.2 billion by 2100.
We’re a small group of conscientious people, sadly we’re unlikely to change the world overnight.
The human population rises by 230,000 new people every day and this is after deaths.
Just like a vegan world is unlikely to happen over night, neither is it likely that thoughtful people deciding to opt out of adding new humans will have such an instant impact. We merely hope to slow down the exponential rate of growth in both cases. 11.2 billion is the business as usual prediction, we are all free to attempt to mitigate against that.
Shouldn’t vegans have children though? They’ll make a vegan army!
Were you raised vegan? Likely not. You rebelled. People grow up and make their own decisions, no matter how "well" they're raised. Some of the failed attempts to breed vegan values are documented HERE.
A baby or child can no more be vegan than they can be bred to be catholic or communist. Rather they are temporarily plant-based. Just as we were raised by non-vegan parents, they and their many possible descendants will make their own decisions on how to live, a decision that will be made in a speciesist culture, surrounded by speciesist peers. They will at best all require fuel/energy, finite resources, housing, land for agriculture, clean water etc. All will hugely impact wild animals who have seen their numbers halved in the the last 40 years, as human animals doubled.
The way to make a "vegan army" is through education, fairs, festivals, outreach etc.
Do you hate children?
Nope. Future prospects are very bad for the new humans and their lifetimes. We want children (actually all humans) who are already here to experience as little hardship and suffering as possible.
The more of us there are the cheaper and more disposable and vulnerable we each become.
I have maternal/paternal instincts why do you want to deny them?
There's so much I could say to this but it really comes down to whether you believe after reading all this that your desires are more important than the suffering a new human will cause and experience.
You could also ADOPT/FOSTER!
This is the moral imperative for those who wish to raise a new human. The gamble and harms of doing your best raising an already existent person are small compared to that of adding a new human. Vegans are against breeding cats and dogs because they are overpopulated and many already are in need of homes. Why wouldn't the same apply to human animals?
Yes adoption can be a long process but ethical choices aren't always the most convenient. In the UK you can get help with costs when fostering and they're desperate for loving foster homes. We've been informed this is the case in many places around the world.
I already have kids, do you want me to kill them?
It’s not about dwelling on past choices. We were once non vegans but people can change their beliefs regardless of their history. Being childfree is not a prerequisite for understanding overpopulation.
We can all play our part in shifting attitudes and cultural beliefs. We can all point out the ethical imperative not to add new humans.
Who will take care of you when you’re old? My kids!
Bringing a new human into being just so you have someone to take care of you when you're older is pretty selfish and could also badly backfire.
Just as with the arguments for economic growth, growing in order to cater to growth is very unsustainable. The logic of a Ponzi scheme.
The "Overpopulation is a Myth" website says we're okay?
Overpopulation is a Myth is produced by catholic think tank pop. org, it’s ridiculous propaganda that uses the “We could all fit in Texas” line, as if our ecological footprint is equivalent to the area used up by our feet. It is debunked at this link
This land use chart shows that the only ice-free land that can support our further expansion (agriculture,housing etc) is the remaining forests. The other land is being used for agriculture which is pretty important!
Isn't it a personal choice?
Isn’t it a personal choice for non vegans to exploit and kill other animals? Where else have we heard arguments such as “It’s my personal choice! Other animals do it! It’s natural!”?
A choice isn't personal if it impacts others. Nothing effects others more than adding humans.
If you're so worried about overpopulation why don't you kill yourself?
We're advocating the reduction of suffering and you counter by pushing a sentient person to upset their sentient loved ones who are left behind. It's extremely backwards logic.
It is illegal in many regions to encourage another person to commit suicide and could easily push a vulnerable person over the edge. Think about whether you want to be responsible for someone's death.
So what can we proactively do?
1. Don't add new humans in the future.
2. Explain why you're doing this and educate others. We personally do outreach stalls and have had some awesome discussions doing this! We give out free (vegan) condoms, have some funny memes printed out and just talk to people. We have received generally positive reactions.
3. Promote and support comprehensive sex education for all and free contraceptives. A recent report came out showing the results of 6 years of work in Colorado (America) in which free long-lasting birth control was offered to teenagers and women who could not afford them.The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent.
4. Support and encourage women worldwide to have access to education. When women are educated the birth rate drops.
5. Change the cultural celebration that surrounds the adding of humans and instead create a new paradigm that questions this harmful behaviour and celebrates more ethical choices.
Yes, the UN projections for population are grim but if we act and campaign on the issue then we can spread a new message and cultural shift that could see the severity of the suffering reduced for ALL earthlings.
The society we live in is extremely pro-natalist. Couples are asked when they're having kids repeatedly (especially if/when they move in together or get married) and "never" is an invitation to be dissuaded from your decision. In our experience women seem to experience the worst of this pro-natalist bullying and are quickly attacked whenever they explain why they've made this ethical decision. Very similar to the unprovoked harassment many vegans get for just being "the vegan" in the room.
"There is no major problem facing our planet that would not be easier to solve if there were fewer people and no problem that does not become harder — and ultimately impossible to solve — with ever more. And yet there seems to be a taboo on bringing the subject into the open."
-SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH
The human population was a fraction of the current total in 1944. If veganism were being re-imagined now then it would hopefully recognize the impacts of new humans on other animals. Not least the Sixth Great Extinction event we are driving.
There is so much more we could add but this is long enough already. We'd highly recommend this fantastic article by a feminist blogger titled; Liberation, Not Procreation
We've put links throughout this post but here's some further information you may find useful. We'd recommend listening to our (The Species Barrier's) back episodes on itunes or archive.org. Episode 16, 21, 25 and 34 in particular cover overpopulation in depth.
If you're interested in anti-natalism I can strongly recommend our interview with (vegan) Professor of Philosophy David Benatar on Youtube HERE
Latest population projections
The Vegan Society magazine - article on overpopulation
Human population #1 threat to animals worldwide - article
Joke video about overpopulation
An in-depth video on exponential growth for those who want more info
This is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Humans Ecology - Discusses wider impacts on animals beyond diet.
Ten Billion -Short and easy to read, explains the situation we're in.
Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot - an absolutely AMAZING mainly picture book which can be viewed FREE online HERE. If you are an educator you can apply for a free physical book.
The Friendly Activist Episode 3- He talks to Keegan Kuhn; Activist, Filmmaker, and Co-Director of the award winning documentary film "Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. They discuss activism and why he has chosen not to have children.
Overpopulation Podcast - We especially recommend episode 4 in which they talk to vegan Karen Shragg
Don't add more humans
Get a vasectomy - More info HERE
Get female sterilization - More info HERE
Talk to people about overpopulation - from talking to friends and families in private to volunteering on education stalls. Give talks at events or to local groups.
Unfortunately some Drs can be hostile to younger people (usually 30 or under) making a permanent decision over whether they ever have children but remember this is YOUR body. Keep trying if this is something you feel it is right for you.
Want to support charities that help with overpopulation??
Population Matters - They promote smaller family sizes and mindful consumption through education
Pop offsets- they're the only project in the world that allows for the offsetting of carbon emissions by helping to improve family planning provision.
World Vasectomy Day
Abortion Support Network - Abortion Support Network provides financial assistance and accommodation to women traveling from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
Non-Scalpel Vasectomy International -Make available vasectomies for those who want them. They use a non-scalpel method
Chicago Abortion Fund- provided financial support to women needing assistance paying for an abortion.
If you're a Childfree Vegan there is a group for you!
Population Matters has a very informative and positive Facebook page
Coming up today... we reflect on London VegFest 2015 alongside organiser Tim Barford and participants Gary Francione and Alan and Frances AKA The Grumpy Old Vegans.