Article by: Eve H.
Edited by: James Y.
Visual by: Rhia M.
The release of the long-awaited film Avengers Endgame earlier this year took popular culture by storm. Racking up 2.8 billion dollars in box office revenue, audiences worldwide demonstrated their love for this iconic group and watched from behind their hands as the film reached its long-awaited resolution. Like everyone else, it was a massive relief for me when Thanos snaps his fingers only to realise the infinity stones had disappeared, but in light of recent environmental crises, I began to wonder if Thanos’ act could solve one of the most pressing issues our planet faces today.
In Brazil, the Amazon has been burning for three weeks, destroying millions of irreplaceable trees and wildlife, and likewise, the Earth’s capacity for CO2 absorption is diminishing daily. Additionally, Iceland has dramatically lost their first glacier due to rising global temperatures. In communities around the world, a state of climate emergency is being declared after the recent UN Climate Chief ‘s appeal. The UN released a 740 page report compiled over 6 years by 250 scientists from 70 nations. Summed up, the report stated that if nothing concrete is done immediately to combat climate change, our planet would face mass extinction by the year 2050. These environmental tragedies can be linked to overpopulation and governments making environmental decisions based on human economics rather than protecting our planet. The unchecked use of non-renewable energy by more and more people impacts CO2 levels in our atmosphere. Recently, Australia gave India permission for them to begin large scale mining in northeastern Australia because of India’s high demand for cheap energy, to supply India’s large, mostly low-income population.
These issues seem to have a direct relationship with overpopulation, so my first instinct is to believe that Thanos’ ideas are valid and that reducing the human population will reduce its global impact. However, more research led me to think otherwise. For the last few centuries, the rise in CO2 levels have directly correlated with population growth, that is, up until recently. In 2017, The International Energy Agency reported that while population and GDP continued to rise, CO2 emissions had flattened out, and remained at a constant. A 2017 Forbes article states that “Population growth is not the direct cause of global warming, burning fossil fuels is.” This historic trend has been broken by the growth of the renewable energy market.
In the late 1700’s Thomas Malthus stated that eventually, the global population would outgrow food supply. He claimed that this is because the population grows exponentially while food supply grows linearly. Neo Malthusians (modern day followers of Mathus’s ideas) add that there are more less developed countries in the second stage of the demographic transition model than ever before. The demographic transition model, or DTM, is a model that describes the patterns of population and its correlation with the crude birth and death rates, overtime and various stages. Stage 2 is when the most population growth occurs, characterized by a soaring birth rate. They believe that these are all contributing factors to an insufficient food supply. For example, it is actually a misconception that there is not enough food to feed all 7.7 billion of us. Today, the amount of food is not the problem, however, the distribution of food is. There is a large food surplus in western countries, so much so, that the US department of agriculture had to buy 1.2 billion dollars worth of surplus to aid American farmers. Additionally, food waste is a hugely neglected issue in itself. Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted per year. That’s one third of all food produced.
Thanos believes that ending overpopulation is the only solution to promote universal peace, however, it is not. Sustainable consumption, production efficiency and more dispersed distribution of resources and wealth are the beginning of the solution to curbing climate change and hunger on a global scale.
It is comforting to know that these issues can be separated from overpopulation entirely because overpopulation is inevitable, however, it is our neglectful policies and consumerist practices that have let these issues escalate to their current state of emergency. Although overpopulation isn’t entirely at fault for climate change and world hunger, we as individuals are, and we have a responsibility to do something about it.
Newhart, Beth. “USDA Buys $1.2bn of Surplus Food from US Farmers While Trade Disputes Rage On.” Dairyreporter.com, William Reed Business Media Ltd., 29 Aug. 2018, http://www.dairyreporter.com/Article/2018/08/29/USDA-buys-1.2bn-of-surplus-food-from-US-farmers-while-trade-disputes-rage-on#targetText=With%20higher%20rates%20for%20trading,m%20worth%20of%20dairy%20surplus.
“UN Climate Chief Urges Action on Climate Emergency.” UNFCCC, unfccc.int/news/un-climate-chief-urges-action-on-climate-emergency.
“What Does Overpopulation Have To Do With Global Warming?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 Aug. 2017, http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/08/21/what-does-overpopulation-have-to-do-with-global-warming/#25d879f716fa.
“World Hunger Statistics.” Food Aid Foundation, http://www.foodaidfoundation.org/world-hunger-statistics.html#targetText=Some%20795%20million%20people%20in,of%20the%20population%20is%20undernourished.