Long Term Solutions Against Overpopulation and Overconsumption

by Julian on February 22, 2018 - 10:56pm

In his article “Wealth redistribution and population management are the only logical way forward”, William E Rees warns his readers that our techno-industrial society is running on an human ecological footprint that is at least 60% larger than the planet can sustain. While countries are still using renewable resources at a faster rate than they can replenish, the world community still has not agreed on a response to this issue. Rees states that a combination of multiple factors are at the cause of this unsustainable situation such as the increasing population who developed a higher average per capita consumption and the propagation of the myth of economic growth. From his perspective, Rees argues that the only solution to this problem is simply less production and less consumption by fewer people. Clean and green consumption alternatives like wind and photovoltaic electricity won’t cut it since they might not be able to replace fossil fuels for major uses (e.g. transportation, space and water heating) in the long term. Furthermore, Rees  insists that the global community should stop supporting the economic growth myth. On a finite planet, it is impossible to alleviate worldwide chronic poverty, balance out out north-south inequities, and increase the wealth of poor nations to match rich nations’ without destroying and exploiting our ecosystems even further. Instead of delusioning itself that everyone can get rich in a a world of limited resources,  the global community should prioritize redistribution. Hence, the author presents the following conclusions: If rich nations free up ecological space by consuming less and only when necessary, poor nations would finally be able to increase their consumption. The world should develop a universal plan to reduce population to a level that can be sustainable in the long term. All in all,  addressing the issues of overconsumption and overpopulation is vital since  for the sake of mankind, maintaining the status quo is not an option anymore.


I agree with the radical solutions presented by William E. Rees. The global community often seems like it is making major environmental breakthroughs when in reality, its methods are not very effective nor sustainable.  For instance, we are often quick to promote renewable resources like wind and solar energies as the magic cure that will solve issues like overconsumption and overpopulation. However, Rees goes straight to the root cause and presents the only viable solution: less production, less consumption, less people. Also, Rees ingeniously condemns the  international community for operating from a paradigm of economic growth by reminding us that wealth redistribution is the proper response in a world of limited resources. Altogether, the author wipes out all the generally accepted cosmetic quick fixes in order to encourage the international community to adopt viable long term solutions.





This article summary is of interest to me because it demonstrates the interconnection between economy and the ecosystem. The solution approached, which is wealth redistribution, was often seen in the past as a solution to political and economic abuse, but now it has become tied to environmental issues. It is a very unusual recommendation, but as the title demonstrates, it could be a long-term solution. The summary also attacks the inequities between the South and the North, which is not that often mentioned as a cause to environmental issues. This summary also picked my attention because the causes presented, such as limited resources, population growth, and inequities between developing and developed countries, are applicable to environmental migration too, my ISSS topic. Environmental migration is actually in part a consequence of the degradation of the ecosystem, which demonstrates the danger and scale of environmental issues (Kliot, 2004, 70).

The concept of systems approach, as seen in class, clearly reflects itself as a cause of the depletion and degradation of our ecosystem. There is a reaction to every action, and in this case, high demand and consumption in developed countries, along with increasing production, affect the poor and developing countries disproportionately (Kliot, 2004, 78). It demonstrates that although natural disasters strike hazardously, the vulnerability to those disasters are anything but hazardous. It is proportional to poverty, which, again, ties social, economic and environmental issues together. This concept helps understand the importance of the relation between the South and the North, as mentioned in the summary. However, one thing that has been overlooked is that poverty can also be a cause of the degradation. Because they do not have the right knowledge, the methods used for agricultural procedures can be very destructive in the long-term. The resources might end up being mismanaged (Kliot, 2004, 80). This article is also supported by other class concepts that we have seen, such as the myth of economic growth. Indeed, because we live in a finite world, we have to be conscious that we have limited resources (Kliot, 2004, 81).

Kliot, N. (2004). Environmentally induced population movements: Their complex sources and consequences. In J. D. Unruh, M. S. Krol & N. Kliot (Eds.), Environmental Change and Its Implications for Population Migration (pp 1-24). Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Your summary peaked my interest as it covers brings to light alternative and long-term solutions to problems being discussed by nearly all other articles from this class. Instead of the expected “reduce carbon emissions and invest in renewable resources”, your article summary has brought up many important points often ignored, such as the impossibility of continuous economic growth on a finite planet. This article lists 3 main factors as causes for our current situation as a race; increasing population, increasing consumption and the belief that economic growth is near infinite. While decreasing population and their consumption would diminish the damage being done to the planet, it can never be enough to reduce our damage to what the planet can handle. Simply put, even with both of these factors “fixed”, we would strive non-the less, for more economic development, the very fundamental of capitalism, until there would be nothing left but ash and profits. Growth is currently used as safe guards for the majority of the worlds economies, without this growth, many of these countries would find themselves in a downfall (Ketcham, Pacific Standard). As humans, we are wired to over reach, and thus until we dispel ourselves of the illusion of limitless possibilities, we will continue to reach further and further. However, should we come to term with this reality, then our entire mindset would need to be reworked and there would no longer be any point to over-reaching, which would lead us to follow the authors recommendations of spreading the resources rather than “hogging” them.

Ketcham, C. (2017, May 16). The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth. Retrieved March 02, 2018, from https://psmag.com/magazine/fallacy-of-endless-growth

Hey, I wanted to write a response to your article, primarily because I really like your way of writing, it gets straight to the point and is very clear to read. I also appreciated it because I love the worldwide aspect your summary covers, as opposed to region-centered. The reason behind this is that, in my opinion, the problem of population & overconsumption is best explained when we take account all of the earth’s consumption because it subtly exposes the problem of not sharing resources well enough between the counties
I agree with most of the points you’ve noted. Particularly when you mention that that Rees believes in a global community that redistributes resources, I’m in accord with it. This has been a problem for a long time because people are prioritizing themselves first. In fact, Annie Leonard, now the executive director of Greenpeace USA, has been saying that this new era is highly consumer based, and that individuals tend to base their action solemnly on their sense of self (Cole, 2010). I wanted to also talk about matter of the economical consequences of overconsumption. As Rees stated, poverty is inevitable for certain countries while we live on a very limited planet. Indeed, a major part of our economy is due to exploitation of our nature, but in such a linear system, we won’t be able to run that economy very long (Cole, 2010).
Cole, C. . (June 21st 2010). Overconsumption is costing us the earth and human happiness Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/21/overconsumption-envi...

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