By Rady Ananda
Human activities are blamed for what may be Earth’s greatest extinction spasm. Of the five categories of these activities, the world’s wealthy focus on over-population, ignoring their own environmentally destructive actions from which they wrought their wealth.
“Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?” Mathew 7:3
Mass Extinction Events
In 1992, Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson published The Diversity of Life. That was my first exposure to any chronicle of mass extinctions on Planet Earth. The book rocked my world, changed my consciousness and inspired me to finish college. The most shocking statistic in Diversity is the estimation that three species an hour are going extinct, and that was written 17 years ago. In a 2007 TED Talk, Wilson projects that Earth will lose half of all species by 2100.
Seven out of ten biologists believe that human activity is the cause of this latest – and greatest – extinction spasm. Wilson uses the acronym, HIPPO, to categorize these causes:
H – Habitat destruction, including climate change from greenhouse gases
I – Invasive species (thru global trade)
P – Pollution
P – Human population expansion
O – Over-harvesting (hunting and fishing)
Just as death is the fate of all living creatures, extinction is the fate of all species (except, maybe, archaea, single-celled organisms lacking a nucleus or other organelles). The distinction is that our species seems to be rushing others to their fate. It may not be misanthropic for Wilson to characterize humans as a “juggernaut,” – a massive inexorable force that seems to crush everything in its way.
Of the five general causes of the latest mass extinction event, the current crop of the world’s richest philanthropists focuses its attention on over-population as the problem to be solved. But, are there too many people? Is this the most significant problem facing the biosphere, requiring massive philanthropic funding?
Human Population and Arable Land
Researchers David Pimental and Anne Wilson suggest that “the minimum area considered essential for the production of a diverse, healthy, nutritious diet of plant and animal products like that enjoyed widely in the United States and Europe” is a half hectare (1.2355 acres) per person.
Somewhere between 12 and 18 billion acres of human-habitable land (i.e., arable, or, capable of producing crops) cover the globe. Even at the low end estimate of 12 billion acres, we have more than enough arable land. With a global population of nearly 6.8 billion, to provide “a diverse, healthy, nutritious diet of plant and animal products,” 8.4 billion acres is needed.
Soil Degradation – Too Many People or Too Much Pollution?
The amount of arable land decreases annually. Encroaching deserts and rising seas reduce this acreage, while technology can increase it. Overall, however, many scientists from varying fields agree that the amount of arable land is decreasing. None of the reasons given for this loss is over-population. Instead, agricultural practices, over-grazing, development and deforestation are blamed.
Agricultural practices not suited to local conditions cause nutrient loss and soil erosion, destroying arable land. Massive chemical inputs pollute the soil and groundwater. Biovision explains: “Soil toxicity can be brought about in a number of ways, but typical examples are from municipal or industrial wastes, oil spills, the excessive use of fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides, or the release of radioactive materials and acidification by airborne pollutants.”
In Soil degradation in the United States: Extent, severity and trends (CRC Press, 2004), Rattan Lal, et al., write: “Soil degradation is a biophysical process, driven by socioeconomic and political causes.” On page 5, they produce this chart:
The increasing loss of arable acreage is attributed to agricultural practices, not over population.
Misdirected Focus in Protecting Biodiversity
Global elites continue to perceive and amplify the notion that over-population is the greatest threat to biodiversity. This group amassed their wealth thru global trade, habitat destruction, pollution, and over-harvesting. (They also amassed wealth by exploiting human workers and taxpayers, but that’s outside the scope of this discussion.)
Indisputably, mining and war comprise the most environmentally destructive of all human activities. Bill Gates would be unknown if not for coltan, a mineral used in computers and the cause for Congo’s resource wars. General Electric would not top Forbes’ 2009 list of richest corporations, if not for war. Where would Rockefeller be without oil?
Today’s wealthiest corporations have seized control of regulatory bodies, originally created to protect people and the environment. The “captive agency” phenomenon is so widespread that scholars have coined the term “corporatism” to describe modern government. For clarity, let’s call it corpogov.
Through immunity, deregulation and bureaucratic layering, they have thus ensured they will not pay the environmental cost of amassing wealth. They term these costs ‘externalities,’ exposing their unwillingness to take responsibility for their destructive means of amassing wealth.
- The environmental and social costs of producing this laptop are not borne by the companies involved in making or delivering it to me. They “externalize” those costs onto the public;
- Illegally selling drugs, when done by a corporation, is fined a percentage of its profits. No one goes to jail;
- Corpogov uses public funds to pay for unnecessary vaccines and grants legal immunity for harm done by those vaccines; and
- Earth’s greatest enemies fill key positions in government to rewrite laws and rules that will enable monopoly control for the host corporation while decriminalizing their eco-destructive practices.
It is no surprise, then, that in addressing anthropogenic mass extinction, today’s crop of rulers would choose to address the sole debatable issue that would not impinge on further concentrating their wealth: human population.
In Towards an Alternative to Globalization, Sergey Stroev writes:
“The domination of the present-day capitalocratic principle leads to the overexploitation of unique and irreplaceable objects of nature and culture, wherever the possibility of their utilization gives hope for profit…. Everything is subjected to the paradigm of consumption, formed by advertising for the sake of the increase of business profits.”
He joins the anti-globalists who reject subordinating life to profits. By focusing on curbing human population, elites ignore their own responsibility for the destruction of vast ecosystems. They point their finger at us, while three fingers point back at them.
Some Better Ideas
What about habitat destruction? Why not reduce land development? Why not build wisely, in locales that don’t drain scarce resources, like water for Las Vegas? How about one abode for each nuclear family, rather than one child per couple?
What about pollution? Why not address mining, which renders soils toxic for generations? Why not fund mass transportation instead of forcing the public to bailout automakers that refuse to build eco-friendly vehicles?
(Incidentally, at the end of Wilson’s TED Talk addressing the loss of biodiversity partly caused by pollution and habitat destruction, viewers are treated to magnificent feel-good views of nature. This is utterly destroyed when the sponsor then films a car – a car! – emerging from behind a waterfall. It’s a horrifying study in contrasts.)
How about stopping wars? Talk about eco-destruction and loss of biodiversity. My tenth grade history teacher once penetrated my ennui when he said, “There is only one reason for all wars.” He then leaned over his podium with a look of utter contempt, drawing out the word, “Greeeed.”
How about criminalizing factory farming, with its monoculture, genetic engineering, and massive chemical inputs that destroy the environment? Let’s criminalize CAFOs – concentrated animal feeding operations – that destroy the environment, render our food unsafe and promote the emergence of super bugs and super viruses for which we have no natural immunity. Too big is too bad for Mother Earth.
How about funding local, small-scale farms and businesses to reduce global trade? That would go a long way toward reducing the introduction of invasive species. It would certainly help local economies much more than any corporate bailout forced on innocent taxpayers.
Maybe Bill Gates and David Rockefeller could coordinate wealth redistribution along more equitable lines. Maybe they could develop educational therapy for their peers to learn how to become contributing citizens instead of destructive, pathologically selfish ones. Maybe they could insist we prosecute homegrown war criminals, to discourage others from that environmentally destructive evil.
It might be argued that the reason elites have focused on human population is not because they are concerned about the environment. Instead, perhaps, too many of us recognize and suffer from the evils wrought by profit seekers, and the attendant income disparity. The global resistance movement is only growing; and in some places it is armed.
Of the five categories of causes for loss of biodiversity, by choosing to address human population, the current crop of elites reveal themselves to be entirely incompetent for the task they set upon themselves. The world would be a far better place, far safer, far healthier, and far more biologically diverse without transnational corporations that support war, mining, chemically-intensive, monoculture farms, CAFOs, and deforestation.
It’s really not “too many people causing too many problems.” Profit-driven industry is the greatest threat to life on Planet Earth.
Rady Ananda graduated from The Ohio State University’s School of Agriculture with a B.S. in Natural Resources.