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Ecosystems and the myth of overpopulation

This post is about a topic I am quite interested in, “triggered” by a post by the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies discussing, contrary to what is mainstream now, the question of whether causal relationship between population growth and biodiversity decline exists or if discourse surrounding supposed ‘overpopulation’ actually do more harm than good?

While I wish the interview linked to in the referenced post went a bit deeper exploring the topic, it is high time that other voices bring this to the fore. The (disproved) Malthusian anti-human speech from the supposedly ecologist leftist mainstream is an entrenched meme of the political Zeitgeist, but the bidirectional relationship between population, especially population in rural areas, and biodiversity has not been paid any attention, probably as it does not fit the underlying goals of said mainstream and their ultimate goals.

General population decline and increasing concentration of that declining population in just a few cities in each country hurt the long term prospects of agricultural and livestock farming (non-industrial) activities but the preservation of rural ecosystems is in symbiosis with those activities. During electioneering cycles much lip service is paid by governments and institutions to this loss of rural population (not so much to the general population decline and skewed population pyramids, since the Ehrlich-like ideas still permeates their thinking) but not a lot seems to be actually being done.

As the article says, “we need to do is find out how we can sustain that transition to higher quality lifestyles without massively increasing the rate of consumption. A myopic focus on population control will not get us there.” Paradoxically forcing people to concentrate in a few cities probably leads to worse consumption patterns, like importing foods from further places, loss of quality of life, cultural heritage loss and so on.

The abandonment of said economic activities means a greater depopulation in large economically marginal spaces that will make it difficult to manage new extensive forest masses created naturally or by reforestation, which brings a growing virulence of forest fires we see during Summer in South Europe, leading to greater desertification. This is a vicious feedback loop which accelerates rural population loss and abandonment of large areas of land, a problem especially notable in places like Spain. Crop abandonment means that local food is also no longer produced and the countryside is left to waste with no proper management (wildfires again).

This situation leads to a kind of rural desertification caused by the break of an ecosystem that had been in place for years, maybe even centuries. Such changes also affect the local fauna already adapted to that ecosystem.

Efforts for vegetation recovery is costly in terms of economic investment, which will only be amortized in the longer term if there are incentives and economic activities that ensure its protection and viability. Even if publicly funded, you need to tax that capital first, and for that you need a productive economy, which can only be made to work by a non-declining population with enough younger people that will become eventual producers and consumers for services and products. I’d argue we need more people, not less, to not only keep our current economic systems running as well as our wealth and welfare levels, but also to improve and innovate on them, as mentioned by the article. Less people ultimately means less economic incentives for investment as there is less market for good and services. Therefore, not only depopulation but also deindustrialization, some sort of undefined rollback.

It is an uncomfortable fact that only richer societies can afford the luxury of taking good care of their environment.

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