A couple weeks ago, Chip worried about worries about shrinking populations. Specifically, he worried that countries with shrinking populations — or in China’s case, shrinking proportions of males to females — will try to stimulate procreation (hey, get your mind out of the gutter), which makes an enviro’s spidey-sense tingle. He wished that someone would make the argument that a declining population is not necessarily a bad thing, economically speaking. Today in the Christian Science Monitor, David R. Francis gives it a brief shot.

Some random thoughts on population below the break.I do not share the obsession with population that haunts some of my environmental brethren. For one thing, it’s entirely possible that the present population of the Earth could live healthy, prosperous, sustainable lives and leave plenty of resources and room for other species. This is technically, materially possible, that is. The impediments are cultural and political. In other words, the raw numbers are not the problem. The problem is the way we live.

Secondly, population naturally slows down as affluence increases, generally speaking, as the countries cited in Francis’ piece are finding out. So if we can lift people out of poverty, starvation, etc., while reducing the impact of our (and their) consumption, we will also have gone a long way toward solving the population problem.

In a broader sense, overpopulation is one of those big, vague things that result from a lot of smaller, more specific things, like global warming. And, as with global warming, it makes some people feel good to say “population is the real problem” — cause, you know, people like to feel smarter and more in-the-know than other people. But there is no one “real” problem. All our problems are bound up in one extraordinarily complex web. Methods of dealing with population directly — i.e., totalitarian public policies like forced sterilization and limiting family size (or killing people) — are unpalatable to all but a few zealous misanthropists. But there are plenty of indirect ways of dealing with it, by encouraging sustainable development. So why don’t we concentrate on those? After all, misanthropy has not been an effective political strategy for us.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!