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It's capitalism, not overpopulation, that's driving ecological destruction

Brian Champ

January 15, 2021

An article in the Guardian on January 13th called attention to a new report titled, "Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future" that has been published in the "Frontiers in Conservation Science" journal. The report's authors describe the alarming reality that the climate and ecological crisis is getting worse and the lack of political will to tackle it means that we are destined for terrible consequences unless immediate drastic action is taken.

While the call for urgency is clearly warranted, the authors of the report put the blame on rising consumption and overpopulation. One of the co-authors of the report is Paul R. Ehrlich, author of "The Population Bomb" in 1968, who argues that it is rising populations that are putting humanity out of whack with planetary ecology.
They cite the approximate doubling of global population since 1970, now nearly 7.8 billion people, as proof - linking increased biodiversity loss, soil degradation, increased plastics and toxic chemicals directly with population growth rather than agribusiness and petrochemical company practices.
Arguments like these accept that there is no alternative to capitalism, leading to calls for government policies to curtail population growth and consumption along with actions for individuals to reduce their ecological footprint. These can veer into xenophobic arguments for immigration controls and other draconian measures that dangerously seek more state powers over people.
They also grossly underestimate that contribution of the ruling drive for profit in ecological degradation: gross world product by 2019 had grown to over seven times its measure in 1970. Furthermore, the incredibly unequal distribution of wealth and responsibility for ecological destruction is hidden by these statistics. It is the advanced western economies that are most responsible for this destruction as it is corporations in these states that dictate terms to nations that are dependent on producing for the world market. Rather than individual consumption, it is the destructive consumption inherent in the production process that is most responsible for environmental degradation.
Far from being the problem, people are the solution where they organize collectively in communities and workplaces to challenge the rule of corporations that run roughshod over people and the planet. We have to resist these attempts to blame working people for this planetary crisis and instead organize to overcome the divisions between people that allow this rotten system to continue.
This includes fighting racism and xenophobia, sexism and misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other oppressions to build a force that can challenge the capitalist system that is destroying the planet. Workers and other anti-capitalist forces have the power to challenge the rule of capital before it's too late.
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