Q: Many environmentalists and environmental films talk about climate change. Is this more important than overpopulation?
A: Climate change is extremely important. However, it is actually only one symptom of a much larger crisis of humanity’s impact on earth. Even if we converted all our energy needs to non carbon based sources which would help climate change, it would not slow or stop humanity’s onslaught of the ecological world. For a more detailed review read this article from the Post Carbon Institute
Q: Is overpopulation really a problem?
A: It depends on how much each of us consumes. Based on current world consumption times the number of people on the earth, most measurements indicate humans are far exceeding earth’s ability to provide us the necessary resources without adverse effects to all living creatures. Read more on the Earth Overshoot website.
Q: Why don’t we then just change the amount we consume?
A: Great question. There are multiple challenges to reducing consumption to the levels needed to be sustainable. Firstly for 7.7 billion people to equitably live sustainably we each would need to live on approximately $5500 a year. Most people living at or above this level have very little interest in reducing their standard of living to this sustainable level. Those living below this minimal threshold are fighting every day to move up the economic ladder as marked by increased wealth and consumption. A second obstacle is any voluntary reduction in consumption we impose on ourselves usually leads to an economic savings. For example, if I give up owning a car which may be good for the environment, I will additionally have a significant savings in car payments, insurance and gas annually. Wherever there is an economic savings most people will take those savings and simply shift them to some other consumptive activity. If they don’t use these newfound savings to consume other goods and services they typically will invest those savings. Those savings then get invested into the economy and provide the necessary capital to businesses and organizations to provide the goods and services that continue the growth and exploitation into the reserves that sustain us.
Q: What about technologies like solar panels or electric cars that allow us to consume the same or more but with less of an impact on earth?
A: Technology advancements are great and may help to reduce our impact on the environment. The challenges with technology and the efficiencies they can create is that for people and companies that adopt these technologies they invariably create greater prosperity for them that through a positive feedback can actually generate greater global growth into the reserves that sustain us. To illustrate this point, the industrial farmer in our documentary was a big adopter of technology. He told us he had installed new water technologies the prior year in the form of soil moisture sensors and drip irrigation equipment that delivered water more directly to the roots of his crops. As a result he was able to use less water and target more precisely what crops needed it and with greater efficiency. From adopting this technology, he had a tremendous resource savings of total annual water and fuel use. He also experienced a decrease in diesel fuel costs of over $50,000 from not needing to run the diesel pumps as frequently to irrigate his crops. When I asked what happened to those savings he said he reinvested them back into growing the business this year building a new grain elevator (which required a significant amount of natural resources; cement, steel, metals, and other materials that all required equipment and fossil energy to extract from the earth, extrude, fabricate, manufacture, deliver and install the grain elevator.
Q: How many people are we adding to the world every day?
A: The world adds approximately 220,000 new people every day. That would be the equivalent of filling the Beaver Stadium, at Penn State (the second largest stadium in the U.S.) twice a day with new babies every day all year long.
Q: If we are consuming too much and there are too many people on our planet what will eventually happen?
A: If we continue to ignore the problem then eventually nature will force it upon us. The signs are all around us that the planet and nature are exhibiting immense stresses. Many highly regarded independent scientists and academicians we personally have spoken with and interviewed feel by 2100 ocean acidification will reach levels that will drastically alter whatever sea life is left at the time, global warming will wreak havoc on land and in the sea, the lands will be devoid of most forests and animals will be regularly going extinct. Humans will be unable to use land that has been transformed by salt water intrusion or live in areas devoid of nature, fresh water, and fertile soils. Humans as well as all earth’s creatures will suffer greatly.
Q: What are the best ways to reduce our impact on the planet?
A: There are many personal things we can do to minimize our impact. Removing our wealth from the economy which will reduce our individual consumption of many goods and services is one measure but not a pleasing one for most people. As you can view here, having a smaller family is the most powerful personal decision (by a huge factor), that one can make to reduce one’s impact and help heal our planet’s environmental problems faster than any other green initiative.