Earth News Journal 18: Overpopulation Controversy

According to The New York Times’ opinion writer Erle Ellis, the increasing population of human beings on Earth will not hinder the amount of available resources.

In fact, Ellis claims those who believe that overpopulation is a threat to this finite world are entirely incorrect.

Even though a limited number of resources remain for other organisms to utilize, Ellis states that “the conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been…[instead,] human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered ‘natural’ ecosystems.”

He goes on to say, “The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history.” Ellis firmly argues that human beings “transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves.”

Even though the  current world population is estimated at 7.2 billion, a record number of individuals compared to previous accounts, the author is convinced that with “current industrial technologies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that the more than nine billion people expected by 2050 as the population nears its peak could be supported as long as necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies are in place.” The only limits in this world are “our imaginations and our social systems…the environment will be what we make it.”


This entire article infuriated me, in its language, its points of argument, and its absurd belief that human beings have transcended all other species and ecosystems. Ellis’ conviction that we as a species can defy the shackles of nature and rise above the obvious limit of resources and materials present on the Earth is astounding. We depend on the Earth – not the other way around. We as humans can’t engineer everything we need in order to survive. We rely on the sun to provide us with all forms of energy; the sun cannot be commandeered in a laboratory. Ellis seems to be living in a utopia and ignoring the reality of our world today. Entire countries are starving, barely surviving, without proper nourishment and resources. Just because America is mostly content in its resources consumption doesn’t mean the rest of the world is living modestly. This technological and engineering proclivity described by Ellis doesn’t even exist in the present decade – how could we expect it to exist in 2050, with an almost 2 billion increase in the human population? Can the United Nations truly create an entire new system of food production and distribution with nations in turmoil, ecosystems crumbling under man’s omniscient hand, and a world dependent on non-renewable resources? The fantasy devised by Ellis remains unattainable, in my opinion. Human beings have the Earth’s resources and materials at their disposal – that’s it. We can’t scrape off minerals from a distant planet and dump them back on Earth. No – we have only the resources available to us, here and now, and we’re squandering them. Ripping apart rainforests, damming rivers and streams, clogging the oceans with pollutants – if we can’t take care of the Earth as it is today, our population doesn’t stand a chance of survival. We’ll swallow Mother Nature, but she’ll take us down with her. 

Ellis, Erle C. “Overpopulation Is Not the Problem.” The New York Times. N.p., 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.

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