Solutions to Overshoot: We Don't Have to Choose Just One

Solutions to overshoot

In place of the usual, well-researched article by our research associate, Alan Ware, we elected in this issue to include a guest essay by Mike Hanauer. Mike is a longtime sustainable population advocate, having served on the board of directors of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) years ago, when world population was about half what it is today.

Here Mike makes the case that we won’t achieve sustainability if we ignore the population multiplier in the equation and focus all efforts on adjusting lifestyles to shrink our ecological footprints. He writes that we’re entitled to a certain level of comfort, and we simply won’t scale back our footprints dramatically. And even if we did, population growth would soon undo the gains.

I’m sure (and Mike agrees) we’re so deep into overshoot that we must work on both reducing our population AND shrinking our footprints. But so far all evidence suggests the former is the most feasible. We’ve not demonstrated much willingness to “skinny up” our lifestyles, and pursuit of the Holy Grail of everlasting economic growth (which expands our footprints) shows few signs of abating.

Meanwhile, we’ve shown that we ARE willing to choose smaller families. Global average fertility has fallen from 5 to 2.4 in the past 60 years. Several nations have achieved dramatic reductions in birth rates over a much shorter time simply by adopting that as a goal, educating people, rallying public support, and making contraception easy to obtain.

I don’t think that means we should ignore the lifestyle changes we need to make, or the need to get policymakers unhooked from their addiction to economic growth. But I do think the evidence supports stepping up efforts to rally public participation in lowering birth rates – even in the over-developed world where most people mistakenly think overpopulation has been solved. It’s obvious there will be less resistance to having smaller families than there will be to having smaller individual footprints.

World Population Balance has played a leading role in clearing the obstacles that hinder faster progress on the population front. We’ve been successfully dissolving the taboo on conversations about the overpopulation crisis. We’re cranking up the volume on conversations about the solution – voluntarily choosing to have smaller families. We can’t say, “Mission accomplished,” just yet, but we are gaining ground. Thank you for joining us in this effort, whether that’s through your own advocacy work, financial support,or both.

Dave Gardner, Executive Director

Dave Gardner

Dave Gardner co-hosts The Overpopulation Podcast for World Population Balance, in addition to serving as executive director. He worked as a professional filmmaker for over 35 years. During his career he’s directed documentaries and other award-winning projects for a long list of Fortune 500 corporate clients and PBS. He eventually found a successful career serving big business and a life pursuing the "American Dream" were not his Holy Grail. Read more about Dave Gardner, Executive Director