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Debate: Should ecosocialists oppose population growth?


Ian Angus

This article has been posted on CLIMATE & CAPITALISM, an ecosocialist journal, reflecting the viewpoint of environmental Marxism.

In ‘A Redder Shade of Green,’ did Ian Angus unfairly criticize people who believe overpopulation is a major environmental problem?

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Sandra Lindberg

Discussing this issue is so important. I am glad you've posted both the article and the critique of it. I want to add the ideas of a woman who has been studying this topic for a very long time: Vandana Shiva. In an interview in Yes! Magazine, Shiva observes:

Scarcity is not a result of uneven endowments—that is diversity. Scarcity is having a mismatch between a culture and nature's giving. Cultures have evolved cultural diversity to mimic the biological diversity of climates and ecosystems. It's when that relationship is disrupted that you get unsustainable population growth.

There is no society in which you've had so-called population explosions as long as societies have lived within the context of their rights to the resources and the ability to conserve those resources for the future. Just look at two situations. In England, the population explosion started with the enclosures of the commons—when peasants were uprooted from the land and had to depend on selling their labor. In India, 1800 is the watershed for the consolidation of colonial regimes. For centuries before 1800 our population had been stable. When you depend on the land, you know there are five people who can be supported. You work your society out so you have five. When you are selling your labor power on an uncertain basis, in an unstable wage market, you know that having ten is better than having five. So dispossession from the Earth's natural wealth is at the root of instability and population growth.
I would highlight that Shiva is clarifying the destructive effect capitalism has had not only on the planet, but on birth rates: "When you are selling your labor power on an uncertain basis, in an unstable wage market, you know that having ten is better than having five."

Those usually white and often male folks who believe that simply lowering world population will take care of our problems fail to understand that capitalism's voracious appetite will gnaw at the planet and destroy our ecosystems no matter how many we are.

System change is the only solution. And it remains essential that any system change include the voices and ideas of those who have studied for too long how to survive under capitalist patriarchy. Women, indigenous populations, people of color, and what I call the wisdom of those labeled by capitalists as "the poor," these are the people who must be a huge part of the world's reinvention.

You can read the entire Yes! article here: Earth Democracy - an interview with Vandana Shiva