• Ken Ilgunas

More Depopulation Panic



In his latest column, NYT's Ross Douthat sounds the alarm about the travesty of reduced human fertility rates. I'm not sure why so many pundits are sounding alarms over the world population, which is 7.8 billion people, a number that's increased by roughly 800 percent in the last 200 years and which is projected to rise to 11.2 billion by 2100. Many of these billions of people consume at unsustainable rates. (Americans, per capita, consume four times the amount of the earth's carrying capacity, according to an estimate.) Yet Douthat worries that this “global fertility crisis" will result in "ever-slower growth." He writes that in this "age of stagnation" "growth prospects will dim." And even though we produce an additional 83 million people every year, Douthat quotes someone who worries that our population will "gradually vanis[h]."


What fascinates me about these depopulation critics is just how anthropocentric their thinking is. Why not try to imagine how positive human depopulation will be for the millions of other species that we share this planet with: the wild plants, the non-domesticated animals, and the bugs, as well as ecosystems and the climate? Instead, Douthat seems most concerned about the state of countries' GDPs.


Douthat does include a throwaway paragraph about the supposed environmental benefits of depopulation, but he seems to believe that we need to maintain population levels to "innovate" our way out of the climate crisis, which seems absurd to me as most of these 8 billion people are working on farms, in factories, and in retail. They’re not in labs inventing more effective photovoltaic solar panels. He also insinuates that depopulation proponents are extreme misanthropes, who want an earth without people. I don't think that's the case at all: my vision of a depopulated earth involves a sustainable population of humans, who have little concern for their country's GDP, and who thrive on a planet that's given a chance to heal and rejuvenate.


[If there's a weakness in my argument, it's that I'm being flippant about the difficulties to be faced by older generations. I just can't seem to summon the sympathy because the health of the earth and the good of the species seem immeasurably more important than the comforts of one generation in their twilight years.