A few weeks ago I received a copy of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot in the post. Overweight, one could add to that list – this is a hefty tome. The Population Media Center must be spending a fortune posting these things out.
The book is a coffee-table style volume about population and its impact on the globe. It’s been sent to all sorts of bloggers and media outlets, and it’s available for activists to distribute too. You can request some yourself if you’re so inclined. As awareness raising initiatives go, it’s a simple enough idea. There aren’t many words to read. This is all about showing people the human impact on the planet.
It works, I have to say. I’ve been writing about these sorts of issues for a decade, and I feel like I’ve seen and heard most environmental arguments. But there’s a real power to the photographs here. More importantly, there’s a power to the cumulative effect of them all in one place, and given the large format presentation that they deserve.
One photo shows Mexico City sprawling across a series of hillsides. (I don’t want to nick it, but go and look at it here and come back). From the height of the photo I found myself imagining the density of human population that entails. Then I wondered what it would take to provide for such a community, in food and water and infrastructure. And every one of those people would prefer to be living in more comfortable, more suburban environments no doubt. Where is the space going to come from to provide that, if lower density housing remains our aspiration?
Or take the photo of a valley full of greenhouses in Spain, a sight that begs the question about water footprints. Or the rows upon rows of coal trains, lined up 50 deep at Norfolk, Virginia.
These are environmental photos that show scale, but there are personal ones too. Two Yemeni men with their child brides; women sewing Cabbage Patch dolls in a factory in China. Sometimes the impact is in contrast – Haitian earthquake survivors jostling for food aid on one page, Black Friday shoppers barging through a store doorway on the next, with the same expressions on their faces.
It’s in the images of deprivation that I found the issue spoke loudest to me. “The population debate is not about the maximum number of people that can be packed onto the planet” writes William Ryerson in the introduction. “The crucial question is: How many people can the earth sustain, at a reasonable standard of living, while leaving room for the diversity of life to flourish?” A world with 12 billion people is a world with a whole lot more suffering than a world with 6.7 billion, the two possible outcomes the book presents for 2100.
Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot is “a wake-up call”. It is meant to be provocative, and it is. But it isn’t hopeless. Acting on population is one of the few “win-win” interventions that benefit people and the environment, reducing our ecological damage while improving women’s right and education. For more on what can be done about it, visit Population SpeakOut.
You can also browse the book in its entirety online.