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8 billion

2022-11-15 | Critique of ideology
8 billion

What does the "day of 8 billion" mean?

According to the UN the world's population will have exceeded today 8 billion people for the first time.

Is this good news?

World population curve since the seventeenth century

According to the UN, this is "a milestone in human development". It argues that the main driver of the spectacular growth of the human population has been "the increase in life expectancy, thanks to advances in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine".

True. But it's news really from another era. Kind of like celebrating the rise of long-distance sailing. As we see in the graph above, since its inception in the second half of the 18th century, the rise of capitalism has increased the productive forces in a way never seen before. The principal productive force, the working class, multiplied in number, initiating an accelerated growth. In the so-called era of progress, capitalist growth produced real human development.

But since the closure of the world market and the arrival of the imperialist and decadent phase of capitalism, the relationship between growth and development has become increasingly contradictory. It has gone to the point where our daily life in all spheres today comes up against a growing antagonism between one thing and the other. And this can also be seen in demographic evolution... and its consequences.

Is the capitalist population boom coming to an end?

Population growth rates over the last 70 years

Population growth rates over the last 70 years and UN forecast to 2100.

We cannot mechanically equate human development with population development, but the fact is that annual population growth figures have fallen from a peak of 2.1% between 1962 and 1965 to less than 1% in 2020. According to the UN it could fall to 0.5% by 2050 due to a continued decline in fertility rates. The organization's demographic model projects a total population of 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050 to eventually peak at 10.4 billion sometime in the 2080s.

What is significant in reality is not the mere reduction in growth, but that this is accompanied by obvious symptoms that it is not due to the increase in human development but rather to its denial. According to the UN itself, 2022 has been the year of greatest famine since its founding. And according to the head of the World Food Program, this is not a one-off event that will be corrected:

A year ago I would have told you Horn of Africa and Sahel. But hunger is like a cancer that spreads throughout the body. Central America, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and South Sudan all are affected. There is no single factor leading to this catastrophe, there are many and they add up. [...] As long as there is war, we cannot conquer hunger.

So, are we facing "overpopulation"? Are there too many humans on the planet and the population is adjusting to resources through sheer starvation?

Aardehuizen Ecovillage in the Netherlands

Aardehuizen Ecovillage in the Netherlands.

More than a few media sources speak today of "overpopulation". The Guardian bluntly speaks of it. According to German public TV, "the real problem is excessive consumption". For the Irish Times "whether it's food or water, batteries or gasoline, there will be less for everyone." And we could go on. It is the old Malthusian discourse modulated today by collapsism..

Read also: Is degrowth an alternative?, 15/8/2022

But this is a deceptive discourse.

As in Malthus, the argument always begins with the perspective of an unquestionable catastrophe produced by the increase in consumption. Consumption that would have grown excessively supposedly "in response" to the permanent dissatisfaction of the great social majorities' needs. It is a technique of shock and sectarian guilt applied to social communication. In reality, consumption is the form that the satisfaction of workers' needs takes in a commercial society. By attacking their "consumerism", today's Malthusianism puts the focus on the same place as its predecessors: the voracity and growth of the working classes is the main enemy of the social order. And if Malthus intended to channel - by means of liberalism - this growth impulse towards proletarianization in the harshest conditions, the neo-Malthusians propose simply "self-containment" and even greater restriction of consumption to save a select few in a Morris-style pre-industrial utopia... that should begin to be built now.

What is characteristic of environmentalism and the original Malthusianism is the absurdity of its premises. Malthus, after all a parson, was strongly opposed to contraception and for him the fecundity of the species was not, but must be, a constant without historical change. For the ecologists too. The fact is that what is known as the "demographic transition", a marked decline in fecundity with the economic development of territories, does not fit in with any of the premises of environmentalism. Humanity does not reproduce like rabbits in heat. A large part of the population "boom" in the so-called "semi-colonial" countries is due to a drop in infant mortality thanks to a basic medical improvement that is not yet coupled with a drop in the birth rate... because families still live in poverty and need as many hands as possible to work (due also to restrictions on access to contraceptives). Humans are not given to maximize their number of children regardless of the state of society. The supposed problem of "overpopulation" is the problem that a good part of humanity lives in the most miserable poverty and scarcity due to capitalism, not due to some supposed natural tendency to cover the planet with offspring. For Malthus this was an inevitable result of his reasoning, since his simple economic model predicted that wages would not increase with accumulation (a mistake for which he ended up apologizing at the end of his life), due to which workers would always suffer great scarcity and try to breed as much as possible. Today, the position according to which workers' consumption -the cause of all evils- must be restricted is simply indefensible.

In reality, the discourse is reduced to three moves: threat of catastrophe (oil peak, climate change, extinction, etc.), blaming workers for making the use of resources "unsustainable" by consuming "too much", and exalting pauperization, which should be embraced as soon as possible and voluntarily. Few arguments could better represent what the decadence of one mode of production means.

Blaming the workers and millenarianism in «Environmentalism» of Marxist Dictionary

Today we would only have to add one more element to the above quotation. They no longer ask or demand self-containment, they impose it on us through the Green Deal in the name of the "sacred climate union" whose real objective is not to confront the climate disaster created by capitalism itself with a change to clean technologies, but to organize a gigantic transfer of income from labor to capital.

That is the reason why more than ever before it has been so important for the ideologues of the system to accuse of over-consumption those to whom the system increasingly denies access to basic consumption.

Is mankind suffering from a population problem?

  • Neither the abandonment of fossil fuels will make capitalism cease to be increasingly dangerous for human life and Nature of which it is a part -nor the the development of tendencies towards war- nor is the cause of famines an over-exploitation of natural resources due to the alleged "over-consumption"... of the exploited.
  • The agricultural property owner who abandons production, or the industrialist who closes the factory, thinks that the wages that workers demand to subsist "are excessive" and that the very expression of their basic needs is "selfish". But nothing, except the set of social rules that we call capitalism, would prevent production from directly satisfying the needs of all.
  • The problem facing humanity is neither technological nor, much less, one of overpopulation. It is the way in which social production is organized, capitalism, which has become a brake on the capacities it once developed and a burden for our species and its environment.
  • There exist an abundance of resources and renewable energy necessary for the establishment of an abundant and consciously self-regulating society in its common metabolism with Nature with a global population of over 10 billion inhabitants.
  • That is the world we have been exploring when we ask ourselves what the society that the workers' class movement will create will be like outlined out of its very nature and demands around the world: whether there will be large chemical plants and gigantic heavy industries; who will do the jobs no one wants to do, would restuarants exist or what the cities and housing will be like. In this blog we have even considered whether the sexual division of labor would disappear, if the family and parenting as we know it will exist or whether, in contrast to the degrowth fantasy, we will have pineapples, oranges or coffee or if Art, craftsmanship and traditional productions would be able to flourish in such a society.
  • Through all this exploration what we have discovered is that a decommodified society, freed from the exploitation of labor and oriented to the direct satisfaction of universal human needs, would again develop the productive capacities of Humanity exponentially, socializing them and making conscious its common metabolism with Nature.
  • There is plenty of room in the world for 8 to 10 billion humans whose needs can be satisfied without "calling into question" the sustainability of the natural environment and its transformation. What we cannot have is a future for all under a capitalism that can only offer the prospect of permanent war and mass starvation.