Does the global human population mean an end to biodiversity?

Garrett Hardin wrote in The tragedy of the commons (1968) [Science 162: 1243?1248] that the complete freedom of human reproduction, which already resulted in overpopulation of the Earth fifty years ago, is the key and most significant factor of severe over-exploitation of the Earth ecosystems; and furthermore, this led to the anthropogenic extinction wave currently in progress. He suggested that only by relinquishing the freedom to breed could other ?more precious freedoms? be preserved, such as biodiversity on Earth. Was he correct?

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About Michael White

Marine Zoologist specialising in endangered species and remote atoll research. I use modern science and Ethnozoology to provide culturally meaningful conservation projects, with a special focus on the sustainable use of natural resources and food sovereignty. "Tread gently on the Earth"

7 thoughts on “Does the global human population mean an end to biodiversity?

  1. Michael White Post author

    I do not hold the view that it is just the size of the global population that is a problem. Rather it is the impacts that people cause on our planet. For some folk they have very little impact outside their immediate locale; for others, and certain businesses or governments, their “impact footprint” is almost global ~ and that is a problem. They impact the living spaces of others, they take resources that belong to, or sustain others; they tend to grossly pollute our world. So I don’t think it is as simple as saying ‘Planet Earth can hold x number of souls’.

    Also the right to reproduce is an intensely personal issue, it isn’t for others to decide whether, or how many children a woman can have.

    1. Janos

      It is definitely not. However couples (parents, prospective parents) might wish to think about the environmental impact of their (planned) family size as long as they are educated about and aware of the finite nature of our planetary ecosystem. The greedy top 1% already aware of it but obviously they don’t care as long as they have their private jets, islands and Bentley.

  2. Michael White Post author

    I was always drawn more towards the altruism aspect in Hardin’s paper. Rather than just grabbing everything before anyone else can get it, so you’d miss out, by giving more than you take ~ in other words thinking more of others and the future generations than yourself ~ our planet would easily provide for all our needs; although perhaps not our ‘wants’!

    1. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

      It is always easy to associate consumption, and by extension exploitation of resources, to population density. Madagascar is a densely populated island, but neither the minerals, not the rosewood, not the fish and crustaceans are being depleted because the country is consuming these at too fast a rate. The US and China are probably the two countries consuming these resources. And the model applies to the majority of overpopulated developing countries.

      1. Michael White Post author

        Yes Ven, and that reflects exactly what I was getting at in the email exchange with Janos this morning, concerning Global Impact or his gHa by country. You & I both know what is happening.

        Here in Oceania we are about to receive some heavy machinery donated by China: in return of course they want our fish. So they pay a few thousand $$ for stuff they’ve made themselves. If we think of the large tuna that sold last year for nearly 2 million $ at Tokyo fishmarket ~ it requires no Einstein to figure out how much profit the Chinese will make with a 5-year fishing contract in our EEZ, and that of other Large Ocean States. And actually they have several licences. 🙁

        1. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

          Mike, there is that old saying about the time during the age of discovery and colonisation, when colonisers met the local tribes, gave them presents of shiny glass beads and small mirrors, which, being new to them, were much appreciated, whilst the colonisers went away with gold and diamond.
          So history is repeating itself, but in a different way.

          1. Michael White Post author

            Ah yes. The win-lose paradigm: we win you lose 🙁

            I presume you saw that news article about the train from China to Spain carrying plastic tat (sorry consumer goods): 80+ goods trucks on the train, journey took 3 weeks. More pollution for us to contend with.

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