This week a new New Zealander will take our nations population over the 4.5 million mark, and so another numerical milestone in our nations history will come to pass. It may be a baby born in Auckland or equally a migrant worker arriving to work on the Christchurch rebuild. There are two things, however, of which we can be certain. The first is that the growth of New Zealand’s population will continue for some time yet, and the second, is that the mainstream media will only ever extol the perceived benefits of such growth with little attention given to the detrimental impacts of on-going population growth. While such a milestone is certainly an opportunity to celebrate the value and beauty of human life, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the consequences of too much of a good thing.
The pro-growth rhetoric that pervades the national discourse is taking our nation, and our planet, on a path to self-destruction; socially, economically and environmentally. In this corporate entity that our nation has become, namely NZ Inc, every extra person that can be squeezed onto these Isles is one more cog in the machinery of our dehumanising economic system. The majority of the human inhabitants of these Islands are no longer citizens but merely instruments of production and units of consumption. The growth in their numbers only serves the ruling elite in that there are ever more mouths to consume their fodder and continual competition in the labour market to keep wages down. Meanwhile this herd of humanity is subjected to increasing privation as they compete for an ever diminishing portion of the pie.
Over-consumption of the planet’s resources is certainly one of the most serious issues facing both humanity and the natural world, however, no discussion of over-consumption can take place without asking “who is doing the consuming?”. In the same way that the area of a rectangle if determined by the length of it’s two sides, so too is consumption of the Earth’s resources a function of the amount of consumption per person and the number of people doing the consuming. Yes, many of us must reduce our consumption in order for others to raise theirs to a level that enables them to live a dignified life. However, unless we are to continue to reduce our consumption to a point where we are barely existing, we must also recognise that there are limits to the number humans that can happily share this planet.
New Zealand’s population will continue to grow for some time due to natural increase at least, as will the population of the world. However, instead of blindly believing that such growth must continue indefinitely, we must with clear eyes admit that there are limits to human population growth on our small and fragile planet. Envisioning a world where population growth has ended and we, as a species, are living within planetary limits requires brave and transcendent thinking. I do not claim to be such a visionary, however; education, equality and freedom for all would be a good place to start. These are not only requisites for human dignity, but also result in lower fertility rates as women are freed live their lives as they choose. No nation on our planet has yet achieved true equality between women and men, however, there is a strong trend displaying that those nations in which women and men are more equal have the lowest fertility rates and, consequently. the lowest population growth rates. We must also replace our current competitive paradigm with one of human cooperation. We must work together for the common good of, not only the present inhabitants of our nation and our planet, but those whose time has not yet come.
Although I reject the means by which China used to achieve a (soon to be) stable population, this poster – call it propaganda if you are so inclined – gives a hint of the transcendent thinking that is needed in our time. The caption states: “Implement family planning, allow the next generation to have a little more space to live.” The imperative being “to live”, is the vision I have for all people everywhere. Not simply to exist, and compete like the savages of our distant evolutionary past, but to shape our evolutionary future as a species cooperating for the common good of all inhabitants of this small planet we call our home.