Martin Empson (“Are there too many people on the planet?” July/August SR) skewers the argument effectively that poor people are to blame for climate change. But avoids the more difficult question, “How many people can the planet sustain?” Our current 7 billion are consuming the planet’s resources faster than they can be replenished: “humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate” (Global Footprint Network, July 2019). That is natural resources that can regenerate. Most mineral resources cannot and many have economically recoverable amounts that will last only a few more decades.
Under capitalism, satisfying the consumption “needs” for an increasing proportion of the 7 billion is not sustainable. Not because of poor people but because of the rapidly growing numbers that are now able to purchase the goods and services that we in the West take for granted; clean water, sewage disposal, heating, lighting, adequate accommodation, adequate food and so on.
Multiple breakdowns will occur within the lifetime of most of us. These will be as a result of chaotic global heating as well as resource exhaustion whether so called renewables or non-renewables. The only way of avoiding this barbarism is socialism and that needs to happen urgently. Then we may well choose to reduce the numbers on the planet in humane and rational ways in order to live sustainably — under capitalism this reduction will happen involuntarily as we descend into barbarism while elites survive in their gated communities and off-shore islands for a short while longer.