Addressing Overpopulation as an Environmental Issue (Finally)
Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth
2011, Directed and produced by Dave Gardner
Growthbusters is the inspiring story of Dave Gardner’s efforts to challenge conservative Colorado Springs’ failed growth promotion policies. The film begins by focusing on the insanity of local councils cutting essential public services to “jump start” growth. However it also takes a broader theoretical look at the overall failure of economic growth to solve the global economic crisis. More importantly it tackles head-on the deeper and more serious issue of population control – and the conspiracy of silence on the part of institutional environmental groups (such as Sierra Club) on the issue.
While Gardner is clearly an environmental crusader concerned about the long term effects of unlimited growth on carbon emissions, resource scarcity and species extinction, he inserts a heavy dose of economic reality into the discussion. All of us who pay any attention to local government have heard the same insipid assertions about the urgent need to cut taxes and regulations to attract new industry and jobs, as well as the need to spend to spend billions of dollars on new infrastructure to accommodate the hoards of people planning to move to our area. The three billion dollar water project the Colorado Springs City Council recently approved to transport water 62 miles uphill is a case in point. Time after time, the companies jump ship and population predictions fall short, leaving existing residents with mountains of debt, higher taxes and reduced police and other services.
Even though the pattern occurs over and over again, no one ever challenges these unproven assertions – that growth equates with prosperity and that communities that don’t grow shrivel up and die. In fact as Gardner learned during his campaign for Colorado Springs City Council, people who oppose growth for growth’s sake are regarded as somewhat loony.
The reality, as Gardner and the experts he features in his film point out, is that people and institutions who promote growth most heavily are those who benefit from it – at the expense of everyone else. This includes real estate developers who derive profits from building more homes, office blocks and shopping center; the mining and fossil fuel companies that fuel this economic activity, as well as heating all the new homes and powering the new cars; and the banks who finance it all. In other words the super rich.
As our other national and local needs are sacrificed for these gung ho growth policies, this 1% gets richer. The other 99% get poorer, as they lose access to public education, health care and other vital social services young people need to reach their full potential. Along with all the wealth comes power, as the 1% uses their vast propaganda network to put out messages to get people to consume more, to incur more debt and work longer hours to pay it off – and most importantly to have more babies.
The Population Bomb
In addition to tackling the pro-growth agenda head on, Gardner also makes the important link between exploding population growth and environmental degradation. Paul Ehrlich, who appears briefly in the film, warned in his 1970 book The Population Bomb that mankind was rapidly outstripping the Earth’s natural resources. Dennis Meadows, who directed the 1973 Club of Rome project resulting in the book Limits to Growth, also appears. Based on advanced computer modeling, this controversial report warned forty years ago that population growth and resource scarcity would cause the global economy to falter at the beginning of the 21st century. In other words, as Meadows reminds us, the 2008 global economic crisis was right on schedule.
As Gardner, Ehrlich, Meadows and other experts point out, humankind is living beyond our means, “liquidating” resources we should be should be saving for our children and grandchildren. If we were still growing all our food locally, as we were at the beginning of the 20th century, it would be obvious there is no longer enough land in cultivation to feed 7 billion people. However because of globalization, most of the industrialized world has no idea where their food comes from. While the one billion people who die of starvation or gradual malnutrition are virtually invisible.
Family Planning: the Best Way to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Gardner doesn’t advocate for mandatory population control like they have in China. However he argues strongly for major environmental groups like the Sierra Club to use their public profile to begin educating governments, communities and individuals to start making informed decisions around family size. The other side – the bankers, mining and fossil fuel industry and real estate developers – clearly see the connection between a booming population and economic growth. This is why they constantly pump out messages pressuring women to have more kids.
The truth is that we can’t possibly change enough light bulbs or plant enough trees to compensate for all the babies born to our children and our children’s children. People can save more carbon emissions through responsible family planning than by giving up jet travel. Population control is a critical ecological issue. The “official” environmental movement is letting us all down by refusing to take it up.
New Paths Forward
Gardner himself does his part. When he’s not running for city council or making movies, he’s out in the street distributing free Endangered Species Condoms. The condoms come in choice of packaging featuring endangered panthers, polar bears and cute critters.
He also encourages people to join the Transition movement to help in strengthening their communities, re-localizing economic life and rebuilding skills that don’t depend on corporations and fossil fuels.
Towards the end of the film, there is a very inspiring interview with Australian electronics giant Dick Smith, in which he announces the $1 million Wilberforce* Award he has established for “the young person with the best ability to communicate an alternative to our population and consumption growth-obsessed economy.”
*William Wilberforce was an 18th century British politician and leader of the movement that abolished the slave trade.
Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall Bramhall is a 64 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. She recently published a free non-fiction ebook 21st Century Revolution, which can be downloaded at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/120942. Her first book The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led her to leave the US in 2002.