OVERPOPULATION ~ Myth & Reality

Overpopulation is one of the greatest of modern myths.

It has become the bogeyman used to scare us into accepting desperate measures to curb this threat to our way of life A vivid picture is painted of our being submerged in the struggle for survival. We will drown in a sea of people, gasping for the room to breathe, as the last square foot of inhabitable land sinks beneath the overwhelming tide of surging humanity.

To people living in an already crowded urban environment, where others constantly impinge upon you as you move through the day - it is a threat that is only too believeable, given the noise, the lack of space, the tense, hustling, hassling atmosphere of the streets, so dominant in most cities today. Overpopulation is one big city, with nowhere else to go.

Asked to name the most overpopulated countries in the world, most people would probably come up with a list of places like India, the Phillipines, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, maybe even Brazil. These countries are surely teeming over with people, so much so that there isn't enough room for everybody to get a decent living, every one of them crammed to the borders with poor and starving millions. Most would be rather surprised to find that the facts flatly contradict this impression.

Holland for instance is the most heavily populated country in Europe, with an average density of 1.84 people per acre, which is the same as an area of 1,423 square yards (a plot 37.5 yds {34.25 m} square) for each man, woman, child and baby living in Holland today. This is quite a bit more than most of them own at the moment!

Yet Brazil, home of decimated rainforests, shanty towns the size of major European cities, some of the poorest people on Earth in their teeming millions, an apparent glimpse of our possible future - has a population density of only 0.08 people per acre, giving plots of more than 817,960 square yards (827 metres square) for each individual, or areas of 676 acres for the `average' two-parent, two child family - more than enough to live on by most peoples standards. After all in Holland, squeezed into their paltry 0.294 of an acre, or one and half acres for the family, they seem to do a lot better than the Brazilians, in a lot less space.

Indeed by looking at the figures in the table on the left, you can see their is absolutely no correlation between population density and wealth per capita, with Hong Kong, home of some of the worlds most expensive real estate, and many powerful worldwide companies, far outstripping the rest of the world when it comes to overpopulation - yet you don't see people cramming the borders trying to escape - in fact you see precisely the opposite, with thousands of boat people trying to smuggle themselves in, seeking a better life!

Here in Britain, we have an average population density nearly half that of Holland at 0.98 people per acre (5000 plus square yards each), almost identical to the 0.99 people per acre living in the Phillipines, home of Marcos, the shoes etc. another "poor, crowded" country. And yet even a densely populated island like Britain is nowhere near as crowded as you might be led to believe. And led is the operative word here. Ask who is leading who to believe such a blatantly flawed view of reality, and also why, the answers are interesting!

Let us imagine that some benevolent dictator decided to go one better than Mussolini, and instead of making the trains run on time, announced his intention to house everyone currently living in the British Isles, and to do it in great style by giving them all a fine detached house standing in it's own ground (of course no self-respecting dictator would ever consider being so benevolent, but bear with me). The Grand Plan is announced, there will be sixteen houses per acre with four persons to a house, each house on a plot of 100 by 30 feet, in groups of four. This results in a density of 64 persons per acre, (which is considerably less than the 100-200 people per acre that is average in many cities already!). Each plot of four will be surrounded by service roads and a network of pedestrian access ways.

Of course, there is always a catch, this time being the brainchild of a dictator, the Grand Plan decides it is most efficient to house every single inhabitant in the one great city, and following the best democratic tradition will, like Plato's Utopia, be circular in plan. The remaining area of the British Isles would then be available for factories, shops, public buildings, parks, farms, mines, etc. and one or two large private pleasure estates for the Dictator and his chosen minions.

London is demolished to make way for this great vision in town planning, and lo and behold, once all fifty eight million people now living in the British Isles are housed in this luxurious way, the entire city needs to be only 44 miles in diameter! And to continue the Great Plan, all the necessary public buildings and factories to provide work for the populace are built within an outer ring, bringing the total diameter to 62 miles! Apart from the occasional mine, the rest of the British Isles is reserved for the exclusive use of the Great Dictator, and as everyone is living in a comfortable home, with no great distance to travel to work - this is considered only fair recompense to the great man.

Of course it is not proposed that we should really house the whole population of the British Isles within the twenty two mile radius of the centre of London. The example serves only to illustrate how little land is required to house fifty eight million, still giving each plenty of living space, complete with their own gardens, which could be used to grow some of their own food.

Surveys carried out by the British Ministry of Housing and Agriculture actually found that the retail value of garden produce grown in just such gardens at around twelve houses to the acre (as opposed to the sixteen in the above example) slightly exceeded the value, at retail prices, of the output of an average acre of farm land (including market garden land.)

But even allowing for the whole of South Britain (shaded) to be made into farmland to supply the citizens who do not wish to grow their own fruit & veg, this still leaves a vast tract of this, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, completely empty, or as in the above example, as the private pleasure parks of the Great Dictator. But ask yourself this:

Where else do you have a right to be if not in the land you are born into? Where has that land gone when so many people must live like vermin in a cage, scurrying under the nearest piece of corrugated iron sheeting because they have nowhere else to go, no place to call their own, no right to be. Who denies them that right?

It must surely follow as a simple matter of logic, that if there is enough space, enough land for everyone to live on their own private estates, and yet most people own not even one handful of earth, with many of the rest owning no more than their own homes, the king-size share of every land must belong to the remaining few. The table shows the current distribution of land ownership in various countries - notice how little this changes between "rich" and "poor" countries.

Whoever owns the rest, and whatever gives them the power to force everybody else to the edge, and yet further, even completely off the land altogether, is responsible for the totally disproportionate distribution of land seen in every country today. The iillusion of overpopulation as commonly perceived is the experience of living in the crowded fringe which borders the great estates of the wealthy and priviliged Great Dictators, whose fences encompass all as far as the eye can see, and beyond, closing off the land, shutting us out from our inheritance, our god-given right to be, here on planet Earth.

Of course if our Great Dictator were foolish enough to herd his entire population into even such a well-appointed preserve as the above 62 mile wide city, it would be his undoing, for then the people would readily perceive the true scale of the deal, having given up 5000 square yards of their own, for a room and a half share in a small house in the neighbourhood. Something would need to be done! An intelligent dictator would thinly spread people all over the place, to avoid too great an impression of emptiness, but still cram most of them into towns and cities, to make sure all this talk about overpopulation is taken seriously. So everybody looks the other way for an answer, and with differing degrees of reluctance agree to curb the prodigious breeding rates of the poor and undesirable in as humane a way as possible, but do it, and as a matter of urgency. Encourage everyone to agonise over the moral dilemmas this creates, or try not to think about it too much, but above all don't bother looking back over the fence.

That great fence marching across the land, and marching across every democracy, every government, every attempt to criticise the injustice of our extremely unequal share in the gifts of creation, the denial of our common inheritance. We are each born to an ample share of this planet; whose air we breathe, whose water we drink and runs in our veins, whose food fills our tables, whose trees and minerals make our built environment, our possessions and the very fabric of our lives. We are woven from this planet, because without the planet we are nothing. And when all the pieces of the planet are owned, we are owned.

Serfdom is having no land of your own.
It takes most people most of their lives to buy theirselves part-way out of that serfdom, by eventually owning their own home. All that effort merely to claim enough of your own to live in, let alone live from. Yet people will always reach to be free, even a little freedom at great price. I hope after reading this you may come to see a new and better direction in which to reach for that freedom, not by denying others their right to be, but by reclaiming your own.

                
                    (Over)population
                    ----------------   =   Underutilisation
                     Land Ownership

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