Balancism, Population Decline, and the Anthropocene

August 1, 2020 0 By Lhendrix

Balancism sees overpopulation, population decline, and related topics in a different light than Neo-Liberalism. While some may look at population growth as a positive development, and subsequent problems as lesser evils that need to be overcome, Balancism doesn’t judge changes in population size as intrinsically good or bad. While Neo-Liberalism may view the results of population decline as a key threat to the survival of the system, Balancism see the potential for a restored balance in the ENV realm (See Basics of Balancism 1). Balancism aims to redefine priorities for governance by identifying key outcomes of changes in population size and planning to mitigate any of such negative effects, rather than to hold back natural trends. In this blog I write about overpopulation, population decline, and the Anthropocene. As always, this is still a work in progress, so please leave any arguments in the comments and point out logical fallacies if you spot any.

Overpopulation has instilled fear in economics, politics, and many other social sciences fields for many centuries. Malthus feared food production would not be able to keep up with population growth, but his thinking did not account for the enormous expansion of and innovations in agriculture and food production that would follow. Most recent fears of overpopulation seem to stem from the greenhouse gasses (methane, carbon dioxide, etc.) that 20th century development became associated with. The larger and more developed the global population would become, the more greenhouse gasses would be emitted due to economic demand for related products, and the greater the effect of climate change. Climate change, in turn, can cause extreme local food shortages in various regions in the world (despite the world as a whole producing an abundance of food), and factors such as scarcity of resources, natural disasters, and migration can cause political instability and spark armed conflict.

Human intelligence and ingenuity first achieved enough protection from forces of nature for humanity to expand (from survival and the drive to extinction of preditors to the medical advances such as inoculation), and now it has allowed us to develop industries and shape the globe for better and worse to our design. Although officially, the current geological epoch is the Holocene, several scientists in the past centure have called the significant human impact on ecosystems we can see in the world today evidence of the dawn of the Anthropocene. In this new geological epoch humanity shapes nature. The most compelling argument for this line of thinking is the ongoing climate change cause by the way humanity has designed it’s economies and societies.

However, if this is truly the Anthropocene, humanity should also have the capacity to halt and even undo the current trend. Environmentalist policies, innovations for alternative energy sources, and many forms of sustainable development are already attempting this. But the Neo-Liberal ideology on which the economic system is built still has a doctrine of ‘growth’ at its core. The quantitative growth of economies and countries, in their view, is of intrinsic importance, because it has the potential to facilitate qualitative growth. The problem lies in the mistaken focus on quantitative growth: more production is need in order for more consumption and by continuously more people. With quantitative growth at its core, population growth sounds like fair weather, while rumours of population decline are dark clouds on the horizon.

For Balancism, natural population decline is not a problem. Given the current norms in industry and environmental planning (or lack thereof), continuous population growth is the real problem, because the ENV realm is completely left out of a balanced approach of organising human progress. Not just climate change and global warning threaten the quality of life on earth; it is also the declining biodiversity, erosion, and deforestation that harm us more than we may realise during our own individual lifetimes. The most iconic and pressing of these problems of leaving the ENV realm out of meanstream policy priorities is the global decline of bee population. Given the vital role that bees play in the pollination process, global food production will be at risk of severe negative impact if this trend is not halted, 

Although neither inherently good, nor inherently bad, changes in population size are only required for Balancism if there is an imbalance between the five realms of experience. Presently, the ENV realm is under too much pressure. Arguments against environmentalism often come from the POL and ECO realms. These worries should be listened to during the design of new policies, so that any solutions to the ENV realm don’t harm societies and economies. Crucially though, POL and ECO reservations should not deter Balancist progress towards an improved ENV.

With population decline, there may be fewer consumers, and future economic growth may be at risk, but Balancism does not fear this scanario as Neo-Liberalm does. As long as quality of life improves (that is, the qualitative experience of all five realms), a natural decline in absolute population numbers is not a problem. Overpopulation should also not be battled with draconian laws such as the CCP’s One Child Policy in the past either: those laws are unethical because of their immense damage to the IND and SOC realms, and are simply not necessary. An abundance of research has shown that improved quality of life, availability and knowledge of reproductive health, and availability of education and other forms of IND development (namely, purpose other than child-rearing) already leads to declining birth numbers. Such ‘natural’ decline should be an aspiration of global society as long as there is an imbalance in the ENV realm and the risk of climate change persists.

The ENV realm has its own way of achieving balance. If humanity does not learn to bring it into balance, we risk making our planet uninhabitable long before space exploration advances enough to allow humanity to escape the death of our sun. The Anthropocene should not be declared when humans manage to influence the ENV realm, but once we take responsibility for it and learn to control it. When climate change is halted and humanity can survive, thrive and rest with confidence in its capacity to control the global ENV, the true dawn of the Anthropocene will be an achievement worth celebrating.