Overpopulation is one of the biggest challenges our species will face in the coming decades. How we go about such a delicate subject could very well determine whether humans actually have a future on Earth.
This is something that advocacy group Global Population Speak Out understands quite well. Earlier this year, the group released Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER), a 300-page coffee table book of images showing the true face of environmental devastation caused by overpopulation. The hope is that this book will spark a debate among world leaders over a way to curb this devastation.
These photos are powerful and put into context in the book with emotional quotes from top leaders and activists from around the world. A few of which are reproduced below.
1. Dead Elephant
Basketball star Yao Ming comes face-to-face with a poached elephant in northern Kenya.
2. Ship Dragging Net – A 120-meter-long pelagic trawler fishes off the coast of Mauritania to support the ever-growing demand for fish protein in the world diet.
“If you’re overfishing at the top of the food chain, and acidifying the ocean at the bottom, you’re creating a squeeze that could conceivably collapse the whole system.” —Carl Safina
3. Dead Polar Bear – The western fjords on Svalbard, Norway, that normally freeze in winter remained ice-free all season. This bear headed north, looking for suitable sea ice to hunt on. Finding none, it eventually collapsed and died.
“Prophesying catastrophe is incredibly banal. The more original move is to assume that it has already happened.” —Jean Baudrillard
4. Fire – More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado) are another consequence of a warming planet.
“Public infrastructure around the world is facing unprecedented stress, with hurricanes, cyclones, floods and forest fires all increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated.” —Naomi Klein
5. Shrinking Island – One of Earth’s most vulnerable nations to climate change, the Maldive Islands are severely threatened by rising sea levels.
“The island is full of holes and seawater is coming through these, flooding areas that weren’t normally flooded 10 or 15 years ago. There are projections of about 50 years [before the islands disappear]. After this, we will be drowned.” —Paani Laupepa
6. Big Truck – Massive haul trucks support surface mining operations in the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada, one of the largest known deposits of unconventional (in this case bitumen) oil resources.
7. Toxic Landscape – Alberta, Canada. Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space.
“All of our current environmental problems are unanticipated harmful consequences of our existing technology. There is no basis for believing that technology will miraculously stop causing new and unanticipated problems while it is solving the problems that it previously produced.” —Jared Diamond
8. Feedlot – Industrial livestock production in Brazil.
“Despite the industry’s spin, CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] are not the only way to raise livestock and poultry. Thousands of farmers and ranchers integrate crop production, pastures, or forages with livestock and poultry to balance nutrients within their operations and minimize off-farm pollution through conservation practices and land management … Yet these sustainable producers, who must compete with factory farms for market share, receive comparatively little or no public funding for their sound management practices.” —Martha Noble
9. Rectangular Fields – China. No room for nature, the entire landscape is devoted to crop production.
“Globalization, which attempts to amalgamate every local, regional, and national economy into a single world system, requires homogenizing … locally adapted forms of agriculture, replacing them with an industrial system—centrally managed, pesticide-intensive, one-crop production for export—designed to deliver a narrow range of transportable foods to the world market.” —Helena Norberg-Hodge
10. Drain Pipe – Alberta, Canada. Tar-sands-related tailings ponds are among the largest toxic impoundments on Earth, and lie in unlined dykes mere meters from the Athabasca River. Indigenous communities downstream are fearful of being poisoned by toxic seepage into the food chain.
“Think of Alberta as the Nigeria of the North. (Well, there are a lot more white people in Alberta, and Canada’s military hasn’t killed anybody to protect the oil business.) Both economies have been increasingly dominated by oil. In 2009, Nigeria exported around 2.1 million barrels of oil per day; Canada exported 1.9 million barrels per day. Environmental regulation of the oil industry in both Nigeria and Alberta is lax, and the industry has been actively opposed by native people— the Ogoni, in particular, in Nigeria and the Cree in Alberta.” —Winona LaDuke and Martin Curry
11. People and Trees – The Love Parade in Tiergarten Park, Berlin, Germany. Mass rallies and other cultural events are only possible in a mass society.
“One of the great challenges today is the population explosion. Unless we are able to tackle this issue effectively, we will be confronted with the problem of the natural resources being inadequate for all the human beings on this earth … the only choice—limited number … happy life … meaningful life. Too many … miserable life and always bullying one another, exploiting one another.” —His Holiness the Dalai Lama
12. Big Hole – The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
“Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it? I do not believe it can be done. The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it. If you try to change it, you will ruin it.” —Lao Tsu
13. British Columbia Clear-Cut – Image of clear-cut logging on Vancouver Island. Sometimes called the Brazil of the North, Canada has not been kind to its native forests.
“Human domination over nature is quite simply an illusion, a passing dream by a naive species. It is an illusion that has cost us much, ensnared us in our own designs, given us a few boasts to make about our courage and genius, but all the same it is an illusion.” —Donald Worster
14. Cows and Smoke – Ground zero in the war on nature — cattle graze amongst burning Amazon jungle.
“Throughout history, human exploitation of the earth has produced this progression: colonize—destroy—move on.” —Garrett Hardin
15. Clear-Cut – Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon.
16. Giant Machine – The Bagger 288, the largest non-stationary machine in the world, removing “overburden” prior to coal mining in Tagebau Hambach, Germany.
17. Megalopolis – Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 million.
18. Darkening Skies – Coal-burning power plant, United Kingdom.
19. Computer Dump – Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal.
“Even as a waste disposal site, the world is finite.” —William R. Catton Jr.
20. Smokestacks and Garbage – Brick kilns dot a dystopian landscape of trash in Bangladesh.
“Put simply, if we do not redirect our extraction and production systems and change the way we distribute, consume, and dispose of our stuff—what I sometimes call the take-make-waste model—the economy as it is will kill the planet.” —Annie Leonard
21. Tire Dump – The end of the road for these tires is a desert dumping ground in Nevada.
“The laws of thermodynamics restrict all technologies, man’s as well as nature’s, and apply to all economic systems whether capitalist, communist, socialist, or fascist. We do not create or destroy (produce or consume) anything in a physical sense— we merely transform or rearrange. And the inevitable cost of arranging greater order in one part of the system (the human economy) is creating a more than offsetting amount of disorder elsewhere (the natural environment).” —Herman E. Daly
22. Trash Wave – Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya catches a wave in a remote but garbage-covered bay on Java, Indonesia, the world’s most populated island.
“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” —Jacques-Yves Cousteau
23. Hillside Slum – Slum-dwelling residents of Port-au-Prince, Haiti (population 4 million, density 50,000/mile), face bleak living conditions in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
“Squatters trade physical safety and public health for a few square meters of land and some security against eviction. They are the pioneer settlers of swamps, floodplains, volcano slopes, unstable hillsides, rubbish mountains, chemical dumps, railroad sidings, and desert fringes … such sites are poverty’s niche in the ecology of the city, and very poor people have little choice but to live with disaster.” —Mike Davis
24. Satellite Dishes – The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
“Not until man sees the light and submits gracefully, moderating his homocentricity; not until man accepts the primacy of beauty, diversity, and integrity of nature, and limits his domination and numbers, placing equal value on the preservation of natural environments as on his own life, is there hope that he will survive.” —Hugh H. Iltis
25. Dead Bird – On Midway Island, far from the centers of world commerce, an albatross, dead from ingesting too much plastic, decays on the beach; it is a common sight on the remote island.
“Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath…” —, Ecclesiastes 3:19
(via Global Population Speak Out)
The prospect of a devastated, toxic, post-apocalyptic Earth is more than just a far-off possibility; it’s a certainty if major steps aren’t taken to preserve what’s left of this planet. We only have one planet Earth. Once it’s gone, we won’t get any do-overs.
Make sure to check out more images from Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) here. You can also follow Global Population Speak Out on Facebook and Twitter.