Overpopulation or Overconsumption?

Sustainability curves - Resource availability vs. demand

Permaculture is about designing sustainable systems for Humans and all other species, i.e. to live without compromising the ability of the next generations to meet their own needs. That is why it encompasses the following 3 ethics: Care for the Earth, Care for the People, and Fair share.
Although the first 2 ethics may seem obvious, the third one is not always easily understood. The Fair Share ethics is often explained in other words as the idea to:

  • Set limits to population and consumption
  • Share the surplus

The most impactful way we can all be more sustainable day after day is by reducing our consumption; and over-population associated with over-consumption is a dangerous combination that drives the sharp decline of natural resources and ecosystem services. The planet may sustain either pressure but not both for a prolonged period of time.

Sustainability curves - Resource availability vs. demand
Earth spiral (source: unknown)


In purely biological terms, as big mammals, we are not supposed to be that many individuals of one single species. This is because of the principle of trophic levels and energy transfer efficiency in the food chain from producers to primary, secondary, tertiary consumers and apex predators [1]. In other words, the number of plants and then animals in natural ecosystems (land or water) supports a lower number of individuals in the next level. This can be visualised as very few big mammals, say per hectare in a forest, in comparison to smaller mammals, then very small animals, insects, plants and finally to micro-organisms. 

Food Pyramid in the Forest
Trophic Levels in the Forest
Food Pyramid in the Ocean
Trophic Levels in the Ocean

The world’s population reached 8 billion people on 15.Nov.2022 and keeps increasing steadily, mostly in developing countries. Pragmatically, having less children is arguably a powerful thing to help the environment since gradually reducing the number of people (as apex predators) on Earth would slowly restore a natural balance in the above trophic levelsAmazingly though, this topic is still considered taboo and only indirectly spoken of as “educating girls” and “family planning” in the list of most significant climate solutions [2,3]. It is of course an extremely complex topic when considering all the socio-economic factors that may influence families around the world to procreate and drive the below exponential curve.

Increasing Population


Everything we consume comes from the use of at least one natural resource, be it renewable (like plants and sunshine) or non-renewable (like fossil fuels and minerals). Next time you go shopping, whether it is for food, clothing, furniture or anything else, try to pick an item or two and ask yourself what it is made of, where each raw material or ingredient comes from, what it took to produce or manufacture the finished product, and package and ship it to you or your local store. For some items, it can be scary just to think about it. Then ask yourself, if all 8 billion people wanted to buy the same stuff, would it be viable? The idea isn’t to make us feel bad but more conscious of what we purchase and whether we truly want or need it.

Each day, we can choose to limit our consumption and this simple act, multiplied by so many people and so many days can go a long way. Here are a few examples to look up and try out depending on your circumstances:

  • Minimalism: It means buying and keeping only what we need and what brings long-lasting emotional value.
  • Low carbon diets: Reducitarianism (yes, there’s a word for everything these days ! It means consciously reducing the intake of meat and dairy, which are significantly more carbon-intensive foods), vegetarianism, and veganism. In other words, plant-rich and plant-based diets, as well as local and seasonal foods.
  • Transportation: Walking, riding a bicycle, using public transportation, carpooling, and reducing long flights are the most common habits that can save a lot of carbon emissions at the end of the journey.
  • Domestic lifestyle behaviours: Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle is a key pillar of consumption reduction. Then, you can adopt eco-friendly products and practices at home, such as buying second hand, reducing food waste, using water-saving equipment, turning-off the heater or air-conditioning, and so forth and so on.
  • Community-based solutions: Feel free to check-out our article about the principles of sharing economy for examples relating to tools, holidays and more.
The first illustration below is based on a Canadian research about the most environmentally-friendly lifestyle choices in developed countries [4], and the second illustration is a table of global carbon drawdown solutions by overall ranking from Drawdown, the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, edited by Paul Hawken [5].
Eco-friendly lifestyle choices
Carbon Drawdown_Solutions by Ranking


It is not realistic to try and aim to be perfect and we have to decide what is feasible for one’s circumstances. For instance, I became a minimalist a few years ago, have adopted a plant-rich diet, rarely buy clothing and buy it second hand whenever possible, but on the other hand I need protective personal equipment for work which I can rarely find at the drift shop, I drive to my various clients every week as they mostly live on farms, and I fly overseas every year or two (I live in Australia while my family and closest friends are in Europe).

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