Let’s get one thing straight from the start. There is no population explosion. The rate of population growth has been slowing since the 1960s, and has fallen below replacement levels half the world over. But what about the other half? That’s where population is exploding, right? Well, actually, no. The UN Population Division’s world fertility patterns show that, worldwide, fertility per woman has fallen from 4.7 babies in 1970–75 to 2.6 in 2005-10. As Peoplequake author Fred Pearce puts it: “Today’s women have half as many babies as their mothers … That is not just in the rich world. It is the global average today.”
A hundred years ago, there were fewer people in Britain but many more of them were homeless. It was thought that homelessness came from there being too many people. It was a population problem. Simple as that. But then voters realised that homelessness was caused not by too many people crowding too small a country, but by too few people owning too much land. In came social housing and down – spectacularly – went urban homelessness.
As with shelter then, so with food now. Today’s population panic goes on as if the Earth’s temperate grasslands are straining under the weight of supporting voracious humans rather than voracious Big Ag. According to the National Corn Growers Association, 30% of US corn ends up as fuel ethanol, while 5% is grown as corn syrup for junk food sweeteners and fizzy pop. Ain’t it grand that we’d sooner say there are too many human beings in the world than too much Coca-Cola, Honey Nut Cheerios or Special K?
Food security and ecological sustainability are impossible without democratic control of land. Only through land nationalisation can we introduce the connected landscapes, smart cities and wildlife corridors that will let ecosystems bend, not break. As with homelessness a century ago, the problem facing a population of 7 billion is not too many people crowding too small a piece of land, but too few people owning too much world.