Yes: Human Population Is a Vegan Issue

The one thing young people can do that eases their impact on animals, habitat, and the climate more than anything else? Opt out of having children. Humans have already far exceeded the Earth’s capacity to “produce resources” for us, and this is the culmination of decades of ever-increasing growth in our numbers.

Fun fact: About 2.3 billion humans lived on Earth in 1944, when the vegan movement began. The founding members pointed out that two billion people was too much for a small planet with limited energy to sustain all its life! 

Today our population is fast approaching 8 billion. And that’s not all. We humans tend to breed other animals into existence who, like ourselves, are domesticated and don’t fit into nature’s scheme of things. There is little hospitable space left where free-living animals can evolve.

Could voluntarily decreasing our numbers to somewhere between 1 and 2 billion possibly be on our things-to-do list? Yes, there are social, economic, and religious reasons why this would not be easy in some regions of the world. But vegans who do have parenthood planning prerogatives could be doing much more to lead this urgent conversation.

If we don’t commit to easing our pressure on the planet, the planet will commit for us. How? Viruses. Droughts and food collapse. Right now: “The World Bank predicts that more than 1 billion people are at risk of being driven from their homes for climate-related reasons.” (As for the World Bank’s own contributions to bringing this risk about, well, that would be another blog piece. Or series.) 

China and India are projected to suffer famines. Large swaths of the Middle East and equatorial regions of the global south are now certain to experience military conflicts and refugee crises as climate disruptions worsen. 

Isn’t it appropriate to ask that people who can avoid having kids do such avoiding, if only to head off a ballooning disaster?

Of course, we vegans are helping by feeding ourselves protein straight from plants. The more who join us, the more we all avoid the breeding of animals to be raised on monoculture crops or pastures (then killed for us to eat, when we could have used the land for growing food, not for grazing and growing feed). 

The less space we farm, the less untamed habitat we usurp.

Psychologically, our population growth could have something to do with our fear of predation.

Most humans seem to have a strikingly low tolerance for animals such as mountain lions and wolves. There are so many reasons to respect them, but we have constantly imposed population control on them. Sheesh!

Wolves, coyotes, and other carnivores and omnivores play roles on this Earth that we’ve failed to understand. They don’t just naturally curb herbivore populations. Their activity also protects the biosphere.

According to some scientists, it works like this. Where we suppress predators herbivores, don’t need to move so much. Then these herbivores tend to trample the local foliage. The stressed-out plant life breathes out the carbon it would naturally have stored.

Now, if we do acknowledge and encourage the predator-prey relationship as a sound process, what does that mean for ourselves—the human primates? Maybe we don’t like our position as prey. Maybe we don’t like our population to be kept in the Earth’s natural balance, as it was, back in the day. But disrespect for that natural cycle of life and death isn’t working out so well for us.

As our numbers rise and we spread out, our (perhaps fear-driven) belief in our supremacy is constantly weakening Earth’s living communities. And if the web of life unravels because of our presumptuous stance, we are likely to destroy all we’ve known. Life will go on, though—over the stratum of Earth that will store remnants of our history.

But if we change radically—and that includes slowing our rate of population growth—we just might learn the elusive art of co-existence with the forces of this planet. We can curb our sprawl, and become fair-minded members of the entire community of conscious life on Earth.

Those of us in the world’s affluent regions (even vegans) use an especially large share of the globe’s natural resources.

Our grandparents and parents created our home region’s reputation for affluence. Our massive consumption level is responsible for deforesting great expanses of living habitats. Our forebears’ lifestyles can’t be ours. Simplicity must be reconceived as elegance.

We live in a region where controlling our numbers, without oppressive results, is largely possible. We also happen to live on a land that will be pressed to nourish more refugees who are fleeing places that cannot support them. Treating refugees as family? That’s adoption, of a sort, on a national scale. 

Becoming vegan and spreading the word about veganism is action. Capping our car use, cutting out discretionary flying: these, too, are action. Yet “family planning” gets to the root of all the consumption pressures. Moreover, destructive activities would do far less damage if there were fewer people doing them.

As people who care deeply about sustainability, could we encourage adoption over reproduction, understanding that human care is meaningful not because it nurtures our biological offspring specifically, but because our love is a gift to anyone who receives it? Can we discuss how adopting (or educating, or caregiving) is as fulfilling as bearing children?

The vegan definition, with its emphasis on the reintegration of nature, obliges us to consider the territory and evolutionary freedom of other animals as well as their individual life experiences, and what we must do in accordance—including limiting our own population growth. Not theirs.

My thanks to Deb Thompson and Patricia Fairey for our helpful conversations on the topic. I welcome further thoughts in the comment field.

Love and liberation,


Photo source: PatoLenin, via Pixabay.

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