How to Overcome Overpopulation


We are starting to hear more and more concerns about climate change. There are calls to try to limit carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and even the need to manage climate change when it happens. But I propose that climate change science is very uncertain. The earth’s climate is constantly changing between hot ages and ice ages. However the extent to which it is occurring is very much linked to population growth. Rather than get bogged down in arguments about climate change I want to examine something that is undeniable; Overpopulation. Time is running out. The most fundamental problem facing the world today is overpopulation leading to pollution and degradation of the earth’s environment on a massive scale.

There are a number of critical reasons why our leaders are not prepared to tackle overpopulation and even if they want to, it all seems too hard to solve. To understand how we got to this situation, I would like to take a brief look at history then consider what is stopping us from really doing something practical about it. If we don’t the alternative will be catastrophic, as nature will decide the issue for us the hard way, most likely through droughts, floods and famines.

So let’s go back to very early times when tribes of hunters and gatherers roamed the world. The furthest we can go back and understand how our ancestors really lived with any degree of certainty is probably around 50,000 years. In the case of Australian Aborigines and other hunters and gatherers around the world, it is thought their customs and beliefs changed little over time, so a lot of information has been collected about their lifestyles and spiritual beliefs. For instance it is known that the Australian Aborigines have always been a highly spiritual people with an extremely strong affinity to the land and animals they needed for food. They managed the land through the use of fire to encourage new growth of plants and trees, so the animals they hunted could thrive. When burning off they even left pathways so the animals could move away from the fire.

Being excellent bushmen they usually spent part of each day hunting and gathering which left plenty of time for their rituals, dancing and story telling about the ‘dreamtime’. They were very much into sharing food within each tribe. For example, if one member caught a kangaroo one day another might catch one the next day. So sharing was very important for survival. It seems they were content with their lot and didn’t need to develop their “economic system” further in terms of crops and farming. Nor did they see any need for permanent homes (apart from the use of caves) or the need to create stone monuments to honour their spirits.

Thus, theirs was a simple life lived in harmony with the land and nature. When the first white settlers arrived in Australia there was no pollution and if left alone it is likely the Aborigines could have carried on with their lifestyle for many more thousands of years. I have used the Australian Aborigines as one example. Similarly hunters and gatherers in many other parts of the world carried on for thousands of years in harmony with their environments had they not met with what we call civilization.

This is extremely important because we have to ask if the modern civilized, industrialized world, can carry on for thousands of years into the future the way we are going at present with overpopulation, pollution and degradation of environments around the world?

So from the ancient tribes people living in harmony with their environment I want to briefly examine how we got to where we are in today’s modern world and what we must do to survive with an acceptable lifestyle in the future

Overpopulation that has led to pollution and degradation of the environment is a direct result of The Industrial Revolution. This is generally considered to have begun in England around 1750 and quickly spread around the rest of the world. For the first time in human history factories were able to manufacture mass-produced goods and people started to have a standard of living that could not have been previously imagined. Unfortunately the factories created three things; a mass movement of people to the cities, an explosion in population growth and pollution on a scale never seen before. This has expanded and continued growing rapidly to the present day.

But I would like to go back before the Industrial Revolution (from here on the IR) and consider why this huge change in human activity occurred at this time and why it had never before happened in human history.

Why do I want to consider this? Because I propose that the very thinking that helped create the IR is what is again needed today to tackle overpopulation. So what was this thinking that led to the IR and why did it never happen before in history?

To do this I would like to look at ancient Egypt, then ancient Greece then medieval England and Europe.

Having abundant harvests due to the Nile River flooding and fertilizing their crops, the Ancient Egyptians were able to gain freedom from full time farming and develop a vibrant culture that still fascinates scholars today. But they needed protection from marauding tribes, which required warlords. Over time these warlords were able to convince the people they were ‘god kings’ or Pharaohs, a type of living deity on earth. The Egyptians achieved marvelous things under these Pharaohs including building great cities and of course the pyramids. In reality with our modern technology however today these could easily be replicated. The important point however is that the Egyptians were not encouraged to think for themselves. They were required to obey the Pharaohs and the priests who told the people what to think. Thus they were never able to create an IR due to the control of the ‘god kings’.

So Egypt remained an agriculture based economy and their population grew only slowly. It is thought to have only grown from around one million to perhaps 4-5million over the entire 3000 year period of the Empire.

Next let’s look at ancient Greece, which is regarded as the birthplace of Western Philosophy. Ancient Greece had a type of democracy although it was very hierarchical and they also had slaves with few rights. However it spawned some great thinkers, particularly Socrates and his pupil Plato. Socrates argued, “Few climb out of the cave of ignorance and are ridiculed if they try to help others out.” He was concerned with ‘Justice’ and questioning everyone and everything. Unlike the Egyptians his thinking was not controlled by Pharaohs however, when he criticized what Athens was doing and extolled the virtues of one of their enemies, the elected State Officials did not tolerate him. He was tried for treason and executed. So just as there was no free thinking under the Pharaohs there was no place for free thinking under the elected State in ancient Greece and hence no IR.

Again their economy remained agriculture based and the population of ancient Greece grew only slowly. In fact may have only been around 350,000 people.

Finally, medieval England and Europe where the Church and the Kings working together controlled the people. Unlike the Pharaohs who claimed to be divine the churches claimed to have the only true access to the word of God through the Bible and other religious texts. Again the people were told what to think and although there were advances in weaponry, mathematics and literature, the people had to obey rather than think for themselves. Thus the economies of the time remained largely based on agriculture and again population grew slowly.

However, in the 1600’s after the devastating 30-year war that engulfed most of Europe, something happened that had never occurred before in human history. Centuries of mistreatment at the hands of monarchies and the church finally brought a reaction from the people and the most intelligent and vocal decided to speak out and abandon the old ‘truths’ that had been thrust upon them. One example of this was the strongly held belief by the churches that ‘the sun revolved around the earth.’ This was disproved by Galilee, who like Socrates was punished for his trouble, although he was put under house arrest rather than being executed.

The new movement has been called ‘The Age of Enlightenment’. One of the great leaders of this new movement was RenĂ© Descartes who gave us the brilliant saying:

‘I think therefore I am’.

It may be hard to believe that what on the surface appears to be a simple statement, questioning whether we exist or not, actually paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. It in effect says, ‘My mind exists and I can think for myself, (without the church, state or monarchy telling me how to think). I have freedom of thought, I can reason things out for myself’. This shifted the concept of ‘What is the Truth,’ onto the judgment of the individual. Rather than be told what to think by religious authorities claiming to know what God wants us to think, the responsibility was now put with the individual, ‘I am, and no one will control how I think’.

Finally the shackles of the god kings, authoritative state powers, monarchs and the churches, telling people what to think throughout the centuries, had been thrown off. For the first time in history people started to think freely for themselves. This along with democracy paved the way for mans greatest invention, the Industrial Revolution.

Look around you; nearly everything in your home is the result of the IR. It has given us wonderful technology that is still ongoing today. However, on the other hand the world is about to face the downside of this, our greatest invention.

Apart from the comforts for everyday living the IR has resulted in huge breakthroughs in medicine and medical care. In particular antibiotics and well meaning programs in Africa and other developing countries have caused a population explosion. Before this, even in Western societies, people had very large families, as due to high infant mortality rates only a few children made it through to adulthood. Thus out of 10 children only two might have made it into adulthood. Nowadays with better medicine including antibiotics and vaccination programs, most children not only make it through into adulthood, but are also living into old age. However in the developing world people are still having large families and know little about contraception.

Thus we have a population explosion. In 1750 at the start of the IR the world’s population is estimated to have been around 1 billion people and had been at that level for many centuries. In a little over 250 years since the start of the IR the world’s population has grown to over 7 billion today and is likely to reach over 9 billion in the next 50 years. Recent studies by the United Nations claim some 850 million people are malnourished or starving and over 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water.

A graph of population growth looks like an “L” backwards with population growing very slowly over the centuries then suddenly taking off around 1750 with the Industrial Revolution.

Not only is the earth overpopulated with pollution from developed countries but also with the recent industrialization of China and India (with Africa likely to follow in the future), we are creating pollution on a scale never seen before.

The results of this are more than evident through environmental degradation. We are faced with:

– Heavily polluted cities
– Deforestation around the world
– Deserts expanding and more frequent droughts
– The greatest extinction of animal species since the dinosaurs
– Recurring famines and suffering in Africa and other developing nations
– Over fishing and depletion of fishing grounds around the world
– Coral bleaching due to run off from rivers from farming

The two main sources that account for nearly 80% of air pollution around the world are; industry 52% and transportation 27%. It has been estimated that electricity generation from coal fired power stations accounts for around 40% of all air pollution. Wind power and other non-polluting power sources are mostly inefficient and costly. We need to re-look at modern nuclear power options but with public paranoia about it, a whole paper could be written on this topic.

So what can be done about the fundamental cause of environmental degradation; overpopulation?

Unfortunately nothing much is being done to stop overpopulation. Many programs were tried in India in the 1960’s and 1970’s but failed due to cultural problems and women’s rights movements. These have been largely abandoned. In China the authorities claim the one child policy has prevented up to 400 million births but independent studies claim the figure is more like 100 million. In any case this policy would not work in a democracy like India.

We think we live in a free world but are we really free to think like Descartes did in the 1600’s? Isn’t it time to once again throw off the restrictions on our thinking being imposed from many powerful sources and again start to think for ourselves?

So what are we up against?

For a start there is a massive need for education to overcome entrenched beliefs and ignorance in both the developing and developed worlds. Some of the main ones are:

Religious Organizations- Entrenched Beliefs

Oppose contraception.
Oppose the night after pill.
Oppose abortion including early pregnancy abortion.
Preach that God will provide. Believers must abstain from sex or only use the Rhythm method.

At the very least religious organizations need to be made to stop their opposition to contraception. Where in the religious texts does it say, Thou shall not use contraception?

Developing Countries -Education needs:

Need education not to have large families any more.
Need to be made aware they can use contraception.
Need training in what is available and how to use contraception.
Need access to cheap contraception particularly condoms and also IUD’s.

Overall they need education and access to cheap contraception particularly condoms which also help to stop the spread of AIDS.

Politicians- Lack of Interest

Want continued economic and jobs growth, which requires population growth.
Don’t see any votes in measures to stem population growth.
Don’t understand the concept of zero population and economic growth (see later).

Public pressure is needed to put population and environmental concerns as the top priority and that zero population and economic growth is desirable.

Companies – Profits come First

Want growing markets and growing populations to sell more and more products.
Want to be allowed to pollute and destroy the natural environment in order to maximize profits.

They need to be encouraged to become good corporate citizens by minimizing pollution and producing durable products that last.

Developed Countries – Apathy, Fear and the Consumer Society

The general public don’t see overpopulation as a major concern and anyway nothing much can be done.
There is fear and opposition to nuclear power for electricity generation.
They don’t understand the concept of zero population and economic growth.
They have been ‘brainwashed’ into thinking that to make them happy, they need more and more consumer goods and the latest models/fashions.

Overall the general public needs to be ‘deprogrammed’ from the consumer society to know something can be done about population growth and not to fear nuclear power.

Zero Population and Economic Growth:

If we can manage to slow population growth we need to think of the economic consequences. In the future we will need to make quality products that last for as many years as possible rather than ‘consumer society products’, that look good but only last a short time. Many, if not most products made today, actually have planned obsolescence built in. With slow to zero population growth, not only will producing products that last for many years, stop the wasteful use of the earth’s resources, it will be vital, to create employment to maintain and repair these products over many years. So rather than build more and more factories that employ less and less people per factory, if we make products that last a long time, we will create employment that will be needed for repairs and maintenance for these long lasting products. This is probably the only way we can have sustainable slow to zero population and economic growth; producing quality that lasts.

The significance of this cannot be overstated. On the one hand the whole of the western world is geared towards the consumer society and obsolescence of consumer goods and the need to have the latest fashions. On the other hand religious organizations and other groups with vested interests, are totally opposed to birth control necessary to stem population growth.

The list is long and entrenched attitudes will not easily be overcome. Modern humans have been on the Earth some 200,000 years and have so far survived. We have been given the powers of reason and the ability to understand the consequences of our actions. However our modern society is not in harmony with nature and we have overpopulated our planet. Is it not time to arise out of the cave of ignorance and to again start to think for ourselves? We need to get overpopulation and climate change at the top of the agenda. The medium to do this also now exists; the internet.

Where to start on this huge problem? Surely education must come first with five aims:

1) To educate people on the need for population growth reduction.

2) To overcome the huge religious and cultural objections.

3) To convince politicians of the need to stop overpopulation.

4) To advise on the need and educate people to use contraception and the best forms of contraception and to make contraception (particularly condoms and IUD’s) easily and freely available in developing countries.

5) To convince everyone of the need for and the sustainability of zero population and economic growth

The controlling powers do not want to change things. Just like in the Age of Enlightenment a ground up movement by the people is required. We need to get people to start to understand the issues involved and start talking about them and lobbying our politicians through Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

The Generation of Exodus


The Merneptah Stele is one the most precious pieces of Israel’s early history; however, taken at a face value, this artifact cannot provide a breakthrough to the enigma of the emergence of the Israelite nation. The available written evidence should be confronted with the battle reliefs from the Great Hypostyle Hall in Amon temple at Karnak to shed light on the pharaoh’s campaign to Canaan and the role of Israel in the rebellion against the Egyptian rule. In addition, the results of the archaeological survey of the central hill country have to be reassessed to put the story into the right perspective.

Our narrative stays away from the Hebrew Bible, which never mentions the following episode, since this religious and philosophical epic was composed late enough to be trusted as a contemporary source, and its approach to the early history is biased by ideological binoculars. The lenses of these binoculars blur the historical image and distort the picture to such extent that it should be restored somewhere else, in a different milieu.

1. Merneptah Stele: many questions, few answers

‘The princes are prostrate saying: “Shalom!”
Not one of the Nine Bows lifts his head:
Tjehenu is vanquished, Khatti at peace,
Canaan is captive with all woe.
Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized,
Yanoam made nonexistent;
Israel is wasted, bare of seed,
Khor is become a widow for Egypt.
All who roamed have been subdued’.

This citation is taken from the final verse of the Egyptian poem recorded on the Victory Stele in Pharaoh Merneptah’s mortuary temple in Thebes. It is also copied on a stele in the Karnak temple in Thebes where it comes along a series of reliefs illustrating an Egyptian campaign to Canaan. These reliefs flank the peace treaty between Ramesses II of Egypt and King Mutawallis of Hatti and were conventionally attributed to the end of the hostilities between the two overlords, approximately in the year 1275 BCE. However, a modern research readdresses them to Ramesses’ royal successor King Merneptah.

These battle scenes were usurped by Mernepta’s sons who wanted to glorify themselves on behalf of their father by engraving their initials to cover the truth. However, behind their cartouches (ceremonial names) scientists discovered the original signature of their royal predecessor. Though these scenes accompany the peace treaty, they have nothing in common with the military exploits of their grandfather, Ramesses II. Four battle scenes correspond to four Canaanite enemies mentioned in the last stanza of Mernepta Stela: Ashkelon, Gezer, Yenoam and Israel.

The stele is a 2 m high slab of black granite inscribed in the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign. The main body of the inscription praises the pharaoh for removing the Libyan threat from Egypt. In the last verse the royal scribe lists measures undertaken to restore the Egyptian order in Asia like the retention of peace with Hatti and an earlier campaign to Canaan. This campaign was his sole military interference into Asiatic matters.

Merneptah responded to a Canaanite uprising which spread over three vassal states: Ashkelon, Gezer, Yenoam (their names are preceded by a special sign for foreign entities) and a population group of Israel (its name is accompanied with a sign for people free from the bonds of the state). The rebels were subdued having suffered a great loss in casualties and property; those who had survived were transferred to Egypt as slaves.

The final extract has launched a sensation by mentioning Israel-for the first and only time in ancient Egyptian literature. The text implies that by the end of the 13th century BCE some part of the Land of Canaan was settled by people who called themselves Israel. Though not ripe for a territorial state, this community challenged the Egyptian interests and was punished by wiping out its human and economic base.

The ‘Victory Stele’ poses too many questions. Its meager content keeps us in the dark. Nevertheless, it remains the prime historical source setting the lowest deadline for Israel’s sojourn in Canaan.

2. The Land of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age

The place-name Canaan is probably derived from a Hurrian word kinahhu (‘red purple’), a fancy Tyrian dye extracted from sea snails gathered along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. This hue was used to dye high-quality textiles that were widespread around the Near East and stood high on the scale of elite consumption.

During the New Kingdom, this land was internationally recognized as an Egyptian province which comprised all or most of its imperial holdings in Asia. This is confirmed by the following extracts from the Amarna letters (an archive of diplomatic correspondence between the rulers of Egypt, their Canaan vassals, and the leaders of foreign powers). The king of Alasiya (probably on Cyprus) refers to Pharaonic possessions in Asia as the ‘province of Canaan’. The Babylonian emperor complains to the Pharaoh about the crimes of his Canaanite subjects: ‘Canaan is your country and its kings are your servants’. The overlord of Mitanni appeals to ‘the kings of the land of Canaan, the servants of my [Egyptian] brother’.

Local kings had a number of obligations before the pharaoh. They were responsible for the maintenance of Egyptian interests: supplying imperial troops and officials, ensuring a safe passage of foreign caravans through their territory, paying the tribute.

Canaanite rulers were involved in international trade which led to the prosperity of the elite. Their palaces and temples as well as their graves are the silent witnesses of this affluence. In internal matters, they were given a free hand, and internecine strife and mutual snitching are among the most common features breathing from the Amarna Letters. In most cases the pharaoh seemed indifferent to the outcome of the feud unless he would come to the conclusion that these petty intrigues had an unwelcome impact on the strategic balance.

The Egyptian authorities couldn’t rely anymore on local elites and had to establish the direct control over vital parts of Canaan namely the coastal plain and the central valleys. They erected additional strongholds that housed governor’s residence, state offices, and troops. They expropriated plots of land to create estates. They made their local vassals send laborers to engage in construction sites, enterprises (granaries, winepresses) and working their lands. However, the empire could not use all its power being busy tackling other geopolitical troubles. The state’s impotence left some territories unattended and plunged certain areas of the country into a political void.

Egyptian intellectuals acquired a hostile and contemptuous attitude towards the population of Canaan notwithstanding their ethnic and social status. No matter whether Canaanites belonged to settled or movable people, were newcomers or old-timers, commoners or representatives of the elite, law-abiding citizens or outlaws. All of them were rudely nick-named ‘wretched Asiatics’.

3. The proud Pharaoh

Merneptah was the lucky son of his redoubtable, long-lived father. The 13th male offspring of Ramesses II, he was not destined to be declared a living god. During his youth days, he was leading a serene joyful life of an Egyptian prince while his elder brothers were passing away one at a time. Stars were unfavorable to the descendants of the renowned Egyptian monarch.

As Merneptah was growing up, he would step into his deceased brothers’ shoes occupying some of their vacant offices. He also pursued a military career having become an army general. In the last years of his father’s reign, he was appointed the crown prince and assisted the elderly king in carrying the reins of government.

In the middle of his ten-year-old reign, the pharaoh made up his mind to account for his deeds before the divine authorities. He ordered to erect a victory stele destined to decorate his mortuary temple and to fashion the facade of one of the walls at the Karnak temple with reliefs associated with his military campaigns.

A model of Mernepta’s magnificent palace (constructed by Mary L. Baker) is presented in the University of Pennsylvania Museum at Philadelphia. The throne room is divided by two rows of columns with a ramp near the interior wall leading to the place where the pharaoh was seated. The slits in the wall above the door look like blinds; while restricting the amount of sunlight, they allow the room to be fanned.

4. The Campaign to Canaan

The change of power in Egypt triggered several Canaanite vassals to put up a rash rebellion. Even some of Egyptian strongholds were violently destroyed. The Pharaoh’s response was swift and fierce. He probably moved his army along the Way of Horus and after an intensive march reached the city of Gaza. Soon he conquered Ashkelon, the nearest of the insurgent cities and a large seaport which owed its location to a gap in dunes covering a large part of the southern Levant shoreline.

The Karnak friezes assign the Pharaoh an active role in the campaign both in battles and in the aftermath. He is leading his troops towards a bloody collision giving commands from the height of his chariot; he is executing a rebel leader keeping a firm grip on his hair and inflicting a lightning blow with his sword; he is driving bound POWs into captivity and presenting them to triumphant Egyptian gods.

The king is accompanied by his two sons who are proudly riding in chariots on their way back home.

One of the rebel cities is identified as Ashkelon: The relief is accompanied by an inscription: ”The wretched town which his majesty seized when it was rebellious’. The two other unnamed cities should be Gezer and Yenoam.

5. Israel Who?

The last military scene portrays a pitch battle in a hilly countryside against enemies wearing Canaanite ankle-length clothes. By the analogy with the Victory Stele, these foes have to be recognized as Israelites.

Israel is a West Semitic theophoric name praising the supreme Canaanite god El. These people became known to Egyptians either through direct contact with captured POWs or via Canaanite mediation. This population group chose to settle down in the highlands as a sign of voluntary isolation and was raising field crops as part of their subsistence strategy. So it possessed considerable amount of grain. Having identified their weak point, the pharaoh commissioned his troops to burn their grain stock. He was sure that he had managed to wipe off these village folks who dared to join the ranks of his enemies.

6. Rural settlers in the highlands

Throughout the major part of the Late Bronze Age, the highlands of Canaan between the Jezreel and Beersheba valleys were an inhospitable place nearly devoid of population. Egyptian authorities took little interest in this middle of nowhere, and it shared the fate of the frontier zone: to be plunged into a political vacuum.

The new settlers spoke a number of Canaanite dialects out of which Hebrew of the Bible sprang up in due time. Most of them were illiterate; however occasionally we encounter a rare bird who wished to incise a jar handle with his name or give his kids a potsherd to practice writing their ABCs. This alphabet used the Proto-Canaanite script to record only consonant letters which could follow in either direction (left-right or reverse) and lacked a strict legitimate order. The configuration of writing signs was taken from rural background (“aleph” reminds an ox’s head) or body language (“kaf” represents a hand). Charcoal absorbed in animal fat served as ink.

An average village measured 0.5-1.5 ha and comprised up to 20 individual houses with a population spread between 50-150 residents. When kids grew up, some of them would abandon their families and move to new settlements nearby so that in less than two centuries, several hundred rural residences would spring up blanketing the environment from Upper Galilee to northern Negev.

These village folks expressed their religion both publicly and privately.
For public ceremonies they erected open-air shrines which were ‘high places’ approachable by ramps; these ‘high places’ were installed with an altar and encircled by a sacred wall. Large nearly square altars were made of hewn or undressed stones or a blend of stones and bricks. Some of them had four horns at their corners oriented to cardinal points. Used either for blood sacrifices or burnt offerings, they were located on uninhabited hilltops or halfway down the slopes within the walking distance of a cluster of settlements.


The Hebrew Bible is a complex composition; it is based on a variety of literary and oral sources (completely lost for us) being copied, rewritten and edited by a wide circle of anonymous scribes and intellectuals for many generations. This ‘editorial staff’ was inspired by a few cornerstone principles such as the monotheistic faith, the belief in the glorious national revival, the recognition of the Jerusalem Temple as the only place of the Divine Presence and Israel as the firstborn nation as well as the acknowledgement of a special mission retained with the kings from the House of David.

The “Merneptah Stele” sets the clock for the Israelite presence in Canaan. It assumes that by 1210 BCE the population group called Israel had been established long enough to be recognized as an ambiguous entity, more than a chiefdom but less than a state. It was an outcast social group of Canaanite farmers who fled to highlands in hope to survive turbulent times in frontier settlements.

They were in search of good arable land and suitable meadow land for feeding their flocks. Oak, pine and terebinth woodlands that covered the hilltops were ideal for herding. The climate favored the settlers: there was more rain and less political pressure than in the lowlands. Their economy was a successful blend of field crops, fruit orchards and farm animals.

The pharaoh was adamant in belief that these squatters had to be taught an unforgettable lesson.

Israel is an enigma. Its direct link with the biblical Bene Israel cannot be proved without a reasonable doubt but neither can be discarded as wishful thinking.