Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 18, No. 7, July 2022
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Dynamics of Integral Human Development

There is ONE humanity, male and female. Image by Tim Mossholder in Unsplash.
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Needs, Greeds, and Population
Martin Tye

Interlude 6 ~ MLK, Jr. and Environmental Justice
Cara Judea Alhadeff

Social Unsustainability: The Case of Slum Societies
Arup Kanti Konar

Cultural Division as a Selective Advantage: Bottom-up Thinking
Christopher Bystroff

The Link Between Cardiovascular Disease and GDP Growth
Taylor Lange

Why We Must Change Our Behaviour to Create a Truly Sustainable World
Colm Fahy

The Great Carbon Capture Scam
Rex Weyler

What People Don't Get about This Inflation Spike
Andrew Nikiforuk

Inflation, Scarcity, and the Road to Survival
Andrew Nikiforuk

Demonic War ~ It Is a Corrupt System
Eileen Crist

The Other Reason for Putin’s Rush to War: Russian Oil Dependency
Sandy Smith-Nonini

The Critical Theory of Pope Francis ~ Part I: Laudato Si, On Care For Our Common Home
Michael Welton

The Deadly Sin of the Human Species
Victor M. Toledo

The Ignorance of Wealth
Eliza Daley

How Much Land Is Needed to Stop the Biodiversity Crisis?
Warren Cornwall

Supply Chain Failures: Another Reason for Localized Economies
Helena Norberg-Hodge, et al.

Beyond Magical Thinking: Time to Get Real on Climate Change
Vaclav Smil

For Your Consideration: To be Anti-Growth is to be Pro-Humanity
Karen Shragg

Global Systems Accounting: Beyond Economics
Arthur Lyon Dahl

From Subsidiarity to Solidarity and Sustainability
Carmine Gorga

Cultivating Generative Communities
Lauren Elizabeth Clare

Men and Feminism ~ Do Your Own Thing and Do the Right Thing
Robert Jensen

Beyond Gender Categories: The Bissu of Sulawesi
Najiyah Martiam

From Homo economicus to Homo ecologicus ~ Sequel 7 ~ Personal Dynamics
Luis T. Gutiérrez

Needs, Greeds, and Population

Martin Tye

This article was originally published by
Ending Overshoot, 12 May 2022


Image Credit: Ending Overshoot


We sometimes hear the idea that the earth has plenty for everyone’s needs, but not their greeds. It’s become the inspirational quote for the “All we need to do is reduce consumption among the rich” (who are never clearly defined, but usually people slightly above the level of the person making the claim) movement.

But to me, offering only the two opposite ends of the spectrum, needs or greeds, too narrowly defines the choice. Besides the idea is somewhat out of date having been put forward by Mahatma Ghandi at a time when global population was around one quarter of that which it is today.

But should meeting only needs really be the goal of a twenty first century world? Surely we have progressed beyond that?

Needs are confined to basic shelter, food, water, clothing and some social interaction not much more, perhaps the life of a medieval serf. What’s wrong with aspiring to something higher than needs? Why have we now attached guilt to that?

So long as we remember that with higher aspirations comes an ecological and resource price-tag and to remain sustainable, that is, so that our children and grandchildren may also enjoy them, these aspirations must be related to the number of people pursuing them… so long as we understand that, I don’t see a problem with aspirating to something more than needs.

The odd international holiday many today enjoy, has become a greed in this world of 8 billion. So my visit to Africa to see the amazing wildlife, to experience the wonderful cultures and to support the local economy (providing jobs and a reason to protect the last few pockets of wild earth) becomes off the table for my children as a greed! Put in that category your dishwasher, microwave, the off road vehicle you go camping in with the kids, your backyard, your air conditioning/heating, your coffee machine, meat, your flat screen TV, wild caught sea food … the list of so-called “global north” greeds is a very long one.

To me, greeds should only refer to the excessive jet setting lifestyle of maybe the 1%’ers, which if all were to pursue, the ecological and resource cost of which may only allow for a sustainable global population of at most a few hundred million. So genuine greeds must be eliminated, we can take that as a fact. But let’s not confuse the wonderful quality of life we could offer all in the 21st century with greed.


Ecological impact largely equals population multiplied by affluence. Technology also plays a role, but can be either positive or negative. My concern is that the inclusion of technology is an “out” for those who seek denial of the population-affluence part of the equation. It encourages dangerous techno-fantasies to overwhelm consideration of the two key drivers- population and affluence, relegating them to second fiddle, or worse in some minds, irrelevant. So let’s leave technology to one side for the moment.

That brings me to my point. Somewhere in between needs and greeds lies the sweet spot, that point of balance, at which all can be given the opportunity to sustainably strive towards a good life and hey, maybe even a few small luxuries!

I cannot give you all the answers, but I can pose the key questions and ask you to ponder them. Let’s assume that more equitable distribution of wealth we aspire to and ask honestly;

“What sort of good life do we want for our children and grandchildren?”

“What is its ecological and resource cost?”

“How many can our planet comfortably support at that level (while leaving ample space for other life)?” and,

“How do we present this good life opportunity to all?”

One thing I am very sure of is that the good life opportunity, somewhere between needs and greeds, cannot be sustainably offered to all in a world of 8 billion projected to rise by two to four billion this century. I’m sure Gandhi would have understood that!

These projected population levels are at best “basic survival needs only”. Worse, I’ve seen it well argued, not even sustainable at the lowest subsistence level- threatening some sort of ugly “collapse correction” imposed on them by ecological and/or resource supply chain failures.

The standard of living/quality of life our planet can provide is very much related to the size of the population seeking it. This concept is something all must ponder from this day forth, in making family size decisions. The “go forth and multiply” era is over.

It’s time we all understood that the earth is not infinitely expandable to all comers and we have now far exceeded its sustainable population limits. It’s time we stopped listening to the endless growth propaganda constantly pushed out by certain unethical business sectors. It really is time we stopped letting our own emotions and instinctive behaviours overwhelm our understanding of reality and how all things connect and relate to each other. It’s time we understood that we cannot exist in an anthropocentric “economic growth” bubble, somehow floating and growing, above and beyond our ecosystem and resource base.

Actions in the now have huge flow-on effects in the future. Your decisions matter to every single person who follows you in the great (and we hope, long) timeline of human and earth life history. It is for their sake, as well as for those who struggle in the present, I ask you to consider smaller families, with the goal of first stabilising, then shrinking populations… towards abundance beyond needs, for all those who follow.


“Thank you for reading this perhaps confronting and difficult message. I firmly believe population choices must be a properly informed decision of free will by all people across the globe. I also believe people must be given the means. Education, family planning services, contraception to empower women and couples to take control, and the implementation of a degrowth to steady state economic plan are the key tools to be employed.

I know the economic growth lobby will slam my views with misinformation around how bad it will be for “the economy” and spread lies about how this is “Malthusian”, or has some racial connotations. Remember this- they are lies, propaganda from a societal sector which has been prospering off parasitic extractive behaviours and treating people as merely consumers of their product, not as human beings, for far too long.

This is not about blame or guilt tripping, just a part of our new path towards awareness of the inter-connectedness of all things and a brighter future for all. I hope you can see the potential for greater good in it.”


Martin Tye is Director, Australian Regional Communities Division, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE).


"A mind at peace does not engender wars."

Sophocles (497-406 BCE)


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