Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 19, No. 2, February 2023
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Overpopulation, Overconsumption, Overshoot

Now that we are in the Anthropocene, patriarchy (in the wide sense of human supremacy, not just male supremacy) is the cultural root cause of overpopulation, overconsumption, and the ecological overshoot that is destroying the planet. Religious patriarchy is a significant ideological driver of overpopulation, overconsumption, social injustice, and ecological overshoot.




WRF.2023.jpg WRF 2023


Shaping a Wise Hierarchy of Needs
Barbara Williams

The Enemy’s Ring and Our Ethical Quandary
Alice Loyd

Four Hard Questions: Size, Scale, Scope, Speed
Robert Jensen & Wes Jackson

Climate, Culture, and the Need for a New Enlightenment
Aaron Karp

Avoid The Reset Button ~ The Great Responsibility of Free Will
Carlos Cuellar Brown

Move Over, Green Chemistry: How to Stop the Greenwashing
Farid Pourkhatai

Why Does Humanity Still Tolerate the Tragedy of Wars in the 21st Century? The Big Picture
Rodrigue Tremblay

Why Understanding Limits Is the Key to Humanity's Future
Richard Heinberg

Fusion Energy: A Different Take
Gary Gardner

The Uncertain Future of Industrial Process Heat: A Mirror for Our Energy Challenges
Kurt Cobb

2023: Expect a Financial Crash Followed by Major Energy-related Changes
Gail Tverberg

A Philosopher's Letter to President Putin: On Greatness
Freya Mathews

Economics for Peace and Justice
Carmine Gorga

Agroecology – A Promising Alternative to the Biodiversity Crisis in Agriculture and Industrial Food Systems
Colin Anderson et al

Ukraine War is Killing Wildlife
Catherine Early

Children Born Today Will See Literally Thousands of Animals Disappear in Their Lifetime, as Global Food Webs Collapse
Corey Bradshaw & Giovanni Strona

The Democracy Deficit: What Does a Global Decline in Freedom Portend for Climate and Sustainability Agendas?
Lynsi Burton

Don't Reduce Your Footprint!
Mathis Wackernagel

8 Billion People: What Population Growth Means for Climate
Anthony Signorelli

Reflections on Dynamics of Strategy in Degrowth
Susan Paulson

The Dilemma of Economic Growth
Jan Bruck

Fukushima's Toxic Dumping Flashpoint
Robert Hunziker

The "End of the World" in Biblical Tradition
John J. Collins

Patriarchy in the Anthropocene ~ Links to Emerging Research
Luis T. Gutiérrez

Shaping a Wise Hierarchy of Needs

Barbara Williams

This article was originally published on
Medium, 12 January 2023


Click the image to enlarge.

When Maslow drew up his ‘hierarchy of needs’ he accurately documented the self-indulgent motivations which drive much of society today. The resulting levels implied the need for all sorts of criteria to be met before a person can be fulfilled. This article suggests that beyond the first two levels which relate to our physiological needs and security, the upper layers have served as a marketing tool dictating a set of aspirations which are neither helpful nor wise if they are applied to everyone.

The diversity of our human population should be a source of strength, but coercive consumerism and dogma has been working for several decades to create homogeneity and consensus. The dogma was introduced originally by religious groups, and then by civil institutions, to prevent over-indulgence and selfish behaviour. Neither of these strategies faced up to the limits of our planet, and they all encouraged pronatalism.

For a long time, political correctness has silenced discussions about ecological overshoot. However the extinction rates are now so great, that many are conceding the gravity of the threat to Life on Earth. Marketing still persuades us that we need the latest technology if we wish to succeed. Pronatalism is another type of marketing; our libraries are full of ‘family’ stories both happy and tragic. Our mainstream media spend hours dissecting the entanglements that arise from our rigid rules about what is generally acceptable in human relationships, with lengthy discussions about the lives of celebrities. This energy would be better spent discussing how to improve the health of our host planet, and the wellbeing of the average individual.

The author is suggesting that if we meet physiological needs, and jointly face our security needs the many anxieties will be calmed because of a joint acceptance of danger and the need to respect and help Gaia. This will enable us to rise above past dogma which is no longer helpful, and decide on some new guide posts. For example, we must move away from promoting pronatalism and coercive consumerism.

Level 1 — remains unchanged as our physiological needs. Near the end of life some may choose to forego their physiological needs; this is a choice that we need to allow them to take.

Level 2 — nowadays our sense of security needs to include the knowledge that we are all under threat from climate and ecological collapse. Without this knowledge we shall fail to achieve the collaboration and resolve necessary to minimise this danger by changing our behaviour.

Level 3 — Individual fulfilment replaces Maslow’s concept of ‘self-actualisation’. If we succeed in delivering a Universal Basic Provision to meet the physiological needs at the foundation level, and if we alter the cultural dogma which stands in the way of an eco-focussed direction, then access to a fulfilled life becomes accessible to anyone wishing to help in the global eco-recovery exercise. Fulfilment is not expected to be a static state, but something worth striving towards during life, as we each dig deep into ourselves exploring our inner strengths and weaknesses. The activities suggested at the top level in the new pyramid should enable most people to find a purpose that will allow their strengths to be maximised and their weaknesses minimised. This should allow everyone to feel fulfilled for much of their lives. As a person goes through their life, their context will change and their skills will evolve, and their ability to be fulfilled may well alter. As we see ecosystems restored to health, it is envisaged that personal fulfilment and community cohesion will flourish, as our joint life’s endeavours are rewarded in this way.

The following section justifies the need to redraw this picture in a manner that will help the survival of Life on Earth.

The Sixth Mass Extinction is now very far advanced as a direct consequence of human encroachment on wildlife habitats. The data about global ecological overshoot does not allow any biocapacity for non-human life forms. This data has been used to draw the graph below, which shows how overshoot has increased with our population size.

Click the image to enlarge.

For healthy ecosystems we must free up at least half the biocapacity from human exploitation. This allows us to estimate that a sustainable human population on Earth would need to remain below 2 billion, and preferably much lower than that.

The Wikipedia entry on Maslow’s hierarchy tells us that ‘self-actualisation’ currently involves four key aspects, but none of them take into account the failing health of our Earth. Each of these will be critically assessed in the remainder of this article. This discussion is just a sample of what the mindset shift to altruistic Degrowth needs to involve.

Our current society is rigidly hierarchical in structure, with a huge amount of wealth and power wielded by a few individuals. This means that most men are only fully empowered within the limits of their income and the confines of their own home and family. All these restrictions on empowerment also apply to women, often with added restrictions which depend on the social culture into which they are born. Please note that our existing social cultures often prevent and inhibit men from behaving wisely.

In the context of the massive overpopulation problem mentioned earlier, humanity would be wise to adopt and facilitate a global birth strike at this moment in time. At least until we see some hope of climate and ecological stability re-emerging. The family structures which dominate the world today do not lend themselves to encourage the level of collaboration which is required to address the dire state of ecosystems on our planet. Family can dilute our awareness of the wider social context. Furthermore, a great deal of land encroachment is required to accommodate such insular lifestyles comfortably.

As explained above, the family structure offers very little empowerment to a family with average income or below. It can also generate emotional dependence and blackmail, which is often mistaken for love. In the current context of escalating global existential threats, the insular family structure is also creating a false sense of security. Those who understand that humanity are currently destroying Life on Earth, and who are empowered to access contraception, are understandably taking steps to prevent their own procreation in the current context.

Despite the drawbacks of the existing family structure which are outlined above, it is undeniable that long-term partnerships can be very helpful to grow emotional resilience, maturity, selfless love and understanding of others. The author is only pointing out that the construct of marriage and family is far less relevant in a species which, at this point in time, needs to reduce its size and impact very rapidly if we are to save our ecosystems.

The challenges of achieving voluntary, equitable altruistic Degrowth are exciting and very different to anything that humanity has attempted in the past. There is scope to review all our dogma, because much of it is both unhelpful and damaging at this moment in time. The author is a great believer in polyamory and the need to experiment and to share experiences. Our homeostatic processes feed into our emotions and our sense of well-being. Selfless-love and caring for others grows out of homeostasis. Our problems arise when we over indulge in any of the things that we enjoy: sex, food, power, money, technology, children. The pursuit of GDP growth has caused very ecologically damaging over-indulgence on a global scale.

Maslow’s pyramid is just one example of the way that our education and our intellectuals are perpetuating our dangerously self-indulgent and Anthropocentric outlook on life. We still need to feel ‘pleasure’ in order to be motivated, but we urgently need to devise very different ways of feeling fulfilled which are not ruinous to our environment.

People like myself, who have been deeply involved in the task of trying to inspire paradigm shift to altruistic Degrowth, have found the journey rewarding and elucidating. So far, life is continually equipping me with more ideas to assist other Life on Earth to survive. Shared discussions and awareness are providing a greater collective ability to influence all of humanity in a positive manner. The ‘political correctness’ which inhibited us from openly acknowledging the extent of our global overpopulation, has now given way to the common sense acceptance that we must face the reality of our predicament.

We shall have real problems if we continue to believe that self-actualisation cannot be achieved without parenting. This deficiency in our imagination can be overcome by sharing ideas in a playful, open-minded and non-judgemental manner. By replacing the existing hierarchies with networks, our electronic global communications will enable us all to get deeply involved in reshaping our vision and rescuing ecosystems.

This aspect of self-actualisation looks innocent at first glance, but we need to add some restrictions, because some talents and abilities are very eco-costly. People like Elon Musk and Trump clearly have significant talents and abilities which they have maximised and used for the purpose of controlling and influencing others. In many respects the impact of such individuals can be very detrimental to our collective wellbeing and to Life on Earth itself.

Once again we need to qualify this ‘need’ by adding a proviso that the goals must help us to shrink back to a state of sustainability.


Barbara Williams has been working in the field of altruistic Degrowth for three years. Most of her work is accessible from her website. She is currently working on a ‘Roadmap to Ecological Justice’ on request from the Scientists Warning organisation, you can read the draft version here.


"It is difficult to get a man to understand something,
when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)


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