Top 10: the world’s most overpopulated countries

New index ranks countries according to the strains their population is placing on resources.

Research newly published lists the most overpopulated countries. When we talk about "overpopulation" (as opposed to population size), we are referring to the link between the human population and its environment. Therefore, it's not just the size or density of the population that matters, but how that population relates to sustainable resources.

The Overpopulation Index is thought to be the first to rank countries by these criteria -- looking at how dependent they are on other countries, and whether they consume more than they produce.

Here's the top ten:

Top ten overpopulated countries

According to these figures, the world as a whole is overpopulated by two billion. The geographical location of countries deemed overpopulated is interesting -- there are nine Middle Eastern countries in the top 20, and eight European. Despite popular perceptions of China and India, these countries come in much lower, at 29th and 33rd, respectively. This shows, again, that population size or density is not the key measure.

The UK comes in at a slightly less respectable 17th. Its self-sufficiency rating is 25.8 per cent, meaning that Britain could only support a quarter of its population -- about 15 million -- if it had to rely on its own resources.

It's worth noting at this point that overpopulation is a hotly contested issue. The index was compiled by the Optimum Population Trust, which advocates a voluntary "stop at two" policy on children in the UK, and has lobbied for stricter controls on immigration, saying that "immigration has brought no overall benefit to the UK". I won't get into these debates here -- you can read Philippe Legrain's excellent critique of the "Britain is full up" argument if you want the other side of the story on that particular point.

The key point here is sustainability. Even if population growth were to level off in the UK, we would still, by these measures, be unable to support ourselves unless the population shrank drastically, or food production grew. A situation where all imports disintegrate is unlikely, but improving food sustainability can only be a good thing.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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