Opinion | Rethinking overpopulation through ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

The following article contains spoilers from “Avengers: Infinity War.” 

Avengers: Infinity War

Daniel Espiritu, sophomore political science major

In “Avengers: Infinity War,” the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our favorite heroes come together to fight the evil titan, Thanos. It’s a box office powerhouse, earning more than $1 billion worldwide in its first two weeks. “Infinity War” does something most blockbusters avoid: It is laced with political messages that comment on the crisis of global poverty.

The politics begin with Thanos’ goal: to collect all six infinity stones, which will grant him the power to kill half of all the life in the universe. To him, this is a morally correct method of achieving sustainability and ending the poverty that ravaged his home planet. He is determined that it is worse to sit back and watch civilizations go extinct than it is to kill off half so the other could live with dignity. Victims would be selected at random, their deaths painless and void of destruction.

[Related: Review | ‘The Avengers: Infinity War’ avoids predictability]

Since the film’s April 27 release, I have seen a troubling number of people online who sympathize with Thanos. This sympathy, while not necessarily unfounded, is entirely misguided.

I challenge those who agree with Thanos to point to an event in history when a sudden population drop resulted in an increased standard of living. Wars, famines and epidemics that sharply decrease populations tend to lead to political instability, economic depression and social upheaval. If the population were cut in half, there would be fewer mouths to feed, but there would also be fewer hands to feed them. One person can only eat so much food, but that one person can also produce enough food for large amounts of people.

I challenge those who agree with Thanos to point to an event in history when a sudden population drop resulted in an increased standard of living.”

The Earth’s carrying capacity is not fixed because it depends on how we interact with our resources. This is how we have survived the population boom of the last few centuries. Two hundred years ago, there were less than 1 billion people in the world. That number has surpassed 7.6 billion. The Industrial Revolution not only provided us with the means to grow the population, but it also redefined our relationship with the environment.

Capitalism demands that we view the environment as a backdrop to economic activity, instead of an active function of it. Our irrational willingness to destroy our only means of survival has led to our exploitative relationship with nature. We must redefine how people gain access to these resources in the first place.

The water crisis in the state of Chiapas, Mexico isn’t happening because people overuse water. It’s happening because Coca-Cola owns it all. The famine in South Sudan isn’t happening because too many people share too few resources. It’s happening because of a civil war caused by arbitrary post-colonial borders that forced feuding ethnic groups together. Look at most modern humanitarian crisis, and you will find evidence that mismanaged resources are a major contributing factor. This is not accidental. It’s the result of an economic model built around the pursuit of profit.

Advanced countries consume resources at rates astronomically higher than what is recommended for sustainability. The average Australian requires 9.3 global hectares – a measurement unit for the ecological footprint – to sustain their lifestyle. The average person in the U.S. requires 8.2. To achieve sustainability, that number needs to be reduced to 1.7 across the globe.

Thanos’ struggle for universal peace reflects the inconclusive way we think about overpopulation. We need to focus on ending the political tyrannies that cut people off from the resources beneath their feet. We need to revolutionize the means of production to become ecologically friendly by redefining our relationship with the environment outside of capitalism’s abusive conditions. The sooner we do, the sooner we can end poverty and ensure that future generations live in a world where abundant resources are not owned by the rich, restricted by political tyrants or completely depleted.