Maurizio – Omnologos

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Speaking Out About (Over-)Population

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There is a sizable number of people concerned about overpopulation. They are being drawn together by a new initiative, the Global Population Speak Out, aiming at undermining “a taboo of sorts against public discussion of overpopulation”:

GPSO was born of a simple idea: What if a large number of qualified voices worldwide, many of whom might not have emphasized the topic previously, were to speak out on overpopulation all at once? The strength of numbers might help weaken the taboo and bring population issues to a more prominent position in the global discussion.

You can see the efforts of the participants in this page. The main topics are the concern of overpopulation as a major driver in resource depletion (i.e. there are too many people consuming too much too quickly) and especially in ruining the environment.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I do not believe in gloomy forecasts, and particularly so in the gloomiest of them. I am also not convinced that there is a present situation of overpopulation right now: some back-of-the-envelope calculation seems to suggest full capacity would be around 15 billion people, even allowing for everybody to become a well-fed American. And who can forget that the current size of human population is the consequence of a struggle that must have lasted for a good part of the last million years?

Still, I also believe GPSO has a good point to make.

Let’s start considering their sensible attitude to past abuses of the overpopulation issue. Simply too many people have married the cause in the past because afraid of having to deal with millions of poor, black or Asian people. And still to this day, it is not difficult to find pea-brained arguments pitting children against the environment.

I do not see any trace of that in the original GPSO letter.

What I can see among the unfortunate repetitive claims about upcoming disasters, is a concern for what perhaps should not be, but still can develop in a big issue. My model for human activity in general is that of the long-distance travelers putting their stuff into the car’s trunk. No matter how much they plan to take with them, still they will more likely than not occupy the full trunk.

In other words, it is not much a matter of the size of the car, or the volume of things they want to bring to their destination: as far as humans are concerned, the whole available space is always to be wholly used. For another example, just check how many 1-h business meetings amazingly last for a full hour; and how easy it is for thousands and thousands of newspaper editors to fill up exactly all their available print areas, day after day, down to the eighth of an inch.

This ability for making full use of all resources within reach is something we should be very proud of; and wary, as there is little indication for when limits are actually reached. It always looks like there is more space in the trunk, and by speaking just a little faster more topics can be crammed in a meeting. But there is a limit, and the wise traveler will make sure loading is stopped early enough as to avoid damaging the car (or the stuff already loaded).

That’s why population should not be a taboo subject. And besides, it is also a topic closely related to personal freedom. For reasons too long to deal with now, women the world over have always seen their worth measured in the number of children they could bear. In theory, there is no actual need for that to continue any longer, and yet it still happens in one form or another pretty much everywhere.

Population sizes, from this point of view, can be seen as a symptom of an underlying bigger social problem. And who would want to make a symptom a taboo subject?

Written by omnologos

2009/Feb/19 at 00:13:50

Posted in catastrophism, Ethics, Overpopulation

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7 Responses

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  1. I tell you what, when these population control people start talking about limiting the populations of the “developing world,” most of whom both are in the worst straits are are non-White, I start thinking about listening to them.

    As long as these ZPG types focus solely or primarily on the Whites and the Developed World – who can feed an supply themselves – they’re useless and actually pernicious.

    jonolan

    2009/Feb/19 at 00:34:32

  2. Everyone looks at overpopulation from an environmental and resource perspective. But no one yet recognizes the possibility of being “economically” overpopulated. Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. I’m talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty.

    I should introduce myself. I am the author of a book titled “Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America.” To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

    This theory has huge implications for policy toward population management. Our policies that encourage high rates of population growth are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

    But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

    If you’re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, I invite you to visit either of my web sites at OpenWindowPublishingCo.com or PeteMurphy.wordpress.com where you can read the preface, join in my blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. (It’s also available at Amazon.com.)

    Please forgive the somewhat spammish nature of the previous paragraph. I just don’t know how else to inject this new perspective into the overpopulation debate without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, “Five Short Blasts”

    Pete Murphy

    2009/Feb/20 at 13:39:13

  3. Thank you for referring to the issue evidenced by the Global Population Speak Out (GPSO), which is the general taboo surrounding it.
    The taboo is fueled by ignorance, as it can be evinced by the inarticulate comment of a certain Ionolan, who believes that the real problem is called White Against Blacks, or Developed Against Underdeveloped Nations.

    He thinks that the Opulent West’s objective is to obliterate all the Third World’ population, in order to continue to rob safely their resources , occupy their land and without spending all that money in Aid to maintain them. Neat , eh ?
    Simple mind see simple problems and simple solutions.
    Does our commentator know anything about biological laws ? Ignorance is the real problem and it breeds prejudices which are so diffused, that anybody who dares to tackle the population issue is accused of catastrophic millenarianism. But it is enough to look at the world map and read some informations available on Internet, to be able to judge with one own’s brain that it is ALL the planet which is overpopulated, not just the underdeveloped part. Europe is overpopulated too, in spite of the illusory demographic downturn.

    Though, to be fair, it is in this underdeveloped part that most of the future demographic growth will happen , it is not a matter of accusation, rather of realism and compassion .
    Nobody can argue that in this underdeveloped world, too many children are born without any possibility of survival because the land they occupy is completely devoid of any conditions for subsistence, like soil fertility, vegetation and water.
    In past times, where aid didn’t exist nor did TV, these surplus children were dying like the flies that tormented their bodies. Today, there are even more people dying of starvation, because the aid generated by the West’s guilt feelings, has permitted to reach the stage where they can be photographed with skeleton bodies and protruding stomach- for the benefit of TV viewers. The starving people that we know of have multiplied, because the population of the poor has multiplied.
    To feel guilty about this state of affairs is not the answer. We have not made their land into a desert. We have not stolen their water. As a matter of fact, the money sent to these areas of despair have also multiplied,but no food aid can keep ahead of the population growth, in certain African countries where women have between five and eight children.

    Nobody encourages these women to have so many children, save their cultural traditions, the men’s machismo , ignorance of birth control methods and religion.
    The stripping bare of their land is, on the whole, their own doing: overgrazing of animals like goats and cattle,who are not suited to the environment, water already scarce, used for animals and people, deforestation for fuel and space for more humans and their crops, etceteras.

    These desperate people are also victims of tribal wars, who have displaced them from other more productive,areas by rival tribes, as it has well documented by documents on African history .But still the prejudice against the evil West is a powerful political weapon.

    The reality obliges us to consider the the relation between people and the natural capital which has been destroyed by their expansion or never was there When the land is not able to sustain life, the tragedy hits Whites and Blacks alike. It is a law of nature.

    Western industrialised countries which are mostly situated in temperate zones, enjoy a favorable food growing climate. Some of them are blessed by other resources and energy like Germany, USA, Canada,France , Great Britain, Russia. But when these resources are not sufficient, the same countries have found a way to augment their natural capital, by going to buy it from elsewhere.
    Naturally, the prize we pay for these resources has not gone to the people , but has ended in the pockets of various corrupted heads of states and their minions.
    Some of these money that we have paid to eliminate poverty in the Third World have ended in the vaults of some Banks, not necessarily Western. I am thinking of some off-shore banking, a speciality of Third World dictators. They also buy expensive properties , like the Mugabes , who specialise in luxurious mansions and incredible shopping expeditions, while Zimbabwe is sinking into the most horrid misery.
    Western Bamks have lended money to poor countries, in the knowledge that they couldn’t pay back, without plunging into more poverty. They côoked the books by calling the debt in entry . In the end ,the Banks started to slowly eliminate the debt and admitting to have lost the money.

    Considering the difference between poverty and wealth , which is symbolised by the industrialized nations and the Third World. one question arises: Why are some countries are rich and others have remained or became poor?
    What are the reasons ?

    A New York Times bestseller, The Wealth and Power of Nations, by David S.Landes, has tried to answer this question. It is clear that it wasn’t only a matter of who was a better crook or more violent, because every human being is prone to such actions when its survival is menaced.
    The explanation is more complex, as are most human endeavor.

    I end by hoping that the efforts of the GPSO to open a dialogue on the dangers of overpopulation funded on reason and documentation, will offset the prejudice that every environmentalist favorable to birth control is a potential child-killer.

    Marisa Cohen

    Marisa Cohen

    2009/Feb/20 at 16:12:18

  4. I think you need to reconsider your ‘back of the envelope’ carrying capacity calculations. A good place to start might be

    How Many People Should The Earth Support?
    http://www.ecofuture.org/pop/rpts/mccluney_maxpop.html

    Bandura etc.
    http://growthmadness.org/2008/02/18/impeding-ecological-sustainability-through-selective-moral-disengagement/

    and

    Albert Bartlett on the exponential function as it relates to population and oil:
    http://c-realm.blogspot.com/2008/12/kmo-interview-with-albert-bartlett.html

    We’ve already exceeded global carrying capacity. We are now in “overshoot”. (Visualize a car sailing smoothly, but quite temporarily, through the air after having been driven off of a cliff.)

    Global population is nearing 7 billion. Most theorists, even using different methods and assumptions, seem to end up agreeing that global carrying capacity is probably about 2 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a moderate, low by US standards, standard of living. More is possible if you accept a cattle car / Matrix-esque “life”.)

    In any case, we will get to that much-lower-than-7-billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily). Yes, all of us, yes, everywhere. There is no scenario anywhere in which population growth is a “good thing” long term.

    Yes a drop in population would cause problems, but none of those problems are as big as the problems, suffering, and environmental collapse that is certain to occur if we don’t.

    I disagree with any argument that there is some “right to reproduce”. If there is any “right to reproduce” it’s in the concept that one has the freedom to nurture a child or children and form some sort of family. Biological reproduction is not necessary to do that and there are many in need of this sort of nurturing.

    This is a global issue with local and nation-state consequences. For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it. Likewise, global climate change and the collapse of ocean fisheries are not impressed by national boundaries.

    No technological / “alternative energy” options have the capacity or can be ramped up fast enough to avoid major global calamity. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t do them. Aggressively shifting to alternative energy is necessary, just not sufficient.

    For additional analysis of all this I suggest

    Approaching the Limits http://www.paulchefurka.ca

    Bruce Sundquist on environmental impact of overpopulation http://home.alltel.net/bsundquist1/

    The Oil Drum Peak Oil Overview – June 2007 (www.theoildrum.com/node/2693)

    …and of course the classic “Overshoot” by Catton

    E.Vasta

    2009/Feb/21 at 18:53:48

  5. If this is the same Albert Bartlett I’ve seen talk about the exponential function on youtube I have to say I was less than impressed with his presentation.

    He relied on utterly assumption based reasons to limit population such as fears of war or starvation. The latter of which we can actually eliminate with the amount of food present in the world right now and the former often occurs without regard to population size (and sometimes fails to occur as population size grows).

    His math is also flawed in that many nations have seen slowing population growth rates. If we truly operate via exponential function this would be mathematically impossible.

    Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but concern that we will run out of oil or coal is something of a joke on environmentalists as the problem with fossil fuels isn’t that they may run out some day it is that they generate multiple types of pollution when used.

    And on social equality, there is nothing that guarantees we will have greater equality (rather than inequality) if we reduce population to 2 billion or grow it to 10 billion. Inequality in modern society relates to how societies and their economies operate/are designed. Promises of a better life if we reduce our numbers strike me as empty. If you want to disagree with me then please explain how feudal society (which embraced social inequality) could exist with much fewer people than we have right now if all that is needed for equality is less people?

    Nathaniel

    2009/Mar/04 at 17:13:18

    • What on earth does feudal society have to do with the present problem? If you understand the mathematics, then you should understand that the human race is doomed unless the world population decreases soon.

      Why would you care about anything other then that the human race can not continue the unrelating consumption of natural resources at the present rate. How is that rate going to be decreased? It won’t be voluntarily, so Mother Nature is going to eventually reduce the consumption rate. I think that will start soon.

      You obviously do not understand the mathematics; otherwise, you be frightened. You all should be frigthene because most humans are clueless.

      Bruce

      2010/Apr/06 at 22:17:01

      • Presumably, cluelessness will save us from being frightened.

        omnologos

        2010/Apr/06 at 22:19:33


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