Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ultimate Sadness

I write this post with a tear in my eye. The recent economic meltdown demonstrates there is little hope for human society or the good Earth.
It's well recognized that our planet is deteriorating. Peak oil, the loss of fish stocks, food riots and global warming are just a few of the symptoms. The environmental impact of human activities can be expressed in mathematical form as:

Impact = Per Capita Consumption x Population

The current economic crisis is significantly reducing the first factor, consumption. National GDPs are down all around the globe. Our ecofootprint has decreased. But are politicians, economists and the media hailing this as positive, a big step toward sustainability?

Absolutely not. They see loss of jobs, bankruptcies and relocations. And they are right. This megarecession is causing immense human suffering.
So what are our leaders doing? Simple: they're spending hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to resuscitate the economy. They want us to go to malls and car lots and spend, spend, spend. And that's the problem in a nutshell. Our leaders are totally committed to increasing consumption. This recession proves that reducing consumption is not on the table, and never will be.
And the second factor, population, is a taboo topic. So how can we possibly reduce environmental impact? Well, the use of technology such as hybrid cars and wind power can reduce the impact of goods and services. But as William Rees, one of the inventors of the ecofootprint concept says, "The ship is already overloaded. More goods, even efficient ones, will only delay the sinking of the ship."
The current crisis demonstrates beyond any shadow of doubt that we are doomed. Our leaders will not deal with either consumption or population.
There is, however, some hope. Perhaps we will start having smaller families anyway. After all, who wants to bring grandchildren into the kind of world we're headed for.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Suzuki on Population

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Canada’s leading environmental expert, the internationally renowned David Suzuki,. When I turned the topic to global overpopulation I expected to hear the same waffle that virtually all politicians and economists spout. My expectation was based on the Suzuki Foundation website and discussions with several Foundation managers: in no way whatsoever does population play a part of their campaigns or strategy. The topic is shunned, as it is by virtually all environmental organizations.

To my surprise Suzuki discussed the issue openly and frankly. “A growing population makes almost every environmental problem worse,” he said. He was careful to distinguish between the different problems that face developed and developing nations. The footprint of a North American is many times that of someone from China or India he emphasized, so consumption is a big part of the equation. Suzuki feels Canadians and Americans need to decrease their environmental footprint by 80%. That’s a deep and painful cut that can’t be achieved without also decreasing population growth.

The populations of Canada and the United States, with less than 2.2 births per woman, will stabilize. But immigration, which makes up two-thirds of population growth, is a problem. Suzuki feels immigration should be decreased because it increases the ecofootprint of the immigrants to North American levels. A better method, he suggests, is to decrease immigration and spend far more on foreign aid, especially for womens’ education. He’s upset that there is not a single committee on population in federal government and says, “it’s a disgrace that Canada [and the United States] has no national population policy.”

When I asked about the future, Suzuki responded, “The world is going down the chute,” he said, “I’m old so it doesn’t matter to me. But it pisses me off that our grandchildren
will be affected.” It gave me a chill that one of the world’s most respected environmentalist has such a negative outlook.

For long-term survival it’s vital that we move to living in a state of equilibrium. And that includes consumption and population.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Professor Rees and the Overloaded Ship

These are uncertain, even frightening, times with both the economy and the environment spiraling downward. How bad is it? Where are we headed? Are there solutions?
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with William Rees, University of British Columbia professor and one of the developers of the ecological-footprint concept. I asked him to shed light on these questions.

Rees feel that the past year has been catastrophic. “Climate change, for example, is progressing much faster than predicted by the models of the International Panel on Climate Change,” he said. And there are many other serious environmental problems, and virtually all are getting worse.

When I asked about possible solutions, Rees’ answer was simple – in theory. “We need to abandon growth in developed countries and limit growth in the third world,” he said, “The era of exuberant consumption is over.” He pointed out that the human ecofootprint is 30-40% larger than what the planet can support. We’re rapidly drawing down the globe’s capital, depleting soils and oil, wiping out fish and other species. “The ship is already overloaded,” he says, “and more goods, even efficient one, will sink the ship.”

Rees feels that Americans and Canadians need to decrease their environmental footprint by 80%. That’s a deep and painful cut. It will be impossible to meet this target without also decreasing population growth. Yet our leaders ignore this vitally important issue. Rees feels it is disgraceful that Canada has no population policy. It’s a taboo topic.

Many people believe that controlling population requires draconian, police-state methods. Not true! It can all be done by a voluntary approach. In North America all it requires is education, improved family-planning services and tax penalties for families that have more than two or three children.

There is no need for population to be a taboo subject. Let’s start talking about it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

“Negative” Ad Gives a Jolt

The other day while perusing E Magazine I got a shock. On page 61 was a most unusual advertisement, one that promotes a smaller population in the United States! I couldn’t believe it, for the (over)population issue has long been ignored by politicians, environmental organizations and media alike.

The ad was placed by Negative Population Growth (NPG), a national organization founded in 1972 to educate the American public about the detrimental effects of overpopulation on the environment, resources and quality of life. It advocates a smaller and sustainable United States population. The ad urges a national debate on the population issue and requests readers to sign a citizens’ petition for a national population policy.

Fascinated, I visited the NPG website. Everything I read was solid, sensible common sense. The US population has doubled since 1950, generating more pollution, more sprawl, less green space, and enormous demands on the earth's already overburdened resources. The population is projected to increase another 133 million by 2050.

Based on scientific research, NPG’s target for US population is 150 to 200 million. Most importantly, they advocate no draconian methods to achieve this goal, as was done in India or China, but recommend policies that encourage smaller families and less immigration. How sensible, how achievable!

Environmental groups, almost all of whom have gone astray and lost their relevance, need to develop similar programs.

I urge that you visit the Negative Population Growth web site ( and support their work.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sarah: Symbol of a Sick State of Mind

I don't want to write about Sarah Palin on a personal level. After all, she's an attractive lady, has some pretty significant achievements to her credit and looks like she would be fun to be with.
What scares me, however, is her beliefs. Even more frightening is that a large number of Americans share her ideals. She is a symbol for moral derailment.
First, Ms Palin has five children and is opposed to abortion and family planning. Her championing of the sanctity of life is the ultimate contradiction. It appears Ms Palin hasn't learned about fish stocks being wiped out, coral reefs dying, oil shortages and food riots. She protects life today, but doesn't care one whit for future generations who, if we all followed the Palin doctrine, would live a nightmare, if they lived at all.
Ms Palin shrugs off her daughter's pregnancy, "Well, that's life. Teenagers will be teenagers." Nice try. Yes, teenagers do get pregnant, but it's wrong, wrong, wrong. Teenage pregnancies are a serious problem that reduces the quality of life for both mother and child and places a burden on society. Sex education, family planning and—listen up all you Ms Palins—parents providing good role models, are vitally needed.
Ms Palin does not believe global warming is caused by humans. Well, who the heck raised carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere from 280 ppm to 382 ppm since the industrial revolution started? God?
Ms Palin believes in creationism. I'm dumbfounded. Religious fanaticism is just a way of cowering behind a shield of ignorance, a means of justifying unacceptable behaviour (an example, extreme perhaps, is suicide bombers).
The globe is teetering on the brink and one big reason is that too many share the philosophy of Ms Palin. It's time to put ignorance and zealotry aside and turn to common sense, logic and caring about our neighbours and the common good. Good luck Obama.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Glass is Empty

Over the past 60 years human civilization has had the best innings of its 400,000 years of existence. The quality of life — at least in the developed countries — just kept soaring higher and higher.
But now — ever so suddenly — we have stumbled into dark times. I can't help but worry that the situation is going to get worse, far worse than anyone imagines. Because life has been so good for so long, many people feel it's an entitlement, that simply being born bestows on us the right to prosperity and all the materialistic hedonism it entails. Not true!
It's not a stretch to imagine massive unemployment in the USA in the next few years, perhaps reaching levels seen in the Great Depression. Should that happen, things could get real ugly. This time attitudes are different, gangs and guns are are prevalent — thanks a million, Charlton Heston and the NRA! — and there is nowhere to migrate to find employment. I predict that society will breakdown in some regions. The hot, arid southwest is a strong candidate. But where will that lead? Will we see anarchy, or can society recover?
Even before this made-by-greed financial crisis struck, the environment and resources were being hammered. The oceans are being raped, food riots have erupted and the insidious global warming is slowly bringing this cauldron we call Earth to a boil. And with everyone's attention focussed on the economy and jobs, the environment will, unfortunately, take a distant back seat.
The root cause, which our leaders conveniently choose to ignore, is overpopulation. The simple fact is that there are too few resources on this good planet to support seven billion people in a North American lifestyle. Sadly, the population issue will remain locked on the back burner. I despair for my grandchildren.
Let's peer into the murky future. How do you think this mess will play out? How low can it go? Please send me some scenarios you think will develop in the next year or two.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reflections in a Mirror

I bumped into Devon, a friend who works in the resource sector, at a recent social gathering. He began to curse the tiny pine beetle. "Have you seen aerial photos of the damage they're doing to the forests?" he demanded, poking me in the chest with a pudgy finger while waving a beer in the other hand. "Almost 15% of British Columbia's forests have been ruined by these damnable insects. They're costing the province a fortune and now they're spreading into Washington state and Alberta. Something's got to be done, the government has to take action.
"Why would you say that?" I replied. "After all, they're only copying human behaviour. You should admire them for being so successful." I reminded him of human exponential growth – 4 billion more people in the past 50 years – how we're wiping out resources like oil and fisheries even faster than pine beetles are decimating forests.
He looked puzzled, but came back with, "The government should mount an aerial campaign using pesticides or whatever means we have."
"Yes," I responded, "that is always our human answer. If any other species steps over their boundaries -- and often even if they don't – we cull them, shoot them, spray them, destroy their habitat."
"Devon, governments everywhere are fixed on the goal of growing the economy, expanding even more. Why don't we humans take steps to control our own population? If it's so obvious for pine beetles, why are we blind to our own unsustainable growth?" He took a deep drink and didn't answer.
I jabbed him in his ample girth, "Devon, when you look at your aerial photos, you are looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of human behaviour. Yet you have never shown the same passion about reducing human numbers. Why?"
He mumbled something about my having had too many drinks and wandered off shaking his head.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Elusive Steady State

The other day I stumbled upon the web site of a neat organization, one that has put its finger on what is going wrong with this crazy world. The Centre for the Advancement of a Steady-State Economy (CASSE;, a non-profit organization of natural scientists and ecological economists, makes compelling arguments that the current financial crisis has been caused by excessive growth in the economy, and that the current meltdown is a method of "correcting" the situation. CASSE states that continued economic growth not only harms the environment but also threatens national security and international stability. We need, they urge, to move toward a better non-growing (i.e., steady-state) economy. In a world of fast-depleting resources and increasing pollution, these words are rapidly becoming more meaningful.
A quiet corollary that is frequently overlooked, however, is that it is impossible to bring the economy into equilibrium if the population is constantly growing. A necessary requirement for a steady-state economy is a steady-state population.
I strongly feel that both a steady-state economy and a population in equilibrium are necessary of we want a sustainable planet.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Old News

While cleaning out some files recently I came across a newspaper article dated 1994. "Earth has too many people" shouted the headline. A study at Cornell University led by Professor David Pimentel had concluded that the human population must fall substantially to an optimum of — get this! — between one and two billion. With this population the Earth can provide the water and fertile land necessary for a diverse, nutritious diet of plant and animal products. Otherwise enormous numbers of people will live in misery, poverty, disease and starvation. The study stated that the population could be brought to below two billion by 2100 if each couple had only 1.5 children.
Similar studies by the United Nations, the World Wildlife Foundation and Professor William Rees and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia also conclude that human population exceeds the carrying capacity of the Earth. They feel that a sustainable human population is in the four to six billion range. These are trusted and respected organizations with learned, reputable researchers. The validity of their studies is not in doubt.
Yet their results are buried on the back pages, ignored and treated as mere curiosity. No one is taking action. Instead, we march in the opposite direction. The world's population has increased by just over one billion since the 1994 study, and the count keeps ticking upward.
Signs of a teetering world are everywhere: war in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, food riots, peak oil, fisheries wiped out and now the biggest recession since the 1930s. This can't possibly end well.
How long can the pressure keep building? What will it take to get us talking seriously about population?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Split Personality

Our economic system is in shambles. The sub-prime mortgage crisis and plummeting stock markets are the start of the biggest recession since the 1930s.

To make things even worse, human numbers — almost seven billion — are well beyond the carrying capacity of the good Earth. Oil production has passed its peak. World grain production is decreasing. The ocean's fisheries are being depleted. Global temperature is rising. And I could go on.

After the Second World War, cheap energy, mass production and technological innovation brought good times. Society enjoyed the best 60 years of human existence. But now that Golden Age has crashed onto a reef.

As discussed in my last blog, communism and now capitalism have been brought to their knees by a common human trait: greed. Today our society is characterized by conspicuous consumption, superficiality, vanity, materialism, mindless entertainment and, most of all, greed, which comes in many shades. Instead of planning ahead, we have instant gratification. Instead of kindness and consideration, we have vanity and narcissism. Instead of ethics, everything is condoned. Instead of honour, we have "who cares." Instead of charity and sharing, we grasp for more.

It's the tragedy of the commons on a grand scale. To hell with others; let's live for the present and abandon the future.

Technology will not solve our problems. The solution lies much closer: between our ears. We need to change our attitudes and become more caring of our neighbours and considerate of future generations. We must learn to control our greed. But how?

Human beings have split personalities. We desperately need to find ways of curbing the negative traits, especially greed, and fostering the positive. But how?

Send me your ideas. Let's talk about this .... our survival depends on it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Berlin Wall, Capitalism and Greed

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the failure of communism. It was a great theory – equality, sharing, brotherhood – but it went sour in practice. When walls, barbed wire and machine-guns are necessary to pen in fellow comrades, the system is morally bankrupt.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis that is devastating the stock markets and plunging America into a deep recession/depression marks – like the Berlin Wall – the failure of capitalism. Again, a great theory – free enterprise with a competitive marketplace providing built-in checks and balances – ran aground in practice.

The common factor in the unravelling of these two great theories is human greed. Something in the human psyche, a basic drive, makes us – some more than others – lust for power, wealth and all their trappings. Too many CEOs and managers believe the ends justify any means. Who cares about ethics, regulations, share holders or our grandchildren. It's all about getting obscene salaries, perks and huge severance packages. Conrad Black – now languishing in jail – and Dick Grasso – who somehow "arranged" a $187 million severance package from the New York Stock Exchange – are poster boys for unfettered capitalism.

What a dilemma: two vastly different systems of governance have both been skewered by a simple, basic human trait. So what is the answer?

We must change our mindset. Somehow we need to become more caring of our neighbours and considerate of the future we bequeath our grandchildren. We must diminish our greed. But how? Perhaps topics like happiness, caring and volunteerism should become important parts of school curricula. Instead of obsessing about technology perhaps research should be directed towards these social topics. Perhaps cities can be redesigned around centres that function like villages, offering "communities" where people care and help each other.

Desperately needed is a campaign to conquer greed. Let's talk about this, it's important.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The World's Largest Pyramid Scheme

In the early 1900s, Charles Ponzi invented a scheme whereby investors are lured by abnormally high returns ("profits"), which are acquired from money paid in by subsequent investors rather than from revenues generated by any sustainable or even real business. Many forms of this fraudulent Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme have been tried over the years. They have all failed. Ponzi was jailed several times and died in poverty.

Now humanity is playing the largest pyramid scheme in history. Economic growth is spiralling ever upward and all the new players that are born into the game want a piece of the good life. Our politicians, the modern-day Ponzis, worship economic growth and do everything possible to promote it. The wealth that supports the scheme is the environment and the oil, water, air, forests, fish and much more that it contains.

But where will it end? An ever expanding economy, an ever growing population and a finite resource to make it feasible is just an enormous pyramid scheme. And we all know that a pyramid scheme comes crashing to a halt when it reaches its limits.

Oil prices have rocketed to over $100 a barrel, grain prices have doubled in the past year and water shortages are looming. These are glaring signals that the limits of our rich cradle of resources are finally being reached. We need to rethink our priorities, curb our population growth and stop this ludicrous Ponzi scheme.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Killer Lesson from Killer Whales: Let Moms Rule

Although rulers of the sea—even sharks fear them—killer whales (aka orcas), in contrast to humans, have not over-run their habitat. Instead they maintain stable populations and live in equilibrium with the world around them. In the orca world, everyone is part of the community; there are no outcasts, there is no poverty, there is no war. We homo sapiens have much to learn from them.

Why are orcas so successful? An orca's existence is marked by stability centred around the pod. They travel in groups of 10 to 25 with males living up to 40 years and females up to 70 years. The pod or family is organized into matrilines, that is, a matriarch and all her offspring plus her daughters' offspring live together. A unique feature is that all males and females stay in the pod for life. In contrast, human society is marked by high divorce rates, much job changing and enormous choice in everything from consumer goods to entertainment.

It seems a simpler life is better.
A key is the central role of females. Human experience shows that when women get education and responsibility, birth rates drop. The orca matriarch guides the pod and is a storehouse of knowledge, like an enormous computer database. And by adopting the gentleness of females instead of the testosterone-driven aggression of males, orcas avoid the conflict that brings poverty and misery to human society.

We should follow the orcas and let moms and a simpler, gentler life rule.

Sadly, resident orca numbers are decreasing under a myriad of threats, virtually all caused by humans, such as toxic chemicals, decreasing salmon stocks, noise pollution, and warming and acidification of oceans from climate change. I hope we can learn quickly, for if we don't, a century from now they—and possibly we humans also—will be mere footnotes in the long list of species driven into extinction.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

British Columbia's ‘most prolific' mother gives birth to her 18th baby

This headline, which ran in the newspaper recently, troubled me for days. Given that human population exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet, that the price of oil is skyrocketing, that global warming is running amok, and that grain prices have doubled and food riots have broken out, having 18 children seems terribly irresponsible. It speeds up the coming unpleasant difficulties that human society will face.

Just because there is no law against ridiculously large families (there should be), doesn't mean we should have them. There is a place for good common sense; aren't the parents aware that human population is fast approaching seven billion? Astonishingly, the father was quoted as saying, "I want to be a good citizen."

What grieved me even more was the attitude of the newspaper. It gushed over the family and its lifestyle. There was no hint that, perhaps, the parents are irresponsible, that human overpopulation is ravaging the earth and actions such as this only bring the train wreck nearer. With media's heads stuck firmly in the sand, how will politicians listen? I despair for the future.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Economist’s View

This letter (edited for brevity) from Vancouver's Mike Barkusky came in response to my article in the Vancouver Sun (see Sunday, August 24, 2008 post).

Dear Hans: Kudos to you for raising the unmentionable, and for pointing out the awkward facts. Although I consider myself an economist, I take my cue from ecological economist Herman Daly.

I think the economics of endless "economic" growth are intellectually flawed. As Daly says, what we are experiencing, increasingly, is UNeconomic growth.

Many feel we need population growth to offset the fiscal problem of an aging population. I think postponing population growth slowdown (and reversal) as a transition strategy might buy time, but simply makes the eventual adjustment to equilibrium that much harder.
I think the sooner the world gets to ZPG [zero population growth] or even shrinking human population, the better. My case for that view is ecological-economic, but a surprising number of the points I would make against continued economic growth rest on economic logic that is not really controversial (between standard neo-classical microeconomists and Daly-ite ecological economists).

Most macroeconomists (largely regardless of ideological or methodological school) on the other hand, are still addicted to growth, but mostly because the conceptual categories they deal in (national income, output, jobs in aggregate, etc.) are so aggregated and abstract (and so lacking in qualitative dimensions) that they have trouble seeing the difference between economic goods and "bads."

Herman Daly has written an excellent critique of the late Julian Simon's "Ultimate Resource" (a cornucopian justification of ongoing human population growth) and a number of excellent papers and books on ecological economics, including "Steady State Economics" and "For the Common Good." He considers his key intellectual forebears to include John Stuart Mill — who wrote perceptively and persuasively, in my opinion, on a "steady state economy" way back in 1848 (!) — Kenneth Boulding and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.

- Mike Barkusky, Vancouver

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paul Ehrlich, the Modern-Day Malthus, and His New Book

Forty years ago Paul Ehrlich's book, The Population Bomb, caused a furore with its predictions of disaster due to the exploding population. Many scoffed when his dystopian predictions didn't come true. Now he and his wife, Anne, have written another book, The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, and his prophecies are much more urgent.

The world's population has increased by about three billion since 1968 and it's getting uncomfortably crowded.
In their new book, the Ehrlichs step back and analyze the big picture, looking carefully at how humans have evolved, and in the process how we are laying waste to the planet. As biologists, they are particularly concerned about the sixth major extinction: humans wiping out other species. But they explore all the other problems such as dwindling energy resources including peak oil, poverty, looming water shortages, toxification of the world, and atmospheric degradation including global warming.

They conclude that cultural evolution has not kept pace with technological progress, and that for solutions, humans should look to social changes, including improving governance and eradicating poverty, rather than counting on miracle technological fixes.

When I interviewed Ehrlich, he said, "We need to vastly improve human ethics and re-design North America around people, not cars and possessions." Dominant Animal is a compelling book by two scientists who have spent their lives studying human population, its development and the impact on the environment. We should listen to them.

Let me know what you think about Dominant Animal.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Population Issue Makes the News

Although the "population problem" is rarely discussed in any meaningful way by politicians or mainstream media, on 26 July 2006, the Vancouver Sun ran a column I wrote that generated considerable feedback, some of which I'd like to share with you. You can check out the column here:

Problem of Population Growth Needs to Be Met: No one wants to tackle the prickly question despite its extensive environmental impacts

It starts: "The most frightening — and fascinating — thing I know is a graph of human population growth over the past millennium. Starting in about 1800 the curve suddenly spikes almost straight upward, and this incredible growth in human numbers continues today. In my lifetime alone, population has increased by over four billion people. And thanks to technological innovations and cheap oil, the impact of each person on the globe has increased even faster.

"Under this onslaught, Earth's vast cradle of resources, including oil, food grains, fish stocks and water, is being severely depleted, and the environment is being trampled underfoot. Humanity's unflagging desire to procreate and improve our lifestyle (read, own more and bigger) is finally catching up with us. It is truly scary, for the graph can only be interpreted one way: dire times lie ahead.

"The fascinating part is that few care. It's the damnedest contradiction! Humans can send people to the moon, split the nucleus of an atom and transplant a heart. Yet we won't do anything about the population freight train that's steaming toward a cliff. Why?"


The article goes on to show how politicians and environmental groups are ignoring human population growth, which is yoked to a growing economy like two oxen (as I've mentioned in this blog). It also shows that savings made by conservation will be negated by population growth. If we care about the future, we need to drag the issue into the open and start talking about it.

Here are some of the (edited) responses I've received:

1) We fully agree.

"The bad news is that these are baby steps, and are totally swamped by developing countries like China and India, which are charging full-tilt ahead to raise their living standards."

And, indeed, when they look at the West, why shouldn't they? It appears that while China and India are trying to catch up with the West, we are trying to catch up with the Middle and Far East (in terms of population numbers). What an absurd race!

MW, Vancouver, BC

2) It was good to see you raise the issue of the "problem of population growth" in the Vancouver Sun today. I teach an economics course and always start the course with the basic economic concept that as humans we have seemingly unlimited demands for things and our economic systems, at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, all measure their success by the level of growth that has been achieved. Population growth underlies this global growth in demand and, as you point out, is exacerbated by the fact that income levels and economic activity are rising the fastest in the poorer countries where most of the people are located.

I was in Australia recently at a conference on Water Supply and Pricing and there was a speaker from UNESCO who was accountable for strategies on water issues. They have developed a strategy called ‘UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Scientific Cooperative Programme in Hydrology and Water Resources’ which develops strategies for dealing with challenges facing the world in the area of water supply. Not one of these strategies deals with population growth which clearly is one of the underlying problems. If the worlds’ population had not grown by 4 billion people in the last 55 years or so there would not be the same stresses on water that we now face in this world. But the even scarier problem is what impact continued population growth will have on water supplies. I asked this fellow from UNESCO why addressing population growth was not on the list of issues to be addressed and he indicated that while he understood it clearly was one of the underlying challenges to water issues, it was much too politically sensitive to be raised. He suggested that countries like India and Pakistan would never support any such reference to this issue.

I can only hope that more people like yourself raise this issue and that at some point it is taken seriously. Unfortunately history suggests that difficult issues like this are seldom taken seriously until we are forced to by impending dire consequences.

JB, by email

3) Your piece is brilliant … I have been a student and activist concerning what I perceive as major issues, and overpopulation — and its subsequent despoilation of the planet — is one of the main ones, if not THE main one.

NT, by email

4) Hi Hans, I was deeply involved in the environmental movement in the '70s with a group based out of U.B.C.

With growing concern I have also observed the fact that not only do precious few seem to care about the massive impending global trainwrecks rushing at us, I don't know more than a few people who have the slightest interest in even talking about them. Anytime I try and raise the subject of global warming, impending oil shortages or the problems of population growth, people give me an indignant, blank (why would I give a sh-t!) stare and quickly shift the conversation to another topic.

Even more disturbing is the opposition to any proposals to address global warming or population growth if they might have the slightest negative impact on the economy. Even though global extreme weather disasters are fast becoming "reality TV," there appears to be a widespread belief that there is no cost associated with doing nothing. [Even] assuming global warming is a gigantic hoax and that there is no downside to population growth (neither of which I believe), conserving resources would [still] seem to be a logical and reasonable proposition, except for the fact that it would probably negatively affect consumer spending. Here, more is indeed more when it comes to economic health.

Contemporary marketing strategies aimed at turning people into addictive, mindless consumers, and a state information overload might at least partly explain the paralyzing apathy of most. But still it seems odd that people who would normally have enough sense to seek shelter in the face of an (unproven) threat of impending rain or, worse lightning, would not be mobilized to act against a threat whose effects are seen almost daily on the news. Perhaps we as a society have reached a point where we can no longer distinguish fiction from reality.

DM, Sechelt, BC

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Help Women Curb Reproduction

Recently, in response to my article on population in the Vancouver Sun, I heard from Jane Roberts, a Nobel Peace prize nominee. Jane is co-founder of 34 Million Friends, a grassroots effort in the United States to support the United Nations Population Fund. She is a resident of Redlands, CA.

Below Jane shares with us her letter to the editor of the Washington Times (a conservative Washington paper), which appeared on 29 July 2008.


On June 26, the Bush administration, for the seventh year in a row, refused to release congressionally approved funds for the United Nations Population Fund.

The fund, supported by 181 countries last year, not only offers reproductive health care and family planning in 151 countries but also studies population and poverty trends. It's a good time to talk about population. The fate of women is central to any population debate.

The planet is home to 6.7 billion people, and about 75 million more births occur each year than deaths. Ninety-eight percent of this growth happens in the poorest countries.

In these countries, there is high maternal mortality (more than 500,000 maternal deaths in childbirth each year) and nearly 10 million deaths of children under age 5. Four million of these deaths happen in the first month of life due in large part to the ill health of the mother.

In 1968, world leaders proclaimed that individuals have a basic human right to determine the number and timing of their children. Forty years later, modern contraception remains out of reach for hundreds of millions of people.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, 210 million pregnancies occur in the world every year, and 42 million of them end in abortion, half of which are risky and illegal. About 70,000 women per year die from unsafe abortions.

This is unacceptable. Universal access to family-planning help and the highest standard of reproductive health must become the order of the day. Yet there has been a sharp reduction in international funding for reproductive health in general, and in particular in the area of family planning.

The family-planning component of the worldwide reproductive health budget has fallen from 55 percent to 7 percent, says Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund.

Women, if educated and given choices, have fewer children, and they educate them better and keep them healthy. The women often earn incomes, and that improves family and community life. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently said: "In women, the world has the most significant but untapped potential for development and peace." The fate of women is closely linked with population issues. Population is important. Women are important. We ignore both at our peril.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


According to The Optimum Population Trust (a UK think tank on population policy that is absolutely opposed to any form of coercion in family planning), each new birth in the United Kingdom "is responsible for on average about 160 times as much climate-related environmental damage as a new birth in Ethiopia or 35 times as much as a new birth in Bangladesh." It'll be much worse in Canada and the US, I'm sure.

The reference for these stats was in an article in the July 25, 2008 Telegraph (a UK newspaper), by Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor: "Limit Families to Two Children 'to Combat Climate Change'." The subtitle was "GPs should tell parents not to have more than two children to help in the battle against climate change, according to doctors."

According to the article, John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health, at University College London and GP Dr. Pip Hayes, from Exeter, suggested in the British Medical Journal that "GPs should talk to their patients about the consequences of having a large family, and provide advice on contraception, population and the environment."

The authors said, "We must not put pressure on people, but by providing information on the population and the environment, and appropriate contraception for everyone (and by their own example), doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high carbon cars."

What an enormous stride ... suggesting population policy because of climate change! But while we're making suggestions, why not suggest one-child families? If we all keep replacing ourselves (with two-children families), how are we to bring the global population down?

Is having fewer children an effective way to tackle climate change? Is there an ideal number of children? Should doctors talk to their patients about family planning from the perspective of climate change? Have you ever broached this topic with friends or family of child-bearing age? If so, what kind of response did you get? I'd like to hear from you.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bipolar Humans

The bipolar nature of human beings amazes me. On the one hand, we are geniuses who have created art and music of incredible beauty and passion. We have peered into the atom and unravelled its structure. Humans have walked on the moon, and space probes transmit photos of planets millions of miles distant. We can replace a human heart, understand the intricacies of the DNA molecule and are close to decoding the very makeup of life itself.

We are so smart, yet we have another side. Namely, we are driven by two basic traits that threaten our very survival: violence and the urge to procreate. When stress rises and the going gets tough, we humans resort to violence. Just look at Darfur, Iraq or even big city slums in the United States, which are infested with gangs and lawlessness.

And we continue to increase our numbers so that resources like oil and food grains can no longer keep pace with our collective consumption. The globe is warming, water shortages are looming and the stress on the planet and human civilization is rising rapidly. The pot is bubbling ominously and soon the lid will pop.

What a dichotomy! We have the intelligence to create the most wondrous art and amazing technology, but we lack the intelligence to control the destructive side of our instincts and our psyches. In my dreams I picture politicians working together worldwide to implement programs for curbing population growth.

I also dream of funding being diverted from technological research into research to study human character with the goal of transforming violence into love and caring.
Sadly, these are only dreams and the harsh light of reality tells me that one side of our bipolar personalities will destroy the other, and likely civilization with it.

Yes, this is dark. But do you agree? What can we do?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Immigration, the Hidden Side of Population Growth

The United States, the world's third most populous country, is increasing its population at just under one percent per year, almost 3 million new Americans each year.
In Canada, with a similar population growth of just less than one percent, immigration plays an even bigger role, contributing 66% of total population growth.

This is robust growth, especially when compared to the birth dearth in western Europe and Japan, and not a good thing since (northern) North Americans are the most profligate consumers on the planet and we are already well past the Earth's carrying capacity.

About 35% of the US population growth is by immigration, with more than a million immigrants receiving permanent resident status annually (not to mention illegal immigrants).

Sadly, population (and immigration) are virtually never discussed in rational ways and certainly never by our policy makers. E-The Environmental Magazine broke this awkward silence with its May/June 2008 issue that tackles the issue head on and in depth. It states that immigration is an environmental concern because "America's rapid growth makes it nearly impossible to achieve sustainability."

Clearly, what is desperately needed is a national policy that assesses the big picture and integrates immigration, family planning, foreign-aid policies as well as including economic factors.

We need to start talking openly about immigration and how it fits into an overall population policy. What do you think? What kind of policies and practices would you like to see?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Babies - A Cool Way to Start People? A Guest Blog by GreenHearted

As someone who has no children of her own (although a beloved niece and two wonderful stepsons fill the void), I find myself feeling torn when friends and colleagues tell me they're expecting new additions to their family.

My first instinct, I admit, is complete joy for them. A sense of excitement about their new life adventure. I want to help find baby names for them. I look forward to touching mommy's tummy when she's seven or eight months along.
I know I'm going to want to spend time with the new little one's hand grasped around my finger -- basking in that newness and innocence. After all, as (Bill Cosby's) Fat Albert said, "Babies are a cool way to start people."

But as that initial blush of joy and excitement wears off, I start thinking other thoughts. Why would anyone want to bring a baby into this world, knowing the child's life is going to be carbon-constrained and climate-chaos-wracked? When that child is our age, there will be food and water shortages, and wars and conflicts everywhere because of those shortages.

Oh, let them feel their joy, I tell myself. Why wreck it for them now? Well, because that new (EuroAmerican) mouth to feed is going to take more than its share of resources and create more than its share of destruction. Why is my friend's baby, before it's even born, more privileged than babies in developing countries?

If I say something now, will it at least remind them not to go overboard with baby "things"? (As in, new baby = new consumer.)
If I say something now, will the parents help their new little one develop its innate love for the rest of nature (biophilia)? Will they say no to the TV shows, movies and computer games that disconnect North American children from their Mother Earth? Will they consider the health of the planet as they worry over their baby's health? Will they consider feeding their child an organic, locally grown low-on-the-food-chain diet so that what it eats doesn't eat away at its future? Will they think about the two billion people in the world without access to clean water as they're bathing their little one? Should I keep giving mini canoe paddles and Earth balls as baby gifts?

When my husband and I realized that we weren't going to have children together, he lovingly told me, "Now you can be the mother of all the children on Earth." I take my responsibility seriously. As a non-mother, I have far more time than mothers do to work on saving the future for the children — of all species.

So what should I say to my newly pregnant friends and co-workers — besides "Fiona's a nice name for a girl"?

Julie Johnston, GreenHeart Education

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Peaceful Eagles

Towering Douglas firs, gnarled Garry oaks and arbutus trees with textured reddish trunks rose from a rocky slope that bumped down to the sea. I was on a vigil, and one hundred yards away a mother eagle, perching high, shared my watch. The focus of our attention was a month-old eagle chick, the tenant of a nest atop a 60-foot Douglas fir at the edge of the water. I was spending a day at the nest, watching, photographing and learning. With no company, cell phone, iPod or other modern distractions, I had time aplenty to contemplate.

The patience of both mother and chick was impressive. She would perch sometimes for an hour or more at one spot before flying to another nearby high treetop where she would sit regally watching the sea, the passing boats and her chick; she had no compulsion to keep constantly busy. She didn't fuss nervously, make endless calls on a cell phone, visit malls or take Valium. She was comfortable with her vigil and being part of the natural world around her.

Nor was this eagle family consumed with the acquisition of material goods; the nest was not oversized and sprawling with dens, bars, pools, three-car garages. Nor was it full of the eagle equivalent of large-screen TVs, electric corkscrews and other ridiculous gadgets. Nor did I witness any battles to expand their territory or to overeat. Nor was the area teeming with an enormous population of eagles. In spite of being the mightiest birds in the air, they seem at peace with their existence and live in equilibrium within it.

I couldn't help but think how pathetic we humans are in comparison. Our society is not in equilibrium with the natural world. Instead we are looting it, while driven by greed, self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement. We are obsessed with overeating and the acquisition of consumer goods, and our population has far exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. Whereas we once lived by the laws of nature, now we defy them, violate them - and to what purpose?

As dusk fell, I wished that everyone could come and spend a day at this eagle nest. Perhaps it would help the human race to learn that we need to live in equilibrium with the natural world.

How can we reconnect with nature? How can we learn from the eagles? Let me know what you think. (Or what you feel.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The King Has No Clothing

Last year, Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," was shown at our community hall and was followed by a spirited discussion moderated by an intelligent environmental lawyer who is gaining a national reputation. The audience appeared deeply moved by the film and enthusiastically offered a variety of actions we could take as individuals and on a community basis to avoid the disaster that global warming threatens.

At one point, a 12-year-old boy stood up and said that human population seemed to be part of the problem and shouldn't we be doing something about that. The moderator quickly dismissed the boy, stating that new technologies and conservation were the solution, and moved on to another speaker.

The young boy was the only one in the audience to recognize that human population is the real problem behind global warming. But no one listened. I despair.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Ever-Accelerating Treadmill

What makes me despair is that society faces a formidable double whammy, the growing population and the growing economy. We don't seem capable of slowing either. It's like an ever-accelerating treadmill. No matter how fast we run, we keep falling behind. Take the car, for example, a wonderful invention that greatly enhances our productivity and enjoyment of life. Over the past three decades there have been enormous strides in making them cleaner and more efficient. Yet deadly domes of smog hover over all major cities of the world, exacting a huge toll in deaths and health care.

The reason is simple: there are far more cars on the road than 30 years ago, and they are being driven further. In spite of the enormous technological improvements in cars, air pollution has worsened. The fundamental reason is that the population has grown, and because the standard of living (read economy) has improved, we can afford more and bigger cars.

This argument applies to virtually all technical improvements. Television technology has greatly reduced energy consumption, but now we buy bigger and bigger giant-screen TVs. Where is the savings? And so it will be with hybrid cars and other energy-efficient products. With an expanding economy, the savings we make on some items will simply be spent to buy more or bigger other items. And with the population continuing to grow, there will be more of us doing it.

This treadmill is unstoppable unless we tackle the fundamental forces driving it. How do we do that? I don't pose this question rhetorically. I'd like to hear your ideas. How do we tackle the treadmill of increasing population and economic growth?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Conservation Conundrum

When skimming the websites of environmental organizations, I see virtually no mention of curbing population growth. These groups don't see population as a contributing factor to the world's ailments. The solution, so these environmental websites expound, is conservation: compact fluorescent light bulbs, bicycling, less packaging, bring your own bag when shopping, turn thermostats down.

Sadly, this only buys time; it does not solve the problem. You don't need to be an Einstein to calculate that if we all pitch in and cut energy consumption by, say, 10% per capita, this robust savings will be wiped out as soon as the population grows 10%, which will take about 7 years in the United States. Then energy demand will rise to new records again.

To make matters worse, people don't normally leave their home countries to emigrate to developed nations in order to become "conservers." Many have been attracted by the promise of unlimited everything, including energy.

To make meaningful progress - that is, to actually decrease energy consumption permanently - we must stop population growth. Why aren't we dealing with this issue? If well-intentioned environmental organizations don't recognize this, what hope is there for (short-sighted) politicians?

Conservation is not the answer. But it is important, very important, for it can buy us time to tackle the real issue of population.

How much time will that take? How much time do we have? What's your take?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"We’ll Save the Planet Only If..."

A 15 February 2008 article in the UK's Independent and reprinted at, We’ll Save the Planet Only if We’re Forced To, by Johann Hari, doesn't mention "population" but certainly inspired a discussion of overpopulation as "the single biggest aspect of the problem."

Here's a summary of what some CommonDream responders had to say about runaway human population:

•Let’s quit avoiding the single biggest aspect of the problem and the hard solution to it: Global human overpopulation, and mandated population reduction. Pretty much everything else is coincidental to this, and will improve with the population reduction.
•Just as the author says that forcing people to make other changes will help climate change, forcing people not to procreate will produce the biggest changes of all. The Earth cannot sustain 6.6+ billion people, let alone projections of 10 billion or more.

•[E]vents will force a reduction in World population by Draconian means - war, famine, plague, and pestilence - if we do nothing to do it as fairly and rationally as possible.

•The hard truth is that unless we reduce World population to under 2 billion before mid-Century we will most certainly suffer a population crash that will take us there tragically. I want everyone under 25 or so reading this to look around at their friends and family of the same generation and ask themselves which 80% of them they want to lose prematurely? Probably even yourself! Those are the stakes we face. Unless you are among the fortunate 1% living in wealth in a gated community with private security forces, you face this fate as much as anyone living in Bangladesh.

•Overpopulation, not mentioned. How can we be so blind to the No. 1 threat? Sure, we all need to consume less and aim for sustainability. But as long as human population keeps growing, we should expect catastrophical, unwanted population reduction.

•Even if you manage (how?) to stop procreation, what good does that do the climate with the lifestyles we’re leading? Bringing procreation to a halt (how?!) will stop the already-greatly-worse global warming that is in existence once we’re all dead and gone, I suppose. But when people write that the “only” way to stop global warming is to stop having kids, I think maybe what is really being said is, “I’d like a far-off solution that involves me not at all, and lets me do what I want, while feeling virtuous.” Kind of like the population version of carbon offsets. How long until the last human dies, once you’ve managed to halt procreation (HOW?!) and what will the climate, being put through everything we put it through in the meantime, be like?

•The best contraceptive on a mass scale is female literacy. Once women become educated they begin to deny men control of their bodies. The developed world’s problem is not overpopulation; it’s that the population we have keeps increasing its energy and land use. Europe and Japan have leveled off in their population and may decline over the next 50-75 years. America continues to grow mainly because of immigration from Mexico and other poor countries. It could comfortably house and feed 1 billion people if we weren’t all so determined to live the lawn fertilizer, two-car garage suburban lifestyle.

•[P]opulation control begins with literate and educated women. Support organizations that work in this field.

•You say over-population is the problem and population control is the cure. But how would YOU institute such a control? Apply for permission to breed? Prove yourself worthy of procreation? By what standard would you choose? Imagine the political and societal upheaval over those topics! Your “solution” could well be far worse than that which you attempt to “cure,” no?

•Overpopulation is a huge problem - but when is the last time (hell, how about the FIRST time) you saw an article specifically talking about it?

Want to continue the discussion? Send me your comments.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

How to Transform Our Violent Dark Side?

Aggression and violence are basic human characteristics, which, having been developed over millions of years of evolution, are difficult to modify. They are always present, simmering below our veneer of civilization. When the going gets tough we instinctively resort to primal behaviour, especially if defending our families or "tribes." That explains the atrocities besetting Africa, witness Darfur and Rwanda, where violence rages and civil order has crumpled.

Our violent behaviour not only inflicts huge human misery, but the related corruption, marauding gangs and bribery prevent other nations from providing assistance. It seems hopeless.

How can we change this dark side of human nature? There is no quick solution. I suggest that universities and think tanks divert significant funding from technological research onto issues that will improve our social skills. The world doesn't need more hi-tech gadgets, rather we desperately need to replace materialism and aggression with social skills including how to live peacefully, how to share, how to be happy, how to erase poverty, how to govern in a fair and equitable manner and more.

Sadly, I don't think this will happen soon enough. Instead, with human population continuing to grow ever further beyond what the planet can support, I believe that society will soon suffer a meltdown. We will likely enter a dark age with great loss of life and suffering. Pockets of civilization will survive but in a much simpler fashion. When humans flourish again, hopefully we will have learned a lesson and will be wiser and less violent. Who knows, it may take several collapses and rebirths before Homo sapiens develops the character that allows us to live in equilibrium and peace with each other and the natural world.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Erasing Poverty?

A solution commonly proposed to solve the world's overpopulation and related pollution and resource shortages is to eradicate poverty in the so-called non-developed nations. Once these people achieve good lifestyles, goes the thinking, they will not want large families and their economies will be able to afford pollution controls. We'll all live happily afterwards.

Noble as this goal might be, it is completely and totally unachievable. There are two reasons. Throughout history a gap has existed between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the lords and the peasants, the wealthy and the working class. There is not a shred of evidence that this unfortunate but basic part of the human drive will change. Humans will always fight hard to climb the ladder of success and if some have to be trampled en route, tough luck. Sorry, but poverty in the form of poor nations—and a poor stratum even in wealthy nations—will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Even more important is that the Earth simply does not contain enough resources to lift two billion people out of poverty. As the United Nations and other organizations point out, we are already living far beyond the carrying capacity of the globe. Additional refrigerators, cars, televisions, roads, houses and the energy to power these goods cannot be supplied to the poor without ruining the world. In short, the rich and comfortable are already living beyond the world's capacity; there simply is no room at the party for more. The poor nations, which also have the greatest population growths, are condemned to lives of poverty. There is no escape.

Do you agree? Do you think that technology can overcome the impending crises of oil, food and water? How can we save the poor? I don't think we can, but I want to hear from you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Bad Attitude Day

A recent article disturbed me deeply. The author attacked those who claim that human overpopulation is damaging the environment and depleting resources as being anti-human naysayers. The more people, the better, he ranted. Even the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, was included in the smear.

How do you respond to such disjointed logic? How does he possibly equate wanting a future for our grandchildren as being anti-human? It’s perverse! The author wants to run the good Earth into the ground, and then accuses those who want to slow matters down as being against the good of society?

I pondered this for many days and all thoughts led me deeper to the conviction that those espousing a slower population growth are, in fact, the true humanists. To stabilize population requires, at its most fundamental, empowering women and reducing poverty. This is a moral high ground that, sadly, has escaped most of modern society and is truly humanistic.

The author’s attitude is just the opposite and seems hooked on continuing to let the good times roll and to hell with everyone else. Stabilizing population, on the other hand, is intimately wrapped in developing our social skills: caring, sharing, helping, loving. Is he blind?

Have you encountered attitudes like this? Where do you stand? Send me your comments.

(You can watch CARE Canada's amazing "I Am Powerful" video on empowering women at

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Human Population and Animal Rights - A Guest Blog

Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken.
The extinction crisis is escalating. But how is this crisis related to human overpopulation?

Too many human beings doing so many destructive things on the planet is the cause of the 6th mass extinction. THIS IS AN ANIMAL RIGHTS ISSUE - THE ULTIMATE ONE.

Reviewing the global destruction of ecosystems, plummeting wild populations and species losses makes it obvious our industrial consumer culture has to stop the destruction NOW.
All life on the planet is going and going fast.

We have got to this point because we (people in our culture) think we are the only life deserving rights. People have to decide: Do they want all animals on Earth to die out? Right now they are deciding: Yes.

There are 4 things that have to happen NOW if animal life on Earth is to survive. (And I'm using the lay -- not scientific -- meaning of animals. Many people forget, ironically, that humans are animals.)

1. STOP EATING FLESH - animal and fish and fowl

It is very clear that it's too late to think just doing less of these destructive activities will prevent the extinction of life. The Earth is already in ecological melt down. Action must be DRASTIC and it must be NOW to stop the destruction of life from becoming irreversible.

Our industrial consumer economy is converting the Earth into an uninhabitable planet at breakneck speed. We are already beyond some planetary tipping points. If we don't give the organic living Earth a space to recover and replenish, the entire biosphere will crash in a matter of decades and all animal life will die out over the next century.

To stop these insanely destructive activities, we must stop denying any life but our own the right to live. This means:


So, what do you think? Is it time to start reducing human populations to ensure that the rest of nature survives?

For the Earth, the Children (of All Species), and the Future,

Peter D. Carter, MD

Thank you to Voices in the Wilderness: A Prayer for Wild Things for their beautiful mosaic.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Technology has Advanced but Social Development has Regressed

Approaching seven billion (they say the world's population hit 6,666,666,666 people yesterday, May 10/08), human numbers are finally pushing into the territory of which Malthus so direly warned. Oil production has passed its peak and the price has soared over $100/barrel. World grain production is decreasing and the prices of rice and wheat have skyrocketed, even setting off riots. The ocean's fisheries are being depleted, global temperature is rising grimly, and I could go on in this vein for a long while.

It's all about the tragedy of the commons. Live for the moment. Grasp as much as you can, and to hell with the others. We just don't care about the common good and, hence, about the future.

A century ago, thinkers felt that with a new era of cheap energy and mass production, a golden age of enlightenment would surely follow. Those dreams quickly ran onto a reef.

Today our society is characterized by conspicuous consumption, superficiality, vanity, materialism and mindless entertainment. Those are the icons we worship. Instead of kindness, we have apathy. Instead of charity, we have greed. Instead of planning, we have instant gratification. Instead of caring, we are self-absorbed. Instead of sharing, we grasp for more. Instead of consideration, we have vanity and narcissism. Instead of ethics, everything is condoned. Instead of honour, we have "who cares."

Technology has made astonishing advances over the past 100 years. But we humans have not progressed one iota in improving society and how we interact with each other. We should be ashamed. Our outlook needs to change, for without that we will not be able to grapple with the huge problems we face; the Malthusian Devil will swallow us.

(Thanks to Rick Audet for his photo, posted at

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More Food Leads to More Hunger

Just read Steven Earl Salmony's take on some recent population research in Environmental Health Perspectives. This research shows something that not many of us have the stomach to contemplate.

"According to the empirical research (Hopfenberg 2003), human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop in which food availability drives population growth and this growth in human numbers gives rise to the mistaken impression that food production needs to be increased even more."

The more we increase food production, the more the population grows, and the more hungry people there are. So we increase food production, which leads to an increase in population, and again there are those who go hungry.

In other words, if the population grows, then the population of hungry people grows, too.

"The evidence suggests that the remarkably successful efforts of humankind to increase food production to feed a growing population results in even greater increase in population numbers."

According to Salmony, the researchers call the perceived need to increase food production to feed a growing population "a misperception, a denial of the physical reality of the space-time dimension. If people are starving at a given moment in time, increasing food production cannot help them. Are these starving people supposed to be waiting for sowing, growing, and reaping to be completed? Are they supposed to wait for surpluses to reach them? Without food they would die. In such circumstances, increasing food production for people who are starving is like tossing parachutes to people who have already fallen out of the airplane — the produced food arrives too late."

But this does not mean that human starvation is inevitable, says Salmony. Living within the Earth's carrying capacity is the secret.

"We do not find hoards of starving roaches, birds, squirrels, alligators, or chimpanzees in the absence of food as we do in many civilized human communities today, because these nonhuman species are not annually increasing their own production of food.

"Among tribal peoples in remote original habitats, we do not find people starving. Like nonhuman species, 'primitive' human beings live within the carrying capacity of their environment. History is replete with examples of early humans and other ancestors not increasing their food production annually, but rather living successfully off the land for thousands of years as hunters and gatherers of food.

"Before the agricultural revolution and the production of more food than was needed for immediate survival, human numbers supposedly could not grow beyond their environment's physical capacity to sustain them because human population growth or decline is primarily a function of food availability (Hopfenberg 2003; Hopfenberg and Pimentel 2001)."

I'm not sure I've wrapped my head around the ramifications of this research, but it certainly says something about unintended consequences.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One-Child Families

It's well recognized that environmental degradation is not just dependent on the number of human beings, but also the amount they consume. In searching for ways to lessen humanity's footprint, it's commonly argued that developed countries should decrease their relentless consumption of resources by toning down their materialistic lifestyles. At the same time, poor nations should curb their high population growth rates.

A very important factor is lost in this polemic. Unappreciated is that the United States is not only the most affluent country in the world, but it is also the third most populous with over 300 million souls and growing robustly at 1% per year. Thus, America needs to address both sides of the equation by cutting consumption and curbing its population growth.

US politicians are unaware of the population issue, and wouldn't touch it if they were. A few local groups, however, are beginning to recognize the importance of smaller family sizes. The e-zine "" is an excellent resource that not only encourages one-child families but also offers advice, information and links for only children and their family and friends.

Having a smaller family can be a difficult decision, but an enormously important one.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Surviving Converging Catastrophes

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005) makes a spell-binding — and frightening — read.

He convincingly postulates that the enormous surge in human population to almost seven billion people has only been possible because of oil, which allowed humans to far exceed the Earth's carrying capacity.

Now that peak oil has been reached he bleakly predicts a breakdown of civilization. Because nothing, not solar, wind nor any other energy source, can replace the convenience, the versatility, the energy content of oil.

Less and less oil will be produced each year, as the population continues to grow robustly. Agricultural output will decrease, for the Green Revolution is based primarily on oil-based fertilizers and pesticides and oil-powered irrigation.

Society will retreat from globalization and become more localized. Diseases will spread rampantly to reduce the population to what Kunstler calls the "solar capacity" level.

The Long Emergency is fascinating, and very compellingly urges us to take action. Will we?