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.