Sunday, April 5, 2009

Environmentalist ignores population -- Why?

“How to achieve sustainability” was the topic, and a large and sympathetic crowd – we tend toward green here – hung on every word. The speaker was Dr Neil Dawe of the Qualicum Institute and the locale was the community hall of the little island where I live.
The message was frighteningly clear: the world is in bad shape. The fundamental problem, Dawe asserted, is the relentlessly growing economy, which does not recognize that humanity is an integral part of, and is wholly dependent upon, nature. Instead the economy is in direct conflict with nature and is remorselessly grinding it down.
Dawe’s proposed solution is a steady-state economy. To achieve this goal, we as individuals need to raise a clamour and make our voices heard until politicians listen. Wonderful stuff!
During the animated discussion period, however, Dawe shocked me to the core. He shrugged off a question about human population growth by admitting it helps make the economy grow, but he feels curbing population is too complex and too wrapped up in religious issues to be dealt with. Therefore, he doesn’t address it.
Encroyable! It is impossible to achieve a steady-state economy if population continues to increase. Not theoretically, not practically, not in any way. After all, it is humans that purchase, consume and strive for a better life. An expanding population is the fundamental factor driving economic growth.
Why do religious leaders, politicians and most environmental organizations ignore this simple and irrefutable fact? One reason is that many religious groups are mired in dogma that defies logic, even sanity. Examples include the Pope’s recent condemnation of condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa, and the America’s fundamentalist Christians’ denial of evolution and belief in Armageddon.
Perhaps it goes deeper. Have we entered a dark age where logic and common-sense are worthless commodities? Is gaining wealth and power all that matters? The financial meltdown is but one, albeit a gigantic, indicator that we have entered an era of denial, anti-intellectualism, greed and just plain not caring about the planet or our children’s future.
I tossed and turned long into the night wondering how to get human population on the agenda.


thinkerhead said...

It's good to see a blog on this issue - because it's so important and so broken.

The short 'why' answer to this post is that Environmentalism is now a political stance and like all political theories it ignores the issue of population control.

Two centuries ago Malthus stated the obvious and since then his conclusions have been denied and his personal integrity has been attacked. Every political theorist rejects and ignores this issue. Their tirade demonstrates conclusively the bankruptcy of political thought and theory but does nothing to challenge his conclusion: our world is finite but our capacity to increase population is not. If we do nothing to choose and impose our own limits then we shall be limited by overpopulation. It may be a scarcity of food, water, air to breathe or somewhere to stand, but eventually we will become so hungry, sick and crowded that we can no longer successfully reproduce.

[Individual administrations have acted briefly. In China birth rates were controlled by fiat and hunger until industrialisation took off. In the UK indoctrination stopped native population growth but politically approved immigration wasted these gains.]

This seems to be a failure of representative democracy, particularly in 'liberal' administrations. Whether socialist, capitalist or environmentalist, all politicians want to stay in power but none of them have theories that deal with this issue and they will neither trust nor represent the views of their electorate on this [or any other] issue. Perhaps delegate democracy would be a more successful system or even direct voting on policies.

We certainly need change. So far the most significant 'action' of the western democracies on this issue seems to be the failure to address the risk of pandemics like bird flu, thus effectively inviting a Malthusian catatrophe while denying his conclusions.

Barbara Julian said...

One comforting thing is how quickly this overpopulation crisis COULD be solved if each couple did have only one child - the population would be halved in each generation. In a mere hundred years many ecological problems stemming from what Lovelock calls the "plague of people" would have self-corrected.

Maybe wide distribution of Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us would help - it explains so vividly exactly what would ensue as Earth's nonhuman space comes back: habitat regeneration, wildlife recovery - everything from apex predators to marine speces. Reforestation would help re-balance climate, food would be plentiful, soil would recover (areas left fallow), waterways be relieved of waste load as industry slowed down (fewer people to buy endless stream of consumer goods). Landfills would shrink, the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" at least stop getting even greater.

Trans-ocean shipping lessen so whales could stop going insane. Less forest destroyed for meat animals. (Now if we could become VEGETARIAN one-child families, we'd be back in the garden of Eden!)
The alternative: as species die off evolution itself would slow down, having fewer arenas in which to take place.