Sunday, January 31, 2010

Time to Speak Out about Human Population

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 and it continues to rise at about 70 million people each year. And thanks to technological innovations and cheap oil, the wealth of each person on the globe, especially in developed nations, 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 degraded. It is truly scary, for the graph can only be interpreted one way: dire times lie ahead.

The fascinating part is that few care that the population freight train is steaming toward a cliff. Why?

The problem is that politicians consider economic growth as their ultimate goal, providing jobs and an ever-increasing standard of living for their constituents. But the economy can’t grow by itself; it requires a partner: an increasing population, which provides a growing consumer base and more workers to produce more consumer goods. Thus, economy and population are like two yoked oxen heaving and pulling together. And no politician dares to slow them or unyoke them.

How will it end? An ever-expanding economy that requires an ever-expanding population to make it viable is a giant pyramid scheme. We all know what happens to pyramid schemes. Since the world is finite, population-economy growth must also crash to an end.

The Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace and other environmental organizations studiously ignore the population issue. Ditto for religious leaders led by the pontificating Pope.

So what can we do? The good news is that many steps are being taken to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and reduce our ecofootprint, such as smaller cars, public transit, compact fluorescents and wind turbines.

Truly tragic, however, is that population is being ignored. Media coverage of population is woefully lacking. It is a taboo topic. As long as human numbers continue to climb, they will cancel any gains made by conservation. It will yield not one millimeter of progress if through superhuman efforts we decrease our environmental footprint by, say, 20% per capita but the population increases by 20% over the same period. Global warming provides an excellent example. In spite of the Kyoto Protocol, the annual amount of carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2005 increased 32% world wide. Quite simply, we’re not getting the job done. And the best measures in the world won’t as long as we keep ignoring population.

Just like drug addicts, the first and most important step is to admit we have a problem. We need to drag the population issue into the open, shine a spotlight on it and start talking about it.

An important initiative has been launched called Global Population Speak Out, a project that is mobilizing scientists, writers and knowledgeable individuals to speak and write about population during the month of February. It=s a simple idea. If a large number of qualified voices speak out on population all at once, perhaps people will listen. Interestingly, one of the first to add his support was Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb, the best seller that fuelled much of the concern about population in the 1970s.

Add your voice to the movement. Visit the Global Population Speak Out website (gpso.wordpress.com) and pledge your support. It doesn’t cost a cent, but it could make a world of difference.

15 comments:

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

My pledge to the Global Population Speak initiative follows.

Thanks to Hans and everyone else in this community for being here just as you are and for all you are doing to protect life as we know it on Earth from huge human-induced threats. You have probably been correct in your identification of formidable global challenges that are likely the result of human activities borne of foolishness, arrogance and greed. To be a species with such remarkable self-consciousness, intelligence and other splendid gifts and to do no better than we are doing now is a source of deep sadness and occasional outbreaks of passionate intensity.

Still I believe in remaining engaged with you and others in the necessary struggle to preserve the future of life as we know it, a sacred struggle in which so many human beings with feet of clay have been involved for a lifetime. The first fifty years of my life were lived as if in a dream world, the profane one devised by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us. I had no awareness a single generation would elect sponsors of powerful, greed-mongering economic powerbrokers who would formulate policies and implement business plans that irreversibly degrade Earth's environs, recklessly dissipate its limited resources, relentlessly diminish its biodiversity, destabilize its climate and threaten the very future of children everywhere. My failures include not realizing that I and my selfish generation were ravaging the Earth and effectively behaving in a way that could lead to the destruction of our planetary home as a fit place for habitation by the children (let alone coming generations). Even though it is discomforting and difficult to responsibly perform our duties to science and humanity, at least we can speak out loudly, clearly and often about these unfortunate circumstances and in the process educate one another as best we can. Like you, I do not have answers to forbidding questions related to the patently unsustainable 'trajectory' of human civilization in its present, colossally expansive form. Much more problematic, however, is the ruinous determination of many too many experts who have colluded to consciously obstruct open discussion of the best available scientific evidence of "what could somehow be real". If what could be real about the human condition and the Earth we inhabit is not confronted with intellectual honesty, the best available science, moral courage and faith in God, how is it possible for the family of humanity to adapt to the practical requirements of "reality" in reasonable, sensible, sustainable and timely ways?

An ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort is likely to be the end result of experts choosing to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute rather than skillfully examining and objectively reporting on extant science of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth ( please see the presentations and peer-reviewed articles of recent research at http://www.panearth.org/ ). The refusal to respond ably by acknowledging evidence and accepting responsibility for the distinctly human-driven global challenges that have emerged robustly and converged rapidly just now could be one of the greatest mistakes in human history. After all, what mistake in history could be greater than the ones made in our time that lead humanity inadvertently to precipitate the demise of life as we know it and to put at risk a good enough future for the children?

We have entered not only a new year but a new decade as well. Hopefully, the deceit, denial, dishonesty and disastrous decision-making that marked the last decade have ended.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

What is Galileo doing tonight? My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave.

How, now, can Galileo possibly find peace when so few leaders and experts speak out clearly and loudly regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about the distinctly human-driven predicament that could soon be confronted by the family of humanity which results directly from the unbridled overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species now overspreading the Earth and threatening to ravage the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit? Many too many leaders and a predominant coterie of experts are choosing to remain silent.

Where are the leaders and experts who are willing to openly support science that is being presented in solid scientific evidence and validated empirical data? Look at the dismaying disarray in which we find ourselves now and how far we have to travel in a short time to move the human community away from precipitating some unimaginable sort of global ecological wreckage.

What would the world we inhabit look like if scientists like Galileo had chosen to adopt a code of silence? In such circumstances, Galileo as well as scientists today would speak only about scientific evidence which was deemed by the super-rich and powerful to be politically convenient, religiously tolerable, economically expedient, socially correct and culturally prescribed. Galileo and modern-day scientists would effectively breach their duty to science and humanity to tell the truth as they see it, as best they can report it. If science does not overcome silence, then everything the human community believes we are preserving and protecting could be ruined.


Perhaps there is something in the good reports of scientific evidence by members of this community regarding what could somehow be real about the world we inhabit that will give Galileo a moment of peace.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Please recall the wonderful quotation by Joseph Campbell,

"When we talk about settling the world's problems, we're barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives."

Let us imagine (in full agreement with Joseph Campbell) that "our job is to straighten out our own lives" and that it is precisely the unsustainable ways we are living out our lives in this wondrous planetary home we inhabit which is inducing the formidable global challenges now looming so ominously before all of us on the horizon. Consider that human beings are the primary cause of certain converging ecological threats the children could confront in the future.

In all the discussions I can recall about "the human predicament" never have I heard the idea presented that human beings cannot resolve problems which we are responsible for creating. We are not asked to change a world which is perfect, but to make changes in unsustainable patterns of behavior that are within our control. The mastery that gave rise to the global challenges to human wellbeing and environmental health is the same mastery that can be deployed in responding ably to those challenges. If conspicuous per-capita overconsumption and extravagant hoarding of limited resources; rampant overproduction of virtual mountains of unnecessary stuff; and unbridled overpopulation activities by the human species, when taken together, are "producing" threats to humanity, Earth and its environs, then sensibly changing these ways of behaving will mitigate and eventually resolve our plight. Is there any reason to doubt that human beings can alleviate any plight human beings can produce? Our task is to adequately deploy gifts God has given humankind to acknowledge, accept, address and overcome the human-induced challenges before us.

By choosing necessary changes in our behavioral repertoire (in the sense of willing the inevitable), the family of humanity will find its way through the human-driven mess we have made in this world (not of this world) which is the perfect creation of God, I suppose.

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Let us imagine that it is a cultural perversion for people to widely share and consensually validate the pernicious belief that both "doing the right thing" and "doing the greedy thing" are virtues. I would submit to you that doing what is right is surely a virtue but doing the greedy thing is certainly not. The perversion in such circumstances is this: doing the right things is good, but this good behavior is often not rewarded. Alternatively, doing greedy things is not virtuous and yet is much more uniformly rewarded as if it were somehow good behavior.



Please consider that great wealth and the political power it purchases are derived from unbridled greed and that greediness is everywhere incentivized. Then we can see how greed rather than doing what is good comes to effectively rule the world in our time.



What if economic incentives rewarded doing right things and put at a disadvantage doing greedy things? Would that allow us to move forward along another path marked by mitigating the noticeably disasterous global ecological effects of rampant human selfishness and, thereby, to go a long way toward resolving the human-driven global challenges already visible in the offing?

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Please assist me, Hans. Our species has given itself the name "Homo sapiens sapiens".

In light of the deplorable, human-induced state of our planetary home as well as all of the unfinished work we have immediately ahead of us in order to begin accomplishing the many things that some of our brightest and best say "matter most" for the future of life on Earth, are we justified by reason or common sense in naming ourselves as we have or is this way of identifying ourselves a misleading moniker of a sort that reveals more about human hubris than it says about human intelligence, much less our possessed wisdom?

Would the name "Homo hubris hubris" be more accurate?

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Do we "possess" the luxury of endless space-time to continue rationalizing while our global overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activties lead to the oveheating of Earth; the depletion of its sometimes rare and always limited resources; and the irreversible degradation of its ecology? Because the future of children everywhere is being threatened, "now here" is the time to begin doing whatsoever is the right thing. The time has long passed when political convenience, economic expedience and supreme selfishness can be recklessly substituted for doing what is somehow right. The current gigantic scale, the unbridled growth rate of conspicuous personal consumption, large-scale corporate production and human population numbers is soon to become patently unsustainable in the evidently finite and frangible planetary home we inhabit.

One day soon the behavior of Homo sapiens sapiens will more fully present who we really are. At this strangely challenging moment in human history, our behavioral repertoire reminds me, as friends have put it, both of ostriches pleasuring ourselves to death and greedy lemmings hooked on speed. We can do better and I trust we will, while there is still time, resources and a hospitable environment to make a difference that makes a difference.

jclipse8 said...

There's is no question that over population is a serious issue. Our resources are declining, habitats are being destroyed, and poverty is increasing. The countries with the highest birthrates happen to be the ones with the lowest standard of living. Coincidence? Maybe, but I think there is a realistic conclusion. Although correlation does not cause causation, evidence demonstrates that a trend does exist. Action has to be taken into supreme consideration because at the rate were going; the planet will be over crowded. Problems not evident yet will begin to appear. Something must be done to prevent the horrible consequences not to far from reality. Simple solutions would be to set laws and pass acts to limit amount of birth rates. But we all know that this would attack several amendments and overall basic human necessity. There are too many groups against these methods so it is unlikely they would succeed. A more plea sable solution that could likely work in the long run would be to educate the world on the threats overpopulation creates. Not just about sex and its consequences but about the effects it has globally. Also teach about alternative methods to treat sexual relationships such as condoms, abstinence, and family plans. We all must contribute to this issue before it escalates. Species will continue to disappear and jobs will continue to decline. Hopefully it's not too late to take action, but we should react nonetheless. Education is a powerful weapon and this is a good place to start applying it.

jclipse8 said...

There's is no question that over population is a serious issue. Our resources are declining, habitats are being destroyed, and poverty is increasing. The countries with the highest birthrates happen to be the ones with the lowest standard of living. Coincidence? Maybe, but I think there is a realistic conclusion. Although correlation does not cause causation, evidence demonstrates that a trend does exist. Action has to be taken into supreme consideration because at the rate were going; the planet will be over crowded. Problems not evident yet will begin to appear. Something must be done to prevent the horrible consequences not to far from reality. Simple solutions would be to set laws and pass acts to limit amount of birth rates. But we all know that this would attack several amendments and overall basic human necessity. There are too many groups against these methods so it is unlikely they would succeed. A more plea sable solution that could likely work in the long run would be to educate the world on the threats overpopulation creates. Not just about sex and its consequences but about the effects it has globally. Also teach about alternative methods to treat sexual relationships such as condoms, abstinence, and family plans. We all must contribute to this issue before it escalates. Species will continue to disappear and jobs will continue to decline. Hopefully it's not too late to take action, but we should react nonetheless. Education is a powerful weapon and this is a good place to start applying it.

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SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Dear Hans,

Thanks for your authenticity and many sagacious comments. Perhaps much of the world in which we live has gone utterly mad. Whatsoever is politically correct, economically expedient, socially convenient and culturally prescribed appears to be automatically espoused loudly as "the truth". Ideological idiocy prevails over science. Greed rules this world. Intellectual honesty, personal accountability, moral courage and doing the right thing are rarely expressed.

As a consequence, the human community appears to be inadvertently making a colossal mess of our planetary home, Earth. Everyone can see what is happening but few people are willing to speak out about what they can observe occurring around us. Billions of people are recklessly engaged in per-capita overconsumption and scandalous hoarding of resources; in megabillion-dollar pyramid schemes and unsustainable large-scale industrial enterprises; and in overpopulating the planet.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. What happens if it turns out that human population dynamics are common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species? What does that mean? From my humble inexpert perspective, it means increasing production of food the world over equals increasing numbers of human organisms worldwide; less available food for consumption equals less humans; and no food equals no people. Just that simple.

Hans, imagine our failure to acknowledge that human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species as the greatest misperception in human history because this failure could eventually result in a global ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort. In such circumstances would experts not have a duty to science and humanity that would lead them to correct so vital a mistaken impression of what could somehow be real? It appears to me that many too many experts have willfully rejected the best available science of human population dynamics by ignoring certain evidence and chosen to let stand, as if scientific, preternatural thinking based upon specious understandings derived from inadequate 'scientific' investigations.

Extant research of human population dynamics appears to directly contradict the near-universal misconception that humanity needs to increase in a seemingly endless way global food harvests in order to meet the needs of a growing population. The best available research indicates just the opposite: that, just like other species, the size and availability of the human food supply is the independent variable upon which the global human population depends for existence.

Please note, too, that this relationship cannot be conveniently passed over as a "chicken and egg" situation. That appears to be one of the ways many people have found to miss the point of the science. Because an adequate enough understanding of the relationship between food supply and its effect on human numbers could have profound implications for the future of life as we know it on Earth, perhaps this relationship could be made the subject of authentic communication.

Thanks again for speaking out.

Sincerely,

Steve

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Looking out beyond Earth Day 40, perhaps we can reflect upon words from the speech that Norman Bourlaug delivered, coincidentally in 1970, on the occasion of winning the Nobel Prize.

Near the end of the very first year of Earth Day celebrations Dr. Bourlaug reported,

" Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas."

Plainly, Norman Bourlaug states that humanity has the means to decrease the rate of human reproduction but is choosing not to adequately employ this capability to sensibly limit human population numbers. He also notes that the rate of human population growth surpasses the rate of increase in food production IN SOME AREAS {my caps}.

Dr. Bourlaug is specifically not saying the growth of global human population numbers exceeds global production of food. According to recent research, population numbers of the human species could be a function of the global growth of the food supply for human consumption. This would mean that the global food supply is the independent variable and absolute global human population numbers is the dependent variable; that human population dynamics is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. More food equals more people; less food equals less people; and no food, no people.

Perhaps the human species is not being threatened in our time by a lack of food. To the contrary, humanity and life and we know it could be inadvertently put at risk by the determination to continue the dramatic overproduction of food, such as we have seen occur in the past 40 years. Recall Dr. Bourlaug's prize winning accomplishment. It gave rise to the "Green Revolution" and to the extraordinary increases in the world's supply of food. Please consider that the seemingly miraculous increases in humanity's food supply occasioned by Dr. Bourlaug's great work gave rise to an unintended and completely unanticipated effect: the recent skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers.

We have to examine what appear to be potentially disastrous effects of increasing, large-scale food production capabiliities (as opposed to sustainable farming practices) on the population numbers of the human species between now and 2050. If we keep doing the business-as-usual things we are doing now by maximally increasing the world's food supply, and the human community keeps getting what we are getting now, then a colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort could be expected to occur in the future.

It may be neither necessary nor sustainable to continue increasing food production to feed a growing population. As an alternative, we could carefully review ways for limiting increases in the corporate production of food; for providing broad support of sustainable farming practices; for redistributing more equitably the present superabundant world supply of food among the members of the human community; and for following Dr. Bourlaug's recommendation to "reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely."

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Thanks for speaking out loudly and clearly to the family of humanity about what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the reckless dissipation of Earth's limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet's frangible environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding synergistically at a breakneck pace toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world's gigantic, ever expanding global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic 'WALL' called "unsustainability" at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth's ecology is collapsed. Many scientists have remarked eloquently on the collapse of civilizations. The global challenge we appear to face today, one that singular and unimaginable, is that the collapse of human civilization in Century XXI is not simply the end of another human civilization. What is occurring now is likely not only the collapse of a human civilization but also the human-driven destruction of the natural resource base, the ecology, and biodiversity of Earth. Concern for the future of life as we know it and for the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the children leads me to point to the great value I attach to the open discussion of the global predicament looming before the human family. We simply must make good use of the best available science to adequately explain the population dynamics leading to the collapse of our civilization. Without such knowledge, I cannot see how necessary changes in the behavioral repertoire of humankind can be made. Is there doubt in the mind of anyone in this community that the future will ultimately be brighter for children everywhere if people choose now to consume and hoard less; to protect, preserve and share more; and to effectively check the unbridled increase of unsustainable large-scale production capabilities as well as to humanely regulate the propagation of the human species?

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

Perhaps the human community is missing the primary cause of the converging ecological threats to human wellbeing and environmental health that all of us could soon confront.

The establishment of priorities could begin with widely sharing an adequate enough understanding of human population dynamics and recognizing how the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time is the "mother" of all the human-driven ecological challenges looming before the family of humanity.

Is a "spiral of silence" effectively vanquishing open discussion regarding scientific evidence of human population dynamics? Perhaps the last of the last taboos is human population dynamics.

Somehow we have to begin speaking honestly and openly about the extant science of human population dynamics as well as about the necessity both for reducing the unsustainably huge size of individual "footprints" and for limiting humanely, carefully and fairly the number of human feet on Earth.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001
http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/index.php
http://www.countercurrents.org/salmony030510.htm
http://www.panearth.org/

Howard Siow said...

I think It is too simplistic to cut immigration based on immediate emotions of over crowding.

The sustainable population debate is an emotional one. Migrants buy up our companies, they push property and house prices sky high, they crowd our universities and schools, they clog up our roads, they take up seats on our trams, buses and restaurants. It costs billions and years of political and bureaucratic struggle to upgrade our infrastructure. So the natural easy solution is: stop immigration.

But it is part of a bigger issue. The ageing population. Sometime after 2014 the baby boomers in USA, Europe, Japan and China will decide they've had enough, retire, and begin a tactonic shift in the workforce and consumerism. The labour force must be incredibly taxed to pay for the pensions and escalating heathcare costs. Baby boomers lived in a time of immense prosperity due to a rapidly growing population. As the population grows, company sales and house prices will naturally rise - just because there's more demand. But as the population declines house prices will decline, and companies will be forced to innovate and create real value rather than just depend on increasing demand.

Perhaps it would make more sense to gradually increase immigration before the USA and Europe start pushing to attract immigrants. Perhaps attract skilled immigrants that will help create innovation and pay the pensions and healthcare costs of the retiring baby boomers.

Howard Siow
Director of MyPak Egg Cartons Packaging
http://www.mypak.com/

Anonymous said...

I think that with the world automating so many jobs, it is time for the word population to be significantly reduced. The workers that were needed only a few years ago, even in places like China, have no place in the new world. If we continue to populate the world at our current pace, only the wealthy will survive, in that they can afford to purchase the things in demand - excellent healthcare, quality food, and basic essentials.
To reduce the world population, it will require education. The masses need to understand that more children are not the answer. For couples, unless their genetic and financial makeup is such that their offspring will be the workers of tomorrow – highly educated, they should consider not even having children.
As for our older populations, once they have worn out their welcome mat – financially or otherwise, it is time for termination. Like unwanted pets, there should be a humane way of putting them down.
When the world population is under control, the world will be a better place for those who have to share it.