Friday, June 10, 2016

Population Growth in the Amazon Rain Forest

I recently had the incredible good luck to take a tour deep into the Amazon basin. It was everything, and more, than expected: overwhelming, an amazing diversity of exotic animals and plants, vast, isolated, and ruggedly beautiful. But, sadly, the indigenous people there live in poverty eking out a subsistence existence based mostly on fishing. We visited two small villages and it was obvious that in spite of the primitive conditions, making babies is no problem. We were greeted by children, many of them. And they appeared healthy and happy. Perhaps here in the isolated, resource-rich Amazon, there is room for additional people. But with total human population now predicted to top 11 billion, I worry about the rest of the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review of The Message by Yan Vana

Falcondale Press, England, 2015, 198 pages.

This book by Vana tackles the very serious problem of human population. But it is most unusual and interesting, because it does so as a science-fiction novel. Various aliens, superior to Earthlings, are having an inquiry to decide what to do about a myriad of grim difficulties that have arisen on a nature reserve called Retha (Earth in actuality). The inquiry shows conclusively that these problems are extremely serious and are, in fact, destroying the planet. The cause is humans and specifically their out-of-control population growth.

The author is to be commended for penning this book and, especially, for taking such a fresh and bold approach. The topic of human overpopulation needs to be addressed; it’s astonishing how it is largely ignored.

However, The Message falls short of being a good read. It needs a proper title and subtitle that give some idea of what’s inside; the characters are not developed in enough detail to make the story interesting; the environmental and resource problems arising on Retha are named but little discussion or definition; and the love story is shallow and clumsy. Most bizarre is that no information is provided about the author either in the book, on the website, or when you Google the name. It’s not clear who the author is, or even whether male or female.

A bold effort, indeed, on a crucially important topic. With some solid upgrading, it could be an outstanding book.

Monday, March 28, 2016

More on the False Population Myth

In my last post (some time ago), I railed against the false myth that population growth is slowing down. For decades it’s been erroneously thought that human numbers will peak at about 9.5 billion in 2050 and then decrease, and, thus, the overpopulation problem will go away.

My post showed this is a total misconception, based on incorrectly interpreting data using percentages rather than actual numbers. Well, now my blog post has received authoritative confirmation. A major United Nations study in 2014 involving scientists, statisticians and demographers predicts that global population will continue to increase reaching a total of about 11 billion by 2100. Furthermore, it will continue to grow slowly beyond that. This is dynamite news! The current global population already far exceeds the world’s bearing capacity. At 11 billion, the situation will be much worse.

Human population impacts virtually everything from resources, to environment to terrorism. Why do we go on ignoring it?

Gerland, P., et al., World population stabilization unlikely this century, Science, 10 October 2014:
Vol. 346 no. 6206 pp. 234-237.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Shattering a Population Myth

Late in October, global population will reach seven billion. To mark this auspicious but depressing milestone I’d like to confront the widely held belief that global population growth is slowing. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, for example, states that population growth peaked at over 2% in 1968, and today, the global population growth is 1.1%. This certainly sounds like a significant decrease, doesn’t it?

Wrong! Let’s look at actual numbers, the actual number of humans involved, rather than percentages.

In 1968, the world’s population was 3.6 billion. An annual growth of just over 2% means that the population increased by about 75 million people that year. Now, in late October, 2011, we are on the verge of reaching 7.0 billion souls. The present growth rate of 1.1% means about 77 million additional people will be added to the world this year.

Wow! Real population growth, that is, the increase in actual living, breathing, consuming humans, is virtually the same today as it was in 1968, over four decades ago. So much for the myth that human population growth is slowing down.

Another set of frequently quoted statistics is that in the 1950s women bore approximately 5 children each, while today that number stands at 2.5 children per woman. This sounds like a huge decrease. But it’s not. Although the birth rate has halved, the number of women has doubled. One cancels the other so that we’re still producing the same number of children. Dealing with percentages rather than actual numbers hides the disturbing fact that global population growth hasn’t slowed at all. It is still increasing at a robust level — about 75 million per year — just as it has since 1968.

Let’s delve deeper. Since about 1950 we have witnessed incredible prosperity. Every generation has had a better, richer lifestyle than their parents. The GDP, number of cars per family, home size and electronic gadgets have all increased significantly during this golden era of human civilization. To provide the improving quality of life, each generation requires more oil to be drilled, more forests to be cleared, more aquifers to be drained than for the preceding generation. Although the increase in number of humans was about the same in 1968 as in 2011, the cohort of 2011 uses far more resources, they have a larger ecofootprint, a larger environmental impact. And that’s what counts.

Human society is at the brink. We need to deal with immense global problems such as approaching peak oil, diminishing fish stocks in oceans, loss of good agricultural lands, global warming, oceanic pollution and much more. A central cause of every one of these difficulties is human population, which continues to grow at an alarming rate.

We must not believe the myth that population growth is slowing, nor let it lull us into complacency. There’s too much at stake.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Murder of an Ancient Matriarch

Murder of an Ancient Matriarch
Who cannot love old-growth groves where enormous trees soar skyward like turrets and flying buttresses. Shafts of golden light angle down to a dusky forest floor that is rich with sword ferns, moss-covered logs and witch’s hair dangling from branches. When I am amongst these gentle giants I feel a spirituality, a deep closeness with nature.

But last week a tear welled in my eye as I gazed at the largest stump I’ve ever seen. About 45 feet in circumference and about a thousand years old, the noble red cedar had been cut only recently. The thud as this old matriarch hit the forest floor should have reverberated throughout the land. Instead there was silence. The surrounding clear-cut, located near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, contained many large stumps, several rivalling this one in size. Photos of the clear-cut can be seen at:

This ancient grove should never have been logged. That such rare old-growth trees, which form only a tiny and diminishing fraction of the forest, continue to be felled highlights serous shortcomings in the BC government and the logging industry.

Looking deeper, this sea of stumps also sends a message about the world’s population. There are so many people now that to provide shelter, clothes, food and modern conveniences, we must lay waste the resources that nature has provided. Shameful practices are found in the fisheries, oil and gas, fresh water and elsewhere. The days when resources were harvested sustainably are far behind.

The murder of a grand old-growth matriarch, leaving behind only a stump, is a sure sign that our society is failing. Can we not turn it around?

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 ( and pledge your support. It doesn’t cost a cent, but it could make a world of difference.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Female Bison on the Pill

Stop the presses! Contraception is being introduced to a bison herd on Catalina Island, California (,0,1351086.story). The goal is to control the size of the herd at about 150 head so the animals and the environment will be healthier. When the herd was about 350 in size, the bison’s health was deteriorating and they were trampling native plant communities, altering tree canopies by rubbing against trees, and undermining weed management efforts.

This raises questions, deep and important questions. First, how can family planning be acceptable for bison, yet be a taboo subject for humans, whose vast numbers are making a mess of the entire planet? How can such a vitally important issue be ignored? Why are we so blind?

Second, if an optimal population number can be determined for bison, then surely one can also be calculated for humans. In fact, similar studies suggest the earth can sustainably support no more than about four billion humans. But there is no discussion how this number might be achieved. Just an overwhelming silence .

Third, if a contraception method can be used for bison, which does not harm them nor change their social structure, can we not devise similar, humane methods for humans?

Fourth, why have the religious right, the Catholic Church and other pro-lifers not intervened in this case? After all, they get their moral knickers in a knot at even the hint of contraception, family planning or anything related to controlling human numbers. Human life is sacrosanct, they argue. But why is a bison’s life not sacrosanct? Humans and bison are both animals, two species that are genetically very similar (just look at the DNA structures). The arguments of the religious right are steeped in elitism: humans are the superior race.

Finally, the religious right fights vigorously to save the lives of those yet unborn. Yet their actions condemn future populations to lives that will be significantly inferior to what we enjoy (more elitism), just as the health and environment of the bison herd on Catalina Island degraded when their numbers became too large. Religious zealotary cannot reverse this unassailable fact.

Let’s recognize that human population is a serious problem, and let’s start talking about it. Maybe we can answer some of these questions.