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Population growth is a threat. But it pales against the greed of the rich
George Monbiot, The Guardian
It's easy to blame the poor for growing pressure on the world's resources. But still the wealthy west takes the lion's share
I cannot avoid the subject any longer. Almost every day I receive a clutch of emails about it, asking the same question. A frightening new report has just pushed it up the political agenda: for the first time the World Food Programme is struggling to find the supplies it needs for emergency famine relief. So why, like most environmentalists, won't I mention the p-word? According to its most vociferous proponents (Paul and Anne Ehrlich), population is "our number one environmental problem". But most greens will not discuss it.
Is this sensitivity or is it cowardice? Perhaps a bit of both. Population growth has always been politically charged, and always the fault of someone else. Seldom has the complaint been heard that "people like us are breeding too fast". For the prosperous clergyman Thomas Malthus, writing in 1798, the problem arose from the fecklessness of the labouring classes. Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, eugenicists warned that white people would be outbred. In rich nations in the 1970s the issue was over-emphasised, as it is the one environmental problem for which poor nations are largely to blame. But the question still needs to be answered. Is population really our number one environmental problem?
(29 January 2008)
Also at Common Dreams.
In a 1999 interview, Paul Ehrlich made comments that put him close to Monbiot's position:
Interviewer: You introduced the equation, I=PAT, which illustrates the impact of any human group upon the environment: Impact = Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology. When you first proposed this equation, you felt that "P" was the most critical in controlling and reducing human impact on the Earth. Do you still think that population growth is the most critical problem facing us today?
Ehrlich: Not anymore. Although the world is still vastly overpopulated, the past 30 years have shown that population can be controlled. People can be convinced that it may be in their best interest to produce smaller families. However, no one has any idea of how to convince humanity that it is in their best interest to consume less, instead of more. Even if 'P' is reduced, the steady rise of 'A' in the Impact Equation means that our crushing impact on the Earth will continue to increase."
The truth everyone knows, but no one says
Is it only OK to talk about limiting population after it's too late?
Sam Smith, inimitable editor of The Progressive Review, perhaps the world's first progressive blog (if you count its days as a print publication), reports that even he finds it difficult to bring up discussions of population.
I have experienced something like what Smith talks about, where even mentioning Bartlett (who has been campaigning against exponential population growth for decades) is enough to get you called nasty names by liberals and "anti-life" by church members.
Here's today's series of looks at the issue, with Smith's preface first:
(18 December 2007)
Long discussion last month about population on the environmentalist site Gristmill.
EB reader Peter Salonius suggests the following three articles as background. Salonius is a soil microbiologist with the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and recently posted
Population and Intensive Crop Culture Are Unsustainable at Relocalize.net.
Laws Relating to Sustainability
Albert A. Bartlett, Population and Environment via Provocations
The laws . . . that follow are offered in order to define the term "sustainability," which must be understood to mean, "for many millennia."
In some cases these statetments are accompanied by corollaries that are identified by capital letters.
They all apply for populations and rates of consumption of goods and resources of the sizes and scales found in the world in 1994, and may not be applicable for small numbers of people or to groups in primitive tribal situations.
These laws are believed to hold rigorously.
Excerpted from "Reflections on Sustainability, Population Growth, and the Environment," originally published in Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, September 1994, Human Sciences Press, Inc. Used with permission of the author.
Will Limits of the Earth's Resources Control Human Numbers
David Pimentel et all, Cornell University via Oilcrash
...The planet’s numerous environmental problems emphasize the urgent need to evaluate the available environmental resources and how they relate to the requirements of a rapidly growing human population (Hardin, 1993; Cohen, 1995). In this article we assess the carrying capacity of the Earth’s natural resources, and suggest that humans should voluntarily limit their population growth, rather than letting natural forces control their numbers for them. (Pimentel et al., 1994a; Bartlett, 1997-98). In addition, we suggest appropriate policies and technologies that would improve the standard of living and quality of life worldwide.
(25 February 1999)
Revisiting Carrying Capacity: Area-Based Indicators of Sustainability
William E. Rees, Population and Environment via dieoff.org
Conventional wisdom suggests that because of technology and trade, human carrying capacity is infinitely expandable and therefore virtually irrelevant to demography and development planning.
By contrast, this article argues that ecological carrying capacity remains the fundamental basis for demographic accounting. A fundamental question for ecological economics is whether remaining stocks of natural capital are adequate to sustain the anticipated load of the human economy into the next century.
Since mainstream (neoclassical) models are blind to ecological structure and function, they cannot even properly address this question. The present article therefore assesses the capital stocks, physical flows, and corresponding ecosystems areas required to support the economy using "ecological footprint" analysis. This approach shows that most so-called "advanced" countries are running massive unaccounted ecological deficits with the rest of the planet.
Since not all countries can be net importers of carrying capacity, the material standards of the wealthy cannot be extended sustainably to even the present world population using prevailing technology. In this light, sustainability may well depend on such measures as greater emphasis on equity in international relationships, significant adjustments to prevailing terms of trade, increasing regional self-reliance, and policies to stimulate a massive increase in the material and energy efficiency of economic activity.
(3 January 1996)