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C.I.A. Chief Lists Population as a Top Concern
Andrew C Revking, Dot Earth (NY Times journalist blog)
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, yesterday described three troublesome trends that distinguish this century from the last, and the exploding populations of poor places topped his list. Interestingly, energy shortages (and climate change) were not on his list. (The other trends were growing divisions between the United States and Europe and China’s emergence.) I’ve sent a query to the agency’s press office to find earlier statements on fossil fuels and security.
As for population, General Hayden, speaking at Kansas State University, said:
Today, there are about 6.7 billion people sharing our planet. By midcentury, the best estimates point to a world population of more than 9 billion. Most of that growth will occur in countries least able to sustain it, a situation that will likely fuel instability and extremism, both in those areas and beyond.
(1 May 2008)
CIA director worried over world population trends (McClatchy-Tribune)
Transcript of General Hayden's remarks (CIA) - a long talk, fascinating insights into the worldview of the CIA
Confronting the inevitable: Population reduction, voluntary and otherwise
J. Kenneth Smail, Culture Change
It has become increasingly apparent over the past half-century that there is a growing tension between two seemingly irreconcilable trends. On one hand, moderate to conservative demographic projections indicate that global human numbers will almost certainly reach 8 to 9 billion by mid-21st century, only two generations from the present. On the other, prudent and increasingly reliable scientific estimates suggest that the Earth's long-term sustainable human carrying capacity, at what might be defined as an “adequate” to “moderately comfortable” developed-world standard of living, may not be much greater than 2 to 3 billion. It may in fact be considerably less, perhaps in the 1 to 2 billion range, particularly if the normative life-style (level of consumption) aspired to is anywhere close to that currently characterizing the United States.
As a consequence of this modern-day “Malthusian dilemma,” it seems reasonable to suggest that it is now time -- indeed, past time -- to think boldly about the midrange future, and to consider alternatives that go beyond merely slowing the growth, or even the stabilization, of global human numbers. In this brief essay, I shall argue that it has now become necessary for the human species to develop and implement, as quickly as possible, a well conceived, clearly articulated, flexibly designed, broadly equitable, and internationally coordinated program focused on bringing about a very significant reduction in global human numbers over the next two or more centuries. In simple quantitative terms, this effort will likely require a global population “shrinkage” of at least two-thirds to three-fourths, from a probable mid-to-late 21st century “peak” in the 9 to 10 billion range to a future (23rd century and beyond) “population optimum” of not more than 2 to 3 billion, or perhaps even fewer.
... That there will be a large-scale reduction in global human numbers over the next two or three centuries appears to be inevitable. The primary issue may well be whether this lengthy and difficult process will be comparatively benign or unpredictably chaotic. More specifically, is modern humanity capable of a comprehensive organized effort to compassionately reduce global human numbers, or will brutal self-interest prevail -- either haphazardly or selectively -- resulting in an unprecedented toll of human lives?
Ken Smail (Ph.D Yale, 1976) is Professor of Anthropology (Emeritus) at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
(5 May 2008)
Recommended by Dan Bednarz.
It would seem to be important who gets to make the choices about cutting population. Political power is not evenly dispersed, and those with little power might be uneasy about proposals like this. Population is not just a technical issue, it's deeply political. -BA
Culture Change editor Jan Lundberg writes:
One can run into a good report on a critical subject, only to find the author has a deficit of understanding on peak oil, for example. Or one may encounter the delusion that population growth is a problem basically in "Third World" countries. Not with this new essay for Culture Change. Professor Ken Smail has put together the best argument for facing depopulation.
The market and the food crisis
Ed Lewis, the ecosocialist (Australia)
In an article headed First signs of the coming famine, in the April 26-27 Weekend Australian, New York correspondent David Nason writes:
It’s 40 years since Stanford University entomologist Paul Ehrlich predicted that hundreds of millions of people would die of starvation in the 1970s and ’80s because the world could no longer produce enough food for its rapidly growing population.
Nason goes on to mention Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, a crude neo-Malthusian work that, as Nason says, “offered policy prescriptions ranging from compulsory birth control, cutting government payments for dependent children, applying a luxury tax to cribs and nappies, and ceasing food aid to the Third World”.
Nason doesn’t mention that since then, in 2004, Paul and Anne Ehrlich have written another book, One With Nineveh, with a rather different approach, although its focus is still the clash between population growth and the world’s resources.
In the introduction to One With Nineveh, the Ehrlichs turn from the harsh, fear-driven approach of The Population Bomb to a search for systemic solutions, and they quote favourably some recommendations of the 1993 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity:
The later book also acknowledges that The Population Bomb’s population projections were wrong: ...
(30 April 2008)
More Choice for Women Means More Sustainability
Press release, Worldwatch Institute
Washington, D.C.-Unwanted childbearing is a greater demographic force than the desire for large families, and may have been for centuries, suggests Robert Engelman, Vice President at the Worldwatch Institute, in his new book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want. Expanding the capacity of all women to choose when to bear children is thus the surest route to achieving an environmentally sustainable population.
In countries that make effective personal control of reproduction possible for all, women invariably have two children or fewer on average, according to More. Such low fertility levels eventually lead to gradually declining populations in the absence of net immigration.
"It makes sense that those who bear children and do most of the work in raising them should have the final say in when, and when not, to do so," Engelman said. "By making their own decisions based on what's best for themselves and their children, women ultimately bring about a global good that governments could never deliver through regulation or control: a population in balance with nature's resources."
More, published Thursday by Island Press, explores the link between population and the environment through the lens of sexual relations and women's efforts to influence the timing of their reproduction.
Engelman, a former newspaper reporter who worked in the population and family-planning field before joining Worldwatch in 2007, interviewed women in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over a period of more than 25 years. Interspersing stories from these conversations with wide-ranging research across history and the social sciences, More delves into the roots of sexuality and procreation to discover how women's lives and status have influenced cultural evolution, history, and modern society.
The answer to "what women want," Engelman writes, is not "more children, but more for their children, and we can be thankful for that." Women have been so intent on reproducing at a time that is best for their child's survival that they have hidden their contraceptive use from their husbands and religious leaders, or have risked their lives to manage their fertility with dangerous or ineffective herbs or unsafe abortions.
Similarly, societies have at times been so intent on rooting out the use of contraception that it was banned in parts of the United States from 1873 to 1965. In Europe, the role of midwives in helping women plan births may have made birth attendants prime targets of the witchcraft hysteria of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Based on this record and contemporary findings, societies that make it easy for women and their partners to safely plan the timing of births will experience stable or gradually declining populations, Engelman contends. And that, in turn, will ease the staggering challenge of building environmentally sustainable and socially just societies.
Since its founding in 1974, the Worldwatch Institute has demonstrated how important the stabilization or gradual decline in population is for long-term environmental sustainability. That record drew Engelman to the Institute, where he directs the research strategy and continues his work on population.
"With its accessible analysis and innovative solutions to environmental problems, Worldwatch offers a perfect perch for me and a strong partnership with Island Press in helping to launch this book," he said. Engelman is posting regular blogs that appear weekly both at the Institute's Web site at www.worldwatch.org and a dedicated Web site maintained by Island Press, morethebook.org.
"Population growth is a driving force behind some of today's most serious problems, including climate change and rising food prices," said Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. "In More, Robert Engelman identifies an approach to population-meeting the need for safe and effective contraception-that can speed the transition to sustainable societies that offer lasting opportunity for everyone.
(7 May 2008)