Let’s quit sidestepping the facts; global warming is tied to too many people

Tue, 2007-11-13 12:25Bill Miller
Bill Miller's picture

Let’s quit sidestepping the facts; global warming is tied to too many people

Relentless human-population growth coupled with rising consumption has outpaced the planet’s ability to cope.

An article in BBC’s Green Room says we are now in “overshoot” – our numbers and levels of consumption greater than Earth's capacity to sustain us for the long-term. The writer says we must end world population growth, and then reduce population size in industrialized as well as developing nations.

Colorado-based environmental writer John Feeney says despite expanding coverage of climate change, today's environmentalists avoid discussing the link between population and environment more than any other ecological truth, either for political motives or because they misunderstand the issue.

Total resource use is the product of population size and per-capita consumption, and there’s no chance of solving the predicament without reducing both factors in the equation.

Feeney said we need a complete transition to clean, renewable energy as reliance on non-renewable energy is, by definition, unsustainable. But that alone will not solve our problems. There remains population growth, which increases consumption of resources other than energy.

“We have to rethink the corporate economic growth imperative,” Feeney said. “On a finite planet, the physical component of economic growth cannot continue forever.

“Fortunately, expert consensus tells us we can address population humanely by solving the social problems that fuel it.”


"“We have to rethink the corporate economic growth imperative,” Feeney said. “On a finite planet, the physical component of economic growth cannot continue forever."

Malthus said virtually the identical thing around 1798.

History has mocked him ever since.

What I find telling about neo-malthusians is while they always predict the immanent doom of humanity, due to increased population -- they never take their belief to it's logical conclusion.

If they actually did something about their beliefs, perhaps they'd have some credibility?

Really, how hard can it be? All you need it is a window ledge, a stout piece of rope, or a bottle of sleeping pills and some booze. Go ahead. Help solve the population "problem" and Global Warming. Show us how it's done. Take one for the team!

There is an excellent organization called Population Connection, that until 2002 was called ZPG, or Zero Population Growth (http://www.populationconnection.org/). I became aware of them while in highschool in the early 1970s. This group deals with issues of birth control and reproduction education, encouraging people to be thoughtful and responsible re: the number of children they have. They also advocate assistance programs for putting reproductive control in the hands of women in countries where large families are still the norm. Their motto in the 70s was "Stop at 2". I took this very much to heart, stopping at 1.

It seems to me a very simple equation: sea level rise due to AGW = less land per person; and if the population keeps rising, that means more & more people on a shrinking reserve of dry land!

So, you're so concerned about overpopulation and the impending Global-Warmalypse, you decided to double your carbon footprint? Don't you care about Mother Earth?

In other words, as regards reducing the population on the planet -- you've done absolutely nothing.

As I said in my initial comment -- you people are all about sanctimonious finger-wagging, but then you let yourself off the hook. It's all everyone else's fault, but especially Karl Rove's.

Since I don't have any children, I think that gives me dispensation drive a Hummer and take as many jet flights as I feel like. Nothing I do will ever come close to inflicting the amount of damage you have caused by reproducing.

Or did you have the forsight to have a child who is devoutly Amish? No? Then, Game On!

Ignore the troll.

Rob: Bill isn't concerned about himself, what he and Feeney mean is "there's too many of those others". Right Bill? Shades of Ehrlich!

So what's the solution, Bill? A few well placed mega-nukes on some of the world's scrofulous megacities? Yeh, that should do it, just watch out for fallout on West Van and Saltspring Island.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that neither of you read to the bottom of Bill's post:
“Fortunately, expert consensus tells us we can address population humanely by solving the social problems that fuel it.”

It would never occur to them that promoting women's equality and improved education and reducing poverty would produce a lower birth rate and healthier children. But Zog and Rob don't want to talk about solutions. They think anyone who talks about solutions is a commie.

So, VJ, since you claim to be all in favour of women's equality, improved education, and reducing poverty, can we assume you are in favour of defeating the Taliban regime in Afghanistan?

What a predictable jerk. Yawn.

As in Humane Society? He never goes on to tell us how this "expert consensus" (Oh, look, another consensus!) plans to "address population humanely". Mass-sterilization programs, and if that doesn't take, then perhaps gas-chambers?

Maybe the "expert consensus" will take a page from the pioneers in population reduction -- communist regimes of the 20th Century. Hey, they managed to take no less than 100 million -- and counting -- off the census rolls. Why reinvent the wheel?

By the same token, Steve L., we shouldn't be too surprised you didn't notice the end of the post doesn't actually say anything -- well, other than reassuring us that, somehow, another "expert consensus" already has it all planned out.

Now go back to sleep.

Rob, I already know (because I read) that research suggests increased education of women reduces birth rate. Do you know how to use 'the Google'? But let's get back to the beginning -- suicide and nukes (and now sterilizations and gas chambers) were your rebuttals to the article. (Zog's suggestion of nuking large cities was particularly lame considering the part I quoted.) Why didn't you just ask what 'humane reductions' to the birth right might entail? It was a failing of the article not to describe it, so you would have been right to ask out of ignorance. To bring in all the other garbage is juvenile.

The reactionary attitude of the previous post re: mass sterilizations, gas chambers, etc. is exactly the reason that over-population is rarely brought up in discussions about AGW, although I suspect anyone who has thought about it seriously realizes that they are inextricably linked. As soon as it's mentioned the discussion swings wildly into hysterical claims of societal engineering, eugenics, racism, mass murder etc etc etc. I guess that's the legacy of 20th century totalitarian states.

Fortunately, as you point out, Steve, education DOES work, as does empowering women to have control over their bodies. Of course, it would help a LOT if His Holiness would get onside about birth control, but that's another struggle . . .

"Of course, it would help a LOT if His Holiness would get onside about birth control, but that's another struggle . . ."

Of course, say what you will about The Pope, he still has one less kid than you.

Or is that his fault, too?

"Do you know how to use 'the Google'?"

Does it matter? I'm sure in either case you'll continue to further my "education" -- or at least, hand out some more reading assignments.

"Zog's suggestion of nuking large cities was particularly lame considering the part I quoted."

Compared to the prolonged miserable agony of death due to the effects of overpopulation and Global Warmerization you predict, surely a nuclear strike is humane. But that's not for us to decide. We must defer to the "consensus of experts".

"Why didn't you just ask what 'humane reductions' to the birth right might entail?"

Oh, so there's a "humane" way to deny someone their rights? I hope you first remember to make "humane reductions" in the right of people to defend their liberty. Otherwise, once you start meddling, they might have a tendency to shoot people like you in the face. Wouldn't want that to happen.

But I'll assume the people to whom you want to make "humane reductions" are the little brown and yellow people who are poor, largely unarmed, and don't really count -- except as convenient victims, of course.

And why not? You're already enthusiastic when it comes to clipping their wings and foiling their aspirations to enjoy the same standard of living as you enjoy. No cars, no electricity or phones, no hot and cold running water. Not letting them have kids is just a minor inconvenience.

But, no, nuking them would be "inhumane". You just want what's best. And God help us if those women ever gained an education. They'd just waste it becoming doctors, accountants and engineers. The next thing you know, they'll be expecting to have air-conditioning and a nice kitchen.

"To bring in all the other garbage is juvenile."

Not to mention completely tasteless of me to point out the inevitable result of your misanthropic philosophy. My bad.

I think you have no idea what my philosophy is. How could you when you can't comprehend what I write. Example: I'm denying people their rights by suggesting that women get an education? I think a carbon tax would be helpful if income taxes were reduced concomitantly, so I'm a racist? That's, uh, a strange conclusion. Did you read this article I suggested?:
Are these guys, who discuss carbon taxes rationally (and largely outside the context of AGW), also misanthropes?

You know, your hypocrisy seems to know no bounds. You suggest that people you disagree with should commit suicide. You imply that your 4x4 is good at running over cyclists. You fill your posts with violence ("shoot people like [me] in the face"). Yet I'm the misanthrope. Huh.

(It would make a difference if you tried to answer your questions yourself, first. And don't get upset about the reading assignments. You have asked for them. You should at least do the reading as a courtesy.)

There will always be people who assume that "population control" is some kind of racist or socialist tyranny, rather than a cooperative effort to restore balance. They will never understand that there is a difference between making available the means and education to make choices that will improve their lives, and "denying people their right" to reproduce and live a satisfying lifestyle. We're talking to brick walls here -- ones that they have erected around themselves and their little worlds full of paranoia and xenophobia. Trying to have a rational conversation about this (or for that matter, about AGW) with someone who takes this stance is exhausting and circular, but you are making very good points and I applaud your patience in the face of such ignorance.

I'm not very wise. It might not be patience that I'm expressing. I'm still clinging to the hope that engaging contrarians will result in a productive dialogue, but I guess that's really just an expression of stubbornness on my part. It has been ... a lesson for me.

Thing is, even if the contrarians can't be swayed, other people who read these threads can plainly see the difference between reasoned consideration of the facts and partisan, libertarian hysteria. When they make up their minds, your arguments will carry more weight than the shrill, vitriolic diatribes of the true fear-mongers in this "debate". So keep on trucking!

For myself, they get under my skin too easily. Best not to engage them directly at all.

Oddly enough, I have somewhat anarchistic/libertarian leanings. Maybe that's why I wish the obstructionists would focus on policy. I think they could actually have something worthwhile to contribute. But I can't abide ignorant denial of scientific merit on the basis of partisan politics. It's a discredit to libertarianism to behave in that way. (But I don't think these contrarians are really libertarians -- the libertarians I respect aren't all rah-rah about foreign military interventionism.)

It's been given a bad name. Certainly micro-management of society is not the business of government. But when an urgent response is required to a threat on the scale of AGW, the structure of government is the system best equipped to initiate the necessary changes. We trust them to declare war for us (well, I'm not so sure now that I've said it. If Harper takes us tagging along after the States into war with Iran I'll be massively offended & vocal). But the point is that we elect governments to handle the big stuff, and I can't think of anything bigger than AGW.

As far as ZPG is concerned, I don't think any reasoning person would advocate government control over the number of children a family can have. It's a non-starter. But governments can and should allocate major resources to family planning and reproductive education of men as well as women.

Ignore the troll...

Here's a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during an acceptance speech for the Margaret Sanger award, given to him by The Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
"There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.

What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims."

On a more philosophical note, here's a quote from Isaac Asimov: "...democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters."

Was Malthus really wrong? His theory of famine in Europe may have been wrong, but his real contribution was his population-evolution theory. Taken from wikipedia:

"Eight major points regarding evolution appear in the 1798 Essay:

1. subsistence severely limits population-level
2. when the means of subsistence increases, population increases
3. population-pressures stimulate increases in productivity
4. increases in productivity stimulate further population-growth
5. since this productivity can not keep up with the potential of population growth for long, population requires strong checks to keep it in line with carrying-capacity
6. individual cost/benefit decisions regarding sex, work, and children determine the expansion or contraction of population and production
7. checks will come into operation as population exceeds subsistence-level
8. the nature of these checks will have significant effect on the rest of the sociocultural system — Malthus points specifically to misery, vice, and poverty."

It's important to note that increases in productivity are arithmetic, while increases in population are exponential. Considering 13 million children die each year in deaths associated to malnutrition, and 3 billion people in world are malnourished today (see: http://www.populationmedia.org/issues/Carrying%20Capacity.pdf), where do we stand now?

By the way, stop being a straw-troll, Rob.

On a much more prosaic and visceral level, I recall hearing Farley Mowat say something like: As long as we continue to breed mindlessly like brewer's yeast in a vat of molasses, we are doomed to destroy the thing that sustains us. I love that image.

I don't think Malthus was wrong. It's more that he wasn't able to predict the kind of changes that would be effected by medicine, improvements in agriculture, the industrial revolution (at that point, just barely under way). But who could? I think he did pretty well, given the state of scientific knowledge at the time.

Technological advances in areas other than agriculture don't really seem relevant. Sure people live longer because of medical advances, but medicines can't feed you. Food is really the only thing that matters here. After all, we eat, shit, and die. Advances medicine may be seen as just putting more "tension on the spring".

Malthus was around only 200 years ago. For humans, that's a few generations, sure. But its the blink of an ecological eye, and the blink of a geological eye, in the case of fossil fuels. Technological advances have increased productivity, but how long can they continue to do so? See the graph on hectares per person: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/7056601.stm.

So in 2005, we had 2.02 hectares to work with per person. In 2050 we will have 1.63 per person. There are 3 billion living with malnutrition today. The IPCC report projects many parts of the world will experience worsened crop yields, even crop failures in some parts. Fresh water may become scarce.
Furthermore, many key agriculture advances were directly caused by the fossil fuel age, such as nitrogen fertilizers and mechanization. Both depletion of fossil fuels and AGCC tell us we can't keep this up. Sure we may be able to do these things sustainably at some point, but for now our glorious productivity remains unsustainable.
Short of making an argument for a vegetarian diet, cause I don't wanna go preachy on ya, I would just pose the argument that increases in productivity are hardly notable if we can't even sustain them for a pathetic 250 years. That even ignores that fact that the industrial revolution, and the subsequent increases in productivity, have come at the cost of a huge rural to urban migration. Although this shift has been mostly resolved in developed countries, most of the world's poor and malnourished are these displaced people, living in the urban slums and rural countryside of the developing world. In Brazil and most of south america, they are called landless people.

My point is that with advances in medicine, fewer people die due to disease (tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox etc), so that whereas a family might have had only two of six children survive infancy, now they all do. They can't all inherit the family farm, so you get unemployment & poverty -- or people moving away from agriculture for their livlihood. With the industrial revolution, people flocked to the cities for work and we ended up with massive concentrations of population not involved in the production of food. (Yes, I know I am being WILDLY simplistic here)

These may be secondary to the basic problem of feeding the masses, but it all connects and feeds the problem. Bottom line: we are running out of room.

Oh, and BTW, I am working on going vegetarian. I'm gotten as far as buying what little meat I eat from local small producers, so at least I know its not "factory produced". Go ahead -- preach away! Even if people aren't willing to go vegetarian, we can at LEAST cut back on the amount of meat we consume. Nobody needs it with every meal.

Honestly, I'm kind of at the same stage as you in going vegetarian. I'm lucky enough to go to a college where we get most of our meat from small, local producers, but I'm coming to terms with my own hypocrisy. There are lots of arguments for going vegetarian, but to me, the most compelling comes from biology, or physics if you will. If, for the sake of relative simplicity, we consider stars to be the sources of all energy, then plants are doing their best to fight the second law of thermodynamics, by taking the sun's energy and converting it right into potential energy stored in molecular bonds. As you go up the food chain, you see populations decrease. Ruminant herbivores (the animals who eat plants) have much larger populations and represent much more actual mass than the predators. This is because when you eat meat, you are consuming a very small fraction of the sum of the all the energy that animal ate. Over the course of that animal's life, it expelled a huge amount of energy as heat from metabolic processes.

In the early days of our species, we ate opportunistically, as a matter of survival. Today, at least in the developed world, we choose what we eat. As we are now dealing with throwing the climate out of whack, and destroying countless ecosystems in our desire to grow, expand, expand, we must now take energy management seriously. This problem manifests itself in various ways, with "what to eat?" not the least of which. So lemme throw a couple facts out there. There is about a 17:1 of soy protein input to cow-meat protein output. That's an astounding waste of energy. You'll find similar conversions for other animals. A huge contributor to global warming is tropical deforestation, which releases the sequestered biomass of the ecosystem into the air, because of slash and burn agriculture techniques. That's to say nothing for the huge direct loss in biodiversity. What's the biggest, by far, cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest?

Cows. Cows are more important to feed than people, and cows are more important than the rain forest, apparently. We cut down the amazon to make cow pasture, and we cut down the amazon for massive soybean plantations. "Soy beans!" You say, "I can eat those!" No, instead, you will eat meat. Brazil exports just about all of it's soybeans, largely to the EU, for livestock feed! That is, to feed more cows!

If you want numbers, like 70% of all grains and cereals grown in the U.S. are fed to livestock, go to goveg.com. Or, I'm sure, various other places on the web. But GoVeg also has some great vegetarian recipes. Good luck!


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The study carries the decidedly wonky title, “Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013-14 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint.”

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