Global population reduction: confronting the inevitable

Update (6/22/08): Since posting Ken’s article, I’ve noticed in site stats that it’s been linked to by a couple of people offering it as evidence of some nefarious conspiracy to exterminate much of humanity. With the array of benign, voluntary, humane approaches to lowering fertility rates discussed and promoted on this site and elsewhere, such an assumption is mind boggling. I won’t speculate on what such a fantasy suggests about the psyches of its adherents. But it definitely indicates an incredible unwillingness to do the slightest research into ways of addressing population. Let us hope those readers of this essay who have jumped to such wildly erroneous conclusions are few in number. It would be difficult otherwise to hold out much hope for our species. — JF

Administrator’s note: It’s my pleasure to feature on GIM a guest article from Dr. J. Kenneth Smail, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Kenyon College. Ken Smail’s articles on population have appeared in a variety of professional journals including American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Politics and the Life Sciences; Environment, Development and Sustainability; and World Watch Magazine. This article appeared originally in World Watch Magazine. Many thanks to Ken for his permission to reprint it here.

In introducing the article, it’s worth noting, with permission, a comment from Ken’s cover letter to me:

Let me just mention at the outset that I have recently been giving a lot of thought to the “temporal problem” I elaborate on [in the letter] — at least two or more centuries needed for global population stabilization and subsequent reduction vs. only a few decades remaining for dealing effectively with the troubling issues (or rapidly emerging “truths”) of post-peak oil and global climate change.

We do indeed face a serious dilemma. I’m glad there are a few thinkers, like Ken Smail, who are willing to grapple openly with it. — JF

________________________________________________________

By J. Kenneth Smail (2004):
Numbers and consumption

Looking past the near-term concerns that have plagued population policy at the political level, it is increasingly apparent that the long-term sustainability of civilization will require not just a leveling-off of human numbers as projected over the coming half-century, but a colossal reduction in both population and consumption.

__________

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 9 billion, perhaps more, by mid-21st century. 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 be considerably less, particularly if the normative lifestyle (level of consumption) aspired to is anywhere close to that of the United States.

As a consequence of this modern-day “Malthusian dilemma,” it is past time to think boldly about the midrange future and to consider alternatives that go beyond merely slowing or stopping the growth of global population. The human species must develop and quickly implement a well-conceived, clearly articulated, flexible, equitable, and internationally coordinated program focused on bringing about a very significant reduction in human numbers over the next two or more centuries. This effort will likely require a global population shrinkage of at least two-thirds to threefourths, 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.

Obviously, a demographic change of this magnitude will require a major reorientation of human thought, values, expectations, and lifestyles. There is no guarantee that such a program will be successful. But if humanity fails in this effort, nature will almost certainly impose an even harsher reality. As a practicing physical anthropologist and human evolutionary biologist, I am concerned that this rapidly metastasizing (yet still partly hidden) demographic and environmental crisis could emerge as the greatest evolutionary/ecological “bottleneck” that our species has yet encountered.

Although the need for population reduction is controversial, it can be tested scientifically. The hypothesis may be falsified if it can clearly be shown that ongoing estimates of global population size over the next few hundred years will not exceed our increasingly accurate projections of both current and future optimal carrying capacities. However, the hypothesis will be confirmed if future global population size continues to exceed those carrying capacity estimates by a significant margin. And even if the 2 to 3 billion optimal carrying capacity estimate turns out to be off by, say, a factor of two, achieving a global population optimum of 4 to 6 billion would still necessitate a very substantial reduction from the 9-plus billion projected for mid-century.

Below the Radar?

It is surprising how little scientific and public attention has been directed toward establishing quantifiable, testable, and socioculturally agreed-upon parameters for what the Earth’s long-term human carrying capacity might actually be. Unfortunately, with only a few notable exceptions, many otherwise well-qualified scientific investigators and public policy analysts have been rather hesitant to take a clear and forthright position on this profoundly important matter. One wonders why–inherent caution, concerns about professional reputation, the increasingly specialized structure of both the scientific and political enterprises, or any of several other reasons. Given the issue’s global nature and ramifications, perhaps the chief reason is simply “scale paralysis,” that enervating sense of individual and collective powerlessness when confronted by problems whose magnitude seems overwhelming.

Certainly the rough-and-ready human carrying capacity estimates of the more distant past show considerable variation, ranging from fewer than 1 billion to over 20 billion. And it is obvious that it will be difficult to engender any sort of effective response to the crisis if the desired future population goals continue to be poorly understood and imperfectly articulated. It is, however, worthy of note that several investigators and organizations have developed reasonably well thought out positions on future global population optima, and those estimates have all clustered in the range of 1 to 3 billion.

I hope my hypothesis is wrong and that various demographic optimists are correct in claiming that human numbers will begin to stabilize and decline somewhat sooner than expected. But this optimism is warranted only by corroborative data, that is, only if the above-mentioned “irreconcilable numbers” show unmistakable evidence of coming into much closer congruence.

Clearly, assertions that the Earth might be able to support a population of 10, 15, or even 20 billion people for an indefinite period of time at a standard of living superior to the present are not only cruelly misleading but almost certainly false. Notwithstanding our current addiction to continued and uninterrupted economic growth, humanity must recognize that there are finite physical, biological, and ecological limits to the Earth’s long-term sustainable carrying capacity. And to judge by the growing concerns about maintaining the quality, stability, and/or sustainability of the Earth’s atmosphere, water, forests, croplands, fisheries, and so on, there is little if any doubt that many of these limits will soon be reached, if they haven’t already been surpassed. Since at some point the damage stemming from the mutually reinforcing effects of excessive human reproduction and overconsumption of resources could well become irreversible, and because there is only one Earth with which to experiment, it would undoubtedly be better for our species to err on the side of prudence, exercising wherever possible a cautious and careful stewardship.

Perhaps it is time that the burden of proof on these matters, so long shouldered by so-called neo-Malthusian pessimists, be shifted to the “cornucopian optimists.” Let them answer: What is the evidence that the Earth can withstand, without irreparable damage, another two or more centuries during which global human numbers and per-capita consumption increasingly exceed the Earth’s optimal (sustainable) carrying capacity?

In any event, having established a “quantifiable and falsifiable” frame of reference, it is time to make the case that current rhetoric about “slowing the growth of” or even “stabilizing” global human numbers is clearly insufficient. Both the empirical data and inexorable logic suggest that our default position for the next two or three centuries ought to seek a very significant reduction in global human numbers.

Acknowledging Our Dilemma

Is it naive to hope that, once a critical mass of concerned investigators begins to make a serious case for such a reduction, it would become much easier for scientists, environmentalists, politicians, economists, moralists, and other concerned citizens of the planet to speak forthrightly about humanity’s critical need for population stabilization and shrinkage? At the least, they should not feel as though they are committing political, professional, or moral suicide by raising these issues. Time is increasingly precious, and our window of opportunity for effective remedial action may not be open much longer–assuming it has not already closed.

Until demonstrated otherwise, I would therefore argue that insufficiently restrained population growth should be considered the single most important feature in a complex (and synergistic) physical, ecological, biocultural, and sociopolitical landscape. Regulating human population size, and confronting the numerous problems that will be engendered by its eventual and inevitable contraction, should thus be accorded a central position within the modern dilemma, and as such should be dealt with much more forthrightly, and promptly, than has heretofore been the case.

More than half a century ago, at the dawn of the nuclear age, Albert Einstein suggested that we would require a new manner of thinking if humankind were to survive. Even though the population explosion is neither as instantaneous nor as spectacular as its nuclear counterpart, the ultimate consequences may be just as real (and potentially just as devastating) as the so-called nuclear winter scenarios promulgated in the early 1980s.

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 seems to be whether this process will be under conscious human control and (hopefully) relatively benign, or whether it will turn out to be unpredictably chaotic and (perhaps) catastrophic. We must begin our new manner of thinking about this critically important global issue now, so that Einstein’s prescient and legitimate concerns about human and civilizational survival into the 21st century and beyond may be addressed as rapidly, fully, and humanely as possible.

Don’t speak to me of shortage. My world is vast
And has more than enough–for no more than enough.
There is a shortage of nothing, save will and wisdom;
But there is a longage of people. –Garrett Hardin (1975)

____
The Worldwatch Institute, World Watch Magazine, www.worldwatch.org.
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Note: For a revealing look at some of the math involved in the the population-consumption problem see this post on Trinifar.
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Image source: luthor522, posted on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license

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45 responses to “Global population reduction: confronting the inevitable

  1. Dr. Ken Smail was one of the first top-rank scientists to appreciate the implications of the work of Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel. Ken’s work on population, along with that of Al Bartlett and Garrett Hardin, are second to none.

    Thanks, John F. and Ken, for these uncommon contributions.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  2. Steve,

    The “temporal problem” is that it would presumably take a couple of centuries to bring about the huge population decline Ken concludes we need (and I have to agree). This, while we face peak oil, the possibility of rapidly escalating climate change, etc. converging right now, with very serious effects expected during just the coming decades. Paul Chefurka’s essay highlights this:

    http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population.html

    Note that our use of oil (temporarily) increased greatly the earth’s carrying capacity for humans. (Update: More accurately, it allowed us further to overshoot carrying capacity.) So, to put it bluntly, nature could easily force a huge population reduction on us, beginning this century, if we can’t find a way to solve this temporal problem. Of course one hope is that we manage to develop replacements for oil very fast. But those who study this don’t think such replacements can keep pace with the decline in oil production, not to mention the projected rise in population between now and mid-late century.

    In fact, I forgot to include the emphasis Ken had on the words “centuries” and “decades,” so I’ll do that now.

  3. Dear Ken Smail,

    While I do not yet understand what you mean in your cover letter to John F. regarding a “temporal problem,” I do think it might be helpful to you, John F. , Trinifar, Magne and others to consider the work of Dr. Jack Alpert. For over 30 years Jack has been developing his thinking regarding “the causes and cures ” of what he has named “temporal blindness.” Without much notice over many years, he has carefully developed what looks to me like an original and useful perspective.

    Anyone can learn about his research at the website, http://www.skil.org/.

    Thanks again for your work and to John F. for bringing it to the attention of this community.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    PS: Ken, I could not close without giving thanks to you for your communications some years ago with Russell Hopfenberg regarding the apparently unforeseen research and unwelcome evidence you, he, David Pimentel, Al Bartlett, Garrett Hardin, J.N. “Ding” Darling, Paul Ehrlich and many less heralded scientists have been bringing forward for consideration by the human community.

  4. Ken writes: _Given the issue’s global nature and ramifications, perhaps the chief reason is simply “scale paralysis,” that enervating sense of individual and collective powerlessness when confronted by problems whose magnitude seems overwhelming._

    That’s a good phrase and perhaps more of us should put our energy into finding ways to counter the resulting feeling of powerlessness. Consider young people in countries with “advanced” economies being exposed to concepts like climate change, overpopulation, peak oil, sustainability, carrying capacity, etc. Without some deep sense of compassion for other people, how will they find the will to take the small, steady, and too often unrewarded steps to contribute to a solution they will not benefit from in their own lifetime?

    World-wide most people live in urban environments in which nearly everything they hear, touch, and smell is the result of human technology and manufacturing. Growing up disconnected from the natural world, unnatrually awash with cheap energy, and inundated with sophisticated marketing tuned to get a “buy” response from young people, well,…. What do we expect teenagers and their parents to do?

    Last month I saw the Bill Moyers interview with Grace Lee Boggs, a social activist, 91 and still going strong. She offers the best advice I’ve seen.

    ***
    BILL MOYERS: You know, a lot of young people out there would agree with your analysis. With your diagnosis. And then they will say; What can I do that’s practical? How do I make the difference that Grace Lee Boggs is taking about. What would you be doing?

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: I would say do something local. Do something real, however, small. And don’t– don’t diss the political things, but understand their limitations.
    ***

    It’s what a lot of wise people are saying: do something close to home, don’t worry about it being something small. A hard message to sell to an American teenager growing up in an American city. But it is, I think, the right approach.

    Here’s the end of the interview:

    ***
    BILL MOYERS: What will it take for this next round of change that you see as promising? What would it take?

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: It takes discussions like this. I mean, it takes a whole lot of things. It takes people doing things. It takes people talking about things. It takes dialogue. It takes changing the whole lot of ways by which we think.

    BILL MOYERS: Do you see any leaders who are advocating that change? I mean, people that we would all recognize, anybody we’d all recognize?

    GRACE LEE BOGGS: I don’t see any leaders, and I think we have to rethink the concept of “leader.” ‘Cause “leader” implies “follower.” And, so many– not so many, but I think we need to appropriate, embrace the idea that we are the leaders we’ve been looking for.
    ***

    video and transcript of the whole interview

    John, marvelous work getting Ken to guest post.

  5. While I would prefer NOT to diss politicians, many so called ‘leader-followers’ who are primary beneficiaries of the ‘first’ world’s political economy appear to suffer from what has been named a “nature deficit disorder.” Indeed, many too many leaders among us in the developed world seem to have lost touch not only with the natural world but also with good science and humanity. Who knows, perhaps the empire-builders and politicians and mass media moguls of the dominant, industrialized culture of conglomerates have become utterly mesmerized and generally misdirected in their relentless, unbridled pursuit of the golden calf.

    After all, we know that several hundred leaders, often serving on multiple executive committees and boards of directors in quasi-secret organizations like The Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group and Council on Foreign Relations, exert extraordinary influence upon politicians and minions in the mass media through their billion dollar bank accounts. They manage the world’s interlocking national economies and direct the course of economic globalization. At least to me, these leaders (not the ‘leader-followers’) appear to be leading a charge that could inadvertently squash and utterly subordinate the sacred of this world to the profane…. with potentially intolerable consequences for the future of life on Earth.

    At its current scale and anticipated rate of growth, the continuous global expansion of the world economy we see today may be approaching a point in human history when unbridled production, unchecked per human consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers could overwhelm the limited natural resources and frangible ecosystem services of Earth, upon which life itself depends for it very existence.

    Is it not the circumstances of unrestrained, human-driven “overgrowth” activities worldwide that need to change? Perhaps humankind is called upon to regulate the global growth of its numbers, its per capita consumption and its propagation so that we find a balanced relationship with nature and, consequently, give this marvelous planetary home the time it requires for self-renewal. In our time, people are dissipating more resources than can be restored by the Earth for human benefit.

    Or we could choose to stay the current “business as usual” course by maximally increasing production and recklessly dissipating limited natural resources, thereby causing economic globalization to continuously grow in a patently unsustainable way. Then distinctly human over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities would commandeer remaining original wildlife habitats, massively extirpate biodiversity, degrade fragile ecosystems and, very shortly, engulf the planet.

    One primary concern of mine — that needs not to be bound up in silence — is that politicians, their billionaire club benefactors in the global economy and their minions in the mass media have themselves introduced a “code of silence” regarding what is being discussed in this blog and similarly situated vehicles of communication. They will NOT talk about in open discussions about one topic: the maintenance of the integrity of Earth’s ecosphere, its biodiversity and its natural resources. They do not speak publicly about good scientific data indicating that the current scale and rate of growth of seemingly endless economic expansion could become a patently unsustainable enterprise in the next decade of this century. Can you find public presentations by these self-proclaimed masters of the universe on the potential threats of biodiversity extinction, environmental collapse and, perhaps, human endangerment that could soon be posed by their determination to continue the unbridled, maximal extension of BIG business activities worldwide?

    Until now, such discussions as this one could not be maintained and, for the moment, remain marginalized from mainstream, mass media communication. Surely, the times…….they are changing, thanks to people like John F. People are speaking out loudly and clearly, and being heard despite the deafening silence that still surrounds us.

  6. Steve, that’s why I like Boggs’ approach. It’s you and me and and everyone one else working in the communities around us that are going to lead the change. It’s local. We need to expand out social spheres in order to reach others who don’t see the important issues of our day. We need to learn to influence at this small scale to effect big change.

  7. “expand out” should be “expand our”

  8. Dear Trinifar,

    Yes, definitely yes, to what you report.

    Steve

    PS: Our friend, Paul Chefurka, has produced an article that this community will be glad to receive. His ideas appear to provide unqualified support for what so many scientists are trying to bring to the attention of the public.

    http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population%20Decline%20-%20Red%20Herrings%20and%20Hope.html

  9. “We need to expand our social spheres in order to reach others who don’t see the important issues of our day. We need to learn to influence at this small scale to effect big change.”

    That does make sense. I have often felt the advice to “think globally, act locally” was too limiting partly because it’s possible, especially in the age of the internet, to reach out globally. Also, I’ve sometimes wondered how it’s going to help with global problems to volunteer, say, for the typical sorts of groups one finds on a local level. But the idea of expanding our sphere to reach others (locally) who don’t see the same problems does make sense.

  10. Steve, thanks for the link to Paul’s article. I’ve only had the chance to read a portion of it so far, but it gets into some key issues and makes a point not often seen — that current conditions mean, for tragic reasons, that we’ll likely never reach the population levels projected by the UN and others.

    I’m not sure if he goes into this, but it seems that gives us all the more reason to call for action to address population. If some scenario such as that Paul describes turns out to be accurate, then the less population growth we have over the coming decades, the fewer will be the people who die. It’s impossible to know for sure what will happen, but I wonder if somehow we can find a way to buy enough time to put into effect a long range plan of the sort Ken refers to in his article. The “temporal problem” is quite vexing.

  11. Dear John and Friends,

    In the past several years I have slowly come to the conclusion that too many people in my not-so-great generation are simply unwilling to openly acknowledge certain human-driven looming challenges soon to be confronted by humanity because none of us knows how to respond to them. Perhaps the brightest and best in my generation have chosen to remain willfully blind and electively mute, and, thereby, leave these problems for our children to discover, address and overcome. If so, such a determination to remain silent is exceedingly disappointing.

    For me, such a choice to consciously deny that which could somehow be real, based upon the best available good scientific evidence, is unacceptable. While I do not have ‘answers’ to pressing global problems already visible on the far horizon, I do retain great confidence that our children will respond ably to requirements of their practical reality. I believe the old laggards among us could still choose to help our young people but thus far have chosen instead not to serve our children well enough by failing to do the one thing we can certainly do now: communicate frankly about certain daunting global challenges, especially in light of their distinctly human derivation and their potentially profound implications for the future of life on Earth.

    I believe experts from many professional disciplines, inside and outside natural philosophy and science, will soon do better to help our children save life as we know it for coming generations.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  12. As I see it, THE PROBLEM is simple and has already been presented succinctly elsewhere, years ago. Rarely is the “code of silence” broken by the leadership of the global political economy. But let me provide at least one crystal clear example from a leader I have met face to face and for whom I have great respect. He is Prince el Hassan bin Talal of the great country of Jordan. Of course, many other leaders assisted him in the presentation of “The Report of the Independent Comission on International Humanitarian Issues,” from which I will quote not more than a single sentence. The Commission’s entire report is over 200 pages in paperback and entitled, WINNING THE HUMAN RACE?

    One has to read carefully not to miss the following sentence on page 17,

    “The problems of over-population and rapid population increase are largely being left for future generations to tackle.”

    Humbly, I would submit to you that too many of our good leaders are not doing their best because they are leading in a manner that is intellectually dishonest, ethically unwise and potentially ruinous of human and environmental health.

    My not-so-great generation of elders and its leadership can do better and I trust we will.

  13. I am waiting for the big bang, when a critical number of brains suddenly will admit that the world is not flat and that 6,6 billion Earthians are sustained by oil which is running out. Hope this discussion may contribute to bring support the One Child Per Family project of Jack Alpert.

  14. If we are ever to have the kind of advancement of consciousness and forward movement so many people are anxiously anticipating, surely it will be the result of good works done by people like REIEL FOLVEN of NORWAY.

    Thanks, Reiel, for joining this discussion.

    Always,

    Steve

  15. Welcome Reiel,

    Well put.

    I’ve just recently started to become acquainted with some of the materials on Jack Alpert’s site (linked to by Steve, above). Yes, his one child per family plan deserves attention. One interesting thing he suggests on his site is that population reduction would mean reduction in human conlict. See this video, for instance.

    This ties in with comments made here by Magne Karlsen who has pointed out the need for peace if we are to achieve ecological sustainability.

    By the way, Reiel, your site, ENDINGS – how Man will survive or fail, is fascinating. I hope others will take a look. Reiel has collected the endings (last paragraph or so) to a large number of books on the human condition, allowing one to browse through the ways a variety of authors have urged us to consider and alter our actions to allow for a better direction for humanity in the future. When you see similar statements, over and over, from eminent authors, it has a certain impact. Perhaps we should start listening.

  16. Hi John, Ken, Steve et al,

    Well, it really is a small world. Barely two weeks ago I received an email out of the blue from Ken, followed soon after by a package of his amazing journal reprints. Ken’s thoughts were one of the larger tributaries that flowed into my article on Red Herrings and Hope.

    The position I’m taking in all my writing is that our demographic wishes and theories are going to be overtaken by reality in very short order – the “temporal problem” that Ken identifies. My expectation is that this will be due initially to oil depletion, followed very closely by food shortages and other climate-induced effects.

    There is one perversely positive result of taking this gloomy stance. Debates about managed population decline tend to be easily derailed with accusations of underlying eugenic, genocidal or racist motives. Proposing that a dispassionate Mother Nature will get to do all the heavy lifting neatly avoids that part of the debate. Given that I think we will have no time to make significant deliberate corrections anyway, it is far betrter that we can save our argumentative energies for more productive topics.

    I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to the last section of my essay, entitled “Where Then is the Hope?” For me, this is the most significant message of the article. Paul Hawken’s book “Blessed Unrest” hit me like a thunderbolt with the realization that the seeds of our continuation (NOT salvation!) have already been planted. It contributed in no small measure to lifting the cloud of despair I had been stumbling through for the last two years.

    I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to see Ken’s work on this site. He has been tending this garden for a long time, and it’s good to see the discussion of our most serious challenge finally gaining some currency. Our next challenge is to discover what we can do that will be most helpful in the face of this ineluctable change.

    Paul

  17. Dear Friends,

    Just for a moment consider how the mere presence of the human species on this good Earth is directly responsible for all looming global challenges.

    If all of us were to develop an exhaustive list of global problems, likely to be confronted by humanity in Century XXI, I would guess that all of these problems could be attributed to the huge current scale and fully anticipated growth rate of certain soon to be unsustainable human activities.

    What about the relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible world we inhabit will likely be improved by adding 2.5 billion people to the human community between now and 2050? Please forgive me for saying that I cannot think of a single way in which having 9.2 billion people in our planetary home will be a boon to life on Earth.

    At least to me, the future of life appears to be primarily dependent upon choices human beings make now regarding the reproduction of our species.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  18. Hi Paul,

    You raise some key points. And I have a mixture of thoughts about them, but not enough time to formulate them here at the moment. So I’ll come back tomorrow (later today, technically) to take a shot at it.

    Anyone else have any thoughts to share on the “temporal problem”? i.e., that oil depletion along with some other problems are going to reduce the earth’s carrying capacity (which was really only temporarily boosted by our extraction of fossil fuels etc.) very quickly in this century, causing a massive loss of human life before we can even implement any actions to reduce population growth/size.
    ____

    Steve,

    I agree, of course, but do you have any thoughs’ on the “temporal problem”?

  19. Dear John,

    If what is being proposed as the “temporal problem” is somehow correct ( yours and Paul’s comments appear naturally persuasive and make good sense to me), then I would like to suggest we immediately hear from Reiel Folven and Jack Alpert. Jack has a plan and Reiel understands that plan better than anyone I know. They deserve our careful consideration.

    Incidentally, Jack Alpert plans to be in Chapel Hill on August 12th to meet with a group of people interested in the “One Child Per Family” project.

    As ever,

    Steve

  20. How much is the problem of temporal blindness identified by Jack Alpert simply a different description of the “Hyperbolic Discount Function” identified in such articles as:

    http://repositories.cdlib.org/are_ucb/934R/
    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2243
    http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Hyperbolic%20Discount%20Functions.html

    While I don’t discount the possibility of changing behaviour through social mechanisms, if genetics and brain structure do play a significant role in normalizing large-group behaviour, we may not be able to effect enough change until the problem has become immediate. I think we are all in broad agreement that this might be a bit too late…

    To make my position clear, I think that the mechanisms involved in this kind of risk perception and response are heavily influenced by biological factors, and that general shifts is behaviour will take too long to be effective. this is exacerbated by the degree to which nations and some social groups (aka The Powers That Be) may see themselves as have a vested interest in preserving BAU for as long as possible. As a result they will actively work to obscure the situation and prevent action. We’re seeing that with Global Warming right now, after all.

    Individual perceptions and behaviour is easier to alter, and is already happening. That’s why I’m putting my trust in the movement identified by Hawken, but not expecting it to be able to influence the initial course of events (i.e. the decline) any more than marginally and locally.

  21. Paul,

    Sorry for my delay in replying. I’m actually working on getting a few thoughts into writing, but it may be tomorrow now before I get them posted in the comments here. I want to read a bit more as well on the issue addressed in the links you provided. (I’ve read pieces of them previously, but need to dig in a little more, and maybe look more at Jack Alpert’s “temporal blindness” idea too.)

  22. Hi to all,

    As we attempt to get hold of some of knottiest problems I have ever considered, let us remember a thought from someone most respected …..

    “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.” – Albert Einstein.

    Always,

    Steve

  23. Funny, I never heard of Paul Hawken until I saw a quote from him in, of all places, the NYT Fashion and Style section (which I wrote about here). Only after learning more about him did I realize how appropriate it was to find him quoted there.

    John: But the idea of expanding our sphere to reach others (locally) who don’t see the same problems does make sense.

    Often sayings that get repeated a lot — like “thing globally act locally” — begin to feel trite, but just as often they get repeated precisely because they state something true and important. Expanding one’s social sphere can happen these days just as easily on the web as in their physical community, Hawken and WiserEarth are an example of that. WiserEarth is a web portal doing on-line community building as well as helping to supporting thousands of organizations acting locally.

    I think the notion of acting locally is a call to use our time and energy as effectively as possible. To me it’s example setting that has the biggest return on investment. Hence my current desire to change my work life to coincide more closely with heartfelt beliefs. The words I write on Trinifar are written anonymously to protect my livelihood. That’s become intolerable to me, so I’m looking for a new career that lines up with my beliefs. I’m feeling the same way about owning a big house — even one that’s green. Time to change that. Either turn it into something that serves more than two people or sell it to some one who will.

    I’d like to see more people take steps like these and think the best way to influence them to do so is to do it myself. That’s the sort of thing I’m thinking about. That, and the idea of using our common human abilities as social animals to reach out to people who was see as “the other,” the people who don’t think and act like we do. I find that far more difficult on the web than in person.

  24. Trinifar,

    One of the advantages of advanced age is not having anything to protect, not really. For all its disadvantages, getting older does have certain benefits.

    Steve

  25. Paul,

    Here are some thoughts. My views on these things are evolving and may be different a few months from now, but this is today. 🙂 These thoughts are not too well organized, just a first pass at some of this stuff. Not far below they become more brainstorming than well considered thoughts. But FWIW, here they are. :-/

    It seems we have two challenges, and questions about whether we can overcome either one.

    1) There’s the need to do the things necessary to achieve sustainability. These would include things like a large population reduction, a complete transition away from fossil fuels to renewable, clean energy sources, and a transition to sustainable farming methods, to name three biggies. (And it seems no farming method is sustainable at our current numbers.)
    Looking at this in isolation, the main challenge, on the most general level is: Can we do those things quickly enough to keep up with the societal impacts of declining oil production, increasing climate change, species loss, etc. Various factors make that difficult.

    Some estimate we won’t be able to develop the technologies to replace oil fast enough to avert major societal collapse. On the other hand, I see assertions that with existing technologies we could reduce humanity’s ecological footprint by 90%. I doubt that’s quite true at our current numbers, but to the extent it’s on the right track, it would seem to point more to the challenge of persuading people/leaders of the value of making such a transition than to the challenge of technological development.

    There would still be the challenge of reducing population, which brings its own cultural challenges, but if we could do all the things one would hope to do under ideal circumstances, that might buy us enough time to get such a reduction on the right path.

    In any event, it’s clear that if there is too much resistance to these changes for too long, we will fail to one degree or another.

    But these things are a matter of degree, aren’t they? There seems little chance we’ll march forward beautifully, without a hitch, making a smooth and painless transition to sustainability. There will be difficulty, societal impacts, deaths, etc. But to what degree? It seems to me we can only say, “This is my best guess.” But then we can add, “I estimate this guess is about x% likely, with y% chance of this other possibility, and z% chance of this other possibility, etc” We could even add, “I estimate about an x% chance that my guesses, as a whole, are significantly wrong.” That is, we’re working with best guesses based on informed assumptions that try to predict some difficult-to-predict aspects of the future.

    Again, my view could be different in a few months, but to me this indicates room for hope for this civilization or, more likely, some subsequent version of it. If committed action is taken, we have some chance to avert extreme cataclysm. Based on what I’ve read to date (not nearly enough, but…), I think there’s no question there will be a sizable number of deaths as a result of overshoot (arguably, they’re already happening), but I don’t feel I can say confidently that they will number in the billions over a few decades. Perhaps the right actions can prevent millions or even billions of deaths. And even if the chance of that positive impact is very small, the stakes are so high it seems any attempts are worthwhile. That’s why I think it remains worthwhile to continue talking about addressing population. And doing so is downright cheap compared to a lot of other programs we spend on. What if it only saved a few hundred thousand lives? Still well worth it, no? My most recent written thoughts about that are in this adaptation of an earlier post here:

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_john_fee_070710_when_environmental_w.htm

    That said, my main concern right now is that people simply wake up to the array of problems creating this ecological/societal crisis. I do think that right now that’s where the greatest focus should be. If people appreciated what we’re facing, most would quickly think about things like the need to reduce population size.

    2) There’s the need to overcome some sort of human tendency not to act on seemingly distant threats. We need to deal with this so that we *can* take the above actions in the first place. Again, if we don’t do that very well, we’ll fail to one degree or another. Despite being originally trained as a psychologist, I’ve been out of the field for years, and am not at all up on the thinking around this issue. But today I’ve read the article by Nate Hagens on the Oil Drum, and did read your piece on it a while back.

    For two reasons, I think there may be room for hope here as well.

    (a) This, again, is a matter of degree. And if we can find ways to overcome it in some people, we may be able to apply those on a larger scale. It seems we can overcome other hardwired tendencies — to varying degrees. We do so when we resist the urge to respond to a problem with violence, for instance. Now it’s true there’s a whole lot less resistance to such urges today than there should be, but people can do it. Another example might be when someone does take actions with only distant future benefits in mind. (e.g., investing for one’s childrren, taking care of one’s health…).

    So a question might be how to get people/nations to do this. I think we agree that these things seem to happen more easily on the level of the individual or small group. Maybe that points to some sort of strategy. Take all those small groups Hawken mentions and get them all to take certain actions. Maybe that level of organization negates the small group effect. I’m not sure. But many small group actions might add up to national level change.

    Hagen quotes E.O. Wilson:

    “The only way to make a conservation ethic work is to ground it in ultimately selfish reasoning. An essential component of this formula is the principle that people will conserve land and species fiercely if they forsee a material gain for themselves their kin or their tribe.”

    He also offers a few ideas of his own:

    “If we spend 99% of our efforts on educating people on the facts of peak oil, yet nothing happens, it would be better to spend 50% of our efforts on education and 50% by example.”

    And because older people and women tend to apply smaller discount functions…

    “But having a team of middle aged female monks running the climate change team may not be a bad idea (I’m only half kidding).”

    And…

    “We need to hit the emotional triggers well ahead of peak oil.”

    So I think there are some seeds of ideas there. We may not (probably won’t?) be able to apply great solutions to bring about just what we’d like to see. But we may be able to smooth the way — to one degree or another. At least that’s how it seems to me today. 🙂

    (b) As a psychologist by training, I’d say we shouldn’t put too much stock in whatever is today’s theory of human behavior. I mean, I’ve seen the theories come and go, and be replaced by new theories. In time we may find, for example, that while humans are subject to a discount function, other (cognitive?) factors reliably counterbalance it under the right circumstances. (I suppose the discount function research does already say something like that — which creates room for hope, no?) The human psyche is just too complex to assume we’ve got very much of it truly figured out at this point. (I’ve also seen what I thought were some very powerful explanatory models tossed aside because they didn’t fit certain groups’ preferences.) Hagen, I think, is young. In time, with some perspective under his belt, he may be less prone to feel there’s any one theory that truly nails it.

    Glad to hear, BTW, that you’ve come through the depression you were in. Sound like those realizations and new awarenesses will serve you well no matter how things progress.

    Thoughts?

  26. BTW, Paul, I seem to refer others to your articles almost daily lately. Don’t think because I quibble with certain aspects I don’t acknowledge how solid your analyses are. 🙂

  27. John,

    There’s a lot to digest in there. Here are some random thoughts – like yours, they are still evolving, which of course is one of the reasons we write these things.

    I’ve recently had some correspondance with a soil scientist in New Brunswick. He has convinced me that plummeting soil fertility is the other major cold front to watch as the storms of climate change and peak oil converge on humanity’s cockleshell boat. I get so tired of having every new fact I uncover be another sign that we’re being swept further from shore. My reaction might be simply be evidence of confirmation bias, but I don’t think so. Of course I’d say that even if it were, right?

    The more I think about it, the more facets I discover in my attraction to the web of tiny local organizations that Hawken has described. If I may torture the nautical metaphor a bit further, they seem to be like life jackets – something we put on before the storm hits, that may or may not save us, but certainly increase our chances of survival. If we do survive our Perfect Storm, they may keep enough of us afloat that when we wash up on our desert island there will be enough of us left to build some sort of civilization (and hopefully it won’t be a “Lord of the Flies” variety). I also feel strongly that they must remain independent of each other. That is the surest way to preserve their resilience, in my mind. While joining them together might improve their leverage on larger problems, I worry about it for three reasons. One is that large organizations present single points of attack for those who wish to disable them – and I have no doubt that there are powerful forces in the world that do not wish to see the values such organizations represent get any toehold in the global consciousness. The other is that small organizations can address more problems simply because they aren’t tied to a unifying agenda. The third, and possibly most important, is that a large number of small organizations give more people an opportunity to develop ground-level leadership skills than would a smaller number of large organizations. Not only are there more leadership positions available, but the type of leadership they require is less abstract than is usual in a large group. I think that may be very valuable if any of my darker predictions are realized. So on balance I much prefer having a huge diversity of less obviously powerful groups.

    On waking people up – that’s one of the keys, and it’s why I do what I do. One standard objection is, “If the outcome is as inevitable as you say, why bother waking the sheep? In this case ignorance might very well be bliss.” My response is that in light of our need to respond helpfully even to to inevitable events, awareness is crucial. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called “Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment” that talks about waking up – that accepting reality for what it is is the only way to get in on the grandest adventure in the universe. I know it’s a painful process and many would rather not, but I have yet to meet anyone who made it that would prefer to go back to sleep. Only in full awareness is there any hope of correct action. After all, it was the sleepwalkers that gave us corn ethanol…

    I don’t worry so much any more about the disabling effects of discount functions. The problems are now close enough that many people are responding in one way or another. It seems to me the real value now lies in waking people up so that their responses are considered and helpful rather than reflexive and expedient.

    Fertility control measures are yet another form of life jacket. While they may appear unequal to the task that faces us, it’s yet another “wedge of survivability”. I am utterly convinced that the effects of mortality increase rather than fertility reduction will be what balances the scale of sustainability. However, as you point out, if we can save a few hundred thousand of the right people or a few more species by reducing the pressure before the dieoff, it’s worth it.

    With hope,
    Paul

  28. To oversimplify, there are at least two personal awakenings we go through. Becoming aware of environmental/population crisis — as crisis — is one, and this awakening appears to be occuring on an ever expanding scale. That’s good, because until a critical mass become aware of the problem we can’t take any large scale coordinated action at the level of governments and corporations.

    The second awakening I’m thinking about is the kind that Paul so courageously describes. (I say “courageously” because I think talking about despression in any context is quite courageous.) Once you become aware of the depth and breadth of the damage we are doing to the planet and each other — and how persistent that damage is going to be — I don’t see any other rational response but to enter the “long dark night of the soul,” to experience the sadness and despair associated with personal loss, the loss to subsequent generations, the loss of a vibrant and diverse world-wide ecosystem.

    To me, that deep despair seems necessary in order to wake up to the need to act anyway and do so effectively. I think there’s much freedom and personal power to be released going through this process, just the sort of thing that spiritual writers, religious and otherwise, have been talking about for millenia and psychologists have addressed more recently.

    Most of us know how disabling it is to have a mind filled with a constant stream of thoughts about hopelessness and loss. Only so many become skillful enough to respond to that state in a healthy way, that is, not by covering it over with alcohol, entertainment, shopping (pick your favorite escapist behavior), but instead learn to acknowledge those dark thoughts and the nature of the reality behind them. As a first step, I’m pretty big on distinguishing between what we know and what we are speculating about. Wild speculation needs to be seen as such. Still, setting aside the speculative disaster scenaios, there’s plenty in what we know from established science that is almost too grim for words.

    It’s quite a skill to be able to think clearly about the world and maintain a centered place in ourselves from which to act. Can’t say I’m very good at it. It’s far easier to write these words than embody them.

  29. I agree completely with the two stages you describe, Trinifar. It seems obvious to me that a committed, thoughtful environmentalist must go through them both and in that order. First accept the problem, then accept its consequences, then accept that you still need to do something besides lie down and suck your thumb.

    The biggest problem for me, and I imagine a lot of other awakening ecologists have run into it, was what could I realistically believe offered the hope I needed to make the transition out of despair. After all, if it was my insistence on realism that got me into the despair, I certainly couldn’t get out of it just by clapping for Tinkerbell.

    Most of the common articles of faith I initially tried praying to (wind, solar, biofuels, electric cars, birth control pills etc.) crumbled under the weight of scale, time frame and externalities. No hope there. I did find Terra Preta, which a useful, resilient, survivable, potentially sustainable technology, but it really didn’t seem like enough. Finally I realized that salvation would not come from this direction. There was to be no Deus Ex Machina, and my despair was complete.

    It was only when I rearranged my internal landscape in two ways that I was able to recognize and accept the hope in Hawken’s observations.

    The first way was to take the Deep Ecology/pantheism leap and see humanity as an interdependent, non-hierarchic part of a much larger universal/ecological One. That gave me a sense of place, a root from which the rest of the tree of awareness could grow. As I’ve said, I have no idea how to trigger that shift in perception. Maybe some form of ecological education could facilitate it.

    The second way I rearranged my mental furniture was to fully embrace my acceptance of inevitable decline, and give myself permission to move past it. Moving past it by 100-200 years allowed me to look back and see a rebirth rather than looking ahead and seeing death and devastation.

    I have no idea if these insights will be helpful to others who are wrestling with this dark enormity, but it’s hard to believe I’m so unique that they could be mine alone.

  30. No, you’re hardly alone in this. I think sharing your experience goes a long way to helping others get past pitfalls of despair, uninformed optomism, and polarizing, raving advocacy. Seeing signposts left by others sure helps me navigate my own journey.

    Painting pictures of plausible futures and how we might minimize damage in the short term and maximize possibilities farther down the road is, to me, a fruitful endeavor. So is forming/joining smallish organizations of the WiserEarth kind.

    It seems to me the real value now lies in waking people up so that their responses are considered and helpful rather than reflexive and expedient.

    Spot on. I think too there are many who are awake and merely need to connect to a local group doing something useful. It’s a rare person that can start an organization even at a small scale, but the person who does not wish to contribute is also, thankfully, rare.

    I like Jack Kornfield’s line, “After the enlightenment, the laundry.”

  31. Great comments, Paul and Trin. I can’t add much, but these sure are interesting times. My understanding and view of these ecological issues is evolving fast, and I’ve definitely been through some emotional dips as I’ve struggled to assimilate ideas. Not more than a couple of months ago I told a friend in email that I wasn’t sure I could continue with this blog on a long term basis because it kept me constantly in touch with some very depressing, disheartening stuff. But as you guys point out there’s a process of recognition, acceptance, and ultimately finding hope in one way or another. Paul, you’ve described your process in that exceptionally well.

    I think I’m heading toward a deep ecology perspective as well. But my reading has been awfully scattered, touching on lots of bits and pieces of things lately. So wherever I’m going it’s taking some time.

    And Trin, I like the Kornfield line. 🙂

  32. I’ve posted another article on this theme at http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population2.html , called “Cracks in the Wall of Civilization – Who Has the Polyfilla?”

    It stems from a conversation on Gristmill about Homer-Dixon’s “The Upside of Down”. Along with another discussion of why I think Peak Oil is going to trigger the collapse, it addresses some of the criticisms that population commentators receive with depressing regularity.

  33. Magne Karlsen

    Hello there. A very good article, Ken. Well done. Now, I’ve been “looking into” the world population issue for a few years now. I’m a social (cultural) anthropologist by education, but out of work, mostly because any scientific interest in the population issue is blatantly out-of-line with the political / social establishment here in Norway and the rest of Northern Europe. It’s a moral issue, I guess. And one that gives God a bad name. What a shame. So I have yet to read a single Scandinavian newspaper or science mag article on the topic.

    – —

    K. Smail: “… it is increasingly apparent that the long-term sustainability of civilization will require … a colossal reduction in both population and consumption.”

    This is the kind of argument which I can easily understand, but not cope with. Why? Because it will be absolutely impossible to reduce the world’s population unless we should start by teaching all the third world’s (catholic, muslim and hindu) school children about the consequence of three child-births per woman (the simple consequence is: POPULATION EXPLOSION), and this is not something that anyone wants to do, which is understandable. For fear of ones life, and nothing less. There is no reason to believe that third world populations in general will stop growing until they have doubled at least once and possibly twice, which means that even discussing the idea of reducing the world’s population at all is, at best, philosophic. What we need is no longer philosophy but action. Classroom action in front of 12-year-old children with calculators in front of them. Easy. But unachievable. Unfortunately. For religious, cultural, social and other moral reasons.

    – —

    K. Smail: “Obviously, a demographic change of this magnitude will require a major reorientation of human thought, values, expectations, and lifestyles.”

    That’s absolutely correct. I can only hope that I will live to see the day. – But I don’t think I will. Unfortunately.

    – —

    K. Smail: “Is it naive to hope that, once a critical mass of concerned investigators begins to make a serious case for such a reduction, it would become much easier for scientists, environmentalists, politicians, economists, moralists, and other concerned citizens of the planet to speak forthrightly about humanity’s critical need for population stabilization and shrinkage?”

    Yes. It is naive. Why? Because “God” created us with the capacity to procreate / reproduce more than fifteen times in a lifetime, that’s why. – And people in general, on all corners of this planet, will never (ever) agree to stop giving birth to an average of 3 or more children per woman. Why? Because “God is Great.” Of course. And noone is allowed to say otherwise and expect to get heard and understood at the same time. But okay: I’ll go ahead with it. I’ll say it. God is not great. in fact: God is a moron. (S)he should not have been so foolish as allowing human females to give birth to little babies more than two times in a lifetime. God’s an idiot! A fool!

  34. I’ve had some distractions and am a little behind in responding to comments…

    Paul — Thanks for the link. I’ve read part of the piece and, man, can I relate to:

    “I’ve discovered that it’s very difficult to say the things I do and not be misinterpreted.”

    It’s almost impossible, it seems, to present any sort of truth or realistic comment about population and not be wildly misunderstood. Case in point – the comments here:

    http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2007/07/when-environmental-writers-are-part-of-the-problem/

    On the plus side, I usually learn from such debate, if only in refining and honing my views. But I do find it frustrating when it seems I’ve laid out a certain message, with careful precision, as clearly as I can, only to encounter responses to things I didn’t say. :-/

    I’m going to take a close look at the Gristmill comments ASAP, as they look interesting:

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/7/24/92030/7096

  35. Magne Karlsen

    Steve: “For over 30 years Jack Alpert has been developing his thinking regarding “the causes and cures ” of what he has named “temporal blindness.”

    TEMPORAL BLINDNESS is a limitation in cognitive process. People with temporal blindness can not gather and process available information into predictions of future conditions. Their processes can not connect future conditions to a causing behavior. When their processes do create unpleasant predictions, and identify the causal behavior, they fail to create enough present meaning for the future conditions to motivate a change in that behavior.

    – —

    That’s a very useful perspective indeed. Now, it seems to me like a lot of people around me are about to become conscious of their very own “unpleasant predictions.” And they seem, also, to accept the apparent fact that there is nothing much we can do about the environmental problems at hand. Climate change and extreme weather patterns are becoming part of our common psyche now. Yet nothing what-so-ever is being done about the human side of this all so frightening dilemma.

    I can sense that people around me are finding it extremely hard – or even impossible – to open their mouths and talk about climate change. It is too frightening. Talking about this shit amounts to anti-social behaviour.

    In my personal life, this has been a very serious problem for quite a while now. I’ve been very occupied with an unbelieveable amount of environmental problems for a long time now, and I’ve been hoping that it would one-day be something that people would actually be discussing vocally and starting to actually do something about, in terms of starting to make some lifestyle changes, and pressuring people of politics and big business to become serious, but I’m hearing nothing of the sort. I’ve actually got noone to actively TALK TO about any of the big issues which are constantly under discussion on this blog and elsewhere on the internet (see the blog-roll here, for instance). Unfortunately, I’m coming to understand that ignorance indeed is bliss; that people are actively avoiding all sorts of talk about issues that each and every one of us should be deeply concerned with. I’m feeling very alone here. Lonely and lost. And if I start talking to people about climate change, I soon sense that I’m completely out of line, and out of touch with the social reality of my surroundings.

    It must be because people are conscious about unpleasant predictions of their own. The end of the world is somehow at hand here, unless all of us should actually become committed to serious lifestyle changes. It is becoming increasingly apparent here. Everywhere. But nobody seems to be doing nothing at all to change things. Not anywhere.

    But ecocide is going to take a while. It’s going to take more than just a few years. It is going to take decades, maybe centuries. And here’s what I’m afraid of: the notion that we’re all going to sit down and silently accept that the world is going to come to an end, through manmade ecocide, over the next century or so. And there is no use even thinking about doing anything about this, since it is going to happen anyway.

    What a life?!

  36. Pingback: redundancy, redundancy, redundancy « Trinifar

  37. Dear Magne,

    Incidentally, Jack Alpert is coming to Chapel Hill, North Carolina later in August to meet with some people who are thinking about the same things we are discussing.

    For whatever it is worth, Magne, please know that I do not believe the human predicament you have described so well in many places in this blog is nearly so bleak and futile as you make it out to be.

    For example, and there are surely many more of them, if Jack Alpert actually has something of value to offer us with his thinking about “temporal blindness,” then perhaps we will be able to find techniques and strategies that make it possible for people to see WHAT IT IS that is somehow inaccessible to their sight; WHAT IT IS that already exists before their eyes but, at least until now, is not seen.

    Perhaps the raising of awareness within the human community will become a profound and powerful force that helps us enjoin our leaders to lead by actively legislating necessary changes in social behavior and, thereby, more adequately fulfilling the principles of democracy for all.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  38. Magne Karlsen

    Hello again.

    I’ve been thinking about Trinifar’s and Paul Chefurka’s discussion here, and I think it has something to do with what I might call “the psycho-social processing of extreme information.” – I believe you’re both right in what you are saying here. We’re imbibing (and producing) this kind of information here, which is disheartening, almost by nature. As we can all observe and understand that the present world civilization is destroying the ecosystems of this planet very fast — by means of dirty industry, over-consumption and an all but complete lack of ecological reason — it is quite natural that people who have chosen to stay well informed on the various problems at hand, sometimes run into fits of angst and despair: we’re humans, all emotions, most of the time. –

    We’re producing an awful lot of serious and quite unfortunate information here. Then, as we start to think about it, we can easily think up a future thirty years from now (complete with 9 billion oil, gas and coal hungry consumerists, perhaps) … it is basically not looking any good, now is it? …

    – —

    Paul: “After all, if it was my insistence on realism that got me into the despair, I certainly couldn’t get out of it just by clapping for Tinkerbell.”

    Trinifar: “Once you become aware of the depth and breadth of the damage we are doing to the planet and each other — and how persistent that damage is going to be — I don’t see any other rational response but to enter the “long dark night of the soul,” to experience the sadness and despair associated with personal loss, the loss to subsequent generations, the loss of a vibrant and diverse world-wide ecosystem.”

    I know exactly what both of you mean. Problem is: it seems to me that people and societies are all about to give in to a feeling, not of despair, but of acceptance: that there’s nothing anyone can do about the grave environmental problems we are facing, and that we shall have to simply endure this as best as we can, while we all know that it’s just a question of time before it’s all over. How much time is left, is hard to tell. A few decades? A couple of centuries? As much as a thousand years? Who knows? Nobody knows, and that’s a fact.

    I’m sensing that we’re approaching an “End of Days” situation. One in which we’re all going to stop worrying about all the things that an ever growing human population is doing to nature, but just let it be. Because all good thought about fossil-fuels consumption and the greenhouse effect is futile; especially from a social / cultural point of view. No matter what might happen to the climate systems, we’re bound to remain an ever-growing bunch of fossil-fuels addicts, until the world runs out of coal or there simply is no human being alive anymore. Now why? Well, because it just is the way it is, and nothing to do about that.

    – —

    John: “I wasn’t sure I could continue with this blog on a long term basis because it kept me constantly in touch with some very depressing, disheartening stuff. But as you guys point out there’s a process of recognition, acceptance, and ultimately finding hope in one way or another.”

    Personally, I’m only hoping that a will to peace is going to come spiritually and simply possess the world’s population, as soon as possible, so that we can all start working to achieve the UN’s Millennium Goals, as I see these goals as the key to start dealing with environmental issues on the global scale. We need to stick together, and we need to experience some sort of equal sharing in the problems at hand. As it is, right now, there is way too much inequality in this world: we’re not at all together, as we need to be.

  39. Magen says,

    We need to stick together, and we need to experience some sort of equal sharing in the problems at hand. As it is, right now, there is way too much inequality in this world: we’re not at all together, as we need to be.

    Sadly, all I can think of in repsonse is, “Yep.” We need to get together. But what steps can I take to contribute to that? The Live Earth concerts were one approach, a good one. Blogs like GIM are another. I continue to believe acting locally is the way forward.

  40. Dear Friends,

    My generation appears to be mortgaging and threatening the future of coming generations by remaining religiously focused upon the endless accumulation of material wealth, the unrestrained increase in consumption of limited resources, and the continuous consolidation of political power. Despite all the cascading rhetoric to the contrary, we need not look far to see that money, power and privilege for ourselves, for our bought-and-paid-for politicians, and for our newly-made rich minions are the primary object of life.

    Regardless of the human-driven calamities — derived from per human over-consumption, unbridled economic globalization and skyrocketing global human numbers — that might befall coming generations, we live on in a patently unsustainable fantasy world (we call it reality) of idle comforts, effortless ease, conspicuous consumption, secret handshakes, exclusive clubs, exotic hideaways and thousands of private jets, having abandoned our regard for the less fortunate among us, for the maintenance of life as we know it, and for the preservation of the integrity of Earth. Think of the single-minded pursuit of dollars, political power and privileges to profligately consume and recklessly ignore the requirements of practical reality as our raison d’etre.

    When my not-so-great generation of elders has completed its ‘mission’ on Earth, I fear young people will look back in anger and utter disbelief at the things we have done and failed to do……. all the while proclaiming ourselves “masters of the universe” in the performance of uniform exercises of virtue.

    Always,

    Steve

  41. Pingback: Earth Needs Renewed Attention to Human Population Growth « Growth is Madness!

  42. Pingback: Watch for this error « Growth is Madness!

  43. Pingback: Eugenics Moves to the Twenty-First Century « Anti Oligarch

  44. Notice that the third pingback above points to a post of the ridiculous (really just abjectly stupid) kind I mentioned in the comments introducing the article. Where do people get the nonsensical idea to try to link concern for Earth’s carrying capacity to some nefarious eugenics conspiracy?