Kudos to Chris Rapley!

Chris Rapley, head of the British Antarctic Survey and now the new head of Britain’s Science Museum, has lately been one of the leading voices calling for action to halt population growth. He’s raised the issue in discussions of climate change. A quick article in the Guardian has his latest comments. This stands out:

The crucial point is that to achieve this goal [of lowering birthrates to halt population growth sooner than it might otherwise stabilize] you would only have to spend a fraction of the money that will be needed to bring about technological fixes, new nuclear power plants or renewable energy plants. However, everyone has decided, quietly, to ignore the issue.

Rapley is a big enough name that he’s able to get the population issue into the news and has done so repeatedly. I first spotted him calling attention to it in an article on the BBC website in January of ’06. Later, I heard he’d pushed the topic in a talk about climate change. Then came another article a month ago, and now the one above.

I can’t think of another public figure as prominent as Rapley who’s been as persistent of late on the subject of population. He deserves the most positive recognition for that. Hats off to Chris Rapley!

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20 responses to “Kudos to Chris Rapley!

  1. I particularly like that last article you link to, the one in the Independent last month. It hits all the relevant points in less than 1500 words. Wish I could write like that!

  2. Yeah, that’s a good one.

    It shouldn’t be impressive that some prominent figure is persistently bringing up population. But it is, because he seems to be the only one doing so! Those in a position to get their comments into the news regularly, should really think about that.

  3. The unwillingness of scientists to see, to hear or to speak of good scientific evidence is an incomprehensible omission of incalculable import for the future of life and integrity of Earth.

    Silence in response to the good science of human population dynamics and absolute global human population numbers could be ruinous of that which many too many people vociferously claim to be protecting, sustaining and preserving.

  4. DR. CHRIS RAPLEY cannot remain one of a precious few “voices in the wilderness.” Many more clear voices for good science are needed so that a long, loud chorus line can be heard throughout the human community.

    Who among the great scientists will stand with him, Dame Jane Goodall, Donald Kennedy, Anne and Paul Ehrlich, Maura Beecher, Madeleine Weld, Albert A. Bartlett, Kent Welton, David I. Pimentel, Bruce McClure, Mike Shelby, Russell P. Hopfenberg, Anthony J. Cassills, David Delaney, Michael Glantz, Joseph Baker, John McRuer, Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Elliott Maynard, Jack Alpert, Reiel Folven, Magne Karlsen, John C. Feeney, Richard C. Duncan, Virginia Abernethy, David and Evelyn Wasdell, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Richard Pelto, Deborah Byrd, Sepp Hasslberger, Jason Godesky, Jerry Schaeffer, Michael Lerner, Jean Francois Rischard, Jane Roberts, Peter Salonius, Peter Nobel, Hazel Henderson, Brian Craig, Mary Lewis, Vivien Ponniah, William E. Rees, Martin J. Rees, E.O Wilson, Walter Kistler, David Blockstein, Neville Ash, Lester Brown, Reah Janise Kauffman, Carl Pope, Chris Flavin, Molly Sheehan, Werner Fornos, Moyne Gross-Fornos, Ellen Carnevale, Ed Weick, Gretchen Daily, Melissa K. Nelson, Jerzy Wojciecowski, Eric Levy, Fulton Hanson, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Alexander Solzhenitzhyn?

  5. Magne Karlsen


    The members of The Environment Site forum has started to discuss the population explosion again. And it all started out with a reference to Rapley’s article. The discussion board thread will show that there’s a lot of thoughts floating about on the topic. It’s not an easy and straight-forward topic, you know; as the reading of this will show.

  6. Pingback: robust sustainability « Trinifar

  7. Magne, thanks for the pointer. For me, reading the discussion there was a valuable reminder of how easily I forget how many people are either climate/sustainability/population deniers or blissfully confident of humanity’s ability to adapt/innovate successfully in the face of any difficulty.

  8. Dear Friends,

    After a too brief review of the SOLUTIONS mentioned above by some of our most respected leading thinkers, I could not adequate attention given to the issue of growth, particularly with regard to the madness of certain distinctly human over-growth activities: unrestricted propagation, unrestrained per capita consumption and the unbridled globalization of large-scale production capabilities now overspreading the surface of Earth.

    What am I missing?

    With thanks,


  9. Steve,

    I think there’s a word or two missing in your first sentence above, but I’m pretty sure you’re pointing out that there’s little attention paid in those 21 solutions to the issues of growth you mention.

    That was my reaction too. In fact, I think there’s no question that if we could wave a magic wand and have all 21 of those solutions completely implemented, it would not even come close to saving the world or solving its most pressing problems.

    This of course is typical of almost everything published these days concerning environmental matters and global problems more generally. There is an incredible blindness to our ecological plight. Is it a kind of denial, the “temporal blindness” Jack Alpert refers to, politics, or some combination of those and other factors? I’m not sure, but my current focus is simply to speak plainly about this avoidance of both our ecological plight as a whole and the issues of population and economic growth in particular. (When the larger issue of our ecological challenge does come up, another level of avoidance usually kicks in regarding the latter two issues.)

    I’m working on a piece about this right now which, if all goes well, may get far more exposure than anything else I’ve written. I will of course report on it here. In the meantime, thanks for providing that link. It’s a great example of the difficulty we, as a species, seem to be having recognizing and acknowledging the core problems with which we’re faced.

  10. Thanks John,

    I am going to double check missives. Usually I go with what comes to mind. Unfortunately, poor typing skills result in words being left out of sentences on too many occasions. Glad you were able to decipher my meaning.

    Keep going with everything you are doing. Thanks for your presence and the uncommon example of real leadership you are providing.



  11. There is an excellent interview with Chris Rapley
    A link to the interview is here
    [audio src="http://www.electricpolitics.com/media/mp3/EP2007.08.31.mp3" /]

    Dr Rapley is thoughtful, informative, accessible and compelling. I originally found the interview link at http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/8/31/62440/7565

    It’s such a shame that the people that deny the reality of man-made climate change don’t listen to him. I feel that if they were to do so, then they would find their flawed ideas very politely & gently debunked and demolished.

  12. SA,

    Thanks for the links. I’ll definitely listen to the interview soon. Assuming Rapley talks about population in it, its surprising a Grist writer linked to it. Many of them seem to have fallen in line with the “don’t talk about population” custom common to most environmentalists these days. But then, I guess it’s okay to link to something about it as long as we don’t mention it ourselves. 😉

  13. As a community, human beings appear to be moving much too slowly to adapt to the practical requirements of biophysical reality by choosing necessary behavior changes. This means we have to find alternatives to the huge scale and rapid growth rate of certain distinctly human activities now overspreading the surface of the celestial orb upon which God blesses us to live so well.

    Somehow, soon, human beings have to become more successful in communicating about some things which are currently taboo, socially unpopular, politically incorrect and economically inexpedient. For example, there is a need now for us to share widely the awareness that there can be no such thing as a successful global economy without the resources and ecosystem services provided by an adequately functioning Earth.

    Failing that, humankind might choose to deny the reality of the bounded, finite world we inhabit and to pursue a primrose path marked by trying to grow our way out of the distinctly human-forced predicament in which we find ourselves in these early years of Century XXI. By that I mean we choose a patently unsustainable path to the future which calls for the unbridled increase of human population numbers, of per capita consumption of resources, and of the world economy in our small, noticeably frangible planetary home. The pursuit of this endless growth strategy, one which adamantly advocates more of the same, outworn, environmentally degrading business-as-usual activities we see so predominantly in our culture today, needs to be carefully and skillfully examined.


    Global-Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine
    by: Sharon Begley 6 August 2007 Newsweek

    Sen. Barbara Boxer had been chair of the Senate’s Environment Committee for less than a month when the verdict landed last February. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” concluded a report by 600 scientists from governments, academia, green groups and businesses in 40 countries. Worse, there was now at least a 90 percent likelihood that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is causing longer droughts, more flood-causing downpours and worse heat waves, way up from earlier studies. Those who doubt the reality of human-caused climate change have spent decades disputing that. But Boxer figured that with “the overwhelming science out there, the deniers’ days were numbered.” As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. “I realized,” says Boxer, “there was a movement behind this that just wasn’t giving up.”

    If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. Yes, 19 million people watched the “Live Earth” concerts last month, titans of corporate America are calling for laws mandating greenhouse cuts, “green” magazines fill newsstands, and the film based on Al Gore’s best-selling book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Oscar. But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion.

    Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. “They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry,” says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. “Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That’s had a huge impact on both the public and Congress.”

    Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was “a lot” of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was “mainly caused by things people do.” In contrast, majorities in Europe and Japan recognize a broad consensus among climate experts that greenhouse gases—mostly from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to power the world’s economies—are altering climate…………………….

    As a result of the undermining of the science, all the recent talk about addressing climate change has produced little in the way of actual action………..

    ………….”As soon as the scientific community began to come together on the science of climate change, the pushback began,” says historian Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego. Individual companies and industry associations—representing petroleum, steel, autos and utilities, for instance—formed lobbying groups with names like the Global Climate Coalition and the Information Council on the Environment. ICE’s game plan called for enlisting greenhouse doubters to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact,” and to sow doubt about climate research just as cigarette makers had about smoking research. ICE ads asked, “If the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis [or Kentucky, or some other site] getting colder?” This sounded what would become a recurring theme for naysayers: that global temperature data are flat-out wrong…………….

    Faced with this emerging consensus, the denial machine hardly blinked. There is too much “scientific uncertainty” to justify curbs on greenhouse emissions, William O’Keefe, then a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute and leader of the Global Climate Coalition, suggested in 1996………………

    …………… It’s enough to make you wish that climate change were a hoax, rather than the reality it is.


  15. ScaredAmoeba,

    Well, now, a month later, I did finally manage to listen to the Rapley interview. And he does talk population, making the point that providing family planning clinics worldwide is on the order of a thousand times less expensive than technological solutions to climate change. He also makes a more general statement to the effect that he foresees societal changes as playing a larger role than techno-fixes if we hope to solve our ecological crisis. Can’t say I disagree. 😎

  16. Hats off to Chris Rapley for focussing on an unpopular but crucial aspect of the problem.

    However, we must be wary of falling under the impression that halting population growth alone will take care of the entire problem. For instance, USA, with its relatively small population, pollutes as much or more than India with its rather larger population. (This is only an instance, not an India-versus-US kinda statement, please note.)

    So we need to attack the problem of global warming from several angles… and yes, population growth is an important angle.

    As I keep saying at these fora: Ccurrently, we are a bunch of thinkers and talkers. We need to mobilize into a POLITICAL FORCE to push for reforms at a governmental level. Can we please form a Global Political Party, folks?

    Such a formation would immediately signal to a lot of governments and citizens out there that a DEEP GREEN STANCE on Global Warming has emerged as a political niche, and therefore is worth acting on.

    We need to metamorphose into a MEDIA FOCUS GROUP and a PRESSURE GROUP, people!

    Please please please think it over.

  17. Apropos John’s last comment on societal change — YEA! Let us get around to making that happen!

  18. Krish,

    (Only someone from India or China would say the US has a “relatively small population.” 😉 Just friendly teasing. You make an excellent point.)

    We need to mobilize into a POLITICAL FORCE to push for reforms at a governmental level. Can we please form a Global Political Party, folks?

    We are doing so. It’s not yet as clear and coherent and organized as many would desire, but I think it is identifiable and already has had quite an impact. I see it in the collective effort of thousands of groups. However, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by Global Political Party. What would it do, how would it function, what platform would it have? (We are a collection of individual nations each with its own political system.)

  19. However, we must be wary of falling under the impression that halting population growth alone will take care of the entire problem. For instance, USA, with its relatively small population, pollutes as much or more than India with its rather larger population. (This is only an instance, not an India-versus-US kinda statement, please note.)

    So we need to attack the problem of global warming from several angles… and yes, population growth is an important angle.

    Yes, agreed. Just want to mention a couple of things about that. First, the US’s very high rates of per person resource consumption, pollution etc. is, ironically, why some population analysts say the US has the worst population growth problem in the world — because, with regard to consumption, adding one person here is like adding perhaps 15 in India.

    This article summarizes my thoughts on population versus consumption:


    Or there’s this earlier one:


    But I totally agree that population is just one fundamental factor to be addressed, along with the economic growth problem, per capita consumption, development of clean technologies, etc.

    I admit lately to emphasizing population here more, though, than the other factors. That’s simply because it’s so underemphasized by the media most of the time. In other words, I see it as the most important insufficiently attended to contributor to environmental degradation. So I do what I can to bring it a little more attention.

    Regarding the political party, I would have questions similar to Trinifar’s, and would just say I’m all ears. I’ve never been particularly politically inclined, but would be interested to learn more of your thoughts.

    At the moment, I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of simply spreading information and awareness as much as we can. There is still a shockingly low level of awareness of most of these issues – at least here in the US. I think if that can change, it will naturally spark action as well. For now, I see helping with that as my role.