Humanity is the greatest challenge

The article quoted and linked to below came out of an idea I submitted to the BBC News’s Green Room. I was lucky enough to contact a wonderfully helpful and supportive editor (Thanks, MK!) and the piece was posted last night. It’s exciting to be able to present the ideas we discuss here and around the Web to the BBC’s worldwide audience! — JF

The growth in human population and rising consumption have exceeded the planet’s ability to support us, argues John Feeney. In this week’s Green Room, he says it is time to ring the alarm bells and take radical action in order to avert unspeakable consequences.

We humans face two problems of desperate importance. The first is our global ecological plight. The second is our difficulty acknowledging the first.

Despite increasing climate change coverage, environmental writers remain reluctant to discuss the full scope and severity of the global dilemma we’ve created. Many fear sounding alarmist, but there is an alarm to sound and the time for reticence is over.

Read the rest…

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130 responses to “Humanity is the greatest challenge

  1. Brilliant. Utterly, transcendently, coruscatingly brilliant. To see so many comments all agreeing on such an uncompromising statement was almost more than this poor heart could bear.

    Congratulations, John. You did it.

  2. As I said in an email to John, it really boosted my sense of hope that so many people responded so quickly in the comments with so much positive feedback. I was particularly touched by those that seemed immensely relieved that someone could articulate their own concerns so well and actually get these thoughts published in the mainstream media.

    There’s an untapped resource out there. That is, there are many people looking for leadership, for others to express their own conclusions in a public forum along these lines, to know they are not alone.

    I’m one of those. I thing what John has done here is hugely valuable — path breaking.

  3. And of course I had more thoughts on the matter which I expressed here

  4. Well I am really, really touched, both by your comments Paul and Trin, and by those under the piece on the BBC.

    I first ran the idea for the article past the BBC a couple of months ago and, though definitely encouraged, didn’t allow myself to be too sure it would ever really appear until last week when things accelerated and the editor I worked with made it clear this thing would be happening very soon. (I’m avoiding giving his name publicly simply because it might burden him with inquiries from who knows who. But he was very encouraging. I learned from him about writing for that kind of outlet as well.)

    Interestingly enough, it was the BBC which kind of played up the population angle for the article, even changing the title slightly to emphasize it. (There were very few significant edits otherwise.) So they really deserve credit for being willing to feature a contentious topic. It was they, by the way, who featured a piece about population by Chris Rapley as the very first Green Room article a couple of years or so ago.

    Brian Czech was right though, in his comment under the article, to point out that it was about more than population alone. It was an attempt to “say it all” in 900 words or less. 🙂

    Trinifar said:

    I was particularly touched by those that seemed immensely relieved that someone could articulate their own concerns so well and actually get these thoughts published in the mainstream media.

    I was amazed at some of the comments. As an example, there’s one which brought tears to my (and my wife’s!) eyes. It’s the one by Steven Walker. I’m afraid it paints me and the article as something I can’t live up to, but I really hadn’t expected to move someone so deeply. That alone makes the effort worthwhile.

    I think there’s a hunger among a great many people for frank discussion of some of these topics which have so far been largely shied away from. I’ve submitted multiple articles in the last six months to certain outlets which have never responded. Yet, under the environmental articles they do publish, I’ve seen commenters cry out for discussion of topics like population, peak energy, and the economic factors tied into all of it. I don’t know if that will change, but it would be great if perhaps my article would move just one editor at one of these sites to consider publishing something a little different, maybe taking a shot with a new voice or two.

    Thanks again, guys.

  5. richard jones

    IEA OUTLOOK: Food Security Fears Limit China’s Biofuel Output
    IEA OUTLOOK: Revises Up CO2 Energy Growth To 57% By 2030
    IEA OUTLOOK: Energy Supply Infrastructure Needs $22T By 2030
    IEA OUTLOOK: Coal Resurgence Seen As Oil Prices Take Toll
    IEA Numbers Refer To Business-As-Usual Energy Scenario
    IEA Revises India Annual Energy Demand To 3.6% Vs 2.3%
    IEA Revises China Annual Energy Demand To’30 To 3.2% Vs 2.9%
    IEA Sees China As Biggest Energy Consumer Soon After 2010
    IEA Cuts Non-OPEC Oil Supply Growth To 0.5%/Yr Vs 0.7% In 06

  6. richard jones

    numbers hit the tape this morning

  7. Magne Karlsen


    We’re fast approaching a collective top of the mountain experience. Problem is: this leaves most people with a strong feeling of despair, anguish, hopelessness, etc., and what we are developing, is, quite simply, an understanding that “this is it” — and that nothing can ever be done about it. I’ve read through the comments on the BBC thread, and I can only see that a lot of people are now acknowledging that the world’s population is faced with too many problems; only one of which is the population explosion.

    Now, of course: we’ve been discussing a lot of taboo topics here on your blog for quite a while now. It remains to be seen how we’re coping as more and more people around the world comes along and agrees with us?

    Congratulations anyway. You seem to be the hit of the week. 🙂

  8. Magne Karlsen

    But then, of course: in order for individual human beings, as well as (and most importantly) whole societies of people, to even start to think about dealing with the problems at hand, we’ve got to first recognise that the magnitude of big ecological problems we are faced with, is indeed disturbing.

    I pray that an initial feeling of hopelessness — as easily spotted in the discussion threads on The Oil Drum and BBC — will eventually evolve into a more serious ecological preservation movement. It’s like Steve, Trinifar, you and myself (along with millions of other people; here, there and everywhere) has always and constantly insisted: AWARENESS IS THE FIRST STEP. — — We’re getting there.

    Now, after that, the question is: how do “we” go about dealing with the social / cultural (mental, psychologial, spiritual) tendency to deliberately ignoring all warnings?

  9. Dear Magne, Paul, Trinifar, John and Friends,

    Magne, you put our circumstances so wonderfully well when you speak of a collective mountaintop experience.

    I share your view that we have arrived at the “top of the mountain.” Possibly the time has come just now and is, therefore, somehow right to look at where we go from here.

    What I going to present is nothing new to our group; however, I remain convinced that the work of Dr. Jack Alpert has not yet received the attention it richly deserves.

    Basically, his work calls out to the human community to immediately begin reversing the current trend of skyrocketing absolute global population numbers by implementing a program of rapid population decline. Rather than near exponential population expansion, he is advocating rapid population contraction.

    What his work indicates is the need for a worldwide, “ONE CHILD PER FAMILY” initiative. He is not the only person to be advocating such a plan of action. Alan Weisman, the author of The World Without Us, has come to precisely the same conclusion.

    Just for a moment, imagine that the a majority plus one of the human community shared the “top of the mountain” view that what we are doing now by adamantly advocating and relentlessly pursuing certain distinctly human overgrowth activities would eventually lead to the collapse of either human civilization or Earth’s ecology or both. Let us also suppose that this majority plus one agreed that the ethical thing to do was not to keep doing what we are doing now, but something different. If having multiple human offspring was unethical and having not more than one child per family was ethical, in part because such a program of action would have survival value for the human species, its global economy, other species and the integrity of Earth, then it seems to me that humanity would naturally and democratically move in a new ethical direction, along another path, perhaps to a good enough future for our children and generations to come.

    Our “mountaintop” perspective makes one thing crystal clear: if humankind chooses to follow the current path of endless economic globalization, endless per human consumption and endless population expansion, a colossal wreckage of some kind is in offing.

    In light of the great work being done by the contributors to the GROWTH IS MADNESS BLOG, I would like to ask humbly that you turn your attention to a website, one I presented some time ago.

    Once there, I would suggest that you begin by reviewing what Jack calls SKIL Notes. There are now 45 of them and they are mercifully short. These Notes show a certain careful and skillful development of thinking about resolving THE PROBLEM that presents itself to humanity now as the proverbial ‘mother’ of all global challenges, I believe.

    Always, with thanks,


  10. Hi all,
    First, I wanna say that after many days (or months?) of dark thoughts, reading the news and the reports coming out from different international entities, after such a long time witnessing an ecological disaster, I felt hope while reading this article and the comments that spread so far down on the webpage 🙂
    Yes, there is hope in that an overwhelming majority of readers acknowledge the issue, and are willing to act. Yes, there is hope because when put in front of the facts, people can accept the truth; because the taboos seem to fade away and a discussion has been started. It is still a long way from being addressed on the international level, but this excellent article has showed one critical thing:
    There are people out there that share our opinions but who do not know where to look to find support, to express themselves. Eventually they have found it, and for once, growth could be a sign of relief, growth of this community of thinkers recognizing population growth as a fundamental issue that cannot be avoided.
    Today, I feel delighted. Might this day be the start of this change we have been waiting for.

  11. Have to admit that I too, after enjoying the glow of the positive response to John’s essay, sit here wondering about how quickly we can actually affect positive change.

    There is perhaps nothing more difficult in this world of ours than convincing other of the need to reduce per capita consumption and reduce our numbers. To get people to act by motivating them a rather abstract argument (to my mind anything involving math is abstract) is to say the least quite challenge.

    I wonder what sort of movement, what combination of existing movements, will be successful in convincing people to have one or no children and to voluntarily forego consumption that all the people around them are enjoying.

    Awareness is the first step. I may be way out of line in thinking about the next steps; it might be better to just enjoy the little success of having the BBC publish John’s essay. But that’s not my nature. Ever the engineer, I’m always looking at the future behavior of the system under study.

  12. John,

    Great article! I think we should propose a few concrete steps. There are two main sources of unchecked population growth.

    People in developed countries live way too long and consume too much of the finite resources. We should ban people from living beyond the age of 60. A number of environmentally-friendly concentration camps can be built in developed countries that would finally solve the overpopulation problem there.

    In the developing countries the problem is different. They have way too many children. Mandatory sterilization seems like the only reasonable solution. I’m afraid that a few concentration camps will have to built there as well. We need to do something with irresponsible women who will refuse to be sterilized.

    Of course, one-size-fits-all approach will not always work. Obviously people like us should not be exterminated at the age of 60. We are too valuable for the movement to save the Earth.

    [Response: I’m responding in line because there are currently a lot more readers here than usual and Andrei’s sarcastic comment presents a great opportunity to highlight one of the obstacles to raising awareness of population issues. That obstacle is willful ignorance.

    It takes only minutes to look into what research and expert consensus tells us concerning effective approaches to addressing population growth. There’s an excellent summary at Trinifar and my own early attempt to summarize similar information remains here on GIM.

    That someone like Andrei hasn’t bothered to take a minute to learn about the issues, but is willing to assert a sarcastic, completely uninformed viewpoint reflects one of the real hurdles in raising awareness about these topics. How do we get the Andrei’s of the world to suppress for a moment their urge to toss around forceful, knee-jerk, willfully ignorant opinions, and instead make the tiny effort to educate themselves minimally on the issues? — John]


    Dead Kennedys: “Kill The Poor”

    Efficiency and progress is ours once more
    Now that we have the Neutron bomb
    It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done
    Away with excess enemy
    But no less value to property
    No sense in war but perfect sense at home:

    The sun beams down on a brand new day
    No more welfare tax to pay
    Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
    Jobless millions whisked away
    At last we have more room to play
    All systems go to kill the poor tonight

    Kill kill kill kill Kill the poor:Tonight

    Behold the sparkle of champagne
    The crime rate’s gone
    Feel free again
    O’ life’s a dream with you, Miss Lily White
    Jane Fonda on the screen today
    Convinced the liberals it’s okay
    So let’s get dressed and dance away the night

    While they:
    Kill kill kill kill Kill the poor: Prophetic Tonight? 😀

  14. I’ve no idea what Andrie’s point was. That’s the problem with sarcasm; unless it’s masterfully done, you never really know what it’s trying to say. And I think John was quite right to jump in and clarify yet again his compassionate approach to population reduction.

    I hope Andrie hangs around to clarify his thoughts. Could be he actually supports John’s point of view and was making a kind of pre-emptive strike against the those who start to cry about eugenics and the like whenever overpopulation is discussed.

    Sarcasm is a powerful technique, but one so difficult to use constructively those of us who are not masters of the form should avoid it or add some clarifying remarks when feeling compelled to use it.

  15. A proud moment:

    I’ve now been criticized by conservative columnist, Mark Steyn, in the National Review Online. :mrgreen:

    It’s appears to be a kind of blog posting on the site, and I wanted to jump in to say something about his labeling me some sort of people hater on the basis of this line from the article…

    We must end world population growth, then reduce population size. That means lowering population numbers in industrialised as well as developing nations.

    …while conveniently leaving out this one:

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

    Alas, it appears there’s no comment feature. It seems the replies are only from other columnists there.

    Still, this is kinda fun! 🙂

    Seriously, I think prompting someone like Steyn to make public his disingenuous and/or ignorance-based views and letting people compare them with those of anyone seriously investigating these issues can only help.

  16. John Theodorou


    Great website. however I have a couple of questions.

    Is it possible to bring human numbers down without a dieoff seeing we are already in overshoot, and what would you consider to be the state of the planet’s carrying capacity for us given how much we’ve degraded it?



  17. John, I completely agree with all that you say here. I would like to hinge my own comment on what you say at the end, “Implementing these actions will require us all to become activists, insisting our leaders base decisions not on corporate interests but on the health of the biosphere.”

    I would like to stress that our primary duty now, individually and collectively, lies in TRIGGERING ACTION that actually causes us palpable discomfort.

    The myth we all are subscribing to — the myth of UNLIMITED ECONOMIC GROWTH — needs to collapse in all our minds. We all believe that barring a few minor hiccups (‘corrections’ in stock-market jargon), a steady rate of GDP growth can be indefinitely sustained even as human population growth can be indefinitely sustained.

    Our learned economists really do believe that year after year, the goodies that we consume can grow in volume and quality, and our lives can get better and more luxurious. They base all their projections on this theory. And our governments and we citizens believe in this myth.

    The theory of nuclear energy or solar energy replacing fossil fuels as a source of UNLIMITED ENERGY TO FUEL UNLIMITED GROWTH is a corollary to the previous myth.

    Folks, these are myths! Let’s face it!

    Global Warming is a real emergency! We really must stop hiding our collective heads in the sand, and look at the real solutions. Not just small adjustment-type solutions like ‘Let us educate more people, learn to switch off the lights, conserve bathwater and see what happens’!


    And yes, that is defintely gonna hurt.

    Cutting back consumption means coming out of our addiction to credit cards, private vehicles, packaged goodies, the mania for owning the ‘latest model’ of every electronic toy designed for adults — such as camera-phones, flat-screen televisions and more swish cars.

    Of course reduced consumption by all those of us who are overconsuming resources will definitely mean NEGATIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH RATES! But this is a necessary shot of bitter medicine, and we have to take it, like it or not!

    It also means IMMEDIATELY PUTTING OUR CAREERS on back-burners. Let us forget our obsession with maintaining a nice gradient of promotions, salary raises and increases in quarterly profits, please!

    Can some of us please start petitioning our governments to STOP REGISTERING NEW PRIVATE TRANSPORT VEHICLES, which compete with public transport and lower their efficiencies? We need to cap their numbers and then reduce their numbers every year while swiftly stepping up PUBLIC TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE to enable more energy-efficient movements.

    We also need to petition airlines to STOP REWARDING FREQUENT FLYERS. We need to fly around less! Let’s try to make do with internet, tele-conferencing, video-conferencing and email-groups, for Chrissake! We need to benchmark so that the numbers of journeys by flights and all means of transport are brought down.

    We need to petition banks to stop rewarding BIG CREDIT-CARD SPENDERS and indeed, to cap the growth of credit cards at existing levels! We need to consume what requires less manufacturing, less packaging and less transportation. For instance, let us replace that bottle of coke with a nice home-brewed cuppa tea!

    And last but not least, citizens of developed and developing nations need to take the lead in forcing their governments to ACTIVELY SEEK NEGATIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH RATES for a few years as a way of shaving the head off the CO2 emissions, and reducing the rampant consumerism that we all are habituated to!

    I’m looking for thinking people to join me in actively triggering and leading a movement to spread this mindset of cooling down our individual and collective economic habits. (I already have a small group that includes a professor of climatology and a young entrepreneur. I am also on the Global Warming Committee of a chamber of commerce here in Mumbai, India, and I’ve been talking my head off at all sorts of fora… but we need lots more to generate a momentum for activism.)

    We need to do lots more than just spreading awareness, and we need to do it NOW! Please let us stop pretending that this is a problem that we can deal with at our leisure, post-retirement.

    I really do mean business, and have no time for pussy-footing around this issue. Anybody who stands convinced that this is an urgent problem that is crying out for action, please contact me now at

    My websites are: and

    Let us act now!

  18. Oh yes… and John, a footnote: I shall most happily promote your blog from my own blogs. What you state here in calm, reasoned tones needs to be widely thought about and understood.

    Warmest Regards,

  19. Magne Karlsen

    Andrei is being sarcastic, of course. Just like the Dead Kennedys. 🙂 But it should not surprise you too much, if Andrei is merely saying that many, many people actually (but quietly) think! That the whole issue of overpopulation as a dominant factor to “getting” the ecological problems of this planet, is simply too much, man … too much, too much …

  20. Dear Friends,

    We are beginning to notice in many places that ominously looming global challenges array themselves before humanity in the offing. Because these challenges appear to be derived for certain overgrowth activities of the human species, perhaps leaders of the human community are called upon to propose and adopt changes in theirs and our behavior, according to the practical requirements of biophysical reality. Please consider NINE TENTATIVE PROPOSALS as a Summary for a Plan of Action:

    1. Free, immediate and universal access to contraception;

    2. Open and readily available access to family and health planning education for everyone; and

    3. Economic and social empowerment of women.

    4. As a means of accelerating the present downward movement in birth rates in some countries, a VOLUNTARY policy of one child per family would be initiated worldwide.

    5. The many people who are suffering the unhealthy effects of obesity will share their overly-abundant resources with many too many people who are starving.

    6. Every good idea to conserve energy and scarce material resources will be implemented.

    7. Substantial economic incentives are necessary for the development of safe energy resources as alternatives to fossil fuels.

    8. Overhaul national tax systems so that conspicuous per human over-consumption of resources is eschewed and seemingly endless, soon to become unsustainable production/pollution activities of big business are transformed into Earth-friendly, sustainable enterprises.

    9. Humanity needs a modified economic system, one that is sufficiently subordinated to democratic principles and practices, one that more adequately meets the basic needs of a majority of humanity who could choose to live better, simpler lives with less resources than the rich, powerful and famous among us consume now.

    Overall, what is to be accomplished is a fair, less complicated, more equitable, and evolutionarily sustainable distribution of the world’s tangible (e.g., food) and intangible (e.g., education) resources, as soon as possible.

    Thanks for your consideration.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population

  21. Yeah, getting a mention on NRO means you’ve really arrived! 😉 How about asking Mark Steyn to guest post here and engage in the discussion? I’m serious. It would be an opportunity to really engage with people of very different views.

  22. Pingback: myriad views on overpopulation « Trinifar

  23. Pingback: population growth gets some mainstream attention « Trinifar

  24. You all are crazy wacko environmentalists. You really don’t care about the environment; all you care about is controlling people like a socialist or marxist. Is John Feeney related in any way to Stalin? If you want to rid the planet of humanity, get rid of yourself first.

  25. Thank you so very much for your well presented article. I find that whenever I bring up population as an issue with friends it is frequently met with disbelief, hostility and denial. I am saddened by this as these are generally caring, thoughtful people but we seem to have an enormous blindspot….and this concerns me greatly. Of course, the 1st world-centric notion that it is “not our problem” doesn’t help. Hopefully if the subject was aired more it may sway a lot of people especially if arguments are presented in such a calm and reasonable manner ( mind you, I’m quite uncalm about it).

  26. (March 2007):

    “We should be working at war-time speed, but there seems to be a collective blindness.”

    “As humans, we are dependent on natural ‘ecosystem’ services to a far greater degree than most people realise. With their business-as-usual stance, politicians hardly consider the enormously destructive effects of their policies. When they talk of ‘the economy’ and the need to protect it, they are talking only of the sum total of human consumptive activities. The ecological structure supporting this economy is forgotten and/or overlooked. Economic growth is seen as a good thing.”

    – Robert Anderson

  27. Dear Magne,

    Momentum is building. Many are the signs of forward movement and nascent change.

    We will overcome humanity’s momentary collective blindness; our ineffectual leaders; the ignorant naysayers and rankled denialists; and the hysterically deaf, willfully blind and electively mute among us as well as those more clever ones who speak with forked tongues, who peddle disinformation, half-truths and outright lies.

    As intelligent fools with power often do, they widely disseminate and repeat false statements often enough so as to make them appear believable.



  28. “This is a list of languages, ordered by the number of native-language speakers, with some data for second-language use. Languages are listed for secondary locations only when spoken by more than 1% of the population.”

    … and this is a joke:

    – “Oke mas, kalo gitu kapan saya mulai kerja?” eeh si manajer malah bingung. Asem! 😀

  29. Question: Is some sense of togetherness needed in order to adress the issue of climate change? If so: how are we going to go about achieving the necessary sense of togetherness here, on a global level?

    Answer: The above question is just plain stupidly put. – Give it up, man!


    Just for the record: there ain’t no sense of belonging to the world; we are citizens, all of us, first and foremost. And expected to be patriotic about it, too! – A full disc of national anthems would have been splendid.


    As a social anthropologist by education I feel like exclaiming: “Whoooah! Check this out!”

    – — 😀

  32. Helen,

    I am saddened by this as these are generally caring, thoughtful people but we seem to have an enormous blindspot….and this concerns me greatly.

    Yes, absolutely.

    Hopefully if the subject was aired more it may sway a lot of people especially if arguments are presented in such a calm and reasonable manner

    That’s the hope. As others are saying, I think we’re seeing some renewed interest in the subject. Let’s hope it only grows (even though growth is madness! 😯 )

  33. Trinifar,

    Yeah, I’ll think about asking Steyn to do that. It does help to put the two views side by side in order to help readers weigh their respective merits. On the other hand, I’m also concerned about the problem of making it look as though the other side has a legitimate argument. It’s much like the problem climatologists have in publicly entertaining the views of climate change deniers. You even get major broadcast outlets presenting both “sides” as equally weighted when the reality is that the denier side is tiny compared to the scientific consensus. I think if the population debate were confined to natural scientists the skew would be similar.

    Anyway, yeah, I’m weighing the options…

  34. “Cogito ergo sum.”

    Dear John,

    This article is the best article on “the world problematique” that I have ever read. You have provided us with a most thorough description, or holistic analysis, of the problems at hand. Now, philosophically speaking: I can certainly agree with you, in that “humanity is the greatest challenge.” You’ve managed to wrap it up for us, in the most compelling manner. But you see: this leaves us with a new and unspoken challenge … I don’t know … maybe it’s unspeakable? …

    Question: “WHAT IS HUMANITY?” 8)

  35. Thanks Magne! Well I should mention that the original title of the article was “Waking up to humanity’s greatest challenge.” That would have left me free not to grapple with your question. But the BBC played up the population angle a bit. Hence the different title. That was fine by me, but now I have to deal with impossible questions. 😕

  36. John Theodorou,

    Is it possible to bring human numbers down without a dieoff seeing we are already in overshoot, and what would you consider to be the state of the planet’s carrying capacity for us given how much we’ve degraded it?

    Those are very tough questions. They’re debated by capable minds on both sides. So I can offer no easy answer. Some of it may even come down to how we define a die-off. For instance, if you accept that the Iraq war as well as some other recent crises involve resources and ecological issues, then you can link many deaths already to our ecological challenges.

    But the question of a massive die-off is very tough. Catton’s book, “Overshoot,” as one example, is very well argued and suggests some form of collapse is inevitable. Yet there are certainly well informed voices arguing otherwise.

    It’s also pretty hard to estimate how much current overshoot is degrading remaining carrying capacity. I suspect Rees and Wackernagel, of “ecological footprint” fame, could take a credible shot at that. But I’m not going to try.

  37. Krishnaraj Rao ,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I will definitely look more closely at your websites as soon as I can!


    “Human nature is the fundamental nature and substance of humans, as well as the range of human behavior that is, believed to be invariant over long periods of time and across very different cultural contexts.”

    – —

    “Human nature is one of those things that everybody talks about but no one can define precisely. Every time we fall in love, fight with our spouse, get upset about the influx of immigrants into our country, or go to church, we are, in part, behaving as a human animal with our own unique evolved nature—human nature.”

    “Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct.”


  39. Google: “fear of change necessity”:

    – —

    Mr. Gourevitch did not portray himself as a skeptic of climate change, but he argued, “What the science cannot tell you is what our political and social response should be.” Science cannot determine whether humans should focus on mitigation or adaptation, he said.

    Mr. Gourevitch quoted Al Gore as describing the climate change not only as the most urgent issue of our time, but also as a unique opportunity for current generations to affect the course of history. Mr. Gourevitch summarized this approach as “the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the human need for transcendence.”

    – —

    “Individuals respond differently to the prospect of change and often react to change by resisting or avoiding it or blaming others for the change.”

    – —

    I’m thinking: when the prospect of change comes around as a necessity, the people’s fear of change becomes enormous. Social change is easy when it is wanted, but it is virtually impossible when it is a necessity; in this case according to the natural sciences. Under these circumstances the idea of social change gives rise to a lot of other forms of fear. The fear of failure, for one. – A taboo topic of sorts.

  40. Too many politicians and corporate CEOs are ignominiously disregarding consistent and overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming and other pernicious forms of climate change. What is woefully inadequate, what is unconscionable, is the dearth of reasonable and sensible leadership by those who have assumed the responsibilities of positions of power in the political economy.

    Business-as-usual that adamantly and relentlessly favors unbridled industrialization and unrestrained economic globalization could be approaching a point in history when the huge scale and rapid growth rate of endlessly expanding business activities are soon to become patently unsustainable on a relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth.

    Perhaps now is the time for national leaders to acknowledge a nest of world problems, the reality of which most leaders remain in denial.

    Given the probability that certain dimly visible but identifiable global problems can be expected to fall into the laps of our kids, it appears somehow not quite right both to willfully leave these problems unattended and, even more disturbing, to fail in the exercise of a DUTY TO WARN our children: a duty to warn them of potential dangers to life as we know it and to the integrity of Earth.

    Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

  41. The fear factor: “Oh Lord! What in God’s name have we done?!”

    – — 8)

    Social, political and economic institutions and organizations still go to great lengths in order to suppress or repudiate the science on which knowledge of environmental hazards is based. And ordinary everyday people go privately to great lengths in order to do the same: suppress all knowledge about environmental degradation and global warming. The truth about humanity’s irresponsible acts of violence on the natural environment on which we all depend, is simply too inconvenient to even contemplate. Normal, everyday people (unlike myself) do not want to know. Knowledge about environmental hazards is scary. The soothing belief in natural cycles is a much easier idea to cling to. — And thus — in this simple social / cultural fashion — the social, the political, and the economic status quo is forever secured. — Why? Because all forms of positive change is very easily interpreted as a bad omen.

    What I argue is that we don’t have to suppress knowledge at all. The open pursuit of knowledge must be our greatest weapon against the dangers of environmental degradation.

    But again. All I need to do in order to convince myself that I’m fighting a losing battle, is to turn on the television and listen to the news, which is always about millions of dollars.

  42. HOW CAN PEOPLE BE INDUCED TO CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR? The Path from Persuasive Communication to Binding Communication.

    – Robert-Vincent Joule, Fabien Girandola, Francois Bernard

    “Many prevention, education, and communication professionals suppose that as long as the information ‘goes down well’, and/or as long as the arguments are ‘strong’ enough, the proper behavior will automatically fall into place. Social psychologists have long been aware, however, of the limits of such an assumption. Informing and convincing are not enough, as ‘good ideas’ don’t automatically lead to ‘proper behavior’.” (p. 1 – 2)

    “According to the circumstances, subjects will feel more or less bound by the act they were induced into doing. We can therefore understand why Kiesler chose to define commitment as the link between people and their actions. It is quite easy to grasp, for instance, that the link will be stronger when the person acts in a context of freedom rather than in one of constraint.” (p. 9)

  43. THE LOSS OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: A Group Relations Perspective on Our Failure to Take Collective Action

    – Trudy Heller, Dana Kaminstein

    Click to access loss_of_the_natural_env.pdf

    “This paper seeks to contribute to our understanding of American society’s failure to take collective action in the face of substantial loss to our natural environment. We argue that Group Relations Theory is an essential perspective for understanding this inaction, as it allows us to see how social structures function to protect us from the unpleasant emotions provoked by realization of the environmental crisis.

    We present evidence of how the defensive mechanisms of splitting and denial serve to defend us against the unpleasant emotions evoked by the loss of the natural environment. We find evidence of these defense mechanisms in the way we idealize technology while marginalizing critics of technology, in the way we export our dirt and in the way we maintain environmental secrets. We explore practical methods, suggested by the Group Relations perspective, for enabling collective action.”

  44. Hi Magne,

    As a psychologist, you can imagine how much I enjoyed your post, just above. I find the perspective of the Object Relations theorists, beginning with Dr. Melanie Klein, particularly appealing.

    Although this next link is not on our current topic, I trust those of us who are thinking globally might find something useful in the Abstract that follows.

    As ever,



    “A lack of trust in the capacity of states and other actors to tackle environmental issues leads to international environmental insecurity. Awareness of such incapacities is widespread and is increasing in `modern risk societies’.”

    – Monica Tennberg

  46. Magne and Steve,

    Yes, these are definitely key points. We defend against awareness and recognition of the truth, and there will have to be attention paid to how to get around that to allow for change.

    It goes hand in hand, I suppose, with the large obstacle of getting these issues into the mainstream media.

    I’ll be interested in reviewing those links.


    Now, here’s an even greater challenge! 😀 “A US police chief has stockpiled chainsaws – in case his city is invaded by zombies.”

  48. Those here, including Jim Feeny “PhD” and everyone else here with their happy face – woe is me Humanitarian approach to life, are likely not going to like what I write about this article and the comments that have followed it, especially if they simply read what I write for how they might be offended by my words.

    I am offensive for a reason. You are all vile and vain sinners.

    However, my skin is thick, my hair is still curly, if a hoary white, and I personally don’t care what anyone here thinks. And, because I want you all to think, and remember what I think, I will speak the truth as I know it, coarse, and insulting to all of you. You will all read, because I write well enough, and you will all come to your own silly conclusions about what I have written because you are human. You are not gods. You are not immortal. You are not even prescient. We all wheedle our lives away sleep walking through life oblivious to everything about which we are not already dreaming about, wet dreams or nightmares, and so very rarely brushing up against reality, the thing in itself, it is as if we were never here at all to perform any of our lofty but otherwise until now impossible free will. Everyone here is but an automaton, punching their Humanitarian card daily with their thoughts, feeling good about themselves, but wholly unable to affect their free will because they know not what is moral.

    Would you affect your free will to be immoral? No. That is an easy enough rhetorical question coming from the hurdy gurdy droning language that means nothing much or most of the time it is used… You can answer that question can you not? Would you claim to have affected your free will if you did something that was immoral? No. Hooray! We are awake, or so it seems.

    Well then, how do you know you have affected your free will, if you do not know what is moral?

    You don’t know what is moral, exactly, do you?

    Do you think you do? Then what is moral?

    Morality is not relative, as you all assume, and as you have been endlessly taught by the schools that teach that everything will be uncovered for you through empirical science as if there, as if there you would find some sort of truth.

    It is a lie. It is a fraud. Empiricism itself is but a more complex and thorough witchcraft. There are no moral tenets inherent to anything empiricism. And, none of you could possibly affect your free will by your knowledge of any of it, the now vast and vastly dangerous empirical knowledge set.

    You have shaved away, and honed your empirical models in an attempt to recreate the reality of the thing in itself that you have never known except by your enfeebled senses, sleepwalking through life as you all do, each of you with this vile belief that empiricism reveals truth. Did witchcraft reveal any truth? Empiricisms have revealed no more.

    How could you affect some of your lofty free will, if you do not know what morality is? How could you know what is truth, and what is a lie, if you cannot and do not even know what is moral?

    Jim Feeny, who until not too long ago was “little Jimmy Feeny” down the street, or up on the hill, and who will soon enough be Old Jimmy Feeny, the old codger who used to live down the street or up on the hill…

    Jim Feeny in his article has spoken a horrific lie of silent assertion, as if there were nothing wrong with his perception, and he has handed his vile lie of silent assertion to countless others as truth through the BBC.

    Jim Feeny does not know what is moral. And because he does not know what is moral, he, like the mindless automaton he is, speaks this lie as if it came from on high. And thus he leads humanity down the path toward the destruction he himself thinks he has effectively decried in his article.

    Here is Jim Feeny’s lie of silent assertion:

    “We’re out of our league, influencing systems we don’t understand ”

    And while I understand what he is saying, I am appalled by the lie, a lie of silent assertion that this statement represents. This lie of silent assertion could not be better phrased by Lucifer himself seeking to entangle humanity in a web of deceit about the reality of the situation. Jim Feeney has performed a vast disservice to he world for which he writes with this lie.

    By this lie of silent assertion Jim Feeny calls forth an empirical messiah to give answer to his quest to know how to do these things! No empirical messiah will come. It is all a fraud.

    The truth is, humanity has always been out of its league trying to affect systems it cannot and will never adequately understand. That is the nature of the thing in itself. And until we understand what is moral, we will not even be able to restrain ourselves from uttering such lies, and from acting so immorally as we do.

    The truth is, Mr. Feeny, the promise of science to make life better, is a fraud. Who here thinks they can make life better? You are a fool if you think you can. No one can make life better. Life is the ultimate good and the ultimate truth all wrapped up into one. How do you make that better?

    Another rhetorical question emerges for the weak minds here. Be not ashamed of your weak mind, for we all, every human, we all have weak minds.

    We are so utterly ignorant, we believe that if we have heard or read a lie, there is some logical means by which to know the truth derived from the experience of hearing or reading a lie. Pshaw!


    The moral imperative of life is to live a life that detracts not at all from the lives available to those who will follow us into this world.

    That is the answer to Kant’s query about there possibly being a Categorical Imperative. I answered his philosophic query about there being a categorical moral imperative he left unanswered in 1804 when he died. I only gave answer to this conjecture in 2006.

    The Moral Imperative of Life is categorcially true.

    You can test it yourself. The Moral Imperative of Life is true in every instance with no exception.

    No empirical knowledge can meet that test.

    From The Moral Imperative of Life alone you can learn how to express your free will. With it you can become civilized in the first instance of humanity’s civilized civilization. For The Moral Imperative of Life is by far the most important discovery in the history of human discovery.

    From the moral imperative, if you take the time to consider what it means, as I have over the last year, you will find The Moral Imperative of Life means until now, humanity has been at best an empirical barbarian.

    Oh! Oh! He speaks the truth! He speaks the truth!

    Shut up, and listen, Fools.

    As empirical knowledge was once considered to laud over superstition (The Enlightenment), so now Categorical Knowledge now trumpets much more convincing than any empirical knowledge.

    Categorical Knowledge arises from The Moral Imperative of Life.

    For it is simply immoral to gamble when the wager of the gamble is in any sense the prospect for the future. Such failures here for humanity are cumulative, and they add one to the next with a continually more grave debasement of humanity in the future.

    And you fools who are Humanitarians believe it is moral to do unto others as you would have then do unto you… You selfish bastards.

    Life is a party. And you dare complain for yourself, your own needs and wants, or, the needs and wants of others at this party? You want to paint over some of the pictures? Rearrange some of the furniture? Throw some of it out?

    The host of the party is the future.

    What do you think they are going to think of their party guests when they arrive here and see the place trashed and over-populated as it is?

    What will they think if you burn the place down?

    And The Moral Imperative of Life says otherwise, quite otherwise.

    The Moral Imperative of Life says, do unto the future as you would have had the past do for you.

    That is free will.

    And I am not afraid to say it, Feeny. I am for a negative growth economy.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher

  49. Hi Don,

    I don’t know the whereabouts of the Jim Feeny guy you refer to, but since my name is similar, I’ll respond. 😉

    Your comment is probably the longest anyone’s ever left here. But beyond that, I’m not sure what you think is so offensive. You call people fools and make a few angry remarks, but none of it rings genuine to me. I think you’re just a teddy bear in disguise. 🙂

    What you end up describing is really the definition of “sustainability” as it’s understood by the most uncompromising environmentalists today. I see little to disagree with! Yes, we should “do unto the future as you would have had the past do for you.”

    And when I wrote, “We’re out of our league, influencing systems we don’t understand,” I did not mean to imply that with just a little more science or tinkering we would understand them. What will we understand in a thousand years, if “we” are still here? I wouldn’t pretend to know. But I suspect we will still be out of our league if we’re still trying to “run” or dominate the earth.

    Sorry Don, I’m afraid I’m not particularly offended. 😕 I agree with too much of what you say.

    Let me suggest, though, that many more people will read your comments if you’re a little more concise. That’s just kind of how it works in the blog world.

  50. Magne,

    Are you saying you don’t have your anti-zombie chainsaws ready? Just in case? You need one of these, man!

  51. John Feeney!-

    Yes. Just a Teddy Bear in disquise. I mean no harm. I simply have not the education or interest to express myself other than as I do, for it comes entirely out of a lack of any respect for what an “education” represents.

    To keep it short as you suggest, I will advise you and everyone else that reads here, every knowledge set given to us by empirical science, including the knowledge set of the environmental scientist, has and will always be a Pandora’s Box.

    It is always an immoral choice to open it for others and the future.

    And while you may not see your statement, “We’re out of our league, influencing systems we don’t understand ” as a challenge to develop more powerful tools, techniques and to tinker even more with the planet, some other empiricist certainly will.

    Politicians will someday run on a platform claiming that they will take the risk to correct the problems with the environment that John Feeney dicovered!

    Thank you Mr. Feeney for the inspiration.

    Have you not heard of bio-tech, genetic engineering, the genome project, nanotechnology, and advanced particle physics, lasing matter or, brain implantaion experimentation, psychology and the Tuskeegee Experiment? Oh, of course you have. So? What? Just an aberration? What, an aberration like the effects of lead, arsenic and mercury in the drinking water?

    Have you not read what the cell phone is doing to a very sure percentage of our young peoples’ brains? An aberration, like that?

    Have you not considered economics is merely the empirical science of how to more efficiently destroy the world? An aberration more like that?

    All the empirical sciences are little more than witchcraft. They are all immoral.

    An empirical education, and, even the very development of empirical knowledge sets are both categorically immoral. They are wagers against the clear probability of human nature using these dangerous empirical knowledge sets, immorally, and causing a cumulative harm to the future.

    This sort of thing is going to happen, every time.

    Thank your lucky stars, kids, that Ted Kaczynski
    was neither a bio-engineering student or an environmental engineer!

    Oh… Let’s make this a little longer with the following analogy…

    Were I a scientist who found I had invented a bomb from relatively simple components, and components that anyone could easily purchase and assemble into a bomb, and, if this bomb would destroy one third of the world’s surface rendering every living thing larger than a cricket within its effective range lifeless, would it be immoral for me to publish the results of my scientific inquiry on the Internet?

    Oh just think how empirically famous I’d be! I can see it now, The Robertson Prize for empirically destroying the world, yet again! Me and Albert Noble would rest comfortably together in Valhalla.

    Few, if any, scientists would argue that were I to publish such a discovery on the Internet, that my dangerous act would be amoral, the typical though dubious scientific claim to the non-immoral nature of their work. Scientists would generally each probably agree that there are human beings out there who would build such a bomb, and let it off, destroying the world.

    But from this analogy, in order to show scientists are not and cannot be moral, or even amoral, whether they are environmental scientists or the bio-engineering students who make bio-weapons or perfect empirical knowledge sets so others can make bio-weapons for the government, we then only need to ask, is there not such a bomb possible in the continually growing knowledge sets of every empirical science? And will not one of these irresponsible individuals find making these bombs possible? And do it?

    Human nature says, Yes, dearie. Yes, someone will do it.

    And as we come to the inescapable conclusion that science itself is dangerous and very much akin to witchcraft, the typical “science is amoral” defense of scientists for their immoral development of empirically derived knowledge sets that imperil all humanity melts away.

    The notion that the environmental scientist is a breed apart and moral, a monk of Humanitarian good, also equally seems a swimming puddle on the floor.

    Get a haircut, you immoral, empirical, environmentalist Einstein!

    Again, you can have it your way.

    I will remain adamant, your statement reeks of an empirically reckless immorality. It will be the cause of someone else wreaking havoc upon the planet. Oh! I know… You meant well when you went on meddling where you had no morally good reason to go in the first place, like my hypothetical scientific inquiry into how to built the next great bomb!

    “We’re out of our league, influencing systems we don’t understand ” simply implies it would be a good thing could we understand these things.

    It is not even a good thing to say it is impossible, defining the next empirical experiment for those unscrupulous individuals who might take the querying notion on, of exactly how to go about it for their PhD thesis project.

    PhD students are typically looking for something impossible, aren’t they? Again, human nature… The immorality of the empirical barbarian is encouraged by education. Dump the alphabet soup of your vile education if you want credibility in my eyes.

    The Moral Imperative of Life will take you, or anyone else here more than a year, and likely your entire lifetime to simply digest what the implications are. I have spent well more than a year with it, and I am still continually surprised.

    And, I have not lost an argument yet. (To my own satisfaction anyway. But again, human nature lets some of my quary escape. They call me an idiot. Yes, I am an idiot. Are not all humans?)

    The moral imperative of life is to live a life that detracts not at all from the lives available to those who will follow us into this world.

    The Moral Imperative of Life is not simply a statement of a “definition of “sustainability” as it’s understood by the most uncompromising environmentalists”.

    The Moral Imperative of Life because it is categorically true, true in every instance with no exception, it is a new kind of knowledge. The Moral Imperative of Life opens the door to Categorical Knowledge.

    And where empirical science was until the recent discovery of Categorical Knowledge the most fundamentally radical religion on the planet, it will seem quite tame as Categorical Knowledge picks up a head of steam over the next millenium.

    When you can say, this, that or anything else is categorically true, there’s not a lot of wiggle room left.

    And I’m telling you straight up, despite the common posturing, environmental scientitists are just as immoral as every other empirical scientist on the planet, worse, because their subject matter is literally the very destruction of the planet!

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher

  52. . .. 😀

  53. After I read the article, I wanted to call out “Oh, rubbish!”

    But I won’t. 😉 Instead, I’ll make a few points, perhpas overstating the case at times, but it’s in a good cause!

    “Despite increasing climate change coverage, environmental writers remain reluctant to discuss the full scope and severity of the global dilemma we’ve created. Many fear sounding alarmist, but there is an alarm to sound and the time for reticence is over. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Who put “environmental writers” in charge of anything, anyway? Even just one isolated aspect of the environment, like climate, is so complicated that the entire community of scientists can’t explain — let alone predict — something as basic as what the weather is going to be like in Geneva two weeks from now. So speculative professional ‘writers’ or journalists (the self-appointed prophets of our age) are certainly in no position to lecture anyone, let alone ring the global alarm bells.

    “We’ve outgrown the planet and need radical action to avert unspeakable consequences. This – by a huge margin – has become humanity’s greatest challenge.

    If we’ve altered the climate, it should come as no surprise that we have damaged other natural systems. From deforestation to collapsing fisheries, desertification, the global spread of chemical toxins, ocean dead zones, and the death of coral reefs, an array of interrelated declines is evidence of the breadth of our impact. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: No arguments on any of these details. But we also shouldn’t assume that, until humans came along, nature basked in stable bloodless tranquillity. Nature is “red in tooth and claw”; stability is achieved following cataclysms, after hundreds or thousands of generations have struggled, reproduced and died young.

    “Add the depletion of finite resources such as oil and ground-water, and the whole of the challenge upon us emerges.
    … Billions could die. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Billions will die. In fact, chances are, not a single one of us will still be alive 150 years hence. Sobering thought, isn’t it?

    “At the very least, we risk our children inheriting a bleak world, empty of the richness of life we take for granted.”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Actually, not our children, though perhaps their children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children’s children. True, that doesn’t make it a good thing for us to poison and exterminate the tiger, the dolphine, the elephant, the okapi, and many lesser critters.

    “Alarmist? Yes, but realistically so. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: “Realistically alarmist” is an oxymoron. (NB alarmist is not the same as alarming.) Alarmism leads to panic.

    “The most worrisome aspect of this ecological decline is the convergence in time of so many serious problems. Issues such as oil and aquifer depletion and climate change are set to reach crisis points within decades.”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Well… let’s take just the first issue he mentions. The price of oil is now twice what it was after the mid-1970s “oil shock”, and world economies are apparently not suffering from it. As oil gets scarcer, it will grow dearer, and the resulting economic incentive to improve efficiency and move to alternatives will bring about the change in course that some people think should be legislated by government.

    “Biodiversity loss is equally problematic. As a result of their ecological interdependence, the extinction of species can trigger cascade effects whereby impacts suddenly and unpredictably spread. We’re out of our league, influencing systems we don’t understand. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Species have been emerging and disappearing since life began.

    However, it is certainly true that we are influencing systems we don’t understand. There are genuine hazards in re-engineering lifeforms, for example, but one shouldn’t confuse things by lumping oil prices, biodiversity, superbugs and global warming together.

    “One thing is certain: continued inaction or half-hearted efforts will be of no help – we’re at a turning point in human history.”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: This is anything but certain. If we don’t understand the systems we are tinkering with, appointing a different tinkerer is no guarantee of success!

    “Though few seem willing to confront the facts, it’s no secret how we got here. We simply went too far. The growth which once measured our species’ success inevitably turned deadly.

    Unceasing economic growth, increasing per capita resource consumption, and global population growth have teamed with our reliance on finite reserves of fossil energy to exceed the Earth’s absorptive and regenerative capacities.”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Um…. the ‘Earth’s absorptive and regenerative capacities’ do not come with a gauge that says “Maximum economic growth exceeded”.

    Resources, by their nature, are forever being depleted; witness the effects of deforestation in ancient Greece, in Britain, or in Haute Savoie, where unregulated use of the resource led to an economic crisis to which the societies reacted and adapted. Human ingenuity finds new resources when old ones disappear. And regeneration takes place, by definition, with each generation.

    “We are now in “overshoot”; our numbers and levels of consumption having exceeded the Earth’s capacity to sustain us for the long-term. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: It’s true that if all of humanity insists on owning two horses and having a personal jet plane, we run the risk of a horrendous increase in airplane and riding accident. But we don’t. And there’s no point in legislating against these things, because the simple economics of owning two horses and a Learjet goes a long way towards mitigating the problem.

    “And as we remain in overshoot, we further erode the Earth’s ability to support us. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: “Overshoot” is not a technical term. A dumbed-down graph illustrating a hoary Malthusia canard is no replacement doesn’t tell us anything useful.

    “Inevitably, our numbers will come down, whether voluntarily or through such natural means as famine or disease.

    So what can get us out of this mess? First comes awareness. Those in a position to inform must shed fears of alarmism and embrace the truth. “”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: I’m sorry if this offends, but I think this is sanctimonious nonsense. True, humanity is destroying many separate bits of its environment, and may even be undermining parts of the foundation; but alarmism is precisely what one needs to avoid. Alarmism leads to panic, which leads to ill-advised action. “Embrace the truth” is OK out of the mouth of a preacher; but if my car is broken and the mechanic urges me to embrace the truth, I should change mechanics.

    “We need a complete transition to clean, renewable energy. It can’t happen overnight, but reliance on non-renewable energy is, by definition, unsustainable. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: It’s depressing, but the people using non-renewable energy don’t care if it’s sustainable or not. In the case of car drivers, they only care that oil should last as long as it takes for the industry to come up with a better way of powering vehicles. In the case of countries, they only care that oil should be available at a relatively affordable price that allows their national economies to prosper, relatively speaking, for as long as the situation lasts.

    Oil today is obviously cheap enough to make it attractive for all sorts of uses, or it wouldn’t be getting used. Those people, and countries, who nonetheless choose to reduce their use of oil, may be doing their neighbours a marginal favour (by leaving more of the resource available for those who want to consume it now). However, they are not going to fundamentally change the dynamics: oil will continue to be pumped, refined and burned, until it becomes too scarce and too expensive, compared with some alternative.

    “But there is a caveat: abundant clean energy alone will not end our problems. There remains population growth which increases consumption of resources other than energy…. As a promising alternative, the field of ecological economics offers the “steady state economy”.

    THINK ABOUT THIS: A “steady state economy” sounds suspiciously like a reservation, a hedged-off area that humans mustn’t stray outside. Anyone who thinks the human race will impose a budget on its use of water, coal or titanium for the sake of all future generations has obviously never tried to impose a budget on a family of four.

    “We must end world population growth, then reduce population size. That means lowering population numbers in industrialised as well as developing nations.
    Fortunately, expert consensus tells us we can address population humanely by solving the social problems that fuel it. ”

    THINK ABOUT THIS: That’s a relief! (I was afraid he was going to prescribe mass executions.) Population doesn’t get “fuelled” by social problems, it just grows naturally in traditional societies in the absence of external curbs such as disease, famine, war and other disasters. In industrialized countries population growth would be negative, if it wasn’t for immigration. But this isn’t due to development aid; it’s due to contraception, consumerism, the elimination of traditional roles for women (removing the stigma from childless women and making it more attractive for them to work), the disintegration of traditional family structures, the ban on child labour…

    Implementing these actions will require us all to become activists, insisting our leaders base decisions not on corporate interests but on the health of the biosphere.

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Er, no. What he calls ‘the health of the biosphere’ requires that wolves kill baby caribou; bull caribou cripple each other in fights over the cow; the cow kicks to death the calf of another mother; the rabbit frantically fornicates its way into an early grave, while its descendants, in the absence of lots of ruthless predators, multiply until starvation and disease ravages the population (at which point they will have attracted lots of ruthless predators from neighbouring lands, who will end up starving in their turn).

    The fact is, humans, insofar as they are rational, have outgrown the rules of the biosphere, for better or for worse.

    Emotional arguments like this one, based on a romantic vision of a primitive idyll and a fundamental misanthropism, only distract us from a sober contemplation of the issues.

  54. Dear Don and Ed,

    Please know that your views and your ways of expressing them are ones with which I am in complete disagreement.

    In the course of the past seven years I have unfortunately seen too many e-messages like yours. If only I could believe what you are presenting helps anything or anyone.

    Then, again, perhaps I am one of the ones who completely fails to sufficiently understand not only the way the world in which we live works but also to adequately enough grasp how the human species fits into the natural order of living things on Earth.



  55. Ed,

    “I don’t get it” would have saved the lives of a lot of innocent electrons.

    It’s interesting – some people “get” John’s argument at an almost instinctive level (I’m one of them), while others seem to have a structural inability to understand it. I don’t know what makes that difference, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t reside in neocortex. The logical part of the brain is great at coming up with defenses for what the deeper parts of our brain have already decided on. This applies to those on both sides of such an argument, and I think it’s intrinsic to the way we’re wired. It’s the same response pattern we see in discussions about abortion for example.

    That divide can not generally be bridged by rational discourse or logical argumentation – what’s causing it lies too deep for mere reason to access.

    So thanks for your contribution to the debate, but I suspect you won’t find many of the readers here to be on your side of the chasm.

  56. Ed,

    I was beginning to leave a point by point response in your comment, but Paul got to the gist of it so incisively that little more need be said. (Thanks, Paul.) I’ll just touch on one small point as a token example:

    THINK ABOUT THIS: Species have been emerging and disappearing since life began.

    Such a comment is telling. That species have always been emerging and disappearing has no relevance whatsoever to today’s mass extinction.

    Most of your other comments are about on a par with that one. Anyone here who might decide to read through all of them can assess them and come to their own conclusions.

  57. Okay, Ed, Don, and anyone else inclined to leave exceptionally long comments:

    I’m going to have to start editing your comments for brevity or, if time is short (more likely), just blocking or deleting them if you don’t make them much, much more concise. Obviously, as you can see above, I’m not inclined to block a commenter just because s/he disagrees with me. But this is a blog. While discussion is encouraged, the comment field is not the place for miles-long treatises and diatribes. Those actually tend to stifle discussion because most readers don’t read them. They tend just to sit there as dead weight — too much to read over coffee, too much to respond to, etc.

    No doubt, you won’t like the results if I edit your stuff for you. So be reasonably brief or don’t bother to comment.

    I may have to institute a comment policy, but am hoping people can just use common sense and common courtesy. Okay?

  58. Thanks John.

    Three times I’ve unsuccessfully tried to say all that elsewhere on the net, each time, where it would count. Each time I became more shrill in my exasperation caused by cowards and liars.

    I am shrill for many reasons, but not the least of which is the dishonesty I have found such an ubiquitous part of human nature, and most often sorely ascending in severity as educational levels rise.

    You have passed that test as well as I would hope I would pass it myself, given half the chance.

    Thanks again. You have restored some of my surely misplaced faith in humanity to be more than the barbaric species we both know we all are part of.

    Life is too short to be cordial about any of it, has been my long experience.

    I hope and trust we all now have much more to agree upon.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher

  59. Dear John,

    I apologize for not being more concise, and for adopting a tone that was rather provocative at times. I appreciate your sense of fairplay in not ditching my comments, on either count!


  60. Dear Don,

    For me, what you are saying and doing is confusing. I do not understand.

    I am for everyone speaking out loudly and clearly, but somehow the way you do so leaves me cold.

    It does please me that you have felt heard. That is important. Who knows, maybe it is vital for you. If so, that is good.

    I do not know which of us is older, but in my long experience, one lesson I have learned is to reasonably and sensibly persist in saying what you see to be true. Never give up. The best way to overcome resistance to unwelcome ideas is by persistence.

    Go forward,


  61. Don and Ed,

    My thanks to both of you for your constructive replies. I’m glad we’re all thinking about these issues, even if we may take somewhat different paths in doing so.

  62. If empirical evidence from the great men, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and Dr. Mohan Munasinghe, and their 2000 colleagues in the International Panel on Climate Change, regarding global warming, is not junk science, and not the hoax many people have assured us it is, then the political, economic and ecological ramifications of “staying the course” could be profound.

    If humankind chooses to continue doing what we are relentlessly doing now by overconsuming, overpopulating, and endlessly expanding production capabilities of the artificially designed human economy, our children could unexpectedly come face to face with colossal problems, ones involving the perilous breakdown of the global political economy or the dangerous degradation of Earth’s frangible ecosystem services and limited resources, or both economic and ecologic collapse.

    We see and hear in the news day after day about national security and economic security. I can understand that attention is focused upon these things. They are vital. What is difficult for me to grasp is the failure of people to openly and adequately discuss environmental security. That is vital, too, I suppose.

    Let me add, in closing, that it will be pleasing to see expressions of concern for Earth’s ECOLOGY be presented in the mass media as often as words of concern for the manmade ECONOMY. I am also expecting that such parity will eventually lead to ECONOMIC wealth being directed to ECOLOGIC maintenance, dollar for dollar. That is to say, every dollar from sustainable economic development would be matched with a dollar directed to ecologic protection.


    “While collective sanity tends to involve relatively simple and consistent patterns, craziness is entertainingly diverse.”

    – Karl Albrecht

  64. Thanks to Bill Ryerson’s email list:

    “Last week at his library, in a speech at a Slate conference honoring top philanthropists, Clinton sounded almost critical of the presidential candidates, including his wife.

    His complaint? None has put the subject of population control in a world with shrinking resources on the 2008 agenda.

    “Now, nobody’s going to talk about this in the election this year — in either party — but I ain’t running for anything, I can do it,” he said, saying the world population will be 9 billion by the year 2050.”

  65. Very good. 😀

    – —

    In actual fact, I’ve spent the last hour thinking about some political “spearheads” like Hitler or Stalin’s possible response to the ugly question of population overshoot. – And here you are, citing William J. Clinton: a saxophonist of world fame, and not a person who would be expected by anyone to dwell on genocidal ideas. –

  66. I see a lot of conversation happening here — thoughts flying back and forth. My warm compliments to John for painstakingly allowing every shade of opinion to live and breathe and be acknowledge, including outright hostility.

    In connection with Helen’s comment: ‘Of course, the 1st world-centric notion that it is “not our problem” doesn’t help’ — I would like to say something in this connection.

    Here in India, I face the same kind of public resistance and sometimes subtle hostility while speaking of how GDP growth is inimical to the environment. The idea that global warming is “not out problem” is not a 1st-world-centric notion; it is UNIVERSAL. To shirk responsibility, to argue that the onus of making sacrifices is someone else’s — this is a generally human tendency.

    People in India argue that Americans have 20 tonnes of per-capita carbon emission to Indians’ one tonne per capita; and therefore it is their responsibility to take the first cuts in growth. My fellow-citizens in India (and probably other developing nations like China) feel that developing nations are interested in calling a halt to fossil-fuel-guzzling growth as the latter have finished growing to an optimal level.

    Needless to say, I don’t endorse this kind of tunnel-vision; I feel that developing or developed, we ALL have a responsibility to stop growing. Indeed, this is a good time for all of us to rise above finger-pointing and to rise to take a ‘Gods-Eye-View’ of the planet.

    Warm Regards,

  67. Dear Krish,

    Your words are inspiring.

    The news from the IPCC about the world we inhabit is forbidding. The unwelcome evidence appears to relate to aspects of stark biophysical reality that have been uncovered by good science and reported repeatedly by IPCC in recent years. If I may say so, the apparently unforeseen news from the IPCC is not good, even though this news is gained from the practice of good science.

    I prefer to rely on good science and to eschew self-interested-thinking when it comes to sharing an understanding with our brothers and sisters about the way the world in which we live works and about an adequate enough grasp of the “placement” of the human species within the natural order of living things.

    All the widely agreed to self-interested-thinking, from the fantastic to the preternatural, we see in the world today, when taken together, cannot be favorably compared to even one single thought derived from good science.

    From my perspective, we have a remarkably large and loud number of people, many of them are our leaders, who are denialists and naysayers with regard to the science of global warming. They have been doing what they are doing now during much of my adult life. What they are saying and doing, I suppose, is derived from one form or another of self-interested-thinking. At least one consequence of their widely shared and consensually validated way of viewing the world could lead the human community into danger. Let me say more now about what I mean.

    Self-interested-thinking is potentially dangerous because it serves to hide the truth of global warming, among other things, as well as “poisons the well” of public discourse.

    Too many of our politicians, economists, big-business benefactors and the talking heads in the mass media are all “whistling the same tune.” What is even worse is the way they entice many appointees and surrogates to whistle that same tune, too. After all, who can resist offerings of great wealth, power and privileges that accrue to those who go along with whatsoever is political convenient, economically expedient, religiously tolerated and socially agreeable. In the face of such temptation, we can readily understand why the scientific gains of the IPCC would be everywhere, in every way, rejected by the denialists and naysayers. The science from the IPCC could forcefully impede their acquisition of more wealth, more power and more privileges.

    Not only are too many leaders trying to hide or otherwise deny the good scientific evidence of human-driven climate change, they are also actively involved in poisoning the well of public discourse by strategically disseminating disinformation. And for what? Evermore power, wealth and privileges for themselves and their minions so they can carefreely play out the “conspicuous consumption fantasies” of their “Me Generation” by living large and unsustainably, come what may, having forsaken the future of their children and forgotten how human life depends upon Earth’s limited resources and frangible ecosystem services for its very existence.

    It seems to me that the human community is fast approaching a crossroads: EITHER we will choose to “stay the current course” of endless economic growth, ever increasing conspicuous per capita consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers OR we will find other ways to go forward. If these distinctly human overproduction, over-consumption and overpopulation activities we now see overspreading the surface of Earth are unsustainable, then I am going to suppose we will insist upon some changes in our behavioral repertoire so that sustainable ways of living in the world are proposed by policymakers and adopted by our leaders. Perhaps fundamental behavior change is in the offing. Yes, I agree with you that we are all ( i.e., people in the developed, underdeveloped and undeveloped worlds) in this “spaceship” together and all of us have some unanticipated duties to perform.

    Thanks to you, Krish, and to everyone participating in this wondrous effort to save life as we know it, the ecosphere and Earth’s body from being inadvertently ravaged by certain leviathan-size overgrowth activities of the human species, the ones ominously threatening to overwhelm the planetary home, yes, definitely God’s Creation, in which we have been blessed to reside.

    Sincerely yours,


  68. Steve, thank you for that detailed reply. I plan on posting ercerpts from this discussion on one of my blogs or by Tuesday evening.

    By this, I hope to give my compatriots a feel of the thought-process happening in the developed world, and maybe throw open a few more windows of thinking.


  69. Steve: “… whatsoever is political convenient, economically expedient, religiously tolerated and socially agreeable.”

    Thank you, Steve, — this is where my Reality Checks get started; only that I tend to include a thought or two about the self-serving powers of the military-industrial complex, killing in the name of ‘whatsoever is convenient, expedient and agreeable.’

    Steve: “In the face of such temptation, we can readily understand why the scientific gains of the IPCC would be everywhere, in every way, rejected by the denialists and naysayers.”

    True to the point. — I suspect that I am merely DREAMING of a future in which the scientific answers / warnings will be taken seriously, also by those among us who lead well protected lives within the structures of political and economic beaurocracies. I guess I’m only DREAMING of a future in which ordinary people will be ready to commit themselves to serious lifestyle changes. I’m only DREAMING of a future in which adult humans have somehow become ready to act on the self-evident fact that war is not the answer to any of the environmental problems we have in common — as a matter of basic fact, to the contrary. Warfare doesn’t solve any problems, but creates a l0t more.

    Reality belongs to people of wealth. People who … hmmmm … .. . “have the money to have you killed by somebody who has nothing, I’m past bluffing.” (Eminem: 2004) — “Laugh, it’s funny.”

    “It has been estimated that there are over 909 billion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide. This means that there is enough coal to last us over 155 years. Coal is located worldwide – it can be found on every continent in over 70 countries, with the biggest reserves in the USA, Russia, China and India.”

    – —

    And all (100%) of these underground coal reserves are very likely to be pumped into the atmosphere in the form of COc and NOx. Why? Well, because! Because reality bites.


    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    – Upton Sinclair

    — –

    And the unfortunate fact is that the salary of far too many people — not only leaders, bosses and chief executives, but also ordinary, everyday people, workers — depends on them not knowing the first thing about global warming and climate change, or indeed any other forms of ecological degradation and environmental risk. Destruction is the byproduct of their jobs, Godamnit! Which bring food on the table. So … please … if you feel you’ve got something you want to say about the pollution which is derived from a regular Joe’s hard working days inside the coal-mine, for example, get stuffed …

  71. John, thank you for having the courage to publicly address the issues of overpopulation and overconsumption (and thanks to the BBC for publishing it). It’s incumbent upon all of us who care about the environment and sustainability to discuss overpopulation at every instance, despite negative feedback. For too long this issue has been ‘off the table’. This needs to change.

  72. Profound resistance to both necessary change and what is somehow real.

    There are “rear guard” actions occurring now in an concerted attempt by many big-business benefactors as well as their bought-and-paid-for politicians and minions in the mass media to suppress, distort and debunk the established scientific evidence of climate change.

    All the stops are being pulled out by the “powers that be” with the hope of delaying and obstructing much-needed changes to their relentless efforts to endlessly expand the patently unsustainable global economy. Many politicians and economic powerbrokers are fighting tooth and nail not to acknowledge, much less address, the emerging requirements for sustainable big-business practices because such changes from “what is patently unsustainable” to “what is ecologically sustainable” will likely threaten their current level of control over the world’s wealth as well as over the sources of political and military power that they purchase with gigantic sums of accumulated riches.


    “People are part of nature’s sanity; our body, mind and desire to live are part of nature’s creative and balanced biological systems and spirit. (…)

    We learn to deny that our stressed and limited thinking deteriorates our health and sanity, our relationships, our destiny and the environment. In denial, we ignore that through money or prestige our socialization rewards our wanting psyche to attach or addict to questionable technological substitutes for nature or other detrimental dependencies. Out of hurt and fear we deny that we psychologically bond or addict to our nature-conquering ways and materials along with their destructive impacts.

    Our psychological bonding or addiction problem demands psychological attention that, in our denial, we seldom provide.”

    – —

    Experimental thinking, anyone?! 🙂



    I believe this article, written by Sanjeev Ghotge and Ashwin Gambhir, will be of interest to you, as it is another attempt at “saying something about everything” — so to speak. 🙂 — I dare say the writers have made a good effort too; especially because both ecological and social consequences of global warming and climate change are topics for argument and analysis.

  75. Hi Alex,

    It’s incumbent upon all of us who care about the environment and sustainability to discuss overpopulation at every instance, despite negative feedback.

    I very much agree.


    “When we look at the governing groups that control much of the public life of nations such as America, including the news and entertainment media, corporations, advertisers and politicians, we find that they do all these same things. They seek to weave a spell around us, to define our reality. They use these techniques to evoke transference and play on it. Just as our parents caused us to enter their unconscious fantasy world — their representational world — through covert communication, so do those in power in society invite us to enter their fantasy world, a world of deceptions and disguises. Politicians become benevolent parents; while journalists invite us to identify with them and vicariously play the role of children who will unseat those who unworthily hold power, and take power for themselves, while denying they are doing so.”

    – —

    Uhmmm, okay, so I posted a very long article about a 1967 novel and 1976 film. — It’s a very good read. It tells a story of the characteristics of the modern world and western society; and an excellent story, too.

    Get inspired. — – 😀

  77. Wrong wikipedia link posted above. It should have been this one:'s_Run

  78. Magne Karlsen

    Goal: Ensure environmental sustainability

    “It’s not that there isn’t enough water to go around. Lacking are the commitments of governments, the technology to help ensure good water and sanitation, and the money to put water programmes into place.”

    “Many of the 2.6 billion people overall without improved sanitation are hard to reach, living in remote rural areas, displaced by war and famine, or mired in an endless cycle of poverty and disease, challenges that will require dedicated attention to meet the 2015 goals.”

    – —

    From a social-psychological point of view, it seems to be a self-evident fact that in order to make for a global social climate of commitment to solving the environmental problems the world is faced with, the thing to do is meet up the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. This needs to be stressed. The social climate of the present, marked by unfathomable inequality between classes and countries / regions of the world, is a very important obstacle, undermining all hope for a positive change in terms of the ecological mess we’re in, or fast approaching.

    I also want to stress the obvious fact that ca. 2.5 billions of the people of this world are not to be blamed for global warming and manmade climate change. These people are children. As far as I can understand, the main reason why we’re all here, engaged in discussions concerned with environmental issues, is our common concern about the welfare and living condition of the next generation of human beings, coming up through the age ranks.

    At this stage, it is very important that we start to think: “What would be in the best interests of our children?”

    I believe we have more than one option.

    1st option: – Simply give in to what shall have to be known as “The Wrath of Mother Nature”, and continue to do close to nothing except ruining biosphere of this planet at the highest possibles peed, like paracitic maniacs.

    2nd option: – The opposite.

  79. Magne Karlsen

    (s)peed. 😀

    – —

    Voices of Youth.

  80. John (and all other folks in this intellectual space), may I make an absurd-sounding proposal please?

    (As a lot of serious folks pursue this absurd agenda of forever-growing economies, I don’t feel so stupid saying what I do. I beg your indulgence; do hear me out patiently.)

    PREFACE: To the best of my knowledge, absolutely nobody in government or administration anywhere in the world is advocating GROWING DOWN or pursuing a truly sustainable economic agenda in the long run (except maybe the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan).

    Nobody is factoring in Climate Change or planetary resource limitations while making economic growth projections. Nobody in the opposition is currently advocating this sort of realism either.

    Anybody who is currently a ‘somebody’ is pursuing GROWTHISM, which has the insidious status of some sort of state religion.

    Meanwhile, a huge POLITICAL NICHE is lying totally vacant, waiting to be discovered and occupied: ANTI-GROWTHISM.

    Anti-growthism is an agenda that can be pursued only at a global or trans-national level, because no individual nation can afford to start growing down while others pursue growthism.

    SO MY PROPOSAL IS: How about people like us starting a GLOBAL POLITICAL PARTY that advocates anti-growthism as a core doctrine? (ie. Anti economic and population growth.)

    We could call our doctrine Economic Consolidation as opposed to Economic Growth just to take the ‘anti’ out of its name. (Simplistic explanation: Most living things stop growing at some point and consolidate their gains, you know.)

    At first, nobody in the existing political spaces would take us seriously, which would be just dandy! If they considered our Party a sort of lunatic fringe organization, they might actually popularize our concepts concept by making us the butt of their jokes.

    But every time a market crash happens, the numbers of our supporters would swell… and we would smirk and simply say, “See, I told you so!”

    Whaddya say, John, how ’bout we all do it for a lark? Jusforkix?


    “Voluntary actions didn’t get us civil rights, and they won’t fix the climate.”

    “Of course, there are politicians and activists already out there passionately calling for dramatic statutory responses to global warming. But they are mostly drowned out by the “10 Things You Can Do” chorus. And it turns out the voluntary “green your lifestyle” mantra may in fact discourage even individual change. One British study found that people tend to respond in one of two ways when told simultaneously that global warming is a planetary emergency and that the solution is switching a few light bulbs: they conclude that a) the problem can’t be that big if my few bulbs can fix it, so I won’t worry about any of it; or b) I know the problem is huge and my little bulbs can’t really make a difference, so why bother?”

    – Mike Tidwell

  82. Krishnaraj,

    I’m interested in hearing more. Perhaps email me with any specifics you envision?

  83. Magne,

    I remember that article. It’s a good one. I’d like to see Tidewell go one better and acknowledge that we won’t make the progress he hopes for without addressing fundamentals like population.

    But I like the way he “tells it like it is” with regard to giving people the impression that little personal energy saving behaviors is the solution.

  84. I’ve mailed you some details, John. Am eager to see what you think.


  85. Dear Steve ,

    I wanted to share with you my speech from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Check for video of the event later today.

    Thank you,

    Al Gore

    DECEMBER 10, 2007

    Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

    I have a purpose here today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayed that God would show me a way to accomplish it.

    Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life’s work, unfairly labeling him “The Merchant of Death” because of his invention – dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, the inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.

    Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.

    Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

    Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, “We must act.”

    The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: “Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

    We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

    However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”

    So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

    As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

    We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

    Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

    Seven years from now.

    In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples in the frozen Arctic and on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. Unprecedented wildfires have forced a half million people from their homes in one country and caused a national emergency that almost brought down the government in another. Climate refugees have migrated into areas already inhabited by people with different cultures, religions, and traditions, increasing the potential for conflict. Stronger storms in the Pacific and Atlantic have threatened whole cities. Millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa. As temperature extremes have increased, tens of thousands have lost their lives. We are recklessly burning and clearing our forests and driving more and more species into extinction. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed.

    We never intended to cause all this destruction, just as Alfred Nobel never intended that dynamite be used for waging war. He had hoped his invention would promote human progress. We shared that same worthy goal when we began burning massive quantities of coal, then oil and methane.

    Even in Nobel’s time, there were a few warnings of the likely consequences. One of the very first winners of the Prize in chemistry worried that, “We are evaporating our coal mines into the air.” After performing 10,000 equations by hand, Svante Arrhenius calculated that the earth’s average temperature would increase by many degrees if we doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Seventy years later, my teacher, Roger Revelle, and his colleague, Dave Keeling, began to precisely document the increasing CO2 levels day by day.

    But unlike most other forms of pollution, CO2 is invisible, tasteless, and odorless — which has helped keep the truth about what it is doing to our climate out of sight and out of mind. Moreover, the catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented – and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.

    We also find it hard to imagine making the massive changes that are now necessary to solve the crisis. And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: “Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

    In the years since this prize was first awarded, the entire relationship between humankind and the earth has been radically transformed. And still, we have remained largely oblivious to the impact of our cumulative actions.

    Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. Now, we and the earth’s climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: “Mutually assured destruction.”

    More than two decades ago, scientists calculated that nuclear war could throw so much debris and smoke into the air that it would block life-giving sunlight from our atmosphere, causing a “nuclear winter.” Their eloquent warnings here in Oslo helped galvanize the world’s resolve to halt the nuclear arms race.

    Now science is warning us that if we do not quickly reduce the global warming pollution that is trapping so much of the heat our planet normally radiates back out of the atmosphere, we are in danger of creating a permanent “carbon summer.”

    As the American poet Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice.” Either, he notes, “would suffice.”

    But neither need be our fate. It is time to make peace with the planet.

    We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

    These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; that Providence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

    No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

    Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

    Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called “Satyagraha” – or “truth force.”

    In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free.

    Truth also has the power to unite us and bridge the distance between “me” and “we,” creating the basis for common effort and shared responsibility.

    There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly.

    We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”

    That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

    This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

    When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”

    In the last year of that war, you gave the Peace Prize to a man from my hometown of 2000 people, Carthage, Tennessee. Cordell Hull was described by Franklin Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations.” He was an inspiration and hero to my own father, who followed Hull in the Congress and the U.S. Senate and in his commitment to world peace and global cooperation.

    My parents spoke often of Hull, always in tones of reverence and admiration. Eight weeks ago, when you announced this prize, the deepest emotion I felt was when I saw the headline in my hometown paper that simply noted I had won the same prize that Cordell Hull had won. In that moment, I knew what my father and mother would have felt were they alive.

    Just as Hull’s generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, “crisis” is written with two symbols, the first meaning “danger,” the second “opportunity.” By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.

    We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

    Fifteen years ago, I made that case at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years ago, I presented it in Kyoto. This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.

    This treaty should be ratified and brought into effect everywhere in the world by the beginning of 2010 – two years sooner than presently contemplated. The pace of our response must be accelerated to match the accelerating pace of the crisis itself.

    Heads of state should meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personal responsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, given the gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every three months until the treaty is completed.

    We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

    And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon — with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

    The world needs an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in the scales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the steps they’ve taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government in Australia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.

    But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters — most of all, my own country –– that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

    Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

    These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish to redeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:

    The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

    That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, “Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk.”

    We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice now.

    The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, “One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door.”

    The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: “What were you thinking; why didn’t you act?”

    Or they will ask instead: “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?”

    We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.

    So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.”

  86. ***************** ALERT*******************

    Hear ye, hear ye, words from representatives of the “Masters of the Universe” among us.

    United Nation Climate change, Bali
    Skeptical Scientists Urge World To ‘Have the Courage to Do Nothing’ At UN Conference
    By EPW Blog Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    BALI, Indonesia – An international team of scientists skeptical of man-made climate fears promoted by the UN and former Vice President Al Gore, descended on Bali this week to urge the world to “have the courage to do nothing” in response to UN demands.

    Lord Christopher Monckton, a UK climate researcher, had a blunt message for UN climate conference participants on Monday.

    “Climate change is a non problem. The right answer to a non problem is to have the courage to do nothing,” Monckton told participants……..

  87. For the record: here’s a link to R. K. Pachauri’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech.

    Al Gore: “We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

    – —

    As shown to the world, and as told to the world, in Bali, Indonesia, as concerns climate change mitigation, there is really not much political will to be discovered. Also, as shown and told to the world (or those of us who care to listen; believe me when I’m telling you that the vast majority of ordinary everyday people have already switched off and zapped over to quite a different channel) that globalized capitalism reigns supreme, that it is geared at the most welcome continuation of economic growth, business as usual, a show that goes on under the illusion that nothing special is up; a message that is easily bought and happily consumed by the entire game show generation, even if all this decisively happens at the expense of the life support systems of this planet.

    I don’t know. Where is the political will to shut a couple of thousands oil drilling stations down?!! Where is the political courage to put a stop to the coal-fired electrical power madness which shall remain our biggest ecological problem until it is finally solved?

    Where is the political courage which is needed in order to making a very long range of extremely unpopular political decisions? Rational decisions that are geared at saving this planet from all sorts of human misdemeanour?

    Nowhere near. Neither in time nor in space. Not at all near. Very distant. —

  88. Why does it feel as if a whole world of perfectly normal and knowledgeable human beings is ready to torture and kill me slowly, and stab the heart of my corpse with a very sharp knife, just because fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal — are the root causes of such a lot of problems concerned with humanity’s ill relationship with nature?


    “With the population still rising sharply, we need to find a way to limit the CO2 concentration and satisfy everyone’s desire for a modern lifestyle.”

    “The obvious question is, how to we get there from here?”

    “Since population is going up and the total emissions are going down, the allotment per person goes down fast. More people, less C02 per person.”

    – —


    I would love to see this article published in BBC’s Green Room. This is a terrific exploration of the logical problems which arise as a growing world population is supposed to reduce CO2 emissions well below 1990s levels, — and at the same time “satisfy everyone’s desire for a modern lifestyle.”

    As far as I can understand you must be the only person (or thinker) who has written anything on this most important issue, and it’s relevance can’t be stressed too much. Especially if you have the courage to take a brief look at the wildest dreams and economic aims of every third world citizen: The Dream is American, and the natural aim is to emulate the lifestyle of the average US citizen as soon as possible.

    The population connection, seen in conjunction with the urgent need to reducing CO2 emissions is overlooked by all and everyone. — It remains Somebody Else’s Problem [SEP].

    I think John is holding hands with a BBC Green Room editor, isn’t that right? 😉

    – —'s_Problem_field

    “The Somebody Else’s Problem field (SEP field) is a fictional technology from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy” by Douglas Adams. It is a cheaper and more practical alternative to an invisibility field.”

    “An SEP field is a generated energy field which affects perception. Entities within the field will be perceived by an outside observer as “Somebody Else’s Problem”, and will therefore be effectively invisible unless the observer is specifically looking for the entity. This effect is greatly heightened if the entity within the field is already unexpected or out of place. The primary example of this was given in the third book Life, the Universe and Everything, when a spaceship built to look like an up-ended Italian bistro utilizes an SEP field to land unobserved in the middle of Lord’s Cricket Ground.”

    – — 😉


    “Campaigners, media and some scientists seem to be appealing to fear in order to generate a sense of urgency. If they want to engage the public in responding to climate change, this is unreliable at best and counter-productive at worst. As Susanne Moser and Lisa Dilling point out in Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007), such appeals often lead to denial, paralysis, apathy or even perverse reactive behaviour.”

    – Roger Pielke, Jr.

  91. John,

    To you and everyone else here, Season’s Greetings.

    We Indians are fond of wishing one another a ‘Prosperous New Year’… but given the background of Global Warming, I’m aware that one creature’s (ie. humans’) prosperity means myriad creatures’ impoverishment and death. So I don’t wish impoverishment on any of us.

    John, on December 3, I sent you an email as you suggested that I should do so. I’m still waiting for your considered response.



  92. Krish,

    My sincere apologies. I have not forgotten about your email and will definitely respond; I’ve just been behind schedule on many things lately. Thank you for your patience. You’ll be hearing from me!

    Happy new year,



    ” Global warming, by all accounts, seems to be an exponential situation whereby the damage already done will make matters worse. Even if tomorrow humanity ceased all CO2 emissions, climate change would continue because of what has already been released, dumped and spewed into the ecosystem.”

    “The risk to humanity from global warming looks to be the greatest threat to our species since we started imposing our selfish will on the planet a few hundred thousand years ago. It is only rivaled by a massive nuclear holocaust, which essentially would cause the same thing, a planet that could sustain only a fraction of humanity. The question then is one of risk. We must act as though we are at great risk. We must act immediately and with great resolve. We must redefine our commitment to reversing our headlong, self centered rush to destruction.”

    – David Houle

  94. Ashit Shanker Saxena


    Oh, the web of words!!

    David Houle says, “We must act as though we are at great risk.”

    AS THOUGH we are at great risk??

    If a seemingly eloquent interpreter of the crisis can use the words ‘as though’, how can we even expect most others to even want to anticipate the precipice which we think we are headed towards.

    We must act because we ARE ALREADY at great risk!!

    And looking at climate change as a risk-management issue is more of the let-us-find-alternative-fuels sort of outlook rather than emphasising that the whole paradigm of so-called ‘development’ needs to be nitpicked.

    Talk of compassion and humanity rings hollow when all that we have been doing is ‘developing’ physical infrastructure over the centuries at the cost of all manner of living beings, including humans.

    By way of one recent example, the rigidities of Imperial Europe needed the two Great Wars of the 20th century to the Europeans to take steps towards a common European community.

    Along similar lines, it shall probably take catastrophic events across the planet – the SEastern tsunami and Katrina have just about poked us gently in the side as we slumber – before we shall take off the blindfolds that you and I assert we are wearing today.

  95. Ashit,

    First of all, I think you should take a closer look at Mr. Houle’s blog. It’s a good one. The man is no fake. Take a look at one of his latest pieces, and judge for yourself.

    “In 1974, around the beginning of the Information Age, humanity reached 4 billion in number. We are now at 6.7 billion which means that our species has grown 66% in the last 33 years, an astonishing fact. This is one of the two primary drivers of global warming, the shear growth of the species. There are so many more of us. The second driver of course is the increase in per capita energy consumption globally. The continent of Asia, China and India in particular, has experienced an explosion of capitalistic consumption patterns. Many of the parts of the planet that have experienced some of the greatest population growth are now experiencing some of the greatest growth in energy consumption. Intertwined, these two growth curves provide the exponential human contribution to global warming.”

    – —

    David Houle’s blog could, in my opinion, equally be found on the blog roll here. 🙂

  96. Ashit: – David Houle says, “We must act as though we are at great risk.”

    I’m not going to answer on behalf of another person, but I think your interpretation of what he is saying is false. Consider this: The problem, as David Houle sees it, is that climate change action is nowhere to be seen, that policies to tackle global warming are inadequate or not even in existence, and that the American/Western people in general are ignorant of the catastrophic development that is taking place on this planet, here, in our times. — And that’s why he is urging people on “to act as though we are at great risk,” which would be much, much wiser than allowing climate change inaction to continue indefinitely. As it is, right now, societies of people act as if nothing is wrong. This is a negative trend that must be adressed. Much rather than acting as if nothing unusual is up, we should “act as though we are at great risk.”

  97. Ashit Shanker Saxena


    What I wished to say is that those who are speaking up – they may number in tens or in millions – must do so emphatically as I presume that they are speaking up with the earnest conviction that the situation IS indeed serious, not merely AS IF it were serious.

    Houle’s words just happened to catch my eye in the comment that you had posted.

    I also have something to say about the population and consumption issues and I shall do so a little later and shall welcome your comments thereupon.

    If you could provide one or two links that you have referred to on these two issues – population and consumption – I would be grateful to you.

    Comments, not necessarily politic, that I posted on a post criticising the adoption of biofuels/agrofuels as alternatives to currently used fuels :

    “EXACTLY!! Till now, there was always some room to manouevre at the hidden and considerable expense of other geographical areas – for oil and gas from OPEC areas, wood from the Amazon, Alaska etc., arable land in the colonies for sourcing indigo dye from forced cultivation in India or bananas from the ”banana republics” of Central America!! And it all impacted the biosphere cumulatively over the centuries with the steep exponential rise in the last hundred years or so with the advent of the internal combustion engine. Eventually, the space to manouevre was going to run out even as the growth-forever paradigm has been adopted – as it was going to be – all over, notably by China and India.

    I must say that the Western-educated-or-inspired, so-called ”elites” of Japan, China, India, et al have exhibited a complete lack of independence in their thinking. It is, I believe, the independence of thinking that is the hallmark of Occidental teaching and we, in our tradition of the last thousand years or so, have just taken their paradigm hook, line and sinker as nice ”slaves” would be expected to do. The slavery is basically of the mind, of the prevailing mind-set. If we are to get out of this bind of climate change that we have surely brought upon ourselves a complete overhaul of that mind-set is required – as is being demanded by the need for reduction by 90-100% of current greenhouse emissions if further warming is to plateau and, maybe, even reduce. IS THAT COMPLETE OVERHAUL OF MIND-SET LIKELY TO HAPPEN? I do not think so, not until hugely cataclysmic events really rock us back on our heels. Till then, we are going to keep on looking for alternatives, arguing about them, etc., etc.”



  98. Ashit: “If you could provide one or two links that you have referred to on these two issues – population and consumption – I would be grateful to you.”

    I can’t do that, I’m afraid. The reason is simple: I don’t always feel there’s any need to refer to the scientific results of sociologists or the would-be “society and social policy” analysis of some well-known newspaper columnist. This is such a case. The population – consumption link falls into the category of “commonsense” — now, as far as I know, the kind of commonsense which has little or nothing to do with the measurements of the national economy is not eligible to either well-paid university peers or commercial press reporters, journalists, and columnists.

    The thing is: a considerable reduction of general consumption would be a smart move in terms of giving the environment a brake. It would lead to a reduction of factory production, a lowering of pollution associated with transport of goods and cargo, and allow for the three r’s (recycle, reuse, reduce) to become hip and cool.

    But a reduction of consumption would inevitably also come as a blow to the capitalist economy. It would affect the social logic of capitalism, in that plenty of jobs — especially service jobs — would be lost. As soon as most people started to act on the realization that a social move towards anti-materialism, anti-consumerism, and anti-growth would be just perfect, as seen in context with the state of the natural environment, on a local and a global scale, irrespectably, because of all the by-products and side-effects of such a move … well, you see … that … would be magic …

    Hm, think about it. — Strictly speaking: there are so many social reasons why the kingpins of local and global capitalism reign supreme.

    The end result of the success of a global, internet-driven anticonsumerist grassroot environmental policy movement (is that Orwellian?) would be a massive loss of jobs. — Especially in the sector of services.

    Sad fact?

    Well, not in terms of all environmental needs and deeds. I am not going to stop saying that Mother Nature is in urgent need of a break. There can be no doubt about that, now can it?

    Mother Nature is in urgent need of a Vacation on the part of Humankind, I think. So go ahead with it, and create some kind of monkey money. Let it be a penny for your thoughts, okay?

    Just kidding.


  99. Ooops! 8)

    Especially in the manufacturing sector. And the service sector. And a whole lot of other sectors, I suppose. The number of soldiers, police officers and security guards would certainly also change. I wouldn’t mind. And the number of beaurocrats. Hey! Give me a break!

    The most probable end result of a successful anti-consumerist social movement would be a sudden break with the globalized capitalist system, and a period of transition in which anything should be expected would ensue.

    Are we already there?!

  100. Steve: “Just for a moment, imagine that the a majority plus one of the human community shared the “top of the mountain” view that what we are doing now by adamantly advocating and relentlessly pursuing certain distinctly human overgrowth activities would eventually lead to the collapse of either human civilization or Earth’s ecology or both. Let us also suppose that this majority plus one agreed that the ethical thing to do was not to keep doing what we are doing now, but something different.”

    – —

    Are we already there?!

    Mysterious vibrations are in the air, … I can tell you that much. — In my wildest dreams, I truly believe that a period of transition is underway. I just don’t know if what I’m sensing is a change to the better or a change to the much, much worse?

    Is the human race preparing itself for a radical change of attitudes as concerns the environment and our current disconnectedness from nature?

    Or, to the contrary, could it possibly be that “a majority plus one of the human community” has already decided to not give a shit, but continue, business-as-usual. Because the conclusion — as a matter of commonsense — may be that the IPCC has got it all right, but that there is nothing much humanity as a whole can do in order to bring any of our out-of-balance overgrowth activites to an end or even a halt?

    – — 💡

  101. Ashit Shanker Saxena


    I am quite in agreement with what you have written immediately above.

    Instead of identifying it as a ‘capitalist’ system, I merely identify it as the man-made system in place at present. Personally, I think that every man-made system necessarily runs its course towards decay and demise – hence my earlier and incomplete reference to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Aristocracy, etc.

    Of course, the current system is probably the most planet-wide of all systems of the recently-recorded history of a few thousand years. Consequently, its depredations are so very insidious and, also, quite impossible to turn back. It has to run its course.

    I have felt down, too, but seem to have accepted our predicament without surrendering the option to act individually as well as in concert with others even if the numbers of such people be few.

    Are we already there, you ask?

    Give it two years and the doubts about where we are headed shall have subsided.

  102. Magne: “The thing is: a considerable reduction of general consumption would be a smart move in terms of giving the environment a brake. It would lead to a reduction of factory production, a lowering of pollution associated with transport of goods and cargo, and allow for the three r’s (recycle, reuse, reduce) to become hip and cool.”

    – —

    Well, this is where we can all DO SOMETHING in order to help nature get on its feet again. Here we have a form of climate change action that is based on nothing other than a question of free will. You choose to consume less, and you do so voluntarily. While knowing that such a move — should it be approved and embraced by the large masses of people around the world — would lead to a most welcome reduction in pollution levels.

    Now, no western or democratic government is going to approve of this kind of climate change action. All modern governments are hooked on to the globalized economic system of our times, and that system runs on the logics of production and consumption. And so does all modern social systems or cultures if you like. It’s all a matter of buying and selling, saving and investing. It really doesn’t matter where you live: it’s the same thing everywhere; give and take some local variations.

    Anyway: Here’s the thing: A solid reduction of general consumption would certainly lead to a reduction of CO2 pollution.

    That’s what we all want, eh?

  103. Hi Ashit,

    Just wanted to extend a belated welcome.

    I’ll look forward to your further comments.

    Carry on!

  104. Very best for 2008 to all participants in this splendid community,

    Thanks for faithfully distinguishing scientific facts from the specious ideological factoids which are foisted upon people everywhere by a noticeably small group of shrill vendors of conflation, manufactured controversy and confusion.

    Much of the world as we know it could be irretrievably gone and irreversibly damaged by what my elder generation is self-righteously counseling and, perhaps, selfishly doing.

    According to some of our leaders, the world is on track to have its first trillionaire before long and, yes, a tiny minority of the projected and fully anticipated 9+ billion people on the planet by 2050 will be “richer,” much richer. Yesterday’s millionaires have been replaced by today’s billionaires and today’s billonaires will be overtaken by tomorrow’s trillionaires, I suppose.

    According to some of our leaders, there is no end to the globalization of economic activity, to increases in per capita consumption of resources, or to the number of people who can live on a planet with the relatively small size, frangible ecosystem services and limited resources of Earth.

    Please know that what all of you report in many places is clear, coherent and reality-oriented. Thanks especially are due John Feeney, Paul Chefurka, Krish Rao, Magne Karlsen, Trinifar and Ashit Saxena for their consistent expressions of fidelity to science and their willingness to eschew ideology.

    Let us consider how daunting global challenges could be posed to humanity by the unregulated consumption, production and propagation activities of my rapacious, not-so-great generation of elders.

    Although an unwelcome one, perhaps the time is right to deliver a message that is effectively transmitted to the human community’s richest, most powerful and famous leaders–the ones directing the talking heads in the mass media, organizing public opinion, formulating government policy and implementing action plans–so the word goes out and is widely shared that the time for ubiquitous, self-limiting behavior change is at hand. Consider that now is the time for human beings to acknowledge and accept human limits and Earth’s limitations, and to act accordingly.

    Unrestricted consumption, unbridled production and unrestrained propagation activities of the human species, now occurring on a gigantic, soon-to-become patently unsustainable scale worldwide (the very human activities that appear in the main to be giving rise to ominous, potentially pernicious changes in Earth’s ecology) can be reasonably and sensibly managed, modified or otherwise changed, as necessary….. the ill-advised and relentless expansion of economic globalization activities notwithstanding.

    The human community can choose different behavioral repertoires: for example, capping per human consumption, reducing large-scale industrialization activities, and approving humane and voluntary reproduction limits.

    Hopefully, too much time has not been foolishly wasted, too much of the environment degraded, too many species extirpated, many too many resources rampantly dissipated and too much of the world we inhabit utterly compromised, in large part, because leaders are willfully denying the causes and the consequences of our ravenous consumption, reckless production and feckless propagation activities in these early years of Century XXI.



    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

  105. Steve,

    Reading your very eloquent rants against what you call “my not-so-great generation of elders” on a regular basis, always leaves me with a most welcome thrill. You do not — as Leonard Cohen put it — “choose the coward’s explanation, that hides between the cause and the effect.”

    I believe it is important to “eschew ideology”, as you put it. What we need to realize, is that we live in a world which is about to give birth to the first truly global civilization in history. The internet is giving rise to something very new and distinctly modern: a worldwide system of communication, which (generally) knows no borders. It is fair to say that this communication revolution is still in its formative years. It is fair to say that it is still wanting, especially so in the third world. Only in the richest countries of this world is internet use a possibility for the unprivileged and poor. Now, if only one reason to believe in the organization of a global movement for peace and environment is in existsence, well, the internet must it.

    If Bill Gates, Steve Jones and a handful of other movers and shakers in the internet, computers and communications sector of this civilization’s top tire would be so nice as to make sure that easy internet connection be spread across Latin America, South Asia, and Africa, I would gladly be the first social critic (or whatever) to make a statement to the effect that a possible solution to plenty of common problems had, by then and by that, been put in place.

  106. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    Hi John,

    Wish you a fruitful year for the concerns that you are addressing here and thanks for your words of welcome.

    The title ‘humanity is the greatest challenge’ is terrific, I thought, till it occurred to me that you/bbc might be referring to the justified concern about the numbers of humans rather than the potential humaneness of humans. The latter is that which I had initially presumed the post to.

    On population, I am positing the following without having read too much on the topic :

    that it is probably a loop – more food promotes growth in population which, in turn, requires and promotes the production of more food and so on.


    Delhi, India

  107. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    above, it should have read as:

    ‘The latter is that which I had initially presumed the post to be addressed to.

  108. Magne Karlsen


    That’s a terrific clip of film. It is illustrating to my anti-materialist/anti-consumerist stance. I especially liked the part about how the modern consumerist system promotes the production of thrash. I mean: how producers of consumerist goods are making sure that their products won’t last for very long, because that would it bad for business. Good business is to keep people buying and discarding and re-buying stuff at a faster and faster rate. Take mobile phones for example. It doesn’t take long before a perfectly good mobile telephone goes antique. A couple of years, that’s all. Or no more than a year, to tell you the truth. Now, think about bicycles. Thirty years ago, the buyer of a bicycle would expect the damn thing to last for a lifetime; today a new bicycle can last for a maximum of 7 – 10 years; then it will break. But long long before it breakes, it will definitely look oldfashioned, and not at all cool; it will be discarded as thrash for no other reason than the bare look of it.

  109. Dear Ashit,

    Although you may not have read much on topic of human population dynamics, I believe you have gotten the relationship between human numbers and food availability just right. There is nothing I find quite as sublime as the uncommon combination of a capacity for global thinking and clarity of vision, such as you possess.

    Almost all the people you and I know will reflexively reassure one another by saying to each other and to all that food is produced in order to feed a growing population. No basis exists to question this statement. It is accepted everywhere as if it is a scientific fact and firmly supported in good science, so we have been told for much too long a time. I want us to consider that potentially catastrophic circumstances could result from maintaining this colossal misperception.

    The apparently unforeseen scientific research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel indicates that the long held, widely shared and consensually validated perspective of almost all experts for the too many years is based on culturally-biased mistaken impressions and not the product of good science.

    To suggest that the relationship be reversed by saying, as you do, that more food drives growth in the human population in a positive feedback loop, just as this “cycle” occurs with other living things, is everywhere eschewed.

    Why would the mere statement that food supply drives human population like other species, rather than the other way around, be anathema to so many people? What would lead our brightest and best minds, inside and outside of science, during my entire lifetime continuously deny, up to this very day, what we can recognize now as specious thinking and theorizing?

    Why are Paul Ehrlich, Wolfgang Lutz, David Coleman, Caroline Ash, Carl Haub, Peter Gleick, Peter Raven, M.H.King, Thoraya Obaid, Walt Reid, Stan Bernstein, Bob Watson, Jennifer Ferenstein, Chris Flavin, Joel Cohen, Jesse Ausubel, Nafis Sadik, Audrey Chapman, Richard Cincotta, Cynthia Lloyd, Ken Arrow, Jeff Sachs, Bob Engleman, Jonathan Lash, Marc Hixson, Jane Lubchenco, Paul Demeny, John Bongaarts, Bill Ryan, Catherine Pierce, Jeffrey Barber, Barney Cohen and Gary Gardner among many too many experts, unwilling to examine and report as responsible professionals on the evidence presented by Hopfenberg and Pimentel?

    From my humble perspective, the research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel contains an inconvenient truth about the human species. Their evidence indicates that the population dynamics of the human species is common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. So what, you might ask. Well, please now, consider what it could mean if food supply drives human species numbers. Although unexpected, this research indicates with remarkable simplicity and clarity, at least to me, that as long as we increase food production/distribution capabilities worldwide, absolute global population numbers of the human species will grow. Increases in obtainable food will result in increases in newborns. More food equals more people; less food equals less people; and in any and every case, without exception, no food equals no people. Just like the numbers of other living things in the natural world, human numbers will grow without limits, as long as enough food is made available to assure survivability. Human organisms propagate like other organisms, come what may.

    The ‘expert’ thinking regarding the “end of population growth soon” and the widely validated demographic transition theory could be an example of specious thought and theory. The evidence for some kind of demographic transition and an end to human population growth in the middle of this century appears to be a product of wishful thinking and faulty reasoning, I suppose, and can be seen as fundamentally flawed, unrealistic, and unsupported by good science.

    For the moment, I will stop here but not before extending every good wish to each of you for a happy and healthy 2008.



  110. Magne Karlsen

    Ashit: “The title ‘humanity is the greatest challenge’ is terrific, I thought, till it occurred to me that you/bbc might be referring to the justified concern about the numbers of humans rather than the potential humaneness of humans.”

    – —

    Good point. – 😀 — I’ve been thinking the same thing. Not about this article, but as a rule: “the potential humaneness of humans.” — Now, all I need to do in order to stop thinking about that concept, is to remain conscious of the comings and goings of the unsympathetic, unsentimental, cynical, and rude political and administrative system/beaurocracy of our times. I mean this positively modern, but not-so-new tendency of treating people like “a name and a number”, and not much else, except for potential criminals and troublemakers that needs to be kept under strict control, openly or covertly, never mind.

    Now, as a matter of fact, I believe “the potential humaneness of humans” must be understood as a psycho-social resource which peaked sometime before the year 2000. First in parts of Africa and also the Balkans. And then, after 9/11 2001, on a global level. Humaneness, today, seems to me as nothing more than a philosophical ideal.

    Now. —

    If you want to get a hang of what so many of us are concerned about, in terms of absolute human population numbers in a heavily industrialized world, I think you should read the article linked below (by Trinifar).

  111. Magne Karlsen

    The Hidden Holocaust–Our Civilizational Crisis PART 2: EXPORTING DEMOCRACY

    “We do not recognize the post-war period as a “holocaust.” But it was only a few years after the appalling genocide against the Jews was revealed to the world that the dictum “never again” was forgotten, a pointless platitude by which to ignore the pleas of millions. The reasons we do not recognize this period as a “holocaust” are several. Firstly, our political culture does not really acknowledge the scale of the interventions that our military intelligence services conducted across the South. Secondly, consequently, such figures are totally unheard of. Thirdly, our political culture is not equipped to comprehend these 70 plus military interventions as manifestations of a single expanding system. Rather, we are accustomed to thinking about our history, about these events, about politics, in a fragmented and disjointed manner. Yet it is precisely this political culture that means that our history, perhaps even our historical complicity in this “hidden holocaust”, remains invisible to the majority of citizens.”

    – —

    I thought this passage from Nafeez Ahmed is quite telling of the confusion which has been building up amongst our numbers over the past several years and decades; especially since the end of the cold war, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the sudden realignment of Eastern European states, the EU opening the doors for former member states of the Warsaw Pact, allowing former communist countries to transform into Western political and economic allies.

    This is all happening very quickly. Not to forget about the emergence of China, India, Malaysia and South Korea. Even in Latin America and Africa “emerging economies” are coming up, all ready to achieve great riches and become “little Americas” in a very short while. Developments are fast and hectic. Building and construction booms are experienced seemingly everywhere. New airports, new shopping malls, new banks and hotels are shooting upwards towards the sky and the stars, everywhere.

    All the while, people are led to believe that it is the fruits of freedom we’re presenting to the world. Not — as we might have it — the seeds of ecological destruction by means of perfectly normal overgrowth activites which have always been part and parcel of the Western Business Philosophy.

  112. Just a quick comment, as I haven’t had time even to read everything above.


    For what it’s worth, the original title of the article was “Waking up to humanity’s greatest challenge.” The BBC made the change because, it seems, they wanted to emphasize the population issue. I do think, however, that it also referred to various behaviors of humanity which lead to overconsumption among other things.

    I was actually kind of glad they played up the population issue as it is too little discussed. It’s full of thorny difficulties, but must be grappled with if we’re to achieve sustainability.

  113. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    Dear Steve,

    I came up with that foodpopulation posit intuitively and was not surprised at all to be directed, by you, to at least one analysis – Hopfenberg-Pimentel – that tracks the evidence towards that symbiotic linkage. The data seem to establish the linkage but, in the absence of any ameliorating, humane solutions being suggested, leave the impression that the author is pointing towards wilful denial of food aimed at reducing population – a solution with which Magne has great difficulty, and rightly so.

    The overpopulation is manifestly evident but – I said it in a comment on the Lydecker (‘Titanic’) article – it is not the CULPRIT, just the MOST OBVIOUS SYMPTOM of our malaise/predicament. Also, the overpopulation is not linked symbiotically to food ALONE but to each and every artifice that humankind has employed – farming, to begin with, but no less to all the artifices of science and technology (from primitive all the way to the modern) including medical intervention to artificially defer dying and to extend life, no matter if even in vegetable state, in state of decrepitude, etc., etc.

    So, the ‘problem’ is that of the MIND and the system it puts in place, the MIND that has acted with accelerating reliance on artifice. This reliance on artifice – posited to have begun with farming creeping all the way for thousands of years to be thrust into ever-accelerating overdrive with the advent of the Industrial Age is not going to be turned back, not even mitigated, perhaps, because the MIND’s – individual and collective – motivations are so deeply-rooted in the conditioning that has taken place over millenia. The cumulative momentum of this juggernaut is not of just recent origin!!

    To me it is ARTIFICE vs NATURE !! It always has been so, with every ‘artificial’ man-made system through the ages. Every system ‘developed’ by man is necessarily based on some artifice or the other. For example, based on the artifice that human life HAS to be made possible by any and every means, we have a system of techno-medical intervention that will just not let the natural coming-into-life, growing-up, aging and dying, operate naturally.

    So, it is NOT ONLY food that is a prop for increasing population; it is the entire web of systems that ‘modern’ man has developed under the yoke of artifice. How can we then say that the ‘effect’ of all our doings – burgeoning population – is suddenly become the original ’cause’ of all of our woes. The antidotes offered thereafter are to be equally artificial and, so, will amount to mere tinkering – like the kicking of the tyres of a car to check them when, actually, the whole car is the problem, in the first place.

    As we are unable to even see, let alone accept our artifice for what it is, we cannot turn it back and the story goes on till the sum total – actually, ‘the whole web’ expresses it non-linearly and better – of all of the artifice of the system causes enough internal contradictions for it to ‘collapse’, in a manner of speaking. Artifice vs Nature is for me, the same as Untruth vs Truth !!

    The artificial system – I think of it as a balloon being inflated – is a subset of Nature and far from supplanting the latter or persisting indefinitely, it is subject to Nature’s limits, no matter how those limits might have been circumvented/pushed back for as long a time as they have been.

    When we despair of the failure of the politicians/academics/scientists, I think we should remind ourselves that they are very much the pillars of the artificial system, only a little more than you and I, rather than the seekers-of-the-truth and the warriors-of-wisdom that the onset of the current system promised us they would be and which we desperately wish them to be in order to validate our faith in the system. We continue to cling to the artifice that the system is quite fine, just needs a little tweaking here and there; that it is the individual actors that have suddenly turned out to be rotten.

    Of course, anyone who feels strongly about engaging in some ameliorating action shall need to do so with the conviction that that action will, indeed, make a difference. And, what the heck, if so much of ‘negative’ action is taking place anyway, some ‘positive’ action might as well be pursued even if it really be just like a candle in the wind.

    do tell me off, if I have gone on and on, 🙂



  114. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    Dear Magne,

    Thanks for the reference to the Trinifar article.

    I would like to comment on the issue of humaneness that you picked up.

    Just as the worst is possible at the hands of humans, so is the best. Of course, climbing up the incline of the mountain is surely much harder than rolling down without any effort. Yet, again and again, the crises that we are confronted with – individually as well as collectively – and which are very much of our own making due to the deep ignorance that we dwell in, offer us opportunity to progress towards the top of the mount.

    I really, really believe that, although a lot of suffering is due in the present scenario, that very suffering shall bring us understanding and wisdom so that we move from living a life of Goods to a life of Good.

    For that to happen our framework of inclusivity will have to really, really expand – beyond being American, Norwegian, British, African, Indian to seeing ourselves, first and foremost, as human beings. Who knows, we might even come to see ourselves as sentient beings as are all the beings that exist, not just human beings.

    It is for this reason that the title ‘humanity is the greatest challenge’ caught my attention.



  115. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    Dear John,

    I read a comment from you saying that while you support any efforts to get to the deeper roots of our ecological problems, you do not think that that will happen fast enough and, so, you are concentrating on economic and population growth as areas of concern and action. I have a strong feeling that even if these areas are acted upon mightily – which itself is going to be hard to agree upon – the hoped-for results will be far from forthcoming.

    I feel that this crisis shall force us, with its breadth, depth and enormity, to necessarily look at those very roots no matter where we might have started from. We are going to be forced to ask ourselves what it really means to be human – merely stuck at the level of the stomach and the large intestine or capable of moving up to the level of a deeply aware mind and compassionate heart.

    So, the title ‘humanity is the greatest challenge’ sounded very apt to me even though you might have used it with regard to population numbers.



  116. Dear Ashit and Magne,

    Thanks to both of you for the many insights into the human predicament that you are offering to this community.

    Each of you has expressed a concern the scientific evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel appears to lead us automatically to make the choice of willfully denying food to our brothers and sisters in the human community. At least to me, this is example of a situation in which what is APPARENT is not REAL.

    I cannot think of anything more pernicious than ideas, policies or programs that would willfully deny food to another human being who is in need of it.

    That millions of people will die from lack of adequate sustenance in 2008 is anathema to me (and to Hopfenberg and Pimentel, I am sure), particularly because at least some of the hunger and starvation we see in our world today could be averted if we exercised the political will needed to begin redistributing our abundant global food harvests.

    Mohandas Gandhi and Kofi Annan have recognized that there is enough food on Earth this very day to feed everyone now, IF world food harvests were reasonably and sensibly redistributed so that every human being was provided substantial sustenance. IF the leaders of the family of humanity chose to feed those people of the world who are hungry, I believe we have the food supplies and the distribution capabilities to accomplish this task to a much greater extent than we are doing presently.

    What makes you believe that recognizing the relationship between food supply and human numbers will make the current situation, marked by hunger and starvation of so many people, worse? The hunger and starvation of billions of people in the world today is obscene, especially in light of the morbid obesity evidenced in hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters. What is occuring on the surface of the Earth, that is leading to the hunger, starvation and extreme poverty in our time is a function not only of an unconscionable failure of political will and abject greed but also of a pervasive attitude among those in possession of most of the world’s resources and the political power to regard the least fortunate among us with what I would call ” not so benign neglect.” Of course, this neglect is not as perverse as the willful denial of food to those in need; but then, I honestly do not know of a single human being who would willfully deny food to others in need.

    The acknowledgement that increasing the availability of more and more food drives population numbers of human species near-exponentially upward, just like food supply drives the population numbers of other organisms, appears to me not to be directly related to how food is distributed among the inhabitants of Earth. Decisions to redistribute food more fairly and equitably are separate from decisions to continuously increase the production of food, I suppose. Feeding those among us who are hungry is an actual food distribution problem, is it not, particularly if we acknowledge that enough food is available to feed the 6.64 billion people who exist with us in this marvelous world?



  117. Magne Karlsen


    “The overpopulation is manifestly evident but … it is not the CULPRIT, just the MOST OBVIOUS SYMPTOM of our malaise/predicament. Also, the overpopulation is not linked symbiotically to food ALONE but to each and every artifice that humankind has employed … including medical intervention to artificially defer dying and to extend life, no matter if even in vegetable state, in state of decrepitude, etc., etc.”

    – —

    Wow. — You’re right. Of course you are. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about the issue in exactly the same way as you do — believe me, I have — it’s just that I’ve discovered, ever so often, that this way of being absolutely truthful about the overpopulation issue comes with the usual side-effect of utter and total muteness. It’s as if people think you must be in favour, not only of euthanasia, but of the abject killing of all those who have reached the age of eighty-three, scary monsters, super creeps style.

    I say: Wow. Not because you’re absolutely right in what you’re saying here, and I’m staggered or taken aback by what you’re saying here, but for the simple and straightforward fact that you dare even to hint at the rather easy-going possibility of some medical or medicinal connection to the overpopulation issue. Of course there is! — But here you are wading knee-deep inside a river of particularly troubled waters.

    There can be no doubt, what-so-ever, of the fact that the beginning of the population explosion coincides in time with the take-off, second stage of the industrial revolution. I know some of the peak-oil people have explored this connection to full. If I’m not totally mistaken here, I think Paul Chefurka — a regular visitor to the GIM — wrote something to that effect here, somewhere on this blog.

    The population / industrial connection is easily viewed, this way:

    1900: 1.500.000.000
    2007: 6.700.000.000

    But that doesn’t matter much. Not from a strictly mechanistic moral-ethical point of view, which is the point that anyone who dares to even hint at a possible connection between overpopulation and medical/medicinal progress, is a little Hitler or a large Lucipher; either – or.

  118. Ashit Shanker Saxena


    I think that you are interpreting my words as being in favour of euthanasia, killing, etc. now that the numbers have grown to as much as they have. Not at all !!

    What I am saying, in a nutshell, is that if humankind had homed onto a closer-to-nature living such large numbers, most probably, would not have come to be.

    Now that the numbers have grown so large, no artificial quick-fix is likely to be agreed-upon, nor likely to work if sought to be implemented.

    We are most likely set on pushing the limits till Nature itself shall bring the curtain down on our numbers.


  119. Ashit Shanker Saxena


    I am in complete agreement with you that it is a problem of food distribution and not of production. What I am also saying is that the current system in place, which you acknowledge as being based on ‘abject greed’, will not allow that distribution to take place nor the expansion of production to slow down or plateau out.

    So, it is likely to continue to be business as usual – the production of food is likely to continue to be subsidised even as it does not reach those who need it.


  120. Magne Karlsen

    Ashit: “I think that you are interpreting my words as being in favour of euthanasia, killing, etc. now that the numbers have grown to as much as they have. Not at all !!”

    Not at all. Not at all! You’re misinterpreting me entirely. But okay, this is what happens when the manner of communication is purely written and read. The irony is not always all that easy to get across.

    What I am saying is that I have definitely — and gladly so — been interpreted as a grandma-killer myself. Now, that’s a different story. I’ve never been in favour of any forms of killing or murder of any kind, ever. And I did not — I repeat: did not! — accuse you of any such thing.

    What I am saying, really, is that it is difficult to find a solution to a problem so long as the width and depth of it is impossible for people to even consider relevant or at all possible to discuss. I agree with you, that overpopulation is to a very large extent, a product of the industrial societies, in terms of medical advances and advances in the form of industrial agriculture, all based on the oil age, with all of its opportunities fully intact. And factr is fact: we’re expecting a cure for cancer any day now, and they do actually expect us to become more 100 years old, on average, all of us, before we wither away and die. If this is not an essential piece of knowledge, as concerns the population dilemma as such, well, I’ll be damned.

  121. Ashit,

    I read a comment from you saying that while you support any efforts to get to the deeper roots of our ecological problems, you do not think that that will happen fast enough and, so, you are concentrating on economic and population growth as areas of concern and action. I have a strong feeling that even if these areas are acted upon mightily – which itself is going to be hard to agree upon – the hoped-for results will be far from forthcoming.

    I feel that this crisis shall force us, with its breadth, depth and enormity, to necessarily look at those very roots…

    Let me clarify. To use an analogy, let’s say the earth is like a medical patient with cancer caused by exposure to some environmental toxin. This patient now has a brain tumor which will kill him within a month if it’s not removed. Yet, slightly longer term, he will die, as well, from continued exposure to the toxin, the root cause of his cancer, unless all traces of it are removed from his body and his environment.

    How do we treat him? We address both the root cause and the immediate symptom (tumor). Ideally, we should address both facets immediately and as effectively as possible. But if forced to focus on one or the other in the next “week,” we would have to choose the tumor.

    With regard to the human ecological plight, I currently focus on population and economic growth because, like the tumor, they are a very serious, relatively short term threat which, on a very physical level, and converging with climate change, groundwater depletion, and other problems, threaten countless lives in the coming decades. But I do so also because other environmental writers and political commentators avoid or ignore them more than any other serious environmental issues.

    But I completely support and encourage simultaneous attention to the root, societal causes of this mess. Certainly, civilization will face cataclysm if we don’t do that as well. We must do both. And you make a very insightful argument about “artifice” versus “nature.”

    Of course the search for “root” causes is tricky. One can legitimately say that economic and population growth are “causes” of our environmental problems (just as the tumor will be the immediate cause of the patient’s death), but you’re quite right that fundamental societal structures, values, etc. underly those. (It depends on what level you’re looking for roots. 🙂 ) We might even be able to go further in identifying underlying causes of those structures and values! But, particulars aside, yes, we must address those deepest underlying factors.

    Currently I happen to focus most on the population issue, then the economic. But I’ve touched on issues like capitalism and globalization in the past (perhaps moving a little closer to the “artifice” of which you speak… see past posts). I do welcome guest articles on topics such as that which you’ve been developing in some of the comments here. I’m definitely interested in the historical roots of how we got into this mess, going back to agriculture and on into the industrial age as you and Magne have been discussing.

    Immediate threat and underlying causes — we must attend to both!

    ps – Have you seen this:

    pps – One root cause which I think can explain a great deal very simply is our view of ourselves as separate from and more important than other species.

  122. I just happened to notice Andrei’s comment: “People in developed countries live way too long and consume too much of the finite resources. We should ban people from living beyond the age of 60.”

    I’m entertaining this slightly far-fetched idea with some seriousness this morning.

    At the risk of sounding like a cold-blooded Nazi, I’m thinking half-seriously we all — in developing countries and developed — could be legislatively put to death at age 60 or 70 at a festive occasion resembling a scenario from the movie ‘Logan’s Run’ . People (and their relatives) would celebrate and mourn death simultaneously at a grand occasion!

    I think having a fixed date-with-death actually improve the quality of our lives. I feel anybody who knows that he/she has a finite number of years to live turns into a better human being, living life more meaningfully and with purpose.

    On the other hand, the thought of being kept alive infinitely (with loads of medical intervention) deep into our feeble 90s makes us all fearful that our retirement funds may run out before we, or our spouses, reach the end. I think this deep-seated fear makes us neurotic and selfish.

    Think about it.


  123. Maybe Andrei was being sarcastic, but I’m not.

  124. Magne Karlsen


    The problems concerned with the population explosion can just as easily be solved at the bottom layer of the population pyramid. If we — adult humans — had the guts to really teach our children some population maths and indicate what the natural or environmental problems concerned with the population explosion are really all about, chances are the children will listen to reason and decide for themselves — voluntarily — to “look to China”.

  125. Dear Krish,

    Sometimes things could in actuality be simple, despite all the complexity in our world that can serve to obscure simplicity.

    Simple idea: (in two parts)

    Immediately feed and educate the children of the world.

    1) Rather than react to crisis situations by INTERMITTENTLY dropping packaged foodstuff to people who find themselves in dire straits, fund and empower United Nations agencies to distribute nutritious food supplies systematically through time;


    2) Provide education to these children in an ongoing manner, one that focuses on population mathematics (ie, exponentiality), health and family planning, limits to growth of human consumption/ production/ propagation activities in a finite world, and human creatureliness.

    These provisions would be substantial sustenance in two forms: “food for the body and for the mind.”



  126. True Steve. We need to relook at the content and the objectives of education.

    Currently, the focus of education is “How my family & I can get ahead in life.”

    We need to make a sustainable future the focal point of all our education… at all levels from Kindergarten to Doctorate.

    And like everything else that we speak of, we need this to be done NOW.


  127. But I still feel that we have to define limits to medical interventions aimed at keeping the aged alive week by week.

    Ceasing to prolong life for its own sake, subjectively, is a key part of ensuring a sustainable future for mankind.

  128. Krish,

    Old age is only one place extreme medical interventions occur which can be pointless or even create more suffering than they alleviate, the other (at least in the US) is with newborns.

    Medical ethics is not something many people want to talk about. The solution that seems to appeal to most people (and most doctors) is the simple one: to offer every possible intervention in every case no matter what the cost or consequences to the medical care system as a whole (especially if the patient has good insurance).

    Until we learn to talk about medical ethics rationality (which I think is a long way off) the situation won’t change. I think we all wish for the day when there is a reasonable and just allocation of medical resources so that more people live healthier lives.

  129. Magne Karlsen

    January 21, 2007:

    “JERUSALEM: Israel, tiny and bereft of oil, has decided to embrace the electric car.”

    – —

    January 21, 2007:

    ATHENS, Greece: Three car dealerships and five banks were damaged in arson attacks across Athens early Monday.

    – —

    January 1, 2006:

    “As the nation’s population grows — or, rather, stalls — through a new century, engulfed by vehicles and stuck in traffic, the automotive life has become a misery for the adults of the future. And forget about buying a third car for 16-year-old Junior, whose only means of independent travel is on the Internet. Worse still, the emissions from Junior’s grandparents’ cars, which contributed 25 percent of America’s greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in the past century, have accelerated global warming, drowning the coastal and waterfront sites where half the nation’s population once lived. As the waves begin to ripple through the petunia patches and cornfields, Junior and his parents are contemplating putting their 2030 house on stilts.”

    – Jane Holtz Key > the author of Asphalt Nation (1998) >