Grim worldview from the deck of the Titanic

Administrator’s note: Jim Lydecker’s essays have appeared previously on GIM. In this one, which first appeared as a guest commentary in the Napa Valley Register, Jim does an especially good job of tying together succinctly a number of the ecological, economic, and political crises we face. He raises, as well, a troubling question: If our elected leaders are fully aware of the challenges facing us, why are they doing next to nothing to address them?

My thanks to Jim for providing this article! — JF
By Jim Lydecker: Titanic

I have written before that America is like the Titanic making her way through an ocean of icebergs. The captain and his staff keep reassuring the passengers everything is OK.

Standing on the deck, we see the bergs getting bigger and closer. Looking up at the captain’s quarterdeck, I wonder if they know what the hell they are doing? Can they be so stupid to not see the impending crises in front of us? Are they focused only on those directly in our path hoping to navigate our way through, fingers crossed?
Or do they know there is no way out and we are doomed?

This allegory is more true than fictional. America faces a convergence of crises of such magnitude that no amount of financial or scientific commitment may be enough to keep them from ending industrial civilization. The future would be less problematic if our leaders had taken on the crises before they became so large and interconnected.


The biggest crisis is overpopulation. Every problem, be it environmental, economic, social or political, is directly or indirectly connected to the 6.8-billion-pound gorilla in the room. We have known this for years but it is one of the issues no one, conservative or liberal, will touch. Instead, the official policy is one of ignorance allowing the human species to breed itself toward a massive die-off.

Last month the U.N. released official projections expecting the world population to reach 9.2 billion by 2050, an increase of 2.5 billion from today. It will never happen.

Throughout history, whenever a new energy source was exploited, human population skyrocketed. But never has it increased as quickly as it has since the oil age arrived in 1859 and the world population was a little more than 1 billion. The exponential growth in population going hand-in-hand with the use of hydrocarbons is not just a coincidence.

In just a little more than 130 years, humans have run through more than half the world’s reserves of oil and natural gas. Since population growth is contingent on a readily available supply of cheap oil, collapse is inevitable. The slippery slide down the slope of Peak Oil will be quicker than the trip up.

Without cheap oil and natural gas, the Green Revolution and the ability to feed all us billions will be history. Few industries will be affected as great as agriculture. Two that will be are those medical and pharmaceutical.

Thus, a future die-off of biblical proportions will be primarily due to starvation and disease. Throw in mass migrations and social strife and, boy, do we have problems.

Knowing this, you would think that intelligent, reasonable people would advocate strict population control and implement a cohesive energy policy. You would think they would have forethought to think of our children and children’s children. They don’t.

Another ignored crisis that lies dead ahead is the federal debt. It has reached the point where if nations stop lending us money — currently $2.5 billion daily — Uncle Sam may go broke. At the very best, the result of this will make the Great Depression look like a picnic in the park.

Virtually every politician knows this, yet nothing gets done. Instead of taking the problem on, they make matters worse by cutting taxes and increasing spending.

The Bush administration has taken action, though, on the fiscal crisis. Economists are painfully aware that the dollar losing its value as the world’s reserve currency is another, quicker road to economic Armageddon than the exploding debt. So when a nation decides to stop accepting the dollar, a la Iraq, they get a thumpin’ from our military.

Next stop, Iran.

Finally, there is global warming. Every report and study released seems to be more dire than the one preceding it. Most now say we have little time before passing the point of no return; some, including two from the Pentagon and NASA, say we most probably are beyond the tipping point and a runaway greenhouse effect is on its way.

Like the allegory, I look to our leaders and wonder if they are clueless. But the fact of the matter is they know everything we know and much more.

I believe that most politicians know the awful truth confronting us but refuse to do anything about it as it will cost them their jobs. They hope to safely navigate through the ice field, fingers crossed. If this is the case, our leaders have failed us: It is their responsibility to lead us down certain paths, regardless the pain, if circumstances demand it.

Then there is the chance that our leaders know we have passed the breaking point and we’re doomed. If so, we have to ask the ultimate question: What good will it do to inform the public?

This is open for debate.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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106 responses to “Grim worldview from the deck of the Titanic

  1. At least where I live in Georgia I think the politicians really don’t know any better. Growth is like crack cocaine around here and all anyone can think about is getting more. We are screwed. I really, really appreciate the great work you are doing and for this post. My governor is actually a cartoon character, so I’m not expecting a lot of leadership. I’m not sure what in our democracy makes our leaders so unresponsive, visionless, and ignorant. Since our leaders are simply a reflection of the people they lead, perhaps we need to all reinvent ourselves from the ground up. Our State Legislature debates whether sweet tea should be the official drink of Georgia, and they vote themselves raises, and all the while, the whole place is going to hell.

  2. Hi Todd,

    You packed a lot into a brief comment! But I this part really makes me think:

    I’m not sure what in our democracy makes our leaders so unresponsive, visionless, and ignorant. Since our leaders are simply a reflection of the people they lead, perhaps we need to all reinvent ourselves from the ground up.

    I wish I had an answer to that. Is it that our system(s) have been adjusted to cater too much to the needs of special interests via lobbyists, contributions, etc.?

    Anyway, that’s an excellent site you have. I encourage others to take a look at Todd’s site,, which covers very well a lot of interacting topics affecting sustainability. Much food for thought!

  3. Dear Jim,

    Your concluding words from above follow:

    “Then there is the chance that our leaders know we have passed the breaking point and we’re doomed. If so, we have to ask the ultimate question: What good will it do to inform the public?”

    At least to me, no one, not even the best and brightest among us, can know for sure whether the human species is doomed or not. I simply cannot see how that is knowable.

    The question you raise about “inform-{ing} the public” does not help. On the other hand, it appears to me that it lets our leaders off the hook. Saying we know that nothing can be done, when no one can know such a thing with any degree of certainty, not only makes it too easy for them, but also gives them a legitimate basis for remaining unresponsive to the requirements of reality, as they do see them.

    It is much too early in the game to be indicating to anyone or everyone that there is nothing we can do. The work is only beginning now. Most people are have not so much as awakened from their slumber to so much as see the human-forced global challenges before humanity, the challenges we are openly discussing. Once more people are awake, things will change. Of that, can we have any doubt? I think not.

    Thanks always for your work, Jim. Keep going.



  4. Jim: “Like the allegory, I look to our leaders and wonder if they are clueless. But the fact of the matter is they know everything we know and much more.”

    Correct. 💡

    The “much more” part of this simple truth can be extremely disturbing, though. I don’t even want to think about it. Not now, anyway. Maybe later?

    – —

    Steve: “Saying we know that nothing can be done, when no one can know such a thing with any degree of certainty, not only makes it too easy for them, but also gives them a legitimate basis for remaining unresponsive to the requirements of reality, as they do see them.”

    I’m sorry, Steve. From a social, cultural, and structural perspective, the ugly truth is, very likely, that nothing can actually be done. The human species is very poorly organized, to say the least. Humanity is just not organized in such a way that there really is no practical possibility to respond to alarming reports such as this last one from the IPCC.

    A swift review of the social, psychological, and cultural readiness to just continue polluting the environment in general, and deny, suppress, feign ignorance of or simply forget about the problematic aspects of modern natural science, will reveal to you a truth which may be hard to swallow: not only do individual persons and societies of humans continue like we have done for more than a century, we’re actually speeding up the process. We should be polluting less than we do, but end up polluting more, nevertheless.

    I don’t know this for certain, but I believe the reason why we keep doing the exact opposite of what we know we should be doing, is a defence mechanism of some sort. We just do not want to face the facts of the natural sciences, and show this by flying more often than before, using more electricity than before, consuming more luxury goods than ever, etc. — A defense mechanism of some sort, like: “If I were to cut down on energy use and general consumption, it would be almost the same as acknowledging that the world might be in the process of coming to an end, and I just can’t relate to that, so.” Anyway: “I think I’ll go and buy myself a Hummer.”

    – —

    Todd: “Growth is like crack cocaine around here and all anyone can think about is getting more.”

    Now, this is where the politicians, the diplomats, the economists, the military men, and the clergy have one simple item in common: from a social, cultural, and modern civilizational perspective, it is absolutely impossible to deal with any truth at all, without simultaneously having that good, old economic criterion of rationality in mind. A truth which doesn’t take the economic growth factor into account, is nothing but a half-truth.

    This is the civilizational result of the cold war’s ending. — With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, the ethos of capitalism went global straight away. As early as 1992, the Chinese President Deng Xiaoping went on record with a most astounding message: “To get rich is glorious.”

    And this is where we stand today. Money talks, and hey, we listen. Television, newspapers, and magazines of every kind, is full of it. Money is everything. The only thing that matters. — The refrain is written and sung by American rapper 50 Cent: “Get rich or die trying.”

    The ecological crises might easily turn out to be a very costly affair. Too costly, as a matter of fact, we’d better call it off. — Simply smile at the cameraman and dance, dance, dance.

  5. Edit: “Humanity is organized in such a way that there really is no practical possibility to respond to alarming reports such as this last one from the IPCC.”

    And I mean it. 8)

  6. Jim,

    Personally, I’m not at all convinced “that most politicians know the awful truth confronting us.” My sense is most of them have not taken the time to investigate the issues to any depth, and lobbyists are constantly showing them a very different picture of the world. It’s up to the electorate to put better people in office and keep the heat on the ones already there.

    Every report and study released seems to be more dire than the one preceding it. Most now say we have little time before passing the point of no return; some, including two from the Pentagon and NASA, say we most probably are beyond the tipping point and a runaway greenhouse effect is on its way.

    Please provide citations and/or links for those two reports. I either haven’t seen them or interpreted them differently — or I have a different understanding of “runaway greenhouse effect.”

    Economists are painfully aware that the dollar losing its value as the world’s reserve currency is another, quicker road to economic Armageddon than the exploding debt.

    My understanding is the current dip in the US dollar is a direct result of maintaining a large trade imbalance over a long period. The dollars recent sinking value makes it harder to keep up that silly behavior. If foreign goods become more expensive — especially oil — then it puts us on a faster path to take corrective action. This is a good thing and I suspect most economists see it as such.

    My (likely quite obivious) concern is that we are not helping the cause by overstating the case — especially in an opinion piece that offers no supporting evidence for its claims. This is how we get dismissed with the “alarmist” label.

  7. Todd, I couldn’t find an email address for you on your site. (There is something looks like it should be a link however.) The link from your site to your blog is broken.

  8. I’m becoming less comfortable with defining the problem as simply “overpopulation”. I don’t think that framing, for all its potency, is nuanced enough to be useful from either an analytical or policy perspective. I believe that this view aggregates the very different regional and national roles in the crisis, and homogenizes the issues to such an extent that it makes it impossible to determine who is doing what to whom. Surprisingly, I’ve come to view the problem more in terms of traditional First World/Third World distinctions.

    “The Problem” is indeed caused by aggregate human activity, but the vastly disproportionate amount of that activity happens in the developed world, where per capita consumption is highest. It is we in the West who are drawing down the world’s resources and filling up its waste sinks. In the developed countries, population is by and large already shrinking. Further reducing the populations of Germany, Great Britain or even the USA would make scant difference to their aggregate consumption, and consequently scant difference to their contribution to the problem.

    The situation in the under-developed world is dramatically different (I won’t call it the “developing world”, because even if is developing right now, it won’t be for long). Their resource base is barely sufficient to support their current populations. In some places it’s already insufficient, even for something as simple as providing 2500 calories of daily food. As a result they bear the disproportionate burden of Western activities – especially rising food and energy prices due to global resource depletion, droughts from global warming, and toxic pollution. It is their populations that are at risk as the waves of hardship begin to break.

    So where does that leave us in terms of population as a top-level issue? Reducing the population of the West is unlikely to help. Our contribution is to reduce our consumption and change our waste-production behaviour. Reducing the population of the under-developed world would help in that it would permit scarce resources to cover the needs of more of the population. However, it would not reduce the impacts that are felt by everyone regardless of the population level – especially things like droughts and high food and fuel costs.Reducing the population of the under-developed world would reduce the number of people experiencing the miseries of privation, but might not proportionally reduce the amount of misery and privation being experienced by those that remain.

    Ideally, it seems to me we need to see three things happen. First is for the developed world to reduce the ecological impact of its activities, by reducing our consumption and changing our processes. Second, the under-developed world needs to reduce its population through the measures usually advocated here – family planning, education and empowerment of women and whatever degree of local development can be achieved without further ecological damage. Third, the developed world needs to reassign some of its foregone consumption to the underdeveloped world to ease their path back down the population mountain – basically a wealth redistribution exercise.

    The first problem with this proposal is, of course, the timeline. We have less than 15 years before the effects of “The Problem” will take events utterly out of our hands. We could still make meaningful changes, but they would need to be carefully planned to generate benefits in that time window.

    And the second problem is, of course, that none of this will happen. Given human psychology, our tribal (i.e. national) identities, the social, economic and information structures we have created and the fragmented worldview that those structures support, there is little chance that any of my three essential actions will be undertaken, at least on any scale that would help to avert the crisis.

  9. It just occurred to me that the use of the terms “overdeveloped world” and “underdeveloped world” might have some pedagogical merit…

  10. Paul: “The first problem with this proposal is, of course, the timeline.”

    15 years, 20, 30 or 50 years. You’re right. the environmental policy makers of the West are still obsessed with such-and-such percentage CO2 emissions reduction goals which, supposedly, are going to be met by the year 2020, 2030 or 2050 or whenever — some time in the not-all-too-close future seems to be the general idea. Meanwhile, energy policy makers are all smiles and merrily planning for a future of rising electrical power demand and ditto output from homes, domes, private and national industry. On the other hand, in the third world, policy makers have — as simple as that — decided not to reduce any of its CO2 emissions until the policymakers of the West can prove, without a shadow of doubt, that CO2 emissions are being cut by the same percentage as they say they are going to reduce, by year so-and-so, and not only as the fictitious result of the cap-and-trade scheme. — If I sound a little sarcastic here, you do not me wrong. 8)

    – —

    Paul: “And the second problem is, of course, that none of this will happen.”

    Exactly. Even though a substantial cut in general consumption would work it’s own kind of magic on “the problem”, it’s simply not going to happen anytime soon. As for the question “Why is that so?”, I can only expect the correct answer to be confusing. Of course. Because the world is a crazy old place which undergoes enormous cultural, social and technological changes, here and now, in real time. — No wonder many of us are feeling a bit disoriented. The fastness — yes, the sheer speed of the multitude of processes of change which are happening simultaneously, right here, and right now, on this planet and far, far away. In China, in Peru, in Botswana, in Iran. I’m starting to feel all lyrical here. On local level, and on global level, changes of the techno-political and pseudo-military kind are taking place, on local, regional, national and, of course, on the international stage. What presents itself to all of us, here and now, is a future of complete and total chaos.

    Like I said above: Humanity is organized in such a way that there can be no practical ways of responding to alarming scientific (and diplomatic) reports such as this last one from the IPCC.

    But everyone, no matter where on the planet the impoverished masses live, all struggling to make ends meet, can look forward to watching Samuel Eto’o score a couple of brilliant goals for Barcelona in the Champions League, in a week, a month, a couple of months or so. That’s for certain. They do so on T.V.

  11. If I sound a little sarcastic here, you do not get me wrong. 💡

  12. We are going to go through the bottleneck.

    The phrase, “beyond the point of no return” contains a logical fallacy. Inherent is the assumption that we could ever have exponential growth and avoid going through the collapse that nature demands. IMO, the only way we would have avoided it would to have been less succesful. The institutions that mitigate our avoidance of collapse are the same institutions that got us here.

    Would any of you forego the age of reason? Would you agree to live in a world dominated by kings or emperors and their various supporting structures in order to avoid growth?

    Do any of you imagine that technological progress can continue in any environment other than free inquiry, or that free inquiry is not prodded by personal ambition? If so, you might well also imagine that you could live a life of quiet productivity unmolested by those who can only be restrained by superior force – if you believe that fantasy I will not bother to debate you.

    There are those who believe that we can erect a state structure that will provide that superior force over the world (rule of law, we call it) before we arrive at a society based on common values. Good luck.

    I do believe man will eventually arrive at somewhat common values, but we will do it through the same cruel bloody process of conflict that it has taken all through history. We are quite a way from those common values yet and, IMO, attempting to impose those values through the state will only result in tyranny, as it always has, and you can count on tyranny to quickly rot.

    There is still a huge difference of approach between those who believe that society can mold people like a lump of clay and those who believe that inherent in man is a template of natural inclinations that CANNOT be ignored. The two camps may not be as far apart as Marxists and determinists (which they still often call each other), but the chasm between is huge when it comes time to plot a course for even the Western countries, to say nothing of the whole world.

    I get a distinct “vibe” that there is a predominant statist view here that answers lie in government. I believe that IS the most likely course the world will take. I believe that course will fail for the same reason that blind babies smile – but that is not to say that any other course would “succeed”.

    As far as guessing what is in the minds of world “leaders”, I doubt that any rational, logical man in a postion like that can believe that he or anybody can plot a course for the world, but – not to worry – there are some whose rationality is questionable.

    Putin and the ruling party of China seem to be heading towards getting the best hold they can on their regions. I don’t see any delusions of world conquest there, but they will be damn tough on their home turf and pretty cold about sacrificing for “the good of the world” (at least when it comes to their sacrifices, they seem quite ready for the West to do so – imagine that).

    Locally in the US, the PNAC guys seemed pretty delusional, but they’ve run foul of Iraq and that dog just ain’t going to hunt. We are in transition, but will eventually wind up like Russia or China, hunkering down on our own turf.

    The left in Europe and America are together in delusions of a UN solution – that one is going to take quite a while to run out. Their allies in the third world have a lot of bodies to hurl into the fray. They are the true believers in “saving the world”, the French Revolution writ large. Like that revolution, they will have a serious impact on the world, but no more success.

    The seriously delusional, like Nutjob in Iran, do have worldwide aims, but they are so obsessed with the “Great Satan” and his sidekick “Little Satan” that they will be easy prey for the Chinese and Russians. They will be the focus of conflict, but not really players, a good strategy for getting destroyed it seems to me.

    That was a long answer, the short one is that no one but the left thinks they can solve the problem (some on the right seem to be clinging to some hope, but that, like the Annapolis conference is just a lot of noise).

    The man in the street is just going along hoping the guys in charge will work it out. When it dawns on him that their leaders will not they will begin the ghost dances.

    As far as economic “Armageddon” is concerned, the policies of Hjalmar Schact will still work quite well, thank you. There are trillions of dollars worth of work to be done in the US building nuclear plants, coal to liquid plants, and so forth. All that is lacking is the political power to “git ‘er done”. That will come when the paychecks stop, the mortgages are called, and food stops showing up on the shelves of the grocery stores. Economic Armageddon will not last long – the other one may drag out quite a while.

    So it goes.

  13. […Still hoping Jim will stop by and respond to my first comment above…]

    Such a joyous discussion! 🙂 Let’s see, what’s missing? How about …

    The wealthy and powerful want to remain so and that means having a large middle class or far fewer wealthy and powerful. And in developed (or with a nod to Paul “overdeveloped”) countries that means a middle class with basic freedoms including the ability to vote, organize, demonstrate, boycott, etc.

    It could well be that when crunch time comes, a middle class feeling tremendous pressure will choose better leaders.

    In general for the last 60 years (since WWII) the US, Canada, the EU, and Japan have enjoyed steadily increasing freedoms and material prosperity. A much larger portion of people are better educated and have more intellectual resources to draw on. That’s an enormous unsung resource. Given both external pressure and a few leaders, it might give birth to something new and wonderful — or maybe not. But to dismiss the possibility seems silly.

  14. Trinifar, check out the idea of “Gaia’s antibodies” as described in Paul Hawkens’ book “Blessed Unrest”, and stolen by me for my article Population Decline – Red Herrings and Hope:

    American activist Paul Hawken has just written a tremendously important book called “Blessed Unrest” in which he describes a set of one to two million local, independent, citizen-run environmental and social justice groups. These groups exist world-wide, and each is acting on local problems of its own choosing. There is no overarching ideology beyond “making the world a better place”, there is no unifying organization, no white male vertebrate leader setting the agenda. As a result the movement is extremely resilient – no government action anywhere can shut it down, even though individual groups may be suppressed. These groups make up the largest (though unrecognized) social movement the world has ever seen. For a glimpse of some of these organizations, take a look at the web site

    Hawken sees this movement as part of humanity’s immune system. While I like the metaphor and think it is exactly correct, I believe the importance of these groups is much greater than just their efforts to mitigate an unavoidable collapse. These groups have been called into existence by the world’s dis-ease, and do two things: they work to fix local problems now (which will mitigate some local effects of the collapse), but more importantly they act as carriers for the values of cooperation, consensus, nurturing, recognition of interdependence, acceptance of limits, universal justice and the respect for other life. Those are precisely the values that a civilization will need to achieve stability and sustainability. To top it all off, many of these groups are led by women or espouse specifically matriarchal values, one attribute I see as essential for any sustainable civilization.

    At the risk of sounding sentimental, I call these groups the antibodies in Gaia’s bloodstream.

    I am convinced we will not save this civilization, and will lose a large fraction of humanity in the process. But I’m equally convinced that thanks to the seeds that have already been planted in these groups we have a shot at a much better one in a couple of hundred years. The crucial change in perspective required to see the hope in this is to stop looking from here forward into the decline, and instead look backward from a position out two hundred years and imagine what it will take to rebuild a truly sustainable civilization from the ashes of this one. The values required are already embodied in a resilient organization, enough of whose elements will survive to transmit a sustainable value set into the ecologically damaged, resource-depleted world we will bequeath to the future.

    The potential for the birth of something new and wonderful isn’t just a denialist’s pipedream, it’s a already been seeded.

  15. A few notes about Paul’s comments on population. While population is not the ONLY problem, it is a huge part of the problem. We all know the basic equation, Human Impact = Per Capita Resource Intensity X Population.

    Because our per-capita resource intensity is so high in the U.S., it would be unwise to ignore the population part of the equation here. We will have to work on both resource intensity AND population. We simply cannot afford to keep importing millions of former under-consumers, immediately converting them to new over-consumers year after year.

    And the big problem in the developing countries is not population, UNLESS they are successful at transitioning to U.S.-style consumption. Why would you want to kill off large numbers of under-consumers rather than over-consumers? My guess is that you would only want to do this if you’re worried about what those huge masses of under-consumers will be doing in a few years! (a legitimate concern, I grant you)

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  16. I agree that importing under-consumers and turning them loose in the land of milk and oil is a bad idea from a global resource perspective. But the USA is one of the few overdeveloped countries whose population is still rising, and that’s primarily due to immigration. So from a “global population” perspective the US has more of a policy problem than a demographic one, and that’s a lot easier to turn around.

    A caution about your language – nobody here wants to “kill off large numbers of under-consumers”. That phrase projects uncomfortable overtones. The plain fact is, though, that it is the under-consumers of the world who are at greatest risk of catastrophic population decline, not the over-consumers.

    I’d love to see every country working to reduce its numbers. The overdeveloped world has already by and large managed that feat, which of course leads the debate into rather perilous moral territory as further population declines are contemplated.

  17. Just a couple of quick, incomplete replies. Maybe more tomorrow now that I’m back after a brief trip.

    collapse2100, you said,

    I get a distinct “vibe” that there is a predominant statist view here that answers lie in government. I believe that IS the most likely course the world will take. I believe that course will fail for the same reason that blind babies smile – but that is not to say that any other course would “succeed”.

    Just to clarify, for my part, the reason it’s more a vibe than an outright statement is that when I urge attention to something like population, I don’t much care who spearheads it or how it happens as long as it happens in some effective manner. But yes, generally I would tend to envision some government role in that, if only in providing more funding for existing population organizations.

    I’m not against non-statist approaches per se. But I do tend to be leery of them in their ability to handle environmental issues. Perhaps I’m not being fair but I’m viewing something like, say, anarcho-capitalism as an extreme form of libertarianism, which has a history of listening to people like Julian Simon in determining how to protect the environment. He seemed to deny we were seeing any sort of ecological decline, saw population growth as always good, etc. So I can’t see his approach working. I’m not sure I should lump all non-statist approaches in with him, and would be happy to hear of any such approach which can convincingly be shown to have real potential for reversing our ecological problems.

    It does seem to me we need rather swift and decisive action to reverse what’s happening environmentally. I’m open to any way to do that humanely. But I don’t deny there’s a good case to be made that we won’t be able to avoid very serious upheaval/decline. But until I feel I know that for sure, I’m going to push for any possible solution, partial solution, measure to soften the landing, etc.

  18. Paul,

    You make a good case for the things we need to do. And, yeah, there is the problem of a real resistance to doing anything that will really help. Magne was right in a comment under another post when he pointed to the need to understand more about that resistance.

    Like Dave, I’d just quibble a little with the question of population in the US and other “overdeveloped” countries. I mean, even if we see it as purely a function of immigration in the US, it’s still a matter of growing, too large, numbers. (So maybe it’s semantics, but I’d still refer to that as overpopulation.) I occasionally point out, though, that we could still do a lot to attack it on the fertility side by bringing the US total fertility rate down to somewhere below the current 2.1.

    Immigration is of course a terribly dicey topic. But objectively, it has to be a legitimate environmental topic, and I don’t object to discussions examining the option of moving US immigration levels back to something lower than the current all time high (I think). If it’s agreed that completely open borders would trigger much worse environmental problems, then it makes sense to arrive at some limit that makes sense. Perhaps the current limit isn’t the most sensible, environmentally speaking. But it would be a huge step just to get mainstream acknowledgment of population, in general terms, as a problem. Then let people debate things like immigration.

    As for other countries such as those in the EU, well, I think they’re on the right track. Similar immigration issues may come up for some. But many of those now under replacement level probably need to go lower still.

    I say that because the more radical (humane) plans for reducing population often call for voluntary one-child per family plans in order to bring population down substantially enough, soon enough. It just seems we need to push harder for addressing population nearly everywhere.

    As you suggest, even if we don’t achieve any such ideal, modest reductions in growth would reduce the numbers of suffering people. And actually I think it would reduce at least some of the suffering of those who are impacted simply by reducing total consumption such that there are more resources to go around. (It might reduce social conflict as well.)

    Don’t get me wrong; I can sound like a one-trick pony sometimes. I don’t mean to say population is the only thing needing attention. I mostly tend to emphasize it just because it seems to get too little attention. But there are certainly other key parts of the puzzle.

  19. Hello to all,

    This blog is singular. Thanks to John and all participants for it. This place is a beacon in an otherwise dark wood. I am always pleased to be here because it provides one of those rare occasions, at least for me, when real sharing of experience and actual evidence of mutual understanding occurs.

    In most other places, the conversation leads me to imagine that I must be in some sort of “Tower of Babel” conversation, engaged in some sort of blah, blah, blah non-communication.

    Are people generally communicating as if we are in a modern day Tower of Babel? Is our spectacular failure to communicate with one another as members of one human community about whatsoever is somehow real to us, and to share adequate understandings of the human condition and the planet we inhabit, in evidence virtually everywhere, here and now?

    Perhaps the human community is indeed in a serious predicament, but only in part because of the objective circumstances of our distinctly human-driven situation. Our problems, the ones resulting from certain global human overgrowth activities, are further complicated by a failure to communicate meaningfully about the potentially pernicious consequences that are to be derived from having recklessly grown a soon to become patently unsustainable, colossal global economy, one we have artificially designed, conveniently constructed, and unrealistically expanded without regard for the requirements of biophysical reality.



  20. John,

    The question I’m wrestling with is whether a 10% reduction in the US population would make any difference to their total level of consumption, especially if it happened over a decade or two. I agree that the US needs to get its population curve sloping down, but I’m unclear at what point that would help slow consumption. A good old-fashioned global depression strikes me as more effective for that.

    I’m ambivalent about immigration restrictions. While I see the sense of it from a lifeboat perspective, I enjoy the fruits of multiculturalism too much to just bar the door.

  21. Paul’s link to his article seem’s to be broken. Try this one: Population Decline – Red Herrings and Hope.

    [Admin: fixed it in Paul’s comment.]

  22. If there is anything I’ve learned, it is that by doing nothing, you’re ninety-nine times out of a hundred doing the right thing. Keep that thought.

    Scientists and politicans should learn to master the art of doing the right thing.

    The problem with both science and politics is that so many human beings focus on each, as if either had some solution.

    Politics has no solutions. Politics has temporary fixes that blow up in everyones’ face almost as soon as those solutions are out of the end of the barrel from whence all authority arises.

    Science has solutions. Scientific solutions work only long enough to create tenfold the problems the scientific solution was designed to address.

    Those who look for solutions from politics or science are still laboring hard under the misguided religious belief that there is progress transpiring over the course of human history.

    It is a religious belief because philosophers long ago discovered humanity isn’t smart enough to know what progress is in any reliable way, and thus a God is required to guide the way towards any of the progress scientists and politicians promise any of us.

    No one would be fool enough to practice science or politics, were there not some promise of fostering the progress they lie to all of us about with such regularity it has become a religion.

    Have these people never viewed a petri dish?

    Have these people never enumerated the greatest problems that face our humnity?

    All the greatest problems today, of course arose because of previous scientific solutions.

    Let me dispel this notion of progress, politically or scientifically inspired or otherwise. I cannot kill their God, but I can dispel this notion the scientific and the political have any meaningful discourse with Him.

    There is but one test I know of that tells us whether or not there is progress in the world. I call it, the five year old test.

    If anyone here, and I do mean ANYONE, has a better test for progress, Litmus paper or otherwise, toss it out for us.

    This is the test I have found to work:

    You were once five years old. I was once five years old. Five years old is a precious age. Life for a five year old is mostly full of moms, siblings, puppies and kittens, perhaps a trip or two to the beach, and a gold coin your dad and his pal found while digging a hole, if you are lucky.

    Every year since we each were five years old, there has been a new crop of five year olds.

    Now, here is the test for progress, the very test to which we should hold every politician and every scientist accountable with their lives:

    Since we were all five years old, can any of us say on average life has improved for each successive years’ crop of five year olds?

    That gnawing feeling in your stomach, and the funny souring taste under and in the back of your tongue right now, that feeling that makes you want to vomit? That’s it.

    That’s the measure of human progress.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher

  23. Paul,

    The question I’m wrestling with is whether a 10% reduction in the US population would make any difference to their total level of consumption, especially if it happened over a decade or two.

    Well, I think the US population is growing roughly 10% in a decade right now (~ 3 million/year). So if we could actually shrink it by 10% instead, that would mean roughly 20% fewer people than if we grew 10%. Holding per capita consumption stable, it would mean about 20% less total consumption.

    Anyway, a 10% reduction in pop would mean a 10% reduction from current levels in total consumption. Of course ideally it would be better to reduce population more than that, but every bit helps.

    OTOH, we do have a huge amount of room to work with on the consumption side. So clearly, it needs to be a big focus. But in the end, I can’t see any reason not to work on both. A reduction in total consumption of, say, 28% is that much better than one of 20%, no?

    [EDIT: Oh yeah, two other items. First, who knows how well we could actually do in addressing population? To date, we really haven’t tried. Second, on the chance we do avert collapse in the next several decades, attention to population should pay off big time in the long run.]

    But I’m sure you’re right that a depression might be one of the single most powerful events in bringing down consumption.

    I’m ambivalent about immigration restrictions. While I see the sense of it from a lifeboat perspective, I enjoy the fruits of multiculturalism too much to just bar the door.

    Yeah, I see it much the same way. It’s hard to address immigration because it so often raises concerns about racism and such. Nor do I want to bar the door either. But my current thinking is that if we start from the assumption (re the US) that there is some hypothetical number of immigrants per year which would clearly be unsustainable due to environmental impact (habitat loss, consumption growth, etc.), then we have to start looking at what such a number might be. Perhaps we’re beyond it now. I don’t think environmental considerations have played much if any role in determining immigration limits here.

    Clearly, when balancing immigration and fertility rates, the former can continue at some level. But the combination needs to be one which allows stabilization and then shrinkage of the population. It’s a tough issue.

  24. The Scottish government recently adopted an economic policy that bodly, but sadly, includes a goal of population growth alongside GDP growth.

    The problem with immigration, as I see it, is in the U.S. (and I expect a few other nations) it is an unspoken economic growth policy. Our broken immigration system provides millions of new Wal-Mart customers in the U.S. every year, millions of potential new taxpayers, millions of cheap laborers.

    Of course everyone reading this knows this is devastating as far as the U.S. ecological footprint is concerned. But I think it’s also doing Mexico no favors – raiding it of it’s most ambitious, hardest workers who could be staying home with their families working to improve that country. And it exploits those workers, paying them a pittance in the U.S. so we can have cheaper food and cheaper help around the mansion. (but let’s not go off on this immigration tangent; sorry to pontificate here)

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  25. Here’s one more link. I think Paul will like this one: Uganda: Advocates of High Population Growth; Your Brains Must Have Gone On Leave

  26. Dave,

    I just need (as a matter of this minor humanistic conviction disorder of mine, I guess) to highlight one remark from the Uganda article (uh, oh, my brain has most definitely gone on leave):

    “If the population grows unchecked, we shall end up with a mass of poor, low quality people that in themselves become a burden to the government.”

    Hah? Me?! Misathropically inclined? 8) — Get outta’ here!

  27. Dave, thanks for the link. It’s good to know that people are speaking out on this in the part of the world that will be most severely affected.

    On a more general note:

    I’m starting to wonder (most unhappily) whether it is time to stop framing the issues of women’s empowerment, family planning and moderate local development in terms of population modification (i.e. slowing and ultimately reversing growth rates). Instead, I think we should simply be promoting these actions on their social merits, as measures that improve the quality of life wherever they are implemented.

    I have two reasons for contemplating taking any mention of population out of the discussion. The first is that the debate always gets sidetracked by pinheads like Francis Poretto (
    and we are continually forced to spend far too much time and energy convincing people that we’re not eugenicists. Of course that fight is worth joining so long as victory will bring some spoils in terms of changing population policies, and such changes in policy are to be desired if they will ultimately improve the national, regional and global situation.

    That leads to my second reason, one that makes fighting the good fight, and even winning it, moot. That is the issue of the timeline.My reading of the global situation is that we have half a generation left (perhaps 15 years) before the converging crises of oil and gas depletion, climate change and food shortages are fully upon us. The people that will be most affected, especially by food problems, are the regions with high population growth. The impact in these regions is IMO likely to be so severe that frank population reductions will be underway within the following decade, 15 to 25 years from now. What policies could we realistically implement that would reduce the affected populations before then? We haven’t even won the argument yet, let alone influenced any significant policies except for China. To make matters worse, the regions that most desperately need to address the question (Africa and South Asia) have a level of demographic inertia that makes them population supertankers – even if we could turn the wheel today it would take that 15 years for the bow to start moving.

    It’s a discouraging conclusion, but I think we’ve already lost the race.

    If that is true, what do we do? We can’t just sit down and wait for the water to rise over our heads. Instead, I propose that we shift our focus slightly. I think we should acknowledge that population growth is going to continue in the places that can least afford it. We should publicize that fact, along with the implications for those regions of resource depletion, climate change and a tightening food supply within the context of the expected population increase. We should then use the picture of growing risk that emerges to support our calls for the kinds of social improvements we have always been proposing, but NOT with the goal of changing their population levels. Instead, we should couch the recommendations strictly in terms of the protection of individuals, communities and nations from the worst effects of the escalating crisis.

    Adopting this approach would short-circuit the arguments of the growthists. We let them maintain their worldview unchallenged, because challenging it and even winning will not change the population outcome at this point. Taking population modification out of the discussion would also dramatically improve the chances that our proposals would be accepted, since on their own they are much less vulnerable to growthist challenges.

    Two objections to this proposal are that it is defeatist in accepting that we’ve lost the population race, and that it removes some pressure on governments to act on population issues. My response to those would be that it is not defeatist to accept reality (my rejoinder is to ask whether it is defeatist to expect a ball to always fall if you let go of it, and not to retain some faint hope that it might rise instead), and that pointing out the escalating risks to regions with high population growth should on its own prompt the adoption of some population-modification policies if that is socially and politically possible.

    I know this position may be controversial here, but I thought I’d put it out for consideration in the interests of a full discussion.

  28. Hmmm, I apologize for the length of my screed above. This has been on my mind lately, and once I got going my fingers didn’t stop moving until after I’d posted it. I’ll try to be more concise in the future.

  29. I was holding off in an effort not to dominate the dialogue, but I have to admit this is a subject near and dear to my heart. Do we engage in intellectual dishonesty and set mediocre goals as a pragmatic strategy? Better to get a little progress by soft-peddling the truth than to be completely honest and get no progress?

    This is one issue that makes the world go round. There are enough different positions on this one for everybody. I just wonder if we couldn’t be more effective if the soft-peddlers would join up with those who would rather not sacrific their principals, and tell it like it is.

    Please don’t infer that I am judging anyone as unprincipaled. I just don’t have an hour to figure out a more diplomatic way of putting it. You get my drift!

  30. Paul,

    We should then use the picture of growing risk that emerges to support our calls for the kinds of social improvements we have always been proposing, but NOT with the goal of changing their population levels. Instead, we should couch the recommendations strictly in terms of the protection of individuals, communities and nations from the worst effects of the escalating crisis.

    I hear you but still respectfully disagree — in general. To the extent that one should always frame a position so that it can be heard, I do agree that in certain situations with particular audiences it’s only sensible to present the most compelling aspects of one’s view. But when writing for a general audience on a blog, in a book, or for a newspaper, I think it is self-defeating to not talk about one of the most prominent negative factors we must deal with: population pressure.

    To me, it’s more respectful to put your cards openly on the table rather than try to finesse a win — in the long run a better strategy. This isn’t poker, it’s a necessary and important discussion in the public square. We have to grit our teeth and learn to respond to the Julian Simons. We need to show that saying population growth is a negative doesn’t not imply some draconian eugenics program. We need to show that it is possible to have population goals and achieve them compassionately.

  31. 🙂 Dave must have hit “submit” two seconds before I did.

    To extend his thought: If we can get past this issue of the population growth dialog being misunderstood, might there not be a big payoff?

  32. Don,

    Since we were all five years old, can any of us say on average life has improved for each successive years’ crop of five year olds?

    Hell, yes! And obviously so to boot. Consider 5-years in the years 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2000. Big improvement in their lives and prospects each time, due to both science and politics. Is it comprehensive and everywhere? No, but it’s still very real and quite verifiable for a large portion of people. But you’ve seemed to have tossed out science as a respectful profession, so I don’t know how we can talk about this.

  33. “Since we were all five years old, can any of us say on average life has improved for each successive years’ crop of five year olds?”

    I’m pretty sure I would not have lived past 12 or so if born 50 years earlier.

    But I guess that’s part of the problem.

    So it goes.

  34. I’ve figured out that my POV is not really needed here, but I would like to offer one thing, then I’ll shut up.

    I’m an Engineer, 61 yo, and I’ve worked in and around various fossil energy industries for most of my adult life. I have watched the US make one self-defeating decision after another for several decades.

    IMO, Peak Oil is a reality, I won’t bother arguing it – take it or leave it, and if you accept that it is, it really doesn’t matter what population does, we are already in overshoot.

    We do have options that can make the best or worst of the situation, but we have bet on the come and the dice are against us. There’s no way to win, it’s a matter of cutting losses.

  35. Trinifar:

    You say, “If we can get past this issue of the population growth dialog being misunderstood, might there not be a big payoff?”

    The core of my argument is that there will not be, cannot be, a big payoff. Not given the crisis we are facing, not in the time we have left, not with so much of human nature and its supporting institutions arrayed against us.


    So what do we do? Do we tilt at windmills, tell the Big Truth, go to our graves satisfied that we have not compromised our principles, and in the end accomplish nothing?


    IMO you have it exactly right.


    I submit that as repugnant as the idea may be, this is now poker. We are trying to craft the best possible outcome in an impossible and straitening situation. To waterboard the metaphor a bit, the cards have all been dealt, and humanity is desperately trying to bluff a pair of twos. If this was 1970 we might have Paul Ehrlich’s moral maneuvering room, but it’s now 37 years later and I believe the luxury of not caring whether the hand is won or lost has evaporated in the interim.

    The compromise of decoupling the problem space of overpopulation from the solution space of socially desirable goals seems justified to me, especially if maintaining that linkage impedes progress toward the solutions we might accomplish.

    Is the difference in our reactions to this idea due to the fact that I think the situation is so dire? For example, I think we will see world population growth drop to zero within 20 years, and reverse within 25. This is an enormous turnaround, involving massive numbers of excess deaths. To someone who doesn’t share this outlook, the options might appear much more numerous than they do to me.

  36. Trinifar-

    Your rebuttal is common. You must consider the prospects for the future universally available to those children born in “the years 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2000.” to make any meaningful comment.

    Between 1700 and 1800 empirical political science took root. It told everyone they had political rights. Many died and continue to die citing those rights.

    Science took off, applied and extended those political rights to scientific rights. Science was defended as “amoral” for the first time sometime after 1700.

    A five year old child in 1700 was virtually guarantied a planet that would not be destroyed by the hand of man.

    A five year old child in 1800 was also virtually guarantied a planet that would not be destroyed by the hand of man.

    By 1900 however, you will find writers who begin to worry significatly about the growing technological nature of weapons of destruction, Twain among those writers. Read “The Mysterious Stranger”, in fact read everything Twain ever wrote.

    By 2000, there is a plethora of writers who have written for decades worryingly for the destruction of the planet by the mere immoral meddling nature of all science, fearing the destruction of the planet by scientific accident.

    In 1998 I wrote that the Big Bang, if true, was likely the result of some scientist throwing the switch of his experiment seeking immortality and fame for his discovery.

    None of these are wild paranoias.

    Read about “Ice Nine” in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”, (1963). And keep in mind in 1963 there were no pocket calculators. And, there was no Internet. Transistors were new. There were but three or four nations with A-bombs, and the H-bomb was brand new. The Neutron bomb had yet to exploded. There was no such thing as AIDS.

    No one had yet stood on the moon. Radial tires, green plastic trash bags, stryrofoam cups had yet to be invented, and the slightly ostracized fat girl in my high school weighed all of 140 lbs. Today thanks to science, she would be the prom queen.

    You are simply dependent upon your own experience for your notion of reality as it has been described for you how terribly primitive things were in the past. I suggest you read about what makes up your reality. It is nothing like what you think. You created your the entire world you know, everything, literally EVERYTHING, from scratch, ad hoc from the time of your birth.

    You perceive the past as primitive. It was not.

    It’s all a lie, your world and mine. The word, primitive, itself skews our perception.

    There is a qualitative measure for standard of living and quality of life that is easily distorted with a flat quantitative statistical perspective.

    Yes, five year olds today have a better chance of survival.

    Yes, five year olds today have better chance to learn more incredible scientific ideas.

    But get rid of the flat statistics and consider:

    Many-many more five year olds will die in 2007 than died in 1700, and that number is likely many thousands of times as many five year olds will have died by the end of 2007 than died in 1700.

    Many-many more five year olds will have died in war in 2007 than in 1700, and that number is likely many thousands of times as many five year olds will have died in 2007 due to war than died in war in 1700.

    With many such questions asked, we can then establish some consensus about the standard of living and the quality of life in different ages.

    Neither you or I will ever see Niagara Falls as it looked in 1700. What is that worth?

    I had Thanksgiving with my younger son. His girlfriend’s sister who is forty-ish told me she had never tasted cider! What kind of world is that?

    We have perhaps twenty times the population of humans alive today that we have in 1600-1700.

    We value human life, but is this how to go about valuing it?

    We ALL also have the potential to see it all end tomorrow due to any number of possible known and unknown (to us) potentials for human made catastrophe.

    That means shutting the door so that no other human beings will ever again enter this world. Like Jim Morrison famously sang, “This is the end. This IS the end!” Is that immoral? Yes.

    Is humanity immoral for allowing the world to gamble and develop its scientific prowess to the point where some idiot, (you should envision your next door neighbor), can destroy the planet for humans? Yes.

    You probably think you could not live in the past and enjoy your life in a quality of life and standard of living sense that you can comprehend. You need your CocaCola, your Internet, your car, your college, and all the future-burning pleasure of your life.

    But, MOST of humanity by far enjoy none of what you consider essential.

    We cannot plan for the present, trying endlessly to make the present better, all the while gambling away the prospects for the future on our bets that this or that wioll make it a lot cosier here.

    This was the approach of science, as well as the approach of the political scientists and the Humanitarians, the Libertarians and the Marxists… It’s all a fraud. It’s all a lie.

    I’ve even now famously said, these environmentalist scientists are doing the same thing. Someone will take their knowledge set and design and deploy an environmental bomb of incredible danger to the world. That is human nature!

    Morality is about what you bequeath to the future, and the history of humanity proves, there’s nothing we can add to the world that is worth half what existed before we started trying to make it better.

    Morality has nothing to do with what YOU want!

    Life is a party. Do not ruin the furniture or rearrange or paint over the paintings on the walls.

    Morally, that is all that is asked of you, that, and that you spread the word.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher.

  37. Paul,

    I’m glad you commented as you did. You’re always willing to push the envelope and explore new avenues. We need to do that, so… thanks.

    A few thoughts:

    1) I’m not sure the population naysayers, denialists, etc. are really such an obstacle. I’m not even sure they’re having much influence at all. Yes, they pop up online and their rhetoric has probably influenced some environmentalists to avoid the population topic. But I believe, on the whole, they’re a very small factor. I don’t think the UN or others who, in the last year, have more often been broaching the population topic really listen to them at all. At most, I think they support a certain argument made by extreme free-marketeers.

    But that’s about it. In my experience, people I talk to in “real life” have never heard the silly arguments that addressing population means killing people, that population growth should be welcomed, that addressing it is racist, etc. So while I do think it’s worth confronting their arguments, I think the main task is simply to get population back into mainstream discussion and into the thoughts and concerns of regular people.

    I don’t actually think there’s even as much debate on population as their is on climate change, and those on the side of the evidence are handily winning the latter contest.

    I’ve seen increasing attention to population in the last year, and am optimistic it’s again becoming an “acceptable” topic.

    2) Yes, I do think a big part of the difference in reactions stems from your conviction that we’re facing an inevitable, large scale die-off within a couple of decades versus others not being quite so convinced. It’s a question on which I’m trying to stay firmly uncommitted. 🙂 That’s because I just don’t know.

    As you know, I do take seriously the possibility of such a collapse. I don’t rule it out. At the same time I’m not ready to reject somewhat more optimistic possibilities. My sense is that while such a collapse is a real threat, we can’t yet say for sure that it will happen. And we can’t yet say for sure that it’s impossible that we (collectively) might manage to generate actions which would allow us to avert the more grim scenarios.

    My view on that might change. It might even change in part as a result of subsequent work of yours! 🙂 But for now I think that does lead me to somewhat different prescriptions. I figure as long as there’s any real chance we can avert catastrophe my efforts should be in the direction of helping in that regard.

    3) But given the extremely short time line you envision, I understand you to be saying we can’t really do anything about population, but that the same things that would address it if we had the time (empowerment of women, improved child survival…) would help soften the crisis to come in developing countries. So we should push for those actions sans the population talk. (I’m not sure if you’re also saying it would help with population growth as well.) But don’t you think that even under the constraints you see bringing down fertility rates would help lessen some of the suffering? No, we can’t halt or reverse population growth in a couple of decades, but even just reducing the growth somewhat should help, no? You did think so just a few weeks ago. What am I missing here?

    4) Okay, my best point for last: Why not do both? If Group A talks just about the need to empower women, improve women’s health care, and so on, because those are important social issues in their own rights, that’s great. If Group B urges doing those things because of their benefits in lowering fertility rates, I think that’s an additional plus. Even if Group B meets stiff objections from the right or wherever, they won’t be interfering with the work of the Group A. That is, we won’t hear anyone saying, “Well we shouldn’t empower women or help children live longer because some people say that will reduce fertility rates. So let’s not do it.”

    In addition, there will be some people who will hear the arguments of the Group A, and think, “Yeah, good points.” Then they’ll hear Group B and think, “Hey, yeah, that’s even more reason to back such actions!”

    A counterargument would be that it would be better to have absolutely everyone pushing in the manner of Group A, avoiding all objections, because it would be that many more voices calling for attention to those social issues. But my sense is that the Group A plus Group B scenario I painted above would be even stronger.

    So let’s do both! 🙂

    In all of this I want to mention, incidentally, that your suggested approach is similar to that of Betsy Hartman and similar folks. the difference is that she adds an unequivocally intellectually dishonest element in denying the role of population in environmental degradation in the first place. That I really don’t like.

    Is it a poker game? Heh, I’m the one who should know, but hell, I don’t. I don’t think there’s a clear boundary between what’s “poker” and what isn’t. There can be little tactical moves, but I tend to agree with Trinifar that we’ll be best served by putting it all out there and being up front about the population factor. I just don’t think the opponents have much power anyway. And I think the last year has seen real progress in winning whatever battle there is. Also, there’s the poker analogy I’ve drawn before. The “opponent” wants us to shut up about population. So let’s give them what they don’t want.

    [Disclaimer: I posted this without much follow-through thought, so there may be edits to follow. But if others respond first, I’ll put those in subsequent comments.]

  38. collapse2100,

    Your view is welcome here. As I mentioned to Paul, I definitely don’t rule out the possibility you may be right. I’m just not committed to it as a fact.

    I totally agree we’re in overshoot. However, I haven’t ruled out all chances that we can use our supposedly advance hominid brains to come down out of overshoot before nature completely takes over in her most dispassionate way.

    Especially having recently waded through a hell of a lot of comments on these issues on The Oil Drum, I’ve seen that some well informed voices believe we’ll be able to weather peak oil (with some difficulty, but…) through massive growth in renewables, for instance. I can’t confidently say they’re wrong. I don’t know.

    At any rate, I respect your view. But at this point I feel it’s most prudent not to commit to the same conclusions. If there’s still some chance we can get out of this mess, we should do all we can to do so.

  39. Paul: “Pointing out the escalating risks to regions with high population growth should on its own prompt the adoption of some population-modification policies if that is socially and politically possible.”

    Here’s the problem. To take Sub-Saharran Africa as an example, the answer is: it’s neither socially or politically possible. Generally speaking, there are no pensions available to the old. It’s a cliché of sorts, but absolutely true: the high number of childbirths among Africans, comes (in part) as a logical result of the lack of public social security systems within the reach of the nation state. The only social security system in existence, is the local household and extensive family. As people grow old, they depend on the income of sons and daughters.

    I would have loved to believe in a future in which simple, straightforward population mathematics was a standard topic for 12-year-old pupils.

    However — and unfortunately — I’ve got every reason to believe that the topic in itself is way too touchy for adult teachers to take on. — The population dilemma is just too sensitive for the teachers to cope with.

  40. Magne: I agree with you about the extreme improbability of such changes in Sub-Saharan Africa. That’s why I weaseled so hard in that statement. In my heart of hearts I think that such policy changes are only possible in places where they are not needed, and impossible where they are needed.

    John: I need to spend more time organizing my thoughts in response to your comments, but right off the bat I will say that we should do both as you recommend. No one wants to prescribe measures that won’t help, and because of my convictions about the time line I think that direct recommendations for population reduction may fall into that category. So I’d be in Group A. Still, any recommendations I might make with regard to direct or indirect fertility control measures would always be made with the secondary, unspoken aim of stabilizing and reducing population

    I do still think that lowering fertility rates is important for avoiding some of the tragedy, I’m just looking for the best way to accomplish that given my particularly dire expectations. Because I think we have so little time left, I’m looking for ways to get the most results in the shortest time with the least resistance.

    I must confess my mind hit an unexpected speed bump when I read your phrase, “improved child survival”. Reducing infant mortality is part of extending life expectancy, which is part the first phase of Demographic Transition, the phase that results in population increases. If we want to promote population stabilization and decline in regions that are still growing we need to hit the second phase (fertility reduction) with all our might. Can we downplay any recommendations that enhance Phase 1 and not lose our souls in the process?

  41. Paul,

    I’ve also been thinking about the relatively high child mortality rates of the third world. Now, as time goes by, and new medicines and effective vaccines are introduced, doctors, nurses and modern hospital services are gradually becoming available even to the benefit of the poorest of the poor, etc., the first thing “the human family” is bound to experience, is a population increase.

    However, if the African females can start to expect all of their newborn babies to survive the first five years, grow up and become young men and women, there is a hope that the result might be fewer childbirths per woman, and a lowering of fertility. At any rate, this is the working thesis of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

  42. And …

    … here are probably the best reasons why none of the UN diplomats or national heads of state, environment and development ministers who are going to meet with each other in Bali, Indonesia, in December, will probably not even think about discussing the best of all possible solutions to the problem of global warming and climate change; namely a substantial reduction of consumption, not only in the wesxtern world, but also among the upper and middle class of all these “emerging economies” in the developing “third” world …

    Click to access ydb_20071026_antara.pdf

    – I promise you this: we simply have to cut back on consumption, large scale. I can promise you this, too: if we should all decide to stop shopping like funkling maniacs, and get serious about the cliché of reducing, reusing, and recycling, many other good things would start to happen. Cutting down on consumption, large scale, could be like weaving a magic rod in the face of that terribly huge and extremely poisonous industrial dragon which threatens to force us all down the gray dirt track of ecocide.

    It’s not fiction. 8)

  43. To John Feeney, OK you asked for it, I won’t shut up.

    “Especially having recently waded through a hell of a lot of comments on these issues on The Oil Drum, I’ve seen that some well informed voices believe we’ll be able to weather peak oil (with some difficulty, but…) through massive growth in renewables, for instance. I can’t confidently say they’re wrong. I don’t know.”

    I think the West can definitely “weather” peak oil as far as energy supply is concerned, but, in my opinion:

    1. The impact on our economy will be enormous. Our whole banking and investment structure is based on growth to such an extent that it can honestly be called a Ponzi scheme. Millions and millions of jobs and $billions of investments are “non-essential” in the extreme and exist only because of surplus “disposable income” sloshing about. To these one can add the millions of government jobs that exist because of high tax revenues and wealth transfer programs. I think we all agree that the economy and social stability is threatened when the surpluses start to bleed out of the system.

    2. The US has been the engine of the world economy for sixty years now, the dollar its fuel. If/when our excess consumption slows the entire banking and debt structure of the “global economy” is threatened.

    3. Barring some truly dramatic breakthrough – something very big and very soon – we, in the US, are going to depend on massive investments in petroleum development, nuclear power, and coal liquefaction to maintain our URBAN economy, not in growth at anything like historical levels, but at a tolerable subsistence level. All of these programs are vehemently opposed by clear majorities in areas directly affected by their development and by significant segments of the population at large. For example, Harry Reid’s very secure seat in the senate is largely predicated on his ability to prevent the government from using the Yucca Flats storage facility, and Jeb Bush opposes drilling offshore of Florida even though the Destin dome is one of the best oil/gas prospects in the lower 48. Renewables such as wind and solar have some potential, great potential long term, but they simply do not have the short term EROEI to drive our economy.

    4. The sham of the UN notwithstanding, the “peace” of the last 60 years has been the “Pax Americana” – for good or ill, the low level of conflict (in terms of all-out war) has depended on American arms and American “wealth” (the Israeli Egyptian “peace” treaty is an excellent example of where we have obtained “peace” by buying off both parties). Peak Oil, with its wealth transfers to Russia and the Middle East will surely lessen that American dominance, and with it the “Pax”.

    If one applies the above to the world under Le Chatlier’s principle: “a system under stress will react in a direction to relieve the stress”, one can make certain predictions.

    1. The United States will invest far more power in the Federal Government in order to “git ‘er done”. Some of that may just happen as a result of an emergency being declared, but by whatever means it WILL happen if nuclear plants are to be built; oil/gas wells are to be drilled in Alaska, the Rockies, East Coast and West Coast, water sources for coal liquefaction obtained and pipelines for coal liquids to be built.

    2. Conflict in the world will increase. This one is so obvious that I will not try to enumerate the myriad reasons, ways, and places it will happen (is even now happening). Obviously others can take it or leave it, but for me it is a given.

    In conclusion, regarding MY OPINION, as I said…

    One of my two favorite poets is Robinson Jeffers. In one poem he lamented our “fate” prior to WWII with the lines,

    So many blood-lakes,
    we always fall in.

    (If you Google that one, be sure to read “The Purse Seine” too.)

    As much as I’d like to see us not fall in the coming “blood-lake”, that does not fit the pattern of our past behavior. The coming concentration of power in fewer hands will not help.

    I am often reminded of a New Yorker cartoon I saw in the ’60’s. Two “generals” sitting at a table with cocktails and one says to the other, “WAR is nature’s way.”

    This will not come in a hurry. At my age, 61, I have a good shot at living out my days in relative peace. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, but my kids have said I will. I fear for them.

  44. Best thread ever! At least that’s how I see it today, at this moment. What a wonderful mix of intelligent, thoughtful comments on where we are, have been, and are going — and why and how.


    You are simply dependent upon your own experience for your notion of reality as it has been described for you how terribly primitive things were in the past. I suggest you read about what makes up your reality. It is nothing like what you think. You created your the entire world you know, everything, literally EVERYTHING, from scratch, ad hoc from the time of your birth.

    While I’m quite tempted to say “yes, I agree with all that,” I can’t. Almost, but not quite.

    There is a qualitative measure for standard of living and quality of life that is easily distorted with a flat quantitative statistical perspective.

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean quantitative statistics are not meaningful or that a purely qualitative measure (which one?) is the be and end all. Angioplasty has saved many lives (mine included) and I’m quite thankful for the medical/scientific/engineering (even political) advances that made it possible — to say nothing of bypass surgery, pediatric heart surgery, advances in obstetrics, etc. that didn’t exist 50 years ago which makes possible the existence of proportionately more 55 and five year olds.

    Many-many more five year olds will die in 2007 than died in 1700, and that number is likely many thousands of times as many five year olds will have died by the end of 2007 than died in 1700.

    I think this shows a peculiar spin on the quantitative view of human life. As the population grows and the distribution of resources remains uneven, it’s inevitable that more people suffer in what I can only say is a needless fashion. At the same time, more people benefit from medical, argicultural, political, and social-organizational advances. Perfect? No. Worth examining? Yes. Worth striving for? Absolutely.

    Morally, that is all that is asked of you, that, and that you spread the word.

    You seem to be expressing a doomsday fetish: “There’s nothing that can be done or will done to mitigate the coming catastrophe. Look to the Rapture.” It flies in the face of reason and commonsense, although I do understand it as a pathological condition.

  45. collapse2100: There’s no way to win, it’s a matter of cutting losses.

    On that I think we all agree, that is, if winning means not experiencing some kind of significant reduction quality of life for the most economically “advanced” nations (which entails a discussion of what “quality of life” might mean).

    Given that agreement, the dialog is about how to mitigate the losses, how to transform our notion of “the good life” into something that might be meaningful for the next several generations.

    To put it crudely there are a billion or so people on the “top of the heap” who could reduce their consumption without fundamental harm. Meanwhile there are a few billion who quite rightfully want to improve their standard of living to include basic medical care, safe fresh water, minimal access to electricity and education, etc.

    “On paper” it’s within the realm of possibility that we can manage this transition. It means lowering the consumption of those at the high end of the consumptionm spectrum while lowering the fertility rate of those at the high end of population growth. (Sometimes, though rarely, they are the same people.)

    The politics and economics of doing so are tough but not insanely so.

  46. Paul:

    The core of my argument is that there will not be, cannot be, a big payoff. Not given the crisis we are facing, not in the time we have left, not with so much of human nature and its supporting institutions arrayed against us.

    I’m really sypathetic to your view, but don’t forget about tipping points. As we get squeezed by climate change effects, increasing oil and natural gas prices, water shortages (esp. in places like the US), world resource tensions — the dynamics can change very quickly.

    Just could be that intelligent reasoning prevails.

  47. I have found this Web site to be very useful to link to many other worthwhile sites.

    When I was a teenager in the late 1960s, I independently rediscovered the Malthusian dilemma after I looked at a graph in Time magazine about the projected growth of the human population.

    In the early 1970s, I read the Limits to Growth, and everything else like it I could find.

    I have spent most of my life learning about and thinking through these kinds of problems.

    With reference to politicians, I think the article about moving the deck chairs around on the deck of the Titanic underestimates how evil governments are.

    The only plan the government has for the future is martial law.

    The only “real” solutions are going to be genocidal.

    Human beings are going to go down the path of least resistance, which is the path of least morality.

    The intellectual challenge is not to stop the growth to collapse cycle, but to ride through it.

    Intelligence is the internalizaton of natural selection. We are developing systems of artificial selection, and we will continue to do so, as long as any human beings at all still survive.

    Civilization is a system of organized robbery and fraud built and maintained by dishonesty backed up with violence. The death of the old systems of lies and coercion makes room for new systems of lies and coercion to arise from the sources of some of those old systems.

    Governments are the best organized gangs of criminals that evolved to use dishonesty backed up with violence to serve their systems of robbery and fraud. That is what already actually exists, and that is what will evolve, because evolution happens to what already actually exists, to become new forms of existence.

    Death control is already the first priority of governments, and the main use of that is to maintain the established system of debt control.

    Different death controls would make different debt controls possible. Nothing less would be adequate.

    Human beings shall be forced to change by shocks from natural selection beyond human power to stop. We will mostly learn the hard way. There will be real genocidal events.

    Natural selection and artificial selection are on a continuum, and already are in hyper-complicated feedback loops.

    To talk realistically about what politician know or what our political solutions should be requires facing the facts that death control depends on dishonesty, and those who are best at death control are also best at being dishonest.

    Wondering what politicians know or talking about what they should do needs to face the facts that governments are extremely evil. The political economy has already been built, and real human ecology will evolve to become new systems of lies and coercion that replace the old ones that die. Social storms are brewing on the horizon, and we are mostly still in the calm before those storms break. Real solutions to unsustainable exponential growth will mostly be genocidal events, and those events will make new systems of lies and coercion be able to spring up from the old ones that die, and those new systems will continue to enable organized robbery and fraud systems survive in the future, if any human beings at all still survive.

    Politics is applied human ecology, and it already is based on real systems of death control, that do their best to hide themselves. Human beings will continue to develop some systems of artificial selection within the context of natural selection pressures.

    Understanding what politicians and governments “should” do depends on understanding what they already actually do, and how that reality can evolve.

    Only what exists can evolve, by the old dying, and the new that arises from some of the sources of the old replacing it.

    Governments are the biggest systems of lies and coercion serving systems of robbery and fraud. The man way that they are preparing for the future is preparing for martial law, and preparing to cause genocidal events.

    The only real solutions to the exponential growth problems are massive die offs. The best that we can hope for is eventually we will make a greater use of information in our forms of real death control.

    Most of the demographic transition should be seen as really forms of death control, which is misleadingly referred to as “birth control.”

    What we need is new age warfare. Our biggest problem is that the power of weapons of mass destruction has been the main thing leading all of the rest of the exponential growth curves. The paradox we face is failure from too much success.

    The ability of governments to do real death control is orders of magnitude greater than it was a few generations ago. If one faces the fact that genocidal events are the real solutions, then it is obvious that governments are very well prepared to do that.

    Any other solutions will be real forms of death control that use more information to accomplish the necessary purposes in more efficient and effective ways.

    Human beings need to make a quantum jump in consciousness to understand what death control already is, and accomplish those purposes in radically superior manners.

    Exponential growth causing real genocides are going to be crises opportunities for human beings to face the facts about human ecology and develop new systems of lies and coercion that will change the rates of robbery to become evolving dynamic equilibria, as long as any human beings at all manage somehow to survive.

    Governments will do there best to provide for their own “continuity of government.” Politicians will continue to be evil, and will impose martial law, and cause genocidal events, as the circumstances require them to.

    Anything better than that has still to be some better system of death control that uses more information in its operations. If human beings could already do that, then we would be able to mellow exponential growth out to avoid the worst kinds of genocidal events. However, all of those better alternatives would still be manifestations of death control serving systems of organized robbery.

    In theory, what we need is more democratization of death control. Citizens would have to take more responsibility for being their own governments.

    This should not be seen as an either/or, black/white set of alternatives, but rather as a hyper-complicated technicolour evolution of old systems growing, then dying, while simultaneously they have been giving birth to the new systems that may replace them.

    Before citizens could do a better job of forming governments, they would have to be willing to face the fundamental facts about what governments really do. At present, we already have an evolved system of death controls that built the established systems of debt controls that direct our human ecology and political economy. To the degree that citizens are unwilling or unable to face those fundamental facts, then our artificial selection systems will be instructed by natural selection pressures to change.

    Without a series of political miracles, then decimating genocidal events will be the only real solutions possible to unsustainable exponential growth. Even after those social storms break and blow through, the same chronic political problems will be back again, after the survivors recover and regroup.

    The sooner we learned to do better death controls, the sooner we could change the debt controls, and the more efficient and effective the genocides could become. The longer it takes, then the sicker and stupider the genocides will be instead.

    What we need is a radically different way of thinking that does not depend so much on false fundamental dichotomies, but depends more on understanding unitary mechanisms.

    That is the kind of understanding that made our post-modernizing sciences and technologies possible, and the power of those ways of thinking is the reason we were able to break out of the old patterns of limitations of human ecology, and develop our current pattern of exponential growth.

    All of the old religions and ideologies need to be trashed and recycled, and they surely are going to be, one way or another, sooner or later.

  48. Just back at the site after a few days working for a living. I owe Paul a response to:


    So what do we do? Do we tilt at windmills, tell the Big Truth, go to our graves satisfied that we have not compromised our principles, and in the end accomplish nothing?”

    I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately. Is it the intellectual dishonesty of ignoring the population issue that bothers me? I think perhaps what really bothers me is that all the greenwash out there about how you can make a difference without much discomfort (change your lightbulbs and ride the bus; keep on growing your cities, just do it in high-rises with mass transit) OFFERS FALSE HOPE. That will not be enough. Paul Ehrlich said it well in his interview for my documentary (I’m paraphrasing it here):

    “You can cut your carbon emissions in half, but if you double the population while you’re doing that, you’re right back where you started.”

    If sustainable global population is, at most, 2 or 3 billion, then all the smart growth and renewable energy in the world will not get us where we need to be.

    Do we think so little of the brainpower of mankind that we feel we can only offer some pablum? That they can’t handle the truth? I’m not saying they can. I hope they can. I wish they could. But I’m also planning a chapter in my documentary about why they can’t!

    Paul, you’ll especially be interested in “Closing the baby gap” (link below). I’m shocked at the number of people projected to be still living in poverty far into the future. I figured these developing nations would catch up with the U.S. pretty quickly over the next few decades.

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  49. An email from a valued colleague of ours and a personal friend of mine follows, with a request for your assistance.

    Dear Steven,


    Climate change is non-linear. Once set in motion it is acceleratingly self-perpetuating. There is
    then only a small time-window within which human intervention has any (rapidly diminishing) chance
    of halting the process and returning the system to a stable state. Failure to act effectively
    within that window of opportunity would inevitably precipitate cataclysmic change on a par with the
    five mass extinction events known to have obliterated almost all life on earth.

    This WESTMINSTER BRIEFING (subtitled PLANET EARTH WE HAVE A PROBLEM) was delivered to a packed
    audience in the House of Commons in June 2007. It is now released in the approach to the Bali
    Meeting of the UNFCCC because it presents material not yet addressed by the IPCC, but which is
    absolutely critical to the decision-making process at and beyond that event.

    Click on (if the link is not active, copy and paste the address to your
    browser) then follow the link to BALI & BEYOND to access the Introduction, Summary for Policy
    Makers, Sample Presentations, and Book Order Form.

    FEEDBACK DYNAMICS and the ACCELERATION of CLIMATE CHANGE provides an essential briefing for every
    person and organisation involved in the UNFCCC Bali Meeting. Beyond Bali it lays the foundation for
    all future strategic engagement with the imperative task of climate stabilisation.

    Please do everything in your power to ensure that the material reaches:

    All delegates and participants involved in the UNFCCC Bali Meeting
    Political leaders and members of government at every level of society
    Business leaders with strategic responsibility
    Academics and research institutions working on climate change and environmental studies
    NGOs and organisations of the Civil Society
    Concerned citizens of all ages throughout the world community
    Friends and family, colleagues and contacts
    E-mail lists, groups, listings, networks, postings and web-sites

    With best wishes,

    David Wasdell

    Director: The Apollo-Gaia Project
    (Hosted by the Meridian Programme)
    Meridian House
    115 Poplar High Street
    London E14 0AE
    Tel: +44 (0) 207 987 3600

    [This E-mail scanned for viruses by Declude Version 4.3.46 using the F-Prot Antivirus engine Version 3.16f]

    With thanks to all,


  50. Magne Karlsen

    Blair T. Longley wrote one hell of a post, and I quote: “Civilization is a system of organized robbery and fraud built and maintained by dishonesty backed up with violence. The death of the old systems of lies and coercion makes room for new systems of lies and coercion to arise from the sources of some of those old systems.”

    Blair T. Longley has understood something essential, even about democracy; something most naïve voters, including my mother, my aunt, my cousins and the rest of my family, is finding impossible to accept: “Wondering what politicians know or talking about what they should do needs to face the facts that governments are extremely evil.”

    Blair T. Longley doesn’t believe in miracles: “Without a series of political miracles, then decimating genocidal events will be the only real solutions possible to unsustainable exponential growth.”

    I’m ambivalent here. The most obvious question is: “What’s human nature?”

    It takes courage.

  51. Paul,

    On the “child survival” question, my thinking is along the lines Magne laid out. Here’s a link to Jeffrey Sachs making the same argument (see the first paragraph on p. 2):

  52. Magne Karlsen

    Well, back in the 1990s I spent a small lot of time in West Africa; as a consequence I ought to know something about gender issues and general social policies as concerns family matters. As the story goes: “a good woman is one who is pregnant.” — And not with her first, second or third child, but with her seventh.

    Like I’ve said before, when it comes to curbing the exponential population growth in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, education is the only possible way to go, I think. The magic wand to weave — à la Harry Potter — against the prospect of mass thirst, mass hunger, deforestation and desertification as effectuated by this run-away population explosion, is the swift introduction of population mathematics in the primary and / or secondary schools of third world countries, plus family planning programs for the adults.

    However: I do not believe that this “magic wand” (a calculator; one that is made in Hong Kong) is going to be put into use any time soon, and that simply because the concept of overpopulation is too controversial for African school teachers to touch.

    I mean, think about it: here’s the school teacher –a mother of nine children, a lady who is strict but fair, and not too seldom smiling. Now she’s being told to teach the pupils the mathematic logic of exponential growth of populations, also known as “the population explosion” … forget! … she’s not going to do it …

  53. Wow, what a thread!

    For my 2 cents worth:

    It seems evident that population reduction and consumption reduction must go hand in hand, though the balance required may differ in different regions.

    Both of these elements are problematic (understatement no doubt). Consumption reduction (on a societal level) is harder than most citizens would realise. This relates, in my view, to the particular form of capitalism we have which relies on debt creation dragging along the money supply behind it, in what can only be labelled as a global pyramid scheme. Its not so much that reducing consumption is bad for the economy, but rather that we have created a system which DEMANDS increasing consumption lest it fall in on itself. How do we move away from this madness?

    I tend to agree with John that there is room for hope. On the balance of likelihoods, I suspect we will not avoid dangerous climate change or large scale extinctions. But while there is hope, then it is nose to the grindstone. The future is yet to be written.

  54. Dear Friends,

    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 “poison the well” of public discourse regarding climate change.

    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 leaders 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 one’s self-interests, 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 has reached a crossroads in Bali, Indonesia, December 2007: 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 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.

    With thanks to you, and to the delegates at the Bali Climate Meeting on their first day of doing the world’s most important work,


    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

  55. I’m just completing the number crunching for the next stage of my ongoing attempt to develop a quantitative framework for projections about the trajectory of global civilization and population over the next 40 or 50 years. I’ve not finished the write-up yet, but the numbers are so compelling and germane to this discussion that I thought I’d post a précis here.

    I’m still analyzing the effects of energy depletion (mainly peak oil and gas) on global and national GDP. My previous attempt was unsatisfactory, so I’ve reworked the analysis incorporating the effects of the changing energy intensity (the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of GDP) of different countries’ economies. The EIA keeps good energy intensity records, and I’ve used them to develop intensity projections to 2050 for the economy every country on the planet.

    When you combine those projections with the changes in national energy supplies that I developed earlier, it’s possible to calculate the likely change in their national GDP in 2050. When that result is in turn combined with UN population projections, a picture emerges of the changes to national average per capita GDP in each country. The story the numbers tell is fascinating.

    Rich nations with stable or declining populations tend to have constantly improving energy intensities. The result of hitting this trifecta is that even in the face of energy shortfalls their per-capita GDP will not fall by much. Their population and energy intensity changes both move in positive directions that help insulate them from the worst effects of energy declines. In a few cases their income levels actually improve.

    Poor nations are another story altogether. Rather than a trifecta they face a triple threat: they are poor to begin with, and have few energy options beyond fossil fuels; they have exploding populations because the high-TFR nations are universally underdeveloped; finally, their economies tend to show worsening energy intensities over time.

    This combination of factors leads to a massive increase in the global disparity of national incomes reflected in per-capita GDP.

    The most telling number is what happens to the world’s mean and median income between now and 2050.

    Today the world’s mean income is about $10,000 per person, while the median income is about $8,000.

    In 2050 the global mean income declines 25% to $7,500. The median income, however, plummets a full 70%, to a meager $2,500.

    The end result is that the number of “poor” as I have defined them (those in countries with an average per-capita GDP less than $4,000) more than doubles, while the average income within the group drops from $2,500 to $1,250.

    This analysis has radically changed my understanding of the shape of the coming troubles. My initial intuitive expectation that a global die-off was on its way has been modified by this appearance of a massively bimodal distribution of wealth. We in the overdeveloped nations will do fine with our hybrid cars, windmills, electric trains and military might. The world will not be able (or willing?) to bridge the yawning chasm that is now opening beneath the underdeveloped nations.

  56. Paul,

    That’s fascinating – and troubling. I gather your analysis would still point to a die-off, but one brutally focused mostly on the Third World?

    I wonder how would First World aid to the Third World would figure into this scenario.

    I look forward to seeing more as you make it available.

  57. John,

    Yes, that’s where the focus will be. I can’t find a purely situational trigger for a First World die-off yet, everything I’ve thought about is man-made, mostly wars. Droughts will affect us, and may even kill some of us, but we have the resources the Third World lacks to cope with things like that.

    Regarding First World aid, I read a troubling statistic last week, that American grain aid to Africa has dropped by 50% in the last 7 years. As biofuels hit their stride, what do you think the prospects will be for for having enough surplus left over to send abroad for charity?

  58. Hello to all,

    For just a moment, let us consider how we might take some practical steps to get to the year 2050………from here and now.

    Perhaps we could follow what we already know from good science, reasoning and common sense. We can choose to respond ably and differently, in a more reality-oriented way, to the global challenges before humanity, the challenges that we can manage because they have been induced by the spectacular unrestrained overgrowth of human activities now threatening to engulf the surface of Earth.

    Of course, it is fair to ask what the family of humanity could choose to do “ably and differently.” There are several ideas that come to mind.

    1) Implement a universal, voluntary program that encourages people to limit the number of offspring to one child per family.

    2) Establish an upper limit on the growth of the individual human footprint.

    3) Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.

    4) Substitute clean, renewable sources of energy, through the use of substantial economic incentives, for the fossil fuels we rely upon now.

    5) Recognize that everything human beings do on the surface of our planetary home utterly depend on the finite resources of Earth. One consequence of this realization is understanding that there can be no such thing as an endlessly expanding global economy, given its current scale and growth rate, on a relatively small and noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth.



  59. Steve, as always I link your thinking. We need to set limits on outrageous consumption. But how do we do that in a world where the H3 Alpha Hummer is consider a “good buy”?

  60. Dear Trinifar,

    I wish the question you have asked is one for which I had an answer. Sad to say, I do not.

    Having acknowledged this, I do want to share a gift with you. It might give us some useful ideas concerning how we are to reasonably and sensibly move forward.

    Socioeconomic Democracy and Sustainable Development

    Robley E. George
    Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Societies
    25 October 2007

    Terminology: SeD (Socioeconomic Democracy), UGPI (Universal Guaranteed Personal Income, abbreviated UGP), MAPW (Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth, abbreviated MAW), CSDS (Center for the Study of Democratic Societies), QOG (Quality of Growth), QOJ (Quality of Justice), QOL (Quality of Life), QOW (Quality of Wealth), WFSF (World Futures Studies Federation)

    This article was first published at Development 4 All, copyright © 2007 Robley E. George. Reproduction is acceptable and encouraged, with acknowledgement of author, Robley E. George, Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Societies.


    Socioeconomic Democracy provides a comprehensive, just, realizable, freedom-enhancing, environment-respecting, democratic means of accomplishing not only the modest, though presently doubtful, Millennium Development Goals, but also simultaneously resolving or reducing a large number of other very real and crucial planetary problems, any of which could easily preclude realization of all well-intentioned MDGs. Socioeconomic Democracy is a practical socioeconomic system wherein there exist both some form of Universally Guaranteed Personal Income (UGPI) and some form of Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth (MAPW) limit, with both the lower bound on personal poverty and the upper bound on personal wealth set democratically by all participants of society.


    Socioeconomic Democracy provides a comprehensive, just, easily implemented, freedom-enhancing, environment-respecting, fundamentally democratic means of accomplishing not only the modest UN Millennium Development Goals, but also simultaneously resolving or reducing a large number of other very real, critical and interdependent planetary problems, almost any of which could easily preclude realization of the eight well-intentioned MDGs, and all of which are currently extremely costly, distracting and unnecessary impediments and barriers to universal Sustainable Development for All………



  61. Magne Karlsen

    Steve: “3) Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.”

    – —

    This is a most important point. And brilliantly put, too. We need to cut down on consumption. Not only for social reasons (the rampant and unconstrained inequality among our number, which poses as a threat in itself to the possibility of implementing mitigating action), but also for natural reasons. We should all be thinking about what kind of a planet our children and children’s children will inherit.

    A solid reduction of consumption seems, to me, to be the only possible way forward. And a very good one, too. I mean: a dramatic reduction of consumption would inevitably lead to a drop in pollution from factory production and transport. But hey. Think about it.

    Ordinary workers — the regular Joe’s and Jenny’s who you meet in the suburban shoppingmalls of every civilized town of the West — would never be in favour of a drop in production. Oh no, to the contrary: they’d oppose it. Because the food they’ve got on the table every night doesn’t come from the farm, but from their credit cards; their bank account.

    So go to sleep.

  62. I’m with you in terms of consumption reduction. It’s time for governments to step forward and mandate these. We need to be providing air cover for those politicians so incline.

  63. Jim,

    This ‘Titanic’ scenario is worldwide. I imagine India, where I live, is significantly different from the US. But our politicians seem just as intent as yours on not seeing the icebergs looming ahead.

    I have put together a few thoughts on how to avoid the icebergs without putting citizens through too much pain. I wonder what your views might be on these:

    A few ideas on how to
    slow down
    economic growth

    1) Individual consumers need to consciously consume less of whatever it is that they consume. The government or NGOs should incentivate families to benchmark their current levels of consumption on various fronts, then reduce them.

    2) Advertising aimed at making people buy more should be tapered off. Only adverts giving information should be allowed.

    3) Roadside advertising hoardings should be reduced by 50%, and they should not be illuminated, as they use up precious energy for a relatively non-productive purpose.

    4) Stop adding power generation capacities, whether thermal or otherwise. Freeze them at existing capacities and merely replace thermal capacities with wind-energy and solar generation capacities at a rate of 10% per annum.

    5) Stop registering new private vehicles nationwide. NGOs or government should incentivate people to give up private transport (for instance by giving them free passes on public transport with 10-year validity.)

    6) Each year, taper off the numbers of private transport wheels by 10% or more, and enhance the capacity of public transport by 20%. This will result in a net improvement in the quality of transportation and reduced congestion each year. It will also give private automobile makers something to do while adjusting to the changed economic paradigm.

    7) Enforce a one-child policy with both carrot and stick. This means that within the span of 60-70 years, population would go down by about 50%.

    8) Build infrastructure for localised means of recreation such as playgrounds and stadiums, both indoor and outdoor. Encourage greater participation in physical and mental sporting activities by organizing competitions etc.

    9) Civic and governmental efforts to improve quality of life are crucial to wean off people from the rat-race.

    I wonder if people like us can come together on as a GLOBAL POLITICAL FRONT and start pushing administrators to implement at least these moves.


  64. Dear Krish,

    I like everything about what you are thinking and proposing. Let me add here, that your views and plans for action appear to be ones that many people will begin to understand and appreciate.

    What worries me is how much time it takes for people to share LONG-RANGE views like yours and to adopt farsighted proposals like the ones you are putting forward because the necessary changes that are in store for “the masters of the universe” — the leaders who rule the global political economy in its currently, patently unsustainable form — will find such changes categorically unacceptable. The masters of the universe among us have made it quite clear through their positive regard and relentless protection of unbridled economic growth, now overspreading the surface of Earth, that they would rather see life as we know it obliterated than limit, as well as share, their wealth, power and privileges with others, I suppose.



  65. Krish,

    The fact that your proposals are indeed the essential first steps toward dealing with this crisis depresses me more than I can say. We must work towards them, but I’d caution against anyone getting their hopes up. Time is so short, and the feedback between our self-interested, comfort-seeking, growth oriented natures and the institutions we have set up to support and profit from those qualities gives the whole system the inertuia of the Exxon Valdez.

    As I promised upthread, I have just posted my update on national and per capita GDP in 2050, based on my energy supply scenario and taking into account the changing energy intensity of nations and regions.

    The article is at

    I’d be especially interested in any comments you might have, Krish, because one of the case studies is India.

  66. Dear Paul and Krish,

    The work you are doing, at least in my experience, is both vital and singular. Keep going, please.



  67. Steve, Paul, This reluctance of our “Masters of the Universe” is precisely why we need to do something OUTRAGEOUS to grab the public’s attention and get them to look afresh at the global predicament.

    This is why I keep saying again and again that folks like outselves need to declare the earth as one nation, and we need to declare ourselves as a political party, a government-in-exile of sorts.

    We need to challenge the status quo in ways that are as yet unthinkable.


  68. Krish,

    I thought I’d repost my reply to the question you left on my web site, because it it highlights a crucial element that is missing from most economic forecasts these days.

    You ask, “Have you factored in and discounted the BRIC Nation theory, which I believe is a mainstream thought among economists and policymakers? ”

    I believe that theories like BRIC fail to account for global energy depletion (especially oil and gas) and for energy intensity. BRIC assumes that the energy needed for development and growth in these nations will always be there, and that the constraints on their growth are primarily political or at most sociopolitical. Basically, these economists don’t understand the implications of Peak oil and Gas.

    I take a different position. I believe that energy supplies will present a fundamental limit to industrial growth very soon. If that is the case, then much of a nation’s economic future will depend on a series of energy-related factors: how much “spare” or discretionary energy they have to reallocate (i.e. how rich they are to start with), what their current energy mix is (heavy reliance on oil and gas is bad), and whether a country’s energy intensity is improving or worsening, as well as whether their population is rising or falling.

    In the case of Brazil, their energy intensity is worsening, they are over 50% dependent on oil and gas, and their population is rising rapidly. That means that Peak Oil and Gas will stop them in their tracks by 2025 or 2030.

    In the case of Russia, their energy intensity and population are improving, which is good, but 73% of their energy is from oil and gas. Worse, over 50% of their energy comes from natural gas that will deplete faster than oil once it gets going. If they can keep improving their energy intensity they will just about break even, but given their heavy dependence on gas, that’s an open question.

    India and China are two of my case studies. China will gain because of its massive use of coal; India will fall behind because of its population growth.

    Energy limits are the missing factor in most economic forecasts today. Once they are included, the picture changes dramatically.

  69. Paul,

    Don’t you think energy-efficient devices like computers and mobile-phones change the energy-human mix somewhat?

    Rather than raw energy, technology plus technology-powered skilled manpower/consumer base may be the main factor economic growth, methinks…

    Have you factored in India’s phenomenal mobile-phone density? And the rather large numbers of professionally-oriented people, including the MBAs and engineers that it turns out? But let me take it that you have.

    You say, “India will fall behind because of its population growth.” Again, India’s relatively-young demographics is taken as an economically favourable factor when contrasted with aging populations like Japan’s. How do you account for demographics in your prijections, Paul? I mean, what is the average age of the American, Canadian, Japanese etc. in 2050 and what’s the average age of Indians, Bangladeshis etc?

    Just in case you haven’t considered this angle, here is a credible link with objective debate over the Indian demographic advantage:

    I don’t mean to be argumentative. I’m sure you have put in a lot of research hours into your graphs and projections; I’m just trying to understand all the premises and assumptions that you have based your theory on.



  70. Krish,

    In my view the economic impact of technological developments like computers and mobile phones is primarily to improve the energy intensity of the economy, to let the economy get more GDP from each unit of energy. Except during their manufacture, the devices add little direct economic value.

    My position is that without high quality exosomatic energy there is no economy – that energy use is a direct proxy for economic activity. That means that economies tend to rise or fall based on how much energy they use and how efficiently they use it.

    Given that position and the further assumption that energy supplies will shortly start to decline, I see growing populations as a risk rather than a benefit. The main reason is that in a time of declining energy (or more correctly, exergy) having more people does not support economic growth. Rather, it dilutes a static or shrinking economic pie, as more people have to distribute the lower amount of money and goods produced with the declining energy.

    In that situation a growing population cannot grow the economy, as the available amount of the fundamental raw material for a modern economy – energy – was already fully utilized at the lower population level. The only possible long-term result of this situation is for per capita GDP to decline. Improvements in energy intensity may offset that effect for a time, but increases in efficiency are axiomatically asymptotic while population increases are not. Eventually the rate of efficiency improvement has to drop to 0, while populations can simply keep growing.

    Think of energy as analogous to the food supply. As long as a country can increase its food supply, it can grow its population. As more people require more food, more food is obtained, either by growing it or buying it abroad. If something happens to limit domestic food production (say all the arable land is finally in production) then the only way to support an increasing population is to buy more food. If something happens to limit the availability of food from the international market, like a decline in the country’s purchasing power, or a decline in the amount of export food actually available because of climate change or competition from biofuels, then the average per capita calorie consumption must decline.

    My position is that energy is as essential to a civilization or a national economy as food energy is to individual humans. If either starts to decline, the results are similar.

    I know that this is a strong departure from the thinking of most economists when it comes to population. In my opinion, their perception that rising populations tend to be an intrinsically good thing for economies is one of the reasons we’re in this mess. At this point both expanding populations and expanding economies are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and both are equally vulnerable to the coming downturn in energy supplies.


  71. Dear Colleagues,

    This is a departure is a slight departure from the important discussion in process. Please continue with it and please forgive the intrusion, but something has come up.

    The reference above by Krish to the soon to be erstwhile “Masters of the Universe” deserves clarification.

    If we are going to save the world as we know it for coming generations, we benefit from a discussion of who these people are. Let us consider that many too many current leaders, who give their primary allegiance to the political economy and not to Earth’s ecology and humanity, are the self-proclaimed “Masters of the Universe” among us.

    For more information about the “Masters of the Universe,” please find an article in Common Dreams by clicking the link below,

    As a way of focusing on this remarkably small minority of leaders, let me make one more comment. “How do we more identify these masters, a.k.a., empire-builders, imperialists, etc?”: individuals serving on multiple executive committees and boards of directors of conglomerates and quasi’secret’ organizations like The Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and Bilderberg Group. They hold extraordinary amounts of wealth as well as bought-and-paid-for political power. They manage the world’s interlocking national economies and direct the course of economic globalization.

    Ironically, it is easy to identify “masters of the universe” by noticing what they religiously will NOT speak about in open discussion. For them, silence is golden when it comes to acknowledging certain global challenges that loom ominously before the family of humanity.

    Masters of the universe will not be found speaking in public discussions about certain topics: the necessity for humankind to maintain the integrity of Earth’s ecosphere, to preserve its biodiversity from extinction and to protect its natural resources from reckless dissipation. These leaders will not speak in an intellectually honest way about good scientific data indicating that the current scale and rate of growth of seemingly endless economic expansion could become a patently unsustainable enterprise, even in the early years of this century. Try to find public presentations by these masters on the potential threats of biodiversity loss, environmental collapse and, perhaps, human endangerment that could soon be posed by the unbridled, maximal extension of big business activities now engulfing the planet God has blessed us to inhabit and not to overwhelm, I suppose.



  72. Addendum:

    These leaders of the ‘first’ world’s political economy appear to suffer from what has been named a “nature deficit disorder.” Indeed, many too many people in the developed world seem to have lost touch not only with the natural world but also with good science and the family of humanity. Who knows, perhaps people of the dominant, industrialized culture of conglomerates have become utterly mesmerized and generally misdirected in their relentless, unrelenting pursuit of the golden calf.

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

    It is precisely the unrestrained human “overgrowth” activities worldwide that need to change. Perhaps humankind is called upon to regulate the global growth of its numbers, its per capita consumption and its propagation so that we find a balanced relationship with nature and, consequently, give this marvelous planetary home the time it requires to renew itself.

    Or we could choose to stay the current “business as usual” course by maximally increasing production and recklessly dissipating limited natural resources, thereby causing human numbers and economic globalization to continuously grow in a patently unsustainable way. Then over consumption, overproduction and overpopulation of the human species would commandeer remaining wilderness and original habitats, extinguish global biodiversity, degrade global ecosystems, dissipate natural resources and eventually ravage the planet.

  73. Addendum Two:

    This understanding of what our species is currently doing on the planet we inhabit seems somehow timely. Not communicating about these things leaves me with a deepening feeling of concern for a good enough future for our children and coming generations.

    When can we expect the “Masters of the Universe” to speak of protecting Earth’s ecology with the kind of adamant religiosity that they advance the unbridled, soon to become patently unsustainable expansion of economic globalization?

    Is it possible that the pernicious silence of the powers-that-be, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and ‘talking heads’ in the mass media is presented in our time as an unexpected and irrefragable enemy of human wellbeing, environmental health, the gift of good science and God’s Creation?

  74. Magne Karlsen,2144,2979893,00.html

    “For many governments, these meetings take the place of doing something, according to the unwritten motto: “Speak globally, delay nationally.”

    – —

    “Canada, U.S. and Japan stress economics before environment at Bali.

    “In its opening submission to the conference, the Canadian delegation said the next climate agreement must be “economically realistic” and must not “unduly burden” the growth of any single country.

    – —

    “It is not surprising that Bali is unlikely to achieve anything tangible, for it is aimed at the hardest part of climate-change mitigation—getting an international agreement which all the big emitters ratify. That won’t happen until America adopts serious domestic emissions-control measures.”

  75. Has anyone in Bali seen a correspondent from CBS, NBC or ABC News Networks? I can find no nationwide coverage of the Climate Change Conference in the USA by these ‘big 3’ national television corporations.

    Is this failure to respond ably on the part of big-business/mass media a commonplace example of its conspicious refusal to accept responsibilities and perform duties? Is such behavior symptomatic of an incredibly significant problem for the human community? At least to me, this behavior appears to be a particularly pernicious form of perpetrated silence.

  76. Magne Karlsen

    “Rich countries are rapidly increasing the pollution that causes global warming to record levels – despite having solemnly undertaken to reduce it, three devastating new official reports reveal. Emissions of greenhouse gases and their accumulation in the atmosphere are higher than they have ever been, and unless policies are urgently reversed “catastrophic” climate change is inevitable, they warn. … .. .

    ““On the basis of current trends and present policies, concentrations of carbon dioxide could rise by more than 50 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030″. … .. .

    “If everyone on Earth emitted as much greenhouse gas as North Americans, we would need nine atmospheres to absorb it all safely.

    At the present rate the world will, within the next 25 years, emit the entire amount of carbon dioxide that the atmosphere can safely take over the entire 21st century.”

    – — – 8)


    The Bali Climate Change Conference is probably going to go down in history as that final moment of truth. – We’re doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing, and we do so knowingly and willingly. We should be cutting down on oil, gas and coal consume, but we do the exact opposite: fossil fuels consumption is probably rising in an exponential manner (just like most other things that are rising do so exponentially); peak oil is a topic for discussion which has more to do with the distant future than it has with the day (today) in question. And thinking about the future can give you the creeps, so don’t do it. Just look the other way while you do what old habits tell you to do, which is the very same things as you did yesterday, stupid! Or what? Are you a moron?

    Hmmmmmm?! We should be looking after, and protecting, the fish resources, but we simply do not give a damn; overfishing is a perfectly viable economic deed, so get on with it. Never mind.

    We should be looking after our remaining rain forest, but we do the exact opposite: larger and larger areas of good, old rainforest is being cut down on a yearly basis. It’s good, honest work for the poor, and it’s good, honest exponential revenue growth for all the Western Corporations which are involved. A win-win situation, for short. The business of cutting down and tearing out the lungs of this planet’s various ecosystems, is indeed an economic enterprise which is good for the Brazilian and Malaysian economy, so shut the f*** up! Will you?! Just don’t think like that! It’s depressing!!!

  77. Dear Magne,

    Are we seeing the most colossal breakdown of intelligence and loss of courage imaginable?


  78. Steve,

    Embarrassing, isn’t it? – I wish we would all start to believe in the gods that live in the forests, the spirits that are present everywhere, and that we should all decide to astonish them. I don’t think this is very likely to happen, though. I believe we (the rapidly growing number of “climate change alarmists”) are going to have to learn to accept that insofar as westernized humanity in general just isn’t able to make even the simplest kinds of lifestyle changes, because the concept of “saving the world” is too … hm … much …

    I mean, come to think about it: even the active changing of light bulbs, from energy ineffective ones to “green”, energy-efficient ones, is, for the average housewife, an impossible task — simply because doing so implies that there is something wrong with the planet, that quite ordinary human activities, like driving to work and storing food-stuff in the refrigerator, is about to destroy this planet, and that this planet, as such, actually has to be saved: I mean: that’s too much, get out’ta here! Anyone who actually believes that saving the world is something that can, should and must be done, and is pissing other people off by saying so, can equally just kill himself / herself all the same. And that’s not theory. — See, reality bites. Very hard.


  79. At least, the number of climate change alarmists is growing rapidly. That’s good news, isn’t it? Or isn’t my sense of humour rather … how do I put it? … darkish? … hm? …


    “Can We Save the World by 2015?”

    “It’s really critical to get negotiations formally started,” says David Doniger, the policy director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s climate center. “We’re almost at the point of no return. If we don’t turn these emission trends down soon, we’re cooked.”

    “Unfortunately, the global political community is a long way from speaking with one voice on anything, and climate change is no exception.”

    – — – 💡

    So I’m not kidding, am I? And Jim Lydecker ain’t kidding either, when he — metaphorically — takes us to the deck of the Titanic?


    “While warnings, projections, and predictions about the planet’s environmental future are hardly novel, most writings limit themselves to the actual physical consequences resulting from global warming. And by now we should have heard them often enough to be able to cite them in our sleep, i.e., mass migrations, flooding of costal cities, fighting over resources, adverse impact on agriculture, desertification, collapse of ocean fisheries, et cetera.”

    – —

    Now that policy makers, the elites of society, are intent on running away from all responsibilities, while at the same time insisting that global warming / climate change must be solved by the year 2015 and 20%, 30%, and 80% emissions cuts must be made by this or that year, some time in the future, while not coming up with any real solutions, just waiting for future technology to come our way, eventually … .. . I ask myself: What will be the social consequences? Of course: these consequences will be very different around the world. From country to country, region to region. But consequences, there will be! Of that I’m absolutely certain.

  82. Dear Magne,

    I think I understand what you are saying; but please note that you and I are seeing things differently regarding the distinctly human-induced, “Human Predicament” presented now to humanity.

    Let’s agree to do everything we can, just between now and the end of the year 2008 to raise awareness about the situation you and I and others are now willing to openly acknowledge rather than avoid, even if doing so pisses off some people. Then, perhaps we can engage our group here in a discussion of whether or not there is any longer a point for you and me to continue with the effort to raise awareness, as we have been doing.





  83. Magne Karlsen

    Well, as I see it, the problem is twofold: policy makers, on the one hand, can’t do anything in order to change the habits of the people and the industries of their own countries (every human has a free will, and must change their lifestyles voluntarily), and westernized humanity won’t do nothing about anything — not until national and international policy makers are starting to take direct action.

    This is funky!

  84. Magne Karlsen,1518,521153,00.html

    “Officially, the US government says it wants to push in Bali for a climate protection “road map.” But SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that this may not be true. US government officials are already attempting to coordinate with China and India to prevent binding emissions limits.”

    – —

    Well, the truth is out there. – 💡 — Are we supposed to accept the sience while we, at the same time, are well aware of the fact that we’re not responding to it, because that would be a most inconvenient move?

  85. Magne Karlsen

    – —

    I’m sorry about this. I keep searching for some kind — any kind — of logic that can help me to understand what is going on at the all-important climate change conference in Bali at the moment. The thing is: I’m finding it extremely difficult to understand the premises of these negotiations.

    First, the UN has made it perfectly clear that the scientific consensus of the IPCC is truthful to the core, and not to be ridiculed by anyone. It seems to me as if even the American delegation accepts the science of manmade climate change, as it is presented to the world by IPCC.

    At the same time it is becoming perfectly clear that noone is ready to reducing CO2 emissions anytime soon.

    Confusing. Frustrating. And sad.

    – —

    “In order to stay below 2 ºC, global emissions must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose. — – As scientists, we urge the negotiators to reach an agreement that takes these targets as a minimum requirement for a fair and effective global climate agreement.”

  86. Magne Karlsen

    “NUSA DUA, INDONESIA — … Using similar language in their statements, the three countries [Japan, Canada, USA] seem to have co-ordinated their message, stressing that economic growth is just as valuable as the environment.

    China, in unusually harsh language, warned that Japan’s proposal could “sabotage” the entire Kyoto process. A close look at the troika’s statements at Bali reveals that their language is remarkably similar. One of the leaders of the U.S. delegation, Harlan Watson, told reporters that the next climate agreement must be “economically sustainable” and must promote economic growth for people and nations “everywhere.” Japan said there must be “compatibility” between environmental protection and economic growth. And Canada said there must be a “balance” between the environment and “economic prosperity.”

    – —

    Money, economy, finance, wealth. Hard cash. Currency. Human nature?

  87. Dear Magne,

    You saved the best words for last, “Human nature?”

    That really is at least on the really BIG questions, is it not?

    What is our nature? I believe no one of can answer that question even though many people through time, and over many generations, have proclaimed that they did possess this ‘knowledge’.

    Look at the “Masters of the Universe” among us. Do they express doubts about human nature? No way. Such questioning would open Pandora’s Box for them. No, these leaders have been proclaiming their ‘knowledge’ of human nature. Their carefully scripted, widely shared and regularly repeated view fits very nicely with what whatsoever they deem to be, MOST OF ALL, economically expedient, as well as, politically convenient, socially agreeable and religiously tolerated. Their view of human nature must fit within such a framework, I am supposing.

    Let’s take an obvious idea, one every master of the universe shares. You mention it above. It is the consensually validated necessity for UNBRIDLED ECONOMIC GROWTH. The currrent scale and rapid growth rate of the global economy cannot be sustained much longer, much less FOREVER, on a planet with the size and make-up of Earth. Every intellectually honest and honorable good scientist has this knowledge of Earth’s limitations, whether it is expressed or not.

    Given the purposes of the masters of the universe, of course, intellectual honesty is one of many examples of human behavior that does not support their loudly proclaimed view: only they know human nature and only they are living the one RIGHT way. Afterall, have you ever heard a self-proclaimed master of the universe say something like, “OUR WAY OF LIFE IS NON-NEGOTIABLE. There is no other.” It is either the way of the masters of the universe or else……

    And this view of many too many leaders in the world in our time is a formidable challenge for humanity, I believe. This challenge is every bit as formidable a global challenge as human-induced global warming.

    If we simply pay attention to your most immediate four posts above, ( and I want to thank you for them because no one else I know is able to present YOUR perspective, as YOU do) we can see already the shape of things to come, according to the view of the masters of the universe.

    Here we want to objectively identify an overlooked but primary aspect of the distinctly human-forced predicament that is presented to humanity in these early years of Century XXI. I would like to submit that the masters of the universe among us and their insistence upon one right way to live present themselves to humanity and to life as we know as a formidable global challenge.

    These leaders have pervasively established their view about what is most important to them and their minions. Can they say things more clearly than you have presented them above, “Money, economy, finance, wealth. Hard cash. Currency” ? What more can they say to be better understood? They report their message ubiquitously in the mass media.

    The masters of the universe are making themselves crystal clear. They are all about ECONOMIC GROWTH. For any of them to suggest otherwise, would be politically inconvenient, economically inexpedient, socially disagreeable and religiously intolerable.

    Nevertheless, it appears worth noting that their soon to be generally recognized as scientifically unsupportable “24/7” presentation of the necessity for ENDLESS ECONOMIC GROWTH could be eventually seen as fraudent as well as an willful exercise of corporate malfeasence.

    The masters of the universe and their non-negotiable view of the right way for human beings to live, I suppose, stand out as an ominously looming global threat to humanity. But this threat is not yet given the attention it deserves. When this threat is acknowledged and addressed in an intellectually honest and courageous way, and it surely will be confronted, perhaps then we learn a bit more about something I believe human beings cannot have ultimate knowledge: the nature of human nature.



  88. Steve: “The masters of the universe are making themselves crystal clear. They are all about ECONOMIC GROWTH.”

    That’s right. What is new here, is the honesty with which these politicians, economists and industrial-military diplomats are approaching the dichotomy of ecological degradation and economic growth. They no longer talk between their teeth, like they did in 2006, when the Stern Report was released: a report which focussed on how incredibly cheap it would be to stop global warming. Not very honest, or what do you think? I think it would be cheap enough, but only after globalized capitalism had been discontinued, and a whole new kind of economy had replaced it.

    Now, of course, I’m not an economist. In fact I do not understand globalized capitalism. I only see that it creates inequality on all possible levels of society, and on any thinkable scale. And I can see that it does Mother Nature no favour. — Nor does it do human nature any favour. I mean: give me the first reason for murder?

    Steve: “For any of them to suggest otherwise, would be politically inconvenient, economically inexpedient, socially disagreeable and religiously intolerable.”

    I love that phrase. Very succinct. 🙂


    “Economics before environment??? Embarrassing ourselves in Bali…”

    – —

    Blogger, Jennifer Beckermann, expresses the very same concern that I just did: the whole Bali limate conundrum is embarrassing. I mean: here we are: the planet is on fire, but the rich and the powerful are worried — most of all — about the economy.

  90. As a Canadian whio has been overweeningly proud of our past reputation on the world stage, I am correspondingly humiliated by what our representatives in Bali are doing.

    Fortunately, our “environment minister” John Baird Inc. is my member of parliament, so the next election campaign will give me an opportunity to do something about it.

  91. You guys might find this interesting. Check out the article by Albert Bandura titled, “Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement.”

    We’ve discussed previously some of the psychological issues involved in denying or avoiding the truth of the ecological crisis. Well, Bandura is as big a name as there is in psychological research, having developed a major theory of “social learning” which is still taught to psych students today.

    I’ve only read the abstract and some of the concluding remarks so far, but it’s interesting to see how he makes sense of the denial of ecological problems.

    Now it would be nice if he’d write a version for a general readership and publish it in some large circulation periodical. He’s a big name who might have a real impact.

  92. Free will, that’s right. Interesting concept. Think big, alright? Just don’t interfere with the depth of your next-door neighbours’ swimming pools.

    – — 😆


    Last night, in a speech to the Bali climate change conference in Bali [Al Gore] stuck the knife in further than ever before, making it plain that America, and Bush’s administration, have become the biggest obstacles to cutting the deal on greenhouse gas reductions that might save the world from runaway global warming.

    “I am going to speak an inconvenient truth: my own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali,” he said, prompting cheering from the thousands of delegates and environmentalists attending.

    Gore had crystallized the anger and frustration that is spreading through the Bali meeting over what is seen to be American intransigence over cutting emissions.

    – —

    Al Gore. — I’m starting to like this man better and better. He sounds angry now. Free of diplomatic niceties. – 😀


    “Researchers in the Amazon, attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali, say a vicious cycle of climate change and deforestation could destroy the world’s largest tropical rain forest more quickly than expected. Trish Anderton explains, in a background report.

    Researcher Dan Nepstad calls it a “perfect storm” of deforestation: as fire and ranching destroy the Amazon forest in Brazil, the remaining trees release less moisture, producing a dryer climate that kills more trees. It adds up to a vicious cycle of destruction.

    A World Bank-funded study released early this year predicted the Amazon could become a grassy savannah by the end of the century.”

    — –

    “A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

    Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres – the size of France and Germany combined – has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

    The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world’s largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

    It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying “tipping points” – delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth’s temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.”

    — –

    “Tens of millions of people could be driven from their homes by encroaching deserts, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, a report says.

    The study by the United Nations University suggests climate change is making desertification “the greatest environmental challenge of our times”.

    If action is not taken, the report warns that some 50 million people could be displaced within the next 10 years.”

    – —

    “An estimated 40 per cent of the world’s population could be affected by loss of snow and glaciers on the mountains of Asia says the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in the Global Outlook for Ice and Snow.

    Similar challenges are facing countries, communities, farmers and power generators in the Alps to the Andes and the Pyrenees, says the report.

    Melting ice and snow are also likely to increase hazards including avalanches and floods from the build up of potentially unstable glacial lakes. These can burst their ice and soil dams sending walls of water down valleys at speeds close to that of a modern anti-tank missile.”

    — –

    Which Climate Deal?

  95. Magne, I’m wondering what the appropriate phrase is. I you were a woman I could say “You go, girl” althought that’s probably old school vernacular now. Maybe something like, “Dude, you rock!” fits, but I’m sure that’s way outdated too.

    Anyway, I just love your reporting.

  96. Trinifar,

    I really don’t know what to say. There’s a dismal divide between all the worrysome information the climate/environment science is presenting to the world, and — on the other hand — that which the political authorities of this planet are willing to do about it. Political authorities from 180 countries have just decided to allow this whole climate change negotiations business to become a waiting game.

  97. Magne,

    No one knows what to say, I suppose. At least to me, the important thing is to keep talking, loudly and clearly and often, and keep going.

    Just as a side note, here in the USA there is considerable attention being paid here to the Christmas shopping season. There are indicators that bottom-line sales and grotesque consumption will be down. If that were to occur, that one change would be a good thing.

    Perhaps the idea of reducing conspicuous over-consumption is beginning to become a part of the American consciousness. Then again, everything I have just said about the prospect for such change in Americans’ spending habits may be nothing more than wishful thinking.



    PS: I am a person who passionately hates waiting games. “The ‘courage’ to do nothing” is anathema to me.

  98. Steve,

    I know exactly what you mean, and I agree. I’m very often feeling confused here, and not quite able to differentiate between personal knowledge and episodes of wishful thinking.

    “The courage to do nothing” — well, I think that’s exactly the kind of spirit most Norwegians would love to hear more of, cherish, enjoy, and follow fervently. — That kind of courage would be very convenient, indeed.

    And I think this is the case in most countries, not only here. Even though this country is a bit more oil rich than most. —

  99. Hey, if “courage to do nothing” meant “consume nothing (or no more than you really need)” we’d all be better off.

  100. — –

    “The truth shall set you free,” at least that’s what they say. — And “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” Kris Kristoffersen famously said.

    I wish I knew how to tell the truth about my own life, as it has been played out over the last three, four, seven and several years. I’d love to find the power — or indeed courage — to be truthful to the core.

    I wonder: what on Earth should I — honest, little me — have to gain from being truthful about the kind of behaviour they always greet me with?

    And I wonder: what do I have to lose?

    While I weigh one sentence against the other, I hesitate.

  101. Steve: “No one knows what to say, I suppose.”

    – —

    I suppose you’re right! Absolutely so! — In actual fact, I believe the brutally honest outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali is going to haunt humanity for quite a while. For years, even decades. — Unless, of course, we should all come to our senses, collectively, spontaneously and simultaneously, by means of magic (*) or a major reality check. I feel way too baffled to even think of something intelligent to say.

    What happened in Bali was that the worldwide community of big spenders and money-makers removed their gloves and made it perfectly clear to the rest of the world — crystal clear, and under no uncertain terms — that economic interests are of much higher importance than ecological needs and deeds.

    To me, this is totally unbelieveable. In my view, this is insane.

    Just crazy. —

  102. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    The crisis, as averred by Jim Lydecker, is not of overpopulation, which is just one hugely obvious symptom of the prevailing worldview of the past four hundred years or so, as are the social, political, financial, environmental imbalances et al. The crisis, as always, is of the human MIND and its talent for ARTIFICE which begets CLINGING to whatever paradigm it has cooked up, believed-in and imposed-upon across large numbers of humans, and implemented, for whatever length of time that it is able to, before that very paradigm must necessarily age and ail towards dying out. Examples?? Without being exhaustive, one can hark back to the Egyptians – the Pharaohs and their kin were supposed to be divinity born on earth and all others were to serve them, supposedly, by divine fiat. That artificial ‘system’ ran for as long as it could. Similarly, the Greeks, the Romans, the aristocracy of the ‘Middle Ages’ and the hordes of less recognizable ones had the writ of their ‘systems’ run for as long as they could. Of course, none of these were even remotely of planetary scale. The current worldview in place, to my understanding, springs from the ‘Renaissance’ in Europe; its tenets have been rational, linear, materialistic and, thus, mechanistic. And here we are reaping its fruits, it is as simple as that! CAUSE and EFFECT!! Can there be anything more ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ than cause-and-effect? Can it be reversed? I am fifty years old and I can recall the first premonitions that I felt, as far back as in 1978, of matters being seriously out of whack and heading further so. In the intervening years, the pace has only accelerated. It is not that erudite and concerned people have not written about it in all of these years. It is just that ignorance – not of the bookish kind but the lack of awareness at the level of fundamental consciousness – must be accepted as a basic trait of humankind at large. Now, can an engine that has been running on track and gaining momentum for the past few hundred years be brought to a stop, if not reversed, at least? All the studies popping up rather fortuitously now confirm to me my premonitions that whatever steps we are even able to agree upon are to be too little and too late. Does that mean that I am to do nothing? No, not at all. I shall try and do the utmost, individually and in concert with others; cataclysmic events, if they occur as anticipated/feared, shall only serve to press one on to make reparations as much as the devastation in any continent-wide conflict did in the first half of the 20th century. If the apocalypse is averted – and I daresay that I believe it cannot be – the efforts put in by all of humankind in concert shall forge a common humanity that nothing else could have.

  103. Ashit Shanker Saxena

    Oops, forgot one little thing. Blaming the politicians is a cop-out that we cannot afford to flog for the dead horse that it is!! Each one of us must get cracking and do so now; else all of the above are just words and, then, some more.

  104. Ashit: “Blaming the politicians is a cop-out that we cannot afford to flog for the dead horse that it is!!”

    Sure, each and everyone of us must get cracking, as you say, but when it comes to the good ideal of “thinking globally, and acting locally” it is not easily done by each one of us, as individuals, bacause national politicians do not facilitate our societies for it. So long as national policy makers do not lift a finger to facilitate for green living, it is very difficult for everyone to live green; if you can catch my drift?

    — –

    Ashit: “CAUSE and EFFECT!! Can there be anything more ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ than cause-and-effect? Can it be reversed?”

    Cause and effect, that’s right. It’s like me, when I’m being childishly naïve but cruelly accurate at the same time, and stating the obvious: the greenhouse effect, which leads to global warming and climate change, is the by-product of human polluting activities; especially the consumption of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). It really is as simple as that. And, at the same time, as embarrassing as that; because the civilization of our times is certainly dependent of fossil fuels; which are — incidentally — the same substances which are causing greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change.

    Now. — Now that we have come to understand that the climate systems of the world is slowly but steadily being disrupted because of human consumption of fossil fuels, please tell me how and why we can allow ourselves to continue to make use of those fossil substances.

    Or rather: try to tell this story to members of the coming generation of children. How on Earth are we going to explain this to children?

    – —

    Daddy: “We know that we are slowly but steadily destroying this planet by use of oil, gas and coal, but we just keep on doing it, all the same.”

    Daughter: “Why is that?”

    Daddy: “Hm.”

  105. Ashit Shanker Saxena


    Daddy:”I know that WE are slowly but steadily destroying this planet by the use of oil, gas and coal but I am going to try and do the utmost that our family can to not do so any more. I am going to need your understanding as and when I explain to you why we must do without some things, maybe many things and I will always be open to listening to what you might have to say, your questions, your doubts.”

    Daughter:”I understand and I feel happy that you are my father.”