By John Feeney:
Update #1: See Brishen Hoff’s, Paul Chefurka’s, and Graham Strouts’s critiques of the Monbiot article as well.
Update #2: For a correct, non-deceptive comparison of population growth and consumption growth, click here for a recent example from former AAAS president, John Holdren.
Sometimes I read something, such as a recent article by George Monbiot (whose work I’ve often admired, by the way), and realize the basics bear repeating.
Environmental and other writers speak often about resource consumption. On occasion they write something about population growth. Once in a while they tackle the whole package – population and consumption. When they do, they often make a simple error and come to the wrong conclusion.
Typically, it goes something like this: “Yes, population growth is a problem. But growth in consumption is occurring faster, so it’s an even bigger problem.”
Usually, they’re talking about total consumption of one or another or a combination of resources. And the comparison is an error.
Total resource consumption (of one or all resources) is the product of population size and average per person consumption. Naturally, we would expect the growth of the product to exceed that of either of two growing factors driving it! As an example, 2*2=4 and 4*4=16. Here the factors have increased by the same amount; they’ve doubled. But the product has quadrupled. A factor and the product are not comparable elements.
The more appropriate comparison is between the factors, population and per person consumption. There the data tell us the differences are not so pronounced, and it’s clear we cannot prioritize and say it is more urgent to address one than the other.
It’s the same error if you see a comparison suggesting economic growth far outweighs population growth as an environmental problem. Economic growth can, after all, be understood (PDF) as closely overlapping total consumption. It’s held to be driven by population multiplied by per person consumption. George Monbiot certainly sees it that way as he equates economic growth and total consumption in his fourth paragraph.
Obviously, I’m the last person to discount the importance of economic growth in ecological degradation. But we need to get our factors and products straight and realize both population and per person consumption require our complete attention. Naturally, I support efforts to address them simultaneously by tackling economic growth as a whole. But it makes no sense to prioritize and say we should address economic growth while dismissing one of the fundamental factors driving it.
Nor do we know to what degree a focus solely on reducing economic growth, as ecologically necessary as that is in much of the world, would reduce global population growth. (In some countries, at certain stages of development, economic growth and population growth seem to be negatively correlated.) At the root of it, the fundamental causes of population growth are basic ecological laws, not economic growth.
It makes the most sense to bring down population, per person consumption, and economic growth (where appropriate), in whatever ways will be sure to reduce them all. 
I’ve outlined this previously in some detail here and more succinctly here.
In a world in which we are already deeply into overshoot of the earth’s carrying capacity for humans, dismissals of the importance of population are absurd.
So if you happen to run into an environmental writer making one of the statements above, just think about factors and products. Oh, and you might suggest he or she not shy away from either factor just because the product is growing faster or just because it’s trendy among environmentalists to do so.
 Notice as well that there are environmental impacts with great relevance to our very survival which can only be mitigated effectively by addressing population growth itself. The current mass extinction (PDF) is one.
Addendum: I sometimes wonder if some environmental writers think the scientists who emphasize the fundamental importance of population haven’t thought about issues such as total consumption or economic growth. Obviously they have. (One would have to be utterly naive, completely uninformed, or quite lacking in analytical thought to overlook such topics.) Wouldn’t it therefore make sense to consider more carefully the reasons why they nevertheless urge more attention to population?
Well, John, as you know too well – any excuse to avoid the taboo subject of overpopulation!
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
What I really don’t understand here is the disconnect between intensity of resource use and exactly where population is growing the fastest.
With the exception of the United States, most of the “1st World” has its population growth slowing or leveling off. Meanwhile, many of the areas with highest population growth are the poorest, and are people living well below their means.
Now, clearly, people rich and poor are consuming resources at some rate (both directly and in the form of consuming resources for waste disposal/redemption). However, based on per capita consumption/energy use, the United States and other 1st World countries are using (I’ve seen estimates) 3-5X our “share” of resources. Meanwhile, the poorest millions in Africa and Asia probably use somewhat less than a whole “share” of total human resource use.
Thus on one factor you have, say “4” for mean per capita resource consumption in the US (or resource use intensity), vs., say, 0.8 in Namibia. This means that resource use intensity is 5X greater in the US. In other words, one “less” US or UK citizen is equivalent to 5 “less” Namibians in terms of resource use; yet we rarely hear the “taboo” subject of overpopulation brought up in terms of a primary emphasis on the 1st World, where growth rates are perhaps not the highest, but where changes in growth rates will have a 5X disproportionate impact on things. This gives us some initial reason to focus on the 1st World — perhaps what is meant here, but one must remember that the anti-growth discussion started with Malthus as an argument for *leaving the poor to their lot, and starving themselves into lower population sizes.* Not only doesn’t this work, it’s a reprehensible method to inefficiently reduce resource use. (Malthus said that the rich would consume “prudently” so as to keep the economy going but not overmuch so as to overtax resources. Poppycock.)
Making the problem all the more complex in poor areas and (technically) simple in the richer Global North, women in poorer countries often/usually have less choice in childbearing, and men still see it as an important sign of virility (plus, if you’re a poor agriculturalist, having more kids is individually rational for you). In the Global North, kids and number of kids is much more voluntary. Add to this the fact that population growth slows most in poor countries not with the introduction of contraceptives or draconian measures, but when women achieve some political equality gains and *increase* resource use somewhat such that they also gain access to education and sufficient health resources.
So taking the factors into account, it seems clear that we should certainly work on bringing both population and use intensity down in the 1st World, but the way to address population in the 3rd World implies “development” with substantive equality — a project involving at least short-term increases in resource use.
THESE are the items that seem taboo to me. When we talk about population problems, our problems in the 1st World start at home; the places where growth is the fastest require more complex solutions than a simple mantra or approach of population reduction or contraception can possibly achieve. Implying that the fast-reproducing food can’t have their fair share of food and water until they have less kids while Bill Gates races around on Leer Jets and procreates little mega-consumers unimpeded is the true madness.
From looking at your blog, J, I think I see where you’re coming from.
J, you might find value in a related post by frequent commenter, Trinifar:
Sustainability Requires Justice
It does annoy me that some people claim to talk about population when they really mean to rationalize and perpetuate exploitation. For me that’s one of the reasons that human population is difficult to talk about: I have to make an extensive disclaimer and try to prove that I’m a compassionate, empathetic, and pro-social human being before a conversation can proceed to nuanced exploration.
I’m pretty sure John is an empathetic, pro-social human. That’s why I find value in this web site. I think there are ideas here that might help more people live decent lives. Sometimes I may forget to say that explicitly in my own outreach work, so thanks for the reminder, J.
Taboo. Strictly speaking, a taboo topics are such that it touch on the human spirit and soul, and trigger basic instincts. By doing just that, taboo topics give rise to irrational reactions, and what is more, intellectual dismay. Socially, culturally, and psychologically, this is the reason why taboo topics are best not mentioned in public.
Now, the main reason why the mathematics of population explosion is a taboo field of study and interest, is plainly and simply that the problem of allowing for no more than two child-births per woman, actually touches on the most basic rights of the person. The idea that a woman should not give birth to more than two children in a lifetime, simply because the birth of three children per woman (in this modern world of vaccines and medicines and longevity of life) leads inevitably to population explosion, has its downside as we start pondering about God the Creator, who gave every normal woman the option of giving birth more than 15 times in a lifetime, at her own will and simple matter! Anyone who is saying that this kind of procreative behaviour is really not adviseable or even unsustainable ought to have his head checked, and his penis cut off. And hey: I’m not joking here. I know far too well about the anatomy of taboo topics. My destiny is such that almost every goddamn problem I am examining in my spare time invariably turns out to be taboo topics of sorts. I’m paying the social, cultural and political price for that, every waking hour of the day. I’m not joking.
Just a quick note that I’ve added some links to the article that didn’t appear when it posted last night. No change of substance; I just decided to beef it up a bit.
I hear you, but want to point out that there are definitely writers on the population topic who argue that countries like the US have the worst population problem in the world. Example:
Malthus said some things which sound horrible today, though they are sometimes probably misinterpreted as well:
But I don’t see any of today’s serious writers who address population (e.g., Bartlett, Diamond, Smail, Ehrlich, Meyerson, McKee, Brown, etc.) saying horrible things.
Population needs to come down in nearly all countries. Most countries, even developing countries, have passed their national carrying capacities (See the Footprint Network data) and have footprints above the average global sustainable level. Also, the economies of some major developing countries with very large populations are growing extremely fast, putting them on a collision course with ecological limits. Sure, there needs to be a particular focus on developed countries. But my view is that no one gets left out.
[EDIT:] Let me just add that while we can list a few environmental writers who do talk about population, they are a tiny minority. Go over to Grist and see how many of their writers cover it. Look at the environmental articles on Alternet or Common Dreams to see what percentage cover population. Try the environmental sections of the British papers – since they have environmental sections while the major US papers don’t. Or look over the websites of the major environmental groups to see how prominently they feature population if they feature it at all. The Sierra Club is known largely to avoid it, a group like NRDC avoids it almost completely as do almost all the mainstream groups. To find an environmentalist who doesn’t avoid it, you have to look to a very few authors, or to less-than-mainstream groups such as the Rewilding Institute, whose head, Dave Foreman does get it.
Thanks. It seems to be a never ending struggle. (I sometimes wonder if I should just have a canned disclaimer of the sort you mention, and paste it at the start of every mention of population. ) Sure there are people who coopt the population topic for reprehensible purposes. But that happens with all sorts of topics. My contention is just that we need to start with intellectual honesty. Without it, we’re sunk because we’ll avoid issues which, if not addressed forthrightly, could spell the end of us.
As I mentioned in a comment on Trinifar, we can face population honestly and address issues of social justice. We needn’t engage in either/or thinking.
Magne, knowledge can feel like a burden to me, too, sometimes. I like to think that if the load seems especially heavy, then perhaps it’s because the strongest people carry the biggest share of it.
Does that work for you? It works for me. 😉
John, regarding a standard disclaimer:
Well, why not? You could create a WordPress page and link to it.
I’ve pondered something like that for SustainabilitySoutheast.org. The main reason it’s not done already is that I’m a slow writer who is easily distracted.
It’s a helluva mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. I think you’re right about the nature of taboo topics. But then the population topic was less taboo back in the ’70s when, for instance, Paul Ehrlich was on the Tonight Show (big late night talk show in the US) something like 20 times. What pushed it into more taboo territory seems to be a complex mix of world events and political wrangling. Here’s one quick take (PDF) on that:
But I do think that’s been changing some in recent times. 🙂
[Admin note: I had refrained from linking to the Monbiot article prior to Paul’s comment. Subsequently, I changed my mind about that.]
I’m a bit burned out today from debuting a new talk last night ( http://www.paulchefurka.ca/ConvergingCrisis.pdf ) but I wanted to add a pointer to some seriously disturbed maunderings on this topic by George Monbiot:
I think Monbiot misses a crucial perspective on the population debate,which IMO is this: The problem the third world has is that the impacts of the resource constraints (food, water and energy) that are already bedeviling them will render insignificant any intervention, humane or otherwise. This isn’t a racist or eugenic position statement, it’s a statement of cold fact.
The present and future problem is not that third world population is putting pressure on world resources, but that decline of world resources is putting pressure on their population.
I’m still trying to work out a good way to express this, but it’s something like, “We are a problem; they have a problem.”
Sigh. Does anyone have a good way of previewing (even in another app) to catch tag problems?
[Admin note: fixed it]
I have to confess it was actually the Monbiot article which prompted my post. (I added the link a while ago.) You add another big point. I was just miffed at his way of dismissing population by comparing it to economic growth as though they’re comparable measures when in fact the latter is one of the drivers of the former.
Thank you. But you know what: the spiritual side of this world overpopulation, sustainability and social justice drama is very tough indeed. I just can’t take it anymore. As it turns out, all I want is to be honest about a lot of stuff that has much to do with the death of rationality. In my opinion, most of the problems faced in the world today, are of a more emotional or even spiritual origin. I’m personally losing out on every possible front, and I can only accept it as a matter of tough luck and ill fate. I can also make the claim that a many of the things that have happened to me over the past few years, have been unfair. Not that people care. Not that society gives a damn. And as we’re approaching the end of all possible gathering of scientific facts, proofs, and evidence, we are still going to see that Might Makes Right. I know this a little too well, I guess.
Great post, great comments.
Breaking all the taboos: population growth is not the problem. The problem is that population, just like per capita consumption, is not declining.
Yes, I’m being coy but I hope in a good way. 🙂
Can you identify any region with more than a million people in which those people and the environment which sustains them would not be better off with a lower population density? We can find many such regions that would be better off with higher per capita consumption if the population density was lower.
Lower population is the key to better life for all people everywhere and it needs to occur in conjunction with a vast increase in human rights and welfare. Now that’s one hard problem to crack.
My rather obvious point is that speaking in such frank terms as these — which I think are quite true, honest, factual, supportable, compassionate, etc. — must come with the types of disclaimers referred to above. Otherwise, no one will listen or the point of the discussion will be sidetracked. We’ve come quite a way to get people to think even a little about personal consumption growth as a problem (and that job isn’t done, so I don’t mind if Diamond et al. beat that drum a little more). We have much farther to go to get population decline to be seen as benefitial, but go there we must.
Zero Population Growth (ZPG) changed it’s name to the Population Connection to avoid negative connotations. I’m not sure if that was wise or cowardly, but even ZPG is only a temporary goal on the way to negative growth.
I see no way forward that doesn’t tie population and consumption decline very directly and forcefully to the extention of human rights and enhancement of human welfare.
… ever the radical egalitarian.
You see: this is the thing that I’ve got a hard time trying to swallow. “Population explosion” was a term that I’d already picked up at the age of ten. I know, very well, that back in the 1970s it was a topic for serious policy making measures. Like in China. Their one child policy did not arrive from out of nowhere!
Now, I believe you’re absolutely right about the reason why it has, as of today, become more of a taboo topic than it used to be thirty years ago. It has somehow ended up inside “a complex mix of world events and political wrangling.” I believe it has a lot to do with that relatively new scientific term of MANMADE climate change. Back in the 1980s scientists, politicians, and journalists alike used to discuss “the enhanced greenhouse effect” and “the acid rain” — while today, we’re making use of (and getting used to) more sinister terms, like “global warming” and “manmade climate change.” This change of language — especially the manmade bit, is making it much easier for us to link environmental problems with population explosion and overpopulation issues at a long range of other scales. As far as I can understand, there can actually be nothing scarier than the idea or notion that something which is manmade is indeed very destructive and scary.
Now, on another note. I’m not going to diminish my own contribution to the philosophical crisis we’re stuck inside, as for now. In May 2004, I had two essays published at the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique Norwegian web site. These were two very angry essays about the state of the world as I saw it, with a climate crisis, with a war against the metaphor of terror going on, while no attention what-so-ever was afforded to the half-mad reproduction activities of mankind. It took me about three minutes to prove to the readers of Le Monde Diplomatique’s web site, that three childbirths per woman is all that is needed in order to ensure continued population explosion to happen in this worldm, while two childbirths per woman equals a hope for a stabilization of the world’s population at about 9 billion souls by the year 2050.
The thing is: noone had ever spelt it out in this fashion ever before, and I quickly got to hear that the articles had made some impact around the world, as so many people had been linked to the web site. They had created some sort of a social storm, I guess.
After two or three weeks, the two essays were cencored out of the internet realms. I travelled to my native North Norway for the summer, wrote twelve essays on the civilization crisis I was sensing so strongly, then returned to Oslo only to find that the Club of Rome had issued a new question to this world, which was “Limits to Ignorance: The Challenge of Informed Humanity.”
I wrote a thirteen-page response to this question, and all I can say about that is that my diplomatic skills are non-existent. It was probably the angriest zarking essay any of the international political elite members of the Club of Rome had ever encountered. As a result of all this, and also as a result of more spiritual events, I found myself in that tricky situation of being excommunicated from all social circles in the country. To my astonishment and anger, I also discovered that I was under constant police and military intelligence surveillance. So that was just how interesting my pieces of philosophic and artistic work really was, I thought, and just lost it. As for today, I’m sorry about many things, but I know a thing which is important in every way: I TRIED. 💡
Yes, I tried. And I failed. I failed miserably. Time and time again.
And I realized that I could not become a social scientist or scholar, and I could not become an author of prose and plays. So, in summarizing my life so far, I have managed to become what feels like this country’s biggest secret. I have also become one seriously troubled nut case.
As a matter of fact, right now, I feel like sending Denis Diderot (1713 – 74) my regards. A passage of his play “Paradox of The Actor” (1770) gives me a little bit of solace. Diderot reflects on how he could possibly assemble all that hate around himself and his person, and concludes, as simple as this: “I was one of the Philosophes.”
I find Magne’s posts make the most sense to me, and I do not think it is a co-incidence that they also sound the most anguished:
“… allowing for no more than two child-births per woman actually touches on the most basic rights of the person. … the birth of three children per woman … leads inevitably to population explosion … Anyone who is saying that … ought to have his head checked, and his penis cut off.”
There is anguish in facing the chronic political problems inherent in the nature of life.
Consumption of resources is based on the abilities of different people to act as robbers in their environment.
The people whose ancestors were the best at being robbers tend to be wealthy, and the world’s systems are set up to enable them to rob more, while the people whose ancestors tended to be robbed in the past are now poor, and the systems are set up to continue to allow them to be robbed more.
At the same time, the way things are working is that women with access to education and opportunities tend to have less children, while the women who do not have more children.
Thus, the truism of fewer richer people and more poorer people.
That seems obviously headed towards unsustainable breakdowns,
of one kind or another, sooner or later.
The acute anguish comes from the fact that all of the old-fashioned solutions to chronic political problems have become insane, while talking about new solutions always breaches taboos.
The old-fashioned solutions are for people to fight for resources. The winners survive, and the losers perish. In that context, the more children, the better, since it builds a bigger army.
However, we now have weapons that are billions and trillions of times more powerful than ever in the past, that make it possible to kill millions and billions of people. Having a big army means nothing against weapons of mass destruction. Everybody dies but those who could hide in shelters. Nobody wins. Everybody loses. All of the previous social habits regarding how to survive have therefore become insane. However, inertia keeps those habits going, controlling the ways people think, and what they regard as taboo topics,
Our abilities to engage in robbery, including the ultimate form of robbery, which is killing, need to find far more intelligent ways to be expressed.
All of the past triumphs of the way that robbery and killing used to work to ensure survival are not going to work in the future.
The consumption and population equations are about rates of robbery and killing.
The multiplier effects in those equations are about how robberies and killings work to re-enforce each other.
The THEORY of what we should do is develop better artificial selection to internalize natural selection.
We should relocate the locus of death control from being between men trying to kill each other, so that the survivors can rob more, to women not reproducing too much, so that our species could rob just enough to sustain our survival.
The problem is that all of our social habits are based on the history of what used to work to survive, and that includes all of the taboo topics in society.
Effective population control must necessarily be new age warfare. The real peace treaties should be agreements about how many children women will have in different groups.
The breakdown of those peace treaties would mean we went back to the old-fashioned kinds of warfare, which we should not do, because our weapons of mass destruction would mean everyone would lose.
All of the so-called “peace treaties” bandied about in the world today are frauds.
They are deliberately not addressing the key issues of human and industrial ecology.
New age warfare should be the rational interference of some people in the lives of other people.
Precisely what it ought to be is an attack on the rights of women to have children.
There is no right without a remedy. There is no freedom without a force.
New age warfare should exist because there are chronic political problems inherent in the nature of life, and old-fashioned forms of warfare are no longer going to work to resolve those problems.
We do not need more love, what we need is more intelligent ways to hate.
Population control is really a form of death control. Population control should be seen as a form of war, and should be seen in the overall context of robbing resources.
The population and consumption equations should be seen in those real contexts.
The oversimplified situation is that women who have less than two children are committing suicide, while women who have more than two children are declaring war on their neighbours.
Real peace treaties would be contracts between people about how much they were going to rob, especially including how they were going to limit their own population growth.
The alternatives are to fight in ways that everyone will lose.
I do not think we will be able to go through the political miracles necessary for people to face the facts and come to the best mutual compromises.
If we did, then the main locus of death control would be in reproduction rates. If we did, then overall robbery rates would be brought into rational systematic balances through agreements between people that they would not rob and kill too much nor too little.
Instead, what is going to happen, which is why so many people feel so much anguish about this, is that the systems are going to go through wild swings from one extreme to the other.
Right now, we have the richest people committing suicide by reproducing too little, while they simultaneously are robbing too much by consuming too many resources. At the same time, we have the poorest people declaring war on the rich, by reproducing too much, and thereby attempting to be able to eventually rob more.
Since society is controlled by huge lies, and the people who are the biggest robbers and best killers are also the best hypocrites and liars, all of the truth about these topics is taboo.
The real alternatives to genuine peace treaties will be genocides.
Therefore, we should agree to genuine peace treaties and do what is necessary to enforce them. However, I share the general anguish that what looks far more likely than rational compromises through new age warfare is degenerations towards old-fashioned warfare going out of control and becoming unimaginably genocidal.
It is indeed the multiplier effect of robbing and killing, consumption and population, that is the total threat we are faced with.
Of course, it is not surprising that these are the most taboo social topics, and are exactly what we need to address to develop any genuine peace treaties in the future that would avoid worse fighting, that everyone would lose doing.
Blogger Brishen Hoff caught the Monbiot article too, and critiques it a little more thoroughly. (I didn’t want to spend much time on it, but there are other problems with the article.)
Also, FYI, here’s a very recent article on population at Truthout by Kelpie Wilson. It covers some anthropological observations not found in the typical article on the subject:
Magne — I’m sorry to hear of what you went through as a result of those essays. I’m surprised that would happen in your country. I just hope you’re able to find more normalcy in your life now.
Blair: “The acute anguish comes from the fact that all of the old-fashioned solutions to chronic political problems have become insane, while talking about new solutions always breaches taboos.”
Interesting. I believe you are absolutely right in what you are saying here. Then, when it comes to the weapons we’ve got today, which are “billions and trillions of times more powerful than ever in the past,” well, it’s the saddest of all things, as the weapon systems themselves really craves for our maintenance of good, old-fashioned, head-strong and potentially murderous political leadership. I mean: I can always dream of a future farewell to arms, but then again: who do I think I’m kidding?
Now, as we are facing new problems concerned with climate change and how to make people in general to start wanting to do something about it, there is always the individual or personal carbon ration or quota, as proposed by George Monbiot and David Miliband.
“Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It’s a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU’s emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.”
Now, this would be one tremendously good idea, I think. We could actually get a whole new global economic system founded on some measure of fairness. And of sharing.
But then again: who do I think I am kidding? As such a scheme would have a very big portion of old farts think about those revelatory marks on the hand and the forehead, you know. All sorts of superstitions abound here, and I’m only pointing to a system in which every individual person got a personal code and a simple carbon credit card. Such a solution would come with the potential of working wonders. But it’s all so new, so of course it must be tagged as taboo.
Thank you. Those essays were the starting point of a journey from nowhere to nowhere, I guess. I have no reason to believe that I will “find more normalcy” in my life, ever again. I have come to conclude that I’ve gone permanently insane. My only hope is that some of the people who work inside the health and welfare system recognize that the shit that keeps happening to me is too much and too bad, and that the time has finally come to start reacting on my behalf. But I don’t believe it is ever going to happen.
“For many people, obedience is a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed a potent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct.”
I believe that Stanley Milgram’s famous piece of experimental psychological work on “The Perils of Obedience” has a lot to tell us about many of the things that seem to be going wrong here. As for myself, I have come to accept as established fact that all those who work inside “the system” are ready to whatever is required of them, even when the practices and routines of “the system” requires of them to do and be downright evil. It’s driving me crazy, but I can do nothing about it. I just need to accept that this is the way it is. Like the social worker who advised me to read some of Foucault’s work told me: “we just can’t help you; the system is fascist and works to protect and preserve itself.” — So forget about all that you thoght you knew about the Scandinavian democracies. A social worker in Oslo felt like telling me the whole ugly truth about that.
“WATCH THIS ERROR”: Now, one of the little voices in my head chuckles at all this. One of the other little voices are choosing not to cry, while a third little voice is advising me to please inject a spoonful of self irony.
Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so
He brags of his misery, he likes to live
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the
Oh, how can I explain ?
It’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna they kept me up past
– BOB DYLAN: “VISIONS OF JOHANNA”
As taboo topics are de rigeur on this post, here is another one!!
As an economics-layperson, I could never understand why, if goods and services were sought to be moved freely across the world, could not humans do the same as and where they could find work to do.
Very often, migration barriers have been instituted by the ‘leaders’ of populations that have themselves migrated to lands on other continents or profited explicitly by the appropriation of resources from lands abroad.
In earlier times, there was hardly any proscription of human migration; people would travel large intercontinental distances across Asia, Europe and Africa – at least North Africa – to sell their wares, their employ or to even settle down where their services were required.
Magne has already brought up property rights on an earlier post and George has brought up sapience/wisdom.
The coming crisis, I believe, is going to shred the barriers that have been humanly constucted, barriers that have actually facilitated the ballooning of this mess though that is likely to be difficult to see till the current system in place begins to unravel.
Migration of peoples all over the planet would have brought about enriching cultural cross-fertilisation that could have ensured balance rather than the tipping-over that we anticipate today.
Although right now they are taken for granted, it is going to come up for questioning how entities such as governments could appropriate and grant corporate entities the rights to drill the wells, gouge out the earth, dam the waters, etc.
The so-called ‘nobles’ of a few centuries ago similarly held sway upon their lands granted them by the king/emperor while the ‘peasants’ hovered upon the fringes of the estates to subsist on whatever morsels were thrown to them. Eventually, that ‘system’ had to break down due to its own internal inconsistencies.
I am afraid that the time is fast approaching, for the current ‘system’ too, to face the consequences of the artificial barriers it has constructed and maintained across the planet.
Any attempt at facing this crisis is going to, necessarily, require the facing of those very basic questions that we have been avoiding to do for too long a time now.
Personally, I do not think that those questions are yet being asked but one waits in the expectation that our own doings, of the past and of the present, shall force us to do so sooner than later.
Monbiet really doesn’t get it. Depressing.
On the other hand, there was an excellent piece in our local paper last week about the lack of discussion of the population issue (as it relates to the environment) amongst the political classes. http://www.madison.com/tct/opinion/column/zaleski/269259
I have only just read your referring to spirituality. I think that you are spot on and these are the questions that, as I have indicated above, I am waiting for the unravelling of the current system to force us to face up to.
… b: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs
1 : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
2 : aware
3 : finely sensitive in perception or feeling
First of all, let me just steal the little time that is needed in order to make a short announcement.
While I know, within myself (my brain, my soul, my heart, my spirit, my everything, except that which has anything to do with my personal and interpersonal sociability, which is non-existent; ie.: I don’t have many people to talk to, and those that I do talk to tend to misinterpret everything I say or figure that Magne Karlsen is hallucinating and being seriously delusional not only once in a while, but all the funkadelic time. People who do not know me, but know a lot of shadowy things about me, treats me like the living incarnation of pure evil. There is nothing I can do about that. I mean: as soon as people have taken their time to making their minds up, they tend to be steadfast about their sentient orientation.
Now, as fate has it laid out for me, I can only say that I am cursed, and that there really is no more than one remaining event in my life; and it would have to be my moment of death. The cruel truth is: I have lost my entire family. They all “know” that I am totally lost to this world and that I am totally out of psychological, spiritual and bodily repair — now, that’s it and that’s that. It is a good day to die.
“The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father. The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.
We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care. His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.”
As the story goes: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. — And nothing, well that’s all Bobby left me.”
One more thing. As I’m never going to forget about the said importance of showing every sign of self irony. I might even live for another 30 years, you know, ’cause as it happens: noone knows of the day and the hour.
“No escape from the mass mind rape. Play it again jack and then rewind the tape. Play it again and again and again. Until ya mind gets locked in. Believin’ all the lies that they’re tellin’ ya. Buying all the products that they’re sellin’ ya. They say jump. Ya say how high. Ya brain dead. Ya got a fuckin’ bullet in ya head.”
Hmmm. I think I’ve said this before: I’ve got my head filled up with little voices. I can only admit that Zack De La Rocha’s voice takes a prominent place in there.
Well, that wasn’t the focus of my post.
But now that you bring it up for whatever reason, here are Monbiot’s words:
“By 2100, in other words, global consumption will increase by roughly 1600%. . . . So economic growth this century could be 32 times as big an environmental issue as population growth.”
So yes he does seem to think that could happen.
First, if you accept the idea that economic growth can essentially be equated with total resource consumption (As Monbiot does in his paragraph 4, second to last sentence, and as I assume you might as a staff member at CASSE), then there’s no “may” about it; he absolutely made that mistake.  It’s as simple as the bit of arithmetic I presented.
And it matters a great deal, because he used that arithmetic mistake to try to dismiss population and spread the misconception that it’s not a fundamental ecological problem. His words: “It’s an important issue, but nowhere near the top of the list.” This at a time when population has been discounted and dismissed to the bottom of the heap despite being one of the key elements in ecological degradation. He didn’t even acknowledge that population growth is one of the two drivers of total consumption (which he equates with economic growth!); he just used the article to dismiss the importance of population, a topic on which he’s virtually never written.
Of course we have to address both population and per capita consumption. I’ve always said as much.
Monbiot, in his article, tries hard to de-emphasize population.
I spend more time on population than per capita consumption only because others wrongly de-emphasize it so much. I work to end that.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always talked about the problem of economic growth. Population seems to be one of its drivers, at least under some circumstances. But I don’t think we have evidence to say that causal link goes perfectly two ways. We can’t say economic growth is the sole (or even a major) driver of population growth. (In fact, some analysts contend the opposite in terms of certain stages of the demographic transition.)
So we can’t say that if we were to stop economic growth we would stop global population growth. We’d likely influence it in some way, but would not stop it unless our route to stopping economic growth were, in part, directly through the avenue of stopping population growth. And in that case, we’d better not be de-emphasizing the importance of population.
Monbiot’s article was, I suspect, an effort to rationalize his avoidance of the population topic. There is a serious problem with environmental writers doing that and I don’t think we should excuse it just because they do identify another problem correctly — even if that other problem is one close to our own hearts.
 One might separate population growth and economic growth to some degree, but would still be left with the equation, total consumption = pop size * per capita consumption, in which case it remains flatly wrong to say population is “nowhere near the top of the list.”
Interesting, but I didn’t read Monbiot that way, at all.
I don’t think he’s assuming the economy can grow 16-fold by 2100. He’s saying that based on the claims of economists that the economy will grow by 3% each year (it is the economist’s hope that it will do that today, as well) the economy will grow 16-fold.
And while Monbiot MAY have made a mistake comparing EG with one of its factors, P, it doesn’t really matter. He’s correct from the perspective that addressing economic growth is far more important than addressing JUST population.
In other words we could focus our efforts solely on population, ignoring per-capita consumption and still be worse off.
Addressing economic growth must take priority over virtually everything else precisely because it would deal with both population increase and increase in per-capita consumption, the two factors that facilitate it.
Good to hear it. 🙂
Alex — Thanks for the link. That’s a good article.
Ashit — You raise some important issues. I don’t know how they’ll play out but suspect they’ll be looming larger in the coming decades.
Okay, so Rage Against The Machine is the most exquisite band name that I know of. We have a Very Big Growth Machine on our hands here, and it functions, just like Blair T. Longley here has said it repeatedly (he does that every time he leaves a comment here, so it had better be terribly important to him to get this message across for the others to digest, understand and ponder about), as a big lie factory: “Society is controlled by huge lies, and the people who are the biggest robbers and best killers are also the best hypocrites and liars, all of the truth about these topics is taboo.”
I need all of you people to understand that I am only expanding on the rather harsh discussions that have taken place on this forum since the UN climate change conference in Bali, and especially since Ken Whitehead’s essay “Sowing the seeds of a future society” appeared on this blog. I can feel that the general impression of the state of affairs on this planet is quickly growing grimmer and grimmer. I believe it has a lot to do with the sorry outcome of the Bali Conference, and I can easily sense that there is something going on in the blogosphere of ours, as we speak. I see that more and more people are becoming ever more disillusioned with the future of this planet, and I see that on all sorts of forums. Of course we are up against a spiritual drama of the most complex nature: human nature, that is, and not the nature of dolphins.
Now, in order to say anything useful about the spiritual sides of the questions that threatens to drive us all mad here, it is very important to understand that the ruling class of our societies knows about everything that we do. We are not talking about stupid, ignorant people here. Not at all. We are talking about people and stratas of people who are quite cunning. They know very well what they are doing. They know that the immediate future of this planet is in the rough. They even know that we are all trapped on this planet, and that there can be no magical escape from the proposed destiny of the species (again: let me refer briefly to the discussions that took place in Ken Whitehead’s “Sowing the seeds of a future society” thread).
I don’t know how to do this, but do it I must. It is very important that people come to terms with the fact that we’re in deep shit if we do not find a remedy to all the poison that is routinely injected into our brains by television companies from all over the world. I mean: we’re actually about to amuse ourselves to death here. It reminds me of a thing that Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wrote: “Here we are now, entertain us.”
While the world is like a kettle which humanity has placed on the stove for boiling, the entire media jungle of this world is, all of a sudden and at this moment in time, in the midst of a Britney Spears frenzy which can only go as evidence of madness on the part of the extremely powerful media groups of this world. I mean: the general media picture of our times is seriously beyond belief.
Blair: “The acute anguish comes from the fact that all of the old-fashioned solutions to chronic political problems have become insane, while talking about new solutions always breaches taboos.”
This is the thing that bugs me. The politics of our times have become insane. The political leaders of this world has turned superstitious. Frankly speaking, I really came to understood that back in 2004, when the American election was sold to the public as “The Armageddon Election.”
And as concerns ordinary people, there is no way anyone can say that there is not a 2012 psychosis in the making here. The final ending point of the Maya calendar is threatening to make a whole lot of otherwise intelligent and level-headed people start to panic.
Al Gore and the IPPC are talking about a window of opportunity which lasts until 2016. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals are supposed to be met by 2015. All the while people are having nightmare dreams about what might happen in 2012, and the point is: if we can’t come up with a remedy to all sorts of spiritual problems, we are going to find that a golden opportunity seriously got lost.
I mean: there’s such a lot of blogs around the net that starts out with the assumption that there is a real need to SAVE THE WORLD. Which means that spiritually speaking, in the heart and soul of people like you and me, there is always a chance that a general realization of impending doom is actually taking place; a general realization that come what may, there is always the chance that the actual saving of the planet would be a foolish undertaking, as the environmental destruction and ecological degradation has already gone too far. I’m thinking about the general impression that we should have to start leading the lives of nineteenth century red indians in order to fix it all, and that would certainly be too much. So we could equally vote against the idea of taking any climate change mitigating steps at all. As it would all be too little too late, anyway.
Am I rambling here?
– — 😳
Magne: The politics of our times have become insane.
It seems so, but have politics ever been sane?
I think what’s different today is we have a new set of issues — global issues — that are more dramatic that anything we’ve faced before. If the response to that as seen through the lens of the media didn’t look rather crazy, I’d be shocked. Focusing on one bit at a time, I think you can find a lot of rational behavior.
[I think most of us allow ourselves to be innundated with a barrage of competing views, sucking up information from a wide variety of sources, and in doing so it’s quite easy to conclude humanity is just completely screwed up. These days I don’t try to drink from that firehose very often. It’s just too painful.
I don’t think we (humans) have ever been much different than we are now. Today, though, we have newspapers, books, radio, TV, and the Internet to continually stimulate our minds — and most of us don’t take any “media downtime.” It’s funny, in a sad way, how for many people downtime is watching TV or reading a novel (just a different kind of input!) and never consider just sitting quietly (meditation) or taking a walk alone (yet another form of meditation). I’ve gone through periods where the silence was scarier than the noise, but those times were the result of personal strife. I do love the feeling of centerness that comes from regular unplugging from all media.]
Perhaps all of you will be permit me to sharply, but ever so slightly, disagree with Magne when he suggests that we are on a journey “from nowhere to nowhere, I guess.”
As an alternative, let me present this certain journey of ours in a different way: from nowhere to NOW HERE, I suppose.
John, Magne, Trinifar,
I am very glad that words such as ‘spirituality’ and ‘mediatation’ are cropping up here!!
For me, it is the increasing moving away from true understanding and wisdom of what sentient ‘existence’ is all about that has culminated in our ‘situation’ today.
SO, any hope of turning back the degradation shall have to necessarily address the most important issue of values based on various world-views.
Of course, currently, such talk is likely to be thought of as too fuzzy-wuzzy by the dynamic interpreters and implementers of the current paradigm of GDP-measurement et al.
It will take the onset of impending collapse to make sizeable numbers of humans to even consider these most fundamental concerns.
Magne, no need to feel so despairing. The ‘drama’ has to play itself out. Meditation can indeed maintain the internal equipoise of anyone so keenly sensitive to our predicament.
My comment above is also addressed to you. I take it that by ‘NOW HERE’ you are pointing towards living in the present moment as opposed to the deemed FUTURE VALUE (FV) that one reads in ECON 101.
Another more comprehensive critique of the Monbiot piece, hitting a number of important points, is here:
Monbiot is the global beacon of Greendom. His column of the 29th will give succour to those in the environmental movement (almost everyone) who ignore the “P” in the Ehrlich/Commoner IPAT formula. Monbiot has set the cause back years. Unless. Unless a guy like John Feeney who has an “in” with the British press does the following: Establish himself as a central clearing house of the many caustic and insightful criticisms of Monbiot’s position and then consolidates them into an edited book entitled “Contre Monbiot: His Population Fallacy Rebutted”. I would be happy to send along what I have. Monbiot needs to be taken down on this one.
Monbiot points to two facts which I think we all accept:
(1) population growth is way below 3%/yr and slowing down
(2) consumption growth isn’t
I’ll add a third:
(3) most people are not very aware of the seriousness of either population or consumption growth.
In light of (3) I can’t see beating him up for focusing on (2). Also I take his math examples as purely illustrative, not definitive. 3% annual consumption growth is a 24-year doubling time, that’s frightful, much higher than population growth in all but a few (or none?) of the world’s countries.
He says explicity: Stabilising or even reducing the human population would ameliorate almost all environmental impacts.
That’s pretty clear.
After some thought, I completely agree with his last line: But to suggest, as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich.
The focus is right, in my opinion. It’s the excesses of the rich which are largely to blame for the crisis. He’s taking the developed countries to task because our enormous per capita consumption even with little or no population growth far exceeds the damage done by poor countries with high population growth. As the Brits would say, spot on.
From a post I’m writing:
The population growth issue needs to be factored. It’s not one big issue but rather two (or more). Rich countries need to reduce population — a very hard sell, but true — because of how far they exceed fair and reasonable levels of consumption (tragedy of the commons). Poor countries have a different problem. Their high population growth rates need to come down quickly — even before they go through demographic transition — in order for them to get to a level of consumption that can satisfy basic needs for all. In the first case it’s about learning not to steal from the commons, in the second it’s in order to get the poor a fair share. Thing is, if the rich don’t stop stealing more than their fair share, the poor don’t have a hope of getting theirs.
Under the best of conditions, it will be decades before the rich countries reduce their population significantly, but they can reduce excessive consumption in a heartbeat. (You can’t encourage people to die; but you can take away their toys with a high carbon tax.) While I wish he expressed himself in the terms I used above, Monbiot’s tacking in the right direction.
[I’ve made several minor additions to this comment prior to any response from Trinifar.]
I don’t see how you could write what you did.
First let me say again, Monbiot’s article was clearly an effort to dismiss the importance of population and justify his avoiding it. He said,
“It’s an important issue, but nowhere near the top of the list.”
If one accepts that total consumption = population size * per capita consumption, then that assertion is patently false.
Are you talking about the growth of total consumption as he is? The comparison isn’t valid. That was the central focus of my post.
The rate of population growth is slowing. I don’t know the exact status of the growth of per capita resource consumption as a whole. With regard to some resources it may be speeding up, though with regard to some it’s not. And generally it’s run close to population as a contributor to total consumption. I detailed that here.
What comfort is there in a slowing of population growth when we’re long past being in overshoot and are presented with projections of adding the equivalent of the global population of 1950 to the earth in the next 40 years? You think that justifies discounting the importance of the population issue?
To try a refinement of an analogy I tried on you recently: If a bullet is 10 feet from your head, traveling toward you at 1300/fps, is it some comfort that it may have decelerated from 1500/fps?
Once we went into overshoot, the gun had been fired. Now it’s a desperate attempt to avert being hit.
I’m baffled by your comment. The reason to do so is because he went out of his way to minimize the importance of population!
Talk about the importance of per capita consumption. That’s great. But it’s not great if you do so by spreading the myth that population is “nowhere near the top of the list.”
As well, given that 98% of environmental (and other) writers talk constantly about per capita consumption while ignoring population, I’d venture people are more aware these days of the per capita consumption problem than of the population problem.
He says flat out, “By 2100, in other words, global consumption will increase by roughly 1600%. . . . this means that in the 21st Century we will have used 16 times as many economic resources as human beings have consumed since we came down from the trees. . . . So economic growth this century could be 32 times as big an environmental issue as population growth.”
And his math example of comparing population growth with economic growth is just plain deceptive and invalid.
Yes, he just means it would make things better. He could have said the same of any trivial but legitimate problem.
First, when people (e.g., his correspondents) in developed countries complain about population, they’re as often as not talking about what they see in their own countries. More importantly, when many of us talk about “population growth,” we mean “population size and growth.” Pointing to population, then, in no way lets rich countries off the hook. Their population size needs to come down just as is the case with nearly all other countries. We’re already deeply into overshoot and no amount of per capita consumption reduction possible in the real world is going to be enough, alone, to undo that. So any rational talk of population growth has to refer to present size as much as anything else.
I would add that there need be no “blaming” of anyone. People are people. The blame lies in various structures of civilization. This “you’re blaming the poor” idea is, IMO, a propagandistic tactic to avoid the issue.
Also, some major developing countries with very large populations are rising fast economically and so rising fast in per person consumption. In a world already in overshoot, that makes population growth there a very serious problem. Fortunately the best ways of solving it are desired by the people of those countries and are nothing but helpful to them.
Moreover — and the importance of this cannot be overstated — pure numbers, independent of things we usually think of as consumption, are a huge problem for biodiversity. I’m not blaming the poor there; Hell, it’s arguably the policies of the rich which have promoted population growth in poor countries, some of which are the locations of great biodiversity. I’m just stating a fact, a fact which applies to the US and many poor countries alike.
I agree with the passage from your post which doesn’t seem to agree with everything which came before it in your comment:
I don’t think you’re blaming the poor there so how is Monbiot’s assertion spot on?
There I suspect Monbiot would say you’re blaming the poor. I know that’s nonsense, but you just said he was right about blaming the poor. What then am I supposed to make of your statement?
I don’t know how to say it; that would make very good ammo for the population deniers. It makes it sound easier to reduce consumption than it is. (See Fred Myerson’s essay here titled, “Population growth is easier to manage than per-capita emissions.”) We won’t make any huge change in consumption overnight. And you don’t have to encourage people to die to reduce population growth; you can encourage the births of fewer people.
Obviously, since we can’t make massive changes in population very fast, for humanity’s long term wellbeing we need to start ASAP. That’s what we should be encouraging, rather than brushing it off as “nowhere near the top of the list” or as paling in comparison to economic growth (as did the title of the article everywhere but his own site), an element to which its comparison is invalid.
Trinifar, I just don’t get what you’re doing here. His article will be used now as fuel by all those who want to claim population isn’t a problem. It’s already being used that way. It’s the same problem we went around with regarding the Diamond article which is now being used as ammo by those who want to claim “consumption, not population, is the problem.” First, population is a driver of total consumption. Second, the problem is 100% both population and per capita consumption, and these dismissals of population are inexcusable. Monbiot’s is the most egregious. He’s tacking in precisely the wrong direction by rationalizing his avoidance of the population topic.
I hated writing the post above because I like the person I’ve seen in a video or two of Monbiot and figured the post, if he happened to see it, would probably alienate him. But I cannot in good conscience support his article and must in good conscience rebut it. It will indeed be a setback to the environmental cause, as Tim Murray suggests, in its negation of the importance of population. Dismissals of the importance of population have the potential to go down as one of the most destructive instances of intellectual dishonesty in history.
So why, in your first comment, did you say, “Great post.” Evidently you completely disagree with it. My head is spinning.
Great coverage and nice blog, thanks! It is disheartening to see opinion leaders like Monbiot, who commands great respect amongst environmentalists over here in the UK and Ireland, come to address the population issue in such a confused and misleading way.
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You understand me well enough. Economics as it is currently ‘practiced’ is no help to us.
Trinifar: “I think what’s different today is we have a new set of issues — global issues — that are more dramatic that anything we’ve faced before. If the response to that as seen through the lens of the media didn’t look rather crazy, I’d be shocked.”
Never before in the history of mankind has the species been lumped together as a functional (or dysfunctional) whole that is faced with the same global problem. The closest point I can think of in order to illustrating the common crisis we are faced with here, as a species, must be the advent of nuclear warheads: a development that caused a lot of fear on the part of the human spirit. But I think the emotional and spiritual reactions to the current threats of global warming and manmade climate change are even worse than the reactions to the nuclear war threat. It’s like: if the whole of mankind was ever going to have to meet up with one version of God or another, it would have to happen like it does right now, as Mother Nature herself seems to be turning against us.
Now, it should actually go without saying — as a matter of commonsense — that the problems of global warming and climate change shall have to be solved on a global level, and that it is going to prove extremely difficult to find solutions to this crisis under the lisence of nation states. But as it happens it is like Blair T. Longley is saying, that every possible solution to our common problems are bound to be greeted as parts of a large taboo area which seems only to be growing in size. Any political or humanistic thinker who SERIOUSLY questions the wisdom of protecting national and private interest in this time and age, will soon (as judged by social elites) become something like an intellectual villain.
Thinking along the lines of the deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, what people consistently fail to understand is that the nation state is an abstract entity. The nation state exists only in as much as borders are written into the map as dotted lines. All the while, the Earth itself can never be seen as an abstract entity. The Earth is real. The Earth is an object you can touch. — But the nation state is nothing more than a historical fact; often a result of diplomacy and war.
Trinifar: “Focusing on one bit at a time, I think you can find a lot of rational behavior.”
Right now, I must say it is very difficult to even look for any evidence of rational behaviour. As I can see how people around me are experiencing strong neuro-psychological reactions, and I can hear how they actively don’t talk about anything that might have anything to do with the state of the environment. In my native North Norway, the environment itself seems to have become a taboo topic.
Steve: “… let me present this certain journey of ours in a different way: from nowhere to NOW HERE, I suppose.”
It’s like me thinking along the lines of moving on from a nuclear age to a NEW CLEAR AGE. — One in which nuclear power had not a thing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but rather was one of the best sources of non-fossil energy available to mankind. We’re definitely not there.
Ashit: “Magne, no need to feel so despairing. The ‘drama’ has to play itself out. Meditation can indeed maintain the internal equipoise of anyone so keenly sensitive to our predicament.”
I’m despairing on the part of my own personal predicament. As for the future of mankind, I’m definitely not among the worst propagandists of impending disaster. I think, with time, people are going to “get over it”, and actually stop doing all the things that they ought not to be doing, and start doing more of what they should have done for centuries already. That is: taking good care of this planet’s ecosystems and not destroying them in the methodical and systematic manner as it is being done today.
As for my personal future, the answer, I believe, is “No.”
I’m actually confused by these arguments.
First, why the either/or stance? John is, I think, correct to point out that the problem is some combination of population and consumption rate growth. Both levels and growth rate accelerations are relevant to the math.
But I’m also confused by the use of a linear combination. I would have thought it clear that the interplay between population (size and growth rate) and consumption (per capita average amount and growth rate) involves complex positive feedbacks (and possibly, though not really well understood negative feedbacks) that create a non-linear combination.
Maybe John, you were trying to keep the math simple to illustrate a point, but it seems to me the best argument for why we need to address both consumption AND population together is that they are interrelated in these complex ways.
Of course we need to keep in mind the relevant time scales for rates of change in either of these two factors.
Personally I would think that what could be done quickly to start mitigation of our total set of global problems would be for the western world to immediately reduce their consumption rates through a combination of achievable efficiency increases, conservation, and the three Rs, followed by abandonment of entertainment and luxury consumption. My favorite kicking boy these days is the flat-panel, wide-screen, wall-mount TV with 2000 channels. It and things like the Superbowl excesses are icons of the misplaced values of American consumers.
However, in the slightly longer-run we need to be mitigating population problems world-wide. First we need to drastically reduce the rate of population growth in developing countries. It is not really the case that consumption in developed countries do more damage than that in developing countries. It is a different kind of damage, and it interacts (again the real complexity) with damage caused by developed countries removing underground natural resources. But above ground increasing population sizes diminish soil fertility, water supplies, and woodlands at astonishing rates. These kinds of immediate ecological impacts are what has caused collapses in pre-industrial and pre-historical communities (the kind Diamond has written about).
But I also think we cannot ignore the population sizes in the developed world. The evidence to-date strongly suggests that a population of 6.5+ billion is already as much as three times larger than the planet can sustain over the long haul. In the end it really does boil down to carrying capacity of the natural systems and a balance between human needs and what nature can sustain. We have no control over those global systems (and I seriously hope we don’t make the mistake of geoengineering without knowing what we are doing – experiment on Mars someday, maybe, but not here!). So we must find the balance between human and all other natural systems usage rates.
My main concern is that we begin to understand the problems as systemic and hence non-linear, complex, and not mere linear combinations. If we do, I believe these kinds of to-and-fros will give way to a beginning of solution finding.
I agree, George. And I’m confused and baffled by this argument myself.
Yes, I’m simplifying when I write that total consumption = pop size x average per capita consumption. That’s an accepted simplification, first published (AFAIK) by John Holdren in 1991. It’s explained and referenced here. It’s a basically a simplification of the I=PAT equation he and Ehrlich developed earlier (later elaborated on by the STIRPAT team). I use it because it’s basically valid  and can be understood by anyone. I’m always aiming at a general readership. Also, in this case it was especially applicable since the same equation is used by some to refer to economic growth which Monbiot equated in his article with total consumption.
You ask about the either/or. And I’ve been asking the same thing. I keep emphasizing that we must stop prioritizing between population and consumption as though one were clearly more important than the other. It’s not, and de-emphasizing either is a grave error. Literally! 😐
 Though it may not reveal important detail, clearly total consumption does equal population size times average per capita consumption. It’s a decent starting point and shows nicely the folly of trying to minimize either factor.
RE: – I think, with time, people are going to “get over it” …
Problem is: there’s such a lot of spiritual aspects here, that people will have to get over. I think it can only be fair to say that the current ecological crisis quite naturally make a lot of people (most people?) think along lines like these: Apocalypse, Armageddon, Inferno, and “Oh, my God!!! What have we done?!”
And that is the worst spiritually dimension to the current ecological crisis and clash of civilizations on a political level. I think it’s hardly possible not to catch oneself thinking along these lines, and I think it is important that we recognize this as one of the most fearsome obstacles to change which is available to the people who live down here, on ground level.
The other most important spiritual aspect is the fast expanding 2012 psychosis. I’ve read things on the internet, and heard people make some of the most mysterious statements as concerns the forthcoming spiritual awakening that is going to, supposedly, be a key element of something that is still unknown, and is going to happen in 2012. If anyone can understand what I mean?
Believe me: people are having spiritual problems that needs to be adressed, because the only thing they will ever make for is new obstacles to much needed social and lifestyle changes. As a matter of fact, such spiritual realizations can only make for good reasons to accept fate and do nothing in order to change it.
Just one thing: I’m deeply worried that political, financial, industrial, and military elites of our age and times are highly superstitious about things that concern the whole of humanity. I’m thinking of people and organizations of people who are all against any kind of political or economic change what-so-ever, and will be willing to do whatever it takes in order to secure business as usual and status quo. Which is not going to be difficult to them, as the population as a whole is spiritually inclined to being scared by the prospecct of any change at all.
Uh. I wish I was able to get this message across, in a manner that wasn’t so full of confusion. I’m very disoriented here, and I can only believe that there are still things waiting for me to digest and consider, and then swallow.
George: “My favorite kicking boy these days is the flat-panel, wide-screen, wall-mount TV with 2000 channels.”
— – 😆
Although I would put up my hatred of Hummers and SUVs prominently on my angry list, I totally agree with you. As for things like the Superbowl excesses, about 70% of all adult males living in Norway are diehard fans of one English football club or another. My own favourite football club has always been Liverpool F.C. — But I can only admit that my interest for a sport in which some kickers of round balls (the stars) can make more than £140.000 a week … hm … well, my interest has dwindled seriously over the past few years …
I’m glad you mentioned this. It dovetails nicely with the Jeffrey McKee book I’ve been reading. After extensive research he concluded that only addressing population growth could really help with the current mass extinction crisis. And that’s a crisis which I think is grossly underplayed by almost everyone.
It’s also true that that’s an area of “consumption” which is not well captured by the “ecological footprint” measure. It’s authors freely admit that. So the footprint of many developing countries would actually be higher if the measure did account well for that factor. (There are several other factors, too, which it doesn’t measure well. If we account for them it becomes clear that we’re deeper into overshoot than we might guess, and that consumption reduction alone is not close to being enough. But that is a topic for an article I’m working on.)
You are quite right to be confused by my two comments. The first, with the “Great post, great comments” remark — was sincerely offered and I stand by it. 🙂 I liked your writing style, your emphasis on population and consumption, and, after quickly reading Monbiot’s article (too quickly it turns out), it all seemed to hang together quite well.
It was only after following the rest of the discussion, especially Neil’s comment (which begins “Interesting, but I didn’t read Monbiot that way, at all”) that I realized I may not have read Monbiot closely enough. So I read his piece again slowly as well as some of the critiques you and others pointed to that I hadn’t read before. Seemed to me the response went too far.
So I wrote the comment which disagrees with some of your post — which I still think is a “great post” and yet (like most everything in this world) could be improved. There I alluded to the time sensitivity of the two factors with respect to a crisis tipping point as well as the fact that the rich are the drivers of pretty much everything these days. It’s all rather too succinct and clumsy so I’ll go finish the post I’m writing and see how that sits with you.
I do think you are being a bit unfair when quoting Monbiot like this:
If you look at the context of what you quote, he’s merely emphasizing if you project forward current economic estimates and the desire of governments for economic growth, then you’ll get ridiculous numbers like a 16-fold increase. He’s not saying that’s what he thinks will happen, just that we are insanely growth-oriented.
I disagree. There is no need for developed countries to have an ecologicial footprint an order of magnitude larger than others; we could converge to a much less consumption-driven lifestyle while stabilizing population at 8 billion (as in Brown’s Plan B 3.0) then begin to reduce our numbers.
But the larger point on which we agree is it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce both population and consumption. In light of the climate crises we need a large reduction in GHG emissions quickly, by 2020 by many estimates, to avoid permanent damage to the ecosystem and all the strife that would entail (like a large loss in carrying capacity). We can’t meet that short term goal with population reduction (due to latency), but we can with a reduction in consumption. This doesn’t mean population issues are not absolutely as important as you suggest and I also believe; lowering the fertility rate nearly everywhere is vital. Monbiot oversteps in minimizing population, but he says a lot that’s very sensible in that article.
This is already too long a response and not conveying what I want to say. I’ll try to get my related post up soon.
I should have added that the reality involves a dynamic system. The I=PAT formula may be a good framework to start from, but until you get the dynamics (how it works over time) and how all of the factors interrelate you will not get an accurate idea of what is happening and what should be attended to in what manner and how hard!
Here is what I mean; a simple set of relations that capture the deeper, dynamic essence of this problem.
This is a discrete time model. The little t is a time step and Δt is the step size to the next time step. Each of the factors’ values at time t+Δt are a function of the values of the other factors at the previous time step as well as of its own previous value. This is what makes the system difficult to understand in fact. Yet this is the set of equations (and a huge number of break-out equations) that must be modeled in order to really get a handle on this situation.
OK. I understand that you (John) are writing for a general audience, but I’m betting the larger audience you are actually reaching is comprised of people like yourself, and the regular commenters here. And these are the people who are going to actually work on finding solutions by deeply understanding the problem.
Just like the climate models that are used to better understand what is happening with our atmosphere as a result of CO2 emissions (as well as the ocean models) we need a world dynamic model a la Jay Forrester and Dennis & Donnela Meadows to tease out what some of these non-linearities look like and what we should expect.
What I expect will come from such a model (or a family of models) is the identification of leverage points where action can be applied with amplified effect. Non-linear systems like this are generally chaotic (which is what scares me) however, we also know that many such chaotic systems can be more easily controlled with the application of forces at the ‘right’ leverage points. The problem is that you can’t possibly know where those points are until you see the system running. And since we won’t have the convenience of seeing it running in nature without it possibly destroying our species, I’d opt to get cracking on developing the model as a best approximation.
Sorry if this is overly technical, but the reality is that life is complex and there doesn’t appear to be a way to simply intuit what should be done. The typical response is to see a problem (say dwindling oil) and rush to find solutions to that problem. Meanwhile, that situation is tugging on something else, just as problematic but unseen, that will end up making matters worse by simply solving the obvious problem. In other words, none of us really has a clue as to what we are doing overall. We have good hearts, seeing the problems and wanting to fix them, and actually trying to do something to fix them. But in the end I predict that will lead to disappointment and not much actual results. Indeed, if I am right about the chaos conjecture, then we could end up doing more harm then good. I earnestly suggest we need a comprehensive systems approach.
I don’t disagree with any of that. I’m all for systems models such as that used by Meadows et al, and agree they’ll be of great use. I don’t have the background to develop them but am eager to see the results of well developed models of that sort. I do think the STIRPAT group has made some excellent contributions as well. Well, in fact, IPAT was clearly groundbreaking itself and has taught us a great deal. I think, too, that for the purposes to which I’ve applied it even the simple consumption equation I’ve used is fine. But yes, the better the model captures reality the better, especially for the actual work of developing interventions.
You talk about the time sensitivity of population versus per capita consumption. Yet, precisely because it takes time to influence population and because it’s essential that we do so, it is just as urgent as addressing consumption to address population now. We could do a great job with per capita consumption, neglect population and face collapse not far down the road as a result of that neglect.
On Monbiot’s numbers, I’ve read and reread the article. Nowhere does he suggest he’s not saying that’s what he actually thinks may happen. He uses those numbers to say, “Look at how much bigger a factor than population economic growth is!” First, he dismisses the Optimum Population Trust’s projection of population levels that are impossible, but then, to counter the gravity of UN’s actual population projection, offers an economic projection that’s just as absurd. I keep quoting larger and larger chunks of his article to show that I’m not taking it out of context. Here, because most readers don’t click links, I’ll paste more than I’m even comfortable with in terms of fair use:
You disagree with my statement that, “We’re already deeply into overshoot and no amount of per capita consumption reduction possible in the real world is going to be enough, alone, to undo that.” You say,
Again, I’m 1000% for reducing our footprint! I can’t seem to make that clear! Of course we should do that! I said only that that would not be enough. And by talking about stabilizing at 8 billion rather than the UN’s 9.2 you’re saying the same thing. But even that convergence plus stabilization wouldn’t be enough. Here’s why:
Go to the Global Footprint Network data. There you will find that we need a maximum global footprint of 1.8 to be sustainable. That’s where we’d need to converge today under their very conservative framework which they acknowledge underestimates current overshoot. Countries that are around 1.8 include, say, Botswana.
But that’s not low enough. To account for ongoing population growth — say the same projection Monbiot used — we’d need to go 28% lower, down to 1.3, comparable to Nigeria or Guatemala. (Make it a little higher if you expect to stabilize at 8 billion, which is not going to happen, though, without tackling both per capita consumption and population, unless we get there through collapse-like scenarios.)
But that’s not low enough because of the footprint measure’s built in underestimates of overshoot and it’s other limitations. There are also problems like the fact that we’re degrading carrying capacity as long as we’re in overshoot. So once we’d get to a maximum sustainable footprint, we’d find we had to go lower still to account for the degradation we’d caused in the meantime.
There are other key considerations I’m leaving out for now because it’s the subject of an article I’ll be hoping to get published somewhere in the near-ish future. But it seems safe to say that to get out of overshoot through consumption reduction alone we’d have to converge somewhere considerably lower than 1.3, say around 0.5 or some such, comparable to some of the poorest countries in the world. And even then we’d be stuck with the mass extinction problem which, as I mentioned above, is not likely amenable to anything other than a sheer reduction in numbers. But ignoring the biodiversity issue (which would ulltimately kill us, but…) do you think it’s a real world possibility that we can converge at a level like 0.5?
Yes, of course we need the maximum possible reduction in per capita consumption ASAP. But in no way does that imply we don’t also need the maximum possible attention to population ASAP. Monbiot discounted that, and I don’t think I’m being too hard on him for it. The stakes are too high to be otherwise.
Minimizing population is the central thrust of the article. (See it’s title.) That he said some sensible things doesn’t excuse it.
George, you must be looking over my shoulder as I’m writing and hope you don’t mind if I reuse your equations and some of your words. I’m working on a “general audience” expression of the population vs consumption issues discussed here — as always, concerned about an unnecessary factionalization (?) of the environmental “lobby” for lack of a better word. (Having the Feeneys and the Monbiots on the same page produces a stronger message.)
I can’t see how that’s going to happen by overlooking his errors. It just might happen though by nudging him to correct them.
The gist of this is that he obviously minimized the importance of population. (“It’s an important issue, but nowhere near the top of the list.”) If we disagree on that, then there’s not much more I can say. It’s wrong, big time, and he should be called on it, not praised for it or defended.
[EDIT: But maybe we’ve just run into a fundamental disagreement. The more I investigate it, the more convinced I am sheer numbers are have a great importance of their own and that consumption reduction alone will never be enough (because there are limits to it). You seem to see it differently. So maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree and revisit it in a year or something.]
A perfect storm is taking shape in the form of a gigantic blast of ‘success’ called economic globalization, that can be seen as a soon to become unsustainable consequence of the selfish politics of neo-conservatism and the unbridled economics of market fundamentalism. How on Earth can the relatively small, finite planet we inhabit be expected to much longer sustain the huge scale and anticipated growth of an endlessly expanding global political economy?
The billionaires are already looking ahead with pleasure to the coming of the first trillionaire among us.
The color of the clouds on the far horizon are ominously turning from white to black. At least to me, some kind of impending ecological collapse or else calamitous economic disaster appears to loom in the offing.
Feel free to use whatever strikes your fancy. I’ll be anxious to see what you come up with.
I think that what needs to happen for John’s points (which I believe are better founded than you seem willing to grant) to be better understood is to explicate the Pt+Δt equation in the diagram. Once you start to map out the possible functional feedbacks between consumption and population and technology and population I’m betting you will find that the latter two will accelerate the former more than expected. The fact that birth rates in developed countries are down and in some cases below replacement, for example, is not the whole picture vis-a-vis population dynamics. Technology obviously affects the death rate as well as the birth rate.
Moreover, the technology piece has to be broken out into many kinds of technologies and their positive or negative directions of influence. No easy task that. The devil will be found in the details.
One of the big lacking aspects of the IPAT model is not having a unit of measure that makes a lot of sense. At least I haven’t found one. What is impact measured in? Everyone has their favorite candidate. Biodiversity, climate change (warming), etc. Personally I am working on a version in which I measure the concept of wealth in energy conversion units (not unlike the ecological economists – Daly, etc.), both for the human-built world and the natural world. My measure of impact is the change in the rate of net free energy (that available to do useful work). There is an optimal balance point at which human-consumed free energy is offset by nature-supplied free energy at a sustainable level. At that point, the I falls to zero! Of course finding it is the real issue isn’t it?
I break technology into two major sub-groups – tools, those artifacts which increase net global free energy – and toys, those artifacts which consume free energy with no increase in net. Noting that some kinds of play are necessary for mammalian mental health, not all toys are bad per se. But our cultural tendency is to increase those toys that do not just keep us mentally healthy. They simply act as diversions from reality (well maybe that is a form of mental health maintenance in an unhealthy world). In any case, that is the area I would focus cultural awareness – get rid of the unnecessary toys. The tools sector can be made more efficient, but there is a marginal improvement in most modern engines wrt: Carnot efficiency – I don’t expect many great improvements there.
Finally, you might consider another factor not often discussed in the population problem literature. That is the negative psychological effects of population density stress (I mentioned the need for diversion above). When I was an undergrad at U. Washington way back when, I developed a model of psychological stress based on information overload theory (Shannon information in case you’re wondering). I worked with simple population models of simple cognitive entities, but my ideas were born out years latter in experiments on rats and mice. Mammals start to behave aberrantly when their community density exceeds some threshold. Clearly that threshold must be high for humans, at least for the Japanese humans in Tokyo, but many psychologists have argued that much of modern mental disease can be attributed to our crowded conditions.
In my mind, that alone would suggest that we should consider reducing the population size so that there are spaces we can conveniently get to where we meet fewer people per unit time. In any case it is another dimension to the problem.
Errors or seeing the same thing through different sets of filters? Anyway, what may be a fundamental disagreement between us is not a crucial one to me, and I hope I can adequately explain why in my forthcoming post.
Don’t be too anxious. I’m not about to break any particularly novel ground. 😉 Funny thing was, I read your comment about developing IPAT as a discrete time model when I was taking a break from toying with various visual ways of conveying that very idea to a general audience.
I think your comments here are right on the money. The IPAT model is a very abstract concept and thus difficult to use for any precise purpose. Same with STIRPAT even though it may be an improvement. Systems thinking has, to my mind, not gotten enough attention but perhaps because it too is a fuzzy, abstract concept. I’m eager to learn more about your approach and the field in general. (My exposure is a little formal reading but mostly working with Gerry Weinberg applying it to organizational and personal development. At that point in Weinberg’s career he was interested in little else.)
Yes, but the question in my mind is: which one and with which “rigorous disciplined methodology”? (Or am I behind the times and there is just one?) And, as you note, there are key sociological/psychological elements which, as far as I can see, defy any accurate modeling.
To jump ahead to my underwhelming conclusion, neither John nor Monbiot nor I can prove they are right in ordering of priorities (consumption first versus consumption and population at the same time), but we can keep working on building better models to guide us in the future. In the meantime I’m very happy the Feeneys and Monbiots are out there doing what they do even with the conflicts that occur.
Is the mere juxtaposition of human overconsumption and human overpopulation as many have been doing for too long a time nothing more or less than a false dichotomy?
I agree that:
“We need a comprehensive systems approach.”
In that context:
“Spirituality is practicality on all levels.”
Natural selection was able to create human intelligence.
We are able to have DNA that can build a brain that can learn language, and cracked its own DNA code.
Thus, there is now the most awesome of potential feedbacks loops whereby the DNA built a brain that can learn the language of DNA, to possibly change the way a brain could be built.
That is the kind of intense situation whose potential is growing at an exponential rate in our post-modernizing world.
There always were systems, and we always were inside of those systems.
However, we did not consciously know much about them, and could not consciously do much to deliberately change them.
ALL of our problems are so critical now precisely because we are at the point in history where it is the first time ever that it is both possible and necessary to be conscious of what we are doing, because we could change it, and are significantly changing it, through mostly unplanned experiments upon ourselves and our children.
Without the abilities to do science and technology, we would still be stupid little moneys tearing up the foliage, while living totally inside ecological systems that we could do nothing significant to threaten. The natural ecology would still totally dominate the little monkey ecology.
However, that did not stay the way it was. Natural selection was internalized as human intelligence, and an artificial selection could not change its own environment, its own ecology, and its own evolution.
EVERYTHING comes down to us needing to apply the methods of science and technology to ourselves … which seems the last thing that we want to d0.
After we developed industry, it becomes necessary and possible to develop industrial ecology.
Issues about consumption are about the emergence of an industrial ecology.
The problem with our current patterns of consumption is that they are NOT yet in a comprehensive systems approach.
A REAL system is ALREADY there, but we are trying to get away with deliberately ignoring it.
We are being practical on a few separate levels, but NOT being practical on ALL levels.
The reason I constantly emphasize the importance of the
established kinds of dishonesty and violence that made and maintained our current mad systems of organized frauds and robbery is that they are both what EXISTS, and the denials and suppressions that they EXIST are the main obstacles to doing any more comprehensive systems approaches.
The operational definition of higher consciousness is a greater use of information.
The evil of deliberate ignorance is the obstruction.
The need is for a spirituality that is practical on more levels, that are aspects of the systems that already exist, but which the established social systems tend to try to hide with lies and hypocrisy.
There is one indivisible flow of energy and materials that includes everything human beings do.
We ARE the environment.
We are a whirlpool in the water, or a tornado in the air.
We are a technological vortex in the ocean of energy.
We ARE that energy.
Making human beings, and making everything else, be it other living things, or other kinds of technologies, are already aspects of one holistic system.
Population and resource issues are necessarily united.
Human beings are already united with our environment.
It flows through us, as us, and there is nothing else but that.
A simple syllogism is
we are the environment
the environment is god
we are god.
Making more human life, both continuing our own, and reproducing new ones, always is a flow of resources.
We talk about that as if it there was some basic split between us and others, but there are not any fundamental dichotomies.
All human language is based on the process of subtraction.
We pretend to have subtracted ourselves from the Whole, which we always continue to be part of.
The reproduction of people and the production of other things are basically the same process.
Consuming resources to make people and other things with those resources are necessarily united processes.
I think it is plainly obvious that natural ecology, human ecology and industrial ecology are already ONE.
There had to be a natural ecology, or else there would be no human ecology.
There had to be a human ecology or else there would be no industrial ecology.
In the bigger picture, the natural ecology is always going to be infinitely bigger and more important than human or industrial ecology.
At the present time, the human ecology is more important than the industrial ecology.
To put things in proper perspective, the human population issues are clearly more important than the resource consumption issues.
What a comprehensive systems approach should do is consciously become more aware of all of the levels of our ecology, which feedback through each other as an evolving WHOLE.
What is needed is the same set of ideas that understand the natural ecology, human ecology and industrial ecology.
What we have now is the eruption of a new industrial ecology, that is sustaining a human ecology, that is destroying the old natural ecology.
What will happen, one way or another, sooner or later, is that our industrial ecology will evolve within our human ecology, within our natural ecology.
It is nature first, then people, then the other stuff. If it all survives and evolves enough, then the industrial ecology will consciously blend back into the natural ecology. If we survive, we will still be part of that Whole.
At the present time, we have a culture based on lies and coercions that deliberately ignores nature and people as much as possible, in order to focus on the other stuff.
This is insane.
There are reasons why it worked well for a relatively short time. However, it can not keep going indefinitely.
It only can work for a very short period of time before the consequences of that kind of deliberate ignorance force us to pay attention to things we were trying to ignore.
We try to take for granted and deliberately ignore our natural and human ecology, while we only pay attention to our industrial ecology through means that use a fundamentally fraudulent financial accounting system.
The current problems with attempting comprehensive systems approaches that are more spiritually aware of the Whole, is that our accounting systems are based on huge lies, backed up with coercions, which, of course, try to ignore those aspects of themselves.
WE ALREADY HAVE DEATH AND DEBT CONTROL SYSTEMS.
We already have a society that tries to be as deliberately ignorant as it can possibly be about those social facts.
There can not be a basic splitting of the production of people from the production of other entities.
All efforts to do that have the ulterior motives that people running systems of organized robbery and fraud do not want those to be recognized for what they really are.
The real world is already dominated by the bullies’ bullshit view of it.
Almost all of the opposition is a controlled opposition that still operates within that bullies’ bullshit view of the world.
Almost all of the environmental and human rights movements are reactionary revolutions that compromise with the huge lies inside the bullies’ bullshit view of the world.
The efforts to split off human population and reproduction from the natural and industrial ecologies are all attempts at continuing to be deliberately ignorant.
Those kind of efforts are evil, to the degree that they fail to be recognized as only relative illusions.
The science of economics is all fundamentally based on the realities of robbery, but it tries to ignore that fact as much as it can.
The kinds of paradigm shifts that are necessary to operate a holistic
Spaceship Earth with an integrated natural, human and industrial ecology, that could evolve towards long-term survival, do not allow for any ultimate splitting of people from other entities.
Debates about which is more important, resource consumption or population growth seem to be goofy.
The deeper problem regarding all of our resource consumption is that it is being paid for with fiat money.
What that means is that the accounting system is based on huge lies backed up with lots of violence.
The accounting systems regulating our industrial ecology are attempting to hide and deliberately deny their own actual existence.
No wonder those accounting systems are doing patently insane calculations!
Fiat money systems are debt engines, that are making more and more debt at an exponential rate, which has to occur or else the money supply collapses.
It is simply a sophisticated form of slavery.
We have a debt based money supply, that is based on nothing but the borrower’s promise to repay, and if all the borrowers repaid, then almost all of the money supply would disappear.
Therefore, we are locked inside a money system that is running a global electronic fraud, that is backed up with the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction.
That money is the way we measure what we are doing inside of our industrial ecology.
That money system is the way we measure the consumption of natural resources.
That money system tries as much as it can to hide the social facts about how it really works.
No wonder our industrial ecology is patently insane, and getting worse and worse, faster and faster!
What is really behind those debt controls is the history of the death controls that made it possible to build and maintain systems of huge lies, which are the dominant social stories about where we come from and how we should behave.
That money system is based on the ability of an elite to use violence to keep an astronomically fraudulent accounting system going for their own apparent short-term benefit. However, since it is all based on lies, and the violence that enforces those lies can not make those lies become true, the entire system is now headed towards a psychotic breakdown, when it might collapse into chaos.
To really penetrate into the conundrum of the relationship between consumption and population, one has to connect the dots in the overall pattern between the death control and the debt control.
Only that kind of radical truth could cope with the psychotic breakdown from being controlled by huge lies.
Many people who criticize fiat money point out that energy and matter, goods and services, can NOT be created from nothing, nor destroyed to nothing, but only transformed.
The huge lie of fiat money enables the symbols that do the accounting for flows of matter and energy, goods and services, appear to be made out of nothing.
Money is a symbolic creation of human consciousness.
Human consciousness directs human labour power, and thus desire production flows through our efforts to make everything else, including new human beings.
Many people who criticize fiat money say we should have a commodity based money, like money based on real gold and silver.
However, the real commodity that money is based on is the service of death control.
The ability to back up lies with violence is the real power behind the monetary systems.
That is what really controlled the financial accounting system that drove the industrial revolution.
Therefore, our current industrial ecology is based on the debt engines, backed up by the death engines.
Our real industrial ecology is most directly connected to our human ecology in that way, which in turn is the real way our civilization is connected to the natural ecology.
We are necessarily running a big killing system.
Bringing that big killing system into a better dynamic equilibrium is what a comprehensive systems approach has to attempt to do.
The goofy debate over which is more important, population or resources, could only be carried forward in the ways it is, inside the mainstream of our society, inside of the bullies’ bullshit world view.
From my skimming over George Monbiot’s works, I get the impression that he is an intelligent spokesperson for the “bright green” group.
They are NOT genuine ecologists nor environmentalists.
They are sentimental moralists.
Their policies are like the relationship that silly little love songs have to sex.
That is popular amongst some groups, or groupies.
Of course, I am oversimplifying here, and being somewhat unfair.
But nevertheless “green” values and solutions are almost always greenwashing since they want to appeal to a bigger mainstream flow, and thus remain inside the bullies’ bullshit world view, but do not admit that they are doing that.
I started posting on this Web site “Growth is Madness” because I thought the domain name was right on.
I liked that this Web site emphasized that the population problem matters a lot, and must be included, not diminished because it tends to raise taboo topics.
The point I make is that the triumph of the bullies’ bullshit world view is based on their past success at death control.
That enabled them to build their debt controls, and surround the triumph of that huge fraud with the elaborate lies of economics.
Economics is often said to be the dismal science. However, the most dismal thing about economics is the way it deliberately ignored its own foundations, and tried to not be connected to rest of the real world of physics and biology.
The reason economics tries to ignore ecology is that, when it can not, then it is revealed to be based on lies and coercions running systems of organized robberies and frauds.
Furthermore, it must necessarily be the case that human beings act as robbers in their environment.
Civilization IS, and must be, some system of organized robbery.
Our civilization already IS, and is also based on deliberately lying about those social facts as much as possible.
One small aspect of this overall problem is the error that this thread started pointing out.
We can not separate human ecology from industrial ecology.
The problems in the former multiply the latter, and both feedback into each other in the current vicious cycles of death control and debt control that are conducted, as much as possible, by an elite that knows, upon a mass of people that do not.
Natural, human, and industrial ecologies already exist as one holistic system.
The same problems are found throughout them.
There are triumphs of huge lies and lots of violence running a big killing system that tries to make itself work while denying and suppressing the truth about itself as much as it can.
We have the established killers, who deny they are killers.
Then we have their opposition, who tend to reveal that there is too much killing, and say there should be no killing instead.
The third position is the one most rarely heard, which is there is and must be a killing system, and we have to try to keep it going by learning more about how it works, and making it work better.
With regard to everything, organic or inorganic, there is both production and destruction. The ecology of them all is about these processes going through spirals.
There has to be the production, or else there is nothing. That production has its own timetables and nurturing patterns.
However, the regulation and control of the production is done by the destructions, which are aspects of the production.
Thus we have the total package of the desire production through to the death controls, and back again.
As long as we are looking for solutions inside of the bullies’ bullshit world view, we are on a dead end path.
To build a better industrial ecology, we have to connect the destruction to the production. We have to concern ourselves more with the ways that the things we produce will be deliberately destroyed, so that they can be recycled.
The same thing is true in our human ecology.
The natural ecology already had billions of years to develop the ways it recycled.
Our industrial ecology is barely doing that yet, and the main reason it is not doing that enough is that it is being controlled by the death controls over the human ecology that controls our economic systems in ways that it deliberately ignores as much as it can.
Population is clearly more important than the consumption of resources, because the death controls in the human ecology are controlling the industrial ecology.
Just a quick comment/question. Are you familiar with the transhumanism movement? If not you might find some of that interesting.
There are parts of this philosophical school that I think about with respect to my neuropsychological theory of sapience/wisdom (see my blog for more on that) and the conscious selection of that mental capacity to move the human species beyond its current level of poor decision-making and judgment.
John, what I understand from reading Monbiot’s article, is that the man himself is a bit confused. He is only starting to contemplate the population dimension: a dilemma which he would like to just go away, as he is not among those who care to discuss taboo topics. As it is, George Monbiot has invested his whole life into the project of becoming everyone’s best friend, and that is not the best starting point if you’re searching for ways to lay the foundation of truth. While he knows that the population issue is very touchy, he acknowledges the existence of a problem of overpopulation, but does not want to alienate anyone by playing it up.
It’s funny in a way, as I have for a long time seen one of his key elements of futures thinking — the introduction of personal carbon quotas — as the best possible solution to so many of our common problems. How many of our social and cultural problems would have been solved bu the simple introduction of individual carbon quotas, not on a national level, but an international or indeed a global level? Plenty of problems, I suppose! And I think, with the internet and everything in place, it should be possible to do this. Technically, we could have this done in a matter of short time. If only the political will to treat every person of the world the same, no matter where that person was born or under which circumstances s/he lives … oh, I know … it would be absolutely impossible, of course …
Watch out for ANOTHER error:
human consumption versus human overpopulation = false dichotomy
Okay, now watch for this confusion.
Monbiot: “… if we accept the UN’s projection, the global population will grow by roughly 50% and then stop. This means it will become 50% harder to stop runaway climate change, 50% harder to feed the world, 50% harder to prevent the overuse of resources.”
Okay, good then. So population growth is a very big problem.
Monbiot: “But compare this rate of increase to the rate of economic growth. Many economists predict that, occasional recessions notwithstanding, the global economy will grow by about 3% a year this century. Governments will do all they can to prove them right.”
Okay, good, so you’re saying economic growth is an even bigger problem.
Monbiot: “After years of glut, the storerooms are suddenly empty and grain prices are rocketing. How will another three billion be fed?”
Population growth is indeed a serious problem, don’t you think?
Monbiot: “The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation expects that global meat production will double by 2050 (growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers).”
Okay, fine, so there will be food enough for all? And the fact that “the storerooms are empty” is not all that interesting anyway?
Monbiot: “While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent.”
No? So is it the fact that we’re going to double the meat production, then?
– 💡 — Doh!
I mean: Please! Can anyone tell me exactly what George Monbiot is thinking? Really?!
You might as well consider “stupidity” as a term to watch out for, as you examine how people are unaware of the way governments work and the ruling class of society or civilization think … and act …
Stupidity is willful ignorance or unintelligence. This quality can be related to a person’s actions, words or beliefs, or those of a group.
In psychology, [stupidity] is known as deindividuation in crowds, and can lead to behaviours usually not displayed outside the specific social situation. The behaviours occur because individuals will conform to perceived social norms in order to ‘fit in’ or project an impression of self as “normal”.
The Encyclopedia of Stupidity by Matthijs van Boxsel is based on the author’s contention that “stupidity is in fact the foundation of our civilization” and his idea that no one is intelligent enough to realise how stupid they are. He defines stupidity as “unwitting self-destruction, the ability to act against nothing”.
Magne, a guy named George Miller once said, “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.”
When I look at Monbiot’s autobiography and his publication history, I see someone who portrays himself as an advocate for the poor and a champion of the oppressed. Within that frame of reference, Monbiot’s essay appears to me as an expression of his personal, highest priority values.
Other people prioritize their values differently, as I see demonstrated here.
Thanks for that insight. It’s humbling (but satisfying) to write some long comments and then have what I was trying to get at stated so succinctly.
Blair — I just want to assure you that though I haven’t replied to a lot of your comments, I’m not ignoring you. You’re talking about kinds of things on which I expect to be focusing much more in the not too distant future. Right now, I have a few things I want to try to do within the mainstream structure. For example, I want to at least take a shot at making some small dent in the discussion of population issues.
But my greatest interest these days really lies in exploring, somewhat anthropologically, how civilization evolved from pre- to post-agricultural society in a way that created the mess we see now. I think that overlaps with much of what you’re saying. Civilization itself or, at the very least, structures intrinsic seem really to be the root problem. I’m hoping, though, that some band-aid measures can in the short term can help us avert some worst case scenarios. Are you familiar with Derrick Jensen’s writing?
If we have two choices…
A) Address one element first and/or more vigorously for some time before addressing both with equal vigor.
B) Address both elements as vigorously as possible from the start.
… which choice would you pick to be the one most likely to fail to avert (or soften) collapse?
It’s hard to imagine the results of focusing on both would be any worse than the results of focusing on one. It’s easy to imagine the results of focusing on only one would be worse than the results of focusing on both. Exceptions might be (a) if there were not the resources available to attend adequately to both at the same time, or (b) if attending to population somehow caused people to consume considerably more per capita. I don’t think “b” is a realistic worry, and “a” is a matter of collective will and getting national and global priorities straight.
As a side note, when talking about population and consumption I think there’s value in specifing either “per capita consumption” or “total consumption” as plenty of confusion seems to result from overlooking that consumption as a whole is determined in large measure by population size. I think this is what Steve is getting at above.
Without intending to oversimply the matters discussed here, it appears that we now have 6.6 billion (soon to be 9 billion) members of the human community. Each human organism has to eat. Only the prodigious success of the global expansion of agriculture can reasonably and sensibly account for the spectacular increase of absolute human numbers to skyrocket worldwide as they have been for the past few hundred years.
From a species perspective, more food production/distribution equals more human organisms; less food/distribution equals less members of the human species; and in any and all cases, no food equals no humans.
Human consumption, production and propagation activities, that have been adamantly and relentlessly pursued by the predominant AGRI-culture, appear to be occurring synergistically on the surface of Earth. When taken together, each of these global human overgrowth activities is occurring at a current scale and anticipated growth rate that the human species is growing beyond the Earth’s capacity to sustain life as we know it, I suppose.
What difference does it make to determine which of these three global human overgrowth activities is to be given highest priority?
Thanks to all participants.
Some good comments on Monbiot’s article. I would just add a comment about this:
What I hope we can stay clear on is that in the article Monbiot equated economic growth with total resource consumption (paragraph 4, second to last sentence). (The latter can be summarized as the product of population size and per capita consumption.) He then went on to say, in essence, ‘The growth of the product of two growing factors is greater than the growth of one of the factors! So the product is the greatest ecological problem and one of its two driving factors is nowhere near the top of the list.’
In your words, Magne, “Please! Can anyone tell me exactly what George Monbiot is thinking? Really?!”
Yes, I think transhumanism is inevitable, IF human beings survive.
Indeed, I think transhumanist goals are the only way we could survive having science and technology that works.
However, as is the usually the case with me, I find most transhumanists do not pay enough attention to the military ethics questions in the actual mechanisms by which transhumanists may evolve.
I think that, by the time we have really significant cyborgs, we will also have a real world government. I think a real world government that was a Captain for a Spaceship would be a transhuman cyborg.
All of this potential is rushing forwards now, at an exponentially accelerating rate.
One of my favourite Web sites is
where, almost every day, there is a report of some astonishing new technology.
When we have science and technology that works, which means it also automatically remakes itself to be better, we simultaneously have weapons getting more powerful at an exponential rate too.
When we have such an extremely bad industrial ecology, that makes almost no effort to recycle, nor be sustainable, but rather grows towards “goals” that are impossibly insane, (because they are based on “success” within a fraudulent accounting system), then the whole thing approaches some points of collapses into chaos.
We are watching as civilization builds a system that is like a building whose walls are on faulty foundations, and are leaning over more and more, while every brick added to that structure threatens to cause it to finally topple.
People who post on this Web site can clearly see that the walls are leaning over more and more, and are shouting at the busy builders: “Hey, watch out!” Only to find that they are mostly being ignored.
It is in that context that we get threads like this, pointing out what should be plainly obvious errors in the way people think about their problems.
We appear stuck inside that insanity of having to build on top of the rotten established foundations, and appeal to a better “rationality” that barely seems to exist, since it is buried under older entrenched rationalizations of robbery that refuse to face facts.
We are turning natural resources into people and pollution as fast as we can, and when we can not continue to do that, our systems are designed to react in even more insane ways by having the people fight for survival, which will wipe out far too many people, and produce far worse pollution, faster than ever.
I think we NEED transhumanism. However, the kind of transhumanism I think we need goes far beyond the kinds of individualistic and libertarian transhumanism that I see promoted most under that label.
As always, the people who are the most “successful” now are the people who work the best inside of the established systems, which means they mostly take for granted the bullies’ bullshit world view.
They are the fish that never notice the water they swim through.
They have been brainwashed to believe in mostly the same bullshit, and thus they are a huge crazy cult. There is no great difference between any of these cults. They are all based on lies and coercions. However, the ones that worked better in their past environments grew to be the biggest, and thus are now the most dangerous.
At the present time, transhumanism seems to be just another fringe cult.
However, as science and technology change our environment more and more, adapting to that new reality must happen.
If science survives, people will necessarily go transhuman. In my terms, we have to go beyond Neolithic to be Translithic.
Turning now to Magne’s comment, I indeed agree that “stupidity is in fact the foundation of our civilization.”
The first rule of ideology is that people justify and rationalize the way that they make a living.
People must necessarily live as robbers in their environment, and everything they know is a relative illusion subtracted from a Whole that they can never fully know.
EVERYTHING people know is a lie, and EVERYBODY backs up their own lies with force.
The REAL world runs on huge lies backed up with lots of violence, that maintain the organized frauds and robberies that we all depend on to make our living. All cultures are finding ways to justify and rationalize doing that.
All of the religions and ideologies find ways to place layer after layer of insulation between themselves and reality.
The origins of human minds in animism show a common pattern of people apologizing to the spirit of the animals that the people killed in order to live.
Somewhere along the way, we have mostly lost that respect for others. Indeed, the dominant Neolithic nutters went so far as to justify that they did not have to apologize to other living species for killing them, because human beings were the only ones that counted.
The short-term triumphs of lies and coercion work because they provide benefits from the frauds and robberies that they enable.
Previously, Magne, you posted quotes from some earlier North Americans about the attitudes of the more recent invaders from Europe:
“He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care. His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.”
The problem is how to build better rates of robbery when everything goes down the path of least resistance? It seems we will have to wait for more natural selection forces to teach us that, mostly by demonstrating what does not work, by causing it to collapse.
The major mechanisms of evolution work by allowing diversity to flourish, then wiping most of it out, to enable a new beginning.
Evolutions are usually adaptive radiants, pruned by extinctions. However, there is also an extremely important revolutionary convergence that sometimes occurs, when some adaptive radiants merge together, to unit to form a new begin. Those revolutionary convergences were many of the most important past events in evolution, because they became the new foundation for everything else after them.
These ethical parables in evolution are likely to be our real future too.
Most of the people going off on every possible tangent now are going to be wiped out at some time in the future. The brain dead sheeple who allow themselves to be routinely fleeced are allowing the conditions to develop whereby their children, or children’s children, will be slaughtered later.
When we are working on building something that based on bad design science and rotten foundations, we should not be surprised when it eventually collapses and kills us underneath it.
Meanwhile, a few people are going to go into some creative syntheses that form the basis for a new beginning to evolve after that. There will be collapse of the established systems, and martial law that tries to prevent that collapse, and creative alternatives that will be able to survive despite those other two happening.
In that context, I use the word “stupidity” the same as I use the phrases “fascist plutocracy” and “death control” that Paul mentioned he was disturbed by in an earlier thread about sowing the seeds for alternative communities.
Throughout my life, I have gotten away with doing many things that very few other people would do.
For instance, I was able to prove in a court of law that the government of Canada had been dishonest about the political tax credit, and thus they had to pay me punitive damages. In the whole British Commonwealth, you will find such court cases and remedies to have been extremely rare.
I have managed to become the leader of a registered political party without ever trying to be popular, but rather by promoting the radical truth which tends to offend everyone.
One reason that I get away with barely surviving doing things like that is I know that I am quite stupid too.
It is a social fact that there is an elite that know things that the vast majority of people do not. It is a social fact that the vast majority of ignorant people are stupid, because they believe in their bullies’ bullshit, and they want to continue to believe in that bullshit.
I love political experiments and paradoxes. Everything I have done, and I am still doing, is actively proving that the overwhelming vast majority of Canadian taxpayers are acting like incompetent idiots, and that they want to stay that way.
All of my work on the political contribution tax credit in Canada since 1984 has created a body of evidence and logical argument to prove that I was right, and I still am right. However, since what I have done is prove that the overwhelming vast majority of people act like incompetent idiots that never use their own political power, proving that does not make any difference in the real world.
Most people continue to act stupidly.
The irony is that it does no practical good to prove how stupid people really are, since they stay that way.
The double irony is that I am proven to be stupid too, because I tell other people that they are stupid, but they are not interested, in changing, and nothing I can think to say will interest them to change. Thus, there is a perfect package of total stupidity, all of the way around.
Since 1984, I have had a real way to offer several hundred dollars of after-tax benefit to every taxpayer in Canada by doing whatever they wanted to do in their own registered political activities.
Throughout that time, I have only been able to persuade about 0.0001% of the potential to be realized.
In Canada, literally less than 0.1% of the total dollar value of the political contribution tax credit is claimed by the total population of all taxpayers, and that percentage is actually going down, not up.
Throughout that time, I have been fighting against the resistance of the government attempting to stop me from encouraging more people to participate in their own chosen registered political activity.
I had to prove the government was lying about the political tax credit, then, we I finally won that court case, and my party finally started to double our financial contributions ever year for a few years, the government responded by changing the elections laws tby legalizing their previous llies, and turning what I had spent 20 years proving was legal into becoming a crime.
Then, I developed new ways to do limited versions of the same things, and I am still offering that opportunity to the Canadian public … but, even fewer of them actually do it now than a few years ago.
During that process, I have read everything I could find about the relationship between the funding of politics and legislation.
The more I learned, the worse it got.
I can completely prove that more than 99% of Canadian taxpayers act like incompetent idiots. Their almost total failure to participate in funding of the political process has resulted in our monetary and taxation laws becoming almost inconceivably crazy and corrupt.
However, IN FACT, the vast majority of Canadians continue to be breathtakingly stupid.
I cope with that truth by providing both myself and everyone else with excuses for why we act so stupidly.
Generally, human beings are mostly stupid little monkeys. However, a few of them, in limited circumstances, have been able to be slightly more intelligent, in order to build civilizations with sciences and technologies.
However, the overall social system of that civilization depends on the vast majority of people being kept ignorant and afraid at the bottom of the social pyramid, while only the few in the elite at the top know what is really going on.
It was not an accident, or merely a mistake, that the vast majority of people have been brainwashed into believing in bullshit that maintains and demonstrates how stupidly they are living inside vicious feedback loops of lies and coercions, keeping them inside of the established social systems.
It is because politics is controlled by huge lies, and people are adapted to live with that fact, that they mostly behave stupidly.
They indeed have risen to their own level of incompetence inside of their social systems.
The fact that Web sites like “growth is madness” exist in its present form, and find it necessary to post criticisms of patently stupid arguments, is part of this overall gestalt.
All of the most successful politicians are the most skillful liars and the most sincere sounding hypocrites, who have the relatively easy job of fooling enough of the people enough of the time.
Since the overwhelming vast majority of people act like incompetent idiots, mainstream politics flows down the mainstream of that stupidity.
I am mostly just another bit of flotsam and jetsam, tumbling down the turbulence of that flow too.
If one can not get people to use their own political power by being able to offer them the right to regain direct control of several hundred dollars of their own tax money, then what else can possibly work?
The answer appears to be nothing.
I have gone through and through the five stages of grief to get back to the point of acceptance.
By and large, everyone, including me, is far, far too stupid to solve any of our problems, other than by continuing our morose social habits, until their consequences kill them.
I currently have another live court case against the government of Canada regarding another aspect of the funding of registered political parties.
We won at the trial level, lost as the provincial court of appeal level, and a couple days ago we filed for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
If anyone want to do anything in politics, they have to find a way to fund that, which means that they have to find a way to plug into the established systems of fraud and robbery, and try to direct its future flow.
Political struggles all take place in that context of military ethics, and one of the classic oxymorons is “military intelligence.”
I have been doing that ever since I decided to get involved in registered politics in my country.
Over and over again, I have proven that my ideas were right, and they actually worked, and over and over again, that has proven that the overwhelming vast majority of Canada taxpayers are, when it comes to using their own political rights to participate, astonishingly stupid, incompetent idiots.
I have more to win or lose from our current court case than anybody else in the country.
Ask me again in a year or so, (when I know whether that turned out to be a dead end, or worked through), about how stupid people really are, and how stupid I am in particular.
IF I win that current court case, then I will use some of that money I win to edit and represent the desultory rambling that I have been amusing myself with writing on this Web site here.
I have been just barely intelligent enough to just barely be able to survive doing my kind of radical politics.
Indeed, everything I have learned has told me to watch out for the stupid errors that people make.
Everything I hope for is that human beings will evolve towards a transhuman intelligence, rather than be so stupid as to cause their own extinction.
etbnc, I doubt Monbiot’s and my values are much different in that regard.
I have said here and elsewhere that addressing population could be one of the greatest humanitarian measures we could take. That is why I say the avoidance or discounting of the topic may go down as one of the most tragic instances of intellectual dishonesty in history. Many millions and possibly billions of lives are at stake.
It is precisely the poor and oppressed who will suffer first and most profoundly as a result of any failure to address population. And that is one of the fundamental reasons I push for the topic to receive the attention it’s due.
I have no doubt Monbiot means well. But don’t you think he would be a more effective champion of the poor and oppressed if he were to see the value of making population a higher priority? And don’t you think we would therefore be doing him and all of humanity a huge favor by nudging him to consider that?
Well, as you know, I certainly subscribe to the “give them all their due ASAP” school of thought.
Seems to me those elements are like three bombs dropping toward us. Any one can kill us as dead as all three combined, so…
On Monboit’s essay:
Here is a perfect example of why I think talking about the problems and arguing about which specific problem to address is going to be fruitless. Monboit says: “…the global population will grow by roughly 50% and then stop. This means it will become 50% harder to stop runaway climate change, 50% harder to feed the world, 50% harder to prevent the overuse of resources.” (emphasis added)
These are gross oversimplifications that obscure rather than illuminate the nature of the problems. He is using linear thinking while addressing a non-linear process. This is confusing at best and dangerous at worst. A linear increase in population will not be reflected in a linear increase in the other problems. And this is exactly the kind of overstatement that will activate arch-conservatives to argue exactly that, I fear. They may use this kind of fallacious reasoning as an excuse to not do anything, including better understanding of the problems.
Talking about symptoms is a good use of time. Elaborate the problems as they unfold, yes. But intuiting the solutions is a huge and fatal mistake. These problems are so intertwined that you can not intuit an argument for doing this or doing that that stands a chance of being right.
We have to know, or have a damned good informed guess based on understanding the systems nature of the world and plug in the symptoms that we talk about at the appropriate time. Thus far we’ve been talking and intuiting but not analyzing.
On other issues raised or mentioned:
In the thread on the bottleneck issue I posted a piece of the Introduction of a book I am writing regarding the evolution of sapience and a possible future. There was not much response to it so there may not be much interest in other parts of the book here, but, in case there is, I would send a copy of the Prologue to anyone who sends me an email address. The prologue tells the evolutionary story of the origins of cognitive wisdom (what I call sapience) and how the selective pressures for increasing sapience reversed about 10,000 ybp after the advent of agriculture. John has mentioned his interest in this topic, so I thought I’d make the offer. The prologue then goes on to speculate regarding the future of sapience if a bottleneck event does occur.
The book is about a form of transhumanism that does not necessarily involve producing cyborgs or uploading consciousness into machines. It simply asks what is the next stage of evolution?
By way of explanation, for me, evolution is everything. I’m not just talking about biological evolution, but a universal evolutionary process that led from the Big Bang to the state of the universe that we can observe. Even our flaunted science and technology are the result of an evolutionary process as opposed to some kind of intelligent intentionality. Our greatest intellectual talent is ‘affordance’, the ability to use physical and conceptual metaphors in new ways. An example of a physical metaphor – a table top can support a butt as well as a chair, so one can sit on the table if need be. We are good at transference of concepts but it is still up to a selection process to determine what will stick and what will go the way of the BetaMax.
So if anyone is interested, pop me an email at: George DOT Mobus AT gmail DOT com and I’ll send a draft.
In case anyone is still reading this thread:
I just read an incredibly insightful post by Nate Hagens on the Oil Drum.
Those interested in the psychological dimensions to the state of the world might find it interesting.
etbnc: “George Miller once said, “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.””
Well, it’s funny. Although I have not joined the George Monbiot fan club (I’m not a great fan of anyone in particular anymore; I believe it must have something to do with growing up), I have read a few of George Monbiot’s essays over the past few years, and while I find that he — in this article — sounds a bit confused about something which he doesn’t quite understand, but figures he is in need of saying something about anyway, … I can assure you that I do not consider him stupid. But then: let me also add that I am more honest than he is, as I’m absolutely certain that he has never in his lifetime admitted to feel just a little confused about something. 😉
I understand that he is more concerned about the expected growth of consumption amongst the people of the northern hemisphere than he is of the expected population growth in the south. It may even be a valid claim, who knows? If the peoples of the northern hemisphere should come to arrive at the shared conclusion that “we don’t even want to acknowledge the idea that the Earth is in any kind of danger what-so-ever, which are due to human overgrowth activities of any kind,” then of course we are in much deeper shit than I am willing to try to imagine.
In his article here, Monbiot allows happy faced economists’ and stock heavy market analysts to provide supposedly truthful predictions and/or projections of the future, while he dismisses the population connection as alarmists’ propaganda. In relation to capitalist economists and market analyst’s agendas, I’m not all too certain about what I ought to say about Monbiot’s method of thinking. I think I’d actually be better off by not thinking too much about any of this. — But then again: that would be a cowardly act on my behalf, wouldn’t it?
Monbiot says: “Many economists predict that, occasional recessions notwithstanding, the global economy will grow by about 3% a year this century. Governments will do all they can to prove them right.”
And he’s perfectly right about that. Under the UN-acknowledged pressure of global warming and manmade climate change, governments are simply unable to think straight. Now, this is the point where people should have every reason to be worried. But they aren’t, are they? No, people just want to secure their work places (plenty of which are highly polluting) indefinitely, while being quite allowed to pretend that nothing has changed and all things are what they were like fifty years ago.
It may well be that the species has actually gone insane? It may equally be that my mind has been occupied by agent of a species of extraterrestrial beings, and that’s the reason why I can’t seem to figure out what the funky tell is going on around here? I mean: the species which occupies the top of the food chain here seems to be knowingly and willingly about to destroy the ecosystems of this planet; not one by one, but all of them in one fine sweep, at an instant!
Now, to my astonishment, of course, I find that none of these biosphere destroyers wants to be caught talking too much about whatever seems to be going wrong here; it’s like the biggest of all secrets, ever. Funny.
Briefly now. I’d like for us all to focus our minds on some of our overgrowth activities, and try to figure out how to make the rest of the inmates of this Zoo understand that the total destruction of all the ecosystems of this finite Earth’s biosphere in one decisive sweep, simply isn’t a very good idea. And then go on and tell them about this idea some of us are having, that you do not need to be the owner of three-thousand-five-hundred-and-sixty-one things in order to be happy? That, as a matter of fact, if everyone just decided to stop going shopping ever day, but start shopping only once or twice every month, like people used to in the 1950s, well, that could even make for a much more relaxed way of living? I mean. 💡 – Hm, I don’t know. E.T phone home. Or whatever.
Uh, uh. I’m about to come to understand that I’m being too stupid to understand even the simplest forms of market analysis and economic futures projections, and that this is the main reason why it feels as if I’m under the mental attack of space aliens or under the emotional influence of scary water spirits of an African origin.
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I’m covinced that Monbiot is being read much like Bill Clinton has been recently. Please look at the wider context of the quotes you are examining.
Please, what quote have I taken out of context in any sort of misleading way? Because you mentioned context above, I provided a huge chunk of the Monbiot article just to show I was not taking anything out of context with regard to that particular part of the discussion.
The gist, as I’ve said, is that he went out of his way to discount the importance of population (“It’s an important issue, but nowhere near the top of the list.”) There is really no way to take that out of context. It’s a kind of headline at the top of his article, under the title. In venues where it wasn’t included the title was changed to things like “The Threat of Population Growth Pales Beside the Greed of the Rich.” I too encourage readers to read the whole article. Then decide if I have in any way distorted Monbiot’s message.
There is one aspect of population growth concern which is not mentioned by Monbiot, and which is not touched upon in the discussions so far, either here or at GIM. I’m thinking of the development dimension: the fact that the fast growing populations of the south are going to pursue a standard of living that is well known to Americans but seldom displayed in countries like Malawi, Chad, Albania, Bolivia, El Salvador, Laos, and Burma. Now, China is on the move in Africa, and pursues policies that are highly popular on that continent; namely an industrial growth approach which African people, and governments has craved for ever since the 1960s, as a much better solution to opening the poverty trap than the charitable funds made available to poor countries by means of development aid from countries of the western world.
New factories are being put in place, owned and run by the Chinese, but which benefits the population more directly, in the form of employment, salaries, and wages. Which means that other enterprises are growing, too, as a side effect of the first: big industry jobs for the people. The lifestyle side of the equation is certainly also going to be seen, as China will continue to expand and therefore also continue to be a most welcome guest and business partner.
This is the point when I say that “I’m afraid of Americans.” As the prevalent lifestyles of the United States of America — as spied on television screens all over the world — works as the target for all developing countries and cultures around the world.
I’m musing of a future in which most African households may be fixed up with refrigerators in the kitchen, airconditioning sets in the living room, and a cheap but practical gas-fuelled vehicle parked in the frontyard of the house. As a matter of fairness: whoever would go ahead and deny the majority of Africans the luxury of a refrigerator, airconditioning sets, and a car? Even if that would mean that CO2 emissions would increase very quickly? As a growing third world population is about to take a quantum leap in a direction which all those who are aware of what poverty looks like, smells like, and feels like, would have to applaud?!
Think about it.
That’s a key point and one I’ve tried to make often when told population isn’t an issue in developing countries because their per capita consumption is so low. That many countries, some with very large populations, are now growing very fast economically, and therefore fast increasing per capita consumption, is a reason, possibly related to what you pointed out on Trinifar, for the US (and others) to set an example of population reduction.
Just for reference, because the problem Magne point to is a major one, that’s something I’ve often pointed to in discussions on various blogs and sites. I got into it a bit in this article and in some comments here recently. Not sure where else.
Quite the conversation here!
I’d like to come back to two or three points I may have (unsuccessfully) made in my original comments.
One is that of the Developed Countries’ footprint. It is absolutely true that we can’t effectively address environmental problems by exclusively focusing on population *or* consumption; it’s also true that the Developed Countries, because of (generally) better governance structures and more coherent, stronger non-governmental actors have much more latitude to do both. The relative payoff is great, considering that this, what, 25% of the world uses 40% of the resources? So again, my argument is the effectiveness of focusing resources disproportionately (but not exclusively) on the “Developed” World for a greater payoff.
Two, this would also have effects on consumption in the rest of the world, as per some earlier comments both about the Western “model” of consumptionism and the complex feedbacks between population growth and consumption. Western popular culture and industrial food are not solely to blame for worldwide increases in resource consumption intensity, but they are major contributing factors. Were the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan to seriously change their approach to population and consumption, it would strike everyone as less imperialistic and condescending to address it in the world’s poorer countries. To be sure, they are contributing more than their share, but my question is — what effective means to you propose to address population growth and consumption in Developing Countries? We do all realize here that the reason population growth projections have been decreasing is the growth of female education and political power, especially in Developing Countries, where women with free choice decide much more often to have less children? Clearly, this is an agenda that should be pushed forward with all due haste and focus, but a huge part of the reason for the population taboo are the horrible and misguided things done in its name in the past — forced sterilization (see especially Puerto Rico’s “La Operación) being a notable one. Neither forced sterilization nor handing out prophylactics have noticeable effects on population growth in absence of female political power, thus while we can speak of population growth in the Developing World, it is of utmost importance to *always* pair it with concerns for equity and access to *sufficient* consumption. Those who reproduce most are the poorest and thus many are those who consume *below* their fair share, even in Developing countries consuming net *more* than a sustainble share. (Urbanization and elite consumption no doubt account for the lion’s share of this consumption as well; I’d be interested on information of resource consumption from the world’s poorest rural subsistence areas – not the factory farms they may work on that consume resources but don’t distribute them back to those who are disadvantaged and likely to have “too many” children).
Thus a strategy of population and consumption decrease seems best for “Developed” countries, and a focus on substantive equity, redistribution, and political power and reproductive control seems wises in the Developing countries. Not only does speaking of women’s empowerment and reproductive control sound more palatable to those who’ve been victims of “La Operación”-like schemes in the past, it *is* the vehicle that’s been shown to be successful in reduced population growth.
(And one last point — a great article by Sloan in 2007 in Biotropica and another by Ravnborg in 2003 in World Development show some very good initial proof that local population size isn’t necessarily connected to environmental degradation; this connection shows up at the national scale but is weak at the local, at least in terms of deforestation, and they both show that it is not the faster-growing population of poor that consume the most resources on agricultural frontiers, but the relatively small number of medium-and-large landowners and rich farmers, who have the money and resources to, for instance, by a small farmer’s farm and expand it further into the forest. Again, equity and elite consumption confound the population issue at a local scale, and empowerment and substantive equity would do much to address it. I suppose this is my overall point — talk of population without talk of substantive equity isn’t just asking to be caricatured as old-style draconianism, but also overlooks the most effective tool we have for reducing population growth.)
I agree with your emphasis on the importance of
“female political power”
However, what I disagree with is the mostly implicit, but still absurd, ideas that human rights or freedoms exist outside of their economic and ecological contexts.
“Female political power” and “women’s empowerment and reproductive control”
should not be advanced under the rubric of the bullies’ bullshit view of the world, where human rights and freedoms exist without real limits, but as impossible ideals.
In my view, the most effective expressions of “female political power” and “women’s empowerment and reproductive control”
are going to be educating them to understand what they are doing in the real context of unavoidably necessary death control and new age warfare.
The real trade-offs are between continuing to have the limits be dealt with by men trying to kill each other with weapons, (which threatens omnicidal destruction) versus transferring the locus of death control more into the hands of women.
Impossible ideals are characteristics of the bullies’ bullshit world view, because they make it easy to be hypocritical, and to actually do the opposite of what one says one will do.
Basing behaviour on impossible ideals guarantees the opposite will happen in the real world.
Building something that will necessarily collapse only makes sense if one expects and wants it to collapse.
All of the world’s institutions are run that way, and none more so than the United Nations.
The United Nations is a dead end institution because it was built by professional liars and immaculate hypocrites.
(The lesser NGOs mostly follow the same pattern, of wanting to say what they are doing is helping, while not taking any responsibility for the systematic ways that what they are doing is actually backfiring. You know, like teach people how to fish, but not worry that they will then be able to wipe out the fishing stocks.)
All of the various Charters about human rights and freedoms that I am aware of have a phrase about “reasonable limits.”
However, not talking sanely about those reasonable limits is the central feature of not doing anything to slow stop and stop exponential growth until it goes into catastrophic collapse.
The most important feature of educating women to have power and make choices is that they are being drafted into taking more responsibility for living within the real limits of our economics and ecology.
Any REAL expression of female political power enables them to change the real robbery rates, which are the ways that natural resources are being consumed. The most important of the real robbery rates are the rates of killing, or otherwise stopping human potential from being fulfilled.
Any sufficiently advanced society has to hate spam, and that will including hating the reproduction of spam people.
The fundamental problems that are chronic and inherent in the nature of life are that human beings must act as robbers in their environment, and humans always have the potential to reproduce at an exponential rate that is unsustainable.
Any sustainable society has got to hate spam and stop it.
I totally agree that the best ways to resolve these problems require radical changes in the role of women in society, and a great increase in their political power and ability to control their reproductive rates.
However, to be honest, that means they become much more active players in the death controls.
Basically, the empowerment of women means that they too become more effective bullies.
They become significant robbers, who thereby change the overall real rates of robbery in the economy and ecology.
All of that kind of radical change towards new age warfare is required by the fact that men fighting each other would lead to using weapons of mass destruction, which would destroy almost everything that they were fighting over, in totally insane ways.
“Substantive equity” would really be more equal power to control the rates of robbery and killing.
Educating women should not be educating them to believe in the fairy tales about freedom and free choice. Educating women should be educating them to face the facts and make their tough choices.
As long as the bullies’ bullshit view of basing our actions on impossible ideals is the way we talk about solving our problems, we will continue to be guaranteed to fail.
That will continue to be running society with huge lies and hypocrisy, which is precisely the reason why we are in so much trouble now.
The goal is to distribute and democratize the necessary death control.
Not facing the fundamental facts of life means we can continue to get away with talking about our problems with a bullshit language.
My fundamental point is that anything which stops the economic activities and human population from growing bigger must be some form of death control.
Facing that fact of life is what is necessary to then make the best choices, given that we have no other real choice.
Failing to make better conscious choices means we default and defer to a future situation when there are no more options left, and the worst possible genocides are the only things left that could happen.
Women should be educated to realize that, if they to not do it, then men will have to still do it later, and that will be worse for the women, and worse for the men, and worse for all future children who shall have a much harder time surviving in a world after the fight for resources and survival has destroyed the planet more than we can imagine.
I will repeat my point that we need deeper military ethics, in a new age warfare, to achieve the death controls that can stop exponential growth.
That is the honest way to talk about these problems, and that is the breakthrough honesty that we need to solve these problems.
Half-assed hypocrisy about women’s rights and freedoms that do not face these facts will not work.
Impossible ideals about female empowerment will backfire badly.
Substantive equity is not going to happen because people agree to share, unless they that is seen as a change in the real rates of robbery.
The actual mechanisms of what happens are robberies.
Cooperations are ecological equilibria between the rates of robberies done by different actors.
The way to build towards the ideal goals should be based on changing what already exists, and which is therefore what needs to be actually changed.
We already have real systems of death controls and debt controls that direct the development of human ecology and political economy.
Those things are already deeply buried under the bullies’ bullshit view of the world that hides the truth as much as possible.
Using those kinds of bullshit notions about human rights and freedoms, and thus too, female rights and freedoms, is a dead end, because it builds elaborate lies on top of previously existing hypocrisies.
Everything that actually enables women to limit reproduction IS a form of death control, and calling it voluntary “birth control” is misleading.
The kinds of fairy tales that our society likes to tall itself have been developing for a long time.
We tell ourselves social stories that are as far removed from the fundamental facts of life as civilization has been able to achieve.
The fundmanetal natural fact is that human beings have to kill to live. The realistice ideal is that we should try to kill the minimum necessary to stay alive. Right now, we mostly deny the first fact, and therefore, are as far away from the realistic ideal of what we should do as we can possibly get.
In the end, the most important thing is that the direction that human ecology takes, is the direction that human evolution takes.
New age warfare is necessarily taking more conscious control of directing future human evolution.
I think we agree on about most (not all but most 🙂 ) of what you discuss in your comment.
Yes. Though we need to aim efforts nearly everywhere, I’m all for developed countries leading the way on both population and per capita consumption issues. In fact, what do y’all think of this idea: The EU is in a great position to start doing so on population as a result of some sub-replacement fertility rates and soon to be slowly declining population sizes (already occurring, barely, in some mostly Eastern European countries). If they can embrace that the economic challenges this may pose, and about which economists complain, pale in comparison to the ecologically challenges of continued growth, they can be the world leaders in a new way of thinking about humanity. A number of European countries are already leading the way on per capita consumption in their development of renewables. Germany and Denmark come to mind. I would hope the US might follow not far behind. (Unfortunately, we’ve recently seen a rise in our total fertility rate, so this will take some work.)
Let me know if you see any flaw in the thinking of the paragraph above. I’m thinking of putting that idea into an article I’m probably going to write for an EU publication.
Yep. I always push such issues as women’s education and empowerment as central to this issue. Here’s an early effort of mine in that regard.
No doubt true for the former. I’m not quite as sure on the latter. It’s anecdotal, but I do hear arguments for the efficacy of simply making available family planning resources (Okay, probably more than simply handing out prophylactics) where they’re scare. Here’s Jane Goodall talking about villagers’ appreciation for a family planning team sent to assist them.
I suspect the precise needs are going to vary a great deal according to the specifics of the country/area involved. But certainly women’s education and related issues are typically a key. Here are a couple of studies supporting the importance of women’s education:
The second also points to child mortality as a key.
Do you have any other references? I don’t know what studies are considered definitive here.
But beyond women’s education and empowerment…
I think the current problem with the Global Gag Rule, whereby some NGO’s are underfunded in providing family planning assistance, is likely hampering efforts to bring down fertility rates in some developing countries.
The approach used my the Population Media Center, developed by Miguel Sabido, has some research evidence to back it up.
My impression is that there’s a great deal of room for more research and creative thinking to identify additional effective, humane approaches to bring down fertility rates. Relative to things like military spending, so little has been invested in such work, surely it would be worth it.
Yes, but that is also used in what I can only conclude is a deceptive, propagandistic way by those who see their agendas as competing with the population issue to prevent more focus on the latter. Certainly horrible things have been done in the name of other valid pursuits which we don’t now avoid. For instance, some people abuse their children in the name of “guiding” or “rearing” them. But we don’t discourage appropriate guidance or child rearing as a result.
So my thought is that the best response to that taboo is to talk about it, get it out in the open and show that addressing population need not, and should not involve draconian measures. Ultimately, if there can develop a widespread acceptance that it’s a valid, fundamental need, then it’s just a matter of making sure it isn’t abused.
Yes, as long as you’re not suggesting we avoid talking about population or acknowledging openly that what happens to it is a key measure of the success of such programs. I’m definitely opposed to the approach advocated by some and coming out of the 1994 Cairo Conference of trying to address social issues while purposefully avoiding talking about population in the process. You may have seen this major report from the UK which concludes it’s an approach which has caused us to lose focus, lose funding for family planning, and generally lose ground in addressing the population issue. (More here.)
The intellectually honest approach is to focus on those social issues and say forthrightly a major reason for doing so (among other solid reasons) is to bring down fertility rates in the hope of saving a huge number of lives in the coming decades. We can deal with the taboo through open communication. (An exception, perhaps, could be something like Paul Chefurka’s most recent approach, which is not misguided or deceptive, as are the arguments of the population deniers, but stems from his particular expectations regarding relatively imminent collapse.)
I asked in a discussion recently, “Can anyone think of another major social or environmental issue which has been dealt with successfully by denying its importance (see my essays on Betsy Hartmann) and/or willfully avoiding talking about it?” Maybe there is one, but I’ll bet the track record of that approach isn’t very good, you know?
Right, it’s not always the simplest possible relationship. Just to highlight the idea, you could have rural villagers next to a rainforest, not disturbing it, while a corporation (or large rancher or…) is coming in and destroying it. Clearly, reducing the population of villagers isn’t going to help with that.
But the basic link between population and environmental degradation is rock solid as I suspect you’d agree. It’s just that it isn’t always as simple as “these people in this spot doing this particular damage.”
In the example I gave we might well find that the increasing demands of a growing global population for the products of the corporation or rancher are are at the root of the problem. It also may be possible, of course, for some environmental degradation to be unrelated to population. Nevertheless, population size and growth is a huge cause of degradation.
I want to be clear about that because those studies (e.g., Sloan, 2007) are sometimes used deceptively as “evidence” by those wishing to dismiss the population-environment link. Don’t be fooled. 😉
Well, one cannot always talk about everything, eh? As much as I write about population, the only way I could always be sure to talk about equity, women’s issues, etc. would be to write a canned passage or two and paste them into every comment or essay. My focus is very often on trying simply to convince people of the seriousness of the population-environment link. Solutions are of course essential, but there are still a lot of people who remain unaware or unconvinced of the basic link and its urgency.
Okay, enough on this. I haven’t read Blair’s comment yet.
Here’s John Holdren recently demonstrating a correct, not deceptive, understanding of the relationship between factors and products in the consumption equation:
But you shouldn’t have to be a former president of the AAAS to understand this simple idea. 🙄
I really like your idea of asking the EU to be leaders here.
What I assume you are getting at is embracing population decline as a positive outcome and figuring out how to adjust to it without replacing that decline with greater immigration. That’s what I’d like to see happen. Japan is perhaps a in a more extreme situation in terms of an aging population with less than replacement rate fertility. Can they decide it’s a good thing on the whole and redirect a greater portion of the declining population toward caring for the aged? Or will this cause them to kick open the doors to immigration? Or will they ask the elderly to do more for themselves?
One part confused me:
I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t connect development of renewables with per capita consumption or vice versa. I take them to be independent of each other.
Well yeah, technically renewables don’t lessen per capita consumption; they just shift it to renewables (which carries potential problems we rarely hear about… e.g., the question of the ecological impact of usurping a much larger portion of the sun’s energy reaching the earth). But it seems much of what is perceived to be the problem of per capita consumption is that it’s consumption of nonrenewable stuff. So I was just referring to the consequent decrease in per capita consumption of fossil energy. e.g., the high per capita consumption of oil in the US would go way down if oil were mostly replaced with wind and solar. Perhaps I should be more precise with that and just say some EU countries are leading the way with renewables.
Please forgive me for saying that I believe my not-so-great generation of elders is literally on the verge of devouring the birthright of its children and mortgaging their future, while not giving so much as a thought to the needs of coming generations. My generation may be remembered most for having ravaged the Earth and irreversibly degraded its environment, leaving our planetary home unfit for life as we know it or for human habitation or both.
Unfortunately, many too many of our brothers and sisters as well as virtually all the political leaders, economic powerbrokers and ‘talking heads’ in the mass media are not yet acknowledging the distinctly human-induced predicament looming ominously before humanity, even now visible on the far horizon. Because human overproduction, over-consumption and overpopulation appear to be occurring synergistically, at least to me it makes sense to see and address them as a whole. Picking the most convenient or most expedient of the three aspects of the human condition could be easier but may not be a good idea. The “big picture” is what we need to see, I suppose. At some point we are going to be forced to gain a “whole system” perspective of what 6.6 billion (soon to be 9 billion) people are doing on Earth. That is to say, the human community needs to widely-share a reasonable and sensible understanding of the colossal impact of unbridled production, unrestained consumption and unregulated propagation activities of the human species on Earth……. and how life utterly depends upon Earth’s limited resource base for existence.
If human beings can share an adequate enough grasp of the leviathan-like presence of the human species on Earth, then we can choose individually and collectively to behave differently from the ways we are behaving now, lest my generation could lead everyone to inadvertently precipitate the massive extinction of biodiversity, the irredeemable degradation of environs, the pillage of our planetary home and, perhaps, the endangerment of humanity.
Now I see what you mean.
25 January 2008
Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being
by John P. Holdren, the President of the AAAS …
The reason why I became involved
in registered politics, way back in the
early 1980s (even though I had known
that politics was almost totally bullshit)
was the nuclear arm’s race at that time.
Inside that context, I thought it was interesting
that one area where the exponential growth DID
actually slow down and reverse was in the area
of making nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
“… the buildup of the global nuclear weapon stockpile
from a dozen in 1946 (all in the possession of the United States)
to the peak of about 65,000 in 1986 took just four decades;
another two decades later, the number had fallen …
Of course, since it only takes a few hundred
nuclear weapons to destroy most of civilization,
& anything more than a thousand nuclear bombs
can probably leave nothing living on the surface
of the Earth, except insects and grass, while the
use of ten of thousands of nuclear bombs might not
be survived by anything but bacteria, & others that
were able to hide enough, somewhere underground …
building tens of thousands of nuclear bombs was
totally INSANE, and yet it was happening,
at an exponentially growing pace,
up until the middle 1980s …
Therefore, it is extremely significant
that the exponential growth of nuclear
powered weapons of mass destruction,
DID NOT continue to grow at an
exponential rate forever …
Through some political miracles,
the politicians & military men
faced the facts that more &
more nuclear weapons was
an INSANE thing to do.
In the context of a world were almost
everything one looks at has been
growing at an exponential pace,
that nuclear weapons STOPPED doing that is extraordinary!
It is one of the very few, clear, examples
that the madness of growth was heeded.
Of course, the world still has
tens of thousands of weapons,
while only one thousand is
enough to wipe out all of
global civilization …
But nevertheless, it was one significant area
where a “need” for more and more and more,
finally reached the point where it was stopped.
While I am the topic of this article by John P. Holdren,
this is a typical article from an extremely intelligent
and well-informed man writing about our problems.
It fits inside oxymoronic views
of believing in the gestalt from
the bullies’ bullshit, and then,
offering solutions within that
bullshit frame of reference.
It is what I would describe as “brilliant stupidity.”
It does not face all of the facts
regarding entropy in societies.
It does not face the facts that
governments were the best
I agree with Holdren when he says:
… urge every scientist and engineer …
to read more and think more about relevant fields outside
your normal area of specialization, as well as about the
interconnections of your specialty to these other domains
and to the practical problems …”
I have been writing about the importance
of the emergence of a transnational
scientific community for a while.
However, that community has to liberate itself first,
before it could be a liberating influence in society.
The transnational scientific community
of scientists, engineers & technicians
is an extremely important aspect of
futures hope for the human species.
More than any other group, they have the power
to become organized and influential, however,
more than any other group, they need to go
through the paradigm shifts against the
bullies’ bullshit world views …
Fundamental problems throughout
sociology and political sciences are
that the biggest bullies’ bullshit
are the dominant social stories.
The total insanity of building tens of thousands of nuclear weapons,
when one thousand was more than enough to destroy the world,
somehow managed to persuade people to stop doing that …
I can barely think of another area
where people actually imagined
things enough to change doing
what they were doing …
When it came to their nuclear weapons arsenal,
where the bullies’ bullshit was the most
astronomically INSANE thing possible,
exponential growth WAS STOPPED.
The total insanity of building hundreds of thousands
of nuclear weapons, to be able to do death controls,
managed to work its way through to force changes.
Several times in the past, we only barely
avoided starting some nuclear wars, and
the threat is always still there …
But nevertheless, it is is SIGNIFICANT
that there is that one real example of
exponential growth actually arresting.
What we need now is for the purposes
behind the perceived need for bombs
to be better understood, so that
we could develop death controls
that would be more effective.
😀 — If I find, all of a sudden, that I can reach to every internet destination of my wish from this compputer, except for the location on which I’ve just started a blog on my own (www.wordpress.com), … would that give me reason to freak out and believe that someone has reported the content of my blog as being a tad unseemly or offensive or outrageous or vile or obscene or whatever? Or would that simply be paraniod reactions on my part?!
😉 I was being paranoid. Not to panic, alright.
To reiterate something I’ve said elsewhere (and with apologies to Disraeli and Samuel Clemens):
There are liars, damned liars, and economists.
In their attempts to appear to be both mathematicians and scientists, economists achieve neither. Yet they continue to be so influential, for many of the reasons stated so well in this discussion. Perhaps our population reduction measures should begin with economists.