Category Archives: Climate change

We interrupt this programming for a moment of faddish blogosphere stuff: Thinking Blogger Award and Why I Blog

On Thursday, the Russ Hopfenberg post will be featured.

Thinking Blogger Bling

In the meantime, there are these things called “memes” going around the blogosphere. “Meme” is a real word, though it shouldn’t be. It refers to a “unit of cultural information” which can spread from person to person or generation to generation. Spreading little themes and calling them “memes” has become a kind of blogosphere fad. (more…)

A different feminist take on population

A couple of days ago I spotted something rare — an article from the mainstream press looking squarely at the population issue. Reprinted on Alternet with the title, It’s Time to Fight Population Growth, Which Exacerbates Global Warming and Sprawl, Katha Pollitt’s piece appeared originally in The Nation, as Europeans do it Better.

Paris likes equality

Pollitt’s feminist perspective on population growth competes with, and arguably trumps that of Betsy Hartmann. Hartmann is so concerned that a focus on population will distract from such problems as women’s rights and class bias that she mostly refuses even to acknowledge that population growth is a problem. Pollitt though, judging from her article, chooses simply to see each set of problems for what it is. There are women’s and other social issues and there is population growth. Yes, they interact in important ways, but each must be acknowledged and examined in its own right to understand and approach it effectively.

Pollitt’s piece is important in part because it has a feminist writer bringing to a wider audience the recognition that the traditional drivers of population growth are disempowering to women. (That is why the need to address population growth should rightly be seen, in part, as a feminist cause.)

Isn’t it weird?

She explains that some European governments, concerned about the prospects of declining populations, have instituted policies aimed at increasing fertility rates. (more…)

Now that growth is killing us…

It really doesn't buy happiness. The article I discussed last time, by New Zealander Allen Cookson, was a brief gem with an emphasis on population growth and some mention of the flaws, as well, in our economic model of continual growth. The same day I came across it, occasional GIM commenter, Tim Delaney, sent me a link to an article in Mother Jones by Bill McKibben. Reversal of Fortune, drawn from McKibben’s new book, Deep Economy gives us a more thorough look at the problems with our growth-based economy. McKibben suggests that while a focus on growth did serve us well for some time, now “growth is bumping up against physical limits so profound—like climate change and peak oil—that trying to keep expanding the economy may be not just impossible but also dangerous.” It’s an important article. Here are the Cliff’s Notes plus a little commentary:

It wasn’t always this way

The growth which most of us have come to assume to be necessary and good has its earliest roots in the industrial revolution, but really got cranking in the middle of the 20th century, in the post war boom. Prior to that, Mckibben tells us, “even FDR routinely spoke of America’s economy as mature, with no further expansion anticipated.” (more…)

A voice of sanity in New Zealand

The economic growth imperative, based in greed, must end. Those of us concerned about population growth and economic growth on a finite earth often feel we’re in a small, lonely minority. This feeling is intensified by the discussion of climate change. We hear plenty in that context about the need to reduce consumption. That tackling climate change will necessitate also stopping growth — both population growth and economic growth as we’ve come to know it — is the elephant in the room. It’s the huge topic we can’t avoid, but which, for now, the mainstream media hesitate to touch.

One cannot think about this without being troubled. It means the mainstream media, and in fact most of the alternative media as well, are avoiding coverage of the most destructive activity in which humans are now engaged. (No, I’m not discounting the destruction or tragedy of war at all.) So it’s always a pleasant surprise to come across an exception to this unofficial media ban on these topics.

Kiwi surprise

My most recent surprise of this sort comes from the New Zealand Herald. There, Allen Cookson, a retired science teacher, offers a guest column which reads like a condensed version of The Growth is Madness! Story. (more…)

The specter of mass extinction

One of our companions, for now

If current trends continue, one half of all species of life on Earth will be extinct in 100 years. — E.O. Wilson

What will people do?
After the garden is gone.
— Neil Young

Something terrible is happening. Does anyone notice? A few do. In developed countries, only the more observant see it. From time to time, though, we hear about it in the media. We’re destroying the global ecosystem, our life support system.

Too easy to deny

So what? We don’t have to listen to that. Nothing’s happening here. Sure, there’s not as much open land, we hear about companies cutting down something called “old growth forests,” some animals have disappeared. Big deal, our lives go on about the same. (more…)

An unholy matrimony

[The follow-up to this essay is found here.]

The chicken knows
“Overpopulation is a serious problem getting worse every year.”

“Overpopulation is a myth.”

“There is no population problem.”

“There’s overconsumption, … but not overpopulation.”

“[The problem is] overpopulation in the South and overconsumption in the North.”

That’s just a sampling of the kinds of conflicting statements about population growth you can find on the Web and elsewhere. Is it any wonder the topic confuses people? Readers here should have little doubt which of the first three views I share. I would suggest, as well, that statements dismissing the population issue are often disingenuous and politically motivated.

Good question

But what about about the population versus consumption question? (more…)

Logical Science puts in a word for GIM

Logical Science

GIM is a young site, but I’m happy to report that “Wacki,” author of the Logical Science blog, has already posted some some nice comments about it. The Logical Science blog, as well as the associated conventional site, is one of the best places you can possibly go for information on climate change, particularly if you’re trying to assess the merits of a climate change “skeptic’s” argument. A tireless researcher who knows his subject cold, Wacki has compiled a stunning amount of information on climate change and the arguments used by those who deny it. He has tackled those argments one by one, fully deflating them along the way. As an example, if you ever wonder if a skeptic is right in asserting, as they often have, that “there is no consensus,” simply take a look at his page on the consensus on climate change.

Read the blog for the latest in climate change news.

I’m grateful for the positive comments about GIM, and I aim, over time, to eliminate any doubts Wacki may have about the significance of population growth. 🙂

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Al Bartlett exposes “the silent lie”

Al BartlettIn mainstream circles, serious acknowledgment of the problem of population growth has, for some years, been more or less taboo. Mentions are made, the occasional article appears, but extended, prominent discussion is rare. A case in point was a recent issue of Scientific American. Al Bartlett, one scientist who does raise the issue of population growth, and whom I mentioned in the previous entry here, reviewed it in the last issue of the The Physics Teacher. The review is now available online at Culture Change.

Conspicuous omission

As I mentioned previously, Dr. Bartlett, physics professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and former national president of the American Association of Physics Teachers, is one of my favorite thinkers on sustainability, population growth, and related issues. He’s been speaking on the topic of population and energy since 1969, and has written some of the clearest, most incisive articles you will find on sustainability-related topics. His review of the Scientific American issue is no exception. (more…)

How do they face their children?

Corporate profits versus the earthHaving touched on population growth in the last entry, it’s time for a quick look at how economic growth has become a serious threat to the global ecosystem. This is a large topic which has filled a good number of books. But on its most basic level its logic is simple. The key point is that neoclassical economics, the dominant economic model for much of recent history, is based in large part on an assumption that the economy, as a whole, can and should continue growing forever. A major part of such growth is its physical dimension, which is well reflected in increasing “throughput,” defined by Herman Daly as “the flow beginning with raw material inputs, followed by their conversion into commodities, and finally into waste products.” (p. 28 ) The neoclassical view promotes unending physical growth and throughput

The problem with forever

When confronted with the prospect of depleted natural resources as a result of ongoing growth, the neoclassical economist’s answer is that human capital in the form of technical innovation will always make up for lost natural capital (natural resources), or even that we will always find new ways to extract ever more resources. (An article by the late economist, Julian Simon, provides a particularly striking example of this thinking.) The flaw in this model is self evident. It fails to acknowledge that the earth and its resources, as well as its absorptive and regenerative capacities, are finite. Indeed, it contrasts sharply with the newer “ecological economics” model which starts from the assumption that the economy is a part of the finite ecosystem and so should strive to respect its limits, lest it damage it. (more…)

The not-so-elusive population-environment link

Strip miningThe most basic assumption driving this site is that population growth and corporate economic growth team with per capita resource consumption as the primary drivers of today’s ecological decline. Perhaps, then, it’s best to devote this early entry to a bit of support for that assertion. There are people, after all, who question it.

Let’s start with population growth. Especially prominent among those who dismiss the idea that population growth is a problem have been a few economists—most notably the late Julian Simon—who cheerlead population growth, arguing that it is always to our benefit. Natural scientists, for the most part, do not much question it as a major cause of environmental degradation. That in itself speaks volumes. Nevertheless, is it possible to use simple logic to demonstrate a link between population growth and environmental damage? I believe so.

More people, more warming

Consider climate change. There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is contributing significantly to global warming. The implicated human activity is anything we do which causes greenhouse gas emissions. One of those things is driving cars which burn fossil fuels. Clearly then, everything else being equal, more cars means more anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions — the primary gas of concern being CO2.

World population has doubled since the early 1960s. As a result of that doubling there are now far more cars operating than there were 40 years ago. There are, therefore, more auto-related emissions. Those increased auto emissions mean more CO2 emissions and more forcing of climate change. [1] [2] It is therefore indisputable that population growth has contributed significantly to climate change. [3]

There, that was easy enough. And we could construct similar analyses of the relationship between population growth and other human sources of greenhouse gases. We could just as easily demonstrate the links between population growth and other aspects of environmental degradation. For a fuller discussion of the population-climate change link, see the relevant page on the Union of Concerned Scientists site. For more on the general topic of population and the environment try Al Bartlett’s excellent article, Reflections on Sustainability, Population Growth, and the Environment – Revisited. In future entries I’ll try to provide equally simple arguments to support other aspects of this site’s basic assumptions.

[1] Note that CO2, the most significant greenhouse gas produced by human activity, has not historically been regulated by auto emissions standards.

[2] For voluminous information on the relationships between greenhouse gases and climate change see the various documents at the IPCC website. Of particular relevance to this post, see the top graph here, illustrating the increase over time of atmospheric CO2 and the associated estimated radiative forcing.

[3] Just to add some perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy reports, in fact, that, “In 2003, the transportation sector accounted for about 27 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions, up from 24.8 percent in 1990.” (Thanks to Wacki, who maintains the climate change blog, for that reference.)
Image source: Stephen Codrington, posted on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license

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