By John Feeney:
From its first day GIM has been nothing more than an effort to reach as many people as possible with an urgent ecological message. The blog has prompted me to think through certain issues and has served as a base from which to venture out, submitting articles to larger publications. In the course of about 15 months, I’ve concluded I can reach more readers by writing mostly for other news and information sources. This means following through on plans I’ve mentioned previously and slowing all activity on GIM. This will free my time for freelance writing rather than blog maintenance.
For the time being, GIM may remain marginally active, with an occasional post or update, but will eventually become an archive, supplanted by a different sort of site featuring new articles. I’ll post an update here when I launch that site. In the meantime, I’ll update the Articles Elsewhere and Speaking/Interviews pages as appropriate.
Comments remain off. I thank all the regular commenters who have helped make GIM a lively site. But while on-site comments have real value of their own, they are for me a time sink which doesn’t play a large role in generating more readers. I do of course continue to welcome emailed comments. Stay tuned…
For now, my writing focus will be narrowing. I’ll be shifting more strongly to the subject of population. Few observers appreciate the urgency of the population issue. Many are willing to accept it when environmental writers and organizations ignore, or worse, dismiss its importance.
Continue reading . . .
By John Feeney:
I received an email recently from GIM reader and occasional commenter, Alex Szczech, pointing me to his letter to the editor of his local paper. I was heartened to learn Alex had been inspired by content here to speak out on the topic of population. Now I hope more readers will be inspired by Alex.
Alex’s letter could serve as a model, in fact, for aspiring writers of letters to the editor. It’s succinct, so more people will read it. It’s factually accurate without pulling any punches or watering down its message.
It’s so easy to make a difference. These days most newspapers provide an online form or email address for letters to the editor. And depending on the paper’s circulation, a letter may reach a remarkably large numbers of readers. It’s tremendous “bang for the buck.”
Continue reading . . .
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.
Continue reading . . .
Editor’s note: Articles on GIM typically reflect the assumption that we may be able to avert societal collapse or other catastrophic consequences of our ongoing violation of Earth’s limits. Admittedly, though, that assumption is just a guess and is increasingly strained as nations and the media continue with “business as usual” concerning such issues as population, energy, and economic growth.
In this guest essay, Ken Whitehead starts with a different assumption — that the magnitude of the challenge upon us and the history of our responses to similar challenges makes a collapse of today’s civilization inevitable. His wide-ranging essay focuses, therefore, not only on key elements pushing us today toward the brink, but on actions we might take to ensure some sustainable continuation of human society in a post-collapse future.
Ken is a Ph.D. student at the University of Calgary, currently studying the dynamics of arctic glaciers. He has a background in remote sensing and geography, but in recent years has become increasingly concerned about the societal and ecological factors he discusses below. My thanks to Ken for this thought provoking article. — JF
By Ken Whitehead:
Civilisation as we know it will no longer exist within 30 years. This bleak conclusion is not one I have arrived at lightly. However, wherever I look the evidence suggests that we are heading towards a major ecological breakdown which the majority of us are unlikely to survive. A number of critical environmental problems are coming to a head and the fall out from these will dwarf any attempts we can make to tackle them. If the pitiful attempts that have been made so far to tackle the environmental crisis are any guide, then major ecological breakdown is inevitable within a few years.
Once civilisation starts to unravel, it will happen quickly. Crop yields will fall considerably as the effects of climate change and peak oil really start to bite. It is likely that one of the first casualties will be the current banking and financial system, which is unlikely to be able to withstand the strain. Thus wealth will offer no protection.
Compounding this will be the fact that fossil fuels and other oil-based products will become increasingly hard to obtain, so the transportation infrastructure will grind to halt. From a practical point of view, food will be in very limited supply, no one will be able to pay for it, and there will be no transportation available to deliver it. As the crisis deepens, the electricity supply will be disrupted as will water supplies. Disease will almost certainly thrive in such an environment. Conflict over what limited resources remain will be almost inevitable. In short we will be transported back to the dark ages in a very short space of time and many people, used to living a comfortable western lifestyle, will be unlikely to survive this transition.
Continue reading . . .
Posted in Climate change, Collapse, Ecological collapse, Economic growth, Economics, Ecosystem, Environment, Extinction, Global warming, Overpopulation, Overshoot, Peak oil, Population, Population growth, Sustainability, War
Tagged Ken Whitehead. future society
I’m busy working on a difficult article which I hope to get published somewhere. In the meantime, I’ve come across several intriguing items on the Web, either in researching the article, or just poking around. Take a look:
[UPDATE: Take a look, as well, at this ongoing roundtable discussion of the question of population and climate change. In my view, Fred Meyerson, John Guillebaud, and Martin Desvaux’s comments have so far been on the money. I note that Guillebaud and Desvaux’s response to Betsy Hartmann is quite in line with my own past comments on her work.]
Cool book discovery
A book I’m amazed I hadn’t come upon until a week ago is Jeffrey K. McKee’s Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth’s Biodiversity. Having just received it yesterday, I’ve only scanned it so far. But I learned elsewhere that Mckee, a physical anthropologist at Ohio State University, argues that no matter how much we lower per person consumption levels, we cannot end the current mass extinction crisis without addressing population size and growth. That’s a refreshing change from the usual insistence, “It’s all about (per capita) consumption,” so prevalent today among environmentalists. For some of McKee’s thoughts online, try this pdf.
Food for thought from Anthropik
At the Anthropik Network, rewilding advocate Jason Godesky, whose work you should know, responds to an article in The Economist which tries to debunk the “myth” that early hunter-gatherer cultures were in many ways fairly benign and livable compared to today’s civilization. Not surprisingly, Jason debunks the debunker quite handily.
The heart of rewilding from Urban Scout
Urban Scout gets to the heart of the “rewilding” movement in a video on his blog. Rewilders such as Scout and Godesky have a better handle on our ecological dilemma than just about anyone. Don’t overlook what they’re doing!
Danny Bloom’s bloomin’ polar cities
Danny Bloom, who’s commented here a few times, is trying to get people to think. It seems he’s trying to nudge us to consider how serious climate change just might be by imagining a possible future need for special communities in the polar regions for those who survive global warming. Environmental writer Stephen Leahy reports on Danny and his polar cities idea. In email, Danny told me he’s serious, but on some level is also “kidding, in a kind of guerilla theater public awareness wake-up call kind of way.” His idea is sometimes dubbed “quixotic,” but if it fosters discussion that can only be good.
Posted in Biodiversity, Climate change, Collapse, Ecological collapse, Ecology, Environment, Extinction, Global warming, Overpopulation, Population, Population growth, Rewilding, Sustainability
Tagged Danny Bloom, Jason Godesky, Jeffrey K. McKee, Urban Scout
Editor’s note: Brad Arnold is a global warming and biological weapons internet activist. This essay by Brad captures succinctly the potentially tragic consequences, intended or not, of the Bush administration’s historic determination to maintain a business-as-usual stance rather than endorsing mandatory caps on greenhouse gases.
Let’s hope signs of positive change at the recent climate change conference in Bali prove more than fleeting.
As a side note, it’s worth acknowledging the varying ways we might interpret the Malthus quote in Brad’s essay. (For some perspective, try William Catton’s discussion here, and Gregory Bungo’s observation that in the quote below Malthus was using satire to make a point.) But while some who dismiss the population issue like to use Malthus as a straw man in making their arguments, a careful reading of Brad’s essay demonstrates that no matter your take on Malthus, the importance of population in the global ecological crisis remains.
My thanks to Brad for this incisive piece. — JF
By Brad Arnold:
Populations tend to increase at a geometrical rate, whereas the means of subsistence increases at just an arithmetical rate. Without the checks of disease, famine, and war, human populations will double their size every 25 years. (An idea advanced by Thomas Robert Malthus)
The world’s population reached 1 billion for the first time in 1830. It took 120 years to double to 2 billion, and just 30 years to reach 3 billion. The world’s population is now over 6 billion people.
Our increased means of subsistence is due to technology and a climate favorable for agriculture. Modern medicine, industrialized farming, and use of fossil fuel have reduced disease and famine. Furthermore, we’ve enjoyed an exceptionally mild climate period called the Holocene.
Most of the 80 million extra each year are born in developing countries least able to support the added population. The demographic divide between the rich developed countries and the poor developing countries is reflected in vast disparities of living standards, health, and economic prospects.
Below are two interviews worth a listen. The first is with Al Bartlett. The second features Paul Ehrlich. Each is, of course, a leading thinker and writer on a variety of topics in sustainability. (Both, by the way, will appear in Dave Gardner’s film, Hooked On Growth.) You can find other interviews with each, but these are fairly recent as well as engaging. They range across topic including population, economic sustainability, politics, and energy. The Bartlett interview is 72 minutes long while Ehrlich’s is just 19 minutes:
Al Bartlett interview
Paul Ehrlich interview
Posted in Albert Bartlett, Consumption, Dave Gardner, Ecology, Exponential growth, Overpopulation, Overshoot, Paul Ehrlich, Peak oil, Politics, Population, Population growth, Sustainability
I’ll be appearing this Sunday (12/9) on Free Range Thought, WKNY Radio (1490 AM) out of Kingston NY, with hosts Adam Roufberg and Robert Johnstreet. The show airs at 1:30 pm Eastern time. I should be on at about 1:40. This discussion will likely cover a range of ecological topics including population growth, food production, climate change, and other sustainability related subjects. For those outside the station’s broadcast area an audio file should be posted on the show’s website subsequent to airing.
It’s always worth bringing attention to another respected voice calling for action to address population. This brief video is a section of a broader October, 2007 interview with Jane Goodall:
Notice, at the 1:20 mark in the video, Dr. Goodall’s mention of the appreciation villagers showed for a family planning team sent to assist them. This is consistent with what I’ve gleaned from articles on population concerns in African, Indian, and other newspapers.
There are some who hesitate to condone action to address population growth in developing countries on the grounds that it means imposing the values of those in the First World on other cultures. It’s an understandable concern, but is no justification for doing nothing. Dr. Goodall’s remarks suggest we need to distinguish between “imposing our values” and providing needed, wanted assistance.
Posted in Biodiversity, Deforestation, Ecology, Economics, Environment, Jane Goodall, Overpopulation, Population, Population growth, Population solutions, Sustainability
Administrator’s note: Jim Lydecker’s essays have appeared previously on GIM. In this one, which first appeared as a guest commentary in the Napa Valley Register, Jim does an especially good job of tying together succinctly a number of the ecological, economic, and political crises we face. He raises, as well, a troubling question: If our elected leaders are fully aware of the challenges facing us, why are they doing next to nothing to address them?
My thanks to Jim for providing this article! — JF
By Jim Lydecker:
I have written before that America is like the Titanic making her way through an ocean of icebergs. The captain and his staff keep reassuring the passengers everything is OK.
Standing on the deck, we see the bergs getting bigger and closer. Looking up at the captain’s quarterdeck, I wonder if they know what the hell they are doing? Can they be so stupid to not see the impending crises in front of us? Are they focused only on those directly in our path hoping to navigate our way through, fingers crossed?
Or do they know there is no way out and we are doomed?
This allegory is more true than fictional. America faces a convergence of crises of such magnitude that no amount of financial or scientific commitment may be enough to keep them from ending industrial civilization. The future would be less problematic if our leaders had taken on the crises before they became so large and interconnected.
Posted in Climate change, Collapse, Ecology, Economics, Energy, Environment, Global warming, Jim Lydecker, Overpopulation, Peak energy, Peak oil, Population, Population growth, Sustainability, War
This came up in comments, but I thought it was worth a little more exposure.From Anne E. Kornblut at the Washington Post:
Last week at his library, in a speech at a Slate conference honoring top philanthropists, Clinton sounded almost critical of the presidential candidates, including his wife.
His complaint? None has put the subject of population control in a world with shrinking resources on the 2008 agenda.
“Now, nobody’s going to talk about this in the election this year — in either party — but I ain’t running for anything, I can do it,” he said, saying the world population will be 9 billion by the year 2050.
Among public figures, then, it takes someone no longer nurturing political ambitions to bring up the obvious. Does this mean one day an adult will look down at a child on a bleak, perhaps depopulated earth, and say, “We had a chance to save the earth, but politics got in the way”?
Housekeeping: A bit of travel next week will mean I won’t be able to attend to GIM as regularly as usual. If you leave a comment during that time and it doesn’t show up, it may be caught in the spam filter. Be patient and I’ll set it free as soon as I’m able. Expect a new guest post before that.
Image source: advencap’s photostream, flickr.com, Creative Commons license