Gene Logsdon and Friends

Too Many People

In Gene Logsdon Blog on May 29, 2013 at 5:44 am

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From GENE LOGSDON

One of the most frequent comments I hear in private conversation is that there are “too damned many people” on earth. Publicly however you will not win any popularity contests or get elected to public office if you say that. After all, if one believes there are too many people on earth, one should discourage more children and who wants to do that. Or if you think there are too many people, start the elimination process with yourself.

The plain fact of the matter is that hardly anyone, unfortunately, really believes that the carrying capacity of the earth is limited. We think that we will always find a way to increase that capacity when necessary. When one looks at the millions of acres out there not used for anything except lawns and roadsides and “recreational open spaces”, it is hard to disagree. But I think that “carrying capacity” should not be defined only in terms of actual amounts of food, fiber and fuel that the earth can provide. People don’t live on bread alone as we say. I think that humans can’t live in peace if they are confined too much. How much is too much no one seems to know, but when people get too crowded, they start killing each other just like rats will.

One of my favorite books is “Farmers Of Forty Centuries” because it shows how much more food can be raised per acre on small, organic, labor-intensive garden farms than with today’s chemicals, machines and genetic manipulation. What China, and Asia in general, has been doing for centuries in terms of what we call backyard food production is phenomenal. But what I failed to see, at first, was the dark side of this equation. The more food the Chinese produced, the faster their population grew. Increasing production did not solve the problem but only accelerated population growth. Their super-productivity in farming was always just one step ahead of famine.  Chinese history is one horrid genocidal massacre after another in the last two centuries. In between the genocides, natural disasters killed millions more because of concentrations of population. This is why China finally tried to limit family size by law. Righteous people from all over criticized them, but the Chinese aren’t savage beasts who hate children. They have just, in desperation, concluded that there is no other way out of regular episodes of genocide and famine. They were such good farmers that their country kept starving to death.

Thomas Friedman had a thought-provoking article in the New York Times recently (Sunday, May 19) in which he suggested that the civil war in Syria is being caused more by drouth and the subsequent breakdown of traditional farming than by despotic government. The government gets blamed for not doing something about it but not even Assad can make it rain.

Freidman gives numerous examples and quotes numerous sources all of which point to the fact that there are too damn many people in the world, but he never says that and I can hardly blame him. Once you do say that, you can be accused of encouraging more genocide. You know as well as I do that there are a lot of people involved in the Syrian mess who are secretly saying that since people will not willingly quit having so many babies, genocide is the only answer to social stability.

Friedman points out how the breakdown of farming sent millions of Syrians off the land and into the cities. The unrest that exploded was as much about crowded living conditions, not enough jobs, and loss of cultural identity as about food shortages. There is a limit to how many people can live peacefully in the same place and part of the sustenance that we refer to when talking about carrying capacity is more than about food. It is about space. That’s what’s behind the worldwide issue of immigration too.

If you had to make a guess, how much space do you think a human needs to keep the kind of peace society needs to thrive? If every human had an acre of land to call his or her own, and population never exceeded that spatial requirement, would we finally experience peace on earth? I am being simplistic of course because an acre of rich Iowa farmland is different than an acre next to an Alaskan iceberg. And keeping a certain amount of space for everyone would quickly become a nightmare. So Mom and Dad have two acres. They have a child. That means they must have three acres. All their neighbors are in the same situation. Then what?
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  1. The solution to the problem, historically, has not been more agriculture, but actually more industrialization. As countries industrialized, populations actually declined. Compare Japan to China for example. Or compare rural agrarian non-industrialized families like the Amish with DINKs (Double Income, No Kids) in urban centers. Come to think of it, most families that have more than 1.5 kids in surburbia today are regarded as mentally deficient or hopelessly backward.

    In other words, the population “problem” solves itself. As infant mortality decline and income rises, average family size goes down. In fact, the Japanese have the problem that with a declining population, there are not enough young people to support their needs for elder care.

    • I agree Rick. another example is Europe where i understand the population is actually dropping. maybe the population in China, for example, will stabilize itself as the chinese people become more affluent. I believe there is an accepted theory to that effect but like most theories it is merely that.
      good post Gene. keep prodding us to think not just believe.

      • I haven’t heard of population dropping in any western European countries. What is dropping in many western European countries is the native born population, but immigration is generally making up for it and then some. Austria, for example, is expected to become a majority Muslim country sometime in the 2020’s.

      • Germany just released the results of their first census since reunification and found that there were only 80 million people, instead of the estimated 82 million. In addition, many of the western European countries are not giving birth to as many children as they are experiencing deaths.

        And, currently making up only 5% of the population (much of it coming in the last 20 years from the Balkans), the possibility that Austria’s population will become majority Muslim by the 2020’s is seriously non-existent.

      • So I did a little more poking around on the internet and it appears that the population may indeed by dropping in Germany, but Germany is the only western European country (if you count all of Germany as western) with a negative population growth rate. Eastern European countries contain more exceptions. In any case, the correlation to industrialization wouldn’t be so tight, and within Europe greater industrialization (comparing East and West) would correlate with higher growth rates, not lower.
        As far as what I said about the Muslim population in Austria, it appears I was completely wrong. I don’t know what I was falsely remembering, but what I said definitely appears to be false. It appears the Muslim population in Austria is currently around 6% headed for 9 or 10% by 2020, presently consisting firstly of Turks with the first major immigration in the 1960’s.

    • I think that industrialization may be part of it, but actually, the social changes that have traditionally come with industrialization are probably a bigger factor. The more educated women are, and the more rights they have (particularly over their own bodies, and things like birth control, but also general rights to work, vote, etc), the fewer children they tend to have. I enjoyed my education, and enjoy having a career, and there is absolutely no way I would trade that in for eleven kids. I am absolutely certain I am not alone in that. In many poor, non-industrialized countries, women are still considered chattel, and are treated like brood mares, at best.

  2. Thank you for bringing up this very important topic. I feel very strongly about population issues, but often feel like a freak when I bring it up in polite company. We can discuss the misconceptions regarding reproduction and population as held by the religious, right wing, and/or underinformed, but what I find most pernicious is otherwise well informed and liberal friends who refuse to take the issue seriously, because it directly conflicts with their desire to have their own children. While I understand that .instinct, it fills me with utter hopelessness to hear another delusional defense of”replacement value”, or another claim of “we are exactly the ones who should have children”, implying that to have children is to create a soldier in the war of white educated liberals against the great unwashed filthy hordes (people of color/the developing world). Until this topic is rendered less taboo, and people are willing to honestly confront and challenge their preconceptions and instincts – it is a human right and necessity to have two children per family – nothing can be done.

  3. Is there a limit to what the earth can sustain? Sure. Are we close to it? No. People go hungry in large part due to unkind, selfish actions of human beings: corruption, greed, war/power. Humans have always had those problems, since the Fall.

    China’s brutal one child policy has led to horror upon horror. Just a few days ago, they found a (living) newborn baby in a sewer pipe. Sex-selective abortions are also common, as male children are valued more than female ones. China also does forced abortions and sterilizations on women.

    The solution, quite simply, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The law of love: love your neighbor as yourself. You truly find yourself when you make a sincere gift of yourself to another. Living in solidarity with fellow human beings. This is not easy, but we can overcome our tendency to selfishness, by God’s grace.

    • Agreed. The earth can sustain many more people than currently exist, but not with the current consumption habits of “modern” Americans.

      Life in this Fallen world will never be easy (and we would probably get bored if it were) but the love of Jesus makes it all worth it at the end of the day.

    • Is it true, Devin (and Dawn G), that Christians don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy?

      • Not quite sure how this is relevant and I can only answer for myself (not all Christians), but yes, I grew up knowing that the Tooth Fairy was not real. (I was also told the truth about the easter bunny and Santa Claus if that helps!)

    • Well said Devin. Selfless love of others…the Law of Christ (Matthew 28).

      Indeed China’s one-child policy is brutal. So is America’s abortion pandemic. The unborn need protection from those who deem their life nothing more than a threat to the self’s ambitions.

  4. Funny you should write about this now: I just saw a news story last night about the traffic jam on Mount Everest. There are so many people climbing to the top (and it’s a short season for climbing) that you stand in line to actually achieve the summit. They are using a 40 foot ladder to help climbers get down faster to move the line along a little quicker. I wondered what you might say if you heard that!

  5. Biologists understand that population dynamics are (as scientists say) coupled with food supply. Whatever happens to one happens to the other, with food supply generally leading the population rise or fall. We’ve seen it with owls and voles, with red deer and lichen and with every other species without exception. The situation is no different for humans. If you like, you can blame Fritz Haber, who was the co-discoverer of the Haber-Bosch process for making ammonium nitrate. His little creation presaged the quadrupling of the global population over the last hundred years or so.

    Odd little sidebar to that fact, Haber was also the co-inventor of mustard gas, sarin and a host of other nasty chemistries, including one little item called Zyklon-B. His wife, also a chemist, so objected to his work that she committed a very public suicide at one of their dinner parties. How’s that for a non-sequitur?

    In any case, there are a number of experts who are saying the Arab Spring and all the other Middle Eastern rebellions, including the current catastrophe in Syria, are a direct result of the wheat crop failures in Russia a couple years ago during that massive heat wave and drought. Russia went from being a net exporter of wheat, somewhere over 12 million metric tonnes per annum, to being an importer that year, with total production being just over 3 million metric tonnes. Most Russian wheat went directly to the Middle East.

    This is another example of the downstream consequences of the failure of mass monocropping agriculture in the face of climate change triggered by global warming. We will continue to see those failures around the world, including here in the good ole US of A. By the way, how are corn, wheat, soy and cotton doing this year? And of course, we musn’t forget India. As soon as the Himalayan glaciers are gone, India’s water supply vanishes and that’s the end of agriculture for them. Yes, they are about to bypass China in population, but that will not last for long. Some very serious heavy-weight scientists are projecting we are perhaps a year, maybe two, away from worldwide food shortage riots, rebellions and revolutions just as happened in the Middle East, that’s how fragile our current food security is.

    The best book I know of on population and food supply is a wonderfully terrifying tome written in 1980 by William Catton, “Overshoot – The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change” which will give you not only context for understanding the problem and it’s outcomes, but also give you a language for thinking about and articulating to others what your understanding is.

    And by the way, let’s decouple the concepts of population control and genocide. Just because I am in favor of population management does NOT mean I am in favor of genocide. These are natural processes. You cannot expect unlimited population growth in a finite system. The scarcest, most essential resource will become the primary constraint to growth. Whether it is – water, food, temperature, habitat and etc. – when there isn’t enough of something critical then populations die. It doesn’t matter if those populations are lemmings, deer, owls, yeast or humans, overshoot always and inevitably leads to population crash and that’s where humans are right now. This is an inescapable biological fact and we (most of us) are utterly screwed.

    If you want to hook genocide to anything, understand that it is directly linked to our profligate lifestyle and the excesses of a capitalist mindset that always promises more. (and no I’m not a Marxist, that’s as lethal as capitalism) Hang onto your hats, because there’s not a damn thing we can do to stop the pending biological collapse.

    • Cheering loudly, especially at the urge to decouple genocide from the discussion on population. The association of taboo subjects with ideas that need to be discussed is one of the things that make rational discourse impossible. We also need a discussion on eugenics, that does NOT assume that simply contemplating the topic means we want to kill off the handicapped.

    • Absolutely excellent comment!
      Except:
      Lemmings, deer, owls, yeast don’t manufacture their own food at the expense of, and by the deliberate targeting of other species, by destroying their food supply or by denying them access to the food supply. This was accomplished by humans by changing their diet to poisonous plant seeds only them (and some seed predators as rats and birds) can consume and partially poison themselves by doing so (grains, legumes, most seeds which are not hard shelled are poisonous in one way or another, even when soaked and cooked).
      I’m not saying it’s good, or bad, just that the crash has the potential of being much greater magnitude for our species, because we really did our best to overshoot.

    • Catton’s book, although interesting, is badly out of date. People are not lemmings nor rabbits. Birth rates are dropping nearly everywhere except Africa, and the Gates Foundation is bringing new focus on family size back to that continent. Not all is doom and gloom.

  6. Carmine: Very well said!

  7. It isn’t too many people. It’s severely unequal access to resources. Access to water, food, and other essentials is increasingly under control of the “haves.” That’s a prescription for unrest.

    As for population, it’s peaking and then will, by best estimates, drop precipitously. We’ve heard dire warnings about overpopulation forever. And there’s painful truth in having too many mouths to feed. But let’s look at some facts in the book The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet’s Surprising Future by Fred Pearce, former editor of New Scientist magazine. Pearce shows that human population will continue to grow until approximately 2040 and peak a bit over 8 billion before starting to decline. Already the current fertility rate is 2.6 per woman, down about half from 1968 levels. And in many places, like Europe, the rate is well below replacement levels. This is not due to of any government policies or non-profit organization’s programs. Women themselves make the difference. A little education, a little autonomy, and voila, smaller families. This will have serious consequences, but not in ways we imagine. The population will grow older, meaning crime will go down. Young workers contributing to a nation’s tax base will diminish too, and a serious shortage of workers will develop. Developed nations will be offering major incentives for couples to have more children and there will be global competition to attract immigrants. Pearce writes wonderful books stuffed with interesting facts. Not all are cheery by any means, but this one is excellent. Get it for the conclusion alone.

  8. Thanks for the dose of reality, Gene, but your commentators seem to be paddling down that river in Egypt.

    Rick and Dan seem to think that all we need to do is industrialize, and the problem “solves itself.” But what supports industrialization? Cheap energy. We are using soil as a sponge upon which we turn petroleum into food. This cannot continue!

    Devin calls self-regulation (one of the basic ethics of Permaculture) “brutal” and thinks we should just read the Bible and everything will be okay. I don’t care how much you love your neighbour, but if there isn’t enough food, you and your neighbour will both die in your lovely embrace.

    But population pressure is the visible (well, to some people) symptom; excess trophic energy is the dilemma. This is the opposite of what most people think (“more, more, MORE!”), and yet if all of us don’t somehow learn to live with less, we will keep making more of us until we are forced to live with less.

    So, avoid the rush! Get rid of your car! Cut back on the hours you work and the money you make! Move to a much smaller house, much closer to work! Quit your job entirely, and work from home! Grow food! Lots of it, not just a few zucchini! Buy only used stuff! (Buy less stuff!) Starve the beast!

  9. I like cities, they are paradoxically the greenest form of civilization, meaning the most efficient in public and other resources, but I don’t think they are anywhere near what they should or could be in order to support more people in a human manner. The problem may not be so much space density than the illusion of space, like soundproof apartments, a personal cellar or shared workshop or community garden, no private transportation allowed on site, only different speed or distance levels of underground public (or private) transport, most of everything including jobs in walking distance, systematical grocery deliveries, green parks or rooftops, this kind of stuff. This could even work in suburban villages of houses instead of cities of apartment towers or the current type of suburbs where you have to drive miles away to do anything, like buying milk or bread or sending a package by mail or having a night out.

    We’d really need to stop hoarding stuff too, and improve the switch to digital media, like a lot more public domain material, no DRM for books, music or movies, etc.

    When space becomes a premium, we still have tons of unused space: Imagine if every house systematically had 2 levels of cellars required by building code, one for normal cellar stuff, pool or gym room, laundry, rain water storage, and one level below for gardening, using efficient LED lighting. Lazy home owners could even contract with a public gardener who’d start his day whenever he wants (since there is no dependency on sunlight), and do his underground round of maybe only 10 gardens if he has another part time job or hobby. He could put out baskets of vegs for the people upstairs to pick up, grow different cultivars of the same species in different gardens without risking cross-pollination, and pathogen control would require mostly physical methods, like steam, no polluting chemicals. The two main drawbacks are water usage, we’d need a lot more, so we’d better build solar desalination plants like they already do in Qatar for all their watering and drinking water, it should compensate that ocean level increase a bit. And of course pollinators. Might take a bit for bees to adapt their sun dance to LED lights and we may need to simulate winter for them to rest once a year, but on the other hand, they’d have flowering plants at all time, so they would not starve even if they can’t communicate where the nectar and pollen is: It’s everywhere, dummy!

    We are already able to build underground facilities such as sewers, cable, electricity, phone, internet, metro; why not expand on this and have semi-private transportation too, or automated home delivery systems for purchases and mail? I am convinced it’s only a matter of time, and there will be such pilot urban centers before the century is out, although it will probably take millennia to spread to existing cities.

    • Gardening under artificial light in closed spaces has major problems: generating the electricity for the lights, generating the light from the electricity, maintaining a proper humidity level for the plants (so the transpiration can draw nutrients from the roots) and for the people (so the furniture doesn’t get moldy), maintaining high-enough CO2 level for sugar synthesis, controlling the odor of well-watered organic fertilizers, etc. Suppose you think you’re going to put PV cells on the roof, to grow navy beans in the basement? How many Joules of sunshine will you need to grow a Joule of bean soup? The math is grim.

  10. Too many @#$%^&*ing ANNOYING people…

  11. “Too many @#$%^&*ing ANNOYING people”………

    ….yes, and, oddly enough, some of them post here on a weekly basis……..LOL!

  12. A few years ago there were lots of squirrels on my property, thanks to all the large red oaks and acorns. Then we had a drought one year and there were no acorns, hickories or black walnuts that year. The squirrels died off and I didn’t see a one the following year. They have gradually come back. Last year the trees produced like gangbusters–acorns and squirrels everywhere!

    Fossil fuels are our acorns. But they won’t come back after a drought. We don’t seem to have anymore foresight or self-control than the squirrels do.

    Yes, Gene, too many damn squirrelly people. We WILL overshoot and die off too. That will be a good thing for those who gradually come back after we’re all gone and for the rest of the natural world too.

  13. Great post and interesting replies. It has long been my belief that humanity faces an evolutionary bottleneck, a make-or-break time. In order to make it, we will need to pull together the best from all scientific knowledge and all wisdom traditions (in which I include religion) that humanity has so far come up with.

    To start with, it is not necessarily industrialization that makes families smaller, it is the empowerment of women. The two may have coincided in the past. One of the more promising developments we are seeing is the blending of city and country. Young kids making a living growing vegetables on other people’s land in cities. The internet ending the intellectual isolation of the country. We need the values of each.

    The following is an excerpt from a blog I did on the topic, titled “In praise of the one child family, so other people can have six.”

    http://reflectionsrants.blogspot.ca/2011/02/in-praise-of-one-child-family-so-other.html

    I used to worry a lot about population growth, and for that reason frowned upon anyone who had more than 2.

    However, it now looks like prosperity, and above all the education and empowerment of women, takes care of the problem without coercion. Places like Europe, Japan and Singapore are looking at falling population levels. Yes! It turns out that many couples are quite happy with one child, or none. This is excellent news, or it will be once we get over the unsustainable BS that continuous growth is a necessity. That is another topic.

    It means that if we just create decent conditions we can turn things loose, and won’t have to resort to horrible measures like forced sterilization and abortions. Focus on schooling women and giving them some options and the population thing will fall into place.

    More good news: when enough couples choose to remain childless or have a single their choice creates room for others to have a large family. Imagine a world where every family has one girl and one boy. How boring!

    Some people are brilliant at raising children and choose to have lots of them, or they just happened. The world needs children from such families.

    My fond fantasy is a world that is not wall-to-wall people. A world with room for wilderness and other species. It is also a world with many different kinds of families. There are singles living alone or in co-operative households. There are childless couples, small families, and large ones. It is a world where children are treasured, but not everyone feels called or pressured to have their own. It is a world that honours and respects the hard work of parenthood in all the ways that count. It is also a world that encourages a vigorous role for aunts, uncles, and grandparents, biological or chosen.

    Let a thousand flowers bloom.

  14. I moved from Atlanta to a 14 acre farm in the NW Georgia mountains. I passed not one house in the first 5 miles to my daily commute. I was working harder physically than I had worked in 3o years. I kept up with the world through my computer at work (something I still consider essential). And yet I was more relaxed than I had been at any time since I was a child. I could spread my arms and twirl with my head tilted back and the sun on my face. Fighting traffic on Peachtree and Roswell Roads and inching my way through crowds was a thing of the past. Social interaction is crucial to your development but proximity turns one inward.

  15. On our one acre we can grow a whale of a lot of food and even fiber and have been doing it for some time now. Strawy-manure with wood chips and legumes really seems to work to help things grow. (Thank you Gene for showing us how to do it). Even with my poor management we (my wife and I) managed to raise four children to productive adulthood while feeding them mainly on what we grew here with just a small amount of irrigation.

    However, it may not be coincidental that the adult children all live in towns and cities instead of staying home to help Mom and Dad grow food. That to me is the crux of the too many people argument: the towns and cities with the promise of education and money proves to be just too strong a lure compared to little money, lots of work and lots of food the country lifestyle can offer.

    But having said all that, I’m thinking that a truly sustainable agriculture is still not being practiced on nearly a big enough scope, nor am I convinced anyone really knows what a truly sustainable agriculture looks like, because in general, we are too busy trying to produce maximum yields to feed a growing population right now to worry about long-term effects on soil and water from what agriculture we do now.

    In essence then it seems that in some locales, in regard to agriculture and human population, yes, there are too many people and not enough resources to provide for them, yet in other areas population is pretty sparse, yet natural resources deriving from agriculture, including ranching, to provide for people may or may not be in abundance. E.g the dryland shrub-steppe is loaded with grain and beef, but very little is consumed locally.

    So however it turns out in the future with regard to human population and resource bases to support those populations, it seems that those of us engaged in trying to achieve a truly sustainable agriculture, whether in an apartment window or on an extensive farm are engaged in righteous work, whatever our religious or secular beliefs may be that drive us to do so. BUT it takes work, both mental and physical work and dare I say it , spiritual work.
    /JMT..

  16. Reading through all the comments, I’m amazed at the variety of reactions. But I think J. Thomas mentioned a crucial point: a lot of people don’t want the work involved with living in the country and raising your own food. Also, a lot of people don’t have the capital to buy the kind of land that would really sustain a family. I can’t tell you how many young couples I know that would love to have an acre in the country and who can only afford an apartment in the nearby little town. So all of us hobby farmers burn a lot of fuel getting the the jobs that earn enough money to pay the vet bills and buy feed on our rocky little properties. (It’s still better than city life.)
    Looking at my generation and my children’s generation, I’d say population control happens as society changes (we don’t need the brutal Chinese version). I have seven children and THREE grandchildren, with unlikely prospects of any more. My best friend in high school back in the seventies was one of six, and they produced only 3 children among them. We aren’t rabbits and we don’t produce exponentially :)

    • I don’t think you/we should take what young couple say about how they would love to have an acre in the country seriously. Perhaps they would love to have an acre in the country while continuing to do the same kind of work, making the same money, and enjoying the same consumer activities and staying in the same social circles while also having an acre in the country, but land isn’t that hard to access for anyone that wants to be more self-sufficient on a one acre kind of scale. There are plenty of small parcels in un-hip places that can be farmed/gardened for free, especially on borrowed land. My last house with about an acre, which I haven’t been able to sell, rents for as little or less than as many square feet of living space would anywhere else around, and I’ve unsuccessfully tried to find someone wanting to “rent” it for free that wants to use it as a base to get started farming. (The place served us very well for that purpose.) Yes, 40 or 160 owned acres is going out of reach for most people, but there are still plentiful small-scale options available for those that really want it.

      • That place of yours wouldn’t happen to be in the “great state of Wilkes” would it? Funny, I know a fella whose trying to do the same thing!

  17. How about GM food with built in birth control. It should not be total birth control, just slow down fertility some.

  18. Gene, you always keep us thinking. Another great post.

  19. Just because the Earth can ostensibly sustain x number of people doesn’t mean that it should…it’s very hard to make a global number jive with the number of sovereign nations on earth, each of which have their own rules which are subject to change or to conflict with other nations. As a woman struggling with infertility post- cancer I don’t feel like I can tell someone else to stop having children, but the process of helping the children who need a family is so cumbersome and expensive that it weeds out a great many people who would be excellent parents on cost alone. There is both a cost/benefit ratio disconnect here and a need to home the children who are out there already properly. Agreeably there are other issues with adoption, for example the difficulty of finding adoptive families for older children vs babies, but maybe if cost were less of an issue that would solve some of those details as well.

  20. The 2006 movie “Idiocracy” is a rather hilarious – but very crude – sci-fi satire projecting the devolution of society and the ultimate trajectory of consumerism without conscience. Some might even find it strangely thoughtful.

    In general it seems that there is an inverse relationship between number of offspring and socioeconomic status. Correlations are not difficult to identify. Pinning down causation and enforcing remedial action is a much more slippery slope that only people of great personal certainty try to navigate. I’m pretty wary of people with that much certainty.

  21. Suggest if you are interested in long-term population trends, visit demography.matters.blog which collects reports on demography from around the globe. Many countries are now dropping below replacement levels for children. Long term, less people. Short term, social upheaval.

  22. Of course, then there are people like the Duggars of Arkansas. It would be interesting (and depressing) to figure out how much of an ecological load that couple has placed on the planet just through their reproductive ambitions. Someday, I suspect, there will be laws against what they have done.

  23. The one known policy that decreases the birth rate is education and accessible health care including birth control. It’s cut the birth rate below two per couple in all industrialized countries and continues to reduce the birth rate in countries around the world as they improve conditions for their population. It’s independent of religion, culture, or other influences. When people expect their kids to live and women have some control over their lives people invest more in a smaller number of children. This correlation had been documented over and over when I was in graduate school and part of an international food and population policy discussion in the ’80s. It continues to be a major factor in population reduction and in fact the falling number of young people to support the system in western countries. No question we need to reduce the world population. To bad we can’t seem to see the advantage of investing more in these things to make it happen.

  24. Just a footnote – has it occurred to anyone to wonder why, in spite of a sufficient stock to vaccinate a majority of the population, the only people that can get a small pox vaccination are those that are considered ‘critical’ personnel and politicians? Small pox is the only easily spread disease that actually has the potential to wipe out 80% of the population rapidly. I appreciate the desire to decouple the concept of genocide from the issue of resources, but I sincerely doubt the policy makers who plan for these things have discarded the obvious.

    • Vaccination against smallpox isn’t required because it’s extinct in the wild. There’s no need to expose the majority of the population to the side effects of smallpox vaccination. Critical personnel like health workers are vaccinated so that they can be available to quickly vaccinate the rest of us if the smallpox virus escapes from the few laboratories where it’s kept. If it did escape the death toll would be a few thousand, max. Tough for them, but a pinprick relative to the world population.

  25. Reblogged this on Fort Pelham Farm and commented:
    I’m totally with him on the space thing. If the only space I had was in Enfield I might be nuts.

  26. The industrial solution which some have proposed needs rich resources and the ability to burn fuel indefinitely without consequences; neither looks likely.

    Something which is often overlooked is the need for wild nature on a large scale; for ecosystem regulation (Gaia-system,/geophysiology) and for genetic resources, for example to combat new plant diseases and plant pests. A reading of Paul DeBach’s “Biological Control by Natural Enemies” gives a list of agricultural industries saved by scouring the world for the natural enemies of mobile pests. They also evolve, as the apple maggot and curculio did in North America. There are still a lot of food plants which have not been domesticated completely, or at all. We also need to preserve cultivars adapted to low input farming and horticulture, because in future that will be the only kind possible.

    Fantasies of high populations supported by intensive farming on all available land tend to neglect facts like these.

    Up till now, species have been mostly short lived. If life is to continue indefinitely, evolution must be able to continue; and it must remain possible for homo sapiens to be replaced. The community of life on earth produced us, and is more important than us.

    Some hopeful signs are the below replacement fertility rates in some advanced societies like Italy and the Indian state of Kerala. A common factor seems to be high status, education, and power of women..

    • Douglas Woodard, yes, yes, this is an important point not often brought out. Thank you—and everybody who responded so interestingly. Gene Logsdon

  27. I am not a Catholic believer, but I believe that the world would be much better off if Pope Francis would consider the impact of population growth on quality of life, and simply authorize his believers to practice prevention of pregnancy. (Most of them, who can, are doing it anyway.) When that proclamation comes out, you’ll know that the situation is indeed dire. He could do this. After all, the Roman Catholic Church did, eventually, agree that Galileo was right about the shape of the solar system.

  28. Well here’s the view from an alternative homesteading societal opt out-er. People will continue to breed like rats in a corncrib until the energy to grow food on an industrial scale ends. Then 14 out of 15 die off. That may be simplistic thinking, but at least it doesn’t rely on magic.

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