On The Elephant In The Room: Population And The Environment
Is this our future, to be as crowded as the Planet Gideon?
As Sami noted in his post Is Birth Control the Cheapest Answer to Climate Change?, overpopulation isn't exactly a taboo subject here on TreeHugger. The subject has attracted the attention of many of our writers, and some scepticism. Here is a roundup of the various positions:
We appear to devote a lot of pixels to Fred Pearce, who thinks it is a green myth:
We hear it all the time, and have heard it since Malthus: That overpopulation is the primary cause of the world's environmental ills. It makes sense in simple logical terms: The more people there are consuming natural resources, the greater a threat humanity poses to exhausting them. Hard to argue with that. But the issue is of course more complex -- and there's an interesting back-and-forth over at Grist on the subject to prove it. One writer argues that fears of a rapidly expanding population are overblown -- constituting a "green myth", even -- and that those fears should be redirected towards consumerism. Is that right?
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Pearce is interviewed by Jon Stewart
In The coming Population Crash and Our Planet's Surprising Future, Fred Pearce shows how birthrates are falling all over the world. And not just in rich western countries, but in India and Iran. Even in Bangladesh, women are having half as many children than their mothers did. It is a worldwide trend that will result in a population implosion. More in TreeHugger.
We've covered this one on a number of occasions but with World Population Day just passed, it's worth bring up again: In a new op-ed published at Grist and elsewhere, Fred Pearce argues that all the focus on population growth rates in the developing world and its impact on the environment is misplaced. When it comes to eco-impact it's really rising rates of natural resource consumption, for which developed nations remain largely to blame, which is the bigger issue. More in TreeHugger
I quite openly believe that no technological solution alone will solve the environmental problems we currently face. No green deus ex machina is likely to appear. Changing habits and attitudes toward material consumption could have far greater an impact than any technological breakthrough.
However, this week Yale is running a rather hopeful counterpoint to Ehrlich. Not a refutation of the idea that we need to be paying attention to population more than we currently do, but an observation that population growth is slowly slowing itself. More in TreeHugger
Another contrarian on the population issue is a guy who knows something about cradles, Michael Braungart, co-author with William McDonough of Cradle to Cradle.
"So believe me, we are not too many people on this planet. If you take the total weight of the planet's ants on one hand and the total weight of human beings on the other, you'll see that the ants' weight is four times higher. It is not only the number, but ants weigh out human beings. Further they have a much shorter life span than we have. And because they work much harder physically than we do, the calorie consumption of ants equals about 30 billion people. It is clearly not about the fact that we are too many. Ants don't produce waste. They don't need to minimize waste. They produce nutrients. Again it is a design question." More in TreeHugger
Michael Braungart of MBDC is interviewed by Nelda Roger in the latest issue of Azure and points out that it isn't our population that is a problem, it is how we live. More in TreeHugger
(Yes, we know, Mr Brangart does recycle his jokes, you might even consider calling it upcycling.) According to this German scientist, "we are not too many, just stupid. We have to re-organise ourselves because we have a design problem." More in TreeHugger
Carl Sagan said it first and best:
There is a well-documented correlation between poverty and high birthrates. In little countries and big countries, capitalist countries and communist countries, Catholic countries and Moslem countries, Western countries and Eastern countries--in almost all these cases, exponential population growth slows down or stops when grinding poverty disappears. This is called demographic transition. It is in the urgent long-term interest of the human species that every place on Earth achieves this demographic transition. This is why helping other countries become self-sufficient is not only elementary human decency, but is also in the interest of those richer nations able to help. One of the central issues in the world population crisis is poverty.More in TreeHugger
According to Andrew Chung of the Star, Alan Wiesman of The World without us says we have to "limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one." "I'm not trying to be sensationalistic or controversial," he says in an interview. "I'm trying to get us to think very hard about what the whole situation is." If we don't control ourselves, nature will do it for us. Every species that eats itself out of house and home experiences a population crash." More in TreeHugger
Here's a sobering thought: Mongabay reports a new study by the Population Reference Bureau shows that by 2011 world population will hit 7 billion people. That's just twelve years after it hit 6 billion, and 24 since it hit 5 billion. More in TreeHugger
Forget changing your lightbulbs, driving a car with high fuel efficiency, adopting a vegetarian diet or even switching to green power. If you live in the United States and really want to reduce your carbon emission legacy, perhaps the single largest change you can make to your life is commit to have fewer children. More in TreeHugger
Population Growth, Resource Over-Consumption at Center of 'Looming Catastrophe', Stanford Biologists Claim
This next post is about something which I've found many environmentalists, and even more people who don't consider themselves environmentalists, find very hard to discuss: Overpopulation and the corresponding Overconsumption of natural resources which we now face on this planet.
Yale Environment 360 is currently running a piece by Stanford biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich which discusses what they see as the central environmental crisis which we face: "Too Many People, Too Much Consumption." It's an important topic and a thought provoking piece. More in TreeHugger
Countries everywhere have little choice but to strive for an average of two children per couple. There is no feasible alternative. Any population that increases indefinitely will eventually outgrow its natural life support systems. Any that decreases continually over the long term will eventually disappear. More in TreeHugger
We've discussed the issue of population control before on Treehugger, but every now and then a turn of events makes it necessary to drag it all out again. Jonathon Porritt, former chairman of the Green party, and the heart of the Sustainable Development Commission, is back on the scene today, reminding us that the battles we are waging against global warming are not reaching the real root of the problem... population control! More in TreeHugger
As land and water become scarce, competition for these vital resources intensifies within societies, particularly between the wealthy and those who are poor and dispossessed. The shrinkage of life-supporting resources per person that comes with population growth is threatening to drop the living standards of millions of people below the survival level, leading to potentially unmanageable social tensions. More in TreeHugger
The Sami Grover Story
Treehugger readers have watched and read as Sami Grover obsesses about the issue.
When this TreeHugger's dear mother sent him an article by Angharad Penrhyn Jones about how eco-activists "spend their lives agonising over the planet's future - but that doesn't stop them having children", it didn't take a genius to figure out she may be ready for grandchildren. Actually, putting Grover-family politics aside for a moment, the article, entitled I Threw My Fears to the Wind, makes for interesting reading. More in TreeHugger
Call me a cynic, but I've never really understood the idea--promoted or at least implied, in my experience, by many a new parent-- that having kids somehow magically wakes you up to the urgency of protecting our environment. Or that if you're already a green minded soul, that parenthood will somehow take you to the next level of green goodness. More in TreeHugger
As a relatively new green dad, I am by no means anti-baby. I love my beautiful little carbon footprint as much as the next parent. And I fully understand that rich, fossil-fuel addicted Westerners have precious little moral high ground from which to lecture the rest of the world. But the idea that discussing how the number of babies we all have impacts our environment, and our society, should somehow be off limits seems like a dangerous concept to me. More in Treehugger