The Economics of 7.5 Billion People On One Planet

GR: Joe Bish of the Population Media Center directed my attention to this story published last week. It is a clear, short exposition of the population problem that I highly recommend. Note that the best solution to overpopulation is freedom, the freedom to choose. Are women just maids and baby producers or are they individuals with rights of their own?

“The most disheartening story in today’s Seattle Times is about the 38 million pieces of trash, almost all plastic, strewn on remote and uninhabited Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean. When some future alien starship discovers post-apocalyptic Earth, their first impression will be, “What a bunch of slobs once lived here.”

“This story can be told in many ways: A runaway consumer culture, globalization and the 10,000-mile supply chain, more affluence even in developing nations, environmental catastrophe from polluting the oceans. But don’t forget the latest estimate of the planet’s population: 7.5 billion. At the turn of the 19th century, it was only 1 billion. It took more than another century to add another billion. Since then, the billions have been piling on with astonishing speed. The world held “only” a little more than 6 billion in 2000.

“Virtually every major problem, from climate change and wars to mass migrations and resource scarcity has its root in too many people. Economics are not immune. The lowered prospects of the politically potent white working class, for example, have much to do with millions overseas who can do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost. When you hear about theories of “secular stagnation” and the like, think 7.5 billion.

“The enormous and growing costs of human-caused climate change are juiced by those 7.5 billion. Globalization has created large middle classes in nations such as China and India — and its members want the sprawly car-dependent “American lifestyle” and the rights to their share of the atmosphere to heat in order to get it. The greatest deprivation, and lost economic potential, happens in countries with the biggest population overshoot.” –Jon Talton (Continue reading:  The economics of 7.5 billion people on one planet | The Seattle Times)/

The Human Ecological Predicament: Wages of Self-Delusion | MAHB

GR: Here’s a thoughtful article about the absolute necessity to reject the global “growth at all costs” philosophy that dominates our businesses, governments, and churches. Because we have failed to choose our actions objectively, we are approaching major “tipping points” where choices will slip away. We might still avoid the crash by learning to use basic reasoning. Our children (and adults) should learn to recognize the many forms of faulty reasoning, the fallacies, that obscure truth. We must all learn the value of skepticism and we must learn to ask how (will we get Mexico to pay for the wall) and why (do we need a wall), and we must learn to insist on verifiable facts offered as proof.

The coming crash. (photographer unknown)

“Techno-industrial society is in dangerous ecological overshoot—the human ecological footprint is at least 60% larger than the planet can support sustainably (Wackernagel et al. 2002; Rees 2013; WWF 2016). The global economy is using even renewable and replenishable resources faster than ecosystems can regenerate and filling waste sinks beyond nature’s capacity to assimilate (Steffen et al. 2007; Rockström et al. 2009; Barnosky et al. 2012). (Even climate change is a waste management problem—carbon dioxide is the single greatest waste by weight of industrial economies.) Despite the accumulating evidence of impending crisis, the world community seems incapable of responding effectively. This situation is clearly unsustainable and, if present trends continue, will likely lead in this century to runaway climate change, the collapse of major biophysical systems, global strife and therefore diminished prospects for continued civilized existence (Tainter 1987; Diamond 2005; Turner 2014; Motesharrei et al. 2014).

“The proximate drivers are excess economic production/consumption and over-population—human impact on the ecosphere is a product of population multiplied by average per capita consumption—exacerbated by an increasingly global compound myth of perpetual economic growth propelled by continuous technological progress (Victor 2008; Rees 2013). While there is evidence of some ‘decoupling’ of economic production from nature, this is often an artifact of faulty accounting and trade (e.g., wealthy countries are ‘off-shoring’ their ecological impacts onto poorer countries). Overall, economic throughput (energy and material consumption and waste production) is increasing with population and GDP growth (Wiedmann et al 2013; Giljum et al. 2014). Consequently, carbon dioxide is accumulating at an accelerating rate in the atmosphere (NOAA 2017) and the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 sequentially shared the distinction of being the warmest years in the instrumental record (Hansen et al. 2017).

“There is widespread general support for the notion of ‘clean production and consumption’ but in present circumstances, this must soon translate into less production and consumption by fewer people (Rees 2014). It complicates matters that modern society remains highly dependent on abundant cheap energy still mostly supplied by carbon-based fuels. Despite rapid technological advances and falling costs, it is still not clear that renewable energy alternatives, including wind and photovoltaic electricity, can replace fossil fuels in such major uses as transportation and space/water heating in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, in the absence of effective carbon sequestration technologies, reducing fossil fuel use remains essential to avoiding catastrophic climate change. Resolving this energy-climate conundrum will require major conservation efforts, the prioritizing of essential non-substitutable uses of fossil fuels and the banning of frivolous ones.

Source: The Human Ecological Predicament: Wages of Self-Delusion | MAHB

Call For Population Papers: Spring 2018

GR: The European Journal of Literature, Culture, and Environment recently issued a call for papers to appear in a special section of the Journal. I’ve reproduced the call here because of its useful summary of the recent history (since 1970)  of attitudes toward overpopulation. Joe Bish of the Population Media Center brought the call to my attention. Bish’s weekly essay is essential reading. This week he points out that those who argue population is not a problem “. . . completely fail to acknowledge the existence of any other creature on the planet.” Let me illustrate the population problem and its impact on nature with a few words about population trends in Arizona, the U. S. state where I live.

Arizona urban growth.

From 1970 to 2016, Arizona’s resident population grew from 1.78 million to 7.0 million. Much of the growth is due to immigrants from colder states in the upper midwest and the crowded east and west coast states of the U. S. The total growth rate from this simple formula, Rate = births + immigrants – deaths / current population has decline from 3% in 1970 to1.5% in 2016. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the rate has been fairly stable for since 2010. If Arizona’s population continues to grow at this rate, the population will double by 2063.

In Arizona and other regions to the north and south, people have replaced portions of the wild vegetation habitat with cities, roads, and farms. Much of the undeveloped landscape has been grazed by cows and cleared by loggers. The result has been a decline in wildlife.

During the 44-year period from (1970-2014), the research by the World Wildlife Fund and others found that the total number of wild animals on Earth had declined by more than half. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the same is true for Arizona.

Only the narrow “growth-at-all-costs” philosophy of corporations (including cities and towns) in Arizona and the U. S. can explain the continued disregard for the effect of the human population on nature. Here are a few more thoughts on the consequences of continued population growth.

Call for Population Papers

Population growth is accelerating in China despite the almost insoluable pollution costs.

“Overpopulation has become the ‘third rail’ of contemporary environmentalism: no major organization wants to touch the issue anymore. While it had been one of the driving concerns of early environmentalism up until the 1970s, exemplified by such seminal texts as Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet (1948), Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968), and the Club of Rome’s The Limits of Growth (1972), concern with population control has since dropped off the list of popular environmentalist causes. One of the primary reasons for this is undoubtedly that the discourse of overpopulation was found to be freighted with unsavory political associations: in many cases, concern over population seemed like a threadbare cover for racist and classist resentments, or just plain misanthropy, as when James Lovelock famously diagnosed the planet with a case of “disseminated primatemia,” likening humans to pathogenic microbes. Concern with overpopulation was impugned as the expression of a neocolonialist mindset, one that implicitly dehumanized the peoples whose population was said to be in need of control. Environmental problems, it was argued, were not an issue of overpopulation in the Third World, but rather of overconsumption in the First. Famine and poverty were not effects of resource scarcity, but of a failure to distribute properly what resources were available.

“However, recent years have seen a quiet resurgence of Neo-Malthusian thinking, and of the apocalyptic scenarios with which it has been so often aligned, that makes it imperative to revisit these debates. Since the turn of the century, a growing choir of political and military analysts has been prophesying an imminent era of resource wars. Anxiety over economic competition from migrants has fueled nativist movements around the globe. Stephen Emmott’s incendiary pamphlet 10 Billion (2013) closes with the response of one of his colleagues to the question how to best prepare for life on an overpopulated, ecologically degraded planet: “Teach my son how to use a gun.” Such developments seem to bear out the dire warnings of historian Timothy Snyder: in Black Earth (2015), he argues that just as Malthusian fears were an important ideological driver of Nazi Germany’s genocidal warfare in Eastern Europe, they might once again be used to justify the abrogation of basic human rights. Yet all of this only makes it more pressing to find responsible ways of addressing the issue. Even if one does not consider population growth as a primary cause of ecological degradation, there is hardly any environmental problem that is not compounded and aggravated by it. While it is true that overconsumption in the “global North,” where populations are shrinking, must bear most of the blame for climate change and many other large-scale problems, it is also clear that rapidly expanding human numbers in poor countries produce problems of their own. Often, traditional methods of resource extraction and land cultivation which were sustainable while the human population was small have become ecologically destructive simply because more people are now practicing them.

“The aim of this special section is not only to re-assess the long-standing debate on overpopulation in light of these developments, but more importantly to examine the cluster of tropes, narratives, and images which have become attached to this idea, and which we propose to designate as the “Malthusian Imagination.” Even while the issue of overpopulation disappeared from mainstream environmentalist discourse, it continued to flourish in the realms of literature and popular culture. The “mad environmentalist” hatching a secret plan to rid the world of surplus population became something of a stock character (e.g. in Lionel Shriver’s Game Control, 1994; Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, 1995; Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, 2003; Dan Brown’s Inferno, 2013; or Dennis Kelly’s TV series Utopia, 2013-14). Many of these texts and films engage in complex balancing acts, acknowledging the legitimacy of the concern even while they disavow the violent means by which it is pursued.

“The questions we would like contributors to address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • “How do particular works of literature, film, or visual art deal with the representational challenges posed by population growth? How do different representational strategies relate to the ethical and political stance these works take? How do they dramatize a Malthusian “lifeboat ethics” (Hardin 1974), and to what extent do they articulate alternative positions?
  • “How can a concern over population growth be reconciled with an emancipatory politics? How do gender equality and female education figure within the discourse on overpopulation, or the pro-natalist views advocated by many of the major religions? How do recent concerns over the “refugee crisis” intersect with the issue?
  • “What theoretical framework should we adopt in order to conceptualize the problem of population growth? How can, for example, theories of biopolitics, postcolonial theory, critical feminism, queer theory, actor network theory, object-oriented ontology, or social systems theory help us to get a better grasp of the issue? –Editors (Continue reading:  CFP: Spring 2018).

Paul Hawken: “Game on” for global warming

GR:  What can we do to reverse global warming? Lots. The list of proposals contained in this work is by far the most comprehensive I’ve seen (Project Drawdown). Recommended. The rest of this blog post is an interview of the project’s leader.

“In this interview, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author Paul Hawken discusses Project Drawdown, “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” Hawken, who leads the project and edited the just-published book Drawdown, explains why his team felt it necessary to create a master list of the most substantive current solutions to global warming, and how they went about their extensive research. Surprisingly, many of the top solutions they identified and modeled do not involve energy systems, but instead focus on changes in food, land use, and other categories. Hawken speaks about global warming in positive terms, describing it as useful “feedback” that enables humans to take responsibility for what they have done – and to devote themselves to fixing the problem rather than to laying blame.

“If you had asked the thousands of experts at the Paris climate talks to make a list of the top five or 10 solutions to global warming, in any order, I don’t think anybody could have done it. We don’t know. And isn’t that odd? A sixth grader can tell you the five biggest states, but we can’t name the five biggest solutions to the biggest problem humanity has ever faced?” –Paul Hawken.

“They call it “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” It’s a set of 80 solutions that already exist, and 20 “Coming Attractions” that are still emerging. The solutions include the obvious, such as wind and solar power, but the plan doesn’t focus exclusively on renewable energy or even on energy sources in general. The solutions also involve food, buildings and cities, land use, transport, materials, and initiatives aimed specifically at women and girls. Two of the solutions – family planning and educating girls – would be at the top of the list if combined.” –Dawn Stover (Continue: Paul Hawken: “Game on” for global warming: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Vol 73, No 3.)

Learn more about Project Drawdown here.