Overpopulation and Related Matters

overpopulationDear Emily,

We have got to stop fooling around by evading the questions: “Why, why have human population numbers been exploding during my lifetime without the attention of every expert on the planet being focused upon this question? Why the denial? The deafening silence? The global gag rules? The conscious collusion of experts? The elective mutism?”

A pernicious silence has been allowed to prevail over science. Until now, objective intellectual discussions have not even begun of vital questions regarding the nature of human population dynamics. As a direct consequence, the prodigious collective intelligence of the family of humanity has not been accessed. Preternatural thought and unscientific theorizing have been shared and consensually validated as if it represented the best available science.

Could it be we are about to become witnesses to an unexpected spiritual event, a new beginning like one that occurred in ancient times when something which appeared impregnable, like the walls of Jericho, began to crumble at the moment enough people marched, blew their trumpets.… and spoke the truth as they saw it about the population dynamics of the human species, as well as about the profound implications associated with the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time?

Somehow, at least one necessary discussion of the nature of human population dynamics could begin soon. I have been trying to organize this discussion since 2001 without success. If we could accomplish this single thing, perhaps in an instant we could move from being in “the nowhere” of silence and darkness to “the now here” of openly shared speech and light. Like the inhabitants of Easter Island, who ignored what they were doing to the world upon which they depended for their very existence until it was too late for assuring their survival, perhaps the family of humanity is ignoring now what we are doing to the planetary home (an island in a celestial sea of stars) we inhabit.

Earth is bounded and finite. It has a frangible ecology. It cannot be sensibly compared to a maternal presence, in the sense of it being like a mother’s teat at which humankind can forever suckle. Neither the Earth nor a mother’s teat is actually inexhaustible, despite the child’s fantasy and the adult’s belief that either one is an eternal source of sustenance.

The human family ignores human biological limits and Earth’s physical limitations at its own peril. We also puts at risk the children’s future, life as we know it and the Earth as a fit place for human habitation.

Knowledgeable people have got to stop colluding in silence and ignoring the best available scientific evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth, just as all of us have to share the understanding that a species like Homo sapiens cannot continue to outrageously overconsume and excessively hoard Earth’s limited resources; to recklessly overproduce unnecessary stuff and relentlessly pollute its environs; and to reflexively overpopulate the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit.

If leaders keep adamantly advocating and hotly pursuing what they are doing now, and followers keep buying into this soon to become patently unsustainable, primrose path to the future, then the time remaining to us elders, now and here, to secure a good enough future for the children is fairly short, I suppose.

We cannot effectively address any global challenge if we do not allow ourselves to understand from whence it emanates. If people cannot see that an actual threat exists, that itself is a problem to be overcome. Fortunately we can recognize the family of humanity has a human-induced problem that we have not yet so much as adequately acknowledged, let alone begun to meaningfully address and overcome.

Some people say that we have too many challenges to confront now; that we have to deny how certain global ecological challenges are themselves posed to humankind by the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers. Unfortunately the human community appears not to have space-time available to longer avoid facing the question of why looming threats to future human wellbeing and environmental health are occurring with such vengeance in our time. Please consider that we cannot wait “until tomorrow” to share the understanding that these ominous threats could be emanating from the colossal scale and unbridled global growth of overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species.

As we examine the prospects for the future of life on the relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planet that we inhabit and upon which we are, and have always been, utterly dependent for our very existence, perhaps we can think about something more than lives of effortless ease and outrageous excess, short-term profits and other derivatives of greed mongering, as well as about something other than waging unnecessary wars, producing unneeded stuff and stealing the children’s birthright to a natural world fit for human habitation.

For a moment anyway, let us think in longer-range terms and consider how what we do now can be expected to help safeguard the future for children everywhere and coming generations. Given the way the surface of the Earth is being ravaged in these days—- leading to massive biodiversity extinction, rampant resource depletion, potentially irreversible environmental degradation and climate destabilization—- I dare say neither the children’s tomorrow will look after itself, nor can the children themselves be reasonably and sensibly expected to secure a good enough future for their offspring without the able assistance of their elders in the now here.

Sincerely,

Steve

==

Dear Steve,

I share your concerns. Yet, no government or major business leader, even if he has a corresponding perspective, will openly discuss certain taboo topics unless he absolutely has to do so. These concern overpopulation, peak oil, the looming energy and resource shortfalls (including the Water Scarcity Facing 1/3 of US Counties and many other locations across the world), the coming agricultural shortages, the extreme dangers that climate change effects will bring, the unfeasible nature of unbridled economic growth and heavy consumption of all sorts of products, the severe destruction that arises from high extinction rates and ruin of the biosphere, the degree that the oceans are being damaged so as to not support much life in times to come if the current trajectories are continued, the fact that a number of nations have turned into veiled corporatocracies, rising wealth inequality and poverty, and the fact that economic considerations and desire for resource control nearly always are the covert reasons for wars, amongst other critical topics.

Discussing such matters would, certainly, lead to political suicide and possible losses in short term, maximal business profits. Accordingly, most politicians and influential business directors avidly serve the corporate power structure, finance it through various means, covertly condone the mistreatment of a poorly paid offshored work force and avidly pursue policies related to resource plunder regardless of where it is taking place as long as it involves their making huge lucrative gains in the process.
So silence on these critical matters prevails. The repercussions from frankly discussing these immense dilemmas or striving to find a positive way out of them seem too high to bear.
Besides, it is not as if there is no consideration of them behind the scenes. As the following statements show, they certainly are being taken into account.
“Depopulation should be the highest priority of foreign policy towards the third world, because the US economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially from less developed countries”. – Dr. Henry Kissinger
“There is a single theme behind all our work–we must reduce population levels. Either governments do it our way, through nice clean methods, or they will get the kinds of mess that we have in El Salvador, or in Iran or in Beirut. Population is a political problem. Once population is out of control, it requires authoritarian government, even fascism, to reduce it….” “Our program in El Salvador didn’t work. The infrastructure was not there to support it. There were just too goddamned many people…. To really reduce population, quickly, you have to pull all the males into the fighting and you have to kill significant numbers of fertile age females….” “The quickest way to reduce population is through famine, like in Africa, or through disease like the Black Death….” – Thomas Ferguson, State Department Office of Population Affairs

All the same, lots of people refuse to see that such attitudes and many of the problems that prompt such awful views even exist. They look out on bright sunny days and think that the only thing wrong with the world is that there are not enough jobs available. So they have little idea that there are unsustainable practices going on around them relative to an exponentially increasing human population, corresponding economic growth patterns, resource conflicts, a high rate of deforestation, the demise of global fisheries and myriad other woes. Yet, they don’t want to know about these seemingly remote issues and, if someone brings up the related facts, they adamantly deny them — especially the nay-sayers with deeply held religious and political views that run counter to the facts.

Despite having to face the hostility, ignorance and/or apathy of deniers, so many dedicated activists have tried to share the unwanted truth. Concerning it, they have tirelessly lectured, written articles and books, contacted their government representatives, held demonstrations, crafted carefully thought out letters to editors and so forth.

Yet, it has made little difference in terms of creating sufficient constructive results. Even John Feeney’s well reasoned Return of the population timebomb and Population: The elephant in the room had their share of skeptical commentators.
I’m afraid that the tragedies that we and further generations will face, as ever so many diverse catastrophes come together, are unavoidable. Thus, you can do your best to protect your loved ones and try to help some others on the way as you personally get your affairs in order so that you will reasonably be able to deal with the coming maelstrom, but that is all that you can do.
More specifically, you need to ensure that if you are not in a community that can be largely self-sustaining, you find one that is — one that fosters the environmental understandings, the humanitarian values, practical know-how, will and capacity to take care of its residents’ basic needs, as well as an ample resource base to be able to do so. It will, also, need to be capable to subsume climate change refugees since it is anticipated that Climate change could force 1 billion from their homes by 2050 and render a large portion of the Earth, including former agricultural regions and coastlines, uninhabitable.
As tragic as it seems, you will not be able to stop the outcomes from forces far larger than yourself — including the forces related to the continuing population burst that is upon us. It can’t be stopped until the whole mess crashes due to its own unsustainability in connection to the huge deficits (i.e., in food, water, energy, etc.) that are on the way, along with the unstoppable climate change nightmare.

Lastly, remember Dale Carnegie’s views: “First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” It’s the only way to move forward, it would seem, under the current circumstances.

With best wishes always,

Emily

Steve Salmony is a self-proclaimed global citizen, a psychologist and father of three grown children. Married 38 years ago. In 2001 Steve founded the AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population to raise consciousness of the colossal threat that the unbridled, near exponential growth of absolute global human population numbers poses for all great and small living things on Earth in our time. His quixotic campaign focuses upon the best available science of human population dynamics in order to save the planet as a place fit for habitation by children everywhere. He can be reached at SESALMONY@aol.com.
Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.

Comments

  1. BenA says

    I find in reading those sites that say that population problems are a myth that their evidence is very sparse and inconclusive. Recently I read Book 1 of the free e-book series “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info), it blasts their lack of evidence relative to their calling overpopulation a myth. The book, actually the last half of the book, takes on the skeptics in global warming, overpopulation, lack of fresh water, lack of food, and other areas where people deny the evidence. I strongly suggest that anyone wanting to see the whole picture read the book, at least the last half.
    The outdated fertility replacement rate of 2.1 is also clarified.

  2. John Lloyd Scharf says

    The US is at or below replacement. Europe’s population is lower than replacement levels. What are you advocating? A war between Asia and Africa?

    • GeorgeT says

      Not a clue who John Scharf is addressing. I made no mention of Asia or Africa in the sense of “advocating” some kind of conflict. Conditions could change with global overpopulation to the point where such conflicts become inevitable, but nobody I’m aware of has “advocated” such a disaster.
      If John S. is addressing ME, it illustrates just how irreconcilable global overpopulation issues are.
      Two giant, old Western industrial regions, US and Europe, are “at or below replacement levels,” but globally the figures to support such a statement say little about global “replacement levels.
      I appreciate your concerns. The matters surrounding overpopulation need to be considered globally. Lately it appears that intelligent discussants have yet to decide on which issues are relevant.
      On the upside, it’s a wide-open, exciting field of head-skretchin’.
      George

  3. GeorgeT says

    Why is overpopulation no longer a hot topic?
    I belonged to the early incarnation of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) from 1969, and my membership petered out sometime in the 1980s, when the bottom fell out of the topic’s popularity.
    In about 1998, the huge convention of the American Anthropological Association met for their annual in a major city. The main theme was population. Naturally, every non-governmental organization so concerned applied for spots among the group tables and displays. The AAA refused requests from most if not all population organizations. You know what? I have no idea why. There must have been a personality clash at some point. The closest I can come to an explanation is that groups like ZPG, having given up on themes involving a generalized focus on global social change and education as to the perils of global overpopulation (exacerbating all other environmental problems), had re-directed focus on women’s rights (at the exclusion of other issues; NOT that women’s rights was not a crucial concern).
    While it’s true that a focus on women’s rights might theoretically spur the world’s many different societies to open up opportunities for women besides those of home-making and bearing children, and that this might have an effect on population over-growth, the feeling seems to have been that this represented a single-issue distortion of the problem.
    As a result, there was no involvement by any outside, non-academic group on overpopulation.
    This experience was but a small part of my awareness that the old Population Bomb popularity had vanished — not merely dwindled.
    I’d run off fantasy scenarios of future worlds without overpopulation, but the gas I have expended on this has been a bit much already.
    Cheers.

  4. George says

    Yes indeed, the poor are the major drivers of the population explosion and will necessarily either die in disproportionate billions during the population implosion or have their reproductive options severely limited soon. The population of our species now outstrips the planet’s long term carrying capacity even without AGW, and extinction (via bang or whimper) becomes more likely the longer this continues.

    It is essentially irrelevant that the rich use more resources per person. The rich are reproducing at replacement level while the poor are still making an increasing number of babies. The rich have the capacity to reduce their resource usage while the poor cannot do much. Global population would implode anyway without the global trade network operated and protected primarily by the rich. If the rich became poor, the population implosion would just come sooner — the only advantage being that it might preserve more species diversity.

  5. Steven Earl Salmony says

    First, a warm “thank you” is extended to Emily Spence who accomplishes more in a few days of ‘spreading the word’ that I can in several years.

    **********

    It appears to me that people everywhere are going to have become more accustomed to discussing unchallenged scientific evidence of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth, despite conspicuous resistance to discussions of this kind. For a moment imagine that human overpopulation of a living Earth is like a live human organism with lung cancer. Please note that although it is exceedingly difficult to talk about “the big C”, it is much more demanding to speak out about the cause of the lung cancer: smoking tobacco products. Similarly, despite the challenges we have to speaking out loudly and clearly about the skyrocketing increase of absolute global human population numbers during my lifetime, it is much more difficult say anything about what might be causing global human population growth. Of course that brings us to human population dynamics and the science of Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel, indicating that human population numbers appear as a function of an available food supply for human consumption and that human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of non-human beings and organisms. Perhaps this is the last of the last taboos. The denial of the science of human population dynamics appears to me as one of the most colossal failures of nerve in human history. The abandonment of intellectual honesty, moral courage responsible action is unconscionable.

    One day human population dynamics will become a topic of open discussion, that is certain. Global gag rules will be eschewed rather than promulgated. When that time comes, I trust it is not too late to make a difference in the lives of our children. They are probably going to be inconceivably victimized because the Earth will have been unimaginably ravaged not only by the arrogance, folly and greed of their elders but also by our cowardice in the face of looming global ecological threats.

    Lester Brown reminds us now that “civilization’s foundation is eroding”. He and we pay careful attention to the distinctly human-driven symptoms of what ails us and report them everywhere; but when will we examine the possible causes of the ailment itself and report findings of what appears to be a non-recursive biological problem? If the human overpopulation of Earth is the problem, when is extant scientific evidence of human population dynamics to become the object of rigorous scrutiny, careful analysis and professional reports?

    Many too many experts possess scientific knowledge of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth, I believe. Rather than speak out, they have remained electively mute. They know and could do better; they have both the tools and the empirical evidence at their fingertips; they are abdicating their responsibility in raising awareness of the those that still do not yet see and understand the human-induced aspects of the global predicament looming before humanity.

    Many experts have had a multitude of opportunities to comment on human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth in professional conferences like those sponsored every four years by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and in an array of speciality journals dedicated to human ecology, population biology, human demography, etc. The experts have uniformly refused. Their abject failure to respond more ably to the challenges presented to humanity in our time is woefully inadequate and inexcusable. It would be unfortunate if the silence of so many of the ‘brightest and best’ in my generation of elders was ever construed by the children as giving consent to this ignominous behavior.

    Thanks to all of you who comment now here for taking ‘the next step’ by accepting this opportunity to organize a discussion of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth. Sooner or later discussions like this one will have to occur openly in many places, I suppose, despite the fact that widely shared discussion of what looks to me like the very last of the last taboos is forbidden by the self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us, the ones who value money, power and position before all else and exclaim their dishonest and duplicitous ‘work’ is, of all things, “God’s work”.

    http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176
    http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/
    http://www.panearth.org/

  6. annieR says

    The Republicans oppose contraception, including having insurance companies cover contraceptives for women. And then, in the most stunning absurdity, when poor women have too many babies, they oppose programs that would help support and educate those children.

    • Annette says

      Republicans aren’t the only ones who oppose paying for poor women’s babies and children. Democrats are getting fed up with seeing their tax dollars pumped down the drain of Section 8 housing, welfare, free health insurance, free food, etc. etc for deliberately impoverished adults who still find a way to smoke a pack or two a day of $10/pack cigarettes, and can afford alcohol and drugs while popping out baby after baby that the public ends up supporting.

      The right wing says that gays are wrecking marriage. Clearly, it’s welfare that has destroyed the institution. Welfare moms are not going to marry the father of their children when that means they might not get as much public support. At this point, it’s pretty much a big scam that sucks tax money away from those who are willing to work for a living. There are so many cheaters living off the public that it’s just too unwieldy to help the few who really need our assistance to get their lives in order.

      Educating those kids is fine. But offering them a life of living off the public is unsustainable. We need to dump these entitlement freebies and find other solutions that don’t encourage intergenerational welfare and the entitlement mentality.

  7. says

    Population growth is considered a constitutional given in our culture. It is so ingrained in the current culture that the standard economic model used on the globe is dependent upon this growth.

    The question is, is it more efficient to change the public’s beliefs in this area, or would it be easier to insure that every female is well educated ?

  8. Dick P says

    Your article truly muddles the question.

    Some people consume far more resources than others. For example, the US has 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes 25 percent of the globes resources. Furthermore, in the US the extreme inequality in income and wealth means that a large chunk of US over-consumption stems from the very wealthy. So — aren’t they the ones whose population should be stemmed, not the “poor and wretched of the earth” who consume virtually nothing?

    And, basic changes in diet, to turn to a low meat or not meat diet, would automatically mean a dramatic expansion of the food supply. If that were combined with a transfer of military spending to agriculture, especially basic, low cost improvements in Africa, the world’s food supply would then have an immediate and dramatic second bump up.

    So — let’s turn to a progressive analysis of this question instead of resurrecting the discredited eugenics movement, which turned to over-population themes after WWII when selective breeding (e.g., anti-miscegentation laws) and mass murder of “undesirable” human beings became unfashionable.

    • Annette says

      Great idea, Dick. Let’s spend more money growing food so we can give it away to people in countries that can’t grow enough food so they can keep having more and more children so that our descendents can then spend THEIR money growing food for people in those countries… Yeah, that’s a great way to stop the population explosion.

      Or would it be too much to ask that people who we’ve been feeding for generations give up their reproductive organs in order to qualify for another fifty years of free food care of US AID and other multi-billion dollar tax-based funding sources that American citizens already pay for.

  9. says

    Back in the early 70′s when I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring I recognized that population is the single most detrimental cause to the demise of the planet. I chose at the age of 12 or 13 not to have children, maybe adopt if it came to a partner that wanted kids, but not ADD to the population.
    All of my contemporaries acknowledge population as a problem but none of them considered that fact when starting their own families.
    So humans will continue the cycle of overpopuation until vast events occur that wipe us out along with many other species. I suspect lack of oxygen as climate change advances in ways we have not even considered will be the way we are wiped out, taking all other critters that depend on a certain level of oxygen to survive. Birds can live on way less oxygen than us so they may have a chance to survive.

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