[Below are posts I’ve run across on population. It will be left to Mother Nature to cut our numbers back to what the earth can support after fossil fuels decline. In the brief 100 years or so the oil-boom lasted, we have ravaged our atmosphere, oceans, and soil hemically and physically with enormous diesel-combustion petroleum powered machines that blew up and leveled mountains, destroyed biodiversity to clear forests and wetlands to grow food, scarred the earth with mining, and paved the landscape with roads, parking lots, cities, shopping malls.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]
Erlich, Paul. 2017. Population and the environment: How do law and policy respond? Without policy changes, a global crash is inevitable. Environmental Law Institute.
The basic driver of today’s environmental overshoot is aggregate consumption, now causing humanity to live on its natural capital, rather than on the interest that flows from that capital. Natural capital is not just fossil fuels, minerals, and timber, but it also includes soils, plankton, fish stocks, pollinators, natural enemies of crop pests, disease vectors, and sinks for carbon dioxide, plastic trash, and other pollutants and toxins.
The signs of overshoot are everywhere: hundreds of millions hungry, and billions of people malnourished in terms of micronutrients, the accelerating sixth mass extinction, the dramatic decline in energy returned on energy invested in the scramble for oil, the heating planet and increasing extreme weather, the escalating refugee crisis, the scramble after remaining high-grade resources, the pollination crisis, the weight of plastic trash in the oceans soon to exceed that of fishes, ocean dead zones, symptoms of global toxification with hormone-mimicking compounds, falling sperm counts, and the automatic decline (with population growth) of democratic government, as each individual voter’s say is diluted. These, examples, along with global footprint analyses, show that the human population greatly exceeds Earth’s long-term carrying capacity.
From a policy viewpoint, the driver most easily addressed is overconsumption by the rich. We know when incentives are right, consumption patterns can be changed overnight. This was clearly demonstrated in the rapid U.S. reaction and mobilization after Pearl Harbor. There are potentially many legal and other mechanisms for curbing overconsumption: regulations, tax policies, campaigns to change norms, etc., but none of them seem feasible considering the hold faith-based economics has on politicians and businesspeople alike. The magical notion that growth on a finite planet can continue forever and that growth is the cure for all economic problems has a death grip on most societies, built into such institutions as fractional reserve banking and advertising.
Humanely shrinking the global population, the other side of the aggregate consumption coin, will take many decades to show significant progress. It would require moving the total fertility rate (average completed family size) down to somewhere just a little above 1, by making a single child family the ethical norm. But there persists a widespread belief in a right to have as many children as one desires.
All rights, regardless of their putative origins, clearly have attached responsibilities and limitations where they impinge on other peoples’ rights. The right to pursue happiness does not allow one to drive 100 miles per hour through school zones or throw garbage over the back fence, no matter how joyous it makes you. In order to suppress such activities, people form governments, and governments prohibit various actions because they interfere with some of their principal functions: maintaining order and peace and protecting public health. Since overpopulation is now a major threat to all three, indeed to the persistence of civilization, regulating the size of their populations clearly should be a central policy concern of all national governments.
Giving women everywhere legally equal rights to men and providing everyone with access to modern contraception and safe back-up abortion might lead to the critically necessary slow decline in numbers. But the required changing of norms before legal steps could be taken could be a slow process in many societies, and just achieving those goals could be controversial and difficult. More direct regulation, as in China’s one-child program, would present even more difficult policy and legal challenges. And whatever steps are taken, because of the momentum built into its age structure, humane shrinkage of the global population is not likely even to reduce it below today’s level within this century.
The scientific community’s repeated warnings about the population problem have fallen on deaf ears. Numerous studies point to the problem. There is, sadly, no sign that a general abandoning of economic growth-mania or humane global population shrinkage could occur in the critical next few decades. All this means that progressive civil society must start putting its efforts into planning to soften the coming collapse of civilization and finding ways to prepare for a post-collapse recovery that might give survivors in remnant societies a reasonably decent life.
Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies. Emeritus, and president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.