Pedro Prieto on Population

[I haven’t always agreed with Pedro about population, but I think he’s right now. It’s too late to do anything about overshoot, and we probably could have never done anything about it because we are animals. Though still, it is a shame we couldn’t have had state level incentives like lower taxes or better education for families with 2 children or less, and lower immigration levels so that countries with high birth rates didn’t have escape valves, but it’s too late now. Given how the rich benefit from excess population by paying lower wages, and the Ponzi scheme of pensions and SSN requiring ever more workers, and businesses and religions to grow their customers, overshoot and dieoff were inevitable.  If there is a dim light, perhaps the length of the dark times will be less since the overshoot is so high. Alice]

May 7, 2015 Pedro replies within a thread about population

Evidence #1. Population is in global overshoot today.

Evidence #2. All living beings have, by nature, exponential reproduction capabilities and rates, limited only by the access to resources in their environment.

But I have always found difficult and sometimes immoral or even useless to suggest, propose, mandate, legislate, etc. to my fellow humans, how they should -must- proceed with their natural instincts to solve this imbalance. If we force humans by legal coercion to limit their natural reproduction capabilities, we are doing something wrong, in my opinion.

Disclaimer #1. I am fully respectful for couples freely deciding to have an offspring below the minimum reproduction rate to sustain the species (below 2.2 per couple, for instance, as an average).

Disclaimer #2. I am also very respectful with couples that freely decide not to have babies.

Disclaimer #3. I am finally very respectful for couples that voluntarily take, if available to them, whatever the contraceptive methods.

But I believe we are totally mistaken when we plan to force millions of couples to “decouple” from their natural instincts and put in place policies like the “one child policy” in China. The fact that some demographers still believe it was a success (now it is being abandoned), because otherwise China could have today some 400 million inhabitants than the 1.3 billion of today, is not sufficient evidence that this type of policies are going to the heart of the population overshoot. It is only a temporal delay.

I am contrary, absolutely contrary, to sending missionaries or doctors to impoverished countries to sterilize women without their informed consent, with the alibi of attending them in giving birth or just launching preservatives with how to use pamphlets from planes, to populations that are rather waiting vaccines, aspirins, potable water or means to have it, anti-diarrhea pills or just a barefoot doctor. First things first.

If we are in overshoot, we would require, to this effect, to know first HOW MUCH we are in overshoot.

Then, in second place, we would need to understand WHY something that was not needed for 2 million years (reproduction legal coercion) is now needed or badly needed and if it the proposed measures have some sense or minimum possibility to succeed.

The most probable answer to this second question is that the core of the population overshoot lies more in our reversible industrial and technological way of living (even in our agricultural way of living), than in our irreversible natural way of reproduction in itself.

This will bring then the question of what way of living we think we aspire to for a given population.

Nate projects a chart, in some of his presentations, on the evolution of live beings since the Earth was formed (credit from William Stanton). We had never been in global overshoot ever before to the best of anthropological knowledge. Perhaps we were in overshoot in some specific, limited areas or regions and for a limited human groups and in a very limited period of time.

We have managed to live without overshoot all the period through which we evolved from erectus to habilis then to sapiens and then to sapiens-sapiens, when clearly differenced from non human great apes. During all this long period of time, a) we managed very well to survive as species and also managed, in all our absolute savageness (Rousseau), to respect other species (of course not individuals of other species we hunted or gathered for our own survival).


And we kept, very well, in a stationary population level of few hundred of thousands or at most very few million individuals within our particular species.


What Stanton called the “human population spike” it is a modern deadline since we started to manage agriculture and domesticate animals, about 10,000 years ago. Then, we had a spike within the spike with the fossil fuel powered machines about 150 years ago and finally a hyper spike within the spike about 30-50 years ago, with the technological advent.

I am very much convinced that we are going to return, sooner than later, to a stationary population level of the order of magnitude previous to the Stanton population spike. Difficult and dramatic as it may seem, I hope and wish humans will be able at least to keep at the original levels, rather than disappearing.

That is why I cannot understand very well the worries and concerns of many in developed countries, about global population growth per se.

The drama of falling from 7.2 or perhaps 8 billion, depending on the population inertia, to few hundreds of thousands or few millions is going to last perhaps one or two generations. That is all –and it won’t be little in human suffering-. Then, we will return to normality for another (I hope so) long period of time.

The present global population status is an obvious anomaly, for which we cannot blame Yanomamis in the Amazonia, Jivaros in Africa or Asmat in Irian Jaya or hunter gatherers having an offspring as large as they can, when nature takes the decision to balance it to the sustainable level.

The anomaly, in my opinion, resides more in the model of society we have created and that even most of the environmentalists hate to abandon or give up, than in trying to stay in this ultra consumerist society and correct or suppress the natural exponential reproduction capabilities to avoid the unavoidable.

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One Response to Pedro Prieto on Population

  1. Bill Chaffee says:

    I encounter people who insist that the world is not overpopulated because there is still a lot of open space. I don’t know how to respond and I doubt if it would do any good anyway.