Population

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Who doesn’t love babies? I know I sure do. Some of you may claim to be that one who “can’t stand babies” but all things being serious I’m certain that experiencing the death of a baby would be far more traumatic than that of someone older. Like all species we are attached to our young with something so adhesive only Life itself could’ve come up with it. Like any animal protecting their children we can go primal when it comes to threatening their safety. The abortion issue is a clear indication of how important our children are to us, they need only be conceived and their life has become sacred.

The reason why we, as humans, all love our children; the reason why all life loves all life, particularly their own species is because it is genetically imbedded in us. To evolve we need something driving the continuation of the species – otherwise life would be a lot more of a “miss” than a “hit.” The reason why sex is so unimaginably pleasurable and seductive to us is not so much sin but instead our natural urge to do the one thing we were knowingly meant to do – and that’s reproduce.

Our genetic code is complex, but the urge for sex will surpass social standards, legal standards, and moral standards that also keep the genetic code intact. That is why this drive is so primally strong and so zombie-esque in need. As a species we feed on sex like vampires to blood.  But of course – nothing new here – we are not even the most sexually active species on the planet.

There is a point to all this – the preservation of life is sacred to us all that exist through it. But specifically the preservation of your particular species, even more specifically – your personal genetic code. From this simple purpose you came to know to love, for nothing melts our hearts more than a love for a child. And I’ll admit – that sounds really sappy – but it’s just a simple fact that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A single life is so complex and beautiful. The creation of a child should never be diminished in its importance as it might as well be a miracle for every time it occurred. The conception of a new life is practically magical in the rapid assembly of itself. For generations which I cannot even fathom this has occurred and this is something profound to say about both life and humanity.

The Problem

With all that being said above, we do have a problem. I just wanted to make it perfectly clear that I think human life is a beautiful, sacred thing that has signficant importance to all our lives. The problem lies directly on the graph to the right. Now, I know you all see what I’m talking about and you want to skip right to the end where you see the giant leap. But let’s take this graph step by step. First let’s recognize that 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago not very much changed in the human population growth. How do we know this? Because more people would’ve meant more bones and bodies found in the ground – but we stayed a relatively low-key species for about 2.5 million years.

Then something happened about 10,000 years ago to change this very sustainable way of living. What was it? What took the population control away from Fate’s hands and into our own? What was our key to control over our own population levels? The answer happens to be something pretty boring sounding considering its power – the agricultural revolution. It’s hard to express my emotional attachment to this time period in human history. To me the agricultural revolution is more than just simply learning how to farm and store food, it was the first breath of civilization. This is important to me because civilization is the one thing we are completely surrounded by with virtually no questioning or truly understanding it. And it was simply the result of deciding to stop running around everywhere and make use of what was directly around us.

And a human living in a world of tribal sustenance, hunting and gathering, incessantly setting up camp and taking it down, almost completely exposed to unfavorable weather, and sometimes not knowing if they’ll have a next meal or have a day to rest I can only applaud their sheer brilliance of fortifying a single spot and attempt to master some of nature to work for us for a change – instead of the other way around. And because of this we prospered, and our genetic code was ecstatic pumping our brains with endorphins as our species finally could put their efforts in to other things rather than simply surviving – one of those other things quite obviously being sex. Yet other things were medical advances which helped people live better and longer lives, and still yet other things were to make life more convenient so as to decrease the risk of something going wrong. And through this we prospered even more, having more free time, and being productive in our own definition of the word with that free time.

Continuing on the graph our species goes through the many periods on which historians use to define eras – we float by the New Stone Age, in which some of the earliest civilizations on the planet began to flourish, in modern day Egypt, Iraq, India, and China. The Iron Age gave rise to the world’s most prominent civilizations to date, mighty empires rising and spreading across the planet only to crumble and fall again, sometimes centuries later. Additionally the Iron Age gave rise to our modern day commonly accepted religions, hardly a blip on the radar of humanity, life, the planet, and the Universe.  For now we’ll skip over the Middle Ages and move right to the Modern Age. Wow. How did the population get so high so quickly? Things hardly changed in millions of years and in the course of a few hundred years it skyrockets.

This is known as an exponential curve. The exponential function is an interesting concept best summed up by this quote right here:

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponentional function.

Albert A. Bartlett, Physicist

And even though humanity has done a great job of demonstrating exponential growth with our populations and subsequently demand for resources, we as a race, rarely take it in to serious consideration. So what is this exponential function? What does it mean? And really the best source of explanation of that comes from the same man who gave the quote above. He has about an 80 minute video on Youtube aptly labeled The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See. If you truly want to feel the gravity of a blindsiding slap of what we as a species are doing to ourselves and the planet with very simple math, you should watch that video. Additionally if you want to understand why John McCain should not support drilling as much as he does – this isn’t political – it’s math – solid fact.But here is how Albert A. Bartlett brilliantly describes exponential growth (with my clever illustration to go with it).

He tells you to imagine a bottle with a bacteria in it that splits every minute, so that after an hours time the bottle will be full.

See the bacteria? He’s in there. The number along side the bottle? Bartlett decides this is the time in which we’ll put the bacteria in the bottle to watch it reproduce.

And there it is! The miracle of life! Where there was once bacteria there now is two. Now, at 11:02 both bacteria are going to split, so again there will be twice as many bacteria.

And there they are! All 4! Now, again, they double. And Again. And Again.

I like how they are stacking themselves up. It reminds me of a flea circus or something. But Bartlett asks this question: Using this method, at what time would the bottle be half full? My initial answer was probably similar to yours if you never thought about this before ” I dunno.” But the question is a trick because it was answered by the problem itself. If it doubles every minute, and after an hour it is full, it must be that at 11:59 the bottle was half full, as such:

Not as cozy and cute as the first 5 minutes. And in a single minutes time, we recieve this:

Even when you are expecting it, it is still slightly shocking, I must admit. For the simple reason that every single minute PRIOR to 11:59 you would’ve never guessed such a substantial growth rate. There is an old riddle whose origin and type of grain changes, but the story follows the same line. You start by putting one piece of grain on the first square, two on the second, and so on – before you reach halfway (or so) you’ve already used up all of the world’s known resources of grain. This is exponential growth – it sneaks up on you even when you know it’s coming. The next question Dr. Bartlett asks is If you were an average bacterium in the bottle, at which point would you realize you were running out of space?  I have taken the liberty to graph the bacteria experiment aforementioned above. Along the bottom is time and along the Y-Axis is the percentage of the bottle that is full (I have no idea how to tell Excel to stop at 100):

That is a fair question. Becuase certainly we can discount almost the entire history of the bacteria existence up until about 11:50. Bacteria at 11:50 have lived the whole history of their entire world, all 50 minutes of it, with a number that virtually amounts to 0. By 11:55 the bacteria are only taking up 3% of the entire bottle. 5 minutes until 12 – and the bottle is 3% full. What bacteria is going to naturally think that in 5 minutes the entire bottle is going to be full? Especially when the last 55 minutes have hardly incurred any growth at all?!

The beautiful thing about a man like Dr. Bartlett is that he thinks ahead. He allows the ability for him to be wrong by large proportions and still make his point. He first off allows the bacteria to “recognize” their danger when they are 25% full – or 2 minutes to 12, which is very generous as the average bacteria would say “There is still 75% of the bottle left to go.” So the bacteria recognize that they are running out of space at 2 minutes to 12 and they send out search parties across the world and they find 3 new bottles! Problem solved, right? Well, this leads to Dr. Bartlett’s 3rd question: How long can the growth continue as a result of the discovery of three new bottles; this quadrupling of the proven resource? Well by 12:00, the first bottle is full, by 12:01 2 bottles would be full, and by 12:02 all 4 bottles would be full, what does this mean?

It means that in this Bacteria-world, even though it took 59 minutes to fill only half of the first bottle (or 98% of the time), it would take only 3 minutes to fill 4 bottles (or 0.05% of the time). Now before I lose you, let me explain how this relates to people: This is why it’s bad to continue on the path of the exponential consumption of oil. Even if we found 3 times the total known amount of oil – we would still use it all up in minutely small amount of time.

You see – that chart I showed you with the rate of growth of the bacteria – it looks familiar. It looks like I’ve seen it somewhere before, where could it have been?! Oh wait, I remember! It reminds me a hell of a lot like the people graph I originally showed near the top of this entry – let’s take a look at what I mean:

So what does this mean? Simply – it means we are the bacteria in the bottle. Instead of bacteria in the bottle, it is humans on the planet. Just as the bacteria cannot survive outside of a bottle, we humans cannot survive outside of our planet. 12:00 is a metaphor – one that is almost cliched – it is a metaphor for our doom. And what time is it now for us? At the very earliest it is 11:59. And the problem for us, unlike the bacteria, is we cannot go exploring out in space and drag 3 other similarly identical planets back near us so we can populate them. We only have 1 bottle – 1 planet – that will sustain life as we know it – diverse and abundant. But every day the seconds tick by to our 12:00, human’s 12:00, in which maximum capacity has been reached and the only way for the population to go is down.

What Does The Population Going Down Really Mean?

Let me tell you what I’m not saying – I’m not saying every square inch of this Earth is going to be crushed with people – that is silly. But at some point this idea of “growth” that civilized culture so unwaveringly supports will not happen anymore. Why am I so certain? One neat thing to do is to take a look at this site that really puts you in perspective with the rest of humanity. Population: One shows what it would be like if each person on the Earth were a single pixel, with you being the first. If you did not click on that link, I encourage you to do it now. Each pixel you see there is a mouth to feed and a butt that poops. Each pixel you see there is someone who needs shelter, and potable water. Each pixel you see there is someone who needs resources to create what they desire, and each pixel you see there creates waste. Many of those pixels contribute to creating waste that does not turn in to something useful again for a long time – leaving less useful natural resources for the pixels to come… and they’re coming. Each of those pixels was once a precious indispensable human fetus.  The pixels are getting larger at an exponential rate – every day. If you would like to see it in real time (as well as many other jaw-dropping statistics) I suggest the World Clock. No matter how hard you try, you can never feel the full impact of what the World Clock is counting – it’s literally impossible as it silently calculates its statistics – yet it’s happening. Right now. Right. now.

At about 2 minutes to 12, or in 1798, a man by the name of Thomas Malthus was our bacteria that recognized the problem early on, when the world was still only 25% “full.” While he did not send tug-boat space ships to each corner of the galaxy to find us 3 new planets, he did prophesize that eventually food production would not be able to increase at the same rate as population. This has been known as the Malthusian dilemma. While some have ignorantly attempted to ignore the exponential function the Malthusian Dilemma is still a very valid and encroaching fear. A quote from Thomas Malthus:

The Power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce substinence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race

Premature death visiting the human race. That is probably the most eloquent way to put it – however in reality that means the creation of humanity’s worst nightmares. And yet we play blind and ignorant to this fact because it is taking on the responsibility of curbing the population of our entire species, which individually we all feel too small to do. And this is so counter-intuitive in thought as everything that we consider good, from medicine to peace all facilitate population growth. But the fact remains – our species will reach a point that if we don’t curb our growth, nature will. How?

Well one way is to look back up at my initial chart of the human race over the last 2.5 million years. There is something noteworthy that I breezed over initially. Between 1000 AD and 2025 AD the chart makes note of the only dip in our population – the black death. For any who choose to minimize the severe impact of disease on humanity, I encourage to click that link, and recognize the apocolyptic scenario we would be facing. In the span of about 6 years, 6 measley years, about half of the population of Europe was wiped out – so much that it even impacted the entire global population of humans (hence the dip on the chart). Today disease is even easier to spread with the simplicity of transportation. A disease that lay dormant for 24 hours, yet strikes like the black plague, could decimate our entire species in roughly the same timespan, if not smaller, than the black death.

And if the disease doesn’t get us and we continue to ignore our population growth – something else will. As we continue to team the planet, wars will be fought more frequently due to the dwindling amount of energy or fresh water sources, there is sufficient evidence to link the current Iraq War with the demand for the untapped oil resources that lay beneath the country. What other energy wars may occur in the future? And of course there is Malthus’ ever-famous famine that will occur if all else fails to diminish our population. There is only so much arable land on the planet and every year we lose more of it to the already voracious need for food in some places around the globe.

But let’s take a closer look at food. As it was the agricultural revolution that had sparked this population dominoes. A man named David Pimentel is quoted in this (boring, yet still relatively) informative slide show :

The populations of all organisms increase to the limit of their food resources

Let’s see. Are we an organism? Check. Well, that was easy, we’ve met all the criteria needed to increase to the limit of our food resource. Ever since we’ve been able to store food, we’ve been subconsciously increasing our population to meet the amount of food available. David Pimentel claims it in his study Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply. All too often we hear people cry out that in many places in the world people are starving and that we need to be able to make more food for them. WorldHunger.org refutes this by saying:

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.

Notice how they openly admit that we are currently producing more food than we ever have before, despite the 70% increase in population (in only 30 years). To make this point clearer, I am going to cite a portion from one of the most inspiring authors I’ve ever read, Daniel Quinn, in his book The Story of B (p. 261 – 262):

Imagine if you will a cage with movable sides, so that it can be enlarged to any desired size. We begin by putting 10 healthy mice of both sexes into the cage, along with plenty of food and water. In just a few days there will of course be 20 mice, and we accordingly increase the amount of food we’re putting in the cage. In a few weeks, as we steadily increase the amount of available food, there will be 40, then 50, then 60, and so on, until one day there is 100. And let’s say that we’ve decided to stop the growth of the colony at 100. I’m sure you realize that we don’t need to pass out little condoms or birth-control pills to achieve this effect. All we have to do is stop increasing the amount of food that goes into the cage. Every day we put in an amount that we know is sufficient to sustain 100 mice — and no more. This is the part that many find hard to believe, but, trust me, it’s the truth: The growth of the community stops dead. Not overnight, of course, but in very short order. Putting in an amount of food sufficient for 100 mice, we will find — every single time — that the population of the cage soon stabilizes at 100. Of course I don’t mean 100 precisely. It will fluctuate between 90 and 110 but never go much beyond those limits. On the average, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, the population inside the cage will be 100.

Now if we should decide to have a population of 200 mice instead of 100, we won’t have to add aphrodisiacs to their diets or play erotic mouse movies for them. We’ll just have to increase the amount of food we put in the cage. If we put in enough food for 200, we’ll soon have 200. If we put in enough for 300, we’ll soon have 300. If we put in enough food for 400, we’ll soon have 400. If we put in enough for 500, we’ll soon have 500. This isn’t a guess, my friends. This isn’t a conjecture. This is a certainty.

So that’s it. We have to come up with a global limit to food supply for the entire human race. With that food supply limit we may not all die of a terrible bubonic plague or a massive nuclear winter, but instead we would taper the population off and, down the road, attempt to decrease it.

It is at this moment in time that I would like to invoke my initial statements of this entry. I’m not supporting this decision because I’m cruel or think humans, especially starving babies, aren’t special and don’t deserve to be fed. I am only supporting this decision because to me, it seems like the least cruel outcome. But let’s face facts here: It’s 11:59 and Thomas Malthus did not send space ships out 1 minute ago to save us with 3 times our current resources. We are on the brink of population collapse, and assuredly extreme disorder – in a world that we have proudly polluted for centuries, especially within the last 10 – 15 decades.

I would also like to add this as well: Don’t have children. If you’re reading this, whatever your age, don’t have children. And if you already have had some children – don’t have anymore. I only beg this of you because I know most will not listen, and they have every right. I would never believe that the government, or any group, should have the right to punish you for baring children. To me that seems as cold as you can come – I cannot support population control with prison and babies thrown out to sea. But please take an active part in our 11:59 attempt at stabilizing and decreasing the population. Dr. Barlett used many amazing quotes with his presentation, this being one of them, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:

Unlike the plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases (which) we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution, but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions who are its victims.

Food production control and your own personal choice to not have children are not the only two things there are either. Let me make it a point that I’m a teacher of some of the most unloved children in New York State, and yet I still acquire many positive relationships with them. I try hard to make a personal connection and influence on all of my students who look even remotely accepting of any positive and progressive influence. Yet, as much as I love children of all ages, I will never have any of my own. Does this make me sad? Not really, I never let it enter my head as a true option because by the time I was adult-enough to understand the population situation, I had decided that it would be nothing less than selfish for me to be the one to create a child.

With saying that I am about to say some politically controversial things, but I believe given our circumstances, these should be nothing but common sense. First is sex education should be comprehensive and international regardless of religious beliefs due to our 11:59 situation. Within the sex education program abstinence should be promoted, if for no other reason than to stop the spread of disease. Additionally condoms and birth control should be completely free for anybody who wishes to use them – please take full advantage. So Catholics – this means you – as precious as life is, it’s okay that not every load blown is for the sole purpose of impregnation. Our sexual drive is too strong for that at this dire hour.

My other controversial belief is that abortions should be legal without thought of debate. Now I’m not talking about weird-ass late term abortions where a woman decides to kill a fully developed fetus on none-other than a whim (which my parents seem to think are the only kind of abortions going on). I believe early abortions for accidental pregnancies should be legal, not because I don’t think that child isn’t special, but because we really have too much on our plate right now to say, on principle, that a woman MUST bare her child if she becomes impregnated, regardless of rape-cases or accidental preganancies. A late-term abortion should only be allowed if the mother is endangered or a similarly good reason. I’m not promoting a murder-of-fetuses-for-fun-day or anything like that, but the fact that an individual should have the right to choose whether or not she wants to bare the life that is within her should be a non-issue. If it isn’t your body, it isn’t your choice in the matter, please if you are really intent on saving lives, focus on one of the many that are in need of you that currently reside on the planet and not in a womb. That is a serious request.

I would like to complete this entry with another quote used by Dr. Bartlett on his video that I implore you to watch. Also, feel free to comment on this entry below, I’m always happy to hear intelligent and thought-provoking responses. This is a quote from Asimov:

In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation.

Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation.

Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation

As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.

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17 Responses to “Population”

  1. Nathaniel Says:

    If you choose to cause someone to die are you not choosing to devalue life? (that is a response to one of the last quotes)

    Let me point out some of what the flaws of the argument created by the individuals you referred to are.

    Dr. Bartlett talks about exponential growth, yet projections are that we are going to level out somewhere between 9-12 billion and then slowly shrink in population size. I think that is a significant point to mention when trying to determine if we have will have ongoing exponential population growth. I’ll have to watch his whole video sooner or later to see (for sure) if he missed this point but from the bits I already have it seems so.

    Bacteria in a bottle & pollution. Bacteria we are not. We can innovate (sometimes a positive and negative depending on how this ability is used) and we do not pollute in proportion to numbers. Bacteria put out waste from themselves (their own physical bodies) alone, thus there is a direct relationship between the number of bacteria and how much waste/pollution they produce. Human beings use cars, electronics, factories, and a number of other devices and items which are the direct source of much of our pollution and are very much not part of our physical bodies and do not occur in a number that is proportional to our physical bodies (how many of us there are). You can have a society where the average vehicle is a bicycle (China in some areas but increasingly not anymore), or one were the average vehicle is a car (the current USA and many places in China now). The number of people does not have to change for more cars to be bought and sold. Last I heard the number of children per household in the USA has generally declined (overall in US history) but the number of cars, electronics, and general home size have all increased. If you are concerned about the amount of pollution on the Earth I would recommend you look at our consumption based economies rather than our population size, and note that the former can grow even if you shrink the latter.

  2. nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Nathaniel – certainly that is true. We can shrink the population yet still increase our use of unsustainable consumption. I am all for sustainable use of everything we possibly can. Make no mistake about that, many of my other entries focus directly on the lack of sustainability in places.

    However, I’m not sure what “projections” you’re citing but the only way human population will level out and decline is if our food production is maxed out on the entire planet. As the study I’ve linked above, as well as the mouse analogy proves, we will grow so long as we have excess food.

    But I am showing the correlation between the bacteria and human growth statistically. We will not grow exponentially (as the bacteria did) until ever centimeter of the Earth is filled with humans, that is ridiculous. However, we will reach a point where we do not have the resources to sustain our massive population that has grown exponentially up until this point. While human population is not growing as strong in the United States (but it is still growing), it is growing leaps and bounds in other parts of the planet, and there are no factual data to back the idea that we’ll just slow down on child baring as a species. So long as the food production continues to increase yearly (as it does) our population will continue to grow thus devaluing human life.

    The only way our population is going to decrease – without the global agreement of plateauing food production, making the personal choice to not have children, and birth control – is by war, disease, famine, and pollution. There is nothing that will magically come around and convince us as a species to stop at 9 billion and then decrease.

  3. Nathaniel Says:

    First, I’m glad we agree that consumption issues matter. Though I suspect the idea that some modern (and modernizing areas) are exchanging children for greater consumption (and thus environmental damage) took you by surprise.

    http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/POP/docs/Population_Projections_Results.html

    Here is a link to some old (mid 1990s) projections. I like that they mention possible alternative paths as projections are educated guesses, but the fact is that they predict a slowing population growth. Thus the concerns over exponential growth may well be outdated.

    Also to say that “the only way human population will level out and decline is if our food production is maxed out” is inaccurate and utterly an assumption (not a fact). If you look at national (rather than world) populations you can find populations that are shrinking (look to some European states) without food shortages. I believe some demographers have even said that the US would be in a similar situation as these European states except for the fact that we have greater comparative levels of immigration.

    To so say that greater population size automatically devalues human life is also an argument depends on assumptions. If those assumptions turn out not to be accurate then the idea may well be faulty. And arguing to that people need to die in order to be valued sounds suspect, like a different comment relating to needing to destroy a village in order to save it (I think that one relates to the Vietnam War).

    Also actively promoting continuation of famines (via limitation of food availability) was tried in 1800s Ireland and India (the former due to a combination of Malthusian though put into policy and English landholders/merchants seeking profits at the expense of lives). I don’t recall anyone saying it made either place better afterwards-though the situation in Ireland may well have laid some of the seeds that eventually lead to a revolution later and an end to British rule on much of that island. Thus an ultranationalist Irishman may have said it was worth the price for Irish independence-but that is an extreme level of ethnic bias/nationalism that may not actually concern itself with many things we (and many Irish likely) would consider important.

  4. nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Nathaniel –

    I understand why you believe that my argument is broken because here in America our growth is not as extreme as it is in other countries (particularly developing countries) and that it has actually slowed. In addition you point out that America’s consumption grew at a larger rate than population. I think it’s essential to remember your point though that it was an increase in consumption (Europe and North America being the most materialistic of the entire world) which has a direct correlation with the decrease (or in most cases – slowed growth) in population.

    Keeping that in mind, the only thing that seems to refute my point that all organisms procreate until they reach their food production limit, is materialism or mass consumption – the very thing we both recognize the problem with.

    Coming from a Dollar a Day: “2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and 1.1 billion scrape by on under $1. ” Clearly this is a sign that we are reaching our exponential limits. That is 30% of our species population that is living near poverty on less than $2 a day. Is this a choice that this 30% of our population made? No. This is their reality – given the chance they would be happy to consume more. China is our factual example of that. While they did ride bikes a lot of places – this was not because they were looking to be good global citizens – it was because they could not afford the “civilized” lifestyle. Now that their economy is booming – their materialism is booming. The same could be said for India:

    http://bestdocumentaries.blogspot.com/2008/04/other-side-of-outsourcing.html

    That documentary really was interesting to me. It is about how America’s outsourcing is affecting India – and to me it made me feel sad. Interviewing many at the reins of economic (read: consumption) growth in India they reminded me all too much of the American wedding with consumption in the 1950’s. While there are no ill intentions, their impact is not anywhere at the forefront of their minds.

    So your argument that more people does not necessarily mean more consumption is wrong – it’s just that many people are too close to poverty to consume more. The way I look at it is like this: As a person I want to make an impact on this planet (otherwise, why are any of us here) and to make an impact I need resources – maybe a modest supply – but I will need resources. I will need at minimum food for me and my family. I will also need resources for shelter at the bare minimum. Also I will need to be useful to others – and one of the most useful ways to be a human is to take resources and turn them into a product. Regardless of how small I do it – in the end I will have consumed. And that’s just me – 1 person – and thats with the assumption that I plan on my consumption to be modest. It only takes 1 person to be wasteful that it can affect many. When 30% of our species live in such poverty – it’s not a choice, it’s not because they want to live with minimum impact on the planet, it’s because we are starting to feel the strain of the “bottle being full.”

    I know this is long but I want to make one last point. I agree with you that population growth will slow – which may surprise you – but it shouldn’t. I have said above in my entry and in my comment to you, that we will not wait until every square foot of this planet has a person standing in it and owning it. But my point is this – up until now, we have been growing exponentially (as the graph and correlation clearly show), and we are at a very dangerous point within that process. Even if we take 5% or 20% longer to double – it’s still a really huge number we’re doubling. And while the growth in the United States has slown, about every 14 seconds we are still birthing another human into our country. Roughly every 14 seconds (this is factoring in the impact of those who die) we are still increasing our population by one. I don’t know how “slow” you really believe that is but it’s a fact:

    http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html

    So in 1 year from now how many more people will be in the United States alone? Almost a quarter of a million people that weren’t here last year. So slowing growth, as you use the term, is relative. What’s an okay amount to slowly grow? And the point is – we’re still growing! And the impact of our population growing exponentially thus far has resulted in our increased consumption (even if in the last couple decades we’ve decreased population growth, it was the result of our exponential growth throughout the last 10,000 years that got us to the point of consumption we use today). And as a species there is no reasonable sign of plateauing growth.

    And we are already devastating the planet, which I think you would agree upon. Forests are being cut down that will never return again so long as humans maintain this level of population or grow. Hundreds of species that make our planet diverse and stable are becoming extinct every day due to our “slowed” growth. Growth simply means expanding, and there is no sign at all that humans have even the slightest inclination of plateauing expansion, let alone decreasing. And at the root – it is our population because it is a simple fact – that more will need/desire more to survive.

  5. Nathaniel Says:

    I did provide you with a group of predictions that indicate likely plateauing of world population.

    Exponential growth models indicate no slowing. A basic part of these models/equations is that what ever number you start with at one point on a graph, it is followed by another number/point that is larger than it and has grown by a larger amount than it did following the number prior to it. Thus the rate of growth can only speed up, otherwise it just isn’t exponential. Thus the slowing we both agree has happened in the US does throw the understanding of the situation via this type of equation/model into question.

    Now as a given number people in the materialistic US generally consume more than the same number of people from most other nations how is it quite possible that more could be consumed with fewer people. If you take an average 10 people from the US, compare them to a nation where each of the there people consumes an average of half as much you still find those in the US consuming more even if you have 9 more average people from this other nation. The gap in consumption gets even larger if I point to one of those nations where people live on a couple dollars a day that you were concerned about.

    That a large number of people in the world are in what we consider poverty does not necessarily mean overpopulation. I could easily (and perhaps more readily) point to wealth inequality-meaning that the wealth may well exist to lift these individuals above what we consider poverty but it is concentrated in a few areas/persons rather than shared.

    Mentioning wealth, that brings us back to the point on consumption that we both generally agree on. Except I would like to mention that the rising consumption levels indicate that wealth is being redirected to the creation of direct sources of pollution when the social decision is made to have less children. I suspect the materialistic nations of the world are exporting their habits (like with the documentary on outsourcing you referred to) and this is leading to other places adopting a fewer children/greater consumption lifestyle.

    If (and you are free to disagree with me if you choose but think about this idea) the projections are correct and we actually do have a worldwide plateau of the human population we may be in a very bad position environmentally because a vastly larger percent of humans will be actively practicing a high consumption and high ecological damage lifestyle.

  6. nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Nathaniel –

    I think we can largely put to rest any question that a high rate of consumption, regardless of population size, is detrimental to the environment. I would like to address these points, because I have reasonable responses to them, and if you would like to continue this debate you are more than welcome to e-mail me at Nakedmaninthetree@gmail.com.

    First, as you mention, exponential growth models indicate no slowing down. This is a fact, because they are theoretical models – with no stresses, especially the complex stresses a single species would have on a planet teaming with life. What my article was about was that the human population has been following the theoretical models precisely up until this point in history. I acknowledge that we may deviate from this theoretical model, but I only acknowledge that with no conscious human intervention the deviation will be a rapid decrease in population. I do not believe that we will, without conscious initiative, plateau or slowly begin to decrease because historically we have never taken that case before. The deviation will only occur, without conscious initiative, through ways deviation has occurred in the past – war, famine, or disease – not the most enticing options. I believe the only way to plateau and slowly decrease the population is a global initiative that inspires individuals to be more conscious about their impact on the planet (in all ways) specifically with contribution to increasing the population.

    Wealth is a pillar of civilization in which without civilization would’ve never come to fruition or lasted as long as it has. To confuse this population problem as a class-discrepancy issue is minimizing what is actually happening. You’re carrying a socialistic viewpoint by making this an issue about making “wealth equal” – I have no problem with socialism and know it has the potential to be a very positive and progressive with the right people in the right places – but the definition of “wealth-inequality” on a global scale is not something I believe anyone could objectively define.

    “Materialistic nations exporting their habits” is simply saying another way of saying “Civilization is continuing to spread across the world.” They are synonymous in meaning. The agricultural revolution and ergo the creation of civilization were the original conceivers of wealth and materialism as it is defined by us today. Since the birth of civilization on the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus River, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers the initial problem of materialism and wealth distribution was born. And as it grew – the problems grew increasingly greater. And it is only because of the creation of civilization and wealth that we were able to take our population and grow with it like we did. Before civilization, as the initial timeline shows, we could not overpopulate the Earth and there was no serious wealth disparity. So wealth is historically a direct contributer to overpopulation, the exact opposite as in the case of the United States (one of few examples where greater consumption increased with slower population growth). Your example is the exception, not the rule.

    To believe that China and India, two countries with a population totaling over 2 billion people, will stop having children because of their newfound love for materialism is hard to swallow. While a portion will become materialistic, a large majority – as it is today – will remain in poverty and population will not slow – and just because it slowed for one culture (the Americans) does not mean it will slow for these two cultures – and these are the cultures that matter. If anything – they now have the wealth to support more children.

    Again – if you’d like to respond, please e-mail me at Nakedmaninthetree@gmail.com , if you make me change my mind on anything, I’ll be sure to post it.

  7. Richard Kleinbergs Says:

    Again, a well thought out and stated article.

    Nathaniel; your seeming belief that things will ‘ease’ into a stable state appears based on a belief that we can stabilise population with resource availability and consumption. however resource exhaustion is unlikely to ‘plateau’ or to happen evenly or easily. There will almost certainly be conflict over resources – especially water – and exhaustion of petrochemical resources has implications which exceed just transport (considering that most fertilisers are petroleum based – other than nitrate based ones which are also rapidly exhausting).

    There are also the sociological changes to consider which are occurring which appear to be exacerbated by urbanisation and population-density pressures.

    I also believe, and have done so for about 35 years, that there are far too many people to be sustainable for many reasons.

    I chose to have no children for this reason – the facts were plain even back in the 60s.

    It is about 11:59:45 and we will not have long to wait to see what the result will be…..

  8. Nathaniel Says:

    Thank you for providing your email and inviting me to discuss this further there. I would like to decline your offer because having this discussion here allows others to read through our points and come up with their own that can be added to what we bring up (as Richard has).

    It would be unreasonable of me to not recognize that there are certain situations with some sort of high deathrate that would interrupt growth. Wars (if large or conducted inside a homeland), famines, and plagues all end up interrupting population growth. Genocide and purges (such as under Stalin) also do this. However, despite the fact that members of NATO (especially the USA) have been at war for years now, these types of situations have not been occurring in the materialistic nations and are not an reasonable explanation for the slowing of population growth. I discount the war(s) NATO members are in because the number of deaths when compared to the population size is so low. So the slow in the population growth of materialistic nations is not explained by any particular event or effort via “conscious initiative”.

    As both the US and Europe have seen slowing population growth then it is possible that the exception is becoming the rule. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to see if this slowing of growth occurs in other highly developed/materialistic areas/nations as a method of testing this possibility.

    China has already, through “conscious initiative”, lowered its birthrate to the point where China will actually see a decrease in population size (given time) instead of just the slowing of population growth. Though, and I admit this is a weaker argument, the government (which is responsible for this) there tries to justify itself via the increasing material wealth and consumption of some of its citizens. So the connection between growing consumption and declining birthrates isn’t completely absent. And I think we both agree that the overall environmental situation in China has not improved over these past several decades.

    Having the wealth (or the lack of it) to support more children does not seem to be the primary factor in either poverty stricken nations with high birthrates or the high income and materialistic nations where the birthrates have dropped. If having enough wealth (in perhaps a US based POV) to raise a child was a determining factor we should be seeing reversed birthrates for each type of nation-that is higher with greater wealth and lower with poverty. But we don’t.

    Richard

    My point is that we already are lowering birthrates with the type of society we have. Though consumption is a part of that.

    Your point about continuing resource exhaustion dovetails with one I made earlier about greater consumption and the possibly I brought up that we are replacing population growth with highly environmentally destructive consumption. Thus there is the possibility that when population stability (which has been projected to occur in the future by some) comes it will be alongside, and in part due to, profound environmental damage.

    About petrochemicals, it is important to think about what we use in agriculture and how agriculture is done. But the primary use of fossil fuels (including oil) is for energy-which leads directly to global warming. Ceasing to use them for this reason would greatly aid in slowing global warming and could ease some of your concerns about fertilizer shortages (though I’m not opposed to changing how agriculture is done).

  9. Richard Kleinbergs Says:

    Societal breakdown under the ongoing and increasing pressures will lead to as much of a curtailment of quality of life as do environmental and economic factors (as our economy is wholly based on growth at all costs rather than sustainability), indeed as we all agree they are inextricably interlinked.

    A look at the top 7 stories on smh.com at this instant shows…

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/onlookers-goad-teenager-to-his-death/2008/10/02/1222651211750.html

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/teen-stabbed-in-bowling-alley-toilet/2008/10/02/1222651209805.html

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/stun-gun-police-use-widened/2008/10/01/1222651172332.html

    My belief is that to maintain any quality of life worth having a population would need to be a long way below the maximum carrying capacity, and a good margin within the level of sustainable resource procurement and usage.

    The ‘natural’ balance reached without some kind of conscious intervention would result in a life on the margins of survival with very little of the comforts and luxuries that Western civilisation expects.

    Selfishly, I am rather glad that I will have passed my use-by date before the worst starts to happen.

  10. nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Nathaniel –

    I asked you to e-mail me because I’d like to open my comments up to more than just you and I discussing one aspect of this issue. Additionally, despite your argument, I feel you are not understanding the meaning of my points and making this a tad redundant and drawn out.

    Again, historically growth in population is directly related to growth in consumption. This is not disputed – this is fact.

    You seem to believe that a slow in growth for some nations (and for even fewer, a decline) is caused solely by consumption. While that is an idea – it certainly has plenty of competitors – it’s a very narrow viewpoint as you discount the last 10,000 years that disagrees with what you say. Those countries that have declined in population are insignificant to the population of humanity as a whole, and the slowed growth of the others still is supporting my argument that population growth – on any level – is the source of more consumption. Simply for no other reason other than humans being born MUST consume!

    I accurately brought up the exponential growth of human past with 10,000 years of proof of my point. Growing at this rate does not allow the human mind to naturally understand the amount of resources required to support it. And I agree a slowdown in growth would occur – but only because we are running out of resources – for the last few decades we have been taking an extremely large toll on natural resources. We have reached a point where as a species we are creating the extinction of multiple species daily and removing forests that will not stand again as long as man stands on this Earth with this much population, creating garbage patches in the ocean the size of large states, and devastating the world’s once-4th-largest lake (see my Garbage Patch and Aral Sea entries).

    There is no evidence that our population will naturally plateau or shrink without terrible devastation – regardless of where it happens. I don’t know what number of people on this planet you consider appropriate – but I considered it inappropriate a long time ago because the consumption we do is something our species is doing wrong – not just rich nations. It is the poor in Russia, China, Burma, Brazil, Peru, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia that are supplying the consumption of illegal logging – and as long as there are 7+ billion people on this planet and ideas from ANYBODY they will not stop.

    While your argument may have some merit in some respects, I believe you are wrong in the belief that population growth and consumption are disconnected. I find that a fatal error in your judgment because it is common sense that screams to us that they’re related – not just common sense but data and examples that I have provided. While you have provided a single link where some have provided a projection of plateauing population it proves nothing to me. My suspicion is behind any population plateau or decline is famine, SERIOUS war, or disease… and lucky for you, I can’t say “I told you so” until it’s too late.

    So again, I ask you to please e-mail me if you really think I’m missing the point. I will allow your posts on here, I’m not going to remove them, this isn’t about censoring your perceived anti-point to my argument , but I feel I have repeated myself about 3 separate times here and you are going to believe what you want to believe regardless of evidence I provide. If you’re the kind of guy who puts faith in the whole human race naturally reducing child birth (for the first time in human history) and can seriously believe it will occur with no negative repercussions – then please go on believing that, I cannot stop you. But I can ask you to stop using my site as your podium in doing so. If you want to post a response again just to spite me, I won’t stop you unless you become rude. This isn’t a censorship issue, it’s a respect issue, and I would appreciate you respecting my request to stop debating your point which has little explanation for the growth and population relationship for the last 10,000 years, while it conveniently works for you in a span of a few short decades. Consumption is a problem – but a problem that is directly related to our population size. I just don’t believe you are connecting as many dots as you should be with this situation and why I am asking you again to please not respond. I would honor this request had it come from you. I encourage your responses on different aspects or different topics, but please no more on this. You’ve stated your argument clearly, and I’m even willing to connect with you on this – but I’d like it to be personally (via e-mail), as opposed to a drawn out session of redundancy on the comments.

  11. nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Richard –

    those are excellent links of examples of how human life is becoming far less appreciated. Within my line of work I know many of the students don’t try their hardest because they know that they’ll always find a new person they’ll be able to manipulate. This, I feel, is another negative repercussion of a large population – it’s easier to say “theres always another sucker” out there when you see a person anywhere you go.

    Your attitude sounds much in the same vein as the main character in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn – if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do.

  12. Richard Says:

    Just a link to a synopsis of the book for people –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael_(novel)

    it looks interesting, thanks

  13. Nathaniel Says:

    I’ll try to avoid being redundant then. Though I think I did bring up a point which you have not addressed. And that point or question is why is it that we both can find slowing of population growth in modern and high consumption nations where there is no famine, “serious” war, or plague?

    Man made Global Warming is a relatively modern situation when compared to the whole of human history. Now I am not saying that humans cannot or did not impact nature thousands of years ago. But types and scale of environmental damage are modern, nobody blames the Roman Empire for modern acid rain and so on. As these are modern problems it is reasonable to examine modern causes. The relationships between modern consumption and modern population trends could be part of that.

    If you look up the Solow growth model you may notice that Labor (or population size) is actually listed as a negative when the amount of wealth that can be reinvested in an economy is determined. These (re)investments often take the form of power plants, factories, and other environmentally harmful creations. Thus the possibility of doing harm faster by lowering population growth arises. Granted we have been talking about consumption rather than investment, but it is not unthinkable that the two could be related.

    If you have not heard about the Solow model here is a link.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solow_growth_model#Change_in_workforce

    nakedmaninthetree, if you read through what we have been doing you may note that some would say we have been having a discussion or a debate. One of the good things about blogs is that they allow others to join. The two of us discussing hasn’t stopped Richard from adding his own comments nor will it anyone else. But just emailing between the two of us would prevent anyone else from seeing our discussion (or at least its latest parts)-even if that isn’t intended as a form of censorship. And I’m taking you at your word that you are not trying to do that, actively doing that to someone who has been civil throughout a discussion would be uncalled for as well as disrespectful and I would warn you away from doing it in discussions with me or others.

    The last time I commented I tried to address issues that you and Richard each brought up (I think I may even have done this in the order they were raised). I’m not sure you are doing the same with me and I would ask you to simply think it over and then reply.

    Richard, that article about members of the crowd encouraging a person to kill himself are very disturbing. As the police were there I would wonder if they could either charge those individuals with some sort of crime or at least remove them from an already emotional situation (as they were encouraging actual harm). That some people would enjoy the death of someone else is a problem that has a sad and long history in places humans are many or few. Just look at those who killed and died for the sake of entertainment in the Roman Empire or (in more modern times) those who are lynched by others of a different ethnic group or skin color (sometimes in very rural locations). Very sad that things like that happen.

  14. Richard Says:

    It does not seem to me that to “charge those individuals with some sort of crime” is any answer. All you are saying is that more force should be applied externally to attempt to counter an internal societal response which is not acceptable, rather than address the root cause of the response – band-aid the problem rather than fix the problem.

    The point I was making was not about any single incident, but rather that the increasing populations, and population densities even more so, are resulting in stress-response behaviours which look like leading to a breakdown of civilised patterns.

    Interesting that you mention Rome, which had one of the highest population-densities of humans ever recorded.

    Somewhere among all the verbiage which has been generating I have failed to see what you basic point is, Nathaniel.

    Nakedman appears to believe that there are too many humans to be sustainable – I will be happy for him to add / summarise.

    You appear to think that it is good to have as many humans as the earth can (barely) manage to support – also please add / sumarise (briefly!)

    I believe that there are far too many humans for the earth to support in any reasonably sustainable fashion above that of mere subsistence for any reasonable period (which we just happen to be in the midst of – though it is ending). Whether the crisis comes first because of falling food or other resources, or due to a behavioural breakdown as a result of psychological stresses from the numbers we now have remains to be seen.

    Discuss…. 🙂

  15. Nathaniel Says:

    Though I type a good deal, I thought I left the latest point of mine out there pretty clearly.

    I asked why the US population growth is slowing without any of the events that nakedman made it appear are the only way this could happen.

    Now as the discussion continued other points evolved and one that I tried to raise is the possibility that allowing population growth could actually slow consumption related ecological damage-which I believe is the fastest growing and worst type.

    Richard, I think you are generally accurate in that I think the number of humans should be allowed to come closer to whatever population cap there is (there are people still arguing about what it is) than we are now.

    About stress and density. I know Rome was a very populated city in its day, but I would be surprised if it surpassed modern New York City. Even it it had I wouldn’t call that the likeliest reason for games that centered on killing others. The theory of density related stress does not explain a rural lynching-which I also mentioned as a socially enjoyed death.

    Thus I doubt that simply because people live in closer proximity is root cause of crime or civil decay.

    Also cities have frequently been a source of what some view as civil decay in that gay people became more tolerated in them earlier than elsewhere. Some religious fundamentalists would take issue with this actually being civil or social progress rather than decay but I disagree with them on that point. Thus cities may actually be places of civil progress that an older generation has problems with.

    And note that some of the same fundamentalists have their own theories about crime/civil decay being related to teaching the theory of evolution in schools. A point which I suspect we both disagree with them on.

    About the latest article. The parent with 10 children (more than I’ve ever thought of raising in any part of my life) likely had more children than he can readily raise. And that is in addition to the problems relating to his wife’s death. I noticed a trend with the other children in the article that may indicate the number of children is not the problem. The others tended to be teens and this is an age when some children may come to have more thoughtful, rebellious, and deeper disagreements with their parents. Thus I wonder if the issue is not the ability to care for children, but friction from family conflicts. The ultimate example of this could be the 18 year old (who is old enough to be considered an adult in many places) that chose to leave his parents rather than the other way around.

  16. Mitchell Moleski Says:

    Excellent! If I could write like this I would be well happpy. The more I see articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there could be a future for the Web. Keep it up, as it were.


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