Is population a problem?

I feel as though I cannot enjoy anything anymore. Every action seems tainted by nagging questions about environmental impact or sustainability. For example, I really like hamburgers but the carbon footprint of cattle production is so high that my beef consumption has dwindled to near-zero. I love sushi, but continually hear reports of how the world’s oceans are overfished. Travel is important (as Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”), but the environmental impact is horrendous. Long showers have always been a favorite indulgence, but in many places (including where I live) overuse has brought the water supply to dangerously low levels.

How did we get here? I am pretty sure that neither my parents nor my grandparents worried about the carbon footprint of beef. My answer always comes back to two key trends:

1. We (in the industrialized world) have generally become so wealthy relative to the cost of most goods that our consumption is no longer constrained by financial capacity but instead by our (rather insatiable) appetites, and
2. There are a lot of people in the world.

We are making progress on the first problem, albeit at a painfully slow pace. By raising awareness of environmental problems and their causes, we as a society have asked our citizens to use conscience and morality as a guide for limiting their consumption. Even the Vatican has joined in, labeling pollution as “an offense against God“. However, as the appeal to conscience has had a sadly limited impact, our state and federal governments have been forced to introduce legislation that would embed the cost of environmental degradation into the price of certain goods such as electricity and gasoline. Amazingly, some people are still resisting this effort, but the trend is inevitable, as is the eventual inclusion of other resources such as water in such schemes.

The second issue is much larger, more complex, and difficult to address. I brought it up with a friend recently and was left somewhat speechless by his ultimate response: “We Muslims believe that Allah will provide whatever is needed for everyone.” I have heard similar statements from Christians as well — and not only that God will provide what is needed, but that the church actually encourages people to have more children. Again, I quote St. Augustine: “Our bodies are shaped to bear children, and our lives are a working out of the processes of creation. All our ambitions and intelligence are beside that great elemental point.”

I have difficulty reconciling these attitudes with my conscience when I see the environmental impact of a burgeoning population. Notwithstanding the exaggerated concerns of economists like Thomas Malthus, who believed that rapid population growth would lead to widespread famine, there is a correlation between population and environmental degradation. Should my responsibility to the Earth and to my fellow citizens outweigh any inclination I may feel to reproduce? If I desire the experience of raising children, shouldn’t the moral notions of charity and generosity, combined with my environmental conscience, prompt me to prefer adopting parentless children instead of adding to the total?

This line of reasoning also raises questions about whether I should be doing more to help others plan their families more carefully. Evidence suggests that women elect to have fewer children when they have greater equality and access to family planning resources, and that a strong inverse correlation exists between standards of living and fertility rates in most countries. Perhaps some of the resources that I would otherwise spend on my own children could — or should — be used to make life better for others who are already here.

I have a deep respect for the faith embodied in a notion like “God will provide for all.” We are human and there are practical limits to our understanding and abilities. At the same time, in situations where we possess the faculty to understand and address the challenges before us, it would seem that we are being given a responsibility and should be ready to take it on. I am thus reminded of my favorite quote from Saint Augustine: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

Author Bio

mark

Comments Disabled

  1. Tony Gorman - August 12, 2009

    I truly believe that controlling the population is the key that will open the door to a sustainable future.
    Al Gores movie totally skirted the issue with ‘fuzzy math’ about reducing the impact of ‘footprints’ but never really dealt with the issue of those ‘footprints’ becoming a stampede.
    Any wildlife biologist or game warden will tell you that ANY piece of land has a “carrying capacity” wherein the species within that environment can be sustained. We have or will soon reach that capacity.
    China as far as I know is the only country that practices any kind of population control.
    We need to address the problem at the G8? level, i.e. global.

  2. Frank F. Kling - August 12, 2009

    Every 24 hours an average of 100 animal and plant species are driven extinct, according to the US National Academies of Science, by mankind while during this same time period the world human population grows by an additional 220,000. Mankind is responsible for effecting the greatest mass extinction of life since the die-off of the dinos. 67 million years ago.
    It’s hard to imagine how this is even a question.

  3. spinoza - August 12, 2009

    Many of these questions could be resolved if we shifted to a more fundamentally biological history of the species we call homo sapiens. We would then recognize that our current generation is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe that began around 1800, and will most likely continue for the coming decades. Beginning with the French Revolution, humanity has undergone an ongoing series of convulsions as a result of growing population pressures. The history of the US, for example, can be seen as a series of waves of European, Asian, and Latin American immigrants ravaging the North American continent, rapidly depleting resources as these waves of immigrants moved west. The battle for resources and land to sustain such uncontrolled population growth led to deadly disease, wars, and endemic violence (depending on what you count, some 30,000 Americans are killed by guns every year). The Second World War alone, for example, killed an estimated 50 million people, equivalent to the entire population of the US west of the Rockies. This, in just five short years. Indeed, world history since 1800 can be viewed as one long intra-species war, truly a battle of the survival of the fittest.
    But as animals homo sapiens quickly represses such brutality. The biological desire to reproduce is so strong that the psychological conditions to permit continued population growth are quickly established after each catastrophe, leading to even greater logarithmic growth in human numbers. Tragedy is quickly forgotten, and this explains the repeated “baby booms” like that which occurred in the 1950s, in spite of the unspeakable brutality and violence just experienced. We tend to heroize these times in terms of “The Greatest Generation”.
    Even in highly industrialized countries a women’s identity and purpose are still centered on procreation (with over 90% of all American women, for example, having children, in spite of the inhuman conditions resulting from centuries of over-population; fully a third of all American women have their first baby before they’re 21, and most of these women are hardly fit–emotionally, financially, and othewise–to raise a child in the modern world; biologically, however, they are brimming with hormonal vigor.
    Unfortunately, as this article attests, understanding humankind’s situation in scientific, or biological, terms has been completely buried and suppressed by the formidable resistance of the world’s “belief” systems we call religion. Such belief systems will do all in their power (and in the end it is a question of power) to prevent human reason and understanding from being applied to getting us out of this path to self-annihilation. It’s no coincidence that the first great work warning of the consequences of uncontrolled growth–by Thomas Malthus–was written just as humanity entered this phase in human history. It’s also no coincidence that Malthus’s work was quickly belittled and vehemently criticized. Viewed in these terms, quoting Augustine as a source for understanding the problem is the last thing one should be doing; it turns out to be nothing more than an intellectual smokescreen.
    I do not need long showers or beef to be happy. I’d be much happier if the world’s societies moved to developing a woman’s identity that was not grounded in having children. The problem is that when it gets down to the personal level, even educated persons who recognize the biological nature of the problem don’t feel they need to be part of the solution: “Yes, this is all true, but I can still have my two children.. or my SUV.. or my McMansion, or personally to use more energy in one year than entire communities in other parts of the world or in earlier times, etc etc”.
    Finding a solution to humankind’s path to destruction will not be easy, but we do know what the solution is.

  4. S. Lance Stoll - August 12, 2009

    I teach Sociology at various colleges and Universities. I always make the point that human population has grown exponentially since the industrial age until we have perhaps exceeded the carrying capacity of this planet. Most of the growth in population is in the developing world. The solution is economic development. When the western countries became educated and could count on good health and economic benefit, population rates declined. The wealthy nations need to provide healthcare, education and economic opportunity to the developing world and birthrates will drop dramatically. Instead we supply bullet, guns and cigarettes!

  5. Katie Daniels - August 12, 2009

    This discussion reminds me of the health care debate. We all know what we want, and no one wants to sacrifice, but until we’re willing to work COLLECTIVELY for the greater good, it will just be a discussion. Sigh.

  6. meadowmarsh - August 12, 2009

    Great dialogue! I’m enjoying everyone’s thoughtful, intelligent, (civil!) comments

  7. Daniel Kirk-Davidoff - August 12, 2009

    Let’s not worry too much about problems that aren’t so huge. The part of the world that puts out the bulk of the CO2 is not experiencing rapid population growth. The part of the world that is experience rapid population growth is in horrendous, grinding poverty. The solution is for the rich folks to halt and reverse the growth in their carbon and nitrogen emission, and for the poor folks to get better off. We’ll know they’re rich enough when their population growth starts to go down. If you want to be useful, rather than worry, than you should certainly give money to Planned Parenthood or Camfed (that works on improving education for girls in Africa). We could put a lot of effort into reducing birth rate in the U.S., but it’s not clear to me that it would help since fewer native born people would just mean more room in the labor market for more immigrants. Better to work on walling off wilderness areas from development and limiting suburban sprawl. Then crowding might tend to reduce family size.

  8. Rosanna - August 12, 2009

    30 years ago, I espoused the two most important issues we had to deal with were education and the environment. I actually am a bit in awe that I ever thought that as rather than change my mind, I have come to believe my earlier statements even more. I sometimes think we are no different than bacteria which grow and grow until their population starts to dwindle due to lack of food. This may be a simplifying the situation, but I think everyone gets the point. Eventually the growth will have to max out and given our human animal side, I am not sure when we will start to rely on our intellects to deal with the issue. I believe one of the earlier comments related that the developped world which tends to have more education has lower population growth. Well this is bad and good. Obviously at the stage we are currently at with the levels very high, we are spawning more and more in the undereducated areas of the globe and fewer in the developed areas. So, you can see where this is headed. Not a good place. I am afraid we are in for a rough ride. The days of plenty are over. I do not believe God will provide everything we need, unless we can widen that understanding to know that there will be hardship ahead that will cure the situation. Mass deaths from war, famine, pestilence, you name it may be in the cards at some point. If we manage to avoid it, we have made great progress as a species, but maybe that is our true challenge.

  9. Kathleen - August 12, 2009

    Reply No. 7 is a prime example of the thinking that in the 70′s derailed the US’s growing awareness of population growth as a horrendous problem. The focus went toward sociological solutions and an emphasis on injustice, poverty, and consumerism as the issues we should work on.
    These are important issues and need to be addressed, but you can’t get away from the impact of sheer numbers. Correcting injustices and improving social conditions in other parts of the world will buy us a little time, but sooner rather than later the growth rate will work its dire magic.
    Also, who says the US is not experiencing a large growth rate? We’re over 300 million right now, and the impact each one of those 300 million makes on the environment both here and around the world is hugely, disproportionately large. For every extra US consumer to enter the world, you could add — what? — 20 or 30 people in a Third World country and get the same environmental impact.
    Mark, in your article you say, “I have a deep respect for the faith embodied in a notion like ‘God will provide for all.’” Sorry, but I surely can’t go along with that statement. To me, that’s like saying, “I have a deep respect for the ideology that convinces people that Obama is a foreigner, he’s planning death camps, and evolution is the Devil’s own lie.”

  10. JB - August 12, 2009

    The global population exponential growth ceased back in 1962… What has occurred is the developed countries have decreased infant mortality and extended the life span of society… according to the UN the global population will plateau around 2050.
    Japan, Cuba, Russia are a number of countries that have started to have actual declines in population.
    It would seem prudent to increase the wealth in those countries that are industrialising, while the developed contiue the exponential growth to the clean tech revolution
    Innovation are the strengths of human kind, which is bringing down the cost of alternative energy.
    It is only a matter of time before the exponential growth of the clean tech sector overtakes the current energy paradigm.
    Most if not all of this has occurred without plagues, world wars or major diseases.
    The only exponential growth that is occurring today during the serous global downturn is biotech, clean tech, information and the computer revolutions.
    The only exponential growth that is occurring today during the serous global downturn is biotech, clean tech, information and the computer revolutions.
    Innovation through technology will be necessary to increase productivity in those countries and the world as the population decreases.

  11. Anonymous - August 12, 2009

    Very well said. The Pop. explosion in the 50′s got us thinking about what you just now discussed. The government asked that we all pull together to reduce the population and to simply replace ourselves and nothing more. We did this and in fact for a number of years kept the increase to 1.5, less than reproducing ourselves. Well we know now that that didn’t work. Here comes the imigrants of different beliefs who didn’t follow the restrictions and here they are today. Not only are we reproducing at an increased rate but also, a big factor, the adults are increasing ourselves with increased immigration.

  12. Eric - August 12, 2009

    I’m all for a two child limit. I think the one child limit in China is a bit extreme myself. I think it would be smart to roll that rule into the healthcare reform, and I’m sure it would go over well since the debate so far has been so very civil…

  13. Elaina - August 12, 2009

    This was one of the best articles I’ve read about population affecting the environment:
    http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/2.10661/more-babies-cause-more-problems-1.1422425
    Just one highlight:
    ..some insist on defying nature itself. When pregnancy isn’t in their cards, they opt for in vitro fertilization. Surely Mother Nature did not have this in mind when she counted on certain checks and balances to ensure the survival of the planet. Those whose fate is that of infertility should feel less like victims and try to accept their outcome in life, rather than using science to make a baby in a petri dish. They will be doing a far greater deed to the overall population and Earth if they consider adoption.

  14. spinoza - August 12, 2009

    Eric, this is a common response that on the face of it sounds eminently reasonable (considering it’s much better than the current situation of not doing anything), but biologically it does nothing to address the impending catastrophe, at least in terms of biology. Here’s why:
    If a couple today in their early 20s have two children, we can expect (we hope!) they will live to their ripe old 80s. If their two children each have two children (by “right”), then that means there are now six people the original couple are responsible for. But original couple will most likely have their grandchildren while they are still in their 50s, which means they will have great-great grandchildren before they die (very common now in the US). This means that if those four children each have two children (the great-great grandkids), the original couple are responsible for 14 individuals before they reach their last years! Multiply this demographic phenomenon by 300 million people, and you see the gravity of the situation when viewed in terms of biology.
    So you see, having “only” two children unfortunately does not address the issue at all, demographically it will only continue to make things worse and worse.

  15. Julian Cole - August 12, 2009

    I’m afraid that it’s been clear for decades that we’re already way past the point of no return. We’re seeing the final growth-spurt before the ultimate crash (there’s bound to be an overshoot, as with everything else). Watch out! If we could learn to cooperate, we might be able to mitigate, but I suspect we won’t. Pity. It’s been a great ride, but we should have kept our eyes open much more.
    Sorry to be pessimist – it’s against the point of enterprises like TerraPass – we all need to do what we can, optimists and pessimists alike.

  16. Gordon C - August 12, 2009

    Please check out the Population Connection. (Just search the term.)
    This group has been active for a very long time promoting individual and governmental action on population issues.
    Almost every environmental degradation and many natural disasters have a human population issue underlying it.
    By the way, god (or the gods) has nothing to do with it. It is humans reproducing in an improved public health environment where infant death is less frequent than before.

  17. Eric - August 12, 2009

    Spinoza,
    You have an excellent point and I am well aware of the math, but my point is to take a measure that while not ideal, will slow things down compared to all these people having numerous kids and it could have some possible chance (although slim) of passing compared to a one child limit which would never happen here.

  18. Tom - August 12, 2009

    A focus on population control at the expense of redressing global poverty in the service of reducing environmental degradation may seem politically opportune. But it may also seem opportunistic. The perspective that the developed world has on these issues is biased by our standard of living and the relationships between rich and poor countries. There is a deep history to that.
    It can’t be one or the other. It’s got to be a focus on both population and poverty.
    Nice discussion by the way!

  19. Erin - August 12, 2009

    Let’s not tie the discussion about the population to fertility treatments. The overwhelming majority of the population did not come about through fertility treatments; I would actually imagine that it’s a negligible amount compared to the birth rate in very poor countries without access to family planning.
    With that said…Elaina, I have to wonder if you have children and, if so, are they adopted. I feel that you are greatly oversimplifying infertility and adoption by making statements like this. Since I am infertile and am a mother through adoption, I believe that I can speak to something like this.
    Surely you wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to just accept that Mother Nature had this type of checks and balances in mind, and that the patient should just accept that their fate is not to live. The emotional and medical aspects of infertility are akin to those in cancer patients according to multiple psychological studies.
    Adoption is NOT about the parents. It is about the CHILDREN who need families, and not all people are equipped to handle the intrinsic emotional and psychological aspects associated with adoption (let alone the financial aspects). Children should not have to suffer parents who really would have preferred a biological child but are “making do” with an adopted child, and who are not prepared to deal with all of the facets of adoption.
    Adoption is neither the right of infertile people nor a burden to be borne solely by infertile people. It is difficult, time consuming, invasive, expensive–and that’s all before the child comes home. Afterwards, it can be even more difficult. It is NOT the right choice for all infertile people, just as it is NOT the right choice for all fertile people.

  20. Tom - August 12, 2009

    I have heard, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’
    The earth will self correct, with either an ice age, another type of climate change, or, maybe, with the help of an asteroid.
    I doubt that we have the wisdom to manage this planet.

  21. Mark Mondik - August 12, 2009

    Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful and engaging discussion. I am sure that this is an easy question for those among our readership that value science far above faith or religious belief. At the same time, I think there are many people for whom faith plays an important role, and part of the focus of my post was about exploring how faith-oriented people might seek to balance or reconcile the pro-natal messages of religion with our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet (which, as the Vatican suggests, could also be construed as something God wants us to do). But all of the constructive comments above are heartily welcomed.
    Incidentally, as someone commented on it, one of the links in the original post above is to Population Connection (www.populationconnection.org), which contains quite a bit of interesting information on the subject of population growth in general.

  22. Jeremy - August 12, 2009

    This is an interesting post and discussion. As a Catholic I often think about this, and just did today as I contemplated the huge populations of materially poor children in India. As I understand it, the Catholic perspective is that we should not attempt to obstruct the freedom and opportunity of God to create human life, but that we are also obligated to be responsible in our actions when it comes to procreating. In other words, a person without the resources or circumstances to provide for a child in a responsible and loving way should be careful and even try not to have children (by abstinence or natural family planning methods). The logic seems a little abstract unless you put forth the effort to understand it, in my opinion, but to me it is a morally sound perspective. I think those who say the Catholic teaching is that one is encouraged or even obligated to procreate at the fastest rate possible are not speaking consistent with what I understand church teaching to be.

  23. Erik S - August 12, 2009

    I also have to strongly disagree with the “I have a deep respect for the faith embodied in a notion like ‘God will provide for all.’” statement. Religious groups have been fighting family planning, birth control and the education of women for centuries. Witness the Pope speaking out in opposition to condom use in Africa a few months ago (when you consider the spread of HIV in Africa this behavior is doubly criminal). If we can’t honestly discuss the negative impact of faith based thinking on our planet we’re in big trouble.

  24. spinoza - August 12, 2009

    I think both Jeremy and Erik are correct, and you don’t contradict one another. Jeremy’s understanding of Catholic teaching rings true to me, but he is also correct in surmising that the logic is a bit “abstract”: the reality is much more as Erik outlines, that the actual practice of the Catholic Church over the past two centuries is radically different from Jeremy’s more abstract outline. For some bizarre, apocalyptic reason I have yet to understand, the major religions have made “Be Fruitful and Multiply” a central part of their teachings, in spite of the utter tragedy and destruction it has wrought. It’s hard not to be cynical and identify a strong connection between these teachings and cultivating the power base these religions have enjoyed in the ever-growing mega slums of Africa, Latin America, and Asia (as Jeremy knows from India). This is the ugly side of religion, the one that ruthlessly condemns condoms in an HIV-infested continent. After all, Mother Theresa would not be possible without Calcutta.
    It is possible to conceive of the existence of an enlightened Christianity and Islam informed by reason and humanistic values, and working as partners with science. Both religions have rich histories woven by such enlightened theology. In general, however, this has decidedly not been the case over the past two centuries. As Mark has pointed out in his thought-provoking article, belief does play an essential role in human existence. We need to muster every means possible in facing this ongoing catastrophe, and faith and science should stand together as equal partners in addressing it. In doing so, faith must recognize the primacy of reason in guiding our actions. Reason is God’s greatest gift to humankind, and God has made it eminently clear it’s the cornerstone of any possible solution. God has also made it eminently clear that the “Be Fruitful and Multiply” solution promulgated by Christianity and Islam has led us on a direct path to the Book of Revelations.

  25. Richard Fischer - August 12, 2009

    It is time to do away with the tax incentives to have children, As the discussion points out, we are overpopulated and will add another 1-2 billion in the next 5-8 years even if each currently non-parent of child bearing age has only 0.5 children. We need to add 5% to each person’s individual income and capital gain tax, 10% for married filers, for each additional child they have. We need to add 2% income and capital gain tax for each child an individual or jointly filing couple had prior to 2010 in excess of 2.
    Condoms, birth control, reproductive health, and family planning expenses should be paid by the government for all individuals who currently have no children. Those who have no more than .5 children should receive a stipend for al reproductive services that help them maintain .5 children. Those with more than .5 children should be mandated to take family planning education and taxed or fined for each additional chid they have or for each month thy put off classes. Voluntary vasectomies should be available free to all men.

  26. G. Shook - August 12, 2009

    The math behind Spinoza’s comment #14 is not exactly accurate. If a couple has two children, those two children each have to combine with two other partners to each have two children. That brings the other set of grandparents into play. Same for the next round. So the 14 individuals you mention are not the sole responsibility of the first couple, but that responsibility is shared (by two sets of grandparents, 4 sets of great-grandparents, etc).
    It has been proven statistically that an average of 2.4 children to every couple will result in a stable population. Why over 2? Some people die early, some don’t have kids, etc. It is true that with people living longer this number will trend downward (with the logical limit of zero if we lived forever). So I am all for a two child limit as well, and will honor that for myself, and if I want more I would consider adoption. A sensible policy would allow two children per person over each person’s lifetime (in cases of divorce and remarriage, etc).
    As many have pointed out, any rational policy should not be influenced in any way by religious views, as almost without exception every religion desperately wants to increase the numbers of their believers (thus more power, wealth, etc). Whether that is through population growth or religious conversion is transparent to them- hence the emphasis on excessive reproduction within religious sects and converting non-followers.
    I would also add that any policy would have to world-wide. You can’t limit discussion to the US, who is still lucky to have a relatively small population density compared to the rest of the world (rank 177 out of 238).

  27. The Other Mike S - August 12, 2009

    I’m curious – what is this solution you are all dancing around?
    Forced sterilization? Logan’s Run? Which of you will be a Sandman? Or should we go the Soylent Green route so as to ensure proper recycling?
    Quit with the intellectual chit-chat. What, precisely, do you want/hope/dream of doing? Let’s see a little intellectual honesty, and intestinal fortitude.

  28. Marlow - August 12, 2009

    lets not forget the emerging nations of the world,particularly China and India.
    Birth control has had limited effect on slowing down the populations of these countries and now they are wanting more of the CO2 ecstasy of the western world. Sustainable?
    i doubt it

  29. spinoza - August 13, 2009

    “So the 14 individuals you mention are not the sole responsibility of the first couple, but that responsibility is shared (by two sets of grandparents, 4 sets of great-grandparents, etc).”
    We are actually discussing two distinct issues here, one of personal responsibility, and one relating to population statistics. The watchword in my comment you refer to is *responsibility*, and recognizing the significance of this is a key in taking any steps toward a solution. When a couple decides to have a child, they make that progeny an integral part of the ongoing web of human life. When they have two children, they are indeed *responsible* for at least 14 new lives before they pass on. The parents of the children they marry are also involved, but without those two children there would not be 14 additional children. I think a big part of the problem is that child-bearing adults do not seriously consider the full ramifications of their bringing a new life on this earth. We know that some 50% of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned. We also know that the large majority of American children born today will not be raised to adulthood by their biological parents. These are stunning facts.
    In terms of statistics, researchers now know that the well-known figure you cite–that having 2.4 children will keep a stable population–is flat-out wrong, and has been more than proven incorrect by recent American history. In spite of that statistical average the US has more than doubled in size since 1950, from 150 million to, now, almost 310 million. Biologically, such growth is breathtaking, and we know it cannot be sustained. Demographers are still trying to figure out why this has happened, because they know that immigration alone cannot account for this level of growth. The answer, they are learning, is in part attributable to the implications of our ever-increasing longevity. The US has, by far, the highest growth rate among industrialized nations, in part attributed to very high teen pregnancy rates and poor family planning.

  30. Kathleen - August 13, 2009

    Nothing so draconian — sorry to disappoint you. If the birth rate falls below replacement level and stays there for several generations, we will start getting to a more sustainable level.
    Impossible? Not at all. Germany and Italy are already there. It does involve opening up the issue and discussing it rationally, making it a priority in the national and world discussions, setting tax incentives for smaller families, rewarding the childless openly with praise and thanks.
    People CAN change their behavior, beliefs, and values, and quite quickly, too. Look at the acceptance of safety belts in cars, or how recycling has become a virtue. Or, on the negative side, the idea that markets are rational and no oversight is needed. All these represent changes in established ways of thought in a relatively short time.
    Will it happen? Not if organized religions have anything to do with it and not as long as the news cycle seizes on sensationalistic trivia rather than substantive issues.

  31. The Other Mike S - August 13, 2009

    The population “problem” isn’t in the developed world. It’s in the un- and under-developed world. Tax incentives won’t do a thing – they have little or no income.
    Do we impose our will upon them and force sterilization? Or worse….
    We know that attempting to change behavior does not work – just look at the HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. They KNOW unprotected sex will likely kill them, yet they persist, despite our efforts.
    If we tax Americans and other “first world” nations to cure the ills of the rest of the world, what do we do with the money?
    Again, education regarding abstinence does not work – the urge to procreate over-rides reason, so it would be foolish to waste it there (not that foolish wasting of money has ever been an issue with us).
    Do we just give them the money to raise their standard of living? See, “From each according to his ability…” for how well that’s worked out. Socialism/communism – hell, any type of society where you establish a “dependent class” has failed/is failing.
    So what is the answer? Does Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest ever enter your equation, or MUST we intervene into the lives of others?

  32. Marlow - August 13, 2009

    I would like to tie this great discussion back to the original question. “is population the Problem? and then send it on a slightly different tangent. *lol*
    YES, of course it is part of the problem, sustainability and growth are so unlikely to fit with each other unless we scale back to pre-industrial development period levels. The concept of controlled growth is the first ,and likely very small, step in the eventual need to reduce consumption. The problem that is based on our fundamental survival and the philosophy of greed. The more is better attitude has propelled us into development and consumption levels that will deplete our resources and eventually contribute to reducing our population to a point where we cannot exist. the population will go back to a level that will allow a sustainable civilization. Reducing our footprint will just lengthen the time to the eventual collapse. What would be interesting to discuss is how and when will the collapse occur and what will remain.

  33. Kathleen - August 13, 2009

    To the other Mike: You say “We know that attempting to change behavior does not work…” I would have to disagree. Behavior is not set in stone. Educating women, explaining birth control, and providing it have changed behavior massively in a number of countries, and quite quickly. Pakistan’s birth rate fell to half of what it was in a short time, for example.
    And who said abstinence was the answer? As Sarah Palin’s daughter can attest, it’s not workable. Birth control is; improved status of women is, so that they have a say in how many children they have; better economic conditions also play a role.
    We are a pliable species, shaped very much by the messages in our surroundings (ads, the behavior of friends, TV, government services, etc.) and of course by our religions. Change those and we change.

  34. Sofia Boy - August 13, 2009

    I for one do not think that population growth is a problem. Large families are either a sign of poverty or high wealth (see the Economist of Aug. 8). As income levels rise in Asia and Africa, people will start having smaller families. The solution then is good old fashioned development.
    Rich people who choose to have a lot of children should pay the proper cost of their carbon footprint.
    Governments can play an important role by beginning to introduce carbon taxes that are better aligned with each family’s CO2 output. Rich people in the OECD and emerging markets should pay more because they typically emit more. Rich people with lots of children should pay even more.
    Attempts at centralized population control have been a miserable failure, create perverse incentives, encourage corruption and cheating, etc. Witness China where it has resulted in all sorts of misery such as a bias against baby girls, infanticide, etc.
    In short, remove government distortions (tax subsidies for children) and introduce a price of individual pollution and let people sort themselves. If it is more important for me to have a second baby than to engage in ecotourism, I should be free to do so.
    Someone should also discuss populaition issues and immigration. If the rich world is to have fewer children, it needs to let in more immigrant workers. This is particularly true for the EU.

  35. Tom Harrison - August 14, 2009

    Wow — one of the more civil and enlightening comment threads here for a while. Kudos to all!
    Last year, I read Lester Brown’s “Plan B, 3.0″ — at first, I thought it was mainly about how to address climate change. But Brown shows clearly how no single big issue can be unlinked from others.
    Brown’s first proscription for change is to make a concerted effort to ensure that women are given the chance to get education throughout the whole world. Many good things flow from this, including family planning, reduction of disease, improved nutrition, and keeping testosterone in check (my words :-) .
    Brown has many other more specific recommendations, based on years of analysis. And the book is remarkable in that it manages to present a comprehensive view of how we have gotten into the state Mark has described, and also how we can get out of it. It is not a bunch of polemics, it’s mostly unvarnished common sense.
    I encourage readers here to get Brown’s book. It was one of a few that truly changed my understanding of the larger problems we face.
    Tom

  36. Julian Cole - August 14, 2009

    I’ll second that! One of the very few books that I’ve read in the last thirty years that left me feeling a little optimistic! (despite my pessimistic comment above). Lester Brown is one of only a handful of clear thinkers who have bent their minds to the problem.

  37. Ed - August 14, 2009

    Back to the original question: Is population a problem? It depends. A little math:
    If the average American needs to bring his or her carbon emissions down by 80% from current levels (20 tons per person) for emissions to be considered “sustainable,” that means we’d each be allowed to emit 4 tons per year. According to some data from the Union of Concerned Scientists (ucusa.org), the average person in Mexico and (believe it or not) China emits about 4 tons.
    Current total worldwide emissions are 28 billion tons. Four into 28 billion allows a sustainable world population of 7 billion people, if everyone lives like the average Chinese or Mexican.
    If everyone emits like the average American, the world can sustainably support about 1.4 billion people.
    A problem is that on the list of top 20 total emitters, only India and Brazil emit less per person (1 and 2 tons respectively) than Mexico and China. Another problem is that if given a choice, my guess is that most people would prefer the American/Western lifestyle.
    (There are of course lots of other important issues related to human needs and our impact on the earth. Economics, for example. The problem of who does the labor if population falls. How many young people are needed to support the old people? Who will buy my house?)
    So is population a problem? The problems of crowding in Bangladesh are mostly limited to Bangladesh. The problems of consumption in the United States are felt around the world.
    If you’re as thoughtful as most of these posters, I’m sure you’ve considered many of the questions that Mark has wrestled with. For people who, if they think about the issue at all, have concluded, “All them brown people brung it on theirselves,” let’s hope they’re not in charge of government policy, and don’t breed much.
    So it seems what each of us in the developed world can try to do is lower our emissions to 4 tons per person (carbonfootprint.com/calculator). Seems pointless when one neighbor allows his car to idle for as long as a half hour before he goes to work, and another waters his lawn 40 hours a week. (My situation.)
    And as several posters have pointed out, the top two things that can be done in the poor parts of the world to lower the birth rate are to give girls an education, and women the opportunity to start their own businesses.

  38. Tom Harrison - August 14, 2009

    Ed –
    Your comment, and most on this thread are truly remarkable, because it is (and they are) calm, and considered.
    I don’t need to believe that such discourse is the norm, on that it’s possible.
    Thanks for helping me regain a little of my (formerly wild, now somewhat tamed) optimism in humanity. There’s pretty much no doubt in my mind that we can accomplish impossible things in ways no one dreamed of nearly overnight.
    What has been laying more heavily upon me lately is the feeling that we’re ever so slightly better at preventing those accomplishments from happening.
    But for now, I’m going to say that I believe again.
    And with renewed vigor, I’m going to do my part to make my neighbor stop idling her car, and my other neighbor watering his lawn in the rain. (Just checking, you don’t happen to live on my street, right? :-)
    Tom

  39. spinoza - August 15, 2009

    “Quit with the intellectual chit-chat. What, precisely, do you want/hope/dream of doing? Let’s see a little intellectual honesty, and intestinal fortitude.”
    Well, I guess this is the million dollar question, and here’s my shot at intestinal fortitude (intellectual honesty notwithstanding):
    1) Human beings must, first, without qualification accept and acknowledge their animal nature, they must embrace the fact that they are fully a part of the natural world and bear a heavy responsibility in preserving it. The powerful force of biology fundamentally forms the foundation of what we are. This means we must meet head-on the destructive and apocalyptic aspects of the major organized religions that deny our biological essence.
    2) We must learn to understand how developing our reason through education can break the ongoing biological solution to over-population (through increasingly cataclysmic holocausts). Developing reason does not mean continuing to do so among a relatively small educated elite, but rather on a massive scale globally. Understanding the relationship between biology, reason, and education is subtly complex–Charles Darwin himself, after all, had ten children in the midst of a mind-numbingly over-populated Victorian England.
    3) We must overcome the prevalent mindset that over-population is only the problem of developing countries, and that population has “stabilized” in industrialized countries. This neo-racist, neo-imperialist view is simply not true–more than ever humanity must regard itself as a deeply intertwined global village, with shared problems and shared (potential) solutions. The geographic region we call Germany, to give just one example, is equivalent in size to Pennsylvania and New York combined, a relatively small land mass teeming with *80 million* people(!!). Though Germany may appear more “stable”, demographically, than other regions of the world, in reality it is an environmental wasteland, with species diversity having long ago been wiped out and with countless 1000s of people piled on top of one another in bee-like apartment colonies (other “developed” countries, like Japan, could be described similarly). With one of the highest population densities in the world, it’s no coincidence that two of the greatest conflagrations in the 20th century took place on German soil. In the USA, hardly habitable urban wastelands exist all over the country, with post-apocalyptic disasters like Detroit leading the way.
    4) So… the solution begins right here, with communication forums like Terrapass that can sow the seeds of changing consciousness. This may seem modest enough, but the Internet is by far the most powerful communications medium humankind has ever produced. Its reach is powerfully viral, and what we need now are a handful of wealthy “guardian angels” to foster this educating process. Can you imagine how much more good Bill Gates’ billions would bring to solving this impending global disaster if he invested in a massive education campaign on a global scale? The *only* humanly dignified solution we have is helping one another, through education and thoughtful discourse, understand the scale of the problem of over-population. The potential consequences if we don’t succeed–like “Soylent Green”–are not solutions but rather the result of having not succeeded. The consequences are real, and dire.

  40. The Other Mike S - August 15, 2009

    I need to clarify my statement about “attempting to change behavior does not work”. I meant to say, “attempting to FORCE a change in behavior does not work in the long-term.”
    The premise being, until the INDIVIDUAL believes and sees that his/her actions will have consequences on HIM/HER, nothing long-term will change. For there to be success, the individual must VOLUNTARILY CHOOSE to make a change.
    For instance, we have seen smoking rates drop dramatically. People understand that smoking significantly increases the likelihood you will shorten your life. Accessibility to cigarettes is essentially unchanged, yet droves of people have quit, or never started. The restaurant/bar bans have done virtually nothing for this decline. If people want to smoke, they’ll smoke. As a smoker, I can tell you the restaurant/bar ban has had zero effect on my smoking habit.
    With full knowledge of the risks, I continue to smoke. Should the government come and forcibly remove the cigarette from my lips? Would I quit smoking – long term – if they did? No.
    Forced behavior change attempts – government prohibitions – have NEVER worked, and they never will. Drugs, alcohol, prostitution, speeding, child abuse – pick ANY subject that is prohibited, and tell me it has stopped. You can’t find a single one.
    If someone wishes to smoke, to shoot heroin or snort meth, they will do it. For people to decide for themselves to make a change, we have to allow them to feel the full force of their actions.
    If I decide to ruin my life by doing meth, I need to be allowed to do so. My example will speak volumes to those that may consider choosing the same path. If the government runs in an wipes my nose, feeds my family, and secures me another job, the downside of meth addition is masked.
    Actions MUST have consequences.
    And, No, I’m not suggesting anarchy. I’m suggesting government prohibition and coercion is just about the least effective method for making change. If the government proclaimed tomorrow that meth was now legal, do you think there would be a sudden mad rush of people to start snorting it up? Of course not. If I wanted to do meth right NOW, I could do so – government approval or not. I choose not.
    This discussion to tax and force change is utter insanity. Above, Ed was touching on the fact that the US uses about 25% of the world’s resources, yet we’re only 5% of the population.
    Americans use 25% of the resources, because we produce 25% of the world’s goods and services with only 5% of the potential workforce. Our model is that of incredible efficiency, not something to be scorned. Why would you want to hinder or restrict something that works so wonderfully?
    So, bringing this back to the population issue: Until individuals make the personal decision to make a change, nothing will change in the long-term. If we push the envelope too far, nature will fix the problem for us.
    Plagues come to mind.
    Government’s primary roll is to ensure the liberties of the individuals within their jurisdiction.
    You are free to produce as many kids as you wish. Too many to support? If you can’t feed and clothe your offspring ON YOUR OWN, some will die. YOUR choice to bring an unsustainable life into this world is YOUR burden to bear, not the government’s.
    When the government taxes me to pay for your choice to have too many kids, you have no negative repercussions for your bad decision. Government intrusion into MY LIFE will have made all of our lives worse off – the “compassion” shown to the few lives saved by government intervention harms us all.

  41. Julia - August 15, 2009

    It might be easier to control people’s consumption of goods and level of education in developed countries (especially in the US) rather then their reproductive choices. The amount of children one ends up having is a deeply personal choice. However, when the government to a large extent regulates and quality and price of products that people have access to, I don’t see how that would violate their freedom. Having moved to the US from Europe, I routinely notice gross overconsumption, and a lot of people don’t seem to know that other lifestyle options even exist. If better public transportation systems (or options such as getting around on foot and by bike) were available in certain areas in the US, people would pollute less and be healthier. In that case, an average American wouldn’t consume the amount of resources that could sustain at least a dozen people in a developing country.
    I do believe that people can and should be encouraged through education to weigh the decision to have children very carefully. However, this should come as part of a long educational process that produces environmentally and socially responsible citizens. I also think that women in this country should be given a better opportunity to balance work and motherhood. If you have one child in affordable good-quality daycare and at the same time you’re able to go to school or have an interesting, stimulating career, maybe you won’t feel that as a female, you’re defined exclusively through having and raising children.

  42. Julian Cole - August 16, 2009

    I love the idea of our making free choices based on the cost to ourselves. But the costs must be there, and today they are not. It costs us nothing to emit carbon dioxide, for example. Free choice will work just fine, when we can find an honest mechanism to do two things: recognize _all_ the costs; and charge the people responsible. For now, a carbon tax looks like the only realistic possibility – possibly implemented through a market of pollution trading.
    If murder were suddenly made legal, many of us would not rush out to kill someone. But since it matters so much, we don’t relay on that, we figure that it’s essential to do our best to detect and punish. Our new problem is much more important – we have only one planet, and right now we’re damaging it because we haven’t figured a way to measure and charge the costs. When we do that, population growth will stop, coming to a working equilibrium. But we have to make sure there’s still a working planet around while we figure out how.
    Great discussion all round!

  43. Deb - August 17, 2009

    Interesting the ratio of men to women in this discussion!
    I am very concerned about how we have twisted medicine to increase the likelihood of saving infants who would not have been saved or even created in past eras. Today there are women who are able to stay in bed for months, or siphon off an egg to be redeemed later. I think our society is probably more guilty of this than others around the globe. Not only do we weaken the species gene-pool but we are creating a population that will need special resources as it ages.
    I have three children, so I cannot be too vocal with my concerns, but somehow we have got to deflect the mindset that says every woman deserves to have as many children as she wants – regardless of her ability to bear them. At least that should be a place to start – but we better not bring it up in the current climate of “healthcare debate”!

  44. Jonathan Chen - August 17, 2009

    Good discussion.
    1. The better educated a woman is, the less children she will have.
    2. The majority of population growth is in the developing (poorly educated) world.
    3. Educating women in developing countries is the only way to significantly, and permanently reduce overpopulation.
    Discussing births and whatnot in developed countries is somewhat irrelevant given the numbers involved. However, I am a doctor and personally strongly disagree with extreme prematurity babies being resuscitated at great cost (in most countries, including mine, to the taxpayer) and when the odds of having a normal life is so poor (while keeping overpopulation in mind).
    This discussion is great and so wide-ranging, and I could rant more widely forever but I’ll leave that to you guys. Keep it up. :)

  45. Anonymous - August 17, 2009

    I am intrigued by the discussion. It has brought up many of the major challenges we have to face in a world that will reach some major sustainability shortfalls in the next 50 years. that means that most of us will see some major ecliptic changes. I think the human race will survive these major changes. Population management is critical to that. Expectations especially in the developed world will have to be greatly reduced to prevent chaos from occurring in the world.
    So how do we change the world population growth rate? education? natural course? major shifts in values in rights to living?
    Can the changes occur naturally by human conscious? Or will they have to be dictated?
    I think we will reach the fork in the road soon and I am not sure i like the destination or the path we will have to make. The optimism i here in this forum is from a perspective of the people on the life raft looking at the people in the water. There will be some reality checks to deal with. i wonder what the people in Africa think about this?

  46. SD - August 18, 2009

    Thank you all for such an exciting forum. It seems it was delivered a while ago and I haven’t had a chance to read this article but I must tell you all that I believe there is hope. If anything, our blue marble is going to exsist in some way, whether as a pile of space rock dust floating through the vast airless mass around us or whatever. I have always felt in my extreme finiteness, that we are an extremely teeny piece of the bigger picture. Just look up at the sky on a clear, starry night and try to beleive you are the big thing, ha! I see our solar system as somewhat akin to our own physiology, a planet that is really a smaller piece of a much broader picture. Maybe our planet is just a little red blood cell in something far greater than we ever imagined. Talk is cheap, we can go on ad infinitum about population, and we always lace our opinions with religion, interesting but doesn’t get to the point or heart of the matter. Our time as we know it, is coming to an end. So let’s start praying and giving thanks to the animals we eat that sustain us and let’s figure out how to eat less of them. Let’s stop killing bugs because we don’t understand why we need them in this world we live in. Let’s start loving the plants we are growing that sustain us with their shade and fibers and how they keep our air sweet and clean. Let’s put our gratitude for this wonderful life we have been so priveleged to live in our hearts and pray we find a way to exist because we deserve it, not because we like to talk. Let’s start now with what’s important, caring about the now. And one more thing, thank you Terrapass for sharing this knowledge with us, my world is less informed without you. peaceloveandgratitude

  47. spinoza - August 19, 2009

    I agree with the others that this has been a most interesting exchange. My heartfelt hope is that, considered globally, there may be several million people now capable of participating in such a reasoned, intelligent dialogue. I’m not so naive to think that a forum like Terrapass will do much more than provide a tiny hiccup in effecting change, but it’s good to know that there are others out there who recognize the gravity of the situation; I’d like to think that over time the cumulative effect of such dialogue, however virtual, will contribute to a growing movement and awareness. There will most likely be another population-related catastrophe or two, with countless millions of additional human tragedies throughout the world, but as we’ve emphasized here there is really no alternative to an enlightened awareness that every new child and mouth to feed on this planet, however cherished, is a further step toward global disaster.
    One important point to make about reasoned discussion relating to over-population is that the willingness to engage in such dialogue does not make one “anti-human” or in any way anti-social. Rather, as we’ve seen here the opposite is true: those recognizing the critical importance of such discussion possess a deep abiding love for the future of humanity and this planet, and in reality are wishing to prevent continued tragedy and suffering. For many people it understandably seems contradictory and counter-intuitive to believe that saving the species will require a radical rethinking of how and why we procreate. And as we in the US are so painfully aware in the current political climate, the opponents to reasoned discussion on over-population will quickly raise their ugly heads. Biology, after all, is a most powerful force to reckon with. To those that counter such reasoned discussion with statements like “There’s nothing so cherished and wonderful as a little human baby”, we must answer with, “And yes, that’s precisely the reason why you shouldn’t have one…”

  48. G. Shook - August 20, 2009

    Spinoza,
    I agree with many of your points in your reply, comment 29. Especially with your points on personal responsibility: that people don’t always plan, or accept responsibility for having kids, and that is a big issue, and this lack of personal responsibility should be addressed. But having two kids doesn’t automatically result in 14 more people over your lifetime- it could be less or unfortunately far more. More if you fail to teach your kids personal responsibility.
    I disagree with your argument on the statistical side. US growth in the last half century does not by itself disprove this statistic. This is a statistic rooted in biological fact, and total population is a world issue: and globally, 2.33 is the fertility rate needed. The U.S. by itself does not prove that statistic wrong. From wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertility_rate): Taken globally, the total fertility rate at replacement is 2.33 children per woman. At this rate, global population growth would trend towards zero.
    And yes the U.S. has doubled in size since 1950, but no one has claimed that the overall fertility rate since that time for the U.S. has been 2.33. (From Wikipedia: The total fertility rate in the United States after World War II peaked at about 3.8 children per woman in the late 1950s and by 1999 was at 2 children.) Immigration played a huge role, both in people who immigrated to the U.S., and the trend of immigrant families to have more children in succeeding generations. See
    http://www.npg.org/forum_series/imm_impact_usgrowth.htm which attributes 35% of the growth to immigration. I really doubt that demographers are still trying to figure out how it happened. If they are, they need to get on Wikipedia and update the info that I and the rest of us have come to rely on. Isn’t the internet great?
    Nice last post also. But I still plan on fathering no more than 2 in my lifetime, and if its less or zero, well good for me and the planet.

  49. spinoza - August 21, 2009

    “But having two kids doesn’t automatically result in 14 more people over your lifetime- it could be less or unfortunately far more. More if you fail to teach your kids personal responsibility.”
    Once again I’ll repeat that this figure of 14 is simple math, it’s a result of following the consequences of statistical facts: if the statistical average is 2+ children per couple, and statistically Americans now live to an average 80+ years, then within the lifetime of the original couple there will be 14 new human individuals on this planet. It’s not difficult to follow this thinking. Certainly in real life some people will have more or less children, or will live a shorter or longer life, but the statistical average is what it is, a simple demographic fact. The primary growth engine in the US is not immigration, but rather factors like our living much longer and the pathetic family planning education which exists in this country.
    “From wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertility_rate): Taken globally, the total fertility rate at replacement is 2.33 children per woman. At this rate, global population growth would trend towards zero. http://www.npg.org/forum_series/imm_impact_usgrowth.htm which attributes 35% of the growth to immigration. I really doubt that demographers are still trying to figure out how it happened. If they are, they need to get on Wikipedia and update the info that I and the rest of us have come to rely on. Isn’t the internet great?”
    The important thing to know about sites like Wikipedia is that *anyone* can create, revise, and change its articles. If you would have looked at the “History” of the article on Fertility Rates you cite, for example, you would have noticed that it is subject to regular and intensive editing (several times within the past few days alone). You will typically see such intense editing in Wikipedia articles with controversial topics, or where there are ‘ideological’ battles going on in a subject area or field. So yes, the Internet represents a tremendous revolution in communication, but like every other powerful tool invented by humankind, one must learn how to use it–information “literacy” is a critical component to properly using information taken from the Internet.
    Indeed, if you read that article on Total Fertility Rate carefully and try to make sense of it, you will notice it is filled with logical leaps and vague jargon. The first sentence alone, for example, is totally meaningless pseudo-science. The main problem this article has is attempting to distinguish between “synthetic” and “imaginary” entities and real-life behavioral phenomena. Though ostensibly discussing the “total” fertility rate, nowhere does it define what such terms as fertility rate really mean. A much better source for you to cite than Wikipedia would be John Weeks’ Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, a standard text in the field. I would also strongly recommend anything written by Paul Ehrlich.
    Nice last post also. But I still plan on fathering no more than 2 in my lifetime, and if its less or zero, well good for me and the planet.
    Deciding on having children (and how many) is a very personal decision, and I will be the last to criticize your wish to have children. But I can fully engage in the discussion regarding the science: just as it took several decades for Europeans to accept that the heliocentric theory and that the world is not flat, it will take some time for humans to accept the true biological implications of procreation. that having “only” two children will do nothing to address the population crisis. With the continuing advance of modern medicine, the mortality rate will continue to decrease and human longevity correspondingly increase–I fully intend to live a 100–so that within a single human’s lifespan an even larger number of progeny will become the norm. Several regions in the US are at a population “tipping point”, primed for a full-scale environmental collapse. Have you ever flown into a Southern California airport (LAX, John Wayne OC, Long Beach, etc)? Do you consider the countless millions of little boxes we euphemistically call houses crammed next to each other, as far as the eye can see, an acceptably healthy living situation? Have you ever stood over a Southern California freeway overpass, with 12-16 lanes filled with 1000s of carbon spewing automobiles travelling at 10 mph, of total gridlock, going off into the horizon? Something that goes on every day, day after day? Southern California is a concrete wasteland, a semi-arid desert region in which a short century of human destruction completely wiped out a fragile ecosystem that allowed the earlier native peoples to live an idyllic, peaceful life in balance with nature. With an impending water crisis, air quality, human-made natural disasters (fire, etc.), SoCal is a population time-bomb.
    As I’ve noted in my previous posts, just as countries like the US are having a very difficult time accepting the science of climate change (because of the implications regarding the limits to growth), the powerful sway of biology and the intense desire to proceate will continue to make it very, very difficult for us to accept the science of population demographics (as it has since Thomas Malthus).

  50. G. Shook - August 21, 2009

    Statistically, American’s will now live to nearly 78 years, not 80+. And that is for a child born in 2006 (from the CDC). And in the lifetime of the original couple, there will ALSO be 12 newly dead human individuals off this planet (the sets of parents and grandparents responsible for creating your original couple). It is simple math, and I’m following your thinking fine, you’re just not taking into account the other contributors. Kind of like how you used the U.S. to try and disprove a statistic that applies to an isolated or total population (i.e., the Earth). Immigration definitely had an impact on the U.S. growth. I do agree that us living longer does contribute to population growth, but that rises relatively slowly. Good luck living to 100, but you’ll have definitely beat the odds.
    As for the article, I do fully understand it, and disagree that it is full of “jargon” and “pseudo-science”. It carefully defines each rate, the assumptions that go into it, where and how its used. And thanks for the tip on Wikipedia, but yes, I know they are edited. Your “intense editing” involved:
    - 1 added graph
    - a revised age range that’s cited for reproductive years
    - a typo
    - an added citation
    As for SoCal, I’m familiar- I live here. And before you jump on my back, I live 5 miles from my work, ride my bike often, live in a small apartment, and we own one car. I agree they’ve totally screwed up this area- guess I’ll be one of the casualties of the impending environmental disaster. If we could only go back to that idyllic life of living in balance with nature- where every day was a struggle to find food, water, shelter and fend off disease and injury while trying to live long enough to hopefully see a few children live past 5.
    I will look into the sources you site. In the meantime, could you tell me a science or statistics based number for how many children an average person should have to stabilize population growth? Zero? That’d be great for the planet- in 100 years, no more people. One? Then that makes a couple responsible for 3 according to your math, while their 4 parents and 8 gransparents die off. Good, since it will be population decline.
    I applaud your decision to have no children, and I hope we can get population growth under control. But I feel fully justified in limiting myself to 2 children, and I’m also in my mid-30′s (with no grandparents remaining), so odds are I will not be a great-grandparent.

  51. G. Shook - August 21, 2009

    Correction: I am requesting your number for how many children and average couple (or woman) should have to stablize population growth. Assuming the man and woman limited themselves to that number for their lifetime.

  52. Bev - August 22, 2009

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Finally, someone has the guts to stand up and propose a real solution! Start by making family planning compulsory in countries where families cannot afford to feed their children, then continue in the “newly rich” countries like India. China has the right idea and the guts to ignore public opinion. If only world leaders were really interested in the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants, and less concerned with public opinion and re-election.

  53. BC - August 27, 2009

    Great discussion, to echo many of you already. Though I am far from having all the answer, being one more that has faith in God and also uses the mind he has given me.
    Some small comments to throw out
    1. It has been echoed back and forth that they way we live must change and individuals not dogmas must dictate this.
    2. The human population is not the only one that our living must be adjusted to support, reread Ishmael and try to picture a world of just humanity, no thanks.
    3. As I do believe in God, and though not religious, or one to go along with organized faith: TO be made in the image of a creator is not just to embrace the ability to reproduce your own kind but to create outside of who and what you are, hence our abilities to invent and learn.
    4. Though our changing our lifestyles drastically could indeed change the world, many individuals will not, and nature will find a balance in this system.
    I do not know if my small rant will in any way add much, you have all talked around this topic and through it quiet well, but religion alone cannot be hailed as the only culprit that to why we live the way we live, though it does have a long history of narrow thinking, man has managed to rise above again and again. Like many of you education is a very important tool in changing things, though that too must change drastically form the form with which it exists even in the us today.
    We have lost our awe of the w0orld around us, and would rather be curious about celebrities than where our water comes from and what is in our food.
    How to change the world:
    either turn off the TV or use it
    either reject religion or use it
    We have a great many tools at our disposal and technologies, the internet is an important one, but just one. Take up the pen and write, inspire, give hope if you can, or look at what sci-fi writers have been imagining for years.
    All the technology we need to change and adjust our living is available now, but many sacrifices must be made, things given up and new relationships forged.
    We have a species have great potential, but we are far from alone even on our own planet, and nature has much more to teach us, some we know, observation in population growth and carrying capacities, others we think we understand…
    Dialogue is important, but i think it would be much more useful if we could get together in person, say at the Solar Decathalon, or a month living with the Amish to truly form a plan of action, but this forum must do for now until the discussion grows.
    One good thing about living in the world of today, the actions of an individual have been shown to be able to change the world many times over.
    Keep the discussion going and live as best you can.

  54. Tom - August 27, 2009

    What a dynamic, deep discussion! I am impressed.
    One issue which is not broached is the political, economic position of the US in the world. Most talk here is assuming that we, the US, will maintain our bully pulpit as the world’s leader, able to influence policy and practice of other nations. Whether this be by trade, politics, example, or meer presence, it is only sustainable because of our position.
    A study of dominent world civilisations and their populations revealed that a world leader will only maintain its position if population increases at greater than 2.1. Hazy on that actual figure, I seem to recall something like 2.6 to 2.8.
    In other words, the BRIC nations will eventually replace us is world dominence because they will grow not only population, but also economies, trade, political influence.
    We can muse philosophically while we may. Hopefully, this basic argument on sustainability will lead a nation into a life with actual energy and raw material sustainable habits. At that point, we can fade into history without being dependent on the future world leaders…the new age tribe with rice poaddies in the mountains, if you will.
    In other words, we may be designing the phase of human development that takes a first rate power and launches a new third world life, economy, and political entity. ‘Back to the land part III’
    Lovely life, but what can we trade? Our history? Past achievements? Pictures of our ideallic small towns? Perishable foodstuffs?
    Just musing on the final product of this energy usage/population debate.

  55. Tom - February 8, 2010

    In response to post # 34, Sofia Boy, I reply that letting in more immigrants raises our population and birth rate, while increasing the work force temporarily.
    Case in point, Mexicans and central Americans have immigrated here for decades. They have provided inexpensive labor for agriculture, building and manufacturing, keeping costs down.
    However, to offer a solution to high birth rate with immigrants is a false logic in the face of evidence. These same workers have had a higher birth rate than the native American public. Further, they have cost taxpayers for the medical, legal, law enforcement and social services which they receive from local governments. And their children, born here, are citizens. Lower birth rate by increasing immigration for labor became a higher population and government cost factor than native citizens would yield.