The overpopulation myth

Prospect Magazine

The overpopulation myth

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The idea that growing human numbers will destroy the planet is nonsense. But over-consumption will

Many of today’s most-respected thinkers, from Stephen Hawking to David Attenborough, argue that our efforts to fight climate change and other environmental perils will all fail unless we “do something” about population growth. In the Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking declares that, “in the last 200 years, population growth has become exponential… The world population doubles every forty years.”

But this is nonsense. For a start, there is no exponential growth. In fact, population growth is slowing. For more than three decades now, the average number of babies being born to women in most of the world has been in decline. Globally, women today have half as many babies as their mothers did, mostly out of choice. They are doing it for their own good, the good of their families, and, if it helps the planet too, then so much the better.

Here are the numbers. Forty years ago, the average woman had between five and six kids. Now she has 2.6. This is getting close to the replacement level which, allowing for girls who don’t make it to adulthood, is around 2.3. As I show in my new book, Peoplequake, half the world already has a fertility rate below the long-term replacement level. That includes all of Europe, much of the Caribbean and the far east from Japan to Vietnam and Thailand, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Algeria, Kazakhstan, and Tunisia.

It also includes China, where the state decides how many children couples can have. This is brutal and repulsive. But the odd thing is that it may not make much difference any more: Chinese communities around the world have gone the same way without any compulsion—Taiwan, Singapore, and even Hong Kong. When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, it had the lowest fertility rate in the world: below one child per woman.

So why is this happening? Demographers used to say that women only started having fewer children when they got educated and the economy got rich, as in Europe. But tell that to the women of Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest nations, where girls are among the least educated in the world, and mostly marry in their mid-teens. They have just three children now, less than half the number their mothers had. India is even lower, at 2.8. Tell that also to the women of Brazil. In this hotbed of Catholicism, women have two children on average—and this is falling. Nothing the priests say can stop it.

Women are doing this because, for the first time in history, they can. Better healthcare and sanitation mean that most babies now live to grow up. It is no longer necessary to have five or six children to ensure the next generation—so they don’t.

There are holdouts, of course. In parts of rural Africa, women still have five or more children. But even here they are being rational. Women mostly run the farms, and they need the kids to mind the animals and work in the fields.

Then there is the middle east, where traditional patriarchy still rules. In remote villages in Yemen, girls as young as 11 are forced into marriage. They still have six babies on average. But even the middle east is changing. Take Iran. In the past 20 years, Iranian women have gone from having eight children to less than two—1.7 in fact—whatever the mullahs say.

The big story here is that rich or poor, socialist or capitalist, Muslim or Catholic, secular or devout, with or without tough government birth control policies in place, most countries tell the same tale of a reproductive revolution.

That doesn’t mean population growth has ceased. The world’s population is still rising by 70m a year. This is because there is a time lag: the huge numbers of young women born during the earlier baby boom may only have had two children each. That is still a lot of children. But within a generation, the world’s population will almost certainly be stable, and is very likely to be falling by mid-century. In the US they are calling my new book “The Coming Population Crash.”

Is this good news for the environment and for the planet’s resources? Clearly, other things being equal, fewer people will do less damage to the planet. But it won’t on its own do a lot to solve the world’s environmental problems, because the second myth about population growth is that it is the driving force behind our wrecking of the planet.

In fact, rising consumption today far outstrips the rising headcount as a threat to the planet. And most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population, while most of the remaining population growth is in countries with a very small impact on the planet. By almost any measure you choose, a small proportion of the world’s people take the majority of the world’s resources and produce the majority of its pollution.

Let’s look at carbon dioxide emissions: the biggest current concern because of climate change. The world’s richest half billion people—that’s about 7 per cent of the global population—are responsible for half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 per cent of the population are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions. Virtually all of the extra 2bn or so people expected on this planet in the coming 30 or 40 years will be in this poor half of the world. Stopping that, even if it were possible, would have only a minimal effect on global emissions, or other global threats.

Ah, you say, but what about future generations? All those big families in Africa will have yet bigger families. Well, that’s an issue of course. But let’s be clear about the scale of the difference involved. The carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians or 250 Ethiopians. A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and, in the unlikely event that those ten children all live to adulthood and have ten children of their own, the entire clan of more than a hundred will still be emitting less carbon dioxide than you or me. It is over-consumption, not over-population that matters.

Economists predict the world’s economy will grow by 400 per cent by 2050. If this does indeed happen, less than a tenth of that growth will be due to rising human numbers. True, some of those extra poor people might one day become rich. And if they do—and I hope they do—their impact on the planet will be greater. But it is the height of arrogance for us in the rich world to downplay the importance of our own environmental footprint because future generations of poor people might one day have the temerity to get as rich and destructive as us. How dare we?

Some green activists need to take a long hard look at themselves. We all like to think of ourselves as progressives. But Robert Malthus, the man who first warned 200 years ago that population growth would produce demographic armageddon, was in his time a favourite of capitalist mill owners. He opposed Victorian charities because he said they were only making matters worse for the poor, encouraging them to breed. He said the workhouses were too lenient. Progressives of the day hated him. Charles Dickens attacked him in several books: when Oliver Twist asked for more gruel in the workhouse, for instance, that was a satire on a newly introduced get-tough law on workhouses, known popularly as Malthus’s Law. In Hard Times, the headmaster obsessed with facts, Thomas Gradgrind, had a son called Malthus. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was also widely seen at the time as a caricature of Malthus.

Malthus, it should be remembered, spent many years teaching British colonial administrators before they went out to run the empire. They adopted his ideas that famine and disease were the result of overbreeding, so the victims should be allowed to die. It was Malthusian thinking that led to the huge and unnecessary death toll in the Irish potato famine.

We must not follow the lure of Malthus, and blame the world’s poor for the environmental damaged caused overwhelmingly by us: the rich. The truth is that the population bomb is being defused round the world. But the consumption bomb is still primed and ever more dangerous.

Fred Pearce is author of Peoplequake (Eden Project Books)

Read what James Lovelock, Bjorn Lomborg, Ed Miliband and many other experts have to say about climate change in Prospect’s Copenhagen special

  1. March 8, 2010

    Drummond Gilbert

    I agree that a high population in itself is not a huge problem. When I hear people complaining that Britain is overcrowded / overpopulated, I have to disagree. When people complain about the crowds in the centre of London, they forget that there really aren’t that many people in the Scottish highlands. Why are there so many people in London? Because they want to be where the jobs are, and the jobs are situated where people congregate.

    Similarly when people complain about the traffic levels in Britain, I have little sympathy if they are driving alone in a ‘gas guzzler’. People need to make more informed decisions to use our resources better (I am setting up a car sharing website at gocarshare.com that will help with this in a very small way).

    The internet is the ultimate tool to help us use our resources better and realise that a high population is not a problem in itself, but rather that it is the personal decisions that we take that really matter.

    • September 3, 2012

      Not really

      there isn’t many people living in Scotland highlands because alot of it is easily liveable because of lack of infrastructural to transport materials such as food.

  2. March 8, 2010

    Nick Breeze

    It’s seems that increased wealth and expanding global middle classes will fuel consumption. This is why we need to think about how we get food / energy / water.

    Areas of large continents that have large populations and are at risk from drought will be looking towards a not to far off bleak future; regardless of population graphs, the number hummers in the village or IPCC predictions!

  3. March 8, 2010

    Christopher Doll

    Over-consumption is the elephant in the room yet many people are still blinded by raw population numbers. I think this is because people are a very visible entity in the way embedded energy and resources are not and it is a way to shift focus from our own actions.

    More analysis on this can be found here:
    http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-population-paradox/

  4. March 8, 2010

    richard herriott

    Perhaps it is a simplisitic point but I will make it anyway: overconsumption doesn´t occur in the absence of people. Population growth feeds economic growth and according to the statistics cited by, among others, the Economist more and more people are emerging from poverty. If there are fewer people there will be less opportunity for overconsumption.

    • December 1, 2012

      Rick Poplawski

      People complicate things by lack of understanding (ignorance) or by being a Sesquipedalian to seem important some will even embrace lies just to debate. There is a core answer and solution to all problems that exist on earth. Less people less problems. What humanity fails to understand is we need this planet to exist it does not need us. “EARTH FIRST”

  5. March 9, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Husseinali Datoo:
    Another flawed theory like the climate change scare!

    • November 16, 2012

      ProfBob

      Climate deniers have no evidence to present. They merely doubt, or hope, that it isn’t true.
      There are very few doubters left–none if they have studied the problem.

  6. March 9, 2010

    Andrew Tibbetts

    The reason population growth is leveling is because the world is finite. Human populations have expanded into every corner of the globe, swallowing land and converting it into food meant only to consumed by humans. You are correct, consumption is the problem but it is most inextricably tied to population. Any species grows to meet it’s food supply. Control food growth and you control population growth. Surplus is the problem indeed.

  7. March 9, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Amanda Craig
    Actually, it’s both over population and over consumption I fear.

  8. March 9, 2010

    J.P. Thompson

    This column is right on. It’s obviously a complicated issue, because you can’t have consumption without people, so the natural conclusion is that more people consume more stuff. But that’s too simple. Look at the U.S. suburbs, where per capita consumption has increased dramatically in recent decades (bigger houses, bigger cars, longer commutes, more fast food, bigger people). And getting them to consume less should be, in theory, easier than trying to lower fertility rates in third world countries. More on this here:

    http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.4/its-the-population-stupid

  9. March 10, 2010

    Sandspur

    The logic stream here is absurd. In one missive the author says that population growth is nominal but admits to a at leats 70m increase per year (a low estimate of \countable\ souls.)
    His position that increasing resources is somehow seperable from increasing population is naive. There is no way to seperate demand from population numbers and our natural biological desire to consume.

  10. March 10, 2010

    Linda Reagan

    AMERICA uses about 1/2 its energy consumption in agricultural production and feeds almost the entire world. The goods produced in this country benefit the all humanity. Arguments such as those put forth in this article fail to address issues such as this and contribute to the hostility that is fomented in progressive and liberal circles.

  11. March 10, 2010

    HenryJames

    The answer is simple, more wars; they are the future.

    • October 6, 2012

      Dr. Rocket R W Turner

      More wars is correct, and the populations actually growing beyond simple replacement rates that are sustainable rate are only 2, Muslims and Latinos. The rest of the cultural/population groups are now producing less offspring that are necessary to sustain their cultural/poplation totals. So the people that will attack to get that they need are most likely one of those two groups against the dominant wealthy cultures/populations. They will be coming for us, and our resources, not because they are bad, but because they want to live.

  12. March 10, 2010

    Jim

    Population is going through a revolutionary decline. We are entering a phase where couples both professionals and working class are deciding that not only is not having children OK, but it actually makes economic sense not to have them.

    People used to have children so they would be there in adulthood when you are older, but now people in general have become more educated about caring for themselves toward the end of their own life. Modern life dictates that children tend not to be their for their parents when they get older anyway because of careers or for the need of the child to live their own life.

    Couples are getting really comfortable with not having children, it is a relatively new phenomena that has gathered awareness in the last number of years. Furthermore, when you hear Al Gore spewing his religion about the end of the world is near anyway, anyone listening and believing would not subject children to the catastrophic outcomes that he and the UN’s IPCC suggest.

    Not having children does away with a lot of stress and creates economic freedom for those that choose not to have children. The urge for procreation is in decline and couple in general are beginning to question the notion that it was a given.

  13. March 10, 2010

    Paul

    Many commenters here seem be willing to Potato Famine to return. Perhaps it’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime? This misses the point of the article.

    Resources are not “finite”, but contingent upon technical innovation. Cheap energy will eventually ensure that many of the today’s constraints are overcome. Fusion and geothermal energy will see to that.

    These are goals to which progressives should strive – not seeing who they can exclude from Humanity’s Life Boat.

  14. March 10, 2010

    Justa Joe

    Every (lib) wants lower population, but none of them want to die.

    If as every lib seems to believe that all necessary resources are very finite we’re going to run out eventually anyway no matter what minimal decreases can be made in consumption through whatever draconian measure the libs can devise.

    • December 5, 2012

      takingover

      Sustainability Sustainability Sustainability

  15. March 10, 2010

    Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    Pesticides reduce insect populations until insects evolve pesticide resistance. I expect the same evolutionary dynamic will alter the (recent) observed relation between wealth and human fecundity.

    1) The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition).
    2) Value is determined by supply and demand. Therefore, a world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.
    3) The Earth’s human population cannot grow without limit.
    4) The Earth’s human population will stop growing when (a) the death rate rises to meet the birth rate or (b) the birth rate falls to meet the death rate.
    5) The Earth’s human population will stop growing as a result of either (a) deliberate human agency or (b) other.
    6) Deliberate human agency is either (a) democratically determined or (b) other.
    7) All human behavioral traits are heritable.
    8) Voluntary programs for population control selectively breed non-compliant individuals.
    9) Humans who will reproduce at high density have a selective advantage over humans who require lots of open space.
    10) Human misery is like heat: in the absence of insulators (barriers to immigration), it flows until it is uniformly distributed.
    11) The Earth’s maximum possible instantaneous human population is greater than its maximum possible sustainable human population. Absent a reduction the human birth rate or a gradual increase in the death rate, expect a sharp increase in death the rate and a sharp drop in the human population from its maximum value.
    12) The Earth’s maximum possible sustainable human population leaves little room for wilderness or biodiversity. Absent a reduction the human birth rate or an increase in the death rate, expect a sharp reduction in biodivesity.

    Malthus was right. Between vice (forced sterilization, forced abortion, genocide, war), misery (starvation, pollution-induced illness, epidemic disease) and moral restraint (hopeless, see #7,8), your choices are limited. Where do you disagree?

    I know: “Everything’s fine so far” (said the man who jumped from the 50th floor, as he passed the tenth floor).

  16. March 10, 2010

    Stan W.

    To change the consumption habits of the wealthy would be too much for rich societies to bear. Better break out the starships and look for other worlds to burn up resources. Not timely, how about better education in recycling, more funding by governments to expand recycling (create jobs), so that the net effect approaches zero.

  17. March 11, 2010

    Charles Higley

    I must take exception to the discussion above regarding CO2 emissions.

    CO2 is harmless and, in fact, are beneficial to greening the world and our food supply. It cannot and odes not drive the climate.

    Water vapor and CO2 interact to form a constant regarding heat-trapping effect and, thus, CO2 is effectively irrelevant to climate. There are other reasons that CO2 cannot do what the warmists claim – all based on proven and solid science, not the junk science assumptions of the IPCC.

    The climate changes naturally and has not been warming for 15 years and actually cooling for the last 8 years. How on Earth could that be considered a correlation between warming and CO2?

    • July 31, 2013

      Evan Bedford

      Google “ocean heat”, etc. That’s where most of it is going. And when it decides to hiccup, watch out.

  18. March 11, 2010

    perceptions_now

    Following are the real Fundamentals of Economics today -
    DEBT = All time Highs & Going Higher
    ENERGY = Oil Production has Peaked, creating Economic stress points.
    AGING POPULATION = Baby Boomer Bust is here, now
    POPULATION TOTAL = Already Beyond the Planets Capacity to sustain, but set to Peak within 20 Years, before going into long term Decline.

    No matter what people say & do, the above WILL SET THE FUTURE COURSE OF THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, FOR MANY YEARS!

    An observation on Population & Consumption -
    If the Population weren’t there, the Consumption wouldn’t be there either!

  19. March 11, 2010

    Frank Adey

    Yes, but what does ‘over-consumption’ mean?
    If I have one bowl of rice per day, and you have two, are you ‘over-consuming’? Who is to judge, and on what grounds?

  20. March 11, 2010

    peter waugh

    If population growth is put forward either as the whole problem or as no part of the problem, the facts dont support it. We don’t need to ‘tell people how many children to have’. It has been far more successful to curb population growth than carbon dioxide production, mainly through technology and the liberation of women. We must give it a place in sustainability, we mus use every measure which works.

  21. March 11, 2010

    Tom Davidson

    You are correct. In any physical (and therefore finite) system ‘exponential growth’ is only applicable as a descriptive term for the early stages of a growth curve called the ‘logistic function’, which shows exponential-like growth only as long as there are no limiting resources. (Side note: Hawking is a good physicist, but a piss-poor population biologist.)
    When resources become depleted to the point that ‘abundance’ is no longer the rule, growth becomes limited as population approaches the sustainable level. All life alters its environment – it must to survive. It consumes what it needs and expels its wastes. For every life form its very existence results in environmental degradation according to its own needs. Life continues because life adapts to stress-inducing changes in its environment by changing its requirements or by changing itself. Sic transit gloria.

  22. March 11, 2010

    richard herriott

    Charles Higley writes: “[CO2] cannot and does not drive the climate.” That´s a remarkable assertion and a fine misunderstanding. Actually no-one says it does so this is a straw man. CO2 concentration doesn´t drive the climate but moderates other inputs that vary naturally. Thus it is possible for there to be lowerings in the warming trend due to natural inputs varying (decreasing), however, statistical analysis can show that absent raised C02 concentrations, those lowering are not as low as they would have been.
    The idea that extra CO2 is beneficial to plants is true only for small increases above the normal concentration. Above certain levels CO2 either has no extra effect due to other limiting factors or it is detrimental. Humans need oxygen as plants need CO2 but if you fill a room with pure oxygen you will quickly get a dead human. The same applies to plants and CO2.
    I honestly had no idea that there were so many climate change sceptics at Prospect nor that Prospect itself was so sympathetic to that point of view.
    Given the many advantages of getting the world to reduce its reliance on carbon fuels, you´d think climate change sceptics might be less exercised. As I asked in another posting, do we really want to continue dependency on oil sourced in despotic lands (middle east, Russia) and do we really want to dig up enormous tracts of land to get oil from tar sands? What precisely is the problem with switching to cleaner fuels and using less of them?

  23. March 11, 2010

    Damian

    Fred is clueless. There is plenty of everything for 20 billion more people on Earth. There is NO reason to worry about ‘overpopulation’. The viewpoint that we should worry about overpopulation is a very myopic one.

  24. March 11, 2010

    George Lord

    Regrettably, Fred Pearce is dangerously mistaken, because he has overlooked some important facts. Reversing population growth is actually essential if we are to prevent further serious damage to the ecology.

    The issue isn’t consumption as he claims, it is the total human impact on the environment. That is actually the average consumption per person multiplied by the number of people.

    So, to reduce that total impact, we must reduce one (or both) of those factors.

    However, reducing individual average consumption isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Consumption is highly correlated with standard of living. As the 3rd world rises from poverty, its standard of living, and thus the average consumption of the majority of the human race, is going to rise sharply. The most populous countries, India and China, are understandably already refusing to prevent this. No matter how much we in the west reduce our standard living (if we are actually willing to at all), we’re outnumbered so our reduction in impact will be outweighed by increase elsewhere.

    We can reduce average impact through technology, of course. However, the development and widespread adoption of such technology takes a lot of time and money. We don’t have much time before a serious environmental tipping point, and we don’t have much money thanks to the banking crisis.

    So, that leaves only the reversal of population growth as a feasible method of reducing out total impact.

    Yes, population is going to peak eventually by itself. However, our current population is well above the level our global environment can sustain, even at an average global standard of living considerably below what many of us would judge acceptable. The result is that we’re living off environmental capital rather than income, for example by eating the breeding stocks of many fisheries. We can’t do that for long — there just won’t be any more fish to eat.

    Allowing the population to peak without intervention would result in a large increase in the number of extinctions, and the destruction of much of the remaining forests and a good deal of the productive soil. Humanity might survive (although our population would likely crash), but in a world with a tragically impoverished ecology.

    Fred Pearce should take off his rose-coloured glasses. We need people like him to be encouraging a focus on population, not to be spreading the delusion that it doesn’t matter.

    Geo.

  25. March 11, 2010

    Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    (Herriott): “I honestly had no idea that there were so many climate change sceptics at Prospect nor that Prospect itself was so sympathetic to that point of view.
    Given the many advantages of getting the world to reduce its reliance on carbon fuels, you´d think climate change sceptics might be less exercised.”

    Try…
    “2+2 = 7 3/4, therefore governments should act to protect endangered species.”

    You may like the conclusion and still object to the argument. I would go further and say that the strength of your objections to bad arguments for conclusions you favor should match your devotion to those conclusions. Bad arguments may not refute good conclusions, but they discredit the people who make bad arguments and, since people do not operate on logic, they tend to discredit the conclusions as well.

    Among those bad arguments, count:
    1. ad hominem (“anti-science”, “climate change deniers”, etc.)
    2. cherry-picking of data (e.g., which tree rings to count, where to start your “trend”)
    3. perversion of the peer review process
    4. blocking access to unadjusted data and algorithms.

    If the people who assert that a consistent warming trend can be derived from 19th and 20th century temperature measurements and from proxy data from earlier years really had confidence in their data and arguments, why do they so persistently act like they have something to hide?

    (Herriott): “As I asked in another posting, do we really want to continue dependency on oil sourced in despotic lands (middle east, Russia) and do we really want to dig up enormous tracts of land to get oil from tar sands? What precisely is the problem with switching to cleaner fuels and using less of them?”

    “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment (a competitive market) can answer. The system of title (private property) calibrates rewards for the solution to the problems of meeting human wants to the urgency of those wants. A company which answers the question “What resources does it take to produce X?” with “Less than you think. Here’s our proof. (A product)”, reaps a reward.

    What precisely is the problem with using market mechanisms to alot resources?

    • July 28, 2013

      Paul Boizot

      I am not an economist, but I believe the answer to your last question is called externalities. The free market as it actually works historically involves individuals or companies doing things like digging all the easy pickings out of a mine and leaving a big hole in the ground and a load of waste – in some cases highly toxic. Cleaning this up is not factored in to the cost of the product and others are left to bear the cost, in money, destroyed ecosystems, ill-health, etc.

  26. March 11, 2010

    Roger Plenty

    We who are concerned about population often meet the assumption that therefore we are not concerned about consumption. Well, many of us are quite capable of worrying about two things at once. I have personally done a lot to reduce my footprint, and I am prepared to bet Fred that my footprint is smaller than his. He to pay £100 to Optimum Population Trust, I to pay £100 to any registered charity of his choice.

    Some points in his article should be taken up. ‘Women are doing this because…they can’. Well, yes, some of them can, but how do you square that remark with UN Population Fund’s statement that over 200 million women would use family planning, but have no access to it? And the fact that 20 million women undergo unsafe abortions annually, resulting in 800,000 deaths and over 2 million permanent disabilities (WHO)? UNPF also state that over 40% of all pregnancies are unintentional.

    He mentions several countries where birth rates have fallen dramatically, but he does not mention the fact that in most cases these drops are the the result of properly thought out non-coercive campaigns involving education, welfare and the provision of family planning.

    Rural Africa is the exception, he says, because they need lots of children to support them in old age and to help on the farm. This implies that they have chosen this course, but in the absence of family planning how can you say they have made a choice? The situation may have improved, but a couple of years ago, according to Marie Stopes, there were five condoms per man per year in sub-Saharan Africa.

    He makes the point that consumption is the sin of the developed world (I couldn’t agree more) and the countries with growing populations have small footprints. What sort of an argument is that? It would only be valid, and only just valid at that, if we wanted the poor to stay in poverty. He speaks of a woman having 100 grandchildren; if people really did procreate at that rate we would never get them out of poverty. If their rate of increase declined it would both help to get them out of poverty and make the effect of their eventual wealth, and therefore consumption, less damaging.

    And he need not think that I am not equally concerned about population growth in developed countries. The wealthy who have large families because they can afford it, the misguided governments who try to increase their birthrates, the level of teenage pregnancies, religious pedantry all make me cross, as indeed do editors who do not allow proper discussion of important subjects.

  27. March 11, 2010

    Sylvia Pesek

    On its face, the above article seems nominally plausible. It is possible that we can continue to feed increasing population levels. We can probably even find warehousing for them. And if they can be trained to not want ‘stuff’ (good luck with that one), they may manage to not entirely eradicate the majority of other species on the planet. But one vital fact is missing. People excrete. Ill and aging populations take increasing meds, which end up in water tables all over the planet. Sewerage systems are overworked, and raw sewerage is polluting streams, rivers, lakes and oceans planet-wide. This devil’s brew of chemicals and excrement is poisoning the planet in subtle but insidious ways. Also, the kind of mega-agriculture that’s required to feed huge populations depends heavily on artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which add an additional load of poisons, teratogens, mutagens, etc. to the already overburdened systems. So unless we’re going to be walking around in ‘still suits’ such as those worn in ‘Dune’, we’re going to have a massive problem.

  28. March 12, 2010

    Noelene

    Doesn’t over consumption mean that women are having less children?If the businesses providing goods,were shut down there would be mass unemployment,leading us back to the days when women had more children,because the access to employment and a better way of life is gone.You cannot have your cake and eat it too.There has never been a better time to live than today,that is why women are having less children.The worlds poor are kept that way by their governments,nothing to do with the way the rich live,other than they enable such governments with billions in aid.

  29. March 12, 2010

    vladdie-san

    LOL this is pure genious
    i like when you mentioned the mooooooooooooooobs

  30. March 12, 2010

    geno

    Basically if you want a world where human needs are just the only things that matter i.e sod the environment, rampant consumerism, extinction of rare animals, loss of wilderness and space – then by all means accept population growth as a given. However if you do want our children to have a better world then face the music and accept that too many humans are the biggest cause of all environmental problems.

  31. March 12, 2010

    Ivor Tymchak

    I am glad that the comments have largely spotted the specious logic in the article. The man is trying to sell a book by adopting a controversial position (didn’t he mention something about over consumption?)

    The problem with discussing something as complex as climate change or population growth is that such concepts are too big to explore reliably from any one standpoint.

    My standpoint of empirical cynicism, tells me that our civilization has no Plan B. I see monoculture all around me – Plan A writ large. Such a policy inevitably stores up trouble as all past civilizations have demonstrated. Just one example; if the taps failed in my house,from where would I get clean water?

  32. March 12, 2010

    John Feeney

    Though Fred isn’t going to budge from his erroneous view of the population issue, I’m glad to see this article. Let Pearce and Monbiot and others put their fallacious ideas out there while others argue the other side. A couple of years ago there was no discussion of the topic. Now we have debate and, thankfully, the truth will out. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later. Biodiversity, our life support system, depends on it.

    What Fred and other population deniers seem blind to is the nature of overshoot.

  33. March 13, 2010

    Justa Joe

    richard herriott, What are you talking about?

    “The idea that extra CO2 is beneficial to plants is true only for small increases above the normal concentration… Above certain levels CO2 either has no extra effect due to other limiting factors or it is detrimental. Humans need oxygen as plants need CO2 but if you fill a room with pure oxygen you will quickly get a dead human. The same applies to plants and CO2.”

    #1 Plants grow optimally in an environment of 550ppm, which is way over the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and way over the ‘magic’ threshold of 350ppm, which is the AGW types have set for us.

    #2 Plants can exist in an atmosphere way over the “small increase” that you state. The Late Cretaceous atmosphere had CO2 concentrations in the range of 1300ppm.

    #3 Humans can exist and would benefit from a more oxygen rich atmosphere as every one knows. I’m not even going to look up the stoichiometric information on that. Obviously your allusion to an atmosphere of 100% O2 or C02 is a wild exaggeration.

    Put down the AGW crack pipe. CO2 isn’t going to kill you.

    “What precisely is the problem with switching to cleaner fuels and using less of them?”

    Leaving aside your suggestion that the dishonest presnetation of an argument is OK if YOUR ends justify the means The problem is QUITE simple, THERE AREN’T ANY VIABLE “CLEAN” FUELS! except nuclear, which you probably don’t like either.

    Your goal to deprive the world of it’s cheapest and presently most efficient sources of fuel cause and will continue to cause great economic suffering.

  34. March 13, 2010

    Rockmount

    This fails to note that consumption is a serious issue because the world is already overpopulated by a factor of at least four, if not more.

    For example, if world population had leveled off at 1 billion people (the level in 1800), then everyone on the planet would be able to enjoy a prosperous, middle-class existence and consume to their hearts’ content, and there would still be ample resources, the oceans would remain healthy, the rain forests would be fine, etc.

    Many earth scientists look at the issue this way – at what level of population would the earth be able to sustain a prosperous and healthy life for everyone – including a car, an air conditioner, all the trappings of modern middle-class existence – without destroying the ecosystem or drawing down resources in an unsustainable way? And the answer is usually between one and two billion.

    Anything higher than that is ‘overpopulation.’ And by that standard, we are already very seriously overpopulated and on a dangerous trajectory.

    To take population as it is, and then say we are not overpopulated, it is simply peoples’ desire to live comfortably that’s the problem, it to look at the issue upside down.

  35. March 15, 2010

    Ramesh Raghuvanshi

    There are fallacies in your argument,I agree with you that population growth is slowing down but what about death rate also slowing?If death rate is slowing than population is increasing.Yes I agree consumption is increasing and that impact on climate change.How can you stop the consummation of seven billion people? Thinking man`s irritation inborn instinct I donot find out any solution to this dilemma

  36. March 15, 2010

    Richie Rich

    Fred Adey:

    Forget rice. Let’s say kidney beans. If you are farting twice as much as me, then yes, you are consuming more than your fair share.

  37. March 15, 2010

    Fat Bob

    I know his full name was Thomas Robert Malthus, but does anybody really refer to him as ‘Robert Malthus’?

    That aside, this is the usual anti-consumptionist crap. Now that it has become obvious that absolute population is nothing like the serious problem previously projected, some greens are being more explicit in their hatred of consumption. But actually there are plenty of grounds for optimism that there are no insurmountable barriers to broadening Western consumption levels to the whole world – except for the low horizons promoted by environmentalists.

    • December 29, 2012

      Prof Bob

      Experts on population, such as Dr. Pimentel at Cornell University, estimate that if we want people to live at the level we have in the West, the maximum number of people for the planet would be between 1 1/2 and 2 billion people. Optimists seem to forget to look at the realities of overpopulation, lack of fresh water, reducing arable lands, reducing irrepressible natural resources, etc. It is a shame that these optimistic hopes are not backed up by the hard evidence.

  38. March 15, 2010

    pb

    This is a ridiculous article for two reasons.
    First, arguing that fertility is falling so we’re OK then. If we live longer, there are more women per baby, so fertility automatically falls even without the number of babies borne by each women falling. Regardless of misuse of statistics, global population is still increasing by 78 million per year, and in UK there are 200,000 more births than deaths.
    Second, he argues it is not population, but consumption that is the problem. Well everyone strives to improve their standards of living, wherever they live. What is the point otherwise. I get fed up being exhorted to use less, to do less, to walk, not fly, turn off this and that, and apparently I shouldn’t even be eating meat. One extra baby is going to have a far greater effect than a lifetime of saving.
    Wouldn’t it be better to have smaller families so that we have more freedom, and preserve a bit more of what is left of our once beautiful planet for other species and habitats.

  39. March 15, 2010

    Bill Hay

    There is a false premise here and that is that population and over-consumption are separate.
    In fact, a certain number of people (those who could) have always over-consumed. The larger the population, the greater that number, especially in modern times when wealth is spreading all over the globe.
    Over-consumption is as natural as breeding. One cannot be separated from the other.
    If over-consumption is an issue now, it will continue to be an issue as long as the population of the globe does not decline.

  40. March 15, 2010

    Stephen

    The idea that one can separate population and consumption, as Mr. Pearce would have us do, is misleading. It is only the multiplication of consumption per person times total population that we learn what it costs the environment to sustain humanity.

    In the next years the world population will rise, even at a slower rate, from 6.7 billion to 9.1 billion in 2050. Using Mr. Pearce’s consumption figures, ie the West consumes at 10 times the rest of the world, if per person consumption in the West dropped by half ((500 million people x 50 units of consumption not 100) and it only doubled everywhere else (8.5 billion people x 20 units not 10) the impact will increase total world consumption from 110 billion to 195 billion units – up 90%.

    The fact is the West is not going to drop by half, the poor are likely to more than double and so the reality in 2050 isnt even remotely close to being sustainable.

    The fact is the West is simply too small (7%) a part of the total human population in 2050 to impact the overall reality. Is Mr. Pearce right morally – arguably so, but as a science writer – and supposedly a well-respected one – he misleads rather than informs.

  41. March 15, 2010

    Stephen

    why was my comment not posted

  42. March 16, 2010

    Jon Monroe

    This is really incoherent. Population growth has depended upon supporting technologies, which require supporting levels of consumption. The idea that you can have high population without high consumption is idle dreaming. There will either be unequal and high consumption or there will be more-equally dispersed consumption. The overall level of consumption is going to increase with the population.

    On a sarcastic note: do we include the surpluses deployed to provide health and food aid to developing countries as over-consumption? It’s not a pretty way of looking at it, but then again it isn’t really an aesthetic issue now is it?

  43. March 16, 2010

    newtoon

    Pearce’s view is as extreme as those who think the other way (that population growth is mainly driving the environmental catastrophe).

    It is actually BOTH problems that is alarming : population + consumption.

    Regarding population growth, even if it begins to stabilize (see curve : http://knowledge.allianz.com/nopi_downloads/images/demographic%20change_global%20population_96dpi_1.jpg), it is too late ! It is here and we have to cope with it. The so-called “baby boom generation” has seen the world population triple in its life ! ! ! How can Peace deny the impact of such a curve !

    Paradoxically, SCIENCE has allowed this to happen through MEDECINE (allowing infants to better survive mostly) + GREEN revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution) giving enough food to more and more people … but, as you may read elsewhere, it is only temporary (it needs petrol for instance) and very polluting (+ provokes lots of cancers).

    In the meantime, all those newcomers on Earth, ALL I SAID (in rich or poor countries), dream of overconsuming but, hopefully most of them cannot.
    How can Pearce end his article by blaming overconsumption ? Overconsumption is like … drinking or eating. It is a human trait (partly sexually driven) and it is how the WHOLE economy is working (an interesting movie about it is coming about it : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Y3GoN2PGw ). Try to build an innovative company that does not grow and see the outcome !

    Conclusion : the BIG problem lies in the fact that developing countries like China or India, already crowded, is consuming more and more and that is NATURAL (or HUMAN). They are not to blame but this is fact. He says “the carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese…” but first, this it today + how can he forget to remember to compare current population numbers !

  44. March 16, 2010

    z m

    The world population is increasing by about 20% of the population of the US per year, by the authors own metric, and he thinks this isn’t a problem?

    People are not deer some other textbook ecology species. When we overproduce, we go to war over resources. Overpopulation leads to a high degree of misery in the resource-poor world before it leads to less births per year. Just because we in the Western world don’t have to deal with it quite so much doesn’t mean we should look at post-colonialism as a model to emulate.

    Also, the entire premise here is dependent on the developing world continuing to remain undeveloped – to those of us who feel that extreme poverty is unacceptable, our responsibility is no less daunting that it used to be.

    Finally, the author is projecting further into the future than the amount of years between the present and the industrial/agricultural led population booms, or the post industrial decline. He’s assuming that nothing will increase the worlds population growth beyond current history – in a history full of examples to the contrary.

  45. March 16, 2010

    burton

    I don’t see the words “rising life expectancy” anywhere on this page.

  46. March 16, 2010

    Scabby Nutroast

    People who leave comments on articles are all of such superior intelligence, with their rainbows of smartness and finely honed morals, I don’t know why anyone even bothers to read the article.

    It’s also very kind of those leaving comments to number their arguments so sad little morons like myself can follow their version of logic. It sure beats writing well.

  47. March 16, 2010

    j

    Too many people are chasing too few jobs. That’s what overpopulation means. People just don’t stand there, they have to do something. If there’s nothing for them to do, since we have robots and computers making things easier and quicker, there’s no need for all those extra people around. This is the problem.

  48. March 16, 2010

    ranulph

    Technology has helped to ease population growth. However it is ostrich-like to claim it is not problematic.
    I lived in Kenya 40 years ago. The population then was about 7 million. Today the population is approaching 40 million. There have been many problems, often stemming from the shortage of suitable land for local consumption. Much of the best land is used to grow flowers for Europe. Global warming and associated drought is adding to the pressures. A smaller population would buy some time, but fundamentalists of all persuasions resist birth control measures.

  49. March 16, 2010

    Rob Russell

    Fred Pearce is naive and idealistic in his reasoning. Look at Easter Island and its demise. City states in the Middle East and North Africa declined when population growth and consumption got out of kilter. See a recent posting on you tube about exponential growth.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY

  50. March 17, 2010

    Larry

    What utter rubbish to suggest that overpopulation has no bearing on consumption and that consumption of resources is the problem. Is this kind of unintelligent information what a Think Tank think is about? Has all that higher learning gone to your heads that you come up with such ridiculous ideas.
    The people of Britain never asked for mass immigration and it is deterimental to the indigenous population. If you cannot see this inevitable truth in mass immigration your Think Tank should shut its doors. Mass immigration by Labour party seems to me that the Scots in the Labour party want to breed the English out of Britain removing England from the scheme of things. Tony Blair once tried to peddle his Regionalization Program that cut up England into regions, but his own Scotland along with Wales and Ireland stayed as regions. It is the same Regionalization Program that the EU has had on its mind for decades in dealing with Britain, which could become a reality because of (Scottish) Gordon Brown ratifying the EU against his own countrymen’s wishes. The northern English told Blair where to get off with his regionalization program, but still mass immigration is going to have the same effect in the near future. What sickens me is that the “White Man’s Burden” syndrome is still alive and well under new government programs of overt political correctness that is so destructive to British and English society. Multiculturalism is going to destroy the British and English and democracy as well.
    Please stop acting like unintelligent children acting on political correctism. Islamophobia is word made up by Kofi Anan when head of the UN and, of course, being a Muslim he had his Islamic agenda, which unfortunately has carried on in the United Nations in Durban I and II. The implication of 9/11 by Muslim terrorists and Saudi Arabian connections cannot be underscored. Islamic terrorism is simply a arm of Islamic Expansionism and islamic Expansionism is the real threat to the western world.
    I do not know who funds you, but I do know there are many NGO’s, Associations and Non-Profit organizations who are funded by Saudi Arabian and other Islamic interests who support so called democratic interest groups. I certainly hope that this does not include yours. However, since reading your book “The West,Islam and Islamism” written by Caroline Cox and John Marks I found the book to have lost its objectivity simply because of the ideology of Islamophobia and worrying about so called moderate Muslims. You cannot be objective with political correctness as your guideline.

  51. March 17, 2010

    Tim Gooding

    Dear Mr Pearce,

    I think most people understand that it’s population multiplied by consumption that is the reality facing us. At UK or US levels of consumption, the entire world is likely to be vastly overpopulated. At poor African levels, we could probably fit more people on earth.

    So, sure, if we could find away to have people not comsume anything and not impact the environment at all, we could happily have infinite human beings on earth.

    But in the real world, trying to significantly reduce rich western nations to consume less is a considerable undertaking.

    Also, as long as the population is growing we can calulate the doubling point. As such, the ‘expontial function’ argument holds.

    Regards,

    Tim Gooding

  52. March 17, 2010

    Melodie

    I would really like to see where this information came from. References please!

  53. March 18, 2010

    Happy Clapper

    OK, if people being born in high population growth but relatively low pollution countries stay in the countries in which they are born, environmental problems related to the consumptive Western lifestyle will continue to decrease with the declining Western population.

    Therefore if we stop people from over populated countries from migrating to the West we will arrest environmental decline.

    Sounds good. Stop immigration and allow Western countries consumption to decline with natural population decline. I.E. to become sustainable, close your borders.

    I like it. Thanks.

  54. March 18, 2010

    r a

    Rubbish. First off, Malthus’ ideas should be judged on their own merits; slamming him because he was a favourite of 19th c mill owners or colonial administrators is basically an ad hominem.

    But the main point is that the environmental effects of population growth are waved away in the article. If a poor country grows its population but remains poor the environmental impact is not that great; if it then stabilizes the population and goes on an economic growth binge the environmental footprint gets bigger and writers like Pearce say See, it’s all because of per capita consumption growth.

    This is wrong: the base on which economic growth takes place is bigger because of population growth earlier. For example, China’s population growth in the 16th or 17th centuries is still having an environmental effect today. It enlarged the base on which today’s China is industrializing. Anti-Malthusians are trying to divert attention from this fact by focusing on the effects of economic growth only and taking the size of the developing world as a given.

  55. March 18, 2010

    JM

    Thanks for adding some clarity to this important discussion.

  56. March 19, 2010

    Peter C Masters

    I think we have a problem here (society that is) with the labelling of every challenge to humanity as being problematic. This is illustrated in the type of language and terms borrowed from the media and used increasingly to describe situations, real or imagined that face us as a ‘species’.

    The use of the term ‘bomb’, ‘time-bomb’ etc to describe these challenges, particuarly here described as ‘primed’ by Fred Pearce, only serves, I feel, to irrationalise the very real challenges thrown up by nature, humanity and the environment. It also gives weight to a growing anti-human movement that obviously sees large populations and consumption as being not only problematic but also insumountable in terms of us, as humans, enduring and flourishing.

  57. March 20, 2010

    harriet mitteldorf

    TWADDLE ! Non-consumer regions of Asia, and Africa have already been destroyed by advancing human communities encroaching on wildlife habitats, abusing water resources, and poisoning rivers and lakes with human excrement.

    And consumerism in other areas offers no relief outlet. Not much wildlife, clean water and air left here either.

  58. March 21, 2010

    Ben Courtice

    For those who think immigration restrictions still worth pursuing as a population policy: it only makes sense if you keep poor third world people from immigrating. The difference in ecological footprint coming from, say, Canada to Australia, is pretty irrelevant. So we only really need to keep the poor, dark skinned nations out. Malthus would approve.

    Reducing consumption to sustainable levels is very do-able, especially if technology (the third factor in the populationists’ I=PAT formula) is used to reduce instead of create more pollution. On the other hand, rapidly reducing population is a scary idea if taken up by our current political leaders. There is no easy way to do it, other than what Fred Pearce describes is already happening anyway.

  59. March 22, 2010

    Bellistner

    Mr Pearce see ‘The Problem’ as either/or, black and white. This is not the case. ‘The Problem’ is both too many rich people using too man resources, _and_ too many poor people having too many children.

    Prior to Industrialisation and the heavy use of Fossil Fuels, the Global population was under a billion people, all of whom were living at or around subsistence level. With the advent of technology stemming from the IR, the ‘sustainable’ population is likely higher, but nowhere near the current 6.9 billion. Indeed, the only thing keeping our population at current levels is those Fossil Fuels (even poor countries use some FF). Industrialised Agriculture, including exports and Aid to Third World countries (which under cut prices asked by local producers) are heavy users of Oil and Gas (for the farm mechinery and fertilisers/pesticides). Take away the Oil/Gas (Peak Oil), and production will drop.

    Furthermore, agriculture, through land-use changes and fuel use, contributes fully 30% of Anthropogenic GHG emissions. If the Scientific consensus around AGCC is to be believed, then even ‘going green’ with our electricity and transport, we will still be emitting too much GHGs into the atmosphere to avert unwanted Climate Change (or Climate Weirding).

    As to your statement “In the past 20 years, Iranian women have gone from having eight children to less than two—1.7 in fact—whatever the mullahs say.”. it is, in fact, the policy of Iran to reduce its population. Iran, despite being notionally a fundamentalist Theocracy, has State-sponsored ‘Family Planning’ infrastructure, including state-funded abortions. The ruling factions of Iran have recognised that population pressure is undesirable.

    The poor nations of the world aspire to live like The West. NGOs constantly express their desire to eradicate poverty and malnutrition. Governments send food and financial aid. All of this places pressure and creates a desire to increase a standard of living, which traditionally means increasing consumption.

    Consumption _and_ population are the problem, not one or the other.

  60. March 24, 2010

    Cher

    A most deceptive and delusional view of the real world. Perhaps the author believes that the good Lord will provide for the 1.02 billion people currently undernourished and will he resurrect the dead bodies of the innocent which abound, wiped out by hunger, disease and wars over food and water?

  61. March 28, 2010

    Ben

    Increasing global consumption and population appear to go hand in hand in our “global” economy.

  62. April 11, 2010

    Enrico

    Environmentalism is fraud. The existence of humans will have no lasting impact on the ultimate course of the planet. Eventually it will be destroyed by an expanding Sun. Environmentalism is elitist intellectual masturbation, arrogant anthropo-centric nonsense. Overpopulation makes life harder and more unpleasant. Fewer people make life more pleasant. If you don’t like consumption, by all means, don’t consume. But don’t be so rude as to tell others what to do. Mind your own business.

  63. April 21, 2010

    ProfBob

    For those who want more people on the planet, is there an absolute limit that they might suggest? Eighty trillion–or fewer? Is it true that every child born will increase the CO2 pollution? Or will they reduce it? With the amount of arable land per person now at about a half an acre, where will the food be grown? What about the lack of fresh water? They keep on bringing up Malthus. He didn’t mention climate change, pollutions, the use of irreplaceable natural resources , the destruction of the rainforests, illegal immigration, or other problems caused by overpopulation. He mentioned food production—and with a billion malnourished people, it is probably worse than he thought in terms of raw numbers. Let’s get some factual projections about how more or fewer people will impact the planet. An opinion based on wishful thinking is not enough. For some alarming facts and some possible solutions may I suggest reading “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info) and http://overpopulation.org
    While on thesubject, the state certainly needs more unwanted children. They will help to fill the prisons and mental hospitals, creating more jobs in construction of facilities, for prison guards, and for psychiatric techs. Unhappily those babies won’t be fit to fill our armies because most will be in the 75% who are unfit for service.
    I suggest reading the aforementioned ebook series and the books by child psychiatrist Jack Westman. Intelligent minds might be changed with evidence.

    Regarding Malthus, it is a logical fallacy to criticize the man rather than the argument.
    Another thought–If we use only the carbon footprint as a measure of overcrowding the world can handle about 16 billion people living at the level of an average Indian, but only about 1.5 billion if we are to live at the level of the US.
    So what is the point of having more people? Why not 10 or 100 or 100 million?

  64. April 21, 2010

    peter hagenrud

    The total landmass of earth is about 149000000 km2.
    That is 45.63 people on every sq km witch is the same that every human have 21915 sq meters each.
    Half of the landmass rougly is not suiteble for humans to live on.
    Besides we share this earth with all millions of other species, shall we kill them to make room for ouer own speice?

  65. May 16, 2010

    Nicholas Rose

    Could Mr Pearce illustrate his argument that population growth is not exponential by showing a graph of world population against time (linear scales for both axes please)?

  66. May 24, 2010

    Ken

    Thank you for giving an opposing view on this topic. I don’t agree with it, but it’s refreshing to see someone give a different opinion.

    The problem I have with it, that the world is already polluted terribly and we have, as a species, not yet understood how to manage our own numbers effectively yet.

    Get those two things fixed and then we’ll talk about adding more numbers. But three billion in 40 years? Definitely putting the cart before the horse in my humble opinion. :)

    http://www.kenny.org

  67. July 6, 2010

    ProfBob

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

  68. July 14, 2010

    ProfBob

    How about countering the arguments posed in the free ebook series “In Search of Utopia” in Book 1. (http://andgulliverreturns.info) I think they shoot down the ‘myth’ argument.

  69. September 23, 2010

    D Ward

    The author of this article defeats his argument in 2 paragraphs.
    1. if the population is coming under control it is because of the steps already taken to reduce births by sensible people.
    2. More cosumption is a bi product of increased population.

  70. October 4, 2010

    Laurie

    \But this is nonsense. For a start, there is no exponential growth. In fact, population growth is slowing. For more than three decades now, the average number of babies being born to women in most of the world has been in decline.\
    This is stupid we have less kids maybe but if a billion people have one kid each…that’s 2 billion people, and since health-care is way better there are more generations still living not dieing this = bigger population very quickly. more people = more consumption the two are pretty much the same thing… how can you argue two things that rely on each other to happen? or are you arguing that less people means more consumption…because that makes SO much sense…

  71. November 16, 2010

    neverfail group

    The problem we have at the moment lies with the dialogue that exists now between women. It’s become a club of ‘we want it all’.

    Whether you have old, very old women having children at 70 odd to marrying men who are 19 or having 15 kids you don’t want, it’s all become very murky and selfish in behaviour.

  72. November 18, 2010

    leciat

    why is everyone screaming that there are not enough young people to fill the jobs and pay the taxes for the retiring population? I keep hearing this over and over and over when just a few years ago they were screaming that if we didn’t slow down population growth we were all going to starve now they are screaming that we do not have enough young….?????? i am lost :(

  73. November 22, 2010

    Financial Crisis

    We can’t see ecological disaster coming, and all of our systems of government, at the national or international level have not evolved for international cooperation.

    While the diarist describes the crisis, he calls for solutions other than greed, even implying that \democracy\ would be a better way of finding a solution.

    Why?

    It is the masses who are reproducing the fastest. With poverty there is increase in birth rate, and a horrible life. Greed is the cause of this, but really it is an epiphenomenon the result of potential shortages.

    I strongly suggest reading the book Consilience, as it is rich with exploration of how human nature interacts with the verities of population and environment. As Wilson describes all of the advances, \green revolution\ even medical inroads only expand populations to a higher precipice, he calls them protheses, that ultimately will make the population bomb more tragic when it does explode.

  74. November 26, 2010

    SPURWING PLOVER

    Theres some things and statments made by PAUL EHRLICH that are just plain rediculous and radical and yet the media still listens to this extremists even though none of his predictions ever happened or ever will happen

  75. November 26, 2010

    Rob Slack

    At any time, the Total Consumption rate is

    Number of People x Average Consumption rate.

    So to reduce TC we must reduce either or both of NoP and AC. If we assume those who currently consume little will seek to raise their material standards of living, AC seems set to rise. So the only way to reduce TC is to reduce population.
    It is the rich countries that harm the environment. If it is a problem now it will a very serious one when we are all rich…unless we are all less populated.
    However, if we accept the world is a finitesource of resources, we cannot stop the end coming …just slow it down. As long as it lasts long enough for me, maybe it isn’t my problem!

  76. November 28, 2010

    Simon

    This does ignore the ability of people from poor countries to move to rich countries and greatly increase their consumption.

  77. February 22, 2011

    Faith

    Over population is indeed a major issue. If there are too many humans in the world, we won’t have enough resources to go around. Many people will die to lack of food, and water. It’s not like we have Medical Alert systems set in place for when we reach maximum capacity, and need to stop reproducing. Even if we did, it would be impossible to stop the entire world from creating offspring.

  78. June 26, 2011

    Jesus Christ

    1900 – 1.6 Billion People,
    2011 – 6.8 Billion People,
    111 years – 5.3 Billion People,
    Solution to problem – Stop Breeding,
    The life you save just might be the one you don’t create. If you don’t create a soul then you won’t have to worry about saving it.

  79. October 27, 2011

    Tokina 11-16

    Hi Fred,

    Very interesting article. I just watched Freakonomics, and they made some thought provoking points about the introduction of abortion causing a direct reduction in crime rate. Any ideas on how this will play out with the overpopulation/overconsumption crisis?

  80. October 28, 2011

    Victor

    Overpopulation is a myth, overconsumption as well.

  81. February 9, 2012

    Punjabi songs

    Thanks for contributing your important time to post such an interesting & useful collection.It would be knowledgeable & resources are always of great need to everyone. Please keep continue sharing.

  82. March 8, 2012

    lzardo2003

    Trying to separate consumption from population when calculating human impact is just like trying to calculate the area of a rectangle ignoring its height and taking into account just its width.

    It makes no sense at all

    When using consumption to calculate human impact we should also think about what exactly IS consumption and, how much consumption translates directly to human impact. It really depends on how you consume and not how much you consume.

    Also, people seems to disconnect our basic needs as “consumption”, the iPhone you buy once in a year causes way less consumption than the food you have to eat every single day. Poor or riches eat almost basically the same amount of food, so, I really think there´s not SO much difference of environmental damage between a rich and a poor…

    People in Haiti consumes almost nothing, so, based on the article´s arguments, there should be no environmental damage in Haiti, there are many other examples like this.

    Today seems to be the norm to think on human impact as CO2 emmission, in this case, people at Nigeria should be among the most ecological people of the world they emmit almost no CO2.

    But Nigeria is on the brink of an environmental collapse just because the people in there sistematically destroy their natural resources, deforest and pollute their waters just because their population is growing to fast and too much.

  83. March 19, 2012

    con

    Wow, commenter Jesus Christ: I agree with you for once!

  84. June 30, 2012

    Youareamoron

    This author is in a dream world. If you want facts, simply look at the history of human population growth, and if you want an experiment then just stick a bunch of rabbits in a fenced area with plenty of food and water and watch what happens. Watch carefully and then when you cannot help but feel sorry for a few rabbits not being properly nourished add food, and watch what happens, and when they are crowded give them a little more room and watch what happens.

    No matter what other items you choose to discuss, the earths population of human beings has a doubling rate, and even if you factor in all the changes it still has a doubling rate.

    so we are GOING TO HAVE 12 billion people, unless a bunch of people die and others are not born to replace them fast enough. Then we are GOING TO HAVE 24 Billion, until there simply is not enough room or food, or someone kills everyone else.

    Exponential growth is in place EVEN WHEN you alter the growth stats, all you have done is change the interval, and by such a small amount that it has nearly no impact.

    But then the only people who really pay attention to exponential doubling are bankers right?

    • November 16, 2012

      ProbBob

      It is a shame that so many people try to rationalize their religious or personal opinions by ignoring the facts of overpopulation. For people who doubt, or hope, that overpopulation is not a problem I suggest reading the chapter on ‘ skeptics of overpopulation’ in Book 1 of the series andgulliverreturns.info. More people not only over consume but increase wastes that must be disposed of in the air, water and on the land. The part in the air is the cause of global warming. But that is only part of our waste disposal problem.
      If more people are born, shouldn’t they be educated? At this point in time we have not been able to educate all the children that are already here. China, by its own figures, has reduced more than 400,000 fewer children since 1980. This is responsible for their highly successful growth in education for all. It is responsible for a good part of their economic growth because people who were once tied to child raising responsibilities are now able to work. Singapore might have been as successful as they are even if they had not gone to a one child policy. Of course they are now concerned with a lack of children. However well-trained immigrants easily take up the slack.

      When the author criticizes Malthus, who was concerned with the decreased ability of England to feed its people, he neglects to tell us that today England is a net importer of food. I wonder if the author has ever read what Malthus actually wrote.

      Additionally, when the 2.1 or 2.2 population replacement rate was suggested, the average lifespan was under 60 years. Today it is over 80. So while in the past parents were generally dying about the time that their grandchildren were being born, today they are likely to see their great-grandchildren. So it is not just about a reduced fertility rate, it is about lifespan and increased healthcare capabilities.

  85. December 4, 2012

    Rick Poplawski

    The issues and problems are like leaves on a weed you can prune the weed it will still grow. To eliminate the weed you must get to the roots and the roots of all the problems that exist are caused specifically by humans lack of common sense when it comes to uncontrolled procreation. Humans try to regulate all other creatures accept for themselves. No other creature has the potential to do so much good yet causes so much irreversible damage to this planet and it’s own race just because of unhealthy breeding practices. Why do most feel humanity is more important than the Earth and creatures that sustain us all. UNFORTUNATELY WE HAVE BECOME A VIRUS ON THIS EARTH. A virus will eventually kill it’s host and it’s self. “EARTH FIRST”

    • December 28, 2012

      Sky

      More analogous to cancer… Those in denial or uninformed regarding the notion of overpopulation would not have to search far of deeply to find evidence in support of the concept. It does often require that one suspend strongly held and emotionally rooted notions regarding the relationship that humans have with nature, and prerequisite knowledge helps… Yes, of course it is an unpleasant idea! Here are some key words to use for those who are interested in a knowledge quest: Ecological Overshoot, Ecological Economics, Biophysical Economics, Ecology, Population Pressure, Resource Limits, Resource Recovery Rates, Limits To Growth, Ecological Limits, etc. Start with Wikipedia and expand from there. Knowledge can lead to understanding and hopefully understanding will lead to action towards a better future! :-P

  86. December 8, 2012

    Rick Poplawski

    I HOPE A TIME WILL COME WHEN PEOPLE WILL LOVE, FIGHT,PRAY AND HAVE AS MUCH REVERENCE FOR THIS PLANET EARTH AS THEY DO FOR THE GODS THEY THINK MAY HAVE MADE IT.

  87. December 11, 2012

    RICK POPLAWSKI

    WE SHOULD ALL STOP TALKING ABOUT THE ISSUES. BE BRAVE AND TALK ABOUT THE ONLY CORE SOLUTION TO SOLVE ALL THE ISSUES. LESS PEOPLE LESS PROBLEMS. HOW ABOUT A LICENCES FOR PROCREATION.

  88. December 28, 2012

    Sky

    “For a start, there is no exponential growth. In fact, population growth is slowing.”
    Although it is true that the rate of growth is slowing, it is nevertheless exponential, and with 7 billion and counting, even a very small percentage annual growth rate can amount to an extremely large number!

    http://www.prb.org/Educators/TeachersGuides/HumanPopulation/PopulationGrowth.aspx

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

    To deny the possibility of human overpopulation is insidious, as it serves to ignore, even marginalize those who suffer living in squalor, hunger and starvation, and those who – will – suffer as population numbers and resource demands increase in relation to the limits of natural resources and human adaptability.

    http://bravenewworld.in/2011/12/10/overpopulation-resources-famine/

    http://www.earth-policy.org/

    A great deal of introspection, learning, and compassion are in order. Certainly the population will decline in the face of natural physical resource limits and human limits, but there is a problem of what is known as Overshoot. This is the problem which will either be solved by nature one way or another. The choice we must make is to change our behaviors in order to at least mitigate, to reduce the degree of suffering and hardship that can occur as a result of Ecological Overshoot and Collapse.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/99/14/9266.full

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/

    http://www.sustainablescale.org/conceptualframework/understandingscale/measuringscale/ecologicalfootprint.aspx

    Recognizing a problem is the first step towards appropriate action. :-P

  89. February 18, 2013

    Angelo Bonavera

    The consumption problem is the population problem retard.

  90. April 29, 2013

    Travis

    This author and the people following this author are not very bright, they are scared. Population is widely affecting humans. Planet Earth is about 6 billion people overpopulated or greater, and yet people still think that it is not? Less people equals more to share, this expands the wealth to everyone. We would have little to no problems with around 500 million people. Population is the problem. The solution is to depopulate and reduce consumption. The worlds economy is going to collapse soon. Everything is being depleted at an accelerating rate. So please, do not ignore or be scared of the problems we face, confront them. Even if population is not accelerating, there is still overpopulation. It was recently projected that human population would increase to about 10 billion in 2050? I’m not sure on the year, so I do not know about that. You are just hiding the facts here. We are all in this together.

  91. July 25, 2013

    DNA Cowboy

    I have never read such bad science in an article, the author seems insistent on massaging fact to fit his argument, the reality is the UK is in dreadful trouble with an infrastructure that cannot sustain its indiginous population let alone ideologically-driven hordes of migrants, read OPT’s report and WAKE UP:

    http://www.populationmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/population_problem_uk.pdf

  92. September 11, 2013

    Achim Wolf

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Scientists warn of a rapid collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem.
    The ecological balance is under threat: climate change, population growth and environmental degradation could lead even in this century an irreversible collapse of the global ecosystem.

    –> http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/06/06/scientists-uncover-evidence-of-impending-tipping-point-for-earth/

    The cardinal reason is the sudden development of human population that threatens to devour all our resources.

    Since 21 August there is therefore a petition at change.org for the introduction of global birth-controls, also in HINDI!

    If you want to support this or publish it on your website, here is the link:
    http://www.change.org/de/Petitionen/weltweite-geburtenregelungen-verbindlich-einf%C3%BChren-introduce-obligatory-worldwide-birth-controls

    Please continue to spread the link or the petition as possible to all interested people, organisations etc.

    Thank you and best regards
    Achim Wolf, Germany

  93. October 27, 2013

    New Duvetica Down Jackets Brown For Women

    researchers said that the grandson , not only for the American War of Independence to Colonial wars of national liberation and establish a paradigm , but also for the signing of the peace treaty of peace negotiations with the success stories??f you insist on every 60 minutes ” moderate to severe ” intensity physical activity , academic performance can be increased by one level, such as from “C” to “B”??eeting also said that the Bank of England is expected in the third quarter and fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate were 0.7% or slightly above this level??fter the British defeat at Yorktown in the negotiations with the United States??8th century French sculptor Palestinian pottery Deere , will create their own Statue of Liberty , on behalf of the people of France presented to the American people to commemorate the 100th anniversary of American independence .??ank of England Governor Carney said earlier that only in the unemployment rate fell below 7% before considering raising interest rates??ome have called Border Agency action is completely “racial discrimination.”?

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  1. El Mito de la Sobrepoblación « El nuevo despertar / the new awakening12-20-12
  2. Clegg Blair Cameron Harriet Harman Milliband – Faces Of Privilege | ukgovernmentwatch09-20-13


Author

Fred Pearce

Fred Pearce is an environment writer and author of “The Climate Files: the Battle for Truth About Global Warming” 


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