ecostory 30/2006
An overpopulated Earth?
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Sustainability outlooks

Comments emailed to Lisa Sandberg, author of An overpopulated Earth?

Geneva, 29 August 2006.

Dear Mrs Sandberg,

I've just read your article, that was forwarded to me in Switzerland by a Canadian friend. Kindly allow me to give some feedback. I'll try to be concise.

The messenger is being blamed for the message, like in the middle ages when the herald had to fear for his life.

The message is not new, nor is Eric Pianka the only person who is warning against disaster. I believe disaster is approaching with increasing speed because our opinion leaders in academics, politics and business are still pushing for economic expansion, although this planet is finite.

It's so simple that each child understands it readily. Mining and extracting finite resource stocks, we will sooner or later run out of resources. At the same time we colonise the space that was available for non-human life.

It is obvious that that this continued expansion will lead to a catastrophe, as soon as a key resource runs out. Or our pressure upon the non-human world becomes so large that an important link in the food chain breaks.

Those who don't understand are our leaders, who have replaced thinking competence by academic ideology. This is especially prevalent within the ivory towers of the discipline of economics.

If Eric Pianka says "the planet would be better off without 90 percent of the humans who now populate it", he is only correct if "the planet" includes humans. I'm sure that is what he means. In other words, we - humans - will be better off if we are less.

However, the argument is not that in lesser numbers we would be happier. The real issue is that our planet cannot sustain the pressure of 6.5 billion people at our present level of consumption. We will be "better off" if we avert collapse by reducing or numbers and per capita resource use.

We have dramatically overshot the Earth's carrying capacity. We must therefore urgently make turnaround towards an economic policy that aims at economic retraction and localisation - instead of growth and globalisation.

Continuing our present policies is the sure way to disaster and demise of the human race. When Eric Pianka says that things will get better after collapse he is possibly over-optimistic.

Collapse because of lacking resources doesn't simply mean people dying off in masses untill a population density is reached that can be sustained by the Earth. His "conditions ripe for wars, famines and environmental catastrophes" may well lead to the destruction of the last resources needed for survival, even of ten percent of our present population.

And human history will probably end full stop if nuclear arms are deployed, on purpose or by accident. Who will then safeguard the nuclear power stations and the radio-active wastes?

Those commentators like the Boston Globe, who talk of "zealous academic garb" should simply reexamine their environmental knowledge basket and start thinking.

More interesting are comments like "value judgements". Some are indeed. But one must carefully differentiate. Fact is that humanity is to blame, the elites particularly, those who know of no restraint and who want ever more.

It's a pretty cheap shot reproaching Eric Pianka that he doesn't follow his own advice. In fact I didn't read any advice in the article. He's just warning that we are heading towards catastrophe.

Any politican who understands that the Earth is finite can draw his conclusions and does have the moral obligation to think about what needs being done to avert disaster.

But here lies a huge problem. The threat is so big and frigthening that we tend to escape into denial and hope. A common opinion is that Technology or the good Lord will surely save us once the end of resources is catching up with our exuberant life-styles and numbers. But whatever we may or may not invent, it's not possible to recreate extinct species or depleted resources or to combat climate change.

Talking about clmate change: The fact that the US government is against Kyoto only proves that that they have not understood - like the signatories - that this treaty is absolutely useless.

The Kyoto aims are far too modest and its mechanisms won't work. In fact the Kyoto treaty is counter-productive since the time and money should be used for real measures. Now it's giving many people the false reassurement that something is being done.

Finally, we shouldn't delude ourselves by thinking we have still some time to go slowly. Environmental trends seem to point at crisis points within one or two human generations, that is 25 to 50 years. Thus many of those living now may suffer the die-off.

Too pessimistic? Really? Does it matter if collapse would come one or two generations later? Would it make resources less finite? Will the effects of climate cange hit those poor countries in the south only?

The longer we wait, the more greenhouse gases we spew out, the less resources and nature we leave to our children.

In view of the history of homo sapiens of at least 100,000 years - or 4000 generations - it's unimportant whether collapse comes after one or two or four generations from today.

Resource depletion, overpopulation, overconsumption, environmental toxification are signaling. Who can deny facts?

Kind regards ... Helmut Lubbers

Back to ecostory "An overpopulated Earth?"

Some more or less random links:
On Malthus:
"Malthus predicted that agricultural production increases would not be able to meet the requirements of a steadily growing human population. However, he was not aware that the depletion of soils by the agriculture, that was feeding less than one billion humans in the 1700s, was already unsustainable in the long term. Malthus could not have conceived of the temporary increase of carrying capacity and food production that would be made possible by the use of non-renewable fossil and nuclear fuels during the period after his death. The abandonment of the effective controls on human birth rates exercised by pre-agricultural societies and the decrease in mortality by warfare that followed the evolution of states have allowed the exponential expansion of human numbers to be fuelled by increased availability of food. This expanded human population now sees forest biomass as a partial substitute for declining supplies of geologically stored fossil fuels. The long-term solution to the natural resource demand / supply mismatch requires a gradual, planned shrinkage of human numbers (Scientists for Population Reduction 2006) as opposed to continually attempting to meet the nutritional and energy needs of an expanding population.(MAY/JUNE 2007, VOL. 83, No. 3 THE FORESTRY CHRONICLE)"
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