Population Growth Must Stop

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This is a guest post by Gary Peters, a retired geography professor with a long time interest in population issues. I have added some discussion questions at the end. - Gail

Earth’s population is approaching seven billion at the same time that resource limits and environmental degradation are becoming more apparent every day. Rich nations have long assured poor nations that they, too, would one day be rich and that their rates of population growth would decline, but it is no longer clear that this will occur for most of today’s poor nations. Resource scarcities, especially oil, are likely to limit future economic growth; the demographic transition that has accompanied economic growth in the past may not be possible for many nations today. Nearly 220,000 people are added to the planet every day, further compounding most resource and environmental problems. The United States adds another person every eleven seconds. We can no longer wait for increasing wealth to bring down fertility in remaining high fertility nations; we need policies and incentives to stop growth now.

Much has been written about population growth since the first edition of Malthus's famous essay was published in 1798. However, an underlying truth is usually left unsaid: Population growth on Earth must cease. It makes more sense for humans to bring growth to a halt by adjusting birth rates downward in humane ways rather than waiting for death rates to move upward as the four horsemen reappear. Those who think it inhumane to control human fertility have apparently never experienced conditions in Third World shanty towns, where people struggle just to stay alive for another day.

In 1970 Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on developing new plant strains that formed the basis for the Green Revolution that began in the 1960s. However, in his Nobel acceptance speech Borlaug perceptively commented that "There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind." That was four decades ago. During that time the world's population increased by more than three billion and the struggle to feed, clothe, house, and educate ever-growing numbers of people continues. "Temporary skirmishes" seem persistent, if not permanent.

Writers sometimes confuse population issues. For example, in his post, The Population Bomb: Has It Been Defused?,", Fred Pearce wrote that "The population bomb is being defused at a quite remarkable rate." He conflates rates of growth with actual numbers. It is true that the rate of population growth worldwide has declined since 1970. However, the base population has grown by more than three billion; thus we currently add 80 million or more people to the planet each year. That is hardly "defusing" population growth!

Writers may sometimes have short memories when they write about population growth. Fred Pearce's post at "Consumption Dwarfs Population as Main Environmental Threat," is one example. George Monbiot's post on "The Population Myth," is another. Both authors seem to have discovered that our rate of consumption is an issue, so both play down population numbers and focus on our consumption habits. Neither mentions the work of Paul Ehrlich and his I = PAT equation, where I represents our impact on the Earth, P equals population, A equals affluence (hence consumption), and T stands for technology.

Both population and consumption are parts of the problem--neither can be ignored and both are exacerbating the human impact on Earth. More distressing, however, is that many among us don't even see that there are problems created by both growing populations and increasing affluence bearing down on a finite planet. To pretend that another 80 million people added to the planet each year is not a problem because they are all being added to the world’s poor nations makes no sense at all. Many of them will end up in rich nations by migrating, legally or illegally, and all will further compound environmental problems, from strains on oil and other fossil fuel resources to deforestation and higher emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. As Kenneth Boulding noted decades ago, "Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."

Population, consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow until we either face up to the fact that there are limits on our finite Earth or we are confronted by a catastrophe large enough to turn us from our current course. If Chinese, Indians, and others in the poorer world had consumption levels that rose to current western levels it would be like Earth's population suddenly increasing to 72 billion, according to Jared Diamond, who then wrote that, "Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven't met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies--for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy--they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people."

This promise is often made by people who believe that that alone will stop population growth via the demographic transition, conveniently forgetting about such exceptions as China. As Tom Athanasiou argued, in Divided Planet: The Ecology of Rich and Poor, "In a world torn between affluence and poverty, the crackpot realists tell the poor, who must live from day to day, that all will be well in the long run. Amidst deepening ecological crisis, they rush to embrace small, cosmetic adaptations."

The widespread acceptance and political influence of modern neoclassical economics is a central part of our global problem. In one widely used economics textbook, Principles of Economics, Greg Mankiw wrote that “A large population means more workers to produce goods and services. At the same time, it means more people to consume those goods and services.” Speaking for many neoclassical economists, Tim Harford concluded, in The Logic of Life, that "The more of us there are in the world, living our logical lives, the better our chances of seeing out the next million years." The absurdity of Harford's statement must be recognized and challenged.

Economists do not deserve all the blame. As Thomas Berry noted, in The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, "Western civilization, dominated by a cultural arrogance, could not accept the fact that the human, as every species, is bound by limits in relation to the other members of the Earth community." On his Archdruid blog, John Greer added his observation that "Our culture's mythology of progress envisions the goal of civilization as a utopian state in which poverty, illness, death, and every other aspect of the human predicament has been converted into problems and solved by technology." We don't want to hear about limits.

Nowhere is acceptance of the twin towers of economic growth and increased consumption more apparent than in the United States, where "growing the economy" is still paramount, despite the leftovers of a financial meltdown created by banking and shadow banking systems run amok and a Gulf fouled by gushing oil. As Andrew Bacevich noted, in The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, "For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors." Yet evidence that modern economics has let most people down is abundant.

More than two decades ago Edward Abbey wrote, in One Life at a Time, Please, that "[W]e can see that the religion of endless growth--like any religion based on blind faith rather than reason--is a kind of mania, a form of lunacy, indeed a disease," adding that "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." He expressed his concern about modern economics as follows: "Economics, no matter how econometric it pretends to be, resembles meteorology more than mathematics. A cloudy science of swirling vapors, signifying nothing." Similarly, Nassim Taleb wrote, in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, that "Economics is the most insular of fields; it is the one that quotes least from outside itself!" Gus Speth argued, in The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, that "In the end, what has to be modified is the open-ended commitment to aggregate economic growth--growth that is consuming environmental and social capital, both in short supply." Barbara Ehrenreich wrote, in This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation, that "The economists' odd fixation on growth as a measure of economic well-being puts them in a parallel universe of their own. . .the mantra of growth has deceived us for far too long." Whether in local areas, the United States, or the world, no problem that I can think of will be more easily solved with additional millions of people.

Future oil production will come at an increasing cost, if it comes at all. As Bill McKibbin noted, in Deep Economy: The Wealth of Comunities and the Durable Future, "Cheap and abundant fossil fuel [mainly oil] has shaped the farming system we've come to think of as normal; it's the main reason you can go to the store and get anything you want at any time and for not much money." More expensive oil will eat into world food production, especially if we continue to use foodstuffs to help fill gas tanks.

Scientists need to encourage a deeper and more realistic interest in population growth on a finite planet and its effect on many of the major issues of our time. We ignore the implications of further population growth at our peril. In 1971 Wilbur Zelinsky, in an article entitled "Beyond the Exponentials; The Role of Geography in the Great Transition," fretted that "The problem that shakes our confidence in the perpetuation and enrichment of civilized human existence or even our biological survival is that of growth: the rate, volume, and kinds of growth, and whether they can be controlled in intelligent, purposeful fashion."

Continued population growth is unsustainable, as is continued growth in the production of oil and other fossil fuels. As Lester Brown argued, in PLAN B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, "If we cannot stabilize population and if we cannot stabilize climate, there is not an ecosystem on earth we can save." As Alan Weisman wrote, in The World Without Us, “The intelligent solution [to the problem of population growth] would require the courage and the wisdom to put our knowledge to the test. It would henceforth limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one.” Started now, such a policy would reduce Earth’s population down to around 1.6 billion by 2100, about the same as the world population in 1900. Had we kept Earth’s population at that level we would not be having this conversation.

Discussion Questions

1. Are there things we can do to get the population issue more into public discussion?

2. Are there other approaches to limiting population that might be more salable?

3. If Social Security is not sustainable, having fewer children will increase the likelihood that older adults will have no way of taking care of themselves. How does one deal with this issue?

My responses to your questions:

1. NO
2. NO
3. I favor offering painless euthanasia to the old and the sick.

Hilarious, I love it!

Population is the "third rail", at least in US politics. Nobody will touch it.

Population will get much lower, of course, but I don't believe there's any way we can take control of or mitigate this process. There are too many groups who would feel threatened by any specific measures.

Back in the 1960s, population and family size was discussed quite a bit. Birth control pills were introduced in the early 1960s, making birth control more available and convenient. Many families at the time had four or five children. If a person looks at historical U. S. birth rates, they dropped from 23.7 per 1,000 population in 1960 to 14.9 per 1,000 in 1973. (The birth rate for the latest year shown, 2005, was 14.0 per 1,000 births.)

The were a lot of reasons the situation was different back then:

1. New form of contraception to talk about
2. Birth rates were high for the "general population" of married couples, including well educated couples.
3. With more than 2 children per family in many families, it was easy to see that eventually this would lead to too many people in total.

Now the issue is harder to talk about because the groups of people with high birth rates are "other folks" - often less educated, and less able to afford contraceptives. Many births are out of wedlock. Well educated middle-class couples already tend to have only one or two children, so it is not clear that they are the ones needing the discussion. The groups with high birth rates tend not to read papers and visit internet discussion groups.

It seems like marketing of the idea of smaller families, if it were done at all, would need to be through TV shows and video games aimed at young, less-educated audiences. Perhaps also junior high and high school science books.

Gail--the "US Birth Rates" link is broken.

In Australia, there is in fact a big population debate going on. It was sparked by a remark from the previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said he was in favour of a "Big Australia"


But the Capital cities are all congested and many didn't like the idea. So we have now:

Sustainability minister discusses population

My own assessment:

Australian Population Scenarios in the context of oil decline and global warming

I see the population problem as a real conundrum. We find that the highest population growth rates are in less developed countries. Yet economic development results in even more stress on the environment. Here is my essay on the subject along with a few graphs:


Provo I don't think Solar Dude was joking. I find his three answers to be sane and serious.

Recommended watching regarding making painless euthanasia available to the old and sick -
Whose Life is it Anyway http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083326/

And The Sea Inside http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0369702/

Well and of course Soylent Green http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070723/

No, I don't think so either -- the hilarious part was just the matter-of-factness of the list. I've been a big fan of Kevorkian since he first became well-known, and remember hearing about the party Tim Leary threw on his deathbed in Berkeley.

The whole overshoot will be very unpleasant, and I agree with S.D. that there's little to be done except to make people comfortable as it happens.

how about we make smoking cigarettes manditory?
how about we let people kill themselves of their own accord by druguse or excessive speed on the roads and in schoolzones?
maybe more wars is the answer....or a new hitler

and i believe we've already passed the point of overshoot by a good deal
euthanasia of the elderly is pointless, since most are past child birthing age
we need to get draconian... a solution that takes a hundred years to reduce the population just wont be good enuf at all
i may sound flip, but we need a solution right now
you only get the type solution we need from a totalitarian regime like a stalin or hitler type, but seriously ramped up in scale
how can one even have a rational discussion about something of that nature?

Oh puh-leeze.....The Earth can EASILY support 70 billion or more humans...Doomers, soooooooo pessimistic




I see another opportunity here:

"1001 WAYS TO DIE HAPPY: Suicide enhancement for the so inclined!"

Whether your dream is to die jumping the Grand Canyon on a rocket bike, or in the arms of a beautiful (opposite sex), we can make it your final reality! Your last wish is our command.


I think it prescient when you forecast the debate we shall most certainly have in the future... Same Sex Euthanasia

Apologies to my friends who whould prefer to die in the arms of a beautiful person of the same sex.

"Hey! We can do it all, one call. Money back g..........".

Don't forget these guys' ideas:


1. Are there things we can do to get the population issue more into public discussion?



And the all time Monthy Python classic... "Every Sperm is Sacred, The meaning of Life"


This reminds me of an old Bill Hicks bit from the early 90's, suggesting that we us old people as stunt doubles in action films. Quoting from memory here so, you know...

Grandma's got inoperable cancer? Have her hang from a helicopter that explodes. What's better? Having her die in pain in a hospital, or getting to meet Chuck Norris?

/dark, facetious comedy

If the problem is too many births, euthanizing the old and sick isn't going to help the situation much. If you want to have a meaningful effect on population growth, it's the young and healthy whose numbers need to be reduced. My point being--euthanasia is no serious answer to the problem of population growth. (Assisted suicide in cases of hopeless unbearable illness is another matter, for another discussion).

Disclaimer: as a person who has been significantly "sick" with chronic illness for decades, and who is rapidly and contentedly approaching the land of the "old," I find your suggestion to kill off my kind of folk pretty offensive. "Sick and old" does not mean worthless.

Regarding #3.
In the past our elders passed on when they no longer were able or desired to take in sufficient nutrients. They sometime dehydrated or die of starvation thru wasting away.
This was not a bad way to leave. When the body of itself is unable to maintain itself then death comes naturally. Cancer and other modern evils have changed much of this. Epidemics were the result of gathering together in huge numbers and unsanitary conditions from that massing together.

Living on the land, eating healthy food, clean air and water plus working to keep the body in good condition was the reason than I can find gravestones of those elders who managed to live normal lifetimes and longer than many would believe.

I worked many times helping a friend of mine lay headstones and monuments and was in a huge number of rural cemeteries and observed this. The newborns were mostly just given a small unmarked stone and this was obvious as well that they did not survive.

With 15 miles of where I live there are many noncommercial family and farm cemeteries that testify to my observations.

Today IVs are inserted and given intravenously. This is the very first method used in almost all cases and is by its nature invasive and life saving.

This removes the ability of the elders to control their own bodies and death.

Modern industrial grade medicine keeps them alive and lets them live longer when nature and normal courses would have taken the other path.

Extreme measures are taken by the medical profession to 'sustain life' at any cost.

This is where the problem with overpopulation lies.

The same is true of newborns who do not have the ability to survive normally but varied measures are taken to alter what in the past would have been considered normal and perhaps desirable.

It may sound callous but that was the way it happened for perhaps millions of years of our past. Just up until the relatively recent has it been altered. I was alive in those early years in the rural areas when people passed on in this manner. Their time had came and they accepted it. They were allowed to by their loved ones and by a far different culture than today.

In India, 5% is over the age of 65. I don't think the problem with overpopulation lie there.

Thank you, very much, Prof. Peters & Gail. I look forward to a serious discussion, here.

(Note: Prof. Peters' introductory text on population geography should probably be on the shelves of all non-specialists concerned with these matters.)

Surely you jest. Peters appears completely ignorant of the underlying trends in the world population: declining birth rate, aging population, older new moms and therefore more space between generations... These structural changes in the world population are leading to a rapid decline in world population after 2070, independent of any pandemic, famine or war. Yes, the population will continue to increase until about then, just as a ship after its engines have been put into reverse will continue to move forward for a short while.

The population will crest near 9 billion, maybe some hundreds of million less if more countries adopt the anti-natalist population planning policies that the Iranian government introduced in 1989 or do as Bangladesh is now doing and move to voluntary one-child policy, which in a large experiment in China is proving more effective than a forced one child policy.

All the hair pulling, assuming the old geezers doing most of the whining have any hair to pull, about overpopulation is a useless waste of time.

If you want to do something useful, and reject putting a bullet through your own brain, do less. With one exception: take the time to write a few letters demanding higher taxes on fossil energy. Snail mail them, and then go back to your room.


"These structural changes in the world population are leading to a rapid decline in world population after 2070"

Well, as long as we only have to hold out until then, when I'll be 98. (-:

Ooh, ooh, tangential age joke I just remembered. Some comedian once said (more or less), "I was thinking about how much I had accomplished in my life, and then I realized that by the time Mozart reached my age he had already been dead for three years."

"I was thinking about how much I had accomplished in my life, and then I realized that by the time Mozart reached my age he had already been dead for three years."

The comedian was Tom Lehrer. And it was two years, not three.

There are two population problems, not one. The first one is only superficially a population problem, but more deeply is a social one (i.e. how we arrange society). The second population problem is a real one, but if you solve the first problem, you buy yourself plenty of time to tackle the second.

Problem 1. People in rich countries have an enormously wasteful lifestyle, which is only partially the fault of the individuals concerned. More importantly, it is hard-wired into life by social structures which favour the interests of the rich & powerful. An example is the way most people buy cars and drive them long distances as part of their daily lives. On an individual level, the people are mostly making "rational" decisions. But socially, it is insane. Society needs a radical re-orientation to a more sustainable lifestyle, based on sane socio-economic structures. And the sooner the better. I believe it will require the abolition of capitalism, but that is a separate question, to be tackled as a "how" to get somewhere we haven't yet agreed on getting to.

People in many poor countries are living on the edge of survival, not able to look at the long term because of the imperative of getting tonight's meal or next season's crop. Forests are being felled, land eroded, water resources exhausted, because of this. For these people, poverty causes environmental degradation. In many countries where people are going hungry or degrading the environment in their fight against hunger, substantial food is being exported and/or substantial farmland is devoted to non-food export crops. Once again, the individuals involved are usually making "rational" decisions, but socially it is insane. And once again, society needs a radical re-orientation to a more sustainable lifestyle, based on the interests of the poor. This, too, I believe will require the abolition of capitalism.

This social revolution is required because the dynamics of modern capitalism render a population even reduced to 1 billion unsustainable. In fact, I doubt it would be sustainable at 100 million. The economy of endless consumption growth needs to be eliminated. I think that means eliminating capitalism, but I'm prepared to enter discussions with people who think a sustainable capitalism is possible.

Problem 2. Solving our social problem will buy us time to solve our real population one. We are way over the carrying capacity of the planet, even using the best available technology and organising our societies sanely. By a slow reduction of population, we can get back within those limits, and have more time for new technology to appear and ease the population/lifestyle trade-off. Existing resources of oil, coal, the various metals & minerals, etc, will last much longer with a sanely organised society. They will last longer still if the population reduces. But we have to get off the drug before the resources run out. The alternative is going cold turkey when they do.

In the interim, there are two things which can be done to ease the population problem and lower the ceiling at which the global population will top out. Neither of them come from Reverend Malthus' handbook (so this is another area where I disagree with the doomers).

(a) Introduce a universal old age pension. In much of the Third World, your children are your social security - they support you in your old age. If there is an old age pension, the need to keep having babies would reduce.

(b) Improve the status of women. Experience around the world shows that, when women have control over the number of children they bear, the birth rate goes down. Education of girls is probably the most important single initiative, but there are others, too. Women should have effective access to free (or at least affordable) contraception and abortion.

Finally, experience in Australia is that immigrant communities undergo a generational change. The first generation (i.e. the immigrants) has similar birth rates to those in the countries of origin. The second and subsequent generations, however (i.e. those born here) have similar birth rates to the rest of the Australian community.

"the interests of the rich & powerful"

This brings up an interesting question--who benefits from over-population?

This is a crucial question in analyzing other social situations, and should be on the table here.

So, who benefits from endless new sources of cheap labor as well as potential consumers?

The parents, I guess. It's their retirement guarantee. I do credit capitalist with thinking long-term, but I don't think they plan for "overpopulation" to get more customers and workers.

People in many poor countries are living on the edge of survival, not able to look at the long term because of the imperative of getting tonight's meal or next season's crop. Forests are being felled, land eroded, water resources exhausted, because of this. For these people, poverty causes environmental degradation.

Because of a lack of structured capitalism, of ownership rights, of rule of law.

The economy of endless consumption growth needs to be eliminated. I think that means eliminating capitalism, but I'm prepared to enter discussions with people who think a sustainable capitalism is possible.

I certainly do. Actually, I think nothing else is sustainable.

Improve the status of women.

Many say this, but how? Let me answer that for you. By capitalism and television. Capitalism and growth leads to urbanization and to employment of women. The status improves.

Capitalism is premised on endless growth, so no, it can never be sustainable.

No, it is not premised on endless growth. Capitalism functions and is the best choice for stable state and declining economies as well.

Edit: Also, as growth is based more on ideas than resources, the end of growth is of academic interest only.

OK, jep. Please point me toward economists that have laid out how capitalism can work in a context of the expectation of ever-decreasing inputs. How is capital invested? By whom? With the expectation of what return?

We do desperately need economist to model such a system, whatever label they want to put on it. Do your have links to their works?

Sorry, I simply don't understand the problem. Capitalism will function precisely as it ordinarily do. Just because there is no aggregate growth, there is still competition around whatever economic activity there is. I don't expect economists to spell that out for us, as I'd guess they don't see the problem either.

"These structural changes in the world population are leading to a rapid decline in world population after 2070, independent of any pandemic, famine or war."

Uh-huh. And, given the present collision course of population, energy and resources, pandemic, famine and war are quite likely—so the picture may be even rosier than you think.

I truly hope you live long enough to find out, and that you learn some manners along the way.

toilforoil, it's great that you 'know' that the population will peak at 9 billion and that we will cope OK. Personally, I prefer to only believe what can be proven or has overwhelming evidence. And even then I am not certain.

You might want to try some scientific scepticism, not human fallability


When I want to know the probability of oil production trends, I turn to petroleum geologists for information. For population trends, I seek information from demographers.

Take a look at Philip Longman, "The Empty Cradle".

What I do "know" is that we haven't got a goddamn clue what would be the environmental impact of an immediate reversal from population growth to population decline.

Perhaps to test various hypothesis, we could nuke the United States and see whether in a generation the lost production of waste and attendant environmental degradation is permanent or temporary.

My advice is to get real: population will increase, is most likely going to crest due to changes in population structure, but not for more than a half century. Thus the only realistic way to minimize environmental degradation is to lessen the impact per person.

The worst peckers on the planet are those who promote the prevailing ethos of USland; to wit, he who dies with the most, wins.

The problem is a moral problem. And it is primarily located in USland and Euroland.

So, for instance, the Chinese are morally superior? Less materialistic?

And that US consumerism swiftly have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese into a middle class life is negative to you?

"Are there things we can do to get the population issue more into public discussion?"

Well, you could always go the route that the use of biologically harmful long term contaminants over wide spread geographical areas is going to eventually prove to be effective as a means of population control. Then pose the question is that usage intentional (and by whose intention) or is the damage to the gene pool an accidental byproduct of ignorance. You know, cite Bhopal,the Gulf of Mexico, depleted uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan, dioxins in South East Asia, contamination of the water tables as a byproduct of industrial waste in the US, unexpected ecological effects in genetic modification...that'll kick start it alright. TOD will have to get another server. Think the Old School boys would go for it? Make Zero Pop Period the new slogan.

"...In a presentation at a neurotoxicology conference in Portland, Ore., earlier this month, Palur G. Gunasekar, a senior scientist with the Navy Environmental Health Effects Laboratory, said that dust kicked up in sandstorms contains manganese and other metals. "The sand is a risk factor for inducing neurotoxicity," Gunasekar said. Compounds that are neurotoxic are those that damage the nervous system or the brain...."

For the United States, the quickest way to limit population growth is a combination of reduced immigration, obesity and "uneven" medical services, with an emphasis on reduced preventive care.

Let obesity continue unchecked, reduce diabetes screening & counseling and nature will take it's course.

Cut Public Health, let drug resistant TB get a good foothold, cut back on anything related to HIV, or prenatal care and nature will do the rest.

In other words, elect Republicans ! /sarc


alan - not bad but too slow

Then cut unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare.

Higher mortality, especially of the most vulnerable, is the quickest way to reduce US population.


"Then cut unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare."

Don't worry; we will. California's version of Medicaid has already been slashed. Medicare reimbursements are always hanging by a thread. The G20 have agreed that the richest nations will halve their deficits within three years. Extended unemployment benefits are on the block as we type.

In Greece and Argentina, structural readjustment brings riots in the streets. In America, if you're out of work and homeless, you're probably a worthless freeloader who just wants to live off my taxes.

Then cut unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare.

That only attacks the disadvantaged. How about a lottery? Every other female is sterilized. That at least is more egalitarian (and just as preposterous).

In America, rule #1 is that he who has the gold makes the rules, and those who have the gold like it that way.

American democracy: One dollar, one vote.

And Mother Nature's lobbyists are ineffective and poor.

Ahh, but Nature bats last. Those amber waves of grain? Why not a dust storm instead!

I propose that every North American gun owner do the honourable thing: put the barrel of his or her favourite loaded gun in his or her mouth and pull the trigger. The benefits would be immediate: markedly lower consumption of everything and a noticeable rise in average intelligence.

I've got a better idea:

Remember how you were always told that those nightmares where you are falling would actually kill you if you weren't to wake up before hitting the bottom?

A drug in the water supply that kept you asleep through REM sleep, no matter what.

The more relaxed and unanxious you are, the better your chances in the nightly 'will he wake up?' lottery.

We could eliminate all speed limits on our highways and promote drunk driving as well...

BTW, I congratulate TOD editors for having the courage to do a campfire discussion on this topic.

As I see it no serious discussion about peak oil and peak resources can be had without examining the implications of human population growth and the desire for the inhabitants of the poorer countries to have consumption levels similar to those we enjoy in the first world countries.

To me, Dr Albert Bartlett quite clearly states the dilemma in his famous talk on Population Arithmetic and Energy:

So maybe you're wondering then, what options are available if we wanted to address the problem.

In the left hand column, I’ve listed some of those things that we should encourage if we want to raise the rate of growth of population and in so doing, make the problem worse. Just look at the list. Everything in the list is as sacred as motherhood. There's immigration, medicine, public health, sanitation. These are all devoted to the humane goals of lowering the death rate and that’s very important to me, if it’s my death they’re lowering. But then I’ve got to realise that anything that just lowers the death rate makes the population problem worse.

There’s peace, law and order; scientific agriculture has lowered the death rate due to famine—that just makes the population problem worse. It’s widely reported that the 55 mph speed limit saved thousands of lives—that just makes the population problem worse. Clean air makes it worse.

Now, in this column are some of the things we should encourage if we want to lower the rate of growth of population and in so doing, help solve the population problem. Well, there’s abstention, contraception, abortion, small families, stop immigration, disease, war, murder, famine, accidents. Now, smoking clearly raises the death rate; well, that helps solve the problem.

Remember our conclusion from the cartoon of one person per square meter; we concluded that zero population growth is going to happen. Let’s state that conclusion in other terms and say it’s obvious nature is going to choose from the right hand list and we don't have to do anything—except be prepared to live with whatever nature chooses from that right hand list. Or we can exercise the one option that’s open to us, and that option is to choose first from the right hand list. We gotta find something here we can go out and campaign for. Anyone here for promoting disease? (audience laughter)

We now have the capability of incredible war; would you like more murder, more famine, more accidents? Well, here we can see the human dilemma—everything we regard as good makes the population problem worse, everything we regard as bad helps solve the problem. There is a dilemma if ever there was one.

The one remaining question is education: does it go in the left hand column or the right hand column? I’d have to say thus far in this country it’s been in the left hand column—it's done very little to reduce ignorance of the problem.

In 2010, after a decade of denial of extant scientific research of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth, perhaps now will be a favorable time for discussing evidence from Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. and David Pimentel, Ph.D.

Hopfenberg and Pimentel give us empirical data of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This means human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. It also means that global human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth fuels the mistaken impression that food production needs to be increased. The data indicate that as we increase food production every year, the number of people goes up, too.

With every passing year, as food production is increased, leading to a population increase, millions go hungry. Why are those hungry millions not getting fed year after year after year... and future generations of poor people may not ever be fed? Every year the human population grows. All segments of the human population grow. Every year there are more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like all the other segments of the population. We are not bringing hunger to an end by increasing food production; we are giving rise to more hungry people.

Perhaps a new biological understanding is emerging with Hopfenberg's and Pimentel's research. It is simply this: as is the case with other species, human population numbers are primarily a function of food availability. Although the human population explosion in our time appears to be a huge problem, we can take the measure of it and find remedies that are consonant with universally shared, humane values.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

We have a food distribution problem not a food production problem, I suppose.

The research of Hopfenberg and Pimentel indicates with remarkable simplicity that as we increase the food supply human numbers increase, too. In effect like other organisms, human organisms increase their numbers when food is available and decrease their numbers when food is not sufficient to maintain existence. More food for immediate human consumption equals more human organisms; less available food equals less humans; and no food, no people.

Remarkable simplicity? Remarkable stupidity, if you ask me. Food availability is extreme in the US and food expenditures has gone down all the time, while women fertility has dropped below replacement level.


In part, I agree with Jeppen here. There is actually an inverse correlation between available food (consider it wealth) and birthrates. Obviously, more food enables population growth, but looked at as part of the wealth effect of demographic transition, it could be seen as an inducement to have fewer children.

Data from earthtrends database. http://earthtrends.wri.org/


We have a food distribution problem not a food production problem

And that has nothing to do with numbers.

The fact that "we" have to "distribute" food to 6.8 billion people across the globe is not a food production problem.

It's the same "distinction without a difference" issue as "peak oil extraction" versus "peak demand."

If you're not producing enough food to feed local populations, then of course you have a "food distribution" problem.

Not a bad idea at all.

As a bonus, obese people survive longer when hunger is killing people.

Good tactic, I'm going to try and become a whale.

with love,

Lets not forget who probably the originator of Ebeneezer Scrooge, none other than the profit of overpopulation himself, Thomas Malthus.

"Population, consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow until we either face up to the fact that there are limits on our finite Earth or we are confronted by a catastrophe large enough to turn us from our current course"

In response to the first discussion question, I find the above quote the most relevant. I half-worry, half-expect that it will take events resulting in unthinkable losses of human lives that will bring population management into social consciousness. Humanity has been running on the "be fruitful and multiply" dynamic. And why shouldn't it? This is a basic requirement of being an organism. You live, you mate, you die. Can we seriously adapt a "be cautious and plan" mentality without serious shifts in our world view and an examination of our most ingrained instincts? I don't think so. Not unless we get to the point where it becomes a critical reality. Where famines, rationing, and resource wars become a part of everyday life.

Unfortunately, when you talk about population management, you take a hike in an ethical minefield haunted by the ghosts of Nazi Germany and Maoist boogeymen. Our understanding of basic human rights severely handicaps our ability to even talk about it. Diamond's assertions are true. Who are we to encourage "the good life" through our lifestyles, projected around the world when we ourselves cannot support our own standard of living?

I do think it is rooted in the concept that the world is so big that it is therefore without limits. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in an island nation, where people had little concept of the world outside their shores and had trouble comprehending how their actions, for example, deforesting a landslide-prone hillside, affected their own communities let alone the global arena. Of course, it's a tough concept for anybody to grasp. I firmly believe that if we can't plan ahead, nature will correct our mistakes, in ways that will shake us to the core.

Prepare to be shaken.

For the vast majority of the time that anatomically modern humans have existed on this planet, population did not grow exponentially. But why? After all, there wasn't birth control and males impregnated females with abandon.

The reason is simple and tragic: death rates were equal or greater than birth rates. Children died of diseases and starvation. Women died during childbirth. The crippled couldn't keep up and were left behind. There was no such thing as old age or retirement. In spite of this, human beings went on to occupy every habitat on earth (interesting species, aren't we?)

Fossil fuels allowed everybody to be fed, children to get vaccines, and people to get drugs and chemotherapy and surgeries and, quite naturally, our population has expanded exponentially.

I don't quite think we have it in us to control birth rates. It goes against millenia of biological evolution. Which means that death rates have to increase. Four Horsemen it is.

Of course, find the people who don't have any children and who commit suicide, and you will have found the only people who are truly serious about human overpopulation.

I don't have any children, but I certainly don't have any plans to commit suicide (and in fact would like to have children some day), so I'm as guilty as everybody else.

Anything other than the above is idle conversation.

Actually, many traditional society had a variety of ways to control population, including infanticide.

There are deep traditions and instincts to limit our numbers and our impacts. We just have to rediscover them.

Possible that's already happened. Or rather that they've never gone away.

Infanticide is and was especially common for twins. Having to deal with two extra mouths to feed at once was and is just too much for many small communities and families living right at the edge of survival.

Female infanticide was widely practiced in early Europe and elsewhere. Obviously, as today in China, the family's immediate concern was to have the more prestigious boy rather than the less prestigious girl. But that practice also served to limit total fertility.

A village with 100 women and one man can have at least 100 babies a year, if the guy really gets busy and doesn't mind being promiscuous.

An isolated village of 100 men and one woman can't have more than about one kid a year, no matter how promiscuous they are among themselves.

I'm not advocating anything here--just pointing out that various traditional practices had the result of limiting population growth rates.

"A village with 100 women and one man can have at least 100 babies a year"

This is why I find it nauseating when people like joemichaels (above) write things like, "How about a lottery? Every other female is sterilized." It's men who should be sterilized. I am not necessarily saying against their will, but cutting off or reducing the flow of pollen (and that's really all men contribute to conception, forget that "my seed" crap) is perhaps the most efficient way to reduce the birth rate. Considering the complexity and risks of tubal ligation for women versus vasectomy for men only strengthens the argument for focusing on male fertility rather than female.

I will state my bias up front here, in that I would happily have myself sterilized at no cost to me, even though it would not have reduced the probability of me being part of creating a new human life for the last five years and counting. I decided long before I learned about peak oil and resource depletion in general that I did not want to bring any children into this world and I suspect that there are many people who are of a similar mind (including single people and couples), regardless of any offspring they already have, would like to not have any more. How many "accidents" are there in your (the royal you, not dohboi specifically) family? (I can count three off the top of my head going no further than the tree of my parents' siblings.) Some time when I was a wee lad, but old enough to understand, I learned that my father had a vasectomy shortly after I was born. "Gee, thanks" was my first thought. But I don't take it personally anymore, not that I ever really did. That innate "desire to breed", as so many people have called it, is really no such thing. It's a desire for sexual gratification. Pretending otherwise is like claiming that hunger is really a desire to defecate.

So here's my answer to questions 1 and 2 in original article: offer free sterilization (i.e. paid for with federal dollars, or state dollars if they want to step up) for any adult who wants it. Yes, I know we're broke. But since we're still printing money and pretending BAU, let's get some concrete value out of that money we don't have while we still can.

Of course, I realize this is really just a fantasy and will probably never happen for political reasons. But that seems to be par for the course for every other suggestion posted here.

Would it be possible to pay people an amount to be sterilised, or to offer permanent tax cuts to a sterilised person as an incentive?

This is an excellent idea and has been proposed by a number of economists. A variation is Kenneth Boulding's "blue stamp" idea where everybody is issued a coupon for two babies, but the rich can buy more coupons on the open market, while the poor can sell theirs for a goodly price.

I favor paying teenage American females $10,000 per year for each year they do not have a baby. Finance this by a capital levy on inherited wealth.

As with all capitalist schemes, the rich have the advantage.

Get rid of the richest fifth, who use 80% of the resources, and suddenly, surprise, there's plenty for everyone.

Schemes that would encourage the richest, those who use by far the most resources per capita, to procreate the most is just incomprehensibly stupid.

The incomprehensible stupidity you can see by looking in the mirror.

If you actually read Boulding's proposal (which obviously you have not) you would see that it tends to redistribute income to the poor while reducing birthrates among the poor. The rich become less rich and wealth tends to spread out with Boulding's proposal. It is an intelligent and elegant plan.

In American society, poor people have the biggest families, and well-educated middle-class people have the smallest families. This arrangement cannot persist indefinitely, because the middle-class will eventually refuse to support the huge numbers of births to teenage single mothers and other young and poor mothers with five, six, seven or more children. If the Tea Parties advocate cutting off all welfare for illegitimate births, it will gain great popularity among the middle class for this proposal.

One rich kid can use more resources than a whole village of poor ones.

As others have pointed out, the problem is not merely population, but total impact which is population times affluence. If you have ten times fewer people, but each is 100 times more affluent (=highly consuming), you have not improved your long term viability.

You will never see this, because you have been brainwashed all your life with capitalist propaganda, and have propagated the same.

I think you have been brainwashed with socialist propaganda, having some kind of rosy romanticised view of being poor. Being poor is about having immediate and pressing concerns that overshadows any concern for the environment. While the rich are more able and willing to pay for environmental rules and regulations. They also typically consume stuff that is, dollar for dollar, less resource intensive and less damaging. So yes, we should certainly opt for and times fewer and 100 times more affluent.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha...

Next thing you're going to say is that the rich are rich because they are naturally more virtuous!!

You really have drunk the Koolaide.

No use continuing further. (Note, though, that I did not say anything about socialism. Perhaps, two centuries hence, we can start coming up with ideas other than rehashed 19th century ones.)

Strange reaction. But I guess it protects you from having to give up your prejudices.

Seconded and with gusto. Vasectomy is a much less invasive procedure in general -- I'm planning to have one anyway, for that matter, and I'd love it if I could have it subsidized, or even get paid for doing so.

Fantastic article !!!

Thanks for the link.


Would you mind taking a look at the following essay and commenting, if you like?


By Steve Salmony

03 May, 2010

Even after more than ten years of trying to raise awareness about certain overlooked research, my focus remains riveted on the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population and scientific evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel that the size of the human population on Earth is a function of food availability. More food for human consumption equals more people; less food for human existence equals less people; and no food, no people. This is to say, the population dynamics of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other living things.

UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan noted in 1997, “The world has enough food. What it lacks is the political will to ensure that all people have access to this bounty, that all people enjoy food security.”

Please examine the probability that humans are producing too much, not too little food; that the global predicament humanity faces is the way increasing the global food supply leads to increasing absolute global human population numbers. It is the super-abundance of unsustainable agribusiness harvests that are driving population numbers of the human species to overshoot, or explode beyond, the natural limitations imposed by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably damaged planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth.

The spectacular success of the Green Revolution over the past 40 years has “produced” an unintended and completely unanticipated global challenge, I suppose: the rapidly increasing supply of food for human consumption has given birth to a human population bomb, which is exploding worldwide before our eyes. The most formidable threat to future human well being and environmental health appears to be caused by the unbridled, corporate overproduction of food on the one hand and the abject failure of the leaders of the human community to insist upon more fair and equitable redistribution of the world’s food supply so that “all people enjoy food security”.

We need to share (not overconsume and hoard) as well as to build sustainable, human-scale farming practices (not corporate leviathans), I believe.

For a moment let us reflect upon words from the speech that Norman Bourlaug delivered in 1970 on the occasion of winning the Nobel Prize. He reported, ” Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.”

Plainly, Norman Bourlaug states that humanity has the means to decrease the rate of human reproduction, but is choosing not to adequately employ this capability to sensibly limit human population numbers. He also notes that the rate of human population growth surpasses the rate of increase in food production IN SOME AREAS {my caps}. Dr. Bourlaug is specifically not saying the growth of global human population numbers exceeds global production of food.

According to recent research, population numbers of the human species could be a function of the global growth of the food supply for human consumption. This would mean that the global food supply is the independent variable and absolute global human population numbers is the dependent variable; that human population dynamics is most similar to the population dynamics of other species. Perhaps the human species is not being threatened in our time by a lack of food. To the contrary, humanity and life as we know it could be inadvertently put at risk by the determination to continue the dramatic, large-scale overproduction of food, such as we have seen occur in the past 40 years.

Recall Dr. Bourlaug’s prize winning accomplishment. It gave rise to the “Green Revolution” and to the extraordinary increases in the world’s supply of food. Please consider that the sensational increases in humanity’s food supply occasioned by Dr. Bourlaug’s great work gave rise to an unintended and completely unanticipated effect: the recent skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers.

We have to examine what appear to be potentially disastrous effects of increasing large-scale food production capabilities (as opposed to small-scale farming practices) on human population numbers worldwide between now and 2050. If we keep doing the “big-business as usual” things we are doing now by maximally increasing the world’s food supply, and the human community keeps getting what we are getting now, then a colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort could be expected to occur in the fairly near future.

It may be neither necessary nor sustainable to continue increasing food production to feed a growing population. As an alternative, we could carefully review ways for limiting increases in the large-scale corporate production of food; for providing broad support of small-scale farming practices; for redistributing more equitably the present overly abundant world supply of food among the members of the human community; and for immediately, universally and safely following Dr. Bourlaug’s recommendation to "reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely".

The best argument for corn ethanol I've seen.


"Of course, find the people who don't have any children (...),

and you will have found the only people who are truly serious about human overpopulation."

Unfortunately those "desired genes" cannot spread since it takes children do so!

Hence, the natural tendency of any species is to want to have more children, as those individuals who have more children are able to spread their genes more efficiently :-).

I guess we would have to go through several cycles of resource overconsumption and population explosion with the following crash, with the hope that the surviving individuals of the species in the long run have the genes that allow us to survive on this planet.

I wonder if this could be modeled and if it can be shown that this is indeed possible to have species evolve in such a way that they are able to overcome their desire for more offspring with the constraint of resource limitations.....


Wow, Bacevich, Berry, Abbey, McKibben--you've cited many of my favorite authors.

There is no question that population is one of the two most important vital issues to be addressed, the other being consumption.

I think the first world should make a deal with the rest of the world--we will cut our consumption and ff use by 80% in ten years if the rest of the world cut population growth to below replacement levels in that time.

I don't think that either is possible, but that would set things in their proper perspective.

It is no mystery why population is a difficult subject.

Anyone truly and deeply worried about it should knock on their neighbor's door and ask them:

whether they are having sex,
how often,
what protection they are using,
why the man hasn't gotten snipped
and why the woman hasn't had her tubes tied...

Reception to such messages are sure to be about as warm as those approaching a Hummer driver and suggesting they get a Geo Metro or a bicycle.

Really, the most effective measure is educating women and insuring that they have political power and power over their own bodies.

I don't see any way around the problem of people loosing social security and other services as fewer people are there in the younger generation for support. It is a good reason for encouraging better health among the elderly on the one hand, and for scaling back on heroic measures to save lives of the very elderly when this dooms them to totally dependent lives (and I speak as one with two very elderly, beloved parents.) More elderly in good shape could be employed in taking care of their more sickly colleagues.

A policy goal which if successfully achieved could immediately lower population and move us quickly to much lower total population levels--the goal that people postpone having their first child until they are in their thirties, and then have only one.

If incentives can be successfully put in place to achieve this goal, population would start dropping immediately and dramatically. As the first cohort moves into their thirties, the rate of drop may decrease, but many will decide not to have the child after all, others will become infertile or will die...There must be an information barrage (dare I say propaganda campaign) to emphasize the down sides of having more people in the world and the advantages of controlling population.

"Anyone truly and deeply worried about it should knock on their neighbor's door and ask them:

whether they are having sex,
how often,
what protection they are using,
why the man hasn't gotten snipped
and why the woman hasn't had her tubes tied..."

Hmm... That could be a great ice breaker if you do it right.

However, I think that the idea that your only common forum with your neighbors is their doorstep is unrealistic, and in this case defeatist. Birth control can readily be discussed in a controlled setting. I just have too many pounds around my midsection and too many kids to look credible doing so in my neighbor's doorway.

Here is another social no-no. When a new child is born, tell the parents that they have created a human who will die. No one thinks of death at the time of birth, but hey folks we are known as mortals because each and every one of us dies. To give birth is to give death.

Disclaimers: I had two children before I thought this through. I have never had the above conversation with parents of a new child.

Without a shared understanding that this is a problem, it is extremely difficult to "spread the word," by talking to other people in one's life who want to have more children. A public "propaganda barrage" would seem the order of the day, as the only thing that could enable grass roots discussion.

I propose the following two slogans, which in the context of such a shared understanding, most everyone should agree:

"Better to be an only child than to be an orphan."
"Better to have only one child than to bury a child."

I hope you're not in the marketing business, dude. The first one makes me think you're talking about shooting parents; the second, about shooting kids.

A serious question, maybe the most serious of all, and one with no easy answer. For there is a crux - it would difficult enough to implement and educate the "western world" to the concept of a one-child mother, safe in a society where a child does not serve the family, but serves the masses; where education, or opportunity, or simple economics means that such a child will most likely be gainfully employed - maybe, and even, as their parents grow old and in need of return financial nurture.

However, the "western world" is but 10 - 15% of the world's population. The rest of the world has little or no means of supporting such an ideal. Think - there are people out there, billions of them, who owe their very existence to the fact that large families offer security, firewood, water and food. Breeding large families allows for some insurance in the event of decease, and means a comfortable old age, surrounded by many generations of loved ones, all of whom care for you. How will you persuade them ?

Compare that with us, the civilised "western world", where we rush through life and throw our old onto the shoulders of carers who have neither a moral nor a social obligation to bring a smile to their charges.

Whatever change we try to bring about, it will require a balancing act worthy of Solomon's tenure.

I love your parting phrase, but I wonder if even Solomon could convince those around him of accepting any change, or even accepting the fact that the problem exists at all.

Population control seems entirely alien to the sensibilities of so many people. Do you think it's a concept that could ever be explained?

I fear that it is something people will have to see, experience, and suffer from. Nature will be the enforcer, either that or a not-so-benevolent totalitarian entity.

On the other hand, few women are eager to have multiple children. Everywhere that women are given more power over their lives, population growth rates decrease.

There are deep impulses in both directions.

China had a stronger tradition of large families than any place I know of, going back thousands of years to Confucius and beyond. But they have successfully moved to limit their rate of growth.

It can be done, and there are a variety of ways to do it. But, no, it is never easy.

Very true. Empowering women is a strong undercurrent in grassroots international development. For many of my projects, I looked to women to handle the group's finances. They lacked the subconscious drive of their male counterparts to acquire status symbols or divert funds for grandiose project components unrelated to the job at hand.

At the same time, male-female dynamics there were so Byzantine that it was folly to take any assumption for granted. A woman would see one guy for rent, another for transportation, another for her cell phone credit, etc. Divorce rates were astronomical. There was little social inclination to maintain a formal marriage. Nothing substituted for solid common sense. It's an attribute I had difficulty finding in people, regardless of gender or socio-cultural-economic background. Population seems to me one of those issues where common sense plays both sides.

Also, I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Tragedy of the Commons.


Could we please NOT mention it, just this once?

The tradition of large families is a tricky one.

Take a village of 50 families. If only two of those families have lots of children (more than four), and their descendants also have a tendency towards large families it only takes a few generations before most members of that village are related to those two families (you can find the arithmetic on John Hawks weblog).

Consequently, if there is a genetic base for preferring large families, we probably all carry it. We have a strong bias towards fertility.

If the Chinese have a stronger tradition of large families should be measurable in the number of families vs. population, especially if we can dress matrilineal genealogies.

I would very much like to see such an exploration into our history. Unfortunately, most of our records are patrilineal. Our genetic history in the male line shows the 'extraordinary' fertility of a few conquerors; apparently most of eurasia was fathered by Genghis Kahn.

It has been mentioned that female fertility is key, so a study of female genealogy, genetic history and ethnic history could be very enlightening.

with love,

I don't have the expertise necessary to comment about the difficulty of getting women(and thier men) to adopt birth control in other societies,but I have watched the process of family size shrinking in working class America with great interest for a long time.

Getting the typical working class American woman and her man to keep thier family small is as easy as falling off a log, requiring the implementation of only two basic policies-cheap birth control and the employment of women outside the home.

If it were left up to me, any and every woman or man would have access to free birth control no questions asked, other than appropriate medical screening.

The ONLY people I know who have large families nowadays are Catholics and of all the Catholics I know , only a very small fraction have large families;the rest seldom have more than three kids , and one or two is the norm.

The local fundamentalist Christians are emphatically opposed to abortion but they have either given up sex or else they are using bc;you have to look around for a LONG time to find a couple under thirtyfive or so with more than three children, and one or two is the norm.

Of course you can always find a few Christians of various persausions who believe in large families if you go looking for them, but they are not num,erous,relatively speaking.Personally I don't know a single one, other than the previously mentioned very small handful of Catholics, and I live in the deepest darkest underbelly of the Bible Belt.

Getting the typical working class American woman and her man to keep
thier family small is as easy as falling off a log, requiring the
implementation of only two basic policies-cheap birth control and the
employment of women outside the home.

This seems reasonable. Cheap birth control makes sex without procreation feasible defusing the instinct-to-have-sex's ability to cause procreation. Women working outside the home makes having lots of children more expensive than it would be without that possibility as well. Enlightened views toward women seem to be associated with affluence as well.

Another thing that may be happening is that modern conveniences and luxuries have the same distracting effect on humans as brown beer bottles have on Julodimorpha bakewelli. We want all the good stuff modern life has to offer and we want it for our children too, so we have less children, preferring the 'stuff' to procreating.

This implies selective pressure to produce humans who's procreative tendencies are less effected by the presence of modern stuff in their environment. Idiocracy?

I don't think Idiocracy is a serious concern BTW as malthusian factors seem likely to alter the environment before evolutionary factors become important.

People always whine that modernity isn't environmentally friendly to animals and plants, but it probably applies to people as well. If an environment changes too wildly and rapidly, it favors the cockroach.

There is some hope in the fact that many of the pollutants that spew into the environment are hormonally disruptive to human biology. Perhaps that represents a form of feedback loop to reduce human overpopulation.

Would that we were to take a proactive stance rather than be the victims of the circuitous and unintended consequences of our behavior. I guess that is too much for which to hope. At least it has been so far.

Population growth MUST and will stop, but only through cataclysm. The giant slums/shanty towns of less developed nations experience population growth despite the clear and visible ramifications of it. I am reminded of the words of my fundamentalist ex mother-in-law "God has everything under control" to which I replied "Are you ready when God decides to take you out indiscriminately?"

The juggernaut that was the Chinese government under Mao could not stop population growth.

"The juggernaut that was the Chinese government under Mao could not stop population growth."

The "one child" policy was implemented four years after Mao's death, and remains in effect. It applies to a little over a third of Chinese couples.

The Chinese government claims that the current population (about 1.3 billion) is 300,000,000-400,000,000 lower today than it would have been without the policy.

Do you have other information?

The rate of growth has slowed, BUT growth has continued.

1980 996.1 million

2006 1,314.5 million


As recently as 1950, China's population was a mere 563 million. The population grew dramatically through the following decades to one billion in the early 1980s.

China's total fertility rate is 1.7, which means that, on average, each woman gives birth to 1.7 children throughout her life. The necessary total fertility rate for a stable population is 2.1; nonetheless, China's population is expected to grow over the next few decades. This can be attributed to immigration and a decrease in infant mortality and a decrease in death rate as national health improves.

By the late 2010s, China's population is expected to reach 1.4 billion. Around 2030, China's population is anticipated to peak and then slowly start dropping.


"The rate of growth has slowed, BUT growth has continued."

Yes, of course. Population growth has momentum. It takes a long time to slow and, eventually, stop. Unless really turbulent events intervene.

I don't know if you intended the posted information to refute the Chinese government figures. It does not, so far as I can tell.

"Around 2030, China's population is anticipated to peak and then slowly start dropping."


if there is a 2030

There will be a 2030.

The readers of TOD may not see it, but the point in time we would call 2030 is guaranteed* to happen.

*not a guarantee. Void where prohibited by time/space distortion.

"Unless really turbulent events intervene."

Agreed. Like Mao slaughtering tens of millions of innocent Chinese people.
Like it won't happen again, with men outnumbering women by astronomical figures, thanks to gov't meddling.
There are now millions of Chinese boys who will grow up w/out the option of marrying, or even having consensual sex with a woman.
Glad I wasn't born in China. :)

Probably they just have to wait a year or two. (The age gap between males and females in married couples will increase.)

I wonder what that age gap will be. Only time will tell. Oh, and demographic data. :) The projections, though, are pretty bleak.
EDIT: With a nation of young, P*-hungry men... that's going to be one angry army! :D

Female infanticide is a widespread and highly effective means of population control. In China and India today, selective abortion of female fetuses is a general practice. A heavily male population is one in which the status of women tends to rise--due to their relative scarcity they are more valuable--and in which the birth rate is low.

Men do not have babies. Only women do that. Reduce the percentage of women in a population, and you thereby get quickly to zero or negative population growth.

The ancient Greeks, among others, practiced female infanticide; it helped the city-states to maintain stable populations with plenty of male citizens to defend the city walls. Prostitutes and homosexuality served to meet the needs of the excess males, and it was common for a man to marry for the first time at age 40 to 49. Indeed, Aristotle observed that based on reproductive biology, the ideal marriage was between a 49 year old man and an 18 year old woman. (Oh, yes, he was around 49 years old when he mentioned that point in one of his lectures.) Socrates got married after the age of fifty and had small children when he died at the age of 70. Plato never got married, so far as we know.

"Immigration and China" is combination I haven't given any thought, although I know that a few North Koreans are able to slip out of NK and into China.

Where do the immigrants come from and how numerous are they?

They will come from America... :-)

As soon as the general population gets a hint that population is even an issue and that reduction is necessary all hell will break lose.

Methodology is meaningless unless it is imposed in secret (conspiracy theory warning) something like a massive, grinding economic depression with food and energy shortages, maybe squeeze in an epidemic if possible.

EXACTLY... same thing with peak oil... or a space rock... why expose it? you won't gain anything... people hate being told what to do...better to trick them, like sheep... Just let me in on it :)

To your impressive list of references you might consider adding "the Poverty of Nations-A Political Economy of Hunger and Population," by William Murdoch.

Take home lessons: Look at the role, literacy and education level, and job opportunities for women. Even poor areas/countries which have focused on these issues have witnessed lowered birthrates. He mentions, specifically, Sri Lanka, Kerala in South India and Costa Rica as cases in point.

Since I have lived almost 20 years in a rural area of Costa Rica, I have seen the changes as the 'opportunity cost' kicks in and women with more than 2 children would have to stay home rather than getting a relatively secure job--even if it is cleaning the homes of retired gringos.Needless to say, access to contraception and an early education on the facts of life are also extremely important.

It is a huge and complex issue, but let's not leave out any of the important details. The work by Murdoch is a good read and vital for anyone who pretends to understand what is going on in the poorer agricultural societies of our planet. Published in 1980, he was already calling for more widespread use of solar, bio-gasification, etc. on 3rd world farms.

"Take home lessons: Look at the role, literacy and education level, and job opportunities for women."

Why don't those factors produce fertility rate reductions in the United States, where fertility is substantially higher than it was 30 years ago?

Immigration and teen pregnancy -- we have the highest rates of both in the industrialized world.

Rampant fundamentalism, also, works as a marvelous antidote to education.

"Immigration and teen pregnancy -- we have the highest rates of both in the industrialized world."

Incorrect. Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Portugal Singapore... all have higher net migration rates than the US. The figures for places like New Zealand, the Netherlands, Israel and Denmark are nearly the same as here.

We do "win" in the teen pregnancy category.

Regardless, the question remains: Why don't opportunity and empowerment for women result in decreased fertility in the US?

Thanks for the correction on the immigration point.

It is a good question. I think it has to do partly with a culture that strongly values both freedom and limitless growth.

And we are one of the most "religious" nations--there is that first commandment in the garden to be fruitful and multiply. (A Bill McKibben once pointed out to me, that is one commandment humans have managed to fulfill beyond any reason. Perhaps its time to pay a bit more attention to some of the others.)

But I have to ask--are you being rhetorical or coy in your question. Do you have "the" answer up your sleeve?

Neither rhetorical nor coy. I don't have the answer, although, like you, I have some guesses. Our guesses are similar.

Our culture of imagined individual autonomy has clearly bred a certain contempt for governance of all kinds into the national temperament. We cheat on our taxes, flout traffic laws and hate politicians.

We've included 2.x kids in the model of the American Dream, along with a big house in the suburbs and as many cool cars as possible. Every TV commercial and sit-com reinforces the model.

As for religion, it's obvious how it affects the trends; it just isn't clear to me why we cling to it so much more than other developed Western cultures.

Part of that is due to how our forefathers were the ones kicked out of Europe for being religiously intolerant of everyone else. The roots of our Protestant religious background goes all the way back to then, and they've stuck with us. Families, birth control, population, abortion, etc, all eventually turn into a religious issue when it involves Americans.

Looking at the overall world issue of overpopulation, IMO it's going to take a nuclear war to reduce the population down to manageable levels. Even then it probably wouldn't unless the war was between, say, Malaysia, China and India; having the US and Russia or US and China nuke each other off the map wouldn't really help the population problem, not when the Third World countries' populations are increasing so rapidly.

But those countries all have much smaller populations than the United States--Canada, for instance, has a bit over 10% as many people as the US. So we could have a higher absolute number of immigrants, but still have a smaller immigration rate. Since (as I point out below), at least some immigrant groups have dramatically higher fertility rates than the population at large, this could have a large indirect impact on demographics.

I could also say that women in the US are less empowered and have fewer opportunities than in Europe, and so birth rates are higher here than there; or that the inverse is true compared to, say, Saudi Arabia, and so the birth rates are lower here than there.

Immigration and teen pregnancy -- we have the highest rates of both in the industrialized world.

Actually, immigration rates into Canada are around twice as high as the United States. At current rates, by 2031 half the people in Canada over the age of 15 will be foreign-born.

The biggest sources of immigrants into Canada are China, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

However, it is true that the United States is the big global winner in the teenage pregnancy category, and the U.S. birth rate is much higher than Canada, or any other member of the G8.

That part of the public seriously opposed to religions doesn't know anything about American fundamentalists except what somebody with an axe to grind told them once upon a time when they were a tiny little toddlers and they accept THAT as THIER SACRED GOSPEL, NEVER to be questioned, only repeated, without examining the evidence.

I have lived and worked among the fundamentalists of THIS COUNTRY all my life;and while the older folks talk about divine interventions and Jesus, if you ask a hundred of them about thier grown up children and what they are doing, you will find out fast that the single thing they are proudest of in thier entire lives in just about every case is the fact that they have a son or daughter who is a nurse, computer programmer, lawyer, teacher, doctor, engineer or other well educated professional-if they do indeed have such a son or daughter.

The norm among the uneducated fundamentalists who have the secular, day to day business part of thier lives together is to bust thier bxlls trying to help thier kids get ahead.This very often takes the form of working a second job and packing a peanut butter sandwich for lunch to help with the expenses of thier kids getting a degree.

For every county that has a bunch of raving believers trying to get "creationist science" into the public schools, there are dozens with plenty of fundamentalists where the subject seldom or never comes up in public.

I can't prove it, but if I could run the experiment,I would be willing to bet my farm that if you match a thousand fundamentalist families with a thousand non religious families, according to normal scientific protocols, ALL FAMILIES HAVING POORLY EDUCATED working class parents,the fundamentalists' kids will go on to become professionals in equal or greater numbers than the control group.

Now OF COURSE you can find as many exceptions as you like, and the people who go looking are damned good at publicizing the exceptions-prejudice and bad news sell "like ice water in Hell."

I know a LOT of fundamentalist preachers, and between us and God ;-)here in this forum I KNOW that a good portion of them are as dumb as fence posts, and a good portion of the remainder have simply found an easy way to make a living;but out the lot I know, not a single one advocates keeping thier kids of thier followers kids from going on to college;yes, they don't believe in evolution, but they believe in medical degrees and law degrees.

Cognitive dissonance and a failure to think are not shortcomings denied to fundamentalists;they share them with everybody else.

I can find as many idiots among any group of people as I care to look for-the difference is that there aren't a few tens of millions of eager- to- feel- smug and- superior people around who want to make fun of the idiocies of economists for instance.

Another thing that sort of pxxxes me off no end is that the role of Christianity in shaping the admittedly admirable values of modern secular liberalism is virtually NEVER mentioned in such discussions as this one.

If we were the descendants of people from different cultures we might right now be insisting on genitally mutilating all our young women , or burning widows of funeral pryes with thier husbands, or using our military power to simply go aviking with the gloves off.

Other religious groups in other countries are another kettlre of fish altogether.

People who call themselves educated but who deny evolution, undermine the teaching of science in schools, and prefer ignorant supernatural beliefs to the hard work of reasoning from factual observation are a part of our problem, snce they will do everything their presumed god tells them to do (usually via the rapacious males who claim to have his ear) to block rational solutions to reversing human-caused climate change. It makes no difference if they are self-styled and self-righteous Christians like oldfarmermac, or Hindis or Muslims or New Age rock crystal mystics. As for the “contribution” of Christianity to human civilization, what can definitely be documented is how the Christian-inspired ethic of militant conversion, obliteration of all non-Christian minorities, blind adherance to irrational dogma, and the wholesale mindless rape of “god’s” earth has, far more than the equally bigoted fanatics of Mohammed, brought humanity to the very brink of mass species suicide.

oldfarmermac’s post, by willfully ignoring the issues raised here, should usefully remind the rest of us that religious fundamentalists will not do anything to limit human population increase -- but *will* do *everything* in their power to stop us from doing so.

Suffice it to say our observations of fundamentalists are different. I have wondered if it may be in part due to the conditions in my northern rural area, where many of the fundamentalists are displaced. They are originally from the southeast, and for some reason, have elected to move to the north.

I have noted quite a few professionals among them, mainly in the medical field. These folks invariably have moved here from elsewhere. But what really kills me is how a doc can study disease and life, the rise of drug resistant pathogens, etc, and still refute evolution.

But fertility in the US is at, or a little bit below, replacement rates, much lower than most countries, and not much worse than other highly developed countries. So our birthrates are still pretty low in absolute terms. The reason our birthrates are higher than other countries' is a combination of several factors.

Part of it is that the US is somewhat more conservative than most other developed countries, and hence there is probably a lesser use of birthcontrol, as well as the higher teen pregnancy rates pointed out by a previous poster. Too, large families are not looked upon quite so oddly as in, say, Europe.

Another part is that the US has much more immigration than most countries--besides directly increasing the population, Hispanics (a group which contains a relatively high proportion of immigrants) have a much higher fertility rate than most other American groups. Whites and Asians only have fertility rates of about 1.9 children per mother, blacks have about 2.1, but Hispanics have about 2.9 (although those stats are 3 years old). However, even the low birthrates are high compared to many European countries--Germany, for instance, has a fertility rate of only 1.38 children per mother.

Further, according to the Census Bureau, about 16 million of 69 million US children have at least one foreign-born parent, many of whom were themselves foreign-born. It would be folly to say that merely removing them from the country would eliminate all of those children--undoubtedly, some of the native-born mothers and fathers who have had children with foreign-born fathers and mothers would have had children even without meeting any anyways--but if there had been less immigration then equally undoubtedly that number would be less.

True is Life

This factor is also the case in Australia and I suspect most other developed nations. Immigrants from third world countries naturally bring with them their traditional social norms and values. These generally include higher fertility rates and family sizes. Higher levels of government support for children and families present in the western world facilitate larger family sizes without a percieved loss of affluence.

I am sure these cultural tendencies will diminish in 2nd generation families but unfortunately this won't have any impact until 30 to 40 years out. Too late !!

The only thing these immigrant groups will do is make the U.S. unlivable. I read a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimating that 30% of workforce of Texas will not have a high school diploma in 2040.

That's OK. They'll be able to teach the children of investment bankers really important skills, like gardening and carpentry, if the bankers are nice to them.

Mormons and Mexicans.

On this discussion, start here: CIA World Factbook birth rate rankings. Look at the top, look at the bottom. Say it with me, kids: EDUCATION. (Cuba's birth rate over time has fallen with growing education. Few other factors have changed, and their was no coercive program. Lower birth rates are a popular choice, when a choice is available.)

Poke around this helpful site. (I love me this new WFB! 3rd generation of site I've used after 3 presidents, hrmm... This is SO the best one.) Find the population change rate table. The difference between population and birth is immigration. That should give you wonks some numbers to work with. Also, note where "World" ranks.

Last thoughts on world population growth: your biggest player is India, not China. Compare their birth rates. Not even close. Keep your eye on Pakistan, currently at #6 in population. With a bullet.

Bonus inquiry: find the birth rates of all the countries where the US military is engaged in offensive operations.

DELETED: Double post

Peters' future is hard to imagine. A fictional account by Jean Raspail, Camp of the Saints, makes for unnerving reading. Thought provoking. See reviews

Anyone ever see the movie "Idiocracy"?

Yes, and... forget 500 years into the future. We've already arrived.


I expect "Ass" to be nominated for best screenplay in the next year or two.

Start with the schools. If children are instilled with the sense of 'overshoot', they will carry that understanding into adulthood, and it could change everything. It needs to be talked about, and children need to hear it discussed. Teach them early and often. It will make an impact in a world where all strive for autonomy, to then be able to apply one's knowledge of the true state of the world when making an individual choice. It does come down to the individual.

And what is the answer for the people who mention indoctrination or Ajdenda 21 or the other things on the UN website and get their references via say, Alex Jones?

Good luck with that, at least in the United States. Way too many groups see any attempt to teach children about such things as 'propaganda' and take steps to stifle or eliminate the curriculum. Look at the Texas Textbook Committee, determined to rewrite history into a form they find acceptable.

If we cannot stabilize population and if we cannot stabilize climate, there is not an ecosystem on earth we can save...
Save for what??? A changed climate will just reshuffle evolutionary pressures to different but just as valid ecosystems. I suspect that we are near "Peak Population" and that natural feed-back processes will cause rather drastic reductions. My WAG is perhaps 500 million to 1.5 billion Human Population in 200 years.

Probably, few here would disagree that reductions are in store, one way or another. Do you believe that a population "soft landing" is impossible, or does the suffering associated with a hard landing seem inconsequential?

If the methane feedback really gets underway later this year in the north, we could have the beginning of the big die off starting in the next couple years.

A super heat wave already passed across Asia bringing temps never seen before in northern China, Mongolia and southern Siberia. It was in relatively unpopulated areas, so it didn't get much press. But these events, and other extremes are becoming and are going to become more and more common.

From what I have read, the effects of Polar warming haven't been factored into the rather "grim" climate change forecasts. Anaerobic bacteria decomposition of the thawing organic matter in the Siberian Tundra and possible release of shallow methane hydrates in the Arctic may make catastrophic climate change happen in the lifetime of people living today.

Having been involved for more than 30 years in the medical care of children, many with life threatening illness, I am quite aware of the consequences of human suffering. That being said, when I look at the curve of world population growth, curves for climate change, energy utilization, etc. and then look at the "politics" of population control, I don't think that a human controlled "soft landing" is possible. There may be a scenario where climate change, etc. may cause a gradual reduction in word population but I can't visualize the mechanism.

"...I don't think that a human controlled 'soft landing' is possible."

OK. Fair enough.

What does recent history in China and India suggest?

OK. Fair enough.What does recent history in China and India suggest?

That history teaches that even very stringent population control methods take decades the result in a stable population much less population reduction. The have slowed the growth but still have not stopped growth.

Again: Of course.


There was something else that accompanied the famous "demographic transition" besides increased wealth. Women won increased rights. It became acceptable to do something besides produce babies.

Now why, exactly, would anyone who was not a madman or an economist think that fewer babies would be produced in places where women are not admired for anything else?

Just a thought for economists and planners: include the majority of the human race in your calculations.

Weisman's on the right track, but to have a [however faint]hope of convincing people all around the world to have way less children, you would first, in my opinion, have to make them all literate, so that they have a hope of understanding what's at stake. Big job. The other choice, of course, is that billions die horrible deaths of starvation and disease, while simultaneously turning all the habitable areas of the Earth's surface into a garbage can.

Robert Hargraves a professor from New Hampshire makes a convincing argument that abundant nuclear energy will lower the world’s population. The reasoning goes that having energy increases the standard of living which in turn increases the education which in turn brings down the population.

energy=industry=jobs=education=birth control=population control

And spreading all that nuclear material all over the place will likely make most of the population infertile.

And putting nuclear material into the hands of every crackpot dictator is an excellent way to insure a nuclear holocaust--end of population problem.

This guy is truly a real genius!!!

My better method--promote universal homosexuality/lesbianism!!!

The motto of the movement:

In a world of nearly 7 billion people, the only consensual sex that is truly and utterly perverse is unprotected sex between heterosexuals of childbearing age!!

Old news. The COE (Church of Euthanasia) put that forward as the three pillars of their movement a couple decades ago: Suicide, Abortion, Sodomy.
Oh wait - i see they're still around today, at http://www.churchofeuthanasia.org/ and they've added a forth pillar. Now it's "suicide, abortion, cannibalism, sodomy".

Oh, and for the humor-impaired, :)

In a world of nearly 7 billion people, the only consensual sex that is
truly and utterly perverse is unprotected sex between heterosexuals of
childbearing age!!

Are you kidding? If that idea catches on, then there will be a population BOOM! lol.

Good point. The only thing that sells better than sex is perverse sex.

Population growth is the real elephant (or whale) in the room.
We are already outgrowing our little blue petri dish and there is nowhere else to go.
If humanity doesn't deal with it, then Nature will do it instead with much much greater suffering.

It is a very difficult and divisive subject to discuss. I'm sure we would all like the population to be a lot less than it is, and reduce demand for resources. However, those who control the resources benefit from the increased demand and rise in price, until there is a breakdown in civilisation and wars break out and then others profit from that.

1. Educate everyone to be aware of the situation and for it to influence their family planning. Define sustainability.

2. How about raising the minimum age for having children to say 25+?
People will always have sex - it is what we do and why we are here.
Introduce free contraception.
Define quotas based on surviving antecedents?
Make large families socially discouraged and reduce state benefits?
Impose quotas for consumption with finer granularity at a tangible level, per town or per village or per capita. More people mean less to go round?

Now that we have modified mortality to such a great extent over the last few of generations we must compensate and not continue to behave like viruses, but there is a big difference in behaviour and culture between the developed and developing countries.

In developing countries, having children is often a case of making more than enough to survive to adulthood and help support the parents, and where laws are lax, rape also plays a part.

In developed countries we can expect that our children have a much better chance of survival and so we need less, but some don't see it like that.

3. Improve research on debilitating diseases so that older adults can look after themselves for longer. Increase retirement age. Be good neighbours and reduce selfishness. Reduce stupidly high costs of healthcare. Emigrate to a fairer country. Tax tobacco and alcohol more.
Legalise voluntary euthanasia, horrifying but logical.

"pro-life = pro-extinction" - probably contentious but true!

Absolutely agree, really the root of all the issues we face, but very contentious - really the fundamental purpose (right?) of an organism!

In the west, I hope that it will become seen as uncool or irresponsible to have more than one child. I can also picture a backlash where people make a demonstration of their "right" to reproduce if it was threatened. I would agree with other posts that Woman's education possibly the best thing you could invest in. Also, anything affecting child mortality (ironically); as you say, some of the addition children born are a hedge by the parents against the premature death of their siblings, because they require a child to look after them in old age.

Can't ever see getting governments involved unfortunately; China is pretty unique here. There will always be enough people that won't get it, or are certain God's got it all well in hand.

Actually... something like a global one-child policy would be an interesting approach to the carbon problem, hey? I wonder if the UN would dare make any kind of recommendation like that.

On overpopulation Kunstler wrote that the "usual suspects" will take care of it. I really have a hard time attacking that statement. I find it incredibly sad and gross that we can't get organized to prevent this suffering, but really can't begin to hope that we will.

...What's your estimate of global population at the end of this century?

You don't even have to go all the way to euthanasia.

Just recognize that the quality of life at the end is much more important than the quantity.

Most people would prefer to die at home among loved ones. But fewer and fewer people do so, because we all think that we can go to the hospital and get a few more days, weeks or months out of us.

But living and dying in a hospital is a very unpleasant thing. No one likes being in a hospital for anything. When we decide that risking a more sudden death is worth avoiding spending days or weeks of misery in a hospital (and spending ungodly amounts of cash--most of a person's lifetime healthcare expense occurs in their last six months), we will be both better off and will be a burden on the earth and on our loved ones (hell, even on ourselves) for a much shorter period.

dohboi - YES. Years of volunteering at nursing homes and then 10 years as a Hospice Volunteer make me absolutely sure that quality of life is far more important than length of life.

None of us survive. Some survive longer than others and for them it is not always a good thing.

I don't disagree that rising population is a problem, but taking the I = PAT formulation as given for a moment, there is no reason that population should be any more important than affluence or technology. On the three questions offered:

1- A public discussion to what end? Current national and international arrangements lack the capacity for addressing this issue in most cases. Even if they were given the power to mandate population control there are huge potential problems of representation and equity. There is also a question of whether national and international agreements are robust enough to survive in the face of peak oil.

2- I think this is putting the cart before the horse. It may be better to ask what drives increasing population, and I think there is no one answer to this question. Culture, religion, need for a work force, available nutrition, lack of nutrition, insecurity in old age, etc. all arguably play into the equation differently indifferent settings. This makes any attempt at a large-scale universal solution problematic.

3- Local community systems will develop their own particular institutions for assisting the elderly, in conjunction with whatever larger scale programs survive or develop. In some cases this may even involve having *more* children.

It seems to me to be an easy path to sit in an air-conditioned room (as I am) typing on a computer and argue that people in less developed countries should have fewer children. Although many mechanisms of local community self-sufficiency--local crop varieties, social structures, alternate systems of land tenure, etc.--have been forcibly erased or weakened by our insistence on economic growth and development, perhaps we should be looking at reestablishing global heterogeneity and reducing affluence as first steps.

Good points.

On the one hand, I do agree that population is a crucial issue.

On the other, population seems to be a favorite issue for moderately to extremely well off, white, American males.

And it is usually posed as a problem primarily of poor, non-white, third world females,

This can't help but make me suspicious that it acts as a way for the guilty rich to foist on to the radically other poor that major problem of the world.

The main population problem the world has right now is the top quintile--the the top billion and a half or so--that is using up some 80% of the worlds resources.

If the world could get rid of that segment, which includes everyone on this forum, the rest would get along just fine on what was left.

But since the discussion is never posed this way, I have to assume that it is not a real discussion of a real problem, but primarily a way for the most guilty people in the world to distract themselves from their own culpability and place all the blame on those poor, ignorant, brown-black-yellow third world women.

Let me just chime in here to say that I am most interested in starting with the worst offenders—that is, the populations whose children have the most negative impact on the environment, shared resources and the lives of our fellow humans, the populations with the least need for "extra" children to provide labor and security or "spare" children to counter pre-adult mortality.

Americans go first.

Great thoughts.

Really to be fair, western countries would have to reduce population at a rate relative to their consumption.

My wife and I have not yet had any, and I sometimes struggle with the moral justification - at the rates of our resource use, I can't help but think just one will doom 20 children elsewhere!

Also, what would you see as an appropriate immigration policy for the next century? If we wanted to reduce the number of people living the western lifestyle, we should limit it to shrink western population; but on compassionate grounds we should really take more and more...


It's refreshing to hear someone who doesn't have children but is considering it to actually struggle with it morally. In addition to the lopsided consumption (i.e. your one child will doom 20 (or whatever the number), I will suggest something I'm sure will raise some back-of-the-neck hairs here. Flame on if you/they must. Just to be clear and up front, I am writing with the intention of nudging you and your wife in the direction of not having children. I am not not trying to manipulate you under the radar.

About 10 years ago I was on a mailing list for atheist singles and one of the members there floated the idea (insisted it vigorously, actually) that it is immoral to bring a child into this world because it is impossible to do so without that child's consent.

There is an obvious paradox in that claim, although I don't think it invalidates the point at all. The latter part of the claim is trivially true; one can't create a human life with consent of the created. As to whether that's moral or immoral, of course people will differ since morality is very much a variable from person to person. But to me the consent really is the crux of it. Regardless of political philosophy, consent is a very strong consideration for most people when dealing with issues of life and death. Right? Whether it's the primacy of the pregnant woman's consent, the fetus' consent, the consent of the terminally ill patient who just wants to die painlessly with dignity or the former half-term governor of a non-contiguous-48-states-state invoking the consent of grandma against the Obama death panel, it's all about consent.

In other words, when a child, in the throes of a tantrum about whatever it is they don't like, screams, "Well I never asked to be born!", they have a valid goddamn point. Since you're here, pigleg, and, presumably, aware of resource depletion--whether you are expecting a fast crash collapse, a nice soft landing or something in between--I would hope you recognize that whatever life your child might have it will be characterized by generally having less, over time, of most of the things we take for granted these days.

If you and your wife decide you really want to raise a child in the coming shitstorm, please consider adopting a child who has already been cast aside by his or her biological parent(s).

"It's refreshing to hear someone who doesn't have children but is considering it to actually struggle with it morally."

Well, my wife and I are doing the same thing right now. Both of us are intelligent, well-educated professionals, but we didn't seriously begin considering having children until just recently. We both realize the children of intelligent parents don't automatically turn into equally-intelligent adults, but the odds are still good in that direction, and we're more than capable of raising one financially.

What's holding us back is the realization that things aren't going to get better, whether we're talking economically, socially, or any other measurable factor, from what we're currently looking at. Standard of living, job opportunities, housing, consumer prices, unrest, government intrusion, etc, all are going to at best stay the same, and more likely will be worse. What's the point of bringing a new life into the world with this kind of future?

First, everything except government intrusion will keep getting better over the long haul. Second - are you mad!? Humanity has existed for hundreds of thousands of years and the current generation have it orders of magnitudes better than most of the generations coming before us.

Please explain what you mean by "better." Or, better(!) yet, please identify some of these rare past generations that you feel did have it better than the "current generation."

The previous commenter mentioned standard of living, job opportunities, housing and consumer prices as the material factors they considered. "Better" should be interpreted as "higher", "more", "larger" and "lower", respectively. No previous generation has had it better in these respects, of course.

Some believe there have been generations that, for instance, have had it very good in the sense that they moved into ample feeding grounds and had to work relatively little. But I'm a bit skeptical - I don't think that outweighs the positive sides of modern life. But I leave it open as a possibility. It's all about what you want and value, of course. Some ancestors might have had it less stressful and more fulfilling in some way, I don't know. But if we talk about material wealth, there can be no doubt that we are currently at all-time-high. Or if you value knowledge and personal freedom, we are also at ATH.

My point is that things are as good as they're going to get right now. You're second sentence I agree with, but disagree that the next generation will have it even better than we do. Obviously you've got a different viewpoint, not one I agree with.

Let's take housing prices; unless you live in a remote area like the Dakotas or some location like Detroit where the city is shrinking from disuse and loss of jobs, housing equivalent to what we have now will be more expensive in the future.

Energy prices are the same; unless you're delusional, all of them are going up, not down in the future. That increase will be carried over to consumer goods and the necessities as well, making them more expensive.

More people equals more competition for jobs, college acceptance, private education, living space, etc. Again, driving up costs and making it difficult for a future generation to have as good a lifestyle as we currently have.

housing equivalent to what we have now will be more expensive in the future.

No. Efficiency will continue to improve, so the opposite is true.

Energy prices are the same; unless you're delusional, all of them are going up, not down in the future.

With more nuclear and the recent advanced NG recovery, you may very well be wrong. Also, it doesn't really matter - you can double your energy prices and halve consumption and you'd be about as well off.

More people equals more competition for jobs, college acceptance, private education

These things have always grown in proportion to the population. You have 30 times more jobs and education seats than Sweden b/c your population is 30 times larger.

Again, driving up costs and making it difficult for a future generation to have as good a lifestyle as we currently have.

So what? If they don't like their lives b/c their parents had it better, they could simply commit suicide or you could end their misery yourself. But I think you are going to wake up 20 years from now, saying: "Hey, the doom didn't happen this fourth 5-year period either. Perhaps it won't come at all. Perhaps I should have had those kids."

No. Efficiency will continue to improve, so the opposite is true.

So, what is the maximum efficiency that can be attained?

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

I don't know the efficiency of magic.

That quote does nothing to answer the question.

That's why I added a sentence of my own.

Which failed to clarify matters.

You may be right concerning the issue of guilt, but it is not going to solve the problem is it.

Based on the I= PAT formula and the fact that A and T are intrinsically linked, we have two choices. Reduce P or reduce A. The idea of the developed world volunteering a reduction in affluence is about as likely as getting volunteers for suicide. It isn't going to happen. The only possibility of making significant inroads into the problem is to get the undeveloped world to recognise the validity of the equation and thus voluntarily reduce fertility rates in order to attain higher affluence. Of course an orderly transition like this is not possible given the rate the world as a whole is hurtling to the precipice.

One other solution that, while not being a cure, will push the dynamic in the right direction, is the elimination of immigration from undeveloped nations to developed countries. This factor has double negatives in respect of exacerbating the problem. It relieves pressure on third world nations to address their explosion in population numbers while at the same time prevents or reduces the reduction in fertility rates naturally occurring in the developed world. If you take out the higher fertility rates of immigrants to the developed world virtually all developed countries would have fertility rates lower than replacement levels. Given the natural human tendency to xenophobia this measure would be a real political possibility in most developed nations.

Again, this will not be a cure. It will only marginally reduce the pain when the catastrophe finally occurs. A number of studies have been carried out and determined that the sustainable world carrying capacity is between 1 billion and 2 billion. This level will also be dependant on whether those people want to live at a western lifestyle or at the level of the central Africa. I=PAT . There is no measure that can be taken to provide an orderly transition from 7 billion to this sustainable state within the time period that world resource availability will dictate.

No, the rest wouldn't get along just fine on what was left. They would be even poorer since they wouldn't have us to help their economies be productive. Economy isn't a zero sum game - we continually bootstrap ourselves and each other.

Guilt is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the first world have below-replacement fertility, while Africa is still at 6 children per woman. To curb the global population and eventually overcome the environmental and resource problems we face, the solution is for them to rapidly become more like us, not the other way around.

"them to rapidly become more like us"

Did you bother to read the lead post?

Do you really think the earth can support the equivalent of 70 billion people?

Thank you, by the way, for reinforcing my basic thesis--

You clearly think that the only people who have to change their behavior is poor, African women.

How convenient for you!

And how convenient for you that guilt is irrelevant! Do you hold that to be true in all areas of human life?

As I have commented elsewhere, 70 billion is nonsense. 9 billion will be the peak and average energy per capita on the order of 2-3 times per capita. So like 20 billion. No problem with nuclear.

You clearly think that the only people who have to change their behavior is poor, African women.

How convenient for you!

Convenient for them as well. I'd guess they'd like freedom, education and prosperity. Do you think otherwise?

And how convenient for you that guilt is irrelevant! Do you hold that to be true in all areas of human life?

Pretty much. I'd like to guide myself and others based on more positive feelings. But first and foremost, I think collective guilt is bogus. I don't accept any guilt for colonialism, for instance, or for us using resources such as gasoline.

Don't like guilt much. OK. How about responsibility? Obligation?

Well, those often guide me. Now, what is our responsibilities and obligations as first worlders in relation to the fertility of third worlders? From what do those derive? Our own fertilities are under control, and we have just a few hundred millions per continent. At least North America is decidedly NOT over-populated. What more do you ask?

This is a very good article about what works and what doesn't working in reducing population growth:


Some interesting tidbits:

About Iran:

"Between 1988 and 1996 the average Iranian family halved in size from 5.2 to 2.6 children after the authorities launched a family planning campaign. The government encouraged women to wait three to four years between pregnancies. Childbearing for women younger than 18 or older than 35 was discouraged.

Religious leaders issued fatwas (edicts) confirming a woman’s right to control her fertility. This paved the way for free contraceptive distribution through a nationwide network of 15,000 'health houses' and the first access to male and female sterilization in the Muslim world."

About Bangladesh:

"From the mid-1970s, Bangladesh adopted a community-based approach, recruiting married, literate village women trained in basic medicine and family planning to go door-to-door dispensing contraceptive pills and condoms and referring women for clinical contraception.

“ 'They acted as a bridge between the modern medical world and the village world,' says Cleland. 'Because they were literate, they were part of the elite, and as villagers, they had credibility among a suspicious and very religious population.'

"The approach was successful. Fertility rates in Bangladesh halved from about six children per women in the early 1970s to three children per women now."

Pregnancy is difficult and dangerous for most women worldwide. When given control over their fertility and some opportunity in life beyond childbearing, most women are glad to limit the number of children they have.

In the United States, at the very least we could limit the dependent tax deduction to just one child. Free contraception and free sterilization for those who wanted them would also be a good idea.

Great points.

Dare we add free and safe abortion on demand???

These are widely available in most other 'developed' countries, and their lack here is a large reason the US is not doing better on controlling its population.

By the way, McKibben has an excellent book about the advantages of limiting your family to one child, called "Maybe One." It also does a good job of undermining stereotypes about single kids.

Interesting, but it's too little, too late. We will soon have 7 to 8 billion humans heading straight into worldwide energy shortages.

If only it happened in the 70's.

We are limited only by our own ignorance. Why is there virtually no discussion of things like the MYT Engine?? Google it. It has been in development for years, and it is still ongoing, despite the resistance of the behemoth auto companies. This is precisely why we need to let capitalism run its course. Only when these companies are allowed to fail will real 21st century technologies be allowed into the mainstream. By propping up companies like GM, we only prop up a giant weight above our heads. It is patently absurd that a company like Tesla can have a market cap of $2 billion when it is a building a dead end design. We can easily get 60% efficiency out of an internal combustion engine, with power to weight ratios of well over 30:1. Which means we can build full size cars that weigh under 2000 lbs with drivetrains that cost under $5000. But in order to do that, these giant behemoths must fall.

Population was self regulating until the very recent past – coinciding closely with the widespread consumption of oil, which has been implicated in possibly unsustainable levels of consumption of most resources. Obviously, self-regulation no longer works.

In some societies, economic sufficiency depends on the ability to have a large family. Such was the case in the United States so long as it was an agricultural society. Indeed, before very recent times, urban shop owners needed large families to help work the family business. In other cases, there is no economic need for children in excess of one or two. So, it does no good – and possibly does harm – to declare zero growth and enforce small families.

In my opinion, small families should be advocated and incentivized; but that does not bring us close to our long-term goal of actually having a long-term society.

I think, as many have expressed over the last several months, we need to determine what set of incentives might stabilize energy consumption and consumption in general. In college physics and thermodynamics years ago, I was impressed with the concept of entropy – it always increased by man’s activity. If not in the primary system, then in another. We couldn’t live without increasing it. We could try to minimize it, but that was the limit of our effect.

For the last forty years, I have thought that it might be possible to quantify man’s impact in terms of an incremental entropy penalty for human activities. I do think this is possible, though the specific values assigned would be the subject of scientific debate and politics. But, why not try? I think that providing a guide to such incremental entropy figures – and using it to incentivize activities by suitable taxes using it as a base – could help achieve efficiencies based on free-market, economic incentives.

Obviously, because this is itself a political idea, other factors would of necessity be brought into any set of equations used. But, I think this type of reasoning could provide a basis for rational planning and resource allocation that might become self-regulating.

Population was self regulating until the very recent past – coinciding closely with the widespread consumption of oil, which has been implicated in possibly unsustainable levels of consumption of most resources.

One of the most haunting lines to me from David Price's Energy and Human Evolution--which has been linked many times from TOD comments--is "...humans, having evolved long after the resource base on which they now rely, are effectively an introduced species on their own planet."


The main cornerstone on which David Price lays his proposition is profoundly false: “But the exhaustion of fossil fuels, which supply three quarters of this energy, is not far off, and no other energy source is abundant and cheap enough to take their place.”

But there are sources of energy that are near limitless, the boundless power inherent in the very fabric of the universe that only awaits its time of utilization by confident and optimistic humanity.

There are men standing quietly in the wings who await the major die-off, the thinning of the herd, the mass extinction of the pessimists, the doomers, and those blind to any hope or faith in the potential of humanity. These men are the engineers, the scientists, the builders, and the dreamers … the eager youth that now enter our universities world wide, elated at the opportunities before them, the absolute best that humanity has to offer, who in their excitement and hope for a rebirth of abundant life will in their time tap these new forms of inexhaustible power to raise and inspire the accent of man to greater achievements, hope and happiness.

When I read this, I can see and hear the young people at the Hitler youth picnic in Cabaret, singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me.

I have been noticing that sort of bent in you.

How old were you when you first read Rand?

I have never heard of that sort of reactor. Do you have a link?

Oh, gawd. You didn't write that crap yourself, did you? Seriously, who did you plagiarize? Well good luck with that inexhaustible power, ausgang. And of course it's all men who will be harnessing this inexhaustible power.

I am a little surprised you didn't include the next sentence in your "cornerstone" quote from the piece (it always makes me cringe when I read it), "A collapse of the earth's human population cannot be more than a few years away.", which can far more easily be considered "profoundly false", since the paper was published 15 years ago. There is a hell of a lot more to the piece than those few lines.

"boundless power inherent in the very fabric of the universe that only awaits its time of utilization by confident and optimistic humanity."

Yep, gumption, confidence and smart men are all we need. Go piss up a rope with this nonsense.

"And of course it's all men who will be harnessing this inexhaustible power."

Well, of course. But we promise to protect our little wimmen—as long as they support us in our mighty causes. ;^)

Smart, assertive, educated, skeptical women intimidate me, though I kind of like it that way. Here's hoping for more of them: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/the_woman_problem.php

Patriarchy harms men too.

What is it with this place, all these phyaryngulites seem to be coming out of the woodwork recently... I'm happy to say!!



Nuff said.

Why is there virtually no discussion of things like the MYT Engine?? Google it.

Perhaps its not worth discussing? You didn't think enough of it to even include a link.

need to let capitalism run its course.

And move into Communisim? (as Marx was thinking) What should come after bad meat (ala Sinclair) or melemine in food (ala China)?

It is patently absurd that a company like Tesla can have a market cap of $2 billion when it is a building a dead end design.

It strikes me that the $2B is the result of capitalism. Why ya pitching 'let capitalism run its course' and when it seems things do exactly that you say the result is 'patently absurd'?

I look forward to your response.

1. Are there things we can do to get the population issue more into public discussion? Movies and TV. That is what the bulk of the populace pay attention to. Any real public discourse is doomed by the libertarians - who think they have the right to do anything, the fundamentalists - who think god wants them to have a bunch of little soldiers for him (or see the Quiverfull movement), and republicans - who depend on keeping those two groups frightened and pissed off to maintain power. A few years of overpopulation disaster/apocalypse movies might get enough people to (poorly) understand the threat enough that it could be discussed at least at the level Global Warming is today (which is to say, pathetically)

2. Are there other approaches to limiting population that might be more salable? War. People love war. TV loves war. Republicans love war, and quite a few democrats do to. Business loves war. There is absolutely nothing more salable than war, especially if you like false advertising (and we do!)

Having lots of kids is a biological imperative for a lot of people... we haven't had overpopulation pressure much in our evolution. A lot of women want 2 or 3 or 4+ kids, for no other reason than they want them. I think it would take some serious societal reconstruction to get past that.

Huxley was all about Malthus issues; I suggest reading Island some time for an interesting take parenting that could help. In it he had larger family groups that more or less shared children. Something like that could possibly help overcome the need for multiple children many have.

3. If Social Security is not sustainable, having fewer children will increase the likelihood that older adults will have no way of taking care of themselves. How does one deal with this issue?

We have a lot of people in the world to fill the role of expanding workforces. The problem is not available workers, it is a lack of work. The current situation demonstrates this amply. The reason the ratio of worker to retired has fallen so low is because companies replaced workers with technology; the reason there is any threat to social security is because the money saved from that has flowed upwards in the economic ladder and is not taxed for social security. It is a double whammy. The baby boomers alone are not enough of a population increase to stress the system.

The way to address it is not limit social security taxes by income, and include capital gains (investment income) in the mix.

A lot of jobs could be created by taking care of retirees.

I too have a PhD in geography, with several years of field work in food production in Latin America and western Canada. My PhD is a triple in economics, food production and history.

My agonies on the population issue have come down to something quite simple, in which there is essentially no role for policy.

World population will be cut in half within 40 years. The first phase of the drop will occur when the economic outlook for children is so grim that couples refuse to conceive. We all know people who feel this now.

The second drop will result within one or two decades of the first, and will reflect the deflationary economics caused by the first drop. Two generations of low replacement will "solve" the population explosion. .The economics of this decline will be devastating for such processes as fertilizer production, energy transmission and food storage.

Human groups at that point will be found in clusters around warm-water harbors and in the tropics. High tech as we know it will expire. This is grim; those now under 40 years of age will see it.

I live in Japan where the population is down by over 130,000 over three years and the pace of decline shows acceleration over time (that is the last three years).

So what have I learned?

Really it`s a non-issue. I suppose car makers want to sell more cars. Colleges wish there were more students. Etc. But on the whole noone really seems to care about this. People just can`t afford to start families early or have more than one or two kids, but since it is everyone, then noone feels like a failure. So you`re not getting married, buying a car or having kids and you`re already 32...so what else is new? That is the attitude here. There might be some people who do care but the whole society reflects the reality of expensive food, so I see noone really bothered. Rather people focus on other things.

What part of Japan are you living in?

1. I doubt it. A discussion requires multiple participants. To be really effective, it would be nice if they had a variety of viewpoints and a willingness to work toward a common goal (or even to agree that there might be a common goal). However, the "public" at large does not want to discuss this topic. Not in the developed world. Not in the developing world. Not on this planet. One can try to bring the subject up, but traction, absent widespread horrific circumstances, is probably a pipe dream.

2. No. The world is too diverse. I doubt there are any solutions or responses that would be acceptable to a critical mass of people in any country on earth. Moreover, all nations (with perhaps a couple of small exceptions) are entirely committed to the concept of a "more is better" growth/consumption existence. They have sold that bill of goods to anywhere from a few to a dozen or more generations of their citizens. Given that, it seems inconceivable that any elected politician anywhere could actually succeed pushing this subject. It seems further inconceivable that any unelected leader would have any incentive to do so (that is, without some formal quid pro quo, and then they might have little incentive to actually adhere to any agreement). Nope. Don't see it. (But, hope I'm wrong).

3. Social Security does not have to be sustainable. I can't think of a single person I know under 30, and precious few under 45, who actually think they will ever see a dime from Social Security. Frankly, given what previous generations (especially the Boomers) have done to future generations, I would be shocked, when these "youngsters" are in charge (as they inevitably will be), if they are willing to spend a penny on anybody a heartbeat older than they are. "You borrowed plenty from us already. It's not our fault you spent it on iPods, Hummers, plasma TVs, Botox, and McMansions in the boonies. Got nothing left for a rainy day? Too bad. Sucks to be you." If you're a Boomer or older, pray that at least one of your kids loves you more than they are pissed at you for screwing over their future... think Grandpa does babysitting (and maybe roto-tilling, and weeding, and some cooking, and home schooling, and whatever the f++k else will keep a roof over his head and food on his plate until his time is up). Or, think 4 generations living in the same house. Call it "localization" or "re-emergent family centric living" if it will make it go down easier. Payback's a bitch. With a long memory and a mean streak.


My, my. Well, personally... if I faced a situation and attitudes like that, I'd be sure to take a few youngsters with mean streaks with me.

Reversible vasectomy technology now!

Also I think the I=PAT equation is not scientifically rational. I'd say affluence should conflate with energy consumption, but "technology" is an energy multiplier for the most part, so more efficient engines are technology, and should be a divisor.

not true.

see Jevon's paradox.


Jevons doesn't apply if we become self-aware. Jevons is an excuse to remain stupid: it's been shown time and again that resource consumption no longer increases happiness past a certain point. Think about it, eating more when you are already full, just because food is cheap, won't make you happy, quite the opposite...

Think about it, eating more when you are already full, just because food is cheap, won't make you happy, quite the opposite...

Please tell that to my neighbor and his family. We've watched them for the last twenty years--reproducing, building, adding on, buying new cars, trucks, snowmobiles, ATVs, tractors, boats, bigger boats and trailers, new "camp" houses on the ocean, in the woods...

And it all has nothing to do with "eating more when you are already full." It's about a helluva lot more than food.

It's about sticking a feather down your throat to make yourself throw up to make room for more.

Thanks for pointing this out to me. I will think about this.

1. I'm not sure it's strictly necessary to "introduce the population issue" into public discussion - that is, the media. The countries of Eastern Europe are all declining, and the West is moving toward decline (Japan is famously in decline, and the only thing propping up the much of Europe is immigration). If this recession turns into a more severe depression, I think we won't have any issue with population growth in the West. Bringing up the topic has the danger of creating the very sad spectacle of rich people calling for poor people to stop having babies. To be honest, if things get bad the problem WILL solve itself, perhaps in a very messy way, but it will be solved.

2. Empowering women and making birth control more widely available are the obvious options. America is the outlier, with a rising population partly due to teenage births. Better sex education is at least part of the solution, but the real problem is a social one. Once again, I do expect that if things get bad enough the problem will fix itself.

3. Extended families can cushion some of the blow, but at some point some people will be left out (due to not having children). Means testing social security and raising the retirement age are the next steps (I expect the age will rise but the means test will not happen until there is no choice, it's much harder to get rid of welfare for the rich).

Those are my thoughts, it's pretty rough but I don't see either the apocalypse or much luck convincing people to do this for abstract reasons.

I for one, did the “right thing” and fathered no children. At 51 and with having a vasectomy in my early 30’s it is rather unlikely this will change.

So why do I feel so bad about this decision. There are so many good reasons not to have children. Logically it was the honorable self-sacrifice thing to do. But, still it feels all wrong.

I was told that sex would be no different and even better since you need not worry about unwanted pregnancy. For me at least, it was never the same, it was less than it was before.

I feel that I am a fairly aware person but I have not a clue how to quiet the voices of sadness inside of me much less someone else. The drive to reproduce would seem to be one of the most deeply seated drives within us.

I wonder if much of what I feel is at the subconscious level out of the control of the conscious mind. That would imply that I am not totally in control of who I am. I assume that I am not unique and thus everyone is influenced by thought processes that occur outside of their conscious mind.

This further points to the challenge of convincing the masses about the disaster of population overshoot and the critical need to address this. It means to get the message across we must communicate down to the subconscious levels of the mind.

No wonder this has been and is the most treacherous of problems.


I think you made the wrong decision when you decided not to have any children. My concern is not only with population quantity but also population quality. If the most educated people have few or no children, then their good genes--including health, intelligence, and (on the average) sanity tend not to be perpetuated. Therefore, in the interest of improving population quality I found a tall, robust, and highly intelligent woman who was not crazy nor addicted to anything and had four wonderful children with her. Now they are all grown, all college graduates, all intelligent, all employed, and none has ever been institutionalized on or welfare. Now my children provide me with grandchildren, an old man's delight, and I do a lot of child care and interaction with my grandchildren.

When I become old and feeble and unable to look after myself, my children, they will remember how generous I was with my time and my money when they were growing up. Already, two of my four children have promised to take me in when I get old and not charge any rent. One will also pay for my meals, if necessary. I have a good Teachers Retirement Association pension and good Social Security income for a comfortable standard of living with no debt and savings accumulating for further travel. If Social Security and TRA go down the tubes, I still have four living vigorous and economically viable children to look after me. I think I made the right decisions--for me. I feel no guilt whatsoever for having four children, for I have thereby increased the quality of the gene pool. Grandchildren offer a hope of a kind of genetic survival after my body dies and is given to U. of Minnesota Medical School for research.

"I feel no guilt whatsoever for having four children, for I have thereby increased the quality of the gene pool."

I'm sure your genes are very special, indeed.

Thank you. Except for identical twins, triplets, etc., each person has a unique genotype. Mine happens to be pretty good, both physically and mentally.

Hate to burst your bubble, Don, about how you passed on your smart genes (which I am not saying facetiously because from having read your posts you seem pretty sharp and that it is was a good thing you passed on your smarts to your children), however the reason why a lot of people don't have those smarts may not be inherently that they are stupid, but that they are poor. A study that came out a few years ago tied brain development with the socio-economic strata a child grows up in. So it was good that you had children that you were able to teach, but not necessarily that they were smarter than other kids because of your genes.

P.S it appears that 11% of those that read that thought it was pretty funny I'm sure a venn diagram of them would reveal that most if not all of that 11% ate their boogers also.


You are entirely correct that environment limits the development of genetic potential. In my strong opinion, only those who are rich enough and have oodles of time to devote to their children should have any children at all. I picked the profession of teaching largely because it gave me more time with my children than a more lucrative career would have. All my kids took vitamins, and they all ate lots of peanut butter and drank plenty of milk. All were well-socialized enough to to be motivated to complete college. And yes, they were all honor students, too.

Two of my children are now in secure jobs related to the medical profession. One has a good job as a financial analyst at an almost recession-proof job at an Indian gaming casino. One is a substitute teacher who has plenty of time for her two daughters (one of whom seems likely to develop into a bow hunter).

In my strong opinion, I think babies should be taken away from teenage mothers and given to older couples who would provide a good home for them. This idea would save huge sums of money that now go down the welfare drainpipe.

If things get bad enough that "Social Security and TRA go down the tubes", it is unlikely that your four children will remain economically viable.


Thanks, It was the wrong decision for me, that’s for sure. A lot of life’s complications also played into it.

I had a imaginary event where I saw a fairy like being that hovered about my shoulder and I had a knowingness that it was a child spirit that had long wanted to manifest as my daughter. She was saying goodbye because she knew it was not going to happen.

Likely just a daytime dream that expressed my subconscious desires and a good example of how powerful our subconscious can be.

I think you made the wrong decision when you decided not to have any children. My concern is not only with population quantity but also population quality.

This is an amusing exchange. And hubristic. You're both wrong.

The future is not yours to change. So do what you want.

The future is not yours to change. So do what you want.

The very act of living changes the future. Further more I think we do not only have the right but the responsibility to work toward positive change.

So do what you want.

Sort of like this, we have a spoiled brat 4 year old playing in a box of dynamite. I want to talk him into walking away from it. He is going to move away from it one way or another. I just think the walk option is better and that it is ok for me to influence his decision.

Maybe I do not understand your comment.

The very act of living changes the future.

That is correct. Now, try to change THAT.

You're an idealist. It's charming.

A charming idealist, I've been called worse.

Change happens we agree, I submit that we do however have some directional control.

For the most part I am a hard core doomer that occasionally has some hopeful moments.

"I feel that I am a fairly aware person but I have not a clue how to quiet the voices of sadness inside of me much less someone else. The drive to reproduce would seem to be one of the most deeply seated drives within us."

I understand that, but only from the reports of others.

About a decade older than you, I became aware of population, consumption and environmental issues as a teenager and have never experienced the slightest inclination to reproduce. Aside from the matter of social responsibility, I never wanted to bring children into the world we've created. I'm very glad that I did not.


It is not to late to change your bad choice.
1. Get the vasectomy reversed.
2. Go to eharmony.com and find a fertile woman you would like to marry and have one or two children with.
3. Just do what comes naturally, until you have two children.

I'm seventy years old, but my fifty-four year old woman friend, Ramona, is still ovulating. I'd love to marry her and have one or two more children. They would keep me young.

Please don't, Don. Your contribution is already more than sufficient.

Do you know the joy of having a baby late in life?


I can understand strong feeling about people having excessive numbers of children, however there might be a good argument for only a few people having big families.

However, it does appear that things are so bad that only a few people should have very few children.

I don't necessarily have strong feelings about it, but I certainly have strong opinions. I hope they are well-founded and I try to be open to correction.

I'm not at all certain that we can solve this problem. Indeed, if I were forced to bet, I'd bet against it. I am quite certain that failure to solve it will result in real horror, so I don't think we have anything to lose by trying.

As I've said, one of the first steps is being willing to tell unpopular and unwelcome truths. One of those truths, I believe, is that unrestrained reproduction is selfish, antisocial, and likely deadly for the species. That's especially true for the worlds top consumers. That means us.

I don't recognize any "right" to choose to have as many children as your heart desires.

For me I have very limited hope of solving this problem but I would like to be part of the solution if one can be found.

It seems like many parents don't do a very good job of raising children and only a few do a really good job. So is it so selfish for the really good parents to have larger families. I have more of a problem with people who have just one child but don't take the time to be and become a good parent.

I feel that having children should be thought of as more of a privilege than a right.


I don't think vasectomies can be reversed successfully after a couple of years because of atrophy of the sperm generating and delivery system.

Oh, darn!

I don't want to encourage ryeguy or anyone else to undo their vasectomies, but I'm pretty sure that's not that case, with one caveat that the reversal success rate may be different between the current scrotal outpatient operations and the old-timey two-incisions-in-the-lower-abdomen ones (which I suspect were inpatient procedures requiring a general anesthetic). In the case of the old-timey ones anyway, my uncle had one many many years ago, after the first child. He had it reversed a decade later and then came cousin number two. A few years later, cousin number three, the accident. Oops. Anyway, I don't know what the numbers are generally, but it's certainly not the case that they can't be reversed successfully after a couple of years.

ryeguy, please ignore Don Sailorman's three-step advice advice. If you really feel a strong urge to raise a child, please adopt one. There is no reason to create one with your own DNA other than selfishness.

I seem to be the type of person that "does best" learning things hard way. I chose option three. First childless marriage ended, she found a boy friend and I needed out anyway. My solution was to get married to a woman with three kids. There were many good reasons to get married but the kids...

Being a step-parent is a really tough option and generally speaking I would recommend against it. You have limited parental influence and I could write pages about the compromising social dynamics at work. I think I've done some good but the stress of the situation puts the overall result in question.

My wife and I are a good match and get along well and we have talked about adoption after her kids get out of the house. This last winter I had the chance to do some sports coaching mainly with children and I really enjoyed it.

I'm seventy years old, but my fifty-four year old woman friend, Ramona, is still ovulating. I'd love to marry her and have one or two more children. They would keep me young.

Please don't even think about it, neither the quality of your sperm and much less the quality of a 54 year old egg bodes well for the birth of a healthy normal baby. If you are serious about having children please consider adopting.

Fortunately my 55 year old girlfriend, who is still very attractive and sexy to me, I'm 57, is well past menopause... We both have our own biological children from our previous marriages, I have a son and she has two daughters.

Obviously you must have considered vasectomy reversal or adoption by now. Why not give it a shot?

I don't have children but from what I understand raising children is a great experience.

The only thing that I worry about is how today's children will do in a harsh, cruel world. I do think in theory it is possible to give children skills that will be useful.

I for one was raised and encouraged to study and keep my head in books. Somehow I think that if I had kids, I would try to raise them to be very good with their hands, and learn how to creatively use and reuse stuff.

The only thing that I worry about is how today's children will do in a harsh, cruel world.

This was one of my reasons for not having kids. Having kids to make the world a better place I think has value but I have known few parents that have done well with this. I think I could have but maybe I'm just being prideful.

I'm sorry to hear about that ryeguy it sound like a rough thing to do (and your right about the subconscious thing, it gnawed at me for awhile before I decided to have one with my then wife despite all the things inside of me saying otherwise). I guess though that you got spared the depression and trepidation I know I've had about my son that my (now ex) wife had in 2008. It just holds in your gut every time you read about some other horror we as a species will face in the future questioning 'Why the hell did I make the decision to put him through this? What sick animal would know about this stuff (at least some of it) and still bring a child into it?'. I'm just trying to say in a bizarre sort way that there are no good choices sometimes and that just because the one we make hurts it may not be because we made the wrong one. Hopefully there is some solace in that because right now I'm going through the reverse of what you have been thinking and question if it was the right thing to do, but it sounds like neither of us can go back and change it and its something to wonder about if you really would change it if you could.


I hope you get to spend some time with your son. If the boat is going down and this is the last dance we might as well make it a good one.

Almost seems that the urge to procreate is way down in our reptilian mind. Some people seem to be able to suppress/not accept this deep level programing. I think it effects all of us. For some they have a happy family/child experience and at fulfilled. In others they don't and this causes either sadness or fear. Both are easy to see. Sadness is you and I. Fear becomes anger and that can be seen in clearly in many of the post in this discussion.

Writing this out is good because it helps me to better understand my feelings. I think the best thing to do is to acknowledge and accept these feelings.

I find it surprising that in a discussion of population on, of all places, The Oil Drum, there is so little talk about the role of oil in population growth. The human population was fairly stable at less than one billion right up to the time we found petroleum. If you look at the graph of world population, it was pretty much a flat line until that time, and then took almost a right angle turn upwards.

All the factors that allowed this sudden growth were fueled almost entirely by petroleum: Food production, including mechanical cultivation, fertilization, and harvest, and food distribution, trucking, shipping, air, rail, all are made possible only by petroleum. In the older inhabited parts of the world, every city that predates the petroleum era has a small central core, which remained of similar size over the centuries. That core is surrounded and dwarfed by a cancerous growth of larger buildings and infrastructure, the construction of which was likewise made possible only by petroleum. The production and distribution of the vast majority of all manufactured goods that keep our population going are, likewise, made possible only by petroleum.

It would seem to follow, then, that petroleum is the culprit. If you have a number of, say, rabbits in a big pen, they can only increase their numbers in proportion to the growth of the grass on which they feed. But if you find a truckload of rabbit food and start dumping it gradually into the pen, then their numbers will inevitably increase just as dramatically as ours have.

Petroleum is, unless you believe the abiogenic theories, the stored surplus of photosynthetic energy from hundreds of millions of years of life on earth. A few generations ago, we found it and have been mining it. I would be preaching to the choir on this forum if I were to point out how long this is likely to be able to go on.

But is it true that petroleum is, in fact, the cause of population growth? I had a discussion with an oil industry exec who believed and argued credibly that the human population began its logarithmic growth phase some decades before the oil era began, and was destined to grow even if oil didn't exist. This doesn't seem likely to me. But I think the topic is the one which should be discussed and debated above all others in this thread.

Well it's not mentioned because it's assumed.

So the question is how we manage the decline which must happen. Birth control and one-child policies, or the Four Horsemen.


The key factor in allowing population growth is food supply, which is much more important than oil and only requires a small amount of it. A family can grow enough rice, wheat, millet, potatoes, etc., to feed itself, plus a small surplus, using only hand tools and possibly some animal power. The amount grown per acre depends on the skill of the farmer, availability of fertilizer, availability of herbicides and pesticides, and the quality of seeds. Fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides most often come from oil, but these inputs are fairly small.

The populations stretching from the Indus valley through southeast Asia and up to Manchuria have been in rough balance with the productivity of manual agriculture for centuries. The increase in these regions has been due mainly to the introduction of fertilizers and better seeds. It is not clear whether agricultural outputs can increase in those areas to keep up with their now reduced fertility, or whether the traditional episodes of famine and disease will resume.

Note that most of the increase in China's population occured prior to their increase in oil consumption. Their current increase in oil consumption is used to increase the urban standard of living more than it is used to increase agricultural output.

"The key factor in allowing population growth is food supply..."

Well, don't forget death rates.

The crude death rate is about 8.4 / 1000 population per year. Or, for a global population of 7 billion, about 160,000 deaths per day.

The crude birth rate is about 20.3 / 1000 popultation per year. Or about 390,000 per day.

The net increase is about 230,000 added per day. Which is what the death rate would need to be increased to achieve zero population growth.

I had thought that there was not much debate about what the population would be in three or four decades. If you know, by country, how many men and women are in each 5 year age cohort, and you know what the fertility rates of women in each cohort are, and you can predict from past trends how fertility rates are likely to change, then it is a fairly straightforward computation to predict how population grows with time. These factors do not change very rapidly on a global scale.

Wars and localized starvation do not have much impact on the global numbers. Even genocides carried out using the economically efficient machete and spear, as in Central Africa, do not affect the global numbers significantly.

Of course, we could have monsoon failures in India, or global cooling due to nuclear war or a large volcano that might cause widespread famines. Or we might have a disease epidemic with both high communicability and high mortality, say the communicability of swine flu and the lethality of AIDS. But except for a large, unpredictable catastrophe, population for the next half century is pretty well determined by today's numbers and trends.

Nice post, but before the last four days when you started posting here, the relationship of oil to population has been discussed well, almost constantly - although perhaps best explained by the article above.

Techinically we should add the coal age to date the actual starting date of the modern population boom, so that it is clear that the concept that energy, especially energy from oil, is responsible for facilitating population growth.

Coal is certainly a bigger factor than is oil. The shift from charcoal to coal enabled the cheap production of iron and then steel. It also provided the steam for railroads and ships. Railroads opened up huge agricultural provinces like the US midwest, the Ukraine, etc., and steamships, including refrigerated ones, allowed the import of foodstuffs to Europe allowing European populations to grow larger than before. So coal has a lot to do with the growth of populations in North and South America and Europe.

I still think that the case is a lot less clear for Asia and Africa, except for Japan.

Statistics over the last century clearly demonstrate that reproduction does not increase with more resources. Something close to the opposite of that appears to be true. Large family sizes (high fertility) are characteristic of low-resource (poor) and rural populations. As development unfolds and general SES improves, as well as with urbanization, fertility (reproduction) declines. Of course, it takes a LONG time for fertility changes to change population numbers. Demographics is a science of centuries and

Rapid population increase in the 19th and 20th centuries was in a sense the result of "increased resources", but that phrase conceals as much as it reveals. Rapid population increase was the result of declining death rates without the accompaniment of declining birth rates. Both of those declines occur with general development, but the first occurs first (leading to population increase), and the second lags behind. It took a while (and is STILL taking a while!) for the second to get up enough of a head of steam to get ahead of the population curve. The"increased resources" are the cause of BOTH declining death rates and declining fertility rates, with the latter gaining ascendancy only over time, later in the process. Hence it look for a while like increased resources are causing a disastrous,uncontrollable population explosion, when in reality what is happening is a death-rate-decline "explosion", followed over decades (or half-centuries) by a fertility-decline "explosion", of
which (thankfully) we're now in the midst.

When you look at a chart of the total population spiking up wildly, it gives the impression of an out-of-control situation that can only end in catastrophe. It is clear however that that is not the case, as attractive as the idea may be to neo-Malthusians. It does not have to end in catastrophe if the development process and associated demographic transition (the usual phrase for what I describe) has a chance to play out. Of course, it might not have a chance to play out, for several reasons, and the result may well
be (probably will be) catastrophe -- but not for the reasons that Malthus expounded. Malthus had no clue at all about the demographic transition, which runs counter to what he said.

The key phrase for googling is "demographic transition".
You could start here:

As far as consumption goes;

A dramatic depiction of the issue:

The richest 10% account for 60% of all private consumption

The richest 20% account for 77% of all private consumption

The richest 30% account for 85% of all private consumption.
And the remaining 70% -- ALL the people on the planet who are
either poor or of modest means -- consume only 15%. And we're
telling them that the problem is that they are having too many
kids, which is causing resource and environmental problems?!

I believe that this re-defines the word "GALL".

arraya: "Of course, it might not have a chance to play out, for several reasons, and the result may well be (probably will be) catastrophe -- but not for the reasons that Malthus expounded."

Well, probably not purely for the reasons he expounded. Which is not to say that famine and pestilence won't likely be key elements of the looming catastrophe.

But, you're right; Malthus had no notion of demographic transition.

Will declining world TFR catch up with the death rate reduction before the energy and resource crunch, and the associated unpleasantness, knock both rates ass-over-tea-kettle? I think it is unlikely. Could we speed up the reduction in TFR and improve the odds? Maybe not. Probably not. But...

What do we have to lose?

As for your observations about consumption and gall, yep. Americans go first.

The looming catastrophe is mostly economic at this point. We just don't have enough energy to continue infinite growth i.e industrial capitalism. Obviously we have massive impending real physical problems that will have stresses taken off as we enter this depression. We still have plenty for everybody to survive if we so wished. So it's really only a structural and allocation problem at this point. We waste immense amounts of resources on a daily basis. Of course, creating a race to use resources up as fast as possible for profit while inherently lying to ourselves about the possibility of continuing this social organization probably is not a good idea, as well as "officialdom insisting we must continue this race and other segments of the population trying to emulate this behavior. The best we can hope for is a fast and clean economic collapse in which we don't lose our minds afterwards. Regardless, IMO, the biggest problem is how we interface with the planet and that needs to dramatically change before we worry about anything else because without that, even if 50% of the population died off we still would not have learned a lesson.

Interesting Java based population calculator

Replacement rate(2.1 children per woman)keep population stable.
One child families reduce the population quickly all things being equal; population would be cut in half in 8 decades for OECD type populations.
Population control by increasing death rates, intentionally killing actual rather than potential people,seems less ethical IMO.

We must move away from our child-centered culture.

"We must move away from our child-centered culture."

Yes, and I think it's possible. It may not be likely, but it is worth attempting. At least, it is if it seems worthwhile to preserve human culture.

The first step is just being willing to tell unpopular truths.

What do we have to lose?

Thanks for the link. It looks like a place I could have hours of fun (or waste hours of time, depending on who you ask.)

Even successful and universal one child policies will not bring about immediate decline in population, because of the age distribution.

The only policy goal that could achieve that would be one child AND delay in birth age, ideally to over thirty. This decreases "generational density."

If kids have kids at fifteen, you can have three generations on the planet in thirty years, five in sixty years.

If you postpone the first kid till you're thirty, you only have two generations in thirty years and three in sixty.

Of course, reaching these goals is the hard thing. Fortunately, global trends are heading in this direction. Unfortunately, they are not doing so very quickly.

Nice to hear from Gary Peters, and it's very appropriate to have his work here on TOD. For those who may not be familiar, if he sounds like he wrote the book on the subject, he did. His Population Geography, with Robert Larkin, is now in its 8th edition I think.

This is a link to Population Geography on Amazon by Gary Peters and Robert Larkin.

We are privileged to get quite a few guest posts written by people with really outstanding backgrounds, like Dr. Peters. Some contact us directly, like Dr. Peters. Others post comments which seem quite knowledgeable on threads, and we contact them about writing a longer post for The Oil Drum.

"Peering into the Dawn of an Urban Millennium"

In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.

However, a disproportionate amount of growth of uban areas occurs because of the higher fertility rates in the rural areas. In the rural areas, children are often wanted in order to help with agricultural or handicraft work. In the city, there is little economic incentive to have additional children.

Note that the growth of cities in developing countries will be minimal. Most of the projected increase from 3.3 to 5 billion is in developing countries, mainly Asia and Africa.

Technology can play a role. Somewhat over 1 billion cell phones are being manufactured annually. Within a few years these will be the equivalent of smartphones with the ability to provide information, including information about fertility and family planning, to every woman on earth.

However, as noted by other commenters, a vital step in reducing fertility will be to raise the education and status of women. This may also be somewhat easier to do in an urban setting.

"However, as noted by other commenters, a vital step in reducing fertility will be to raise the education and status of women. This may also be somewhat easier to do in an urban setting."

We probably also need to improve economic security for those who are, otherwise, more likely to contribute to higher fertility rates. Since we don't have the option of accomplishing this by means of endless growth, I advocate confiscatory tax policies along with wealth and income redistribution. No doubt, the wealthy and powerful will resist.

As for cities, concentrating populations there, and making them livable and attractive, is essential. Seven, eight or nine billion humans are even more catastrophic for the biosphere if they are widely scattered.

"If you're not an urbanist, you're not an environmentalist."

Somewhat over 1 billion cell phones are being manufactured annually.

The fact that this is seen as a solution rather than an example of the problem may be evidence of humanity's warped thinking on this question, but hopefully we'll learn to use our technology well, as a tool of learning and discussion. What concerns me most is that we've already depleted so many resources so extensively - the A part of I = PAT. I'm confident in our ability to manage the T, but the A is what we seem to have the most trouble with...

Also, the problem with information technology as a tool for making us better world citizens through self-awareness is that the signal to noise ratio is so low. Makes it just as easy to spread misinformation/non-information as actual knowledge. May we have the wisdom to choose the latter.


While no one paid attention, world food production curve traced out an S curve, meaning we are against some natural limits, like genetic improvements, sunlight and chemical resistant pests and weeds. The Green Revolution yield increase was a constant rate (kg/hectare) while population was exponential. It will only take a few more years to for population to overcome the food supply. That is why world food stocks have trended lower and are near record lows. Low inventories were not due to planning.

War is the ultimate and eventually unavoidable solution.

"War is the ultimate and eventually unavoidable solution."

Not if (when?) nature takes us by surprise. `

Do not get me wrong, I am quite certain that wars will continue to exist. But warring parties will soon have a serious resource problem. Which will limit our capacity for mayhem. Nonetheless, we should not exclude machete-style genocide, which has been found to be very effective in Ruanda, among other places.

How about a super volcanic eruption or some new multiple antibiotic resistant plague.

I'll take the supervolcano I always wanted to go in blaze of glory and that sounds a lot better than a shootout with cops :->

Warring parties will certainly encounter serious resource problems, which will lead them to go to war over resources. Tired of fighting for stale concepts such as God, gold, and country? Well how about fighting over water, topsoil, and fishing rights?

Doomers, and the clinically depressed come one come all to the Oil Drum! I haven’t laughed so long and well in a very long time. Thanks!

Interesting because we thought you were the joke.

When the population was around 1 billion humans on the planet nearly everyone lived in poverty (see Sachs, "The End of Poverty").

As population reached 5 billion, people who lived under capitalist democracy rule lived affluent lives (even the "poor" having longer life spans).

As population has reached nearly 7 billion the pace of development has increased with even more people living longer, more comfortable, lives.

And as development spreads, birth rates decline. They are below replacement level in most of Europe and the US (with population growth coming only due to immigration).

As the US swims in a glut of capacity in houses, manufacturing, and food (look at the price for dairy and grain products, near historical lows) consider this- with humans, you can build enough solar to support 10 billion people (DLR). Without humans, you just have piles of sand and trace materials and sun. There is no reason we shouldn't be pushing development to the rest of the world so they can live as well as we do, other than political gamesmanship to build constituencies and control.

One last fact- more than 99% of earth species that have gone extinct did so before man came on the scene. As if you couldn't figure it out based in volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, viruses, freezes, floods, heat waves, droughts, and earthquakes- Mother Nature is not our friend.

I'm no environmentalist but this is pie-in-the-sky type stuff.

The key insight to understanding the phenomenon of both rising populations and rising affluence is the huge energy surplus afforded by fossil fuels. First, fossil fuels gave us so much energy that we could effectively feed everybody (so no more starvation and thereby rising population), and second, we still had so much surplus energy after doing this that we could reduce poverty (large scale industrialization, all the stuff you mention).

So it follows, as night follows day, that the decline will reverse this, in order. First, we will fall back into poverty (as is happening now to the middle classes in the developed world). Second, we will starve.

Could be awhile till that, though.

So in essence, you're asking us to consider what exactly will power agricultural machinery once we have no oil ? It's a good question.

I'm guessing one of those giant combines in Kansas will need more than a couple of 12v batteries to get it round the fields, so it's going to be either a great many batteries, sails, a teeny-weeny nuclear reactor, steam, coal, electro-magnetism, kinetic energy (think hamster/human wheels), traditional horse or bovine power, or something else. Which shall we start on first ?

**I acknowledge I may have missed a realistic power source....**

The previous method was to use teams of horses and hay racks to move bundles of wheat to threshing machines that were powered by steam engines. The reapers were also horse drawn, and they had a heavy iron wheel with cleats that provided shaft power to the crank and pitman that drove the sickle blade back and forth, carried the cut wheat to the bundling mechanism and drove the needle that tied the bundles with twine.

Of course it was, in a normal sized UK field, but that system simply will not work on the vast 1500 acre plus wheat fields of the mid-west US. Well, not without AC, stereo, GPS, autopilot and computer software, anyway !

It was a standard arrangement in the US between 1850 and 1950. Self-propelled combines were phased in after WW II in most places. In the dryer areas of the west, horse-drawn combines were used instead of bundling, shocking, and threshing grain.

Actually, it is unlikely that we will go back to horses and mules for traction. The same acreage needed to support them is more likely to be used to produce biomass fuels.

This isn't pie in the sky at all. CPV solar has shown to be 42% efficient (over 3X what Jimmy Carter wanted to install), and electricity can be used to generate hydrogen from water or ethanol from biomass to power combines. I still believe nuclear will be the ultimate answer, 2X the energy density of coal. Either way, I still haven't seen any credible data to explain how solar or nuclear (wind takes up too much space and is too uncorrelated with peak demand) can't meet future demand for energy.

If you want to worry about something real, worry about the hundreds of thousands dying each year due to lack of development. Those are real people dying, not some figment of imagination.

"One last fact- more than 99% of earth species that have gone extinct did so before man came on the scene"


The vast majority of humans that have ever died did so before I was born, so presumably, by your logic, that somehow makes it just fine for me to kill you??

Do take even a brief moment to think before posting this kind of drivel???

If we truly believe what Gary is saying (and I know I do) then we should actively get involved then in trying to fight it rather than just sit here on our computers doing internet style 'woe is the planet' diatribes. And one way is really very simple, with our money that otherwise would go to mindless consumer products here are a few ideas:
1) We should really consider funding (like seed money for) male birth control not like the old pill form for women, but something like this. It really could be revolutionary considering children are, sadly, in too many cases a byproduct of a guy who just want to 'get a piece' or a woman who just wanted a baby so badly that she just 'forgot' to take her pill.

2) If we seek to really do some good we all should consider donating to organizations that work on issues that will affect this. A few are the Grammeen Bank that helps to empower women in the third world or another organization closer to home, Planned Parenthood really a few buck here and there would go a long way and I'm sure both of these organizations are hurting right now (and I believe Planned Parenthood has been fighting the knuckle dragging policy of 'lets just not tell kids about how to prevent pregnancy while having sex because they will all do the right thing and just not have sex' that has been funded with our tax dollars for the last decade).

Just in the nick of time:


this could be a game changer..

Yeah, it sure could.

Of course, it would be best if it could be administered via aerial spraying. At football games. ;^)

1. Are we even having the discussion, though? Or the right discussion? Take China, or Iran, for example.

Why do a couple need to have even one child?

Just as we need to change how we view death, we also need to rethink reproduction. As a species, we still assign quasi-mystical qualities to both that are ultimately a byproduct of emotional response to social conditioning. I'd propose that the subject is far more taboo than we're comfortable admitting.

Reproduction = consumption.

Is there a biological imperative to reproduce? Does it supersede the biological imperative to survive?

We've partly discussed how the human species differs from other animals in terms of it's relationship to nature; Bambi doesn't need to have a living will, just to avoid being dinner. But the notion of "thinning the herd" is actually just another way to avoid the subject. Ethically, one can only determine the outcome of one's own behavior. From a practical standpoint, the idea of reducing the population by force (i.e. war) overlooks the tendency of those being "thinned" to fight back.

Population is fundamentally a resource/sustainability issue. Those arguing the necessity of reproducing to replace the segment of the population dodge the issue because overpopulation continues to be an issue even where birth rates have dropped off drastically. It is not an issue that one may simply "opt out" of.

I'm very much in favor of:

Making family planning available as broadly as possible.
Making it as simple to adopt as can be managed (and putting to rest any prohibition on gay couples adopting).
Making euthanasia safe and legal.
Promoting gender equality and providing educational and economic opportunity for women.

None of which, individually or collectively, are sufficient to address the problem and doubtless will be expensive.

2. I don't think it can fairly be claimed that we've really addressed the subject except in the case of a small minority to begin with, just as we haven't really begun to address the issue of resource depletion or climate change. After a sense, it's a bit like developing the ability to be comfortable with being wrong, or being able to accept criticism without internalizing it. It seems counter-intuitive and takes us out of our comfort zone.

But the ability to embrace and incorporate this kind of thinking is also as much a part of our nature as the ability to reshape our environment to adapt to our needs.

3. I've always thought of this as an argument in favor of immigration reform. There are limits to what's sustainable within our own geography as well, but in terms of merely accommodating a declining birth rate? Its not that big a deal or undoable by any stretch -- more over, the evidence is that this will occur whether we approve of it or not.

The future is beige, and likely more austere than we might have expected, but even accepting this, also promises to be more difficult than we've come to expect. It wasn't that long ago that using a diesel generator to create electricity and using wood for heat and cooking was considered environmentally friendly.

Imagine what it's going to look like after the population jumps from 7 to 9 billion before leveling off. I don't think it necessarily has to be a species ending event, but it does have that potential, and to address it, we need to embrace decreased consumption as fundamentally embodying our best interests.

For the record, if anyone is wondering, I'm male, 42, heterosexual, have no children and an average sex life, and yes, thus far this is by choice. The only times when I've ever acknowledged where this might change is in recognizing that, being half a couple, it isn't exclusively my choice. ;)

Where do you get the idea that the population will peak at 9 billion? UN Population projections? The CBO issues projections too, but that doesn't make them true. For all we know population could peak at 12 billion, or enter decline at 8 billion due to some sort of collapse.

The future already looks bad, take a look at those same population projections.

UN, correct. Nor do I necessarily accept the projection as gospel, just that it seems like a reasonable ballpark estimate absent a collapse.

Both population and consumption are parts of the problem--neither can be ignored and both are exacerbating the human impact on Earth.

Thanks for putting this sentence in there. It's something that needs to be repeated like a mantra. My only advice is that you could have put it further up in the article so that no one has to read down too far before they get to it. ;-)

Well, not exactly. Population itself is a greater problem because first you have to have human beings, and only then can you have consumption. You can't have consumption without people.

Moreover, as the demise of communism demonstrates, you can't regulate consumption. It just can't be done. If we can consume, we will.

Population, however, can be regulated. It all depends on if we are intelligent about it - every indication currently in the U.S. (unchecked immigration and religious nutcase "the Bible tells me to populate the earth" nonsense) is that we aren't.

So in the end we can count on war, disease, and starvation to take care of the problem for us.

Consumption is regulated all the time, it's called being poor -- The US has plenty of people on rations

As far as consumption goes;

A dramatic depiction of the issue:

The richest 10% account for 60% of all private consumption

The richest 20% account for 77% of all private consumption

The richest 30% account for 85% of all private consumption.
And the remaining 70% -- ALL the people on the planet who are
either poor or of modest means -- consume only 15%. And we're
telling them that the problem is that they are having too many
kids, which is causing resource and environmental problems?!

I believe that this re-defines the word "GALL".

A couple of points:
1) The biggest problem is in the U.S., as we encourage immigration and thereby converting third world peasants into middle class consumers. Of course areas with high population growth rates like Africa and the M.E. also have problems, but yes I can agree maybe it's not as bad because people are poor.

2) As a sort of corollary to number 1: population growth in the developed world continues to slow their progress, encouraging immigration of those with means into the developed world.

Also: I don't want to get too much into it, but there's pretty good reason to believe that when Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages, for a variety of reasons it never developed the population problem that was seen in the earlier great river civilizations that developed along the Nile, Tigris/Euphrates, Indus/Ganges, and Yellow/Yangtze. As a result, each individual survivor in Europe was considerably wealthier. And when population problems began to emerge, Europe exported the problem to the Americas and killed off alot of people in two massive wars.


I just don't see how anybody is better off with billions of other people competing for the same stuff.

The Bubonic Plague in Europe, in the Middle ages, freed serfs and gave power to the working class through labour shortages. The elite have never forgotten this, and the workers forgot as quickly as their genetics had designed them to do so..

Ergo, a solution to poverty: Starvation

If the richest 20% quit the sustenance handouts to the poorest 80%, certainly the population will trend to the diminutive.

"Moreover, as the demise of communism demonstrates, you can't regulate consumption. It just can't be done. If we can consume, we will."

The "demise of communism" (actually, the demise of authoritarian state capitalism) demonstrates nothing of the sort.

Consumption can be regulated in more ways than I can count. We employ many of them routinely and many more have been used in other times and circumstances.

Much of our consumption is fueled by a system which is based upon and requires endless growth in consumption for its survival. That system is global industrial capitalism, and it is entirely incompatible with survival and sustainability.

The "authoritarian state capitalism" is the only communism there will ever be.

No, the capitalist system doesn't require endless growth, and that system is entirely compatible with survival and sustainability. Actually, it is the ONLY system known to man that is!

"No, the capitalist system doesn't require endless growth, and that system is entirely compatible with survival and sustainability. Actually, it is the ONLY system known to man that is!"

Could you please expand upon this statement, as I currently believe it to be untrue.
Of course, I could be labouring under a misapprehension.

Since I don't know where our respective thoughts diverge, I'm not sure where to begin. But some of the basics is that ownership rights are at the core of every structured successful society, and that any lack of ownership rights leads to tragedies of the commons, such as overfishing. Economic freedom is necessary to promote efficiency, and efficiency is needed to be able to sustain billions of people. Ownership rights and economic freedom results in capitalist organization of the economy.

Also, we can witness all over the world that economic progress reduce population growth, and we have no system that seems to be able to hold a candle to capitalism when it comes to economic progress. If there are better systems, they certainly cannot compete "bottom up", as no such system has outcompeted capitalism. (Anyone is free to setup production in any way they see fit, as long as those involved agrees.)

And what is your definition of "economic progress"?

Increasing GDP per capita.

And why is this abstract number of value to anyone but economists? Moving more money around might warm the hearts of economists and governments who get to tax each exchange, but it has no very clear relation to the well-being of the populace.

On the contrary, the populace's well-being is mostly explained by gdp per capita. This also shows up in subjective happiness indices:

Hmm, I think our thoughts are so divergent that I'm not going to get anywhere in a post or two.

"ownership rights are at the core of every structured successful society"

Well, I think we need to define "successful" first, but I'm willing to play along.

"any lack of ownership rights leads to tragedies of the commons"

Ok, if the population begins to outstrip the carrying capacity of the resource, yes.

"Economic freedom is necessary to promote efficiency, and efficiency is needed to be able to sustain billions of people."

Ok, I'll go along with that, but one could also argue that without efficiency, there would not be all those billions of people in the first place. The efficiencies are the cause of the problem, not the solution, no?

"Ownership rights and economic freedom results in capitalist organization of the economy."

I think we've skipped a good few steps here and made some assumptions, but basically yes, that is one outcome.

"Also, we can witness all over the world that economic progress reduce population growth"

Here we disagree. I'd say (and I'm no expert) that education is the important factor here, and that this just happens to coincide with economic progress. There is a link between the two, but that's probably another discussion altogether. Furthermore, it's economic progress which led to the enormous population growth in the first place as I postulated above. Does the fact that continued economic progress (or education or whatever else) subsequently leads to a reduction in this growth (not a reduction in population) make it all ok?

"we have no system that seems to be able to hold a candle to capitalism when it comes to economic progress."

True, true...

But none of that explains your original statement(s), namely

"No, the capitalist system doesn't require endless growth"

Let's imagine the following conversation to illustrate why this is untrue.

Businessman- "Hey Mr. Capitalist, I'd like you to invest in my new business so I can get it up and running." (The basis of capitalism, no?)

Capitalist- "Sure thing Mr. Businessman, what do I get in return for risking my money?"

Businessman- "Absolutely nothing (over and above the rate of inflation)."

Capitalist- "No deal!"

Capitalism relies on a percentage return on investment, otherwise nobody would bother. Any constant rate of percentage growth when repeated continuously leads inevitably to infinite growth.

"that system is entirely compatible with survival and sustainability."

Really? How? It has been sustained for the last two hundred years, but do the maths, just how much longer can this system continue? "sustainable growth" is surely an oxymoron.

"Actually, it is the ONLY system known to man that is!"

Au contraire, I put it to you that the hunter-gatherer system is the only one so far shown to be compatible with survival and sustainability. It's just not to your taste.

"The efficiencies are the cause of the problem, not the solution, no?"

Fertilizers and antibiotics were faster at reducing death rates than the modern society was in reducing birth rates, yes. But without the continually improving efficiency provided by the market, we'd have had ecological and resource based collapse a long time ago. But I'm into avoiding collapse altogether, and I think the system can do this.

"I'd say (and I'm no expert) that education is the important factor here, and that this just happens to coincide with economic progress."

They don't coincide - they are locked in a positive feedback loop. But my take on this is that urbanization is the shit, not education. It's about moving into the city, living apart from your extended family and getting all the economic and cultural impulses of a somewhat cramped urban life. I've seen figures to this effect too, but can't seem to find them now.

"Does the fact that continued economic progress (or education or whatever else) subsequently leads to a reduction in this growth (not a reduction in population) make it all ok?"

I'm not sure I understand the question. Economic progress, all else equal, is good. So why wouldn't it be ok? And why would it lead to a reduction in growth?

"Capitalism relies on a percentage return on investment, otherwise nobody would bother. Any constant rate of percentage growth when repeated continuously leads inevitably to infinite growth."

I think you confuse aggregate growth with returns on particular investment. There is no real connection there. You see, if a restaurant gets old and the owners a bit tired, or if new food trends emerge, some capitalist may use money to setup a shiny new restaurant, out-competing an old one and yielding a return. Some other capitalist will lose out a bit, but he may have been making a 10% profit for 20 years, so he is good. Even without growth, this can happen on all levels of the economy, with a constantly shifting and changing production, coordinated by capitalist forces operating on the market. There simply is no problem here.

"Really? How? It has been sustained for the last two hundred years, but do the maths, just how much longer can this system continue?"

Capitalism is how we organize. We can organize like that as long as there is humans to organize.

"Au contraire, I put it to you that the hunter-gatherer system is the only one so far shown to be compatible with survival and sustainability. It's just not to your taste."

It is self-evident that if we are just another omnivore animal without any of the fancy stuff, we survive or get extinct as any other animal species would. You are right in that it isn't to my taste.

I put it to you that capitalism/democracy has not yet been shown to be incompatible with survival and sustainability. We have quite a good shot at getting past the current challenges and move into an age of no worries. And we'll likely get there without really knowing how we did it, which is how it typically is when action is coordinated in the market place.


War, disease, and starvation. Yes. No science is needed for those things to occur. We need only Mother Earth with her gentle, slaughtering embrace. :) We don't need the likes of Napoleon, Hitler, Mao, Che, Pot, or others to eliminate millions. Mother Earth will do it in her own sweet time, if we let her.
George Carlin (RIP) spoke of this: "Saving the Planet"

'Population Growth Must Stop'

You're asking the most arrogant, aggressive, demanding, voracious specie ever to have evolved on this planet to ease back on population growth? But everything in excess is what humankind loves about pillaging its resources, and the idea of easing back on something, anything, is anathema to that experience, even if it allowed said specie to continue to pillage a little while longer.

There is no planning or idea of an overall plan to the degree of expansiveness that occurs. The slogan for humankind was aptly defined in a James Bond Movie:

The Earth is Not Enough! Yelled out the windows of a Hummer going full speed with gurgling after market mufflers while holding a 2500 calorie mega burger with bacon, fries and a milkshake, towing a 60 foot cabin cruiser for the fishing of whatever hits the hooks later that day. It's a day to guzzle fuel, to pound down hard earned calories, and procreate as many as possible until the Sun goes down.

"But everything in excess is what humankind loves about pillaging its resources, and the idea of easing back on something, anything, is anathema to that experience, even if it allowed said specie to continue to pillage a little while longer."

Nah. That's a description of learned attitudes and behavior, not a description of "human nature."

May we become self-aware enough to stop killing ourselves before the Earth simply up and does it for us...or before we are forced to enact eugenics upon ourselves (let's not kid ourselves into thinking that we're about to do this in a way that resembles "equitable").

Our greatest strengths as a species are our adapatability and intellect, therefore capability of self-awareness. Unfortunately very many people seem to prefer delusion, whether through traditional religions or the religion of "free" markets.

It may be too late do anything about population at this point. We've overshot a great many resources, and our capacity for simply switching from relying on one to relying on another is not infinite.

Energy is an issue, but less so much than food and urbanization/land use. Checkerboard America will not be thrilled to keep giving us corn once we exhaust both our fossil fuels and its own natural fertility.

Jim Kunstler says something like, "American agriculture is a system in which we pour oil on the ground and Cheetos pop up."

Population, energy, food—all part of a single problem. As Peters says, however, it's hard to imagine solving the problem without addressing the population part. Resources are finite, entropy is unavoidable.

No, we probably won't find an equitable way to "distribute" procreation opportunity. I don't find that as objectionable as, for instance, the inequitable ways we distribute food, healthcare, shelter and security today. And it would be silly to expect the Horsemen to distribute their favors equitably.

Love the quote!

Agreed that there are many highly inequitable aspects of our economic system today. A friend of mine with different political views from mine called me a "socialist technocrat," which I took as a compliment. I believe in a degree of re-engineering to address the 'A' part of I = PAT, perhaps through graded progressive consumption taxes. In other words, you take more, you pay more.

Of course, it is these same inequities of distribution today that make me fear for the population control "solutions" we might implement in the future if we do not get cracking on this issue today and nature forces our hand.

I also agree that ultimately food and energy are two sides of the same resource/consumption coin. What worries more about agriculture than energy is that energy is not as difficult a problem for a socialist technocrat like myself: a little efficiency here, a few renewables there, connect everyone with electric transport and you're golden. Addressing sustainable food production is very crop- and site-specific, so it is harder to find a one-size fits all solution. Fortunately, that also means our food system is a bit more resilient than the energy infrastructure on which it depends, since we'll be able to grow whatever crops work best using organic/sustainable techniques in a given location. Fossil fuel depletion might even help in the end if it gets us to quit overdrawing our soil.

30 million unemployed thanks to a collapse in energy flows, and a need for 30 million more to work the farms in order to move past fossil fuel dependence? Maybe solving the energy and food crises together can draw on this synergy, I don't know...

The real problem with any kind of population control is in instigating a government directed system that will be agreed to in democratic countries. Hence China is the only country that has made a sustained effort in this area. I appreciate the substantial reductions that have been achieved in other countries as mentioned further up the post. However, I think that these measures will have limitations in the reductions that are achievable. They will not likely reduce the fertility rates to 1 or less required to make significant inroads into the problem.

Maybe the solution is to use a cap and trade system. Every woman is issued with a "right" to procreate one child. As is the current case governments will provide significant assistance in the cost of raising and educating this child. If the woman produces more than one child then she will be fined an amount roughly in line with the cost to society of raising this additional child. As I understand it this is the system imposed in China.

As an added feature you could make the right to procreate tradable. This would provide a number of benefits.
- The value of the child would be more highly regarded.
- Society would have greater certaintity that children were being raised in environments where they could be adaquately provided for.
- There would be less resistance from the "go forth and procreate" portion of the community. They could have as many children as they could afford to buy the rights to.
- There would be a progressive redistribution of wealth component to the scheme.

Of course the concept of tradable children might be a little hard for many too accept so I doubt such a scheme could occur before societies experience some considerable pain.

Tradable fertility will produce the same genetic outcome as voluntary contraception - exponential genetic re engineering of the gene pool. It is actually more dangerous for the race in total than having no contraception. The only fair system is that every kind of whacko has the same rules ie quotas.

We don't say 'this woman wants more stuff - so we should give her more money'. The root trouble is that the reasonable people put up with the tantrums and manipulation of the baby farming crowd against all logic.

Why do you use such a loaded term as baby farming to describe having multiple children? This description seems to imply raising children as on a farm to be used for consumption in some way. These parents dont think like that, do they? Each child also has the same hopes as do we all. They shouldn't be labled as only the product of a farm.

Do American parents of large families throw tantrums and manipulate? Who are they manipulating?

I'm sorry if I am unclear. let me try again.

Anytime the concept of restricting reproduction to 0 - 2 offspring is raised, the manipulators bring up:

Hitler, Eugenics, peoples RIGHT to reproduce, people should choose themselves, genocide, dictators...need I go on? That is manipulation. 2 is a number decided by mathematics, not me. I can understand why people are not comfortable when it requires an opinion of those dear to us.

Since the world is being destroyed by those who over reproduce [multiplied by consumption - I get that bit too] I would have though babyfarmers was polite enough. Here in the UK we have a lot of baby farmers. Every kid you pop out, the gov pays you more money. I pay taxes for this. We have thousands of babyfarmers from overseas arriving in the UK everyday, as well as plenty native ones.

While the American farmer does use a lot of oil, ng, and steel, the amounts are manageable;the current processing and distribution system is the real food industry energy hog.

The average consumer who drives a couple of times a week to buy food probably consumes more energy jusy fetching it from the store than the farmer does in growing it.

And while food miles do matter, New Yorkers and Bostoners are not going to grow thier own citrus or fresh winter veggies until after climate change solve the population problem.

Where P = principal and I = interest:

When Hitler penned Mein Kampf, he wrote that American eugenicists were his inspiration...which led directly and unequivocally to the Holocaust we all know and hate. I'm personally all for INCENTIVE-BASED EUGENICS, unlike that which was forced upon Americans in the 20's and 30's, giving us places like "Fitter Families For Georgia", which sterilized women who produced mentally retarded children. We have better science now, but have the motives changed? What motives? Who's motives? Please keep these question in mind as you read.

Get rid of us "useless eaters", like my family and BILLIONS like us, since our Earth-killing (TAXABLE -- Global Carbon Tax) CO2 is slaughtering the trees and environment. Kill us all. And if that's not enough, get rid of those who Stalin called the "bourgeois" class (meaning: "materialistic in outlook").

The Ruling Class has advocated this for a long time:

"The social experiment in China under Chairman Mao's leadership is one of the most important and successful in history." -- David Rockefeller, New York Times, August 10, 1973 [Mao, who slaughtered about 70 MILLION Chinese.]

"Diet, injections and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible." -- Bertrand Russell, "The Impact of Science On Society"

"Gradually, by selective breeding, the congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase until they become almost different species. A revolt of the plebs would become as unthinkable as an organized insurrection of sheep against the practice of eating mutton." -- Bertrand Russell (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize)

"We shall have world government whether or not you like it, by conquest or consent." -- James Warburg, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Feb. 17, 1950

"A total world population of 250 to 300 million people, a 95 percent decline from current levels, would be ideal." -- Ted Turner, interview, Audubon Magazine 1996

I almost wish I believed in the Christians' version of "God". It would be easy to condemn to Hell those who believe in such narrow-minded and short-sighted _horseshit_. Humanity needs to get its shit together, by way of implementing monumental changes concerning money, space flight, etc. Else, this depopulation stuff?
It will happen to most of you reading this website. Bank on it. 'Cause that's who will profit -- the mega-banks, the financeers of governments the world over. Have you not noticed it's the SAME COMPANIES bankrupting every country with the exact same derivative scheme? Portugal, Iceland (they're fighting back!), Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy... How many times must the same scenario happen before you see this blatant pattern?
Jesus Christ, people. It's in your face, every single day.

"Yeah! Too many people! It's OUR fault! It's certainly not the fault of fractional reserve banking, wherein there's always more bonds than dollars. The money-printers mean us no harm, and WE THE PEOPLE screwed it all up by having too many kids!" etc...


Please, watch the videos. I know at least some of you will watch, and give intelligent rebuttals. There are great minds here. And if I'm seeing connections where there are none, I'm sure you will do your own research and prove conclusively that I'm bat-sh!t insane. Else...you'll learn what I've come to embrace as fact, and you'll be upset that we let it get this far. History repeats itself.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King said, "One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake... Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change."

EDIT: The connection I make between population and our current system of fractional reserve banking is in the first few videos. At least watch until video 5.
The videos are endorsed by Max Keiser, Co-Founder of the Hollywood Stock Exchange and Virtual Specialist Technology (U.S. pat. no. 5950176).

What page and in what edition did Hitler say in MEIN KAMPH that American Eugenicists were his inspiration? I question your assertion.

Also, it is a long way from eugenics (which goes back to Plato) to death camps. I think you made an unjustified stretch by trying to show that one follows logically from the other.

Although it’s easy to finger an abundance of cheap energy ...primarily oil ... and the myriad of technological advances … particularly those that have affected health care and food production, storage and distribution …that have accompanied our million year tenure on this planet, as the main contributors of exponential human population growth, the truth is there are only two factors that have put us in the situation we’re in: pain and pleasure.

Both are universal, and our judgments of both determine how we respond to the evolutionary forces that act to limit our distribution and abundance. They are also the reasons why we will never rationalize or technologize our way out of the over-population dilemma.

Although getting the over-population issue into the realm of pedestrian discussion would be nice, changing cultural ideology is an extremely long process. There likely isn’t enough time left and cognitive dissonance will throw up all kinds of road blocks.

Given that all humans “use” pain and pleasure as the main factors in decision making, arriving at a “salable” approach to thinking about limits would require full understanding of how individuals determine/judge what is and what isn’t painful or pleasurable.

Unfortunately, no one wants to believe that understanding why we think the way we do will help humanity. Indeed, most institutions … religious, economic and political … work tirelessly against that ever happening.

Google Earth view of essentially any part of the United States is sufficient to see that we have depleted our natural resources and ecosystem's capacity to absorb the entropy of our population beyond repair.

I am positive that this will not be responded to well, but the fact is that population is not exactly exploding among Caucasian North Americans and Europeans.

So, basically all of the Anglo/Franco/Germanic populations are just slightly short of replacing the generations ahead of them.

I, for one, would absolutely never accept a governmental intrusion to limit procreation. I find it mind boggling that some would.

Many countries are populated by whites. This video has a Christian-tainted stance insofar as the narration goes, but you can check the facts it presents for yourself. And you'll find that this video is dead-on, folks. "Muslim Demographics"

Could you explain what you find mind-boggling about it?

As for accepting it, I don't think we'd make it optional. Here in the US, it might be easiest to implement tax penalties for parents with more than one child. In order to keep it from being regressive, but adequately painful, we could calculate the amount as a percentage of income or, better yet, wealth.

The IRS is pretty good at enforcing compliance. Not perfect, but pretty good.

Err, just where did you obtain these pearls of wisdom. Lokk at the US population growth over the past 50 years. The UK population is forecast to grow significantly, as is the rest of Europe, but mainly due to inward migration and higher birth rates among immigrants.

If you think that all the hungry central and southern americas citizens will not travel north then dream on. Europe is seeing massive inward flows from Africa and Asia, which are virtually impossible to stop.

This problem is as big if not bigger than Peak oil (Energy). You cannot resolve resource depletion without population control, and even if population growth ceased immediately we would still have a problem. The realistic sustainable long term population of the Earth is probably well below 1 billion. Our recent adavances in medicine and food production have merely exacerbated the problems. More people than ever are hungry.

Look at Afghaninsitan as an example. The more the west "develops" Afghanistan the more it will breed itself into more poverty. Look at other states; Nigeria, Gaza, Middle East and so on. Unchecked population growth that doubles the population every 30 years. Nigeria example 1950 36 million,
2000 125 million, forecast 2029 250 million.

Some believe that biofuels are the answer to all our problems. Such dreamers are without equal; the earth's ecosystems do not produce on a long term basis sufficient biomass for both either food or fuel production. Sadly we are heading for an entropy trap that we cannot escape from. Few can even appareciate the problem and even fewer care.

So the four horsemen it is. By the way as an atheist I had to look up the four horsemen. I know little of the bible and care about it even less. For those like myslef they refer to pestilence, famine , war and death. Probably the only truthful part in the whole tome.

You know it’s possible to rein in those horsemen just a little bit by grabbing hold the hand of someone thrashing around in the entropy trap. FYI, that is in the bible too.

Good point.

The realistic sustainable long term population of the Earth is probably well below 1 billion.

Curious: where do you get that figure from, the Georgia Guidestones? :D "Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature." Perhaps such figures are pandered about because economies designed to depend on perpetual growth to sustain their markets require exponential resources over time. I think the ruling class would agree. There are waaaaay too many people exhaling CO2, killing our trees and environment. Instead of getting rid of fractional-reserve banking, a lot of humanity needs to just die off, since it's OUR fault that so many resources are needed to feed the machine of economic growth. Maybe John P. Holdren's contributions to us in Ecoscience could answer that gross, pleb-induced dilemma.

"Instead of getting rid of fractional-reserve banking, a lot of humanity needs to just die off..."

False binary choice. Fewer humans need to be born and we need to get rid of fractional reserve banking. And disposable diapers.

I stand corrected.
So fract.-res. banking, total humans born, disposable diapers...and the idea of a world currency like SDR (Special Drawing Rights). Countries should create their own money IMHO. The banking system got countries into this mess to begin with -- derivatives, et al. We shouldn't rely on them again. Hell, anyone in the BRIC nations (and many others for that matter) could support themselves without private banks. There's the matter of debt created by artificial scarcity, i.e., always more bonds than cash, but our respective nations could always tell them to go pound sand. :)
Whew, I long for the day...

The United States is completely enamored with growing its population - forever. Enter "stagnant population growth" and you'll see plenty of article about local US communities in despair that their population growth is zero or "only" 1%. Enter "vibrant population growth" and you'll see plenty of articles from local communities describing in a state of breathless excitement how their growth is 2% or 3%.

Other articles proudly describe how the US population is still growing while the rest of the developed world, and much of the developing world too maybe, is tending towards "stagnation". This growth will be a source of youth and vigor in the decades to come for the US while the rest of the world declines into old age and decreptitude. Or so it is claimed. Well we'll see how excited America is when its population hits 2 billion people.

"This growth will be a source of youth and vigor in the decades to come..."

Or, to put it another way, "More suckers to buy our snake oil." Capitalism must have growth of markets and consumption. "You grow or you die."

In the long run (not that long), there isn't enough room on the planet for humans and global industrial capitalism.

A rationing program in OECD nations will cut overconsumption. It will have an adverse effect on the economie but not as badly as leaving it down to price or taxing and the demand destruction they cause. Rationing would include the positive externality of improving many peoples health at the same time.

Once people in western nations understand the seriousness of the situation then a move can be made to tackle population. These things must be taken on in the right order otherwise people will just dismiss it as scare mongering.

Who would believe there was a population problem if the local supermarket shelves were still stacked with food?

Rationing would include the positive externality of improving many peoples health at the same time.

As for supermarket shelves being full, IDK about where you live, but one good storm or blizzard can empty all the stores around here pretty quick. :) Just like with the stock market, people react to perception, less so to fact. OECD nations are more likely to just increase certain taxes, right? I don't get how rationing will improve health. Could you please elaborate? Thanks.

Rationing of food improves peoples health because it stops people from over indulging and gives them a balanced diet. This was a well recognised positive side effect of WW II rationing.

Rationing is clearly inferior to letting the market clear by itself. Taxing externalities are superior to cap-and-trade. How on earth did you come to other conclusions?

If you let the markets run with it as shortages develop demand destruction created by price rises will reduce GDP faster than rationing. With a fuel rationing program factory workers could all still get to their job and the factory has a chance to stay open. If those same workers are priced out of the fuel market then no one turns up at the factory to work and it closes for sure.

Rationing would also induce a level of social stability that wouldnt be there as standards of living drop below the poverty line and people at the botom of the social heirachy cant even scratch out a subsistance existance. Without some sort of social safty net on the downside of the net energy production curve governments are risking social upheaval.

Did you invent that theory yourself? No, ordinary demand destruction will obviously reduce GDP slower than rationing. Rationing means queues, inefficient secondary markets, black markets and inefficient allocation. Price increases, OTOH, will let the market clear at close to optimum allocation.

In your example, the factory workers will, with demand destruction, reallocate closer to their jobs, car pool, use electric bikes and so on, all the while gasoline will end up where it is worth the most and so is the most productive. With rationing, much of this will not happen and inefficiencies will persist. Also, with price increases, there will be more incentives to add supply. Any economist will tell you all this. Rationing is madness.

Ahh I remember you now. I forgot the name becuase you dont post regularly.

Explain how the black market in effect during a rationing program is worse than one in effect now?

How can giving people what they need and no more be inefficient allocation?

What inefficient secondary markets are you talking about?

Explain how the black market in effect during a rationing program is worse than one in effect now?

What black market is in effect now?

How can giving people what they need and no more be inefficient allocation?

I just told ya. Need isn't static. You want people to rationally and individually reduce their need in case of shortages. The most efficient way to do this is raising prices until the market clears. To ration is to cement the need.

What inefficient secondary markets are you talking about?

It may be a part of the black market, depending on whether reselling is allowed. Simply that people sell their allocation.

Did you invent that theory yourself?

In your flawed theory that the market is always the most efficient allocator is a tautology, but there are plenty of counter examples.

The US rations health care by price, by far the most expensive in the world, and has terrible health care by all objective measures.

Monopolies and oligopoly operate under the profit motive but are considered less efficient than competition.
There are always some natural monopolies.

The law of the jungle of the market reduces competition as inefficient competitors are removed from the market, so your ideal of a self-regulating, fair, competitive market is an artifice.
In the 19th century, in just a few decades all industries were reduced to 'trusts' which excluded competition and had to be broken up by the government.

Your theory has made you stupid and lazy, economist.

The US rations health care by price, by far the most expensive in the world, and has terrible health care by all objective measures.

First, you have great health care by all objective measures. Second, you several regulatory problems. You have set up a system where you don't pay out of your own pockets - often not even simple, routine care. Instead you have tax incentives to let employers set up extreme coverage through insurance companies. Then you have a heavily regulated medical profession, which makes you have to pay doctors a fortune in salaries. Also you have extreme penalties for mistreatment. And of course, there was some socialized care before and it is becoming even more now. Of course you suffer.

Monopolies and oligopoly operate under the profit motive but are considered less efficient than competition.
There are always some natural monopolies.

Yes, I agree, there are some.

The law of the jungle of the market reduces competition as inefficient competitors are removed from the market, so your ideal of a self-regulating, fair, competitive market is an artifice.

Removing inefficient competitors is a part of the self-regulating, fair, competitive market. That's one of its big advantages, actually.

Competition is never perfect, never completely fair. So we should do our best to come as close as possible. We certainly don't want to abandon it all in contempt of imperfection and instead live our lives in socialist misery. Actually, the US has lots and lots of socialist regulations that should be abolished, not the least in the electricity sector.

Your theory has made you stupid and lazy, economist.

Your contempt and unwillingness to make the best compromise has made you not only a doomster, but a part of every political problem there is. And, btw, I'm a MSc in computers, nothing else.

Who is going to remove the inevitable monopolist/money power from the market if not the government?
This why neo-economists and their camp followers are so completely wrong.
Keynesians say that government exercises necessary 'countervailing power' but free-marketeers--Austrians say government is always bad.

You can't have it both ways!
Check your sums.
Your economic ideal doesn't add up.

We just had an economy top-heavy with concentrated money power collapse which HAD to be saved by government if any economic system were to be saved at all.

No doubt you believe that was unnecessary, that our weird 'financial economy' will heal itself naturally as neo-economists do.
That's insane.
Sometimes when you get sick you DIE without external care.
No problemo because that's natural also.

Who is going to remove the inevitable monopolist/money power from the market if not the government?

Why inevitable? If you feel anti-monopoly laws are necessary, then by all means, have them. But if you think capitalism and the free-market is stupid and worthless b/c of the arguable necessity of that intervention, you have a problem I can't help you with. (Such an inability to accept impurities and imperfection must hamper your everyday life a lot.)

Your economic ideal doesn't add up.

Yes it does.

No doubt you believe that was unnecessary, that our weird 'financial economy' will heal itself naturally as neo-economists do.


Sometimes when you get sick you DIE without external care.

Even if you think government interventions are necessary, you should realize that it should intervene as little as possible. If you need to tax a few externalities, then do so. If you need to save some banks, then do so. But don't think that government can organize production and steer investments even half as well as the capitalist markets can. Don't think a wild plethora of regulations will make things better. It can't, and it won't.

The atempt to control resources from the right side is as good as useless. For example the cap and trade of carbon emissions has been going on for years and hasnt put so much as a dent in the Keeling curve let alone make any reductions in fossil fuel use.

On the other hand we have several historical examples of left side controls that were introduced to tackle supply constraints (WW I and II rationing programs by various nations) that worked out much more succesfully than expected.

profound analysis summary by Al Bartlett:
human growth influencing factors and options
watch minute 4:45 to minute 7:20 in:

6:18 to 6:23 --> "...nature's going to choose from the right hand list, and we don't have to do anything." Overall, brilliant! Thanks for the link. I respectfully submit, however, that space flight should be in the left-hand column. We need to get off-world. Preferably sooner than later.
Time to set up bases on the moon, where the Nazis, Elvis, Bigfoot, Nessy, and Drew Carey hang out every third Wednesday. :D

OK then, we all have a frightfully good grip of what we realistically cannot achieve.

No bunch of elected representatives is going to try to impose rationing of anything, let alone of childbearing.

We are going to lamely wander down the path to our natural end; providing any remote viewer of our plight obvious confirmation of the limitations of the human brain.

Watch any bunch of people behave; can drivers stop at limit lines? Can smokers quit? Give up coffee? Why does he do that?! Why do we argue constantly and with the best logic for the good solution to all this, yet achieve nothing but increased madness?

We have only enough intelligence to solve our problems by making things more complex, but not the intelligence to appreciate the ever increasing probability of unanticipated consequences of that increased complexity.

Lower populations, lower use of diminishing natural resources; all these things are sensible, but following that sensible path is beyond us in the same way as it is impossible for us to sensibly reduce complexity, or even to eat sensibly.

We are quietly demonstrating to that remote observer that in spite of all the blessings of mother nature, we have exceeded our mental capacity to survive as a species. A few examples may persist, but they will all go the way of the Neanderthal, in the end.

So enjoy the trip, even if you can't understand it!

Reminds me of Carlin: When you're born into this world, you have a ticket to the greatest show on earth. When you're born in America, you have a front row seat.

That post was really bad. A few vital insights:

1. As the population growth rate is slowing, it is NOT exponential, but clearly sub-exponential. Actually, it is not even linear, but SUB-LINEAR as the growth rate has slowed from 88 million per year to 77 million per year since 1990!

2. Woman fertility has been crashing all over the world and most are now below replacement rate. Africa remains in high fertility territory but they have begun their crash too.

3. The 72 billion is nonsense. Energy-wise, the average world consumption is about 2 kW/capita, while industrialized countries in Europe and Asia are doing ~5 kW. Only North America gluttons at 10+ kW. So 9 billion * 5 / 2 = 22.5 billion. BUT ...

4. Energy efficiency (gdp/energy) is improving by about 2% per year, which is more than the population growth rate. So there is room for economic growth AND population growth within the current world energy consumption.

5. Nuclear power gives us limitless almost carbon free energy. While it is not immediately portable, it can easily replace most of the fossil energy production today.

6. No, we shouldn't wait for fertility to drop in high fertility nations. We should speed it by helping them put good governance in place so that their economic growth picks up.

7. Uneducated bashing of economy and economists isn't helpful. Economists do useful science and have useful policy recommendations.

8. Economic growth isn't so much about physical growth, as it is about doing stuff smarter. Thus economic growth isn't tied to any physical limits, other than in a very, very distant theoretical future where all R&D has been done and there is nothing left to discover or invent or improve.

9. I=PAT is stupid. Affluence and tech makes us more able and more prone to make less environmental impact.

10. The first world lifestyle is lived by many more than a billion people. A billion is the amount of people who live in first world countries, but lots and lots of people in the rest of the world have a comparable life style. The middle classes of India and China and Indonesia are enormous.

11. Global limits of child-bearing to one isn't politically possible, ever. Just forget about it. Or think about the catastrophic demographics which would ensue - nobody would be able to afford retirement with the upside-down population pyramid. Go with the flow - the problem is solving itself anyway.

Good try, but the congregation here thinks nothing of facts. While rational argument and facts will sway few opinions here, Darwin will definitely have his say. So for all the doomers that can't or won't have kids, a big thank you for helping out the gene pool :)

As an aside, new drilling techniques for nat gas have unlocked easily a 50 year supply of natgas in the US and surely the same shale formations are all over the planet and yet here at the OIL drum nary a word is spoken cause to recognize this incredible bounty would destroy yet again all the Malthusian nonsense that is taken for the gospel. Oh and BTW it trades at $4.50, for a BTU equivalent cost of $27 / barrel crude. Read em and weep.

On the nuclear path, China is in the process of rolling out Westinghouse Ap1000 reactors. They keep ramping the pace of development and now target 50 GW of build by 2020. Electric cars plus nuclear will gradually replace hydrocarbon liquids over the next 25 years.

The same old capitalist, technofantasy blather.

Are you guys even aware that we are already in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction since the beginning of complex life on the planet?

Are all these great new sources of energy going to be used to DECREASE our impact on the natural world?

Capitalism has shown itself to be one of the best ways to rapidly reduce the viability of the planet and to draw down the finite stores of fuels and other resources that would otherwise be available to our progeny.

If economic growth doesn't bear any relation to physical growth, why use "growth" as your metaphor?

As to "nary a word" about developments in natural gas technology, you've got to be joking. Obviously we are not discussing it as much as you would like, but it has been discussed frequently.

"Electric cars ......will gradually replace hydrocarbon liquids over the next 25 years."

I suspect they won't. The idea is great, on paper, but the rare metals needed for the batteries and motor of a car like the Prius mostly originate in China (97%). Greenland may have some resources too, but the consensus of opinion seems to be that the Dragon metals (namely scandium, yttrium, and the fifteen lanthanoids) are even more of a finite resource than hydrocarbons. Plus, the spread of electric cars across the globe will be limited by economics and logistics to a very small part of the industrialized world.

There WILL be another energy source within 25 years or so, and it may be solar or wind power in another form, or another source of power totally. But producing the technology required to evaluate, design and produce the components necessary for such a system will find stumbling blocks not unrelated to hydrocarbon use. The challenge will be finding a way round THOSE problems, and of implementing the new technology in an economical, ecological and affordable manner. It will not necessarily be one of finding the energy source in the first place.

Electro-magnetics, anyone ?

Rare-earth metals are not concentrated to China. It's just that the Chinese are the ones who are selling them cheaply right now. Electric cars are probably the shit. Or rather, hybrid cars to begin with. But the mass market will start in Europe and Japan - the US have too low gas prices.

"...new drilling techniques for nat gas have unlocked easily a 50 year supply of natgas in the US..."

Ah, yes. Wonderful new technology.

A Colossal Fracking Mess: The dirty truth behind the new natural gas.

Stretching some 400 miles, the Delaware is one of the cleanest free-flowing rivers in the United States, home to some of the best fly-fishing in the country. More than 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia, get their water from its pristine watershed. To regard its unspoiled beauty on a spring morning, you might be led to believe that the river is safely off limits from the destructive effects of industrialization. Unfortunately, you’d be mistaken. The Delaware is now the most endangered river in the country, according to the conservation group American Rivers.

That’s because large swaths of land—private and public—in the watershed have been leased to energy companies eager to drill for natural gas here using a controversial, poorly understood technique called hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking,” as it’s colloquially known, involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals, many of them toxic, into the earth at high pressures to break up rock formations and release natural gas trapped inside. Sixty miles west of Damascus, the town of Dimock, population 1,400, makes all too clear the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing. You don’t need to drive around Dimock long to notice how the rolling hills and farmland of this Appalachian town are scarred by barren, square-shaped clearings, jagged, newly constructed roads with 18-wheelers driving up and down them, and colorful freight containers labeled “residual waste.” Although there is a moratorium on drilling new wells for the time being, you can still see the occasional active drill site, manned by figures in hazmat suits and surrounded by klieg lights, trailers, and pits of toxic wastewater, the derricks towering over barns, horses, and cows in their shadows.

The real shock that Dimock has undergone, however, is in the aquifer that residents rely on for their fresh water. Dimock is now known as the place where, over the past two years, people’s water started turning brown and making them sick, one woman’s water well spontaneously combusted, and horses and pets mysteriously began to lose their hair.

Full text, plus video:

I see a fundamental flaw in your analysis. By your analysis can allow the population to grow within the current world energy demand because the there is an improvement of 2% per annum in the gdp/energy ratio. This supposes that the world energy production can continue in perpetuity. Moreover it links population to GDP. What really matters is energy per capita. Might I sugg3st

Moreover what about other resource depletion. Metals, P, fresh water, top-soil. All are finite within geologicla timeframes or in the case of water within the limits of insolation.

As for nuclear power which type were you referring to. Fission using uranium. Then I suggest that you study the reserves of Uranium; they are finite too. EWG wrote a very good paper on Uranium.

For two interseting views on population try these links. The second link was posted on TOD 2 years ago.



Both these links discuss the carrying capacity of the Earth. Up until 1800 the global population was below 1 billion. The advent of coal energy and later oil and gas, combined with medical advances, has allowed a rapidly expanding population base. In 1800 the Europeans left for the americas.Where do we go now? Mars?

Those four horsemen are getting mighty close.

World energy production can continue in perpetuity if nuclear breeder technology is employed. The uranium and thorium reserves are big enough to be irrelevant.

With limitless nuclear energy, we can produce hydrogen for fertilizers and desalinate sea water and extract metals from low-grade ores. We also recycle metals. America is plenty large for your paltry hundreds of millions - you don't need to move anywhere.

Yes, talk about it. Drag it into the limelight. No one really likes large families anyway. Once people start talking about it, you may have difficulty stopping the chatter. Get famous people to say they can't justify having more than one or two kids. Or pointing out how great adoption is. They do seem to like adopting.

Encourage homosexuality.

Only allow child benefits on the first child.

The problem is not 1 or 2 children, it is 3 or more. A campaign of showing the benefits for one child families. More money, time, attention for the child etc...Stigmatise large families.

Legalise abortion properly or remove other impediments and stigma. Free condoms.

Make adoption more appealing.

PROPER sex education for young children. Make sure the girls know what they are in for. Education is key in these things. I'm betting most children brought into this world are "happy accidents".

Tighter immigration controls.

3) Adopt a grandma campaign. Private/charity over 60's clubs and services.

Yes, it's late. But very nicely written article--clear, concise--and devastating.

I learned long ago to detach myself from this issue: No kids here, but so what? The future is not mine to control or to alter.

On die-off, or properly die-back: It is happening and has been happening since the dawn of life. There has always been death, disease, depredation, etc. The four horseman reproduced themselves along with the first replicators in the primeval seas. It's just that the birth rate now exceeds the death rate, so we don't notice the die-back occurring 24/7.

It's all simply about a change in rates. Perhaps we won't even notice when the death rate begins to overtake the birth rate. There is no "die-back" proper waiting in the wings to take over. It's just that the numbers streaming in the IN door will taper off--or perhaps not--while the numbers streaming out the OUT door will increase.

Of course it will happen. "Zero population growth is gonna happen."

It might not even happen in your own hometown, or country, or even continent. Life will even look rosy outside your window.

Here in the Temperate Zone, I never notice the decrease in daylight hours until sometime in late July. It's happening right this moment, though.

"Here in the Temperate Zone, I never notice the decrease in daylight hours until sometime in late July. It's happening right this moment, though."

Same here, except for the temperate zone part. Even though we're approximately halfway from the equator to the north pole, the difference between winter and summer are very pronounced in this part of the North American continent.

Anyway, your observation about the current decrease in daylight hours makes perfect sense. The solstices are the points of lowest day-to-day changes in the amount of daylight, as opposed to the equinoxes when sunrise and sunset shift by minutes per day.

Also, thanks for pointing out the better term, "die-back" (I rather like "die-down" too). I forget about that myself a lot of the time and die-off just rolls of the tongue too easily. Even the "extreme" Olduvai theory acknowledges that there will be humans left after the peak of industrial civilization.

I further wonder about this:

Once die-back begins in earnest--meaning the death rate surpasses the birth rate--not only won't we notice it, but it will take familiar, even banal forms: X number of Amalekites on continent Y succumb to starvation; country A attacks country B and slaughters millions; new pandemic claims N citizens of East Gish.

The usual stuff. Just ramped up a little. And so we go on our merry way.

I believe the historically proven human-controlled way to stop population growth is war. Consumption and growth were the solutions after the last one to prevent us from new ones.

I believe the historically proven human-controlled way to stop population growth is war.

Famine and plague seem to work quite well too. With the added bonus that if they come before war and not as a consequence of it, there's less need for war. Win Win!

The fact remains the nature eventually takes care of the problem. The question is are we as a species smart and mature enough to recognize the problem and find a palatable way to steer population reduction in a humane and equitable manner.

My answers to discussion questions:

1. Are there things we can do to get the population issue more into public discussion?

Sorry to answer a question with another question, but I'm old enough to have gone through the whole Ehrlich silliness, and so, upon seeing its reincarnation, have to ask: why return it to public discussion at all? We've had the population increase dramatically since his day, but so has global prosperity, etc. Paul Ehrlich was mistaken, and that is that.

2. Are there other approaches to limiting population that might be more salable?

I am not interested in selling this propaganda. It's not just silly, as the "population bomb" thing is; it has the potential to be harmful to us all. The movie "Medicine Man" was quite enjoyable, but while watching it, for the first time, the question came to me: so what if we somehow save a region that contains a source of a new drug or some other great boon to humanity, if we have acted to prevent the existence of perhaps the only human being who can tell us how to use it? Why do we promote such things as "save the rain forest" but not "save the people -- all of them, past, present and future?" The two are inextricably linked and we cannot separate them except with great cost to ourselves.

That, right there, is the chief argument against "limiting population." Everything else is eugenics.

3. If Social Security is not sustainable, having fewer children will increase the likelihood that older adults will have no way of taking care of themselves. How does one deal with this issue?

Follow G. K. Chesterton's advice: let all the children be born and then let us kill the ones we don't like. Or if that's too harsh to consider (and it most certainly is - he, and I, are being swiftian here), then drop Social Security out of the question, since it isn't a factor in places like Europe and Japan, which are facing exactly this problem, and consider the possibility that having more children will increase our opportunities to build wealth, create/develop new forms of energy and new ways to use the ones we have, etc.

This post is an excellent example of the "people are the problem" mind thought. I happen to believe that people are also the solution.

Many thanks to my friend, Professor Emeritus Gary Peters and to Gail Tverberg, Jason Bradford and Rembrandt for this discussion. At least to me, any discussion of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth focuses attention on the proverbial "mother" of all human-driven global challenges in our time. No expert I know is more capable than Gary Peters at making the case for carefully examining the heretofore ignored research by Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. and David Pimentel, Ph.D. on this vital matter of concern.

Special thanks are due Fred Magyar for distinguished service to the cause of fostering intellectual honesty and moral courage in the discussion of human population dynamics and human overpopulation.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

1. Television shows could use it as a contraversial theme to get people arguing.

2. Governments could pay people to be sterilized, the biggest amount for having no children and tapering off after every child. Governments could have a sliding scale of permanent tax incentives for the wealthy who decide to be sterilized.

I think this should be totally voluntary.

3. Adopt a greatgrandparent! Or two or three! Government pay people to care for the frail elderly. Also give them aids in their homes so they can look after themselves longer. Maybe a few could get together with a younger person to rent a group house? Internet connection permanently open to give them security.

Also another related comment.

Could there be a major effort at replanting the world, or is it too late to fix it. If the world was covered in the correct vegetation wouldn't that repair the climate and so increase the carrying capacity of the Earth? I do believe we should stabilise the population, but the world needs to be fixed as well as part of the solution, I think.

I do not want to have "hired love" to care for me during old age and decline. I want my own children and grandchildren to take care of me--not because they get paid but because they love me, just as I love them. To me it is natural for children to want to care for their aged parents, because that way they set a good example for the grandchildren of what is expected.

Parents care for children when they are young and helpless. By reciprocity, it seems logical that children should care for aged and decrepit parents. To me this reciprocity is normal, and it is an ancient part of human cultural evolution. Even Neanderthals apparently cared for their old and injured people.

Perspective on world population:

San Bernardino Co., CA = 20,062 square miles = 559,296,460,800 square feet = 0.035% of dry land on the planet

World population = 6,802,000,000 = 82.23 square feet per person in that county

So, every person on the planet could fit into that county spaced 10.23 feet apart; not that anyone would want to, but when looking at how that one county compares to a map of the globe, well like I say: perspective.

(Edit for context) We are more toxic to the planet than petroleum, DDT, PCB's, and Plutonium combined; oh wait, we are all those things combined and more!

They should have a child tax. The first one is tax free, the 2nd one is $150,000. the 3rd is 500,000. the 4th 1,500,000. the 5th and any after that are $10,000,000. each.

And there are no payment plans. Either you have the money within 90 days or both parents are sterilized. Make it a UN mandated tax worldwide. Wage war against any country failing to collect the tax and conduct sterilizations.

Sheesh! Why wait and prolong the inevitable, start the genocide now.

Or go to the root of the problem, the 40-50 yr olds that seem to consume everything in their reach. Mcmansions, weed whackers, trips, 5 cars, boats, sports, etc... Kids aren't to blame, they use VERY little... I don't think they become resource hogs until mid teens...and the 20s and through the mid 30s are very energetic (good slave labor) The elderly also don't use many resources, but are annoying and drive slow... they need to go too. So basically everyone over the age of 40 needs to be made into fertilizer :)

edit: I think a world without children is a ridiculous idea. Cut birth rate to around 1 (2 if you want to pay extra) per female and stop trying to extend lives and we'll be sitting good in 75 years or so.

TOD can use some population control themselves.

As for number three, what makes people think adding more warm bodies to the equation will help make Social Security sustainable? In the US, people are more productive per capita because of the capital employed. For instance someone in the US who digs trenches using a back-hoe is far more productive than someone in a third world country who digs ditches using a hand shovel. Give that person a back hoe and they will be equally productive as the US person, however, bring them to the US without a back hoe, and production is not substantially increased. It's that GDP out of which the means for Social Security comes.

No, he won't be equally productive, he'll just be a guy looking with consternation at a back hoe. And even if you teach him to use it properly, he won't be as productive as the logistics involved in digging at the right place at the right time and cooperating with others in a large project won't be in place, as won't maintenance of the back hoe and so on and so on.

But put the guy in the US without a back hoe, he might soon get one and be as productive as a US citizen. It's all about the supporting environment. That's why foreigners may risk a lot to get in, rather than just saving to buy a piece of equipment. Their productivity takes a big jump in the US environment, even with equal equipment.

Productivity can't be fixed by shipping in some machinery. You need a complex web of equipment, structures, knowledge and experience that needs to be incrementally woven over many, many decades.

Productivity can't be fixed by shipping in some machinery. You need a
complex web of equipment, structures, knowledge and experience that
needs to be incrementally woven over many, many decades.

Granted that all that is necessary for backhoe use, but it's all capital even the knowledge, and it all exists already in the US. The only things that are needed to make an english speaking former hand shovel wielder equally productive in the US as an english speaking US citizen at backhoe operation is equal knowledge of how to use the back hoe, and the extra back hoe itself.

And I once considered digging a 5 foot deep trench from a well to a building in which to lay a plastic pipe and some electrical wire. It had to be at least 5 feet deep to prevent the underground pipe from freezing. I am sure that given a back hoe, and perhaps some manuals, that I could have learned to use the backhoe and dug the trench with it far sooner than I could have done with a hand shovel. As it was, I hired someone with a back hoe and knowledge of it's use to come dig it after digging the hole down to where the pipe was to leave the well and calculating from how long that took with a hand shovel how long it would take to reach the building digging by hand..

Great Spirit, I am unworthy;
My species has disgraced itself.
Of all the species that live, or have ever lived,
Mine is the lowliest.
Lower than the flowers who fill the air with sweet pollen,
Lower than the trees who encircle the Earth with their roots,
Lower than the insects, rulers of Earth
Since the beginning of time,
Lower than the darting fish,
Lower than the soaring birds,
Lower than the four-legged creatures,
Who are the beating heart of the living Earth.

Great Spirit, my shame is as deep as the ocean,
And my sadness is unbearable.
I pray for enlightenment,
But fear that my prayer is too late.
Great Spirit, if this be so, then I pray for extinction.
Let my species become extinct, and vanish from the Earth.
Let my loins be barren,
Let my seed not sprout,
Let the race of men fall like leaves.
Let my fields grow wild,
Let my fences crumble,
Let my cities turn to dust, and become forests.
Let the grass drink my blood;
Let my body be food for worms.
Great Spirit, let me die, that the Earth may live.


At least one top scientist (aside from Dr. Ehrlich and the others who have specialized in explaining the dangers of over-population) is willing to speak frankly about excessive human breeding and the coming crisis. See what Dr. Frank Fenner, who was instrumental in the effort against smallpox, has to say:


Seeing that a very large chunk of this comments thread has (understandably) devolved from the global issues down to the local one of vasectomies and social security payout checks, let me add here that in the new educational model we are developing, a key prediction is that human population will probably peak circa 2080 at 14 billion, plus or minus 10%, not the 9 billion being passed around in demographic and UN circles like a tray of snacks at a college faculty cocktail party. As a commenter above more or less rightly estimates, the per capita energy demand of all these heat-stressed humans will be perhaps double or triple that of today’s 7 billion. Their electricity will be coming primarily from coal, of course, plus natural gas or methane from new sources, since we won’t agree to build enough nuclear generating capacity by then, and all the “alternative” sources will probably still be essentially in varying degrees of startup mode. The result is that the poor atmosphere is in for a really nasty further increase in CO2 levels, well within the lifetime of most of your grandchildren. But the problem these descendents of yours have won’t be mainly heat stress: they’ll likely be living cheek-by-jowl in air conditioned rabbit warrens, and not just the scenic ones in sunny Santa Barbara. The problem will be finding water to drink, since they will have long before drained the North Ameican water table.

The ideas suggested in many comments here that necessarily rely on rational collective political consensus are not going to happen. If one wants to envision the political barriers to population control, one need only multiply the present corporate-funded campaign of climate change denial by, oh, an order of magnitude, roughly. Better make that two orders of magnitude, since organized religions will join with the corporate chorus of growth, growth, growth, for free, using their own beleivers’ money..

Instead, with each new threat to our continued existance, the entrenched political machines and their corporate masters will become more dominant, not less so. Our own fear and inertia and personal consumption level will all argue for leaving the problems to these powerful folks who control the resources, the troops, and, above all, the energy. Rational birth restriction policies will simply be kept off the tables that count, that is, the tables where the votes and the profits are counted.

The doomers are thus more right than they can imagine, but are way off in terms of both the societal collapse window, which will come later rather than sooner, and, in my less-than-humble judgment, the specifics of the crisis scenario.

I am haunted by the tidal wave of humanity overspreading the surface of the Earth, a wave that appears to be growing much too rapidly before my eyes and threatening to precipitate the extirpation of global biodiversity; the irreversible degradation of the environment; the dissipation of always limited and sometimes rare natural resources; and the endangerment of the very future of children everywhere.

Somehow the "will" has to be summoned to begin coming to grips with the human-induced global challenges that loom so ominously before us. Individuals are called upon the reduce the unsustainably large size of their ecological footprints and the family of humanity is implored to humanely limit the number of human feet on Earth.

Whatsoever the odds, and no matter how daunting are the human-driven global challenges which loom so ominously before the human community in our time, each one of us has undeniable responsibilities to assume and solemn duties to perform as best we can with the steadfast hope of making the world we inhabit a better place for the children to live in.

If the so-called leaders of the human community in our time keep adamantly advocating that we overpopulate Earth; conspicuously overconsume and outrageously hoard limited resources; and endlessly expand big-business activities on the relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably frangible planet we are blessed to inhabit, then a good enough future for the children cannot be promised much less fulfilled, can it?

we need policies and incentives to stop growth now.

As a wise socialist, how do you feel about mass genocide and eugenics? Both have been performed before in the United States. WWSAPPD? (What would Stalin and Pol Pot do?)

resource limits and environmental degradation are becoming more apparent every day.

Are they? Food and oil are getting cheaper when measured in gold. The ozone hole problem is improving.

Resource scarcities, especially oil, are likely to limit future economic growth

Correct, all economic goods are scarce. Economics exists because of scarcity.

It's amazing what freely acting people can accomplish through peaceful cooperation under the division of labor - without being ordered by a socialist central planning committee what to consume, what to produce, and what kinds of sex to have.

I Wonder What Galileo Is Doing Tonight……

I find it irresistible not to at least take a moment to wonder aloud about what Galileo is doing tonight. My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave. How, now, can Galileo possibly find peace when so many top-rank scientists, rather than follow the splendid example of Professor Emeritus Gary Peters, choose not to speak out loudly and clearly regarding whatsoever they believe to be a root cause of the distinctly human-driven predicament that presents itself to humanity in our time?

Where are the many voices in the scientific community with appropriate expertise such as Gary Peters possesses who are willing to acknowledge and critique the heretofore ignored scientific evidence of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth that has been peer-reviewed and published by Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. and David Pimentel, Ph.D.?

Perhaps there is something in the great works of Dr. Gary Peters that will give Galileo a moment of peace.

What would the world we inhabit be like today if scientists like Galileo had adopted a code of silence and determined to remain electively mute by willfully refusing to speak of the best available scientific evidence?

Speaking of science, this article brings to mind this quote by Murray Rothbard:

"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

"...a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.'"

As generally "practiced," it is more "dismal politics" or "dismal superstition."

Markets are political constructs. They do not otherwise exist.

"This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people."

Maybe we should be celebrating peak oil (and debt, soil and other resources). It is clear that poor people will continue having too many babies. It is also clear richer people will not stop competing for resources. No leadership process exists to regulate this, and everybody would just fight over their assigned limits anyway.

Peak oil will make everything more expensive, eventually out of the reach of poorer people. The sad fact is humans will not control themselves until there is not enough food. Essentially this is no different than the natural limits on every other organism. I say, peak oil cannot come fast enough.