OVER-POPULATION, GROWTH, CONSUMPTION, WARMING, CLIMATE CHANGE NEWSLETTER #4, JUNE 28, 2014.
Compiled by Dick Bennett for a Culture of Peace, Justice, and Ecology
(#1 July 8, 2010; #2 April 23, 2012; #3 April 4, 2014).
Population was claimed as the or a significant cause ofwarming/climate change as early as 1975 by the Republican Ford Administration.
NSS Memorandum 200.
War Department/Peace Department
See: abortion.doc, OMNI Climate Change Forums. doc, Planned Parenthood, OMNI Population Poverty Hunger Watch.doc (these should be one with OMNI population warming watch.doc), Sierra Club Population Project, Worldwatch Institute , OneWorld US, Population Action International, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Contents Nos. 1-3 at end.
Contents Over-Population Newsletter #4
CONDITION OF THE WORLD
Alan Weisman, Countdown, a Review by Nathaniel Rich in NYTBR
Datz, C02 vs. Food
United Nations Population Fund
Population Connection Magazine of Population Connection (formerly ZPG)
Many People? A Review by Bill Hopwood (adds consumption, class prejudice against the
poor, capitalism) Butler
Contact President Obama
CONDITION OF THE WORLD
Earth Control: Countdown,’ by Alan Weisman.
Rev. in NYTBR By NATHANIEL RICH. Published: October 11, 2013
If we wanted to bring about the extinction of the human race as quickly as possible, how might we proceed? We could begin by destroying the planet’s atmosphere, making it incapable of supporting human life. We could invent bombs capable of obliterating the entire planet, and place them in the hands of those desperate enough to detonate them. We could bioengineer our main food sources — rice, wheat and corn — in such a way that a single disease could bring about catastrophic famine. But the most effective measure, counterintuitive as it may be, would be to increase our numbers. Population is what economists call a multiplier. The more people, the greater the likelihood of ecological collapse, nuclear war, plague.
Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
By Alan Weisman
513 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $28. 2013
As Alan Weisman’s “Countdown” amply demonstrates, we are well on our way. Some seven billion people are alive today; the United Nations estimates that by the end of the century we could number as many as 15.8 billion. Biologists have calculated that an ideal population — the number at which everyone could live at a first-world level of consumption, without ruining the planet irretrievably — would be 1.5 billion.
Weisman’s jeremiad amounts to a world tour of our overpopulation misery. He begins in
Jerusalem, where he learns
that construction firms worry about running out of sand, despite the fact that
is a desert. Water is in short supply, too. Because of agricultural irrigation,
the Israel Jordan River is now a “fetid ditch”;
pilgrims who attempt to bathe at the spot where Jesus is said to have been
baptized will develop a rash and, if they swallow the water, will most likely
The question mark that ends the book’s subtitle is as significant as what precedes it. If we dramatically reduce the planet’s human population, we might have a future here. Then again, it might already be too late. Weisman raises the example of the passenger pigeon. During the 19th century it was one of the most abundant birds on earth, with as many as five billion in
The passenger pigeon went extinct in 1914, but it was doomed long before then,
even as it still numbered in the millions, since its habitat and food supply
had already dwindled beyond sustenance level. “Was it possible,” Weisman
writes, “that my own species might also already be the living dead?” America
“Countdown” is a bleak sequel to “The World Without Us,” Weisman’s elegant account of what would happen to the planet should human beings suddenly vanish. That book drew its subtle and visceral power from Edenic descriptions of an Earth reclaimed by its forests and oceans, healing from the wounds inflicted by civilization. With its imaginative force and vivid storytelling, it had the power of the best speculative fiction; but in “Countdown,” “there’s no imagining.”
Perhaps motivated by the urgency of his theme, or frustration over the intransigence of the problem, Weisman abandons subtlety in favor of making his message — we need to slow our rate of procreation, if we want to survive — explicitly and didactically in every chapter. His dire warnings, and the warnings of the scientists and government officials he interviews, are unrelenting, with variations of the following sentence appearing at regular intervals: “In the entire history of biology, every species that outgrows its resource base suffers a population crash — a crash sometimes fatal to the entire species.”
Weisman visits more than 20 countries and interviews countless local scientists, families and policy directors, but the problem is always the same: There are too many people. The culprits are modern medicine, which has caused life expectancy in the last two centuries to nearly double; innovations in agronomy, which have dramatically increased global food production; and a failure to provide contraception to women.
From Thomas Malthus to Paul and Anne Ehrlich, authors of “The Population Bomb” (1968), population doomsayers have endured ridicule and vilification, largely because their predictions of imminent doom fail to materialize on schedule. In our own time, there are a few mitigating indicators. Much of the current population growth comes in the developing world, where carbon consumption remains low, so the environmental effect is relatively muted. The next thousand Americans will do more than twice as much damage as the next hundred thousand Nigeriens, though that is hardly a cause for celebration.
Perhaps more significantly, the global fertility rate has declined every year since 1965, from nearly five births per woman to 2.4. The problem is that anything above 2.33 — the rate at which births equal deaths, when child mortality is factored in — will yield a population expansion. Even when fertility drops below the replacement rate, it will take decades for the population to begin to decline. At today’s rate, world population would stabilize at 10 billion by 2100. But that will most likely never happen, Weisman writes, because seven billion people “are already turning the atmosphere into something unlivable.”
The grim prophecies are illustrated with statistics. Each year the world adds the equivalent of another
Germany or Egypt;
will have more than 100 million 80-year-olds. We add another million people
every four and a half days. But statistics fail to tell the entire story.
Weisman’s problem — and the problem of all those who warn about overpopulation
or, for that matter, the correlative dangers of ecological devastation — is a
problem of imagination. Not Weisman’s imagination. Ours. As one scholar says in
“Countdown,” “most people’s minds go blank after 100,000.” Large numbers are
difficult to visualize. Numbers are even more difficult to feel. China
Metaphors bring us closer. Over the course of the book, man is likened to a cancer; to “a voracious monoculture” that sucks “resources in at the cost of the rest of life on the planet”; and to the mule deer of
Plateau, an example of a species once “doomed to overpopulate.” Arizona
But the book’s most indelible image comes from Weisman’s visit to
the fertility rate is so low — 1.4 children per female — that the population
has been declining since 2006. This might make Japan something of a best-case
situation, but an aging population means there are too many senior citizens,
and not enough young people to take care of them. Already Japan has a
shortage of geriatric nurses. Weisman visits Japan Nagoya
oldest scientific firm has built RIBA II, a robotic white bear designed to
carry elderly people around the house. It has large, widely-spaced black eyes,
cute little ears and a painted smile. Japan
“I will do my best,” says the bear, as it approaches a man who is lying on a hospital bed. “I will carry you as though you were a princess.”
RIBA II slides one paw under the patient’s knees, the other beneath his back. The robot cradles the man in its arms. It carries the man across the room, and lowers him tenderly into a wheelchair.
“I’m finished,” announces RIBA II, and it’s hard not to wonder whether the robot speaks for us all.
Nathaniel Rich’s new novel is “Odds Against Tomorrow.”
A version of this review appears in print on October 13, 2013, on page BR18 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Earth Control.
Rising CO2 Levels Will Make Staple Crops Less Nutritious By Todd Datz, EcoWatch, 11 May 14.
At the elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) anticipated by around 2050, crops that provide a large share of the global population with most of their dietary zinc and iron will have significantly reduced concentrations of those nutrients, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Given that an estimated 2 billion people suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies—resulting in a loss of 63 million life years annually from malnutrition—the reduction in these nutrients represents the most significant health threat ever shown to be associated with climate change.
“This study is the first to resolve the question of whether rising CO2 concentrations—which have been increasing steadily since the Industrial Revolution—threaten human nutrition,” said Samuel Myers, research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH and the study’s lead author. The study appears online May 7 in Nature.
Some previous studies of crops grown in greenhouses and chambers at elevated CO2 had found nutrient reductions, but those studies were criticized for using artificial growing conditions. Experiments using free air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE) technology became the gold standard as FACE allowed plants to be grown in open fields at elevated levels of CO2, but those prior studies had small sample sizes and have been inconclusive.
The researchers analyzed data involving 41 cultivars (genotypes) of grains and legumes from the C3 and C4 functional groups (plants that use C3 and C4 carbon fixation) from seven different FACE locations in
and the U.S.
The level of CO2 across all seven sites was in the range of 546 to 586 parts
per million (ppm). The researchers tested the nutrient concentrations of the
edible portions of wheat and rice (C3 grains), maize and sorghum (C4 grains),
and soybeans and field peas (C3 legumes).
The results showed a significant decrease in the concentrations of zinc, iron and protein in C3 grains. For example, zinc, iron and protein concentrations in wheat grains grown at the FACE sites were reduced by 9.3 percent, 5.1 percent, and 6.3 percent, respectively, compared with wheat grown at ambient CO2. Zinc and iron were also significantly reduced in legumes; protein was not.
The finding that C3 grains and legumes lost iron and zinc at elevated CO2 is significant. Myers and his colleagues estimate that 2 billion to 3 billion people around the world receive 70 percent or more of their dietary zinc and/or iron from C3 crops, particularly in the developing world, where deficiency of zinc and iron is already a major health concern.
C4 crops appeared to be less affected by higher CO2, which is consistent with underlying plant physiology, as C4 plants concentrate CO2 inside the cell for photosynthesis, and thus they might be expected to be less sensitive to extracellular changes in CO2 concentration.
The researchers were surprised to find that zinc and iron varied substantially across cultivars of rice. That finding suggests that there could be an opportunity to breed reduced sensitivity to the effect of elevated CO2 into crop cultivars in the future.
In addition to efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, breeding cultivars with reduced sensitivity to CO2, biofortification of crops with iron and zinc, and nutritional supplementation for populations most affected could all play a role in reducing the human health impacts of these changes, said Myers. “Humanity is conducting a global experiment by rapidly altering the environmental conditions on the only habitable planet we know. As this experiment unfolds, there will undoubtedly be many surprises. Finding out that rising CO2 threatens human nutrition is one such surprise,” Myers said.
Other HSPH authors include Antonella Zanobetti, Itai Kloog and Joel Schwartz.
Population Organizations (for more see earlier and other newsletters on population)
UN Population Fund
UN POPULATION FUND, GOOGLE Search, June 28, 2014
United Nations Population Fund
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Population Connection, Google Search, June 28, 2014
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When Population Connection was founded as Zero Population ...
Zero Population Growth (ZPG) was co-founded in 1968 by Paul ...
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Not only has our total population drastically grown (from 4 million in 1790 when the first census ... Population Education is a program of Population Connection |
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POPULATION CONNECTION, THE MAGAZINE OF THE ORGANIZATION BY THE SAME NAME
JUNE 2014 NUMBER ON FOOD SCARCITY, “OUR AGRICULTRUAL FUTURE IN PERIL.”
Like Countdown, the magazine is packed with striking statistics, for example: “Costs for voluntary contraception are amazingly modest. Right now, the global health community needs an additional $4 billion dollars a year to be able to provide contraception to the 222 million women with a current unmet need. That’s equal to Coca-Cola’s annual marketing budget or the value of the Internet music program Spotify.” This number includes “Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” by Weisman, “New Era of Food Scarcity Echoes Collapsed Civilizations” by Lester Brown, and “Famine Is a Feminist Issue” by Lisa Palmer. –Dick
IPCC REPORT ON FOOD SECURITY
The March 2914 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes several significant predictions, among them:
--“Studies have documented a large negative sensitivity of crop yields to extreme daytime temperatures around 30 Degree C”
--“Changes in temperature and precipitation, without considering effects of C02, will contribute to increased global food prices by 2050, with estimated increases ranging from 3-84 percent.”—Dick from PC p. 2.
QUALIFICATIONS AND CHALLENGES TO OVERPOPULATION THEORY: CONSUMPTION EQUALLY CRUCIAL
Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis by Ian Angus and Simon Butler. Haymarket, 2012.
Too Many People? provides a clear, well-documented, and popularly written refutation of the idea that “overpopulation” is a major cause of environmental destruction, arguing that a focus on human numbers not only misunderstands the causes of the crisis, it dangerously weakens the movement for real solutions. No other book challenges modern overpopulation theory so clearly and comprehensively, providing invaluable insights for activists and environmental scholars alike.
Ian Angus is editor of Climate and Capitalism, an online journal focusing on capitalism, climate change, and the ecosocialist alternative. His previous books include Canadian Bolsheviks and The Global Fight for Climate Justice.
Simon Butler, a climate justice activist based in
, is coeditor of Green
Left Weekly, the country’s leading source of anticapitalist news,
analysis, discussion, an Sydney, Australia
SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine
Has world population reached its limits?
Too Many People?
By Ian Angus and Simon Butler
Haymarket Books, 2011, £13.99
Reviewed by Bill Hopwood
ONE OF the major divisions within environmentalists is on the issue of population and ‘overpopulation’, with many claiming that a key cause of environmental damage is too many people. The British Royal Society recently released a report, People and the Planet, which argued that, to avoid "a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills", the world’s population needs to be stabilised. Ian Angus and Simon Butler’s book, Too Many People, examines these claims and explores their implications.
On the surface, the argument is straightforward. All other things being equal, more people will consume more food, need more shelter, produce more waste. The world’s population has grown rapidly, from two billion in 1927 to seven billion in 2012. At the same time, environmental damage has increased significantly. So, the argument goes, too many people are causing mounting environmental problems.
One of the most influential books to argue overpopulation was The Population Bomb, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, published in 1968. They stated that there would be mass starvation as the world could not produce enough food to feed the growing population, that even more people would die from other environmental problems, and that both of these could be "traced easily to too many people".
While the world’s population is growing, however, the rate of growth is slowing. The key factor for population growth is the total fertility rate (TFR), the average number of live births per women over her life. According to the CIA, in 2012 Europe,
There are different trends of populationists: ranging from outright racists to those who try to combine advocating population control with wider social issues and women’s rights. But underlying all of these trends is a blaming of the poor, the biggest victims of environmental damage. Paul Ehrlich admits that the idea of overpopulation first struck him while in
David Foreman, one of the founders of Earth First, argued that in the
Garrett Hardin, author of widely quoted articles, The Tragedy of the Commons and Lifeboat Ethics, describes pollution as due to too many people "using the commons as a cesspool", and that "it is unlikely that civilisation and dignity can survive everywhere, but better in a few places than none. Fortunate minorities must act as trustees of civilisation". He suggests that this is done by refusing food aid to poor people outside the
More moderate populationists urge voluntary population control alongside social action, especially on women’s rights and education. While seeming reasonable this still focuses on poor people. It ignores the good reasons in some societies to have children. It delivers often contradictory messages of population control and action for social change. Most ‘voluntary’ population control programmes include some coercion to get results: giving money to very poor people is exploiting their poverty. Population control has resulted in 100 million missing women, due to selective abortion and infanticide – hardly women-friendly results.
The best way to reduce the number of children, if that is the desired aim, is to focus instead on women’s rights and education, raise living standards, and provide a good welfare and pensions systems. Smaller families are a by-product of these actions, yet governments around the world, urged on by the major financial institutions, are doing the exact opposite.
One of the commonly used ways of describing environmental damage is I=PAT (impact = population x affluence x technology). It looks like a formula, is simple, and seems to make sense. It is none of these. There is no scientific basis or measurable units to this description.
It ignores who makes decisions about what technology is developed and how it is used, what is produced and how, and who has power to act. It assumes that all consumers in a country share equally in the environmental damage. Greenpeace blamed all
The World Bank stated that the richest 1% of humanity consumes 25% of the world’s resources and the richest 10% consume 59%. I=PAT totally ignores this, as do most populationists. This is the core failing of their approach: they ignore class divisions.
Even if it was possible to democratically reduce population, the time lag to even stabilise population is around 30 years – far too long for action on climate change. The most modest assumptions set the need to reduce CO2 releases by 50% of the 1990 levels by mid-century. No populationist seriously thinks that population can be reduced to below three billion (half the world population in 1990) in 40 years. And this assumes that if the population is halved then pollution will also be halved – ignoring the consumption of the rich and the pollution of industry and the military. Much of the environmental damage in poor countries – logging, growing food for export or extracting resources – is not controlled by the people there and gives them little or no benefits. Populationists are blaming the wrong causes and, even if their goals could be achieved, they will not have the hoped for results.
By blaming the poor for population growth and working people in richer countries for consumption, populationists falsely analyse the causes, avoid challenging the system, capitalism, and make it harder to build the alliances needed to make real change.
Many of the most important struggles on the environment are taking place in poorer countries with mobilisations of poor people. Blaming them makes them less likely to be allies of environmentalists in the richer countries. Most working people in the richer countries have had stagnant living standards for decades and now face massive cuts in jobs, wages, and public services. Blaming them will also not make them allies.
The answer to environmental damage does not lie with the number of people. It lies with how production is organised, what technology is used, how decisions are made and by whom, and how wealth and goods are distributed. If all the available clean technology was used, pollution and CO2 releases would be drastically reduced. Combining this with ending the excessive consumption of the richest 1% and military waste would have a dramatic impact. Alongside these, policies to provide good jobs and public services for all would win overwhelming support and would tackle both environmental damage and human wellbeing.
However, most populationists and many in the environmental movements either do not want to overturn capitalism or do not believe it is possible. Instead, they chase a dead-end policy of population control which only allows the causes of environmental destruction to continue.
The authors have done a service in highlighting the failings and dangers of focusing on population control. It is up to socialists to continue to develop a programme and build campaigns to win most of those concerned about the environment to a shared struggle with the poor and working class of the world to end capitalism and create a society that puts an equal priority on the wellbeing of humanity and the planet.
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Here is the link to all OMNI newsletters:
For more information on this topic go to:
Newsletter #1 July 8, 2010
Firor and Jacobsen
Worldwatch, UN Population fund (UNFPA)
Mogelgaard on Slowing Population Growth, Population Action International
Population, Contraception, Warming (from Joanna)
Women’s Rights, Population, Climate (PAI), Interview of Suzanne Ehlers
Newsletter #2, April 23, 2012
OMNI350 Book Club Discussion
Sierra Population Program
Linda Farrell, Deforestation, Overpopulation
UN Population Fund 2012
Negative Population Growth
Contents #3, April 4, 2014 The Overpopulation Case in Roughly Chronological Order
Dick, Introduction: Gore’s The Future
Malthus (see Brown below)
Christian Parenti, The Limits to Growth, 1972, Because Resources Exhaustible
Need to Check Population Growth:
Administration Knew 40 Years Ago US
Ford Admin. 1975 NSS Memorandum 200, Universal Access to Family
Lester Brown’s Book on Malthus and Population, 1999
World Bank Knew the Population/Warming Connection Over a Decade Ago
Scientific American 2009: Of Course Population Growth Increases C02/Warming
Welch, Mother Earth News, End Population Growth 2012
Population Growth and C02/Warming/Weather Extremes Google Search
Morawicki, Food to Diminish, Population Certain to Increase
Al Gore, How to Stabilize Population
Royal Society, Population Growth and Consumption Together: 4
Magdoff: Economic System, Capitalism Is the Problem
Alan Weisman, The World Without Us
Connally, Why Overpopulation Movement Not More Effective: Spectre of
Center for Biological Diversity: Human Population Growth vs. Other Species
Related newsletter topics: population and wars, population and growth, and human overpopulation vs. other species, and poverty hunger, and
END POPULATION, OVER-POPULATION, GROWTH #4