Monday, May 11, 2009

The myth of overpopulation part 2

This post is inspired by a post on Ms Kittys Saloon and Road Show . As all her posts are, it is well written and well reasoned; I believe, however, that she was starting from a false premise: the world is not overpopulated. I know it's easy to believe the people who say it is- we look around us, and see lots of people. But the fact is the world is mostly empty- social pressure makes us clump together, and so all we see is people. It's like a lone anthill in a big field; the ants will still feel crowded.

The world has an average population density of 44.7 people per square kilometer. That's about the same as the state of Kentucky- a beautiful, green state. What if we double that population density? You have the state of Illinois, home to the nation's second city, Chicago. But if you look at this population density map of Illinois, you can see virtually the whole state is farm and field with a few dense population centers; most of the state has a density of 10 people per square kilometer or less. Now let's look at the most extreme example- Belgium. Belgium has the densest population of any nation that's not a city-state: 344.32 people per square kilometer, some 8 times the world average. Is Belgium one vast city, depending upon others for sustenance?

No. Despite having a smaller area and population devoted to agriculture than any European nation, it's still a net food exporter. The 10 million people of Belgium produce 6.15 million metric tons of sugar beets, 2.7 million metric tons of potatoes, 1.63 million tons of wheat, 3.1 million head of cattle, 7.3 million pigs, 3.2 million tons of milk, 3.97 million eggs, 175,000 tons of butter, over 500 varieties of beer, and still has room for a modest timber industry!

As I reported in this post , the United Nations says the world has enough food right now to make every man, woman, and child on Earth morbidly obese- and if western farming methods were used in the third world, that could easily triple. The only thing preventing starving people from getting food is politics and war. Poverty does not cause war; war causes poverty.

So what causes war? I quote Eleanor from The Lion In Winter: "Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It's 1183 and we're barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little - that's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world."

Individuals must change before the world can change. That's why I would like our church to be more spiritual, to focus on individual development, not politics and activism and causes. As long as we carry war within us like syphilis, no political system or economic theory will make any difference- haven't the last couple centuries proven that? Until we do look within, it will always be 1183.

 
 
 

11 comments:

Chalicechick said...

Far be it from me to argue with a post that quotes one of the coolest movies ever made.

CC

bakakarasu said...

It's not population density that determines overpopulation - it's carrying capacity. Please do your homework before misleading people. (See links below.)

We’ve already exceeded global carrying capacity. We are now in “overshoot”. (Visualize a car sailing smoothly, but quite temporarily, through the air after having been driven off of a cliff.)

Global population is nearing 7 billion. Different theorists using different methods seem to end up agreeing that global carrying capacity is probably about 2 - 4 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a moderate, low by US standards, standard of living. More is possible if you accept a cattle car / Matrix-esque "life".)

In any case, we will get to that much-lower-than-7-billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily). Yes, all of us, yes, everywhere. There is no scenario anywhere in which population growth is a "good thing" long term.

Yes a drop in population would cause problems, but none of those problems are as big as the problems, suffering, and environmental collapse that is certain to occur if we don’t.

I disagree with any argument that there is some “right to reproduce”. If there is any "right to reproduce" it's in the concept that one has the freedom to nurture a child or children and form some sort of family. Biological reproduction is not necessary to do that and there are many in need of this sort of nurturing. I would also argue that there is no right to cause suffering to others, now or on into the future, and that is exactly what having babies does.

This is a global issue with local and nation-state consequences. For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it. Likewise, global climate change and the collapse of ocean fisheries are not impressed by national boundaries.

No technological / "alternative energy" options have the capacity or can be ramped up fast enough to avoid major global calamity. That isn't to say we shouldn't do them. Aggressively shifting to alternative energy is necessary, just not sufficient.

For more comprehensive analysis of all this I suggest

Bandura etc.
http://growthmadness.org/2008/02/18/impeding-ecological-sustainability-through-selective-moral-disengagement/

Albert Bartlett on the exponential function as it relates to population and oil:
http://c-realm.blogspot.com/2008/12/kmo-interview-with-albert-bartlett.html

Approaching the Limits www.paulchefurka.ca

Bruce Sundquist on environmental impact of overpopulation http://home.alltel.net/bsundquist1/

How Many People Should The Earth Support? http://www.ecofuture.org/pop/rpts/mccluney_maxpop.html

Video short on exponential growth:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2rTQpdyCFQ&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fin-gods-name.blogspot.com%2F2009%2F03%2Ftoo-many-people-too-much-consumption-by.html&feature=player_embedded

Carrying Capacity
http://iere.org/ILEA/leaf/richard2002.html

The Oil Drum Peak Oil Overview - June 2007 (www.theoildrum.com/node/2693)


...and of course the classic "Overshoot" by Catton

Joel Monka said...

"Please do your homework before misleading people."

Please don't presume that I have not done my homework, or that the "overshoot" and "peak oil" theories are facts. They are merely theories, and not a scientific consensus. Many researchers, including UN experts, put the world's carrying capacity closer to 12 billion- not including any scientific breakthroughs which would increase it. Did you read the link to the previous overpopulation article?

Just one clue that the "overshoot" theorists are wrong: you say "...global carrying capacity is probably about 2 - 4 billion." If we take the upper limit of that number, then we've been "overshot" for more than 35 years. If we take the lower limit, it's closer to 65 years. You know, 65 years is a long to spend sailing through the air. That's beginning to sound like flying, not falling.

Anonymous said...

Very good post. It reminds me of the famous bet between Paul "Population Bomb" Ehrlich (and Obama science advisor John Holdren) and Julian Simon. See the Wiki article: Simon won the bet yet,as indicated in a Wired article, he could not understand how "people were inclined to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they were immune to contrary evidence just as if they'd been medically vaccinated against the force of fact. Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days "experts" spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker."
Hmmm, Al Gore step up to the plate.

Church Trek said...

Interesting.

Came to your site via searching "myth of overpopulation."

"Conservative Unitarian Universalist"? Isn't that sort of like a unicorn? I am decidedly conservative in most of my theology, yet paradoxically (?) more of a unitarian and universalist than most conservatives, yet it has never occurred to me to join the UU church precisely because of their involvement in political distractions such as you have mentioned. The church needs to practice more of the politics of the Kingdom of God than of the world.

- dave @ church trek (please forgive the cheesy name, it is an old "inside" joke that I have outgrown ... need to find a new name)

Church Trek said...

Well, I'm a bit conflicted about politics (being a libertarian, and in my crankier moments an anarchist). But let's say I believe that if you're going to spend any effort in that direction, you're more likely to accomplish something locally. In fact, I am a big fan of Henry George, who advocated mostly local level policies that could free up the distribution of resources. He was really attempting to advance a modernized version of Biblical economics.

Contra Malthus, Henry George credited the "numberless economies resulting from a larger population" with increasing the wealth and well-being of all.

For, even if the increase of population does reduce the power of the natural factor of wealth, by compelling a resort to poorer soils, etc., it yet so vastly increases the power of the human factor as more than to compensate. Twenty men working together will, where nature is niggardly, produce more than twenty times the wealth that one man can produce where nature is most bountiful. The denser the population the more minute becomes the subdivision of labor, the greater the economies of production and distribution, and, hence, the very reverse of the Malthusian doctrine is true; and, within the limits in which we have reason to suppose increase would still go on, in any given state of civilization a greater number of people can produce a larger proportionate amount of wealth, and more fully supply their wants, than can a smaller number.


Is it not true that ... among communities of similar people in a similar stage of civilization, the most densely populated community is also the richest? ... Where will you find wealth devoted with the most lavishness to non-productive use -- costly buildings, fine furniture, luxurious equipages, statues, pictures, pleasure gardens and yachts? Is it not where population is densest rather than where it is sparsest? Where will you find in largest proportion those whom the general production suffices to keep without productive labor on their part -- men of income and of elegant leisure, thieves, policemen, menial servants, lawyers, men of letters, and the like? Is it not where population is dense rather than where it is sparse?


The problem, as Henry George pointed out, was not overpopulation but maldistribution. He proposed a solution to this problem.

Both in theory and (limited) practice, I believe his ideas are borne out.

This is a good article on Georgism from the biblical angle.

Church Trek said...

Well, I'm a bit conflicted about politics (being a libertarian, and in my crankier moments an anarchist). But let's say I believe that if you're going to spend any effort in that direction, you're more likely to accomplish something locally. In fact, I am a big fan of Henry George, who advocated mostly local level policies that could free up the distribution of resources. He was really attempting to advance a modernized version of Biblical economics.

Contra Malthus, Henry George credited the "numberless economies resulting from a larger population" with increasing the wealth and well-being of all.

For, even if the increase of population does reduce the power of the natural factor of wealth, by compelling a resort to poorer soils, etc., it yet so vastly increases the power of the human factor as more than to compensate. Twenty men working together will, where nature is niggardly, produce more than twenty times the wealth that one man can produce where nature is most bountiful. The denser the population the more minute becomes the subdivision of labor, the greater the economies of production and distribution, and, hence, the very reverse of the Malthusian doctrine is true; and, within the limits in which we have reason to suppose increase would still go on, in any given state of civilization a greater number of people can produce a larger proportionate amount of wealth, and more fully supply their wants, than can a smaller number.


Is it not true that ... among communities of similar people in a similar stage of civilization, the most densely populated community is also the richest? ... Where will you find wealth devoted with the most lavishness to non-productive use -- costly buildings, fine furniture, luxurious equipages, statues, pictures, pleasure gardens and yachts? Is it not where population is densest rather than where it is sparsest? Where will you find in largest proportion those whom the general production suffices to keep without productive labor on their part -- men of income and of elegant leisure, thieves, policemen, menial servants, lawyers, men of letters, and the like? Is it not where population is dense rather than where it is sparse?


The problem, as Henry George pointed out, was not overpopulation but maldistribution. He proposed a solution to this problem.

Both in theory and (limited) practice, I believe his ideas are borne out.

This is a good article on Georgism from the biblical angle.

Anonymous said...

This writer does not understand sustainability or the ongoing decimation of the earth's macro-ecological function. We need to reduce the global population (and perhaps most importantly the US population) in order to regain sustainability before it's too late. Not to mention most Americans would prefer not to lose any more of our beautiful rural and wild places to the ever-expanding development which population growth requires. While everyone is self-righteously shouting their emotional catch-phrases about love and neighbors the planet is burning up. What happened to reason and logic and the big picture?

Joel Monka said...

Anonymous, This writer *does* understand sustainability- I address it in my posts sustainibility and sustainibility: resources

Anonymous said...

If you understood sustainability and the ecological functions that have made the earth livable for humans, moderating temperatures, etc., you would realize that overpopulation is the main driver of the eco-crisis. Just to take one issue, the rapid and accelerating loss of biodiversity going on right now is essentially a function of human overpopulation. And it is happening here in our moderately overpopulated U.S. as well as in radically overpopulated (and therefore less livable) countries like India and China. But yay for population growth! Yay for rampant immigration, large families, and more and more development! We love diversity! We love the stranger! We are better than the bad, mean people who want to preserve an ecologically secure, livable and beautiful world and country for their 2.0 children. But we also give lip service to environmental issues, because we are totally illogical!

Joel Monka said...

I notive you didn't address any of the points I made in the posts about sustainability.