The Elephant in the Room

Here’s a subject that I’ve avoided directly addressing because it’s so controversial (for some reason). In fact, everybody is nervously not seeing it. The elephant in the room. Wow! There’s now 8,000,000,000 of us people (and still growing) on this planet! We have stop growing for the earth’s and other species sake! Consider, it took all of Homo sapiens’ very existence, around 300,000 years or so, for our numbers to reach the first billion of us on the earth all at the same time (in 1804). But only another 123 years from that milestone to reach the 2nd billion, and from there only a further 95 years to get to 8 billion of us (and currently adding another billion every 12 years!), with all the stuff each needs in his or her life (think products, property etc.), yet we don’t see a problem? The rate is slowing and population should level out at 9 or 10,000,000 billion by 2050 they say. Others, though, disagree, also this.

“Pah!” say the growth proponents, “The earth has plenty more resources left to grow. A lot more space to fill too!” Ok. Maybe they’re right that there are mountains left to mine. Resources left to use up. More space to expand in. But at what cost to the earth and its many other lifeforms? At what cost to future human generations even? What the “people only” growth proponents stubbornly, shortsightedly and really selfishly fail to acknowledge is that we are one interconnected eco-system on this planet. We need the various life forms our burgeoning numbers are extinguishing, and will continue to extinguish as we grow and appropriate more land and resources. These various plants and animals also have a right to exist as well (without our imprimatur)!

In any case, though, how much damage have we already caused at lesser numbers? How many extinctions? (click to enlarge)?

We’re still acting like we did when our numbers were vastly smaller and we had a world to fill. But we’ve achieved that “goal” now, right? So why not stop, and even reverse our numbers while we still have something worth saving? Or are we trying to see just how close we can get to the edge? It kind of reminds me of this scene from Rebel Without A Cause.

And how many people do we want to trade for more buffalo? Should the whole Midwest be made a buffalo preserve, or do we want only to maintain the species just this side of extinction? If the latter, why not just put them in a few big zoos. ~ Julian Simon, economist and proponent of human population growth

I would be even more pleased if there were more cities and more people in unsettled areas – or if there were another planet like this one. ~ Julian Simon

We now have in our hands — really, in our libraries — the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years. ~ Julian Simon

We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist. ~ Freeman Dyson

Sure, the earth has survived natural catastrophes before (though this present mass extinction is entirely human caused), and in a long, long time might evolve others to replace those we take out (estimates say 10,000,000 years!), but it seems to me the height of arrogance for some to take it upon themselves to obliterate entire species, which took millions of years to evolve, just because they want to benefit now financially by putting yet another hotel, parking lot, superstore, farm (or what have you) on that same land! To use up resources that do not all belong to us humans, nor should all be harvested by a single generation of us. After all, our construction is their destruction.

I can’t think of a single problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve if there were less people. ~ David Attenborough

Some have endeavored to make even the talking about population reduction an absurd taboo (also likely for financial reasons – could it be the US Chamber of Commerce at the base of it – people are, after all, really just walking wallets to them). As a tactic, therefore, they insist that it’s racism, saying (untruthfully) that you’re really only interested in cutting the numbers of non-whites, and by this clever means hope to shut people up about it. After all, nobody wants to be accused of being a racist! Sadly, even some mainstream environmental organizations, in an attempt to be “politically correct”, have swallowed this line. That’s despite the fact that what you’ve actually been saying is that we need to cut human population across the board – meaning everywhere.

About population’s impact on the environment, we in the 1st world are consuming far more of the earth’s resources due to our wealth than those in the 3rd world, and that has to reverse. But it’s also true that people in the 3rd world, while using less of many of those resources, and that’s good, are using up or threatening to use up much more land – space – by having larger, much faster expanding families (as Population Matters states, “The world’s poorest countries tend to have the largest family sizes and fertility rates”). That’s land to live on and to farm on, farms (land) to divide up, fence off and build roads to, land which other species very existence (and thus ours) depends upon!

Source UN

Source Pew

Exploitive Multinational corporations there are also grabbing up land as well. So it now becomes a double whammy for other species. A competition of the corporations vs the people, with wildlife ultimately footing the bill as an after-thought.

As our numbers increase, many more species will also go, or be brought to the point of extinction, by increased hunting and poaching, for food, and for greed. Examples here and here and here. So yes, overpopulation does impact on the environment in a big way. Is it racist to point that out?

They also claim that you want to have a mass sterilization (maybe some did in the past, but I certainly don’t), or even take people out alive today! That you endorse genocide! Yet, of course, that’s also not what you’re advocating either, but it works for them. Thus in this way, and with these tactics, people become afraid to talk about it, and any kind of human numbers control doesn’t get addressed. Case closed. And so up we keep climbing in number. It’s like the mischaracterization of climate change by deniers. Or the refusal of tobacco companies to accept that their product causes cancer.

When pressed, some population proponents will acknowledge that there is a problem, but often advocate the need to raise everyone to a 1st world standard of living since affluence seems to tie to lower family size. If we do that then they say population will slow. Hmm. Ok. So we know that we in the West are already disproportionately appropriating vast amounts of the earth’s resources (and creating lot’s of pollution in the process) right? What do you imagine would be the case if all the rest of the 8,000,000,000 + people on this planet also enjoy 1st world standards of living? Of course, that would make the Chamber (and it’s minions) giddy with the prospect. More customers! They live for today. But it would be a Pyrrhic Victory for the rest of us. The earth we depend upon simply could not handle it.

And there’s the paradox: slower population growth translates to slower land grabs (but not none) yet more resource taking from earth (1st world), while more population growth means slower resource taking (but not none) yet more land grabs (3rd world). Which is more destructive?

So what does that mean? Am I advocating that the rich stay rich and the poor poor? Of course not. We need to simultaneously A) reduce overall population B) bring up 3rd world standards of living C) lower ours, D) then meet in the middle. And repeat. And repeat again until we have the optimal population size, or carrying capacity, for the whole planet. And this we can begin to do if we stop seeing ourselves as many divided, and autonomous, countries, and instead begin to see ourselves as one people on one planet.

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. ~ Kenneth Boulding

Anyway, how actually do we do that? Cut human population? On first glance it would appear that using a simple 2:1 and a 2:0 ratio would solve the problem (two becoming one, or even none as some choose to have no children at all). And that looks fine on paper. But it turns out that based on this method alone, and in the current economic system, seemingly unsolvable problems arise, not the least of which is the increasing cost of living and retirement. In general, my take is that what you made by contributing to Social Security (in those countries that have it) won’t be enough to support you later on in life considering cost of living increases and the fact that people are living longer. So an ever growing population is needed to help fund the previous generation. Also, requiring people to have some state-based number of children is not only unethical, but a recipe for invasion and evasion, as China is finding out. Should reproducing age women be given money at menopause if by then they have not produced any, or they’ve produced but one child (their choice, of course) and denied that if they had more than one? I don’t know. Answers that are blurry in foresight, are often obvious in hind.

Another issue is raising the education of people. In other words, many people want (or need for work and retirement) large families. That’s how they grew up. That’s how it’s always been. But they may not be aware of its long term impact on their progeny. May not be aware that we’ve reached a critical juncture in our planet’s health and can’t go on doing what we’ve always done. Yet, in the current economic climate, they may not care.

Anyway, we need to solve this very soon. Maybe we can start by being much more equitable with worker pay, which would allow one to have more to contribute to their S.S. (and just have more disposable income in general) After all, the inequality in pay between CEOs and top executives on the one hand vs those which do the actual work on the other is vast, (compare Japanese CEO pays, see also here). It shouldn’t be! True, they may command a bit more pay for a complex job – okay, whatever – but the average worker goes home exhausted too. Also, hopefully we can figure out how to stop the ever increasing cost of living so that the dollar you contributed in your lifetime is worth the same dollar (amount-wise) as when you retire. I’m not sure it is.

As a rule, it seems that the people who work the hardest are paid the least. ~ Me

It’s a complicated issue, and I’m not the one solve it all. But what is clear is that to do it we need to begin at the source, and that’s in a system in which all peoples are informed and can actually care about everyone’s and everything’s future. In other words, let’s decide to do the right thing for once, shall we?

C’mon, we can be concerned about more than just ourselves, can’t we? No, we shouldn’t feel guilty about a situation we didn’t personally create. We know that already. But still, having said that, we might just find that if we care for the future of the planet, we are actually caring for ourselves too.

For more information see,


Population Matters website

Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Stanford Professor, Anthony Barnosky

List of countries by population growth rate

Africa Times article

“The flip side of urbanization is what we are leaving behind on our way to a world of hundred-story office buildings, high-rise residences and landscapes of glass, cement, artificial light and electronic interconnectivity. It’s no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world, we are quickly approaching another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild. Rising population; growing consumption of food, water and building materials; expanding road and rail transport; and urban sprawl continue to encroach on the remaining wild, pushing it to extinction.” ~ Jeremy Rifkin. Washington Post. Sunday, December 17, 2006. The Risks of Too Much City.

“Where do we stand in our efforts to achieve a sustainable world? Clearly, the past half century has been a traumatic one, as the collective impact of human numbers, affluence (consumption per individual) and our choices of technology continue to exploit rapidly an increasing proportion of the world’s resources at an unsustainable rate….At any event, during a remarkably short period of time, we have lost a quarter of the world’s topsoil and a fifth of its agricultural land, altered the composition of the atmosphere profoundly, and destroyed a major proportion of our forests and other natural habitats without replacing them. Worst of all, we have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end of the 21st century. As George Schaller, the noted conservationist, has put it, “We cannot afford another century like this one” (i.e., the 20th century).” ~ Peter Raven, president of AAAS, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s premier science body, in the 1999 Forward to the AAAS Atlas of Population & Environment

If the outer world is diminished in its grandeur, then the emotional, imaginative, intellectual, and spiritual life of the human is diminished or extinguished. Without the soaring birds, the great forests, the sounds and coloration of the insects, the free-flowing streams, the flowering fields, the sight of clouds by day and the stars at night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human.” ~ The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. 2000.