Friday, January 2, 2009


Brishen Hoff of Biodiversity First recently made the following assertion:

“Every baby that is born today will force at least one person to starve to death in the future. With humans already severely in ecological overshoot, giving birth to a baby now is like killing someone else in the future. Human ingenuity will never be able to trick a finite world into supporting our current population in the long term. As fossil fuels become scarce, food production will drastically fall due to poor crop yields on depleted soil without chemical fertilizers.Even if no babies were born from this day forward, it would take 40 years to half the population from 6.7 billion down to 3.35 billion (which is still unsustainably high).IF the world average life expectancy is 80 years...IF half the population is 40 or under and half the population is over 40...IF no new babies were born starting today...THEN it would take 40 years for half of the population to be over life expectancy and dead...THEREFORE it would take 40 years to reach 3.35 billion by the year 2049 even if nobody ever reproduced again!”

In the context of Hoff’s scenario I therefore find the exchange between “Dennis” and “Glenn” on the Optimum Population Trust forum somewhat surreal. In that debate, this was said:

“….a universal DNA database could be viewed more favourably, particularly by men, if thru this it could be proved that people had no more than 2 or whatever children to qualify for benefits such as increased pension or lower contributions, the difference being paid out at 65 as a lump sum etc. etc.

…….. the men at 65 will have to be castrated(in some way) to make sure they will not sire more children over the limit and perhaps even the women will have to undergo a hysterectomy or somesuch as they can now bear children at great ages!”

To which Glenn replied, “What you're suggesting is incredibly coercive. Even George Orwell couldn't have come up with the idea of a DNA database. I'm pretty sure that most people connected with OPT would distance themselves as far away as they could from such things as DNA databases, castration and sterilization.This is why Geoffrey's suggestion of a reworking of the family credit system would be a good way to go as it could potentially be accepted by the populace and politicians even if they didn't necessarily believe the world was over-populated. We do need OPT ideas to be accepted into the mainstream.”

“Whoops! my delving into possible scenarios/ramifications to forearm with forewarnings seem to have been taken too seriously. My playful mind games were not signaled clearly enough it seems even with the castration 'solutions'.

I did have a serious warning against drift in implementing 'user friendly' solutions though by saying that " I think we all will oppose coercion until things become so unbearable that coercion will seem like deliverance and we will demand it of our governments". Not 'us' obviously, some generations ahead. No I am not putting that forward as a solution.”

My questions are these. At what point then, do we identify our situation as unbearable, when it is too late to do anything about it, as it probably is right now? If as Brishen Hoff guesstimates, there would still be 3.35 billion people alive and consuming in 40 years even if NO ONE conceived a child until then, that would, it seems to me, constitute an unbearable predicament. For even by Erhlich’s retrospectively naïve and optimistic measure of a global carrying capacity of 2 billion people, 3.35 billion would, after another four decades of human pillage and abuse, be far in excess of what the planet will most likely tolerate.

Is it our job as population educators to concoct half-measures that appease contemporary sensibilities or is it our responsibility as lab technicians, to hand the doctor, the politician, a factual report on the true nature of the patient’s illness “undoctored”. Here is the blunt truth, here are our recommended solutions, now you sell them. It was not the engineer’s right or duty to pre-masticate his status report to Captain John Smith of RMS Titanic after the collision. “Captain, the ship is going down in 90 minutes, perhaps a little more. It can’t be averted. You can only take measures to see that one-third of the passengers survive.” He did not pause with this introspection, “I wonder how I can soften the message so as to break it to him in such a way that at some point in time he will begin to at least partially assimilate the gravity of our situation.”

I believe that we require rapid population decline beginning yesterday by any means necessary. My role is only to persuade others of the necessity of this course. Once chosen, people, governments or nature will select the methods.
I have always tried to maintain a distinction or a division of labour between “truth-teller” (scientist) and “politician” (salesman, liar). Hybrids usually fail in both vocations.

1 comment:

Dave Gardner said...

Wonderful examination of the ongoing friction between honesty and expediency. I continue to wonder how much more progress we'd be making if the entire environmental movement were to decide to occupy the truth camp full-time and stop with all the compromise. Wouldn't we have the critical mass necessary to get something done?

What we have instead are thousands of organizations and millions of volunteers toiling to mitigate various subsets of growth impacts, but refusing to indict growth as the root cause of all the problems.

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
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