Scientists: Population Growth “Primary Driver Behind Ecological and Societal Threats”

By Leith van Onselen. Originally published at MacroBusiness

15,364 scientists from 180 countries have put their names to a BioScience journal article calling for population growth to be limited, and governments to stop only focusing on economic growth. According to the ABC article attached to the report, “the number is believed to be the largest group of scientists to have ever put their names to a research paper focused on climate change”. Below are some key extracts from the journal article:

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1). These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” In their manifesto, they showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world…

The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approaching many of the limits of what the ­biosphere can tolerate ­without ­substantial and irreversible harm. The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future…

Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse…

We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Crist et al. 2017). By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere…

Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership, and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets, and other drivers. Examples of diverse and effective steps humanity can take to transition to sustainability include… estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.

To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning.

This global report follows the latest Australian Government State of the Environment report. released in March, which found that Australia’s natural environment is being placed under acute strain from rapid population growth and economic activity:

The federal government’s State of the Environment 2016 report (prepared by a group of independent experts, which I chaired), released today, predicts that population growth and economic development will be the main drivers of environmental problems such as land-use change, habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change…

We continue to lose agricultural lands through urban encroachment. Over the past five years land-clearing rates stabilised in all states and territories except Queensland, where the rate of clearing increased.

Coastal waterways are threatened by pollutants, including microplastics and nanoparticles…

Population growth in our major cities, along with Australia’s reliance on private cars, is leading to greater traffic volumes, which increase traffic congestion and delays as well as pollution…

In 1994, when Australia’s population was just under 18 million, the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) convened a symposium on the future population of Australia. Its analysis was extended to Australia’s resources of water, minerals and arable land, and the interactions between present lifestyle and present environmental damage, and between future expectations and the costs of increasing population.

The AAS cautioned that “if our population reaches the high end of the feasible range (37 million), the quality of life of all Australians will be lowered by the degradation of water, soil, energy and biological resources” and concluded that “the quality of all aspects of our children’s lives will be maximised if the population of Australia by the mid-21st Century is kept to the low, stable end of the achievable range, i.e. to approximately 23 million”.

Just 22 years later, Australia’s population is approaching 25 million, thus already exceeding the AAS’ recommended maximum population mid-century.

The fact of the matter is that there are few better policy solutions to protect Australia’s environment than limiting population growth and abandoning plans for a ‘Big Australia’, which necessarily means significantly cutting immigration.

Australia’s birthrate of 1.8 is below replacement level and the nation’s population would stablise at 27 million by 2060 under zero net overseas migration, according to the Productivity Commission. By contrast, if current mass immigration setting are maintained, Australia’s population will exceed 40 million – a difference of at least 13 million people (see below chart).

The above reports do also highlight the complete and utter negligence of The Australian Greens. Despite their purported concerns for the environment, The Greens have remained deafly silent on Australia’s world-beating immigration program and have refused to argue the case publicly for a smaller and more sustainable population for Australia.

Will the real Greens please stand up?

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  1. Clive

    Is it putting it too strongly to call it a taboo ? — that our prevailing cultural, societal and familial norms are so rigorously enforced and repeated (especially in advertising and mainstream media treatment), you are simply not free to say to anyone “you have no right and a questionable moral authority to insist on being able to bring children into the world”.

    It is one of, to me, the last unmentionables. Certainly, I’d say it here in the safe anonymity of a comments section on a website but I wouldn’t dream of even skirting round the topic to people I actually know.

    But daily, we’re assaulted by the implied virtuousness and idolisation of childrearing. It is so engrained that to offer anything resembling a contrary opinion or arguments against unrestricted population stability — never mind growth — has you immediately put into that most derided and viewed with suspicion category, the child-hater.

    Of course, there are gender-specific considerations in play. From my, admittedly limited, experience, to have children (or not) is a relationship deal-breaker for most women. A man simply cannot tell a woman who wants children they shouldn’t have any. It just does not work like that. The instinct which drives a woman who wishes to have children (and the number desired) is not amenable to persuasion.

    On the flip side, I have seen at least two women have their lives severely impacted by not being objective about their need to have children. The worse case is a woman I am well acquainted with who has had over a dozen miscarriages, some highly traumatic — all miscarriage is traumatic, but some have been too shocking for me to even be able to comprehend. And the woman has been subjected to (I see her as a victim of the medical profession here, despite her wishes being the prima facie cause of her treatment) over 15 years of intrusive and unpleasant and I would say unnecessary medical interventions in an attempt to allow her to complete a pregnancy to full term. With each setback, her determination only grows stronger, but of course the odds get less and less. I feel for her and her anguish, but in my heart I cannot help but conclude that her biggest let-down is from those around her who — for what as I mentioned earlier I think are merely cultural and societal pressures — are unwilling to give her honest and objective advice about what is in her best interests.

    We have, as a body of humanity, got ourselves into a right old mess with this subject.

    1. vlade

      Nigeria (IIRC) has tried to rein the population in a bit, but the momentum will mean that they will hit close to half a billion (which is twice the current population) before it starts tapering off. This is a country that had less than 50m half a century ago. I.e. in two generations the population more than quadrupled.

      The problem you talk about is real. But the taboo is even worse – the taboo is not just for the western world (which, w/o immigration would be actually declining, so ok), but for the developed world. Try to tell the developed world they can’t double their population every generation, and see how they will like it..

      1. Abi

        Hi, I am a Nigerian, still living in Nigeria and I can tell you free of charge that all quoted population figures for Nigeria are enormously exaggerated. And I am unaware of any policies targeted at “reining in population”

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        If countries whose “functionally native” population has achieved ZPG or even NPG were to adopt a rigid policy of no immigration whatsoever permitted under any conditions whatsoever . . . the countries with growing population might eventually realize that they have no safety valve of escape from the implications of their own population growth.

        But as long as the ZPG or NPG countries permit immigration, the Population Growth countries have no reason and certainly no incentive to face up the problem as a problem within their own borders.

        1. animalogic

          Excellent point about the “safety valve”.
          The West generally has to bare a huge portion of the blame for Third world population growth & the the extraordinary movements of people (often refugees) over national borders.
          Imperialism is directly responsible for such movements: the millions who descended onto Europe in last few years were driven by war & social chaos caused by wars in the middle east — wars the US/NATO/Israel were responsible for.
          The proven way to limit population growth is to increase standards of living. Neoliberalism & its exploitative trade, investment practices keep billions in poverty. Not infinite growth, but economic justice is a core tool to help control population & to protect the environment … not to mention that justice is an end in itself.

    2. freedeomny

      There is a huge societal and familial pressure on women to have children. In some countries, if a woman doesn’t have children she is considered a failure as both a person and a woman. I believe it has gotten better with more advanced countries, but it is still somewhat unusual for a woman to announce that she doesn’t want children. And gosh forbid she should announce that she doesn’t want to get married….

      1. vlade

        A friend of mine, Polish, got pretty much disinherited by her father. She’s a very sucessfull, hard-driven professional (who left Poland the same day she finished her uni), but her father couldn’t get over the fact that she was still unmarried by almost 40, and had no kids or plans to have kids. In fact, I suspect that the fact she was so sucessfull was seen by him as a negative since it clearly kept her away from what he considerd the “right thing” for a woman.

        1. Clive

          Well, the U.K. for one is a perhaps surprisingly harsh place for the childless woman. Scant reporting and research does, though, make this The Topic That Dare Not Speak it’s Name.

          And the research I have read does, even if it is of good quality generally, does tend to present a slightly maudlin tone which I simply can’t pinpoint why it is nesssisary.

          But regardless, the attitude is alive and well that to be childless is to be remiss in some way (from the report linked to above):

          There are in our society still strong taboos associated with being an adult without children. People who have chosen not to be parents, in particular, face a lot of criticism, and the implication is that they ‘deserve’ anything that happens to them in later life,
          as they should have thought about that before. Even for those who wanted children but were unable to have any, there is a suggestion that they have no stake in the
          future, have no interest in what happens to society at large, and are ‘less nished, less emotionally complete, and less capable

    3. johnnygl

      A dozen miscarriages?!!??!! OMG, just adopt for chrissakes!!?!!

      I think population control arguments are somewhat misguided. Demographic changes are very gradual.

      There is a much stronger case to be made for tight immigration controls for environmental reasons. The last thing we want to do for the planet (environmentally) is to take 1 million people from central america and bring them to the USA and getting ’em burning up energy like the rest of us Americans. The impact is much more immediate than whether american families decide to spring for an extra child or not. The impact of the extra kid really only hits 20 years later if/when the kid gets and uses their own house and car.

      1. Clive

        Yes, that’s what I wish I had the courage to tell her. But adoption here in the U.K. is not easy and, I fear, would merely play into her fears of not being able to have the “perfect family” as you get little say in what child you might be offered and if you don’t accept the child put forward by the adoption agency on grounds such as sex and even race you almost certainly won’t get offered a second chance.

        More than that, though, is her fear of being seen as a failure as a woman. I wouldn’t have spelt that out if other commenters hadn’t done so already in other responses in the comments here. I’m about as outspoken as they get, but even I pussyfoot around what I’ll come out with on this subject.

        1. freedeomny

          Unfortunately, we live in patriarchal societies for the most part and women have been largely “brainwashed”. As young women we are objectified and sexualized only to become “invisible” once we hit middle age. Choosing not to marry or have children has not been viewed (foolishly) as a viable or even healthy decision, when in fact for many women this decision can be wonderfully liberating. Although it is often hard to go against societies grain, I do see it happening more and more….

          1. Jonathan Holland Becnel

            Speaking as a 33yr old Cis Gender Male, I find older women wayyyyy more sexier these days than my usual manic pixie dreamgirls. I want many children, and i want to teach them in the ways of the Mighty Fremen Naib, Stilgar!

            I know thats alot of scientists, but Economic Giants are fucking us, not the little people. Theres plenty of room on this Eaarth for all of us!

            1. Anon

              You’re kidding (no pun intended). right?!

              The science is clear. The planet is overpopulated for sustainability. (Biological and social ecology is clearly stressed.)

              The article doesn’t describe who is “fucking us”, but what the essential environmental problem is: overpopulation.

              How we deal with it is a political question.

            2. Clive

              You’ve obviously never tried to get into the Christchurch branch of Waitrose’s car park on a Saturday afternoon.

              Oh, and I’m sure the older women which you speak so warmly of can barely contain themselves in your presence, too. Me, not so much luck in that department, but then I’m possibly not quite so blessed with your obvious attributes.

              Anyhow, don’t let me keep you. Your Mom’s probably on at you to go tidy your room or something.

        2. allsmiles

          I completely agree about the taboo. As a parent of one who cannot craft a strong enough moral justification for another one (but who spent some time/resources in pursuit of another one despite these doubts), I don’t feel I really have a safe societal space to discuss family size in terms of responsibility to the planet. The more acceptable conversation is orientated towards the challenges of secondary infertility.

          As for that unfortunate woman, it’s fine that you don’t have the courage to say anything to her. Probably better, in fact. A childless woman who has endured 12 miscarriages has undoubtedly already independently considered adoption and is unlikely at this stage to need well-intentioned but still unsolicited advice in this regard. Further to that, considering the amount of scrutiny women receive for their reproductive choices, I’d bet that she’s already heard it all anyway.

      2. Plenue

        Louisa Adams suffered nine miscarriages (which John Quincy euphemistically referred to as ‘illnesses’) out of her thirteen pregnancies. No idea if this is historically an outlier or not, but I suspect it isn’t.

    4. nonclassical

      “zero population” growth was actually accomplished, U.S., whereby corporations realized they could no longer base profit projection on rising GDP…(end of story)…

      on other hand, while certainly accurate, yet another attempt to scapegoat anyone other than Wall Street economic disaster…(follow the $$$$)

    5. flora

      I’ll add that many religions teach, even demand that women should have children. Some religions insist women must marry and have as many children as possible. I sometimes think the real stumbling block to lowering reproductive rates isn’t individual women, it’s the religious leaders of various kinds (who are almost all men.) No politician wants to cross some grand-high-religious poo-bah of a religion having a large faith denomination in their country.

      1. Clive

        Yes, another no-go area which I wasn’t going to risk going into, so I’m glad someone else did! No-one, in my opinion, who claims to speak on behalf of or interpreting a higher authority has any place saying there should be an increase in the number of people on the planet. If we behaved ourselves a bit better and looked after the place, maybe. But we don’t, do we…

      2. Croatoan

        God said “Be fruitfule and multiply”, not “Be fruitful when you cannot by use of invitrofertilization and over multiply”.

      3. PlutoniumKun

        With population, I’m inclined to think economics trumps religion. For example, the most catholic parts of Europe – Italy and Spain – have among the very lowest birth rates, significantly lower than the more protestant and athiestic north.

        1. flora

          Let’s just say that if a politician openly discusses over population he runs the not insignificant risk of stepping into the minefields of religious doctrines – of many different religions/religion branches and subsets. No politician with hopes of re-election is likely to address the topic of overpopulation. It’s taboo. And that’s part of the problem. It’s a dilemma.

    6. Plenue

      The thing that gets me most with the selfishness of people insisting on having kids isn’t the big picture stuff. A person or even a thousand people having kids isn’t going to have much of an impact one way or another. But on a much more personal level, there are already existing kids in orphanages and foster homes right now that people could adopt. It’s common to encourage people to adopt existing pets rather than breed new ones, yet this logic is never applied to humans (or at least never suggested in ‘polite society’). But this a. apparently never occurs to most people in the first place, and b. they make up all kinds of excuses for why they need to create new life (which virtually always revolve around what having a kid does for them, not any desire to bring a new kid into this ‘wonderful’ world for the kid’s benefit).

    7. Yves Smith Post author

      I am skeptical as to how much women wanting children is instinctive. Women are heavily conditioned to conform to gender expectations, with being a mother top of the list. Even if you don’t have kids, you are supposed to behave in a maternal, “nurturing” manner.

      1. JP

        Many women (I know) said they never wanted children when they were in their 20’s only to get the call around thirty and pop out two or three. That said, any more then two doesn’t seem ecologically responsible. Personally I am happy to pass up my DNA imperative and have none. It means I get to pick whoever I chose to be my beneficiary.

        1. animalogic

          So far no one has mentioned the fact that it is often MEN who want children, & who aren’t backward at putting pressure of differing degrees of subtlety on their partners to achieve that end…

          1. J hawk

            Yes, the instinctive urge is not unique to women. In any case, humans have not faced this root cause of planetary destruction, will not and therefore, the species is doomed.

  2. Weren

    This sounds too similar to limits to growth. Whats it’s status in the scientific community at the moment especially after an update was released?

    Also we can’t really do much about population given the time horizons so I reckon the only option left is a change in the economic system. I see the right wing and neoliberals already preparing their assault on these scientists.

    And will places like India and China be up for this?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, thats a key point. The climate and environmental crises we are facing are going to hit us full on within the next 20-40 years. Thats basically one generation. Which means that even the most radical of global population strategies won’t make a damn bit of difference. Global population control (save mass murder) cannot make a significant difference until the next millennium.

      If you take China as an example, the one child policy did not significantly alter long term population trends. It took a huge ‘bite’ out of population (I’ve seen the figure of 200 million people), but all the indications are that China was following the demographic profile set by countries like Japan, Singapore, South Korea – a very sharp drop in the natural growth as economies grew. It will take a while to see how things shake out now that China is officially relaxing the one child policy, but it seems quite likely that the ‘natural’ rate in China now will be at or below the replacement rate.

      Whats rarely spoken about of course is that we know how to reduce countries population steadily – or at least, create a steady state or slowly dropping population. The formula can be seen in countries from eastern Europe to Asia. The formula more or less is:

      1. Develop to at least middle income levels.
      2. Create an economic system where its impossible for an average couple to live without two full time incomes.
      3. Ensure lousy maternity care and poor rights for women who want to leave work to have children.
      4. Make child care hideously expensive.
      5. Do not develop protections for womens careers to allow them career breaks to allow them to have children.
      6. Create an atomised urban society where extended families cannot provide good support to grandchildren, nephews and nieces, etc.

      And thats it really. All talk about education and ease of access to birth control is pretty much irrelevant.

      1. a different chris

        That’s funny but — does it really apply to anything but the US? Northern European countries practically beg their citizens to have children and yet (fortunately) the response is barely measurable.

          1. animalogic

            In 2004 Australia also tried to increase its population with a lump sum payment for producing children called the “baby bonus”. The initial payout was around $ 4000 & was intended to help with the inevitable expenses of rearing a baby. It took little time for stories to circulate that young women were deliberately having themselves impregnated for profit, followed by stories of the money being “frittered” away on flat screen TV’s or poker machines…or worse. Whether true or not such stories (& the resulting out cry) encouraged the federal government to pay mothers by installment.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Its a long time since I’ve been reading up on my demography, but the explanation I’ve frequently read for the US (and some other countries, such as Britain) maintaining relatively higher birth rates is that the ‘flexible’ labour market allows women to hop in and out of work more easily. Anecdotally, I think there is some truth to it – a key problem in Asia in particular is that people are expected to stay with their company for life, more or less, so its far more damaging for your career if you are seen as someone who quits just because you’ve decided to have a family. The relatively poor and rigid labour markets in Mediteranean countries may have the same effect.

          I should say that I’ve not read detailed studies on this, but it is an explanation I’ve seen come up quite regularly.

          Another point of course is that countries with a high level of immigration are likely to have a significant minority population from cultures which have maintained their ‘home’ countries birth rate, at least for a generation or two.

      2. johnnygl

        I gotta push back on this one, PK. Birth rates are dropping pretty rapidly, even in sub-saharan Africa. Those countries aren’t hitting really ANY of the criteria on your neoliberal checklist.

        Also, even in wealthy countries where leaders have gotten squeamish about really low birth rates, family friendly policies have had very limited effects. Maybe you could argue they aren’t trying hard enough, but it seems clear that it’s pretty hard to get a low birth rate back up again.

        1. johnnygl

          Sorry, i also wanted to boost your point about demographic changes being too gradual to make a difference.

          I think talk of population growth restrictions are mostly a distraction.

        2. Vatch

          Birth rates are dropping in sub-Saharan Africa, but not rapidly. See the 2017 World Population Data Sheet for the worrisome news:

          The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) exceeds 4 in most African countries. And even after a country’s TFR drops to replacement level, because of Demographic Momentum, it can take two or three generations for the population to stop growing.

          And the population is still growing in the United States. This is only partially due to immigration, because annual births still outnumber annual deaths by close to a million. Needless to say, the solution is to reduce the birth rate, not to increase the death rate.

          1. JohnnyGL

            Could they do better? Sure, but getting a TFR from 8 to, say, 5 is still a big difference. Since these countries are improving already, I’d suggest that any time spent moaning about ‘hard conversations’ about population control should very swiftly be redirected towards ‘hard conversations’ about banning fracking, mountain-top coal removal and deep-water oil drilling.

            Can we ban the elites from buying a dozen houses, first, before we talk about stopping the masses from reproducing?

            1. Anon

              Well, we need to be able to walk AND chew gum: develop solutions to both immediate (CO2) issues and impending (population) impacts.

              1. Vatch

                Precisely! The world’s complex problems have multiple aspects, and will only be solved by a variety of actions.

          2. John k

            The former is best because the latter mostly affects those past child raising age… but every little bit helps.
            More guns! Everybody should have some! If kids have them in schools, they can shoot back! I bet some rep states would agree to lower the age at which kids can buy guns…
            and good for markets, too!

            Lots of ways to skin the cat… more wars! And they depress the birth rate, too!
            Helpfully, diseases are making a comeback. Nothing like a good plague…

  3. Chris

    Thank you, Clive. I live in Australia (Anfield Boy) and immigration, austerity, privatisation, automation, student debt and off-shoring has killed us (I could go on as you would well know). Australian property is too expensive, to rent and to buy, and our young, the ever growing rentariat and the elderly have borne the brunt.

    Population is the elephant in the room and it’s not PC to discuss it or sensible immigration (which is portrayed as lifting everyone’s boat, instead of making the incumbent residents life much more miserable).

    People have (procreational) rights you know. (And, we’re making money so shush.) But haven’t we all ever thought some people shouldn’t be ‘licensed’ to have kids?


    My parents arrived here in their 40s in Canberra in 1976. (I still remember my Dad’s unusual outburst at Whitlam’s dismissal – and only understood much later the gravity of his remarks. It is a time I remember quite vividly due to personal circumstances, and I know what was and what is now.)

    To population… At Dec 2016, there were 2m temporary non Aussies in Australia, on a variety of (student, work, tourist, expired) visas, some of which allow work. That is a staggering percentage of our working men and women. These are the people competing with me for, well, everything. And, Ag says they can’t operate without the cheap labor….

    And on it goes. Gaia will fix it. When the food runs out.

    A gun would come in useful then, for those so inclined

    1. visitor

      But haven’t we all ever thought some people shouldn’t be ‘licensed’ to have kids?

      It is already the case when people adopt children — they have to pass the equivalent of an exam.

      A couple of my acquaintances showed me the dossier they had put together to fulfill adoption regulations: CV, extract from the police register, motivation letter, documentation about living conditions (including photographic evidence), etc.

      The desire of normal people to adopt children is placed under considerable scrutiny, while those who just procreate (possibly with some technological help) are just free to do so.

    2. flora

      “Gaia will fix it. When the food runs out.”

      The ‘bread baskets’ around the world are pumping the aquifers to irrigate wheat, corn, soy, and other crops. On the US great plains the High Plains aquifer is slowly but surely being pumped below access levels, and being pumped dry in places. When the water runs out so the the ability to consistently grow huge crops of foodstuffs.

  4. witters

    “We have, as a body of humanity, got ourselves into a right old mess with this subject”

    No. We are human. And so the mess

  5. james wordsworth

    In Canada we seem fixated on increasing immigration, though I know not for what purpose. There is some argument for balancing out the age issue related to an aging population but we go well beyond that.

    I would love to see a population/immigration policy that said – we want a maximum population of “X”, and then develop a plan from there, but unfortunately we have a system that says 0.9% of population will be added from immigration each and every year, with no end in sight. Personally I am getting very tired of seeing acre after acre of our best farmland plowed under to build more houses.

    Of course the biggest problem is Africa – where population growth remains out of control. Countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt are future basket cases if you look at their population pyramids. But no, we can not talk about birth control or limiting population size as a function of economic aid. Aid pumped into these countries is wasted if not combined with a population policy. Tough to say but true.

    This link does population projections for any country. Click where it says world to pick a specific country of region. Scary stuff.

    1. Thuto

      It’s nice when you can dissect these issues into neat little cubes, denouncing and ignoring in equal measure the complex interweaving of causative factors that drive unsustainable population growth in Africa. I dare ask, have you been to Africa? Or do you offer a diagnosis gleaned from reading academic journals? (Your over-simplistic analysis of the situation and your offering as a solution a carrot and stick/quid pro quo approach to aid suggests to me the latter). Everyone seems ready to tell Africans to stop breeding so much yet there’s an eerie silence, and very little “standing up to be counted” when it’s time to tell the western political/industrial/financial elites to halt the economic molestation of the continent.

      Said molestation deprives Africa of the resources needed to invest into, amongst other things, education. Without that education, you can forget about eliminating the basic and functional illiteracy that renders the majority of poverty stricken Africans incapable of grasping, at an intellectual level, the dangers posed by rapid population growth. Without this understanding anchoring any efforts directed at effecting change, your stick and carrot approach will be rebelled against in the villages and towns as an infringement upon an “inalienable” right to bear children. This problem of spiralling birth rates in low income communities, intractable as it may be, is not one that is unique to Africa by the way (i’ve never been to an American trailer park but i’d wager that the birthrate there is higher in comparison to peers from higher income brackets.

      Higher income, educated African families have birthrates that are sustainable and their per capita consumption rate is much lower than similar sized families in the west. So while pronouncements from the west about how Africa needs to get its act together re: population are no doubt well intentioned, a more disciplined and holistic approach to the discussion (as opposed to the simplistic, sweeping generalizations that I see here sometimes), taking cognizance of the interplay between the factors that drive this trend (including western complicity) is called for imho.

      PS: As an African, not in the diaspora but living in Africa, i’d suggest to my western peers that the lived experience of africans on the ground is often much different, and certainly more complex, to what’s conveyed in the writings of academics, who for the sake of pragmatism, must distill and capture only the essence of the circumstances/situations they encounter and seek to convey. Any consideration of issues that inflict the continent should be taken within this context.

      1. JohnnyGL

        “Everyone seems ready to tell Africans to stop breeding so much yet there’s an eerie silence, and very little “standing up to be counted” when it’s time to tell the western political/industrial/financial elites to halt the economic molestation of the continent.”

        — THIS!!!

        Now, quit having kids and get back to pumping that oil from the Niger Delta!!! Oh, and try not to spill so much this time, huh?!?!?! I mean, come on, you’re killing all the fish in the river.

        1. Thuto

          Maybe i’m having a slow night but I can’t be sure whether your comment is meant as a rebuke or whether you’re being facetious??

          1. flora

            I read JGL’s comment as a full agreement with you comment; and his final paragraph as an ironic satire about the extractive interests’ real outlook parading as “concern”, much like the ironic satire in Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’.

            1. flora

              ‘A Modest Proposal also targets the calculating way people perceived the poor in designing their projects. [A Modest Proposal] targets reformers who “regard people as commodities”. ‘ – Wikipedia

          2. diptherio

            Yes, he’s agreeing with you by way of showing how ridiculous the situation you pointed out is.

            And thank you very much for writing this comment, by the way. It’s a keeper. I hope you don’t mind if I cut and paste it to have handy for later conversations with people about this topic (with proper attribution, of course).

          3. JohnnyGL

            I was being facetious. Your comment was very much welcome. I get excessively comfortable with the educated and civil tone here at Nakedcap.

            I need to remind myself that 1800s-style colonialist attitudes and victim blaming show up in other places around the interwebs and many who display them aren’t joking.

            In other spots on this post, I’ve tried to make the point that number of humans isn’t the issue so much as resource consumption is the problem and Africans just aren’t consuming most of the world’s resources.

            1. Thuto

              Thank you, I totally agree that classing it as a birthrate/high population problem without factoring in like for like per capita consumption (or worse, relegating said pc consumption to an afterthought) might have the unintended consequence of coming across as disingenuous.

      2. Summer

        Exactly. Africa has plenty of resources to take care of Africans, but it’s being used as a continent of extraction.

      3. Vatch

        Most of the people who comment here are well aware of the way that Africa is being plundered by the West and by China. I strongly suspect that many different actions are needed to solve Africa’s problems. One class of actions is for the West and China to stop exploiting Africa’s resources. Another class of actions is for Africans to stop having so many children. These different actions are not mutually exclusive. Both need to happen.

        I agree with you that there are too many births in the United States. Annual births exceed deaths by about a million. The Duggars are a national embarrassment.

        1. Synoia

          Most of the people who comment here are well aware of the way that Africa is being plundered by the West and by China.

          With the active encouragement of the west, and corrupt leaders, Builderbergs all.

        2. Thuto

          Thank you for your perspective. If you take one thing, and only one thing, on faith, let it be this: You’re mistaken if you think the problem of a spiralling birthrate (I hasten to add, once again, that this is a social ill that afflicts the poverty stricken) is going to be solved by proselytizing (telling them to “stop having so many children” will be seen as such, trust me on that one) in parallel with plugging the holes of economic misery inflicted by e.g. western and chinese plunder. Without first empowering the economically disenfranchised, your words will fall on deaf (read incapable of grasping your well thought out argument about why population control is so important because of the low literacy rate I mention in my original post) ears. If you were to choose one high leverage, high impact action to start with in tackling this problem, economic empowerment would be it, sustainable family planning in the midst of economic empowerment is par for the course (no serious argument can be made against this, not if you’ve seen the results of this sequential approach as I have by having a mother who’s a nurse and deeply involved with successful family planning campaigns that employ it). What’s obvious and self evident to you and me, that sustainable family planning is in the best interest of poor families, isn’t so easily grasped by people caught in the snares of crushing poverty. Empower them economically, give them an education, a hope for the future, and watch the magic happen. I’ve seen it, it works…

          1. Vatch

            I agree that preaching won’t work. Instead, surprisingly, soap operas can be used to help change people’s minds. This organization uses both radio and television soap operas to raise people’s awareness of women’s rights and population issues:

            Population Media Center

            As for economic development or empowerment: how’s that going to be accomplished? I don’t have the power to make that happen anywhere in the world. Here in the United States, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow. I suspect this is happening in many parts of the world.

            Family size is one aspect of people’s lives over which they have some real control. And a smaller family has a better chance of rising from poverty than a large family has, because it costs less to feed, clothe, and shelter a small number of people. That’s a way to economically empower people — not just in Africa, but in China, India, South America, and North America.

            1. Thuto

              If observations support the notion (and they do, whether in an American trailer park or African village) that birthrates in low income communities generally outpace those in higher income communities, shouldn’t we be classing this as an economic problem, and seeking to dismantle the economic sub-structures that support it? And as JohnnyGL is at pains to point out, the well heeled consume far more resources, both on a per capita and absolute bases, than the poverty stricken. While their higher income levels have brought them to a place of understanding about the virtues of sustainable family planning, they nevertheless seem unwilling to/incapable of reining in their own oversized consumption habits (even as they chastise the poor about their reckless reproductive habits).

              The well heeled themselves need to be exemplary in their conduct otherwise their concerns tend to ring hollow.

              1. Vatch

                . . .shouldn’t we be classing this as an economic problem, and seeking to dismantle the economic sub-structures that support it?

                Yes, of course, it is an economic problem, but it is also more than just an economic problem. Unfortunately, there is heavy resistance to economic reforms. The oligarchs are powerful, and some of them are very good at propaganda. Lower income people can improve their position in life by having smaller families, whether they are able to force economic reforms on the oligarchs or not.

                And of course you are also correct that more prosperous people consume too much, and are, in general, quite wasteful. But 7.4 billion people is a massive phenomenon, and this cannot be sustained.

          2. steelhead23

            Isn’t it disheartening that among the cost-savings sought by the Republican Congress is the elimination of birth control from federally supported health care programs? I understand that folk have rational, moral qualms about fetal abortion, but efforts to reduce access to birth control is simply Pollyannish and myopic. I wholeheartedly agree that education and economic empowerment are essential to women making procreative decisions, but easy access to birth control should be both a national and foreign policy for the U.S.

            1. Vatch

              Of course you are correct. And if one is sincerely opposed to abortion, one must support convenient access to affordable effective contraception. Preventing unwanted pregnancy prevents abortion.

        3. diptherio

          Your two classes of problem are not so easily separable. People have children for reasons. You can’t simply say “stop having so many kids!” without understanding those reasons, or taking them into account. And, in fact, even if you do understand those reasons, you still can’t tell people to stop having kids…at least not if you want to have a positive effect. How about this, instead: we all work on reducing our own consumption and reigning in our own lifestyles and let everyone else figure their stuff out without us telling them what to do? That way, we spend our time working on things we actually have control over (ourselves) and we won’t piss people off by telling them how to live their lives (which we should all understand, given how we react when someone tries to tell us how to live our lives…and yes, I know this whole comment is one big paradox. :-)

    2. HotFlash

      Very interesting, thank you James Wordsworth. I was interested in the One-Child Policy which, I had read, lead to a much higher proportion of male children being born, but the figures don’t look that skewed. Checked around a bit more, found, as expected, high-income countries show births reducing over time, poor countries showing very high birth rates. According to the chart, nearly 20% of the population of Burundi is under 4 years old. Wow! However, all the countries I checked, rich or poor, showed about equal distribution by sex. EXCEPT Arab countries — Bahrain, KoS, Kuwait, UAE, which skew predominately male but only in the age of working. Any idea why this should be? Immigration? Temporary or permanent labourers?

  6. PlutoniumKun

    The above reports do also highlight the complete and utter negligence of The Australian Greens. Despite their purported concerns for the environment, The Greens have remained deafly silent on Australia’s world-beating immigration program and have refused to argue the case publicly for a smaller and more sustainable population for Australia.

    This seems pretty confused. The Biosicence Journal article is about global overpopulation – migration is about redistributing population. You could argue that moving people from cultures where high families are the norm to countries where low families are the norm is actually helping to reduce population (Although usually it takes a generation or two for this to kick in). I can’t see any reasonable connection between the issue of global population growth and immigration policy.

    1. james wordsworth

      One must also consider the type of people who emigrate. Other than refugees they tend to have an ambition for a different life. They see it as easier to move than to try to fix where they are. So by having high immigration, countries like Australia and Canada benefit from the skills immigrants bring (but not from the environmental impact), but the countries they leave are worse off. They lose many of their best and brightest hopes for a better future. And the cycle continues.

  7. Chris

    You are right PK, but high levels of immigration, in turn fueled by famine, war and so on, have impacted those countries, like ours, who have ‘shared’ our wealth with the newcomers and their sponsors.

    If population pressures were absent and we all lived sustainably and were civil and respectful of our neighbors, there would be no food scarcity or warring nations.

    But that’s not the world we inhabit. Cheers bro

  8. The Rev Kev

    Jeez, I remember when the population of Australia was only about 10 million. The times do change. There was a bit of a kerfuffle a few months ago when a number of people spruiked the idea of Australia having a population of 100 million. An article at talks about this idea but the money quote is this-
    “A more extreme case was put last year in Canberra at a CSIRO seminar. The respected economist Mr Des Moore, senior fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, claimed Australia could support a population of more than 100 million if it became a net importer of food, like the UK and Japan.”
    This was a true WTF moment as people here instantly recognized the hazards of this idea. Most of the continent is desert and few want to live there, especially as services are being stripped of these regions, which explains why most Aussies live in coastal cities. A population of 100 million would have to result in massive slums in these same cities and having to be a net importer of food would blow the deficit out to Jupiter’s orbit. The ecology of the continent just could not take it.
    And under climate change, just where are are supposed to get enough food to feed 100 million people in competition with the rest of the world? It is not the people that live here that want it but people like economist and ambitious business people. You know. The same sort of people that brought as the economic crash of ’08, the bubble economy, and all the other goodies of modern finance in the world economy.

    1. JEHR

      It’s funny how ideas seem to percolate throughout the world: Someone in Canada was saying that we should have a goal of 100 million population too.

      1. Massinissa

        At this point there is only a single, global, international capitalist leadership class.

        And their shared religion is neoliberal economic growth.

  9. jabawocky

    When I decided not to have children the decision was based partly on the view that the world is overpopulated. The Green Revolution is most at fault for providing surplus cheap food, in fact many global problems can be traced to the Green Revolution. What always surprises me is the number of otherwise intelligent people that reproduce, even those with otherwise quite strong environmental views. I guess anyone who passed through child bearing age before the 1980s can probably be forgiven, but to produce yet more humans now is obviously reckless.

    1. johnnygl

      Gotta disagree. The decision to reproduce is hardly ‘reckless’. The decision to have, say, more than 3 kids….well, now you are onto something.

      But when we talk about what constitutes ‘reckless’ behavior, it seems crazy not to point to things like mountain top blasting for coal….deep-water offshore oil drilling, fracking, tar sands, etc….

      Reproducing, by comparison, doesn’t even belong in the same conversation. Not even close.

      The finger should be clearly, unflinchingly pointed at business and political leaders and at the 1%ers more broadly. THOSE people have made the decisions which are destroying society, not that family down the street who had the accidental extra kid.

    2. vlade

      There was no Green Revolution in Africa, yet it was the continent that grew very strongly in last few decades. Improved healthare are way more significant.

      If your atomic family was used to have 10 children so that three would survive to adulthood, and now it still has 10 (even if majority of them is underfed), it has massive impact. It took two to three generation in Europe “to get used” to to a significantly lower child (<15 of age) IIRC, and have 2-3 children max (and now 1-2).

      1. mpalomar

        ‘…to have 10 children so that three would survive to adulthood”
        Yes, in my own family and my wife’s, if we go back a few generations, that was indeed the logic.

    3. Vatch

      The Green Revolution was a magnificent opportunity, and it would have been a resounding success if people had stopped having large families. Instead, serial procreators proved the validity of much of what Malthus warned us about. Malthus was wrong about one thing: he opposed contraception. His younger contemporary Francis Place made the obvious and necessary connection between the theories of Malthus and the need for widespread use of contraception.

      1. mpalomar

        From what I recall, famine was largely a distribution problem and a symptom of wealth inequality and the lack of international will to elevate people above the pursuit of profits and marketplaces.

        The Green Revolution was a disaster, not because it produced cheap food that fed the hungry of the planet but because it produced in fact expensive unsustainable food, if the externalities were understood, i.e. fossil fuels, chemicals, insecticides, herbicides and the depletion of the planet’s top soil and water resources.

    4. Mark P.

      Jabawocky wrote: What always surprises me is the number of otherwise intelligent people that reproduce

      Eh. Consider what a scenario where those people don’t reproduce looks like —

      Don’t recite any well-meaning bromides that you may have picked up about how IQ doesn’t correlate strongly with heritability. They’re nonsense. It may be in the quite near future that we can raise individuals’ IQs through biogenetic interventions, but till we’re able and prepared to do that those ‘otherwise intelligen’t people need to have children.

    5. Elizabeth Burton

      Of my four children, two are teachers, one is a writer/editor, and the youngest is a major in the National Guard. They, in turn, have produced a collective ten grandchildren who are not just intelligent but compassionate, and are quite likely to do a great deal of good in the world if we who allowed the corporations to turn the planet into a cesspool can repair the damage.

      Interesting that it’s always other people who bear the responsibility for the mess, isn’t it? Even when I was a pup, the real blame always fell on people who have too many kids, even if those big families as a whole used fewer resources than their “better off” peers who lived in the big houses with the two or three TVs and the stereo and the big, fancy appliances, and drove the big cars, and made those nifty road trips to the National Parks…

      Shall I go on? Didn’t think so.

      I just posted this to my news group on Facebook, and I did so because a few days ago I was once again labeled a Trumpist for pointing out the Paris thingy the media made sure became a huge issue was really not much use so far as doing anything to prevent climate-change armageddon because “at least we’re doing something” has become the new level of righteousness.

    6. Jer Bear

      “I guess anyone who passed through child bearing age before the 1980s can probably be forgiven”

      The “Population Bomb” came out in 1968. Everyone knew what would happen and when. No one cared enough. Replacement level for civilization is 2 children per woman. Anything more is excess

  10. Wukchumni

    With all other clients, Mother Nature is very harsh on them when they overbreed, but we’re a special case, in that unlike every other species, we defeated disease and anything living that might do us harm.

    But then again, squirrels don’t have weaponry that can kill millions in one fell swoop, apocalypse advantage goes to the humans.

  11. Steve H.

    “…(T)he biological system- including man- is not run by the central nervous system but by the endocrine system.”

    Walter S. Iberall

  12. AstoriaBlowin

    Might sound like a jerk here but really no one ought to have more than two kids, after that the quality of life for the family and care for the kids just goes down, even in rich countries. Lots of kids and you just can’t give them the attention and care they need.

    In developing countries it’s an especially acure problem, I’ve seen this first hand in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia through work. Access to birth control and education for women and girls would be the two best single things these countries can do for their development, tons of evidence pointing to the benefits for individual families, the kids and society at large. Unfortunately cultural mores and tradition are not in favor of these changes. 95% of that is the fault of men by the way, “traditions” being another name for oppression of women.

    And we’re already seeing the consequences of too high population growth in places like Nigeria and South Sudan. The intersection of climate change, ecological stress and population is the root of the current crises in those countries. Growth will be curtailed in the northeast of Nigeria because so many kids are dying right now but that’s not really the way we want to be resolving this issue.

    1. cnchal

      . . . Growth will be curtailed in the northeast of Nigeria because so many kids are dying right now but that’s not really the way we want to be resolving this issue.

      Substitute the United States for Nigeria, and it is still true.

    2. Vatch

      Might sound like a jerk here but really no one ought to have more than two kids

      You don’t sound like a jerk at all. What you say is rational and compassionate.

      1. Louis Fyne

        to sound like a insensitive, preachy, insensitive, rayy-cist jerk—-tell that to the developing world.

        Whether by choice or sheer economic necessity, the overwhelming percentage native-born couples in the developed world have capped themselves at 2 kids or less.

        By the time public discourse gets over this taboo of discussing 3+ fertility rate in the developing world, it’ll be too late.

        there may be plenty of food, but water? housing? jobs? those will probably be the limiting factors. and you can’t protect the environment if millions of people want affordable housing or to strip mine for export income.

        i’m just the messenger. and it’s a shame that the developing world has to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the lessons learned by Europe/East Asia about population growth.

  13. nonsense factory

    As far as Australia, as long as Australia continues to burn and export coal, which drives global warming and climate destabilization and sea level rise, which in turn increases immigration pressure, it has no logical moral argument for refusing to accept climate refugees. This is true for most of the industrialized world as well.

    As far as population growth rates, the main factor is that improved health care for children means children are far more likely to survive to adulthood than 150 years ago, when infectious disease might kill off 2/3 of all children. The rise of antibiotics closely correlates with explosive human population growth in the 20th century.

    There are two approaches to controlling population growth: liberal vs. authoritarian. The former is based on the fact that as women gain education and economic power, they choose to have fewer children. The latter approach, as seen in China, i.e. state laws severely penalizing those with more than one or two children, is the more draconian approach – but has actually been effective for China.

    However, this is only a contributing factor. Even if the world only had one billion people, if they all burned fossil fuels at the same rate the average American citizen does, about 5 metric tons per person, that still translates to 5 billion tons of fossil carbon emitted to the atmosphere per year. This is certainly lower than the current 10 billion tons per year, but would nevertheless cause atmospheric CO2 to increase steadily, only slightly delaying the long-term catastrophic scenario.

    Similarly, the world’s current population could be fairly sustainable if powered entirely by sunlight, wind and storage systems – the 100% renewable scenario, which is indeed technologically feasible, although economically disruptive to the fossil fuel sector and its investors – which is why it isn’t being implemented. Here is an example of the disastrous results of both monopolistic capitalist and state-controlled economic systems: failure to innovate because innovation threatens established wealth and power structures.

  14. Summer

    About 100 years ago, there was World War 1 and all the fault lines created by that war, as well as ones that led to it, still exist, even if deeper beneath the surface.
    The global population was nothing like it is now and the war for resources started – and there were globalized markets then.
    So that war continues, all conflicts since then have links back to those fault lines.
    The war just hasn’t (yet) ramped up its scale of killing outside of the Mid East, Africa, parts of Asia, and South/Central America.

  15. Eclair

    “The fact of the matter is that there are few better policy solutions to protect Australia’s environment than limiting population growth and abandoning plans for a ‘Big Australia’, which necessarily means significantly cutting immigration.”

    I freely admit that I become upset when I read such sentences, written, I would guess, by a white person of european descent who is now living on a pretty much semi-arid continent that had been humming along very nicely for a couple of thousand years under the stewardship of a group of peoples that were pushed aside (well, killed off) by his ancestors who were escaping the hardships of life in a brutal, war and famine-ridden society that was dominated by an arrogant aristocracy that had managed to tie up most of the land ownership.

    These same white (mostly) europeans spread out like a creeping mold over the North and North American continents as well. And, they infected the African continent and India, as well as assorted islands and peninsulas. They brought with them Christianity, giving them dominion over the ‘lesser’ animals, a virulent patriarchal mindset and a penchant for technology that allowed them to build an entire culture based on a finite and incredibly polluting natural resource. Which allowed them to reproduce at an ever faster rate, as it cut maternal and infant mortality and deaths by infectious diseases, as well as providing the means of clean water and sewage management.

    So, now we are in this bind; too many people using too many resources and producing too much garbage. Except that resource use is so unevenly distributed (as is the garbage production); the US, Canada, Australia, use over 10,000 kg equivalent of oil per capita. Those African countries, usually mentioned as being behind our ‘overpopulation’ problem, less than 1,000 kg of oil equivalent.

    A big part of our ‘problem’ is that the average Australian, or EU member, or US resident, uses too much energy and produces too much trash. Back to the Christian New Testament, first cast the beam out of our own eye, before we complain about the mote in our brother’s.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Wowsers, project much? Since when was this article directed at non-Europeans?

      And the basics of advanced economy life (as in the infrastructure) implies a high baseline of consumption. Yes, radical conservation is critical. But building green infrastructure has high environmental costs. So you need both radical conservation and halting population growth.

  16. Mattski

    Making sure that we do not unwittingly buy into the racism that has and still often accompanies conversation about population–including among white liberals; and making sure to underline that we STILL grow enough food to feed everyone, that capitalism, JIT food production, and corporate control over our food supply–food for profit–are the culprits for hunger; yes. Of course. And let’s start by accepting that birth control, abortion, and family planning–in a wider climate of supportive social programs–are the keys to combating overpopulation.

    Lots to say on this subject, but local control over the food supply–food sovereignty–is going to be an absolute key to resolving the problem.

  17. Lord Koos

    Tobacco and big pharma are working round the clock to help with the overpopulation issue and at some point, a pandemic and/or drug-resistant infections might thin things out quite a bit.

    But what I think is interesting is the lack of discussion on this issue. My father used to talk about ZPG back in the 1970s, and I recall it being a public debate around that time. These days, it seems to be rarely talked about.

    The focus on children and family is relentless in popular culture, especially films and television.

    1. Vatch

      But what I think is interesting is the lack of discussion on this issue.

      I think there are two reasons for this (maybe more).

      1. The religious right pushed back hard, and they made it very awkward for many people to discuss this.

      2. The politically correct left also pushed back hard. They claimed that the U.S. had a baby boom from 1946 through 1964, so why shouldn’t the Third World be allowed to have their own baby boom? People who tried to point out the dangers of over population were labeled racists.

      The consequences were tragic.

    2. visitor

      Environmental pollution through the astounding variety of synthetic chemicals, including hormone-disrupting ones, released by various industries since at least WWII without any accurate knowledge on their side effects, is now suspected to have brought a marked decline in Western masculine fertility (reduced number and motility of spermatozoa).

  18. Susan the other

    a little retrospective here, fwiw: When I was growing up in the 50s everyone had 4 or 5 kids and families have been getting smaller ever since. Now the norm is less than 2 in most places – and this in the state of Utah no less! About 25 years ago “the Church” sent down an edict to all the faithful not to have more kids than they could afford to raise. I assumed this was done because the church was spending too much on its welfare programs. I’ve also noticed over my lifetime than kids from big families in all corners of the country have small families – it’s almost a law of reverting to population sanity. So this is good news. It will get better with good leadership and open dialog – but we should never assume that the “free market” will take care of everything. Big mistake to do that. Overpopulation was like a Minsky moment – it seemed to reach unsustainabiity suddenly even though we all knew it was coming.

    I’m also wondering about central Africa. Seems like that rural population (a vast area of land) is moving to the cities and destabilizing them. Cities have their own carrying capacity. I would guess that because the populations are so concentrated now the birth rate will come down due to misery alone. No edict necessary. (which sounds very “free-market solution but is in fact the opposite.) Human populations always followed the limits of the environment until the aberration known as the industrial revolution. Now that industry is maxed out, so is the population. I think it is the lag time that gets us all messed up. And denial.

  19. mpalomar

    Reproducing is deep in the genetics of our bio logic, Dawkins believe other characteristics are baked in as well, the “selfish gene” stuff, Chomsky and language etc. That humans have reached a point where many are questioning this imperative is a marker along the human evolutionary path towards a more and more thorough divergence from our natural state.

    To question the prime directive for reproduction is to contradict the basic, civilizational understanding that all our institutions and systems (church, government, economic systems) have built into their foundations. The validation of other similar, unshakeable assumptions extruded from our ‘natural’ instinctual selves, again the selfish gene stuff, such as territoriality leading to private accumulation of wealth, organized violence i.e. military service, all must be challenged, otherwise humans will continue to grow unsustainably into the planet to the exclusion of other life forms, (the sixth mass extinction).

    Those talking about immigration solutions, and the article is confusing because it combines Australia’s reassessment on limits to immigration and population expansion with the global study on limits to resource extraction and population growth are missing the point. This is global, the earth is in the anthropocene. War, military expenditure, growth both economic and population, wealth and resource inequality are all issues that can not be isolated to the nation state, a global approach is needed and that is fundamentally why we’re likely toast. Humans have shown some small scope for understanding and problem solving but the task, given our recent and past history, is likely well beyond our capabilities.

    Too bad, it could have been a nice planet.

  20. Anonymized

    If they want to bring down population growth then they should be putting a lot of money in free education for women all the way to the end of college and unrestricted access to birth control. The birth rate in rich countries plummeted once women could go to school and educated women didn’t need to marry to support themselves. Or start exterminating the population in rich countries since it’s us that have the greatest impact on the environment. I’d like to see random draws for gladiatorial combat but I’d settle for a Hunger Games channel on YouTube.

    1. Vatch

      The birth rate in rich countries plummeted once women could go to school and educated women didn’t need to marry to support themselves.

      Girls attended school in the U.S. for decades before the end of the baby boom. It was the development of convenient, mostly reliable contraceptives that made the difference. Of course, if people aren’t educated, they’ll be less likely to use the contraceptives. And in many places, religious and/or political conservatives are still pushing for large families. Nearly every religion has influential sects or denominations that encourage large families.

      1. Anonymized

        Perhaps I should have said emancipation of women instead since those women had limited options with their education. Highly educated women that can vote, get jobs, own property, etc. have little need for marriage. Either way, more money in improving the welfare of women will significantly lower the birth rate.

        1. Vatch

          more money in improving the welfare of women will significantly lower the birth rate.

          I agree. People like Roy Moore and Jim Bob Duggar, and their foreign counterparts, who seek to keep women “in their place”, are a huge part of the problem.

        2. Art project

          There is lots of research that backs up your point! Kate Raworth and Hans Rosling are two I know off the top of my head, who say that women’s rights, education, and political power contribute to much smaller family sizes.

          Anyway. Who should get to decide how many kids a person may raise?

          1. Vatch

            Who should get to decide how many kids a person may raise?

            If the world’s population keeps growing, and I include the United States as an overpopulated part of the world, we won’t need to decide. Famine, pandemics, and resource wars will decide for us. We don’t know when the catastrophes will occur, but they will be unavoidable.

  21. Whiskey Bob

    I think there’s more to this picture. It’s not population in itself that’s the root of the problem, it’s the rate of consumption that the population has.

    It’s well known that expanding an American level of consumption to the rest of the population of the world in itself is unsustainable and would require about 2.5 Earths just to be able to provide enough resources. If the global population as of now stays stable, but the developing world grew to a developed American level, it would also incur the crisis.

    This speaks to the inequality between the first world and the third world and how the first world enjoys a privileged status that lets it exploit the third world for resources and labor.

    I think this also explains the difference in birth rates. First worlders have more expensive, but safer lives. Third worldwide have less expensive, but riskier lives. This is due to differences in economic strengths and social safety nets and the like. These different incentives then compel the first world to procreate less but invest more into their children while the third world has an approach that favors birthing as many as possible in order to ensure that there will be a next generation if children were to die.

    No doubt third worlders seek to immigrate to the first world and escape their situations. If the first world would help invest into the third world not just for exploitative profit, but for genuine humanitarianism, it would go a long way to incentivizing them to stay in their countries.

    However, this approach would need to have the first world give up their privilege and that is not going to happen as long as the profit motives under capitalism still reigns. The next thing capitalism will do instead is go nationalist and protectionist and reject immigration while maintaining their privilege.

    1. Vatch

      It’s not population in itself that’s the root of the problem, it’s the rate of consumption that the population has.

      I agree. Whether it is a small number of people consuming a lot per capita, or a large number of people consuming relatively little per capita, the result is the same: Resource depletion and the poisoning of air, soil, and water.

      . . . expanding an American level of consumption to the rest of the population of the world in itself is unsustainable and would require about 2.5 Earths just to be able to provide enough resources.

      According to this web site, 4.1 Earths are required if everyone is to have an American life style, and 5.4 Earths are required if everyone is to live like a citizen of the United Arab Emirates:

      . . . the third world has an approach that favors birthing as many as possible in order to ensure that there will be a next generation if children were to die.

      The population of Third World countries such as China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and others is already dangerously high. Yet their populations continue to grow. Even simply sustaining their currently high populations is too much. They have no need for large families, but influential conservatives around the world don’t seem to realize this.

      1. Jason

        Does anyone have the equivalent figures when another advanced country (like Switzerland or Japan) is used as the benchmark? I suspect America is particularly wasteful in using resources to produce a dollar of stuff…

        1. Vatch

          The web site that I linked to says that we would need 2.5 Earths if everyone were like the French, and 1.4 Earths if everyone were like the Costa Ricans. Sorry, I don’t see an estimate for Japan or Switzerland, but I suspect that they are in the same range.

  22. Adrienne

    Rather than continui g to argue whether or not over-population is a problem, let’s just try this:

    1) Institute laws in every single country guaranteeing reporoductive rights for women.

    2) Provide free, effective birth control for both women AND men.

    And we’ll see how many babies are born.


    Really guys, (I’m assuming a high percentage of male comments here), even in the good ole US of A it’s enormously difficult for women to make a free choice of whether or not to have kids. Virtually every culture on earth reserves the rights of men over women when it comes to reproduction. We simply can’t debate population unless we admit that the issue revolves 100% around the rights of women over their own bodies.

    1. Ligurio

      The issue is not population growth per se. The issue is population growth combined with a world economy that is also predicated on constant growth. What some on this thread don’t quite seem to grasp is that any population-control mechanism adopted in our current global climate will function just as most mechanisms do: it will be used to coerce and punish poor brown people in countries far away so that rich white (and some rich brown) people in Europe and the US can continue, or at least alter as minimally as possible, their—our—truly unsustainable habits of consumption and waste.

      I fail to see how such a policy would not amount, in reality, to the ultimate takeover and control of the human body itself and its natural powers by the capitalist or neoliberal state. Perhaps that is where we are headed in any case.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      The most active and productive years – often, during these years, men and women, boys and girls, have no total control and thus, impaired rights (lost those to not the other sex, but to Nature), over their bodies.

      Both boys and girls, transmit and receive chemical signals via various pathways, often unconsciously, that interfere with body control. Sometimes, maybe often times, the urge to attend a party is inexplicable.

      The modern tight-work-school-space society does what it can, mandating, for example, deodorants and other body odor suppressants. But Nature evolves counter-measures, like perfumes, after shaves, alcohol and drugs.

    3. flora

      Yes. From an article about the “Rio + 20 Earth Summit” (environmental summit in 2012):

      “The scientific academies stressed that poverty reduction remain a priority, but said action to promote voluntary family planning through education, better healthcare and contraception can aid that process.

      “The P-word is not talked about because people are scared of being politically incorrect or alarmist. Even so, the the population dialogue should not just be about sheer numbers of people – that type of dialogue leads to finger pointing,” said Lori Hunter, a demographer who was in Rio for a side-event. She said the picture was more complex and touched upon the need to consider factors that shape fertility decision-making. She mentioned that in some areas, scarcity of natural resources leads to larger families as families need labor. There are also high levels of unmet demand for contraception in many regions of the world.”

  23. Joel

    I thought immigration to low-birth-rate countries like Australia from high-birth-rate countries like Bangladesh actually reduced global population growth?

  24. H. Alexander Ivey

    My two bits (and I up front will say I have not detailed out the posting, nor fully read the comments)

    First, why blame the women for having children? Women are historically and even today, the weaker of the two parts needed for having children (weaker in every economic, social, and political sense, not in the biologic). Men have much more power over having or not having children (or are you arguing that men just can’t keep it in their pants—if so, why not just have sex with non-child bearing year women?), so why blame the weak, why not blame the strong?

    Second and really the point here, as Clive said above, climate change is happening within one generation, so changes in population growth by children is moot. If you want to handle climate changes, you need to handle the extremely poor allocation of resources (most of which is simply wasted so is quite easy (engineeringly) to correct that problem.

  25. 2nd world

    I have sensed how increased population/immigration have decreased quality of life on the local level.
    Where I used to see horizon I now see towering development. Lifeless glass, steel and concrete.
    Living space financed by cheap and accessible money. As human congestion increases, prices skyrocket.
    Where was once quiet car engines now hum and pollute in perpetuity.
    Where once one language was well spoken, one can now hear many, but diluted tongues.

    I ponder nexus of exponential population growth – resource depletion – economy/ecology not being able pay for its liabilities.

  26. g3

    Sure, if it is Western countries, yes, they need to control population growth. Because the resource consumption per capita is higher than in 3rd world countries. Otherwise, it will be blaming the poor for the problem caused by rich people. And everywhere, women exercising control over their bodies(repro rights) is the best way out.

    Lack of anti-capitalist analysis is dangerous for women’s health/lives in 3rd world countries :

    Bourgeois White people, esp White feminists (the likes of Jill Filipovic, Gloris Steinem etc) should take note

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