Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Population: The elephant in the room

John Feeney

Uncontrolled population growth threatens to undermine efforts to save the planet, warns John Feeney. In this week’s Green Room, he calls on the environmental movement to stop running scared of this controversial topic.

It’s the great taboo of environmentalism: the size and growth of the human population.

It has a profound impact on all life on Earth, yet for decades it has been conspicuously absent from public debate.

Most natural scientists agree our growing numbers and our unchecked impact on the natural environment move us inexorably toward global calamities of unthinkable severity.

They agree the need to address population has become desperate.

Yet many environmentalists avoid the subject, a few objecting strongly to any focus on our numbers.

From: BBC Scotland Read the full article and comments here:

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Alex Wadsley

    March 2, 2009 at 11:33 am

    re 10#

    This is one of the premises of Jared Diamonds’ ‘Guns Germs and Steel’. Two comments. Firstly it is animals in close proximity with humans i.e the friendly chinese, indonesian or hippy farm, not industrial farming, that is more likely to lead to transgenic diseases. Secondly, in the long run the host species is stronger as it develops resistance and then wipes out those human tribes that don’t live in close proximity with animals.

    Without migration the West would have turned the corner on population growth, the ex-communist world already has. The threat is Africa and South Asia, but even in an anarchy like Somalia Malthus hasn’t been proven right. The modern world has seen areas depopulated by demographics and economics, not plague or famine.

  2. Leonard Colquhoun

    March 1, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Noticed how, as with those mullahs and imans who urge their followers to destroy the kaffir by suicide-murders but they themselves stay well away from any close personal involvement, how those advocating a smaller population never take that one practical step which would give us dongos who ‘just con’t get it’ a personal example of population decrease.

    Isn’t action supposed to speak louder than words?

  3. Jon Ayling

    February 25, 2009 at 7:58 am

    There is a ‘big picture fix’for over population and it comes via mother nature in the form of avian influenza or a similar zoonotic disease. Recent evidence carried out indicates that Bird Flu was responsible for the deaths of millions around 1918 and according to scientists it is definitely overdue to return. Right now it is approximately a decade overdue and has more than enough potential to destroy a third of the human population by both direct and indirect means (in the form of second order disease such as cholera or typhoid). The fact that it has fallen from the world media’s radar means that most of us will be ill-prepared to deal with it.

    Interestingly, of the 12 infectious diseases humanity has dealt with during the 20th century, eg. smallpox, poliomyelitis or tuberculosis, 10 of them have been produced in the rearing of agricultural animals. In other words,raising animals en masse in appallingly close proximity eg battery or barn hens, provides the perfect environment for these diseases to flourish.

    In a poetic sense, nature is about to lash out with some retributive justice for the unspeakble cruelty we have inflicted on other sentient creatures for far too long. Intensive farming of animals is, in my view, an immoral act and using massive quantities of antibiotics as a prophylactic solution is not the answer and only serves to create additional problems for the integrity of the human immune system.

  4. Dismord

    February 25, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Revelations can be taken to mean just about anything you care to read into it. We can’t even be certain is came from John’s pen.
    “Then the Lord said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I send them not, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart” Jeremiah CH:14 V:14
    None-the-less, if you’re blind enough to imagine our species deserving of survival in the long term, in the short term a devastating genetically engineered plague may wipe out 9/10ths of this planets’ population and just permit the survivors to scramble out of the ashes and continue the insanity of ‘growth’ yet again.
    These days, whenever I hear politicians use that ‘G’ term I feel like reaching for a gun. Hasn’t anybody noticed the planet we inhabit is of a finite size with finite resources? Rome certainly hasn’t.

  5. MONT

    February 24, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    i hear that additives or the like are reducing sperm counts.

    apart from such accidents and desperate ingenuity, there must be some big picture fix – one to match the order of the universe. maybe that means let it be.

    somewhere in Revelations (interestingly no more clarification is needed on that reference) there’s one third of the worlds population being wiped out (if I recall) and one third of a couple of other things too.

  6. Dismord

    February 24, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    “The population bomb is everyone’s baby.” An old slogan but still true. The human race will, through granting economics sacred status, destroy itself. Until and unless we substantially modify our behavior as a species it’s night , night kiddies. I’m pleased to be so old I won’t be here to witness the full consequences of our insanity.

  7. Pat D

    February 24, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Every time this issue comes up it makes my blood run cold. All options bar one involve gross violations of human rights.

    If we consume as we have done in the inflate and sell pyramid scheme, then maybe 200M is close, but I believe we are becoming more able to live like the Japanese used to. But we have yet to be sufficiently socialized ie we lack politeness, ie practical policy.

    The one solution is Respect. I didn’t say it was achievable….
    By pumping out so much U and Th, we make cancers unavoidable. We seem to have started a solution to our problem…. but it will only last 4500M years at 50% decay rates etc.
    Think instead that

  8. Alex Wadsley

    February 24, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    It might be worth noting that large parts of the developed world are already in population decline and that most western nations have below replacement fertility rates.

    Could the global financial crisis be just one real world manifestation of the ‘demography is destiny’ turning of the demographic tide?

    Yes, population and environmental footprints are a major global issue. But the issue of population control must be the focus of those countries where fertility is still above replacement (mainly Africe, the Middle East and South Asia) and the issue of reducing the environmental footprint should be the focus of the developed world.

    A simple regression would suggest that the main drivers of reducing fertility rates are female emancipation and education, improving living standards, and reducing the influence of religion.

  9. MONT

    February 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Yes. Why is it so? Strength in nummbers required for religion defense? It’s there numbers that are wrong not ours? The impossibility of reasonable control techniques? Catch 22?

    Is it such a quiet big issue becdause there is no answer to air or because it is so obvious that there is no answer to air?

    There’s a lot to be said about drawing lines of limitation to our building of residential amenity and frivolous items. The Blackfellas traditional way may be one of the winners that we squash cadasteral footprints. They have caused no eco worries and will never over populate.

    Was just reading

    ” … Laziness is easier in a loungeroom than under open sky. The things of the mind relating to house are immense in number and complexity. They ricochet about the world and our psyche. There goes one now from your ceiling to the chair leg, through the wardrobe, round the cornice and off the ancient tapestry. Chain reactions. Mathematical expansions. From basic settler-versus-nomad mind impacts, to subtle interior matters. The room is humming harder.

    From the joy of indigenous building to the potentials and stress of borrowed money. It is said that country Blackfellas don’t like to hear Whitefellas’ business talk. Is it that they anxiously opt out of crossing the threshold inward to the business of rampant settlement? Contracts, deals, industry, banks, legalities and – “Oh blimey mate! Those theodolites just don’t suit!!” These things are dimensions away from the indigenous way.” from ‘wow hows the house now’
    Hobart shops and http://www.bookstore.bookpod.com.au/p/514199/wow-hows-the-house-now.html

    Well one has to amuse oneself on the helterskelter even in vain effort to achieve.

  10. Chris Harries

    February 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    In the years after publication of ‘The Population Bomb’ (Paul Ehrlich, 1968) population was the hottest environmental debate throughout the world. In fact, it was considered to be the most critical isuse facing the planet behind the then nuclear arms race.

    Question: Why has it dropped down the scale of priorities?

    For several reasons. Firstly because the population debate back then was cauched in incredibly arrogant terms. It was the swarming hordes in third world countries who were causing the problem, we were just fine. Massive denial. Population became like climate denial is now.

    This threw up the controversy over profligacy (consumerism) versus population. Chicken and egg. A very legitimate debate. It’s still with us now.

    What made matters worse, the population issue then became (ab)used by people with perverse motives, mainly people having racist inclinations. ‘Australians Against Asian Immigration’ used the population / immigration issue perversely to their own ends. This muddied the waters because anybody who spoke of population felt like they were tarring themselves with the same racist brush.

    There is a third reason that population, despite its importance, lags behind. Now that the world is at crisis point, now that we are way beyond our carrying capacity, what (practical and ethical) policy issues can be put in place to address the population issue? Mass culling is generally frowned upon, for good reason.

    Put another way, it is much easier to halve consumption levels than it is to halve global population.

    In a nutshell: Economists have a way of expressing the difference in lifestyle between first and developing worlds. It revolves around the factor 32. In short, if the whole world consumed at the rate that the ‘global north’ does (at a per capita consumption multiplier rate of 32) it would be as if the global population had now reached a staggering 72 billion people. That’s a tenfold increase in present impact.

    And that is exactly what is now happening, as huge populations of China and India aspire to our consumer lifestyle. Profligacy and population smash into each other head on. Head on smashes tend to cause many casualties.

    The population debate has become stultified for yet another reason, our demography is rapidly changing. In 20 years time we will become a predominantly aged society. I will be one of them, as will all my peers. We won’t have a healthy mix of ages. This is a dilemma for policy makers who have to think about health care costs and so forth. But it is also an issue for society at large. As our population ages, so too will political conservatism, for instance.

    So, it’s a very muddy issue, made more muddier over time.

    Now… all this this in no way dismisses the point of the article. When Peter Costello gave out incentive money to help young Australian women breed up (remember his ‘one for the country’ quip?) the environmental movement should have come down on him like a tonne of bricks. It didn’t.

    Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 thesis is more pressing than ever. Population was a ticking bomb and the ticking has got ever louder. Environment groups do tend to have population policies in place, but no population policy will deliver dramatic results for the foreseeable future, so attention is focussed on other issues deemed to be more immediately pressing.

    And in Tasmania?

    No deliberate population policy is likely to have any effect. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Liberal party every now and then whimsically advocate a doubling of our population to help feed the consumer economy. I think that they will get their way in the long term, but through the back door. As climate change makes other places more and more unbearable nothing will stop Tasmania becoming a more desirable place to live. We have to brace ourselves for a marked increase in human numbers, with all of the consequent burden on land and resources and urban sprawl and so forth. It is hard to envisage how could any such demographic mobility could be resisted.

    We do need policies in place that address this potential influx. How big should Hobart and Launceston be allowed to get? How will water policy be affected? How will transport be affected? Where is the master plan for the next 25 years?

  11. Greg James

    February 22, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    It’s the elephant in the room. The worlds population at the turn of 1900 was slightly over 1 billion. 100 years later the population is 6 billion rapidly heading to 7 billion. To extrapolate those figures to the end of this century is to come up with the likes of 35 billion people on earth. The United Nations has already arrived at a figure of only 200 million people to have a world that optimises (whatever that means) the total effect Humans have. The seas are dying, the air is putrid, we already have chronic water shortages and we know we have poisoned whatever we have touched. Is this the start of a race for survival or is it the end. Whatever, the population must and will have to be culled.
    To rely on zero population growth is to enage in a doomsday scenario. Already 2 billion people on this world are middle class, with two or less children to replace the parents. Maybe that is natures way of protecting generated wealth fairly, it was the oldest son who traditionally inherits the lot. But to ask that 5 billion more become middle class is a ludicrous request, given the polluted pressures created in only having 2 billion get there. It cannot happen and nature, already in revolt will guarantee that it won’t and that a random solution is effected.
    This is the most existential problem to face humanity. Politicians in a disjointed political world cannot even approach the question, with reasoned argument or fascist action, all of them will shrink from the truth. It is a problem beyond religion, borders, politics and economics which will not go away.
    There has to be a solution, but I don’t think we will we like it when it comes.

  12. Jon Ayling

    February 22, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    One of the comments by an Australian who remembers a catchphrase at Cambridge sums it all up very nicely.
    ‘Whatever your cause, its a lost cause without population control’. A 44 gallon drum of
    Depot-Provera in the drinking water supplies of Tasmania could work wonders for the environment.

Leave a Reply

To Top