The Eternal Return of Overpopulation

Getting the cause of high fertility backwards.

Overpopulation panic is back. Concerns about a world too full of “filthy human children” motivated eco-terrorist James Lee when he held employees of the Discovery Channel hostage at gunpoint in September. But the deranged Lee is far from alone when it comes to worrying about overpopulation. The May-June cover of the progressive magazine Mother Jones asked, “Who’s to Blame for the Population Crisis?” British journalist Matthew Parris wrote an op-ed in September in the London Times asserting, “If you want to save the planet, stop breeding.” Parris further coyly suggested that we study “China’s example, for lessons good and bad.” 

But on World Population Day in July, British journalist Fred Pearce argued that “population is not the problem.” Pearce’s relatively sanguine article at the environmentalist website Grist provoked Robert Walker, former head of the anti-gun group Handgun Control and now executive vice-president of the Population Institute, to respond at the same site with an article titled “Of course population is still a problem.”

Walker asks Pearce what he evidently thinks are deep questions: “Looking ahead, Fred, will these countries [with anticipated population growth in Africa and Asia] be able to feed themselves? Will they have enough safe drinking water? Will their lands be deforested or their rivers polluted? Will their maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates remain unacceptably high? Will they be caught in a demographic poverty trap? Will they become failed states? If you have good answers to these questions, please let me know.”

Let’s take a stab at providing good answers to Walker’s questions.

Will the world be able to feed itself in 2050? As it happens, the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences) devoted its September 27 issue to analyzing the issue of global food security through 2050. One of the specially commissioned research articles projects that world population will reach around 9 billion by 2050 and that in the second half of the 21st century, “population stabilization and the onset of a decline are likely.” This should allay Ryerson’s concern that the world’s resources are not infinite and therefore “cannot support an infinite population of humans.” So okay, infinite human population growth isn’t likely, but can the Earth adequately feed 9 billion people by 2050?

Well, yes, suggest two other of the Royal Society articles. A review of the relevant scientific literature led by Keith Jaggard from Rothamsted Research looks at the effects of climate change, CO2 increases, ozone pollution, higher average temperatures, and other factors on future crop production. Jaggard and his colleagues conclude [PDF], “So long as plant breeding efforts are not hampered and modern agricultural technology continues to be available to farmers, it should be possible to produce yield increases that are large enough to meet some of the predictions of world food needs, even without having to devote more land to arable agriculture.”

Applying modern agricultural technologies more widely would go a long way toward boosting yields. For example, University of Minnesota biologist Ronald Phillips points out that India produces 31 bushels of corn per acre now which is at the same point U.S. yields were in the 1930s. Similarly, South Africa produces 40 bushels (U.S. 1940s yields); Brazil 58 bushels (U.S. 1950s yields); China 85 bushels (U.S. 1960s yields). Today’s modern biotech hybrids regularly produce more than 160 bushels of corn per acre in the Midwest. For what it’s worth, the corporate agriculture giant Monsanto is aiming to double yields on corn, soybeans, and cotton by 2030. Whether or not specific countries will be able to feed themselves has less to do with their population growth than it does with whether they adopt policies that retard their economic growth.

Another article looking at the role of agricultural research and development finds that crop yields have been recently increasing at about 1 percent per year. In that article researchers estimate that spending an additional $5 to $10 billion per year would increase food output by 70 percent over the next 40 years. Note that world population is expected to increase by about 33 percent over that period.

What about safe drinking water? Water is more problematic. The researchers commissioned by the Royal Society run a model that projects that competition for water to meet environmental flow requirements (EFRs) and municipal and industrial demand will “cause an 18 percent reduction if the availability of water worldwide for agriculture by 2050.” Interestingly, the amount of freshwater withdrawn for municipal and industrial use was 4.3 percent in 2000 and is estimated to increase to 5.9 percent by 2050. So the main competition for agricultural water is maintaining flows for environmental reasons. Since water is now often unpriced and subsidized, it gets used very inefficiently. As water becomes scarcer farmers and other users will have incentives to adopt water sparing techniques, such as drip irrigation. In addition, researchers are close to developing drought tolerant crops. The study also notes that water stressed regions will be able to “import water” in the form of food produced in areas with abundant water.

With regard to deforestation and polluted rivers, the answer is probably yes for many of the poorest countries. However, speeding up economic growth and technological improvements will dramatically lower the risks of these undesirable outcomes. As noted above, enough food to feed 9 billion can be grown on land currently devoted to agriculture. With regard to water pollution, it is one of the first environmental problems that poor countries begin to clean up as they grow wealthier. A recent study found that in every country where average annual per capita income exceeds $4,600 forests are stable or increasing [PDF]. In addition, technological progress offers the possibility that humanity will increasingly reduce its future demands on nature by a process of dematerialization [PDF], that is, obtaining more value while using less material.

Maternal mortality rates have fallen substantially—from 422 per 100,000 live births to 251 per 100,000 live births—over the past 30 years, according to a study published in The Lancet this past April. Sadly, the study noted, “More than 50% of all maternal deaths were in only six countries in 2008 (India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo).” Oddly, some activists opposed the publication of The Lancet article, fearing that the good news would stifle their fundraising. The world’s infant mortality rate has never been lower. Most countries, even very poor countries, continue to experience declines in infant mortality.

Walker’s last two questions about poverty traps and failed states are related, but not in a way that supports his implied points. As Wheaton College economist Seth Norton explains, "Fertility rate is highest for those countries that have little economic freedom and little respect for the rule of law.” He adds, "The relationship is a powerful one. Fertility rates are more than twice as high in countries with low levels of economic freedom and the rule of law compared to countries with high levels of those measures."

Fertility rates are high in failed states like Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Yemen, because of the lack of rule of law which inexorably generates poverty. Norton persuasively argues that such places are so chaotic that it’s like living in giant open access commons. In those cases people often reason that more children means more hands for grabbing unowned and unprotected resources for the family. Such anarchic places would be particularly ill-suited to implementing the kind of population control policies Walker favors.

According to research published by the Royal Society, it looks as though the world will be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050, perhaps even allowing some farmland to revert to nature. Water is a problem, but economic and technological solutions show promise in ameliorating it. But more importantly, Walker and other overpopulationists get the causality backwards. Poverty is the cause and high fertility is the symptom. Poverty traps and failed states which result in high maternal death rates, starvation, pollution, and deforestation are not created by population, but by bad policies. Working to spread economic freedom and political liberty is a lot harder than self-righteously blaming poor people for breeding too much. But it's the only real option.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  • In Time of War||

    How long before Al Gore, proud father of four (hmm, that's exponential growth, isn't it?) hops on this bandwagon?

  • silent v||

    His four kids are OK--he had three African children killed and used the Child Credits.

  • Derp||

    nice.

  • skr||

    awesome

  • ||

    That was pimp. +1

  • ||

    Good article.

  • ||

    Now that the World Population is expected to top out at around 9 to 10 billion, the neo-Malthusians have shifted their arguments to "the World cannot support X many people at a western standard of living." (Where 'x many' is some number greater than about 500 million.)

    The neo-Malthusians refuse to accept any argument that resources are a function of technology and price or that they can be used more efficiently. They insist that what we know about and can be used at current levels of price and technology is all that exists. Occasionally they will extrapolate what might be discovered based on application of those same limits to areas yet unexplored, but resources are always fundamentally limited to levels close to those currently known.

    So, we will continue to hear from the neo-Malthusians for generations to come. [I have confidence in their ability to extract new fantasies out of thin air.)

  • ||

    I have confidence in their ability to extract new fantasies out of thin air

    well, duh, because

    resources are a function of technology and price or that they can be used more efficiently.

    It works for the doomsayers just as well as the rest of us. Sadly.

  • JD||

    [T]he neo-Malthusians have shifted their arguments to "the World cannot support X many people at a western standard of living."

    Because life's not worth living if you don't have two cars, high-speed internet, and a plasma TV.

  • Chad||

    The truth lies in between "Neo-Malthusians" and what I call "Russian Roulette Libertians", who are fools who believe it is ok to play such a game, as the market will surely invent a solution to their "bullet speeding towards brain" problem if the wrong chamber comes up. I argue with both groups all the time (who somehow think I am simultaneously an neo-con nazi and bleeding heart lib at the same time).

    Economic growth is founded on three basic mechanisms:

    Population Growth
    Resource utilization growth
    Resource utilization efficiency

    The first is projected to top out later this century, as noted. The second also will be forced to slow, and maybe even reverse. Only the latter can occur indefinitely on a finite world. Those counting on never-ending "growth" to solve our problems are wishing upon a star. Growth will gradually slow, especially in the richest nations, as population stagnates, resources become ever more expensive, and we throw more and more money at solving smaller and smaller technical problems.

  • ||

    Wow, even other liberals don't like Chony.

  • ||

    Given that natural resources in developed countries account for only 1 to 3% of their total wealth -- compared to 17% of their wealth in tangible capital and 80% in intangible social capital -- I find your three basic mechanisms of economic growth somewhat wanting.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    Economic [G]rowth is founded on three basic mechanisms:

    Population Growth
    Resource utilization growth
    Resource utilization efficiency

    It's actually founded on Division of Labor and Savings.

    No prize today, I'm affraid. Keep trying, though...

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    The truth lies in between "Neo-Malthusians" and what I call "Russian Roulette Libertians"[...]

    So for you, the truth lies between crackpottery and the musings of a group you made up in your head.

    Pychiatrists call this "Schizophrenia", Chad.

  • Chad||

    OM, I am quite sure you have made RRL arguments yourself. Most libertarians do. The general idea that "our kids will be filthy stinking rich, so it doesn't matter how much shit we dump on them" is a core libertarian meme.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    You have me in a disadvantage, Chad. Just what are these arguments that your imaginary group made (which I am sure must be real, so please take it easy and drop the knife...)?

    The general idea that "our kids will be filthy stinking rich, so it doesn't matter how much shit we dump on them" is a core libertarian meme.

    Sounds more like a core crackpot-made strawman to me...

  • ||

    OM, don't you get it? It's Russian Roulette! Someone, a group of the best and brightest for sure, has to in charge.

    Otherwise, we'll just blindly pull the trigger; it'll be anarchy and people eating babies for lunch.

  • Ron L||

    Chad|10.19.10 @ 6:08PM|#
    "The truth lies in between "Neo-Malthusians" and what I call "Russian Roulette Libertians","

    As if you calling anyone anything meant squat.
    And as if your concept of "truth' were anything other than fantasy.

  • ||

    Actually, you accuse any libertarian who doesn't support YOUR solution to the world's problems as a "Russian Roulette Libertarian," so that you can go on pretending that you are the smartest person in the room. Libertarians don't just argue that the world will magically solve its own problems. We usually look for those solutions in market, but that is not the same as wishing and hoping that the market will solve all of our problems. Yes, it is quite likely that our children will have a wider array of options than we have today. This is hardly blind faith. We already see a lot of positive movements to solve the world's problems taking place in the market RIGHT NOW.

    People already make the choice on their own to pay more for "organic" food, even though it is stupid in many regards. There is no government mandate that people pay more for such things, but people often choose to without anyone sticking a gun in their face. Plenty of Libertarians take time out of their lives and money out of their wallets to help other people. You see, Chad, libertarians don't disagree with you on most goals, they simply disagree with the statist solution.

  • ||

    I'm sure the libertarians at the end of the Roman empire thought their kids would have a better future. Didn't really happen for a few centuries. You can be a libertarian and also a pessimist.

  • ||

    We can get 6 people to survive in just fine in a one room apartment, but that doesn't prove it's desirable. I don't care if we can support them or not. THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE. It just plain crowded on this orb.

  • ||

    Except that some of the richest areas on earth are also densely populated. The truth is that it isn't that hard to accommodate that many people in a small amount of space, it is simply more costly. Building materials are the one thing that we are not going run out of anytime soon.

  • ||

    I think you missed the point of the post entirely.

    It's not a question of can, it's a question of should.

  • ||

    Who decides who lives then?

  • Jeff P.||

    People like fucking.
    That is all.

  • JD||

    That was the explanation a Bangladeshi man I used to work with gave for why there are so many people in that part of the world--they're poor and have nothing better to do, so they fuck a lot.

  • publius asiaticus||

    I'm giving away all my belongings right now!

  • Binky||

    more children means more hands for grabbing unowned and unprotected resources for the family

    "Racist!" (At least "Poverty-ist!")

  • Brett L||

    Its always the same. With the exception of the suicide-by-cop Discovery channel guy, the anti-growth people never take enough responsibility to do the one thing that can guarantee consuming less and killing themselves. Oh no, its always people who aren't like them that need to quit breeding.

  • Anti population growth||

    Why should the anti growth people kill themselves? Who is the self righteous here? Just because people say infinite population growth is not a good thing, it doesn't warrant you to tell them to kill themselves.

  • ||

    At least I wouldn't have to hear them any longer.

  • ||

    Dear Robert Walker,

    Please make a list of which of the 7 billion people on the planet today you think should not be on the planet today.

    Then go ask them if they would rather they had never been born. Ask their family and associates if they would rather they had never been born. If they answer that they would rather have been born, does that tell you something?

    Given that you are not on that list (lucky guess!), ask yourself how much better your life would be if the people on your list were never born. If the answer is "not very much", does that tell you something?

  • ||

    Hmmm...not that I'm advocating anything here, not necessarily anyway, but we could cull the herd a tad by whacking a billion or two muslims and not do the planet any debilitating harm.

  • ||

    Does the planet have its own utility function that outweighs one or two billion human utilities-in-self?

  • ||

    yes.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Please show your work.

  • Matrix||

    Got a better idea... all those who believe there are too many people on the planet should just kill themselves. Be the solution, not contribute to the problem! The rest of us who remain will figure out how to deal with the phantom menace of overpopulation.

  • Joe||

    Matrix|10.20.10 @ 7:57AM|#
    Got a better idea... all those who believe there are too many people on the planet should just kill themselves. Be the solution, not contribute to the problem! The rest of us who remain will figure out how to deal with the phantom menace of overpopulation.

    ^^THIS, i vote for this.

  • Tman||

    This is a good thread to link to Stanford Professor Emeritus John McCarthy- PROGRESS AND ITS SUSTAINABILITY.

    This Web page and its satellites are aimed at showing that human material progress is desirable and sustainable. People have worried about many problems. These pages discuss energy in general, nuclear energy, solar energy, food supply, population, fresh water supply, forests and wood supply, global engineering, pollution, biodiversity, various menaces to human survival, the role of ideology in discussing these matters, useful references. Other problems are discussed in the main text including minerals and pollution.

    The sustainability pages are essentially done, although I plan to improve them and respond to inadequacies people find. Having done my best to show that material progress is sustainable, I can justifiably turn my attention to the future and present ideas about what progress people will want and what can be achieved. The emphasis is on opportunities rather than on inevitabilities.

    Most of the contentions of these pages are supported by simple calculations based on readily available numbers. Here's an illustration. Slogan: He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

  • Why?||

    Robert Walker, former head of the anti-gun group Handgun Control and now executive vice-president of the Population Institute

    I'm confused. Why would someone concerned about overpopulation work for Handgun Control Inc. given HCI's assertions

  • ||

    Because only rich people have guns?

    You know, rich people like the child soldiers in Africa.

  • The Lonely||

    I didn't know that HCI made class warfare arguments. I guess HCI supports the creation of a federal program to provide poor people with guns - oh, wait, I guess that would be the military.

  • ||

    I take it you aren't an american then? Our military skews heavily middle and upper-middle class.

  • ||

    To rig the Child Credit market.

  • DLM||

    I'm confused. Why would someone concerned about overpopulation work for Handgun Control Inc. given HCI's assertions

    You'd think he'd be in favor of legalizing nukes.

  • Old Mexican||

    The Eternal Return of Overpopulation

    ... and question-begging assertions. Like saying "your cat is too stripped."

    Walker asks Pearce what he evidently thinks are deep questions: "Looking ahead, Fred, will these countries [with anticipated population growth in Africa and Asia] be able to feed themselves?

    "Countries" don't feed - themselves or otherwise.

    Will their maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates remain unacceptably high?

    Your sudden concern for the well being of newborn children is touching, coming from a person that believes in OVERpopulation.

    Paying lip service, anyone?

  • The Lonely||

    Anyone who thinks the planet is overpopulated should be air dropped into the Canadian Rockies.

  • skr||

    which, by their accounts, should be quite comfortable and warm by 2050.

  • ||

    Seriously, drive the interstates sometime. Lots of empty space in this country too. And that's the areas worth connecting with highways.

  • ||

    Anyone who doesn't think the world is over-populated should try to buy a house on the California coast.

  • ||

    because "California coast" = "the world"? Clearly I missed something.

  • ||

    Yeah....sorry, you can't counter "look at bare spots of land if you think it's all overcrowded" with "but if you don't look at the bare spots it SEEMS overcrowded!", because the first accounts for negative instances and the second is just dumb.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    I've driven up and down the California coast several times, and it's ALSO largely unpopulated. Were you referring to the parts by Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego? Cause yeah, it's hard to find space there... I'd recommend you move to any one of the millions of square acres of available space in the United States or the rest of the world if you find it too expensive to live there though.

    I moved recently to upstate New York, and I can tell you, it's not only borderline unpopulated (as is most of the space in between here & Los Angeles), it's also quite affordable.

    Of course, I'm responding to an idiot who thinks that population density in major cities somehow equates to the population density of the whole planet, rather than being radically the outliers.

  • skr||

    The population density of the cities does correlate to the population of the remainder of the planet. The more dense the cities are, the less dense the remainder.

  • Cryst||

    ...

  • Cryst||

    ... in the middle of winter with nothing but a pocket knife, a fish hook and 20 cm of twine.

  • Juice||

    And they should also visit Antarctica and Central Australia too! Hey, there's plenty of room in the Sahara!

  • Old Mexican||

    Poverty traps and failed states which result in high maternal death rates, starvation, pollution, and deforestation are not created by population, but by bad policies.

    This is correct - whenever property rights are clearly established (either by the courts or by the assegai or by the AK47), people tend not to overuse their resurces (i.e. they do not consume their capital), rather engage in trade and savings.

    Instead, expropriatory policies (typical of the kleptocracies in Africa, Asia and the United States[*]) lead to overuse of commons and destruction of the environment.

    [*] I am kidding about the Unites States -- I think...

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The resources of the world could easily support many more billions of people than nine. The lack of sufficient food and fresh water production in impoverished areas of the world is due to political reasons, and that won't change by 2050 unfortunately.

  • skr||

    exactly. the world already produces more than enough food to feed the world. However getting the food to the people is a bit of a problem. Fucking logistics.

  • prolefeed||

    It's not logistics, it's economic ignorance. Make African nations prosperous by getting rid of their kleptocratic governments, and suddenly people will be working overtime to find a way to deliver food to those customers, logistics be damned.

  • Matrix||

    hey... I'm a logistician. Don't blame me! Blaym teh politishunz!!

  • ||

    We could probably reclaim a lot of that if lawns were used for food production instead of lawn grasses that get thrown away.

  • ||

    http://www.airandaqua.com/suns.....l&p=98

    well i don't know if anyone else will read this but here's a solution for water. an atmospheric water generator.

  • ||

    Wouldn't the world be a more pleasant place with about 1/4 of its current population?

  • ||

    For 1/4 of humanity.

    The dollar value of the loss in utility of the other 3/4 is roughly $7000*100*(3/4)*7,000,000,000, or $3,675,000,000,000,000.

    Yes, that's three quadrillion dollars, give or take a few hundred trillion.

    A fair price for "a more pleasant place" for the remaining 1/4? No.

  • ||

    Well then let's just increase the population by a few orders of magnitude and we will all be rich!!!!

  • ||

    No, the new people will be rich -- at least richer than had they never been born.

    We will be, on average, somewhat better off.

  • ||

    Since there is obviously no upper limit, let's just increase the population to the point where we all live in hives and crawl all over each other, say 10^100 humans. It sounds lovely, I can't wait.

  • Giggity||

    "let's just increase the population to the point where we all live in hives and crawl all over each other"

    I would finally get a chance to get laid. Sounds awesome!

  • ||

    As long as Giggity finally gets laid, I guess it's all good.

  • ||

    Okay, since you are clearly serious about the unstated question, I'll answer it.

    People should produce children to the extent (a) they want to and (b) they can pay for their children out of their own pockets.

    If that standard results in trillions of humans or googol humans, then, yes, the new humans will be richer than had they not existed and the other humans will be somewhat better off.

  • ||

    This line of reasoning is what got us the housing bubble. The price of housing will just continue to increase, so go ahead and buy that house for $400/sqft because you will be able to sell it for $500/sqft soon. When the bubble popped there was much gnashing of teeth to be heard.

    I don't know how many humans is too many, but I do know there is a number, and long before we reach that number the earth will be an unpleasant place to live.

  • ||

    What got us into the housing bubble was government subsidized housing. People may have (a) wanted to buy houses, but they wouldn't (b) pay for it out of their own pockets.

    Remove nudges and mandates that expand credit beyond market limits, the GSE's buying up every mortgage they can, and deductions for mortgage interest. No more housing bubble.

  • ||

    No, you DON'T know there is a number. You simply FEEL like there has to be. Those of us who believe there is no set number rely on the fact that dopes like you have been making the same prediction, incorrectly, for the past 200 years. We may not be right either, but we've got a damn better track record than you.

  • ||

    Alan, It is relatively easy to calculate the surface area of the earth. I would opine that the world has reached its capacity well before we are all forced to stand shoulder to shoulder because there is no room to sit. Yes, I DO know there is a number.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    I'm confused as to why you, Wayne, have not managed to consider things like space colonization and other options for human living that don't simply add up to the stupidly linear equation of (Human population X)/(Surface area of earth Y) = Area occupied by each living human?

    Skyscrapers solved that problem in cities and as long as people like you have been predicting doom and been wrong again & again, our food production is better than ever, feeding far more people (nominally & as a percentage of total human population) than it ever has in the past and standards of living - across the board - have never been higher in the 200,000 years of human existence.

    If we start expanding to the extent that there are trillions of people on the planet, what makes you think they would stay *on* land, or even on the planet at all?

  • ||

    ERoEI- energy returned on energy invested. The green revolution was high energy inputs and requires tons of supplements (many oil or natural gas based). The easy energy is being used up and we will require more energy to harness it (sometimes negative outputs to transform into something more useful). It may be profitable to turn shale into gasoline, but if it takes 3 units of energy to turn into 1 you have yourself a cheetah who burns 300 calories running after a 100 calorie meal- a dead one.

  • D Kingsbury||

    Sean, you don't understand the basic math. It is not the number of people on earth that creates the population problem, it is the rate of population increase-decrease which is an exponential function. People could be taking to space in huge numbers and the people on earth might still be starving and disease ridden and stealing and warring to survive -- maybe driving themselves to extinction all the while that the (probably few) space colonists were setting up a viable future for mankind. Ever since I've been alive -- since 1929 -- the earth has been adding 80 to 100 million new people a year. An economy of 9 billion people couldn't afford a massive space program -- try shipping a hundred million people a year into space!

  • ||

    A science fiction series addresses this very issue. I read book 1 and it was interesting enough to finish, but not interesting enough to read books 2 to 9. It's called "Chung Kuo" (中國 or China).

  • skr||

    It is relatively easy to calculate the surface area of the earth.

    If you assume it is a sphere.

  • ||

    All of those unborn are suffering so. I mean it is literally an infinite amount of suffering because there are literally an infinite number of unborn. We must increase the population to ease their suffering.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    Well, get started wayne. Go buy(most likely steal for you) a machine gun and start reducing the population. I'm sure that will work out great, you twat.

  • ||

    Sure, if you're comfortable with 1/4 (or probably less, science and technology progress being kind of synergistic, feeding on itself) of the safe cars, cheap power, safe and plentiful food, Internet, cell phones and similar technological wonders invented by people.

    Do the math, son. 1/4 the people means 1/4 the geniuses and inventors and brilliant entrepreneurs. Think of your 4 favorite living tech gods -- Linus Torvalds, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy, Marc Andreeson, let us say (you can pick your own).

    Now imagine 3 of the 4 have never been born. Like that world better? Peaceful, ain't it? Like the world of 1930. Green, unplowed forests. Unpaved roads, down which you can travel at an easy 4 MPH by foot, or on a horse, provided your ass doesn't mind the pounding. Naturally unvaccinated children, 1/3 of whom die before age 5. Unspoiled, natural heart disease and cancer, untouched by human hands, taking their natural course in cutting you off at age 55, say, like your grandpop.

  • ||

    So, if we didn't have 6X10^9 people on the planet, we would all be hunter-gatherers? Riiiiigggghhht!

  • ||

    Er, yes. Did you not notice that when there were only 100,000 people on the planet, they were hunter-gatherers?

    Did you sleep through your basic human anthro class? Get all your "history" from WoW cut scenes or something?

  • ||

    So, technological development is purely a function of the population size? Riiiiggghhhht!

  • ||

    Agriculture -> Division Of Labor -> Technological Advancement

    With population growth the whole way. Purely a function of Pop? No. Does it help to have more people involved? Fuck Yes.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    Hi wayne.

    You are a fucking moron.

  • WTF||

    Leave WOW out of it.

  • ||

    In case you miss the point, it's this: the reason population growth is correlated with increasing comfort, Chicken Littles since 1705 notwithstanding, is because people contribute very unequally to the general welfare.

    In brief, if 1 million extra people consist of 999,999 regular fools and 1 genius, the world gets far greater benefit from the 1 genius than it suffers harm from the 999,999 regular mouths to feed.

    You could of course argue the other side of the statistical distribution, that 1 evil genius does far more harm than 1 genius plus 999,998 cannon fodders, and there are definitely some examples of this -- some of the great "leaders" of the 20th century. Fortunately, it seems part of human nature that very very smart and capable men are more inclined to turn their powers to creation than destruction. Lucky, that.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    Not to bring up the perpetual boogeyman of Hitler, but I don't think people should consider him a "genius". A genius would have recognized spending resources on genocide instead of the war effort probably was not the best route. Moreover, a genius would have continued bombing British radar installations instead of concentrating on population centers during the Battle of Britain. Most importantly, a genius would not have fought a fucking world war in the first place. Hitler was more like an idiot savant, gifted enough to delude a racist desititute denigrated people into embarking on one of the most destructive adventures in the history of destructive adventures.

  • ||

    Evil genius seems pretty appropriate to me. A WW1 Corporal- a painter, managed to take over most of Europe. When Napolean did that, we called it genius.

    Yes he was wrong about resource employment from a "what's best for everybody" view, but that just tells us he was lying when he he said he cared about "everyone". Lying like a politician, I might add.

  • ||

    All four of those tech gods could vanish and we would be just fine.

  • Karl Marx||

    Absolutely!

  • D Kingsbury||

    Pham: You are wrong. Four times as many people does not equate to four times as many geniuses. In fact it may equate to less geniuses by a factor of 100. Starving people are good at surviving -- cutting people's throats, etc. -- not at invention iPods for your pleasure.

  • ||

    Not at all. More people is more brains and eyes looking at problems and fixing them.

  • Thomas O.||

    I recommend P.J. O'Rourke's mid-90s tome All The Trouble In The World. He gives some reasonable and witty speculations on what is (or appears to be) plaguing planet Earth. His theories on overpopulation are pretty believable, to me anyway.

  • ||

    I seem to remember O'Rourke writing that, if you were willing to subject the people of the world to the savage and inhumane population density of Manhattan, you could fit everyone within the borders of former Yugoslavia.

  • ||

    6 billion people divided by 27,500 people per square mile equals 220,000 square miles (rounded up). Texas is about 260,000 square miles. So, you would fill up most of Texas with the whole world's population. Leaves a lot of room for robotic farms.

  • ||

    Actually, that is the population density for all of New York City. Manhattan is 71,200 per square mile. That leaves an area of 85,000 square miles, equal to Utah or Minnesota. If anyone is still listening.

  • mikey||

    I think that's where he compared Bangladesh and Fremont, CA. Same population densities, way different places.

  • mikey||

    In Bangladesh he spent a lot of time with the Minister Hemp as I recall.

  • ||

    Jute, it was the minister of Jute

  • ||

    The earth can support billions and billions of people, especially with modern technologies. But the fundamental argument of too-much-of-a-good thing holds with peeps, too.

    From the too-many-people POV, the best argument I can think of - at least if you're in America - is not in stats, but in a mental picture.

    To imagine the population of China living with the same-sized consumer "footprint" as we do in the US. It's easy...just look around you and imagine five times more of it. That would make Boise as big as Seattle, or Seattle as big as L.A. Or L.A. as...the L.A. in Blade Runner or something? Imagine L.A. five times bigger than it is now.

    Take that mess and stuff it into about 40% of the land area of the US, and you have India at American levels of development.

    I'm sure you could make it work, I'm not being a doomsayer here. And obviously Indians all over India want to be developed.

    But I don't know if I like that mental picture.

  • ||

    Drive a half hour outside of any major urban area and you are in actual countryside, with woods and streams and hills and all sorts of areas for people to expand into. Doesn't bother me at all to think about it.

    Besides, I grew up in Western New York, where the population is in decline. Plenty of room to move in there if it gets too crowded in LA. Just be sure to pack warm clothes and rock salt.

  • ||

    why do you hate woods and streams?

  • ||

    Of course as soon as a human comes near woods or streams, they just wither and die. That may be your personal experience but I think it says something more about you instead of humans in general.

  • ||

    "Half-hour outside any urban area" is true. I could say that about Gaza. But if you're in the middle of the LA basin, you have to already account for the couple hours it takes to leave the "urban area" before the half-hour jaunt of escape begins. LA five times bigger than what's already...I don't know man.

    Sure, but with the human footprint five times bigger its that much less countryside, hills, etc.

    Now stuff all that - a USA five times bigger - into somewhere the size of India. Ugh.

  • ||

    Have you actually ever been to the areas outside of the urban areas of the US? I have logged a lot of hours on the interstate system. This country is huge, and largely empty space. And, certain areas of the midwest and northeast are actually experiencing population decline.

    The biggest urban areas will run into their natural geographical limits and stop expanding outwards. Other areas with fewer limits--think Houston-- will continue to grow as long as the infrastructure can be built.

    I would guess that America could sustainably hold five or ten times the current population. Not everybody would get to live in the big urban areas, but most don't now.

  • ||

    Oh, and one last bit before I sign off on this--the population density of India is ranked 32nd in the world--between the Netherlands (28) and Belgium (34), both first-world countries. It's population density (940 people per square mile) puts it between Massachusetts (800) and Rhode Island (1000). Not that scary.

  • Thomas O.||

    Houston seriously needs to revamp its flood control system before it makes any more huge gains in population. Right now, it only takes a few days of severe storms to turn the Katy Freeway into a canal. And it'll only get worse as they fill in all the open spaces they have.

  • ||

    I agree; having lived through several floods when I lived there, I can say that "Flat" is not exactly ideal topography to deal with tropical rainfall. If I still lived in the area I would have probably stayed in the Heights or moved up to Conroe/Kingwood/the Woodlands.

  • ||

    It used to be far worse. It used to be 1 day of heavy rain.

  • Ted S.||

    I got out my almanac to look up the historical population figures for large US cities. Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis have all lost half of the population since 1950.

    Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, and others, have seen losses in the 20-30% range.

    Rebuild places like these, and you could easily absorb a substantial population growth. But there's a reason why people are leaving these places.

  • Juice||

    Fuck all the other animals. That space is OURS!

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    If you want to protect the animals, buy the land and fence it off. Some enterprising individuals have done that with parts of the Amazon. Heck, if hollywood put its money where its bleeding heart is they would own that place and turn it into a tourist trap. Then again, the local national government might violate your contract and raze the land so they can build an airport to pretend they aren't a second world kleptocracy (see Brasilia).

  • ||

    I love this argument.

    Why?

    Because these types do not seem to understand that every animal on the planet has the same M.O. Every single species is trying to expand into all the space it can--and they'd have no problem if that expansion eliminated us.

    The species that will replace humanity is already living on this planet--should we just let them have it by making ourselves scarce?

  • ||

    at least untill the next time plants choked this planet to the brink since we are the most efficients check against it.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The reduced population density and higher land consumption of urban areas in the developed world has a lot to do with things like subsidized infrastructure and top-down land use control. There is room for efficiency of land use to be improved in the United States, and that would come from the market.

  • ||

    Think about how much productive land in America and around the world is used for parks, football/soccer/baseball fields, golf courses, bike parks, flower gardens, cemetaries, and lawns.

    Think about how many people grow ornamental fruit trees because the flowers are pretty.

    Drive down the highway in the northwest, and see miles of wild blackberries in the summer.

    Then, think about all of the food products that go to support livestock to make leather, ethanol to run cars, and other non-essential, non-food uses.

    And then think of all the food we throw out each year. Enough that cities are starting to have people sort out their food garbage for composting. Heck, it's an insult in some countries to eat everything at the table; the hosts cook more than their guests could possibly eat. At our home we have a fridge that doubles as a museum of past meals, full of leftovers that that routinely get thrown out because nobody wants them.

    The evidence of extra productive potential and excess waste (waist?) is all around us.

  • ||

    So what?

    One routinely hears stories of the crazy old lady who has 150 cats living in her house. Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. By the way, I like cats.

  • ||

    And this has what to do with anything?

  • ||

    everything with everything.

  • ||

    People aren't cats. They aren't passive. They go out and build new homes, expand, create new towns and social structures. Congregate, interact, associate, create. If cats could do that, the crazy lady with 150 cats would soon be in control of a village of cats, with expanded living areas and productivity.

  • ||

    Is there no upper limit to the number of humans that ought to be on the planet? Do you really think the planet's resources can support an infinite number? Should we just keep multiplying until we do hit the upper limit, it does exist, and then suffer a population collapse?

  • ||

    Theoretically, yes, their is an upper limit to growth. But, population growth is slowing down, will peak, and then likely decline. This will occur well below any limit to the earth's carrying capacity, and before anybody needs to suffer.

    Remember, people aren't parasites, they are resources in and of themselves. People are largely productive, and create. The America of 1776 could have in no way sustained a population of 300 million--there would have been a massive famine and die off. Put the right infrastructure in place and the population of America was able to expand. Put the right infrastructure in place, and the rest of the world can build to a western standard of living. Remember, it took us over 200 years to get here. It won't happen overnight in the third world.

  • ||

    Remember, people aren't parasites

    Unless we're talking Anthropomorphic Glottal Client Change.

    (couldn't come up with a good replacement for "change".)

  • Trueofvoice||

    James, your entire post is an Argument by Assertion, a logical fallacy. We can't base policy off something as ephemeral as "It will be ok."

    Your thinking is akin to religious faith.

  • Chupacabra||

    It's not fun arguing with trolls when they're as stupid as you.

  • Feathers ||

    The death panelists are reaching for their pillows.

  • Tune||

    There is only one appropriate response to this:

    Nothing But Flowers

    "The highways and cars were sacrificed for agriculture."

  • Old Mexican||

    In addition, researchers are close to developing drought tolerant crops.

    The crops will use still suits.

  • DLM||

    The crops will use still suits.

    I'd think more food could be gotten from the ocean, and I'm not talking about fishing.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I think there is a lot of potential for plants that are native to dryer areas to be improved for higher production. Which would also be of benefit to the entire world market.

  • Kevin O'Rourke||

    This article makes many good points, but it should not be a race to how many people the planet can contain, but how many people can the planet contain in a peaceful sustainable manner at some level of comfort.

    If you are a cynic, you will probably say 2 people... but nothing sparks war more between humans more than scarcity of resources and religion.

    Add another 3 billion people to the planet that is already straining to contain our carbon excesses and it will get dicey.

    The greater questions should be how many people are fit to live comfortably on the planet, and I would have to side with the Neo-Malthusians and say that we have over-shot already, as this article dances around the issue of the effects of climate changes and peak oil on sustaining even our current population. Sure we could peak at 9 billion people, but would we want to? And what lays on the other side of that peak?

    As somewhere between 1/3 to 1/4 of the world does not even have access to electricity, let alone the excess of Western society, that the global capitalist system strives for, is seems that we are not doing a good job of providing for our current population.

    Oil, the cheapest, most 'bang for the buck' resource seems to be peaking in the amount we can extract from the ground per year, and declining future supplies will make it harder for the 1.6-2 billion or so existing souls to ever reach the level of affluence of the developed West.

    Short of a revolutionary discovery in the energy field, our planet will continue be less habitable as climate change effects the availability of freshwater and continues to acidify the oceans.

    We may get to 9 billion, but it won't be pretty, and not with alot more enternal war of diminishing resources along the way.

    If people want to live the way we live in the West, yes population is a problem, and since western capitalism is the current dominant economic religion, the world is overpopulated for people to reach those consumption levels.

    I am surprised that "Reason" magazine falls in the category of the techno-solution "religion" crowd. Maybe if reason took hold, and contraception was endorsed by the worlds major religions, we wouldn't even be discussing these problems.

    Sexual responsibility is lost in a world where the major religions decide that avoiding the issue it is a good way to create as many followers as possible.

  • Tman||

    "The greater questions should be how many people are fit to live comfortably on the planet"

    No, actually the greater question is "who gets to decide how many people are fit to live on the planet", and the answer is NO ONE. NO ONE has the right to decide what is an "acceptable amount of people".

    this article dances around the issue of the effects of climate changes and peak oil on sustaining even our current population.

    What is there to dance around? Oil isn't running out anytime soon, and there isn't a consensus that a warmer planet would be a bad thing anyways. If you want to talk about food or water in relation to climate change, your questions were answered in the article.

    We may get to 9 billion, but it won't be pretty, and not with alot more enternal war of diminishing resources along the way.

    This statement ignores the arithmetic surrounding our ridiculously vast amount of available natural resources.

    If people want to live the way we live in the West, yes population is a problem, and since western capitalism is the current dominant economic religion, the world is overpopulated for people to reach those consumption levels.

    Unequivocally false. Since you didn't bring any facts to support this statement, I don't need to rebut it with anything other than a generalized statement.

    Maybe if reason took hold, and contraception was endorsed by the worlds major religions, we wouldn't even be discussing these problems.

    Or maybe if people would embrace free markets without malthusian progressives trying to interfere people would pull themselves out of poverty and enjoy their own level of prosperity.

  • Chad||

    Oil isn't running out anytime soon, and there isn't a consensus that a warmer planet would be a bad thing anyways

    Prove your statement. Show me a peer-reviewed economic analysis that predicts the consequences of AGW will be a net positive for society.

    That's laughably silly. There are very few benefits, and most are regional.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    Prove your statement. Show me a peer-reviewed economic analysis that predicts the consequences of AGW will be a net positive for society.

    Show me the peer reviewed economic analysis that predicts the positive consequences of Santa Claus giving presents to litle children will have of the net for society, as he is just as likely to be real as AGW.

  • Tman||

    Chad-

    http://www.stanford.edu/~moore/Boon_To_Man.html

    Enjoy!

  • Juice||

    This was peer-reviewed? (Not that it makes much of a difference.)

  • Tman||

    (it doesn't)...but!

    To be fair, that link is an old paper (1995)by Thomas Moore from the Hoover Institution at Stanford that isn't itself peer reviewed. There are several peer reviewed articles used as primary sources and then properly referenced, but the article itself is not peer reviewed beyond the Hoover Institution.

    Chad won't read it anyways, but it's worth noting for those who do.

  • Chad||

    Of course not. It's the 15-year-old rantings of someone from a right-wing think tank.

    Only in Libertopia is that equivalent to "peer review".

    One only needs to get to the second sentence to realize one is reading pure, uninformed bullshit: "Warmer periods bring benign rather than more violent weather". This kind of manure is what I call "Wikipedia-wrong".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.....on_weather

    There wasn't any reason to read further. All this article contains is old-school denier blather that has been spewed a thousand times and refuted just as many.

  • Tman||

    Wow, you read a whole paragraph? I'm impressed. I bet you hated every second of it.

    The best part is that you criticize me for not giving you a peer reviewed article to your satisfaction and then you use as your rebuttal source....

    WIKIPEDIA.

    Well done Chadtacular.

  • JoshINHB||

    Show me a peer-reviewed economic analysis that predicts the consequences of AGW will be a net positive for society.

    Peer reviewed meaning anointed with the product of self important pseudo intellectuals circle jerking.

  • Chad||

    So your answer is "I don't have any evidence whatsoever to back my position. Therefore, I will mock the very idea of evidence".

    History will spit upon your kind.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    History can't do shit if words can't be recorded. Maybe a couple generations will be pissed off, but once the self imposed economic sanctions and "accidental" genocides gear up, people will have new and more alive enemies to villify. A world of 1.5 billion(and perpetually counting down! per wayne's genocidal wet dream) starving insane humans will be too busy killing each other and themselves to blame the cursed "forerunners" for their misfortune.

    Methinks if they could actually form thoughts beyond "Where the fuck am I getting food today goddamnit!!!", they might be able to see that those who forced farmers to throw away their crops, imposed one-child limits on patrichial societies, and intentionally limited the comfort of every individual would be "spat upon" through our unfortunate descendants' poorly scrawled cave drawings.

  • ||

    History is looking at your kind with puzzlement. It's wondering if you really are unaware that the planet has been warmer than it is now for much of it's existence. Or if you realize that your own species evolved in, and for, one of those warmer periods.

    And History is expecting you to prattle something about 'peer review' right now because people of your ilk discard geological, environmental, and historical reality with astounding ease in favor of human 'consensus' when that reality conflicts with your faith.

  • Kevin O'Rourke||

    @ Tman

    "No, actually the greater question is "who gets to decide how many people are fit to live on the planet", and the answer is NO ONE. NO ONE has the right to decide what is an "acceptable amount of people"."

    Well, if we don't take a proactive rather than reactive approach, then eventually you overshoot carrying capacity and have a good number die off through war, disease, starvation. I guess that is the "market's" way of sorting it all out. OR we could try and be smarter than other animal species and not consume until we overpopulate an area (in this case the planet) causing massive die-off and misery.Whether we take that choice is obviously up for debate.

    "What is there to dance around? Oil isn't running out anytime soon, and there isn't a consensus that a warmer planet would be a bad thing anyways. If you want to talk about food or water in relation to climate change, your questions were answered in the article."

    No, oil is not running out anytime soon, but that isn't stopping the U.S. from pursuing a nationbuilding foreign policy that in no small part is helping to bankrupt our country in order to secure supply to what by all estimates (EIA, etc.) are diminishing world reserves. And no Old Mexican, oil has not been peaking since the 1970s, only the U.S. production which did peak in the late 1960s.

    "This statement ignores the arithmetic surrounding our ridiculously vast amount of available natural resources."

    I would be curious to see your source of this statement relative to current consumption levels, especially as related to energy and water.

    "If people want to live the way we live in the West, yes population is a problem, and since western capitalism is the current dominant economic religion, the world is overpopulated for people to reach those consumption levels."

    Even the most generous estimates of oil, natural gas and coal supplies are not expected to last more than 100 years. Obviously the easiest accessible supplies of these sources have been exhausted as we are forced to blow the tops off mountains, drilling thousands of feet of shore etc.. These things are common knowledge and I don't have the time to provide you sources for them. A simple internet search will confirm.

    "Or maybe if people would embrace free markets without malthusian progressives trying to interfere people would pull themselves out of poverty and enjoy their own level of prosperity."

    Truely free markets are a mythology that has never existed as the state has always had a hand in "guiding the market". "Free market" principles also simply tend to pass the cost onto other parties (ie. pollution causing cancers). The market without adjustment does not factor in these externalities as the true cost is passed onto society in different ways. Again these are simple concepts.

  • Tman||

    if we don't take a proactive rather than reactive approach, then eventually then eventually you overshoot carrying capacity

    You didn't read anything I've written above, clearly. I linked to John McCarthys page above- PROGRESS AND ITS SUSTAINABILITY

    -"we argue that the whole world can reach and maintain American standards of living with a population of even 15 billion. We also argue that maintaining material progress is the highest priority and the best way to ensure that population eventually stabilizes at a sustainable level with a standard of living above the present American level and continues to improve thereafter."

    If you have a factual rebuttal to any of the points raised by this page, now would be the time to present them.

    we could try and be smarter than other animal species and not consume until we overpopulate an area (in this case the planet) causing massive die-off and misery.

    And guess what? A Free market representative Republic gave us Norman Borlaug, who quadrupled the wheat yields of a given acre in a decade (making him the greatest human ever of course) and thus allowing non-free market republics some breathing room to deal with their huge demographics whilst they worked on their political progress.

    that isn't stopping the U.S. from pursuing a nationbuilding foreign policy

    We are nation building in Canada, Venezuela, and Mexico now? That's where the US gets most of its oil.

    that in no small part is helping to bankrupt our country

    The DOD is 18% of the budget. This is what's bankrupting our country? SS and Unemployment/welfare are double the DOD.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....tegory.jpg

    in order to secure supply to what by all estimates (EIA, etc.) are diminishing world reserves.

    Reserves of available oil that happens to be easy to suck through a tube. Tar sands, oil shale, and even coal synthesis (Fischer–Tropsch Synthesis) is not included in those reserve estimates. Will it be more expensive? Probably, but we aren't running out any time soon.

    I would be curious to see your source of this statement relative to current consumption levels, especially as related to energy and water.

    Well, you could start with the famous bet between the environmentalist Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon. In 1980 Simon sold Ehrlich (on credit) ten year futures on five metals of Ehrlich's choosing. The total price was $1,000. In 1990 Ehrlich had to pay Simon $600, because the metals had gone down in price.

    I would suggest the above mentioned Stanford page for some specifics though. especially the bit about water, which is pretty enlightening.

    Even the most generous estimates of oil, natural gas and coal supplies are not expected to last more than 100 years.

    Oh, so you have a link.

    These things are common knowledge and I don't have the time to provide you sources for them.

    It's so simple you can't provide a link?

    Truely free markets are a mythology that has never existed as the state has always had a hand in "guiding the market".

    Bullshit. Markets have always existed, since the first guy traded a goatskin for a bushel of apples. What has been easy to identify is that societies that attempt to use Government Force to manipulate free trade to their advantage fail spectacularly. Much of the wasteland of the 20th century is in fact due to said manipulation.

    "Free market" principles also simply tend to pass the cost onto other parties (ie. pollution causing cancers).

    Oh, and I suppose you have some great examples of environmentalist perfection from socialist paradises? Clearly centralized governments are much better at dealing with pollution than say, a decentralized representative republic, right?

    Show your fucking work dude.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "Well, if we don't take a proactive rather than reactive approach, then eventually you overshoot carrying capacity and have a good number die off through war, disease, starvation."

    This will inevitably happen. But it will be entirely the result of a lack of economic freedom around the world that would lead to resources being used more efficiently, and not because of a lack of resources.

    "Even the most generous estimates of oil, natural gas and coal supplies are not expected to last more than 100 years."

    Coal estimates are at least 400 years. And potential nuclear capacity isn't even close to being realized.

  • ||

    Well, if we don't take a proactive rather than reactive approach, then eventually you overshoot carrying capacity and have a good number die off through war, disease, starvation. I guess that is the "market's" way of sorting it all out.

    That's not 'the market', that's nature. That's the natural result of overpopulation. How could you confuse that with 'the market'?

    OR we could try and be smarter than other animal species and not consume until we overpopulate an area (in this case the planet) causing massive die-off and misery.

    Ah, you know that you're speaking about the natural response to overpopulation--was the preceding nothing more than a rhetorical flourish then? Because, if so, it was a fairly poor one--at least given this second sentence which undermines your swipe at the 'market'.

    Worse, your suggestion seems to show that you do not understand that being smarter than other animals and using innovation to avoid the pitfall that is overpopulation is something we've been doing for millenia. It is, quite possibly, one of the bases for our development of intelligence.

  • The Clue||

    Note to Kevin: AGW and peak oil are manufactured crises. No need for you to be losing sleep.

    Why do you listen to doom-sayers who want to tell you how many children you should have and how you should live your life?

  • ||

    No need for you to be losing sleep.

    Cap'N'Tax. Don't sleep yet.

  • The Clue||

    I always sleep with one eye open.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Kevin O'Rourke,

    Oil, the cheapest, most 'bang for the buck' resource seems to be peaking in the amount we can extract from the ground per year, and declining future supplies will make it harder for the 1.6-2 billion or so existing souls to ever reach the level of affluence of the developed West.

    Oil has been "peaking" since the 70's. If I had a dollar for every dullard that asserted oil is peaking, I would have bought the whole of Fiji.

    Short of a revolutionary discovery in the energy field, our planet will continue be less habitable as climate change [a]ffects the availability of freshwater and continues to acidify the oceans.

    Climate change does not acidify the oceans. There's no evidence the planet is getting to be "less habitable."

    The reasons for fresh water scarcity have more to do with how the different states have converted water into commons than with precipitation or even economic activity.
  • Old Mexican||

    Darn it! Remember to press the "REVIEW" button!

  • ||

    [Oil has been "peaking" since the 70's]

    Actually, since 1914.
    'In 1914, the Bureau of Mines said U.S. oil reserves would be exhausted by 1924. In 1939, the Interior Department said the world had 13 years worth of petroleum reserves. Then a global war was fought and the postwar boom was fueled, and in 1951 Interior reported that the world had ... 13 years of reserves. In 1970, the world's proven oil reserves were an estimated 612 billion barrels. By 2006, more than 767 billion barrels had been pumped and proven reserves were 1.2 trillion barrels. In 1977, Scold in Chief Jimmy Carter predicted that mankind "could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade." Since then the world has consumed three times more oil than was then in the world's proven reserves. "

  • Brandon||

    Just more evidence for my theory that the Oil Fairy does indeed exist.

  • Kevin O'Rourke||

    "Climate change does not acidify the oceans. There's no evidence the planet is getting to be "less habitable."

    If you disagree with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and IPCC, then perhaps you have some information that you would like to share.

    "The reasons for fresh water scarcity have more to do with how the different states have converted water into commons than with precipitation or even economic activity."

    Yes, the use of water by the current population. So you are arguing consumption is the cause and agreeing with me.

  • ||

    I disagree with anyone who uses the term 'ocean acidification'. The ocean would first have to purify--get to a neutral ph. Only after this could it begin to acidify.

    In order to do this, the ocean would need to become fresh water.

    It has not done this.
    But, what is being called 'acidification' is happening somewhat--the ph of the ocean seems, at times, to be moving, incrementally towards a neutral state--towards that of distilled water.

    In other words, if anything, the ocean is 'purifying'. But that sounds far less scary than 'acid!'.

  • Kevin O'Rourke||

    You may disagree with the semantic of the statement, but lowering the pH of the oceans will cause many of the keystone species that require a higher pH die off.

    http://www.ipsl.jussieu.fr/~jo.....e04095.pdf

    This is pretty well established at this point, no matter what terms you would like to describe what is happening.

  • ||

    Stop subsidizing child production through tax breaks and population growth will slow down.

  • Yonemoto||

    oh for god's sake, neo-malthusianism is not incompatible with libertarianism.

    The sooner libertarians accept the scientific fact that the earth is finite and the fact that price signals are the best way of managing scarcity the quicker we can draw liberals to our cause.

    http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse

  • Chad||

    "Price signals" are bunk. Even if markets were rational and efficient, even if every externality was built into the price, and even if the world was populated entirely by Homo Economicus, prices would STILL be wrong. Why? Because our decendants can't bid in our auctions. This makes an overwhelming difference when asking questions like "How much is a mountaintop or species worth?". We don't just harm a few people today when we blast a West Virginia mountain into the earth to make a quick buck. We screw our great great great (skip ten million greats) great great grandchildren as well. Even if the harm was a few thousand dollars per generation...well, you do the math.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    Price signals" are bunk. Even if markets were rational and efficient[...]

    Here we go again...

    [...]and even if the world was populated entirely by Homo Economicus, prices would STILL be wrong. Why? Because our decendants can't bid in our auctions.

    Wow - talk about a non-sequitur.

    You know, Chad, maybe some who has no idea either will find your musings cogent.

  • Tony||

    OM do you have anything to add or are you just going to mutter names of logical fallacies?

  • Yonemoto||

    Relax. You'll never get Chad to admit that price signals are flawed because of currency value manipulation and favored corporation subsidization on the part of government.

    The logical fallacy in his argument is

    "Even if markets were rational and efficient, even if every externality was built into the price, and even if the world was populated entirely by Homo Economicus, prices would STILL be wrong. Because our decendants can't bid in our auctions."

    As if they could vote in our elections. No worries, as long as it's easy to steal from the future by fiat, by growing our national debt and extending the government deficit... The present will never hesitate to thieve from the future.

  • Yonemoto||

    oh wait, but that's a republican talking point, isn't it?

  • Yonemoto||

    oh wait, but that's a republican talking point, isn't it?

  • Chad||

    Relax. You'll never get Chad to admit that price signals are flawed because of currency value manipulation and favored corporation subsidization on the part of government

    Wrong. I fully agree with you. The "free market" is and always will be a myth. Now if you would just grasp this and start dealing with reality, it would be a big help.

  • Yonemoto||

    If you would grasp the fact that two wrong don't make a right it would be an even bigger help.

  • FYI||

    "We don't just harm a few people today when we blast a West Virginia mountain into the earth to make a quick buck."

    Actually, the terrain of WV makes it hard to settle. It was thought that using the waste material left from scraping the tops off the mountains during mining operations could be used to fill the valleys and create more level, habitable land. At first the idea didn't work because the soil on the new land was too loose to build houses on. Then, someone tried using a polymer compound to firm up the soil. The end result was that coal was mined and new land for human settlement was created. Ain't technology great?

  • Juice||

    And the trees and wildlife are destroyed forever.

  • FYI||

    Ok, you caught me. I forgot to mention that the indigenous trees and wildlife of WV cannot grow or live except on sloped surfaces.

  • JoshINHB||

    And the trees and wildlife are destroyed forever.

    So what?

    The trees and wildlife of the last interglacial period were destroyed by glaciation 100k years ago.
    Was that bad?

    Are orbital effects on the environment acceptable but human effects are not?

    WTF is your point?

  • ||

    Trees and wildlife are constantly being destroyed, remixed, reborn. Forests have lifecycles, different species taking over at different times, filling different niches. Nature is dynamic, not static, and doesn't realize that a new environment has been opened up by a natural event (fire, flood, volcano, tree-killing fungus), or man-made (strip mining, forest harvest, man-made fire, etc.) There are former toxic waste sights that have been reclaimed and are now thriving nature preserves. Level a mountain, and a new ecology will be created.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    We don't just harm a few people today when we blast a West Virginia mountain into the earth to make a quick buck. We screw our great great great (skip ten million greats) great great grandchildren as well. Even if the harm was a few thousand dollars per generation...well, you do the math.


    Every mountain in West Virginia can be blasted and I would not be harmed one little quantum.

  • Jack||

    Chad, name the successful countries that replaced market price signals with prices by government experts. What are the positive externalities of blasting the West Virginia mountaintop and how much wealth accrue to the descendents who used the resoureces from said mountaintop?

  • Chad||

    The only thing we can pass to our distant decendants is knowledge. Anything we build will crumble many times between now and then. Coal companies do virtually zero research, and what little they do will not help anyone after a couple more generations anyway. There are virtually no positive externalities of mountaintop removal.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    If obtaining coal by removing mountains relies on something like eminent domain, that is a problem.

    But if the land is owned by the coal company and doesn't affect other property, what exactly is the problem?

  • Chad||

    Chad, name the successful countries that replaced market price signals with prices by government experts

    Every country with a gas tax, perchance? Or how about our spiffy SOx cap-and-trade system?

  • Yonemoto||

    SOx and NOx cap-and-trade systems are actually fairly decent propertization schemes... Under the understanding that property rights and leases are constructs that are created to prevent the tragedy of the commons (a very libertarian stance) I'd say that these cap-and-trade systems are 'market price signals'. The CO2 one, with all sorts of indulgences, subsidies and bullshit pre-allotments built in, is hardly a fair market.

  • Chad||

    If the CO2 c&t proposals are flawed, it is directly because of moron idiot conservatives who won't pass a clean bill. That means you and those like you around here.

  • ||

    Hi Chad, West Virginia here...I just wanted to say, if you want to find a new, better way to get fuel (and employ West Virginians), feel free...but we don't feel like disappearing off the planet just because *YOU* covet our beautiful state.

    I know you are anxious, because my family and friends' existence threatens YOUR ability to enjoy this world as if it were yours and yours alone. But guess what? IT'S NOT. If you are concerned about overpopulation, you're welcome to go die - you're welcome to not breed - but I don't share your crazy beliefs: I am quite sure that what you consider "the overpopulation problem" is really in fact just nature's way of pressuring us to pop the bubble of this atmosphere and explode out to the stars.

    Frontiers are the only sustainable economy. If we're not making new ones, we're in decline - and contrary to what you think, dying is not a good thing, not when it's the whole planet doing it.

  • RyanXXX||

    Hitler wasn't entirely wrong, you know...

  • David E. Gallaher/Ruthless||

    http://www.amazon.com/Coming-P.....0807085839
    This is a matter-of-fact book that comes to about the same conclusions.
    Hey! We have Barbara Streisand on our side for this issue. We Librarians are simply "people who need people." We're the luckiest people in the world.

  • prolefeed||

    The much shorter answer:

    Countries that use more or less free market pricing methods won't have a problem -- if food supplies or water supplies or whatnot get tight, prices will go up and people will respond to these incentives by having fewer kids and/or finding more efficient ways to get food or water or whatnot.

  • Tony||

    Yeah unless starvation and dehydration set in first.

    You might as well be appealing to Santa Claus prole.

  • Yonemoto||

    Ok, so let's do some redistribution here. Of course, just because we redistribute the wealth doesn't mean that government has to be the agent of said redistribution.

  • Tony||

    Who shall it be then? Guys with guns you don't get to vote for? That seems the most likely scenario.

  • Yonemoto||

    try charities, you soulless ass.

  • D Kingsbury||

    Yonemoto: When your family is barely making it and ten other families come to your door asking for charity, that is when charity takes on a whole new meaning.

  • Ron L||

    Tony|10.19.10 @ 8:03PM|#
    "Yeah unless starvation and dehydration set in first."
    Sort of like, oh, the Soviet Union and Red China?

    "You might as well be appealing to Santa Claus prole."
    Hey, better than your ignorant response. How are those unicorns, tony?

  • Chad||

    Well, that certainly wouldn't include America, where water prices have almost no correlation to how precious water is in that area. Go figure that the Great Lakes region has expensive water, more expensive than much of the southwest.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Well, that certainly wouldn't include America, where water prices have almost no correlation to how precious water is in that area. Go figure that the Great Lakes region has expensive water, more expensive than much of the southwest.


    That is because the people who own the water set the price to get the most votes rather than to maximize profit.

    There is no shortage of bottled water, for example.

  • Ron L||

    Chad|10.19.10 @ 8:42PM|#
    "Well, that certainly wouldn't include America, where water prices have almost no correlation to how precious water is in that area. Go figure that the Great Lakes region has expensive water, more expensive than much of the southwest."

    And I'm sure you see this as an argument *for* public utilities setting arbitrary prices for goods.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Certain western U.S. areas seem to complain an awful lot about water scarcity. But they often rely on the idea that they have a legitimate claim to the water in the first place. Water is rightfully owned by the first person that contains it on their property. If that person lets it flow off his property, it belongs to the next person if they contain it. If it is sitting underground, it belongs to anyone who can tap it on their own property.

    The solution to water scarcity in places like Las Vegas, is for people who own water to use it more efficiently. If they don't have enough, maybe they should move to somewhere where there is an abundance. Las Vegas has to legitimate claim to water just because the city exists.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Yeah unless starvation and dehydration set in first.


    Then there are fewer people to use food and water.

  • Mr Whipple||

    Mammoni: So many Italian men are opting for the comfortable life their mothers provide instead of leaving home to marry, that the birth rates are declining and Italian society has labeled them mammoni, or "mama's boys." Lesley Stahl reports.

    Hey, we can all be Mammone.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Mammoni: So many Italian men are opting for the comfortable life their mothers provide instead of leaving home to marry, that the birth rates are declining and Italian society has labeled them mammoni, or "mama's boys." Lesley Stahl reports.


    They do not even bother knocking up Italian girls and leaving them to raise their babies?

  • Brandon||

    That's just plain negligent.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Not really feeling like slogging through the comments here, but this seemed worth bring up:

    Fertility rates are high in failed states like Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Yemen, because of the lack of rule of law which inexorably generates poverty.

    Seems aimed at pissing off the anarcho-capitalists in the crowd. I was expecting Somalia to be raised (again) as an example of how less regulation leads to a stronger economy. Sure, rule of law may not be the best way to describe Somalia's last functioning government...but the claim that GNP has increased in its current state of "anarchy" is common on these boards.

    The main point being that RB has no evidence to support his causal claim related to the poverty to High-birth-rate question. They are correlated, perhaps. He doesn't know which way the causal arrow goes (even if the basic argument makes intuitive sense).

  • Ron L||

    Neu Mejican|10.19.10 @ 8:22PM|#
    "The main point being that RB has no evidence to support his causal claim related to the poverty to High-birth-rate question. They are correlated, perhaps."

    Worked in the tobacco PR bizz, did you?

  • Amakudari||

    Anarchy is not current in Somalia. They have a government (which is extremely corrupt), courts (with sharia law) and a central bank.

    In any case, poverty and low birth rates can coexist comfortably (see: Eastern Europe and Russia), but wealth and high birth rates cannot. A more appropriate statement is that poverty allows high birth rates, and you could lower birth rates (even to replacement level) without making a dent in poverty.

    All countries graphed by GDP per capita, births per 1000 persons, and population

    The handful of outliers are countries like Saudi Arabia Equatorial Guinea, where a few people are extremely wealthy and much of the population is poor, but the underlying thesis is that a broad-based increase in wealth will lower birth rates.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Amakudari,

    1) Note the scare quotes around "anarchy" in my post.

    2) RB's causal claim is "Fertility rates are high ... because of the lack of rule of law" and (in addition) that the lack of rule of law "inexorably generates poverty."

    Are you claiming that there is strong support for a claim this specific? the underlying thesis is that a broad-based increase in wealth will lower birth rates.

    Very likely true, but this does not make correlation equal causation. Sloppy thinking is sloppy thinking (even when you use neat bubble graphs).

  • Amakudari||

    1. I'm saying it's not current. The institutions that are in place in Somalia currently are evidence of a central government, where there was none from the early 90s through the mid-2000s. When people talk about statelessness in Somalia they're referring to the past.

    2. And yes, I'm saying that over the last several decades we have seen countries become wealthy and their birth rates fall afterward. The abundance of food and medicine allowed population to expand rapidly, but once a certain level of material well-being was reached and the opportunity costs of an additional child grew, birth rates fell. The causal factors are opportunities for women, increased value of leisure time (abundance of entertainment choices), and high costs in education, care, and so forth. Compare that to a third of the world that works in agriculture or others who work in very low-wage sectors, where women have few choices, few necessary expenses for children and can reap the gains of child labor. I'd rather not be agnostic on which of the two has a lower ideal family size.

    Perhaps you can chalk that up to increased educational and economic opportunities (I would say trade-offs, as in countries like Japan women must choose between a career and a child) for women, which does not itself depend on wealth. But I'd say that a nation achieving that level of prosperity while marginalizing 51% of the potential workforce is unlikely.

  • ||

    Great Caesar's Ghost! Don't even get me started on this issue! If I wasn't so staunchly pro-choice I'd make abortion & neutering MANDATORY for most women because 99% of them have no business having children in my opinion!

  • ||

    um, Brian?

    The United States already tried that.

    Look it up. Tens of thousands of Americans were sterilized - most without their knowledge or consent - because of idiots like you failing to comprehend the idea of "ethics".

    Of course, what America did is no worse than what every other major industrialized nation has done. Attempting to determine that certain people should not be allowed to remain in the gene pool is an idea that had its day.

    Most people don't like it, because MOST people have figured out that they aren't the ones who are really going to be doing the "deciding".

    (Unless you are a social worker, and are granted the power to label your victi...err, clients with diagnostic labels, the way America did from the early 20th century into the late 1960s....)

  • Kevin O'Rourke||

    @ Tman

    "No, actually the greater question is "who gets to decide how many people are fit to live on the planet", and the answer is NO ONE. NO ONE has the right to decide what is an "acceptable amount of people"."

    Well, if we don't take a proactive rather than reactive approach, then eventually you overshoot carrying capacity and have a good number die off through war, disease, starvation. I guess that is the "market's" way of sorting it all out. OR we could try and be smarter than other animal species and not consume until we overpopulate an area (in this case the planet) causing massive die-off and misery.Whether we take that choice is obviously up for debate.

    "What is there to dance around? Oil isn't running out anytime soon, and there isn't a consensus that a warmer planet would be a bad thing anyways. If you want to talk about food or water in relation to climate change, your questions were answered in the article."

    No, oil is not running out anytime soon, but that isn't stopping the U.S. from pursuing a nationbuilding foreign policy that in no small part is helping to bankrupt our country in order to secure supply to what by all estimates (EIA, etc.) are diminishing world reserves. And no Old Mexican, oil has not been peaking since the 1970s, only the U.S. production which did peak in the late 1960s.

    "This statement ignores the arithmetic surrounding our ridiculously vast amount of available natural resources."

    I would be curious to see your source of this statement relative to current consumption levels, especially as related to energy and water.

    "If people want to live the way we live in the West, yes population is a problem, and since western capitalism is the current dominant economic religion, the world is overpopulated for people to reach those consumption levels."

    Even the most generous estimates of oil, natural gas and coal supplies are not expected to last more than 100 years. Obviously the easiest accessible supplies of these sources have been exhausted as we are forced to blow the tops off mountains, drilling thousands of feet of shore etc.. These things are common knowledge and I don't have the time to provide you sources for them. A simple internet search will confirm.

    "Or maybe if people would embrace free markets without malthusian progressives trying to interfere people would pull themselves out of poverty and enjoy their own level of prosperity."

    Truely free markets are a mythology that has never existed as the state has always had a hand in "guiding the market". "Free market" principles also simply tend to pass the cost onto other parties (ie. pollution causing cancers). The market without adjustment does not factor in these externalities as the true cost is passed onto society in different ways. Again these are simple concepts.

  • Tman||

    I responded to your repeat above.

  • ||

    @ Keven,

    +1000

    One thing not mentioned, even with increases in technology and efficiency, there are base minimums for many things.

    For example, power tools make it more efficient to build a house, but you still need raw materials (wood nails etc) to make it.

  • Ron L||

    Kevin O'Rourke|10.19.10 @ 10:43PM|#
    "Well, if we don't take a proactive rather than reactive approach, then eventually you overshoot carrying capacity and have a good number die off through war, disease, starvation."

    There are those who learn from history, and there are those like Kevin who are totally ignorant of it.
    Ever hear of Malthus, Kevin? Ever read enough history to see that he (and you) are wrong?
    I can understand Malthus; he had no real history to read. You, on the other hand are a brain-dead ignoramus.

  • Kevin O'Rourke||

    Just because Malthus came along too early with his predictions does not negate the fact that we do live on a planet with finite resources. It is up for debate how many people the planet can contain, for how long, and at what level of comfort.

    My point is simple, that it is physically impossible for the rest of the world (the 1.6-2 billion without electricity) to live at the consumption levels of the developed world absent a development of some sort of closed cyle nuclear technology in which 'waste' can be recycled indefinitely. Technology can only take us so far.

  • ||

    That's why we should work to leave it. At maximum it has untill the sun goes supernova. That event will strip the ozone layer from the planet leaving everything exposed to cosmic radiation.

  • Joseph Hertzlinger||

    Okay. We need nukes. As for the waste problem, we can just dump it in Death Valley. Of course, that might turn it into a barren desert...

  • Mitchell Freedman||

    Hooray for Ronald Bailey to demolish the new Malthuses and Ehrlichs.

    Still, I wonder if I should let Mr. Bailey know that the decision to say poverty breeds overpopluation is the point Karl Marx made when he attacked Malthus' overpopulation arguments.

    To use the nomenclature of more than one Tea Party candidate this fall, "Let's see. Marx was against Malthus. And so is Bailey. That makes Bailey a Marxist."

    Of course, even Karl Marx lived long enough to say he too was not a "Marxist"...

    Well, enjoy yourselves, kids...

  • Neu Mejican||

    This topic really boils down to a battle with strawmen on both sides.

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    Should make for one hell of a fire.

  • trueofvoice||

    The Royal Society study is fundamentally flawed. Its assertion of increased plant growth due to higher concentrations of CO2 are entirely based on the highly controlled and isolated FACE studies which fail to take into account numerous variables.

    The study also simply assumes that pests will be kept under control by use of "chemicals", ignoring that most pests are quickly becoming pesticide resistant; we now use concentrations of pesticides approximately ten times that at the beginning of the Green Revolution. So toxic have the chemicals become that GM food producers now devote considerable effort to breeding crops which are capable of surviving these increased concentrations.

    The study also does not address soil erosion other than to suggest it is primarily a local problem (it is a global issue and is expected to worsen with increased global temperatures), nor does it address chronic shortages of water for irrigation, which is now becoming endemic across much of the world.

  • ||

    yes, it all depends on which assumptions you hold to be true, doesn't it?

    Personally, I would assume that if things get really dire, the population will shoot itself into outer space - many will die, a lucky few will get rich finding whatever it is they went looking for out there, and either way, the problem is solved.

    As far as soil erosion, if and when the problem gets bad, all we have to do is adopt earth-sheltered housing. You know - bury the house under a layer of topsoil, connected to the main body? It's energy efficient, tornado-safe, very attractive when done right, and the entire nation could theoretically be one connected green area, with room for edibles growing on one's roof.

    You see a problem. I see a chance for new innovation.

  • Trueofvoice||

    Soil erosion is already a significant problem. If it's so easy and cheap to fix, why haven't you already?

  • ||

    But then, many feel "fundamentally flawed" studies are why we are even engaged in this discussion.

  • trueofvoice||

    Irrelevant to the issue at hand.

  • ||

    lol wut

  • Richard Pryor||

    I'll have no room to ride my horsey!

  • Zeb||

    Even assuming that all of the supposed problems of population growth are real, I can't imagine any policies (at least none that are not totally evil) which would stop it. So I am just going to wait and see what happens and hope for the best.

  • RC not the cola||

    6.7 billion/268,820 square miles = 24,924
    NYC population density = 27,532

    population of earth/land area of texas < population density of NYC

  • Population Monitor||

    The population control crowd is
    >Anti-science: no genetically-enhanced agriculture.
    >Fomenting war -- and hoping for the "big one".
    >Praying for a new killer virus.
    >Lobbying for positions on the Death Panel.
    >Fond of disease and starvation.
    >Of the opinion that the proper number of people on Earth is zero.

  • D Kingsbury||

    No, no, Mr Monitor. The proper number of people on earth is NOT zero. The proper number is two. We could have paradise here on earth if only we could keep that damn snake quiet!

  • sfs||

    Sex robots. Problem solved.

  • D Kingsbury||

    I once asked my math students how long it would take -- at the present rate of population increase -- to fill up the volume of the earth with human bodies, giving each human 6 cubic meters of space to live in, including their utilities and teddy bears. The answer is around 3000 years -- do the math. To convert all of the mass of the known universe to human bodies (no robins allowed) would take only 7000 years -- do the math. It's what we mathematicians call an upper-upper bound. Sure we can feed, clothe, and entertain billion and billions more people -- but unfortunately the Mugabes, the Ahmadinejads, and the Hitlers start popping up long before that in the competition for resources. Look at the world today. How willing are 7 billion people to "share the wealth?" When I was in high school the world's population was less than 3 billion and all the starry-eyed non-Malthusians were predicting that population would top out at 5 billion and we'd all be rich from technological and social advances. Yeah. Sure.

  • Joseph Hertzlinger||

    If there is a limit to the number of people on Earth, we can expect rents to rise. Higher rents usually go along with declining birth rates. (There is a problem with this analysis. If enough people underestimate the limit, they might not be surprised when rents start increasing even if that increase was due to political corruption. Similarly, many people thought increasing house prices were a natural phenomenon, which turned out not to be the case.)

    Even if we look beyond Earth to the rest of the universe, population growth might have a subexponential limit. Rents might be enough to slow growth without stopping. If enough people are traveling close to the speed of light looking for cheaper neighborhoods, time dilation can slow population growth.

    I won't more than mention the possibility of creating "basement universes." There might even be technical fixes so innovative that we haven't even thought of their possibility.

  • ||

    Population is the ONLY problem.

    Pollution of any kind is only a problem when there's too many people doing it for it to disperse.

    People cause resource exhaustion.

    Fortunately biology will catch up soon, but there will be a lot of dead humans.

    Remember folks: you feed africa, they can and will double their population in 16 years. Feeding africa is a major sin.

  • D Kingsbury||

    There are many people on this site who failed to learn arithmetical reasoning. City dwellers visit Utah and see vast square miles of real estate that could be developed into high rise apartments that would generate huge rent revenues. Each high rise would be equipped with a wizard in the basement to steal water from Northern California and fairies to make pomegranates out of the local rocks. Easy. When some villain has fired a bullet at your head it will never hurt you because (1) first it has to travel 1/2 way to your head (2) and second travel 1/4 of the way to your head (3) 1/8, etc. so that it can never reach you to poke a hole in your head. Yeah. Right. The posters here sound as math challenged as the young bankers who were managing our finances in 2008! Good luck with the world as it will be when you retire!

  • Joseph Hertzlinger||

    Actually those young bankers were betting on one of the consequences of overpopulation: increasing real-estate costs. They were on your side, not ours.

  • ||

    To recap Bailey's argument, overpopulation is not a problem because in about 40 years the population will stabilize at around 9 billion and then decline because, well just because.

    I'll offer that it is a classic population cycle of growth, exceeding the carrying capacity of the land, and the population crashing.

    Likely we can feed 9 billion, but can we do it sustainably. With current agricultural technology we cannot feed 6 billion sustainably, so we've got our work cut out for us to figure out how to do it within the next 40 growing seasons.

  • LFB||

    We don't need fast growing population. Fast growing population means overcrowding, low wages, tough competition for jobs and educational opportunities and higher prices for goods.

    We need to drastically reduce population growth rates.

  • uggaustralia@hotmail.com||

    Can you try the UGG Ultimate Bind.

  • John Rohan||

    I think Ronald Bailey should be fired as Reason's "science correspondent". As a grad student who has studied this very issue in detail, there are some serious problems with his assumptions:

    1. "Population will stabilize at 9 billion by 2050."

    Irrelevant. That is what the UN projects (actually 9.1 billion), but the problem is that we already have 6.8 billion people here, and the resource consumption is unsustainable as it is. So without drastic measures taken, 9 billion will be much worse.

    2. "Food production will be enough, because it has gone up so much in the past". That's not reliable, since the "green revolution" of the 1960s has mostly stalled out. And even if it is, where do you get all the fresh water for that food increase? It seems your answer is to privatize it. Really? Did you miss the fact that wildlife depends on that water too? How will they pay for it?

    Finally, there is a big problem here that everyone is missing. According to ecologist Garrett Hardin's first law: "WE NEVER DO ONLY ONE THING".

    IOW, even if you solve the food problem, humans don't just eat. They pollute. They build. They consume everything that is profitable. The Aral Sea in the former USSR almost entirely disappeared because of water consumption to cotton. Not food, but cotton for clothing!

    Yes, there are possible solutions to all these problems, but wouldn't it be simpler just to admit that this would all be easier with a lot less people??? Why is that so hard to say?

  • Trueofvoice||

    Ronald bases his argument from a selective reading of a dubious Royal Society paper. It's own authors admit they didn't consider water shortages, soil erosion or nutrient depletion.

  • ||

    You are such a perfect example of how some people find reasons why it will never work - interfering with those who are figuring out how to fix the problem.

    All the problems of sustainability are just one more step toward the continuing growth and expansion of the human race. We are headed for the stars, whether you're ready or not.

    The reason BTW it would not be "simpler to just admit this would all be easier with a lot less people" is because it wouldn't. We already tried concentration camps. We already tried involuntary sterilization. We already tried coercive population reduction tactics. Every single time, it turned out to be very painful. Why should those of us who are likely to be reduced (the majority) submit to your plans for reducing us?

    You neither know nor care why people object to your unethical suggestion. You have not even a slight inkling of the horrible, horrible history - not just in Germany but in every major nation, including the USA. You are ignorant. You know nothing of why what you are suggesting is considered a huge ethical problem. You just think it would be nice if some of us would agree to stop existing, so that you can enjoy less traffic and not have to worry about solving pesky problems.

    Sorry, son, but life is about solving pesky problems, not just volunteering to die so that there won't be any.

  • D Kingsbury||

    "We are headed for the stars, whether you're ready or not," says Mr Lol. Ha. ha. Lol, you are obviously not a mathematician and probably cannot even add. Learn something about exponential functions. If the human race started to expand TODAY at the velocity of light, and was able to convert ALL mass in our path to serve the human need for bodies, and at the present rate of population increase, we'd run out of mass in less time than it took to get where we are now from the time of the pharaohs. Lol, RIGHT NOW you are in the middle of a violent population explosion and you just don't see it because you are such a transient mayfly. With your limited command of reality you couldn't possibly see as far as a future where man might be involved in interstellar exploration!

  • Joseph Hertzlinger||

    Okay. If we're expanding close to the speed of light, time dilation will slow the rate of growth.

  • D Kingsbury||

    Hertz, you don't understand time dilation. In the first place, time dilation requires an INCREASE in mass. People may be screwing at a slower rate but they are multiple-thousands of times heavier and multiple-thousands of times more resource (mass) hungry. AND they have to STOP to colonize. Nor do you understand volume to surface ratios -- the bigger you are (volume) the smaller is the "surface to volume ratio." Jeez, take a math course. Sure we can go into space, maybe even interstellar space -- but you can only do that from a stable population base. Note that I said "stable" not "constant." If you look at stability as a mathematical concept, what we have today CANNOT be defined as stable. Don't worry, nature's constraints will FORCE a stable configuration whether it is 9 billion or Trantor's 30 billion or whatever You may not like that world when it comes. If you are a teenager now, in forty years you may be one of the desperately poor multitudes -- unless you're one of the few who will have figured out how to exploit your fellow man and are rich enough to hire guards and own an armored car. Even then you might end up in a spider hole like Saddam after a few years of living off your fellow man. If you seriously think we humans can avoid nature's constraints you have tipped over into insanity. Run as fast as you want, the constraints will catch up. The boogy-man lives under your bed.

  • trueofvoice||

    How about we have fewer children? Less messy, don't you think?

    That you see dictators hiding behind every shower curtain, ready to whisk you and your fellow travellers off to the death camps is revealing about your disturbed state of mind.

  • D Kingsbury||

    Sure. Of course we WILL have less children. Either we consciously decide to maintain a stable population because we are in control of our own destiny, or we let some exterior "force" control it for us -- i.e. we don't have to do it ourselves, the mere fact that "everybody is getting more wealthy via science and tech" will control the population for us, the standard idiot dogma. But how do you know that works? Famine, disease, murder, shortages, war work just as well and may be quicker on their feet. Asses just let things happen; real humans control their destiny in an appropriate manner.

  • D Kingsbury||

    How has Ronald Bailey's conjectures worked out for the Egyptians? When I was in high school Egypt's population was 1/3rd of what it is today. The Egyptian masses are worse off economically in 2010 than they were during the riots of 1977 when the state raised the price of bread. Omar Suleiman runs a ruthless police force that keeps control (temporarily) of a cowed populace. Cairo has become one vast slum. There is Bailey's mid-twenty-first century world in miniature. Population increase is the driving force behind Egypt's devolution.

  • Trueofvoice||

    Actually, I just noticed that Bailey fucked up yet another source. He links to a study which purports to indicate countries clean up water pollution quickly as they become wealthier.

    The study, however, states:
    "While trends in selected economic and social indicators (based on the OECD pressure–state–response framework) show that early liberalizers enjoyed positive gains relative to late liberalizers, the selected environmental indicators do not indicate consistent trends with regard to surface water quality."

    There are three possibilities here. Either Ronny didn't read the study, he didn't understand it or he deliberately misrepresented it.

  • CSI||

    Wait, so Reason is happy that the worlds population may peak at 9 billion? I thought they wanted the population to grow forever, and of course that science and technology would always allow humanity to be feed, even as the earths population grew into the trillions.

  • ugg boots||

    Wait, so Reason is happy that the worlds population may peak at 9 billion? I thought they wanted the population to grow forever

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