Overpopulation is Sooo Over, Explains Biologist in New York Times

Population GrowthAndreus: DreamstimeUniversity of Maryland professor of geography and environmental systems Erle Ellis published a splendidly lucid op/ed, "Overpopulation Is Not The Problem," in Saturday's New York Times. Neo-Malthusian pronouncements have been a staple of ideological environmentalism for more than 40 years.

Back in 1968, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich flatly predicted in his doomy screed The Population Bomb that the “battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Just back in January of this year famed nature documentarian Sir David Attenborough declared, “We are a plague upon the earth. ... Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us.”

Yet population doom has stubbornly failed to arrive as predicted. In his op/ed Ellis explains why so many biologists and environmentalists have gotten everything so wrong:

MANY scientists believe that by transforming the earth’s natural landscapes, we are undermining the very life support systems that sustain us. Like bacteria in a petri dish, our exploding numbers are reaching the limits of a finite planet, with dire consequences. Disaster looms as humans exceed the earth’s natural carrying capacity. Clearly, this could not be sustainable.

This is nonsense. Even today, I hear some of my scientific colleagues repeat these and similar claims — often unchallenged. And once, I too believed them. Yet these claims demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the ecology of human systems. The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been. Since prehistory, human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered “natural” ecosystems.

Ellis explains something that has long been clear to those not steeped in the simplistic verities of population biology: People confronted with scarcities don't just lay there and die; they make more resources, i.e., they expand carrying capacity.

Elllis continues:

The world population is now estimated at 7.2 billion. But with current industrial technologies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that the more than nine billion people expected by 2050 as the population nears its peak could be supported as long as necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies are in place. Who knows what will be possible with the technologies of the future? The important message from these rough numbers should be clear. There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity. We are nothing at all like bacteria in a petri dish.

Why is it that highly trained natural scientists don’t understand this? My experience is likely to be illustrative. Trained as a biologist, I learned the classic mathematics of population growth — that populations must have their limits and must ultimately reach a balance with their environments. Not to think so would be to misunderstand physics: there is only one earth, of course!

It was only after years of research into the ecology of agriculture in China that I reached the point where my observations forced me to see beyond my biologists’s blinders. Unable to explain how populations grew for millenniums while increasing the productivity of the same land, I discovered the agricultural economist Ester Boserup, the antidote to the demographer and economist Thomas Malthus and his theory that population growth tends to outrun the food supply. Her theories of population growth as a driver of land productivity explained the data I was gathering in ways that Malthus could never do. While remaining an ecologist, I became a fellow traveler with those who directly study long-term human-environment relationships — archaeologists, geographers, environmental historians and agricultural economists.

The science of human sustenance is inherently a social science. Neither physics nor chemistry nor even biology is adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet. This is the science of the Anthropocene. The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future. Humans are niche creators. We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits.

Actually, as I argued in my column, "Free Markets = Sustainable Development," the social science behind increasing human sustenance is the rise and expansion of free markets, strong property rights, and the rule of law.

The Ellis op/ed is well your time. Perhaps the tide of Neo-Malthusian thinking will finally ebb.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Perhaps the tide of Neo-Malthusian thinking will finally ebb.

    Oh Ron.

  • Marc F Cheney||

    The typical human response to being fabulously wrong is neither to admit it, nor to simply become silent, but to double down on it.

  • Anomalous||

    ^This.^

    After all, Paul Ehrlich hasn't gone into hiding. He still spews the same idiocy he always has.

  • Virginian||

    Yeah, and his buddy John Holdren with whom he made the metals bet that he lost badly, the same Holdren who has consistently been wrong in his doom mongering propaganda, that's the guy advising POTUS on science issues.

    Having John Holdren as your science adviser is like having Jenny McCarthy as your medical adviser.

  • JW||

    What is it about human nature that causes people to repeatedly, readily and uncritically believe bad news, that we're all about to die, but need to be convinced that everything might be OK?

    And worse, why do they continue to believe the same set of liars and charlatans that were wrong the previous dozen times about their impending doom?

  • R C Dean||

    What is it about human nature that causes people to repeatedly, readily and uncritically believe bad news, that we're all about to die,

    I think its displacement from the knowledge that we will all die, period. In isolation, your inevitable death is petty and meaningless. Make it part of a grand apocalypse, though . . . .

  • Russell||

    Doubling down on anthropogenic radiative forcing, both from the top down with greenhouse gases , and the bottom up with albedo change can play hob with niches humans have taken millennia to construct.

    So far we have altered half the land surface of the Earth-

    Sure you really want to go for the remainder ?

  • Sevo||

    Russell| 9.16.13 @ 1:34PM |#
    "Doubling down on anthropogenic radiative forcing, both from the top down with greenhouse gases , and the bottom up with albedo change can play hob with niches humans have taken millennia to construct."
    Gee, Russell, maybe you ought to keep up:
    http://reason.com/24-7/2013/09.....al-warming

    "So far we have altered half the land surface of the Earth-Sure you really want to go for the remainder ?"
    Well, since all that alteration has only improved things, yep.
    BTW, did you read the article?

  • R C Dean||

    I suspect much of the remaining land surface is simply useless, no matter how its "altered", so it won't be. Himalayas? Rockies? Andes? Sahara? Gobi? Etc.

  • Sam Grove||

    So far we have altered half the land surface of the Earth-

    Citation?

  • Swiss Servator, Spare a Franc?||

    Not as long as there is a buck to hustle, followers to herd or any other gain to be made by being such a "thinker"...

  • playa manhattan||

    Imagine how little money he would be making if he worked in a field where the correct answer was required.

  • Sevo||

    No way an idiot like that could ever get a job as a 'scientist' at a university, right?

  • Square||

    A field where the correct answer is required =\= University.

  • playa manhattan||

    Heh. I don't think anyone would hire him now, but he has been a professor at Stanford since way before he was proven beyond all doubt to be an idiot.

  • Sevo||

    And Stanford hasn't found it convenient to fire his ass.

  • playa manhattan||

    Can't. Tenured.

  • Sevo||

    A shame, that.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    The world population is now estimated at 7.2 billion. But with current industrial technologies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that the more than nine billion people expected by 2050 as the population nears its peak could be supported as long as necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies are in place.

    Matt Ridley: Real possibility that "overall effect of climate change will be positive"
    ...Warming of up to 1.2 degrees Celsius over the next 70 years (0.8 degrees have already occurred), most of which is predicted to happen in cold areas in winter and at night, would extend the range of farming further north, improve crop yields, slightly increase rainfall (especially in arid areas), enhance forest growth and cut winter deaths (which far exceed summer deaths in most places). Increased carbon dioxide levels also have caused and will continue to cause an increase in the growth rates of crops and the greening of the Earth—because plants grow faster and need less water when carbon dioxide concentrations are higher.

    Up to two degrees of warming, these benefits will generally outweigh the harmful effects, such as more extreme weather or rising sea levels, which even the IPCC concedes will be only about 1 to 3 feet during this period. ...

  • ||

    But, the quantity of resources and production capacity must be completely time-invariant and fully observable, now. Otherwise, I can't make sense of anything.

  • Fluffy||

    I expect to live long enough to see the sci-fi tropes spin around, and declining population and enervation become the big new theme.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Before or after Global Cooling?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    They already hit it with the latest Superman flick.

  • robc||

    Ditto.

    That and the impending ice age doomsayers.

  • Fluffy||

    I expect the future to look a little like medieval Rome -

    Vast, mostly unoccupied cities (the buildings, perhaps, tended by Roombas) with a few tattooed and gene-altered oddities wandering around, posting updates to some future social network about how hard it is to date after 40. Tending flocks of sheep in Central Park, wearing shirts made of diamonds strung on fibre optic cable, that kind of thing.

  • JW||

    wearing shirts made of diamonds strung on fibre optic cable

    And I thought wool was itchy.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Even without increased resources, we've known for almost two centuries that biological population growth is self limiting:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.....ion_growth

    When people can't get enough resources to satisfy them, their reproduction rate drops, exactly as we see happening in pretty much every industrialized nation.

  • ||

    When people can't get enough resources to satisfy them, their reproduction rate drops, exactly as we see happening in pretty much every industrialized nation.

    Ummmm...No. It's the increase in wealth, not lack of, that leads to reproduction declines.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Note the key phrase "enough resources to satisfy them". Wealth growth is basically another name for organisms requiring more resources to remain satisfied.

    The amount of resources someone in an industrial economy will acquire before considering themselves ready to reporduce is much larger than the amount of resources someone in a developing economy will acquire.

  • ||

    The amount of resources someone in an industrial economy will acquire before considering themselves ready to reporduce

    I simply find that unsupportable. Fertility rates decline by income group. Poor people have more kids, regardless of the country they live in.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    I think that's the point though - as your wealth increases, you start contemplating quality over quantity.

    However, if you were born in one of the many really dirt poor places on this planet, your kids are your protection and retirement as you age - IE - REQUIRED.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Stormy Dragon,

    Even without increased resources, we've known for almost two centuries that biological population growth is self limiting


    What limits a population is confinement, not a lack of resources. Hong Kong has NO resources yet the population of the island increased almost ten fold in the last century and a half. When explorers from Spain and Portugal visited the Canary Islands in the 14th Century, they found settlers there living at a kind of Neolithic level of technology, because of their isolationism. No trade on ideas leads to a stagnation of tehcnological advancement as people have to discover things by themselves, and working around the clock to satisfy their needs makes it harder to stop and think about new ideas, new ways that can increase productivity. In the end, this is what limits a population.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Hong Kong has a lot of resources they use to trade for other resources. I think Stormy's point is a global one.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Neoliberal Kochtopus,

    Hong Kong has a lot of resources they use to trade for other resources


    They trade, all right, except not resources contained in their tiny space. What they trade is labor and freer ports (for all goods) for other goods the population wants.

  • anon||

    Uh, labor is the single greatest resource one can possess. Without it, any other resource is useless.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Right, but those are still resources. There's a reason those departments are called "Human Resources"

  • ||

    Hong Kong has NO resources yet the population of the island increased almost ten fold in the last century and a half.

    That tells you nothing about reproduction rate. Most of that is likely due to immigration.

  • Ron Bailey||

    SD: With due respect may I suggest that there is another central explanation why total fertility rates are falling - increasing liberty and resources shift people's attention away from reproduction to other activities. See my article, "The Invisible Hand of Population Control."

  • Pro Libertate||

    Crap. That means no giant cities with massive moving walkways and robots, doesn't it?

  • OldMexican||

    You miss Futurama, too?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I was thinking Caves of Steel. Because I want to be a Spacer.

  • anon||

    Now I'm thinking about Blades of Steel.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    GREATEST HOCKEY GAME EVER

  • Pro Libertate||

    I can hear it right now: BLADES OF STEEL.

  • sarcasmic||

    OT:

    Tie dye for: Katrina Bowden shows off her (30) Rock of a stomach as she parades body in pink print bikini on holiday

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvs.....liday.html

    Oh my!
    /George Takei

  • ||

    Rock of a stomach

    Somebody has a different definition of "Rock" than I do.

  • playa manhattan||

    Sorry to see her leave, but happy to watch her go.

  • John||

    Interesting that queen bee and sometimes short fat girl Tina Fey allowed her to appear on the same camera. Great ass.

  • Zeb||

    One thing about Tina Fey is that she realizes that about herself and used it to comedic effect in 30 Rock. The whole point of the Cerie character was to irritate the Tina Fey character by being very attractive and attracting the attention of all the men.

  • anon||

    I'd like to note here to John that I find Tina Fey quite attractive, too.

  • Zeb||

    I agree. It was always a bit odd that the character on the show was supposed to be fat and unappealing or something.

  • John||

    Tina Fey is shorter and generally fatter than Alison Sweeney ever was. If you think anyone above a size 2 is fat, you must then think Fey is a cow.

  • anon||

    If you think anyone above a size 2 is fat, you must then think Fey is a cow.

    *I* never said that. You offered me a picture of your wank material in which she's obviously a size 8 and claimed her to be a size 2 in a later post, from 2011. Yes, when she doesn't eat her weight in food per day, she doesn't look terrible. But she hasn't abstained from that habit for at *least* a year.

    Tina Fey, otoh, appears to have a pretty stable weight, and she has looked about the same for the past 5 years.

  • Irish||

  • John||

    She is like Sweeney. She is a reformed fat girl. Look at pictures of her form the 1990s. She was a cow. And also a lot of the pictures you see of her magazines today are photoshopped to death.

    http://jezebel.com/5100862/wou.....-like-this

    This is what Fey looked like before the crash dieting and the photoshopping. Sweeney at her worst is about a thousand times better than Fey.

  • Fluffy||

    Wow, you are totally doing the Trayvon thing by digging up photos of Fey at 13.

    For the duration of her career, she's been on the thin side. Combined with the fact that she's short, that makes her petite.

  • Fluffy||

    What?

    She's pretty petite, dude.

  • anon||

    She gets hotter the older she gets.

  • John||

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvs.....-loss.html

    Alison Sweeney, my favorite reformed fat girl. You just have to catch her in a month when she is following her diet.

  • anon||

    John, you aren't helping the case that you like the fatties.

  • John||

    There is nothing about fat about Sweeney. Not when she is in one of her thin phases. If you don't like her in the picture on the right in the second row of pictures where she is wearing the black skirt, you don't like women. Who doesn't love a blond with a nice face, big boobs and nice legs? She is gorgeous there.

  • anon||

    Just because you wear flattering clothing doesn't make you *not* fat.

    If I had my choice of any woman in the world, she wouldn't be in the top 100.

  • playa manhattan||

    *Shakes head in shame for John*

  • John||

    So there are only a 100 hot women in the world? And that outfit is not flattering if you were fat. It is tight fitting around her hips and down into her thighs. A fat woman would look like a cow in that. A fat would wear a skirt that flared out at the waste and hid her flaws. She is very thin there. She just has a great rack and nice curves, which last I looked was what women were supposed to look like.

    If the worst you can say about a woman is "well she wouldn't be in my top 100 women of all time in the world" you are not saying anything bad, unless you are just some asexual weirdo who would only sleep with a 100 select women.

    I was baiting Sarcasmic and caught you. The idea that someone like Sweeney, when she is thin, is called fat and ugly is just fucking bizarre.

  • anon||

    I'm just saying I couldn't even put her in my wank bank. She looks old, and her tits:body ratio make her look like she has implants. Tits that big don't belong on that body; even though the body is par at best.

    And, even wearing black plus the photoshop, you can still tell she's a fatty. The belt is the only thing that hides it.

  • John||

    you can still tell she's a fatty. The belt is the only thing that hides it.

    She is a a size 2, you half wit. The only thing smaller than that is a size 0. If you think any women who is not a size zero is a fatty, you really just need to work through some issues.

    http://www.people.com/people/a.....45,00.html

  • anon||

    I'm going to have to call bullshit on the size 2. Mila Kunis is a fucking size 4.

  • Calidissident||

    She's not fat. Not saying she's skinny or that she'd be in my wank bank, but she is definitely not fat

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    The People article claiming a size 2 is from 2011. The DailyFail article is from today. I would say some things have changed in two years.

  • John||

    Her weight goes up and down, that was my point.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    No, John, you said she IS a size 2. I would say she WAS a size 2 at one time, but your statement of her size as current fact is belied by the evidence.

  • John||

    Here you go anon, have a skeletor.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvs.....ywood.html

  • anon||

    See, I don't like Tara for different reasons; mostly because I think her face is 100% fake.

  • anon||

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm jealous of that spoon.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Anon,

    Just because you wear flattering clothing doesn't make you *not* fat.


    She's not fat. She just looks... poofy.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Would you guys like to take your stroke material to a private room with each other?

  • John||

    Lighten up Francis. Sometimes your delicate puritanical sensibilities are going to be offended. It is the 21st Century. Life is just like that sometimes.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I'm not puritanical. I'm an adult. I don't slobber over anything with two legs and a vulva like the Wolf in a Warner Bros. cartoon.

  • anon||

    Well, if you don't wanna watch, that's your problem.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Here fattyfattyfattyfattyfattyfatty!
    Here fattyfattyfattyfattyfattyfatty!"

    /John's mating call

  • John||

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvs.....ywood.html

    Here you go sarcasmic. Look at those bones, that totally pencil figure. Talk about bringing the sexy. Nothing says sexy like skin, bones, and and a masculine body.

  • sarcasmic||

    She was smoking hot once upon a time, but not anymore.

  • William of Purple||

    before the bad boob job

  • John||

    You know you love her. She has the ideal figure, no boobs, no hips, and a body fat percentage below 2%.

  • Fluffy||

    My problem with her is I've watched that show and find her personality quite off-putting.

  • John||

    She is annoying as hell. But she is attractive, if you like women or don't have issues with your sexuality.

  • sarcasmic||

    I've never seen it and don't really plan to.

  • sarcasmic||

    Also, just because her character is annoying doesn't mean the actress is. I mean, that's why they call it acting. For example the guy who played Archie Bunker was a raging liberal.

  • William of Purple||

  • OldMexican||

    Even today, I hear some of my scientific colleagues repeat these and similar claims — often unchallenged. And once, I too believed them. Yet these claims demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the ecology of human systems


    Or of economics, for that matter.

    There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity. We are nothing at all like bacteria in a petri dish.


    But, Ellis, I think you're missing the point; it is not that Neo-Malthusians worry about an increase in global population; they only worry about an increase in undesirables vis-a-vis the beautiful people.

    /Margaret Sanger

  • AlexInCT||

    ^^^THIS...

    Its always about more control of the serfs and cleaning out the gene pool with these types than anything else.

  • Sevo||

    I don't see any comments on the article; did they burn the page off the web?

  • ||

    Oh? I wouldn't even click through to read the article because I was afraid the comments would make my head explode.

  • OldMexican||

    The science of human sustenance is inherently a social science. Neither physics nor chemistry nor even biology is adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet.


    Just call it Free Market Economics and stop beating around the bush, Ellis!

  • anon||

    adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet.

    I agree. There is already a science for that; it's Economics.

  • Sevo||

    There is some hope. Just checked Bing, and the search for 'paul ehrlich was dead wrong' gets enough hits that it rates its own auto-completion.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    What's a Bing?

  • anon||

    Bling for poor people?

  • Sevo||

    "What's a Bing?"
    You could goggle it!

  • William of Purple||

    I use alta vista myself.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Lycos or GTFO

  • BakedPenguin||

    Ron and Scott could have gotten together and written how overpopulation isn't going to be a problem for Detroit.

  • OldMexican||

    Unfortunately, and as Ellis himself confessed, economically-illiterate scientists tend to look at things exactly backwards. They see the a pressure in population stemming from the apparent lack of arable land, for instace; they never stop to think that the reason there IS a certain population size is because the people there are making the land produce for them, i.e. they are making their own resouces, not just gathering them from the land like ants or termites. They do not see that an increase in population is not driven by the food being produced but by the expected production derived from the new stock of hands, i.e. the added stock to the Division of Labor. More hands does not mean more mouths to feed but more hands to produce - at least where people are FREE to produce. These scientists don't see that.

    The reason some countries are seeing their populations decrease is not because either a lack of resources or an increase in wealth. BOTH are incorrect conclusions. The reason some populations are becoming older and less fertile is because of two things: Taxation and child labor laws. Don't believe me? Look at which countries have the stringest laws against so-called "child labor" and the highest taxation rates, and you will see the perfect correlation. BOTH tend to rise the cost of production and delay the Division of Labor process, making an economy less productive.

  • Carolynp||

    Wow, you are exactly the reason I read these comments. I had never considered child labor laws as a part of the equation. Genius.

  • OldMexican||

    Consider the fact that there is no real correlation between wealth and kids. If it were, most rich folks would be completely childless, which is not the case. Besides, they represent a tiny part of the population.

    Think of all the production you must apply to get your kids through state-mandated schooling, for many of a child's PRODUCTIVE years (essencially, from 13 to 18) when they could be contributing to the family income and thus help increase the pool of savings via occassional work or apprenticeships. Child Labor laws take away completely that possibility for each family, rapidly DECREASING the marginal utility of each additional child to the point where many families struggling to make ends meet but cannot pool the resources from working children (at least from adolescence) tend to stop having children.

  • William of Purple||

    OH SHIT
    Froot Loops does not have the nutritional value of a healthy cereal.
  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I'm not going to listen to some bullshit organization give me bullshit definitions of the word "healthy". FOR EXAMPLE:

    A healthy cereal doesn't contain trans fat, artificial color or chemical preservatives, according to pediatrician Dr. William Sears

    ZOMG CHEMICALZ

  • Fluffy||

    Yeah, what does artificial coloring have to do with anything?

  • anon||

    Oh my god, preservatives!? Throw that shit in the fucking trash, nobody should eat it!

    Of course, they probably want you to forage in NYC's dumpsters for food to start with.

  • Zeb||

    Right. The fact that it is all sugar and starch, with some vitamins and fiber thrown in to make the nutrition facts look good, isn't the problem.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I like how on the one hand it's bad to "fortify" a cereal because that's somehow a false boost to nutrition facts, but we're also advised to give our children multivitamins. What the fuck do these people think a multivitamin is exactly?!

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, I don't see why it woudl be bad to fortify it. I mean, eating a box of sugar with some vitamins is probably better than a box of just sugar.

    Another problem with stupid government nutritional standards. They can tick of the low fat, high fiber and vitamins boxes, so it must be good.

  • William of Purple||

    Yeah but does anyone buy Froot Loops because they think it's healthy?

  • Zeb||

    I bet some do. They don't advertize the vitamin content in big letters on the box for no reason.

  • anon||

    Yeah but does anyone buy Froot Loops because they think it's healthy?

    I'd rather my kid eat Froot Loops than not eat because he doesn't like whatever shitty tasting cereal I try to force on him.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I mean look at this shit:

    Froot Loops contain 12 g -- or 3 tsp. -- of sugar

    Not three teaspoons! Here comes the Diabeetus Dirigible and oh god it's crashing into your kid's pancreas! Oh the humanity!

  • OldMexican||

    What do you have against a kid's pancreas, you pancreas-hating jerk???

  • Ted S.||

    Why would Livestrong be opposed to better living through chemical enhancement?

  • Swiss Servator, Spare a Franc?||

    +1 doping scandal

  • anon||

    they never stop to think that the reason there IS a certain population size is because the people there are making the land produce for them, i.e. they are making their own resouces, not just gathering them from the land like ants or termites.

    Wait, you mean people actually do things to sustain themselves!?

    ONLY GOVERNMENT CAN DO THAT, SO YOU ARE WRONG. Take him to the gulags!

  • Zeb||

    Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us

    Well, depending on how you define "natural", that is probably pretty true. Problem is that 1. he assumes that humans aren't part of the natural world and 2. that the natural world doing it for us will necessarily be some sort of catastrophe.

  • anon||

    And he also assume the natural world hasn't been limiting our population (and everything elses) since the dawn of time.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Yeah, what Zeb said.

  • Canman||

    Ehrlich (ar'likh)
    -n. A spectacularly wrong prediction. (e.g. The tabloid's year end psychic predictions all turned out to be Ehrlichs.)
    -v. 1. To not pan out. (e.g. The ponzi scheme started out fine, but then it Ehrliched.)
    2. To not admit a mistake. (e.g. The drunk who caused the five car pileup Ehrliched.)
    -adj. Wrong, incorrect. (e.g. The Mayan Calendar end of the world prediction turned out to be Ehrlich.)

  • Rhywun||

    Kind of amusing since the word actually means "honest".

  • Swiss Servator, Spare a Franc?||

    Wirklich?

  • Tony||

    Yeah people adapt to environmental challenges, except when they don't.

    The irony of libertarians adopting a Pollyanish view of human adaptation is that they stand in the way of "necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies" every time, calling any such actions big government meddling. A big part of adaptation is planning and collective action. The libertarian admonishment is to adapt by doing nothing.

  • Sevo||

    Tony| 9.16.13 @ 12:28PM |#
    "The irony of libertarians adopting a Pollyanish view of human adaptation is that they stand in the way of "necessary investments in infrastructure and conducive trade, anti-poverty and food security policies" every time, calling any such actions big government meddling"

    That's not irony, that's consistency, because it is meddling.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Please Do Not Feed the Trolls.

  • Tony||

    If you're against applying the means of adaptation, then you are not in favor of adaptation.

    Like everything else you believe, your solution is to do nothing and declare that the market gods will sort it out.

  • Sevo||

    Tony| 9.16.13 @ 12:33PM |#
    "If you're against applying the means of adaptation, then you are not in favor of adaptation."

    I'll take oil and vinegar on that salad, please.

  • Fluffy||

    If you're against applying the means of adaptation, then you are not in favor of adaptation.

    The means of adaptation is human reason, dude.

    As an information problem, tens or hundreds of thousands of people reasoning on a problem and trying out solutions will "adapt" much faster than a single, top-down command system trying to impose a solution devised by a small group.

    In the context of agriculture, if your viewpoint was correct, Soviet agriculture should have been more productive than American agriculture. Is it the actual historical record?

  • Tony||

    Is American agriculture a freewheeling order-from-chaos system? Uh, no, it's highly subsidized and organized on an accounting spreadsheet. Want to try to go the other route? Okay, let's see if food remains as widely distributed.

    The only claim this worldview makes is that individuals or small groups are capable of rationally decision making--large groups are better off living with the combined outcomes of those smaller efforts. But it's nonsense. Companies are planned top-down. Individuals plan. Planning is part of adapting at every level. Large-scale problems simply require large-scale resources. Human reason should be at play at every level.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Fuck off sockpuppet.

  • Irish||

    Yeah people adapt to environmental challenges, except when they don't.

    The only time they don't is when a powerful coercive force stands in their way.

    This is why there have been no famines in capitalist Democracies in the last 100 years, but socialist utopias keep having everyone starve to death.

    Please, Tony. Point me to one instance of a capitalist Democracy failing to adapt to environmental challenges in the last 50 years. I'll wait. Hell, give me an example of a capitalist Republican form of government failing to adapt to environmental changes ever.

  • Tony||

    The only time they don't is when a powerful coercive force stands in their way

    Yeah, like nature.

    Advanced societies do adapt to environmental challenges, but they do so by large-scale planning and collective action. Those are the tools advanced societies have at their disposal by definition.

  • Irish||

    Bullshit. Countries with autocratic governments are much more capable of ushering the resources of the state to meet a particular need, and yet they cannot stop mass starvation.

    Democracies are messy, tend to be slow moving, and don't take action quickly. This is because they need to go through all the processes of a Republican form of government.

    Democracies don't have famines because we have pricing systems that move food efficiently from point A where it is produced to point B where it is consumed. That's emergent order caused by the market, not by any sort of government dictate or nebulous 'collective action.'

    When countries try to under take grand collective actions in order to get food to where it needs to go, people tend to starve to death. You'd have to be an idiot not to see this basic fact repeating throughout history.

  • Carolynp||

    I'm constantly surprised at how many people ignore this consistent truth.

  • Tony||

    Again with this nonsense that food is a free market in this country.

    Again with the nonsense that central planning was the problem in brutal autocratic regimes, rather than a lack of democratic accountability or simple resource scarcity.

    You do not know what you're arguing. You're just repeating slogans. Planning is planning. It's good to plan, and the worst that can happen is that we fail to plan correctly. Which is much more likely when the plan is always the same: do nothing.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    In what way is most food sold in the US not a (mostly) free market?

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tony,

    Advanced societies do adapt to environmental challenges, but they do so by large-scale planning and collective action.


    The "collective action" seen, for instance, the Moscow canal where 22,000 prisoners laid their lives to the god of collective effort. You know, the one you worship. Or the Northern River reversal which was a useless (albeit planned) and environmentally-destructive project from the minds that also delivered the Aral Sea disaster. All collective and planned, of course.

  • Tony||

    Tired appeals to authoritarian states are tired. Bad instances of planning do not discredit planning altogether. Every country, every village, every person does it, and often it works out better than if no planning had been done.

  • #||

    "Advanced societies do adapt to environmental challenges, but they do so by large-scale planning and collective action."

    Cite a couple examples of this please.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: #

    He's just giving you bullshit.

  • Tony||

    The United States. France.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    In case you didn't realize it - those are countries, not examples.

  • Juice||

    Advanced societies do adapt to environmental challenges, but they do so by large-scale planning and collective action. Those are the tools advanced societies have at their disposal by definition.

    I'm curious if you believe that large-scale planning and collective action necessarily requires coercion and the use of force. Do you believe it is at all possible to do big things together without threatening people into participation?

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Juice,

    I'm curious if you believe that large-scale planning and collective action necessarily requires coercion and the use of force.


    Stop being curious - Tony DOES believe that. Tony believes people are simply too stoopid and greeeeedy to get together and labor to achieve all those grandiose statements of power that he dreams about after a few nights of Sid Meier's Civilization in the basement of his parents home, so coercion and force and bayonets sticking to ribs should be in order, in his humble opinion.

  • Tony||

    Yes. Free democratic governance.

    If you mean you think people should get to freeload on the progress others make by willingly participating in planning, then I don't know where you get off lecturing on morality.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Goddammit people.

  • anon||

    I hereby pronounce Tony the King of Shit. Everywhere he goes, everything he says, everything he does; it's all shit. It's like a Shitnado.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Well, where does shit come from? FOOD.

  • anon||

    If this is what eating Froot Loops does to people, then I guess I have to change my stance on Froot Loops.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tony,

    Yeah people adapt to environmental challenges, except when they don't.


    For instance?

    A big part of adaptation is planning and collective action.


    You mean like in New Jersey, recently?

    The libertarian admonishment is to adapt by doing nothing.


    If by "nothing" you mean refraining from plundering the population to pay for grandiose, pharaonic projects that end up making things worse (like those "adequations" to the Mississipi by the Corps of Engineers that has resulted in much worse flooding,) then, yeah, you're right. Guilty as charged.

  • Sevo||

    OldMexican| 9.16.13 @ 12:45PM |#
    "Re: Tony,

    Yeah people adapt to environmental challenges, except when they don't.

    For instance?"

    At least that idiot Ehrlich put a date on the lefty rapture.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    You know how they give lab rats those buttons to push whenever they want food?

    That's you. You're one of those buttons.

  • OldMexican||

    Ohk, give it a rest, Neo. It's a slow Monday.

  • Carolynp||

    I was highly impacted by a professor I had in college who stepped in to take over teaching a class called "problems in the world". Apparently, half the class in the previous semester dropped and the other half was basically suicidal because the previous professor was a born again Malthusian. The professor they had takeover was a statistician. They allowed the previous students to re-take the class at no cost. Stunning how Malthus' theories don't withstand basic math.

  • Ted S.||

    I was highly impacted by a professor

    You mean he beat depressions into you? ;-)

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    Apparently the 7-8 million people who will die of hunger this year, and the 33% or so who are chronically hungry did not get the memo that malthus is dead and there is no human carrying capacity.

  • Irish||

    This is idiotic. The 7-8 million people who will die of hunger this year aren't dying due to 'overpopulation.' They're dying due to poorly run governments stifling their ability to grow food or to trade for food if they can't grow it. The same for the chronically hungry.

    People dying of starvation in no way proves Malthus' or Ehrlich's theory of overpopulation, and to claim it does is the worst sort of mendacity.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    The hypothesis pushed here is that people will respond to outside pressure by producing less offspring in times of scarcity or that through ingenuity will overcome the scarcity allowing the population to remain stable or grow. What the outside pressure is (bad gov, droughts, depleted soils), is irrelevant. For 7-8 million people this year and many throughout all of history this idea that there is no carrying capacity is factually incorrect.

  • Irish||

    No. The theory is that people will starve due to natural overpopulation that cannot be avoided. Starvation due to government force is in no way the same thing.

    Example. Let's say I locked you in a room until you starved to death. Is your starvation evidence that overpopulation is resulting in the number of people outstripping agricultural productivity? No. It's evidence that you were willfully starved by my evil actions.

    Malthusian overpopulation has nothing to do with government force or incompetence resulting in starvation. It has to do with the idea that there will be natural starvation that cannot be avoided. You can't claim that this is the same thing.

    When Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians, it was evidence that Communism does not work. That starvation was the result of a completely different phenomenon than Malthusian overpopulation. Can you really not see the difference?

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    "The theory is that people will starve due to natural overpopulation that cannot be avoided. Starvation due to government force is in no way the same thing."

    Only if you believe humans are outside of nature.

    " Let's say I locked you in a room until you starved to death. Is your starvation evidence that overpopulation is resulting in the number of people outstripping agricultural productivity?"

    According to you guys you would figure out some way to eat furniture or build a teleportation device to trade with the outside world. In reality you would probably die, just like if a tsunami wipes out your fields and no one around has enough to share you will probably die. So yes I fail to see a difference between "natural" coercion and human coercion, at least in consequences.

  • Tony||

    Libertarians believe human agency is all-important--like all strict moralistic codes, or religions as they are sometimes referred to.

  • Irish||

    According to you guys you would figure out some way to eat furniture or build a teleportation device to trade with the outside world. In reality you would probably die, just like if a tsunami wipes out your fields and no one around has enough to share you will probably die. So yes I fail to see a difference between "natural" coercion and human coercion, at least in consequences.

    This is the biggest bit of strawmanning bullshit I have ever seen. His theory is that humanity will have MASS STARVATION without regard for their own actions because they will surpass the Earth's carrying capacity. That is provably untrue. The starvation isn't through passing the carrying capacity, it's through bad government, coercion, and violence. That's different from the idea that we will surpass the carrying capacity and die, and if you can't see this then you just don't understand Malthus' theory.

    You should stop arguing about something you don't understand.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    I think not including man's actions in the carrying capacity is problematic. You count it if a new technology is developed and deployed that increases the carrying capacity, but if man implements policies that lower carrying capacity and people starve all of a sudden that doesn't count because it isn't natural?

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Sorry - but it is natural for humans to get more efficient over time in any industry they spend a fair amount of time in.

    It is however completely unnatural for a small cabal of people to say... steal all farm land and give it to their friends, who all suck as farmers, thereby depleting a food supply that existed, causing people to starve.

    Then when other governments in the world get together and send this despotic country free food, because the world already makes enough food to feed everyone comfortably, it's unnatural when the government which caused people to starve in the first place, then steals the aid and gives it to their friends and sells the leftovers using the new resources as power.

    One thing is natural because it happens all by itself - division of labor will make it happen.

    The other is unnatural because it takes force to stop the natural acts from happening.

    & seriously - you can just look - the only places in the world where people routinely starve are in despotic authoritarian countries (see NK, Zimbabwe, etc, etc).

    Doesn't that imply something?

  • Sevo||

    ..."For 7-8 million people this year and many throughout all of history this idea that there is no carrying capacity is factually incorrect."

    Yeah, and when you find someone making that argument, get back to us.
    What a moron.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    "Yeah, and when you find someone making that argument, get back to us.
    What a moron."

    umm

    "There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity. "

    It is literally word for word in the article. You're dumb even for a reason commenter, it is a miracle every time you manage to tie your shoes in the morning.

  • Sevo||

    See that word "Human" in the article? See that?
    BTW, tie the laces on each shoe; not the two together. I knew you needed that.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    "See that word "Human" in the article? See that?"

    You are seriously grasping at straws, it was clear that I was referring to humans in my comment.

    "BTW, tie the laces on each shoe; not the two together. I knew you needed that."

    aha, not bad.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: ZackTheHypocondriac,

    The hypothesis pushed here is that people will respond to outside pressure by producing less offspring in times of scarcity or that through ingenuity will overcome the scarcity allowing the population to remain stable or grow.


    That's not the thesis. Read the article again. Ellis is saying that human populations do not behave the same way than other animal populations and are not complete victims of natural limits or pressures. The reason the hard sciences have failed to see this (and thus given more consideration to the many-times debunked Malthusian theory), according to Ellis, is that scientists are ignorant of economics. That is his conclusion.

    For 7-8 million people this year and many throughout all of history this idea that there is no carrying capacity is factually incorrect.


    You can't say that, unless you can show that the people who die of hunger do so because of overextension of their population. If a robber comes to my house and steals all my food and water during a severe storm and I die of hunger, you cannot conclude from that that the population was overextended by at least one individual: me. That is not the correct conclusion.

  • Irish||

    He clearly doesn't understand the distinction because he is an arrogant moron. Honestly, his entire argument is based on straw men, a misunderstanding of Malthus' theory, and snide comments that further exemplify his own ignorance.

    It's unbelievable that Zack showed up to hold court about something he provably does not understand.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    I was more concerned with carrying capacity and the idea that there is no such thing as overpopulation than malthus, you mostly brought him up while I was saying that there provably is a human carrying capacity given deaths from starvation.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Provably? Then you have a number? Round it off to nearest billion if you will - but since it's provable, then please let us know the rough number of the earth can "hold".

  • Sevo||

    Irish| 9.16.13 @ 3:01PM |#
    "This is idiotic...."

    Correction: Zack is idiotic.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: ZackTheHypocondriac,

    Apparently the 7-8 million people who will die of hunger this year, and the 33% or so who are chronically hungry did not get the memo that malthus is dead and there is no human carrying capacity


    The memo was sent 2-1/2 centuries ago by Adam Smith. If the intrusive governents refuse to heed the words, then that is their problem.

  • Tony||

    You mean it's government's fault? Is that what you're saying? Sorry, for a moment I thought you had played another note.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Name me one place on earth where scores of people routinely starve which isn't a despotic hell whole.

    Or keep playing the same note...

  • Tony||

    Name one person who advocates for a despotic hellhole.

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