• Podcast

    Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented by Global Population Growth

    And why they're so hard for us to address
    by Adam Taggart

    Sunday, January 12, 2014, 4:11 PM

As we embark on a new year, it's important to keep the really big elements of our global predicament squarely in mind. To that end, we're surfacing this excellent discussion on population growth that Chris recorded in 2012 with Bill Ryerson of the Population Institute.

At the heart of the resource depletion story that we track here at PeakProsperity.com is the number of people on earth competing for those resources.

The global population is more than 7 billion now and headed to 9 billion by 2050. If world population continues its exponential growth, when we will hit planetary carrying capacity limits with our key resources (or are we already exceeding them)? What are the just, humane, and rights-respecting options that are on the table for balancing the world’s population with the ability of the earth to sustain it?

Population management is an inflammatory issue. It's nearly impossible to discuss without triggering heated emotions, and rare is the leader who's willing to raise it. And by going unaddressed globally, the risk of problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality…the list goes on.

Which is why we feel we need to have the courage to address this very important topic directly. And to have an adult-sized conversation about these risks and what can done about them.

In this podcast, Chris talks with Bill Ryerson, founder and president of the Population Media Center as well as the president of the Population Institute. They explore the current forecasts for world population growth, the expected future demand on world resources, and the range of options available for bringing them into balance sustainably.

We are adding about 225,000 people to the dinner table every night who were not there last night. So that is net growth of the world’s population on an annual basis of a new Egypt every year. In other words, 83 million additional people net growth annually. And that, from a climate change perspective alone, is a huge increment. Most of this growth is occurring in poor countries, so on a per-capita level, the people being added to the population have much lower impact than, say, if Europe were growing at that rate. But nevertheless, just from a climate perspective, with most of that 83 million additional people in low per capita greenhouse-gas output countries – this is between now and 2050 – at this rate of growth, it is the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.

Clearly resources like oil, coal, and gas are non-renewable and will eventually run out or become more and more expensive and therefore not reliable as a source of energy. But what is the renewable long-term sustainability or the carrying capacity of the environment in each geographic territory, and globally? What is the current and projected future human demand for those resources, and do we have sufficient natural resources to meet our needs?

Doing this kind of accounting is not difficult. There are very good robust scientific designs for measuring resource capacity and human demand, and projecting out what do we need to do in some time in the next few decades in order to get from what is clearly population overshoot to achieving something that is in balance. Because as long as we are in overshoot – and the global footprint network’s calculation is we are now at 50% overshoot –  that means we are digging into the savings account of our ecological systems, as you mentioned: the fisheries being one, forests being another. We are eating into the capital to sustain the growing population.

They also explore why population management is such a uniquely controversial topic. Not only are moral, civil, and religious beliefs in play, but the debate is also heavily influenced by large corporate and governmental organizations protecting their interests. So it's no wonder that a calm, respectful, and reasonable conversation on population remains so elusive.

But we're going to try to have one here.

Needless to say, our moderators are on high alert and will step in if they are needed. Thanks in advance for your conscientious, levelheaded, and respectful comments. We have the chance to do substantial thinking on some really meaty questions here. Let's make good use of it. 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Bill Ryerson (46m:26s):


Chris Martenson: Welcome to another Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, of course, Chris Martenson. And today we welcome Bill Ryerson to the program.

Now, I know Bill and have met Bill. And Bill is the founder and president of the Population Media Center as well as the president of The Population Institute. As you can guess from his titles, Bill is here to discuss a very important topic with us, a topic controversial to many: population growth.

At the heart of our resource depletion story is the number of people on earth competing for those resources. We are more than seven billion now and headed to nine billion give or take, by 2050 unless something really dramatic happens. If our population continues its exponential growth, when we will hit planetary carrying capacity limits with our key resources? Have we already hit them? What are the just, humane, and rights-respecting options that are on the table for balancing the world’s population with the ability of the earth to sustain it? Bill, I know this is going to be a fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for being here and your willingness to approach this very difficult topic.

Bill Ryerson: Chris, thanks so much for having me on. It is a great pleasure to be with you.

Chris Martenson: Excellent. So let us start with the numbers. Where are we in terms of world population, and where are we headed? I gave a couple of outline numbers, but why don’t you tell us what you see in the numbers right now?

Bill Ryerson: You mentioned the big one of seven billion, which we reached on Halloween a year ago. And we are adding about 225,000 people to the dinner table every night who were not there last night. So that is net growth of the world’s population on an annual basis of a new Egypt every year. In other words, 83 million additional people net growth annually. And that from a climate change perspective alone is a huge increment. Most of this growth is occurring in poor countries, so on a per capita level, the people being added to the population have much lower impact than, say, if Europe were growing at that rate. But nevertheless, just from a climate perspective, with most of that 83 million additional people in low per capita greenhouse-gas output countries – this is between now and 2050 – at this rate of growth, it is the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.

Chris Martenson: Wow, two United States. So the other thing I track and on the resource side is food. And we have this extraordinary green revolution. But a lot of the charts for food productivity are really nosing over. And I saw a UN projection that suggested that by 2050 we might have to double our food production. I just do not see how we can do that.

And then on the other side, you look at stories like phosphate and other non-renewable key mineral resources – in this case a fertilizer input – plus the issues on water. To me this is the key driver of all of these somewhat difficult trends that we just talked about here, whether it is in climate or food production or water or even energy. All of these are being driven by population.

You are at the heart of this population conversation. How come I do not hear this conversation come up very often? In fact, I do not think I heard one mention of it in the last presidential election cycle.

Bill Ryerson: Nor did you hear much about the climate change. It is possible to make a subject taboo by having enough money thrown at PR around that issue being unacceptable to discuss. And indeed, that is what has happened. There is a big money machine cranking out people going on talk shows saying population is not the problem, people who are concerned about population are either racist or in favor of free sex with contraception or whatever. And trying to make it controversial so that it gets off the table of the global community’s agenda. And instead allows these self-serving interests to continue to profit from population growth. Most people in the world do not profit from population growth. But there are a few who do. And of course, when you stop and think about who profits from population growth, one is real estate developers. The builders of houses clearly think population growth is a great idea because it means more housing starts. And that is how they measure their welfare.

There are others, land owners, who think the more people there are, then the more demand there will be for my land, and that means the price of land is going to go up. Indeed, that is the case. And there are people in the energy business who say the more people there are, the more demand there will be for my product, so I will make more money. And that is the case. So there are monied interests and there are also religious interests who are fighting the whole idea that population might have any relevance to the future of humanity and putting out a huge amount of literature on the subject on a daily basis.

Chris Martenson: A huge amount of literature. So you have noticed that there is what you would call a campaign, as it were, for the market share of ideas. And you are on one side of the campaign and you have noticed that there are people on the other side.

Bill Ryerson: A few years ago, we started an initiative to put sustainability experts onto talk radio around the U.S. And we started to crank up interest, and particularly around the seven billion mark last year there was a lot of media attention to population, which had fallen off the global radar screen for some decades. And the response has been tangible. Entities like the Wall Street Journal and various other conservative media and conservative think tanks have responded with books like The Empty Cradle, claiming there are just not enough people. We need more people in order to sustain the economy. A whole series of economic articles about the aging of the population of Europe saying the aging of population and even places like China are much more important than slowing population growth and therefore we need to stimulate people to have babies.

We now have a situation where Germany is paying $13,000 per German baby born. Australia is paying $5,000 per Australian baby born. And these bonuses or bribes are actually affecting the birth rate, it appears. However, what they are really doing – and I do not think they were aware of this, although they should be – is, they are actually worsening the dependency situation that they claim to be trying to solve. The concern in Germany, for example, is we have so many aging pensioners and a shrinking or potentially shrinking workforce to support them, and therefore we need to increase the birthrate so we have more workers in the future. This, of course, assumes that those kids, when they grow up, will have jobs in a growing economy.

Second, it ignores the fact that those kids are 100% dependent on working adults for at least the first eighteen years of their life – and if they are going to have a college education, which is almost required now in Germany, they are going to be dependent for some years after that. And in fact, the aged in Germany, who may be retired, often have savings that supplement their income from pensions. And so they are not nearly as dependent as the young people that the government is trying to add to the population. And furthermore, since the retirement age was set at the time of Bismarck, if they only were to recognize what has happened to longevity and health they could change the retirement age by a couple of years and adjust the pension system very slightly and solve that problem rather than trying to solve it through a Ponzi scheme of endless population growth.

Chris Martenson: What a perversion of logic, I suppose, the idea that we have a system of pensions that we operate in a certain way. And because it is shaped in a pyramidal shape it is a Ponzi scheme, in essence; we need more entrants to support the people who came before. The solution to that, if we ever detect a defect in that system, is to try and incentivize getting more people into the system rather than saying there is potentially something wrong with how we designed the system. Because sooner or later, you have to say maybe not now, but even the most conservative among us at some point, whatever our motivation happens to be, would have to say there is a set limit to the number of people we can fit on this planet. Maybe we could argue about when that is; some might say we are already past that mark. Some might say the mark is very far in the future. But sooner or later you say there is a mark, which means, then, that it is not incumbent on our monetary system or our economic system or our pension system. It is not that we have to fit people into those systems. It is the reverse.

Bill Ryerson: Exactly. We need to have the global community come together and do planning for a sustainable future. And part of the process of doing that is actually doing an analysis of what our resources are, country by country, and renewable resources. And what is the productivity of those renewable resources, in a sense the way the global footprint network has done by saying how many acres’ footprint does each person have in terms of the use of biodiversity forest, fields for agriculture, et cetera, for all of the human activities that are being carried out by that person? And then look at how do our resources – sustainable resources, i.e., renewable resources – stack up against those demands? And what is very clear globally and in most countries of the world is that the total scale of human activity has outgrown the long-term sustainable yield of the environment to sustain that population. So in most countries we have already exceeded the carrying capacity.

Chris Martenson: I find the arguments that more people equates to more growth, which therefore I think translates into more prosperity, is how that thought train goes has a logical break in it for me. Because at some point, after a certain moment, growth itself actually steals from prosperity. They are both funded from the same source. And the real question is would you rather live in a nation of a hundred million people with just absolutely abundant resources for a very prosperous lifestyle, or in a nation of a billion people where everybody is sort of fighting over a relatively tiny share? To me that is a self-answering question. But you outlined that the process here would be to A) recognize that there is a limit that we have to live within, and then secondarily B) to create a strategy around that which involves a survey of some sort. What do we have? What kind of a lifestyle can we sustain given what we have here and within these boundaries we are talking about? And then the third thing is C) you would have to then manage to that.

And that analogy I have here is that we have recognized that there are limits to fisheries in the United States and we have been managing those fisheries for decades. And just a month ago they announced the closure, the complete closure, of the Grand Banks Fisheries because they had collapsed completely – just illustrating to me that even when you have the intention to manage carefully even a renewable resource, which fisheries potentially are, there is still obviously some learnings that are going to have to happen there. Which is kind of a long way of asking when is a good time to get started on this, do you think?

Bill Ryerson: Yesterday. [laughter] Clearly, at the Rio conference on the global environment that occurred last June, that was a great opportunity for the world to come together and talk about not how do we make the Titanic greener but how do we actually put the world on a course towards long term sustainability, where we start by saying what is the planetary and each country, the national capacity for sustaining a population with renewable resources? Because clearly non-renewable resources like oil, coal, and gas are non-renewable and will eventually run out or become more and more expensive and therefore not reliable as a source of energy. But what is the renewable long-term sustainability or the carrying capacity of the environment in each geographic territory and globally? And then looking at what is the current and projected future human demand for those resources and do we have sufficient natural resources to meet our needs?

And doing this kind of accounting is not difficult. There are very good robust scientific designs for measuring resource capacity and human demand, and projecting out what do we need to do in some time in the next few decades in order to get from what is clearly population overshoot to achieving something that is in balance. Because as long as we are in overshoot – and the global footprint network’s calculation is we are now at 50% overshoot – that means we are digging into the savings account of our ecological systems, as you mentioned; the fisheries being one, forests being another. We are eating into the capital to sustain the growing population.

Another example of this is India. India is pumping out underground aquifers for irrigation of farmlands at a rate greatly exceeding the rate of replenishment of those aquifers by rainwater and by river availability. And therefore the water table is sinking. In some parts of India it is sinking by ten feet a year. Farmers are having to drill deeper every year in order to access irrigation water. And some farms now are starting to find that it is just impossible to reach the water; the land is turning to desert and the farmers are giving up and moving to the city. Well, the long-term picture is that much of India is going to face this collapse of agriculture. India is one of the top three grain-producing countries on the planet, and this will drive the price of grain out of reach of many people who get an Indian salary. Indeed, there are about 150 million people in India alone being kept alive now through over-pumping of underground aquifers. And when those aquifers run out, far more than that will face immediate starvation and will go rampaging across India and across other countries to find food.

And the security agencies, including the CIA, are well aware of this and are very concerned about it. But for some reason, our political will to address these issues and the threat that they pose to habitability of the planet has been lacking. And yet there is nothing more important than addressing these issues. India is growing by 18 million a year. That is a new Bombay every year and yet nobody is talking about the fact that what is going on is totally unsustainable. And there is not nearly enough being done to change the demographic projection in India. Certainly there have been efforts, and there have been some successful efforts.

But much more should be done. Much more attention should be paid to family planning information as well as services, because right now it is really a drop in the bucket in the global community’s budget. And as we have seen in the last two years, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to de-fund all assistance to family planning worldwide. Thankfully, the Senate stopped that from happening, but in an era when we are already at an unsustainable level of people to stop any funding for family planning is absolute insanity.

Chris Martenson: I agree completely. It sounds like the math is clear. Adding up the resources is a fairly trivial exercise, as far as these things go. And yet we find that it is not just a controversial topic, it is so controversial that often we cannot even entertain the conversation at all. It seems like tempers flare really rapidly. What is it about this topic that makes it so difficult to talk about?

Bill Ryerson: I have spent 41 years working full time in the population field and I will say it has been endlessly fascinating – and I have had to get something of a tough skin to withstand the controversy. Where do we start? One, it is dealing with sex. That is controversial enough. Abortion, of course, has become a big issue in the U.S. and in some other countries. And the failure of contraception or its availability often creates a demand for abortion. There clearly are a lot of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies going on around the world. But the abortion issue adds to the controversy. Contraception is opposed by the Catholic church, and that is a major stumbling block for addressing that issue when you have a member state of the United Nations that is a religion that stands in opposition to all forms of artificial contraception.

And then at a country level, including the United States in particular, population growth is driven in many countries by migration. So in the U.S., trying to go from where we are now, 310 million people, to a sustainable level – one good ecological estimate is that at a western European lifestyle, the U.S. could sustain 200 million – would mean reducing net growth to zero and then ultimately to a negative number. And when more than half of our growth is driven by migration across our borders, it means addressing the immigration issue. And immediately you have people saying well, if you are trying to stop immigration, you must be racist. So all of these issues add up to something that when somebody brings up population at a dinner party people will jump down their throat and they will say wow, I will never bring that topic up again.

It is really interesting. We all have antennae that we have up in the air to find out what is acceptable and what is the norm with regard to all kinds of issues. And people, of course, want to be liked, want to be accepted by their friends, so they try to steer clear of controversial areas. And there is a very interesting psychological study that is really the only thing I remember from freshman psychology, a study in a paper by Solomon Ash, who was a Princeton psychologist who asked his students to identify two objects – just to give you an example, a glass and a yardstick – and to say which of these is longer. And in advance of the class, he asked every student except for one to lie. So when he then held the class, he said okay, I am holding up two objects, a glass and a yardstick, which of these is longer? Every student said the glass. And the poor student who did not know what was going on, when it got to be his turn, said the glass. So we know from these studies of conformism that for young people in particular but for all of us, fitting in, being normal, and being accepted by our friends is more important than telling the truth.

And therefore, when we are dealing with a difficult subject like population, people say, oh well, I am opposed to contraception. I am opposed to abortion. I am opposed to limiting migration. People will say well, I guess we will not talk about that. And so it has just disappeared. And yet the problem is it is not unimportant. And it is so vital to the future habitability of the planet that despite all of these controversies we cannot afford to ignore this issue. We must address it.

And there are ways, within a human rights context, to address this issue successfully. We have great success stories: Iran being one which is at replacement-level fertility. Thailand being another which is at replacement-level fertility. These countries have achieved it. We can get there if we pay attention to it, and we can do it in a human rights context. It is very clear what needs to happen.

Part of the problem in addressing the population issue is that many people have made really bad efforts to deal with it – some using coercion, others missing the mark on what is needed. There has been a lot of money put into things that are not effective. But it is very clear what is needed in order to increase contraceptive use, decrease the fertility rate, stop child marriage, allow people to be educated and get married to people of their own choice as adults, and space and limit childbearing for better health and better economic welfare. All of these are no brainers in the public-health community, but for some reason the politicians have run screaming.

Chris Martenson: That is interesting. I note that often I hear that when we want to avoid the population issue people will drag out a statistic and say oh, well, that is easy. All we have to do is X. Usually X is raise the economic living standards. And we find that there is a correlation with a decline in birthrates at that point. But I have here a headline, just came across my desk this morning; if you are not familiar with it we could push it off. But it says here that the U.S. birthrate has now plummeted to its lowest level since 1920.

Bill Ryerson: Yes.

Chris Martenson: And I know sometimes, like I said, economic advancement is held to be the key to lower birthrates. But here they are assigning causation to this declining birthrate to the recession. So it seems that maybe economic decline in some cases spurs lower birthrates like we saw in the former USSR. Russia has – you can tell us about those numbers I am sure.

Bill Ryerson: Yes.

Chris Martenson: So – maybe is it okay to be confused here? What are we seeking here? Economic advancement or recession?

Bill Ryerson: I am so glad you brought this up, because many people have assumed that the demographic transition theory is correct. That is, economic growth leads to more women in the workplace and lower birthrates, so all we need is economic growth. But as you pointed out, Russia has had very low birthrates in the face of economic decline. U.S. immigrants have had declining birthrates since 2008 and the US population because of, at least in part, economic decline in this country. And if you look back a little bit in our history to the Great Depression, the U.S. had below-replacement-level fertility, the lowest birthrate in its history, during the 1930s, because people were motivated to limit family size because they could not afford to feed a lot of children during the Depression.

So motivation to limit family size is in many ways the most important factor. And we have also seen examples of countries where economic welfare increased and the birthrate went up. There are demographic and health surveys carried out in about 95 countries in the world on a regular basis, about every three to five years. In Nigeria, the fertility rate is 5.7 children per women on average during each woman’s lifetime. They are averaging 5.7 children. The average woman in Nigeria wants 7 children. The average man wants 8.5. So why are they having only 5.7? Well, because of poverty.

Migrants to the U.S., largely from Mexico and Central and South America, but a lot of them from Mexico, for many years up until the Recession of 2008 would have more children once they moved to the U.S. than they or their peers were having in the villages from which they came in Mexico. Their incomes had gone up and they could now afford to have the number of children that they wanted for cultural reasons, because they had grown up with the idea of large family size as a good idea; they therefore wanted to increase family size and could finally do so because they could afford to with the incomes they had achieved in the U.S.

So it is very clear the demographic transition theory is flawed. What we have concluded looking back at every country that has gone from developing status to developed status since World War II, and there are eight of them, what actually happened was not that the economy went up and then the birthrate fell, but the reverse. The birth rate fell and then the economy started up. So the cause and effect has been mixed up in people’s minds because of the correlation. But what has happened in each of those eight countries is, first the country instituted an effective family planning program including promoting it, not just having clinics, but promoting smaller family norms and promoting delaying marriage and childbearing until adulthood and spacing of childbearing. And when the birthrate got down to the low twos, like 2.3 children per women, without any change in family income people had a little money left over. They were not feeding so many children; previously maybe they were having 5. Now they are having 2.3. So suddenly instead of spending all of their income on food, housing, and clothing, there is some money left over.

What can they do with that money? Well, number one, they can buy some elective goods stimulating the manufacturing sector. Number two, they can put some in savings. This builds capital. One of the great limitations in economic growth in poor countries is lack of capital. So the capital market starts to form. Businesses can borrow and expand building employment demand in the face of slightly declining numbers of people – or at least declining growth in the numbers of people – trying to enter the labor force. And that builds wage pressure, which in a poor country is a good idea. So people are earning more money. The government has the ability to tax those incomes. That allows the government to spend some of that money on environmental protection but also on infrastructure: power, water, sewer, roads, schools, all of these things that build economic productivity. And individuals have the ability to spend some of that money on education, which improves the economic productivity of their children.

So demographers have known this for a long time. And demographers refer to this as the “demographic dividend.” In fact, when fertility rates fall, economies get better and people get out of poverty. And when you look at the Asian tigers including China, with the highest economic growth rate on the planet in recent years, these are benefiting from the reduced fertility rates that have been achieved in those countries. So the idea that all we need to do is grow the economy and population will take care of itself is absolutely wrong. It may not be the case that all we need to do is reduce the fertility and the economy will take care of itself. But as we have talked about previously with regard to the resource limitations, including water and energy, it is very clear: If we are going to have some number of people living a decent quality of life with incomes that allow them to live comfortably, the only way we can achieve that is getting to replacement level – and ultimately, because we have overshot the long-term carrying capacity of the planet, below-replacement-level – fertility, so that we go into a slight decline in numbers until we are at a level that can be sustained indefinitely.

Chris Martenson: So part of China’s economic miracle, then – with all the fantastic growth that China has had, obviously there are multiple factors in this, but – you would describe one of those factors being that they had a one-child policy. They brought their overall fertility rates down. And through this demographic dividend, I believe you called it, this is part of the China story. Is that how you would frame that?

Bill Ryerson: With one minor amendment, it is certainly how I would frame it. But the amendment is, the one-child policy, in my opinion, was unnecessary. China achieved most of what they did through persuasion, not coercion. But being the type of government they are, they said well, if people do not go along with it, we are going to coerce them. And obviously that has earned a black eye for China and for the whole population field because a lot of people associate the word “population” with Chinese coercion. But I have traveled all over China and I have talked to ordinary people all over that country. They are all persuaded that the one-child concept is a good idea. China mobilized a million people to go all over the country talking to people about the benefits they would achieve by avoiding another thirty million deaths from starvation that they had during the Cultural Revolution And by limiting family size, because the country had become so huge in numbers.

So people in China are well educated about demography and are persuaded that limiting family size is a good idea. They did not, in my opinion, need to hold out economic penalties for people who did not go along with it. Certainly the persuasion got them below replacement level fertility. And if a few people had more children than one in urban areas or two in rural areas – many people do not know the one child policy is only for the urban areas. They allowed two or in some cases three in rural areas.

Chris Martenson: Oh, I did not know that.

Bill Ryerson: But this would average out. What is important in any country is not the number of children each couple has but what is the overall average. And if they are averaging below replacement level, then eventually the population is going to start to shrink. And that is really what they achieved through persuasion. And they could have avoided all the controversy by not doing the coercion along with it.

Chris Martenson: This is an important conversation to have because I think for a lot of people, when population comes up. the immediate reaction – and I am not sure if this is a reaction that has been marketed to us or how legitimate it is, but often it comes up – is that oh my gosh, this is going to be coercive. There is going to be forced sterilizations or the economic punitive measures of China or whatever. And somehow they are imagining that it has to be Draconian. And what I hear you saying is no, it does not have to be Draconian. In fact, the best successes are worked through the art of persuasion at the individual level. It makes sense – what makes sense for the nation and what makes sense for individuals is the same thing. And so getting that in alignment and talking about it openly is the path that we would like to take, because it works.

Bill Ryerson: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, look at Europe. There is no coercion in Europe, and all of Europe is at below replacement level fertility. Japan the same; Thailand the same; Sri Lanka is just approaching replacement level fertility. There are only two countries I am aware of – China, and, much less known, Vietnam – that have used coercion. There are countries that have used coercive pregnancy, like the Philippines. And during Chauchesku, Romania banned contraception and caused untold damage through people being forced to have babies they did not want and they are stuck in orphanages. And that type of coercion has been far more frequent, although less talked about than coercive family planning. But all of this coercion has been unnecessary. There are intellectuals – maybe that is too polite a word – there are people who ethereally in their minds think coercion might be a good idea because this is such an important topic. And if it is threatening the future habitability of the planet, if we are going to give people tickets for speeding and for going through red lights, we should certainly give them tickets for having too many children. But I have never seen a situation outside of China and Vietnam where coercion worked.

So despite or in addition to the fact that coercion causes a huge backlash of resentment, stop and think about who would we have coerce us. Would it be Rich Santorum? Would it be George Bush? Would it be Obama? Who is going to make the decision as to how many children we are allowed to have and how are we going to go along with that? I can imagine the debate that would be going on about that. But as we have seen all over the world, with effective family planning programs and information and discussion, as you brought up, maybe countries have achieved a replacement level or below fertility without any hint of coercion. So why would we go to Draconian measure when it is not necessary and would be a violation of human rights?

What is missing is this: We have done an analysis of the reasons given for non-use of family planning in all 95 countries where demographic and health surveys have been carried out. And the global community is convinced that the problem must be lack of access to contraceptives. You read this all the time. Well, there are millions of women who want family planning and cannot find it. There are clinics where they are out of stock for some time. And you go in there and there are no contraceptives, or at least some brand of pill is missing but maybe you can get a condom. And that is a problem that needs to be solved. And if Coca-Cola can be in every village in India, why not contraception?

But that is not the reason women are giving for non-use of contraception. Number one reason they give is they want more children. That is logical. If they have not finished what they perceive as childbearing desires, they are going to hold off, and if they want to be pregnant they are going to hold off until they have the number of babies they want. But after that, those who do not want to be pregnant now or in the immediate future, the number one reason they are giving is they have heard it is dangerous. And religious fundamentalists are handing out information that condoms contain the AIDS virus and the lubricant, the pill gives you cancer. And people are hearing this misinformation and they are going oh my God, why would I want to use a dangerous thing like that?

So number one, they are saying they have heard it is dangerous, they are afraid of health effects. Number two, religious opposition, husband’s opposition, or personal opposition to the whole concept of planning one’s family. And this relates closely to another major reason that is measured in some demographic and health surveys: fatalism. There is a very interesting study by Etienne Vanderwall that looks at the transcripts of interviews with women who did not want to be pregnant and are not using a method of contraception. And the interviews often go like this:

  • Are you married and sexually active or in union and sexually active? Yes.
  • Do you want to be pregnant now or in the next two years? No, I desperately do not. I cannot feed the children I have.
  • Are you using a modern method of contraception? No.
  • Do you understand because you are sexually active and not using a contraceptive that you could become pregnant? Well, that would be okay.
  • But I thought you said you desperately do not want to be pregnant, you cannot feed the children you have. That is true.
  • So how can you say it is okay if you become pregnant? If God wants me pregnant it is up to God. I am here to serve God.

In Pakistan, 38% of the non-users give as their reason the number of children I have is up to God. So this type of fatalism, not even [accepting] that it is in one’s ability and one’s right to determine the number and spacing of their children, is a critical stumbling block. So these concerns, and in some countries not knowing a method that one can use, are the major barriers. In Nigeria, these are the top reasons given for non-use of contraception: lack of access to contraceptive services is cited by 0.2%, cost is cited by 0.2%. And yet much of the effort going into promote family planning is going into increasing access to services when that is not the reason people are giving for non-use.

So one of the great failures in some countries, in my opinion, has been not putting the emphasis where it needs to be: helping overcome the misinformation, helping people understand they have the right and the ability to determine how many children they are going to have. In the world of Islam, for example, their official findings say that the Koran inherently endorses family planning even though it never mentions the term because of the commandment that a woman should breastfeed her infant for at least two years and therefore she must use contraception because if she becomes pregnant the breastfeeding scenario comes to an end.

So in Islam and in Indian Catholicism, with some methods the church does approve, it is possible for people to plan their family. Italy and Spain have among the lowest birth rates on the planet. And what methods people are using is of less concern to me than that they are achieving their goals. So we can overcome these informational and cultural barriers if we use communication strategies that are effective at changing norms with regard to family size desires and with regard to informational or misinformation and cultural factors that stop people from using contraception. And that is not to say we should not increase the supply of contraceptives. We need to, because while we have grown from 10% of world’s couples using family planning in 1960 to 56% today, the 44% non-users outnumber the 90% non-users from 1960 because of population growth. So we definitely need to increase the supply. But we desperately need to increase communications around these issues in a way that will change behavior.

Chris Martenson: All right, Bill, it sounds like communication is the key on this because the math is clear, the trends are clear. We have now plenty of data in evidence to suggest what works. There are a lot of things that can work and do work as you have already outlined. I am listening to this right now. I am a listener; I am hearing you; I am concerned; I would like to help. What could I do?

Bill Ryerson: Well, you brought up Population Media Center. One of the things that we do – and that is the primary thing we do – is to use a strategy of communications that has turned out, from everything we have been able to measure, to be the most cost-effective strategy for changing behavior with regard to family size and contraceptive use on a per-behavior change basis of any strategy we have found on the planet. And this is the use of long-running serialized dramas, melodramas like soap operas, in which characters gradually evolve from the middle of the road in that society into positive role models for daughter education, delaying marriage and childbearing until adulthood, spacing of children, limiting of family size, and various other health and social goals of each country. And we have now done such programs in forty-five countries. And I can give you a couple of statistics.

For example, in northern Nigeria, a program we ran from 2007 to 2009 was listened to by 70% of the population at least weekly. It was a twice a week program. It was clearly a smash hit. And it was a smash hit because it was highly suspenseful and highly entertaining. But it had a storyline dealing with a couple deciding to use family planning, which is almost taboo in northern Nigeria because less than 10% of the people in that region use any modern method of contraception. We had eleven clinics have healthcare workers ask clients what had motivated them to come in for family planning, and 67% percent of them named the program as the motivation.

Chris Martenson: Congratulations.

Bill Ryerson: Our cost per family-planning adopter of that entire program, 208 episodes, writing, acting, production, and primetime air purchase, plus the research pre- and post-broadcast and the monitoring research, came out to 89 cents per family-planning adopter. That is the kind of thing that can dramatically change demographic trends globally. We need to greatly expand this type of work. And there are very few organizations doing this. So one thing people can do is become involved in supporting the work of Population Media Center. They can go to www.populationmedia.org and read all about our work. They can also encourage their policymakers, i.e., members of Congress and others, to pay attention to the communication needs on this issue and not just the medical service provision side of it. Because we can set up all the clinics we want, but if people are afraid to go into them, we will not change demographic trends.

Chris Martenson: Bill, I really want to thank you for your 41 years, I believe you said, of service in this regard.

Bill Ryerson: Yes. [laughter]

Chris Martenson: And to bring to us a very challenging conversation that you have made thoughtful and positive and non-draconian, showing the way that these are things that are well within our control. Often I find in topics of discussion around population there is often the sense of tossing up the hands, lack of agency, what can possibly done? And you have articulated for us that there is lots that can be done. In fact, there is already evidence of what works and what does not work. And so it is not a shortage of information that we are facing right now. It is really the will to get out there and make this a top priority for ourselves. So thank you.

Bill Ryerson: In some ways, I am working in this field because I do see this as a solvable problem. I think the issue of reducing our per capita consumption is a more difficult challenge. It also needs communications to change norms with regard to lifestyles that could be considered over the top. So the excessive consumption is reduced, but it is, I think, a bigger challenge, because people seem to have an endless appetite for increasing their lifestyle.

Chris Martenson: Well, maybe there are some things that work there as well. We are seeing changes in behaviors there, too. And if the story is right, if the narrative is correct, people will live into that narrative. And in the absence of a good narrative will default into – maybe I will call them more “primal” sort of behavior sets. But I, too, have great faith that people, with the right narrative, with a good story, with right information, will make very rational decisions. But in the absence of good information it is impossible to make a good decision.

So I want to thank you for bringing clarity to the population topic and remind people that I have been talking with Bill Ryerson and you can find out more at his www.populationmedia.org. Did I get that right?

Bill Ryerson: That is correct.

Chris Martenson: All right, well, there you go, and I hope we can have another conversation in the future. It has been great.

Bill Ryerson: Chris, thanks so much for having me on; I really enjoyed it.

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  • Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 6:02pm



    Status: Member

    Joined: Oct 16 2010

    Posts: 61


    rocket science?

    i'm really not understanding the human mind, or why something as simple as: "unlimited growth on a finite planet is not possible" is so elusive for most to comprehend.

    the only guess i have about why this is taking place is basically people dont want to change. the lifestyle we are addicted to, and depend upon... is killing us . what a dilemma. what a time to be alive.


    since we seem to prefer a "race to the bottom", my path is to do whatever i can:
    while my money still has purchasing power,
    while there are still goods and services to purchase and
    while my body is still strong enough to do hard work... to mitigate what is unfolding.

    also, being grateful for how easy these days are is wise... because it will not always be like this.


    happy 2014!

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  • Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 8:25pm



    Status: Gold Member

    Joined: Mar 06 2012

    Posts: 571


    Population growth in the Philippines

    I haven't yet had a chance to listen to this podcast, but I wanted to share my thoughts on population in the Philippines.

    I was just there over the holidays visiting my wife's family, and, as is the case each time I visit, I was impressed with how young and dense the population is.  Here is a graph of population growth in the Philippines, which is currently just around 100 million.  In 1950 the population was just over 20 million and in 1990 it was around 65 million.  

    After being in the Philippines and seeing the reproductive politics of the Roman Catholic Church in action, on several levels, including a great deal of misinformation about the birth control pill proffered to my wife by some of her relatives, I assumed that the Philippines had the fastest population growth rate in East Asia, because I thought it was the only predominantly Roman Catholic country there.  

    But, this list of countries by population growth rate proved me wrong.  I learned that East Timor has the highest pop. growth rate in East Asia at 3.5%, putting it up there with Afghanistan,  Niger, and Uganda.  I also learned that E. Timor is the other predominantly Roman Catholic country in East Asia.  Of course, there are a lot of factors besides religion at play with population growth rates, since Italy is also predominantly Roman Catholic and it has a pop. growth rate of 0.1%  It seems that the determinants of pop. growth rates are a complex mix of religion, culture, level of economic development, level of education and rights for women, and type of government.  So, while my concern about the reproductive policies of the R.C. church still stand, this is probably less of a factor in Philippines' population growth rate than I originally thought.

    The growth rate in the Philippines is 1.7%, relatively tame by comparison with 3.5% of East Timor, but higher than some of its other SE Asian neighbors such as Vietnam (1.3%), Indonesia (1.15%) and Thailand (0.65%).  It's about the same as the pop. growth rate of Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia, however, and the graph above suggests that even a growth rate of 1.7% will be difficult to sustain in a world of higher energy costs.

    Philippines is also a rice importer, unlike Thailand and Vietnam, two other high population countries in SE Asia, which are both rice exporters.  This seems to make Philippines even more vulnerable to a rise in energy prices.

    Here is a resource that Philippines has plenty of, and which you see just about everywhere you go. smiley



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  • Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 8:51pm


    Amanda Witman

    Status: Silver Member

    Joined: Mar 17 2008

    Posts: 152


    Everybody accessing the podcast all right now?

    Let me know if you're still having trouble ([email protected]).  You might need to refresh your screen to see the play button, but I believe it's there.  Thanks.

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  • Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 9:11pm


    Arthur Robey

    Status: Member

    Joined: Feb 03 2010

    Posts: 1325


    Roast Pork.

    This is the nub of the issue for my old country, Zimbabwe. Population Growth.

    Bob Mugabe said that ideally the Land should support perhaps 6 Million. It has 11 million, the last time I looked. The arithmetic is not hard.

    This is why Bob denies AIDS, This is why if you are out of the country for more than 3 months you lose your citizenship. This is why people get sewn up into Hessian bags and dropped down abandoned mine shafts. (The Gorokohanzi).

    This is why he confiscates food producing farmlands from the commercial farmers. He has to stop the population breeding. More food=more babies. This is why donated food aid languishes in warehouses in Harare. This is why the same donated food is sold to people who cannot afford it. This is why any surplus food that is produced in Zimbabwe is sold for Swiss franks.

    He inherited the problem from Us, the white people because under our administration we allowed the population to explode. We tried all sorts of underhand tricks to keep a lid on it. (Feminism, forcing Dad to make bricks for the local school. 1000 bricks for each child etc.) They were ineffectual.

    Because We (Africans) know what follows a population breakout, an UmFikani.  A Time of Madness, a time of Roast Pork. It has just happened in Ruwanda. It will happen again because just like Us, Bob Mugabe has failed to reduce the population to ecologically sustainable levels.

    This is the African Way.

    We are all Africans.

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 12:47am

    Taz Alloway

    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Feb 18 2010

    Posts: 464


    Great post at the Oil Drum "UmFikani" link

    Thanks Arthur!

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 2:30am

    Stephen Lark

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    Joined: Oct 27 2008

    Posts: 13


    Flat ground

    [quote=shastatodd]i'm really not understanding the human mind, or why something as simple as:
    "unlimited growth on a finite planet is not possible" is so elusive for most to comprehend.
    I recall somewhere Chris M. said (paraprased) "If you are on an exponential curve for long enough then you think it is flat ground."

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 8:54am


    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Dec 19 2011

    Posts: 126


    Poisoned roast pork

    [quote=Arthur Robey]Bob Mugabe said that ideally the Land should support perhaps 6 Million. It has 11 million, the last time I looked. The arithmetic is not hard.
    Arthur, ndiri wo MuZimbabwe.
    To suggest that Bob's desire is to keep the population trimmed is to credit him with enlightened humanitarianism at the very least. He is utterly unconcerned with humanity -: his sole motivator is control. Not of the population size but of its composite affiliations. Affiliation = power. There can be no other reason for the quiet genocide of Gukurahundi, otherwise the population control option could simply have been peaceful birth control & education instead. Zimbabwe has (had?) plenty of gorgeous fertile soil (particularly around the Mazoe & Banket areas) with which to feed 11m population. Types like him would happily use - and have used - population as an excuse for political & tribal genocide.
    As for food distribution - Bob's party cardholders are well fed on Zimbabwe's donated food. Non-holders are not. If food languishes in warehouses then it's because it'll be allowed to rot before it can be used to feed non-Mugabe supporters. I have watched food being selectively distributed by the Zimbabwean army while starving MDC supporters are left to their fate. In the West we're preoccupied by how to feed a larger populace. Let's hope that nobody takes their cue from Mugabe for an easier solution.

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 10:10am


    Arthur Robey

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    Joined: Feb 03 2010

    Posts: 1325


    Pig Totems.

    Good to see you on site Locksmithuk.

    I do not suggest anything humanitarian. I say that Bob is acting as a traditional Buntu leader. The people of his land belong to him. They are his possessions, to do with what ever he sees fit. 

    He is the Main Man, the Head Honcho especially picked by the Ancestors for the role.

    From his point of view he cannot understand the fuss we make. He is just doing his job, which is to ensure the People thrive. If they thrive, he thrives. From his point of view there are just too many of them, and as a farmer would look over his fields at his cattle and see that the herd needs thinning, so Bob has decided to thin his herd.

    Has he not designated the shanty town people "Totemless" (People with no ancestors), and therefore of no value?

    It is a hard job- but someone has to do it.

    According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (remember that?), us whites go about things slightly differently when we hit the limits. We resort to infanticide.

    The Vikings lived at the head of fjords, hemmed in by mountains and sea. This led to inbreeding which as we all know, makes the lethal recessive genes manifest. (They are expressed).

    Whenever a child was born the communality made a decision whether the child would be an asset or a liability. If it was a liability or was defective in any way, it was dispatched.

    This enabled the expression of lethal recessive genes and their elimination. Benign recessive genes were spread, such as blue eyes.

    I am not espousing an Ideal, I am reporting on what I find.


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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 1:50pm



    Status: Silver Member

    Joined: Apr 30 2009

    Posts: 708


    Humanitarian dilema

    To be Malthusian is to understand that "feeding the hungry" is at best a short term solution that has dire consequences going forward.  Ultimately, there will always be hunger at the margin, regardless of the size of the dole.  Malthus did an excellent job of describing the exponential growth problem in the early 1800s.

    The ugliness humanity is capable of is readily obvious on both continents.

    The reality is, population will be controlled.  Since we choose not to do it rationally, it's solution will come about by war or natural causes.  Unfortunately, the path we have chosen by inaction, will do damage to the planet that won't be repaired any time soon, perhaps never.


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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 4:57pm


    Status: Silver Member

    Joined: Aug 11 2010

    Posts: 236


    podcast release.

    [quote=Amanda Witman]Let me know if you're still having trouble ([email protected]).  You might need to refresh your screen to see the play button, but I believe it's there.  Thanks.
    PP team,
    I use a podcast player apps on iphone called RSSRadio. In the past, your “Featured Voices” podcast used to be available shortly after they’ve been released on the web site but now they come many days later.  For instance the Brian Pretti is still not available.  Any reason why this is happening?

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 5:48pm



    Status: Silver Member

    Joined: Apr 30 2010

    Posts: 565


    I think there is a lot of

    I think there is a lot of denial by the general population because they believe that Treknology has and will solved population limits. Not at all. There is a big confusion and misunderstanding out there between thermodynamic entropy (involved with energy and food and materials which we need to live), and information entropy (iPads and other glittery things that help with organizing society and information but provide none of the raw materials necessary to actually sustain us). This difference is misunderstood by almost everyone up to the highest levels. 

    As mentioned, another of the factors contributing to the denial is the fact that we are living off of the planet's capital, and the average person doesn't make the connection that the energy still comes from the ground. We have no realistic plans of replacing this capital in some way when it's gone.

    I've said it before but I'll say it again: when you add up all the energy humanity uses, it comes out to something like 95-98% of it comes from burning complex carbon molecules originally formed through photosynthesis in plants -- i.e. we burn dead things that used to be alive (fossil fuels, biofuels, and food). Fossil fuels provide most of the chemicals and materials that we manufacture things out of as well (plastics being the most important example). We are still completely dependent on ecology for our survival, literally. Technology has not in any way lifted us away from our dependence on plants. The only thing technology has done is enable us to burn complex carbon molecules more efficiently, closer to the Carnot Limit, which has enabled us to pack ourselves even tighter and make us even more vulnerable to energy decline because, thanks to our wonderful economic leaders, they took those efficiency gains as an opportunity to grow the economy to fill all available voids.

    And here's the scary numbers: We currently appropriate about 20% of the planet's total production of plant material for our own uses, with about 12% dedicated to the actual harvest. Furthermore, that harvest, as stimulated by the Green Revolution, is fully dependent on application of super-concentrated plant material from millions of years ago (fossil fuels). And even with all the advances made in the Green Revolution, global net primary production has actually gone down by 10%, because we degrade so many other ecosystems..

    We burn about that much energy over again via fossil fuels. And because biofuels are inherently more inefficient than fossil fuels, in order to replace fossil fuels with biofuels would require more than 100% of the planet's net primary production, which we cant come anywhere close to achieving.

    And on the consumption side, there are only so many energy reduction options available to society before things start falling apart. So basically, we are virtually guaranteed to see a planetary die-off after fossil fuels run out, if we do not find a replacement for the energy they provide. Nuclear is highly complex and dangerous and not something a society in decline is going to be able to manage. That leaves solar, and that's it. Basically, we either convert to a solar based infrastructure, and fast, or we are going to die. It really is that simple.

    Someone once said to me on The Oil Drum: " There is no solution to overpopulation"

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 7:38pm



    Status: Member

    Joined: Jan 18 2013

    Posts: 25


    A modest proposal for a complex problem

    If you accept the premise of human population overshoot and resource limits (I do, but some people do not), then some form of population control is inevitable. Clearly the issue is hugely complex and any potential solution at human hands will require multiple efforts on multiple fronts, including changes to deep-seated religious beliefs, cultural and family values, tax systems, and on and on.
    I offer the following idea as one small step towards reducing the human population – support voluntary assisted suicide. I suspect that there is a not insignificant number of people who would find relief in a “quick, painless” death at the time of their choosing - for example, people with terminal illnesses or the elderly with declining health who can no longer care for themselves and do not want to be a burden. Sanctioned voluntary suicide would serve to not only reduce the population, but enable those folks who opted for voluntary suicide to die with dignity while exercising some control over their deaths, and reduce the cost (to the family and the state) of extended life support/health care.

    I would take this one step further to suggest that the practice of voluntary suicide be given an elevated cultural status and some monetary reward to make it a positive, desirable option. And that anyone who wishes to voluntarily end their life should be allowed to do so. A possible scenario could work like this: a legal voluntary suicide requires a signed “release” form on file with the state; the state provides the means of death and pays all costs for the termination; the state pays for disposal of the body; perhaps the state provides a small amount of money to the designated beneficiaries of the person voluntarily committing suicide; the community recognizes that the person who commits voluntary suicide is freeing up valuable resources for others to use to live.

    This concept may sound silly, but by contrast, keeping people with terminal illnesses alive for months or years while paying exorbitant health care costs, bankrupting the family, and causing huge amounts of emotional pain is, simply, not humane. My mother died of complications from Alzheimer’s after about 5 years of declining capacity – I know for a fact she knew what was coming and would have gladly opted for a reasonable way out of that torture.

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  • Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 11:49pm



    Status: Platinum Member

    Joined: Apr 27 2010

    Posts: 2680


    Nope, Sirocco

    I have no comment on your idea Sirocco.  However, I do believe we will reduce our population like we always have (and always will): disease, starvation and war.

    "Welcome to the Hunger Games. And may the odds be ever in your favor."

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  • Tue, Jan 14, 2014 - 1:58am



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    Joined: Jul 26 2009

    Posts: 18


    empowering females

    This podcast was one of the first I have heard in many listenings that prompted me to respond.  Go Bill Ryerson!

    There is a fine line between coersion and education (re: about not having more babies than we can feed!). How do we communicate effectively the message that we are in control and that contraception can help us to counter the expectation driven by culture and religion that women's fundamental purpose is to serve God by having his children?  To make it more complicated - culture and the media beat us all relentlessly with the message that if we are not sexually attractive and fertile - we have little value.

    We must value females, and indeed the meaning of our lives, in a very different way to overcome this dilemma.


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  • Tue, Jan 14, 2014 - 7:27pm



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    Missing language component

    I have been following this issue for many years and have received info from the Population Institute as well as many others similar organizations for many years.

    If you spend some time reading the literature  going back, say 40-50 years, one thing will jump out at you (but is never discussed) is the almost complete lack of discussion of men related to population. It is so profound an omission that one would think there is a ban on mentioning men when talking about population.

    I don't know when this started but it seems that as far back as the 1940's it was decided to divorce men from the process of procreation completely in literature and discussion when it comes to population issues.

    This has profound negative (and dangerous) consequences for women, who are by default cast as the main perpetrators of overpopulation. Pay particular attention to the language used in population discussions. The words are carefully chosen: birthrate, birthrate always expressed as a ratio of births to number of women, contraception (for women), abortion (for women), etc. ALL the emphasis is placed on women in every respect and from every direction the conversation might lead.

    This a most obvious "don't go there" than religion, culture, etc w/r/t population. Why this is so taboo, I cannot fathom, because if you look at the very simple mechanics of procreation, it always requires participation from  male and female.

    There may be some nefarious reason for this near complete omission of men from the discussion. A way to shift responsibility for possible solutions perhaps? Laziness? An immense logic lapse that envelops the entire planet? Historical precedent?

    Anyway, until we change the language to include both men and women when we talk about population I don't think we'll make much progress.



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  • Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - 10:01pm



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    Telling points Mark BC -

    Telling points Mark BC - Thanks


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  • Sat, Jan 18, 2014 - 12:57am



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    The Great Race

    It is important for people (especially women) to be empowered with education and access to family planning tools/technology. Most people think that is all you need. But I think it is also important for resources/wealth to be limited.

    I think it is this triad of traits that comes together to reduce population growth. A formula that looks like this:

    +family planning tools/technology

    I think families with education and access to family planning and a lot of resources/wealth, will tend to still have more children: like 1, 2, 3, or 4.

    But families with education and access to family planning, and a tightness of resources/wealth (like economic resources for food, housing, raising children, personal leisure activities, time, etc.) are the ones who tend to start limiting the number of children they have to 0, 1, or 2. Which is what we are seeing more of in overcrowded, expensive Japan.

    The Great Race

    The crux of the matter is, we hear a lot of optimists think that eventually, everyone on Earth will get to that point of "prosperity" with education and family planning and empowerment and wealth, and therefore the population will finally peak at 11 or 12 billion (or something like that) by maybe 2050 to 2100 and then stay stead or decline.

    One would think that it is like a race, then: For the world population to get to stabilize at a certain point in time for the Earth to be saved.

    But we don't have 50 years' or a century's time.

    Already, the environment's ability to support humans is severely stressed. Non-renewable resources (minerals, water, fossil fuels, etc.) are being depleted - some with remaining feasible extraction lives measured in only a few decades. Cheap oil is past peak. Renewable resources (aquifers, global fish stocks, forestry products, arable land) are being extracted from at many orders of magnitude their replenishment rates (which are themselves plummeting). Climate change is accelerating.

    We are already at over-capacity or overshoot. Even if a world of 12 billion human beings lived like a world of 4 billion did in terms of resources extraction and use (and that would mean Third World nomadic pastoralists and subsistence farmers having little change in their lives, while the rest of us in the First World collapsed our lifestyles down to one fifth of what we are used to, as if we would voluntarily do that)... I think even that would still be too little, too late.

    I think the race is already lost. Humanity picked its method of population control ages ago - the same method used by other, less sentient creatures. Die-off it will be - not family planning.



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  • Sat, Jan 18, 2014 - 7:44pm



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    Joined: Nov 29 2009

    Posts: 14


    A couple other things to think about

    Thank you Mark-BC for great insights and explanations of this complex issue. Its good to read feedback that is more that 1 or 2 lines. Excess, greed and waste have plagued mankind since the beginning. Todays Global economy, with the perceived power that fiat money has created for many people and corporations, has accelerated the destruction of a lifestyle that is unsustainable by consuming rather than producing and maintaining. I am by no means excluded from the group that is to a greater or lesser extent, a consumer, but I have forseen the impending catastrophe and am trying to prepare for a time when there will be a culling of the herd. Make a man go 1 week without food and what do you think he will be willing to do for his family?
    Most of the western civilization has been coerced, or brainwashed, into thinking that going to a 40 hour a week job, buying a house that they cannot afford, having 2 new cars and a boat is "The American Dream". Few give thought to the fact that in 10 years, that boat we be forgotten, every appliance in their home will need to be replaced and both the cars are going to require major repairs and money to keep them going. So they think buying a new everything is the only option. No thanks to modern manufacturing and engineered obsolescence, many things cannot be repaired. I think those who hope to live in a world with diminishing returns on resources need to learn to grow things to feed themselves, have skills they can barter, contribute to a local-sustainable economy and not participate with the "Banksters" and their ponzi scheme.  
    Regarding energy, there is an abundant energy source that surrounds our planet that is available that could supply most if not all our energy needs, but the controlling political leaders and the European banking system have made sure that the technology is nowhere near application ready. I do not know by solar if you mean light conversion to electricity or water heating. My understanding is that it is very inefficient. There is a continuous, nearly unlimited supply of electricity in the ionosphere. It is more concentrated in specific areas, but it is what causes our weather systems. The Egyptians may have been trying to use the Great Pyramid as one of these energy collecting points, originally it was capped with a gold top. Nikola Tesla had built a tower that was going to be a conduit to tap into this energy and distribute electricity. However, when his financier, JP Morgan learned Teslas' tower was going to be able to distribute free, or nearly free electricity, he pulled the plug on the money supply and the Wardenclyff tower was dismantled as scrap. There is a lot more to the story than that, but it is just a cliff note version.
    Nuclear power, yes it is, in its current configuration a disaster. Just look at Fukishima and the poisoning of the Pacific Ocean. The nuclear program, in its infancy took a fatally wrong turn when the controlling powers looked to the nuclear program with a weapons based frame of mind. There is another fissionable material that can be used in modified light water reactors that has none of the hazardous byproducts nor the potential for an uncontrolled reaction. It is Thorium.
    Conflict has been around as long recorded history. When Earth was ready for man, it was not one generation past before the first sibling rivalry resulted in the killing of a brother.

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  • Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 9:12am



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    Joined: Jan 31 2009

    Posts: 7


    The stark reality

    Mark-BC makes many sound comments but they are based on the common fallacious view that people are doing the damage to the environment. It is the technological systems that humans have devised that irreversibly consume tangible natural material resources and produce irrevocable material waste. People do little more than make intangible decisions, good and bad. Over population is a serious issue. But so if the fact that technological systems use natural resources at a high rate for the construction, operation and maintenance of the temporary infrastructure of civilization. It is this infrastructure that is so dependent on the flow of energy.The functioning of the population is very dependent on this infrastructure. Discussion that does not take this linkage into account realistically conveys a misleading impression.

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  • Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 11:43am


    Arthur Robey

    Status: Member

    Joined: Feb 03 2010

    Posts: 1325


    An Act of Volition

    I have fantasied about a genetic modification that enables ovulation or the production of sperm to be an act of volition.

    It must be possible.

    And then the problem might be stood on its head.  We may soon not be able to have any children at all. The role of endocrine disrupters are beginning to be felt.

    Here are the Dirty Dozen.

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  • Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 1:26pm



    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Dec 28 2010

    Posts: 210


    Why Attack Christians and Libertarians?

    These comments are from a person that wants to hear Mr. Ryerson's hypotheses, his evidence, and especially his assumptions.  To have an adult-sized conversation.

    I am a Christian, a scientist and a PPer.  I don't think those statements are mutually exclusive.

    And for the record, I completely share the concern that Bill Ryerson and Chris express about population expansivion relative to the carrying capacity of the planet.  I want to advocate, against the tones that pervade here and on the mainstream media, that Christians want and can have the adult -sized conversations that Chris asks for.

    I don't think such concern about resource management and population growth is in conflict with Christian beliefs and the Bible, which says in essence that we are to be good stewards of blessings of the earth that are given to us.

    But to give you a little feedback, sometimes it is very hard to have the adult-sized conversations, when you have guests that take a side of an argument that, to me, is well, one-sided and frankly insensitive to the possibility that many thoughtful people have another point of view that, despite the unfair characterizations, that is not crazy and is honestly held and faith-based.

    I'd be interested to know if Mr. Ryerson and those of his colleagues at the PMC are strong supporters of Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi, the ACA, and government control of healthcare in general.

    "And as we have seen in the last two years, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to de-fund all assistance to family planning worldwide. Thankfully, the Senate stopped that from happening, but in an era when we are already at an unsustainable level of people to stop any funding for family planning is absolute insanity."

    So all our problems in ACA with respect to "family planning" would be solved if it weren't for those wascally Republicans?

    This is mis-characterization and unnecessary.  To give a bit balance to the apparently revisionist history discussed by Mr. Ryerson, the House of Representatives rejected funding because the democrats led by Mr. "I'll listen to all ideas on healthcare" Obama and the democrat party, in typically uncompromising fashion, tried to force taxpayer funding for abortions through the Obamacare bill.

    Understand that the Left repeatedly refer to abortion with the euphemism of "family planning".  I believe this is to make taxpayer funded abortion more palatable, just like the Left doesn't want to use the word "taxes".   Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi, as leaders of this leftist view, repeatedly are replacing the word "taxes" with "investment", just like they replace the word "abortion" with "family planning".  They apparently don't agree with the wisdom of "say what you mean and mean what you say".

    The ACA bill was patched back together (before it was rammed through Congress in an unconstitutional boondoggle, middle-of-the-night fashion, against the majority of the country's wishes) with the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the bill to try to comprise with pro-abortion representatives and salvage the bill. 

    As Mr. Ryerson said, the initial version of the bill from the Senate added abortion funding into the ACA, creating an impass.  The impass was resolved by a "promise" by Mr. "If you like your health insurance, you can keep it, period" "we're not listening to your phone calls" "I found out the IRS was targeting conservatives in the newspaper" Obama to sign an executive order banning abortion.  Mr. Obama did sign an executive order document #13535 commiting to preserve the 1976 Hyde amendment.  I'll leave it up to the reader how much trust they are willing to place in Mr. Obama to keep his word.

    The impasse was also relieved by the Nelson Amendment, also removing abortion funding, which democratic Senator Nelson insisted be added before he would vote for it.

    I can see why, with the way Mr. Ryerson comes across with this somewhat, narrow and insensitive view, not to mention politically one-sided, that he has had trouble getting traction.

    It may be surprising or possibly unimaginable to Mr. Ryerson, since it seems not supporting taxpayer funding of "family planning" aka abortion is "absolute insanity", but a very large number of Americans find the taking of an innocent life in prenatal development to be morally repugnant.  It is deeply concerning as a part of a mentality that objectifies and diminishes the value of human life.  Part of the same mentality that Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, an architect of Obamacare, has supported when he proposed a system that apparently endorses withdrawing care from the elderly and allowing them to die, despite their wishes to receive healthcare because, well, they are expensive and not as useful anymore.

    Christians, of course including Catholics, reject that view, and believe that each human life is of value, and innocents should not be killed because a fellow citizen believes, through some equation or cost model, that their life doesn't rise to sufficient value.  They believe it is wrong to take another life because that person is inconvenient and gets in the way of their life plans.  But that consideration of an unborn child is part of the bigger picture of human relationships that includes the belief that sex is a gift from God that binds husband to wife and enables procreation.  It is true that a sizeable part of the population treat sex as casually as a sneeze or a cough.  Perhaps that is part of the deeper problem with society.

    I'm glad Mr. Ryerson is looking for ways to avoid overpopulation without coercion, and I applaud and support any effort that gives individuals correct information, education about methods and family planning; education about the truth is always a good thing.

    Which is why I am uncomfortable about his statements about birth control in China. 

    "But I have traveled all over China and I have talked to ordinary people all over that country. They are all persuaded that the one-child concept is a good idea. China mobilized a million people to go all over the country talking to people about the benefits they would achieve by avoiding another thirty million deaths from starvation that they had during the Cultural Revolution"

    So apparently the Chinese government was telling people that the reason there were 30 million deaths was due to insufficient birth control?  Sorry, but if that was what the Chinese government was telling people, that is simply a lie and propaganda.  The 30 million deaths were due to starvation as a consequence of the falsely named "Great Leap Forward" and subsequent "Cultural Revolution" which led to tragic misadventures of a vicious Marxist central-planning government led by the egomaniacal and increasingly disconnected from reality Mao.  And by the internment and execution of citizens who didn't agree with Chairman Mao's obviously glorious policies.

    It clearly doesn't sound like that's the approach Mr. Ryerson is advocating, but why support this as a good example of birth control?

    Mr. Ryerson should and hopefully does recognize that is the consequence of high concentrations of power in the government that may start out with noble ideals, but always ends in self-preservation of the people in power at the expense of millions of lives.

    I also couldn't quite follow the meme of Mr. Ryerson and the PMC, against real estate developers et al.  It again started to sound like the typical the anti-capitalist rant.  I'm trying to recollect a statement where I can recall a business plan or strategy by a real estate agent, builder, construction worker, or press release from Toll Brothers that said "Population in a very poor demographic is increasing in India?  Terrific, that's great for the bottom line."  If anything, real estate moguls would be making higher margins if the population was shrinking due to higher education and more economic freedom, and with concurrent higher salaries and ability to buy high margin homes.

    I also think Mr. Ryerson has the causation wrong for population declines in the developed Western Countries.  Ironically, these declines are for the same reasons that he points out are reasons for the increases in birth rates in some countries.  Women and men in Europe simply do not want to have children as much as previously.  We can get into a deeper discussion about the rise of self-centered ness of society, but perhaps better for another time.

    The points about "declines" in economies in Europe and Russia relating to decreases in child bearing rates are overstated.  These are small directional changes in standard living, which are dwarfed by the large increases of standard of living brought about in the last century by cheap energy and technological progress, and a conversion from an agricultural (labor heavy) to an industrial (labor modest) then information (labor lite) society.

    I do agree we should have an adult-sized conversation about how to reduce the human impact on the planet and be the best stewards of the resources we have.  Lower populations can clearly alleviate stress on resources, though we need an intellectually honest discussion about what these limits actually are.  I believe free people, unencumbered by government corruption and oppression, economically empowered, and spiritually empowered will make good choices regarding family size.  So I support the advancement of education and dissemination of accurate information as a way for families to be thoughtfully planned.  I believe I align with the PMC on these goals.  As a libertarian-leaning citizen, I think all these goals can be achieved by grassroots movements from passionate individuals within organizations like the PMC. 

    Would Mr. Ryerson join with me in getting the government out of the unconstitutional, coercive healthcare business, thus freeing up my pocketbook to send my money out of free choice to more effective and less oppressive organizations such as the PMC?

    Thanks for having a discussion on the topic,


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  • Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 1:48pm

    robie robinson

    robie robinson

    Status: Gold Member

    Joined: Aug 25 2009

    Posts: 1181


    The Creation myth

    informs my behavior.

    "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature.

    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, and the birds in the air, the cattle,

    and, yes, the earth itself" Genesis1:26


    i think i got that right. then human beings made god in their image and now its all amuck. there will be a paydaysomeday




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  • Mon, Jan 20, 2014 - 10:29pm

    Arthur Robey

    Status: Member

    Joined: Feb 03 2010

    Posts: 1325


    Response to Karen

    How do we communicate effectively the message that we are in control and that contraception can help us to counter the expectation driven by culture and religion that women's fundamental purpose is to serve God by having his children?

    We tried that in Rhodesia, Karen.
    That was implied in my reference to "Underhanded Feminism" above. We got our women folk to organize coffee mornings with the Bantu women folk and then gradually introduce the idea that the Bantu women weren't just possessions, bought and paid for to produce babies. but could space their babies out with contraceptives- without their husbands knowledge.
    Of cause we were exposed, and that led to further anger against us. How dare we interfere in a mans' attempts to further his cause by creating a huge family that he would be Patriarch of, and which would support him in his old age!
    We also tried to introduce materialism. (Money) That worked much better. The new Urban person is less tied to his roots and less inclined to pass his money up-line to his Dad and then have the Grandfather re-distribute it through the family according to need. (Hence Bob singling out the shanty town dweller as being "Totemless".)
    There were complaints among the older Urban men that having many children was not working as promised.
    Take home message- Unless you are willing and able to destroy a culture (Such as we did in Japan, by destroying the Bushido), Money talks. Unfortunately Education alone is not powerful enough.
    Would that it were.

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