Paul Ehrlich: The Population Bomb

The master predicament that remains unaddressed
Sunday, August 2, 2015, 11:35 AM

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich released his ground-breaking book The Population Bomb, which awoke the national consciousness to the collision-course world population growth is on with our planet's finite resources. His work was reinforced several years later by the Limits To Growth report issued by the Club of Rome.

Fast-forward almost 50 years later, and Ehrlich's book reads more like a 'how to' manual. Nearly all the predictions it made are coming to pass, if they haven't already. Ehrlich admits that things are even more dire than he originally forecasted; not just from the size of the predicament, but because of the lack of social willingness and political courage to address or even acknowledge the situation:

The situation is much more grim because, of course, when the population bomb was written, there were 3.5 billion people on the planet. Now there are 7.3 billion people on the planet. And we are projected to have something on the order of 9.6 billion people 35 years from now. That means that we are scheduled to add to the population many more people than were alive when I was born in 1932. When I was born there were 2 billion people. The idea that, in 35 years when we already have billions of people hungry or micronutrient-malnourished, we are somehow going to have to take care of 2.5 billion more people is a daunting idea. 

I think it's going to get a lot worse for a lot more people. You've got to remember that each person we add disproportionately causes ecological damage. For example, human beings are smart. So human beings use the easiest to get to, the purest, the finest resources first.

When thousands of years ago we started to fool around with copper, copper was lying on the surface of the earth. Now we have at least one mine that goes down at least two miles and is mining copper that is about 0.3% ore. And yet we go that deep and we refine that much. Same thing the first commercial oil well in the United States. We went down 69.5 feet in 1859 to hit oil. The one off in the Gulf of Mexico started a mile under water and went down a couple of more miles before it had the blow-out that ruined the Gulf of Mexico.

Each person you add has to be fed from poorer land, drink water that has to be pumped from deeper wells or transported further or purified more, and have their materials sourced from other depleting resources. And so there is a disproportion there. When you figure that we are going to have to try and feed several billion more people and that the agricultural system itself, the food system supplies something like 30% of the greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere. Those greenhouse gases are changing the climate rapidly, yet rapid climate change is the big enemy of agriculture -- you can see that we are heading down a road that leads to a bridge that’s out. And we are not paying any attention to trying to apply the brakes

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Paul Ehrlich (47m:06s)


Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. Climate change. Ocean acidification. Exponential economies. Shrinking aquifers. Species extinction. What do all of these things have in common? Besides being depressing, I mean. Every one is being driven by the same underlying cause – population. Or, rather, too many people for the local ecology and resources to bear. Some 70 to 80 million new people are added to the world’s population every year. Now imagine nine new New York Cities popping up every year and you've got an idea of the scale of the additions.

Now talking about population though is not a very popular thing to do, at least judging by the number of organizations dedicated to trying to mitigate the effects of population yet never talking about population itself.

Well today we have got a guest who is anything but afraid to tackle the issue – Paul Ehrlich. Author of the 1968 book, The Population Bomb, who is well known for his dire warnings about population growth and limited resources. He is the Bing Professor of Population Studies in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University and President of Stanford Center for Conservation Biology. Welcome, Paul. It is a real honor to have you on our show.

Paul Ehrlich : Nice to be here.

Chris Martenson: Well the world seems to be up to its eyeballs in predicaments a few of which I mentioned in the intro. And most I think can be directly traced back to population. Is that fair?

Paul Ehrlich : It is fair to say that if we had a much smaller population we would have many fewer problems. It is not, of course, just how many people you have but how they behave so that contrary to most people’s view of things we probably have much too many rich people in the world and too many poor people. Because the rich people each cause more ecological damage than each poor person. But basically, the drivers of the problems that we face are largely the scale of the human enterprise. And that scale is a function of how many people we have, how much each one consumes and what technologies we choose for their consumption. So population is popularly discussed as the elephant in the room because it is not properly discussed.

Chris Martenson: Well, it really isn’t, and a lot has changed since 1968 when The Population Bomb was written. So what are your views on population today?

Paul Ehrlich : Well, they are much more grim because of course when The Population Bomb was written there were 3.5 billion people on the planet. Now there are 7.3 billion people on the planet, and we are projected—and of course the projections may not be followed—to have something on the order of 9.6 billion people 35 years from now. That means that we are scheduled to add to the population many more people than were alive when I was born in 1932. When I was born, there were 2 billion people. Just by coincidence, I happen to have been the 2 billionth person born. But the idea that in 35 years when we already have billions of people hungry or micro-nutrient malnourished we are somehow going to have to take care of 2.5 billion more people is kind of a daunting idea.

Chris Martenson: And not just 2.5 billion more but I’m noting as well a lot of trends showing that more and more people are joining the middle class, which is a fine and worthy pursuit but a middle class person consumes a lot more than a lower-than-middle-class person. So we are seeing not just more people but more people wanting the good life as it were, wanting the western life. I can’t fault that. I live a western life myself, but at the same time it is obvious that we are already seeing strains at 7.2 billion people; what do you think happens when we go to 9 billion?

Paul Ehrlich : I think it is going to get a lot worse for a lot more people. You've got to remember not only what you just pointed out but of course each person we add disproportionately causes ecological damage. For example, human beings are smart. So human beings use the easiest to get to, the purest, the finest resources first. When thousands of years ago we started to fool around with copper, copper was lying on the surface of the earth essentially pure. Now we have at least one mine that goes down at least two miles and is mining copper that is about 3% ore. In other words 97% rock. And yet we go that deep and we refine that much. Same thing—the first commercial oil well in the United States went down 69.5 feet in 1859 to hit oil. The one off in the Gulf of Mexico started a mile under water and went down a couple of more miles before it had the blow out that tended to ruin the Gulf of Mexico. Each person you add has to be fed from, on average, poorer land; drink water that has to be pumped from deeper wells or transported further or purified more; have their materials from other poorer resources. And so there is a disproportion there. When you figure that we are going to have to try and feed several billion more people and that the agricultural system itself—the food system—supplies something like 30% of the greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere, and those greenhouse gases are changing the climate rapidly, and rapid climate change is the big enemy of agriculture, you can see that we are really heading down a road that leads to a bridge that’s out. And we are not paying any attention to trying to apply the brakes.

Chris Martenson: Yea, I share that view. I have to ask this – some say that your dire warnings were so far off the mark in '68, surely you must be equally off base today, or something like that. How do you respond to your critics?

Paul Ehrlich : Well, first of all, many of the things that are reported as which were predictions in 1968 were actually scenarios. In other words, if you look at The Population Bomb it will say "what follows are not predictions, they are little stories about the future that won’t come true, but will help you think about it."

Another, recently some colleagues wrote an article that pointed out that if you are not exact in your timing when you are predicting things that are going to be unhappy in the future, you still ought to examine the predictions carefully and consider how valid they are. After all in 1934 Churchill said we have a very short time, only a year or so, to prevent the disaster of the Nazis taking over Europe. Well, he was off by two or three times but he was fundamentally right. And I don’t worry about whether or not I am right or not, whether Rush Limbaugh thinks I’m wrong or I can’t remember the name of the idiot Walker who is running for the Republican presidency and fighting family planning. But as long as my colleagues in science think I’m right—and I have all of my stuff peer reviewed by the best people in the world—nobody can be absolutely 100% right in all predictions. But both my and Ann’s predictions, and those of the Club of Rome in The Limits to Growth – when people look at them closely they find they are right on the mark. Half of the problems – in The Population Bomb we talked about whether or not there was going to be climate change and whether that was going to be serious. That was 1968. I will stand by on record some things – if I were 100% right in predictions about the future then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I would have bought low, sold high and probably bought the island of Bora Bora and be living there now with a few close friends and some beautiful young women.

Chris Martenson: And I would petition hardily to join you there. So Ann being your wife –

Paul Ehrlich : A lot of applications you know.

Chris Martenson: I know. I know. A lot of people say they want to join me at my house if things ever go bad. I let them know it is a very small club. I am not sure. We’ll see. You mention Ann, that is your wife, Ann. I want to talk about a paper that you recently co-authored. It is entitled, "Can A Collapse of Global Civilization Be Avoided?" It is a relatively new paper. Well, what is the answer?

Paul Ehrlich : Well the answer is: yes, it could. I’m very optimistic, as is Ann, about the things we could do. Science has very clearly diagnosed our problem. We know what needs to be done, but the big problem is: Will we do it? And we are not doing it now. So I intend to be very optimistic about being able to work hard and probably prevent another disaster, but I am very pessimistic when you look at the people running for office in our country, for example, that will actually do it. And it is a good example, by the way, that paper was published by arguably the most distinguished scientific society in the world, The Royal Society of London, which is the British equivalent of our National Academy of Sciences and was of course heavily reviewed by the best scientists in the world. So one of the really silly things is, in countries like the United States and Great Britain and some of my other favorite countries like New Zealand, Australia, which is our second home, Canada, the scientific community knows exactly what is going on and the governments are ignoring it. Just consider from the days of Lester Pearson that now we have Canada and New Zealand and Australia run by total idiots and 15 total idiots lined up to try to run the Untied States. It is really scary.

The point is: This is now no longer a scientific problem; it is a political problem. Sure we could do a lot of research and learn a lot more, but the basics of what we have to do are crystal clear. We've got to, for example, give equal rights and opportunities to women everywhere because we know from empirical data that when we do that the total fertility rate comes down. We know we have to stop burning fossil fuels as our main way of mobilizing energy. We know that every sexually active human being should have access to modern contraception and safe backup abortion. That alone would save millions of lives. But it is not being done. So we know what needs to be done and they are all things that are politically extremely difficult. So this whole thing has really transformed from a natural science problem to a social science problem and a cultural problem and a communications problem. And you at least are trying to solve part of the communications problem end of it.

Chris Martenson: It struck me that it is not about the data anymore. We have all of the data we need. It becomes more of a psychological problem really. It is about how people process beliefs, or rather fail to. And beliefs are stubborn things. They go out and gather data that supports them and they vigorously refute and defend data that doesn’t support them. It becomes completely illogical. We can just look at, for instance, the so called drug war. There is lots of empirical data now including Portugal, which said "hey this isn’t a criminal problem. If we treat this as a social problem—in fact, what these addicts are mostly missing in life is a sense of connection and when we can start to help them rebuild that sense of connection to self, to nature, to other humans, they no longer have the need for drugs." Their drug use went way, way down and the total cost of the thing went really in the positive direction for them as a country. We have lots of data on something like that which seemingly is just about the human condition. Not even as tricky as saying "can I empathize with a plate of phytoplankton?" That is a step too far maybe.

Paul Ehrlich : Correct. The drug war—first of all, everybody with any sense knows we've lost it. So something real ___[00:12:54] ought to be done. Just like with climate change and the drug war, you have people who make their livings or make fortunes out of the other side of it. If you are a narco traffic contra, you don’t want us to solve the drug problem. If you are Shell oil or BP or something like that, you don’t want to stop burning fossil fuels. I think it was – I can’t remember, one of the big oil companies knew perfectly well that what they were doing was changing the climate, that it was extremely dangerous, and nonetheless they have been funding deniers, idiots and prostitutes who will get up there and say there is no problem with climate, it is uncertain whether the climate is changing, it is uncertain whether human beings are causing it. Turns out if you read Naomi Oreski’s wonderful book, The Merchants of Doubt, it is the same idiots who were paid by the cigarette companies to say "it is uncertain whether or not cigarettes are harmful to you" and on and on.

The degree to which people will adopt denial if it makes them comfortable is quite stunning. I am sometimes amazed by the people who sue the cigarette companies claiming they didn’t know it was harmful. I started smoking when I was six or seven years old. What we did then – this was in the 1930s, I picked up butts on the street with my friends and we smoked them. We called them coffin bails. At seven years old I and anybody else with any sense knew smoking was bad for you. But if you enjoy something you go ahead and do it anyway.

Chris Martenson: I’d like to build on that and talk about then what I consider to be one of the strongest forms of denial that we have got and it goes like this: My business partner Adam and I we joke about this. I call it the iPhone moment. We will be reviewing a bunch of data and I’ll say "look, oil discoveries peaked in the 1960s. That is 50 some years in the rear view mirror and that is just the data." And people will whip out their smartphones and go, "but you are forgetting about these, Chris," meaning technology. Technology is somehow going to save us. It will do something. It will somehow create energy instead of just help us find it. But we call it the iPhone moment. What it is really saying is we have a really powerful faith in our ability to be clever monkeys and that we are going to clever our way out of that. How do you respond to that and do you run into this?

Paul Ehrlich : I’d like to think it was true, but I know that it isn’t. In fact, if you send me an email I’ll send you some of the papers we discussed. The one that the Royal Society published, if I recall correctly, actually goes over the technological fixes that we were told in 1968 that we were dead wrong because we were going to build nuclear, agro, industrial complexes that were going to feed everybody in abundance. We were going to heard whales in atolls so we could feed everybody in abundance. We were going to grow algae on sewage and eat the algae so everybody could be fed in abundance (although, I always thought the growers and the eaters would probably be different people). There was going to be leaf protein just gathered from leaves all over the world that was going to feed everybody in abundance. We were told repeatedly in those days there was no problem. We had 3.5 billion people but we could easily feed 4 billion or 5 billion or 6 billion or 7 billion, on and on and on. Here we are at 7.3 billion and we have roughly 800 million starving each year and 1 to 2 billion micronutrient malnourished to the point they don’t function very well. And so I get really tired of hearing how we are going to fix it for huge numbers of people in the future. Our answer to these people every time has been: "Maybe so, but why don’t you show that you can feed the people we've got today good diets." They will say "well, it is just a distribution problem." I said "okay solve the distribution problem." But the point is, people are starving and you are still telling us how many more people we ought to have and how easy it will be to take care of them. We are not taking care of the people of the world today; who could possibly believe that adding 2.5 billion people in the next 35 years is going to be easy to take care of all of them and feed them? What about feeding the couple of billion that are starving today, that are not properly fed today?

So yeah, technology can help in some circumstances, but it certainly has never shown any sign of being able to solve the problem. Basic problem is human behavior and that behavior includes over reproduction, over consumption, not caring for your neighbors, inequity. Again, why don’t we solve the problem of giving women equal rights—should that be so extremely difficult? We can’t even get the women sometimes to help with that. If we had more women on our side we would have had an equal rights amendment in the United States. We are working with the wrong animal.

Do you know what a bonobo is?

Chris Martenson: Sure do.

Paul Ehrlich : We should emulate the bonobos. For example, they solve their problems, their battles, their disputes, with genital rubbing. I think that is something we should take up.

Chris Martenson: For anybody that doesn’t know, it is our closest relative, as it turns out, genetically, and it looks like a small chimp. They have very interesting group dynamics that if we studied them, I do believe that we might discover something in our DNA blueprint. There are other ways to resolve conflicts. So maybe we can go that way.

You know, I didn’t do it in advance of this interview, but it would take me three seconds to Google up and find articles where people are talking about how we don’t have a population problem of too many people, but they are worried about population growth rates leveling off. They are worried about not having enough humans. One of their arguments being more humans means more cleverness; that will save something. I am not sure if the rest was written by real estate agents or developers. I don’t know. Have you encountered those articles and tried to refute them?

Paul Ehrlich : Oh yeah. You don’t even have to try to refute them. Among others there is a bunch of political leaders in Europe who are worried about the aging of the population. It is a mathematical fact that if you have a rapidly growing population and you then start exercising restraint and have fewer births that the average age in the population will increase. This is often talked about by dumb politicians and idiot economists by saying, “We are going to face a terrible problem because of the dependency ratio.” The dependency ratio is defined as the number of people who are under 15, plus those that are over 65, dividing by the ones that are between 15 and 65. And it is perfectly true that the number of people over 65 will increase. This is viewed as a problem because of course then there is more people on social security and therefore you have a problem because there are fewer earners compared to those that are on Social Security.

Well, it’s true. You cannot avoid the problem of the change in age structure if you stop population growth. So in one sense the only way to solve that problem is to keep the population growing forever. If you slow down population growth, it doesn’t grow forever, then you are going to have more older people. Point one is: If you think that you can solve a problem by having the human population on a finite planet grow forever, then basically what you need is medical help and there is nothing I can do for you.

The second point is of course that the zero to 15 age class shrinks. You get more old people but you get fewer young people you have to support. Actually, it turns out it is much easier to make a person over 65 economically productive than it is to say make somebody under six economically productive. So the big result of too many people who cannot perform economically compared to those that have to support them is nowhere near as bad as is usually presented. In fact, it is one of those problems that with some foresight any nation can solve very easily. It means as part of the general economic problem and you have to figure it in. But it is absolutely inevitable unless you are insane and it is nowhere near as bad as it is ordinarily presented. In fact, for instance, if you look at the statistics in countries like the United States, people who don’t retire at 65 who remain economically productive tend to live longer in many circumstances than those that retire at 65. The whole structure can be changed to solve that problem. But it is a problem that is built in to mathematics. There is nothing at all you can do to change the fact that if the population stops growing its age composition is going to change and there is going to be proportionately more old people. No question about it.

Chris Martenson: Yeah, you know it is the math problem that sort of drives me a little bit nuts. A lot of this seems like not even complex math. It is fairly simple math. I did have the great pleasure of having Albert Bartlett attend one of my talks where I was using liberally from his wonderful talks on exponential growth. As I look at this really a lot of it feels to me, Paul, like the tail wags the dog. Where the economists and all of the people who are invested in the economy have bought into an idea that the economy has to constantly grow, and if it doesn’t it is threatening collapse. That is actually true. That is an observation. But instead of saying "wow, we've saddled ourselves with an economy and a monetary system that is either growing or collapsing; that seems like maybe we should fix that," we are putting everything we possibly can into assuring that we don’t have to confront the inevitable reality of that. It seems—is there a better definition if insane out there?

Paul Ehrlich : Actually, Al was great. He died recently, as you probably know. I think he was the one who said that exponential growth is the creed of the cancer cell. There was a very smart economist quite a ways back who said if you believe in infinite growth on a finite planet you are either a mad man or an economist. And that unhappily remains true. The interesting reason is—there was a study done by Collander and Clammers[ph], economists who looked at the training of economists, and economists get essentially no natural science. They have no idea how human beings are supported on the planet, what makes the planet livable, what the demographic issues are, and so on. They are just given a basically silly model. A model, for instance, that believes that everybody makes their economic choices rationally when biologists have shown and psychologists have shown many years ago that that is exactly wrong, that our decision making is much more controlled by emotion than by rationality. So they have a silly model which is based on a bio physical impossibility that is infinite growth. But trying to wean them from it...

By the way, there are some extremely smart economists who know better. But they are not the ones that are hired by the Wall Street Journal or the Australian or FOX News or so on to talk to people. So the average economist, and even some of the smart ones, are absolutely growth fixated and there seems to be very little you can do about it. I mean when you listen to any commentator on the economic situation, their cure for problems is never redistribution. It is always grow more. Doesn’t matter that the Ronald Reagans hood robin system, which was designed to steal money from the poor and give it to the rich, is still functioning very well. And if you think the rich are going to do something when they control the media and so on in order to change it, you are whistling in the dark. You are asking them to stop being the recipients of the money being stolen from the poor. Well, come on, what are the chances?

Chris Martenson: I tell you – I totally agree with all of that. There is a background reason for why I do what I do. I haven’t shared this very widely, but one of my habits in life is that if I am ever driving along or on a bike or anything and I see a turtle in the road, I will get off or out and move it in the direction it was traveling to help it across the road. And there was a period of time around 2003 or 4 I realized I hadn’t stopped in almost 10 years. It wasn’t because I had just driven past turtles and stopped caring; it was because I hadn’t seen any. And this is in New England so there are wood turtles, box turtles, sometimes snappers, painted sliders, things like that. It suddenly occurred to me that in my lifetime, what was a very common thing, which was finding and seeing turtles, which was a big part of my childhood because I was playing outside all the time, they were suddenly disappearing. I realized oh my goodness, I would love to do something about this. But I realized if you labeled yourself as an environmentalist there is a lot of baggage associated with that. So one of my thinkings was: How do I communicate this concern in a way that I can begin to talk about it? One thing led to another, next thing I know I’m talking about the economy because everybody cares about their pocket book, and that is true.

But, once you start to crack open one set of belief systems, which is "hey, did you know how money is created?" A lot of people don’t know, and you say "look it is just created out of thin air..." Even people who are international bankers have said "I had no idea..." Right? It's astonishing. It is a simple thing. We don’t teach it in schools for obvious reasons. It is kind of a dangerous idea to get out there.

So I’m looking at a piece of work you have done recently. I want to talk about some of this data. I think this really is part of what is – I know a lot of people who are very anxious right now without really knowing why. I am going to suggest something a little goofy, which is that on some level people are aware that we are killing the planet, and we are part of that planet; we are organisms of, by and for and with it, and I think that when we are basically eroding our primary support structure that feels uncomfortable—and it should.

So you had a paper out recently, co-authored, the one on the sixth mass extinction. I have seen a lot of the headlines. What I saw in your paper is that you were looking to put numbers behind the claims and observations. I’m looking at one of the charts produced in that paper. It shows five lines on it. One is for the background rate of extension, and four others show the actual extinction rates for bird, mammal, vertebrate and other vertebrate classifications. That background line is low and steady and linear, and the other four lines are all hockey sticks. They seem to align quite well with the human population curve if I were to super impose it mentally on there.

Is that the prime conclusion of this, A.) that we have got these horrific extinction rates and B.) that we can tie it to humans?

Paul Ehrlich : The claims have been made in the past – biologists have been very much concerned about the extinction rates now for about 40 or 50 years. But it is very hard to get accurate data to make really detailed comparisons of the background rate, which is simply the rate between the mass extinctions. In other words we know – actually when you had your original geology course and you learned about the Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous etc., etc. those boundaries in the geological record are mostly extinction events. That is, people named when you had a layered record of fossils. When the fossils changed suddenly—the makeup of the fossil community—that was a good place to name the end of a geological period. The most famous recent one—and I say "recent" in quotes—is the one about 55 to 66 million years ago when all of the dinosaurs excepts for the birds were wiped out along with a lot of the rest of the organisms on the planet. As probably most of your listeners know there is good evidence that it was caused by the collision of an extraterrestrial body with the planet, which caused basically a nuclear winter over the entire planet. It wiped out, among other things, the dinosaurs.

Figuring what the background rate was involves having a very good fossil record. The background rate being the normal rate of extinctions. In other words, when there is no extraterrestrial body coming or huge volcanic event or the sorts of things that have caused the mass extinctions. Normally organisms are going extinct all the time and new ones are evolving of periods of millions of years.

For instance, to restore the kind of diversity that there was before the mass extinction 65 million years ago took something like 15 million years to get most of it back. So it is a slow process, but the issue has been: What are the relative rates of extinction and speciation—that is production of new organisms—in between the mass events?

A colleague at Berkeley, Tony Barnoski and his group did a very, very thorough study of the background rate that is the rate between big events in the fossil record of the vertebrates, particularly mammals, and got some very, very good estimates, which were very conservative. Conservative meaning that the background rate that they came up with was faster than the usual background rate.

Now in order to see if we are going into a mass extinction today, what you would have to show is that the background rate—the rate today—is far above the background rate historically, prehistorically if you wish.

So what we did was take his conservatively fast background rate and then calculated a conservatively slow present rate. That is, we only considered things that were known to be extinct even though there are many, many, many organisms that are thought to have disappeared, but we don’t have enough biologists checking to see if for example in some corner of the Amazon basin something that is thought to be extinct is actually holding on. So we had a conservatively fast estimate for what went on in the distant past and a conservatively slow estimate for what is going on today.

The answer is somewhere between 10 and 1,000 times more rapid are the extinction rates today. In other words, a vastly more rapid rate than occurred in between the mass extinctions in the past. That indicates that we are having a mass extinction today.

We are starting a mass extinction and it is very easy to see why. First of all, we are observing huge numbers of population extinctions. The rate of extinctions of populations, not different species, but populations within species is now obviously thousands of times faster than the rate of extinction of species. One estimate that came out recently is that in the last I think it is 50, 60 years we have lost half of the wildlife on the planet. The rates are horrendous and we are not doing anything about it even though those other organisms are the working parts of our life support systems. In other words, we are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on and we now have very conservative estimates of how we are doing it.

And you probably have noticed other things. If you are a Northeasterner – have you been around for 40 years yet?

Chris Martenson: Yep.

Paul Ehrlich : Well remember in the old days you used to get these beautiful silk worm moths that would come to lights. When I was a kid in the Northeast I used to go out and find their cocoons, take them home and you would have this absolutely gorgeous moth with maybe a seven or eight inch wing spread emerge from the cocoon. They are basically all gone now. Wiped out by parasites that we moved in to try and control other moths and probably by street lights, which attract them and kill them. So biodiversity is going, but biodiversity is the working parts of our life support systems. The bats are disappearing from a disease. Bats control huge numbers of not only agricultural pests, but also disease-bearing organisms. One of the reasons we are having more and more trouble with various viruses is that the bats that normally control the mosquitoes are disappearing.

We are lacking the pollinators that we need. There has been a lot of publicity about that. If we lose the populations of honey bees we now substitute for the other things we have wiped out in North America, it will cost us something like 15 billion dollars and greatly reduce the nutritional value of our diets. The pollinators are going. The bees are in deep trouble, in part because we are using a new kind of insecticide that hits them very hard.

You don’t have to imagine why we are having this mass extinction. Human beings are destroying habitats and over harvesting organisms and poisoning the planet. Guess what? We are killing off the other living things.

Sorry, my – I had pneumonia and my voice disappeared so I am having a little trouble.

Chris Martenson: Oh, well, thank you for your resilience in keeping on with the interview.

On our site I have written extensively about the neonicotinoids and it is a really shocking case when you just look into that as a case study. You know we had Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, DDT all of that. We are doing it again. The neonicotinoids are not a pesticide; they are a biocide. They wipe out all kinds of things. It is a truly horrendous pesticide.

Paul Ehrlich : They are related to the nicotine that is contributed to wiping out the human beings.

Chris Martenson: Yes.

Paul Ehrlich : I was very active in the battles about DDT back around the 1960s and early 70s. One of the things we were concerned about is that we had levels of DDT in mother’s milk that were so high that the mother’s milk couldn’t legally be sold as cow’s milk. Everybody was very worried about having a biocide in that high of a concentration in that particular place, but people pretended to eat DDT on TV and they said there was no problem with it and so on. And then it turned out there wasn’t any immediate, nasty toxicity if you just ate some DDT or something. But most recently the data have come out and if your mother had high levels of DDT in her milk, your chances as a daughter of getting breast cancer are something like four times higher. So, we are also poisoning ourselves. There is an excellent new book out by Julian Cribb called Poisoned Planet, which if you wear pants, if you read it, it will scare them right off you.

Chris Martenson: Well I probably should read it, but I will probably read it through gapped fingers because I am really steeped in this data. By the way, I am old enough I think I ran behind trucks spraying DDT through my neighborhood. I lived in Stratford, Connecticut growing up. I remember when I was six or seven or eight or something these trucks would roll by with spraying fog out to control mosquitoes and we just thought that was the bomb as kids. We would run behind it. I don’t know what my parents were up to when I was doing that. But at any rate.

I would think though that we have come along since then, and the neonicotinoid pesticides tell me we haven’t. When you put something on a seed that is so toxic that the seed absorbs enough that the entire adult plant is systemically poisonous to anything that munches on it that is an insect, it is an astonishingly powerful thing.

So nicotine—we might get ourselves with nicotine through the back door. Instead of smoking it in our lungs, we will just wipe out the insects. Some day we will wake up and go "wow, insects were actually really important, even the ones we weren’t caring about like honey bees and tracking. But it turned out the Midges and the other things and the ones we forgot to even name were equally important." That we live in a highly complex ecological system. We have got a very highly complex economic system. The keepers of the economic system are pretending like it is the only system that matters; all the rest can be ignored. Your message is maybe not.

Paul Ehrlich : Exactly. There is an organization, which certainly you and many of your listeners might want to join because it costs nothing and it tries to keep all of these issues in focus and focus on the big things, like the scale of the human enterprise. It is called The MAHB. I don’t know if you have ever run into it. But you can find it at MAHB.stanford.edu – MAHB.stanford.edu. And again it is trying to organize civil society to do something about these things that you and I have found so difficult to do anything about.

Chris Martenson: Great. In the minutes we have left I am wondering how we turn this to – well I want to start with the title of a book that came out recently that you are featured in and part of; it is called Hope On Earth. First off, let’s talk about the book real quickly and then I would love to hear your ideas on what we can do.

Paul Ehrlich : Well the book was actually a recorded conversation between me and Michael Tobias right where I am now at almost 10,000 feet in the Rockies. We were just discussing – basically it is like the discussion you and I just had, ordered and edited. We both feel, as we discussed, as you and I have just discussed, that we know what to do. The hope on earth is to try and persuade people to just do it. And that is the big issue. And if we can’t – if we find we just have to live in societies where women are suppressed, where people of the wrong skin color are suppressed, where it is perfectly okay to take money from the poor and give it to the rich, where it is perfectly okay to have a political party that tries to keep children from being fed by attacking things like the food stamp program and so on. If we are going to continue that way, then there is no hope on earth. But there is hope on earth in the sense that there are many, many, many people who are concerned. As you said, people who have the feeling lately that we are killing our life support systems. People that have the feeling that people are not being fairly treated, that food isn’t distributed properly, that a lot of the food industry is designed not to feed people, but to make profits even if it kills the people, and so on and so forth. If there is some way of getting all of those people mobilized then it may be that we can move in the right direction. Right now, I see no sign that we are going to move in the right direction on any issue.

We have, for instance, one of the best presidents in some senses we have ever had, but under huge political pressure. So much so that he has to do some things that are, you know—he worries about climate change but he has to announce that we can drill off the shores of the southeast. We can drill in Alaska. We can fight wars in the Middle East to make sure we got oil. Fighting for oil in the Middle East would be like if we were starving fighting to get cyanide from the Middle East to eat. In other words we shouldn’t be burning oil. We shouldn’t be killing our children in battle or the children of other people in order to maintain access to oil. It is nuts, but we do it. And even a president that knows better is forced to do it. Can’t get anything from Congress and so on. We need to totally – if we want to have hope you got to totally change the way we govern ourselves. As you indicated we have to totally change the economic system. You indicated that most human beings, most Americans particularly, don’t know what fractional reserve banking is. Banking is utterly dependent on continuous money. Utterly dependent on continuous growth and generated basically as debt. It comes out of thin air. It has no other basis. And yet, you know, as you said, people don’t learn that in high school, do they?

Chris Martenson: No. No. And the summary of this for me and what we are trying to do at Peak Prosperity is it is this simple and this hard – we need a new narrative. So our current narrative is we need economic growth and we are consumers. Our narrative would be no, we don’t need growth. I don’t need it personally. And I’m not a consumer; I prefer to think of myself as a temporary inhabitant of this biosphere. I am a steward at best. And so we really do need a revolution in our collective story. That whole story of "be fruitful and multiply" I think that made sense a couple, ten thousand years ago or so whatever, but it doesn’t make sense today. Still those stories drive us. That is the thing I have been most personally frustrated with and invigorated by is trying to get my arms around: How do you change a story that is not true, but which people still believe in anyway? That is the tricky part.

Paul Ehrlich : We've got to get Peak Prosperity tied into The MAHB, because they have exactly the same types of goals. We have too many outfits all trying to do the same thing and not coordinated.

You don’t have to be brilliantly trained to understand what is going on. One of my very favorite stories is my daughter had a very close friend who is a very poor person who had escaped from Honduras I believe – Honduras or El Salvador. My daughter befriended her. They became good friends. And one day the woman said that I have been telling my sister, who has gotten pregnant for the third time, that she is having too many children. That that is not right. And Lisa, our daughter said, “Well, you are Catholic. Doesn’t the Catholics say that you have got to be fruitful, multiply and subdue the earth?” And the woman said, "Yeah conquistada, it is subdued already." I thought there is a brilliant, educated woman who summarized the situation beautifully. Yeah conquistada, we have subdued the earth already. We don’t need to do anymore subduing.

Chris Martenson: That is actually very well put. If we can just get that message out. Not everybody has got that message yet so far. I think you got it nailed, which is when their interests collide with understanding that. Whereas John Updite said, "Never expect a man to understand something if his salary requires him not to." That is kind of what we are up against here is self interest and all of that.

But if humans don’t move beyond self interest, I think we will do a lot of self harm. At a high level, like you say, even if humans do tremendous amounts of damage and wipe ourselves and a bunch of other things out, 10, 15 million years the earth will be back to its old humming self with a different cast of characters. I guess at that level things will be fine. I am not out to save the earth anymore, but I am out to see if I can save humans. And that project is very much an open project at this point with an uncertain ending I don’t know yet.

So yes, I would very much love to align efforts. I have had the same idea that there are a lot of individual groups pulling in different directions. It would be great if we could put some wood behind one arrow at least on a couple of fronts and see if that could go further because –

Here is my hope, Paul, I work with people in their 20s a lot who are very different than I was in my 20s, who get the story, who have peered into the future, who don’t think that they are being left a good earth or being given a fair deal and they are ready to do things differently. So I think the energy is there for a change. Will it come in time? I don’t know.

Paul Ehrlich: Convert them all into MAHBsters. We have all got to become MAHBsters. MAHB.stanford.edu.

Chris Martenson: We’ll put the link right at the bottom of this. We will make sure people go there. I will check it out myself and we will see what we can do.

I want to thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Paul Ehrlich : We’ll stay in touch.

Chris Martenson: Thank you.

Paul Ehrlich: Take care.

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Merle2's picture
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How many people

For those who, like me, believe a limited population will be best in the future, I have two questions:

  1. What would the ideal world population be 50 years from now?

  2. How would we go about reaching that population level?

The 50 year mark is a critical period. By then most fossil fuels will be gone, and we will probably be relying on resources close to what the world can sustainably provide. That date (2065) is relevant. Many reading this could still be alive.

Should we reduce from the current 7 billion? Should we reduce to 2 billion as some suggest? Or are we Ok as long as we keep below something like 10 billion? What should the target population be?

If we must reduce to 2 billion in 50 years, then we have a big problem. It is safe to say that 2/7 of the current 7 billion are under 20 years old. And if the average lifespan is 70, then most of those under 20 today would expect to be alive in 2065. So even if we went to extremes and somehow prevented all births--all births!--for the next 50 years, we might still have more than 2 billion people on the planet! And having 2 billion people alive, with all of them over 50, is not a good long-term strategy for the planet.

So do we have time to waste? Should we begin now to try to humanely reach the population we want in 2065?





Merle2's picture
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Great article

Thank you, Paul and Chris, for putting this together.

Paul says that with increased opportunity, the birth rate comes down. What if in the future there is less opportunity? What if, in the future, women struggle 16 hours a day to keep their family alive with limited resources? With less opportunity, will the population rate go up?

What if, in the future, electronic entertainment is less widely available? Will recreational sex make a comeback?

What if, in a future with limited petroleum, contraceptives are less readily available. Will the birth rate go up?

What if, in the future, the availability of a quality education goes down? Will the effects of modern education gains be erased, and population start rising rapidly?

What if Social Security and Medicare can no longer be relied on? Will people instead start having more children as a retirement strategy? That is a serious question. I had a woman tell me she was having a large family so that, in the future, when there is no Social Security, her many kids will take care of her, but those with no children will  be left to starve. If many adopt her retirement plan, where will we be?

I would like to share the hope that, as long as people are educated and have good opportunity in the future, that population will limit itself, and that will be just fine. But human psychology is hard to judge. What will people do when faced with a resource-poor world in the future?




DennisC's picture
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A Step in the Right Direction?



Iran's supreme leader has called for a population increase in an edict likely to restrict access to contraception that critics fear could damage women's rights and public health.

In his 14-point decree, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said increasing Iran's 76 million-strong population would strengthen national identity and counter undesirable aspects of western lifestyles. "Given the importance of population size in sovereign might and economic progress … firm, quick and efficient steps must be taken to offset the steep fall in birth rate of recent years," he wrote on his website.

Khamenei's order, which must be applied by all three branches of government, replaces the "fewer kids, better life" motto adopted in the late 1980s when contraception was made widely available.


Khamenei urged the government to introduce measures to boost the population—now almost 80 million — to 150 million or more. The Ministry of Health then pulled funding from the family planning program and ended free vasectomies to encourage larger families. It eventually replaced birth control classes with ones that urged having more children.

            In late 2013, billboards depicting happy-looking families with four children were plastered across Tehran. Single fathers with one son were shown lagging behind larger families propelling canoes or bicycles. In 2013 and 2014, Khamenei’s office turned to social media to promoted idyllic visions of marriage and life in large families.


The health ministry confirmed the shift days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, said that the two-decade-old policy of controlled growth must end and that Iran should aim for a population of 150 to 200 million.

A recent census revealed the country currently has just over 75 million inhabitants. According to data published by the UN in 2009, Iran topped the global list of countries experiencing the greatest drop in fertility rates since 1980.

Not picking on this particular country, the articles just seemed timely and pertinent given the discussion at hand.

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Ehrlich Interview

Bravo for having Paul Ehrlich for an interview!  Our environmental/climate/population problems dwarf every other problem facing us and it is stimulating to hear such clear thinking about these issues.

Mark_BC's picture
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As of the discussion a few
As of the discussion a few weeks ago, I still maintain that population growth is not the problem anymore. An increase from 7 to 9 billion or wherever it levels off is only about 25%. That's not going to kill the planet. What's already killed the planet was the first 6.5 billion. Of much greater concern today is the drive to modernize the 5 billion poor people, which will demand a 10 fold (that's a 1000% increase versus 25%) increase in resource consumption, or equivalently, of a virtual population. This is due to order of magnitude multiplication up the trophic pyramid.
I've been through my blind technological savior phase like most people and can now see the writing on the wall. Sadly, I have lost hope and I think I need a new focus to drive my ambitions. As pointed out in the interview, it's not about science anymore, it is about politics which is going the wrong direction and getting worse.
The facts as I bluntly pointed out the other month to the resident denying economist in the Do the Math comments who refuses to acknowledge them: 97% of economic activity is powered by burning dead things that used to be alive (fossil fuels, biofuels, food, roughly a third each), all of which are produced by ecosystems. We appropriate roughly a quarter of the planet's production for biofuels and food. The planet's production has actually gone down by 10% since humanity rose to power. To provide 1 calorie of food ready to eat requires 10 calories of fossil fuels. Modern food production is utterly dependent on fossil fuels. But we will run out of them... the other energy sources that are supposed to take up the slack amount to 3% of our current energy supply and could never take over from fossil fuels, totally impractical.
To bring everyone up to a western standard of living would require about 4 times more biofuels, food and ff's. But we are going to run out of all three. Fossil fuels have allowed us to overshoot the planet's capacity 5 fold. There is nothing that can be done to avert disaster because I see zero significant political will to solve the energy crisis due to the reasons discussed in the interview; I see the politics of it getting worse, not better.
I now accept as a fact that the planet is going to die in the next century or so, and human population will be reduced to around 50 million which is probably the max sustainable carrying capacity for a human civilization of any significance above savages running wild.
Given that fact, what do you want to do with your life?
- Save the world? It isn't going to happen, far too late. Too frustrating and you will get nowhere. 
- Maybe work on preserving the amazing library of human knowledge to survive nuclear attacks and/or a Malthusian collapse with social breakdown? A very worthy goal. Something good may have come out of modern humanity.
- Try to preserve some pocket of biodiversity that may survive the coming collapse? Another worthy goal.
- Focus on your family and your own survival so you can be one of the surviving gene contributors to future generations? Sure, an interesting pursuit.
- Help other people to avoid suffering today, simply to lessen suffering?
- Ignore it and live your life to the fullest since it isn't going to matter anyways?
- Worship your spirituality?
Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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The Best Breeders.

Doesn't it make you proud that the Europeans are doing the right thing by having less children and ceding their place on the planet to others? We may rest assured that our extinction was to a worthy cause.

However, we shall see who manages to survive Really tough conditions. Humans have two modes of reproduction.  One for easy times, (oil/food, deglaciaton) and one for hard times, Glaciation. 

The glaciers aren't coming back, but the oil is going away.

In times of abundance the survival tactic is to breed often and young. Some of us have succeeded admirably in the industrial transition brought about by oil.

In times of scarcity the tactic is to pair bond for life in order to raise one or possibly two viable offspring to full adulthood. Excess babies are ruthlessly killed

The latter tactic is only used by the Bushmen (San) in Africa to the best of my knowledge, although I have never heard of them committing infanticide. I speculate that they manage to keep in balance with their environment by not getting old. The old are left with an ostrich egg full of water under the shade of a tree to await their fate. I have read that the first born son of the Inuit has an obligation to strangle his father.

The book "The Great Encephalization" has formed my views. I am sorry but the name of the author eludes me.

That process of becoming human may not be correct as I find the Ape/pig hypothesis appealing as I do the Aquatic Ape idea. One process does not preclude the others, of cause. 

SingleSpeak's picture
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You too huh....

It's good to know I wasn't the only one lured into the billowing white clouds as the DDT was periodically dispensed throughout the neighborhoods in the 60's.frowncrying


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Not Listened to the Podcast Yet....

I have not listened to the Podcast yet, but it is hard to get into the prepper state of mind, and all things considered, to not consider that the planet is seriously over populated.  I look forward to listening to the material, when I get the chance later this week.

That said, I sincerely hope that you are wrong Mark_BC and I hope the tone of the podcast is not as dark as you have described in your post.  I think your thought process here has merit, and you have obviously given some of the numbers some thought.

Specifically with respect to over population and collapse, I do see them woven together, but I don't  see the collapse as one single event, nor do I hope humans are stupid enough to use nuclear weapons to hasten the process.  Just thinking about it can make you pessimistic.

All of us are going to suffer a major decline in living standards, but where I think the real negative outcomes are going to happen in those places where there are already lots of people.  The landing for China and India will not be...enjoyable.

On the other hand, specific to the over population issue....perhaps it is the hope in me which says that humanity will collectively realize the threat (perhaps even as everything unfolds) and we as a people simply make the choice to stop expanding the population.  If we stopped having children today, the human race would be extinct in about a hundred years.  I am not suggesting anything that drastic, just trying to articulate how quickly the population would/could decline with the appropriate preasures.

Again, I have not listened to the Podcast just yet, but I think a larger factor in all of this is going to be Climate Change and how quickly the food supply becomes threatened.  If the climate sickens to the point where the food crisis truly becomes global....I could see the scenarios you describe.  For me, despite the population issues....that becomes the main threat.  If the climate can't support food production humanity has a major problem.


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Re: The master predicament that remains unaddressed

I seem to recall a certain Left-Brain model that addressed this predicament quite thoroughly...now, let's see...where did I leave that model?....Ahh, here it is, the black line I believe.

LesPhelps's picture
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Interesting Discussion

There was a lot I agreed with punctuated with a fair number of statements or points that I completely disagreed with. 

One idea that was completely missed was that welfare results in greater population growth.

Thomas Malthus, in "As Essay on the Principle of Population" made a detailed and very logical argument that feeding the hungry does not ultimately reduce the number of hungry people.  It merely increases the population until a new balance is reached where there are just as many hungry people.

On the same note, Al Bartlet made a list of "good things" and "bad things."  Everything on the "good things" list supported higher population growth, while everything on the "bad things" list reduced the population.

One of the reasons that people may not want to talk about population control is that there is no easy, feel good answer.  Either we make tough decisions, or our population will be brought under control by external pressures.

On a complete side note, the recent news articles about Cecil sent me to the internet.  For every lion living in the wild on Earth, there are between 500,000 and 600,000 humans.  Can anyone really argue that human population is in overshoot?


reflector's picture
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nature regulates itself
Merle2 wrote:

  1. What would the ideal world population be 50 years from now?

there's no such thing, not objectively. more population = more stress, less population = less stress. it's a sliding scale and there's no right answer.

Merle2 wrote:

  2. How would we go about reaching that population level?

there is no "we". humans are not a homogenous group, and achieving any sort of consensus is impossible. different people have different goals and opinions.

tragically, if someone tries to be responsible and not have many (any) children, they will be out-bred, out-voted, and drowned out by those who pop out babies as quick as they can. it's self-defeating, a losing battle.

another option is to try to limit how many children someone else has - but does any person or group of people really have that right?

people are not cattle, no one owns other people, no one has the right to control others - including how many children they have - nor to enforce their will over others.

i trust in nature and its ability to self-regulate. whether that means birth rate declines and/or technology improves, or whether there is a catastrophic die-off due to war or famine, i don't know.

that's just life, and it's best to accept the facts. maybe over time humans will evolve and develop some sort of genetic wisdom in this regard.

Doug's picture
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you are not the only two

We thought it was big fun.  What could possibly go wrong?

Poet's picture
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Over 7.3 billion people going on 10 billion
When I was born some 50 years ago, the Earth had some 4 billion people. With over 7.3 billion people today  (estimated to reach 10 billion in the 2040s), we humans and our domesticated livestock already make up over 98% of all terrestrial vertebrates on this planet. By 9 to 10 billion (Africa alone is expected to grow from 1.2 billion today 2 billion by 2050) we and our meat will will easily make up over 99.9%. Many, many species will be made extinct in our push for lebensraum.
The world's major fisheries are facing collapse or have already collapsed. Many major aquifers in breadbasket areas of the Middle East, grain-growing India, the northern parts of China, The south half of California, Colorado River-irrigated Arizona, the Ogallala-irrigated southern part of the American Midwest, etc. are seeing remaining draws measured in a few decades, with parts already switched to lower-yield dry land farming.
As mentioned in the podcast, mining of several crucial minerals increasingly means poorer grades, more remote locations, more costly and environmentally damaging extraction.
If a 22-year-old today has lived through the extraction of more than half of all the petroleum ever pumped out of the ground in all of human history, but the last major oil field discoveries were in the 1960s... There is going to be a problem with scarce cheap-to-extract-and-refine fuel in the next couple of decades.
So what if we switch to coal when oil becomes scarcer and more expensive - which is what the 90% of the world's current plants under construction or in planning are planning to burn? Already, every year, we put more carbon into the atmosphere and oceans - equivalent to an entire Amazon rainforest in carbon mass every ten years.
Never mind the real and unstoppable juggernaut of climate change, which has already started chugging out of the station. Ocean acidification is already causing problems for shelled creatures at the bottom of marine food chains, reverberating upwards. This will collapse ocean life as we know it.
This "slowing" of population growth that many delusionally extol as a consequence of increased education and prosperity... It is a long-term strategy that takes generations to accomplish - assuming there us enough education and prosperity does make it out to all the billions of humans on Earth. As if it doesn't take many decades for backwards cultures and economies to change. We don't have the luxury of time, nor more resources, nor more money when we are in an economy built on debt and technology that requires fewer and fewer workers.
Honestly, the idea that people will have fewer children if given more education and prosperity is in reality a stupidly frantic and losing race against the exponentially growing consequences of resource depletion and climate change. Even at over 7 billion people today, we are not just eating into the new growth of our renewable resources (the interest), we are eating into the the base resources (the capital).
Slowly growing in population still means massive daily extraction and consumption and waste disposal for the 7 billion plus alive today. Even if we were to sterilize everyone at once, it wouldn't change the fact that climate change is already baked in, seal level rise will affect hundreds of millions globally, ocean acidification is having an effect now, the methane clathrate crystal-to-gas process had already been initiated, and everyone still needs to eat - and they all want things, things, and more things.
This is not sustainable. By the time we reach 9 to 10 billion people the extraction, consumption, and waste will be at a greater pace. Even if we plateau or slope gently downwards in population, the devastation will be in all likelihood too great to recover from in mankind's timeline.
The Earth will be fine. There may yet be a undiscovered deposits of metals and minerals (such as under Antarctica or Siberia - perhaps enough for another, wiser sentient species to make a go of it come 50 million years com now. Hopefully they won't mess up like we did.
SagerXX's picture
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Mark_BC wrote: - Try to
Mark_BC wrote:
- Try to preserve some pocket of biodiversity that may survive the coming collapse? Another worthy goal.
Mark_BC wrote:


- Ignore it and live your life to the fullest since it isn't going to matter anyways?
I'd re-phrase to say that it's critical to mostly ignore the possibility it's all meaningless in the long run.  I choose to believe it all matters.  Funny thing is, the deeper I get into a vein of believing it all matters, the more it all really does matter.
Mark_BC wrote:
- Worship your spirituality?

I think you have mis-phrased your intent here (I believe you meant to imply that some folks would retreat into the spiritual to escape the terror/uncertainty of the temporal).  All I would say right now about this is that without my spiritual practice/belief I bet I would have lost heart to fight the fight a long time ago.  


VIVA -- Sager

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Well said Mark, and it ties in with this...


I found the above while jumping from links to links on some interesting articles.  A very sobering letter from the future that ties in with the mindset you have depicted in your post.


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Contrarian view from Gregor MacDonald

Never Nine Billion

He's usually pretty accurate about data, I think. 

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Mark_BC wrote: - Focus on
Mark_BC wrote:
- Focus on your family and your own survival so you can be one of the surviving gene contributors to future generations? Sure, an interesting pursuit.

    This is more than an interesting pursuit.  It is the only thing that counts.  1000 years hence our individual existence, our deeds, our fortunes, our names, and our civilization will be lost to time.  Those who do not reproduce will belong to the dustbin of history along with the other 97% of species that have gone extinct.  I don't know if there is a higher power or purpose for our existence or not.  What I do know is that anything that walks, flies, or crawls today is descended from whatever caused that first spark of life 3 or 4 billion years ago.  Our collective ancestors survived climate change, extinction events, plate tectonic movements, everything the Earth and history could throw at them, and yet here we are today. Our genes fought for survival before we were even human.  Think about that, 3 billion years of struggle for survival is contained in each of our genomes.  It's not going to end on my watch, peak oil and climate change be damned.  I'm going to do what 3 billion years of life and evolution have prepared me for, I'm going to fight for survival, for myself and my family.

yayapapadoc's picture
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Ehrlich Debunked

In his book, The State of Humanity, it seems Julian Simon did an effective job of debunking the hippie dippie 60's era theory of the population bomb (i.e. the excuse for many current and desired Socialist/fascist policies). It's worth a read, even if you don't agree with all of it.  Does a good job of demonstrating that life is better today for the entire globe than in the history of man (income, state of poverty, life span/generalhealth, productivity, wealth, food production, etc.). I agree with it even though I feel that as a global society we stand with a glass chin, ready to be toppled back to the stone ages at any time.

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Ehrlich Debunked

In his book, The State of Humanity, it seems Julian Simon did an effective job of debunking the hippie dippie 60's era theory of the population bomb (i.e. the excuse for many current and desired Socialist/fascist policies). It's worth a read, even if you don't agree with all of it.  Does a good job of demonstrating that life is better today for the entire globe than in the history of man (income, state of poverty, life span/generalhealth, productivity, wealth, food production, etc.). I agree with it even though I feel that as a global society we stand with a glass chin, ready to be toppled back to the stone ages at any time.

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Debunked vs. physics
yayapapadoc wrote:

In his book, The State of Humanity, it seems Julian Simon did an effective job of debunking the hippie dippie 60's era theory of the population bomb (i.e. the excuse for many current and desired Socialist/fascist policies). It's worth a read, even if you don't agree with all of it.  Does a good job of demonstrating that life is better today for the entire globe than in the history of man (income, state of poverty, life span/generalhealth, productivity, wealth, food production, etc.). I agree with it even though I feel that as a global society we stand with a glass chin, ready to be toppled back to the stone ages at any time.

The problem I have with Julian Simon types is the same one I have with all economists...they just blithely assume energy resources as to infinity.

Worse, when economists are right, often accidentally, they are quite smug and when they are wrong,as in 2008, they claim nobody could have seen it coming, or that it wasn't a problem with their models but some other thing...

....what I'm saying is I find their models to be woefully incomplete but rather than admit that, they gloat with success and when they are off target they retreat into uniform wrongness.  Instead of good, debatable models, they have dogma and they have ego.  Same as any ivory-tower sandbox.

To thoroughly cut standard economics down to size I highly recommend The Origin of Wealth by Erik Beinhocker (sp?).  Fantastic read.  I gathered much from it.

At any rate, understanding the role of energy is the most important thing, and most economists just don't.


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The solution?

I would suggest that the most obvious place to start would be to re-invigorate the biosphere and go back to creating what Mother Nature started at the beginning of her sojourn into the future. Yes, I agree that our species will, most likely, be one of the many in the upcoming extinction. But, is that any reason to forget the basic tenets that have this planet in, currently, the wonderful place it is? Working hard to renew it back to it's former glory is going to be an incremental task, at best. As Mr. Ehrlich suggests, we need to start thinking outside the "economic box" and return to basics. Derek Muller, of Veritasium (Youtube) is an example of critical thinking that addresses our predicament. Maybe a potential guest for a PP interview.


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The Means of contol.

So Billy Gates, the white man from America, is going to step into the breach of the loss of the Colonials in Africa? In Nigeria, of all places. The Nigerians have got a reputation amongst Africans  as being superlative hustlers. They are wide awake. So let us dry our eyes

Do you know how the Nigerians are going to view his attempts?

  1. He has lots of money
  2. So whitey wants us to have less babies? Eyeroll. Does he think we are morons? However,
  3. He has lots of money, so,
  4. Lets bob and nod and agree with everything he has to say because
  5. He has lots of money.

Billy may have a lot of money, but just throwing money at Africa has been tried before. Unfortunately Gladys, Africa requires much more than just money. It requires the complete commitment of several generations of shrewd, ruthless people whose fortunes are intimately tied up in Africa. 

The Chinese spring to mind. But they are too shrewd to touch Africa.

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cmartenson wrote: Worse, when
cmartenson wrote:

Worse, when economists are right, often accidentally, they are quite smug and when they are wrong,as in 2008, they claim nobody could have seen it coming, or that it wasn't a problem with their models but some other thing...

I didn't know Mr. Ehrlich was an economist ... ba dum ching



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What is the long term carrying capacity of the US?

What is the long term carrying capacity of the US?

I ask this because I got a shocking answer for the same question I posed about the UK in another forum.  The long term carrying capacity of the UK is about the same as it was in 1820 before the corn laws were repealed; 20 million people.  After that date we started to import corn from abroad and the population started to overshoot. Now we import about a third of our food and the remaining two thirds that we do produce locally ourselves is heavily dependent in fossil fuel inputs.  The UK's current population is 63 million and is rising at an alarming rate.

Sometime in the future the UK will be forced to reduce its population from 63+ million to 20 million and nobody is willing to talk about the issue.  The assumption is that fossil fuels will not run out in our lifetime.  How wrong can you be?  How much oil will there be available on export market in 30 years? Probably none! 

For me that was shocking. 


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Most likely if WW3 doesn't do the job a plague will.  Hospitals are hiding the fact that virulent pathogens are breeding in their facilities with no way to control them due to dumb workers with bad hygiene and laziness.

If anything has pushed exponential population growth, it is fiat money, central banking, and crony politics (i.e. big government) grooming voters with transfer payments.

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There's always free cheddar in the mousetrap

  The UK's current population is 63 million and is rising at an alarming rate.

Rat Trap baited with free goodies.

Tere's always free cheddar in the mouse trap. It's a deal baby, it's a deal.

Tom Waites. (The rest of the lyrics are good too. Real poetry)

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If anything has pushed exp. pop. growth, it's cheap energy.

KugsCheese wrote:

If anything has pushed exponential population growth, it is fiat money, central banking, and crony politics (i.e. big government) grooming voters with transfer payments.

Hmmmm....that's not what the data says.  For example, exponential population growth really got going consistently in England (data sources for table on the right here) in the mid 1700's when - far from having either fiat money or entitlement programs - the pound sterling was hard money and servants were executed for stealing a silver spoon from their lords, and sent to the prison colony of Australia for stealing a pound of butter, according to The Fatal Shore, and other sources.

What was happening at that time, was the rapidly expanding exploitation of coal in Britain.  It's no accident that the countries where population expanded first, such as the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, the US, and (a little later) Germany and France, were the places that figured out how to exploit fossil fuels first.

The argument that exponential growth and waste comes primarily from government policies puts too much emphasis on human behavior and not enough on emphasis on resources.  Culture matters, of course, but it seems that it matters much less than resources when it comes to population growth, at least in the early stages of the demographic transition model - a model that is in danger of losing its relevance, if the scarier dynamics of the thing (i.e. the limits to growth model) take over.

This image of England's & Wale's energy use compared to Italy's seems to be an important part of the story.  Economic historian Tony Wrigley has a lot of good data on this dynamic.  Maybe the story of the expansion of civilization under industrial capitalism depends less on Smith's invisible hand and more on ancient sunlight than contemporary free market fundamentalists acknowledge.



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Beware Europe

For the fruit is ripe, and the kindling is dry.

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Baseline shift

The sun, the sky, the clouds, the air.  The trees, the streams, the lakes. The people, especially people. Everything feels off.

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Ramblings from the woods

The mindset dictates how we perceive things; our antennas are tuned to the frequencies we are 'willing' to listen to. Completely neutral/ impartial perception is almost impossible. For me the sun, the air, the wind that blows through the trees, the sunset still feel good, the fresh homemade raspberry jam still tastes fabulously good. And even the people in our village seem to be doing quite well. While there are many (virtual) clouds forming on the horizon, I'm still enjoying the good moments we're granted.

What is definitely 'off' though is global man-made elements, I'm weary of checking the news, feeling that the bottom is slowly dropping out of many of the 'larger' systems. Isn't it the ultimate joke (for lack of a better word) that the man-made systems that many think best stood the test of times, democracy and capitalism, will lead to the unwinding of our global society and regional collapse of ecosystems (I really hope not to a global collapse of ecosystems). I think failure is baked into democracy and capitalism as these systems are unable to cope with real crisis and a finite world. In the end, physical/ chemical laws (the real ones) and evolution (the way organisms react to physical/ chemical laws and other organisms) are the only systems that really stood the test of time, all the rest is fleeting noise (there may be other 'laws' that count that we're unaware of (Arthur?)).

It feels like we're drifting into a thunderstorm at sea in a rickety ship with 5 captains on the helm bickering that one got three eggs while the others only got two, unaware of the surroundings or the crew who are fighting over the breadcrumbs that are left in the hold. Current systems lack leadership, responsibility and accountability, intelligence, common sense, perspective and overview, courage, humility, empathy, honesty... We're not in the best of shape to weather this perfect storm that is coming...

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In my earlier comment I stated that the long term carrying capacity of the UK is about 20 million people (the same as in 1820). On further research, the true figure is less than that because the 20 million figure included Ireland.  In 1820, Ireland had over 7 million people and was in deep overshoot.  Ireland's population peaked at 8 million shortly after only to crash to only 4 million by 1935.  Immigration and famine where the mechanism by which this was achieved, 1 million died from the potato famine between 1845 and 1850 alone.

In the past, peoples of the world could migrate to overcome their local overshoot conditions, not something that can be easily achieved in the present day.  Therefore in our race to be the last man standing, we will also have to build large fences around us to keep the hungry people away! 

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Knowing What We Know Now

Do you remember looking back on your grandparents or great-grandparents with the admiration of what they used to be able to accomplish without all the luxuries of modern-day life?  How clever and resourceful they were to accomplish what they did without knowing what we know now.  When I daydream about the future, I picture my grandchildren and great-grandchildren looking back at my generation with an equal sense of admiration, but instead it will be an admiration of what we were able to accomplish without the knowledge or basic skills needed to do things with our own hands.  They'll say, "That's so amazing that grandpa was so successful in life even though he didn't know how to grow simple crops or fix his own home.  How clever and resourceful he must have been to have accomplished so much without even knowing what we know now."

So what happens in between?  Unfortunately I think the only thing that causes humanity to change direction en masse is a little thing called necessity.  In my daydreams of the future I picture stories of how oil had become too expensive for the average person or business to buy, how nations went bankrupt and great fortunes were lost.  But out of it came a re-learning of skills lost to the generations on how to get by without those luxuries once taken for granted - not because they wanted to, but because they had to.  The adults of the transition suffered the most but the children growing up in it knew only that, and as such they learned and adapted to that new life.  There was a great contraction in population and much suffering along the way, but like an inflated stock market the correction returned us to a more sustainable mean.

Anyways, that's my "optimism out of pessimism" view.  My purely pessimistic view is that some cataclysmic chain reaction of mass extinction happens first, in which case all bets are off!

Keep learning, keep informing others, maybe just maybe we can force that change ahead of schedule.

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2 cents

Paul could stand to do himself a service and move beyond the left/right paradigm.  If he truly believes Team Blue is the answer, he's lost a good chunk of credibility in my eyes.

Does anything seriously still think there is a fundamental difference between the D's and the R's?  Look at the "choices" been presented to you. A Clinton, a Bush, or Donald Trump?!? 

D's and R's are not going to address the predicaments we face. They were bought and paid for long ago by the same handlers.  

So that leaves people like us mostly.

Better not to get too distracted by the left/right circus. Other than than he's spot on.

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Carrying Capacity of the U.S.

In 1776 90% of the population was involved in agricultural work.  Even if there was a total commercial collapse, all supply chains at full stop, the vast majority of people had simply to show up at work on Monday morning and there would be food.  There might be shortages of this and that, here and there, but for the most part every one could eat.

In 1880 48% of the population was involved in agriculture and modern petrochemical agriculture hadn't been invented yet.  There was an explosion of westward migration going on.  Essentially the population of North America was already in overshoot at 1/6 todays population.

Today 2.6% of the population is involved in agriculture.  Of that number, most are using petroleum intensive techniques.  The tools, technical knowledge, draft animals and soils that would be needed to reestablish a "sustainable" 1880's agricultural system that might feed 15% of todays population are in very short supply.

This is one of the things that I have a very difficult time wrapping my head around.  A little back of the envelope arithmetic would seem to suggest that it is possible that the population of North America could drop back to pre Columbian levels within a matter of years.

Good for the biosphere, bad for retirement plans.

John G.

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jgritter, you've had a moment, an epiphany

1700's style agriculture should be kept in the quiver of human knowledge, the culturecide of convienience and petro dense energy source scewed our collective reality.

a picture of Kelsey pulling a stone boat and "keeping the quiver full"




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From a successful politician, the Governor of a state, remarked that he was terrified over the outlook for democratic institutions in this country. He commented, "In these days we have to make promises that we know we can't carry out. We have to promise the old people pensions that would bankrupt the state if we paid them. We have to promise higher salaries to the school teachers, higher wages to the working people, higher prices to the farmers and bigger allotments of public funds from the federal government. I am ashamed of what I have done, but I wanted to win!" - HJ Haskell, 1939

It's called "human nature" and it is mostly an affliction of those who are human by nature ...

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upset by the conversation / podcast

I was going to engage but I am going to spend my time instead sequestering more carbon on my land.  I would love to know how many trees everyone planted this year.  I planted 125.  I would rather do that than spend time discussing infanticide... or abortion for that matter... since life begins at conception (I am an atheist! Embryology tells me so!).


So keep your population control debates away from me and and MY KIDS!

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Population "Control"

The default (status quo) population "control" mechanisms for any species within an ecological system are the limits set by Mother Nature. Right now, we are in overshoot. The default process by which this overshoot will be corrected will also be delineated by Mother Nature.

No matter what way you look at it there ain't no way around that particular mountain, folks. Not unless L4 and L5 pan out.

But thanks for playing...

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The math is ominous, even terrifying, but there are variables in the equation, such as the depth of human courage and compassion, that may be impossible to quantify.  I think it is obvious to everyone on this site that our species, our planet, is at a tipping point, the brink of a singularity beyond which it is very difficult to see.  The bottom line is that we are all in this together and the only way anyone is going to make it is that we all have to look out for each other to the best of our ability.  

I apologize for any part my post may have played in your distress.

John G.

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The reality which Paul Ehrlich did not recognize

We are not just one species. As history teaches us, we can and will see, treat and kill humans from other races, other tribes, other religions, other ideologies or other what ever what, as pests, which we can and should kill, if the opportunity and necessity to do so rises.

We should, as William Catton stated in his book "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change", see Nazi Germany as a bizarre prelude of what may happen in the 21. century.

In German there is a book form the Swiss professor of history, Christian Gerlach, with the Title "Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord. Forschungen zur deutschen Vernichtungspolitik im Zweiten Weltkrieg" (War, Food and Genocide. Research on the German extermination policy in WW2").

According to this, after the lost air-battle over Britan, in Sommer 1940, the German Government was faced with very serious resource and food problems. Although they controlled large parts of continental Europe(!), a German undersecretary of food and agriculture in 1940 seems to have calculated, that Germany would have to surrender within in only two years because of food shortages, if no new resources would be found. Futher more, the Hitlers government seems to have been very afraid of a repeat of the famine of of 1917/18, which seems to have been one of the main reasons of the German revolution in November 1918.

Indeed, the Nazis did very much to please the German people with welfare laws (many of them, as the wartime law which granted free health insurance for elderly people, in fact lasted for many decades.)

As Gerlach could prove with his research, the mass killings done be the Germans in WW2, and the death camps like Auschwitz, started in 1941, after food shortages had become a real threat. When the Germans attacked the USSR in 1941, their objectiv was not only to conquer oilfields, but also to conquer arable AND to kill huge parts of the Soviet people by hunger.

Killing tens of millions of people by hunger did not work as planed. The Russians and other people in the USSR seemed to have been able to survive (How they did it should be one great lesson to learn from history). But the Germans were able to kill by hunger in POW-camps. This is one answer to the questions why so incredible many Soviet soldiers died in German POW-camps.

As Gerlachs work shows, the mass killings of Jews too started after the attack on the Soviet Union, in summer 1940. Perhaps for this one should remember, that there too was some strong antisemitism in the Soviet Union and other none German parts of Europe. How ever, the mass killings of Jews too served as a seemingly successful strategy to get rid of "useless" consumers of food which helped to improve the food supply and thus the political stability in Germany itself. Furthermore, by killing the Jews, other resources possessed and consumed by the Jews could be freed and distributed to "more worth full" Germans and their allies.

Thus WW2 and its at least the attacks and crimes of the Germans after 1940, should better not be seen as singularities done by some mad ideologists, but as actions of a well educated, very modern people seeing themselves threatened with resource shortages and famine.

From that viewpoint, it may be a very bad idea to give women equal rights and opportunities to lower their fertility. Instead raising the fertility results in a surplus of young men and thus in warriors, which may be the most important asset when it comes resource wars. Indeed, Europe will be taken over within the next decades by Muslims and by Africans. Europe will die from complexity, loss of faith, in relation to Africa and the Middle East much to low birthrates (and thus to few sons), and to much reliance on technology. 

The white Europeans may face the fate, Hitlers government had planed for the Jews. Although, instead building death camps with all the work and organization they would need, the Europeans, and maybe the Americans too, can best be killed by an EMP-attack with just a few nuclear warheads, or even simpler, by just waiting for a real huge sun storm. After that, those other people with their unequal, poor educated but very fertile women can and will conquer Europe with ease - and will show mankind, that education, schools, universities and equal rights and opportunities for women are not good in the longer term.

The Boko Haram (boko = school, Haram = not good) people, the Pashtun Taliban and the like and their descendants with their simple lifestyles will survive, but we white Westerners, with all our education, technology and knowledge will be defeated and die in the golden, comfortable and obviously very attractive death camps we have build ourselves, while we thought we were building smart and sophisticated social democratic, liberal states and organizations of states.


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One Too Many !!

Paul Ehrlich made a lot of sense. Population growth of humans is the biggest problem for the planet. Should we really be multiplying like this? Merle2 above mentioned a few good things on this.

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Catton's Overshoot of Carrying Capacity

I appreciate the mentioning of William Catton's book "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change," mentioned by Antwerp (above) and Helix last week.  (Others have mentioned it too, including CHS and Subprime JD.)

Here is a nice 2 page summary of the book.  The review linked here is very good and echoes much of the foundational principles of The Crash Course.

Of the processes for correction from overshoot we have a couple that are especially worthy of discussion: warfare and genocide.  These are both methods to have someone else's group bear the weight of the correction, while avoiding the experience for our group.

Catton is concerned about the loss of humanity that is possible during the correction from overshoot.  His hope is that 1) we respond proactively to minimize the devastating impact of the correction, and 2) that we remember that the need for a correction cannot be laid at the feet of any group of "others."  


I want to include in this excellent discussion an idea of Ken Wilbur's that bears on the issue of whether we bear the cost of the correction or whether we attempt to foist it off on "others."  

This concept is the developmental process in the sense of who I am and the boundary between "us" and "them."  There is a progression of development from the earliest egocentric stages of a child, to more inclusive states that grow with greater maturity.

Egocentric--I am only interested in myself.

Example:  A typical pre-school aged child or the proverbial person who would "sell his own mother for a nickel."

Genocentric--I am identified with my own immediate genetic family.

Example:  Nicholas Rockefeller is trying to recruit Aaron Russo to his group and tells him "Why are you so worried about the people.  Why don't you just take care of yourself and your family?"

Ethnocentric (or Sociocentric)--I am identified with my own ethnic/religious/tribal group. And of course, God likes our group best.

Worldcentric -- I am identified with all people of the world.

Kosmocentric -- Identity (and sense of intimacy) with all living things, nature and even the inanimate universe. 

Example:  Albert Einstein in his later years wrote about death explaining that he had become "so identified with all of life" that the passing of his individual body seemed to hold little significance.

Example 2: Poems by Rumi, Kabir, St John of the Cross, Adyanshanti


All self forgotten, having no intention of my own,
every breath by the will of God alone. Suffused in the primordial darkness
uncreated and eternal, within the mystic void
subtle streams of stillness move.
All striving ceases. The subtle stream flows unbound
carrying spirit to its source unseen and unknowable.
The primordial ground awakens within itself and flows out in infinite expression.
The myriad forms cannot help smiling
at such good fortune and grace as earth and sky reveal
the living body of radiant being.
The whole universe my intimate companion,
shivering in the night chill— unbound liberation.
~ Adyashanti



We don't have to bear responsibility for overshoot of carrying capacity as long as we are free to migrate.  Should a day come when we, and all of our descendants, must continue to stay "here," then the ownership of overshoot will come home to roost immediately.

For us PPers, what if we knew that the back-up plan of moving-to-somewhere-else-if-things-get-really-bad were suddenly shut down?

We will need to expect influxes of refugees from areas where collapse is hitting first.  Shall we invite them in?  Or refuse and put up barriers?  This is a terrible dilemma for a worldcentric person.  Individually, refugees are (mostly) very good people that under other circumstances we would get to know and consider friends.  But, our sustainable homesteads will become completely unsustainable with a major population influx.

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...and Theocentric

May I suggest a final category S_P?  Theocentric - I identify with and submit to the living God, his values, and his purposes above anything else I identify with (self, family, tribe, world and universe).

We're definitely overshooting right now, and if there were a "new world" to which to move I would've gone by now.  (I have shared the story here before of the wise and wealthy US couple who during the mid 1930's saw that world war was coming and made plans to avoid it and survive.  They sold everything and moved to an idyllic, tropical homestead in THE SOLOMON ISLANDS, at that time a basically unknown place at the edge of the world, only to find themselves smack in the middle of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific Theatre of WWII!! I've considered leaving the US but I don't see anywhere else to go because our predicaments are thoroughly global, though I did consider auditioning for that one-way European scientific expedition to Mars. http://www.mars-one.com/about-mars-one) Plan B is of course to get out of the center of the maelstrom, out to the "edges", hunker down with a small, prepared community and hope to survive and pass down the best of ourselves to whoever comes out on the other side (something like the monasteries of the Dark Ages).  I've picked a place I hope is too cold and harsh to attract many refugees (though I look longingly at Hudson's Bay in that regard). At the same time, it is my intention to live according to my highest values during the dark times as that is more important to me than actually surviving.  Honor and faithfulness first.  Survival second.  I hope I'm up to it.

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Poverty will only increase with overpopulation. Fewer people are needed to produce the technology that we all use. Perhaps a billion scientists would do! (Dr, Pimentel of Cornell Univ. probably the world's major authority says 1.5 to 2 billion--living at the level of the West) But beyond that, overpopulation is the world's top environmental issue, according to a survey of the faculty at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) published in Science Daily April 20, 2009. "Overpopulation is the only problem," said Dr. Charles A. Hall, a systems ecologist. "If we had 100 million people on Earth - or better, 10 million - no other issues would be problems."

There are some suggestion for reducing poverty and overpopulation in the popular free ebook series “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info) but some other information can be found in http://overpopulation,org. But what politician will attack the root cause of most of our planetary problems? And who in the electorate would support a program to reduce population and poverty?

Hate to be pessimistic, but business needs more customers, religions need more souls to save--and more money, and nations want more soldiers. So no help from these groups! The likely result--more famines and disease (due to lack of fresh water and inadequate sewage disposal.) We are already seeing religious terrorism--because there are not enough places for young men to feel adequate, Weapons will become more deadly: chemical, biological then nuclear. Hopefully some will survive to continue the race--but it is more likely to be luck than intelligence that will provide any survivors!

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No reason to believe...

...humans will address this problem.   It would require worldwide consensus and co-operation.

That's IF we could come up with a plan that would work in a timely manner.

I fully expect nature to solve the issue of overpopulation--famine and disease mostly,

with some natural disasters and a little help from humanity in the form of war.


As a side note, the most depressing thing mentioned in the interview was that Canada, Australia

and New Zealand have such morons running their countries  (climate deniers, TPP supporters, pro-growthers, etc).

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Historical Model

I have every reason to believe that humans will address this problem.  I see it as a simple reapplication of a well  tested socio-economic model employed by humans for millennium.  You will have "aristocrats", (essentially anyone with the wherewithal to field an army), "commoners" (people with some economic value to an aristocrat) and "others".  The transition from were we are now to an environmentally sustainable population will be messy as we sort out who are to be the aristocrats, who are to be the commoners and who are to be the others, given that the others will be killed off or left to die of exposure, starvation and disease.

Problem solved.

Sucks to be an "other".

John G.

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Your comment does represent some insight, but it is far from spot-on.

Maybe you didn't know that Hitler wanted Nazi Party members to have four children each.

So, concern about not having enough resources for everybody? Yeah, I think that was present in Germany then. But it wasn't resource scarcity in a vacuum. It was only partly about an awareness of finite resources, but it must have also been largely about HATE.

You don't kill 6 million people without being somehow motivated by hate.

Even if you were correct in saying that the Nazis killed millions because of their enlightenment regarding resource scarcity (which you aren't), what is the point of bringing it up? Should we be proud of sharing their insights? Are you saying we should excuse the concentration camps because there was some logic behind them? The Nazi Holocaust was just plain wrong on a very large scale.

Can resource scarcity become an element in future atrocities? Yes, if we aren't careful to love our neighbor.  

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Mark Cochrane
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Posts: 1228

I don't think Antwerp was in any way apologizing for or approving of Hitler and his minions. Hitler wanted lots of Nazis and a lot less of others. Easiest to first go after those for whom you can foment hate (Jews in Hitler's case), especially if they have resources.

The materials he cites indicate that the same motivations will quite likely be present as resource limitations continue to bite in the future, especially for food and water. We need to be aware of what has passed because we are likely to see new versions of the same playbook with different justifications in the future. I don't think that there is any element of pride in these insights or a moral excuse if there was twisted logic behind the concentration camps. We'd be fools not to recognize the drivers and signs of such atrocities though if we want to have a hope of heading them off in the future, else we might find ourselves in or associated with such camps someday.

Let's hope that we can show more humanity on the way down the resource curve than we have on the way up it. The one thing we may be armed with that our predecessors weren't is the knowledge of the depths to which we may fall.




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Arthur Robey
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Sweden Cedes 55 Areas to Muslims

Are these really Swedes if they no longer come under Swedish law? This is going to end badly.

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Posts: 207
Mark Cochrane


Thanks for responding to my post. I pretty much agree with it and I didn't completely misread Antwerp's post the first time. He doesn't excuse Hitler, but he does come close to doing that.

Thus WW2 and its at least the attacks and crimes of the Germans after 1940, should better not be seen as singularities done by some mad ideologists, but as actions of a well educated, very modern people seeing themselves threatened with resource shortages and famine.

On the one hand, a very controversial thing to write, but the insight is well taken by us at Peak Prosperity. I agree with the insight behind it. I would agree that people of all ethnicities are capable of doing ill on a mass scale. At the same time, the real sadism and hatred of the Nazis remains unpalatable to me and I still think it should be acknowledged in posts like these.

The issue we're discussing, of course, is having enough resources per capita on the earth. The significance of controlling human population then becomes obvious to us here at this site.

Many believe that the way to keep population under control is to give women more education and more "equality." Antwerp disagrees

From that viewpoint, it may be a very bad idea to give women equal rights and opportunities to lower their fertility. Instead raising the fertility results in a surplus of young men and thus in warriors, which may be the most important asset when it comes resource wars. 

Is he saying that we solve the population problem by having more babies? Since 50% of them will be men and men fight the wars? I guess he has an us vs. them mindset in which there are winners and losers and, on a national or ethnic level, you try to be a "winner." But I have to admit, I may have misread Antwerp here. Antwerp, you aren't completely clear in my opinion.

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