back to article Die for Gaia, save the planet?

The enviroloonies seem to have found their way out of the asylum again: this time to tell us that 70 per cent of Britons should die for the sake of Gaia. That's not quite the way they put it, of course. Rather, the Optimum Population Trust (there's a pedantic part of me that wants to tell them it's Optimal) tells us that the …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beware of Geeks bearing oversimplistic equations.

    While it's true that technology can mitigate (rather than exacerbate) some aspects of the demand of Humanity upon the resources available, it is also true that in other fields the reverse is the case.

    How you view the balance is the important factor. Obviously Ser Worstall is correct in asserting that, to date, Earth plus Tech can support more than the unassisted Earth, but is it a straight factor relationship, or is there a tipping-point where the demands of the demand for Tech start to outweigh its benefits?

  2. Dr Stephen Jones
    Thumb Up

    Scratch a Green, uncover a Nazi

    Excellent piece.

    There has always been a nasty strand of people-hating just under the surface of ecological politics. In the 1970s, Porritt and Goldsmith advocated population kontrol and nobody wanted to know them. The CO2 fright gives them another chance to crawl out of the woodwork.

    What all the population-kontrollers seem to miss is that we regulate our population naturally and without coercion, thank you very much. That's not good enough for some people, who will always insist on their right to deny us ours.

  3. Gareth

    It's _not_ the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

    I like a good laugh at the eco-mentalists as much as the next bloke, and the above article is a great dissection of another fact-light regressionist broadside, but let's not put our faith too much in future miracle technologies, eh?

    By and large, tech development is controlled by global companies with an interest in protecting the status quo (and probably dire straits too, who knows). The inconvenient truth at the moment is green doesn't pay. No company, unless compelled by stricter laws than we currently have, is going to suddenly cease polluting and start cleaning up. There isn't going to be a Tesla Roadster or a Wrightspeed X1 in every driveway anytime soon.

    I agree we can't all suddenly just trade in our laptops for loincloths and pick seven random people to dispose of with spears (as much as we might like to impale the world's more irritating celebs), but we can't just shrug this off and assume that technology will miraculously solve all our environmental problems. We have to keep pushing our elected reps and vote with our wallets to keep green issues on the agenda.

    G

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Rainbow Six

    Maybe its a matter of time until someone decides to try the same thing that formed the major plot line for Rainbox Six. Extremist Tree Huggers genetically engineering a virus to kill off all the population but their chosen ones.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    CO

    "Each piece of land is only allowed to count once. The land needed to recycle CO2 emissions is somehow different land from that needed to grow the food: that plants eat CO2 to turn it into my food gets missed."

    Of course, CO2 that is turned into your food is fairly quickly released back into the environment as CO2 or other carbon compounds, by the act of eating it, therefore it is is not an effective method for recapturing carbon which has been released from fossil fuels. Plants that are grown to capture carbon need to stay as living plants in order to keep it locked up. The plants will obviously eventually die and release their carbon so it is debatable as to whether or not they are a good carbon store either, however this simple fact does support the idea that the land you need to "support" the burning of fossil fuels is different to the land you need to grow food for you to eat.

    It appears that an economist is as well qualified to comment on environmental biology as a physicist.

  6. ZeroTheHero
    Coat

    So ...

    ... now they've identified the problem when can we expect to hear they've done something about it ? Depending on their membership numbers, they could at least have some effect on the overpopulation issue.

    BTW the website is boring, suggest they redo it in Flash using F.O.D. by Green Day as an audio track and a nice Malthusian theme ...

    MINE IS THE HOODED BLACK ROBE WITH THE SCYTHE POCKET

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me of How to Irritate people

    ...the 70's special starring John Cleese, where he quoted British Telecom, which in response to a customer complaint regarding delay of installation of phone line responded:

    "We're sorry, but there are too many people on this island."

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    (no title)

    It's been obvious to many for ages that this country is overpopulated. Yet the authorities still encourage/support breeding and immigration. Never mind quibbling about technical details; there needs to be encouragement to reduce the population (by natural wastage :-)), give everyone more living space, and ensure our impact, at our required standard of living, is sustainable.

  9. A J Stiles
    Stop

    The Big Question

    The question, phrased as simply as I can put it, is this.

    IF the Earth can only sustain *either* fifteen billion* people scratching out a meagre living in the dirt *or* three billion* people living the all-electric decadent Western lifestyle, AND everyone ultimately is going to end up with the same standard of living,

    Which is it to be?

    * these figures aren't meant to be accurate -- they are for illustration only.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    If the world population was optimal XX years ago;

    then tell every country to return to its population in that year. Sounds fair? The UK would emerge almost unscathed by this plan...

  11. Neil Hoskins

    Serious Question...

    Assumption: that viable electric guns are developed that can put stuff into space at escape velocity (ie no need for chemical/fossil-fuel) rockets.

    Question: with current/predicted technology, does a fission power station produce enough power to heat up my shower, and have enough left over to get rid of its waste at the aforementioned escape velocity?

    If not, we're stuffed.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm

    I'm not sure why the IPCC report is mentioned (nor so briefly), and why it's implied the conclusion was 'invent some new tech and we'll be fine'. My brief reading of the executive summary of that report seemed to indicate the only relevance of technology was in reducing emissions alongside social and political adaptation; never was the idea of a technological silver bullet mentioned.

    I also noted that the justification for I = (P x A)/T wasn't much stronger than I = PxAxT; surely technological advancement has an impact on quality of life that affects the usage of land for luxury versus subsidence crops, and also on overconsumption? Nor is 'higher technology' qualified - it's implied higher technology is always lower emissions by the author, but I doubt that's true in most cases where it's simply being able to afford something more 'powerful'. nor is the incidence of technology mentioned; if technology makes things cheaper, what if there are more of them to give off (individually decreased) emissions?

    Not that i'm agreeing with the 'kill everyone' lot (we need more plausible solutions to things like climate change and famine due to overpopulation/resource scarcity); just that this article read more set out as an attack upon a strawman than a considered argument.

  13. Paul

    The affects of affluence on population

    Something else people forget to take into account is that with increasing technology and personal affluence comes reduced birthrates.

    Many developed countries are seeing plumetting birthrates, in some cases to significantly below the replacement rate. Of the top of my head I think that Japan, Italy and France all have very low birthrates, and the UK is going the same direction.

    When the probability of your child making it to five (let alone adult-hood) is about 75%, and your only security for the future is your kids, your natural tendancy is to have lots of them. When you are a middle-class educated couple in the UK/US/Europe whose kids will have a very low chance of dying before you, you have one or two. Very few of my friends (I'm 29) are planning to have more than two kids.

    With improved affluence, and especially life expectancy, around the world, the population expansion would become self limiting. The best thing we can do for the planet is to spread the cleanest and most efficient technologies to the largest population possible and lift them out of mass poverty. Of course, that would require governments in developed countries to stop being self interested and in-thrall to established industries (I'm looking at you Common Agricultural Policy and US farm subsidies).

    Of course a shrinking population brings lots of other problems, but on the whole they are better problems to deal with than the alternative, which is vast numbers living in miserable poverty.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Pedantics

    >>>> I = (P x A)/T

    ...so according to this, we'll all be inventing technologies massively more efficient, and CO2 friendly than we do now, and it will continue forever? Yeah, good luck with that. Crop yields 1% increase a year? Talkto any biologist about how sustainable that is...I assume the accessible clean water table will be increasing by the same...? Your formula is as bad as the OPT's.

    >>>> Each piece of land is only allowed to count once. The land needed to recycle CO2 emissions is somehow different land from that needed to grow the food: that plants eat CO2 to turn it into my food gets missed.

    ...this wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that any energy released from the food ends up as CO2 and the net effect is zero, or net CO2 production due to inefficiencies in the cycle? Bit like biofuels really...

    The OPT report is still admittedly flawed, but they're on the right track - the world *is* too populated given the technology levels we currently have. But I see no sensible notes from either author on the effects of population on Water, Biodiversity, Biomass, Biosegmentation, Habitat destruction, Pollution, (land, sea, air), Power generation...I could go on.

    I'd love to see how Tim makes these fit his frankly rubbish formula, but the OPT is no better. They could make a real case if they just got their sh1t together.

    It's easy to pick individual arguements apart, but frankly both these guys have no idea what they're talking about. F- for both, and I've scribbled in the margin: "Must do more research...".

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Dr Stephen Jones

    It makes me laugh that in this world of so-called free-thinking and open minded people that there are some valid concepts that are ridiculed. Here's three just off the top of my head:

    1. Legalisation of drugs

    2. Communism

    3. Population reduction

    Do what you like with the world, i won't be here to see it but if some of you want to see it then stop ridiculing concepts just because it's trendy. How about thinking for a change?

    Why is the concept of population reduction to be ridiculed? We don't regulate our population naturally at all (are you sure you're a doctor - I'm assuming not a medical doctor). Medicine is to blame for us not regulating our population naturally. How natural is it for a human to live for 100 years? The rest of the calculations follow - if we procreate at the same rate but live longer then the population grows (which leads to an increase in procreation as there are more people - it's not rocket science).

    Personally, I feel the world would be a better place without 6 thousand million people on it (only some of whom can count). I think a number of around 17,000 would be good for the planet, let alone the UK.

    By the way: Someone's already used the N word so I invoke Godwin's Law.

  16. Steve H
    Happy

    OK by me

    But surely we don't have to kill the 70% do we? A few Big Brother housemates, politicians, & other general riff-raff obviously have to go but there must be loads of room in Poland for the rest.

  17. Chris Cheale
    Paris Hilton

    misanthropy, misanthropy they've all mi... no, that doesn't work

    The enviroloonies seem to have found their way out of the asylum again: this time to tell us that 70 per cent of Britons should die for the sake of Gaia. That's not quite the way they put it, of course.

    ----

    Actually that is almost EXACTLY how I'd put it, substitute "Britons" for "humans" though and you're about there... ooh, 70% may be a little low as well.

    Hmmm.... OK, not so much an enviroloonie, more an out-and-out misanthropist.

    [please note: the above comment is not meant to be taken entirely seriously - thank you]

    Then again, it's all transitory anyway - our sun only has an expected lifetime of another 4 billion years or so, Earth will be uninhabitable in about 3 billion. Homo Sapiens will have either become extinct or evolved into something else long before then.

    Where's the PH angle? Next evolutionary step? Judging by the 'tard chav kids everywhere, intelligence seems to be an evolutionary dead-end.

  18. Marvin the Martian
    Stop

    Department of Making Up Equations

    I'd love to know the dimensionality (i.e., units) of "technology".

    The fact that you happily swap it from numerator to denominator suggests it's dimensionless... Ah. How do you know something is 1.2 times as technological? Welll... I'd have kept some respect halfway if you'd started about negative correlations, but just moving it around is surreal.

    Hm hm... given that the dollar:pound exchange rates have crashed in recent years (say -30%), and pollution hasn't significantly gone up or down (most people just sputter on as usual), then either equation (yours or the ehrlich-rubbish) concludes that technology has differentially (between US and UK) gone up or down with that same factor (say 30%), something we'd have noticed I say. For a good explanation you get a cookie.

  19. James Robertson
    Thumb Down

    Why do you leap to the conclusion that "population control" equates to "killing people"

    Why do you insist in wilfully misinterpreting this issue?

    Population control means stopping the current massive growth (and over time getting the human population down to levels that can be sustained indefinitely) - NOT in perpetrating genocide.

    And no matter how good the technology, infinite growth can not be sustained on a finite planet.

    In fact, if you understood a little more (or god forbid) did some research you'd understand what a great excuse to bash the current US president this is; they currently insist that ALL aid they give comes with no birth control advice whatsoever - and that all AIDS prevention work concentrates on abstinence and not prevention via condom. Yet another eason why he is guilty of genocide.

    But to return to the point - I think you will find most Greenies advocate controlling population growth by better education of women and making condoms free in the third world... - as opposed to say taking out every journo that wilfully misunderstands issues and deliberately spreads lies and putting them up against the wall...

  20. James Bassett
    Alert

    All the governments fault

    I love the way people keep blaming everything on the policies of Western Governments, as if the decisions of Government have nothing to do with them.

    Governments, like everything else, are selve-serving organisations. There may be individuals who are looking to do a good deed (and others looking to make a fast buck) but, as a whole, the government is attempting to stay in power as long as possible. The only way they can do this is to persuade people to vote for it.

    That means that the decisions it is making are entirely designed to persuade you and me to continue voting for them and keep them in power!

    I.E. blaming the government is blaming yourself!

  21. Solomon Grundy
    Pirate

    Geeks, equations, and casual observation.

    Articles and "equations" like those in this story are what give both the greenies and the techies bad reputations. Too broad, too simplistic, and fatally removed from the fact that people are still fairly primitive animals. When (if) the shit hits the fan the only one's left will be those who know how to fend for themselves. Tech will not help you any more than a particle accelerator will help a hedgehog.

    Right now a huge problem is the growth of the "information society" which is founded on displaced labor (i.e you do nothing that sustains life and expect someone else to handle all the life-critical stuff while you spend your time in an office building). Going forward Humans stand the risk of mass destruction from engineered lifeforms and genetic manipulation put forth by the same people that believe displaced labor is good for mankind. People who have too much education who have almost no knowledge of the "real world" because they have spent their lives in school and office buildings.

    We're all screwed. But you can maximize your chances of survival by not forgetting fundamental skills like hunting, foraging, shelter building, and while you're at it learn a bit about animal husbandry. When the end comes you can watch as your friends and colleagues die from starvation while you spend your time providing for yourself and the harem you have built to repopulate the Earth.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're all going to DRY!

    We're not going to DIE we're going to DRY!

    Combustion is

    CH4 + 2xO2 = CO2 + 2xH2O + Energy

    So Energy is

    Energy = CH4 +2xO2- CO2 - 2xH2O

    Fission is

    U235 + n = Xe140 + Sr94 + 2n + Energy

    Substituting for Energy

    U235 + n -> Xe140 + Sr94 + 2n +CH4 + 2xO2 -2xH2O - CO2

    So on the face of it, Fission consumes CO2 and produces atmospheric oxygen. But before you start celebrating, notice that little -2xH2O, it also reduces the amount of water in the planet!

    If we do Fission we're ALL GOING TO DRY! First it will be the fish that will notice. Do you like fried halibut? Me neither, but that doesn't matter, they won't be around long if we do fission!

    I tell you the WWF says it's true and anyone who can do basic maths can understand it!!

  23. Patrick Archibald
    Alert

    Re: CO - @AC

    Worstall does not state that arable land should count twice - merely that it is wrong to only count it once. You never eat all of the crop, so it is not all going straight back out as CO2. A large percentage of a field of wheat is straw and if I use that as a building material, then it can be tied up in the fabric of a house for the next 100 years.

    There is a complex equation here involving the type of crop, uses of waste, impact of farming methods, etc. The problem is that everyone wants a simple equation (a x b x c) to predict the future, when what is needed is a far more complex model. By oversimplifying the model (never mind just getting it wrong), you get ridiculous or dangerous conclusions.

  24. ImaGnuber

    Sad, nasty people

    There is an unfortunate sub-group of humans who seem to lacking the creative-inventive impulse possessed by much of the rest of humanity. The only solutions these people will ever come up with can be characterised by the expression "Stop doing that".

    Combine that with the truth pointed out above by Dr. Stephen Jones that:

    "There has always been a nasty strand of people-hating just under the surface of ecological politics. "

    ...and you have a sad, nasty group of people whose statements should always be viewed with caution and skepticism if not automatically dismissed.

    Optimism is a much maligned attitude. It is generally viewed as a sign of a lack of seriousness -and most people want to be taken seriously so the pose of pessimist is seen as more socially acceptable.

    Nonsense! It's the optimists who make things, invent, expand our possibilities. Who try. The others just want to put a stop to something, anything.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No need to kill anyone

    Get me my skyhook and some nice interstellar real estate.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Flawed Analysis

    There is a number of things wrong with points this article attempts to use to dismiss this field of research:

    "The land needed to recycle CO2 emissions is somehow different land from that needed to grow the food: that plants eat CO2 to turn it into my food gets missed"

    Clearly you've not thought about that fact that farmland lies uncultivated for a portion of the year in line with the planting/harvesting cycle, thus not absorbing any CO2. You've also not considered that when the sown seeds finally become mature plants, they are still only capable of absorbing a fraction of CO2 compared to the foliage which in various parts of the world was mown down to make way for the farmland. In fact, when you slash and burn a section of rainforest to plant oil palm, you RELEASE a shedload of CO2 right there.

    Also the statement that nuclear power has little or no CO2 output is also a fallacy. Sure, the actual generation stage is fairly emission-free, but you have to consider all the related industry behind the scenes. Uranium strip-mining for starters has a huge environmental impact.

    I think as someone already hinted at, technology as we know it might well have supported the burgeoning poplace adequately until now, but I am starting to suspect more and more that this has merely been temporarily supporting the overbalanced biosphere of the planet. There will come a point where the balance will collapse - we're already seeing the ill effects intensive chemical-driven farming methods manifesting themselves, and the ability to cheaply buy produce from foreign countries that we take for granted might not last forever. What happens when foreign producers suffer droughts or crop disease? This kind of thing is waiting over the horizon, with seed manufactuers attempting to force non-fertile seed technology on the world, which will have the dangerous side effect of destroying biodiverstiy in our food supply - which is all that protects it from disease and changing climate. When crops start failing in large numbers, humanity is in some very very deep shit indeed.

  27. Louis
    Go

    What?

    "we can reduce the impact by having better technology and there's no need to go round slaughtering the chavs (well, OK, not this reason then)."

    This shouldn't even be debated, the ONLY reason required for slaughtering chavs is that they exist!

  28. b166er

    Self-regulating

    If we end up with too many of us to sustain, then the planet won't be able to sustain us.

    Simple really, population control in action.

  29. Naomi
    Thumb Down

    Faith in Technology

    Mr Worstall obviously has a blind faith in the constant, unlimited progession of technology; a Christian idea as John Gray suggests in his book Straw Dogs, that technology will 'save us' from ourselves. What is he hoping, that GM foods will feed every hungry person without taking up every last bit of space, that sustainable energy will give us (and more of us) enough power to sustain our current electricity dependent lifestyles, that if we do destroy every last bit of wilderness, use every last fossil fuel, pollute every last bit of water and massively destroy the ozone that it will be perfectly ok because technology will have evolved far enough to blast us off to a different, untouched planet? What, other than this, is he hoping technology will do for us?

    I for one believe that technology in the form of biological warfare or bombs etc etc, will probably dramatically reduce the world's population anyway in the future. That is the faith I place in technology, what I believe will be its logical outcome and I, for one, believing as I do in a non-humancentric world, will be quite relieved on behalf of the planet.

  30. David Willis
    Happy

    Maths, Chemistry and English

    Since we've been forced to look at equations,

    bamboozled with chemistry and been presented with a new word (misanthropy - a good word!)

    I know my education sucks occasionally (too busy building rail guns)..

    Can I stick up my hand and invent a new english word ?

    --- Chavite --- (Chav-ite)

    Like luddite - but breaking chavs instead of technology..

    Seems we have quite a collection of them here today..

  31. Tim Worstal

    A short addition

    "Also the statement that nuclear power has little or no CO2 output is also a fallacy. Sure, the actual generation stage is fairly emission-free, but you have to consider all the related industry behind the scenes. Uranium strip-mining for starters has a huge environmental impact."

    The number I gave, about the same as hydro, less than half solar, is the total cycle emissions from nuclear. Yes, including mining, purification etc. The much higher estimates you see bandied about (30% of gas fired for example) come from predictions (which as someone whose day job is in mining, although not of uranium, I do not take seriously for one moment) about the purity of U ore etc in 40-50 years time.

    Dr. Jones: I'm with you one 1) for sure, as is the ASI.

    "But I see no sensible notes from either author on the effects of population on Water, Biodiversity, Biomass, Biosegmentation, Habitat destruction, Pollution, (land, sea, air), Power generation...I could go on."

    Indeed, so could I, at the cost of going rather beyond the 1,000 words or so that the editor asked for.

    "Hm hm... given that the dollar:pound exchange rates have crashed in recent years (say -30%), and pollution hasn't significantly gone up or down (most people just sputter on as usual), then either equation (yours or the ehrlich-rubbish) concludes that technology has differentially (between US and UK) gone up or down with that same factor (say 30%), something we'd have noticed I say. For a good explanation you get a cookie."

    I claim my cookie because economists don't use market exchange rates to look at such things. Rather, they use PPP exchange rates for cross-country comparisons and these have hardly moved.

    "But to return to the point - I think you will find most Greenies advocate controlling population growth by better education of women and making condoms free in the third world..."

    Another extremely ineffective plan. 90% of changes in actual fertility come from changes in desired fertlilty, not access to birth control. (Try googleing for "desired fertility", you'll find the paper). Desired fertility seems to change in correlation with wealth (real wealth, not just financial). That's why all of the industrialised nations (with the exception of the US which has issues over first generation immigrants) have birth rates below replacement.

  32. This post has been deleted by its author

  33. Hans Mustermann
    Flame

    Re: Beware of Geeks bearing oversimplistic equations

    "How you view the balance is the important factor. Obviously Ser Worstall is correct in asserting that, to date, Earth plus Tech can support more than the unassisted Earth, but is it a straight factor relationship, or is there a tipping-point where the demands of the demand for Tech start to outweigh its benefits?"

    Actually, how about: there is no tipping point, and his equation is closer to the truth?

    The thing is, in PxAxT, technology is counted at least twice. The affluence (and to some extent population) are a direct result of technology. When you have PxA, you already counted technology at least once. Doing another xT is double dipping.

    But the important part in determining the rest is that we already have PxA, not just P. If you want to compare impact to stone age times, it's crucial in that pseudo-science equation that you'd have to not just maintain 6 billion people, but also keep them at the same standard of living. That's what we have to figure out how to relate to T.

    And I say that then it becomes bloody obvious that it should be _divided_ by T.

    Think of keeping your current standard of living with early 18'th century tech, where the liquid fuel was whale fat. How many whale a day would you have to kill even to just keep everyone's homes as well lit as today? Now add street lamps? Etc. We're not even getting as far as cars, before having to exterminate all the whales within _days_.

    So at the same PxA, the impact there is bloody obviously higher with lower tech. So it's /T so far.

    Want to go 1000 years back instead? Well, that's cool, because back then crop yield was 2 to 7 grains reaped for 1 grain sown. You'd need to completely raze every single square inch of woodland of several Earths and turn it into farms, and every square mile of sea overfished, just to _feed_ those 6 billion people. You know, that's just the P part. Want to maintain PxA? Well, heh, it's not even possible to maintain the A with that tech, so I guess we'd have to cheat a bit and increase P about 100 times and settle for 100 times less A. That's almost a thousand Earths with the whole ecosystem razed and turned into farms, to maintain the same PxA. It's an eco-catastrophe beyond your wildest dreams.

    And if you go even further back, as the article notes, you start having major problems even maintaining the P.

    Want to look at present day and near future? Well, for a start nuclear power already gives you the same energy (which pretty much is proportional to PxA) at a lot less eco-impact. Repeat after me: that's just one tech increase where at the same PxA, the impact is _lowered_. Then if we ever get fusion working, it gets even better.

    And btw, that isn't some freak exception either. If you look at most forms of energy we used before, we _are_ doing better. Converting even coal to electricity with turbines, is _way_ more efficient than the crude steam engines of the 19'th century. So whether it's transporting the same number of people the same number of kilometers, or using that energy to power a factory producing the same amount of goods, we are producing less CO2 nowadays for the same work done.

    So there's no way that the impact increases even more with increased technology. Sorry. Dividing by T sounds a lot more palatable there, any way I want to look at it. In fact, since T is factored already in both P and A, I'd actually divide by T squared, myself. Seriously.

  34. Neil Hoskins
    Stop

    Please also be aware...

    ...that poverty is not caused by over-population. Rather, poverty is the main cause of over-population. The scenario is that people with no healthcare or pensions have lots of children in the hope that at least some of them will survive to look after them in old age. When healthcare is provided, population levels tend to stabilise.

  35. Dr Stephen Jones
    Go

    Bedwetters vs rationality

    Fear vs rationality

    The definition of "fear" and "scare" is holding an irrational anxiety, one that is not supported by the evidence. I'm surprised by the number of commenters who fall into this category.

    If you view technological and scientific innovation as some kind of "miracle", and therefore a "risky" strategy, then you're ignoring the evidence of history. Technological and scientific innovation are why we don't still live in caves, and why we're not dying of typhoid or TB in large numbers.

    To assume otherwise - "We're Doomed!" - may appeal to bedwetters, but is quite an irrational view to take. We know we have the brainpower: all it takes is judiciously directed scientific investment over a wide range of areas, and a working economic system. Unfortunately scientific investment is being directed towards a very narrow area: proving we're doomed!

    To paraphrase FDR, the only thing we have to fear are the bedwetters themselves.

  36. Peter Dawe
    Pirate

    Rich because we don't have kids

    Can I suggest a reversal of the causal relationship between affluence and fertility? Surely we have less kids to spend more on ourselves!

    Generally, new immigrants don't learn this until the second generation

    In rural communities, large families are there to do the hard work so Dad can drink beer all day.

    All the people I know talk about 'affording' children.

  37. John Savard Silver badge

    Almost Right

    It is true that more technology allows more people to live on a given patch of land at a certain level of affluence. It is even true that it allows more people to do so sustainably than could do so before. So you're right that their equation is wrong.

    But saying that we don't have to constrain population and affluence, as long as we don't constrain technology, is not quite right. For example, steam engines didn't come along until a lot of people were miserable even with the productivity increases steam power provided. New technologies come along when they're ready, not when we would like to have them, and the natural tendency of population is to increase quickly enough so that the general condition of mankind is such desperate poverty as to leave no margin to worry about sustainability.

  38. Paul M.
    Coat

    @ Naomi

    What a charming point of view! ...

    "I for one believe that technology in the form of biological warfare or bombs etc etc ... and I, for one, believing as I do in a non-humancentric world, will be quite relieved on behalf of the planet."

    Does this help you get dates?

    Or are you happy in "non-humancentric world" with just your robots (and Goths) for company?

    This seems to prove the author's point nicely - some people have a low self-esteem, and really hate themselves. Wishing death on everyone else follows naturally. And it's all in the name of "the planet".

    (Forget the coat - I can't get out of here fast enough!!)

  39. Edward Pearson
    Flame

    Horrid Misquote.

    "perhaps they've come over all Fran Liebowitz ("Children don't smoke enough and I find that they're sticky, perhaps as a result of not smoking enough")"

    I'm not sure I've ever seen such a brutal misquote, I believe you wanted to say:

    "Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky. "

  40. Steve

    @AC Dry

    You're 'maths' just proved that reversing nuclear fission using methane and oxygen produces Uranium, water and CO2.

    U235 + n -> Xe140 + Sr94 + 2n +CH4 + 2xO2 -2xH2O - CO2

    U235 + n +CO2 + 2*H2O = Xe140 + Sr94 + 2n +CH4 + 2xO2

    Where CH4 + 2xO2 is the energy source.

    Also known as a complete load of balls.

    Getting nuclear fusion right will solve the majority of our CO2 production problems.

    Okay, we're going to need some new battery tech or a hydrogen distribution system to go along with it, but fusion will cut industrial and energy generation CO2 to zero very quickly.

    Once the distribution system is in place it cuts the pollution of personal transport, it would immediately cut the production of pollution from many forms of public.

    Then we can go back to worrying about petrochemicals running out and the myriad other ways that we are polluting the planet.

  41. Edward Pearson
    Flame

    Both wrong.

    It just ISN'T possible to estimate this kind of thing with a simple equation, it simply doesn't address the (literally) millions of different variables, most of which, we cannot anticipate.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    once again the holy fervor of the green left is showing in comments

    This article is dead on target. The comments I see for the most part reflect the green left that CO2 is a pollutant, one comment in particular I have to question is " CO2 that is turned into your food is fairly quickly released back into the environment as CO2 or other carbon compounds, by the act of eating it, therefore it is is not an effective method for recapturing carbon which has been released from fossil fuels." first the carbon that is consumed by people is converted to body mass not released for the most part, second I wonder why the fixation on CO2 when levels of this trace gas in the air are relatively low compared to many times in the history of the planet?

  43. Dave Bell
    Unhappy

    And on the back of another envelope

    I have some scribblings that suggest it will take 40 years of zero births to reduce the British population to this sustainable level.

    Which means that sustaining that population will depend on the fertility of women in their forties; not something I'd care to bet on. Or a slower, managed, reduction, leaving a sufficient number of healthy young women

    And do we have 40 years?

    So it's either emigration or an increased death rate. And I bet they think that#s going to be somebody else. It always is.

  44. The Other Steve
    Alien

    And yet the obvious solution is still not mentioned.

    Space Migration !

    If the green Nazis (I'm with everyone on that issue) are going to use this argument, e.g that no matter what we do w/r/t to technology or other issues, there are still to many people on earth, then perhaps they will STFU with their claims that money spent on space exploration and colonisation could be better spent on lifting the world put of poverty. Since by this logic, that money is also wasted.

    And then we can finally get on with it without the tedious bastards whining about it.

    You need three earths ? OK, lets go and find another couple. Sorted.

    Alien icon, because, well, space y'know.

  45. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Population control

    I've always wondered why the human race (or at least the British population) has not degraded.

    If you look at the demographics of which part of society is having the most kids, in Western society, you will find that the best educated, highest earning portion of the society is the one having the least number of children.

    If you go down to the Chav end, they are having the most (this is by observation, not statitistics, but my gut feel is that it is true).

    So in theory, assuming that abillity and education follow down the generations (educated people are more likely to make sure that their children are educated than non-educated people), why has the population of these societies not ended up at the chav end of the spectrum.

    Oh. Maybe it has. Hence dumbing down everywhere. And here is another example. Paris! (OK, not so good as the Hiltons are slightly rich, but as good a reason for the icon as any!)

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My god you're right

    "You're 'maths' just proved that reversing nuclear fission using methane and oxygen produces Uranium, water and CO2."

    My god you're right! That means that means we should avoid reverse fission at all costs, otherwise we'll irradiate the planet with excess Uranium and floods from H2O and global warming from green house gas CO2 will KILL US ALL!

    What is fission? It's the breaking down of large molecules into smaller ones.

    What is fusion? It's the joining together of small molecules into larger ones!

    So Fusion IS reverse fission! We should avoid it at all costs to save the planet!

    Remember folks, no Fishing if we do Fission, and fusion is NO solution!

    Yours

    Mathis Wackernagel, chief Scientision of WWF!

  47. Luther Blissett

    Loads of balls, and sex in full body condoms

    That light-hearted remark may be nearer the mark than suspected. The role of anthropologist Margaret Mead in creating the GW/mathusian bandwagon is documented here: http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/Articles%202007/GWHoaxBorn.pdf. Only her ghost could now tell us if her aim was to render a hyperreal nostalgia really real (for a Chosen few).

  48. Bill Fresher

    Population growth for next 7 billion years

    "The late great Julian Simon once calculated that we had the resources for a permanently growing economy and population for the next 7 billion years."

    .. if the population grows by one person every couple of years.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Problems & Solutions

    Taking the point that the ratio of non-productive (chavs) to productive people is going up, then there are a couple of possible outcomes:

    1) Technology improves so that a smaller productive population can sustain a greater proportion of chavs.

    2) Technology degrades so that chavs are forced to become productive (e.g. as livestock or beasts of burden).

    3) Technology improves so that Chavs can be turned into bio-diesel or used as a carbon sink.

    As far as the Green Nazis are concerned, then I'd definitely question their green-credentials if they're not willing to volunteer for the population reduction thing first (either by euthanasia or sterilisation) - hint for Naomi.

  50. Matthew Barker
    Coat

    Nothing like quoting loony extremists

    It always helps push emotional reaction toward the opposite extreme.

    In which case when can put our ear buds back in our ears and forget about it.

    Probably the truth lies somewhere in between and is not as tragic as quoted, but is also not nearly as rosy as Simon would have us believe.

    Unless one really thinks that technology can conquer all. Maybe we can clone an army of Julian Simons!...er...I hope he doesn't eat much.

    Cheers,

    Matthew

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great, so now we know how to fix the planet

    If this is such a good solution, maybe we should start with people who think it's a good idea. Obviously they should be willing to set a worthy example and sacrifice for the Greater Good, right?

    Sorry, what was that? You all changed your minds? How convenient.

    We're all stocked up on "do as I say, not as I do" types already. We don't need any more right now, thanks.

  52. simon ross
    Thumb Down

    Do the math!

    Hi Tim,

    Here's stuff going down - unused water, fish stocks, oil reserves, ice, undamaged oceans, number of species, rainforest

    Here's stuff going up - temperature, food prices and, er, population

    Isn't this computing for you? Doesn't it add up? I feel an equation coming on.

    Simon

  53. simon ross

    Optimum/ optimal

    The concise OED says both can be adjectives...what's your source?

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Of course, they miss some obvious census numbers.

    take a look at census numbers, you'll find the US and UK populations would *decline* if you did not have immigration. You'll probably find most of Western Europe in the same situation. Even Japan, IIRC, may be facing a similar trend soon.

    But that doesn't stop the haters, screaming that the West has got to solve this "problem" rather than tell the nations who are creating the issue to solve it. Just like the "Carbon Emissions" crap-rather than tell India, China and Africa to cut down on population and pollution, New World Order people want to give those three free reign to pollute and overpopulate to their hearts' content-and tell the Western and European nations to kill themselves off to make up for the difference.

    Welcome to WWIII folks. The "UN" are the generals. The weapons are mass-media propaganda, and the best work of Goebbels is the ammunition. This is just the latest "incoming". Time to quit screaming in the foxhole and start firing back or this war is lost, and if you thought German tanks and troops were deadly, wait till you see the militarized hordes of the former Third World coming with all the confidence and arrogance of any Holy Warrior out to destroy the "inferior Western heretic planet killers".

  55. Serenity
    Stop

    I love both sides of this argument

    We've got the Malthusians on one side and Cornucopians on the other. One screaming eternal doom and gloom and the other singing about happiness and frolicking puppies. Both using stupid equations that bear no relation to demonstrable mathematic principles.

    P= population, yes, margaret, there are indeed a whole effing lot of us.

    A= affluence, yes affluence has trended towards an increasing utilization of resources by fewer, but as observed, also fundamentally impacts the way we make decisions, including how many children we have.

    T= technology, if you're a neo-malthusian luddite than, in fact, technology is the root of all evil giving us the ability to destroy and consume more with less effort. If you're an equally broken set of worthless radical, it's the path to a brilliant tomorrow that will, to paraphrase another commenter, release us from the bonds of any problem created by our remarkable ability as a race to ignore any responsibility for the world in which we live.

    The claim that technology, or for that matter affluence and any number of other variables, sustains or limits population to X is ludcirous in that it is not conclusively supportable by any scientific, or even rational, information in the present human era. At the least the relationship of the variables is far more subtle and complex than those presently participating on either extreme can justify.

    Our human society and our world is in a constant state of flux caused by innumerable causes, many likely outside of our ken (and kin for that matter). The best we can do is adapt through whatever means we are best capable of achieving while deluding ourselves with the vision that we are in absolute control. Personally I prefer to believe that we are in an age of instability, radicalism, and blatant stupidity that is acting as the precursor to a golden age.

    I have great faith, but dismally little hope.

  56. Guy Fawkes

    @ Neil Hoskins

    "Assumption: that viable electric guns are developed that can put stuff into space at escape velocity ..."

    It can be done with the technology we have now. Getting someone to pay for the railgun up Mount Everest is the real roadblock.

    "Question: with current/predicted technology, does a fission power station produce enough power to heat up my shower, and have enough left over to get rid of its waste at the aforementioned escape velocity?"

    A single fission plant to power the railgun (and probably every electricity consumer in Tibet as well) would be able to manage all of the waste from all of the plants needed to convert every single fossil-fuel power plant on the planet. It would also give us the capability of putting large unmanned objects into high orbit without burning any chemical fuel.

    Another such launcher in the Andes could expand our capacity enough to make Lunar holidays affordable.

    Of course, the nation that controls such a launcher would also have the capacity to put asteroidal bodies *down* anywhere on Earth, without an subsequent nuclear fallout to contaminate places beyond the target zone, so there are certain political issues to worry about, also.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    The Mote in God's Eye

    One of the best sci-fi authors had it bang on in this book, we're all Crazy Eddies, thinking that finite resources will last infinitlely, the Chinese tried to limit population growth, & pretty much failed, and as we don't have major wars anymore, what other way do we as a species have of controlling population, the pill? Just ask any devout catholic about limiting procreation!!

    If we don't we will end up like the Moties, locked in an endless cycle of population explosion/catastrophic war for available resources/land/clean water/air/oil, unless we as a species work together(fat chance atm) to colonise space, or we as a species will either have to make a vast evolutionary leap or perish, and no, I'm not a green nazi, 2 cars, smoker, Clarkson fan, just a realist, as we're bottled up on one world, we simply cannot go on this way or the collapse will be just around the corner, when we least expect it to happen...

    Much as I think the green hairshirt brigade are a bunch of humourless killjoys, they do ultimately have a point, they just peddle it in a way that Hitler would have been proud of....

  58. Dr Stephen Jones
    Thumb Up

    All's well that ends well

    @Serenity:

    "The claim that technology, or for that matter affluence and any number of other variables, sustains or limits population to X is ludcirous in that it is not conclusively supportable by any scientific, or even rational, information in the present human era. "

    Only if you have your head stuck up your bum.

    All the evidence points in the opposite direction. On all the available evidence we have, affluence is the surest factor that causes the birth rate to fall to sustainable levels. When the infant mortality rate is 80 per cent, mothers will have ten kids to see two survive. Or even 2.2.

    And guess what happens when the infant mortality rate falls to zero? Mothers want ... 2.2 children. Peter Dawe:

    "All the people I know talk about 'affording' children"

    Exactly. We provide our own population valve.

    So why do you hate affluence so much, Serenity? Middle-class guilt?

    Try travelling a bit. And seeing people as something more human than an ethnic walk-on part in your own personal psychodrama.

  59. Don Mitchell

    Myths about standards of living

    Check out Hans Rosling's work on the standard of living of people in the world. In fact, the global standard of living has improved far more than most people realize (with the unfortunate exception of Africa).

    What his talk at the TED conference:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92

  60. Hans Mustermann
    Flame

    Re: Scratch a Green, uncover a Nazi

    Hmm, I've thought a bit about it, but methinks that while your general point _is_ valid, comparing them to Nazis is a bit extreme and devalues the comparison.

    See, the Nazis were truly evil fucks. They weren't just moaning about how nice it would be to have more land, or how nice it would be if they had less Jewish businessmen. They actually planned and executed mass murder in cold blood.

    E.g., they actually planned to exterminate every last Polish citizen within a couple of decades, to make free room for German settlers. And while they didn't have the time to actually do that, they did some darned nasty things down there. Including actually killing as many as they realistically could, and using a heck of a lot of the rest as slave labour.

    The worst save-the-world nuts, by comparison, just like to whine a lot. The purpose seems to be not as much to actually go and exterminate anyone, but:

    1. To have some reason to hate themselves and feel guilty about, _but_ which everyone else is doing, so they can't be singled out for, and

    2. To have some totally unfeasible solutions, so their fight is never done, and it annoys everyone else.

    They don't want to take over the world, fix it the brutal way, and be the master race. That's not the point. If they actually accidentally took over the world, it would be a bit like a dog actually catching a car: they wouldn't know what to do with it, and have to move hastily to the next whine.

    The more someone is disillusioned and unable to make head or tail of their own life, the more they need

    A) a persecution/suppressed-elite/victim complex: it shifts the blame on someone else. Being a victim is _easy_. It absolves one of any responsibility, basically.

    B) some infeasibly grand cause to fight instead. It's something they can't be blamed for, if it's never done or making any progress.

    Basically, "I want to sort my finances" or "I want to quit smoking" are feasible goals, and you can feel bad or have a finger pointed at you for not achieving them. "I fight to save the planet" is an _easy_ goal. It'll never be fully done, it's out of your control, and you can't be blamed for not doing more than a bit of whining about everyone else. And if it's never done, hey, see point A: it's someone else suppressing them and keeping doing the "wrong" thing.

    That doesn't apply just to eco-nuts, btw. There's a broad spectrum of zealots that, basically, are the exact same. Only with a different infeasibly grandious goal and reason to feel marginalized/suppressed/etc for.

    Basically, while the Nazis were evil fucks, these are just a bunch of pathetic losers. (Plus an at least equal number of posers and prom queens imitating them to feel they belong somewhere.) _Big_ difference there.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll bet

    Yer man Worstall is a wonk who's never done an honest day's toil in his life, much the same as one of the IPPR wonks, now mercifully departed, who used to infest el reg some time ago.

  62. Steve Welsh
    Flame

    What a very jaundiced (and totally incorrect) piece

    "Their sad misunderstanding about the effects of technology blinds them to the truth, that by not constraining technology we don't have to constrain either affluence or population."

    Utter bollox!!!

    Perhaps you ought to read/listen to/view the work of Al Bartlett on exponential growth.

    Having read your piece it's quite obvious you've never heard of, or studied, it. I have. It has scared the shit out of me!

  63. Herby Silver badge

    A modest proposal...

    Has been mentioned before. Maybe we should look into it.

    p.s. Water is not running out, it is all recycled. It has been postulated that in every glass you drink is a molecule of what was once Julius Caesar's Urine. Probably very true.

    Life goes on. Always will, always has. (*SIGH*)

  64. Seán

    Never trust a hippy

    The population is going to increase. The human hating dirtbags behind the hysteria need to solve the problem of how to deal with that. Being incompetent and sociopaths they come to the brilliant solution of killing billions of people just to balance a nonsense formula. Why not start with these idiot Malthusians, they clearly bring nothing to the table.

  65. Serenity

    @ Dr. Steven Jones

    Actually I don't hate affluence at all, in fact having attained a point in my life where I would consider myself to be affluent, I quite enjoy it.

    Rather, you missed my point. That people who are affluent typically have fewer children is granted, and much appreciated. However, my point was very much that both extreme sides attribute massive and complicated effects to singular variables. I assert that both being "affluent" and the progression of technology are made up of many components that often have countervening elements. The argument has been oversimplified to the point of being incorrect, and worse, meaningless.

    While I do enjoy being flamed, please do me a favor and have a point next time.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: And yet the obvious solution is still not mentioned.

    The Other Steve wrote:

    "Space Migration !"

    Damn right.

    Where do I sign up to emigrate?

  67. Sandy
    Happy

    Wrong Equation

    Commoner-Ehrlich was in fact a reinvention of a long overlooked law by Murphy (I=PAT).

    Murphy's sexth law introduced Reproductive urge (R) and is I=PRAT

  68. Tim Worstal

    Really?

    "Yer man Worstall is a wonk who's never done an honest day's toil in his life, "

    Interesting that you know my background so well: what with the early years in the catering trade, then marketing, then 7 years in Russia both distributing newspapers and setting up a business dealing in the rare earths, the last decade as the wholesaler of 50% of the world's consumption of one specific metal. The last couple of years of freelance writing and the ascent to policy wonkdom come after 25 years of "real jobs".

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    @ Hans Mustermann re scratch a Green Uncover a Nazi

    If you check the history you will see that the Nazi Party had a strong Green movement that had significant effects on their policies, including the 'weeding out' of Jews in an effort to return to an idealistic natural environment without weed species - plant and human.

    The basic ideas developed earlier than the Nazis - originally in the early 1800's in Germany where the concept of ecology and conservation of woodlands and natural resources was developed. This was linked with nationalism and intense hatred of French, Slavs and Jews.

    From about 1900 there was the Wandervogel movement - basically it was hippies communing with nature but with right wing tendencies. Heidegger got on this bandwagon and attacked the concept of anthropocentric humanism and decried industry laying waste to nature - This is the philosopher Heidegger who had so much influence on the Nazi party.

    When Nazis adopted the ecology "Blood and Soil" movement a majority of environmentalists and ecologists immediately signed up with the party.

    The main party philosophy developed to include 'natural order', racial purity, ecology, and return to nature. Hitler himself was pretty keen on alternative energy - Hydro, gas from sludge, wind power, tidal power etc. His cronies included bio-dynamic health food nuts. Overall they presented a German fondness for nature and love of ecology that would not be out of place today.

    The Nazi Green ecology/nature movement was run by Darré who has been called the father of the modern Green movement. This Darré also introduced the concept of Jews as 'weeds' who needed to be removed. It's claimed that Darré was the person who convinced Hitler and Himmler of the necessity of eliminating the Jews - and of the need for Lebensraum where German peasants could return to their idyllic country life in commune with nature.

    On the structural side, the Todt organisation built factories and highways. Todt was advised on environmental matters by Seifert who bore the official title of Reich Advocate for the Landscape - but his nickname within the party was "Mr. Mother Earth.". Siefert aimed for a total conversion from technology to nature. He also considered Darré too moderate.

    The Nazis did many progressive ecological acts - such as the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz - nature protection law. However their plan to protect nature by eliminating people does seem to be a trifle excessive.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Earth first!

    We can strip mine the rest of the solar system later....

    Mines the asbestos overcoat.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Black Death

    17m? Never! We need to go back to 1340: population 3m to get sustainability. Bring on the black death that's what I say.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    @Dr Stephen Jones

    I agree up to a point - I agree that population control is not necessary but I would not call the eco-extremists Nazis because that implies they are only going to dispose of certain ethnicities (any non-Volk).

    I think that the eco-extremists are not Nazis therefore, but they are Machiavellian.

    They would kill a few billion people to let the surface of the world recover enough to become Eden once more.

    A nice simple solution - but then people are not just numbers are they?

    Technology is not a guarunteed solution either - I cannot eat my technology.

    Corporations over the world keep us using steam engine technology and so forth to generate energy (the fuel is the only thing that might change) and this keeps the status quo as perhaps Adam Smith might have it - everybody gets a slice of the pie (except perhaps the great unwashed Daily Mail readers).

    Bring in replacement technology more relevant to this century than two centuries ago and perhaps it takes less people to make it (there are thousands of parts in a car for example, how many different companies make those? Replace the steam engine piston driven car and what do you have? A vehicle with less parts? A vehicle with less people getting a slice of the pie).

    Nope. Nothing will change until it needs to.

  73. 3x2

    @Sad, nasty people

    Indeed - many of the comments here (and on any other doom and disaster report) show you exactly what lies beneath the "green" agenda.

    Face it greens we are not going "back" to anything and even if we could you would not survive the transition.

  74. Gobhicks

    “The American way of life is not negotiable”

    “The American way of life is not negotiable” – GW Bush, after Kyoto.

    My blood ran cold when I heard that. The obvious retort was: “No George, the American way of life is not SUSTAINABLE”, but nobody seemed to be prepared to say that in so many (or so few) words.

    The “business as usual - technology and the markets will sort it out” contingent are the lackeys, unwitting in some cases no doubt, of GW and his puppet-masters.

    Few would dispute that it is the advance of technology, driven by free-market capitalism, that allows 7 billion souls to survive, and some small percentage of that number to thrive, on Earth today.

    But what would lead any otherwise intelligent person to believe that exponentially increasing consumption of energy and material resources can be sustained indefinitely in any system? If you don’t care about anyone apart from yourself, and/or your nearest and dearest*, and/or don’t care what happens after you’re dead, then come out and say so.

    [*See: “There is no such thing as society…”; Margaret Thatcher]

    Barring extra-terrestrial colonisation, which isn’t going to happen any time soon and which in any case will still leave the “Old World” in a very sorry state, solar energy is the only “unlimited” resource available to us, and is the ultimate source of all renewable energy - apart from tidal, for which we have the moon to thank.

    Not for nothing did the ancients worship the Earth, Sun and Moon.

    Without reverence and respect for that which sustains us, the large majority of us are doomed to suffering and misery. The lucky minority are parasites, whether they know it or not, and however much they think they deserve their luck.

    That minority includes me and, I would venture to suggest, everyone who posts here.

    On the present human trajectory, our luck is going to run out – no question. It’s just a matter of how soon.

    The very notion of population reduction conjures so many spectres that it can never be anything but highly controversial and emotive. But given the choice between catastrophic, involuntary reduction (war, famine, plague) and some kind of managed process…

    Drawing a comparison with corporate “downsizing” (… they’ll be calling it that soon, wait and see), voluntary birth control equates with “natural wastage”. Can that be enough? Next comes “voluntary redundancy”….

    I really want to make some kind of joke here, but I just can’t bring myself to be flippant about this kind of stuff.

    Love, peace, good luck

  75. Brett Cammack
    Pirate

    Are they volunteering?

    Sounds like it's only a matter of time before there is a "Society For Creative Euthanasia" that takes matters into their own hands.

    "GENE POLICE!! YOU!!! OUT OF THE POOL! NOW!!"

  76. The Other Steve
    Linux

    @Gobhicks

    I certainly don’t care what happens after I'm dead. Because I'll be dead. It won't be happening to me, will it ?

    Duh!

    I'm sure you think that this is an appalling attitude, but look at it this way, quite a lot of the people who are alive now will still be alive when I'm dead. If we all just worry about the time period when we're alive, then the overlap should take care of us.

    And further to the whole tech as multiplier thang, if technology can continue to provide us with longer lifespans, as it is doing now, then the picture gets even rosier.

    Long lifespans are also handy for, yep, you guessed it, exploring space !

    As for leaving the "Old World" in a sorry state, I'm not at all sure how you come to this conclusion. Since the whole issue under debate is that the earth cannot sustain it's population indefinitely, how is it that removing some of the population elsewhere (and probably being able to ship extra resources back FROM there) is going to make things worse ? I can only assume that you're one of those idiots who thinks that as son as we sort out the whole exploration thing, then all the rich folk (the ones with al the capital) will bugger off and leave the rest of us to starve ?

    Unlikely I reckon (as well as demonstrating a world view that can't see past capital based economics), but if so, so what ? After all we are talking about the survival of a species, so does it matter which of us survives to populate the universe with our progeny ? Or do you only care about yourself, and/or your nearest and dearest ?

    Penguin, cos it's cuddly, and you're a hippy. Hippies like penguins.

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Corrections

    "...first the carbon that is consumed by people is converted to body mass not released for the most part..."

    The opposite is true. The vast majority of the hydrocarbons we consume are used for energy, not body mass. That conversion of carbohydrates to energy consumes oxygen and releases CO2 and H2O.

    If this were not the case, we would be gaining several pounds every day, for our entire lives.

    --------------------

    "What is fission? It's the breaking down of large molecules into smaller ones.

    What is fusion? It's the joining together of small molecules into larger ones!"

    No, fission is the splitting of atoms. Fusion is the joining of atoms. Splitting and joining molecules are chemical reactions, not nuclear reactions.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re The Mote in God's Eye

    Ooh 50 points for mentioning the moties. Now I'm torn between setting up a museum to kick start the next cycle, or just heading for deepest wales to live off grid.

    Also Vernor Vinge in his fire in the deep/deepness in the sky books where he talked about civilisations only lasting a certain amount of time before they collapsed. And the higher they rose the bigger the fall...

    And Day Of The Triffids where 95% of the population died leaving only a few with all the spoils...

    In fact science fiction has explored this subject in many endless different ways.

    There is absolutely bugger all I can do about the world. Heaven knows I've tried but the lunatics are well and truly in charge of the asylum so I think I'll concentrate on saving my family - I wonder whether RightMove have a tickbox for "suitable for setting up self sustaining enclave in case of apocalypse"

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reasonable discussion

    Wouldnt it be nice to have a reasonable discussion about this subject, without name calling or false attribution? I suspect that many of the knee-jerks above are simply in response to Worstalls article, by people who have not read the OPT report.

    Italy has (or had until recently) the lowest reproduction rate in the world - about 1.8 I believe. Well below replacement. How did that come about? Was the OPT about, killing people? Was it because all those communist or Nazi greens were active in Italy? Neither - it was the result of considered decisions made by potential parents who had access to contraception and a decent health service. And in the face of a powerful lobby that wished otherwise - the church. What is wrong with that?

    OPT would be happy, I suspect, if that set of circumstances could be achieved world wide. What chance is there of that? It turns out that there is great unfulfilled demand for help with family planning. According to Marie Stopes, one pregnancy in three is unintentional. There are only five condoms per man per year in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are 19 million back-street abortions annually, reulting in 68,000 deaths and between 2 and 7 permanent disabilities. There are several million children abandoned because their families cannot support them, Would we not all want to do away with that? As for compulsion, UNFPA and the various population charities totally eschew coercion. The charities in particular, such as Marie Stopes Intternational or IPPF, since they have to meet the rigorous requirements of the Charity Commission, can be guaranteed to be faultless in this respect.

    People are not fools. They know well the relationship between large families and poverty. To deny them the means of making decisions about their families which we in the developed world do routinely, really is coercive, patronising and racist.

  80. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: The American Way of Life ...

    Gobhicks, it was George H. W. Bush in 1992 five years before Kyoto who said those words.

    As for Kyoto, as I recall, that was voted down by the U.S. Senate 95-0 in mid-1997 three and half years before G.W Bush was inaugurated as President.

    Some of the NeoCons voting against Kyoto were Barbara Boxer, Paul Wellstone, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy.

  81. David Robinson

    Suicides?

    One hears of stories of children at school being fed one sided nonsence about global warming and also about the "reason"; that mankind is an abberration on the earth and without mankind verything would be perfect like the garden of Eden. One wonders if this sort of teaching of children is responsible for the rash of suicides here and in U.S.

    Dave

  82. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deep ecology & extreme right...

    The connection of some currents of deep ecology with the extreme-right

    is hardly news. This was already exposed in this (admittedly long) article:

    http://www.communalism.net/Archive/03/dspe.html

    by Peter Zegers of 2002.

    About 2 and a half years ago,

    There was an incident in the french Green party which is exposed here:

    http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2005/06/cofounder_of_fr.html

    which resulted in the departure of a founding member.

    This person is now in a small deep ecology party, the MEI, which has

    some connection with the extreme right. See the link below (in French)

    http://www.ecolo.asso.fr/textes/20000120mei.htm

    That being said, I am disappointed that the impact on the environment

    depends on technology (what is the Reg Unit for measuring this ? the HD-DVD ?)

    only as I=P*A/T. I would have prefrered a dependence of the form I=P*A*exp(-T)

    so that adding a fixed amount of Tech would always reduce the environmental impact by a factor 2.

    by

  83. Gobhicks

    @the other steve@gobhicks

    >>I certainly don’t care what happens after I'm dead. Because I'll be dead. It won't be happening to me, will it ?

    >>Duh!

    Duh bakatcha

    If you don’t care what happens to anyone else once the planet is relieved of your presence, presumably you don’t give much of a monkey’s now.

    >>I'm sure you think that this is an appalling attitude,

    Anyone can think what they want. Of course, there will be consequences.

    >>but look at it this way, quite a lot of the people who are alive now will still be alive when I'm dead. If we all just worry about the time period when we're alive, then the overlap should take care of us.

    Say what?

    >>And further to the whole tech as multiplier thang, if technology can continue to provide us with longer lifespans, as it is doing now, then the picture gets even rosier.

    Extended lifespans are already part of the exponential population problem…

    >>Long lifespans are also handy for, yep, you guessed it, exploring space !

    Oh give me a break!

    >>As for leaving the "Old World" in a sorry state, I'm not at all sure how you come to this conclusion. Since the whole issue under debate is that the earth cannot sustain it's population indefinitely, how is it that removing some of the population elsewhere (and probably being able to ship extra resources back FROM there) is going to make things worse ? I can only assume that you're one of those idiots who thinks that as son as we sort out the whole exploration thing, then all the rich folk (the ones with al the capital) will bugger off and leave the rest of us to starve ?

    How many people do you think are likely to actually go forth and seed the pan-galactic empire? Do you have any realistic concept of what extra-terrestrialisation might actually entail? Don’t you think that, when it happens, it’s at least possible that it will happen as an emergency escape mission?

    >>Unlikely I reckon

    Duh-uh-uh?

    >>(as well as demonstrating a world view that can't see past capital based economics)

    I don’t have time to go into that right now, but wrong

    >>, but if so, so what ? After all we are talking about the survival of a species, so does it matter which of us survives to populate the universe with our progeny ? Or do you only care about yourself, and/or your nearest and dearest ?

    Cockroaches “survive”. I believe that humanity should aspire to something more.

    >>Penguin, cos it's cuddly, and you're a hippy. Hippies like penguins.

    Congratulations, by all of the foregoing you have nominated yourself for “compulsory redundancy” (with extreme prejudice). Hippy my a*se, where’d I put my AK?

    NOTE: personae on the interweb are mediated, necessarily, even when not consciously constructed and/or synthetic.

    “Some hae meat and canna eat,

    and some wad eat that want it,

    but we hae meat and we can eat,

    and sae the Lord be thankit.”

    [Robert Burns – The Selkirk Grace]

    “I am not a politician. I offer you nothing. These are conditions of total emergency”

    [William S Burroughs, Nova Express, 1964 – a book “about” a gang of interstellar bandits who take over planets, burn them down, then move on]

    “All talk of cause and effect is secular history. Secular history is a diversionary tactic”

    [Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow]

    FNORD!

    [RAW, RIP]

    <thanks AC for the correction re the Bush quote>

    Peace, love and good luck once again

  84. Victoria
    Flame

    To the overpopulation apologists, techno-worshipers and "green-nazi"-paranoics

    First of all, open your eyes and switch on your brains: birth control and killing people are completely different things. On the contrary - the only hope for salvation of life lies in population control. If the human race is to survive, it must begin to control its numbers. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that nothing can grow infinitely on this finite planet.

    Thankfully, your soulless god 'Technology' will never be able to substitute Nature. There is no man-made technology that will replace the biosphere in creating all vital life conditions. Climate regulation, composition of the atmosphere, the biosphere exchange cycle, biodiversity, availability of fresh water, ozone layer etc. - all of these supplied not by technology, but by natural ecosystems. And we had already destroyed 65% of the natural terrestrial ecosystems by the end of the 20th century. This process is continuing at the rate of 1% of all the remaining ecosystems annually. Аccording to another study as of 1995, only 17 percent of the world's land area remained truly wild. It's not difficult to estimate how much time is needed to transform the remaining nature into a technosphere completely.

    Where will your glorified technology be when nothing is left to be transformed into commodities? What then will the so very eagerly welcomed by you mass of 10-12 billion people be doing in the noxious industrial desert without nature, without resources and without essential life conditions? Perhaps "multiplying and replenishing" and worshiping your idol - Technology?

    Furthermore, those of you mental midgets who confuse birth control with massacre - I challenge you to justify your words and name at least one environmental author who suggests the extermination of people. You should be brought to justice for a libel.

  85. Ishkandar
    Boffin

    @Victoria

    I see from your comment that we will have only another 35 more years before the end of the world !! Are you, by any chance, a Jehovah's Witness ?? They seem to predict the end of the world every couple of decades since their founding !!

    FYI, there was a prediction that London will be neck-deep in horseshit by 1940s simply by extrapolating the number of horses needed for transportation in London by its citizens. Unfortunately, that prediction is only partly true. London is now neck-deep in bullshit instead !!

    I hope you can see the comparison !!

  86. John Dubuary
    Unhappy

    So much for rhetoric and insult - now switch off the light

    There are none so blind as those who won’t see. It has so often struck me that with such people argument is almost impossible because, How do you argue the “bleeding obvious.” Creatures and their habitats are disappearing at a faster rate than ever before. Evidence is now so overwhelming that man’s activities are causing climate change that now even the Americans, always slow to recognise a crisis, are beginning, albeit too late, to “wake up and smell the coffee.” So, there is as a close to a consensus, at least among the scientific community, as there is likely to be about climate change and man’s responsibility for it. There is certainly a part that technology could play in stemming this trend, cleaner factories etc. The elephant in the room, still unseen is, of course over population. It is so utterly obvious, and understood throughout nature, that any given area can only sustain a given population. As food, and more importantly, water supplies, vary so will a population of fauna and flora. This applies as much to the human as to the animal. Take as an example Hong Kong. Hong Kong was not leased; it was a British Colony. Highly successful, vibrant, with a booming economy BUT – hopelessly overpopulated. It was not technology that enabled the population to survive it was, of course, the New Territories with their farming resources, which were leased for 99 years from China. When that lease was up, as Margaret Thatcher said, “They don’t have to send in the army they only have to switch off the water.” The South East of England is suffering a water shortage. Go there and you will find you will still need an umbrella; The Kent coast is no new Riviera of sunshine. The never-mentioned fact is that the South East of England is now so hopelessly overpopulated that even such abundant supplies are inadequate. In fact,in England nowadays it is almost impossible to find a place where you cannot hear the drone of a motorway. The problem with Mr.Worstall’s article is his misrepresentation of rhetoric for facts and his use of insult rather than argument. The so-called equation I = P x A x T is perfectly meaningless unless the terms are defined. How do you measure affluence, camel’s or cars? And Technology, flat panel televisions and computer games or software modelling climate change to foresee and perchance avert disaster? Easy to call Mr. Worstall an idiot, if he were he could be ignored – but the Worstall’s of this world are sufficiently articulate to give the appearance of credibility and that is, in part, what the Optimal Population Trust major obstacle is. The likes of Worstall, who have there backs to the elephant of population and can’t see it, distract too many others from seeing it too. Dream on Mr Woestall. Oh, and don’t forget to switch off the light.

  87. Alan Wilkinson

    Good article and some ridiculous responses

    It's a while since I've read so much emotive twaddle in response to a perfectly reasonable send-up of anti-scientific stupidity.

    Yes, the planet's resources are limited. But our ingenuity in the ways we use them are not - or at least there is no indication we are anywhere near a limit.

    Urbanisation has been called the great contraceptive. Economic and technological development inevitably lead to population control.

    The great Global Warming scare is vastly over-hyped as far as present knowledge of our planet's surface systems can foresee - actually we can't forecast even to within an order of magnitude. All we have is a series of scary "what if" questions but no answers.

    And since we don't know how things work we can't understand the problems and we certainly can't fix them. All we are likely to do is make things much worse via huge amounts of wasted money and counterproductive nonsense like the biofuels fiasco and the carbon offset and carbon mile frauds.

    Not to mention such pathetic pseudo-scientific claptrap as P x A x T - or indeed the ludicrous argument that Hong Kong survived because of the New Territories.

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