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Population: The elephant in the room

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Population: The elephant in the room

 

VIEWPOINT

John Feeney

 

Uncontrolled population growth threatens to undermine efforts to save the planet, warns John Feeney. In this week's Green Room, he calls on the environmental movement to stop running scared of this controversial topic.

 

 

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Our inability to live as we do, at our current numbers, without causing pervasive environmental degradation is the very definition of carrying capacity overshoot

It's the great taboo of environmentalism: the size and growth of the human population.

 

It has a profound impact on all life on Earth, yet for decades it has been conspicuously absent from public debate.

 

Most natural scientists agree our growing numbers and our unchecked impact on the natural environment move us inexorably toward global calamities of unthinkable severity.

 

They agree the need to address population has become desperate.

 

Yet many environmentalists avoid the subject, a few objecting strongly to any focus on our numbers.

 

Some activists insist acting to influence population growth infringes on human rights; they maintain that it is best to leave the problem alone.

 

Let's dispense with this confused notion right now.

 

Yes, there have been past abuses in the name of "population control".

 

There have been abuses of health care and education too, but the idea of reacting by abandoning any of these causes is absurd.

 

We can learn from past abuses, reducing the likelihood of fresh problems arising in the future.

 

In fact, those working on population issues have done so. Today, they recognise that the methods with the best track records of reducing population growth are, by their nature, respectful and promoting of human rights.

 

They include educating girls and women in developing countries to help empower them.

 

This is achieved by providing more options, using media strategies to make them aware of alternatives regarding family sizes and family planning.

 

Those who oppose talking about the world's population are obstructing the further provision of such services and resources.

 

Last chance saloon

 

Fundamentally, we need to ask what is the greater threat to human welfare: the possibility that humane efforts to address population growth might be abused, or our ongoing failure to act to prevent hundreds of millions, even billions, dying as a result of global ecological collapse?

 

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Many now recognise the urgency with which we need to halt the human-caused degradation of Earth's natural environment

 

It's no far fetched possibility. Increasingly, environmental scientists insist we have overshot the Earth's carrying capacity.

 

I believe they are right; the proof is everywhere. Our inability to live as we do, at our current numbers, without causing pervasive environmental degradation is the very definition of carrying capacity overshoot.

 

Overshoot, we know, is followed by population decline. As we have learned form other species, this manifests itself initially with a crash.

 

For humanity, this portends a potential cataclysm exceeding anything in our history.

 

Our chance to avert such an outcome depends on our ability to address our numbers before nature reduces them for us.

 

There's no other way out. Merely reducing per capita consumption, for instance, won't do it.

 

After all, per capita consumption levels multiply with population size to determine our total resource consumption.

 

Just look at the data from the Global Footprint Network group. They estimate that we'll remain in overshoot unless we also address population.

 

Solutions do not spring from silence. We must bring population back to the centre of public discussion.

 

We need to break through the taboo to encourage not just a few voices but all those with relevant expertise to speak out on the subject loudly and often.

 

Recently I wondered what would happen if all the scientists - and everyone else considered a scholar of the population issue - spoke out all at once.

 

Would it help to weaken the taboo now shackling the subject, pushing it closer to centre stage?

 

Would it bring the matter enough attention to begin generating new or more widespread solutions?

 

Might it prompt a deeper examination of our ecological plight?

 

The Global Population Speak Out campaign has brought together over 100 voices from 19 countries, all pledging to speak out publicly on the population issue throughout the month of February, 2009.

 

Many now recognise the urgency with which we need to halt the human-caused degradation of Earth's natural environment.

 

Can we break down a taboo that has for years blocked the path toward that goal?

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7865332.stm

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Wel be reet, we only populate about 20percent of the country. Just take a drive down the A1 to see how many acres of spare land there is

 

So you don't need crops etc to feed the population ? we can just fill every last inch of land.

 

OK.

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Fop, you often post articles then stave off on an opinion until you've seen the lay of the land.

 

Can make a guy wonder, is all.

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been talked about since the mid 1800's.........all we need is a little pestilence, famine and some more wars and we'll be fine. :nufc:

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Fop, you often post articles then stave off on an osbcure and evasive "argument" until you've seen the lay of the land.

Then you hijack the entire bloody thing. :D

Can make a guy wonder, is all.

what you meant :lol:

Edited by Monkeys Fist

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Malthusian over-population is the catalyst for Darwinian evolution.

 

That's exactly what I thought. Or, in other words, mmmmmmm maltesers :lol::D

 

Malthus thought there were limits to human development as populations would outgrow the ability to feed themselves. He was quite an amusing figure as he thought we would fuck ourselves to extinction.

 

Darwin incorporated Malthusian population theory into his theory of evolution by saying that the catalyst for evolution was the over-population of a species (given its resources) which would result in compeition amongst the species and survival of the fittest. The survival element only occurs when the species has to fight to survive i.e. when it competes for food etc.

 

The current economic climate has led to many looking at Malthus again through different perspectives.

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Fop, you often post articles then stave off on an opinion until you've seen the lay of the land.

 

Can make a guy wonder, is all.

 

Loads of people post stuff without an opinion. Jonny says it's ok unless he's trying to get at someone, so :)

 

 

Fop gets it both ways mind, no opinion = usual suspect :lol:or an opinion = usual suspect :D

 

 

So either way it's :razz:

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Wel be reet, we only populate about 20percent of the country. Just take a drive down the A1 to see how many acres of spare land there is

 

So you don't need crops etc to feed the population ? we can just fill every last inch of land.

 

OK.

 

That's the truly bizarre thing, especially in the UK.

 

Say we all wanted to be "sustainable" in those newly trend wood-burning stoves just for central heating and maybe hot water, there probably isn't enough land in the UK to do it.

 

Never mind enough land for a truly "sustainable" life (food, heat, electricity, fuel etc.).

 

 

 

Without addressing population issues (at 6 billion never mind the 9 billion within 50 years) everything else is frankly pointless...... yet it stays an utterly taboo issue. :lol:

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I'd say "utterly taboo" is overstating it a little. Anyway, this lot have the right idea (and I'm proud to be an accidental member :lol:) http://www.vhemt.org/

 

Try bringing it up in a Greenpeace meeting or Government/BBC/Public debate on the environment then. (you'll be called a Nazi within 30 seconds and stoned to death within 5 mins) :D

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I'd say "utterly taboo" is overstating it a little. Anyway, this lot have the right idea (and I'm proud to be an accidental member :lol:) http://www.vhemt.org/

 

 

Like this only the barest mention of population really, when over-population is the major cause of "water poverty" today and new over-population will still likely be the major driving force behind the "By 2030, 3.9 billion people are forecast to be living in areas under severe water stress, the OECD predicts" they talk about.

 

 

It's daft, it's the single biggest problem facing humanity and the planet (and everything else on it) today - it is basically studiously ignored and the spotlight relentless shined on more fanciful ideas (that just won't work without a control on population anyway).

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Is it selfish to have more than two children?

 

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One of the Whitehouse children lives elsewhere, leaving four remaining at home

 

By Margaret Ryan

BBC News

 

Is having more than two children selfish? The future of the planet rarely plays a part when planning a family, but that's got to change, say environmental campaigners.

 

Parents who have more than two children are "irresponsible" for placing an intolerable burden on resources and increasing damage to eco-systems, says a leading green campaigner.

 

Curbing population growth through contraception must play a role in fighting global warming, argues Jonathon Porritt.

 

This week, the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), of which Mr Porrit is a patron, launched its "Stop at Two" online pledge to encourage couples to limit their family's size.

 

If you polled mums and asked them for 10 reasons why they would not want more children the list would include money, sleepless nights and the strain on relationships

 

Siobhan Freegard, Netmums website

 

Mr Porritt said earlier this month: "I think we will work our way towards a position that says having more than two children is irresponsible."

 

He is not advocating a compulsory limit but told the BBC that couples should "connect up their concerns with the natural environment with their decisions as prospective parents".

 

"Every additional human being is increasing the burden on this planet which is becoming increasingly intolerable," says Mr Porritt, who runs the government's Sustainable Development Commission.

 

Each extra person in the UK emits around 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum, he argues, but he warns population is a subject even some environmentalists think too controversial to discuss.

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The total fertility rate - the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime - reached 1.90 in the UK in 2007, meaning 190 children were born for every 100 women, according to the Office for National Statistics. UK fertility rates have not been this high since 1980.

 

The UK population alone is expected to increase from 61 million to 77 million by 2051 but the OPT believes the UK's long-term sustainable population level may be lower than 30 million.

 

"The more couples decide to have just one or two children, or even remain childless, the more they can relieve pressures on rapidly deteriorating ecosystems and alleviate demand for dwindling energy and food resources," says policy director Rosamund McDougall.

 

If women in the UK stopped at two children, this would cut the UK's forecast population by an estimated seven million by 2050, the OPT suggests.

 

But for mother-of-five Rosie Whitehouse, green issues did not play a part in her and her husband's decision to have a large family.

 

VIEW FROM A MOTHER OF SIX

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Emma Quinton with five of her children (left to right) Kitty, Poppy, Clara and Sam holding Ronnie

Emma Quinton, 41, from Brighton, has six children ranging from 22 months to 10 years

'I never wanted this many children. I wanted babies. They got to a certain age and I wanted another. I love newborn babies'

Would consider having a seventh but worried about money and the emotional toll

'We would have started earlier and had more'

Benefit of a large family is that they learn to share and they do their bit for the planet by never flying long-haul

 

"Life isn't as simple as that," says Mrs Whitehouse, a former journalist.

 

"For most women the environment doesn't figure at all. I was making programmes about global warming when I became pregnant with my first son, who is now 20, and it didn't enter my head," she says, although she can understand why Mr Porritt feels justified in raising the issue.

 

"I didn't think about money and what it was going to cost either. I just had this romantic idea," she says.

 

Mrs Whitehouse, 47, who works full-time and lives in London, queries whether larger families necessarily place a greater burden on the environment.

 

"Money is important so you don't buy ready-made meals. I cooked up cauldrons of soup."

 

'No more toys'

 

And just because you have five children "it does not mean you have five times the amount of plastic toys," she says. "You just have to say 'no more'."

 

She has four children still living at home aged 18, 15 and twins aged 10 and says they are environmentally aware. But she does not believe green issues will be uppermost in her daughters' minds when they come to think about having a family.

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Being one of four children means sometimes you need to escape

 

"Pregnancy is introspective. It is a selfish time, especially when you first find out, " she says.

 

It's a sentiment echoed by mother-of-three Siobhan Freegard who says environmental considerations aren't even on the radar when couples think about how many children they want.

 

"If you polled mums and asked them for 10 reasons why they would not want more children the list would include money, sleepless nights and the strain on relationships," says Ms Freegard, of the online parent network Netmums.

 

The bottom line would certainly seem to focus the minds of many parents, judging by recent research. The average cumulative cost of raising a child from birth to the age of 21 is about £193,000, according to a survey by the insurer Liverpool Victoria.

 

Ms Freegard says it is "crazy" to think the impact on the environment would even figure in the family planning process.

 

She has two sons, aged 12 and six, and a nine-year-old daughter. With the birth of her youngest, she felt they were a proper family, although managing three children hasn't been easy: "It was messy and I lost control of things, but in a good way."

 

And as one of five children herself, she extols the virtues of a large family, for example in having siblings to share caring for a parent.

 

"It's about having some support and sharing the load. I wanted to recreate that for my own children."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7884138.stm?lss

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Is population really an issue?

 

Not an issue, the issue.

 

Another 3 billion people (+33%) in the next 50 years is an awful lot of CO2 and resources, no matter how efficient anything/everything is.

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Is population really an issue?

 

Not an issue, the issue.

 

Another 3 billion people (+33%) in the next 50 years is an awful lot of CO2 and resources, no matter how efficient anything/everything is.

 

But weren't there calamitous predictions 20 years ago?

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Wel be reet, we only populate about 20percent of the country. Just take a drive down the A1 to see how many acres of spare land there is

 

is it true, all the people in the world could fit on the Isle of wight?....bagsee not standing next to the cliff edge like,

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Guest alex

What can we actually do about it though? I feel telling people what to do negates free will about something really fundamental. But so many people are fucking stupid and selfish at the same time.

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Is population really an issue?

 

Not an issue, the issue.

 

Another 3 billion people (+33%) in the next 50 years is an awful lot of CO2 and resources, no matter how efficient anything/everything is.

 

But weren't there calamitous predictions 20 years ago?

 

Aye, but just look at how things are now.

 

Most of the water poverty in the world is due to overpopulation, most of the famine and protein poverty is linked to population growth and overpopulation and arguably most of the extreme poverty in the world is also directly linked to overpopulation.

 

Add another 33%/3 billion people to that equation and it starts to look very scary.

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Wel be reet, we only populate about 20percent of the country. Just take a drive down the A1 to see how many acres of spare land there is

 

is it true, all the people in the world could fit on the Isle of wight?....bagsee not standing next to the cliff edge like,

 

 

Not in 50 years time they won't.

 

But, of course, the issue isn't how much land a human being needs to stand on, but how much land in total a human being needs to live (never mind the rest of the ecosystem).

 

 

 

 

However much land you actually own, in reality a vast amount more is needed to actually keep you alive, never mind in the style to which the West is accustomed.

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