Population Matters

Mother Jones Asks “Who’s to Blame for the Population Crisis”?

April 19th, 2010

The cover story of the May-June issue of Mother Jones {“Who’s to Blame for the Population Crisis?”] asks the provocative question, “What unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives, environmentalists, and scientists in a conspiracy of silence?”  The answer, of course, is population. 

In writing the article, Julia Whitty returns to her “genetic roots” in KolKatta (Calcutta), India, and looks first hand at the challenges posed by population density and growth. While acknowledging that global fertility rates have declined significantly in recent decades, she says:

 But it’s not enough.  And it’s still not fast enough.  Faced with a world that can support either a lot of us consuming a lot less or far fewer of us consuming more, we’re deadlocked:  individuals, governments, the media, scientists, environmentalists, economists, human rights workers, liberals, conservatives, business and religious leaders.  On the supremely divisive question of the ideal size of the human family, we’re amazingly united in a pact of silence.

Much of her article is focused on the food security challenge posed by population growth.  She says:

Voiced or not, addressed or not, the problem of overpopulation has not gone away.  The miracle of the Green Revolution, which fed billions and provided the world a sense of limitless hope, also disguised four ominous truths about Earth’s limits.  First, the revolution’s most effective agents, chemical fertilizers of nitrogen and phosphorus, are destined to run out, along with the natural resources used to produce them.  Second the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that grew the food that enabled our enormous population growth in the 20th Century bore expensive downstream costs in the form of polluted land, water and air that now threaten life.  Third, crop yields today are stubbornly stable and even beginning to fall in some places, despite increasing fertilizer use, in soils oversaturated with nitrogen.

 The Green Revolution’s duplicitous harvest–giving life with one hand, robbing life-support with the other, also mask a fourth ominous truth. We’re running out of topsoil…

In addition to family planning, Whitty sees poverty reduction and female empowerment as critical to addressing the population crisis. She says:

Whether we are a world of 8, 9.1 or 10.5 billion people in 2050 will be decided in no small part by the number of illiterate women on Earth.  Of the more than 1 in 10 people who can’t read or write today, two-thirds are female.  Locate them, and you’ll find an uncannily accurate roadmap of societal strife–of civil wars, foreign wars, the wars against equality ingrained in patriarchal and caste systems.

Citing the Philippines, she notes, however, that “The best family plans, the best intentions of any woman, can be waylaid by her government, since politics control fertility with god-like powers.”  She also faults the disruptive impact of the global “gag rule” on U.S. providers of international family planning assistance, saying that it resulted in “a whole generation of unplanned Bush babies.” 

Later this week, the world will observe the 40th Earth Day. This article should be required reading for all those who are concerned about the future of the planet and the future welfare of humanity itself.  In her conclusion, Whitty focuses on the challenge posed by resource scarcity and limits to growth, and the need to achieve a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources.  She says:

The paradox embedded in our future is that the fastest way to slow our populating growth is to reduce poverty, yet the fastest way to run out of resources is to increase wealth.  The trial ahead is to strike the delicate compromise:  between fewer people, and more people with fewer needs…all within a new economy geared toward sustainability.

 That’s an Earth Day message worth pondering.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

7 Responses to “Mother Jones Asks “Who’s to Blame for the Population Crisis”?”

  1. samuel mwaniki m Says:

    Higher population is the cause of food crisis bearing the fact that they consume more, resulting to food insecurity ,reseltelment of Fertile/productive land resulting to sub-division of these regions,Defforestration,production of unproductive individuals who increases over dependancy.
    I call these silence ignorant,short sighted thought’bearing the fact that high population will demand more resources as population increases,if the poor number maintains their current number i see the deadlock,but even with fertility rate decreasing population growth can not meet resources availability’.
    I propose Global reduction of poverty level for the sake of the future rather than encouranging population growth that will consume more resource and in the same time lacks ability to untilise available resources to suit them.
    Fewer people ,improved technology incresed resources.*overpopulation history goes back to 1450,1750 …meaning resources utilisation is the key to resources availability and not resources consumption.+FEWER PEOPLE BETTER TECHNOLOGY =INCREASE OF RESOURCES,MORE PEOPLE,POOR TECHNOLOGY THUS LESS RESOURCES.
    WHERE IS PARADOX.open mind/sound mind needed angently.

  2. Earl Babbie Says:

    What an excellent analysis of the conspiracy of silence on the world’s most pressing problem.

    Humans are, ironically, an endangered species. Mother Earth will survive. The real question is whether we will be able to continue living here in the long-run, or deserve to.

    The future is in our hands.

  3. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    Would the PMC community agree that the most colossal mistake of our lifetime has been our overwhelming propensity to misperceive human population dynamics and by so doing to adamantly believe, widely share and consensually validate the specious idea that food is continuously produced to meet the needs of a growing human population?

    In the relationship between human population numbers and its food supply, please consider that food is independent variable not the dependent as is everywhere accepting. In the last “lost” decade research from Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel indicates with remarkable simplicity that population overshoot of the human species is determined by the overproduction of food for human consumption.

    Until we acknowledge and adequately understand human population dynamics I see little reason for the expectation that the converging human-induced global challenges that loom in the offing will be reasonably addressed and sensibly overcome.


    Kudos to MOTHER JONES for its population article. But I must weigh in on the, by definition, “world’s most overpopulated nation,” the United States. Of note, half of all growth on the planet to 2050 will happen in just 8 nations: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, China, the United States, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    We are the world’s 3rd most populated nation, behind only China and India, and 4th fastest growing nation, and for a glimpse at our own demographic future if we don’t slow the growth soon, we should look at China and India’s populations in 1950, and our own, and their populations today, and our own. We have matched India’s growth rate since about 1950 and, like them before us, can expect to become one billion along a matching timeline, in our case, by late this century.

    And, while China is rapidly taking the distinction from us, our high carbon and consumption footprint matter. Bangladesh’s overpoulation is a huge problem for Bangladesh. U.S. overpopulation is a huge problem for the world, especially considering global warming.

    There are two sources of U.S. growth. While the birth rate is, as depicted by the usually clueless media, near replacement and women are having smaller families, because more women than ever are having children, 2007 births actually exceeded the 1957 peak of the baby boom. The remaining 60 percent of our growth comes from immigration at roughly 2 times the previous high, the frontier-era Great Wave from 1880 to 1920. Or, we today receive, legally and illegally, roughly 1.2 million immigrants a year!

  5. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    That silence regarding the science of human population dynamics has been willfully perpetrated by the mass media is to be expected. But for blogmeisters with environmental credentials and top rank scientists to collude in silence with the same people they openly object to when it is politically convenient and economically expedient to do so, that is sad…and sad to say. Small groups of people who are providing a reality-oriented basis for necessary change need a bit of support from people in public positions of power…..from thoughtful leaders and opinion makers capable of speaking truth as they see it and not effectively killing what could somehow be true with their duplicitous and pernicious silence.

  6. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    It is a shame that ‘the brightest and the best’ among us have perpetrated a sham on the human community and, as a result, are ravaging the world we inhabit as well as turning it into a shambles.

    The idea that our descendants would make the same colossal mistakes we are making now, because knowledgeable people in our time chose to remain hysterically blind, deaf and electively mute rather than acknowledge science, is anathema to me as well as absolutely unacceptable to those I respect. If such an impossible thing was to occur, would a conscious determination not to fulfill both a responsibility to science and a duty to warn humanity be tantamount to the greatest failure of nerve by the brightest and best in human history? If aware and responsible human beings were to be granted the opportunity “to will one thing”, let it be that we share widely an adequate enough understanding of all extant science which discloses the population dynamics of the human species to the family of humanity, so those who come after us do not take the “primrose path” we are trodding now, a path that has been adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued at the behest of the most arrogant, avaricious, foolhardy, wealthy and powerful movers and shakers on our watch, a path to confront some unimaginable, human-driven sort of colossal global ecological wreckage.

  7. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    Petition Presentation, Town of Chapel Hill, NC, November 21, 2011.

    Opening remarks…….

    In Chapel Hill and around the world, it is all the same: many too many people can be found in too many places destroying the natural world for personal economic gain. Many human-induced pressures on Earth’s finite resources and its frangible ecology, that directly result from the unbridled global growth of overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities by the human species, put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future for children, not only in Chapel Hill but elsewhere on the surface of our planetary home. If we are to halt the reckless destruction of Earth as a viable resource base as well as the irreversible degradation of an already polluted environment and a warming climate, we must accept limits to growth.

    We must start somewhere soon to chart a sustainable course. Endless economic and population growth appear to be unsustainable. Let us consider now and here ways we can humanely, fairly, equitably and realistically define limits to economic and population growth in Chapel Hill, while there is still time to do so. Once the comfortable and friendly size of Chapel Hill is lost due to economic and population growth pressures, Chapel Hill’s quality of life and special characteristics will be impossible to regain.

    Perhaps we can “think globally” about the predicament seven billion human beings present to the viability of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Then we choose to”act locally” in ways that move us in the direction of a sustainable future for children everywhere and for life as we know it. Thank you.


    A Petition to Define Limits to Economic and Population Growth in the Town of Chapel Hill, NC

    Whereas the Town of Chapel Hill appears to be outgrowing the comfortable and friendly size that has made it a wonderful place to live, raise children, work and retire; and
    Whereas increasing traffic congestion, crime and other social ills are presenting worrisome trends that result from human population growth which will eventually degrade Chapel Hill’s eco-friendly environs, deplete its limited natural resources and conceivably ruin what makes our town beautiful and special; and
    Whereas the Town of Chapel Hill has established limits and the Great State of North Carolina has boundary lines that separate it from adjacent states; and
    Whereas the USA has borders that confirm the limits of authorized human activity under its regulations and laws as well as distinguish itself as a separate nation; and
    Whereas Earth is round, bounded and finite with frangible environs not flat, unbounded and unperturbed by human production, consumption and population activities of the human species worldwide; and
    Whereas there are well-known biological and physical “rules of the house” in our planetary home that are categorically different from the manmade laws which regulate day to day production, consumption and population activities of human species, but are no less important to citizens of Chapel Hill, the State of NC and the USA as well as to the global citizenry of the human family, precisely because the biophysical reality of God’s Creation places immutable limits on the unbridled global growth of human overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities; and
    Whereas a billion human beings were added to family of humanity worldwide in the last dozen years (1999 to 2011); and
    Whereas in the month of October 2011 the seven billionth human being joined the human community; and
    Whereas there are more human beings in November 2011 existing on resources valued at less than two dollars per day globally than were alive on Earth in the year of my birth (2.3+ billion in March 1945); and
    Whereas we have heard many times, understood well enough, and can reasonably be expected to at least consider acting in a morally responsible way upon a shibboleth of humanity that goes like this, “Think globally, act locally,”

    Now, Therefore, It appears appropriate to Propose and Present this brief Summary of a Program for Action.

    As a part of the town-wide envisioning process to consciously and deliberately manage economic and population growth in the Town of Chapel Hill between now and 2020, leaders, planners and stakeholders will assure that the maintenance of the unique character and the quality of life in Chapel Hill, as we enjoy it now, is protected and preserved for the children and future generations. To accomplish this goal, various scenarios or different elements of a single scenario will be developed with the hope that the following steps will be examined for their efficacy.

    Because overpopulation is ultimately a local issue, set an optimum/maximum population size for the Town of Chapel Hill in 2020. This goal can be fulfilled by adopting growth-management policies related to limits on the number of new residential dwelling units and to additional eco-friendly curbs on commercial developments per year between now and 2020. Zoning regulations can be promulgated to further restrict the size of residential, commercial and industrial buildings within the town limits. The reality-oriented adoption of “soft caps” on economic and population growth will make it possible for the Town of Chapel Hill to sensibly acknowledge and adequately address the considerable and potentially unsustainable growth pressures that are readily visible on our watch.

    Steven Earl Salmony

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