Is the Climate Crisis Caused by the 7 Billion or the 1 Percent?

Too many people book coverAs we reach 7 billion people, Climate Progress is featuring a variety of opinions on population.

— by Ian Angus and Simon Butler in a Grist repost

The approach of [7 billion] milestone produced a wave of articles and opinion pieces blaming the world’s environmental crises on overpopulation. In New York’s Times Square, a huge and expensive video declares that “human overpopulation is driving species extinct.” In London’s busiest Underground stations, electronic poster boards warn that 7 billion is ecologically unsustainable.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestseller The Population Bomb declared that as a result of overpopulation, “the battle to feed humanity is over,” and the 1970s would be a time of global famines and ever-rising death rates. His predictions were all wrong, but four decades later his successors still use Ehrlich’s phrase — too many people! — to explain environmental problems.

But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.

Even in the rich countries of the Global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity’s survival.

No reduction in U.S. population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.

"7 billion" series logoUniversal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.

Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protestors in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more, and destroy more than all the rest of us put together.

In the United States, the richest 1% own a majority of all stocks and corporate equity, giving them absolute control of the corporations that are directly responsible for most environmental destruction.

A recent report prepared by the British consulting firm Trucost for the United Nations found that just 3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environmental damage every year. Outrageous as that figure is — only six countries have a GDP greater than $2.15 trillion — it substantially understates the damage, because it excludes costs that would result from “potential high impact events such as fishery or ecosystem collapse,” and “external costs caused by product use and disposal, as well as companies’ use of other natural resources and release of further pollutants through their operations and suppliers.”

So in the case of oil companies, the figure covers “normal operations,” but not deaths and destruction caused by global warming, not damage caused by worldwide use of its products, and not the multi-billions of dollars in costs to clean up oil spills. The real damage those companies alone do is much greater than $2.15 trillion, every single year.

The 1% also control the governments that supposedly regulate those destructive corporations. The millionaires include 46 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 54 out of 100 senators, and every president since Eisenhower.

Through the government, the 1% control the U.S. military, the largest user of petroleum in the world, and thus one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Military operations produce more hazardous waste than the five largest chemical companies combined. More than 10 percent of all Superfund hazardous waste sites in the United States are on military bases.

Those who believe that slowing population growth will stop or slow environmental destruction are ignoring these real and immediate threats to life on our planet. Corporations and armies aren’t polluting the world and destroying ecosystems because there are too many people, but because it is profitable to do so.

If the birthrate in Iraq or Afghanistan falls to zero, the U.S. military will not use one less gallon of oil.

If every African country adopts a one-child policy, energy companies in the U.S., China, and elsewhere will continue burning coal, bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.

Critics of the too many people argument are often accused of believing that there are no limits to growth. In our case, that simply isn’t true. What we do say is that in an ecologically rational and socially just world, where large families aren’t an economic necessity for hundreds of millions of people, population will stabilize. In Betsy Hartmann’s words, “The best population policy is to concentrate on improving human welfare in all its many facets. Take care of the population and population growth will go down.”

The world’s multiple environmental crises demand rapid and decisive action, but we can’t act effectively unless we understand why they are happening. If we misdiagnose the illness, at best we will waste precious time on ineffective cures; at worst, we will make the crises worse.

The too many people argument directs the attention and efforts of sincere activists to programs that will not have any substantial effect. At the same time, it weakens efforts to build an effective global movement against ecological destruction: It divides our forces, by blaming the principal victims of the crisis for problems they did not cause.

Above all, it ignores the massively destructive role of an irrational economic and social system that has gross waste and devastation built into its DNA. The capitalist system and the power of the 1%, not population size, are the root causes of today’s ecological crisis.

As pioneering ecologist Barry Commoner once said, “Pollution begins not in the family bedroom, but in the corporate boardroom.”

— Ian Angus is coauthor of Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. He is editor of the ecosocialist journal Climate and Capitalism.

— Simon Butler is coauthor of Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. He is editor of Green Left Weekly.

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46 Responses to Is the Climate Crisis Caused by the 7 Billion or the 1 Percent?

  1. Ian Angud says:

    Joe, thank you for reposting our article. Its original appearance in Grist promoted a lot of debate — I replied to some of the most common objections in Population, consumer sovereignty, and the importance of class.

    We look forward to more discussion here.

  2. scas says:

    In James Lovelock’s book he says that by simply existing, humans and their dependent animals put out 10 times as much emissions as all the worlds airlines.

    If population isn’t a problem now, when will it be? 10 billion? 15 billion? 100 billion?

    Should we maximize our population, improve efficiency, reduce waste – and then when catastrophe strikes we have a zero margin on food and resource supplies?

    How many births has China avoided with its policies? How many tonnes of avoided carbon is that? And all those “poor people” now want western living standards, which places an impossible strain on resources.

    Last I heard the top 20% emitted 80% of emissions. Somehow I doubt those numbers are accurate. According to Monbiot population policies is 20% of the climate solution. That may be true now, but our problems will be worse in 2050 when the world is 3 degrees warmer, our fossil fuels are depleted, and there’s 10 billion hungry mouths.

  3. ken Barrows says:

    What the heck was that? The authors sure didn’t analyze very much. Sure corporations trash the world but we individuals let them do so. And, if we aspire to improve material living standards for most of the current 7 billion, adding 200,000+ people per day isn’t a great idea.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The most important thing we can do right now is avoid simplistic, one variable answers, and get on with using practical methods that bring people together as equals around the common purpose of improving the situation.

    This needs to be done at every level from small neighbourhoods and communities up to the UN. Some communities are already doing this spontaneously.

    People resist change which is imposed upon them: they do not resist change when they plan and implement it. It is time to start implementing large scale mobilization of all our communities around their futures so that we can get rapid cultural change with high levels of motivation, energy and creativity.

    The ‘social technologies’ for doing this are in place in the same way as the clean energy technologies are, and the message is the same – deploy, deploy, deploy, ME

  5. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Enough pessimism,
    Time for a little Pete Seeger.

  6. Jessen says:

    Some interesting thoughts, but last I checked the majority of U.S. consumer demand (including for carbon-intensive Chinese products) still came from we in the 99%. That’s not to say the wasteful consumption of the 1% isn’t significant (and a poor model for emulation), but consumer demand is what drives most corporate activity. Yes, it could all be done better (and must be, as more of the world’s 7 billion seek higher living standards), but that is a matter of both economics and politics.

  7. KeenOn350 says:

    A sadly simplistic article – the fact that some of our population are much too greedy does not negate or refute the fact that we simply have too many people.

  8. Artful Dodger says:

    That was an excellent analysis. The take away is, even if the Earth’s human population was reduced by a factor of 10, ravenous Corporate greed would, if unchecked, still ruin the biosphere.

    So we do need population control: on Corporations.

  9. dan allen says:

    As Derrick Jensen says — and the planet can attest — it is our INSANE CULTURE that is killing the planet. BOTH too many people and a rapacious 1% are just simply symptoms of an insane culture.

    See Jensen’s ‘Dreams’ (or any of his other wonderful books) for a sane perspective.

  10. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s both, but I agree that focusing on population is a distraction. There is no simple formula for getting people to reduce family size, and improved education, women’s rights, etc, doesn’t work in many situations. It implies modernization and development first, an often contradictory goal.

    The main problems are burning fossil fuels, destroying forests and other natural habitat, and showing no inclination to respect our descendants. We’ve got our hands full with those issues.

  11. John Stoner says:

    One example of the weakness of this argument:

    ‘Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.’

    Lower birthrates now would not, but lower birthrates 40 years ago certainly would. Higher population means higher demand for fossil fuels, means expensive sources like tar sands are profitable.

    Just because there are two kinds of cause doesn’t mean they don’t both contribute, or that they’re really all that separate.

    If you dig a bit deeper, you will find problems with the growth imperative designed into the economy. My blog goes into some detail.

  12. dave says:

    WHAT??? the masses of the worlds oppressed and exploited AREN’T responsible for the decisions made in it or the interests driving those who make them? Heresy! Been waiting a long time for someone with an audience to pull their head out, and stop blaming the common people for things that they have no control over, P.s. did anyone mention the condition of economic dependency/wage slavery which drives so many blue collars to vote in their boss’s interest? The population problem may not be the best angle from which to approach the generally ignored issue of class in relation to the environment, but it will do. Thank you good Sir.

  13. Lucy says:

    While I agree whole heartedly that much fault lies with the corporations, it’s also about who is contributing to their system and giving them the money they need to continue. The first world continues to demand and more and more goods at cheaper prices, and it is our consumerism that perpetuates the destruction caused by our intermediaries, the corporations. It is really our population that needs to be watched, and our population that needs to stop buying into this consumerist lifestyle that depends on nonrenewable resources and exploitation in the third world.

  14. Lou Grinzo says:

    Oh, no — not this false dichotomy again.

    The problem is humanity’s total environmental impact.

    That impact is, by definition, equal to the total number of people on the planet times the average impact of a person. Reduce population, and the total impact is reduced, ceteris paribus. Similarly, reduce per capita impact with the same population and our aggregate impact declines.

    The problem with 7 billion people, headed for 9.5+ billion by 2050, is both the sheer number and our consumption/impact patterns, especially with 2.4 billion people in China and India desiring a Western lifestyle.

    We’re so close to the edge, in terms of our overall sustainability challenges, that we need to employ all tools at our disposal: Improve living standards so families choose to have fewer children, as well as deploy everything we can as quickly as possible to reduce our impacts. We don’t have the luxury of self-righteous posturing and picking and choosing among preferred solutions.

    And I can hear the right wingers going nuts already over the line, “The capitalist system and the power of the 1%, not population size, are the root causes of today’s ecological crisis.” That’s an absurd and gross oversimplification. Using “capitalist system” as a verbal target, as if there is only a single form of it known to humanity, is shallow, inflammatory, and just plain incorrect.

  15. As Victo Mollo pointed out, through the words of the Hideous Hog:

    Ceteris is never paribus.

  16. Brooks Bridges says:

    Thank you Lou. I agree – impact of a given individual depends on how “American” a person is. And unfortunately, most of the world wants to consume ala American and will do so if given a chance.

    But that want is fueled by corporate advertising, direct and indirect.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Population is a problem that can only be addressed by humane means, centring on global redistribution of wealth, which will lead to a demographic transition which must reduce our population to a sane level, say one or two billion. Unfortunately this approach is utterly rejected by the Right, who intend to hang onto every cent of their loot, and add to it. Their preference is clearly for a eugenicist, Malthusian solution, with the ‘useless eaters’ of the poor world reduced by starvation, disease and conflict.
    Even more damaging, of course, than over-population, is over-consumption, by the rich world and the parasitic 1% in particular. Each one of these creatures makes ten, twenty, one hundred times or more demands on the biosphere and resources than do the poor, but they refuse to even contemplae reducing their destructive ways.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Precisely! The concentration on over-population is a diversion from the real problem, and it is being pushed hard by the real villains of the piece-the 1%.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Most of the over-populated world would reach population balance if the root cause, poverty, was addressed. But the global ruling 1% loves poverty, because the impoverishment of the many equals ‘wealth creation’ for the few.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I like the cut of your ideological jib, dave. Could not agree more.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Advertising is the poisonous facilitator of this consumption lust, and a spiritual and psychological incubus on its victims.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    In inverse proportion to the numbers.

    More accurately, check the Pareto distribution.

  23. Jim Eaton says:

    Wow. An article written by folks who haven’t a clue about the impacts of overpopulation on the world’s environment. Feeding 7 billion — barely in some cases — already is wiping out our fish in the sea, our rain forests, and our temperate ecosystems. And climate change will hasten the loss of our natural world.

  24. Catch22 says:

    The current corporate system is designed to maximize individual consumption. It does this via a complex system of advertising and marketing. We are barraged with pressure to buy, social pressures, economic pressures. This system has co-opted our democratic governments and our academic systems.

    If we want real change, we will have to change the incentives that pressure us to over consume, and we will have to conquer the forces that have molded this system in the first place. Don’t expect this to be an easy fight. Don’t even expect to win. But fight anyways because it is right.

  25. prokaryotes says:

    The planet could feed sustainable living 30 billion or even more.

  26. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Prok, which one are you on at the moment? On your journey outwards? ME

  27. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes Lou, we must reject all false dichotomies, and all simplistic solutions in general. Thats why the only way out now is to transform the potential creativity of all our peoples into an actuality, kinetic energy, by transferring the responsibility for their their community, neighbourhood, state, country, planet, to them. When people have the responsibility for their common goods and their shared future, they take that responsibility. This is what history, anthropology and modern social science tell us.

    When they are dispossessed of that responsibility and turned into serfs, slaves or wage slaves, they are forced to turn old growth forests into palm oil plantations, hunt bush meat, sell baby orangutans for noodle and buy plastic rubbish for their kids for Xmas.

    You talk about tools and so do I in my comment @4. The tools for releasing responsibility and creativity are available but are not being employed except in small pockets.

    I can only hope that somewhere along the line, in the occupy movement perhaps, somebody will have come into contact with, and understood how important it is to understand, that we can choose to either dominate the Earth and rip her off (today), learn how she works and cooperate (yesterday) or ignore her completely (today).

    There are only 3 choices here and they spring from the genotypical design principles which determine who takes responsibility for the outcomes.

    So what’s stopping us from changing te design principle? Years of inertia from comforming to the system.

    From Tunisa to Occupy, people are showing the way. Lets hope they can re-discover the concepts and the way to organize themselves that old people and down and out people have known for ever – just let us hope it’s not too late, ME

  28. Spike says:

    I agree it is a false debate and the relevance of population varies from issue to issue. On food and related issues population clearly has an effect as twice the people need twice the calories and protein. But I take the point on most industrial and personal pollution, consumption of goods and services, and greenhouse gases. It’s too simplistic to say it’s not an issue, but evading responsibility when the rich argue that it is the only real problem.

  29. prokaryotes says:

    An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as a logical fallacy

  30. Joe Romm says:

    Good call on food, the first key thing that’s imploding….

  31. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Very authoritative article on Climate Crisis.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  32. Sou says:

    The article doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s too easy to blame faceless corporations. Corporations are collections of people. Some do bad things, just like some individuals do. But that’s not the main problem.

    IMO there are just too many of us. Living standards are increasing in most places. People are consuming at least as much as they ever were – and likely a lot more on average.

    There are almost three times as many people living on earth today as when I was born. And not long afterwards there were warnings that there were too many people already.

    Too many of us taking up too much space, squeezing out the rest of the natural world.

    Something’s got to give. When populations of any species explode the result is not pretty.

  33. Tom King says:

    It seems hard to figure out whether the problem is caused more by individual consumption, or the overall population.

    Similarly, its hard to figure out if the area of a rectangle is more influenced by its length or its width.

  34. Bill Boteler says:


    I agree with you that those with power are driving a great deal of the environmental damage to the world. Their actions should be the focus of much of our concern.

    However, it would not hurt to try to limit the ultimate size of our population. Just providing birth control to those who want it would probably have a big impact.

    The question that you have to ask is how can large populations that are currently poor experience an improved economic condition without the destruction that has been caused by the current western lifestyle. The more people there are the harder this is to do.

  35. John McCormick says:

    Pro, count me as an admirer of your prolific comments and valuable links to items that would surely escape me.

    But, your opinions sometimes defy explanation and, if you tried to defend the “30 billion or more” statement, you could not. Maybe the 30 billion was a typo?

  36. NJP1 says:

    Most of the 7 billion don’t need to endanger the Earth, that’s being done by the ‘lucky’ one billion who inherited the industrial complex of the 20th century .
    We are facing a triumvirate of chaos: runaway climate change, overpopulation and energy depletion. They are inseparable, and it matters not which hits us first, because that will exacerbate the impact of the other two.
    Since we harnessed the power of the heat engine in the 1700s, The world’s economic system (in the context of the developed ‘western’ lifestyle) has been locked into the business of producing, using and selling energy. We have no other means of employment other than to go on finding energy sources and using them to sustain our delusion of profit and growth When it ceases, most of humanity will starve and our global numbers will rebalance themselves to sustainable levels.
    But until it does, we will go on destroying our environment because we have no option. The miner will fight to keep his job, despite knowing that coal is poisoning his land. We will not surrender our personal transport system, even though we know oil pollutes the atmosphere and biofuel denies food to starving millions. We will continue to demand cheap food, even though we know its production is affecting our collective health. Each of us can fit the necessity of his or her particular lifepattern into the global narrative of demand and consumption.
    Our genetic makeup doesn’t allow for the global altruism that would be necessary to reduce ourselves to a median level of consumption.

    We are facing a triumvirate of chaos: runaway climate change, overpopulation and energy depletion. It matters not which hits us first, because that will exacerbate the impact of the other two. We must burn carbon fuels to maintain our global life support; we cannot stop it, slow it down or reverse it. The fossil fuel based system will run its course, and will grind to a halt when we (its servants) can no longer feed it in return for our delusion of profit growth and prosperity.
    When that happens, the machines will stop delivering our food, and the cull of humanity will be drastic and immediate.
    50% of humanity is now urban with little access to independent food sources, and our cities have become waterless and foodless deserts of our own making. Runaway climate change will correct itself over time, but in so doing will correct our excess numbers and profligatory habits.
    Think of humanity as a plague species and climate change as the sneeze to get rid of us.

  37. prokaryotes says:

    John McCormick and whom it concerns. The thing here is about “sustainable living”. Hence a lifestyle in harmony with our environment.

    The point of this article as i understand is, to point out that most people have a rather marginal carbon food print – envrionmental impact. 1% of the earth population cause most of the environmental deconstruction. In light of this lifestyle, it is easy to say that the planet can hardly feed 7 billion or is “over populated”.

    It requires one conventional plane flight and you contribute a lot of greenhosue gases, make the problem worse. It would require a paradigmen shift of current way we treat – approach our environment and living. It would require a lot of tweaking, of existing infrasturcutre and how we deal with food in general.

    For example

    World wastes 30% of all food

    There is enough space on earth to harvest food and create homes, even surface or underwater cities are possible. Most people today live in the metropolic areas and leave no room for natural ecosystems. But with sustainable builds-infrastructure and spread out civilization, this can be overcome.

    However, we are on a path to a planet which can only feed 1 billion or less population. And at the same time we keep our resourceful life style up. We keep using fossil energy and even increase the rate of emission. Besides we know long enough better. We increase the environmental destruction and destroy carbon sinks and biodiversity in the process, which creates a lot of other irreversible situations – makes things worse.

    So again to emphazise: The planet “could” feed 30 billion or more, with a low enviro impact, a sustainable life style – which can be plenty but based on renewable energy and smart tech. Is it a realistic assesement of current situation “no” but could it be done? Yes. And that was my point.

    The most important thing to begin with it to eliminate fossil energy from the equation.

    Upgrade existing technologies or use zero/negative carbon approaches, like algae fuel, to bridge old vs new technologies. And it is also important to combat poverty to bring down childbirth numbers.

    The world needs a united approach with regulation per person, on carbon footprint and environmental impact.

    We can no longer afford the current life style with the old technologies.

    If we do not learn this, we will go down in chaos fighting over the last resources – which will happen worldwide and faster than previously thought.

    This is why the smartest people of our race warn of the extinction of the human race. People like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Frank Fenner, Albert Einstein and many more.

    “If honey bees become extinct, human society will follow in four years.” Albert Einstein.

    He was speaking about the symbiotic relationship of all life on the planet “all part of a huge interconnected ecosystem, each element playing a role dependent on many other elements, working in concert as a symphony. Should any part of the global body suffer, the whole body suffers.

    Many people would be surprised to know that ninety percent of the feral (wild) bee population in the United States has died out. Recent studies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have shown that bee diversity is down eighty percent in the sites researched, and that bee species are declining or have become extinct in Britain. “

    The studies also revealed that the numbers of wildflowers that depend on pollination have dropped by seventy percent. Which came first, the decline in wildflowers or the decline in pollinators, has yet to be determined. If bees continue to die off so will the crops they support and that would cause major economic disruption and possibly famine. But we are more focused on oil because its immediate profits are staggering. Indeed so obsessed are we with oil that the press isn`t even inquiring into the possibility of disguising price gouging behind a scarcity scare.

  38. SecularAnimist says:

    I note that the article points to “the 1%” as the cause of the climate crisis, rather than the 7 billion — but somehow never mentions “the FIVE PERCENT”, which is to say the general populations of the rich, developed, fossil-fueled world, who actually consume the fossil fuels and other resources whose consumption enriches the one percent.

    Sure, there is pronounced income and wealth inequity within the rich, developed world, between the top one percent and the remaining 99 percent of the richest FIVE PERCENT of the Earth’s human population.

    But what really matters more, in terms of the climate crisis and other destructive environmental impacts, is the disparity between that top five percent and the remaining 95 percent.

    The poorest six billion simply cannot attain to the levels of material consumption and environmental impact as the richest one billion now have. There are simply not enough resources on Earth.

    And in fact, there are not enough resources for the richest five percent — that’s us, folks — to go on enjoying the environmental gluttony to which we have become accustomed.

    What we need is a set of low-impact, low-consumption, high-efficiency technologies that can both lift the poor billions, and gently lower the rich billion to a “soft landing”, into a sustainable, comfortable, and more equitable way of life.

    I believe that in the long run the human population does need to be stabilized and then reduced. As I understand it, effective approaches include (1) addressing the huge, unmet global demand for birth control and family-planning services, and (2)improving the educational, cultural, political and economic status of women and girls. I support these efforts.

    However, barring some kind of abrupt, mass die-off which could only arise from circumstances that we all wish to avoid, I don’t see how population stabilization, let alone reduction, can be done fast enough to have any impact on the already urgent climate crisis. As the IEA recently asserted, we have perhaps FIVE YEARS in which to reverse the ongoing, rapid growth of CO2 emissions before catastrophic warming will be locked in. How can population programs possibly bring that about?

    The fastest way to address the climate crisis remains the elimination of GHG emissions through the rapid deployment and development of renewable energy and efficiency technologies, in conjunction with drawing down the already dangerous excess of CO2 with organic agriculture and reforestation — in both the rich world and the poor world.

    And it is true that the people who are deliberately blocking, obstructing and delaying that urgently needed transition comprise a significant power center within the “top one percent”.

  39. prokaryotes says:

    “However, it would not hurt to try to limit the ultimate size of our population.”

    What do you suggest, how would you do this? The only viable options here seem to be “education” and to fight “poverty”.

    On the bottom line, i think that climate change will likely kill off many humans by the end of the century and threatens the entire race survival chances. So i believe that “nature” will take care of it and that civilization collapse is one of the results we face.

    In a positive -optimistic scenario, humans would bring down the emissions in time and evolve enough to control child births, through education, less poverty and creating new opportunities, spaces in the ocean and start colonizing near earth. Just always have the environment aspect as ultimate boundary for human adventure.

  40. Dean says:

    Exponential growth will always, at some point, hit hard limits.

    David Suzuki did a great interactive demo on why this is unsustainable:

    Also, for a great new book, check out Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth”

  41. Dean says:

    For human survival to be “sustainable” requires growth to stop at some point…this in itself will require a huge societal paradigm shift.

    To really wrap your head around the challenges facing us requires deep meditation on what an exponential function really entails…most of us don’t intuitively grasp this. No constant exponential growth is possible in a system with finite limits…either we have to stop it or nature will do the work for us…

  42. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Oh dear! I’m sorry Prok but I just can’t take everything that seriously. Life is too short.

    You could have responded with something like “Well its a bit cold and windy here on Saturn today but we’re off on a trip to the rings later where we expect to find a rich and sustainable form of protein.’

    Call it an attack if you like but around here we find that a bit of banter and a sense of humour keeps everything on an even keel and lowers the probability that extremism, in all its forms, can take root, ME

  43. prokaryotes says:

    Maybe use sarcasm tags the next time?

  44. Brooke Williams says:

    I agree with NJP1 that corporate greed and “don’t-care-ness”, fossil fuel use, and overpopulation are parts if not all of the problem. I deeply distrust Prokaryotes because he(?) does not mention access to birth control, and women’s rights in general, as solutions. I suspect Prokaryotes’s views are yet another example of the anti-birth control (including abortion), anti-woman arguments chirping that there’s no such thing as overpopulation and that we’ll just have to get used to living in a world with lots of people piled on top of each other. While this is disgusting enough, I must add further that humans are not the only beings who live on this planet. The biggest killer of these other creatures are not only humans, but loss of habitat due to human population expansion as well as corporate and developer land grabs. Not to mention the poisoning of water, air, and earth. If I am correct about Prokaryotes’s arguments, they are likely religion-driven as well as male supremacist. If so, I would like to remind him(?) and others who think likewise, that according to your religion, your deity created the whole world and everything in it, which means that plants and other animals are just as much your deity’s children as any human, and among humans, that females are just as much your deity’s children as males.

  45. Lisa Boucher says:

    I regret that I’m chiming in late, and I don’t know whether people will read my comment, but I think it’s important.

    I’m surprised to see such an oversimplified analysis of our ecological impact.  With all due respect to the authors, I think they made an egregious mistake by failing to refer to the work of Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, and Barry Commoner — who are generally credited with inventing the IPAT equation, which summarizes the multi-dimensional complexity of the problem:

              I = P * A * T

    In other words, environmental IMPACT is (roughly) proportional to the “product” of POPULATION, per capita AFFLUENCE, and the TECHNOLOGY used to achieve that affluence.

    It is a gross error to suggest that population is not a key part of the problem, as I think the authors have done here.

    I’ll stop there.  Further reading:



  46. jim kershaw says:

    Blaming the population for more than their share of the pollution is no more a cure than the thought that there will be 10 billion people ever on this planet. We are at peak everything including food and potable water. The population has already maxed out. There is probably a shift downward in numbers already, but the system won’t let you believe that because that would defeat the purpose of a linear economy. Use “peak” as one source of proof for a population decline and look at the trends. As history will tell you, all peripheral nations follow the trends of the core nations. Look at the populations of all the core nations…they are stable or falling. Where does this evidence lead us?