19 December 2009

Breaking the Population Taboo

Excerpt from Dangerous Intersection, 9 December 2009

'...many people are too horrified to even consider this topic. One such person repeatedly vilified me in the comments, arguing that I was an elitist (and worse) because I merely dared to raise this issue.

But this issue of overpopulation is too important to ignore. The bottom line issue is this: In terms of human animals, what is the carrying capacity of the Earth? Thoughtful people immediately recognize that this question inevitably dovetails with the issue of quality of life. For instance, if we’re willing to settle for a degraded standard of living in the US, we could add three billion more people to the US and live a desperate disease-ridden scorched-earth existence. That is what you would expect, of course, unless you were one of those people who plans on multiple new scientific revolutions (including a massive new green revolution) that will save the day, allowing us to pack even more people onto the planet. In my mind, though, rational people don’t plan on miraculous good things. Yes, they are hopeful that some good things will happen, but rational people have the courage to acknowledge the clear evidence of our highly stressed resources and they make their plans based on these limitations and dangers.

As I mentioned at the top, overpopulation is an issue that makes many people go ballistic. They ridicule those who even raise this issue at all, accusing them of things that they are making up in their heads. These accusers don’t want the issue discussed at all – they want to pretend that the degradation of our environment and our dwindling natural resources have nothing to do with the the fact that we are adding people to Planet Earth at a ferocious clip.

Based upon numerous articles I’ve referenced at this website over the years (regarding energy, food, water, soil), this issue of overpopulation desperately needs to be discussed. It should even be the headline story on a regular basis. Every time a news source reports on an oil war, or climate change, or food shortages, there should be an asterisk reminding the reader that this issue has been exacerbated by overpopulation. Overpopulation is rarely raised by news publishers, however. They dare not raise it starkly, for the reasons sketched above.

GPSO has recently announced its GPSO 2010. Here is the idea in a nutshell:

The idea of Global Population Speak Out (GPSO) is that those of us who care about this issue need to discuss the issue publicly, and that the best way to do this is to speak out together. Here is the position of GPSO:

The size and growth of the human population are fundamental drivers of the ecological crisis we face — no less crucial than emissions, over-consumption in developed nations, habitat loss and toxic pollutants. If we hope to avert worldwide catastrophe, many experts agree, we’ll need to continue working strenuously on those issues but also conduct a massive shift of attention and resources toward humane, progressive measures designed to stabilize and ultimately reduce world population to a sustainable level.

Yet there exists today a taboo of sorts against public discussion of overpopulation. Outside the scientific community, calls to address overpopulation often meet vigorous, ill-informed criticism and blatant hostility from both the left and right. Most of these sorts of objections are either obstinately ideological or stem from financial interests dependent on population growth for profit. There are also well-known historical instances of shockingly coercive, involuntary birth control measures being implemented by misguided state policy. Understandably, few in a position to speak out on the population topic care to do so under such conditions.

Change does not spring from silence, however. We must find a way to break down the taboo and bring the population issue — which is absolutely fundamental to sustainability — back to the center of public discussion.

Over the decades, writers such as Paul Ehrlich have sounded the alarm, arguing that we are headed for a disaster. Ehrlich’s estimates turned out to be overly-pessimistic and he was vilified by many people, including many people who refuse to face up to the dangers of failing to address overpopulation. All indications are, however, that only Erlich’s time line was inaccurate, and that we human inhabitants of earth truly are in a desperate situation that is being exponentially compounded by our sheer numbers.

It is again time to raise this critically important topic. Until we frankly acknowledge the fact of overpopulation, we will be unable to discuss potential solutions to the problem (one potential solution involves focusing on the resource-hog lifestyles of many developed countries). It is not presumed by anyone I know that the solution involves casting most of the blame on third-world populations. We are all part of the situation and we can all contribute to solutions.

Earth is a big blue Lifeboat spinning through space. Imagine a real life lifeboat holding 50 people, and eking out subsistence for its occupants thanks to occasional rainfalls and through modest success in fishing. Imagine that the no rescuer appears, however, and that over a period of years, many of the occupants of the lifeboat start having babies. Imagine that this boat was designed to hold 50 but that it is now carrying 75 people, and that the meagre resources are being stretched to the breaking point. Imagine, further, that no one on the boat wants to raise the topic of the carrying capacity of the lifeboat. Imagine that they won’t raise the topic because when they tried to do so in the past they were shouted down and told to shut up.

Would that be a smart way to run any sort of lifeboat?'

17 December 2009

Feeding The 5000

From Feeding the 5000

'On the 16th December a free lunch made from delicious ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted will be prepared for 5000 people. Everyone is welcome. Our aim is to highlight the ease of cutting the unimaginable levels of food waste in the UK and internationally.

In the days and weeks before 16th December Feeding the 5000 will receive tonnes of generously donated fresh produce from farms, packers and markets – from the tonnes of produce that are ‘outgraded’ for being cosmetically imperfect and which would have been wasted though they are still good to eat.

The produce will be delivered to the food depot of our main partner, FareShare. From there it will be taken to the commercial kitchens which have been kindly given over to us for the event. Here it will be prepared into soup and other food for the day by an army of volunteers trained in food handling and preparation.

The food will be delivered by FareShare to Trafalgar Square on the 16th December and prepared in time for the free lunch, starting at 12 noon. Meanwhile, smoothies from fresh surplus fruit will be made by a team of bicycle-powered smoothie makers and handed out to passers-by.

Leading chefs, including Thomasina Miers, will perform live cooking demonstrations and there will be speakers from the food and farming industries as well as civic and spiritual leaders, including the Bishop of London.'

World's Mayors Tackle Climate Change On Their Own

Excerpt from COP15 Copenhagen, 14 December 2009

'Copenhagen's lord mayor Ritt Bjerregaard (photo above) and some 80 other mayors and local officials of USA, Tokyo, Jakarta, Toronto and Hong Kong, have converged on the Danish capital in their own climate and energy summit.

They'll compare notes on how cities can combat climate change and save money on energy and other costs.

Today's cities and towns consume two-thirds of the world's total primary energy and produce more than 70 percent of its energy-related CO2 emissions, the International Energy Agency reports. That will grow to 76 percent by 2030, the agency says. Most comes from electrifying and heating private, commercial and municipal buildings...'

Mint Map - The World's Resources

Excerpt from Mint Map, 6 December 2009

click on image to enlarge...

16 December 2009

C02 Offsets for Destroying Biodiversity

...why one should approach carbon offsets, and indeed even accredited offsets, with extreme caution...

Excerpt from Rainforest Rescue, 11 December 2009

'A UN board has decided that soya, palm oil and other agrofuel plantations can now receive carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The agrofuel industry, already boosted by EU and US targets, incentives and subsidies, can now look forward to hundreds of millions from extra subsidies. Vast carbon dioxide emissions from coal power stations in Europe can now be officially ‘offset’ by companies paying for soya plantations in Brazil or palm oil plantations in Indonesia or Thailand, which in turn will cause more deforestation and other ecosystem destruction and thus, also, more climate change.

The CDM was set up under the Kyoto Protocol and allows Northern countries to ‘offset’ greenhouse gas emissions by paying for projects in the South, instead of cutting their own emissions. There is clear evidence that most of the CDM carbon credits go towards polluting industries in the South, routinely at the expense of local communities, their rights and their environment. In future, more and more CDM carbon credits will go towards monoculture plantations in the South – now including soya, palm oil and jatropha plantations for agrofuels.

The new CDM rules for agrofuels state that plantations must be on ‘degraded and degrading land’. This definition is so wide that, for example, any land where vegetation is declining because of increased droughts and heat due to climate change would fall under it, also any land suffering from soil erosion or soil compaction. Yet industrial monocultures are the quickest way of degrading soils, destroying biodiversity and polluting and depleting water...'

Civil Resistance the Only Way to Combat Climate Change

Climate researcher Jim Hansen [ex NASA] says civil resistance only way to combat climate change

Excerpt from New Scientist, 15 December 2009

'..."Your governments are lying through their teeth," he says. He believes the Kyoto protocol is a dismal failure, and its proposed successors, along with the cap-and-trade schemes favoured by President Barack Obama, have no chance of achieving what is needed either. "Unfortunately, nature and the laws of physics cannot compromise - they are what they are," he points out.

It gets worse. Decades of experience with US governments have led Hansen to believe that the political systems in the US and many other democracies are incapable of delivering effective action, because politicians serve the short-term interests of special interest groups with plenty of money to throw around - like the fossil-fuel industry - rather than the long-term welfare of citizens.

Extraordinarily, Hansen thinks civil resistance is now the only way forward. "It is up to you," he concludes...'

What Matters Now - Ideas for 2010

Via Six Figures, December 2009

'Seth Godin has compiled an inspirational free e-book 'What Matters Now', which is over 80 pages and brings together more than 70 big thinkers who share their ideas and thoughts to think about for the new year...'

14 December 2009

Prosperity Campaign

The story of a man who ran for election to Colorado Springs council on a platform of challenging the growth consensus.

He lost the election - but he started a debate!

'Highlights from growthbuster Dave Gardner's city council campaign, promoting a modern, sustainable economic model for his community rather than continuing to chase perpetual growth, which no longer provides community prosperity.'

13 December 2009

The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race

...is our inability to understand the exponential function.

Stick with this clip, even if you feel like you are back in high school maths class - because that's clearly where we all need to be once the implications of this sink in! The chess story at 4.20 helps us understand the predicament we face if we persist with growth.

This clip has had over one MILLION views...

Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity