Posted by: atowhee | December 15, 2017


Recently carried an opinion piece by an economist saying we should not worry about reducing population growth.  Click here to see his piece.

My one pertinent comment–the writer is an economist and they tend to follow the numbers of dollars with little or no concern abut what is happening to other creatures on the planet.  Nobody loses and earnings when a beetle or fish goes extinct, so who cares.  Does this economist imagine there’ll be no political or social cost when millions of future refugees are flooded out of their coastal  homes as the sea level inexorably rise?

More relevant are these comments from my friend, Mike Riess, who has studied a number of fields including business management, energy resources and human nature.  He and I have been friends since we were in the Third Grade, a thousand years and a zillion miles ago.  Here are his incisive comments are why he disagrees with the economist:

Here is a short list:

 1. Malthus’s original observation, that human population can grow faster than food production, remains valid.  Constantly increasing population is the threat.  Population reproduction rates are dependent on economy and culture.  Where culture is patriarchal, it is hard to convince the heads-of-household that their wife (or wives) should stop pumping out kids.  Have you ever tried to convince a male Ultra-Orthodox Jew, or male Muslim in an Islamic culture, or an African Bwana, that he should stop producing children?  A part of the world has achieved below replacement rate, because of economic and cultural change – women have control of their fertility, and the cost of having children is higher than the benefits.  But most of Africa, the Middle East, and South America/Middle America/Mexico, have NOT gotten there.  Because overpopulation produces poverty, many are not likely to get there soon.  Only those that are industrialized have a hope of change (e.g. South Africa), and they are producing more pollution.

2. The author claims to be an expert on the productivity of a piece of land.  Maybe so.  But there are other limiting factors that are dropping into place – fresh water and weather.  Climate change is real, it is happening now, and none of the efforts to mitigate it (such as the Paris accords) will prevent it from continuing to the end of this century.  Right now we have drought (from northeast India westward to the Mediterranean, in the United States southwest, in northeast and southcentral Africa, Australia, and in northwest China).  Everywhere aquifers are being exhausted1, glaciers are retreating, and snow pack is thinning.  By the end of this century, we will have flooding of coastal cities.

3. The history of humanity is that when populations approach the carrying capacity of their environments, violence ensues, social order is broken, and elites are brought down.  This is what is happening in the portions of the Mideast and Africa right now, and is likely to get worse (there are four genocidal wars in progress).  This is our nature, and it is Nature’s way of telling us that there are too many of us.

4. The article smacks of “if I am dictator of the world” thinking.  The author believes himself to be a rational man in possession of the facts.  If people will just do what he tells them to do, everything will be fine.  Sadly, humanity is not sufficiently politically coherent at a global level for any such scheme to work.  As individuals, as tribes, as nations, we will always act as what we think is our best interest.  When competition for resources increases, we restrict who we consider “us,” and expand those we consider “them.”

In second email, Mike added: I would add that Europe needs to isolate itself in some way from Mid-East and African refugees.  The refugees coming across the Mediterranean are Sub-Saharan Africans who used to be blocked by Libya, when it was a functioning nation.   What is sad about this is that the refugees are often the best people from the population, the ones who realized it was time to get out, and had the guts to try it.  The problem for us, and the Europeans, is how do you assimilate them?  Particularly when they do not want to be assimilated.

 1There appears to be an untapped aquifer beneath the Sahara.  It is, nonetheless, a finite resource.


  1. […] Is there a population problem on earth or is that a silly worry? […]

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