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Debate Continues to Rage Over How Much of a Population the Earth Can Sustain

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I don’t think I’ve read a piece from the South China Morning Post or from Martin Williams but this one is definitely worth your time.  It is one of the few even-keeled and easy articles on population out there. And while I’m pretty convinced that people need to accept that catastrophe is imminent in our current state of growth, I appreciate that Williams is offering up different perspectives. Ultimately landing on needing a huge change in policy and outlook. But this is a very digestible piece for anyone that addresses many of the issues people have when they are confronted with the population discussion.

After writing about climate change, Williams was advised by Dr. James Lazell to do a piece on overpopulation. He took the challenge but was fully aware that, “this seems a thornier issue for conservation than even climate change, as debates can feature religion, racism, eugenics and genocide.” It’s sad, but true. As much as the conversation needs to be about the environment, it has gotten a bad wrap that has kept many scholars and journalists from a productive discussion.

But as Lazell appropriately told Williams, “Overpopulation is the Mother of All our Problems…” There just aren't many social and environmental crises that haven't been made worse by population growth. So we’d better learn how to start talking about this.  

Williams then goes all the way back to make a quick reference to Malthus and illustrate just how long this has been a looming issue. He talks about The Population Bomb (and mistakenly refers to Anna Ehrlich—unless I’m mistaken) and brings up Julian Simon as well. Between all the doomsday talk and dismal predictions it has been easy for people to discredit them as hysterical, extreme, and false. “To some people, this shows Malthus and the Ehrlichs were just plain wrong. Others – like Lazell – instead believe that in time they will be proved right, and it is only unforeseen events like the industrial revolution and the “green revolution” that helped feed many more people and stave off catastrophe.”

But even so, are these sustainable solutions? Not exactly. And Wilson is seeing this first hand in Hong Kong. He references the report put out by the WWF that measures our human footprint…and what the report lacks. “WWF-Hong Kong gave recommendations for how to live more sustainably, such as taking public transport and buying efficient appliances. But one recommendation was notably absent: ‘Have fewer children.’”

He notes that taking a stance on population is just too controversial for people to get involved but it's clear that something has to happen. And soon. And we cannot depend on technology to fix it. We need to make the changes. “Overpopulation is an issue with no easy solution, though education and access to contraception are important: every sperm is not sacred! It is not something to be downplayed, with the foolish belief that we can always rely on our ingenuity to avoid calamity.”

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  • Mike Hanauer
    Mike Hanauer Wednesday, 28 May 2014

    Two thoughts I would like to share.

      I think waiting around for the catastrophe to prove overpopulation is a problem, is a problem. We need to show how quality of life is degrading right now.
      I think that the technology to fix overpopulation is here, is cheap, and is benign (unlike most technology). We just need to decide to talk about it and do it.

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