One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

Environmental Damage: The Overpopulation Indicator

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Environment: On all paths, disruption is imminent & preparation advisable.

Either we disrupt the economic system of a gradual path to transition from fossil fuels, extreme weather disrupts us, or most likely we deal with a mix of both disruptions.

We are living through many trends that simply cannot continue, and while there is competition for which trend reaching a tipping point will cause the greatest disruption over the next decade, the environment and rising CO2 levels will play a key role by 2030.

While some righteous environmentalists protest for everyone to embrace austerity and simply just stop burning fossil fuels, what is required is replacement infrastructure reliant on fossil fuels. In practice we can’t switch off until positive action replaces the need for fossil fuels, which is progressing too slowly in a failing effort to avoid disrupting economies and the establishment.

Reality is both the extreme weather events that further motivate action and those actions themselves will cause disruption, which will both combine with the disruption from AI and the collapse of economic Ponzi schemes.

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Population: Our greatest achievement may cause our demise.

Arguably mankind’s greatest achievement, the near eradication of infant mortality, has resulted in a population explosion resulting in overpopulation that we prefer not to mention, even though it may yet kill us. Technically we would not die from overpopulation itself, just as people don’t really die from “old age”, and the real risk is that an already present threat will be exacerbated and become fatal because through our greed we ignore overpopulation.

Unlike old age, the overpopulation risk factor could be avoided or reversed, we may be influenced by economists dependant on Ponzi schemes, the worlds’ largest corporations and billionaires who thrive off the resultant increases in inequality into believing that living conditions required by ever increasing population levels benefit everyone and not just those living in mansions.

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Cost of coal power vs renewables: China expanding coal while the suckers go green?

If coal fired power can no longer compete on price, then why is China building two new coal power plants per week? Is China somehow able to use coal fired electricity to gain a competitive advantage against western manufacturing which increasingly relies on “clean green” but more expensive energy, with the result that emissions and jobs are simply transferred to China?

The current politics of climate agreements encourage rich countries to offshore some emissions to those countries often forced to be more reliant coal and with higher emissions. Could we fix the problem of China syndrome emissions if there was the political will?

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Righteous environmentalism: an opium for the people concerned about climate.

There is a real need to protect the environment, and advocacy for the environment is great, but that advocacy can acquire traits of a religion, which at the extreme can even result in far-right eco-terrorism, and more in the mainstream can result in righteous environmentalism and embracing austerity and sacrifices as “an opium”.

The “righteous environmentalists” preach this austerity as necessary life of the future to an audience that just see the rich becoming even richer. This blindly serves an alternate agenda and needlessly alienates and disenfranchises much of the population. The result is do-nothing politicians to get re-elected instead of motivating voters for real action on climate change and electing leaders who will act.

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Ideal population of humans: How many people can, or should, each country, and the whole planet support?

It seems like the human population has forever been growing, but any analysis makes it clear growth must stop eventually at some level. The question becomes at what level should growth stop?

Do we go for the maximum possible people just before everything collapses, even if average living standards could be far better with a smaller population? With caged hens being farmed for eggs people advocate for a lower free-range population instead of denser living caged hens as it provides a better existence, but does anyone advocate against multinationals and politicians pushing for denser and denser housing for humans in order to allow bigger populations of humans for them to farm?

It seems to be accepted that global population growth should stop but claimed that countries who end population growth face economic disaster.

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COP27: Climate change action sabotage?

Reports from COP27 seems indicate the key initiative this year to make wealthy nations cover the cost of the damages poor nations will incur as a result of emissions that have main originated from those wealthy nations.

The proposal as it stands has a missing an essential piece, and trying to cover for that essential piece, appears most to likely to increase emissions, and move COP away from a focus on solving the climate crisis and instead toward just fighting over the cost.

This is a troubled look at the key flaw in what has been put forward and the real solution that should be in place.

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Overpopulation is when there when population cannot exist sustainably without damage to the environment.

Warnings of overpopulation often focus on the eventual starvation that could occur following environmental collapse, rather than the time bomb of declining living conditions for multiple species.

Although such a substantial human population existing unsustainably wreaks havoc on the planet, borrowing from the future though unsustainable agriculture can delay any starvation for decades.

However, as those who profit from overpopulation are sufficiently rich that they can improve their living conditions even as average resources per person declines, the wealthy will keep advocating "population growth is the path to prosperity". But can we risk becoming an Easter Island story by prioritising population growth to please the billionaires over a return to sustainability?

Environmental Damage: The Overpopulation Indicator

Overpopulation is when there when population cannot exist sustainably without damage to the environment.

Warnings of overpopulation often focus on the eventual starvation that could occur following environmental collapse, rather than the time bomb of declining living conditions for multiple species.

Although such a substantial human population existing unsustainably wreaks havoc on the planet, borrowing from the future though unsustainable agriculture can delay any starvation for decades.

However, as those who profit from overpopulation are sufficiently rich that they can improve their living conditions even as average resources per person declines, the wealthy will keep advocating "population growth is the path to prosperity". But can we risk becoming an Easter Island story by prioritising population growth to please the billionaires over a return to sustainability?

Synopsis: Unsustainably equals overpopulation and shouldn’t be ignored.

The carry capacity of the Earth for humans is determined by how those humans live.

Currently we have a system where round 2 billion people could exist sustainably with the typical living standard of the USA, provided the wealthiest 1% also dropped to the same level.

Or the entire population 8 billion people could almost all exist sustainably provided all but the wealthiest 1% adopted the typical lifestyle of those living in Bangladesh.

Yes, overall, in 2022 all 8 billion humans are existing without mass starvation though unsustainable agriculture, but without some dramatic change, even the current population of humans is resulting in a significant population decline for all of other species, or the threat of extinction.

Humanity cannot wait for a possible natural fall in population numbers to restore sustainability, but if humanity can sufficiently change how enough humans live, then we can increase the number of humans able to exist within the carrying capacity of the planet.

Ideally, we could use technology to decrease the footprint per person, but while this could solve the CO2 emissions problem, other aspects of environmental footprint are more complex. The result is that solutions come at an economic cost, and the greater the population, the higher the economic cost, in contrast to the fortunes of the wealthiest 1%, who enjoy greater prosperity the larger the global population.

Carrying Capacity: The Limit Before Environmental Degradation.

Definition.

Using starvation and food as an example, exceeding carrying capacity for food supplies would mean that while the current generation of individuals are not yet starving, ongoing food supplies for future generation are being damaged.

The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitatwater, and other necessities available in the environment

Wikipedia: Carrying capacity .

All species ‘damage’ the environment and have a ‘footprint’, but when the number of creatures is within the ‘carrying capacity’, the environment repairs itself at a rate equal to, or faster than, the rate of damage. Caterpillars eat the leaves of a tree, but if within carrying capacity, the leaves grow at a rate to ensure there will still be leaves. People can walk across the grass of a park, but unless too many people walk over the same path the grass survives.

This means the test for exceeding carrying capacity, is the presence of environmental damage that does not self-repair.

Under the definition of ‘overpopulation’ as ‘exceeding carrying capacity’, it is difficult to mount an argument that our species is not currently exceeding the carrying capacity of our planet. We have exceeded the maximum population size that the environment can sustain indefinitely, which in turn, degrades the environment. As the environment degrades, carrying capacity is further reduced.

Humans And Increasing Carrying Capacity

Although carrying capacity is still applicable with humans, the definition of carrying capacity as quoted was not designed with humans in mind. Humans introduce a new factor: the ability to change their impact on the environment, and therefore change the carrying capacity of the environment.

The reality is how many humans can the environment “sustain indefinitely” is significantly changed by how the humans behave. Clearly, without technology and advanced farming techniques, we could not even house and feed the current over 7 billion people on the planet. Our challenge is that technology that enables us to house and feed this number, does not at this time do so sustainably.

In fact, the very technology itself creates challenges to sustainability. In fact, if we consider cities with the latest in technology, and compare those with major cities with older technology, it is clear environmental impact is not decreasing. We are not getting better at living sustainably, so technology is not always a solution to the problem. No matter how we balance living ‘naturally’, which tends to support lower numbers of humans in a given area, against maximum use of technology, which supports more humans in a given area but has far reaching implications in terms of resources consumed and waste produced, we simply do not yet have a solution for housing the current human population in a sustainable manner.

Good News and Solutions.

Good news: the population explosion is ending.

The great Hans Rosling.

Simply put, the good news is that we have already largely tackled the biggest issue: birth rates that drive population growth. Despite this, as best explained by Hans Rosling, the population will continue to grow until the ‘pyramid’ for the entire globe becomes a rectangle. As long the greed for perpetual growth does not intervene, then population will start a very gradual decline. Later than ideal, as yes with a population already too large, but with an end to growth in reach.

With an end to population growth in sight there is some chance that technology can help improve sustainability, to a point where we can support the population of humans on the planet. How well we deal with this issue will determine the number of humans at the time we achieve sustainability again, and the living standard of the typical human at that time.

The solutions are simple and largely already well known:

  • move as quickly as possible to reduce environmental impact per person
  • ensure no disruption to current trends of birth rates
  • educate on the benefits of flat population or even gradual population reduction

The Legacy Of The Explosion.

Despite the good new of population now being able to be controlled, we have still undergone an unprecedented population explosion, which has left a legacy of world were existing sustainably is now an incredible challenge. Everything we can do to limit any further population growth and more to a planned and slow relaxing of the population pressure is essential, and must be combined with some dramatic steps to save the planet in the meantime.

Beware of Disinformation

There are active ‘voices’ declaring ‘overpopulation is a myth’. Declaring, we are not yet starving, so we are not overpopulated. Consider arguments raised to support this position, against the case that the symptom of exceeding carrying capacity is damage to the environment. Exceeding carrying capacity being ‘overpopulation’. We are overpopulated, and cannot survive if those pushing for further population growth, as a means to drive economic growth, have their way.

As put by leading environmentalist David Attenborough:

“But it is very alarming at the rate we’re going, and although people will say, ‘In the long run, we are going to stabilize’, they’re going to stabilize – as far as I can see – at a rather higher level than the Earth can really accommodate.”

David Attenborough on population. World Economic Forum

Further, consider the motivations of voices declaring ‘overpopulation is a myth’:

No matter where you stand on any of these issues, and I will discuss each one in further posts, each simply provides a reason for denying we are overpopulated. In other words, each is a reason for hiding the truth, rather than a dispute of the truth. In many cases, a self serving reason for hiding the truth, and I suggest hiding the truth is never a desirable solution to any problem.

Conclusion.

The evidence of that the sum of human population is damaging the global environment is overwhelming.

“For the past 20 years I’ve never had any doubt that the source of the Earth’s ills is overpopulation. I can’t go on saying this sort of thing and then fail to put my head above the parapet,” Attenborough told George

David Attenborough: New Scientist Interview with Alison George.

Basically, unless population growth maintains the lower end of current projections, the consequences will be dire. The answer lies in balancing the position of two greats, which I surmise as (not exactly their words)

  • don’t panic population growth is under control (Hans Rosling)
  • we need to do all we can to ensure population growth remains under control (David Attenborough)

updates:

  • 2021 March 10 : Commenced.