"We have entered the Century of the Environment,
January 16, 2002 3:19 PM   Subscribe

"We have entered the Century of the Environment, in which the immediate future is usefully conceived as a bottleneck: science and technology, combined with foresight and moral courage, must see us through it and out."

Or so says Edward O. Wilson in February's Scientific American. Consumption and production can NOT be infinite, no matter what "near-horizon timelines" predict. But will capitalism rise to the occasion and will the free market fix the wrongs it's committed?
posted by taumeson (18 comments total)
For every person in the world to reach present U.S. levels of consumption with existing technology would require four more planet Earths.

Remember capitalism is not self correcting.
posted by onegoodmove at 3:29 PM on January 16, 2002

One of the biggest conservations ideas, IMHO, was hardly breached in this essay. We have basically passed the point at which the Earth can renew itself (sometime around 1978, actually). But birth rates have remained high. Population control is a valid and important step to conservation, but the U.S. considers it immoral. Without the backing of the U.S., however, there will never be a push towards population control. Not until it becomes nigh too late.
posted by taumeson at 3:43 PM on January 16, 2002

Population control is a valid and important step to conservation, but the U.S. considers it immoral. Without the backing of the U.S., however, there will never be a push towards population control. Not until it becomes nigh too late.

Where exactly does the US get the blame for over-population of the world? Are we to start telling people how to breed now? Where do you get this shit, precisely please?
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2002

Population control is a valid and important step to conservation, but the U.S. considers it immoral.

I'm not at all clear about who you mean here by "the U.S.". Are you talking about the current administration's refusal to fund family planning services overseas if they offer abortion information? While there's certainly plenty of controversy over abortion and the so-called "morning-after pill", the average American has little to no objections over the use of condoms, diaphragms, birth-control pills, and other methods of preventing pregnancy. And I'd strongly challenge your assertion that there will be no push towards birth control without the US; China and India both have massive programs underway that've been in place for many years.
posted by MrBaliHai at 4:04 PM on January 16, 2002

if you put your faith in the 'free market' ( whatever that is) to solve environmental concerns, i suspect you may be disappointed.
posted by quarsan at 4:26 PM on January 16, 2002

if you put your faith in the 'free market' ( whatever that is) to solve environmental concerns, i suspect you may be disappointed.

That's exactly right, unless someone finds a way to make it profitable. And, economically speaking, it would have to be more profitable than other options. If you find out how to do this, let me know.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:15 PM on January 16, 2002

Ufez: Pollution Credit Trading is the example that instantly springs to mind. Another is the CAFE system for fuel efficiency - car makers currently sell small fuel-efficient cars at a loss to bump up their overall fleet mileage and avoid fines.
posted by jaek at 5:58 PM on January 16, 2002

No, I'm not saying the U.S. gets the blame for over populating the world...I didn't come anywhere near to suggesting that. I'm saying that, like many international policies, without U.S. backing, population control measures will never hit the big time, like, say, anti-piracy measures.....

And I know that the U.S. is not against planned parenthood, where birth-control measures are squarely placed under...but it's against the idea of POPULATION CONTROL. CONTROL of the rights of its citizens to increase the POPULATION....i.e. give birth.

And by the U.S., I mean exactly that...the U.S. society.
posted by taumeson at 6:03 PM on January 16, 2002

i think most people agree there's enough food for everybody, but it brings up the capitalist bugaboo of (re)distribution. the flip side of that is resource conflict and inevitable (if resources don't equilibrate) population movements.

i think this type of global consciousness is really what globalization is about. if the earth is no longer a big sink, people have to be more aware of what's going on in other places, which informs their actions accordingly.

it's great that people like wilson are trying to "raise consciousness" but understandably there are entrenched interests who stand to (from a limited perspective) lose out in the globalization game. educating people on "science and technology, combined with foresight and moral courage" then seems to be a good first approximation of the solution.
posted by kliuless at 6:30 PM on January 16, 2002

taumeson - I'm not saying the U.S. gets the blame for over populating the world

Yes, you did. I'm not trying to highjack the thread, here, being as the theories concerning populous consumption and willed control are implied and spoken of in the link. But, you did say that without US backing, there will never be a push towards population control. Hence, the US is responsable for world population growth. The direct result is that the three countries which have populations over one billion (half the worlds population) will not counter that growth unless the US controls their fate in doing so. If we (the accountable US in control) give them free reign to breed as they will, we are to blame for the increasing population and the negative results of it. Think it through, and yes, you did lay over-population squarely in the lap of the US. You, taumeson, are the one who equated population control with the control of rights to procreate. And you've just hit on the very bugaboo which faces all nations: the rights of the individual to breed against the needs of the species to have resource to survive. I ask again, how in the hell is the US in any way responsable for controlling or dictating that quandry to another nation?
posted by Wulfgar! at 7:23 PM on January 16, 2002

Jaek -- Those examples only point towards people/companies trying to weasle their way around regulations, which does nothing to help the environment, and little if nothing to slow the destruction of it. What I'm referring to is people making profit off of cleaning up the environment, which is not going to happen soon.

However, Ecnomically speaking, disasters such as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill are good for the economy. The clean-up put billions of dollars into the GDP, thus stimulating the economy. So, i guess we should hail them as heroes in a time of recession, no? (sarcasm, folks)
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:58 PM on January 16, 2002

um, i don't want to answer for taumeson but i think it helps to clarify what you mean by "population control." i really like what wilson had to say about it!
The decline in global population growth is attributable to three interlocking social forces: the globalization of an economy driven by science and technology, the consequent implosion of rural populations into cities, and, as a result of globalization and urban implosion, the empowerment of women. The freeing of women socially and economically results in fewer children. Reduced reproduction by female choice can be thought a fortunate, indeed almost miraculous, gift of human nature to future generations. It could have gone the other way: women, more prosperous and less shackled, could have chosen the satisfactions of a larger brood. They did the opposite. They opted for a smaller number of quality children, who can be raised with better health and education, over a larger family. They simultaneously chose better, more secure lives for themselves. The tendency appears to be very widespread, if not universal. Its importance cannot be overstated. Social commentators often remark that humanity is endangered by its own instincts, such as tribalism, aggression, and personal greed. Demographers of the future will, I believe, point out that on the other hand humanity was saved by this one quirk in the maternal instinct.
"freeing of women socially and economically" might be interpreted as a responsibility of the US under the general rubric of democratization. just saying :)
posted by kliuless at 8:03 PM on January 16, 2002

That's a pretty good point of view kliuless, though that wasn't where I was going with this.

The jump of "US won't back population control" to "it's their responsibility to back population control" is a big one. Every country's people have their own reasons for breeding or not breeding, and it tends to change depending on what country you're dealing with. The US is responsible for none of these countries, nor their people, nor their actions.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of countries follow the policy decisions of the US. Without the US giving a big push for population control, many countries will not make it official policy. Of course, those 3 countries with populations greater than 1 billion (India, China, and??? the US is number 3, with about 278,058,881 people) so aherm...those 2 countries with greater than 1 billion people have their own adaptations to this fact. They institute population control policies. Those are in no way international policies.

The point of this is that many environmental policies affect us all, because of the nature of the environment. This should be one of those policies, and it won't be, and it's not the responsibility of the US to make it so...however, without US cooperation, it's unlikely that it will become so.
posted by taumeson at 9:11 PM on January 16, 2002

The US doesn't need a policy for population control, because our population is shrinking. Well, if you don't count immigration, which is a reasonable thing to do.

Furthermore, the economics of child-rearing in the US (and the West in general) are totally different from those in poor countries. Here, children are expensive to raise and don't generally help take care of you when you're older. In most poor countries, children aren't particularly expensive to raise, a fair number of them die before growing up, and they start contributing economically to the family at an early age.

Any push by the US for population control is going to be along the lines of "We don't think brown people should have so many children," and as such is not something most Americans are comfortable with.

Unfortunately, it looks like AIDS may take care of the overpopulation problem for us. Or rather, them.
posted by jaek at 10:06 PM on January 16, 2002

Nothing will be done until
a) It's too late
b) It's profitable
c) The alien come to slap us for being bad

We humans are very bad at understanding how growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion are affecting the planet. Worse than that, we don't like bad news, after more than 100 years of extraordinary growth (in many senses), we're still waiting for the magic trick that would allow us to continue our growth for ever.

We are an "in the face", "right now" species (sorry, my English is not that good, I hope you know what I mean).

Personally I think we are in an overshoot situation. But what the heck, the market will save us!

Call me pesimist, doomsayer and neomalthusian, but I think that sooner or later, the limits of the planet will knock at out door!
posted by samelborp at 11:52 PM on January 16, 2002

Capitalism is not the problem... Government regulation.
posted by stbalbach at 4:45 AM on January 17, 2002

thank's stalbach for that well reasoned argument.

especially like the elipses that show you're too lazy even to write down the argument.
posted by zpousman at 2:24 PM on January 17, 2002

I dont need to make an argument. The original poster made no argument. He just said the free-market is to blame as fact. Well.. fact is, government regulation is to blame. Two can play this game.
posted by stbalbach at 10:51 PM on January 17, 2002

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