Put your money where your Malthus
May 14, 2018 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Wizards, following Borlaug’s model, unveil technological fixes [to global population increase]; Prophets, looking to Vogt, decry the consequences of our heedlessness.
Charles Mann with a long read on whether Earth can support 10 billion people.
posted by Rumple (51 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Wizard And The Prophet is such a great book.
posted by twoplussix at 12:32 PM on May 14


The Earth might well support 1010 humans, but I mourn for all the other inhabitants of this planet whose existence will suffer or cease because of our insatiable need.
posted by bouvin at 12:40 PM on May 14 [20 favorites]


The implication is that when my daughter is my age, a sizable percentage of the world’s 10 billion people will be middle-class.

That sort of depends on how the ongoing migration of wealth upwards shakes-out, though, doesn't it? I mean, it's also possible that, by 2050, most of the world will be divided into lower-classes vs. wealthy, with nary an actual, functional middle class to speak of. Or, maybe we just re-define "middle class" a bit lower on the ladder?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:43 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


While I'm still reading the article, I'll just toss this extra fun into the discussion for people...

"There's No Tomorrow".
posted by evilangela at 12:54 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I wish the article had addressed the potential of lab-grown or otherwise "artificial" meat with regard to this discussion. It seems like the ideal solution to the crux of the conflict ("innovate to find solutions" vs. "use less resources"). If large portions of meat production could be shifted to much less resource-intensive methods, it would solve many problems.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:47 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


even if C4 rice runs into insurmountable obstacles, it is not the only biological moonshot.

I mean, I know C4 rice is supposed to be good, but I don't think it's going to grow on the moon.

If it does suddenly increase rice yields by 30%, then accounting for rice making up roughly a quarter of grain crops, that will at one stroke provide several years' worth of the constant yield improvements we've come to expect since the green revolution. They've already been working on it for more than 20 years, of course.

It seems disingenuous to suggest that "wizards" and "prophets" are fighting for control of the steering wheel of this metaphorical bus speeding towards a cliff. The wizards are at the wheel, the prophets are sitting in the back row trying to fashion parachutes out of the seat cushions.
posted by sfenders at 1:54 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Can Earth support 10 billion people?

I get it's an important question to ask whether it can, but nobody seems to be asking whether it should.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:43 PM on May 14 [18 favorites]


but nobody seems to be asking whether it should.

The only people who have the right to answer this question haven't been born yet.
posted by FJT at 2:47 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Them and the 2.5 billion mothers that will carry their births too.
posted by FJT at 2:52 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


The only people who have the right to answer this question haven't been born yet.

On the contrary, if it were somehow possible for humanity to consciously take a decision on that question, it should have been done 30 years ago. It's getting a bit late at this point, demographically speaking.
posted by sfenders at 3:04 PM on May 14 [10 favorites]


I get it's an important question to ask whether it can, but nobody seems to be asking whether it should.

Don't give this user the infinity stones.
posted by GuyZero at 3:10 PM on May 14 [11 favorites]


Why don't we let women decide for themselves? Speaking of, can we get some universal healthcare and sex ed? I'm sure we could do a lot for this so-called population bomb if we just empowered women but all the people in charge seem to want to do is make dire predictions and vague threats.
posted by domo at 3:14 PM on May 14 [22 favorites]


If large portions of meat production could be shifted to much less resource-intensive methods, it would solve many problems.

My gut feeling is that it would that be easier to make plants (and other non-meat materials) taste/look/feel more like meat (e.g., Impossible burger) and then market the hell out of it.
posted by FJT at 3:45 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Water, of course, is the problem. There is only a fixed amount on the planet and no way of getting or making any more. Meanwhile population is growing exponentially. There were 2.2 billion people when I was born. Population has tripled since then; if this rate continues, there will be something like 22 billion by the time my grandchildren reach my age. Impossible with current water supplies and many other reasons. Increased standard of living does not really seem to be kicking in. Instead we have what Karl Marx predicted: the absolute impoverishment of the working class.
posted by charlesminus at 3:55 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


The rate won't continue. It's anticipated that we'll never go above 12 billion, period. More and more countries are leveling off to "replacement" levels of childbearing as they modernize.

The concern now is not runaway population, but lifestyle inflation. Our planet is being trashed by maybe 1 billion living well-off, relatively speaking. What happens when everyone in the world wants a car, or a flat-screen TV?

At some point, much sooner than later, we need to put the cost of externalities into our products. Meat should cost more, plastic should cost more, non-renewable energy should cost more, etc.
posted by explosion at 4:06 PM on May 14 [15 favorites]


Sure, the Earth could support 10 billion people -- for about a hot minute.

And I do mean hot.
posted by jamjam at 4:06 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


The inevitable pandemics should curb these figures a bit.
posted by agregoli at 4:19 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, let's all take a moment to appreciate this post's brilliant title. Exceptionally well played, Rumple...
posted by PhineasGage at 4:38 PM on May 14 [17 favorites]


The article posits an artificial dichotomy in order to create interest. The reality is, there are no clear-cut divisions between the so-called "Prophets" and "Wizards". Both sides have acknowledged strengths and weaknesses of the other position. Both sides have cooperated on research. For instance, the University of Minnesota, where Prof. Borlaug got his degree, has partnered with the Land Institute, General Mills, and local farmers in the development of kernza.

My neighbor's the former agribusiness editor of a major Midwestern paper and a fellow of an agricultural think tank. I've worked in agriculture and now work for a major land grant research university. We've worked and talked with people in the business of agriculture: the researchers, the farmers, the major players in agribusiness.

And everyone in the business is acutely aware of the danger to our food stability in the face of ever new and newly-evolving crop threats. You know what scares the hell out of everyone? The fear of another new and uncontrollable threat to the food supply. A new virus. A newly introduced insect or fungus. Anything that could and would lead to successive massive crop failures before, hopefully, we'd find an effective control.

The reality is, when it comes to our primary food crops (soybeans, rice, corn) we are two crop failures away from a worldwide food crisis. We depend on science to find the solution, and find it fast. But what will happen when that doesn't happen?

The "Wizards" know that lives hang by their ability to keep up. And they're scared, because the first or second time they can't do it, we're in big trouble. So yeah - they're open to new ideas, because anything that helps reduce potential risks and increase potential solutions is A Good Thing.

Incidentally, Mother Nature has an ironic sense of humor. One of her "solutions" to the developed world's preference for a high-meat diet is the spread of the Lone Star Tick and the resulting increase in the numbers of persons afflicted with alpha-gal allergy, which causes the victims to become highly allergic to and unable to safely consume beef, pork, and dairy products.

In the end, it comes down to people realizing that the single biggest affirmative act they can do for the world is to not have children. People have to acknowledge that in terms of helping the environment, bicycling, recycling cardboard and not using plastic bags is nothing compared to the benefit from not having children.

Sorry, but that's the reality.
posted by Lunaloon at 4:40 PM on May 14 [27 favorites]


The only people who have the right to answer this question haven't been born yet.

I suppose having the theoretical people of the future solve the enormous problems we're anticipating today has always worked out quite well.

Modest Proposal: There are already too goddamn many people. If every Malthus-loving pearl clutcher could go ahead and not themselves reproduce, that would be a start.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:44 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


it comes down to people realizing that the single biggest affirmative act they can do for the world is to not have children

I'd suggest that whether this is true very much depends on how many other people refrain from having children and who those people are.
posted by howfar at 4:49 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Plot the trends of BFR & Spotmini. Emigrate all you billions, emigrate.
posted by sammyo at 4:50 PM on May 14


I strongly feel that we've entered an area that is best described as "the only way out is through". We've left behind any chance of solving the issues that we're facing in any method other than developing new technology. Even if we were to somehow alter peoples' preferences and behaviors on a massive scale, there are entirely too many issues we'll be facing soon to "back out" of the situation. Food is not produced sustainably, for example - if population went static, we'll still run out of the ability to keep producing enough food due to resource use.

We don't yet have the means to produce enough energy for everyone via renewables, and non-renewable sources are not going to last that much longer at the current pace.

And of course, we have global warming. Staying under 2 degrees C is already a long shot.

The "wizards" have to come up some big time solutions, combined with people listening more to the "prophets".

It really seems like we are destined for either the blossoming of incredible technologies, or a collapse to a pre-industrial civilization with so few natural resources still accessible and usable that developing again could well never happen.

The most amazing part is that the race between those two outcomes is close that we can't tell which is going to win.
posted by evilangela at 5:12 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Most of the"Wizards" would be doing other things if it weren't for the "Prophets" raising consciousness (and hence funding as well). This is why "Climate Change Deniers", aka "False Prophets" are such a problem.
posted by Rumple at 5:28 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]



Modest Proposal: There are already too goddamn many people. If every Malthus-loving pearl clutcher could go ahead and not themselves reproduce, that would be a start.


A false start, I'm afraid, because all the food, water, housing, and other limited resources which would have gone to the presumably relatively abstemious offspring of the Malthusians would devolve instead to Full Earthers, and you'd actually see a bigger population increase in that generation than if the Malthusians had reproduced.

What the Malthusians should really be doing is having as many children as they can possibly afford, but making sure they are exclusively male, so that they would help tip the population even more toward males, thereby reducing the relative, and in a constrained world such as ours, also the absolute numbers of humans who can produce another human -- aka females.

And that would also have the knock on effect of making wars more frequent and more intense, and then you're talking some serious population reduction.
posted by jamjam at 5:33 PM on May 14


The implication is that when my daughter is my age, a sizable percentage of the world’s 10 billion people will be middle-class.

I have a 7 year old, and I am preparing him for a future of eating weeds and cutting up rat meat with broken CD-Rs. Seems vastly more realistic.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:12 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Of course the idea that earth can support an infinite number of people would be anti-materialist, but the reality is that the issue is distribution. Attempts to argue that the poors are having too many kids are ridiculous class-ignorant arguments.

There are already enough calories and nutrients produced worldwide to ensure everyone's needs in that regard are met. Water too is always an issue, but people don't die of thirst because there isn't enough water, they die because they can't access that water because someone else managed to claim ownership of it, often using vast quantities in industry etc.

Yes I do believe you can do good for the world by having less or no children, but policing people's, especially women's, decisions to have children is not the answer. The answer is redistributing the world's resources more equitably, ensuring contraceptive access and information, and reducing the poverty conditions that tend to lead people to have more children. Here and here are two key articles that I found very enlightening in regard to the way the myth of overpopulation is presented.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:43 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


the maxnumber of people who could survive on the average yeild if evenly distrubuted is nearly irrelevant: weather is variable and getting more so, the worst year will determine the population, and not as a simple numerical cap: if you lock 10 people in a room for a year with only enough food for 7, you won't have 7 alive at the end of the year, worse, the room will be in pretty bad shape and unlikely to support even 7 next year. Scared hungry hominids with guns and cars... C4 rice won't solve this.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:00 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Mann in the OP: "To Wizards, the idea of making farms diverse in a way that mimics natural ecosystems is hooey: only hyperintensive, industrial-scale agriculture using superproductive genetically modified crops can feed tomorrow’s world."
This is bullshit, Mann here is showing both his fundamental lack of contextual knowledge and bias here. The principles of modern Integrated Pest Management very much do involve both considering farm fields as ecosystems and mimicking natural ecosystems with tools from natural systems. Its not just obvious, its good business, at least when it involves good science and economically sustainable practices.
turbid dahlia: "I get it's an important question to ask whether it can, but nobody seems to be asking whether it should."
This, really, I think is the salient difference. The different relationship that each of these men had to both despair and empathy, and how that relationship shaped their ability and willingness to give a damn about their neighbors. Just how easy it can be to get seemingly lovely liberals to wish for genocide, because there really isn't any other word that could describe what you are implying as something that should be considered, is terrifying. Questions of whether we as a global community should exert agency over the question of how many people there are on Earth beyond what is already being done to provide family planning options and agency to women,reducing infant mortality, and raise literacy rates are inescapably questions of genocide - just like questions of whether or not its a good thing that Borlaug's work saved a billion lives.

What exactly would the plan be? I imagine you're not thinking 20th century style camps with ovens, but the meaningful alternative to Borlaug's work would have been far worse. The staple crop strains that Norman Borlaug developed, prevented what would have been by far the greatest genocide in human history - dwarfing all of the wars of the last thousand years. What he did was stop the logical and seemingly inevitable conclusion of the five hundred years of brutal naked theft that was colonialism, which emptied the resources of societies, colliding with the benefits of germ theory. Fuck nuclear fire, the world without the Green Revolution being envisioned here is the worst conceivable timeline. It is a world where only the white wealthy west would have both the agricultural resources to survive and the military resources to protect them. It is a world quickly filled only with bright shining white faces explaining away their agricultural wealth as representing some kind of inherent superiority and feeling good about their moral choices with regards to diet, where a great re-populating Generalplan Ost would have not only feel justifiable but inevitable and right in the ruins of anti-colonial failure.
Mann in the OP: "Seoul and Shanghai, Jaipur and Jakarta; shining skyscrapers, pricey hotels, traffic-jammed streets ablaze with neon—all were built atop a foundation of laboratory-bred rice. Were the Prophets disproved? Was carrying capacity a chimera? No. As Vogt had predicted, the enormous jump in productivity led to enormous environmental damage: drained aquifers, fertilizer runoff, aquatic dead zones, and degraded and waterlogged soils."
The infantilizing despair that Volgt spent his career promoting in others is ultimately no less a white man's disease than the despair that drives the hard right to similarly brutal gaps in empathy, and its certainly rarely any less racist. In this article Mann kept his musing about the value of mass genocide in South East Asia politely abstract, but how exactly are we meant to somehow not see what he is suggesting here? That soil and water systems are ends in and of themselves rather than means to an end, and that the mass starvation of millions is a means worthy of consideration towards their end. Never-mind that he is wrong, and that the desperation and war that would have followed would have been far harder on the environment, this perspective is something far worse than merely incorrect or ignorant.

Thank God efforts like the IRRI's are no longer nearly as dependent on the humanity of wealthy white westerners as they once were, that the developing world is indeed developing whether Volgt's ideological descendants would prefer it to or not, and that the lives of the billions who will depend on the next Green Revolutions will not be in the hands of either Atlantic editors or mefites.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:13 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


beyond what is already being done to provide family planning options and agency to women,reducing infant mortality, and raise literacy rates

Yeah, beyond all that, what have the Romans ever done for us?
posted by sfenders at 4:26 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


These measures are getting us an Earth filled with 10 billion people. JAQing off over whether we "should" expect the Earth to support fewer people than economic, agricultural, and reproductive justice creates is necessarily suggesting other things.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:35 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Is it really genocidal to want to slow growth? We’re not talking about rounding up people currently alive. Humans are large, fierce predators: the ecosystem can only handle so many.
posted by michaelhoney at 4:39 AM on May 15


If large portions of meat production could be shifted to much less resource-intensive methods, it would solve many problems.

And resource intensive in this case isn't always what people think it is. Crop rotation is a very good thing for the soil (which, incidentally, is why farmers get "paid not to farm), and one of the best ways of handling fallow seasons that replenish the soil is to then allow your cattle to graze on the grass, and have the nuitrients the soil needs pass through the cow and be deposited back on the land. With proper management these cattle are less resource intensive than planting another year of the same row of vegetables that take the same nuitrients from the soil as they did the previous year. Yes, only 10% of the energy goes into the cattle themselves - but most of the rest goes into the soil.
posted by Francis at 4:41 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Is it really genocidal to want to slow growth? We’re not talking about rounding up people currently alive. Humans are large, fierce predators: the ecosystem can only handle so many.

Growth is slowing a lot as the world goes through the demographic transition; according to the 2017 world factbook only 105/224 countries have a total fertility rate in excess of replacement rate. But the other factor of growth is human lifespan and how many of us reach our natural lifespan.

10 Billion is where, if the anti-contraceptive lobby doesn't get its way, the population is projected to level out at. It's not because we are breeding like rabbits; women are on average having fewer babies than at literally any point in history. It's because we are transitioning from a species that needs 13 kids if we expect two to survive and reproduce to one where almost all the kids are expected to survive - and it takes society longer to adapt to this than it takes scientific research to enable it.
posted by Francis at 4:53 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Ah, Malthusian thinking. The bad idea that just won't die. Basically since Malthus put pen to paper, he has been wrong about everything that has happened since. (Although, ironically, he accurately described one component of societies that preceded him -- i.e. prior to the development of capitalist social relations in agriculture.)

The flaw in Malthusianism is this: yes, increasing population while holding every other factor constant will of course eventually result in a food shortage. However, this ceteris paribus assumption is fallacious. Population increase has effects on other social variables that react to it: land under cultivation, technological development, capital intensity, the choice of what crops are grown, employment, etc.

Indeed, the population growth variable is itself self-regulating. One people noticed (it took a couple generations) that, due to the epidemiological transition, it was no longer necessary to have several children to ensure that around two survive to adulthood, people started to have less children. The reason world population is still growing is that some less developed countries have yet to make this "discovery." But they surely will, just as every other country has before them. Thus the world population curve over time looks the way it does.

Due to Marxists' inclination to think carefully about these kinds of dynamic systems (and Marx's personal frequent, powerful and caustic interventions against Malthus), Marxists tend to be very good on countering Malthusianism. The articles that AnhydrousLove linked above are very good.

By the way, there are some eyebrow-raising factual assertions in the Atlantic article. I wonder how the author squares his assertion that "Farmers can’t plant much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable soil is already in use" with the reality that, for instance, in Europe and the US, the percentage of arable land has been falling over the past half century.

In the end, it comes down to people realizing that the single biggest affirmative act they can do for the world is to not have children.

Here we have Malthusianism again creeping in through the back (or perhaps the front?) door. Nobody has postulated an absolute limit on population that has been confirmed in practice as either causing widespread starvation, or having been the tipping point for qualitatively increased resource deprivation. Inequality and malnourishment exist under capitalism, independent of how many people exist on Earth.

I would submit that the "single biggest affirmative act" people can do for the world is organize to overthrow capitalism so that decisions about production can be made with factors other than profit in mind, a condition that is sorely needed in this era of increasing environmental concern.

Speaking of, can we get some universal healthcare and sex ed? I'm sure we could do a lot for this so-called population bomb if we just empowered women but all the people in charge seem to want to do is make dire predictions and vague threats.

Universal health care and sex ed are good things on their own terms. But they have little to do with the decline in population growth rates. Fertility rates started declining in more developed countries before chemical contraceptives became widely available, or robust welfare states existed.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:06 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


"Is it really genocidal to want to slow growth? We’re not talking about rounding up people currently alive. Humans are large, fierce predators: the ecosystem can only handle so many."
One major thing that this article declines to discuss in any detail is that economic, agricultural, medical, and reproductive justice is slowing growth. As women gain access to careers and family planning, children and especially girls gain access to literacy and education, families gain access to the medical care that reduces infant and maternal mortality, and as societies reduce extreme poverty; birth rates go down. The growth of the human population on Earth is slowing dramatically and is now leveling off around 10 billion, not in spite of the enormous progress we have made in addressing extreme poverty over the last decade, but because of it.

The alternative to the Green Revolution that would have led to contraction instead and that this article barely even names, famine, would not have meant rounding up people currently alive. The path to the much smaller and weaker Seoul, Shanghai, Jaipur, and Jakarta being proposed would have been much more ethically neat and easy to swallow while watching dry statistics about it unfold like any other show on TV. The means to these 'ecological' ends then that are being abstractly weighed here would have largely been the deaths of the infants and children who have now grown up to form the vibrant and now increasingly powerful societies we see today. What we are being expected to treat as acceptable discourse is still the idea that non-white children should have been murdered en mass so that Charles C. Mann can feel better about complex but solvable problems his daughter's generation will face, even if the slaughter we're discussing would have been decentralized and it would have been easy for everyone involved to point fingers at each other.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:20 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


10 Billion is where, if the anti-contraceptive lobby doesn't get its way, the population is projected to level out at.

Even most of the techno-optimists these days are pinning their hopes on it. It's roughly the best that can be hoped for, and won't happen without continued effort to limit population growth by encouraging the demographic transition where it isn't done yet.
posted by sfenders at 5:30 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I could spend hours and pages on this topic, but things i find hilarious

A)Some people can't think of or abide things that aren't genocide or forced sterilization that can reduce human reproduction rates and hence equate all efforts of regulation, incentives or female empowerment as totalitarean.
B) An article about the future of food and population, without considering massive disruption of climate change.
C) Poverty, inequality and consumer culture already impose a heavy burden on life-span and mortality: Increased productivity is a capitalist bait and switch, if workers don't own what they produce, whether they are BCE egyptian slaves with unimproved grains or GMO farmers on GPS tractors, they will only 'enjoy' what their masters give them.
D) How about we use existing knowledge and technology to achieve vogtian sustainability first and then hire wizzards to try to up the carrying capacity instead of gambling on a wizzard winning streak never ending while we decimate our life-support systems.
E) per article, we have massive calorie oer acre crops better than wheat/rice, but we'd rather imperil the environment and billions of people than tweak our cook-books.... uh, maybe this is not a problem about the physical world of soils and calories but the cultural world of egotism and status. If giving up your hamburger occasionally is such an affront to your rights and dignity that you imperil other peoples children, no world is safe from your whims and insatiable appetites
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 8:56 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


A)Some people can't think of or abide things that aren't genocide or forced sterilization that can reduce human reproduction rates and hence equate all efforts of regulation, incentives or female empowerment as totalitarean.

Alternatively some people realise that we are doing a most of what would reduce the human reproduction rate now, and reproduction rates are tumbling because of it. Which means it's already been factored in to the 10 billion figure. So people who are suggesting it either don't understand the issues or are suggesting a significant change to what we are currently doing. And the only significant changes on the table are totalitarian.

If you want incentives and female empowerment talk about those rather than population control. Incentives are barely possible to stack on the baseline (raising a kid is painful, expensive, and time consuming) and female empowerment is already being worked on hard.
posted by Francis at 9:33 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Alternatively some people realise that we are doing a most of what would reduce the human reproduction rate now

Even if we disregard the possibility of more imaginative schemes that do not involve genocide, and assert that everything possible is being done to combat poverty and improve women's rights, everywhere in the world where the fertility rate is still above 2.1, that still leaves the various low-birthrate developed nations governments going out of their way to provide incentives for their citizens to make babies for economic reasons. Luckily, it's almost always ineffective compared to the more salutary remedy of increased immigration.
posted by sfenders at 11:16 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


global free contraception
global free sex education
global free paternity testing
global free access to safe anonymous abortions
global free female secondary education
access to free trade zones conditioned on female autonomy, voting rights, property ownership rights, etc.

a monthly stipend for men and women while you have no children or a lesser stipend for having one child, or no stipend for having two, or a tax penalty for three or four etc.
Redistribution of wealth through progressive income and wealth taxes to pay to raise the wealth of the poorest families to enable better healthcare, longer and better education, the autonomy to leave abusive relationships, to purchase sustainable technologies, to decouple family success from child labor and family size, to provide safety and security for the lives and bodies of the poor, especially women and children.

I don't believe we've reached global saturation on this, indeed, I'm hard pressed to find a country or city that has reached saturation on this. I know, it would cost rich people and rich countries some money (gasp) and neither jesus nor the bill of rights nor adam smith obligates or encourages us to pursue these policies (gasp) but to say: well the choice is genocide or famine or high stakes technological gambling, 'cause were already doing all we can! I disagree with you.

Also, if we'd dealt with sustainability and renewability of soil, energy, our food systems and manufacturing decades ago, it could have been gradual, incremental, and gentle. But we were told we could have it all, that only communists and luddites had irrational fear of the better living through chemistry would unleash, that the creative destruction of the free market would solve all of this.... yeah, we could have made these problems easier but we were too busy conspicuously consuming the world to be bothered.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:20 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


> it could have been gradual, incremental, and gentle.

No, it could not. Population growth is exponential, and will outstrip any imaginable resources, and soon. Your first answer was the only answer.

Stop having babies, or we all die. So, we're all dead then.
posted by smcameron at 12:12 PM on May 15


a monthly stipend for men and women while you have no children or a lesser stipend for having one child, or no stipend for having two, or a tax penalty for three or four etc.

So, similar carrots/sticks as the One-child policy then.

I guess I'll start inflating all the balloons that say "IT'S A BOY!".
posted by FJT at 12:18 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


The idea that human population would stabilize at 10 billion was never anything but a hopeful fantasy, and has lately been abandoned even by the UN, which has every incentive to underestimate population growth, yet now projects population to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by the end of this century.
posted by jamjam at 1:19 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I mostly enjoyed the source book. I hadn't know that wheat rust was such the scourge prior to the Green Revolution. Post reading it, I do see aspects of these ideologies in non-environmental ways.

The author has a middle section that dives deeper on how these changes will effect us and our resources i.e. water, etc. If in a hurry, you can read just that section.
posted by BobtheThief at 2:59 PM on May 15


There's a good discussion and good links on the neo-Malthusian position previously on MetaFilter.
posted by Rumple at 4:27 PM on May 15


The means to these 'ecological' ends then that are being abstractly weighed here would have largely been the deaths of the infants and children who have now grown up to form the vibrant and now increasingly powerful societies we see today.

And lets not bandy words - the population control narrative has a lot in common with the fear of powerful non-white polities.

It's no coincidence that the Population Bomb came out when the colonist regimes finally collapsed. Nor is it a coincidence that white people mutter about the population explosion and resource depletion while looking at non-white nations. "Well if that style of Imperialism failed, maybe we can enacting a different way."

I also don't think it's any coincidence that this topic, which silently focuses on women's reproductive rights, has surfaced right after trending statements like "Women should be hung for having abortions" and "Women should be forced to redistribute sex". Left or Right the idea that women are things and problems to solve rather than humans is evidently contagious.
posted by happyroach at 5:48 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Meanwhile, the lab I head is looking at cutting positions due to the chronic underfunding of agricultural research in the US. We’re throwing away a system that it took generations to build so that we can give tax cuts to rich people.
posted by wintermind at 6:28 PM on May 15


It's no coincidence that the Population Bomb came out when the colonist regimes finally collapsed.

Colonialism has been on the decline since the ... 1820's? The 1960's population scare had more to do with the sudden increase in world population growth that happened to coincide with a sudden decrease of deaths by famine that happened to follow the green revolution.

That famine data suggests to me that poor old misunderstood Malthus was mostly right about this stuff from 1798 through 1950, that only then did reality depart from his theory. He didn't make prophecies about any future catastrophe; he pointed out the observable fact that population had a tendency to periodically outgrow agricultural productivity leading to famine. Only in the past 60 years or so has that reliably failed to happen for any length of time, and this good fortune isn't yet attributable to any slowing of population growth from already-strong 19th-century levels.

The green revolution has increased food supply fast enough to give humanity some Malthusian breathing room for once. So far we've used it to quadruple the world population, among many other astounding accomplishments, just as Malthus would have predicted. Let's not be in too much of a hurry to squander what's left.
posted by sfenders at 8:10 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I wanted to address the very legitimate and historically well founded concerns that environmentalist enthusiasm - for limiting total consumption to sustainable levels and encouraging population control to divide that sustainable consumption among fewer people and thus raise average material share per person - that this push not ignore, continue or exacerbate the exploitation or oppression of the poor and people of color as a scapegoats for the wests unwillingness to confront our past and current unsustainable over consumption and exploitive capitalism and colonial oppression

we could have and should have in the past and should now equally distributed among all peoples the benefits of the natural world and our labors to transform it into prosperity. we could have and should have and should now limit our consumption to that which can be sustained indefinately, we could have and should have and should now explore technologies that could increase the benefits we get from the same amount of material consumption and increase the amount of material consumption that we could engage in and we could have and should have and could now without violence or oppresion encourage and incentivize the reduction of the amount of consumption and pollution that we produce particularly among those people who consume and pollute the most. We could have and should have and should now encourage and incentivize but not compel nor violently enforce the reduction in the amount of additional offspring we bring into this world particularly among those who consume and pollute the most.

we could have and should have and should now pay reparations for past crimes abuses exploitation and inequality and going forward should distribute equally and fairly both labor and the prosperity produced in this world.

If we had undertaken these moral, environmental and political necessities in the past, we might be looking at a future where more people could live sustainably and prosperously in peace and equality.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 1:04 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


It is with great sadness and fear for the future that i relate my position on this issue.

Very few simulations of future crop yields under various emissions scenarios even with very optimistic parameters, ignoring ghg emissions from thawing permafrost and wrming soils, even those that assume the rapid buildout of negative emissions technologies can feed more than 3-5 billion people in their worst yielding years over the next 50 years. even if you can feed 8.5 billion people most years, the year in which you can only feed 3-5 billion people is the year that determines what life on earth is like for all the years after that year. Yes technology can make a difference, so can reducing pollution and consumption and reproduction rates, however no technology can scale fast enough and have a large enough effect and no crash course in personal frugality from consumption nor avoided fertility will ensure the feeding of all 7billion of us currently and soon to be alive for the forseable future, let alone 10 billion.

By commission or omission, many hundreds of millions of people will starve or die in conflicts, it didn't have to be this way, our choices can still influence how bad it is and how the pain is shared, but climate change has a lot of momentum, a lot of lag time, a lot of baked in change and the food insecurity it will produce will swamp conventional and sustainable agriculture alike.

for example spend 25 minutes on this (skip to start at 28 minutes in)
https://youtu.be/06ZkcOqT76M#t=28m37s
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 1:26 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


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