Overpopulation Fuels Climate Change: Breeding Ourselves to Extinction

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By Dady Chery and Gilbert Mercier

The United Nations has held countless meetings on climate change, at great consumption of fuel, that have amounted to nothing but reports and promises of more talk. After many of these alarming reports, in November 2014 the G20 leaders decided to throw several billions of dollars at the problem. Despite climate change denial becoming incorrect, as long as a discussion of overpopulation, in the context of climate change mitigation, remains a taboo, we may be sure that nothing will be achieved. If we are serious about reducing our carbon footprint, we must rethink the flawed capitalist concept of unending economic growth and consider reducing the number of human feet in the world. Overpopulation must be discussed in the context of climate change. A major impediment to this discussion has been the assumption that Africa and Asia would be the main targets for depopulation, with eugenics intent towards black and brown babies. In reality, there are too many human babies of all kinds: especially in industrialized countries with high rates of consumption.

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A time bomb on a short fuse

Earth’s current human population is 7.27 billion and it is increasing at a rate of more than one per second: so fast that this will make you dizzy. By the middle of any given day, for example, there are about 205,000 thousand births, compared to 84,000 thousand deaths. Superficially, Asia and Africa are the most populous continents in the world, with the 10 most populated countries being China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia and Japan. On the other hand, if we consider the human impact on greenhouse-gas emissions, the most heavily industrialized countries contribute more per capita to the burden of overpopulation on climate change. Specifically, in 2012, China, the US, and the European Union alone contributed about 56 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuels: 29 percent from China, 16 percent from the US, and 11 percent from the EU. India and Russia were a distant fourth and fifth, at respectively, six and five percent. The rest of the entire world only contributed 33 percent of the total carbon emission! This includes all of Africa, South and Central America, Australia, and all the less industrialized countries of Asia.

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According to Paul and Ann Ehrlich, who sounded the alarm about overpopulation several decades ago and have analyzed it for many years, “our species’ negative impact on our own life-support systems can be approximated by the equation: I = P x A x T.” In this equation (I), the impact of a population, is equal to its size (P), multiplied by the per-capita consumption (A), and finally also multiplied by the energy use (T) for the technologies to drive that consumption. By this analysis, the US is by far the most overpopulated country on the planet. The rapid growth in consumption by China and India, and the global aspiration to follow the US’ footsteps are terrifying and should have dire consequences within 25 years.

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The catastrophic scenario of eating oil

The human population should have crashed from famine in the 1970s but was rescued by modern science. In particular, Norman Borlaug’s green revolution allowed our consumption of food to rely more and more on fossil fuels than on solar energy. We have come to depend on industrial fertilizers that require vast amounts of oil for their production, plus a heavily mechanized agricultural industry that also consumes large quantities of hydrocarbons. Indeed, for many years, the patterns of food, fertilizer, and oil prices over time have been superimposable. Today we can say with confidence, for example, that it takes three quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef. Consequently, the idea of cheap oil has become regarded as a guarantee of affordable food. There are three problems with this notion: for one, oil is a finite resource; secondly, in a vicious cycle, cheap and abundant oil will, at best, postpone the inevitable human population crash to a much higher population; and finally, all the oil will eventually wind up in the atmosphere as CO2.

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According to a November 2014 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which projects the state of the planet and its energy resources to 2040, humans will not have to face a shortage of energy. The IEA projects, that by 2040, the world will consume greenhouse-contributing energy like oil, gas and coal, compared with so-called green energy like wind, solar, and nuclear, in a 1:1 ratio. A worldwide expansion of fracking is expected to keep carbon energy cheap and plentiful. This fact plus a projected two-billion-people increase on Earth mean that energy consumption would increase by 37 percent by 2040. This rate of growth and consumption implies a rapid increase of greenhouse-gas emissions, which in turn translates into a 3.6-degree Celsius global warming by the year 2100. This, according to the IEA report, is a “catastrophic scenario.”

Island Nation of Kiribati Affected by Climate Change

Breeding ourselves to extinction

About 20 years ago, when the human population was 5.7 billion, our species was already consuming 40 percent of the Earth’s primary productivity. In other words, 40 percent of the total solar energy converted to organic matter was being consumed by a single species. We are quickly approaching a tipping point in the planet’s sixth mass-extinction event, attributable to human folly. The planet simply cannot accommodate another human doubling. Whether or not there is sufficient hydrocarbon to permit such a doubling, it will be prevented by the ravages of climate-change events, such as floods, hurricanes and droughts due to global warming, by famines due to the disappearance of key members of our ecology like the bats and honeybees, and by infectious diseases, like Ebola, from human infringement on the habitats of other animals. Our runaway overpopulation, overconsumption, and our obsession with economic growth are carving a sure path to collective suicide.

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Procreation is still viewed as a being blessing and accomplishment, although this is an obsolete notion from an era when many hands were needed on a farm, and life expectancy was short, especially for women, many of whom died in childbirth, and for young children. In an overpopulated world, parenthood is an act of self indulgence: the ultimate act of selfishness against the society at large and even toward the children themselves, who are being delivered to a world in crisis. So far, the only country that has seriously tried to control its population has been China. For the 35 years from 1979 to 2014, China’s unpopular one-child policy helped to avert a population growth of more than 400 million. More recently, China’s capitalist ambitions to grow a domestic market for its goods have led it to relax this policy to allow two children per couple if either parent is an only child.

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Population control policy is needed globally and can be achieved without coercion. In most industrialized countries, parenthood currently comes with substantial tax breaks and an assortment of benefits. This must end. Instead, parenthood should be heavily taxed in proportion to the number of children, and adults without children should be those to receive the tax breaks. The notion that children are a burden to the community at large, and not a blessing, must become part of the discourse. Ultimately, this should become incorporated in the culture to such a degree that the sight of a mother or father with three or four children will become obscene. To have any future as a species, our population needs to drop, as does our consumption. We must challenge capitalism and adopt a degrowth model. If we are to make any progress on mitigation of climate change, we must urgently address the problem of overpopulation.

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Editor’s Notes: Dady Chery is the author of We Have Dared to Be Free, and Gilbert Mercier is the author of The Orwellian Empire. Photograph one by James Cridland; composites two and four by Adrian Kenyon; photographs five and eight by Liz; composite three from Carbon Visual archive; photograph six from UN Photo archive; photograph seven by Adam Wells; and photograph nine by JT.

 

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27 Responses to Overpopulation Fuels Climate Change: Breeding Ourselves to Extinction

  1. +10 Vote -1 Vote +1Steven Cohen
    November 15, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Good article. it is about time overpopulation and its negative effects are discussed more often.

  2. -17 Vote -1 Vote +1Jennie-Laure Sully
    November 15, 2014 at 7:51 am

    How do you define overpopulation? Is there an ideal population size in absolute terms for a given territory on this planet? What are the criterias to determine ideal population size? Are all the habitable areas of the world being used right now? In the absence of answers to these questions, the concept of overpopulation is problematic. I know that the authors are not trying to push eugenistic theories here… Unfortunately, what transpires from this article makes eugenics appear like a good idea.

    • Dady Chery
      +17 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 15, 2014 at 9:22 am

      No. We cannot afford to do the usual thing of throwing our hands up in the air and saying that the problem is “too complicated.” There is no question that one species’ consumption of 40 percent of the planet’s primary productivity represents overpopulation. Shall we decide that this should be 4 percent? If so, then our population should decline 10-fold. Very simple. What is a reasonable consumption for one species? Regardless of what we do, the human population will have to drop. We have a choice of achieving this via massive floods, famines, and pandemics of infectious disease, or via deliberate control of our own reproduction. Ideally, this should be done through a change in culture and disincentives to reproduce. Regardless… time is running out.

  3. -4 Vote -1 Vote +1Steve
    November 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Good article, but the writers are in denial about the only fix. Solar panels and contraception aren’t going to get us down to 1 billion. As the UN commissioned Global Biodiversity Assessment Report (Heywood & Watson, 1995) and updates have already determined, what is needed is to keep CO2 below 450 ppm and mean temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (pre-industrial levels). We either commit “collective suicide” slowly by doing business as usual or commit “collective suicide” the hard way. Also see UN World Economic and Social Survey 2011 and UN Agenda 21 for starters. Good luck, Komrades.

    • Dady Chery
      +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 15, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Yes, the IEA report is disingenuous. Carbon dioxide needs to be kept below 450 ppm and mean temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. To do this, we must first and foremost limit the hydrocarbons from the source: at their extraction. Period. Simultaneously we must decrease the human population (energy demand) and, not only stop dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, but also figure out ways to remove what is already there. The UN is a highly hypocritical and corrupt organization that writes its reports merely to blackmail governments into giving it money. While the UN is putting out all these reports, it is looking the other way and proposing a carbon tax as countries increase their carbon extraction and emissions. The UN just wants a cut of the action.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1Norman Trabulsy Jr
    November 15, 2014 at 9:36 am

    This is an important issue. Following the Erlichs for many decades, some of their predictions came true, others not so true. Yes, the world is overpopulated by humans. However, the number of people now extant on the world’s surface would be able to be accommodated sustainably if humanity were able to contribute to the success and viability of the world’s other species. By this I mean quite simply that if we were to have directed our energies into bettering the world in all fashions, maintaining the oceans, atmosphere, our terrestrial landscape, there would be an entirely different article written in News Junkie Post. The revolution must be in our mindset. Not only to keep our numbers at sustainable levels, but to see ourselves as part and parcel of GAIA, mother earth. Were we to get the world’s population down to 1 billion tomorrow, without changing our slash and burn and pillaging mentality, we would be no further down the road to sustainability.

    Until we see ourselves as part of the earth and not apart from it, the respect necessary for substantial change will have nothing to do with sheer numbers. It will only take us back a few squares on the board. Until we entirely reshape our moral responsibilities for our planet, population dynamics, science, and political “solutions” will only offer a band-aid to a gaping wound.

    • Dady Chery
      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 15, 2014 at 10:18 am

      I agree that people need to be gentler with the environment. Another way of saying this is that people need to decrease their consumption and consider that they share the planet with other living creatures: plants and animals. Even so, however you look at it, a population of more than 7 billion humans is unsustainable. Consumption -and- population have to decline. The Ehrlichs were correct. They could not have predicted Norman Borlaug’s green revolution of the 1970s (that emphasized a dependence on fossil fuels) when there was about to be population crash. The Borlaug revolution has merely deferred the crash to a much larger population. Borlaug himself said that the green revolution was supposed to give people time to achieve a sustainable population. Instead, people continued to breed as if there would always be a scientific fix to their runaway reproduction.

  5. Gilbert Mercier
    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
    November 15, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Editorial Note:

    News Junkie Post does not tolerate insulting or threatening comments towards our authors and readers. Do not bother writing them, they will not be posted. Please keep the discussion courteous. As a policy, we do not allow any links in our comments section.

  6. +11 Vote -1 Vote +1david spence
    November 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Finally an article that tells it how it is. I think most people realize that the world is massively overpopulated, and this needs to be addressed, but for the politicians and media it’s a taboo subject. I mean, it’s not hard, is it? Less people, less consumption. Part of the problem is our whole economies are built on the growth attitude, and this needs to change.

  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Common Ground
    November 16, 2014 at 12:18 am

    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function,” said physics professor Albert Bartlett. He also pointed out that: “Sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. “[S]mart growth” destroys the environment. And dumb growth destroys the environment. Now “smart growth” destroys the environment with good taste. So it’s a little like buying a ticket on the Titanic; if you’re smart, you go first class.

    Now that the world is on a scale of billions of people, the mantra to “be fruitful and multiply”, where “multiply” means double-in-population-every-few-decades, is irresponsible and unfeasible. Many developing countries are succeeding in raising their standard of living — as well they should. However, this is further multiplying the impact on the planet. The doubling will not go on much longer; the only question is whether we can stabilize or hopefully reduce population soon, while at least some of us still enjoy some quality of life — e.g. forests and fish.

    The U.N. recently increased their projections of human population to nearly 11 billion worldwide by the end of the century. Africa is expected to nearly quadruple from 1.1 billion today 4.2 billion by 2100. Unfortunately the U.N. does not project stabilization in their Medium or High Scenarios.

    Traditional economic growth, to the extent it seeks increasing consumption of natural “resources” or assimilation of waste, is simply not sustainable. Like with human population growth, “ordinary steady growth” (e.g., X percent per year) is exponential growth. By contrast, economic development is potentially sustainable. The question is how to thrive in a steady-state economy.

    Rescue by new jumps in agricultural output is unlikely. The slowing rise in grain yields since the mid-1990s, slowing just when GMOs were introduced after three-fold gains since the 1950s, reflects the limits of photosynthetic efficiency in a world with finite sunlight and arable land. Similarly insufficient is the so-called “smart” management of natural capital including other living creatures, like fisheries.

    Our efforts to boost productivity and to conserve — essentially to increase efficiencies — may yield fractional improvements and buy us some time, but they are subject to diminishing returns and often collateral consequences. Such efforts are futile if we don’t address the exponential component of human population growth.

    Meanwhile, roughly half of pregnancies are unintended, both domestically and abroad. Roughly 40% of these result in abortions: yes, roughly 40 percent of 50 percent = 20 percent of all conceptions end in abortion.

    A critical remedy: increase support for family planning, both international and domestic. Make it easily accessible to everyone. It’s cheap, it works, and there is huge unmet need for it.

  8. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Capt Cluster
    November 16, 2014 at 4:21 am

    As a newsjunkie, or ‘controversy addict’ might be more accurate, finding this web site can only deepen my addiction and lead me into a more pessimistic state of mind. But hell, WTF, if it’s inevitable, make the best of it.

    The situation penned out by this article reminds me of when I first discovered ‘the IPAT equation.’ Well worth looking into and yes, in my opinion, we are all doomed; at any rate our children are and nothing can be done to alleviate it until the rate of human reproduction is set at a much reduced level. Unfortunately, thanks to Human Rights, this can never happen in a democracy. It’s like giving farm animals the right to decide on the terms of their captivity, eventually the food will run out and everything will be covered in shit.

  9. -3 Vote -1 Vote +1David Crookall
    November 16, 2014 at 5:29 am

    Great article, Dady Chery and Gilbert Mercier. I do not wish to detract from it, but rather to ask how you square the ideas of Hans Rosling on population. Would love to hear your views. Thanks, David

    • Dady Chery
      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 16, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      Hi David, Thank you. We know the usual arguments that deny an overpopulation problem, and we have addressed them in our article. One could ask Rosling how his arguments square with ours, but that would not be the point. The issue is too important to be allowed to degenerate into a battle of the “experts.” We have made our arguments sufficiently clear about the urgency of this problem that they may be generally understood and, most importantly, acted upon. Best! Dady

  10. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1AMH
    November 16, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I’m certainly not close to being an expert in population control, although I agree we’re breeding ourselves to oblivion. In any case, isn’t the urge to reproduce part of the biological makeup of any species, including humans? All life is in competition; therefore, if a species does not have a genetic urge to make itself as numerous as possible, other species will tend to overtake it, and it will tend to decline. Thus, all species have a built-in propensity to destroy themselves by over-population rather than by competition from other species. If that’s true, what can we do about it?

    • Dady Chery
      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 16, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Actually, not all species breed themselves to extinction. Those that do are called “index species”, because their fossils may be used for accurate marking of a geological era. Humans could become one such species because we have no predators and no serious competition. On the other hand, we’ve had the birth-control pill since 1960. We must make a choice between an antiquated culture that regards children as being a “blessing” and a culture that is appropriate to the current situation.

  11. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
    November 16, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I remember reading back in 1968 Gordon Rattray Taylor’s “The Doomsday Book”. It begins by discussing an experiment with Drosophila, the fruit fly, because of how quickly they breed. As I remember it, a number of these tiny flies were put together in a test environment with food. Though I am opposed to animal experiments the flies multiplied at such a rate that in a short period of time they had consumed all the food and died in their own waste. Taylor used that experiment to warn about how the planet was going. Many of the sources of oxygen, the forests for example, are being removed to make way for a similar climate to that of the fruit flies. We are heading for disaster unless we voluntarily reduce the population, but not in the way the eugenicists would like.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Andrea Tosi
    November 16, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I am very grateful that this article was shared with me. I believe the subject of overpopulation falls in the category of sustainability and the much needed debate on what “sustainable” means. It is my wish to force the debate as well once we manage to capture the attention of the collective of activists, now still very divided and scattered. As I see solutions like the QuantE car (salt-water propulsion) and other technologies that could “warp” us out of oil consumption and use limitless energy sources, there must be solutions to solve population growth that can be discussed with the participation of the entire world of activists. The problem solving goes hand in hand with the creative solutions of concerned citizens of the world, who would hate to see this civilization self destruct after 3.5 billion years of evolution. We must make such subjects more available for debate but we shall overcome the problems of A: unite all movements and organizations committed to real progress and B: re-engage a distracted and apathetic populace.

  13. -9 Vote -1 Vote +1Lawrence Stewart
    November 16, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Wrong. By climate change you mean man made global warming. Wrong. Re overpopulation, wrong. The assumptions of Malthus are no longer valid. Better a denier than a liar.

    • Dady Chery
      +10 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      Malthus was absolutely correct about the fact that exponential growth of the human population cannot continue indefinitely if food cultivation is not also exponential (which is impossible on a finite planet with a limited area of arable land). This is simple mathematics. The Ehrlichs were also correct in predicting that a crash would come in the 1970s if things had continued as they were going. The Green Revolution, which basically consisted of a switch of humans from being solar powered to becoming oil powered (i.e. consuming the solar energy from earlier eras), has merely postponed the crash to a higher population. There is no new technological fix on the horizon. The human population cannot undergo another doubling.

  14. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Barry Krofchick
    November 19, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Kudos for raising the issue. It is almost pointless to talk about climate change caused by human generated carbon pollution if we never address the driving force behind all pollution problems – the human population bomb. If we had the foresight of a wolf pack we would understand that it is more important to safeguard the species by limiting our numbers than to breed like bacteria in a petri dish. One child per couple for 2 or 3 generations would painlessly alleviate our environmental and survival crises and give those not yet born a good chance at a decent life. 100000 generations of 2 billion good lives is far more optimal in all ways then 3 generations of 10 billion living most miserably followed by probable extinction.

  15. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1John Ost
    November 19, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Methane releases from the East Siberia Shelf of the Arctic Ocean, due to the warming Arctic Ocean has already added enough greenhouse gases to take Earth past 2 C warming, and the rate of release of methane into the atmosphere from the Arctic Ocean is increasing. I’d like to suggest some additional reading by the authors and then an update. For additional reading may I suggest Guy McPherson’s most recent update at his website.

    • Dady Chery
      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
      November 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      Indeed we are aware of the methane release from the permafrost, and one of us has already written on the anticipated 2 C rise. In any case, we feel that we are at a crisis point and there is an urgent need for some decisive action.

  16. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Ric Hirst
    November 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    How shall this be accomplished under the cruel, exploitative, murderous regime of capitalism? Stating a goal is admirable; however, one must not shrink from detailing the process of the means. Merely saying population must be reduced is a goal is not enough. Be brave: explain and lead the process.

  17. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Scott ffolliott
    November 19, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    “If we are to make any progress on mitigation of climate change, we must urgently address the problem of overpopulation.”

    ‘Neo-classical’ capitalism exploits all people. Unless and until we are able to face our deep dark truthful looking glass, we are simply rationalising analysis to flog our books, ideas and ourselves for pennies and prestige.

    ‘If we are to make any progress on mitigation of climate change, we must urgently address the problem of’ capitalism.

  18. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1John Ost
    November 20, 2014 at 9:00 am

    In a 2009 paper titled “Thermodynamic Considerations in Determining World Carrying capacity”, Scott Morton and M.P. Sharma addressed Earth’s human population carrying capacity. Each human is regarded as a heat engine. Earth can sustain about 770 million American fossil-fuel users or 3.8 billion non-fossil fuel users, using land and resources wisely.

    Tim Garrett, in another 2009 paper, asked if global warming is stoppable. His approach was to regard all production as a heat engine. Civilization is a heat engine. Without production civilization collapses. At the time of the paper, he thought that a collapse of civilization could stop global warming. Most recently, he stated to McPherson that neither a collapse of civilization and/or shrinking the human population can stop global warming.

  19. Dady Chery
    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
    November 21, 2014 at 2:03 am

    In other words, U.S. fossil-fuel users consume about five times more energy per capita than non-fossil fuel users, and the current U.S. population of 323 million fossil-fuel users has the impact of a population of 1.6 billion non-fossil fuel users. Food for thought… Thank you for these important calculations. As Garrett now says, we’ve probably passed the tipping point with regard to the 2 C warming and civilization collapse. Even so, a shrunk population ought to alleviate a crash, and this might make an important difference in whether our species can recover from this crash.

  20. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Jacqueline Muth
    November 23, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    As nothing more than top of the food chain animals we are the worst thing that ever happened to biodiversity and the ecological health of this once magnificent globe. The World Wildlife Fund reports since the ’70’s we have lost almost half of the world’s wildlife population. Our baby fever compulsion will continue on its inexorable path to mono-speciesism until we finally succeed in f..king ourselves right out of a place at the dinner table too. We have already gone past the point of no return. Bringing innocent children into this madness is a bald act of selfishness. Not even the plutocrats will be able to save themselves when GAIA aborts.

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