Bare Bones Biology 021 – Overpopulation II

I think the population conversation has reached the point where we can finally get together to start growing positive responses to our rather unpleasant problem. One reason I think this is because we now have a clear response from the corpo-political propaganda machine. We know what form their propaganda is taking, and so we can use it to develop a discussion of the true facts. Here’s the scoop.

One evening last week I watched three different videos that all claimed to be documentaries about overpopulation. One was right wing, one was left wing, and the third was from the BBC. The BBC program was quite good, a little wordy, but describing the problem realistically. They addressed the common concerns, and also the common excuses and misunderstandings, and pitched out some ideas about what we might want to do if we care about the future. Both the right-wing and the left-wing American programs made it clear that their respective propaganda machines – if they are indeed different machines – are gearing up. This is good news, of course. It means they feel threatened by the reality of the problem. But, talk about the elephant in the china shop, both right and left completely avoided discussion of the real problem.

And, to displace our energy on to subjects they do not care about, the right-wing documentary tried to pick a fight with the left wing, and the left-wing documentary tried to pick a fight with the right wing. They did this with emotional hooks, aint-it-awful games, and irrelevant issues. I don’t mean the issues are unimportant. The more important they are, these symptoms, the more they distract our attention from the basic illness – the basic cause of the problem. And it is like diseases. We can’t really cure any disease unless we deal with whatever caused it in the first place. Otherwise, the disease just gets worse. Neither of these documentaries talked about the disease. They both want us to do more of what caused the problem in the first place, and that is economic and population growth. That’s why I’m not recommending either of them to you. If you want to view the BBC series on Planet Earth, it is now available on DVD and the issue is discussed in the last two episodes.

Last week I pointed out that the energy for all economic and biological growth comes from the living earth ecosystem. Specifically from the plants. The earth can not grow any bigger than it is, and the plants cannot make any more organic energy than they can make. So, we are fine and dandy population-wise as long as there are fewer than 100 people for every 100 units of organic energy that the earth can produce. When there are more than 100 people for every 100 units, and when this level of population is already causing suffering, we cannot cure, or even help that suffering of the ecosystem by growing the world population or the world economy. It’s simple mathematics, and I find it amazing when some people claim the math is wrong and then believe in miracle cures. The math is not wrong.

If you think this doesn’t apply to Americans, then please go to, where I will post a table prepared by D. Bennett. (here it is folks). Meanwhile, we are talking about the whole earth ecosystem. The ecosystem is not divided into countries. This is a whole-world problem. Trying to grow the population at this time in any country of the world will only cause more suffering for more people later. That’s what the Green Revolution did to us. I don’t want to see us do even worse to the next coming babies.

So, back to the documentaries. You wouldn’t believe two films about the population problem could each gush for an hour or so, and never talk about the population problem. Both the left- and right-wing documentaries presented impressively edited facts, out of context, and then went on to emotional gushing about things that they want. Or things they don’t want. What I want is to go back 50 years and do over the green revolution and get it right this time, instead of making all the same mistakes over and over and over again. But nobody can solve a problem by wanting something else, and problems do not go away by wishing – or by make-believe. And nobody ever solved a problem by doing more of what caused it in the first place.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about why these people want to try.

The Power of Choice

“Analysis has to do with the breaking down of (something) … into its component parts, but never forgetting that . . . these individual parts belong to a unit.”  Andrea Sabbadini, BBC Forum ,

Sailesh Rao, quoted in Dot Earth, pointed out that the “Macromyopia” of business that caused the financial crash is not very different from our attitude toward global warming. For any person who knows the truth — that growth in the absence of viable resources is not sustainable — it is very hard to understand why these supposedly brilliant leaders of the economic world would permit this crash to happen. And yet the (predictably failed) United Nations Ten Year Plan repeatedly stressed “sustainable growth;” the marketplace talks about sustainable growth; we have based our culture on the fiction of sustainable growth.  Perhaps it is indeed “Macromyopia,” that is the inability to see the big picture.  To me it is a solid wall of belief through which it is impossible for any real fact to penetrate.

Maybe the idea that human ingenuity is bigger than the big picture is based in a reverence for reductionist science, that is the belief by some scientists that we will learn how “everything” functions if we only can define all the little parts of it.   We can clone the genome.  But the more we know about the nucleotide sequences of the genome, the more we understand that we can NOT put all those nucleotides back together to make an animal.  Not even a cell.  Maybe the scientists and the economists have convinced us with their big words that they know more than we do.  It is true that the intricacies of their manipulations can not be understood by ordinary people, but the big picture is not rocket science.  Any farmer knows that he can not create life without seed and he can’t sustain livestock without grain, and nothing can grow forever on this earth.  As stated by Andrew Revkin in another blog on the same subject: “often common sense trumps experience and financial sainthood.” Clearly the power of common sense, based in fact, trumps the power of big words that are based in false ideologies.

This vessel of life, the earth, or Gaia if you will, can not sustain unlimited growth any more than Jack’s beanstalk can grow to the moon or your bathtub forever fill without overflowing.

And yet we diddle around trying to figure out where we will put all the people who will be added to the population in the next 20 years or 50 years, and the scientists are consumed with their reductionist thinking, we have forgotten the big picture.  There simply is not room for that many people eating the limited fruits of this earth.  Our options are not designed by ourselves; they are designed by the capacity of the earth and the fact that our energy to live comes from photosynthesis, not from a test tube.  Our power is not greater than that of the ecosystem; our power lies in choosing among the options that are available — not inventing scenarios that are not available.  Therefore, our power — that is our power to choose — relies entirely upon our understanding of how the ecosystem works and then deciding how we should behave, within that framework, to maximize our benefits.

So, where will we put all those people in the next 20 to 50 years?  There won’t BE that many people in the next 20 or 50 years.  We are running a Ponzi scheme with the living breathing people of the earth, and yes the population will crash in exactly the same way that there isn’t as much financial value now as there was before the crash. The earth can not support growth in the absence of real resources.  We have lost the power generated by the Green Revolution to build a world in balance.  We blew it.  We chose instead to build an unsustainable growth economy.

Our choice now is how to provide for the inevitable decrease.  Do we want to continue as we have been doing?  Letting people starve?  Do we want to kill them off in wars?  Genocide?  Epidemic disease?  Or maybe we might start thinking about not making so many babies in the first place.

The Green Revolution failed because we failed to take advantage of that space of time to make real choices. We have used up that power; we can not go back and do it right.   That choice is gone, and have not so many choices remaining and they aren’t as nice as they would have been.  But life offers always choices, and our choices are our greatest source of power.  Do we want to continue to just sit it out in lala land, everyone trying to prove that his view is right and all the others are wrong — or would it be better to take charge of our reality and think about the facts  and then talk among ourselves about our problems — and try to provide a soft landing for  the beautiful civilizations that we have created and the  people who are here now — living breathing souls upon the face of the earth.

Our only real power lies in our choices from among the factually available options.

Of course, we must continue our efforts to save our beautiful civilizations as we are now doing.  But blindly?  We are the only species with the brain to deal with this earth as it is.  Let’s use it to save our todays and our tomorrows.