Civilizational Suicide Not Fast Enough for Daily Beast Columnist
Growth boosters and profiteers, and many of the policymakers they dupe, have been wringing their hands lately over the progress our society is making on the overpopulation front. Their propaganda on this is ridiculous and dangerous.
Don’t get too excited. The progress – while a step in the right direction – is far too little. And while the propaganda is clearly ludicrous to anyone who understands the severity of our human overshoot predicament, it is unfortunately convincing to those who have strong faith in growth everlasting.
A couple of recent examples find themselves on our Wall of Shame this morning:
The Fertility Rate Is Way Down, and Yes, That’s a Huge Problem – by Matt Lewis in The Daily Beast
U.S. Birth Rates are Dropping as People Delay Marriage and Sperm Quality Declines – by Melissa Matthews in Newsweek
Do read on, but I would like to recommend you listen to the newest episode of the GrowthBusters podcast. In More Kids, Fewer Kids, or No Kids? the GrowthBusters team discusses the Daily Beast column and other recent news related to human overpopulation.
The subhead in The Daily Beast asks:
“Millennials are having far fewer kids than prior generations. Healthy civilizations replace themselves. So is there something rotten at the core of ours?”
The editors, unfortunately, did not reach out to me, or to any scientists, for an answer. Instead, senior columnist Matt Lewis spouts a few uninformed opinions and turns to pronouncements from a couple of economists. Let me set the record straight on a few things here:
1. The subhead assumes that if we aren’t “replacing” ourselves, our civilization is unhealthy. But what if the civilization is in overshoot? No animal species remains long in overpopulation mode. When a species’ numbers grow too large for the biocapacity of their environment, deaths increase until the number drops back to a sustainable level. It’s UNhealthy for any species to try to maintain numbers greater than its food supply. It’s actually impossible.
Today’s human world population of 7.6 billion is too many. The evidence is ample. Over 15,000 world scientists recently issued a “second notice” warning about several mounting crises. These are evidence of both poor behavior and too many of us. The scale of the human footprint (population and economy) is crushing vital life-support systems. We need to jettison the overconsumption and we need to conceive fewer children to allow our population to contract. If we don’t, nature will eventually do this for us.
We delude ourselves presently because we’re not seeing the massive deaths one would expect in an overpopulated species. But this is a temporary condition. We’re living on borrowed time by using millions of years of stored carbon energy. We’re stretching the rubber band into overshoot territory as we destabilize our climate, overpump our aquifers and major rivers, toxify our air and water, extinguish vital species, and use up the fertility of our soil. It will snap back. Scaling back the scale of the human enterprise now could make that snap a little less brutal and ugly.
So, it is actually very good news that we’re conceiving fewer children. This is precisely what we need to do if we want those children to live in a hospitable world. Fertility rates can, and should, be well below replacement rate for a good long time. Eventually, when world population has shrunk back to a sustainable level, we can worry about whether fertility rates are too low. I suspect they’ll rise naturally when all the problems that come with overshoot are not knocking at every bedroom door.
From Matt Lewis in The Daily Beast:
2. “The first year of the Donald Trump administration might have given us a soaring stock market, but it has also given us a declining population.”
No, it hasn’t. Both U.S. and world population are growing. Birth rates are declining, but there are still enough people procreating that births outnumber deaths by about 80 million every year across the planet.
3. “…it’s insane for a nation to aspire to a smaller population.”
No, it’s insane for a nation to avoid the scientific evidence that we are destroying life-supporting ecosystems. It’s insane to believe we can grow forever. It’s time we recognize we ARE at the point where it’s way PAST time we acknowledge there are limits to growth and we should act accordingly.
4, 5, 6. “There are all sorts of other repercussions associated with having fewer children. For one thing, it helps to be able to field a standing army for conventional battle. But also consider the math. A larger population expands the pool of potential inventors and entrepreneurs (maybe the kid who would have cured cancer was never even born). There’s also the fact that our welfare state needs young workers to support an aging population.”
Yes, let’s make more babies to send to their deaths in war! Truth is, fewer soldiers are needed in today’s high technology battles. Truth is, overpopulation is the root cause of most of our wars. Do you think we won’t have enough smart people in a pool of two or three billion people? Really? And growing your population so that you perpetually have more young workers to support the elderly is – you guessed it – a Ponzi scheme! That foolish strategy simply cannot carry on for a long period of time. Ending a Ponzi scheme might present a few challenges, but none so severe as the challenge of human civilization trying the experiment of 500 deer trying to live off an acre of land – only with human beings, and supersized.
Melissa Matthews’ Newsweek piece shares the Wall of Shame simply because she leaves out of her report the possibility that dropping birth rates might be a result of overpopulation and that this may be a really good response to that situation. If she reports on the panic over declining fertility, should she not also report on the celebration? She may have fallen prey to pro-growth propaganda like Matt Lewis’ column.
These are just a few examples out of many pronouncements of birth-dearth worry, resulting from declining fertility rates in many nations. Several countries are implementing programs to encourage young couples to procreate, generally out of worry about the possibility of a shrinking economy due to fewer workers and consumers. That is a real shame. The worriers forget that an economy is there to serve the people. If there are fewer people, the economy doesn’t need to be as large. Duh. Yet the dearth worries are not questioned and debated enough. We all need to call this lunacy out for what it is. Don’t let these ideas sit out there unchallenged.
As you make year-end charitable contributions, please don’t forget this project. Growth Bias Busted depends on you to keep enlightening journalists, politicians and the general public. Donate here, or become a supporting member of GrowthBusters here.
Trackback from your site.