Countdown – Too many people to sustain long term

I watched a fascinating interview with Alan Weisman, the author of the book “Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth” the other day in which he said environmentalists are failing to talk about the major problem we face as a planet which is having too many people to sustain life. I have written before about how many people our earth could sustain and the answer varies based on how much we consume – if we consume like the average Rwandan we could support over 15 billion; however, if we consume like the average North American it is under 3 billion. With our current population of 7 billion, Weisman believes we need to plan our way down toward the smaller number. The following is a link to a Los Angeles Time article on the book.

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/20/entertainment/la-ca-jc-alan-weisman-countdown-20130922

He noted the big reason we have so many people is we have created chemically leveraged ways of growing more food. Yet, even with that people are starving. Further, the chemicals are now being seen as harmful to the environment and our resources. But, it is not just the food – it is the water which is the “new oil” per Steven Solomon’s book called “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” as well as our other limited resources. So, in his mind, we have to manage the decline of our population to survive.

He cites a good example in his book where Iran used extremely reasonable means to curb their population growth and did so in a non-coercive manner. The Iranian approach was even more effective than China’s one child per family mandate. After the revolution in 1979, Iran was soon invaded by Iraq. To stave off the Iraqis, more children were needed, so families were encouraged to have more. Once the Iraqis were pushed back, the leaders saw they had far too many people and that would cause unrest. So, the leaders convinced the Ayatollah of the problem so he issued a four-part edict that made much sense and has been successful:

1) Beyond a replacement number of offspring for the family, it is more than OK to use contraception.

2) Contraception was made readily available to Iranian citizens.

3) Pre-marital counseling on the cost of raising children was made mandatory.

4) Girls were encouraged to stay in school and get an education.

This last point is vital as data indicates the better educated the family, the fewer children they tend to have. He also noted in the area around the Vatican resides some of the more educated females per capita and they have a very low birth rate.

I have not read Weisman’s book yet, but look forward to doing so. But, I think his message speaks loudly to all of us. If we are going to sustain ourselves on this planet of ours, we need to factor in population planning along with our environmental planning. We need to have a more manageable and sustainable population.

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10 thoughts on “Countdown – Too many people to sustain long term

  1. I agree, in my 1970 Biology class we were encouraged to aspire to zero population growth. We even wore Z-POP badges. I can only assume that, for the past forty-four years, students haven’t been paying attention in Biology classes. ~ Dennis

  2. Remember Paul Erlichman from the ’60’s? He had the same message then, often appeared on Carson, but has been laughed out of the history books as an extremist. The masses, including the scientists and economists were wrong, and the minority were correct.

    Goes to my point that the majority on anything are usually wrong.

    And water is the new gold. In 50 years, we are going to be in deep trouble. How do I know? Because the Koch brothers are heavily invested in desalination plants.

    Great post with an important message.

    • Thanks Barney. I will need to refresh myself on Erlichman. I also found of interest that President Carter had put together a reasonable long term energy plan and put solar panels on the White House, which Reagan took down. If we had followed that mission, we may be powered even more by solar, wind and other means. Water is a major concern now and it will get worse, as you note. As always, I appreciate your comments. BTG

    • We have some that have a problem with basic arithmetic. On top of the population issues, there is a high correlation between family size and poverty. It is interesting we are having this discussion today when Hobby Lobby is suing the federal government not to require them to include paid for contraceptives in their healthcare plan. So many of these abortion concerns, STDs, poverty issues could be addressed better education and birth control.

  3. It baffles me, why the current “conservative” party is against birth control coverage? They make it harder to plan for pregnancy, and want to take away the safety net for those who do have children.

    • Amaya, it is truly baffling. First, we need to stop letting religious leaders, the significant majority whom are men, dictate how a woman should govern her uterus. If she does not want to have a child yet, that is more than fine. It is not ironic that over 90% of Catholic women ignore their own church on this issue. Second, the tools to govern pregnancy should be made available along with education. Poverty can be reduced with these measures. Abortions can be reduced, which would make Conservatives happy. STDs and AIDs can be reduced. And, yes population control can occur. This is about as good a no-brainer as you will find. Yet, we dilly dally. Why a candidate would not seize these issues, is beyond me as the candor and appropriateness would be refreshing. Thanks for your note. BTG

      PS – My daughter visited UNCA this weekend with us in tow. This is one of her top two or three choices.

      • Good to hear about your daughter! As you know, I love this town. I hope my kids pick a nearby school. My oldest would like to go to Western Carolina, to study forensic anthropology. Morbid kid, like her mama:)

        As to the contraception issue, I think we have allowed the more vocal religious minority to dictate policy while the more reasonable religious majority perhaps doesn’t care enough to stop it, or perhaps do not feel the consequences are very serious. Who knows. I think everyone is nuts!

      • My daughter and yours are similar. She wants to study wildlife rehabilitation or environmental science. We will be looking at Warren Wilson this weekend.

        I agree about letting extreme religious groups assume the debate. They argue against a morning after pill and paint all contraception in that light. I do not agree with their argument on the former, but contraception is a widely accepted practice which solves so many problems.

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