The Population Scare

Before global warming, the issue that worked up enviros was population. It’s mostly a sleeper these days because of the (religious and racial) politics surrounding it, so all the big green groups shy away from it, or otherwise tread (very) carefully. But earlier this week, Fred Pearce snapped the slumbering giant awake with this post, which I largely agree with.

After outlining how the “population bomb” is being defused, Pearce turns to the real problem:

Rising consumption today is a far bigger threat to the environment than a rising head count. And most of that extra consumption is still happening in rich countries that have long since given up growing their populations.

You can’t imagine how much this enrages people who insist that, after climate change, overpopulation represents the greatest danger to the planet. This is not to deny that humans can and do overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. But it’s place specific. Often we see it happening in some of the most impoverished lands, where culture, political instability and a marginal environment is at work.

This is not to say it can’t happen in rich places. For example, in the Southwest of the United States, where I’ve covered a lot of environmental and archaeological stories, we know that the arid, drought ridden, water-challenged landscape is going to shrivel up beyond the point of sustainability for the booming population that has flocked there in recent decades. It’s inevitable. History tells us this. But people love it out there (and I’m not just talking Vegas!), as do I. So we’ve got all these sprawling desert cities that got that way not because of overpopulation, but because of a demographic shift and lifestyle preferences (gotta have those lush lawns and golf courses in Phoenix and Tucson).

Still, we’re a rich country by most of the world’s standards, so we can afford to keep up the mirage that we’re immune to overshoot. Now, in the U.S. it so happens that the population zealots have joined in an unholy alliance with the anti-illegal immigrant bigots, making for toxic bedfellows. Don’t get me started on that.

UPDATE: In the comments, Jonathan Gilligan, an Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University, offers Bangladesh as a telling example of a nation that has made major quality of life strides but still has limiting “place-specific aspects” that could derail its progress, especially when factoring in anticipated impacts from climate change. Gilligan also offers some additional insights here.

117 Responses to “The Population Scare”

  1. Tom Fuller says:

    I believe the population density of this planet is somewhere on the level of Kazakhstan, if I remember correctly. Nobody who has ever been in an airplane trip across almost any country could ever say with a straight face that we are close to carrying capacity.
    Yes, we need to be gentler in our ‘stewardship’ of this planet. But people making the overpopulation argument all too often seem like they’re wanting to lift up the drawbridge and fill the moat.  No surprise they’re often the same hysterics pitching a fit about climate change. Usually at the same time they are displaying dyspeptic antics of conspicuous consumption.
    Nothing worse than a man of plebeian tastes who finally found something to lose.

  2. Alex Harvey says:

    Dear Keith,
    I count myself as a citizen concerned about population growth and somewhat skeptical of the climate change menace.

    I don’t find Pearce’s article very convincing, and seems to be somewhat moralistic wishful thinking to me.

    I am particularly skeptical of his assertion that the Chinese one-child policy is ‘brutal and repulsive’, but maybe I’m not objective. My partner is born of the one-child policy, and I have spent some time in China. I am still yet to meet a Chinese person who complains about it. Indeed, even the Dalai Lama has applauded the policy. This is not to defend some of the excesses of the Chinese regime, but it seems somehow disingenuous to not acknowledge that their population controls have limited their population at around 1.3 billion, and to then not account for the greenhouse gas reductions this policy has obtained if you allow that their population would otherwise be around 1.6 billion now.

    So much for my rant, and here is my question: Is the 9 billion projection of population in 2050 accepted as fact, and if so, are there greens who assert that this is not going to strain the overall carrying capacity of the Earth — whatever one’s position on the climate change menace? Also, supplemental question, is this if-accepted 2050 figure not lower than it would otherwise be had the Chinese not taken action?
    Best, Alex

  3. Keith Kloor says:


    Thanks for your thoughtful comment (which hardly seems like a rant). You also raise some very interesting questions, which I hope other readers respond to, because I’m not sure of the answers myself.

    I will venture to say that 9 billion people with with the consumptive lifestyle of the average American strikes me probably as harmful to the planet’s support systems. But that’s assuming there are no technological breakthroughs that lighten our collective footprint 40 years from now.

    Additionally, in a nod to something Tom Fuller said, I don’t want to be the one to shut the door on anyone striving to live like me (or Thomas Friedman or Al Gore).

    I’m also an urbanist, so my own preferred solution (to preserving habitat and the sustainability of ecosystems) would be higher density living.

  4. lucia says:

    >>I am still yet to meet a Chinese person who complains about it.
    In grad school, one of the Chinese students was married and had two children while pursuing her Ph.D. When pregnant with her second, I commented that had to be difficult. She pointed out that in China, she could only have one.

  5. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    I don’t have a good sense of the global picture, but place-specific aspects are striking: I know a bit about Bangladesh (but I’m not an expert, so don’t take the facts and figures below as gospel; they’re mostly from my memory as best I can recall them because if I take a couple of hours to fact-check this comment, I’ll never get around to submitting it).  Bangladesh has the greatest population density of any sizeable nation: roughly half the population of the US in the area of Iowa. Since independence, the population has roughly doubled (to 150 million) and rice production has roughly tripled. That’s a big piece of the reduction of desperate poverty there.
    However, apart from the small wildlife preserves in the Sundarbans, there is no vacant land into which to expand agriculture so further population growth will increasingly strain the ability of the land to feed the people. My colleagues there tell me that there is conflict over land use regarding industrial expansion: new factories displace agriculture and there is great concern about remaining self-sufficient in food production, so the trade-off between food and industry is a major concern for the future economic trajectory.
    The nation has, on the one hand, experienced rapid economic growth, rapid declines in desperate poverty, and rapid expansion of education. On the other hand, it’s in a precarious position: even a small decline in food production, whether due to climatic change or other factors, would be disastrous.  The fertility rate  has dropped substantially since independence, but the population is still growing. Over the last 40 years, the economy has grown faster than the population, but it’s not clear that can be sustained.
    Most people I know in Bangladesh are very concerned about climate change and its impacts on their nation (sea level rise, but also changes in the monsoon cycle and the effects of Himalayan deglaciation on dry-season discharge in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers) but are also very concerned about the broader interactions of population, economic growth, environmental degradation (roughly 90% of human waste is discharged untreated into surface water; factories discharge lots of chemical waste as well; agricultural practices seem to contribute significantly, at least in some places, to the contamination of ground water by arsenic; and in coastal regions, excessive groundwater pumping for fish and shrimp farms seems to be causing seawater to infiltrate aquifers) and the supply of food and potable water.
    When we talk about environment and national security, millions (perhaps 20 million or so) undocumented Banglas have migrated to India to find work (many in the Assam area) and the backlash against these has been far more brutal than anything we’ve seen against undocumented aliens in the US; many in India see these as a threat to national security.  If population growth and/or environmental stresses (climatic or otherwise) drive larger-scale migrations into India, there is potential for terrible bloodshed (in 1983, anti-immigrant mobs in Assam killed thousands of Bangla immigrants, including women and children).
    So I don’t have any answers or any certainties, but perhaps this description will be useful at illustrating the complexity and scope of place-specific concerns about population growth.

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    Mr. Gilligan’s point is obviously valid and there are other places as crowded as Bangladesh. But two of them are Hong Kong and Singapore, and another is Luxembourg.
    Without in any way seeking to diminish the problems of the Bangladeshis I would submit their problem is poverty, not overpopulation.  It is poverty that makes it difficult to treat water. It is poverty that prevents them from being welcomed in other countries. It is poverty that prevents them from importing the right amount and type of foods to balance their land use.
    Money doesn’t cure everything. But a rich Bangladesh would surely have a better quality of problems than a poor one.

  7. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    On population growth: my colleagues who work in human rights are always emphasizing that curbing population growth need not involve Draconian measures, such as China has implemented. Expanding access to education, health care, economic opportunity, and equal rights for women tends to produce dramatic voluntary reductions in fertility without interfering with anyone’s right to make their own decisions about family-planning.
    In the U.S. and Europe, population growth is driven almost entirely by immigration, not fertility, because people are voluntarily limiting family size.
    For people wanting a good introduction to population and carrying capacity, by far the best book I know of (which I enthusiastically recommend) is Joel E. Cohen’s “How Many People Can the Earth Support?” (Norton, 1996). Cohen discusses the role of technology in determining carrying capacity, factors that influence fertility and population growth, and much more. He writes beautifully and engagingly, and provides copious facts and references to the scholarly literature.

  8. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Tom Fuller: It’s more complicated than just poverty, although I agree poverty plays the largest role.
    Population makes it much harder to rise out of poverty. Also, for a nation of 150 million to depend on foreign trade for a large fraction of of its food would put it in a very vulnerable position in the event of military or trade wars. Because of its history and its geographical position, Bangladesh is very concerned to maintain self-sufficiency in food as a national security measure.
    Finally, it’s easy to say that Bangladesh’s problem is poverty, but much harder to provide a solution to poverty. Bangladesh would dearly love to grow its economy faster, but it’s not straightforward to do this.

  9. GaryM says:

    Comparing population density rankings to economic freedom rankings, might lead to another answer of how to best address poverty in populous nations.  But I suspect it leads to an answer that will not be very popular among most of the climate science community.
    In Bangladesh, the ruling party’s (Awami League’s) constitution currently provides:  ” The fundamental principles of the Bangladesh Awami Leagues shall be Bengali Nationalism, Democracy, Secularism or in other words ensuring freedom of all religions as well as non-communal politics and Socialism, that is to say-the establishment of an exploitation-free society and social Justice. ”
    The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (apparently the more “conservative” party) which seems to alternate control of the country with the Awami Lwague, asserts that:  “The four fundamental principles of State policy i.e. the principles of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy, and socialism meaning economic and social justice, have been its core values.” (So this party is apparently “conservative” like European conservative parties…kinder gentler socialism.)
    Seems that the best way to alleviate poverty is also the best way to deal with the risks of climate change…a thriving free market economy that can afford to both feed its people and advance science and technology to protect the environment.
    On the other hand, we could just cut the population the way other socialists, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot did…but maybe that would be a bit harsh.

  10. Alex Harvey says:

    Lucia, I must admit, upon reconsideration after your comment, that I have encountered Chinese intellectuals in Australia who are as critical of the one-child policy as many of us Westerners. I am thinking, though, of my own circle of Chinese friends, and of my partner’s friends and family back in China — and even of discussions with poor people I’ve met in remote areas such as the impoverished ‘Tibetan’ people in the Yunnan Province. They have their complaints, but the one-child policy never seems to be one of them.
    My partner has three sisters, and a younger brother. To be sure, they are biologically her cousins. But they are happy, all of them. To call it ‘brutal’ and ‘repulsive’ seems parochial — an imposition of Western values onto a culture that has no interest in these values. They are proud of their one-child policy, and what their government has achieved.

  11. GaryM says:

    You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs…even if some of the egg have gestated for nine months…
    When a United States Supreme Court justice can say:  “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want too many of,”  I don’t think we have to worry too much about the west being able to understand Chinese culture on this issue.
    Margaret Sanger would be just as proud as anyone from China.

  12. Gaythia says:

    I believe that GaryM @11 is taking Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comment out of context and using it in an attempt to make a point that does not seem to follow from her full statement.  It is clear in the full original quote linked to by him that Ginsburg is distinguishing between her historic concerns that the beliefs of “some people” would be played out with bias towards Medicaid funded abortions, with the risk of coercion of women who didn’t really want an abortion into having the procedure. She is talking about her surprise that the court upheld the Hyde amendment, in 1980 which prohibited Medicaid funded abortions, thus making it hard for poor women to have an abortion if they wanted to.   Her own stance is clearly stated as being:
    “The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.”
    and she goes on to say:
    “So I think the side that wants to take the choice away from women and give it to the state, they’re fighting a losing battle. Time is on the side of change.”

  13. Steve Bloom says:

    “Before global warming, the issue that worked up enviros was population.”

    That’s funny, I thought it was pollution. 

    BTW, Keith, this sort of casual sacrifice of the facts to a journalistic narrative is a definite symptom of Broderism.  I suspect part of your problem is that you were never part of the environmental movement, but rather wrote about it from what looks to me to have been a rather remote perspective. 

    While I’m on the subject, I should point out that you can’t properly discuss the the population controversy (such as it was) in the environmental movement without considering the contemporaneous (and much more important in terms of its effects on the movement) grappling with environmental justice. 

  14. Tom Fuller says:

    Broderism… set to take its place amongst the Pantheon of utterly useless criticisms. If you don’t understand Broderism, you’ve slammed shut the Overton Window and are a victim of self-imposed DK-ism.
    It’s nice to create a subgroup that can only communicate with each other. Until they decide they want to say something to the human race…

  15. Gaythia says:

    What time frame are we talking about here?  Paul Erlich’s “The Population Bomb” was published in 1968.  The EPA was founded in 1970.  A bit later, I headed off to college inspired to save the world with Analytical Chemistry.  In my opinion, concerns about pollution (and resource depletion) raised issues of overpopulation, and then were met by counter-arguments involving first world consumption patterns and environmental justice.  Somewhere between then and global warming concerns, I would place a fair amount of apathy.
    How old is Keith Kloor?  Can we blame him for not being part of the environmental movement in 1970?

  16. GaryM says:

    How can you take someone’s statement out of context when you provide a link to the whole interview?  “Out of context” has become a reflex criticism people make anytime they dislike the truth of a quotation.
    So, OK, in context:  while discussing the Hyde Amendment, Roe v. Wade and access of poor women to abortions, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the mistake of inserting into her comment her belief that “there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of .”  For those lacking in English comprehension skills, “we” is a first person plural pronoun, which includes the speaker as a member of the plurality spoken about.  You have to rewrite her entire statement to come to any other conclusion as to her meaning here.
    Here is what she really meant.  She was surprised that conservatives tried to limit the application of Roe to “welfare recipients” because she thought they would be pleased with the prospect of reducing the population of those “we don’t want to have too many of .”  But she was wrong because conservatives did not share her desire, and so passed the Hyde Amendment to stop federal funding of abortions, and upheld that law in Harris v. McRae . In other words, she was surprised that conservatives did not agree with the covert advancement of eugenics that she knew was implicit in Roe (ie. they were never part of her “we”) .
    Yep, it reads much better “in context.”  Or can someone come up with a better, more contextual, meaning of “people we don’t want too many of?”

  17. Keith Kloor says:

    Steve Bloom is right that I was never part of the environmental movement. I came of age in the 1970s and 1980s. But I am a student of environmentalism, and among the two best books I would recommend on the movement are Robert Gottlieb’s Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, and Mark Dowie’s Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century.

    I also studied environmental policy and environmental history in graduate school, so I like to think that I have a pretty good scholarly foundation on the topic. (In fact, if I didn’t turn to journalism, I might well have become an environmental historian, because I’m quite enamored with that field.)

    Anyway, yes, of course pollution was a galvanizing force in the birth of environmentalism. But overpopulation became the totemic issue for greens, even after a regulatory framework was put in place to address it (in America) in the early 1970s. And it remained the defining issue for many greens well in the 1970s and 1980s.

    But by the 1990s, population became the third rail for green groups, which stopped talking about it as much. By then, biodiversity and the Amazone rainforests had become the issues du jour. It’s only been in the last five to ten years or so that climate change has set the green agenda; it’ll be interesting to see if that is still the case in 2020, or if we move on to something else. By then, maybe the overpopulation meme will have completely exhausted itself.

  18. laursaurus says:

    ” I came of age in the 1970s and 1980s.”

    So you, too, grew up with the iconic anti-pollution commercial in the 70’s, too. Who can forget the Native American man shedding a tear?

    The message I clearly remember as a child was “don’t be a litterbug!” It ranked up there with “never play with matches”.
    Hurricane Katrina, closely followed by Hurricane Wilma were considered proof of global warming during the immediate aftermath. Mother Nature supposedly unleashed her wrath on the US because Bush didn’t sign Kyoto. Turns out, Congress also rejected it. Too bad we don’t have someone to blame everything on anymore.

    In nearly every climate change article I’ve come across on any MSM website, somebody brings up over-population in the comment section. Usually they are pointing out that by focusing on CO2 emissions, we are dancing around the elephant in the room. This Malthusian attitude seems to be just a part of some personality types. The environmental extremists truly believe that mankind is a cancer to our planet. Sorry, but human beings are part of the environment on Earth.

  19. Keith Kloor says:

    Ah, yes, I remember well that single solitary tear rolling down the cheek of the Native American who was, in fact, an Italian immigrant from Sicily.

    The environmental movement ushered in yet another cycle of romanticization of Native Americans.

    As a kid I also remember watching Soylent Green in horror. (They let kids watch anything those days.) That movie gave me nightmares.

  20. Marlowe Johnson says:

    you should have studied geography; it would have given you a better (and broader) grounding in the issues that appear to be of interest to you.
    my 2 cents (as a geographer among other hats) 🙂

  21. Steve Bloom says:

    “overpopulation became the totemic issue for greens”

    And of course this is completely off-base, although I can see where someone perched in NYC at the house publication of a national enviro organization might think it was true.  It also allows some very convenient Broderist conclusions to be drawn.

  22. Gaythia says:

    I disagree with GaryM’s interpretation of the text he cites in #11 and  16 which I believe he  is accentuating by his selective quotation.  His “here’s what she really meant” elaboration is, I believe, only reflective of his own value system.  I realize that the use of the word “we” cited by GaryM above has been seized upon by conservative commentators in an effort to distort Ginsburgs position.    I believe that it is quite clear in the context of the conversational style interview cited by him above that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was expressing her past concern that  faulty implementation of Roe v Wade (by the government, the “we” did not refer to her) could result in  forced abortions preformed on the poor.   Instead, she was surprised that  a nearly opposite negative effect, the Hyde amendment, was the consequence.  This  restricted funding and thus access to abortion by the poor,  It seems to me that it was quite clear in the interview that she opposed both of those alternatives.  If GaryM were at all familiar with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I think he would realize that she is recognized as a strong supporter of both women’s rights in general and a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
    What could be more clear than:
    “The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.”

  23. Steve Bloom says:

    “The environmental movement ushered in yet another cycle of romanticization of Native Americans.”

    Jeez, Keith, you just don’t stop.  Where do you get this stuff?

  24. Gaythia says:

    @Keith, why do you think that the overpopulation meme is exhausting itself?  It seems to me that a significant undercurrent of discussions of carbon reduction to control global warming returns to the tension between third world potential development and first world current consumption.   Part of the baggage here seems to sometimes imply that one group is pointing fingers at some other group of people who should reduce either their population growth or rate of increase of consumption.
    (I may have made that last sentence unreadable, as I was composing it I was hyper sensitive to the idea that it not be misconstrued as saying I favored limiting some other group of people.  No “we” for me please!)

  25. Gaythia says:

    @Marlowe and Keith, the only reference I know is a non-technical one, but I do think that the story of Phoenix’ previous go-round with exceeding it’s carrying capacity and collapsing is an interesting one, and instructive for present time geographic analysis as well:

  26. Tom Fuller says:

    Gaythia at 23, I can’t speak for Keith, but I think the media has done a good job of communicating the defusing of the population bomb–some might say too good of a job. It’s a lot different contemplating a top pop of 9.2 billion than 15.4 billion. (Now quick, someone go tell Nick Stern and the IPCC SRES makers…)
    When I was a kid there were 16 million people in California and 2.5 billion on the planet. I can understand why we were all nervous about overpopulation. But (apart from specific locations), it doesn’t look like it’s a capacity constraint for us.  So, three cheers for the intelligence of women.

  27. Gaythia says:

    Tom, I agree that it is more about resources than population.  But resources do put populations at odds with one another.  You and I could be squabbling over the same Colorado River drinking water source.  I’m on Colorado’s (east of the divide) Front Range, where much of the water is piped under the Rockies and the continental divide.  If you are in CA, then it is likely that either we compete directly or other Californians are competing against both of us.

  28. Keith Kloor says:

    Marlowe (20):

    What makes you think I didn’t study geography? Sauer, J.B. Jackson, David Lowenthal, Meinig, et al. I’ve read them all. I’ve been reading this journal for years. One of my all-time favorite geography texts is this collection of essays.

    I remember being at a session during the annual American Society for Environmental History conference in the 1990s when I heard William Cronon say that environmental historians had a lot to learn from geographers. He was right then and he’s probably still right.

    Steve Bloom (23), I pull this stuff out of a hat just for you. Didn’t you see Billy Jack? Read Carlos Castaneda? But seriously, are you really not aware that American Indians are romanticized as the original stewards of “mother nature”? And that the latest incarnation of the mythologized Indian springs from the social movements in the 1960s, including the nature-centric wing of environmentalism?

  29. JohnB says:

    I think population concerns fall into 3 areas;
    1. Food supply
    2. Energy supply
    3. Goods supply (including raw materials.)

    With the development of the Third World into using more First World techniques I think food supply can be assured for the future. In some ways it will look like small landowners are being pushed aside in favour of “Big Agriculture” or the like, but the reality is that larger concerns produce more food per acre than small growers that are barely above subsistance level. “Larger concerns” in this case would include collections of farmers in “Co-Op” operations that allow them to pool their land and resources to provide much higher crop yields.

    Improved access to fertilizers, crop science and irrigation are also required, but the food problem is not even remotely insurmountable.

    Energy supply is a stickier problem in the current CO2 environment as there will be great opposition to coal plants or nuclear plants to provide power. My personal preference is for as much hydro as possible as I see them as an answer to multiple problems. Hydro dams provide energy through generation, they also can provide water for agriculture and clean water for both drinking and sanitation.

    Note that water is wonderfully reusable and can be dammed multiple times to provide power and sanitation on the same watercourse. Provided that waste treatment is kept to acceptable standards there is no problem. While it is strangely rather common in the West to think “Oh, Yuk” at the idea of “recycled” water I must point out that unless you live at the headwaters of the river and are the very first settlement to derive water from that river, then you are already drinking recycled water. That is the simple reality.

    Good supply and the raw materials for those goods is an interesting problem. Projections for requirements are often linear and don’t take into account recycling or limits to needs.

    Taking limits first. As a Nation develops it improves its infrastructure, roads, rail and the like. Rail in particular has limitations as to where you can economically lay tracks due to slope, so rail will reach a saturation point where a nation has already run tracks to all the places it can and so the demand for steel will increase to a maimum and then drop down to the replacement level required for the upkeep of the network.

    Similarly a nation will not continue building bridges just for the sake of it, so likewise the demand for new bridges will also fall as the optimum number is reached.

    This is true for all consumer products as well. A Third World nation with 100 million familes with no household refrigeration requires 100 million refrigerators. However, once those families have refrigeration, the demand drops to replacement levels. Even if the replacement level is 10 million fridges per year, that also means that 10 million fridges per year are going to available for recycling as well.

    The bottom line is that as societies approach First World levels, their demand for raw materials actually drops. They’ve built their bridges, dams, rail networks and roads and with good recycling techniques can satisfy most consumer needs.

    A good example of this reduction is found in lead mining and usage. The USGS shows that while lead mining in the US has dropped from 445,000 tons in 2004 to 440,ooo tons in 2009, recycled lead supply has risen from 1,130,000 to 1,210,000 tons in the same period. 74% of the lead used in 2009 by the USA came from recycled scrap.

    One can also look at Aluminium for the same period. Primary production up 100,000 tons, imports down 400,000 tons and recycling up 240,000 tons. Recycling now accounts for 30% of apparent consumption and this figure can only climb.

    The difficulty is power. No matter how much you want to recycle, if the source of cheap power isn’t there, you can’t succeed. Power generation will be the key.

    Population is not a problem per se, feeding the population doesn’t have to be problem. Providing a larger world population with the goods and services to allow them to live lives in civilised societies may not be a problem. Providing enough power to do all this will be the challenge.

    And compromises will certainly be needed.

  30. Keith Kloor says:

    Gaythia (25):

    I remember reading that Craig Childs story you reference. He’s such a terrific writer.

    On a related note, an archaeological story I wrote set just north of Phoenix might interest you.

  31. Steve Bloom says:

    “And that the latest incarnation of the mythologized Indian springs from the social movements in the 1960s, including the nature-centric wing of environmentalism?”

    Do I detect major back-pedaling?  I think I do.   In future, maybe just try to avoid the sweeping overstatements.

    Origination of the view of pre-modern Native Americans as idealized primitive ecologists can be largely ascribed to their descendants.  Certainly all sorts of people bought into it.

    Also, just out of curiosity, what significant sector of environmentalism could not be called nature-centric?  It is the unifying theme, after all.   

  32. Keith Kloor says:

    Steve, I have no idea what you think you’re detecting. I stand by what I said. Environmentalism largely rests on two legs, pollution control and ecological/nature appreciation.

    But there is, in fact, a significant sector post-Love Canal that is called environmental justice. Its concerns have, for the most part, not been championed by mainstream environmental groups, whose memberships are comprised mostly of affluent whites and who are most passionate about things like endangered species and wilderness protection. (They’ve had a nagging problem with diversity for quite some time.)

    So I would say that the grassroots “anti-toxics” environmental justice movement is definitely not nature centric.

  33. Gaythia says:

    @Keith #30.  Thanks for the reference to your article!  I think that the quote below from your article is a thought well worth expanding on now as it gets at the heart of the linkage between population and resources.    It treats historic Native American communities in a more complex way that might satisfy the objections of Steve Bloom above.   This also ties in with your previous thread on climate risk: ““.

    Is the desert southwest again expanding beyond it’s means and again turning against itself?  Can our more advanced scientific perspective help society adapt more efficiently and more graciously this time?  In a way that is mindful of environmental justice?

    “An innovative collaboration between scientists is discovering how, 700 years ago, a mysterious, prehistoric culture overcame its landscape’s harsh constraints. The findings may tell a cautionary tale for today’s Southwest.”

  34. Alex Harvey says:

    As far as I can see, no one is addressing the question head on of how, given energy, water, infrastructure, habit, and on and on, caused by our present population of 6 billion how it  could possibly be good for the planet to happily multiply this present population by 50%. Surely, we can all agree that the resources on the planet are finite. Surely, it is elementary to accept that if population increases by 50%, so do our energy needs. Sure, there may be surface area for an increased population. I just don’t get where the energy is going to come from.

  35. Tom Fuller says:

    Well, Alex, I think you’ve pretty much arrived at the crux of the debate–at least on a climate weblog.
    Americans use 327 billion BTUs per year–down from 357 at our peak, and almost twice what Europeans use. A population of 9.2 billion, if they were to use as much as Americans, would require 3,000 quadrillion BTUs (quads) per year.
    This year the world used about 500 quads. Of those, 52 came from renewable energy resources.  In order for the world to be supplied with adequate energy from renewable resources by the year 2100, renewables would have to grow (in terms of capacity) by 4.6% per year. If, for example, we wanted to achieve that goal by 2050, renewables would have to grow by 10.6% per year.
    This year, renewables overall grew by 7%. It was an ordinary year, with some government subsidies growing, others ending. Wind got more expensive, solar got a lot cheaper. Combined heat and power keeps growing like crazy, and hydropower is growing in the developing world at an impressive rate. Biofuels are still searching for an answer and ocean power is still searching for a sponsor. Waste to energy is crippled by lack of access to financing–all the projects are municipal, and guess who can’t get money?
    A normal year. Which to me is encouraging. We don’t need to have that 3,000th quad until the population peaks. Improvements in efficiency may lower our final requirements. And we are growing at an adequate rate right now to meet our goal.
    Lots of pessimists out there. But, so far, so good.

  36. Tom Fuller says:

    Whoops! Bad use of calculator brings bad news. The real rate of growth in renewable usage is only 2% (I was just now  looking at the dollar value of the various markets, not energy delivered.)
    Which is in line with other things I’ve written–Sunday morning, I guess.
    So we’ll have to work harder–probably bring nuclear into the mix, as I’ve written elsewhere, and also pay pretty close attention to improving energy efficiency. And maybe still burn some fossil fuels.

  37. Steve Bloom says:

    If you want to define “centric” as indicating an organization’s top priority, sure, but in that case not all of the Big Green groups are nature-centric either (e.g. ED).  Nonetheless nature is the unifying theme.  If you take a close look at those environmental justice groups you’ll find a concern for restoring biodiversity cropping up as soon as they get past their formative campaign. 

    From the NYT article:  “National polls show high environmental concern among minorities. A post-election poll for the National Wildlife Federation in November, for example, found increasing support among blacks and Latinos for candidates keen on addressing global warming. And surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California have found that minorities are sometimes even more concerned than white respondents about environmental issues like air pollution.”

    To underline the point, these polls also show high levels of concern regarding traditional environmental issues, including good old-fashioned land preservation and restoration. 

    And BTW, environmental justice issues have gotten major attention from mainstream enviros over the last twenty years.  Your view to the contrary is approximately that far out of date.  That the attention was forthcoming isn’t a surprise since environmental justice campaigns tend to occur in the same urban areas (although not the same neighborhoods) where enviro group memberships are concentrated.  

    Finally, re the back-pedaling:

    “And that the latest incarnation of the mythologized Indian springs from the social movements in the 1960s, including the nature-centric wing of environmentalism?”

    It’s still not true, but it’s a far cry from your original over-statement:

    “The environmental movement ushered in yet another cycle of romanticization of Native Americans.”

  38. laursaurus says:

    UGH!! Don’t you hate it when you spend an hour carefully wording a decent post and accidentally wipe it out?
    I’ll shorten it up, I guess.
    I learned 2 things from this thread. First, I never challenged the romanticized ideal we were taught in school as historical fact. Just one of variety of white man’s guilt we were taught we must bear.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the fascinating article Keith wrote on the Audubon Mag website!  I’m definitely going to check out more of your work. I spot a link on this blog I’m going to click on as soon as I finish submitting.

  39. Keith Kloor says:

    This can be a sensitive comment software and I’ve lost my share of comments, too. Sorry about that.
    Glad to hear you enjoyed that Perry Mesa piece. I write as much about archaeology as anything else these days.

  40. JohnB says:

    Keith, that is a good article. It was rather depressing to read about the damage in Nine Mile Canyon though, somebody, somewhere needs to be shot for that. 🙂 Such artwork is irreplaceable.

    (Back on topic) As has been said, power is the biggy. One area where we can make improvements is in distribution. I can’t speak for other places but my home State of Queensland loses some 72% of generated power through resistance in transmission lines. So either a move towards smaller, local generating plants or a breakthrough in extra low resistance transmission lines will go a long way towards alleviating the problem.

    Should the fabled “room temperature” superconductor be found, then simply by replacing our transmission lines, Queensland could effectively triple it’s power generating capacity. This can only be a good thing.

    The other alternative of smaller, local plants has a higher initial cost but drastically reduces transmission losses giving a higher efficiency overall. The downside is that a plan of large numbers of dams, solar plants and wind farms spread over a nation will be fought ferociously by the very people demanding a move away from coal.

    AFAICT, unless we solve the transmission problem, the only answer is to have enough generating capacity that losses don’t matter all that much, this means coal or nuclear. While there is the possibility of space based solar power, I think fears of it’s transmission beam being used as a weapon or simply aiming at the wrong place by accident will prevent it’s use.

    As an aside. Is it just me or do others see nuclear power as rather inefficient? Or dated? We take the phenomenal power of splitting atoms and use it to           boil water. Except for the fuel source, it’s hardly more advanced than a steam engine of 100 years ago. Are we missing something here?

  41. JamesG says:

    Going back to Jonathan’s concern about food production. One thing we now know for sure since the 2007 global food shortage problem, is that food availability is now hugely and immediately dependent of fuel prices. While I strongly suspect that overspeculation was the real cause of the fuel hike, the knock-on effect on food production, distribution and warehousing/hoarding was nevertheless extremely serious. I don’t rule out commodity speculation being directly involved there too but transport costs were more likely. Even in Europe the price obtained for fish wasn’t worth taking the boats out when the fuel costs were calculated. So overly zealous carbon reduction efforts could easily cause food shortages. We need to be careful with short term liquid fuel prices while still being mindful of looming catastrophe if we don’t find good alternatives.

  42. JamesG says:

    I agree with your boiling water point. Solid oxide fuel cells seem a bit more sensible to me. All that animal poop must be able to produce a serious amount of methane.  May solve the sewage problem too… if the stuff’s worth money people will collect it.
    In fact it says here:
    “In the western Faridpur district of Bangladesh, the United Nations has funded a power station that generates electricity from poultry waste. The plant runs on chicken droppings from 5,000 poultry farms, which are stored, dried and turned into combustible fuel.”. Now if they upped the efficiency by using that biomethane for local solid oxide fuel cells it would be somewhat easier and cheaper than nukes.

    Let’s be honest, it is access to cheap energy that ends poverty, improves wellbeing.and makes all other things possible. This is a conundrum of carbon pricing.

  43. Tom Fuller says:

    James G., I agree and think this is absolutely the best argument to divorce energy policy from climate ‘policy.’

  44. intrepid_wanders says:

    “Amen Tom, and pass the cornbread”.
    Since we ALL know that greenpeace/wwf  will break the Green/CAGW Collation once the nuke plants come onto the table, the only answer is, “The divorce is final, and don’t call for a date”.

  45. GaryM says:

    Access to cheap energy doesn’t end poverty, any more than access to cheap natural resources, cheap transportation, or any other individual cost factor.  Each is certainly a factor, but they are all interdependent.  Poverty is reduced by access to freedom (including freedom from centrally planned economic policy, energy policy, transportation policy), which leads to cheap energy, resources, transportation, etc.
    The richest country in the history of the planet had a war on poverty…and the PhDs, economists and philosophers  that planned it made things worse.  Granted, poverty in the U.S. is not the same as in Bangladesh, but we certainly have too much of it, for such a wealthy society (with such abundant and relatively cheap energy).
    Millions of individuals, making their own decisions, have a thousand times better chance of finding solutions by trial and error than all the Harvard and Oxford graduates combined.  The government should provide rational, effective health and safety regulations, provide courts to enforce the rule of law, and otherwise get out of the way.
    This is most  desperately needed in the poorest countries, and the sad thing is that they are so unlikely to get it.  The best thing the wealthy west can do is to leave central planning in the trash heap of history where it belongs, and set an example for the rest of the world.  Maybe with the impending implosion of Greece, Spain, California, Illinois and other similar governmental efforts at central planning, people will learn.
    BP was drilling 5000 feet under the Gulf because the U.S. government prohibited it from drilling on much safer, and less expensive locations.  Nuclear energy died a sudden death in the US because the government let its policy be determined by “environmentalists” and a public horrified by a comic book of a movie, The China Syndrome.  Millions have died of resurgent Malaria in the third world at least in part because governments banned DDT.  More people are starving in Africa because government mandates and subsidies of ethanol have driven the price of basic food commodities too high.
    Oh, and you want to slow population growth?  Allow people to live in societies where they don’t have to have 8 or 10 kids in the hope that enough of them will survive to support them in their old age.  You know, free societies.  Someone send a memo to Tom Friedman and the “one child” Chinese about the birth rate in the China compared to Western Europe.

  46. Alex Harvey says:

    Tom #35, I may be a pessimist but let’s add to the list that I forgot to mention the food requirements for 9 billion people and associated energy costs of transporting this (unless we have started growing food locally). Let’s also allow that most Westerners like to travel about the planet and presumably in 2050, most of the global citizens will likewise enjoy to travel.
    You’ve mentioned wind power but it seems to me that there are many very serious wind skeptics out there, and I’ll count myself as a wind skeptic. You’ve also mentioned solar power, but there are likewise, as I understand it, fundamental limitations on what you can achieve with solar.
    This brings me back to where I started, this elephant in the room that is China’s lonely progress on the issue, described by Fred Pearce as ‘brutal and repulsive’, but regarded highly by just about every Chinese person I’ve ever met. That so-called ‘brutal and repulsive’ policy is being relaxed as we speak e.g.
    It seems to me that the hysterics are the ones who point the finger at the Chinese here where actual, measurable progress has been made. This is not to say that China’s solution would fit other nations’ problems, but surely there is a sane argument to be made for _at least looking_ at what China has achieved and comparing this with what is happening in other parts of the world where people still have families of >10 children, as was the case in parts of China in the 1970s.

  47. Population may not be the driving force behind many of the global world problems, but it’s certainly an important factor: Basically, it is a multiplication factor for the environmental impact of certain actions. E.g. better environmental performance of a certain product has often been offset by the much greater use (cf. population density) of said product, until in some cases a real innovation came along that dramatically cuts the environmental impact (which sometimes happens, but counting on it may be risky).
    The 20-80 story puts population in perspective: 20% of the world population uses approximately 80% of the worlds’ resources (dependent on the resource of course). That alone means that focusing on population isn’t where the shoe pinches in many cases.
    On the other hand, I’ve understood that the reason that native cultures had so little impact on their environment is to a large extent due to their small population density. Had their numbers been anywhere near what population is now, the environment would also have suffered (though in different ways of course). There are plenty of examples in nature where too large numbers of a certain species causes stress on the ecosystem.
    The Kaya identity shows that population is a multiplication factor, just as consumption is. It would require a systemic analysis to see which factors are most responsible for a given problem, but it’s pretty clear that population is a factor that influences the total pressure on the system. It’s also clear that it’s not a factor that is easily or quickly influenced, but for the long term, it should be seriously considered as a important factor (especially because it has so much inertia).
    Pointing fingers solely to, or firmly away from population, both misses the mark imho.
    How many people the earth can sustain of course depends on the other factors in the various Kaya identities: If everyone were to have the consumption pattern of an average American, we would already have overshot the long term carrying capacity of the earth. If we all live a Buddhist lifestyle, we could probably do with a few more people. It’s a trade off, as always.
    Don’t want to use (and pay for) sustainable energy (cf consumption pattern)? Then use less energy (cf population).

    Don’t want to use less energy? Then use (and pay for) sustainable energy.

    Don’t want to do either? Go find another planet.

  48. Lazar says:

    “(especially because it has so much inertia)”
    … that’s the scary thing… it is possible to way overshoot carrying capacity while resources are abundant

  49. Exactly. As it is with climate change as well: The effects so far have been quite manageable (in most cases), but the problem is that there is large inertia

    – in the energy system (we can’t just change our energy system and reduce our emissions to near-zero overnight);
    – in the carbon cycle (even if we did suddenly reduce our emissions to zero, concentrations would still remain high for a (very) long time);
    – and in the climate system (the climate responds slowly to a change in concentration, so we haven’t even seen the full effects of the current concentration yet, not even considering the substantial masking of aerosols, which make matters even worse).

  50. Tom Fuller says:

    I actually like the idea of finding another planet (or six), and just as some have used the climate change conversation to bring in other topics peripherally related, I’m eager to add in a discussion about the appropriate use of space exploration and colonisation. Might be a lone voice as far as that conversation goes.
    I think this planet can comfortably carry 9.2 billion souls, if we manage things intelligently.

  51. dhogaza says:

    “I actually like the idea of finding another planet (or six), and just as some have used the climate change conversation to bring in other topics peripherally related, I’m eager to add in a discussion about the appropriate use of space exploration and colonisation. Might be a lone voice as far as that conversation goes.”

    If you can list one or six other planets suitable for human habitation, then we can talk …

    If not, perhaps that opportunity lies so far in the future that we can agree that such a solution belongs in the realm of science fiction …

    “I think this planet can comfortably carry 9.2 billion souls, if we manage things intelligently.”

    Keep poor people poor?

  52. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom is in good company when it comes to space exploration and colonization. Others have made the same argument that humans should have a fall-back planet to avoid their own extinction.

    But this reminds me of the endangered species and cloning story I worked on in early 2000s. Nice idea, but in terms of priorities, perhaps not the best use of dollars.

  53. Tom Fuller says:

    Keith, I agree that space travel will not fix the climate this century (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it). Perhaps best to leave it there.
    People who think that 9.2 billion humans cannot live comfortably on this planet with a good standard of living are generally people who have problems with numbers. This is also peripheral to the climate debate, but as there is some overlap of opinions on it, it’s worth discussing.
    Essentially, if Americans agreed amongst themselves (ourselves) to adopt a more European lifestyle, we could elevate the Bottom Billion to that lifestyle as well.  As I lived in Europe for 13 years, I’d be happy to do that–I would consider it mostly an improvement, actually.
    And because I’m in the middle of doing the math for a client, I can say that the numbers work. If we continue pushing for green solutions as we have for the past decade, allow for increase in the use of nuclear power, allow the innovation engine to continue working, it is my sincere belief that we will experience moderate warming and cope with it rather well.
    If I am deluded in that opinion, so is my calculator.

  54. Tom Fuller says:

    Requiescat in pace, Stephen Schneider.

  55. Keith Kloor says:

    Yes, the climate science community lost a giant today. After James Hansen, probably no other scientist did more to raise awareness of climate change. The stories are starting to pour in, such as this post by Andy Revkin at Dot Earth.

  56. Tom F:
    “People who think that 9.2 billion humans cannot live comfortably on this planet with a good standard of living are generally people who have problems with numbers.”
    Yeah, it’s just a *problem with numbers*:  Some people only seem to care about the max number Homo sapiens that can ‘live comfortably’.
    Whereas some also consider the effect of *our* numbers on  *other* species’ numbers:
    Bart V:
    “There are plenty of examples in nature where too large numbers of a certain species causes stress on the ecosystem.”

  57. GaryM says:

    Anyone who thinks they know what will be happening in China ten years from now would be better served putting their money in lottery tickets.  The Chinese Communist Party is trying to do what Gorbachev tried and failed to do in the Soviet Union; bring a limited version of capitalism into their decaying centrally planned  economy.
    It didn’t work out so well in Russia, because those who held power never really gave it up, they just changed uniforms for suits.  Time will tell whether the Chinese can do a better job of it, but it has never worked before.  It took Russia 70 years to implode economically, so who knows how long it will take the Chinese, but happen it will.
    Who knows what their experiment in “population control” alone will lead to.  Forget the brutality of it, one fun thing to picture in the near future is this:
    “Among the reasons that China fascinates
    demographers are the recent rapid fall of its
    total fertility rate ( 1 ) and the remarkable rise
    in the reported sex ratio at birth (SRB). The
    SRB is the number of live male births for
    every hundred live female births in a reference
    period, usually a year, and historically
    the human SRB is near 105, changing little
    with parity (the number of children a mother
    has borne) (2). In China, the SRB for all
    births rose to 113.8 in 1990, and the SRB for
    higher parities was even higher (3, 4).”
    Which has already led to this:
    “For first marriages,
    which traditionally involve about 96% of
    each cohort (1, 4), we find an imbalance in
    RF of over 8% of males by 2020. This translates
    into about 1 million excess males per
    in the market for first marriages.”
    Add a million sexually frustrated males to the population each year, in a society already facing obstacles of a scale and complexity no one can really quantify, add central planning by a government whose members’ primary concern is retaining power at all costs, stir and let sit.
    But don’t worry, some sociologist will come up with a mathematical equation, and we will be able to turn control of such a chaotic system into simple science.  On the other hand, economists with years of study, access to abundant information, and armed with complex and elaborate econometric models, can’t predict a recession in the U.S.   So maybe it won’t be that easy.
    So good luck predicting outcomes in China.  But their opaque, brute force  experiment in societal engineering is no model for policy in the west.

  58. Lazar says:

    i once calculated that, if all estimated fossil fuel reserves could be produced at once (which of course they can’t, not even close), the six billion could enjoy ‘western’ (average of european and u.s.) standards of living for ten years… after which we would almost certainly die en masse.
    at the moment, the roughly 15% living at ‘western’ standards are on borrowed time… living off depleting fossil reserves and other resources; loss of fertile soil, loss of habitat, loss of species, loss of fresh water reserves, pollution, ginormous destruction of ocean life… i am not persuaded that 6 billion, let alone 9 billion, can live at current ‘western’ standards with current and near-future technology.

  59. Keith Kloor says:

    On a related note, I just spotted this. All in favor, say aye. 🙂

    The site, as Grist points out, is pretty tongue-in-cheek. Still, bound to be fodder for some who take it literally.


  60. dhogaza says:

    “People who think that 9.2 billion humans cannot live comfortably on this planet with a good standard of living are generally people who have problems with numbers.”

    Yeah, me and my math degree and my well-known problems with numbers …

  61. JamesG says:

    You might have noticed that cheap energy allows for exploitation of cheap resources, transportation and pretty much everything else. I don’t see who you are in conflict with. Your idea that freedom from government regulations, allows entrepreneurism to flourish then you’ll find that nobody’s arguing. However most of us also noticed that too much freedom from regulations allows criminals and crony capitalists to game the system and that caused the Russian economic collapse under Yeltsin and both Wall Street crashes. Russia’s economy recovered thanks to Putins heavy dose of state control.
    Similarly, I haven’t seen those Chinese statists put a foot wrong since Tianenmen Square. They are even swapping their falling dollars for useful commodities that will gain in value. Their future will probably be like Japan’s present. Your selection of failing economies is hugely suspect. California may be struggling now but she gave more to the US economy than she took for the last 25 years. Greece and the rest of Europe may be suffering some debt problems but they are still way short of the US debt problems. Once China has spent all her crap dollars on more useful stuff she will turn the screw, the USA will default again and after that it won’t be pretty.

  62. GaryM says:

    JamesG (60),
    I appreciate your open lauding of “state control” by Putin in Russia and “statists” in China. You make my point better than I have that these discussions, whether on climate, energy, or population, are at their very core political.  And no less important for that.
    As for “too much freedom and lack of regulation” being the problem in Russia after the fall of the Communist Party, a good, brief summary of the real history is here.
    And I will just let stand the claim about Greece’s debt problems (junk bond rating of its debt, riots in the street, massive unfunded public sector pension benefits – a problem shared by California and Illinois) being less severe than those of the US.  That argument speaks for itself.
    Finally, as far as “lack of regulation” causing the overall US debt crisis, if you are referring to the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage debacle, government regulation in fact directly caused that near catastrophe.  The Congress initially ordered lenders to loan to low income families under the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977 (under that great economist Jimmy Carter).
    When banks wouldn’t throw their own money away, the government distorted the market by causing Fannie and Freddie in 2000 to begin buying those mortgages.  The government thus divorced the profit in writing a mortgage from the risk of non-payment.  Not surprisingly, the share of subprime mortgages relative to total originations rose to 18%-21% between 2004-2006, versus less than 10% in 2001-2003 and during 2007.
    Then Goldman Sachs and others spread that poison through out the world by securitizing bits and pieces of each mortgage, bundling them, and selling them to those who had no idea how flimsy the underlying investments were.  The collapse came when those who were buying and selling those securities realized they were backed by garbage.
    The reason all of this is relevant on a climate blog is that there are those in government, and the scientific community, who want to do for the energy economy what they have done for the housing, banking and auto industries.   The climate debate is dominated on the “warmist” side by those who favor big government solutions.  Their fondness for statism is a very relevant issue in the debate.  And I believe it is one of the main reasons they are increasingly losing the public’s support.

  63. Keith,
    It misses the point and engages in straw man debates to set it up as a consumption vs. population debate. We fall prey to the same temptation as the North-South environment negotiators have done in successive international environmental negotiations. Of course both factors are highly relevant and there is no value in a black or white debate.
    Two points – the work of Brian O’Neill of NCAR looks at a variety of emissions scenarios with changing population assumptions including aging and urbanization as well as growth rates.  This wider demographic dynamics discussion can be a casualty of framing pop as an either or discussion.  Brian’s work is under review at the moment, but it appears to be reasonable to think about scales as large as a wedge.  So not a majority of the 8 or 15 or whatever the estimates are now for the necessary number of wedges for CO2 stabilization. But the point is there are different emissions scenarios based on different growth numbers controlling for other factors.  This can be treated as a scientific question, not a political football or a facile gloss that is willfully blind to key data points as I find Pearce’s pop writing (whereas I otherwise find much of his environmental writing quite convincing).
    Second, the “population” world in the field of practitioners working with under served groups is about helping individuals gain access to services that allow them to voluntary plan the number and timing of their children.  It is demand driven for those services (acknowledging not every program has always been but let’s not have the 1970s India experience shut down all discussions forever).  And asking the world’s poor who are least able to add another responsibility (mitigation) for a problem they were least responsible in causing and most heavily impacted (climate) is untenable and unfair.  But this is far as you get with the banal pop v consumption framing of the population climate debate.  Instead the focus should also include adaptation and how a wider set of health interventions (including family planning) might be part of a strategy to lower vulnerability and increase resilience of these most vulnerable households.  When voluntary, these services can become part of a larger package of interventions that meaningfully have an empowerment rather than burden sharing impact in wider household welfare.  This discussion is missed when it becomes population vs. consumption debated from affair (or when responses outside the traditional energy and climate realm range beyond the knowledge base of traditional areas of expertise for those areas).  Many of the developing countries aren’t missing it though as quite a number (PAI has done a systematic assessment of how many) have included population in their National Adaptation Plans for Action (NAPAs).
    So as much as the either/or framing makes for a good fight, another plea for a wider lens, a deeper understanding of regional differences in population trends, and remembering the neglected realm of adaptation as a way to empower and help achieve some mitigation goals.

  64. Eli Rabett says:

    Maybe someone else made the point, but Eli missed it.  If you talk about population density and carrying capacity, you have to look at the entire footprint.  You could put everyone in the world into Texas at Manhattan densities, but you would need the rest to feed, clothe and provide iphones.
    Joel Cohen wrote a fairly interesting book on the subject, and what the carrying capacity of the world is depends on a number of things, but food and fresh water are the limiting factors, and you soon run into the problem that above a level we are close to you need a lot of energy to provide that food and water.

  65. Keith Kloor says:

    “You could put everyone in the world into Texas at Manhattan densities, but you would need the rest to feed, clothe and provide iphones.”

    I guess it’s okay then if everyone lives like this, since individual footprints don’t matter as much as the collective one.

  66. Alex Harvey says:

    Tom #53,
    ” People who think that 9.2 billion humans cannot live comfortably on this planet with a good standard of living are generally people who have problems with numbers. This is also peripheral to the climate debate, but as there is some overlap of opinions on it, it’s worth discussing. ”
    Help me out with the numbers then. When you have one and a half times as many people as you do now, you need one and a half times as much of everything that we need now. So if we eat meat as I assume we will continue to do, and if you have one and a half times as many people, you’ll need one and a half times as many animals to eat. You’ll need one and a half times as much water, one and a half times as many cars, one and a half times as many houses, and then of course there’s the water, medicine, and … energy.
    So where does it all come from?

  67. GaryM says:

    Someone should write a book about how the Earth does not have the capacity to feed all the people who are procreating like mad.  You could call it…I don’t know…The Population Bomb.   You could say something like “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…
    Oh wait…

  68. Eli Rabett says:

    Tom Friedman’s house ain’t Manhattan densities ikeith.    IEHO Tom and Keith are coming at this from a very naive POV, one that got hashed to death many places.  Probably the strongest proponent was John McCarthy (LISP McCarthy), but when you tore it apart it all came down to having dirt cheap, unlimited energy for things like desalinization, fixing ammonia and the like.  So, where is the majic wand?
    Otherwise, what Alex Harvey said.

  69. Keith Kloor says:

    Eli, you’re obviously not getting my point, so let me refer you to this passage from Bart’s comment (47):

    The 20-80 story puts population in perspective: 20% of the world population uses approximately 80% of the worlds’ resources (dependent on the resource of course). That alone means that focusing on population isn’t where the shoe pinches in many cases.

    In case you’re still not getting point, you can read this book by David Owen, or the cliffnotes version at Yale Environment 360, of which I excerpt this passage:

    Population density also lowers energy and water use in all categories, constrains family size, limits the consumption of all kinds of goods, reduces ownership of wasteful appliances, decreases the generation of solid waste, and forces most residents to live in some of the world’s most inherently energy-efficient residential structures: apartment buildings. As a result, New Yorkers have the smallest carbon footprints in the United States: 7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases per person per year, or less than 30 percent of the national average. Manhattanites generate even less.

    So we know there is a lifestyle available that would greatly reduce our carbon footprint and preserve plenty of space for other non-human inhabitants that environmentalists deign to cherish. The great majority of us–especially faux greens like Friedman–choose not to live that lifestyle.

    Now I’m not one to preach to others how to live. But I have no problem pointing out hypocrisy when I see it.

  70. Tom Fuller says:

    I do believe there’s an upper limit to the number of people this planet can comfortably support. And I do believe that this number varies in accordance with their utilization of resources.
    But I don’t believe 9.2 billion is anywhere close to that limit. I actually don’t believe 19.2 billion is near that limit.  I have read some (certainly not all) of the discussion about carrying capacity. It appeared to me that most participants in that discussion brought their agenda to the table and the calculator.

  71. RickA says:

    #70 Tom Fuller:
    Like Tom, I believe there is an upper limit.  However, I also believe that it is much higher than 9.2 billion.
    One thing history has shown, is that these sorts of limits recede as we approach what was previously thought of as a hard limit.
    New technology will change all of our current assumptions.
    For example, if necessary – we could live underwater (with massively improved technology or biological modifications to humans).
    Also, if necessary – we could live underground.
    Those are just two examples

  72. dhogaza says:

    “I guess it’s okay then if everyone lives like this, since individual footprints don’t matter as much as the collective one.”

    Hmmm, Keith, I doubt that house is a neighborhood that’s as densely settled as Manhattan, which indicates that perhaps you missed Eli’s point?

    Do you disagree that the footprint that counts is the amount of resources required not only for one’s residence, but to feed and clothe one?  That’s Eli’s point.  It’s simple, and it’s accurate.

  73. Sashka says:

    I am not enraged. Maybe it’s because I am relatively tolerant or may because in may book overpopulation is the danger number one, overconsumption is number two while global climate change won’t necessarily make it to top five. But I am not sure that the statement is factually correct. I believe that the level of consumption grows a lot faster in the third world countries than in rich ones.

    To Tom Fuller (1):

    Carrying capacity is constrained not only by available area but also resources, primarily water and energy. I don’t think I need to expound on that.

  74. dhogaza says:

    “So we know there is a lifestyle available that would greatly reduce our carbon footprint and preserve plenty of space for other non-human inhabitants that environmentalists deign to cherish. The great majority of us”“especially faux greens like Friedman”“choose not to live that lifestyle.”

    So how does this comment jive with your sarcastic “since individual footprints don’t matter as much as the collective one” comment?

    If everyone lived in sprawling mansions, then of course the collective footprint would likewise increase tremendously.  Totally consistent with Eli’s point.  Why the snark?  I’d say Eli got your point entirely, which was that you missed his point.

  75. Keith Kloor says:

    My point is that density–for just some of the reasons David Owen cites in the Yale article I reference–trumps all in this equation. It’s not just the TF mansion. It’s the ranchettes out West, the enefficient sprawl of 3,000 foot square homes in the suburbs across the U.S.,, the 2-3 cars per home, the wasted hours spent motoring long distances back and forth to work, etc.

    Please. This is the lifestyle America has chosen. If enviros want to be preachy about population, they ought to be prepared to defend their way of life as being part of the solution. It’s not, of course. So stop pretending that you don’t get what I’m talking about.

    Consumption–as measured in the size of the American house,  and where it’s located, and the lifestyle it supports–collectively trumps all.

  76. Tom Fuller says:

    Matthew Yglesias does a lot on this subject, and is worth reading. Our preferences for house size and number of nosy neighbors  also have a big impact on how much we  drive and spend for other infrastructure.

  77. Lazar says:

    Alex Harvey #66 writes,
    “When you have one and a half times as many people as you do now, you need one and a half times as much of everything that we need now. […] You’ll need one and a half times as much water, one and a half times as many cars, one and a half times as many houses, and then of course there’s the water, medicine, and “¦ energy.”
    Riffing on energy needs… Oil reserves will be exhausted before the population is estimated to reach nine billion, 2050. Any replacement transportation fuel will require greater energy inputs relative to oil. So multiply 1.5 by some factor. About one third of the population are living on less than $2 per day. Probably $25 per day is a reasonable minimum for ‘comfort’. Multiply by another factor. Diminishing returns… we’ve taken the easiest, least energy-intensive natural capital and resources… fertile land, fresh water, minerals. Multiply by another factor. Those ‘easy’ pickings are being consumed and degraded. Multiply by another factor.

  78. Tom Fuller says:

    Well, Lazar and Alex–do you need 1.5 times the amount of railroad track? Do you need 1.5 times the amount of land, or do you need to improve the productivity of agriculture 1.5 times? If nuclear power is supplying baseline energy for plug-in vehicles, does that not provide adequate caloric input for transportation fuels? If shanty towns are replaced by three or four story flats as people get richer, do you need 1.5 times more land, building materials, or postboxes? If GMOs continue to spread and lessen the need for tillage, does that not reduce the amount of land that is degraded and increase productivity?
    I’m not saying there are no challenges to increasing population, but it cannot be as tough as the tripling of population I have seen in my lifetime. Which coincided with a huge reduction in poverty and a relentless expansion of middle class people whom ancient kings would envy…

  79. Eli Rabett says:

    It’s really frightening how naive about this Tom and Keith are.  For example production agriculture (which is what you need at 9 billion) relies on petroleum for fertilizers and machinery.  US Ag has been described, with more than a little truth as a mechanism for turning oil into food.
    Moreover, already the best land is being used, some would say overused, for agriculture, so you won’t get equivalent production out of marginal lands.
    But there is good news.  Ask yourself why the population of France has been steady or falling for about a century, and it ain’t that the French don’t eat well.

  80. AK says:

    @Alex Harvey #66…
    Help me out with the numbers then. When you have one and a half times as many people as you do now, you need one and a half times as much of everything that we need now. So if we eat meat as I assume we will continue to do, and if you have one and a half times as many people, you’ll need one and a half times as many animals to eat. You’ll need one and a half times as much water, one and a half times as many cars, one and a half times as many houses, and then of course there’s the water, medicine, and “¦ energy.
    So where does it all come from?

    From the sun.  The energy, anyway.  According to the map, the  world’s primary demand could be met by an area a fraction of the size of Australia.  Instead of building it on land, float it on the ocean, in areas occupied by the subtropical highs.  Since these areas vary with ENSO conditions, the mirror farms would probably have to be (very slowly) mobile.
    I’ll grant the technology would be very expensive today, but there’ll probably be some analog of Moore’s law, such that as the technology matures and is commoditized, costs will decrease exponentially.  Note that there’s plenty of room for as much energy generation as the entire 9.2 billion would need, at levels equivalent to the developed nations.  You could locate agriculture in such areas, using water distilled by waste heat from the power generation, which would free up land currently used for agriculture for lower density human dwelling and a general return of most of the planet to  more pre-industrial ecololgy.
    You could even locate factories right there, next to the source of  energy, reducing transmission costs and getting them away from living zones.  Those factories would be much more automated than current ones, and most human supervision could probably be done long-distance via the internet (or future equivalent).
    IMO most people objecting to these notions are just finding excuses to reject solutions that involve unfamiliar technology.
    P.S.  Of course, there is also the need for massive energy storage, but deep seas also provide this potential:  a single pressurized balloon with a volume of a million cubic meters (maybe 130 meters in diameter) traveling over a kilometer of vertical distance could store (and deliver) almost a million gigawatt seconds.  Pressurize it with hydrogen at 150 atmospheres, and each cubic meter would have a buoyancy of ~8800 newtons.

  81. Tom Fuller says:

    Silly Rabett, your tricks are for kids. I won’t speak for Keith, but as for me, I may be wrong, but I’m not naive. I have looked into this, I’m aware of how agribusiness works (and sometimes doesn’t),  and I think of all the problems we will face in this century, getting food to come out of the ground will not be one. Getting it to the right tables in the right quantities and in the right time frames will. But logistics is another story.

  82. dhogaza says:

    “My point is that density”“for just some of the reasons David Owen cites in the Yale article I reference”“trumps all in this equation. It’s not just the TF mansion. It’s the ranchettes out West, the enefficient sprawl of 3,000 foot square homes in the suburbs across the U.S.,, the 2-3 cars per home, the wasted hours spent motoring long distances back and forth to work, etc.

    Please. This is the lifestyle America has chosen. If enviros want to be preachy about population, they ought to be prepared to defend their way of life as being part of the solution. It’s not, of course. So stop pretending that you don’t get what I’m talking about.”
    Pounding his coffin nail into his own argument, Keith makes clear that he doesn’t understand Eli’s point, which is that total collective consumption counts.
    Though Keith ironically says “This is the lifestyle America has chosen.”, a wasteful, highly-resource consumptive lifestyle.  Eli’s point that total consumption is what counts stand.
    And don’t be accusing me with statements like:
    “If enviros want to be preachy about population, they ought to be prepared to defend their way of life as being part of the solution. It’s not, of course.”
    Until I began telecommuting (mostly) about 25 years ago, I bike commuted about 50% of the time, used mass transit for about 50% of the rest.  I’ve been buying as much food as practical from local sources (cutting out fossil fuel costs for long-distance food transport) for about the same amount of time.
    Since when was Tom Friedman a “leading enviro”?

  83. dhogaza says:

    “It’s really frightening how naive about this Tom and Keith are.  For example production agriculture (which is what you need at 9 billion) relies on petroleum for fertilizers and machinery.”

    The Green Revolution which temporarily exploded The Population Bomb predictions boils down to new ways to convert fossil fuel to food.

    However much Keith and Tom want to believe that fossil hydrocarbon resources are infinite, they aren’t.  And nuclear, wind, and solar production of electricity can’t replace this particular use of fossil hydrocarbon (though by diminishing consumption for energy production they can help extend the time for which fossil hydrocarbon can be diverted for fertilizer production etc).

    The Keith and Tom show is interesting … scientists are wrong, journalists are right.

    It’s sort of the opposite of argument from authority.  More argument from smugness.

  84. I don’t know that much about agriculture, but there was a thought provoking article in PNAS this year about how “mainstream” agriculture may actually be better for the GHG balance than organic agriculture, because the former gets higher yield and thus needs less land for the same amount of food. Of course, this one paper shouldnt’ be taken as gospel and there are many other environmental problems where organic agriculture clearly outperforms industrialized agriculture.

  85. Keith Kloor says:

    79: It’s really frightening how naive about this Tom and Keith are.

    83: More argument from smugness.

    Interesting. And we know that Eli and and Dhogoza never exhibit such smugness.

    So since Eli does not seem to be engaging whatsoever with my argument, let me restate it as simply as possible:

    Density discourages consumption. That’s the essence of the article I cited by David Owen in Yale 360. If Eli is saying that “total consumption” is what matters, I’m in agreement. But he appears to be deliberately avoiding one very big solution to this “total consumption” problem, which is caused by 20 percent fo the world’s population: adopt an urban lifestyle.

    That’s all I’m arguing. Instead of moving the goalposts, I’d like to see Eli or Dhogoza engage with this. Here’s an even shorter version of the “greenest Americans”  argument from David Owen.

  86. That would be the David Owen who, according to his bio page ( lives in a dense urban center known as ….Washington, Connecticut (population in July 2008: 3,657),  yes?
    (FWIW, I live in Manhattan)

  87. Tom Fuller says:

    Population density vs. resource consumption is not exactly a one-size-fits-all discussion and should probably be considered amongst other factors such as wealth and developmental status.
    Like it or not, the world’s population is urbanizing at an incredible rate, and this is likely to continue. The effects of this urbanization (overall reduction of potential energy use) are currently masked by the fact that the people doing the urbanizing are also making their first steps up the energy ladder. They don’t represent the contrast between David Owen and Steven Sullivan. They essentially are South American, Asian and African farmers moving from 13th to 17th century lifestyles to peripheral engagement in cities with an 18th century infrastructure.
    What will happen exceedingly quickly this century is that the infrastructure of those cities will improve, the immigrants from the fields will shoot up the energy ladder and the land they left behind will be converted to larger and more modern agricultural practices.
    We’ve seen this large scale shift happen in the 20th Century in several locations, so there’s nothing new here.  We are in the middle of creating a very different world. For the huge majority of the people who live in it, this new world will be a vast improvement in terms of income, healthcare, longevity and opportunity.
    This world will consume less energy at the end of the process, although we’ll all ooh and ahh at the spikes on the graph as it unfolds. But we’ve seen this before several times during the last century too. No surprises, no magical thinking.
    It is very much worth our while to spend time and energy making their energy as clean as possible. But that’s not going to be the big story of this century.

  88. TF, I was just hoisting Keith on his own snarky petard.   I’m hardly a fan of the inexplicably influential Tom Friedman’s bloviations.  But as I wouldn’t  discount what David Owen says about population density and consumption just because he doesn’t live in a densely-populated city,  nor would I discount  what Friedman writes about climate change on the basis of his mansion ownership.   It’s the same puerile gotcha indulged in by those who insist that facts about climate change  are nullified by Al Gore’s use of jet planes.

  89. Keith Kloor says:

    Steven, can you point to where I discount anything Friedman says on climate change? I’m merely pointing out his hypocrisy. Moreoever, best as I can tell from his own blog, Owen lived in the Manhattan for quite sometime before leaving for Conn.

    But while you’re on the topic of Al Gore’s use of jet planes, here’s somebody who’s quite concerned about climate change but also can’t abide Gore’s hypocrisy.

    Lastly, I tend to put the Gores and Friedmans in a special category, since they are out there regularly stumping on the urgency of climate change and the importance of sustainability. I don’t discount what they say; I just look at the way they live their lives and find them to be hypocritical. That’s all.

  90. Eli Rabett says:

    Tom Fuller as an expert on population dynamics is one of those things that causes Eli to ROTFLMEO.  Tom Fuller and Keith Kloor shifting the argument in mid point, that is something even Eli can believe in.
    The question of whether urban or village or rural settlements are more efficient, depends, of course on where and what you are talking about, where the food and water are coming from etc.
    For example, take Phoenix.  Please.

  91. Tom,

    “This world will consume less energy at the end of the process”

    You meant “more” instead of “less”, right? Or am I missing something here? Are you saying that as developing countries start developing more, at the end of their development process the total energy use in the world will be *less* than it’s now?

  92. Keith Kloor says:

    Phoenix is a city in name only. It has spread out across the richly biodiverse Sonoran desert like a virus. People don’t live an urban lifestyle there.

    I think I was pretty specific in using New York City as an example of what I’m talking about. Eli still refuses to engage in the main point of my argument: density  discourages consumption. You live in a city, you take up less space, you use less fossil fuels, you have less kids, you own less junk, you hardly drive, etc, etc.

    What’s not to like about that if you’re an environmentalist who cares about climate change and preserving ecosystems–unless it cramps your lifestyle, of course.

  93. dhogaza says:

    “Phoenix is a city in name only. It has spread out across the richly biodiverse Sonoran desert like a virus. People don’t live an urban lifestyle there.”

    Density doesn’t effect the amount of food that needs to be transported there.  At least in my experience doing logistical planning for field camps, I’ve not asked “will folks spread their tents across the site or packed their tents closely together?”  Obviously people will use less energy driving to stores in more dense environments, and use a bit less water on gardens and lawns, but they’ll drink as much water, their food will require as much water, and they’ll flush their toilets equally often regardless of density.

    Density is a good thing, but it’s an incremental, not fundamental, improvement.

  94. Tom Fuller says:

    Hi Bart, No, I mean less–over the long term. Even here in the profligate ol’ US of A, per capita energy use has dropped by 10% over the past decade. It’ll take a long time to see that in the developing world, of course, but the IPCC sees it happening worldwide  (IIRC) around 2105, or somewhere thereabouts…

  95. Tom Fuller says:

    Hi Bart, just re-read your question. No,  the overall total of energy will grow dramatically–but then decline slightly as time goes on. Trend growth in demand indicates that energy requirements will skyrocket from 500 quads today to 3,000 quads by about 2085 (?). Lotta quads.

  96. Tom Fuller says:

    Silly Rabett–I understand rolling on the floor and laughing something off–but what is the E? I usually see it as an A. Always happy to learn from someone I consider an expert on this particular issue…

  97. Keith Kloor says:

    How interesting that Eli and dhogoza play down the importance of cities. Urban density–compared to suburban sprawl-is a major net plus for ecosystem preservation and a reduced carbon footprint.

    Also, with respect to the topic of this post–which is population–how is it just an”incremental” improvement if people that live in cities have less children? This is true not just of rich countries but in the developing world as well.  How is that not a “fundamental” improvement?

    Just a side note: within the environmental movement, there is  deep anti-urban bias that still pervades. I have no idea if this is true of any of the commenters on this thread. But it is a relic of the environmental movement that is counterproductive to the larger aim of sustainability.

  98. GaryM says:

    It’s nice to see that the population/density debate is no different than the climate debate. “My credentials are bigger than yours are.”  “You disagree with me so you are stupid or evil or both.”  “Everybody I know agrees with me, so it must be so.”  The only thing missing are accusations of funding by big procreation.

  99. Tom Fuller says:

    GaryM, is that what the TV series ‘Big Love’ is about? I may have to tune in…

  100. Lazar says:

    how i stopped worrying and learned to love the population bomb

  101. Lazar says:

    maybe it’s my reading comprehension, but i don’t see real disagreement between eli / dhogaza and keith

  102. JamesG says:

    By the time i get to Pheonix she’ll be sinking.

  103. Hank Roberts says:

    > some of the world’s most inherently energy-
    > efficient residential structures: apartment
    > buildings.

    That’s just change in volume versus change in surface area — not more efficient use of energy, just less surface for heat loss from the larger volume containing more occupants. Check the ‘energy efficiency’ of apartment buildings during winter versus during heat waves, and the numbers look different.

    High density populations benefit many species; rats, mice, fleas, cockroaches, bedbugs, and microbes. A decrease in population density limits epidemic spread. This is one of the big argumehts against feedlots, too.

  104. JamesG says:

    I’m not lauding state control, just presenting the facts as I see them. You just prefer to see something different, that’s all. Nothing sinister!
    Why yes indeed human frailties seem to screw up every economic utopian system whether it was dreamt up by Marx or by Hayek, Friedman or Keynes. But there’s little point complaining that somebody somewhere stepped all over your blueprint for perfect progress if you took away the regulations that allowed them to do it.
    I saw several other property booms: UK, Spain, Ireland, Australia – I don’t think any of them were influenced by Freddie or Fannie.  Clearly another, better explanation – well explained by Krugman, who had also predicted disaster – is due to too many economists and financial pundits believing their own hype (and convincing most politicians of both hues) that the boom-bust cycle was beaten now that we were using Friedmanite economics.
    Governments wordwide, including those of Bush and Clinton could have stepped in and stopped it but they instead cheered it on – as you adroitly pointed out. However good, solid  regulations that were added after the first crash would have prevented much of these abuses you talked about, regardless of Fannie and Freddy and government involvements, if only they hadn’t already been removed in a fit of irrational optimism, even quasi-religious fervour, that “the market was self-correcting”. Why of course it is – eventually! Well I can say I predicted the crash – thanks to contrarianism, skepticism and reading Bill Bonner. Did you?

  105. Lazar says:

    A quick calculation… replacing U.S. petroleum consumption with nukes would require approximately 2,800 ‘big’ 1,000 MW plants. We have 104. And we’re talking of getting a fossil-fueled quality of life to 3 billion living under $2 per day, and the rest, plus an additional 3 billion, and not screwing the environment, and hoping changes in the fluid flow won’t scorch food production.
    Technology will solve everything? If p(hunky-dory) < 0.95, I would recommend slowing population growth as a precaution.

  106. Lazar says:

    a) In a world of high population, is high density is a good thing?
    b) Is a world of high population and high density a good thing?
    different questions.
    I’d rather there be fewer people and a little more thought and effort going into avoiding waste, to allow for *more space* for people *and* for wilderness. The human animal ain’t evolved for squishy little boxes.

  107. Keith writes,
    “Moreoever, best as I can tell from his own blog, Owen lived in the Manhattan for quite sometime before leaving for Conn.”
    Ah, I see, he ‘stumps’ for high-density urban living, but decamps to Washington, CT.  And this demonstrates he’s no hypocrite.  Hmm.  I wonder  if Tom Friedman spent a decent portion of *his* life living in the big city too?
    Btw, that inventor dude who can’t abide Al Gore, struck me as rather the, um,  *tormented saint*  when I read that New Yorker article the first time.  I doubt many could pass his purity test. But he’s still young yet.
    (FWIW I loves me my big city living.   Hated living in the ‘burbs.)

  108. Tom Fuller says:

    Lazar, wow–isn’t human fertility declining fast enough for you? I don’t think there’s anybody on this planet I would trust to say ‘you can have x children, but no more.’ And I hope nobody spouts off about China–what they did was very wrong.
    As for your thoughts on 105, there’s more than one way to skin that cat. U.S. demand for liquid fuel for transportation has declined, as has the size of the U.S. fleet and miles traveled per person. A lot of that is the recession. But mileage is going to rise, as is availability of viable public transit, and demographic changes may well bend the curve on miles driven as people age.
    On the supply side, first, I don’t think it’s necessary to eliminate petroleum completely. Second, provision of electricity to hybrid and all electric vehicles doesn’t have to be 100% renewable–and in some places, hydroelectric or wind can make a serious contribution. (And keep your eyes open for solar…)
    As with all really tricky problems, it will be a portfolio approach on a regional basis that will end up being adopted, and it will most likely be effective–after a few stops and starts.

  109. GaryM says:

    Where to begin…  Marx was a indeed Utopian, but Hayek and Freidman were nothing of the kind.  Marx prescribed a quasi-religion expressly designed to actively  alter human nature by changing the conditions under which people lived.  Hayek and Friedman argued that, understanding human nature as it is, a free market is the system best designed to provide for the good of all men.  In trying to describe his politics, Hayek wrote:  “What I should want is a word which describes the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution. But I have racked my brain unsuccessfully to find a descriptive term which commends itself.”   Spontaneous evolution doesn’t sound much like government created utopia to me.
    Krugman stopped being a serious economist long ago, and wants us to spend our way out of the trillion dollar deficits we already have.   So no comment on him.
    And, not being one to hide his own ignorance, I really don’t know about the “good, solid  regulations that were added after the first crash [that]  would have prevented much of these abuses you talked about, regardless of Fannie and Freddy and government involvements, if only they hadn’t already been removed in a fit of irrational optimism….”
    Repeal of Glass-Steagall may well have amplified and spread the contagion, but it was not “added” after the S & L crisis (which I assume you mean by the first crash), and had nothing to do with causing the sub-prime collapse.   Glass-Steagall had nothing to do with writing the mortgages for people who had no ability to repay them.
    The only attempts to regulate Fannie, Freddie and this burgeoning Ponzi scheme that I know about were proposed by conservatives.  They were of course repeatedly blocked by Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and the other creators of, and recipients of cash from, Fannie and Freddie.
    As to whether I “predicted” the crash, no one in particular asked my opinion.  (Shocking huh?)  But was I aware of what was coming, sure.  My brother worked for a major U.S. bank and we talked over several years about how ridiculous the situation was becoming.  Billions of dollars in mortgages were being written with no proof of income.  The only thing you needed was an appraisal of the right value.  Anybody with half a brain knew there was a housing bubble (except of course Barney and Chris – or did they, which is a more interesting question).
    Goldman Sachs knew full well the market might collapse. Even while they were designing and marketing the very securities that spread and magnified the risk, they were short selling the same securities, and buying massive amounts of insurance from AIG for the risk they did retain.   Notice the caress on the wrist they just got from the current (non-conservative) administration?
    The real estate market bubble and collapse were creations of government regulation.  If we allow government to take over the energy economy, we can expect similar results there.  Government central planners will pick winners and losers, will distort the market, and again divorce risk from reward.

  110. Lazar says:

    Regional details matter. Kuwait imports 100% of food in exchange for exports of mostly oil (90%). Black gold running out will greatly raise the price of food and they’ll need to produce and export something else the world values as highly or higher. Kuwait is an extreme example but much of the Middle East is in a similar predicament; growing urban populations from oil lacking fresh water to feed themselves. One of the more robust predictions is increasing aridity and droughts in the already arid and poor areas of the world. A rather unimaginative correspondent suggested they can always import their food requirements…
    Growing population is not sensible.

  111. Eli Rabett says:

    Tom, if you what to know what E is think of Eli’s best features.  Of course, YMMV
    OTOH, as we say, there are a whole lot of inputs into Manhattan, which include a huge water supply system, which drains a good part of upstate New York, electricity which comes from as far as James River in Canada, etc.  It is one thing to have a septic field, and another to have a water treatment plant and a sewage system.   Cities are much more energy intensive per capita then just what is used on site, because their environmental footprint extends well beyond the city limits so just looking at the energy use in the city itself gives you the wrong answer.  Of course, since what you are looking for is the energy anomaly vs. some other way of living, it gets complicated, but as Tom and Keith demonstrate daily, there is no problem so complicated that it doesn’t have a simple but wrong answer.

  112. dhogaza says:

    “maybe it’s my reading comprehension, but i don’t see real disagreement between eli / dhogaza and keith”

    That’s kinda my point, Keith continues to “prove Eli wrong” by proving Eli’s point …

  113. Tom Fuller says:

    Silly Rabett, eat some cereal–you need more fiber in your diet.
    I might note that the first commercial power plant in New York was a combined heat and power system and NYC has an incredible district heating program.
    Rural and suburban dwellers also have an extensive environmental footprint that extends beyond their boundaries, as witness the success of Walmart et al. What’s the point? New York City emits 1% of the nation’s CO2. The citizens of New York City are not as big energy users as their suburban neighbors. The environmental footprint of all of us is bigger than we imagine.
    But urban dwellers have less of an impact on the environment than their neighbors. Which is fortunate, as that’s the way the world is heading.
    Parts of this problem are indeed complex. But there’s a name for a solution that involves breaking problems down into manageable parts that are less complex and amenable to straightforward solutions. Oh yeah–successful–so I guess you won’t be interested.

  114. “Krugman stopped being a serious economist long ago, and wants us to spend our way out of the trillion dollar deficits we already have.   So no comment on him.”
    Which is simply Keynesian economics — which is apparently not ‘serious’ to you.  All along, since the economic crisis began, Krugman has been consistently advocating for massively greater spending than we’ve ended up committed to.   These days the ‘deficit hawks’, so curiously  unloved and ignored while Bush ran up the deficit, are all loudly a-squawk, drowning out other views; whatever window politically there may have been for spending at the levels Krugman has always advocated, has closed — even though the recovery appears to be ailing, as he predicted it would.   You’d better hope it’s a blip and Krugman wasn’t right all along.

  115. Eli Rabett says:

    Having grown up in NYC, no, that is not a particular surprise to anyone with eyes.  Remind me to look you up when Eli wants to learn how to spit.

  116. Eli Rabett says:

    Perhaps it is time to answer Eli’s question – why is the population of France stable, or even falling for a lot of years.
    The simple answer is that people realized that they didn’t need a lot of children for one or two to survive so that they would be taken care of in old age.  They also did not need a lot of hands to run the farm.
    To the extent that this happens in the Asian Tigers, India, China and then the third world, population and the stresses it puts on the Earth system will relax.

  117. […] (Figures from Newman. Post based on a comment of mine over at Kloor’s blog) […]

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