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March 14, 2006


Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.

If you please, three humble questions:

1) In a finite world is the ‘reality’ of an economic model based upon unrestrained per capita consumption and the seemingly endless expansion of production capabilities sustainable or patently unsustainable?

2) Is the global economy not organized as a thinly-veiled, distinctly human pyramid scheme in which most of the wealth is funneled to millions of people at the top of the economic pyramid, while billions of human beings at the ever-widening and -deepening base of the pyramidal construction are left destitute, with very little?

3) Given the current scale and rate of growth of absolute global human population numbers, is there any basis whatever in biophysical reality for concluding that the small planet we inhabit can be treated much longer as if this Earth is an ever-expressive cornucopian-like teat at which the human species can eternally suckle?

Please consider the new science from Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D., Duke University and David Pimentel, Ph.D., Cornell University on human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth.

Always, with thanks,


Dave Iverson

SES: "1) In a finite world is the ‘reality’ of an economic model based upon unrestrained per capita consumption and the seemingly endless expansion of production capabilities sustainable or patently unsustainable?

DI: This is a model only for some (too many I argue) Economic Fundamentalists. See, e.g. http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/ecoecon/2006/11/economic_fundam.html

SES: "2) Is the global economy not organized as a thinly-veiled, distinctly human pyramid scheme in which most of the wealth is funneled to millions of people at the top of the economic pyramid, while billions of human beings at the ever-widening and -deepening base of the pyramidal construction are left destitute, with very little?"

DI: "Western Civilization would be a good idea", once said Gandhi. What we have now is a flawed system. It delivers the goods, but is cruel and unjust as noted by Joan Robinson. Incidentally I keep this Joan Robinsion quote on my wall: "The purpose of studying economics is not to get a ready-make set of answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists." Another good bit of advice in Garrett Hardin's little book FILTERS AGAINST FOLLY: How to Survive Despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent. Another good book is E.F. Schumacher's SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: Economics as if People Mattered. See in particular, Chapter 4 "Buddhist Economics".

SES: "3) Given the current scale and rate of growth of absolute global human population numbers, is there any basis whatever in biophysical reality for concluding that the small planet we inhabit can be treated much longer as if this Earth is an ever-expressive cornucopian-like teat at which the human species can eternally suckle?"

DI: Certainly not. At least we Cassandras don't think so.

Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.

Dear Dave, John Feeney and Friends,

Please comment on the following presentation.

Thanks always,


"Humanism without borders-Toward Global Harmony."
by Madeline Weld

Keynote address to the Humanist Association of Canada 2006 Conference Vancouver, BC, Canada June 16, 2006

When we express our desire toward global harmony, it is reasonable to ask: harmony with what or with whom? The other part of the title, "Humanism without borders," implies that what we are concerned with is harmony with other humans. In fact, the word "humanism" puts the focus on humans. Can we achieve harmony on Earth if we consider only human-human interactions? There is a global entity that doesn’t have borders, never did and presumably never will- the biosphere. What hope is there for humans to be able to live in harmony amongst themselves if the biosphere on which their lives depend is in disarray? According to what scientists are telling us, our biosphere is under very serious stress. This state of affairs is entirely driven by the human species, which is in the process of destroying the web of life on earth.

Today, I will discuss the idea that humans don’t see themselves as one of many species in a web of life-they see themselves as above it, to use as they see fit. No current mainstream religious or secular ideology encompasses ecology in its code of ethics. But a voluntary reduction in human population and consumption-through voluntary restraint-will not occur without a different ethic. And there can be no global harmony without moving ethics beyond human-to-human interactions in a world defined by environmental degradation and conflicts over dwindling resources. I’d like to say something right at the beginning, just so no one gets too distressed when I speak for the next forty minutes or so or until someone puts a stop to me. I’m going to address topics that some people might consider controversial. But don’t worry. If you bear with me over the parts where you may think I’ll be coming out with some kind of a scary ideology, I hope you’ll conclude that I’m touching on certain areas just to make a point. I am committed to the principles of humanism and support the 10 core principles that the HAC developed some time ago. In any case, you can bring up anything positive or negative during the Q & A or in the panel discussion.

Who are humanists anyway? Simply put, humanists (at least the secular variety) are people who reject the idea of a supernatural deity or deities who are concerned with human affairs. In the humanist world view, the only ones who can solve human problems are humans. But humanists don’t simply reject a belief in the supernatural, they have a sense of duty to their fellow human beings. They reject deities on the basis of reason but feel compassion for their fellow human. Compassion for other humans is certainly not unique to humanists, it is in expressed in some way in all religions-although in some of the less tolerant versions, only people meeting certain criteria are allowed into the circle of compassion.

If humanism is a current in the river of ideas, it is a small current in our society- at least judging by the number of people who call themselves humanists. We do punch above our weight, it is true. Much of what people consider to be human rights and freedoms converge totally with humanist principles. The framers of the US constitution even managed to make it godless, despite living in a country where religious belief was strong. In general, humanist thought converges with the thought of many people whom I am going to refer to as "progressives" and in fact are often called progressives. I can’t give a watertight definition of progressives but in general I would say that these are people who believe in social justice and human rights free from religious strictures and excessive state control. They are concerned with a minimum living standard for the poor, equal rights for women and minorities, freedom of religion, and so on. Humanists often share common cause with progressives who hold religious or spiritual beliefs. For example, they could work with Catholics for a Free Choice on the issue of abortion. In fact, I think on many issues one could lump humanists, in large measure at least, with progressives. If you think it is unfair or inaccurate to do this, I’d be interested in learning how you think humanist have distinguished themselves from progressives (other than the outright rejection of deities) in the topics I address.

All of the progressive causes I mentioned, you will notice, are human-centred. In more recent times, the circle of compassion in our society has widened to include not only the entire human race-at least theoretically, but some of our favourite pets and other animals. This widening of the circle has not been restricted to humanists, similar trends occurred in spiritual or religious people. And it isn’t necessarily only modern. In fact, Francis of Assissi, the Catholic saint, is probably the best-known person to have developed this philosophy of greater inclusiveness, recognizing non-human organisms as being valuable in their own right. Michel de Montaigne said, "There is a kind of respect and a duty in man as a genus which link us not merely to the beasts, which have life and feelings, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men; and to the other creatures who are able to receive them we owe gentleness and kindness. Between them and us there is some sort of intercourse and a degree of mutual obligation." And the Chinese philosopher Chu Hsi (1130- 1200) defined jen, or humanity, as "the feeling of love, respect, being right, and discrimination between right and wrong- and the feeling of commiseration pervades them all." There was deliberately no attempt to stipulate a restricted class of objects of commiseration.

The environmental concerns that have also come to the fore in recent times would seem to reflect some of the thinking of Montaigne and Chu Hsi. But when we use words like "green" and "sustainable," are we actually concerned for other life forms and wild spaces for their own sake, or only with the ability of the human species to continue to have resources in the future and not poison itself with its own pollution? The continuing pursuit of economic growth by governments and corporations, as well as "individuals screaming like spoilt children for more candy" (to quote John Updike), suggests that we feel entitled to appropriate an ever-increasing share of the planet’s resources. Homo sapiens, so-called, consumes from one-quarter to one-third of the planet’s natural energy, and uses two-thirds of its habitable land surface and 50% of its fresh run-off water. The human population and consumption juggernaut has been called the biological holocaust or the sixth great extinction, and suggests that our compassion for other living things is at a fairly embryonic level. As a species, we do not yet think of ourselves as part of the web of life.

There is some confusion in our thinking. There seems to be a belief, for example, that social justice and environmental issues go hand in hand, and people who claim to support the one often claim to support the other. Which can lead to difficulties because there is often a real conflict between immediate social justice and environmental issues. One of the most famous, that has caused both progressives and religionists to express outrage, is the Chinese government’s one-child policy. From a human rights perspective, that policy is problematic. However, despite its unequal enforcement, corruption, and other serious shortcomings, that policy is estimated to have averted some 400 million births. Such a policy could never have been so effectively deployed in a democracy. From an environmental perspective, the Chinese one-child policy is a good thing because China is in an environmentally catastrophic situation. It is also a good thing from a human well-being perspective if one considers the economic situation of the poorest Chinese, at least 100 million of whom are economic migrants scrabbling for a living, and the prospects of people not yet born, who will reap the environmental benefits of the current one-child policy.

Another example of the conflict between environmental issues and social justice is seen in the internal battle of the US Sierra Club. In1970, the US Sierra Club promoted population stabilization for the United States, basing its argument on the huge per capita consumption in that country. The US birthrate did fall to and below replacement levels. The total fertility rate is now 2.04, just below replacement. But its population is growing rapidly, driven by immigration and the children of immigrants. Immigrants to the US have a higher average number of children than people at a comparable social and education level in their country of origin. Yet in 1996, the Sierra Club dropped US population stabilization as an objective and adopted a policy of neutrality on immigration. The board aggressively opposed a referendum to overturn that policy, even as the US population grew by 32.7 million or 13.2% during the 1990s. Since 1972, the fertility rate of immigrants has averaged 30% above replacement, much higher than that of the native-born. And most immigrants, of course, seek to increase their levels of consumption to the American norm as rapidly as they can, thereby counteracting the efforts of native-born Americans who may be trying to become greener and, from a global perspective, of the Chinese one-child policy. There was an internal struggle within the organization, and those who sought to reinstate population stabilization as an objective, which included some board members, were attacked as being racist and xenophobic. In other words, their environmental arguments were ignored and, without evidence, malevolent motives were attributed to them.

It turns out that the Sierra Club’s rejection of its earlier policy for population stabilization and the concomitant controls on immigration (which is responsible for two-thirds of the growth) was the result its accepting a large amount of money from a donor, David Gelbaum, who said he would cut them off if they ever adopted an anti-immigration policy. In 2000 and 2001, he rewarded them for their stand on immigration with donations totalling one hundred million dollars. The Sierra Club did not inform its members of this donor and the conditions for his generosity. Mr. Gelbaum’s reasons for opposing an immigration policy that would lead to US population stabilization are based on social justice reasons: his own grandfather had been an immigrant. Many members of the faction of the Sierra Club’s board opposing any restriction on immigration were in fact involved with social justice issues. As was the case with the US Sierra Club, the conflict between environmental issues and social justice issues often leads to environmental issues being relegated to second place. Professor and deep ecologist George Sessions commented in 1998 that: "The pressure upon (and even intimidation of) environmental organizations to turn toward social/environmental justice concerns has recently become enormous."

The unfortunate fact is that attempts to alleviate social justice problems often exacerbate environmental problems. A current issue that will probably become more acute concerns migration: should immigration to other countries be an escape valve for those who live in areas where the environment is collapsing? Worldwide, the total number of migrants increased by up to 17 million between 2000 and 2005, from 175 million in 2000 to 185-192 million in 2005. There are an estimated 30 million environmental refugees, a category expected to increase sharply. Feedback effects of a deteriorating environment cause pressure on people to emigrate- an estimated 135 million people may be driven from their lands by the spread of deserts, for example. China is projected to have 150 million ecological migrants or environmental refugees out of a population of 1.3 billion. There are problems with allowing or encouraging people from environmentally degraded areas to immigrate to areas not yet so degraded. The abandonment of damaged areas masks global population and environmental problems. And when migrants move from low-consuming to high-consuming areas, they increase their ecological footprint and environmental impact. It is also commonly the more educated people who leave, precisely those, presumably, who are most needed at home. When people view emigration as an option for environmental degradation resulting ultimately from population growth, it relieves governments of the responsibility of adopting environmentally responsible population policies. But progressives are equally likely to advocate an open immigration policy-people without borders, as it were-as corporations who favour people and resources without borders. Corporations, because they really like the way that open immigration can keep the wages down, and progressives for reasons of social justice. And in another one of those contradictions, the traditional constituency of the progressives, namely lower income people, suffer the most from the wage compression that open immigration can bring about. One example is the effect of large-scale Mexican migration on blue collar wages in California.

William Catton Jr. has suggested that we should be called Homo colossus, for our colossal impact on the environment, which has been enabled ultimately by oil. In his book, Overshoot, Catton argues that the human population has far exceeded its carrying capacity on Earth and will crash when oil no longer enables our profligacy. So what is behind the human inability to recognize that human numbers cannot grow indefinitely on a finite planet. Why are we who call ourselves Homo sapiens, the wise, so blind to our foolishness? Is it because we think we are special? All religions tell us that we are special. We are not just another species that evolved by the same mechanisms as fungi and dung beetles. The monotheistic religions in particular tell us that we are distinct, in a category by ourselves, because we have souls, while animals and plants and microbes do not. Even when the devout acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of evolution and claim to accept it, they often engage in special pleading. For example, the late (and in this audience, presumably unlamented) Pope John Paul II declared that evolution was a fact, but insisted that somewhere in the course of human evolution, ensoulment happened. Which means, as someone pointed out, that somewhere along the line, parents without souls had a child who got one.

But secular progressives understand that such special pleading for humans is nonsense, don’t they? Darwin and his finches don’t bother them. They accept that different species of finches could have evolved in close proximity to one another because they adapted over time to the local conditions on the various Galapagos islands. Similarly, they accept with equanimity the fact that we share about 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. And because they know that evolution occurs through the adaptation of organisms, no matter the species, to local conditions, which vary widely around the globe, they naturally accept the idea that a globally distributed bipedal ape will show adaptations to local conditions.

Sure they will! Remember the statement that we heard a lot a few years ago, "There is no biological basis to race." This statement is a biologically nonsensical ideological assertion. When my children were born, my husband celebrated their births with me (despite this contribution to the world’s global population). As it happens, both of the babies were white, which I didn’t find surprising since both my husband and I are of European descent. Let’s imagine for a moment that one of my babies had turned out to be black or Chinese. I really think my husband would have been a little startled. So I might have said, "What’s the matter, Sweetheart. You know that there’s no biological basis to race." And he might have said, "My dear, I think there is some biology that went on that you didn’t tell me about." Is anyone here willing to assert that his suspicions would have been ill-founded?

I want to make it clear that when I say that the assertion that there is no biological basis to race is an absurdity, that is all I am saying. I am not saying that humans should be categorized on the basis of race or that persons of some races are more worthy of respect and rights than persons of other races. In fact, it’s precisely in response to past crimes committed in the belief of racial superiority, the slave trade, the decimation of indigenous peoples, and the holocaust being the most egregious, that the denial of the existence of races arose along with the commendable repudiation of racism. The assertion that there is no biological basis to race, however, has no more basis in biology than the assertion that humans have souls. In fact, the field of genetic studies on human differences is a very active one. While the genetic code of all of us is extremely similar, we periodically see single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that is one-letter differences in the genetic code. In the 3 billion or so letters of one set of our chromosomes (ie 23 chromosomes), there are about 10 million SNPs. SNPs tend to occur in different patterns in different populations. They also tend to be inherited in clusters, called haplotype blocks. Like SNPs, haplotype blocks occur at different frequencies in different regions of the world, and population geneticists used this information to reconstruct the story of human migration around the world. The Hap Map project is an international collaboration studying human variation using haplotype blocks. Recreational genomics companies, such as GeoGene, AncestryByDNA, and Roots for Real, now offer to tell people what their ancestry is from a cheek swab for a few hundred dollars.

It turns out that race is not the only issue about which the progressives are a little touchy. Do you remember the furor that ensued, early last year, when president of Harvard University, Larry Summers, suggested that "innate differences" might be the reason that there were fewer women than men in the physical sciences and engineering? He came within a whisker of losing his job. It’s important to note several things about that event. One is that he never said that women shouldn’t be engineers, just that perhaps we needn’t worry so much about numbers. Another is that he presented his idea as a hypothesis, and that is exactly the word he used, and invited his listeners to marshal the evidence to show that his hypothesis was wrong. A third thing is that he said what he said at an invitation only - that is closed- conference called specifically to address the issue of women in science. There were only about 50 people who heard him. If his hypothesis had been flaky, presumably his academic colleagues should just have pointed this out to him, with the evidence they marshalled, and moved on. Yet his words get broadcast all over the world, primarily because one female participant, a professor at MIT, immediately stormed from the meeting place and let the media know that what Summers said almost made her throw up. One can only hope that her students don’t base their methodology of rational criticism on her behaviour.

It is crucial to point out that the people who tried to get Summers fired were progressives. Conservatives and religionists didn’t have anything to do with it. On the contrary, many would probably endorse any arguments for sex differences with biblical justifications that progressives disagree with. And it’s precisely in response to past sex discrimination, when many doors really were shut for most women or could only be opened by the most determined, that the ideological assertion that all sex differences arise from socialization and the push for a 50:50 male:female distribution in all jobs, were born. Well, all prestigious and well-paying jobs-there doesn’t seem to be an effort to increase the number of female garbage collectors and meat packers. Summers challenge to marshal evidence was never deemed worthy of consideration. The thinking seems to be, "If the cause is just, who needs evidence?"

In the biological literature, sex differences are not a controversial issue. Or they weren’t at one time. If they are controversial now, it is because politics has impinged on science. Many sex differences in the brains of animals have been found. In fact, seeking to link sex differences in the brain to behaviour is an active field of research. Sex differences in humans are also a field of study. Humans and animals have essentially the same brain parts, hormones and receptors. In many species, male and female animals have evolved quite different behaviours to maximize their Darwinian fitness. Could evolution also have resulted in sex differences in humans? Could the behaviours and cognitive skills most strongly selected for in human males differ from those most strongly selected for in human females? Interestingly, the person who spearheaded the silencing of Larry Summers was a biologist. I always thought biologists of all people should be able to handle the concept of sex differences.

If you find my raising these issues offensive, I would ask you to give me your biologically based arguments that Home sapiens should be exempt from geographical variations and sex differences that are found in many other species- just as I would ask the pope about his biologically based arguments for ensoulment.

You may be wondering why have I digressed into a discussion of sex differences and race in humans when I’m supposed to be talking about global harmony. It was to make a point. The point I want to make is that there are not only religious taboos in our society, there are progressive secular taboos. If you felt uncomfortable while I was discussing those topics, I suggest it is because those taboos are quite powerful. These taboos reflect the fact that the idea that the human species is a species that evolved just like the others is offensive not only to religionists, but just as offensive to progressives, when you start to explore some of its implications. When someone says that there are fewer women in engineering because of innate sex differences rather than discrimination, it is the ox of the progressives that is being gored and, as far as I can tell, their instinct to silence and threaten is not substantially different from that of religionists when an ideology they hold dear is challenged.

Which brings us to a subject where the denial that humans are a species just like the others is very strong both amongst the religious/conservatives and the secular/progressives. The denial I am talking about concerns human population growth. If you believe that humans are a species that evolved just like the others, then you accept that there must be environmental constraints on that species. In other words, you accept that the idea of carrying capacity applies to humans as well as to other animals. The carrying capacity for a species is the number of individuals of that species that can be maintained in the long term in a given area, without destruction of the resources that sustain them. But the idea that there can be such a thing as human carrying capacity is deeply offensive to practically everyone because it means that there can be too many people.

We know that many, probably most, religions are pronatalist. But why have progressives failed to support attempts to stop the burgeoning growth of human numbers so that we can reach levels that scientists tell us are sustainable? The progressives, in the form of social justice activists in their various manifestations, have in fact probably done as much to impede as to promote solutions in the area of human population growth.

The progressives do not accept that there can be too many people, especially since virtually all population growth is occurring in the developing, that is non-white, world. In the UNFPA’s 2005 projection, the world’s population will increase from 6,464.7 million in 2005 to 9,075.9 million in 2050 (that is, by 2,611.2 million). The more developed regions are projected to grow from 1,211.3 to 1,236.2 million (by 24.9 million). The less developed regions are projected to grow from 5,253.5 to 7,839.7 million (by 2,586.2 or over 99% of the total world growth). A subset of the less developed regions, known in the UN as the Least Developed Countries, are projected to grow from 759.4 to 1,735.4 million (by 976 million or 37% of total world growth).

The growth in the developed world occurs primarily through immigration from the developing world. Therefore, there is a total de-emphasis of demographics per se, and an emphasis on reproductive rights but not much on the reproductive responsibility to show consideration for the web of life on which those rights are ultimately based. This was very evident at the Cairo conference on population in 1994 (the International Conference of Population and Development, ICPD) where the right to reproductive health care, and the right to "freely and responsibly" choose when and how often to have children was advocated, but population control was not addressed. In fact, some accused the feminists of being in bed with the Vatican for their aversion to the population issue itself. It is progressives, just as much as religionists, who are likely to accuse those concerned with overpopulation of racism, as in "if you think there are too many people in this world who do you want to put into concentration camps first", sexism " you are blaming poor women for problems caused by overconsumption," colonial imperialism etc. Human population growth as a contributing factor to our environmental woes remains a taboo subject. We don’t hear about it as a factor in Rwanda, in Haiti, or in the endless conflicts in Africa.

Here is a quote taken from Val Stevens of the Optimum Population Trust, a British-based organization, in an article called Paths to Wisdom (OPT Journal, vol.6, no. 2, April 2006):

"In parallel with OPT’s development, Real World reflected the birth of radical ecology, ecocentrism, bio-centrism. For me, this magazine presented blazing insights. I started writing for it. Steered by the ex-Left, and ex-Green party member Sandy Irvine, it renounced the contradictory, guilt-ridden, muddled thinking of the left-greens, and broke through the constraints of political correctness to attack both Left and Right, criticised the environmental organisations and the Green party, and rated high growth of population as destructive as high per capita consumption. With these ideas at its core, ECO (the campaign for political ecology) was set up and I became an Executive Committee member."

"At meetings hosted by ECOin the early 90s, [Professor John] Gray’s ‘Post Humanist’ views reflected the emerging eco-centred analysis of man’s place in nature. It seemed as if a whole new era of thought had dawned. But this new ‘enlightenment’ has remained utterly marginal. On the world stage (eg. UN global conferences) through the 90s, social justice lobbies and the women’s movement brooked no mention of the growth of human numbers as part of the environmental crisis- it was still down to capitalist oppression and poverty, with human short-term welfare before protection of ecosystems-as if we didn’t utterly depend on them. In the face of such hubris my bafflement gave way to despair. The curious thing is that I acknowledge as worthy of support, each particular issue on which the environmental and justice organisations campaign; they are part of a decent and sustainable society. But, to go right back to stage one on my path, [Paul] Ehrlich said, 'However worthy the cause, it is doomed if we don’t halt human population growth.'"

The popular social justice view is that population is not a problem, that the pie is big enough, the only problem is that it is divided into very unequal pieces. There is a very large and very obvious gap in this logic. If Earth is in trouble because the rich are consuming too much of the Earth’s capital, how does changing the consumers to the poor people help in any way? The Earth is consumed just the same. The trees that once covered Haiti don’t care that it was a burgeoning population of poor people that felled them, rather than a rich capitalist corporation. And it didn’t change the way erosion occurred to the point of whole hilltops being washed away during the last hurricane season.

To what can we attribute the recent phenomenal increase in human numbers? All organisms have an innate tendency to increase their numbers. When it comes to our own species, we tend to give many sociological reasons that support our biological imperative to reproduce, such as pronatalist religions and unavailability of birth control, cultural and social security reasons and so on. And it is true that all of these do promote population growth. It seems, though, that everything can be boiled down to a very simple reason, and one that, if shown to be correct, provides further evidence that we are a species much like the others. The underlying cause of the ever-expanding human population is simply this: food availability. This assertion is made by Professor Russell Hopfenberg of Duke University in a paper entitled "Human carrying capacity is determined by food availability," published in the journal Population and Environment (vol. 25, no. 2) in 2003. I’m going to quote a paragraph from an editorial by Steven Salmony in fragilecologies, called "Is the human population bomb exploding NOW?" (22 March 2005) to summarize Hopfenberg’s findings.

Hopfenberg gives us empirical data of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This means human population dynamics are essentially like the population dynamics of other species. It also means that world human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth fuels the impression that food production needs to be increased. The data indicate that as we increase food production every year, the number of people goes up too.

With every passing year, as food production is increased, leading to a population increase, millions go hungry. Why are those hungry millions not getting fed year after year after year...and future generations of poor people may not ever be fed? Every year the human population grows. All segments of it grow. Every year there are more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like all the other segments of the population. We are not bringing hunger to an end by increasing food production; we are giving rise to more hungry people.

Perhaps a new biological understanding is emerging with Russell Hopfenberg’s research. It is simply this: human population numbers, as is the case with other species, are primarily a function of food availability. Although the human population "explosion" appears to be a huge problem, we can take the measure of it and find a remedy that is consonant with universally shared human values.

Remember the Green Revolution? I believe it validates Hopfenberg’s data. It produced a huge increase in food production and yet hundreds of millions in India remain poor. The whole Indian subcontinent had about 300 million people at the time of independence. There are now close to 1.5 billion in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh combined. The population in these countries soared in conjunction with the increase in food production brought about by the Green Revolution, and a huge proportion, hundreds of millions in absolute numbers, remained in absolute poverty.

How has Hopfenberg’s data been accepted? Here is what Steven Salmony wrote in a posting (16 April 2006) to a listserve that I am on, called ottawadissenters, whose raison d’etre is to discuss the energy-resource-environmental-population mess we’re in. The subject of discussion was "Eating the planet."

"At the end of last month I was in NYC for the 2006 State of the Planet Conference at Columbia University. Please know the issues discussed in this group were barely mentioned in the course of the Conference. Of one of the leading human population scientists on the planet I asked this question, 'What do you think of Russell Hopfenberg’s data?' He spoke only four words in reply, 'I have no comment.' This response looks to me like an example of a failure of leadership. Forgive me for saying so, but the unwillingness of scientists to comment/interpret/critique unchallenged scientific data reminds me of a dereliction of duty to the broader scientific community and an unforgivable omission to coming generations."

Apparently, it’s a little to risky, even at a scientific conference, to discuss whether the human population is tied to the food supply. Why, that would make us just like other species, such as rabbits and foxes. In his article, Hopfenberg mentions the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s project during the 1970s "to map the productive capabilities of soil the world over, including estimates of the kinds of crops that might be grown in the various soil types (Higgins et al., 1983). The implication is that all soil on the planet that is cultivable, has freshwater accessibility and contains the nutrients necessary for crop production is ultimately available for human food production. Again, the data presented here indicate that population will continue to increase as long as food production continues to increase." Indeed, much of the increase in food production that has occurred during the last 30 years to drive the increase in human numbers has been at the expense of wildlands and the homes of other species. As Lester Brown who heads the Worldwatch Institute and his colleagues have pointed out in their many publications, we’ve already put to use all the cultivable land. We can’t increase food production that way any more.

The inability to directly confront the population problem when addressing global issues is illustrated by the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, released in 1987 and also known as the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Report proposed a strategy for what it called sustainable development that was based on a sustainable level of population, a reduction of the energy and resource content of economic growth, equity between and within nations, and environmental protection by merging environment and economics in decision making. The Report was followed in 1992 by the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at which the Vatican stifled any discussion of population. While economic growth has continued, there has been nothing like an adequate reduction of the energy and resource content of growth, nor has there been a notable increase in equity. Like most political documents, the Report did not advocate direct measures to reduce population growth; it anticipated that the education of women and economic growth would bring about a demographic transition. However, the education of girls and women is a long term goal that will not have any immediate effects on population growth. In fact, the continued growth of population has severely set back the education of girls in some areas, notably in Africa. The demographic transition theory itself has been severely criticized by Virginia Abernethy, who points out that people often tend to have more babies when they feel economic security. For example, the baby boom after the second world war occurred because people were feeling economically confident and the baby bust during the depression occurred when people were economically shattered. Mexican and other immigrants to the US have a higher total fertility rate than people of the same economic level who remain in their home countries, presumably because the migrants feel economically able to support more children. In addition, the population in some areas that experienced a great increase in wealth, such as Saudi Arabia, has soared, in direct contradiction to the demographic transition theory. Despite all the evidence contradicting it, the demographic transition theory is often invoked as if it were a law of physics. In order to bring all humans to a modest European standard of living, as advocated by the Brundtland report, would now require several Earths. In other words, it is not possible.

Just how bad is that predicament? Let us consider a list of facts relating to the human population and its use of global resources.

· The human population increases by about 75 million people each year, 2.5 Canadas.

· The human species consumes close to one-third of the world’s net primary productivity (in the form of vegetal food, meat, milk, eggs, wood etc.). Net primary productivity is the net amount of solar energy converted to plant organic matter through photosynthesis, ie., the primary food energy source for all ecosystems.

· Species: By appropriating ever more land for its own use, the human species is bringing about what is known as the sixth mass extinction. The number of species going extinct due to human activity is estimated to be 1000 times above background level. A third of amphibians, a quarter of mammals, 12% of birds, and a quarter of coniferous trees are threatened with extinction.

· Wild spaces: Wild spaces, defined not as areas untouched by humans, but those which have not been entirely instrumentalized by human artifice (David Wiggins) continue to be converted to human use. About 50% of the world’s forests have been cleared and 25% of its coral reefs have been destroyed. By the 1990s, only one-third of the world’s continental surface was left for other life forms.

· Water: Demand for water is reaching the limits of the hydrological cycle to supply irrigation water in key food growing areas. Currently over 1 billion people lack enough water for minimal levels of health and income. By the most favourable UN projections, 2 billion people will face water scarcity in 2050, in less optimistic projections 7 billion people will lack adequate water.

· Food: In 1950, 1 hectare provided food for 4 people. In 2000, one hectare provided food for 8 people. In 2050, one hectare will have to provide food for 14 people. All the potentially arable land has been put under production in the last decades, at the expense of much wildland. Much arable land is also being paved over. Between 1950 and 1984, grain production increased 3% a year, but from 1984 until 1993, it grew only 1% a year and showed a per capita decline of 12%.

· Fish: All of the world’s major fisheries are being fished at or beyond capacity. The number of very large fish caught by commercial fishers has declined by 90% since 1950.

· Climate change: About one-quarter of all land animals and plants, over one million species, face extinction by 2050 as a direct result of climate change. The most famous victim of climate change in Canada is the polar bear.

· Oil: The development of Homo colossus (Catton) has been fuelled by oil, and oil is very likely near the peak of its production phase. With oil we have pumped water, fertilized crops, heated our homes, and transported people and goods, including food. Ninety percent of transportation is fuelled by oil. What will be the impact of both oil and water shortages on our ability to produce and transport enough food for a still burgeoning human population? Catton uses the term "ghost acreage" to describe the massive increase in food production that oil has allowed. He and others have argued that the human population is in overshoot, that is, human numbers have increased beyond that which the resource base can support. Populations that are in overshoot inevitably end up crashing and the resource base they leave behind is greatly depleted.

Clearly, there are moral aspects to the denial of an overpopulation problem. One aspect involves our own species. If we are in overshoot, as so much scientific evidence suggests, then there will be much human suffering when the population crashes, something that those who forbid discussion of population in the name of social justice would surely wish to avoid.

Another moral issue that progressives do not seem to have answered in an any more satisfactory way than some religionists is this: why do we want to turn the entire planet into a feedlot, playground, and slum for one species? Unless we develop an ecologically founded code of ethics, that is exactly what we’ll do.

It seems to me that Canadians live in a fool’s paradise, thinking that the global population problem doesn’t apply to them. They live after all in that land of the mythical wide open spaces and abundant resources. Successive governments since the early 1990s have followed an environmentally catastrophic immigration policy. Using the myth of Canada’s infinite resources for their political benefit, they have brought in over 200,000-now over 250,000- immigrants each year regardless of the economic situation and with no consideration of the environmental impact. The favoured argument is that immigration is economically necessary: with Canada’s low birthrate, we must use immigration to make our population grow, in order to have the economic growth that will generate wealth. Aside from the fact that Canada’s population would continue to grow (albeit more slowly) without immigration until about 2020, the argument is flawed. Prosperity is not linked to population growth-if it were, the world’s poorest regions would be the richest. Prosperity depends on a favourable ratio of resources per capita. And in Canada, the indicators are going in the same direction as they are globally, that is, down.

Let’s consider some of the environmental indicators for Canada.

Climate Change

· Canada produces 5 tonnes per capita of greenhouse gases annually and the absolute amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by Canada has increased as its population has increased

· Canada is a signatory to the Kyoto accord on climate change, under which, as a first step, it should reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels, but instead has increased emissions by 30% since 1990

· the failure to meet the targets of the Kyoto accord is at least in part attributable to its continuously rising population and expanding economy

· Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is already feeling the pinch of energy shortages and there are no green solutions on the horizon

· much of the Canadian land surface is barren and inhospitable for human habitation and could not be inhabited without those living there leaving a huge "ecological footprint," including an increase in production of greenhouse gases for heating and the transport of food grown elsewhere.

Urban Problems

· the most habitable parts of Canada are already densely populated and its largest cities are experiencing serious problems associated with their
rapid, unplanned growth

· congestion, smog, gridlock, and loss of greenspace have been increasing in Canadian cities due to the rapid influx of people

· the Ontario Medical Association estimates that there are about 5800 premature smog-related deaths in Ontario each year as well as 17,000 smog-related hospital admissions

· several Canadian cities are currently unable to adequately and sustainably dispose of the municipal wastes they produce

Agricultural Land

A Statistics Canada report of 31 January 2005, based on census data and the Canada Land Inventory, a government database, states that urban growth has devoured some of the best agricultural land during the past 30 years, and includes the following findings:

· by 2001, Canadian cities and towns had taken over 7400 square km of land traditionally used for farming, more than doubling its incursion into rural areas

· in 2001, there were about 14,300 square km of urban land that had formerly been used for agriculture

· development took over 3% of "dependable agricultural land" and 7% of Canada’s Class 1 agricultural land, considered "the best and most productive"

· the fruit belts in the Niagara peninsula and Okanagan Valley in British Columbia have lost farmland that was used to grow crops that cannot be grown anywhere else in Canada

· as the amount of prime agricultural land has diminished, the demand for arable territory has increased, forcing farmers to cultivate poorer quality soil

· in 1971, urban areas occupied slightly less than 6% of Class 1land in Ontario; by 2001, they occupied 11% of such land

· in 1971, less than 2% of Class 1 land in Alberta was urbanized; that figure is now more than 6%

· these trends are worrisome because they are essentially permanent


An internal 2004 Environment Canada assessment directed toward Environment Minister Stephane Dion chastises the federal government for failing to develop a water strategy, calls current approaches "fragmented, short-term and inadequately informed," and includes the following information:

· water shortages on the prairies caused $5 billion in economic damage in 2001 alone and threaten economic development in the West

· water shortages cause friction between provinces, between industries, and between Canada and the US

· our knowledge is sketchy in vital areas: we don’t know how much groundwater we have, we don’t understand the effects of newer pollutants such as pharmaceuticals flushed down drains or "gender-bending" pollutants that disrupt the sex hormone system in wildlife and humans

· in areas where we do understand the dangers, the information is scattered across different programs and provinces and is not nationally comparable

· the federal government should develop a national vision on water and take leadership on the issue


· per capita, Canada is the third highest energy consumer in the world, behind only Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, but ahead of the US. The energy consumption, in kilograms of oil equivalent per capita, of the UAE, Kuwait, Canada and the US are 9609, 9503, 7973, and 7943, respectively. (UNFPA, State of World Population, 2005)

· the event of "Peak Oil" (the year that oil production reaches a maximum and subsequently declines by a small percentage each year) is accepted by mainstream geologists who debate not whether but only when it will occur; the economic consequences of this are anticipated to be severe

· Ontario has already suffered from energy shortages and faces acute energy shortages in the coming years, a situation that is exacerbated by its rapid growth; it will be unable to close its coal-fired plants, as promised in the last provincial election

Health Care

· the health care system is already under severe stress in many parts of Canada, and this stress can reasonably be expected to be exacerbated by the increase in population driven by immigration, in particular, by the increase in the number of older people brought to Canada under the family reunification policy

Endangered species

· the number of endangered, threatened and vulnerable species in Canada rises each year, with habitat loss due to human activity being a major contributor; there are now close to 500 species at risk in Canada.

We know that the government of Canada is aware or should be aware that population is the driving force of many environmental problems, both globally and in Canada, inasmuch as a confidential government document produced in 1991 and entitled "The Environment: Marriage Between Earth and Mankind," contains the following statements:

· "Controlling population growth is crucial to addressing most environmental problems, including global warming" (p. 9),

· "Although Canada’s population is not large in world terms, its concentration in various areas has already put stress upon regional environments in many ways" (p. 13),

· "Canada is endowed with vast water resources, but with 90 percent of its population concentrated within a band up to 100 miles north of the USA border, water resources in these areas are already being utilized to their fullest. Polluted water has become an everyday concern" (p. 12-13).

· "In view of the emergence of global environmental problems which threaten our own self interests, developed countries will in the future have to switch to a policy in which resources are transferred to developing countries to promote environmentally sound development. This can be seen as one aspect of paying the bill for our past environmental damage caused by rapid economic growth" (p. 11).

Gord Miller, the environmental commissioner of Ontario, pointed out last year in his annual report, called Planning Our Landscape, that the lifestyle of Ontarians will radically decline if the province does nothing to prepare for a projected population growth of 4.4 million people in the next 25 years. He said "The issue of population growth is an enormously significant public policy choice that has received little debate." He suggested that the current rate of population growth is not sustainable and is putting undue pressure on the natural environment and on society. "Unchecked growth affects not only a myriad of environmental issues but can also shape the character of Ontario irrevocably." Unfortunately, Gord Miller’s observations did not generate the debate they deserved. Totally predictably, he was attacked for being anti-immigrant.

Despite the objective evidence showing that the rapid population growth of the last few decades is having a negative impact on Canada’s environment, the government continues to pursue its disastrous policy of promoting mass immigration, using bogus economic arguments that are contradicted by the findings of its own departments and government-funded bodies and of other agencies. The following provide examples:

· a 1991 study by the Economic Council of Canada found that in the past century, the fastest growth in real per capita income occurred at times when net migration was zero or even negative

· a 1989 report issued by Health and Welfare Canada called Charting Canada’s Future noted that, according to the OECD, there was no correlation whatsoever between population growth and economic growth in its 22 member community

· a 2000 United Nations study concluded that immigration can only serve as a tool to arrest the aging of the population if carried out at levels that are unacceptably high and ever-increasing

· Statistics Canada released 2001 census data in July of 2002 showing that the population was aging and that immigration would do little to halt that trend

· those data also indicated that high immigration levels were projected to have little impact on the average age of the population

· a 2002 survey by the Canadian Labour and Business Centre found that only a very small percentage of managers and labour leaders in the public and private sector regard the hiring of foreign-trained workers as very important in resolving the problem of a specific shortage of skills from time to time, instead they looked overwhelmingly to solutions involving the existing workforce, such as upgrading the skills of current employees, hiring young labour market entrants, and phasing in retirement policies.

The government appears to expect that immigrants will revitalize rural communities and economically depressed areas that are losing population, but this expectation is unrealistic inasmuch as people with family, social, and historical ties are leaving these areas for lack of opportunities. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever that these areas are drawing immigrants, inasmuch as 75% of immigrants concentrate in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, and 90% settle in Canada’s 12 largest metropolitan areas.

There is no evidence that the large numbers of immigrants who have arrived in recent years were needed by the Canadian economy, as indicated by the following statistics:

· Statistics Canada figures from 2003 show that in 2001, only 65.8% of recent immigrants aged 25 to 44 were employed compared with 81.6% of Canadian born

· the earnings of recent immigrants are low compared with those who came earlier: the poverty level of those who arrived before 1986 was 19.7% while the poverty level of those who came after 1991 was 52.1%

· in 1980, accounting for differences in education and age, recent male immigrants earned 17% less on average than their Canadian-born counterparts, by 2000, the spread had more than doubled to 40%; for recent female immigrants the gap with their Canadian-born counterparts increased from 23% in 1980 to 45% in 2000.

The expectations of a considerable number of immigrants are not matched by the opportunities actually available to them in Canada.

The government of Canada bases its immigration policy on a premise that is contradicted by the global situation, in which the most prosperous countries tend to have populations that are or soon will be stable or even declining, while those with the most rapidly growing populations tend to be poor. The government’s policies, based on the false premise that continuous labour force growth is a prerequisite for prosperity, cannot be pursued in perpetuity as environmental constraints will force them to be changed.

Canada does have real environmental problems and a discussion of a desirable population size, which would of necessity include a discussion of desirable levels of immigration, is every bit as legitimate as one about healthcare and childcare. Yet there is no such public discourse. The taboo, and the use of the term is accurate, of a critical discussion of Canada’s high immigration levels can be attributed more to the progressives than the religionists, conservatives or reactionaries. In fact, several conservatives (of the various parties under the conservative banner in recent years) have tried to raise the issue of immigration but were forced to drop it. It is worth noting that most of the information cited above critical of the government’s economic reasons for immigration was taken from articles written by Martin Collacott and published under the auspices of the right-leaning Fraser Institute. It is certainly true that, among conservatives, there exists a very strong pro-business, pro-growth, pro-mass immigration contingent for whom the environment is a non-issue and Martin has said that not everyone at the Fraser Institute agrees with his analysis. Nevertheless, I don’t know of any publications from the more left-leaning think tanks who have critically analyzed the government’s immigration policies so cogently.

Our world is circumscribed by taboos. In my opinion, we humanists acknowledge and criticize religious taboos, but we don’t seriously challenge progressive taboos. By and large, the progressives have not accepted all the implications of evolution any more than the religionists. The implications of accepting that humans are a species that evolved just like the others are too much not only for Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but for many social justice activist, marxists, and humanists, although their areas of special pleading differ. Virtually all of our environmental problems can be traced back to human population growth, yet the progressives are no more willing to acknowledge this than the religionists. In the very real conflict between social justice interests and environmental interests, social justice always prevails. I should say immediate social justice. Because the worst consequences of our ecocide will be borne not by us, but by younger people now living and those not yet born. And there is nothing that the social justice advocacy group is doing for them.

In developed countries, which have the largest footprint, the decline in births is viewed by many as a catastrophe. Concern about who will support all of us old people are raised with a note of alarm. Apparently the uncertainty of how we will cope with downsizing our economies frightens us more than the uncertainty of how we will cope with climate change, deforestation, water shortages, the loss of agricultural land to development, and what the massive human population will use to replace oil whose production all experts acknowledge will soon peak and then decline. Maybe we should reconsider which is the bigger threat.

An example of our misguided attitude to growth is the celebration of the boom in Alberta. Alberta is booming because of the tar sands. The production of oil from the tar sands is expected to last only a few decades, four at most. In the meantime, extraction is producing a prodigious amount of greenhouse gas emissions, laying waste vast swaths of the boreal forest, and poisoning lakes with the tailings. Our expectation that "something" will come along to allow us to continue in our profligate ways in not substantially different from the faith that "God will provide." We place our faith in science, but scientists are telling us that we are in deep trouble.

It seems to me that in much progressive thinking, while the idea that we are made in the image of god has been dropped, the idea that we should have dominion over everything that creepeth and crawleth and flieth and swimmeth has not. Otherwise, progressives would be more agitated at the unequal distribution of wealth between the human species and all others: humans, making up only 0.5% of the total biomass on Earth, use one-third of its natural energy, two-thirds of its habitable land surface, and 50% of its fresh run-off water. With those statistics, why do we celebrate more development? When will we have enough?

Just before coming to this conference, I read an excellent book called Ecological Ethics by Patrick Curry. It was published in January 2006. He argues that "In our unprecedented circumstances, the dominant philosophy of the last two millennia (either in religious or secular form) is now in drastic need of change." The common good can no longer be restricted to humanity alone. Curry discusses different levels of environmental ethics, from caring only about the environment only insofar as it impacts on human well-being to valuing organisms and wild places for their own sakes. But, Curry says, ecology is now glaringly absent from the progressive political agenda. "Extraordinary as it may seem, feminists, anti-racists, and socialists are almost as likely as those on the neo-liberal and anti-democratic right to ignore the claims of even mid-range ecological ethics (eg. animals), let alone ecocentric ethics." He believes that few people have adopted truly ecological ethics, that is, that they value things for their own sake and not just for what they can do for us. Should we value clean water just so that we can eat unpolluted fish, and rainforests so that they can keep providing us with pharmaceuticals, or should we value the fish and the rainforests for themselves? It is possible to envisage a clean, not polluted planet, with a greatly reduced biodiversity, entirely serving the needs of humankind, but is that what we want? According to most conventional forms of ethics based only on human-human interactions, that is completely acceptable.

I believe that much of the conflict in the modern world is the result of our having eaten so much of the planet. While the detrimental effects of human population growth are politely ignored, they have wreaked not only environmental, but political and social havoc. Unemployment rates in many countries with burgeoning populations are staggering. As social, economic, food and water security decreases, conflict based on particularism, be it ethnic, tribal, or religious, is likely to increase. We must aim to reduce our numbers and reduce our consumption levels if we are going to have anything approaching global harmony. But a down-sizing economy cannot exist without a culture to support it. That we are nowhere near there is exemplified by the fact that the term "sustainable growth" is treated seriously. Economist Herman Daly thinks that a Great Ecological Spasm may be necessary to convince people that there is something wrong with an economic theory that denies the very possibility of an economy exceeding its optimal scale. If we have this Great Ecological Spasm, can we be sure that the fallout will head us in the right direction? What if the chaos or revolution that results sends us to the totalitarian right, for example, rather than into an ecocentric philosophy?

People may be more likely to turn to a leader, ideology, or religion that offers simple solutions rather than to develop a new system of ethics based on ecology. In Somalia, perhaps the poster child of a failed state, the Union of Islamic Courts is poised to take over and provide security for people eager to end the anarchy of warlords. A former Nigerian told me that the sharia law governing some Nigerian states was welcomed even by some Christians because people were tired of crime. If they were unhappy with developments after sharia was implemented, that was their problem. Right now, a resurgent Islam is seeking global hegemony through acts of terror, demographic aggression, and geographic expansionism. In some instances, it almost seems to be aided and abetted by the refusal of so many of our leaders and intellectuals to critically examine the religion and the ideology.

We can hope that the recognition for the need of a new code of ethics, one that recognizes humans as one species in the web of life, increases as the evidence of our ecocide becomes more and more apparent on our quality of life. As humanists, we should, in my opinion, accept our place on Earth as one species among many, promote the restraint of our own kind so that other species can also flourish, and recognize that any system of ethics that restricts itself to humans alone will neither save the bulk of humanity from enormous suffering nor preserve to a significant degree the biological and ecological richness of our planet. With fewer humans, we would have a world with more humanity.


Dave Iverson


I edited you comment last night, so that the embedded document is readable rather than jumbled together.

My preliminary 'take' is that Madeline Weld is spot-on in her commentary. That said, there is nothing remarkably new. Consider what Lester Brown and Hazel Henderson have been saying for 20 years and more. What Herman Daly and the Ecological Economics community have been saying for 20 years and more. What Paul Ehrlich and other have been saying for 35 years and more. What Aldo Leopold said way back when. And so on.

Or maybe there IS more to Weld's message and I missed it. Still, I'm glad to see more and more people weighing in and updating the information base.

I'll try to to a little something with Weld's message as a follow-up comment, else a "post." thanks.

Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.

Thanks so much Dave. It is such a favorable coincidence that I received today a kind note of thanks from Hazel Henderson on the essay by Madeleine Weld.

Certainly, I agree with virtually everything you are saying; however, there is something in the essay that has yet to adequately addressed, I suppose, by Hazel, Lester Brown, Peter Gleick, Paul Demeny, Jon Bongaarts, Carl Haub, Thoraya Obaid, Richard Cincotta, Joe Chamie, Hania Zlotnik, Jeff Sachs, Stan Bernstein, Wolfgang Lutz, Jack Caldwell, Tony McMichael, Herman Daly, Joel Cohen, Nafis Sadik, Jesse Ausubel, Jane Lubchenko, Walt Reid, Paul Ehrlich, Jeffrey McKee, Paul Stern, John Cleland, Barney Cohen, Werner Fornos, Donald Kennedy, Bruce Alberts, John Holdren, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the Commitee on Population of AAAS, UNFPA, UN Population Division, Population Action International, Population Connection, Population Reference Bureau, Population Council, Population Institute, Worldwatch, Sierra Club, Millennium Ecological Assessment, Union of Concerned Scientists or the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

What has not yet been the subject of careful, skillful and rigorous scrutiny is the scientific evidence on human population dynamics and human population numbers that has been brought forward for thorough examination by Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. and David Pimentel, Ph.D.

Dave, please take a look at their peer-reviewed papers. If it all right to do so, I would also like to invite other colleagues to closely examine this apparently unforeseen scientific research.



PS: The work of Aldo Leopold is unknown to me.

Dave Iverson


I will try to get a moment soon to look at Hopfenberg and will relook at my papers (and any others that you have daylighted) by Pimentel. I looked through Lester Milbrath's book ENVISIONING A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY this AM (1989) and believe that all (including "human population dynamics and human population numbers") was well-covered there.

Again, I love to see people resurrect stuff (and add to, re-invent, etc) particularly in these too-politically-correct times. :)

PS.. No need to carry the "PhD" titles here (either attached to your name or that of others).. Most everybody we quote from has a PhD or equivalent.

Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Dave,

THANKS again. You have given me some work to do because Lester Milbrath's work is unknown to me.

Dave, for just a moment consider the possibility that my generation of elders has neither "covered" nor discovered all there is to know about human population dynamics and human population numbers. On the contrary, an outstanding scientist of my children's generation has gone beyond my sadly self-absorbed generation of self-proclaimed masters of the universe.

The new and apparently unforeseen scientific evidence to which I am directly refering you comes from a brilliant young scientist by the name of Russell P. Hopfenberg.

Always, with gratitude for the work you are doing,


Dave Iverson

Thanks Steve,

While I ponder possible contributions from 'brilliant young scientists,' they themselves (and you) need to reflect on the possibility that they are replowing ground that has been plowed before, just perchance replowing it with modern twists -- extending, not inventing. Or maybe they are inventing more than extending. I don't know.

So I ask you to hlep me better understand the unique contributions of Russell P. Hopfenberg.

Begin with these wikipedia pages, then send me or post it up (if short enough and not too much in violation of copyrights) whatever you have that may help enlighten me.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say, relative to Hopfenberg and "over-population" (minus hyperlinks): "Thinkers such as David Pimentel,[5] a professor from Cornell University, Virginia Abernethy,[6] Alan Thornhill,[7] Russell Hopffenberg[8] and author Daniel Quinn[9] propose that like any animals, human populations predictably grow and shrink according to their available food supply – populations grow in an abundance of food, and shrink in times of scarcity."

I believe that the list is longer than Wikipedia gives credit (although I don't have time to do the literature search) but see that Hopffenberg (sp?) is noted above amid others who I recognize. Again, what is his unique contribution?

PS.. Milbrath's book is useful overview, yet covers the ground (same ground? I think so) without reference to either Pimentel or Hopfenberg. Not that those two haven't been important among the voices echoing this concern (Malthus' concern) as evidenced today, but my hypothesis is that they are standing in a crowd, albeit a small one.

Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Dave,

If only I was better prepared to respond to your request of me. As it turns out, I am a person with waning faculties and noticeably poor communication skills. For years I have been trying to say to people how Russell Hopfenberg's science is new and its implications potentially profound. Repeatedly, my best efforts have been woefully inadequate. I simply do not know how to communicate what needs to be said about human population dynamics in a way that is superior to what we find in the papers themselves from Hopfenberg and Pimentel.

Having said that, I am intent on responding to you with something of value, I believe, that is contained in the following exchange of emails from the past two days.

Dear Jack,

If the world went instantly to one child per family, the population would not suddenly start declining. It would gradually slow the growth, pass through a maximum, and finally would be at a declining curve appropriate to one child per family only after every person had died who was living when the fertility change was mandated. This means that it would be about 70 years before one would be on the declining curve.

This is set out in the paper "Zero Growth of the Population of the United States" by A.A. Bartlett and Edward Lytwak, Population and Environment, Vol. 16, May 1995, Pg. 415-428.

You will find more on translating fertility rates into growth rates in "The Arithmetic of Growth: Methods and Calculations, II." by A.A. Bartlett, Population and Environment, Vol. 20, January 1999, Pgs. 215- 246.

I can mail you copies of these if you wish.

Thanks and best wishes,



Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder, CO, 80309-0390
Office: (303) 492-7016; Department Office, (303) 492-6952; Department FAX, (303) 492-0420
Home: 2935 19th Street, Boulder, Colorado, 80304-2719; Phone, (303) 443-0595; FAX, (303) 449-9440
E-Mail: Albert.Bartlett@Colorado.EDU

If any fraction of the observed global warming can be attributed to the actions of humans,
then this constitutes certain and convincing proof that the human population, living as we do,
has exceeded the Carrying Capacity of the Earth, a situation that is clearly not sustainable.
As a consequence it is AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
that all proposals or efforts at the local, national or global levels to slow global warming
or to achieve sustainability that do not advocate reducing populations to sustainable sizes,
are serious intellectual frauds.

----- Original Message -----
From: Jack Alpert
To: duncanrichardc@msn.com
Cc: Albert Allen Bartlett
Sent: Wednesday, February 21, 2007 1:54 PM
Subject: New Olduvai essay (where is the solution?)

Dear Richard,?

There are a lot of us that have been working to describe the human predicament and make if public for 30 years.? ?It is clear we have not succeeded.

For that 30 years I have studied why our efforts have not succeeded.? As a learning theorist I have studied temporal inference learning theory,? how people learn to make predictions and how they learn to let these unexperienced abstractions influence their behavior.? ?I have made some progress and this work can be found at??http://www.skil.org? .? ?It explains a learning process for infants that help them develop thought processes that allow them to think and behave better than we do.??

However, there is another reason we have failed to make any headway in changing the course of humankind away from the destinations no logical person would want.? ?We have failed to tell people that at a minimum we need a rapidly decreasing global population to change our course.??We have failed to tell them that everyone (6 billion)? must choose "one child per family."? That this will? halve our population every 30 years and at this rate we be able to weather a near collision with the carrying capacity as oil exhausts and renewables come on line.??We have also failed to tell them that failing to implementing rapid population decline through one- child-per-family, leaves the prospect of one group?committing genocide on another to allow the remaining resources, no matter what they are, meet the first group's needs and wants.? ?

One child per family or genocide? will happen before or on the way to your New Olduvai.??In the face of each individual's interest in rising wellbeing,? rapidly deceasing population (halving each generation)? would have to continue for estimated 300 years.? ?Or until a human life is worth more than the resources he or she consumes.??

Did you know that not choosing "one-child-per-family"? you personally today are already?committing genocide in Darfur?? And your child, according to Olduvain theory and many others) will have to commit genocide in many more places to maintain whatever wellbeing they have?? ?Probably not.? ?This is how we have failed to communicate our human predicament.? "Rapidly decreasing population" (one child per family) should be the closing paragraph of every paper and speech we make.? ?Otherwise we are not being a messenger of truth.? We are just protecting the messenger by providing a half truth.

I look forward to your comments and the comments of Steven Salmony's friends who have received this.?


Jack Alpert??

PS? In a letter to Science below I chastise? Don Kennedy? (Editor of science) and John Holdren (President of AAAS)? for the half truths in their Feb 2 and Feb 9 editorials on sustainability.? I don't know if they will publish my letter but? there is only hope for the whole truth if we tell it.?

? ?? ?? ?? ???????????? ??????????? ??????????? Human Sustainability
Lets get the problem strait so we can get the solution strait.? Our way of life is headed for conditions no one wants.? During the last 5000 years we have squandered the earth?s bountiful resources building monuments and fighting wars.? We are consuming to exhaustion the earth?s non-renewable resources while consuming its renewable resources above replacement.? We have diminished or poisoned much of earth?s life.? And now we are terra-forming the land, water, and air so it is less supportive.? What remains of our earth will not sustain all of us to level to which we have become accustomed let alone to the level to which we aspire.?
The present total human footprint appears unsustainable, yet we continue to increase both our numbers and per capita consumption.? Our misguided optimism leads us to believe either technology will find a prosperous way into the future or a supreme being will save us from ourselves.? Believers, that god will take the "saved" away from a hell on earth, may be motivated to hasten event.?
A difficult choice faces those of us that lack such optimism.? Total human footprint must be much smaller.? Taking into account the, rising expectations of each individual for more of the earth?s resources, human numbers must rapidly and continuously decrease.? This requires very low birthrates ? - possibly one-child-per-family for the next 300 years.
Given humankind?s very low abilities to infer the future.? Given that without an understanding of the social responses to deteriorating conditions, few are willing to implement these procreative behaviors.? If they could understand the meaning of our course, they would know, "not implementing rapid population decline," through procreative behavior, will force them to reduce population through acts of genocide.? That is, either through deprivation or violent action, large portions of the population will have to perish to facilitate their lives.
If we, the haves of the world, are sensitive we know our acts are responsible for Darfur.? I know I contribute to that genocide just by driving to my soccer game.? My knowledge and actions imply my goal is to have enough people perish to allow me to, heat my home and send my kids to college, using the resources not consumed by the disenfranchised or dead.
To give this kind of ?genocide ----trade-for-wellbeing? meaning, consider a world were a billion people live on 2 dollars a day.? Groups, among that billion, implement a genocide to facilitate their own rise in wellbeing to $100 a day.? This would require 980 million people to perish so 20 million could have the higher wellbeing.
Let me give you another way of looking at our predicament.? Consider this scenario.? Let all the people in the world decide to move, with all their presently allocated resources, into one of two nations whose people and resources are isolated from each other by a very high but transparent fence.? The two nations have the same US Style democracy except for one small difference.? Individuals in the first nation must limit themselves to ?one-child-per-family.? In the second nation, they can have any number of children.?
The one-child-per-family nation has a chance at sustainability.? The latter nation follows our unsustainable course.? Over time, the second nation sees its way of life sinking due to loss of sustainability.? Its people see through the fence that the other group has ever rising abundance.? Their response is to attack the abundant nation.? If so inclined, the abundant nation may try sharing, which will not work in the long run.? The abundant nation could try ever-higher levels of isolation, which at some point will not work.? The abundant nation can be destroyed.? O yes, there is one more alliterative.? The abundant nation performs a successful genocide on the unsustainable nation.
Is our world that much different than this theoretically divided world? Faced with universal one chid per family decisions, or genocide,? we will probably have a mix.? While not pretty, we could have a group with rapidly decreasing population and rising wellbeing? perform? genocide on the zombies who cannot understand that the one-child-per-family behavior is the route to sustainability.? Is it possible that all the other options are not?sustainable and even less pretty?

On Feb 20, 2007, at 2:53 PM, Salmony, Steven wrote:


From my humble vantage point, the work of Dr. Richard C. Duncan appears worthy of consideration. Hope you find value in it.



From: Richard Duncan [mailto:duncanrichardc@msn.com]
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 7:22 PM
To: Salmony, Steven
Subject: Related FYI: New Olduvai essay

Dr. Salmony,

Attached FYI is a pre-pub PDF of my latest Olduvai essay to be published in The Social Contract Quarterly, Spring issue, 2007. Per TSCQ, it can be freely circulated.

Best wishes,
Rich Duncan

Dave Iverson

Thanks Steve,

There are many (but not yet enough) who have been quite shrill about the potential for (and/or the inevitability of) catastrophe due to near-unbridled population growth, industrial and agricultural pollution, resource depletion, etc. Sill, social learning theory suggests that the messages will continue to fall on deaf ears in the main, up to some tipping point.

Milbrath says it this way at the end of his "Envisioning A Sustainable Society" :

" …As we struggle to deal with these problems, people will slowly come to realize that technology alone is insufficient to handle them and that we have to make major social changes in order to cope.

"As these [social/environmental gloom and doom] stories accumulate, people are beginning to realize that the world no longer works well; that their future is in serious jeopardy. Scientists and environmental movement activists are likely to stand ready with plausible explanation for these phenomena. Minds that formerly were closed and unheeding are more likely to be searching for understanding. Not until then can we expect much social learning to take place. But, even then, we should expect the social system to resist change strenuously.

"All social structures try to protect their integrity and continue to exist. Nations view their sovereign independence as their highest value and are always willing to go to war to protect it. All bureaucracies try to protect themselves and to grow if possible. Organizations hate to die and will languish for years after their initial purpose has been fulfilled; or they may transform. Cultures, too, have numerous defenses to protect their integrity, and change ever so slowly.

"We need to remind ourselves that despite the natural tendency of social structures to protect their current structure and thrust, they can transform, paradigms can be be displaced by a new social paradigm….

"Over the next twenty years or so we should expect extremely strong social forces determined to keep us on our present trajectory. Only major failure of physical systems, like swift climate change, could deflect their domination. The DSP [Dominant Social Paradigm] will continue to dominate thinking and behavior…. The challenge to the DSP by the NEP [New Environmental Paradigm] will continue. They will point out deleterious trends, accidents, and mistakes engendered by the DSP society; they will urge new ways of thinking and doing things. A sizeable minority of people will listen, and will come to agree with them, but the majority will marginalize the NEP advocates and tune out their messages. Environmental organizations will continue to educate, advocate, and struggle politically. Green parties will arise but probably will enlist the support of no more than a minority. Science will continue to develop new findings and interpretations, spurred by deepening problems in nature and by inadequacies in the human response to those problems.

"Nature itself will be the most frequent and unsettling spur to new thinking. … Markets will fail to solve the linked problems of population growth and resource shortages [Iverson note: and pollution 'longages']. Most frustrating, but perhaps most stimulating to new thinking, will be the discovery that technological fixes will not be able to cope with the character and scope of the problems.

"Societies facing these problems are bound to become more turbulent. ...

[On the other side of some tipping point, likely induced by catastrophes] ... "All this mental activity could lead people to perceive a new pattern of meaning reflecting a new state of complexity – that could evolve into a new biological, social, economic, political order. Old explanations for phenomena will be discarded and people will wonder how they ever believed in them. Ideas that formerly seemed hopeless to get across now seem to make sense and are eagerly accepted. … Because the old DSP system no longer will be working well, fewer people will have a stake in its preservation – the rearguard will weaken while the vanguard will strengthen."

Iverson: Or not! Maybe we, particularly here in the US will dive deeper into authoritarian governmental systems and self-proclaimed free market systems (systems that are really well connected to the governmental systems while we pretend them to be "free"), hoping that we (and our many consumer goods) can be sustained or rejuvenated in the DSP.

Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Dave,

IF only we did not have feet of clay, but actually could prevail by doing what the self-proclaimed masters of the universe believe they are doing: conquering enemies, subjugating the Earth, indefinitely sidestepping requirements of reality, defying biological limits of the human species and daring, like 'masters' of old, to ignore that which is imposed upon living things by the limitations of Earth's body.

Very best,


Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Dave and John Feeney,

The time is coming, I suppose, when the politicians, economists and demographers are brought face to face with good scientific evidence of biophysical reality already developed by top-rank scientists. They will unequivocally identify certain distinctly human global overgrowth activities: unrestrained per capita consumption of scarce resources, untethered expansion of large scale production capabilities, and unchecked propagation.

Perhaps the scale and rate of growth of these human activities, now overspreading the surface of Earth, will be seen approaching a point in human history when additional increases of our consumption, production and propagation activities worldwide are patently unsustainable on the small, finite planet God has blessed us to inhabit.

During most of my lifetime I have heard a refrain about the evils of “big government” and about the need for the size of government to be reduced its governmental power curbed. In a time when the Earth itself appears to be powerfully threatened by unbridled “big business” industrialization and by certain other distinctly human activities thought to be “required” for the continuous expansion of the global economy, could there be value in a discussion focused upon limiting economic globalization, before the very foundation of the predominant human economy is inadvertently and decidely ruined?

Always, with thanks,


Steven Earl Salmony

PERHAPS there is some value in following the ideas presented just above with comments regarding what appears to me as the clandestine operation of an economy as a thinly veiled pyramid scheme.

by Hon. Ron Paul of Texas
Before the U.S. House of Representatives

Statement for Hearing before the House Financial Services Committee,
“Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy”

Transparency in monetary policy is a goal we should all support. I’ve
often wondered why Congress so willingly has given up its prerogative over
monetary policy. Astonishingly, Congress in essence has ceded total
control over the value of our money to a secretive central bank.

Congress created the Federal Reserve, yet it had no constitutional
authority to do so. We forget that those powers not explicitly granted to
Congress by the Constitution are inherently denied to Congress – and thus
the authority to establish a central bank never was given. Of course
Jefferson and Hamilton had that debate early on, a debate seemingly
settled in 1913.

But transparency and oversight are something else, and they’re worth
considering. Congress, although not by law, essentially has given up all
its oversight responsibility over the Federal Reserve. There are no true
audits, and Congress knows nothing of the conversations, plans, and
actions taken in concert with other central banks. We get less and less
information regarding the money supply each year, especially now that M3
is no longer reported.

The role the Fed plays in the President’s secretive Working Group on
Financial Markets goes unnoticed by members of Congress. The Federal
Reserve shows no willingness to inform Congress voluntarily about how
often the Working Group meets, what actions it takes that affect the
financial markets, or why it takes those actions.

But these actions, directed by the Federal Reserve, alter the purchasing
power of our money. And that purchasing power is always reduced. The
dollar today is worth only four cents compared to the dollar in 1913, when
the Federal Reserve started. This has profound consequences for our
economy and our political stability. All paper currencies are vulnerable
to collapse, and history is replete with examples of great suffering
caused by such collapses, especially to a nation’s poor and middle class.
This leads to political turmoil.

Even before a currency collapse occurs, the damage done by a fiat system
is significant. Our monetary system insidiously transfers wealth from the
poor and middle class to the privileged rich. Wages never keep up with
the profits of Wall Street and the banks, thus sowing the seeds of class
discontent. When economic trouble hits, free markets and free trade often
are blamed, while the harmful effects of a fiat monetary system are
ignored. We deceive ourselves that all is well with the economy, and
ignore the fundamental flaws that are a source of growing discontent among
those who have not shared in the abundance of recent years.

Few understand that our consumption and apparent wealth is dependent on a
current account deficit of $800 billion per year. This deficit shows that
much of our prosperity is based on borrowing rather than a true increase
in production. Statistics show year after year that our productive
manufacturing jobs continue to go overseas. This phenomenon is not seen
as a consequence of the international fiat monetary system, where the
United States government benefits as the issuer of the world’s reserve

Government officials consistently claim that inflation is in check at
barely 2%, but middle class Americans know that their purchasing
power—especially when it comes to housing, energy, medical care, and
school tuition – is shrinking much faster than 2% each year.

Even if prices were held in check, in spite of our monetary inflation,
concentrating on CPI distracts from the real issue. We must address the
important consequences of Fed manipulation of interest rates. When
interests rates are artificially low, below market rates, insidious
mal-investment and excessive indebtedness inevitably bring about the
economic downturn that everyone dreads.

We look at GDP numbers to reassure ourselves that all is well, yet a
growing number of Americans still do not enjoy the higher standard of
living that monetary inflation brings to the privileged few. Those few
have access to the newly created money first, before its value is

For example: Before the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, CEO income
was about 30 times the average worker’s pay. Today, it’s closer to 500
times. It’s hard to explain this simply by market forces and increases in
productivity. One Wall Street firm last year gave out bonuses totaling
$16.5 billion. There’s little evidence that this represents free market

In 2006 dollars, the minimum wage was $9.50 before the 1971 breakdown of
Bretton Woods. Today that dollar is worth $5.15. Congress congratulates
itself for raising the minimum wage by mandate, but in reality it has
lowered the minimum wage by allowing the Fed to devalue the dollar. We
must consider how the growing inequalities created by our monetary system
will lead to social discord.

GDP purportedly is now growing at 3.5%, and everyone seems pleased. What
we fail to understand is how much government entitlement spending
contributes to the increase in the GDP. Rebuilding infrastructure
destroyed by hurricanes, which simply gets us back to even, is considered
part of GDP growth. Wall Street profits and salaries, pumped up by the
Fed’s increase in money, also contribute to GDP statistical growth. Just
buying military weapons that contribute nothing to the well being of our
citizens, sending money down a rat hole, contributes to GDP growth!
Simple price increases caused by Fed monetary inflation contribute to
nominal GDP growth. None of these factors represent any kind of real
increases in economic output. So we should not carelessly cite misleading
GDP figures which don’t truly reflect what is happening in the economy.
Bogus GDP figures explain in part why so many people are feeling squeezed
despite our supposedly booming economy.

But since our fiat dollar system is not going away anytime soon, it would
benefit Congress and the American people to bring more transparency to how
and why Fed monetary policy functions.

For starters, the Federal Reserve should:

Begin publishing the M3 statistics again. Let us see the numbers that
most accurately reveal how much new money the Fed is pumping into the
world economy.

Tell us exactly what the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets
does and why.

Explain how interest rates are set. Conservatives profess to support free
markets, without wage and price controls. Yet the most important price of
all, the price of money as determined by interest rates, is set
arbitrarily in secret by the Fed rather than by markets! Why is this
policy written in stone? Why is there no congressional input at least?

Change legal tender laws to allow constitutional legal tender (commodity
money) to compete domestically with the dollar.

How can a policy of steadily debasing our currency be defended morally,
knowing what harm it causes to those who still believe in saving money and
assuming responsibility for themselves in their retirement years? Is it
any wonder we are a nation of debtors rather than savers?

We need more transparency in how the Federal Reserve carries out monetary
policy, and we need it soon.


Hon. Ron Paul

Steven Earl Salmony

Several points of clarification regarding “pyramids.”

Pyramid schemes are not exactly alike. Variation and nuance characterize the “8” ball model, multilevel marketing scheme, Ponzi game, matrix scheme, etc. All pyramids depend upon a patently unsustainable long-term growth progression, or endless growth.

Regardless of the size of the ever-widening and -deepening base of an economic pyramid structure, people nearer the bottom of the pyramid will lose money and people nearer the top of the structure will win. Simple mathematical models show how this occurs.

Despite the variety of pyramid schemes, certain other underlying features remain the same:

1) Most of the money flows upward

2) As people rise further up the pyramid structure, they are supposed to automatically get more money

3) A short-term, “Get my dough and go” mentality prevails

4) Liabilities of the system are much greater than assets; debts are far in excess of the money available to cover them

5) Today this economic scheme works for millions of people worldwide while billions of other people remain impoverished.

In the rampant expansion of economic globalization we see during these early years of Century XXI, notice the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers, the astounding increase in wealth of the world economy, and the rise in per capita consumption of resources. If the small planet we inhabit is finite, then these distinctly human overgrowth activities can be plainly seen occurring both synergistically and, at their current scale and rate of growth, unsustainably.

A rapidly growing human population and their increasing per capita consumption of resources appear as functions of the unbridled and maximal extension of industrial activities found overspreading the surface of our planetary home. Economic globalization is the most gigantic pyramid scheme ever constructed…..larger and perhaps more impressive than the ancient Tower of Babel.

Given a small planet the size of Earth and a gargantuan world economy that dissipates limited natural resources and pollutes the environment, there may no longer be such a thing as sustainable economic growth because we appear to be approaching a point in human history when seemingly endless, unrestrained growth of the predominant human economy in a finite world could become anathema to human wellbeing, biodiversity and the integrity of Earth.

Dave Iverson

SES: "Economic globalization is the most gigantic pyramid scheme ever constructed…..larger and perhaps more impressive than the ancient Tower of Babel.

"Given a small planet the size of Earth and a gargantuan world economy that dissipates limited natural resources and pollutes the environment, there may no longer be such a thing as sustainable economic growth because we appear to be approaching a point in human history when seemingly endless, unrestrained growth of the predominant human economy in a finite world could become anathema to human wellbeing, biodiversity and the integrity of Earth."

Yep.. That's why we are talking here, and why I monitor 'geopolitics and international finance' at my sister site: Econ Dreams - Nightmares:

PS: I have links to two of US Represtentive Ron Paul's videos on that site:

Dave Iverson

I just read this comment thread, and three years later want to renounce any endorsements of Ron Paul I have made earlier. While I like the fact that Paul has asked for light to be shed on the too-secretive US Fed, I find him to be too much of a right wing, libertarian fanatic for my tastes. I'll stick with left-wing fanatics for now, thanks.

Personal disclosure: When I was in my 20s I too was a right-wing libertarian radical. I'm now in my 60s and tend to lean a bit more left. See, e.g

Am I older and wiser? Who knows? I certainly am older.

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