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April 06, 2009

n Couples + (2 x Kids) = World - z Quality Environment

...where "n" equals current number of couples worldwide and "z" equals an unspecified but somehow measurable "amount" of environmental quality.

From Chuck Colson's BreakPoint on Friday:

In February, Jonathan Porritt, the chairman of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, said that couples with more than two children were placing an “‘irresponsible’ burden of the environment.”

...[S]ix weeks later, he upped the ante: he declared that the UK must cut its population from its current 61 million to 30 million “if it is to build a sustainable society.”

Really? It's that simple? Huh, who knew? It sounds so certain and data-based, doesn't it?

Then again, the same could be said for the global warming models which "prove" that the Earth is warming, due to human activity, such that certain catastrophe awaits ... except that there hasn't been any warming since 1995. Oops.

The same could also be said for the Keynes Magic Multiplier that "proves" that spending our children's future earnings like drunken, progressive sailors is the only way to prevent our economy from foundering ... except that this causal effect has never been demonstrated at all in the real world (and simply doesn't pass the Laugh Test).

So, yes, color me skeptical of any claimed relationship between human multiplication and environmental sustainability. At least any such claims that deal with the next thousand years or so.

But what I wish to point out is that this absurd conviction does not merely exist in the U.K. government but in ours as well. From the BBC:

There are already too many people living on Planet Earth, according to one of most influential science advisors in the US government.

Nina Fedoroff told the BBC One Planet programme that humans had exceeded the Earth's "limits of sustainability".

Dr Fedoroff has been the science and technology advisor to the US secretary of state since 2007, initially working with Condoleezza Rice.

Under the new Obama administration, she now advises Hillary Clinton.

"We need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet can't support many more people," Dr Fedoroff said, stressing the need for humans to become much better at managing "wild lands", and in particular water supplies.

Pressed on whether she thought the world population was simply too high, Dr Fedoroff replied: "There are probably already too many people on the planet."

To give this claim the powerful eye roll that it deserves would probably require me to inject myself with anabolic occular steroids and hit my local gym's Eye Press Machine for a few months. And I haven't the time for that. But I do have time to provide one more quote. Back to Chuck's BreakPoint:

Porritt told attendees at the annual conference of Britain’s Optimum Population Trust—yes, that’s the organization’s name—that “population growth, plus economic growth, is putting the world under terrible pressure.”

Well, you know, by employing Keynes Magic Multiplier, we are certainly going to take care of that "economic growth problem" (YES, let's get rid of THAT!) for decades to come. So all we need to do is regulate human population levels to the Porritt-Fedoroff Maximum Human Quantity Limit, and we should relieve all of that terrible, terrible pressure that the world is experiencing right now.

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Since they were predicting, back in the '60s, that we would run out of food by the 21st century (and that didn't come to pass), it's hard to believe someone has dug up that old, wrong, idea. Don't we have enough bad new ideas w/o recycling the old ones?

Jason Taylor

The typical English methods of decreasing population to make a sustainable society is sending them to Australia or America, taking over the world, and plundering Frenchmen. As those methods are now politically incorrect, one wonders how they plan to go about it.


Jason Taylor wrote: "one wonders how they plan to go about it."

Simple - allow homicidal, radical Islam to flourish in British cities. Sure, it takes a while to get real population decline, one suicide bomber at a time, but most of it *will* occur among descendants of the Angles, Saxons, and Celts.

And speaking of Islam, isn't that religion's population increasing the fastest partly because they absolutely proscribe birth control? So if anyone really believes that our world population is growing too quickly, shouldn't they be seeking to change attitudes in Muslim areas of the Middle East and Asia? (I'd be willing to chip in to buy both Porritt and Fedoroff an airline ticket each. And hey, we could probably save a few bucks by making them one-way, in anticipation...)

"Porritt-Fedoroff Maximum Human Quantity Limit" - that's absolutely classic, Allen!

Jason Taylor

LeeQuod, it doesn't work that way. When people decide the government won't protect them, they either get a new government or protect themselves. If that sort of thing is kept up at a serious rate it will provoke anti Islamic terrorist groups. Which will make London into Northern Ireland and reduce everyone's population.

Ben W

Parts of the Middle East and Asia are growing fast, along with most of middle Africa and parts of Central and S. America. Birth rates are highly correlated with poverty, development and education - typically as women gain upward mobility they have children later and fewer of them.

I think it's a bit silly to say "it's different this time" just because the projections were wrong in the '60s. Mankind has gone through many famines and resource wars in the past, even since the Industrial Revolution.. so how can you say everything will be okay if you haven't really examined the facts?

Allen - a small nitpick: 1998 was the last highest global temperature, in the El Nino cycle. But it's really not relevant, as 10 years is short by climate standards. This is what you'd expect from normal weather variability, and doesn't prove or disprove AGW.

Jason Taylor

"Birth rates are highly correlated with poverty, development and education - typically as women gain upward mobility they have children later and fewer of them. "

I believe it was also said that societies as they become more modern become less religious and it was also said that we had reached an end of history.
Not all women in the world are Frenchwomen. If a society gives prestiege to childbearing it will give birth to children.

Jason Taylor

Oh by the way LeeQuod, there was a greater population of Asians then Englishemen during the Great Mutiny. Demography is not necessarily destiny.

Jason Taylor

Also Ben that presumes women will gain upward mobility. In many societies there is no such thing as upward mobility.


Jason Taylor wrote: "Which will make London into Northern Ireland and reduce everyone's population."

Which was my point in response to your original wondering about how they'd do it. If you can't plunder France, you can copy their accommodation of Islam within Western Europe. :-/

You also wrote: "Demography is not necessarily destiny."

True, but demography can take quite a short-term hit; just ask Catherine and Zoe about Africa.

Ben W

Jason - actually, it doesn't presume upward mobility - it only says what will women will choose *if* they have upward mobility. But can you find me an example of a first-world country that doesn't give women upward mobility enough to get birth control and an education? So yes, I think countries will continue to modernize, and as they modernize, fertility rates will decrease - barring war, famine, or other "stressors" which tend to increase fertility rates.


Thanks Ben, Lee, Jason and Claudia for the good comments. Sorry I've been a tad too slammed to join in the discussion.

Ben, as for the '98 high, my understanding is that the academics on both side of the debate leave that macro-level data point out as an outlier for the reason you point out. But perhaps I've got my facts wrong on the common treatment of that number.

One complaint I received on Facebook, when I posted this, was that my post is all mockery and no counterargument. And that's actually a fair point. My intent was more to communicate "Look, it seems to me that the 'reality based community' - as the progressives like to call themselves - seem to claim that data and science uniquely support their claims, but then look how crazily fast and loose they play with causal claims. It's just dressed up dogma. That the same crowd that wrongly claim that scientific and economic data support their climate dogma and economic policy is making this claim about how data supports the idea that the world population needs to shrink is a pretty sure sign that it doesn't."

But it's a fair challenge to expect a counterargument at some point, and I'll look for an opportunity to do so in the near future.

Again, thanks all.

Ben W

Allen - I hadn't heard that about the '98 high. I think that if you're comparing to '95, then even though it was a record high at the time, every year since then but 2000 has been hotter. See:


I'm okay with claims that we're over-consuming, since there's not enough resources for everybody to live the way we Americans do, and we're much more egregious about it than most other 1st-world countries. It may not be a problem, though, if we can increase efficiency or practices before we break anything permanent.

Meh. Anyway. I'm looking forward to your next part.

Jason Taylor

Is there any indication of the lack of war, famine or other stressers? Or that they would decrease upon the influx of Moslems to Europe?


Hey, Allen, look how many more children the world would support if we just got rid of spammers: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2345380,00.asp

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