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EP PODCASTSXML

December 14, 2007

Who Knew?

A Chinese CrowdIt's an enormous conceit to think that population increases are everywhere and always a good thing. In the blessed tradition, however, of neo-classical economic theory (aka 'free markets') such is the miracle of rational choice that left to themselves people will 'optimize' the rate of population growth: no natural limit on population exists. Nevertheless, in reality the unacknowledged costs of population growth mostly shift to future generations. Call it the ultimate Ponzi scheme. And if you think about it, population growth is the main driver of all our planetary scale problems, from warming to Peak Oil to food production, right down the list. Locally as well, even to diluted democratic practices of governance. Although it makes no sense whatsoever to tackle any of these without due consideration of the population factor most of the time population doesn't get mentioned — the implications are so politically controversial. To help put population and its derivatives into perspective I turned to a man who's been sounding the alarm about sustainability [.doc] for decades, Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett. It was a real privilege to talk with Al, who's as close to being a prophet as anybody can be these days. Listen, and pass the word! Total runtime an hour and sixteen minutes.

Listen

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Comments


This is a wonderful interview. The questions are intelligent, and the guest is articulate.

It's too bad people like Professor Bartlett haven't been the ones running the world for the last fifty years.

As he says, "The die is cast."


I also enjoyed listening to this informative interview.

It was interesting to learn that Henry "Scoop" Jackson (pre-curser of neocons?) sponsored Marion Hubbert's initial papers describing future scarcity.

While listening, I thought about a Social Studies teacher I had in Arkansas in the early 70s who was proud of coining the word "popullution" which somehow never seemed to really catch on.

Also, Buckminster Fuller who wrote one of my favorite books, Nine Chains to the Moon. I wonder what he and Dr. Bartlett might say to each other if Fuller was still living?

http://tinyurl.com/yrruss

Alexander Cockburn seems to be convinced that the whole Global Warming-Scarcity biz is a bit of a conspiracy — he, of course, eschews the word "conspiracy".

(I think he is correct that the Cold War was a scam.)

We certainly live in interesting times.

Let's hope wisdom transmutes the dire predictions that seem so inescapable.

Last night, skittering around YouTube, I tried to imagine 9 billion people in 40 years; Jacques Attali sees opportunity and a chance for human responsibility:

http://tinyurl.com/32uqmq


Better link to Jacques Attali talking to Charlie Rose:

http://tinyurl.com/29tdss


I would have had much more comfort with this presentation if it had been accompanied with an analysis of the current world population situation. Somehow the fact that the fertility rate of virtually all first world countries is roughly 50% of replacement was elided. The U.S. continues to grow, but only because of immigration.

There are also projections that show that the world population has peaked, and we are on the back side of the curve of expansion Dr. Bartlett spoke of.

That said, it is by no means clear that the decline will be large enough and timely enough to solve the problem Dr. Bartlett describes.

Overall, Dr. Bartlett strongly reminded me of the Club of Rome presentations I heard in the '70s. I had hoped that we didn't need to go over this ground again. I had a chance to work with Jay Forrester, the MIT scientist upon whose models the Limits to Growth work was based, and he was highly skeptical of the uses his work was being put to. He felt that neither the model nor the data used in it were strong enough to support the Club of Rome conclusions, and a review of them will show he was right.

While Dr. Bartlett is clearly right, the Club of Rome he represents has not proven effectual. We need another, more grounded in the facts. As I have said before on this site, the good guys have to be fully truthful, not like the bad guys. Otherwise the people in the middle won't know the difference.


Thanks for a great interview, George. It's really a shame (and somewhat mystifying) that the Sierra Club refuses to endorse the notion of limiting population growth. I too was a member of ZPG in the late 60's, and felt as though I was screaming into the wind whenever I brought up the subject. Finally my Aunt, after she had 6 kids, saw the light. I limited my procreation to the requisite two, and so far they have not issued any progeny. I've told them I don't want grandkids... I would worry too much about their future.

BTW, I'd like David Ford to provide some references for his statements that "There are also projections that show that the world population has peaked" and "the fertility rate of virtually all first world countries is roughly 50% of replacement". Nowhere can I find information that verifies these statements.


I, too, question the veracity of Ford's 50% statistic. I believe that is grossly inaccurate.

And I wouldn't be too quick to relax about the UN projection that world population will level off around 9 billion. Not when we are beyond a sustainable population level today. And I don't believe the UN anticipated that certain nations — such as Germany and Russia — would begin offering baby bonuses in a misguided effort to keep GDP rising.

Dave Gardner
Producer and Director
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

www.growthbusters.com


Another view:

Culling the Herd by Sheila Samples

http://tinyurl.com/23cec2



I am disappointed that two commentators took it upon themselves to condemn my figures without making the slightest effort to check them.

My 3 second Google search turned up fertility per woman from the CIA World Fact Book. To simplify, I will report only those for the G8. These represent 65% of the world's economy.

U.S. 2.06, France 1.98, U.K. 1.66, Canada 1.53 Germany 1.4, Russia 1.39, Italy 1.29, Japan 1.23

Replacement rate is 2.

Several feminist blogs have picked up the discussion of food as a feminist issue. As so often, the problem of overpopulation is ignored, which rather concerns me because I am beginning to realize that this is THE issue, albeit a rather uncomfortable one. A Feministe post references an Amartya Sen book from 1981 that claims that there is enough food. Well, since then the world population has increased by 45%. What might've been true then, is probably no longer true now. Do you happen to know if there's an update to Sen's analysis somewhere?

An update to Sen? I don't know, but I doubt it.

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