Reflections on Human Proliferation

Growth for the sake of growth is the

philosophy of the cancer cell.”

Edward Abbey

The unease which environmental issues cause governments is obvious.  The science is clear enough and the economic case for tackling climate change is compelling.  To take one figure, according to the Stern report, 1% of Gross Domestic Product spent reducing the world’s carbon output now would prevent damage from climate change of up to 20% of GDP over the next few decades.

Yet governments continue to equivocate.

Global summits from Kyoto onwards have been exercises in ‘too little too late’ and in being more interested in appearing to be tackling the problem than actually doing anything effective about it.  I don’t think this is because they think nothing should be done.  It is just that they are not sure how much they can get away with.  Both in terms of the minimum necessary expenditure required to save the planet and more importantly in the sense of what they think their citizens will tolerate in terms of increased taxes and decreased choices.

So governments concentrate on climate change and CO2 as the problem, but this is not the problem, it is merely a symptom of the problem.  The real problem is our expanding population.  If we could control our population then tackling climate change and CO2 emissions would be easy.

The expectation that things have to grow seems to be deeply embedded in the human psyche, populations have to increase, economic output has to increase, there must be profit and interest and GDP must only go in one direction.

And so governments ignore the main problem faced by our environment and our continued existence within that environment.  We have reduced the problem to one of carbon emissions and not the unsustainable way we live our lives, we are concentrating on the one of the side shows and ignoring the main event.

The main threat to the environment is the huge numbers of human beings on the planet.  Without a reduction in the human population all the other efforts to save the planet are pointless.

But a reduction in human population is not going to happen any time soon, it is against human nature.

Those governments who are unwilling to address the issue of population control are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic as the ship slowly descends into the water.

But democratic governments would rather not discuss the contentious issue of population control because they know it would be political suicide and almost all environmental groups are reluctant to address this issue because if they do so then they will quickly loose support from the general public.

If there is anyone reading this who thinks that we can all just reduce our carbon footprint and all adopt sustainable lifestyles to save the environment just consider for a moment, at the current rate of increase the world’s population doubles every forty years.

Just suppose we were successful in all our efforts to try and save the environment, bear in mind that our best efforts so far have only seen a small reduction in the rate of increase of carbon emissions.  However suppose that we were successful far beyond any reasonable expectations, suppose we cut our carbon emissions by half and that we found more economic ways to use resources so that we only use half the resources we currently use.  Would this implausible level of success be enough to save the planet?


It would only postpone things.  In forty years time we would be back to the same situation as we face today except that there would be twice as many people on the planet.

There was a quote from David Attenborough (although I have not yet located the source or verified it but I do remember hearing it) in one of his programs he said “You cannot have infinite growth within a finite system, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either insane or is an economist.”

So, what can we do to reduce the population?

Not a lot!

Having babies, is so much a part of human life that it is rarely thought even to require a justification.  The majority of people do not even think about whether they should have children or not.  They just have them.  In other words, procreation is usually the consequence of sex rather than the result of a decision to bring more children into a world that already has far too many.

Any measures we introduce to restrict the growth of population will either be voluntary or they will be involuntary, both are ineffective.

Most democratic governments would not seriously consider imposing mandatory restrictions on the number of children their citizens can have, they know it would be political suicide and that they would be out at the next election.  Non democratic governments might introduce restrictions to the number of children its citizens can have but they do so at their own peril because these restrictions are highly unpopular and as we have seen in China they are not particularly effective, especially in the rural areas.

So what about voluntary reductions in the number of children?  We might see public awareness campaigns and offers of free contraception, adverts explaining the problem and urging people to exercise restraint.  These measures would only influence a portion of the population.

Those people who are intelligent enough to recognise the plight of the world would have fewer children.

Those people who are not intelligent enough to realise the peril or who couldn’t care less about it and those who have been inculcated into a religion which proclaims that their followers have the god given right to overpopulate the planet (that covers almost every religion) would go on breeding without restraint.

The result would be that the next generation would have fewer intelligent people who cared about the future of humanity and more people who only focus on their own immediate short term problems.  Evolution only rewards success at procreation.  Those who choose not to have children effectively remove themselves from the gene pool.

In other words, people who care about the state of the planet will be out competed by those who don’t.  In evolutionary terms a trait is only successful if it confers an advantage in terms of numbers of surviving offspring to those individuals who have it, and in this case stupidity confers an advantage and so it would proliferate.

So what is going to happen in the future?

That is very simple.  If we will not or cannot control our population then nature will control it for us.  When we have too many people for our food supply then some or all of them will starve.  When there are too many people for the space we have then disputes will arise and there will be wars.  If we turn our food production into a huge monoculture then sooner or later some disease or parasite will come along and wipe it out for us.

Nature is a huge web of interconnected systems all dependent on each other for their mutual survival.  If we destroy enough of this web then we will end up destroying ourselves.  Nature can survive without humans, it has done so for most of the history of our planet, can humans survive without nature?

I think not!

It’s that simple, overpopulation will eventually lead to a population crash.

We can only hope that we do not succeed in destroying all life on earth, that would be a pity because it is a beautiful place.

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