New Book: Population And The Environment

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Above photo: World Resources Forum

One hopes that human wisdom and ethics will continue to grow, but unlimited growth of population and industry on a finite earth is a logical impossibility.

Today we are pressing against the absolute limits of the earth’s carrying capacity. There are many indications that the explosively increasing global population of humans, and the growth of pollution-producing and resource-using industries are threatening our earth with an environmental disaster. Among the serious threats that we face are catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, extinction of species, and a severe global famine, perhaps involving billions of people rather than millions. Such a famine may occur by the middle of the present century when the end of the fossil fuel era, combined with the effects of climate change reduce our ability to support a growing population.

A new book

I would like to announce the publication of a book addressing these problems, entitled “Population and the Environment”. The book may be freely downloaded and circulated from the following links:

The book discusses some of the measures that will help us to stabilize global population and to achieve a sustainable global society. Most of the material is new, but I have made use of book chapters and articles that I have previously written on these issues.

Stabilizing Global Population

Experts agree that the following steps are needed if we are to avoid a catastrophic global famine and a population crash:

Higher education and higher status for women throughout the world: Women need higher education to qualify for jobs outside their homes. They need higher status within their families so they will not be forced into the role of baby-producing machines.

Primary health care for all: Children should be vaccinated against preventable diseases. Materials and information for family planning should be provided for all women who desire smaller families. Advice should be given on improving sanitation.

The provision of clean water supplies near to homes is needed in order to reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases. In some countries today, family members, including children, spend large amounts of time carrying water home from distant sources.

State provision of care for the elderly is a population-stabilization measure because in many countries, parents produce many children so that the children will provide for them in their old age.

In many countries child labour is common, and in some there is child slavery. Parents who regard their children as a source of income are motivated to produce large families. Enforceable laws against child labour and slavery contribute to population stabilization.

General economic progress has been observed to contribute to population stabilization. However in some countries there is a danger of population growing so rapidly that it prevents the economic progress that would otherwise have stabilized population. This situation is known as the demographic trap.

Forced marriage should be forbidden, and very early marriage discouraged

The battle for birth control

Thomas Robert Malthus’  “Essay on The Principle of Population”, the first edition of which was published in 1798, was one of the the first systematic studies of the problem of population in relation to resources. Earlier discussions of the problem had been published by Boterro in Italy, Robert Wallace in England, and Benjamin Franklin in America. However Malthus’ “Essay ” was the first to stress the fact that, in general, powerful checks operate continuously to keep human populations from increasing beyond their available food supply. In a later edition, published in 1803, he buttressed this assertion with carefully collected demographic and sociological data from many societies at various periods of their histories.

Malthus considered birth control to be a form of vice, and as “preventive checks” to excessive population growth he instead recommended celibacy, late marriage and “moral restraint” within marriage. Had he been writing today, Malthus would undoubtedly have agreed that birth control is the most humane method of avoiding the grim “positive checks” that prevent populations from exceeding their supply of food – famine, disease and war.

The battle for birth control was not easily won. Part of the opposition to contraceptive methods came from industrialists who were happy to have an excess supply of workers to whom they could pay starvation wages. Chapter 3 of my book discusses the battle for birth control in various countries.

Women in public life

We mentioned that one of the most important steps in population stabilization is for women to have higher education, higher status, and jobs outside the home. These reforms, like birth control, have been vigorously opposed by the ruling classes of most countries. Chapter 4 outlines the struggle for women’s rights. while Chapters 5 and 6 discuss the history of women’s struggle for representation in science, politics, literature, music and the visual arts.

Achieving a sustainable and peaceful global society

The remaining chapters of the book discuss threats to the environment and the steps that will be needed to achieve a stable and peaceful global society. Here are some of the reforms that will be needed:

We must achieve a steady-state economic system.

We must restore democracy in our own countries whenever it has been replaced by oligarchy.

We must decrease economic inequality both between nations and within nations.

We must break the power of corporate greed. Economics must be given both a social conscience and an ecological conscience.

We must leave fossil fuels in the ground.

We must stabilize and ultimately reduce the global population to a level that can be supported by sustainable agriculture after the end of the fossil fuel era.

We must stop using material goods for social competition. This will be necessary in order to reduce per-capita consumption.

We must eliminate the institution of war. Thermonuclear weapons have made war prohibitively dangerous.

We must build a new global ethical system based on the concept of a universal human family.



My book on population may be freely downloaded and circulated. I would be extremely grateful to readers who circulate the links to everyone who might be interested. Many of my other books and articles can be found on the following websites:

  • Nothing said about transitioning to 100% renewable energy and zero waste? We can do that and thus eliminate fossil fuel burning and all the rest of our destructive practices much faster than we can ever expect to reduce population.

  • Lili-Ann Berg

    What is proposed in this book/article is far too polite and inefficient. Much more radical measures are needed for our survival as suggested in the piece above written by Gilbert Mercier: “Does Humanity Deserve to be Extinct?” And ask yourself – do humans really deserve to live on this planet? I think not.

  • chetdude

    A little devil’s advocacy…

    As far as Mother Nature is concerned, no species “deserves” to live on this planet unless it is fulfilling an essential niche in the mutually supportive relationships that make up the Web of Life. Not fitting into a constantly evolving design is why so many species have been eliminated over the last billion or so years…

    Do humans deserve it now? One would have to answer no. We lost our right to exist when the combination of our brief experiment with Dominator Hierarchies coupled with fossil-fuels has endangered the survival of most of our fellow creatures on the Planet…

    Can we grow up in time? As the Magic Eight Ball might say, “Outlook not so good.”

  • chetdude

    Sorry, it’s not an either/or…

    You can’t GET to 100% renewable energy with no waste and still provide for even the most basic needs for 7 1/2 billion humans. Thanks to the brief heroin fix of fossil-fuels, we’ve overshot the carrying capacity of the Planet by at least 5 billion — we passed the sustainable maximum back in the 1930s…

    We must reduce population as described by this author AND power down…or else Mother Nature will do it for us…

  • There is 1000s of times more solar energy and wind energy available to us than all the energy we currently use. We are quickly scaling up production, and it could easily go faster. If we seriously went to war against fossil fuels, we could win this thing in a couple decades.

    We need to produce a bit more just to clean up the pollution from the production process, and then we are in the clear, able to produce more than we consume. Then we can use some of that excess to clean up the previous pollution. Absolutely possible.

    No genocide is necessary, and it wouldn’t help clean up the mess anyway.

  • chetdude

    “There is 1000s of times more solar energy and wind energy available to us than all the energy we currently use” and the trick is finding enough raw materials and places to dump waste to create the devices necessary for converting it…

    And then there’s storage…

    And to power what — individual, electrically powered transportation pods for a substantial number of the predicted 10 billion humans? another 5 billion leaky buildings? More factories making iPhones and Tupperware?

    We’ve got to rethink the entire paradigm…

    I don’t advocate genocide — on the contrary I’d like to see humans grow up, provide all forms of birth control on demand as a Sacrament, empower women and educate ourselves so we could reduce our population to a sustainable level in a few generations as we power down – lower energy use for higher Quality of Life…

    If we don’t do that, Mother Nature will reduce our population much more drastically and violently –and that wouldn’t be pretty…

  • Defen Estrange

    Wouldn’t it be easier and more equitably effective just to introduce a world-wide plague that only a few would survive?