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message 2: by David (last edited Mar 16, 2016 08:39AM) (new)

David M. | 13 comments Unfortunately, this article starts out with a phony issue. Population alarmists have been wrong since Malthus. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, was wringing his hands about the impossibility of India and Pakistan becoming self sufficient in food at exactly the same time Norman Borlaug was earning a Nobel Peace Prize for making India and Pakistan self sufficient in food. When Borlaug turned his attention to Africa, population alarmists got his funding cut off. Starvation is worse there than anywhere in the world. Ironically, when a society starts to become food sufficient, birth rates decline. It's past time to stop following false prophets of doom whose prescriptions cause more serious problems than they can ever solve.


message 3: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
I think Paul Ehrlich's book caused people to attack anyone who is concerned about the future. His basic premise, in my view, is still the correct one. Overpopulation is indeed an issue. The time it takes to double the world's population is getting shorter and shorter. I don't know the Borlaug story yet, but that should not cause us to stop fighting for access to birth control.


message 4: by David (new)

David M. | 13 comments Here's a place to start reading about Borlaug. I think his approach to population is vastly superior to fighting for birth control. It works.
http://sustainingourworld.com/2014/09...


message 6: by Brian (new)

Brian Burt | 426 comments Mod
David wrote: "Here's a place to start reading about Borlaug. I think his approach to population is vastly superior to fighting for birth control. It works.
http://sustainingourworld.com/2014/09......"


Hi, David, welcome to the group!

I'd never heard of Borlaug, but I find him inspiring and his work to feed starving populations phenomenal. I have to admit, though, that overpopulation still feels like a very legitimate problem to me. Jared Diamond's awesome book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed brought this home for me.

Ultimately, the Earth is a finite resource. While I certainly have great faith in science and believe it can help us mitigate the effects of a burgeoning world population, it still feels like common sense to me that, sooner or later, we hit a point of diminishing returns in terms of incremental improvement in food production efficiency, energy production efficiency, access to fresh water, etc. As Diamond's book demonstrates, human civilizations have made this mistake before: consumed available resources without conserving, assuming that some future breakthrough would "bail them out," then ultimately hit a wall and crashed and burned.

So, while I see the wisdom of pursuing approaches like Borlaug's to help sustain our expanding human population, I still believe in a "multi-pronged" strategy that includes reasonable population control targets. Just one perspective... and maybe not at odds with yours!


message 7: by David (new)

David M. | 13 comments Thanks for the links, Jimmy. Before I started looking into Borlaug, I thought the "green revolution" depended on chemical fertilizer and had reached a point where it was no longer beneficial. Realize that I wrote that post two years ago and have no interest in going back and studying all of my sources again for this thread, but the "green revolution" was based on developing seeds with higher yield and disease resistance.

Plants need fertilizer and thriving plants need it more. That doesn't mean petroleum-based fertilizer. IIRC, Borlaug recommended manure. Chemical fertilizer is cheaper. Over-reliance on it is not a a necessary precondition for the green revolution. It's a product of advertising, lobbying, and unwillingness to go to the extra effort of composting manure. It ought to be possible to separate the useful aspects of modern agriculture from the carelessness and excesses that have wormed their way into its practice.

That's just one issue where I had to revise what I thought about agriculture before I started studying. I am beginning to see that the environmental benefits of organic farming are oversold by the organic farming industry.


message 8: by William (last edited Mar 18, 2016 10:05PM) (new)

William Burcher | 11 comments Hi everyone. The article is pretty provocative; immediately going for the throat. The Population Bomb did indeed turn out to be alarmist—for food production, that is. What concerns me about our (exponentially growing) population is not necessarily access to food, but excessive, unsustainable levels of consumption. As Eastern and Southern countries continue to develop, the prospect of their populations consuming as we in the West do is pretty terrifying. (And yes, of course this is an ironic concern coming from me, an American.)

Feeding all 7 billion of us may be possible, but how about giving all 7 billion a Ford F150?


message 9: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
And how about when 7 billion doubles to 14 billion? At some point it has to come crashing down.


message 10: by Brian (new)

Brian Burt | 426 comments Mod
William wrote: "Hi everyone. The article is pretty provocative; immediately going for the throat. The Population Bomb did indeed turn out to be alarmist—for food production, that is. What concerns me about our (ex..."

I'm with you, William. The population number in and of itself isn't the critical concern; it's "doing the math" in terms of resource consumption as more of that population (understandably) aspires to live a "Westernized" lifestyle. That prospect is very, very daunting!


message 11: by William (new)

William Burcher | 11 comments It's certainly a catch-22. On the one hand, it's obvious that the rest of the world can't consume like we do; but on the other, do we have even a right to ask (or demand) that they don't? I like to think there is a bit of hope, though, that as developing societies progress they by-pass our habits of conspicuous consumption altogether. The relative expansion of solar energy and other green technologies has been led in many respects by China, for instance.


message 12: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
Isn't China now number one in carbon emissions? They have been using coal for electricity. We can double check me on that. Coal is cheap, miners die at a high rate in China.


http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/p...


message 13: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
"Feeding all 7 billion of us may be possible, but how about giving all 7 billion a Ford F150?"
At the risk of sounding silly, if all the cars are solar powered with batteries, as are the factories that make them, the main problem will be where to park.


message 14: by Clare (last edited Mar 19, 2016 10:51AM) (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
"Coal is cheap, miners die at a high rate in China."
Not just miners. See a documentary film called 'Under The Dome' made by a female Chinese journalist whose daughter never saw blue sky. This is on Youtube subtitled.


message 15: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
The car and the solar batteries all require minerals and materials to be made. So there's more to the problem, I think.


message 16: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
I was simplifying... hoping to show that giving people cars depends on the car and fuel. I agree with you that resources still have to be found (and to make the solar farms too).


message 17: by Brian (new)

Brian Burt | 426 comments Mod
I agree that our best hope is to figure out innovative, paradigm-shifting ways to consume more responsibly on a global scale. So "1st-world" countries would need to adapt their consumption patterns toward a more sustainable model, and emerging nations / economies would need to adopt these techniques (hopefully avoiding repetition of the industrial patterns that have put us in a deep hole to begin with).

It certainly seems like renewable / alternative energy is a critical component of this. But managing resources like fresh water sustainably is also crucial. As I understand it, modern industrial farming consumes the lion's share of fresh water in the U.S.... so "gearing up production" for higher yields to feed the expanding population puts even more pressure on fresh water supplies, which are an indispensable resource as well. California's recent drought has been big news in the States: according to some sources, the ag sector consumes 80% of the fresh water there.

Beyond the Perfect Drought:
California’s Real Water Crisis


So I guess my fear is that sustainable consumption, across established and emerging economies, is a really tough problem to solve because there are so many interrelationships and interdependencies. More people makes this even more challenging.


message 18: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
http://ecowatch.com/2016/03/16/solar-...

Something cheerful for you. A small airport, and it's in India, where there is lots of sun. But its a good start in the way you mention above.


message 19: by Brian (new)

Brian Burt | 426 comments Mod
Clare wrote: "http://ecowatch.com/2016/03/16/solar-...

Something cheerful for you. A small airport, and it's in India, where there is lots of sun. But its a good start in the way you m..."


That is epic - incredibly cool and very encouraging. Thanks, Clare, I needed that! :-D


message 20: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
Enjoy your weekend!


message 21: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
Thanks for the airport story, Clare. Very promising.


message 22: by David (new)

David M. | 13 comments The most practical definition of sustainable practice I've come across is that it can continue indefinitely without causing environmental, economic, or social harm.

The American rate of consumption is not sustainable even if only Americans consumed at that rate. The truly obscene aspect is not so much what we consume as what we waste. This is as good a place as any to mention, with all due modesty, that I have written a book about the first Earth Day, where among other things, I describe how we abandoned thrift and embraces waste. Before and After the First Earth Day, 1970: a history of environmentalism, its success, failures, errors, and why climate change is the wrong issue for today I'll be happy to give a PDF to anyone who will review it.

Anyway, what we need to do is find a way to encourage thrift again, get rid of planned obsolescence, etc. If we can live well and more sustainably, then perhaps the rest of the world will no longer aspire to waste as much as we do.


message 23: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
I have to honestly say here, David, that I'm not sure what you are getting at with some of these comments.

Are you telling us that "climate change is the wrong issue for today" in all seriousness? Do you have some evidence to back that up?

And organic farming is being "oversold by the organic farming industry"? Again, could you provide us with some evidence?


message 24: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
Nothing like a worldwide recession to encourage thrift, stop consumption, send people back to growing their own food. In case you hadn't noticed or your neighbourhood is different.


message 25: by David (new)

David M. | 13 comments Yes, Jimmy. I'm saying that climate change is the wrong argument--simply because no one is listening.

It seems to me the important thing is to change people's behavior, whether they agree with a particular narrative about climate change or not. Even the Tea Party is pushing for more solar power!

So let's find messages that most people won't tune out.

As for organic farming, see http://sustainingourworld.com/2015/09...


message 26: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
I am sure everyone can agree that reducing waste and pollution is good, whether they want to hear about climate change or not.


message 27: by Brian (new)

Brian Burt | 426 comments Mod
David wrote: "Yes, Jimmy. I'm saying that climate change is the wrong argument--simply because no one is listening.

It seems to me the important thing is to change people's behavior, whether they agree with a ..."


I personally believe that the potential impact of unchecked climate change is so catastrophic that it's worth repeating the message until it sinks in. But I understand your perspective, David, that it seems like this message keeps falling on deaf ears in the U.S. due to our unfortunate "2-party polarizing politicization" of the issue.

Your blog post on organic vs. conventional farming is intriguing and presents a nicely balanced view, with pros and cons on both sides. I guess the middle ground is the most fertile, eh? ;-)


message 28: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
David, you appear to be using your own blog and books to provide us with information. I'd prefer other sources. I really don't want these threads to turn into self advertising.


message 29: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
Agreed, Jimmy. Sources like Time Magazine are fine. One's own magazine is not, though I could allow one mention.


message 30: by Anne (new)

Anne Ipsen | 96 comments It is true that as a society develops, the birthrate goes down (but not as fast as the death rate, especially the infant mortality rate). It takes a long time to get a balance--a long time for people to accept that they don't have to have 10 children to guarantee their old age. We don't have that long!
Besides, its easy to say that the problem is those people over there--we are all part of the problem.


message 31: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
Give women the freedom to make choices about their own lives, and they will choose not to be married at fifteen and have ten children. As women's rights improve, the birth rate drops.


message 32: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1572 comments Mod
Excellent comments, Anne and Clare.


message 33: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 5788 comments Mod
UNICEF has been very active in this field and chooses to employ people local to the areas in which they work.


message 34: by William (new)

William Burcher | 11 comments If we awoke tomorrow to find women and the female worldview dominant in society, the world would certainly be a different place. You make a great point, Clare. Empower women, and they inevitably make decisions that are better for their families, for their communities. I found this article from the Gates foundation a few weeks ago, on the reasons that women make better use of micro-finance loans. The trend that Clare speaks of is cause for hope, I think.


message 35: by Anne (new)

Anne Ipsen | 96 comments If you educate women and/or give them micro loans, they tend to stay in their village--go local!


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