Should there be a new way of living for the top one billion? – iPat edition redux

Steven Earl Salmony of the AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, commented on Dot Earth’s, “Do the Top Billion Need New Goals?

Dear Timberati,

Do you think there is any chance at all that Paul Ehrlich, despite his poor showing as prognosticator and gambler, will be shown to be one of the greatest scientists of all time?

After all Paul Ehrlich is the forerunner for recent research by Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel that appears to indicate with remarkable simplicity that human population dynamics are essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species.

Since many too many population experts remain silent about this research and blogmeisters associated with the mass media refuse to discuss the peer-reviewed evidence, perhaps you could take a look at it, make your comments, and encourage by your example others to do the same. You can find the article, Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply, by Hopfenberg and Pimentel on the worldwide web or at the links below.
http://www.panearth.org/
http://sustainabilityscience.org…
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/

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Now I visited the panearth.org site and came away unconvinced and with a feeling that even if it’s well-meaning, it hates humans.

I replied:
Dear Steve,

No.

Paul Ehrlich will be no more right than Tertullian was 1810 years ago, no more right than was Malthus 212 years ago, no more right than was Forrester 38 years ago, no more right than was et. al.

Again, to quote Macauly, “On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

This ain’t my first rodeo.

I am NOT saying that feeding the 9.2 billion people that will inhabit this earth in 2075 will be a snap. Certainly not, especially if governments and greens try to keep agriculture in the mid 20th century. Yet it can be done as Norman Borlaug wrote a year or two before his death [ed note: here I’m incorrect, the quote is from 2002 and Borlaug died in 2009], “While challenging, the prospects are good that the world’s farmers will be able to provide a better diet at lower prices to more people in the future.” By the way, after the population peak, the UN (and other demographers) projects world population to fall.

Here’s the human race‘s track record so far:

“The availability of almost everything a person could want or need has been going rapidly upwards for 200 years and erratically upwards for 10,000 years before that: years of lifespan, mouthfuls of clean water, lungfuls of clean air, hours of privacy, means of travelling faster than you can run, ways of communicating farther than you can shout. This generation of human beings has access to more calories, watts, lumen-hours, square feet, gigabytes, megahertz, light years, nanometres, bushels per acre, miles per gallon, food miles, air miles and, of course, cash than any that went before.” (The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley)

This, not despite free trade, but because of free trade.

However, according to the panearth.org slide show, food production increase = population growth, or put another way, “If you feed them, they will come.” I disagree. While true for most animals, as ecologists are wont to point out the boom/bust nature of animal populations and food supply, it’s not true for humans. The number of children per woman links much better to infant mortality (arguably, if you want to lower birth rate you would feed people better not feed them less). So, the healthier (and more urbanized and wealthier) we become, the fewer babies women produce. (See Gapminder.org graphs: http://bit.ly/bjGoVN http://bit.ly/clvx0p and http://bit.ly/9jcCDX Note Mauritius and Botswana) Panearth.org packages Malthus’s theory as Powerpoint. I fundamentally find the panearth.org solution morally repugnant. It’s wildly misanthropic in its neo-Malthusian demand that we not increase food production because that will fuel a population explosion.

And, as you well know, population growth is plummeting. Not one country has a higher birth rate now than it had in 1960.

“Most environmentalists still haven’t gotten the word,” writes Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), “On every part of every continent and in every culture (even Mormon), birth rates are headed down. They reach replacement level and keep dropping.”

Again, I am not saying things will magically become better. I am saying that increasing the wealth of all and placing resources in the places where we (the top one billion) get the best bang for the buck makes sense to me.

What should we top one billion commit to? (List from the Copenhagen Consensus Center)

1 Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc) to combat malnutrition
2 Enact the Doha development agenda to promote free trade
3 Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization) to combat malnutrition
4 Expand immunization coverage for children
5 Biofortification to combat malnutrition
6 Deworming and other nutrition programs at school to combat malnutrition and improve Education
7 Lowering the price of schooling
8 Increase and improve girl’s schooling
9 Community-based nutrition promotion to combat malnutrition
10 Provide support for women’s reproductive role

You and I may not be able to reach an understanding with this one. This may be a case of what Easterbrook terms, “The collective refusal to believe that life is getting better.” For me, not only is the glass half-full, there’s evidence that everyone will have more to drink soon.

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I doubt that I can change Dr Salmony’s mind. After all, he believes enough in the inevitability of the population implosion, (where humanity runs out of food and other resources causing a dramatic drop in numbers. Billions will perish) that he heads a campaign and now is in competition to get attention and funds.

I do hope to change the minds of some who visit Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth blog. Instead of contributing to, what to my mind is a misanthropic endeavor, that they consider one or all of these three charities: FARM-Africa, International Policy Network, AgBioWorld Foundation

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Should there be a new way of living for the top one billion? – The iPat edition

Malthus cautioned law makers on the effects of...

T. Robert Malthus. Image via Wikipedia

Andrew Revkin asks on his blog, Dot Earth, ‘Would the world benefit from a set of millennium development goals for the “top billion”?’

Michael Schesinger, a climatologist at the University of Illinois, among other things, wrote,

“Perhaps humanity and the Earth can survive with 9 billion people in 2050, but what type of world will that be?”

I answer:

It’s a misanthropic question framed as one of great concern for the lives of the yet unborn, animal and plant.

By all indications the world of 2050 will be wealthier, happier, better fed (using less acreage than is used to grow food today), less violent, more interconnected, and more urban than today. Because it will be more urban and therefore denser, it will use less land.

I know, I know, I’m naive. Edward Abbey wrote, “[W]e can see that the religion of endless growth–like any religion based on blind faith rather than reason–is a kind of mania, a form of lunacy, indeed a disease…Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

People are less than worthless, in Abbey’s curmudgeonly view, they are an invading virus.

Schesinger’s pessimistic assessment of the world of 2050 apparently mirrors Abbey’s, Lester Brown’s, Tertullian’s, Thomas Malthus’s, Paul Ehrlich’s and others. The world careens toward a Tertullian/Malthusian catastrophe. Brothers and sisters the end is near and we stand upon banana peels between vipers and the abyss. We stand on the brink of droughts and mass starvation; forests reduced to stumps, no oil, foul air, frozen earth [scratch that frozen bit, put in scorched due to global warming instead] and polluted water. The high prophet of 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich summed it up for us: “The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Why? Ehrlich sprinkled scientific dust on his Malthusian catastrophe with what is now called the IPAT formula: I = P × A × T (where I = Environmental Impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology). There you have with mathematical clarity, we’re the seven hundred pound gorilla playing with china plates.

Yet, that’s the wrong way to look at it; it’s not a zero-sum game.

You may have noticed Ehrlich miscalculated by 40 years and counting. Humans are still here. The world’s population has almost doubled since his prediction, yet things are better. Instead of cleaning off every whit of resource and the world being poorer, sicker, and hungrier, we find that since 1970: we are three times richer (in real terms), the percentage of people in abject poverty has dropped by over two-thirds, a greater percentage of people are better fed, the average person in a developing country eats more, the world’s forests cover 98% of what they did in 1970, and the known oil reserves have nearly doubled.

Why? Because, IPAT is Malthus dressed up as mathematical empiricism and empirical evidence points otherwise. For instance, the development of agriculture reduced the acreage needed to support one person thereby freeing up land for wildlife. The development of oil meant kerosene lighting which meant that whales were preserved and not hunted to extinction. The use of petroleum products to power plows and conveyances freed up 1/3 of agricultural acreage needed to feed the animals so that it could be available for wildlife. Technological advances have generally meant lowered impact on land not more.

IPAT’s pseudo-formula leaves out a resource that weighs heavily in earth’s favor and ours: the ingenuity of humans to solve problems is inexhaustible.

I suspect I won’t change anyone’s mind here. As the late Julian Simon said, “First, humanity’s condition will improve in just about every material way. Second, humans will continue to sit around complaining about everything getting worse.”

Malthusian die-hards, cheer up. I don’t want to completely pee on your parade. Things may yet grow worse. As Bullwinkle J. Moose used to say, “This time for sure.”

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