Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

My few followers may have noticed a gap in my usually regular posting. I confess I have been going through somewhat of a “why bother” phase. I have written down some thoughts but have discarded them as not truly worthy of your consideration. During this period I have not visited my follower’s blogs as well.

Of late my mind has been occupied with pondering how both lucky and unlucky sets of incidences had brought me to, and pulled me back from, the brink of death. These experiences has jelled within me with certain finality that any belief in a “higher being”, god, whatever one wants to call it, is both extremely infantile and monumentally ludicrous. Any sense of awe and appreciation and wonder and purpose in my life I find most profoundly among the people who make it WORTH living – my wife, my children, my friends and more. And it is the ultimate finality of those important relationships that makes them so critically vital and worth embracing NOW.

I recently stumbled upon a talk by naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. He was speaking about the eminent extinction of various animal species, specifically about the number of reports and studies which have pointed to these causes; global climate change, destruction of habitat and so on. But what he found remarkable in each and every report was the one basic common contributing factor NOT mentioned:

Fifty years ago (when I was age 12) there were 3 billion people on this planet. Today there are 7 billion, more than doubled IN MY LIFETIME – world population increases by 250,000 people a day, by 10,000 an hour. Each and every one of these individuals will require space – room to live, eat, survive. But as a Naturalist, Sir David points out in stark and undeniable truth: “there cannot be more people on this earth than can be fed”. Sir David refers to the concept of “sustainable growth” as an oxymoron.

True, increases in productivity and food sciences have fed billions; and likely more advances in this area are forthcoming. Yet these advances only hasten the inevitable. Sir David quotes economist Kenneth Boulding:
“Anyone who believes indefinite growth in anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist.”
The key ingredient driving the advances in food production is energy, specifically energy from petroleum. Petroleum provides the chemicals to enhance food production and distribution. Petroleum is a finite commodity the demand for it is increasing and the supply of it is becoming more expensive. The cost of petroleum, and therein food, is manipulated by economic interests. The demand for food will only increase and with it, the cost. Those who will, and are now bearing the full brunt of this inevitability, are the poor… a number which is also steadily increasing world wide.

I note with increasing disgust the amount of time and energy that is wasted on the banality of the political process in this country and around the world. The “N-word” painted on a rock at Rick Perry’s hunting lodge, fear that same-sex people will get married, that elected official, Mitch McConnell has stated his sole purpose in Congress is to ensure against President Obama having a second term… All this meaningless nonsense saps our energy - while these morons fiddle, Rome burns.

Between now and the 2012 presidential election, 98,500,000 (ninety-eight million, five-hundred thousand) more people will exist on this planet. Their fate will be either in the hands of an invisible omnipotent benevolent/malevolent being - or more likely, Not.

Sir David Attenborough’s full talk can be viewed here.


Antares Cryptos said...

I recently went through a "why bother" phase when the posts I wanted to put up were (and are still) too time-consuming and all I have managed are what I consider keeping in touch posts.

This post on a topic that I was going to write about obviously resonates, especially when there is not a single policy on population control.

Why bother?

Because it is important. Thank you for writing about one of the elephants in the room. You have been missed.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos This is the point that Attenborough so eloquently made; he is not an economist nor sociologist nor politician. He can only speak as a Naturalist. If we (meaning specifically governments) continue to regard this as a "taboo" subject, the problem will right itself regardless. Our choice is to be proactive and correct it the humane way or through horrible human suffering.

Jerry said...

Ever since reading 'The Population Explosion' by Erlich back in the late eighties (or was it the early nineties), I have walked around with a mild since of doom. It seemed that everywhere I turned I could see the negative effects, both socially and ecologically. I often wonder if the earth with self-correct (you know, the Gaia thing) with horrid natural disasters.

This essay brought it all back with the accompanying sadness. Our greed, individual and collective, keeps out eyes closed.

I'm really glas you have returned.

Infidel753 said...

I used to worry about overpopulation, but no longer. Birth rates have fallen below replacement level almost everywhere -- yes, even in most Muslim countries (the one remaining big exception is Sub-Saharahn Africa). The population growth that is continuing mostly comes from the fact that, owing to earlier demographic patterns, a disproportionate fraction of the population is in its reproductive years. In the next couple of decades that demographic bulge will progress into the post-fertility age brackets. Meanwhile, technological progress continues to accelerate. We'll need to move away from fossil fuels for any number of reasons; other sources such as solar power will be able to produce far more energy. We could greatly increase the food supply (and solve a lot of health problems) just by shifting to a vegetarian diet.

There may be an absolute upper limit to the number of people the Earth can support, but we're nowhere near it and will probably never get anywhere near it.

CiCi said...

Sir David is tops in our house. We watch his documentaries and read about him and love him. The ignorance of the human race cannot be stopped it seems. David speaks clearly and wisely and very few have listened. I am so glad I am as old as I am. I cannot imagine the further destruction of the planet and the killing off of the poor by the wealthy, since the wealthy are the only ones who truly matter don't you know.

DJan said...

I recently wrote a post about the overpopulation problem and how it is never mentioned. I also learned recently about the Guidestones in Georgia and how they are written in many languages and the first thing they say, since they believe that when Rome burns many of us will also die, is that humans should not exceed 500 million, a small fraction of the number alive. And the last thing they say is to honor nature and not to be a cancer on the earth.

Tom said...

Jeez, something ELSE to worry about! But I thought Thomas Malthus covered this back in the early 1800s. Except I'm kind of hoping that the world's population will be checked not by starvation and disease, but by health, education and ultimately smaller families. Already has happened in the developed world; hopefully the emerging world will follow.

Anonymous said...

The silly squabbles, pettiness, and short-sighted greed is overwhelming, especially when it so thoroughly distracts us from the real problems impacting our environment.

I go nuts every time I see one of those corporate self-serving ads for "clean coal" and "clean natural gas" that's supposedly so good for the environment. Talk about a load of bullsh**. I really don't know how these people sleep at night. Probably on pillows stuffed with money.

Then we've got the Religious Right doing all they can to stop the emancipation of women and marginalize homosexuals, not to mention what they're doing to hurt the economy and destroy the middle class. And the list of abuses goes on ...

You've probably already read it, Robert, but I just finished Sagan's "Billions and Billions." He so eloquently addresses all of these bigger issues (that our politicians etc. so blithely ignore) yet at the same times, restores my faith in humanity and the simple goodness of people.

I needed that.

Nance said...

Other than writing about it, speaking to friends and family who will listen and participating in the (horrid, fascinating, low-life) process of politics that guards the portals of decision-making, what options have we?

I share your disgust and I go on reading, talking, writing. Hell if I know why. I go through cycles of existential confrontation with reality, which freeze me in nihilism, and the shallower investigations, which sometimes stir the adrenalin enough to move me to some action. Then, being a mere mammal, I somehow feel better for a little bit.

Holding both levels of awareness in my head at the same time is often more than I can do, but it's worth continual striving. I'm glad you were moved to write this.

Jayne said...

Robert- You've laid out some potentially horrible problems in years to come. I shudder to think what some of the solutions might be to limit population growth.

But I do wish this country were proactive when it comes to many serious issues. As you so eloquently wrote, we tend to give the piddly nonsense far too much attention, while reacting, much too late to the serious matters. I loathe to watch the political gyrations--it's a theatre of the absurd.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

The N word when I hear it makes me think of Nazi because I was called little nazi girl in the '50's when my folks came here to Canada since we came via Germany but were my dad was a displaced Czeech who survived the post war massacre.
Now the US is wasting time and money trying to make believe a change in leadership will change the US 's future. I think that is no longer possible. They might want to have an Indian Asian leader to try to help balance the power that China now holds over all the world. Europe is now struggling too.
There seems to be no world leader so there will be no real plan. Population issues were presented years ago but the huge companies are not taking anything as reality except the way to create more wealth. Instead they have created huge investment schemes and have the entire world wrapped into blankets of red and green and fear.
And the medical world has created a mess by adding so many drugs that are to keep us alive longer. The drugs end up in our water supply. People are becoming huge and mentally very unstable . There were very few boarders 40 years 50 years ago. There was no shopping channel and no daily TV arousing people's need to rush to their mall to buy. And coupons? Another stupid way to promote products that are not needed.
Like you I have blogged less. Like you I struggle with the same issues. But I am beginning to focus more on taking each day and just enjoying one moment if possible.
Steve Jobs had a wise idea to do that . He's gone and as a visionary left us with cool gadgets but not a solution to the corporate greed. Actually his secrecy prior to releasing his gadgets actually fueled the dilemma.
Can his devices be used to change the deeply rooted old values that are now totally dangerous to the future?
Small revolutions are beginning but is there still time to hope that change is a MUST??

Anonymous said...

Robert, you are your gray matter. God bless you..:-)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jerry As you point out, the evidence is all around us. Supposedly the economy in just this country needs to create 127,000 NEW jobs each month to forestall unemployment. Jobs - doing what?? Those that are created are low-wage and no benefit jobs. This is but one canary in the coal mine. There are many more.

Infidel Though population increase "rates" in many developed countries have declined, the numbers continue to increase. Of more concern is the "carrying capacity" of those remaining. We are already experiencing pressure in this country to cut or limit support (entitlements) for those who cannot support themselves. If you factor in the reduction of farmable land due to climate change, population density and the like, the math does not add up.

Robert the Skeptic said...

TechnoBabe I kid you now, I have met people who think the only animals we need are beef, chicken and pork and the only green spaces, golf courses.

DJan I think 500 million is a pretty small number, but your analogy of human populations being a cancer on the earth is apt. We have bacteria and virus populations in our own bodies, but when they rapidly accelerate into billions, we become ill.

Signtings The solutions you mention, education, health, are mentioned by Attenborough and including empowering women with reproductive choices and tools.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how nice it is to see you back on my new post list.
What happened to this issue over the past 40 years? I remember the ZPG people in the early 70's. They faded into the mist. Someone recently told me that there are more people alive on this earth right now than have lived during the totality of human existence. I have not checked this out independently yet, but if true, it does make the issue a bit easier to comprehend. Religions and countries have pursued policies of increasing their numbers in order to maintain power. As you point out, if we don't handle the issue on our own, "mother nature" will handle it in very unpleasant ways.
Oh, and interestingly enough, my blog comment approval word verification is "karma". Did you set it that way? *spooky*

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dissenter If our national "vision" does not extend beyond merely the 2010 election, we effectively have no vision of the future. I haven't read "Billions and Billions" yet but I am a huge Sagan fan.

Nance I guess I am feeling the desperation of the futility of it all. There is little I can do individually. I heard a woman on NPR mouthing the mindless statement that "... things are so bad. That's why we need a Republican in the White House". If millions of people are willing to mindlessly just "believe", I just don't see any hope.

Jayne Well as Attenborough points out, population growth WILL be limited whether we like it or not. If our history is any indication of the future, it will not be the best possible method.

KleinsteMotte You have eloquently touched on many interrelated subjects all of which effect the outcomes for humanity. Someone once said we need to view humanity on this planet more like a "community" and less like a "market". That doesn't seem to be the focus right now.

Anonymous As typical of a "believer", a non-answer. I certainly don't need god's blessing, but millions upon millions are still waiting for theirs as they die in famine and poverty.

billy pilgrim said...

all of our economic plans and projections are based on a growing economy. i hope our leaders have a back-up plan when we reach peak population.

it brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.

Rubye Jack said...

For years now it's been a puzzle to me why the vast majority of people can simply ignore the explosion. You would think they would pay attention, but they don't. I don't understand this.

Like you, I've been having a difficult time with posts since my mind seems to be stuck on blah. Hopefully, creative thinking will return one of these days. I haven't followed you long but am glad you are back because I enjoy your blog very much.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BackRow In underdeveloped countries, having more children is a strategy for (the parent's) survival. In the long run, it accelerates the generation of poverty.

I believe the reason we don't hear much about this today is that most industrialized nations have addressed their populations. Italy actually is experiencing a radical drop in birth rate as is Japan. The fear now is there there will not be enough younger people to support the older population. Birth rate is only one factor, death rates are dropping further driving the population numbers.

But I think Attenborough places the blame on this being essentially a "Taboo" subject to discuss.

Billy They don't have a backup plan, THAT is one of the major threats. Yes, I guess you could say that population is the cancer on the earth. It doesn't have to be that way.

RubyeJack Again we focus on the symptoms of issues rather than the root causes. From my perspective, many of the critical issues of the day fall into the issue of too many people - too many in poverty, too many out of work, too many needing social services, too many needing education and ... increasingly limited resources for them all.

I find myself not interested in posting about the trivia that fills our daily news, be it the manufactured debt crisis or the moronic Mainstream Media who allow people like Sarah Palin to play them like a $2 banjo. There are thousands of people blogging about this minutia, I just don't want to be one of them. I understand your point clearly.

Anne said...

I am glad to see you here again, Robert. I agree with you, of course, about the foolishness of belief in some supernatural something that is running things for one's personal benefit. Besides that, I often consider how fleeting our presence is on the planet, and how fleeting the planet is in the universe. That tends to put into perspective any declarations of Rick Perry's about same sex marriage -- or anything else, for that matter.

But keep writing, my web friend. I like what you have to say.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Anne Thanks for your words of encouragement. I actually find humor in the discord among believers, who generally support conservative candidates, regarding whether Mitt Romney is a "christian" or not. I actually think Huntsman is a lone voice in their midst, which because of his religion and his acceptance of science, will keep him sidelined.

Then again I voted for Obama and my nieces and nephews avoid going to the doctor because they have no insurance and cannot afford it. So really, where is the "Change" we were promised? It's no wonder our country has the lowest voter turn-out of any democratic nation on earth.

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living said...

I refuse to be a pessimist. I do have faith in future generations figuring out fuel problems, overpopulation, and food. My mom said she was so happy not to be a part of my generation because of overpopulation and she died at 57. She was born in 1925. I think there's a major change going on all around the world and we have to accept that younger generations will change things. I am disgusted that politics in the U.S. is still about issues that are not even brought up in European elections. We need young people to change that as older people won't change.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Gutsy You don't need to be a pessimist, but people should be realists. In your mother's lifetime, it took 37 years for world population to rise by 1 billion. Currently it takes 11 years per billion. After 2012 the world population will rise another billion in only 8 years. This is not sustainable.

The problem is the RATE of increase which is accelerating. I think it naive to think that 'somehow' our young people are going to find an answer to this problem. As Attenborough points out, there are only TWO solutions; one is kind, the other not so much.

The resources on which we depend are finite; the earth is currently experiencing more radical climate shifts, desertification, aquifers are excessively low or depleted in some locals, glacial water supplies are drying up, fisheries are depleted... the list goes on.

Remember, nobody on the Titanic was a pessimist, the ship was "unsinkable", after all.

secret agent woman said...

I struggle with succumbing to despair and then ennui. But it matters, and maybe there is even less sense in NOT trying.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent This is what Attenborough was trying to plead, that if WE don't choose to do something, it WILL unhappily be done for us!!

Carl Sagan referred to the universal struggle for knowledge and humanity as lighting a candle in the darkness. It may not be much, but the alternative is complete darkness.

Marylinn Kelly said...

I recently heard a quote (of course, I can't recall the source) that 98% of the people spend 98% of their time on things that don't matter. As you have stated, what I, too, believe matters is those we love and who love us; I don't believe anything matters more or holds greater promise for humanity, if anything does, than love. I have begun tuning out more and more of what, shamefully, passes for news. And whether or not one believes in something "greater" than ourselves, we are not exempted from taking responsibility for our actions. The buck has always stopped here.