Population growth will lead to disaster. The First Law of Sustainability is “Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained”. This applies to any sort of growth, in any environment where the resources that fuel growth are in any way finite, and Earth’s resources are finite.
This First Law of Sustainability is based on arithmetic, so it’s absolute. Science is not democratic, so the First Law of Sustainability is not debatable; it cannot be modified or repealed by professional societies, by congresses, by parliaments or by dictators. Further, the First Law implies that the term “Sustainable Growth” is actually an oxymoron.
Al Bartlett was a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Colorado and gave over 1700 lectures on the inevitable results of exponential population growth on Earth. As he explained, it’s simple mathematics and, yet, no-one wants to face the reality of what continued population growth means for mankind’s future or, in fact, non-future.
Professor Bartlett stated that in our custom of taking care of ourselves before we think of the future, we are supported by the overwhelming devotion of our society to endless growth, which is often called “Sustainable Growth.” This oxymoronic concept is the center piece of our entire society, in which almost all leaders in our business, governing, and economic communities ignore or deny the existence of limits.
The universality of the economic belief that there are no limits to growth gives the present generation reason to believe that there will always be plenty for future generations. As a consequence, we feel no need to inconvenience ourselves now by accepting restrictions on our consumption, or reductions in our population growth rates.
All aspects of our present-day crises come back to the reality that there are too many people for too few resources. Energy, environmental issues, food production, transportation, urban versus rural space all come back to problems caused by population growth. AND, obviously, it will only get worse. The following example should be studied, digested and, heaven-forbid, acted on.
It has been estimated that a dollar spent on family planning will yield about five or more times the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions than you get when that dollar is spent on engineering solutions that are aimed at reducing those emissions. (This gem of an estimation should be disseminated as widely as possible).
Carl Sagan observed that “We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries such as agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment, and even the key democratic institution of voting – profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while but, sooner or later, this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces”.
Dumb growth destroys the environment. Smart growth destroys the environment. The difference is that smart growth destroys the environment with good taste. So it’s like buying a ticket on the TITANIC. If you’re smart you go first class, if you’re dumb you go steerage. Either way the result is the same.
Professor Bartlett had twelve suggestions for addressing this very basic issue of human survival on Earth.
1) We must acknowledge that overpopulation is the world’s most serious and threatening problem, and that this problem requires immediate and urgent attention.
2) We must teach about the arithmetic and consequences of growth as they apply to our present rates of consumption of resources, and to our current national and global conditions of overpopulation.
3) We must seek to educate elected officials, at all governmental levels, about the severe, present problems of overpopulation in our own local communities, and the world. If we treasure our democracy, we must remember the words of Isaac Asimov: “Democracy cannot survive overpopulation.” (I should add, neither can the Earth we live on).
4) We must break down the mental and other blocks that keep most of our environmental organizations, large and small, from addressing overpopulation on the local and national levels. We need to get all of our mainline scientific associations and societies to act on the recognition that overpopulation is a threat to stable societies. Even the long-term survival of science is threatened by overpopulation.
6) We should seek to get the U.S., and all other governments, to support major programs of family planning in the U.S. and throughout the world. These programs should make high quality family planning assistance available worldwide at no cost to all individuals. The goal of the family planning program should be that “Every child is a wanted child.” Rapid population decrease is essential to achieving our sustainability.
7) We must expend great efforts worldwide in the education and emancipation of women, giving women freedom to make their own health, reproductive, economic and political decisions.
8) We should work to guide production of fossil fuels and mineral resources in accord with the concept of “Sustained Availability,” thinking of it as a program of Equal Opportunity for Future Generations.
9) We must continue our efforts to use science and technology to greatly improve the efficiency with which we use energy and mineral resources within the framework of Sustained Availability.
10) We must continue research on the development of alternative fuels, being careful to see that these alternative fuels are not competing with the development of food supplies as was the case in 2012 with production of ethanol in the U.S.
11) We must encourage the transition from our present inefficient mega-agriculture to localized agriculture that operates solely from solar power, and from human and animal labor.
12) We must seek to re-orient science, technology and engineering away from their present roles that support population growth and redirect them to work for more modest, less glamorous and less complex roles that can improve the quality of life for human beings. The model might be that which is found in the book “Small is Beautiful” by E.F. Schumacher.
As one can see, the creation of a sustainable society will be both difficult and challenging, but also essential to our human survival. Mother Earth may be able to adapt once we are gone, but that won’t do us much good.
I would strongly encourage all of my readers to watch Professor Al Bartlett’s YouTube presentation on this subject. Just punch in his name and it will come up.