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Part 5: Our civilization in the cross hairs of endless growth—Our Planet’s Surprising Future

In a brilliant work,  Kurt Dahl in “False Hope”, at www.populationelephant.com , illustrates humanity’s overpopulation plight. Permission to publish from the author.

Let me summarize the main points Mr. Pearce's book.

“For the first third of the book, he goes through the history of population-growth activism, from Malthus to Ehrlich,” said Dahl. “He basically labels each person in turn a "eugenicist" - i.e., implying that they were motivated by eliminating racial, ethnic, or class groups and not by simply reducing population. His wrath even falls on Margret Sanger (noted feminist and founder of Planned Parenthood) and Garret Hardin, famous for his iconic essay "The Tragedy of the Commons". Of Hardin, revered by many, Mr. Pearce simply states "I find many of his ideas abhorrent" (ideas including, I would add, "The Tragedy of the Commons").

“He then travels the globe to interview a half-dozen or so women in exotic locals. Each (chosen specifically to bolster his position to be sure) expresses that they will be having fewer children than the norm for their country. From this comprehensive sample (of less than 10 women) he derives a trend - "women are having fewer babies!" This is essentially his mantra in the book and in his TV appearances. "It's good news - women are having fewer babies". He repeats this over and over.

“Basic math is once again little understood by Mr. Pearce. Did you know, for instance, that you can have steadily declining rates of growth while at the same time actual growth is accelerating? If you understand this fact - good for you - Mr. Pearce clearly doesn't. So what if growth rates are declining - if the world population continues to grow at 75 to 80 million people each year as it is now, we will continue to have a looming catastrophe in our future. It is "actual" growth that counts - real people that consume real resources. Growth rates don't consume anything.

“He then trots out the oft-repeated "rapid population decline" in Europe as further proof that population growth is no longer a problem. Once again, the facts tell a different story. According to the U.N.'s projections - Europe's total population in 2000 was 726 million. Population projections for 2050 are 691 million - yielding a drop of only 35 million. To put this in perspective, Brazil alone will grow by 44 million during the same time frame - more than
compensating for that minor decline.

“That's what is in the book. But even more notable is what's not in the book. You would expect that somewhere in a book titled "The Coming Population Crash" Mr. Pearce would provide a specific projection for population decline - i.e., actual numbers of people by a certain year. Not so - Mr. Pearce never gives us any actual projections. He never quantifies his fundamental claim that world population will crash in the near future. He never says by how much or when this will happen - except - in one sentence near the end of the book.

“On page 247 of my copy, Mr. Pearce states: "Wolfgang Lutz of the Vienna Institute of Demography sees a peak as early as 2040, at closer to seven than eight billion, following (sic) by a strong downward slide to as low as five billion by 2100". This is the one and only world population projection in Mr. Pearce's book. And it is easy to see why he chose to use this projection (and to ignore the three prominent projections listed above) as it seems
to prove his point.

“However, since Mr. Lutz is indeed a prominent and respected demographer, this projection stated by Mr. Pearce seemed more than a little fishy to me. I contacted Mr. Lutz by email and asked him to comment on Mr. Pearce's statement about Mr. Lutz's projections. Here is Mr. Lutz's response (via email dated 10/21/2010):

"What Fred Pearce seems to be referring to is the lowest 5 percent fractile of the uncertainty distribution. In other words, we see about a 5 percent chance that this statement is right and a 95 percent chance that world population growth will be higher than that. I had clarified this in a message to Fred Pearce some time ago. He now chose the somewhat ambivalent phrasing "WL ..sees .." which somehow implies to the reader that I would see it as the most likely future path, which is clearly wrong."

“Understand that Mr. Lutz's projections are slightly different than the U. N. projections in that they are expressed as a continuum of probabilities as opposed to the three discreet (low, medium, and high) projections of the U. N.”

For example, here is a statement from a presentation given in 2007 by Mr. Lutz:

"There is a more than a 10 percent chance that the world population in 2100 will be smaller than it is today and an equal chance it could be more than 11 billion."

“So, to make Mr. Lutz's projections an "apples to apples" comparison to the U. N. projections, one must take the mid range of his probability continuum. That figure is, again quoting the 2007 presentation:

"The probability that world population will peak during this century has increased marginally. The period during which the median of the projections reaches a peak (around 2070) and the level of this peak (around 9 billion people) remain virtually unchanged."

(Note: he is referring here to his 2001 projections for the comparisons).

Therefore, Mr. Lutz's mid-projection of 9 billion, peaking in 2070, is actually right in line with the three projections stated earlier in this essay.
 
 
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