Frosty Wooldridge

CONNECTING THE DOTS

More About: Environment

Big mistakes Paul Ehrlich made on human overpopulation

While some of the great minds in history wrestled with humanity’s ability to feed itself, the general populace doesn’t understand nor does it possess a clue as to what we face in the 21st century.  Humans race toward adding another three billion to the current seven billion to reach 10 billion in less than 40 years.  Malthus, Darwin, Ehrlich, Heinberg, Bartlett, Alpert and other giants understood/understand humans’ ability to overpopulate their ability to feed themselves. 
 
Even the green revolution man stated it concisely.  Norman Borlaug, while accepting the Nobel peace prize in 1970, said: "The green revolution has won a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only."
 
Yet, I receive incredibly chastising letters from religious, emotional, clueless and scientifically out of touch individuals weekly about how humanity will find new energy through technology, etc.  Much of it is as mythical as the second coming of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other great teachers of the path that have been anointed as “gods” themselves instead of what they were—simple men of the spirit.
 
Dr. Paul Ehrlich suffered much criticism with his Population Bomb in 1968.  He made predictions that have manifested as 18 million humans starve to death annually. Nonetheless, his detractors love to fault him. But they can’t!   Borlaug nailed it and we must deal with it.
 
Weekly, I participate in a very special discussion with over 100 of the top minds in the country on environment and overpopulation.  My friend, David Paxson, director of www.worldpopulationbalance.org spoke recently and he enjoyed some feedback.
 
David, I listened to the radio interview. I thought you did an excellent job; however I think you have some rough spots that can be improved upon.  The critic is John Taves:

1) One example is where you pointed out the mistake that Paul Ehrlich made when he predicted dire consequences in a certain time frame. I totally agree with you that that was a mistake. Ehrlich should not have made predictions. My point is that you subsequently made the exact same mistake when you said that Ehrlich's predictions are NOW coming true. There is no need to state that they are now coming true.

2) When she said "some people say that the planet will take care of the population numbers", I thought your answer was weak. I prefer something along these lines.

Of course the planet will limit our numbers, but that is NOT a solution, that is the problem. If we continue to create babies faster than people die of old age, nature will be forced to stop the population growth by killing people faster, and at least fast enough to keep up with how fast we create new babies. But it is worse than that. We must consume oil, for example, in order to feed our current 7 billion. If we do not burn oil, we cannot produce food fast enough to feed ourselves. You can imagine the oil reserves are stock piles of food. As that stock pile of food runs out, our numbers must decrease because we have no ability to keep 7 billion alive without digging into that pile of food.

In addition, your answer was technically wrong when you said that the planet is not limiting the growth today. This is not terribly important for the audience you were speaking to in that interview, but it is a huge problem with experts. Nature IS limiting the growth and generally always has been limiting our numbers. Populations grow exponentially, and humans have been around for a long time, thus our numbers have always been throttled by nature. There are temporary exceptions to this.
 
For example, when humans discovered farming techniques, we raised the limit of what can be provided for and our numbers grew to the new limits. A more recent example is what has happened in North America for the past 500 years. European diseases decimated the native population numbers and for the next 500 years improved techniques for providing for our numbers have ensured that the limits of what can be provided for have expanded faster than the population has grown. The population numbers in NA have not yet caught up to what can be provided for (notice "provided for" is not the same as "can be sustained", which means I totally agree that we are overpopulated).
 
However, Ethiopia and many other countries that are suffering a replacement rate above 2, are indeed experiencing the horror of nature limiting their numbers. The limit has not been a hard cap. The numbers are increasing, but the numbers are not increasing as fast as they would if the area was well below what could be provided for. In short, deaths are occurring today because of the fact that too many births are happening today. That last sentence is the key point. We have to recognize that births above a certain rate, cause deaths, and we have to recognize that we have always been above that rate. As part of the "overpopulation education" that you are advocating, I am trying to insert the fact that we must recognize that births cause deaths.

You seemed to acknowledge this later when you spoke about the horrible conditions in many poor countries, but then you seemed to disagree with it when you cited the fact that the recent huge population growth was caused by the decrease in the death rate. There is a subtle error when demographers tell us that for much of human history the birth rate and the death rate matched each other and thus our numbers did not grow.
 
This statement is true, but it suggests that this was good and that somehow the birth rate magically matched the death rate. It makes much more sense to say that whenever you see a stable population and an uncontrolled birth rate, the death rate was forced to rise to match the birth rate. It is true that nature also lowers the birth rate, but it does this by totally unpleasant means. The point I am making is that we humans did not throttle our birth rate, thus nature throttled our population numbers by raising the death rate. The subtle rephrasing that I just did is very important to get the message across that we have a moral responsibility to limit our births.

3) Your answer to the man that suggested that we should all become vegetarians was too long and inefficient. You should have said something like the following: Yes, we can all become vegetarians, and drive Priuses and use CFLs, but none of that will solve the problem if we continue to create babies faster than people die of old age. So consuming less per capita is not a solution. If we recognize that we must not create babies faster than old age, it should be possible to limit our birth rate even lower such that our numbers decrease. If we can do that, there's no reason that our population numbers should level off at some number where we are just able to sustain ourselves as long as we eat no meat. Why not maintain that lower birth rate for more time such that our numbers drop well below that level, so that there is no problem eating meat?

You sort of comprehended this when you made it clear that by going vegetarian, and Prius, and CFLs, we simply enable a larger population. But you were not terribly crisp in making the point that ultimately the birth rate is the only possible solution.

The Oregon study you quoted is a fine example of a muddy point. Ultimately that study makes no sense. You stated that the study concludes that the birth of another child is 20 times more costly than other options. That study is attempting to tell us the cost of adding another human to the world. To do that they have to make an assumption about the birth rate, which is the exact thing that the study's information will affect. I am going to use a better definition of "birth rate" to explain this. Ask each adult right before they die how many children they created. Each person will be counted twice. Once by the mother and once by the father. This number is what I call "the average number of children".
 
If the study assumes that the average number of children is above 2, the additional birth is meaningless. The population is attempting to grow to infinity, thus the cost of the additional human is infinite. It is not 20x. If the average number of children is below 2, then the additional birth is also meaningless, it won't change the fact that the population will go to zero. In short, you cannot put a finite cost to the existence of another human. If that human's descendants average more than 2, then the cost is infinite.
You talked about how we all need to have an overpopulation education and I totally agree. Part of that education will be new definitions. For example, the definition of birth rate that demographers use is pathetic. Births per 1000 is the demographer's unit of measure. It does not matter what "births per X" you use. The "per x" shifts the concept to the wrong units. The concept we must get to is found in the definition I created. The definition of "average number of children" allows us to "go up stream" as you put it. The "upstream source" of all of this is how many children we average. If we average more than two, we cause our numbers to attempt to grow to infinity. Thus we have a moral obligation to NOT average more than two.

In the end, Paul Ehrlich is dead on the money.
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In a five minute astoundingly simple yet brilliant video, “Immigration, Poverty, and Gum Balls”, Roy Beck, director of www.numbersusa.ORG, graphically illustrates the impact of overpopulation.  Take five minutes to see for yourself:
 
“Immigration by the numbers—off the chart” by Roy Beck
This 10 minute demonstration shows Americans the results of unending mass immigration on the quality of life and sustainability for future generations: in a word “Mind boggling!”  www.NumbersUSA.org
 
This is the best website to start:  www.numbersusa.org ; watch Roy Beck’s “Immigration by the Numbers” at 14 minutes. Bi-partisan and very effective. Become a faxer of pre-written letters to your reps to make positive  change.
 
Visit www.TheSocialContract.com for the best information on what we face as a civilization as to overpopulation, energy, immigration and much more.
 
Canada www.immigrationwatchcanada.org ; in Australia www.population.org.au andPublicPopForum@yahoogroups.com; in Great Britain www.populationmatters.org ; and dozens of other sites accessed at www.frostywooldridge.com.   In Florida, www.flimen.org .
Must see DVD: "Blind Spot" www.snagfilms.com/films/title/blind_spot/ , This movie illustrates America's future without oil, water and other resources to keep this civilization functioning. It's a brilliant educational movie! www.blindspotdoc.com
 
Must see: Rapid Population Decline, seven minute video by Dr. Jack Alpert-
 
Must see and funny: www.growthbusters.org ; www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXSTrW_dARc
Dave Gardner's Polar Bear in Bedroom:
growthbusters.org/2010/03/save-the-polar-bear-in-your-bedroom ; Dave Gardner, President, Citizen-Powered Media ; Producing the Documentary, GROWTH BUSTERS; presents Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity, Join the cause at www.growthbusters.org ;760 Wycliffe Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80906 USA; +1 719-576-5565
 
Check out this link with Wooldridge on bicycle and Lester Brown and panel discussion:
 
Tomorrow's Americaproject on www.youtube.com/contemporarylearning.
Producer: GEORGE A. COLBURNwww.tomorrowsamerica.com
DC: 202-258-4887
 
Link to www.tomorrowsamerica.com for more discussions on America's predicament.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
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Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as six times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. He presents "The Coming Population Crisis in America: and what you can do about it" to civic clubs, church groups, high schools and colleges. He works to bring about sensible world population balance at www.frostywooldridge.com He is the author of: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans. Copies available: 1 888 280 7715
                               
 
 
 
 

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