Population decline in rich nations: Will it be good for our planet?

by Gary Peters

If the animal kingdom were a democracy, Homo sapiens would have been voted off the planet long ago, when it first became apparent that human survival would not bode well for most others. There was no vote, of course, and our numbers over the last couple of centuries have grown at an incredible and unsustainable rate. Nature is no game show! Now there are signs that the demographic tables are starting to turn, that in some of the rich nations birth rates have dropped below death rates as numerous females have chosen consumption over reproduction.

As several rich nations begin to experience depopulation, numerous writers are lamenting the problems those declines will create for maintaining economic growth, the very process that is dragging us ever closer to the abyss. Maybe population decline in the rich countries is the best thing that could happen to our troubled planet right now. For long enough we’ve let the counsel of neoclassical economists urge us on to ever more economic (and demographic) growth, regardless of the consequences. We should have listened instead to writers closer to the real world in which we must live. Naturalists, ecologists, biologists and others, including most classical economists, have been much closer to the truth about humans, but modern economists have managed to be more seductive, playing the consumption card and promising eternal progress.

In 1988 Edward Abbey wrote, in One Life at a Time, Please, “[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.” He added that “[T]he one disease to which the growth mania bears an exact analogical resemblance is cancer. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Though economists deny this analogy, our natural world provides solemn witness to its veracity.

Right now unrest swirls across the landscapes of North Africa and the Middle East, regions little understood by most Americans. Our strategic interest there comes down to a single word, a single commodity, our nation’s great unhidden but underappreciated addiction: Oil. Without enough of it, at low enough prices, the economies of the U.S. and the world would unravel. That would be good for the planet but hard on our bloated world population, pumped up by cheap oil like an athlete on steroids. Many Americans sense that something is askew, but they remain assured by our leaders that all is well, that what we need is more economic growth and more of the stuff that Americans fill their baskets with every day at Wal-Mart. Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke continue to promise growth, but even casual observers can see the hollowness of those promises. As Rheinhold Niebuhr commented, in Beyond Tragedy, “One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun.” Neither America nor the rest of the rich world will let go of their dreams of sustained economic growth, no matter how oxymoronic it is, until catastrophe ends the illusion.
In The Origin of Species Charles Darwin wrote:

He who believes in the struggle for existence and in the principle of natural selection, will acknowledge that every organic being is constantly endeavouring to increase in numbers; and that if any one being varies ever so little, either in habits or structure, and thus gains an advantage over some other inhabitant of the same country, it will seize on the place of that inhabitant, however different that may be from its own place.

He also wrote:

Owing to the high geometrical rate of increase of all organic beings, each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants; and it follows from this, that as the favoured forms increase in number, so, generally will the less favoured decrease and become rare. Rarity, as geologists tell us, is the precursor to extinction.

When The Origin of Species was published in 1859, the world’s human population was over one billion and Malthus had already warned about the tendency of population growth to outstrip the food supply. What Darwin added to that warning may never have been stated explicitly by him, but it can be inferred from his statements above: The incredible success and inexorable growth of the human population must come at the expense of other species of plants and animals on our finite planet. Those who tell us today that Malthus and Ehrlich were wrong have forgotten about Cassandra. Put another way, timing is the key to success for a rain dance. Malthus and Ehrlich were not wrong, they were just premature.

As Darwin wrote, he could not have imagined the continued and relentless growth of human populations and their economies; our success as a species is without precedent. However, he was right to suggest that the success of any one species and its diffusion into new territories would bring about a concomitant decline in other species, as is apparent in the graph below (from the Center for Biological Diversity).

Biologists speak now of a “sixth extinction.” As Jeff Corwin pointed out in The Los Angeles Times (Nov. 30, 2009), in “The sixth extinction”, “The causes of this mass die-off are many: overpopulation, loss of habitat, global warming, species exploitation (the black market for rare animal parts is the third-largest illegal trade in the world, outranked only by weapons and drugs). The list goes on, but it all points to us.” TO US! Pogo was right. As demographer John Weeks wrote, “We are in the midst of a global Ponzi scheme right now, with each successively aging country looking for cheaper labor elsewhere. That pool will eventually run out, and then what?” We could add fossil fuels in because they have allowed the economic/demographic Ponzi scheme to reach enormous proportions, but now oil is close to, if not beyond, its peak. As Bernie Madoff discovered, all Ponzi schemes must end; most end tragically. This one looks to be no exception — it is the mother of all Ponzi schemes.

It is paradoxical that the “fifth extinction,” which occurred about 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs, opened the evolutionary door to the rise of mammals, including us. To show our gratitude we are now causing the “sixth extinction.” Not only do most humans seem oblivious to what we’re doing, most who know seem not to care, as if humans were exceptions to all the rules of nature. Somewhere on Earth another animal species goes extinct about every 20 minutes; that’s three an hour, 72 a day, 26,280 a year. By contrast, we continue to add more than 80 million humans each year, along with expanding our supply of domestic animals, squeezing more land into use for food (and fuel) production, and removing forests to make way for more of us.

The figure below shows countries where total fertility rates (TFR) have fallen to their lowest points. It takes a TFR of around 2.1 to replace a population, so all of these countries face declining populations in the future unless either their TFRs rise or immigration is sufficient to make up for the difference. These are not the only good news stories, however, nor are they the most populous countries with TFRs below replacement level, so I will focus attention on a few other examples.

Though the TFR is an excellent measure of fertility, it alone does not tell us whether a population is currently stable, increasing, or declining. For that we need to look at crude birth and death rates along with net migration rates. I’m going to consider three countries — Japan, Russia, and Germany — because of their sizable populations. These are populous countries that have considerable impacts on the global economy, on the use of resources (including fossil fuels) that drive that economy, and on the environment (from resource depletion and environmental degradation to climate change).

Each of these countries is going to face difficulties ahead and all are on demographic paths that will create problems never faced before by modern societies. I know pressure for maintaining economic growth in these countries will be tremendous, that aging populations will be great burdens on societies that will have fewer workers and more dependents, and that getting through the decades ahead will test humans in ways not known before. That said, however, I would argue that this decline of rich humans, with their massive demands on the environment, will be beneficial to nature. Like all other species, humans must come to grips with living in numbers that are in balance with the natural world. When any other species overshoots Earth’s carrying capacity, it ultimately pays a price: population decline, even a crash. Humans are no different.

Before looking more closely at these three countries, however, I want to return one last time to economics and introduce two very different views of population growth. First, because it has become the overwhelmingly dominant view today, I am reintroducing neoclassical economics (or what we might call Ponzinomics). As an example of this view, I call upon Tim Harford, author of The Logic of Life, published in 2008. This book contains more than a few illogical features. At the end of his book, with the cool hubris so characteristic of modern economists, Harford wrote that “[O]ur rational behavior can also produce wonders. The more of us there are in the world, living our logical lives, the better our chances of seeing out the next million years.” Don’t try to worry about how few other species there might be by then, just consider how many humans there might be. If you need an additional image, consider all the cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens there will be in order to provide all those humans with enough food to keep them healthy, wealthy, and wise. Harford provides no hint of how many more of us he’d like to see, so let’s consider a couple of simple examples.

In round figures the world is growing at 1.2 percent annually, which would, if continued, give it a doubling time of 58 years. That growth rate is gradually slowing, so to provide our first example let’s start by slowing the doubling time to 100 years. If we round the current world population off to 7 billion, which it will reach this year if strife in the Middle East or some other unforeseen event doesn’t lead to catastrophe, then we can make some simple calculations. By 2111 there would be 14 billion humans; by 3011, a thousand years from now, the population would be up to 7.168 trillion. Is there an economist in the world who wants to argue that Earth can handle that many people? What if we assume a much slower growth rate, so that our numbers double only every 1,000 years? Then it would take ten thousand years for our numbers to reach 7.168 trillion, still far short of the next million years. Keep in mind that Homo sapiens have already been around for about 200,000 years and we’re struggling to provide 7 billion of us with sufficient food, clothing, and shelter to lead decent lives. Ponzinomics makes no sense on a finite planet! It can work only in an era of cheap energy and only for a limited period of time.

Before neoclassical economics, there was classical economics, and its early adherents made much more sense than do most modern economists. As an example of this view, I call upon John Stuart Mill, author of Principles of Economics, published in 1848. Mill wrote:

There is room in the world, no doubt, and even in old countries, for a great increase of population, supposing the arts of life to go on improving, and capital to increase. But even if innocuous, I confess I see very little reason for desiring it. The density of population necessary to enable mankind to obtain, in the greatest degree, all the advantages of cooperation and of social intercourse, has, in all the most populous countries, been attained. A population may be too crowded, though all be amply supplied with food and raiment.

It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world in which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal.

Presciently, he added that “If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.”

From either a human or an environmental perspective we would have been much better off had we remained with the classical economic model and rejected the neoclassical model, with its underlying assumption that growth can continue forever on our planet. What happened? Much of the answer is contained in two words: fossil fuels. We stumbled on ways to exploit the stored solar energy that had been created by natural forces over tens, sometimes even hundreds of millions of years of geological time. We’ve burned these fuels at ever faster rates, using them to finance a combined explosion of population and consumption. We’ve squandered them to pump up a population of humans that cannot be sustained, and now the bills are coming due. We cannot sustain our use of fossil fuels because their supply is finite.

I would like to think that depopulation in rich countries would decrease pressure on Earth’s environment and on natural resources, especially fossil fuels. Three populous countries will experience significant depopulation over the next four decades if population projections are correct.

Japan is Exhibit A. It is one of the world’s richest nations and a profligate importer of oil. The Population Reference Bureau projects that Japan’s population will decline from its current 127 million to 95 million by 2050. That decline will result from a combination of rising death rates, low fertility, and very low immigration. It will create internal problems, from how to keep the economy functioning to how to take care of all of those elderly. But a decline of 32 million people in one of the world’s richest countries would certainly decrease demand for numerous resources, including energy, and should place less pressure on Earth’s environment. From Earth’s perspective, it would be a good start. Though it remains the world’s third largest economy, that status is likely to decline.

Russia is another good example, in many ways a shadow of its former self but still a prominent player in the world economy, mainly as a supplier of oil and other natural resources. In 2006 Vladimir Putin told the Russian parliament that declining population is “The most acute problem of contemporary Russia.” He was right.

Nothing in the traditional demographic transition model could have predicted the course of demographic events in Russia in recent decades. Since 1991 the population has steadily declined and that decline shows no sign of abating. Not only has fertility dropped to a low level in recent years, Russia has also experienced a significant rise in mortality. With little immigration, and with birth rates below death rates for an extended period, the Russian population has already declined substantially. In 1991 Russia had around 148.7 million people; by 2010 that had declined to 141.9 million. The Population Reference Bureau projects a Russian population of 126.7 million by 2050.

Russia’s economy will experience a variety of difficulties in the years ahead, but its decline of more than 20 million people between 1991 and 2050 would probably bode well for the Russian environment, which sustained severe problems under the old Soviet Union regime.

Germany is one of the world’s leading economies today and is the driving force behind the European Union. However, like Japan and Russia, its demographic tide is shifting into the ebbing column. According to Germany’s Federal Statistics Office (2006):

In 2003, the size of Germany’s population began to decrease, because the birth deficit could no longer be offset by the falling migration balance in recent years. This trend will continue due to a further increase in the birth deficit in Germany. Although that does not rule out a possible growth of the population in some years, in the long run it will not be possible to compensate so high a death surplus by any migration balance of an imaginable size from today’s point of view.

Germany’s population was around 81.6 million in 2010; according to the Population Reference Bureau it will decline to 71.5 million in 2050. Germany’s Federal Statistics Office projected a 2050 population of 74 million, a bit more optimistic. In any case it looks as if Germany’s population may decline by somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million over the next four decades.

There is no reason to accept any of these projections. After all, we’re talking about four decades at a time of considerable uncertainty. Because per capita consumption is high in each of these countries, especially in Japan and Germany, a loss of more than 60 million people would seem to favor some release of pressure on environmental degradation, carbon dioxide emissions, and fossil fuels.

However, though population decline in these and other rich countries would be favorable from Earth’s viewpoint, these losses will be overwhelmed by population gains in the poor countries. The United Nations (2009) projected an increase in the world population from its current 6.9 billion or so to 9.15 billion (medium projection). No matter how you slice it, the loss of population in the rich countries, however advantageous they might be for the environment and for decreasing pressure on fossil fuels, will be drowned out by the addition of more than two billion people in the poor world, even though their per capita impacts will be far smaller.

According to the United Nations (2009):

Given the low fertility prevailing in developed countries, deaths are expected to exceed births over the foreseeable future. Consequently, the population of the more developed regions would be decreasing if the excess of deaths over births were not counterbalanced by a net migration gain. During 2010-2050, the net number of international migrants to more developed regions is projected to be 96 million, whereas the excess of deaths over births is 58 million, implying an overall growth of 38 million.

But the geography of demographic gains will be different than that of losses. For example, the U.S., already growing, is projected to receive about 40 million immigrants during the period. What we’ll do with them remains to be seen. If you’re wondering about where the U.S. population might be in 2050, the Population Reference Bureau projects 423 million, about 112 million more than we have today. Are you ready for that?

Both rich and poor nations will face increasingly difficult predicaments as the century wears on. Aging and the difficulty of caring for the elderly will be growing burdens in most rich countries; feeding rapidly growing populations will strain poor countries. Even as food prices are rising today, exacerbating hunger in poor countries and leading to food riots in various places, Americans are using about one-third of their corn crop to feed hungry SUVs and other vehicles, one of many indications that, as President George H. W. Bush said in Rio in 1992, “The American way of life is not negotiable.” At the same time, in rich countries that are facing population declines, most are searching for ways to encourage young women to have more children. Those that succeed will slow or even reverse those declines, adding their projected declines to the scrapheap of failed projections from the past.

Population decline in rich countries, though helpful for taking some pressure off resources, will in no way be sufficient to help us face the predicament that we’re in. If the loss of population in countries that are experiencing depopulation is small compared to the demographic gains that will occur overall, and if migration increases from poor to rich countries, as seems likely, then our population predicament will worsen. Further complicating our predicament will be what a growing number of people see as the end of the era of cheap fossil fuels. Though it saddens me to say it, because so much could be prevented if we tried, it looks like humans will not give up their current collision course with nature. Rather, we will let nature take its course, thinking all the time that we can escape its natural laws

Our decision to accept neoclassical economics as a blueprint for the care and maintenance of the world economy will prove to be a mistake. Like other members of the animal kingdom, humans cannot expand their numbers forever. Unlike other animals, we could have made decisions that might have prevented our current predicament, but we didn’t. We still could, but it seems unlikely. Choosing an economic system based on some of our worst characteristics, including greed and acquisitiveness, assured us that one day we would outgrow our planet. We have succeeded. We prefer competitiveness to cooperation, so realpolitik will be a major determinant of our future. Worldwide problems require worldwide solutions, and those could only come in an atmosphere of cooperation.

Physical growth is not sustainable, period. As John Michael Greer wrote recently, “Even the most elementary grasp of systems theory makes it instantly clear that there’s no meaningful sense of the adjective ‘sustainable’ that can cohabit with any meaningful sense of the noun ‘growth.’ In a system — any system, anywhere — growth is always unsustainable.” If we cannot control our numbers, nature will. The choice is ours.

No matter what we do to the Earth, it will survive. But to our planet, we are nothing, so if we meet the same fate as the Dodo we will not be missed. Traces of our ephemeral civilizations will remain, of course, but there will be no one to recognize or appreciate them.

Gary Peters received his Ph.D. in geography from Penn State in 1973, then spent most of his career teaching at California State University-Long Beach. In 1999, he took a position at Chico State University, from which he retired in 2001. Population geography is the primary focus of his career, and he co-authored the 1979 book Population Geography: Problems, Concepts, and Prospects (now in its ninth edition). Gary has long argued for control of the world’s population. We have added three billion people since he began teaching, suggesting his efforts have had no measurable impact.

Comments 135

  • ‘Maybe population decline in the rich countries is the best thing that could happen to our troubled planet right now’

    maybe gary peters has a firm grasp on the obvious! or maybe not. one never knows for sure, when one uses the word ‘maybe’.

    as one who dropped out of university long before earning a degree, and who has since embarked on decades of free, self-directed education without the bells, whistles, and borders of academia, i can only sigh in exasperation at the silly shit that so often is promulgated by the most ‘learned’ among us!

    reading a bit further on in dr. peters essay, it becomes clear i think that he does indeed have a pretty good grasp on what is obvious to so many nbl-ers. at least a good part of what is obvious, which i suppose is commendable. he did however use far too many words and belabored arguments for my taste, in doing so. i suggest that in the future, when u sing to the choir, u do so with more punch and brevity, gp.

  • sorry if i’m cranky and obnoxious. it’s just that writing a somewhat lengthy dissertation on population trends and official projections, which most of us know are utterly full of shit, seems to me a waste of time.

    all one surreally needs to know, short and sweet (or bitter), is that civilization has created cultures built on deceit and delusion, and is destined soon to crash and burn.

  • Terry.

    I think you are justified in being scathing. Much of the essay has merit from a historical perspective, but it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, and some of the essay is utter nonsense -quite simply absurd. Take this for example:

    ‘Japan is Exhibit A. It is one of the world’s richest nations and a profligate importer of oil. The Population Reference Bureau projects that Japan’s population will decline from its current 127 million to 95 million by 2050. That decline will result from a combination of rising death rates, low fertility, and very low immigration. It will create internal problems, from how to keep the economy functioning to how to take care of all of those elderly. But a decline of 32 million people in one of the world’s richest countries would certainly decrease demand for numerous resources, including energy, and should place less pressure on Earth’s environment.’

    As I and others have pointed out on numerous occasions, a sustainable population for Japan is around 30 million (at best, taking the pre-industrial population, but bearing in mind the environment hadn’;t been trashed at that time). Given that there will be next to no oil available in 2050 (and probably none available after 2030), we must anticipate a population crash of the order of 100 to 110 million for Japan well before 2050. That will not create problems for ‘keeping the economy running’ because there won’t be an economy. Well not in the sense that most people think of an economy.

    Where is the discussion about severe or abrupt climate change? CO2 emissions are rising spectacularly and will trigger positive feedbacks within a decade, if they have not already done so. We at 392 ppm on a planet acknowledged to be at severe risk above 350ppm. And we are adding CO2 at a frantic rate! We are headed for a largely uninhabitable planet by mid-century if the industrial economy persists for more than another few years.

    This planet is a huge chemical system which operates within the bounds of physics and mathematics. Unfortunately 99.9% of the populace are very weak when it comes to chemistry.

    (I gave up the study geography to study chemistry -silly me. I could have remained ignorant of all the chemical systems that make this planet habitable and written tosh based on statistics for a living.)

  • “We prefer competitiveness to cooperation, so realpolitik will be a major determinant of our future. Worldwide problems require worldwide solutions, and those could only come in an atmosphere of cooperation.”

    Well, what can I say to that that hasn’t already been hashed and rehashed on here already? If Gary Peters is right, then I may decide not to have children. I don’t want to bring them into a world where their dreams for a future where humans aren’t slaughtering each other have been crushed by their collective past generations before they were even born.

  • Well, aren’t we kranky today! Personally, I thought Gary’s essay was spot on for the most part as concerns the population problem – though I would have liked to have seen a quote or two perhaps from Catton’s works, Overshoot or Bottleneck to emphasise the predicament we are already in as a species living beyond the natural carrying capacity of the earth. As for the criticism on the part of Kevin as to the issue of sustainable population, I really don’t think that was the intent of the article as I see it – Gary might disagree with me there. It was more about how, given if all else remains constant, predicted population variants would impact regions of the world economically over the years to come if hard decisions were not made today.

    Seems to me we are developing a misguided sense of ownership of the site over time. I think we need to remember that this site is intended for the public at large to better understand the principles of Nature, examine the issues that confront us as a species, provide some bit of a community for those of common purpose, and to educate whoever happens onto the site.

    We chosen few are not the only ones who visit here. There are many who often are never heard from, but yet read what is written here, and they learn from it. What is wrong with a lengthy essay explaining some of the issues around population? It wasn’t meant for those who understand – it was meant for any who don’t, and to confirm the issues for any who do. It wasn’t meant to address the wider issues of climate change. It was meant, I think, to introduce people who might not be so aware as yourselves to an issue that remains unspoken and avoided by so many – population overshoot.

    Remind me not to write anything for this site – it appears that there are bears in wait. I fear I would be too wordy as well.

    If I ever do write an essay I will certainly try to be succinct enough for your approvals. On second thought, I think I will write an essay now. Here we go:


    The end is near! Prepare!

    Hold on. Forget that.

    It’s too late.”

    How’s that for preaching to the choir?…. :-)

  • Librarian

    With regret, I would not advise bringing children into this world.

  • Victor.

    Sorry to pick a fight but when you write:

    ‘I think we need to remember that this site is intended for the public at large to better understand the principles of Nature, examine the issues that confront us as a species, provide some bit of a community for those of common purpose, and to educate whoever happens onto the site.’

    I have to point out that an essay on population that leaves out the imminent collapse of the industrial agricultural system and leaves out the effect of climate change is not educating whoever happens onto this site or providing them with a better understanding; it is not examining the issues that confront us; it is misinforming the public and misleading them.

    The world is already awash with misinformation. I don’t believe we need more of it here. It really is time to get down to the nitty gritty and stop beating about the bush.

    There are only two major issues: how do we feed ourselves when the industrial agricultural system goes down? (almost certainly by 2020, but probably before then) How do we prevent this planet becoming uninhabitable [as a consequence of escalating CO2 emissions] in a few decades? Those have been the major themes of Guy’s presentations for the past several years. And mine.

    I am very happy to talk about spirituality, community, security, soil fertility, pumping water, breeds of chickens, or anything else that is relevant… as long as the discussion is within the bounds of reality.

    Figures presented by Gary were not within the bounds of reality, and nor was the analysis.

    Yes Catton is appropriate. And remember what Catton said: We exceeded a sustainable world population around the time of the American Civil War.

    PS It is approaching midnight and I am being ‘entertained’ by music that is being preformed the other side of the hill and around 1 kilometre from here, distributed across the district via half a million watts of sound systems. The party goes on for the momnent, despite Richard telling us ‘The Party’s Over’.

  • ‘Sorry to pick a fight’


    You might be picking a fight, but I am not accepting… ;-)

    I think there is room for many viewpoints around the various issues that we face today. Are you saying that each person who is asked to put their personal time and effort into an essay for this site must include certain points or risk rejection? Not defending Gary, but I think he has on numerous occasions indicated substantial agreement with the overall objectives of the site. He might not agree on timing, but who does? His speciality is population geography. He wrote from his professional base. I find no problem with that. He stated clearly that infinite growth in any form, population or economics is simply not sustainable. I personally find no problem whatsoever with that. Would I have stated it differently? In all probability, yes. And I would have brought climate change into the mix as well. But that’s me, and it was not my essay, and it was not up to me to determine its content.

    You of all people have stated on multiple occasions that on this site, any subject goes – indeed that was part of the attraction of this site. Have you changed your mind in the face of world events?

    Given the urgency you folks apparently feel, perhaps Guy should form a Content Review Committee composed of you, Kevin and Terry whose function it is to make certain the content of any prospective essay is acceptable before publishing, or perhaps to edit that content to make certain it does.

  • Victor, the previous post was Kevin Moore’s, not Kathy.

    Kathy hasn’t posted here yet.

  • Below is a few of the statements made in Gary’s essay that fall completely into the category of “relevant of NBL”, in my opinion. OK, so he went on a bit about population migration, but give the man a break – it is his speciality.

    ‘We’ve burned these fuels at ever faster rates, using them to finance a combined explosion of population and consumption. We’ve squandered them to pump up a population of humans that cannot be sustained, and now the bills are coming due. We cannot sustain our use of fossil fuels because their supply is finite.’

    ‘No matter how you slice it, the loss of population in the rich countries, however advantageous they might be for the environment and for decreasing pressure on fossil fuels, will be drowned out by the addition of more than two billion people in the poor world, even though their per capita impacts will be far smaller.’

    ‘Though it saddens me to say it, because so much could be prevented if we tried, it looks like humans will not give up their current collision course with nature. Rather, we will let nature take its course, thinking all the time that we can escape its natural laws’

    ‘Physical growth is not sustainable, period.’

    ‘No matter what we do to the Earth, it will survive. But to our planet, we are nothing, so if we meet the same fate as the Dodo we will not be missed. Traces of our ephemeral civilizations will remain, of course, but there will be no one to recognize or appreciate them.’

  • Oops!…Quite right, Librarian! Apologies to both Kevin and Kathy for that oversight.

  • Librarian, re having children. One thing is always forgotten in this question, one I never thought to raise myself. That is that the child who has to live the life it is born into has absolutely no say in the matter. I think it wise to consider the probabilities that any child born today will have a normal lifespan and a decent life. I would say that the probabilities are zero, but heck I am a doomer what do you expect. If you have a child and everything falls apart how will you feel. Incredibly horrible things have happened to children in places where chaos takes over. While we might expect never to have something like the Congo and other countries where children are nabbed and turned into soldiers, I don’t think we can rule that kind of chaos out.

  • Victor, in order to shine up my image I was going to try to write a positive review about how it is important to raise the issue of population to any new people on the site and ignore any problems I found (at least for a while). But since you already credited me with Kevin’s post, I must say I think Kevin is right.

  • I come down on Kevin’s side on points.

    Past performance does not guarantee future results.

    Gary seems to be giving the “official numbers” with the inherent dangers. This along with the time frame will not seem serious to a new uninformed reader. The 2050 date that a newbie will pick up on, will tell them that their ass is not on the line, and that they can go shopping.

    Even the 2030 date of what we might describe as the, “official end of oil”, can be misunderstood by the casual reader. They will not take into account the decline from now until then. They may say, “Well, I will just drive less”.
    A finishing statement to the effect, “Of course all ponzi schemes end abruptly with disastrous results”, would have been appropriate.

    I did appreciate getting the up to date numbers in one place.


    I score you an “A” for attitude.

  • “…numerous females have chosen consumption over reproduction.”


    I guess I am one of these “females” you are talking about.

    I am an educated, white, Western feminist who has chosen not to have children. But I can assure you it has nothing to do with my desire to devote my life to consumption.

    How utterly offensive.

  • Welcome, Jane.

    The contestants here know how push each others buttons.

  • Curtis

    Excellent points. I hadn’t considered that angle at all. Proven fact that to tell someone about a bad thing coming in 40 or 50 years, they will invariably respond with, “So what?”. Indeed this inclination to do so (lack of long range thinking) is one of the prime reasons Catton says we are in trouble today.

    And as for the Mother of All Ponzi schemes, it only takes the prick of a needle to burst the balloon. Peak Oil is that needle. And as soon as the markets learn that oil demand will never be met again, that will be the prick in the balloon.

    And the oil won’t have to run out either – actually, we will have tonnes of it remaining when we are roaming about foraging for food.

  • Kathy

    A red-faced Victor humbly apologises and asks for mercy…. ;-)

  • Hello Jane.

    Welcome. And good point….there are lots of reasons people will forego children. Consumption might be one, but there are others.

    It seems we are raised to assume a capitalist, consumerist view on everything. If we forego children it MUST be because we want to CONSUME more. A good consumer does not make decisions based upon altruism above selfishness. Not to consume is regarded as one of the greater sins in life – a sign that you are not being manipulated by the “Hidden Hand”. To refuse a selfish decision is a sign of a warped personality in need of adjustment – why, it’s anti-Darwinian!

  • Radiation Fears and Distrust Push Thousands From Homes


  • Victor, I was relieved when I discovered Guy to know there was a site that was honest about our future. Increasingly I was dismayed at the attitudes presented on The Oil Drum, even the Energy Bulletin, and even the ASPO now – recent article they posted promotes fracking over coal as if power down is not a choice. “We can drill and hydrofracture deep gas wells, and produce natural gas closer to where we live, or we can go after coal leftovers.” http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2011/03/natural-gas-coal-frac-water-and-ignorance/

    Guy can correct me if I am wrong, but the basic premise he puts out is that if industrial civilization doesn’t collapse very very soon climate change will create a world uninhabitable for the majority of life including humans. Luckily civilization seems to be doing just that, collapsing and he has been documenting that. My only fear is that collapse today might not be soon enough.

    This view of the world makes one a bit testy. As you might remember on the last post Guy wrote “As the industrialized world comes apart at the seams, I’m about done waiting for people to get it. Increasingly, it’s becoming a matter of waiting to see it get them.” I sort of did a double take when I read that, and then realized that inside I pretty much felt the same way.

    So I am testy about lots of things these days here on line and in person. Maybe that is not helpful, but frankly things are so far gone IMO that I don’t know if there is anything that is helpful anymore. I know you think it is farther in the future. Well if you are right then I believe that we are doomed to irreversible climate change that will probably repeat the Permian extinction. We are not looking at just a change in lifestyle, a huge population reduction, we are looking at the possibility of human extinction.

    Oh hell, probably human extinction is needed and deserved. JMG uses his good mind and influence to write about peak oil and also has written
    Art and Practice of Geomancy, The: Divination, Magic, and Earth Wisdom of the Renaissance
    Product Description
    Have you ever lost an important object? Are you taking on a new job? Looking for buried treasure? The Art and Practice of Geomancy teaches readers how to divine the answers to life’s everyday questions about health, luck, new jobs, and love, as well as those less mundane tasks such as finding buried treasure, predicting the weather, being released from prison, and identifying secret enemies. Greer delivers to readers an ancient system of divination in an easy-to-use form requiring little more than a pen and a piece of paper. Using a system of counting odd and even numbers–from a deck of cards, a roll of the dice, or even by hitting sand or dirt with a stick to generate patterns–readers learn how to cast their own geomantic chart. And for those who wish to delve further, he offers exercises for geomantic meditation and ritual magic. The Art and Practice of Geomancy will appeal to pagans, followers of the Western Mystery tradition, scholars of folk magic and divination, and anyone who wants to take their past, present, and future into their own hands.

    And those fancy robes he wears, most of those are pictures from an on-line catalog for ordering robes $138.95 – in other words he is acting as a model. The catalog is linked to on his site for the Ancient order of druids in America http://www.aoda.org/ – in the catalog you can get a tarot card reading (1 card $2.50 or 3 card reading fro $5.00).

    So yes I am cynical and testy. The world is heading to ruination and Chris Martenson is selling his consulting services (did someone say $500 an hour), JMG is selling books on how to cast geomantic charts for identifying secret enemies. Guess I will just have to sit back and watch the show.

  • I think we now need to avoid using the future tense, and use only the present tense when talking about collapse.

  • Jane,

    No offense was meant to you or any other woman. You are one of about 3.5 billion females in the world. In general, however, the richer nations get, the more females opt for having more stuff over having more children. The Japanese “parasite kids” are the extreme example:

    “TOKYO—Miki Takasu is 26 years old, beautiful, drives a BMW and carries a $2,800 Chanel handbag–when she isn’t using her Gucci, Prada or Vuitton purses. She vacations in Switzerland, Thailand, Los Angeles, New York and Hawaii.

    Happily unmarried, living with her parents while working as a bank teller, she is what people here call a “parasite single.” There are so many women like Miki that they have become the focus of a heated controversy.”

    I sent my essay to Guy a couple of weeks ago. Had I had a clearer picture of who responds to things on this site (aside from Victor and one or two others) I would have shortened it considerably. In fact the shortest version for some of you is below:

    Here today, gone tomorrow!

  • Curtis, good point

    All – perhaps it is time to re-read Guy’s essay “We’re Toast” https://guymcpherson.com/2010/12/were-toast/

    “Mind you, it’s too late to avoid terrifyingly bad climate change, and avoiding catastrophe seems increasingly unlikely, even to the mainstream media. The numbers keep coming at us, too: greenhouse gases are near the all-time peak, at least since the industrial era began. The United Nations concurs: We’re unlikely to avoid runaway greenhouse.
    In short, we’re toast. “

  • Not that this crowd has ever been too timid about calling each other out, I’m actually pleased to see critical engagement with the subject post. Yes, the glaring refusal to take notice of several elephants in the room also struck me, though I didn’t wade all the way through.

    Population demographics are frequently discussed by simply extrapolating trend lines without regard for reality. Once in a while, a writer has the sense to say something like “if all supply and economic indicators track with population,” but that “if” is not part of any reasonable expectation, so any conclusions drawn from mere extrapolation can be pretty safely ignored in favor of more dire prophesies.

  • Gary Peters advances the NBL discussion when he describes neoclassical economics as a Ponzi scheme. If that metaphor is accurate, and I believe it is, we face nearly instant collapse rather than a slow or sporadic decline.

    Collapse becomes a matter of public consciousness rather than resource shortage. The game is up when the average human realizes the social contract is a game, and it’s rigged in favor of the house. That’s when the contents of looted armories get passed out to ragged mobs of ten-year-olds.

    NBL contributors have spent a lot of time arguing about this fast collapse or slow decline dilemma, and no less an entity than the Archdruid seems to have fatally impaled himself on both horns of it. A clarifying metaphor should be warmly welcomed here.

    My only criticism of the essay is that it’s written for my neocortex instead of being written for my limbic system. I hate it when that happens.

  • ‘My only criticism of the essay is that it’s written for my neocortex instead of being written for my limbic system. I hate it when that happens.’

    LOL…I love it…let’s have more of this, John.

    And “Collapse as a matter of public consciousness rather than resource shortage” is, I fear, more accurate than I am comfortable with.

    In the end, Collapse will be a state of mind.

  • some of u’r best writing john!

  • John, I will take a try. Employing the “wishbone” offense? Or is it in this case, defense?

  • Kathy

    I think you are right. Collapse, or the immanency of it, begins to wear on one. You see certain things so clearly, and yet others are in their own comfortable worlds, avoiding or denying life-threatening situations. I too find myself on a short fuse more and more.

    Frankly, it is moving beyond the stage of my feeling it is a tragedy as to how we as a global society are making such shitty decisions to one of deep seated outrage at their idiocy. Good God! Both Republicans and Democrats are bragging about how their variants of legislation will remove the chains of climate change regulations on business!

    I want to survive just long enough to watch these assholes scream as they are flushed down Nature’s toilet in a giant swirly.

  • Curtis,
    I’m just trying to point out that Gary Peters introduces a far-reaching metaphor, one which has implications for the most well-prepared of us. Ponzi schemes collapse at the speed of communication.

    I think it’s significant when a population biologist starts thinking in terms of Ponzi schemes.

    As for football metaphors, I’m not sure if I’m on offense or defense, but at this point in history I’d take my chances with a wishbone.

  • Victor, here is one of the assholes feeling something – I hope remorse

    TEPCO Director Weeps After Disclosing Truth About Fukushima Disaster
    The Daily Mail has released a dramatic picture showing the emotional exhaustion of TEPCO managing director Akoi Komiri who is openly weeping as he leaves a conference to brief journalists on the true situation at Fukushima, following his acknowledgment that the radiation spewing from the over-heating reactors and fuel rods was enough to kill some citizens.
    Picture and full article at:

    Perhaps we will get to see a few more flushed out before the end…

  • Victor,

    YES for Swirly!

  • Dear Gary Peters,

    As always, thank you for your accomplished work and comprehensive overview on one of the most pressing issues that confronts this planet today, that of human OVER-population re: H. sapiens. Climate change, which always seems to take precedence in the discussions about the future of the planet, is but one isolated issue. There are a multitude of other human transgressions effecting earth, many of which, by my humble estimation, are far more threatening in their immediacy than climate change. We can’t change the trajectory of climate change. It’s happening and it’s going to continue to happen because we all know the fossil fuel industries are going to work damn hard to intervene by further obfuscating the science as well as influencing what we hear through the media. Besides, the MSM is as much on the take as are our politicians. Then there are the feedback loops that promise to further exacerbate and accelerate climate change. It’s a done deal. We’re screwed on that front. It’s happening.

    What we can change, however, is how the discussion proceeds on population. Gary Peters is one who keeps that conversation going providing facts and figures to support the argument there are too many people on earth. I‘m never as eloquent as he when discussing our presence here. I‘m all for mandating two children per couple, end of subject.

    “IF” enough people are willing to take the courageous and bold step of including population as a topic in their daily discourse, at least we can begin to raise awareness in a thoughtful way. The idea that making human overpopulation a part of our daily conversation is “taboo” has to change. It is still an issue about which we can change the outcome. It does not have to end up like climate change where we had an opportunity to intervene but did not. The only way to begin to change what I’d call a full blown nightmare, that of 9 billion people inhabiting earth by 2050 is to talk about it NOW. God help us if that projection comes true. Another term for it is ecocide.

    Thank you Gary for continuing to keep the conversation alive in an open, humane and truthful tone.

    Elizabeth Tjader

  • From the World Socialists
    Japan disaster to intensify global economic contradictions
    18 March 2011

    In former “normal” times, the Japanese earthquake disaster would not have led to a global economic and financial crisis. But those days are long gone. In the present situation, it could well be the catalyst that sets off a new stage in the global financial breakdown that began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

    A central banker from the Group of Seven major capitalist economies, who declined to be named, told Reuters: “I think the world economy is going to go right down and it has happened at a time when financial markets are still fragile.”

    Even before the events of last Friday, the global financial system was looking increasingly unstable.

    In the US, the two-year rise in US equity markets has been based, not on any upturn in the American economy, but on a massive injection of funds by the Federal Reserve into the financial system. In a recent comment published in the Financial Times, business economist David Rosenberg noted that just as the stock market rise of 2003-2007 had been built on a “shaky foundation of unsustainable credit growth and house price appreciation, the current … rally has been built on the even shakier ground of surreal public sector intervention.”

    Full Article at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/mar2011/pers-m18.shtml

  • Elizabeth.

    ‘It does not have to end up like climate change where we had an opportunity to intervene but did not.’

    I’m afraid it does.

    I have just completed a book (yet to be published) which includes discussion of population. One thing that has become increasingly clear to me over recent months that the normal response to warnings is to ignore them. Ignore them over and over again, year after year, sometimes decade after decade until catastrophe occurs. The only significant crisis I can think of that was responded to quickly was the ozone depletion crisis. Had the manufacture of ozone depleting substances not been severely curtailed the Earth would probably be largely uninhabitable by now.

    The difference between ODS and practically everything else in the present socio-economic system is that ODS were not essential to the functioning of the system. The production of CO2 is essential to the functioning of the system and population growth is esential to the functioning of the system. As most of us are aware, the bankers’ Ponzi scheme is dependent on continuous expansion. I think you find that official policy in most developed nations and the majority of developing nations is to have the population increase.

    This planet is run by bankers for the [short term] benefit of bankers, and they will do whatever it takes to maintain the functioning of their Ponzi scheme, until it collapses. And they will probably attenpt to set up a new Ponzi scheme when it does collapse.

    ‘I‘m all for mandating two children per couple, end of subject.’

    I assume you mean mandating no more than two childern per couple. That would have been a great idea around 1950. It might even have dealt with the overshoot problem. Mandating no more than one child per couple hasn’t solved China’s population problem, though it has mitigated it somewhat.

    As I see it, we are now like the reindeer on St Mathew Island: having converted the most of vegetation into animal protein and increased in population from 29 to 6,000, we have nearly eaten ourselves out of existence. The next phase is population crash.

    Alternatively, we can consider ourselves to be just like the Easter Islanders, consuming the last of the easily obtainable resources to build statues. That is what is happening around here and seem to be happening around mnost of the globe.

  • China initiated a 1 child policy in 1978. This is the most severe population policy the world has ever see a government impose. Results

    In 1978 they were slightly less than 1 billion, in 2006 they were at 1.3 billion. While the rate of growth is slowing finally, it took 30 years to do so. China believes the growth would have been double that if they had not instituted the one child policy.

    So what would it take to stop population growth in its tracks right now? 1/2 child per family? (have a lottery for reproduction?)

    How would it be enforced worldwide?

    How much time do we have?

  • Kathy wrote: “So yes I am cynical and testy. The world is heading to ruination and Chris Martenson is selling his consulting services (did someone say $500 an hour), JMG is selling books on how to cast geomantic charts for identifying secret enemies. Guess I will just have to sit back and watch the show.”

    We’re getting ready to sell goat milk and (ahem) fuel alcohol. What’s the difference?

    (Okay, so there *is* a difference. But my point is that we all gotta make a living, and some people have limited skills. If you think of Chris and John as having “limited skills” instead of being mercenary, perhaps you can feel better about them. :-)

    Meanwhile, the US discloses that “life expectancy” is at record highs so just relax! The experts tell us everything is just fine! (exit cynic mode)

    Meanwhile, Fukushima radiation has been detected in California, and we’ve started a radiation fallout plan, something everyone could work at in their spare time.

    Speaking of fecundity and Fukushima, we need to review Enerst Sternglass’s studies of atom bomb fallout, which indicate some 400,000 “excess infant deaths” occurred as a result of atmospheric nuclear testing.

    Sternglass also did a controversial study that showed that about 430 more infant deaths than normal happened in the vicinity of Three Mile Island during that accident. Although roundly shouted down by well-moneyed critics, it leaves something to think about the next time you hear that “no one was harmed” at TMI.

    Bottom line: like Kathy, I’m just going to do what I need to do, and sit back and enjoy the show! What a privilege it is to live in such interesting times!

  • The world system in place today has two requirements to sustain its infinite growth model – mass production to keep acceptable economies of scale, and mass consumption to generate markets. Both production and consumption must continually grow or the Great Ponzi scheme implodes, like any other pyramid scheme. For consumption and production to grow, they must continually feed the system with added consumers. Every city, every country wants growth; indeed, they MUST have growth to survive, and they know that. That is why you will never, ever get industry or government behind a population control effort. We have to grow all those little consumer engines so the corporations can get rich, and the bankers get richer.

    Also, to keep production going you need masses of people to run the factories, distribute the goods, grow the food for the factory workers, educate their children, build houses for them, provide clothing and medical care for them, govern them and entertain them. This is what all those billions of consumer engines are doing in order to keep consuming.

    It is a vast inter-connected inter-dependent, finely tuned, efficient machine. And fragile as hell.

  • Gary:

    Thank you for your essay. I appreciated it. Several of your points echo those of Vaclav Smil, especially with regards to the aging / declining populations of developed nations versus the growing “young” populations of less-developed countries and the potential such a transition carries for future global dynamics.


    You mentioned that you were all for “mandating two children per couple, end of subject.” I understand where you’re coming from. Unfortunately, because of current population momentum, such a mandate would take some 70 years (assuming a life expectancy of 70) to ripple through our current glut. At two children per couple, we’d continue to grow, progressively slower with each passing year, but grow nonetheless. (sigh)

  • Jan, of course people have to earn a living. I don’t mind JMG writing books for a living, I just feel a bit uncertain about taking hints for the future from someone who believes in using geomantic charts for finding secret enemies. It just somehow doesn’t inspire me to trust his good sense. I have read some stuff by JMG that was fairly good. But Guy’s essays are so much more connected with reality, why waste my time. I listened to Chris Martenson’s whole Crash Course – he does a great job explaining how the system works. But although he claims to have dropped out, he seems to still be quite in the system – just checked his site – “Chris Martenson’s consultation fee is $500 per hour.” He is good for background, but he is not going to predict a future where he can’t keep earning fees or so it would seem.

    I have lost patience with those who only predict a future that is something they can imagine living in. That is fine if you are doing it for yourself, but if you are trying to advise others on how to prepare for the future shouldn’t you break out of what you want it to be and take a good hard look at what is really coming down the pike.

    Now your advice which is similar to advice I have given is worth paying for – sit back and enjoy the show. How about I send you several dozen eggs? Next time I give good advice you can send me some of the fuel alcohol. Thanks I think you might have gotten me at least half way out of my funk.

  • Kathy wrote, “How about I send you several dozen eggs?”

    Thanks, but we’re swimming in eggs at the moment!

    “Next time I give good advice you can send me some of the fuel alcohol.”

    All this “sending” is going to make UPS happy — and keep the economy going. So I’m afraid the only thing I can “send” is pixels on your screen. Because the economy is my sworn enemy.

    “Thanks I think you might have gotten me at least half way out of my funk.”

    When I “get in a funk,” I listen to Mose Allison: “I don’t worry ’bout a think, ’cause I know nothin’s gonna be alright!”

    But back to Chris and John… I like the “big tent” idea that the US Democrats used to claim (before the elephants pushed all the people out of the tent). If they ain’t against you, at least they ain’t against you!

    If someone “gets” peak oil and climate change and the need to prepare for a low-energy future, but can get people to pay him to stand around and watch him stand on his head and recite nursery rhymes, who am I to complain? At least he isn’t keeping me from growing food and producing energy. Live and let live.

  • looking for cheaper labor elsewhere. That pool will eventually run out, and then what?

    A genetically modified Pan troglodytes?

    consider all the cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens there will be in order to provide all those humans with enough food to keep them healthy, wealthy, and wise.

    During the siege of Stalingrad they dined on each other – repulsive to most cultures, but the norm in a few; and there is the Eucharist.

    stored solar energy that had been created by natural forces over tens, sometimes even hundreds of millions of years of geological time.

    The latter estimate is accurate.

    If you’re wondering about where the U.S. population might be in 2050, the Population Reference Bureau projects 423 million, about 112 million more than we have today. Are you ready for that?

    Almost certainly so: past my lifetime – having made room for somebody else, (but leaving that room in a lot worse shape than when I arrived).

    President George H. W. Bush said in Rio in 1992, “The American way of life is not negotiable.”

    Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth
    in a rejoinder to the same quote recently noted that it was correct, because nature does not negotiate.

    In a system — any system, anywhere — growth is always unsustainable….. If we cannot control our numbers, nature will.

    Almost the exact words of Professor Albert Bartlett in “Arithmetic, Population and Energy”. Multiple routes to the same conclusion reinforce that conclusion.

  • Here’s a quotation I like from a recent article at http://www.stateofnature.org/whyTheyHateUs1.html

    “In a mere thirty years the American electorate has been reduced to the status of a helpless child whose sheer vulnerability provokes the episodic beatings of a psychotic father, and whose only refuge is a venal mother. In exchange for bundles of cash, security and a share of power that revels in sadistic joy, she provides fake aid and comfort to the catatonic child, counseling trust and patience for the father in preparation for a fresh round of beatings. Anyone abandoned to this dreadful situation would certainly be damaged for life. Who will rescue the American electorate from the psychopathology of neoliberalism?”

    Well, obviously the answer is no one, but I thought you guys might be interested in why the poorer classes in America aren’t revolting.

    Let me know what you think of this quote.

  • Librarian.

    The article sums it up well. Everything in the spheres of politics and money is based on fraud and carried out via deception.

    The culture of greed and fraud is not unique to America. It extrends around most of the world. There are few places where official policy is not Orwellian, and there are few places where the gap between the rich and the poor is not widening by the day.

  • Librarian

    I have a much more dreadful view of the population as a whole, I’m afraid. They are not only not abused, they are willing participants in the gorging of nature. It’s just that they have a smaller piece of the pie – a piece that is now shrinking almost daily.

    I think that people generally want to live comfortable, well-fed lives – many work hard to achieve that – many try not to. They have only so many hours in the day outside of work and sleep, so they prefer to use those hours doing the things they enjoy doing, whatever that may be. They don’t, as a rule, develop a need to research alternative sources of news to see if they are being fed nonsense by the MSM. They usually do not get caught up in time-consuming social projects. For the most part, they like to come home, eat, watch a bit of TV, enjoy the sports event(s) of the evening, have a beer or two, and generally relax. You can substitute whatever activities you have in mind to suit individuals you choose, but the pattern is the same. As long as these folks have a job, have adequate food on the table, have time to relax, and have plenty of available entertainment, can afford the next technical gadget that arrives on the market, they really do not think that life is bad at all and they have no remorse for the impact that billions of them are having on the earth. They are more than happy to leave politics and power to the elite, and to remain willingly in almost total ignorance of the real world as long as they get their cut of the action.

    Threaten any of the above and they become quite vocal. But being products of a lifetime of deceit, they are too ignorant to place the blame for the way life is deteriorating upon themselves or their elected officials. They accept willingly the idea that it is all those other people out there who are greedy and want something for nothing, who want big government, who want to strangle business with regulations and threaten their jobs, that seeking alternative energy to fossil fuels will will either cost them their comfy jobs or make life so much more expensive for them, that global warming is a big hoax, and that the poorer people of the world somehow deserve their living conditions.

    So when they are threatened, they end up fighting the very causes that might have saved them. Not because they are stupid, because they aren’t. Not because they are lazy, because they just want to work hard and live their lives. Not because they are abused, because really they aren’t – they are simply backing whatever powers that offer them continued jobs and futures.

    No, they end up fighting those causes because they think they deserve everything they have, and more if they can get it. They refuse to look at the long-term impact of their way of life. They refuse to listen to anything that might take it away or alter it beyond what they know. They are fearful of nature because they are no longer connected to nature – indeed, even despise and abuse it, as a master despises and abuses his slaves.

    We are in the predicament we are in because people are, on the whole, thoughtless and selfish abusers themselves. The abuser always rationalises their way of life and their violence upon those closest to them. Abusers often don’t see themselves as abusers but as victims.

    People are not abused. They are the abusers.

  • Kevin

    Orwellian is the word for certain. You can see it more every day as we transition from a predatory society to a threatened predatory society. The world is breaking apart, and the dynamics of that process is producing a new Orwellian language where deceit becomes accepted truth.

  • Victor.

    ‘So when they are threatened, they end up fighting the very causes that might have saved them.’

    Very true. That is why I no longer hope for any turnaround in the way society operates: this society has been headed for the cliff for a long time and headed for the cliff is what the bulk of people endose. (We might debate that we are already at the Wile E Coyote momnent, legs spinninmg in midair, awaiting the fall).

    I have just watched ‘Inside Job’, which details the extraordinary level of corruption and greed which have charcterised those who particiated the revolving door between Wall Street and successive US governmentscsince Reagan’s time. The corruption and lies continue under President War is Peace, of course. Numerous university academic have been (and still are) in on the action, raking in fortunes at the expense of the rest of the community.

    I cannot recall where I read it, but a couple of years ago I read a description of humanty as ‘a plague of greedy apes’ and ‘the last thing this planet needs is a plague of greedy apes’.

    As you point out, the masses have been carefully trained to behave greedily and stupidly -so they do.

    After the crash, when the web of deceit has dissolved a bit, we might get some kind of return to normality in the behaviour of the general populace.

  • Kevin

    ‘After the crash, when the web of deceit has dissolved a bit, we might get some kind of return to normality in the behaviour of the general populace.’

    Perhaps, but I wouldn’t count on it soon.

    I have not yet seen Inside Job – not available over here yet, but I definitely plan to. I watched Gasland the other day and would recommend it (if you don’t mind getting angry all over again)…

  • Dear Gary, Elizabeth and Colleagues All,

    No scientist I respect sees the global predicament humanity faces more coherently than Gary Peters, and no friend I have expresses more clearly and compassionately what Gary “sees” than Elizabeth Tjader. Perhaps their perspicacity and eloquence may begin plumbing the depths of the unimaginable mayhem humankind is in the act of precipitating in our planetary home…….

    Perhaps change is in the offing. Or not.

  • My lovely wife asked yesterday, “There seem to be more and more major catastrophes and big events happening recently than in the past. Is that my imagination?”

    What do you think? Is it simply better and quicker global communication? Or is this world truly experiencing more major events than in past history?

  • Steven

    ‘No scientist I respect sees the global predicament humanity faces more coherently than Gary Peters’

    As another population analyst, of course you would see this…. ;-)

    As I have indicated on occasion, there are four causal issues which drive virtually all symtoms of our impoverished world economy today:

    1. Over-Population

    2. Dependence upon non-renewable energy resources

    3. A global economic model dependent upon infinite growth

    From these three, all the worst symptoms of society today manifest themselves – socio-economic/financial instability, poverty, wars, natural resource scarcity, biodiversity decline, global warming, climate change, deforestation, habitation destruction, pollution of air/water/land, soil erosion, etc.

    Gary addresses the first of these three. Good on him. Of course, it must be recognised that the first would not be possible without the other two.

  • More people = more psychos
    More technology = more and greater weapons

    I pick door number two

  • I would reiterate, 30 years of 1 child policy in China lead to 300 million more people. It is too late to advocate for population control. 30 years of 1 child policy for the world would mean about 2 billion more humans on the planet. Luckily the solution for the population problem is the same solution for CO2 emissions and is occurring as we watch and wait – Total Collapse of Industrial Civilization.

  • Kathy,

    It is too late to deal with population controls. Too long a lead time for favourable results. We are way beyond that. I commend Gary for pointing out that we have too many people. I do not accept his thesis, or anyone else’s for that matter, that we should undergo “emergency” population controls. It is simply too late. That decision should have been taken many decades ago. Nature will now take its course, like it or not.

  • Someone recently pointed out that a zero child policy would only decrease the population a little over 1%/year. With oil expected to decline at 3%/year, a zero child policy would not help much for several decades.

  • re the economic collapse

    [audio src="http://www.netcastdaily.com/broadcast/fsn2011-0316-1.mp3" /]
    Thomas E Woods Jr, Rollback

    at near the end, he lays out the idea that when the US’s lenders balk at continuing w/o very high interest, then the FED will refuse to hyperinflate the dollar…which it will have just about already destroyed; so the FED gets nationalized, & the treasury can then print directly…

    sounds like one of the more likely scenarios i have heard.

  • Victor, I agree. Perhaps the best we can do for the sake of the unborn who surely will not be grateful for being born in the coming times, is encourage anyone who is open to listening to think long and hard about what kind of life the child they give birth to might have to endure. I haven’t had much success with that tho…no change that I have had no success that I know of in that arena.

    Curtis, it does seem counterintuitive that zero children would have so little effect on population decline – but it seems correct per my calcs it would be .84% using the current world population of 6.7 billion and the annual death rate of 56 million. http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/pcwe

    The demographics of China’s policy, too many old people for the young to support and too many boys due to infanticide of girl children is a problem for them. The demographics of several decades of zero child would be quite interesting leaving the world to the aging and the infants – that might well increase the death rate. 6 decades of zero children would likely serve to rid the world of this troublesome species as the average age of menopause is 51.

  • sam

    I tend to agree. I have always taken the position that we really don’t need bankers – let them fail. Nationalise the monetary system (the Fed) and all banking services so that people and businesses can still bank. I believe that if the government is pushed against the wall (it will take the real prospect of systemic failure to accomplish that push), then they will do the right thing and nationalise. Of course that will not by any means solve all problems – only the banking one. It is only a temporary solution – a plaster on a festering wound.

    The other reasonable, but not desirable, solution is that all banking functions are placed under the control of a global central bank to control all banking. This is likely the solution favoured by the elite, and indeed, may be the one they are manipulating the financial system at present in order to achieve (if you have a bit of conspiracy theorist in you). This won’t solve the problem either – again, just a plaster on a festering wound.

    Only trashing civilisation will solve the problem.

  • — For the best read of the following
    try this music video as an accompaniment

    The tainted milk was found 20 miles from the plant, a local official said.

    The spinach was collected from six farms between 60 miles and 75 miles to the south of the reactors.

    Those areas are rich farm country known for melons, rice and peaches, so the contamination could affect food supplies for large parts of Japan.

    While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by the government, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano insisted the products “pose no immediate health risk.”

  • Depends upon your definition of “immediate.”

  • well sarah; that is quite a yen/yang for one’s emotions!

  • thanks victor re the financial collapse.

    still digesting…wouldn’t nationalizing the banks be the end of the dollar as reserve.
    gotta scoot…grand baby here.

  • How much you want to bet that the missing mw of electrical power due to the nuke accident will never be replaced? Time to power down….

    Full article at http://blogs.forbes.com/christopherhelman/2011/03/18/options-for-replacing-japans-busted-nukes/
    by Christopher Helman

    After the earthquake, tsunami and meltdowns, currently 11 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors appear to be offline. That leaves a hole of roughly 13,000 mw in Japan’s electricity supply. In time, all but the six reactors of Fukushima Dai-ichi should come back on line, leaving a baseload generation deficit of roughly 6,000 mw. How to replace it?…Solar. Right now, the Mojave Desert is home to roughly 400 mw worth of solar projects, the biggest concentration in the world. To get 6,000 mw from solar power would require Japan building more installations than currently exist in the entire world–about 50,000 acres covered with parabolic troughs at a price of some $24 billion….Wind. You’d need something like 4,200 turbines covering well more than 60,000 acres at a cost of $11 billion…Coal. 15 ultra-modern, low-emissions, supercritical coal-burning power plants would cost $21 billion…Natural gas. A bargain; 8 ultra-efficient combined cycle power plants would cost around $6 billion. But Japan would end up paying a lot more to import liquefied natural gas to fuel those plants than for the coal burners…building six new ones would come to something on the order of $24 billion

  • at http://www.epa.gov/cdx/
    Due to the events in Japan and the heightened interest in radiation monitoring data, EPA has developed new content RadNet Map View which contains monitoring data and additional contextual information from EPA’s Radiation Protection Programs. – which links you to


    This website was developed for scientists and technical experts to share and review data. As part of the federal government’s continuing effort to make our activities and science transparent and available to the public, EPA will continue to keep all RadNet data available on this online database. EPA recognizes that the information in this database is highly technical and may require additional knowledge to interpret. In light of this, EPA has developed the following website to help the public interpret this data: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011.

    I haven’t a clue what the numbers mean but maybe someone here will.

  • Victor.

    ‘No scientist I respect sees the global predicament humanity faces more coherently than Gary Peters’

    I thought that was a rather insulting statement too, writing off such people as Jim Hansen, James Lovelock, Guy McPherson etc. who do discuss the likelihood (near certainty) of abrupt climate change ‘solving’ the population problem fairly soon. I suppose it’s just a further example of ignoring the biggest elephant in the room because looking at it is too scary.

    As we have discusseed many times over the months, one component of our present predicament (selfish genes) was written into the script around 3 billion years ago, and other componenets (tool technology and agriculture etc.) were written into the script more than 10,000 years ago.

    The more I see of it, the more it feels like watching Othello, Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth: the audience can make all the suggestions they like, it will make no difference to how the tragedy plays out because the main characters are deaf to the audience and just keep follwing their scripts. Thus, O’bomber follows the same script as the Smirking Chimp. Presumably when he’s gone Paleface or Hi Liar will follow the same script.

    Maybe watching a play is not a good analogy, since most people still don’t seem to recognise that politics is all play acting: they seem to think politicians are for real. As you noted, Victor, as long as people get their perceived benefits they are quite happy to ignore issues of morality and equity. If things go wrong they vote for whoever they think will maximise the benefits. In that sense people are behaving according to selfish gene theory. They just don’t knwo they are constantly deceived.

    Aldous Huxley said this in 1962: “It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude. This is the, it seems to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions shall we say, and this is a problem which has interested me many years and about which I wrote thirty years ago, a fable, Brave New World, which is an account of society making use of all the devices available and some of the devices which I imagined to be possible making use of them in order to, first of all, to standardize the population, to iron out inconvenient human differences, to create, to say, mass produced models of human beings arranged in some sort of scientific caste system. Since then, I have continued to be extremely interested in this problem and I have noticed with increasing dismay a number of the predictions which were purely fantastic when I made them thirty years ago have come true or seem in process of coming true.”

  • Victor,

    You said: “I have a much more dreadful view of the population as a whole, I’m afraid.”

    And well you should be. Consider your neighbors. What will their response to collapse be? If you have a can of beans and your neighbor has nothing do you think they will just sit around and watch you eat it? Perhaps they’ll conclude that to preserve the species the young and strong should take what they need from the old and weak. After all, doesn’t an organism have the right to do whatever is necessary to survive?

    I know I took that out of context. Sorry about that. I’m using it just to illustrate my take on “depopulation.”

    Your comment got me thinking about Nicole’s comment in the previous post, “The Race Is On,” in which she was hopeful we would only fall as far as the Middle Ages rather than clear back to a Hunting/Gathering society. The more I think about it the more I’ve become convinced that we will blow by the Middle Ages and the Hunting and Gathering. Consider Kevin’s statement about Japan where120 million people are living on a land base that would support only 30 million before technology/over population trashed it. There is no way collapse will cause a die-off of 90 million people and then somehow magically allow the population to stabilize again at a sustainable 30 million. Previous comments regarding the Black Death in Europe put the lie to that. Then the survivors had a functioning culture, had appropriate skills to function in the culture, and had the tools to function with, and the land had not be ruined. None of that applies now. Kathy is right to worry about the world we are leaving to her grandchildren.

    Michael Irving

  • Folks the Malthusian vs. Cornucopian debate has been going since the 1970’s, and the refutation of limits to growth is the same now as it was then, and as it will forever be…

    “The fatalism of the limits-to-growth alternative is reasonable only if one ignores all the resources beyond our atmosphere, resources thousands of times greater than we could ever obtain from our beleaguered Earth. As expressed very beautifully in the language of House Concurrent Resolution 451, ‘This tiny Earth is not humanity’s prison, is not a closed and dwindling resource, but is in fact only part of a vast system rich in opportunities…'” –Gerard O’Neill, testimony before a congressional committee, 1978

    “This whole issue of limits to growth, which provides a psychological, as well as a physical, cap on potential expansion of activity and awareness, has had a very depressing effect on many people…. I don’t for a moment think that there’s any concept which anyone’s working with now which will be followed as a straightforward scenario. But the idea embodied in concepts such as space colonization or space industrialization, or availability of nonterrestrial resources, is fundamental, and it will change the way in which people look at the future.” –Astronaut Rusty Schweickart, “One Man’s Approach to Space” in Worlds Beyond, 1978

    “Space colonization offers mankind a radically new and different option: The choice is no longer between continued growth until the limits of a small planet force collapse back to subsistence farming versus drastic social and economic changes to halt growth soon. We now have a third choice, that of continuing growth, but in a very different direction.” –J. Peter Vajk in Technological Forecasting and
    Social Change, 1976

    “In my considered opinion, the profit to be made by permanent settlement in space is nothing less than the survival of industrial civilization, and therefore the survival of nearly the entire human race, along with such amenities as peace, freedom, enough to eat, and the chance to reach a high age in good health.” –Poul Anderson in Galileo, 1979

    “Until now in world’s history, whenever we’ve had a dark age, it’s been temporary and local. And other parts of the world have been doing fine. And eventually, they help you get out of the dark age. We are now facing a possible dark age which is going to be world-wide and permanent! That’s not fun. That’s a different thing. But once we have established many worlds, we can do whatever we want as long as we do it one world at a time.” –Isaac Asimov, speech at Newark College of Engineering, 1974

  • Cosmist:
    Let’s look at the tally:

    Three clueless, two big ifs.
    All from the seventies.
    Space program winding down, and we have a few boxes of rocks to show for it.
    Yup, good EROEI.

    Save it for now. Send us a picture when you get there.
    You really are not funny.

  • Ok. Completely off topic, but had to share the clueless irony story of the weekend.

    My partner makes jewelry for a living. He’s quite good – makes beautiful stuff, very creative. He makes all of it by hand, including some of the components (the rest come from China, but we’re working on that). He was invited to have a booth at the Mississippi Green Festival this weekend.

    Even though it’s difficult for me to attend this type of thing as I see it as nothing more than crass consumerism, I agreed to go in order to support my partner – that’s what partners do. So, we loaded up the car, drove 3 1/2 hours to Tupelo, Mississippi. Set up the booth this morning in a manicured city park which was about as far from “green” as a park can get. At least there was grass and a pond. Cars were parked everywhere to deliver the 3,000 people in attendance. Of course, there was no other way to get there other than drive. No visible sidewalks or bike lanes on the multi-lane roads leading to the park.

    There were two stages with powerful sound systems blaring across the entire area all day. There were food booths selling tasty items, served in styrofoam. Not a single recycle bin in the park. Quite a few booths had nothing to do with being “green”, although some did feature repurposed and recycled items, There was even a blacksmith – although he was using propane to heat his materials.

    There was an “organic garden” section which was sponsored by – get this: Waste Management! And they were giving away helium filled balloons. Oh the irony!

    We had a very busy day of sacrificing to the consumer gods. Sold tons of stuff. Then, we packed up and a gas powered cart came and hauled our stuff back to our car where we made the 3 1/2 hour journey home.

    Final Score:
    Consumerism and industrial economy: 100
    Nature: 0

  • Oh and here’s one more quote by Guy’s favorite Malthusian:

    “The possible advantages of [space colonization] are many and not to be taken lightly. In theory many of humanity’s most environmentally destructive activities could be removed from the biosphere entirely. The population density of the Earth could be reduced, and a high quality of life could be provided to all Homo sapiens. It might even make war obsolete… Environmentalists often accuse politicians of taking too short-term a view of the human predicament. By prematurely rejecting the idea of space colonies they would be making the same mistake.” –Paul Ehrlich in Space Colonies, ed. Steward Brand, 1977

    I a few years I fully expect Guy to be wearing sportcoats and turtleneck sweaters and be evangelizing for the new Space Age. He’s in an early ’70’s back-to-the-land phase right now, but I suspect that this, too, shall pass…

  • ‘The more I see of it, the more it feels like watching Othello, Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth: the audience can make all the suggestions they like, it will make no difference to how the tragedy plays out because the main characters are deaf to the audience and just keep follwing their scripts. Thus, O’bomber follows the same script as the Smirking Chimp. Presumably when he’s gone Paleface or Hi Liar will follow the same script.’ -kevin moore

    what a pleasure/privilege to receive such original, unique analysis. nbl to me is a treasure trove of enlightened and free discourse.

    o’bomber is obviously obama and smirking chimp his predecessor as u.s. president, but who are paleface (palin?) and hi liar? suddenly i get it: hillary clinton. yes, it doesn’t much matter, does it? one’s a fast track to hell, the other even faster. if not one of them, someone similarly surreally awful. to us at nbl, they provide nothing more than occasional wry contemptful amusement as we await our fate.

    i also appreciated the huxley quote, kevin. and before i forget, thanks for the supporting remark yesterday, curtis, and to gp, i’m glad u took my and other’s criticisms with admirable grace.

    ‘Kathy is right to worry about the world we are leaving to her grandchildren.’ -Michael Irving

    damned right she is! the wise and aware know this is no time to be conceiving more sheople!

    thanks for sharing the irony from the site of king elvis’ birthplace, if i recall correctly, dr. house.

    cosmist, haven’t u scored a ticket yet for the next moon or mars flight?

  • i forgot to thank kathy for yesterday’s entertaining comment re. the prince of surreal, our friendly necromancer and peak oil prophet, mr. greer, the archdruid. laughter/amusement are fine companionship anytime, even/especially awaiting doom?!

  • Dr House

    You bring up a good point, actually. The score was lopsided because it is that world (industrial civilisation) that we live in, is it not? That world feeds us, clothes us, shelters us, provides medical care for us, provides transport, allows us to communicate with each other over long distances through PCs and mobile phones, and entertains us through movies, TV shows, radio, sports events. It supposedly protects us from the bogeymen through our police and armed forces.

    I could go on, but you get the point. We literally can’t go a day without moving through it, it being so pervasive. We are like fish moving about in water wondering what it is like living outside in the air. When we are exposed to it occasionally, it is traumatic and there is a welcome return to the tank.

    And yet, the water we live in is killing us.

  • in furtherance of our recent conversation on religion, i’ve taken the liberty to quote in full below a recent editorial comment from conrad georinger, online newsletter editor for american atheists, a non-profit organization, whose wonderful work i’ve been appreciating for years. (i apologize if this transmits sans normal spacing between paragraphs and some words of text. i tried making corrections to the errors the copy and paste procedure seem to have produced in this case. i’m not sure what the final outcome will be. apologies to mr. georinger and u readers for any flaws in the final outcome. -the virgin terry)


    “Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His.”– Arnaud Amalric Cistercian monk, died 1225

    It was only a matter of time before the religious would begin framinglast week’s horrific tragedy in Japan in eschatological terms. After all, the Japanese widely embrace variants of Buddhism and Shintoism, and their’s is a country where Christianity has never taken firm root despite nearly a century of aggressive proselytizing. The fact that the island nation sits astride geological faults lines (the Pacific “Ring of Fire”) has resulted in a record of devastating events including earthquakes and tsunamis. For those who view natural events through the lens of apocalyptic imagination, then, the recent destruction and appalling loss of life is evidence of divine wrath and retribution.

    On the Internet, the latest buzz is about a young woman using the moniker “tamtampamela,” who recorded a video effusively praising Jehovah for His bloodthirsty reign of terror against the beleaguered Japanese — a psychopathic tantrum supposedly directed at atheists. One’s first impression may be that this is all a hoax or social commentary in the vein of A Modest Proposal. Would any person actually countenance such sentiments, expressing joy at the widespread suffering of human beings inflicted by a deity intent on reckless collective punishment?

    “Tamtampamela” is not an isolated example of those who see calamity and destruction as pay-back for the moral shortcomings and rebelliousness of human beings. The Rev. Pat Robertson, apreacher who once boasted that he would elect certain candidates as President of the United States, has a long pedigree of associating natural disasters with Jehovah’s wrathful punishment for the transgressions against biblical doctrines. The wryly preacher,for instance, suggested that the recent destruction in Haiti was just retribution since the residents purportedly made “a bargain with Satan.” That hundreds of thousands of children and other innocents died seems of little concern to Robertson.

    Why, after all, does Jehovah such a penchant for wholesale slaughter as shown in the books of the Old Testament? This callousness should remind us of the quote attributed to the Cistercian monk Arnaud Amalric,who told Catholic troops fighting the Cathar heretics that theyshould kill indiscriminately and without pause. “Kill them all,” Amalric declared. “For the Lord knows them that are His.”

    A vengeful God is a terrifying enabler for those indulging themselves in the emotions of retribution and Schadenfreude. The latter is the pleasurable emotion we experience from the misfortune of others, especially if we perceive them guilty of unjust deeds. The sternly religious are often resentful of those who transgress, especially if it involves disbelief in the reality of religious deities. “They’ll get theirs!” Eternal consignment to the tortures of hell should balance the scales. The enemies of Jehovah, they are legion; homosexuals, secularists and atheists,. fornicators, abortionists, feminists maybe even multi-culturalists, and Jews; others can be conscripted as villains too. Cast a sufficiently wide net and many of “God’s people” may even be on the road to damnation for lax attention to doctrine and insufficient probity.

    Satan is “Prince of this world” and everything– and nearly everyone in it. Temptation lurks everywhere, and humans are reduced to bit actors in a cosmic struggle between the Children of Light and those in service to the devil. The effect of this religious pathology is to reduce individual human beings to mere numbers. After all, if Jehovah unleashes catastrophe in the forms of earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis as punishment for humanity’s misdeeds, what value are the lives of one, a dozen,hundreds or even thousands of people? One can speak of “punishing” New Orleans because of the city’s free-wheeling and tolerant lifestyle; the fact that much of this tragedy was shouldered by the less-well-off, people of color, children and other innocent victims becomes just so much ethical baggage to be conveniently jettisoned from one’s conscience.

    Indeed, the rash acts of a vengeful deity encourages, even requires willful suppression of authentic moral conscience and human empathy on a considerable scale. For those seeing the world and human beings as deserving objects of divine wrath, the value of human life diminishes to nothing, and there is no need to consider “human rights” anywhere in the theological discussion. So, for tamtampamela (unless she is,indeed, following in the tradition of Swift) and the cranky Pastor Robertson, and to that embittered cohort of stern fundamentalists and evangelicals so fixated on their theologian comeuppance, well,unleash hell.

    For the rest of us, the ongoing improvement of humanity, and progress in attenuating the episodic havoc of the world remain formidable scientific and technological challenges ; and in their wake, we can only turn to empathy, cooperation and the solidarity of the human race. — Conrad Goeringer Editor, AANEWS

  • Michael

    ‘Perhaps they’ll conclude that to preserve the species the young and strong should take what they need from the old and weak. After all, doesn’t an organism have the right to do whatever is necessary to survive?’

    You might be right here. I think you will certainly be right for much of what we call civilisation today. Realistically or not, however, Recently as we have experienced so many tragic events (earthquakes, wars, fires, flooding, etc.), what I am struck with is not what I expected (the widespread looting and violence such events can incur), but what I don’t expect – people helping people, sharing what they have with those who have been left without,people banding together for mutual protection from gangs, etc.

    So I am coming to a realisation that perhaps Collapse will bring out both the worst and the best in us as a society. That there might be hope for some of us that goodness and rightness can survive as well when we most need it.

  • Presumably most people already know, but it is worthwhile reminding everyone that the present GDP-based economic system demands and rewards destruction of the environment, and therfore ‘destruction’ of the future. As a generalisation, the faster the environment gets trashed, the higher the GDP, since almost every activity in an industrial ecomomy is concerned with converting fossil fuels into pollution and converting nature into waste. Thus, GDP amounts to a Global Destruction Process. And in view of the fact that everything in mainstream culture is a lie or a misrepresentation, GDP is also a Global Deceit Paradigm.

    The constant banter from politicians and economosts to ‘grow GDP’ is a plea for self-destruction, one that most people are all too happy to comply with.

  • I dont know why you’re all worrying. the UN tells us that the population will stabilize at 9 to 12 billion. the west has a declining population due to prosperity and if economic growth continues in the developing world population will likewise stabilize!

    this seems to still be the official party line of the idiots in charge of the UN. it is trotted out like a mantra on that rarest occasion, when the taboo of the urgent need for population control is mentioned. and its obviously BS of the highest order.

    what they fail to understand is the colossal overshoot population of the west is only propped up artificially by massive imports of what it needs to feed its overshoot population. the west is rather like a cage of plump overcrowded mice, which have long stopped breeding due to stress of overcrowding and interference for nest sites, but whose overcrowded population is fed and watered by its owner and remains seemingly healthy and content – whilst artificial conditions continue at an rate. take the food ‘imports’ away and they will still not be breeding much, less plump, and very likely, more dead.

    obviously you cant extrapolate the population behavior of a few rich nations acting like pampered overcrowded mice, fed constantly from an external source, to the whole world, since there will not be an external source to the whole world- to keep the whole world overcrowded and in a state of perpetual happy, but behaviorally stressed – for other reasons than food- low reproduction rate. it would require another (poorer) planet to import stuff from for this situation to occur!

    the whole world cannot be propped up to dizzying overshoot levels internally, any more than the UK, or the mice could sustain its colossal overshoot population from internal resources

    the UN are in cloud cuckoo land.

    i love this site. its an oasis of understanding of masnkinds dire situation. im generally a lurker as what i think will happen soon is eloquently expressed by guy and others.

  • Terry.

    Thanks for that contribution.

    There are people who believe that Christchurch was hit by earthquakes and the cathedral toppled because the Chrisitian leaders had failed to follow Christ’s true teachings and had allowed the city to become far removed from Christ’s Church.

    We could debate theism-atheism till the cows come home, but there is little doubt that hedonism, consumerism and greed are at the heart of most of our problems, and that if we had actually followed the directive to be ‘good custodians of the Earth’ and had followed the main teachings of Christ we would not be in the mess we are in now.

    I believe have a very good grasp of all the physical science aspects of what is happening, and a reasonably good understanding of evolutionary and anthropological aspects, but tying in the religious/spiritual aspects is proving damned difficult.

  • good post, lurker andy. welcome to our nightmare!

    kevin, loved your alternative definitions for the gdp acronym. however, re. your critical mention of hedonism, i must take rare exception. i just sent guy and kathy an email of a prospective future feature post focused on a recent, rare, delightfully ‘sinful’ experience of mine, which if approved, may be shared with y’all soon after polishing some rough edges. in a future world of material poverty, it’s my surreal hope that our dying species will rediscover many pleasures of the flesh which have long been repressed by civilized cultures intent on substituting work and consumption for freedom to enjoy life’s most basic rewards like sex!

  • “Final Score:
    Consumerism and industrial economy: 100
    Nature: 0”

    Today; maybe tomorrow, that’s all. In 30 years time there will be no consumerism, and no industrial economy: it’s doomed, anyway.

  • i think monotheistic religion is alot to blame. it imbued western culture with the hubris we are ‘not animals’, and so not subject to the same naturalistic laws that effect animal populations. economics is just a PSEUDO SCIENTIFIC cultural outgrowth of this hubris and has no real basis in science. in fact proper science has largely debunked its huge misconceptions about reality. most politicians, as they are drawn from culture, not science, and as ignorant and unqualified to deal with the real world as economists, will just immediately reject my mouse analogy, and other science, as it insults their hubristic preconceptions of the human superiority over the animal world – the consistant western religious position. we are not mice, they will say as mice dont think or plan ahead. they operate on instinctive drives, dont write books or do science. fine. but lets not cherry pick. its ignoring the fact that we did react exactly like mice populations with an excess of food, are growing exponentially without any form of planned control just like mice, ignore science, and more importantly against the argument of the growthmen and apologists that we will respond appropriately to avoid collapse, WHEN IS THIS GOING TO HAPPEN? we are going in exactly the opposite direction. exponentially. ironically we are rejecting the very science and ‘planning ahead’ that would allow us to deal with the situation in a way ‘animals’ generally dont to avoid their own bell curve die offs.

  • So many of you have expressed the view that bringing a child into the world at a time like this would be good for neither the child nor the world. Well, for sure, we are not going to solve the world population crisis by having more children. Mind you, we are not going to solve it by having none, either as Curtis pointed out. I and many others of you believe that it is now too late and Nature will soon take the problem out of our hands. Yet when you talk about how terrible the world will be for children after the Collapse, is it such a great world now? I see children who can communicate better with their mobile phone and video games than with people. I see children who are put into the prison systems of our schools at a very early age and kept there until they are deemed old enough to be useful workers. I see children who are afraid of playing in the dirt and have no idea that milk comes from cows or other animals, and I see children who are taught they have all rights and no responsibilities. Maybe those children who are now infants and those who will be born in the next year or so to parents who are preparing for the Collapse and who see through the lies and deceits of our Civilisation will have a quality of life up to and after the Collapse that far exceeds the quality of the life of the children caught up totally in the insanity of Civilisation in its death throws. None of us can predict how long our life will be. My mother in law lived 96 years, my grandson 20 weeks. I begrudge neither of them the time they spent on the Earth. If a young couple with full awareness of the potential risks of the Collapse and post Collapse and having made every reasonable preparation choose to have a child, good luck to them. Maybe this child will be one of the few humans who will survive to rebuild a world in harmony with Nature.

  • Nicole,

    Good point. Those born now who survive will have the advantage of not having as many years of being propagandized. I would guess that their parents age group, say 20 to 35, is not well represented at this site.

  • Sustainable extraterrestrial life in any finite environment will require closed ecosystems. It does so here on earth, and that is why the industrial-era open/linear systems are running into sustainability problems: their 200 year success reflects the size of the environment that accommodated the despoilation.

    Experiments along these lines to maintain closed ecosystems have been attempted with less than stellar (pun intended) results:


    Biosphere 2

    Ecosphere (aquarium)

  • Victor,

    A good reminder there and I thank you for it. I live in a community that is often denigrated by people from adjacent communities. However, I have always found that a significant number of locals are always willing to lend a hand to folks in need. One example: When my neighbor’s house burned down a person 25 miles away arrived the next morning with a 30 foot trailer in-tow. He just dropped it off with no strings attached and no time limits. So your point is well taken and I will do well to remember it.

    Michael Irving

  • Nicole, Curtis, if you believe we are going to have a slow decline to a pastoral existence then I can understand that you would think a child born in the future will have a good and even better life. I can in no way see how we that will could be our fate. If we are to go from our current world to Dark Ages in 2012 per Guy’s prediction what do you think that decline will look like.

    I have seen children starving when I was in Haiti. I helped hold a child so dehydrated that the nurse attempting to give inter venous aid could not find a vein to put the needle in. I saw a child that looked 10 times worse than the pictures of prisoners in Auschwitz at the end of the wars. When the mother brought the child in, the nuns just called for the head nun to baptize the baby on the spot.

    Babies in Iraq are born with DU syndrome. http://www.thelibertyclub.net/user/don/Depleted_Uranium.htm Can you be sure that DU weapons will never fall in the US?

    Babies in Vietnam still suffer from the lingering effects of Agent Orange

    Young children in the Congo are conscripted into armies. Gilbert did not mean to kill anyone. He did not even intend to go to war. He was 10 when a relative enlisted him in a rebel army in eastern Congo and 12 when he led a raid in which his cousin died. ‘I was ordered to kill the son of the leader in my village. I was put in charge of the group, and ordered to fire as people fled. The leader was my uncle; his boy was six years old.’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/congo/5836759/Rebuilding-the-lives-of-Congos-child-soldiers.html
    Can you be sure that would never happen here

    Young girls are raped in the Congo The young girl whispered in a hushed tone. She looked down as she spoke, only glancing up from her dark round eyes every now and then. She wanted to tell more, but she was too ashamed. She was just 9 years old when, she says, Congolese soldiers gang-raped her on her way to school. http://articles.cnn.com/2009-08-11/world/congo.rape_1_president-laurent-kabila-kinshasa-congo?_s=PM:WORLD

    Can you be sure that won’t happen here.

    Children and parents are being killed in Afganistan with drones. We are now employing drones for “surveillance” in Mexico. Can you be sure that won’t happen here.

    Well I could go on. I would give the likelihood of this country deteriorating into extreme violence at some point in the near future a probability of 100%. The collapse of the Soviet Union was tempered by the fact that the whole world wasn’t collapsing, and that some of the aspects of Soviet societal control worked in their favor during collapse. I could be wrong. If you have a child and I am right and one of these things happens to them how will you feel?

    Since you can’t ask an unborn if they want to be born ask yourself if these things come to pass here will your child hate you for brining them into being only to suffer and die at an early age?

    I have young grandchildren. I weep inside. My wish that none of these things would come true in their lifetime and future lifetimes can’t make me believe that they won’t. I weep inside for the children who already are born into such horrors.

    The decision should be up to the one person who cannot make that decision – the unborn. I wish I could have know this before I had kids. I would have stifled my urge, which was nothing more than evolution’s mindless dictate “you shall replicate”.

  • I for one have no idea what any of you crazy people are talking about! Birth rates in the wealthy nations are well below replacement levels and they’re dropping fast everywhere! At this rate our species may face an underpopulation crisis in another century!

    Not only that, but if all the conscientious, environmentally aware people do the right thing by Gaia and stop breeding, all that means is the human gene/meme pool becomes dominated by Palin/bin Laden types. Is that really what you want?

    This form of modernity is utterly barren, a total dead end in every respect. Nothing is solved by self-extinction unless you are a true despiser of humanity, in which case you might as well take the next logical step of the hardcore Malthusian misanthrope and start calling for the use of nuclear weapons to cull the human population, like our friend Pentti Linkola. Note that nuclear war would also curb global warming, and with neutron bombs in urban centers the rest of the biosphere would be largely unaffected. So let’s stop all the half-measures and phony concern for humanity and get behind a final solution to the problem of the human cancer, shall we?

  • Cosmist, please lay out what you want us to do.

  • People feel entitled to have children. We cannot connect our wants and desires to the destruction of the culture which provides these entitlements. Instead we just scoff when confronted with the idea that child birth in the industrial age is contributing to the demise of all species. Humans have babies but the difference is our babies (specifically in the US) are not consuming at the rate of “one” child. This is just another privilege industrial people believe they deserve and when challenged on it become dumbfounded. We make the mistake of assuming we live like others before us have lived and therefore we’re just following protocol. When others had children they faced consequences directly but we never feel ours because our consequences become the consequences of those who lack power, privilege, and entitlement. These are the norms of industrial living and anyone who tells us different is just some whack job who needs to come to grips with “reality.”
    I don’t have children mainly because I think it’s a bit egotistical having a mini version of me running around…on second thought?

  • Other nuclear accidents no one bothered to tell us about

    Governments Have Been Covering Up Nuclear Meltdowns for Fifty Years to Protect the Nuclear Power Industry
    Santa Susana
    As a History Chanel special notes, a nuclear meltdown occurred at the world’s first commercial reactor only 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, and only 7 miles from the community of Canoga Park and the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRdC5I0Yn2k&feature=player_embedded

    Specifically, in 1959, there was a meltdown of one-third of the nuclear reactors at the Santa Susana field laboratory operated by Rocketdyne, releasing – according to some scientists’ estimates – 240 times as much radiation as Three Mile Island.

    But the Atomic Energy Commission lied and said only there was only 1 partially damaged rod, and no real problems. In fact, the AEC kept the meltdown a state secret for 20 years.

    There were other major accidents at that reactor facility, which the AEC and Nuclear Regulatory Commission covered up as well. See this.


    Two years earlier, a Russian government reactor at Kyshtm melted down in an accident which some claim was even worse than Chernobyl. The Soviet government hid the accident, pretending that it was creating a new “nature reserve” to keep people out of the huge swath of contaminated land.

    Journalist Anna Gyorgy alleges that the results of a freedom of information act request show that the CIA knew about the accident at the time, but kept it secret to prevent adverse consequences for the fledgling American nuclear industry.

    1980s Studies and Hearings

    In 1982, the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs received a secret report received from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences 2”.

    In that report and other reports by the NRC in the 1980s, it was estimated that there was a 50% chance of a nuclear meltdown within the next 20 years which would be so large that it would contaminate an area the size of the State of Pennsylvania, which would result in huge numbers of a fatalities, and which would cause damage in the hundreds of billions of dollars (in 1980s dollars).

    Those reports were kept secret for decades.
    Other Evidence
    Well-known writer Alvin Toffler pointed out in Powershift (page 156):
    At least thirty times between 1957 and 1985—more than once a year—the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant near Aiken, South Carolina, experienced what a scientist subsequently termed “reactor incidents of greatest significance.” These included widespread leakage of radioactivity and a meltdown of nuclear fuel. But not one of these was reported to local residents or to the public generally. Nor was action taken when the scientist submitted an internal memorandum about these “incidents.” The story did not come to light until exposed in a Congressional hearing in 1988. The plant was operated by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company for the U.S. government, and Du Pont was accused of covering up the facts. The company immediately issued a denial, pointing out that it had routinely reported the accidents to the Department of Energy.

    At this point, the DoE, as it is known, accepted the blame for keeping the news secret.
    And former soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on camera for a Discovery Network special (“The Battle of Chernobyl”) that the Soviets and Americans have each hidden a number of nuclear accidents from the public.

  • Kathy,

    All points noted, and agreed to. I had the qualification “…who survive…”. I was thinking in terms of those few people (indigenous groups) in rural areas and their children who may grow up without ever having the experience and thus the expectations we have.
    I did not say, “good or better.” I mean only devoid of the entitlement or exceptionalisim mentality. Why do we see things that young people dismissively laugh at? Because we are old enough to remember a life before the constant hammering by the media. I was 12 years old before my household(I use the term loosely) had a TV. I lived in poverty and did not have the expectations many, including the poor, have today.

    I also see a relatively quick collapse, in the 2012-2015 time frame. If sooner, then only those few such as Guy stand much of a chance. A few more years, even only 2 or 3, gives a few more a chance. Just a matter of numbers.
    Remember a few days ago I mentioned, I think, “isolated bands.” Just the lucky few. As long as they would have children, then those children would be growing up under very different circumstances.
    Please, I have been a “doomer” for decades. This was the time frame I saw 25 years ago. As far as I estimated, we are already overdo. We are maxed out.

  • Curtis, I see what you are saying which I missed on first reading, apologies. If some isolated bands survive their children would be growing up in a different world that would be free of the particular evils of our world at this time. I have read stories of and seen pictures of H-G children and they seem much better off than our school kids hunched over desks at age 5 on.

    I was addressing the question of what should go through the mind of a prospective parent and missed where you are coming from which as you note I should have understood from your previous posts. However if the Nukes fly, or the spent fuel rods left in the cooling ponds become neglected and burn up, or the collapse doesn’t come soon enough to prevent run-a-way global warming, even those born after the bottleneck event may regret their birth.

    I have been thinking about how one can get across the idea of thinking from the perspective of the unborn. Maybe this works. I should have thought of it 30+ years ago. Suppose you were fast asleep and suddenly woke up and found yourself in a strange place with a strange person. This person says to you I loved the idea of having you so I brought you here. I think you will have a good life here. Of course there are too many people here so some will have to die early, but I don’t think you will be one of them. And there are severe ecological problems and global warming which will mean that many people have to die early of starvation, but I don’t think you will be one of them. And the various countries here have terrible weapons to use on each other, but I don’t think any will hit here. Aren’t you glad I brought you here?

    Well, I just hope that any who are planning to have children, at the very least put it off for several years to see what the other side of collapse is like.

    Curtis, you have me beat by about 15 years. I was a “doomist” for longer than that, but I didn’t see the specific time frame until 10 years ago. Again apologies for misreading your post.

  • Thomas Homer-Dixon has written several books that I like. But now, faced with the fully realized consequences of the bind we are in he seems to have lost it. Full article at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/our-fukushima-moment/article1946562/print/
    Italics for emphasis are mine
    I keep wondering what part what we “want” plays any more. Our little wants don’t rule nature.

    “We can’t get out of the box just by cutting back on our energy use. Yes, conservation is essential. But modern human societies are buzzing hives of technological and social complexity, and only huge inputs of high-quality energy can create and sustain this complexity. Most of us don’t want radically simpler lives, because they’d be poorer lives in countless ways. So we need energy, lots of it – and we need new carbon-free sources.

    There are a number of candidate technologies. My favourite is ultra-deep geothermal power: We drill holes eight to 10 kilometres into Earth’s crust, pump down water, then bring it back to the surface – super-heated – to drive electrical turbines. Deep geothermal has problems, among other things a propensity, somewhat ironically, to cause earthquakes. But scientists and engineers can likely solve these problems much more easily than the problems facing, say, nuclear power. And in contrast to nuclear power, deep geothermal has a certain elegance: Instead of building dangerous nuclear facilities all over Earth’s surface, we drill downward to tap a little of the vast heat emitted by the best-shielded reactor on the planet, its molten core.”

  • Kathy,

    Apology accepted, of course. I certainly don’t see us in different camps.

    As I said a while back, I think I read an article in, I think about mid ’80s, about MKH’s curve. Took about 20 seconds to see the future. Prior to that I had read just about everything popularly available, starting with, “The Population Bomb.” Ehrlich spoke in Chicago, I think it was Earth day 1970. I attended and tapped the talk. So I have been expecting this for a long time. The curve just put the time frame on it.
    At the risk of Cosmist jumping on this, I am well aware of Ehrlich’s time line being well off, but the trend is accurate. We are just lasting longer, not better.

  • Curtis, my “oh its now” moment was reading Stan Goff on Peak Oil off of Ruppert’s site thanks to 9/11.

  • “Oil Decline Rate and Population”


    >> “One solution that is sometimes proposed for the dilemma of fossil-fuel decline is a global campaign for the humane implementation of rapid population decline. With all due respect for the attempt to find a satisfying answer to the question of overpopulation, such a proposal would conflict with the available data on the rate of decline in fossil fuels. The annual rate of population decline, in a civilization in which fossil fuels are by far the most important sources of energy, must roughly equal the 3-percent (if not greater) annual rate of fossil-fuel decline.

    Unfortunately there is no practical humane means of imposing a similar annual rate of decline on the world’s population. If we allow the loss of petroleum to take its course, a decline of 3 percent would result in a drop in world population to half its present level, i.e. to 3.5 billion, by about the year 2030. The only means, however, would be a rather grim one: famine.

    A deliberate global campaign of rapid population decline, even with the immediate implementation of an utterly hypothetical fertility rate of zero (i.e. the implementation of a “zero-child policy”), would have far less dramatic results. The rate of population decline would exactly equal the death rate. (This is true by definition: “growth rate” equals “birth rate” minus “death rate”, and we have already postulated that “birth rate” would be zero.) The present death rate is only about 1 percent (CIA, 2010). At such a rate of decline, the global population in the year 2030 would still be about 5.7 billion. There would therefore be no means for a program of planned population decline to work before the effects of fossil-fuel depletion took their own toll. (Such figures, of course, disregard any other possible catastrophic future events such as famine [the above-mentioned means that is likely to prevail], disease, war, and a thousand other side-effects of societal breakdown.)

    I had at one time stated that the annual decline rate would be about 6 percent. A rate of about 3 or 4 percent now seems more likely. Actually the revision of the decline rate, from 6 percent to 3 percent, does not make much difference in the long run. It means oil production falls to half of its peak rate around 2030, rather than 2020, a mere 10 years difference. The general result, over the next few decades, is still almost the same. Perhaps more importantly, it is still a fact that even with an instant (and impossible) “zero-child policy,” the population decline rate would still be only 1 percent annually, whereas oil decline is 3 or 4 percent annually. In other words, one cannot even come close to making a significant difference via birth-control policies before oil decline makes its own “decisions.” <<


    I didn't see the above previously cited, and I think it's a great article. I too am a lurker and find the discussion here refreshing. It reassures me that I am not the irrational one.

  • Stephen,

    There is a disturbing quality to your comment. It evokes all of the creepy science fiction stories I’ve ever read in which TPTB (the powers that be) control reproduction. The scenario is always that some problem has occurred that has caused overshoot. TPTB are forced to take control or all is lost. As you note, however, “(u)nfortunately there is no practical humane means of imposing a similar annual rate of decline on the world’s population.” They will probably try anyway. Then the problems start to kick in. With zero birth rate you note that we would only be down to 5.7 billion by 2030, still not low enough. But waiting longer would be gambling with all the problems associated with reproduction beginning near the onset of menopause. If a cadre of 0-1 year olds were recruited by TPTB to be the inhabitants of a 21st Century Noah’s Arc then when are they allowed to begin reproduction? When they’re 20? That’s 2030—too soon. What about when they’re 30? Probably still too soon and yet getting really late in the lifetime reproductive cycle. But wait; here’s an idea! Let’s move everyone but a few hundred thousand chosen reproducers, and their handlers (TPTB) out of North America. Just ship them off and allow the crash to go on throughout the rest of the world. With the help of TPTB there are plenty of resources left in North America to sustain a small chosen population indefinitely and enough munitions to protect fortress Amerika. This could work!

    You see what I mean. Even if you try to do something about controlling population it just gets worse. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    Michael Irving

  • Stephen.

    Thanks for reminding us about that article.

    We should note that it is not simply a matter of depletion rates; growing domestic consumption in certain export nations suggests internationally traded oil could decline in volume by a lot more than 3% p.a. a few years hence. And what if China corners the oil market? Or a major exporter decides to restrict exports? It took Ukraine about a three days to start squealing when Russia limited gas exports a few years ago.