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Famines as Military Weapons: Is Europe in Danger?

Famines as Military Weapons: Is Europe in Danger?

 A Dutch girl photographed at the time of the “hongerwinter”, the famine that hit The Netherlands in 1945, during WW2. 

In the West, we tend to think of famines as events of the remote past that will never return, a view typified by Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature.” This attitude is often accompanied by sneers at Paul Ehrlich who, in 1968, had predicted extensive worldwide famines that were soon to occur. Even when famines are discussed as a real possibility, they are seen as affecting only those remote countries where hordes of dark-skinned or slant-eyed people already live in near-starvation conditions.

We forgot how close in time was an age in which hunger was a fact of life and famines a common occurrence. The last important famine in Europe was in the Netherlands in 1946 — that was less than a hundred years ago, not in the Middle Ages. Our lack of historical memory is the reason why we see books such as “One Billion Americans” by Matthew Yglesias, where the author happily neglects the problems involved with supplying food and energy to a U.S. population three times larger than it is nowadays.

The real problem with assessing the possibility of future famines is that they are often man-made, that is actively created by human actions. Starving an enemy is a time-honored strategy that works beautifully. We have a detailed report of how it was put into practice by the Romans at the time of the Siege of Jerusalem of 70 AD, but it is surely much older than that. In recent times, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, threatened Iran in 2018 by saying that they must listen to the U.S. ‘If They Want Their People to Eat.’  Clearly, the temptation to starve another country into submission never completely disappeared and it may returning.

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Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

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Ever since the writing of Thomas Malthus in the early 1800s, and especially since Paul Ehrlich’s publication of “The Population Bomb”  in 1968, there has been a lot of learned skull-scratching over what the sustainable human population of Planet Earth might “really” be over the long haul.

This question is intrinsically tied to the issue of ecological overshoot so ably described by William R. Catton Jr. in his 1980 book “Overshoot:The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change”.  How much have we already pushed our population and consumption levels above the long-term carrying capacity of the planet?

In this article I outline my current thoughts on carrying capacity and overshoot, and present five estimates for the size of a sustainable human population.

Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity” is a well-known ecological term that has an obvious and fairly intuitive meaning: “The maximum population size of a species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment.” 

Unfortunately that definition becomes more nebulous and controversial the closer you look at it, especially when we are talking about the planetary carrying capacity for human beings. Ecologists will claim that our numbers have already well surpassed the planet’s carrying capacity, while others (notably economists and politicians…) claim we are nowhere near it yet!
 
This confusion may arise because we tend to confuse two very different understandings of the phrase “carrying capacity”.  For this discussion I will call these the “subjective” view and the “objective” views of carrying capacity.

The subjective view is carrying capacity as seen by a member of the species in question. Rather than coming from a rational, analytical assessment of the overall situation, it is an experiential judgement. 

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Paul Ehrlich: ‘Collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades’

Fifty years after the publication of his controversial book The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich warns overpopulation and overconsumption are driving us over the edge

The toxification of the planet with synthetic chemicals may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change, says Ehrlich.
The toxification of the planet with synthetic chemicals may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change, says Ehrlich. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

Ashattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich.

In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, The Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever.

Prof Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University.
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Prof Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.

Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system – that hold the annual ‘world destroyer’ meetings in Davos – are unlikely to let it happen”.

The Population Bomb, written with his wife Anne Ehrlich in 1968, predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture.

Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall.

“Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.”

Ehrlich has been at Stanford University since 1959 and is also president of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, which works “to reduce the threat of a shattering collapse of civilisation”.

“It is a near certainty in the next few decades, and the risk is increasing continually as long as perpetual growth of the human enterprise remains the goal of economic and political systems,” he says. “As I’ve said many times, ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell’.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Pope’s climate push is ‘raving nonsense’ without population control, says top US scientist

Paul Ehrlich writes in Nature Climate Change that Francis is wrong to fight climate change without also addressing the strain from population growth on resources

One of America’s leading scientists has dismissed as “raving nonsense” the pope’s call for action on climate change – so long as the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics rejects the need for population control.

In a commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change, Paul Ehrlich, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, argues that Pope Francis is simply wrong in trying to fight climate change without also addressing the additional strain on global resources from population rise. “That’s raving nonsense,” Ehrlich told the Guardian. “He is right on some things but he is just dead wrong on that.”

The critique in “Society and the Pope’s encyclical”, part of a special package from scientists on the encyclical, marked a rare note of dissent from scientists and campaigners. Many hope that the pope will drive home his call to action on poverty and the environment in his speech to Congress on Thursday.

Ehrlich, in his Nature Climate Change commentary, accuses Francis of a dangerous flaw in his indictment of consumerism and its effects on the poor and the environment. The pope had fallen for the usual clerical “obsession” with contraception and abortion – when he could have instead broken new ground on the Catholic church’s approaches to women’s reproductive rights and family planning.

The broadside exposes some of the difficulties of embracing a figure such as the pope – for those on the left as well as the right.

Conservative allies of the pope, on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, have balked at his denunciation of capitalism and call to action on climate change.

 

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How Humans Cause Mass Extinctions

How Humans Cause Mass Extinctions

STANFORD – There is no doubt that Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction in its history – the first since the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. According to one recent study, species are going extinct between ten and several thousand times faster than they did during stable periods in the planet’s history, and populations within species are vanishing hundreds or thousands of times faster than that. By one estimate, Earth has lost half of its wildlife during the past 40 years. There is also no doubt about the cause: We are it.

We are in the process of killing off our only known companions in the universe, many of them beautiful and all of them intricate and interesting. This is a tragedy, even for those who may not care about the loss of wildlife. The species that are so rapidly disappearing provide human beings with indispensable ecosystem services: regulating the climate, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating crops and defending them from pests, filtering fresh water, and supplying food.

The cause of this great acceleration in the loss of the planet’s biodiversity is clear: rapidly expanding human activity, driven by worsening overpopulation and increasing per capita consumption. We are destroying habitats to make way for farms, pastures, roads, and cities. Our pollution is disrupting the climate and poisoning the land, water, and air. We are transporting invasive organisms around the globe and overharvesting commercially or nutritionally valuable plants and animals.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/mass-extinction-human-cause-by-paul-r–ehrlich-and-anne-h–ehrlich-2015-08#piBFQzcd7dq64wae.99

Paul Ehrlich: The Population Bomb

Paul Ehrlich: The Population Bomb

The master predicament that remains unaddressed

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich released his ground-breaking book The Population Bomb, which awoke the national consciousness to the collision-course world population growth is on with our planet’s finite resources. His work was reinforced several years later by the Limits To Growth report issued by the Club of Rome.

Fast-forward almost 50 years later, and Ehrlich’s book reads more like a ‘how to’ manual. Nearly all the predictions it made are coming to pass, if they haven’t already. Ehrlich admits that things are even more dire than he originally forecasted; not just from the size of the predicament, but because of the lack of social willingness and political courage to address or even acknowledge the situation:

The situation is much more grim because, of course, when the population bomb was written, there were 3.5 billion people on the planet. Now there are 7.3 billion people on the planet. And we are projected to have something on the order of 9.6 billion people 35 years from now. That means that we are scheduled to add to the population many more people than were alive when I was born in 1932. When I was born there were 2 billion people. The idea that, in 35 years when we already have billions of people hungry or micronutrient-malnourished, we are somehow going to have to take care of 2.5 billion more people is a daunting idea.

I think it’s going to get a lot worse for a lot more people. You’ve got to remember that each person we add disproportionately causes ecological damage. For example, human beings are smart. So human beings use the easiest to get to, the purest, the finest resources first.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Twenty-Three Geniuses

Twenty-Three Geniuses

If there is a Pulitzer Booby Prize for stupidity, waste no time in awarding it to The New York Times’ Monday feature, The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion. The former “newspaper of record” wants us to assume now that the sky’s the limit for human activity on the planet earth. Problemo cancelled. The article and accompanying video was actually prepared by a staff of 23 journalists. Give the Times another award for rounding up so many credentialed idiots for one job.

Apart from just dumping on Stanford U. biologist Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb(1968), this foolish “crisis report” strenuously overlooks virtually every blossoming fiasco around the world. This must be what comes of viewing the world through your cell phone.

One main contention in the story is that the problem of feeding an exponentially growing population was already solved by the plant scientist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution,” which gave the world hybridized high-yielding grain crops. Wrong. The “Green Revolution” was much more about converting fossil fuels into food. What happens to the hypothetically even larger world population when that’s not possible anymore? And did any of the 23 journalists notice that the world now has enormous additional problems with water depletion and soil degradation? Or that reckless genetic modification is now required to keep the grain production stats up?

No, they didn’t notice because the Times is firmly in the camp of techno-narcissism, the belief that the diminishing returns, unanticipated consequences, and over-investments in technology can be “solved” by layering on more technology — an idea whose first cousin is the wish to solve global over-indebtedness by generating more debt. Anyone seeking to understand why the public conversation about our pressing problems is so dumb, seek no further than this article, which explains it all.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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