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Do we have room for a billion Americans?

Do we have room for a billion Americans?

As I was reading Matthew Yglesias’ piece “The Case for Adding 672 Million More Americans,” the Soviet-era designation of Mother Heroine, initiated by Joseph Stalin in 1944, came to mind. Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders gave Mother Heroine medals to mothers who bore and raised 10 or more children. Lesser honors were provided for mothers who bore and raised between five and nine children. There is some mention of additional financial assistance from the state to those with such large families, but I could not find much information on this.

For America’s version of Mother Heroines (and Heroes), Yglesias proposes “not just paid leave but financial assistance, preschool and after-care services, reasonable summer programming, and affordable college for all qualified student”—all in order to encourage larger families (which he claims Americans actually want).

Yglesias thinks we need to increase our population so that we will be able to compete with 1.4 billion Chinese. Whether you think competing with the Chinese is important or not, there is a problem with the hidden metaphor that Yglesias is using throughout his piece. He is imagining that the United States of America is like the family room in your home. Normally, you might have two or three members in the room at once, watching television, reading, or munching on snacks. But actually, you could fit 10 or maybe even 15 people in the room comfortably if you rearrange the furniture.

So, Yglesias thinks if we, so to speak, rearrange America’s furniture a bit—build more housing near major metropolitan areas, provide more assistance to families, encourage more legal immigration—we can reach 1 billion in population. “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth,” he tells us.

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

 

Today’s Energy Predicament – A Look at Some Charts

Today’s Energy Predicament – A Look at Some Charts

Today’s energy predicament is a strange situation that most modelers have never really considered. Let me explain some of the issues I see, using some charts.

[1] It is probably not possible to reduce current energy consumption by 80% or more without dramatically reducing population.

A glance at energy consumption per capita for a few countries suggests that cold countries tend to use a lot more energy per person than warm, wet countries.

Figure 1. Energy consumption per capita in 2019 in selected countries based on data from BP’s 2020 Statistical Review of World Energy.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise: Our predecessors in Africa didn’t need much energy. But as humans moved to colder areas, they needed extra warmth, and this required extra energy. The extra energy today is used to build sturdier homes and vehicles, to heat and operate those homes and vehicles, and to build the factories, roads and other structures needed to keep the whole operation going.

Saudi Arabia (not shown on Figure 1) is an example of a hot, dry country that uses a lot of energy. Its energy consumption per capita in 2019 (322 GJ per capita) was very close to that of Norway. It needs to keep its population cool, besides running its large oil operation.

If the entire world population could adopt the lifestyle of Bangladesh or India, we could indeed get our energy consumption down to a very low level. But this is difficult to do when the climate doesn’t cooperate. This means that if energy usage needs to fall dramatically, population will probably need to fall in areas where heating or air conditioning are essential for living.

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

Population

Population

“Neo-Malthusian promotion of family planning as the solution to hunger, conflict, and poverty has contributed to destructive population control approaches, that are targeted most often at poor, racialized women.”

While often thought of as a given reality, definitions of population are highly political. They are most often negatively associated with notions of “overpopulation” or “too many” Black, Brown and Indigenous people, supposedly overly fertile women and poor people, as well as some religious and ethnic groups. These ideas about population serve the purpose of classifying people and marking them as in need of intervention, defining whose life and ways of life are valuable or worthy of reproduction. In this line, it is important to question how population numbers are calculated and how they are used, as they help shape possible futures.

In relation to the environment and environmental conflict, population is often defined as a problem in neo-Malthusian terms. Neo-Malthusianism builds on British economist Thomas Malthus’s predictions of population-induced resource scarcity and violence. Neo-Malthusian promotion of family planning as the solution to hunger, conflict, and poverty has contributed to destructive population control approaches, that are targeted most often at poor, racialized women.

Population control was an international development policy from the 1960s to mid-1990s. Its policies have been based on top-down, coercive interventions. Such interventions are tied with imperial strategies for restraining local populations. Examples include China’s one-child policy, sterilization abuses in 1970s India and 1990s Peru, and the wide-scale dissemination of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods in the global South as a condition of international aid, like Norplant implants in Indonesia and elsewhere. Although the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development foregrounded sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s empowerment and moved away from population control, it continues in practice. Population control is part of a troubled present, and cannot be relegated to history as dated international development policy.

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

Food for Thought – US Population, Employment, Debt, NIRP, Monetization

Food for Thought – US Population, Employment, Debt, NIRP, Monetization

In 2019, US population growth fell to +1.55m or +0.5%…this was due to a trifecta of declining births, lower immigration, and higher deaths than anticipated.  However, as with everything “2020”, all three trends are only intensifying to blow away 2019.  Births are falling faster and further, deaths moving higher with Corona-virus and drug related overdoses, and immigration nearly non-existent.  Thus, US population growth will likely dip below 1 million or +0.3% this year.  And while I anticipate (or think it feasible) that immigration could return to 2019 levels eventually, births will almost surely continue falling and deaths rising more than anticipated.  The simple outcome of this is an ongoing collapse in US population growth which is far larger in scope than the current Corona-virus pandemic.Census Population Estimates…Wildly Overstating GrowthThe chart below shows the 2008, 2014, and 2017 Census US total population projections through 2050.  Some quick math shows that in 9 years time from ’08 to ’17, the Census downgraded US population growth through 2050 by 50 million persons.  But due to the factors mentioned above, the 2020 Census projection through 2050 will need another massive downgrade…I’d suggest something on the order of another 29 million person downgrade.

The most significant contributor to decelerating population growth is declining births.  This is true among the native population and true among immigrants.  On average, they are all having significantly fewer children than anticipated.  As the Census estimates from ’00, ’08, ’12, ’14, and ’17 show…the Census models just can’t fathom the fast declining births taking place in the US.  But each Census estimate is still far too high, and perhaps in ’20 the Census will “fix” their models and portray reality (ok, not likely)…but I offer a more realistic picture below.

However, the downgrades in population are specifically among the younger populations.  Obviously, declining births and immigration means declining young.  The about face from ’08 to ’20 is stunning in the suggestion that the US truly is far more Japanese than immune to depopulation.

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

The population problem problem

The population problem problem

A while ago I wrote a post probing critically at the idea that human population levels were at the root of our contemporary environmental problems. It prompted various critical responses in turn, including this one from Alan Ware and Dave Gardner of World Population Balance that’s only just come to my attention. They published it so long ago that I suppose the moment to engage with it has probably passed, except that it’s helped me clarify a few thoughts – as has a recent article by Meehan Crist in the London Review of Books1. Since the issues involved are still very much with us, it seems worth wading into the population question once again, this time through the lens of the critique levelled by Ware and Gardner (henceforth WG) at my original post.

I mischievously titled that original post “Population – what’s the problem?”, not necessarily to suggest that population isn’t a problem but to question what kind of problem it is. On this score, WG have no doubts – for them, it’s an “existential problem”. They proceed to substantiate this, as do many analysts on the topic, mostly by asserting very emphatically that it is a problem, sometimes invoking the emphatic assertions of others, especially those most respected of others, ‘scientists’. These scientists include the World scientists’ warning to humanity and other works co-authored by Eileen Crist. Seems like you need to be called Crist to weigh in on this debate.

Ah well, I almost qualify – and for my part, notwithstanding all these assertions, I’d say that inasmuch as population is a problem it seems to me a secondary problem that’s derivative of other, deeper ones.

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

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

***

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. 

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

Slowing Growth the Problem, Asset Appreciation the Solution?

Slowing Growth the Problem, Asset Appreciation the Solution?

The Problem:
The Fed and major central banks believe they are fighting a deflationary spiral battling ongoing misses to their inflation targets.  But in truth their misguided policies are contributing to a depopulation spiral.  They are forcing low interest rates that only exacerbate overcapacity for a consumer base among whom growth is fast decelerating.  The cheap money is causing rapid asset appreciation absent like wage growth.  Asset holders (primarily older and wealthy) are reaping the rewards while those with little or no assets (young, poor, those of childbearing ages) are paying higher rents, insurance, medical care, schooling, etc. etc.  This inequitable inflationary pressure is pushing birth rates to all time lows and cutting off present and future demand…and this is met with even more of the medicine that made the patient sick in the first place.

From a US perspective, there has essentially been no bottom up US population growth since 1950.  Chart below shows average annual US births per decade (including births from all sources, legal and illegal).  Lower boxes show current age of the population borne during each decade.  Births have essentially been flat for seven decades.

Average annual births per each generation and current age of each group, below.  Again, births by generation have been flat since the completion of WWII.

Below, annual births highlighting each generation.  From the early ’50’s to present, births have been remarkably flat, given the tripling of the total population.

15 to 64 year old population (red line) and year over year change (blue columns).  Average annual growth, per period below, has decelerated 50% but will decelerate nearly 80% over the next decade.  Average growth, per period:

  • 1970 – 2009, +1.93 million
  • 2010 – 2018, +0.98 million
  • 2019 – 2030, +0.36 million

Through 2030, the working age population is estimated to grow by less than 4 million versus 19 million more 65+ year olds.  The result is that the US is currently at full employment with little further labor force growth available, detailed HERE and HERE.

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

Population Bomb or Bomb the Population?

Population Bomb or Bomb the Population?

There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution”.

– Aldous Huxley, The Ultimate Revolution

Ending Militarism. Militarism in all its forms, from the prison-industrial complex to wars of occupation, is one of the most powerful obstacles to the achievement of reproductive, environmental and climate justice. Ending militarism is a point where our struggles can and should converge, where there are multiple overlaps. The list is long: Military toxins damage the environment and harm reproductive health. Militarism increases violence against women, racism and anti-immigration activities. Militarism robs resources from other social and environmental needs. War destroys ecosystems, livelihoods, and health and sanitation infrastructure. It is the biggest threatof all to sustainable social reproduction.

– Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Román, The Population Bomb is Back with a Global Warming Twist

Eugenics was an American specialty. It inspired Hitler, and it was much studied and admired in the UK as well with support from H.G. Wells, GB Shaw, and Churchill. White supremacism is what drove colonial logic and practice and its still with us in the capitalist societies of the West, and things like mass incarceration are evidence of that. But it has also bled into other areas of study, and into the culture at large really. And one of the most pronounced expressions of the new eugenics (that claims not to be) are in the so called Population Bombers (named after Paul Erlich’s book).

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

Two Cheers for Population Decline

singe child family car

Two Cheers for Population Decline

Eventual gradual population decline, provided it results from free choice, should be welcomed. Indeed, the greatest demographic challenge to human welfare is not low fertility and population aging, but rather the high fertility rates and rapid population growth still seen in Pakistan, much of the Middle East, and Africa.

LONDON – Since China abolished its one-child policy on January 1, 2016, annual births, after a temporary increase to 17.86 million that year, have actually fallen, from 16.55 million in 2015 to 15.23 million in 2018. The baby boom that wasn’t should surprise no one.

No other successful East Asian economy has ever imposed a one-child policy, but all have fertility rates far below replacement level. Japan’s fertility rate is 1.48 children per woman, South Korea’s is 1.32 and Taiwan’s 1.22. China’s fertility rate will almost certainly remain well below replacement level, even if all restrictions on family size are now removed.

Population decline will inevitably follow. According to the United Nations’ medium projection, East Asia’s total population will fall from 1.64 billion today to 1.2 billion in 2100. Nor is this simply an East Asian phenomenon. Iran’s fertility rate (1.62) is now well below replacement level, and Vietnam’s 1.95 slightly so. Across most of the Americas, from Canada (1.56) to Chile (1.76), rates are already well below two, or falling fast toward it.

The clear pattern is that successful economies have lower fertility rates: Chile’s rate is much lower than Argentina’s (2.27), and wealthier Indian states, such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, already have fertility rates around 1.8. In the poorer states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, fertility rates over three are still observed.

We should always be cautious about inferring universal rules of human behavior, but, as Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson suggest in their recent book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, it seems we can identify one.

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

Population wrapped up: a response to Jane O’Sullivan

Population wrapped up: a response to Jane O’Sullivan

And so we come to Small Farm Future’s final blog post of 2018. Time for some seasonal goodwill and an offer of peace to all? Nah, time to settle old scores – in this case my debate with Jane O’Sullivan about population and poverty that’s been rumbling along on this site over the latter part of the year. I was advised by one commenter to let the debate lie, which is probably wise, but this commentary from Dr O’Sullivan has been sitting unanswered for a while and I think a response is in order – if for no other reason than the underlying issues are of wider interest. But let me not neglect the seasonal spirit altogether. I’d like to have devoted more time to this issue, and perhaps to have reflected further on population issues more generally but with this fairly brief response only to a few of Dr O’Sullivan’s specific points I propose to wrap things up on the population front from the Small Farm Future end.

So in what follows, I’m going to highlight some of Dr O’Sullivan’s contentions from the comment linked above (her comments in italics and quotation marks), and then respond briefly to them.

  1. “Population growth in agrarian communities is a driver of impoverishment”

It’s hard to disagree that that’s sometimes so. But it’s worth noting that it’s a very different, and much milder claim, than Dr O’Sullivan’s earlier one that “population growth is the main driver of impoverishment in high-fertility countries”. Where we would probably continue to disagree is the extent to which population growth is an exogenous driver of poverty.

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

Why We’re Ungovernable, Part 17: In Latin America, Soaring Population + Soaring Debt = “Brutal Justice”

Why We’re Ungovernable, Part 17: In Latin America, Soaring Population + Soaring Debt = “Brutal Justice”

There are two ways of looking at the intersection of debt and population. One way says that if debt is rising population should also rise to allow future workers to pay for the retirement of today’s. More people thus make debt easier to manage.

The other point of view is that debt and population soaring simultaneously creates a negative feedback loop that eventually destroys a culture.

Today’s Latin America appears to validate the second thesis. Debt and population are both soaring, and big parts of the culture seem to be collapsing.

The following chart shows Latin America’s population more than tripling since 1950:

The next chart shows the government debt of Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, spiking since the end of the Great Recession:

Brazilian Government Debt % of GDP

source: tradingeconomics.com

As for the culture collapsing, consider this (rather grisly) excerpt from today’s Wall Street Journal:

In Latin America, Awash in Crime, Citizens Impose Their Own Brutal Justice

The 16-year-old had spent a balmy Saturday afternoon in May with his high school friends at a funk music party in Brasília’s central park, not far from the country’s presidential palace.

As he headed home shortly after sundown, someone in the crowd grabbed his classmate Ágatha from behind and snatched her phone, witnesses told police. She spun around and saw Victor. Believing him to be the thief, she screamed out for help. Her friends knocked him to the ground and began to beat him.

Hearing Ágatha’s shrieks, another group of partygoers presumed he must be the same teen who had swiped a pair of sunglasses from them earlier. One of them jammed a broken bottle into Victor’s stomach.

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

The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

Lisbon: the monument to the European sailors of the age of explorations, starting with the 15th century. What made Europeans so successful in this in this task? My interpretation is that it was the result of periodic “Seneca Collapses” of the European population which made it possible to accumulate resources that would then be available to propel the European expansion. It is an effect that can be called the “Seneca Rebound” that makes growth faster after a collapse.

The Middle Ages are sometimes referred to as the “Dark Ages” — this is mostly untrue, but it is not wrong to apply this term to the early Middle Ages. According to some estimates, in 650 AD the European population had shrunk to a historical minimum of some 18 million people, about half of what it had been during the high times of the Roman Empire. If you think that today the European population is estimated to be as more than 700 million people, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the Europe of the early Middle Ages: it was a minor appendage of the Eurasian continent, a poverty-stricken place, nearly empty of people, where nothing happened except for the squabbles of local warlords fighting each other.

Yet, a few centuries later, the descendants of the inhabitants of this backward peninsula of Eurasia embarked in the attempt of conquering the world and were successful at that. By the 19th century, practically all the world was under the direct or indirect control of European countries or of their American offspring, the United States. How could it happen?

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

City Size & Structure Can Influence Influenza Epidemics, Scientists Say

City Size & Structure Can Influence Influenza Epidemics, Scientists Say

Ready Nutrition - City Size & Structure Can Influence Influenza Epidemics, Scientists Say
New research is suggesting that the size and structure of the city you live in has the possibility of influencing epidemics.  With flu season upon us, and everyone lining up to get the flu shot, researchers are saying an outbreak may be less in our control than we originally thought.

But just how does your city’s structure impact an epidemic?

Regardless of whether flu cases rise to a wintertime peak or plateau from fall to spring, new research suggests that the size of a city itself influences the contours of its flu season according to Science News.  Larger cities with higher levels of crowding were associated with a steady accumulation of influenza cases throughout a flu season. Smaller cities with less crowding tended to have a flu season with a more intense surge in winter, researchers report in the October 5 publication.

“Understanding how the size and structure of cities impact disease spread may help us to predict and control epidemics,” study co-author and population biologist Benjamin Dalziel of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, said October 2 at a news conference.

In the United States, “flu season” occurs during fall and winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Flu activity typically peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). –Ready Nutrition

After the 2017 horrific flu season, many are wondering if in fact the CDC is prepared for this year's flu season. Hear the CDC's concerns, know the facts, and learn how to improve your immune system naturally to fight the dreaded flu season.Flu cases generally peak during the winter in most areas of the United States because the air is quite a bit drier.

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

Why is Overpopulation Ignored by the Media? The Reasons of a Historical Failure

Why is Overpopulation Ignored by the Media? The Reasons of a Historical Failure

Some people think there exists a conspiracy that prevents the media from ever mentioning the charged word, “overpopulation.” Conspiracies do exist but, in this case, my impression is that population is such a charged issue simply because it has to do with the fact that we are all humans and discussing about reducing population touches some inner mechanisms of our psyche that we feel uncomfortable about.

But there is more to that: the real problem with overpopulation is that most decision makers lack the concept of “overshoot,”  a view that didn’t exist in the study of social systems until Jay Forrester introduced it in the 1960s.If you don’t understand overshoot, at best you can understand that there are limits to population, but you can’t understand that population could exceed the limits and crash down ruinously with the deterioration of the agricultural system that feeds it.

The lack of a the concept of overshoot may well be what leads the concerned and the unconcerned to minimize the problem. Many people seem to think that the “demographic transition,” the reduction in fertility observed in most rich nations of the world, will spread over all humankind and stabilize the world’s population at a sustainable level without any need for governments to intervene to force lower birth rates.

Almost certainly, it is too late for that: we should have started decades ago. But only China implemented a serious policy birth control — for the rest of the world it was a historical failure.

In the discussion, below, Bernard Gilland discusses the problems we will face in the attempt of stabilizing the human population mainly in terms of the degradation of the agricultural system in its dependence on non-sustainable resources.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Debating population, poverty and development

Debating population, poverty and development

Last week, Small Farm Future chalked up yet another first – the first vehement critique of one of our posts by a working academic with apparent expertise in the matter at hand. The post was this one about global population and its entailments that I published in June, and the critique came from Dr Jane O’Sullivan of the University of Queensland in Australia (our exchange is linked below).

I’d precis the main substance of Dr O’Sullivan’s critique as follows: my post failed to consider the importance of top-down government or expert-led population control policies (broadly conceived) in reducing global fertility (ie. births per woman) over the last 50 years, and failed to consider the implications of the recent slowdown in the decline of the fertility rate and its causes. If that was all that Dr O’Sullivan had said, it would have been easy for me to concede these points (especially if she’d made them politely). I don’t think the concession greatly alters the main points I was making in that post, though perhaps it does a little. But in the course of our ill-tempered exchange (I’m sure the fault was partly mine…though not, I think, entirely) Dr O’Sullivan also unleashed quite a barrage of assertions that in my opinion varied from the somewhat questionable to the downright misleading, along I’ll admit with the occasional useful nugget. I should probably give myself more time to reflect on the issues, but some of them are highly relevant to the wider themes of this blog, and I think are less clear-cut than Dr O’Sullivan supposes. So I thought I’d write a quick, work-in-progress kind of response now to present the issues as I see them, in the hope that other commenters may bring some wider illumination.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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