The Malthusians Are Back.
Mar 24, 2023 at 9:19 am #3776976
Jerry is correct!
I need to go pack for my Granger Lake trip.Mar 24, 2023 at 1:09 pm #3777038Matthew / BPLModerator
I was thinking, uh oh, how long can this thread go before Matthew shuts it down : )
Ryan and I spoke about this yesterday. The Environmental Issues forum dances a fine line between on/off-topic but it’s important to all of us as people who choose to spend time in the outdoors because of our intrinsic connection to nature. As long as the conversation follows the other forum guidelines and stays relatively on-topic to the thread title I will be looser about moderation. Perhaps we will amend the guidelines to clarify this.Mar 24, 2023 at 1:22 pm #3777039
For what it’s worth, Matthew, staying on (or reasonably close to) topic seems to be the case from my perspective. And the interactions have been civil. I’ve enjoyed the discourse.Mar 24, 2023 at 1:44 pm #3777040
this topic confirms my fantasy that people, on the internet, can have interesting, civil discussions of difficult topics
but I’m sure we’re one post away from degenerating to personal attacksMar 24, 2023 at 4:37 pm #3777072Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
The Earth is a bit like a bank account.
Comes a time when you can’t get anything more out of it.
CheersMar 24, 2023 at 5:36 pm #3777080
“Comes a time when you can’t get anything more out of it.”
Amen, and that time will be when even a human population where every person is living at the minimum level drains the bank account. Much sooner at the rate we’re going, in a socio-political atmosphere where everybody else wants to live like we do, and we are trying to live even “better”. I’ve seen it up close and personal many, many times, the intense desire of the “huddled masses yearning to be free” to consume like we do; it is both difficult to adequately describe in words and hard to reconcile with the current environmental downward spiral. The haphazard way we are attempting to reverse it is likely to result in too little, too late to prevent a collapse of life as we know it. I, for one, do not expect a technological white knight in shining armour to come riding in on a white horse to bail us out at the last minute. It will take a very rapid, very broad based change in consumption and procreation habits to have any chance of mitigating, let alone reversing the pattern of destructive feedback loops already unfolding. That is highly unlikely to occur in this politically, culturally, and economically fractured world. Even here is the USA, one of the biggest polluters, we can’t come together on a coherent plan to do our part. How, then, do we expect to bring the other major polluters, like China, India, Russia and the EU to the table, especially when we are on the edge of outright war, both militarily and economically, with 2 of them?Mar 24, 2023 at 5:42 pm #3777082Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
the intense desire of the “huddled masses yearning to be free”
Forget the ideal of freedom: they just want to feed their family today.
a technological white knight in shining armour to come riding in on a white horse
A centaur from Alpha Centauri?Mar 24, 2023 at 9:53 pm #3777096
“Forget the ideal of freedom: they just want to feed their family today.”
It was a tongue in cheek in reference to the inscription on our Statue of Liberty, in reference to what they want after they have risen above that basic level of feeding their families. It’s a phenomenon you can observe in developing countries all over the world as millions achieve some semblance of a middle class life style.
“A centaur from Alpha Centauri?”
We should be so fortunate. ;0)Mar 25, 2023 at 7:57 am #3777112
Tom, I have not experienced less developed countries and I know that you have. I appreciate your observations. It is sad that so many people experience that. And that we all can’t empathize more.
Regarding methane release from the arctic that will happen due to global warming, I believe there are methane deposits at the bottom of oceans. Probably more methane than the arctic. If that melts, we’re even more screwed. Positive feedback.
The most rapid way to change things has to include politics. If we don’t get a large majority to support it, to overcome the “capitalist” forces that want to just continue the way things are and have “purchased” our government, it will take a lot longer.
A more optimistic message that we are making major progress and we are not doomed will produce more results politically. Roger too : )
In my opinion, but I may be wrong.Mar 25, 2023 at 11:41 am #3777126W I S N E R !Spectator
Amen, and that time will be when even a human population where every person is living at the minimum level drains the bank account…
I think this is a very real assessment Tom. As you know, I live a life surrounded by young people. Which leaves me with the nagging question: What do we tell them?
In this context, how are they to be inspired? Or is there simply nothing to say…and one generation needs to step aside and let the next approach the problems it has inherited in a way that they see fit? Is it fair to even expect to have a say or to be critical of the direction they take? Where is the credibility when the messenger has created such a mess?
I teach from the heart and the dominant message is to follow passion, love, beauty, service to others…All of these things can still be found in abundance, and for a mindful person, they will always be present. But am I preaching on the deck of a sinking ship?
At times it feels like this. And the young people I’m surrounded by, the ones that are watching closely…they know it.Mar 25, 2023 at 1:21 pm #3777135
No, we’re not on a sinking ship
There are frequent times in history when it seemed like we were on a sinking ship. Then we moved on to some other thing that made us feel like we were on a sinking ship.
In the middle of WWII for example, or the Great Depression. I guess those were sort of simultaneous.
Just my opinion, but I’m a Pollyanna.Mar 25, 2023 at 1:44 pm #3777137
In school history class they should talk about these bad times.
For example, if they teach about the Great Depression and how there was a speculative bubble before which contributed to it, then people today will be less susceptible to falling for a speculative bubble.
When I was in school, they avoided talking about the Great Depression. Everyone had survived it and wanted to move on to better times. I think this was a disservice.
It would enable students to be less depressed about the current global warming crisis. And then be better equipped to do something about the global warming crisis.Mar 25, 2023 at 2:01 pm #3777139
“…to overcome the “capitalist” forces that want to just continue the way things are…”
Okay, Jerry. I agree with most of what you say but I must disagree with you here.
In this regard, capitalism will come much closer in delivering change, more quickly, and at a lower cost than the politicians. Capitalists, the good ones, at least, are about success. They are successful when they provide goods and services that people actually want and at a reasonable cost.
Politicians, on the other hand, are motivated by “preserving power” and “looking for revenue sources.” They “cherry pick” data to support their agendas (Follow the science? Really? Which parts?). The altruistic politician that has genuine concern for society’s betterment is the outlier.
As was wisely stated earlier in this threat:
“If the message is we can save the planet and we’ll actually like the solutions better [my emphasis], that has a chance of actually being democratically implemented”.
Politicians—of all colors—are ill equipped to do this. It’s just not in their DNA. We “can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Back to packing. Almost finished!Mar 25, 2023 at 2:48 pm #3777142
I was referring to, for example, tobacco companies knew that cigarettes were dangerous but spread false arguments to deny this. For a couple decades. So they could continue making money selling cigarettes. Eventually, they were unable to stop the tide and had to accept the truth even though the amount of profits fell.
Same thing with fossil fuel companies. They are now being washed over by that tide and it’s becoming impossible to deny.
You make good points. I won’t argue about some minor differences.Mar 25, 2023 at 3:28 pm #3777144
All packed now!
It’s the fossil fuel companies that will lead this charge. They will morph into “energy” companies. It’s in their best interest to do so. Save the oil for the chemicals, lubricants, and medicine we will still need instead of just burning it up. Now if we can just get the politicians out of their ways.Mar 25, 2023 at 4:05 pm #3777145DanBPL Member
My personal feeling is that the private sector can have a huge impact on progress if government creates an environment (and infrastructure) where the private sector feels comfortable making big investments. But I can say with pretty good confidence that the companies that take us where we need to go are not going to be Exxon/Mobil or Saudi Aramco, despite their pretentious marketing as energy companies.
Unfortunately, the notion that oil/gas companies will transform to renewable energy companies and lead the charge to sustainable sources is just wishful thinking. It is probably already apparent to everyone who has been watching the disingenuous PR coming from these companies over the last decade, but I have worked closely with people in the oil/gas industry (both upstream and downstream) for many years, and it’s become quite clear that their interest in renewable sources has never been more than lip service to appease critics and kick the political can down the road. In truth, executives are simply intending to squeeze every penny possible out of fossil fuels. They have been aware of the impacts of fossil fuels for generations and they have played a long strategic political game. Jerry’s analogy with big tobacco is totally apt.Mar 25, 2023 at 4:27 pm #3777147
A source of alternate energy is geothermal
People are working on using fracking technology to create permeable rock. Pump water down one hole, steam come up another hole. They can allow the water to just sit there and heat up when the wind is blowing and sun shining. Then, when the wind stops and sun sets use the steam to make electricity.
This would use oil companies expertise.
We need win/win solutions. Not vanquish your enemy solutions.
There is a huge amount of effort now trying to solve this problem. We will find solutions. It will take a while though. Hopefully soon enough to avoid the worst problems.Mar 25, 2023 at 4:34 pm #3777148
Perhaps the only two choices are not between fossil fuel and renewables. We can get outside of that “box,” too.Mar 25, 2023 at 5:00 pm #3777153Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Southern Indiana
Access to clean water is going to be the biggest challenge for growing populations. Not so much in areas that get adequate rainfall but many of the counties with the biggest increases are arid to semi-arid.
Advanced industrialized countries have the lowest birthrates and the poor ones who are least able to support large families have the highest numbers of births. It has a lot to do with cultural ideology, lack of education and lack of birth control options. For example, my mom was born in Appalachia during the late 30’s and almost all families in that region were big in those days. It was considered a measure of a guy’s manhood to see how many children he could sire, even though Eastern Kentucky was mainly just grinding poverty with few opportunities. But President Kennedy and then Johnson implemented relief and birth control efforts toward Appalachia in the early 60’s and it worked almost too well with subsequent birth rates at just barely above replacement level.
My mom’s family moved to Louisville when the US started to gear up for WWII and they never went back to Appalachia again. But she once told me that all poor people can think about is sex because there’s little more that they can afford. I think it’s more a mindset which has to be ingrained in people in order to steer them away from producing too many offspring. Ignorance is the main barrier. The fertilizer, pesticides, farm machinery (and fuel to run them) I mentioned earlier on page 1, all which is required to feed exploding populations, of course greatly increases the effects of global warming. So taking excessive population growth lightly is not at all being real about the immediate threat at hand.Mar 25, 2023 at 5:21 pm #3777159Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Southern Indiana
References to Lady Liberty earlier made me think of Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the closing scene of the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes where he finally realizes that his spaceship had actually crash landed on a future post-apocalyptic earth. He exclaims “I’m home”. With the latest tensions over the Ukraine and renewed talk of nuclear war I hope the movie doesn’t end up being prophetic. That would surely cut down on the “surplus population”. Not at all good for the environment either.
Dr Zaius warns Taylor beforehand “you may not like what you find”.Mar 25, 2023 at 5:25 pm #3777161
“Tom, I have not experienced less developed countries and I know that you have. I appreciate your observations. It is sad that so many people experience that. And that we all can’t empathize more.”
It’s way beyond empathizing at this point, Jerry. The people of these nations have had their first taste of the “good life” we take for granted and are lusting for more. They have taken matters into their own hands as they develop the means to produce consumer goods and/or import those they can’t produce, and will not be denied. Much of this depends on less efficient hydrocarbon based energy, and they are ill disposed to what they see as hypocritical lectures by the more developed, primarily Western nations about the need to limit CO2 and other atmospheric pollutants. They view us as the ones who bear most of the responsibility for creating the problem and who should therefore be the ones to take the lead in solving it. In the emerging multipolar world the ability of the West to influence them is increasing limited, and this is one reason I am growing increasingly pessimistic. India and China, the 2 largest developing nations are also among those still building coal fired power plants that use relatively low grade coal, and they are in no mood to compromise the development of their economies to solve a problem they view as largely one the West has created. Between them they account for ~30% of the world’s population, a sobering thought, eh?
“Regarding methane release from the arctic that will happen due to global warming, I believe there are methane deposits at the bottom of oceans. Probably more methane than the arctic. If that melts, we’re even more screwed. Positive feedback.”
Yup, methane hydrates, I forgot to mention that one. I believe it is in fact estimated to contain more methane than the permafrost. And already, the shallower deposits are beginning to release their methane as the oceans continue to absorb heat from the atmosphere. If this one does go exponential, we are indeed scewed. On the bright side, the Chinese have apparently figured out how to “mine” it to produce natural gas, which they will proceed to use as fuel, thereby releasing more CO2. The good news is that it is better than burning low grade coal.
“I think this is a very real assessment Tom. As you know, I live a life surrounded by young people. Which leaves me with the nagging question: What do we tell them?…….I teach from the heart and the dominant message is to follow passion, love, beauty, service to others…All of these things can still be found in abundance, and for a mindful person, they will always be present. But am I preaching on the deck of a sinking ship?…..At times it feels like this. And the young people I’m surrounded by, the ones that are watching closely…they know it.”
You and I have had many conversations about this before, after, and on our various walks, Craig. I understand your teaching philosophy pretty well by now and even got to be a spectator to an impromptu demonstration of the effectiveness of your approach to young folks on one of those trips. So, I would just say keep telling them what you have been telling them. You have almost certainly inspired, and will likely inspire even more in future, some who will go on to make a difference; it is they, and others like them who have the good fortune to have teachers like you, that carry mankind’s hope of patching the holes in a ship that is taking on water – before it sinks. Maybe it is already too late, but perhaps not. If so my belief is that we have the necessary technologies to turn things around if we can solve the human problems that currently stand in the way of collective action before the climate altering processes accelerate beyond the point of no return. As I said earlier, it is a race against time, but, as a wiser man than I once observed, “It ain’t over till it’s over”. That is wisdom I hope you can find a way to impart to your students in your own incredibly empathic way.Mar 26, 2023 at 12:40 am #3777213AK GranolaBPL Member
I believe that humans are a species of animal. We are not “above” other animals or protected in a special way different from any other species. As such, we are subject to the same biological limitations that all other animals are subject to. At a given time in a given place, there may be insufficient food or water to sustain the area’s population; local populations then starve. Could populations of humans in other areas help sustain that group? Sure. Will the world do that? In many cases, no. Famine will be with us forever, not because we technically cannot sustain everyone at the present global population level, but because politics and greed prevent fairness to all. Is there unlimited growth potential in any place on planet earth? No; resources are always limited. Eventually there is a natural limit of water, soil, food, etc. Saying that overpopulation is a problem isn’t inherently racist, but inequitable distribution or resources, war and greed certainly are. We are all subject to limits however. Some groups, like western societies, also take significant resources from areas outside our own, through war or other violent domination. (Follow the money in the Congo, if you want a great example. Many of you are probably shareholders in the oil corporations operating there.) So very unfair. Regardless, we will all run up against limits eventually and we may soon find out who and where this will be happening. Throw out Malthus for now and just think practically about the dust bowl. You cannot have unlimited numbers of any species; it’s just not sustainable. Would that we could control our numbers through voluntary use of contraception, health care, and education. In the U.S. at least, all that shit is off the table thanks to the far right cult menacing our democracy.Mar 26, 2023 at 9:30 am #3777246W I S N E R !Spectator
If so my belief is that we have the necessary technologies to turn things around if we can solve the human problems that currently stand in the way of collective action before the climate altering processes accelerate beyond the point of no return.
This is why I would suggest a mass movement centered around humanism, not the antihumanist philosophies of Malthus, et al. But it seems that many are clearly content to view (consciously or not) certain demographics as “other”, as evidenced by the preoccupation with international poverty, sex/reproduction, starvation etc. as evidence of too many people, as opposed to evidence of morally corrupt distribution systems that could otherwise uplift more people. This former mindset is very telling, especially when coming from people (like Malthus) sitting in the most consumption-oriented societies in human history.
Seems to me that a focus on the effect of population on the environment does nothing but obfuscate and mask a serious conversation about wealth distribution and resource exploitation, conveniently shifting the focus from present economic practices to some nebulous future population tipping point. It’s painfully obvious that a society like ours (and Malthus’ in his time) would want to avoid this conversation at all costs and instead wag a finger at rising birthrates abroad.Mar 26, 2023 at 11:09 am #3777268AK GranolaBPL Member
The other big menace in the room no one has brought up on this thread, one that these imagined “Malthusians” might appreciate or even celebrate, is another pandemic. Unchecked population growth in any species also encourages microbes that feed on that species. I can fill a page with examples, but you can find them (or already know them) yourselves. People of my generation may have been surprised at how Covid took off, given that in the wealthy world, deaths from disease in our lifetimes have been rare. Previous generations were likely not surprised. Our kids know to expect another one in their lifetimes, maybe even more than one. That next microbe will do very very well in the U.S. because of our political situation. The microbes don’t care if you read the Atlantic or not.Mar 26, 2023 at 9:25 pm #3777323
“Seems to me that a focus on the effect of population on the environment does nothing but obfuscate and mask a serious conversation about wealth distribution and resource exploitation, conveniently shifting the focus from present economic practices to some nebulous future population tipping point. It’s painfully obvious that a society like ours (and Malthus’ in his time) would want to avoid this conversation at all costs and instead wag a finger at rising birthrates abroad.”
Both contribute to the problem, IMO. There is little doubt in my mind that an equitable distribution of the fruits of modern production systems could lift everyone out of poverty, and it is a problem that urgently needs to be remedied for both moral and pragmatic reasons both within wealthy nations and in the less developed nations of the world. However, even if that noble goal were somehow to be achieved, continued growth of the world’s population would at some point exceed the ability of the biosphere to support it and result in a catastrophic collapse of the interdependent web of life upon which all life forms depend. The bank account would be over drawn with no over draft privileges. Unfortunately, those in the wealthier countries who point a finger at out of control population growth in poorer countries and those in poorer countries who point a finger at excessive consumption by wealthier countries cannot seem to see that both have a point and that the answer lies not in finger pointing but by joining forces to find a solution that requires changes on both sides. In short, that mass movement you mention, Craig, but one that recognizes that both sides are contributing to the problem.
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