mfioretti: overpopulation*

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  1. an endlessly growing population is not sustainable, even if they live like peasants.

    That said, overpopulation is not, in my view, the main driver of planetary collapse today. The main driver is capitalism. The human population has roughly tripled since WWII. But our consumption of resources has multiplied many many times greater than population growth: We use something like 6 times as much steel as in 1950, 15 times as much aluminum, thousands of times more plastic and on and on. That ravenous overconsumption of resources, and its associated pollution, is overwhelmingly driven by the requirements of capitalist reproduction, the ceaseless invention of new needs and so on, not by human reproduction. Yes we need to reduce the human population, if only to give other life forms some space and resources. But there are easy ways to do so without using force like the Chinese government. Instead of building grandiose blingfrastructure and space shots to glorify the Communist Party, China’s so-called communists could have prevented their current overpopulation problem if they had spent that money on providing adequate old age pensions and social security so that peasant farmers don’t have to raise multiple kids in the hopes that one or two will live to support them in their old age. Amazingly, this is still the “social security sytem” for hundreds of millions of Chinese.

    So overpopulation is a real problem. But if we don’t overthrow capitalism, Mother Nature is going to solve the overpopulation problem in a hurry, but in a most unpleasant manner. That’s why I don’t concern myself much with the population problem. I don’t mean to ignore it. But I think its very much a secondary driver compared to capitalism.
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  2. Similarly, nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin creates a massive dead zone every year in the Gulf of Mexico, suffocating aquatic life and impacting commercial and recreational fishing. Reducing the dead zone will require cutting this pollution — which predominantly comes from agriculture — to about half of its historical baseline. Despite decades of effort by farmers and conservationists, annual nutrient loads remain stubbornly high.

    Given these challenges, it is good news that the world’s appetite in 2050 may not be as voracious as some estimates have indicated.
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  3. the population isn’t the cause, but human activity, which uses those resources,” he said, adding that it’s not a question “of how many human beings, but the activity and use of the materials consumed.”

    “So today, to conserve biodiversity and to have an integral environment, this depends on human activity,” he said, and stressed the importance of educating families on the issue.

    Dasgupta echoed the statement, encouraging people “not to translate the sustainable output” that nature offers as solely up to human numbers, because a sustainable number of people “depends on the standard of living, the quality of life that we have on average.”

    Consumption is a key to this point, he said, adding that the disparity between rich and poor compounds the issue. On this point, “growth doesn’t seem to change the distribution amongst us,” he said, adding that “if the distribution doesn’t change it’s as if you’re becoming richer.”

    In his comments, Raven noted that while the earth can’t sustain “an infinite” number of people, “no one really knows the number of people the world will really support.”
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  4. The idea that we must choose between the planet or people, he told CNA, is a “false choice.” The problem isn’t numbers of people – it’s the amount each person is consuming.

    “The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 1960 the United States produced some 88 million tons of municipal waste. In 2010 that number climbed to just under 250 million tons—and it may have been higher had a recession not slowed consumption. This jump reflects an almost 184 percent increase in what Americans throw out even though our population increased by only 60 percent,” he wrote in a blog post about the topic.

    There is a similar trend in carbon emissions, which increase at a faster rate than the population.

    “We can infer from this that individuals (especially in places like the USA) are consuming and wasting more today than we ever have, which gets to what Pope Francis has been telling us about lifestyles, which is consistent with his predecessors,” Patenaude told CNA.

    Climate change has been one of the primary concerns of Pope Francis’ pontificate. While not the first Pope to address such issues, his persistence in addressing the environment has brought a new awareness of the urgency of the issue to other Church leaders.
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  5. Last week, the UN released updated population figures and projections. I just had a chance to go through them and the great key findings document (PDF, 1MB) that accompanies them.

    But before I dive in, how accurate are these projections? What kind of track record do UN demographers have? The most comprehensive answer I could find was Nico Keilman’s 2001 paper which Hans Rosling refers to in this video. He notes that in 1958, when the UN projected the population in 2000 to be ~6 Billion (it was then 42 years into the future) they ended up being out by less than 5%. The short answer is: these projections are pretty good.

    OK, back to the new data released in 2015: here are some of the trends that stand out for me. Note that I’m using the UN’s regional groupings rather than the World Bank’s.
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  6. "We ran the model forward to the year 2040, along a business-as-usual trajectory based on ‘do-nothing’ trends — that is, without any feedback loops that would change the underlying trend.

    "The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots.

    "In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption."
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  7. What I will say about this whole business of making insects the new goji berries — or coconut oil or kale or whatever — is that in the U.S. they really seem to be taking off in the energy bar sector. In part this is because eating insects is expensive. A pound of cricket flour costs about $40 retail, because raising crickets for this purpose hasn’t been industrialized. But it’s also because, in American health food culture, people will literally eat anything – and pay a huge premium to do so — if you tell them that it will make them healthy. Food trends-wise, health nuts are at the vanguard of nearly everything.
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  8. Global wheat production is estimated to fall by 6% for each °C of further temperature increase and become more variable over space and time.
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  9. It’s here, it’s finally here! The dawn of the “Great Soylent Disillusionment,” writes Adrianne Jeffries, managing editor at Vice’s Motherboard.

    Wait a second … you mean, we’re finally realizing that the meal replacement shake of the future that tastes “like someone wrung out a dishtowel into a glass,” and has even been compared in appearance and consistency to “watered-down semen,” actually kind of sucks all the joy right out of eating? Shocking, I know.

    It took five months for Jeffries’ order to be delivered, she writes, and by the time she got it, she didn’t even want it anymore:
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-10-18)
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  10. Globally, we still catch enough fish to eat – just about. But numbers of fish caught from the sea haven’t kept up with human population growth and unsustainable fish farms have filled the gap. So why are we still being encouraged to eat more fish?

    The health benefits are clear: fish protein is typically low in saturated fats and high in nutrients and essential fatty acids. UK and US food standards agencies recommend eating two portions of fish per week, while Australia, New Zealand and Estonia advocate two or three servings per week and Greece five or six.

    Yet as our recent research has shown these health recommendations must be set against a backdrop of declining global fish stocks and food security concerns. While in the UK fish constitutes just one choice of animal protein among many, one billion people throughout the world rely upon it as their primary source of animal protein and our global fisheries are in crisis.

    Healthy living, 1930s style. British Trawlers Federation

    Some fisheries do exist that successfully balance production and sustainability, but many more are under increasing pressure from over-exploitation, destructive fishing practises like trawling and dredging, pollution or other factors. As the world’s population continues to expand these pressures are likely to intensify, not decrease.
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