mfioretti: population bomb*

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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. A decline in oil and gas production would mean a decline in energy inputs into society, a decline in productivity and, hypothetically, a decline in population. If population growth were related to oil production and oil production is beginning to decline, Oil Population will also decline – in other words, its growth curve may change from a slowing logistic curve, to a declining parabolic curve - and therefore a large component of global population will decline more quickly than most people anticipate.

    Mortality rates may increase, as a population grown large through dependence on high quality energy sources now must allocate scarcer resources per person. This is evident in agriculture’s dependence on fossil fuel based fertilisers 15 » . Without them, agricultural productivity decreases and less people can be fed. Human carrying capacity decreases.

    Figure 14 depicts projected world oil production to 2020. These figures are based on conventional crude oil resources and natural gas liquids (CO + NGL). They do not include unconventional oil resources such as shale oil, oil from tar sands, ultra-deep water oil or polar oil. These oil sources are not included because they are much more expensive to extract, in monetary terms but also in energy terms. In other words, a large amount of energy inputs are required to extract energy outputs from say, tar sands in north western Canada. Hence the net energy gain is lower, and these energy sources may not be as important in raising productivity and population ceilings.

    Based on these projections, the 3.2 billion people that are dependent on oil in the sum-of-energies population model are in serious jeopardy in the next fifty years as the world’s remaining oil resources are consumed, and world population could suffer a precipitous decline.
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  3. 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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  4. Francis will speak at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25. There he will highlight concerns in his encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, especially the issues of poverty, equity, sustainability, social inclusion and peace.

    Francis is convinced the threat from global warming is dire. He is trying to help mobilise public opinion, throwing the moral support of the Catholic Church behind efforts to transform the way we live and produce.

    Francis is very strategic in his thinking and has written his encyclical with two major events in mind. The first is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which 193 countries will endorse at the UN General Assembly. The second event is the second session of the Synod of Bishops discussing family matters in Rome from October 4-25.
    Pope seeks consultation and dialogue

    Laudato Si’ is not the work of an isolated individual. Francis believes strongly in consultation and dialogue, and the encyclical draws from many experts and groups.

    Francis is building on consultations with experts in the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, including Joseph Stiglitz and Partha Dasgupta among its 20 members. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences with about 80 eminent scientists has also contributed strongly, as has the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who wrote a draft of the encyclical.

    Pope Francis’s broad consultations have included people like Naomi Klein. AAP/Dean Lewins

    There has been overlap between people advising the Vatican and those preparing the Sustainable Development Goals. Francis has met many of the key people refining the SDGs, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and has been strongly influenced by the work of Amartya Sen, Jeffrey Sachs and Stiglitz.

    Francis invites full and open dialogue with all serious points of view. One of Sachs’ critics, Naomi Klein, has recently been involved with these consultations.

    The Synod on the Family

    The encyclical did not discuss adequately the issue of population, presumably because it will be part of the agenda at the October Synod of Bishops. Francis would not want to pre-empt what the synod might say and has insisted the bishops “speak frankly” and honestly.

    Francis earlier asked the bishops to encourage their parishes and networks to discuss issues of family life and to feed back responses into the synod process. Nothing like this had been attempted before in the Catholic Church.

    Responses appear overwhelmingly to confirm that the great majority of couples have not accepted the teaching of Pope Paul VI against contraception in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. As US commentator Peter Steinfels wrote in May:

    … this “non-reception” should be recognised as a theologically significant fact.

    Steinfels suggests that the synod should acknowledge the loyalty of many Catholics, but also the pain Humanae Vitae caused many others.

    Since the synod is only for three weeks, Steinfels urged that the church begin a process to review its teaching on sexuality, marriage and family, “placing moral responsibility in conceiving children firmly within the larger framework”, rather than in isolated decisions.

    One commentator wrote that it “seems without precedent for a pope” to say that parents may have a responsibility to limit the number of their children. But popes had been saying that for more than 60 years. Their concern was about means.

    Various media reported that Francis had strongly backed Pope Paul VI’s teaching against contraception. Yet I can find no instance of the pope using the word contraception, though he did reaffirm the church’s opposition to abortion. Instead he talked in terms of “openness to life” in his address to families in Manila on January 16.

    Francis urges pastoral flexibility in interpreting Humanae Vitae. In March 2014, he commented that:

    … pastoral action takes into account that which is possible for people to do.

    The way that Francis has been framing the question of contraception suggests a new openness on these matters:

    The key teaching of the church is responsible parenthood. And how do we get to that? By dialogue.

    It remains to be seen what will emerge from the Synod of Bishops. A change could help provide the means for Catholics to exercise responsible parenthood where the common good clearly indicates the need for smaller families.

    Both the Sustainable Development Goals and Laudato Si’ insist that for couples to choose smaller families it is essential that children, particularly girls, have opportunities for equality, education and employment; that nutritional and health standards ensure low maternal, infant and child mortality; that social security systems protect against unemployment, sickness and old age; and that governments provide security and sustainable development. The SDGs offer a detailed program of how to do much of this.
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  5. Scrive Fazio: “Se non ci saranno aumenti nei prossimi decenni per l’indice di fertilità, nel corso di due generazioni il numero delle donne italiane e quindi degli italiani sarà dimezzato”. In generale per l’Europa, sostiene l'economista. le “popolazioni con tendenze in atto come quelle rilevate e sommariamente descritte nei paesi europei sembrano condannare queste popolazioni nel giro di qualche generazione a una sorta di eutanasia sociale”. Lo studio di Fazio è confermato dall'Economist: "Su 15 paesi europei, in 11 si verifica un verticale declino del tasso di fertilità".

    E' il caso della Germania: un altro studio pubblicato dall’Istituto federale per la ricerca sulla popolazione conferma: “In Germania si è fatto strada l’ideale di una rinuncia volontaria ai figli”. Il trend tedesco è persino peggiore di quello della Spagna, tanto che il settimanale tedesco Spiegel ha titolato un lungo servizio “Una terra senza figli”. Per l’Instituto Nacional de Estadística, rispetto al 2011 c’è stato un calo demografico del ben 3,5% in meno di figli in Spagna. La fertilità è scesa al tasso irrisorio di 1,35 figli per donna, 1,31 per le donne spagnole native. Questo significa che degli attuali 47 milioni di abitanti, la Spagna è destinata a passare a 35 milioni in trent’anni.

    La nostra società non è la prima a vivere l'"inverno demografico". Intorno al 150 a.C. lo storico Polibio scriveva: “Nella nostra epoca tutta la Grecia è stata caratterizzata da una riduzione nel tasso di natalità e da una generale diminuzione della popolazione, a causa della quale le città sono diventate deserte e le campagne hanno smesso di dare raccolti”. In questo clima di abisso demografico che imperversa sui paesi a sviluppo avanzato, l’Italia, come illustra bene Antonio Fazio nel suo libro, si caratterizza per essere da tempo ai vertici nel panorama mondiale della bassa fecondità e di crescita economica.
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  6. China’s finally starting to reckon with the health consequences of decades of pollution. An official at the top economic planning agency just acknowledged pollution’s toll on people’s mental and physical health. But for many, that’s too little too late. Such as for China’s youngest lung cancer patient (link in Chinese), an 8 year old girl. And for the 40 million people between 20 and 40—about 12.5% of that population—who have fertility problems.

    It’s also why Chinese men are increasingly shooting blanks (link in Chinese), says Dr. Li Zheng, a doctor who runs Shanghai’s main sperm bank. “To figure out whether and ecosystem is stable or not, all you have to do is test the sperm,” Li tells the Shanghai Morning Post (h/t The Telegraph).

    When environmental pollution is severe enough, it causes the sperm to become long and “ugly,” such that they can even stop swimming, says Li.
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  7. Old trends: Soaring US carbon dioxide emissions, skyrocketing health care costs, out-of-control deficits. New trends: Tumbling emissions, creeping health care costs, falling deficits.
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  8. Sohu noted, “Recently, media have revealed that the ‘bare branch’ bachelor » crisis is greater than the ‘leftover women’ issue, as the former greatly increases the risk of social instability“.” This problem has become especially acute in China due to the increasingly skewed gender ratio – in 2012, 117 males were born for every 100 females. Many Chinese men already report an inability to find a wife. By 2020, their ranks could increase to as many as 30 million.

    The infographic points out what many netizens intuitively understand – that although “leftover” men and women share the same conundrum, they come from vastly different places in society. “Leftover” women tend to be highly educated professionals living in coastal cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, while their male counterparts are more often low-income wage earners from less-developed provinces.

    The truth isn’t that most “leftover women” are trying to find men who are of a higher status than they are, but rather that most men, due to their upbringing, are more willing to marry women of a lower status. Women, due to their disadvantaged position, are quicker to realize this inequality » . The more educated a woman is, the deeper her desire for equality, and therefore it becomes harder for her to find a suitable mate
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  9. At first glance, this town in central Germany, with rows of large houses built when it was a thriving center of toy manufacturing, looks tidy and prosperous. But Heiko Voigt, the deputy mayor here, can point out dozens of vacant homes that he doubts will ever be sold.

    The reality is that the German population is shrinking and towns like this one are working hard to hide the emptiness. Mr. Voigt has already supervised the demolition of 60 houses and 12 apartment blocs, strategically injecting grassy patches into once-dense complexes.

    “We are trying to keep the town looking good
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  10. If therefore the municipalities of these cities have adopted programmes that encourage cultivation of vegetables and fruit for a significant section of the population (let us say 10%, which I think will be wildly optimistic) and has also enabled linkages along the lines of community-supported agriculture from nearby peri-urban arable land (which has been reserved from encroachment by industry, further urbanisation or new migrants) then we would see some evidence of an arresting of price inflation for the typical local food basket (See 'Urban agriculture sprouts in favelas').. And it would be excellent if this arrest could take place while promoting, in some small way, the diversity of leafy green vegetables, roots and tubers, beans and succulents that represented also the diversity of the immigrant communities' cultures. Still, that continues to expose a large (and growing) section of the population of these cities to the monotony of a small and carefully-controlled set of cereal varieties that are now grown in order to provide national food security, but which nonetheless transfer global food price and fuel price inflation.
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