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The great red herring of overpopulation

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M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005

We have a disagreement over the meaning of "subsistence" economy. In my lexicon, that means barely surviving, or subsisting, and not producing any surplus accumulation of wealth. A hunter-gatherer economy would be a good example. Even agricultural societies have often been barely able to produce above subsistence level.

I don't say that if we get rid of capitalism we can have unlimited population growth.  I do maintain that our current population growth is driven by economics and that we can create a society in which population levels will not be pressured to increase for economic reasons.

I also maintain that, just as capitalism is incapable of sustaining zero or negative economic growth, it is also incapable of reducing population growth.

I'd say more, but I have to run and watch House. 


Jerry West
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MS wrote:

We have a disagreement over the meaning of "subsistence" economy. In my lexicon, that means barely surviving, or subsisting, and not producing any surplus accumulation of wealth. A hunter-gatherer economy would be a good example.

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Doesn't sound like a disagreement.  I would add that even hunter-gathers can accumulate things beyond immediate need.

 

Quote:

I don't say that if we get rid of capitalism we can have unlimited population growth.  I do maintain that our current population growth is driven by economics and that we can create a society in which population levels will not be pressured to increase for economic reasons.

I also maintain that, just as capitalism is incapable of sustaining zero or negative economic growth, it is also incapable of reducing population growth.

Well said.

 


Frustrated Mess
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Joined: Feb 23 2005

Quote:
"Overpopulation" is a symptom of a much bigger disease. You don't cure the disease by treating the symptoms.

If by disease you mean the exploiting of fossil fuels, you are right. We are already in overshoot and already many nations are on the brink of collapse. We came very close to going over the edge this summer when oil shot up to $145 dollar a barrel.  It is only because of the economic collapse and the flight from commodities that the price dropped but the fundamental issue remains unchanged.

 

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The only mechanisms available involve serious violations of human rights.

Is starvation a violation of human rights? 

 


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004
Jingles wrote:

People can exist just fine in hunter gatherer societies. Six and a half billion people cannot. If you want to feed that many, you end up with what we have. 

And I think what we have is part of the problem. Mechanized farming is depleting soil around the world, and making desert. Since 1980, about a third of the High Plains region of the US was desertified. And Ogalala acquifer has dropped several feet a year in times of drought and overuse. There needs to be real commitments to conservation in the country that has known no limits on consumption for too long.

David Suzuki said in 2006 that organic farming methods in Cuba have proven to yield as much or more produce than by mechanized farming. Although labour intensive, organic farming in Cuba is sustainable agriculture and uses far fewer fertilizers, fewer insecticides, and much less fossil fuel all around.


Frustrated Mess
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Joined: Feb 23 2005
Even organic farming is not sustainable if it is mono-culture. We had the dust bowl before we had what we now call conventional agriculture.


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

I guess sugar cane was a monoculture cash crop in Cuba for a long time.


Frustrated Mess
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Joined: Feb 23 2005

Yes, and what has been the impact on the top soil? The trick of chemical agriculture was to treat the soil as growing medium rather than as a critical resource that can be exhausted. Keep in mind that the Cuban food revolution took place, in large part, in urban soils that had not been farmed in generations.




Jingles
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Joined: Nov 13 2002

As far as I can see, there is only one way out of the world's present situation, and won't have anything to do with capitalism, socialism, home reno rebates or a new Prius.

It involves a mass culling of human populations. Whether climate, starvation, disease, or war, the unsustainable mass of people will be brought down to a sustainable level whether we want it or not.

Ironically, I think the poorest nations on earth will make out the best. They already have the skills to survive. But up here, without A&W, we'll all be dead in a week.


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004
Frustrated Mess wrote:

Yes, and what has been the impact on the top soil?

It looks like they are making soil from vermicompost.

 


M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005
Frustrated Mess wrote:

M. Spector wrote:
"Overpopulation" is a symptom of a much bigger disease. You don't cure the disease by treating the symptoms.

If by disease you mean the exploiting of fossil fuels, you are right.

No, the disease I am referring to is the capitalist mode of production, which has enslaved and impoverished the majority of the world's people and ravaged its environment. The survival of this disease depends on having unhindered access to the world's resources and the world's labour markets.

Its objective is to harness the world's labour power and natural resources in order to enrich the owners of capital. An oversupply of labour power allows wages to be kept to a minimum and thereby profits to be maximized. It is thus in the interests of world capitalism that populations of low-paid workers increase.

At the same time, capitalism creates the conditions that motivate people to increase the birth rate. It devalues women, thereby making male children more desirable than female; women who give birth to girls will keep giving birth until they have boys. It devalues the elderly, who need to have children to support them. It exploits child labour, giving parents an economic incentive to increase family income by having more children.


M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005
Jingles wrote:

As far as I can see, there is only one way out of the world's present situation, and won't have anything to do with capitalism, socialism, home reno rebates or a new Prius.

It involves a mass culling of human populations. Whether climate, starvation, disease, or war, the unsustainable mass of people will be brought down to a sustainable level whether we want it or not.

 

If the world's population were "culled" down to a mere million people it would still be an unsustainable population if capitalism were to continue.

It is capitalism itself that is unsustainable, regardless of the level of population.

Population levels are directly related to economic activity. Uncontrolled and unplanned economic activity is incompatible with having planned and controlled population levels.

Quote:
The overpopulation argument...ignores the fact that environmental damage is caused not in meeting human needs, but in maximising profits. Under capitalism, production is based upon profit, not the needs of humanity. As a result, corporations often ignore the environmental impact of their actions - and the competitive nature of capitalism forces them to do just this, or to be undercut by less scrupulous competitors.

Even as early as the 1800s, obvious environmental damage was being caused by unsustainable farming methods used to squeeze every possible dollar out of the land. To quote Marx's collaborator Frederick Engels:

Quote:
"What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertiliser for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees - what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock!"

During the 20th century, this drive for profit at any cost led to car companies (famously General Motors in America) purchasing public transport systems and running them into the ground - to boost car sales and profits. The same logic leads today to oil and coal power being used instead of clean, but less profitable alternatives like solar and wind power. And in the recent war in Lebanon - a war caused by the logic of capitalism - Israeli bombs caused the biggest oil slick since the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.

The world isn't dying, it's being killed. Not by people like you and me, but by a mad economic system that puts the relentless quest for profits above everything else. As long as the quest for short-term profit is the most important driving force in society - as long as we live under capitalism - the environment will suffer. And arguments about overpopulation merely serve to defend this system, by telling ordinary people to blame ourselves and each other, rather than fighting back against the system that is destroying our planet and our future.

Source


Jerry West
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Joined: Oct 9 2001

MS wrote:

It devalues women, thereby making male children more desirable than female....

Really?  Historically the value of male children over female children in various societies predates capitalism.  Although capitalism may contribute to increased birth rates in certain places, I would be wary of overstating the case.  One would think that capitalism wouldn't particularly care about gender as much as about a cheap labour pool.  I would look elsewhere for the causes of gender preference.

 


M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005

So now you're denying that capitalism devalues women?


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

According to ACTU, women do two-thirds of the world's work!

200 million child labourers.

Old Queen Victoria was a bit upset at first, but working hours for English children were reduced to something like 10 hours a day. I think it was Lord Shaftsbury, but he had a fight on his hands at the time. Kids were having their arms ripped off by weaving machines. No workman's comp in those days.


Jerry West
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MS wrote:

If the world's population were "culled" down to a mere million people it would still be an unsustainable population if capitalism were to continue.

I think it is the other way around.  Capitalism may not be viable if there were only a million people in the world.  With a million people on the planet there would be no sustainability issue unless that million was into continuous nuclear warfare or some other mindless, environmentally destruct behaviour of mega proportion.

 

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It is capitalism itself that is unsustainable, regardless of the level of population. 

True, at least without setting it back periodically.  It is a ponzi scheme built on perpetual growth, a social cancer that left to run its course will consume its host.

 

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Uncontrolled and unplanned economic activity is incompatible with having planned and controlled population levels.

I would rethink that.  Any uncontrolle and unplanned economic activity?  Capitalism is unplanned?

A case can certainly be made for the role of economic activity in population trends, but it isn't the only factor and probably not always a factor.

 

Quote:

The world isn't dying, it's being killed. Not by people like you and me, but by a mad economic system that puts the relentless quest for profits above everything else. As long as the quest for short-term profit is the most important driving force in society - as long as we live under capitalism - the environment will suffer.

Certainly, I agree, but it doesn't make that case that if we did not live under capitalism the environment would cease to suffer.  The problem is total overconsumption, capitalism certainly encourages this, but isn't the only force that does.

 

Quote:

And arguments about overpopulation merely serve to defend this system, by telling ordinary people to blame ourselves and each other, rather than fighting back against the system that is destroying our planet and our future.

Not necessarily true.  This is a position taken from a political/economic view point to specifically attack capitalism, not from scientific/environmental view point.  

There are good reasons to attack capitalism for its destruction of the environment, and that should be done, and it can be done in conjunction with addressing the problem of over population because it is part of the problem.  


Jerry West
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Joined: Oct 9 2001
M. Spector wrote:

So now you're denying that capitalism devalues women?

Are you saying that without capitalism women would have never been devalued?  Is your argument that patriarchy is a product of capitalism?

I think that gender attitudes are much more complicated than "capitalism made me do it."

It is possible that gender attitudes that you see in the capitalist system were brought there rather than created there?

 


Ghislaine
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Joined: Feb 15 2008
Jingles wrote:

As far as I can see, there is only one way out of the world's present situation, and won't have anything to do with capitalism, socialism, home reno rebates or a new Prius.

It involves a mass culling of human populations. Whether climate, starvation, disease, or war, the unsustainable mass of people will be brought down to a sustainable level whether we want it or not.

Ironically, I think the poorest nations on earth will make out the best. They already have the skills to survive. But up here, without A&W, we'll all be dead in a week.

 Speak for yourself. Some of us live in the country and know how to survive self-sufficiently.

 Now I must say that your comments are frightening. I will thank Fidel and M Spector for their intelligent comments that they have brought to this discussion. The problem is the system of organization. Your "solution" has hints of fascism. M Spector and Fidel are much closer to realistic solutions that also respect human rights.

 I asked for examples of enforcement - you suggested that ideally "society" would willingly stop having children. I am suggesting that a significant percentage of humanity would not give up this right willingly. What is your proposed response then? Yes Nature has her ways of "culling" humanity, such as disease, war, natural disaster, etc. This is not the same as some fascistic leader culling humanity on his own.

Presently, many of us also spend free time raising money to save people from these things. Are you suggesting we stop?

 I am just curious about some of the logical practical actions required to follow through on your beliefs. What actions would you support to enforce them? You refuse to acknowledge that one of the single largest contributors to a low fertility rate is the winning combination of women's rights and birth control. (Keep in mind as well that Birth control requires the creation of environmentally-harmful products that require industrialized production).  When I presented the morally repugnant ideas of removing a woman's right to choose and forced sterilization, you wrote that those don't have to be the only options.

 How can you consider such morally abhorrent ideas options at all? Why would such a society even be worth saving? Women and only women should have the choice as to whether to have their children. The right to control their own bodies is  absolute right.  


George Victor
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Joined: Oct 28 2007

Despite the existence of those who have the capacity to consider the collective (it used to go by the name "unselfish", an arcane concept in the post-modernist world). They who are going to suffer because the Hummer driver  - self uber alles - does not have that capacity.

Then, what comes into play is the Darwinian system of natural selection.Frightening for sure, because there is no morality in nature.

As any gardener will tell you.

Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004
George Victor wrote:
Then, what comes into play is the Darwinian system of natural selection.Frightening for sure, because there is no morality in nature.

Yes, Darwinian economics in the US eliminates 2200 newborn infants more on average every year than in countries with socialized medicine. But Darwin doesnt have it all his way in that country. There are social programs for everyone but the most vulnerable. Banksters are the latest capitalist cause damanding to be insulated from Darwinian free market forces.

 

 


George Victor
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Joined: Oct 28 2007

Ah yes, capitalism and free market forces, again. Can't help this. Been busting a gut to respond to your mantra.

 Here goes! Fidel de dee, Charlotte.


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

Nobody really believes in Darwin's invisible hand anymore. Or was that Smith? Political conservatives are all about interventionism in the economy ever since 1929-32 or so. They found that particular fundamentalist point of view needed altering, because doing so was absolutely vital to their political survival. Surprised


Jerry West
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Ghislaine wrote:

The right to control their own bodies is  absolute right.  

In effect you are arguing that they have an absolute right to harm others.


remind
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Joined: Jun 25 2004

You know I do not like where this is going, Jerry you are dangerously close to blaiming women for the over population of the world. You may not mean it that way, but it could be taken that way.

___________________________________________________________ "watching the tide roll away"


Ghislaine
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Jerry West wrote:
Ghislaine wrote:

The right to control their own bodies is  absolute right.  

In effect you are arguing that they have an absolute right to harm others.

No, I am saying they have an absolute right to control their bodies with the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term and enjoy the parental rights that flow from this once a child is born. 

Children do not harm others. You are in effect arguing that forced abortion (which is practiced in China by the State) somehow doesn't harm others or prevents harm? If your means to the end of not harming others is to harm others than your position is untenable.

 Mods: are these views of Jerry's allowed on babble?


M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005

Quote:
Until the mid-18th century, improvements in living standards worldwide were barely perceptible. Most societies were resigned to poverty as an inescapable fact of life. Since 1950 the richest 20% of humankind has doubled its per-capita consumption of energy, meat, timber, steel, and copper, and quadrupled its car ownership, greatly increasing global emissions of CFCs and greenhouse gases, accelerating tropical deforestation, and intensifying other environmental impacts. In 1999, people living in the world's richest 20% of countries consumed 86% of the world's GNP.
Source: David Hunter et al., International Environmental Law and Policy, p. 54.

It's clear that, far from being an inevitable characteristic of human existence, overconsumption of the earth's resources did not really start in earnest until the era of industrial capitalism, and particularly post-war monopoly capitalism.

If "culling" the world's population is the solution (to what, exactly?), it would seem that the most efficient method would be to eliminate the richest 20%, thereby freeing up 86% of the world's production of commodities for the other 80% of the population. Those 80% would then enjoy a septuple increase in their standard of living - from consuming 14% of the world's production to consuming 100%.

Of course, if capitalism persisted after such a culling, the cycle of growing inequality and overconsumption would continue apace until the same problem occurred again, or the earth's resources were exhausted, whichever came first.

Quote:
In the developing world today, high fertility rates are often driven by a set of reinforcing factors: the status of women, lack of employment opportunities for women and educational opportunities for girls, lack of maternal and child health care and family planning services, as well as poverty and deprivation generally. Addressing these issues together can lead to dramatic declines in fertility rates.
Global Environmental Governance, p. 46.

"Addressing these issues together" will require a social revolution - a socialist revolution. Handing out birth control pamphlets ain't gonna cut it.


mersh
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Joined: Aug 25 2005

I would argue that "culling" has been with us for centuries. The vast swaths of humanity completely excluded from circuits of production and consumption are wholly expendable. These are people who cannot even be part of a reserve army of labour, but whose existence is nonetheless the result of industrial capitalist development and colonial expansion.

In fact, we can see the development of new opportunities for accumulation through the eradication of whole segments of populations -- including death squads for street kids, pharmacological control over (largely) racialized women's bodies, etc.

To say that "culling" must begin is, frankly, genocidal. It also completely ignores the brutal history of capitalist expansion, as well as the dehumanizing efforts to control population growth throughout the world. Population control has only recently (within the past 60 or so years, out of hundreds of years of capitalist development) concerned itself with reducing large numbers of humans from the planet. Until the mid-twentieth century, colonial rule sought to grow populations -- to build reserve armies of labour, new markets for commodities, and to simply produce a workforce able keep up with the legislated robbery of resources by colonial powers to stave off their own economic collapse.

So yeah, when folks start talking about women having too many babies -- and that this constitutes an assault on the planet -- I get my back up and enter lecture mode. Women, particularly poor racialized women, have faced forced sterilization everywhere. Be it through guns or the brute force of the market (usually both), women are continually denied their reproductive rights.

I offer my own suggestion for those who want to kill people off or subjugate them to forced sterilization: you first.


Jingles
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Joined: Nov 13 2002

Quote:
To say that "culling" must begin is, frankly, genocidal.

No one said that here.

Quote:
I offer my own suggestion for those who want to kill people off or subjugate them to forced sterilization: you first.

I challenge you to find anyone here who suggests that. 

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You are in effect arguing that forced abortion

Unacceptable. Jerry said no such thing. You'd better think about a retraction.

 

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No, I am saying they have an absolute right to control their bodies with the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term and enjoy the parental rights that flow from this once a child is born.

Again, is there a limit?

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You refuse to acknowledge that one of the single largest contributors to a low fertility rate is the winning combination of women's rights and birth control.

Whoopee. I never refused to acknowledge it. It's quite evident. Big deal. That fact, ironically, is the result of rapacious capitalism that has allowed rich nations the luxury of such things at the expense of the poor. I guess your solution is more capitalism to raise everyone's standard of living to those of Europe so women don't need to have many kids. 

Quote:
Your "solution" has hints of fascism.

Go fuck yourself.

My "solutions" aren't mine. I only assert that (assuming we are rational animals who understand cause and effect and understand how our actions now affect the future) people need curb their urge to reproduce because the survival of the planet depends on it. Your view seems to be that we should continue to breed ourselves out of existence. Fine, just acknowledge that we, like a parasite or virus, are the earth's most dangerous disease, and lacking self control will eventually kill itself when it kills its host.

I agree completely that rapacious capitalism is destroying the planet. Where we differ is that some here have a more hopeful vision of the nature of humanity. I see a longer view, one which has seen humans cause the greatest extinction event in 65 million years, one which began long before capitalism existed, and will continue after such ideologies disappear. We kill everything we see. That's the way it's always been, that's the way it will always be. Ask the Dodo and the Mammoth.


M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005

Once one decides to blame the ills of the world on "overpopulation", then one can avoid actually having to do anything to change the system that's the real cause of environmental destruction, exploitation, and impoverishment.

In fact, once one is convinced that humans always have and always will destroy their environment and oppress each other, there's really no point in advocating or fighting for social change at all.


Jerry West
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Joined: Oct 9 2001
remind wrote:

You know I do not like where this is going, Jerry you are dangerously close to blaiming women for the over population of the world. You may not mean it that way, but it could be taken that way.

Well, I am not going were I think that you think that I am going, and I have no intent to blame women for overpopulation.  Any interpretation of my argument that says that is what I am doing is reading far more into what I am saying than what I am.  My argument is simply that rights are conditional in response to a statement that rights are absolute.   If the disagreement is that we do in fact have absolute rights, regardless of what effects their exercise may have on others, then let's hear someone make the case.

 

Ghislaine wrote:

I am saying they have an absolute right to control their bodies with the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term and enjoy the parental rights that flow from this once a child is born. 

I agree with you with the exception that I do not see that right, any other right, as absolute.  

 

Quote:

Children do not harm others.

It could be argued that too large a population harms us all, particularly future generations of children yet to be born.

Quote:

You are in effect arguing that forced abortion (which is practiced in China by the State) somehow doesn't harm others or prevents harm?

First off, I am not advocating forced abortion, (or any other particular population control method) and I certainly would never claim that abortion does not hurt someone.  Whether abortion prevents harm is a different story.

Quote:

If your means to the end of not harming others is to harm others than your position is untenable. 

Huh?  Society is built on a trade off of rights and restrictions.  Every restriction is a harm to one degree or another, and almost every right has the potential to harm.  Would you argue that our society is untenable?

 

MS wrote:

It's clear that, far from being an inevitable characteristic of human existence, overconsumption of the earth's resources did not really start in earnest until the era of industrial capitalism, and particularly post-war monopoly capitalism.

Abundantly clear.  Without the industrial revolution it may not have been possible to raise populations to the current level.  Without the agricultural revolution 10.000 years ago it certainly would be highly improbable.  Even with the the current system it took until the last half of the 20th Century to raise population levels above the sustainable level.

Quote:

If "culling" the world's population is the solution (to what, exactly?), it would seem that the most efficient method would be to eliminate the richest 20%, thereby freeing up 86% of the world's production of commodities for the other 80% of the population.

Does "culling" describe what industrial societies with dropping populations are doing?

The problem with your figures is that even if we wiped out the richest societies, eliminating 17% of the population, the remaining 83% would still be consuming at an unsustainable rate unless their consumption was reduced to about 20-25% of the current Canadian rate.  Without reduction that 83% would be consuming at a rate about 33% of the current Canadian rate, which is still too much.

There is no problem blaming the wealthy for their role in this mess, but thay are not alone.

Quote:

Once one decides to blame the ills of the world on "overpopulation", then one can avoid actually having to do anything to change the system that's the real cause of environmental destruction, exploitation, and impoverishment.

This might be true if one decided to only  blame the ills of the world on overpopulation.  Truth is the system is a large part to blame for the ills, and one of the ills is that we have expanded the population beyond the point that the planet can sustainably support it.

Using 2003 figures and the GHA scale (I haven't gone through the 2008 ones yet) average planet wide consumption is  2.4 while the sustainable level is 1.8.  Since that is an average any reduction in consumption without reduction in population means that those on the bottom do not get to increase as the top cuts back.  Canadian rate is about 8.0 and over half of the world's population is over the sustainable level.

 

Quote:

In fact, once one is convinced that humans always have and always will destroy their environment and oppress each other, there's really no point in advocating or fighting for social change at all.

I agree


George Victor
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Joined: Oct 28 2007

What utter bloody nonsense you people spout.  The fact is, another one million human beings join us in this vale of tears every four or five days (that is in addition to those who "pass on" , or "over" or whatever. )

To argue that there is only so much effing room on the planet is NOT to argue for a "culling". It is to say that it's time to tie a knot in the old tubes and have fun without procreating. Hell, responsible people have been deciding just how many kids they can afford to educate for many moons now. It's what the womens movement fought for a half century back - and is still fighting for.

Don't make us out as monsters. That's just hysterical nonsense. Get a grip.


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