Time of Great Dying: Population Bomb Bursts, the End of Old-Growth Forests, and the Great Awakening

Barry, Glen | November 2, 2017 | Leave a Comment

An aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario Photo by IDuke, November 2005Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 2.5

Gaia, the living biosphere, is infested with humans. Not just any humans, but the type that grow fat and reproduce exponentially by liquidating natural ecosystems. The population bomb has burst and we are seeing daily the predicted consequences of collapse and death in the climate, water, oceans, and on the land. Having spent much of my life working to protect Earth’s last naturally evolved primary forests from logging for inequitable over-consumption, I am today ready to declare defeat. Preserving Earth’s last large old-growth forests is a lost cause as there are simply too many people. This Time of Great Dying is unlikely to end well unless a global ecology ethic – including a sense of ENOUGHNESS, just population reductions, ending fossil fuels, and massive ecological restoration – is widely embraced with all haste in an unprecedented and overdue Great Awakening.

This article was originally published on October 8th —updated October 25th— by EcoInternet, and can be found here. You can stay updated on news from EcoInternet through the MAHB’s Breaking News section.

Over-Populated, Inequitable Over-Consumption

In 90 years – a blink of an eye in ecological and geological time – the human population has gone from two billion to over seven billion. Another one billion people are added every 12-15 years, such exponential growth in human population can only end in collapse. Of these, a billion extravagantly over-consume (including a few hundred individuals who have amassed half of Earth’s wealth) as another billion live in abject poverty on less than $1.50 a day.

Concurrently capitalism has manufactured all types of artificial needs for consumption to which the vast majority aspire, and which can never be universalized at current population densities. Thus globally devastating inequity is assured. Each of these manufactured desires is fulfilled through apocalyptic polluting of the atmosphere and liquidating of natural ecosystems that have evolved over eons and make Earth habitable.

Over-populated, inequitable over-consumption literally dismembers Gaia – the living Earth – to gorge upon her ill-gotten limbs.

“The idea that we can just keep growing forever          

on a finite planet is totally imbecilic…”          

– Paul Ehrlich, Author of The Population Bomb         

As long anticipated, the population bomb has burst, and we are witnessing the impact upon the natural world. The result of such democratic consumption has been our current Time of Great Dying – an epic cataclysm of death and destruction rained down by humanity upon all non-human life and their assemblages into natural wildlife populations, plant communities, ecosystems, and landscapes. Humans, after all, are animals too. It is not normal for populations of an organism to grow so rapidly, or for an organism to so quickly destroy its own habitat. When this does occur in nature, the result is always mass death and system collapse.

Everywhere a trained eye looks, one can see the tawdry, traumatized remains of much diminished organic biological life upon an immense ecocidal battlefield. Oceans are plagued by overfishing and dead-zones, the climate is failing before our very eyes, wetlands and soils are much diminished, natural sources of water are increasingly scarce, wildlife has been decimated in a reign of terror, and natural terrestrial ecosystems have virtually disappeared. And the murder of remnant bits of nature that still exist continues unabated.

Over the past century throughout much of the world naturally evolved millions of year old old-growth forests have in short order simply been mowed to be replaced by farms, homes, and strip malls for the ever burgeoning bourgeois population of over-consumers. We poorly measure human advancement by the speed whereby this growth machine dismembers our ecological habitat.

As long predicted in the ecological classic The Population Bomb, Earth’s natural ecosystems have been overrun. Not unlike bacteria in a petri dish, industrial humans are reproducing (and many over-consuming) uncontrollably, on track to quickly surpass their ecological base. Such a nefarious enterprise is already leading to collapse and mass death.

Earth is finite. There are biogeochemical limits to the amount of energy produced on Earth, to the number of any given organism that can be supported by a unit of land, and to natural ecosystems’ absorptive capacity for waste. Numerous planetary boundaries – including climate change and terrestrial ecosystem loss – have already been surpassed as Earth spirals out of control in a state of profound ecological overshoot.

We are in the Time of Great Dying.

Old-Growth Forests Lost

Having spent much of my life working to protect Earth’s last naturally evolved primary forests from being logged for inequitable over-consumption, I am ready today to declare defeat.

The campaign to maintain large old-growth forests is lost. What old forests remain are emasculated fragments of their former ecological and evolutionary brilliance. Earth’s old-growth forest heritage has been dismembered through logging, saturated in nitrogen, cleansed of large wildlife, and have become sources rather than sinks of carbon pollution.

How could it have ended any other way when the organizations self-tasked decades ago with maintaining ancient forests instead started spouting nonsense regarding how they should be “sustainably” logged and creating “certified” markets for doing so? No large, natural forest can long withstand the demands of 7 billion super predators bent upon their destruction for lawn furniture and toilet paper, particularly when billions over-consume opulently as billions lack basic needs.

More old-growth forests and other natural ecosystems have been lost than the biosphere can bear. Over-population has destroyed Earth’s last natural forest ecosystems, aided and abetted by traitors to the cause. You know who you are and may you live your final days in shame and despair for your old-growth logging treachery.

“Over-population has          

destroyed Earth’s last        

large natural old-growth          

forest ecosystems,          

aided and abetted by          

traitors to the cause…          

It is up to each of us          

to develop a keen sense          

of enoughness, which among         

other things means no          

old-growth forest products.”          

– Dr. Glen Barry         

It is pure ecocidal madness to individually and societally continue to live in a manner that is known with certainty will kill us all. Despite vast strides in knowledge and understanding of ecological science truths by specialists, most of the world and its leaders wallow in willful ignorance. Many are too concerned with the comfort of their individual nerve endings to understand that their ecological context of being, which they as organic beings utterly depend upon for everything, is collapsing and dying.

Slews of technologies are developed and then misused to exacerbate over-population and over-consumption. Inordinate amounts of energy are put into techno-optimist schemes that far from obviating ecological limits, simply postpone them as ecosystems are driven even further beyond sustainability. There is no technology that can safe us.

There is one last hope. We must now embrace an age of ecological restoration, to allow what fragments of natural ecosystem still exist to age, recover, and expand. Of course this would presuppose that we stop logging the last old-growth forest fragments, instead maintaining all old forests as genetic seed stocks and ecological models. We must return to the garden even as we learn to live with the sadness (for however long we have) that we willfully destroyed the ancient ecological tapestry of being from which humanity and all life evolved and have been forever sustained.

We best help old forests grow back fast from what remains of native old-growth forests or we are toast. Much potential exists for agro-forestry and perma-culture enmeshed within regenerating natural ecosystems. Only returning to the land to tend our gardens and rebuild ecosystems can prolong and possibly sustain human being.

The Great Awakening

The answer is less.

Less people. Less stuff. Less inequity. Less technology. Less industry. Less emissions. Less toxics. Less hate. Less war. Less religion. Less ignorance. And fast.

We need less of everything; except for far more natural ecosystems, sharing, truth, justice, and love.

Only by limiting our own fertility and consumption can the human family avoid biosphere collapse and the end of being. It is up to each of us to develop a keen sense of enoughness, which among other things means no old-growth forest products.

A mammoth coordinated program of population control, ecosystem restoration, renewable energy, industrial degrowth, and total disarmament are our only chance to avoid utter ruin. We must hold onto our humanity as massive extreme weather, authoritarian demagoguery, thirst, and famine of our own making ravage an ill-treated Earth.

Only then can the human family together make its way back to the garden.

Reducing population growth and inequity, and then absolute human numbers, is deviously simple: educate all girls too, free birth control and a universal basic income, provide meaningful work (including restoring ecosystems) and human services with funds realized by demilitarization, and tax the birth of children. And learning to share with and love one another. Seems like a small price to avoid an apocalyptic end of being.

Believe in a better world and make it so.

Only by getting back to the land and making a righteous living which creates more ecology than it consumes can you overcome post-modern humanity’s bacteria-like destructive instincts. We each choose every day whether we are part of the Great Dying, or its antithesis, the Great Awakening. Time for each of us to decide, are you part of the disease afflicting the Earth, or the cure?

This article was originally published on October 8th —updated October 25th— by EcoInternet, and can be found here. You can stay updated on news from EcoInternet through the MAHB’s Breaking News section.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

MAHB Blog:https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/time-great-dying/

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Alexandra Sokol

    I think this is a fascinating article and point of view and one that dovetails with my own thoughts about both Entropy (how it applies to civilizations and indeed our current global un-sustainability scenarios) and the sense of privilege that has grown in society…the sense that somehow as human beings we are owed THINGS. The dialogue many of us are now having is how to change the mentality, the societal perspective from the Privileged Age to the, as suggested here, the great environmental restoration age.
    The focus on capitalism in its worst aspects, the focus on money as power, on US against them I believe is part of some underlying biological mechanism that have evolved more slowly than our minds and technological leaps. So, how do we shift the minds of people? And as someone working in urban resilience, environmental anthropology and sustainable future, it’s a huge and fascinating task.

  • Arnold J. Byron

    Every single harm to humanity that we are experiencing can be traced to overpopulation and the reluctance to humanity to acknowledge that overpopulation exists. We are doing a good job of acknowledging overpopulation on this blog thread. Keep up the good work. Speak out wherever you can. I did so the other day at a hearing about the environmental impact statement for a local refinery that wants to produce xylene. Everyone had three minutes of time and I used mine to talk about overpopulation. As I looked at the audience, everybody was staring straight ahead as if they were deer in headlights. Only a couple of people approached me afterward. This is what we all have to do. We need to let other people judge us as prophets for pariahs. Just do it. Speak out. You will feel better for it.

    • Alexandra Sokol

      Ah, while I agree this is a major component, overpopulation is not the primary issue. Consumption, consumerism, the breeding of entitlement to objects and luxury…this is also a major factor in what we’re seeing. As someone who watched the boom and was entrenched originally in Silicon Valley tech industry, I KNOW what marketing has done. I KNOW that in the 1950’s US, and then Europe, corporate marketers (and it started with the car companies), primed future generations of consumers by specifically target marketing to children. They bred the next generation of consumers to think they needed a car every few years, rather than over a lifetime. Marketing, advertising, media and the push for consumerism to drive profit tied back into the idea that was once the “American Dream”…and spreading like a virus because we feed it, threading it through every piece of media and with brains wired for reward and comfort, we have not only increased consumption, but have bred violence and a number of negative consequences as a result of our over-enhanced lust for things that we THINK we NEED…I think while one part overpopulation, the larger equation also much contain a number of interrelated components. I understand well now why my father wrote not only about environmental work, but about politics and above all, EDUCATION. We need to re-educate people, rewire their brains, shift media and the focus of media content and as stated above…look at highlighting environmental first mindsets.

  • Jim Boyer

    Yes! Thank you for this. Less is more!

  • Sailesh Rao
  • Mark

    “Do not go gentle into that good night
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Population density stress is the direct or indirect cause of ALL human disease, and ALL of the “diseases of civilization” are increasing in prevalence in the Western, “developed” world. However, as a result, sperm counts have declined 50-60% over 43 years and infertility in the US has increased 100% in the past 34 years. We are rapidly headed for extinction from population density stress. The human plague on Gaia is about to burn itself out. Stress R Us

    • Alexandra Sokol

      Very interesting point, although if we look at scientific advancement in fertility, how much of a detriment will this be over time is an interesting question to ponder.

      • Greeley Miklashek

        Actually, a little algebra is sufficient to predict that we reach a “low” sperm count among Western men in 23 (!) years, although, with the growing infertility rates, if they are growing in a linear mode, total infertility is 2336, but, if exponential, then it’s 2102, or 85 years hence. The fertility loss data suggests the problem is shared equally between the sexes, and only an internal population regulation mechanism could be responsible for that. The neuro-endocrinology for this mechanism has been known for many years, but this is hardly a topic of great interest to anyone else I’ve ever met. All the details are in the e-book “Stress R Us”, available for free PDF download in the e-library on this MAHB site. Human extinction is an imminent event and you heard it here first. Only immediate return to one-child families can prevent it. Good luck!

  • “Get back to the land” – this was one of the messages of the sixties. It’s now fifty years later. What have we learned? We’ve learned that Capitalism is more robust and more suicidal than we thought. The problem isn’t so much die-off, which is inescapable anyways, the problem is how we politically respond to the realities of Earth vs Capitalism. Earth is going to win, but we can destroy ourselves much sooner by over-reacting and through our wilful misunderstanding. We only need to look at the present U.S. political system to see the real possibility of accelerating destruction.

    • Alexandra Sokol

      I think you make a point that I grew up with, my father writing about all of this in the 70’s and 80’s…So true, we are Earth vs. Capitalism, but is it not LIFE vs. Capitalism? And how do we really get people who have mostly been wired for short term thought to think beyond “Not on my watch”? I deal with government leaders who daily just pray that nothing happens while they are in office and who no longer think generationally. Thankfully we are seeing a growing small group of leaders shifting in their thinking, but again…often tied to how they will be rewarded by the actions they take.

      • My thought is that we are living in a very dangerous time, not just because we are responsible for the collapse in biodiversity (eventually in a few million years, Earth’s life-system will recover) But the real danger right now is how we respond politically to problems brought on by our use of fossil fuels and the rise of economic globalization. The parallels between today and the thirties are harrowing. Political strong-men are turning up everywhere, and the impulse to gain political power by demonizing out-groups seems to be irresistible. The end result of this unfortunate trend will be gulags and gotterdamerung. Humans may or may not survive the coming collapse of biodiversity, but we can all too easily accelerate our demise by embracing fascism and other forms of authoritarianism. I’m interested in preserving some aspects of our civilization, at the same time realizing the Quixotic nature of my quest.

  • Meditor

    “A mammoth coordinated program”? Who will coordinate this mammoth program, you? Artificial intelligence?
    Have you ever been to Earth, the real Earth, and met real humans? Have you ever looked critically at government?