When and How Will Growth Cease?

Brent, Jason G. | August 15, 2017 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Only with knowledge will humanity survive. Our search for knowledge will encounter uncertainties and unknowns, but search we must. The search must persist and adapt as humanity’s present knowledge is expanded and changed. Continued allegiance to the false belief that human population and our current economic system can grow indefinitely, runs directly counter to this search for knowledge. Those that espouse this belief hinder our search for the knowledge critical to humanity’s survival.

Since Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, both population and economic growth must cease sometime in the future. To use ridiculous examples to prove a point– Earth could not support 1 trillion people for even one moment and Earth could not support an economy 1 trillion times as large as the current economy for even one moment. Therefore, the following questions arise:

1. When will growth cease? 

and

2. How will growth cease?

We can debate when growth will cease, but we cannot debate the fact that it will cease. Those who take the position that growth in the number of people, the resources they use, and the waste they create can continue on a finite Earth are, again, arrogant fools. While new technologies, recycling and any other actions taken by humanity can reduce the amount of resources used per unit of economic activity/output, neither new technologies, recycling nor any other actions taken by humanity can convert the finite and limited resources Earth provides humanity into infinite resources that will permit economic activity and population to grow forever.

Almost every resource Earth provides humanity is finite. The more we use today the less we have for tomorrow. Theoretically, Earth provides humanity with two types of resources: renewable resources and nonrenewable resources. Nonrenewable resources include fossil fuels and minerals. Renewable resources include soil, water, forest growth, fish in the ocean, and similar items. In reality, humanity is using almost every theoretically renewable resource faster than it can be naturally replaced and, therefore, for all practical purposes, renewable resources have become nonrenewable. Well before these resources are exhausted, we will find them harder to exploit. Humanity in the past has used those resources which were the easiest to obtain, had the highest concentrations of the minerals desired, the easiest to process, and closest to the place where they would be used. In the future humanity will be forced to use resources which are harder to obtain, have lower concentrations, are harder to process, and further from the place of usage. We will therefore face the challenges of higher prices, reduced returns, and greater processing waste well before the resources are exhausted. In many cases we already are.

Yet many economists, politicians, and even environmentalists will have you believe that the economy can continue to grow in spite of the fact that resources and sinks are limited. The recent budget proposal from the Trump administration relies on the assumption of 3% growth of the U.S. economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[1]. Since the economy will grow in a compound manner, a 3% annual growth rate would cause the economy of the USA to double about every 23.33 years. In 233 years there would be 10 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1,000 and in 466 years there would be 20 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1 million. In under 100 years at the same annual growth rate, there would be over 4 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 16–2,4,8,16. The resources that will be available to the USA in under 100 years will not permit the economy of the USA to be 16 times as large as the current economy.  Do you have any facts that would support the position that the economy of the USA could become 16 times as large as the current economy in under 100 years?

Instead, the evidence suggests that attempting to maintain an annual compound economic growth rate of 3% which would result in four doublings in 100 years, or a growth factor of sixteen, would result in the collapse of civilization. Why? Economic growth requires the use of physical resources. Without the use of physical resources, economic growth cannot and will not continue. It is almost certain that the earth cannot supply humanity, on an overall basis, with four times the resources it presently supplies. History suggests that resource constraints are more likely to lead to wars and disease than previously unseen economic flourishing and wellbeing.

It is not my intent to pick on Donald Trump in this essay, as the majority of candidates and major political parties, across levels of politics, have taken the position that growth is the solution to all or almost all of the problems faced today by humanity. Anyone who believes growth is a solution to any of the problems presently faced by humanity ignores the fact that Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, the power of compound growth and the fact that the human population is exploding.  Almost all of the problems faced by humanity today were caused, in whole or in part, by the combined impact of economic and population growth.

Which brings us to the question: when will growth cease? At what level will human population and economic production cease to grow? There are two options of the level at which each of them will peak: 1) At the current level or, 2) At some level higher than the current level. There is also the very likely possibility that growth will not only have to cease, but that the number of people and size of the economy will have to be reduced to some level lower than the current level. These options amount to a simple question: What size of the economy and population would permit humanity to survive on this planet for the longest period of time? A simple question that can be complicated for some to answer, but ultimately only has one correct answer –at the lowest population level which will permit genetic diversity so that humanity can survive and at the lowest economic level which will satisfy the reasonable needs of all of humankind. The meaning of “reasonable” is where the debate and discussion needs to take place, not the statements that have preceded it –which are where we are currently spending too much of our time and energy.

All indication is that the answer to –What size of the economy and population would permit humanity to survive on this planet for the longest period of time?– is not likely to be a level above what we are currently demanding of Earth. Which brings us to the question: How will growth cease? For population growth, I propose there are three, and only three, ways population growth will cease:

1. Wars, most likely with weapons of mass destruction, disease, starvation, civil strife and other horrors beyond the imagination.

2. Voluntary population control, which includes raising the standard of living of all of humanity, educating men and women, providing the most modern means of birth control to all humanity at no or very little cost, providing the safest and most modern means of abortion to all humanity at no or very little cost, changing the culture such that a person’s position in society is not determined by how many children he or she produces, restructuring all religions such that women are in every way equal to men, and taking all other similar actions that anyone can think of.

3. Coercive population control on a worldwide basis that would be enforced by penalties, that could range from very minor civil penalties up to and including major criminal penalties.

I am open to hearing other thoughts on additional methods through which human population growth can be curtailed, but I believe these three to be the only options. With that in mind, the first option is obviously undesirable and should be avoided. Which brings us to the two methods of reducing the number of children born –yes, two methods. Currently, we are putting all our faith in voluntary population control to the point that many people refuse to even enter discussions about coercive population control. That does not make sense. What evidence do we have that voluntary population control will reduce population growth to zero or make it negative in time to prevent the collapse of civilization? What evidence do we have that within the next 150 years there is no chance humanity will have to choose between coercive population control and the total and complete destruction of civilization? We should be prepared for that choice, and can only be if we openly discuss coercive population control.

If there is at least a 10% chance that voluntary population control will fail or if there is at least a 10% chance that humanity will face the choice between coercive population control and the total and complete destruction of worldwide civilization within 150 years, humanity must (and I have used the word “must” purposely) immediately discuss, evaluate, debate and consider all the problems and benefits of both coercive and voluntary population control so that a decision is made as to which method of population control is best for humanity. Anyone opposed to the consideration of both methods of population control must show why such a discussion will presently be more harmful to humanity than failing to have such a discussion.

To restate the position differently, there are two choices–discuss, evaluate, debate and consider both methods of population control to determine which method is best for humanity or not to have such an evaluation and discussion. Those that do not want to have such an evaluation and discussion must show why their position is better for humanity than having such an evaluation and discussion. On a personal level, I cannot think of one fact that would indicate not having such a discussion and evaluation would be more beneficial to humanity and to the survival of civilization than having such a discussion and evaluation.

Admittedly, such a discussion and evaluation may not provide sufficient evidence to guarantee the correct choice between voluntary and coercive population control. However, that should not prevent a discussion and evaluation from occurring. If, based upon today’s knowledge and facts, sufficient evidence to guarantee the correct choice between the two methods of population control is not available or cannot be agreed to, the intelligent action to take would be to have additional discussions and evaluations at later periods of time. We must make a choice between the two methods of population control based on our intelligence and the facts and knowledge available to us. We cannot and must not leave the choice between the two methods of birth control to be made by default. Default, almost certainly, will result in the elimination of the human species from the face of Earth.

At the beginning of this essay, I stated that knowledge is always better than the lack of knowledge and that those who refuse to obtain knowledge are fools. That statement applies to those who refuse to consider, evaluate, debate and discuss the two methods of population control, unless they show that such an evaluation and consideration would be extremely harmful today to humanity. The fact that a large portion of humanity would be opposed to such an evaluation and discussion should not and must not prevent such a discussion as a large portion of humanity has no understanding of the problems humanity presently faces and has no understanding of the power of compound growth. Humanity must not be ruled by those that do not have knowledge and refuse to obtain knowledge.

I could go on analyzing and describing every problem presently faced by humanity today that could cause the destruction of civilization and the deaths of billions by the year 2100. However, this essay is getting too long and if I did not convince you that humanity must start a discussion and evaluation of coercive population control today, nothing additional I could write would make you change your mind.

One last comment. Many of those who will read this essay are correctly concerned by the problems of enforcing coercive population control on a worldwide basis. I concur in your concerns that the problems will be monumental. Those problems must be part of the discussion and evaluation comparing coercive control with voluntary control. However, if humanity is faced with a final choice of coercive population control or destruction of civilization, the choice must be coercive population control and those challenges will need to be resolved. As no one can guarantee, with certainty, that humanity will not face exactly that choice within the next 150 years, those discussions need to start now.


[1] Noguchi, Yuki “Trump Budget Plan Relies On Optimistic Growth Assumptions, Analysts Say”

Jason G. Brent holds degrees in Engineering, Law and Business.


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  • Arnold Byron

    Mr. Brent lists three ways to decrease the population: wars, voluntary control and coercive control. The means of control I perceive as the best is between voluntary and coercive, but the important thought is that we must use population control. In fact population control has been humanities destiny from the very beginning. Population control is just the next step in the march of humanity on Earth and it must be accepted as such. Humanity started out as just a few living in a veritable Garden of Eden and has grown until the garden has become a midden. The formula for control is easy: one child reduces the population, two children maintains the population, three children increases the population.

    The population is controlled by requiring every male to have a vasectomy after fathering one child or two children or three children depending on the situation at the time. The female would be required to make a formal, public pledge to not give birth to more than one child or two child or three children depending on the situation. All kinds of disputes will arise from this basic change of family size and parenting. A whole new legal section will have to be promulgated in order to sort out disputes. But that is what nations are about: making laws that allow humanity to maintain its existence in a safety and happiness.

    Population control will be neither voluntary nor coercive. It will be an accepted medical, legal practice that will accepted as generations come and go. It will also be nonviolent, non-eugenic and simple to accomplish. The only thing standing in the way of this method of control is the male ego. In all of my reading I have not come across any writer who has suggested that the male of the species has to take the lead on this problem by subjecting themselves to vasectomization. I have only read and heard of women having to be subjected to abortions. Somehow men have to be taught to not be misogynistic, because the march of humanity has to be led by men. In the future, no man will come to the end of life without having been vasectomized. It is as simple as that.

  • Jim Boyer

    In as much as we humans are hurtling to a disastrous future, the solutions I see are rich with possibilities where we humans will be willing and/or forced to initiate change. But over all the comments I don’t see the overwhelming interference of nature through climate change. We can all see that environmental changes are happening, particularly drought, in regions that are known to be important to agriculture, key to feeding the growing masses. When civilizations’ ability to feed itself is compromised by climate and to a greater extent extinction of important biodiversity that supports ecosystems, population growth will be affected. Mass migrations of starving climate refugees and/or victims of war over shrinking food supplies are just as important a destabilizing factor as birth control. Maybe inadvertently solving population growth while making the earth even more uninhabitable. Climate change, I prefer ecosystem destruction, is real.

  • billdowling

    The following graphs, show the effect of an immediate change to a lower TFR, and assume 100% compliance. (Note they start at 7 billion and in 2010!)

    ©
    Andrew Ferguson/Eric Rimmer 2014/2015

    Assuming we are all agreed we need to get the population down to well under 3 billion by around the end of this century for it to become sustainable, as you can see only a global one child agreement, voluntary or coercive, comes close to solving the overpopulation problem.
    Apart from the fact that the population has been allowed to get far too big to easily reduce it, the other problems are;
    1.The birth momentum in the system will cause further growth before any lower TFR takes effect,

    2. We do not have enough time to wait for less punitive birth rate reduction measures to act.
    3. We will never get 100% global compliance even if it was coercive.
    So, while a global one child solution looks like it might just work, I really begin to wonder if it is too late for any deliberate corrrective action on our part to work now.

  • billdowling

    I applaud Jason for broaching this subject! It seem to me that the first thing we have to do is convince the world leaders, politicians and the main movers and shakers (corporate CEOs) as well as a vast majority of the population that there is a long term sustainability problem for the existing 7.6 billion,never mind any more! We had better do that quick as you will see, from my arguments below – there is no time to waste persuading and arguing with them!
    Surely the first and easiest thing to do is convince these people that at 7.6 billion we are overpopulated already since we are consuming renewable resources at the rate of 1.6 planets, and non renewable resource consumption has outpaced population growth by a ratio of 3 to 2 since 1970? So, the problem we have to solve is not how to achieve rapid population growth reduction any more – but how do we achieve rapid population reduction.
    Once they are convinced of that, we will have a much better chance of convincing them that population growth must be stopped and reversed ASAP,. But how soon and what is the end target population and by what date? These are the next really big questions.we must answe.
    Let me suggest an end target of as much as 3 billion by 2120 to start with.
    Bearing in mind the state of the planet and remaining resources now, I think this must be an optimistic upper limit on both a sustainable population and timescale.
    Let me now try to convince readers how quickly it must be stopped to reach this target and then show them how it could be done. Lack of time is chiefly what we are up against.
    The current global average birth rate is 2.5. Just for example, lets asume we could achieve an immediate globally obeyed birth rate of 2 (just below replacement) – this would peak at 9.5 billion after about 60 years before gradually declining back to 7.6 billion in over four centuries! So this isnt anywhere near the solution! Okay, lets try an immediate obeyed birth rate of 1.75, well below the existing 2.5. This would peak at 8.7 billion in about 35 years.and take about 3 centuries to get down to 3 billion, still not a hope! Lets try 1.5. This would peak at around 8.5 bilion in 30 years and get it down to 3 billion in about 1.5 centuries – things are looking better! Now lets try i child. This will result in a negligible increase to 7.7 billion and a rapid decline beginning after only around 20 years getting the population down to less than 3 billion in less than 100 years. Clearly this is the kind of solution we must be looking for!
    A global voluntary one child policy could work!
    BUT – the problem is the figures above assume immediate global voluntary agreement, immediate global voluntary implementation and 100 % global voluntary adherence, Which is far beyond any reasonable expectations isnt it? We cant afford to take 10 years over the first, and 10 more over the second, and goodness knows how many more years to gradually get a birth rate of 2.5 down to 1.0 can we? The population would still be growing and so would consumption and so would resource decline be continuing. The fastest the birth rate has ever declined before was by 0.5 in a decade in the 1970-80s.
    So, coercion (or at least powerful fiscal measures and social pressures!) is what we have to seriously put on the table- isnt it?
    I cannot see any voluntary agreement being reached quickly enough, or being implemented quickly enough, or being sufiiciently obeyed, to achieve anywhere near the target in time.
    Can you?
    However, I cant even see global agreement and implementation of a coercive plan being agreed and adopted soon enough, and even if it was it couldnt be enforced to the 100% level. Some countries would go to war first

    At which point simple common sense suggests to me that we would need to couple the voluntary or coercive rationing of births down to one child with the voluntary or coercive rationing of resource consumption together – in order to achieve a sustainable solution.for 3 billion people in thsi timeframe.

    In conclusion, my gut instinct and lenghty studying of these issues s tells me we are going nowhere very far with this unless an absolutely immense global education programme is run as a matter of extreme urgency.first.
    All the people everywhere in the world must be told the true facts about (a) the dire state of the planet and its remaining resources and (b) the complete and utter unstainability of current levels of per capita resource consumption in rich countries and (c) the state of the current overpopulation situation and (d) that the only solution that can posssibly work now is a one child global agreement and (e) that globlal resource rationing is also necessary as well.

    That is Huge IF – WE (is it a big we? or a very littler we?) want to stand any chance of a sustainable future for 2 to 3 billion humans at the most on this planet.
    Who’s the WE? how many of us are there that want this – really?
    The answer is we dont know and we wont know and cant know until everyone knows what we know and has the knowledge and underatanding to be able to even seriously consider it.

    Hence the urgent need for an immense global education programme first!

  • Hc

    See here for my thoughts on an “incentive” method of reducing population.
    https://mahb.stanford.edu/topic/thoughts-on-how-to-slow-or-stop-population-growth/

    As many have stated however, half the countries in the world have population growth rates below replacement values and these countries are general regarded as the more developed or advanced.

    The problem is even in those “advanced” countries the solution to their perceived problems is economic growth and the way to achieve it is to have more people to buy stuff. Where do you get more people when you’re home population isn’t producing enough? immigration. And why should the less advanced countries even think about educating their population on the evils of over population when the dictators or gangsters that run the country don’t give a damn about their people or the rest of the world.

    Just once I’d like to read a paper or report on how my country would be better off by actually reducing the population. How about not paving over farmland, more affordable housing, reduced traffic jams, better care and education for every wanted child, shorter lines at Starbucks, etc.

    Give countries and their people an econmic reason for wanting a reduced population. Educated people already see a reason for reducing family size. If only it were obvious to economists and politicians.

  • GrowthBuster

    Let’s say in 20 years you need a majority of the population to be ready to support coercive measures to limit family size. Which of these might be more likely to give you that majority?

    A. Over the next 20 years bring people up to speed on overpopulation and the need to contract our population while encouraging voluntary action. Let’s call this the more gentle approach. (of course, this MIGHT be all that’s needed; but let’s assume it won’t be enough, for purposes of this discussion)

    B. Have the door slammed in your face for the next 20 years by starting with the premise that we need coercive measures now. Let’s call this the brute force approach.

    Now, it may well be that our emergency requires coercive action today, or tomorrow. However, that proposal is dead certain to fail if you put it on the table now. Will doing so leave you in 20 years with a population more receptive to the idea?

    Is it possible to cast a wider net using more palatable bait than to use bait so distasteful to so many that your net is effectively tiny?

    Just something to ponder. I understand the author’s desire to not tap-dance around the facts and the choices. It is too bad we can’t have a rational, factual, logical and completely thorough and honest discussion of this issue. The sad reality is we are not up to that challenge.

    • Jason G. Brent

      Assume after a years study by the best minds on the planet of various disciplines it was determined,as best any determination of the future can be made, that there was a 75% combined chance that voluntary population will fail and that would result in the extinction of the human species from the face of the earth by the year 2100. To the best of my knowledge no studies by the best minds on the planet has ever been made to determine the chance that voluntary population control will fail to prevent one or more major catastrophes due to the exploding human population–population today about 7.4 billion, population in 2100 according to the latest prediction of the UN’s demographers 11.2 billion. And I believe that I can make a very strong case that the UN’s demographers are very wrong on the low side. Anyone who takes the position that voluntary population control has zero chance of failure is an idiot. To the best of my knowledge no studies have been done to determine the harm that would be suffered if voluntary population control failed. The failure to do those studies the arrogance of the leaders of humanity. I challenge anyone to present a logical and factual case that humanity should not do those studies. Going back to the assumption at the beginning of the paragraph, if those studies show a 75% chance that humanity would become extinct, the failure to immediately undertake an examination of coercive control and a comparison of both methods of control would be madness. Also he failure to do those studies is, in my opinion, an act of madness

      I have prepared another essay that sets forth a case that the chance of failure of voluntary control is 100%. Please contact me at jbrent6179@aol.com and I will be happy to send anyone a copy of that essay. I invite you to attack what was written in
      that essay. I will set forth below one of the reasons I believe the chance of failure is 100% While many, if not most, Catholics in the industrialized nations do not follow the Church’s position on birth control, that is not the case in the nations of the third world, the best example of which is the Philippines. The population of that nation is exploding. However, even in the industrialized nations most Catholics follow the Church’s position on abortion and without access to abortion no nation has ever reduced its population growth level to zero. In simple terms, unless the Catholic Church changes its position on both birth control and abortion, the population of the planet will grow until it is stopped by one or more catastrophes killing billions of people. And the Catholic Church will never change its position on those two rules because doing so would result in the destruction of the Catholic Religion.

      Admittedly, the experiment with coercive control in India failed. However, that failure must be considered as proof that all future attempts at coercive population control will fail. If the choice is between the extinction of the human species or the horrible deaths of billions due to the use of weapons of mass destruction and effective coercive population control, humanity must find a way to make that control effective. And I could describe a method of coercive population that would be 100% effective, but I will not do so because everyone reading this document would find it highly morally offensive. However, in face of the probable destruction of humanity, our morality would have to change. Ther is only one morality—the survival of the human species.

      One last comment—it is almost certain that unless the fertility rate is immediately reduced to replacement level (and most likely reduced below replacement level) humanity will be unable to control global warming and consequences will be horrific for humanity before the year 2100. jbrent6179@aol.com

      • Jason G. Brent

        One additional comment. A number of experts (whatever that word means) have stated that the most the earth can support at a reasonable economic level is one or two billion. A statement that is close to being absolute-as any statement ever made—humanity will suffer one or major catastrophes before that reduction in population is achieved by voluntary population control, in view of the current exploding population that is predicted to reach about 11.2 billion by the year 2100 –see the latest medium variation numbers issued by the UN in 2015. Since the catastrophes mentioned in this paragraph includes the possibility/ probability of the deaths of billions or even the extinction of the human species (9 nine nations presently have atomic weapons with the destructive power beyond the imagination of 99% of the human population), even if the chance of the experts are correct is as low as 10% the failure to consider, discuss and evaluate/compare both voluntary and coercive population control at this point in time is an act of supreme arrogance and stupidity. Jason Brent jbrent6179@aol.com

      • GrowthBuster

        I don’t claim to know that voluntary reduction will work. It may not. But I’m pretty certain that until we build a more solid, widespread foundation of understanding that the world is overpopulated, coercive measures will be rejected. I think our best chance at raising awareness is to promote voluntary reduction right now (that’s challenging enough). If you choose, today, to promote coercion, IMHO, you will find very few allies and very few minds open to the discussion. Efforts like the GrowthBusters project aren’t fighting you, we’re preparing people to be more inclined to accept your proposition.

        In short, you can beat your head against the brick wall, or you can spend some time erecting a ladder.

      • billdowling

        I agree with you 100% that the chance of failure of voluntary control failing is 100%, (a) because with any appeal for voluntary action you always get less than you ask for, and (b) since the level of overp[opulation is now so high that we actually really do need a global one child solution to be applied globally ASAP to fix the problem, this means we would have to ask for either half a child at most or no children to be born!

        Personally, I also think the chances of coercive control succeeding are no better than 50% now, because as I have already said what it has to calll for to solve the problem is a one child limit ASAP. That is so abhorrent and draconian that it would never be agreed to or enforced by all countries, and even if it was, because it can never be 100% obeyed or enforced, and the effect of mixing high non-compliant TFRs in a small number of countries with compliant TFRs in the majority is disastrous as you suggest above..

        Finally, you wrote – “There is only one morality – the survival of the human species”
        If you will pardon my saying so, that is so grossly human centred it is grotesque in its arrogance and pathetic in its level of empathy for other living creatures who have an equal right if not a prior claim to be here.

        If the planet could pronounce a moral judgement on the human race you know as well as I do what it would say.
        If all the other species we have made extinct and all those still being threatened by extinction now could make a similar moral judgement on us – they would all say we do not deserve to be on the planet. The sooner we are gone the better.

        Clearly -“We are too smart for our own good and too stupid to know the difference “- as the the author Craig Dilworth observed.

        Among all the other species, only human beings are stupid enough to “foul their own nest” like we do.

  • The three ways that growth will cease make sense, but choosing between the latter two requires rational behavior. Nothing in our history suggests that humanity makes rational decisions at global scales. That leaves only the first way, “Wars, most likely with weapons of mass destruction, disease, starvation, civil strife and other horrors beyond the imagination.”
    Among the many scientists studying climate, even the most conservative are beginning to accept that global temperature will rise by 4-degrees Celsius by 2100. The accelerated weather extremes that accompany the warming will add to the pressures on economic growth. Even realistic projected growth rates of 2% or 1.5% might lead to collapse by 2100 when combined with climate change.
    The greatest short-term climate change effects on growth will be reductions of agricultural productivity, marine fisheries, and freshwater supplies. These will force migrations and resource conflicts that will begin to trim population and economic growth well before the end of the century. Several uncertain events could further shorten the period of economic growth. Pandemic disease, loss of arctic ice, methane release, and power failure leading to nuclear reactor meltdown are just a few of the possibilities.
    As others have pointed out, reducing population will not stop economic growth before current resource limitations and the compounding effect of climate change cause a crash. Disaster preparations at national and local levels are essential. Richard Heinberg recently offered two sensible approaches to preparing for the crash: http://www.postcarbon.org/are-we-doomed-lets-have-a-conversation.

  • Guest

    There is potential harm in discussing coercive population control. That discussion can undermine –at the least distract and at the most drive-away— critical actors in the voluntary efforts that are taking place. If the discussion determines that coercive population control is not appropriate or feasible at this time, we could be left with a gutted version of the voluntary efforts currently underway. I agree that there is uncertainty around whether voluntary means will result in the human population reductions needed. Some of this uncertainty comes from barriers (like limited/inconsistent access to contraceptives) that would also challenge the effectiveness of coercive population control measures. I don’t think we can neglect that there would be uncertainty around the effectiveness of coercive population control, and that including it in the conversation at this point could increase the uncertainty around voluntary methods.

    • Jason G. Brent

      If discussion of coercive control were to in any way inhibit our efforts to make voluntary control effective, our species is too stupid to survive.It is that simple.So far no one who has commented on the essay, except you, has set forth any valid reason why coercive control should not be discussed or compared with voluntary control today, and your reason is not valid, in my opinion. The entire purpose of the essay was to attempt those opposed to a discussion of coercive control to state valid reasons why they were opposed. It is my position that we have passed the point in time (or will pass the point in time before the year 2100) where humanity will have only one choice–coercion or extinction. And even if that previous statement has only a 10% chance of being correct, we must discuss coercive population control today for two simple reasons—1) If a wrong choice is made by humanity there is a very great chance that the species could go extinct or at least billions could die horribly: and 2) Due to the average life span of a human being and due to the large span of time that would be necessary for any change in fertility to affect population growth and the population level action must be taken today regarding human fertility. Jbrent6179@aol.com

  • Charles Bensinger

    Kudos to you for taking on and speaking truth to the seemingly sacred topic of population growth. You are correct in noting that an increasing population will wipe out any efforts we take to move toward sustainability. In fact, some scientists say that the planet can only sustainably support about 2 billion people living a moderate, European lifestyle. And that’s with the resources we have now. How much will be left in 30 or 50 years?

    I’ve chosen to have zero children because at a young age I realized that the planet would soon have too many people unless some of us refrained from reproducing. In my lifetime, the world population has tripled. Scary.

    I doubt that humanity will make the effort to voluntarily
    curb reproduction. It’s too politically and religiously/ideologically
    charged. Likely nature and human
    conflict will do what we’re afraid or unwilling to do.

  • Max Kummerow

    “Free will” I was told by a philosopher of science, is a “red herring.” All decisions, including fertility choices take place in contexts of limited efficacy (what can we actually do), limited information, and emotional and intellectual limits that determine how good our ability to choose can be. So the objective should be to improve decisions. I think there is a strong argument based on the externalities of other people’s children–positive and negative–for public policy to regulate or influence fertility. The Europeans have been gently nudging fertility higher via family leave and other incentives. The Ethiopians have been nudging fertility down by government efforts to promote family planning. Nowhere are family size decisions without major pressures from culture, laws, available technology, affordability etc. All that said, the world has moved too slowly to fund and promote lower fertility. There will almost certainly be painful collapses involving higher density dependent mortality via wars, etc. These (looking at the news is the easiest way to forecast) will be much worse in high fertility countries. Divergent fertility will also increase migration pressures.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    Jason G. Brent is on the right track; but coercive methods of population need to be ruled out. Substantial incentives — rather than coercive measures — to reduce population growth need to be formulated and implemented. Warm regards to Jason, Luis G and Richard G.

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Educating men and women for responsible parenthood is crucial, but this will not be possible as long as the patriarchal culture prevails in religion and society. Since 80% or so of humans (including myself) are believers, the patriarchal religions are becoming the greatest obstacle to the sustainability and further flourishing of humanity and the biosphere.

  • Richard Grossman

    I agree with Jason that we are in dire straits. I do not agree about how we should react. As far as I am aware, coercion has never been successful in reducing fertility. Indeed, coercion has had the opposite effect; India is a good example of this. Indira Gandhi instituted a forced sterilization program when she was Prime Minister in the early 1970s. The end result was for people to distrust family planning programs.
    We must treat people with respect, as we ourselves would like to be treated. Education (especially of girls/women), and making effective contraception and safe abortion available are the best that is available to decrease the number of unplanned births.
    In the meantime, we in the rich global north need to decrease our consumption. Jason, how would you feel if Big Brother forced us to reduce our Ecological Footprint from an average of about 20 acres to 10 acres?

    • jaosn G. Brent

      Everyone who objects to coercive population control has not considered the possibility or even probability that humanity has now reached the point (or in he very near future will reach the point) where their is only one choice—the extinction of humanity or coercive population control. Can anyone who objects to even the discussion of coercive control guarantee with at least 90% certainty that humanity has not reached today or will not reach before the year 2100 the single choice–extinction or coercion. If you cannot make that guarantee with at least 90% certainty the failure to discuss coercion and compare it to voluntary population control is an act of madness. Without going into detail, coercion can be made 100% effective—the experiment in India should not be taken to prove that coercion will fail. jbrent6179@aol.com

  • Anon

    In response to the author’s statement that there are only 2 ways to reduce fertility rates, where do efforts to reduce/remove incentives for having more children fall? I am thinking about things like tax credits that are currently embedded in our systems and incentivise larger families. Eliminating those incentives maintains the choice at the individual/family level, but is an example of system-level action to influence the number of children families desire. It seems to fall between the two options presented by the author.