HELP WANTED: A PLEA TO ECONOMISTS

Ehrlich, Anne H., Ehrlich, Paul R. | November 1, 2018 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Big Speak

Many civilizations have disappeared in the past, but today for the first time a global civilization is threatened with collapse (Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich 2009).  Individually, or in combination, nuclear war, climate disruption, loss of biodiversity, erosion of soils, global toxification, massive famine, or a nasty pandemic, could in the near future end rich-nation life-styles and even the lives of billions of people. Such a sudden decline of collective utility is one way to define a collapse of civilization.

In our view the community of economists has shown too little technical interest in civilization’s existential issues, and has largely ignored thousands of scientists’ repeatedly stated urgent need to “reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth” (Ripple et al. 2017), and to recognize that “Our planet is in a perilous state” (Berg 2018).  Nonetheless, increasingly successful collaborations between ecologists and economists suggest the latter could help find ways of ameliorating the impacts of a coming collapse.  They might contribute even more in designing a post-collapse “reset” that avoided a resurgence of growth addiction and also prevented a return to today’s economists’ focus on efficiency rather than equity (or at least on both).  That could move post-collapse remnant societies toward sustainability instead of toward another collapse.

At the very least, economists could help by speaking frankly and often about the prospects of, and appropriate preparations for, a coming collapse.  They could make it clear that the current economic-political paradigm is dangerously outdated.  It is, after all, based on the impossible notion (Georgescu-Roegen 1977) that growth of the physical economy can continue forever (Gramm and Solon 2017) and on the often implied but patently false idea that growth is required for human well-being. Perhaps the biggest challenge for their discipline was well stated by economist Kate Raworth (Raworth 2017, p. 240): “to come up with economic designs that would enable nations coming toward the end of their GDP growth to learn to thrive without it.”

Obviously, grounding real-world policies on growth addiction will eventually lead to some form of collapse, but estimating exactly when is fraught with difficulty.  That is especially true for some causes such as a nuclear war (Lewis 2017, Toon et al. 2007), where immediate decisions by fallible individuals play such a major role. The same applies to a crumbling of the debt pyramid.  Famines fueled by climate disruption, including ocean acidification, are somewhat easier (Monbiot 2017) since climate disruption is a biophysical phenomenon that is already tracked and estimates made of the consequences of human meddling. Escalating global toxification, among other things possibly causing today’s plummeting human sperm counts (Horan et al. 2017), is scary, but the timing and magnitude of its effects are difficult to predict.  So are those of a deadly global pandemic, or some other catastrophe or synergism between various combinations of biophysical threats that could make business as usual impossible.

But on the positive side, a broad public realization and acceptance that the global growth economy is ending and the need for redistribution is increasing could also transform our lives.  In theory, of course, a collapse might be avoided.  That likely would require rapid reduction of aggregate consumption, increasing material efficiency and equity (redistribution) replacing perpetual expansion, and giving high priority to internalizing negative environmental externalities.  Those ­­could become the principal economic goals of society. There are some small signs of movement in that direction in the work of leading economist Sir Partha Dasgupta (e.g., Dasgupta and Ehrlich 2013) and other ecological economists, and in the economic de-growth movement in parts of Europe (Amate and De Molina 2013).  Those are the foundation on which we hope other economists will build.

How might economists change their focus more to planning for either prevention or amelioration of the impacts of a possible collapse?  Such planning is almost nonexistent today, not least because the public and decision-makers have been kept largely ignorant of what the threats are (Blumstein and Saylan 2007, Ehrlich, P. R. 2011, Ehrlich, Paul R and Blumstein 2018) and how they might interact (Harte 2007).  Myriad economic issues surround dealing with the threats and their connections.  What, for example, are the economics (and politics) of what might be called “aid-sheds” – the geographic and political resources available to provide aid to areas especially severely damaged, such as cities suffering nuclear detonations?  How much of the expense of rebuilding America’s failing water-handling infrastructure should be dedicated to increasing its flexibility in response to a likely future of continuous changes in temperature and precipitation patterns?[1]

An important demographic trend that may speed collapse and expand its costs is the near certainty of future gigantic waves of migration, generated by climate disruption, major crop failures, or warfare.  Economists should be working to develop international mechanisms to spread the risk so that the financial and social costs do not have to be paid primarily by only one or a few countries (as happened recently in Europe[2]).

If business as usual continues, there will be few opportunities for economists or ecologists to see sensible employment of their expertise in preparing societies for what’s coming. But just as ecologists have actively debated and experimented with optimal designs for nature reserves in a world that is not designing nature reserves, so economists and ecologists should be debating and experimenting on responses to looming existential threats.  The growing number of experimental economists (Levitt and List 2009) might start to explore more important issues than they currently do.  They might, for example, persuade (or finance) selected towns to assemble groups of local political actors, heads of banks and businesses, utility managers, etc. to examine how their town might be kept functioning if it only had electric current two hours a day, no currency, and severely limited food and water supplies.  Comparative results might someday prove useful, as might Capetown’s experience with the recent great drought.[3]

If there is to be any sort of recovery after a collapse, as we indicated a gigantic challenge to economists will be to help design a post-collapse transition to a new society in which the economic system is sustainable, at least over a period of several centuries.  The challenge to design a “steady state” economy that stays within the human carrying capacity of Earth has been long recognized but too little explored.  Herman Daly (Daly 1974) in particular tried to call attention to the design problems, pressing for such growth-control mechanisms as severance taxes on resources.  Others have joined him, but mainstream economists have largely ignored the big issues. For instance, in the last few centuries, for the first time, money and finance became the main focus of civilization. Since that finance focus has led to the wholesale destruction of humanity’s life-support systems, the need for economists to develop a new focus seems obvious.  For instance, how can private capital accumulation be kept under control? Are tax policies the only way? The current literature, as exemplified by that on the retreat of socialism, is centered on how to remove constraints on growth, where growth is considered “a positive effect” (Heybey and Murrell 1999).  Can economists design a system for control of advertising and consumption, coordinated with a revised monetary system that would perhaps increase equality while damping down biophysical throughput?  Are there useful lessons to be learned from the post-Pearl Harbor changes in consumption in the United States?

Economic historians could help by investigating one of the most pressing issues of sustainability: how to deal with what are called “non-renewable resources” (more accurately, those with renewal rates slow enough that for practical purposes once used and possibly recycled, they are gone).  This problem is usually seen as soluble with technological advances and substitutions.  To begin, economists might consider, with full attention to externalities, the costs and benefits of some past transitions, say from hunting-gathering to agriculture, wood to coal burning, coal to gas, copper to glass fiber, or a “well-balanced” atmospheric sink for greenhouse gases to an “overloaded” sink.  It should be possible eventually to calculate such things as might be described as “innovation pressure” and a related “time course of innovation.”

If some form of capitalism isn’t likely to steer humanity to sustainability, one might conclude that the way to limit growth in a post-collapse society would be to set up a communist or socialist government.  That choice would discourage growth-promoting economic competition, especially between large corporations.  But it likely would be a big mistake to allow limited-liability institutions to exist under any governance system if their organization and goals were not drastically changed (Bakan 2005). Socialist systems might tend to have less destructive growth but, especially in the case of communism, if history is any guide, could produce other serious problems.  Concentrations of wealth and power combined with renewed growth addiction and gross neglect of environmental externalities would likely be among them.

Standard economics generally assumes that a system needs to provide incentives to work, save, consume, invest, and reproduce.  But an economic reset would have to consider these goals anew.  How does each activity affect the sustainability of the system?  The need for incentives (or indeed, laws) to regulate human reproduction is manifest in the disaster created in the growth-addicted world by too many high consumers wrecking Earth’s life-support systems and too many low consumers living deprived lives.

We hope we have convinced you that there are vast, complex, and critical questions that could benefit from more attention from economists, preferably collaborating with ecologists and other interdisciplinary scientists, and that we have barely scratched the surface. At the very least we hope that more economists will openly reject a conceptual economic framework that embodies the fantasy of perpetual growth,  and develop a new framework that does justice to biophysical realities. At the moment the situation does not seem very hopeful, as two economists were just given the Nobel Prize for their work on the oxymoronic “sustainable growth.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This piece is dedicated to the memory of our much-missed friend Ken Arrow; he was our wisest and nicest critic.

We thank Scott Barrett, Gretchen Daily, Timothy Daniel, Partha Dasgupta, Joan Diamond, Avinash Dixit, Lawrence Goulder, John Harte, and Simon Levin for insightful comments on the manuscript.


REFERENCES

Amate JI, De Molina MG. 2013. ‘Sustainable de-growth’in agriculture and food: an agro-ecological perspective on Spain’s agri-food system (year 2000). Journal of Cleaner Production 38:27-35.

Bakan J. 2005. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Berg J. 2018. Tomorrow’s Earth: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Blumstein DT, Saylan C. 2007. The failure of environmental education (and how we can fix it). PLoS Biology 5:e120.

Daly HE. 1974. The economics of the steady state. The American Economic Review 61:15-21.

Dasgupta P, Ehrlich PR. 2013. Pervasive externalities at the population, consumption, and environment nexus. Science 340:324-328.

Ehrlich PR. 2011. A personal view: environmental education—its content and delivery. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 1:6-13.

Ehrlich PR, Blumstein DT. 2018. The Great Mismatch. BioScience.

Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. 2009. The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment (Second Edition) Island Press.

Georgescu-Roegen N. 1977. The steady state and ecological salvation: a thermodynamic analysis. BioScience 27:266-270.

Gramm P, Solon M. 2017. Finding America’s Lost 3% Growth: If the country can’t grow like it once did, then the American Dream really is irretrievably lost. . Wall Street Journal September 10.

Harte J. 2007. Human population as a dynamic factor in environmental degradation. Population and Environment 28:223-236.

Heybey B, Murrell P. 1999. The relationship between economic growth and the speed of liberalization during transition. The Journal of Policy Reform 3:121-137.

Horan TS, Marre A, Hassold T, Lawson C, Hunt PA. 2017. Germline and reproductive tract effects intensify in male mice with successive generations of estrogenic exposure. PLoS Genetics 13:e1006885.

Levitt SD, List JA. 2009. Field experiments in economics: The past, the present, and the future. European Economic Review 53:1-18.

Lewis J. 2017. This is how Nuclear War with North Korea would Unfold. Washington Post.

Monbiot G. 2017. Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death. The Guardian.

Raworth K. 2017. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Ripple WJ, Wolf C, Newsome TM, Galetti M, Alamgir M, Crist E, Mahmoud MI, Laurance WF. 2017. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. BioScience 67:1026-1028.

Toon O, Robock A, Turco RP, Bardeen C, Oman L, Stenchikov G. 2007. Consequences of regional-scale nuclear conflicts. Science 315:1224-1225.

[1] https://enviro.blr.com/whitepapers/water/CWA-SDWA-water-regulations/Deterioration-of-water-infrastructure/

[2] http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/europe%E2%80%99s-migration-crisis-context-why-now-and-what-next

[3] https://bit.ly/2JXzGCQi


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

 

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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.
  • César Valdivieso

    Greetings friends of stanford.edu. Talking about the collapse of civilization, here is a proposal that might be of interest to you:

    A SELF SUFFICIENT VIRTUAL CITY AS A MODEL TO BUILD A SUSTAINABLE REAL WORLD

    Despite the high quality of life that some of the so-called developed nations have achieved, the truth is that the world, considered as a group of countries located in a fragile and geographically limited biosphere, is threatened with extinction due to human conflicts and the depredation of the environment.
    Notwithstanding the good and very important actions taken by groups and individuals in favor of a better world, deterioration at all levels continues to increase dangerously.
    After more than thirty years dedicated to these matters, and since “an image is worth a thousand words” we have come up with an alternative strategy, which consists of designing a self-sufficient and sustainable model city that has all the characteristics of infrastructure and organization inherent to the peaceful and sustainable society that we want for ourselves and our descendants, whose representation in the form of scale models, animated series, feature films, video games and theme parks, would constitute a model to follow to generate the necessary changes.
    The prototype that we present has some characteristics that are opposed, sometimes in a radical way, to the religious, economic, political and educational traditions and customs that have been transmitted from generation to generation, yet are the causes of the aforementioned problems, and therefore must be transformed.
    If you are interested in knowing about this project, or even participating in it, we invite you to visit our website https://elmundofelizdelfuturo.blogspot.com/ (written in Spanish and English), where we are working in that sense.

  • Dr D

    Dear Readers,

    you may be interested to read the Silver Gun Hypothesis (aka Holistic Market Hypothesis).
    A book chapter will be published soon on the hypothesis, and Part II of a five-part series is currently in preparation. Part II may be ready by early 2019.

    https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/silver-gun-hypothesis/

    Keep a look out for new articles on the hypothesis on the MAHB.

    Best,
    Delton

  • JohnTaves

    I’m going to take a different approach to attempt to show why Ehrlich, a population expert, is failing to understand the fundamental concepts of population properly. This article would not have been written by him, if he understood the concepts properly.

    The following are questions that have simple answers. The first 8 are answered with a simple yes, or no, or just a few words. They are all unambiguous. None of them are scientifically disputable. If you think the answers are not obvious then you are interpreting them incorrectly. For example, the first question does not ask “what happens when the population grows too large”.

    1) What must happen when we average too many babies for too long? (the answer to this defines what is meant by “too many”).

    2) Do all species average too many babies?

    3) Do we expect those symptoms randomly distributed or clumped?

    4) Is there a particular proximate cause of death that proves humans have averaged too many babies for too long?

    5) Does the theory of natural selection and evolution require the species to average too many babies?

    6) Is there a natural mechanism that regulates fertility so that we do not average too many babies for too long?

    7) Is the world overpopulated?

    8) Is the scientific definition of “replacement rate” and the use of it by population scientists fundamentally flawed? If so, why?

    —–The following are short answer questions. They require a sentence or two to answer correctly.

    9) How is it possible to not average too many babies for too long? Describe possible mechanisms.

    10) I know of one researcher that showed that there Is a correlation to how many children one has to how many siblings one has. What does this mean for the technique of sampling birth rates and extrapolating, then projecting the trends into the future?

    • JohnTaves

      Notice the total lack of response to this posting.

      Maybe the answers are obvious and thus this quiz is not worthy of a response from such esteemed population scientists.

      Maybe the experts know there are no simple answers to these questions and have no desire to explain why I am a complete idiot.

      My interpretation is that the population experts at the MAHB are not interested in learning. They are only interested in supplying the lectures.

      jt

      • Hi John,

        Again, thank you for sharing your perspectives with the MAHB Community. The MAHB strives to create a space where members and viewers can share their personal ideas and thoughts with a community. We do not promote one particular right or wrong answer to the incredibly complex problems humanity faces and we do acknowledge that there are multiple ways to engage, think and solve these issues.

        Your comments have not gone unnoticed, I’m sure. The MAHB discussion section may not be everyone’s chosen method of engagement, but many viewers do review and I’m sure reflect on the opinions shared here.

        Perhaps you would be interested in writing a piece for the MAHB focused on the ideas you’ve presented throughout your comments? Please email me at brittany@mahbonline.org and we can discuss this further if it interest you.

        • JohnTaves

          My goal is to find population experts that can comprehend what I write. I am trying to find a population expert that is willing to rethink their field of expertise and is willing to learn something new. I expect that the MAHB, being founded by Ehrlich, would have such experts. So far that is not the case.

          Notice that this MAHB Admin response is a generic response. It does not actually respond to the original comment or my follow up comment. The specifics of what I write is completely ignored.

          MAHB Admin, please find someone that can respond to question #1.

  • JohnTaves

    Paul Ehrlich and population scientists in general fail to comprehend their own field.

    I agree that Economists do not do basic business accounting. They treat burning fossil fuels as production. They don’t treat it like an accountant would treat a bank account. If money is leaving the bank account, it shows up as a loss on the account’s books. The destruction of non-renewables are not showing up as a loss on anything. Economists fundamentally are measuring currency. Currency measures relative wealth. It cannot measure absolute wealth. Economists have to create price indexes to give us a rough tie to absolute realities. These price indexes give us the impression that Andrew Carnigie was vastly wealthier than me. He wasn’t. His children had a much higher likely hood of dying of some disease that is curable today. More importantly, economic reports do not factor in the dead. Average wealth, income distribution, and countless other measures are not affected in the least by dead children. If economists were to report income differential and factor in the children that die of starvation, there would always be an infinite income differential. So, I agree with Ehrlich that economists are not providing the right reports. However, it does not matter one bit.

    Economic reports have no affect on how many babies we average. Nobody reads an economic report and thinks, “I better not get my girl pregnant.”

    If we average more than 2 we attempt to grow the population to infinity and it makes no bloody difference what the economists are reporting. It is lethal to average more than 2 in a finite space such as Earth. If we average less than 2, our numbers will drop and no matter what the economists are reporting the economy will shrink. Ehrlich, stop blaming economists and start looking in the mirror.

    Economists did not invent the ridiculous I=PAT formula. Look at this stupid formula! The only measurable thing in it is P, and P is driven exponentially by how many babies we average. It swamps the whole damn formula and Ehrlich mentions this…. NEVER!

    If we average more than 2, children must die at the rate of (x-2)/x. This is dirt simple math. If we average 3, 1/3rd of the children die. Ehrlich knows this. He can teach this. He can explain that if we discover ways to increase subsistence production, allowing more to live at one time, then fewer than (x-2)/x of the children have to die. He can explain that this is true only as long as the subsistence production is increasing (for example the past few hundred years). Of course it cannot increase forever.

    Ehrlich can teach the fundamental reality that fewer children have to die if the subsistence supply is increasing. In order to avoid that child mortality, of course we will use resources faster than they renew. Those resources will run out. While the subsistence supply is growing, the population will be growing, but when those resources become scarce, the population will be killed down to the level that can be kept alive with the remaining resources. There is one and only one way to avoid that premature death. We must average less than 2. Ehrlich must know this, but no, he discusses consumption and the reporting of that consumption. I cannot explain this lunacy. There is simply no excuse for any population expert to even mention consumption. Is the planet finite? Yes. Can a finite planet produce infinite food? No. Does averaging more than 2 attempt infinite population? Yes it does. What must give when these 2 powerful forces collide? If the population cannot grow, then no more than 2 on average can become adults. Therefore if we average more than 2 babies, children must die.

    Ehrlich could recognize this brutal fact of nature and recognize that humans have been on Earth long enough for our numbers to have reached the point where averaging too many is killing. How will those deaths appear? Will they be randomly distributed? What is the swing producer of those childhood deaths if violence and disease are not killing fast enough to satisfy the formula? Starvation will be that producer. The deaths won’t be randomly distributed because we group ourselves. Groups of people will suffer starvation related child mortality if we average more than 2 babies for long enough. We have those symptoms. We have always had those symptoms.

    What will it take for me to get this message to Ehrlich? This site was founded by Ehrlich, right? You’d think that someone could ask him to read this comment. (and countless similar comments that I have posted over the years)

    • Dear John,
      Thank you for responding to this piece. Population is intricately intertwined in each and every problem our society is facing. The MAHB and many of its members would agree with you that we cannot justly address other issues without recognizing the impact that population has. Recognizing how our economic system operates under the assumption of infinite growth is a stepping stone in addressing larger societal concerns. Making a plea to economist is only a small piece of a larger conversation about where we are heading.
      The MAHB was founded by Paul Ehrlich and is still overseen by him as well. You may be familiar with much of Paul’s work related to population (See- https://mahb.stanford.edu/?s=Paul+Ehrlich+Population).
      The MAHB appreciates your comment and engagement in this conversation.

      • JohnTaves

        I totally appreciate the response. So far, my comments have been met with silence as if nobody pays any attention. Thank you.

        “Population is intricately intertwined in each and every problem our society is facing.” I don’t agree. Population experts have failed to comprehend the fundamental concepts and have created complexity where there is no need. Here’s an analogy to help explain.

        Imagine that there is a machine at every entrance to the building you are in. That machine shoves another person into the building every second (assume that when someone dies, the body disappears). The building will have problems, and the inhabitants will have problems. Some rooms will have people standing on the furniture and wrecking that furniture, and therefore the experts will be reporting and pleading that we stop wrecking the furniture (the environment). People will be dying of suffocation in some rooms, while others will be comfortable with no wrecked furniture and no suffocation deaths. The experts will report that we have enough room to prevent suffocation deaths. The experts will report that we need to distribute the resources (space) more evenly so that people do not die of suffocation.

        Anyone with half a brain will comprehend that the machine must be stopped. Of course people are wrecking furniture, they are being stuffed into the room. They must stand on the furniture to survive. No amount of reporting or pleading or whining about bad behavior is going to accomplish anything about saving the furniture. Of course people lock their doors and prevent the crush from entering their room. What is the point of letting them in? The end result will be suffocation deaths in that room too. Discussing the need to share better is totally pointless. Measuring the size of the population in the building and commenting on how it has grown, is pointless. Projecting future population sizes and discussing how they might be provided for and lamenting the strain on the furniture is a goddamn waste of time. The population is NOT the root of all problems. THE MACHINE IS! The machine is the root of these problems. It must be stopped.

        In the real world, averaging too many babies is that machine. That machine cannot be stopped by whining about economists, or consumption, or the environment. This article from Ehrlich proves he does not comprehend this. This reply proves that the MAHB Admin does not comprehend this.

        I cannot explain this failure to comprehend. My best guess is that population scientists like Ehrlich believe that the Demographic Transition proves that there is a benign birth rate regulator that is somehow in the process of catching up to the fact that we know how to prevent countless childhood diseases. The thinking is that because are children are not dying, people see this and have fewer. The thinking is that all we need to do is to ensure that everyone has a western education, and developed country education for women and everyone has a decent standard of living and VOILA! we won’t over breed! This is so stupid it is unbelievable.

        Of course the birth rate has dropped in the past century. Cheap effective birth control will do that. That does not mean we are regulating our breeding to ensure we do not kill.

        If your descendants average more than 2, they will cause child mortality, even if everyone else on the planet has ZERO babies. Look what this says about the demographic transition bullshit. In order to believe that the demographic transition correlations can be projected into the future, there cannot be any beliefs that are successfully passed on to an average of more than 2. Have scientists proven that this cannot happen, and therefore they can project birth rates into the future? Let’s grant Ehrlich and all Demographic Transition believers everything they want and more. Every rich, educated, and equal rights family, country, town and village has not just low fertility but ZERO fertility. They make no babies. Every poor village, every uneducated family and every belief system that abuses women also have ZERO fertility. The one exception is the bla-bla-bla believers. They believe that their collection of whatever gods wants them to have at least 4 children. They successfully pass on their bla-bla-bla beliefs to an average of 3 of their children. The ones that don’t believe, have ZERO babies. What happens?

        The same damn outcome we see today happens. We over breed. The people that exist will be causing child mortality. They will be just as ignorant as we are today. They will be every bit as clueless that everyone is today regarding the fact that averaging too many babies kills and is killing children.

        What must we do to ensure that the bla-bla-bla belief system cannot exist? What is Ehrlich doing to teach these simple facts of nature such that everyone can understand that any set of beliefs that results in an average of more than 2 is lethal? This article from Ehrlich, that whines about economists, proves he does not understand what I just wrote. Is he uninterested in recognizing some facts he has overlooked? Is he a scientist, or just another religious believer that wants to fit facts to his demographic transition theory beliefs?

        Please do something to understand this. Please do something more intelligent than telling me that population is at the core of all problems.

        • anotherneighborhoodactivist

          You are not ignored. However it is difficult to engage or respond without spending a huge amount of time on your overly long and difficult to follow comments. Just a few thoughts:

          Your reference to I=PAT is odd; Ehrlich was one of the original promoters of its development and application.

          I think you are talking right past what Ehrlich has written here. I do not believe he is saying “population is at the core of all problems.” More accurate is that this essay is his challenge to economists to stop believing (openly or not) in “the fantasy of perpetual growth” (direct quote from the piece). They are related but not identical memes.

          Your write: “Projecting future population sizes and discussing how they might be provided for and lamenting the strain on the furniture is a goddamn waste of time. The population is NOT the root of all problems. THE MACHINE IS! The machine is the root of these problems. It must be stopped.”

          This paragraph is logically incoherent; the current political-economic system (“the machine”) is intimately connected to the fact of population growth, and to the denial by economists that said growth is a problem.

          Regardless, a strong argument can be made that whatever the cause (“the machine” or something else), population is at the root of our current existential crisis (‘the problem”). Systems ecology grounded on basic physics (thermodynamics) cannot be negated by ideology.

          Bottom line: It is not clear what your point is and your arguments don’t make a lot of sense to me. You seem to be agreeing with Ehrlich’s half century of work but arguing with this specific article for unclear reasons.

          • JohnTaves

            Thanks for the feedback. I need it badly.

            First, I totally agree that my writing requires time to comprehend. It is very different from how all others speak on this topic. I promise that this topic is worth all the time necessary to comprehend what I am trying to convey. This topic is too important.

            I agree with the general population problem that Ehrlich is concerned about with respect to his half century of work. But I do not agree with the terms and phrases that are used, they fail to describe what is happening. I do not agree with how he sees the problem, and therefore the solution.

            Malthus did not understand these issues properly. Ehrlich, Joel Cohen, and Hans Rosling all fail to look at “population” properly. They use terms and definitions that fail to provide the correct understanding.

            I referred to I=PAT to point out how utterly useless that formula is. If Ehrlich comprehended the fundamental principles involved properly, he would have never invented it.

            You missed my definition of “the machine”. I made an analogy and in that analogy, the machine stuffs people into the building every second. In the real world the analog to that machine is “averaging too many babies”. It is not the “the current political-economic system”. Please reread my writing with that in mind. Find the meaning of that analogy.

          • stevenearlsalmony

            Dear John Taves,

            Your thoughts are appreciated and respected, but sometimes hard to understand. That said, will you take a moment to comment on the virtually irrefutable ecological science of human population dynamics that is presented in the following article? The MAHB Administrators and anotherneighborhoodactivist and others are also invited to comment.

            Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply
            January 2001Environment Development and Sustainability 3(1):1-15
            DOI: 10.1023/A:1011463231976

            Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel

            https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226928770_Human_Population_Numbers_as_a_Function_of_Food_Supply

            Thank you,

            Steve Salmony

          • JohnTaves

            Steven,

            I totally agree that the population size is limited by the food supply. I have always agreed with that concept.

            I do not agree that we should be thinking about the population size. We must change our perspective to be thinking about how many babies we average.

            “Your thoughts are appreciated and respected, but sometimes hard to understand.” This is an excuse to fail to understand. This is a cop out.

            You need to ask me to clarify terms. You need to point out sentences that don’t make sense and demand that I clarify. Unless you do that, my thoughts are not appreciated nor respected.

            jt

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            “I do not agree that we should be thinking about the population size. We must change our perspective to be thinking about how many babies we average.”

            This thought is important I think. Are you suggesting that we don’t focus on larger demographic trends and instead on fertility rates? When I make comments (privately) about the couple up the street who have 12 (!) children, my wife tells me to keep it to myself, that the real issue is “how many babies we average” and thus the neighbor’s dozen are balanced by my wife’s none and her and four siblings total of only three and similarly low fertility rate in our area.

            I respond by pointing out that each one of those dozen will have as much impact as a dozen or dozens of people in some places in the world. And that our overall population growth is NOT appreciably slowing while agreeing that locally, aside from in migration (thousands of tech workers to Amazon), that women’s ridiculous reproduction rate is not causing population to increase.

            So, I disagree with your first quoted sentence above: the overall impact on the ecosystem—the total appropriation of primary productivity by humans—is directly connected to the total population. Moderated to some extent by lower A and T in I=P*A*T in much of the world, but IMO that moderation doesn’t help our situation over time at all. Those 2 or more billion people all want their piece of middle class (or better) life comforts.

            Basically, I don’t understand your point: the two sides of the equation (population and fertility) are inextricably linked.

          • JohnTaves

            Your wife is correct to say that the real issue is how many babies we average. However, your wife is wrong to average that family with 12 children with the number you and me had. They can only be averaged into their descendants. Those 12 children must not create more than 4 total grandchildren for their parents. If those children create more than 4 grandchildren the population is attempting to grow to infinity even if you, me, and everyone else on the planet has ZERO!

            In other words, if your descendants average more than 2, they will overpopulate the planet even if everyone else has zero babies.

            Notice:

            1) What does this mean for morality regarding having a lot of children? I mean what does it say about a religion or belief system that advocates having a large number of children?

            2) What does this tell us about who needs to know the brutal fact I just stated above? Um, everyone, right?

            3) What does this tell us about the techniques demographers use to report on fertility rates? They sample, extrapolate, and average right? If country X is averaging 2.5 babies and Japan is averaging 1.5… It makes no bloody difference how many babies Japan is averaging. They can have zero. The population still is attempting to grow to infinity.

            Look at my comment above where I ask a bunch of questions. Those questions have simple answers that EVERY scientist will agree with. Ask similar questions where you effectively change “average number of babies” with “population” and you get NO agreement from the scientists. Notice that nobody asks the first question I listed, instead they ask the analogous population question; “what will happen if the population continues to grow?”

          • JohnTaves

            I thought I would write two responses. The first responds to your thoughts about how many babies we average. This responds to your last thoughts on this.

            I=PAT is totally useless. Yes, of course it is correct. Anything where you can’t measure some of the variables (I and T) cannot possibly be incorrect. Science is about getting agreement. No two scientists will ever agree to what I and T are, and A is rather difficult too. The only variable in that equation where everyone can agree to the goal (count the number of people) is P.

            Earth is finite, therefore P cannot possibly grow to infinity. If we average 3 babies, and the P is at the limit, then only 2 of 3 babies can become adults. The rest must die.

            So, if we don’t want to cause death by averaging too many babies, we will all (see my comment) ensure we do not have more than 2, and no more than 4 grandchildren for our parents and no more than 8 great grands for our grandparents. If we are capable of doing that, we can trivially average fewer than 2 to allow P to drop to allow any A and any T and thus achive any I.

            In other words, how many babies we average determines the child mortality rate and it makes no goddamn difference how affluent we are or what impact we have or what technology we use.

            If we average too many, which means children must die, then of course the ones closest to those deaths will be dirt poor, and of course they will destroy the environment to keep their children alive, and of course they will invent whatever T will help keep those children alive.

            Discussing P is not only useless, it is misleading.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    Quotes from Kenneth E. Boulding:

    Deciding under uncertainty is bad enough, but deciding under an illusion of certainty is catastrophic.

    Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.

    As long as man was small in numbers and limited in technology, he could realistically regard the earth as an infinite reservoir, an infinite source of inputs and an infinite cesspool for outputs. Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. Today we can no longer make this assumption. Earth has become a space ship, not only in our imagination but also in the hard realities of the social, biological, and physical system in which man is enmeshed.

    Economics has been incurably growth-oriented and addicted to everybody growing richer, even at the cost of exhaustion of resources and pollution of the environment.

    Are we to regard the world of nature simply as a storehouse to be robbed for the immediate benefit of man? ….Does man have any responsibility for the preservation of a decent balance in nature, for the preservation of rare species, or even for the indefinite continuance of his race?

  • Sue Zuki

    Economists have the opportunity to save the world – if political will were to exist and they can agree and figure out how to properly price environmental destruction and incentivize environmental restoration. It would leverage societal structures and mobilize them in a way not seen since war times.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    So here we are now, nearing the end of the second decade of Century XXI. The most wealthy among us buy politicians and the same old business-as-usual activities continue, just as the rich and powerful have agreed. Corporations have their PR firms promote whatever it is they want to keep doing, come what may. Large-scale business enterprises of the global economy have become “too big to fail.” The current scale and expected unbridled growth of overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities by the human species are as unsustainable as they are absurd.

    • stevenearlsalmony

      Is abject moral bankruptcy the price to be paid for an ongoing economic boom?

      Are the wages for endless economic growth to be secured by a global ecological wreckage?

      Where have all the bees, birds and flowers gone?

  • Dan Costello

    We hope we have convinced you that there are vast, complex, and critical questions that could benefit from more attention from economists, preferably collaborating with ecologists and other interdisciplinary scientists, and that we have barely scratched the surface.“ Are you a moron eugenicist. If you want me to work with you, the contract has to be sweet. You understand: sweet. And you have to be respectful of other people`s knowledge sets, not just your own weeping violet crowd. Sometimes you remind me of a Raelian. Perpetually awaiting the end, and perpetually postponing it. You certainly aren`t complaining when your paychecks are coming in, and none of those would be coming in without economists. Will Utzi the Iceman please stand up. Which one of you sustains on roots and berries, which one of you suffers for your freedom of speech. Which one of you does not pass gas. Let he cast the first stone upon economists. Grow some spines, hire a Canadian. Stop bitching at me. TY

    • anotherneighborhoodactivist

      Pouring bile solves nothing. Don’t read it if you have nothing else to say.

  • Dan Costello

    If you want help from an economist, it doesn’t come for free. Do you work for free? Also the contract terms have to be reasonable along with full provisions: generous. You get what you pay for. Ask your peronist pal Papa Facho.

  • Thomas Tunstall

    One solution economists could press for is full life cycle accounting. As it stands, many of the thing we consume are under-priced.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1982920610/?coliid=I1WZ7N8N3CO77R&colid=3VCPCHTITCQDJ&psc=0&ref_=lv_ov_lig_dp_it

  • Geoffrey Holland

    All good answers begin with stripping power from bankers, billionaires, and corporatists. Miost economists, directly or indirectly, work for bankers, billionaires, and corporatists. The emerging generation will have no choice. For them, it will be fascism or a fundamental remaking of the global economic structure. Fascism is already taking root here and in too many other nations. Meantime,wildlife numbers have dropped 60% in just the last 40 years. Extreme weather is.happening more often in more places, and human numbers continue grow substantively in places that are least able to manage it. I don’t see any good way forward without a lot of pain and suffering. How about a movie set 20 years from now with a charismatic political superhero, who tells it like it is?. .

    • Dan Costello

      Orange Man Bad.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    End the award of the Nobel Prize to economists until such time as their professional perspectives take account of the practical biophysical requirements of a planet with finite resources and frangible ecosystems of Earth.

    • Dan Costello

      Ridiculous.

      • stevenearlsalmony

        If the economic colossus we call the global political economy is in fact a wholly-owned subsidiary of Earth, then your view of things is simply preposterous. Given the current gigantic scale and expected annual, seemingly endless growth of the economic colossus in coming years, what other conclusion can be drawn except the one that plainly reports how the global economy will ravage Earth’s body and its frangible environment sooner rather than later. The mere idea of endless economic growth in a finite world is absurd. That economists believe such an absurdity is clear, present and dangerous evidence of the triumph of ideological idiocy. The children’s future is effectively being stolen from them by economists and other greed-mongers in my not-so-great generation of elders, sad to say.