Myopia, GDP and other fertility drugs of the 21st Century

| September 17, 2019 | Leave a Comment


It is more important now than ever to talk about population. What will we do if we continue to grow at exponential rates? What are ethical, viable strategies to decrease population?

This is a blog in the MAHB Let’s Talk About Population Blog Series.

The MAHB is pleased to share with you our reflections on addressing overpopulation and an honest response to the issue. We invite you to join us on September 19th to continue this conversation and discuss our next steps.

Demographers are some of the smartest people I know—their discipline requires cross-discipline training. In addition to statistics and quantitative methods, they must understand economics, sociology, medical systems, how national and international policies are made, environmental constraints and degradation and principles of development. Demographers cannot be trapped in academic silos.

And yet too often, when confronted with the opportunity for a conference on over-population, vision narrows and the complexity shaved away. Too often the focus is on numbers—total population and tfr—inspiring us to build our conferences through the lens of numbers, and through that lens we see Africa, Asia and other brown nations. Western and advanced economies (AEs) are nearing replacement levels propelling white conference organizers to hold conferences focusing on the growing population in the emerging or developing economies (DEs).

To really understand and respond to overpopulation we must first remember that society is concerned about population because of the impact on civilization of too many people—if we destroy our natural ecosystems because of over-use, our life support systems begin collapsing and the collapse of civilization follows. Our concern is not with the number of people, but the Impact of people on the planet that feeds, houses, and inspires them.

In addition to using the lens of numbers, these AE conference organizers tend to forget the most basic education about environmental degradation: IPAT, the model for understanding the driving factors of the human predicament where Impact is a function of population x affluence x technology.

A valuable conference on overpopulation must address front and center affluence and technology (which is a proxy for social and technical interventions that might ameliorate the impact of just population x affluence). One approach would be to fund an educational meeting organized by the leading voices in the developing economies that focuses on “affluence” (consumption and dependence on growth) and their role in environmental degradation and the threat of collapse (impact). The outcome would be a clear statement of the ethical responsibilities of the wealthy and middle class and proposed strategies for meeting those responsibilities. Such a meeting might include topics such as GDP the fertility drug of advanced economies; role (if any) of borders in the 21st century; norm of one, preference for zero; equity in an inequitable world; and so forth.

These are the really tough issues driving over-population. There are other huge issues in the developing economies—and they need better funding, they need scaling, they need support from the AEs. It is perhaps too simplistic to say Africa isn’t driving us towards collapse, US consumption/growth is—but it is also not far off. It is fair to say that there are hundreds of effective ever-improving initiatives in DEs where population is growing; I cannot say the same for initiatives dealing with growth, consumption and the heavy footprint of the AEs.

Finally, I can’t leave this topic without noting another gross inconsistency in modern population conference planning: the refusal to go beyond population-stabilization, the denial of the need to go all the way to reduction in total population. Remember algebra: it is irrational to think of environmental and social impact without including population numbers and affluence and technology; we can’t expect to just stop growth in population and reduce impact to a survivable level—we are already in extreme overshoot.

Everyday we see signs of environmental degradation and threats to life support systems—air, water, biodiversity, soils, etc—stopping growth in total population without dealing with consumption and growth in consumption, will not save us from ourselves.

Often, we hear that “population” is a taboo topic. Perhaps we are afraid of it not because of the “personal” nature of talking about how many children people can have, but because we in the advanced economies are too cowardly to touch the real taboo—consumption, growth addiction, and equity.

The MAHB will be hosting a Zoom meeting on Thursday September 19th at 9am PST to discuss the next steps in collaboration on a population conference. If you are interested in joining this conversation, please email Brittany- 

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

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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.
  • billdowling

    IF (big if) readers will acept what the Global Footprint Network data tells us – that we really need to be only around 4.5 billion NOW, and therefore logically that we need to get down to well under 4 billion ASAP, in order to have much if any biodiversity and other species left on the planet; it becomes clear that the only way to get the population down to that level quickly enough is shown by these 3 graphs.

    • ThisOldMan

      You don’t mention the fourth way, which the collective insanity increasingly evinced by the human race will soon make inevitable even if it is not already: A sharp rise in the mortality rate.

      • billdowling

        That will still have an aditional effect of course..As you can see from the one child graph it takes about 2 decades before it takes effect and actually starts to reduce the population. So for another 20 years or so we stupid humans, still at around 8 billion, will still be overconsuming the planet and adding to our demise due to climate change and loss of biocapacity and biodiversity and pollution and depletion of resources. And of course we will never get 100% compliance to a one child limit agreement ,will we? . So we need to hope that a good number will have no children to offset this – as well as the effect of this natural increase in mortality rate. However, do please bear in mind that scientists are always trying to increase our longevity at the same time!

        • Arnold Byron

          To Bill and ThisOldMan.

          You talk about reducing the population using a one child plan. This is good. I applaud you. A one child plan that has set a goal for a certain sized population, say two billion people, has to also plan for what happens after the reduction goal met. At that point there will be a need for a two child pan to maintain stability. The an important consideration is that the stability phase will kick in whether stability comes after the population has been reduced or increased from what it is now. Those of us who deny that we need to go to a one child plan to reduce the population are doing wishful thinking or not thinking at all.

          The next question i: Should a one child plan require controlled population. Bill, you said “of course we will never get 100% compliance.” This is to save humanity. We need to have 100% compliance. The only way we will get that is by instituting controlled population reduction. If you study my plan for global office you will see how I think a controlled population reduction can be accomplished without hardship for anyone. People might not like it but they will just have to join the family.

          It might help if we chose to say realistic reproduction resourcefulness instead of population control. (I’m not kidding’)

  • Arnold Byron

    Timothy Havel tells how much 7.7 billion is. Bill Dowling wants to cut the population in half asap. Greeley Miklashek says universities won’t pay attention to the overpopulation that is in front of their faces. Steven Salmony says that the indifference that university scientists and professionals display shows how the very people we count on are failing the current needs of humanity. I agree with you all. Now let me tell you what I want.

    Here are a couple of ideas. I want to see humans everywhere doing actual work to solve the problems. It is easy to see solar panels and windmills being erected which is good. I also want to see governments making money available to finance solar panels and windmills at a far greater rate than they are now. Nothing has been built that will remove carbon from the atmosphere. But regenerative agriculture will sequester carbon in the soil. I want to see people teaching others how to do regenerative agriculture. The long chain polymers that make up carbonaceous matter can be broken down into the petroleum products with the technology we already have. I want to see governments all over the world putting large amounts of money into projects like these so that men and women can be given the hands on work that needs to be done to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

    The above are doable. They can be started as soon as a global office is in place to order and to coordinate the work. A global office is needed because these efforts must be coordinated worldwide. The challenge is that the nations have to work together to create a global office. The nations will need help. That help must come from the colleges and universities because they have the expertise to help the nations.

    The problem is: How does one get the colleges and universities to take charge. Greeley speaks of his disappointment with the University of Wisconsin. I wrote to the Boards of Regents of ten western states without avail. The only answer to the global crisis is to create is a global authority that has the power to fashion and coordinate the work orders that will put people to work doing hands on tasks that will result in removing carbon from the atmosphere and in ending the use of fossil fuel.

    Thinking positively there aught to be an axiom that states: If everyone wants a job done and everyone works to get the job done, the job will get done. We must keep on working.

    • billdowling

      Trouble is while we are doing all these good right and proper things you suggest to help alleviate the situation another 10,000 more people are arriving on the planet every hour of every day with no significant reduction in this rate. The UN ASSUME that the birth rate will get down below an average of 2 children per woman by 2100 from a gloal average of 2.4 now. Based on that assumotion we will be just under 11 billion in 2100. How is that going to be possible, based on what realy keeps us all alive – the earths biocapacity! Not more economic growth, higher GDP or more technology! These all increase our consumption of biocapacity as well as reducing biodiversity, decimating wildlife and making more species extinct and polluting more of the planet’s land seas and air nad add to climate cahnge. It is high time we humans with any fully functioning brains left all put our heads together and decided what sort of future we want for our grandchildren because as things stand now – I doubt they have much of one to look forward to., Fortunately mine are still a little too young to realise that. . But all of of those children now out on school strikes do – and they are soon going to be quite rightly be blaming all of us adults, including their own parents and grandparents for doing nothing about it but add to their problem. We should be ashamed of ourselves..

      • Arnold Byron

        I didn’t mention how the idea of a global office would be central to population reduction as well as carbon dioxide reduction. A global office would have hundreds or thousands of local offices spread throughout the world. The local offices would be staffed by employees who would oversee the work that the global office has ordered. This would include family planning staff who would work with the people as they plan and give birth to their allotted child and then as they deal with the contraception measures after the child is born. The contraceptive measures would be, for the most part, vasectomies for the men and IUDs for the women.

        Please consider the reality that since we are in overshoot we must reduce the population until we are out of overshoot. What happens after we reduce the population and stabilize then every family cannot have more than two children, forever, until the sun goes nova. This is the only fate for the human population going forward.

        Local offices with family planning staff will be needed to teach the population. By the way, there will no longer be a reason fr abortions because both the father and the mother will be required to have a contraceptive. Again, this is the fate of the human race forever.

        • billdowling

          Sounds good. But it is a lot easier said than done. While it seems like all we have to do is convince those that rule over us that they need to set up this global office and all these local offices, this is a very tall order, They simply do not appreciate that either overpopulation or overconsumption by that population is a problem that they need to resolve, certainly not with the necessary sense of urgency.

          Maybe we could find a bilionaire or two that thinks like we do that would finance a sufficiently aware section of the population to set these up? Could we do this wholly independantly of those that rule over us and achieve what needs doing that way? Guess what will happen next.

          As soon as we became too succesful at reducing the birth rate these idiots would be worrying about population decline and reduced economic growth so they would start encouraging and even paying people to have more babies! They would be backed by many many more bilionaires and business corporations and stocks and bond and share holders concerned that their customr base was declining and that their sales figures were dropping and that the Dow and FTSE and other financil indexes all over the world were dropping like a stone.

          The real problem here is that a huge bunch of money crazed lunatics have taken over the global asylum we all live in!

          There is a Cree Indian prophecy I am reminded of here that was made when the white man stole their lands:
          “Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has ben caught, only then will you realise that money cannot be eaten.”

          • Arnold Byron

            Thank you, Bill, for acknowledging the possible future creation of global office. You have not yet given your opinion on whether a global office is needed and you have not endorsed the idea of a global office, such as I have suggested. I understand that. I am happy at this point that you have used the words, global office, in your comment. You also point out some of the roadblocks that will be encountered in getting the world’s political and economic powers to buy into establishing a global office. The job ahead will not be easy.

            I do not think that you will give up on working to help solve the crises that humanity is facing. I do not plan on giving up. I have written to the university regents of ten western states in the United /states to no avail. I have not followed up on that first writing. I would like to contact other professionals who are part of or connected to colleges and universities. Do you know of any who are of the same mind as we are. I would like to know how to reach out to the students at colleges and universities. It would help if you or anyone out there can become involved.

            This is what I envision as the only way that humanity will be able to put up a unified front to take on the challenges of overpopulation, global warming, nuclear hazards and other crises.

            We have one global authority: The United Nations. We need a second global authority. One that is different from the United Nations. One that will be limited to do only certain things. The limitations that will be placed on this authority will be put their by a special confederation of nations. This confederation of nations will be given only limited powers to create a global office, which will also have limited authority. Ratification of the documents that will ordain and establish this arrangements will be done by each nation. Hopefully such an arrangement will prevent special interests from standing in the way or gumming up the works.

            Who is going to put t this all together. It has to be the colleges and universities, worldwide. But in order to do this the colleges and universities will have to join together as an association — with officers and committees and all of that — so that they can act together.

            I want to keep my eyes on the prize. But it will take thousands of people talking to the students, professors, administrators and regents of all of the colleges and universities in the world to begin the process of establishing an association of colleges and universities limited to the purpose of establishing and advising a confederation of nations having limited powers which will establish a global office having limited authority.

            Everything that I have said is doable. Not doing it will result in a socio-economic collapse, which will result in untold hardships and the deaths of billions of people, perhaps even extinction.

  • Timothy Havel

    Regarding the population dilemma, there are two books I’d like to recommend, followed by some commentary as to what I have learned by reading them.

    The first is “Countdown” by Alan Weisman, who recently travelled the globe to obtain an insider’s view of the problem in just about every major country on earth. It’s epic, and surprisingly entertaining at the same time.

    The second is “A Million Dots” by Andrew Clements & Mike Reed. It’s not really about population per se; it’s just 100 pages each of which is a grid of 100 x 100 dots per page, for a total of a million dots, with lots of interesting annotations in the margins. The one idea it tries to get across is just how big a number a million is, on the scale of what the human brain can actually comprehend. It would, of course, take 7,700 of these books to make 7.7 billion dots, which when stacked one-on-top-of-another would be roughly 10 stories tall.

    You couldn’t even shake the hand of that many people if you did nothing else but for your entire life, and only a very small fraction of them, perhaps as little as a millionth, will ever have any significant positive impact upon history or society as a whole. All the rest of us merely consume resources, which if done in moderation is not sinful per se, but still has its costs.

    In other words, as things stand each and every one of us would be much better off if the vast majority of the rest of us did not exist. That, in my opinion, is the real problem with having to share the planet with 7.7 billion other people. It creates a strong disincentive for us to care for one another — besides making it impossible to care for the planet as a whole. And without caring for one another, we will never achieve the unprecedented degree of cooperation needed to turn this battleship around.

  • Howard Goldson

    If we want to address this problem both realistically and humanly. We should send a team of population experts and ethnographers to each of the most populous areas of the world and ask them to live among the people to gain their trust and to understand their ways and the reasons for their “over-population”. Once such understanding has been achieved we should then enter into a discussion with each such population to ascertain how they would address the problem of earth sustainability. The many such answers together with the global north position should then become a world-wide question of dialogic negotiation in which all human difference is respectfully considered and a multifaceted solution(s) is decides upon. Such solution must be constantly reviewed and adjusted to deal with unexpected consequences.

    • billdowling

      The problem isnt just the number of people it is what those people are doing that you must consider. Did you know that it takes around 160 of the poorest africans living in what you call a populous area to equal the carbon footprint of one average North American citizen? I think the comparable figure for the average European is around 70. So, if you want to fight climate change, which population is it that realy needs reducing – since it seems to be increasingly difficult if not almost impossible to get either the average North American or the average European to cut their carbon footprint!

  • billdowling

    I pin all my faith and understanding on the Global Footprint Network data. That basically says one of three things.

    1. We really need to shed something like 3 bilion people immediately – or shall we say more practically ASAP – like by introducing a one child limit? – to be sustainable at the current global average standard of living. The truth is that only 4.5 bilion of us should be living like they do on average in the middle east or cental asia now . Either that, or we can still choose to continue to maintain the same grossly unequal consumption patterns as we have now – but with no further capacity for either more population growth or any further increase in global average consumption anywhere in the world – which doesnt give much hope for alleviating poverty or allowing poorer countries to develope does it? That is,unless the rich countries voluntarily reduce their high consumption of course! Oh,and by the way, the GFN data does not allow for the setting aside of any biocapacity for other species. i.e. We really need to be a lot less than 4.5 billion if we still want to be able to see a lot of wildlife!

    2. If we insist and persist with leaving 7.7 bilion people or more on the planet living like we are now with the grossly unequal and far too high a level of global average consumption we will force nature to kill off at least that 3 bilion, and probably an awful lot more, sooner rather than later; because there simply isnt enough biocapacity to last that many people forever. At 7.7 billion we really should all be living like the average vietnamese is now to be sustainable.

    3. If any people seriously think we can keep on adding more people on the planet while so many of the ones we have now are still planning on increasing their individual resource consumption or pinning all there hopes on further economic grwoth nad more technology- quite clearly those people needd their heads examined to see if their brains are still working.

  • Mary ELLEN Harte

    In the US, it’s the costs that count – we can make a case that unintended pregs cost the US greatly in terms of increasing poverty and crime. Time for a book that addresses issues that will get US voters engaged in granting free universal access to effective family planning.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Ha, ha, ha,…. Why on earth did I waste my time here trying to share the medical implications of overpopulation, what I’ve termed “population density stress”. 80% of America’s population over the age of 50 has at least one chronic medical condition, as well as 55% of all adults, and we are turning the whole damn country into one giant outpatient medical clinic. And the cause is population density stress! Don’t believe me, read “Stress R Us” here in the e-library, or just keep on suffering and dying like my 25,000 patients I attended over 42 years while writing 1,000,000 Rx just to keep folks alive. We are a profoundly stupid species, and yet we are so narcissistic that we’ve convinced ourselves of our great intelligence-compared to what, worms?

    There are no overpopulation conferences that I know of, at least not within my commuting area around Madison, WI, and there’s no interest what-so-ever in the issue of human overpopulation at the University of Wisconsin. I know because I’ve searched high and low. There are demographers, but they have no interest in human overpopulation or its environmental consequences or its health consequences. There’s an invisible wall built around this university and unless you’re offering a fistfull of money with no strings attached, you need not attempt to climb that wall. Sad. Stress R Us

  • Steven Earl Salmony

    If we are proceeding along the track of whatsoever is somehow right/real, then the failure of top-rank professionals with appropriate expertise in the worldwide scientific community to widely share and consensually validate the best available research of human population dynamics will be the greatest academic scandal of Century 21. Scientists will have failed science and humanity by willfully denying on our watch the heretofore unfalsified ecological science regarding the root cause of skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers: a primary precipitant of global ecological problems looming ominously before the family of humanity.

    If the leaders of the human community go on confronting global ecological problems while continuing to ignore the root cause of these problems (i.e., ever increasing the food supply for human consumption), then all of us will effectively be choosing to keep doing what we are doing now and to keep getting what we are getting now. Because the current colossal scale and anticipated growth of the seemingly endless expansion of industrial food production and distribution capabilities is patently unsustainable on a planet with size, composition and ecology of Earth, we can expect a human-driven global ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort in the lifetime of billions of people alive today.

    • billdowling

      Hear Hear Steven!