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Overpopulation is an Environmental Red Herring

It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that 2020 has been an interesting year (in the sense of “May you live in interesting times”). Fires, plagues, floods, Presidential impeachment, global economic meltdown, lockdowns: this year has seen them all. And we’re only in September. Thank goodness there isn’t a major election coming up where some are predicting social breakdown in nearly every conceivable scenario or anything

It’s not quite dogs and cats living together in peace and harmony, but another sign that the end is nigh is that I find myself nodding along to an article of George Monbiot (greenie extraordinaire) in the Guardian. In it, Monbiot argues that blaming overpopulation for environmental concerns is a cop out, particularly for rich people in first world nations who get to lecture the third world on the need to have fewer children while they enjoy a lifestyle with a carbon footprint bigger than that of small central African nations.

As he states, the current population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated among the world’s poorest people. This means that a rising human population is only producing a tiny fraction of the extra resource use and greenhouse gas emissions due to consumption growth. Instead, we in the West should be turning our attention on our own behaviours (that latest iPhone, the plane trip to Davos to discuss climate change) rather than fretting about more Indian or African babies.

The example Monbiot gives of Dame Jane Goodall is a good one. She told the World Economic Forum in Davos that if only we had the same population as we did 500 years ago (500 million) then the current environmental issues would not be with us. The audience of course consisted of those with ecological footprints many thousand times greater than the global average. But the greater irony is that Goodall has previously appeared in British Airways advertising. If the world’s population was 500 million, and it was entirely composed of the average UK plane passenger, then our environmental impact would probably be greater than the 7.8 billion people alive today. When it comes to the environment, population size does not matter nearly as much as lifestyle.

Indeed, wishing that the world’s population was one-sixteenth its current size is the same as wishing for the moon and just as useless. Tut-tutting about more people being born over there saves us from having to worry about anything we are doing over here. It is environmental virtue-signalling.

Except when it leads to policy outcomes that are far worse than virtue-signalling. Population panic has led to barbaric, coercive population control measures in many countries throughout the world. And this is not an historical problem: UK foreign aid was helping to fund crude, dangerous and coercive sterilisation in India as recently as 2011, it was justified on the grounds that it was helping to “fight climate change”. (At the same time the UK aid was also pouring money into developing coal, gas and oil plants around the world…)

Of course, Monbiot could have been reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si in which the Holy Father said that:

“To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.”

And both Monbiot and Pope Francis had perhaps been reading this very blog, since nearly a decade ago I wrote of the thinly-veiled condescending bigotry underlying much of the West’s panic about overpopulation. Perhaps now that the more people are coming around to the view that the world’s population will stop growing in a few decades, we will see less insistence on the kinds of arguments Monbiot is railing against.

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Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and… .

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U.S. Census Bureau: Demographic and Economic Profiles of Iowa’s Electorate

WASHINGTON, D.C. /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In advance of the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, the Census Bureau presents a variety of statistics that give an overall profile of each state’s voting-age population and industries. This is the first in a series of such profiles for all the states holding primaries or caucuses. Statistics include:

cb16-tps09_graphic_voting_iowa

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau http://www.census.gov

Thinking About China

Napoleon Bonaparte purportedly said “Let China sleep, for when China wakes, she will shake the world.”

Cover - China ChallengeAs Thomas J. Christensen, the author of his recently published “The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power”, reminds us, “For millennia China was arguably the greatest civilization on the planet and for many previous centuries its most powerful empire.”

China is no longer an empire, but it remains a huge nation geographically and huge in terms of its population.

From the website worldometers.info, we learn:

Christensen is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Currently he is the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics and director of the China and World Program at Princeton University. After reading his book, you might well conclude that there is little about China and Asia he does not know.

We are mostly dependent on various news stories about China to have any idea what is occurring, but the fact remains that just as the U.S. has its optimists and pessimists, conservatives and liberals who influence policy the same exists for China, so a lot depends on who is being quoted. Generally, though, it is only the top leaders who are. That means we are getting the Chinese “party line” and the occasional general or admiral warning against any aggression.

China did not begin to awaken as a modern nation until after the death of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, a Communist with a capital “C.” Christensen notes that, while keeping its political ideology, the leader that followed him made a “peaceful transformation launched under CCP leader Deng Xiaopping in 1978 and the collapse of the superpower Soviet Union thirteen years later that made China appear to stand tall again among the great powers.” The transitition was to a capitalist-based economy.

These days the Chinese and the Russians are making efforts to achieve areas of cooperation and, in particular, their militaries. They hold drills together for common defense strategies.

Christensen believes that “China’s return to great power status is perhaps the most important challenges in twenty-first century American diplomacy”, but to put that in context he points out that “China’s per capita income is only one fifth that of the United States” and “though a true trade superpower, many of its exporters are controlled at least in part by foreign investors.”

“Still, the pessimists do not give enough credit to the sustainability of U.S. leadership in Asia,” says Christensen. “For example, they often underestimate the value of American’s unparalleled network of allies and security partners.” You can be sure that the Chinese leadership does not.

They also have, as one would expect, concerns about U.S. military power in their area of the world, but they feel the same about Japan and South Korea as well. “China is not currently an enemy of the United States,” says Christensen, nor is it likely to be for a long time to come.

“It does not need to be contained like the (former) Soviet Union. Nor should China become the kind of regional or global adversary that we have faced in the past, although that outcome, unfortunately, is still a distinct possibility.” That possibility depends on China’s leadership now and in the future. For now they are concentrating on their economy and are likely to do so for many years to come.

Chinese Money“China’s economic clout is real and growing rapidly, especially since the 2008 financial crisis. China has been the main engine of growth for the world’s economy since that time and, by some measures, has become the world’s number one trading state.” There is only one reason why the U.S. has not yet recovered from the financial crisis and his name is Barack Obama.

I suspect that Obama is held in disdain by the Chinese leadership despite all the public handshakes. For one thing, China weathered the financial crisis far better than the U.S. “One of the burdens the new Obama administration inherited in early 2009 was a China bearing a mix of cockiness and insecurity that would negatively influence its policies in 2009-2010,” says Christensen and as the U.S. foundered in Afghanistan and Iraq “American power inspired less awe.”

“Sometime in 2012, the ‘Asia pivot’” of the Obama administration “would be jettisoned in Washington for the more subtle ‘Asia rebalance.’” If you get the feeling that the Obama administration has no real China policy or one that will have little influence, you are right.

With regard to China, It likely does not matter what the Obama administration does for its remaining one and a half years in office.

Various scholars and diplomats will continue to keep a watchful eye on China and most surely many corporate leaders and U.S. entrepreneurs will do so as well given its huge population as a marketplace. It’s already a great tourist destination.

Napoleon was right.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

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