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Forest Deer

Photo: Jim Wiegand


Eating ourselves out of a home . . .

No, not the deer in the photo.  Humans.

The earth’s human population is increasing exponentially, and is already at an alarming 7 billion people. That number, up from only 1 billion in 1804, is expected to exceed 9 billion in only about 50 years. Developed countries like the US use more resources — and do more damage — per capita than so called third-world countries.

Our planet simply cannot sustain such a human population.  Clicking this link will explain it all very simply.


So, is the real answer to find more ways of feeding too many people, or finding ways to curb human population growth?

The self-proclaimed ‘Science and Reason’  magazine Skeptical Inquirer recently awarded Michael Specter, New Yorker staff writer, CSI’s Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking for best exemplifying healthy skepticism, logical analysis  or empirical science.

The award was for Specter’s recent book Denialism; How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, published in 2009 by The Penguin Press. The award was cited in the July/August 2010 News and Comment page of Skeptical Inquirer.

I took issue with some of Specter’s views in my letter, printed below, and sent to SI Letters to the Editor.

SI said, 

Specter argues that this fear (of science) has real consequences and will lead to future disasters when scientific progress declines and the world is not capable of feeding its growing population, diseases that could be eradicated infect millions of people, and global warming threatens our very survival as a species.

  (Italics: Author)

My response is below:

Dear SI;

I was dismayed at your prize winner’s assertion that without scientific progress the world may not be capable of feeding our growing population.

If science is to be not only responsible but proactive, the issue should not be to keep encouraging and feeding (at the planets’ expense) a mass and ultimately unsustainable over-population of humans.

The Earth is already suffering (undoubtedly irreversible) damage to life as we know it.  We are in the midst of the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs — maybe even since the Permian-Triassic extinction. Earth is losing biodiversity at a catastrophic rate. This one is not caused by geologic cycles or cosmic influence.  Much if not all of this is being caused by human impact on the planet, through things like deforestation, pollution, habitat loss, desertification, facilitation of invasive species and perhaps even anthropogenic climate change. A neighbor of mine is having a cluster of old trees cut down in his yard right now, during one of the most excruciatingly hot Atlanta summers on record. The increased scorching sun will of course just make things worse for all.

We are already eating ourselves out of a home. I’m sure someone has a graph somewhere correlating our expanding population with habitat and species destruction.

These losses are more than sentimental or aesthetic; they will soon impact the quality — even the sustainability — of life for every human as well as almost every other species on the planet.

The web is unraveling. Cascade failure. That is the issue; not feeding still more of us.

To identify the problem incorrectly (i.e.; how do we keep feeding and growing this unsustainable imbalance in human population numbers as the planet crumbles around us) while ignoring the important core issues of lowering birth rates, minimizing our negative impact on the planet and also raising the quality of life for a more reasonable and balanced human population level, is frightening.

With all due respect, I expect more from the true forward thinkers and sharp scientific minds at SI.


It could be argued that wherever there has been overpopulation of any species, suffering, hardship and collapse have followed.  While we have thus far been able to overpopulate far beyond the carrying capacity of our planet (not just a specific habitat) because of, and through the use of, ‘progress and technology’,  the associated destruction of planetary systems is now catching up with us.  In other words, we are overpopulating better and worse than any species before us.  The only difference between us and, say, rats, locusts or deer, is that our overpopulation is far more serious, not self-limiting (yet) and capable of causing quite irreparable damage to our fragile biosphere and life as we know it.

So, what do you, the reader, think?  Shall we keep fanning the flame by finding ways to feed (read: enable) yet greater population growth, and the resulting planetary damage, or find ways to encourage smaller, happier, healthier, and ultimately, more precious families?  

Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts on this issue.