Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's Hard Being Right All The Time, vol 2.

As the glaciers of the new Ice Age advance, we're starting to hear less about global warming and more about...anyone? Anyone?

Well, what did I say?

That's right, "overpopulation". Can you say "Soylent Green"?

A certain group of people have learned they can get people's attention with impending doom. A few hundred years ago, we were worried (after a fashion) about the rapture. Some percentage of the population relate really strongly--and not in a campy, funny or otherwise entertaining way--to the end of the world (as we know it).

Overpopulation hits a bunch of great button because a lot of environmentalists just hate people. And a lot of misanthropists will happily join the enviro-crowd for a justification for their pre-existing people-hate. And, hey, who doesn't think there are too many of "the wrong kinds" of people? (Present company always excluded, of course.)

Another great thing about overpopulation is that you can always assert that it's either here or imminent. The proof is in the poverty, or the over-crowdedness, or in disease or war--really, it's way better than global warming, because GW can be refuted with a few temperature readings. (In fact, that's a big part of GW's current "problems".)

Could anyone visit Hong Kong or New York and doubt that overpopulation was real? The vast quantities of empty space on this planet notwithstanding, it's something meant for cherry-picking. And the rebuttal when pointing out a Montana or a (say) rapidly emptying Russia, can always be "Well, sure, there's no one there..."

And just like the AGW types, the neo-Malthusians always take their own correctness for granted. This is what people miss about "the science is settled". As far as the AGW believer is concerned, the science is settled in his own mind. Which is what matters.

The advertisers over at Althouse have tied it, rather cleverly, to immigration. (Of course, we could probably absorb our current population in immigrants if our school system worked and we didn't hand out money with our social services.)

Anyway, there's another problem with overpopulation as a threat: All the socialist wealth redistribution plans require an ever-expanding base of young people to fund themselves, but all the people living in socialist countries stop having children.


I've decided that the fallout from the current economic crisis is going to work out well, at least in the long run. We simply don't have the money to continue believing that the government can provide a catch-all safety net (and do so with no negative consequences). This is going to cause a realignment that includes disposing of many stupid, observably false ideas.

OK, probably not, but I've decided there's no reason not to be optimistic.


  1. The economic crisis will change things in strange ways we don't even see yet. Most of all it is showing the One as the crooked pol I always assumed he would be. He's in it for ego and power and money too. Not to save the world. Watch and see.

  2. I've decided that the fallout from the current economic crisis is going to work out well, at least in the long run.

    This is what I've been hoping. But we would need a really good communicator to be around at just the right time to explain that government programs aren't the solution. As worthless as the republicans have been lately at delivering this message, who's going to do it? I hope there's a really charming, really articulate Libertarian somewhere out there.

  3. I'm not expecting anything from our political class, which is pretty venal.

    I think that's part of the progression of society: When starting out, pols may take a piece, but they get the business done.

    Then they forget the business part, and all they know is taking a piece. When I read the legislation they write, I get the strong impression they have no idea what they're doing.

    Or when I see, as I did this election, a tax hike being used for roads. Roads, the most fundamental part of a government's duty. The first thing that should come out of the budget.

    That's the real danger of the government power grabs. Not that they'll be some super-efficient ruthless police state, but that they're the proverbial dog chasing a car.

    Case in point: the economic situation.

    They have no clue.

    TY, I don't know how Obama's going to shake out. But he's not so different from McCain except McCain was serving his ego more than his pocketbook and Obama's doing both.

    There has to be a sound principle or two in there somewhere about governance otherwise we're just looking at a couple of fat guys at the buffet.

    And I would expect it to come from a non-politician, like Rush, but it might come from a Newt. It sure as hell won't come from a newspaper or TV show.

  4. Hey why did you drop readers blog?

    I just noticed it.

  5. Anyway, there's another problem with overpopulation as a threat: All the socialist wealth redistribution plans require an ever-expanding base of young people to fund themselves, but all the people living in socialist countries stop having children.

    Well for starters, I think most of your radical enviromentalists are anarchists at heart and not socialists. These are the kind who think wearing a loincloth and taking a dump in the woods is being one with Mother Earth. I think they view socialists no more better than capitalists.

  6. Yeah, it must be hard being right almost all the time ;-)

    You don't have to hate people to believe in science, statistics, and concepts like carrying capacity limits.

    We’ve already exceeded global carrying capacity. We are now in “overshoot”. Global population is nearing 7 billion. Different theorists using different methods seem to end up agreeing that global carrying capacity is probably about 2 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a moderate, low by US standards, standard of living. More is possible if you accept a cattle car / Matrix-esque "life".)

    In any case, we will get to that much-lower-than-7-billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily).

    Yes, all of us, yes, everywhere.
    There is no scenario anywhere in which population growth is a "good thing" long term.

    Yes a drop in population would cause problems, but none of those problems are as big as the problems, suffering, and environmental collapse that is certain to occur if we don’t.

    It’s too late for any “us” vs “them” arguments or any belief that national boundaries will do much to help anyone in the long run. This is a global issue with local and nation-state consequences. For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it. Likewise, global climate change is not impressed by national boundaries.

    I disagree with the argument that there is some “right to reproduce” that must be accommodated in this scenario. If there is any "right to reproduce" it's in the concept that one has the freedom to nurture a child or children and form some sort of family. Biological reproduction is not necessary to do that and there are many in need of this sort of nurturing.

    Being a parent is much different from the romantic and oxytocin enhanced notion of “having a baby” (a phrase I always found to be a bit horrifying for its "possessing-an-object" language frame).

    Parenting is a long term process - something you do for 18+ years, not a one time biological act. I would also argue that at least one criterion to reproduce would be to not only have the necessary skills and resources to parent a child for 18 years or so, but that doing so would not cause suffering for others either now or in the future.

    Since we are beyond our global carrying capacity, no one can biologically reproduce and truly meet that criteria, since each added child now assures more people suffer later.

    One of the key factors in this scenario is also our sense of time. This is a slow motion crash that requires immediate action, a bit like trying to steer a supertanker that's on a crash course by putting in consistent input over a multi year time frame, and the one effective input is for all of us everywhere to stop making babies.

    The supertanker analogy is also apt because it was the "one time gift" of oil that allowed us to get this far out on a limb, and peak oil has already happened.

    No technological / "alternative energy" options have the capacity or can be ramped up fast enough to avoid major global calamity. That isn't to say we shouldn't do them. Aggressively shifting to alternative energy is necessary, just not sufficient.

    For more comprehensive analysis of all this I suggest

    Approaching the Limits

    Bruce Sundquist on environmental impact of overpopulation

    The Oil Drum Peak Oil Overview - June 2007 (

    ...and of course the classic "Overshoot" by Catton

  7. bakakarasu!

    Awesome. I hope you don't mind, I'm going to front-page your missive.


    Weird, for me, is the overlap between anarchists and socialists. I sometimes think anarchists must see that socialism is the best way to get to anarchy. Heh.


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