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Dienstag, 16. März 2021

We are too many - A Taboo

(first published in German on Infosperber.ch june 27th 2019, updated june 20th 2020)

It’s our population growth that underlies just about
every single one of the problems that we’ve inflicted
on the planet. If there were just a few of us, then the
nasty things we do wouldn’t really matter and Mother
Nature would take care of it — but there are so many
of us.” (Jane Goodall, 2010)

When I was born in 1941, the earth had 2.5 billion inhabitants and Switzerland four million. Now the earth is marching towards eight billion inhabitants and Switzerland towards eight million.

With current diets it is only possible to feed this number of people with intensive agriculture, meaning a massive supply of fossil energy, mechanisation, pesticides and fertilizer, all of which ruin biodiversity and soils amd procudes greenhouse gases while we should no longer use fossil energy due to global warming. And the fertilizer stores are finite, they only last for a few hundred years.

Sustainable biological management without the supply of energy and fertilizer could feed far fewer people.

But this is not the end of the calamities: Global warming will, on balance, bring about a reduction in global crop yields and thus increase the imminent pressure from hunger, migration and wars. And the huge number of people who also want to consume - in China, South America, India and Africa - make global warming uncontrollable.

The massive increase in people, domestic animals and cultivated land has cut the habitats of wild animals and forests to an extent that amounts to strangling.  

This is not simply a loss of natural romanticism, because there is a risk of fundamental disturbances and imbalances in nature: For example, the plant world depends on the insects for pollination and reproduction. Therefore species extinction is also a deadly threat to humans. That is why the famous insect researcher and ecologist E.O.Wilson in his book "Half the Earth" demands that we reserve half the earth's surface for wildlife - in our own interest.

The large population has other consequences: A city of 100,000 or 150'000 people can be operated without cars and almost without local public transport. Only in larger cities do the large and inefficiently energy-consuming commuter flows arise, which make us more dependent on fossil energy and poison the biosphere with CO2.

Certain excesses of tourism can also be explained by population pressure: Popular tourist destinations in Switzerland and elsewhere are so ruined by overbuilding and overuse that you don't feel like going there anymore, just think of Davos, St. Moritz, or Crans -Montana. In the search for "unspoiled nature" one then uses air-transport and long-distance tourism, thereby also ruining the rest of the planet.

By increasing the human population on the cost of everything else living we move towards a sort of human monoculture, which as any monoculture becomes increasingly susceptible to infectious and epidemic diseases.  

Last but not least, Gunnar Heinsohn has shown that a large male birth surplus translates into war ("war index"), a mechanism that historians had previously overlooked.

One birth less has a far greater effect on the CO2-footprint than all other individual measures combined:

If we still had a world population of 2.5 billion, like in 1941, the environmental catastrophe would have been easier to avert. With a world population going towards 8 or 10 billion and beyond, it is more than questionable if we can still get the curve. And, even if we get this curve, a world without motorcars, flights and meat could be acceptable, - but a world without cows, milk, butter, cheese, with protein from grasshoppers and maggots ...?

It is therefore surprising how concerns about overpopulation are tabooed and even demonized in public conscience and discussions. A good example was the Swiss popular initiative "Ecopop", which wanted to channel a small part of the aid to developing countries into supporting voluntary (!) birth control. Among the initiators I know Benno Büeler, a mathematician and agronomist who has visited many developing countries and knows from "boots on the ground" experience how the catastrophic overuse of pastures is destroying fertile lands, not even taking into account global warming.

All Swiss parties opposed this initiative. One can accept that. But it was alarming that the Green member of parliament and parliamentary group leader Balthasar Glättli in his book "The creepy ecologists" puts Büeler and the people of Ecopop close to fascism: A malicious and mean slander, and, what is worse, the proof that Mr.Glättli does not understand the problem at all, just as little as the Green party leader Regula Rytz, who piously and missionarily joined in his choir. Among the Green leaders only the Green members of parliament Bastien Girod and Yvonne Gilli tried to discuss this issue in an extremely cautious paper in 2009 which hoewever was suppressed internally by militantly orthodox Greens.

I was able to personally confront Mr.Glättli at a book presentation in Bern, and he had to admit that Benno Büeler was well informed and honest, and that linking him with fascism had no factual base at all. 

Because Glättli had previously campaigned for the admission of tens of thousands of Syrians in Switzerland, I then explained to him that even if the two-degree target of global warming were met, large parts of the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe would dry up, and that hundreds of millions of migrants to Europe had to be expected in the next few decades. I then asked how he saw the solution of this problem. His short answer, "One cannot handle this".

It seems that he and many orthodox Greens prefer to throw themselves into a feel-good pose and to bathe in the consequent popular success ("we are so humane") instead of really facing the problems. I call this variety of greenery the faith healers. They imagine that with good intentions, success is guaranteed. This might be naive, but such lack of awareness does not nix responsibility. I have learned from medicine to apply extreme mistrust to such attitudes, because they actually risk to provoke the opposite of the intented result. And we should not forget how Molières bigot Tartuffe mischievously justified the vileness of his actions by the purity of his intentions.

In the so-called developed nations, we no longer have surplus births. But if you really wanted to face the problem, you would have to conclude that there are too many of all of us: The first report by the Club of Rome from 1972 came to the conclusion that the ecosystems will tip over somewhere in the mid-21th century, unless various measures AND a stabilization of the population at level 1972 take place (then four billion). In a later paper they thought, the limit might be higher, but anyway an always increasing world population cannot be sustainable, certainly not if we want to guarantee even modest prosperity for everyone. If, in our own interest, we were to assign half of the habitats to wild animals with E.O. Wilson, the earth would probably at most have room for one or two billion people. 

However, we are on the way to a global temperature rise of 4 degrees by 2100 and the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, Johan Rockström, an expert on the limits of the planet, does not see how the earth then could feed todays population, maybe not even half. And what happens to the rest?

Almost no one dares to speak about this, not even most of the Greens. This is counterfeiting. However recently the young US MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (* 1989) made statements in this regard. And the website "All in to save the world" lists the one-child family as the number one priority among the measures everyone can take. If you want to reach a billion people on Earth, you need the one-child family for almost three generations.

Some other articles in English: