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Do we have a population crisis or a consumption crisis?


Screen capture The dangers of overconsumption, population growth and a toxic environment

We love comments, really we do! But sometimes it seems that every post ends up with a discussion of the population crisis, like a rerun of a Star Trek episode. If we cover a tree-covered tower:

Cities aren’t the problem, too many people forcing too high a living density are the problem. Until we stop ignoring the overpopulation problem, everything else is just a bandaid measure.

Or if we are discussing our individual carbon footprints:

…the biggest problem is that we have simply too many people on earth. If we could reduce human population to three billion by 2100, then the environmental problem we face will be solved – even without any technological innovation, we will more than halve the CO2 emission with such reduction.

And always: “Why does TreeHugger never talk about population?” In fact we do, we have, going almost back to our beginning. We even have this post featuring Hans Rosling, who just died yesterday, talking about how population growth is dropping in parallel with dropping child mortality rates. And we keep coming around to the fact that our problems are not caused by overpopulation but overconsumption.

In much of the world, birth rates are falling and populations are actually dropping. In Japan, they are building robots to take care of the aging population because there are not enough people to do it. Many countries are offering incentives to people to encourage them to have more children. According to Charles Eisenstein, writing in the Guardian, “More than half the world’s population now lives in countries where the fertility rate – the average number of babies born per woman – is below the replacement level (around 2.1).”

carl sagan© Carl Sagan

20 years ago, Carl Sagan suggested a solution to the problem in those countries where there is still runaway population growth, that still holds true:

There is a well-documented correlation between poverty and high birthrates. In little countries and big countries, capitalist countries and communist countries, Catholic countries and Moslem countries, Western countries and Eastern countries–in almost all these cases, exponential population growth slows down or stops when grinding poverty disappears. This is called demographic transition….

Our job is to bring about a worldwide demographic transition and flatten out that exponential curve–by eliminating grinding poverty, making safe and effective birth control methods widely available, and extending real political power (executive, legislative, judicial, military, and in institutions influencing public opinion) to women. If we fail, some other process, less under out control, will do it for us.”

But as we eliminate grinding poverty, we increase consumption per capita, and that is causing problems now. As Mat noted in a post a few years ago about how resources are not evenly distributed:

On one hand, a billion or more people have problems of underconsumption. Unless their basic needs are met, they are unlikely to be able to make important contributions to attaining sustainability. On the other hand, there is also the issue of the “new consumers” in developing economies such as China and India, where the wealth of a sizeable minority is permitting them to acquire the consumption habits (e.g., eating a lot of meat and driving automobiles) of the rich nations. Consumption regulation is a lot more complex than population regulation, and it is much more difficult to find humane and equitable solutions to the problem.

Tim de Chant did a great infographic that I show below that shows how much planet we consume, living the lifestyles we do in the west. We have a consumption problem; this is what is unsustainable, not our population.

footprint© Tim de Chant/ Per Square Mile

49 Comments on "Do we have a population crisis or a consumption crisis?"

  1. Apneaman on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 4:30 pm 

    Hans Rosling’s is alive and well in hopium heaven bull-shitting folks that being dead is a great thing.

    Back on earth in our free market capitalist paradise, me and the rest of the taxpayers get to, yet again, bailout another multiple bailout deadbeat corporation.

    Bombardier aid unnecessary ‘corporate bailout,’ Opposition says

    “Bombardier is already on the hook for another $350-million that Ottawa lent it in 2008. Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ office said this previous outstanding loan was aid for the C-series aircraft and repayment will be tied to sales of this model.

    The Brazilian government, which has locked horns with Canada in the past over alleged aircraft subsidies, said the Trudeau government announcement – on top of $1-billion in assistance from Quebec unveiled in 2015 – is distorting the global aerospace market.”

    How many Americans remember all the talking heads in 2009 claiming they just need bank reform so they can have strong banks like Canada? Just a tweak here and there otherwise the system is fine and hasn’t failed.

    Banks got $114B from governments during recession
    Support for banks ‘more substantial than Canadians were led to believe’: CCPA report

    ‘more substantial than Canadians were led to believe’

    That’s Canadian PC talk for they lied like a mother fucker.

  2. makati1 on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 5:02 pm 

    The maps at the end show what I have been saying for years. There are plenty of resources for living a reasonable life for another billion or so, IF equally distributed.

    BTW: India’s PPP is lower than that of the Philippines and most Filipinos live a nice, happy, healthy and long life.

  3. penury on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 5:24 pm 

    Pick which ever meme will make your day. Over population? or over consumption? I bet that with reduced population one would notice a drop in consumption of some items. Drop the population of the U.S. and you could probably add another EU without problems. But no matter how much I would like to I cannot avoid blaming over population of humans for the problems faced by the economies of the world today.

  4. Davy on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 5:46 pm 

    Makati likes maps that do not reflect reality. Of course the US is off the charts but so is everyone else. You can’t have a world with 7BIL people live like 3rd world cultures. The production is not there. Idiots think this way and it is why we believe we can downsize consumption to increase population. Both must drop by an order of magnitude.

  5. Ghung on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 6:29 pm 

    With global population increasing to about 7 1/2 times what it was in 1800, and per capita consumption increasing exponentially, it’s both. But we knew that. It doesn’t matter that rates of population increase may be stabilizing when we are so far into overshoot. We can’t un-deplete the finite resources we continue to consume at near record rates, and with diminishing returns kicking in, party’s over. We just haven’t paid attention to the memos.

  6. makati1 on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 6:52 pm 

    Amazing how I touch on some sore spots with Americans when I point out their greed, waste and over consumption relative to the rest of the world. Fat bitches all, either in body and/or mind. Soon to be put on a very restrictive diet when their obese world comes crashing down. Be patient snowflakes. LMAO

  7. Sissyfuss on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 7:56 pm 

    Agree with my doppelganger Ghung.

  8. R1verat on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 8:41 pm 

    Mak takes one to know one. Ha ha ha!!! I’m the one laughin at your sorry ass!

  9. makati1 on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 8:57 pm 

    Riverrat, we used to shoot your kind down near the sewage outlets when I was a kid. Useless, disease carrying vermin. I’m sure your kind will be back on the menu soon in the U$. Anything edible, no matter what they look like. Be patient.

  10. R1verat on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 9:09 pm 

    You are still cracking me up, you US expat!!

  11. Apneaman on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 9:30 pm 

    I just remembered this paragraph from a Richard Heinberg piece the other day in which he exposes the bullshit behind the hopey population claims.

    The Über-Lie

    “Some say this is not a problem, because the rate of population growth is slowing: that rate was two percent per year in the 1960s; now it’s one percent. Yet because one percent of 7.5 billion is more than two percent of 3 billion (which was the world population in 1960), the actual number of people we’re now adding annually is the highest ever: over eighty million—the equivalent of Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, and London added together. Much of that population growth is occurring in countries that are already having a hard time taking care of their people. The result? Failed states, political unrest, and rivers of refugees.”

  12. Apneaman on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 9:36 pm 

    a population crisis or a consumption crisis?

    One day it will solve it self when one part of the population consumes the other part of the population. The only crisis then will be, who will bring the condiments?

    “OMG I don’t believe it! We just ate the entire day shift from the Heinz factory”

  13. makati1 on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 10:36 pm 

    Hahahahahaha! Thanks Ap. I needed that. But don’t eat too many fatty Americans. lol

  14. Apneaman on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 12:00 am 

    Cancer industry externalizes itself and uses it to make excuses. “It wasn’t me who shot my foot off – it’s the guns fault”

    Suncor blames wildfire, plan changes for rising cost of Fort Hills oilsands mine

    If you’re a cancer and you know it…..

  15. dohboi on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 12:09 am 

    False dichotomy anyone?

  16. sidzepp on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 3:22 am 

    Mak, can you send you environmental minister here to take Pruitt’s place

  17. Davy on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 5:22 am 

    “Hahahahahaha! Thanks Ap. I needed that. But don’t eat too many fatty Americans. Lol”

    Makati, we will have the last laugh when your scrawny old body is made into stew meat along with other bush meat by hungry young Filipinos. Lolhoo.

  18. Davy on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 5:28 am 

    “False dichotomy anyone?” Bravo dohboi

  19. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 5:33 am 

    sidzepp. The Philippines is still a free country, unlike the U$. Sorry, we need them here to clean up the mess the last two presidents made kissing the U$ dirty ass.

  20. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 5:35 am 

    Hark! Is that the braying of a jackass coming from the Missouri woods? LMAO

  21. Davy on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 7:08 am 

    Yea, makati, it does not get any more free than the killing fields of Duterte. I bet someone as scared of death as you is probably not leaving his condo.

  22. Jan on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 10:12 am 

    The maps are a red herring.

    There are vast consumption and wealth scales within China and India and every other country.
    What has to be done is ask ourselves. How many tonnes of fish can be fished sustainably.
    How much ground water can be pumped in any area. Then work out the best crops to grow.
    At the moment most countries are growing the wrong crops and too much of them.
    Crop production will collapse once the water is gone, which is already happening around the world.

    I think we are way past a sustainable population.

  23. Hubert on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 2:28 pm 

    Stop all foreign aid. Problem solved.

  24. John D on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 4:05 pm 

    I think it is mostly a capitalism crisis. Let’s say everyone in the first world had ‘sufficient’. We could not be satisfied with that as under capitalism the economy must grow perpetually- we must consume more- or it will collapse.

  25. dave thompson on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 4:43 pm 

    Human like creatures have been on earth for over 2 million years. It is only since the industrial revolution of about lets say the past 500 years till now that we have so despoiled the planet that humans are doomed to self extinction.

  26. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 5:56 pm 

    What U$ food independence? The slippery slope is getting even more slippery…

    “As the Wall Street Journal notes, the deadly combination of rising input costs, lower grain prices, a strong dollar and excessive leverage will likely force many of America’s Midwest farmers out of business in 2017. … Meanwhile, America’s share of the global grain trade has been cut in half since the 1970’s giving domestic farmers less control over pricing which has grown increasingly volatile over the past decade.”

    This is Capitalist America. No Profit … No food. Are YOU prepared?

  27. Davy on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 6:07 pm 

    Sure makati and you? How is the fantasy farm?

  28. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 6:40 pm 

    It is doing fine, thank you. Taro, banana, pineapple, beans and squash all in and doing well. Chickens multiplying. Sun shining and 81F today. Thanks for asking. You are the one living in a fantasy world, called America. lol

  29. The Nationalist on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 7:26 pm 

    Here in Australia the government has gone into meltdown over renewable energy. The rolling blackouts as wind strugges to meet baseload power in heatwaves up to 47c. South Australia here is lucky with 1.8 million people and close to 50% electricity from renewables. However we have hit limits because the storage (battery)technology does not exist yet. New South Wales with 9 million people using coal for power with little renewables highlights a typical problem with population. My house dropped our consumption enormously over last 4 years from 10kw to 5kw per day. I wonder what Makati1 uses on average?

  30. DerHundistlos on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 8:15 pm 

    Shame, shame, Treehugger. Firstly, some corrections. The article states in MANY countries population numbers are falling. Wrong. In only a handful of developed countries….Second, the graphic is only off by 500.000.000.

    The answer to the question is quite simply, both. Forget the semantics of consumption or numbers since people will never reduce their consumption unless forced. The answer to how is to overfly Africa, Asia, Middle East and disperse by aerosol a chemical that causes sterilization.

  31. DerHundistlos on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 8:18 pm 

    @ Sissy

    Are you dumping me for another doppelganger or am I confused?

  32. DerHundistlos on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 8:23 pm 

    @ Mak and All Other Rat Haters

    I strongly suggest you, actually everyone, read a brilliant novel titled, “Rat”, by the Polish intelectual, Andrzej Zaniewski. This book should be on the required reading list of all High School students.

    I would appreciate hearing back from whoever follows my recommendation to read this touching and thought-provoking novel. You will never be the same again,

  33. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 8:52 pm 

    Doggie, perhaps your country should be first? You sound like the famous genocidal maniac, Hitler. Any relative?

    Are you afraid all of your little 1st world ‘luxuries’ are going to go ‘POOF’ in the near future? I hope so. Be patient.

  34. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 8:57 pm 

    Nationalist, as I live in a city condo at the current time, requiring A/C to be comfortable, I use about 10 KWh/day. How much do you use? Just curious.

    Add in any other energy use, please. Like NG, LPG, coal, oil, charcoal, etc., or gasoline/diesel for transportation. Mine is TOTAL energy use. No other energy input. Gotta look at the total picture for a real comparison.

  35. DerHundistlos on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 10:04 pm 

    @ Mak

    I knew you would be one of those to take the obvious bait. And why? Simply for recommending you read a book to elevate your consciousness.

  36. makati1 on Thu, 9th Feb 2017 10:14 pm 

    Hound dog, I do not need to read someone else’ ideas that are just extensions of his/her beliefs/indoctrination. I can rely on my 70+ years of experience and education to judge world events. Unlike most Americans, I still think and reason with real facts, education and experience, not propaganda.

  37. TheNationalist on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 1:19 am 

    Thanks Makati, we cut our usage quite easily around 5 years ago by 50% or more as an experiment. We were already quite frugal compared to some typical mcmansions before but we changed our lifestyle slightly and the savings were huge. We turned air con units and everything else off at wall when not using them. The phantom loads (standby power can be enormous). Gas consumption was the same by using less and sealing door draughts etc. 10mj day gas in winter up to 40mj in spring/autumn and 150mj a day with our central heating which is a luxury I admit.
    We have never been big “consumers” and many western citizens are sadly unaware of how they could save a lot of energy. We could learn a lot from the battlers of the Phillipines who are frugal due to necessity.
    Not all westerners are wasteful and mindless “consumers”. My state already produces half of its electricity from wind and solar which is beyond what is required to meet Copenhagen/Paris climate change mitigation commitments. This is much harder to replicate in large population states and countries however.

  38. Cloggie on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 5:17 am 

    Thanks Makati, we cut our usage quite easily around 5 years ago by 50% or more as an experiment. We were already quite frugal compared to some typical mcmansions before but we changed our lifestyle slightly and the savings were huge.

    That’s the spirit! People love to preach hell and damnation and promote end of the world scenarios if for some reason the poor consumers were to be deprived of a substantial lower number of kWh’s/BTU’s.

    I grew up in the seventies in Holland and we were quite happy chappies then with merely 1/3 of the electric energy consumption of today:

  39. Cloggie on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 5:20 am 

    “consumers were to be deprived of a substantial lower number of kWh’s/BTU’s.” should be “consumers would have to live with a substantial lower number of kWh’s/BTU’s.”

    Oh this old forum software, without post-edit facility. You edit a new post in a crappy small window and lose oversight and at the same time are impatient with spending so much time writing a post that you want to post it as fast as possible and then lose prudence and oversight.

    My apologies.

  40. Davy on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 6:13 am 

    Yea, I grew up with less and it was a better world. I think localism is the way forward. Decreased choices and less discretionary travel is a must. We still need heating but we need to reevaluate cooling. We are insanely building out structures that rely only on conditioned air. We need less cars period. We need more walking and bike riding. We need less food, less unhealthy food with most local. We need less guns and bombs. We need less malls and online purchases.

    Watch what you wish. Remember this is a global economy with 7BIL and growing. It is a system based on a delicate growth pattern that has a minimum operating level. All locals the world over are in delocalization. Locals are interconnected through an intricate pattern of just in time economies of scale. This is insured by a financial system that allows confidence in trade. All this is precariously present in a planetary system that is being destroyed by it. The economics of change are difficult for this system that is clearly in overshoot and on many thresholds of failure. Food and water are being pushed to the limits. The economy cannot change much without upsetting this delicate growth economy we call globalism. If we do upset it we upset confidence and trade will grind down dangerously. So it appears we are in a catch 22 of both growth and degrowth. The only real trend is degrowth and it is systematic and natural. The economy may have the appearance of growth but we know about the corruption and manipulation. We see the extend and pretend. We are one big snake oil conference. We are on the threshold of great changes most bad and some good.

    Everyone here should learn about doing less with the anticipation of less to do less with. This is a paradigm of destructive change. Get ahead of the wave and do some surfing. To do that you need to get into shape. Fat and dumb will not cut it. The sharks are going to eat you alive. Now is the time to get fit for decline. For those who speak of degrowth as a positive you are right and wrong. It is good for the individual and the planet but bad for the economy and the status quo. There is no turning back for the status quo. Its fate is sealed.

  41. Davy on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 6:17 am 

    Clog, type your comments on a word processor then copy and paste it. You are correct this site is piss poor example of a good board for comments. I can’t stand when I am in the field working and staying in touch with you guys on my IPhone. On so many threads the conversations run off the end and we know why. Surely with all the advertising they do they could afford a better system.

  42. Cloggie on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 6:48 am 

    Davy, you have forums like this (for programmers here, which I heavily use; oh these is so much free high quality consultancy in this world, right Rockman? lol):

    There you can post-edit for 30 minutes and increase the quality of your post and hence of the forum.

    I regularly do indeed edit in a large editor and keep an overview of your own posts by storing them in one large file, perhaps for future reference of reuse in a blog.

    But most of the time you originally want to write a short post and don’t bother to open a better full-screen editor, but it gets longer and longer while writing and then the dilemma grows.

  43. The Nationalist on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 8:27 am 

    Post edit update*. I made a pigs ear of my numbers, it should read 10mj summer, 40mj in shoulder and 150mj in our chilly winters.
    It’s interesting that I use 1/2 the electricity Makati does though I have not worked out what his 5kw of extra usage would be equivalent to in Natural Gas Megajoules. I would use 60megajoules per day on average.
    On a side note, South Australia avoided more blackouts today as one of our natural gas power stations, owned by French multi national Engie, decided they would actually power up to cover peak demand.
    Our “leader” Turnbull missed a chance to promote “clean coal” again as a result.

  44. Davy on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 10:12 am 

    Nationalist, makati’s usage is deceptive. He lives in an urban sprawl of 20MIL people all together consuming a huge amount of energy. You could argue per capita in fairness but to be fair that can only be an afterthought. He is part of a huge mass of people over consuming is the reality.

    Makati talks about a farm he remotely farms through his fantasy so that does not count either. I would admire him if he told us he was moving there. We would know because his presence on this board would end except for his R&R visits to town to get mail and cash his SS check. His fantasy farm would be a great example low power usage if it were a reality. I am not saying it does not exist but he does not own it and his is rarely if ever there so it is fake news.

  45. onlooker on Fri, 10th Feb 2017 5:14 pm 

    In response to AP video link
    Unfortunately, the US most epitomizes this primitive impulsive society. What is worse now India and China want to replicate the US. A universal human feature. If we do go extinct that is the underlying reasons.

  46. DerHundistlos on Sat, 11th Feb 2017 1:59 am 

    @ Onlooker

    Yes, I see the exact same thing in my travels.

  47. makati1 on Sat, 11th Feb 2017 2:54 am 

    Davy, over consuming? What do you call NYC? LA? San Fran? DC? They put Manila to shame in their consumption. There is NO comparison no matter what you try to make people believe. Not even close.

    I talk about a farm and life you can only dream of. When you have ZERO employees doing all the work for you, come back and we will talk about farms. You have hours to waste here trying to make the U$ shit hole look good, while tearing down any other place you have no experience in.

    BTW: I worked, as in sweat labor, not family investments, for 50 years. I was forced to pay into SS and I intend to get all I can out of it. Every cent. Please pay your taxes so my S.S. income continues a while longer. I appreciate that stream, but it is only one of several. All non-taxable.

    No. I do not “own” the farm, or any property here, because I do not want the problems of ownership that the U$ IRS creates for U$ citizens living abroad. I have an arrangement that is as good as ownership and that is all I need. Been there. Done that. Don’t need the hassle. Besides, no one owns their property in the U$ anyway. It can be taken anytime the government wants it or the inability to pay taxes makes it forfeit. You do not “own” your farm. You are only a caretaker for the bank or the government. Think about that.

  48. Davy on Sat, 11th Feb 2017 7:40 am 

    Quite often when you give advice to assholes you know you hit the nail when they get bent out of shape:
    “I talk about a farm and life you can only dream of. When you have ZERO employees doing all the work for you come back and we will talk about farms.”
    I back makati. I have no employees Makati. I hire people out on occasions to help during busy times it is rare. I hire professionals to do carpentry, welding, electrical, and or plumbing which I am not qualified for. I can do some but not the sophisticated stuff. My wife and I do 99% of the work. You think you can afford employees with 12 cows and 50 goats. LOL. I work all day long and I check in here often especially during the slower winter months. I check in on my break time. I make my own hours and can do as I please. I am here on the farm working when I talk to you on the board not in the condo talking about a farm I am never on. When you are not present here you will be dead or on your farm. I have you pegged makati. You are liar and a fake.

    “Davy, over consuming? What do you call NYC? LA? San Fran? DC? They put Manila to shame in their consumption.”
    WTF, makati, was the subject comparison of NYC to Manilla? No the subject was nationalist commenting on your consumption levels compared to his in AU. Yours may be low based on your actual direct usage but considering you live among 20MIL that usage skyrockets and is far in excess of what I use on a permaculture farm. I burn wood and live in a 12×40 cabin. I use very little electricity. I only drive to town once a week to get supplies and do business. Sometimes I have to do family things so I drive to ST. Louis. Mega city like Manila uses a huge amount of energy and you are a mega city dweller. I could give a frig that you are among 20MIL. It is your mega city foot prints spread across the globe that are raping the world of resources. This is especially true of the 4.5BIL of Asia.

    “I was forced to pay into SS and I intend to get all I can out of it.”
    You don’t deserve a cent makati. Your generation broke SS. It’s broke and now you are living off the young. Your generation are directly responsible for the current extinction event the world is in and the collapse dynamics of modern civilization. We had a chance with your generation to go in a different direction and that direction was not taken. You are a prime example of personal greed and hate that is so common in that generation. An old white guy thinking he deserves shit when it is you and your fine boomers that are responsible for not walking through the correct door.

    “No. I do not “own” the farm,”
    Right makati, your boyfriends family does. What happens when you and your boyfriend have a quarrel? You are out on the streets. What happens when the SS checks stop, you are SOL.

    “Besides, no one owns their property in the U$ anyway.”
    No one owns property makati we are all caretakers of the land. Obviously you wished you owned some but can’t. I agree with the government taking land if someone does not pay taxes. Taxes are a responsibility of citizens. You don’t want to pay taxes because you want something for nothing. You are the typical human that got us to where we are now.

  49. Sissyfuss on Sat, 11th Feb 2017 1:17 pm 

    Derhund, there’s enough doppellove for you and any others who cherish the natural world as I do. Perhaps the day will come when we kindred spirits will be seen as caring and wise by our fellow creatures and not discarded as eccentrics to be mocked.

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