Monday, March 4, 2019

"Empty Planet"? Nope - One with Far Too Many Humans - Beyond Carrying Capacity

Once again, we have the Neoliberal  and reactionary financial media trying to gloss over the population crisis.  The latest manifestation arrived in the guise of a  WSJ book review by one Lyman Stone )'A Drop In Numbers') in terms of reviewing a book 'Empty Planet' - by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson. (Both from the American Enterprise Institute).

Stone writes:

“Their book is a vital warning to the world that the risks associated with population have been catastrophically misread: Governments and activists have spent decades fighting the specter of overpopulation but now face the looming demographic calamity of global population collapse.”


Fewer people participating in the economy will mean slower economic growth, less entrepreneurship, rising inequality and calamitous government debt.

To which I say ‘Hogwash!’  Because the solution of more people born to support those already alive is merely a Ponzi scheme.  Since the libertarians in this country get their panties in snits  over "Ponzi schemes" they ought to pay especial attention to this one. Because if 50 million additional workers are needed to support the existing 45 (retired) million people, how many more will be needed to support those 50 million and the tail end of the earlier 45 million? Can't these imbeciles see that the base of population support is a never-ending growth proposition? 

There are more than sufficient unemployed or underemployed people in the developed world to make up for the deficits anywhere.  At last reporting the OECD estimated 230 m in Europe alone.  Even the authors at least conceded there is merit to allowing foreign workers in to fill the bill but with "selective standards. As Steon puts it (ibid.):

"Of course there are plenty of immigrants today to prop up growth and the authors sensibly suggest the U.S> should adopt a Canadian -style, merit based system Buyt then they worry that by giving in to anti-immigrant, nativist sentiments the UNitied States will "throw away the very tool that hs been the secret to its greatness."

Well, those libertarian authors do have a point and more  to support their arguments than the reviewer, Stone, i.e. "if we admit more immigrants our demographic bubble bursting will only be postponed."

Not really!  Africa, for example, is on a tear to sport the world's largest population increase by 2050 - nearly 2.5 billion. Surely many millions of African immigrants can help with our demographic issues (and less population of whities). That is, if we can ever rid ourselves of Trump's dismissive  epithet of "shithole countries".

Indeed, in yesterday's WSJ there was a further wake up call piece ('Employers Push For More Seasonal Visas', p. A6)  on why we desperately need more lower wage immigrants, especially to do the jobs Americans refuse to do - from carcass butchering at meat plants, to landscaping, to farming to fish and crab cleaning in Maryland.  

The article noted that employers who rely on seasonal (temporary) H-2B visas are renewing their fight to lift limits.  The situation with too few needed workers became so desperate that the Labor Dept. website crashed "after a scramble by employers chasing 33,000 available permits."  This is absolute nonsense.

The piece added:

"The Jan. 1 meltdown stemmed from high demand and a move to make the process first come, first served."

We also learned:

"Industries ranging from tourism to agriculture to landscaping to amusements say they are reliant on foreign workers and the H-2B program"

Note that congress can allow up to 69,000 such permits if the administration agrees, but up to now the Trumpie dolts - lead by Nazi wannabe Stephen Miller - have not. Hell, these nincompoops are even trying to cut back on the H-1B visas for more professionally qualified workers.

My point here is that all the hand wringing about too few people to support growth and we need more babies is plain hogwash. 

Stone also babbles, re: why the population is supposedly crashing:

"The authors pin the blame on faulty assumptions by the population establishment as represented by the UN Population Division. They don’t use the U.S. as an example but I will. The UN’s most recent population forecasts suggest the average U.S.  total fertility rate from 2015 to 2020 shold be 1.9 children per woman. In reality, CDC data shows U.S. fertility has averaged about 1.8 children per woman from 2015-2018,”

Not taking into account the Earth overshoot phenomenon, e.g. as illustrated below:

At root, the issue is sustainability - especially for water which is needed for crops. NO water, no crops to feed a growing population. The interpretation of the graph (upward) is simple. By June, 2030 TWO full Earths - that is the resources therein - will be needed to support the then population. Already we are at 1.5 Earths. Every year Global Footprint Network raises awareness about global ecological overshoot with its Earth Overshoot Day campaign. Earth Overshoot Day is the day on the calendar when humanity has used up the resources that it takes the planet the full year to regenerate

Even Terry Spahr, Executive Director of Earth Overshoot, was compelled to send a letter to the WSJ to contradict the Stone review and many of the claims made by the book's authors. Spahr emphasized the clear benefits of a less populated world, including: "Fewer workers will command higher wages, the environment will improve,  the risk of famine will wane and falling birthrates in the developing world will bring greater affluence."   

A huge additional benefit is there will be fewer abortions in the developed world (cf. 'Fewer Births, Fewer Abortions', WSJ, Feb. 23-24, by Jo Craven McGinty).  As the author observed, "At 1.8 total fertility the number of children women are expected to have in their lifetime is near the 1976 low of 1.7."  "And "for the first time since 1975 the number of abortions in the U.S. dropped."  

The basis here is not mystifying and doesn't require one pass a Mensa admissions test.  Essentially, when women can choose the size of their families (for economic and other reasons) then they will be less likely to hit the abortion switch in the case of children not wanted.   The point is there are multifold benefits to keep our numbers lower.

Further, it is preposterous for those like the AEI authors to chirp about Americans needing to increase baby production when there is no incentive from the gov't to do so.  I refer to those like an ER nurse featured in a spot this a.m. on CBS Early Show. She took her allotted 12 unpaid weeks to care for her newborn, then found her family on the ropes financially.  By the end she was deep in debt and had to cash out a portion of her 401(k) to make ends meet.  Even then, she was left with barely $500 in the bank to pay her bills.

That contrasts with another new mom (Marquita Staples-Green)  - also presented in the segment- who was able to get 26 weeks of fully paid leave- compliments of her company, software firm Adobe. As she put it:

"By the time I went back to work, I was ready, I was prepared. I had some time off, I could think about my new goals as a working mom.  I am completely grateful but I just wish this was the norm."

Well, sadly it isn't the norm, given only 16 percent of American new moms are the enviable position of Ms. Staples- Green, i.e. having access to paid leave via their employers. That is not even 1 in 6 women!  It also explains, as presenter Alex Wagner noted, why so many women in this country need to secure infant care within weeks of giving birth.

So why should these Neolib knuckleheads, ensconced in capitalist outposts like the AEI,  incessantly express surprise that fewer American women are having kids in this "lotto" environment? (And we won't even get into how much it takes to even raise 1 kid to high school graduation level now, far less through university.)

To be sure, the Democrats' "Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act"  would give workers twelve weeks of partially paid leave funded by a payroll tax.  That is, workers would be able to draw on their Social Security early to get the needed leave.  I don't believe I need to explain why this is dead in the water, given the basis is  almost as bad as the ER nurse taking out part of her 401(k).  In other words, if enacted (which odds I place at slim to none) it would just add to the nation's retirement crisis. 

In  many respects this latest AEI- based effort reminded me of the book, 'The Birth Dearth' by Ben Wattenberg. He was also then a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. This association no doubt accounts for the thesis expounded in his book that the "Western industrialized nations are flirting with economic disaster and marginalization by maintaining too low birth rates."

 By Wattenberg's analysis from over 30 years back, the resulting missing babies would be translated into "missing producers and consumer, soldiers and sailors, mothers and fathers".

Again, nonsense not too different from the latest AEI iteration.  Then as now, in terms of the impact on non-renewable resources, each child in a Western-developed nation consumes a disproportionate share of limited resources.   The U.S. offers the worst example: 6% of the world's population gobbling up some 25- 30% of the available resources in a given year. What Wattenberg and now Ibbitson & Bricker are proposing (and largely for purely economic gains) is nothing short of lunacy in this light.

A far more rational take is afforded by Herman Daly, University of Maryland Professor of Ecological Economics, in his book 'Steady State Economics'. The problem is the concept of "growth" is bogus on its face. Only a congenital moron would continue to pander to unchecked growth (and the increased population that feeds it) in a finite, zero-sum environment or planet. Especially one in which artificial wealth is created by extracting resources  that necessarily diminshes and degrades the remaining resource base. By "artificial wealth" I mean materials or converted resources (other than food) that cannot sustain your life. They may window-dress it, like the latest X-box game, but they won't sustain it.

Another sane alternative is offered by Aurelio Peccei's `One Hundred Pages for the Future' . Peccei makes a passionate plea for humans to notch their numbers down to replacement levels or lower since they've exceeded the Earth's ability to support them. (Part 1: `The Ascent and Decline of Humankind'). Peccei refers to an enormous supplemental population - one that exists beyond the ability of additional resources to support humans, hence  existing as a "human bomb threatening the planet".

Meanwhile, the late, noted science writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov- in various essays written over decades- has also warned of similar constraints on humanity's use of resources, particularly in terms of how population growth impinges on finite resources and sets limits to growth. Asimov was probably also the first to use the term "carrying capacity" * which he estimated to be 3 billion humans for this limited world.

By contrast, Wattenberg's book essentially tosses the very concept of carrying capacity out the window.

More recently, in an article appearing in `Physics Today' (July, 2004 issue): `Thoughts on Long-Term Energy Supplies: Scientists and the Silent Lie', Albert Bartlett pinpointed the failure to name human population growth as a major cause of our energy and resource problems.

Bartlett avers that "their (scientists') general reticence stems from the fact that it is politically incorrect or unpopular to argue for stabilization of population - at least in the U.S. Or perhaps scientists are uncomfortable stepping outside their specialized areas of expertise".

But Bartlett himself, in books and lectures, i.e.

 Has perhaps given the best reason for this reticence of scientists to speak out: the realization that too few Americans understand the concept of exponential increase which lies at the heart of population increase.

But if Americans' math issues and  physicists (and other scientists')silence share blame, the corporate media also shares as much or more for having the facts and refusing to level with the public. For example, on the issue of overshoot of our finite resources. 

Indeed, I doubt any major newspaper (or corporate media website)  has published any relevant data on it since it became available. Why not? Because it would cut through all the propaganda, PR and 'feel good' economic bunkum (e.g. about needing more people to increase global GDP) to show we are unambiguously in a crisis with regard to resource sustainability.

 There is also no mention that every energy conversion pollutes and degrades the environment we depend upon.  Multiply those conversions - say via more and more people- and we quickly descend into a higher entropic, higher waste world.  

Are we there yet? Actually, we're way beyond it. As pointed out by Christopher Mims (WSJ, Exhange, Mar.2-3, p. B10):

"In 1950, the world produced about 4 billion pounds of plastic per year.  Today, we produce 600 billion pounds. Every year 20 billion pounds of it ends up in the ocean.  Over 90 percent of produced plastic has never been recycled, and it typically takes more than 400 years to break down naturally."

Think there's gotta be a techno fix? Dream on!  As Mims goes on to note, after citing the Chinese refusal to process any more foreign waste:

"It's a crisis so big that no amount of technology, innovation or policy can solve it in the near future ..."

In other words, we are converting the planet's oceans into massive crypts that will likely sustain no living things - maybe not even jellyfish - in another 100 years.

Sadly, too many of our citizens fail to appreciate that every energy conversion process features an accompanying entropy or increased disorder.  Thus, the combustion of fuel in an internal combustion engine releases carbon monoxide as well as CO2 and other pollutants. Further, the 2nd law of thermodynamics states that the expelled constituents can never be used again for positive energy.   

Turning resources into waste faster than even a fraction of waste can be recovered-recycled thereby sets the stage for global ecological overshoot which depletes the very resources on which human life and the natural environment depends.

The astute and aware citizen must be sentient enough to know more people is not in humanity's best interest. Isaac Asimov, as part of his February, 1976 Barbados lecture e.g.

warned that humans had two choices: decrease their population to the carrying capacity limit to live in an equilibrium with the Earth and its resources, or let nature “increase the human death rate” (e.g. by starvation, pestilence, wars over resources etc.)

He also remarked:

"It is now the willingly childless woman who is the heroine of our planet. She is the one who now deserves all the kudos and praise, for helping to do what is necessary to spare humanity from the ravages of over-population"

Empty planet? No. A perilously overpopulated one, and more than twice in excess of its carrying capacity. 

See also:
*  Carrying capacity = (usable land-water resource base providing water + food + fuel) / (individual food, fuel + water requirement)

Now, if the numerator is  11.4 x 10 9   hectares of usable aggregate equivalent land-water resource base and if 6 hectares is the ideal mean individual requirement over a lifetime (e.g. meet all basic needs and have a few private luxuries) , that means:

 CC = (11.4 x 10  9 hectares) / 6 hectares/person   =  2 billion.

Obviously, this can be increased if the numerator can be increased or the denominator (each individual's ecological footprint) decreased.

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