Friday, August 19, 2022

Prof. Albert Bartlett Skewers The Trope That "The Total Global Population Is A Meaningless Number"


                 Graph of population growth projections from different sources.

Consider the growth of global population in just the last 60 years:  Since the 1960s, when the global number of people first hit three billion, it has taken a bit over a decade to cross each new billion-person milestone.  Thus, it is rational to assume that nine billion humans and then 10 billion are, inexorably, just around the corner. That is exactly what the latest population projections from the U.N. and the U.S. Census Bureau have calculated.

But one WSJ writer in  a  piece last week (As Population Nears 8 Billion, Some See Peak)  asserts: "It's worth considering that the world might never make it to 10 billion, or even nine billion, and that the world’s major demographic problems won’t stem from the growing masses but from shrinking countries, aging populations and dwindling workforces."

The cited piece underscores the continual need for certain humans to remain delusional about the global human population.  In this case that the population will be "naturally limited" by improved education, more skills for more people, improved living conditions, yada, yada. At the center of this poppycock - embedded in the article's thrust  - was  Wolfgang Lutz, a demographer under the auspices of the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital at the University of Vienna.  Lutz's claim to fame is similar to Steven Pinker's -  best known for trying to convince us we're living in the best times ever, e.g.

Steven Pinker's Mental Myopia Is Mind Boggling - Things Are NOT "Getting Better"- The Enlightenment Isn't "Working"

In the case of Lutz, he disagrees with UN population projections, by 2050, and beyond. The U.N.’s projections are the best known and I warrant more reliable. It projects population using historical trends for each country, and calculating how other countries in similar conditions fared in the past. Lyman Stone, the director of research for the population consulting firm Demo-graphic Intelligence, compares this methodology to technical analysis in stocks.

The Lutz-Wittgenstein forecasts, by contrast, look not only at historical patterns but attempt to ask why birthrates rise and fall. The latter also include education levels and ask specifically why birthrates rise and fall.  In particular, the Austrians insist that as people, especially women, have greater opportunities to pursue education, they have smaller families. (U.N. demographer Vladimíra Kantorová asserted that the U.N.’s approach implicitly accounts for urbanization, women’s education and contraceptive use since it relies on historical data from countries that underwent similar transitions and so factors in development.)

To take one of the most important contributors to global overpopulation now, the U.N. projects Africa’s population will grow from 1.3 billion today to 3.9 billion by century’s end. By contrast, once education is accounted for, Wittgenstein’s baseline scenario projects Africa at 2.9 billion people during that time period.  In another fantasy scenario from Wittgenstein- which it calls “rapid development” -  Africa's population hits only 1.7 billion by century’s end.

“Rapid development”,  according to these population Pollyannas,  isn’t a forecast of doom and decline but one in "which health and education improve, with better human well-being, lower mortality, and medium levels of immigration."

On what planet, maestros?  Not on a finite Earth already consuming the equivalent of 1.8 Earths in resources every year and nearly out of potable water already.   At root, the issue is sustainability - especially for water which is needed for crops. NO water, no crops to feed a growing population. The graphic below puts this into perspective:

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 1.8 Earths in line with the red 'business as usual' trend. 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

Not factored into the Austrians'  ‘rapid development’ model at all is the limited availability of contraceptives, thanks to the RC Church and the misplaced policies of U.S. conservatives.   As a result, the African continent's population is projected to reach 5.8 billion by 2100, eclipsing even UN projections. (And a large reason why 12.3 b humans is the more likely number by 2100.)

The late Univ. of Colorado physicist Albert Bartlett was a relentless critic of the popeyed population Pollyannas who he skewered in one lecture still available online,

  In it he elaborated several axioms he showed were "not based on opinion, but facts"  and those who doubted them were "unable or unwilling to do the arithmetic." These included (extracted from the lecture video):


Bartlett delivered the final axiom from the great science and science fiction author, Isaac Asimov:

The last is especially critical for those like Lutz to process: "As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears."   Thus ever more savage, barbaric bloodletting, massacres, slaughters.   The very barometer of morality disappears under the load of people fighting for scarce resources.  

 Yet Lutz and his Wittgenstein demographic bunch have the nerve to spout such balderdash as:

The total population, in the end, is a meaningless number.  It depends what these people are able to do, what their skills are, whether they have enough to eat.

Which boggles the mind and proves Lutz is an academic chucklehead. Why?  Because he is oblivious to all the preceding axioms, especially to do with sustainability.  It is as if he thinks population growth can occur in a vacuum.  But Bartlett's point in his Youtube lecture is that if there is an  inadequate energy, water, ancillary resources supply -  because of ongoing climate change and too many competing for them- then the skills can't materialize because the education can't occur.  It can't occur because the affected populations can't thrive or sustain themselves because they will never get enough to eat in a depleted world. They won't get enough water (needed for crops), nor enough energy to transport the crops. Nor will they have the resources to erect the infrastructure required for a population to further develop. 

Having enough to eat is vastly more difficult when there are many more billions of mouths to feed as well as a drought ravaged world.  And I already noted that water scarcity will limit favored protein sources so that only bug sources will remain, whether people like it or not. See e.g.


Already Europe’s scorching summer has put an extreme strain on its energy supply, such as hydropower in Norway, nuclear reactors affected in France and coal transport affected in Germany. France has actually had to lower production at several nuclear reactors because the river water that cools them is too warm

 Imagine then the adverse effects in a drought-ravaged Africa. A glimpse of the current conditions can be had from this NY Times account:


It has been a summer of heat and drought across Europe, affecting nearly every part of the economy and even its normally cool regions, a phenomenon aggravated by man-made climate change. France has been scarred by vast wildfires, and its Loire Valley is so dry the river can be crossed in places on foot. The Rhine in Germany is inches deep in parts, paralyzing essential commerce and stranding riverboat cruises  ….Hydropower reservoir supplies — responsible for 90 percent of Norway’s electricity as well as electricity exports to several of its neighbors — have sunk to the lowest point in 25 years, causing shortages that have driven up both prices and political tensions.

 The WSJ contributor, Josh Zumbrun, writes at the end of his piece: 

"Policy makers would do well to be humble in assuming endless growth in the human population. It is only one possible future for which the world must be prepared.."

This is true, and one such possible future is a total catastrophic collapse after the likely peak of 12.3 billion is reached in 2100.  This would plausibly occur as a result of the runaway greenhouse effect in conjunction with the mass migrations of millions of climate refugees in its wake. The latter across all borders - from the Middle East and Africa to Europe and from Mexico into the U.S.  - and beyond.

Such an end, likely to take 1-2 years as political and climate upheaval accelerate in tandem with then ongoing wars, is also in line with the  Doomsday argument of J. Richard Gott, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.  In his Queen's Park Theater lecture in Barbados in February, 1976, 

Isaac Asimov partly touched on this possibility, and that such a confluence of events might leave the global population at barely 3 billion - or what he termed its actual carrying capacity.    Referenced to 2100, that would mean over 9 billion lost in a massive population collapse - likely from a combination of global power grid collapse, famine, dehydration, massive firestorms and wars- political unrest.  

What kind of world would be left at this final 'peak' of population?  Likely not one most humans would wish to inhabit, and in fact the living might envy the dead.

See Also:

"To Breed Or Not To Breed?" The Answer Ought To Be Obvious By Now!


Meet Another Overpopulation Crackpot..

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