Population growth, governments and the media

After a two week break, a computer breakdown and the start of a new university term I am finally back online. I apologize for the long absence.

Every second, five people are born and two people die, for a net gain of three people each second. That means that 12 people were added to the worlds population in the time it took you to read the previous sentence. The world is adding about 78 million more people every year: the population of France, Greece and Sweden combined, or a city the size of San Francisco every three days. (from “The Environment” by Simon Ross and Joseph Kerski, 2005)

These are absolutely phenomenal numbers. I am ashamed to say that in my youth I had thought, “Great for human beings. It shows our strength as a species”. But today I know better than to think population growth has anything to do with a people or nation’s greatness. It is only culture, nationhood and species-hood that makes us think this way.

So you have to wonder why people think population growth is such a great thing. Headlines like “An Egyptian is born every 23 seconds“, the way in which the US Census Bureau keeps counting, or the panic Japan feels because the opposite is happening are all indications of an attitude which is egotistical and defies logic.

So how to understand population growth? Any population is regulated or controlled by its finite resource-based habitat. And human population does not stand outside this model. So looking at how population regulation and control occurs is useful. There are three ways (according to the Ross-Kerski book) in which population regulation can viewed.

Density dependent and independent
One is to see the density-dependent vs. density-independent mechanisms. An example of a density-independent mechanism is a flash flood which devastates an area. An ant colony within this area may lose ten members of its population or ten million. Therefore the flash flood is a density-independent. In layman’s terms it is all about chance. And a density-dependent mechanism is one where a population peaks because its supply of food (example: the predators’ prey) is finite. So due to this food shortage and certain number of the population die out. Density-independent events are unpredictable while density-dependent occurrences – to some degree – are. And the true model is is probably a mixture of both.

Intrinsic and extrinsic regulation
Growth and regulation can also be seen through the idea of intrinsic or extrinsic. An example of intrinsic regulation is spacing. Some animals prefer a certain area to be their own territory this inherent need to for space. This in-built characteristic means the density of an area is regulated by this animal’s need. Extrinsic regulation of this same animal will come from, for example, predation or fire. The distinction between the two at times can be difficult, since the need for space drives the animal to go beyond its normal boundaries in which it may perish due to accident. But this accident may not have occurred if the intrinsic mechanism did not push it beyond this limit. Therefore the death, though extrinsic, is a caused by an intrinsic incident.

Birth and death rate regulation
Crude birth and death rate, and population density is the third way in which we can look at population. As population increases beyond the means of an area to support it success of survival (death rate) decreases therefore regulating the population size. Birth rates are regulated also if the living population see the area and its density to population ratio as potentially not conducive of rearing.

How should we see global human population?
For the entire planet model looking at crude birth and death rate is the most common way to view population since we do not have increase from immigration or decrease by emigration. And the intrinsic-extrinsic model is seen as not applicable to the human species since he has all but “eliminated” his extrinsic influence. This I will argue because we may have rid themselves of predation, but in fact we are predators. This is why the density-dependent/independent model is a more accurate way of seeing population.

In the end the human species still depends on his environment for survival. We have reached a point we are using more than the planet can provide and no amount of technology can help. Producing more food per area of land may seem logical but really that can only happen by doing so need to bring in more resources from the outside to sustain such a model. Agricultural land simply becomes exhausted from the taxing methods we impose upon them.

So the reality is there will be a time when we will have food shortage. And when that happens the relative peacefulness the better half of the planet will use their power to secure their survival and the still poor will suffer for their actions.

We must change our view of population now. This also entails that we change our attitude from one that is economic-based to one that is non-economic. Money may seem to make the world go around, but in the end, whether there a single person on Earth to spend that money or not the planet still spins. It has done so for four billion years and it will do so for another four.

5 thoughts on “Population growth, governments and the media”

  1. A few ideas on how to seek Economic Sustainability

    1) Individual consumers need to consciously consume less of whatever it is that they consume. The government or NGOs should incentivate families to benchmark their current levels of consumption on various fronts, then reduce them. Consuming fewer air-miles each successive year should be high on our list of priorities, considering their huge addition to our individual carbon footprint. (As a cheap and effective alternative to flying, we may consider video-conferencing.)

    2) Advertising aimed at making people buy more should be tapered off. Only adverts giving information should be allowed.

    3) Roadside advertising hoardings should be reduced by 50%, and they should not be illuminated, as they use up precious energy for a relatively non-productive purpose.

    4) Stop adding power generation capacities, whether thermal or otherwise. Freeze them at existing capacities and merely replace thermal capacities with wind-energy and solar generation capacities.

    5) Stop registering new private vehicles. NGOs or government should incentivate people to give up private transport (for instance by giving them free passes on public transport with 10-year validity.)

    6) Each year, taper off the numbers of private transport wheels by 10% or more, and enhance the capacity of public transport by 20%. This will result in a net improvement in the quality of transportation and reduced congestion each year. Also encourage biking and hiking by improving the quality of roadsides, and including rest facilities (lounges) every kilometre or two.

    7) Enforce a one-child policy with both carrot and stick. This means that within the span of 60-70 years, population would go down by about 50%.

    8) Build infrastructure for localised means of recreation such as playgrounds and stadiums, both indoor and outdoor. Encourage greater participation in physical and mental sporting activities by organizing competitions etc.

    8) Civic and governmental efforts to improve quality of life are crucial to wean off people from the rat-race.

    PS: This is not saying that we shall have no more problems, and shall live happily ever after. Every situation and every lifestyle inevitably has its own set of problems… and we shall have to be alert and aware to deal with them as they arise.



  2. John, you’re right about the Grist/population thing. And yes, avoiding an issue, any issue because it is political poison, is wimpy. So you can dump on the guy as you want and you will have my support.

    Here on std I had tried not to avoid any issue for any reason except maybe ignorance. And even then I had tried to talk about it by admitting my deficiency.

    In reading the Grist post again I did find some things I could not agree with also. One problem is “sustainable development”. For me I have talked about weak sustainability and that any account that does not first take a look at the environmental issue without human action is wrong plain wrong. And sustainable development by definition (human needs first) is weak.

    That is why I see the term sustainability and sustainable development as separate, the former meaning strong sustainability with the biocentric view taking precedence. So any view which worries about political poison is not in my good books.

    The Harada article is good but I still disagree because the quality of life must fall as a consequence of decreasing population. This is due to the demographic imbalance which is fine but it must be accepted and let its course run. This together with a low stable birth rate is the only way which the problem will fix itself in the long term. I think have talked about this before, but if Japan pursues an increase GDP per capita policy then I think it is wrong. Raising per capita GDP means increased consumption at home and abroad. And that is not what the environment needs.


  3. Sorry to hear your hitting the pause button, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Just one thing more on the Harada article:

    “If we were to take the second point of the Grist post to it logical conclusion then Japan must spread its wealth by letting in more immigrants as a way to spread wealth and relieve its labour shortage.”

    Regardless of specifics about which people can quibble, I think his point, though, is that there are ways to adjust to a shrinking population and that as they’re implemented the shrinkage should actually be a good thing. He’s talking of course about simple quality of life stuff, but we also know it’s a good thing for the ecosystem, the future, etc. I hope to see more articles talking about what adjustments countries need to make in that regard.

    As for the Grist article, he was right about important ways of addressing population, but I really disagree with him about the choice not to talk directly about population. It’s also worth mentioning that when I scanned his last 100 posts I didn’t see any addressing even the related social and economic points he suggests talking about instead. Nor did a search from the January of ’06 to now turn up any. Given the fundamental importance of population growth in driving our ecological crisis, it’s striking that he’s not trying to address it even in the roundabout way he recommends. And he calls those who bring it up “yellers,” though in the thread he linked to as an example they seemed to discuss it quite calmly and civilly. What’s wrong with this picture? I don’t mean to dump on this one guy, but man…


  4. John,

    Thanks for your comments and links. As always you are the population go to man.

    The Grist post was very succinct. The author hit it on the nail with empowering women and spreading prosperity. The number of comments there are simply too much to handle, but a quick read of some made for fascinating reading. Diversity of opinion is such a great thing.

    The Harada article was also interesting. Yes, he is on the right direction but I think a little inaccurate and naive on some points.

    His point on the US population growth is too simplistic. US population growth is a combination of birth and immigration so no falling population is not all due to baby power.

    And his point on bring more women back into the workforce simply is unrealistic. Who will look after the elderly and children who combined will make up two-thirds of the Japan population? Literally there will be one working person for every child and elder.

    And Japan has one of the lowest immigration rates. Less than 1% of the 127 million are immigrants. If you add up the transitory foreign population it still is less than 2%.

    If we were to take the second point of the Grist post to it logical conclusion then Japan must spread its wealth by letting in more immigrants as a way to spread wealth and relieve its labour shortage.

    These are just some things which grabbed my attention at a quick glance.

    And I am looking forward to the Hopfenberg event on GIM.


  5. Hi Sig,

    So you have to wonder why people think population growth is such a great thing….

    We must change our view of population now.

    Yes. There are still a lot of people cheerleading population growth. These are mostly pro-capitalism, pro-free-market types, it seems. And then there is a certain faction on the left who think we shouldn’t talk about it because it offends some people or because it somehow got confused with racism sometime in the past. Here’s a link to a Grist blog article I stumbled on just last night in which the writer admitted he never mentions population because he thinks it’s “political poison.” I had to leave a comment (way, way down under “JohnF”), and comments from a couple of others, including “biodiversivist” were pretty good:


    Also, on the right we get some who fret about population declines in some countries, when they should be happy about it, realizing the alternative would be much worse than having to figure out how to adjust to declining numbers of young people, etc. Recently I spotted this article about how Japan might adjust:


    It seems much more on the right track than the articles that complain about a “birth dearth.”

    With regard to the mechanisms that regulate population growth, we’re just now talking about that on GIM, as Russell Hopfenberg has agreed to stop by to discuss his research. His (somewhat controversial) conclusion is that increases in food supply lead to increases in population and that our efforts to produce enough food to keep up with population growth have just created a vicious cycle, causing population to grow even further. There seem so be some puzzling details to his theory though, and I expect he’ll be thoroughly questioned in this “blog event.” :) Oh, here’s a link to that:


    Welcome back to the online world of technology we’d be better off without. :-/


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