Speaking out

sloverpop_lrg.jpgMy colleague John Feeney has been working tirelessly to break through the widespread taboo against discussing the root cause of global society’s manifold, seemingly unrelated, yet accelerating problems: there are too many of us.  And we use too many resources, of course, but let’s not let that divert our attention from the very basic fact that the earth is finite and we cannot sustain continual growth in population or per capita resource use.

John has organized an effort to get the issue of overpopulation back on the table, and into the conversation, by recruiting a number of people working in areas related to population and resources to speak out about population during February 2009 (that’s now!) via the Global Population Speak Out (GPSO).  Several media outlets have gotten on board as you can see at the GPSO’s media page.  Last week John and I were interviewed by Caroline Harding at KRFC radio in Fort Collins, Colorado as part of this effort — my comments were about how human population growth threatens the oceans and can be heard here (scroll down to the KRFC logo).

As John asks in a recent article published at the BBC’s “Green Room”:

“Fundamentally, we need to ask what is the greater threat to human welfare: the possibility that humane efforts to address population growth might be abused, or our ongoing failure to act to prevent hundreds of millions, even billions, dying as a result of global ecological collapse?”

Speak up!

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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5 Responses to Speaking out

  1. quakergardener says:

    Speaking as a Quaker, and as a member of Quaker Earthcare Witness, I feel that the issue of overpopulation is deeply moral, as well as biological. Obviously, we are reaching the position of white tailed deer in a limited forest preserve with no natural predators. Clearly, forced birth control is wrong. However, as recently pointed out in the book More: Population, Nature and What Women Want (Robert Engelman, Island Press, 2008), historically women have limited their own fertility when they have had freedom of choice. To me it is deeply immoral that the Catholic church should not countenance the use of condoms in AIDS-ravaged countries; that poor Filipeno women should have to fight their government for access to birth control (and believe me, they understand the immediate effects of overshoot firsthand!); that the previous administration refused to help fund international family planning clinics, thereby endangering the health of millions of women. To many persons of faith, these “religious” positions and actions betray arrogance, real disregard for all life and profound misunderstanding of our place in the creation. From a progressive religious point of view, humans have the right neither to mistreat other humans nor on any level to despoil the creation, including through overpopulation.

  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    Quakergardener: Excellent points! It’s especially important to emphasize as you do that no one religious sect has a monopoly on morality — and certainly not the one that has hijacked the American political process for the last decade or so. Also important to note that there are humane, inherently democratic means to approach this problem, and empowering women throughout the world is a key part of it.

  3. Christian says:

    That’s a very complicate ethic question. Who can decide about avoiding childbirth? Only the people theirselves. But everyone has the right of
    medical support and reconnaissance.

  4. Nucbuddy says:

    (Sorry. I meant to write the following instead.)

    the earth is finite

    Have you read this?:


  5. Emmett Duffy says:

    Ah! It appears that I’ve at last flushed out a contrarian. Yes, nucbuddy, I a familiar with Julian Simon’s writings. He has an interesting perspective and has admittedly made some good points about the economics and technology. But on basic ecology he is dead wrong. Human ingenuity is a wonderful and powerful thing and I believe it will indeed continue to make people’s lives better in coming decades. But ingenuity and technology nevertheless require raw materials, and so do people. We have to eat something, and that has to grow on land or in the sea, and the space for doing so is finite and degrading. Market subsidies and switching can disguise the true costs of our actions for a while (for example, fish are still cheap despite the fact that many stocks are steadily declining) but there is an end to that road and it will not be pretty when we reach it.