An exchange with a reader regarding the article Sex, lies, and statistical correlation
I have been reading your debate with Saral Sarkar, and I am sorry, but much as I agree with many of your other conclusions and writings, you are wrong about population and environmental damage, and therefore, ultimately climate change. Today’s blog just leaves me cold. Not funny really.
Perhaps we need not be as drastic as Arne Naess suggests; however, 7 billion people is way too many. Sure policies need to change, governing needs to be just and equal, and wealth needs to be distributed fairly. But humans are part of the environment and we have no more right than any other part to consume its resources with abandon, neglect, and selfishness. Animal populations control their own numbers — so can we.
I believe the Earth will be able to survive the degradation wrought by humans — the question is will the humans? For us to survive, we must contain our numbers, slowly and fairly, but the growth must stop. Let’s strive for quality (development) not quantity.
Eleanor, no need to apologize. I don’t expect to convince everyone right away.
The point of the article that you find “not funny” — and of others I’ve written on this subject — is that numbers alone prove nothing. The statement “7 billion people is way too many” is not a useful guide to action. It’s just a big number, nothing more.
The real questions are:
- Is environmental destruction primarily caused by the fundamental nature of our society, or by the number of people in it? Do we need to change the way we live, or just change how many of us live this way?
- Is the problem the existence of a large number of people, or the activities of a small number of people who plunder the earth to reap private wealth?
- Are the most destructive countries those with growing populations, or those whose populations are stable or falling?
- Will reducing population change the grossly ecocidal nature of capitalism?
- If capitalism remains intact, will reducing population reduce environmental degradation in any significant way?
- Will campaigning for reduced population help build a powerful green movement, or will it alienate us from our most important allies, and divert the movement away from its most important tasks?
- And even if you disagree with me on those issues: If we have at most 10 or 20 years to head off catastrophic climate change, does it make any sense to focus our efforts on population programs that even the most optimistic populationists say will take 50 years to have a marginal effect?