8 Responses

  1. Steven Johnson November 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |

    I also agree with Dave Gardner that population must be reduced, in rich and poor countries alike. But global capitalism is one of the greatest impediments to achieving a widespread and democratic embrace of humane and sound population policies. We shop at WalMart, and buy what we think we need and want, with awareness of neither the social consequences (e.g., the unsafe working conditions and low wages in WalMart’s distant and unseen suppliers) nor of the carrying capicity of the earth to continue this stream of production without degrading ecosystems, destroying species, and robbing future generations of human and nonhuman life. We don’t see or feel any of those impacts in the global system of consumer capitalism. But if we had significantly localized democratically controlled economies, committed to using no more resources per capita than could be sustained across the planet without endangering species and degrading the ecosystems which sustain us, then we would each personally gain a tangible sense of the carrying capacity of our bioregion and local area in which we are producing most of what we consume, and of the impacts of our presence and actions on that capacity. And so we would experientially grasp the connection between our level of population-and-consumption on how much there is to go around for us and our children. We would then come to see birth control as a wonder technology for creating genuine ABUNDANCE (reliably having all that we need for a decent and genuinely satisfying life).

    This is, in my view, one of the most powerful arguments in favor of a genuinely ecological, largely localized, democratic, grassroots socialist management of the economy: The world desperately needs to reduce its human population, yet capitalism impedes acceptance of humane and adequate population policies. Too bad that socialists like Ian Angus not only fail to embrace this very powerful argument, they are undercutting it by means of an aggressive campaign that is steeped in fallacious either-or thinking. A socialist movement which succeeds in galvanizing the masses will have to be rooted in sound reasoning and a balanced appraisal of the various factors contributing to our ecological and social crises.

  2. Steven Johnson November 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm |

    I’m in the awkward position of agreeing, to some extent, with everybody here. Growth is indeed a systemic intrinsic necessity for capitalism, and therefore we must focus efforts on bringing decisions of economic allocation under the management of a democratic and highly participatory process, in which everyone has a fair say, rather than let a tiny minority of people concentrate productive assets and decision-making into their hands. And I agree with Ian Angus and others that stopping immigration is not the answer. (Rather, creating a just and sustainable steady-state economy characterized by modest consumption, democratically planned production, and modest use of renewable energy sources, is, so as to make an immigrant’s ecological impacts no greater in the U.S. than in Guatemala, while providing enough for all.) But I think Dave Gardner’s “growth busters” message is also crucial, because if we don’t directly challenge consumers’ addiction to (and aspirations among the poor to) the current high-consumption North American way of life, then even if we succeed in bringing a socialist movement to victory, there will be public pressure on the socialist government to keep the excessive gravy train flowing, rather than ensuring a simple yet decent lifestyle for all. We must address the systemic issues, as well as the personal affective issues by which capitalist ideology maintains its hegemony. Both/and, not either/or.

  3. Dave Gardner November 22, 2012 at 7:53 am |

    A lot of good points made here. But it’s no secret that most sustainable population advocates – myself included – believe we absolutely are so far off the charts we have got to work toward having a smaller population alongside addressing the very real problems Simon catalogued.

    I wish Simon and Ian would stop repeating this false statement:

    “And we also warn that the population argument is too often used to shift the blame for ecological destruction away from the real culprits and toward the poorest parts of the world where the human population is growing the fastest.”

    It is simply untrue. Get over it, and let’s have more people rowing the boat toward sustainability and fewer people arguing over what the oars are made of.

    Dave Gardner
    Director of the documentary
    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

    1. Ian Angus November 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm |

      “Simply untrue”? Oh come on.

      Have you not read letters to the editor claiming nothing can be done about global warming unless we stop Third World people from breeding? Do you not attend public meetings at which populationists routinely blame everything from urban sprawl to crime on immigrants from the South?

      If you’d been to any of the book launch meetings for “Too Many People?” or listened to the phone-in shows I was on, you would have heard those arguments made repeatedly.

      Do you not see the endless articles that blame tropical deforestation on over-breeding peasants? Have you not read the calls for creating “conservation” zones in third world countries, from which the poorest people in the world would be expelled?

      As I’ve said before Dave, I don’t doubt your sincerity. But you remain sadly blind to the way your arguments are used in the real world.

      1. Dave Gardner November 23, 2012 at 8:49 am |

        Ian, I’m afraid you hear what you want to hear. You interpret with a lens that tells you every statement about overpopulation intentionally excludes overconsumption and capitalist growth obsession. At any rate, one would have to be a fool to wish for an equitable world where 10 billion starve equally. Why not strive for an equitable world in which there is plenty for all? That is physically unsustainable at 10 billion.

        1. Ian Angus November 23, 2012 at 9:07 am |

          No. I hear what is actually said, and I compare it to actual proposals for action. Populationist “intentions” are irrelevant — that’s what the road to hell is paved with.

          Many populationists spout pious wishes about reducing consumption for the rich, but they have no proposals at all for actually accomplishing that. Their practical programs all target the poor — blocking immigration, shifting aid dollars into third world population control programs, creating conservation reserves by driving poor people off the land, etc. Actions speak much louder than words.

          When someone says that the world’s population has to be rapidly reduced by billions, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the main burden of accomplishing that will be imposed on the poorest people in the poorest countries — the people and places who are least to blame for the environmental crisis.

          1. ConsumerTrap November 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm |

            And Ian: The main problem isn’t even the “consumption” habits of the rich, severe as those are. The main problem is the dictatorship of private wealth-seekers over macro-economic choices. The problem is the production habits of the rich. (Props to the late Barry Commoner.) Product-use (“consumption” in the cynical/misanthropic/capitalist lexicon) is a by-product of product production and marketing. Every time a “green” dwells on “consumption,” the species and the planet lose another day.

        2. ConsumerTrap November 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm |

          Is it overconsumption or overproduction? And growth is not an “obsession” for capitalists. It is a systemic requirement, 100 percent. To elide that point is to convey the impression that we just have to reason with the capitalists and get them to slow themselves down. ROFL.

          Hating on the commoners is a plague within the green movement, and it is, as Ian argues, at its worst among those who want to attack “overpopulation,” which is a systemic effect of the wildly unequal distribution of wealth.

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