Nobody Ever Dies of Overpopulation

September 16, 2010 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Al Bartlett for the article that he posted on the Physics and Society website at the University of Arkansas. It reminds me of Garrett Hardin’s classic one-page paper in Science on 12 February, 1971, entitled “Nobody Ever Dies of Overpopulation.” If you have not read it, you can see it here:

Dear Friends,

In his recent communication, Art Hobson asked,

“Does anybody know what caused the huge floods on the Indus river? Sure, it’s monsoon season, but this year it’s a monster monsoon.”

Let’s look at six factors.

1. The monsoon may have brought more rain than normal

2. The increased monsoon rains may have been caused by global climate change.

3. Some fraction of the observed global climate change may have been caused by overpopulation.

4. The monsoon rain water probably runs off the lands and into the rivers more rapidly than it did 100 years ago.

5. Overpopulation has caused more people to settle in crowded living conditions in the known flood-prone lands along the banks of the rivers.

6. The continuity equation still holds: so that if the flow speed in the rivers is not much changed but the cubic meters of water per second of flow increases, then the cross section of the flow has to increase; this puts the rivers out of their banks and into agricultural and settlement areas, causing great damage.

I have no idea about No. 1. The rainfalls may be higher than normal. If so, this may be due to global climate change. If the global climate is changing, some part of the change is most likely due to overpopulation.

As populations have grown, people have cut more trees each year off of the hillsides to use the wood for fuel and for building materials. With population growth, there is an increased rate of cutting so that at some point, the annual harvest exceeds the annual new growth. At this point the areas of bare ground are increasing in size leaving a naked land from which
the monsoon rains run off more rapidly than it did from forested land.

As the population grows, people crowd along the riverbanks for their housing. These crowded settlements are vulnerable to flooding, often with great loss of life.

So population growth may increase the monsoon rains; it has increased the rate of runoff of the monsoon rains, and it has put more people at risk in the river flood plains. So overpopulation plays a major causal role in the current disaster.

Today’s New York Times [August 17, 2010] reports that

“It seems impossible that the country [Pakistan] could absorb the cost of the calamity on its own. Bridges, power plants and communications networks have been lost or severely damaged across the country, A FIFTH OF WHICH IS ESTIMATED TO BE UNDER WATER. (emphasis added)”

“With 20 percent of cotton washed away, Pakistan’s famed textile industry, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s exports, is certain to stagger. As a result, textile plants are likely to make large-scale layoffs. Plants that do manage to purchase cotton will face electricity shortages, as more than seven major power stations have been demolished.”

People are dying from overpopulation, yet in the media and in our discussions, as the famed biologist Garrett Hardin has observed, “No one ever dies from overpopulation.”

The world is overpopulated. The United States is overpopulated: yet the population of the world is growing by something like 1 percent per year, as is the population of the United States.

The NY Times noted that “Economists argue that the only viable solution, as is often the case in Pakistan, will be international loans that allow at least five-year concessions for Pakistan to pay off the debt.”

Think about this “argument.” People are dying from overpopulation and the “only viable solution” is to loan them money to get ready for the next disaster!

In 1972 some systems analysts at MIT published “Limits to Growth.” This was an instant sensation worldwide, but it was soundly and effectively defeated by the world community of economists who argue against any thought of limits. It is very pleasant to believe that there are no limits. Political leaders feel justified in believing that there are no limits if the “No Limits” message is brought to them by people with Ph.Ds. Go back and read some of the things written by the late Professor Julian Simon who wrote that we have enough knowledge and resources so that we can continue to grow “for seven billion years.” Many people love Simon’s message and believe that we are free to go on growing populations and rates of consumption of resources. Two updates to “Limits to Growth” have been published, one in 1992 and in 2002. For the past 30 years, the patterns seem to be following those outlined in 1972.

So if you want to see the future if we continue to ignore the limits, then look no farther than “Limits to Growth.”

I feel that we are failing our responsibilities as educators if we continue to be silent about the arithmetic of growth and about limits and particularly about overpopulation. These limits are boundary conditions on our human existence and, as we can see from Pakistan today, we ignore these limits at our peril.

Best wishes,
Albert A. Bartlett, 2935 19th Street, Boulder, Colorado, 80304-2719
Phone: (303) 443-0595; FAX; (303) 449-9440;
E-Mail: Albert.Bartlett@Colorado.EDU

See Website: www.ALBartlett.ORG

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