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Essay Overpopulation and the Environment: We Must Act Now

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Overpopulation and the Environment: We Must Act Now


Is the planet doomed? The short answer is no, we're not doomed, since the verb implies inevitability. (1) Population is not growing everywhere, and the areas where growth rates are near zero or even negative (such as the United States and Western Europe) provide clues to addressing the problem in other regions. The longer answer to the doom question is that growing population is a problem that left unsolved could indeed have very harmful effects, both on the environment and our current life styles. However, controlling population growth rates is a relatively simple task compared to the even more critical problem of curbing seemingly insatiable desires for consumption. It is the quest for an ever-increasing standard of living that really holds our potential doom.

At this point in the debate, the doom scenario is very familiar. Pessimists from Malthus to Meadows (2) (and his Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits study teams) have despaired at humankind's inevitable collapse, brought on by exploding population, growing geometrically, that overwhelms a finite planet whose natural resources are fixed and whose food supply only grows arithmetically.

However, there are a number of factors not taken into account in pessimistic models' predictions of increasing resource scarcity. (3) Malthus' original predictions not only ignored the possibility of technological change, but also were created with the goal of persuading people to act morally and reduce the numbers of children they had. Meadows and his team built their systems dynamics model using dominantly positive feedback loops, (4) which may have biased their conclusions. More importantly, their approach assumed that consum...


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...of "simple living movements." For more information on people who are choosing quality of life over quantity of possessions, see The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs, published by Random House, NY.

13. For one scholar's view about how current values would have to change to achieve sustainability, see Timothy Weiskel, "Survival on a Small Planet." Audio recording of speech given at the Cambridge Forum lecture series on May 15, 1991.

14. See Max Weber's work on the spirit of capitalism, reprinted in Protestantism, capitalism, and social science; the Weber thesis controversy. (2nd ed.) Robert W. Green, ed. Lexington, MA: Heath. 1973. pp 1-31.

15. See "What Would Jesus Drive? : Religious Campaign Targets Transportation Choices" by Paul Hanley. In The Star Pheonix. Decemeber 27, 2002. Lifesyle section Pg C3.


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