The Issue No One Likes To Talk About

Population is the last taboo, says Mother Jones, but on the way to 10 billion in 2045, we might want to consider having the conversation.

Can the Earth support a rapidly expanding human population? All sides of the political spectrum shy from discussing the idea, and the steps that might need to be taken to control growth.

Julia Whitty takes a long hard look at the numbers behind this bugaboo:

"Planned or not, wanted or not, 139 million new people are added every year: more than an entire Japan, nearly an entire Russia, minus the homelands and the resources to go along with them. Countered against the 56 million deaths annually, our world gains 83 million extra people every year, the equivalent of another Iran. That's 1.6 million more humans alive this week than last week and 227,000 more people today than yesterday-all needing food, water, homes, and medicine for an average lifespan of 69 years."

Full Story: Population: The Last Taboo



Having the Consumption Discussion

Along with the population discussion we need to have the consumption discussion. It is well known that adults and children in developed "first world" countries consume far more of their share of natural resources (particularly in America) than do undeveloped "third world" people.

The Story of Stuff presents thoughts for this discussion at:

Consuming responsibly and demanding manufacturing emphasize durability and sustainability are critical points to consider.

I = P x A x T and consumption.

Affluenza-type tomes aside, IMHO much better for an optic or framework is:

    I = P x A x T

This would require us to do some self-examination and lifestyle changes, so in reality the equation's compellingness is of marginal real value for change.



Affluenza a great read

Affluenza is a great read, also.

Consumption And Work Time

Let me add the obvious but often overlooked fact that reducing consumption (or reducing growth in consumption) also requires reducing work hours.

If we consumed less, it would take fewer hours of work to produce everything we consume. That means either higher unemployment or a shorter average work week.

Under our current economic policies, slower growth means higher unemployment. The prime justification for growth is that it is needed to create jobs.

With different economic policies, slower growth could mean that people would have more free time for their families and for their own interests.

The Story of Stuff doesn't seem to recognize this fact. The policies that it recommends to reduce consumption would increase unemployment (unless better work-time policies were also adopted simultaneously).

Affluenza does recognize this fact. In fact, the author of Affluenza, John de Graaf, is the organizer of Take Back Your Time

Charles Siegel

Agreed, Charles

I agree with your points, Charles. The topic is broader than just reducing consumption but also changing work related policies.

A previous admin. (I can't remember which one) proposed reducing the US work week to 35 hours, akin to France's work week. That never passed.

Our federal labor laws have to mean something, too. The 40 hour work week is increasingly not upheld by employers, with people regularly working 50 plus hours at their jobs.

Reducing US Work Week

The Black-Connery bill, introduced in Congress during the 1930s, would have reduced the work week to 30 hours. At the time, work hours had been declining steadily since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and it was widely believed that work hours would keep declining.

Black-Connery passed the house and came very close to passing the senate. The Roosevelt administration supported it initially, but then bowed to business pressure and compromised on the 40-hour work week that we still have 65 years later. I don't know of any administration that has supported shorter work hours since then.

In my opinion, it is best to go with choice of work hours, which already exists in the Netherlands and Germany. This is most feasible politically, and it makes most sense as a response to economic growth.

For more info about Black-Connery and choice of work hours, see the chapter about this subject in my book The Politics of Simple Living, at

Charles Siegel

Pressure to work longer

Great writing Charles. We have many policies to pass to get this kind of legislation moving.

I spoke with a relative about this who works for a company that manufactures parts for a specific industry. He told me that the people who speak up about policies, attempt to unionize etc, are the first to be considered for layoff.

We have to remove the climate of fear for workers in the US workplace.

Also, there is a culture shift that needs to happen. Many Americans are proud to work a full time job (and out of fear for losing their jobs or out of necessity, will work 50 plus hours a week), expect everyone else to, and consider part time workers to be lazy and not fulfilling their adult duties.

These are important policy initiatves for the long term.

This is related, though it may not appear to be

This topic very much relates to economic policy (fiscal and monetary). The US and most of the world's fiscal and monetary policies are about increasing sales of stuff so it takes more people to make more stuff. It's also about accomodating ever growing government using fiscal policy to create huge debts and monetary policy to inflate your way out of the debt. Of course we see that now more than ever as we try to "grow" our way out of debts. But, it's very much of a ponzi scheme. We borrow/print money now to stimulate spending so more people can have jobs. But, they'll need more and more money to pay for increasing costs of goods per inflation. The only way for them to get more money in the long run is to have end users buy more stuff. So, it's just a running pyramid scheme that constantly relies on increasing consumption at a faster rate in order for the entire economic system not to collapse. Deflation, practically speaking, caused by everybody consuming less of everything, is the enemy of today's accepted economic policy. Politicians are so afraid of it because it will make the economy look terrible (by modern measures). But, at some point, we have to come to grips with the fact that we can not continutue this way because it is not only economnically unsustainable, but potentially environmentally. And, it's related, because at some level the world's wealth creating ability is tempered by the availability and use of natural resources. If the global money supply is not tied to some measure of natural resource, I believe you create this problem. Tying the two together would be better, in my opinion, because as natural resources become more scarce, so would "money" and the ability to grow economically (which includes consumption and work time). I have my opinions about how to do something about this, but it's unlikely we'll ever see anything like it. I propose we somehow link the global money supply to the traded value of every commodity (metals, energy, materials agricultural). Kind of a tangential thought, but I figured to some degree, it was related.

Debt and Growth

CP, I agree completely about debt/growth Ponzi scheme that we are engaged in.

The economist Peter Victor has developed computer models showing how we can move to slower growth or not growth by paying down debt, shortening the work week, and changing other macroeconomic variables.

Charles Siegel

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