Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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March 20, 2005

Overpopulation - Does Population Growth Follow Food Supply?

On a recent post of mine regarding the Aerospace Technology Working Group (ATWG), a series of comments brought to light an interesting train of thought on human overpopulation.

Steven Earl Salmony pointed out that according to an article of Russell P. Hopfenberg,

human population dynamics are common to the population dynamics of other species. This means the world's human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives up population numbers, and increasing population fuels the mistaken impression, the misperception, that food production needs to be evermore increased. The data make clear increasing annual global food production gives rise to growing numbers of human beings.

Hopfenberg is already starting out from the assumption that human population numbers are a problem. Granted, there are signs that we humans are a destructive influence on the environment, but my view is that the problem may not the growth of population numbers as such but our irresponsible and destructive ways that are determining a negative impact on the biosphere we live in.

After having bought the basic assumption that human population growth is bad (because of our impact on the earth's biosphere) Hopfenberg says the increase of population numbers is a direct consequence of an increase in the availability of food. But what if humans are really different from other species. After all, we are capable of responding to an increase in population by increasing our food supply, by finding new ways to feed ever more people. While availability of food has been shown to be a limiting factor for populations from microbes to mammals, perhaps this is not necessarily the case for humans.

What will limit human population growth however, is a collapse of "livable spaces", an ecological disaster on spaceship earth, which we are fast approaching and will sooner or later encounter, unless we decide to change our ways.

We have a definite problem with energy technologies, which rely on fossil fuels which are highly polluting. Our chemical and pharmaceutical industries are large scale producers of poisons that end up making us sick and yes, we also have problems with food production, based on shameless exploitation of other species - think about overfishing or the practice of keeping animals in feedlots for "meat production".

Food production seems to be concentrated, to a large part, in the hands of giant corporations. Genetic modification of common food plants and control of the world seed supply are some of the more advanced and largely criticized strategies to achieve food control. Large scale grain production and other "strategic" agricultural sectors are highly subsidized, in effect ruining the agricultural efforts of developing countries. The recent "G 20" meeting of the largest developing economies has called for an elimination of distorting agricultural subsidies.

Let's for a moment suppose that our major problem is not the number of humans but the way we feed them and the way we use energy in a highly polluting way. In an ideal world, humans would live in harmony with nature, respecting other species and the earth invironment and striving to leave as small a footprint as possible on that environment that in effect sustains our existence.

What's keeping us from going towards that goal? I believe we must look at how economy influences our choices. A corporate energy monopoly (oil) keeps us locked into an archaic energy technology. Corporate food production with the avowed purpose of "feeding the multitudes" is environmentally destructive and ends up putting small farmers out of work, effectively endangering, instead of ensuring food security - another monopoly in the making?

David Korten has described the mechanisms in his book "When Corporations Rule the World" and is proposing changes in his more recent "The Post-Corporate World".

Perhaps it is time to look for some serious solutions that are not based on corporate domination of our affairs.

- - -

Here is the discussion as developed from my earlier article

Steven Earl Salmony on 3 March 2005:

Please take note of apparently unforeseen scientific data regarding the human overpopulation of Earth. Russell P. Hopfenberg, Ph.D., has published articles indicating elegantly that human population dynamics are common to the population dynamics of other species. This means the world's human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives up population numbers, and increasing population fuels the mistaken impression, the misperception, that food production needs to be evermore increased. The data make clear increasing annual global food production gives rise to growing numbers of human beings.

Perhaps, a new biological understanding with Dr. Hopfenberg's research. It is simply that the Earth's carrying capacity for human organisms, like that for other organisms, is determined by food availability. More food equals more people; less food equals less people; and no food, no people. Given its current scale and rate of growth, human population worldwide appears to be a huge problem, taking an ever-increasing toll on limited natural resources; nonetheless, we can take the measure of this problem and find a remedy that is consonant with universally shared human values.

Thanks for all you are doing to protect humanity from endangerment, biodiversity from extinction, and Earth from irreversible degradation.

My reply on 3 March 2005:

thank you for pointing me to this most interesting publication by Russell Hopfenberg, Human Carrying Capacity is Determined by Food Availability.

Of course there are dangers in overpopulation and we should try to avoid those, but perhaps population control is not the only means at our disposal.

In my view, we have ample room for improvement in reducing the human "footprint" on the environment and sustain a population greater than the present one, with much reduced reliance on the resources that are available. New solutions in the energy field are a must in this respect.

Food is indeed a problem and perhaps new avenues of making nutritious food that do not rely so much on livestock and fishing should be found. I could imagine that with ingenuity, growth of population might be sustained into the future, with the important caveat of doing something about our weight on the planetary environment.

Steven Earl Salmony replies on 4 March 2005:

Please note that there is another valuable article by Dr. Russell Hopfenberg (with David Pimentel). It is Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply, ENVIRONMENT, DEVELOPMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY. 3: 1-15, 2001.

With every passing year, as food production is increased, leading to a population increase, millions more people go hungry. Why are those hungry millions (now numbering in the billions worldwide) not getting fed year after year after year....and may not ever be fed? Every year the global human population grows. All segments of it grow. The data in support of this understanding are uncomplicated and overwhelming. For example, every year there are more people with blue eyes, more people with brown eyes, more people with who are tall and more people who are short. It also means that there are more people growing up well-fed and more people growing up hungry. According to Dr. Hopfenberg's data, we are not bringing hunger to an end by ever increasing the food supply; instead, annual increases in food production give rise to more hungry people. Currently, data show us that there are more people existing on the planet on resources worth less than $2 per day than were alive on Earth in the year of my birth, 1945.

Is the human population bomb Dr. Paul Ehrlich identified for all of us exploding now?

My reply on 4 March 2005:

Dear Steven,

Hopfenberg and Pimentel say:

"The increase in the number of humans is responsible for amounts of pollutants dumped into land, water, and atmosphere."

While this may be suggestive, it is far from the truth.

In my view it is not the increase of the number of humans that is responsible for pollution but our refusal to face the reality that we are part of an eco-system and that we cannot make unlimited demands on that system for our own survival and expansion.

Rather than population expansion itself, our mode of operation bears some looking into. We seem to be blinded by "economic realities" that dictate economy must expand to be healthy, and perhaps our over-production of food follows economic, rather than humanitarian (like in "we need to feed all those poor people") concerns. We are forced to expand production to satisfy the faulty expansionist maxim of a finance-driven debt economy.

Hunger seems to depend more on problems of distribution - and on a refusal of industrialized nations to support food production in developing nations - than on a real shortage of food. Distribution or rather distributed food production is hampered by the same economic maxims that blind us to our responsibility towards the environment. Rich nations subsidize their own agriculture to the detriment of developing nations and to the detriment of the environment, requiring food to often travel thousands of miles before it reaches the final consumer.

It would be quite possible to produce without polluting, and to have abundant energy without using fossil fuels albeit not with the profit maximization imperative and the monopolistic concentration of economic power in mega corporations that our economic system dictates.

Something to consider.

Another comment posted by Steven Earl Salmony on 4 March 2005:

Is the unlimited growth of human numbers not primarily a natural result of the spectacular production of an ever increasing food supply? Do growing human population numbers not naturally lead to the taking of a greater and greater toll on the Earth's resources? Given their scale and rate growth, how much longer can our small, finite, noticeably fragile planetary home sustain unrestrained human numbers, unbridled per capita human consumption, or the seemingly endless expansion of global human economy? Taken together, do these distinctly human activities not run the risk of perhaps ruining the environment as a fit place for human habitation soon?

Thanks for considering these questions.

To which I reply on 5 March 2005:

Dear Steven,

1) Is growth of population linked to increasing food supply? I don't think that this has been satisfactorily estabished. The article simply disregards contrary arguments that say population grows where there is poverty. Indeed it seems that poverty leads to families with more children. There is a confounding factor in considering countries, because you can have poverty in some of the inhabitants (which then tend to have larger families) and riches in other parts that tend towards less progeny.

2) Do growing numbers lead to a greater toll on the Earth's resources? Yes, they obviously do. However there is much we ourselves could do to decrease that toll we are taking, if we were to free up to the development and introduction of disruptive (monopoly breaking) new technologies.

3) How much longer can earth sustain unrestrained human numbers, consumption, and expansion of human economy? I would say that we don't know, but we may be getting close to a limit. I would also argue that it is not the "human numbers" as such, but our way of senseless use of resources and criminal neglect for the environment that is to blame. And I would suggest that the overuse of resources and poisoning of the environment are dictated by our economic system, rewarding financial values rather than human or ecological ones.

4) Do these human activities not risk ruining the environment as a fit place for human habitation soon? Yes, our current activities do risk destruction of the environment - clearly so.

My question:

Has anyone made specific proposals of how to handle the problem? If so, what is being proposed?

Always on 5 March 2005, Steven Earl Salmony writes:

Dear Sepp,

A problem for us here and now derives from my noticeably lacking communication skills. Forgive me.

Before we can begin figuring out what to do for a patient is distress, first we need an accurate diagnosis of the problem pressented to us.

According to Dr. Hopfenberg's data, human beings are creatures of the Earth. We evolved here like the other species did. We may be the most miraculous and wondrous and complex example of evolving life (some would likely want to argue with this, given certain of our behaviors), but clearly, absolutely, we appear to be creatures of this planet. It may be that there is nothing 'supreme' about human beings. Such supremacy is reserved to God in my worldview. Of the creatures great and small that ever existed, we are but one. We are exceptional in that we live by our wits.

Russell Hopfenberg's science indicates that Homo sapiens propagate like other species. If that is so, then we could have diagnosed a very serious human "condition." THE problem before us could be continuously increasing absolute global human population numbers. Until we recognize THE problem, it is difficult for me to understand how we address it. We need a diagnosis before prescribing a remedy.

Increasing human consumption and expanding human production appear to be a natural result of a growing human population. Of course, we could restrain consumption. Certainly, we could restrict production. That would surely help. But THE problem remains the growing human numbers. Dr. Hopfenberg's data indicates that that non-recursive biological problem needs to be carefully and skillfully examined.

How it is the human community chooses to do respond to its condition - consonant with universally shared human values - looks to me like a good topic for general discussion.

My reply on 6 March 2005:

Dear Steven,

you say we need to find an accurate diagnosis of the problem presented to us.

The problem, as stated, is the continuing growth of human population.

Hopfenberg makes two unsubstantiated leaps in his work. First he jumps from environmental problems to human population growth, saying that human population growth is the cause of our environmental problems. He then goes on to say that human population growth (now by him identified as a serious problem) is a function of the food supply.

I have commented before that I do not feel that human population growth, but rather our blatant disregard for our responsibilities as part of earth's ecosystem is the cause of our destroying this planet as fast as we possibly can manage.

Let me add to that and say that I am equally unconvinced that the availability of food is a primary factor in current population growth. While this may well be true for animal populations, I believe that what sets apart from the animals, our intellect, may make the food factor of potentially much less importance.

But - I do agree that we have a problem, and the real problem seems to be that we, as humanity, are destroying our environment with just about every action we take. We use up resources as if they were unlimited, we produce chemical poisons and we concentrate nuclear elements, we use oil and gas as if our life depended on it, and we call it progress.

What is the source of our problem?

Certainly not the fact that we are here and that there seem to be more of us every day.

I would say that the source of our problem is that we are unable to agree that what is good for the environment is good for us. All the major corporations tell us, if not by word then by action, that we must be free to pollute, to waste, to destroy, otherwise we cannot "economically survive". In other words, we have an economics problem.

The way our economic interchanges are arranged, everything, including the fate of the environment and ultimately the fate of humans on earth, becomes secondary to maximizing profit. We have food production for profit (not for nutrition and not for feeding people, but for profit), we have wars for profit, we got energy for profit and we have illness for profit.

We have been living with this idea for quite some time, and its proponents have convinced us that there is really no alternative to pollution, to poisoning ourselves and other species, to reducing the habitat of the other creatures that inhabit this planet together with us. If we are to economically prosper, we have to do all these things.

That is my diagnosis.

What are we going to do about it?

On 7 March 2005, Steven Earl Salmony writes:

Dear Sepp,

As you can tell, I am unprepared and poorly equipped for this exchange. Please bear with me.

Before I saw Dr. Hopfenberg's data (both published and not yet published), the point of view you put forward is one I shared. These unexpected and unwelcome scientific data have lead me to see things differently. His research does not seem to be a leap, but rather a slight extension of what already is known about population dynamics. In the light of these new data, could it be said that human intelligence has not yet been deployed in an effort to examine and respond ably to the biological problem potentially presented to humanity by the human overpopulation of Earth? As a first step, I would like to propose that we begin examining together and with other esteemed colleagues the scientific data from Malthus to Darwin to Darling to Hardin to Ehlich to Hopfenberg (as well as the work of other great scientists of population issues) and not become tied up and distracted by outworn, preternatural and supernatural beliefs about the supremacy of Homo sapiens. Perhaps, it is precisely the unreality of the belief Homo sapiens are not an integral part of the natural order of all living things that presents a primary obstacle to going forward as I am suggesting.

Let me add, but this time with different words, that I surely agree with you that humanity has an "economic problem," looked at in terms of both unrestrained per capita global human food consumption and unbridled increases in global human food production.

We want to take care, I suppose, that present worldwide growth trends of human numbers, human consumption and human production do not lead us inadvertently to overwhelm the small, finite, noticeably fragile planetary home we are blessed by God to inhabit with other creatures.

This opportunity to communicate about so significant a concern means much to me. Thank you for it.

There is a subsequent exchange between Steve Salmony and Michael Hannon, who had been the one giving decisive input for my previous post, where this discussion first developed.

Michael Hannon comments on 8 March 2005:

Indeed the management of the population, food, housing, and even potential habitat destroying businesses is out of hand and needs to be seriously addressed, and in fact much of the population increases has been in the lesser developed countries. I was recently reading that there are 1 billion Catholics worldwide, led by a church (I am not anti-Catholic, mind you, coming from Irish ancestors) that dictates a no birth contol policy, and the the less educated the adherents, the more inclined they are to follow that religious dictum, which puts the church at odds with any attempts to even use simple birth control devices in lesser developed populations, as in the Phillipines, that would have lesser capacity to support their increasing birthrates.

Steven Earl Salmony responds (8 March 2005):

Your comments are important. Thinkers like you are going to help everyone else figure out how we go forward.

I love the Catholics; but the Catholic Church's view on certain human population issues may have to be examined closely by those in this great Church who have responsibility for ensuring the health of all Catholics..... and naturally, by extension, the wellbeing of humanity. At least to me, it appears we have a human population problem. If I had answers to questions to which this problem gives rise, I would let you know.

Having said that, I have complete and abiding confidence in the many wonderful attributes of humankind and in science. We will find our way into the future, for the sake of coming generations.

Another comment by Michael Hannon , always on 8 March 2005:

I agree that we have a problem, yet it's more of a population density, distribution, education, and consequent common wealth problem to me than simply too many people being born, because it's the poorly educated populations which have the most hardship, and the pollutive exploitation of lands by disinterested corporate concerns who would rather profit from lands and people they minimally educate to serve only their corporate needs that creates so many health issues, food, and income problems while walking away from the responsibilities inherent in the financial benefit gained by their exploitation.

i.e. In Nigeria, right next to oil complexes reaping huge profits for the companies involved, are starving, poorly housed, health-deficient natives of the land being exploited, barely eeking out a subsistance, in plain view of the facilities, when tiny properly used fractions of the profits could make their lives so much better.

It seems to me that it is much more about a sense of real corporate responsibilty to humanity as opposed to spreadsheets and bottom lines that is in serious question here - in the industrialized world, religious dogma is less practised by their populations because they have the benefit of their educations and rights to maintain living standards not shared by other areas.

RepliesSteven Earl Salmony (8 March 2005):

Now, let us see how we can "globalize" the discussion that is occurring here. That looks like the challenge of the moment. In 2001, after reading Dr. Hopfenberg's first paper, a trusted colleague said to me that the article needs to be shared with every person on the planet who can understand science. I have not lost sight of that goal.

The present nuances in our thinking do not make a difference to me. We are united on a common ground: the realization that we have to keep the world safe and healthy for future generations. Much more global-scale human activity in 'blind' support of the current politics of business-as-usual could lead humanity into danger, I fear, in this century.

. . .

The work at hand is beginning, thanks to colleagues whose careful and skillful examination of unforeseen scientific data will help our culture better understand our human "condition" and make what appear to me as necessary "mid-course corrections" in its approach to ensuring the future for coming generations. Our culture's tightly held preference for unbridled growth of human numbers, human consumption and human production may have to be exchanged for preferences associated with the emerging knowledge of "limits to growth," that is more aware, respectful and protective of the biophysical world in which we live.

It seems as if we are not adequately in touch with the requirements of reality......and dangerously unbalanced in a world we believe we can somehow ultimately dominate as we are trying to do. Even in the light of new scientific data, I fear it could still be that the maintenance of consensually validated faulty perceptions, confused reasoning and a failure of will lead us to believe that we can continue with the politics of business-as-usual and, simultaneously, not destroy ourselves, many other forms of life, and the environment upon which much that is living depends for its very existence. Somehow, we need not irreversibly damage our planetary home so as to make it an unfit place for human habitation. To that end, I put faith in science to provide us with "the rules of the house" by which we are to live here successfully.

Related information:

A related article, written by Ben S. Malayang III, Ph.D. discussing population and the environment from a view centered on the Philippines, as forwarded by Steve Salmony:
Population and environment: Why they matter together

The 2005 Earth Day Summit on Human Population
Food Supply /Human Population Explosion Connection

Is the Human Population Bomb Exploding NOW?

The Independent: Rock dust grows extra-big vegetables (and might save us from global warming)
By Paul Kelbie, Scotland Correspondent - 21 March 2005
For years scientists have been warning of an apocalyptic future facing the world. With the prospect of an earth made infertile from over-production and mass reliance on chemicals, coupled with an atmosphere polluted by greenhouse gases there seems little to celebrate. But belief is growing that an answer to some of the earth's problems are not only at hand, but under our feet. Specialists have just met in Perth to discuss the secrets of rock dust, a quarrying by-product that is at the heart of government-sponsored scientific trials and which, it is claimed, could revitalise barren soil and reverse climate change. The recognition of the healing powers of rock dust comes after a 20-year campaign by two former schoolteachers, Cameron and Moira Thomson. They have been battling to prove that rock dust can replace the minerals that have been lost to the earth over the past 10,000 years and, as a result, rejuvenate the land and halt climate change. To prove their point, the couple have converted six acres of open, infertile land in the Grampian foothills near Pitlochry into a modern Eden. Using little more than rock dust mixed with compost, they have created rich, deep soils capable of producing cabbages the size of footballs, onions bigger than coconuts and gooseberries as big as plums...

My concluding comment:

So far the discussion that started it. But now, where do we go?

Obviously, we must decide

1) are we headed for ecological disaster?

2) is human population increase to blame for environmental disasters and will continuous increase eventually lead to a catastrophic collapse of human population numbers if left to go unchecked?

3) is human population increase fueled by food production or is it the other way around, we produce more food because there is a larger population?

4) is our environmentally disastrous course determined by other factors than human population increase, for instance certain distorting effects of our current economic system?

Once we have answered these questions to our satisfaction, we may be able to tackle the real problem, whether it be too many humans or an insane economic environment, and we may arrive at a workable solution.

Perhaps we will decide to voluntarily limit our numbers. Perhaps a more equal distribution of the amenities of life, including food, will take care of that automatically, slowing the increase births.

But then, we might find that while there are limits to the earth's "carrying capacity" for humans, there may be no limits for humanity as such. We might find there is a lot of space and there are a lot of resources, if we just start treating our environment properly. Also, once we get the technologies needed for space travel and make them widely available to all of humanity, there are potentially many worlds that may be hospitable to a human population...

Any thoughts, commments?

According to recent articles, there does indeed seem to be a lot of pressure on our environment and on the resources we need for survival, due to our thoughtless reliance on resources that may not be easy to replace and other species we merely use without thinking to preserve their living space.

The Independent: The state of the world? It is on the brink of disaster
An authoritative study of the biological relationships vital to maintaining life has found disturbing evidence of man-made degradation. Steve Connor reports

Two-thirds of world's resources 'used up'
Tim Radford, science editor - The Guardian
The human race is living beyond its means. A report backed by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries - some of them world leaders in their fields - today warns that the almost two-thirds of the natural machinery that supports life on Earth is being degraded by human pressure.

Sustainable World - A Global Initiative

Study highlights global decline
The most comprehensive survey ever into the state of the planet concludes that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations. The report says the way society obtains its resources has caused irreversible changes that are degrading the natural processes that support life on Earth.

Rowan Williams: A planet on the brink
The Archbishop of Canterbury warns that the price of our continued failure to protect the earth will be violence and social collapse

How can Society Learn Wisdom from Crises? by Tom Atlee - Collective Intelligence

Ed Dodson of on overpopulation

Ringing the Alarm for Earth
Leading botanist Peter Raven calculates that species crucial to the survival of the human race are in steep decline. Tim Radford interviews the man dubbed a 'hero of the planet.'

Meeting Doctor Doom
Reducing human population numbers by germ warfare - Ebola
Recently citizen scientist Forrest Mims told me about a speech he heard at the Texas Academy of Science during which the speaker, a world-renowned ecologist, advocated for the extermination of 90 percent of the human species in a most horrible and painful manner.

UT professor says death is imminent
AUSTIN — A University of Texas professor says the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead. "Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine," Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward's University on Friday. Pianka's words are part of what he calls his "doomsday talk" — a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity's ecological misdeeds and Pianka's predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.

Overconsumption Dwarfs Population As Main Environmental Threat
It sounds like a no-brainer. More people must inevitably be bad for the environment, taking more resources and causing more pollution, driving the planet ever farther beyond its carrying capacity. But hold on. This is a terribly convenient argument - "over-consumers" in rich countries can blame "over-breeders" in distant lands for the state of the planet. But what are the facts?

Natural World Consciousness

Lee C of writes:

If one understands the ecological principles of food web trophic levels, then one should understand that a consequence of our ever increasing population, relative to the essential biodiversity of higher life form conducive natural ecosystems, is that we're causing the extinction of an alarming number of other life forms daily just to support our own biomass. We're systematically shifting the biomass of the many life forms we're not smart enough to care about, into the biomass of a lesser number of life forms we use to maintain our own biomass (e.g. cows, chickens, corn, beans, tomatoes, ...). That is, we're systematically diminishing the biodiversity of the natural biological communities, and in so doing are destabilizing nature's infrastructure that is keeping us alive.

The key factors of healthy ecosystems (in the sense of being conducive to human existence) are sustainable long term productivity through extensive biodiversity to exploit all the ecological niches (in time, space, and kind), and relative stability through the overall balance of ecological processes in minimizing ecosystem state shifts. This more complete utilization of limiting resources at higher diversity increases resource retention through more thorough and efficient recycling increasing productivity, and the balance of inherently more intricate ecological processes promote stabilization.

For a better understanding of how we are jeopardizing the shorter term state of human existence on Earth, see the article Natural World Consciousness at

Will objective understanding or subjective beliefs prevail?


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Sunday March 20 2005
updated on Friday April 29 2011

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

Thank you for organizing this necessary discussion of what appear as unanticipated scientific data regarding the human overpopulation of Earth, as well as the examination of data of per capita global human overconsumption and the seemingly endless expansion of human food production worldwide. Unbridled growth of absolute human numbers, human consumption and human production/distribution capabilities may be patently unsustainable in our small, finite planetary home...given noticeable physical limitations of Earth. Again, many thanks Sepp.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on March 21, 2005 03:54 PM


Perhaps we can continue by asking a question about the requirements of reality.

Given the vastness of the Universe and the tiny planet we share with all other life of which we have knowledge, can we agree that humankind cannot much longer act like a suckling at the breast, wrecklessly devouring the limited resources of the Earth and, thereby, treating our planetary home as if it were a seemingly eternal cornucopian teat?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D.,M.P.A. on March 25, 2005 09:11 PM


Let us look at the question just above from a different vantage point.

In the course of my lifetime, a mere sixty years, world population has grown from less than 2.5 billion to its current level of greater than 6.3 billion. A virtual mountain of data indicates how those numbers could be related to the spectacular recent successes of the predominant world economy to rapidly expand human food production and distribution capabilities globally. Among other things, recall the "Green Revolution."

Given the current scale and rate of growth of human food production/distribution capacity, leading supposedly to increasing per capita food consumption and skyrocketing absolute human population numbers, could it be that humankind has inadvertently and yet effectively turned our wondrous planetary home into a sort of petri dish?

More food equals more people; more food per capita equals larger people; less food equals less people; less food per capita equals smaller people; no food equals no people, in any case.

Perhaps, it is time to discuss the concepts of "human self-regulation" and "limits to growth" as each relates to human production, human consumption and human propagation trends worldwide.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on March 27, 2005 12:47 PM



while the increase of population has been substantial in the last 60 years, there does seem to be a trend of slowing, that is, each year less additional humans see the light of day, instead of more.

The petri dish analogy is interesting to consider. Still, would it not seem that food production should (logically) follow human population increase rather than the other way around.

Humans being sentient - well, kind of anyway - it would seem quite normal that if there was a need for more food we would look around for ways to find new sources of it, or to exploit nature around us and other species with more vigor and more effective tools.

Let's look at it from the viewpoint of the couple, those two humans who decice to marry and form a family. Their considerations are not necessarily "there is enough food, so let's make children to eat it" but rather "how do children fit into our future?" Rarely do we see numerous families of 8, 10 or 12 kids in cities. But we do see such numerous families in a rural context, especially in a rural context where poverty is prevalent. Family is seen as an assurance of future survival, more hands to do the work needed to provide for the family.

Education may come into that equation, as prevention of unwanted pregnancies is easier to promote in a more tightly controlled and affluent educational setting as found in cities, especially in more wealthy environments, rather than in poor communities.

This should be properly researched - and perhaps it has been - before we decide upon which is the leading indicator - food availability or poverty...

Posted by: Sepp on March 28, 2005 04:37 PM


Here is an exchange of views (by email) inherent to the question of human population.

Stewart Brand comments:

12 billion population? That was the peak estimate, made years ago and long abandoned (currently the maximum expected is 9 billion). Birthrates are in freefall everywhere in the world, not even slowing down at replacement level (which is 2.1 children per woman). Half the world's countries already have birthrates below replacement.

The major reason is urbanization, with every week a million of the world's people moving into cities -- for the jobs, freedom, and education. Lots of kids are an asset in the country, but they're a liability in town, and women act accordingly. This year about 48% of the world's population lives in cities, with 61% expected in 2030. In the year 1900 it was 14%.

Rockefeller Foundation shut down its large population-control program ten years ago. All who have worked so hard on family planning for decades can celebrate an enormous victory and set about retooling for other crucial issues.

--Stewart Brand

To this message, Steve Salmony responds as follows:

Dear Stuart Brand,

Thanks for the thoughtful note below concerning the emerging data related to the what could be scientific evidence of the human overpopulation of Earth. It is my deepest hope that those experts in population science, who have put forward what looks like your consensually validated understanding of human population dynamics, are correct. New and apparently unforeseen data suggest something that appears to be fundamentally different about the way this natural world works and about the placement of humankind in natural order of all living things.

According to the unexpected data, the population bomb has not been defused. To the contrary, the continuous growth of absolute global human population numbers - at its current rate and scale - could be a clear and present danger for humanity, biodiversity and the integrity of our planetary home, even in these early years of the 21st century.

Thank you for all of what is being done to protect humanity from endangerment, biodiversity from extinction and Earth from irreversible degradation.


Steve Salmony

(Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on Human Population
1834 North Lakeshore Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-6733
Tele: 929-967-5764

To this message, Michael Hannon comments:

Dear Steve,

On reading the message you are addressing, I see that it is the locales of lower population density which are being most affected by population growth, while the populations of those areas at the same time receive the least support in education, health, habitat, productivity, and food, I would assume. In this I see a widespread psychology of irresponsibility and downright selfishness hidden by disingenuous token altruism which is so pervasive in today's modern cultures that there leaves little doubt that a critical point is forthcoming in the world in which the only real solutions will come after the death and suffering of millions of people has forced those who could actually do something now yet are not interested to finally pay attention to it out of their own imminent endangerment from it, and no sooner.

Those situations worldwide which need the most help are those which are receiving the least, and their populations are growing according to the inverse of their density levels, while improvments in better quality rapid construction housing (i.e. cheap inflatable concrete impregnated canvas dwellings which become inhabitable in a matter of hours, satellite communications for education, computers thrown away while still usable, emerging cheap solar cell technologies, soil enhancements (i.e. pulverized rock) and so many other available resources are not being made available to those in most need, when within those populations exist children who present a tremnendous potential for contribution to solutions from within those same communities for them, while they now sit in hunger, poor health, and dangerous environmental conditions of all types.

Instead, fortunes are being invested in new cell phones whose total features could only be accessed by a very few, cars that place their wealthy owners in the lap of luxury while using technology towards environmental issues which are far from cutting edge, luxurious hotels and resorts only the very wealthy could possibly afford, and myriad other items of highly questionable intrinsic value to the world community, including astronomically priced weaponry capable of levels of destruction of which one's imagination can barely conceive, even if one studied them endlessly, and with those extravagances grows an ever increasing philosophy and logic within the peoples entranced by them which holds no place for any sense of responsibility towards all life on Earth, the problems of the poor and starving, or population explosions.

They aren't interested - they are much more interested in how to make more money to buy an even more costly homes, yachts, cars, big screen TVs, and chasing the latest fads being dangled before them constantly in the media, which spends little time on much else but anecdotal attention to lives of those with almost no possessions, educations, health support, proper habitats, or even the possibilities to acquire them.

The Tsunami has gone, yet the victims remain, but who wants to pay attention to all that when the baseball, or some other sporting season, is about to begin where thousands of athletes worldwide are being paid millions, and even tens of millions annually each, or the what is being said about the latest idols as well who make vast fortunes entertaining people who couldn't care less about the rest of the world for any more than a moment or two each day when they read a bit about it in the paper or see a few seconds of it on television. How many people do we know who literally rejoice at seeing the death, mutilation, and torture of others in foreign lands because of their incapacity to perceive the real damage such thinking has on themselves, their families, and groups, and the world as a whole, and how many are there whom we don't know yet exist worldwide?

My own sentiments are that were the leading nations of the world to address even a fraction of the problems facing growing populations using assets spent presently waging destructive conflicts which consume immense capital assets, human resources, habitats, and infrastructures, there would now be at least a chance to begin bringing those emerging populations in such great need solutions which could very well naturally begin to control a growth which could have a birthrate factors built into them now through the pure instinct to survive among all other factors being considered as well.

With the astronomical fortunes being spent to develop weaponry and exorbitant lifestyles with philosophies supportive of them, one would think that the cost of just a fraction of it could do so much to improve the lot of so many people while educating them to become assets to the world's overall needs and at the same time to build a much stronger sense of place in the world, including, of course, the sense of each person's responsibilities about having children in it, with goals focused on the world community, one can perhaps see the perplexing incongruity and lack of innate wisdom about custodianship of the Earth which is being imbued into every dollar, Euro, yen, and other currencies expended on not making this world what it could become were a shared wisdom of unity to prevail over irresponsible compulsions towards separation, hatred, conquest and domination which now consume so much while yielding so little, if anything, other than more of the same, as the real intrinsic burden of such philosophies becomes unsupportably greater upon the Earth and its many cultures and species daily.

Kind Regards,

Posted by: Sepp on March 28, 2005 05:38 PM


Dear Michael and Sepp,

Thanks for your efforts in promoting this discussion. At this point I will refrain from commenting on the salient points each of you makes, with the hope others will join this exchange of ideas. If I may say so, it appears the future of life as we know it on this good Earth could be at risk, even in these early years of the 21st century. Just the mere chance that coming generations could be endangered by certain of our predominant culture's seemingly reflexive and distinctly human activities is enough to warrant the very best use of the wits we possess, thanks to God, to ensure our survival and the future of life in this wondrous planetary home.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D.,M.P.A. on March 29, 2005 12:52 AM


Science has taught us certain things with which we are familiar. We have learned that the Earth is not the center of the Universe(Copernicus); that we are set upon a mere tiny orb in that Universe, among a sea of stars(Galileo); that such aspects of physical reality as the Law of Gravity effect all of Earth's creatures, including human ones, equally(Newton); that humans are a part of the natural evolutionary process(Darwin); and that we are partially unconscious of ourselves, mistake the illusory for what is real and, therefore, have difficulty explaining both the way the world works and our the reasons for our actions(Freud).

Now new and unexpected scientific data are emerging that indicate humankind is not limiting human population numbers as we believe we are; that show us we could be approaching a point in time when humanity could confront a clear and present danger, even in the 21st century. Indeed, human and environmental health could be put at risk by people remaining willfully blind to the potential threat of the human overpopulation of Earth.

Imagine a rising tide of human numbers worldwide, a different and potentially greater tide than was observed when tsunamis hit South Asia in 2004 and Krakatoa in 1883.

On the other hand, we could choose now to recognize that the Earth's finite resources cannot much longer, much less forever, sustain the combination of ever increasing global human population and rising per capita human consumption trends. By doing so, while time remains on our side, we can make careful, skillful and humanitarian changes in the course of the predominant culture's political economy, thereby limiting increases in human numbers and human overconsumption. Thank you again.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 6, 2005 06:27 PM


Evidently, concerns like long-term human wellbeing, biodiversity preservation and the integrity of "this tiny planet" we are blessed to inhabit with other life are somehow at odds with the continuous growth of the political economy, a system apparently based upon unrestricted consumption and unrestrained production.

Could it be that the 'requirements' of this economic system include unlimited human consumption, unregulated human production and unbridled human numbers in order to support the thinly-veiled pyramid scheme upon which business globalization is founded? That is simply to say, the way the current international economic system appears to be organized and operated, wealth can be seen rising pyramidally to a small minority near the top of pyramid while rapidly increasing numbers comprising the great majority of humanity at the ever-widening and -deepening base of the pyramid work hard, but have little wealth to show for their best efforts.

In the 1980s, this pyramid-like financial structure was called a "trickle down" economy.

Note that more impoverished people are living on less than two dollars per day in 2005 than comprised the whole world's human population in 1945. Over 2 million children die per year as a result of poor basic provisions for living. Millions upon millions more children go without the nutrition needed for normal growth and development.

Of course, the predominant, artificially designed economy is widely known to be imperfect precisely because it has been constructed by human beings. That it can be changed for the betterment of more people is not in question. Reorganizing the world's human economy for the substantive benefit of a majority of people can be appreciated as transparently democratic as well as worth doing. Even now, certain "mid-course corrections" in the management of the global human economy appear in the offing.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 6, 2005 08:56 PM


Human beings may want to live without having to accept "limits to growth" of the world's expanding human economy, human overconsumption and increasing global human numbers; our wishes may be infinite; we may choose to believe anything; but, Earth exists in space-time, is finite and has limited resources upon which the survival of humanity and other life depends.

Whatsoever is is, is it not?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 6, 2005 09:30 PM


Dear Steven,

you express an important concept here, one that potentially might give a key to unlock the problem and provide a solution.

If indeed poverty is a major parameter in population growth - through a mechanism whereby a threat to survival induces people to have more kids - then the current economic system which does indeed concentrate riches and power in a few hands and leaves the rest (that's practically all of humanity less a tiny fraction) to fend for themselves may be seen as the cause of overpopulation and humanity ruining its home planet.

There is really no "trickle down" in our economy, and any "mid course corrections" will not be able to eliminate the basic flaw in economic theory. We will need something better than that.

For some ideas, see

Engineering Economics

UsuryFree Community Currencies

Usury-Free Currencies - There Is No Conspiracy!

Posted by: Sepp on April 7, 2005 07:44 PM


Dear Sepp,

We appear to have a situation here that has presented itself before. There seems to be some sort of taboo that is regularly short-circuiting even the scientific discussion of certain issues such as human population dynamics. Recently, on the AMERICAN AMNESIA website, an effort was made to initiate a discussion of human population issues.

This exchange can be found by going to the website and locating, in the right column near the bottom of the page, the Archives. Click on the 2/01/05 to 2/28/05 time frame. Among the discussions held in that month is one entitled, "Shower the people you love with love...." dated Friday, February 25, 2005. Perhaps, the superb discussion that begins there -- and then suddenly stops -- could indicate another example of the emergence of a taboo or a kind of culturally-derived "amnesia" among potential discussants.

Somehow, with the help of world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Alexander Solzynitsyn, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dame Jane Goodall we can hopefully start to talk openly about issues potentially vital to human wellbeing and environmental health.

Once again, thanks.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 12, 2005 03:47 AM


Dear Steven,

I don't think there is any particular taboo around population issues. For most people, the total numbers of population are way too far removed from what they consider the interesting things in life, or what they think they might be something to do about, so they would not even want to discuss those.

But then for others - perhaps the problem is one that is wanted, and therefore it persists. The problem of overpopulation can be used to justify all kinds of intervention, even violent, wanted for other purposes but justified as needed to "reduce overpopulation".

To me, this brings to mind a recent article about the internet. The author says that the internet is being overwhelmed by malware (computer virusses) and that something must be done. Urgent intervention is necessary he says, otherwise the internet will fail, and the recommendation is to use the public health approach that has "worked so well with AIDS" (sic) and limit our interactions with each other, not only sexually, but also over the internet.

The question is always, what is the agenda behind the problem.

Posted by: Sepp on April 12, 2005 02:01 PM


Dear Sepp,

At least to me, scientific data and the wisdom of faith point to the potential problem posed to humanity by the human overpopulation of Earth. Who could want a problem like this one, or the problem of per capita human over-consumption, as another example? These problems are thoroughly unwelcome ones. It may be that such problems in themselves have not to do with a human agenda any more than "the environment" is a sort of political construct. The challenges before the human community are simply to be "confronted and overcome," as we could choose to do with regard to "Nationalism, capitalism and hoarding," to humbly invoke words from the last rites declaration of John Paul II, 2 April 2005.

Could it be that certain distinctly human problems exist in and of themselves because humankind does not yet have an adequate enough grasp of the way the world we inhabit works or of Homo sapiens' placement in the natural order of all living things? Whatsoever is is, is it not?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 12, 2005 02:53 PM


A surprisingly large number of distinguished colleagues in science suggest that Homo sapiens is on the verge of defying its biological limits and suspending the requirements of physical reality. If any one of these adherents to this view would be so helpful, please point to the scientific data that so much as hint at such circumstances.

Also, prevailing thinking and theorizing regarding the stabilization of world human population by means of a "demographic transition" is descriptive not predictive. Emerging scientific data appear to indicate that global human population numbers are a function of food supply; that human population dynamics are common to the dynamics of other species; and that human carrying capacity is determined by food availability. These data remain not only uncontested, but also barely acknowledged.

What is the point of science itself if not to better understand the world in which we live and the placement of our species within the natural order of life?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 20, 2005 05:39 AM


Relevant discussion of population growth found in:
Environmental Heresies
By Stewart Brand

Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbani zation, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power....

Take population growth. For 50 years, the demographers in charge of human population projections for the United Nations released hard numbers that substantiated environmentalists' greatest fears about indefinite exponential population increase. For a while, those projections proved fairly accurate. However, in the 1990s, the U.N. started taking a closer look at fertility patterns, and in 2002, it adopted a new theory that shocked many demographers: human population is leveling off rapidly, even precipitously, in developed countries, with the rest of the world soon to follow. Most environmentalists still haven't got the word. Worldwide, birthrates are in free fall. Around one-third of countries now have birthrates below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) and sinking. Nowhere does the downward trend show signs of leveling off. Nations already in a birth dearth crisis include Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Russia—whose population is now in absolute decline and is expected to be 30 percent lower by 2050. On every part of every continent and in every culture (even Mormon), birthrates are headed down. They reach replacement level and keep on dropping. It turns out that population decrease accelerates downward just as fiercely as population increase accelerated upward, for the same reason. Any variation from the 2.1 rate compounds over time.

That's great news for environmentalists (or it will be when finally noticed), but they need to recognize what caused the turnaround. The world population growth rate actually peaked at 2 percent way back in 1968, the very year my old teacher Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. The world's women didn't suddenly have fewer kids because of his book, though. They had fewer kids because they moved to town.

Cities are population sinks-always have been. Although more children are an asset in the countryside, they're a liability in the city. A global tipping point in urbanization is what stopped the population explosion. As of this year, 50 percent of the world's population lives in cities, with 61 percent expected by 2030. In 1800 it was 3 percent; in 1900 it was 14 percent.

The environmentalist aesthetic is to love villages and despise cities. My mind got changed on the subject a few years ago by an Indian acquaintance who told me that in Indian villages the women obeyed their husbands and family elders, pounded grain, and sang.  But, the acquaintance explained, when Indian women immigrated to cities, they got jobs, started businesses, and demanded their children be educated. They became more independent, as they became less fundamentalist in their religious beliefs. Urbanization is the most massive and sudden shift of humanity in its history. Environmentalists will be rewarded if they welcome it and get out in front of it. In every single region in the world, including the U.S., small towns and rural areas are emptying out. The trees and wildlife are returning. Now is the time to put in place permanent protection for those rural environments. Meanwhile, the global population of illegal urban squatters—which Robert Neuwirth's book Shadow Cities already estimates at a billion—is growing fast. Environmentalists could help ensure that the new dominant human habitat is humane and has a reduced footprint of overall environmental impact.

Posted by: Sepp on April 20, 2005 09:56 AM


The use of the word, heresy, by our great colleague, Stewart Brand, could be instructive here. Heresy means an opinion opposed to any official or established view. While this term is usually deployed in the context of the orthodox doctrines of a church, it is seldom used when a scientist speaks to scientists regarding scientific data.

Could it be that the science of human population dynamics is itself more like church doctrine than anything else? By dogmatically insisting upon different population dynamics for Homo sapiens, have scientists been speaking unscientifically, and with a forked tongued? Instead of speaking of population dynamics of the species of Earth in an uncomplicated way from a foundation of knowledge derived from science, human population data may have been misinterpreted over and over again (prior to and since the work of Paul Ehrlich) because the culture from which the data spring adamantly prefers that which is associated with "human life without limits." For humankind alone among the species, biological limits, physical reality limits, per capita consumption limits, population growth limits, even limits to the expansion of production/distribution capabilities are everywhere eschewed. Data giving scientific evidence of "limits to growth" of human activities and human systems are denied.

Of course, it is my wish that Stewart will be shown to be correct in what he believes to be real and not illusory. On the other hand, if he and many too many other scientists who hold so tightly to these 'established' beliefs about "living without human limits" were to be mistaken, then it seems reasonable to at least consider the probability that humankind could, indeed, overwhelm the Earth in the 21st century. That is to say, the continuation of the politics of business as usual -- current, unlimited human growth trends -- could indavertently result in the mass extinction of biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of the environment, and the endangerment of humanity itself.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 21, 2005 05:38 PM


From my very limited vantage point, it appears that there has been but a single expert discussion of the Hopfenberg data regarding human population dynamics. This occurred in 2002 at a conference in Washington, DC entitled "Ecosystem Health." The highlight of the conference was a panel of discussants that included Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Dr. Lester Brown and Dr. E.O. Wilson. During the question and answer session following their presentations, Dr. Alan Thornhill asked the panel members for comments on the new data relating the size of the world's human population to food availability from Dr. Russell Hopfenberg and Dr. David Pimentel.

Such open discussion is what I would like to encourage here, now. If we were to set aside this 2002 discussion of the new data of human population numbers, I could not point to any expert discussions of what appear to be vital scientific data.

Information is extant of what may be a one-of-a-kind professional discussion of apparently unanticipated human population data.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 23, 2005 07:13 PM


Perhaps, scientists not having adequately enough examined the problem of the human overpopulation of Earth or defined the magnitude of its potential for harm to the human community, to biodiversity, and to the integrity of Earth, do not mean the problem of increasing human population numbers is non-existent. That the general public does not yet perceive this global threat does not mean the problem is not present.

Why not learn anew "the rules of the house" in our planetary home so that we can successfully practice the precautionary principle (Vorsorgeprinzip) and, thereby, safeguard life for current and coming generations?

Could it be our children already possess the knowledge and capabilities to respond ably to global challenges that seem to dull the senses and faculties of us old-timers?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 27, 2005 04:46 PM


Three questions of a child to a father:

Do current politics of business-as-usual embrace at least one formula for Earth's degradation?

Are unlimited global human growth trends not patently unsustainable on a finite planet?

Where are we going, and why so fast, by continuing with this 'stewardship' of Earth?

We could think more before we act.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on April 28, 2005 01:00 PM


Just for a moment, consider that remarkable similarities as well as vital differences exist upon the scientific examination of the mechanisms of behavioral plasticity in cultural evolution and genetic feedback in biological evolution. Research data from Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D., suggest that the evolution of human behavior may be circumscribed by genetic evolution.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on May 5, 2005 09:20 PM


From the emerging scientific data in human population dynamics, global economic production trends, per human consumptions patterns, genetic feedback in biological evolution and behavioral plasticity in cultural evolution, for the first time it becomes possible to recognize at least one path to the future that protects the integrity of Earth, preserves global biodiversity and prevents humanity itself from the threat of endangerment. There are four relatively straightforward steps.

1. AWAREness of the emerging scientific data.

2. Adequate understanding of these data.

3. Unconditional acceptance of reality, as given to us in science by God.

4. Responsible action, in keeping with human and earthly limitations.

The data indicating the looming presence of a distinctly human predicament also suggest that no person, group, country, class or culture is responsible for our circumstances and that everyone on the planet is implicated in the work of ensuring that Earth remains a fit place for both human habitation and coming generations of other life.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on May 27, 2005 08:59 PM


For the sake of discussion, let us imagine that something seemingly important is definitely OK about humankind's relationship to the world we are blessed to inhabit. For example, take humankind's relationship to Global Biodiversity. Despite the continuous global growth of human production capabilities, per human consumption, and human numbers, somehow everything will work out well for many other creatures sharing life in this place with us now. In the year 2100 many creatures will be here with us and not disappeared. In this one way, the continual expansion of the unbridled collective activities of the stewards of Earth will simply assure the presence of biodiversity and not inadvertently precipitate its mass extinction. OK. Multitudinous creatures On Earth will be fine at the end of this century.

Having declared this, let us contemplate the fate of Global Cultural Diversity in the course of the remaining years of Century XXI. Consider that thousands of different cultures could become extinct. If we were to do more and more of what we are doing now: to grow the predominant worldwide economy, which grows human numbers, which grows human consumption, which grows the predominant man-made economy, which grows human numbers, which grows human consumption, which grows the predominant artificially designed economy, which grows human numbers, which grows human consumption, which grows the predominant, seemingly limitless economy and so on, what might become of cultural diversity in our planetary home? Will we have a worldwide human uni-culture? In such circumstances, would human beings likely find themselves to be fine then?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on June 2, 2005 05:23 AM


Do the virtually undeniable tasks confronting scientists around the world as they face and discuss certain global human over-growth trends --- economic production capabilties, per human consumption and absolute human numbers --- epitomise the challenges facing most of Western civilization and many Muslim countries in these early years of the 21st century?

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on June 9, 2005 01:57 AM


The global challenges before us do appear huge, little doubt about it. Voluntarily limiting human population numbers, responsibly sharing and consuming resources, and freely choosing restrictions of constantly expanding production capabilities are examples of the work ahead. In this effort, every human being on Earth could be asked to voluntarily exercise "human self-regulation" relative to propagation, consumption and production. If the words "We are all in this together" never before held meaning for humanity, the moment when human beings everywhere begin actually exercising such restraints could be occasion for invoking them.

Working cooperatively, we could rather quickly come up with good and practical ideas that will surely help humanity find solutions to the challenges that appear in the offing. We have not yet given ourselves the chance to open our eyes and look at the circumstances with which we could soon come face to face. How can anyone be expected to do things differently as long as we remain "blindly" riveted in the outworn belief that what we are now doing is the one and only 'right' way to live? This one preferred way of unlimited growth of the human economy, human numbers and per human consumption seems to have worked well until now; however, it appears vital we make necessary changes in our ways, so certain of our outdated behaviors that are expressions of continuously increasing human "over-growth" do not inadvertently put biodiversity, Earth's environs and, perhaps, humanity in harm's way.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on July 16, 2005 03:41 PM


It has been my hope that more colleagues would have commented here on the subject of "the human population." Based upon observations one might expect from a psychologist, it appears to me that too many of our brothers and sisters in science are not focusing on the emerging data of human population numbers, not supportive of others doing so, and not recognizing they are behaving in such a manner. From a psychological perspective, such a defensive stance seems not in keeping with what scientists are taught and, furthermore, could ultimately end up being not more than an attempt to deny certain aspects of reality.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on July 30, 2005 04:07 PM


Basil Jason Go
Metro Manila, Philippines

More Furious than a Forest Fire
People who have read population control articles have probably heard of the English economist Thomas Malthus who proposed that population increases at a geometric rate whereas food supply grows at an arithmetic rate if factors are held constant. Probably, Malthus' Principle of Population is not so improbable after all when studies show that approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.
In the Philippines, due to the Church' heavy opposition against artificial birth-control methods and the masses' lack of sex education, the problem of overpopulation continues to persist. What makes matters worse is that the natural family planning methods are somewhat hard to instill in the minds of the Filipinos especially those that are not so educated. What solution do I propose then? I believe that the government should start implementing a policy similar to that of China's one-child per family. I repeat similar and not exactly, since what right do we have to impose how many children a couple would want to have? Hence, I am not saying that the government should immediately implement the one-child per family policy here. I think it would be best if the Filipino community would first agree upon a consensus on the number of children they would want to have.
In line with this, the current tax system in the Philippines of giving a tax exemption of P8,000 per dependent child not exceeding four seems not to be very effective since there are a lot of people still have more than four children. Instead, I think it would be better if from the agreed upon number, the government can give more incentives to those who follow the quota. Given this, it would be more attractive for the people, especially the masses, to have lesser children. For instance, if the set quota of children is four and the family only has two children, then there should be an additional incentive for this family. Unlike China's one-child policy, I believe that there should be no penalty if a couple exceeds the quota since the couple has the right to have as many children as they want. Although this entails a lot of discipline for those who will implement it, I believe that this a step in the right direction for curbing the population growth in the Philippines.
Currently, the Philippine population is around 89 million, growing at a rate of 1.8 percent. In ten years, the population will reach 107 million, an increase of about 20 percent. Clearly, the figures speak for themselves. With the present population growth rate, the supply of resources such as food, shelter and clothing won't be able to meet demand. Population growth is like a forest fire, we have to do something about it now. If we don't, when is the right time?

Posted by: Bail Jason Go on October 19, 2006 08:42 AM


If human beings evolved on Earth (did not descend from heaven or come here from some other place in the universe) and the emerging data of human overpopulation of our planetary home are somehow on the right track, then humanity could soon confront daunting global challenges.

Perhaps hubris confuses human reasoning about the "placement�? of humanity within the natural order of living things. There is the rub, I suppose. We have learned from God's great gifts to humanity�?natural philosophy and modern science�?that Earth is not the center of the universe (Copernicus); that we are set upon a tiny celestial orb among a sea of stars (Galileo); that such things as the Law of Gravity and the Laws of Thermodynamics affect living things equally, including human beings (Newton, et al); that humankind is a part of the general evolutionary process (Darwin); and that people are to a significant degree unconscious, mistake what is illusory for what is real and, therefore, have difficulty both adequately explaining the way the world works and consciously regulating our behavior (Freud).

Now comes unanticipated and unfortunately unwelcome data from Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel that indicate we have widely shared and consensually validated an inadequate, preternatural understanding of human population dynamics and willfully refused to appreciate the necessity for regulating certain distinctly human "overgrowth�? activities. That is to say, humanity could soon be presented with a predicament resulting from 1) increasing and unchecked per capita consumption of limited resources, 2)seemingly endless expansion of production capabilities in a finite world, and 3)unbridled species propagation.

Extant data indicate that human influences could directly and primarily account for excessive extinction of biodiversity, creeping environmental degradation, and the voracious dissipation of limited natural resources.

From my humble vantage point, it does look as if the challenges posed to humanity by certain unregulated human activities overspreading Earth now are huge ones. Even so, we can take the measure of the looming challenges and find solutions to our problems that are consonant with universally shared values.


Is there even a remote possibility certain activities of the human species now rampantly overspreading the surface of Earth could soon become so dominant as to precipitate the mass extinction of biodiversity, the pernicious destabilization of the climate and the irreversible degradation of Earth?

Perhaps noticing the magnitude of the human influences resulting from a rapidly growing human population (6.7 to 9.2 billion human beings in the first half of the twenty-first century) upon the natural world is like finding a proverbial "elephant in the living room.�?

No one can say how so large a creature ever got into our planetary home. Its very presence does not make sense. Even so, every human being on the planet can see some part of the leviathan-like creature. Some people see a gigantic tusk or a tail. Others see its head or some part of its massive body. Because the creature is so big that no one person can see the whole of it, we are free to believe and mistakenly conclude it simply cannot be real, not really.

If we simply agree to make the choice to deny its existence within our home, then we can ignore that which, in any case, cannot be completely seen by anyone. Henceforth, there is no reason to talk about the elephant. There is also no point in discussing either human limits or Earth's limitations to support the elephant.

And not surprisingly, if we continue to ignore the elephant in our living room long enough by not talking about the potential threat it poses to a sustainable future for our children and coming generations; to biodiversity; to the viability of ecosystems; and to the integrity of Earth, as one of the world's most prominent, visionless political leaders (gesturing by throwing up his hands toward the sky in dismay) recently put it, "We'll all be dead.�?

An unannounced, unwelcome and unacknowledged elephant lives among us……and can be seen, even now, in the offing as a potential threat to human and environmental health.

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on May 6, 2007 12:20 PM


Dear Friends and Colleagues All,

I am searching for a road to sustainability.

Perhaps someone can offer guidance to me and those many elders in my not-so-great generation who have evidently chosen to eschew science and, for the sake of the comforts in our lives alone, to hold onto our one and only God: wealth accumulation and the power associated with it. Regardless of the consequences to environmental health, human wellbeing, the future of life, and the integrity of Earth, we want more and more money and all the things derived from it. Yes, we are insatiable, intellectually dishonest, and even call ourselves Masters of the Universe. We are loathe to live within the limits of biophysical reality, share resources, make behavior changes, and do what is necessary for assuring life as we know it to coming generations.

Please consider assisting me with an unfulfilled responsibility to young people and future generations...... a responsibility I call a "duty to warn�?.

Without success over the past several years, I have been inviting population scientists, demographers, biologists, economists and anyone else with appropriate expertise to openly comment on the apparently unexpected and unchallenged evidence on human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth from Russell P. Hopfenberg and David I. Pimentel. I want to identify a deeply dedicated, top-rank brother or sister in the scientific community who possesses the necessary expertise and is willing to report in a professional manner on the Hopfenberg/Pimentel research?

According to this scientific evidence, humanity could soon come face to face with daunting global challenges, ones that result primarily from 1)unbridled human overpopulation of Earth; 2) unrestrained per human over-consumption of scarce resources and 3) endless expansion of the global political economy in the relatively small, finite world God has blessed us to inhabit.

Thanks for your consideration of this feeble request for help. Please feel free to contact me directly with a name or else have the scientist get in touch with me by email. I will do whatsoever is necessary to fulfill this unlikely personal obligation, one for which I am evidently unprepared and poorly equipped.

Sincerely yours,


(Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D.,M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
1834 North Lakeshore Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-6733
Tele: 919-967-5764

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on May 20, 2007 09:04 AM


Hi to all,

The following article may not belong here in this discussion; however, it is sufficiently related to this and other valued commentaries, thanks to Sepp H., and strikes me as extremely significant not only for its content but for who is saying such things.


Start article

A Sudden Change of State

A new paper suggests we have been greatly underestimating the impacts of climate change – and the size of the necessary response.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 3rd July 2007

Reading a scientific paper on the train this weekend, I found, to my amazement, that my hands were shaking. This has never happened to me before, but nor have I ever read anything like it. Published by a team led by James Hansen at Nasa, it suggests that the grim reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could be absurdly optimistic(1).

The IPCC predicts that sea levels could rise by as much as 59cm this century(2). Hansen's paper argues that the slow melting of ice sheets the panel expects doesn't fit the data. The geological record suggests that ice at the poles does not melt in a gradual and linear fashion, but flips suddenly from one state to another. When temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees above today's level 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose not by 59 centimetres but by 25 metres. The ice responded immediately to changes in temperature(3).

We now have a pretty good idea of why ice sheets collapse. The buttresses that prevent them from sliding into the sea break up; meltwater trickles down to their base, causing them suddenly to slip; and pools of water form on the surface, making the ice darker so that it absorbs more heat. These processes are already taking place in Greenland and West Antarctica.

Rather than taking thousands of years to melt, as the IPCC predicts, Hansen and his team find it "implausible�? that the expected warming before 2100 "would permit a West Antarctic ice sheet of present size to survive even for a century.�? As well as drowning most of the world's centres of population, a sudden disintegration could lead to much higher rises in global temperature, because less ice means less heat reflected back into space. The new paper suggests that the temperature could therefore be twice as sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than the IPCC assumes. "Civilization developed,�? Hansen writes, "during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration. That period is about to end.�?(4)

I looked up from the paper, almost expecting to see crowds stampeding through the streets. I saw people chatting outside a riverside pub. The other passengers on the train snoozed over their newspapers or played on their mobile phones. Unaware of the causes of our good fortune, blissfully detached from their likely termination, we drift into catastrophe.

Or we are led there. A good source tells me that the British government is well aware that its target for cutting carbon emissions – 60 by 2050 – is too little, too late, but that it will go no further for one reason: it fears losing the support of the Confederation of British Industry. Why this body is allowed to keep holding a gun to our heads has never been explained, but Gordon Brown has just appointed Digby Jones, its former director-general, as a minister in the department responsible for energy policy. I don't remember voting for him. There could be no clearer signal that the public interest is being drowned by corporate power.

The government's energy programme, partly as a result, is characterised by a complete absence of vision. You can see this most clearly when you examine its plans for renewables. The EU has set a target for 20 of all energy in the member states to come from renewable sources by 2020. This in itself is pathetic. But the government refuses to adopt it(5): instead it proposes that 20 of our electricity (just part of our total energy use) should come from renewable power by that date. Even this is not a target, just an "aspiration�?, and it is on course to miss it. Worse still, it has no idea what happens after that. Last week I asked whether it has commissioned any research to discover how much more electricity we could generate from renewable sources. It has not(6).

It's a critical question, whose answer – if its results were applied globally – could determine whether or not the planetary "albedo flipâ€?? that Hansen predicts takes place. There has been remarkably little investigation of this issue. Until recently I guessed that the maximum contribution from renewables would be something like 50: beyond that point the difficulties of storing electricity and balancing the grid could become overwhelming. But three papers now suggest that we could go much further.

Last year, the German government published a study of the effects of linking the electricity networks of all the countries in Europe and connecting them to North Africa and Iceland with high voltage direct current cables(7). This would open up a much greater variety of renewable power sources. Every country in the network would then be able to rely on stable and predictable supplies from elsewhere: hydroelectricity in Scandanavia and the Alps, geothermal energy in Iceland and vast solar thermal farms in the Sahara. By spreading the demand across a much wider network, it suggests that 80 of Europe's electricity could be produced from renewable power without any greater risk of blackouts or flickers.

At about the same time, Mark Barrett at University College London published a preliminary study looking mainly at ways of altering the pattern of demand for electricity to match the variable supply from wind and waves and tidal power(8). At about twice the current price, he found that we might be able to produce as much as 95 of our electricity from renewable sources without causing interruptions in the power supply.

Now a new study by the Centre for Alternative Technology takes this even further(9). It is due to be published next week, but I have been allowed a preview. It is remarkable in two respects: it suggests that by 2027 we could produce 100 of our electricity without the use of fossil fuels or nuclear power, and that we could do so while almost tripling its supply: our heating systems (using electricity to drive heat pumps) and our transport systems could be mostly powered by it. It relies on a great expansion of electricity storage: building new hydroelectric reservoirs into which water can be pumped when electricity is abundant, constructing giant vanadium flow batteries and linking electric cars up to the grid when they are parked, using their batteries to meet fluctuations in demand. It contains some optimistic technical assumptions, but also a very pessimistic one: that the UK relies entirely on its own energy supplies. If the German proposal were to be combined with these ideas, we could begin to see how we might reliably move towards a world without fossil fuels.

If Hansen is correct, to avert the meltdown that brings the Holocene to an end we require a response on this scale: a sort of political "albedo flip�?. The government must immediately commission studies to discover how much of our energy could be produced without fossil fuels, set that as its target then turn the economy round to meet it. But a power shift like this cannot take place without a power shift of another kind: we need a government which fears planetary meltdown more than it fears the CBI.

George Monbiot's book Heat: how to stop the planet burning is now published in paperback.


1. James Hansen et al, 2007. Climate Change and Trace Gases. Philiosophical Transactions of the Royal Society – A. Vol 365, pp 1925-1954. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2007.2052.

2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, February 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis – Summary for Policymakers. Table SPM-3. SPM2feb07.pdf

3. I am grateful to Marc Hudson for drawing my attention to this paper and giving me a copy.

4. James Hansen et al, ibid.

5. In the Energy White Paper it says the following: "The 20 renewables target is an ambitious goal representing a large increase in Member States' renewables capacity. It will need to be taken forward in the context of the overall EU greenhouse gas target. Latest data shows that the current share of renewables in the UK's total energy mix is around 2 and for the EU as a whole around 6. Projections indicate that by 2020, on the basis of existing policies, renewables would contribute around 5 of the UK's consumption and are unlikely to exceed 10 of the EU's.�? Department of Trade and Industry, May 2007. Meeting the Energy Challenge: A White Paper on Energy, page 23.

6. Emails from David Meechan, press officer, Renewables, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

7. German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Technical Thermodynamics Section Systems Analysis and Technology Assessment, June 2006. Trans-Mediterranean Interconnection for Concentrating Solar Power. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany.

8. Mark Barrett, April 2006. A Renewable Electricity System for the UK: A Response to the 2006 Energy Review. UCL Bartlett School Of Graduate Studies – Complex Built Environment Systems Group.

9. Centre for Alternative Technology, 10th July 2007. ZeroCarbonBritain: an alternative energy strategy. This will be made available at

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on July 4, 2007 08:16 AM


I agree wholeheartedly that our energy should come from renewable sources. Just recently, I came upon a technology that could greatly enhance our ability to obtain needed electricity from courses of water, without having to build dams that are destructive to the environment and to the habitat of fish and other aquatic creatures.

Water Vortex Drives Power Plant

However I do not share the conviction that climate change is actually caused by humans. There may be global warming ahead, and indeed it seems that the whole planetary system is warming, not only the earth, suggesting a cause that is definitely beyond our own influence as humans. But the idea that we are causing that change because we burn fossil fuels is not supported by the available evidence. Some of the views diverging from the officially held ones are collected here.

Man-made Global Warming - The Debate is not over!

But let me stress once more that yes, we MUST get off the fossil fuel train, and we must develop clean technologies - not because of global warming but because we are poisoning ourselves and the environment with the resulting polluting emissions.

Posted by: Sepp on July 4, 2007 02:29 PM


With regard to the carrying capacity of our planet, Mae Wan Ho of the Institute for Science in Society, has an interesting discussion on the thermodynamics of living organisms, which is of relevance to this discussion...

Thermodynamics of Organisms and Sustainable Systems
The healthy organism excels in maintaining its organisation and keeping away from thermodynamic equilibrium – death by another name – and in reproducing and providing for future generations. In those respects, it is the ideal sustainable system (Ho, 1998b,c; Ho and Ulanowicz, 2005). Looking at sustainable systems as organisms provides fresh insights on sustainability, and offers diagnostic criteria that reflect the system's health. This paper formalises and updates the 'zero-entropy' model of organisms and sustainable systems, and shows how sustainable development is possible by explicit reference to a 'zero-emission', 'zero-waste' integrated food and energy 'Dream Farm 2'.

At the end of the paper, Mae Wan Ho goes on to say:

In a recent visit to China, I was delighted to discover that something very similar to the model of sustainable systems as organisms is in the official Chinese mainstream discourse; they call it the "circular economy�?. Chinese farmers have perfected it over the past two thousand years especially in the Pearl River Delta of southeast China (Ho 2006). It disposes of another myth: that there is a constant carrying capacity for a given piece of land, in terms of the number of people it can support.

There is a world of difference between industrial monoculture and circular integrated farming, it is the difference between the dominant linear input-output maximum entropy model and the zero-entropy sustainable model. The carrying capacity depends on how the land is organised for production. The Pearl River Delta sustained an average of 17 people per hectare in the 1980s, a carrying capacity at least ten times the average of industrial farming, and two to three times the world average.

The thermodynamics of organisms and sustainable systems tells us not only why we must move away from the dominant environmental bubble economy, but especially how we can create a healthier, richer, more equitable and satisfying life without fossil fuels, and we should start right now.

Posted by: Sepp on September 23, 2007 12:27 PM


I have been pleasantly amazed to discover the postings here which contain so many comments with which I must agree, put so powerfully. I do not have a PhD but I do have ideas based on observations.

1) There are still far too many ordinary people, influenced by those who say what they want to hear, who argue that global warming is a con trick by governments to increase taxes. Therefore they will take no action to mitigate their influence on the world around them.

2) One aspect of over population and the drift towards city dwelling, is the huge increase in crime, violence and agression. In the animal kingdom each creature has its own boundary, its own area, and if each one keeps to its own area there is no strife. Humans also need their space, and if forced into too close a proximity with others this can lead to stress and inner rage which manifests in aggression. Wasn't there an experiment in which rats housed too closely began to fight and to eat their young ?

3) All the things mentioned by others here confirm my belief that our (western) way of life contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The 'growth' myth rules, and no-one seems to understand that nothing can grow indefinitely. Yet every action of governments is directed towards 'growth'.

Just as there are natural laws which are immutable (e.g.gravity) so there are other 'rules' of living which we break at our peril. Nature has a way of keeping a balance and if we tip the scales too far one way then the death of thousands may be the result - right now we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction

Living on the earth in an unsustainable way is...... unsustainable ! If we continue to trash our life support system it will fail us. Many have stumbled with a definition of sustainable - not difficult really. If an action is capable of being continued indefinitely then it is sustainable. Clearly our present actions cannot go on for ever and are therefore not sustainable.

There are signs that some organisations and businesses are beginning to think of the 'loop' or circular way of working, yet still there is far too much linear thinking.

There is no shortage of wise people who tell us what we need to do, who warn of the catastrophy if we do not pay heed (they have been telling us since the beginning of the industrial revolution !)

There are good folk all over the world doing great things. But as one writer said, we are in the greedy grip of big business. We need to build such a groundswell that it is unstoppable.

Governments meanwhile, spend their time trying to avoid trouble. Bread and circuses has become tax cuts and Big Brother (TV, not Orwell) Even if we do think for ourselves we are hamstrung by ever increasing legislation. Many of us try to do our bit, but it is so tempting to wonder whether it is a waste of time.

How many people will read the postings which I have just sat up until 1.30.a.m. to read ? How many people actually care ? Will enough of them care enough to do enough before it is too late ?

Posted by: Veronica-Mae Soar on May 13, 2008 08:50 PM


send me you email so that i will send you mail to start with i am a student of auchi polytechnic, Auchi. in nigeria i am student of food science tech,i need you help sir

Posted by: egharveba alfred osamudiamen on June 30, 2008 10:47 PM


wala sa tanong ko ang sagot nyo!

Posted by: titay on September 10, 2008 07:19 AM


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