Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Starvation, the new answer to global warming

The genocide charity movement seems to be gathering momentum. They don't actually plan genocide as such, no Saddamesque gassing or Stalinesque starvation is mentioned in their plans, but as sure as nuts is nuts the result of their proposals will be massive loss of life among those least able to ride out difficult times. I speak, in particular, about the Optimum Population Trust. which has just proudly announced the support of Sir David Attenborough, the well-known creator and presenter of staggeringly expensive (and sometimes rather good) television programmes about gorillas, fish, insects and fluffy bunnies. Sir David is in no danger of starvation himself so he has a free hand to support any bunch of fanatical fruitcakes he wishes without their dangerous practices ever affecting the availability of lentil and garlic bake at his table.

The OPT argue that human population is already at or near or beyond the numbers that can be sustained by the planet (it could be any of the three depending on which of their publications you read). In consequence, they argue that population must be limited so that there is less of a strain on Mother Nature. We can get a feel for their position by looking at some of the papers they have published, they are flagged on the right-side of their homepage, the most interesting of which (to me) is headed "UK overpopulated by 70 percent". Their starting point is their own definition of sustainability. It is based unequivocally and unashamedly on plans to eliminate industrial activity that produces carbon dioxide. They have fallen for the anthropogenic global warming claptrap hook line and, quite probably, sinker. If I didn't know they were serious I would think their writings a parody of everything that is laughable about troglodyte raffia munchers. One analysis they use which really makes me giggle is something they call the "ecological footprint" (see their full paper here), this looks at the raw resources of countries and continents (predominently farming capacity and expressly excluding fossil fuels) and calculates how many people can be supported by those resources.

Please put down all drinks before reading the next bit.

I mean it, you don't want to have to contribute to global warming by buying a new keyboard. OK? Ready? Here goes.

According to their "ecological footprint" analysis the population of Africa is sustainable but the populations of the USA and the UK are not.

There now, aren't you glad you put that cup of tea down?

These people are eco-extremists of the most absurd type, but they are not without wry humour. In the next section of the report the author says "At the sustainability limit, the relationship between population and the biocapacity is a hyperbola", which he then illustrates with a few graphs. How droll it is that their hyperbole creates a hyperbola.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we can see what actually happens. To my unjargonised mind we can measure the sustainability of a population by asking whether they eat or starve, live to adulthood or perish in infancy, keep warm in winter or risk freezing to death, have clean water and good sanitation or cholera, in short by asking whether they have a long or a short average lifespan. The current population of the USA and the UK are entirely sustainable because we have advanced economies which, despite current difficulties, allow us to have warm homes, food, clean water and good sanitation. We have average lifespans unimaginable even fifty years ago. Much of Africa, on the other hand, suffers through political corruption and economic ineptitude resulting in its current population containing a great many who will die in infancy and few who will last as long as the average pie-munching fat Englishman.

Except to those with bizarre notions of what "sustain" means, the sustainability of a population is not about how much the land can produce because that is just part of the equation, and because it assumes agricultural techniques will not develop in the future as they have in the past. Sustainability is about a whole package of things of which one of the most important is the availability of a reliable supply of electricity. If you look at sustainability by examining the earth first and calculating how much you think it can produce and then dividing that by the number of people to see whether each gets enough tofu and nut roast you are looking at entirely the wrong thing. I think I can illustrate this very simply with the humble tomato. If the UK produced tomatoes only in open fields and without any pesticides or herbicides to reduce damage to crops we might well (with enough fields) be able to produce as many as we do today in greenhouses. But we could not do so at an affordable price (although they would probably be rather tastier). As it is, our farmers build greenhouses covering several acres, use composts specially prepared to maximise cropping, add fertilisers made in factories, use electricity to heat the greenhouses to optimum temperatures and to operate optimal lighting and watering systems and, the bit I really like, they pump in carbon dioxide to boost growth. The result is high yield crops of cheap fruits, the size of the crop is far greater than could be grown on the same acreage without the use of technology.

Africa's current population is not sustainable. We know that because their mortality rates are high, they are not sustained ergo the size of population is not sustainable in current conditions. The answer is not to change the population but to change the conditions. In places it is happening and has been happening gradually over the last thirty or so years, but there is a long way to go. As their mortality rates drop so will their birth rate provided cultural and economic conditions make it favourable to have fewer children.

It is important, in my view, to recognise that birth rates in the developed world have fallen steadily as a result of two things. First, technological advances in food production, sanitation and healthcare that have extended lifespans (thereby limiting the number of children people must have to replace themselves) and, secondly, placing the cost of feeding and caring for children on their parents rather than the state. There are groups for whom the second condition does not apply and they still breed in comparatively large numbers. If you want to reduce the UK population, as the OPT does, the most obvious step to take is to place everyone under the same economic constraints that cause most to think carefully about how many children they will have.

And if you want to reduce the population in Africa ... oh, hold on, they don't want to do that because they think Africa's population is sustainable. Let me tell them a little something. It might be sustainable according to their ludicrous definition of sustainability, but not according to real life; more pertinently, not according to real death. What will sustain the population of Africa is efficient farming, clean water, good sanitation and a ready supply of electricity. Naive notions that they can sustain themselves by farming every acre of potentially useable land are simply absurd, it could never happen; to argue that they must be forced to do so without recourse to machinery powered by fossil fuels is not just absurd, it is cruel.

Any organisation promoting upside-down nonsense should be careful to ensure it is consistent in order to avoid becoming infested by supporters of numerous different streams of idiocy rather than just the one they set out to promote. The OPT seems to encourage as many different categories of fundamentalist nutters as possible. For example, it published a paper (see summary here) calling for governmental action to encourage low birth rates, the author of which acknowledged expressly that there is only a "slim chance" of this being achieved without coercion. At the same time on the OPT homepage there is a prominent box boasting "The Optimum Population Trust is absolutely opposed to any form of coercion in family planning." So they publish a paper saying coercion should be avoided and the author comments that there is only a slim chance of it being avoided - the need for coercion being (yes, you've guessed it) that more humans means a greater risk to the environment through climate change. So, they solicit donations from eugenicists who see a chance of eliminating unworthy populations and from those opposed to birth control and from the global warming fanatics. Nice for income, impossible for principle.

Is the OPT just another in the long list of organisations promoting the great global warming computer game circus? Is it just the latest one to put a different slant on the computer game in order to raise money for the benefit of those prepared to write something they want to read? Maybe. Or maybe they really believe we should live only on what we can grow ourselves and the global warming nonsense is a convenient bandwagon to further their ridiculous desire. The one thing of which we can be certain is that those promoting this twaddle won't die as a result of it. As always, that privilege will be reserved for the weakest; it will be reserved for what they like to think of as the surplus population.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Harsh but fair!

Pogo said...

I just had a quick look at their website and this little beauty caught my eye...

"Sex drives world population growth. OPT science conference. OPT News release 26 March 2009"And there was me thinking it was storks or gooseberry bushes!

Alex Cull said...

A spot-on analysis, FatBigot. It is the most egregious upside down nonsense. First-world style prosperity comes first, and populations then reduce, as family size becomes less important.

I also note from the OPT website that Paul ("If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000") Ehrlich is also a patron. IMO, not a very ringing endorsement.

james c said...


You might have common cause with them, if they could be persuaded to lobby for the reintroduction of smoking in countries (such as the UK) where there is some need for population reduction.

Anonymous said...

Long ago, before there was contact with Europeans, Africa had a stable population with a very low life expectancy, back then that population was sustainable - under those conditions - indefinitely. I can't see how it can be claimed that the present African population is sustainable given that it is rapidly growing with that population growth relying so heavily on Western technology to support it when the West is supposedly not sustainable.

There are reasonable arguments both for and against the sustainability of Western nations, if it's assumed that adequate low carbon substitutes will be utilised
before present energy sources expire, then Western nations should be considered sustainable, I think it can be done; with nuclear, geothermal and other possible energy sources. I'm not so sure though that the changes that are needed will be made in time to avoid some nasty consequences of future energy shortfalls.

Andrew W

TheFatBigot said...

It's nice to have you back Mr Andrew.

I think the key to your second paragraph is "before present energy sources expire". This should present no problem to any western government provided it is prepared to put the need for reliable energy at the top of its agenda.

Encouraging low-carbon energy sources for heating homes and powering factories and transport can only extend the time before higher-carbon sources run out. To my mind problems can only arise if the low-carbon sources become mandatory before they can deliver the goods.

In the UK, in the USA and throughout Europe coal is in such abundant supply that there is no question of it expiring as a potential source of energy before low-carbon alternatives are efficient and effective.

Anonymous said...

"before present energy sources expire"

Ha ha.

I know I have said this before, but there's been thirty-five years' supply of oil left in the world for as long as I can remember - and that's a whole lot longer than thirty-five years.

It isn't going to "expire". It may slowly get more expensive, and as it does we will find and exploit more suitable sources.

Or at least, we will as long as the Eco-Fascists or the Big State don't prevent us.

I am quite confident that there will still be thirty-five years' supply of oil left when my grandchildren are as old as I am now. The local Imam may forbid them to use it, but it will be there alright.

Anonymous said...

Fair points Mr. Fat Bigot, and as anonymous infers, I am thinking in terms of oil and gas when I refer to energy sources expiring.

Obviously I'd like see us move away from coal long before it's all used for the reasons we've discussed before, while the impact of say 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 may not be as large as many fear, burn all the coal on the planet and lifting CO2 to perhaps 2000ppm and climate changes would be profound.

There is a major flaw in Anonymous's reasoning with regards to future oil production. His logic is on a par with someone ignoring a warning not to play russian roulette, then, after not getting their head blown off after one or two clicks, claiming that as proof that the 'game' can be played safely indefinitely.
Oil is a finite resource, and "peak oil" is a certainty before the middle of this century, the production of Britain, the US, Mexico, and many other countries has peaked and is in decline, for the world as a whole even the most optimistic professionals in the oil industry accept peak oil's a "when" not an "if".
So even being optimistic about the "when", how well are we doing in preparing for production declining in say 40 years? Keep in mind that there's expected to be another couple of billion people on the planet by then, and far more cars around.

Now, before everyone labels me a greenie, I'd like to emphasis that I'm absolutely a supporter of laissez faire markets, but recognise that, realistically, externalising costs can't be continued indefinitely, eg. few people would dispute that controls over effluent discharge into our rivers is justified, ditto for the atmosphere.

Alot of trust can be placed in free markets to get the best possible result, but those markets will only get that result if the information they act on is accurate, if people affecting these markets are fooling themselves into believing in, or wishing for, desired curcumstances that aren't real, the results can be disasterous, and frequently have been.

Andrew W

TheFatBigot said...

I suspect there is very little between us, Mr Andrew (except on the global warming issue).

As Mr Cull observed, prosperity precedes reductions in family size. So also, I would suggest, prosperity precedes the ability to produce electricity by the least polluting methods.

India, China and goodness knows how many other countries can provide their people with electricity using coal because it is affordable. Once they are established industrial nations they will earn the bucks needed for the additional infrastructure costs of nuclear power. If they become very rich they might want to play with windmills.

In current conditions their ability to sustain their populations is dependent on coal for electricity and oil for transportation of goods. Any new efficient technologies developed in the West will soon spread to them as well, in the meantime I believe it is barbaric to deprive them of the affordable use of fossil fuels.

Even if the most hysterical AGW predictions are correct, the ability to sustain current and anticipated populations seems far more likely to depend on using whatever resources we have to give them power than on cutting off power.