Attenborough & the Descent of Man

Sir David Attenborough, the face and voice of quality BBC natural history programmes, controller of BBC2 during the ‘golden age’ of British television, national treasure, has become a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, the organisation that campaigns for reductions in the human population.

For a long time, Sir David refused to campaign on environmental matters, maintaining that he was there only to show the wonders of life on Earth. It was almost as if he credited audiences with the ability to draw their own conclusions.

Not any more. In his dotage, he has been trading on that trust. Take his closing remarks to his 2002 flagship BBC series The Life of Mammals:

Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time to control the population to allow the survival of the environment.

In a statement, Sir David said:

I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.

Perhaps we can be of assistance…

How many cavemen does it take to build a Large Hadron Collider?

Did few hands make light work of this?

Was this just some garage project?

How many cooks can it take to write a recipe book?

It takes millions to make a president

Or to break a monarch

27 thoughts on “Attenborough & the Descent of Man”

  1. Oohh, brilliant, Enlightenment porn! Better watch it editors, Caroline Lucas and the other misanthropes will be calling for censorship!

  2. [Vehement rant warning]

    Of course, he’s calling for fewer of the great unwashed, the squawking masses of ignorant humanity. Not of his own class of noble offspring, though.

    Really, this becomes more of a class issue every day, it seems.

  3. he’s not promoting genocide,he is sugesting population control,there is a difference.

    you can control the population in many ways with out killing people,for instence introduce a law that means you have to get a licence to have kids.

  4. Yes *fewer kids* is a good idea.

    Firstly they tell us to have more kids, because, they rationalise, we will need people to look after us when we’re old… but how many of our kids will become health care workers? I can guarantee there won’t be many people who want to look after us oldies, and won’t those same kids grow old too? We’re contantly warned to use less fuel, use less water. less electricity… but at the same time politicians tell us to have more kids.

    It’s like having a dinner party for twelve and finding that each guest bought two friends, this is what we’re doing to the earth. and there needs to be less of us in order to use less fuel, water, power and save the planet.

    Wolfie!

  5. Are you saying that having this debate is a bad thing? Its not a class war, its not anything but a desire to have a rational debate about the subject. Surely, this is a good thing?

    To quote from Bob Park (www.bobpark.org):

    “Norway, Finland and Sweden, have the highest standards of living in the world and small populations. Afghanistan, on the other hand, which is not exactly a tourist Mecca, has a fertility rate above 7, the highest in the world.”

    I further note that all of your pictures above are of Western discoveries, inventions or historical occasions. The populations in the western countries are generally on the decline by the way, its not these countries we should worry about.

  6. Ian, who is saying ‘debate is a bad thing’?

    The fertility rate of various countries makes no difference. The question is about the legitimacy of state and inter-governmental control (without ever being clear about how that control will be achieved) of human fertility, as per the OPT’s demands.

    The populations in the western countries are generally on the decline by the way, its not these countries we should worry about.

    What are you saying here?.. That it’s legitimate to concern ourselves with how to control individuals in other countries because they can’t stop breeding?

    It’s a thin line between the new language of ‘environmental sustainability’ and good, old fashioned racism – as demonstrated in the arguments of the OPT. *

    * The last sentence read as follows, but we didn’t think it said what we meant, nor replied to what Tom intended to say. “It is interesting that good, old fashioned racism can find politically correct expression in the new language of ‘environmental sustainability’.”

  7. I’ve just had a look at the OPT website; its recommendations include the following: “Globally, that full access to family planning should be provided to all those who do not have it, that couples should be encouraged voluntarily to “Stop at Two” children to lessen the impact of family size on the environment, and that this should be part of a holistic approach involving better education and equal rights for women.” I don’t know about a holistic approach, but this seems to me an ass-backwards approach. Material prosperity, cheap energy, better education, equality for women, _then_ you will get smaller families. They appear to be ignoring the lessons of history. It’s a bit like trying to ban coal-fired power stations before developing anything cleaner, more advanced and cost-effective – oh wait, that’s happening too.

    OT – has anyone else seen this article in The Scotsman? :-
    http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/latestnews/Make-fuel-waste-an-offence.5166566.jp
    Dr Richard Dixon of WWF (or should that be WTF?) wanting to make climate criminals of us all.

    Kind of OT – does anyone else have the feeling that battle lines are being drawn? On the one hand we have those who want to send us back to the Dark Ages, restrict our growth, lower our horizons, make us “know our place” as just another medium-sized mammal in the food chain and exist in stasis (sustainability) until the next large meteorite strike (or an ice age) wipes us from the face of the earth. On the other we have those who value our hard-won technological civilisation, who see it as a work in progress and want to keep the lights burning. The former group appear to be organised and articulate but non-representative of the majority. I think the latter group had better wake up and become more organised and visible than at present; probably a new political movement is called for, but I see little sign of that at the moment.

  8. Alex – “does anyone else have the feeling that battle lines are being drawn?”

    It is somewhat inevitable that the green camp -who set the terms of the debate – would be first to draw the lines.

    But it will probably be a while before the elitist character of the green movement is recognised and an organised political response formed. After all, it is a bit of a propaganda coup for the OPT to have got Attenborough – arguably the queen mother of British broadcasting, and much easier on the ears and eyes than the hectoring likes of Porrit, Tickell, and Erlich.

  9. I am lucky enough to live in a country where family planning and contraception are easily accessible. The OPT seem to be saying that all women worldwide should have this access and thus be in a better position to plan their families. Is it not wiser and more intelligent to plan families or should we just let nature take its course?

    Also, there is a number, logically, that the Earth can support. I don´t know what that number is: 9 billion? 20 billion? more? No population of any species can just grow bigger indefinitely, something eventually; famine, disease or simply lack of space will act to reduce population. So again, is it not wiser and more intelligent for humanity to address this question?

  10. Sjones – ‘ Is it not wiser and more intelligent to plan families or should we just let nature take its course?’

    The world isn’t faced with a choice between the OPT and individual choice with respect to fertility on the one hand, and a ban on all such techniques on the other. We can reject the OPT’s claims, while keeping the contraception.

    “there is a number, logically, that the Earth can support”

    That number only has any meaning at one instance in time. If we still used wood for fuel – all 6 billion of us – the theoretical capacity of the world might indeed be much diminished.

    But we have coal, and oil, and uranium, and of course, wind, solar, and hydro. As our ability to use them expanded, so the ‘capacity’ of the ‘system’ increased.

    So the “logical” capacity of the earth’s capacity to sustain growth and development is not a constant. Its identity is principally defined by our intellectual capacity. Technology necessarily expands the capacity of the earth. That’s the point.

    Meanwhile, the OPT want to destroy that dynamic. They want it to be a constant.

  11. I agree its a fine line between old fashioned racism and environmental responsibility – and that is certainly not my point (although put badly I agree).

    My point was meant to be about giving people a choice through education and equality.

    In the middle ages and into Victorian times, people had large families because lots of children would die young and because families needed to send children to earn money. There was no contraception, no state support, women were not treated equally and education was for the privileged few.

    The pope’s recent comments about contraception, the comments by various recent (and soon to be) presidents of SA about AIDS and all the inequality that is inherently built into Islamic cultures all lead to high birth rates and high mortality rates.

    My belief is in giving people the choice, and I believe you do that through education and equality. But, not the stupid sort of equality that leads us to call postmen ‘postpeople’ (which was happening 20 years ago in schools when I was growing up, and I now realise, was put about by the same self-silly idiots that yabber on about carbon footprints every time you fart now).

    I am talking about the sort of equality where people are free to make an informed choice without fear of reprisal or judgement. When that happens there will be no need for ‘state or inter-govermental control’.

    If the aim of the OPT is to expand the realm of education in all cultures across the world I’m all for it – it its not then their method is wrong.

  12. Ian – ‘My point was meant to be about giving people a choice through education and equality.’

    On the point about equality… If the OPT intended to create equality, it would make arguments for equality. But it instead makes arguments for ‘optimum population’. It is hard to see how population reduction will lead to equality. We can see that the OPT are not interested in equality anyway, because they stand so vigorously against immigration.

    On ‘education’… People generally know what getting naked with a member of the opposite sex means. Not to undermine the principle of individual control over fertility through contraception, etc., but when such programmes are established in the developing world (which is where I assume we are talking about), whose interests and agenda is principally being served, and is it really solving the problem of development? Again, a veneer of plausibility masks what seems to be (on behalf of the Malthusian’s) a potentially racist form of intervention: that there are too many of ‘them’, and that if there were less of ‘them’, there would be less of a problem. Furthermore, when was ‘education’ about how to behave, or to avoid getting pregnant, rather than about mathematics, literature, history, science, geography, language, philosophy, and so on?

    The OPT, then, at best can only be said to be interested in equality and education with respect to fertility. It wants everyone to have equal rights to contraception, etc. and knowledge about how to avoid it. It’s not making a case for equal rights to jobs and opportunities, to health, to money. (In fact, this editor has heard Tickell speak, and he makes a point in his speech to students at university that the future will give us far less control over our own future, and our own politics.)

    There is something a bit sinister about parachuting ‘aid’ into a developing country but to only take an interest in influencing one aspect of their lives. It almost says ‘you can’t have factories, roads and hospitals, and you can’t have babies… You can have a few schools, but they must be about not getting pregnant’.

  13. “So the “logical” capacity of the earth’s capacity to sustain growth and development is not a constant. Its identity is principally defined by our intellectual capacity. Technology necessarily expands the capacity of the earth. That’s the point.”
    It´s an interesting point. Could you give more examples of how technology may expand the capacity of the earth. Does this mean that there need be no upper limit to population?

  14. SJones – ‘Does this mean that there need be no upper limit to population?’

    Well, we might need to stop if we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

    It is possible to imagine, however, that as we move towards independence from natural processes we would lower humanity’s physical (and environmental) ‘footprint’, thereby increasing capacity.

    The point is that the ‘upper limit’ is indefinite, and constantly changing. That’s not, strictly speaking, to say that ‘there is no upper limit’, but that the upper limit is not something we can speak about rationally. One cannot create empirical facts out of speculation.

    If we hastily construct a mathematical identity to explain this…

    Capacity = Technology X Land.

    … It looks like we’re saying that ‘technology will solve all our problems. But that’s not quite what we’re saying.

    What drives technological progress is the political process. Development is predicated on political will. Where there is no political will to develop, or the political agenda is dominated by anti-development ideas, there will be no development.

    So the reverse is also the case. It is possible that Malthusianism will lower the capacity of the world. And the real problem here is that it will look like an environmental, rather than a political, crisis.

    Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  15. It’s also the case that large extended families are more the norm in the developing world for reasons of mutual aid – larger families means more people to help out with the oft backbreaking tasks of scratching a living. As societies develop then the birthrate tends to fall, of course, notwithstanding certain cultural factors. Yet, development for our third world cousins is anathema to western govts and nearly all NGOs. I’ve searched high and low for the quote but apparently the UN states that if Africa developed as western societies then it could support a population of 32 Billion – an example rather than recommendation

  16. “Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    Very interesting indeed. Had never thought that way. But I think that these backwardists have always existed. In my own country we have a codeword for those people (velho do restelo, the old man from restelo) that constantly tells us we are doomed to failure in our dreams, that we cannot possibly manage to get things through, etc. This persona was invented in the 15th century in theatre.

    So I’d say, yes, punch them in the nose and cry out to people, denounce this idiocy around us, but don’t worry too much. It’s as common and as eternal as corruption.

  17. Have you heard the horrors of the 1-child policy in China? Forced abortions, sterilizations, and familial harrassment (including buldozing of all your family’s homes and arrest of every one) if the women refuse to kill their fetus. If the child does manage to get born, their parents lose their jobs and all social stating, and the child is literally a “nobody”, not on the government’s roles, unable to go to school, and unable to work. Western governments know that attempting to implement such a rule will lead to death at their peoples hands. As well it should.

    The reason why the poor have more children is so that the children can help. A sustainance farmer with three sons and an ox prospers because there is enough help to go around, but a farmer with only an ox will barely be able to scratch a living. Read your history people!I find it amusing that the green’s attempts to reduce everyone to substistence farmers is the best way to ensure a huge population boom.

  18. Sjones, replying directly to you, take farming techniques as a good example. Unirrigated land is effectively capped at 30-50 bushels of wheat per acre. Irrigated land can produce 100-150 bushels. Better plowing techniques, fertilizers, crop rotation, and better crop lines (through GM and traditional breeding) have conspired to multiply crop yields exponentially since the industrial revolution began. In fact, before the biofuel craze, American and European cropland acreage had dropped to historic lows while remaining food exporters despite the massive increase in population.

    More food = higher maximum population on a smaller environmental footprint.

  19. To Ben D. Food supply is clearly the determining factor in population, access to food, meaning a nutritious diet, access to clean water and access to health care are the basic necessities required for populations to grow and thrive. Despite all the modern farming methods that have resulted in better crop yields, the spectre of drought still conspires to work against world food production. Witness drought in China, Australia, Western Africa and Western America.
    It appears that fresh water is our most valuable and precious resource. It is water, first and foremost, that will determine whether earth can support a growing population.

    The problem that bothers me isn´t a growing population per se ( I am bothered by the nightmare scenario of state population control such as you mentioned) but rather the quality of life that a huge population would imply. I have just finished reading Planet of Slums by Mike Davies. The book descibes how people fleeing the grinding poverty of subsistence farming in the countryside simply exchange this kind poverty for another in the cities. If, as the editors have pointed out, the earth´s capacity is principally defined by our intellectual capacity, how do we ensure adequate food production for a population that lives mainly in cities?

    This may seem to be straying from the initial point, but if we reject state control of population, which I most vehemently do, and if we reject even the idea of voluntary control of our population, as proposed by the OPT, then we must address the question of how to maintain a burgeoning population in a manner that allows humanity to live free from poverty.
    Given that we cannot do this with six billion of us, it will stretch our intellectual capacity to the utmost to ensure quality of life for an increased population.

  20. Editors,

    The mathematical identity you construct

    Capacity = (Tech x Political Will) x Land

    is built on series of simplifying assumptions that may not be totally robust. Where in this case political will is a factor ranging between 0 and 1 (1= perfect political will and policy implementation). SJones and Ben D. have already eluded to the supply of fresh water and water for irrigation as being important. I guess you could argue irrigation would fit under Tech though. That still leaves out the supply of fresh water to the capacity population. So, maybe it would need modifying to this:

    Capacity = ((Tech x Political Will) x Land) x ((water tech x water resources)/water resoures)

    I guess this leads me to my questions. The central assumption of the first equation you posited assumes that technology can beat all. Even in my updated equation technology plays a key role. So, do you think there are any other limiting factors to be included? For instance, should there be something included to consider the health of the biosphere, or are we independent of that? Can technology yield independence from the health of the biosphere? By health of the biosphere I mean ecosystem productivity i.e. the production and diversity of biomass across many species.

    Also, should we consider the productivity of agricultural regions due to the effects of climate (i.e. precipitation, soil moisture, days of sunlight and temperature), or can technology yield independence from these external influences also?

    It’s my belief that these factors should be considered. I know it’s getting off topic and your reply could be long, but if you disagree could explain why and provide some support for your beliefs?

  21. NimbleJim,

    “is built on series of simplifying assumptions that may not be totally robust. ”

    That is why we introduced it with the caveat ‘hastily constructed’. It was intended to be illustrative.

    If you look at the discussion in context, you will see that we were questioning the necessity of the claim that ‘more people = greater footprint’, not making a claim for the necessity that more people = less footprint. In fact, we were making the point that the Neo-malthusian claim ‘is built on series of simplifying assumptions that may not be totally robust’, and that a lot of the speculation that exists about ‘limits’ is highly irrational.

    “The central assumption of the first equation you posited assumes that technology can beat all.”

    No, we said the opposite. We said “It looks like we’re saying that ‘technology will solve all our problems. But that’s not quite what we’re saying. What drives technological progress is the political process.

    The point is not to make a mathematical identity out of our relationship with nature. The point is to show that prematurely doing so necessarily carries the consequence of limiting what self-evidently expands the ‘capacity’ of the world, making malthusianism self-fulfilling. Setting limits necessarily precludes the possibility of overcoming them. That is to say that we want to demonstrate the prior-ness of politics in the Malthusian calculus, which pretends to be objective. It isn’t. It is loaded with prejudice.

    “So, do you think there are any other limiting factors to be included?”

    Not sure about limiting factors, but yes, lots of factors – many of them biological and ecological. In fact, we think we’ve got that covered – under ‘tech’. You mention species, biomass and diversity, but the state of knowledge of all of these is highly rudimentary. There exists no agreement on how many species exist in total (sensible estimates range from about 6-100 million), or even what constitutes a species. Similarly, the study of ecosystem services (to which you seem to be alluding) is a very new field (and a highly politically charged one). No doubt our understanding of such processes will increase. But it’s a leap of faith to assume that they impose limiting factors on human population in any practical sense – although we think we could probably agree that having no species anywhere would make things tricky. And that very understanding of ecosystem services will enable us to use them too to our advantage to allow us to support a larger population more comfortably.

    Throughout history and pre-history, human activities have already changed the biosphere drastically – we’ve deforested vast swathes, developed others for agriculture, removed entire guilds of large mammals from entire continents etc – and yet the human population has continued to grow, to a large extent, no doubt, because we have changed the biosphere drastically. And yet, it’s funny to think that had prehistoric man had a little knowledge of ecological systems and an overriding culture of doom, the few of us that survived today (assuming we had survived at all) would still be eating berries for breakfast, dinner and tea, and dying of malaria and tooth decay.

    So until we have some sort of understanding of how the biosphere exerts limiting factors, and when they might kick in, if at all, we suggest it’s a tad early to be limiting population size to ‘save’ the environment.

    What we do know for sure is that as things stand now, the limiting factors of human development and progress are social and political. The influence of neo-malthusianism is likely to have a more devastating consequence for both people and environment than any technological development.

    “should we consider the productivity of agricultural regions due to the effects of climate”

    When we said “It is possible … independence from natural processes …would lower humanity’s physical (and environmental) ‘footprint'”, we were discussing the possibility of isolating agricultural production from natural processes. So no, the point of isolating production from natural processes would be to exclude the possibility of sensitivity to climate effects. Currently, of course, it would be a bit silly to grow stuff indoors. The sun and the weather mostly provide better and cheaper conditions for agricultural production. But it does not require a huge leap to imagine that this may not be the best possible way of providing food. It might be more productive and ultimately cheaper to grow things inside, vertically, and optimally, rather than depending on (and ‘disturbing’) natural processes. Such a system would necessarily be predicated on many new forms of technology. Not least, energy.

    So we might want to include energy in your new formula, along the lines ‘x (energy tech x energy resources)’. Do what you like with it. Our point was that ‘energy resources’ varies as ‘energy tech’. The more tech we have, necessarily the more resources we have.

  22. SJones – ‘It is water, first and foremost, that will determine whether earth can support a growing population.’

    It is a comforting fact then, that water covers 70% of Earth’s surface.

    “people fleeing the grinding poverty of subsistence farming in the countryside simply exchange this kind poverty for another”

    Even if they are moving from rural Berkshire to London, to give up work as a farmer to be a website designer? (Actually, it’s quite likely a website designer might make the move to rural Berkshire, to ‘telecommute’, demonstrating the changing character of rural life thanks to industrialisation).

    ‘If … the earth´s capacity is principally defined by our intellectual capacity, how do we ensure adequate food production for a population that lives mainly in cities?’

    Back of the envelope calculations again… Figures are from ONS & DEFRA. Mechanisation of agriculture allows one man to do the job of many subsistence farmers. The UK is 60% self-sufficient in food terms, and has 250,000 agricultural workers. That’s roughly one agricultural worker for every 150 people. 40 million agricultural workers could feed the world on that basis. That’s 5 and a bit times the population of London, feeding the entire world.

    If we were to assume (modestly, we believe) that by 2100 agricultural, bio-tech and resource management technologies have developed to make it possible to see a four-fold increase of agricultural production, with the same physical footprint, and energy and labour input… That would mean just 10 million people could feed the world’s 6 billion. There is no reason to believe that any natural limits present a challenge to anybody’s ‘quality of life’ in the future.

    We might also notice that the West’s agricultural productivity has been a problem for development in the South. It cannot compete on price or quality. Many developing countries import food from the West.

    The problem is not lack of space. The problem is not lack of resources. The problem for the world is lack of development. That is a question of politics. Development is off the agenda, thanks to the influence of environmentalists, and neo-Malthusians such as the OPT. The only consequence this can have is to reduce people’s quality of life, and likely the length of their life. People like the OPT want to stop the process of making the world as productive as the UK.

    “Planet of Slums by Mike Davies.”

    You’re kidding, right? We haven’t read it. It looks terrible.

    Slums are uglier than pictures of rural subsistence. But it’s not necessarily the case that they are the worst places to live. People move there, after all. And development always has had an ugly side, which is much easier to depict than rural poverty. Both are injustice. But largely, cities create opportunities. The aim ought to be a way of making more of them, for more people.

    “we must address the question of how to maintain a burgeoning population in a manner that allows humanity to live free from poverty.”

    How about we start by making development the aim of politics, here in the UK, and internationally?

    “Given that we cannot do this with six billion of us…”

    Who says we can’t? Malthus?

  23. “That is to say that we want to demonstrate the prior-ness of politics in the Malthusian calculus, which pretends to be objective. It isn’t. It is loaded with prejudice.”

    But as has already been stated, there is logically a limit to human population based on available land, technology, energy resources, water resources and ecosystem service output. Of course that limit can change and considering and accepting that number’s potential to change lends this area of study objectiveness. Without assuming that one day we will evolve into godlike beings with no need for nourishment you can’t escape the fact that the Earth has a finite human population limit. Therefore, beating up folks for pointing out the obvious is a bit harsh.

    “No, we said the opposite. We said “It looks like we’re saying that ‘technology will solve all our problems. But that’s not quite what we’re saying. What drives technological progress is the political process.”

    I’m not disagreeing with this. My language later could have been clearer. I included the political will part in the equation to reference your point here. Later when I say that you assume technology trumps all I should have been clearer. Your point is that politics is the road block to proper development and increased population (reduced degradation of the biosphere) and without that technology would greatly assist us to increase population and decrease environmental degradation. Whilst I agree that technology is the key to solving the energy crisis and global warming I don’t think it’s limits are boundless.

    “You mention species, biomass and diversity, but the state of knowledge of all of these is highly rudimentary.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this. The statement is first too broad and too general. Second, there is already an ample quantity of quality empirical research linking species diversity to ecosystem productivity and in turn ecosystem services (indeed my point). Third, it’s not really a contentious point to state that ecosystems containing diverse ranges of species tend to be healthier (i.e. more robust to external influence) ecosystems. Degraded and simplified food webs equate to more fragile and less productive ecosystems (both in terms of biomass throughput and service output).

    “Similarly, the study of ecosystem services (to which you seem to be alluding) is a very new field (and a highly politically charged one). No doubt our understanding of such processes will increase.”

    Our understanding will increase, but it’s not true to state that it’s a new field. The idea of ecosystem services has been with us for 150 years or so. Also, what doesn’t need any more research to prove is that human civilisation is built on and is entirely reliant upon the free ecosystem services which nature provides us with. Or, that through our current actions we have been degrading these systems. Indeed, we don’t know when these systems will collapse and stop working, but pointing out the uncertainty in the likelihood of a future event doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider how to prevent it from happening. Additionally, playing down the likelihood of such events and exaggerating the uncertainties with vague statements (i.e. “if at all”) does not change the fact that we know systems can collapse, they collapse when we simplify them and we don’t know how simplified they need to be before they collapse – that’s the only fair assesment of th field at the moment.

    The productivity of the processes supporting these services is a limiting factor on the ultimate peak population of the human race. Likewise, our ability to degrade these services, by eroding the species diversity in the systems which support them, decreases the population which can in turn rely upon them. Given that at the moment we do not possess either the technology, the theoretical understanding or the energy resources to replace any of these free services it would be unwise to degrade them hoping that in the future that matters will improve in this regard, they may, but it spells trouble if we don’t find solutions. Let me emphasise we do not yet possess even the theoretical understanding of how we might replace these services. Therefore, given the inescapable fact that we have no way of disconnecting human survival from the well-being of the environment and that currently human population is the bulk predictor of human induced environmental degradation it is wise to at least consider ways in which to lower human population through the current mechanisms that exist for the discussion and implementation of practical ideas i.e. free speech and democracy. It’s fine and good to say we should maintain hope for future technology to find solutions to these problems, but at the moment we don’t even have the understanding of how we could go about replicating ecosystem services.

  24. NimbleJim – ‘But as has already been stated,’

    By whom?

    “there is logically a limit to human population based on available land, technology, energy resources, water resources and ecosystem service output”

    There is only a ‘limit’ in the sense that, at one instance, you might be able to speculate what the maximum population the other entities are capable of producing/supporting. But as soon as you move forward in time, that relationship will cease to hold. Not least because just as you observed it in the instant, the population will see for themselves as they approach problems and develop accordingly, to increase available water, maybe to expand the productivity of ecosystems, focussing development efforts, to reclaim land, or to build upwards, downwards, or outwards. This limit is therefore neither empirical, nor logical. It doesn’t ‘exist’. It’s not a ‘fact’ waiting to be discovered.

    “you can’t escape the fact that the Earth has a finite human population limit.”

    You really need to read what we’ve written more closely… We said to SJones, ‘Well, we might need to stop if we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder.’

    There may well be a ‘finite’ limit. But speculation as to what that limit is is just that… speculation. You can’t do it empirically. And you can’t find the ‘right’ answer theoretically, nor test it. And as we have shown, the ‘limit’ has changed, and (OPT’s efforts notwithstanding) will change. What remains is a very silly concept that reduces to ‘you can’t have an infinite population on a finite planet”.

    However hard we try, we will never have an infinite population.

    “Whilst I agree that technology is the key to solving the energy crisis and global warming I don’t think it’s limits are boundless.”

    What are the bounds of technology? When will it stop? Are we half way there yet? Or three-quarters?

    “The statement is first too broad and too general.”

    That is our point about the terms you used to identify ‘health of the biosphere’. But…

    ” there is already an ample quantity of quality empirical research linking species diversity to ecosystem productivity and in turn ecosystem services”

    Even if that were true – and we don’t believe that it is – what may be true of our ability to measure the ‘health’ of an ecosystem, that does not say much about our ability to measure the health of all ecosystems, the biosphere. the world is still substantially larger than what we are capable of measuring.

    “we don’t know when these systems will collapse and stop working”

    Equally we don’t know if they will collapse and stop working, or whether they will stutter and reorganise themselves. History would suggest the latter. There is a difference between change and destruction, after all. Just ask an ecologist. Conservation is, however, a ‘normative science’, even according to many conservation biologists and ecologists.

  25. OK This may appear a little messianic but I reckon these speak for themselves. If I may be modest, I call them “Wood’s Major Principals of Life”.

    1. Life strives to survive, grow and procreate. This is self-evident.

    2. As a result of (1), life expands to fill the space available. This is demonstrably true throughout the 4.5 billion years of the history of the Earth.

    3. Life on Earth is not sustainable; the Sun will expand and fry the Earth in 5-10 billion years time.

    Be it accepted that (3) is true and that (1) and (2) are primal life imperatives, The Life Imperatives, then clearly humankind is the only life force able to achieve the continuance of life. Therefore, any cost we impose on “the planet”, or “the universe” is worth it for the further continuance of life.

    Or do these people hate life itself??

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