Back in October 2010, I wrote an article for Spiked,
It is no coincidence that, as it was preparing to moderate its statements on climate change, the Society has been seeking to intervene in the debate about population. In July this year, it announced that it would be ‘undertaking a major study to investigate how population variables will affect and be affected by economies, environments, societies and cultures’.
Climate change has served as the encompassing environmental narrative. It was used to connect the human and natural worlds, and to provide a basis for many political institutions that, without a climate crisis, would simply lack legitimacy. The forcefulness with which claims about climate change were presented and their abstract nature made climate-centric politics ever less plausible. However, if players in the climate debate are beginning to sense the exhaustion of the climate issue, they are able simply to slide into the population debate.
The perspectives of environmentalism do not begin with science, but with the anti-human and unscientific premise of our dependence on the natural world. This outlook goes unchallenged because of a perception that environmentalism is a pragmatic solution to purely scientifically-defined problems, and a belief that it can be answered in purely scientific terms. This encourages a sense of passivity, a sense of ‘leave it to the experts’.
A longer version of the argument is on this blog, here.
Shortly after the Royal Society announced it was to revise its advice on climate change, it announced [PDF]:
The Royal Society is undertaking a major study to investigate how population variables will affect and be affected by economies, environments, societies and cultures over the next forty years and beyond. The aims of the study are to provide policy guidance to decision makers and inform interested members of the public based on a dispassionate assessment of the best available evidence. The scope of the study will be global but it will explicitly acknowledge regional variations in population dynamics and the impact of policy interventions. We aim to complete the project by early 2012.
The timing is no accident. The character of the public discussion of environmental issues is changing. While it is welcome that there has been a marginally more sober reflection on the climate, there is little to celebrate. The scientific academy has sensed that it in today’s world, it wields political power. As the call for evidencesuggests, the Royal Society has already decided that population is a problem, and the size of the population ought to be managed by political power, not by the individuals it consists of.
We invite feedback on the following questions. [… ]
- What scientific evidence is available to show how fertility, mortality, migration, ageing and urbanisation will affect or be affected by population levels and rates of change, at both regional and global levels, over the next forty years and beyond?
- How fertility, mortality, migration, ageing and urbanisation are influenced by and influence environments, economies, societies and cultures?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of different population modelling methodologies?
- What are the key interconnections among population change, environments, economies, societies and cultures? How do these relate to any of the examples listed in the second bullet point of the terms of reference above?
- What are the key linkages among population, technology and consumption.
- What are the best (or worst) examples of how policy has been effective in managing population changes?
- What other issues should our study addresses?
The implication of these question is the same idea that operated at the core of the RS’s climate perspective. The idea of our dependence on ecosystems is still the premise of its neomalthusianism. The climate story emphasised the damage that climate change would do to these systems, resulting in calamity. A weaker form of the same climate story serves as an adjunct to the population story. Neomalthusians can now acknowledge the uncertainty of the climate science, but make the claim that the degree to which climate change is certain is a function of population. The more people, the greater the possibility that climate change is a problem. Climate change has been the principal narrative which connected human society to the natural world, but now population has become the ‘master’ issue. It connects fears about biodiversity, climate change, resource-depletion, pollution, and so on. We can jump up and down with joy when climate science is shown to have been exaggerated by politicians, or is embarrassed by the excesses of a researcher. But it won’t have been the result of attempts to understand the phenomenon of environmentalism, and environmentalists will simply regroup under the population issue, as we predicted they would.
The Royal Society has finally published its report on population, ‘People and planet‘.
This project was a major study investigating the links between global population and consumption, and the implications for a finite planet.
The final report People and the Planet was published on 26 April 2012.
Rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and wellbeing, and the natural environment.
The combination of these factors is likely to have far reaching and long-lasting consequences for our finite planet and will impact on future generations as well as our own. These impacts raise serious concerns and challenge us to consider the relationship between people and the planet. It is not surprising then, that debates about population have tended to inspire controversy.
This report is offered, not as a definitive statement on these complex topics, but as an overview of the impacts of human population and consumption on the planet. It raises questions about how best to seize the opportunities that changes in population could bring – and how to avoid the most harmful impacts.
The aims of the study were to provide policy guidance to decision makers and inform interested members of the public based on a dispassionate assessment of the best available evidence. The scope of the study was global. It explicitly acknowledged regional variations in population dynamics, and the inequality that exists in consumption patterns around the world.
The report concludes with several key recommendations:
1. The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
2. The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.
Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.
3. Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.
So when did inequality, poverty, reproductive rights, and the issue of what levels of material wealth people should be entitled to become matters of ‘science’?
(It’s a rhetorical question).
As discussed previously — follow the links to the articles above — the Royal Society’s sideways step from climate alarmism to Malthusianism is also a step backwards. Before climate change became the dominant narrative of political environmentalism, the principle issues were ‘limits to growth’ and ‘the population bomb’. Those vehicles failed to give the environmentalists’ political project the profile it needed. Malthusianism was, in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, too easily rebutted. And in the dark days of the cold war, we seemed to have bigger problems to face. The end of the cold war arrived, and the brief era of optimism ended with climate change. It filled the nuclear-winter-shaped hole. But now there is widespread acknowledgement that climate change has been over-stated, the institutions which have sought to attach themselves to the issue have had to find a new story. And the new story is an old story. The Royal Society’s report is not at all ashamed of its origins in the work of Malthus…
The relationship between population growth and economic development has long been debated. Malthus in the 18th century was interested in the economic effects of rapid population growth and the relationship with the capacity of the earth to sustain it. These concerns resurfaced in the middle of the 20th century when it became clear that an era of unprecedented, rapid increase in the populations of the developing countries had started. Since Malthus, other authors have highlighted the potentially negative impact of continued population growth (eg Coale and Hoover 1958; Ehrlich 1968, 2008; Turner 2009) while others have argued that technological advance and institutional development could counter negative effects of rapid population growth on development (Kuznets 1967; Boserup 1981; Simon 1981). It is clear from this debate that economic development and the demographic transition are linked in complicated and reciprocal ways, and that different challenges and opportunities are presented at different stages of the transition.
In terms of the effect of population factors on economic growth the common view is that rapidly increasing populations have a negative effect on economic growth and employment, due to declines in natural resources and other forms of capital per head. The nature of the relationship between population growth and economic growth will depend on the rate of population growth; a slow population growth rate, of say 1% per annum might have an advantage over a negative growth rate, whilst higher growth rates, of say 2% or more, are unlikely to have a positive impact on economic growth. The rate of capital accumulation is also important; without major accumulation of capital per capita, no major economy has or is likely to make the low-to middle-income transition. Though not sufficient, capital accumulation for growth is absolutely essential to economic growth (Turner 2009).
It can be no coincidence then, that Paul Ehrlich was made a fellow of the Royal Society last week. The Royal Society has embraced Malthus, just as it has embraced the malthusian.
And in doing so, the Royal Society abandons its claim to be a scientific authority. It has embraced a particular ideology… a nasty, anti-human perspective on the world. It can no longer say Nullius in Verba (on the word of no one). It’s perspective is no longer fixed on the material world. The object of its ‘science’ is now the human world, and control over it.
And it took just minutes after the publication of the report for the environmental alarmists to seize the opportunity.
Earth faces a century of disasters, report warns
Economic and environmental catastrophes unavoidable unless rich countries cut consumption and global population stabilises
It’s John Vadal, in the Guardian, of course.
World population needs to be stabilised quickly and high consumption in rich countries rapidly reduced to avoid “a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills”, warns a major report from the Royal Society.
Contraception must be offered to all women who want it and consumption cut to reduce inequality, says the study published on Thursday, which was chaired by Nobel prize-winning biologist Sir John Sulston.
The assessment of humanity’s prospects in the next 100 years, which has taken 21 months to complete, argues strongly that to achieve long and healthy lives for all 9 billion people expected to be living in 2050, the twin issues of population and consumption must pushed to the top of political and economic agendas. Both issues have been largely ignored by politicians and played down by environment and development groups for 20 years, the report says.
The authors declined to put a figure on sustainable population, saying it depended on lifestyle choices and consumption. But they warned that without urgent action humanity would be in deep trouble. “The pressure on a finite planet will make us radically change human activity”, said Pretty.
“The planet has sufficient resources to sustain 9 billion, but we can only ensure a sustainable future for all if we address grossly unequal levels of consumption. Fairly redistributing the lion’s share of the earth’s resources consumed by the richest 10% would bring development so that infant mortality rates are reduced, many more people are educated and women are empowered to determine their family size – all of which will bring down birth rates”, said an Oxfam spokeswoman.
There are perfectly good arguments for equality, for access to contraception, and for many other things which offer the possibility — albeit contested — of improving the lives of humans. But not in this report. Not in Vidal’s articles in the Guardian. And not from Oxfam, either. None of these organisations and individuals can make an argument for anything progressive while they pretend that it is ‘science’ which is speaking, and not them. Science has nothing to say about the rights and wrongs of inequality, the rights of women, and the material entitlements of people. And only a fool could think that science could make such an argument. The plight of poor people, and people who live without the freedom to determine their own future are not the concern of people who hide their politics behind ‘science’. In their narrative, the Royal Society make instrumental use of the poor, to make a political argument for their own ends. Just as Malthus did.
Bravo! This is awesome.
Exactly. Reading the extracts you quote, punctured with those little brackets containing name and date, like a badge sewn on a prisoner’s uniform, is enough to make you weep for the fate of Western civillisation.
The problem is not that these guys know nothing about demography, sociology, economics,etc. They know nothing about intellectual activity, period. Two centuries of Enlightment thought has passed them by. There’s not an ounce of genuine reflection gone into this. Do they really think that puncturing their paragraphs of well-meaning blather with “(Ehrlich, 1968)” transforms it into a reasoned argument? Do they not see that the problem with their reasoning is that proper human beings don’t act like that? We have ideas and we exchange them in the maelstrom of our infinitely complex and fascinating world. We don’t form a committee to hand out homilies to the planet from on high. Only nutters in Napoleonic hats do that.
Actually, maybe we do, as a sign that we are totally irrelevant. This sounds like the last-gasp prophesy from some oracle dedicated to a god no-one believes in any more. (“Pass the entrails Alice, I think Im going to be extispic” ).
I have one question for Sir John Sulston: “Do you really think that having a Nobel Prize entitles you to be such a boring boring boring little man?”
My apologies to Sir John Sulston for my rudeness. I’ve just followed the link from the Vidal article to an article about Sir John which starts like this
Now that’s interesting. Sir John and his colleague Bob have gone up in my estimation. (My particular thing is drawing muscular women in exotic minimalist costumes – when I’m not sorting out the world’s problems of course)
This is no step “backwards”. This is a step away from science.
Pity the civilization whose “best brains” spend their time telling others what’s not possible. It’s like if every time one had a scratch or a run, a doctor would come around to say one’s going to die
Leo Hickman is consulting his readers about the RS report at
He quotes a French report by “French national agencies” which supports the Royal Society’s demand that we cut back on consumption. He doesn’t mention that they are agricultural agencies, defending the good old French way of food production: – inefficient agriculture protected by absurdly restrictive EU rules.
The French report says, among other things: “food scientists will need to organise globally, as climate scientists have done” – meaning higher food prices to match the higher fuel prices.
Science as an organised attack on the poor.
People like John Sulston and John Vidal are always SO enthusiastic about reducing OTHER PEOPLE’s consumption and re-distributing OTHER PEOPLE’s wealth.
If they lived very modestly and gave away most of what they earned themselves, they might deserve an audience. Until then, they can fuck off.
The Royal Society must have been heartened by this story in Nyasa Times yesterday:
The funeral of a corrupt and autocratic president was marked by a massive increase in the sale of condoms and the resumption of British fertilizer subsidies: fewer births resulting from the exequial sex marathon and more food for those now living.
The only thing the RS might not have liked is that Malawians bought their own condoms on their own initiative rather than being handed them from on high by
their colonialist mastersthe international community.
When did The Royal Society (They really don’t deserve the Royal part anymore) become a part of FoE, WWF and Greenpeace? more activist in ‘The Cause’ than scientific in their understanding.
I’d be quite happy to reduce my (modest) consumption if I thought it would be universal. However, I know that it is only the poor and middle class who would be ‘reduced’ to poverty.
Alarmists agonize over the future of ‘our’ grandchildren re AGW. Well, I have two and I do not intend encouraging them to become ‘global serfs’ for rich multinationals/internationals/non nationals.
I am reminded increasingly of Conrad’s description of Kurtz (Heart of Darkness) as one who had ‘kicked himself free of the earth’. He came to a bad end as I recall.
I had the accidental privilege of making the first comment on the Guardians comment thread. It was a one-liner along the lines that this was proof positive of the Royal Society’s descent into a political advocacy group and that it should be discouraged.
It was of course moderated out of existence at once. The Guardian abandoned any vestiges of impartiality a long time ago. It has now, it would seem, abandoned fair debate!
The comfort is that this smacks of desperation.
The Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, and the United Nations have probably been actively involved in the events leading to Climategate since at least 1946.
The following events suggest purposeful misinformation on the energy source that creates elements and sustains life and Earth’s constantly changing climate after Hiroshima was destroyed on 6 Aug 1945:
When Hiroshima was consumed by “nuclear fires”, world leaders were apparently driven by fear and the instinct of survival to:
_a.) Unite Nations, and
_b.) Hide the source of energy that ignites “nuclear fire”.
1940: Fred Hoyle et al. all believe the Sun is mostly Iron*
1945: Hiroshima vanished because E = mc^2: 6 Aug 1945
1945: United Nations Charter is ratified: October 24, 1945
1946: Solar interior changed: Iron (Fe) into Hydrogen (H)*
1946: F. Hoyle, Monthly Notices Royal Astron Soc 106, 255*
1946: F. Hoyle, Monthly Notices Royal Astron Soc 106, 343*
1956: Publication “Earth’s natural nuclear fires” blocked
1957: B2FH publish the bible on element synthesis in stars**
1965: PD Jose, “Solar motion, sunspots” Astron J 70, 193***
1967: The Bilderberg standard model of Sun is formulated****
1975: Evidence of local element synthesis in Sun is ignored
____ “The case for local synthesis of the chemical elements”
____ Trans. Missouri Acadamy Sciences 9, 104-122 (1975)
1977: The scientist that reports the pulsar Sun vanishes
____ Nature 270, 159-160 (1977) http://tinyurl.com/l36r6j
1983: SW evidence of iron (Fe)-rich solar interior reported
____ LPSC abstract 1232 http://db.tt/BNB6bnp
1983: Meteorite studies discredit superheavy element fission
____ LPSC abstracts 1221 and 1436
1983: Solar wind analyses confirm 1940 Iron-Sun of Hoyle et al.
____ “Solar abundances of elements” Meteoritics 18, 209-222 (1983)
1983: Nature predicts the demise of established solar dogmas
____ Nature 303, 286 (26 May 1983)
1985: Seismic evidence of (Fe)-rich solar interior ignored
____ Sun’s iron-like core, Astron. Astrophys. 149, 65-72 (1985)
1986: Challenger disaster delays Iron-Sun confirmation*****
1989: Government tries to discredit cold fusion discovery
1993: Possibility of nuclear reactor reported in Earth core
1995: NASA hides Jupiter data that confirms Iron (Fe) Sun
1998: CSPAN records belated release of Jupiter data******
2001: Neutron repulsion solves the solar neutrino puzzle
2001: 178 SNO scientists report solar neutrino oscillation
2001: World Trade Center attack reunites nations: 9/11/01
____ World Trade Center History http://tinyurl.com/76j9fyd
2005: Data from 1957 B2FH paper confirm Fe-Sun*******
2008: Nature assigns credit for natural reactors to others
____ Nature online 15 May 2008 http://tinyurl.com/4kcxltm
2009: Climategate emails and documents show deception
2012: Dr. Peter Gleick’s actions confirm AGU/NAS at work
For more details: http://omanuel.wordpress.com/about/#comment-31
Always need plenty of people around to do all the work otherwise ….
Is there a single scientist in the 20th century who was more wrong about more things than Paul Ehrlich? Apparently, your Royal Society is now a religious organization, granting sainthood rather than scientific honours.
Let’s not confuse John Vidal with other more famous Vidals, e.g. Gore Vidal (i.e. the use of the term Vidal is ambiguous).
“…the anti-human and unscientific premise of our dependence on the natural world.
Are you suggesting that a premise that humankind is dependent upon the natural world is false? –that
humankind can manage on our own without the natural world?
Sir John Sulston was interviewed this morning on BBC’s Today programme. Most of this will disappear from iPlayer after a few days (they’re not archiving as much as they used to); however, I’ve knocked together a transcript of the entire thing:
Sir John: “I mean, we’re told to compete for growth, that means to compete for shopping. It means we’re supposed to buy more clothes and throw the perfectly good ones away. And so on, and so on. If we priced the material in those clothes properly, then we would not renew them so often; we would make better use of our resources.”
Maybe someone better versed than me in economics could comment?
The Call for Evidence linked by Ben above defined the scope of the report as the interconnection of population change with economics, food security, conflict, health, human rights, natural resources, education – the whole of human activity in other words.
If you look at Alex Cull’s transcript (many thanks Alex!) of the BBC report, this comes down to university professors telling us:
Not surprising, given that the Call for Evidence aready identified CO2 as a pollutant. Either they, or the BBC, have left out all of human activity except the production of CO2.
The other concern voiced was the gap between rich and poor. Ben reproduced an excellent Wikipaedia graph a while back demonstrating how the gap is narrowing – with Western economies growing at 1%, African countries at 4-5%, and China at 8-10%. It’s happening. The dream of egalitarians like Sir Paul Nurse and Sir John Sulston is coming true, but no-one’s told them.
Are you suggesting that a premise that humankind is dependent upon the natural world is false? –that
humankind can manage on our own without the natural world?
Yes, I would deny both these claims. At least in the sense that “natural” means as nature originally provided.
Not a single food I eat resembles the natural original (ever seen a natural wheat plant?). I am dressed in fabrics that either have no natural antecedents (polyester, nylon, elastane) or are nothing like the original (try and find a wild cotton plant!). I drive a rather non-natural car. Actually the fuel is natural, but I doubt that that really counts. I amuse myself with the computer, television and stereo. I live in a house made of of some wood, true, but it could just as easily be steel and aluminium.
Humans live in a world that they have utterly transformed from the original. It’s useless to deny this. It’s also useless to hope that we could somehow recreate the original form of life. That would mean living in caves and not even using horses (because really natural horses are about 150 cm high and not much use to anyone) let alone engines.
That we’ve transformed the world is an unavoidable fact. Let us keep transforming it to make it better. Let’s not somehow deify “nature” as some mystic force that we must protect.
The Guardian will have an interview with Sir John Sulston in their next science podcast, and they provide an excerpt here:
There’s also an interview with Paul Ehrlich, which is described with masterly understatement as “not an uplifting read”. John Vidal asks him whether the things he predicted 40 years ago have come to pass, and he responds: “most of the things have gotten worse… The things that have been coming up have been much worse than we predicted, and that’s what’s got the scientific community scared.”
Tornadoes and floods and droughts, oh my! Here’s my favourite bit so far (off to work now, so haven’t had time to listen to all of it):
Yesterday Hickman put up an extract from an audio interview of Sir John Sulston in which the inteviewer John Vidal puts to Sir John some points made by Matt Ridley. Ridley replied immediately, pointing out that Vidal’s quotes are made up. Here, as an example of Sir John’s thought processes, is Sir John’s reply to what Matt Ridley never said: No, well, I mean, obviously Matt’s book, “A Rational Optimist” is very much along these lines. I mean, I think, I mean obviously there are points in there, but the thing is, optimism alone is not enough. I think he’s not a rational optimist personally, I think as he lays out his programme, he’s an irrational optimist, because he’s saying Ah! you know, people and the market will take care of everything. I don’t think that for a moment. I mean, after all, I mean, if you look at the history of the financial services of this country, which Matt was involved for a while, you can see very clearly that we need regulation in order to have an equable life. We know that this recession was engendered through financial services that were not adequately regulated. We take it for granted that we regulate important things. One of my favourite little anecdotes for example is air traffic control. It’s taken for granted by everybody, even Matt Ridley, that you control where aeroplanes fly. Isn’t that an enormous infringement of his human rights to fly his aeroplane wherever he wants? No, people accept because it’s pretty bad when aeroplanes collide, it’s sort of certain death. You know that’s a sort of an easy one to sort of agree on. What’s more difficult is to get agreement on the slow-burning long-term issues, the ones we’re talking about, where we can see problems down the line, but actually not in his lifetime or mine probably, you know, not the real bad crash. We’re looking at what will be for our children children’s children.
From a review of events over the past sixty-six years (2012-1946 = 66 yr), it appears that the fear of “nuclear fires” consuming Hiroshima on 6 Aug 1945 compelled world leaders to immediately:
a.) Unite Nations, and in the future to
b.) Hide Information on energy that ignites “nuclear fire”
The UK’s Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, the United Nations and the Noble Prize Committee seem to have worked together to discredit reliable new information on:
1. “Natural nuclear fires” on Earth in 1956
2. “Nuclear fire” in the Sun in 1975, . . 2005
3. “Slow nuclear fires” in cold fusion in 1989
4. “Natural nuclear fires” in planetary cores
The rest of the story, as I see it, is documented here:
Since 1946, almost every major field of science has been compromised: Astronomy, astrophysics, atomic physics cosmology, climatology, nuclear, particle, planetary, and solar physics.
I encourage you all to respond there so we can benefit from the diversity of opinions.
Thanks to real scientists, skeptics like you,
All is well today,
Oliver K. Manuel
Emeritus Professor of
Nuclear & Space Science
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Anyone who is worried about the Earth’s finite resources should read this:
I can’t see it happening soon, but using currently available technology, it is possible to mine asteroids.
Here’s the full transcript of John Vidal interviewing Paul Ehrlich, everybody’s favourite arch-Malthusian and new Fellow of the RS:
@Black Briton – excellent news. Game on, hopefully.
If you want to have a battery-chicken world, where everybody has minimum space, minimum food, just kept alive, then you might be able to support, in the long term, four or five billion people. But we’ve already got seven.
Battery chickens aren’t kept in small spaces because of a general lack of space. They are kept in small spaces for the convenience of the farmer.
The densest portions of the world include places Monaco that are perfectly lovely. It is possible for humans to live with very small ground area provided the money is available to build up. So we get places like Singapore and Hong Kong, which are ridiculously crowded – but where most of the poor live better than in rural Asia. Basic amenities trump space every time.
Of all the stupid reasons to limit human population, lack of space has to be pretty much the stupidest. I have to ask: is Ehrlich the stupidest clever person on the planet?
Paul Ehrlich: The big issue, which the scientists looking at this have all been concerned about, is – we’re going to go over the top. We’re going to continue to grow for a while, until a disaster hits, and the issue is: can we actually go over the top and begin shrinking without a disaster.
John Vidal: When you say “disaster”, what do you mean?
Paul Ehrlich: A world-wide plague that kills off three or four billion people. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, which would do the same. Something like that, we want to avoid.
How would reducing population prevent India and Pakistan from going to nuclear war?
How would reducing population prevent the emergence of some killer virus?
The man is deranged in his desire to link any possible disaster with Malthusian problems, no matter how unrelated.
Mooloo asks: “is Ehrlich the stupidest clever person on the planet?”
This is a title awarded by popular acclaim. You get elected to it, like being made a Fellow of the Royal Society. The only difference between Ehrlich and the guy in Oxford Street with his trousers held up with string and an “End-is-Nigh” placard is the popular support for the one and the derision that greets the other.
I was one of those worried adolescents in the 70s who spent too much time reading the likes of Ehrlich and the Club of Rome, instead of listening to the Rolling Stones. So, apparently, were the Fellows of the Royal Society. Some of us grow up and take a look at the world around us. Others become scientists, win Nobel prizes, and remain eternally impervious to empirical evidence.
Many thanks to Alex for the transcript. I’ll transcribe Vidal’s interview with Sir John Sulston, which is still advertised as going up on the Guardian’s site tomorrow, despite the fact that Vidal apparently lied to Sulston about Ridley’s comments on Sulston’s report, making nonsense of Sulston’s replies.
Mooloo: “How would reducing population prevent India and Pakistan from going to nuclear war?”
I wonder how many neo-Malthusians are also white supremacists who want to return the global population distribution circa 1900, when white people were an anomalously large proportion of the world’s population (due to medical advances that had not yet spread to the non-white countries)?
The Nuclear Green Revolution: The Club of Rome Faces the Yellow Peril
“I wonder how many neo-Malthusians are also white suprematists…”
None of them. Look at the names on the working group on p5 or the RS report, and you’ll see that they’ve done everything possible to make the authorship inclusive, with scientists from every continent.
The population part is probably reliable. Many scientists must envy demographers their ability to tell the future. There’s no mystery about this. Having babies is one of the few things you can be pretty sure the human race will do, and good statistical data is available for 100+ countries. This enables demographers to see into the future a few decades with a certain success. No other social scientists can do this, and I expect the lamentable failure of climate scientists is what has persuaded the Royal Society to turn their attention to the only corner of social science which politicians might find useful.
There’s a strong egalitarian streak to the current Royal Society (the current and the last presidents both describe their politics as Old Labour). Nothing wrong with that, but when the government wakes up to the fact that the RS is acting as a taxpayer-financed Think Tank to Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas, the RS may find itself in trouble.
It’s raining again so I’ve been reading some old articles by George Monbiot (it’s either that or get drunk), including one from New Year’s Eve 2002 in which he argued that, because population growth, increasing consumerism and the ‘finity’ of natural resources threatened the survival of humanity, people should stop buying knickers at Brent Cross shopping centre. He supported this argument with facts and predictions, most of which were clearly pants.
For example, he said that ‘[w]ithin five or ten years, the global consumption of oil is likely to outstrip supply’: a clear impossibility. Perhaps he meant that demand would outstrip supply but, if so, that would hardly be news. Demand has regularly outstripped supply since the days when oil was made out of whales, if not earlier. Or perhaps he was talking about peak oil. Did that arrive between 2007 and 2012? Er, no.
He also said that ‘phosphate reserves are likely to be exhausted within 80 years’. Er, no. He probably got that by doing an inappropriate sum using contemporary FAO data. (The recent RS report got things similarly, if less specifically, wrong. See Tim Worstall’s article in the Telegraph for a link to estimates of current phosphorus usage, reserves and resources; google with ‘Van Kauwenbergh’ for other recent estimates.)
But the 2002 article was written before Monbiot had discovered footnotes and I have been unable to source two of his factoids.
1: If we take into account such factors as pollution and the depletion of natural capital, we see that the quality of life peaked in the United Kingdom in 1974 and in the United States in 1968, and has been falling ever since. We are going backwards.
Such certainty and (undefined) precision! Does anyone know where he got 1968 and 1974 from? The source was probably well-known at the time, else he would surely have explained his assertions.
2: The laws of thermodynamics impose inherent limits upon biological production.
Something to do with insolation?
(I miss the old Moonbat. He was great entertainment. The current Monbiot incarnation says he’s an ‘unreconstructed idealist’, but he’s not. He has become increasingly thoughtful and pragmatic over the last decade. He’s still wrong about some things, but in a way that commands increasing smidgens of respect, and sometimes he’s even right. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see him as a figure of fun. Ho hum. Where are the guaranteed duffers of yesteryear? There’s still Al Gore, I suppose …)
Some commenters have interpreted the new emphasis on population and consumption as a realisation on the part of the catastrophists that they’ve lost the argument on climate, and are therefore changing tack.
Not so, as can be seen in the audio presentation by Sir John Sulston, author of the RS report at
After some introductory words, emphasising the international nature of the report, Sir John says:
Climate is still central to the programme. The Royal Society has simply piled unsubstantiated worries about population and “well-being” on to the unsubstantiated worries about CO2 and global warming. It cant be said often enough, that Sir John’s “science” is logically dependent on Leo HIckman wetting himself every week in the environment pages of the Guardian. “Well-being” is the new polar bear, and it’s all about what’s going on in the heads of Hickman and Sir John Sulston.
John Vidal’s audio interview with Sir John Sulston is now available at
(starting 32 minutes in). I’m transcribing it for Alex Cull’s mytranscriptbox site.
Sir John starts his “quick run-down of the report” like this:
The fairest thing we can say is that Sir John is deeply confused.
John Vidal’s questions seem designed to prove George Carty right about white suprematists. His voice is strikingly similar to Prince Charles’s. Could it come from spending his life travelling the world tallking to natives?
Some commenters have interpreted the new emphasis on population and consumption as a realisation on the part of the catastrophists that they’ve lost the argument on climate, and are therefore changing tack.
Not so, as can be seen in the audio presentation by Sir John Sulston,
They’re not abandoning it, so much as a de-emphasizing it. Whereas before, climate would take center stage, it is now one of several ills blamed on supposed human overpopulation. Many have (not nearly all) indeed realized the political conversation on climate is lost and are falling back on their real primary motivation. The realization itself is mostly emotional rather than rational and is resulting in poorly thought out and uncoordinated messages (the green movement seems to increasingly be in a state of intellectual chaos right now).
As an aside, what exactly do overpopulation prophets expect us to do? Even if the entire world adopted a one child policy, the population would increase for some time out of sheer demographic inertia.
Just to say the transcript of the Guardian interview with Sir John Sulston is now available, and many thanks to Geoff for this:
Here’s how the conversation ends:
He was also on BBC Radio 4 Any Questions at the weekend (h/t Alice Bell on one of the Guardian threads):
“it’s democracy against bureaucracy” Why is it that, the right has my voice? UKIP to me is akin to the BNP. Like American talk radio – so stupid. How do we come to a world where the only sensible words are those of the ‘right’? It’s disgusting!
Lewis – How do we come to a world where the only sensible words are those of the ‘right’?
It’s easier if you abandon the old geometry of left and right.
Another clue is in Hanan’s abilities. Clearly he is a man who takes his moral, political and historical ideas seriously, contra the predominant mode of voices on the left, who seem to eschew philosophical coherence, historical insight and a commitment to debate in favour of simple moral categories, delivered in high pitched tones. I can’t think of any person of that calibre on the mainstream ‘left’. There simply is no ‘left’ left. It’s exited the library, to hang out at occupy protests, its brains vacant. But there aren’t many like Hanan on the ‘right’, either.
You can agree with Hanan about the centralisation of power in supranational organisations while disagreeing with him about economics. The mainstream left might well object. But then, so would much of the right, if it is represented by Hanan’s own party.
What do you think UKIP and the BNP have in common Lewis? The main commonality I see is Islamophobia…
“Science has nothing to say about the rights and wrongs of inequality, the rights of women, and the material entitlements of people. And only a fool could think that science could make such an argument.”
Maybe not hard sciences but these are topics that are highly discussed and written about in social science literature. I suppose we could ignore social sciences, but we would not get far without economics, history, or law among other things. I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that these sciences were pretty important tools for understanding human beings, seeing as how we are social animals.
Chris: – …not hard sciences but these are topics that are highly discussed and written about in social science literature
The post is pretty obviously talking about the material sciences. And only someone who took no care to read the post properly, or any of the blog at all, could blunder into the point you have made here.
The Guardian is back on the population bandwagon again, with its theatre critic leading the charge
Ian Jack has been to see Ten Billion, a one man show at the Royal Court written by and starring Stephen Emmott.
This is interesting, because it demonstrates how our intellectual élite think. They gather facts from the likes of George Monbiot, and link them together, then shit themselves.
Population growth hasn’t replaced global warming as the fad of the moment. It’s been added on, in order to customise it for this year’s dinner party conversations. The problem is not the people themselves, (that would be so old-hat, so Malthusian) but rather that “food production already accounts for 30% of greenhouse gases”.
Two things about the article disturbed me. The first is the quality of the comments. On a normal climate change thread, sceptics pick up 4 or 5 times more recommendations than warmists. Not so when the subject is population, where the recommends go to finger-licking references to Mayan prophesies and the advantages of nuclear war.
The second is illustrated in two of Ian Jacks off hand comments (apologies for the punctuation)
There are small signs that the Greens are getting frustrated, and frustrated people can turn nasty, at least in their fantasy life.
It’s interesting to read some of the reviews for Ten Billion. Apparently, the show is a sellout, although at around 90 seats, the Royal Court Theatre is rather on the small side (for comparison, the London Coliseum has over 2,000 seats.)
Some critics think it’s good, some question whether it’s effective as theatre, none (that I’ve read so far) have questioned whether any or all of it is actually true or accurate. As far as they are concerned, this is a real scientist standing in front of them, delivering the facts; it would be bad manners, at the very least, to start quibbling over any of it.
Andrzej Lukowski, for instance, writes in Time Out:
But this message, in one form or another, has already been back and forth across the globe countless times over the last half century. Surely the reason this particular recital of the Neo-Malthusian litany is successful is precisely because it is in front of a select audience in a tiny venue. As soon as the message strays outside its natural habitat, people (except for bureaucrats and activists) tend to ignore it, laugh at it or start to ask inconvenient and awkward questions. Ten trillion litres of water? Really? What are you basing that on, exactly? Etc.
Which is clearly the wrong frame of mind, the correct attitude being reverence – mixed with a deep existential dread.
More reviews of Ten Billion…
(Apologies, by the way, for the runaway italics in the previous comment. Usually it’s the blockquotes that I mess up, this time it was the italics.)
Theo Bosanquet writes cheerfully in Whats On Stage:
Fiona Mountford, writing in the Evening Standard:
28 billion in 2100?
I don’t think demographer Dr. Joseph Chamie (former director of the United Nations Population Division) would agree with that figure. Here’s an article worth reading:
Blogger Tim Worstall also makes an eloquent counter argument:
Away from the theatre spotlights, the famous “elephant in the room” is beginning to look strangely mouse-like.
The Observer’s Science editor Robin McKie has a review of Ten Billion today. He plagiarises Ian Jack’s review in the Guardian, repeating the stuff about military men in the audience and of course quotes Emmott’s famous line “we’re fucked”, a line which McKie had already quoted in an interview with Emmott last month.
Every review I’ve seen repeats the “we’re fucked” mantra. Could it be that our ruling class is destroying our civilisation because of their unacknowledged passive homosexual fantasies? Do Oxford professors and London science correspondents secretly dream of being buggered by strong men in uniform? Can’t they get over it and leave us to emit our invisible trace gasses in peace?
Sod the lot of them.
McKie has some good one liners though.When you are trying to outline the impact of swelling populations, rising middle-class aspirations, increases in carbon dioxide outputs and melting icecaps, the issues of character and narrative can get confused. Ten Billion succeeded by simply avoiding them. There is no action.
Thought so. It’s not real. It’s a confusion of rising middle class aspirations and melting ice caps. Ten Billion succeeds by avoiding the issues. There is no action. It’s a wankfest for Guardian readers.
There’s more. Alex takes heart from the fact that there are only 90 seats in the theatre. But McKie reports that Emmott “has been besieged with offers from TV companies and documentary makers who want to put his work on screen. We have not seen the last of Ten Billion, it would seem”.
McKie thinks the show works because: “there are no Paxmans to quibble over details and no climate gainsayers to make arcane or inaccurate objections. And that is the real lesson of Ten Billion. Without the clamorous voices of climate change deniers who constantly question the minutiae of scientists’ research or cherry-pick data, Emmott has shown that it is possible to make a straightforward, telling demonstration of the dreadful problems we face. We need a lot more sober, pithy work like this.”
Think about it. This is the science correspondent of a major newspaper telling us that, in order to demonstrate the dreadful problems we face, all opposition must be silenced. Only a monologue by the voice of authority will do.
And this ten billion tons of bullshit will soon be on our tv screens.