A game of numbers, a matter of values

By Razib Khan | November 1, 2011 1:04 am

The New York Times has a article out about environmentalists who are now looking at population control again, after shying away from it. This is probably prompted by the hullabaloo over “7 billion.” This comes in the wake of a long piece, The Last Taboo, in the Lefty periodical Mother Jones.

The rationale for why environmentalists have moved away from population control is alluded to only elliptically in The New York Times piece. They make a big deal about abortion, but I don’t think this is the most terrifying issue in principle. Environmentalists tend to be on the pro-choice side of the Culture Wars anyway. To cut to the chase it is the fear of being called racist (and to be fair, racial nationalists from Madison Grant to John Tanton have synthesized ethnic concerns with genuine conservationist impulses). Only environmentalists with rock-solid credentials or a lean toward anti-humanistic Deep Ecology philosophies remained vocal about their opposition to mass immigration over the past few decades. David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club, was one such individual. And it’s no surprise that the founder of the radical Earth First movement is also an immigration restrictionist.


The logic behind environmentalist skepticism of immigration is pretty clear. Citizens of the developed world have a huge impact in comparisons to citizens of the developing world. Without immigration since 1965 the population of the United States would have already stabilized a generation ago, while today it will likely approach 400 million in the mid-21st century.

I’m much more optimistic about the medium term future than most environmentalists. Though I’m not a Panglossian, I think that science and technology will probably be able to manage to keep civilization creaking along. And when it comes to population control sometimes I wonder if the ultimate reason why we care about population control isn’t being muddled. Those who espouse a full-throated Deep Ecology ethos which is basically anti-humanistic in orientation are at least honest. People who are militant about not having children, and attempt to convert others to the cause, sometimes strike me as curious. Who exactly are they saving the world for? The people who they claim should not reproduce?

But I’m a biologist enough to understand that Malthusian conditions aren’t made up out of whole cloth. I understand the fixation upon controlling the numbers of middle class Westerners in the medium term, but observe in the plot above that the crappiest countries in the world have the highest fertilities! One thing that seems true is that a demographic transition results in a positive shift in the dependency ratio, so that economic growth and higher quality of life ensues. Nations which aren’t proceeding through the demographic transition don’t benefit from this dividend. To not put a too fine a point on it they remain shitholes for their residents, and require the resources and energy of societies which actually function to prop up. The “carbon footprint” of a Somali really isn’t a big deal. 5 million Somalis vs. 10 million Somalis makes no real difference to the planet. But it makes a huge difference to the probability of a given Somali starving or not! If you want to go Julian Simon on me I have a bet I could make with you about the relationship between Somalia’s population and its stability and per capita prosperity (at least normalized for world levels of prosperity).

The game of understanding, and shaping, human population seems to be forced into two artificial extremes. On the one hand there are absolutists for reproductive freedom who believe that to have children is a right, who also believe that food, healthcare, and housing are rights. What are rights without responsibilities? There is no honor is starving to death because your nation is too dangerous for CNN camera crews to come film large numbers of children and infants with bloated bellies, which might prompt those societies with surplus to divert it so you can live to breathe and breed another day. As for environmentalists who scold others for daring to produce more humans, often in the zeal of their proselytization they can confuse others into wondering if a world extirpated of humanity wouldn’t be their ideal. This is not the truth of the matter, after all ZPG activists aim for stabilization in large part so that the affluence and security which we take for granted might become sustainable, extending human well being and flourishing out indefinitely. Instead of one-size-fits-all maxims, what we need are case-by-case solutions for a complex world.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Demographics
MORE ABOUT: Population Growth
  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    AIDS has an entire population of low outliers on this plot. That’s pretty depressing.

  • Eurologist

    I think there is also a bit of a perception issue. I contend that environmentalists in the 40 – 80 year old range haven’t changed much, and have always had a concern for the supply of fresh water and food (these items and their transport also produce the most greenhouse gases) on a sustainable basis for a growing population.

    It is younger folks, in the 25-40 year old range who, it seems, at times have shied away from the dire underlying truth and consequences for reasons of perceived political (in-)correctness or because they truly did not understand the resource limitations, the connection to greenhouse gases and destruction of clean water resources, or blindly looked at the vast US and had no idea of the huge overpopulation in much of Africa and south Asia.

    To bring in another dimension, countries with shrinking populations face huge entitlement problems, since there is an insufficient number of people working to support retirement living and medical costs for the elderly. So, transitions have to be done reasonable slowly – but that does not help on the ecological side.

  • Darkseid

    I hate kids because were ruining the earth and and don’t need any more kids. I like animals better than people so that why I can’t stand babies and people who have children who dont have some exceptional talent or high IQ or another reason for doing so. I’m not going to kill myself to stay true to my cause as I enjoy living but I’ll continue to not care when a human dies and be sad when a cool animal does.

  • jb

    It was in the 60′s, and I was quite young, when I first started hearing people talk about population control. Middle school at least, or maybe even grade school. And my first naive thought was that if some people stop having babies and other people don’t, then the first group (us!) will disappear, and the second group will take over (and keep on having babies). I had no idea at the time what other groups might be involved, but the math seemed obvious.

    I wish I could have picked something else to be precociously right about!

  • Youngthegiant

    “Instead of one-size-fits-all maxims, what we need are case-by-case solutions for a complex world.” Razib Kahn. Well said!
    Sadly I don’t see the media taking that approach. Almost all i can hear and read these days is a blunt: Wow, 7 Billion!
    We are losing one great oportunity to discuss the world’s demographic issues

  • John Emerson

    The high fertility / high mortality nations are all small, with Rwanda dwarfing the others at 11 million, so their fertility is hardly a factor in the environmental equation.

    Often the supposed environmental argument comes down to personal whim and nimbyism, as if urban crowding were an indicator of environmental problems. It’s the city haters who create sprawl and destroy cropland.

    The one thing that’s off the table is any reduction in standard of living, even though it’s not that hard to do if you’re not near the bottom. People are so emotionally invested in high spending, and so leveraged with debt, that people making $100,000 a year think they’re poor.

    The median PPP GDP/capita nation is China. India is poorer. Mexico seems to be in the top third.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    “As for environmentalists who scold others for daring to produce more humans, often in the zeal of their proselytization they can confuse others into wondering if a world extirpated of humanity wouldn’t be their ideal. This is not the truth of the matter, after all ZPG activists aim for stabilization in large part so that the affluence and security which we take for granted might become sustainable, extending human well being and flourishing out indefinitely. Instead of one-size-fits-all maxims, what we need are case-by-case solutions for a complex world.”

    Indeed. No need to extirpate humanity. If conditioning of the Alpha young is not enough the get them on board with the program then they will be given the opportunity (after sterilization) to depart to designated islands where they will be free (within reasonable limits) to pursue whatever activities please them.

    I expect that most of the residents of our brave new world will be of Mongolian lineage as they already seem to have an inherently more conformist brain psychology than the other major races.

    The trick will be to get through the uncontrolled slinging about of thermonuclear weapons and global migrations with their concomitant religious and ethnic genocidal wars of mass destruction without a massive die off so severe that an effective and efficient new world order would be difficult to establish. (Although I do remain open to counter-arguments that a 95% reduction in the human population might actually be a necessary prerequisite to the establishment of a rational and humane social order.)

  • Darkseid

    @John Emerson – that’s got to be one of the least well thought out posts i’ve read on here. everything you said is basically wrong. don’t even know where to start with that one….

  • John Emerson

    Well, you could start out by saying what’s wrong with my post. That’s the normal way to do that kind of thing. You have two posts up so far on this thread, with zero facts and zero value added.

  • John Emerson

    Here it is in bite sized chunks:

    1. The high fertility / high mortality nations are all small with Rwanda dwarfing the others at 11 million

    2. …so their fertility is hardly a factor in the environmental equation

    3. Often the supposed environmental argument comes down to personal whim and nimbyism

    4. It’s the city haters who create sprawl and destroy cropland.

    5. The one thing that’s off the table is any reduction in standard of living

    6. ….even though it’s not that hard to do if you’re not near the bottom.

    7. People are so emotionally invested in high spending, and so leveraged with debt, that people making $100,000 a year think they’re poor.

    8. The median PPP GDP/capita nation is China.

    9. India is poorer.

    10. Mexico seems to be in the top third. [EDIT: near the bottom of the top third.]

  • Chris T

    Other than Christian fundamentalists and the Catholic Church, I don’t think many pro-natalists would disagree that poor countries like Somalia would benefit by reducing their fertility rates.

    The question of population is really one of what kind of world humanity is willing to accept. If we’re prepared to accept a wholly human managed world (ie: geoengineering), much larger populations with high standards of living are possible.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    “The question of population is really one of what kind of world humanity is willing to accept. If we’re prepared to accept a wholly human managed world (ie: geoengineering), much larger populations with high standards of living are possible.”

    If we are prepared to go to the trouble of implementing a wholly human managed world as you suggest, why on earth would we we do so in the service of much larger populations? It would make far more sense and be easier to accomplish if we kept the human race at a population of one billion or so. The overall quality of life would certainly be far higher at that level.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    Papua New Guinea at fertility of about 4 and life expectancy of about 62 is a good example of how much change be achieved in a quite undeveloped country in the absence of pitched warfare, international or civil. A stable, legitimate government can achieve a great deal.

  • Darkseid

    uh…..the high fertility nations are “hardly a factor”?? have you seen pictures of Nigeria, Bangladesh, etc……most of Africa for that matter? yeah, they *destroyed* the entire area. they push/kill off all the animals, cut all the trees down for firewood, etc. I can’t even imagine what you’re talking about. What does it matter if one person consumes little if there are so many of them they have to start eating the chimps for meat? killing all the rhinos and tigers? destroying elephant habitat? having zero environmental controls and poisoning the water supply? no?
    also, the “city haters” ….”create sprawl” and “destroy cropland”? where do you think all the resources to fuel the cities come from? and are we short on “cropland”? no.
    and wtf would i want to lower my standard of living so some other retards can have babies? i’d much rather live in a world with fewer people living awesome lives than more people living worse ones.
    the short of your argument seems to be that i should lower my standard of living because the Chinese and Indians are entitled to have 2.5 billion citizens? as if we need 1/3 of that. they’re no more right to have an insane amount of children than i am to live a pretty decent, normal life. it’s more likely the other way around.

  • John Emerson

    http://www.indexmundi.com/bangladesh/total_fertility_rate.html

    http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=bg&v=31

    I was looking at the graph. Bangla Desh is no longer in the high-fertility group. It’s somewhere in the cluster in the lower right at 2.6. The high-fertility nations are in the upper right. Nigeria should be on the graph, and if it was it would be toward the high end.

    There are other factors in Nigeria besides population, above all the oil industry and various other sorts of export trades. Much of the third world is an unregulated playground of the multinational corporations. As far as exterminating large mammals goes, that happened long ago in Europe, the US, and China. It’s not a peculiar crime of overpopulated third world nations of today.

    the short of your argument seems to be that i should lower my standard of living because the Chinese are entitled to have 2.5 billion citizens

    The Chinese are below replacement fertility at 1.54 and have been for at least 10 years. India is approaching replacement fertility.

    The statement about exiles from the city destroying cropland is a simple fact. Suburbs and exurbs are normally built in ex-farming areas. The fact that not all cropland has been destroyed is irrelevant. Cropland is lost. I’ve seen it happening.

    As I understand, you resent the overpopulated third world because you blame them for the possibility that someday you might be pressured to reduce your own consumption footprint on the world, which is far greater per capita than theirs. Remember that your consumption of third world exports counts as part of your footprint, not theirs. The whims and nimbyism comes through in your post loud and clear. Frankly, if I wanted to care to someone else’s feelings as much as you want me to care about yours, I’d just read something by Shirley Maclaine.

  • John Emerson

    “upper left”

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    Population limitation has succeeded fairly well in much of the world, but there remains a lot of work left to be done in some regions, such as Afghanistan, Haiti, and much of sub-Saharan Africa. There were ten thousand NGOs operating in Haiti even before the earthquake, for example, but I could find almost no references on Google to any providing free Depo-Provera shots to poor women looking for mid-term birth control. Presumably some do, but they don’t publicize it much for fear of being denounced as racist.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    The issue that almost never ever gets raised is how mass immigration from Third World countries raises global carbon emissions. Americans emit four times as much carbon per person as Mexicans (who have an auto-centric culture much like America, with cheaper gasoline prices) and ten times as much as Central Americans. So, if an immigrant assimilates economically, his carbon emissions soar. Or maybe he doesn’t assimilate economically. One thing we can be sure of is he won’t assimilate economically and choose the Prius-driving low-carbon emissions lifestyle. Toyota doesn’t even bother selling Priuses in Mexico (population 113,000,000).

  • Darkseid

    Yeah, John, you’re still not getting it. Just because you prefer higher population and lower consumption while I prefer the opposite doesn’t mean that you somehow get to be right. Wow, what a retard. What kind of person wants things to be *more* crowded with a lower standard of living instead of more room with a higher standard of living. And where did i say I don’t want third worlders to reproduce? I don’t want *anyone* to reproduce unless they have some special talent. I guess you think that you’re idiotic preference makes you correct over someone elses equal or better preference.

  • Chris T

    If we are prepared to go to the trouble of implementing a wholly human managed world as you suggest,

    It’s actually the logical endpoint of our current trajectory (barring catastrophe). The question is, do we continue or change trajectories? Can we even successfully change trajectories? (I personally doubt it.)

    why on earth would we we do so in the service of much larger populations? It would make far more sense and be easier to accomplish if we kept the human race at a population of one billion or so. The overall quality of life would certainly be far higher at that level.

    What’s your reasoning for one billion? It seems rather arbitrary. If a lower population means a higher quality of life, then why not 500 million or less?

    How are you even planning to get the population to that level?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #19, let’s tone it down please. if you guys aren’t communicating productively (i.e., not talking past each other), best to let it drop.

  • Kumars

    Population, continuing supply of food and water, energy for supporting lifestyles and growth and an environment (as clean as the people of a place want it to be I guess…) They might be all related to each other… In a way suggested here:

    Overcoming systemic roadblocks to sustainability: The evolutionary redesign of worldviews, institutions, and technologies
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2650289/

    Either way… the problems don’t seem likely to be easily wished away. There are more than enough resources on the web to figure that out, but Tom Murphy’s blog has a nice way of putting it across – http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/galactic-scale-energy/

  • Kumars

    Oh, and I was reading this report on revisiting the Limits to Growth,
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378008000435

    and it mentioned that environmentalism fell out of fashion after the 70s where a whole bunch of people got discredited after the US climbed out of an energy and economic crisis. Apparently, it became quite unpopular to express such opinions, and studies of resources and its connection with ecology allegedly left academia.

    Any insights on what the conversation is like in academia?

  • Darkseid

    Apologies, Razib. I’ll let him have the las word.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #24, remember that the way you comport yourself is something that newbies are going to take note of. if “regulars” don’t behave as gentleman it makes it a little harder for me to cuss out stupid interlopers. thanks for your understanding.

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    John Emerson – the mortality and fertility rates for all of sub-Saharan Africa are equivalent to those of Rwanda (according to the World Bank).

    SSA: TFR = 5.0; Adult Male Mort = 384/1000
    Rwanda: TRF = 5.9; Adult Male Mort = 351/1000

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    “What’s your reasoning for one billion? It seems rather arbitrary. If a lower population means a higher quality of life, then why not 500 million or less?
    How are you even planning to get the population to that level?”

    Initially I’m assuming a massive die off along the lines that have naturally occurred to other large animal populations. 500 million or less would be fine as far as I’m concerned as a stable target. The details of the size of the ideal population is certainly worthy of further research and discussion. I myself would like to see a reduction in the number of homo sapiens reach a point where the re-introduction of mega fauna over a wide range is a viable proposition.

    It would be maintained of course by education/propaganda, world government control of reproduction, and the police power of the state.

    Please consult my website for further ideas related to the subject.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    Darkseid:

    “Just because you prefer higher population and lower consumption while I prefer the opposite doesn’t mean that you somehow get to be right.

    You made specific claims which, as John pointed out, were demonstrably untrue. You even made claims that he didn’t touch–China’s population is 1.34 billion as of the 2010 census, is projected to peak around 1.5 billion in 2025, and far from reaching 2.5 billion may well drop below one billion by 2100.

    Per capita consumption is a much better metric for examining the impact of populations on environment than simple numbers.

    ziel:

    True, but Africa’s population is almost exactly a seventh of the world’s population. Africa is an outlier among different continents and world regions: its demographic patterns are barely more representative than those of Europe, and given the ongoing shift worldwide toward extended life expectancies and sub-replacement fertility arguably much less.

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    Africa like Europe? Africa’s current population is 1 billion projected to be 2 billion by 2050. Africa is loaded with youth – unlike aging Europe.

    I’m at a loss as to what you and John are arguing – that there is no population problem, nothing to worry about – particularly in the third world – and the only problem we have are middle-class white Americans in the suburbs?

  • John Emerson

    If people felt there was something wrong with my first statement, there was, because I misread the graph. But the initial response to my statement didn’t point that out and was not terribly helpful.

    With all due respect, Darkseid’s posts made it seem that the entire population problem was in the third world, specifically China and India, and he (or she) keyed the entire problem to his or her feelings and needs, with no attempt to relate population growth to the actual environmental problems it causes. It is a fact that per capita, everyone in the developed world has a much larger environmental footprint than anyone in the third world except the very few rich. One of the consequences of this is that if and when the third world develops economically, the stress on the environment will be even greater. But that’s not a population problem. It’s true whether or not third world populations are growing. (Of the nations mentioned, China is below replacement fertility, Bangla Desh is at replacement, India is approaching replacement. Nigeria is indeed a problem, and I missed that.) And when looking at environmental devastation in the third world you also have to consider the effect of the global markets for their products in addition to the local population size. The devastation caused by Nigeria’s oil industry is not in any way a function of Nigeria’s population; it would be as bad or worse if Nigeria were entirely unpopulated.

    Ziel, population growth is one aspect of the environmental problem and it is often greatly exaggerated, often enough in a way that slides into scapegoating the third world while entirely ignoring and even defending overconsumption in the developed world, or even making the maintenance of high consumption in the developed world into the goal. Apparently that’s a difficult idea to comprehend, but I don’t know why.

    And yes, middleclass white Americans in the suburbs do contribute seriously to environmental problems, even if they’re not crammed together in crowded cities and even if they recycle. And suburbanization and exurbanization do contribute to the loss of cropland.

  • Darkseid

    @Randy – i said things that were untrue? what were they? and, no, i didn’t say China I said China *and* India had 2.5 billion people. even if i were wrong it doesn’t matter as you’re also failing to grasp what i’m saying. i don’t care if the avg. Indian consumes less than I do. why would that possibly matter since they have 1.2 billion people living there and have destroyed much of the country? having fewer people consuming more is somehow worse than having many people consuming less? that is why per capita consumption is worthless – it ignores culture. that like saying a person driving a hummer is worse than someone driving a Prius that commutes 150 miles to work every day. you’re not getting it. the “per capital” argument is just a trendy SWPL apology for third world countries having WAY to many kids. apparently it’s extremely difficult to understand that China and India, for example, produce an insane amount of pollution – amongst the highest in the world. simply saying that diving it up makes it ok is insane. that’s like saying a family that has 19 kids (like the Duggars) is excused from their pollution because, if you divide it up, it’s not that bad! yeah, right. good logic. no one forced you to have kids.

  • John Emerson

    Darkseid, I think that we do grasp what you’re saying. We don’t have to agree with it. We don’t think that approaches to population and environment should be dominated by the demand that high-consumption lifestyles be maintained. As I understand, even though China has a great record in population limitation, you are offended by the very existence of large numbers of Chinese.

    And you’ve been missing the point and getting facts wrong. For example, China is not one of the high-fertility / high mortality third world countries I was talking about. It’s a low-fertility, average-mortality and densely populated.

  • ackbark

    I do believe that food, healthcare and housing are rights, but I do not believe that having children is, necessarily, a right, or at least not a primary one, because it necessarily involves someone else, the prospective child.

    You do not have responsibilities toward your rights, (which it is society’s purpose to maximize) but you do have responsibilities toward others placing a necessary limit on your action toward them including your action in bringing them into being, and society collectively has a similar necessary direct interest, a right, of maximizing it’s self-maintenance capacities where too many citizens can be a serious drawback.

    So I would say that your right, to the extent that it exists, of having children is limited in that way.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    “We don’t think that approaches to population and environment should be dominated by the demand that high-consumption lifestyles be maintained.”

    Quite right. Once we have rightsized the number of homo sapiens at several hundred millions or so there is absolutely no reason not to eliminate the automobile (except for the minimal number of trucks and emergency vehicles such as helicopters necessary for the transportation of injured people) and perhaps the distribution of farm produce and spare parts. Intercity travel will be restricted to railroads of varying speeds and capacities and transoceanic travel can again revert to steamships. Aircraft can then be limited to dirigibles and rocket boosters for putting satellites into geosynchronous orbit.

    Local travel will then naturally revert to its most noble forms i.e. walking and equestrianism.

  • ElamBend

    I’d like to counter something both J. Emerson and darkseid have said or alluded to that is wrong: that the growth of suburbs in the US is both destroying country side and limiting farmland.

    It is, in fact just the opposite. The US has been consistently urbanizing for well over a century. What we see as spread out suburbs from the point of view of cities actually represents a much denser form of living compared to the historical US standards and the trend is toward even more densely packed populations.

    We are gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) abandoning the hinterslands. This is why we are seeing more wild animals in urban areas; there are not longer small holder framers and rural folk taking pot shots at them in the country.

    What most people regard as some massive loss of farmland for use as housing is a biased sample of what they can see on the way to the mall. The greatest drop in farmland in US has been due to allowing sub-optimal land to go fallow. Crop yields are actually up on the good land and some of the sub-optimal land just can no longer economically compete to new land opened up to use in Brazil.

    A century ago, 97% of Americans touched on agriculture and lived in rural areas. Now just 3% live in rural areas (75% in suburbs, which, remember are more dense than rural).

    We have become a nation of relatively dense cities, getting denser separated by large areas of wilderness, with some farming; and that trend continues.

    The very same thing is going on in Africa. For every Lagos, there are thousands of virtually abandoned villages emptied by disease and the desire for opportunity.

    I’d love to see a comparison of birthrates and rates of urbanization. I bet they correlate somewhat.

  • John Emerson

    Elambend, the various parts of your argument don’t add up.

    Yes, since agriculture needs much labor per unit of land and per unit of production than it did a century ago, a smaller proportion of the population lives in rural areas. This doesn’t significantly effect the amount of farmland available.

    Allowing sub optimal land to go fallow does reduce the acreage of farmland in use, but it doesn’t reduce the amount of farmland. Nothing is destroyed if land is fallowed.

    So the question is: when cities sprawl, and when people move from the cities to the suburbs or exurbs, do the new exurbs or suburbs reduce the amount of usable farmland? Is there good farmland which is taken permanently out of production?

    It depends a lot on where. In Albuquerque or Las Vegas, probably not. In Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Omaha, or Chicago, probably.

    There are various models and formulas which can be used to minimize the fact, but good farmland is (along with energy, water, air, and climate) one of the key variables you have to consider when considering environmental and demographic questions. The fact that it’s a rather small factor in today’s global economy is irrelevant. The kind of statistics juggling you did is irrelevant. Farmland is a finite and not very replaceable or substituteable good.

    The same is true of wilderness, which isn’t a big factor except esthetically. If one person loves the wilderness and goes to live in it, it’s a great thing for them. If 10 or 100 people do, no more wilderness. You always hurt the one you love.

  • Darkseid

    oh, good, now i’m being “quoted” by another person who claims i said something i never said. i never said that suburbs are destroying the countryside and wouldn’t care if they were. i also never said that china or india was a high fertility country and wouldn’t care even if i were wrong as they still have an insane amount of people and aren’t relevant to the center of my argument. stop redirecting the conversation to things that don’t matter or were meant to be general examples that don’t need to be discussed at all.
    i crux of the argument is basically whether you want high/low consumption and what amount of people you’d like.

  • Justin Giancola

    “that like saying a person driving a hummer is worse than someone driving a Prius that commutes 150 miles to work every day.” lol

    For a thread that was already in a heated place of predating sloppy thoughts – could you please explain this more?
    “The same is true of wilderness, which isn’t a big factor except esthetically.”

  • http://sidudoexisto.blogspot.com Jorge Laris

    That’s why i’m not going to have any children, sadly those who are to have a lot of children are too those who are more ignorant… I suppose.

  • Chris T

    sadly those who are to have a lot of children are too those who are more ignorant…

    Or they just disagree.

  • ElamBend

    John E,
    The actual amount of ‘good’ farmland being lost to sprawl is negligible to the amount of ‘good’ farmland in the country. Plus, its ‘loss’ is to a higher and better use; housing people in a tighter, more efficient manner. The point of my comment is that those who lamment the loss of farmland are putting too much emphasis on what they can see out their car window on the commute compared to the big picture. Farmland loss in NA to sprawl is insiginificant. Furthermore, all the sprawl you see is in fact denser development than what is being replaced, namely spread out rural communities. This is leading to larger and more efficient farms in the country side.

    North America is huge, and it can hold and feed, comfortably, a lot more people than most realize while leaving room for those who want rural or super rural living to do so. Just imagine everything east of the Miss going to European levels of pop density, because that’s where we’re heading.

    Also, farmland is not finite. Sometimes land that was once unfarmable becomes farmable due to technological change. Brazil’s cerrado is a great example of that. There are several other places in the world where optimal farm land is not being used well. Loss of farmland to development is simply not an issue.

    @DarkSeid: You’re right, I appologize, I misread one of your comments (in response to John E). I think that the planets ever moving trend toward urbanization will creates opportunities for those who want low density high consumption lifestyles.

  • John Emerson

    “Plus, its ‘loss’ is to a higher and better use; housing people in a tighter, more efficient manner.”

    Economically higher and better at today’s prices, not environmentally higher and better in the long run. That’s a crux of the question.

    And exurbs do not house people in a tighter, more efficient manner. People living in exurbs aren’t coming in off the countryside, they’re coming out from the cities where they were more tightly housed. You’re using an unreal model.

    Farmland is finite. The finite number can be increased, but it remains finite, and it can’t be increased infinitely. This problem always comes up when talking to cornucopians, futurists, libertarians, free-marketers and economists, who generally do not work from actual models of the physical environment at all but from economic and futurological models. (That seems to have been how the Jari poroject in Brazil was planned).

    The cerrado is now 37% developed (78% if you count pastureage and charcoal burning). There are a few areas in Africa undeveloped because of war, and probably SE Asia. Whatever the amount is, it’s a finite amount. The US has a high proportion of the world’s good farmland. Many of the blank places on the map are blank for a reason. Good soil is a specific thing. Less-good soil requires more fertilizer, etc. Tropical soils are poor; once they’re cleared, you get a few years of crops and that’s it.

    The point is that when good farm land is lost for any reason, that’s a loss.

    Could you please explain this more?:
    “The same is true of wilderness, which isn’t a big factor except esthetically.”

    People who move to the wilderness because they love the wilderness make it a non-wilderness. But the wilderness isn’t a big economic factor or productive factor.

    The actual amount of ‘good’ farmland being lost to sprawl is negligible to the amount of ‘good’ farmland in the country.

    First of all, some farmland is much better than other farmland. That should be taken as a given. I don’t see any reason for your scare quotes.

    I note that you give no numbers and no links to accompany your assertion that the loss of agricultural land to sprawl is insignificant. This is not a topic I’ve studied but you give me no reason to pay much attention to your opinion.

    http://www.sprawlwatch.org/farmlands.html

  • Darkseid

    Justin – “…could you please explain this more?”

    uh….they’re both polluting a lot but people in hummers are always the ones being criticized. are you capable of understanding that?

  • Darkseid
  • Justin Giancola

    43. it was directed at john

    hmm, thanks john, but I still don’t see how the wilderness is so negligable economicly/productively, as there are probably more things reliant on it than people may realize, as far as contributing to the health of ubanized areas (air quality,wind, swarms, dust storms) and keeping nutrients from all getting washed out to sea or preventing deserts.

  • Sandgroper

    +temperature (see urban heat islands)

  • Darkseid

    my bad

  • ackbark

    #41 clearly doesn’t live in the midwest.

    The ‘negligible’ amount of farmland that is being lost is the good farmland. North Dakota is not good farmland.

  • John Emerson

    North Dakota is only good for farming, but it’s not very good farmland. Wyoming is only good for grazing, but it’s not the best grazing land. Comparative advantage. The outskirts of Chicago were great farmland. There’s an enormous difference between the best and the worst.

    Justin, I misspoke. I wasn’t really talking about devastating the wilderness, but just about making it less wild by putting in vacation homes etc. Eventually you end up with a community of people who all wish the others weren’t there. Whereas in the case of sprawl, you actually ruin cropland.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »