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Greens need to grasp the nettle: aren’t there just too many people?

Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian
Reducing consumption is imperative, but it’s pointless to cut out meat and cars while having lots of children

It’s the one issue no environmentalist organisation wants to talk about. Population. Thirty years ago, when international concern first began to mobilise about the planet’s future, it was the pre-eminent question, but now you’re hard put to get a straight answer. Does the UK need population management? Does the world need it?

This is one of those issues that is regarded by many privately as common sense but rarely gets a public airing. Of the environmental organisations I managed to contact, all acknowledged that it was frequently brought up by the public in meetings and letters. Yet all said they did not campaign on the subject and had no position on it. It seems that there is a worrying disconnect between a generally accepted consensus among those who shape the national conversation about the environment and their audiences, who either are much less certain or believe that, if the planet’s resources are being grossly depleted, there are just too many of us about.

Too many people. That is certainly the impression from studying the maps published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which chart how fast the areas of the country undisturbed by urban development, roads or other noise are disappearing. Since the 60s, whole chunks of England have been broken up into small fragments, absorbed into a dense network of towns, cities and major roads.

The maps reinforce what people experience. You try getting away from it all in England, and you are tangled in traffic jams, shoe-horned into campsites, followed by the whine of motor-bikes and the roar of traffic even up on the hills. We live in a crowded island – a truth that it has become unacceptable to acknowledge because of the unpleasant associations it brings with it.

But England is now the second most densely populated country in Europe, after Belgium, and at current rates of increase it could be second only to Bangladesh in the world by 2074.
(10 September 2007)
Important issue, but unfortunatley the discussion quickly degenerates. It’s a complicated issue, for which there are interesting new data (e.g. on declining birthrates in many countries, and on the effect of female education on fertility).

Clear thinking is needed. For example, Madeleine Bunting cites traffic jams as evidence of over-population, when the proximate cause is actually reliance on private automobiles. -BA

Interview with Professor Albert Bartlett

KMO, C-Realm Podcast
In this episode KMO concludes his talk with Professor Albert Bartlett on population, growth, energy and agriculture. After that, we hear from author Carol Ekarius about the many joys and advantages of keeping backyard chickens.
(5 September 2007)

Waves of despair
(fishery collapse in the North Sea)
Callum Roberts, The Guardian
Once they were a national treasure chest, teeming with fish and wildlife. Now the waters of the North Sea are quiet, almost dead. But it’s not too late, says Callum Roberts, to stop the fishing industry destroying itself

The North Sea viewed from a windswept Grimsby beach looks cold and uninviting. Mud-stained waves slosh fragments of seaweed, plastic bottles and shells along the Lincolnshire shoreline, while gimlet-eyed seagulls crouch on the harbour wall. It is hard to imagine the scene of 120 years ago, when Grimsby was a great Victorian seaport receiving the wealth of the North Sea from the holds of countless fishing vessels. Boats crammed the harbour, five or 10 abreast, and the quayside thronged with fishers, auctioneers, merchants and carriers. At dawn, the fishmarket floor was covered with cod and halibut so large that they were sold individually. Pods of porpoises followed boats almost into the harbour, and dolphins were regularly seen in the estuary.

Today, the once mighty cod has been humbled, the halibut are gone, and fishers concentrate their efforts on fish that were used as bait or sold to the poor in 19th-century Britain. The Humber dolphins are extinct, and few visitors are lucky enough to glimpse a porpoise. Now we consider the state of scarcity of fish and wildlife in Britain’s seas as normal, but in reality fishing has caused the progressive collapse of marine ecosystems around these islands. BBC camera crews filming the Blue Planet and Planet Earth series had to travel thousands of miles to find scenes of underwater abundance that were once commonplace around our shores.

…Commercial sea fishing spread from estuaries and coasts to the high seas and deep sea. Its development has been punctuated by a series of technological innovations, including bottom trawls in the 14th century, longlines bristling with hooks in the 16th century, steam power in the 19th century, and monofilament and sophisticated electronics in the 20th. With each new development, the reach and intensity of fishing increased, causing profound changes to life in the sea.

The roots of modern overfishing can be found in late 19th-century England, where the first steam trawlers were built in the 1880s. Trawlers drag their nets along the seabed to catch fish. Until then, the power of sailing trawlers was limited by wind and tide, and boats could only work close inshore. Steam changed the rules of fishing. Now boats could work in almost any weather, with or against the tide.
(5 September 2007)
If you overrun your resource base, infusions of energy won’t help. In fact, energy and technology made the overharvesting possible. -BA

Planet in Peril coming to CNN in October

CNN´s Planet in Peril takes viewers around the world in a two-part, four-hour documentary that examines our changing planet. This worldwide investigation looks at four key issues: climate change, vanishing habitats, disappearing species and human population growth.

To tell this story, Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and biologist Jeff Corwin traveled to some of the most remote and remarkable places on Earth. From exposing illegal wildlife trading undercover in Southeast Asia to seeing first-hand the devastating effects of deforestation in Brazil, they have gathered evidence on the unsettling changes taking place all around us.

Coming in October.
(September 2007)
Some clips and other material at About the Show.