III Publishing

The Last Days of Christ the Vampire
by J. G. Eccarius
Kindle edition at Amazon.com

Population v. Consumption Debate:
Look at Cars

March 22, 2024
by William P. Meyers

Site Search

Popular pages:

U.S. War Against Asia
Slow Motion Apocalypse
Republican Party
Natural Liberation

Denial Does Not Help

I was looking at the reader comments on a New York Times article today,When We See the Climate More Clearly, What Will We Do? As usual with this sort of article, someone brought up overpopulation as the underlying problem. As usual, other readers took issue with that, saying billions of poor people should not be blamed for the excess greenhouse gas emissions of a relative few.

Based on my long experience with liberal to lefty debate, the main argument against overpopulation as a cause of environmental destruction is the belief that arguments to restrict or discourage human births are racist. Other arguments are that seeing overpopulation as a cause is either classist or imperialist. In simple terms, a billion or two humans are at the bottom end of the consumption scales. They contribute very little to greenhouse gas emissions or other forms of pollution. Finally, there is the Eastern Mysticism, vegetarian argument that eating beef should be banned, and since cows pass gas and eat a lot of vegetables themselves, lots more people could live on this planet if they would just stop eating meat.

Note that, despite this argument, there is agreement that the world is being destroyed by human activity, notably global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

Both sides are against greenhouse gas emissions. So, that agreed upon, we have the populationist v. overpopulationist arguments. Here I want to present a litmus test, an obvious way for someone to know what is factually true, as opposed to joining a camp because of liking its ideology.

A good litmus test, I believe, is the number of cars and trucks there are in the world. It is not the only possible litmus test, but it is the only one I will discuss here.

In case you have forgotten, around the time the industrial revolution got going, in 1800, the global human population was about 1 billion. Easy to remember: 1 billion in 1800. The number of cars and trucks was zero. Coal was the main fuel of the industrial revolution in 1800. Even coal use was relatively new. In 1700 the main fuel was wood, or charcoal made from it.

Also in 1800 there was already significant ecological damage being caused by humans. Forests were being cleared for conversion to agriculture. Invasive species had begun their invasions, carried by the sailing vessels of the day. The destruction seems trivial compared to today, but remember it was not anywhere nearly as nice of a world for non-human life as it had been when the human population was even smaller. Also remember that most of the 1 billion people of 1800 were what we would now consider dirt poor.

We know that carbon dioxide emissions have been unquestionably high for decades, in fact probably since about 1880. Starting about 1920 one of the major sources of those emissions has been cars and trucks (including burned gasoline, and the energy needed for the factories that built them). If there had been reasonable, science-based planning, to what number of cars would humans have chosen to limit themselves?

That can be debated, but I will go with scientists in 1800 deciding the maximum number of cars and trucks in operation would be 250 million. Then everyone in that world, including the dirt poor people living everywhere from Ireland to the Cape of Good Hope and from Siberia to the Cape of Magellan, could have 1 vehicle for every 4 people. A pretty nice upgrade.

Today an estimated 1.5 billion cars and trucks are on the road. Since the earth's population is now over 8 billion, that is about 1 vehicle per 5 and one-third people.

Lefties might note that there is plenty of injustice, with most of those cars owned by Americans, Europeans, and people in the richer Asian nations.

How does that weigh in with the population argument?

Probably you spotted it. There are more cars and trucks operating on earth today than the total number of people alive in 1800. When humans and their lifestyles were last at sustainable levels.

With less people we would need less cars and trucks, and so would produce less carbon dioxide.

With less people we would need less food, be it granola or hamburger, and so would produce less carbon dioxide and free up land to go back into natural ecosystems.

I could do a "With less people" litany here, but I will leave that to you, dear reader. Instead I will point out that you can't just take, say, the billion or two billion least destructive (low consumption) human beings and say they are not the problem, so feel free to keep on breeding. Human society is not built that way. People are mixed together. Different types of economic activity are required to keep a region functioning. There are poor ass people in the United States and there are rich people in central Africa. The world is overpopulated and even the poorest people have impacts on the land and on energy use.

Conclusion: people burn too much fossil fuel and there are too many people in the world.

One child is enough. And while busses and trains have some drawbacks, they are more sustainable than automobiles.

[Disclaimer. My wife and I own a car, a Honda Fit. Built in 2014, it still has less than 30,000 miles on it. I am a fond walker and user of the public bus and light rail system.]

See also: Slow Motion Apocalypse

III Blog list of articles
Copyright 2024 William P. Meyers. All rights reserved.