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Partial Advice is No Advice At All

Elephant, with words "ignore me" painted on Guest Post by Karen I. Shragg Ed.d.

A new global analysis by University of Minnesota ecologists David Tilman and Michael Clark provides some interesting food for thought. Their study says over the next 35 years the populations of the world will try to emulate the western diet in their journey towards development. According to their analysis, this will inspire everything to go south.

The climate change effect of the spread of the typical American meat-based diet will make us collectively sicker and our environment much worse, too. Because cattle are so costly in fossil fuels, the study forecasts that the diet changes alone will make the climate that much more unstable, and they recommend people adopt a vegetarian diet OR follow the Mediterranean fish-based diet. They say that will make us healthier, too.

This report is full of well-founded research and partial truths. Nothing they say is incorrect. It’s what they don’t say that makes it incorrect. While eating lower on the food chain is proven to use less fossil fuel and is healthier on the body, the article completely ignores the overpopulation issue. IF we allow population growth to continue as it is today AND some resource we now depend on doesn’t run out, then in 35 years we will have added 2.5 billion people to our world. It is an already seriously overpopulated world relative to its diminishing, non-renewable resources.

Advising people in developing countries to strive for a different diet will be totally inadequate to offset growing numbers of consumers. This report is full of relevant information, but it soon becomes irrelevant – a lot like offering the passengers on the Titanic paintbrushes to stain its deck (it will look better).

Every time scientists look into their crystal ball, they must look at human numbers and advise us to humanely, seriously and quickly reduce our numbers – along with their other recommendations.

Karen Shragg is a member of the board of directors of Citizen-Powered Media, the non-profit parent of the GrowthBusters project. She manages a nature center and has written 13 books. Her newest, The Goose, The Deer and The Mirror: An Activist’s Wake Up Call on the Solvable Issue of Overpopulation, is due out in 2015.

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Comments (12)

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    Brian Sanderson

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    Dave, you are correct. Perhaps the University of Minnesota should pay you a stipend for your efforts to undo the damage caused by their professors. I’d add a couple more points to your analysis.

    The recommendation of a Mediterranean fish-based diet seems a bit strange given the extent to which our oceans have already been depleted by overharvesting.

    OK, “fish farming” they say… Well just look at how land-farming has totally obliterated an entire class of natural ecosystems!

    The notion that meat is carbon intensive depends entirely upon how that meat is grown. There are many places which are not suitable for growing crops but are suitable for free-range grazing. In such places, growing meat is at least as ecologically sound as growing grains or vegetables would be in other places. (Of course neither are ecologically sound if we grow human population so high that we subsume more than a small fraction of each type of habitat… And grow population we have, already!)

    PROPOSITION: The solution is NOT to eat lower in the food chain. The solution is to have fewer people eating.

    PROOF: Eating lower in the food chain enables a higher population and given present cultural trends that inevitabley means the human population will grow much higher than it otherwise would have. A higher population will do more ecological damage because the production of calories is only one of many ways in which excessive populaiton does damage to ecosystems and its own well-being.

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      Brian Sanderson

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      One further comment upon the “Mediterranean fish-based diet”. These Mediterranean nations played a significant role in the destruction of the largest fishery that the world have ever known. I speak of the Grand Banks cod fishery.

      Certainly, the policies of idiot Canadian politicians (both Liberal and Conservative Parties) did not help. But it was basically impossible to convince local people to scale back their fish-plundering when the Europeans were out there plundering whatever fish the Canadians might have saved…

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        Karen Shragg

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        Thank you for your well thought out responses.

        I chose to eat low on the food chain because it is less detrimental to my health( I am 60 and not on any of the statin drugs of my peers) and because it is a bit easier on the landscape I am not sure how it creates more people, sure we can feed them easier but I think overfishing and meat production is very harsh too.. but the real issue is TOO MANY OF US cannot be reversed by habit changes.. the habit changing has to be about reproduction for the right reasons

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          Brian Sanderson

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          Dear Karen, Please accept my humble apology for jumping straight to the post and not reading who authored it!

          Reply

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          Brian Sanderson

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          I should explain why eating lower on the food chain could lead to more people. First, we have to consider what limits the number of people. In the past, the cultural choice was to ever grow population up to the limits of what could be sustained. This is what a scientist would call a Darwinian breeding strategy. Overall, I think that our species still breeds in this Darwinian way. If that same cultural tendency persists (even for one coherent subset of the total population, as Hardin noted) then eating lower on the food chain will eventually lead to even more people before they become limited by food availability…

          I’d like to think that the old-fashioned cultural tendency of our species can be overcome — but the evidence is not yet in. If it is overcome, then it will be in no small measure due to folks like you and Dave.

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      Dave Gardner

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      Thanks for weighing in, Brian. Just reminding all that the above is not MY analysis, but that of Karen Shragg. Karen and I are a lot alike in that we tend to cut through all the bullshit and tell it like it is. I am glad that you do, too, Brian. I’m sure Karen would agree 100% with what you’ve written here. She’s probably out guiding students through the woods at the moment!

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    Karen Gaia Pitts

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    Actually I like these kind of articles because they have done the homework on the impacts of overpopulation and over consumption. When I do a synopsis of them on overpopulation.org, I add my comments about reducing fertility by meeting the unmet need for contraception.

    I do not agree that the solution lies in addressing only one or the other. It must take both! People in developing countries will not be likely to change their diet if they are still having large families because they will hardly be able to feed them more than one meal a day. It is up to us in the developed countries to change our diet. Our consumption is way out of bounds and we have exceeded our own country’s carrying capacity mostly by consumption. Rich countries are now buying land from governments in poor countries, displacing untenured farmers, in order to eat their citizens a more western diet.

    I agree with Brian on the use of grazing animals on marginal land, as long as they don’t overgraze and proper practices are used to keep the land green.

    I believe that many people realize the population is a problem but they are afraid of the solution. It is up to us to explain that voluntary family planning along with reproductive health care, girls education, and teaching male responsibility is the solution.

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      Brian Sanderson

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      You are 200% correct about empowering women. In the words of Christopher Hitchens:
      “… everyone knows there is only one cure for poverty which is the empowerment of women, which means giving them some sort of control over their reproduction.”

      And I’d add that solving the poverty problem will also go a long way towards solving the problem of ecological impoverishment.

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      Dave Gardner

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      Karen Gaia Pitts wrote: “I believe that many people realize the population is a problem but they are afraid of the solution. It is up to us to explain that voluntary family planning along with reproductive health care, girls education, and teaching male responsibility is the solution.”

      Ditto that.

      Reply

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    Steven Earl Salmony

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    Discerning ‘blissful ignorance’ in our time

    Perhaps it is possible for us to discern what blissful ignorance looks like on our watch. As long as experts willfully ignore the “system causation factor” of the human population explosion, as is occurring in our time, then the increasing food supply which is literally fueling the human population explosion will go on and on until there no way to grow more food for human consumption. We will continue to see the promulgation of politically convenient thought, economically expedient, culturally prescribed happy talk about the soon to appear demographic transition, the automatic stabilization of human population numbers and the end of human population by the middle of Century XXI. Science regarding ‘why the human population is exploding’ will continue to be denied and endless preternatural, ideologically-driven chatter about ‘what is happening’ will pass for a complete sharing of scientific knowledge. ‘What is happening’ will be broadcast ubiquitously. ‘Why it is happening’ will be treated as the last taboo, about which no one speaks. Just for a moment, let us imagine that now we have all the greatest population experts speaking with one voice. They tell us that we are headed rapidly for 8 billion people on the surface of Earth, declining TFRs in many European countries and elsewhere notwithstanding. When that number is reached in the foreseeable future, we will have too much food, too little water and clean air, and no decent environment to speak of. Pollution will be visible to all, everywhere. In the meantime many species of birds and wildlife will go extinct because of the destruction of their habitat from land clearance to grow more food to support an exploding human population. What is happening is made evident. Why this situation is occurring with a vengeance now here is ignore, avoided and denied assiduously. Silence prevails over science. All this is good, they say, because things are getting better.

    All these top rank population experts, inside and outside the scientific community, then go on to say that in order to have more and more happy, healthy people we need more and more people who can be counted upon to increase the depletion and degradation that will rapidly subtract from the source of that happiness and well being, our planetary home, until such time as Earth is no longer able to function as a source of happiness and well being. More importantly, because the self-proclaimed experts are supposedly ‘free to know and to speak’ but talk only of what is deteumined by the powers that be to be best for the rest of us to know, some scientific research can be and will be denied. While these experts do not lie, they deliberately refuse to give voice to the whole of what is true to them, according to the lights and scientific knowledge they possess. By their conscious silence, these experts will ensure that the unsustainable growth of the human species, the reckless depletion of resources and the irreversible degradation of ecology of the planet happens as soon and efficiently as possible. All this is good, they say, because we are making things better and better for all those generations in future space-time who follow the greatest generation.

    “Speak out as if you were a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” — St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380

    Reply

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