Population Taboo – Kiss it Adieu!
Today marks the beginning of Global Population Speak Out.
It’s human nature to blend in with the crowd. Nobody wants to be the only one with a given viewpoint. The cultural taboo on discussing overpopulation renders politicians, scientists and other opinion leaders reluctant to mention population when discussing both causes and solutions of modern challenges. Famed physicist Al Bartlett (author of the ultra-logical Laws Relating to Sustainability) nicely summed up his frustration about this in the Spring 2008 Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter: Why Have Scientists Succumbed To Political Correctness? (Incidentally, my film, Hooked on Growth, is dedicated to Professor Bartlett.)
Global Population Speak Out is a month-long initiative encouraging more candor about population in public discussion of challenges like pollution, emissions, poverty, species extinction and peak oil, food and water. Population growth is often the biggest factor creating or accelerating these problems, but too often it goes unmentioned.
Global Population Speak Out (GPSO) is taking place this month to embolden leaders to address these issues more honestly. Ironically, there is strength in numbers; the more company they have, the easier it is. They don’t end up standing out or out on a limb.
On behalf of my GrowthBusters public education project, I joined a group of 50 around the world who jointly asked for a pledge from scientists and scholars; environmental, science, and social policy writers and editors; and activists, staff members of environmental NGOs, politicians, and a variety of prominent public figures. The pledge is simply to end the silence.
We have over 260 pledges at last count. Throughout the month you will hopefully hear more often about population growth, overpopulation and population stabilization and reduction. With a little luck the conversation won’t end when we turn our calendar pages to March. Tap-dancing around the subject of overpopulation while discussing climate change, hunger, species extinction, etc. is dishonest. It stands in the way of real progress for humanity. We should endeavor not to return to 11 more months of the “silent lie.”
The silent lie was coined by Professor Bartlett to describe the population taboo problem in Thoughts on Long-Term Energy Supplies: Scientists and the Silent Lie, in Physics Today, July 2004. Bartlett again wrote convincingly about the silent lie it in a book review for The Physics Teacher, December 2006: Scientific American and the Silent Lie:
Scientific American has rounded up the usual suspects but has ignored the perpetrator of the crime. The editors and writers at Scientific American know that population growth is the underlying source of the problems, but it is politically incorrect to state this obvious fact. Mark Twain wrote that if one has information that would help others, but does not share that information, then one is telling a “Silent Lie.” Because it does not address population size and growth as the main underlying cause of global warming, this issue of Scientific American is a serious “silent lie.”
We have a world full of very good people working on important issues: eradicating poverty, feeding the hungry, reducing emissions, preserving habitat, and the list goes on. Their solutions run the gamut, from conservation to technological innovation, from prevention to restoration. These efforts are noble and worthwhile. But in the face of an ever-expanding population, especially one that insists on ever-increasing material wealth, let’s face it: If we aren’t simultaneously acknowledging the role of expanding population, and doing something about it – by educating the people making family-size decisions and setting public policy – then we are simply polishing and rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Filmmaker & GrowthBuster
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