Fighting the Problem with the Problem, Again

For Earth Day, here’s a somewhat helpful primer on the debate over population growth: “The Biggest Threat to Earth? We Have Too Many Kids”.

It’s got all the usual suspects: mentioning Malthus but not explaining his theory, nor the general principal of carrying capacity; the assumption that human rights trump all non-human lives (family planning is totalitarian, end of discussion); and the assurance that while many, or maybe most, realize the danger of ecological bottlenecks caused by unchecked reproduction, nobody—nobody—would be crazy enough to suggest that perhaps the solutions to our environmental problems might require a radical shift in our lifestyles (“Bradshaw agrees that it’s important that societies that undergo demographic transition aren’t denied the comforts of post-industrialization.”).

Here’s my favorite section:

And some people working on the population problem even think we need to be stabilizing the population by having more babies.

It’s OK, you can take a moment to read that again. “I see people as the ultimate resource,” says Steven Mosher, of the Population Research Institute in Virginia. According to Mosher, more people means more minds to contribute to solutions, and more competition leading to more innovation—innovation that can tackle the problems created by too many bodies.

Here we have, like with the technotopians, a case of using the problem to solve the problem. I was glad to see, in the very next paragraph, an appropriate response:

Other experts are skeptical that the population can balance itself out. “That idea is so wrong in so many ways that I don’t know where to begin,” says Bradshaw.

News from the Gulf

In case you forgot about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Looking for Answers Five Years After the Gulf Oil Spill

Another project involves DEEPEND, which stands for Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico and focuses on deep oil and gas wells and their effects on marine life. It will key on the pelagic (open ocean) realm, from the surface to depths of over a mile, by far the largest ecosystem component of the Gulf.

Since the spill, more than 1,000 dead dolphins have washed ashore from Texas to Florida, about four times the normal rate.

In addition, the number of sea turtle nests has declined since the spill, 12 percent of the brown pelicans and 32 percent of the laughing gulls may have died as a result of the spill, and 2010-2011 had the lowest numbers of juvenile red snapper since 1994.  DEEPEND researchers want to know conclusively if the spill contributed to the large kills and declines.


Obama has planned some new regulations to mark the anniversary, at least.

Meanwhile, the chemicals BP is using to “clean up” the spill may be just as harmful as the oil: Chemical Capable of Injuring People and Wildlife.

Nearly five years after the worst offshore spill in U.S. history, a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that an oil dispersant widely used during the cleanup of the BP disaster is capable of causing damage to humans and marine animals alike.

In the study, published in PLOS ONE on April 2, scientists focused their attention on a dispersant called Corexit EC9500A.

Nearly two million gallons of Corexit were sprayed atop the oil spill to help break down the petroleum. But in their study, the UAB scientists found that the dispersant can seriously damage epithelial cells, such as those in the lungs of humans or the gills of marine animals.

This is our culture, folks.


“What work is this idea of the Anthropocene doing in culture and politics? As much as a scientific concept, the Anthropocene is a political and ethical gambit. Saying that we live in the Anthropocene is a way of saying that we cannot avoid responsibility for the world we are making. So far so good. The trouble starts when this charismatic, all-encompassing idea of the Anthropocene becomes an all-purpose projection screen and amplifier for one’s preferred version of ‘taking responsibility for the planet’.”  – Jedediah Purdy, from Imagining the Anthropocene