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Culture Change print magazine issues: 20  19  18  17  16  15  14  13  12  11  10  9  8  index

Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

Sail Transport Network

Fact Sheets
Press Releases

Long Distance

"Your coverage of the issue is well-informed, balanced, and wide-ranging--I hope you manage to get the word out to millions!
 Daniel Quinn"

Resources for Understanding and Taking Action

The ecosystem's capacity for humans has been exceeded by a factor of ten, according to the logic of Overshoot by William Catton: the amount of stored energy from the sun (including fossil fuels) humans use is the equivalent of ten earths' intake of usable solar energy for photosynthesis.

If one tenth of today's population is what thereby could survive sustainably, that would have to be in a healthy ecosystem.  But when the ecosystem has been poisoned, trashed and depletedóe.g., millions of tons of topsoil are lost daily due to modern agricultural practicesóthen the survival rate would only  be perhaps one tenth of the one tenth!  Intrinsic is the role of petroleum, which is going to "be history" early this century.

World population growth has slowed down a little in recent years, like a runaway train dropping down to 90 miles per hour from 100 miles per hour.  Unfortunately, the world's biggest polluter, the U.S., has a hidden policy for population growth through massive and mostly legal immigration.  The U.S. is headed for over 300,000,000 people before 2010.  No other industrial nation is growing in population, besides the UK.  Perhaps the estimate of 1/3 the world's present waste being generated by the U.S. is too low by now.  

Stabilizing U.S. population size is more important to energy conservation than discontinuing the production of S.U.V.s.  
In a new study on population and energy use, Leon Kolankiewicz estimates that 88 % of the increase in energy use from 1970 to now was due to population growth, and, ìIf the United States were entirely dependent on renewable energy sources, it would still not be able to support an ever-growing population indefinitely.î
See Population Growthóthe Neglected Dimension of Americaís Persistent Energy/Environmental Problems

Legal immigration levels are an obstacle to sustainability in the U.S.  From the Culture Change Letter "We Came Down from the Trees - The New Transition to Sustainability" (#38, October 2003) by Jan Lundberg, read a passage on population growth and overconsumption.

According to Virginia D. Abernethy, Ph.D., author of Population Politics, former director of Sustainable Energy Institute, who said on July 11, 2003:
"U.S. population growthó87.8% due to immigrationódrives the United States' increasing demand for energy as well as its emissions of greenhouse gases."

new: The more we grow, the less able we are to feed ourselves by Geoffrey Lean, The Independent


Book summary: Paul and Anne Ehrlich's One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future - go to summary.


All-out local action
Take the Pledge for Climate Protection, which addresses population growth and what we can do to vastly reduce its impact.

News tidbits
Study Finds Population Growth Key Reason for Sprawl, Despite "Smart Growth" Policies  
The report by Center for Immigration Studies does not say that more people are the only reason for sprawl, but the reader can take measure of the influence of population growth.  This report appears excellent, and shows also that legal immigration promotes urban sprawl in U.S.  To see the 122-page new report on the connection, click here

World population was projected to be almost 6.4 billion by the end of 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

The Census Bureau just came out with figures that the U.S. population is 291 million. One of their projections is for its reaching one-half billion by 2044. Ninety percent of the growth would be immigrants since 1970 and their descendants. 

SALMON SHORTAGE OR PEOPLE LONGAGE?: At the World Summit on Salmon the "overall mood was bleak," as researchers warned that "the biggest danger to the survival of wild salmon is the population juggernaut that will see the Pacific Northwest's population surge from today's 15 million to 50 million or more by century's end" says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer 6/13. One University of British Columbia ecologist pointing to Columbia River salmon, where a third of the stocks are already extinct and a fifth are highly endangered, said the decline is "emblematic of humans' inability to recognize that they are overwhelming ecosystems that support them."
from GREENLines, June 17, 2003, 

Commentary by Culture Change
Human population continues to grow along with the dangers caused by (and in some cases causing) overpopulation.  Petroleum dependence comes to mind, especially at Sustainable Energy Institute.  As clear as that basic fact is, you will not find this connection among environmental groups or research groups such as Worldwatch Institute.  Some population oriented groups have a partial understanding of petroleum, but trying to get them to echo Culture Change's message is not our strategy.  Rather, we bypass failed movements and entrenched organizations in order to reach the largest number of citizens.

Climate change could be irrevocably getting out of control.  Yet, the solution favored by government and the mega corporations is not to have honest public debate or integrity, but instead start wars and keep the juggernaut of the world economy rolling along without deviation.  One response to this is to derail the present economy and replace it, as discussed in Shutting Down the WTO Economy, a recent Culture Change column on this website.

Transitioning to sustainable, ecological economics is a non-issue to our "leaders," while some of us pursue sustainability and justice, almost invisible to the mass media.  Hence, we must now address:

Petroleum-based agriculture and oil transport have enabled the largest economy and population the world has ever seen.  Many of our archived Culture Change Letters discuss the connections and point to solutions.  Read about Citizen Petroleum Councils.

The fall of petroleum civilization is the same thing as the bubble of overpopulation bursting with a loud, messy bang.

The masters of the economy have frantically tried to extend growth and stave off a correction or shake-out.  The Story of B by Daniel Quinn made clear that population growth is only accommodated by boosting the food supply.  Because pro-growth policies are so dominant, and the destruction when the bubble bursts will be beyond management, it has been argued that shutting today's economy down sooner rather than later is advisable. - see Culture Change Letter #25

Alternatives and solutions to overpopulation
Few people around the world will be immune to the coming oil-deprived, wrenching adjustment to a post-petroleum civilization.   Agriculture will be affected along with transportation, in a final energy crisis that will see us all reaching desperately for conservation and renewable energy alternatives.  It will not be the techno-Utopia pushed by mainstream environmental groups: Instead, visualize depaving, car-free living, hauling local produce via bike cart, and Food Not Lawns, to name a few requisites of sustainability.  

"New Roads = More Traffic, Studies Say" appeared in Auto-Free Times issue #15.
And, fighting road construction is essential to hem in the sprawling human population and limit population growth.  The fact is that more roads mean more people.  Jan Lundberg and Virginia Abernethy explored this in The Road to Overpopulation is Roads in the Auto-Free Times issue #10.

Letters to Culture Change on population
July 20, 2003 - Dear Friends, 
    Thanks for your letter calling attention to the new website on population.  I thought the website was excellent.  Focusing on population is the correct thing to do, but it is politically incorrect.  Of course you know this already.
    I am attaching some papers of mine dealing with these problems.  In the paper on sustainability you will find the Laws of Sustainability.  The First Law of Sustainability is: population growth and / or growth in the rates of consumption of resources is not sustainable.
    Many thanks for focusing on the heart of the problem.
Every increment of added population, and
     every added increment of affluence
     invariably destroys an increment
     of the remaining environment.
Population growth and increases in affluence
     make it impossible for reasonable increments
     of improved efficiency in the use of resources
     to enhance or even to preserve the environment.
You cannot preserve the environment
     by accepting the population growth
     and the increased affluence
     that are destroying the environment.

Sincerely, AL
Professor Emeritus of Physics
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado, 80309-0390

More resources
Optimum Population Trust, London, has extensive data on overpopulation issues, including Ecological Footprint calculations by country.  OPT campaigns for a lower population in the UK. They reported to Culture Change on July 16, 2002:  "We recently had revised figures for UK births, deaths and migration for 2001 which showed that our population grew by a staggering, and disastrous 236,800 (on OPT's website, 'UK Pop Figs'). And this whole country is smaller than Oregon..." Click here.  

The largest archive of essays and studies on energy, agriculture, and population is  Another helpful and more political site is

Gaia Watch in the U.K. is "an educational charity which explores the multifarious implications of continued human population growth."  See

Negative Population Growth advocates a smaller and truly sustainable US population accomplished through smaller families and lower, more traditional immigration levels.

Redefining Progress utilizes the "ecological footprint" approach to sustainability.  See their website at

Population-Environment Balance is committed to stabilizing U.S. population in order to safeguard the country's carrying capacity.

Fred Elbel offers this well linked site,

California's population has been increasing by over half a million per year.  It is one eighth of the nation's people.  For facts on how population growth affects Californians, click here.

Read Daniel Quinn's great books, widely available.  See

Culture Change Letters on overpopulation and related issues:
Petroleum culture versus Earth living ó The fallacy of the technofix
The following includes Jan Lundberg's letter to the New York Times 4-18-03 dealing with huge population: False prosperity from oil: It is the obedient workers who will eat ó for now

Culture Change
Issue 20 (unpublished): Why conserve, when expansionist policies destroy? by Virginia Abernethy.
Issue 19
articles on overpopulation 

Book summary: Paul and Anne Ehrlich's "One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future" (Island Press, 2004). 

Exposing the three elephants in our proverbial living room -- overpopulation, over-consumption, and political and economic inequity -- that are increasingly shaping our future, the authors explore the ways that these factors influence each other, and how we can begin to create a better and more lasting world if we pay attention to them.  Paul Ehrlich, as you may remember, is the author of "The Population Bomb."

Through lucid explanations, telling anecdotes, and incisive analyses, the eminent scientists Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich here spotlight the three elephants in our global living room--rising consumption, increasing world population, and unchecked political and economic inequity--that together are increasingly shaping today's politics, undermining the planet's ability to sustain us, and determining humankind's future.  The result is a book that brilliantly puts today's policy debates in a larger context and makes a compelling case for the critical discussions that we should be having.  One with Nineveh takes its title from Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional" ("Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!"), his famous 1897 poem alluding to the pride and arrogance that went before the fall of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.  Their undoing, in addition to warfare, was deforestation and unsustainable irrigation, practices whose destructive effects were ignored by the elites at the time. 

In One with Nineveh, the Ehrlichs suggest that the hubris of our own civilization could be leading us to an end similar to Nineveh' s--whose ruins lie near the Iraqi city of Mosul--if environmental trends such as loss of biodiversity and acceleration of climate change are not halted.  Unlike the regional ecological collapse of Mesopotamia, this time the collapse could be global.  Both a cautionary tale and a call to action, One with Nineveh is remarkable in its sweep and in the range of solutions it proposes, from local actions to reform of national government to international initiatives.  Grounded in science, economics, and history, the Ehrlichs' forthright discussion of the underlying issues of our time gives cause for considerable concern yet reason to hope.     (courtesy Rentch Associates publicity)

The more we grow, the less able we are to feed ourselves

Rain may be ruining crops here, but globally there are record harvests. Yet it's still not enough to meet demand

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor of The Independent

29 August 2004

The world is consistently failing to grow enough crops to feed itself, alarming official statistics show.

Humanity has squeaked through so far by eating its way into stockpiles built up in better times. But these have fallen sharply and are now at the lowest level on record.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) latest report on global food production says that this year's harvest is expected to fall short of meeting consumption for the fifth year running.

Even a forecast record harvest this year is failing to ease the crisis. This suggests that rising demand, through population growth and increasing affluence, is outpacing production, fulfilling the gloomy predictions of Thomas Malthus over 200 years ago.

Warnings of increasing scarcity of two other key resources came last week. Mark Clare, the managing director of British Gas, said: "The era of cheap energy is over." And experts at an international symposium in Stockholm foretold an imminent world crisis as underground reserves of water are increasingly pumped dry.

A major UN-backed conference in London this week will attempt to revive a global effort to tackle population growth. Countdown 2015 will assess an international plan of action agreed 10 years ago and make recommendations for the next decade.

Between 1950 and 1997 the world's grain harvest almost trebled to around 1,900 million tons. But then production effectively stagnated: since 1999 it has fallen behind consumption every year.

The FAO report - the latest edition of its quarterly review, Food Outlook - predicts "a substantial increase" in the harvest, to 1,956 million tons, by far the biggest ever. But it warns that even this level of output would not keep pace with consumption, causing "a fifth consecutive drawdown of global cereal stocks".

Experts say that recent good weather in almost all the main growing regions, in contrast to Britain where August rain has devastated crops, has boosted the bumper harvest even further. But even optimistic estimates do not expect any recovery of stocks - now at their lowest level ever, well below the 70 days' supply needed for world food security.

Lester Brown, president of Washington's Earth Policy Institute, says: "There has been the odd bad year or two in the past. But this is the first time in history that we have had such an extended period where the world has failed to feed itself.

"This year's harvest is going to be extraordinarily good. It is striking that even in such an exceptional year we are unable to rebuild stocks."

The situation is particularly serious in China, where the grain harvest has fallen in four of the past five years. In 2003 it grew 70 million tons less than in 1998 - a drop that is equivalent to the entire production of Canada, a leading grain exporter.

Before 1999 China built up large stocks but has since eaten its way through half of them. Experts say that if the giant country has to start importing grain, its massive needs will increase scarcity and drive up food prices worldwide.

China's harvests have partly fallen because it is rapidly losing fertile land as cities spread and soil erodes through overcultivation - and because the groundwater needed to irrigate crops is drying up.

It is the same story worldwide. Population growth and the loss of land have cut the amount of fertile land available to feed each person in half since 1960. And more than half the world's people live in countries where water tables are falling rapidly and wells are running dry.

Experts at the Stockholm Water Symposium last week warned that millions of wells throughout Asia were rapidly depleting supplies; the amount of irrigated land in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, for example, has shrunk by half in the last decade.

Rising affluence is partly responsible. As people become better off they eat more meat: animals consume several pounds of grain for every pound of meat they produce.

But population growth is even more significant. This week's conference, partly organised by the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation and Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation, marks a particularly important staging post in the world's attempts to tackle overpopulation.

The meeting can celebrate considerable success. The rate of increase in human numbers has slowed dramatically - from 2 per cent a year in 1970 to 1.3 per cent now. Forty years ago, on average, every woman in the world bore six children: now that figure is below three.

The doom-mongering predictions of the 1970s - that, for example, the population could grow to 60 billion, nearly 10 times the present level - have long been abandoned.

But there is still a crisis: 76 million people are born each year - about 240,000 a day - adding to the demand for food, water and other resources. The UN does not expect word population to stabilise until it has risen from today's 6.4 billion to 9 billion.

Nearly half of the world's people are under 25, and mostly able to reproduce. And the greatest growth is expected in the countries least able to cope with it: the UN estimates that the population of the world's 48 poorest countries could treble by 2050.

Ten years ago 179 countries agreed a practical plan of action at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. It included increasing the availability of contraceptives but also other measures that have a dramatic effect on population growth, especially improving the lives of young women through providing schooling and healthcare.

This has shown results, but the world has provided less than half the funds needed to implement it. And the programme is now being sabotaged by the Bush administration, which has cut off its contributions to the UN Population Fund and crippled national programmes because of its opposition to abortion.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the above material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Culture Change has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Culture Change endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)


Articles of interest:
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments 

Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results. 
WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius 

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.


Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.