Brand New Year, Same Old Problems

As 2020 ended, so 2021 has begun: our world is still gripped by a global pandemic while the turmoil arising from the US presidential election in November continues. The release on Thursday night (January 14th) of a large amount of classified information by President Trump will no doubt ensure that, for the foreseeable future, we will continue to live in interesting times.

As our attention is distracted by the pandemic and current political events, the ongoing environmental crisis is being sidelined. But, as our patron Paul Ehrlich pointed out in a recent Guardian interview, this environmental destruction is infinitely more threatening to civilization.

The global catastrophe that is unfolding as humans continue to overrun the world, in the words of our patron Sir David Attenborough, is not news for PIC members. Our newsletters and releases have mentioned or covered a slew of scientific reports about the state we’re in and where we’re headed, including:

  • The World Economic Forum report in 2020, which named biodiversity loss as one of the top threats to the global economy.
  • The 2019 IPBES Global Assessment report, which said 70% of the planet had been altered by humans.
  • The 2020 WWF Living Planet report, which warned the average population size of vertebrates had declined 68% in the past five years.
  • A 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said that human activities are estimated to have already caused approximately 1C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and this warming was likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052.
  • Stark warnings from the world’s leading scientists about the state of the Earth, including a statement by 11,000 scientists in 2019 that people will face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless major changes are made and a 2016 open letter to the world from 375 scientists – including 30 Nobel prize winners – who wrote about their frustrations over political inaction on climate change.

The reports coming from scientists suggest that we may be heading for the collapse that they have been warning about for decades. Such concerns long predate the seminal book Overshoot by William R. Catton, Jr. First published in 1980, this book describes how the tremendous amount of cheap energy provided by the one-off bonanza of easily accessible oil allowed the human population to go into overshoot – to greatly exceed the long-term capacity of the planet – a situation that would inevitably lead to it collapsing. Christopher Clugston’s 2015 book Scarcity meticulously detailed how the non-renewable natural resources (NNRs) that provide the raw material for our industrialized economies are becoming less and less economically viable to extract and will not be able to sustain humanity in the future. He concluded, as the title of his subsequent book suggested, that industrialized humanity would be an historical Blip.

Whether or not we are in the early stages of collapse (or perhaps even in a much more advanced stage than we are aware), the human population is still growing rapidly, by over 80 million annually. Incredibly, despite the dire warnings coming from the World Economic Forum itself (the first bullet above), the economic paradigm of perpetual growth remains unchallenged by mainstream economists.

Therefore, those who understand that “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment,” in the words of ecological economist Herman Daly, must continue to make No Growth their cause célèbre in 2021. Help us do so by bringing up the ideas of “no growth” and “de-growth” whenever you can and introducing the idea to those who may not be aware of it. The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) provides some useful arguments.

PIC uses social media forums and email releases (feel free to join us on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn) to raise awareness of the consequences of overpopulation and consumption and invite engagement. Our followers are understandably frustrated by governments’ unwillingness to abandon the paradigm of perpetual growth, but increasing grassroots awareness will help apply the pressure for them to do so. We must be prepared to educate at the grassroots level for as long as it takes.

We thank all of our members, followers, and supporters for sticking with us. Please keep those discussions going. As we head into what may appear to be a “gathering storm,” we at PIC wish all of you “bon courage” in this new but already turbulent year.

Madeline Weld, Ph.D.

President, Population Institute Canada
Tel: (613) 833-3668
Email: [email protected]