A factual assessment

In 1992 — coincidentally the same year that Population Institute Canada was founded — the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit science advocacy organization, issued a superbly written and succinct pamphlet with the title, “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” It was signed by over 1700 leading scientists, including 104 Nobel laureates in the sciences, a majority of those living at the time.

The first sentence of the Introduction bluntly states, “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” Under the next two headings, the pamphlet lays out problems pertaining to The Environment and Population.

This is followed by a Warning that a change in stewardship is required. The final section, called “What we must do,” lists five “inextricably linked areas” that have to be “addressed simultaneously.” This list was followed by five paragraphs discussing the human predicament and, finally, a plea for help in spreading the Warning’s message.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

In its own words

The one-paragraph Introduction of the 1992 Warning contains the sentence:

If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.

The section on The Environment discusses the atmosphere, water resources, oceans, soil, forests, and living species.

The section on Population begins with the sentence “The earth is finite.

Several subsequent sentences mention aspects of its finiteness (such as absorb waste, provide food), and the paragraph concludes, “Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair” (emphasis added).

The second paragraph under Population begins with the following two sentences: “Pressures resulting form unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth.” It then goes on to discuss population projections.

The bulk of the Warning consists of this sentence: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

The five actions listed under What we must do include: 1. bring environmentally damaging actions under control; 2. manage resources more efficiently; 3. stabilize population; 4. reduce and eventually eliminate poverty; and 5. ensure sexual equality and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.

Photo by Frank Alarcon on Unsplash

The first three paragraphs under the list read as follows:

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic, and environmental collapse.

The remainder of the What we must do section addresses war and ethics and concludes with an appeal to help the UCS to spread the message.

In the age of political correctness, much goes down the memory hole

The pamphlet in its original layout can be found online only if one is diligent. It is not findable on the UCS website by clicking on menu bar items or information boxes.

In 2022, when environmental conditions had deteriorated and the world population had increased by 2.6 billion, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a mea culpa for having had the temerity to so plainly lay out the facts thirty years earlier. The UCS states that it is maintaining the page (with the wording of the original document) because it is part of USC’s history, but it recognizes that elements of it are “deeply problematic.” The apology serves as an example of abject capitulation to the pseudo-reality of political correctness and uses the language with which this pseudo-reality is enforced. But even the mea culpa is not findable on the UCS website. Presumably, even with the disavowal, some people might be led to believe that overpopulation is a problem if they are exposed to the 1992 pamphlet:

UCS is maintaining this page as part of our history. However, we understand that elements of this letter are deeply problematic. Specifically, centering population—with only a cursory nod to the consumption of wealthy nations and the wealthiest people—is a narrative rooted in colonialism and racism, and current-day unjust and inequitable socioeconomic systems.

For a more in-depth discussion, please read our explainers on climate change and population, and food security and population.

The text that follows the apology is indeed the original wording. However, there is one addition: The words “Developed nations must act now” are written in very large letters below the list of five items under What we must do.

Political propaganda dressed as science?

Readers may judge for themselves whether overconsumption got merely a “cursory nod” while the document “centred population.” This reader thinks that resource use and overconsumption were themes that came out loud and clear in the pamphlet.

But a perusal of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website reveals it to be as much a promotor of Marxist ideology as a source of useful scientific information. “Population” does not appear anywhere on the menu bar of the website, nor do any of the article boxes pertain to population. The USC website says they “Research the world’s most pressing issues,” so we must conclude that population is not one of them.

The only references I found for population growth were to deny its importance. The apologetic introduction to the text of UCS’s 1992 warning contains two hyperlinks, both “explainers,” one about climate change and population and the other about food security and population.

Their explainer on climate change and population starts off by saying that the question “Isn’t population growth driving climate change?” is the wrong question and can lead to dangerous answers. It issues the warning that:

A misplaced focus on population growth as a key driver of past, present, and future climate change conflates a rise in emissions with an increase in people, rather than the real source of those emissions: an increase in cars, power plants, airplanes, industries, buildings, and other parts of our fossil fuel-dependent economy and lifestyles. Implicit in this faulty framing is the notion that all people contribute significantly to heat-trapping emissions. In fact, data show (PDF) that the richest 10 percent of the world’s population contributes 50 percent of annual global warming emissions.

Photo by luigi alvarez on Pexels

Incredibly, the UCS seems unaware that the rise in the number of cars and other items of industrialized societies is closely correlated with an increase in population. And many people who do not yet have access to such items are very eager to get them. Under a section with the heading “How focusing on population causes harm,” the climate change and population explainer valiantly attempts to delink environmental degradation from population growth:

Efforts to link population growth and environmental degradation, and in recent years population growth and climate change, tend to wrongly assume a simple and direct relationship between human numbers and environmental impacts such as deforestation, species loss, and greenhouse gas emissions. People living near areas of environmental degradation get blamed, even if the main drivers of those problems are consumption and production choices far away—such as when forests get cleared for timber, or to grow livestock or cash crops, for export.

In fact, most deforestation around the world, with concomitant loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, is driven by agricultural expansion which is in turn driven by population growth. According to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population report for 1992, the year the UCS warning was issued, the total world population was 5.29 billion, of which 1.21 billion lived in the more developed regions and 4.09 billion lived in the less developed regions. SWP 2023 gives the world population as 8.05 billion, with the more developed regions having 1.28 billion, and the less developed regions 6.77 billion.

Yet the Union of Concerned Scientists would have us believe that the increase of 2.68 billion in the less developed regions (vs. an increase of 0.07 billion in the more developed regions; a ratio of 38:1) could not have had a “simple and direct” impact on deforestation. It did in fact have exactly such an impact. The impact of clearing for timber, livestock and cash crops present an additional burden on the environment, but do not erase the impact of needing to feed an additional 2.75 billion people (including both the more and the less developed regions).

The UCS’s explainer on food security and population, also linked in its introduction to the 1992 Warning, is equally embarrassing. It explicitly says, with emphasis, that “population is not the problem that deserves our focus.” It disassociates world hunger from population growth, while condemning the technologies, notably the green revolution, that made feeding a burgeoning population possible. It’s true that industrial-scale agriculture is harmful, but the USC provides no evidence that 8 billion people would otherwise be fed. It has a lot to say about how things should be, without providing any realistic way of getting there at 8 billion and growing. As is de rigueur in Marxist-feminism, it views concerns with population growth as an automatic endorsement of coercive population control methods. Its concluding paragraph reads:

So, if you hear someone suggest that global population growth is threatening food security now and in the future, tell them this: we must reject population control and advocate for meaningful systemic changes to how we produce, distribute, and consume food. In fact, doing both is essential.

An ideological rejection of population realities

The driving force behind the 1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity was Henry Kendall, a Nobel laureate in physics, who died in a diving accident in 1999 at the age of 72.

Kendall was a founding member of the UCS in 1969, whose purpose was to direct scientific research away from military problems to solving pressing environmental and social problems. UCS was therefore on the political left from inception. However, like so many organizations and corporations in this era of “wokeness,” it seems to have shifted to the far left for which concerns about population are anathema.

However, such denial does not change the realities of human overpopulation, which Kendall recognized. He said: “If we do not voluntarily bring population growth under control in the next one or two decades, then nature will do it for us in the most brutal way, whether we like it or not.”

It is regrettable that an organization of allegedly concerned scientists is helping to make that outcome more likely.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Madeline Weld, Ph.D.
President, Population Institute Canada
Tel: (613) 833-3668
Email: mail@populationinstitutecanada.ca