An Economist Concerned About Overpopulation

About the time I’m ready to give up on economists altogether, along comes this article by Dr. Linda Stanley of Colorado State – an economist who actually has the courage to stick her neck out and raise concern about population growth.  Here’s some key excerpts:

Want to feel environmental about building your large home? Just use some recycled materials, make it energy efficient and don’t forget the compact fluorescents! Want to feel good about driving 25,000 miles per year? Buy an SUV hybrid.

I certainly don’t want to discourage even the smallest pro-environment actions. It’s great to see people making these changes.

But let’s get realistic. Increases in both population and resource use per capita are currently overwhelming the positive effects of these actions – globally, nationally and locally.

For example, the U.S. economy has become more energy efficient each year since 1985, but its total energy consumption continues to rise exponentially.

We’ve wiped out any savings from energy efficiency with increases in population and increases in per capita consumption from more air conditioning, electronics, driving and the like.

Here she’s focused on the per capita consumption of energy, which probably is on the rise.  But if she’d expand her consideration of per capita consumption to manufactured products, she’d find that, in fact it’s declining as populations grow more dense.

At the recent American Planning Association conference, Arthur Nelson, an expert in population changes, projected that U.S. population will reach 1 billion by 2100. That’s more than three times our current population! (The increase will be because of immigration – legal and illegal – and increases in longevity.)

Wow!  Not only is she willing to tackle the population problem, but she recognizes the contribution of legal immigration as well.  This is an economist with guts!  It’s as though she’s been reading my book!

And we must have open, honest discussions about curbing population growth at all levels, a subject that has received too little attention in recent years. Finally, we should seriously examine whether bigger and second homes, more cars and other “stuff” really increase the well-being of those already considered wealthy compared to the rest of the world.

So, yes, let’s encourage a greening of the marketplace with our dollars – it’s a place where one person can have an impact. But, hopefully, it won’t lull us into a false sense that little else is required.

Spoken by a real, gutsy economist.  There’s nothing more I can add except “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Stanley!!”


3 Responses to An Economist Concerned About Overpopulation

  1. Nathaniel says:

    If the response to environmental concerns is buying to “Buy an SUV hybrid” then what kind of environmentalist are we talking about? Its foolish to say that this is an improvement when having an SUV anything for most people is still wasteful.

    To say that we have to deal with reality while making statements like this is very ironic.

    And to say that overpopulation is the real problem while per capita consumption of energy is rising is not only jumping the gun, but I would suggest missing the boat.

  2. Nathaniel says:

    Sorry for the typo in my first sentence. But I think my point/concern is still pretty clear.

  3. Pete Murphy says:

    Nathaniel, I think Dr. Stanley’s suggestion to “Buy an SUV hybrid” was made tongue-in-cheek. Her point was that we all delude ourselves into believing that we are doing something meaningful for the environment when, in fact, such actions are of little or no consequence.

    Both increases in per capita consumption and increases in the number of “capita” contribute to the problem. Should we reduce the energy use per capita, effectively reducing our standard of living, or should we reduce our population, allowing us to sustainably maintain our standard of living? The latter is the best choice. Otherwise, any gains made by reducing per capita consumption will be offset as the population rises. Also, until you’ve read my book, you probably don’t understand the role of declining per capita consumption in driving up unemployment and poverty.

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