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August 29, 2006

A.W.F. Edwards and Overpopulation

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I loved reading GNXP's latest "10 Questions" q&a, this one with the British geneticist A.W.F. Edwards. Arty dude that I am, I confess that I loved the interview as much for Edwards'' clear and witty language as I did for the science he was discussing -- of which, despite his clarity, my dim brain was able to digest, oh, about 25%. But his focus! His language! The way he balances approachability with sophistication! If only all nonfiction were presented half so well. I even felt I grasped the diff between "probability" and "likeliness." OK, so the feeling lasted all of about five seconds. Still, what a high it was!

One semi-passing remark of Edwards'' especially struck me. Here's the passage:

In the early 1960s I was a founder-member of a body called, I think, the Conservation Society, which does not seem to exist today. Its main platform was that too large a population would be unsustainable. At the time there was much discussion about over-population which was seen as one of the greatest dangers facing mankind. Interestingly, the worse the problem gets, the less it is discussed. Yet the mounting dangers we face, such as the possibility of global warming, are all exacerbated by too high a world population, given its enthusiasm for motor-cars, aeroplanes, and environmentally-damaging activity generally. It seems that people fear the charge of racism if they comment on population growth. (Emphasis mine.)

In a posting not long ago, I wondered why the major U.S. environmental groups have been so quiet on the topic of immigration, given that our current policies are leading to much higher population growth than we'd otherwise have. I ventured the thought that we should blame the silence on the fact that so many of the green groups are allied with the immigration-lovin' Democratic Party. (BTW, where immigration policies are concerned, a pox on the Republican Party too.) I think that Edwards'' hunch -- that the discussion of population has been silenced because of fears of charges of racism -- may strike closer to the real truth of the matter. Sigh: How many other important discussions have been shut off in this way? Down with racism, of course. But down as well with people and organizations who use our fears of the "racism" accusation to control the public conversation.

Confirmation that a few other people may feel fed up with overuse of the racism-accusation card comes from Rod Liddle in the London Times, who writes that multiculturalism is now dead as an official UK policy. But the development, however welcome, may be coming a little late for those concerned about crowding and growth. The Guardian reports that the British population has now surpassed 60 million, is growing at its fastest rate since the 1960s -- and that 2/3 of this growth is due to immigration.



posted by Michael at August 29, 2006


The loony Left can't discuss population issues with any objectivity or detachment because (a) it must back any claims from minority groups, however ridiculous or paranoid, that population limitation is a plot against them; and (b) it always assumes that population issues are a proxy for some other cause dear to their hearts, like Open Borders. And while it is true that Generalissimo Jorge W. Bush-Gonzales and his ruling junta's determination to hispanicize the United States through encouraging mass immigration does have a strong correlation with population growth, the issues around overpopulation would still be there if everyone agreed that the country should become Mexico del Norte.

Other issues that are "cursed" and off-limits to serious discussion are IQ and eugenics.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 29, 2006 7:27 AM

The same applies when discussing poverty and advances in technology. For example, the growing desire in the United States for some kind of online voting system. The proposal is usually quickly dismissed solely because "that would exclude poor people who can't afford a computer".

Posted by: Spoonman on August 29, 2006 9:36 AM

Michael, you are obviously not an Anti-Racist, which means that you are a Racist. You must subscribe to our PC-Religion, even if it means that you will contradict other PC-Religions (like Environmentalism).

And stop reading scientific pieces that actually look to educate and accomplish results. They are the greatest danger to our religious beliefs.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on August 29, 2006 10:00 AM

It sez over there on the panel to the left that I'm a demographer. True. Thanks to government and foundation funding, a lot papers at demographer professional meeting are (or were, back when I attended such events) devoted to population control or technical aspects thereof.

There has been an undercurrent of protest that birth control was a plot by evil white folks against everyone else, but I don't recall that it was all that intimidating. But things might have changed in the last 10-15 years as the left has become increasingly shrill about almost everything. Bottom line: I'm out of touch on this issue.

Regardless, birth rates have been dropping nearly everywhere, and below replacement level to boot in much of the world. So much of this overpopulation panic ought to be moot.

Back in the late 60s I went to a lecture by Isaac Asimov where he ranted about overpopulation. He had a far stronger case back then, and I'd like to hope that he would not give the same talk today, were he above room temperature.

For what it's worth, I worry more about depopulation than overpopulation.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 29, 2006 10:54 AM

It's pretty obvious that adding a million + people a year, plus illegals, plus their off spring, is not sustainable. Unfortunately, idiots at places like the wall street journal think this is the only way to sustain growth and maintain the various social welfare pyramid scams.

Bush has outright betrayed the US in his refusal to protect the borders. It's only going to get worse, the baby boomers wanted cheap nannies now they'll want cheap nurses.

What made america a nice place to live largely was the land to population ratio - it made it easy to own home as anyone knows who's tried to buy one recently, that's not the case anymore...
so in order to fulfill some multicult dream and maintain the welfare state we'll have to speed down the demographic highway to population density of Calcutta. Cute.

Posted by: a reader on August 29, 2006 11:27 AM

"Regardless, birth rates have been dropping nearly everywhere, and below replacement level to boot in much of the world. So much of this overpopulation panic ought to be moot."

as a demographer, certainly you understand that replacing the current US population with massively different demographic, will lead to changes not only in culture, but in government.

What SANE people would willingly have themselves replaced?

Posted by: a reader on August 29, 2006 11:30 AM

Using my ChickenLittle brain, I deduce that the problem is not so much OVER population as CHANGING population. (Sorta like Global "Warming" which is really Global Weather Change.) Business booms with a fairly steady state or at least gradual change. But when population rises suddenly (immigration, baby booms) or falls suddenly (Russia for bad health and miserable living, China for lack of women) all the planning and conventional practices get knocked out. Most are based on short-term decisions anyway.

Some have suggested that strategic help to Mexican economies would be of major benefit to the immigration problem up here. I'm persuaded. Cleaning up Russia? Can't hurt.

In the meantime, I suspect the answer will come along suddenly and uncomfortably, like AIDS in Africa. Chicken Little flu?

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on August 29, 2006 11:47 AM

I'm deeply, deeply aghast that you would stoop to questioning my reflexive use of the term "racist" to shut down discussions that I do not wish to indulge in. This has been a very useful habit to me and many of my friends, and I hardly need to point out that the slightest crack in this edifice might cause this wonderful form of verbal judo to implode.

Get a grip, will you!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 29, 2006 1:18 PM

awf edwards, not andrews :=)

Posted by: razib on August 29, 2006 1:52 PM

Hi - I'm glad you liked the interview, as I was the interviewer on GNXP.

But for the record, it is A. W. F. Edwards, not Andrews.

And btw it is Rod Liddle, not Little. Call me a pedant, but at least it is easier to find people with a Google seach if you get the right names!

Posted by: David B on August 29, 2006 2:48 PM

I remember as a high school freshman acquiring a used copy of Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb and being scared out of my wits. By the time I was an adult, the world would surely be a horribly overpopulated, polluted, and starving hellhole right out of Soylent Green. If nuclear war didn't doom the human race, we'd surely &%$# ourselves into oblivion.

My, how times have changed. Now we have to worry about who'll support all the retirees.

Posted by: Peter on August 29, 2006 2:53 PM

itz edwards. not andrews.

Posted by: razib on August 29, 2006 3:13 PM

Over-population is caused not only by the number of children a woman has but also the space of a generation. I'm an early baby-boomer (1947). I have zero children myself, but most of my friends, who tend to be techies or professionals, most with at least some college, some with a lot, didn't start having kids until their late 20's or early 30's.

Let's use 20 and 30 for age at first birth , 2 children as the norm, and two years as the distance between children.

Woman 1 has her first child at 20 & second at 22. She becomes a grandmother first at 40, then twice at 42, and a 4th time at 44 when her two kids each have their 2 kids. By her mid-40's she has produced 6 descendants. Her 4 grandchildren will produce 8 greatgrands by the times she's in her 60's. That's 14 descendants.

Woman 2 has her first child at 30, second at 32. She becomes a grandmother at 60, twice again at 62, yet again at 64. When she is in her 60's she has 6 descendants, less than half of woman 1.

By the time woman 2's grandchildren produce their kids, she's in her 90's or dead. By the time woman 1 is in her 90's or dead, her 8 greatgrands will have produced 16 greatgreatgrands, for a whopping 30 descendants to woman 2's 14.

The less education and skills that an person has the more likely they are to have children earlier rather than later. Twenty is actually optimistic. Sit down with a pencil and paper and do the above exercise using 16 or 17 as a generation and 3 as the minimum number of children. It's an eye-opener.

And yes, we know that children don't have to follow in their parents reproductive or educational footprints - I didn't. However, by bringing in more and more low-skilled, poorly educated immigrants we are inceasing the number who will do exactly that, at least for a couple of generations. Remember those high school-drop-out rates are 2nd generation.

As I've asked before, is this what we want for the US?

Posted by: D Flinchum on August 29, 2006 3:33 PM

sorry about the double posting...forgot about the latency in comments.

Posted by: razib on August 29, 2006 4:32 PM

Edwards, Edwards, Edwards ... Liddle, Liddle, Liddle ...

Sigh: on vacation I seem prone to making evern more mistakes than usual. Thanks, corrected.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 29, 2006 5:09 PM

I don't know one way or the other about global warming.

But, I get the feeling that every crisis ginned up surrounding overpopulation comes from the same source.

The notion that seems to be behind every one of these panics is that we are facing a dire situation so out of the ability of humans to cure by the traditional means that we must resort to a command economy and a set of government price and production controls. In other words, the solution to every one of these panics is to abandon a market economy in favor of a centralized economy.

Somehow, I sense that those who want us to be in a panic really just want to create a centralized, command economy, and that those same people will invent a new crisis to replace the current one when that crisis fails to induce the proper panic.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 29, 2006 7:16 PM

The national board of Sierra Club got into this fight a few years ago. One side wanted to address the issue so they ran for the board. The incumbents didn't want to address it, and racism was one of the reasons tossed out onto the table.

But I think there's another reason. You say population control, then pro-lifers and Christian fundamentalists will point to China and forced abortion. They'll proclaim that you, as a group, have no family/right to life values. And they'll raise the old issue and say hell no, you're not teaching my kid sex education in the schools and damned if you're going to give every kid a condom on demand. And this group has a lot of say over what happens in the US gov when it comes to setting policy, and yes, in allocating budgets for various causes... such as the environment.
So for those reasons, it's an issue that's quite obvious, but difficult to approach.

Posted by: california blow dryed on August 29, 2006 8:19 PM

anglo names. all sound the same :)

Posted by: razib on August 29, 2006 9:17 PM

Donald: "Back in the late 60s I went to a lecture by Isaac Asimov where he ranted about overpopulation. He had a far stronger case back then, and I'd like to hope that he would not give the same talk today, were he above room temperature."

Ha! The only book I ever threw out the window (no, seriously!) was called The Roving Mind, by Asimov, which I read just after high school.

The essay was about population. He said that - in our folly - we humans would cover the Earth's entire surface with mega-cities; that crops would have to be grown in elevated fields, which would block out all light and force us to live in nightmarish darkness; and that the only way to fertilize these fields would be with the ground up corpses of the dead. At this point I sent the book out the window, terrifying the dog.

It's prolly unfair to condemn a man on a single issue, but since then I've never been able to take Asimov seriously on anything.

Ground up corpses my clavicle.

Posted by: Brian on August 30, 2006 7:37 AM

"The national board of Sierra Club ...The incumbents didn't want to address it, and racism was one of the reasons tossed out onto the table."

The real reason was a wealthy pro-immigration philantropist effectively bribed the leadership to attack anyone who opposed this issue.

You can read about it here:
Since 1996, leaders of the Sierra Club have refused to admit that immigration driven, rapid U.S. population growth causes massive environmental problems. And they have refused to acknowledge the need to reduce U.S. immigration levels in order to stabilize the U.S. population and protect our natural resources. Their refusal to do what common sense says is best for the environment was a mystery for nearly a decade.

Then, on Oct. 27, 2004, the Los Angeles Times revealed the answer: David Gelbaum, a super rich donor, had demanded this position from the Sierra Club in return for huge donations. Kenneth Weiss, author of the LA Times article that broke the story, quoted what David Gelbaum said to Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope:

"I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.

Posted by: a reader on August 30, 2006 9:27 AM

The problem for most of the posters here is not "too many" people, it's the "wrong type" of people. Michael, would do you really think you'd be posting the same sort of article about the dangers of increasing population if the population increase was coming from white women having too many babies?

Maybe I'm cynical, but I strongly doubt it.

I suspect the concerns are far more about erosion of culture than the environmental impact of actual physical numbers. That tends to be simply another way to attack the primary problem, and one that is rather more widely acceptable.

Posted by: Tom West on August 30, 2006 9:50 AM

"I suspect the concerns are far more about erosion of culture than the environmental impact of actual physical numbers."

I personally wouldn't want to see the population of the US hit half a billion people even if every last one of the "new stock" was blue-eyed blonds. Too many people in general are not good for the environment, whatever their source or genetic makeup, which is why I'm no longer a Sierra Club member. Population size matters so immigration matters. But culture does indeed play a part, no doubt about it.

In 1996, the US passed a law against female genital mutilation. What gives? Was it legal and common for over 200 years and then we got all sensitive and declared it illegal? Of course not. It wasn't an issue for all of those years because the people in the US didn't practice FGM. Most of them today probably have never heard of it. The problem is that by 1996, we had enough people in the US who DID practice it that it had to be outlawed. This is progress?

Although I am certainly happy that FGM is now illegal in the US, I am sorry that we had to ban it. Will this law in future be challenged as to its "cultural sensitivity" or "diversity"? Will it be repealed as part of a deal when the legislative makeup of the US hits a certain mix of cultures (Give us forced marriages or honor killings or child marriages and we will give you FGM or polygamy) so that cultures completely alien to the US are moving women's rights - among other things - back to a time none of us alive in the US today can comprehend?

Call me crazy, but I don't want to live in this kind of society.

Posted by: D Flinchum on August 30, 2006 4:18 PM

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