[Coral-List] The Irony of the Pope's science - is it's selectivity.

frahome at yahoo.com frahome at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 30 03:41:35 EDT 2015

Dear all,
hopefully what I write is relevant to coral reefs even if I won’t use the keyword in the following text. I believe that none of us has yet really grasped the depth of change we need to bring to our lifestyles and society to reach sustainability.We talk about backing off from the use of fossil fuels but very few talk about the equal need to back off from our spoiled lifestyles and consumer/industrial culture. True sustainability is likely incompatible with what we are accustomed to, with our current economic model, lifestyles and expectations.
Even the more virtuous countries that are rapidly switching to renewables (Denmark, Germany) have still ecological footprints way above sustainability..  I assume that making estimates on what it is a sustainable population means coming to an agreement on what it is a sustainable lifestyle that meets our needs.The more greedy and spoiled we are, the smaller the population the planet can sustain. The more frugal we are, the more people can be accommodated.I think some estimates on maximum population were based mainly on food needs but I don’t know how the other resource intensive “needs” were taken into account (material affluence, traveling, transportation, communication) We could probably have a dignified and fulfilling life consuming 10, 20? times less than what we westerners do now (this would sort of multiply by x times what we consider a sustainable world population). Maybe we should try to imagine what a sustainable acceptable lifestyle could and should look like when the planet will host 10 billion people and try to embrace it if we really care. We can then later make further adjustments based on how fast the family planning initiatives will work and population will decrease.
I am afraid none of us is ready nor willing to live up to the challenge and would rather fool to him/herself with all sorts of speculations on trying to understand which is the main factor of environmental degradation, who’s fault, advocating changes to others, to politics, to technology etc while remaining in our comfort zone, not even trying to imagine how our everyday life should look like if what we advocate for will come true. 

     From: Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
 To: Durwood M. Dugger <ddugger at biocepts.com> 
Cc: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> 
 Sent: Monday, June 29, 2015 1:01 AM
 Subject: Re: [Coral-List] The Irony of the Pope's science - is it's selectivity.
    I see that Wikipedia has a more comprehensive page on Human
overpopulation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_overpopulation.  I see
that it says that "Most contemporary estimates for the carrying capacity of
the Earth <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth> under existing conditions
are between 4 billion and 16 billion. Depending on which estimate is used,
human overpopulation may or may not have already occurred. Nevertheless,
the rapid recent increase in human population is causing some concern."
 Later in the article, it says "Many quantitative studies have estimated
the world's carrying capacity for humans, that is, a limit to the world
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_overpopulation#cite_note-95> A
meta-analysis of 69 such studies suggests a point estimate of the limit to
be 7.7 billion people,  while lower and upper meta-bounds for current
technology are estimated as 0.65 and 98 billion people, respectively".
Also, "The InterAcademy Panel Statement on Population Growth
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAP_statement_on_population_growth>, circa
1994, stated that many environmental problems, such as rising levels
of atmospheric
carbon dioxide <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_carbon_dioxide>,global
warming <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming>, and pollution
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollution>, are aggravated by the population
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_overpopulation#cite_note-14>"  I would
agree with "aggravated".  And "However, many believe that waste and
over-consumption <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over-consumption>,
especially by wealthy nations, is putting more strain on the environment
than overpopulation.[16]
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_overpopulation#cite_note-16>"  That
fits with the view that population multiplies the effects of consumption,
and vice versa, not that population, in and of itself, causes the problem.
      What I think we do know is that large and fast growing populations
increase a wide variety of problems, the need to build more schools for
large numbers of children, find more water sources, build more electricity
capacity, roads, more food, more deforestation, overfishing, greenhouse gas
emissions, etc etc.
      I recommend looking at the "Effects of human overpopulation" section
on the Human overpopulation webpage on Wikipedia, at the long list of
effects.  It introduces them by saying "Some problems associated with or
exacerbated by human overpopulation and over-consumption are:"
    Whatever the level of population that is not sustainable, if
population continues to grow, it will be exceeded sooner or later, since
resources are finite.  I am reminded of the prediction of Malthus, that
population growth will exceed resources, and populations will be controlled
by starvation, war, or disease.  In large part that has not happened since
his writings.  The available resources have been greatly expanded by the
tool making revolution, the agricultural revolution (about 9000 years ago)
and the industrial revolution, and the green revolution (agriculture) (only
the last two were after Malthus).  Whether that can continue over the
medium term or not is debatable, but in the very long term, it can't.
    So agreed, population is at least one of the two ultimate causes of
coral reef degradation.  But as I argued before, there is no way that
population can be reduced fast enough to save reefs.
      I don't agree that we can't get off of our addition to fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels are heavily subsidized.  In the US, oil companies receive $35
billion (with a "b") a year in direct subsidies.  An excerpt from one of
Tom Goreau's recent papers says "At present the world subsidizes fossil
fuels to the rate of 500 billion dollars per year (Whitely, 2013), or about
$15 per tonne of CO2 emitted."  Fossil burning plants do not have to pay
the societal costs of all the pollution they emit, if they did, they would
be uneconomical compared to renewable energy.  Oil doesn't have to pay the
costs of the military necessary to keep the supply lines open in places
like the Persian Gulf.  Remove the subsidies, and renewables would then be
cheaper than fossil fuel, and people will switch relatively quickly,
voluntarily.  Yes, a huge change.
      I agree that people in the developing world will be unwilling to
limit the growth of their economies.  And I add that I don't think people
in developed countries have a right to demand that they do so, while people
in the developed countries consume so much more.
      I agree we will have many drastic declines in many types of
ecosystems and quality of life long before CO2 levels become toxic (I don't
think anyone has proposed CO2 will reach toxic levels, asphyxiating people,
anytime in the near or even distant future).
      I never said I was satisfied with incremental progress..  I said I
would take what I can get.  I'd much rather have rapid progress than slow,
and the slower we are, the more damage will be done before we get these
things under control.  But I appreciate any ethical thing that helps us to
get farther towards our goal, and more quickly.
    I don't think we have to choose between fixing the ultimate causes of
population and over-consumption on the one hand, and working on proximal
causes on the other hand.  We can work on local causes of coral reef
decline and on reducing greenhouse gases, and on reducing population growth
rates and reducing consumption, all at once.  In fact I think that's the
best way to go.  As for the disease analogy, we have no cures for diseases
like colds or Ebola.  We can only treat symptoms for those diseases, and
with colds at least, people recover on their own.  Broadly speaking, human
populations increase in spite of diseases, and the human species survived
even before there was modern medicine to treat diseases.  I don't think
that humans are necessarily doomed, nor is the environment.  I do think
that overpopulation and over consumption, unless reduced, are likely to
greatly reduce the quality of life in the future for many.
    Anyhow, we aren't going to save coral reefs by reducing population,
that will take at least a couple hundred years or more, the the big mass
mortality from bleaching is predicted to start in a few decades.  (But if
anybody has a bright idea of how to reduce world population in just three
decades without killing vast numbers of people, please tell us.)  The only
way to do it is to reduce local impacts, and reduce the emission of
greenhouse gases.  All of which can be done in time to save reefs, without
waiting for population to be reduced.  But it certainly won't be easy and
if we don't start making progress we're going to loose.
    Cheers,  Doug

On Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 4:38 AM, Durwood M. Dugger <ddugger at biocepts.com>

> Doug,
> First I suggest you revisit the basic definition of overpopulation (
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopulation). Simply by acknowledging
> that there is anthropogenic climate change, global environmental
> degradation, and peak critical resources - you have met all the
> requirements that define global human overpopulation as unsustainable on
> this planet. Current populations are simply not sustainable on the
> planetary resources and the related technical processes that currently
> exist.
> I suggest you read your own email. You provide a very convincing argument
> that consumption, technical development and overpopulation are not only
> interlinked, but in a developing world - consumption per individuals is
> increasing over time much faster than population growth - which still
> continues globally - and as such increases anthropogenic impacts per
> individual. It would be naive to believe that the developing world - and
> especially  population dense Asian countries are going deny themselves the
> same consumptive luxuries that previously developed countries have enjoyed
> - without significant conflicts.
> Without a major energy/economics technology paradigm shift that includes
> producing energy at fractions of the current fossil fuel costs, we can’t
> even leave the fossil fuel energy/currency we currently exist under
> globally. Without getting into the details economic and peak critical
> resource of our current path, be assured our population is not sustainable
> and in combination with climate change, we will perish from a lack critical
> resources long before CO2 levels actually become lethal to the planet at
> large - though its biological degradation and the destruction of sensitive
> ecosystems like coral reefs will continue to increase.
> The real danger in the perspective of being satisfied with any attention
> to the problem (like the Popes), is that you are satisfied by incremental,
> and very debatable “progress” in addressing only the symptoms anthropogenic
> impacts on the planet. By addressing symptoms rather than the source it is
> impossible to make progress in solving the source problem. By definition
> you don’t have “progress” until there is a measurable movement toward
> defined goals. I believe that CO2 is still and will continue to increase
> for the foreseeable future. We have no economically viable energy
> replacements for current fossil fuels, we are not addressing the
> economy-of-scale petroleum industry elimination impacts on other industries
> such as petro-chemicals (that current food technology/volumes are
> absolutely economically dependent upon) in leaving petroleum energy
> production, and we have not found economically viable ways of recycling
> phosphorus that limits our global food production capacities in the long
> term (30 to 300 years - depending which “experts” you read.
> If we are not making progress in the ways I previously mentioned and our
> population continues growing - albeit slower, we really aren’t making
> measurable progress in solving our problems. In any disease treating
> symptoms makes the patient feel better, but unfortunately doesn’t change
> the course of the disease.
> Best regards,
> Durwood M. Dugger, Pres.
> ddugger at biocepts.com
> BCI, Inc. <http://www.biocepts.com/BCI/Home.html>
Douglas Fenner
Contractor with Ocean Associates, Inc.
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084

Join the International Society for Reef Studies.  Membership includes a
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"belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."

Hope from the Pope


Will Pope Francis's climate message break through where others have failed?


website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner

blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope
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