[Coral-List] More positive outlook would be nice but...

Alina Szmant alina at cisme-instruments.com
Thu Jun 27 15:18:05 UTC 2019

I have noticed something very interesting. Coral-List subscribers that agree that human overpopulation is the major issue write to me privately and not to the whole list. Those of you who think over-consumption is the whole problem and have a knee-jerk social justice reaction to the "how do we reduce human population size?" issue, write to the list. Wonder why that is?

Before I get to my reply to Peter's message, I'd like to remind everyone of an important little book that was published by University of Georgia in 2013:  "Life On The Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation" (https://www.amazon.com/Life-Brink-Environmentalists-Confront-Overpopulation/dp/0820343854). In the final chapters it offers a few suggestions for how to reduce human numbers outside disease and war. Several of them make sense to me, which include giving free birth control to all women so that only wanted (by the woman) pregnancies happen. Most pregnancies are unintended and unwanted especially in societies where women are subjugated to their husbands and where manhood is measured by how many children you have fathered. I visited a Maasai boma where an 84 year old man with 15 wives had 43 children. And now his grown children are having children. Yikes. Interestingly, several of the older sons only had 1 wife but were hoping for a second one if they could afford it. Bride price is a lot of cattle and with so many mouths to feed, not that many cattle to spare. 

NOW: Thanks Peter for the reading recommendation. I will pick it up after I finish the Harari series "Sapiens", "Homo Deus" and his most recent "21 Lessons for the 21st Century"/ I am only 2/3rds through the first one, which I highly recommend if you haven't already read it. It has a historical point of view of the human species and how we got to where we are (destroying the world).

I am glad that you are feeling more positive about the future, but things I've seen and read won't allow we to follow you down that path. I am pasting here the abstract from a paper I found on-line:

"How Many Times Has the Human Population Doubled? Comparisons with Cancer" by Warren M. Hern; University of Colorado
"Along with decreasing doubling times as a function of increasing rates of population growth over the past several thousand years, the human species has shown striking parallels with a malignant growth. Some cancers also display decreasing doubling times of cell proliferation during the most rapidly growing phase. At 6 billion, the number of doublings reached by the human population as of 1998 is 32.5, with the 33rd doubling (8.59 billion) expected early in the next century. In terms of total animal biomass, including that of domestic animals under human control, the 33rd doubling of human-related biomass has been passed. In terms of energy use, which is a more accurate index of the global ecological impact of humans, the human species has passed its 36th doubling. These calculations are important because, in addition to the number of doublings, the human population is showing several important similarities with a malignant organismic tumor, which results in death of the host organism at between 37 and 40 doublings. At current growth rates, the number of individual humans will reach those levels within 200-400 years from the present, but the ecological impact will be felt much sooner since the number of doublings of energy consumed will pass 37 early in the next century. These observations support the hypothesis that the human species has become a malignant process on the planet that is likely to result in the equivalent, for humans, of ecosystem death, or at least in a radical transformation of the ecosystem, the early phases of which are being observed." (http://www.drhern.com/pdfs/doubling.pdf).

I agree with Hern that the human growth behavior has the characteristics of a cancer. As we outgrow our habitat, we move onto other lands looking for life support. That is why humans are not limited in distribution to just Africa. This has been going on for 100's of thousands of years with loss of major species everywhere we moved to, as we ate them to extinction (Harari does a great job of summarizing this history). 

Most of the highest population density areas are large city-states (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST?end=2017&most_recent_value_desc=true&start=1961) that depend for pretty much everything on what is produced in other places.  If you visit a moderately overpopulated and less technical society such as Rwanda, you will see people living without most modern commodities and with every square ft of arable land already under cultivation for decades, people trying to grow food in the tiny strips of land between crowded houses and between their homes and the street. Large groups of young, barefoot, half naked children everywhere. They are working hard to overcome the social problems from the Genocide but lack of resources and opportunity will make this more difficult as time goes on. It is a very Catholic country so birth control and family planning is hard to get. They will be ever more dependent on food from outside their borders, but as neighboring countries struggle with their own population problems, costs of food and other essential goods increase due to global demand especially from more affluent city-states, hard times can be expected. And they are the home to 1/3 of the 880 remaining  mountain gorillas in the world. Why are there so few mountain gorillas left? Loss of habitat to grow food for people; hunting to eat them; villagers killing them when the animals leave their tiny park boundaries to eat the crops of neighboring communities; and sadly even trophy hunting by affluent outsiders (less common now because of armed rangers). Same story/different details for other African countries where people are competing with wildlife for land. In the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, people kill lions who kill the cattle the people illegally graze inside the parks because their own grazing land is exhausted and can't support the larger herds that larger human settlements need. Back home in NC, we have precious little wildlife left and haven't for decades because of development for increasing numbers of European descent people living in the state (Europeans moved here because of over carrying capacity in Europe; that drove the search for new opportunities; Read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond or go way back to Malthus in 1800's ). From the air, all you see is farms except where there are a few small swamps. Red wolf- gone; bobcats and other predators- mostly gone; bears- hunted to keep them from coming near human habitation. But we have lots of coyotes now because they have migrated East from West of the Mississippi as wolves have disappeared. And now that there are a few wolves in states out west, of course ranchers and hunters want to shoot them all because they eat the occasional sheep or cow, or just for sport... or because they blame wolves for decline in moose numbers when it is clear that moose numbers are down because of climate change (eaten alive by ticks; loss of habitat), and hunting (many millions of human hunters vs only a few thousand at most wolves).

And as you drive through the country side now, you see solar panel farms replacing food farms. How long is that model going to last? I am ALL FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY. My solar panels produce 80 to 100 % of my daily electricity needs. But not all roof tops are suitable for solar, and clearing land for more agriculture or converting agricultural land to solar panels is loss of food production for the growing human population and further loss of habitat for wildlife. If we try to replace all the fossil fuel energy with solar renewable by putting panels on ever rooftop possible, we still have the problem of energy  storage. And while there have been many very smart people working on better energy storage systems, carbon capture (as Al Gore says, it doesn't exist yet) for many decades, we are not there yet. To think that we will be able to supply all 7.5 billion people with 100 % renewable energy with a limited land mass and a growing population is in my mind, science fiction.

As you may notice, I haven't even mentioned coral reefs. Coral reefs are in fact is better shape than most terrestrial environments. And I think it is very short sighted to think about saving coral reefs in whatever shape or form in the future without thinking about the global ecosystem. 

How many of you have become vegan?  Industrial animal agriculture (including dairy and eggs for those of you who have become vegetarian) is as big a source of climate change as all the fossil fuel burning, and a lot of fossil fuel consumption is for production of animal-based foods. And it is an inherently very cruel and inhuman industry. Care about coral reefs? Go vegan, give up cheese and crackers. I did it and it's not that difficult. Just takes conviction. And much better for the coral reefs than shooting lion fishes.

OK, I feel drained and need to get back to all the work I was going to get done this morning.

Dr. Alina M. Szmant, CEO
CISME Instruments LLC
210 Braxlo Lane,
Wilmington NC 28409 USA
AAUS Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Awardee
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Website:  www.cisme-instruments.com

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-----Original Message-----
From: Coral-List <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> On Behalf Of Peter Sale via Coral-List
Sent: Wednesday, June 26, 2019 11:43 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Cc: 'Szmant, Alina' <szmanta at uncw.edu>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] On a positive note But actually...

Coral listers, and especially Alina Szmant, Welcome back, Alina.  Normally, when I am being realistic about the future, I would agree totally with your rant on population.  It puzzles and horrifies me that the environmental community avoids much mention of the problems a growing population causes.  (How exactly does one manage coastal pollution in a developing country still enduring a fertility rate of 3.5 or so.  No sooner does the government find funds for some mitigation of the existing problem, that problem grows in size.)  The thought of 10 or 11 billion of us on this planet terrifies me.

But today I can rant about a book I just finished reading.  It's Empty Planet. The shock of global population decline by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbetson, published Feb 2019.  The US Amazon link is https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1984823213/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0 where it seems to be amazingly inexpensive right now.

I know nothing about Bricker, but John Ibbetson is a well respected Canadian journalist.  I've read the book and apart from their relatively savage dismissal of Paul Ehrlich, I found it well presented and reasonable.  I did note that despite the hype the population projections they offer are all well within the UN low fertility variant, and also within the 95% confidence limits of the UN standard projection.  That is, the UN projections do account for the possibility Bricker and Ibbetson project for the planet (but, hey, we all have to stress how our work is really different from all that has gone before).  Frankly, I found their book very good environmental news and hope their projections are on the right track.

It is still possible (vanishingly small possibility that I'd not wager a cent on) that coral reefs could move through the Anthropocene, substantially changed but still, very much coral reefs.  I'm hoping for that outcome.  And in that respect, I've also been buoyed by the recent special topic collection of papers in Functional Ecology, put together by Gareth Williams and Nick Graham https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/13652435/2019/33/6  Authors discuss reef conservation done by seeking available ecosystem states that are as good as possible in retaining/replacing/augmenting existing services and assisting reefs to reach these states, as opposed to a preservationist approach that struggles in the impossibly uphill battle to restore the reefs of the 1950s.  Forward-thinking conservation demanding new science as opposed to backward-looking conservation that will inevitably fail because we cannot push ocean temperature down and ocean pH up nearly quickly enough to rectify wh  at has already happened to reefs.

So, Alina, welcome back and get optimistic again (I wrote this after a delicious Aussie red, which also helps), From the old scientists' home,

Peter Sale
sale at uwindsor.ca

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