Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Overpopulation: Are You Sure it is an Ignored Problem?

In the 1960s and 1970s, the problem of world overpopulation was often debated, and birth control was proposed as a solution. It soon became politically incorrect even to mention this subject in public, but it may be that it wasn't forgotten, but it is rather being acted upon in ways that don't involve a public debate. I recognize that this post is a little catastrophistic, but some posts just write themselves and this is what happened with this one

In July of every year, the WWF usually alerts of the arrival of the "Fish Dependence Day" that marks the date when the European consumption of fish equals the projected yearly production from European seas. There follows that, from that day onward, Europeans eat only imported fish or offshore fish up to the end of the year. It is just one of the many indicators of the overexploitation of the world's natural resources, fish is just an example as I and my coworker Perissi describe in our recent book "The Empty Sea".

You probably know that the politically correct way to mention overexploitation is to say that we should be more careful, consume a little less, diversify, avoid the most overexploited stocks of resources, and that then everything will be well. This is the way I reported the 2020 Fish Dependence Day in an article I wrote for an Italian newspaper. But the anonymous comments I received were most politically incorrect: the majority of them blamed overpopulation. Most of these comments were not sophisticated: the idea was simply that the fewer people there are, the less the pressure on the ecosystem is. So, reduce the population and -- magically -- all problems are solved, from fish depletion to climate change.

Of course, that brings a small problem: how do you reduce population? The politically correct way to mention the problem is to immediately add a disclaimer in which you explain that you are not planning to kill or sterilize anyone, but just to use rational arguments to convince people that it is in their best interest to have fewer children. But, as you may imagine, even the disclaimer above won't save you from attacks from both sides of the problem: some people will accuse you to deny the population problem, others to overemphasize it, and both will accuse you of planning the extermination of humankind.

But in this post, let me try the untriable and face the unfaceable. In other words, to discuss how could states and societies act on overpopulation once they decide it is an important problem? (and, maybe, they already have decided that)

Let's start by saying that the whole debate on population, as it is today, is pure smoke and mirrors, as most public debates are. It is the way things are: debates are not there to take decisions, they are encouraged by the powers that be (PTB) in order to create confusion, divide the public, and make any decision difficult or impossible -- especially those decisions that the PTB don't like. But that doesn't mean decisions are not taken. It is just that they derive from different mechanisms. 

In some cases, decisions are taken by the PTB and then forced on people by means of laws, police, jails, and the like. Perhaps more often, they are the result of a form of collective intelligence that exists in all societies. No man is an island, and that applies also to decisions regarding family size: humans do not breed like rabbits. They decide according to a wide range of social conventions, laws, customs, peer pressure, and more. And the result is a certain degree of "population policy" that takes hold even in the absence of specific laws. As I describe in my book "The Seneca Effect", the Japanese society attained a nearly perfect population stabilization during the Edo period without any specific government intervention.

But often things are not so idyllic. Let's see a few historical examples, approximately ordered in terms of increasingly proactive societal intervention.

1. Ireland after the great famine. You probably know the story of the great famine that struck Ireland starting in 1846. In about one decade, Ireland had lost about half of its population to a combination of starvation, disease, and emigration. The interesting point of this story is that the Irish did NOT try to compensate for the losses by having more children. They did exactly the opposite, they reduced birthrates. The Irish of those times didn't have good contraceptives, but they coped mainly by retarding the marriage age and by adopting a lifestyle that discouraged sexual activity among young people. And they did the right thing: after the famine, the Irish population grew at a much slower rate than before, and today it has not yet reached the level of before the great famine. This is a very interesting story because it shows how a whole society can take a decision on a collective behavior without the need for this decision being enforced by a government. But note also that the Irish arrived at this decision only after having being struck with the equivalent of a hammer blow to the head. The Irish society as a whole had no predictive capabilities, it could only act after the disaster had already taken place.

2. The demographic transition. The modern decline of birthrates called the "demographic transition" can take different forms. In China, an official government program was enforced in the 1970s to limit the families to one child each. It involved financial penalties and forced sterilization and it was kept in place until 2016. The results were not so drastic as it might have been expected and the Chinese population continued to increase, although at progressively slower rates. In the West, the transition was more gradual and it may have started with the beginning of the 20th century, but the results were similar: slow decline of birthrates and gradual stabilization of the population size. In both cases, we may say that society reacted to the perception that population couldn't continue to grow exponentially forever. It may not be impossible that in both China and the West society had metabolized some of the results of the "Limits to Growth" study of 1972 and were reacting to it, even though the study soon became another politically incorrect story. For the Chinese, the result was an explicit government program of birth control, something that was possible in a strong state as argued by Chandran Nair in his recent book "The Sustainable State." In the West, instead, the concept of "birth control" soon became unspeakable in political terms, but it was implemented in practice by Western women on their own initiative.This case shows that there is a certain degree of societal intelligence that can react to the assessment of future threats. It is a limited capability though. The decline in birthrates was very slow and didn't lead to a population decline.

3. Eugenic policies in the West. This is a sensitive subject, not often discussed and for which it is not easy to find extensive data. In any case, eugenics is not, normally, about reducing the population size, but that may well be a side effect. Typical methods used involve forced sterilization and may arrive at "involuntary euthanasia." (a nice euphemism, although not so impressive as others that came in fashion in later times, such as "humanitarian bombs"). Eugenics made a fleeting appearance during the first half of the 20th century (and a little beyond that) in the West, mostly in the US and in Germany. In the US, eugenic policies had a decidedly racial aspect. Sterilizations targeted mostly minority groups seen as inferior (Blacks, Mexicans, Native Americans, etc.), but it doesn't seem that forced euthanasia was used. In Germany, the idea arrived later, with the Nazis in the 1930s, but it was practiced with much more enthusiasm and it involved the elimination of entire minority groups. We all know the case of the Jews, but the German state also engaged in the killing of a significant number of German citizens, although not on a scale that could reduce the population size. This case is interesting because it shows how a society can literally go crazy and enact drastic measures of population control that are not only probably useless but surely evil.

These are just examples, but I think it is possible to take a few general conclusions from them. The main one is that a society under strain may react by enacting laws or developing customs to influence the population size. Up to relatively recent times, states tried to overcome crises by increasing the birthrate of their citizens -- some still do that. It was a way to obtain more cannon fodder (or, even earlier, more blade fodder). But with the 20th century, military might was not anymore proportional to the number of soldiers that a state could field. So, the societal response to a crisis could be to stabilize the population and optimize the economy by reducing birthrates, in some cases even by using drastic methods such as eugenics. 

Now, in our times, there is no doubt that we are in a crisis, a very serious crisis, a crisis that no other society ever faced in the past. No matter what Steven Pinker tells us about things getting better, it is clear that they are not getting better when tens of thousands of the best world's scientists keep telling us that climate change is going to destroy our civilization. You may fault capitalism, the rich, inequality, the psychopaths in power, all that. Sure, but it is legitimate to think (even though it may not be said) that 8 billion people are a problem.

Let me state again that I am not here to propose any population policy: I have no such capability, nor title, and not even interest in doing that. I am just wondering about how society (and the Western society in particular) could react to the perception that, 1) there exists a very serious existential problem, and 2) it may be caused by overpopulation.

Clearly, reducing birthrates would not be enough: alone, it can't be fast enough to counteract the dire scenarios that we face in terms of ecosystem disruption. An "Ireland-like" scenario may well be in the cards: a major famine could halve the world's population, as it happened in Ireland in the mid-19th century. In that case, the population may not restart growing after the disaster and the worst-case climate scenarios might be averted. Alternatively, there would be the possibility of a new round of eugenic programs. That would be the most drastic and desperate attempt to react to the threat. Could that happen for real? It is true that eugenics is considered a bad word, but that doesn't mean it can't be implemented under different names.

The recent COVID-19 epidemics gave us a good example of what Western governments can do in an emergency, or what they perceive as an emergency. As an example, let me report a recent statement by Alan Dershowitz
“Let me put it very clearly: you have no constitutional right to endanger the public and spread the disease, even if you disagree. You have no right not to be vaccinated. … And if you refuse to be vaccinated, the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm.”
Which is a pretty good description of what the new eugenic policies might look like. It would all be for your own good, of course, but you cannot oppose being inoculated with something you would rather avoid to be inoculated with. And if you protest, you'll be branded as an enemy of the people and punished accordingly.

So, we could see something like what Antonio Turiel's described in his fictional story titled "Good Vibrations." In it, he shows how a government decides to get rid of the people considered a burden for the economy by enforcing the consumption of an anti-depressant drug that has the unfortunate side-effect of killing those who take it in about 5 years. Even without forcing people to take a deadly drug, governments could simply let the commerce of opioid drugs expand, with the result of obtaining the elimination of a good fraction of the "useless" people. It could happen.... wait... It is already happening!

And so we conclude that the future is indeed an interesting place. After all, we are all going there. But there are no maps of the future and so we don't know what we'll find there. Maybe it won't be so bad as some say it could be, or maybe we'll find it is much worse. Who knows? Just enjoy the ride: it is free!


  1. My issue with "overpopulation" is that it misses the point. Half the worlds consumption is done by the richest 10%. So my hope is for the first world (or a sizable fraction of it) to reduce its consumption to the level of the second world. You may well be right that violence is more likely, but I'll do my part, and hope that more and more people follow suit.

    1. Reducing individual consumption creates a Jeavons paradox, where the resources freed up by you encourage others to either consume more (or in the case of the first world/third world divide encourage people to potentially have more children).

    2. Given the nearness, whether in past or future, of resource depletion tipping points and general overall human habitat degradation and depletion, it looks to me like we are nearing the end of the Industrial Revolution and its high tech antecedents leading more likely to the whole world entering a new "dark ages". Am reminded of Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker First World will by global default become Third World. And it wont be by any acts of human intelligence.

    3. Given the nearness, whether in past or future, of resource depletion tipping points and general overall human habitat degradation and depletion, it looks to me like we are nearing the end of the Industrial Revolution and its high tech antecedents leading more likely to the whole world entering a new "dark ages". Am reminded of Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker First World will by global default become Third World. And it wont be by any acts of human intelligence.

  2. Thanks a lot for this humourous post...
    Already the word "over"-population is an insinuation. As if there was a population limit of, say, 6.274 Billion people and we went over it. O.k. I understand: it's just a feeling, a feeling which comes up when you see all those millions of people in Asia and the statistics, that say, that subsaharan Africa is importing food already in its entirety, and slashing and burning forests faster than South America (with Brazil and the Amazon rape), while having 4 children per mother in average.
    But the back side is, that > 200 Million women (and about the same number of men, I suppose) have no decent access to family planning, which is a political correct term for contraceptives. And > 80 million women every year get pregnant without wanting the child mainly because of this. 80 million is about the growth rate of the world population.
    To help them would do great good for them, their families, their countries, and everybody. That's what I try by giving UNFPA some money to do their job. The reader may feel free to do the same.

  3. Thinking about ant colonies. This experiment showed that populations of fire ants are regulated by competition between neighboring colonies:
    Also, study on ant colony response to disease


  4. In this recent nonstop Pharmedia appearances, Gates appears gleeful that the Covid-19 crisis will give him the opportunity to force his third-world vaccine programs on American children."

    “Promising to eradicate Polio with $1.2 billion, Gates took control of India ‘s National Advisory Board (NAB) and mandated 50 polio vaccines (up from 5) to every child before age 5. Indian doctors blame the Gates campaign for a devastating vaccine-strain polio epidemic that paralyzed 496,000 children between 2000 and 2017.

    In 2017, the Indian Government dialed back Gates’ vaccine regimen and evicted Gates and his cronies from the NAB. Polio paralysis rates dropped precipitously. In 2017, the World Health Organization reluctantly admitted that the global polio explosion is predominantly vaccine strain, meaning it is coming from Gates’ Vaccine Program. ABy 2018, ¾ of global polio cases were from Gates’ vaccines.

    In 2014, the Gates Foundation funded tests of experimental HPV vaccines, developed by GSK and Merck, on 23,000 young girls in remote Indian provinces. Approximately 1,200 suffered severe side effects, including autoimmune and fertility disorders. Seven died. Indian government investigations charged that Gates funded researchers committed pervasive ethical violations: pressuring vulnerable village girls into the trial, bullying parents, forging consent forms, and refusing medical care to the injured girls. The case is now in the country’s Supreme Court.

    In 2010, the Gates Foundation funded a trial of a GSK’s experimental malaria vaccine, killing 151 African infants and causing serious adverse effects including paralysis, seizure, and febrile convulsions to 1,048 of the 5,049 children.

    During Gates 2002 MenAfriVac Campaign in Sub-Saharan Africa, Gates operatives forcibly vaccinated thousands of African children against meningitis. Between 50-500 children developed paralysis. South African newspapers complained, "We are guinea pigs for drug makers".

    Nelson Mandela's formar Senior Economist, Professor Patrick Bond, describes Gates' philantropic practises as "ruthless" and immoral".

    In 2010, Gates committed $ 10 billion to the WHO promising to reduce population, in part, through new vaccines. A month later Gates told a Ted Talk that new vaccines "could reduce population". In 2014, Kenya's Catholic Doctors Association accused the WHO of chemically sterilizing millions of unwilling Kenyan women with a phony "tetanus" vaccine campaign.

    Independent labs found the sterility formula in every vaccine tested. After denying the charges, WHO finally admitted it had been developing the sterility vaccines for over a decade. Similar accusations came from Tanzania, Nicaragua, Mexico and the Philippines.

    A 2017 study (Morgensen et.Al.2017) showed that WHO's popular DTP is killing more African than the disease it pretends to prevent. Vaccinated girls suffered 10x the death rate of unvaccinated children. Gates and the WHO refused to recall the lethal vaccine which WHO forces upon millions of African children annually.

    Global public health advocates around the world accuse Gates of - hijacking WHO's agenda away from the projects that are proven to curb infectious diseases; clean water, hygiene, nutrition and economic development. They say he has diverted agency resources to serve his personal fetish - that good health only comes in a syringe.

    In addition to using his philantropy to control WHO, UNICEF, GAVI and PATH, Gates funds private pharmaceutical companies that manifacture vaccines, and a massive network of pharmaceutical -industry front groups that broadcast deceptive propaganda, develop fraudulent studies, conduct surveillance and psychological operations against vaccine hesitancy and use Gates' power and money to silence dissent and coerce compliance.

    Robert Kennedy, Jr, Speaks the Unspeakable about Vaccines.

    1. Check the authenticity of all is claimed in this post at any of the fact checking sites available on the web, if at all interested.

    2. Who Will Fact Check the Fact Checkers? Who pays them?
      Another report with links to the sources:
      We should all report that one person controls world health. We don't know his interests, but we know his friends:

  5. some ressources to read further into the history of infanticde or as in edo called mabiki and the reference about early police protocols in london of the many dead children found in the parks i can not find yet...

  6. I find the demographic debate interesting right now because I am noticing a shift from the absolute nagationism of the environment/population density relarionship to the economic consequence of a population reduction. Usually most arguments are hidden behind financial statements like: who will pay for the pensions of our children. I have never witnessed any paper mentioning the obvious fact that there would be more natural resources available for each individual.
    Considering the importance of the source I find interesting in this respect this recent BBC article
    The most fun/pathetic statement: "If you can't [find a solution] then eventually the species disappears, but that's a few centuries away."

  7. Well, regarding immigrants to the US in the past, and also other places, they had big families because resources were abundant and therefore cheap with money market value. The problem develops a lot slower than rabbits, though, as human generations are around twenty years as opposed to a few months. But the point is that while overpopulation problems with humans take considerably longer than they do with rabbits, the basic problem is the same. And even though the Irish in Ireland slowed their birth rate, I think they would still be badly overpopulated if they had to try to live without fossil fuels. I've read things from people in Ireland that show serious alarm about this problem.
    And that looks the same virtually everywhere in the world. Even places that don't use nearly as much energy as the industrialized nations, can be dependent on things like synthetic fertilizer, and one sees things like outboard motors and synthetic fishing nets and other industrial products being used by subsistence farmers and hunters around the world. Being forced to give up those things would be a serious shock, I'd say. And overshoot eventually collapses unless things to fend it off are found. Do we find those things or not? I don't see that the expectation of finding things is based on science, the things people want to find are imaginary, but I can't say it is impossible. It certainly hasn't happened, though. And I'd expect that being much less dependent on industrial products, and fewer helpless mouths to feed, would be an advantage in surviving a population collapse, which could result from long distance trade collapsing.
    Rabbits have deserved reputation for reproducing a lot, they are a small prey animal, but they breed seasonally, because having babies in the winter doesn't work. Humans having babies during a dieoff doesn't sound like it would work well, either. Greater awareness of danger happening and appropriate changes made for it, tends to be selected in life forms. The seasonal breeding of animals isn't a conscious decision by them, if you put them in a different situation they can follow the old pattern with disasterous results, but making conscious decisions can have the same beneficial result as instinctive behavior selected for a particular situation. If people make conscious decisions that they are social creatures who need to work together even more without fossil fuel technology, and get together and learn to do this as best they can, leave off reproduction until they have learned to do this and have stability with it, they should survive better than those who stick with the status quo.
    Of course, those who stick with the status quo might sneer at the idea of doing something like this, that this is unnecessary paranoid behavior, the current problems are just a bump in the road of human progress towards expanding through the universe. People have to decide what they think reality is on the matter, and we find out. I think non science based expectations of the future are not likely, and wouldn't bet on them.

    If leaving the current cacophony behind does survive better, those survivors might have a lot saner life in the future than the last few thousand years have been. What they learn could be held onto in a far more stable way. They could be a beneficial presence instead of a destructive one.

  8. More than 222,000 people land (are born) EVERY day on the planet. These 222,000 people need to be fed, watered, housed, clothed, transported and so on. For all this, ENERGY is needed, mainly in the form of fossil fuels for the moment. With the peak-oil probably already reached in 2018, this is a battle lost in advance. The population will in any case decrease due to a lack of energy. Biology in its purest form.

  9. I think you need to look at some more up-to-date figures on population because a lot has changed since the Limits to Growth and this piece is behind the times. The late Hans Rosling did a brilliant presentation to explain population growth in 2013 which is available from The Gap Minder. However the World Bank provides more recent data on population.

    The important bit is that the fertility rate (the number of births per woman) of the world is currently 2.4 (2.1 is the rate needed for replacement) so the growth rate has decreased dramatically. The population continues to grow because the babies born are living longer, however this has also stabilised somewhat and it is mainly in Africa, a relatively under-populated continent where the standard of living is still improving, that population is still growing.

    The bottom line is that population is stabilising. Also it may be worth noting that the poorest 6 billion of the population aren’t the problem for climate change. They aren’t the ones taking flights, can’t afford to eat lots of red meat or keep up with fashion, and their main method of transport is self-propelled or by moped. Their dwellings aren’t excessive, they don’t drive the extraction of diamonds and gold, and they generally eat locally and live a frugal existence. This is the kind of way we all need to live to reduce climate change.

    Climate Change has never been about overpopulation, it has been caused by industrialisation and globalisation. GDP grows when the population grows, and cheap labour is the foundation of industrialisation. Even in China the huge increase in carbon emissions is predominantly down to producing goods for the West. We really need to focus on the top 1% regarding climate change. Worrying about population is just a red herring.

    When you mention the Irish famine it is worth making it clear that the Great famine was not caused by overpopulation. Ireland at the time was producing lots of wheat, which the English landlords were shipping to England to sell. The Irish peasants could not afford the wheat and relied on potatoes, but blight wiped out the potato crops and left them starving. The English could have and should have acted to prevent this disaster, but I guess there wasn’t much joined up thinking at the time. It seems like a travesty to me, that Ireland is still suffering from the effects.

    1. Thanks for these notes, Jude, these are points often made in the debate and I know that the population is stabilizing. But, please, note the title of my post: it is "overpopulation," not "too fast growing population." Overpopulation means just that: too many people already on this planet, it doesn't matter whether they are growing fast or slow. Surely it is a good thing that they grow more slowly, but that's not the point I am making with this post.

      About Ireland, I know the story of the famine, a fascinating subject that I studied in some depth. The story that the English starved the Irish is, in my opinion, mostly a legend, although it has some elements of truth. But the harsh reality is that the famine was mostly in southern Ireland and the excess food produced in Northern Ireland simply couldn't be shipped south because of the lack of roads, railroads, and ports in the Southern region. But, again, no matter how you interpret the causes of the famine, the point I was making was another one. Given that there was not food for everybody (and that was clear to everyone!) how did the Irish society react to the situation?

      Up to a few years ago, anyway, I would have agreed with you that the demographic transition coupled with a better distribution of the available resources, could have solved the overpopulation problem. Now, I am starting to think that it is way too late to hope that the very slow and gradual decline in birthrates will be enough. Nevertheless, I hope you are right and that I am proven wrong. But hope is not what makes the world move, unfortunately

    2. Ah, sorry, I wrote "Jude" but it is "Judy"

    3. Have you considered that in Ireland the people emigrating were the working age adults, so who was left to have babies? Plus with tales coming back of a better life overseas emigration continued. I don't believe that society chose to keep the population low. They just married and had their kids in other countries.

      In every prediction for carbon emissions, predicted growth in population is used in the calculations. So if you look at predictions for emissions from car use, predicted population growth is factored in. That means population growth is a big driver in climate change impact scenarios, and needs to reflect more recent trends.

      For me I don’t see that current population is the problem for climate change. By that I mean we can bring carbon emissions under control without having to reduce population, though it does help now it is not growing rapidly.

      Take Palau as an example. It’s a string of islands in the Pacific Ocean with a population of around 17,700. According to Wikipedia it was the highest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the world in 2018, at 58 tons per person. Tourism is its main industry welcoming 140,000 people in 2016. What do you think is unsustainable in this instance? Overpopulation? Emissions from international flights aren’t even included in this figure, so you can see the true impact of tourism is enormous and is a luxury for the 1%.

      Carbon emissions are linked to money more than population. Industrialisation was only possible with cheap fossil fuels and dominant nations will go to great lengths to keep them cheap. Yet trading oil in dollars ensures it is more expensive for the rest of the world to obtain. If you can’t afford the fossil fuels then you aren’t creating the carbon emissions.

      Don’t worry about overpopulation Ugo, we aren’t hitting those limits yet and may never. We definitely don’t need more misguided human interference.

    4. Judy, Your hypothesis that the lower fertility of Irish was related to a different age distribution seems to me very unlikely, it is true that the young emigrated more than the old, but it is also true that the old were more vulnerable to starvation and disease. I didn't find any study that mentioned age distribution as a factor in affecting fertility, but maybe you can find something. If you do, it would be interesting to discuss it.

      Regarding instead my interpretation, I didn't invent it. Mainly is taken from this paper by Boyle and Grade, (it is also linked in the text). It is not the only one showing that the fertility of Irish women declined after the famine. Other sources speak of different cultural patterns developing after the famine leading to a more constrained attitude toward sex and marriage. Women did marry later and had fewer children. I interpret this change as the result of a "collective intelligence" of the Irish society, and there is no doubt that it was wise, given the circumstances. Then, all we know is interpretation......

    5. England had a similar population growth to Ireland but no famine and supposed overshoot. The whole of Europe suffered with potato blight and North America too in the 2 preceding years, but only Ireland had a famine. It wasn't overshoot it was inequality that resulted in such a disaster.

      There were already transport networks that took food from farms to the markets or ports. If food could be transported to England it could have been transported to Southern Ireland. The famine was not about reduced food production in general, because only one crop failed. That crop was the only food that peasants could afford to eat. The rest of the food produced in Ireland continued to grow but the poor could not afford it because they were already paying extortionate rents to landlords.

      The simple act of stopping exports could have changed everything. It was used in Ireland prior to the famine and it is still a policy used around the World today.

      The elderly and children may have been most at risk of dying. However roughly a million working age adults moved overseas, and I would expect these were the younger unmarried ones. The young women emigrated at the same rate as young men. The remaining older married women would have been less fertile. Plus the emigration continued after the famine. It wasn't like poverty was lifted when the famine ended.

      My Great Great Grandfather was born in Ireland around 1841, and was a tenant farmer. Of his 8 children only 2 appear to have remained in Ireland with several emigrating. His son, my Great Grandfather, had 8 children too but born in England. Ireland remained the main source of immigrants to England right up until the last few member states joined the EU. I just don't see that any collective decision about having less children was a factor, although I have enjoyed the discussion.

    6. I see that you are interested in this subject, Judy. Did we discuss that earlier on? I think we met somewhere, didn't we? Anyway, history is a vast matter, many things could have been that weren't and who knows why some things were and some were not.

      Anyway, just as a quick note on what England had that Ireland didn't have: simply being bigger. Both England and Ireland have rugged coasts, the result of the isostatic rebound that started with the end of the last ice age. But England had a big river called Thames that deposited sediments and created an estuary that was used for commercial purposes. It was the Thames that created England's commercial wealth. Ireland had nothing like that. Its Southern ports, even in the 19th center, were at best small fishing harbors. No way to set up a commercial network at a level even remotely compared to that of England. There were much better ports on the North-Eastern coast, but they had been built with the idea of developing commerce with England. It is still the same today.

      So, you could say that the Irish at the time of your great-great-grandfather were victims of the last ice age. But so is history. Everything that happens reverberates for centuries.

  10. The Black Death was successful in retarding population historically. It just came in waves carrying off people.

    1. Not really, John. It was a short-lived drop in population, then it rebounded faster than before!

  11. The four horsemen usually travel together. The first three: violence, plague, and famine are well known in history for supressing population. That last pale rider is just more deaths than births- almost invisible in the short run, invincible in the long run. Population will drop as fast as predicted in limits to growth, but when?

    1. Yep, the fourth horsemen is a little puzzling. It doesn't seem he is needed, the first three would be more than enough. Evidently, though, there is a reason for everything.

  12. Hurrah for the people of Italy! They have recognized that the absence of fish is a symptom of overpopulation, and they are doing something about it. Women there are having, on the average, 1.3 children. Without immigration, the population of that country of romance will decrease.
    In the past women have been unable to limit their fertility effectively and often had to resort to abortion. Now, with better and more available contraception, the abortion rate is going down, fortunately.
    We can all help slow the growth of our population by allowing women to have access to contraception and to safe abortion services. In addition to donation to family planning organizations, supporting and voting for candidates who are pro-choice is very important.
    Thank you for this blog, Ugo!
    Richard Grossman, MD, MPH
    PS: What happened in China is not described by the term "demographic transition".



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)