Harvey’s Lessons

Harvey’s Lessons September 2, 2017

Environmentalists have a perfect teaching tool in Harvey. The storm intensified beyond anyone’s expectations…except the scientists who have been warning us for years about the disaster waiting to happen in Houston. No more waiting. It happened. The warm and moist air and the high temperature of the water in the Gulf were perfect conditions for Harvey to turn into a monster. Did global warming cause Harvey? No, but it has created the conditions for storms like Harvey to develop. Harvey would probably have been a routine rainstorm with a little wind ten or twenty years ago.

Despite what denialists say, global warming is not a hoax. It is as real as Harvey. So what can we do? Ask any high school kid who has had a chemistry class and they will tell you: Too many people burning too much fossil fuel is the problem. Burning fossil fuels creates CO2…carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s heat. We need to reduce, and eventually stop, burning the stuff. There are lots of alternative energy sources that are clean and renewable. We could start doing this today. In fact we are, on a very small scale. The technology is well known, and the costs are coming down. But there is a lot of opposition from vested interests…you know who they are…who are making lots of money selling oil, natural gas, and even coal, the absolute worst stuff for the environment in more ways than just CO2 production, although it is the world champion of that.

But even if we do manage eventually to convince most people in the world that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and even if we start reducing per-capita CO2 emissions, that doesn’t help us if the “capita” keeps going up. The population, that is. For a lot of reasons, not just global warming, we need to reduce the human impact on the ecosystems of the earth. That includes the massive deforestation that is reducing the planet’s ability to absorb CO2, destructive farming methods, overfishing the oceans, drawdown of “fossil water” in underground aquifers…the list goes on and on.

At the heart of the problem is…too many people. The solution is obvious, and almost impossible to implement: We need to have fewer children. Easy to say, but there are all kinds of obstacles. The Bible says “be fruitful and multiply.” People enjoy their families. They don’t like being told how many kids they can have. Many religions oppose abortion and even contraception. Half the pregnancies in the US are unplanned accidents. The Catholic Church, some evangelical Protestant sects, and of course the Mormons, have a long history of encouraging large families. A growing segment of US and European populations have racist/tribalist fears that limiting the birth rate of white children will lead to a takeover by other races with higher birthrates, and eventual subjugation and even extinction of whites. There is a corresponding fear in poor black communities that “family planning” programs are thinly-veiled attempts by racists to limit the black population.

It is a huge and multifaceted problem, but somehow, we must solve it, and deal with the consequences that a shrinking population will present. Capitalism likes growth, but a shrinking population that consumes less per capita will inevitably result in a shrinking economy. A smaller population will result in a shrinking gene pool. Genetic diversity is essential to human survival, so reduced birthrates must apply equally to all races and ethnicities. That should quiet some of the racist/tribalist nonsense, but it probably won’t.

A few years ago, I conducted a little thought experiment. I set up a hypothetical population of about 5000 people, and imposed a one-child-per-family regimen…and then watched what happened as the years passed. Although it was necessary to make some simplifying assumptions to keep it from getting too complicated, it illustrates some of the problems that society will face, especially during the transition to a smaller population. It is titled “Ramifications of Population Control.” Here is a link:


We are a long way from implementing any kind of worldwide population control. It probably cannot happen until nationalism, racism, ethnic identity and religious conflicts are suppressed sufficiently to enable a world government to fairly and equitably administer such a program. I am not holding my breath waiting for that.

It may take some kind of worldwide cataclysm to mobilize the political will necessary to start the process. Even then, as the linked article shows, it will take many years to get the population down to a sustainable size. Meanwhile, we have lots of work to do on cleaning up our act, stopping the destruction of the planet and restoring it to the beautiful home it once was…and can be again. It’s up to us. No god is going to help us. Prayers won’t help us. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.


Bert Bigelow graduated from the University of Michigan engineering school, and then pursued a career in software design.  He has always enjoyed writing, and since retirement, has produced short essays on many subjects.  His main interests are in the areas of politics and religion, and the intersection of the two.  Many of his writings are posted on his web site, bigelowbert.com.  You can contact him at bigelowbert@aol.com.



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