Human Population Growth: “Anomalous and Unnatural”

“There is one especially interesting aspect of the current political landscape, and that is the matter of human populations. At one time a widely debated and much analyzed problem of the day, human population pressure has mysteriously slipped from both political and popular ‘environmental’ agendas.”[

[So wrote the late Canadian naturalist, and outspoken author, John A. Livingston in his 1994 book, Rogue Primate, back when there were only 5.67 billion of us as opposed to today’s 7.3 billion.]

“There is plenty of talk about food distribution (there is enough food for everyone in the world if we could only get it to them) and both industrial and low-impact agriculture, but the matter of absolute human numbers appears to have receded, if not from our private reflections, from our public utterances.

“The deadliest and most insidious form of thought repression is self-censorship. It has

8 is enough, but 13 is definitely too many for anyone!

8 is enough, but 13 is definitely too many for anyone!

become popular…to label those who would dare weigh the interests of Nature in the context of human populations as “ecofascists.” Yet another trump card [like the derisive term “food Nazi” often used against vegans by hard line meat eaters]. Charges of fascism and misanthropy, as well as of racism and Malthusianism are familiar to all who tend the vineyards of Nature’s inherent worth in the face of the human blight. The self-censorship that sometimes can follow, though craven and submissive, is usually defended as necessary and unavoidable pragmatism.

“It was not always thus. There was a period in which a great deal of attention was given to exploding humanity. From the later1940s to the early 1970’s there was a formidable outpouring of articles and books on the social and ecological implications of unrestrained human breeding.…

“The inexorable laying waste of Nature has broadened, deepened, and accelerated proportionately. By 1975 the world’s human population was no longer 2000 millions [as it was in 1948] but 4000 millions.…

“The fact that the human population bubble has not yet burst in all its horror does not mean that it will not. The fuse is no longer sputtering. It is burning steadily now. No organism can increase its numbers infinitely.

“No doubt the familiar devices of distancing and denial are at work in the disappearance of the population question. It has seemed to me for quite some time that the continuing reportage of the Ethiopian and Somalian famines tends to focus on the human misery, the ‘failure’ of the rains and the bitterly drawn-out political violence. Little attention is given to the human role in the ecological synergy that causes desertification. Although much is made of the hideous suffering of the children, few commentators note that if there were such a thing as natural justice, these little ones would not have been. Even fewer address the ironical human ability to proliferate even under the most appalling privation. No wild animal can do that.

“There are machismo tenets in some human cultures that much rigidly reject family planning no matter what the consequences. In others, repeated reproduction has become a perceived means of offsetting child mortality. There are those whose ‘leaders’ are sufficiently chicken-hearted and sexist to deny women a choice in the matter of abortion. There are still others with ‘policy-makers’ bent on providing more customers for the chain stores, more victims for the financial institutions, and more non-corporate taxpayers by enhancing natural increase through immigration. There are even governments desirous of rapid population increases for purely political reasons. In all nations, rich or poor, there is unanimity on the point that the effect of human numbers on Nature is a second-order consideration, and externality.

“Anyone who knows anything about living organisms knows that the human reproductive wave is anomalous and unnatural. No other animal, especially a large one, could possibly get away with it. In Nature, explosions do occur at times, but either they are cyclic and normal, as with lemmings, or there is some unusual, local reason for them (more often than not traceable to human activity). In either case they tend to die back as suddenly as they arose. [Humans may not have arisen “suddenly,” but one thing is for certain, they will die back.]

10 thoughts on “Human Population Growth: “Anomalous and Unnatural”

  1. We forget how short human history is, just a few thousand years of “civilization” and a couple hundred years of “Industrial Revolution” and look at the human population explosion in the past 15 years. Ranching (animal farming), sports killing (hunting), over fishing the oceans, fossil fuel. It is not sustainable. We need to learn to eat differently. The hunting tradition needs ti be history. Time for humans to stop breeding like rabbits.

  2. It’s shocking to realize just how much damage humans have caused and havoc wreaked in such a short time span, isn’t it. 😦 Even to our own kind. No matter how intelligent and highly evolved we think we are, very primitive things still motivate our behavior.

  3. John Livingston had another interesting point in” Rogue Primate” in his discussion of population pressure and our consumer culture. He noted

    “You and I are accessories. We elect weak, self-serving politicians who, together with their devious, self-serving bureaucrats, assiduously evade the “crunch” issues of population and “development” policies, and whose only allegiance is to do their jobs.” (page 195)

    There are increasing numbers of us who believe in deep ecology and the idea that wilderness, its animal inhabitants, its trees, rivers, and plants have value in and of themselves. They are not there as human resources to be exploited. We do not believe that public lands should be managed at the behest of ranchers and extractors. We do not believe that special interest groups, such as hunters and ranchers, should drive the decisions of fish and wildlife services in determining which animals should live or die. We do not believe wild horses should be hazed and rounded up to be sent to slaughter or spend their lives in holding pens. So, come Election Day, for whom do we vote? Will there be anyone on the ballot who would support our policies? Doubtful. Do we just pick the least of the worst to send to Washington, DC? Or should we get over the mantra that voting is a civic duty and withhold our votes in the moral conviction that a lesser evil is still evil? If so, then we need another way to have a voice as loud as deniers, developers, Madison Avenue, Wall Street, NRA zealots, and the culture of anthropocentrism and greed that are destroying our planet. What we have now is not working.

      • I really like his ideas. They seem just as, or more, relevant than they were when he wrote. Wish his books were on the best seller list instead of all the claptrap by self-promoting political commentators.

      • Yes, he’s right on about so many things. I ordered used copies of his books through Amazon. One of them cost only 0.01 cents–pretty insulting, considering all he had to say!

        In reference to “You and I are accessories,” Livingston also went on to say:
        “We buy furniture made of tropical hardwood. We buy tuna fish at the ‘incidental’ cost of hundreds of thousands of dolphin deaths. We buy shares in chemical companies. We do business with Japan, paramount despoiler of wild Nature. We allow recreational killing, and we condone the flaying of wild animals for fashion. We donate funds to vivisection.”

  4. Thanks for saying this so eloquently. I’ve been thinking and saying this for a long time. Being a teen-ager in the 60’s, I remember quite well the talk of “Zero Population Growth,” and have wondered why it’s no longer an issue. My personal feeling is that Nature will take care of itself and that, one way or another, the human population will be dramatically reduced. Now that the 6th Extinction is upon us, parents and grandparents have too much invested to face the truth. I feel sorry for folks who have seen the same things I have over the years and have chosen to ignore them, but it doesn’t change the facts.

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