Have Denialists Reached Their Carrying Capacity?

by Jim Robertson

Denial seems to be the fallback position for those who don’t understand a particular science and/or have a political motive not to believe said science. Lately we’ve been hearing much about the denial of anthropogenic climate change, but willful ignorance can be employed for everything from evolution to overpopulation.

Generally speaking, denialists want to hold humans harmless of something they’re clearly responsible for, whether it’s having a carbon footprint—or a literal footprint. But no one is innocent of the ultimate crime of being born a human. (An aberration. An abnormality. An irregularity. A meat-eating monkey.)

Some still cling to the denial that tobacco (or meat) can cause cancer. Others just don’t care. Many would probably balk at the analogy that humans are a cancer to the Earth.

Historically, it was deniers of the obvious–gravity, astronomy and evolution (literal flat-Earthers)—who we heard the most from. Today’s deniers still include a few who question the “theory” of gravity, evolution and other realities.

But few have gone so far as to call for a de facto book ban as Laurie Mazur did recently in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled, “China drops its ‘one-child’ policy, now let’s ban the ‘population bomb’,” featuring the irrational statement, “Let’s be clear: slowing population growth is not a panacea for the challenges of the 21st century.” I’m sure biologist Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 book she attacks in her article, would challenge that statement. Let’s be real: slowing our population growth is the only lasting remedy, assuming we care about the rest of life on Earth at all.

Has Ms. Mazur ever heard of the term carrying capacity? In Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s 1996 book, Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future, they write in answer to the naïve notion that there is no overpopulation:

“To understand how fallacious this statement is requires recognizing that overpopulation can be reached very quickly by exponentially growing populations in situations of seeming abundance. There is overpopulation when organisms (people in this case) become so numerous that they degrade the ability of the environment to support their kind of animal in the future. The number of people Earth can support in the long term (without degrading the environment)—given existing socioeconomic systems, consumption patterns, and technological abilities—is called the human carrying capacity of the planet at the time. And carrying capacity can be exceeded without causing immediate effects obvious to the untutored observer. ‘Overshoots’ commonly occur in nature with all kinds of organisms. A population has an ‘outbreak,’ grows far beyond its carrying capacity, consumes its resources (for animals, usually food), and crashes to a size far below the previous carrying capacity.”

Homo sapiens has never been a light-touch or low-impact type of creature. Once you realize that, it’s easier to believe they’re overpopulated and have been actually changing the planet’s climate. Whether or not our species has peopled the Earth to the point of saturation, the denialists have undeniably reached their carrying capacity.



6 thoughts on “Have Denialists Reached Their Carrying Capacity?

  1. We are denying climate change? What does that say about our claim that we are the only “intelligent” and cognitively superior species on earth? Don’t we use that as an excuse to exploit all the “inferior” animals? Is there any evidence for climate change? Well, we can see bare mountain tops whose glaciers have melted. We can see desiccated landscapes and dried up lakes. We can see ocean where they used to be dry ground. We can watch the raging forest fires and horrendous floods in real time–and insist nothing is going on. I think we’re talking about the same species who waged wars, tortured witches, burned heretics, and created martyrs all in the service of a God no one has ever seen.

    I’m surprised and disappointed that we have so little news on the situation in Europe–the migration from countries suffering from war, poverty, overpopulation, and, yes, climate change. Germany was scheduled to take 800,000 refugees from Syria, but that will turn out to be several million by the time families are reunited. Many of the migrants are from other countries seeking to escape their home. Internet discussions cover conditions and problems the affected European countries are not supposed to air on the news–the lack of resources for housing, social services, and medical care. The need for more law enforcement for culture clashes and for the fights breaking out in camps housing factions that have been warring for centuries. Leaders of the European Union argue among themselves over who can accommodate more refugees and wonder if they can cope with the influx. Some even predict the break-up of the EU.

    There are questions not being asked–at least overtly. What if there are no choices about how many refugees the various countries can help? What if tens of thousands of people on the march just keep coming? And how can there be a solution to the problems of climate change when it is denied. How can there be a solution to overpopulation when its prophets have been discredited, when its existence is denied as much as climate change, and when contraception is unacceptable to major religions and the people adhering to them. We may have waited too long.

    I feel bad for the” inferior” animals, you know, the ones who “can’t think.” They will pay the highest price for our irresponsibility and stupidity.

  2. Nice post – great quote from the Erlich book.

    Albert A. Bartlett: ‘The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.’

  3. But few have gone so far as to call for a de facto book ban as Laurie Mazur did recently in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled, “China drops its ‘one-child’ policy, now let’s ban the ‘population bomb’,” featuring the irrational statement, “Let’s be clear: slowing population growth is not a panacea for the challenges of the 21st century.”

    I saw this, and I did not appreciate the sanctimonious tone of it, an at the point of this statement, I quit reading it.

    Doesn’t look good, if we can’t get it in 50 years. What will happen in another 50 years, aside from the given increase in human population?


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