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.)
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.