- / -
Misleading framing of challenges in terms of superficial causes
Problems arising more or less directly from overpopulation
Problems underlying failure to address underlying problems
Illusory promotion of technical solutions -- whether available or to come
Individual motivations in the misleading narrow framing of challenge
Undeclared collective motivations in misleading narrow framing of challenges
Role of religious dogma and faith-based governance
Mapping the Global Underground -- for an unconscious civilization
Population Precautionary Principle
Questions are being asked regarding the methodology and procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leading up to the traumatic change of climate at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, 2009) -- a specialized successor to the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and to the Rio+10 Summit (Johannesburg, 2002). The procedures are those which gave rise to the claimed worldwide 'consensus' of scientists regarding what has been presented as the most important challenge facing the future of human civilization. In the wake of revelations that the IPCC allowed faulty data into its Fourth Assessment Report (2007), the United Nations has announced in February 2010 that it will commission an independent panel to review the IPCC's operations and recommend any needed changes.
Of particular interest, although rarely mentioned, is the manner in which that consensus was built on the seldom-mentioned Kaya Identity -- with explicit avoidance of the implications of one of the four components on which it was constructed (Well Sharp, Getting climate policy back on course with the Kaya Identity. 8 December 2009). The IPCC report had declared: 'Admittedly, there are many possible combinations of the four Kaya identity components, but with the scope and legitimacy of population control subject to ongoing debate, the remaining two technology-oriented factors, energy and carbon intensities, have to bear the main burden...'. How untrustworthy can "science" become in the light of such explicit negligence -- even if such factors are only mentioned in passing? The problematic use of single metrics, including the Kaya Identity, is discussed elsewhere (Uncritical Strategic Dependence on Little-known Metrics, 2009).
Curiously in the State of World Population (2009), published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN draws a link for the first time, between demographic pressure and climate change. As noted by Bronwen Maddox (Taboo is Broken: it's time for action on population, backed for once by the US, TimesOnline, 19 November 2009), the report states:
Slower population growth... would help build social resilience to climate change's impacts and would contribute to a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions in the future.
However the timing of this unprecedented acknowledgement ensured that the link could not be effectively considered in either the climate change models on which the Copenhagen negotiations were based or in the months of negotiations preceding the event.There is every reason to believe that this dimension will be excluded from consideration in the problematic post-Copenhagen negotiations. With respect to the final agreement at Copenhagen, as noted by Kevin McCracken (Move over, make room for millions more, The Age, 3 March 2010):
Despite the number of humans on the planet, with an obvious impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the task of achieving reductions, there was not a single mention of "population" or "population growth" in the final 1300-1400 word accord.
A search of the website of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reveals that terms like "overpopulation" and "population control" are specifically deprecated (Journalist's Notebook: What's in a Word? 1999). The UNFPA is responsible for an annual report (The State of World Population: unleashing the potential of urban growth. 2007; The State of World Population: culture, gender and human rights, 2008). The population policies of the UN have notably been affected by the faith-based perspective of the USA, and possibly by that of other faith-based permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is probably fair to say that UNFPA has put more effort into minimizing or denying the challenge of overpopulation, or reframing it "positively" (as in the subtitles of its various annual reports) rather than in addressing it.
In a comment on the Copenhagen process, this was cited as an example of the classic case of looking for lost keys under the street light, rather than in the shadows where they fell -- because it was easier to see under the light (United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference: exploring the underside of climate change, 2009).
The concern here is with the dangerous tendency to frame challenges simplistically and inappropriately, avoiding the issues by which they are engendered. Hence the concern here with articulating 'another IPCC', namely an Insightful Population Constraint Consideration -- as a responsible 'IPCC approach' to a change of climate
At the time of writing, a freak storm in France has flooded some coastal towns with the loss of over 50 lives. Little is made of the fact that the dikes behind which many houses were built (on land susceptible to flooding) were 200 years old but had not been maintained. Nor that permission continues to be given to build on such land -- there and elsewhere. A BBC News headline reads: Weak sea walls blamed for French storm disaster (1 March 2010). This title is reminiscent of the much deprecated superstitious beliefs blaming disaster on malignant spirits inhabiting mountains and the like.
The BBC report indicated: A local governor said the walls dated back to the time of Napoleon and needed to be replaced with taller barriers. Focus is avoided on how inappropriate official administrative procedures had been considered acceptable, as with the well-known process whereby they are bypassed (typically with official complicity), or on why people had not objected more strongly -- or that expressed concern had been ignored. National appeals are made for support for the victims of the disaster -- for those who chose to build in vulnerable places. Costs are estimated to be of the order of 1,000 million euros. At best subsequent inquiry will determine that people acted legally, if imprudently, and that only minor reprimands are appropriate. In the aftermath, to the extent that such questions are being asked, the possibility that this pattern applies with respect to other issues is carefully avoided. Arguably the pattern is even more evident in Greece -- currently in the midst of economic disaster.
At the same time it is becoming increasingly evident that global governance, now and as is envisaged, is incapable of responding to either challenges of the moment or to the 'crisis of crises' expected to come. The vigorous claims made to the contrary are imbued with ever higher orders of bluster and spin -- increasingly the prime characteristic of global governance. Presented as evidence to the contrary, the capacity to manage major projects avoids recognition that such projects are typically specialized and sub-systemic in relation to the global management capacity that is required. The vulnerability of projects of larger scope increases in direct proportion to the increase in scale beyond the narrowly defined projects of proven viability -- as the cost overruns on organization of the Olympic Games most obviously demonstrate. Remedial global action may not be as scalable as is so readily assumed.
The concern here is the manner in which the causes of disaster are sought amongst the most immediately obvious suspects -- a tendency highlighted and deprecated in many movies. This might even be caricatured by claims of aggression by a tree attacking an automobile on the side of a road -- as the explanation of a road accident -- justifying the removal of roadside trees. This is a failure of critical thinking.
The process of 'damage limitation' would seem to require that responsibility be as narrowly defined as possible, whether with respect to hierarchical responsibility, sectoral responsibility, or willful negligence over an extended period of time. The pattern recalls that of lynch-mob psychology -- the need to focus blame and act against those so blamed -- in order to provide a scapegoat whose punishment can create a credible illusion of having cleaned the system.
Narrowly isolating blame in this way provides an easy weapon for any political opposition with which to attack elected authorities and their policies. Again it avoids the need for attention to underlying issues which might well be unpopular and problematic for all political parties.
The argument is dramatized in the case of sexual abuse of those in Catholic educational institutions, whether around the world or currently in Germany and Ireland. The approach is to frame it as the responsibility of particular individuals, in particular institutions, and of their particular superiors -- and only when evidence is available in the form of specific, courageous complaints. The possibility that disposition towards such abuse may be inherent in the culture of such institutions, in their organization, or in the character of many who choose to work there, is ignored. Perhaps more problematic is the manner in which hierarchical responsibility is limited -- 'where the buck stops' is carefully managed. The emphasis is on cover-up at all costs. As a matter of extreme irony, those at the highest level of responsibility -- on whose 'watch' the abuse occurred over decades, and who are upheld as the epitome of spiritual values -- are in process of beatification and sanctification. The question is with respect to what other issues do such patterns of cover-up apply.
The concern here is whether many problems dramatically faced by society are not appropriately to be traced back to overpopulation. If that is at least potentially the case and worth exploring, the question thereafter is what are the problematic processes preventing discussion of such a possibility.
Examples of interconnected problems, typically ensuring suffering and death, include:
Of particular interest is the nature of the failure to address issues such as those above -- and of the factors which contribute to such avoidance. This is reminiscent of attitudes associated with smoking (notably by the medical profession), gambling, substance abuse (drinking, drugs), sexual promiscuity and infidelity, susceptibility to bribery, and the like. These attitudes have been the subject of careful examination by such as Alcoholics Anonymous. However it is quite clear that there is little if any impetus to explore such patterns in general, irrespective of their particular manifestations.
As factors worth considering, the following might be explored:
In this context, political and religious leaders point to the potential of technical solutions to alleviate the above conditions in the near future -- optimistically engendered by the continuing 'inventiveness of the human spirit', despite arguments to the contrary (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap: how can we solve the problems of the future? 2000) . These technical 'fixes' take three main forms:
Evidence is also presented for the declining birth rate in many industrialized countries. Ironically this is seen as a justification for subsidizing couples to produce children -- in countries that are endeavouring to prevent immigration from impoverished parts of the world (as with Australia, Germany and Spain).
The following are indicative of the range of motivations for avoidance of any exploration of underlying problems, notable pressures to ensure unchecked population increase, irrespective of availability of resources:
The following may be seen as examples of what cannot be readily addressed or questioned -- the 'unsaid' -- within current public discourse as it is variously crafted within intergovernmental and national arenas, and by the media (Global Strategic Implications of the 'Unsaid', 2003):
Advocates of particular religions readily obscure their responsibility for any of the above matters by embedding their opposition in discussion on the politics of economic development -- whose inequalities and injustices are indeed partially a consequence of some of the above. With fewer people these challenges would however be easier to resolve. With more they become more difficult. It is however strategically easier to focus on issues arising from the above rather than on the underlying causes of those issues for which religions have a responsibility as previously discussed (Root Irresponsibility for Major World Problems: the unexamined role of Abrahamic faiths in sustaining unrestrained population growth, 2007) under the following headings:
Table: Assessment of faith-based death warrants effectively authorized
Misleading focus on proximate causes
Euphemisms and spurious rationalizations
Maximizing suffering -- or 'optimizing it'?
Methodology for requisite analysis
Assertion of moral authority
It might be asked whether there is a fundamentally hypocritical contradiction between the advocacy of unconstrained procreation on the part of followers by priests that in some religions are required to commit to celibacy. This commitment is variously seen as fundamental to the avoidance of suffering and to enhancement of spiritual development. This then implies a cynical lack of consideration for the spiritual development of their followers to whom they minister as exemplars.
Religions have developed considerable skill in blaming others for difficulties for which they themselves have some responsibility. These strategic positioning games are of trivial significance in comparison with the suffering sustained by the underlying negligence -- in which religions are complicit to some degree. Their active suppression of any discussion of the consequences of unchecked procreation might well be considered as effective admission of their responsibility for the consequent suffering. Whether or not this is the case, if religions consider themselves innocent with respect to such suffering, why are they so directly instrumental in blocking any discussion of the matter?
In the light of the injunction common to the Abrahamic religions, to 'Go Forth and Multiply' (Genesis 1:28), it might even be asked whether the interpretation of 'multiply' should not be more correctly understood in the qualitative terms of the 'highest common multiple' (noted above) rather than in the quantitative terms of which the world has become an unfortunate victim (cf 'Be Fruitful and Multiply': the most tragic translation error? 1995).
How directly or indirectly dependent the above causes of suffering are on religion is a matter that merits detailed analysis by an intergovernmental panel -- comparable with the quality of analysis devoted to the determination of the reality of climate change for the IPCC (irrespective of its dependence on human activity). This could benefit from insights from technical studies of the small world hypothesis, root cause analysis, and influence tree analysis -- as well as the dependency graphing (see dependency diagram) used in the analysis of complex projects for vulnerabilities.
At present the issue is systematically obfuscated, even by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. Efforts are made to displace attention onto secondary or derivative issues -- of which climate change may well be one example (Climate change used as a fig leaf -- to conceal a more challenging issue? 2010) . Policy is constructed on the optimistic belief that economic development of developing countries will constrain the rate of population increase. The global effect cannot as yet be proven -- even assuming that such development can be achieved. As noted by Kevin McCracken (Move over, make room for millions more, The Age, 3 March 2010):
While the world would be better off without those additions, it is not so much the projected global increase that is the worry. The problem is that the great bulk of it will occur in countries least capable of handling it -- where population pressures are already all too clearly present.
Policy options have now been reframed, notably through the UNFPA, in terms of dependency on the empowerment of women to enable them to choose to constrain fertility (State of World Population: facing a changing world -- women, population and climate. 2009). There is indeed considerable data that show that where women are empowered (e.g. educated, have freedom to choose their own futures, etc.), they choose to have fewer children, hence birth rates go down. Moreover, many other indicators of well being improve, including the nutrition of children. The global effect of this potential cannot as yet be proven, especially given the current inequality of women even in the most developed countries as well as the time lag before any such process would become impact on population growth. Displacing immediate discussion of population onto the ideal possibility of empowering women, where this has long been a fundamental challenge, might readily be understood as cynical delaying tactic.
The case for recognizing the degree to which humanity's global civilization functions to a significant degree in an unconscious mode has been made by John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995). There is then an argument for endeavouring to 'map' the underground in a readily accessible way. There is a long tradition for mapping underworlds, dating back to mythological times (see List of underworlds). In more recent centuries the 'map' of Dante Alighieri (Inferno) is widely known. A different form of mapping has been undertaken by psychoanalysts regarding the collective unconscious, as by Carl Jung (Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1959). The following exploration follows from a concern with associating the real with the imaginary in the light of compleity theory (Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007).
If however the map is to widely readily recognizable features, then there is a case for basing it on a well-known map. The London Underground Map -- indisputably the best known map of the 'underground' -- offers the possibility of a template with which other patterns of significance can be associated. The map has been successfully and elegantly used as a vehicle for other significance, most notably by Kit Grover (Putting Shakespeare on the Map, 2007) on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company to display relationships between dramatic themes in the set of plays it performs (see map).
The release by the London Transport Museum of a World Metro Map (2003) promotional poster strongly based on the London diagram has however been approved -- although itself subject to copyright. However, compared to the exercise below, this might be more appropriately compared with an 'overground map'. A further curiosity is the commission accorded to Yinka Shonibare for the production of a Global Underground Map (2006) using a map of the world, with the colours of the Tube map, to reflect the diversity of London and the users of London Underground. The countries of the world were given a subtle shift of identity by implying new relationships between them based on the colours of the tube lines. Presumably these implied relationships were the reason it appears to have been quickly withdrawn from circulation. London appropriating the world in its image -- but refusing to be approriated as an image of the world by others?
Despite the copyright restrictions (discussed below), it was the intention to bypass these by using lines at other angles (and different colours) in the construction of a Global Underground Map -- as others have done. A complex Musical Theatre History Tube Map has, for example, been produced by John Howrey. However, in constructing the map below, the choice was made to focus on the use of curves in a manner which highlights the points made above.
Design features and possibilities: Some of the design features are:
As is not evident from the London Underground Map, the proportion of 'Londoners' obliged to travel the system each day is not displayed in any way. Many lines are in reality subject to overcrowding at times when people are obliged to travel. In 2007 a record number of over 4 million passengers travelled the network in one day (Tube breaks record for passenger numbers, 27 December 2007). A single station, Victoria, handles some 76 million passengers a year. It is useful to reflect on the proportion of people obliged to pass from the living reality of the 'underworld' into the 'world of make-believe' at any particular intersection between 'lines'.
The eight 'lines', provisionally included in the Global Underground Map above, bear fruitful reflection in relation to:
Copyright restrictions on map construction: Very appropriately for the argument here however, the use of the London Underground Map as a template (as originally intended) is severely constrained by copyright (as discussed in the Wikipedia entry). Some efforts to use it have been prohibited, as with that in which the station names have been innocently presented as anagrams (London Underground anagram map, 2006). This attitude is indicative, as a metaphor, of the constraint on any possible global recognition of a map of civilization's 'underground'. To the extent that such a map exists, its use has been constrained by some form of copyright or financial constraint -- possibly even 'classified' as secret.
Although made and distributed with funds from taxpayers, the copyright holders restrict usage in a manner which is charmingly reminiscent of the archetypal underworld holder of the ring in Lord of the Rings -- Gollum -- for whom that ring, the 'One Ring', was his own 'precious' property. A cultural hazard in the development of any system, such as the London Underground, is the loss of any sense of humour, despite claims to the contrary -- as indicated by the following.
|The Hazards of System Building
Matthew Melko, System Builder
(Presented at the Foundation for Integrative Education Conference, Oswego, New York, 1969;
reproduced in Main Currents in Modern Thought, vol. 269 no. 2)
This institutional pattern is also a valuable reminder of the period in the history of maps when they were considered a secret asset to ensure the competitive advantage of the owner -- notably in seeking to travel and colonize the world. The metaphor is also appropriate in contrasting the effort of London to position itself through public relations and spin as the creative cultural centre of a complacent world in anticipation of the 2012 Olympic Games -- whose own exclusive symbolic representation of the values of the human spirit it itself subject to severe copyright restrictions.
The dangers of such outmoded attitudes to cultural property have been argued elsewhere (Future Coping Strategies: beyond the constraints of proprietary metaphors, 1992). The contrast with the open source philosophy is especially telling (Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, 1997).
In a further twist to the metaphor, one might ask how London authorities had the wit to consider constructing railways underground in the first place when they are no longer capable of resolving their current overcrowding problems by considering a further phase in such development. A recent report indicates the extent to which they now consider it necessary to sacrifice greenbelts to ensure public housing on the outskirts of London (see Greater London Authority, The Mayor's London Plan [to 2031], 2010; Huw Morris, Report calls for London planning changes to boost food supply, PlanningResource, 6 January 2010; Ian Abley, Double the population of London - serious growth in the Thames Gateway, 2008). The possibility of avoiding such destruction, and lengthy energy-consuming commutes -- enabling hundreds of thousands to live a few minutes from the centre -- is not even examined (From Lateral Thinking to Voluminous Thinking: unexplored options for subterranean habitats in dense urban areas, 2007).
Exploration of paradoxical and negative strategies: It is increasingly apparent, as the climate change debate has recently demonstrated, that 'normal' approaches to collective threats are ineffective. There is a case therefore for exploring a range of 'negative' and paradoxical strategies as previously indicated within the context of the Global Strategies Project ('Positive' vs 'Negative' strategies, 1995; Paradoxical merit of negative strategies, 1995). More speculatively there is a case for introducing a degree of provocation (Liberating Provocations: use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005).
The point might be made by suggesting a complete shift in the strategies of bodies like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace International, and Earth First. The argument has been separately developed (Wanted: Enemies of the Earth and Greenwar International, 1992) to the effect that:
Their purpose would be to focus attention on the efforts of those who are endeavouring to degrade or destroy the Earth in one way or another, since at this time such people do not have institutions which allow them to be explicit and upfront about their intentions and the consequences of their initiatives. If the Earth is to be the scene of an archetypal battle between its Friends and its Enemies, then it is only fair that the heroes on both sides should be appropriately honoured.
Negative strategies which might be strongly advocated might include:
The purpose is of course to elicit active opposition to strategies and to give real focus to arguments and programmes to the contrary.
Identifying patterns of resistance: Given the subtle means whereby any consideration of population constraint has been blocked in the past, there is a strong case for:
As a principal actor in blocking such consideration in the past, and in denying such influence, the Catholic Church is now at an extreme disadvantage following revelations of the degree of cover-up of sexual abuse by its officials on children in their care. It is however the institutional pattern of systematic cover-up that is significant -- not the abuse by isolated individuals ('bad apples'). In that light, it might appropriately be asked what issues in relation to population increase are also subject to such long-term policies of cover-up and denial -- as originally alleged to be the case with respect to Galileo's claims regarding the movement of the Earth around the Sun.
The evidence for climate change, on which there is supposedly a universal scientific consensus, is not as strong as that for the range of problems resulting from population pressure -- population overshoot. Typically these are misleadingly named as 'shortages' of the resource in question -- rather than 'longages' of population (Garrett Hardin, From Shortage to Longage, Population and Environment, 1991). Such 'shortages' would not exist at lower population levels.
A situation has however been created in which any debate whatsoever of issues relating to population is considered to be hazardous -- as though responsible people were incapable of dealing with hazardous matters, as discussed previously (Overpopulation Debate as a Psychosocial Hazard: development of safety guidelines from handling other hazardous materials, 2009).
Whether or not technical means can be found to maintain sustainably -- and even increase -- the current global population, it is clear from the evidence that these means have not yet been found. People are currently faced with dire shortages, whether food, water, land, shelter, etc. Statistics are repeatedly reinforce this point. Immediately remedies are neither available nor in the pipeline. If they are, the resources to ensure their distribution to where they are urgently required are severely stretched by other priorities. Whilst those other priorities may indeed be challenged, politically it is naive to believe that priorities will be significantly changed to enable such distribution, other than in a token form. The situation is exemplified by the number of citizens of the USA obliged to live in shanty towns following home repossession.
A case therefore needs to be made for the articulation of a Population Precautionary Principle as a variant on the existing Precautionary Principle. This might be formulated to the effect that
If resources to support an increasing human population are not available, it is a crime against those yet to be born to encourage their birth -- a premeditated crime against humanity -- until the availability of adequate resources can be demonstrated in practice on the appropriate scale.
Briefly, if you cannot fix it now, don't make it worse until you can. It needs to be recognized the extent to which promotion of births under resource-constrained circumstances is a perversely vicious strategy ensuring the suffering of many (Begetting challenges and responsibilities of overpopulation, 2007). It is effectively an effort to exert pressure on the balance of priorities of governance already much challenged by existing realities and increasingly incapable of responding to the challenges of the future.
Under those circumstances, where the ideal of making a desirable level of resources readily available has not yet been demonstrated to be feasible, in reality rather than in theory, it is a major error of governance -- if not a crime -- to fail to at least consider the means of restricting the requirement for resources to a sustainable level.
The need for such precaution is obvious -- and unchallenged -- in many readily comprehensible technical instances:
Many will indeed uphold the current practice of unconstrained population increase, possibly arguing that birth-rates are sinking dangerously below replacement level in some regions. But there are fiscal measures that can be put in place for their wishes to be fulfilled. A prime example is the official church tax imposed -- whether nationally or locally -- on members of some religious congregations in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Sweden and some parts of Switzerland. For those whose beliefs favour unconstrained population increase, such monies could be allocated to child support where it is required. To the extent that the funds proved to be inadequate, the level of tax could be appropriately increased. The requirement that all should be obliged to support the social and financial consequences of the beliefs of some should be challenged -- where most face a challenging financial future.
John L. Farrands. Challenge of Overpopulation. In: Don't Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create fear. Melbourne, Text Publishing, 1993 [text]
Garrett Hardin. From Shortage to Longage. Population and Environment, 12, 1991, 3, pp. 339-349 [abstract]
Thomas Homer-Dixon. The Ingenuity Gap: how can we solve the problems of the future? Jonathan Cape, 2000
Carl Jung. Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton University Press, 1959
John Ralston Saul. The Unconscious Civilization. Anansi, 1995
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA):
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License..