In the years I have been following peak oil issues I have been struck by the views of the 'doomers', who expect a global crash resulting in massive population die-off as the world claws its way back to a balanced environment. What I have come to realize is that those views vary only in terms of time and scale. Today I came across two separate articles discussing the issue of population.
At The Energy Bulletin I found this article, originally written in 2000, on what we must do in an energy descent. The priorities matter, but the underlying assumption is that human population will be reduced. The authors, Howard and Elisabeth Odum, envision an environment that is less conflict riven than exists now, but is radically different from what we know. The alternative, only gently noted, is conflict that leads to all out war. Howard Odum was an ecologist and considered an early leader in addressing sustainability.
The second article is an Oil Drum piece about Dr. Albert Bartlett's Laws of Sustainability. The key assumption underlying Dr. Bartlett's laws is the notion that growth of the human population is incompatible with a sustainable economy/environment. Without a reduction in population there can be no sustainable living, which is the First Law. In fact, he declares that "Sustainable Growth is an oxymoron." The discussion that follows the article is as lively as any, with a lot of analysis as to whether the Laws are really Laws or something else.
What both articles share is the conviction that there will be a reduction in the human population. This is the Elephant in the room. Facing it squarely in America means taking on a cultural paradigm that claims a preferential option for children to the point of banning contraception. It was not until Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) that contraception came off the table as something to be regulated by government. That has not stopped the religious right and its friends from attempting to impose limits on access to contraception as well as abortion. Rather than trust the judgement of the people most directly involved, they wish to impose actions borne out of their set of values. In reading the two articles I have to wonder what these supposed guardians of public morals would do or say in the face of Odum's and Bartlett's assertions.
The conversation about population will be held, although probably not until we are staring the crisis squarely in the eye. Even then, I suspect there will be strong resistance to the notion that we need to revisit the size of our population in conjunction with the carrying capacity of the planet. Mind, this conversation will occur in other countries as well. Given the emotional fervor that will surround this issue I fear we will not take the proactive steps we need to in sufficient numbers to bring down our respective populations to a sustainable level.
The timeframe to reach that point is not known, but, based on the articles, it will take about 70 years to accomplish that feat. I have serious doubts that we will do so peacefully. I fear that we will instead find ourselves besieged by The Four Horsemen, much to our global sorrow.