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Eric Pianka, meet John Reid


Australian ID critic Robyn Williams recently interviewed Melbourne neuroscientist John Reid, who is also a self-proclaimed expert in overpopulation and how to deal with it. Eric Pianka was the talk of this blog last year for recommending Ebola as the instrument of choice for reducing the world’s population by 90 percent (use UD’s search feature on his name). It seems that Eric and John need to pool their talents. In case you haven’t met, Eric, meet John; John, meet Eric. There, I’ve done my good deed for the day.

For a taste of where John Reid is going, consider:

[H]umanity has been all too compliant with the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The precepts of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam represent the quintessential perversion of the human mind. They must be abandoned and the notion of the sanctity of human life must be subjugated to the greater sanctity of all life on Earth.

Here is the full transcript:

Robyn Williams: Do you remember a book by Professor Paul Ehrlich called The Population Bomb? It was published in 1968. Or perhaps, Limits to Growth, put out by the Club of Rome in 1972? Both offered scenarios rather than forecasts about the future, some bleak, some fair, but most commentators picked up only the bleak. We had someone from the Limits to Growth exercise pointing that out on ABC Radio National last week, saying that only the first grim scenario was reported, the other eleven ignored.

So what about growth and population all these years later, as we approach 2007? Dr John Reid has a view, though a challenging one. He does his research in Melbourne.

John Reid: I have titled this talk, ‘Apocalypse Now’, a title borrowed unashamedly from the film director Francis Ford Coppola, because it expresses both the magnitude and the immediacy of the problem I’m discussing.

Most people seem to have a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to the future of life on Earth. They assume Planet Earth will keep revolving and generation will succeed generation. And each generation will be more affluent than the preceding generation. As one bank advertisement put is, ‘Every generation should live better than the last!’

Science, people believe, will find solutions to the problems that seem to preoccupy Greenies and other doomsayers. Well, I am a scientist, and I have to say I am more than somewhat sceptical about the ability of science to rescue humanity from its own folly.

The fact is, Planet Earth cannot support the present human population.

The Global Footprint Network estimates that in 2001, and I quote, ‘humanity’s Ecological Footprint … exceed the Earth’s biological capacity by about 20%’, and the latest WWF Living Planet Report 2006 now puts the figure at 25%.

Current estimates of world population growth over the next 50 years show the population stabilising at 9 billion to 11 billion, at least half as big again as the present population.

The consumption of resources, due to the growing affluence of emerging economies, such as China and India, would then require at least four biospheres to satisfy the demand. Or to put it another way, if everyone alive today had a standard of living equal to ours in Australia, we would need 3.7 biospheres to meet the demand. But we only have one planet, although there are people (mostly engineers) who seriously contemplate moving off-planet as a way to solve the problem.

Many people would say the character that most distinguishes human beings from all other animals is language. I suggest the only attribute that really distinguishes our species from all others is our ability to delude ourselves.

Human beings are self-deluders. We can convince ourselves, in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that black is white and heat can flow from a cooler to a hotter body.

It is this power of self-delusion that leads us to believe that somehow we will find a way to fix the problem of our unsustainable consumption of the Earth’s resources.

In the discussion of human impact on the biosphere, two separate but interactive issues are being conflated. These two issues are climate change, due to the emission of greenhouse gases, and the excessive demand for resources, due to overpopulation. (Bear in mind, population and consumption, like mass and energy, are interchangeable qualia.) Unchecked, both climate change and the overuse of resources are at the level of ‘catastrophic’ on the scale of their impact on the biosphere.

But the problem of climate change is solveable by means we can discuss. We can talk about alternative sources of energy, carbon trading, energy-efficient buildings and a host of other technological fixes, including esoteric notions such as a sunshade-in-the-sky, as discussed recently on The Science Show.

By engaging in this discussion, we can feel at least we are addressing the problem. And as long as we feel we are doing something about climate change, we can relegate to the back-burner having to think about the much more confronting, unmentionable problem of how to reduce the human population.

I believe the problem of overconsumption/overpopulation will not be solved by civil means, as the United Nations Millennium Ecosystems Assessment optimistically suggests. By the time there is consensus that drastic action must be taken to reduce over-consumption, it will be too late.

Consider just a few examples of the measures people will have to accept: First and foremost the notion of steady economic growth – every year an increase in the world’s GDP, as The Wentworth Group of Scientists and the Stern Review envisage – will have to go into reverse. We in the affluent world will have to accept substantial reductions in our standard of living to allow space for the poor, mainly in Africa, to improve their nutrition and health status.

To achieve this, income and wealth distribution within our societies will have to become much more equal. The higher up the tree one is, the greater the sacrifice one will have to make.

Stringent measures will have to be put in place to reduce water consumption, particularly in countries like Australia where water is a scarce commodity. Using potable water to cool industrial processes and as wash-water will have to stop, and this includes air-conditioning equipment in large buildings, power station cooling towers, paper mills, dairying and agriculture, etc, etc.

And forget the idea that water can be used to grow cotton in Australia. I have heard it argued that the return on the cost of the water is higher for cotton than the return on the same water used to grow food. This is the private-benefit-at-the-expense-of-public-cost argument, and it won’t wash!

Contrary to a recent forecast that the world’s fleet of fossil-fuel-burning motor vehicles will triple over the next 50 years, the fleet will have to be reduced to no more than about 10% of the present number.

Perhaps water meters that turn off automatically after a household’s daily ration of water has been consumed will be fitted to every house.

Meat will be rationed to no more than, say, 200 grams per person per week.

Municipal authorities will provide allotments so that people can grow their own fruit and vegetables. We could turn some iconic sports arenas into vegie gardens.

And private property rights will be severely curtailed to prevent landowners from engaging in environmentally-damaging behaviours. And many, many more such infringements on what we now regard as our rights will have to be accepted.

I’m afraid, by the time this consensus could be reached, we will have crossed the threshold of the event horizon. We will be on an accelerating, irreversible downhill run to the Holocene Mass Extinction. In the words of Elliot Morley, Britain’s Special Representative on climate change, we will ‘sleepwalk to oblivion.’

A few years ago, the possibility that our beautiful, life-sustaining planet could become a Venusian hell was dismissed as being impossibly alarmist. It’s still a highly improbable scenario, but it is no longer seen as impossible.

If we do not delude ourselves, and if we accept the calculations made by the Global Footprint Network and WWF (and I know of no scientific analysis that refutes the basic validity of the model) there is only one ineluctable conclusion. The population of the world must be very quickly reduced to 5 billion (that is, if 6 billions equals 120% of capacity, then 5 billions equals 100%). And then, as the average level of affluence rises, fairly quickly reduced further to, say, 2 to 3 billion.

The urgent discussion then becomes, how do we achieve these targets? Leaving aside uncontrollable natural events, such as a collision with a large asteroid or comet, or the eruption of a super-volcano, there is only a limited number of ways population decrease can be achieved. These ways are all painful, and most are brutally painful in their effect.

Let us canvass them.

When we consider ways to reduce the human population there is a natural dichotomy between ways that kill a very large number of people and ways that control the growth of the population, that is, ways that prevent people from breeding.

War, Pestilence, and Famine, three of the horsemen of the apocalypse, can bring about a reduction in the human population. But these kill on a scale of tens of millions, which is not enough to solve the problem of over-population. And they are most brutal in the ways they kill. Consequently, let us consider the alternative.

The most humane way to achieve a reduction in the human population would be for people to voluntarily stop breeding, but this would never happen. The urge to procreate and the innate belief that people have the inalienable right, if not the duty, to have children is too strong to be suppressed, just to save the planet.

One small, but appropriate, token gesture would be to ban immediately all forms of assisted conception, including the use of donated sperm or ova. The fact that relatively affluent couples, or single women who cannot achieve pregnancy by good old-fashioned copulation, or even choose not to do so, can demand the use of expensive medical technology to satisfy their ‘need’ for parenthood is unacceptable in a hugely overpopulated world.

The next most human way to reduce the population might be to put something in the water, a virus that would be specific to the human reproductive system and would make a substantial proportion of the population infertile. Perhaps a virus that would knock out the genes that produce certain hormones necessary for conception.

The world’s most affluent populations should be targeted first. According to the 2006 Living Planet Report, the six populations that have the biggest per capita ecological footprint live in the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, and Australia.

A question I have been told I should address is this: If we interfere with the ‘natural’ structure of the population by limiting the production of children, how do we support an ageing population?

Dealing with a healthy aged population would be manageable. If all the world’s aged were like the 80- to 90-year-old Okinawans, we could probably manage quite well. But dealing with an ageing population beset by the consequences of over-eating the wrong food and under-exercising will be an order of magnitude more difficult. Societies will not be able to provide the healthcare services needed to keep large numbers of unhealthy old people alive.

A triage approach will be necessary so that scarce medical resources go to those who can contribute most to the long-term viability of the planet. Consequently, many middle-aged-to-elderly people will die uncomfortable deaths. Not every problem is solveable.

I have also been challenged to say why I claim Australia cannot support a larger population. But how do you explain a self-evident fact? Considering water alone, all our capital cities, except perhaps Darwin, and many provincial cities are running out of water. Then there is salination of our agricultural land, which is increasing at the rate of about 10% per annum. Not only must Australians cut their own consumption, we are exacerbating the problem by producing agricultural products from an increasingly unproductive land for consumption by other societies.

Our global footprint is worldwide.

Meanwhile, people like the Federal Treasurer promote population increase. Sorry, Mr Costello, your ‘One for the wife, one for the husband, and one for Australia’, will have to be changed to ‘None for the planet’!

My plea is that we should face reality and begin to discuss the unspeakable. Humanity must undergo a mind-shift. If you must have a God, at least recognise he/she/it did not give humanity licence to trash the planet, whatever the Bible may tell you.

Indeed, humanity has been all too compliant with the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.

The precepts of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam represent the quintessential perversion of the human mind. They must be abandoned and the notion of the sanctity of human life must be subjugated to the greater sanctity of all life on Earth.

Robyn Williams: Some startling suggestions there from John Reid, who lives in Melbourne and does research in cognitive neuroscience there. Of course it’s often suggested that the greatest force for limiting population is affluence, and the education of women.

Next week some dark thoughts about Charles Darwin: Tony Barta from La Trobe University looks at his record on race.

I’m Robyn Williams.

Dr John Reid

Robyn Williams

Brigitte Seega

SOURCE: Ockham’s Razor.

[...] Some speculates this means he regards animals more highly than humans deep in his heart, like Eric Pianka and John Reid [...] God's iPod - Uncommon Descent - Intelligent Design
[...] Some speculates this means he regards animals more highly than humans deep in his heart, like Eric Pianka and John Reid [...] Dawkins needs dumbed down questions for his book tour — can UD readers provide some? | Uncommon Descent
1: Who knows whats already been put into our bodies with government innoculation at school!? The suggested virus in the water would be without our knowledge I assume ? It seems that not being able to conceive is already an epidemic in the western world. 2: Hemp fuel was created years ago and shelved by the same elitists that drive the big fossil fuel tank that is destroying the globe. There are also water - hydrogen patents that are shelved. Both 100% biodegradable. So how good does an idea have to be before scientists who work for the elite take notice ? 3: The pinnacle of human technology (science) is in destroying our fellow man, so no surprise the scientists are promoting death!?! I get the feeling with how hard they are trying to sell it that its already begun !?! Big Dog
Q- What do Eric Pianka & John Reid have in common? A- They both think "Logan's Run" was on the right track (and were upset by the ending). Joseph
"What exactly is it about human overpopulation that is so terrible if: 1) morality is subjective, and 2) there is no right or wrong, just survival and extinction?" - TerryL Indeed. If there is no basis for the sanctity of human life, neither is there for all life. The internal inconsistencies are pronounced. On the one hand, you have those who deny Darwinism destroys any foundation for values and who want to claim that Darwinism provides us with the scientific basis for an objective "morality" -- or at least with the idea that we should not condemn whatever the evolutionary process has produced. It's natural. On the other hand, Darwin's idea of the fitest surviving the fight for survival rests upon the Malthusian perspective that reproduction naturally over produces which creates scarcity and drives natural selection. Only the fitest survive because not all can survive. When nature operates this way according to the Blind Watchmaker, this is apparently the closest to "good" that Darwinism can come. But the humans that don't agree to policies considered necessary to avoiding over population -- they are considered bad. If you consider that human life is sacred or deserving special treatment, that is supposedly wrong headed. But if you don't agree that humans should give humans special treatment to avoid overpopulation of humans, that is also wrong headed. In point of fact, there is wide agreement that human population is naturally headed toward a peak and decline in the near future due to limited family size. But even if it were not, there is a more profound difficulty with attempting to create a consistent set of Darwinian values. Darwinism does not provide a basis for values -- at least none that most people could accept and live with consistently. ericB
Peter Singer advocated bestiality and the practice of Singer's ideas has led to at least one documented reduction in the population. There was the case of the man in Seatle who died from intimate relations with a horse. This illustrates why Darwinism inspires medically unsound lifestyles. But if annihilation of humanity is one's goal, then promoting medically unsound practices would be consistent with that goal. scordova
What often perplexes me is how much of modern-day "environmentalism" is little more than simple misanthropy. The overarching feature of nature is supposed to be the survival of the fittest--fitness usually being defined as the success of an organism in reproducing. Yet when (ptooey!) human beings successfully reproduce, that somehow becomes a "war against nature." As if human beings weren't a part of nature, too--if Darwinism is the least bit true. It's as if fitness is a good thing, except when humans demonstrate it. Surely the problem, then, is that is humanity is "too" fit. The problem is humanity itself. But that begs the question: What exactly is it about human overpopulation that is so terrible if: 1) morality is subjective, and 2) there is no right or wrong, just survival and extinction? Time and time again, we're told that there's something awfully wrong with human population grownth, as if this is some kind of "infestation" of our planet. More humans means fewer members of other species--so goes the logic--and somehow, despite the clear message of Darwinism that nature is "red in tooth and claw, there's just something terribly, terribly wrong with that. TerryL
If there are a lot of corpses around, another Darwinist, Beth Conklin has some words about converting corpses in to food sources. Here is a delicious comment from Beth:
We assume that cannibalism is always an aggressive, barbaric and degrading act…But that is a serious over-simplification, one that has kept us from realizing that cannibalism can have positive meanings.
Beth was author of the book Compassionate Cannibalism. scordova
nullasalus said:
"I’d prefer the focus be on finding ways to sustain more and more people comfortably - always."
I agree. I believe the major reason many see the earth as overcrowded today is due to the negative effects of political/governmental issues and has little to do with the earth's available (or potentially available) resources. The U.S. and others have made many charitable food and other contributions to many countries, but they seldom reach the people - the government (military) grabs and consumes them. When free markets are allowed to thrive, the people find ways to feed themselves. And technological advances always seem to outdistance the doomsdayers. ejruff
That works, but we'll all have to have homes no larger than about 2,500 sq ft! (Or, we can do two-story homes with 5,000 sq ft+!) ejruff
fit every single family in the world inside the boundaries of the state of Texas Would y'all mind picking California instead? Thanks in advance. DaveScot
the sanctity of human life must be subjugated to the greater sanctity of all life on Earth I'd say to this new guy the same thing I said to Pianka when he asked what makes me more important than a lizard. The earth is going to be be incinerated by its own star someday. If life on earth hasn't already ended by natural disaster that will surely finish it off. If life is to continue beyond the limited span of time the earth can support it it requires spacecraft to transport it to a newer planet. Who's going to build those spacecraft? Lizards? The spacecraft can be built without lizards but they can't be built without humans. That's what makes humans more important than lizards. DaveScot
Tim (#13): Wonderful! SCheesman
If population growth and resource consumption is not moderated using benign methods, then it will be brought to heel through the brutal consequences. Best regards, apollo230 apollo230
But remember, it's the religious people whose beliefs make them threats to humanity. Right? After all, those jews and christians in China and India keep on populating the world with more children. Yeesh. Just goes to show you that you don't need to be a theist of any kind to not only be unreasonable, but downright superstitious. For the record, while keeping an eye to the resources of the world and what we can sustain is obviously an issue to be considered, I can't get on the full-blown 'We need less people, always!' bandwagon. I'd prefer the focus be on finding ways to sustain more and more people comfortably - always. If that's not feasible, certainly we should look to self-control and reasoned encouragement of such. This man sounds less like a scientist and more like a cult leader. nullasalus
ejruff, I verified your calculations. Interesting perspective. I would consider that there is something to be said for limiting our population growth. I would even be happy enough to see it shrink. I, however, would be happy enough to find ways of motivating people to want to have fewer children (we have made headway.) bFast
This guy is from Melbourne where Peter Singer spread his brand of Darwinian reductionist ethics. idnet.com.au
Great comments! To see how "crowded" the earth is today, I used some of the math I learned in elementary school. If there are 6.5 billion people on the earth, and if we divide them into families of 4 people each, we could give each family a 4,000 square-foot home (single level) and fit every single family in the world inside the boundaries of the state of Texas, with room to spare -- and all the rest of the entire world would be available. Eric ejruff
The precepts of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity
What's this nonsense of "Abrahamic religions"?!! It's "Judeo-Christian" and "Islamic"! Mats
Whew, for a minute I thought it was John Reid,the UK home office minister who has a big problem with overcrowded prisons... antg
“No {final} solution for those who are rickety!” Hints John Reid himself, “Let’s call Doc. Persnickety! Yes, Pianka’s dream virus Will surely un-mire us And bring down our numbers split-lickety!” Such inhumane hooey aligns fence-like and pickety With those who have seen a newt become chickadee, But they get good press clippings For truth-value is slipping — A despairing result of postmodern iniquity. Off topic: an instance of subtle despickety, A minor complaint — just called me snippety. My thoughts were just triggered Re: Haldane’s dilemma, disfigured “No censor! We edit Wik’pickety!” Tim
"Our global footprint is worldwide." Wow that is a profound tautological insight! idnet.com.au
If the Universe popped explosively into existence 13.5 Billion years ago due to a random quantum fluctuation, if it expanded and cooled so that eventually a small blue dot appeared in out solar system, that we know as Earth, if after a billion years or so our Earth cooled enough and some chemicals luckily came together to form the first self replicating entity, that in turn led by Random Mutation and Natural Selection to us, and if we overheat the planet and all life comes to an end. So what's the problem? Reductionism does not lead to "feel good" senarios. If on the other hand, we are all the product of purposeful Intelligent Design what then? idnet.com.au
So instead of Heaven's Gate, Reid could have Earth's Salvation? That's an interesting thought. thechristiancynic
I have a solution for all of these "scientists" who believe that the world is so overpopulated that we must exterminate great chunks of humanity. I suggest that they practice what they preach. If they really believe that as human beings they are part of the problem, integrity would have them remove themselves -- thus showing us the way. bFast
I take it this guy doesn't own a TV- or doesn't he know that Al Gore told us that the oceans are going to rise some 20-40 feet because global warming will melt the ice packs on Greenland and Antartica thereby culling coastal populations. Joseph
I think this man has spent too much time in the lab. He needs to get out and about and meet some nice people. His ideas make jihad look tame. idnet.com.au
Ummm...Wow. I'm speechless (and scared). [Note to self: stop drinking water. God only knows if someone is on a mission to reduce the population.] Forthekids
"Well, I am a scientist,..." A priest of planet earth,a super egghead; "Thus saith scientist..." "Human beings are self-deluders." Including those who says "I am a scientist..." Smidlee
In Canada we are riveted to the trial of Willie Pickton, a pig farmer who is charged with 49 counts of murder. We label him a "mass murderer" and plan to see him rot in a cell, if, of course, he is found guilty. These scientists make the Willie Pictons of the world look like sweet little angels. This kind of discussion, in itself, should be seen as hate crime. What difference if we just want to kill Jews, or if we want to exterminate humans. bFast
Do you remember a book by Professor Paul Ehrlich called The Population Bomb? I wonder if they remember the bet Ehrlich made and lost to pro-growth economist Julian Simon? tribune7
This guy is just plain nutty. Even if his doomsday scenario has a fifty percent chance of happenning, which we have no good reason to believe, how on Earth could anyone even begin to justify the measures he is talking about? And what is this hogwash about protecting the life on Earth over human life. One, I do not know how one can moraly arrive at that point, and two, it doesn't matter what humanity does, life on Earth will go on. If we detonated every nuclear weapon we have built and disperse those detonations across the planet, life would endure. Now this is where some here might disagree with me, but if some other race were to visit Eath in a hundred million years they would probably come across a world rich in flora and fauna. The Earth has gone through catastrophic mass extinctions before and has always rebounded remarkably quickly. To suggest that our overuse/abuse of the planet would do worse is wholly unjustified. We may arrive at an ecological catstrophe of unprecedented severity through our own carelessness. This catastrophe may wipe out a large proportion of the human population. But we cannot possibly say such things with certainty and to prescribe such horrific measures is monstrous. Oh and by the way Mr. Reid the populations of affluent countries are already generally declining, which presents much more real and immediate consequences for humanity's standard of living. jmcd
“humanity’s Ecological Footprint … exceed the Earth’s biological capacity by about 20%’, and the latest WWF Living Planet Report 2006 now puts the figure at 25%.” Biological capacity?? Huh? When the human population on earth was a few million, was food plentiful? Science has not only kept up with population, it has exceeded it. We have more food than we know what to do with, and there is virtually no limit to our ability to make it. The Earth is a platform for human innovation. "Human beings are self-deluders." Sure seems like some of them are. shaner74

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