Some folks in Boulder like to make analogies to exponential global population growth in discussions about our local land use decisions (see for example Frosty Woolridge, Frosty Woolridge again, Robert Baker, David Brandt, or the venerable Al Bartlett himself). These analogies are inappropriate in multiple ways.
First, steep declines in fertility worldwide have largely defused the population bomb. Second, even if the bomb were still ticking, the population changes we see in Boulder, and more generally the Front Range of Colorado, the US and the booming megacities of Asia aren’t about population growth per se, they’re about migration. In the developing world, it’s migration from rural areas to cities. In the already rich countries, it’s mostly migration between cities, often from low-wage regions to areas with better jobs and higher quality of life. Or it would be anyway, if we actually let people build housing in those places.
How we choose to build and rebuild cities to accommodate these migrations and humanity’s peak population later this century will largely determine our ultimate impact on the Earth’s climate and biosphere, and the quality of life that humanity has access to. Contrary to many “population bomb” narratives, the main problem here as it relates to climate isn’t the impact of large numbers of poor people, because small numbers of rich people are responsible for the overwhelming majority of current greenhouse gas emissions. How we accommodate those wealthy, high emissions populations makes a big difference, both directly, and through the example it sets for the rapidly expanding global middle class.
Continue reading Overpopulation isn’t the Problem
The Boulder Blue Line has a short post entitled This Law Cannot Be Repealed by Albert Bartlett, who is an emeritus professor of Physics at CU, and who is most well known for speaking about the absurdity of “sustainable” growth and what exponential growth really means. He’s also one of the original architects of Boulder’s “Blue Line”, which has limited growth beyond certain boundaries within the city and county.
I agree with Bartlett on a lot. Unconstrained population growth is undoubtedly, in a global context, an epic disaster. In his collection of essays Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley noted of overpopulation that “Unsolved, that problem will render insoluble all our other problems.” Similarly, the unconstrained geographic growth of towns and cities is a catastrophe, resulting in very low-density, car-dependent development which exacerbates the consequences of population growth by increasing the amount of resources that each individual consumes, in terms of land and energy and material goods.
Urban density and good public space make scenes like this possible.
Continue reading Population Growth vs. Migration in Boulder and the World
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Continue reading Links for the week of April 26th, 2010
The US road to recovery runs through Beijing says Asia Times Online, and Thomas Barnett emphatically agrees. Everyone is talking about how to reorganize the global economy, but mostly the discussion is about how to most efficiently export our recently collapsed model of growth to the developing world. Better this time around for sure, we say, but not fundamentally different in any way. The Chinese need (and want, it turns out) more domestic consumption and consumer debt.
Continue reading Rearranging vs. Reinventing the Global Economy
Imagine a world in which nothing is mined, where all the mineral resources we will ever need as a society have been extracted, and circulate perpetually in the economy, being endlessly transformed from finished goods into raw materials, and back again, with nothing input except renewable energy. This is a world of increasing material efficiency, and static population, in which standard of living is not defined by quantity of materials consumed. Buildings are de-constructed and re-assembled. They are designed with this in mind. Acid mine drainage is a thing of the past, and the mountaintops of West Virginia have regrown their deciduous veneer. Landfills are systematically emptied, and the copious resources placed within them by previous generations are re-organized into their useful constituent parts.
In response to What comes after green?