BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 23:27 GMT
Humanity is the greatest challenge
John Feeney
VIEWPOINT
John Feeney

The growth in human population and rising consumption have exceeded the planet's ability to support us, argues John Feeney. In this week's Green Room, he says it is time to ring the alarm bells and take radical action in order to avert unspeakable consequences.

Commuters at a railway station (Getty Images)
We're out of our league, influencing systems we don't understand
We humans face two problems of desperate importance. The first is our global ecological plight. The second is our difficulty acknowledging the first.

Despite increasing climate change coverage, environmental writers remain reluctant to discuss the full scope and severity of the global dilemma we've created. Many fear sounding alarmist, but there is an alarm to sound and the time for reticence is over.

We've outgrown the planet and need radical action to avert unspeakable consequences. This - by a huge margin - has become humanity's greatest challenge.

If we've altered the climate, it should come as no surprise that we have damaged other natural systems. From deforestation to collapsing fisheries, desertification, the global spread of chemical toxins, ocean dead zones, and the death of coral reefs, an array of interrelated declines is evidence of the breadth of our impact.

Add the depletion of finite resources such as oil and ground-water, and the whole of the challenge upon us emerges.

Barring decisive action, we are marching, heads down, toward global ecological collapse.

Web of life

We're dismantling the web of life, the support system upon which all species depend. We could have very well entered the "sixth mass extinction"; the fifth having wiped out the dinosaurs.

Spider's web (Image: AP)
Human activity is threatening the web of life, warns Mr Feeney
Though we like to imagine we are different from other species, we humans are not exempt from the threats posed by ecological degradation.

Analysts worry, for example, about the future of food production. Climate change-induced drought and the depletion of oil and aquifers - resources on which farming and food distribution depend - could trigger famine on an unprecedented scale.

Billions could die. At the very least, we risk our children inheriting a bleak world, empty of the richness of life we take for granted.

Alarmist? Yes, but realistically so.

The most worrisome aspect of this ecological decline is the convergence in time of so many serious problems. Issues such as oil and aquifer depletion and climate change are set to reach crisis points within decades.

Biodiversity loss is equally problematic. As a result of their ecological interdependence, the extinction of species can trigger cascade effects whereby impacts suddenly and unpredictably spread. We're out of our league, influencing systems we don't understand.

Road closed sign (Getty Images)
One thing is certain: continued inaction or half-hearted efforts will be of no help - we're at a turning point in human history

Any of these problems could disrupt society. The possibility of them occurring together is enough to worry even the most optimistic among rational observers.

Some credible analyses conclude we've postponed action too long to avoid massive upheaval and the best we can do now is to soften the blow. Others hold out hope of averting catastrophe, though not without tough times ahead.

One thing is certain: continued inaction or half-hearted efforts will be of no help - we're at a turning point in human history.

Though few seem willing to confront the facts, it's no secret how we got here. We simply went too far. The growth which once measured our species' success inevitably turned deadly.

Unceasing economic growth, increasing per capita resource consumption, and global population growth have teamed with our reliance on finite reserves of fossil energy to exceed the Earth's absorptive and regenerative capacities.

Getting a grip

We are now in "overshoot"; our numbers and levels of consumption having exceeded the Earth's capacity to sustain us for the long-term.

A boat stranded by the lack of water (Getty Images)
Many regions are experiencing the strain of water shortages

And as we remain in overshoot, we further erode the Earth's ability to support us.

Inevitably, our numbers will come down, whether voluntarily or through such natural means as famine or disease.

So what can get us out of this mess? First comes awareness. Those in a position to inform must shed fears of alarmism and embrace the truth.

More specifically, we need ecological awareness. For instance, we must "get" that we are just one among millions of interdependent species.

It's imperative we reduce personal resource consumption. The relocalisation movement promoted by those studying oil depletion is a powerful strategy in that regard.

We need a complete transition to clean, renewable energy. It can't happen overnight, but reliance on non-renewable energy is, by definition, unsustainable.

But there is a caveat: abundant clean energy alone will not end our problems. There remains population growth which increases consumption of resources other than energy.

Industrial area (Image: Getty Images)
The demand for more goods means we need more energy

We have to rethink the corporate economic growth imperative. On a finite planet, the physical component of economic growth cannot continue forever.

In fact, it has gone too far already. As a promising alternative, the field of ecological economics offers the "steady state economy".

We must end world population growth, then reduce population size. That means lowering population numbers in industrialised as well as developing nations.

Scientists point to the population-environment link. But today's environmentalists avoid the subject more than any other ecological truth. Their motives range from the political to a misunderstanding of the issue.

Neither justifies hiding the truth because total resource use is the product of population size and per capita consumption. We have no chance of solving our environmental predicament without reducing both factors in the equation.

Fortunately, expert consensus tells us we can address population humanely by solving the social problems that fuel it.

Implementing these actions will require us all to become activists, insisting our leaders base decisions not on corporate interests but on the health of the biosphere.

Let's make the effort for today's and tomorrow's children.

John Feeney PhD is an environmental writer and activist in Boulder, Colorado, US. His online project is growthmadness.org

The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website


Do you agree with John Feeney? Are the growing demands of an expanding population too much for the planet? Do we face unspeakable consequences if we fail to act now? Or will humans and the Earth find ways to cope when the need arises?

As a species we have been defying population control for a long time. Drugs and medical treatments cure the diseases that would normally limit us. Technology allows us to provide for many more people than in the past. And in the background there is this goal of populating the earth as much as possible. There is a basic evil to the way the world has become and continues to develop, and how anyone cannot see it I do not know.
Aaron, Bloomington, IL

Not only is he correct I think he might be understanding the severity of the problem. The crux of the problem lies in human nature, our tendency to use our rationality to justify our baser instincts. Our baser instincts will rule in this situation as in all others: Consume until nothing remains. Logic cannot prevail even in this life or death scenario. We, and this entire biosphere, are are irrevocably doomed. Jess Friedlander
Jessica Friedlander, Eureka, CA USA

Amen and Amen, for years I have tried to explain to my head-in-the-sand friends that we aren't just trying to save the planet, we are ultimately trying to save ourselves. It is critically important not to wait for governments to get behind it, it is the individuals. Ride a bus, start a compost bin, buy used, buy less. And while it is true, as rss of Cambridge said, that we waste amazing amounts in this country, population control is just as important as consumption control. Otherwise we will find ourselves back here again in the very near future.
Katrina Hawley, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

it's about time somebody brought this grave issue to the fore. seeing all these pictures of malnourished kids. all 8 or 12 of them, their mothers looking haggard and depleted...? economic growth at what cost? more consumers to buy more unnecessary plastic junk like we so unfamously do here? I truly believe the tipping point is gone and some major global pandemic of other upheaval is in the offing.
howard nelson, portland, oregon USA

Gloomy thoughts indeed, but what I want to know is: what can I really, honestly do? There is so much information available that my head spins... where do I start? How do I start? Why is there no definitive guide to help individuals? I suppose, once the individuals know what to do, they will help larger groups and then eventually corporations and government to... well, what?
Dvarkholm, Newport

I do agree, but try getting the politicians to get off their butt and do something to change anything that doesn't involve money, power, or other types of personal gain. The problem is that most politicians are dinosaurs who don't expect to be around when the stuff really hits the fan, and therefore, will not have to see their children's/grandchildren's suffering. Why should they care? Instead of being known for saving the world (or at least attempting to do so), they'd rather go down in the history books as the one who made the most money for his retirement nest egg, or the one who dragged out a stupid, senseless, retarded, war the longest. The Earth is over populated, yes, but no one would dare tell people to stop having kids. This is up to the individual to exercise some common sense and stop at one kid. Or even two. Not breed an army and think it's cute. Even if you can afford to have a large family, the time for such has passed.
, BX, NY, USA

It is good to know that I am not alone in my prognostications. Sometimes I feel as if I have been shouting at deaf people. As Ian Anderson once said, "My word's been a whisper your deafness a shout". Predictably I see a nay sayer.
Peter Hood, Somewhere in the south of England.

I agree with John Feeney, and you donīt have to go too far to see the effects of over population and over consumption. The fact is that the human being doesnīt want to stop destroying his environment, for he is moved by economic interests that have given him some momentaneous wealth and pleasure. But in the near, very near future, this same environment will prove him and his descendants that this world is limited.
Charleston Abreu, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

BOI-YOI-YOI-YOINNNNNGGGGGGG!!! (Sound made when ones eyebrows arch and their eyes pop wide-open as the realization hits them of what the true meaning of the Charlton Hesston movie "Soya Green" really was)
L. Nichols, West Texas, USA

Anyone who thinks that continued popoulation growth at current rates is sustainable is clearly living on a different planet! It is time that our politicians recognised the reality that is described here. Green policies and control of increasing consumption will be quite futile whilst the overall population continues to grow. The pressures on resources, particularly fuel and water will, I believe, be an even greater source of conflict as the century goes by than the current 'religion based' ideological struggles. Every biological empire will grow until it outstrips its resources, (and then die back to a level of sustainability if it is lucky!). Humanity is the only species capable of influencing its own destiny, but to do that it has to open its collective mind to the issues raised here and control population growth. Unfortunately it is probably 50 years too late. We need to create societies with stable population numbers, and with good standards of living for all members. A Utopian ideal perhaps, but when we fail the final result of outstripping the global resources will be a shrinking population. Shrinking through starvation, thirst and conflict. Not a pleasant prospect.
Russell Millner, Blackpool UK

John Feeney presents a very plausible analysis of the current state of our planet and the inherent consequences. I am also heartened by the number of correspondents who agree with his thesis and appear willing to adapt to more sustainable lifestyles. I am alarmed, however, by the minority of apparently ignorant and self-deluding reactionaries who still claim that the analysis is merely alarmist or just wrong. What makes these reactionaries so sure of their own beliefs - or are they just too scared to face the facts? The present situation of the planet may be more than just the problem - but the start of 'nature' finding a solution. In addition to the direct effects of climate change (more energetic and extreme weather - local variations on the themes of hot, dry, wet or windy) the near future is likely to see the rapid spread of diseases (carried by pesticide-resistant migrating insects etc) and wars, as people fight over the remaining resources. This denouement may no! t happen instantly - it may take decades - but it would certainly look like 'instantaneous' from some hypothetical future perspective.
Dr Peter Laity, Cambridge UK

For those, thankfully very few, doubting thomas's. Try reading the United Nations Geo4 Report. 576 pages clearly stating that we are over utilising resources world wide. We live in a consumer society, with more and more economies becoming consumer orientated. You could say we are becoming consumer based planet. In reality we are CONSUMING the planet. For those that say nature is self correcting - I fully agree. Just do not forget that Mother Nature is not selective. Things will correct themselves over millennia, in the mean time humans will suffer greatly. This needs to be on the Political agenda worldwide, and now. Unless we curb population, set targets for 2050, 2075 etc, we will have famine / global conflict etc. What is more humane? Ignore it, and let billions die, and suffer greatly in the process. Or retrict growth now. Human rights complaints over population restrictions now should not stop discussion / action. It is not our right to ignore issues and put billions at peril.
Mark Williams, UK

Indeed. However, you only have to broach this subject to be decried as a racist, or whatever mud that it's fashionable to sling this week.
Ade, Dudley, UK

I couldn't agree more, most of the western world appears to be slowing in its population growth perhaps due to infertility or choice. However, there are others who have opt or happen to have for other reasons large families, which is causing even more more over population, perhaps China has it right. We are all living too long and too well, over eating, over consuming the earths resources. Some of are not respecting this planet and most of these individuals seem to be the ones people like us are trying to protect the planet for.. the youngsters, the next generations as these are the people who will be directly affected by our actions or lack of. I really hope we can get it together before we destroy this planet. I would like to point out, that the earth goes through cycles and we are over due the next ice age. The main Ozone layer in the stratosphere repairs itself The main problem with ozone is that all the waste gases we release are trapped in the troposphere (first atmosphere) and this is causing the photochemical smog, breathing problems and acid rain we hear so much about. As I said we need to respect our planet, its animals, plants and our own lives.
Tracey, Redditch

It distresses me that so many people agree with Feeney without looking critically at what he is saying. Environmental degradation has more to do with government and corporate priorities than over population. Distribution is the greatest challenge - not population. Industrialized nations use around 70% of the worlds energy even though they only make up roughly 25% of the world population. As for his argument that population growth increases consumption of other resources, I agree. However, these resources already exist and are quite productive (I'm thinking export oriented commercial agriculture). We will 'face unspeakable consequences' ONLY if we do not find an equitable way to allocate them.
Hannah Doherty, South Hadley USA

It's so easy to point the finger at population growth (how very Malthusian, which has been thoroughly discredited by scholars!), especially since it involves a subtle blaming of the Third World where the population growth is the fastest. What about the hyper-consumption and over-wastages in the First World?? It's about mal-distribution of resources, and unsustainable lives of a few, not the starving masses globally! Please stop trying to revive the ghost of Malthus, again.
Farhana Sultana, London, U.K.

The veil is being lifted from the face of humanity. I do not wish it to be a black veil. As a trained ecologist it is painful to watch the demise of organic systems that we barely have come to understand in the simplest of ways. Yes, cascades are enviable given the alterations already underway. We still have a chance to save some of what is part of who we are as sentient, highly evolved, hominids. We need to exercise all the wonderful "higher" brain function that has taken in excess of 10 million years of evolution to develop. Thank you Dr. Feeney.
Mead, Olympia/Washington, USA

Human population growth and the mad consumption of this planet's resources is directly responsible for the extinction of many species of animals and plant life and this extinction rate will grow exponentially until it will eventually cause our own demise. Too many religious factions, totally against birth control, are hell bent on racing towards this armageddon that is, according to some religions, our eventual fate. It is in our hands to prevent it.
W J Andrews, London England

I wholeheartedly agree! The largest danger to this planet and all life on it comes from profligate human reproduction and consumption. 30 years ago I took the decision not to reproduce, and to consume as little as possible, as even then I could see the world was overpopulated. I have tried, with varying degrees of success and failure, to persuade my peers to do likewise. I hope those who did not heed my call now realise the consequences.
Ian Prior, Storrington, West Sussex

I totally agree. John Fenney may well be stating the obvious but this is a taboo subject as far as politicians and reporters are concerned. Evan Davis seems to think there is plenty of room for more and Mick Hume in the Times believes that people who talk about this sound like Daleks. Rowan Williams, the Catholic Church and rss in Cambridge (see above) believe that it has nothing to do with population but with consumption. There are plenty of people who are in denial so nothing will actually change. The simple and undeniable fact is that the more people there are then the more people there are who be consuming. There is absolutely no point in talking about reducing consumption unless that half of the equation is dealt with. Until then we may as well as consume as much as we like as all our efforts to recycle, go green or reducing consumption will amount to absolutely nothing.
Jason Mead, Bristol

Population growth is the fundamental cause of all the world's social, economic, political and environmental problems. It seems that no-one is willing to address this most basic fact.
Brontus Horace, Truro UK

I agree that population growth has to be stopped and reduced. We will have to deal with the ageing population when it happens, but it's not like we can't do that, it will just take sacrifice. We also seriously need to think about our "need" for the products we buy and how important they really are for our lives and happiness. A start for governments would be to start looking at the economy on a per capita basis. A declining economy is not a problem in a declining population (as long as the reat of decline is proportional). I would go a step further and say that "the economy" is not the most critical thing to us as a species anyway and shouldn't always be number one on politicians agenda.
S Bennet, London

Great, so you've managed to dig out an article which you think supports your twisted ideas on a population cull ("kill them all, they are just a drain on natural resources"). Perhaps if you neocons simply stopped using your depleted uranium to bomb anyone you fancy, the environment wouldn't be in such bad shape.
Pete Cameron, london

I suggest banning use of cars for a year. Public services only. Or something less dramatic, get the other countries in the world interested. One hand gives another hand takes, for every action people take, something will eventually change lets hope it's a good reaction. I suggest banning selling useless food in UK and any Western country, or ban trade with the East, which economically would be destructive, but it would create jobs over here as we'd have to make our own clothes and metal. At the very least kick the Chinese government in the backside and tell them that economic advance is only a good thing if you're alive to enjoy it they clearly create huge amounts of pollution why can't the larger countries sort out the problems of the environment instead of relying on the West to aid them. The article is right population is a major problem, ironic really the one survival technique that stayed humans through harsh times works against them, i wonder when the world will end. who knows what to do, i suppose one extreme thing to do would be to annihilate as many people as possible in a nuclear apocalypse but that might increase levels of depression, perhaps a miracle would be a good idea if there really is a god now would be a good time for one
Peter, Dundee

Hopefully there is room here for a counter opinion and not just "me too" comments. John's concerns are the old Malthusian ones cast in a modern light. Since the population has increased by many times since Malthus without his predicted catastrophe, why is a catastrophe more imminent now? What Malthus underestimated is our creative ability to find new ways to solve difficult problems. Unless our ingenuity suddenly disappears we will continue to solve problems. Malthus also was not aware of the demographic transition, which by itself leads to a plateau of population. In many European countries TFR is already below replacement ratio (excluding immigration). The most likely scenario, especially now that we are alerted to the problems, is that we will find ways to solve the difficult problems of climate change, energy, water etc, without requiring draconian measures, or undergoing a catastrophe.
Bob Cousins, London, UK

you grow micrbes in a petri dish they will eventually use up all of the nutrients and poison themselves with their own waste products. the earth is our petri dish. we are some unstoppable disease.. although the earth will survive... we probably wont.
mark, london

Perhaps he can say how many billions he is proposing to cull.
David Bennett, Swindon

The main problem is the pyramid selling version of economics that all governments espouse. To keep that going they need new markets/population to sell to. What we need is steady state or even reducing demand economics. Either that or find another planet!
Richard N Taylor, Pegeia, Paphos, Cyprus

I just don't think that capitalism will be able to deal with population decline. Just imagine the world economy contracting, smaller markets and reducing stock markets. Also everybodies beloved house prices going down because of gross oversupply. Having said that i'd much rather this outcome than the mad scramble for resources and the survival of the fittest (or the most populated!) that would ensue.
Adam Walker, Nice, France

This is pure hogwash. What the world desperately needs is 5,000 coal fired power plants, and 1,000 big nuclear power plants. I have engineered scores of both. Mr. Feeney is ignorant of basic technical and economic laws. It is a tragedy that responsible news organization print such claptrap. His only valid point is that each of us should conserve.
R. L. Hails Sr. P. E., Olney MD

i did not like the tone of karan's response. it is all very well to blame india and china to begin with and say they are adding to the pollution but just to let you know, in the whole of england, there isnt 1 single recycling plant that can recycle plastic bags and all the bags are shipped to india for recycling. this was told to my by my local council if you please. i cannot believe that a developed nation like the uk cannot even recycle its own rubbish. the wastage here is phenomenal. if you thro a bag of old food into a bin here, it will just sit and rot but the same bag of food in a dustbin in india will be eaten either by dogs or some really poor rag pickers. nothing really goes to waste in india. its educated people and developed nations which have to set a trend for others but thast is sadly not happening so dont blame other countries
satya krishnan, aberdeen

It's a simple problem with a simple solution. There are far too many people on this planet and we're asking for more than the planet can give. Unfortunately, certain individuals and nations are obsessed with making money and don't seem to care at all about the consequences of their selfish behaviour. We should do what China have done and instigate a 1 or maybe 2 child policy for a couple of generations. If we can bring the population down our problems will begin to ease.
Mark, London, UK

Surely this is all part of the natural evolution of planet earth. When we have destroyed the planet's capability to sustain our 'span', earth will enter a fallow period before the next life form emerges. Why should we humans be so arrogant as to think that we have the earth for all time?
alan slater, london, uk

Agree 100% with this article. The only thing it doesn't say is just how far into overshoot we are. The global economy is on the brink of collapse, because our economy is predicated on exponential growth of energy consumption, and our premium energy supply, oil, is already in global decline. The only positive thing is, the sooner the collapse, the fewer people will eventually die prematurely, It will be brutal, but it will curtail CO2 and other pollution damage faster than any other way. There will be more resources and biodiversity remaining for any future civilisation to build on towards a sustainable society.
Ralph Williams, Cambridge

I don't know what depresses me most - the fact that this is true or the fact that this is the first mainstream article I've read on it. This points in this article are and have been so manifestly obviously true, yet ignored for so long now that I frankly beleive humanity deserves what it gets. Basic GSCE biology covers the web of life, and straightforward concepts such as population growth and decline based on resource (usually prey) availability. How is it that people think it doesn't apply to us? Radical new technologies, or their unpleasant alternative (population growth controls and legislation) need to be rolled out NOW, not in ten year's time if we hope to mitigate, let alone prevent, the effects of our species uncontrolled greed. The third alternative is completely unattainable at the moment, to the point that its pretty much laughed at as an alternative, and that is to implement a diaspora to other worlds. Our technology and society is in no way ready for that yet. We therefore must control our population growth or get some new science - sharpish.
Jez Lawrence, leeds, uk

Absolutely I agree with John Feeney, it's about time someone publicly stated that it's overpopulation of the human species (for we are animals as much as we'd like to think we're above it) that's the root cause of our planet's plight. It amazes me that we're willing to cull other creatures for environmental damage, but we can't stop popping out hungry and resource needy offspring ourselves.
James, London, UK

It was touching. Indeed population growth is the main issue. I have allways thought like that, but people are angry when this view arises. It was so well written and explained. Kindly, Samuel
Shay Ben-menachem, Karmiel, Israel

going back to my euthanasia solution; it sounds far out but if you put it to every parent that the only way to ensure the survival of their offspring and their family line was to take a pill at the age of 80 and end it all, the vast maority would sign up straight away.
richard jones, kent

the only feasible way of stopping a catastrophe in my mind is compulsorary euthanasia. One could use an age... say 80... as, let's face it, the return on the earth's resources used up by the aged is minimal... but the better way would be after the birth of your first great grandchild or when your first grandchild reaches the age of 21; in the latter cases you would see less people having kids in their teens as it signs their death warrant and there is a chance that 'selfish' humans would get bred out. it'll never happen though, so we are doomed
richard jones, kent

I agree completely. We cannot expect to have economic growth all the time. To reduce the population we need to expect a downturn in economic growth. I try to live without extras in my life.
rick moore, bandon, oregon

John is 100% correct. Here in the UK we have transplanted all our manufacturing industry out of the country to third world or growing ecconomies such that our carbon footprint looks far better than it actually is. Add to this the deceit of carbon trading and it is clear to me at least that UK politics remains a slippery customer on the green issue. Further, unless we address the over population issue not only in our own countries but right across the world we will very quickly come to the end of the road and it is the likes of the religious leaders who really need to step into the frame to decry anything other than safe sex rather than promoting life from the point of conception. This goes not for just one particular race but all colours, creeds, races and religions. Unfortunately Politicians bury their heads in the sand at the very thought of population control.
Dave T, Chatham UK

Excellent, its about time we had someone acknowledging the underlying problem with climate change. Its never been about emissions, its always been about the amount of emissions and this has a direct link to the planets population. The only problem I see with this article is that no politician will pick up this issue, to discuss limiting birth numbers in a 'free world' is tantamount to political suicide.
Bill, Midlands

Whilst I do not profess to have all of the facts it's not hard to conclude that as our population has more than trebled in the last 80 years, a living persons current lifetime, we (humans) can be considered a plague of biblical proportions. Whilst admirable in principal, reducing individual consumption by some small quanta is an irrelevance if we continue to multiply the number of consumers. Education is key, I suggest. If we can educate the population to control the population human kind may have a foreseeable future. In the end, whatever we do, nature will take it's course however. The Sun will cool and engulf the Earth and life on Earth will end for all species. If humans suffer mass or total extinction prior to this apocalyptic inevitability then nature will carry on down some other evololutionary branch without us and I doubt she could care less. We can't expect any help from nature; as my, and probably your, mother always said: 'you make your bed, you lie in it!'
Glyn Buckler, Stratford upon Avon

We know how we should be living. We have the knowledge. Just wake up people. You will feel better once we are all living at least somewhat in harmony with the environment on which we rely. The point is that the Earth will recover in millions of years. We, however, will just be extinct. It isn't about 'Saving the Earth' it is about saving us.
M. Ryan, Berlin, Germany

I agree that we are facing many problems in the coming decades and century. Many more problems than what we usually tend to think about. Although John Feeney's artical does seem to truthfully point out many of the problems that we as a species are facing and what would need to be done about the problem; He, like many others, hasn't really mentioned how we actually implement real solutions to them. Like how do we 'end world population growth' or 'have a complete transition to clean renewable energy'? I mean how do we really do that? Ask every one to stop reproducing? Pull energy out of thin air? Yes we need to identify the problems we are up against but then we need practical, implementable, ethical solutions.
Chris Burton, Newcastle

I have read many articles of this nature some more recent, some warning of the coming problems decades ago. I am lucky (or maybe unlucky) enough to study the real issues every week on my Environmental science course. We get real facts and real examples that relate the big issues with local effects. I realise that something drastic needs to be done but, often feel like a little fish in a big ocean. Part of process i have no control in changing. Where do I go and how do I get there when others, particularly the big players seem to be pushing me in a direction i dont want to go. I would like action, action and more action but not sure if anyone is listening.
James, Plymouth, England

What a bunch of Malthusian Chicken Lickens. The sky is not going to fall in.
Andrew, London

Perhaps you could make people smaller? Could genetic engineering make future generations 60 cms high? They would take less space, consume less, pollute less. Its a permanent solution too. As the number of people on the planet increases further, then human height can be reduced in inverse proportion, to 30 cms, 15, 10, even 5, ad infinitum. Obviously potential predators like cats and ferrets would need downsizing at the same time. They say that there is a lower limit on brain size below which people are not so clever but that might not be a bad thing. How is it that humans with their huge brains are an endangered species, yet seagulls with their smaller brain are not? Why is it that seagulls are already top dog in many Atlantic seaside towns. For those attracted by the idea, further genetic research could turn us all into seagulls... No worries then about planes and their carbon, no need for body searches at airports.... No problem about heating houses. Yes, I know, seagulls don't pay taxes so that would ruin government budgetary planning, and of course there's the impact of a seagull population bubble on fish stocks... Well nothing is 100 percent pefect. Anyway, downsizing may be the only piskey solution Making the planet bigger would be a logistical nightmare. Getting everyone to volunteer for negative growth (in the sense of consuming less) shows no sign of working. And reducing population numbers by drawing straws, euthanasia for the over 20s, bombing the **** out of other countries, etc., is unfair, unjust, immoral and wrong and would create an uncontrollable backlash. Downsizing people may be the only equitable option. There are plenty of communities of Elves, Korrigans, fairies, spriggans, hobbits, etc where I understand it has been tried with success.
Alan Trevarthen, Brittany

I can't have children or adopt AND I agree with John Feeney.Please we all need ALL women to embrace ONE WOMAN ONE CHILD ONE WORLD.
Sarah, Leeds UK

WWF's Living Planet Report 2006, shows that we are currently using planet Earth's resources far faster than they can be renewed. On current projections, this means that as a whole, humanity will need at least two planets' worth of natural resources by 2050. "There's enough for everyone's needs, but not for everyone's greed." (Mahatma Gandhi)‏
Andrew Deutsch, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

To the foolish who think the planet cares about humans or feels pain from our actions. This planet recycles its surface, continents move around, combine, and split. New land is created at tectonic rifts and the process continues until the sun engulfs us all. The earth's long-term natural state may not even include life on the surface. We are extremely fortunate not to have had the oceans boiled recently by cosmic collisions. Raising surface temperatures by 20 degrees and reducing fresh water supplies by 30% are worse case projections for us and those are small events when compared what the planet has done and can do to itself without our interference. Unless we can move our orbit this planet will outlast all life on it.
Zane, Tennessee, USA

I fully agree. Two main social problems: increasing population and their demands.
Kim Sour, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I agree wholeheartedly that human overpopulation is the "elephant in the living room" of environmental concern. Nobody likes to mention it, but solve it and many of the other environmental problems will simply go away. However, this would precipitate a demographic crisis with an increasingly elderly human race, supported by a reducing number of young people. The situation is beginning to emerge in Japan and will only get worse if the size of the human race is ever to reduce.
Ian, London, UK

I absolutely agree we all face 'the end of the world', if you like, with only few surviving, if at all. Systemic global efforts by the best religious, scientific, political, business and grass-root forces are desperately needed to avert this situation. For that, an international governance, higher in status and capacities than the United Nations, with a well-balanced strategy and adequate resources is needed. Otherwise, each individual country will continue to pursue own interests and ambitions until the planet resources depletion becomes irrevocable. It will then be too late to stand together in an effort to save ourselves from extinction. It is 'a project' we should launch and effectively manage now. The overlapping steps might be, first, to get all aware, second, to rally, third, to get efficiently organized to meet this challenge, fourth, to develop and lead to a consistent implementation, being ready to sacrifice our present comfort and well-being, if required. !
Serguei Burundukov, St Petersburg, Russia

Yes, I agree with Feeney. We are over consuming, over manufacturing, over packaging.. it seems that humans will only learn their lesson when we have an enviromental collaspe..
Davd, Canada

I totally agree with Dr. Feeney. Massive consumption, driven by economic growth, leads us blindly into a path of no return. We must act individual and collectively to regain a proper perspective on our position as one species interdependent on all others. If we regain our humanity enough to celebrate life for all our fellow inhabitants, we have a chance to stop the destruction. Live simpler. Give thanks to the plants and animals on whom you depend for sustenance. Live more comfortably with less instead of endlessly driving for more.
Danielle A. Engle, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, USA

I agree completely, holocaust by famine and war cannot be avoided. Hopefully the survivors will strive to build a better future.
Richard Schargel, Guanare Venezuela

In the past wars and plagues kept the human population under control. What the earth needs is a good pandemic to wipe out really lot of the humans but that is not a good thing for the humans.
Henry, London

I agree wholeheartedly but I cannot see a resolution whilst there are too many national and business interests to accept change. What worries me, is that this planet has a habit of being able to purge itself when required-it just requires a tipping mechanism and we are creating that mechanism that could inevitably end in disaster for our species.
john sunderland, portsmouth

Yes, certainly i agree with the writer. Looking at the unabated growth in the population of my country...i could not agree more with him. It is just too sad, that because of the teachings of the Roman Catholic religion (majority here belong to this sect), the go forth and multiply and fill the earth instruction is still being followed. Yes, up to the point that a lot of people already exist in sub-human conditions. The educated certainly know what to do, how to live their lives better and even think about the future of the earth...however, these are just a few...a drop in the bucket, so to speak. If only the govt officials lead the way...but for now, they have other things they are pre-occupied with.
mercy admana, paranaque, Philippines

Any animal will breed and consume until it reaches equilibrium with the factors that tend to reduce it's population - then it's poulation will stabilise. Our intelligence allows us to sidestep most of these factors - although as you imply this is not something that can continue indefintely. We have already used some 300-400 billion tons carbon equivalent fossil fuels, we have some 5000 (yes thousand) billion tons carbon equivalent fossil fuels to go (mainly coal). That's about 14 times as much to go. So fossil fuel avaliability is not a limiting factor. If we can carry on emitting a re-run of the Permian-Triassic extinction event seems within our grasp. I had previously thought that Global Warming (and the resultant climate change) would not be a limiting factor on our CO2 emissions. However after this year's Arctic "collapse" and the pattern of reduction of ocean uptake of CO2 I am not so sure. It could be much later than we think and the IPCC could be wrong - massively understating future impacts. However despite such evidence the majority of people I know and work with still don't have this issue "on their radar", and seem committed to "Plan A" - carry on regardless. It seems to me that we face the gravest test of our right to the term "sapiens" in our species designation "Homo Sapiens". It's a test I think we will fail, I hope I am proven wrong.
Chris Reed, Blackpool UK.

There has to be a sea change in attitudes to man's ever increasing population/demands on finite resources mainly water/fossil fuels/food. How can progress be made to curb excesses when all economies are based on continuous growth?Our efforts should be directed at reducing population and consumption;not increasing them!will our benighted short sighted Goverment have the guts to propose susch measures or even discuss them?I doubt it;think of the reduction in revenues!
k.a.brett, Hampstead London

Yes, yes and yes. Categorically. We now have a heard of elephants sitting in the middle of the room. Cognitive dissonance reigns. We have engineered this situation with astonishing efficiency. Imagine what we could do it we all actually tried to put it right? We might even manage it...
Manda Brookman, Cornwall

John Feeney is entirely right. Human population growth is the most siginificant factor contributing to all our environmental problems. It seems impossible that any of the contributors to global warming, desertification, species extinction, and water shortages will be anything but dramatically increased with a projected doubling of the human population over the next 40 years. As John notes, however, our numbers will come down. The real question is whether it will be the result of an unprecedented correction that will cost billions of lives and follow an equally tragic loss of natural resources or whether it will be a consequence of some less-dramatic shift. I'm afraid I can't envision what a gentle route will be. I'd love to be convinced there is one. I work in biodiversity science and I grew up immersed in the natural world. The wild places and wild things that we took for granted will be gone when my children (2 boys) are my age. In it's place will be a rather u! npleasant scramble for what's left that I fear will dwarf the human tragedies of the 20th century.
David Remsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

I agree with John, he has hit the nail on the head. Many politicians are ignorant, do not do not want to acknowledge that population growth is fully out of control. Certain politicians for demographic reasons, taxes, economic growth even want to raise the birth rate "help we need more children" but technological advances will not need excess "workers". What's the fun in having an over-populated world, with its resource wars and hunger? Let's colonize the seabed the Moon, Mars and eat algae! Who can control population growth? Who can save mankind from itself?
Antony Hewitt, Cologne Germany

Dear John Feeney, An amazing piece of article. I usually read a lot of stuff on the net but I rarely write any comments, but this article really has made me write my thoughts. The article is absolutely amazing and educative of the whole issue. I really hope that people around the world understand the concerns that you pointed out. But this is not what is happening. An economist (forgot the name) has said that people are more concerned with what is happening to their personal life rather than what is happening to the world. Look at India and China, when people said that both these countries are making a lot of pollution and they should also curb their pollution levels. Both countries have declined on the subject. China even stated that pollution and global warming is the problem of the western world. China also stated that Global warming was caused by Western world as they grew economically and now when China is growing rapidly, they can't stop us. Talk of some ****!!!. China has become the bi! ggest polluter in the world. Come on people, Global warming is a crisis on a global scale and countries should realise it. This blaming game is not the answer but rather thinking of a solution before our world ends up in a big crisis.
Karan, Delhi, India

Absolutely spot on! Changing all the lightbulbs in the world wont matter a bit if the population continues to grow so quickly and unsustainably. More people = more demand = more energy used. Unfortunately we're going against humun nature where most people believe the meaning of life is to procreate. Maybe the Chinese way is too extreme for Western tastes, but something has to be done. It's a whole new meaning to the word "sacrifice" when you're telling people they shouldn't be having children though. I'm not confident about our future.
Stephen, Plymouth

The green movement are starting to sound like fundamentalists who want to impose their views on others, by force is necessary. This goes against the recognition of human rights. We have seen the results of this fanaticism with population in the forced abortions in countries such as India and China and the anti-child and anti-family policies supported by green politicians in Europe. Given the choice of living under a totalitarian green state and the results of global warming I prefer the latter.
Sue Eaton, London, UK

Sadly, your probebly preaching to the converted here. On another note, prehaps Global Warming is our, and the Earths way of solving all these problems. If the Earth becomes unsuitable to support us we will die in the billions, thus correcting the problem. After all the Earth has been here for 4 Billion Years. Humans? About 100,000 years in our current form. We could have a war using atomic weapons, eradiating the planet for 10,000 years and the Earth would carry on merrily, after all 10,000 years is nothing in a lifetime of 4 Billion.
Andy G, Leeds

I see our species akin to organisms that infest their habitat, a parasite of sorts. We're infesting the planet and being on top of the social pyramid, it's sad that we aren't doing much to bring the situation under control although we possess superior faculties. Perhaps, the situation is beyond our control. But it isn't too late to reverse the situation by each playing an active role in boycotting commercialization and such. If nothing is done, we'd either blow ourselves & the planet to bits (through ensuing conflicts which has all probability to turn into nuclear wars) or go extinct, whichever happens earlier.
Diana F, Mumbai, India

Absolutely agree. It's about time we woke up to the cold, hard realities facing us all, but what's really needed is a shift in [global] consciousness. It's not enough for people like John Feeney to make noises - we need action from our governments, united action from all governments. We desperately need to move on and act as One World rather than bicker & fight over what resourses are left. Time is very short. Perhaps the Mayans were right afteral.
Ralph Davies, Woking

An excellent article. Something that politicians and most environmentalists are unwilling to talk about is to encourage people in developed countries to have smaller families. It is the developed nations resource consumption per capita that is more significant than those in developing nations. Provide incentives through taxes or benifits for people to have less children and educate as to why it is of benefit to the population as a whole.
bruce phillips, bristol U.K.

John Feeney Welcome to the top of the hill. I have waited 14 years for you to get here; my God I have never been so glad to see another human being in my life; Because now we can mend this !! Thank you for climbing up; I know how tough it has been, and I know how tough it is to look down and wonder why nobody else is looking up here. But they will come. They have to. Climbing up here, is the only way they can climb down from this precarious place. Thank you; I have waited 14 years; you have made my day; and you have made life for all of us. Steven
steven Walker, Penzance

John Feeney states the obvious, but politicians will not acknowledge the truth as they think that more population equals more support for them. Thats the case in the UK and this country is more overpopulated than the States. We in the developed world cannot expect the third world, as they develop,to forgo all the amenities that we enjoy, so we should all be made to curb our fertility, especially fertility treatment. It is sad when a desired baby is not forthcoming but previous generations had to cope with disappointment and so should we. There are more than enough babies being born elsewhere on the globe.
S.A. Hall, Hants UK

I thank John Feeney for raising some controvertial truths. Thanks to decades of ignoring environmentalists, we now face a huge problem: resource depletion and climate change. There is no doubt that the global population would never have reached 6+ billion without the energy from conventional oil entering our agricultural system. Those who should be ashamed are those who built this society on non-renewable resources without any sensible debate over what might happen when this energy ceased to be available so cheaply. Global population will fall - the choice is how we manage the transition.
Mandy Meikle, West Calder, West Lothian

I agree, Over population is the largest problem, yet there has been no attempt at addressing this. Unfortunately I think the vast majority will just scream about there human right to spawn more and more instinct driven ignorant breeders. We are lost, and as Nietzsche said 'The Mediocre will inherit the earth.'
Toran Lee, London

Finally someone with the guts to say the truth. The human population is out of control. Years ago disease kept the population size under control, now with medical breakthroughs on an almost daily basis and the longer life expectancy it brings means we are headed into oblivion as a planet. All problems in the natural world today are down to the greed and selfishness of the human race. Maybe it's time we introduce a limit on the number of children a couple can have. In the past childhood mortality rates were higher so people had more children as they weren't all expected to survive to adulthood, with survival rates now being so high it's time to limit the number of births. Drastic times need drastic measures.
Alan, Anglesey

The world is a finite resource; just like oil, it's demand will eventually overbalance supply and we will be faced with a decision on what road to take. when that time comes, world leaders should be ready for the problem. My point being; leaders of major world countries should make commitments right now, instead of taking emergency measures in the future. for example, a limit on water consumption, similar to what is going on in Australia, but on a more global. This problem facing us is becoming more and more apparent, but since EMDCs need more workers right now in any case, I imagine that leaders wont be willing to try and cut down on birth rates. I doubt that humans will be ready for this matter, since we are seemingly sluggish with the reaction to global warming. World leaders wont be quick at making urgent desicions, therefore the people will have to take matters into their own hands and make commitments.
Kieran Miyamoto, Yokohama, Japan

The problem we face has to be tackled at all levels - individual, businesses and governments - because it affects all of us in all aspects of our lives. As we are the cause for the mess, we cannot rely on things sorting themselves out eventually but have to take the responsibility for it and do so now. The biggest single issue is recognising that we are part of nature and need to live in a sustainable and equitable manner. I say equitable not just when referring to other lifeforms with which we share this planet, but also with other humans. The inequality that exists within our species in particular is not the result of food shortages or lack of wealth. It's political, plain and simple. The disgraceful overconsumption and waste in the world is a prime example of why some people go hungry while other die of obesity. UK households alone waste Ģ10s billions per year due to overconsumption and unnecessary wastage of food. This is poignantly indicative of the inappropriate attitude we have to our own wellbeing and our place here on Earth.
David, Congleton

Inactivity is the biggest enemy that we face. In the year since the Stern report was published - which urged urgent action - what exactly has happened? Politicians have wrung their hands, and repositioned themselves to display their "green credentials" while doing very little to prove that those credentials are not just a smokescreen designed to win more votes.
Peter Stevenson, Dalry, Scotland

Oh my word. Looney Tunes. Sounds more like a Bibble Bashing preacher; boiling seas - land turning to dust - rivers of blood 'cause you're a sinner boy. Lets get back to informed discussion not pseodo-science religion.
Dr.M.W.Pharaoh, Cov / UK

yes agree with John Freehy's account of population growth and industrial growth as being a major factor in the lack of awareness in people about sharing the planet with the plants and animals. Our ignorance is the level to which we ignore this and allow the continued growth of companies to take the lead on creating an unsustainable future for us, without questioning their motivations and using our buying power as a way of saying stop. The population question is not being faced because no one has the guts to address it and the issues that it raises. I think it will be addressed when the situation has caused the problems it will cause, then it will be addressed.
Jacqueline Redmond, Glastonbury

Feeney's argument is surely just a form of Green Fascism, since the logic what he proposes is that a substantial proportion of the world's population should just shuffle off - or alternatively that draconian measures such as one child per family be adopted. Why should I believe him, when his predecessors told me 40 years ago that "growth" was unsustainable and catastrophe would strike in 1980/90/2000?
Al, Southampton, UK

Complete agreement and good to see some clear thinking for a change. We collectively need to change to an economic system that is based on resource efficiency and not year-on-year ongoing "growth". It is that very economic growth that is killing us, ever so slowly, but killing us it is. Thank you Dr Feeney and thank you BBC for publishing it.
Hans Schreuder, Ipswich, UK

When the oil runs out other technologies that are already available will be used. The oil giants want our money first though. The projected food shortages of the future are another myth. If we can set aside millions of hectares for the production of 'bio-fuels' then there is scope for much greater food production. Population is self regulating. Take the UK for instance. If it were not for increases in immigration the UK population would still be stable as it has been for the past 40 years! Compared to the UK India and China are vast countries therefore their population hasn't peaked yet. I do agree that recycling is the way forward. Stop the 'use and throw away' society. With a proper recycling system we can sustain ourselves indefinately. Mr Feaney you talk about population control in the same way Hitler did! Your views are dangerous and misguided.
R Taylor, Chesterfield, UK

I totally agree with John. We definitely face unspeakable, even unimaginable consequences. But we can't do anything now. Infact this is an inevitable scene in this world drama. No one should be blamed for this, not even we as human beings! This is the very law of entropy, where everything in order has to come in a state of disorder.We are facing an unimaginable destruction by natural calamities and the nuclear third world war which is not too far away! After the massive destruction there will be a new begining,with a completely pure atmosphere and life. The new golden age . Time is a cycleand is repeted as it is. Just visit any branch of Brahma Kumaris near by your place or visit a web site of same name for further clarification and detail knowledge which is given by no oher than incorporial GOD Shiva through physical medium of Prajapita Brahma. Brahma Kumaris is a spiritual university with head quarter in Mount Abu in India, with branches all over the world. It is an NGO affiliated to United Nations. About 800000 B.K. practice Rajyog Meditation for world peace. Om Shanti.
Dr. Samir Bhavsar, Anand, Gujarat state, India

I totally agree with you John, but unfortunatly there is so much apathy around us. Most of the population are caught up in their own life circle and cannot see outside of it. As long as they can get in their car, go to work, come home and watch tv, they are happy.I have recently started to travel by public transport and I am appalled at the behaviour of my fellow specis.We have become a very selfish uncaring society here in the Uk ,I think the expression is " Im alright Jack", How we turn this around I cant hazaed to guess, But hopefully more people will start to understand that Mother Nature will take so much before kicking back.Anyhow good luck with your projects, there are people out here that do understand, we will do whatever we can to try to help yours faithfully g.Kemp
garry, Hayes,London,UK

Whistling in the dark will not help - Dr Feeney is quite right. It ought to be obvious to even the densest and most obtuse optimist that there are simply too many people. People do reduce the size of their families - this has a great deal to do with economic status. If H. sapiens is really not just sapiens, but also cogitens, then we have a chance. If H. sapiens is just wise (in his/her own estimation), but takes no action, then the wisdom does rather disappear, doesn't it?
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany

I am so pleased that there are people out there dedictaing themselves to discussing and bringing this issue to the forefront of political and environmental realms. Knowing what I know about the Human Race, it sadly seems to me we won't be able to control ourselves enough to save ourselves. but thats no excuse not to try. But can we please stop celebrating framilies who have ten or more children in the UK? It's hugely irresponsible. Thanks Elly
Elly Ward, Norwich

It's very easy to say "We must end world population growth, then reduce population size", but how exactly is this to be accomplished? Mr. Feeney claims that 'expert consensus' claims that this problem can be solved humanely, which is good to know. But how exactly? What are the 'social problems' that drive population expansion, and how can they be countered? China, for example, has a largely successful 1-child policy but even then its population conitnues to grow, and will not begin to decline for decades to come according to the latest poulation forecasts.
Rory Mitchell, Hong Kong

Very good article. 99% of the articles like yours on Globle Health focuses on issues other than percapita consumption. Being in one of the poorest countries in the world and with one of the lowest consumer of natural resourses (nonrenewable)I see it quite obvious that percapita consumption of the natural resourses are more important than the population number.An example: The international school I work at consumes roughly the same amount of electrical energy as 1000 same size other rural schools in Nepal!!!! Thanks
suman koirala, Kathmandu Nepal

I total support Johns comments, their does seem a reluctance to discuss the impact of out of control population growth. It is a subject that cuts to the core of human existance. Essentially if we don't take the political decisions to control population size, then the natural systems and multipling interdependant problems will control our growth for us. Unfortunately this could be a very painful process. Historically its interesting to note that civalisations have reached a crises when inter-connections reach a certain level of complexity. One break in a chain and the whole complex edifice comes crashing down.
Melanie Blizard, Brisbane Qld Australia

At last a rational article on the Earth's true environmental ills - but it's probably too late, Mother Earth will look after itself.
Crowcatcher, Shropshire

John Feeney is right for the most part, and in fact his tone is very gentle. The crisis is already far worse than all but a small group of specialists can grasp. Certainly, the idea of infinite growth was dead-wrong: embedded within it was self-destruction. And population, indeed, must be reduced. So why do we offer "treatment" for infertility, and life support for the not-quite-dead? Is it cruel to deny someone children they are not readily conceiving? Isn't it more cruel to speed up & intensify the suffering those children will face? The counterpoint to Mr Feeney's argument on reducing total population is one that also must be articulated explicitly: mere numbers won't do the trick unless we also begin to teach ways of living better with less. Consider the latest fad, 'guyliner.' Instead of doing with less make-up (to reduce consumption), some propose we extend cosmetic use to the male half... What this tells me is that we are not really serious about trying to ensure huma! n civilisation survives. We just hope it will be someone else having to die, to endure the discomfort we are choosing to avoid having to prevent through intelligent action.
Maria Amadei Ashot, London, the UK

I agree with John Feeney but unfortunately am very pessimistic about our will or desire to curb our habits which have put us on this course. I totally agree that overpopulation is a big part of the problem but religion enters the picture and torpedoes any efforts to control population growth. The idea that "be fruitful and multiply" is no longer appropriate has not sunk in. And many people will say they want to help curb consumption, but not if it affects their life style. I hope I'm wrong but I don't think so.
Raymond Day, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Absolutely! I have a degree in Ecology and once you study the subject and realize that the earth is built upon a delicate balance of interdependent species which all have a niche that creates a living organism of the earth. Anything that spreads like humans have is a cancer on the planet and Mother Nature or Gaia is about to destroy us when the weather patterns change world wide and more than half the worlds population lives within a few miles of the world's oceans and less than 100 ft above sea level. They will all be destroyed very quickly when one domino falls and a cascade event, propably the release of tons of Methane into the air when siberia heats up. Did you know there are three rivers in Siberia larger than the nile? Methane will throw the delicate balance into unbalance. Droughts, floods, supercyclones, supertornadoes, and disease create food shortages, cities will experience riots for food and water and mass migration to northern latitudes to escape the heat. This is hist! ory repeating itself, only nothing in history has ever been more serious than the situation we face as a result of our greed, stupidity, and the genocide of all life on the planet as we cleared the way for "modernization" and the Industrial Revolution was our demise. Sweet dreams mankind... as you join the dinosour!
Kyle Neville, Reseda, California

I agree with Feeney. Finding ways to make resource recovery part of capitalism is long overdue. The world was already over-populated in the 1960s if you work out any sort of model of sustainability, that becomes apparent. It is unfortunate that people and their country's economies are gridlocked into the have babies, consume to keep up with the Jones way of life, or have babies as a method of having someone to take care of you when you are old... Developing nations could follow Thailand's (very sucessful) model for decreased population growth. Developed nations could do so much by implementing real cost pricing of consumer goods which whereby the actual cost of goods is arrived at by including toxicity costs to the environment, additional cancers, costs to the land, disposal, etc. I think there are hidden costs everywhere now that people have to drink bottled water (which yes pollutes more), and need air filters just to alleviate asthma that they wouldn't normally have! . And cancer...you may not be able to but a price tag on it, but really the polluted environment/cancer link is just a obvious and just a ignored a global warming. Polluters should pay, and consumers who buy products from polluters should pay more of a real cost. Exporting the pollution to Countries like China, Korea, Mexico is what the U.S. does...maybe that concept would be more acceptable if our trade partners were mass-producing solar panels, compost bins, parts for mass-transit systems, and grey water irrigation components.
p. michael, los angeles, ca

This is real and it is here now. In areas of the south, 45% bee hives have been destroyed by an Israeli virus. Without pollinators, crops yield little or no food. The system is being uprooted from the bottom up. Why? Because pesticides weakened the immune systems of the bees. Pesticides used to protect the very crops wasting away without pollination.
Bryon Drown, North Easton, MA, USA

This is alarmist crap. Even he knows it its why hes so defencive about alarmism. People have been predicting the end of the world for hundreds and hundreds of years and this guy is no different. He can use as many buzz words as he wants and dress them up as fact but it won make it any more real. Climate change isnt happening that fast and humans are doing fine, people in developed countries have too much food so how can he predict famine? Simply he cant and is either a little nuts or just wants some attention.
Nick, England

With respect, I think Mr. Feeney has been reading too much of his own propaganda.
Walter Moore, Indianapolis U.S.A.

Yes it is absolutely. If birth-rates and fertility-rates are not curbed world population will reach to an unsustainable level
Syed, Troy

I agree with Mr. Feeney. It would be nice if all of the religious conservatives around the globe, would preach a little common sense about things like family planning. Unfortunately, since that might cause a reduction in their 'coffers' in the long term, it is unlikely to happen in any chuch with the exception of those who actually "practice [& comprehend the original intention of the messages] they preach". []s mine. Thank you for the excellent article, Keith
keith stengl, santa rosa/united states

I agree with Feeney, that the Earth is too crowded, but with billionaires, not with people in general. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and UN studies all show that populations stabilize with elimination of poverty and empowerment of women in society. To be sure, radical changes must be made in the way we live, but they will realize the goal of global sustainability that Feeney claims is impossible to attain. Only rapid solarization of our energy infrastructure, demilitarization and conversion of industrial and GMO agriculture into agroecology can prevent global warming ecocatastrophe looming in a few decades. The real challenge is political and economic, not the global population size. Another world is possible if the "excess" population of the planet is sufficiently organized to force it into being, starting with constraining the rule of capital enriching the few and immiserating the many. David Schwartzman Professor Department of Biology Howard University Washington, DC 20059
David Schwartzman, Washington DC, USA

This is an extremely well written article, clear and to the point. I could not agree more with the facts presented.
Alex Godfrey, Phitsanulok, Thailand

All living populations expand and contract in tune with resources, we are not exempt. Unfortunately the Judeo-Christian tradition has taught that we are outside nature and a special case, and some still cling to that primitive world view derived from a long gone situation. "When I was a child, I thought as a child .. now it is time to put away childish things" summarises it perfectly. If we don't get ourselves under control we will be rudely put back a few millenia by disease, starvation, and WAR.
Geoffpv@shaw.ca, Calgary, canada

WE THE HUMAN RACE ARE AN INFECTION OF THE PLANET EARTH. WE WILL CONSUME THE RESOURCES OF OUR HOST UNTIL OUR OWN TOXINS DESTROY US THRU DISEASE OR POLLUTION. WE ARE NO DIFFERENT THAN A LOWLY BACTERIA OR VIRUS KILLING ITS HOST ORGANISM. WE AS A RACE ARE TOO IGNORANT TO EVEN HEED THE WARNINGS OF OUR BEST & BRIGHTEST SCIENTISTS. THE FUTURE IS INDEED BLEEK!
HARRY B, DETROIT/USA

From what I have read on the internet and from what I have seen in films such as "The Corporation" and "An inconvinient truth", people like John Feeney have a point. One part of my mind says fight the current global (and largely economic) institutionīs method of government. It says lets protest and make as much noise as possible. Lets hope that a change comes about and that humanity can prove itself as humane and resonable. Overcoming this crisis would put my faith back in humanity. The other part of my mind asks why not let humanity continue on itīs current course? Why not just let our politicians and minders continue to wreak their havock? Why not continue and let our current problems escalate to the "sixth mass extinction" event that some predict? The dinosaurs died out but the Earth survived. Life survived. Even if we are all gone what does out life mean in the billions of years long history of the planet? Not much?
William Todd, Buenos Aires Argentina

Glad soneone finally said it.
Dale Barnhart, Howe, Oklahoma 74940 USA

Too bad most of us find it easy to overlook this inconvenient truth.
Dan, NY, US

Kudos to John Feeney for his fascinating article. I would like to add that emergence of organized religions devoid of animastic foundation have lead to uncontrolled human population increase. Women held in slavery as baby making machines in Christianity and Islam. Humanity trying to defeat the natural law of "Survival of the fittest". These are major parts of the conundrum of life.
E.Bruce Wolff, Pusan, So. Korea

I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, the things John mentions aren't even remotely on anyone's radar screen - tropical forest continue to be cut down to the last bit here in Borneo, and nobody of those responsible seems to either understand or care for their own children' future.
Franz L Kessler, Miri, Malaysia

WOW congratulations John Feeney, that is the most articulate and powerful analysis of our current situation that I have read to date! Let us all strive to break the inertia and accelerate action on this, our greatest challenge.
David Power, Sydney

I agree with John, nice to hear this view get published, it's not often. However, this view is contentious and needs scientific validation and quantification to be fully backed. But can you find a scientist with these views who hasn't been silenced? And I doubt you'll ever hear a politician or company director entertain the idea. And how do we stop/reduce population growth? Create a 2.1 family policy (with a 0 pension policy for free)? Kick off shows like the running man (how about "I'm a drain on this planet, get me out of here")?
Joe, Oxford, UK

John Feeney has highlighted several unpalatable truths. First, there are far too many of us. I recently completed an ecological 'footprint' survey which indicated that we would need 3.9 earths for everyone to sustain a lifestyle such as mine - which is one I do not consider too extravagant. So how could it be possible for those in developing nations to enjoy the lifestyle of the "West" even while the advanced economies strive for an economic development of 2-3% per year. The short answer is that it won't happen. Second, the climate changes already adequately highlighted by the IPCC are frightening and recent data shows that even the worst case scenarios in their models are too optimistic. Anthropomorphic changes are occurring faster than modellers feared and yet many deny there is even a problem. While I am not a pessimist by nature, I am rapidly becoming convinced that within a couple of lifetimes from now the human race will start to become the victim of its own success and will join those species destined for extinction - not necessarily very soon but certainly inexorably. In the grand scheme of things there is nothing special about homo sapiens as a species to suggest that it is immortal.
Richard, Montpon, France

The world is already telling us that it's reaching its limit. Natural catastrophes are just some of the ways it is reacting towards our abuse and inconsideration. We have to stop waiting for others to take action and solve the problem; this is something that involves the understanding and cooperation of everyone. Let us unite for once in this common cause: To save our home, our only home, and that of millions of other creatures.
Elisa, San Juan/Puerto Rico

Aldo Leopold, one of the founders of the wildlife management profession, once said, "To be an ecologist is to live in a world of wounds." For anyone with a background in ecology, the answer is obvious: Of course our growing demands are too much for the planet. Will the consequences be unspeakable? That depends on what is meant by "unspeakable." The consequences are already significant and mounting, and are on their way to being unprecedented, dire. It is hard to believe that one really needs a background in ecology to recognize these trends and causes. Common sense should suffice. Unfortunately, however, there has been so much rhetoric spewed out by corporations and their politicians that the common sense of citizens has been suppressed. For decades, citizens have been intoxicated by claims that "There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment." Now comes the dreaded hangover. It is commendable that BBC posted Mr. Feeney's insights. BBC could have done a better job with its questions to the readership, though. Feeney's article wasn't all about an "expanding population," but rather the combination of growing population and per capita consumption. This combination is called economic growth. Economic growth gauged by increasing GDP and is a primary, perennial policy goal of virtually all nations. Feeney suggested the only sustainable alternative: the steady state economy. As a visiting assistant professor who teaches ecological economics at Virginia Tech, I am encouraged to see some macroeconomic sanity entering the mainstream media.
Brian Czech, Arlington, Virginia, USA

Perhaps next week's announcement by Governor Ritter here in Colorado of the first real energy plan for Colorado will be the decisive action that will give people hope so they stop going along with their heads down. Our state can do a lot to change the world in a big way with our education system, National Center for Atmospheric Research and labs for renewable energy research. Combine that with the infrastructure we have in place in our county, state and nation and I think you will find that people were simply looking to the side rather than going along in despair toward some sort of environmental collapse. If people align their priorities with what they do on a daily basis I think you will find that it's not too late for change. The present situation is like a hang glider that has one wing stalled in a turn with a mountainside coming up if nothing is done. We can either freeze and do nothing or go with the turn and dive for airspeed to bring this thing around and wind up hav! ing a good flight. It's our duty to do so.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado USA

What a load of rubbish! It's not population that matters, it's consumption of resources. If places like the USA would do more to curb their seemingly infinite consumption of natural resources this earth could, and would, support many more!
rss, Cambridge,UK



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific