Comment: Population growth takes a toll on the planet

Patrick McLaren


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Paul Summerville and Rowan Porta (“Making the case for a more-welcoming Canada,” Dec. 30, 2012) make the case that declining populations in developed countries represent a “dangerous” demographic shift that threatens their economies.

According to them, “a growing population has been a key factor in the rise of economic and political power,” the message being that the declining population in Canada is tantamount to our economic doom. Admittedly, their discussion takes a refreshingly humane view of how changes to Canada’s immigration policies might help alleviate the coming fall, but it is clear that they also favour political management to encourage our baby-making potential.

Such thinking, unsurprisingly coming from a banking/economist mentality, perpetuates the present and ludicrous paradigm of the “goodness of growth,” and that “business as usual” will presumably continue indefinitely.

This short-sightedness (and perhaps the self-interest of our planetary corporate mindset) comes, terrifyingly, from the academia housed in our university’s school of business.

Their conclusions are based entirely on at least two hidden and erroneous assumptions: one, that economic growth is totally necessary for our comfortable existence on this Earth of ours; and two, that any problems resulting from our declining resources will yield to human ingenuity induced by the pressures of the free-market economy. Both are fallacious.

Furthermore, the assertion that a growing population has been a necessary, key factor in maintaining a rise of economic and political power implies that human beings planned it this way — and of course, they didn’t. It was the other way round.

Our economic and political powers evolved to accommodate our extraordinarily successful takeover of the planet at varying costs (many of them fatal) to all species, including ourselves and our environmental support systems.

The paradigm that we are living under today, and expounded as desirable by these authors and far too many like them, in effect ignores our considerable, and indeed, quite wonderful, fundamental scientific understanding of how our world works.

They are ignorant of geology and the Earth’s resources. They are ignorant of evolution and how and why our species has an overwhelming population that continues to expand exponentially.

They are ignorant of physics, chemistry and biology, of our human impact on the planet and of the incredibly dangerous and fragile situation that we have put ourselves into, not to mention all living things.

They are ignorant of past extinctions, their causes and the events that led up to their occurrence.

Our children can understand that our survival depends on reducing our footprint (and that starts with our population) if we are even to have a future.

Maybe we will find wisdom, or wisdom will be forced upon us.

But one thing is certain: Increasing our population does not constitute wisdom. To encourage policies resulting in more people that are required to perpetuate an erroneous economic model that refuses to accept limits to growth should fill us all with great fear.

Let us hope that scientific knowledge available in the many excellent departments at the University of Victoria can permeate its business school and allow real thinkers to work on economic models based on defensible assumptions.


Patrick McLaren, Ph.D, P.Geo., is president of SedTrend Analysis Limited, a company that specializes in understanding how nature is working in marine and coastal environments.

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