Are environmentalists beginning to take a nasty anti-immigrant turn?

Traditionally anti-immigrant fever in the United States has been fueled by demagogues on the right. Recently, however, concerned that the United States is overpopulated (that’s not a misprint), groups like Population-Environment Balance and the Population Institute have been pressuring even mainline environmental groups to take anti-immigration stances.

According to an Oct. 2, 1997 Associated Press story, the Sierra Club’s 500,000 members will soon vote on whether or not to end their neutral policy on immigration and instead endorse a reduction in immigration to the United States.

The AP story quotes Sierra Club member Alan Kuper, who fought to have the issue scheduled for a vote in March 1998 as saying overpopulation “happens to underlie all environmental issues” including traffic jams, air pollution, water shortages and species loss.

To their credit, not everyone in the Sierra Club is falling for this nonsense. Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said, “this is a nasty, polarized debate in our society, one of the reasons our directors didn’t want to get involved in the issue.”

The position of people like Kuper is extraordinarily wrongheaded as immigration from heavily populated countries, such as Bangladesh, to less populated nations such as the United States is a major way to ease population difficulties in the Third World. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the world environment might be a bit less taxed if people living in Bangladesh, with its population density of close to 900 people per square mile, immigrated to the United States, with its population density of roughly 72 per square mile.

But then little that comes out of the overpopulation camp ever makes much sense.

The veggie fundamentalists are going to hate this

You’ve probably heard the common refrain that all we’d have to do to feed everyone on the planet is to abandon a meat based diet in favor of a wholly or partially vegetarian diet, which uses far less grain than feeding cows. But what if, instead, we could make cows hyper-efficient meat producers. Researchers in New Zealand might have found a way to do just that.

On August 26, Reuters reported that a husband and wife team, Mridula Sharma and Ravi Kambadur, discovered a gene responsible for a mutation in cattle which doubles muscle growth in the cattle.

The gene, myostatin, normally acts to inhibit muscle growth. Sharma and Kambadur discovered a mutation which increases muscle mass up to 40 percent in certain breeds and could lead to even strong increases. The upshot is the cattle with the mutation produced far more meat (and more tender meat at that) than cattle without the mutation.

The two have managed to clone the gene and recently published their discovery of a similar find in mice in Nature.

Of course it will probably never get to market with the hysteria over genetic engineering so common with environmentalists these days, but if you want to sink your teeth into a nice juicy, environmentally-friendly steak, this is the way to go.

Oil and gas prices

Gas prices are starting to go up in some parts of the country, so I imagine stories on the world’s future supply of oil will start turning up from places like WorldWatch, etc. An excellent article in the August 21, 1997 of the Wall Street Journal outlined the current and immediate future in the oil market.

The bottom line: even though demand for oil is expected to surge, no large price increases are expected for at least a year as new oil sources and projects are brought online. Worldwide an additional 1.3 million barrels of oil daily will be added to current production through the end of 1997 and early 1998.

Oil projects in the North Sea will add 249,000 barrels daily; in Colombia 249,000 barrels each day will be added; and Iraq is expected to begin pumping at least 750,000 barrels each day under close supervision from the United Nations. The Journal quotes Lawrence Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, as predicting crude oil prices could fall as low as $17 to $18 a barrel.

So what gives with prices in the United States? Why aren’t they declining or at least maintaining current levels rather than increasing recently?

The Journal cites an American Automobile Association analyst saying that the economy is leading more Americans to drive more miles this summer, extending the summer driving season longer than usual. Problems with important refineries have also contributed to higher-than-expected gasoline prices, which can be expected to slacken after Labor Day.

Last couple weeks

I took a brief hiatus from the population news to focus on improving other areas of the web site. Repeat visitors may not the new graphic logo for the Overpopulation FAQ as well as an improvement in linking and other changes.

I’ve also identified a good dozen topics not adequately addressed by the Overpopulation FAQ (thanks to those who gave me the often unkind feedback) which I am busy working on.

Anyone who has a question or topic they feel is ignored or missing from these pages please feel free to email me at brian@carnell.com with any suggestions and/or complaints (p.s. if you write me a nasty email don’t expect my reply to be full of love and compromise).

WorldWatch Institute: food prices are rising and the sky is falling

I’m a big sports fan, and one of the things I hate the most is to watch one of my favorite teams lose. Even worse is when a team I follow goes on a losing streak for a few games. But never in my deepest despair do I imagine that since my team has lost the last 5 or 6 games that it will never win a game ever again; there are going to be ups and downs with even the best team.

The geniuses at the WorldWatch Institute, on the other hand, disagree. To them a periodic downturn is evidence of impending disaster. I’m referring to a press release WorldWatch released touting its new policy paper, The Agricultural Link: How Environmental Deterioration Could Disrupt Economic Progress, which direly warns, “rising grain prices may be the first global economic indicator to tell us that we are on an economic and demographic path that is environmentally unsustainable.”

Here’s the deal. For the past 50 years or so grain prices have been going down, down, down. Grain is now incredibly cheap by historical standards. But a few years ago grain prices started rising. WorldWatch claims they’ve risen 39 percent over the last three years.

Why? Because the rate of growth of grain production slowed. If you look at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s figures for 1995/6 through 1997/8 it’s obvious that increases in production of wheat, coarse grains and milled rice have come to a halt. Should we be concerned?

Not really. WorldWatch makes the claim that the decrease in agricultural production is due to environmental deterioration, but in fact it has much more mundane sources. First, a major contributor to increase in prices has been the major decline in output from the former Soviet republics which are still embroiled in political instability and uncertainty. In the United States and Europe, environmental and economic policies in general have both been directed at reducing overall grain production. Finally, the agricultural price system seems to have worked exactly as it should.

In 1995/96 grain prices soared and cereal stocks were depleted. The price increase, however, encouraged farmers to increase grain production and the FAO reports that based on its forecast for 1997/98, “cereal production will meet expected 1997/98 consumption requirements and should allow for a further modest replenishment of cereal stocks for the second consecutive year.” According to the FAO, global end-of-season stocks should be 17 to 18 percent of total used, and by 1997/98 the ratio will be back up to around 16 percent. Still not ideal, but headed in the right direction, contra WorldWatch.

Beyond misinterpreting the data, WorldWatch jumps through a lot of hoops to arrive at its apocalyptic position.

In its press release, for example, it claims water shortages are an impending problem and “the inevitable cutbacks in water pumping and irrigation that follow aquifer depletion are now starting … as countries press against the limits o their water supplies, cities typically satisfy their growing needs by taking water from agriculture.” Why is this a problem? Even WorldWatch has produced studies demonstrating that world agricultural usage of water is excessive. If anything, WorldWatch shouldn’t be afraid that people will want to stop subsidizing irrigation projects in Texas, but instead be thankful the world is on the verge of far more efficient water use patterns. In fact in its conclusions one of its action items is “raising the efficiency of water use.”

WorldWatch’s conclusions show where the organization’s heart really is. Claiming stabilizing the population is the only solution, it calls for actions on “the scale and urgency of … World War II.” Forget that the world is already well on its way toward population stability and then decline without Lester Brown’s intervention. Forget that there’s not a lot that can be done in the worst areas, such as Africa, unless and until those areas free themselves from authoritarian rule. No, the only way to save the world from collapse is to let Brown and his chums remake the world in their own image.

Sorry, Lester, but the only thing that seems unsustainable here is your reasoning.

Common Population Myths

In my opinion one of the best independent sources for information about information is Joel Cohen, head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and author of How Many People Can the Earth Support?

Surfing the web the other day I came across a summary of an article Cohen wrote for Discover magazine, “Dispelling Common Population Myths Is First Step in Addressing Overpopulation.” Several of the myths Cohen mentions are de riguer for most of the people on the Internet who worry about population.

The first myth Cohen dispels is the idea that human population grows exponentially – it doesn’t (the amount of time it takes world population to double, for example, has declined significantly since the mid-1960s).

Cohen does an excellent job of puncturing a lot of the nonsense about “carrying capacity” which is a far more complex (in many ways almost unintelligible) concept than anti-population zealots imagine or will admit. Cohen has an excellent discussion of the problems involved with the “carrying capacity” concept in his book.

He also defends the Roman Catholic Church against the sort of bigots who claim that religion’s teachings are responsible for the population problem.

If only overpopulation zealots would start reading books and articles by mainstream demographers and population experts rather than getting all their materials secondhand from people with little formal training in population issues (can someone say Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown?)