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Overpopulation shunning mindset: the most dangerous form of hope-mongering?


Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "Credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset (Part #20)


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The case of overpopulation is especially interesting in the light of its parallels to the subprime crisis. As argued elsewhere (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008), imprudent religions encourage unchecked production of children by gullible parents -- when the possibility of sustaining their ecological footprint is increasingly risky. Through a process of hope-mongering, parents are effectively deluded into "financing" this endeavour through a form of "ecological mortage" guaranteed by those religions (acting in the name of divinity). Populations are being encouraged to borrow non-renewable environmental resources beyond their probable means to repay -- or that of the generations they are thereby enabled to engender. As with irresponsible mortage lending, no mention is made of caveat emptor.

Earth Overshoot Day, 23 September, marks the day in 2008 when humanity begins living beyond its ecological means. Beyond that day, humanity moves into the ecological equivalent of deficit spending, utilizing resources at a rate faster than what the planet can regenerate in a calendar year. It is of course to be expected that in 2009 it will be earlier in the calendar year.

Like the financial institutions (prior to the subprime crisis), many religions offer every assurance that all will be well -- deprecating arguments to the contrary -- vigorously ensuring that they are not effectively debated (Begetting: challenges and responsibilities of overpopulation, 2007). Given the moral authority of those religions, and the support they elicit from voters, governments are also discouraged from questioning the quality of the "financial packages" so offered. The quality of those "instruments", in ecological terms, therefore goes totally unquestioned and unchallenged. Any argument for "transparency" is immediately challenged, as with the need for any form of "regulation".

The metaphor offers a final twist in that the mortgage pledge only ceases when the obligation of the borrower dies (hence "mort") -- either when the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure. Presumably it will be Gaia (acting in the name of divinity), as the "lender of last resort", who will "foreclose" -- ejecting humanity from its environmental home as being ecologically uncreditworthy.

Of particular interest within this metaphor are the meanings that might be attributed to "prime rate", supposedly the rate of interest in lending to favoured customers. In environmental terms, it might it be understood as the rate appropriate to healthy system renewal -- to sustainability -- as opposed to the "subprime" rates at which populations are encouraged to borrow? When will the era of "population triumphalism" be challenged -- or by what form of force majeure?

Is the threat of a population crisis what the current focus on the financial crisis, or the climate change crisis, inadvertently obscures -- if not deliberately? This possibility is confirmed by the manner in which efforts to analyze the evolution of the world problematique, as pioneered for the Club of Rome in 1972, are themselves undermined in an academic context. As shown by Graham Turner (A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, CSIRO, 2007), the original study provoked many criticisms which falsely stated its conclusions in order to discredit it. Despite the repeated substantiation of its conclusions, including warnings of overshoot and collapse, recommendations of fundamental changes of policy and behaviour for sustainability have not been taken up. One of its principal areas of focus was population.

Ironically, in any comparison between the systemic financial crisis and the emerging resource crisis arising from unsustainable population levels, the repeatedly criticized short-termism of policy-makers may be usefully compared with short selling. As an analogue, the merits of such short-termism are appropriately to be contrasted with "naked short selling". This has yet to be clearly distinguished in policy terms -- perhaps as "blinkered" policy-making, irresponsibly avoiding systemic implications, and therefore worthy of immediate "regulation".

Given the implications of population overshoot and the manner in which they have been systematically denied, it is supremely ironic the urgency with which the US administration, notably through George W. Bush, repeatedly stressed in September 2008 the need for immediate action to accept the proposed financial bailout package -- with warnings of chaos, financial meltdown and severe dislocations if it was not approved.

As markets plunge, banks fail and traders panic, the core principles that have underpinned western economic and political culture for a generation have been thoroughly discredited. Less than a month ago the invulnerability and inviolability of unregulated global capitalism was common sense. The system that leaves half of the world living on less than a dollar a day, with some so impoverished that they are eating mud cakes and selling their children into bondage, was apparently working well. To suggest otherwise was to be dismissed as extreme.

But such orthodoxies can collapse even faster than markets... Good sense demands a thoroughgoing reappraisal of a system that's in a state of collapse; common sense requires we subsidise it in perpetuity for fear that it breaks down. That sounds like nonsense.
(Gary Younge, America has a terrible headache, but it seems that no one wants to cure it, The Guardian, 29 September 2008).


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