A distinguished scientist’s new book makes the case that more people means less wildlife, in the United Kingdom and globally. This excellent offering is a must-read for anyone interested in the connection between human numbers and biodiversity protection.
by Phil Cafaro
For Trevor Beebe, the issue of people crowding out other species surfaced early in his life. “It was April 1963,” he writes:
and hovering above the pond an intimidating machine was moving vast quantities of earth, infilling a treasure trove overflowing with water plants, dragonflies, beetles, frogs, newts and so much more. … This small pool had been my inspiration, awakening my first fascination with natural history. Over the previous 5 years I had become familiar with every soggy corner and to this day I could draw you a map of it. A shady bay beneath a hawthorn bush where, one autumn, a dozen newly emerged great diving beetles lay immobile on the silt; springs with frog choruses, masses of spawn, migrating toads and newts flitting around in the shallows; and warm summer days with hawker dragonflies patrolling tirelessly around the shores. Within a matter of hours, all this was gone, paving the way for a new housing estate. My adolescent brain made the obvious connection: more people means fewer wild places and less wildlife.
Beebe’s youthful naturalizing led to a career in science and conservation. His new book published by Cambridge University Press, Impacts of Human Population on Wildlife: A British Perspective, makes the case that the primary cause of the massive biodiversity loss in the British countryside during his lifetime has been “the attempt to accommodate more people than Britain can sustain without ongoing environmental damage.” While the core of the book describes these changes and documents their links to Britain’s growing population, additional chapters explore population impacts and policies internationally.
After an introductory chapter describing some obstacles to honestly discussing population matters, chapter two describes how British wildlife has declined substantially in recent decades. The UK registered 13th lowest out of 236 countries in one recent study of biodiversity intactness, and much of its biodiversity loss occurred in the years after World War II. This coincided with a major post-war push for food self-sufficiency. As detailed in chapter five, Britain’s agriculture was mechanized; marginal lands were pushed into production, hedgerows ripped up, and wetlands filled in; DDT and other harsh pesticides and fertilizers toxified the landscape and its rivers and streams. Biologists generally agree that intensification of agriculture was the leading cause of biodiversity loss in post-war Britain; this intensification was driven in part by Britain’s rapid population growth during this period, which increased the demand for agricultural products. The intensification of forestry, begun several decades earlier, had a similar negative impact on British biodiversity. As with agriculture, population increase incentivized industrialization by increasing national demand for forest products.
Other chapters explore additional important drivers of biodiversity loss and their more or less direct links to increasing populations and population density. Chapter three discusses hunting pressures on both target and non-target species. Chapter four explores the role of urbanization and suburban sprawl in decreasing wildlife habitat. The kind of development young Trevor saw destroy his favorite pond was repeated innumerable times across the country in the post-war years, as tens of millions more people had to be accommodated on a finite landscape. Most of this population growth and new development happened in southern England, where the richest biodiversity in the UK is found, so its impacts were magnified. Chapter six explores climate change, invasive species, wildlife and wild plant diseases, and habitat degradation and disturbance. In each case, Beebe asks how increasing human numbers may have contributed to these problems, taking care not to get ahead of the evidence, and warning readers when it is inconclusive.
All the proximate causes identified as problematic for wildlife in Britain have a common root, Beebe writes: they are the activities of humans. But in the end, most of these activities “are merely symptoms, surely the immediate causes of wildlife declines but not the fundamental drivers of them,” which are excessive human numbers and economic demands. This reverses the usual way of talking about biodiversity loss, in which conservationists pretend that human demands and economic behavior are infinitely malleable, in favor of a more realistic view: as long as there are people around, most of what happens on the landscape is going to be for our immediate material benefit. Therefore, if we want to protect biodiversity, the most important thing we can do is to work to limit our numbers. As Beebe writes, “the only sustainable, long-term solution for a healthy environment in the UK will require a reduction of the human population size.”
The subtitle of this book is “A British Perspective,” but its scope widens in its last third. Chapter seven finds that 11 countries in western Europe experienced broadly similar wildlife declines over the past 70 years, despite often intensive efforts to halt this decline. Beebe writes, “It seems difficult to understand why rich economies have so often allowed wildlife declines to continue unabated. The answer may relate to the commonality of agricultural intensification as a driver of wildlife declines across Western Europe. This in turn has coincided with increasing human numbers and corresponding needs for high levels of food production.” Noting that western European nations have a wide range of population densities, from Sweden at 23 people per km2 to the Netherlands at 421 people per km2, he writes: “This broad range of human numbers across the continent provides a good opportunity to test the hypothesis that wildlife declines correlate with human population density.” As the figures reproduced below show, they do:
For both amphibians and birds, the relationship between increased human population density and increased percentages of species declining is statistically significant. Chapter nine notes that this correlation between population density and recent biodiversity loss has been found worldwide, in studies looking at measures of biodiversity intactness: “across the world as a whole, more people are correlated with more biodiversity loss.” Conservation biologists generally agree that preserving habitat is the key to preserving biodiversity, leading to support for ecological restoration of former agricultural lands as a cornerstone of conservation efforts going forward. But as Beebe notes, in densely populated countries with increasing concerns about food security, such agricultural deintensification in not likely to be widely adopted.
Given the evident importance of population matters to biodiversity conservation, one would expect more attention to this matter. On the positive side, chapter eight notes that polls regularly show that the general public understands the importance of reducing human numbers for biodiversity conservation, and that naturalists and conservation biologists have increased their population advocacy in recent years. On the negative side, environmental organizations generally ignore the issue. Worst of all, the wealthy foundations that many of these organizations have come to depend on punish those which address it.
The timid silence of most environmental NGOs arguably amounts to a dereliction of duty, given the impacts of increasing human numbers on their stated objectives. Beebe levels similar criticisms at mainstream politicians: the platform of the UK’s Green Party “seems designed to minimize offence rather than to propose action,” while other major parties remain silent about population. Into this breach step the economists, who are uniquely unsuited to advise on population matters, given their obsession with economic growth and their demotion of other species to mere “natural resources,” to be used or exterminated whenever this is convenient for people. “It is pertinent to ask why economics is so highly rated in the corridors of power,” Beebe writes. And again: “the demotion of economics as a major driving force in the political arena might well be the best of news for the future of Planet Earth.”
In a final chapter titled “Conservation in a Crowded Country,” Beebe wades into controversial questions regarding population policies at home and around the world. He notes that widespread worries about low birthrates and stable or declining populations have led many countries to introduce policies to increase fertility rates in recent years. Yet few of these countries have biodiversity intactness index scores that merit such policies, and many have such large populations that their real worry probably should be whether they will be able to feed them in a warming world. Focusing on the UK, Beebe quotes one study that estimated it could only sustainably feed a population of 20 million people, far below the current 67 million or the 78 million projected by UN demographers for 2100. He goes on to discuss tax and incentive policies to lower UK fertility rates, and gingerly broaches the topic of limiting immigration, the leading driver of continued population growth in the UK, as it is throughout the developed world.
As throughout the book, Beebe’s policy discussion here is reasonable and non-dogmatic, while not avoiding the hard issues. As he concludes:
Without bringing human numbers into mainstream thinking in the context of wildlife and human futures, significant changes for the better look almost impossible. For far too long discussion about overpopulation in developed countries including the UK has been taboo in polite society. This needs to change. A humane population-reduction policy would not have a rapid beneficial effect but is vital for any chance of proper recovery for Britain’s outstanding wildlife heritage in the longer term. To this end, it will be necessary to replace blinkered economic arguments that have consistently ignored the real biological world in which human society functions.
22 thoughts on “A British perspective on population and biodiversity”
In April 1963, “Silent Spring” was less than a year old. “Limits To Growth” was coming. The corporates faced a 30-year battle, to corrupt the environmental movement. They won. Now, both corporates and environmentalists speak in facile UN terms, of Climate Change and Net Zero.
Everyone’s a winner – except the environment. Over-population has fallen off the radar. The rich European nations, which already have low population growth, virtue-signal over Net Zero, but don’t make a fuss, that too many African women can’t get basic contraception. Instead, the North will look the other way, and virtue-pay the South, for climate “loss and damage”.
For the UK in particular, with 67 million squeezed into an environmental telephone-box, the Brexit promise of Controlling Our Borders has descended into farce. Last year, they recorded all-time net migration of 500K, busting the previous record by 50%.
You sure it’s the corporates? Look at the masses of (left-wing) people protesting and blocking planes any time immigrants are sent back to their countries. Or welcoming them when they arrive.
Look at the fuss over the Rwanda policy, which is by the conservatives.
No one wants to do it.
Well expressed, as usual.
Great review thanks Phil. Must order the book!
It’s a good one!
More noise from you in Australia please Jennie. You have a profile there, please use it.
With growth rates around 3% and populations doubling by 2050, Sub-Saharan African countries face internal disasters of hunger, violence, political corruption, and falling incomes. (This from a PAA session last week on the DRC. A “member initiated meeting” by the way, organized by Africans.) The “win win” solution to immigration is clearly “the Norwegian Solution” meaning reduce fertility and increase prosperity (the two are inseparably linked) in source countries. I call it the “Norwegian Solution” because my partner’s four grandparents were among the 400,000 Norwegians who emigrated to the U.S.A. before 1925, when Norway was poor and had high birthrates. Now that Norway has low birthrates and got rich, net migration to the U.S.A. is around zero, without border walls or enforcement needed. If Europeans feel unwilling or unable to accept hundreds of millions of immigrants from the billion additional Africans by 2050, they would be wise to greatly increase aid for family planning to African governments willing to implement demographic transition policies. In fact, Africa is ripe for transitions as awareness of overpopulation problems (as well as climate disasters) is growing. Africans can see how a “demographic dividend” following fertility reductions played a large role in Asian economic prosperity.
It would be a win-win for everyone, literally everyone, involved, and yet… almost no one is willing to do it!
Our prime minister is unveiling a “piano Mattei” for Africa, something like aid in exchange for natural gas and limiting migration (usually with brutal tactics, I will add). I looked for mentions of family planning aid but found none.
The Buisness system wants more people who will be consumers, why do we not collaborate with economists who have shown that Degrowth is a viable option
See Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth and the work of Peter Victor and others
To me the problem at this point is that no one has a plan to limit migration to the UK that will be acceptable to most people. Without that, the only other option is to turn the country into such a hellish place that no one will want to migrate there anymore. It seems that this is where it’s headed.
In the US, we have gotten ourselves to a place where many people on the Left do not support limiting immigration. So any plans proposed or implemented are relentlessly criticized, as somehow inhumane.
I see this as a function of a larger problem in my society: a refusal to acknowledge or accept limits.
There’s no good reason the UK cannot choose a number of immigrants to let in annually, and simply refuse to allow more people in. After all, it isn’t as if the argument is that immigration has to be limited just to good or deserving people. There’s immensely greater demand for immigration places than can be accommodated. So immigration must be limited.
I agree, of course. The problem is: how do you do it?
Stop the boats? People literally drown.
Deport people? To where? Their own countries? They say they will be killed. A
Why China’s Shrinking Population Is a Problem for Everyone
By Nicole Hong, April 19, 2023, New York Times
Despite the rollback of China’s one-child policy, and even after more recent incentives urging families to have more children, China’s population is steadily shrinking — a momentous shift that will soon leave India as the world’s most-populous nation and have broad rippling effects both domestically and globally. The change puts China on the same course of both aging and shrinking as many of its neighbors in Asia, but its path will have outsize effects not just on the regional economy, but on the world at large as well.
Here’s why economists and others are alarmed by the developments:
1. China’s shrinking work force could hobble the global economy.
For years, China’s massive working-age population powered the global economic engine, supplying the factory workers whose cheap labor produced goods that were exported around the world.
In the long run, a shortage of factory workers in China — driven by a better-educated work force and a shrinking population of young people — could raise costs for consumers outside China, potentially exacerbating inflation in countries like the United States that rely heavily on imported Chinese products. Facing rising labor costs in China, many companies have already begun shifting their manufacturing operations to lower-paying countries like Vietnam and Mexico.
A shrinking population could also mean a decline in spending by Chinese consumers, threatening global brands dependent on sales of products to China, from Apple smartphones to Nike sneakers.
2. The data is bad news for China’s crucial housing market.
In the short term, a plunging birthrate poses a major threat to China’s real estate sector, which accounts for roughly a quarter of the country’s economic output. Population growth is a key driver of housing demand, and homeownership is the most important asset for many Chinese people. During widespread pandemic lockdowns that dampened consumer spending and export growth, China’s economy became even more dependent on the ailing housing sector.
The government recently intervened to help distressed real estate developers, in an attempt to stem the fallout from its housing crisis.
3. China’s shrinking work force may not be able to support its growing, aging population.
With fewer working-age people in the long run, the government could struggle to sustain an enormous population that is growing older and living longer. A 2019 report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences predicted that the country’s main pension fund would run out of money by 2035, in part because of the shrinking work force.
Economists have compared China’s demographic crisis to the one that stalled Japan’s economic boom in the 1990s.
But China does not have the same resources as a country like Japan to provide a safety net for its aging population. Its households live on much lower incomes on average than in the U.S. and elsewhere. Many older Chinese residents rely on state pension payments as a key source of income during retirement.
China also has some of the lowest retirement ages in the world, with most workers retiring by 60. The situation has put a tremendous strain not only on state pension funds, but also on the country’s hospital system.
4. The crisis has been decades in the making.
China introduced the one-child policy in the late 1970s, arguing that it was necessary to keep population growth from reaching unsustainable levels. The government imposed onerous fines on most couples who had more than one child, and compelled hundreds of millions of Chinese women to have abortions. Many families favored boys over girls, often aborting baby girls or abandoning them at birth, resulting in a huge surplus of single men in the Chinese population.
China announced the relaxing of the family size restrictions in 2013, but many demographic experts said the change had come too late to change the country’s population trajectory.
5. There are no easy fixes.
The government’s efforts to start a baby boom to solve the demographic crisis — including offering cash handouts and easing the one-child policy to allow for three — have failed to stabilize falling birthrates. Educated Chinese women are increasingly delaying marriage and choosing not to have children, deterred by the high costs of housing and education.
China has also been unwilling to loosen immigration rules to boost the population, and has historically issued relatively few green cards to replenish its shrinking work force.
To address the labor shortage, China has been outsourcing low-skilled production to other countries in Asia, and adding more automation to its factories, hoping to rely more on artificial intelligence and technology sectors for future growth.
This and related stories about India are striking for their focus on “what is good for The Economy,” and their neglect of what is needed for The Ecology of India and China.
Good examples of the lock mainstream economic thinking has on the news media.
All parts of this piece are wrong. All. China has been working toward getting to this place for decades, deliberately, because all of our human species has to do so. That is, lower our population. The writer has the brains of a middle-manger businessman who hasn’t read a book in two decades.
Phil, sorry, I clicked send by mistake.
My point was that any actual way we limit immigration is a violation of some human rights law and will be blocked by lawyers/courts/the EU/public opinion. That’s why it’s ongoing. When Western countries use force to stop immigrants they are criticised for it, and people sometimes die.
The Great Goat War of Southern France
By Catherine Porter, April 14, 2023, NY Times
Valérie Corbeaux lives on a rocky hilltop in the dry southwest part of France with her herd of goats.
She doesn’t butcher them, or use their milk for cheese. Instead, the former Parisian walks with them, feeds them hay and stays up all night in an ancient stone barn to comfort them when they are sick. They are living creatures, she says, no less worthy of love or freedom than humans.
The problem is the goats keep breeding. And roaming farther afield, scrambling up onto regional highways and into distant vineyards, where they have been known to nibble on the leaves of vines that form the region’s economic lifeline — Corbières wine. After they munched through two hectares of her Vermentino vines in 2020, Julie Rolland called Ms. Corbeaux and tried to resolve the issue the country way — woman to woman, agriculturalist to agriculturalist, enthusiast to enthusiast.
Ms. Rolland is a former optometrist who took over her parents’ vineyard soon after her mother died. For her, the vines offer more than a vocation — they pulse with personal history. That first year, Ms. Corbeaux’s insurance paid for her goats’ damage. Since then, Ms. Corbeaux lost her insurance and the problem has grown. “The problem isn’t the goats; the problem is the person who doesn’t oversee them,” said Ms. Rolland, 42, who compares her daily ritual of phoning one local authority after another to an issue of the French comic book series “Astérix.” “We are trapped in a pathetic caricature of French administration,” Ms. Rolland said. “I want to scream all the time. There are laws! What are they waiting for?”
Now that spring has arrived, her calls have become more urgent. If the goats eat her vineyards’ tender buds, Ms. Rolland will lose more income and more heritage. “I’m alone. I can’t patrol all the land,” she said. “Should I buy a gun and take care of it myself? You start thinking crazy things.”
This is a story about French liberty and bureaucracy. It is about different visions of the countryside and nature. It’s about fire management, fights between neighbors and Brigitte Bardot. But mostly, it is about goats.
No one knows exactly how many goats are in Ms. Corbeaux’s herd. From atop her homestead, around 20 miles from Narbonne, Ms. Corbeaux says there are 500.
Down in the vineyards below, her neighbors say many have gone wild, and multiplied. A recent weekend survey estimated “at least 600,” said Stéphane Villarubias, the director of the region’s national forestry office. The problem is they are hard to count, “they pass like clouds, and disappear into the woods,” he added. “We aren’t sure if there are many herds now.”
One thing everyone agrees on: There are too many for one person to control.
“It’s too much work,” said Ms. Corbeaux, calling even 500 “enormous.” At 55 years old, she said, she has heart problems from exhaustion. “For three years, I’ve been asking for help for my billy goats.”
Ms. Corbeaux wasn’t born a shepherd. She grew up in Paris’ gritty 10th Arrondissement, and ran a computer-software company. At 30, she had an epiphany. “I was earning a lot of money; I was working a lot; and I didn’t have the time to spend it,” she recalled. “I said: ‘A life like this is worthless. I want to be useful.’” She moved close to Avignon, in southern France, determined to work as an energy healer. But then she clapped eyes on two baby goats at a medieval fair. “I was hypnotized,” she said. To buy them, she bartered an electric cooler, worth 500 euros, she’d just purchased to start a new job selling wine. The two became five, then 40. She abandoned all plans of work, and cared for them full time. “They are just my babies,” said Ms. Corbeaux, spreading hay around a section of her stone barn crowded by her adult female goats that she counts at 52, not including the wobbly legged kid born an hour earlier. “I would die for my goats.”
She spent years moving, looking for the ideal place where her goats could “be effective and useful,” she said, “and I could care for them and give them the most natural life possible.” Finally, through a stroke of luck, she found her current farmhouse and barn on 680 hectares of mostly uninhabited scrubland, and settled in. By then she had 70 goats.
Goats were once common in the bushy, uninhabited area known as the “garrigue.” They were considered living fire retardants because they nibbled flammable shrubs and shortened dry grass, said Luc Castan, the mayor of nearby Roquefort-des-Corbières, whose father raised his village’s last herd in the 1970s, and who fought to reintroduce them last summer as flames ripped through the region. “The fires started once the goats left,” he said.
In this vein, Ms. Corbeaux believed she was bringing back the eco-pasturage tradition. She began receiving European Union grants for the work — totaling about 35,000 euros a year, she says, though they were recently cut.
For four years, she could keep up with her goats by foot. But then her growing group of males started wandering farther afield. The first complaints from local vintners came in 2019.
“They came more and more regularly, in bigger and bigger groups,” said Philippe Montanié, a vintner, peering through a scope at a group of 10 goats meandering along a row of sauvignon blanc vines near his home. “It’s been five years we’ve chased them. My employees, that’s all they did in the afternoon. Two just quit. Their profession is wine, not goats.”
In 2021, his insurance company hired an expert who cataloged the damage to 2.5 hectares and estimated his loss at 42,600 euros. Since then, the goats have struck other regions. A field he replanted last summer today appears like a moonscape — no green, no twigs, nothing but rocky soil. He’s put his losses at close to 300,000 euros, including opportunity cost for fields he didn’t replant out of caution.
At least 10 vintners have made formal complaints to the police about damage to their property by Ms. Corbeaux’s goats, according to the local subprefect, or state official overseeing the Narbonne area.
Others, like the owners of Château de Lastours, simply absorbed their losses. “I would rather spend my time selling wine,” said Thibault de Braquilanges, the winery’s manager, who paid 6,000 euros to enclose a vineyard inside a fence.
Ms. Corbeaux said she offered to pay for a similar fence to enclose both Mr. Montanié and Ms. Rolland’s nearby fields. That would be cheaper than enclosing all 680 hectares she rents. But they refused.
“Should we put up walls to keep ourselves safe from gangsters, or put them in jail?” says Ms. Rolland.
Last spring, a legal mediator tried to reach an agreement between three vintners and Ms. Corbeaux — not for compensation, but to ensure the problem stopped. The effort ended in failure.
Since then things have not improved. Her neighbors call her irresponsible and a “pseudo-ecologist” who is harming not just their livelihoods, but the local ecology. Their wineries are all organic, they point out bitterly.
Ms. Corbeaux agrees her goats have done damage and she should pay compensation. But she says she believes that the devastation has been exaggerated for insurance claims. She calls her opponents “thieves” and “bandits” who have used her as a convenient scapegoat — a strange woman who lives alone atop a rocky mesa, surrounded by goats she lets roam free.
“I don’t live like everyone,” she says, adding, “When one wolf attacks, everyone else attacks at the same time.”
In France, hunting associations are responsible for controlling animal populations deemed “pests” — boars in particular. When it comes to bigger, more irregular menaces, like prowling bears, a team of expert hunters called the “louveterie” is called on by the state. In 2021, the hunters shot and killed a wandering herd of cows about 45 miles west of Ms. Corbeaux’s homestead. Their owner also held free-range ideas.
Ms. Corbeaux feared a similar end to her beloved goats. A local mayor threatened as much in an official letter, though he says it was a “bluff” meant to scare her into action. The subprefect says he never authorized such a culling.
Still, seeing the vintners and the hunters against her, Ms. Corbeaux summoned another strong force of rural France — the animal rights activists.
“Prevent the savage slaughter of my 250 scrub-clearing billy goats,” she wrote on the petition she began on change.org last year. More than 46,000 signatures poured in.
These past few months, the goats have become the main topic of discussion in the cafes and restaurants in the nearby terra-cotta roofed villages. Almost everyone has a story.
Anaïs Barthas was dozing as she rode in the car on the way home from her mother’s house one night, when her boyfriend braked suddenly and jolted her awake. “There was a billy goat in the middle of the road,” she said. “It had huge horns.”
Catherine Maître, the mayor of Villesèque-des-Corbières, was roused by a panicked call one recent Sunday morning. A herd was not just on the nearby two-lane highway that clings to the edge of a winding gorge, but inside the small tunnel cut into the rock. She sped there in her car, and honked manically until they scuttled away.
“I haven’t been sleeping at night,” said Ms. Maître, a retired vintner. “I’m so anxious there will be a fatal accident.”
In the end, someone who could relate to Ms. Corbeaux’s love for her animals came to the rescue. The foundation of Brigitte Bardot, the movie star turned animal rights activist, offered a solution in the form of 40,000 euros to build a fence around 160 hectares of the area Ms. Corbeaux rents, to keep the goats in. It also pledged to pay for a team of veterinarians to castrate her male goats, so they stop propagating.
Rémi Recio, the subprefect, also got involved, calling this the biggest case of “wandering livestock” he’s ever seen. Normally, they are resolved within 24 hours.
“We are in a country of liberty,” he said from his office inside the Art Deco prefecture building in Narbonne. “But with liberty comes responsibility. All that is laid out by the law.”
Ms. Corbeaux is facing at least three court hearings in May and June over complaints of damage from vintners, allegations of mistreatment from state veterinarians and charges related to her goats being on the highways.
Two local villages have built pens, filled with hay, to lure any vagrants. Those that Ms. Corbeaux doesn’t claim — and pay for — will be sold or given away, said Ms. Maître, adding that she has a healthy waiting list.
Up atop her rocky perch, Ms. Corbeaux said she hoped the truth about how much damage her goats really caused would emerge in court. She is grateful that a solution was found, but it brings her to tears.
“I’m in love with my billy goats, frankly. I don’t think we have the right to do whatever we want — not to kill them, nor to castrate them,” she said. “We should respect them more than that.”
I don’t know what your point in publishing this is, but it kind of proves what I was saying in my post here on TOP about meat and raising livestock.
We’ve become so, so stupid about animals. Animal right activism, which was sorely needed in some sectors, has instead turned into a collective madness like the one the article describes, and that farmers experience all the time to their detriment. That she got EU money to ravage the land is even more infuriating. At least the UK had the good sense to pull out of the EU!
60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals. Needless to say, this is a new phenomenon, or relatively new. It is not only mammals that are suffering of course – all animal and plant species are also being decimated as a result, The power of parables goes back to the dawn of humanity as a species – and this goat parable has as much power as stats, perhaps more.
Humans love stories – but we like them to reflect a realistic truth. We can be fooled by lying tales for a while, but not for long. The current tissue of lies in the mass media about the need for Growth is impressing less and less people the longer it goes on – though the mass media will not report this development, and in any case it is difficult to establish factually, it is just an impression I get from non-mainstream publications and even – with increasing frequency – from the great powerhouses of the MSM like the New York Times, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and probably many European ones which I do have access to without a subscription.
Certainly the German TV channel Deutsche Welle (DW), which broadcasts a lot of its material in English for the Anglosphere, is at the forefront of ecological damage reporting on a continuous basis – and so is the mass TV channel Al Jazeera, for some reason, probably because it is watched a lot in the Developing World and this is where the greatest concentration of environmental activists are to be found at the moment, since the destruction is happening NOW there, whereas in the Developed World most of the damage (and the protests) is now in the past and most of us are cocooned in cities and barely know where our food and water come from, or how fragile our access to it really is.
Thanks a lot for publicising this book. It came out nearly a year ago, but it is an academic book – so not widely reviewed in the mass media and also quite expensive, as academic books are not expected to be “best-sellers”. It is available in various formats on amazon of course, and appears to be selling steadily. Some copies are already available second-hand or “used”.
We forget – but this books appears to remind us, I have not read it yet – that most of the food we eat (plant or animal) is “factory-farmed” – even seaweed is farmed now, as are many fish and crustacea. A website I just found called “Sentience Institute” says “We estimate that over 90% of farmed animals globally are living in factory farms at present. This includes an estimated 74% of farmed land animals (vertebrates only) and virtually all farmed fish. However, there is substantial uncertainty in these figures given the land animal estimates’ heavy reliance on information from Worldwatch Institute with unclear methodology and limited data on fish farming.
In total, we estimate that around 31.0 billion land animals and 38.8 to 215.9 billion fish are being farmed globally at any given time.
We estimate that fish comprise around 78% of farmed animals globally, chickens raised for meat 12%, and chickens raised for eggs 5%, while cows and pigs each comprise only 1%. Our lower and upper bounds are 56-87% for fish, 7-24% for meat chickens, 3-10% for egg-laying hens, 1-2% for cows, and 0-1% for pigs.”
Then there are all the intensively-grown grains, fruit and vegetables, which this website is not concerned with. Also tea, coffee, spices, etc.
People can be a bit blinkered about the amount of factory-farming in the Developing World. It caught on long ago, in the 1960s and 1970s, and is absolutely huge now, commensurate with the population explosions in the Developing World, and indeed has probably caused those explosions along with other forms of “Progress” such as powerful medicines, fossil fuels, sanitation, piped water, and so on, which are understandably seen as beneficial for human health and longevity, until you look the bigger picture.
It is easy to condemn Greed as the main culprit – and perhaps it is. But it is harder to get around the philanthropic desire to improve infant mortality, life-span, education, plumbing, energy supply, nutrition, medicines, health, and so on. It seems appalling that all this genuine Goodwill should have such horrific consequences. This is a nettle we have to grasp, or those who wish to “do good” for a living (or even for free) will wreak havoc – even if Greed has been abolished somehow. Most humans aren’t actually very greedy. They just want to live comfortably and not have to be a subsistence farmer with no hot showers and no books or TV. It seems awful that even such basic comforts are not sustainable – but clearly they are not, unless global population shrinks to 1 or 2 billion and even then things might be awkward, given the standard of living now considered “basic”.
Farming is very heavily subsidised in the wealthier countries, and that’s part of a very complex problem.
I wrote a book against agricultural subsidies a couple years ago, and have had an immensely hard time getting it reviewed or circulated.
Well done for trying. I did not mean that the First World is not a huge “factory farming” problem – just that the problem in the Third World is less publicised, and much worse, particularly in relation to fish farming. In the 1960s and 1970s, many westerners tried to persuade the Developing World not to make the mistakes we had made – but no-one listened. Why would they? People have to learn from their own mistakes, not the mistakes of others – but some mistakes have such huge consequences that they did ought to be prevented if possible, even if they can only teach an important lesson through actually being made and the dire result being felt and experienced for real.