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‘A blog? I don’t like it.’

My mother should be a national treasure, not Sir David Attenborough. Just don’t mention blogs to her

By on Friday, 25 January 2013

Sir David Attenborough is considered a national treasure. This must be because he is the long-established public face of all nature and wildlife programmes on the BBC, has the surname “Attenborough” (shared with his distinguished actor brother, Richard) and is thought to be a fount of wisdom. But even popular pundits and media gurus can sometime say remarkably silly things. An article by Marcus Roberts on the “Demography is Destiny” website has drawn my attention to a recent remark made by Sir David to the Radio Times. Talking about his own species, he said: “We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.”

What a Jeremiad. Roberts points out that Attenborough is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust. This outfit is now known as Population Matters “perhaps because the Trust couldn’t decide what our ‘optimum’ population should be”. It seems that, as patron, this national treasure has warned about the “frightening explosion in human numbers” which is outstripping the planet’s resources. On the subject of Ethiopia he has further commented that “We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves… Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it is going to get worse and worse.” Another Jeremiad.

Roberts accurately points out in response to Sir David’s gloomy prophecies that “We are not running out of food. Our famines are not due to there being too many of us, but due to wastage and politics and war… We are able to feed more people on the same amount of land due to our technological advances and those technological advances are driven by people, of course. Humans are not only consumers; we are also producers and a resource!”

Roberts also quotes Tom Chivers in the Telegraph: “The most likely outcome at the moment is that the world population will peak sometime around 2050 and at a population between eight and ten billion. Obviously that’s more than we have now, but not so many more that we couldn’t feed everyone.” Someone should tell Attenborough that humanity is not a “plague”. In Roberts’s words, “It is a collection of over seven billion individuals. Each of those individuals has his or her hope, fears, dreams, loves and each is more valuable than we could possibly imagine.”

Reading the Telegraph obituary of the late film-maker Michael Winner, I feel he was more the kind of national treasure I like; yes, he was clearly an old rogue and full of vices, unlike Sir David, and he didn’t make films about cuddly polar bears – but he was also a colourful character, generous to his many lady friends, a collector of Ernest Shepard ‘s Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations, a gourmet and good to his old Mum – even though it seems that she once stole and then sold the deeds to Winner’s penthouse to fund her gambling addiction. “What can you do” asked Winner rhetorically; “You can’t sue your aged mother.” I don’t think he ever described humanity as a “plague”; indeed, he deeply regretted at the end of his life not to have added to the world’s population himself. The Telegraph obituary records him once admitting that not having children was “the one mistake that wipes out everything I have ever done.”

In place of Sir David and now that Michael Winner is dead I would like to propose a new national treasure: my own old Mum. She came to live next door to me over two years ago and will be 89 next week. She has a weakness – I mean fondness – for whisky and cigarettes, gets very hoity-toity when other people refer to her as “old” and has an opinion on everything – most especially on subjects she knows nothing about. As an example of this, she asked me last week to run off down to the local shop on yet another unnecessary errand. I made some lame excuse, saying that I had to write a blog for the Catholic Herald. “A blog?” she repeated witheringly, in exactly the same tone of voice that Dame Edith Evans used when, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of being Earnest, she repeated “A handbag?”: “A blog? I have never come across that word and I don’t like it. It sounds very vulgar. You were never brought up to use it by me – I can assure you of that. I don’t want to hear it used again in my presence!”

A plague on all those doom-mongers who think there are too many people in the world – especially Ethiopians or old people, like my mother.

  • Caroline Farrow

    “A blog? I have never come across that word and I don’t like it. It sounds very vulgar.”
    Ha ha. That’s brilliant. Are you sure your mother isn’t related to mine? :-)

  • kentgeordie

    Funny isn’t it, the higher the population of the world, the higher the average standard of living.

  • majorcalamity

    You are right, but also wrong and, if the Catholic way ever took hold again, very wrong. Yes, better science will enable greater food production from the same resources, so make sure you support them and don’t object to the introduction of such advances as genetic modification. 

    That alone though only postpones the need for action. I don’t understand anyone can foresee the population peaking at between 8 and 10 million in 2050, unless some interventions occur. I cannot see you being too happy about them.

    It is an undeniable fact that nothing can expand for ever in a finite space with finite resources. Water is the most immediate, and the biggest problem. Science can go on postponing the impact of the problem, but it cannot solve it. If we don’t take action then all we do is to pass the problem onto future generations. 

    That is though not the biggest problem. Right now there is, theoretically anyway, plenty of room. The trouble is that most people don’t want to live where it is available. They want to live where there is work. Some countries are already in crisis, caused by over population and poverty. Some of them are Catholic. There is, whether you admit or not, a connection. 

    David Attenborough needs to be supported for being brave enough to talk about this and not hide it  away. It’s not a popular subject but the debate has started. The language might be a little strong but I suspect that might be deliberate and  be designed to get responses. So far it is working.

  • Kevin

    “If we don’t take action then all we do is to pass the problem onto future generations.”

    But you seem to think the existence of future generations is the problem?

    If you believe that matters are that serious you could always propose limiting the amount of sex within the population.

  • majorcalamity

    I don’t think that future generations are the problem. I think that the size of future generations is the problem and unless we take steps to ensure that the current rate of increase is stabilised we are going to find huge problems. Limiting sex is not a realistic idea. Limiting the effect of sex is, and until you accept that the countries where you continue to have influence are going to experience problems. Fortunately that influence is in decline, in spite of your claims to the contrary.  

  • Deacon_Augustine

    You population controllers are such hypocrites.  If you were really that bothered about the size of the world’s population you would begin the solution by throwing yourselves under a bus.

    But no –  strange how it is always those poor black, brown and hispanic people who are the ones who should be controlled so that you can continue living your lives of excess and hedonism undisturbed.  God forbid that David Attenborough should sit in a Bristol studio doing voice-overs for documentaries rather than jetting all over the world to get his face on telly in front of a cuddly ape and using more carbon and natural resources than an entire African city in the process.

  • Favver Stephen

    I haven’t the faintest idea who this Sir David person may be, but an original thinker he is not. I think it is quite clear that he has borrowed all his ideas and pronouncements from that truly great phowl filosopher, Sir Chicken Little, who famously and insightfully once said: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

  • Parasum

    “A plague on all those doom-mongers who think there are too many people in the world – especially Ethiopians or old people, like my mother.”

    ## There are too many of the wrong people – like politicians, bureaucrats, PC loonies, womynazis, & David Attenborough. Unfortunately, culling them would be immoral.

  • Parasum

    “A blog? I have never come across that word and I don’t like it. It sounds very vulgar. You were never brought up to use it by me – I can assure you of that. I don’t want to hear it used again in my presence!””

    ## Good for her. It’s common, and definitely non-U. If only there were more like her. She has just the attitudes the Pope ought to have, but lacks.  

    “She has a weakness – I mean fondness – for whisky and cigarettes, gets very hoity-toity when other people refer to her as “old” and has an opinion on everything – most especially on subjects she knows nothing about.”

    ## This is excellent – she sounds too good to be true.

  • Parasum

    He is not brave - there is nothing brave in joining a fashionable & powerful cause when one has nothing to lose, and something to gain, by doing so. Standing up for Humanae Vitae, OTOH, is brave. It’s a very unfashionable cause; standing up for it requires backbone. No backbone is required for joining a cause that is popular and will not affect one’s pocket or one’s comfort.  

    Those with more, should give more. The problem is, that higher taxes & an end to legal tax evasion would frighten businesses away from Britain. A beginning might be made by cutting down on all the packaging stuff comes in these days. And by being content with lower living standards – except for the poor. All these problems seem to be interconnected, that is the difficulty. So they all get in the way of each other. Result: we remain stuck where we were.

  • Kevin

    “Limiting sex is not a realistic idea”

    So it can’t be that serious a problem.

  • Jonathan West

    A pretty densely populated area is Manhattan island – it has about 1.6 m people on 87.5 sq. km of land, a density of about 18,000/sq km.

    The world population today is about 7 billion. It is growing at about 1% per annum. If it continues to grow at that rate, then the whole of the earth’s land surface will have a population density equalling that of Manhattan today in a mere 1300 years or so. Even if we were to have the technology by that time to maintain such a population, then the only animal life on the planet will be man, his pets and his parasites.

    The mass of the earth is about 6 x 10^24 kg. A mere 3000 years of population growth would make the total mass of all humans equal to the mass of the earth – assuming an average weight for humans being 50kg.

    Of course, things won’t get that far – long before that happens there will be starvation and disease and a breakdown in civilisation that will bring the population down.

    Might it not be better to find some other way, that prevents the world population from rising to disastrous levels in the first place?

  • TreenonPoet

    Roberts accurately points out in response to Sir David’s gloomy prophecies that “We are not running out of food. Our famines are not due to there being too many of us, but due to wastage and politics and war… We are able to feed more people on the same amount of land due to our technological advances and those technological advances are driven by people, of course. Humans are not only consumers; we are also producers and a resource!”

    To say that we are not running out of food is misleading. The world is consuming 50% more than it is replenishing.

    Those who think it wise to base predictions on science might like to read the
    People and the planet report from the Royal Society. (There is a link on that page to the 5.7MByte PDF document.) Those who think that there is a proportionate relationship between population levels and technological advances that might increase food production, or between population levels and the ability to produce food, can bury their heads in the water-depleted sand.

  • Peter

    “a mere 1300 years”

    When you look at the scientific discoveries of the last 130 years, and when you consider that technological advancement is not linear but exponential, the mind can only boggle at what mankind will have achieved in 1300 years’ time, such as limitless clean energy which doesn’t deplete or pollute the earth.

    Also three quarters of the world’s surface is ocean and so why not floating cities, or even entire countries?  

    Nor can you rule out interstellar drive to colonise goldilocks planets, or even colonies on terraformed moons and planets within the solar system. 

    1300 years is a long long time in science, and mankind is very resourceful. 
      

  • Peter

    “The world is consuming 50% more than it is replenishing.”

    The world is throwing away 50 percent more food than it needs.  If that stopped there’d be no shortfall in replenishment.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/10/half-world-food-waste

  • CullenD

    All very Star Trek, but it’s far more likely we’ll be eating Soylent Green before we’re travelling at Warp 9.

  • TreenonPoet

     Firstly, I notice your have quoted the figure of 50% from a report that gives the estimate as 30%..50%. Secondly, the IMechE has plenty of suggestions on what we ought to be doing, but not many suggestions on how. Even if we are able to overcome some of the obstacles to their suggestions, the results will not be 100% effective and will take some time to bear fruit, as it were. Until their impact on the current consumption can be realistically estimated, we should work with the the data that we have.

  • TreenonPoet

    This outfit is now known as Population Matters “perhaps because the Trust couldn’t decide what our ‘optimum’ population should be”.

    Population Matters is the working name of the registered charity Optimum Population Trust. They have long published sustainable population level estimates. These give an upper limit to the range within which the optimum population level lies. What did you hope to gain by suggesting that they could not decide what the optimum level should be?

  • Breff

    Ethiopia 83 people per sq kilometer. Switzerland 196, Holland 493, Malta 1,282, Hong Kong 6,540, Singapore 7,252 and starving, famine plagued Monaco 16,754. Even poor England, fast running out of money but not yet of food, has 464 people per square kilometer. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Of course, things won’t get that far = “I have just made a strawman argument”

  • maxmarley

    Should Sir David and those like him not be concerned by the prospect of the vanishing Brit?
    And the vulnerably of the endangered native species of western Europe should also cause alarm.
    Diminishing fertility rates and increasingly ageing populations in parts of Europe suggest that Humanae Vitae should be lauded.

  • TreenonPoet

     What is your point?

  • Peter

    Waste is waste.  Perhaps we should start by reducing it.

  • CullenD

    Populations have always been unevenly distributed, that’s in itself is a problem. Are those high density populations self sufficient? If the answer is no, then you have the added problem of resources being used to transport necessities to those people. Those resources are limited. Oil for fertilisers, plastics and of course transport, harvesting and building machinery fuels. The materials, such as metal ores, we use to build and invent are also limited.

    A finite supply simply cannot match an infinite demand.

  • TreenonPoet

    Saying X would happen if Y is not the same as saying that X will happen.

  • Phil

    In your case J, a strawwoman argument

  • Jonathan West

    I’m amused by your reliance on a science which is greatly mistrusted my many religious.

    But science does offer some hard limits. For instance, the human population of the earth cannot have greater mass than the earth itself.

    Therefore, no matter what technology produces, at some point we will have to stabilise the earth’s population. That can be done by people dying from starvation or disease, or it can be done by arranging a set of circumstances whereby the number of deaths and the number of births is roughly equal.

    Which option do you think is preferable?

  • CullenD

    Inevitably in these debates the vastly optimistic hope in science appears. It normally takes the form of Space Arks, terraforming  and space travel. None of which would work for simple logistical reasons.

    Allow me to introduce a new and far more realistic idea. We just genetically modify future humans with lizard DNA. This we give future generations two huge advantages. They would become ectothermic (cold-blooded), greatly reducing their need for food. Secondly, they could hibernate though the winter, decreasing all their consumption for months at a time.

    Sounds crazy, well I agree. But it is still far more sensible than pretending that there isn’t a limit to the number of humans the planet can support.

  • TreenonPoet

    I am not suggesting that we do not try to tackle waste, but it is not a complete solution. All of the recommendations in the Royal Society report that I linked to must also be given urgent consideration, and not be allowed to be vetoed as a result of misguided doctrines.

  • Skypilot

    It is an increasing held view of the extreme “green movement” that nothing of this earth’s ecological problems will be solved until human beings disappear – and the sooner the better! Quite how the mammals and bugs etc. will express their appreciation – and to whom - is never quite explained. Sir David is but an echo. It is authoritively stated, recently, that half the world’s food production annually is destroyed by waste, poor storage, war, extravagance and so on. This wastage apparently is sufficient to still feed the projected world population to the end of the century. Sir David and his patronage could better spend his declining years on this problem. Less in the household garbage can for a start!   

  • Skypilot

    Sorry – can’t resist; your mother, Francis, has got it dead right! (Your words).

  • TreenonPoet

     It is not a simple matter to get households to waste less food, and the emphasis of the IMechE report (Global Food Waste Not, Want Not) is more on measures that governments could take to try to influence this.

    How can a household accurately judge the amount of food to buy to ensure that the amount is sufficient yet not so great as to become out-of-date before it is eaten given the number of unknown variables involved? How can householders buy the right amount when the food is only sold in packages of fixed quantities (sometimes with finacial incentives to buy the larger packages or multiple small ones)? How can householders be educated regarding optimum storage techniques, safety of mouldy foods, methods of rejuvinating foods, acceptability of cosmetically imperfect food, calorie counting, etc? Will all householders accept that they should put up with these inconveniences so that others may benefit? And so on.

    It is not in the short-term interests of food suppliers to reduce the amount that they sell unless governments make it so, and do so in the face of opposition from food suppliers.

    The IMechE report recommends that governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations and discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers, but how do you think that this can actually be made to happen, and how long will it take? Remember that there are some who even deny that there is a problem.

    And that only concerns waste at the end of the supply chain. The 30%..50% figure includes waste in the production, processing, transportation, stages along with the associated storage. There are difficulties there too (not least – how do you stop war?). One should not assume that all these difficulties will be solved, or that those that are will be solved quickly, or that the solutions will be perfect.

  • Jonathan West

     It is an increasing held view of the extreme “green movement” that nothing of this earth’s ecological problems will be solved until human beings disappear – and the sooner the better!

    That sounds like a deliberate misrepresentation. Would you care to point to a Green website that expresses this view?

  • Jonathan West

     And the vulnerably of the endangered native species of western Europe should also cause alarm.

    I realise that some people might be alarmed by this. But I do wonder at this being expressed by Catholics on a catholic website, when I thought Catholic doctrine was that all human lives were of equal value!

    You haven’t expressed very catholic sentiments there!

  • Jonathan West

     Precisely. JP apparently doesn’t understand the difference between a prediction and a projection. Or if he does understand it, he is ignoring the distinction in the hope that I don;t understand the distinction and he can therefore win his point.

    I’ve realised for some time that he’s more interested in winning than in learning.

  • CullenD

    Oops, you caught us out! Anyone who is concerned about population levels is a greedy racist, more concerned about an ipod than a human life.

    Can I throw myself under a train instead of the bus you suggested? 

    Should I try to bring an ethnic family with me, just to confirm your delusion?

  • CullenD

    “This wastage apparently is sufficient to still feed the projected world population to the end of the century.” 
    I will accept that, and even allow the possibility of increased production and almost zero waste.  I’ll also allow the idea of loss through war, etc, is removed.

    That merely delays the point where the number of humans, if carried on at the same rate, outstrip the amount of resources available to sustain them.

    So what will you think then? 

  • JabbaPapa

    The reality is that contraception and abortion have created a world where there are not enough of the youthful care sufficiently well for the aged.

    Indiscriminate mass murder is never the solution — nor is euthanasia and the so-called “Liverpool care pathway”, where people are deliberately starved and dehydrated until they die.

    The truth is that populations have always been, and will always be, self-regulating in relation to available resources.

    Your ideas are just a ghastly utopia — and it’s one that is being promoted by a clique of billionnaires and multi-milionnaires (Rothschild, Soros, etc) whose underlying interest is to ensure that their own families will be able to continue living in wealth and privilege — which would become impossible if the population ever grew to the natural level of sustainability versus available resources.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’ve realised for some time that he’s more interested in winning than in learning

    Oh please !!!

    It is not possible to “learn” from those who provide deliberately false information.

    A mere 3000 years of population growth would make the total mass of all humans equal to the mass of the earth

    … right : apart from the small detail that this proposal is a complete physical impossibility unless and until interstellar mass transport becomes available.

    How can :

    1) posting an argument based on grossly falsified information

    2) then claiming that the consequences of this “argument” must be that disagreeing with the poster’s ideas is wrong

    … be anything other than a strawman ???

  • JabbaPapa

    I’m amused by your reliance on a science which is greatly mistrusted my many religious

    You’re ridiculous posturing about “science versus religion” isn’t fooling anyone…

  • JabbaPapa

    Hallo phil126 !!!

    Bored with deluging the Daily Telegraph with your non-stop supply of trollish anti-Catholic sockpuppets ?

    Not bored though, I can tell, with your own obsessive delusions !!!

  • Philbroadhurst2011

    Soros –
    “Between 1979 and 2011, Soros gave away over $8 billion to human rights, public health, and education causes. He played a significant role in the peaceful transition from communism to capitalism in Hungary (1984–89)”. www

    Clique of billionaires? Can I remind you it is Holocaust Memorial Day.

  • JabbaPapa

    Fed up with being repeatedly banned from Daily Telegraph for your gross violations of their terms and conditions and for your 126 sockpuppets and for your ghastly anti-Catholic trolling, phil ?

    Want to try your luck in here ?

    —-

    PUBLIC SAFETY WARNING

    This individual is one of the worst, possibly *the* worst, internet troll that it has ever been my misfortune to encounter.

  • TreenonPoet

     As religion is the antithesis of science, you are the one guilty of ridiculous posturing.

    On another thread, you defined ‘religion’ as”the organisation of worship by and for those sharing the same faith and/or spirituality”. Science would say that, based on observations, there is very little chance, if any, of the object of worship existing. The religious naturally do not want to be thought of as fools wasting their time, and they are not very appreciative of scientists who debunk their holy scriptures and doctrines in which they have invested so much, but they recognise the benefits of science, so some feel driven to make prodigious use of fallacies to try to make it look as though theirs is the scientific position; as though knowledgable and scientifically-minded persons such as David Attenborough are silly. The immorality of injustice does not seem to be considered.

    David Attenborough’s views seem to me to be broadly in line with those expressed by the Royal Society 2012 ‘People and the planet’ report, allowing for artistic expression, such as likening people to a plague (as in a plague of locusts).

    Francis Phillips’ article is the latest in a number of articles in which she attacks that stance. The usual fallacies, innuendos, etc. are yet another demonstration of religious antagonism towards science.

  • JabbaPapa

    As religion is the antithesis of science

    Dogma, lie, and incoherence — all rolled into one.

  • TreenonPoet

    What scientific evidence do you have to back up those three accusations? (Please note that voices in your head do not count as scientific evidence even though, antithetically, they are used as religious evidence.)

  • Skypilot

    What I really think? It is a waste of God’s good time to succumb to the temptation of indulging in blogs and specifically the useless tit-for-tat that follows.

  • JabbaPapa

    What scientific evidence do you have to back up those three accusations?

    Demonstrating the supposed “scientific” “factuality” of YOUR claim is naturally YOUR job.

    Funny how you scientism adherents always forget that one, eh ?

  • buckingham88

     Of course. ‘And they wonder why skeptic blogs get more traffic’ A discussion on a science skeptic site WUWT which I follow.
     The discussion concern the fact that some sites ‘moderate’ comments that they do not agree with by the process of amendment, delay or deletion.
     A number of warmist sites get a mention if you care to look them up.Just a sample in this context of deletion.
    10.chris y says January 26,2013 at 6:51 pm
     I tried to post this at Revkin’s advertisement for the new Tobis blog back in November 2011,but Prof. Revkin felt it was not up to the standards of Dot Earth,and refused to post it.I found this ironic, considering the most objectionable language in my comment was found in  the quoted writings of the one and only Michael Tobis.

    ‘Five reasons why I think Tobis is irrelevant’
    I won’t repeat them all, to spare you the debate, the relevant item being

    ‘Malthusian stench’
    quote The only way to simplify ourselves out of the present mess is by cutting our population 80%,unfortunately.
    Michael Tobis,January 9,2009

  • TreenonPoet

     In case you did not realise, my phrase ”voices in your head” was a metaphor for religious revelation. I know that not all religions share the same mechanism of revelation, but it is a scientific fact that religions claim knowledge from revelation in one form or another (fact 1). It is also a scientific fact that whatever information is claimed to be thus revealed is not scientifically admissible as knowledge of anything other than that the recipient claims to have experienced it (fact 2).

    If a religious person makes a scientific argument based on scientific evidence, then that is not a religious argument, even though it is made by a religious person.

    There are also other ways in which religion is antithetical to science, some of which I have discussed on other threads, but a single example is sufficient to prove my point. The two scientific facts that I gave (1 and 2) are not dogma as far as I can see because they can be independently verified by anyone with access to the relevant theological and scientific works. Such verification would also reveal that they are not lies. Again, as far as I can see, there is no incoherence in the phrase ”As religion is the antithesis of science…”.

    So let me get this right. You claim that demonstrating scientifically that the phrase is coherent is my job. You claim that the phrase is incoherent, but refuse to say why. Instead, I have to try and guess what you might mean? You could raise the accusation of the incoherence of a perfectly coherent phrase and not have to defend yourself because you would say that it is the job of the writer to prove coherence. Likewise regarding ‘dogma’ and ‘lies’ – I have no idea whether I have addressed your accusations. It seems to me that you are just being deliberately obstructive. I also suspect that you are deliberately making false accusations that you have no intention of defending. Now it’s your job to prove me wrong by justifying your three accusations.