Thu 24th Jul 2014 | Last updated: Thu 24th Jul 2014 at 15:26pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

‘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.

  • Peter

    “I’m amused by your reliance on a science which is greatly mistrusted my many religious.”
    Which science and why?

    “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.”

    I do not accept your reasoning on this because you ignore the dynamic effects of 3000 years of technological advancement which, as I said earlier, is not linear but exponential.
    Of course there will come a point thousands of years in the future where the the total mass of all humans will equal that of the earth, but what you conveniently avoid is the virtual certainty that if humans survive that long they will be spread out on many moons and planets. 

  • JabbaPapa

    That is not a scientific demonstration, as you would know if you actually understood anything about the characteristics and the inherent limitations of scientific methodology itself.

    You have provided a metaphysical statement of your beliefs.

    You claim that demonstrating scientifically that the phrase is coherent is my job

    YOUR statements are, naturally, YOUR responsibility.

    And no, I didn’t ask you to demonstrate the “coherence” of your statement — but for you to demonstrate its objective truth as a statement about material reality.

    Your opinions are not somehow “correct by default”, contrary to your apparent delusions in this respect.

    It is incoherent because it is falsely applying some (ill-mastered) concepts of scientific methodology into your cod metaphysics, where they simply do not belong.

    It is as if you were claiming that Humpty-Dumpty fell off the wall because all objects exert a gravitational pull on each other — despite the extremely blatant fact that Humpty-Dumpty is not an object in reality, and is therefore not subjected to gravity as such.

    Your claim is a straightforward statement of atheistic dogma, given that it has no basis in reality as such — but only in your indoctrinated understanding thereof.

    Not unless you could prove that religion is somehow “antithetical” to science in some bizarre manner, by using strict experimental methods in laboratory conditions.

    It is a lie because you are repeating a deliberate statement of untruth that your ideologists have devised as a means of attacking religion — because it is a statement of anti-religionist propaganda, NOT something that could be proven to be objectively truthful.

    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.

    Therefore religion is not in fact “antithetical” to Science, contrary to your ludicrous claim, because if it were, that religious person would necessarily be deprived of the ability to make scientific arguments.

  • Jonathan West

    It doesn’t require much imagination to realise that a disaster from overpopulation will strike before the mass of all humans reaches that of the earth, and even before the worldwide population density matches that of Manhattan today.

    Therefore, if the population is not to stabilise itself through starvation, disease and war, possibly resulting in the fall of civilisation, then the population will have to be stabilised by some other means before that.

    I do realise that you are brighter than you let on, and that you could work this out perfectly well for yourself. It is just that you want to win rather than engage in a discussion from which all parties might learn something.

    But I’m quite prepared for you to prove me wrong, and you can do so quite easily, by answering the following question.

    What means stabilising the population would you prefer, in order to prevent a disaster from overpopulation?

  • Jonathan West

    So, your response is a comment on a website. On that basis, it could be argued that my comments here reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church, but I don’t think you or anybody else would be persuaded by that argument.

    And in any case, the comment doesn’t say what you originally claimed of it, that humans should disappear from the world.

    So, in what way was your first comment not a deliberate misrepresentation?

  • Jonathan West

    Of course there will come a point thousands of years in the future where the the total mass of all humans will equal that of the earth, but what you conveniently avoid is the virtual certainty that if humans survive that long they will be spread out on many moons and planets.

    The two most promising candidates for interplanetary colonisation are the moon and Mars. The moon has a surface area of 37.9 million sq km while Mars has 144.8 m sq km. The earth’s land surface area is 149 m sq km.

    So both bodies together do little more than double the available land area – and it is quite unpromising land even compared to Earth’s deserts. Even it it could be populated to the same density as the Earth all that extra land would only buy you an extra 80 years or so of a population growth of 1% per annum. Then where will you go?

    Interplanetary colonisation might or might not happen. But even if it does, it is not the solution to population growth here on earth.

  • Peter

     “As religion is the antithesis of science”

    There is nothing in the doctrine of the Catholic Church which contradicts science, and there is nothing in science which contradicts doctrine.

    This is an inconvenient truth which you choose to ignore.

    What is more, it appears that Church doctrine has actually triumphed over science when science had reached the wrong conclusions.

    I refer to the centuries-held doctrine that the universe had a beginning, in direct opposition from scientists and philosophers from the time of  Epicurus in 300 BC right up to the early 20th century when Svante Arrhenius – the Nobel-prize winning father of the greenhouse effect – still maintained that the universe had no beginning but was eternal.

    Now from authors such as Hawking and Krauss we are starting to realize that the universe not only had a beginning, but that it began out of nothingness.  In other words, nothingness is unstable so that something such as our universe must always come from it.

    The belief that “nothing can come from nothing” has never been Catholic doctrine.  It has, however, always been the belief of pagan and atheist philosophers and scientists, who used it as an excuse for claiming that the universe must be eternal.

    Church doctrine for centuries has maintained that the universe began out of nothingness, having been willed to do so by the Creator.  The likes of Hawking and Krauss, by describing the processes by which this physically came about, are effectively endorsing age-old Catholic doctrine.

    Not only has the doctrine that the universe had a beginning been proved to be correct, but now we are seeing that the doctrine that the universe began from nothing is also turning out to be correct.

    Catholic religion is not the antithesis of pure science because they both contain the truth.  It is, however, the antithesis of atheistic pseudoscience which ultimately always turns out to be wrong.

  • JabbaPapa

    It doesn’t require much imagination to realise that a disaster from
    overpopulation will strike before the mass of all humans reaches that of
    the earth

    Which part of the fact that this is a total material impossibility have you failed to understand ?

    And frankly — it demands a fair amount of imagination, given that it is a dystopian scenario, or one from science fiction.

    That one should take cautionary scenarios such as this with some degree of seriousness is a given — but to adjust real politics on the basis of an extremely exaggerated hypothetical eventuality concerning the distant future is totally absurd.

    Therefore, if the population is not to stabilise itself through
    starvation, disease and war, possibly resulting in the fall of
    civilisation, then the population will have to be stabilised by some
    other means before that.

    And how exactly would you enforce such policies ? By imposing them on any recalcitrant populations by means of oppression, Police States, and warfare ?

    You are suggesting a nightmarish scenario of eugenic totalitarianism, the likes of which has only ever been attempted by Nazi Germany and the People’s Republic of China.

    What means stabilising the population would you prefer, in order to prevent a disaster from overpopulation?

    To simply trust in studies starting to show that mammal populations have been convincingly described as being self-regulating in the first place, rather than in policies aimed towards mass murders and horrid State repression of individuals and families.

    And BTW I’m not impressed with such trick questions attempting to slyly manipulate others into implicitly accepting proposals that they have previously rejected.

  • Peter

    If you persistently underestimate the effects of exponential technological advancement over a period of 3000 years, it’s difficult to carry on this conversation.

    I fancy that in a thousand years or so Venus could be terraformed, which could also include generating a planetary magnetic field of such power as to offset the intense solar radiation.   There is no reason to suspect that the technology will not be available by then.  

    The human species is very young.

  • JabbaPapa

    Shouldn’t you be posting these ideas on a Star Trek forum or somewhere ?

    They do not appear to be grounded in reality.

  • Jonathan West

    And how exactly would you enforce such policies ? By imposing them on
    any recalcitrant populations by means of oppression, Police States, and
    warfare ?

    Not at all. It is noticeable that western industrialised democracies have largely stable populations, give or take some immigration, and in some cases the population is in gentle decline.

    You may have noticed a few people here recently who have been bemoaning the forthcoming destruction of European culture and political power because there won’t be enough people to carry it. You yourself have been bemoaning the fact that there won’t be enough young people to look after the elderly.

    But that hasn’t been achieved by means of a police state, it has been achieved by women having access to education, contraception and safe abortion, and therefore being able to make informed decisions about how many children they want to have.

    To simply trust in studies starting to show that mammal populations have been convincingly described as being self-regulating in the first place, rather than in policies aimed towards mass murders and horrid State repression of individuals and families.

    What studies? You’re inventing facts again. Mammal populations aren’t self-regulating. They are regulated by disease, starvation and predation. We are mammals, and we have pretty much eliminated predation on humans, we have found cures for many killer diseases and at the moment we only have localised issues of starvation. But that won’t last forever if the global population continues to grow.

  • TreenonPoet

     Your ‘reasoning’ demonstrates my point…

    Just suppose that religious doctrine X was based on revelation, and that scientists rejected X, announcing instead that, to the best of their knowledge, Y was true. Then suppose that further evidence emerges that shows Y to be wrong and suggests that X might be nearer to the truth. You might see that as a triumph of religion over science. The way would I see it would be that religion made a lucky guess.

    Suppose new evidence then emerged that indicated very strongly that X and Y were both wrong, and that Z seemed to be the case. After verifying the evidence, science rejects X and adopts Z as its new model. What would religion do, having stated for centuries that X was unquestionably true? Does that not illustrate a fundamental difference between science and religion?

  • Jonathan West

    Even Venus has a surface area of only 460 million sq km. So if an a thousand years we were able to colonise Venus to the same population density as Earth, that would be good for about 160 years of 1% population growth.

    Where do you go after that?

  • Peter

    “What means stabilising the population would you prefer, in order to prevent a disaster from overpopulation?”

    Increase the living space.

    In the short to medium term, find clean renewable sources of energy, more recyclable materials, irrigate arid areas and, if necessary build floating cities on the three quarters of the planet’s surface which is not land.  

    That ought to keep us going for centuries until we discover solutions within our own solar system and beyond.

    The possibilities are endless and the world is a vast resource which has yet to be fully exploited.  

    It seems to me that the population control lobby want to keep the world exclusively for their elite selves and their progeny.

  • Jonathan West

    As I said before. Doing that to the point where the whole land area of the Earth will have the same population density as Manhatten will keep you going for 1300 years or so. Colonising all planets & satellites in the solar system (with the exception of the gas giants which have no stable surfaces) to the same population density will gain you another couple of hundred years or so.

    After that, you would need to colonise the stars, shifting huge populations over interstellar distances.

    Now, I know better than to say unequivocally that such a thing can never be done. But I think it is unwise to rely on a technology that we have no reason to think will ever be possible to solve a problem which we know is going to become acute in a foreseeable timespan.

  • Jonathan West

    It is Peter’s ideas which are Star Trek. I’m the one pointing out the reality.

  • JabbaPapa

    So, your response is a comment on a website

    How, exactly, are the comments of others not up to the undoubtedly stratospheric standard of your own ?

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re inventing facts again

    Quite apart from the fact that you’ve invented an entire bizarre fantasy based around the preposterous notion that the mass of humanity could exceed that of the planet, no I am not inventing the fact that research has been showing that the fertility rates of mammal species spontaneously decline when resources become scarce.

    Can I be bothered to do your research for you ? I doubt it.

  • TreenonPoet

     Thank you for attempting to justify your accusations. I will leave it to readers to judge the merit of your arguments, and just deal with the last bit of your post which responds to something I had intended as a clarification, but which seems to have had the opposite effect…

    Some scientists have religious beliefs. The proposition on which science is based is is what would hopefully guide the scientist in his/her job. If the scientist was to present a report in which the basis of his/her conclusion was that he/she deeply and sincerely believed it, the report would be rejected. The proposition on which religion is based might guide his/her religious thoughts, but is useless in the process of doing science. It is demonstrably true that some religious people can do science, but that only infers a compartmentalisation in their thinking, not a merging.

  • JabbaPapa

    Which part of your 2+2=5 “argument” is a ludicrous strawman have you so far failed to understand ?

    Your general characterisations of religion simply do NOT correspond to the reality of ANY mainstream religion.

    Go and bother the website of some nonsensical American biblical literalist sect if you want to discuss your views where they actually belong.

  • JabbaPapa

    something I had intended as a clarification

    In what way does simply repeating ad nauseam the same false views of religiuon for the umpteenth time constitute a “clarification”, given that I have completely denied the veracity of your claim ?

  • Peter

    “After verifying the evidence, science rejects X and adopts Z as its new model. What would religion do, having stated for centuries that X was unquestionably true? ”

    I cannot talk about other religions, only about Catholic doctrine.

    In the case of Catholic doctrine the above has never occurred nor is it ever likely to.

    Geocentrism for example has never been a part of Catholic doctrine.  Galileo was never acccused of heresy for his heliocentrism.  He was only suspected of heresy, because his heliocentrism suggested that he was an epicurian atomist.    

    Epicurian atomism – that the universe was an eternal realm of atoms which changed shape over time – was indeed a heresy because it denied the doctrinal teaching that the universe had a beginning. 

    I repeat, there is nothing in Catholic doctrine which is capable of being disproved by science, now or in the future.

    Since you are claiming otherwise, I invite you to suggest areas of doctrine which you think that scientific discovery might show to be untrue. 

  • Peter

    “The way would I see it would be that religion made a lucky guess.”

    The Church has since its inception maintained that the world (universe) had a beginning, and that it began from nothing, despite constant opposition over the centuries, especially at its inception when the prevailing Greek philosophical mindset was that the universe was eternal, and in recent centuries in the wake of the Enlightenment which compunded that belief.

    It is crass to call it a lucky guess.

  • TreenonPoet

    Scientific discovery tends to allow scientific conclusions to get closer to the truth. (Disciplines such as maths and logic, which are, of course, used in science, demonstrate absolute truth.) Scientific experiment shows at least that not every prayer is answered. I would suggest that the more experiments that are performed regarding the effectiveness of intercessory prayer, the stronger will be the evidence that it has no effect.

    Your assertion

    there is nothing in Catholic doctrine which is capable of being disproved by science, now or in the future

    once again demonstrates a difference between religion and science. Scientific assertions are open to being proven wrong, and scientists actively try to do prove just that.

  • Jonathan West

     Stop deliberately missing the point.

  • Jonathan West

     Quite apart from the fact that you’ve invented an entire bizarre fantasy based around the preposterous notion that the mass of humanity could exceed that of the planet

    As I said, you don’t understand the difference between a prediction and a projection, or you are ignoring it.

  • Peter

    “Scientific experiment shows at least that not every prayer is answered.”

    Catholic doctrine does not assert that every prayer will be answered.

  • TreenonPoet

     

    It seems to me that the population control lobby want to keep the world exclusively for their elite selves and their progeny.

    That sounds like Catholic projection to me. Can you link to a single quote from that lobby that supports your impression?

  • TreenonPoet

     I did not claim that it did. Do you accept that the sentence which followed the one you quote defeats your argument?

  • TreenonPoet

     So by what scientific process did the Church decide that the universe had a beginning?

  • Peter

    ” I would suggest that the more experiments that are performed regarding the effectiveness of intercessory prayer, the stronger will be the evidence that it has no effect.”

    Again the Church does not claim that all intercessoryprayers have an effect.  What science can never do is demonstrate that such prayers never have any effect.  Consequently science can never disprove the effectiveness of intercessoryprayer.

  • TreenonPoet

     I said it was intended as a clarification. I had thought it was rather uncontroversial and I was surprised that you challenged it.

  • JabbaPapa

    Scientific experiment shows at least that not every prayer is answered.

    Scientific experiment shows nothing of the kind, given that God is not required to answer prayers only by strictly obeying the desires of the person praying to Him.

    Also : what Peter said.

  • JabbaPapa

    Treeny : I was surprised that you challenged it.

    Good grief !!!

    Do you NEVER actually read people’s statements ?

    How can you be possibly be surprised by a central point in my whole argument against your ludicrous “2+2=5″ “argument” ???

  • Peter

    That’s the question which perplexes a rational observer.

    The technology which enabled us to scientifically demonstrate that the universe had a beginning, and which led us to hypothesise that it began from nothing, only became available last century.

    The Church cannot have gained this information centuries ago by natural scientific means, which must mean, by default, that the information was revealed to it by supernatural means.

    If you eliminate the impossible, what you are left with, however improbable, must be the truth.

  • JabbaPapa

    a single quote from that lobby

    Hilarious !!!

    As most people are aware, political lobbyists routinely act behind the scenes rather than in public.

  • TreenonPoet

     Agreed. So the Church’s claims about prayer are not scientific claims. In this case, their guess has not been so lucky.

  • JabbaPapa

    Predictions and projections have it in common that they must necessarily obey the Laws of Physics if they are to be taken seriously.

    Stop defending your completely nonsensical strawman, please.

  • JabbaPapa

    By using a group of disciplines called “scientific speculation”, “natural philosophy” and “metaphysics”.

    Also : NOT refusing to listen to natural philosophers and scientists who announce discoveries about the natural world.

    Perhaps you should try them one day …

  • TreenonPoet

     Peter does not seem to be denying that not all prayers are answered. You claim that they are, and that every scientific test that showed otherwise is flawed?

  • Jonathan West

     What are you doing here then?

  • Jonathan West

     I think you have just made my point for me. It is clearly impossible for the mass of humanity to exceed the mass of the planet, therefore the population must and will stop growing long before that point. Simple mathematics allows us to calculate when that (hypothetical) point would be reached. Ergo we know that the population must stop growing long before then.

    So how do you propose to ensure that the population does stop growing? Or more to the point, sibce it will stop growing one way or another, how do you propose to ensure that the population stops growing with the minimum of suffering? I take it that you would not wish to see a massive scale of death by starvation and disease.

  • TreenonPoet

     Which is more likely – that someone took a guess, or that there is something outside nature called the supernatural that interefered with someone’s thoughts (and so was not supernatural after all) and that the thoughts so implanted are guaranteed to be the truth? What you describe could not be further from science.

  • JabbaPapa

    I think you are saying that the flaw is that the experimental prayers are not sincere

    Nope.

    I’m saying that the One answering the prayers, or not, is God — He possesses Free Will, and He is not some sort of diffuse fundamental force inside the Universe, with material properties, detectable by scientific instrumentation — also, He is not an idiot, so that people setting up some kind of stupid experiment are not going to be operating behind His back.

    Furthermore, it is NOT possible to devise any kind of “test” that could possibly meet the necessary criteria of objectivity, verifiability, and falsifiability for such a test to be accurately described as being scientific in nature, as following the most basic rules of ground level scientific methodology.

  • TreenonPoet

     You seem to know a lot about God, and all through a process that is not antithetical to science!

  • Skypilot

    Waking up to flim-flam people like you!

  • JabbaPapa

     http://globalconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/world-population-is-stabilizing/

  • TreenonPoet

     Thank you for posting that link. I thought the presentation was optimistic (especially regarding global warming), but not polemically so.

  • buckingham88

     Well I just butted in as I ran into something that seemed to help. You are right that the consensus green position is not to have human beings disappear.
     However the extreme greens view that of the referred Tobias is that it would be better if we reduced by 80%.
     In Australia the Greens are in a bit of a flux so what comes out before the next election is still unknown to them or me.
     However Australia had a meeting of Global Greens who established a charter. You can google global greens charter 2001.This outlines a consensus population policy of reduction.
     It looks as if the conservative, non radical wing has won in NSW, so we wont be hearing much about population.

  • CullenD

    Well as I’m not a god and I doubt you are, we are only wasting our time. God is too busy ignoring everything to take the time to comment. 

  • CullenD

    In fairness to Treenon Poet, I was the one who pointed out that the comment was a Star trek fantasy. Also that the comment mentioned interstellar travel, not migration within our solar system. There’s a vast difference between travelling to Mars and travelling to the Orion system.

    I’d be quite happy to explain the difficulties of interstellar colonisation. I won’t even mention Star trek!