Phillip Longman and Julia Whitty on the population conversation

Not so long ago, there was a time when the average American on the street was worried about the world’s population and how it was impacting the planet. But in the span of just a few years, a variety of issues — from new economic thinking to charges of racism — emerged to make the topic issue non-grata.

Blueprint America

Alison Stewart speaks with two journalists about where the population conversation stands today and what, if anything, we should be doing about it.

Julia Whitty is an award-winning environmental reporter.  As a correspondent for Mother Jones, she traveled to India to write about population growth – something she calls “the last taboo.”  Julia’s latest book is “Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean.”

Phillip Longman is a senior fellow with the New America Foundation and Washington Monthly. A former senior writer and deputy assistant managing editor at U.S. News and World Report, Longman’s byline has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. He is the author of “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity (And What to Do About It).”

Watch the rest of the segments from this week’s episode.

 
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Comments

  • C. L.

    I can’t believe pbs would honor Paul Ehrlich.  His ideas have been proven wrong over and over. And by the way Julia Whitty is dead wrong. Farming is alive and well. I know because I just looked out my front window at an 80 acre field full of corn. Stop the lies (yes I said lies).

    I don’t mind that you have a view point that differs from mine but why must my tax dollars fund it? I’m guessing your show would never air with out your friends in D. C. and CPB to help you.

    C.

  • Larry Shotland

    It’s out of line that you had Phillip Longman dispensing false information on your
    show without correction or comment by the host.  Phillip Longman said there is
    no population explosion problem.  The U.S. and the global population have both
    more than doubled in my lifetime.  The U.S. population is headed toward half a billion
    by mid-century and a billion by 2100.  The global population is already 7 billion headed
    much higher.  Meanwhile, most reputable experts (including your other guest) say
    that the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth is 2 or 3 billion people.  We are
    running out of energy, water, fish in the sea, and we are facing global warming
    made much worse by more people.  Phillip Longman said that the U.S. population is
    flat except for the elderly.  Also, neither he nor the host acknowledged that our huge
    population growth is 70% immigrants and their children born here.  Stating false
    information makes me believe Phillip Longman works for a group like the Catholic
    Church or a business group that wants to continue dangerous population growth.

  • Betsy Rate

    Larry, you might find this lecture that demographer Michael Teitelbaum delivered at Yale a couple of years ago interesting.  In it, he discusses how low fertility rates in developed countries are leading to population aging and public policy challenges. It’s a fascinating topic. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUxzHOM2NmQ&feature=player_embedded#at=94

  • FightHAARP

    Ms. Whitty was very well informed and I enjoyed her insights.

    Mr. Longman seemed very narrow in his outlook, fixated on one minor issue instead of the big picture.  The human “footprint” on the planet is clearly already way too large, as evidenced by the collapse of our ocean ecosystems, the extinction crisis, climate chaos, chronic freshwater shortages, and more.  Clearly, Earth cannot support our current population given our rapacious lifestyle, and population momentum ensures that even if we apply strong measures now, the number of humans on this planet will top out at over 8 billion before it starts to decline (according to the U.N.). 

    Mr. Longman is very concerned that population growth is being turned around too fast in the developed countries, leading to a temporarily heavy burden in that a large cohort of the elderly will have to be supported by a much smaller labor force.  This seems to me like a triviality compared to the ecological devastation humanity is causing.  Furthermore, as Mr. Longman admits, residents of the developed nations have a much higher ecological footprint than their Third World peers.  If we slow the fertility decline in the developed nations, the relative increase in humanity’s ecological footprint will be massive, greatly increasing the odds of total collapse.

    Note that the New America Foundation is a “pro economic growth” think-tank.  The idea of endless economic growth on a fixed-sized planet has always been an absurdity, and I think that these people don’t want the public to start thinking about limits, even when they’re related to population and not directly to economics.  So, I believe we are dealing with a hidden agenda here.

    In this case, I think NTK went too far out of its way to present “both
    sides” of the debate, wasting our time with the shallow, ill-informed
    ideas of Mr. Longman.

  • FightHAARP

    Ms. Whitty was very well informed and I enjoyed her insights.

    Mr. Longman seemed very narrow in his outlook, fixated on one minor issue instead of the big picture.  The human “footprint” on the planet is clearly already way too large, as evidenced by the collapse of our ocean ecosystems, the extinction crisis, climate chaos, chronic freshwater shortages, and more.  Clearly, Earth cannot support our current population given our rapacious lifestyle, and population momentum ensures that even if we apply strong measures now, the number of humans on this planet will top out at over 8 billion before it starts to decline (according to the U.N.). 

    Mr. Longman is very concerned that population growth is being turned around too fast in the developed countries, leading to a temporarily heavy burden in that a large cohort of the elderly will have to be supported by a much smaller labor force.  This seems to me like a triviality compared to the ecological devastation humanity is causing.  Furthermore, as Mr. Longman admits, residents of the developed nations have a much higher ecological footprint than their Third World peers.  If we slow the fertility decline in the developed nations, the relative increase in humanity’s ecological footprint will be massive, greatly increasing the odds of total collapse.

    Note that the New America Foundation is a “pro economic growth” think-tank.  The idea of endless economic growth on a fixed-sized planet has always been an absurdity, and I think that these people don’t want the public to start thinking about limits, even when they’re related to population and not directly to economics.  So, I believe we are dealing with a hidden agenda here.

    In this case, I think NTK went too far out of its way to present “both
    sides” of the debate, wasting our time with the shallow, ill-informed
    ideas of Mr. Longman.

  • FightHAARP

    Mr. Ehrlich’s ideas have not been “proven wrong over and over.”  He has often underestimated man’s ingenuity but his basic ideas are sound.

    The signs of ecological collapse are everywhere.  The fact that corn can still be grown in your area doesn’t tell us anything, let alone refute Mr. Ehrlich’s ideas.

    Wake up.

  • FightHAARP

    Mr. Ehrlich’s ideas have not been “proven wrong over and over.”  He has often underestimated man’s ingenuity but his basic ideas are sound.

    The signs of ecological collapse are everywhere.  The fact that corn can still be grown in your area doesn’t tell us anything, let alone refute Mr. Ehrlich’s ideas.

    Wake up.

  • Shale

    First of all, much applause to Allison, Julia Whitty, and Need to Know for covering the issues of population growth, overpopulation, and family planning.  It took all of human history until 1930 for humankind to reach a world population of two billion, yet by later this year we will reach seven billion so that we have added FIVE BILLION additional persons in less than one human lifetime and since 1975 we have been repeatedly ADDING one additional billion after another every twelve years.

    This is significant not only because of its implications for humanitarian and civilizational reasons (hunger, poverty, lack of health care, lack of employment, infrastructure, and governance), but also because the earth’s biospheric carrying capacity for a modern, industrialized humanity is on the order of two billion or less – and beginnng in the 1970s, we have been destroying and eradicating the ONLY planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe at rates that match, or even exceed, our population growth.  (Technology, rather than saving us, has allowed us to damage, eradicate, overfish, and overexploit more completely, more rapidly, and more efficiently than ever, so that we are like, in Jeffrey Sach’s memorable phrase, much like ”hunter-gatherers with machine guns.”

    While the show’s reflection on population issues past was worthwhile, useful, and informative, a few more sentences could have shown us a disquieting glimpse of our future, for the U.N.s newest world population projections issued just two months ago DO NOT show us headed toward “stability” as previous projections seemingly hoped – instead their new “medium-fertility” projections show us headed toward TEN billion by 2100, and their “high-fertility” projections (which are just 1/2 child per woman higher than their medium projections) show us hurtling toward 15.8 BILLION by the end of this century.  (Instead of the past, the numbers just cited are the ones that should have been the core topic of discussion.)

    First, both data sets that reflect where we have been since 8000 BC and where we are headed exhibit pronounced and extreme J-curves (yes, with a most distinct likeness to graphs of the fission events that unfortunately destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the close of World War II).  Some readers may find an assortment of population graphs posted on flickr of interest (www.flickr.com/pali_nalu).

  • Anonymous

    Ms. Whitty did not say or even imply that farming is dead. She simply recognised that a number of farms are “over-plowed and over-fertilized”, and that an increase in average temperatures can have an adverse effect on the production capabilities of many food crops. Meaning that the 80-acre corn field to which you refer isn’t dead; however, in the face of increasing temperatures and poor soil quality, its overall production and eventual crop yield may be reduced.
    C.L, before thoughtlessly accusing others of lying, you should first try listening to what they actually say. Afterwords, if you still believe them to be untruthful, please try using evidence other than “corn exists” to support your arguments.

  • Shale

    Despite the seeming complacency of one of Allison’s guests, multiple independent lines of evidence (“miles” of evidence) argue quite powerfully that we are on the verge of an unfolding humanitarian, civilizational, and biospheric calamity.  While Mr. Longman, it appears, would have us believe that the problems of overpopulation and cascading growth might be thought of as something of the past, if the discussion had actually spelled out a few of today’s ACTUAL numbers and the newest U.N. projections for the remainder of this century, viewers might more fully-appreciate the extraordinary dangers embedded in our current trajectories.

    Figures from last year, for example, show 384,000 births per day and 156,000 deaths per day, so that subtracting, we see that worldwide, our population is growing by 228,000 additional persons each day. In other words, if today is Friday, by this same time on Monday, world population will be 684,000 larger than it is now – (so that not only do we see unfolding disasters in  today’s news like the images of starving children and parents trying to escape Somalia, but we can expect more of the same if our numbers continue to rocket upward).

    While Mr. Longman seemed to suggest that our population growth is slowing down, we have been steadily adding one billion ADDITIONAL persons to world population, without fail, since 1975 (in 1975 we reached four billion, by 1987 we reached five billion, by 1999 we reached six billion, and by later this year we will reach seven billion).  (Perhaps Mr. Longman may consider this to be slowing down, but speaking from the standpoint of earth’s biospheric life-support machinery, the continuing, growing, and ever-expanding impacts of each of these ever-increasing billions is courting disaster.)

    Collectively speaking, how serious are current levels of biosystem eradication and our never-ending worldwide avalanche of industrial and societal wastes?  No rational astronauts, for example, would ever contemplate eradicating 87% of the systems and machinery that maintain their lives in space – (navigation, propulsion, oxygen-production, heat shields, and food provision sytems for instance).

    And the rest of us would never degrade, destroy, eradicate, or remove huge portions of the operating systems of our automobiles (50%of the axles? 75% of the tires? 90% of the steering and electrical systems?  And eliminate its carburetor and most of the spark plugs, while pouring additional daily contaminants into its radiator water, battery, oil, and transmission and brake fluids?)  – and then expect our automobiles, which “never failed to function in the past”  to continue to operate. 

    (Lastly, the two graphs that depict our worldwide population history from 8000 BC to the close of this century are both quite pronounced J-CURVES that approximate the J-curves of a detonating weapon.  A downloadable image of each trajectory is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pali_nalu/ and the five additional billions that we have added just since 1930, with numbers that may very well be headed toward more than TEN or FIFTEEN billion by 2100, basically constitute the greatest single risk that our species has ever undertaken.

  • Anonymous

    We need much more  warnings, then some politicians who are
    willing to do something about  the problem. That’s going to be the big
    stumbling block. The popular free e-book series “And Gulliver Returns”
    –In Search of Utopia–(http://andgulliverreturns.info) does the best
    job I had seen on the subject. Book 1 lays  out the problem. Book 4
    looks at morality generally, then applies it to overpopulation. Book 6
    looks at our motivations. Book 8 looks at some ways to  accomplish it.
    Trying to solve the problem is not a simple task. We have the
    self-centered motivations of most of us on one side– and what is good
    for society on the other side of the battle line. While the intelligent
    thing to do is to somehow limit population, I don’t see how we can do it
    without a huge shift in our selfish leanings and our democratic idea of
    absolute freedom. We have probably passed the point of no return. But
    there is hope!
    Illegal immigration, poverty, global warming,
    famines, the reduction of freshwater and a whole slew of other problems
    are based on overpopulation. Ecologists know it,  but the majority of us
    either deny the reality or hope that God or science will solve the
    problem for us.
    http://Overpopulation.org is a site that keeps us current on the problem.

  • J7t14r

    Shale is right. All humanity faces a global catastrophe unless we agree to take control over our species behavior, which means we must 1. Safely recycle 100% of all our trash, sludge and junk, and 2. Peacefully reduce our population with family planning programs that give each woman the legally protected right to decide if and when to birth her children. If we fail to do this very soon, we will all die from the massive and growing pollution we dump in the global ocean, in mountainous land fills, in the atmosphere and almost everywhere else. We have so far failed to do this because economic growth is an instinct that no one wants to think about, they just want more of everything forever, on a planet that is slowly shrinking with each volcano and earthquake.

  • Elisabethbun

    Your “Evidence” attempt shows a complete misunderstanding steming from the most likely senairo of not paying attention as soon as something is said that you don’t agree with.
    However, you are correct in that with only corp. support, “Need to Know” would more likely do the slight-of-hand, show fluff to distract people from learning true facts and hearing an actual free exchange of ideas.

  • Wald0023

    Dear Prof. Bob,

    I recommend the book: Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development. I explains how militarism, sexism, racism and general paternalization on behalf of the powers which affect the world’s problems must be considered rather than blaming women, immigrants and the poor for such problems. The military is the worst offender for ruining the environment. Large corporations go into Third World countries and cause a lot of deforestation as well as displacement of traditional families due to their land being lost to large agrbusiness. The website: Committee on Women, Population, and Environment. Peace.

  • Beth

    Yes, you may have seen a farm full of corn but it was probably the less edible corn which is used to produce Etanol. I know because my father is a truck driver and he hauls that corn to the Ethanol plants in Minnesota. That field of corn is also probably full of dangerous pesticides which little by little make it into the mainstream ingredients of about 95% of the processed food sold in the USA which is causing a lot of illness and probably contributes to the high rates of Autism and ADHD, not to mention Asthma and food allergies. Also, the word “friends” and “DC” is a complete oxymoron. All politicians have an agenda and the big corporations have them in their pockets. Until campaign and election reforms take place so that an average intelligent person can run for any office without needing massive amounts of money. Spending caps on campaigns is the only way to ensure fair elections. Peace.

  • Beth

    “When the god of scarcity meets the devil of racism, the result is the greening of hate” (Dangerous Intersections:Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development 11).

  • andre

    god well win no matter what the lord has more power then anybody in the world