Like a lawn of bacteria on a petri plate


At least, that’s what came to mind when I watched this video.

At the end, though, I wasn’t sure whether it was time to just throw the dish out, or time to inoculate it with phage.

Comments

  1. Doubting Thomas says

    The victors write the history, and they name the plagues. One day, the cockroaches will have a name for us.

  2. tsig says

    If someone was watching from space over the last three hundred years if would look like Earth had a bad case of mange as they watched the forests disappear.

  3. robertmatthews says

    The cockroaches will do very badly without humans: they thrive where we thrive only because we live in heated environments. Smart money is on bacteria, as ever.

  4. opposablethumbs says

    …. and half the problem is right there in what the voiceover doesn’t say because, presumably, it can’t say it and not get (effectively) censored: the script mentions “choices” and “lifestyle” – but of course it is verboten to mention the elephantintheroom of access to reproductive healthcare. Without massively improved access to contraception and abortion world-wide, without actual acceptance of women’s right to choose to have fewer kids and later (which is after all what the facts so far bear out in places where women do have those choices) … “our choices” are not up to much.

    Funny, ain’t it – misogyny (largely but not only in religious form) could be the undoing of the species. Not to mention all the other species we knacker along the way.

  5. blf says

    Speaking of cockroaches reminds me of a short science fiction I read back in the days of clay tablets. I have no recollection of the author or the title, but suspect I read it in Issac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

    Several scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project had been sent, some years previously, to Japan shortly after the end of the war, to deal with an unexpected and very “hush-hush” apparent result of the A-bombings: Large colonies of large-ish cockroaches inhabiting a network of tunnels underneath both(?) of the bombed cities, and displaying clear signs of tool-making and tool-usage, and possibly writing. The colonies were fully exterminated.

    Their current project was a gadget that could bring back small objects from the recent future. After simple tests of “stealing” things like teacups from five minutes or so in the future, it was time for the big test: Grab something from further into the future.

    It worked. They managed to bring back a small metallic statue, obviously the work of a skilled artisan. There was writing in an unknown script on the base. The statue itself was clearly of the Earth, being held aloft by mighty figures.

     

     

    Cockroaches.

  6. opposablethumbs says

    … I mean, the problem is precisely reflected by the fact that the scriptwriters probably felt they could not get away with even mentioning reproductive choice at all, let alone contraception and much less abortion. I just don’t see how you can talk about population issues – to any audience of any age – without at least a passing mention of people controlling their own fertility. The fact that they had to confine themselves to the word “choices” on its own suggests how taboo the subject is, and the fact that it’s taboo is completely linked with forbidding access to choice.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    opposablethumbs @ # 7: The fact that they had to confine themselves to the word “choices” on its own suggests how taboo the subject is, and the fact that it’s taboo is completely linked with forbidding access to choice.

    This reminds me of Malthus’s famous essay on population, in which he mentioned, without elaboration, that the only alternative to geometric growth was “vice”.

  8. robro says

    Trivial point, but I’m confused about the “historical reference” to the Roman Empire in 250CE. It had been around for a long time by then.

  9. says

    I nodded along to the layout at the beginning of the video, resources are limited, sure. 17% of the surface is inhabited, ok, 4% produces food, fine. None of that is controversial or particularly relevant. I do take issue with the next statement.

    “We are increasing our population as if they were infinite”

    Sometimes it’s very important to pay attention to the way certain ideas are framed, and this one is bullshit. Nobody has ‘increasing our population’ on their to do list. It is not a thing that people do, actively and consciously. Population increase is a consequence of living conditions and survival pressures. This is well documented, most first world countries no longer have a replenishment birth rate.

    Population increase is not a problem you can solve, it’s a problem that disappears when everyone on Earth has access to the same kind of lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthiest few.

  10. dccarbene says

    Speaking of Isaac Asimov, I remember him once calculating how long it would take to consume every bit of matter in the Known Universe (at the time) and convert it into human flesh given the then-current growth rate of the human population. He had it working out to something like the year 5600 CE.

    Now, maybe we know about more matter now. Throw in the dark matter if you want. I still bet it would be sooner than 9999 CE before we used it all up.

    So it is not a matter of if, but rather when, the log phase will end.

    I don’t think we need to introduce a phage. Our friend Malthus will provide the immunological agents. We humans have been lucky that we have, so far, outbred these cleansers (well, at least those privileged to live in the “developed” world, who are not yet the starving, the diseased, the war-ravaged). But, again, it is only a matter of when, not if, and of how many will suffer horribly and die mosterously before the planet’s immune system fights off its #1 parasite.

    Sad that all the other living things will be affected by the therapy. Most are probably unaware and can’t care, but I feel rather badly for the cetaceans and great ape, surely sentient, who will be lost.

  11. karinl says

    Not only first world countries have less than a replenishment birthrate. Except in Subsaharan Africa, the number of children per woman in almost all countries is now almost down to about two. See statistics at website Gapminder – http://www.gapminder.org. Understandable statistics, making it easy to follow trends. Based on official statistics from international organisations and national statistics authorities. And do not miss the entertaining lectures by Hans Rosling, Swedish professor of international health, including some TED talks.

  12. khms says

    The start suggests that the problem is population growth in the most industrialized nations.

    The problem with that is that that is not where most of the population growth is. What part of the problem is in those places (and I suspect it is a large part of the problem) has much more to do with various aspects of consumption.

    Now, obviously unlimited population growth is a big problem – but the most prosperous (and thus most consuming per head) areas have very little population growth, some parts even negative growth. That suggests that the solution is a lot more complex than what the video suggests.

    The very last part makes a small nod in that direction, but I don’t think that is enough to compensate for the misdirection. To me, the video suggests that the main solution is for the viewers to have less children. How many people in the places with the most population growth are viewers? I suspect the number is rather small.

    Now, if the video had concentrated on resource consumption instead …

  13. parasiteboy says

    opposablethumbs@5&7.
    Reproductive rights and equal opportunities in work and pay. I talked about both in my Environmental science class as the key to slowing population growth. Along with that we need to get to a place where our standard of living is more compatible with the environment.

  14. grasshopper says

    “If someone was watching from space over the last three hundred years if would look like Earth had a bad case of mange as they watched the forests disappear.”

    I once read that at the time of Julius Caesar the forests in Europe were still so large, it could take a month for a Roman army to march through one. And no, the armies were not dawdlers.

  15. robro says

    grasshopper — Roman legions definitely had to work their way through forests…almost any terrain. They had to clear a path, prepare a road way to move heavier gear, and all with tools that were far inferior to anything we have. In addition, forests were dangerous places. Just ask Augustus.

  16. Nick Gotts says

    At the end, though, I wasn’t sure whether it was time to just throw the dish out, or time to inoculate it with phage. – PZM

    Yuck. I wonder if that’s the reaction the video makers were looking for.

    Nobody has ‘increasing our population’ on their to do list. – Ian King@10

    Actually, authoritarian states and religious and ethno-political groups quite often have done (where “our” means the population of that state or group) – but your general point is absolutely sound. The video is not – indeed, it is badly misleading at the end, where the irritating heartbeat speeds up, suggesting that population growth is still getting faster. It isn’t: in terms of growth rate, the peak was reached in the 1960s, since when the rate has declined continuously, and has now roughly halved. In terms of absolute annual growth, the peak was reached in the 1990s, although it has risen somewhat since the turn of the millennium. While the organization responsible for the video, Population Connection appears to have laudable goals, the degree of stress on population growth rather than consumption growth has the inevitable effect of displacing responsibility for resource overuse and pollution from rich to poor countries. It’s also worth noting that its founders included Paul Ehrlich, whose forecasts of inevitable mass famine in the 1970s in The Population Bomb proved spectacularly wrong (in the book, Ehrlich advocated refusing aid to countries he considered “hopeless” – IOW, he was willing to see hundreds of millions of people starve, and Charles Lee Remington, who served on the advisory board of Carrying Capacity Network, which campaigns for immigration reduction.

  17. mostlymarvelous says

    khms

    To me, the video suggests that the main solution is for the viewers to have less children. How many people in the places with the most population growth are viewers?

    Having fewer children doesn’t actually solve the problem in a lot of countries. If you watch Hans Rosling’s videos you’ll see that very poor Bangladesh, for one example, decreased the number of children born per woman at much the same rate as pretty rich Qatar to much the same number. But Bangladesh’s population is still increasing and it’s not just due to increasing life expectancy.

    There are forty, yes 40, countries in the world* where the mean age of women when their first child is born is 20 or less. Some of these are very high population countries – India, Bangladesh, Nigeria. If the mean age at first birth had become the youngest age in those countries, say 5 or 10 years ago, the current population would be almost a billion less than it is now – simply because that many children would not yet have been born. (Remember among very young 1st time mothers, it wouldn’t be just their first child born before they’re 18, 19 or 20, it might be two or three children.)

    The thing we need to do is to reduce the number of generations overlapping at any one time. If everyone everywhere had 2 and only 2 children there would still be huge population differences depending on when those children are born. In a country where the mean age of first time mothers is 20, those mothers can expect to be grandmothers around 40 and great-grandmothers around 60. In a place where the mean age of 1st time mothers is 30, they cannot expect to be grandmothers until they are 60. They can only become great-grandmothers if they live to 90. Put such a 3 generation family alongside the 10 years younger mothers groups and the difference is obvious – there’s a whole generation missing. No one’s missing out on their 2 or however many children, but the total population is much smaller when 1st time mothers are much closer to 30 or older than when they are 20 or younger.

    The best, fairest and most ethical way to reduce total population size is to promote education for girls, preferably to year 9 or 10 as standard, along with better education and small business opportunities for women – especially young women. There should be an equal emphasis on long-term reversible contraception for young women. For too long governments and other agencies have put the emphasis on permanent sterilisation after people have had as many children as they want, though there are some encouraging signs of promoting long term contraception in quite a few places.

    Far better that they have those children a bit later and space them further apart. Until you’re at the point of most children being born to mothers of 30 or older, of course – at which point it’s up to families to decide how quickly they have however many children they want.

    *http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/People/Mother%27s-mean-age-at-first-birth

  18. naturalcynic says

    I was particularly interested pre-colonial population changes in the Americas and observed that there were only two million prior to the 17th century. I have seen sources that put the population of where the continental US will be at 4-10 million by 1500 with a drastic depopulation – similar to Europe during the plague years, or perhaps even more drastic. It does show a decrease in Mexico, but not in the US. Smallpox, measles and other diseases ran rampant in the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century.
    @ 9 robro

    Trivial point, but I’m confused about the “historical reference” to the Roman Empire in 250CE. It had been around for a long time by then.

    Rome was kinda trivial compared to Han China in the first century CE. Could it be eurocentrism? Interesting note: there were striking population fluctuations in China over the first millenium. That’s what plagues and wars can do.

  19. opposablethumbs says

    mostlymarvellous #18

    The best, fairest and most ethical way to reduce total population size is to promote education for girls, preferably to year 9 or 10 as standard, along with better education and small business opportunities for women – especially young women.

    Yes. QFT.

  20. birgerjohansson says

    The depopulation of the Amercas meant that for a while, the CO2 ratio of the atmosphere actually *decreased*!. This happened because so many fields were getting overgrown with forests, sequestering carbon. The signal shows up in ice cores aroud the 17-18 centuries, making some people arguing for setting the start of the Anthropocene here.
    —-
    Interestingly, the priesthood of Iran has permitted family planning measures. They understand the oil revenue will not be enough to provide for a rapidly growing population.

  21. DanDare says

    Population increase is not a problem you can solve, it’s a problem that disappears when everyone on Earth has access to the same kind of lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthiest few.

    So from your sentence the solution is to ensure “everyone on Earth has access to the same kind of lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthiest few”, something we can actively work on. That contradicts the opening phrase “Population increase is not a problem you can solve”. Some kind of weird semantic quibble over the word “solve” perhaps?

  22. says

    I have a dear friend that equates talk about overpopulation and sustainability as code words for extermination. Ja, he’s a grand conspiracy nut. “Agenda 21! Agenda 21!”