This Planet Ain’t Big Enough for All of Us

Two hundred years ago this small planet was inhabited by one billion humans. Now Earth has 7.8 billion and possibly 10 billion by 2060. Some argue that population growth will soon slow when rural people move to cities, but given the rapid population increases in cities in Africa, Central and South America, India ...

Two hundred years ago this small planet was inhabited by one billion humans. Now Earth has 7.8 billion and possibly 10 billion by 2060. Some argue that population growth will soon slow when rural people move to cities, but given the rapid population increases in cities in Africa, Central and South America, India ...


he Population Problem

Two hundred years ago this small planet was inhabited by one billion humans. Now Earth has 7.8 billion and possibly 10 billion by 2060. Some argue that population growth will soon slow when rural people move to cities, but given the rapid population increases in cities in Africa, Central and South America, India, ex-Soviet Asian republics, the Philippines and the Middle East, this scenario seems unlikely. While crystal balls are in short supply and precise prediction is difficult, we don’t need a crystal ball to know that there are too many people on Earth <em>right now</em>.

At 7.8 billion, we have already greatly exceeded the carrying capacity of our land, air and water. Even if the population were to plateau immediately, at current levels of industrial activity, pollution and use of increasingly scarce resources, escape from the deep hole we are digging for ourselves will be increasingly difficult – and become all the more painful the longer we postpone dealing with the problem.

Surprisingly few accept the idea that our population greatly exceeds the optimum for human welfare or that it is the primary cause of global environmental degradation. When I raise these topics, I feel that that I have broached a taboo inappropriate in polite company. I am told that “Malthus and Ehrlich were completely wrong” or that “If population grows, technology will provide answers” and “More people equals more brain power to dream up solutions.” I find such responses dismaying and disingenuous.

Malthus did not get it wrong. He could not know the power of the oncoming Industrial Revolution’s technology, which allowed for easier mining of resources, fertilizer manufacturing, and medical advances, all of which stimulated population growth and merely postponed the inevitable catastrophe by more efficiently depleting finite resources and increasing pollution.

The time that science and technology bought us, as the human population soared from just under one billion when Malthus first published Principle of Population in 1798 to 7.8 billion today, has come at an enormous environmental cost and put us in a more perilous state. While resources are being used unsustainably, the absolute number of malnourished people has increased. If we run out rock-phosphate for fertilizers, global starvation and famine will be our lot.

Ehrlich’s 1960s’ conclusions were also fine; he just got the date wrong, as technology again pulled the rabbit out of the hat only to put us in greater peril in the long run. The “Green Revolution” greatly increased food production but the intensive technology it requires resulted in more damage to agricultural ecosystems, more pollution from runoff and more resource depletion. And population numbers soared.

Egypt serves as an example of our predicament. Prior to the 20th century, its agricultural ecosystem had been stable for millennia. In 1919, it had a population of 18 million of which 3 million were malnourished. As a result of new dams, modern agricultural technology, and more food, the population is now 100 million, with 17 million malnourished. The number of hungry has increased 5.7 fold. The Nile’s massive dams that allowed more food production also brought more water-borne diseases, chemical pollution of water and soil, increased salinity and waterlogging of soils, reduced deposition of nutrient-rich soils from annual floods, and faster erosion of the Nile delta. The end result is an unstable ecosystem and unstable politics.

If dams and agricultural technology increase the number of hungry and destabilize food-producing ecosystems, they do not improve the overall human condition. When agricultural productivity declines, political chaos ensues. Egypt is in a politically volatile region and instability there affects us all. Food shortage was a factor in the Arab Spring, whose death toll was high and the political instability of which continues.

The notion that more humans will always devise technological fixes in time to avert disaster, as promulgated most famously by Julian Simon (The Ultimate Resource), is naive. Thomas Homer-Dixon calls this sort of thinking Techno-Hubris. Technological solutions may appear, but risking billions of lives in the hope that some as yet uninvented technology may save us, is reckless.

To summarize: The technological innovation launched by the Industrial Revolution allowed our population to boom from one billion (1804) to 7.8 billion today but is depleting our limited resources and is unsustainable.

Consequences of Human Overpopulation

1. Resources and agriculture

Earth’s finite resources are being pillaged, fish stocks depleted, agricultural soils degraded, and forests cut down while pollution is increasing. Earth’s mineral resources, vital to modern lifestyles, are increasingly expensive to obtain. Our agricultural technology stimulates population growth without regard to its long-term effects. When an animal population grows unchecked, it runs out of food and the population collapses. We must start to face the consequences of our actions. Yet how often have you heard an oil executive discuss the downside of resource extraction or plead for more efficient, less polluting auto engines?

Modern crop varieties have higher yields but require more water and fertilizer. Rapidly growing varieties, combined with the abandonment of traditional farming methods, deplete the soil of vital minerals. Worldwide, soil quality is also diminished through erosion and irrigation-induced salinization, while desertification increases. Global warming and growing populations lead to yet more irrigation, exacerbating the situation. It was soil salinization that destroyed the ancient civilizations of Iraq, Mexico, and the Indus Valley. Thanks to modern technology we are doing it faster than they could. About 33% of irrigated soils are adversely affected by salinization and some estimates see 50% of all arable land seriously damaged by 2050.

A related issue is the depletion of fresh water. In the central and western USA, the Mediterranean region, Egypt, southern Russia, India and Australia, fresh water supplies are being used at unsustainable rates. California and Cape Town recently experienced water shortages. All over the world, fresh water supplies for agriculture, industry, and human consumption are dwindling.

As soil fertility drops and CO2 levels rise, food quality declines in terms of nutrition and taste. Modern intensive farming methods also reduce the storage of below-ground carbon compared with that of a natural ecosystem, resulting in more carbon entering the atmosphere.

Chemical pollution with poisons such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic, is also increasing. In China, 3.33 million hectares of farmland are too polluted to safely grow crops. In at least 70 countries, deep wells for drinking and irrigation have high levels of arsenic and 137 million people have arsenic poisoning. When I recently visited China and Vietnam, a colleague from Southeast Asia warned me “Don’t eat local food.” He was not jesting.

The only really limitless resources are sunlight and salt water. Yet astonishingly little solar energy is converted into electricity in the desalination of sea water, which is expensive and impractical for use far inland. There are also problems with the disposal of the brine waste product.

Historically, some of our best farmlands have been on the outskirts of cities, but, all over the world, farmland is increasingly being urbanized for housing, commerce, industry and roads. Vietnam’s resurrection from war-torn chaos to industrialization has come with some of the worst air, soil and water pollution in the world. For many Canadian cities, comparing maps from 50 years ago with those of today tells a sad story of arable land destruction. The area of Calgary has increased by 400% in 50 years. While population growth demands that more food be produced, we seem intent on diminishing our ability to produce this food.

2.Extinctions and biodiversity loss.

As our population increases, the extinction rate of other species rises. We are responsible for the 6th mass extinction now occurring on Earth. E.O. Wilson estimates that the current rate of species extinctions is between 100 to 1,000 times above normal and that one-half of all plant and animal species will be extinct in 100 years. Over the past few centuries we have seen global deforestation, particularly in the Amazon and other rainforests, advancing desertification, habitat destruction, and depletion of many species of marine fish. Remember the Canadian cod and the western woodland caribou? In the first decade of this century, Alberta lost 10% of its forest cover. Industrial pollutants and pesticides and modern industrial farming hasten species decline, including of insects, which are essential for proper ecosystem functioning, pollination of native and agricultural plants and nutrient recycling. Are insects the “canary in the coal mine”?

Biodiverse ecosystems with many interacting species are usually more stable than less diverse ones. Diverse complex systems are more able to respond to additional stresses such as climate variations.

3. Uncontrolled city growth.

Most city leaders boast about the increasing size of their cities. I am unclear as to the advantages of continuous growth, except for rich land developers. City growth destroys productive agricultural land and often leads to a downward economic spiral, with difficulties in servicing the increasingly complex, spread out, and overstressed city infrastructure. As well as problems in providing service, cities must deal with rising air pollution and drinking water shortages.

High levels of air pollution from micro-particles from vehicle exhaust are seen in all cities, and may increase the incidence of lung cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Is it possible that humans could create such a toxic environment that we won’t be able to think our way out of the problem we have produced?

4. Diminished quality of education.

Underfunded schools, colleges and universities have to accept more students from a burgeoning population. Class sizes rise. In 1968, my biggest university class had 80 students. In 2006, that same class had over 1,000. This is progress?

5. Social and political pressures of immigration-driven growth.

Immigration drives 75% of Canada’s population growth, but this is another taboo topic. A society with a diversity of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds may be rich and exciting, but a sudden influx of new arrivals causes political angst, particularly if they have very different customs. A larger human population coupled with climate change, political turmoil and food shortages makes for a frighteningly complex problem, one that few politicians are willing to discuss. Another negative aspect of mass immigration is that the recent arrivals are frequently forced into poorly paid and unsafe working conditions.

When I raise the idea that a very high level of immigration overloads our fragile economy and environment, I hear “racist, xenophobe!” Absolutely not; I am an immigrant. I happily worked for 40 years in a multi-racial group of colleagues who became friends; all were immigrants of many skin colours. It was a stimulating and culturally rich workplace.

My wife and I left Belfast in 1968 when it was descending into 30 years of terrorist turmoil, so I understand how political violence promotes migration. Also, anyone who has seen the vast slums in poor counties must be sympathetic to the migrants fleeing such appalling situations. Forced migration is a growing global phenomenon, but no country is equipped, politically or economically, to deal with large scale mass immigration. Building walls will not to solve the underlying causes, the primary being poor political and economic conditions in the migrants’ home. Rich countries must do more to address the root causes of migration, not least by supporting international family planning programs.

6. Exposure to zoonotic diseases.

As our incursion into wild lands increases along with our population, exposure to wild animals can lead to the transmission of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, West Nile, HIV, SARS, some varieties of flu, Lyme disease, Ebola, rabies, Dengue Fever and Zika. Disease transmission becomes more efficient with air travel, congested cities, crowded industrial facilities and workplaces, cruise ships, and poorly run old people’s homes. Crowding combined with insufficient sanitation and a warmer climate speeds disease transmission (MERS, Black Death, Cholera, Legionaires disease). Covid-19 has made us aware of the death toll, enormous social disruptions and economic cost of even a mild pandemic. Sadly, governments are now deciding how many people they will allow to die in order to restart the economy. A depressing calculus.

7. Human activities drive current climate change.

The number of studies supporting this is overwhelmingly greater than any contrary science. In 1877, Arrhenius proposed that industrial CO2 would trap heat in the atmosphere and cause global warming. Within 100 years, there was a vast volume of data supporting him. Humans were causing increases not just of CO2, but also methane, nitrous oxide, ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs. These greenhouse gasses (GHGs) trap heat energy from sunlight, causing global warming and climate change. When I was a PhD student, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was 320 ppm but is now 412 ppm, a 29% increase in 55 years; all the result of humans.

GHG concentrations also rise when deforestation reduces CO2-trapping photosynthesis, CO2 is released through wildfires and tree disease, photosynthesizing marine organisms decline, and natural ecosystems are replaced with less efficient agriculture. CO2 is emitted from burning fossil fuels for heating, transport, and manufacturing a vast array of consumer goods (most of which we don’t need). There is increased methane and nitrous oxide from cattle, fertilizer use, growing rice, and leakage during fossil fuel extraction. Animal agriculture is a major GHC producer.

We now have a number of positive feedback cycles in which some global warming promotes yet faster warming. Such cycles could lead to tipping points, where ongoing processes accelerate, making recovery difficult or impossible. One potential tipping point could be triggered by more open Arctic sea water, which absorbs more heat than ice-covered sea and produces more atmospheric water vapour (also a GHG). Methane is released from melting Arctic permafrost and methane hydrates.

Numerous factors affect global temperature, but human activities are now the significant factor. More humans leads to a faster rate of climate change.

The effects of elevated GHGs are numerous. They include:

  • A steady rise in ocean and land temperatures.
  • More catastrophic weather events such as high precipitation and flooding followed by periods of prolonged drought. Alterations to the polar jet stream may be a factor.
  • The slowing of ocean currents which currently ameliorate coastal climates.
  • Rising sea levels leading to more flooding of island nations and coastal cities; stronger wave action causing flooding and erosion.
  • CO2-induced ocean acidification which harms many marine species; a 2% reduction in overall ocean oxygen content in 50 years has led to more coastal dead zones with no fish. Along with warming, these changes harm marine organisms including coral reefs, oxygen-producing phytoplankton (food for many marine animals), and fish, whose metabolism and feeding behavior is disrupted.

Tampering with the oceans is a dangerous game. Overfishing and the expansion of coastal “dead zones” with little oxygen, has led to a global decline in fish populations. Fish are a vital protein source for over a billion humans. Coral reefs protect coastal topography. Marine phytoplankton produces 70% of the world’s oxygen (oceans plus atmosphere). Although it has received astonishingly little attention, human activities are causing a small but ongoing decline in global atmospheric oxygen.

Other effects of rising GHGs include:

  • A decrease in biodiversity and changes of plant, bird and insect populations. Fewer insects leads to fewer birds and less pollination of our food crops.
  • Some crops grow faster with more CO2, but only with more water and fertilizer. These crops contain less nitrogen, less protein, reduced iron, more heavy metals, and have less flavour.
  • More forest and crop pathogens and insect pests (pine bark beetle), more invasive weed species, more warm-climate human diseases (Lyme and other tick-carried diseases).
  • Higher temperatures requires more irrigation leading to salinization, soil pH changes and reduced crop yield; land becoming permanently unusable for agriculture leads to food shortages.
  • More hungry refugees moving across borders and causing political unrest. Hungry people are desperate people and anger starts revolutions and wars. Local climate perturbations are strongly related to increased domestic, regional and national violence. When traumatized hungry refugees appear, political problems are triggered as seen in Greece, Italy, Hungry, the USA, Germany, and the UK.
  • Human Health. More humans are dying from extreme summer temperatures; 70,000 died in the European heat wave of 2003. There is evidence that higher CO2 concentrations in buildings (and possibly eventually outdoors) might lower human cognition and decision-making ability.

Even conservative organizations such as the Vatican, insurance companies and the US military have expressed consternation over the potentially devastating impacts of human-caused climate change.

8. The Anthropocene.

Many geologists argue that we are in a new geological epoch in which humans are a dominant influence on climate, atmosphere, soils, surface geology and ecosystems. We have changed the chemical composition and temperature of the atmosphere and oceans and altered vast areas of the Earth’s surface. Despite the huge amount of scientific documentation supporting our impact, we amazingly have editorial writers such as Terence Corcoran who dislikes the Anthropocene concept and clearly fails to understand its scientific rationale. He writes that the “Anthropocene movement is…part of a larger goal to manipulate public opinion.” This shaky conspiracy theory, like all such theories, lacks evidence. He also implies that manipulating opinion is a bad thing; odd, from an editorial writer whose job is to do just that. I have no issue with using accurate scientific data to push public and political opinion in the direction of solving a dangerous problem.

To summarize: a larger population causes more pollution and faster depletion of our resources. Wealthier countries with their profligate life styles are the biggest offenders. Too many people are producing and consuming too much. Our grandparents owned much less “stuff” than we do but were no less content. In addition, billions of previously impoverished people in developing countries, many with growing populations, are aspiring toward economic improvement, i.e., greater consumption. Many migrate to the west and enormously increase their footprint. Humanity is living beyond its means. The combination of over-population and over-consumption is going to be our downfall.

Why Won’t People Accept The Bad News

I am puzzled that many remain skeptical that increased numbers of humans is a primary cause of our global environmental problems. Why are people resistant to the idea that our current numbers are unsustainable? I suppose that at the simplest personal level, we do not enjoy facing depressing scenarios, thus we pretend they don’t exist. At the corporate and governments level, few will even contemplate the notion of slower growth. “Growth” is the mantra that rules their lives. Many other factors contribute to our denial.
Ignorance of science:

Why do some people accept science that keeps a 200-ton jet flying, the research behind our electronic gadgets or antibiotics, but reject the science showing that overpopulation might be a factor in problems such as global warming?

We are in a dangerous world of “alternative facts,” “fake news” and conspiracy theories. We must be careful not to selectively believe only information that makes us comfortable, and reject that which is frightening. Uncritically accepting unverified Twitter gossip without first fact-checking is lazy and dangerous. If we go down that road, we are returning to the days of 17th century witch trials. Even today, about 30% of Americans do not accept the science of evolution because the concept clashes with religious belief and they have never bothered to understand the basics of evolution, one of the best supported ideas in all biology. Much of the public does not understand that, unlike the use of the words in everyday language, “theory” and “law” have similar meanings in science. Evolution is a “theory” because unlike, for example, Newton’s second “law” of motion, it cannot be expressed by a concise mathematical equation. A theory explains how something happens; a law explains what will happen under certain circumstances. Scientific illiteracy is a big and dangerous problem.

Confirmation bias:

This is the tempting slippery slope when we only believe information that supports our preexisting beliefs, even when those beliefs are unsupported by fact. As Jack Nicholson observed in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth.” Conspiracy theories are an example of this fuzzy thinking. Climate change skeptics often suggest that the IPCC stance on global warming is “proof” of a secret plot of a global cabal of UN socialists bent on forming a global socialist government. This is devoid of rationality. Firstly, the scientists and the bureaucrats involved in IPCC and related groups are not crazed socialists and many are on the political right. Secondly, given that 10,000s of scientists are researching climate change, these “plotters” appear to have been stunningly successful in not leaking evidence of their massive global scheme.

How to deal with confirmation bias and conspiracy theories? Simple: do your research. Read outside your comfort zone. Do not accept the crazy fun theory that fits only one piece of dubious data but ignores the majority of the facts. Fact-check and look for the source of those “facts.” Is the source reliable? Look for conflicts of interest. If a writer who claims that we are not altering CO2 levels is funded by industries that profit by polluting with CO2, be wary. As they say, “follow the money.”

Occam’s razor is a good guide for deciding which hypothesis is more believable. Pick the simplest explanation and set aside those requiring complex unsupported hypotheses. On the Internet, conspiracy theories and fake news travel faster than fact-based news. A Tweet without supporting data takes less effort to send than a Tweet supported by data.

Scientific illiteracy and ignorance of how scientific knowledge is generated and assessed for accuracy can promote confirmation bias. Information overload is an additional problem. While the Internet has made it easy to search for information and fact-check, the unwary and those with a poor grasp of science can be misled by the abundant misinformation and out-of-date or falsified data. Hence one sees anti-vaxxers quoting a discredited study on the link between vaccination and autism and climate skeptics arguing that CO2 is not a pollutant because it is plant food. This is false logic: CO2 is indeed the source of carbon nutrition for plants, but at excess levels is harmful to them, and is also a dangerous pollutant.

In addition, some influential people, such as D.Trump, Ontario’s Doug Ford, Alberta’s Jason Kenny, Rex Murphy, Conrad Black and Terence Corcoran use their bully pulpits to promulgate their “profit is all that is important” anti-environmental stance, while repeatedly demonstrating a lack of understanding of scientific basics.

Genetics and evolution:

Paul Ehrlich argued that humans are genetically programmed to respond quickly to immediate disasters, but can’t deal with “slow motion” disasters – such as the negative consequences of too many humans on too small an Earth. There is a substantial literature from geneticists, molecular biologists and psychologists suggesting that during human evolution, there was a genetic trend over millennia towards having an optimistic approach when faced with problems. Some optimism is a useful strategy and can help us to face frightening situations. Churchill’s fighting response in WWII is a perfect example. But over-optimism can be dangerous when it blinds us to risks.

Fear blocks us from accepting unpleasant truths. When Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring,” the chemical industry continued to make huge profits while viciously attacking her. Acceptance of her ideas took decades because it was convenient to believe chemical companies propaganda. No one likes frightening news, but denial solves nothing.


Fundamentalist religious beliefs can hinder our ability to apply reason to solve complex problems. The anti-science and anti-evolution stance is spearheaded by extreme fundamentalists who are uneducated in science. Some religious adherents interpret passages from the Bible, such as “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing,” as God’s permission to kill most of our wildlife and pollute. Surely if one believes a deity created the Earth and everything therein, there is an obligation to take care of the world and not plunder its wonderful ecosystems? Some religions preach against birth control. Perhaps they reason that birth control will reduce the number of future religious adherents. In many societies women are made to feel guilty if they don’t have babies, and are discouraged from getting educated.

We live in an age of lies:

In her book The Death of Truth, Michiko Kakutani describes how reason is being displaced by emotion and the growing populist contempt for any expertise that does not fit with one’s personal view of the world. Donald Trump fabricates on a gargantuan scale and his spokespeople daily present the “alternative facts” that they just invented. (Is this where the phrase “Trumped up” comes from?) We now live in a world in which Orwell’s predictions of language manipulation in 1984 and Animal Farm are reality. Even the honest media is doing damage by being “fair to both sides” (where have I heard that before?) in debates on evolution and climate change. Media bends over backwards to give equal weight and time to both sides, even though one side has little evidence to support them. The tobacco, oil and coal industries did this brilliantly when they lied about the dangers of smoking and CO2 pollution while still making huge profits.

Short-term economics:

When the primary motivation is profit, it is inevitable that bad things happen to people and the environment. Politicians and industry are driven by the next election and the next balance sheet, rarely taking the long-term view. If people think that carbon taxes are expensive, wait until they see the full cost of climate change. Acting before the disaster is cheaper than dealing with the aftermath. Economists of the Milton Friedman ilk hate the concept of corporate social responsibility and argue that corporations can only do good by succeeding in the free market and making a profit. I quote Terrence Corcoran “The corporate adoption of social purposes would take focus away from…core business purposes.” Many politicians refuse to make tough decisions on long-term problems because all is secondary to re-election and pleasing the corporations who fund them.

The hubris argument:

This posits that is arrogant to think that mere humans could disturb the Earth’s ecosystems. This is uninformed nonsense as is shown by the voluminous data that humans have already done so (see “Anthropocene”).

Well funded deliberate misinformation campaigns:

These aim to convince us there is no problem. Example include the tobacco lobby (cigarettes are harmless), the anti-Rachel Carson pesticide companies (pesticides are benign), and more recently oil and coal companies (don’t worry about pollution). They employ several strategies.

  1. Buy your tame researcher. The company pays their spokesperson and funds their research. It is well documented that funding source biases the interpretation of data in favour of the funder.
  2. Buy your spokesperson. You can always find a contrarian to support any idea, someone who enjoys disagreeing, needs money, or craves publicity. A common strategy used is to focus on a single tiny inconsistency in the data, concentrate on that, and ignore the rest of the evidence.
  3. Admit there may be a problem but insist on 100 percent certainty before acting. This may appear reasonable, but experimental science with complex systems rarely produces answers with 100 percent certainty. Scientists make educated deductions with a given statistical probability. The public and politicians don’t understand this and are uncomfortable with any uncertainty. However, if thousands of scientists conclude that there is a 95 percent probability that humans are triggering global warming or that tobacco kills, perhaps you should listen. If a doctor tells you that there was a 95 percent probability of getting a disease, you would probably take the medicine.

Fear of job loss is a potent silencer. Peer pressure effectively silences whistle blowers who discover that their organization is causing environmental damage or that crowded working conditions are leading to disease. With a real fear of income loss, it takes courage to speak out against bosses, friends and colleagues.

In Conclusion

As our population increases, we more rapidly squander our resources, pollute more, and force climate change. Wealthier countries with profligate lifestyles are the biggest offenders. Humans are living beyond their means and destroying the planet. We cannot depend on magic bullet technology to solve our problems

There have been a few but ineffective efforts to slow population growth and I am unaware of any current serious plans to curb economic growth. On the contrary, growth of GDP or city size seems to be an object of worship; the long-term effects on diminishing resources and environmental damage are rarely examined. China, India and northwest continental Europe have made cautious moves to slow GHG production but there is little evidence that the US, Canada, Russia, Australia, Brazil, or the UK have seriously considered the implications of global warming or a 3-meter rise in sea level on coastal cities. Clearly most developed countries have no interest in the millions who will lose lives, homes, and livelihoods in Bangladesh, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific islands. The absence of aggressive plans to deal with the frightening effects of overpopulation has been stunningly shortsighted. For example, the lack of concern that many areas are running out of fresh water because of overconsumption astonishes me.

The core of our problem is uncontrolled free market capitalism based on a paradigm of perpetual growth. This form of economy almost seems designed to maximize environmental damage. But totalitarian communism is even worse. The difficulty is that capitalism is so deeply entrenched in everything we do. Change is complex and laborious and will face huge opposition. It is like an addict, unable to get off a drug that is killing him, who therefore denies that the drug is harmful.

The economist Sir Nicholas Stern correctly argues that the benefits of early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting. If the current growth-oriented economic system is destroying global ecosystems, urgent redesign the economic modus operandi is demanded.

So why don’t we fix the problem?

Established politicians and bankers claim that here is no realistic alternative to free market capitalism. Perhaps they should Google “alternatives to capitalism” and see many fascinating ideas for alternative economies such as Olson and Landsberg’s 1973 The No-Growth Society, Paul Hawken’s 1993 The Ecology of Commerce, and John Fullerton’s 2015 Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy. We must become deaf to the selfish whines of the free marketeers. The newer ideas need to be examined. Fullerton’s ideas are fascinating and are built on the work of some impressive deep-thinking individuals. Fullerton has 20 years of experience in Wall Street and his concepts are based on ideas from physics, ecology, biology, and sociology and economics. One of his ideas is biomimicry, by which we can copy what nature has already successfully done for a few billion years. He proposes building an economic system that mimics how complex living species and ecosystems are stable and regenerate without destroying the environment. Other hopeful signs are the activist attitudes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” in the US and Canada’s “The Leap Manifesto.” The naysayers say, “Can’t be done, impracticable.” These critics seem to be terrified of anything that might eat into the profits of the one-percenters. Whatever direction we go we do not need insanely unproductive and energy wasteful initiatives such as Bitcoin mining. Furthermore, we need a rapid shift away from the inefficient totalitarian way in which most corporations are run and move to models based on industrial democracy.

Things can change if we want them badly to enough. In 1908, when horses were still the major method of moving people and products, Ford built the first Model T Ford assembly line, and by 1925 he was selling two million every year. A horse economy was converted to a motorized economy in a short time. While this did immense environmental damage, it showed what can be achieved with sufficient motivation. Personal computers did not become available until the 1980s. Now most households have computers, cell phones, and tablets. In a mere 20 years, the way governments, hospitals, industry, banks, science, universities and industry operated was revolutionized.

Perhaps we should pick the best aspects of capitalism and democratic socialism to produce a hybrid economic system that has the drive of capitalism but omits the worst excesses of free market greed and Communist inefficiency.

A global disaster is approaching. Imagine intelligent aliens observing human behaviour. They would watch us breed ourselves into a series of plant-wide disasters, polluting land, sea and air on a global scale, changing the climate, causing massive species extinction and squandering our resources. They might reasonably conclude that humans were performing mass suicide and were intent on destroying the ecosystems that nurtures them. •