A few days ago, that printed mouthpiece of Murdoch’s News Corporation in Australia – The Australiani, attacked Paul Ehrlich with a spectacular piece of uninformed gibberish (‘Population bomb still a fizzer 40 years on‘) that we both feel compelled to contest.
The Australian, well-known for its ‘War on Science’, refused to give us the opportunity to respond officially in an Opinion Editorial, so we are compelled to fight back using the blogosphere and our collective networks (which, we might add, probably exceed the distribution of said newspaper). Frankly, it was no surprise that The Australian chose to ignore us.
The article in question was written by Oliver Marc Hartwich of the so-called ‘Centre for Independent Studies’, the hyper-conservative Australian propaganda machine reminiscent of the ultra-right wing American Enterprise Institute, made up of some of Australia’s most powerful business magnates and with no academic affiliation whatsoever. Anything vaguely left-of-centre and even remotely promoting environmental responsibility is considered a viable target.
Recently, we blew the whistle on an equally dangerous man and the institutes he represents – climate-denier Alan Oxley; he and the business interests he represents are responsible for more deforestation, biodiversity loss and financial inequity in South East Asia over the last few decades than almost any single group.
Now we turn our attention to expose the true colours of the Centre for Independent Studies and Mr. Hartwich.
Getting it wrong almost immediately, Hartwich insinuates that ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’ (two names for the same thing) are in some way separate from humanity – that the lefties promote the former instead of the latter. Hartwich misses the point completely and fails to understand Paul’s and my point – that over-consumption (that inseparable product of population size and per capita consumption rate) harm the very natural systems on which we are utterly dependent.
Hartwich demonstrates his passion for the polemic; he sows the seed of doubt among the populace to ensure the flows of riches to his already wealthy supporters’ remain uninterrupted (a successful tactic employed by the fossil fuel lobby to attack society’s required responses to climate change). But there are no sides, no ‘us’ versus ‘them’. It is ‘us’ versus ‘us’, and spiting ourselves is, even in a moron’s opinion, sawing through the branch we are sitting on.
We are not ‘misanthropists’ as labelled by Hartwich – quite the contrary – we are philanthropists insomuch as we desire to have the maximum number of human beings live decent, happy, healthy, productive and long lives. Unlike Hartwich, we do not want now to maximize the number alive at one time, in the process wrecking human life-support systems in this century. We want our own species to persist at a sustainable level for millions of years, allowing perhaps a million or more times as many people eventually to be happily alive than would otherwise have under Hartwich’s scheme promoted by his greedy “thoughtless tank” backers. Hartwich and his cronies would have us maximise their annual profits at the expense of our grandchildren and then our granchildren’s grandchildren. Personally, we want our descendants to enjoy life even more than we have been so fortunate to do. And we wish the same for Hartwich’s grandchildren too – despite his attempts to immiserate them.
What we are promulgating is exactly what the most distinguished James Lovelock, a brilliant scientist denigrated and again, completely misunderstood by Hartwich (we wonder if he has even read Lovelock’s original [1-3] or more modern [4,5] texts on the issue), predicts will occur – mass human suffering and die-off.
Hartwich also employs the increasingly popular tycoon’s mantra of saving the poor, and that we the ‘disciples of Gaia’ii, are ‘completely oblivious to the needs of the people in poorer places”.
Another complete fabrication. We tackled this little morsel of nonsense in our Open Letter about Alan Oxley. If Hartwich had any real understanding of human ecology, he would know that two of Australia’s greatest scientists (Herbert Andrewartha and Charles Birch) showed over a half-century ago  that as populations increase, more and more individuals are forced to occupy marginal areas of lower food availability and higher environmental volatility. As environmental catastrophes occur (and they always do), it is exactly the most marginalised, poorest and most vulnerable individuals that cop it worst.
As our climate spirals out of control, our lands become more degraded and less productive, and as more and more people occupy the less-stable and least-productive regions of our planet, it is exactly the poor who will (and are currently) suffering the most from our run-away population growth. Hartley’s position is tantamount to condemning more and more people to misery, suffering and short lives.
Conservative big-corporation interests perpetually attack me (Ehrlich) about our idea that wealthy countries should give up some of their development to help poor people ; unfortunately, this has never happened. Instead of repeatedly babbling the lie that they are somehow working in the interests of the poor, perhaps big business should put its money where its mouth is.
Many Australians naïvely think (thanks to people like Hartwich and Oxley) that we live in a sheltered box away from the mounting problems of the world. At the time The Population Bomb was printed, the Earth contained about 3.5 billion people, approximately 500,000 million of whom were malnourished and hungry. Now our nearly 7 billion-strong world population has about one billion hungry people (remember too that from the perspective of a country’s carrying capacity, absolute numbers, not proportions, matter). What, dear reader, do you think will happen as the world’s ever-increasing poor and hungry attempt to flee their misery for the greener pastures of countries like Australia? If you believe we have ethically thorny immigration and refugee issues now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Yes, indeed – nature is much more than the cute and cuddly; it includes us in all our glory and faults. Misguided and unbridled development and consumption driven by a burgeoning human population and big business hurts us as much as the “cute polar bears, cuddly koalas and clumsy penguins” (it’s hard to believe, but yes, Hartwich actually wrote that).
Hartwich, the Centre for Independent Studies and other right-wing thoughtless-tanks are working hard to guarantee your children and grandchildren will suffer. We cannot let these (insanely wealthy) people dictate our future. We should all be extremely worried too that one of our major newspapers promulgates such dangerous rubbish without even giving us the courtesy of response: The Australian - this country’s own little ridiculous slice of Faux News.
i I (Bradshaw) have always been stunned of this newspaper’s audacity to call itself ‘THE Australian’, as if it somehow represented Australia and Australians. Rupert Murdoch does not represent me, or anyone I know, for that matter.
ii We love this one in particular. We’ve both written about the Gaia theory [8,9] independently, and we know that Hartwich would not have done his research about our respective positions on the scientific underpinnings of Lovelock’s work.
1. Lovelock JE (1965) A physical basis for life detection experiments. Nature 20: 568-570.
2. Lovelock JE (1972) Gaia as seen through the atmosphere. Atmospheric Environment 6: 579-580.
3. Lovelock JE, Margulis L (1974) Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere – the Gaia hypothesis. Tellus 26: 2-10.
4. Lovelock J (2006) The Revenge of Gaia. London: Penguin Books.
5. Lovelock J (2009) The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. New York, NY: Basic Books.
6. Andrewartha HG, Birch LC (1954) The Distribution and Abundance of Animals. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
7. Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH, Holdren JP (1977) Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
8. Ehrlich P (1991) Coevolution and its applicability to the Gaia hypothesis. In: Schneider SH, Boston PE, eds. Scientists on Gaia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 19-22
9. Bradshaw CJA, Brook BW (2009) The Cronus hypothesis – extinction as a necessary and dynamic balance to evolutionary diversification. Journal of Cosmology 2: 221-229