False Hope (or, how the Green movement will insure the collapse of civilization)
A man walks down the street one night and as he passes under a street lamp he sees a person
crawling around looking for something. After inquiring, and learning that the person has lost his car
keys, he gets down on his hands and knees and begins to help. A moment later another person walks
by and joins the search, and then another.
After many minutes with no success finding the missing keys, the first mans asks the person who lost
the keys if they might have a better idea of exactly where the keys were lost. Well yeah, the person
responds, I lost them down at the end of the block but there's no street light down there and it's too
dark to see.
You've probably heard this little story before. It is commonly used to illustrate the tendency of many people
to "take the easy way out" when faced with a difficult problem. Many people choose to search for an answer
in the light, even when they know the solution lies in the dark.
Today mankind faces the most difficult problems that we have ever faced, and unfortunately, we are
approaching these problems exactly like the person who lost his keys. Like the person under the street light
who clearly understands his problem (his keys are lost), mankind also clearly understands the problems we
are facing. We know that we are consuming the resources of our planet at an unsustainable rate. Left
unabated, this overconsumption will eventually result in climate disruption, resource depletion (or
exhaustion), food shortages, conflict, and ultimately the collapse of our civilization.
Every thoughtful person who understands what is happening knows that we need to make substantial
changes in order to avoid these catastrophic consequences. We know we have serious problems. We know
we have to find solutions.
And so, we have the Green movement. We are implored to use cloth grocery bags, drive hybrid cars, install
florescent lights, build windmills, and on and on. We are told that these changes to our behavior will not only
solve the problem, but will lead to energy independence and even prosperity - a true win-win solution to this
But in fact, the Green approach is exactly like the person who lost his keys - it is looking for the answer in
the light when the solution can only be found in the dark.
Of course, we like looking for the solution in the light, it's easier and it makes us feel good. It makes great
gobs of money for those who promote it. And it allows us to ignore the real problem - it allows us to avoid the
"dark" - because we make ourselves believe that we are all working hard on a win-win Green solution that will
solve all of our problems.
And perhaps the most insidious aspect of the story of the lost keys is that not only is the person who lost
the keys looking in the wrong place, but that person has also gotten several concerned onlookers to give up
their time and efforts to help look in the wrong place. These people are resources that could have been
deployed to work on the real solution, but now are being wasted because they were misinformed by the
person who had defined the problem to them.
And again, this is exactly what is happening with the Green movement. We are being told by important
people - politicians, environmental groups, scientists, etc. - that we only need to look under the light to find
the solution. So now, hundreds of millions of people are going "Green", crawling around under the street
light, convinced that they are helping to find the keys to solving our overwhelming problems.
But the dark reality is this - changing our consumption habits cannot, by itself, solve the problem. Both the
United States and the world will increase in population by fifty percent over the next fifty years.
Consequently, demand for everything will increase by a minimum of fifty percent. Understand this clearly -
we will need fifty percent more food, fifty percent more fuel, water, clothing, shoes, and on and on. We will
produce fifty percent more pollutants, sewage, greenhouse gasses and on and on and on. No reasonable
amount of "Green" behavior changes could possibly compensate for this tsunami of demand generated by
population growth. Just do the math. It's not possible.
So you see, the real solution can only be found in the "dark" - in the dark and forbidden topic of population
management. But because the Green movement has encased those people who are forward thinking,
thoughtful, and willing to help, in a cocoon of false hope, mankind optimistically heads to the abyss,
unknowing or unwilling to face the dark choices that could actually save us.
Hope and false hope; a systems view
It is virtually impossible to isolate the concept of "hope" from the human condition. Hope is required to keep
us going. It connects us from the present to the future, and without it we are lost, depressed, directionless.
And because it is so essential to our well being, it can be easily exploited by those with an agenda that is
outside of our personal lives. Think of the lottery.
Though, many lottery players would say that even the false hope of winning the lottery makes them feel good
for a time. For only a few bucks they can buy a three day fantasy. Who are we to deny them that
experience? The same could be said of the false hope many cancer victims create for themselves. While it
may not be reality, it does more good than harm for them.
Hope is a good thing, and sometimes false hope is too. But when false hope negatively impacts those
people around it, it needs to be called out. Think of the lottery again. If the person buying the tickets goes
too far, spends too much, or begins to gamble in a way that impacts his/her family, someone from that
family needs to stand up and help put a stop to it. The gambler's false hope is now doing more harm than
From a systems view, those people who are negatively impacted by the actions resulting from the faulty
belief (the false hope) are considered to be a part of that system. Therefore, they are the ones who must
take action. The rest of us, outside of their "system", are not affected, so we can stand aside.
Another example: many Christians believe that they will be moving on to a glorious heaven when they die.
This grand hope in a miraculous future keeps them happy in a day-to-day existence that may not be quite as
promising. Many non-believers see that as false hope - i.e., "it ain't gonna happen". But since the
non-believers are outside of that system (Christianity), they can stand aside and let those with the false hope
continue to believe - because it causes no serious problems for them.
But this is different. The system for the looming planetary catastrophes we are now facing includes all of
us.There is no outside to go to. This false hope in a Green solution will end in disaster for all of us. Please
understand that we are all in this together - this fact alone makes this a completely unique problem. And
because of that fact, the false hope that is now being foisted upon us by the Green movement must be
called out. Let's do that now.
The Grand High Priests of false hope - and perhaps the most dangerous men on Earth
While there are many priests in the Green movement, for now I'll identify three men as the grandest priests of
all: Al Gore, Lester Brown and Fred Pearce. Fred Pearce is included only because of his recent book that
somehow received wide publicity. The other two are obvious choices.
What they all have in common is their complete disregard of population growth as both a primary driver of our
problems, and as a primary obstacle to finding solutions to our problems. This disregard is shameful at best,
and if it were up to me, it would be criminal.
First let me lay out the undisputable facts of population growth. Here are the most recent mid-level
projections for world population in the year 2050 from the world's three most respected sources:
United Nations 9.15 billion (and still growing after 2050)
United States Census Bureau 9.28 billion (and still growing after 2050)
Population Reference Bureau 9.48 billion (and still growing after 2050)
Three things are to be noted here for future reference in this essay: the population in 2050 will be well above
9 billion, the population in 2050 will still be growing by a substantial number for many years after 2050, and
in most cases these population numbers have been revised upward over time. (Also note: I think these
numbers are actually understated. You may read my essay that questions the assumptions in the U. N.
Grand High Priest Al Gore
This is hard. Al Gore is a hero to many, including me. But, just as in many family situations where it is
possible to love and respect someone and yet have a responsibility to call them out when their behavior
impacts others in a negative way, Mr. Gore's deliberate avoidance of presenting overpopulation as the main
driver of our problems to his massive following obscures the reality of our critical situation for his millions of
Mr. Gore is of course, first and foremost a politician. So he knows how to avoid errors of "commission", and
he knows how to mislead by simply committing errors of "omission" (the other two high priests are not that
In his books and his canned slide shows, he simply avoids any mention of population at all. But when
pressed in an informal setting a few years ago - on the David Letterman show - he did deliberately mislead
Letterman's audience of tens of millions. Letterman, a man who is surprisingly well informed and thoughtful
on this issue of mankind's future, asked Gore if in fact the main cause of our problems was overpopulation,
and that the continued growth in population might make it impossible for Gore's solutions to work.
Mr. Gore responded by saying that big progress was being made in reducing population growth, and that
population would peak by mid-century at around 8 billion or so (please remember the figures for 2050
population stated above). He went so far as to say that reducing population growth rates was one of the great
success stories of the last century. Essentially, he very clearly indicated to Letterman's massive audience
that overpopulation and continued population growth is not something that anyone should worry about - as it
would soon be solved.
Think of the incredible impact that this one short exchange between Letterman and Gore had on the mass of
thoughtful people that were listening that night. These people don't have time to research the actual truth -
the actual figures - so they blindly accept what Mr. Gore has told them, and dismiss any other information
(in this case - the facts) that the small handful of population activists are trying desperately to get known.
Not only deceptive in the facts, Mr. Gore has now decided to carry that deception to our "attitudes". In his
latest slide show, he spends a large portion of the presentation simply stating and repeating how incredibly
optimistic he is in our ability to solve all of our dangerous problems. This is of course the politician speaking
- he wants to please, and what better way to please then to tell everyone that "everything is going to be all
right" - like telling your junkie son that there is no need to worry, you'll be just fine. This is, unfortunately,
false hope carried to the extreme.
Vice-Grand High Priest Lester Brown
For those of you who don't know Mr. Brown, he is the head of the Earth Policy Institute, and even more well
know as the author of the bestselling book series "Plan B x.0, mobilizing to save civilization". He is a well
known and well respected writer, speaker and thinker on global environmental issues.
His latest book - Plan B 4.0 - should be on everyone's must read list. In Part I of that book (the first three
chapters) he describes the challenges we face in a comprehensive and unflinching manner. No one can read
those chapters and not be scared to death by the implications. It is the best summary of what is going on in
our world right now available anywhere. Do yourself a favor and read it. Recommend it to everyone else you
Mr. Brown is not the politician that Mr. Gore is - so he is willing to propose specific Green solutions that can
be scrutinized (if one has the time) for accuracy. But like Mr. Gore, he essentially ignores the overpopulation
issue. He mentions the figures from the U.N. for the high, medium and low projections, then simply states
that we must "strive for the low one" - as if this was a buffet where we can choose the size of the piece of pie
that we want.
He goes on to praise (rightly so) the work of the Population Media Center, and extol again the need for better
education for women and more access to contraceptives - all worthy goals. But he never states or indicates
in any way that overpopulation is a primary driver, or the major obstacle for solving our problems. He does
not establish a target for world population or a plan (even though this book is called Plan B 4.0) for reducing
And like Mr. Gore, he chooses in at least one case, to misstate the facts in order lead us to thinking that the
population will be dropping soon and therefore implying that nothing needs to be done about it. He claims
that fertility in the U. S. has dropped to below replacement levels and that U.S. population will be declining
In fact, fertility in the U.S. is not dropping but has been climbing slowly but steadily since the mid-1970s (I'll
bet you didn't know that!) and is now roughly back at replacement levels. The U.S. census bureau projects
U.S. population in 2050 to be at 439 million with annual growth after that time actually accelerating. By 2050,
the U.S. will have added more people to the world than every other country except India - so much for the
myth that only poor countries are growing fast.
In his book "Plan B 4.0 - Mobilizing To Save Civilization" Mr. Brown devotes a grand total of 4 pages to
overpopulation and population growth - the biggest cause of our problems and the biggest obstacle to
achieving the goals he espouses, that of saving civilization.
He does, however, get very specific (unlike Mr. Gore) about how we can solve our problems without having to
deal with an ever increasing demand due to population growth. Simply summarized, his plan goes like this:
first, through extensive efforts at conservation and better energy management, we can possibly keep energy
demand flat over the next ten years (I'll give him that - it is possible) and then, in the same 10 years (2010 -
2020), we must deploy alternative energy sources with a "wartime" fury to the extent that it supplies more
than half of our energy needs.
Let's do the math on his alternative energy claim and see if that is even remotely possible. As he states in
his latest book: "At the heart of Plan B is a crash program to develop 3,000 gigawatts of wind generating
capacity by 2020". He goes on to say that it would require the installation of 1.5 million wind turbines of 2
megawatts each (at 3 million dollars per turbine) during the next 10 years. To do this he proposes doubling
the production and installation of wind turbines (from current levels) every 2 years until 2020.
So…yet another supposedly learned person falls under the umbrella of Albert Bartlett's famous claim that
"the greatest failing of the human race is its inability to understand the exponential function". Understand the
function please - the biggest problem with Mr. Brown's plan is that in the last two year period, an amount
equal to all ofthe world's previously installed wind turbines combined must be built and deployed. In this case
an astonishing 750,000 turbines at a cost of 2.25 trillion dollars! In 2 years! There is no conceivable way to
produce that many turbines or that kind of money in a 2 year period.
And if you could - what would happen next? After building up an industry as big as any other industry in the
world, what would happen to it? Would everybody be fired? But if it went on at just the same level for another
two years, it would cost another 2.25 trillion dollars. Talk about an economic disaster.
And because the wind turbine deployment is, as Mr. Brown explicitly indicates, the "heart" of his overall
plan, without its success the whole thing falls apart. Simply put, the plan is completely impossible. So once
again, one of the leaders that we listen to and trust the most fosters false hope in the extreme.
Assistant Grand High Priest Fred Pearce
What to say about Mr. Pearce…well, at least he doesn't ignore the topic of overpopulation and population
growth (as the other two High Priests have done). Instead, Mr. Pearce has decided to take it on directly by
claiming that it's not really happening!
He has recently published a book titled "The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet's Surprising Future",
where he claims that population will soon be decreasing and therefore our problems will go away. Normally
this brand of nonsense journalism doesn't deserve any serious attention, except that somehow Mr. Pearce's
publisher and agent were able to get massive publicity for this unfortunate effort. I personally watched Mr.
Pearce's appearances on CNN and the Jon Stewart Show.
It was interesting (and revealing) to note that neither Jon Stewart nor Christiane Amanpour (host of the CNN
show) were armed with even the most basic facts of world population growth, and so they never questioned
his preposterous assumptions. So once again, a TV audience of tens of millions was dramatically
misinformed about the facts.
Let me summarize the main points Mr. Pearce's book.
For the first third of the book, he goes through the history of population-growth activism, from Malthus to
Ehrlich. He basically labels each person in turn a "eugenicist" - i.e., implying that they were motivated by
eliminating racial, ethnic, or class groups and not by simply reducing population. His wrath even falls on
Margret Sanger (noted feminist and founder of Planned Parenthood) and Garret Hardin, famous for his iconic
essay "The Tragedy of the Commons". Of Hardin, revered by many, Mr. Pearce simply states "I find many of
his ideas abhorrent" (ideas including, I would add, "The Tragedy of the Commons").
He then travels the globe to interview a half-dozen or so women in exotic locals. Each (chosen specifically to
bolster his position to be sure) expresses that they will be having fewer children than the norm for their
country. From this comprehensive sample (of less then 10 women) he derives a trend - "women are having
fewer babies!" This is essentially his mantra in the book and in his TV appearances. "It's good news - women
are having fewer babies". He repeats this over and over.
Basic math is once again little understood by Mr. Pearce. Did you know, for instance, that you can have
steadily declining rates of growth while at the same time actual growth is accelerating? If you understand
this fact - good for you - Mr. Pearce clearly doesn't. So what if growth rates are declining - if the world
population continues to grow at 75 to 80 million people each year as it is now, we will continue to have a
looming catastrophe in our future. It is "actual" growth that counts - real people that consume real resources.
Growth rates don't consume anything.
He then trots out the oft-repeated "rapid population decline" in Europe as further proof that population growth
is no longer a problem. Once again, the facts tell a different story. According to the U.N.'s projections -
Europe's total population in 2000 was 726 million. Population projections for 2050 are 691 million - yielding a
drop of only 35 million. To put this in perspective, Brazil alone will grow by 44 million during the same time
frame - more than compensating for that minor decline.
That's what is in the book. But even more notable is what's not in the book. You would expect that
somewhere in a book titled "The Coming Population Crash" Mr. Pearce would provide a specific projection for
population decline - i.e., actual numbers of people by a certain year. Not so - Mr. Pearce never gives us any
actual projections. He never quantifies his fundamental claim that world population will crash in the near
future. He never says by how much or when this will happen - except - in one sentence near the end of the
On page 247 of my copy, Mr. Pearce states: "Wolfgang Lutz of the Vienna Institute of Demography sees a
peak as early as 2040, at closer to seven than eight billion, following (sic) by a strong downward slide to as
low as five billion by 2100". This is the one and only world population projection in Mr. Pearce's book. And it
is easy to see why he chose to use this projection (and to ignore the three prominent projections listed
above) as it seems to prove his point.
However, since Mr. Lutz is indeed a prominent and respected demographer, this projection stated by Mr.
Pearce seemed more than a little fishy to me. I contacted Mr. Lutz by email and asked him to comment on
Mr. Pearce's statement about Mr. Lutz's projections. Here is Mr. Lutz's response (via email dated
10/21/2010): "What Fred Pearce seems to be referring to is the lowest 5 percent fractile of the uncertainty
distribution. In other words, we see about a 5 percent chance that this statement is right and a 95 percent
chance that world population growth will be higher than that. I had clarified this in a message to Fred Pearce
some time ago. He now chose the somewhat ambivalent phrasing "WL ..sees .." which somehow implies to
the reader that I would see it as the most likely future path, which is clearly wrong."
Understand that Mr. Lutz's projections are slightly different than the U. N. projections in that they are
expressed as a continuum of probabilities as opposed to the three discreet (low, medium, and high)
projections of the U. N.
For example, here is a statement from a presentation given in 2007 by Mr. Lutz: "There is a more than a 10
percent chance that the world population in 2100 will be smaller than it is today and an equal chance it could
be more than 11 billion."
So, to make Mr. Lutz's projections an "apples to apples" comparison to the U. N. projections, one must take
the mid range of his probability continuum. That figure is, again quoting the 2007 presentation:
"The probability that world population will peak during this century has increased marginally. The period
during which the median of the projections reaches a peak (around 2070) and the level of this peak (around 9
billion people) remain virtually unchanged." (Note: he is referring here to his 2001 projections for the
Therefore, Mr. Lutz's mid-projection of 9 billion, peaking in 2070, is actually right in line with the three
projections stated earlier in this essay.
So let's look more closely at what Mr. Pearce has done here:
First, why has he ignored the readily available standard for population projections (the U.N.) along with the
other two sources mentioned above? Obviously, it is because they contradict his basic premise. They all
show continued massive population growth through 2050 with continued growth for some period thereafter.
Then why did he choose to use a projection from Mr. Lutz? I can only speculate, but it seems likely that he
chose a more obscure source so as to make it difficult for others to refute. After all, he could have chosen to
misrepresent the U. N. projections just as easily as he misrepresented Mr. Lutz's projections. Except that
many more people would realize his misrepresentation because of their familiarity with the U. N. numbers.
It also seems that he had heard from Mr. Lutz about his misrepresentation before the publication of his book
and yet chose to go ahead anyway. This makes it clear that Mr. Pearce cannot claim he made a "mistake"
in reading Mr. Lutz's projections. Though it seems highly unlikely he could have made a mistake like that
anyway, as he is certainly familiar with all of the other projections that show the 9 billion plus projection for
You can draw your own conclusions as to Mr. Pearce's actions and his motivations - though they seem clear
So now the handful of people who have read this essay know the facts, but, unfortunately, the tens of
millions of people who watched Mr. Pearce on TV have been left with the belief that overpopulation and
population growth are not a problem. This is a tragedy. And I'm sure it will be compounded in the future as no
doubt, people like Mr. Gore and Mr. Brown will quote Mr. Pearce's book often to make the same inaccurate
The Greater Good
Leaving Mr. Pearce aside, can't we at least forgive the other two because they are still doing great things
with their exceptional efforts to curb consumption? If avoiding the toxic topic of population is necessary for
them to continue to do a greater good, then isn't it excusable? I say no. The faulty premise in that argument
is that they"must avoid the toxic topic" in order to do good.
They have the stage, they are the voices of change, they have massive audiences, and people trust them.
For them to deceive us into thinking that we can sustain upwards of 9 billion people on this planet for the
bulk of this coming century is dangerous in the extreme. It can't be done. And of course, the dirty little
secret, the secret that virtually the entire well-informed and thoughtful activists in this sustainability arena all
suspect - is that Mr. Brown and Mr. Gore most likely know the truth. They have just made the difficult choice
of ignoring overpopulation because they fear the consequences to them if they began to speak about it
And of course, I can see that that choice is a judgment call. They may be right. But in closing, let me say
that not every prominent and influential person in this arena is afraid of raising the toxic issue of
overpopulation. Here are some excerpts from a story in The Times London online, May 24th 2009.
"Some of America's leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow
the growth of the world's population and speed up improvements in health and education.
The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder,
discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.
Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America's
wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New
York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.
Another guest said there was "nothing as crude as a vote" but a consensus emerged that they would back a
strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and
"This (overpopulation) is something so nightmarish that everyone in this group agreed it needs big-brain
answers," said the guest. "They need to be independent of government agencies, which are unable to head
off the disaster we all see looming.""
A strong statement, considering the group - Mr. Gore and Mr. Brown should, at a minimum, take note of the
Good Club's courage.
If you are right, and the problem is overpopulation, then what can we do?
The real challenge for population activists comes after convincing the listener that overpopulation is in fact
the main driver of our looming disasters. So what, the listener asks, what can you possibly do about it? And
I will admit that mostly the answers have not been good. But let me try anyway, and in the spirit of Mr.
Brown's plan, call this Plan P 1.0. The four points of the plan:
Point1: Stop the artificial "either/or" debate between population activists and environmental activists.
Common sense says we have to do both. The looming disasters we all face can only be averted by a radical
reduction of consumption to sustainable levels. Without returning to the Stone Age, sustainable levels of
consumption simply can not be accomplished with an on-going population of over 9 billion. We must go
Green aggressively and we must get smaller quickly. This could not be more obvious.
Point 2: The High Priests need to visit the Wizard of Oz and ask for some courage. Mr. Gore, Mr. Brown,
and the all other Priests-with-portfolio need to begin to speak openly and accurately about the role of
overpopulation and continued population growth. In the long run, nothing good can come from their continued
misrepresentation of our challenges to the large following of people who trust them.
Point 3: In the spirit of Mr. Brown's passionate plea for a "wartime mobilization" of alternative energy, we
could use a "wartime mobilization" increase in funding to the handful of organizations that are already trying
hard to reduce population growth around the world. Increasing the contributions to these organizations by a
factor of ten, would be a simple and painless way for the people of the "Good Club", and other wealthy Green
activists to make a difference in population growth. See groups like The Population Media Center, World
Population Balance, and The Population Connection to learn what they are doing and to contribute to their
efforts. One way - immediately divert just one windmill's purchase price to these important organizations.
Over the long run, three million dollars in their hands will reduce global carbon footprints by
orders-of-magnitude more times than just one windmill.
Point 4: Now, for the hard part - the real taboo topic - and that is the discussion and exploration of one-child
policies. But before your mind slams shut on the idea of one-child policies, based on whatever
pre-conception you have, give me one or two more sentences to explain. First, one-child-policies do not
necessarily mean "coercion". Policies can include a range from simple promotion and support of
volunteerism, to changing tax codes to stop giving tax benefits for having more children, to outright financial
disincentives for having more than one child.
More importantly, there are likely other innovative, acceptable and yet unexplored ideas that could
significantly reduce fertility levels. But the problem in the here and now, is that there is no place for exploring
these ideas. The missing piece, in getting to a point where even a discussion of the possible approaches
can happen, is that there is no organization that champions the cause. There is no governmental agency,
and there is no NGO (non-governmental organization) that supports exploring and promoting the one-child
So - regarding point 4 - I believe that before anything significant can begin, someone somewhere needs to
start a one-child NGO. (I've written a more extensive essay on this specific topic, read it here). Please open
your mind to this possibility.
I suggest to you that these four points answer the question "What can be done?" in a practical, doable, and
yet effective manner. It is at least a starting point.
Contrary to the positive enthusiasm of Mr. Gore, and the so-called workable solution of Mr. Brown, and the
outright denial of Mr. Pearce, the reality is that we, all of us, are now in very dangerous territory. We need to
replace the false hope that these leaders use to promote their personal agendas with straight talk about our
challenges and choices. Only then will mankind shake off its apathy and its comfortable belief that eventually
everything will be just fine. Only when this false hope is crushed, will we finally face the difficult choices that
we have to make.
As Derrick Jensen, in his beautiful and insightful essay "Beyond Hope" writes:
"When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we're in will
somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally
free - truly free - to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins."
I hope he's right.
How the Green movment will ensure the collapse of civilization
Copyright "The Population Elephant" and Kurt Dahl 2009, 2010- All rights reserved.
You may contact The Population Elephant at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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