LTT Opinion: Social Media As New Front In Conflict on Climate?

The above video is an example of effective viral marketing, in which a short, well-made video spreads on a variety of social media platforms. I’ve seen this on Facebook and Twitter repeatedly in the past two days. With clever graphics and succinct narration, its ideas are easy to digest (to paraphrase: “people have been predicting that overpopulation would lead to humanity’s demise since that nutjob Malthus in 1798. Conspiracies about a Malthusian Catastrophe have found new crazy sponsors in every generation, and they always prove wrong…ergo, it’s gotta be hogwash!”). But who is behind the video? Do these ideas gel with scientific consensus? Is social media the new front in the war on climate change? Does any of this matter? Did I lose you at “Malthusian?”

Who is behind the video?

The video comes from the Population Research Institute, a VA-based non-profit organization that, according to its site, is dedicated to “presenting the truth about population-related issues.” PRI argues against the notion that human overpopulation is occurring. It’s useful to contextualize the argument presented in the video, but a few layers of the onion need to be peeled back to reveal the specific agenda- PRI is a “pro-life” organization, largely funded by The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Inc., which some liberal watchdog groups refer to as one of the country’s “largest and most influential right-wing foundations.” It’s a dangerous game- mixing a political and moral debate (the sanctity of life vs. woman’s right to choose) to construct a scientific argument (“don’t believe what you hear that overpopulation is biggest threat to the environment”).

What does scientists say?

Do these ideas about population growth gel with scientific consensus? A report by the United Nations suggests that world population will reach 11 billion by 2050. The U.S.’s population is expected to rise from 305 million (2008) to around 440 million by 2050, which will make fielding a kick-ass Olympic team easier, but we may have to start paving our open spaces (first dibs on Yellowstone). Global life expectancy, which is estimated to have risen from 46 years in 1950-1955 to 65 years in 2000-2005, is expected to keep rising to reach 75 years in 2045-2050. In the more developed regions, the projected increase is from 75 years today to 82 years by mid-century. Scientific estimates put the carrying capacity of the Earth- that is, the level at which we can achieve a sustainable economy and divert disasters- at around two billion people.

In a study titled Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy, David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the US National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), estimate the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 200 million. The World Wildlife Fund’s “Living Planet” report suggested we’re consuming three times more of the Earth’s resources than we’re able to regenerate. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year research effort by 1,360 of the world’s leading scientists commissioned to measure the actual value of natural resources to humans and the world, “The structure of the world’s ecosystems changed more rapidly in the second half of the twentieth century than at any time in recorded human history, and virtually all of Earth’s ecosystems have now been significantly transformed through human actions.”

I could continue, but I think it’s fair to say that a scientific consensus exists- that, though technological optimists might be right that we can continue to develop new ways of increasing food production to sustain a larger population, the Earth’s resources are being stretched perilously thin.

Social Media as new battleground?

Is social media the new front in the war on climate change? Definitely. It’s the most effective way to broadcast your views, and, studies have shown, people trust Facebook and Twitter as a source of real and relevant information. The video is a smokescreen for the debate between Pro Lifers and Pro Choicers. That debate, of course, is fraught with landmines – you either believe life begins at conception or you don’t- which make the two sides irreconcilable. That’s why introducing such a moral component to a Pro Life audience about Population/Climate Change efforts is fiendishly brilliant- and unhelpful.

Does any of this matter? Arguing against the ‘myth of overpopulation’ is like arguing against next Tuesday arriving after next Monday. It’s going to happen- many would argue it has happened- and so those of us interested in green innovation should be hard at work. You know, just in case thousands of the world’s leading scientists end up being right.

  • Tags: Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, Conversation on Conservation, Environment & Religion, Facts & Figures, Have you checked out...?, LTT Opinion
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