This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Most of the major news media covered the death yesterday of Barry Commoner at age 95. He was one of the early gurus of the global environmental movement, helping it to gain traction in the 1960s and 70s. He was a supporter of the First Earth Day in 1970 and that year Time magazine put him on its cover. At the same time, he was out of step with many people because, like so many Marxists, he did not accept the idea that population growth was very important when it came to the environment. Daniel Lewis, writing in the New York Times has a good summary of the story:
Dr. Commoner took aim at the “neo-Malthusians,” as he called those who, like the English scholar Thomas Malthus, foresaw perils in population growth. In a panel discussion with Dr. Ehrlich in 1970, he said it was “a cop-out of the worst kind” to say that “none of our pollution problems can be solved without getting at population first.”
He elaborated in his best-known book, “The Closing Circle,” published the next year. Reducing population, Dr. Commoner wrote, was “equivalent to attempting to save a leaking ship by lightening the load and forcing passengers overboard.”
“One is constrained to ask if there isn’t something radically wrong with the ship.”
This kind of resistance to seeing the whole picture of the world was uncommon for Commoner, whom everyone praised as an excellent scientist. So, despite his turning a blind eye to what, in my opinion, is the single biggest issue the world faces, Commoner's environmental legacy is nonetheless extremely important. He is perhaps best known for his four informal rules of ecology: (1) everything is connected to everything else; (2) everything must go somewhere; (3) nature knows best; and (4) my personal favorite, with just a bit of editing that others have provided--there ain't no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTFL).

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