Around the Campfire with Uncle Dave Foreman – Population or Affluence?

In our last gathering about the campfire, I looked at how Technology plays in raising carrying capacity, thereby raising Population and Affluence, and shooting up Mankind’s Impact on wild things.  As I kindle this campfire, I’d like to weigh in on the never-ending squabble over which is heavier in making Impact: Population or Affluence?  As with the last campfire, this one is taken from my in-press book, Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife. Shameless huckstering, I know, but I want you to read Man Swarm.

The Ecological Footprint

Among those who work to cut Impact, there has long been a split between those who think the key is to freeze and then lower Population and those who think we need to cut back on wastefulness and highlife (Affluence) among the better-off.  This is the clash we population-worried conservationists and environmentalists have with our conservation and environmental kith.  In many ways, this cleavage shows the Weltanschauung of those taking either side, and often seems like an “Is so/Is not” kids’ squabble.  Forsooth, it isn’t an either/or, but a both/and, as David Brower liked to say.  We need to freeze and cut both Population and gobble-gobble consumption.  However, in this Around the Campfire I want to show that without lowering population, cutting back on the highlife can’t do the job.

A rather new and deft way to frame Impact is by means of one’s Ecological Footprint.  It has the same narrowness and weakness as carrying capacity in that it weighs only our Impact on Earth’s wherewithal to support Man in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.  In From Big to Bigger, a report for Progressives for Immigration Reform, Leon Kolankiewicz puts it this way:

The Ecological Footprint is a measure of aggregate human demands, or the human load, imposed on the biosphere, or “ecosphere.”  When all is said and done, the human economy, all production and consumption of goods and services, depends entirely on the Earth’s natural capital—on arable soils, forests, croplands, pasturelands, fishing grounds, clean waters and air, the atmosphere, ozone layer, climate, fossil fuels, and minerals—to perform the ecological services and provide the materials and energy “sources” and waste “sinks” that sustain civilization.

So, as an environmental reckoning, the Ecological Footprint is good.  But for weighing how we wound other Earthlings, it falls short.

Click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”



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