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11.7.07

Population

William Moseley says that it's overconsumption, not overpopulation, that's the main culprit behind environmental degradation. I more or less agree with him, but I have three concerns about the article.

1. Moseley refers to the popular I=PAT theory -- environmental Impact is the result of Population, Affluence, and Technology. For I=PAT to make sense, the T has to encompass "social technologies" like institutional arrangements (e.g. the tragedy of the commons) and access to one resource rather than another (e.g. poor people degrading their resources because they've been shut out of other options to make ends meet). But this point is not often brought out, leading T to be interpreted in the sense of "stuff that comes out of an R&D department."

2. Moseley ends his article by saying "It's time population control came off the top of the environmental agenda." As far as I can tell, population control is nowhere near the top of the modern environmental agenda. The key issues of environmentalists today all fall under A or T -- organic and local agriculture, more efficient or sparing use of fossil fuels, clean energy, etc. The drivers behind increased use of contraceptives in the third world are feminists, and their motivations put population control a distant second to women's rights.

3. Obviously Moseley had no control over the illustration they chose for his article, but it's still obectionable -- a fat face staring out of a map of the US. While I admit to using the fat = overconsumption visual device in cartoons in the past, I think it's one that should be retired. It perpetuates the idea that fatness is about irresponsible overindulgence, gobbling up food without self-control. This ideology leads to prejudice against and blame of fat people.

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