Endarkenment, overpopulation, and global civilization collapse

In Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided? Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich discuss overpopulation, in relation to anti-enlightenment religion, as a driver of future global civilization collapse.

... many scientists still tend to treat population growth as an exogenous variable, when it should be considered an endogenous one - indeed, a central factor ...

Too many studies asking ‘how can we possibly feed 9.6 billion people by 2050?’ should also be asking ‘how can we humanely lower birth rates far enough to reduce that number to 8.6’ To our minds, the fundamental cure, reducing the scale of the human enterprise (including the size of the population) to keep its aggregate consumption within the carrying capacity of Earth [121] is obvious but too much neglected or denied.

There are great social and psychological barriers in growthmanic cultures to even considering it. This is especially true because of the ‘endarkenment’ - a rapidly growing movement toward religious orthodoxies that reject enlightenment values such as freedom of thought, democracy, separation of church and state, and basing beliefs and actions on empirical evidence. [emphasis mine]

I've often been disturbed by scientific studies which take continued overpopulation for granted when discussing strategies to avoid Climate Destabilization. By ignoring the controversial issue of overpopulation, serious scientists are complicit in the climate denial framing established by religious orthodoxies' worldviews. Researchers each seem to focus on one small piece of the interlocking complex systems mentioned by the Ehrlichs, which are moving toward global civilization collapse, as if trying to study just one variable, holding all others constant. While this approach to carving out manageable domains for research has validity, the collective effect is failure to cope with the scale of our problem. The collective effect is to yield control of the narrative.

This image by Chet Zar captures "the endarkenment" for me.

Tags: endarkenment, global civilization collapse, overpopulation

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This is the same Paul Ehrlich who predicted billions of deaths from famine in the 1970s

This is the same Paul Ehrlich who predicted the demise of India (and suggested we let it sink rather than spend any effort on the futile act of trying to save it).

This is the same Paul Ehrlich who predicted the UK would be a small group of impoverished islands in 2000.

0 for 3, that's the same record that Harold Camping has.

So you will pardon me if I don't go running around with my hair on fire every time this individual says something.

Admittedly at least Ehrlich's predictions contain no "woo" and thus metaphysically could come true.  And this time he is wisely shoving the prediction off 37 years into the future so he won't have to listen to people laughing their asses off at him if it doesn't come true.

just don't hoard shit.. 
live w/o theocracy
learn a bit more than the past has.. ?

These are very important issues and I'm so glad to see you educating others on these issues. I am going to the article link now.

Nukes would leave an awful mess to live with

Very interesting post Ricketts

Over population strains the limits of the carrying capacity of the planet.  The growing demands on available resources - arable land, fresh water, energy and the ocean's resources will challenge all societies.  Third world countries and failed states are the canaries in the coal mine.

If the current annual growth rate of 1.4% stays the same it means a population doubling time of 50 years so by 2062 the world population will double to 14 billion people.  If we fail to recognize the consequences of exponential growth we're screwed.  Mama Nature does have a cure for this - massive die offs of the offending species.  On the bright side, the survivors will have a bunch of stuff,  more than enough resources and niches to fill. 

Overpopulation anxiety was popularized by Reverend Thomas Malthus around 1800 or so. This was back when the world had roughly 1 billion people. I imagine if you would have asked Malthus if the world could sustain 2 billion people, he would have laughed hysterically. But since then, population has “exploded” along with overall prosperity.


I do believe there is a finite limit to some resources, but not to human innovation. As some resources become more scarce, others will take their place. This does not mean that standards of living will necessarily always improve along the same trajectory (though increased prosperity has been the trend as food, healthcare, technology, industrialization, and energy have generally become more abundant to more people, not less so as time progresses). But it’s a fact that many people lead longer, more affluent lives than ever before, which I attribute to both a population increase as well as the philosophical transition from religious tyrannies to more inclusive societies which promote and support individual rights and freedoms. Producing more people means more innovators, more laborers, more goods. This, in general, is a good thing as long as production outstrips consumption – which it certainly has since Malthus.


One of Ehrlich’s greatest fears is freshwater (or groundwater), which in some areas will certainly see greater scarcity as populations rise – especially during times of drought. However, as the technologies for reverse osmosis desalination improve, this will drive conversion costs down, bringing potable water to more people in more areas than ever before. But those in areas with high freshwater abundance will certainly pay a smaller fraction of their income for water than people who live in region with a relative freshwater dearth. That’s just basic supply and demand economics.


We have now the ability to adapt and transform our environment as never before, making the collapse of our civilization due to overpopulation and resource scarcity a vastly different prospect than those of the “Classic Maya” which Ehrlich sees as analogous. I think we are more likely to collapse due to the debasement of our currency and overabundance of government interference – more akin to ancient Rome and the U.S.S.R. than to the extinct Mayans. Regardless, I don’t see global civilization collapsing due to overpopulation, for this alarm has been ringing for at least two centuries now and has yet to manifest anything more than greater prosperity.

So you don't see endarkment in the future?

I too see that humans will prevail given an asteroid doesn;t destroy them

L'intelligence ne se mesure pas des pieds à la tête, mais de la tête au ciel.

Napoleon Bonaparte


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