Solutions -- Eric R. Pianka


© Eric R. Pianka

"We can no longer say that families should have as many children as they can afford, that all couples have a right to as many children as they wish. We cannot now, as a people, continue to extol a way of life which . . . will ultimately turn the earth from a habitable place into a grim, over-crowded prison where individuals will survive only by stepping over the bodies of those struck down by hunger and despair. In the past, little could be done to avert disaster. The new element ... is the possibility of choice.... Above all we must recognize that the time to limit the size of our families is now, that the living must take precedence over the unborn now if future generations are to be born into a livable world." -- Margaret Mead (1963)

"The mother of the year should be a sterilized woman with two adopted children." -- Paul Ehrlich

Half a century ago, Margeret Mead (1963) warned Americans to limit family size. Sadly, her sanguine advice was ignored and now the situation has become quite dire. Since we humans seem incapable of confronting our own overpopulation, here's a short list of unacceptable things that could (and ultimately something must/will): War, Famine, Plague, and/or spin offs of climate change including Global Warming.

Conquest out in front, then War, Famine, with Death bringing up the rear. If humans don't go out in a blaze of nuclear holocaust, or starve in a massive famine, death by a lethal pandemic seems another likely prospect.

Despite the fact that some powerful leaders talk about "The Logic of War", it is insane and completely unacceptable. Famine is just around the corner because food production can't keep up with population growth and food supplies are precariously low. Climate change is causing crop failures. Plagues are inevitable because humans are a perfect epidemiological substrate due to our sociality, high density and mobility, and the rapid evolution of microbes.

Changes Needed

Are we going to be so stupid that we destroy this wonderful spaceship? Or, can we think, care, and try to control our own destiny? This is going to require controlling our instincts.

The future is coming up on us very fast and
it casts a long shadow back on the present.

Are we going to plan our future or just let it happen? An interesting glimpse of what could happen if we fail to take action is provided by Oreskes and Conway (2014). If we continue to muddle along on our current suicidal path, our future will be quite grim, indeed. But if we decide that such a dismal future is unacceptable, we can step up to the plate now and collectively choose to be proactive. We must reduce our population. By reducing our numbers, the average quality of life for each person can be improved. We owe it to our grandchildren and descendants (our "afterlives") to take better care of our spaceship. First, and foremost, people must get out of denial and face the facts: Earth simply cannot support 7.2 billion people: The population growth of humanity has been likened to a giant battleship with tremendous inertia and momentum -- it will be exceedingly difficult to turn population growth around but we must do our utmost and try as best we can.

The Global Footprint Network hosts a website that attempts to show the reality of planetary limits here:

314 million Americans constitute only about 4.4% of the world population, yet we are using 40% of the planet's resources. Only Saudi Arabians use more but there are many fewer of them. It all starts and ends with us, profligate spoiled Americans. Many things need to be changed, so many that it's difficult to know where to start, but here's a short list of a few ideas that must be considered. Some of these will seem draconian and overly harsh to many, but all have merit.

Government: Corporocracy is unacceptable, let's insist we have a real democracy.

Judicial: Set age limits on Supreme Court Judges (more turnover is needed). Absurd decisions of the Supreme Court must be overturned.

Lobbyists: Abolish all of them -- make it illegal to lobby with stiff fines on both parties.

Politicians. Set term limits to put an end to professional long-term lifetime politicians. These people must be forced to become more responsive to opinions of average citizens. Executive and political privileges must be eliminated. Politicians should not enjoy all the special perks they have given themselves -- they should have the same health insurance as the rest of us and should ride in tourist class alongside us in airplanes. Their bank accounts should be open on the ethernet in the public domain where they can be examined by their constituents. Both parties to any bribes must be prosecuted.

Partisan politics. Stop the stalemate and communicate, both in Congress and in the public at large. Long standing controversial issues such as the pending impasses on abortion rights, same sex marriage, immigration, and minimum wage must be resolved.

Corporations and CEOs. Corporations control politicians, who pass legislation that allows tax evasion and assures obscene corporate profits. They may well also control judges. Despite our Supreme Court's decisions, corporations are NOT people and they do not have religions. The Court's absurd ruling that corporations are "people" gave them unlimited power to buy politicians. Corporations cannot be abolished because we can't live without them, but corporate privileges must be regulated, limited and restricted. Corporate executives are paid obscene salaries and are not personally liable for activities they oversee. Obscene CEO salaries must become a thing of the past and CEOs must be held liable and should pay exorbitant taxes. Corporations should not be allowed to evade taxes by moving offshore or changing their "nationality". Corruption in corporations must no longer be allowed -- we cannot allow them to continue to own our judges and politicians.

Economics. Convert to a sustainable Equilibrium Economy (Daly 1991; Daly et al. 1992; Daly 1997) Swiss bank accounts must no longer be "secret".

Monetary policy. The Fed works with congress to set interest rates, control inflation and to prevent economic market bubbles, but their goal of continued growth needs to be revised to aim for a sustainable worldview. Regulating monetary policy can be a tricky business. Inflation can be held down by limiting money supplies and holding interest rates low, but these can also lead to economic stagnation.

Runaway Greed. Set an upper limit on income so that nobody can become obscenely wealthy. Taxes should increase rapidly with income, levelling off at 99%. One practice that contributes to or even drives much economic growth is usury: we should seriously consider limiting or even abolishing interest.

Growth. Both economic growth and population growth must be stopped, because they are unsustainable (Daly 1997; Douthwaite 1999; Nadeau 2008). This includes corporations as well as Wall Street, the stock market, big banks and insurance companies (Meadows et al. 2004).

Family Planning. Condoms, birth control pills and IUDs, as well as vasectomies and tubal ligations will be freely available paid for by an enlightened government.

Taxes. Our tax laws need to be overhauled and our economic system must be changed radically. Loopholes must be eliminated. Impose a taxation scheme on vehicles, graduated by size and fuel efficiency. Combined with high fuel prices, such taxes would eliminate big fuel guzzling vehicles. This would conserve diminishing fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Escalating Child Tax. Instead of getting a deduction for each dependent, we should tax
people for having children. Taxes on the first child would be moderate, but they would escalate rapidly so that nobody could afford to have very many children. This would reduce population growth and discourage irresponsible parenthood. Unwanted children and juvenile delinquency would diminish.

Pollution. All polluters should pay penalty taxes for polluting the commons (Pearce et al. 1999; Gore 2006; Oreskes and Conway 2014). A hefty carbon tax is needed to discourage production of carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon "credits" are a joke -- they accomplish nothing and should be abolished.

Energy. Convert to renewable green energy, make solar water heaters mandatory. Stop all fracking and methane mining immediately (Colburn et al. 2011). Stop construction on the Keystone pipeline and abandon the idea. Invest diminishing fossil fuel energy in infrastructure such as rail, gravity batteries, wind turbines, and solar power.

Religion. Church and state must be separate and religions must be kept in check. Rescind tax exempt status for churches and fake "think tanks" like the Discovery Institute (Goodrick-Clarke 1985).

Climate change. This is by far the most difficult challenge because no real solutions exist. However, reduced energy consumption and switching over to green energy as well as reducing carbon and methane emissions will alleviate our assault on the atmosphere.


Colburn, T., C. Kwiatkowski, K. Schultz and M. Bachran 2011. Natural gas operations from a public health perspective. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal 17(5): 1039-1056.

Daly, H. E. 1991. Steady-State Economics. Washington, D. C., Island Press.

Daly, H. E. 1997. Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development, Beacon Press.

Daly, H. E. and K. N. Townsend, Eds. 1992. Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics, MIT Press.

Goodrick-Clarke, N. 1985. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology, NYU Press.

Gore, A. (2006). An inconvenient truth.

Hansen J, Nazarenko l, Ruedy R, Sato M, Willis J, del Genio A, Koch D, Lacis A, Lo K, Menon S, Novakov T, Perlwitz J, Russell G, Schmidt G A and T. N. 2005. Earth's Energy Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications. Science 308: 1431-1435.

Mead, M. 1963. Why Americans must limit their families. Redbook. (August 1963).

Oreskes, N. and E. M. Conway 2014. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. Columbia University Press.

Pearce, F. and D. Mackenzie 1999. It's raining pesticides. New Scientist, 2180 (April 1999).

Last updated 25 August 2014 by Eric R. Pianka