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“You Can’t Handle the Truth!”


I read The Limits To Growth (1972) a couple of years after it was published, and when Reagan was elected realised nothing would be done and began to plan accordingly.

Global warming is mentioned only once in that book, saying that “some people think global warming could be an outcome of overpopulation and excessive consumption of natural resources” or words to that effect. Their entire analysis was based entirely on our rate of consumption of limited natural resources.

Their prediction? If nothing was done immediately (1970s immediately) by the middle of the second decade of the 21st century (ie now) we’d begin to see the leading edges of the catastrophe about to unfold, with a massive dieoff of the global human population peaking around 2030.

The primary driving factor in that dieoff? Pollution, which in their analysis was modelled by one factor alone - CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Already one in eight human deaths globally is attributed to pollution.

Regardless how we address the challenges of climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, debt deflation, species extinctions, ocean death, and on and on, we’re in for one hell of a century. It’s simply too late for a soft landing.

I’d certainly prefer that we head into the grinder holding hands and singing “kumbaya” rather than with knives at each other’s throats. But better still would be avoiding the worst of the worst. Doing so would require our leaders to publicly acknowledge that a prolonged shrinkage of the economy is a done deal. From that initial recognition might follow a train of possible goals and strategies, including planned population decline, economic localization, the formation of cooperatives to replace corporations, and the abandonment of consumerism. Global efforts at resource conservation and climate mitigation could avert pointless wars.

It’s been left to those of us with the ability to see the oncoming catastrophe to implement those changes on our own in alliance with others who see the same. Perhaps our efforts will provide a lifeboat for a few of us.


We’ve got metapolitical problems and we have a difficult time dealing with ordinary political problems. Good essay and summary of the metapolitical conditions we ignore or think of as acts of god. The problem is not that there are no solutions. So many people are sincerely anti-abortion and deny the fact of overpopulation. The same ones also deny human effects on the global environment. Religion breeds a fundamental attitude of human incapacity to cope. It’s “god’s will”. We’re in the “end times”. Resurgent fundamentalist Christianity ( and Islamic fundamentalism as well) is nihilistic.

Because we’re in the time of “never before”, it doesn’t help much to look to the past for precedents. There aren’t many. So far as we know, humans have never had the capacity to destroy the planet prior to the invention of nuclear bombs. How do we cope? We do unprecedented things. Where is an example of human groups voluntarily turning away from weapons that might offer an advantage in war? Humans will have to do something of this kind in unprecedented efforts to confront unprecedented conditions of life.

But, unless Jesus returns to set up his utopian theocracy, we mere humans may have to endure some catastrophic events in order to focus the mind in the correct way. Several billions may die s a result of planetary environmental disruption and/or nuclear war… If we do not render the planet uninhabitable, sobering disasters may show us the way! We may finally understand that we are responsible for all of it that we currently disavow responsibility for, such as overpopulation and the condition of the planet itself!


“…we mere humans may have to endure some catastrophic events in order to focus the mind in the correct way.”

Agree. Just observing mass media and what most humans’ minds are focused on daily, or trying to bring up this subject other places leaves one wondering if enough people will ever care enough to make a difference.

Thanks to authors like this, forums like CD and people who do care maybe there is hope yet to avoid the catastrophy. But we’re a young species. I, as a young human, often did have to learn some things the hard way.


The only way the population will be reduced will be if one or more of the situations closing in on humankind like the warlike “Indians” did to the vastly outnumbered wagon trains and settler farmer “nesters” in the cowboy movies I watched on TV during the 50s – by huge die off.

This which is sure to happen, and when it begins, human nature will spin out of control and will go massacre crazy and start acting like the most stressed out and wack among us are doing now will scapegoat anyone with the least bit of “otherness” about them in a dangerous attempt to kill away their fears.

The only hope I can see is the emergence of a group of survivalist saviors with global cred, who aren’t charlatans who can create a new religion that will enable the survivors to find ways to work and live together without doing stupid destructive things. I am hoping for a longshot hope for the appearance in the shared consciousness a person I call a non gender specific “Green Jesus.”

Till then "WE’ need to develop a sense of “weness” and get used to thinking of us all all being in this toxic mess together and that only by getting it together and working together do we stand any chance at all.


Sorry but it is true that the root cause is population. You can prove it by this thought experiment. All humans need some minimum amount of resources to survive (quality of life notwithstanding!) and if the world is finite then at some point there IS a number of people that the space ship’s (earth) environmental controls can support. One more and rations need to be cut, and there isn’t enough water.


I agree - excellent sum up - my feelings almost exactly - and from other comments - many others too.

Instinctively, I don’t think this can be fixed from ‘the inside’.

A third party - yes - that’s a start, but you are still up against almost insurmountable odds if money is required to wage election war.

As the anniversary of JFK’s PT-109 sinking has just passed (August 1-2, 1943), I will relay a note from one of Kennedy’s many chroniclers, in “JFK and the Unspeakable”.

To paraphrase, JFK thought early on in his life, well before his senate career, that fighting the MIC would require a ground up approach, i.e., not from the inside.

Interesting, n’est pa??



A few things not mentioned:

bipartisanship. The 2 parties are now almost equally captured by the system of corporate elitism and inverted totalitarianism. The fact that members and delegates of the Democratic party can express their desire for things (via the platform, for instance) is meaningless, except in that it reveals its part in, and the form of, the deception, the trap of the corporate duopoly. The platform itself is meaningless; people can express whatever desires they want but we know that to the degree that such desires conflict with the demands of the corporate duopoly and the system of maintaining it, they’ll simply be ignored, defeated, worn out or co-opted* in some way.

EROEI—the Senecan decline has involved exploiting less and less efficient resources as the easy ones get used up; the EROEI, Energy Returned On Energy Invested, of fossil fuels we use is declining. It takes more money and energy to get—well, everything—than it did before. Increases in end use efficiency of machines can ameliorate that somewhat but the decline is accelerating and unstoppable. What’s not considered here is the social and political responses caused by the emotional component of the system. The ellites manifest more virulent than average strains of the Wetiko disease, malignant radical conservatism.

The disease is what makes people determined to be rich and powerful. Altnough of course more complicated, it can be thought of as an addiction; fear is making them accumulate wealth and power in their efforts to maintain the illusion of control in the face of declining EROEI, society and biosphere. In the thrall of their fear of losing that control, the elites have not only tried to maintain their position they’ve acted as addicts do; they’ve become obsessed with gathering ever more wealth and power to solidify and intensify their privilege and feelings of superiority (which cover more fear—of inferiority). As we move forward our survival will depend on keeping both the physical and emotional aspects of declining EROEI, and their interactions, in mind, and basing our actions on full knowledge of the situation.

”evidently our leaders believe that most people simply can’t handle this truth.”
I don’t think so. I’m not sure if Mr. Heinberg is being facetious, generous, naive or something else. He seems to assume a common interest or even fatherly concern by the elite. It’s much more likely that the leaders can’t handle their subjects’ reaction to the truth—shock, dismay, distrust and rebellion?

While it may be true that we’ve overshot a long-term sustainable population, the fact that the overwhelming majority of ecological damage is caused by a few percent of very rich people means that’s not certain. What is certain is that there’s an average level of per capita consumption that could sustain, for a long time, everyone on Earth with not only livable but more fulfilling and joyful, connected lives—if we equalized radically and reprioritized to make human and biosphere health and happiness the most important thing.

Sanders’ message wasn’t accurate about our situation. But 21st century America [sic] is not mid-20th century Britain; our people have been lied to for so long it might not be possible to get a presidential campaign started telling the whole truth. I’m sure I was one of many trusting that Sanders would become more Churchillian when elected. It was the first inaugural speech I ever looked forward to.



The fact that at some point with an endlessly increasing number, population would be a problem, doesn’t have anything to do with our situation now. If we could somehow magically eliminate the poorest 6 billion people we’d still have about 80% of the greenhouse problem and most other ecological problems left to solve some other way. This climate and larger ecological crisis is being caused by the rich, who are not growing in numbers through births, The richest billion cause 80% of the problem, the poorest half of humanity causes only 7% of the GHGs and that’s where all significant population growth is happening–among people who have almost no effect on global ecological problems. (In fact, since the rich control where the poor live, what work they do and almost everything else about their lives as well as the political-economic systems we live under, the rich are responsible for even more of this problem than what they cause directly.)

Further, population growth rates are declining, as they have been since the 1960s. By 2050, population itself is expected to peak at about 8.9 billion and then decline, although none of the standard projections factor in the inevitable increase in death rates because of climate catastrophe, so it will almost certainly peak sooner and lower and decline faster than expected. Our problem is consumption by the rich.

trilemmaman is wrong if by standard of living s/he means we can all live as consumptively as people in the US. There is a level at which we can all live for quite a while if we equalize, prioritize what’s important for health, happiness and fulfillment and make ecological living our number one concern. Since population is going to decline soon, but not soon enough to save us from catastrophe, we have a way forward–immediately reduce inequality and the impact of the rich (through efficiency; conservation; clean safe renewable energy, a transformation of agriculture to low-meat organic permaculture…), reduce population growth as much as possible (the lunatic right is holding us back from all those goals)

People we could credibly categorize as rich are overwhelmingly white. If you categorize wealth and power according to owner it’s even more overwhelmingly white, western and northern hemispheres–the US and Europe. If you have 4 things–a roof, a bed, clothes in a closet and food in a refrigerator–you have more than about 85% of the people in the world. That makes it very clear that this problem is caused by the richest few percent of people, and only they can stop it.

The popularity of the population meme* is because those people causing the problem and manipulating others to keep the system we have, want to blame someone else. In our society, the easiest and most credible people to blame anything on is people of color–voila! le population problem. With the poor people of color of the world causing a minuscule part of the problem and the rich, overwhelmingly white obviously causing almost all of it

Here’s a thought experiment that more accurately represents our situation: Without any other damage, all people on Earth are gone but 10. Nine of them decide to live as our ancestors did–in the woods, stone age technology. The other 1 travels around in a B2 bomber, destroying military and civilian nuclear reactors, waste depositories, processing facilities, missile sites, toxic waste and chemical storage sites, and sensitive ecological areas. So the average impact as well as the total impact of humanity have both gone up since there were 7 billion of us. The people in the forest decide they must have a population problem (they’re conservatives and believe the PIPP meme) so they kill half of their number to reduce humanity’s impact. Oops! The guy (you know it would be a guy) with the bomber is learning how to blow things up better so the people in the forest find both the total and average impact of humanity has again gone…UP! So thinking they still have a population problem, they decide to kill half of their group… So there are 2 questions, on which your whole grade will be based. And really they’re the same question: How many more times will the people in the forest repeat this insane cycle? and Just how stupid are these conservative assholes?

*The number of PIPPs, Population Is the Problem People, seems to be growing, and that seems like a more serious problem than the soon-to-be-declining number of people on Earth. I think that’s what we should talk about–how so many people can be duped into believing such an absurd lie.


Well, the manner in which Homo sapiens has affected the environment has grown in severity with the growth in numbers of Beany Babies, so in a way you can say that stuffed animals are the driver.


I’m looking forward to the day when people actually read up on a subject before they make pronouncements on it, so they speak from a place of knowing something rather than a place of complete ignorance and misinformedness.


Excellent as always J4, glad i checked up on this thread again. i also thought Sanders was saying as much as he felt he realistically could about climate chaos, but would say more as he went through a term in the White House. ’ Course i also thought he would not be allowed into the White House.

i also agree that we cannot be certain about human population vis biosphere carrying capacity, and i regularly write about our need to practice ecological living, with hands-on responsibility for land we inhabit.

But i’m pretty certain - just based on the ecological record of there never having been anywhere remotely near the 8 billion population of a top-of-the-food-chain large top carnivore or top omnivore like humans now have - that we’ve overshot, even if we swiftly adopt good practices.

And the biosphere is now in the process of simplifying, and i’m also pretty certain that the carrying capacity is diminished and will continue to diminish. Hopefully we wake up fast to the challenge of living holistically and ecologically.


Ridiculous! For a second there, I thought you were going to have a real thought experiment. All folks on the earth gone but 10. That’s a good start. What would they do? Look for shelter and water and food. Would they go back to stone age technology? Only in your dreams as long as there is no technology around that they have mastered, or can master without killing themselves. How can 1 person do or know everything about arming, fueling, and piloting a B2, let alone navigating to bomb all the sites you list without the millions of people it takes to support all that? Short answer: It can’t happen without lots, and lots of people.

What would happen to the earth’s systems while there are 10 people who can’t possibly run all the technology for which they have become the instant benefactor, so they scavenge to keep as much creature comfort as they can after meeting their basic needs: Water, Food, Shelter. Even if they had an airplane and one of them knew how to fly it, he’d be going to a place to find the other 9 or to have a better chance of survival, not looking for an AFB with a loaded B2 that he can use to make his situation worse (as if that were possible). The earth would start to recover as there would be a sudden almost complete reduction in the contribution of anthropomorphic CO2, unless we’ve gone to far already and the methane is all released.


i agree with TD that your caricature is a flop.


Here’s a real life experiment. There is more than enough food, water and resources to sustain 20 billion people IF our consumption pattern was modeled after nature. If humanity put the welfare of nature and humanity ahead of warfare, greed and wastful consumption… far fewer people would be born and the population would level off around 10 billion. In one sense people are the problem. Ignorant people who don’t do their home work and cling to false ideas…so they don’t really have to think or change their own nation’s wasteful consumption patterns because people want to look good and feel good but don’t want to be good or do good.


Should we then vote for the party that rids the earth of the human plague first?


The effects of climate change and other problems–as I say, almost entirely caused by a very small percentage of people–is simplifying ecosystems and lowering the carrying capacity of Earth. But that problem is caused by the rich. Most people on Earth live at sustainable levels–either family farmers on small acreage, who put as much into the soil as they take out, or poor urbanites who do only infinitesimal harm to their ecosystem or the biosphere.

We’re not anywhere near apex predators. We’re omnivores with a wide range of foods we can eat, and if we want to survive we have to switch those who eat a lot of meat to eating lower on the food chain.

We already produce enough grain alone to feed everyone on the planet 3000 Calories or more, and that doesn’t include beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables, oils, mushrooms or home-grown Tom Kha. If we only ate meat produced from waste, wasteland and raised in the service of plant production in permaculture systems, we could feed an extra 2 1/2 billion. Jane Mt. Pleasant of Cornell has shown that even the three sisters, a simple permaculture guild, can produce 20% more Calories per acre than conventional agriculture. Even better are more complex guilds, especially guilds of guilds epitomized by edible forest gardens.

The most productive farms are small, but increasingly over the last 50 years they’ve been taken over by corporate agriculture and turned into less productive large ones, while the people who used to farm them sustainably have been forced off the land into cities.

Making these changes and others–less meat, organic permaculture, small family and worker-owned farms, prioritizing sufficient and ecological food, fiber and materials production rather than making a few rich people richer, etc. would more than provide for everyone we have now and everyone we ever will have. It IS a race between our destruction of the biosphere and the majority’s ability to force the elites to shift to a sustainable global society, and the first steps to succeeding at that is diagnosing the problem and then taking the prescribed steps before it’s too late. If we allow them to make us focus on poor people of color, the rich people of mostly white will wreck civilization before we figure out our mistake and can get organized to stop them.

PS I’d love to hear what you thought was wrong with the thought experiment.


I have not read a more selective use of statistics as a tool of propaganda yet, may be Trump can trump it or perhaps an authoritarian dictator Putin with stratosphere high approvals. In USSR election results were always 100%.

People have to read carefully this bunch of malarkey , 103 million are banned from voting ? 21 million are non citizens. Shall we count Chinese tourists as banned for voting as well, this would bump up the statistics. 6 million are felons - the truly banned number of citizens. The rest are children. Are you suggesting toddlers for Trump? The most profound sign of the screwed up politics today is the fact that 11 plus people liked your post.



I’m sorry you didn’t get, or weren’t willing to get, the analogy. It is absolutely what our situation is: a tiny percent of people causing all the damage and someone blaming others for the average amount of harm humans cause even though they contribute virtually nothing to it. And the solutions based on that moronic misperception harming people and doing absolutely nothing to fix any problem at all.

I’m surprised to see someone so ridiculously far off the mark, Don, but not surprised at all to see such a person buying the nonsensical, racist PIPP meme.

Have you ever heard of Maxwell’s demon? If you read about it and your main thought is to criticize Maxwell (who’s dead, by the way) because demons don’t exist, consider not posting any more, because we’d really rather hear from people who can add something intelligent enough to be useful to the conversation.

It’s a thought experiment, not a doctoral thesis about how we should live after the rapture. And obviously, the guy with the bomber is insane; that’s as much the point of the analogy as anything.


In fact, the population is expected by all the experts I know of to level off at about 8.9 billion. But the chance of our actually reaching that are near zero, in my opinion; the projections don’t include the dramatically higher death rates due to climate catastrophe that will almost certainly start very soon. (They’re already higher, but we’re just turning the corner on an exponential increase in climate harm so we’re about to see a big jump. However, it will take mostly poor people of color, so no worries.

And not much help, either, since they emit almost no greenhouse gases, what they do emit is in the service of the rich, and the increased conflict caused by ecological collapse will actually increase global warming and other ecological problems.

And PS, I don’t get your post. You seem to really get it but you’re still blaming raw numbers of people instead of the very few who cause the whole problem. It would be great if you clarified that.

Tropic of Chaos, Christian Parenti


If we allow that the technology was pre- existing in your thought experiment, then yes one actor can foul the world far more than a billion as you assert. However lets acknowledge reality, which follows the biological structure from which we are based. Until there was a surplus of food, the survival (food water livable Petri dish) of the one organism and its procreation were the rules of the day. When there grew too many single organisms they made colonies and grew until the resources of the Petri dish could support no more. Before that point the behavior of the inhabitants was relevant only insomuch as they were willing to behave in a way that went against their own self interests even after they became aware. This, again is only a problem when there aren’t enough resources to go around. Once again the root of the problem is over-population not X (single digit integer) rich people or Americans per we, as the number of us.

We weren’t a problem for the Indians until there were too many of us!