Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 17, No. 9, September 2021
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Towards a More Natural Post-Patriarchal World

The family is the vital cell of society, but the patriarchal family is not natural. It is an artificial culture of domination that is now an obstacle to integral human development in harmony with nature. Large cities and regions of high population density are ecologically unsustainable. Responsible parentood for population stabilization is becoming crucial for human solidarity and an integral ecology.








The Most Ethical Gift: Towards a Sustainable Demographic Future
Joe Bish

Confusion as a State of Grace: Climate and Kinship in 2021
Installment 5 ~ Slowwashing: The Fiction of Frictionless

Cara Judea Alhadeff

The Pachamama and the Empire
Margarita Mediavilla

Enough is Enough: It's Time for a Real Green New Deal
Megan K. Seibert & William E. Rees

Through the Eye of a Needle: An Eco-Heterodox Perspective on the Renewable Energy Transition
Megan K. Seibert & William E. Rees

Growth through Contraction: Conceiving an Eco-Economy
William E. Rees

Overpopulation Denial Syndrome
Robin Maynard

Preparing to Welcome Two Billion Refugees
Dave Pollard

From Neoliberal Capitalism to 'Buen Vivir'
Victor Toledo

All of a Sudden: Climate Change Tipping Points Appear with a Vengeance
Kurt Cobb

What the IPCC Report Should Have Told Us
Jody Tishmack

Who Can Save Us From Jeff Bezos and Silicon Valley's Planetary Death Wish?
Lynn Parramore

Revisiting The Limits to Growth
Andrew Curry

The Paradox of Growth ~ The Pursuit of Growth Is the Fastest Road to Decline
Tim Morgan

Billionaire Space Race: The Ultimate Symbol of Capitalism's Flawed Obsession with Growth
Tim Jackson

Technoscepticism and the Machine-proof Muir
Joe Gray

A Lacuna in Christian Animal Ethics ~ Part 1
Walter Scott Stepanenko

IPCC Report: Happily Ever After or Miserable Ever More?
Brian Snyder

From Systems Theory to Social Action for an Ecological Civilization
Phila Back

New Book: Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet ~ Assessing and Adapting to Planetary Limits
Thomas W. Murphy, Jr.

Will World Population Drop Far Enough, Fast Enough?
Tom Flynn

The Problem of Philosophy
Eliza Daley

Reading the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' With Gender Lens
Teresa Toldy

Is Pope Francis an Ecofeminist?
Susan Rakoczy


The Most Ethical Gift:
Towards a Sustainable Demographic Future

Joe Bish

This article was originally published in
The Ecological Citizen, Vol 5, No 1, 2021


Source: Our World in Data. Click the graph to enlarge.

The goal of slowing down, stopping and eventually reversing human population growth is no longer to avert an ecological catastrophe. That ship has sailed. Activists, funders and non-governmental organizations focused on population are operating in the midst of overshoot already in progress. Accepting this reality, and building messaging around it, may help considerably in optimizing the public face of population advocacy moving forward.

As of now, population activists should advance an intergenerational narrative when it comes to explaining the ecological relevancy of human population size and growth. Population interventions should be framed as ethical imperatives, and long-term projects to improve the chances of future generations establishing sustainable living scenarios with the planet. Continuing to frame population interventions as being able to pay immediate and substantial demographic dividends at the global scale – or as the indisputable priority actions for near term mitigation of the greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity crises – no longer makes sense.

To be clear, creating the conditions for population growth to stop, and minimizing total population increases prior to the eventual global peak, are still the two key population objectives. Once the peak arrives, and population starts naturally decreasing, there will be new messaging and public relations challenges for population-aware environmentalists. But this is a long way off. Even the most optimistic projections do not forecast an end to population growth until the 2050s or 2060s, and those that do assume heroic ongoing work to help fertility decrease further. Of course, this inconvenient truth will not stop anthropocentric economists and politicians from calling for higher birth rates, and we can expect outright panic from them as fertility decreases further.

But, for the ecologically informed, admitting that global demographic trends, in any non-dystopian scenario, cannot be made to turn on a dime is emotionally difficult. Every moment that passes we see the living Earth suffer heinously. We want to intervene quickly, strongly and decisively. Yet, in terms of population, concepts of ‘quickness’ extend to decades. It will likely take at least 30 or 40 years to end population growth – and the greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity crises must be largely resolved long before then.

By ceding a sense of immediacy in our outlook and messaging, population activists can be fully enriched in our ability to stake out visions of future global sustainability. Beautiful scenes of an equitable, ecologically-informed population of two billion, living in harmony with a wild and vibrant Earth, are appealing to human nature. They speak to the ethics of caring for our descendants’ wellbeing. They also give us the exact platform we need to double down on population programs and public education, for the most critical factors in determining the future population size of humanity are the family size decisions of today. There are well-understood, affordable and progressive ways to decrease family size outcomes.

I agree with Oswald Spengler: optimism equals cowardice. There is nothing to be optimistic about, ecologically speaking. The power of positive thinking, on the other hand, is different. It is not naivety; in fact, it is predicated on a full and sober accounting of reality. In terms of the human population size relative to the Earth’s sustainable capacity to support it, the reality is we are living in a disaster. This situation is deplorable, tragic, frustrating and outrageous – but appeals for forward-looking population-related programs, and organizing sufficient public support for them, need to go beyond condemnations of the condemnable. Would be supporters also need to form a positive emotional attachment to the idea of an improved, sustainable demographic future.

The most ethical gift we can give the people and creatures of the late 21st century and early 22nd century is a chance. In the realm of population, this means working across the generations to ensure a much smaller, more ecologically right-sized number of humans.

Citation: Bish J (2021) The most ethical gift: Towards a sustainable demographic future. The Ecological Citizen Vol 5 No 1 2021: epub-043.


Joe Bish is the Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center.


"It Ain't What You Don't Know
That Gets You Into Trouble.
It's What You Know for Sure
That Just Ain't So."

— Mark Twain (1835-1910)


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