The dangers of separating science and environment


We need to figure out a better way to communicate science that balances technology and nature.

Does the natural world have any relevance to modern science? Of course it does; but sometimes it seems like that’s not the case. This is a myth perpetuated directly and indirectly through media, policy decisions, academic disciplines, even some science engagement initiatives: that the natural world is somehow separate from science.

Some people assume that any discussion of science automatically includes ecology, botany, entomology and other natural sciences. In some contexts, it might. But, as our immediate surroundings become increasingly engineered and artificial, science based on outdoor study of the natural world is easily (and often) overshadowed in the frenzied excitement over gadgets and numbers. The tangible outcomes and “wow” factor inherent in the physical sciences and technologies (mathematics, chemistry, engineering) have effortlessly commandeered the scientific spotlight.

Just have a look at your favorite online news website. Under what category do environmental stories appear? Are they included under science? Or are they singled out as an unrelated topic?

Out of 14 of the most popular English language news websites in the world (from comScore’s global and U.S. top 10 lists), only three sites (BBC, NBC and New York Times) combine “Environment” and “Science” news stories together under one category. Five sites separate the two as unrelated topics; five have a science category only, with minimal coverage of natural environments; and one site has neither science nor environment news categories.

The power of communication to build and sustain myths, intended or not, is often underrated.

The act of separating science stories on medical breakthroughs and astronomical wonders from stories that cover ecosystems and biodiversity unwittingly enhances the myth in readers’ minds that science and nature are mutually exclusive. Combining science with technology is even more damaging, because it distances science further from natural systems and processes.

Myths as Dominant Ideologies

The power of communication to build and sustain myths, intended or not, is often underrated. In cultural theory, myths are dominant ideologies that are maintained through media and popular culture. So, separating all those sixth extinction and climate change stories from the science category in media simply perpetuates the myth that they are not scientific issues.

Yet, despite the popular portrayal of science as lab coats, space travel, gadgets and mind-blowing math, in reality, science is more closely aligned with the natural world around us. Science is about generating and sharing knowledge about the structure and behavior of the natural world. Technology is about the functional application of that knowledge to produce tangible outcomes.

This distinction goes beyond semantic pedantry. Science is independent of technology; they are not identical and they are not replacements for one another. If we reduce science to a technological sector removed from the natural world, its relevance to society becomes limited. It becomes another “industry” with a finite customer base, shifting its focus from the pursuit of knowledge, which has far-reaching benefits for all, to the tangible, immediate outcomes it can provide a certain sector of society.

What will be the consequences if the perceived connection between scientific endeavor and the natural world continues to weaken?

When this myth is perpetuated beyond popular media, it can have damaging impacts. The current Australian government, for example, spent more than a year without a minister of science at all, before tacking science onto the industry portfolio after public outcry. The industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, even suggested a new approach to scientific research funding, where funds could be awarded to universities based on the number of patent registrations, not the number of published scientific papers. His comments highlight a common misconception — that the vast majority of scientists work on creating and developing products that can be commercialized.

Critical to Understanding Our Place in the World

What will be the consequences if the perceived connection between scientific endeavor and the natural world continues to weaken? Presenting nature study as a pleasant but scientifically irrelevant hobby may have beneficial effects on our health and well-being, but it will damage our understanding of environmental issues and therefore our understanding of science.

Far from being self-indulgent, knowledge of natural sciences is critical to understand our place in the world and manage the environmental, social and economic challenges we face. How can we understand how environmental change will impact an ecosystem — and the human communities within it — if we don’t know what species and ecological interactions make up that ecosystem? How can we achieve sustainable agriculture if we don’t understand the ecological nuances of the pest, pollinator and predator communities that use the agricultural landscape? Technologists don’t create food, fiber and shelter; ecosystems do. But that can be hard to believe in a world where biotech ag and test-tube meat command so much of the spotlight.

So how do we make sure natural sciences share the spotlight dominated by technology and physical sciences? It’s a challenge, to be sure; and human psychology plays an important role. Gadgets and machines do things; their functionality builds on the momentum of the initial “wow” to sustain the audience’s interest. In contrast, much of the contemporary communication about ecology and natural history focuses on the beauty and vulnerability of nature. In a technological society that is increasingly removed from that beauty and vulnerability, this approach can have a hard time competing for public interest.

Everything in nature holds a story we can connect to. And we haven’t even come close to hearing them all.

The key is to communicate science in a way that is engaging and relevant to everyone, a goal that requires multiple complementary strategies, not just one. Ideally, science should be presented as a balance of natural and technological, so that scientists and nonscientists alike believe that ecosystems, organisms and ecological interactions are as essential to science — and ultimately society — as mathematics, engineering and technology.

Studying nature teaches us about interactions, consequences and survival. What could be more essential to all of us? Through natural sciences, we learn how environmental change affected us, as well as other living things, in the past (paleoecology). We learn how some of the tiniest organisms on Earth can make us sick or keep us alive (entomology). We learn that controversial species (such as wolves or dingoes) are a critical part of our local ecosystems (ecology). And we learn that we can’t fully understand the implications of these interactions, unless we identify and classify all the organisms involved (taxonomy).

Nature is useful and functional to you and me, not just as a resource opportunity or a “happy place,” but as a raison d’être. After all, ecosystems and organisms do things too — they are our natural life support system. Bees, flies and wasps pollinate crops and control insect pests so we can harvest food and fiber; wetlands purify the water we drink and mitigate flooding near our homes; birds and beetles scavenge wastes so we are less likely to suffer from disease.

The list goes on and on, because everything in nature holds a story we can connect to. And we haven’t even come close to hearing them all. The latest groundbreaking technology is indeed a great scientific story to share. But the story of how the natural world works — the world we all live in and depend on — is even more engaging.View Ensia homepage

The gender gap grasps climate change too


A survey indicates that the gender gap has poured out the climate change debate, with a French report suggesting that men are bigger eco-offenders than women.

Two independent studies carried out by separate teams of European scientists looked at data on the consumption and daily lifestyles of men and women in industrialised countries. One found that a typical French man causes emissions of 39.3 kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas a woman causes 32.3kg.

Author of the French report, Frederic Chomé, said:

Although our calculation method is very approximate, I believe the results are a good indicator of the differences in environmental contamination resulting from the different behaviours of men and women.

The second report, undertaken by scientists from Sweden and Finalnd, found that men consum more meat and processed drinks than women and use cars more often and for longer journeys, thus creating greater CO2 emissions.

It was also found that, apart from differences in eating and transportation habits, it is the consumption of alcohol and tobacco that drives up men’s share of emissions.

Experts from Germany‘s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research noted that the polluting habits attributed to men are largely the result of the role they play in society, commenting that these differences could be balanced in future…

to the extent that equal opportunity allows women to climb the labour ladder, while men take on more household duties.

Indeed, the studies found that the only instance in which women caused greater greenhouse gas emissions was during household tasks like cooking and cleaning.

Men were also found to use more energy in general, with differences in energy use between genders ranging from six per cent in Norway to 39 per cent in Greece.

According to Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Riita Raty, authors of the second report, these findings suggest that European governments should refocus their emissions-reduction efforts on convincing the male population to modify their transportation and eating habits to increase energy efficiency in related activities and save unnecessary emissions.

The Art of Waste Management (2)

Key Benchmarks for Assessment

There are a number of concepts about waste management which vary in their usage between countries or regions. Some of the most general, widely-used concepts include:

1. Waste Hierarchy: The waste hierarchy refers to the “3 Rs” reduce, reuse and recycle, which classify waste management strategies according to their desirability in terms of waste minimization. The waste hierarchy remains the cornerstone of most waste minimization strategies. The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste (Wikipedia 2008).

2. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): This is a strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with products throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 1999).Extended producer responsibility imposes accountability over the entire life cycle of products and packaging introduced on the market. This means that firms, which manufacture, import and/or sell products and packaging, are required to be financially or physically responsible for such products after their useful life. They must either take back spent products and manage them through reuse, recycling or in energy production, or delegate this responsibility to a third party, a so-called Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), which is paid by the producer for spent-product management. In this way, EPR shifts responsibility for waste from government to private industry, obliging producers, importers and/or sellers to internalise waste management costs in their product prices (Hanisch 2000). A life-cycle perspective is also taken in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) frameworks: “Producers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility (physical and/or financial) not only for the environmental impacts of their products downstream from the treatment and disposal of their product, but also for their upstream activities inherent in the selection of materials and in the design of products” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001). “The major impetus for EPR came from northern European countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as they were facing severe landfill shortages. EPR is generally applied to post-consumer wastes which place increasing physical and financial demands on municipal waste management” (Environment Protection Authority New South Wales 2003).

3. Polluter Pays Principle:  In environmental law, the polluter pays principle is the principle that the party responsible for producing pollution should also be responsible for paying for the damage done to the natural environment. With respect to waste management, this generally refers to the requirement for a waste generator to pay for appropriate disposal of the waste. Polluter pays is also known as extended polluter responsibility (EPR). This is a concept that was probably first described by the Swedish government in 1975. EPR seeks to shift the responsibility dealing with waste from governments (and thus, taxpayers and society at large) to the entities producing it. In effect, it internalises the cost of waste disposal into the cost of the product, theoretically meaning that the producers will improve the waste profile of their products, thus decreasing waste and increasing possibilities for reuse and recycling (Wikepedia 2008). Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development defines extended polluter responsibility as:
A concept where manufacturers and importers of products should bear a significant
degree of responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product life-cycle, including upstream impacts inherent in the selection of materials for the products, impacts from manufacturers’ production process itself, and downstream impacts from the use and disposal of the products. Producers accept their responsibility when designing their products to minimise life-cycle environmental impacts, and when accepting legal, physical or socio-economic responsibility for environmental impacts that cannot be eliminated by design (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001).

4. Zero Waste: This is a philosophy that aims to guide people in the redesign of their resourceuse system with the aim of reducing waste to zero. Put simply, zero waste is an idea to extend the current ideas of recycling to form a circular system where as much waste as possible is reused, similar to the way it is in nature (Wikepedia 2008). Zero waste requires that we maximize our existing recycling and reuse efforts, while ensuring that products are designed for the environment and having the potential to be repaired, reused, or recycled (“What is Zero Waste? 2004). The zero-waste strategy is to turn the outputs from every resource-use into the input for another use, or in other words outputs become inputs. An example of this might be the cycle of a glass milk bottle. The primary input (or resource) is silica-sand, which is formed into glass and formed into a bottle. The bottle is filled with milk and distributed to the consumer. At this point normal waste methods would see the bottle disposed in a landfill or similar, but with a zerowaste method the bottle can be saddled with a deposit, at the time of sale, which is redeemed to the bearer upon return. The bottle is then washed, refilled, and re-sold. The only material waste is the wash-water, and energy loss has been minimized. Zero Waste is a goal, a process, a way of thinking that profoundly changes our approach to resources and production. Not only is Zero Waste about recycling and diversion from landfills, it also restructures production and distribution systems to prevent waste from being manufactured in the first place. In addition, the materials that are still required in these re-designed, resource-efficient systems will be recycled back into production (Roper 2006: p. 326).

· Ackerman F 1997. Why Do We Recycle?: Markets, Values, and Public Policy. Washington: Island Press.
· Alan B 2007. The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living. New York: Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
· Castell A, Clift R, Francae C 2004. Extended Producer Responsibility Policy in the European Union: A Horse or a Camel? Journal of Industrial Ecology, 8: 4 – 7.
· Hanisch C 2000. Is Extended Producer Responsibility Effective? Environ Sci. Technol, 34: 170 -175.
· Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001. Extended Producer Responsibility: A Guidance Manual for Governments. Paris, France. From Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development fact sheet about EPR:<;
· Roper W 2006. Strategies for building material reuses and recycle. International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management, 6: 313 – 345.
· The Economist, Weekly, June 7, 2007 “The truth about recycling” <;
· The League of Women Voters 1993. The Garbage Primer. New York: Lyons & Burford, pp. 35-72.
· Tierney J 1996. Recycling Is Garbage. New York Times, Daily, June 30, 1996, P. 3.
· Tong X., Lifset R, Lindhqvist T 2004. Extended Producer Responsibility in China: Where is Best Practice? Journal of Industrial Ecology, 8: 6-9.
· Wikipedia 2008. Recycling. Website 2008 <http://;
· Winter J 2007. A world without waste-The ‘zero waste’ movement imagines a future where everything is a renewable resource. The Boston Globe, pp. 1-3. From LexisNexis database: Website 2008 <https://;
· Zero Waste California Fact Sheet 2004. What is Zero Waste California?  From Website 2008 <http:// gov/WhatIs.htm>

The Art of Waste Management (1)

Pigou, the economist who wanted to tax the smog

Cecil Arthur Pigou (1877-1959)

Cecil Arthur Pigou (1877-1959)

Founder of the Polluter Pays Principle, the English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou comes out of the shadows.

British Petroleum assumed responsibility for the oil disaster occurred in April 21 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion of the floating platform released tons of oil and threatened the entire U.S. Gulf Coast. BP noted that the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) did not suffer further discussion. This principle is based on measures adopted since forty years to prevent the damage inflicted on nature by the producers, repair them in case of accident or punish them for violations.

This principle of polluter pays arouse as such in the work of an English liberal economist Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959). As a supporter of regulation by the markets, the founder of the Economics School of Cambridge noted that, left to themselves, these markets suffer from imperfections. For example, they do not take into account the “external” costs of products, such as pollution. In The Economics of Welfare (1920), he developed the idea that an economic agent whose activities generate negative externalities makes the community to support a cost higher than it supports as a private agent. Rather than banning the activity, it was necessary to discourage putting a price on its negative effects. This was to be paid in the form of taxes that would eliminate the gap between the private cost and the social cost of this activity. Pigou proposed e.g. to introduce such a tax on emissions from London smokestacks to fight against smog.

This same reasoning led him to advocate a compulsory health insurance: what one pays to stay healthy, for example, by vaccinating, has positive externalities on the environment which yet does not participate in the expenses. This positive externality therefore deserved to be distributed equitably.

By the time they were issued, these ideas have not been successful. A proposed tax could frighten the economic establishment, yet close to Pigou for his views on the flexibility of labor markets and hostility to regulation of wages. Regarding left-winger economists and thinkers, they excluded that pollution — considered a crime — could be any bargain, as if a polluter stopped being left when becoming a payer. Having also objected to John Maynard Keynes, whom he was professor, Pigou found himself in the shadow of the glory ousted by his prestigious student and friend.

The increase of environmental risks and environmental accidents in the second half of the twentieth century, however, brought his reflections on the front of the stage. Faced with threats to ban their dangerous activities, or a highly restrictive state control, farmers have gradually agreed to take responsibility in this area and consider the management of adverse consequences of their productions. In 1972, the OECD erected the polluter-pays basis for the protection of the environment. In 2003, the European Parliament did the same, following what several countries did before — Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, a derived concept, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), stated that « producers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility (physical and/or financial) not only for the environmental impacts of their products downstream from the treatment and disposal of their product, but also for their upstream activities inherent in the selection of materials and in the design of products ».

These words, which seem commonplace today, took almost sixty years to be heard.

The CO2 tax, introduced in countries such as Sweden and Switzerland in 2008 and 2009, is the quintessential example of a « Pigouvian » tax. It is not about an income tax because the entire collection is redistributed to citizens (through medical insurance). It is rather a save incentive as it rises fuel prices. Without any ideological opponent confessed, the carbon tax has many practical issues however: as it makes consumer to bear the responsibility for pollution, it faces strong political obstacles. Many countries prefer CO2 emission quotas instead, allowing trading on an international market for quotas established by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 — signed and ratified by 187 states to date.

If the concept of responsibility was installed in people’s minds, and if the economic explanatory of externalities proposed by Pigou found an echo within the political left, there is yet no international system that institutionalizes the application form as to guarantee the neutrality and impartiality. The concept occupies many researchers — as many skeptics who are ready to set off the alarms at the slightest attempt.

A Pigou Club, founded in 2006 by the American Republican economist Gregory Mankiw, ensure the sustainability of pigouvism in its various interpretations. It includes, among its sixty members, well-known economists like Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini, Ralph Nader or Jeffrey Sachs; politicians like Michael Bloomberg and Al Gore; and even the actor William Baldwin. They all support the principle of a gas and/or a CO2 tax, and any form of eco-tax to internalize the same social and environmental costs of energy. Some of them, not all, call for offsetting tax cuts on income or sales.

From where he is, Arthur Cecil Pigou watches his new friends with an ironic satisfaction. We guess, behind his mustache, the pleasure of victory.



· Cecil Arthur Pigou, The Economics of Welfare, Library of Congress (U.S.), 2009
· Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001. Extended Producer Responsibility: A Guidance Manual for Governments. Paris, France. From Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development fact sheet about EPR:<> (Retrieved February 2010).

Lima Climate Talks should deliver first draft for 2015 climate deal

1922061_700198980057201_8218442381976835140_nUN summit to steer the course for a binding global commitment on carbon emissions in Paris

The meeting of nearly 200 governments in Peru in mid-December this year for a major UN climate change summit must produce the first draft of a global deal to cut emissions.

But one must be aware that slow progress at the last round of talks in Warsaw, Poland, meant significant progress is needed in key areas including climate financing and how to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

The meeting in Lima in December is a staging point towards a crunch summit in Paris in 2015 when it is hoped world leaders will agree, for the first time, a global deal on cutting emissions that includes both rich and poor countries.

A solid working draft is mandatory

Significant progress would also need to be made in Lima on the Green Climate Fund (a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world), the issue of “loss and damage” (whether rich countries should pay poor ones for damage caused by climate change) and a UN scheme to tackle emissions caused by forests being cleared.

Not easy to be optimistic but realistic about the meeting since its success would depend on the political will of the heads of state who attended the preceding UN climate summit in New York in September.

The UN secretary general’s idea is precisely that the presidents bring the political will to give the COP the momentum it needs to be sufficiently successful and to count on the political support to make a decision. Would the Lima summit leave a legacy in Peru’s fast-developing and industrialising pace by fixing its sights on green growth with clean technologies and low emissions…

Peru has a lot to lose from climate change. People in the Amazon region, the Andes Mountains and on its arid coast are already feeling the impact, and the country is one of the most biodiverse on Earth.

It has the world’s largest concentration of tropical glaciers, but has already lost 39% of them due to a 0.7C temperature rise in the Andes between 1939 and 2006. Peru has the world’s fourth largest area of rainforest and deforestation accounts for more than 40% of the country’s carbon emissions. Approximately 20% of emissions are generated by ranching and farming, the Peru environment minister Mr Pulgar-Vidal said.

Peru’s climate authorities priority is obviously the forest and they are working out the state of the forest –they are working with the Carnegie Institution for Science to use state-of-the art technology to map the country’s extensive tropical forest and scientifically measure its carbon stocks.

“People must understand that the standing forest has value and rewarding ecosystem services can lead to a change in behaviour, the issues are complex but we have clear strategies to tackle them,” says Mr Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. He pointed out recently of schemes including financial compensation for indigenous communities who conserve the rainforest and attempts to involve the private sector in forest preservation.

But illicit logging and an exponential increase in illegal gold mining in the Amazon since the 2008 global economic crisis present the biggest threats to Peru’s forest cover.

Spotlight on murders of activists as Peru prepares for Lima climate talks

Peru Government is regularly accused of neglecting people defending their land and forests against mining and illegal logging.

Two weeks before Peru hosts a key global climate conference, the country has come under fire for failing to protect activists who were murdered trying to defend the country’s rapidly diminishing rainforest and other ecosystems.

The South American nation has become the fourth most dangerous state in the world for environmental and land defenders, according to the NGO Global Witness, which accused the government of putting a dangerous emphasis on exploitation rather than conservation of natural resources.

When it comes to vegetarianism

When I attend endless debates on human physiology to determine our primary feeding method, see what happens…

Because the question no longer is: « Are we made to eat meat / plants / rocks / light », it is about something very simple:  « Can we do otherwise? »

Hear: « Can we eat without killing a hungry child on the continent next door, hurting anyone, tap into our resources to the very dregs, and run deeper into the ecological disaster that we started? »

And « Can we improve our health and the management of access to food in the world? »

Or « Are we still able to move towards a world where inequalities are actually tackled? »

Finally: « Are we to that point intellectually limited to commit suicide against our own life place? »

The answers to most of these questions already exist: yes, we can do otherwise.

So what are you waiting for? Consuming means choosing the world we want to live and that is predestined for future generations. What will you choose?



At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for everyone

Population7billion(Click to enlarge)

On the one hand, these three numbers: 3 billion people in 1960, 7 billion in 2014, whose half, 3’5 billion, are living in cities. On the other, the obvious: major climate change shook the world during this period.

For many demographers, the comparison is not relevant. But not for everyone. In France, Jacques Véron, a researcher at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, is working to cross population factors, lifestyle and technical progress. He explains that one way to link digitally the population to the environment is to estimate the « carrying capacity ». We are talking, for example, of the capacity of a sheep herd, that is to say, its size limited to and fro which it can no longer live in the area it has chosen without devastate and therefore suffer. Applied to humanity, what is the capacity of the latter on the Earth, to and fro which, life is no longer possible? At what point there will be too many people chasing too few resources? Fear of overflow and its implications for the future of mankind on Earth is not new. What does say Malthus in 1803 of « A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour »? He is simply in the way, unwelcome. The formula is famous. It is lapidary: « At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. »

And what happens, says Malthus, if, on the contrary, « these guests get up and make room for him»? Well, in that case, « the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall. »

Jacques Veron seizes this parable of the feast that defends the legitimacy of the populations to consume regardless of the following, to overthrow it. And he contrasts his definition of sustainable development that encourages, instead, to consider the rights of future generations. The overflow –let us remember— the great fear of the mid-twentieth century, « 700 millions de Chinois. Et moi ? Et moi ? Et moi ? »(*). The planet is then in and extensive demographic explosion. Specialists made therefore some calculations and projections that are downright frightening. In 1972 a report by the MIT, on behalf of the Club of Rome, warned about the population growth, a threat to the future of humankind, and as it could ultimately lead to a depletion of resources. It is urgent to stop it.

Fifteen years later, in 1987, the famous Brundtland Report came into the light, in preparation for the Earth Summit. It also called for stabilizing the population at 6,000,000,000. But despite political birth control (especially in China), despite the ongoing demographic transition, that number will be exceeded by 7 billion in 2014, and is expected to reach nearly 10 billion in 2050 and this time … carrying capacity could reach its limit.

One has the feeling that in spite of all these data, the reports are not obvious.
In the 1960s, biologist Paul R. Ehrlich published « The Population Bomb ». It refocuses the environmental question on the issue of population pressure. It leads to conclusions that are not very humanistic, for example, sterilization. Since, in fact, demographers have not been much engaged in the environmental issue as a result of the discrediting of their « anti-humanism». Emmanuel Todd or Hervé Le Bras, only belatedly became interested in these issues, even though environment plays a fundamental role in demography.

As for environmentalists, are they being taken sufficiently into account the concern on population growth? Is there a population problem? If you look at the history of mankind as a trajectory, the last two millennia, people have just about doubled; when in the space of a century, the twentieth, it was multiplied by 6, a sudden acceleration peak in the pace … but then what is the figure of a « normal » population? This calculation depends on scholar lifestyles, available technology, populations’ dispersals, social innovations, wealth sharing, and many other phenomena, well … that give rise to the most fanciful figures on the future. Most likely, it seems, is that around 10 billion. For the moment at least…

But the population is not evenly distributed across the Planet territory. There is a difference here between overcrowding in urban areas and the overall volume of people on Earth.
Urban crowding is a reality: there are local problems of overpopulation, but at the same time this does not imply the existence of a global problem of population growth. The problem is the way of life (we pollute too much, we are consuming too much energy), not the number. This is a « cultural » problem —the well-known « ecological footprint »— that should be fixed. Taking as an example the problem of global warming, and therefore a problem that is not « local », the British environmentalist James Lovelock believes that overpopulation and climate change are two sides of a same coin. However, the most populated regions are not those that emit the most greenhouse gas emissions, but the richest and/or in high-growth regions. The United States has plenty of space for little people —and it is among the largest emitters.

The problem is not how many we are, but how we live. This is a question of social organization, and again, of management and usage of land and resources.

(*) A well know French song by Jacques Dutronc