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Old 09-20-2007, 07:12 PM   #1
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Why Does Everyone See This Differently?

I know I sound like a broken record concerning overpopulation sometimes. However, I can't understand why, for example, NBC Nightly News can run a story like this one:

Study: Drivers lose 5 days a year to traffic - U.S. Life - MSNBC.com

and not even mention the fact that the root cause of the problem is overpopulated urban areas. True, they do say that one of the causes is "too many people."
The study offers a menu of options for addressing congestion, including adding roads or lanes where needed, improving public transportation and changing driving patterns through flexible work schedules, telecommuting and carpooling.

None of those options provides a long-term solution, and none address the basic problem.

I guess I just see some things differently.
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Old 09-20-2007, 07:16 PM   #2
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I had a relative who died a few years ago at about 100 years old. He was a conservationist. After he retired he wrote many letters to many publications about overpopulation risks. Hardly anyone paid attention to him.

We did our part, we have no children.

I read somewhere that adding more roads does nothing to decrease traffic, it just entices more people to use the roads.
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Old 09-20-2007, 07:17 PM   #3
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Have to agree with you on overpopulated urban areas, particularly DC. The problem, as I see it, is not overpopulation as much as it is uneven distribution of population, with cities getting clogged and the countryside in many places getting less populated. Family farms and other ways of sustainable living are pretty much finished, so people have no choice but to move to the cities. It irks me to see an area such as DC, where a large proportion of workers could do the same thing they are doing now in remote or satellite locations, yet they all have to commute on I95 into and out of the city just to sit on a desk and work on their office computer.
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Old 09-20-2007, 07:23 PM   #4
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I don't worry about overpopulation because it's a self-correcting problem. If we run out of food and other resources, we die -- problem solved. If an urban area gets crowded enough that people hate to live there, they move -- problem solved.
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Old 09-20-2007, 07:30 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
the root cause of the problem is overpopulated urban areas.
In the submarine force, "root cause" was a code phrase for "the real problem that's causing all these symptoms".

I don't think overpopulation is a root cause because humans are producing enough calories to sustain life, the vast majority of people appear to be getting fed, most of them are sheltered, and more people are dying of obesity-related problems than from malnutrition. IIRC the global birthrate is either not high enough to overcome the deathrate or it's declining quickly enough that "peak population" will be seven billion or so in the next 50 years.

If everyone stayed home then there wouldn't be any traffic jams. I see traffic congestion's problems as being caused by:
- too many people having to work,
- at the same vicinity,
- at the same time,
- over the same routes,
- without enough mass transportation.

Imagine how much money govts are spending to relieve traffic congestion. Now imagine if it was used to pay people to stay home, to telecommute, to work a different day/time schedule, and to use mass transportation.
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Old 09-20-2007, 07:54 PM   #6
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Interesting comments. I remember hearing warnings of food shortages due to overpopulation forty years ago. Yet today, we have more food produced by fewer people. Given a stable system, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of food. Of course, if changes in weather turn arable land into deserts, all bets are off. But population is only part of the problem then.

Traffic in urban areas is a different animal. I remember when the first interstate highways were built all around Atlanta. You could drive for twenty minutes outside of Atlanta and never see another car. Then they came, and came, and came… and they’re still coming, from everywhere. Through the years they’ve spend billions on adding new lanes. Then within a few years, they’re full again. Conclusion: if you build it, they will come.

Now I ask, are our cities better or worse for all the increased population in and around our cities? It probably depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a criminal, work is always available. If you cannot or will not work, someone will probably give you what you need, at least until the city government goes broke. Frankly, I wouldn’t live inside a city if they gave me free rent! It’s a downright unnatural way to live.
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Old 09-20-2007, 08:22 PM   #7
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In the submarine force, "root cause" was a code phrase for "the real problem that's causing all these symptoms".
As I recall the submarine force, "root cause analysis" consisted first of finding the guilty bastard and crucifying him, and only then determining what really caused the problem and how to prevent recurrences.

In this case, I think the root cause is simply the distance between work and home. Find a way to shorten that distance and the problem will disappear. Of course, there is no easy solution. For instance, in the NYC metropolitan area, you trade distance for money. If you want to have a reasonable commute, you pay through the nose for housing. If you want cheaper housing, you have a long commute. I think decentralized workplaces (i.e. telecommuting) are one solution to the problem. I cannot think of many reasons why I need to go all the way into Manhattan every day, since the majority of my work is done via email and telephone, but it is expected and I do it.
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Old 09-20-2007, 08:27 PM   #8
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I don't worry about overpopulation because it's a self-correcting problem. If we run out of food and other resources, we die -- problem solved. If an urban area gets crowded enough that people hate to live there, they move -- problem solved.
I knew that sounded familiar. It's like déjà vu all over again.

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Old 09-20-2007, 08:30 PM   #9
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I know I sound like a broken record concerning overpopulation sometimes. ...I guess I just see some things differently.
Don't know if you see it differently, but I wonder if you aren't oversimplifying some. If the DW and I lived in a vacuum, we probably would choose a less congested area with the amenities we value.

Realistically, though, our kids and grandkids live in the big city and we want to be near them. My career has limited us to larger areas or at least to congested smaller college towns. It's more complicated than just avoiding places with lots of traffic jams.

Not everyone can just move to Mayberry.
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Old 09-21-2007, 01:58 AM   #10
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Overpopulation isn't merely a question of caloric availability and survivability; it is also about quality of life, sustainability, and resource/environmental protection.

The US could easily support twice as many or more people as we have today with present technology. However, what cost would this have on quality of life? How many more rivers would be dammed? How many more forests would be clear cut? How many more mountains in West Virginia would be strip mined?

How many more factory farms would be required to feed this growing populace? How many more pesticides, genetically modified crops (and animals), and food grown for transportation as opposed to taste?

How long before another drought hits the southwest and the Colorado River shrinks another hundred miles, how long before California starts to drain the Oregon volcanoes for fresh drinking water?


We've overfished the oceans, cut down too many trees, strip-mined too many mountains and polluted fresh-water streams, we've poisoned all our amphibians, we force-feed our chickens, and city kids have never seen more than 10 stars, let alone the Milky Way.

We can certainly keep many more people alive, but at what cost? And why?

What does increased population do for us, anyway?


Sorry about the rant, but I really do not understand why we need to increase the world's population any more. I understand why some governments promote children (or immigration), but exponential population curves without exponential increases in available space bode ill. If only humans had a more classic predator/prey set of differential equations describing populations...
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Old 09-21-2007, 07:13 AM   #11
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I loved the city, but now I can see the Milky Way!!! I love that, too.

cho oyu.. all good points.
It's weird how people assume more people = better (usually when it's their group; worse when it's someone else). Besides sheer racism, I guess it is tied in, as you say, to governments wanting "growth".. which is basically production-oriented (no one's asking for elderly immigrants).

But increased production OF what, and FOR what?

GDP figures assume all "production" is equal; whether it's growing wheat or mining uranium, whether it's making a wooden chair that will last 50 years, or piece of plastic crap that will last 50 minutes, (in our hands, before going to the landfill.. but hey! burning diesel and trucking stuff to the landfill and the creation of the landfill itself is "production", too! Yippee!).

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People coming together in cities is, in many ways, very efficient. As Gumby said, it's the work/home to and fro that creates congestion problems. I remember driving in Manhattan and it was much more pleasant than driving in LA (parking another story, of course). In LA you have to drive everywhere just to get basic things done, so everyone spends hours in their cars. It's just the sprawl-promoting zoning that increases traffic: rules like you can't have apartments over a store or you have to have a min. 1/2-1 acre lot, or laws that say you can't have more than 2-3 unrelated people living in a house (Wellesley, MA).

When I read at the beginning of the thread about people "losing" 5 days a year to traffic, it really didn't seem to me like a big deal. How much time did people spend on transportation before the auto? It's kind of amazing to think of, for example, Dickens touring the US giving hundreds of readings in dozens of cities as he did with the transportation available at the time.. (took him 10 days just to cross the Atlantic).

You would "lose" big time if you had to get to work on foot, bike, or horse. To "win" back that time, we put up with pollution and expanses of asphalt. More mass transit would help, but that's kinda too socialistic a solution to be seriously undertaken in the US. I remember, over my many years in urban areas, a general trend toward degradation of service as opposed to enhancement. I hope some of the new global warming awareness, gas prices, and so forth can bring back some demand for more efficient public transportation. And while I'm not ringing alarm bells, I guess I agree with Al in not seeing less of us as a bad thing.
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:15 AM   #12
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Wow, I see a simple solution to this problem. Build more roads. Add more lanes. Upgrade existing system inefficiencies (such as integrated, coordinated traffic signal systems with detectors that work). Fix bottleneck areas. Mass transit in limited appropriate circumstances.

Not enough dollars are being spent on transportation issues. Our state (NC) and federal dollars that are earmarked for transportation are being siphoned off to fund other priorities.

caution: I'm a transportation engineer, so I might be a little biased. I am thoroughly convinced that we can build our way out of any existing or foreseeable transportation issues. If it gets too expensive, people will adapt (there's that equilibrium thing).

Edited to add: On average, the typical commute length measured in distance has increased significantly over the years. The typical commute length measured in time has stayed relatively constant. That means the average travel speed is increasing. This is primarily due to construction of free-flow facilities (beltways/interstates) and technology (coordinated, actuated traffic signals and systems w/ fiberoptics).

For folks stuck in traffic every day, congestion is a big issue. But for most folks living outside of the megacities, traffic is a relatively minor concern and relatively easily/cheaply mitigated.
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:19 AM   #13
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Now imagine if it was used to pay people to stay home...
Where do I sign?
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:30 AM   #14
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Justin, no conflict of interest there!
Like Martha, I'm trying to help prevent overpopulation by not having kids!

I think Atlanta had an interesting take on the problem--if the traffic is horrible enough, then people will HAVE to take the metro thing. But that goes against the southern inherent right to drive everywhere and park right in front!

Saturday is World Carless Day--I'm hoping that Cycling Investor will pick up my slack--as it would take me 2 hours to walk to the grocery store and back.
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:52 AM   #15
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Cho has nailed it, and explains why so many people don't understand the overpopulation issue. It's an issue of quality of life and sustainability.

Yes, it's self-correcting, but unfortunately by the time it starts self-correcting, the quality of life has already suffered a big decline. I moved out of the bay-area because of traffic, but that didn't solve the problem.

The "it's not overpopulation, it's just the distribution of population" argument doesn't make sense to me. If the world population were 3 billion instead of 6 billion, there would probably be half as many people in Los Angeles as there are now. The global population was around 3 billion in 1950, and the population in LA was half what it is now.

Sure, if everyone stayed home there wouldn't be a problem, and that wouldn't be a feasible solution because of all the ankle bracelets we'd need.

The painless, long term solution is to educate people so that they decide not to squeeze out so many babies, and to do that before mandatory one-child only laws become necessary. Instead we have a law that prohibits U.S. funding to overseas family planning clinics that provide abortion services or even information about abortion, and we work hard to help women in the 40's and 50's to have children.
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:55 AM   #16
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I'm not sure if you're serious Justin, but building new roads only postpones the problem. It's like buying a bigger belt when your weight increases.

Let's say traffic becomes horrible, and people take the Metro. Traffic will not get better, it will just stay at the "horrible" level.
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Old 09-21-2007, 11:04 AM   #17
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Al, I believe the US birth rate is at an all-time low. Same in Europe. Same in Japan.

At the same time, we have a higher proportion of old folk, our lifespan is increasing, and we're potentially on the verge of increasing it significantly more.

We need more young folk. So, which of you old farts would like to step-up to the plate and volunteer to exit early?
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Old 09-21-2007, 11:05 AM   #18
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Wouldn't equilibrium be reached if every woman had exactly 2.1 children or so (on average)? The two children would provide on average one more mating couple (no incest jokes, please). The extra .1 (or maybe 0.05 or 0.15) would be to cover the certainty that not all females would make it to baby-makin' age.

Wouldn't a 1 child limit lead to population reduction, long term? Or would we implement that limit only until the population gets to a manageable 3 billion or so?

Hey, I'll try to do my part and only have a total of 2 children (slightly under the equilibrium target).
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Old 09-21-2007, 11:14 AM   #19
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The painless, long term solution is to educate people so that they decide not to squeeze out so many babies, and to do that before mandatory one-child only laws become necessary. Instead we have a law that prohibits U.S. funding to overseas family planning clinics that provide abortion services or even information about abortion, and we work hard to help women in the 40's and 50's to have children.
The key is educating women....An educated woman doesnt have 10 kids....and a lot them do that in the "developing world" because they need the labor and need the "social security plan" in older age that a lot of kids provides...Also, look at Europe and Japan....Many areas are below replacement rate and dont really have much desire for immigration....
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Old 09-21-2007, 11:24 AM   #20
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Wow.... this has been an issue for over 200 years.... I remembered learning this in college.. and wham... it is in wiki...


In An Essay on the Principle of Population (first published in 1798), Thomas Malthus proposed that while resources tend to grow linearly, population grows exponentially. He argued that, if left unrestricted, human populations continue to grow until they would become too large to be supported by the food grown on available agricultural land, causing starvation which then controls population growth. He argued that this had happened many times previously in human history and estimated that this would occur again by the middle of the 19th century. To avoid this happening, Malthus argued for population control through "moral restraint". While arguably he was right about human history up to his time, he made his prediction for the future exactly at the time the industrial revolution and a similar revolution in agriculture caused a very large increase in available resources. His specific predictions therefore failed because he used a static analysis, and extrapolated his historical numbers into the future without considering factors that could increase the resource base available to humanity faster than he thought, (for example, the revolutions in agriculture at his time or later the Green Revolution), or factors which cause population growth to decline or reverse, (for example, the demographic transition).
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