April 12, 2010

Jainguo Liu Ph.D.
Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability
115 Manly Miles Building
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
517-432-5025 (phone)
517-432-5066 (fax

Dear Dr. Jainguo Liu:
I appreciated your contribution to the documentary “Demographic Winter.”  You take the position of an environmentalist.  Often when I have spoken to people about the declining birth rate I get, “Oh, that’s good.  It will be easier on the environment.”  But as you point out, two adults living together consume fewer resources than they would were each to live in a different household.  The desire of people each to have their own roof is not new.  The Shalimar garden of the Moguls on Lake Dahl in the mountains of Cashmere has at its summit two pavilions, one for the Mogul and one for his wife.  Neither is as big as a typical suburban American home. 

But I fear that the ultimate threat to the environment far exceeds simple excessive consumption on the part of the privileged.  Let me tell you what I do know first.  Then I shall go into my dark speculation.

Inbreeding can be a problem for humans and other animals, but in fact that is quite rare.  On the other hand, when a mutually random mating population gets too large, in humans that apparently means more than a few hundred, then there is a severe loss of fertility.  This is not what we are usually told, but the evidence is incontrovertible.  I have assembled what I could on nobabies.net with the most recent summary posted on March 25, 2010.  Were I to put the evidence here the letter would become too long.  There is more evidence and other things including letters like this on the same site. 

An environmental case in point is the Coho salmon of California.  They are facing extinction.  The people trying to save them have a mating program in which they are trying to maximize genetic diversity.  That is the path to extinction.  When I wrote them and asked them at least to hedge their bet I received no reply.  Look at the evidence and you must agree that the fish will probably all perish.  It is very strange.  Those fish cruise the pacific and then at enormous effort return to their native brook.  What do they find there?  If all is well they find cousins.  And yet so fixated we are on genetic diversity that the attempt to save them takes the form of subverting exactly what they have evolved to attempt.

The world birth rate is falling and is lowest in the developed world.  The fertility decline will not stop unless it reaches zero or some tiny number.  In effect the developed world will vanish.  If our technology vanishes with us, things bode ill.  And although there has been a significant effort to export our science and education, the fact is that mostly we are a brain drain on the rest of the world.  It will not soon match us if ever. 

But soon after advanced technology is gone, the only way to raise food will be by traditional means.  That method is capable only of feeding about 2 billion under the best of circumstances.  And circumstances will not be good.  There will be I understand eight or nine billion people competing for that small amount of food.  Of course it will not happen in one year, but eventually the pressure of numbers will cause every fish to be caught, every game shot and every forest to be burned to drive out edible animals.

No, I cannot prove that.  It may not happen.  According to Thor Heyrdahl’s book Aku Aku, Easter Island descended into cannibalism during the time their population was dropping very fast.  On the other hand the same drop in Long House Valley in the American Southwest produced no civil or environmental madness I have heard of.

So that is the threat to the environment that most worries me.  I wish the Coho salmon people would listen to reason of course.  Take a look at the evidence and let me know what you think. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

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