Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Economic Security And Interest-Free Exchange Systems: Possible Paths To Overcome Overpopulation And Food Scarcity

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Global growth and world poverty remain hot topics influenced by a bunch of very hard to control variables: food, health, politics, economics, religion and human rights.

Recent reports released by FAO and other important world institutions showcase a global situation that no one can deny: the poor become poorer and the rich become richer.

Photo credit: Brian McEntire

In recent years general opinion seemed to associate the problem of low birth rates with the one of food scarcity, thus connecting low growth levels with poverty. However, recently such a viewpoint started to be questioned and several studies have been bringing to light quite a different reality: low birth rates are typical of the richest countries, where food is more available than anywhere else in the world.

On the other hand, poorest countries showcase the highest birth rates, despite the fact that they lack the necessary means to survive (and therefore they also have the highest mortality rates - especially infant mortality).

But most interesting and surprising than all of the above, is a great email message I bumped into to the other day and which made me ask a few questions I had not seriously considered before.

In a spontaneous, informal written conversation with someone in his network, partner blogger and agent of change Sepp Hasslberger was trying to explain the fake "paradox" created and perpetuated by mainstream media over the issue of world growth and poverty.

What follows below is therefore not an article but a spontaneous message from Sepp Hasslberger to his fellow contact. The text has not been edited if not in adding a few links and references and the images.

Overpopulation: Does Population Growth Follow Food Supply?


by Sepp Hasslberger

If it is true that availability of food causes populations to increase, then how is it that the countries where food is most abundantly available to every citizen (the industrialized group of nations) have the lowest birth rates of all countries on the planet, and conversely, why is it that the poorest countries seem to have the highest birth rates?

Do these facts not immediately invalidate the contention that food supply is causally related to births, except, perhaps, in the inverse way - the more food (and food security) the less births, the less food (and food securtity) the more births in each family.

I believe I have never got a satisfactory answer.

To check out my argument, look at this page of countries by fertility rate. You will roughly see the poorest countries with the highest fertility rate, and the richer ones having correspondingly much lower fertility rates.

Both Italy, the country where I live, and Germany, where I was born, have extremely low fertility rates, and I can assure you that no one goes hungry in either country.

Now I do agree that our exploitation of the planet's resources is not sustainable, and I submit it may be the way we obtain our food that is not in keeping with the times. In ancient times, people could just roam, hunt and gather what fruits and roots they found and live off them. Then came agriculture, which allowed more people to be fed with less land.

We now need to transit to the next step, that is: we need to overcome the agriculture age and start growing our food from an abundantly available resource with a technology that is sustainable. I am thinking of sea water as an abundantly available resource, and microalgae that grow in sea water as a nutritious, complete, and in principle abundantly available source of food. We can always complement with things we hunt and things we farm, but the bulk of our food will have to come from a new, sustainable source.

Next, I believe that it is not food security so much as economic security that makes people look up and say "we want less children". Where economic security is absent, and people live off the land, it is practically indispensable to have numerous offspring, because they are the labor that will sustain an aging couple into their old age until their death. Absent numerous children, a subsistence farmer could starve in old age, and therefore there is every incentive to have more than just one or two children.


The children assure future economic survival.

One of the questions that has been asked in the discussion is how COULD the populations of several of the poorer nations be better off in a realistic way. This is a very tricky one that cannot be answered without looking at the basic economic set-up of our society.

We have an economic and monetary system that practically obliges any country to expand economic activity unless it wants to see its people starve. The reason our system requires constant economic expansion, and thereby ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources is hidden in the very basic economic set-up.

Our money is issued by private interests, which consider it as their property. These interests ask us to pay a fee (called interest) for the use of their money. Economic activity cannot sustain that fee unless there is a constant expansion of the activity. In order to change this, we will need to change the basics of our economic / monetary system.

We need a means of exchange (money) that is not the property of any private interest and that is not weighed-down by the necessity to pay interest for its use. In that way, those countries that are poor today could start working for their own economic prosperity rather than for paying interest on foreign loans or on the very money they are using.

That, in my view, would increase economic security and would obviate the problem of over-population. It would also obviate the problem of over-exploitation of our limited planetary resources, letting things
cool down so we could live comfortably while not having to constantly procreate to assure survival. Population numbers would stabilize without having to force either a one-child-policy such as China does, or a diminished food supply, as the prevailing mood of the discussion seems to favour.

We need a profound change if we are to survive into the future. That change, in my view, is going to be people realizing that they are not just biological mechanisms but the crown of creation. People will realize that their real beingness is a high spirituality, rather than mammalian instincts and they will start acting in accordance with that realization.

Part of that change in our way to see things will be to see other species as every bit as important as our own, and we will do whatever we can to no longer destroy the habitat of these other species just to satisfy one of our mammalian needs - that for food.

A few days later Sepp wrote on his blog:

"There is a view, expressed in papers by Russell Hopfenberg, that human population continues to increase as a function of the availability of food. The corollary and suggested remedy is that, putting a cap on food production, we can stop human population from further growing. The implied problem of population increase is that we are eating up our environment - we are diminishing the vital space of thousands of different species leading to their extinction, all in the name of food production.

Personally, I believe that this is an oversimplified view and that, although we do cause havoc in the environment, population numbers may not be the exclusive or even the principal culprit in this play.


Some time ago, Steven Salmony contacted me by making comments on this site, arguing the view that we must recognize population growth is the major problem facing humanity, and that we must do something about it. Although he did not directly say that humanity needs to be starved into shape, the suggestion was that capping the food supply could slim down the population into acceptable numbers. At the time, I posted Overpopulation - Does Population Growth Follow Food Supply?, organizing the exhortations and successive comments, and my somewhat doubting replies into an article that could give an idea of both sides of the argument.

The reason I come back to the theme of overpopulation and food supply now is an invitation by a friendly lady to take part in a discussion on the guestbook page of a website about the writings of Daniel Quinn, who seems to be a great fan if not the originator of the idea that human population increases whenever food is produced in abundance.

Read on, to see what the discussion was about and how I responded...

Read more on this topic

This article has been originally written as a message on a public forum and it has been republished here with the kind permission of Sepp Hasslberger.

About the author


Sepp Hasslberger is an independent reporter supporting the Robin Good's Communication Agents Initiative. His interests are very wide and range from alternative health, to free energy, physics and alternative economies. Sepp uses a Mac and lives with his lovely wife in a micro-paradise he built over the arc of 20 and more years in the heart of Rome. You should really visit him next day you go by Italy. To find out more about him check his two blogs, Health Supreme and Sepp Hasslberger, and you will not easily get bored.

Photo credits

Food market: Oxfamnovib
Children eating: ADRA

Sepp Hasslberger -
Reference: Health Supreme [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2007-07-15 10:16:22

Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.

While I would prefer not to diss politicians, many of them who are primary beneficiaries of the ‘first’ world’s political economy appear to suffer from what has been named a “nature deficit disorder.” Indeed, many too many leaders among us in the developed world seem to have lost touch not only with the natural world but also with good science and humanity. Who knows, perhaps the empire-builders and politicians and mass media moguls of the dominant, industrialized culture of conglomerates have become utterly mesmerized and generally misdirected in their relentless, unbridled pursuit of the golden calf.

After all, we know that several hundred leaders, often serving on multiple executive committees and boards of directors in quasi-secret organizations like The Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group and Council on Foreign Relations, exert extraordinary influence upon politicians and minions in the mass media through their billion dollar bank accounts. They manage the world’s interlocking national economies and direct the course of economic globalization. At least to me, these leaders appear to be leading a charge that could inadvertently squash and utterly subordinate the sacred of this world to the profane............ with potentially intolerable consequences for the future of life on Earth.

At its current scale and anticipated rate of growth, the continuous expansion of the world economy we see today may be approaching a point in human history when unbridled production, unchecked per human consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers could overwhelm the limited natural resources and frangible ecosystem services of Earth, upon which life itself depends for it very existence.

Is it not the circumstances of unrestrained, human-driven “overgrowth” activities worldwide that need to change? Perhaps leaders are now called upon to lead by regulating the global growth of human numbers, per capita consumption and endlessly expanding production capabitities so that we find a balanced relationship with nature and, consequently, give this marvelous planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit the time it requires for self-renewal. In our time, people are dissipating more resources than can be restored by the Earth for human benefit.

Or we could choose to stay the current “business as usual” course by maximally increasing production and recklessly dissipating limited natural resources, thereby causing economic globalization to continuously grow in a patently unsustainable way. Then distinctly human over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities would commandeer remaining original wildlife habitats, massively extirpate biodiversity, degrade fragile ecosystems and, very shortly, engulf the planet, would they not?

One primary concern of mine — that needs not to be bound up in silence — is that politicians, their billionaire club business benefactors and their minions in the mass media have themselves introduced a “code of silence” regarding what is being discussed in this blog and similarly situated vehicles of communication. They will NOT openly discuss one topic: the maintenance of the integrity of Earth’s ecosphere, its biodiversity and its natural resources. They do not speak publicly about good scientific data indicating that the current scale and rate of growth of seemingly endless economic expansion could become a patently unsustainable enterprise in the next decade of this century. Can you find public presentations by these self-proclaimed masters of the universe on the potential threats of biodiversity extinction, environmental collapse and, perhaps, human endangerment that could soon be posed by their willful determination to continue the unbridled, maximal extension of BIG business activities worldwide?

Until now, such discussions as this one could not be maintained and, for the moment, remain marginalized from mainstream, mass media communication. Even so, the times...........they are changing, thanks to people like Sepp Hasslberger and Zot Lynn Surgot. More and more people are speaking out loudly and clearly for good science, humanity and the preservation of the Earth, and being heard despite the deafening silence that still surrounds us.

This is only a guess, but one day soon the word ECOLOGY will be spoken in mainstream, public discourse as freely, forcefully and often as the word ECONOMY. One day I believe many leaders among us will substitute the word ECOLOGY for the word ECONOMY in the following sentence.


2007-07-12 08:41:03


Dear Sepp,

Please take a look at the following link,

What would you think of implementing this proposal as a way of beginning to address the challenges of the human predicament that looms, already visible, on the far horizon?

What would you think of then following up the implementation of this plan of action with a second program of action that in a meaningful way distributes the world’s food resources?

After these programs are active, what would think of limiting annual increases in global food production?

Always, with thanks,


2007-07-12 05:57:23


Dear Steve,

in a previous comment, I have asked a question:

"How would curtailing the food act to reduce population numbers if not by starvation?"

which I have not received an answer to. It would be interesting to know what is the postulated mechanism by which

a) increased food supply willy-nilly causes an increase in human population and

b) a decrease in food supply would act to decrease human population numbers, if not by starvation.

That mechanism has never been explicitly stated by either Hopfenberg/Pimentel or by those supporting their ideas.

There is no doubt that currently, starvation is mainly a consequence of our failure to ensure equitable distribution of food, or rather of our tacit decision to leave food production largely up to food multinationals which only work for profit, rather than to support local production of food by small scale organic methods of farming, such as proposed in permaculture.

I do not agree however with your contention that

"the population dynamics of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species, including microorganisms".

We humans do have some features that distinguish us from different and in many cases less complex life forms. Although we do inhabit bodies that are not much different from our primate cousins, the bodily instincts are not all that motivates us and our activities.

Population dynamics depend on many variables, and the availability of food is not by a long shot the major one. A presentation of statistical information about the changes in fertility and longevity that I found very interesting can be found here:

What I get out of watching that presentation is that there are numerous variables of the population dynamic, and most of them are independent of the availability or not of food.

When families decide to have few children, it is not because they are afraid they can't feed a larger number, but because of a combination of social and economic considerations.

To say that humans reproduce only as a function of the availability of foods and that we are - as a species - following the same constraints in population dynamics as colonies of bacteria, is frankly a point of view I cannot share.

We do have (some) freedom of choice when it comes to making a family.

2007-07-11 21:16:49

Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Sepp,

Please correct me, or have one respected population scientist or else an expert in human demography explain the flaw in the apparently unforeseen understanding that the population dynamics of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species, including microorganisms. In the simplest and most obvious terms this means that for any species, including Homo sapiens, more food equals more people; less food equals less people; and, in any case, regardless of species, no food equals no people. However wondrous, singular and miraculous is Homo sapiens, with regard to its population dynamics, the human species is categorically not exceptional.

Thanks for your many previous contributions to this ongoing discussion.

As ever,


2007-07-11 08:59:48


Data from May 2007 13 Press Release of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council indicate more than 800 million starving children worldwide. Approximately 18,000 kids die from hunger daily. Given the common knowledge that abundant harvests are available to feed these children now, let me restate what Kofi Annan said 10 years ago: "The world has enough food. What it lacks is the political will to ensure that all people have access to this bounty, that all people enjoy food security."



2007-07-10 10:11:55

Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Sepp,

So much has already been said about this matter, that I am left with little more to say other than to remind you that the evidence to which I repeatedly refer from Hopfenberg and Pimentel points to the problem of human starvation as a challenge for the DISTRIBUTORS of food, not the PRODUCERS of it.



2007-07-09 13:14:12


Dear Steve,

"Although he did not directly say that humanity needs to be starved into shape, the suggestion was that capping the food supply could slim down the population into acceptable numbers."

is what I said. In fact I did not suggest you said that humankind needs to be starved into shape and I accept that this is my interpretation of the proposal to cap the food supply.

Let me ask a question: How would curtailing the food act to reduce population numbers if not by starvation?

Certainly food insecurity is not known to act as an incentive to have less children - quite the contrary, if you look at the actual figures, in countries where food is scarce fertility seems to be high as a general rule.

2007-07-09 10:50:56

Steven Earl Salmony

Dear Sepp,

The pernicious idea that humankind needs to be "starved into shape," as you put it above, are words that come only from your head and not from mine. Who do you know who is suggesting such a thing?

Your thinking suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific evidence from Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel. It light of the lengthy discussion we have had on the subject of overpopulation, I doubt there is anything more I can say to satisfy you.

Let me state in the strongest and clearest possible terms that I and no one I respect have suggested starvation as a way to regulate absolute global human population numbers.



2007-06-30 07:56:16

Sepp Hasslberger

Although I said "microalgae" could be a good food source, perhaps the more accurate term I should have used is "phytoplankton".

Grown in tanks of sea water, plankton is not only a healthy food but is potentially available in great quantities. The water is not degraded and returns to the sea after use, so the resource is a sustainable food.

Some pioneers are already working on this:

but the technology needs to be much more widely applied if it is to help in feeding populations without increasing our environmental footprint.

posted by on Saturday, June 30 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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