239. We therefore have recommended to the UN Human Environment Conference that
- Certain wilderness areas of tropical rain forest, tropical scrub forest, and arctic tundra be declared inviolate. These being the least understood and most fragile biomes;
- the hunter-gatherers and hunter farmers within these areas be given title to their lands (i.e. those lands in which traditionally they have gained their living) and be allowed to live there without pressure of any kind;
- severe restrictions be placed on entry to these areas by anyone who does not live there permanently (while allowing the indigenes free movement);
- sovereignty over the areas remain with the countries in which they lie; who should also be responsible for the policing of their boundaries;
- funds for administration of these areas and payments in lieu of exploitation (to the host country) be collected from UN members in proportion to their GNP;
- an international body be appointed as an outcome of the Stockholm Human Environment Conference to supervise an ecological programme of research, the results of which should be freely available to participating countries.
240. Social accounting. By the introduction of monetary incentives and disincentives it is possible to put a premium on durability and a penalty on disposability, thereby reducing the throughput of materials and energy so that resources are conserved and pollution reduced. But another important way of reducing pollution and enhancing amenity is by the provision of a more equitable social accounting system, reinforced by anti-disamenity legislation. Social accounting procedures must be used not just to weigh up the merits of alternative development proposals, but also to determine whether or not society actually wants such development. Naturally, present procedures require improvement: for example, in calculating ‘revealed preference’ (the values of individuals and communities as ‘revealed’ to economists by the amount people are willing and/or can afford to pay for or against a given development), imagination, sensitivity and commonsense are required in order to avoid the imposition on poor neighbourhoods or sparsely inhabited countryside of nuclear power stations, reservoirs, motorways, airports, and the like; and in calculating the ‘social time preference rate’ (an indication of society’s regard for the future) for a given project, a very low discount should be given, since it is easier to do than undo and we must assume that unless we botch things completely many more generations will follow us who will not thank us for exhausting resources or blighting the landscape.
241. The social costs of any given development should be paid by those who propose or perpetrate it – ‘the polluter must pay’ is a principle that must guide our costing procedures. Furthermore, accounting decisions should be made in the light of stock economics: in other words, we must judge the health of our economy not by flow or throughput, since this inevitably leads to waste, resource depletion and environmental disruption, but by the distribution, quality and variety of the stock. At the moment, as Kenneth Boulding has pointed out,
“the success of the economy is measured by the amount of throughput derived in part from reservoirs of raw materials, processed by ‘factors of production’, and passed on in part as output to the sink of pollution reservoirs. The Gross National Product (GNP) roughly measures this throughput.” 
Yet, both the reservoirs of raw materials and the reservoirs for pollution are limited and finite, so that ultimately the throughput from the one to the other must be detrimental to our well-being and must therefore not only be minimised but be regarded as a cost rather than a benefit. For this reason Boulding has suggested that GNP be considered a measure of gross national cost, and that we devote ourselves to its minimisation, maximising instead the quality of our stock:
“When we have developed the economy of the spaceship earth in which man will persist in equilibrium with his environment, the notion of the GNP will simply disintegrate. We will be less concerned with income-flow concepts and more with capital-stock concepts. Then technological changes that result in the maintenance of the total stock with less throughput (less production and consumption) will be a clear gain.”
We must come to assess our standard of living not by calculating the value of all the air-conditioners we have made and sold but by the freshness of the air; not by the value of the antibiotics, hormones, feedstuff and broiler-houses and the cost of disposing of their wastes, all of which put so heavy a price on poultry production today but by the flavour and nutritional quality of the chickens themselves; and so on. In other words, accepted value must reflect real value, just as accepted cost must reflect real cost.
242. It is evident, however, that in a society such as ours, which to a large extent ignores the long-term consequences of its actions, there is a substantial differential between accepted cost and real cost. An industrial town, for example, whose citizens and factories pollute the air and water systems around it and who feed themselves from a number of increasingly intensive monocultures, not only has no way of measuring the satisfactions or otherwise afforded by its life-style, nor of equitably distributing the costs imposed by one polluter on another but no way either of assessing ecological costs, some of which will have to be paid by generation 1, others by generations 2, 3, 4, etc., and still others by people elsewhere, with whom in every other respect there might be no contact. Thus its agricultural practices might provide cheap and plentiful food for one generation and stimulate its agrochemical industries, but may so impoverish the soil and disrupt the agro-ecosystem, that the next generation will have to import more food, or failing this, to resort to still riskier expedients, thereby seriously compromising the food supply of the following generation; or the wastes of one generation might affect the health of the next, or its marine food supply, or so increase the mutation rate that future generations receive an unlooked for genetic burden. The extent to which we are simplifying ecosystems and destroying natural controls so that we are forced to provide technological substitutes, is a real cost against society and should be accounted as one. At the moment, however, we merely add up the value of mining operations, factories and so on, and that of cleaning up the mess whenever we attempt to do so and conclude that we have never been better off.
243. Since the full costs of any action anywhere in the world must be borne by someone, somewhere, sometime, it is important that our accounting system makes provision for this. We accept however, that ecological processes are so complex and can spread so far in space and time, that this will be exceptionally difficult. Nonetheless, given the truism that a satisfactory accounting system is one which supports and helps perpetuate the social system from which it derives, we must attempt to devise one which is fitted to a society based on a sober assessment of ecological reality and not on the anthropocentric pipe-dream that we can do what we will to all species, not excepting, it seems, future generations of our own. It is worth recalling Prof. Commoner’s dictum that since economics is the science of the distribution of resources, all of which are derived from the ecosphere, it is foolish to perpetuate an economic system which destroys it. Ideally (and as befits the etymology of the two words), ecology and economics should not be in conflict: ecology should provide the approach, the framework for an understanding of the interrelationships of social and environmental systems; and economics should provide the means of quantifying those interrelationships in the light of such an understanding, so that decisions on alternative courses of action can be made without undue difficulty.
244. One of our long-term goals, therefore, must be to unite economics and ecology. The specific measures we have proposed are, we believe, necessary steps in this direction, albeit crude ones. A raw materials tax, an amortisation tax, a power tax, revised methods of calculating revealed preference, social time preference rate and so on, with legislative provision for their enforcement, a set of air, water and land quality standards enforceable at law and linked with a grant-incentive programme – these and other measures will have to be introduced at an early stage. Naturally, the full force of such measures could not be allowed to operate immediately: they would have to be carefully graded so as to be effective without causing unacceptable degrees of social disturbance. Plainly the social consequences will be great, and these will be considered in the section on social systems. The key to success is likely to be careful synchronisation, and this too will be considered in a separate section.
Stabilising the population
250. We have seen already that however slight the growth rate, a population cannot grow indefinitely. It follows, therefore, that at some point it must stabilise of its own volition, or else be cut down by some ‘natural’ mechanism – famine, epidemic, war, or whatever. Since no sane society would choose the latter course, it must choose to stabilise. To do this it must have some idea of its optimum size, since again it is unlikely that any sane society would choose to stabilise above (or indeed below) it.
251. The two main variables affected by population numbers, as opposed to per capita consumption, are the extent to which the emotional needs and social aspirations of the community can be met (i.e. the complex of satisfactions which has come to be known as the quality of life) and the community’s ability to feed itself. In our opinion there is good social and epidemiological evidence that Britain and many other countries in both the developed and undeveloped worlds, are overcrowded. However, since this is impossible to prove and since there is immense variation in individual emotional requirements, it would be unwise in the present state of our knowledge to rely on quality of life judgements when calculating the optimum population. Fortunately, we know much more about feeding ourselves and assessment of the optimum becomes a realisable task if we base it on the simple ecological concept of the carrying capacity of the land.
252. Carrying capacity is usually defined as the amount of solar energy potentially available to man via food-plants in a given area. This definition must be accompanied by a caveat to the effect that if carrying capacity is considered in terms of energetics alone, a number of essential ecological and nutritional variables are in danger of exclusion. For example, it would be easy to assume that land used for a combination of purposes (mixed farming, woodland, etc.) would be better employed and could support a larger population if it were exclusively given over to the intensive production of food-plants high in calories (e.g. wheat). We know, however, that protein and the other nutrients are no less vital to us than calories, while there is evidence that we are more likely to get the proper nutritional components from meat if it comes to us from free-living animals. This requirement alone demands a certain diversity, both of species and habitat and we have seen too (in the appendix on ecosystems) that diversity is essential if fertility and stability are to be maintained over the long-term.
253. As we have seen Britain supports a population well in excess of the carrying capacity of the land owing to its ability to import large amounts of food, especially the cheap protein required to feed our poultry and pigs. As world population grows, and with it global agricultural demand, so will it be increasingly difficult for us to find countries with exportable surpluses, surpluses which in any case will become progressively more expensive. Unless we are willing (and able) to perpetuate an even greater inequality of distribution than exists today, Britain must be self-supporting. We have stated already our belief that on the evidence available it is unlikely that there will be any significant increase in yield per acre, so that there is no other course open to us but to reduce our numbers before we stabilise. Since we appear capable of supporting no more than half our present population, the figure we should aim for over the next 150 to 200 years can be no greater than 30 million, and in order to protect it from resource fluctuation probably less.
254. Not every country is in such a difficult position as Britain. A few will be able to stabilise at or relatively near present levels. But taking world population as a whole, and using per capita per diem protein intake as the key variable in assessing carrying capacity, we believe the optimum population for the world is unlikely to be above 3,500 million and is probably a good deal less. This figure rests on three assumptions: (a) that the average per capita per diem requirements of protein is 65 grams; (b) that present agricultural production per capita can be sustained indefinitely; and (c) that there is absolutely equitable distribution, no country enjoying a greater per capita per diem protein intake than any other – which compared with today’s conditions is absurdly utopian. Utopian though they may be, unless these assumptions are realised, we are faced either with the task of reducing world population still further until it is well below the optimum, or with condoning inequalities grosser and more unjust than those which we in the developed countries foster at present.
255. While they cannot grow indefinitely, populations can remain above the optimum – indeed above the sustainable maximum – for some time. The fact that the global population, including that of Britain, is above both levels, means only that our numbers are preventing the optimisation of other values. It means that while most people receive the bare minimum of calories necessary for survival, a large proportion are deprived of the nutrients (especially protein) essential for intellectual development. They are alive, but unable to realise their full potential – which is the grossest possible waste of human resources. An optimum population, therefore, may be defined as one that can be sustained indefinitely and at a level at which the other values of its members are optimised – and the fact that we are above this level does not justify despair but does justify a great sense of urgency in working towards our long-term goal of the optimum. For it is obvious that given the dynamic of population growth, even if all nations today determined to stabilise their populations, numbers would continue to rise for some considerable time. Indeed the Population Council has calculated (Annual Report 1970) that
“if the replacement-sized family is realised for the world as a whole by the end of this century – itself an unlikely event – the world’s population will then be 60 percent larger or about 5.8 billion and due to the resulting age structure it will not stop growing until near the end of the next century, at which time it will be about 8.2 billion (8,200 million) or about 225 percent the present size. If replacement is achieved in the developed world by 2000 and in the developing world by 2040, then the world’s population will stabilise at nearly 15.5 billion (15,500 million) about a century hence, or well over four times the present size.”
Clearly we must go all out for the ‘unlikely event’ of achieving the replacement-sized family (an average of about two children per couple) throughout the world by the end of this century, if our children are not to suffer the catastrophes we seek to avoid.
256. Our task is to end population growth by lowering the rate of recruitment so that it equals the rate of loss. A few countries will then be able to stabilise, to maintain that ratio; most others, however, will have to slowly reduce their populations to a level at which it is sensible to stabilise. Stated baldly, the task seems impossible; but if we start now, and the exercise is spread over a sufficiently long period of time, then we believe that it is within our capabilities. The difficulties are enormous, but they are surmountable.
257. First, governments must acknowledge the problem and declare their commitment to ending population growth; this commitment should also include an end to immigration. Secondly, they must set up national population services with a fourfold brief:
- to publicise as widely and vigorously as possible the relationship between population, food supply, quality of life, resource depletion, etc., and the great need for couples to have no more than two children. The finest talents in advertising should be recruited for this and the broad aim should be to inculcate a socially more responsible attitude to child-rearing. For example, the notion (derived largely from the popular women’s magazines) that childless couples should be objects of pity rather than esteem should be sharply challenged; and of course there are many similar notions to be disputed.
- to provide, at local and national levels, free contraception advice and information on other services such as abortion and sterilisation;
- to provide a comprehensive domiciliary service, and to provide contraceptives free of charge, free sterilisation, and abortion on demand;
- to commission, finance, and coordinate research not only on demographic techniques and contraceptive technology but also on the subtle cultural controls necessary for the harmonious maintenance of stability. We know so little about the dynamics of human populations that we cannot say whether the first three measures would be sufficient. It is self-evident that if couples still wanted families larger than the replacement-size no amount of free contraception would make any difference. However, because we know so little about population control, it would be difficult for us to devise any of the socio-economic restraints which on the face of it are likely to be more effective but which many people fear might be unduly repressive. For this reason, we would be wise to rely on the first three measures for the next 20 years or so. We then may find they are enough – but if they aren’t, we must hope that intensive research during this period will be rewarded with a set of socio-economic restraints that are both effective and humane. These will then constitute the third stage and should also provide the tools for the fourth stage – that of persuading the public to have average family sizes of slightly less than replacement size, so that total population can be greatly reduced, If we achieve a decline rate of 0.5 percent per year, the same as Britain’s rate of growth today, there should be no imbalance of population structure, as the dependency ratio would be exactly the same as that of contemporary Britain. Only the make-up of dependency would be different: instead of there being more children than old people, it would be the other way round. The time-scale for such an operation is long of course, and this will be suggested in the section on orchestration.
Creating a new social system
260. Possibly the most radical change we propose in the creation of a new social system is decentralisation. We do so not because we are sunk in nostalgia for a mythical little England of fetes, ‘olde worlde’ pubs, and perpetual conversations over garden fences but for four much more fundamental reasons:
261. (a) While there is good evidence that human societies can happily remain stable for long periods, there is no doubt that the long transitional stage that we and our children must go through will impose a heavy burden on our moral courage and will require great restraint. Legislation and the operations of police forces and the courts will be necessary to reinforce this restraint, but we believe that such external controls can never be so subtle nor so effective as internal controls. It would therefore be sensible to promote the social conditions in which public opinion and full public participation in decision-making become as far as possible the means whereby communities are ordered. The larger a community the less likely this can be: in a heterogeneous, centralised society such as ours, the restraints of the stable society if they were to be effective would appear as so much outside coercion; but in communities small enough for the general will to be worked out and expressed by individuals confident of themselves and their fellows as individuals, ‘us and them’ situations are less likely to occur – people having learned the limits of a stable society would be free to order their own lives within them as they wished, and would therefore accept the restraints of the stable society as necessary and desirable and not as some arbitrary restriction imposed by a remote and unsympathetic government.
262. (b) As agriculture depends more and more on integrated control and becomes more diversified, there will no longer be any scope for prairie-type crop-growing or factory-type livestock-rearing. Small farms run by teams with specialised knowledge of ecology, entomology, botany, etc., will then be the rule, and indeed individual small-holdings could become extremely productive suppliers of eggs, fruit and vegetables to neighbourhoods. Thus a much more diversified urban-rural mix will be not only possible but, because of the need to reduce the transportation costs of returning domestic sewage to the land, desirable. In industry, as with agriculture, it will be important to maintain a vigorous feedback between supply and demand in order to avoid waste, overproduction, or production of goods which the community does not really want, thereby eliminating the needless expense of time, energy and money in attempts to persuade it that it does. If an industry is an integral part of a community, it is much more likely to encourage product innovation because people clearly want qualitative improvements in a given field, rather than because expansion is necessary for that industry’s survival or because there is otherwise insufficient work for its research and development section. Today, men, women and children are merely consumer markets and industries as they centralise become national rather than local and supranational rather than national, so that while entire communities may come to depend on them for the jobs they supply, they are in no sense integral parts of those communities. To a considerable extent the ‘jobs or beauty’ dichotomy has been made possible because of this deficiency. Yet plainly people want jobs and beauty, they should not, in a just and humane society, be forced to choose between the two and in a decentralised society of small communities where industries are small enough to be responsive to each community’s needs, there will be no reason for them to do so.Back to top