One Hundred Times Beyond the Carrying Capacity
Seven billion people share this planet. Some consume a lot. Some consume so little they die. Each person tries to hold or increase the resources that support them. Scarcity leads to conflict. The conflict consumes resources, This increases scarcity, which increases conflict, which increases scarcity again. The feedback loop produces a death spiral leading to civilization collapse. Following collapse, there is loss of specialization of labor, protection of commerce, and technology. Humans produce less with the world's resources. Add to this image that energy and other resource deliveries are in decline, the supporting plate gets smaller. Humankind faces both a huge die-off and a reduction of life style.
Even if we found new energy sources, enough to triple existing deliveries, it is not clear that collapse could be avoided. The extra energy would be insufficient to undo the existing unjust distribution of wellbeing to prevent a scarcity/conflict death spiral.
To grasp the magnitude of the existing injustice, consider that the UN and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report 66 percent of the world's population, 4.5 billion people, are so malnourished they cannot fully develop their minds and bodies. 2-3 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day -- a billion of these on less than a dollar.
While most of us, who are worried about overpopulation, have been focused on stopping growth or reducing excess consumption, these actions, successfully implemented, do not have the power to prevent the injuries resulting from present and expected overshoot. We have too many people, for a peaceful sustainable world. We need a program of proactive population decline.
Two concepts define these programs.
To define a sustainable "population/civilization," we need:
If we don't take some proactive population decline measures I see only the first two as possible. And because these will lack easy to access to coal and other fossil fuels there would be little chance for them to progress toward a modern society with modern technology.
If we can initiate a faster decline in population I have computed a version of the third group. It's a sustainable population/civilization, whose members universally; use a high technology, are university educated, receive high levels of health care, and enjoy symphony levels of entertainment. The population locations are limited to areas where hydroelectric power is abundant and presently in place. (My calculations suggest that wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal produce too little net energy to support this level of civilization.) The community is 96 percent urban, 4 percent remote industry/agriculture) based, and contains only 30-40 million people distributed among three areas on earth; 6-8 million Pacific Northwest North America -- 9-11 million in Brazil, South America, and 13-15 million in China in Asia. There are no other areas on earth, according to my initial calculations, that will support a high-tech/high-wellbeing sustainable population/civilization. Each of these communities will have to develop ways to maintain a stratification of wellbeing that won't trip a scarcity/conflict death spiral.
Now let me discuss 2 proactive transition paths to a global population of 30-40 million people.
Plan 1. Genocide -- Even though we don't want any part in implementing it, a person, NGO, or government can selectively kill 95-99 percent of the existing human community. The cull reduces the competition for resources. The most likely mechanism will be a deadly designer virus with a vaccine to determine the survivors.
Plan 2. Greatly reduced births.
When a majority thinks this intervention into personal reproductive decisions is less injurious to humankind than the alternatives, then culture or government may implement Plan 2. A discussion of processes for building such a consensus can be found in the videos and SKIL Notes at www.skil.org. Let me close with 8 attributes of the very low birthrate plan.
First, focus on the math of rapid population decline. Very low birthrates can produce the desired 40-50 million global population in 80 years. If everyone living today lives to age 80 (a close approximation of truth), at the end of 80 years everyone who is living today, 7 billion people, will be dead from old age. The living population will be the replacements (the sum of 80 times the annual births). For example, half a million permits a year yields a living population of 40 million.
Second, let me focus on the justice of the plan. The permits are given out in a lottery. Everyone living no matter what age or sex is in the lottery. The permits can be held, traded, sold, given, or bequeathed.
Third, How long would people feel like their reproductive choice is modified? The civil disruption of most individual's reproductive choices, would last 80 years -- less than three generations. If we started today, 2092 would be the end of most of this disruption and most individuals would be able to choose the number of offspring they want.
Fourth, who would feel the restriction the most? In the first years, the half a million permits would allow one woman in 100 to give birth. In the 80th year the half a million permits would be enough for 2 births per woman. Because some woman would chose 0 and and others would chose 1 there would be many permits available for women that wanted more than 2.
Fifth, after 2092 the common sterile state, and permit plan remains part of the social contract. The culture/government would remain chartered to determine the number of permits that will maintain a peaceful, sustainable community with ever improving wellbeing.
Seventh, the educational challenge is: "How do we get half the globe's people (3 billion) to see the "half million birth plan" is better for their kids and human civilization than the next best solution?" How do we get them to vote for it and campaign for it? How do we do this in time to prevent civilization collapse? (discussed and computed at www.skil.org)
Finally, If people are afflicted by an unbreakable bias to stay on the present course, then it is time to go drink some Merlot. However, if the bias is breakable, let us charge forward with all manner of cognitive pitchforks and help them see we cannot stay on the present course but must change to a rapid population decline course no matter how painful it may seem.
Jack Alpert www.skil.org
Reading -- list
More technical attributes:
Ninth, In all my scenarios, we stop using fossil fuels for energy and fossil water for irrigation and we stop mining progressively less pure resources. Instead we learn to recycle the minerals and metals already mined and are in the system.
Tenth, there is no true sustainability. Hydro dams have limited life -- ~500 years? The capacity of their upstream reservoirs silt in. While each dam has a river run potential for creating power which remains constant the continuous power varies. I am hopeful before there is diminished energy deliveries we will find new energy sources or storage systems.