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Author Topic: Population: Public Enemy No. 1  (Read 55665 times)

JimD

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Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« on: July 29, 2013, 01:37:23 AM »
Earlier this month the UN put out revised figures on the current global population and new projections out to 2100.  These revisions are based upon new census data and corrections to mistaken fertility rates that were used as a base for the last biennial report.  The key figure from this revised report is that global population in 2050 is now projected to be 9.6 billion people.  This number has increased by 700 million since the last report in 2011.  It also projects a global population in 2100 of 10.9 billion and indicates that population will still be growing then.

I put a short post about these new UN population projections in the topic When and How Bad a few days ago.  I have been reviewing the numbers and thought that this topic deserves a home of its own. The impetus to actually write this post was triggered by a comment on the ASIB where a poster made a statement that "...the solutions to our problems are simple..."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Population is the main reason why and it prevents (especially as it is still growing rapidly) any proposed solution from being executable or workable.  The people that make up this population, after all, are just people not some idealized utopian version that does not exist and they are going to behave pretty much how they always have.  Until they can't.  So when does that happen.

Global population numbers can, with a few caveats, be argued as the number one factor in the generation of almost all of our global scale problems to include AGW, energy supply issues, inadequate fresh water supplies, pollution of all kinds, biodiversity loss, depleting resources, etc, etc.  Human population levels have exceeded the global carrying capacity by a large amount and our various resource demands are seriously depleting a wide variety of mineral and biological supplies.  We are pushing other species into extinction at a rapid rate due to our demand for land and our emissions of greenhouse gases have triggered climate changes which will eliminate vast numbers of additional species.  Our demand for land to be used for agricultural purposes is vast and growing rapidly.  In light of the effects that AGW will have on agriculture it is certain that large amounts of additional land will have to be converted to agricultural use due to climate change dropping the productivity of current crop land.  This is in addition to the additional land needed to feed the rapidly growing global population.  These agricultural needs are the major factor placing stress on global fresh water supplies.  Emissions of greenhouse gases are still rising and are not likely to be stabilized for many years and significantly reducing emissions is not even within sight.  Adding an additional 2.4 billion people by 2050 (see details below) places a large additional demand on resources and will certainly aggravate all the problematic issues discussed above.  It is not possible for what we call civilization to exist without the consumption of a vast amount of resources.  Just contemplate how many resources will be needed for the additional 2.4 billion people projected by 2050.  How are we going to commit resources to fixing problems when there is such a demand as that?   One could posit that improvements in technology and the wise application of current knowledge would allow the existence of a complex social structure and a significant population if people would just behave themselves (which is asking a lot).  It is just that that 'significant' population could not be anywhere near the population we have today and are projected to have in a few decades. 

Let's look at a few population numbers from the UN (link below).  Note that the UN provides estimates based upon different fertility rates (low, medium and high).  I have chosen to discuss the medium projection as I think human behavior over the last decade has indicated pretty strongly that the low fertility projection is already unachievable given the factors currently driving population growth.  For reference the year 2050 population projections using the low and high fertility numbers are respectively 8.3 and 10.9 billion.  Current population is 7.2 billion and is growing at approximately 82 million a year.  In my opinion many of the factors that the UN does not articulate nor use in making their projections are significant and will dramatically impact population numbers a few decades from now (strongly to the negative side).  I attribute the UN's lack of mentioning these obvious factors as a bending to political pressures.  A serious discussion of population levels and the critical need for large reductions in population has been off the table at the policy level for a good 20 years.  It is too difficult a subject to deal with.

http://esa.un.org/wpp/index.htm

Note:  All population numbers below in millions unless stated otherwise.

Rich/powerful countries/regions first.

                              Population   2013                        2050             % gain/loss

North America                           355                           446               26%
Australia/New Zealand                 28                             40               43%
Western Europe                         192                           196                  2%
Northern Europe                        100                           116                16%
the PIGS (PO, IT, GR, SP)           130                           129             minus  ~1%             
Japan                                        127                           108              minus 15%
Russia                                       143                           121              minus 15%

Total                                        1075                          1156              7% 

Comment.  As a group these are the countries with the highest per capita impact on the worlds problems.  Contrary to what we constantly hear in the media their overall population is actually increasing at a significant rate.  Further when you look at the numbers a couple of items really stick out.  The worst per capita offenders, North America and Australia, have  a combined growth projected at 102 million.  This will have a disproportionate impact on fixing problems.  This is at least the equivalent of adding 1 billion people.   European population increases will add the equivalent of another 200 million people.  The second item relates to Russia and Japan.  Does anyone think that these very rich and powerful countries are just going to let their populations decrease on the order of what is projected?  Such decreases spell huge economic problems for them and a loss of wealth and position in the world and thereby threaten their security.  They are almost certain to institute policies that will be intended to reverse the population declines forecast. So I expect the above numbers to trend higher.

The Big Guys       Population      2013                        2050             % gain/loss

China                                        1386                        1385                   0%
India                                         1252                        1620                 29%

Total                                          2638                        3005                 14%

Comment.  These countries are undergoing rapid economic growth and their per capita contributions to our global problems are rapidly rising.  Adding population at the rate projected, when coupled to their push towards economic improvement, will add massively to the factors worsening our global problems.  Their willingness to adapt their growth objectives to lessen global impacts will run hard into the fairness issue of their having to pay the price for a set of problems largely created by the group I have labeled above as the rich/powerful countries.  Why should they change if the rich and powerful do not sacrifice the most.  It is a fair point of course but, as I have said before, fairness has nothing to do with it.  The rich and powerful will never willingly drop their impact numbers to match those in China and India as it would cripple their economies and they would lose their position in the world.  People just don't do that kind of thing.

The Muslim world  Population     2013                        2050             % gain/loss

Pakistan                                     182                          271                    49%
Indonesia                                   250                          321                    28%
Iran                                             77                          101                   31%
North Africa                                210                          319                   52%
Nigeria                                       174                          440                 153%
Central Asia                                  64                            86                   34%
Afghanistan                                  31                            57                   84%
Bangladesh                                 157                          202                   29%
Iraq                                             34                            71                 109%
Saudi Arabia                                 29                            40                   38%
Turkey                                         75                            95                   27%
Ethiopia                                       94                           188                 100%
Yemen                                         24                             42                   75%

Total                                          1401                          2233                59%                             

Comment.  There are, of course, several hundred million Muslims not counted in the above list who live in places like India and other small countries I did not have the energy to count.  Getting traction on fertility issues and reducing population in conservative religious countries is an unlikely prospect due to such issues running hard into their religious beliefs.  This is going to be especially true of Islamic countries.  Plus you have the factor that the vast majority of the population of the above countries are poor, uneducated and thirsting for development.  An intractable situation.  And the issue of religion having a strong negative impact on population issues is certainly not limited to Islamic countries.  The United States, an extraordinarily religious country, which is primarily Protestant, is a perfect example of this being an issue in the Western world as well and the US could reasonably be included in any list of countries where religion exerts influence against population control.  I expect that in the US as the years pass we will see a further increase in the fertility rate as the general populace becomes poorer, less educated and more religious. As Christianity and Islam fight for control of Africa they will have, over time, a strong negative influence on population issues there as well.   Strongly Catholic countries, as typified by the Philippines and parts of Latin America, can be expected to have similar issues.

Other's           Population           2013                        2050             % gain/loss

Africa Total                                1111                        2393                  115%
East Africa                                   373                         869                   133%
North Africa                                 210                         319                    52%
Middle Africa                                136                         316                   132%
Southern Africa                              60                           75                    25%
Western Africa                              331                         815                   146%

Latin America                                617                         782                     27%
Brazil                                            200                         231                     15%
Mexico                                          122                         156                     28%

Oceania                                           38                           57                     50%

Philippines                                       98                         157                     60%

South-East Asia                              619                         788                    27%

Global                                            7162                        9551                  33%


Comments.  Note that the Philippines accounts for 35% of the growth in South-East Asia even though it's population at present is only 16% of the regions total.  Africa as a whole is projected to grow dramatically.  All the usual reasons for that growth probably apply and stopping that growth will only come when the resources that support and fuel it can no longer be obtained.  Then it gets very ugly.  Please note that the UN projects the global population to rise by 33% by 2050.


Conclusion.  I am a little disappointed in these new numbers, but they fit the facts as I understand them.  Things are worse than they appear on the surface as usual.  Do I think that in 2050 we will reach the UN number of 9.6 billion?  No.  Would I have expected to see the 8.9 billion projected in the last UN report?  Just maybe yes.  The additional 700 million people projected will dramatically change the resource picture going forward.  Those extra people require resources and what goes to them cannot be spent restructuring our world.  Every proposed solution is expensive and requires lots of time.  Those solutions just get more expensive and require even more time when there are additional new demands put on finite resources.  Those additional people just increase the likelihood of dirty fuels being consumed in larger quantities for a longer period of time, thus worsening the issue of AGW.  The worst kind of feedback.  As I have pointed out in other posts, I think that the critical path to collapse is the industrial agriculture system that produces the vast quantities of food needed to feed this volume of people.  Though the Arctic sea ice is an indicator subject and very interesting to follow, and co2 levels are rapidly rising and guaranteeing a warmer world, and methane is of growing interest but perhaps not as imminent as some think, food production is fundamental.  It is just not going to be possible to feed as many people as the UN is projecting.  It was already debatable whether we could feed the smaller numbers from the last projection; 9.6 billion people is 33% more than exist today.  Current global food production, if you eliminate food to fuel programs, would result in approximately a 25 day increase in the global grain supply each year on average.  A recent article indicated that we would need to increase global food production by near 40% just to accommodate the additional population projected by the old numbers.  The 9.6 billion number would require an increase of near 60%.  This is not happening.  Feeding the 9.6 billion would require several changes that are highly unlikely to occur.  First, the wealthy of the world would have to forgo consumption of meat grown via CAFO operations and feeding grain to animals.  This is just not going to happen as the wealthy have no stake in giving up meat consumption and no desire to do so.  Not to mention the economic interests of a large group of producers is going to come into play when they lean on their local politicians to help them out.   Second, people mention the large percentage of food which spoils before it can be consumed as a possible way to improve supply.  As a retired farmer (my 3rd career) who has direct experience with this issue I want to say that the potential improvement in this area is much smaller than one might imagine.  The most likely fixes to avoiding large wastage require a significant expenditure of additional resources (sound familiar) that are going to be in short supply.  Third, the people who are going to be in critical need of food first are obvious from the lists above and their prime problem is going to be how to pay for it.   Very few farmers can afford to give away significant amounts of food.  Many countries already cannot afford to give away food and, over time, the number who can afford to will shrink due to the added burdens of additional population growth, the deleterious effects of AGW and crumbling economies.  Eventually you will not be able to obtain food unless you have something valuable to trade for it .  The number of countries who do not produce enough food to cover their own consumption is already significant and will grow dramatically over the next several decades.  Some of those countries buy food in the global markets and some are given charity food.  The demand for free food is going to skyrocket and run into the lack of any kind of supply.  This is where the system breaks first.  The combination of climate change effects on grain yields, water shortages, rapidly increasing population and lack of money is just going to break it.  The numbers just don't add up to anything else.  We can't get to 2050 on our current path and I don't see any way we can get off it easily.  You can't fix anything if you don't fix population.  The Four Horsemen are coming to Africa and Asia and maybe a theatre near you.  Bet on it.

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

Jmo

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2013, 02:38:09 AM »
Nice overview of a very difficult topic JimD.  You obviously did a bit of research.
So the link to the Arctic Sea Ice is that what we are witnessing there is a small piece of the overall picture?   ;)
I fear you are right.  Nice??? to see someone writing about the elephant in the room...
What I find most concerning is that, even those of the population willing to acknowledge these facts (which is relatively few), few, if any, actual solutions become clear.  This sort of discussion needs to become "mainstream".  Despite the global situation, at the moment, we are largely labelled doomsayers and alarmists unfortunately.  :-\

prokaryotes

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2013, 02:38:42 AM »
Hardtalk - James Lovelock - Population reduction (max 1 billion)


Imho, Britain will be not able to feed, and the entire population situation will be sorted out by climate change - not by humans. We face another genetic bottleneck and human intervention to artificially reduce humans will further threaten the survival of the species.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2013, 02:59:52 AM »
The second item relates to Russia and Japan.  Does anyone think that these very rich and powerful countries are just going to let their populations decrease on the order of what is projected?  Such decreases spell huge economic problems for them and a loss of wealth and position in the world and thereby threaten their security.

I think a fundamental part of the population problem is enshrined indirectly in what you mention above with Russia and Japan. Russia currently has government policies designed to encourage children, for example. However - even if it did not - I think there is a strong argument that the so called demographic transition is a short-lived effect and that a population will always tend to rise.

In the same way, I think this is a problem that has very fundamental routes within our genetics and it is very hard to see an answer. You see - evolution favours the organisms that reproduce the most effectively. So it's quite simple - anyone intelligent and informed enough to limit their reproduction, as can only make sense - is outcompeted and outnumbered by those who reproduce more numerously. In this way any genetic tendency towards common sense is destroyed and population growth is strongly stacked into our nature.

When natural forces kept our population in check as with a typical species this worked fine, I suppose. And in this way - I think our only answer lies - natural forces will once again limit our population as we lack the wisdom to do so ourselves.

In terms of how collapse happens, I personally think there is a strong case for making carrying capacity a local matter and forcing responsibility to be taken at fairly small scale and regional levels. For example - why should the UK import lots of food, causing starvation in other parts of the world - on account of having an unsustainable population? The net effect of that is to put stability under pressure in both the UK (just an arbitrary example) and the country being pressured by the UK buying food and pricing our their own citizens. It would seem more logical and rational to me to try to contain unsustainability to specific regions - or - as things get worse - to try to constrain sustainability to some regions.

That would mitigate against one of the few arguably benefits of the globalised capitalist market place - the ability to move goods around to compensate for limited duration and severity shortages (albeit usually only driven when capital exists to do so). However - once resources are categorically insufficient - I am not sure there is any real gain in the movement of resources in such a way - it is liable at that point to magnify problems rather than diminish them.

wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2013, 07:09:36 AM »
Yes, very nicely put.

But I would like to emphasize a point you only glancingly mention--the high levels of consumption by the wealthiest are a central reason why already billions live at or below starvation-level diets.

I think you are right that this is unlikely to change--but then revolutions are always 'unlikely' before they happen. Eliminating (or even vastly reducing) the gargantuan waste of the global top 20% or so--especially their over-use of meat, dairy and fuel from food--would leave a hell of a lot for the rest to live on as they figure out how to stumble along through the next century.

So besides a global revolution against the rich (and ideally against most of the religious and economic leaders), I would add another highly unlikely but vital element in slaying the population x consumption monster.

Imagine if a universal policy was successfully implemented tomorrow that convinced all women/couples of childbearing age to postpone their having their first child till she/they were well into their 30's.

How might that affect population trends?

Just think about it for a while.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

JackTaylor

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2013, 04:37:35 PM »
JimD Thanks. Well done.
The real root of the cause for Arctic Sea Ice melting, = PEOPLE (too many)

What will be done during the next century (100 years) to reduce population?
IMHO = not much, so it gets worse.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2013, 05:19:24 PM »
But I would like to emphasize a point you only glancingly mention--the high levels of consumption by the wealthiest are a central reason why already billions live at or below starvation-level diets.

An important corollary, as often it's wealthier middle class westerners (who have colossal resource footprints and who reflect the "rich" of the planet) who express the sentiment that population is the problem. Population x resource consumption is the problem - and hence people in the west contribute just as much (more, really) by massive resource footprints as those who reproduce at unsustainable levels.

Both types of behaviour would need to be destroyed, and it seems to me thus far it's actually easier to find short term answers to population (namely the demographic transition and ruthless government policies) than to excess resource consumption. Better educated, more affluent women with access to reproductive medicine appear to be capable of choosing to have less children (even if there is that troublesome residue that I think will eventually genetically outcompete the less fertile). Said option capable women and their families do not appear to be capable of choosing not to drive the big 4x4, turn up the air conditioning, fly off on foreign holidays, etc.

Imagine if a universal policy was successfully implemented tomorrow that convinced all women/couples of childbearing age to postpone their having their first child till she/they were well into their 30's.

I think that's a factor in the demographic transition. In the UK at least, I'm pretty sure the crippling burdens placed upon young people in terms of trying to find an economic foundation to live delay reproduction - a positive effect.

The problem is - not everyone does it - and as I mentioned - those who do not will become ascendant in genetic terms, unless you're going to enforce it - ruthlessly (which basically becomes a form of eugenics).

Otherwise, the less responsible win - as evolution typically rewards immediate reproduction and out competing other traits.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2013, 05:25:57 PM by ccgwebmaster »

prokaryotes

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2013, 05:32:43 PM »
http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2011/highlights13

May 12, 2011
Education Leads to Lower Fertility and Increased Prosperity
Brigid Fitzgerald Reading

As the world continues to add close to 80 million people each year, high population growth is running up against the limits of our finite planet, threatening global economic and political stability. To stay within the bounds of the earth’s natural resources, the world’s population will have to stabilize.

The United Nations’ recently revised “medium” projection shows world population exceeding 9 billion by 2045. In the “high” projection, which assumes high levels of fertility, world population would top 10 billion by the same year. But spreading hunger and poverty, along with the conflict and disease that come with them, could forcibly curtail growth before we reach 9 billion. Alternatively, the “low” projection suggests it is possible for world population to peak at just over 8 billion around 2045 if we voluntarily make rapid reductions in family size.



Fertility rates tend to be highest in the world’s least developed countries. When mortality rates decline quickly but fertility rates fail to follow, countries can find it harder to reduce poverty. Poverty, in turn, increases the likelihood of having many children, trapping families and countries in a vicious cycle. Conversely, countries that quickly slow population growth can receive a “demographic bonus”: the economic and social rewards that come from a smaller number of young dependents relative to the number of working adults.

For longer term population stability the goal is to reach replacement-level fertility, which is close to 2 children per woman in places where mortality rates are low. Industrial countries as a group have moved below this level. Some developing countries have made progress in reducing fertility, but fertility rates in the least developed countries as a group remain above 4 children per woman.


One of the most effective ways to lower population growth and reduce poverty is to provide adequate education for both girls and boys. Countries in which more children are enrolled in school—even at the primary level—tend to have strikingly lower fertility rates.

See attached image. See full table. http://www.earth-policy.org/datacenter/xls/highlights13_3.xls


Female education is especially important. Research consistently shows that women who are empowered through education tend to have fewer children and have them later. If and when they do become mothers, they tend to be healthier and raise healthier children, who then also stay in school longer. They earn more money with which to support their families, and contribute more to their communities’ economic growth. Indeed, educating girls can transform whole communities.

School meal programs help improve all children’s attendance in low-income countries, but for girls the benefit is profound. Girls are more likely to be expected to contribute to their families by working at home, so sending each additional girl to school may cost her family not only tuition but labor as well. Providing free meals at school helps to offset these costs, particularly when programs include take-home rations. As a result, girls are both more likely to go to school and to keep coming back year after year.

This is significant because girls who reach secondary school are especially likely to have fewer children.


Worldwide, 69 million elementary-school-aged children were not in school in 2008, 37 million fewer than in 1999. By 2005, almost two thirds of developing countries had achieved gender parity in elementary school enrollment. Still, a majority of children not in school are female, and early marriage and motherhood keep many of the world’s poorest girls from completing secondary school.

Extending educational opportunities to all the world’s children can clearly reap vast rewards in lower population growth—which in turn brings greater stability, prosperity, and environmental sustainability.

ritter

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #8 on: July 29, 2013, 06:14:18 PM »
Excellent post, JimD.

There is no easy way out of our box. As you say, the Four Horsemen cometh. Conquest, War, Famine and Death. (I say this with no religious apocalyptic meaning, only that it has been observed before in history)

When I consider our collective plight between population, climate change and energy/natural resource constraints, I see no way to avoid conflict and hunger. With those always comes disease. Nature and human nature will correct our numbers. The only questions are how far will we fall, when and how many other forms of life will we drag down with us. Oh happy days.  :'(

JimD

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #9 on: July 29, 2013, 07:07:48 PM »
Wili

Without a doubt it is per capita consumption that counts on an individual level.  Or, if an entire country has high consumption, then at that level.  It is a hard nut to crack.  That is why I emphasized the growth in North America (and Europe to a lesser extent).  Us rich folk in terms of emissions are equivalent to maybe a hundred average Africans. 

I also like your point about revolutions.  I just don't understand the complacency I see.  When I was farming and selling in farmers markets in Wash DC I would often get in discussions with the 20 something's about farming and the state of the world.  I often ended up asking the one's who were most passionate about the issue of AGW why they were not out tearing down the system if they really believed that it had no future and had to be changed.  I seldom got a good answer.





So besides a global revolution against the rich (and ideally against most of the religious and economic leaders), I would add another highly unlikely but vital element in slaying the population x consumption monster.

Imagine if a universal policy was successfully implemented tomorrow that convinced all women/couples of childbearing age to postpone their having their first child till she/they were well into their 30's.

How might that affect population trends?

Just think about it for a while.

I have actually run umbers on this very idea for a few blog posts in the past.  See below.  A caveat on my numbers is that they are an approximation and a real mathematician like WebHubbleTelescope, if he is lurking, is going to choke because I am not properly recalculating each year taking into account the changing population.  He probably knows off hand the correct formula to plug the numbers into but I don't.  But here you go.

Global mortality rate is 8.37/1000 people

Global birth rate is 19.15/1000 people

2013 global population 7,162,000,000

Assume no births anywhere on earth and you get a population reduction in year 1 of 197,098,000.

59,946,000 deaths
137,152,000 births

Assuming this population change occurs each year you get reductions along the following lines.

5 years out  = minus 985,490,000        global population at 6,176,500,000 billion

10 years out = minus 1,970,980,000     global population at 5,191,020,000 billion

15 years out = minus 2,956,470,000     global population at 4,205,530,000 billion

20 years out = minus 3,941,960,000     global population at 3,220,040,000 billion

So I accept the proposal if we define it as no births on earth for 20 years and then somewhat lower than replacement level for another 20 years.  If we did this we just might make it out of our dilemma.

I fully realize that we will never implement such a scheme.  But it would work in a fairly reasonable fashion and be approximately fair.  I also consider it a moral and ethical choice when one considers the pain and suffering we are bequeathing to future generations if we continue on our current course.  We created the problem and we are morally obligated to try and fix it.  This option addresses the problem and the burden would fall on us.  It would also free up resources to work the technological changes required to maintain a reasonable version of civilization.
 
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

Anne

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #10 on: July 29, 2013, 07:12:45 PM »
Thanks for raising this important and difficult issue.

<snip>
Female education is especially important. Research consistently shows that women who are empowered through education tend to have fewer children and have them later. If and when they do become mothers, they tend to be healthier and raise healthier children, who then also stay in school longer. They earn more money with which to support their families, and contribute more to their communities’ economic growth. Indeed, educating girls can transform whole communities.

School meal programs help improve all children’s attendance in low-income countries, but for girls the benefit is profound. Girls are more likely to be expected to contribute to their families by working at home, so sending each additional girl to school may cost her family not only tuition but labor as well. Providing free meals at school helps to offset these costs, particularly when programs include take-home rations. As a result, girls are both more likely to go to school and to keep coming back year after year.

This is significant because girls who reach secondary school are especially likely to have fewer children.


Another thing keeping girls from school is lack of proper toilets. In India, 23% of girls drop out of school when they reach puberty, according to a study by Plan India and AC Nielson (widely mentioned but I haven't yet tracked down online).
"When puberty kicks in that has a massive impact, and it's been evidenced that it is preventing a lot of young girls from going to school," says Sonya Timms, director at Magic Bus UK. "It's the embarrassment, it's the taboo of having a period in India, and not having a facility to deal with that when you are at school is highly problematic."

Without a functioning toilet at school, many girls are forced use nearby open spaces. The risk of harassment is real, and reports of sexual assaults are increasingly common. As girls approach puberty, the lack of school toilets and the related fears around safety cause many mothers to remove their daughters from the education system altogether.
The unsanitary truth about gender inequality in India, The Guardian 10 June 2013


On the subject of population and religion, Hans Rosling's TED talk from last year is worth a look. In his inimitable style he demonstrates it has much less to do with religion than factors that affect people everywhere: infant mortality, need for child labour, access to education and access to contraception. I don't think his conclusion is invalidated by the subsequent upward revision in the UN stats.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2013, 09:56:00 PM by Anne »

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #11 on: July 29, 2013, 08:51:10 PM »
Another thing keeping girls from school is lack of proper toilets. In India, 23% of girls drop out of school when they reach puberty, according to a study by Plan India and AC Nielson (widely mentioned but I haven't yet tracked down online).
"When puberty kicks in that has a massive impact, and it's been evidenced that it is preventing a lot of young girls from going to school," says Sonya Timms, director at Magic Bus UK. "It's the embarrassment, it's the taboo of having a period in India, and not having a facility to deal with that when you are at school is highly problematic."

That's an interesting argument - I wonder how many other surprisingly trivial changes could be made that would potentially have far reaching effects if anyone studied the problem in detail?

Ironic that there are so many international treaties and agreements defining how the world and associated resources should be divided up and the people controlled - and so damn little defining a basic minimum standard of living guaranteed under international law.

[EDIT] Fixed quote tag mismatch.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2013, 12:16:12 AM by ccgwebmaster »

JimD

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #12 on: July 29, 2013, 09:09:02 PM »
Prokaryotes

Hi, I see your posts all over the place.

I don't have any real disagreements with the information you provided.  I have read a lot over the years along the same lines and looked at the figures.  The data seems pretty accurate.

The problems arguments along those lines have is that, while the effects and data seem valid, they are the answer to a different question than the one we face.  Education and economic development lead to lower birth rates and after a long period of time you will start to get population reductions.  But we are talking here about a timeframe out towards the end of the century.  Note that the UN figures project 10.9 billion in 2100 and the population still slightly growing.  Even if your factors reduce those numbers by 10% (which would be a huge change) we would still be screwed.  There is a huge momentum to population growth even after one reaches replacement level fertility.  You see this in the numbers.

Another really bad aspect of a very slow process like this is that as the
Education Leads to Lower Fertility and Increased Prosperity
we dare not forget the second part of the title of the article.  Prosperity can also be translated into more consumption. 

If you take the poorest 1 billion people, who currently are responsible for a comparatively small amount of the dangerous emissions, and raise their prosperity to be equivalent to the next higher 1 billion you will also dramatically raise the amount of dangerous emissions they are responsible for.  This is a critical issue.  No one wants to or is likely willing to dramatically reduce their levels of affluence and consumption.  On the contrary everyone wants to raise their affluence.  Even the rich.  The evil endless growth model.  The numbers don't work here.

In an ideal world everyone would have an equal chance at education and opportunity.  I would like that world to exist. But it can not exist with a population far beyond the carrying capacity of the planet.  Finite resources and a rapidly growing population are going to go hand in hand with increasing poverty and lack of access to education, sanitation, opportunity, etc.  If everything was divided up equally and everyone on earth had exactly the same standard of living we would still be far above the carrying capacity and driving the climate into chaos.  We simply 'have' to dramatically reduce the global population quickly in order to change the numbers to ones which we can live with. 

I am going to morph into Anne's comment here as it directly relates to the above.  Mr. Rosling is essentially making the same argument as above.  Minimizing the effect of religion on the population levels is great for being politically correct but it is surely ignoring a big factor.  People constantly dance around religion if it relates negatively to any issue.  Religion almost always gets a free pass because if you don't do it you get loudly and quickly beat to death.  Here in the US it is almost impossible to even discuss family planning, contraception or abortion.  We are much more restrictive now than 30 years ago.  This is the power of religious opposition.  A host of different religions from Catholics, to Mormons, to Evangelicals, to Muslims are extremely opposed to even making fertility a choice much less ever agreeing to dramatic reductions in population.  In times of great stress and growing poverty, which seem certain to occur, the power of religion tends to increase.  Not to mention authoritarian forms of government (look at the US lately).

We talk all the time about how different factors in play are going to worsen our living situation over the next few decades.  As compared to most here I seem to take the longer view and think that reaching the collapse point will take another 40 years or so.  In the time between now and then the amount of resources available per capita is going to go down dramatically until the system eventually breaks.  How is it in any way possible in those circumstances to bring the affluence level of a very large segment of the global population up to an acceptable standard?
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #13 on: July 29, 2013, 11:32:01 PM »
Minimizing the effect of religion on the population levels is great for being politically correct but it is surely ignoring a big factor.  People constantly dance around religion if it relates negatively to any issue.  Religion almost always gets a free pass because if you don't do it you get loudly and quickly beat to death.  Here in the US it is almost impossible to even discuss family planning, contraception or abortion.  We are much more restrictive now than 30 years ago.  This is the power of religious opposition.  A host of different religions from Catholics, to Mormons, to Evangelicals, to Muslims are extremely opposed to even making fertility a choice much less ever agreeing to dramatic reductions in population.  In times of great stress and growing poverty, which seem certain to occur, the power of religion tends to increase.  Not to mention authoritarian forms of government (look at the US lately).
Don't get me started on religion. Suffice it to say that when women have sufficient education and access to contraception they start using it, whatever the priests say. Majority Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy and Poland, for example, have some of the lowest birthrates in the world, well below replacement. Same goes for Qatar, as mentioned in Rosling's talk.

But you're right about fundamentalism. From this side of the pond we watch with incomprehension as state by state American women are losing the battle for control of their own bodies.

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #14 on: July 29, 2013, 11:58:55 PM »
We simply 'have' to dramatically reduce the global population quickly in order to change the numbers to ones which we can live with. 
But is this even possible? I don't think so! All the sick ways you could imagine to bring down populations haven been tried in one way or another before, and they do not work! They only cripple and degenerate the society and make things worse.
 

We talk all the time about how different factors in play are going to worsen our living situation over the next few decades.  As compared to most here I seem to take the longer view and think that reaching the collapse point will take another 40 years or so.  In the time between now and then the amount of resources available per capita is going to go down dramatically until the system eventually breaks.  How is it in any way possible in those circumstances to bring the affluence level of a very large segment of the global population up to an acceptable standard?

But it depends on how you run resource management in the first place. We need to entirely change the way how we treat nature - how we think about our impact. We need to radically reduce our CO2 footprints and must replace resources (think logging), we need to stop slash and burn, adopt CO2 negative practices(biochar), stop over fishing, stop polluting the environment, ban CO2 emitting cars in cities, recycling everything, etc etc -  become smart with resources and our environment!

And then you have education and 1 child per family on top of this, and benefits when you "not" reproduce, and then later in 50 years we start with terra forming mars and then in 100 years living on mars might be even nice - once we established an underground environment with forests and ecosystems! Seriously but this is the only way how you can control populations - to aim for the stars.



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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #15 on: July 30, 2013, 12:22:16 AM »
Seriously but this is the only way how you can control populations - to aim for the stars.

Disagree strongly.

If we're moving off world because we filled up the Earth and 100% utilised it's resources - how much longer would it take to fill up a second world? And a third and a fourth?

That is the problem - exponential growth. Keep doubling the population and tell me how long you can find new living space?

If we can't even solve our problems in terms of a single world, I don't understand how adding an arbitrary number of worlds to the equation would ultimately meaningfully solve the problem - even if it was within our technological grasp.

It's the old thing - if a pond is being filled with algae and the population doubles every generation, and a generation is an hour - how much warning do you get that the pond is going to be full? Thereafter, how fast would you consume a second pond - and a third and fourth and so on?

Until or unless our species can manage itself rationally on the macroscopic scale, moving off world is futile. It only represents the blowing up of an ever bigger bubble for an ever bigger crash. By temporarily boosting carrying capacity using modern technology - and not adapting our behaviour to be macroscopically rational - we have created a situation today where a whole planet with billions of excess lives can crash all at once. That's the recipe for the worst total conflict in human history when we crash...

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #16 on: July 30, 2013, 12:29:16 AM »
Seriously but this is the only way how you can control populations - to aim for the stars.


Disagree strongly.

If we're moving off world because we filled up the Earth and 100% utilised it's resources - how much longer would it take to fill up a second world? And a third and a fourth?

That is the problem - exponential growth. Keep doubling the population and tell me how long you can find new living space?

Unfortunately we have to do this in order to survive (climate change is not the only problem)


Stephen Hawking: How can the human race survive the next hundred years?
Stephen Hawking: How can the human race survive the next hundred years?

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #17 on: July 30, 2013, 12:33:34 AM »
Unfortunately we have to do this in order to survive (climate change is not the only problem)

Very long term I agree - but only because sooner or later this planet won't be habitable or a mass extinction event beyond our control or ability to manage will arise.

Moving off planet for resources or to disperse population would only assure the expansion of the human cancer out into the rest of the universe. If we can't be good citizens of our own home - I think that would be a very bad thing. Our survival is not necessarily the most important thing - if we were going to go to the stars as a gang of resource plundering world destroying maniacs in the mold of western civilisation - I'd be just as happy seeing us extinct personally.

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #18 on: July 30, 2013, 07:08:14 AM »
If we utterly destroy the precious jewel of a planet we were granted, do we really deserve to be given another, do you think?
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #19 on: July 30, 2013, 04:26:38 PM »
On the subject to broadening human survival probabilities by establishing colonies on other planets I will offer the following as a life long fan of science fiction.

1.  We are still very far from the sophistication of technology needed to accomplish this.

2.  We are currently under severe resource  constraints which are going to quickly get much worse.  We simply can't devote the massive resources needed to colonize any other planet or we push ourselves into collapse even quicker.

3. As to deserving anther home I must say deserve has nothing to do with it.  The universe has no feelings and in matters not, in the great scheme of things, whether humans are around to watch the show or not.  It only matters to us.

4.  We fix our problems here on Earth or we have no other options.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #20 on: July 30, 2013, 05:24:27 PM »
ccg wrote: "it's wealthier middle class westerners (who have colossal resource footprints and who reflect the "rich" of the planet) who express the sentiment that population is the problem."

I would go further and say that it is often privileged, relatively wealthy, educated, white, men who tend to turn toward population as the ultimate problem, and they often see it as the fault of under-privileged, poor, un-educated, colored women; i.e. their polar opposites on nearly every front, and those at the very bottom as far as opportunity goes, while they/we are near the top.

I think the discussion here is more nuanced than that, but, as a relatively well off white dude, I try to keep this in mind--it is just too easy to say that all the worlds problems emanate from people who are as different from myself as is humanly possible. Kinda let's us off the hook a bit.

I also think it is important to see who benefits from overpopulation--religious leaders have been mentioned already; but business leaders also are always looking for an ever-larger new pool of ever-cheaper labor. If over population was really seen by TPTB as a major threat to capitalism, all sorts of resources would be thrown at it till it was 'solved' IMHO.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

Anne

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #21 on: July 30, 2013, 05:36:46 PM »
I also think it is important to see who benefits from overpopulation--religious leaders have been mentioned already; but business leaders also are always looking for an ever-larger new pool of ever-cheaper labor.

This, absolutely. Not just pools of labour, but markets! Markets! It feels as if we are living inside a giant Ponzi scheme.
If over population was really seen by TPTB as a major threat to capitalism, all sorts of resources would be thrown at it till it was 'solved' IMHO.

That's assuming that people are rational, and that they care about the future.

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #22 on: July 30, 2013, 05:41:05 PM »
Prokaryotes

We simply 'have' to dramatically reduce the global population quickly in order to change the numbers to ones which we can live with. 
But is this even possible? I don't think so! All the sick ways you could imagine to bring down populations haven been tried in one way or another before, and they do not work! They only cripple and degenerate the society and make things worse.

Yes it is possible.  A version of Wili's and my's idea above would work.  And it would not qualify as 'sick' in any way.  Just very difficult to accept even though necessary.  But when you have no choice...you have no choice!  Even if we sit on our asses and do nothing we are making a choice.  That choice certainly IS sick as it condemns future people to massive suffering and pain when they are not responsible for the cause.  WE should take responsibility and make the choice and suffer the consequences ourselves.  (now is the point when someone should repeat to me a version of one of my favorite sayings.  But that would require us to be 'fair' and fair has nothing to do with it.)
 
We talk all the time about how different factors in play are going to worsen our living situation over the next few decades.  As compared to most here I seem to take the longer view and think that reaching the collapse point will take another 40 years or so.  In the time between now and then the amount of resources available per capita is going to go down dramatically until the system eventually breaks.  How is it in any way possible in those circumstances to bring the affluence level of a very large segment of the global population up to an acceptable standard?

But it depends on how you run resource management in the first place. We need to entirely change the way how we treat nature - how we think about our impact. We need to radically reduce our CO2 footprints and must replace resources (think logging), we need to stop slash and burn, adopt CO2 negative practices(biochar), stop over fishing, stop polluting the environment, ban CO2 emitting cars in cities, recycling everything, etc etc -  become smart with resources and our environment!

Well I understand the frustration I see in your comment, but you know as well as I do that even if we were to improve the way we use resources by a huge factor that adding 2.4 billion more people still requires the consumption of a vast amount of resources which could have been better used to get out of our dilemma.  It is the Red Queen problem.  We just end up running faster to stay in the same place.  Adding population guarantees it will be much harder (impossible??) to solve our problems.  And we are already 4-5 times our carrying capacity so adding 1-2 times more is insane.  There are a thousand things we need to fix in how we use resources and a hundred ways in which we need to change our fundamental nature of behavior.  But, if we don't reduce population dramatically, while changing resource use patterns (a very expensive and resource consumptive thing to do) we still have to maintain in functioning order the current infrastructure until it is no longer needed (a very expensive and resource consumptive thing to do) and we would have to devote very critical resources to the extra 2.4 billion people (for whom it would be immoral to not give them substance?).  On top of that you would be requiring that we have to (starting about 30 years in the past), in the timeframe of instantly, completely overhaul our basic human nature which evolved over a couple of million years?  All of this is an impossible feat IMHO. 

We have to choose between a managed collapse and an unmanaged collapse; there are no longer any other options feasible.  Managed collapse can only succeed if there is an immediate program to dramatically reduce population while working to maintain a much smaller functioning (sustainable??) civilization.  It is the only way we end up having enough resources to make the conversion while leaving enough for our surviving descendants.  I strongly suspect we are choosing the unmanaged option.

The possible success of BAU approaches which ignore AGW and our other problems, essentially, are entirely based upon the divine intervention of God or the religion of Technical Progress.  Miracle based thought processes are at play.  I don't share their faith!

The possible success of Progressive BAU approaches which accept AGW and our other problems, essentially, are based upon ignoring the population problem and assuming a complete overhaul of basic human nature.  Another form of miracle based thought processes is at play here too.  Once again, I don't share their faith!

The stars?  We live in the here and now.  We solve our current problems or we don't get the option of reaching higher.  We deal with reality or reality deals with us.


We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #23 on: July 30, 2013, 06:16:47 PM »
Wili

ccg wrote: "it's wealthier middle class westerners (who have colossal resource footprints and who reflect the "rich" of the planet) who express the sentiment that population is the problem."

I would go further and say that it is often privileged, relatively wealthy, educated, white, men who tend to turn toward population as the ultimate problem, and they often see it as the fault of under-privileged, poor, un-educated, colored women; i.e. their polar opposites on nearly every front, and those at the very bottom as far as opportunity goes, while they/we are near the top.

I think the discussion here is more nuanced than that, but, as a relatively well off white dude, I try to keep this in mind--it is just too easy to say that all the worlds problems emanate from people who are as different from myself as is humanly possible. Kinda let's us off the hook a bit.

I also think it is important to see who benefits from overpopulation--religious leaders have been mentioned already; but business leaders also are always looking for an ever-larger new pool of ever-cheaper labor. If over population was really seen by TPTB as a major threat to capitalism, all sorts of resources would be thrown at it till it was 'solved' IMHO.

As you and ccg have shown it is easy to come up with all sorts of reasons to get suspicious of someone's motivations and opinions based upon assumptions of wealth, class and race (witness the Trayvon Martin debacle).  Often these assumptions are accurate and do have an effect on one's opinions; whether conscious or subconscious.  For example I am now a fairly affluent white man who lives in the US and I have lots of advantages though I was not born with money and grew up in a very tough place that was full of racism and close-mindedness. In my close relations there are whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.  There are Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and Agnostics.  There are criminals, clergy, businessmen, some have devoted their lives to workers rights, and the environment, their country, but most just live like everyone else.  In my life and work I have traveled to about half the places on earth and directly witnessed many things most people only talk about.  Perhaps I am biased as all people are and often don't even realize it.  Most people form their opinions on what our problems are using their subconscious and basic human nature reactions. That explains most people regardless of how wealthy they are or where they are from.  People everywhere are pretty much all alike. BTW I did not take offense with the above but felt I should respond anyway.

There are, of course, many who will benefit in the short-term from growing populations.  In the short-term.  But what is the strongest response of basic human nature.  Short-term considerations.  We discount the future rapidly.

But tell me how the arguments about population don't stand on their own rational foundation.  What is the carrying capacity of the earth for any given level of per capita consumption.  We are well past any reasonable number.  Perhaps 5 times.  And we are planning on adding a couple more times.  The world cannot support 5 billion much less 9 billion.   So we better fix it.  Right?
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #24 on: July 30, 2013, 06:19:57 PM »
We have to choose between a managed collapse and an unmanaged collapse; there are no longer any other options feasible. 
I like to read more about it.

Dr Jospeh Tainter points out the rapid collapse of societies - rapid simplification in this video
http://climatestate.com/2013/05/14/collapse-of-complex-societies-by-joseph-tainter/

I don't study collapse but to me it seems with BAU we end up in a kind of post apocalyptic scenario where are many small isolated groups fighting on their own, for survival. But if we approach this situation in the developed world, there will be no way we can reduce emissions and advance clean technologies.

We would need a international society with strict rules - to enforce sustainability and low CO2 per capita.

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #25 on: July 30, 2013, 08:51:46 PM »
Perhaps I am biased as all people are and often don't even realize it.  Most people form their opinions on what our problems are using their subconscious and basic human nature reactions. That explains most people regardless of how wealthy they are or where they are from.  People everywhere are pretty much all alike. BTW I did not take offense with the above but felt I should respond anyway.

I certainly wasn't accusing you of approaching it from the knee jerk simplistic blame "someone else" attitude that is popular amongst a certain segment of the comfortable western population - after all - population is a very rational problem. Where it becomes irrational is - as wili says - when people take the viewpoint it is the only problem (or even the biggest problem, more on this later) and that they can continue to live as usual deferring all the blame onto exploding populations in (for example) Africa.

But tell me how the arguments about population don't stand on their own rational foundation.  What is the carrying capacity of the earth for any given level of per capita consumption.  We are well past any reasonable number.  Perhaps 5 times.  And we are planning on adding a couple more times.  The world cannot support 5 billion much less 9 billion.   So we better fix it.  Right?

I can certainly agree they do stand on a rational foundation but the truth is more nuanced. The world could arguably support 10 billion+ if we all live with a low enough resource footprint, stop wasting food, mostly eat plants, etc. - I'm pretty sure that's scientifically possible to predicate a population on that level on this planet for at least some time (enough time to get population down with less dramatic measures than trying to totally stop reproduction).

The problem here is that said affluent people who jump on this single issue overlook the consumption side of the equation. The overconsuming westerners in the equation would need to live more like people in poorer African nations to make this population viable for any period of time. The world faces many problems due to the large number of people present but most of those problems are regionally specific - habitat destruction (leading to loss of species), deforestation (does have some global impact I grant) and so on. The biggest and most immediate problem we face, as far as I can see, is abrupt climate change - mostly caused by the prolific spewing into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. The responsibility for that lies (in historical terms) very strongly with a minority of the global population. Had they not done this, we would have had more time to resolve the population issue - if the population boom had even occurred in the first place without this grossly stupid exploitation of fossil fuels (which I question, as the short term burst of cheap energy from fossil fuels and agrochemicals is arguably what enabled the current ridiculous population boom).

So by two measures - the abuse of fossil fuels to exceed long term carrying capacity, and the direct damage to the earth system through alteration of atmospheric chemistry - the most immediate problem is arguably not a result of gross population numbers but of the behaviours of a minority (albeit significant) section of the population. Worse - their selfish and destructive behaviour has become an infectious meme, an aspiration for the massive numbers of people who do not enjoy the short term benefits of their abuse.

So can the world support 10 billion people? I would argue that anyone prepared to argue that the collapse of civilisation can be deferred by decades on account of "slack" in the agricultural system (ie, you  ;) ) - is also arguing that it can - as there is already sufficient capacity to feed them, if only it were managed properly (not withstanding that technical ability and actual outcomes are very different things, on this I think we agree).

In this vein - if we were to prune billions from the global population and leave perhaps only 1 billion people living in the western lifestyle - we would still be nowhere near sustainable, and still ultimately be facing a planetary crisis. How many people can the planet sustainably support with a carbon footprint of 17.2 tonnes/year/capita (recent US figure) and associated other resource footprints?

My contention is that the answer is considerably less than even just the populations directly causing the immediate problem today and accordingly anyone taking that viewpoint is therefore also living in an overpopulated society (yes, I mean the western nations). Thus a logical pursuit of the argument brings the chickens home to roost anyway.

I'd like to stress I do not think you are selling population as the sole problem, I am not responding to that imagined argument - merely detailing why I think the population problem is capable of being emphasised too strongly and why one must take care to avoid the risk of it distracting from other critically immediate problems (a planet undergoing abrupt climate change).

So what could one do?

Your suggestion (while admittedly impractical and highly unlikely, as unfortunately any suggestions may well be) is a total cessation of reproduction for a couple of decades. Mathematically it works - but look at the issues raised in China even where people are permitted 1-2 children?

I would argue strongly against this solution. It may be palatable to those who already had the chance to raise a family - but by what basis does anyone have a right to deny reproduction (a fundamental tenet of life) to another? For me, as a relatively younger person, it falls in the same category of being preached at to eat less meat. For anyone affluent to tell me I should sacrifice (having had a fairly austere life on the whole, extremely austere by the standards of the UK) reeks of hypocrisy.

Mathematically this problem has been provable for decades now, and hence as with eating meat - I should want to see some penalty for those who did it anyway, before I could agree to it being reasonable for me to comply with a solution.

This gets down to one of my strongly held beliefs that a lot of the population problem arises from social injustice - the inability of humanity to protect the weaker and poorer members and ensure through force of international law a basic minimum living standard as a solid human right.

The most effective way to cut fertility rate is to alter the incentives that drive peoples actions. In poorer nations families are numerous for a number of relatively easily influenced factors:
  • deficient or absent education systems, maximising time females spend in reproduction and minimising their knowledge and choices
  • lack of family planning options and female empowerment
  • high child mortality rates
  • lack of retirement provision (ie children are your pension)
  • labour value of children (ie working in agriculture, to help earn money to support the family)
  • career opportunities for women, to reduce dependence on a male partner and provide other options for support than family raising

And one key difficult to influence factor:
  • religious dictats, roman catholicism being particularly guilty!

Demographic transition is an effective way to lower fertility rate for at least some time (and I don't think the upper limit is really known - as too many countries start to provide incentives for having children once they're concerned their population is falling)

Additionally by prolonging the amount of time in education and increasing the difficulty of starting a family financially you can also reduce fertility further. I don't like this myself - young people of my age or younger suffer a great deal compared to their parents in western societies thanks to the adverse economic conditions - but it is nonetheless effective at postponing families.

Finally there is one other aspect - and it's going to sound rather cold and heartless - but we shouldn't underwrite other peoples reproductive choices too heavily. There is a class of people in the richer societies who have children in the expectation everyone else will pay to support them. They are the people who usually have the most numerous families and they are why I am skeptical about the long term prospects of the demographic transition.

This is a subtly different argument from saying we shouldn't support people in adversity - in that I am strongly in favour of the idea of a welfare state, but provided that people are behaving in a reasonably responsible and ethical way.

I realise it is very politically incorrect to say that there is a class of people willing to live and reproduce spending their whole lives underwritten by the taxpayer - but I have met (and got to know) some people who fall into exactly this category in the UK in the past. They really do exist, and they represent dead weight on a society (in fact, my father essentially falls into this category, although it isn't he I was referring to having known).

By the same token, if we are sending international food aid on a regular or permanent basis to other nations - something is wrong. We are then establishing a larger problem than we are solving. In some cases, of course - this is not due to the nation in question being above carrying capacity - I think serious questions ought to be asked about the rush for African farmland, for example.

I would summarise this down very simply though - is there any good reason any region on the planet should be operating far above it's own local carrying capacity? Is it not then becoming a drain on other regions and distributing vulnerability beyond it's own borders? This definition would include my home nation - the UK - that uses it's wealth to import a significant portion of the food it consumes. It is above carrying capacity - and hence overpopulated.

Finally, this respect to the welfare argument (while again emphasising that I am in favour of supporting people through hardship) I should note I am the oldest of 8 children. We grew up in poverty in rural Scotland. My family was heavily subsidised by the UK taxpayer. In a sense, the UK taxpayer fed, clothed and sheltered me (albeit in a rather meagre way on all counts) as a child.

Am I grateful? I am not sure. If my family had not been underwritten by the taxpayer, there are several outcomes:
  • Parents would have still managed to have so many children, and to still avoid Social Services (this was a near run thing a few times anyway, and we moved around frequently and likely fell through the cracks somewhat
  • Parents might have made more effort to seek proper employment outcomes, in order to support children themselves (they worked in a sense - but far less effectively than they could have)
  • Parents might have utilised available family planning more rigorously (I'm not so sure given one of my parents is a qualified doctor of medicine(!))
  • Family would have disintegrated sooner, with less overall reproduction involved

In our case, it would've been likely been the last option - earlier disintegration. My mother left my father to return to England and to re-establish a career in medicine - with 8 children. By considerable hard work on her part and a very difficult uphill climb from her position quality of life for the youngest few children was raised to more normal levels for the UK. Had this happened sooner, less children would have been produced and the life outcome would have been better (ironically the trashed economy has slightly inverted ultimate life outcomes to date as adults).

While it is equally possible that by withdrawing the support from the taxpayer for this set of arrangements - or somehow enforcing some responsibility - that we would have known even greater hardship, I am not sure that is a given. There is a very real possibility that by facilitating this irresponsible behaviour by these two adults that not only were more children produced - but the relative hardship of their lives was prolonged by the minimal support of the state.

Of course, I don't believe anybody should have having 8 children. 2 ought to be plenty.

Apologies for rambling.

wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #26 on: July 30, 2013, 10:52:45 PM »
I will try to respond to the thoughtful postings in more detail when I have a bit more time. For now, may I emphasize that I do think that this is generally a much more nuanced discussion here than I have had elsewhere on the web where the kind of projection I was talking about is quite blatant. I do think that population is a fundamental problem, but one that is secondary for most of us on blogs like this to consumption, since we are (presumably) doing more of the latter than the former (though I could be wrong about that).

It is also of course an inherently more difficult thing to address directly. Just think about trying to have a conversation with your neighbors: They may well think it intrusive if you ask why they have such a big car, eat so much meat, buy so much crap...But they will definitely think it more than intrusive if you start asking how often they plan to have unprotected sex in the coming years--in fact you may find your self getting punched in the nose.

And this is a neighbor--presumably someone you share vast amounts in common in terms of culture, language, nationality, race, class... Now picture walking up to someone in a different country who speak a different language, is of a different race, class, and culture from you...and asking prying questions about how much sex they have, why they have it as often as they do and in the manner they do...good luck with that.

But back to the main point, here is the first thing I came to doing a quick search that deals with the consumption vs population issue by putting some hard numbers on things that put it in some perspective:



http://public.wsu.edu/~mreed/380American%20Consumption.htm

World's poorest 20% consume 1.5%

World's richest 20% consume 76.6%
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

Shared Humanity

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #27 on: July 31, 2013, 12:12:04 AM »
wili......

I like your perspective and have a bias for data based evaluation.....

Lets look at two of the largest world economies, both of which are held up as major contributors to global warming.

The U.S., in 2010, had a per capita GDP of $42,777. China had a per capita GDP of $7,027 or 16% of the U.S. This is not entirely accurate regarding per capita consumption as a large portion of the product made in China is exported and the U.S. is its largest trading partner.

If the world is going to address global warming in a meaningful way, the U.S. is going to have to cut down on its appetite. I am not optimistic we are up to the task. I live in the U.S. where greed is considered a virtue.

wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #28 on: July 31, 2013, 02:35:59 AM »
Thanks, SH. I like your perspective, too. I live in the US, too. I know essentially no one else who has taken reducing their carbon footprint enough to give up carbon-powered long distance travel, a a "sacrifice" that is essentially painless. Especially now that you can see what all of your favorite far flung friends and relatives are having for dinner every evening on facebook.

It is hard to conclude anything other than that we are totally and utterly f'ed.

On more quote from the above article:

"The poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of all the consumption." IIRC, the proportion get more and more skewed the more you go down and (especially) up the wealth scale.

In other words there could be a major 'die off' of the poorest billion or so people, and it would barely be noticed in terms of global resource use and pollution--a few more stakes and an extra trip or two a year by the richest would obliterate the difference completely.

A die off of the top billion consumers on the other hand... ::)

"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #29 on: August 01, 2013, 02:18:10 AM »
ccg


Scottish huh!  On my fathers side the first to come to America were Scotts in 1822.  The family consisted of poor farmers for most of a 100 years.

...The world could arguably support 10 billion+ if we all live with a low enough resource footprint, stop wasting food, mostly eat plants, etc. - I'm pretty sure that's scientifically possible to predicate a population on that level on this planet for at least some time (enough time to get population down with less dramatic measures than trying to totally stop reproduction).
 

Even on theoretical terms I am not sure this is accurate in a meaningful sense if we are going to leave any part of the world for other species to live in.  Primitive hunter gatherers populated the majority of arable lands on earth (and some that were not).  Their populations only totaled around 15 millions yet they exterminated dozens of large mammalian species.  Add in agriculture and the population rose to 700 million by 1700.  By then huge areas of land had been essentially destroyed for agriculture purposes by poor irrigation techniques (still practiced in many places), deforestation and pollution.  It seems pretty clear that at that time world population had reached, or slightly exceeded, carrying capacity and population would not have risen much further without our resorting to fossil fuels.  I would guesstimate that, even when taking into account current knowledge and possible adaptations of technology, a true sustainable carrying capacity which allowed other species to coexist with humans is not above 1 billion.  Which is, of course, more than enough people.

Now in the unsustainable fashion we are currently operating in we can undoubtedly run the population quite a bit higher...for a time.  But we are burning the candle at both ends already, as they say, and adding significant numbers just means we run into the hard limits quicker.  Is there much question about those hard limits?  Forcing population declines extends out in years the time when we run into the hard limits.  And possibly gives us time to adapt to the new world we are creating.

The problem here is that said affluent people who jump on this single issue overlook the consumption side of the equation. The overconsuming westerners in the equation would need to live more like people in poorer African nations to make this population viable for any period of time. The world faces many problems due to the large number of people present but most of those problems are regionally specific - habitat destruction (leading to loss of species), deforestation (does have some global impact I grant) and so on. The biggest and most immediate problem we face, as far as I can see, is abrupt climate change - mostly caused by the prolific spewing into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. The responsibility for that lies (in historical terms) very strongly with a minority of the global population.

I fully accept the arguments from you and Wili that the rich and affluent are primarily responsible for the damage that has been done and is currently being done.  But even in the poorest places in the world they are living above their carrying capacities.  This is the lure of wealth and the downside of capitalistic economies which only seem to work when in a state of constant growth.  I have spent a lot of time in Africa (especially West Africa) which is one of the poorest places on earth.  They are using up their natural resources, depending on fossil fuels, destroying their arable land, and receiving lots of charity from wealthier countries and adding more mouths to feed all the time.  There is no place rich or poor where the trends are not pointed towards catastrophe.

But once again, as always seems to be the case when discussing population, the discussion drifts back to descriptions of ideal human behavior and how we 'should' behave and that if we did then things would work out.  But we are not ideal beings and we are not going to behave altruistically.  All the people on earth who are not rich want to be rich and live like them.  Even if they understand that what us rich folks are doing is wrong they want the same opportunity to make the same mistakes.  It is human nature.  No one wants to live in a fashion that is truly sustainable.  That is a rough existence and humanity has spent thousands of years of thought and effort to avoid doing so.  No one wants to go back there.  So, not only are rich people not going to willingly downscale like is needed all the poor people are not going to stop trying to figure out how to get richer and consume more  themselves.

I am under no illusion that the technically possible solution I laid out is actually something that is more than a remote possibility.  Forcing cooperation would be practically impossible and most people would never voluntarily follow such a plan.  Not to mention that most religions would arm up and come after you if you even tried such a thing.  I just mention it to point out that there actually is a possible solution out there.  But, as much as any such idea can be fair, I think it is pretty equitable.  Rich and poor would suffer the same.  I submit that it is a better plan than the one we are executing now which is to run the population up until the system just collapses.  A far more inequitable solution as those who will suffer most in that scenario are certainly not the rich and powerful.  We are, in a way, making the most unethical and immoral choice we could possibly make short of some form of genocide.


If a solution like mine were implemented (just for discussions sake) in 20 years we would be at 3.2 billion.  Let's round that up to 50% of what we have now or 3.6 billion to account for less than 100% success with implementation.  That would mean that we would be under the current UN projection of 8.6 billion in 2033 by 5 billion people.  We would have as a result of the population reduction, and assuming steady state per capita global resource consumption (which could be worked on at the same time if we were smart), a resource foot print 42% of the size of where we are headed to in 2033 and 50% of what we are at now.  Sounds pretty nice doesn't it?  Frees up a lot of resources to work those techno fixes.  Additionally, by 2033 sea level rise and worsening storms will have likely required the migration of untold millions of people.  We now have a lot of partly empty cities in better locations where there would be the option of moving them.  And we would not have to be building entire new cities for the people migrating at the same time as we would be building new cities for the added population under the rapidly growing population option we are pursuing at this time.  There would also be a lot of infrastructure no longer needed due to the large population reduction that could be cannibalized for other uses that would save the energy and environmental destruction required of building from raw materials.   

 

Lastly for today, I do not agree that climate change is the primary problem.  I firmly believe it is population.  AGW is arguably the problem spinning out of control the fastest and I would not argue with that description (though I still think it will be decades before collapse as I define it occurs  ::)  But it would not even exist as a critical problem at this time if we were not over so overpopulated and all the different fixes people talk about cannot work long-term with continuing  stratospheric levels of population.  I keep harping on it, but even if we implemented all the interesting techno fixes people propose and got carbon emissions to net zero we would still be living way past the carrying capacity in an unsustainable fashion and reach a collapse point anyway.  But we do not have time to execute all those techno changes, for a variety of reasons, before critical components of the system start to fail.  Humans are going to consume.  We are never going to not exploit the earths resources nor does anyone want to live like a hunter-gatherer.  People are going to behave like people always do.  I write that we have to find possible solutions that fit within the confines of basic human nature or people will not cooperate.  The above is the best I have been able to come up with in terms of trying to work within those guidelines and remain in an ethical/moral position.

As mentioned earlier, we humans have this curiosity to expand our experience and knowledge; to see the stars; to live on other worlds.  I have always had those types of dreams too.  We are close to driving that type of dream into the ground for a thousand years or maybe forever.  I would really hate to see that happen, though I am sure the Universe could care less.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

Glenn Tamblyn

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #30 on: August 01, 2013, 10:52:43 AM »
Many years ago, during the 'heyday' of discussion about population explosions in the 1970's, Isaac Azimov wrote a great essay about exponential population growth and what it meant. Essentially an exploration of the math of exponential growth.

Isaac essentially said:

Lets assume that we can remove all limits to growth of the population. ALL LIMITS. That somehow Homo Sapiens can find an answer to every single thing that limits our population expansion. All but one thing. We can never travel faster than the Speed of Light. No FTL Drives, no Warp Speed. But every other limit can be overcome. EVERY LIMIT.

What would be the ultimate outcome.

Starting with the population in the 70's and assuming 3% growth a year, he calculated that there would still be a limit to our population in the future.

That limit would be reached when the human race had become a ball of solid flesh, something like 200 light years in diameter, with the outer surface of that ball of flesh expanding outwards at the speed of light (ignoring relativistic effects).

But the interesting calculation was how far into the future that would be.

5000 years!

5000 years ago the earliest civilizations were still new. 5000 years into the future we have become The Blob.

Take home message.

Nobody 'gets' the Compound Interest Law. Nobody!

Glenn Tamblyn

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #31 on: August 01, 2013, 11:24:45 AM »
JimD

I think there are some flaws in your plan. I wish that weren't the case.

You aren't asking people to delay having children. You are asking a generation to not have any children. If 'birth' is suspended for 30 years then someone who is 20 today would be 50 before births are allowed again - essentially to old to reproduce. 10 year old's today would be 40 and so on. A child born the day before the freeze would be 30 when births are allowed again.

So when birth restarts all parents would be 30 or older. And they would also be the workforce that runs the world, grows the food etc. As well as raising the children. All without the assistance of those in their late teens and 20's who do a significant part of the work. All while also caring for all those older folks who haven't died yet. When their children are 10 the youngest parents would be 40. And their parents 60-70. And so on.

And this restart to birth would require doctors, nurses, midwifes etc who are 55 and older to handle the medical side of birth. How long before there is a shortage of people who have any experience of reproductive medicine. How would a doctor who is 54, and who has gone through their entire medical training with zero exposure to any part of reproductive medicine apart from reading books handle this?

It would be nice to think that such extreme measures could solve the 'population crisis' in a way that would still be 'civilized'. But it just ain't so. The inertia of demographics, of time, works against that.

Even if we went to 1 child per couple, world wide, for several generations, we still end up with a demographic pyramid that has some very really ugly social implications. Consider:

Generation 0 - 1 Child
Generation 1 - 2 Younger Adults
Generation 2 - 4 Older Adults
Generation 3 - 8 Elderly

How many people available to do the work, grow the food, run the economy, build shelter, do the caring, maintain civilization, etc compared to those who need to be cared for?

6 people supporting 15 people. That does not compute Will Robinson!

A 1 child per couple world is one where the elderly die bad deaths. Unavoidable, inexorable maths. And those elderly?

That's US.

So now try and sell that idea as a voluntary program to the world.

Unfortunately the population programs the world needs today had to happen in 1950. As the Baby Boom kicked off the governments of the world should have been shouting 'Whoa, hold them horses'. They didn't, nobody thought that way then.

Population planning needs to happen on 50-100 year lead times. 
 
Demographics is the most brutal branch of mathematics. While population is definitely the problem, all the answers to the problem are terrible.

Humanity now has to find the least terrible path. There are no good paths left. To avoid a population crash demographic nightmare we need to lower population slowly. But resource consumption/depletion means that to avoid a population crash nightmare we need to lower population rapidly, which would still be a population crash demographic nightmare.

Sorry to be so bleak. Maths isn't an optimistic discipline.

wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #32 on: August 01, 2013, 02:10:14 PM »
Good points, GT.

I think Jim's maths were intended as a rough approximation of the consequences of successfully instituting a one-child-per-couple-but-only-after-they're-over-thirty policy.

What would actually happen under such a program (if wildly successful, which is wildly unlikely) is that births would drop to a trickle, since most people today who are over thirty have already had at least one kid if they wanted one. But then gradually increase through the coming years, though never getting near replacement level.

But that does mean that population would start dropping immediately, without outright killing anyone, or depending on mass starvation.

The problem of who would support the aging population does point up the bottle-neck we have gotten ourselves into. It is what Japan and some other countries are starting to experience.

This problem or worse, as you say, is one of the inevitable crunches we have set ourselves up for.
But Japan, who has in essence in fact voluntarily chosen something like this path, is not Rwanda. They have problems, but it is not utterly nightmarish having an aging pop. (There are nightmares there, but more because of devotion to a lethal combination of badly designed nukes and corporate corruption.)

The longer we put off this crunch, of course, the worse it will be when it does come.

That seems the worse choice, to me.

More later, but I've gotta go, now.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #33 on: August 01, 2013, 06:08:51 PM »
Glen

There clearly are flaws with the plan, but largely not the ones related to your figures as you misread my numbers.  The birth ban was 20 years not 30 years.  Big difference.  A generation we can skip without impossible hurdles being generated.  30 years might be too large a gap.
 
So when birth restarts all parents would be 30 or older. And they would also be the workforce that runs the world, grows the food etc. As well as raising the children. All without the assistance of those in their late teens and 20's who do a significant part of the work. All while also caring for all those older folks who haven't died yet. When their children are 10 the youngest parents would be 40. And their parents 60-70. And so on.

And this restart to birth would require doctors, nurses, midwifes etc who are 55 and older to handle the medical side of birth. How long before there is a shortage of people who have any experience of reproductive medicine. How would a doctor who is 54, and who has gone through their entire medical training with zero exposure to any part of reproductive medicine apart from reading books handle this?

All the above numbers are 10 years less.  This would mean that anyone in between the ages of 0 and 20 years old when the birth cessation started would still be in the child bearing years when the ban ceased.  By todays figures that would be a population of approximately 2.4 billion people. Plenty enough. 

Your figures in the 2nd para are not talking into account that a large percentage of all professionals like doctors, nurses and such are going to come from that group of 1.8 billion people who start this process in the age range from 5-20 years.  It is not like we would quit educating the young.  In fact, this group being relieved of the family issues for a very long period of time would likely be by far the most educated group of people in human history.  It would be essential. 

BTW you overestimate the difficulty of assisting in the birth of children.  The vast majority of time one needs almost no experience at all and when births started you would still have almost all the medical professionals alive who were in between the ages of 25 and 45 at the time the birth cessation started.  Plenty of direct experience.  Easy money.

Being an old person (sort of anyway) I also think we are more capable of being useful than most realize.  A lot of people would appreciate something meaningful to do and would be quite capable of taking care of each other and performing a host of tasks.  Just like they used to do in all societies and still do in many.  I really do not see a huge burden created in taking care of the old.

I do agree that the figures are bleak when one looks into them.  But inaction on the issues gives far more bleak numbers than action does!  You mention that we need to lower population slowly in order to not crash into those bleak numbers.  But, as you know, that ship sailed long ago and it is no longer an option.  There is no time left for slow decline.  We are choosing fairly rapid population 'growth' vice any kind of decline in any case.  That leads to numbers that overwhelm the word bleak and are more appropriately characterized as apocalyptic.   By far the least painful option we have is to lower population quickly and equitably.  However, I do not have any confidence that we will even try let alone succeed.

We are in a damned if you do damned if you don't scenario.  But not all bad outcomes are equal.  As an example when I was about 10 my entire family was in our station wagon coming down a very steep narrow mountain road in Wyoming.  As we came around a corner the master brake cylinder on our car blew and we lost all brakes.  Naturally we started to pick up speed quickly.  Down the road about a 1/2 mile was a 180 degree switchback. Pretty much certain death to go off the  cliff.  What to do??  One option was to keep trying to slow the car down as much as possible and hope to survive the wreck.  For wreck was certain as the curve in question required a speed of about 15 mph (and there were lots more curves below it).  Likely the reason I am here today is that my father immediately made a hard right-hand turn into a boulder about 4 ft in diameter.  Thus destroying the car, banging us up a bit (he screamed to hold on about 2 seconds before we hit it), and likely saving all our lives.  As they say where I grew up, sometimes you just have to "Cowboy Up!!",  you spit out the blood, tell everyone you're fine, get back on your horse and get back to work.  The world collectively needs to man up a bit as it is paralyzed just like a deer looking into the headlights.





We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

ritter

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #34 on: August 01, 2013, 06:35:11 PM »
Logan's Run.

Interesting discussion, all. So many unpalatable options. I can't see a way that any would be accepted by the populace, so crash and burn it is.

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #35 on: August 01, 2013, 06:37:45 PM »
Now in the unsustainable fashion we are currently operating in we can undoubtedly run the population quite a bit higher...for a time.  But we are burning the candle at both ends already, as they say, and adding significant numbers just means we run into the hard limits quicker.  Is there much question about those hard limits?  Forcing population declines extends out in years the time when we run into the hard limits.  And possibly gives us time to adapt to the new world we are creating.

On reflection, I think I'll partially cede to agree that it probably isn't sustainable longer term to run with 10 billion even if their resource footprint is relatively tiny. Your basic arguments are sound - and it's altogether too much work to try to work out precisely where the population limit would lie with low resource foot print. You do mention hunter gathering - I submit that more primitive living styles are not automatically more resource sustainable. Agriculture uses much less land to support a similar population - the problem is just that then we've expanded to fill the available space (and let population skyrocket).

That does make me wonder though - if one is going to operate a reasonably technologically advanced civilisation with a corresponding footprint (and there will always be one) - what do you think the maximum "sustainable" population would be (and why)?

If one is saying 1 billion people might work with a low resource allocation per capita - presumably well under a billion? Or would you predicate the theoretical situation upon solutions to problems that do not undermine natural capital quite so heavily?

I fully accept the arguments from you and Wili that the rich and affluent are primarily responsible for the damage that has been done and is currently being done.  But even in the poorest places in the world they are living above their carrying capacities.  This is the lure of wealth and the downside of capitalistic economies which only seem to work when in a state of constant growth.  I have spent a lot of time in Africa (especially West Africa) which is one of the poorest places on earth.  They are using up their natural resources, depending on fossil fuels, destroying their arable land, and receiving lots of charity from wealthier countries and adding more mouths to feed all the time.  There is no place rich or poor where the trends are not pointed towards catastrophe.

Agreed. Even poorer societies are generally destructive - my only argument here is that they are at least generally more locally destructive, destroying their own habitat without so much adverse impact on the habitat of other people not engaging in their local behaviour.

That is the sort of viewpoint I was arguing from in expressing the opinion that we ought to be "containing and isolating" unsustainable pockets of population. They would destroy their own local environment - and then collapse - without bringing down the rest of the planet. In other words, the way the death of civilisations historically usually happened.

I am under no illusion that the technically possible solution I laid out is actually something that is more than a remote possibility.  Forcing cooperation would be practically impossible and most people would never voluntarily follow such a plan.  Not to mention that most religions would arm up and come after you if you even tried such a thing.  I just mention it to point out that there actually is a possible solution out there.

If you remove the requirement for mass consent, I think it is actually possible and if civilisation took decades more to collapse - gradually more likely. My reasons for this are predicated on the assumption that genetic engineering technology is continuing to advance and it would be at least theoretically possible for a small motivated wealthy group to create a highly infectious disease that would render a high proportion of those it infected sterile, without other serious effects. There would be some details to work out in terms of how you avoided the effect continuing further than intended - and some level of risk (but still moderate compared to the known risks of inaction?)

Lastly for today, I do not agree that climate change is the primary problem.  I firmly believe it is population.  AGW is arguably the problem spinning out of control the fastest and I would not argue with that description (though I still think it will be decades before collapse as I define it occurs  ::)  But it would not even exist as a critical problem at this time if we were not over so overpopulated and all the different fixes people talk about cannot work long-term with continuing  stratospheric levels of population.

Well - it's spinning out of control the fastest - to me that makes it the primary problem, although if you're looking at the root behaviour you're back to the consumption and population function.

Suppose population was substantially lower - around 1 billion.

We might not yet be triggering a climate catastrophe, but if that 1 billion was the more affluent nations today - I submit we wouldn't be that far behind the curve.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2013, 06:43:00 PM by ccgwebmaster »

ccgwebmaster

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #36 on: August 01, 2013, 06:42:13 PM »
Generation 0 - 1 Child
Generation 1 - 2 Younger Adults
Generation 2 - 4 Older Adults
Generation 3 - 8 Elderly

How many people available to do the work, grow the food, run the economy, build shelter, do the caring, maintain civilization, etc compared to those who need to be cared for?

6 people supporting 15 people. That does not compute Will Robinson!

Simple, don't support the elderly.

From where I am standing, the modern idea of a comfortable cosy 1-several decades of retirement is a sick twisted fantasy. I have every expectation of working (in some form) until I drop dead, probably in a collapsed world with a quality of life lower than most westerners today could meaningfully contemplate.

So why do all these older people today expect an automatic right to support in their old age? They have the most accumulated responsibility for destroying any possibility at all for my generation (or later) to enjoy the same - thus why should we support them?

In any case, their earlier demise would accelerate the population correction as a lot of population growth is currently occurring from postponing mortality - and since this happens more in the more affluent and resource intensive societies, this would also help with consumption.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #37 on: August 01, 2013, 06:51:15 PM »
Interesting discussion, all. So many unpalatable options. I can't see a way that any would be accepted by the populace, so crash and burn it is.

Maybe mortality could be promoted by facilitating enjoyable but unhealthy behaviour?

Plenty of people already engage in unhealthy behaviour that other people to pick up the tab for - eg smoking, overeating, drugs, etc.

If one stopped picking up the tab but started facilitating the unhealthy behaviour, plenty of people would enjoy themselves to death all the faster I suspect. It would be an individual choice and be a little less distasteful than most other approaches to cutting population.

I might be half joking, I haven't decided yet.

Laurent

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #38 on: August 01, 2013, 07:07:01 PM »
If we want to restrain the population, it has to be done localy (less than 10km) because the number of people that a land can sustain may vary a lot from one place to an other.
Global incentive may work also but I won't like a dictatorship like China !
It has also to be implemented with a solution for elders. The solution we have in France concerning elders may be one of them but alone it won't be sustainable for a long time because of the baby boomers. (the whole working class support the elders above 60 (65..67...well I don't know anymore, that does change every 2 years)). that systeme is already in Jeopardy because there is less and less workers and more and more elders ! If a collapse occure I have no clue how this will settle !!!
We should tax the robots and other automatism...don't know !

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #39 on: August 01, 2013, 07:19:58 PM »
While I've taken a brief hiatus from active blogging in the past week, I've still found time to lurk and read this most important and interesting thread.  Now for a few of my thoughts.

With the current state of international tensions, impending severe climate disruptions and rapid resource depletion, I do not expect the global population  to ever reach 9 billion.  I believe the die-off will begin as early as 2040.  There will be few if any humane efforts to gradually reduce population growth, hence the commencement of mass deaths due to a combination of starvation, pandemics, natural disasters and warfare.

The rate of population decline will determine the ultimate carrying capacity of the earth along with the amount of arable land and natural resources left to sustain humanity.  Depending on how much of a technological and knowledge base survives until the climate again stabilizes will determine the standards of living as well as the social constructs of  future civilizations.

Under no circumstance do I foresee a viable carrying capacity of greater than 1 billion people.  With some modicum of comfort, adequate infrastructure and technological advances the eventual carrying capacity may be as low as 300 million within 200 years.

That's my SWAG (Shitty Wild Ass Guess).
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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #40 on: August 01, 2013, 07:43:56 PM »
AAAAAGH


Not eldercide! As an elder I'd resent that. - Besides we've got all the money and enough of the vote to quash any such notion.

Loved the Asimov quote - that takes me back to my youth when Zero Population Growth was fighting against the religious for such things as access to contraception. Even in the early boomer years there was an awareness of the problem.
China has succeeded in limiting population growth so I'm not sure why we'd want to reinvent that particular wheel. It might not be a policy that everyone is comfortable with & some of the negative side effect are being seen, but overall it has worked in a country that once was the poster child for runaway population growth.
CCG's infectious sterilizing program could be carried out easily enough I suppose, but something like the 1918 influenza or one of the plagues that decimated Europe would speed things up by a generation.
Unlike Jim I think the ramifications of AGW will strike sooner rather than later & population won't have time to expand. If the global population is increasing, or even remaining static in 2050 it would indicate to me that we'd have solved a huge number of problems that seem to me at least to be unsolvable. Somehow we would have saved hoards of Bangladeshis, Vietnamese and Island Nations from SLR. We'd have figured out how to distribute whatever food we're still capable of growing in a manner that staves off mass starvation and avoided any nuke attacks wiping out major population centers.

Overpopulation may well become the major problem, but only if we've solved a bunch of other problems first.
Terry

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #41 on: August 01, 2013, 07:45:21 PM »
Under no circumstance do I foresee a viable carrying capacity of greater than 1 billion people.  With some modicum of comfort, adequate infrastructure and technological advances the eventual carrying capacity may be as low as 300 million within 200 years.


Might be substantially lower again if anthropogenic activity and natural feedbacks really boost global temperatures over the next few centuries. Worst case - a planet only viable for humanity to survive in polar regions and niche habitats doesn't seem impossible. I'd hate to try to work out a consequent carrying capacity - but lower than 300 million.

http://www.livescience.com/28219-holocene-epoch.html

Beginning about the first century A.D., humans began to sidestep these restraints.  Agriculture had increased the number of people that could be supported by the environment; we were the first animals to increase the carrying capacity of our existing habitat. Population slowly began to rise. There were approximately 170 million people on Earth at the end of the first century; by 1800, the population was over 1 billion. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century allowed human populations to grow exponentially. Industrialization, improved sanitation and medical care caused death rates to decline, while birth rates continued to climb in most parts of the world.


Hence - even within the Holocene - it isn't normal for us to have billions - or even hundreds of millions. Take away the nice cosy Holocene and assume substantial technological regression (hopefully not more than a couple thousand years worth) - I have trouble picturing a carrying capacity greater than some tens of millions and potentially only millions given the serious restriction of habitat implied by long term scenarios.

Also quoting from here:

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/ctl/10k.html

10,000 years ago:
First evidence of plant domestication.
Wheat and barley developed in Near East. Barley becomes a daily food staple.
-An estimated 5 million people inhabit the entire planet.


We've got used to the notion of hundreds of millions or billions, that doesn't mean we can expect our normalcy bias to be correct.

Therein lies a flaw with the argument Jim made for a theoretical solution - his argument predicates itself on relatively modest population drops?

JimD

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #42 on: August 01, 2013, 10:09:01 PM »
Therein lies a flaw with the argument Jim made for a theoretical solution - his argument predicates itself on relatively modest population drops?

Well I guess I have progressed if my numbers are now considered modest ;D  Lots of interesting  comments.

Re the sustainable carrying capacity number.  That is a really tough question.  Answering it would presume that we have quantified with some exactitude how much damage we have done to the environment.  I doubt we have a good handle on those types of numbers.  And then we would have to specify a timeframe also.  The carrying capacity now, 2100, 2300, etc.  It is going to be going down over time for a long time.  The effects of our continuing our current civilizational practices will do further damage and the effects of AGW will not be fully manifested for hundreds of years.  Lastly we would have to agree on a definition of what it meant by carrying capacity in the first place.  Almost everyone has their own definition.  Does sustainable mean that we could get along with civilizational practices which allow us to exist for 1000 years, 10,000, 100,000, 1 million, etc.  Where does that leave us?  Personally I would be happy with a number in the 20,000 to 30,000 year span.  If we can't figure out how to get off this rock and go wandering about the stars by then we will have wasted the opportunity.  the universe does not care if we turn the earth into a wasteland and then move on to another place.  But one better get that sequence in the right order.  To a number and dates together?...looking out 300 years I would guess around a billion, 2100 I would guess 2-2.5 billion.  Many are likely to think my 2100 number is high but I would think that the remnants of the big die-off of the previous 50 years would still have access to a significant amount of technology and lots of infrastructure to cannibalize.  This would allow them to continue living above any carrying capacity for some time, but eventually numbers would have to come down...I think.

I think Terry was joking about eldercide.  But there is certainly precedent for this kind of behavior in hunter-gatherer societies.  When one is so old and infirm that they become a risk to the rest of the tribe there is certainly logic in their departing the scene.  If survival of all is at stake what is the difference between that and asking a soldier to spend his life for others?  Duty carries burdens.

Like you OLN I do not actually think we will make it to the 9.6 billion number in 2050 that the UN projects.   Too many things can go wrong in between now and then to see that happening. But the fact that the population projections are rising when they should be going down is crazy stupid.

That is the sort of viewpoint I was arguing from in expressing the opinion that we ought to be "containing and isolating" unsustainable pockets of population. They would destroy their own local environment - and then collapse - without bringing down the rest of the planet. In other words, the way the death of civilizations historically usually happened.

In a way that is what will be occurring when we reach the point that charity food and such are no longer available.  When locations are allowed to fend for themselves when they cannot pay in the future they will undergo local collapse.  Of course, their local collapse will be bleed over into their neighbors and there will be other ripple effects as usual.  I think this may be the difference between my projected date of collapse and OLN's.  I don't count the above 'local' collapse's as qualifying for what I term "significant' collapse.  A large part of the world will remain fully functional with ongoing 'local' collapses until we reach a point that decline is triggered across the board.  One could make a reasonable argument that the Arab Spring (though artificially triggered by the food for ethanol program) is the first incident of local collapse.  As it plays out we are going to get an interesting picture of collapse dynamics in the modern world.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #43 on: August 02, 2013, 03:59:21 AM »
Terry, you mention the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, but note that, as horrific as it was for those involved, it doesn't even show up as a blip on long-term world population charts. Neither do either of the World Wars. The Black death does barely manage a blip, but not a long one in the grand scheme of things:

https://www.google.com/search?q=world+population+chart&client=firefox-a&hs=k25&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=yRD7Ueu3FIe8rQGpmoGIAQ&ved=0CCwQsAQ&biw=1214&bih=617#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=TegVtqpfhip1KM%3A%3BFdvnTKpIfLwlYM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252F1.bp.blogspot.com%252F-Eu_3GPpjxiM%252FUI9cUxkjSCI%252FAAAAAAAAAAs%252FxS8k7MR5NKk%252Fs320%252Ftotal-world-population-chart-inline-400.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fmankindvsmachines.blogspot.com%252F2012%252F10%252Fcan-technology-save-us-two-part-series.html%3B320%3B242

We "kudzu monkeys," as a poster on another site likes to call us, are just too good at making more of ourselves.
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SteveMDFP

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #44 on: August 02, 2013, 04:44:07 AM »
"6 people supporting 15 people. That does not compute Will Robinson!"

Actually, I think it does.  Though I agree with most other aspects in this discussion.
Note that decades ago, a middle-class worker might have a wife at home, a brood of half a dozen kids or more, maybe a maiden aunt living in the attic, maybe a paid housekeeper.

Now, kids cost more to raise these days.  But the ability of a working population to support a number of non-workers is directly related to "productivity."  We don't appreciate how productivity has been going up year after year, because the proceeds have been going to CEOs and shareholders.  But in any rational system of taxation and distribution of benefits, there shouldn't  be a problem with one productive worker, on average, supporting perhaps ten or more non-workers.

Lot's of "if's" there, but when we're talking about how to deal with runaway population growth, some serious "if's" are going to have to happen if civilization is to keep going without a crisis.

Glenn Tamblyn

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #45 on: August 02, 2013, 02:38:36 PM »
CGWM

"Simple, don't support the elderly."

That is actually the default position in any 'collapse scenario'. Along with 'don't support the young'.

What matters (apart from the human suffering implications of accepting the above) is what is lost over and above just loosing people - doesn't maths promote a beautifully clinical brutality.

The young are the continuous revitalization of a society. They aren't just extra bodies. They are a wellspring of optimism and energy that can sometimes surmount problems.

And the elderly are the wisdom and knowledge of a society. They have seen enough to have LOTS of perspective. And they are at a point in life where giving their knowledge back is a major part of what makes life meaningful for them. They are a societies library.

So for a society to function, to be functional, it needs the balance of youthful energy, mid-life solidness and elder wisdom. It is the balance of these things that makes any society viable, vibrant and valid.

And it is exactly this generational balance that the demographics of population and climate change is likely to tear apart. Human Civilization may be able to survive the coming century.

But Demographics will drive it to it's knees.

Those things that increase our survival chances in terms of resources, energy, population levels etc - the point of Jim's original post, work against our survival chances in terms of the social/cultural/knowledge retention impacts of demographics.

We, and the next few generations truly are like cats on a hot tin roof.

Go too far in the direction of supporting one development, and a countervailing development will get us. Everything now depends on how we navigate through deeply conflicting currents and shoals


Laurent

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #46 on: August 02, 2013, 06:59:31 PM »
"In Africa, when an old man dies, it's a library burning." 1960 at l'UNESCO
Amadou Hampâté Bâ

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wili

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #47 on: August 02, 2013, 08:53:17 PM »
"it is exactly this generational balance that the demographics of population and climate change is likely to tear apart."


Beautifully put. But any sense of balance was thrown out the window a couple centuries ago.

We will have to do a lot of things that seem 'imbalanced' to even come close to restoring the balance that was utterly destabilized with the introduction of industrial civilization.

That being said, I think a lot of what needs to happen could be done by introducing policies that are in fact much more humane than most of the current ones, at least those in advanced countries.

Something like 60% of ones medical care expenses come in the last 6 months of peoples lives in industrialized countries, iirc. But most of that either just prolongs suffering or prolongs vegetative states.

Going back to an ethic of dying with dignity--rather than pushing every last technically feasible heroic down fragile, dying peoples throats, sometimes quite literally--would help reduce the number of people on the planet, make dying more dignified and serene (especially if easily producible opiates like morphine are freely available), and leave a lot more money available for care for kids and others in need.

I can pin numbers on this and find sources, but I hope you get the general gist.

But medical corporations are making too much $$$$$$$ on such heroics for there to be much of a change in the current deeply inhumane 'heroicism' for things to change much without some kind of major revolution in that area. (One of many revolutions that need to happen yesterday for us even to have a glimmering chance of avoiding vastly horrendous futures.)
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #48 on: August 05, 2013, 09:25:28 PM »
China is preparing to end it's one child policy according to news reports.

No official announcement, but the below link provides enough info to think that the reports are likely to be true.  Note the link comes from the blog Zero Hedge so one has to be very cautious as it is a very ideological place and all info is strongly filtered.

If this turns out to be true it will have a big impact.  I note that a lot of the figures used in the link (quoted form Bank of America) are out of date.  Numbers quoted for the UN are 2 years back.  Current UN projections for China's peak population are 100 million higher.  Maybe they knew this was coming and built it into the figures.  In the post above we talked about countries like Russia promoting an increase in their birth rate so this kind of report should not be too surprising.  Just disappointing.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-08-04/china-ending-its-one-child-policy-here-are-implications
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How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

AbruptSLR

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Re: Population: Public Enemy No. 1
« Reply #49 on: August 06, 2013, 05:06:37 AM »
Additional considerations impacting this complicated question include the following:

- By ~ 2040 robotics will have advanced to the state where robots will be replacing large numbers of people in the labor force; which implies that societies that can afford large numbers of robots can consume more; with even less need for labor from societies that cannot afford robots.  This trend has already begun and will continue to accelerate for many decades to come.

-  Technology besides robots (e.g. 3D printers connected via the internet to programs that can print drugs, food, durables, etc)  will allow more people to live longer (including lower death rates); and to consume more thus increasing the anthropogenic footprint.

- Increasing economic imbalance will fuel conflicts which will further consume resources and increase AGW; while the increasing numbers of poor and displaced populations will need to increase their birthrates to make sure that enough children survive to take care of the parents in their old age.

- Studies indicate that up to 10% of business leaders are sociopaths; who are likely to gain even more economic and political power during times of stress (e.g. Hitler or Stalin); which would like increase waste and insensitivity to both climate and to the population at large.

- Most modern river deltas are highly populated (Nile, Rhine, Mekong, Mississippi, etc) and formed during the Holocene and thus are almost all at the same sea level.  The US military recognizes that the most likely sea level rise by 2100 will be between 1 and 2 m's; which will induce large migrations of people (many into concentration camps) and the destruction of large quantities of farm land and economic infrastructure.

Many of the trends cited above will allow increasing numbers of people to live under increasingly stressful conditions; while accelerating the climate towards a tipping point.
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
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