Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Targeting Ourselves


Simulation using my mathematical model of global population and consumption revealed something extraordinary recently: an elegant pattern in the evolution of civilization. In essence, humanity appears to be attracted to the most options for living with more people than we have. These options are alternative "worlds" that our real world could become.

Until now, it seemed that population and consumption changed in almost random ways, generally increasing but in many ways subject to accidents of fate. I now understand this behavior to be largely due to the fact that the target is moving. As we consume more resources (destroy the rest of the biosphere, manifested as killing other creatures that keep the system healthy), we eliminate from consideration those worlds that require consuming more than what's left. As a result, the "center" of the remaining worlds changes, and it is this center that we are targeting. Since 1900, our targeting has become erratic as the distribution of remaining worlds changed dramatically and rapidly. The more we've "moved" to compensate, the more worlds we've eliminated and the less predictable our target's position has become.

While it's tempting to simply improve our targeting, there are now very few worlds left that don't involve lowering our population (0.07% of the worlds we started with). My simulation suggests that we may have already gotten as close as possible to the remaining worlds; and further, we may even be the only one left. That is, we'll be targeting ourselves.

What this means for the future is fairly simple and hardly new. Like someone who has overfished a lake, we have to give the fish (other species) time to recover reasonable and sustainable numbers. That is, we have to reduce our "fishing" (consuming so many ecological resources). Unfortunately, in this analogy, we've only got one "lake" where we can get our food – the Earth. If we stop "fishing" altogether, we'll be the ones who die off. If we don't reduce our fishing enough, we'll die off along with the fish. And all this assumes, of course, that we haven't already poisoned the lake (through, among other things, global warming).