I project that if we reduce world annual consumption by 18 percent per year from the end of 2007 until 2050, halving it every 3.5 years and then leveling off, we will avoid any losses in population. This corresponds to a cut in daily waste per capita from the current 500 thousand pounds to a mere 100 pounds, and a leveling off of Gross World Product at about $70 trillion. If the world merely cuts 90 percent of current annual carbon dioxide emissions during that time period (an extrapolation of Al Gore’s proposal for the U.S.), the populations of other species will crash in 2026; followed by our own in 2042. If we continue on our present course for at least the next five years, there will be nothing we can do to avoid some population loss.
Various elements of the model I have been able to check are consistent with reality, or at least other people’s projections. Price elasticity of energy, timing and behavior of consumption based on peaking oil production, and past prediction of the basic variables (population, energy consumption, living planet index) all seem to track pretty well. Even the recently discovered per capita consumption values for avoiding catastrophe seem reasonable.
My own personal situation mirrors the dilemma facing others, like Gore, that at various levels comprehend the threat facing us. The socioeconomic system we’re part of demands a certain amount and type of consumption in order to command the respect and exposure necessary to spread any message to a large number of people. Such expenditures are in excess of those for the average U.S. citizen, which is far higher than the average world citizen; and in the wrong direction for exercising personal responsibility (more, not less, consumption). Gore, for example, has been criticized for consuming more energy in his home and personal jet while trying to convince world leaders to deal with global warming, but without doing so he would likely never get their attention. As I consider launching my writing and research into the realm of public discourse, I must maintain computer equipment, try to get books published (consider the paper), possibly travel, and maintain a professional business presence so those whose help I need won’t ignore me out-of-hand.
One undeniably imperfect way to cope with this dilemma is to do what Gore does: “offset” the additional waste by supporting technologies and organizations that can make a difference elsewhere. Offsets are justifiable at the beginning of the process, if accompanied by the intended effect (building momentum for the reduction of consumption). But if the intended effect is not forthcoming, personal consumption should be cut drastically to compensate.