Monday, November 5, 2007

Trajectories and Resources

When adjusted power (a composite of personal power and knowledge) exceeds about 55 percent of the maximum (the “climbing point”), per capita consumption increases radically. It roughly doubles by its peak at an adjusted power of 75 percent and then drops precipitously. After increasing adjusted power (what I called the “second trajectory”) over nearly all of human history, the world approached the climbing point in the 1950s and then retreated (along the “first trajectory”), pausing briefly in the early 1990s.

If my model is correct, the retreat will stop as population growth stops, and then the second trajectory will resume as more people die than are being born. With fewer people, more resources will be available to the survivors; at least until the population totally crashes. As I’ve already discussed, the population peak will be a consequence of exhausting the Earth’s natural capital, and the obvious way to stop that is to repair natural systems and reduce consumption (be even more aggressive in following the first trajectory). With no increase in available resources, the consequences of the first trajectory are far from attractive: We will be effectively shutting down modern civilization.

An increase in resources would result in a similar trajectory (since per capita consumption is measured as a fraction of available resources), but with an important qualitative difference. Our decrease in knowledge and power would be relative to the use of the new resources – we would not actually “lose” anything, just be learning how to use something new.

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