Wednesday, January 30, 2008


If one word could summarize my strategy for avoiding population collapse, it would be “replacement.” We must replace people (zero population growth), replace what we use (consume only as much this year as we consumed last year), and replace resources (for every resource we consume, add at least one new, preferably renewable resource).

Any change in one part of the strategy must be compensated by one or more of the others. For example, if we add people to the population, we must add new resources for them to use. If we increase the consumption rate (resources used annually per capita), we must compensate by adding more resources to maintain the new rate (if we don’t, we will be forced to use the other, unacceptable option: reducing population). If we increase the amount of resources available, we can add population, increase the consumption rate, or both (if the amount of resources will support it).

Every part of this strategy is simple but not easy. To replace people, have on average only one birth per person. To replace consumption, use everything as long as you can; and if you must add something, stop using something else that contains an equivalent amount of resources. To replace resources, find renewable alternatives (consider even borrowing from others); and if they are not available, invest time or money in either exploration or restoration.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Limits to Overhead

As I’ve mentioned, my population-consumption model predicts that on a per capita basis the world must add at least one new energy resource for every resource we consume to keep the world’s population (technically, the amount of people using energy) from decreasing. Our ability to survive this situation depends on how much of what we consume that we can devote to finding new resources, what business people might refer to as “overhead.”

In that vein, an economic perspective can be gained from my equivalent model of the Gross World Product (GWP), which shows that we must currently add 80 cents worth of productivity for every dollar an average person produces; this happens to be close to the average of the required per capita ecological and energy resource additions as a fraction of consumption. Put another way, we must each (on average) acquire 80 cents worth of resources for every dollar we spend. How much of that dollar we use to acquire those 80 cents is the “overhead” that allows us to use the remainder without causing people to die.

Of course, the longer we wait, the more resources we will need to add. My GWP model suggests that if we wait until 2020 to start adding resources (as well as keeping the population from growing and keeping per capita consumption constant), the 80 cents per dollar climbs to 88 cents. If we wait until 2079, we will each have to add more than the total we spend (replacing more than our entire economic output). The time we will each need to add more ecological resources than we consume is much earlier: 2036, which is much more problematic since the associated population peak is only two years later.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Acquisition and Crash Avoidance

My population-consumption model implies that if we were to stop increasing our per capita consumption, we could reduce the rate of new resource acquisition that is required to delay the world’s population from crashing until a speed limit is reached.

For ecological resources, the minimum annual rate of resource acquisition (with renewable resources keeping pace) is 1.6 percent. For energy, the rate is 2.5 percent (with renewable resource growth not required); and for Gross World Product (GWP), the rate is 1.4 percent (again, with no renewable resource increase). The per capita contribution this year, as a fraction of per capita consumption, would be 1.34, 2.54, and 34.7, respectively (I estimate that last year they were 0.04, 0.76, and 0).

This analysis offers little hope that we can keep our population from crashing in the near future by just adding resources. What is likely the world’s most intensive resource exploration, for energy, is yielding only 30 percent of the minimum additional resources we need. The record for ecological resources is much more dismal, but mainly because we have taken those resources for granted.

It turns out that we can reduce needed additional resources even more if we have no population growth in addition to keeping per capita consumption constant. The annual additions should be at least 0.52 percent of ecological resources, 1.01 percent of energy, and 0.03 percent of GWP, translating into per capita contributions (in 2008) of 0.43, 1.01, and 0.73 of per capita consumption. We will then only be limited by how fast we could access the resources.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Alternatives

Given that the world has been exponentially using more resources than are being replaced (either through discovery or reprocessing), there does not appear to be any way to avoid the world’s population eventually decreasing. My population-consumption model does however suggest two alternatives that can postpone the fall (but only as long as they are applied): Increase total resources by at least 3 percent per year; or decrease per capita consumption by at least 1.5 percent per year.

By decreasing per capita consumption (how many resources are consumed per person per year), the drain on non-renewable resources is reduced. If the resources are the ecological resources included in the global ecological footprint, this can only continue until people begin starving to death (we are currently consuming 2.5 global hectares per person; the limit may be around .05 hectares, reached in 2119 if we start now).

If we increase total resources, more people can each consume more. In the case of ecological resources, we must increase renewable resources at the same rate; if we can’t, then the required annual resource increase is closer to four percent. For ecological and energy resources, this means that if we started immediately, we would need to add two units of resources for every one unit we consume (we are currently adding 1/24 and 3/4, respectively). As I’ve pointed out numerous times before, we would still be limited by how fast we could reach the new resources; beyond the inevitable maximum speed, consumption and population would both decrease rapidly.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Converging Futures

I refined my population-consumption model once again, after encountering some difficulties with applying it to other kinds of consumption, namely energy and gross domestic product. This time I took into account that population, like per capita consumption, is a power function rather than an exponential one (proportional to the year raised to a constant exponent). The dependence of population on resources that was my key insight in creating the model was accommodated by calculating the coefficient (proportionality “constant” of the power function) of population for a given year: Multiply the previous year’s coefficient by the ratio of resources at the beginning of that year to the resources at the beginning of the previous year. Unlike the last iteration of the model, I didn’t adjust the population for decreasing per capita consumption, since this was a guess that couldn’t be tested with existing data.

As before, the population based on the ecological footprint peaks by the middle of this century (8.2 billion people in 2038), but his time it effectively crashes, dropping below half its peak value in 2084 and finally reaching zero by 2444. In the model of world energy from 1980 to 2004, the population peaks higher and later (9.3 billion in 2053), and also crashes, falling below half the peak in 2105 and reaching zero by 2256 (significantly, this model accurately predicts known energy reserves). The model of Gross World Product (GWP, in fixed dollars) yields population projections higher than those for footprint and energy: Population peaks at 27.0 billion people in 2118, falls below half that amount by 2159, and drops to zero in 2406.

For all intents and purposes, the footprint and energy projections tell the same story. Around the middle of this century the world’s population will reach a maximum and then decline, falling to half the peak value around the end of the century. All of the projections show humanity being extinct within 440 years.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Since the early 1990s, inflation (measured as the ratio of the amount of money needed to buy something in one year, to the amount of money needed to buy it in a reference year), at least in the United States, appears to have been approximately proportional to the cube root of the difference between the maximum amount of resources and the amount of remaining resources.

If this relationship turns out to be a general one, then it has several major implications for the interaction between consumption and population. For one, it could explain how people sense the direction and magnitude of change in resources that appears to be attenuating the rate of population growth (if the cost of things is increasing, couples may be less inclined to have kids). Another major implication is that inflation, along with population, could be used as a tool for making economic adjustments that could maximize long term survival.

Under business as usual conditions, my population-consumption model projects that the annual change in inflation will fall from this year’s estimated 3.7 percent (from last year) to 2.0 percent by the population peak in 2020 and below 0.1 soon after the beginning of the next century. If we keep per capita consumption constant and create renewable resources (consuming fewer non-renewable resources as a consequence), inflation will decrease more rapidly while population levels off. If we increase total resources and consumption along with it, inflation will increase almost linearly while population increases exponentially.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Voluntary Control of Consumption

If we are to keep per capita consumption constant as a requirement for a better future, we must not only control our extraction of materials and energy from the environment, but the lifetimes of the things we create. The reason is that consumption of resources does not always take place over a year’s time. For example, after a house is built, its resources are typically “consumed” over several years, until it is torn down. Thus “consumption” includes the use of resources that have already been extracted from Nature in their raw form, but still have costs in terms of maintenance and unavailability for any other use.

How could such control be done on a totally voluntary basis?

Many people have chosen to join the so-called “sustainability movement,” which is devoted to increasing efficiency (getting the most use out of resources, especially fuel) and encouraging the use of renewable resources. Recognizing that such changes by themselves will not necessarily limit consumption over the long term (and may possibly increase it), some proponents of sustainable living have also encouraged “voluntary simplicity” – the equivalent of a diet, where people decide how much stuff they really need to make them happy, and then work toward consuming no more than that. Capitalism, one of the world’s greatest tools for increasing standard of living, is considered a key component of this strategy: If demand for efficiency and reusability grows sufficiently, so the theory goes, someone will provide products and services that will meet that demand (gaining, as an incentive, the ability to purchase more things).

Given unlimited resources, producers under capitalism will compete to provide the least costly products and services for the maximum demand (as “producers” I’m including all of the people involved in getting products and services to the customers). This evolutionary process will inevitably include many failed attempts, involving a considerable use of resources as different solutions are tried and discarded. Increased profits demand increasing demand, which encourages producers to try out new products and services that people are more likely to buy (thus the routine “improvements” to soap that appear on store shelves that are only marginally different from their predecessors or their competition). As the new, related versions are tried, more resources are used, thus exponentially increasing the total consumption involved in the enterprise.

Limiting per capita consumption would limit the amount of resources that could be used for trial and error, as well as the number of “new” products and services that producers could introduce over time, because per capita consumption includes the related resources. Any additional use of resources would need to be compensated by a corresponding reduction of consumption somewhere else in the economy. No such limitations are currently in place, nor to my knowledge are they included in plans for sustainable products and services (their focus being instead on reducing the resource stream for the end results of the economic process).

For resource limits to be voluntarily observed may require some special incentives for producers and the customers they support: a perceived value that offsets the value of additional material inputs. The sustainability movement often promotes the value of “saving the planet,” assuring that future generations will live no worse than this one; but for many people this is a luxury, more suited to charitable donation than products whose main uses are interchangeable with less costly alternatives. Some other incentive will likely need to be dreamed up to stoke demand if we are to avoid the next best solution, which is decidedly involuntary but much less draconian than public ownership of resources: consumption based taxes.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Reusability and Permanence

Before humans came along, practically everything was reusable (any losses due to entropy – the conversion of mass and energy into permanently unusable forms – were offset by the inputs from outer space in the form of solar energy and matter from asteroids and comets). The nano-machinery of Nature routinely built, maintained, copied, and tore apart life, assuring the propagation of at least some of its transient forms throughout time, serving and responding to physical processes on a grander scale that have regularly recycled and modified the chemistry of the planet over its more than four billion year history. The driving goal of life was the long term survival of its basic chemistry, even at the expense of the quality of its existence. Recently, for at least our species, the goal has been changed: Quality rather than quantity of life is most important; and the means for attaining this goal has been the denial of reusability to each other and the rest of Nature, at least over the course of our (mercifully) short lifetimes.

Like it or not, there will always be a tradeoff between quantity and quality of life. In near-perfect synchrony, it will be accompanied by the balancing of reusability and permanence. The Universe abhors permanence, while we abhor reusability (implying, as it does, that we can’t “own” anything). So we must attempt to strike a compromise, since the Universe is a lot more powerful than we can ever hope to be. That compromise can take the form of restricting how many resources we will use exclusively over a period of time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Usable Resources

To maintain constant per capita consumption as a means of minimizing future population loss, we must be careful not to limit everyone to what they are consuming now. Note that “per capita consumption” is an average; there are great differences between countries and individuals. For countries, averages per citizen range between .04 and 5.0 times the world average (the former for the United Arab Emirates and the latter for Afghanistan).

One potential solution involves the public ownership of resources, where the total resources that people can use are limited based on population size. The internal distribution of those resources could then be managed by something like free market economics (with the illusion of private ownership).

Increasing the renewable resource base (capacity), another critical condition for long-term survival, would need to be encouraged without resulting in an overall increase in per capita consumption. This could be done in at least one of two ways: by economically treating capacity creation as a service worthy of higher income (enabling more consumption relative to other people); or allowing capacity creators’ offspring access to more of the additional capacity.

If humanity had not exceeded the world’s capacity with exponentially growing consumption, there would be no need for a distinction between “usable resources” and “total resources”; people could simply use whatever they could get. Unfortunately, the laws of physics do not permit unlimited exponential growth in the amount of usable resources; and people tend to move elsewhere or kill each other (if they can’t move) when they are forced to reduce what they consume.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Costs of Consumption

Until the early1960s, humanity consumed less than half of the world’s usable renewable resources. By 1990 we were consuming all of them, even though the amount available was growing at a modest pace. The gluttony continued as we began processing non-renewable resources, now equivalent to more than 40 percent of the renewable resource base. Our population growth is beginning to slow due to this new reality, and in little more than a dozen years will likely stop altogether. Beyond that, more people will die than are born to replace them, the population dropping about as fast as it increased so that the rise in the per capita consumption can follow its present course. By the 2130s the non-renewable resources will be gone and the remaining quarter of what the population was at its peak will fight over the renewable resources, barely able to replace the dead with those who are born so they can sustain a standard of living less than triple what we enjoy today. This is the story my population-consumption model tells about our history and our likely future. The history is accurate, while the future is in the process of being tested.

Of all the variables that are likely to cause the cresting and decline of the world’s population, per capita consumption seems to be the most influential. Even if we could get our hands on more non-renewable resources, we would need to limit its growth in order to maximize the number of people living as well as possible into the far future. If there should be one focus in keeping the worst from happening, this is it; unfortunately, it may also be the most difficult.

Averaging its oscillations, per capita consumption has been growing at about 0.9 percent per year (it is likely to slow to no less than 0.8 percent per year, even during the projected population decline). For a person spending $40,000 per year this would be roughly equivalent to spending an additional $350 the following year (using the actual number). What would it take to get everyone in the world now and in the future to give up on such an increase, or to spend it on additional renewable resources?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Avoiding Population Loss

My population-consumption model provides some insight into the minimum we must do to avoid population loss if we cannot increase the amount of available resources.

One option, a variant of the ideal world scenario, keeps the population constant at its current level. It involves increasing capacity (the amount of resources that are renewable) by 44 percent from 11.5 billion to at least 16.6 billion hectares (1/3 of the Earth’s surface area) at an annual rate of at least 0.2 percent (comparable to what the rate was in the 1960s), and keeping per capita consumption practically constant. The core population growth rate, historically 2.0 percent, would need to fall to 1.1 percent.

The longer we wait to change our behavior, the harder it will be to avoid population loss because in the interim the population will have grown and we will have consumed more resources. My model projects that if instead of this year we wait until 2011, we will need to triple the rate at which we must add capacity (0.6 percent annually) to a maximum that has crept up nearly 5 percent to 17.4 billion hectares. Also, the core population growth rate will need to increase to 1.3 percent.

There is a considerable amount of sensitivity of population change to the values of these variables and the interactions between them. For example, the exponent of the year in the function for per capita consumption must be very slightly negative (between a hundredth of a billionth and a billionth) to avoid any population loss. Because this results in a reduction in per capita consumption over time (albeit a very small one) the core population growth must compensate (if we had zero core population growth in the above example starting this year, the population would fall by 70 million people). If the core population growth increases (in an attempt to elevate the population) then the maximum capacity and rate of capacity increase must also rise to avoid a reduction in total resources.

Based on my analysis, it makes sense as a general rule to increase capacity as much and as fast as possible (more than half, at a rate of at least one-quarter percent annually), while keeping per capita consumption constant and the live birth rate above 1.1 percent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Revised Futures

I was able to remove most of the remaining error in my theoretical consumption model by using a power function (rather than a linear function) for per capita consumption as a function of time. Consumption (ecological footprint) and population now match the data from 1961 through 2003 to an average of no more than 0.6 percent (oscillating to a peak 15 percent for footprint and a peak 3 percent for population). In addition, a new feature of the model reflects people’s resistance to reducing consumption, effectively keeping population from increasing at the expense of per capita consumption: If per capita consumption drops, population will drop proportionally to compensate for it.

The modified model projects that for business as usual the world’s population will peak in 2020 at a value of 7.3 billion and drop to a stable value of 1.7 billion by 2132. Of the 530 billion hectares of resources currently available, all but a renewable amount (capacity) of 11 billion hectares will remain, with an average per capita consumption of 6.5 hectares. Ideality (the average of lifespan in years and happiness in percent), currently 64, will rise to a stable value of 74 for the survivors. This option is likely the one that results in the highest ideality.

If capacity and resources don’t grow, the option resulting in the best outcome in terms of population and ideality ends up effectively preserving ideality (per capita consumption and ideality are constant). It is attained by reducing growth in per capita consumption (by decreasing the exponent of time in the power function to about 1/17,000 of its current value) and having only 0.05 percent population growth. In this scenario we lose more than one quarter of the population over the next 60 years, with subsequent losses becoming very gradual (the population drops below 4.9 billion by the end of the next century).

By increasing capacity without increasing resources, we could grow our population to a maximum of about 190 billion people while maintaining our current ideality. This would be a monumental task, since it would require an annual capacity increase of 5.5 percent to 42 times its current value (11 billion hectares to 480 billion hectares). This option is what I’ve previously referred to as the “ideal world scenario.”

If we increase both capacity and the amount of resources, then we can grow the population even higher, but again ideality won’t change. The trajectory of population growth is strongly dependent on how fast resources can be reached and consumed, and less so on how fast we can increase capacity (the latter basically operating to keep the population from decreasing when the maximum speed is reached). By my calculations, we could spend at least the next six thousand years devouring just the mass in the Solar System, with a population growing beyond one thousand trillion people.

Monday, January 14, 2008


It is practically a given that people like me, at the peak of earning potential, should be stuffing money away for retirement. The common way of doing this is to prudently invest in stocks and bonds that gain rates of return over the long term that will amount to a decent source of income during the years that we can no longer work. Depending upon one’s preferred lifestyle investments may be more or less aggressive (risky), requiring more or less exponential growth in someone’s use of resources.

My wife and I got into retirement planning rather late in life (our late forties). That planning has been complicated by the fact that my employment is sporadic, relying as it does on contract jobs that are typically tied to short-term projects. It has also been affected by my growing awareness of the malignant affect of exponential consumption on the future of life on Earth. Any economic growth I finance must reduce non-renewable material consumption if I am to be able to live with myself – or rather justify my living later on related profits.

I am currently available for work, my last contract having ended last month. I’m hoping that my remaining working years can have a net positive effect on humanity’s future, rather than contributing to the sharp decline of population that will likely be the outcome of business-as-usual economic activity. If those years include a considerable amount of creative writing and research, I will be quite happy, whether I’m working for myself or someone else. If the proceeds of that work can be used to improve the lives of others, now and in many later years, then I will be ecstatic.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Stimulating Thought

Twenty years ago, I was working as a test engineer in the defense industry to help support my father and the educational research business we started together to teach kids how to use observation and logic to inductively discover the basic relationships that govern their world, primarily in mathematical terms. This was my small way of helping make the world a better place, based on the premise that if people got in the habit of thinking for themselves and relying on empirical evidence to test their assumptions, they would be more likely to take effective action to improve their lives and those of others. In my day job I was routinely testing assumptions, and had the most success disproving the most basic and unchallenged ones, much to the consternation of my supervisors whose reputations and paychecks depended on my proving their assumptions. It took several more years for me to grasp the immense magnitude of my society’s investment in false appearances and the blind faith that maintained them, as well as the limits of my own endurance in fighting it. Like any business, our educational research company depended for its survival on economic demand and the ability to supply it; operating on a shoestring with minimal demand, it was forced to fold, which tragically my father didn’t live to see.

I struggled through much of the 1990s, economically and emotionally, trying to find my own direction after depending much too heavily on my father’s wisdom and guidance. My native skepticism served me well as a test engineer for a much more benign employer, and helped me see through the deceptions of organized religion and political dogma as I pursued a logically and factually consistent understanding of the world. Astronomy, an interest I’d held since the age of eight, served as a conduit for pursuing scientific inquiry, philosophical exploration, and even some social development. With the help of some very forgiving women, I forged a gut level appreciation of the complex interaction we all manage between our intellects, perceptions, and values, as well as how easy it is to confuse them with each other.

Writing was a passion in high school, which included fiction, poetry, and essays like this one. Rather than indulge it, I took a more “responsible” path, applying the skill of writing at work and in my father’s business. In this decade I applied it more strongly in a career as a technical writer, a natural melding with my engineering background, but I was still serving the needs and specifications of others rather the inner drive to create independent content. Since getting married a few years ago, I’ve spent some free time developing my own voice, both in fiction and non-fiction (this blog is a recent incarnation of the latter). Now with something valuable to say, I stand committed to making that voice heard by as many people as possible; and perhaps, in the process, stimulating some critical and constructive thought.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Preeminent Threat

John McCain, currently one of the front-runners in the Republican presidential race, is fond of saying that international terrorism is the “preeminent threat” facing the world in this century. I beg to differ.

The greatest threat facing the world in this century is the increasing unavailability of natural resources needed for humanity’s survival. International terrorism is merely an extreme reaction of relatively powerless people to the cultural displacements that have accompanied predatory consumption in an accelerating global economy (there may be an appropriate analogy in raids by some Native Americans on encroaching European settlers in the 19th century). I suspect in this case that terrorism is but one small component of the noted reduction in population growth associated with resource decline that will eventually translate into a drop in the net population.

As the world’s resources are drawn down by cultures like ours who have become expert at exponential consumption, that consumption will be seen as more and more of a threat by others who sit on the remaining resources and do not want to enter into economic relationships that could greatly modify their cultures. The plunderers have a duty to recognize this potentiality, as well as the inevitably destructive consequences of their actions. We must alter our behavior out of respect for everyone, present and future. Any remaining threats can then be honestly dealt with.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Big Daddy

One of the most annoying traits of the Democratic Party has started to assert itself in this early presidential primary season, one that was largely responsible for my Republican Party affiliation prior to George Bush’s reign: Promoting the concept of government as the cure for all ills. Feeling screwed by the economy? Big Daddy can help you. Feeling persecuted by others? Big Daddy will force them to treat you right. Is the environment going down the tubes? Big Daddy will crack down on those nasty polluters. Just as the Religious Right insists that God and competition will fix everything, the Liberal Left expects that the federal government (properly run) can make the world fair, just, and prosperous for all.

If everyone was moral, thoughtful, and equally capable, the world could probably function with far fewer laws. The realization that they aren’t, along with my discoveries about the disastrous consequences of untested faith, created the philosophical basis for my ultimate split from the unholy alliance of the Republican Party and fundamentalist Christianity (catalyzed and reinforced by the arrogant aggression of the president and his cronies). I joined the ranks of Democrats because I share their passion for justice and prosperity for everyone, present and future, regardless of their personal circumstances.

I understood, finally, that individually we will not generally pursue a path that assures our survival as a community or a species. Instead, we must work collectively to acquire and disseminate knowledge about the Big Picture; it will never be made available by some greater entity, or self-proclaimed prophets. We must then work together to create the best future possible.

Just as a ship cannot be steered by everyone in the crew, and the captain alone cannot perform all of the functions required to acquire information and make the ship move, a society must organize itself into specialized, coordinating groups that enable it to progress in a common direction while maintaining its structural integrity. Governments, corporations, families and other groups all perform specialized functions that keep societies intact and thriving. No one group or type of group has enough power by itself to achieve all of a society’s objectives, nor should it. But just as we should not rely on any one group, we should not automatically assume that any group should have less of a role in society. We must be careful not to tear apart our civilization as mindlessly as we’ve destroyed Nature.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Political rhetoric for the rest of this year will likely be dominated by one concept: Change. Republicans under George Bush have ruled by fear, co-opting the terrorist threat to achieve their own political aims here and around the world. Backlash from their political rivals, the Democrats, has risen to counterbalance this strategy. The result has been almost total gridlock in the U.S. government, leaving critical issues unaddressed.

Recognizing that this situation cannot continue much longer, voters are likely to elect a new president who has the best chance of ending the standoff, and getting the gears of government working again. Historically, such standoffs have been ended by one political philosophy slightly if not totally dominating the other over the term of the associated party’s president. If this trend continues, we can expect liberal ascendancy over the next nine years.

I expect that this will mean a stop, if not a reversal, to the privatization of common resources that has been part of the Republican agenda. This will hopefully translate into less corruption – more control of the government by the people rather than organizations dedicated to using its power to plunder. With any luck, it will also mean more protection of the quality of the air, water, and habitats of other species which provide the renewable services everyone depends on.

Both political parties appear to be dedicated to reducing the country’s “dependency on foreign oil.” A positive result of this commitment would be an increase in the use of renewable energy sources, but I am concerned that any such result will be accompanied by the development of domestic non-renewable sources, resulting in more unsustainable consumption.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Approaching an Ideal World

I can now say with some confidence that to maximize both the quality and quantity of human life over time, at least on our planet, the world must increase the amount of useful renewable resources (what I’ve called “capacity”) as much as possible into the foreseeable future.

By my calculations, we can avoid resource-related casualties if we add two percent of capacity per year over the next 250 years, so that by the end of that time practically all of the resources we might use will be renewable. Of the 2.6 trillion hectares of total useful resources we have remaining, at least 822 billion must be renewable (for reference, we currently consume about 18 billion hectares per year, of which about 6 is renewable).

Beginning this year, we will need to add one renewable resource for every 152 resources (renewable or not) that we consume; by 2070, that fraction is projected to be one in 100. How will we perform the conversion? As we transition away from non-renewable energy sources, how much of the new capacity will come from renewable sources such as the wind or Sun, which are not currently included in our resource inventory? Will the resources we use to capture, distribute, and use this energy themselves be renewable or equivalently reusable in their final form?

Whether we choose to continue on our present path, reduce population growth and consumption, or pursue my ideal world scenario, the world’s population will need to be living entirely on renewable resources within the next 300 years. Everyone in the world today is deciding in our daily actions just how many people will be alive to do so. The larger the final population, the more changes we will need to make, and this will require conscious coordination on an immense scale (unconscious coordination, manifested in the pursuit of short-sighted self interest, is currently driving us toward the lowest population size).

Creating an ideal world isn’t easy; otherwise it wouldn’t be “ideal,” but it is worth trying if we are to accurately claim that we are a moral species. If we do fail to reach the ideal, at least we will be closer to the next best option.

Increasing Capacity

The best way to reconcile the maximizing of ideality alone with the maximizing of both ideality and population is to increase the capacity – the amount of renewable resources. With more capacity, more people can be supported at a high standard of living.

My best estimate of currently available capacity is 5.9 billion hectares, or 12 percent of our planet’s total surface area (about 40 percent of the land area). If neither the capacity nor our behavior changes, the population will settle at a sustainable level of about 580 million people with an ideality of 78 (the average of life expectancy in years and happiness in percent). The final sustainable population size will vary roughly in proportion to capacity if we don’t change our behavior: That is, if we double capacity, then the size of the sustainable population will double. If we could increase our capacity to include the Earth’s surface area (doubling the rate of growth to maximize population), we would still suffer 5.2 billion casualties. Ideality would reach the same value as business as usual, but the final population would be nearly nine times larger (5.0 billion, versus 580 million).

For higher multiples of capacity, the proportionality rule breaks down. My theoretical model of population and consumption indicates that capacity would have to be at least 830 billion hectares (more than 16 times Earth’s surface area of 51 billion hectares), reached at a growth rate of two percent per year (four times the current rate), to continue our current consumption trend and avoid population loss. Ideality in this case would level out at 96 (versus 78 for business as usual with a loss of 7.5 billion people from a peak of 8.1 billion).

If we can’t change capacity, but do change our behavior (by stopping population growth and reducing per capita consumption) we could achieve an ideality of 54 with a loss of 29 million people from a peak of 6.6 billion.

It appears that we cannot practically avoid population loss. The main question our species faces then is simply how many casualties we are willing to incur based on how well we want our descendants to live.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Politics of Ideality

It is tempting to consider that the political poles of conservatism and liberalism, identified in the U.S. by the Republican and Democratic parties, may be definable in terms of the relative value that people place on ideality and population, and how willing people are to accept the fact of a resource constrained world.

Conservatives embrace the concept of competition as the best means for allocating resources that have alternative uses – the basis of capitalist economics. Those people most capable of producing what people want are duly rewarded by getting more of what they want; while people who are less productive receive correspondingly less. This concept leads inevitably to the maximizing of ideality (happiness and life expectancy; otherwise known as “lifestyle”) through increased consumption. Conservatives also favor increasing population regardless of available resources, believing that competition will drive the discovery and development of the resources required to sustain growth. They do not, however, have a problem with the deaths of people who might reduce the productivity of others.

Liberals value increasing ideality for everyone in the population, at least to a minimum that enables them to survive and hold the tools for continuing the process on their own, if they choose to do so. The preferred tool for achieving this end is government, since competition does not generally favor improving the lives of the entire population. The actual size of the population is not important to liberals; though they openly oppose any increases in the death rate (reductions in the birth rate are acceptable, however). Regarding the availability of resources, liberals are much more comfortable than conservatives with living with a fixed amount of renewable resources, opting for efficiency to compensate for lack of raw consumption. Increasing the overall amount of resources is acceptable if it does not adversely affect anyone’s lifestyle.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Maximizing Ideality

Based on my research, the only rational explanation I can think of for the path humanity has chosen in its consumption and population growth is that we value the maximizing of ideality over the longest interval of time. Only in terms of ideality (the average of life expectancy and happiness per person) does business-as-usual triumph over all other scenarios.

If we increase our resources and continue increasing our consumption of them, we may temporarily increase both population and per capita consumption, perhaps to astronomical levels (depending on our having technology far in advance of anything we have now), but eventually per capita consumption will be forced to drop below a survivable amount. If we wanted to maintain our current population, we would need to stop population growth and reduce per capita consumption to a level that renewable resources would sustain. On our present path, population will peak and then decline, while per capita consumption increases; and when total consumption can be maintained by renewable resources, both population and per capita consumption will level off, with fewer people living better.

My definition of an ideal world, where both population and ideality are maximized over time, requires a loss of ideality or (likely unachievable) growth in renewable resources, coupled with a reduction in population growth (as opposed to reduction in total population). That anyone would sacrifice lives for standard of living is abhorrent to me. Yet I strongly suspect that lives elsewhere in the world are currently being sacrificed for my standard of living, and the fact is being hidden so that I will continue consuming and enhancing the killers’ standards of living.