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.

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