Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ideal World Update

One of the first suggestions I made about how to create an ideal world was to get everyone in the world to support the goal of maximizing the size and welfare of the entire population over time. I later detailed how I thought we could evaluate our progress toward this goal: Multiply the population by ideality for every year and add these numbers (each an “Ideal World Index”) together as far into the future as possible, based on the best simulations we could create. Theoretically, every decision we make affects the actual result, which we would like to be very, very large.

I then spent a lot of time describing and refining my approach to simulating population and ideality, perhaps more time than my readers had patience for. The effort was driven by my need to understand the disturbing prediction of an earlier model (really, just a curve fit of cumulative consumption and population) that showed the population crashing rather abruptly early in this century after peaking in 2020. The current state of simulation, what I’ve been calling my “population-consumption model,” has achieved lower than 20 percent error in consumption (typically less than 10 percent), and less than 5 percent error in population over three types of resources: ecological, energy, and economic. As a consequence, the population was projected to peak a little bit later (between 2035 for ecological resources and 2049 for economic resources), and it dropped more gradually (though still to zero). There was also an added bonus: I could now anticipate non-zero populations with higher consumption (aside from the hand-waving argument that we would learn to eat rocks), and evaluate what it would take to achieve them.

All the time, I was aware how kooky the whole notion must be to the people I know, that there was even a tiny chance that the world’s population would start to crash in our lifetimes. Years ago, I read a great book called Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, which did a much more thorough job of simulating population and lifestyle than I could ever do. My own modeling began as a way of testing the book’s conclusions, including some population graphs which are eerily similar to the ones I am now generating (the book’s business-as-usual graph follows mine based on ecological resources for the next decade, then peaks about a decade sooner than mine; the book takes into account negative effects from waste, which may be responsible for much of the difference). The bottom line is that I convinced myself of the empirical plausibility of the book’s arguments, had fun exploring some related ideas in the process, and have practically decided to spend the rest of my life trying to keep the disaster from happening.

Perhaps to create an “ideal world” is to just create a world where the worst doesn’t happen. The need for global cooperation is still there: the problems are too huge for any group or even country to deal with on its own. As I say in my rapidly growing active Web site dedicated to this study, “With power comes responsibility, but far too many of us are in denial of our power and unwilling to accept the responsibility that comes with it. Unfortunately, we no longer have that option.”

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