Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year of Focus

In 2008, I focused my “idea exploration” on three main areas: the relationship between consumption and population; conditions for alternative futures; and politics. My reason was, I hope, self-evident; that my research was showing this to be an extremely critical period of time, one that could determine whether or not humanity survives beyond this century, and it was important to examine the basis for this and how to achieve a positive outcome.

It is important to remind readers that, to my knowledge, the consumption models and “laws” have neither been confirmed nor proven wrong by others. The theory and conclusions are totally mine, though the results are encouragingly similar to those of many reputable students of the subject, at least at a low level of resolution. In my personal tradition of challenging beliefs, I’ve constantly tested everything I’ve done, using empirical evidence as much as possible, though undoubtedly there is much left to do (hopefully before the ultimate test). In the worst case, at least I’ve had something interesting to talk about.

The main conclusion I reached was that the life expectancy (and happiness) of individuals and the time it takes to exhaust their collective resources are fundamentally at odds with each other. As people become better off, they use exponentially more stuff, thus exponentially reducing the amount of time before that stuff runs out. In addition, the amount we all consume each year also seems to be proportional to transportation speed; by my calculations, we will need to be able to move resources faster than the speed of light to double the world’s current life expectancy.

Growth in world population has been practically in synch with growth in the amount individuals consume, resulting in an unprecedented number of people dependent on a large resource base that can be accessed rapidly. Unfortunately, we appear to be approaching a practical (if not theoretical) limit to how much we can use, forcing both per-capita consumption and population to peak and then decline beginning in about 30 years.

The best way to avert tragedy is, obviously, to add more resources, preferably of a renewable kind (eliminating the need to procure new resources to make up for what we use) while reducing additional consumption to buy more time. Following this strategy will have the added benefit of reducing waste which is increasingly harming Earth’s biosphere (“the environment”), causing a mass extinction comparable to that following a major asteroid impact.

As the world’s economy appeared to mimic my most successful model’s prediction of peak consumption growth, the leadership of the world’s largest block of consumers was up for grabs. It would be simplistic to say that Republicans stood on the individual’s side of the historical tug-of-war, while Democrats stood on the side of society’s long-term interests. Had the Republicans chosen to better govern (rather than sabotage government), they might have made a better case for improving the lives of individuals. If the Democrats understood the perils of overconsumption better, they would not have gone along with untargeted bailouts and stimulus packages. Nevertheless, I figured that the Democrats were the better pick; at least they were willing to make decisions based on reality over ideology. The future will determine if their success is a net positive or not (I’m betting it will be).

The coming year beckons us to take major steps toward creating a new and more rational world economy. I, for one, intend to do my part. The conceptual exploration I’ve done so far will continue as I look for ways to make more practical contributions. On this blog, there will likely be some back-filling on the implications of what I’ve discovered, for history and for philosophy. Current events will no doubt provide random fodder for speculation, which I will gladly indulge (assuming I can make a living at the same time).

Please accept, dear reader, my most sincere wishes for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling new year.

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