Friday, January 16, 2015

Year Of Validation

It is now a year since I made the first projections into the future using my population-consumption model. At that time, I had identified three representative scenarios of what would happen after 2008, when the model showed humanity using up all of the valuable ecological resources that weren't already enlisted in maintaining civilization (technically, the number of "environments" people had created equaled the number of possible environments using available resources). A newly published academic study indicates that consumption of major resources other than energy reached a peak around 2006, apparently corroborating this critical point in the model's projection (which was later refined to 2009).

A few months ago, the WWF's latest Living Planet Report famously highlighted the fact that animal populations dropped by little more than half between 1970 and 2010. This too is consistent with my model, which in its last iteration showed a 55% drop in the Living Planet Index (LPI) over the same period. The model uses the LPI as a proxy for the amount of available ecological resources, and the amount of resources we are using as proportional to the global ecological footprint, so this and the consumption study are significant data points in validation of the model.

One other aspect of the model appears to have been partly validated over the past year, which I referred to in a previous blog post. As happiness increases, it takes more resources to become happier; and above a certain threshold (82%), consumption (of ecological resources) becomes negative, which I interpret as the consumption of virtual resources. My model includes the observation that our economy is based on the valuation of environments that theoretically would provide maximum happiness, and in one of its first validation exercises, reproduced our unequal distribution of wealth as a result of the economy's positive valuation of the excessive happiness of a few people. Since money is used to trade real things, that money is expected to represent real resources (even though they are in fact virtual) and therefore it appears that the rich are hoarding a lot of resources and effectively stealing from everyone else. It is logical to assume that the excessive happiness is likely met by using other people rather than other parts of Nature, and this would manifest as what the rest of us would consider antisocial behavior, with an associated reduction in conscience and empathy that enables people to be treated as things to be used for gratification (what I've called the root of all evil). The studies I learned about seem to verify this assessment. For me, the scariest part of this analysis has been the capacity of a few people to own everything, especially given the complexity of the systems we all operate under and the physical limitations we all have in comprehending, much less managing, what's around us; that they would become sociopaths makes it even worse.

The three projection scenarios I started with a year ago were based on simple extrapolations of happiness over time, and its effects on population and consumption. Those with the most physical credibility resulted in a catastrophic decrease in population, starting soon. I followed those projections with a series of simulations, producing theoretical versions of the world using random values of variables my model had identified based on research into the past, and then generalized the results which I have since considered more reliable and used as the basis for the projections and recommendations that I've presented since then. Given how sensitive the projections are over the next two to five years, we should know soon whether the model is truly valid. As a scientist, I can't wait. As a person, I wish I could wait forever.

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