Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Future Cases

For several months now I have used Twitter (@bradjarvis) to react in real time to news that impacts the timing and quality of the survival of our species. My Timelines model has been gradually updated and tested in response to what I've learned and decided was worth exploring in more detail. So far, it seems to be very robust, and like any good tool of its kind is generating as many questions as it answers.

The most useful variable for tracking our past and future survival continues to be what I've called the "species ratio"Sratio, which compares the consumption of resources needed for basic survival by humans to that of other life that can be used as resources. Based on extrapolation of historical statistics, I estimate that Sratio is currently 51% (about 1:2, or one-half). Population tracks with Sratio, nearly-symmetrically rising to a peak at 54% and falling back down to zero at 117%. The peak will likely be reached in 2020 and hit zero in 2038 if Sratio continues to increase after that. I have seen no evidence to suggest that the timing of these events will be markedly different from what I expect.

As I've said before, one of the main functions of a model is to identify what it would take to change projected outcomes, and our extinction is an outcome that definitely needs to be changed. One such solution is a "Fix" which would have started six months ago and involved slowing total consumption (population times per-capita consumption) enough to keep Sratio from forcing population past its peak. Not surprisingly, the Fix wasn't implemented, which has made the required changes more drastic but theoretically not impossible – that point will be reached when we actually reach the peak.

Unfortunately the specter of self-perpetuating climate change due to climate feedbacks has grown in both probability and magnitude. This threatens to decrease the amount of resources available for future consumption, with the effect of driving Sratio higher regardless of what we do. Scientists focusing strictly on global warming have concluded that total emissions of greenhouse gases must decrease to have any chance of avoiding such a scenario, which means that a "fix" isn't good enough: we must decrease our consumption rather than keep it from growing. I and others have advocated this in terms of overall ecological impact (which is equivalent to what I call "consumption"), which would have the benefit of enabling other species to enable recovery by reducing the stress on their survival. 

There are at least two problems with the option of reducing consumption. One problem is the risk of increasing global warming and triggering more climate feedbacks as a result of decreasing air pollution because some of it reflects radiation from the Sun. The second problem is that population might decrease in response to people's reduced consumption, especially if it is forced (resulting in violent resistance) and/or today's life-saving technology is not replaced with a less ecologically impactful equivalent. In the first case, Sratio would be driven higher; and in the second, the lower Sratio values would be roughly matched with the historically lower values of population.

In my opinion it would ideal if everyone in the world would be willing to do whatever is necessary for our species to survive, even if it involves valuing the lives of others as much as their own and alllives more than power and property. This is ideal in large part because it would run counter to what it's taken for humanity to dominate the world to the extent it has. Competition practiced by a majority of people has been accompanied by a perception of other people and other creatures as resources – things to be used (consumed) for one's own benefit – and is this is unlikely to change at any time, especially in the short time we have available to adapt to the new world that we and our ancestors created. It is ideal for another reason: humans have a great capacity for self-delusion; this includes faith that something or someone else (new technologies or a parent figure such as a group leader or a hypothetical creator of the Universe who cares about us more than all others) will save us from any major threats to our preferred ways of life.

Because the history and future depends on the actions of individual people, I've refined my model to tease out how people in a population under given circumstances perceive their world and act within it. Intellectually this is just interesting, but it also has the potential for identifying how to influence people to take appropriate action for the survival of their population. Part of this process has been the identification of twelve groups of people within a population who each have basic characteristics and behaviors that can be compared to real people both as a test of the model and as a potentially helpful thought experiment. As I prepare a book that combines the related things I've learned with what I hope to learn, these twelve groups ("samples") are expected to figure prominently as they evolve over time in runs of the model that I think of as alternative universes or timelines

On Twitter I have already rolled out some of my thoughts and observations in this effort, including a preliminary approach to identifying expression of personality types among samples in the model's best approximation of our present world ("Timeline 2"). For example, one promising hypothesis is that each sample has a unique viewpoint shaped by the changes of variables as a function of changes in effort (enabled by, and measured as, basic consumption), what I'm calling focus, and that the Big Five personality dimensions find their expression based on that focus. If this hypothesis is correct, then neuroticism varies more than any other dimension with effort, being most affected by the resources available for meeting what people want instead of need in a totally natural environment.

Another example is an exploration of the effects of changes in the distribution of happiness over a population. Since happiness is primarily dependent on Sratio, increasing the population's total consumption creates more variability of happiness within the population which could be an indicator of conflict. As a minimum, it is reasonable to expect that frustration would become widespread as a larger number of people experiencing high neuroticism discover that more effort decreases instead of increases their happiness (the model projects that one-fourth of the world population is currently in that situation).

Cutting per-capita consumption by nearly half to what it was in the 1920s without changing population would restore the happiness distribution to what was in 2002, right before it reached its maximum and started to drop for those expending the most effort. It would have the added benefit of total impact on the planet equivalent to what it was in 1970 when humanity was consuming only what Nature could spare without harm. I have no idea whether these benefits would be sufficient motivation to make such a change (even if my analysis could be proved to everyone's satisfaction), but just the possibility is a valuable insight provided by the model. 

Implementation of this scenario is subject to the concerns about reducing consumption that I mentioned earlier, which implies to me that, if undertaken, it should be done as soon as possible – no more than the 19 years it would take for us to otherwise go extinct - to get the most gain from assistance by other species. In the worst case, it would buy us some time (a rough estimate is 15 years); while in the best case we could avert catastrophe altogether. If the model is right, and my analysis of it is right, then we will soon be forced to make a choice between taking this risky approach and being forced to take even more casualties without hope of recovery.

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