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January 12, 2011 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Population 7 Billion By 2045 global population is projected to reach nine billion. Can the planet take the strain?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (151 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I will probably be dead by then. So it won't be my fault.
posted by ardgedee at 12:19 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure this is why they invented Wyoming.
posted by phunniemee at 12:22 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


The planet is fine. The people are fucked.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:23 PM on January 12, 2011 [57 favorites]


Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.
posted by Decani at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2011 [34 favorites]


I remember the Bad Religion song "Ten in 2010" prophesying ten billion people in 2010. Didn't happen. Strangely enough, Greg Graffin now has a PhD and has lectured in biology at UCLA.

I'm not sure what my point is, other than to point out how Malthusian predictions have a tendency to go about as well as Malthus' predictions, i.e. poorly.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


That logic only works in the first world, Decani.
posted by griphus at 12:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.

A large portion of developed countries have negative population growth unless you factor in immigration.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


Easy - put the planet behind a load balancer and run it in a cluster. Can Apache run on Mars?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


While I understand that the quantity of humans on the planet raises some issues that need to be addressed, I just wanted to say...

Seven billion people! Somehow, we've managed to make a world where seven billion of us are able to survive. That's astonishing, impossible just a few generations ago.

Every single one of those people is valuable, fascinating, unique individual, and the idea that there are seven billion of us now, or soon will be, fills me with wonder and awe. It's literally incomprehensible, orders of magnitude more difficult to get my head around than seven billion of any simple thing, like grains of sand or dollars. Seven billion human beings.

What a world.
posted by MrVisible at 12:27 PM on January 12, 2011 [31 favorites]


So now, we stand on Zanzibar, but two years late.

Does anyone feel the waves at their ankles?
posted by bonehead at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2011


It's time to put aside quantity and start concentrating on quality.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:29 PM on January 12, 2011 [16 favorites]


What we need is a jolly good war. But no nukes or aircraft. Thats cheating.
posted by Damienmce at 12:29 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can anyone suggest a good book which address the reasons for the enormous and continued population growth in the developing world? (I've been meaning to research this for a while, because... fundamentally, I just don't get it. I'm stuck at the Bill Hicks "Let's work out this food/air deal. Then go back to your rutting" level of thinking.)
posted by Auden at 12:32 PM on January 12, 2011


If they're all middle class industrial consumers? No.

Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.

People are worried about being lonely and abandonded in their old age. It's a legitimate fear. The way USians tend to treat the elderly is appalling.

Also, the people having the most kids are in second and third world economies with lower standards of living and less social equality. Where women have free reproductive choice and equal work opportunity (and there's work to be had) the population declines.
posted by clarknova at 12:34 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also growing uncontrollably is the number of page clicks required to get through an online National Geographic article.
posted by brain_drain at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Can the planet take the strain?

Depends. We'll have more than enough food and water, if we manage it correctly.

Emissions are going to kill.

Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.

My body disagrees.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:36 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Metafilter 1200 CE: The World's population hath approach 500,000,00, what cometh of our plow fields? Our Mead and Lamb? Am I to think the entire population of the Christian world overfloweth into the ocean, the seas and the fjords? Laides, I pray to you not to run the well dry and keep your legs as intertwined as a Pear tree! What hath our Lady Sarah of Paline to say about the constant business of marital conjoining? Nothing but of a plot more wicked than a Pardoner's son! From the court of France comes these rumors, sayeth she!
posted by geoff. at 12:36 PM on January 12, 2011 [52 favorites]


I think it's weird that the article is framed in such an alarmist way, yet contains more or less the answer to its own question. Natality rates fall when women are empowered and educated. There is, therefore, no need for unproductive and troubling ZPG-type initiatives (can't you just hear the first-worlder's sneering disgust in the Ehrlich quote about Delhi?). The one proven non-coercive remedy is education for women, which should obviously be desirable in and of itself. So why do so many ZPGers take the PETA route? Beats me. Maybe it just satisfies a deep-seated need to occupy the moral high ground or something.
posted by nasreddin at 12:37 PM on January 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Even if they could get all the people into Texas, some people, like from say northern Alaska, would die from the heat. Others would die from the food.
posted by Melismata at 12:38 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can anyone suggest a good book which address the reasons for the enormous and continued population growth in the developing world?

Half the Sky by Kristof and WuDunn. The biggest correlating factor for population growth is a lack of women's rights.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:39 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yep, the planet can handle it just fine. Whether we'll be able to feed everyone enough to survive is an open question... which I'm sure we'll know the answer to sooner than later.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:47 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


..the current population of the planet could fit into the state of Texas, if Texas were settled as densely as New York City.

Fascinating.
posted by stbalbach at 12:47 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The planet is fine. The people are fucked.

I'd go a step further and suggest that the planet is fine, the people as well as many of the currently existing higher life forms (and some of the lower ones as well) might be fucked. Once things go bad, it won't just be us that pays the price.

But the thing is, even if humans live themselves right out of existence, even if our greedy lifestyles kill off every mammal, bird, and lizard on the earth, the planet itself will be fine, filled with constantly changing life.

Just not our life. What lives on will move through our great monuments, slowly obliterating nearly all the evidence that we were ever here.

It's a possibility that I find both endlessly grim, and weirdly optimistic.
posted by quin at 12:47 PM on January 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


Somehow, we've managed to make a world where seven billion of us are able to survive.

Except when they don't.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:48 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fortunately, the Rapture will come along and solve this problem for us. Thanks, Jeebus!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:49 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every single one of those people is valuable, fascinating, unique individual

Yesterday my colleagues were talking about baked potatoes. They were eating baked potatoes at the time, and I overheard them from my cubicle. "I like baked potatoes," said one. The other said, "Yeah baked potatoes are good." The first one said, "Maybe I should've bought two baked potatoes!" and the other said, "I think one baked potato is all I need." Then the first one said, "It's been a while since I've had a baked potato." And then the second one said, "I had a baked potato last week. It was at a restaurant." The first one said, "Yeah, I usually just get baked potatoes at reastaurants. I almost never make them at home." And the second one said, "Yeah, me too. This is a good baked potato, though."

I guess what I'm saying is that I think I may have counterexamples to your claim.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:49 PM on January 12, 2011 [135 favorites]


If anybody likes to contemplate the apocalypse, and I know you do, check out Collapse by Jared Diamond. It's about the ends of various advanced societies and I don't remember him spending a lot of time extrapolating to future bad shit but it's scary enough without it.
posted by angrycat at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is that I think I may have counterexamples to your claim.

My counterexample to your counterexample is their browser history. There is a 100% chance of their being some fascinating and unique stuff in there.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


"There," goddammit.
posted by griphus at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2011


There is a 100% chance of their being some fascinating and unique stuff in there.

www.bakedpotatoes.com
www.bakedpotatoes.net
www.bakedpotatoes.org
www.nakedpotatoes.com/baked
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2011 [15 favorites]


Either you believe that, with the laws of thermodynamics, the planet can sustainably support an infinite number of people or you believe the planet can only support a finite number of people.

Once you buy into the latter, after that, you're just quibbling over the total as some function of quality of life. At that point, you're left with the realization that if population growth is positive, you will inevitably reach that total.

If you believe, as I do, that the existing population is not sustainable at the middling-nice American-levels of life quality, you are left with, yeah, wanting NPG, Negative Population Growth, until that lower limit is reached. I've seen estimates all over the map. Given some of our mineral resources, my personal hunch is that we could probably support about a quarter of a billion people, sustainably, until we develop some neat technologies that have fusion and nanodisassemblers recycling our trash for raw materials, just as basic components.

Oh, and please do not tell me that Space Is The Answer. I might puke.
posted by adipocere at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Whether we'll be able to feed everyone enough to survive is an open question.

Is that more an issue of agriculture or food distribution?
posted by incessant at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2011


adipocere, i love you for that comment and if were sustainable, i would have your babies.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:59 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


A large portion of developed countries have negative population growth unless you factor in immigration.

So what? Forget about the country you are from. Bottom line: if you reproduce, you are adding to the population of the planet. If you have more than two children, you are adding above replacement value. This "my country needs more native-born citizens, so I'm just doing my part" crap has to stop: it's only a few steps removed from handing out Mother's Medals for fecundity.

I'm not sure what my point is, other than to point out how Malthusian predictions have a tendency to go about as well as Malthus' predictions, i.e. poorly.

So what's the carrying capacity of the planet? How many humans (the vast majority of whom aspire to first-world living conditions for themselves and their children) can exist on the planet at one time - complete with demands for energy and materials - before we irrecoverably overwhelm the system?

Whatever your answer is, one less than that is your Malthusian limit. Saying "it hasn't happened yet, and many predications have been wrong, so it can't happen" is foolish in the extreme.

The planet is fine. The people are fucked.

I'm sorry, but this kind of nihilist sophistry drives me insane. We are stuck in an anthropocentric perspective: our existence and observation provides meaning. Eliminate the human race and the result can't be called beautiful, as there are no people to appreciate it.

I'm pretty sure this is why they invented Wyoming.

Ever driven through Wyoming or Montana? Notice the fences on the side of the roads? That isn't empty land - that's farms.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:01 PM on January 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Fortunately, the Rapture will come along and solve this problem for us. Thanks, Jeebus!

Rational thinking people all know that scientific innovation will sweep us into the Singularity where our post-human mind/body structures will live in eternal happiness, never wanting for anything, supping upon a world of data milk and nano-honey.

It's so crazy that people believe in invisible deities when there's conjectural vaporware tech that will save us.
posted by yeloson at 1:01 PM on January 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


People are worried about being lonely and abandoned in their old age. It's a legitimate fear. The way USians tend to treat the elderly is appalling.

People who use that as a factor in their decision to have children should look at their relationship with their own parents. I suspect they won't like what they see. The answer is a better social safety net for the elderly, not having kids in the vain hope that they, unlike their parents, will actually come visit their elderly parents.
posted by jedicus at 1:02 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm 45 and never had any children.






You're welcome.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:03 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Singularity is the answer.
posted by Ratio at 1:04 PM on January 12, 2011


Overpopulation: For when you believe the world has too many of those sorts of people.

Given some of our mineral resources, my personal hunch is that we could probably support about a quarter of a billion people, sustainably, until we develop some neat technologies that have fusion and nanodisassemblers recycling our trash for raw materials, just as basic components.

Are you serious? 250,000,000? That's less than the population of the world during the Roman Empire. And you think we could develop fusion, nanotech, and so on? 250,000,000 might not even be enough to sustain a microprocessor-level civilization.

The more people you have, the larger the fraction of your population which is able to dedicate itself to specialist technologies, research, and so on. A world population like that circa 0 AD is not going to develop fusion.
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on January 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


the current population of the planet could fit into the state of Texas, if Texas were settled as densely as New York City

Texas is not going to like this. I can hear them building the fence now...
posted by JoanArkham at 1:07 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you took all 7 billion people and packed them shoulder to shoulder, they would just about fit into New York City, about 0.001% of the earth's land.
posted by JackFlash at 1:07 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was sitting with a bunch of friends Sunday, and this factoid came up (7 billion!!!eleven). As happens these particular people all are child(less; free). A round of self-congratulation followed. And as I was listening to all this, my thought was: it is us, the voluntarily childless, who are the evolutionary losers, the dead end. It is not our genes that will carry the day, but the genes of those whose brains are wired for reproduction, who respond to the biological clock, who are impelled to reproduce. All the crowing about controlling the "lizard-brain" misses the point - humanity, insofar as it will survive - will continue to be ever more determined to keep reproducing, as the genes of those driven to procreate are concentrated ever more, and the genes of the reproductive slackers are winnowed out.

And then I started to think about how really, there's got to be a technological solution to this: sustainable societies where reproduction is kept at replacement level matched to resources. With more emphasis on individual life extension and quality improvement. Reproduction divorced from economic need, and fears of old age loneliness, and status and atavistic cultural practices. What if we could engineer genetic life extensions into the hundreds of years, with attendant growth in accumulated experience and wisdom (hopefully) - wouldn't that then justify the existence of those who choose not to propagate their own genes for no particular reason? Wouldn't civilization benefit? And then I joined in the self-congratulations/HAMBURGER/.
posted by VikingSword at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you took all 7 billion people and packed them shoulder to shoulder, they would just about fit into New York City, about 0.001% of the earth's land.

I.e., New Year's Eve in Times Square.
posted by brain_drain at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you took all 7 billion people and packed them shoulder to shoulder, they would just about fit into New York City, about 0.001% of the earth's land.

I.e., New Year's Eve in Times Square.


So, hey, you just figured out how to get everyone from NYC to move out.
posted by griphus at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Overpopulation: For when you believe the world has too many of those sorts of people.

If that were true, why would it be that the people complaining loudest about it are having the fewest children?

The more people you have, the larger the fraction of your population which is able to dedicate itself to specialist technologies, research, and so on.

If that were true, the countries with the largest populations would have roared past their sparser neighbors decades if not centuries ago. Maybe, just maybe opportunity, education, health, culture and access to resources are also factors in technological advancement? And the Greeks and Romans may not have had transistors but they were hell of good at engineering.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:15 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Feeding billions more people and making sure they can have lives of flourishing, not mere survival is a daunting challenge, for sure, but not insurmountable. The point is that it is quite possible (unlike stopping climate change) but it isn't automatic. It does require directed effort, especially political effort, international co-operation, and investment in science and technology. Just like the Green Revolution did.

Norman Borlaug, the key figure in that Green Revolution who died recently, spoke with some authority about how to meet these challenges. See here and here. It is rather dreadful that agricultural reform programmes essential to the lives of future billions are not political priorities, whether in the West (under attack from environmentalists) or in the developing world (generally the least prestigious ministry in government).
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 1:16 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Really, there are many, many, many more pressing issues to worry about. "Overpopulation" is a solved problem. Education and human rights for women takes care of it completely. And you have the added benefit of education and human rights for women.
posted by Justinian at 1:16 PM on January 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


The answer is a better social safety net for the elderly

Good luck with that one. I didn't have kids so that they could take care of me in my old age, but I admit it is a comforting thought.

Bottom line: if you reproduce, you are adding to the population of the planet.

Not if you plan to die.

...

All I know is that if any population is getting culled, the pets need to go first.

It boggles my mind that people complain about humans reproducing (!!) but there's nary a word about meat eaters or pet owners. I think meat and pets should be considered unsustainable luxuries before children are.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:16 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this is why they invented Wyoming.

Bora Horza Gobuchul: Ever driven through Wyoming or Montana? Notice the fences on the side of the roads? That isn't empty land - that's farms.

Save the planet, start eating bugs.
The raising of livestock such as cows, pigs and sheep occupies two-thirds of the world's farmland and generates 20% of all the greenhouse gases driving global warming. As a result, the United Nations and senior figures want to reduce the amount of meat we eat and the search is on for alternatives.

A policy paper on the eating of insects is being formally considered by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The FAO held a meeting on the theme in Thailand in 2008 and there are plans for a world congress in 2013.

Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the author of the UN paper, says eating insects has advantages.

"There is a meat crisis," he said. "The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth."

A policy paper on the eating of insects is being formally considered by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The FAO held a meeting on the theme in Thailand in 2008 and there are plans for a world congress in 2013.

Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the author of the UN paper, says eating insects has advantages.

"There is a meat crisis," he said. "The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth."
In short, insects are much more efficient converters of convert plant matter (including less choice selections) into protein.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:17 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Overpopulation: For when you believe the world has too many of those sorts of people.

If that were true, why would it be that the people complaining loudest about it are having the fewest children?


Isn't that obvious? If you (the right people) are having 0 kids, but the wrong people are having 8 a piece, where does that lead us?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:18 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


A conversation about baked potatoes isn't valuable and fascinating (if not unique)? Think of the infrastructure it took to get those potatoes to them - there were farms somewhere growing potatoes, truckers hauling potatoes along the highways, markets where tons of potatoes were being bought and sold, groceries to supply the potatoes the suppliers buy to the restaurants and home cooks - all of this to satisfy the people who just want potatoes.

And all of these involve people. You could choose to grow your own potatoes and involve no one else, but the system still exists.

Why do those people want potatoes? There's history there, too, and that involves more people, many long dead. Why do we even have potatoes the way they are and not, say, rutabagas or turnips in their place? What is it about those two particular people that made them inclined to like baked potatoes? What toppings do they like?

A world that supports people having bland conversations about potatoes is still a fascinating place. Humans are cool. 7 billion is a lot, sure, and life sucks for a large fraction of that number, but people are working on this. I'm not talking about the Singularity or nanoassemblers or any sci-fi concepts like that - I mean things like efficient and emissions-free power generation, new ways to get clean water - there are problems, but there have always been problems and always will be, and we're good at finding solutions to them.

Seven billion human beings. That's a lot of possible answers.
posted by wanderingmind at 1:19 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Viking Sword: Ever seen a little film called Idiocracy?
posted by humboldt32 at 1:20 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


A policy paper on the eating of insects is being formally considered by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The FAO held a meeting on the theme in Thailand in 2008 and there are plans for a world congress in 2013.

I've been making the same claim ever since I was in high school. In the 1980s. Insects are the real protein source of the future (the mass of ants and humans on the planet is about equal).

Who's crazy now, eh? Anybody from my high school want to wrestle now?!? I din't think so ...
posted by mrgrimm at 1:20 PM on January 12, 2011


Viking Sword: Ever seen a little film called Idiocracy?

No, but I'll add it to my netflix cue.
posted by VikingSword at 1:21 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


In this context "wrong people" are the ones who use resources and emit carbon dioxide, which doesn't leave room for racial or elitist distinctions. Actually side by side the ones having 0 children are STILL the "wrong people".
posted by fleetmouse at 1:21 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


If that were true, the countries with the largest populations would have roared past their sparser neighbors decades if not centuries ago.

So long as you include population density as well as total population into the picture, areas with the largest population generally have roared past their sparser neighbors. Europe used to make up a very large chunk of the total world population. That fraction has been dropping steadily for the last century. It is no accident that European hegemony has also been in decline over that period.

Maybe, just maybe opportunity, education, health, culture and access to resources are also factors in technological advancement?

Opportunity, education, culture, etc are all dependent on population and population density. There is a reason why most advances take place in cities, at hotbeds of research outside of but dependent on cities (research universities, etc), and not in the middle of West Nowhere, Isolationistan.
posted by Justinian at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2011


"it's not space we need, it's balance"

Hans Rosling on global population growth, cf. viz.
posted by kliuless at 1:23 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, about 250,000,000 people. Here's why — you know that long-ago, much-loved comment about us all living like kings and queens? Each American right now has a much larger proportional impact than each one of those Roman citizens. They did not have cars. They did not consume vast amounts of crude oil. They did not require rare elements for their cell phones. Our footprints are huge in comparison. That's why I mentioned quality of life being a factor. I think we could have six billion very unhappy people living on the planet until the sun burned out. They would be cold and miserable, hungry and lice-ridden. They would sing songs but would have no iPods. They would draw in the dirt, but would have long ago burned their Rembrandts to heat up some soup. We could make that happen.

I don't necessarily think we could develop fusion or nanotech with a quart of a billion population. I did not say that. I said if we had those technologies, we could support more people. Notice my total lack of optimism.

If a population of water lilies doubles each day and it takes thirty days for water lilies to fill a pond, on what day is the pond half full? Day 29. On Day 29 the lilies look around, if lilies could look, and say, "We have plenty of pond to expand into." We are there, right now.

We probably could develop those requisite technologies with our current crop of resources we're burning through. After that point, I believe we are more or less screwed. We run out of oil and our solar technology and battery technology isn't there yet. Our entire civilization is based around the expectation of "always having more tomorrow." Not just profits, but growth in profits. More babies. More land. Longer lives. If our civilization is suddenly faced with the prospect of contraction, we are not prepared for it. We would handle it ... poorly. We would doubtlessly squander much of our resources fighting over oil (wait we already did that), water (how's that Colorado River doing?), arable land, and so forth. And that's when things really shrink.

We could rebuild, maybe, but imagine trying to have the industrial revolution without coal or oil or forests to burn. All of that yummy free energy that was just waiting for us to eat. That was our inheritance. How did we spend it?
posted by adipocere at 1:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


Eliminate the human race and the result can't be called beautiful, as there are no people to appreciate it.

Like, that's just your opinion, man.
-- The Dolphins
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:32 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


A large portion of developed countries have negative population growth unless you factor in immigration.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:26 PM on January 12


And that has what to do with the point, exactly?
posted by Decani at 1:33 PM on January 12, 2011


I won't be dead at that point but I'll be pretty old. Sigh.
posted by anniecat at 1:37 PM on January 12, 2011


I'm 45 and never had any children

You're welcome.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:03 PM on January 12


I'm nearly 52 and neither did I. And I decided I never would when I was about fourteen years old. And the main reason I decided I never would was the obvious overpopulation of this stupid world and the obvious lack of willingness of educated people who ought to know better to take a fucking grip of their mindless hormonal urges and make the rational decision to not. Have. Kids. You know... for the kids.

You are also, welcome.
posted by Decani at 1:37 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ever driven through Wyoming or Montana? Notice the fences on the side of the roads? That isn't empty land - that's farms.

Those aren't farms, those are ranches. There is a small but significant difference. The land is way too useless with rocks, poor soil and god awful winters to actually grow anything. But it is fine to run one head per twenty acres of land (40 acres in the worse spots like Garfield County, MT. Get people to move there... heh).
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:38 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too much freaking out. Long term trends indicate a gradual peak and then a long gradual decline down to a couple of billion.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:42 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Eliminate the human race and the result can't be called beautiful, as there are no people to appreciate it.

I'm not sure anyone knows the minds of animals well enough to know whether they appreciate beauty or not.

Ever driven through Wyoming or Montana? Notice the fences on the side of the roads? That isn't empty land - that's farms.

While I'm sure there is quite a bit of farming happening in WY and MT, I'm pretty sure that most of the fenced-off land in those states are actually ranches. They're like farms, only not so much.
posted by hippybear at 1:43 PM on January 12, 2011


Viking Sword: Ever seen a little film called Idiocracy?

Executive summary: Mike Judge a) fails to think through his premise by not acknowledging that "dumb" people will sometimes have smart children who will naturally rise in society b) disingenuously sidesteps some disturbing implications by making all his "dumb" people white rednecks and c) comes off as a bitter old guy who has lost his sense of humor.

Seriously, watch Office Space or Beavis and Butthead again. Even Extract is a much much better film.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Insects are the real protein source of the future

Huh, that's interesting. Works for me.

Asimov thought it was yeast. Oh wait, that's a carb.
posted by Melismata at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2011


I think meat and pets should be considered unsustainable luxuries before children are.

Considering you have the ability to breed out of your offspring the bacon-lovin' gene and the aww-look-at-the-kitteh gene.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


We run out of oil

There's your problem right there. We will never run out of oil or equivalent long-chain hydrocarbon. Thinking that we will is a fundamental error made by some doomsayers.
posted by Justinian at 1:46 PM on January 12, 2011


Hans Rosling is awesome! This is my all-time favourite TED lecture. If only all statisticians were this committed. (If you're in a hurry, skip to the end)
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, thank you drjimmy11. I was pissed as anyone else that Hollywood was "censoring" Idiocracy until I actually saw it and realized it had nothing to do with the concept as all the yelling people were claiming. It was a funny (not hilarious, like Office Space) first act and then the quality just drops off a continental shelf. I have never seen a movie get so bad, so fast, so unexpectedly.
posted by griphus at 1:49 PM on January 12, 2011


Relevant Idiocracy clip...
posted by dbiedny at 1:50 PM on January 12, 2011


b) disingenuously sidesteps some disturbing implications by making all his "dumb" people white rednecks

You didn't actually watch this movie, did you?
posted by hippybear at 1:52 PM on January 12, 2011


>We could rebuild, maybe, but imagine trying to have the industrial revolution without coal or oil or forests to burn. All of that yummy free energy that was just waiting for us to eat. That was our inheritance. How did we spend it?

I know you think we should ponder such a question and bitterly shake our heads in pity. But I look at the world around us and have to say, humanity has done pretty well with what it had. Maybe even better than we deserve, considering the folly human beings are prone to falling into. There are a million self inflicted things that can happen to put an end to it all. But also at least just as many that will ensure continued prosperity.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:56 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


i like to think of (the first part of) idiocracy as sort of a prequel to wall-e :P oh hey!
posted by kliuless at 1:56 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


You didn't actually watch this movie, did you?

I may be remembering it wrong, but are you referring to the fact that the single black occupant of the future was also the President? Because that was straight-up tokenism.
posted by griphus at 2:00 PM on January 12, 2011


Thank you dbiedny. My point exactly. Nothing more.

DrJimmy11, you'll find me instead watching Quadrophenia for 10,000th time. I suppose you can appreciate that.

I am the sea,
chuck.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:07 PM on January 12, 2011


Hmm, now that the premise of Idiocracy was explained to me, what relevance does that have to my post? I never claimed or thought that those who reproduce are any less intelligent than those who do not. Rather, that the tendency for any species is to select for those who will reproduce (duh!), therefore there is a natural bias to overpopulation. So those who congratulate themselves for not having kids are not affecting the future long-term, their "contribution" (heh!) is simply going to be steamrolled by the others. They're rather irrelevant. And Godwin this: do you know who else didn't have any kids?
posted by VikingSword at 2:08 PM on January 12, 2011


I was all cheery on the 7 billion snow flakes thing, but that buzz was totally eclipsed by the fact that www.nakedpotatoes.com/baked does not exist.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 2:09 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the main reason I decided I never would was the obvious overpopulation of this stupid world and the obvious lack of willingness of educated people who ought to know better to take a fucking grip of their mindless hormonal urges and make the rational decision to not. Have. Kids. You know... for the kids.

I agree. For the next couple generations, no one in the world have any kids. That'll solve this overpopulation problem real good.
posted by girih knot at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


2045 global population is projected to reach nine billion.

Things looked sunny in 1911, but in the period from 1914 to 1945, we had two world wars, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, large scale government sponsored domestic murder in the Soviet Union (and elsewhere) and that's before we even discuss no reliable birth control and the sinking of the Titanic. World Population still went up, but did the statisticians get it right before the fact?

Hard to make predictions, especially about the future.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:12 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somehow, we've managed to make a world where seven billion of us are able to survive.

At what cost? Jeeesus, people, we are one of many millions of species on the planet and in the last 50 years alone the populations of many large mammals, fish, and birds alone have plummeted as humans take over their habitats or simply kill them (as in overfishing). Ecosystems that do the work of producing food, soil, water and clean air have been destroyed. Not only does the reduction of biodiversity weaken the systems on which we depend but it makes the world a damned less interesting place to live in. Extinction rates have climbed and we are talking about living things that are irreplaceable once gone. I don't doubt that our descendants will curse us for our reckless and unnecessary destruction of the living planet. And yes, this is a rant but yes, it is related to human overpopulation.
posted by binturong at 2:16 PM on January 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Only engineers can save us from overpopulation.
posted by binturong at 2:31 PM on January 12, 2011


Don't mess with Texas.
posted by Senator at 2:33 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somehow, we've managed to make a world where seven billion of us are able to survive.

By pigging out on fossil fuels for a century. Party's over.
posted by Twang at 2:36 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


binturong: Jeeesus, people, we are one of many millions of species on the planet and in the last 50 years alone the populations of many large mammals, fish, and birds alone have plummeted as humans take over their habitats or simply kill them (as in overfishing).... And yes, this is a rant but yes, it is related to human overpopulation.

That's not simple overpopulation, it's reckless consumption and selfishness. And people have driven species extinct (directly and indirectly) well before the population boom. For example, the Great Auk went extinct around 1850, when there were a scant 1.2 billion people. Though humans had hunted the Great Auk for more than 100,000 years, it was the early European explorers that are credited with the demise of the species.

Through wiser management of the spaces that people have already cleared of natural elements and a change in habits, people could co-exist on the planet with other species. But the easy way to consume more results in significant impacts to many species.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:38 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


In this context "wrong people" are the ones who use resources and emit carbon dioxide, which doesn't leave room for racial or elitist distinctions. Actually side by side the ones having 0 children are STILL the "wrong people".

Well, you know, if you're going to sweat the details of stuff like whose aircraft carrier goes through a million barrels of oil a year, or how much resources are devoted towards extracting coltan and shipping it halfway around the world to become iPods and then shipping it another halfway around to stores so people can have something to listen to while shopping at Trader Joes to get their overfished aquatic tasty of choice, I guess that makes sense.

Because, you know, that subsistence farming family of 6 who shit in their crop fields and ride an overloaded bus to market once a month is totally the problem here.
posted by yeloson at 2:41 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The good thing is that there will be a larger pool of minds to help figure out how to fix any problems that crop up, right?
posted by Ron Thanagar at 2:43 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't help but notice how uneducated anti-science nuts continue to deny the impact humans are having on the planet. From global warming to the 6th great extinction event, our species is not helping the biosphere one bit.
posted by novenator at 2:44 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Running out of usable energy isn't the problem, is it? There's energy everywhere, especially from the sun. Anyway, it sounds like we convert usable energy into a lot of waste heat, which has nowhere to go but into our atmosphere and oceans. Even if we come up with fusion energy, let's say, where will all that ever expanding volume of waste heat go? If we heat up the oceans, sea life and plankton will die, leaving us to choke to death.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 PM on January 12, 2011


People, we're losing sight of the real issue here. We're infested with millions (if not billions!) animalcules, and no one is addressing this problem!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:48 PM on January 12, 2011


"Overpopulation" is a solved problem. Education and human rights for women takes care of it completely.

Pretty much everyone in India is probably in favour of education and human rights for women. Well, not everyone perhaps, but you know, the between the well-meaning government, the intellectuals, the average man in the street, I'm pretty sure the general consensus there is these days that education and human rights are a good idea. Nonetheless their population is still growing rather more rapidly than they'd like. Solved in theory, not so much in practice. Well, in *your* theory perhaps. Most people tend to throw in some measure of prosperity, another measure which correlates well with reduced birth rates. Prosperity and economic growth do also tend to lead to more opportunities for education, so there's that.

The other problem though is that if things go badly - if we hit one or more of the harder limits to growth before (or too soon after) we get around to actually granting lots of education and human rights to everyone - the problems caused by over-population are going to have a very good chance of decreasing the amounts of education and human rights to be found on this little planet. A few generations of positive feedback like that and it all goes down pretty quickly.

So I wouldn't call it a solved problem just yet. You can go ahead and say "human rights and education for all", but even assuming that really would do it, it's just as easy to say for example the answer to global warming is "everyone should just stop emitting so much carbon dioxide, problem solved!"

Anyway, I'm not saying it can't be done. But it's not so easy.
posted by sfenders at 3:03 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


We will never run out of oil or equivalent long-chain hydrocarbon cheap enough to burn.

You forgot the important part. Also, fossil fuel emissions have no effect on the climate, and besides, even if that absurdity was true, warmer climate would mean longer growing seasons, and the consequences of fixing more nitrogen than the entire terrestrial biosphere via the Haber process is not an issue worth talking about.
posted by [citation needed] at 3:05 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


where will all that ever expanding volume of waste heat go?

Just blow on it gently until it cools down enough to eat. That's what I do when I eat a baked potato.
posted by The World Famous at 3:06 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like pancakes baked potatoes.
posted by briank at 3:11 PM on January 12, 2011


Here we go again. The bigots crawl out from under their rocks eager to find some way to be able to say the brown people have to go, without being called on their racist bullshit. Well I'm calling it: this isn't about saving the world, or the environment, or the human race or anything but flat out racism and elitism, pure and simple.

Notice that these sorts of wankfests never involve anything about the elite reducing their overwhelming use of resources, never has members of the elite volunteering to euthanize themselves to reduce the population. Nor do the people bleating most hysterically actually consider the real solution to population increase, which is to encourage as many countries to go through the demographic transition as soon as possible. They ignore the evidence that as countries urbanize and become more modern, the birthrate declines. In fact, they ignore the results of development completely, except to bleat about more resources being used.

Really, it's not about population; it's about rich fucks saying "We got ours, now all you other people don't get any, so die."


Are you serious? 250,000,000? That's less than the population of the world during the Roman Empire. And you think we could develop fusion, nanotech, and so on? 250,000,000 might not even be enough to sustain a microprocessor-level civilization.

You have to understand he wants a world that's the USA and Northern Europe at the population level of the 1950s. Or rather, a USA/Europe where all the inconvenient black brown and yellow people have been exterminated. Though most likely he'd be satisfied with a world that has 250 million white people living like kings, and two billion or so non-white subjects living in abject poverty and forced to labor for their white masters.


If that were true, why would it be that the people complaining loudest about it are having the fewest children?

It's an elitism thing. It's wealthy, privileged people who look at the world as a zero-sum game that they won, and fear that they might have to share their resources with the non-western people. With a short-sighted perspective, they can't see that in the long term, the population will peak and decline, and that development will lead to more for everyone. They also tend to comfort themselves when they are dissatisfied with their lot, by thinking that "Now is the best it will ever be for me, and from here on out, it's just downhill for everyone." With an attitude like that it's easy to blame the faceless hordes of non-whites out there for everything that is wrong, or could go wrong.


The thing that really annoys me about this is that there are people out there busting a gut, even risking their lives to bring education and infrastructure where it's needed, coming up with brilliant local solutions like this. And then you have a bunch of privileged slags sitting at their expensive computers, whining about how everything's going to shit, and somebody else should do something drastic so they'll still have online shopping and porn. They expect other people to clean up the world, while they do jack shit. Well fuck that, and fuck anybody who says that all the "other" people should die. If you believe the world should have less population than is in America, you go first. Draw a warm bath, and remember the razor goes down the block, not across the street.
posted by happyroach at 3:12 PM on January 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


I don't doubt that our descendants will curse us for our reckless and unnecessary destruction of the living planet.

Each generation that inherits the Earth looks back on the previous generations, and thinks, 'What waste! What destruction! If only they'd known back then what's obvious to us now, they'd have been able to do it all so much better.'
posted by MrVisible at 3:12 PM on January 12, 2011


A large portion of developed countries have negative population growth unless you factor in immigration.

So what? It's precisely those countries who do the most damage to the planet. The average American uses 73 times as much of the planet's resources as the average Ethiopian. Put it another way, Ethiopia's population could be more than 20 billion people before it started using the same amount of the world's resources as the USA. It's not those quickly-reproducing nations that are the real problem here.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:17 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Really, it's not about population; it's about rich fucks saying "We got ours, now all you other people don't get any, so die."

Well fuck that, and fuck anybody who says that all the "other" people should die.


*Adds population to mental list of topics Metafilter doesn't handle very well*
posted by Bangaioh at 3:18 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Are you serious? 250,000,000? That's less than the population of the world during the Roman Empire. And you think we could develop fusion, nanotech, and so on? 250,000,000 might not even be enough to sustain a microprocessor-level civilization.

To expand on this point, a serious number of them would need to be in mining and materials processing, and ever increasing levels of science. If the population dropped magically today, we might be able to do it, though it's more likely we'd be depressed scavengers. I'm not sure if a civilization could grow up doing that without some unique accents of geography and foresight.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:22 PM on January 12, 2011


accidents, not accents.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:22 PM on January 12, 2011


...accidents, not accents.

I just pictured an old-school BBC history documentary where the Egyptians, Romans, Mongols, et. al. were all speaking in Received Pronunciation.
posted by griphus at 3:27 PM on January 12, 2011


happyroach shows us how to argue in good faith: assert without even a hint of evidence that anyone who disagrees is motivated solely by genocidal racism, and suggest that they should commit suicide.
posted by [citation needed] at 3:27 PM on January 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


happyroach is constructing strawmen at an unsustainable rate.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:28 PM on January 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


By 2045, world population is not only expected to reach 9 billion, but to stabilize around that number; population growth with halt or even go into a slight decline.

Sure, it's possible that it could keep growing exponentially until it crashes into some Malthusian wall at high speed, but that's actually pretty unlikely. you shouldn't assume that rapid increase is necessarily a sign of exponential growth: very often it is evidence of a sigmoid function at work. All the evidence shows that as levels of absolute* poverty decline, which they have continued to do, so does fertility. Growth rates have already begun to decline, which is to say that the population continues to increase but is doing so more slowly than before.

* in the mathematical sense

In short, 9 billion is about the maximum, representing a ~30% increase over today's population. Over 35 years, that requires less than 1% of growth in global productivity to accommodate, a figure easily within our capacity. While this milestone will not be met without many challenges along the way, I'm pretty optimistic about it.

(A large portion of developed countries have negative population growth unless you factor in immigration.) And that has what to do with the point, exactly?


It speaks to the fact that the population is not, in fact, increasing everywhere at breakneck speed. People do in fact choose to limit the size of their families once infant mortality becomes less of a concern. Although a few people in developed countries have exceptionally large families with 15 kids or whatever, they're in a very very tiny minority. So contrary to the mindless increase of babymaking what some appear to imagine, humans have already demonstrated themselves to be quite comfortable with limiting or reducing the number of babies they have in their lifetimes in response to the decrease of environmental risk.

Of course, the majority of people on the planet do not live like Americans in terms of the quantity of energy and resources they consume. But you know, Americans don't live like Americans in terms of the energy and resources they consume. For one thing people actually buy into the idea of energy efficiency as long as they save money by doing so, and while there are still many savings to be made we consume considerably less power as individuals that we used to, even quite recently. Consider, for example, the lower cost of resources used in the production and operation of an LCD TV rather than a cathode ray tube, or examine the decline in gasoline demand. Although I wouldn't encourage anyone to be spendthrift about it, a lot of resource use calculators are way off because they estimate American resource consumption by looking at patterns of ownership: even though an American company might be using resources in a different part of the world, the resources consumed at added to the USA's account because resources are assumed to be local to profits. It's better to rely on an in-depth analysis like that of the IPCC or a similar body to develop an accurate picture of global resource use. We are not, in fact, going to hell in a handbasket, but are rather midway through an adaptation of more sustainable consumption patterns.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.

I hate to other, but that logic doesn't apply to anyone reading this webpage. It's the people in developing countries that have large numbers of children you want to be talking to. In the U.S. the birthrate is pretty steady. In some developed countries--Japan, Italy, parts of Europe--the birth rate is declining. But hey, go ahead and lump us parents in as the problem, we can take it.

Besides, I only have one kid. Is that ok?
posted by zardoz at 3:44 PM on January 12, 2011


Children are fun. They're full of potential. They see the world fresh. They make life around them more interesting. People in their twenties and early thirties are vibrant and energetic, able to create new ways of being in the world. Many of them are beautiful and many are capable of amazing physical feats. Those of you who feel that sacrifices need to be made to counter population growth are perhaps looking at this from the wrong end. Maybe the social engineers need to stop looking to extend the duration of life. Sure, people who do important things early on should be given all opportunity to tell stories of their triumphs to the kiddies for as long as nature permits. Have a long and happy life, Paul McCartney. Live well, Steve Jobs. But for the rest of us, do we really need to keep going so long after it's become obvious that we're nothing but generic rabble looking for good buffet deals? Under such a regime, the kind of people who congratulate themselves for being childless after 40, who spend all their time commenting on the Internet while assuring themselves they'll still write that novel someday, we'll probably be the first to go.
posted by TimTypeZed at 3:44 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not those quickly-reproducing nations that are the real problem here.

It's not population growth that's the real problem here.
posted by The World Famous at 3:46 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only they'd known back then what's obvious to us now, they'd have been able to do it all so much better.'

If only we cared right now about what's obvious to us now...
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


adipocere: "If you believe, as I do, that the existing population is not sustainable at the middling-nice American-levels of life quality, you are left with, yeah, wanting NPG, Negative Population Growth, until that lower limit is reached. I've seen estimates all over the map. Given some of our mineral resources, my personal hunch is that we could probably support about a quarter of a billion people, sustainably, until we develop some neat technologies that have fusion and nanodisassemblers recycling our trash for raw materials, just as basic components."

Justinian: "Are you serious? 250,000,000? That's less than the population of the world during the Roman Empire. And you think we could develop fusion, nanotech, and so on? 250,000,000 might not even be enough to sustain a microprocessor-level civilization."

happyroach: "You have to understand he wants a world that's the USA and Northern Europe at the population level of the 1950s. Or rather, a USA/Europe where all the inconvenient black brown and yellow people have been exterminated. Though most likely he'd be satisfied with a world that has 250 million white people living like kings, and two billion or so non-white subjects living in abject poverty and forced to labor for their white masters."

What the hell, happyroach?
posted by Rhaomi at 3:52 PM on January 12, 2011


Even if they could get all the people into Texas, some people, like from say northern Alaska, would die from the heat. Others would die from the food.

And the rest would die from the mosquitoes.

"There is a meat crisis," he said. "The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth."

Or Soylent Green.

Rational thinking people all know that scientific innovation will sweep us into the Singularity where our post-human mind/body structures will live in eternal happiness, never wanting for anything, supping upon a world of data milk and nano-honey.

Earth will like the Borg? We'll all be assimilated? Cool!

Fortunately, the Rapture will come along and solve this problem for us.

Come on December 21, 2012!

Mother Earth seems to be building up to throwing a major weather-based hissy fit that might take out quite a few people in less-developed areas. And in the short run there's probably not much we can do about it.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2011


It's the people in developing countries that have large numbers of children you want to be talking to.
posted by zardoz at 3:44 PM on January 12 [+] [!]


Eponysterical
posted by anigbrowl at 4:17 PM on January 12, 2011


You forgot the important part.

No, I didn't. We can make liquid hydrocarbons cheap enough to burn. We just can't (yet) make them cheaper than sucking oil out of the ground and burning that. As soon as oil becomes scarce enough that OPEC and whoever can't open the spigots and produce cheap oil any time someone looks to get serious about implementing a large scale cost effective program to produce stuff via, for example, the Fischer Tropsch process we'll start seeing it happen.

There is a ceiling on how expensive fossil fuels can get for just this reason; once the price goes above that ceiling people start making hydrocarbons to sell. That price is as I said higher than the price of burning stuff you find just lying around in the ground but it is lower than the price which would cause Civilization! As! We! Know! It! To! Collapse!
posted by Justinian at 4:42 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only we cared right now about what's obvious to us now...

If there's anything that's obvious enough that we should all care about it equally, it's certainly escaped my notice. It seems to me that we're facing multiple issues, all of which are of different importance to different people, and all of which have any number of possible solutions, most of which are being addressed in one way or another.

If anyone has all the answers, by all means, share. In the meantime, we'll all be working on whatever concerns us most, in whatever way we think is best.
posted by MrVisible at 4:48 PM on January 12, 2011


Great: that means 6.65 billion walkers to deal with when the zombie apocalypse comes.
posted by bwg at 4:51 PM on January 12, 2011


All the evidence shows that as levels of absolute* poverty decline, which they have continued to do, so does fertility.

More accurately, they tend to decline until they reach some level, unique to each country but typically slightly below replacement rate, and stay there. More or less. The US fertility rate is actually higher than it was 30 years ago, and that's not so uncommon among the wealthiest countries in the world. It's Japan that's been unusual in continuing to decline so steadily. Germany, oft-cited example of low-birth-rate places, is virtually unchanged in that respect since 1975. Some places like the UK have been trending up lately. It varies, but I would hazard that it's mostly flat for decades, among the most-developed. Not to say that couldn't change in the future.

If you take a detailed look at the UN projections of population growth, they're not at all convincing, statistically. Not that I know how to do any better though, they seem a reasonable guess. But I would expect a fairly large margin of error on that "9 billion maximum" thing.

In short, 9 billion is about the maximum, representing a ~30% increase over today's population. Over 35 years, that requires less than 1% of growth in global productivity to accommodate, a figure easily within our capacity.

If present trends continue... 30% increase in population, but much greater increase in demand on the earth's resources. The well-known story of people eating more meat soon as they are able to afford it, for one thing. Much like Americans have recently gone straight back to buying SUVs once they could again afford gasoline. FAO predicts that "food production must rise by 70 percent" to feed everyone. They think it's possible, but certainly not "easy".

Food production is again having a hard time keeping up, this year. Grain prices rising. So soon after the last cycle of high prices leading to expanded production, it's a bit worrying. There sure isn't 70% more arable land to plant, nor 30% for that matter. It may prove difficult to increase yields that much in the face of ongoing climate change. If we had some kind of rough economic equality around the world, people would even now be forced to eat less meat, unable to afford it, for a start at making it at least a little bit further into those next 30 years without things blowing up. It's not the case though, so instead we'll once again see a whole lot of people not eat much at all. I think it will eventually have to lead to political change of some kind, let's hope it's a good kind.
posted by sfenders at 4:56 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think meat and pets should be considered unsustainable luxuries before children are.

My dog is far more worthy of life than many humans are.
posted by idiomatika at 4:57 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


And everyone will be wearing black.
posted by bwg at 4:59 PM on January 12, 2011


As soon as oil becomes scarce enough that OPEC and whoever can't open the spigots and produce cheap oil any time someone looks to get serious about implementing a large scale cost effective program to produce stuff via, for example, the Fischer Tropsch process we'll start seeing it happen.

Heh... what exactly are you going to put into that FT process to get out pure octane, other than more fossil fuels that will become scarce soon after we start doing that on a large scale? I suggest pine trees. That way Canada can still be an energy superpower.
posted by sfenders at 5:00 PM on January 12, 2011


Ooh! I figured out why ZPG activism (of the non-promoting-female-empowerment kind) is so popular. It's basically the only liberal Big Cause that you can promote and be self-righteous and militant about while doing nothing at all. No pamphlets to hand out unless you're really hardcore; no legislators to contact; no viable NGOs to donate to. Your basic game plan is a) don't have kids and b) be a dick to people who have kids. What a great match for the Internet!

My dog is far more worthy of life than many humans are.

See, I realize that this was supposed to be a ha-ha-only-serious type comment, but it's exactly this kind of thing that makes ZPGers terrifying to me.
posted by nasreddin at 5:03 PM on January 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I don't normally say this, but happyroach, you owe me an apology for this:
You have to understand he wants a world that's the USA and Northern Europe at the population level of the 1950s. Or rather, a USA/Europe where all the inconvenient black brown and yellow people have been exterminated.
I am not kidding. Do not put words in my mouth. That is crap behavior right there. How dare you either pretend to have telepathy or assume that I am some kind of Ward Cleaver worshiper desperate for a return to a stuck-ass whitebread 1950s that was never even real, all for the sake of turning this discussion about the future of the human race into some kind of racial nonsense.
posted by adipocere at 5:13 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ooh! I figured out why ZPG activism (of the non-promoting-female-empowerment kind) is so popular.

It isn't, actually. Outside of silly comments on the Internets and perhaps in your imagination, I'd say "ZPG activism" that looks anything like your caricature is about as prevalent as Cthulhu worship. Everyone serious seems to think that the promoting-female-empowerment thing is a bit important. Go ahead people, have zero, one, or two kids if you want to.
posted by sfenders at 5:34 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you deserve an apology too, adipocere, but it would probably be better if that discussion happened in MeMail or metatalk.

The average American uses 73 times as much of the planet's resources as the average Ethiopian. Put it another way, Ethiopia's population could be more than 20 billion people before it started using the same amount of the world's resources as the USA. It's not those quickly-reproducing nations that are the real problem here.

The conclusion isn't, I take it, that Americans should reduce consumption of resources to that of the average Ethiopian, right? I think it's pretty uncontroversial that some amount of freedom, opportunity, and pure, raw lifespan over and above that available to the average Ethiopian is a net good. That's expensive stuff, though, and I'm not confident that baldly stating that it costs 73 times as much is any kind of argument. Maybe that's just how much it costs? Maybe it'd be exponentially better at 120 times? What counts as the good stuff here, anyway? It's difficult to compare disparate values, especially when the inputs to the equations are changing as quickly and radically as they have over the last century, and double especially when we haven't agreed on a target. I'm skeptical of anyone who thinks that they have this issue sorted out.
posted by Kwine at 5:58 PM on January 12, 2011


Population Connection
posted by various at 6:16 PM on January 12, 2011


The social studies textbooks I was required to teach in high school talked all about the "democratic shift".

Paradoxically, reducing infant mortality and improving human health slows the rate of population increase and population replacement. It's the only way.

Very generally speaking, countries with large, quickly expanding populations are usually poor, emerging or "developing". Farming is a keystone of the economy, mainly because there are no other industries to support the economy, and because it takes a lot of people to feed a lot of people. There's no machinery, there's no fertilizers or pesticides, and there's no infrastructure to help improve profits.

Children become an important source of labour. They need to help out on the farm and around the house.

Before basic access to medicine and health care, you needed to have a lot of children, because most of your children would die.

Now, there is still high infant mortality, but thanks to basic, rudimentary improvements in healthcare, more children survive, but not enough so that parents will stop having children.

Reduce infant mortality, and you slow population growth.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:17 PM on January 12, 2011


Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.

Yes, to prevent the massive declines in productivity that would otherwise arise from an ageing population, we'll just make it so people have to work and pay taxes til they die, and if they can't work, they don't get any health care.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:17 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the main reason I decided I never would was the obvious overpopulation of this stupid world and the obvious lack of willingness of educated people who ought to know better to take a fucking grip of their mindless hormonal urges and make the rational decision to not. Have. Kids. You know... for the kids.

Also, I await your pending suicide with interest. You know...seeing as though you're simply the result of your your parents' obvious lack of willingness and inability to know better to take a fucking grip of their mindless hormonal urges, and seeing as how it's just a 'stupid world' - I mean, why are you hanging around, when you could so quickly undo your parents' mistake and not have to live with all us stupid people in one stroke?

Oh - you mean other people should stop having kids, except your parents, and you're here now, so it's too late? Because while you can make a meaningful and valuable contribution to the world, nobody else's kids ever could? My bad.

By the way - good on you for sticking to advanced moral positions developed when you were a teenager. We all did our best thinking at that age, don't you think?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:24 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The conclusion isn't, I take it, that Americans should reduce consumption of resources to that of the average Ethiopian, right?

You're over-thinking this. It was merely a means of pointing out that when people in wealthy nations point out their low birth rates (personal or national), they tend to equate themselves and the damage they do with that of everyone else on the globe. To put it another way, an Ethiopian who has 24 children has still only contributed a third as much to the depletion of Earth's resources as an American who has *one* child. On average, of course. And this math has nothing to do with lifespan or anything like that, it's on a per annum basis.

This has nothing to do with values or cost, but simple resources. Stuff like water and oil and metals. Americans (which is what the figure was based on, but obviously this applies more or less to all highly consumeristic countries) use way, way, way more than their share of resources - to a level that wouldn't even be close to sustainable if everyone else on Earth did the same. There are, of course, countries that offer lifespan, opportunities and freedom comparable to that of the USA while using only a fraction of the resources as the USA on a per capita basis . . . using less doesn't mean a diminution of anything necessarily, so that's a lousy argument.

In essence, this refers to the idea in the original post - can Earth take the strain? This wouldn't be that much of a question were it not for the gigantically disproportionate resource-sucking of the citizens of wealthy nations. We bear a much higher percentage of the blame for the problem of population growth, because it's not population growth that matters per se, it's the relative consumption of resources.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:35 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


happyroach shows us how to argue in good faith: assert without even a hint of evidence that anyone who disagrees is motivated solely by genocidal racism, and suggest that they should commit suicide.

This entire argument started in bad faith, with the assumption that the problem is population not over-consumption and inefficiency in resource use. And having done that, the "Lower the population" people move on to saying that the solution is for those people over there to lower their population. I've seen this same shit being spewed out for the last decade or more, and every time, with enough questioning it boils down to "Oh, the problem is those third-world brown people are having too many babies,, not that me or my friends are resource hogs".

At this point, I'm sick and tired of the same bullshit being disguised as humanitarianism or environmentalism over and over again. So no, at this point I'm not willing to assume good impulses on the part of people who think it would be better to "remove" 9/10ths of the world, rather than maybe give up their daily Big Mac.


I don't normally say this, but happyroach, you owe me an apology for this:

Hmm...let me think about it. OK, I'm really really sorry you have an "I got mine, the rest of you fuck off" attitude toward the rest of the world.

I am not kidding. Do not put words in my mouth.

I don't need to. You put the words right there yourself:
"If you believe, as I do, that the existing population is not sustainable at the middling-nice American-levels of life quality, you are left with, yeah, wanting NPG, Negative Population Growth, until that lower limit is reached. I've seen estimates all over the map. Given some of our mineral resources, my personal hunch is that we could probably support about a quarter of a billion people,"
Yeah, I've seen figures like that for decades from "Lower population" fans, all "coincidentally" giving something close to the population of their home countries, and all saying the same thing: we have a choice between disaster or a small population that lives like the white elite population of our country."

And you, like the rest, never consider the third choice: YOU COULD CONSUME LESS RESOURCES YOU FUCKING SPENDTHRIFTS!

You don't need a His and Her SUV to commute 60 miles to work so you can live in a McMansion in the suburbs; you don't need a heated pool in your backyard; you don't need a poorly insulated house where you turn the heater on if the temp dips below 70, or the AC if it goes above 80. You don't need to burn incandescent lights all night, or have a desktop + His and Hers Laptops + a 90" Big Screen TV plus extra TVs for each bedroom. You don't need to buy a new iPod or other gadget every time a new model comes out, each packed in five layers of packaging. You don't need to eat factory-farmed meat every meal, and you don't need to hop in your car to drive two blocks to McDonalds every time McRibs are on sale. You could arrange your cities and infrastructure so buses, bicycling and walking to work and services would be feasible. You could rearrange power use and housing so much less energy is consumed, and you could cut down on the conspicuous consumption.

It would be possible to live comfortable, productive and happy lives using a fifth, even a tenth of the resources you consume. But you and the rest didn't even consider that. It always boils down to "I've got my lifestyle, now every else make sacrifices so I can maintain it."

So yeah, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you're so selfish that you'd like to see over 95% of the rest of the world gone so you can maintain an imaginary middle class lifestyle, and so shortsighted that you can't look forward to solutions that will make the world better and more sustainable for everyone. Mostly though, I'm sorry I have to share this planet with you.
posted by happyroach at 7:40 PM on January 12, 2011


jesus christ
posted by girih knot at 8:53 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


the unaroach
posted by fleetmouse at 9:01 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


happyroach: "And you, like the rest, never consider the third choice: YOU COULD CONSUME LESS RESOURCES YOU FUCKING SPENDTHRIFTS!

You don't need a His and Her SUV to commute 60 miles to work so you can live in a McMansion in the suburbs; you don't need a heated pool in your backyard; you don't need a poorly insulated house where you turn the heater on if the temp dips below 70, or the AC if it goes above 80. You don't need to burn incandescent lights all night, or have a desktop + His and Hers Laptops + a 90" Big Screen TV plus extra TVs for each bedroom. You don't need to buy a new iPod or other gadget every time a new model comes out, each packed in five layers of packaging. You don't need to eat factory-farmed meat every meal, and you don't need to hop in your car to drive two blocks to McDonalds every time McRibs are on sale.
"

While they clearly help you make arguments, happyroach, I don't think the hidden cameras you've installed in adipocere's home to document his possessions, living accommodations, driving activities, and eating habits are quite legal.

And a quick PS: population growth can be reigned in over time through increased education, adoption, and greater availability of contraception, not just through indiscriminate genocide of the non-white world. The More You Know ≈≈≈★
posted by Rhaomi at 9:19 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dee Xtrovert: The conclusion isn't, I take it, that Americans should reduce consumption of resources to that of the average Ethiopian, right? I think it's pretty uncontroversial that some amount of freedom, opportunity, and pure, raw lifespan over and above that available to the average Ethiopian is a net good. That's expensive stuff, though, and I'm not confident that baldly stating that it costs 73 times as much is any kind of argument. Maybe that's just how much it costs? Maybe it'd be exponentially better at 120 times? What counts as the good stuff here, anyway?

Yeah, any reasonable answer is going to be about something more specific than generic "resources". It varies a lot depending on which you choose to look at; at the extreme I imagine there might be one or two scarce resources that Ethiopians typically use more of than the average resident of New York City. (Americans are fairly standard, but who picked Ethiopians to pick on?) When it comes down to food though, it's not so hard. There is a level of healthy nutrition that's pretty much the same no matter who you are, and that's around where we ought to aim for. Just like it was for Malthus, food is going to be very much central to the problem. How much tantalum you use doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the more pressing problem of nutrition.

There is room for much heated argument about precisely how much of which foods we might expect to be justified in eating in some imagined optimal distribution of resources, but not so much room that it changes things a whole lot. I'm not sure if Ethiopia is still among them or not, but I seem to recall that the least well-fed parts of the world consume about half the food calories per capita of the most wealthy nations. Factor in the less efficient things your Americans tend to eat and it might be 5:1 in terms of some imagined food-related resource units, but I can't imagine 73:1 could possibly be anywhere close. Anyway, get both sides moving in the right direction and it is not too difficult to imagine approximately where you'd want them to meet.

incessant: Is that more an issue of agriculture or food distribution?

That old question. It's very much both. We have some problems with food distribution that are obvious to all. At the moment, if you could somehow distribute everything optimally according to some positively utopian method, there would probably be enough to go around for everyone; but I reckon it'd be a close call even so, and it's likely that as the population grows the average diet of the whole world, what everyone would be eating if we did have some system of distribution that somehow gave perfect equality, will gradually get worse.

Back in the real world though, with our present primary method of improving the distribution of resources, in which some of the less-developed nations are rapidly getting more so, while the poorest are pretty much left behind, and we continue to let everyone eat what they want to when they can as is only natural; if that continues as it shows every sign of doing, it will most likely run full speed until it crashes into the limits of agricultural productivity. You've got a whole lot of people running out in front to push those limits further, we'll see what they can do.

Anyway, that is global population growth. Thus far the more tangible problems are caused, experienced, and dealt with or ignored more locally than that, as in India. I don't think they give a damn whether Americans are concerned about their population growth and the problems it's causing them, and how unhappy that makes a "happyroach".
posted by sfenders at 9:44 PM on January 12, 2011


As far as population growth goes, I'm most worried about the knock-on effects of global soil erosion and desertification. If you watch this clock for a bit, you get a pretty good idea of how screwed humans of all stripes are going to be. Seriously, we're losing 1 hectare of productive land every 8 seconds - and adding about 20 people. Thats about 1

Dirt!: The Movie covers the soil crisis pretty well, if anybody is interested. I think many people are hugely underestimating the difficulty and expense of restoring the productive capacity of the land we're destroying (and we can't just buy new soil). The following terrifying list is from a Cornell press release about a 2006 global soil study: posted by dialetheia at 10:54 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Watch world population rise in real time.
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 2:34 AM on January 13, 2011


Draw a warm bath, and remember the razor goes down the block, not across the street.

Also, I await your pending suicide with interest.


I wish we wouldn't suggest that our fellow community members should kill themselves. Sure, it makes for a fiery retort, but we've had a few members commit suicide and you never know what is going on in a person's life and mind while they are reading your comments. Surely we can have a good debate without telling people you want them to end their lives?
posted by Houstonian at 3:16 AM on January 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have a sense that having fewer material goods and learning how to be content with less would probably lead to greater overall happiness, but then I'm typing this on my iPhone while luxuriating on a heated mattress pad so what the fuck do I know.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:09 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm sorry I have to share this planet with you.
posted by happyroach"


Just be patient. Every apocolypse I've ever heard about says the roaches will survive us all.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:02 AM on January 13, 2011


YOU COULD CONSUME LESS RESOURCES YOU FUCKING SPENDTHRIFTS

I'm consuming fewer resources by not making any more middle-class Americans. You're welcome.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:59 AM on January 13, 2011


Actually, happyroach, the population of the United States is past three hundred million, not the quarter billion I mentioned.

I used America as a benchmark because 1) a rather large proportion of the members are in the United States, 2) the United States is comfortable, but not as nice as say, living in Sweden or one of those chilly countries where they seem to have their acts together. 3) the American ecological footprint is widely aspired to.

It's the third that is the rub. People currently living in third world countries with miserable living conditions aren't saying, "Wow, I am so glad my ecological footprint is so small. I feel so green and Earth conscious. My way of life is simple and pure and, more importantly, sustainable." Go look at China. They want cars. They're making cars. Go look at India. Same deal. Not a lot of white people there. Humans do not want to live in tiny thatched homes and if they have the opportunity to do otherwise, they will. The amount of melanin in their skin makes not a whit of difference (well, I guess the white people also want sunblock containing titanium dioxide). Humans are built to expand and to want, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.

As to my lifestyle: I have never had a new car, much less an SUV. I do not drive sixty miles to work and I occasionally can swing telecommuting. I have never lived anywhere with a pool, although I did get to enjoy one in a hotel. My home is cold, except for the tiny bedroom heater I keep for sleeping. I read at night by a 5 watt bulb mostly used in nightlights; positioned correctly, I do not need any more than that. I have a thirteen inch television which is about twenty-two years old. I have a laptop. All of my other special projects PCs are recycled from the dumpster. My most current "gadget" is the freebie Nokia cellphone I get with my basic contract, which was about three or four years ago. I have never had a McRib. I believe I last ate at McDonald's sometime in the last decade. I will never have a child.

I am sorry I cannot be the caricature at which you desperately want to lash.

Suggesting that I have genocidal aspirations is completely off the map. But go on, make everything about race.
posted by adipocere at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


adipocere - I think we need a few billion educated folks to get the kind of progress we're going to need in order to survive. Larger populations / states allow for a greater inventive pool / leisure class and research institutions. It might be a chicken/egg sort of situation.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:18 PM on January 13, 2011


I have never had a McRib.

Oddly enough, that's actually a mark against you. You see, McRib consumption would, for a variety of reasons, dramatically reduce your risk of inadvertently reproducing.
posted by The World Famous at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2011


I think we need a few billion educated folks to get the kind of progress we're going to need in order to survive

I find a few problems with this sort of argument.

First of all, we already have lots of people who could make the sort of valuable contributions for society if only they weren't starving or living in poverty because they weren't born in the lucky part of the world. We don't need a bigger pool, we need to take better care of the one we have. Yes, the present inequality is mainly a problem of distribution, but that won't be the case forever.

Secondly, I fail to see how larger numbers would translate to a higher fraction of the population in research institutions. If anything, diminishing returns would force a larger proportion of labour to work in agriculture/resource extraction/essential services.

Thirdly and most importantly, it frames the issue as something that can be solved exclusively through human ingenuity, which doesn't apply here. No matter how many smart people you throw at a problem, they would still need the physical resources to implement the hypothetical solution.

The reason those of us privileged enough to be reading this thread have access to all the luxuries of modern life we all take for granted isn't ONLY because humans are smart - it's because we're smart AND we have been using an ever increasing amount of natural resources, both renewable (at usnsustainable rates) and non-renewable (hydrocarbons being the obvious poster-children).

For the last two centuries, the pie has been getting bigger every year, but that trend will eventually reverse. So we'll have a progressively smaller pie shared by an increasing number of people, if population keeps increasing. My point being that someone born today will most certainly be alive when that contraction begins (if it hasn't already) so population must decline naturally (as in, not through worsening living conditions) in tandem with the resource throughput reduction, otherwise even with a perfectly fair distribution of resources everyone will be worse off.

Yes, there is a lot of fat to trim and we can do a lot better than we've been doing, and yes, overpopulation isn't the only issue, and NO, no forced contraception anywhere, but please, let's also not bury our hands in the sand and take a faith based approach that everything will turn out for the best because since things have been getting better for some for a while now that will necessarily always be the case (it won't), someone clever/the market will sort it out (they won't), or some other sort of magical thinking reasoning.

tl;dr - limits to growth.
posted by Bangaioh at 2:58 PM on January 13, 2011


tl;dr - limits to growth

In a finite system? HERESY!
posted by entropicamericana at 3:50 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]




Executive summary: Mike Judge a) fails to think through his premise by not acknowledging that "dumb" people will sometimes have smart children who will naturally rise in society b) disingenuously sidesteps some disturbing implications by making all his "dumb" people white rednecks and c) comes off as a bitter old guy who has lost his sense of humor.


It was slapstick comedy not a Ken Burns documentary. You better not watch Caddyshack, it has a dancing gopher which is completely unrealistic!


But seriously, if everyone in the Western ( First/Developed) world had no more than one kid, that would make a difference since we're the ones who use vastly more resources.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:00 PM on January 13, 2011


web comic pertinent to Malthusian issues
posted by XMLicious at 1:01 AM on January 17, 2011


U.S. still throws away half its food, you know. Canada does little better.

Please stop thinking you have to have kids, people. You really don't, you know.

That's rational. No one has to do anything, except die.

make the rational decision to not. Have. Kids. You know... for the kids.

That is not rational. As others noted, the human species, like most species, reproduces or goes extinct.

I'm guessing that the ZPG movement does not want the human species to end, so honestly, those who support it, where do you draw the line? Who can have kids? How many?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:57 AM on January 18, 2011


I was not aware of the ZPG movement and I don't speak for anyone else but me, but in my opinion anyone who wants to can have as many kids as they want.

Population is already decreasing naturally in some developed countries, and what annoys me the most is the pervasive belief that that's a bad thing (or rather, that it's worse than a constant or growing population).

Anecdotally, I lost count of the number of times I see someone express concern about declining population and how society should incentivise more births (conversely, I never personally met someone concerned with overpopulation), and as such most people I know still feel a "social duty" of having at 2 or more children. What I mean is, DO have 2 or more children if you really want, but don't do it out of misinformation. If this was talked about more (preferably without the tiresome knee-jerk reaction of Malthusians = misanthropes) perhaps a lot more people would make the same choice and not feel guilty about it.
posted by Bangaioh at 11:36 AM on January 18, 2011


what annoys me the most is the pervasive belief that that's a bad thing

It is if your pension system is based on the Ponzi Principle
posted by IndigoJones at 6:32 AM on January 20, 2011


My point is that the alternative is even worse.

Let's play with numbers. Imagine a very simplified society, with a set retirement age where every person, retired or not, has the same standard of living (I'm not advocating a 100% equal society, inequality is irrelevant to the point I'm making here), abstracted to a single numerical figure, 100, that represents the minimum of resources (food, water, clothing, electricity, pharmaceuticals, etc) to allow one a comfortable living.

With a growing population, you have 4 working individuals for 2 retired ones, a total of 6. You need 6*100=600 worth of resources to maintain that population. Each working individual needs to "produce" 600/4=150 in order to sustain themselves and the retired ones, ie, each worker keeps 2/3 of his labour to himself.
With a constant population, it's 2 for 2, each worker keeps only half of his labour, and they work harder because each has now to produce 200, instead of 100; with a declining population, it's 1 for 2, working even harder (300) and keeping only 1/3 of it.

If you consider labour the ultimate source of wealth, than it's clearly advantageous to have an ever-expanding supply of workers. However, you'd be ignoring the pool of used resources that are what allow the workers to create that wealth in the first place.

So let's assume a fixed quantity of sustainably usable resources of 300. This would make the first scenario of a growing population far from appealing, as it would mean every person would be living in poverty - 300/6=50 - even though each worker still got to keep their 2/3 (300/4=75). Yet in the third scenario, although the worker keeps a much smaller slice of the pie he produces, that slice is still enough for his making a decent living.
We're not used think in these terms because the resource pool has been getting exponentially bigger every year to accomodate both a growing population and increased per capita consumption, but that trend will necessarily reverse. So, year on year, we'll go from 600, to 585, to 575 until we bottom out at whatever the sustainable figure is.

If our social constructs are inadequate for the future, they are the ones who will have to be adapted. Reality, as opposed to the American way of life, is non-negotiable.
posted by Bangaioh at 7:22 AM on January 20, 2011


...200, instead of 100 150...
posted by Bangaioh at 7:24 AM on January 20, 2011


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