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An exercise

by Colman Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:06:59 AM EST

  1. Define "overpopulation".
  2. Define "decent living standard"
  3. Demonstrate that the current population is inherently unsustainable.
  4. Determine the maximum population that can be maintained at a decent standard of living.
Update [2007-12-5 10:42:10 by Colman]: Supplementary question, suggested by kcurie: 0. Define sustainable.


Display:
Submissions will be graded by throwing them down the stairs.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:08:40 AM EST
great add up.. overpopulation is having more population than those living sustainible.. now go figure how to define sustainability...

I guess it would be soemthing like using less energy, less materials and less food than those the earth cycle can provide..

and now we should go about how much an earth cycle can provide in terms of energy , materials and food.

matarials would be the easy one..... how much we can recycle and how much we can produce to keep production constant in say 500 years.. I put the figure of 500 years as somethign I propose.

regardign eenrgy..well not consume more energy than the ones the trees which grow each year and fall, the wind and the water can provide.. I would also add up the nuclear if the leftovers are properly dealt with.. if not erase nuclear. yes I would eliminate coal and oil except at ranges of extraction constant at 500 years for coal (one fifth of the present extraction at minimum) and 200 year for oil (something like 10 milion barrels a day for the whole world)

regardign food... that's the most difficutl one.. because soil science is one of the most difficult topics in scince..r ealy.. just below neurobiology (probably).. there is a huge research ecenter in Israel (where I met people).. it is really togh to know how much a soil can provide .. it depends ont hings like.. the global cliamte, humidity (so water in the soil)... the msot difficult of course.

regardign water.. well.. that's not a problem.. see enrgy and add center of potable production form sea water.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:15:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
1. Not interested... Popualtion that can be mantianed "sustainable" with preset technology coudl be defined if we define sustainablity.

2 The way of living of  a portuguese in 1980.

  1. State of the world rport (I think from an issue before 2000) stablishing that Porutgal at the begnning of the 80's  was enviromentally sustainable.

  2. From the density of population in Portugal, 100 hab/km^2 and taing into account that not all the world is equally suystainable..a dn that Spain is a much mroe conmfortable place regardgin space.. and then dividing by two given for no-go-zones we get ana verage of 40 hab/km^2. fivent hat the land surface of the Earth is 150 million km^2, we get the wonderful measure of 6 billion (one billion up one billion down) living like portuguese int he 1980's (on energy consumption, resources consumption....)


I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude
by kcurie on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:37:45 AM EST
A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude
by kcurie on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:37:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On 1., why present technology?

Your last point, of course, is key: the question is total resources energy consumption.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 10:44:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
present technology on energy use. The more efficient the equipement , the better you can live and more enrgy consume.... there is stila  lot of room for efficiency in some aspects of life.

regardignt materials.. the best they are recycled, the more you c n consume. see for exaple the case of paper.. we worried long tiem ago about trees..a dn their disappearance.. no more due to paper.. paper is mostly recycled now..and tres are cut for other stuff like uber-expensive tables... paper production problem now is basically quanititt of water used (and still not as much as it used to be).

regarding food.. well.. I am fraid that's pretty much constant nowadays.. and actually a little bit less of meat to keep it sustainable...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:05:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
,,,and actually a little bit less of meat to keep it sustainable...

I'm wondering if there is a point when meat goes from a) it get made like it does now, to b) the meat growing structure that has been created just collapses when x number of people can no longer afford it.

Water is getting more scarce, and someday they are going to have to do something about the pollution that concentrated meat farms create...these things will slowly add up until the meat eaters eat chicken and the chicken eaters eat more soy...then there is more water and more soy because it isn't all going to the wasteful meat farms...which makes the world sustainable for more people.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 05:39:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it's nice being a cerealarian....

there's enough for everyone, and those who wanted to could still have meat a few times a month...

harvested from the petri vat in the basement!!!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 08:34:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
2. The way of living of  a portuguese in 1980.

Hmmm, and what would that be?
The average between my grandmother's who cooked on wood fire on the floor of her "kitchen" and preserved food in salt, and the life style of those people who went to London for shopping on weekends?

Anyway, i bet one could do a lot better, because efficiency was not a priority in those days.

by Torres on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 11:58:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the average.. and with energy efficency you could get a very decent standard of living.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:02:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is only one term that needs to be defined: "decent" as in decent standard of living, from this everything else follows.

If the decent standard of living is unachievable with the current population than that means we have overpopulation.

If the decent standard of living can't be maintained indefinitely into the future then we don't have sustainability.

So, decent:

As people get introduced to more materialism their frame of reference shifts and what they consider necessities changes as well. What was adequate for a Victorian would seem primitive to even poor families in the US or EU today. Imagine no indoor plumbing or electricity. Imagine no antibiotics or other medical advances. Imagine no mechanized transport except rail.

My hobbyhorse has been to get people to redefine "decent" so that it includes less of the material and more of the communal. This means more person to person interaction, more social groups, more entertainment and ritual and more relaxation. It doesn't mean giving up modern technology, but it probably means cutting down on excess and wastefulness.

If you want a number take the GDP of the world, reduce it by the current excess consumption (estimated at 1.3 to 1.6) beyond sustainability and then divide by the world population (6.6 billion). Whatever that number is would be the needed per capita GDP on average with current levels of technology.

I'm guessing it would require that the US reduce its consumption by about 80%. I don't see that happening without a fight, and neither does the DoD, which is why they are already planning for the next war against China or Russia.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 11:49:29 AM EST
Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations (Project Gutenberg)
By necessaries I understand, not only the commodities which are indispensibly necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty, which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person, of either sex, would be ashamed to appear in public without them. In Scotland, custom has rendered them a necessary of life to the lowest order of men; but not to the same order of women, who may, without any discredit, walk about barefooted. In France, they are necessaries neither to men nor to women; the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicly, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes, and sometimes barefooted. Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend, not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people. All other things I call luxuries, without meaning, by this appellation, to throw the smallest degree of reproach upon the temperate use of them. Beer and ale, for example, in Great Britain, and wine, even in the wine countries, I call luxuries. A man of any rank may, without any reproach, abstain totally from tasting such liquors. Nature does not render them necessary for the support of life; and custom nowhere renders it indecent to live without them.
So, clearly, what constitutes a "decent" standard of living is partly a cultural construct. Is there a universal, lowest-common-denominator standard of decency? Should we be satisfied with providing everyone with that minimum standard, or do we need to allow for leeway for people to pursue higher levels of need on Maslow's hierarchy? And, should we decree that certain culturally defined decency norms (like, for instance, in California a creditable day labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without an SUV) are unacceptable and therefore the respective cultures should be reformed?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:03:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you read 'The Human Biocomputer' by Dr John Lilley? Quite an eye-opener at the time it was published in 1974

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:21:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, never heard of it.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 06:09:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
http://www.futurehi.net/docs/Metaprogramming.html

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 12:47:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and wine, even in the wine countries, I call luxuries. A man of any rank may, without any reproach, abstain totally from tasting such liquors. Nature does not render them necessary for the support of life; and custom nowhere renders it indecent to live without them.

I would consider indecent to live without wine!

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:21:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But is it indecent to live without good wine?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:26:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you think I mean when I say wine? Bad wine?

Like Oscar Wilde, I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:48:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You clearly don't live in Egypt.  Akeed.

Although I guess I could start referring to the domestic product as "wine," making those little quote marks with my fingers every time I say it.  Or I could say "so-called wine," with or without the little finger-quotes.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 04:05:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You clearly don't live in Egypt.

NO, but you can find excellent wines in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Lebanon, let alone Turkey...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 04:23:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... Moroccan wine?  Had not even thought of that.  The others I'm familiar with, especially the Lebanese ones, although the best Lebanese wine has gotten ridiculously hard to find in Beirut, as it's mostly being exported now. :-(

I travel often enough that I am able to keep a relatively good supply of decent wine on hand, either through duty-free purchases or flat-out smuggling.  I have honed the concealment of wine & whiskey bottles in my luggage into an art form -- out of necessity, of course. ;-)  (Would it be crass to take pleasure in the very act of smuggling?)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 04:33:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure it's necessary for the support of life as well. ;)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 02:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:
So, clearly, what constitutes a "decent" standard of living is partly a cultural construct.

Well, decent is usually taken to mean a first derivative of constant improvement and enhanced life opportunities.

A contraction of opportunities is considered unacceptable whether or not it's sustainable.

Aside from a few eco-pioneers, there is nowhere in the developed world which doesn't take this as a given.

So I think if you want to define sustainable you have to start with a cultural redefinition before you can get to a practical one.

This isn't just theory. In practice people only put up with work because they're distracted by a constant stream of shiny new toys every year. If that stream stops, you either have totalitarianism - to keep the proles in place - or revolution.

At that point physical sustainability will probably come out in the wash anyway.

I haven't see anyone writing about cultural sustainability as a concept - it's implied in Maslow, but it doesn't seem to be talked about explicitly.

If you create a sustainable world where everyone spends 12 hours a day growing food, you no longer have the same culture that you have today. So although you've 'saved' something, you haven't actually saved your civilisation.

This might not be a bad thing - some people would love a culture where there's nothing to do except grow food, and people like Bookchin argue that this is how it should be, and people who grow stuff are more important than people who think about stuff.

But converting a culture back to subsistence will have a huge effect on people's emotional and cultural horizons. What defines our civilisation is accumulation of insight and information. We could probably work out sustainable ways to support that, but only if we start from the premise that accumulation of insight and information isn't a bad thing and should continue in some form.

The challenge to sustainability isn't just about growing food and producing energy, but maintaining enlightenment values of curiosity and cultural development. I think by default if you have steady-state physical and economic sustainability you'll most likely get steady-state art and science too - which may mean there won't be a whole of it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 05:56:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Well, decent is usually taken to mean a first derivative of constant improvement and enhanced life opportunities." I think that it is an integral. For one thing, if the improvement is constant, it plays no part in your derivative.

How about 6 hours per day, six days per week, for agricultural work for all who are adult and physically capable? That leaves a fair amount of time to build wind turbines and to write sonnets.

I wasn't there, but some observers of working class' life from the last two centuries in the U.S. claim that some loggers and cowboys knew Shakespeare well enough to shout the lines out when the plays were presented at the local dancehall. Then there's the down-home musicians, of whom I have known many, who also put in a full (U.S. terms) workweek.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 07:25:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The challenge to sustainability isn't just about growing food and producing energy, but maintaining enlightenment values of curiosity and cultural development. I think by default if you have steady-state physical and economic sustainability you'll most likely get steady-state art and science too - which may mean there won't be a whole of it.

great comment, but i beg to disagree...

high tech can facilitate innovation and technical genius, but just because it has accelerated exponentially these last 100 years is no reason to think that we won't continue to grow scientifically in a plateau of 80's portugese peasant level life.

many great inventions we still use today were born without the huge advantages computing gives us now.

we have gone to the edge, and if we pull back now, we will have learned the lessons from gazing into the abyss, and will have to be more responsible from now on...

we have the tools...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 08:41:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My third cousin, Reginald Fessenden, came off of the farm in Quebec to become one of the principal inventors of radio and sonar (the first to describe radio from a theoretical standpoint - "heterodyne" principle). The Wright Bros. were mechanics in a rural/small town environment. Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Buddy Holly came from the vast, parched mesquite forests of West Texas. Clearly, science, invention, and great art can arise from environments associated with "static" cultural conditions.

Balance - moderation - concepts that have been proven to serve us all very well, but somehow dynamism has the cachet.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:00:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'"Static" cultural conditions'? What does that mean? How on earth was, say, early 20th C rural America a static cultural environment?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:03:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
aren't you splitting hairs, here, colman?

even cavemen didn't live in a 'static' environment, but tbg was inferring that if we go back to 1800 style life we may not have any more great scientific breakthrough, or many less.

my guess is the proportion we lose because of less ubiquitous access to tech will be more than repaid by the healthier living conditions ensuing from not spewing so much damn sulphur, carbon, mercury, benzene and strontium, to name but few, into our environments.

just guessing tho'...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 12:23:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think I am splitting hairs at all.

And the assumption of "less ubiquitous access to tech" is justified because? Or that spewing pollution is a necessary pre-condition to electronic technology, which is what I assume you mean by "tech". Or are you expecting to forget how to school a horse?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 12:50:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
_ Or that spewing pollution is a necessary pre-condition to electronic technology, which is what I assume you mean by "tech"

no, i think we _could run a cyber-infotained society off alt energy, it doesn't suck that much juice...

i mean compared to running 18-wheelers back and forth carrying california oranges to florida and vice versa etc, natch...

a little hit on the ET crackpipe after cutting grass for the rabbits and other chores...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:47:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And how, and why, would we return to an "1800's style lifestyle"? That's just plain silly. Are we going to uninvent everything? Why 1800? Why not 1200 or 1900 or 100BCE?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 12:56:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i should have known better than to take you on, colman...

i do silly, yes, but i was pulling that number out of you know where...

i personally believe we'll get to keep the high tech communications, the dvds, torrents whatever, because without them there might be the kind of social unrest characteristic also of those times..

maybe there'll be less pcs, we may have to share more, but i do think without the mass entertainment people have become addicted to, there'd be chaos.

what we probably won't have is so many techy gadgets like electric nosehair clippers, leafblowers etc...

we'll be raking those leaves for compost anyway...

and what's horse training got to do with tech?

i'm not arguing with you. lol!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:12:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Technology is a broad concept that deals with a species' usage and knowledge of tools and crafts, and how it affects a species' ability to control and adapt to its environment. ..." ( Wikipedia)

Restricting the term to just mean the most recent products of "high" technology is plain wrong. Horse schooling to produce a rideable or bidable horse is a technology: applied knowledge.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:17:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for enlightening me, mustard man...

in my ignorance i was willing to concede you that lunge lines qualified!

now i see even my brain's effluvia is a form of tech!

i feel suddenly more equipped.... no equine quip intended...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:29:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hang on a bit! Brace yourelf....

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:32:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
heh, if ET is the brace, you sure are one of the bits...

you know the drill...

trust you to show up, your ruthless and immoderate use of puns is infectious

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:42:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did someone mention me?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 01:45:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Somebody did, but not Someone.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 02:44:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for enlightening me, mustard man...

Oh wow, it's like I'm 12 again!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:46:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i heard that mustard induces merriment...

i like it on (potato) pancakes

<dux>

i meant it affectionately, but you knew that...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:58:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, balance and moderation would be nice. Unfortunately, no-one seems to be interested in those. It seems to be either one extreme or the other: "winddown" and 80's peasant conditions or let the market deal with it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:06:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is a stable state economy and why would we want one?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:01:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maslow's stuff is nice cataloguing of needs, but the hierarchy is nonsense.

People just don't satisfy their need for food before they start worrying about status or morality or affiliation: we don't work that way. We're capable of starving ourselves to death in pursuit of "higher levels" of need.

Those "higher levels" of need are essential to any definition of decency that considers people as more than economic machines.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:17:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maslow arranged it in a hierarchy because Fuzzy Cognitive Maps hadn't been invented when he was writing.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:35:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok so say we work out the optimum sustainable consumption that will give a decent standard of living. How much slack do you think would have to be allowed in the system to stop local areas degrading due to extreme events andgradually dragging the entire biosphere/economy/resource base down?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 06:06:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You define and implement a "safety factor" the same we way do when designing objects like bridges.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 06:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just love this place.  People bored at school, home, work drop by and are asked to draw up a blueprint for nothing less than saving the human race.  So refreshing to see people have such high expectations of each other.  Makes one feel warm inside.  

...

I'm not being sarcastic.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 12:11:43 PM EST
You're not being sarcastic, but Colman is.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:27:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wasn't aware that he could be any other way ... ;)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:29:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman: discover the many shades of grumpy.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 5th, 2007 at 01:38:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not being sarcastic: I genuinely don't feel that these things have been adequately explained or demonstrated  by people who seem to think they understand them deeply.

Or has rigour above rhetoric gone out of fashion around here?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 11:12:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm.. I'm in the difficult position that I think we can have a 'decent life' with current population, and could still have that same decent life with twice the population at time x in the future if we in the mean time make adjustments y and z and improvements xy and xz.

If you talk about the future past a 30 year horizon*, it seems probable that the amount of unknowns explodes. Hey, you know, the singularity might happen and super-intelligent robots or post-humans could Save Us All! At the same time much of the sustainability and global warming issues we talk about here require us to look over this horizon. So, we speculate.

Speculation about global population peaking at around 8 billion globally is reasonable if we look at current trends and the drivers behind these. If the singularity or a mere set of innovations in medicine gives us longevity far beyond these trends, of course it becomes nonsense. And talk about allocating regional reproduction limits might actually become reasonable. But I'd guess you are impatient with such rather far-out 'what if' scenarios?

To go back to speculation about the future, it is somewhat necessarily at a very high level of abstraction. You deal with concepts like 'population', 'wealth', 'technology'. These can give you a feeling of control over the complex of facts and eventualities you're dealing with, but they only do so because they hide the particulars. So you need to realise that you're speculating.

At the same time it's too easy to just call bullshit on all speculation. If we can't discuss problems that will arise past a specific horizon, then why should we do anything about the patterns that are currently leading us to these problems? Why give a shit about sustainability?

(in the very broad sense of bequesting future generations a world worth living in)

What is a decent life can vary to a very high degree. We see that general happiness does not improve when a certain set of material preconditions has been met, iow, material affluence has diminishing returns and becomes a positional game past a certain point. There is a large and increasing body of scientific evidence that backs this idea up. I don't think happiness alone should define a decent life, which is something that everyone should find out for themselves. At the same time, I think we as a human community can define a set of preconditions that allow people to strive for their own idea of a good life. And that seeing to it that these preconditions are available for everyone, and can still be available for everyone in the future should be a prime political objective.

* 30 years is only a half-random number. It represents a generation, and a generation's work (at least afew seems to define the core working age population as between 25 and 55...) and at the same time it is the cut-off for most long-term bonds.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 06:19:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what seems grumpy to me is failing to link to the ten, twelve or possibly more, extensive and fairly technical discussions of this topic that have occurred over the last year or so:  the "one terron" thread and its spinoffs in particular, the long "define decent life" explorations by Nomad et al.

so it's not as if these questions have not been gnawn -- my new creative past tense for the day -- over, right here at ET, at considerable length, on more than one prior occasion, with a lot of fairly serious thought and even some -- gasp! -- numbers going into the discussion.

surely there are new things to be said, but it's mot like we haven't been here, and with some rigour even.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 07:27:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
oh poemless, and i love you for saying that!

what she said...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 08:28:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Overpopulation is the state when a species becomes too numerous to sustain its numbers in its ecological niche.

Sustainable:  a process whereby a species does not achieve overpopulation

Decent living standard: materially, a set, or group, of accidentals such that an individual has sufficient food, clothing, and shelter for the climatic conditions that individual encounters.  "Accidentals" meaning ontological varieties and variations found within a Property.  The psychological, social, and cultural aspects are too obstreperous to deal with in a simple blog post.  

I've already posted two diaries intimating the current population is unsustainable.  Technically it is not "inherently" unsustainable as a breakthrough in a number of scientific disciplines or technology, e.g., fusion, could change the Fitness Landscape substantially.  Even a dramatic shift in the dominate cultural epistemology could change the situation.  Thus, the 'inherent-ness' of unsustainability is - call it - a functor of the epistemic and praxiologic structures of the agents and the material 'package' those agents have to work with.

I have no idea what the maximum human population at a decent standard of living is.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 08:12:24 PM EST
This is an interesting question. For example, what is the time scale for the definition of sustainability? There's evidence that prehistoric humans were responsible for various cases of animal extinction, for example.
pibbs.unm.edu/CourseMaterials/Spring2007/blackburnExtinction.pdf

And prehistoric humans were responsible for pollution, too.
http://cadair.aber.ac.uk/dspace/handle/2160/245

Suppose we do the "build a few thousand nuclear power plants" thing and live in paradise for a few decades, then have a big accident and wipe out half the global population. (That would be quite an accident!) Would that be better or worse than killing the same number of people by disease and economic displacement caused by climate change?

I think there is a fundamental human desire for pastoral settings with "modern" conveniences hidden in the background. We'd like to live in a world that's like our mother's was, only with proper medical care, health insurance, meaningful jobs, and no global stress--not the real world of the 1930s or 1940s or 1950s, depending on how old you are.

So my definitions:

Overpopulation: The earth could easily support a population of 1 billion people, about that of 1800. At least one continent, perhaps North America, should be depopulated and used as a wildlife preserve.

Decent living standard: 30 hour work week, otherwise 1950 economic level.

The current population level is unsustainable because biologists aren't as smart as they think they are, and one of these days a bug is going to develop that we can't stop in time. Probably avian flu, although there are plenty of other contenders.

The maximum population is defined by how many people we want to have around us, not by the carrying capacity of the earth.

by asdf on Thu Dec 6th, 2007 at 10:51:44 PM EST
There is also that whole "turn Sahara and the Fertile Crescent into deserts" thing. Even neolithic technology can be quite unsustainable.

There are parts of France (the Causses) where peak population density happened around 2000 BC...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Dec 7th, 2007 at 08:20:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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