Pondering the century ahead

One question: As the population explosion peaks and major population decline begins, will science help us slow the fall and minimize the harm? Or will it just allow us a much clearer view of our demise as a civilization? I expect the answer will be “mixed”.

How numerous can we get before Mother Nature’s interventions take hold? In any case, global sustainability probably maximizes, with the best of our technologies, at less than 3 billion (maybe a LOT less). This suggests that, to achieve sustainability, 4 to 5 billion people must die. Almost half of the world’s species are now extinct, I read, and I think that we might be one of the last left at the end. It depends on how badly we mess the planet up and how soon people become enlightened and understand the fundamental importance of overpopulation in our problems, local, regional, and global.

Education and understanding are key. Until the majority of people worldwide understand the overpopulation problem, it is unlikely it will be dealt with effectively. As now, piecemeal efforts will be made, with predictably poor results. There will be a lot of talk as people the world over scramble to survive, but it appears there may be too little accomplished too late to prevent large scale, and even global catastrophes. Sea level rise being one of the latter, it is disappointing to see so little preparation for it.

Current indications are that far too little is being done. While huge multi-billion dollar investments may protect some especially vulnerable places for a while, there is no guarantee sea levels won’t rise by 20 feet or more in the next century. And there is no guarantee sea level rise will occur gradually. I am sad to see no container ports – the bedrock of world commerce and the food supply of billions – raising their equipment or otherwise preparing for sea level rise, and they are highly vulnerable.

We’ve failed to take care of near-earth space. Space travel and even the utility of satellites may soon be lost as low earth orbit fills with every size of trash, all traveling in different directions at 15-20,000 miles per hour. Even a piece the size of a BB can blow a hole in a spacecraft wall. Soon escape to anywhere else will be impossible, possible for millennia.

The crowded conditions are their own distraction. Far too many people can’t focus on saving the planet because they are trying to save themselves, and this will only get worse. More than a billion people are said to not have enough food today, and that number will grow, and these people cannot be expected to spend time worrying about a global climate change, rising sea levels, crop failures, or pandemics while their families are starving.

Many current governments are heading the wrong direction. The rise of fascism, long existing in Russia, has been echoed in many places in the world, including the fascist and antidemocratic efforts of the U.S. Republican party, the election of Duterte as head of the Philippines, and many others. Fascism weakens the economies and oppresses the people, and benefits only the rulers, who are happy to profit while most of the people suffer in poverty. Fascist leaders often denounce climate change as a hoax or unimportant, as they are focused on personal profit and not the welfare of the country or its people. All this distracts severely from our global problems and, even today, I hear almost nothing about overpopulation in the press or common discussion, even though it is clearly the source of our biggest problems, and threatens our existence.

Business culture will not be helpful against overpopulation. Corporations are sociopathic by nature, as their focus is usually just profit. They will battle with each other and with countries to bolster their profits, but will turn to facing society’s problems late and with an insufficient response as stockholders, realizing too late that our overpopulation problem can cause global disasters that will impact their bottom lines, demand they do something helpful.

How much can the disasters we’ve caused by mitigated? This is a big question. It appears we are probably far too late to avoid disasters of unprecedented proportions, but will we be smart enough to minimize the damage and loss of life? It is hard to envision sustainability arriving without one or more centuries of concentrated work and the loss of several billions lives.

People will increasingly see the decline of civilization approaching. In past economic collapses, studies have shown that nearly everyone saw the end approaching. Often these collapses (Mayan culture, Mohenjo Daro, and others) took place during a long, severe drought, possibly combined with earthquakes or other triggering events. Will this be the first time that humans saw clearly what was coming and did something to successfully reverse the trends and mitigate the problems? Or will we fail to see the global food chain failing, the disappearance of birds and insects, the disappearance of fish species, and other signs before store shelves become empty and billions succumb to panic, followed by starvation. And, of course, pandemic usually shows up at such times. Hmmmm.

Good luck to us all. Try to raise peoples’ consciousnesses. Global birthrates have fallen significantly in poorer countries, possibly because people have cellphones and internet now, and have a college education in their hands if they want it. The population estimates suggest the peak may be around 9.5 or 10 billion, possibly just after 2050, but we don’t know how much the planet can stand. We will find out.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Will Population-driven Disasters Be Made Worse by “the Terminator”?

What will happen when the computers finally become self-aware and VERY much smarter than humans, as in the Terminator movies?  I wrote an article about this years ago in which I calculated that most of the internet will be taken over within 12 hours after cyber self-awareness, and within 24 hours the machine intelligence will be so smart it will be *very* hard for us to understand or communicate with.  That will be a heck of a day!  Since writing that I’ve had time to think more about it and contemplate what a machine intelligence might see and want.  Will the machines develop the goal of self-preservation right away? Continue reading

Is the Population Explosion Itself Partially Responsible for the Global Rise in Fear, Hatred, and Violence?

As more and more people have lived in closer and closer proximity, and urban population density has climbed into the thousands per square mile, all of human society has been affected.

When the population was a tenth of what it is today, in the 1700’s, people valued almost any human contact because they didn’t see other people very often.  In the 18th and 19th century (and before), most people lived on farms and many of them were isolated, rarely seeing other people outside their own household.  When anyone saw another person, they were happy to see them, greeted them in a friendly way, and talked a bit.   Many people in remote areas got their news this way.

By the end of the 19th century cities had begun to grow rapidly as many young people from the farms, no longer needed as technology made farming more efficient, moved to the cities to find work.  As population densities increased, people could not greet everyone on the street any more – there were just too many people for that.  Thus, people started ignoring each other on the street, unless they had a relationship of some kind, a habit which persists to this day.

At the end of the 20th century the crowding in cities became extreme, and a small percentage of the population became increasingly paranoid and distrustful and, with the help of organizations of bigots like the KKK and of fascist propaganda, a hatred that reinforced their self-imposed isolation and obedience to conservative leaders was spawned in them, and it grew and spread.

Today the epidemic of hatred and fear has been pumped up to extremely high levels by conservative strategists, the current president, and the conservative media.  As a result, hate-inspired mass shootings have become daily occurrences.

I believe it is likely that, as the global population continues to surge toward 10 billion, the fear, hatred, and violence will only increase, and conservative politicians will only see reason to encourage it for their own benefit.  I only hope it will not lead to an unjustified war or civil war, as nobody would benefit.

We have a lot to be afraid of, but it is not each other.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Once Gone Wrong, Can Artificially Intelligent Machines Be Fixed?

Artificial intelligence has some big risks.  When you set a machine to learn its job and program itself, you will soon not only not know how the machine actually works, and if it goes wrong you may not be able to understand its workings well enough to fix it.  For many issues this won’t be a big, or possibly even noticeable problem, but when it affects your medical diagnosis or how your pilot can control the plane you’re on, this fundamental problem of artificial intelligence can become very serious. Continue reading

Will the End of Civilization Sneak Up On Us?

Major disaster or creeping decay?  A huge, amorphous disaster like an Extinction Event can last anywhere from minutes (asteroid impact) to 500 million years (volcanic eruptions).  The current extinction event, thought to be the sixth, began at least a century or two ago and may continue for another century or two, though that period could be drastically shortened by a number of potential events such as nuclear war or climate change.  Human events are rarely severe enough to cause drastic, lasting change unless they are supported by many other, seemingly less significant situations and events.  For instance, a small change in the climate can favor some microorganisms over others, and result in sudden, unexpected die-offs of particular species such as starfish, with unpredictable environmental consequences.  Terrible typhoons killed hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar and China, and the Sichuan earthquake killed tens of thousands, but these countries’ populations barely showed the difference a decade later.  So how can we expect the next century to play out? Continue reading

The Biggest Catastrophes Are the Ones We Ignore until It’s Too Late

It’s 2019 and, still, nobody is paying attention to the population explosion.  As 2018 was drawing to a close I happened to be at a dinner with a friend, University of Michigan professor emeritus in environmental studies, Jim Crowfoot, and when, as we often do, we spoke of overpopulation and climate change he leaned over to me and very quietly and seriously said “The house is on fire, but nobody’s paying attention.”   He wasn’t kidding. Continue reading

Which Kills More People: Extreme Heat or Extreme Cold?

This is an interesting question, especially from an earth science perspective.  And this article is excellent scientific reading if you want to better understand the effects of global warming.  Unfortunately, this is only one aspect of the effects of our runaway overpopulation.  This might become a major problem by the end of the century, but if the oceans rise ten feet before that the disruption will be so devastating I wonder if deaths from heat and cold will be noticed.

Enjoy the pinnacle of civilization, everyone, and prepare if you can for the big Die Off.  I, for one, fully expect to be one of the first to starve to death, and I’m not looking forward to it.

Good luck to us all – Tim

The Problems of the Population Explosion Will Increasingly Overlap

Our problems from population overgrowth focus mostly on food, and are not decreasing.  As I have suggested in past posts, famine will be a key element of the global collapse humanity is racing towards, and this article describes the current status of our global food infrastructure.  This additional article provides even more detail.  Unfortunately, it appears we are steadily losing ground and on a path to disaster. Continue reading

How Fast Will Sea Levels Rise? No one Really Knows

Messing up our climate with excessive CO2 emissions is taking huge risks.  With the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rising faster every year, and massive releases of stronger greenhouse gases like methane (natural gas), it is likely that sea levels will continue to rise worldwide.  What people don’t remember is that small changes in sea level have happened all along, and that it wasn’t that long ago when, because we were still emerging from the last ice age, sea levels were several feet (or tens of feet) lower.  Now humanity has built so heavily in areas near sea level that almost any rise is reflected in an increased frequency of damaging floods.   In some areas the flooding already happens from a high tide, and no storm or other weather event is needed.

There is a lot more ice (and potential sea level rise) than most people realize.  Another thing people don’t realize is that there is enough ice on land in just Greenland and Antarctica to increase sea levels by 200 FEET!  If some portion of this increase happens quickly, in less than a month, for instance, humanity will be completely surprised and “caught with our pants down” as famine and pandemic result.  So much of our food reaches us via container ships that, when the container ports are shut down by a sea level increase of a foot or two, shiploads of food will spoil at sea, grocery store shelves will get sparse, and there is a danger of people panicking and making runs on the grocery stores and banks.

I certainly hope humanity comes to its senses soon.   Thanks for reading — Tim

Empty Subdivisions and Crumbling Infrastructure Could Follow the Population Explosion

With  the population over 7 billion people now, heading for 10 billion by 2050 or so, the earth’s resources will be insufficient, sooner or later, and there will be a period of problems that will result in population collapse.  After that decade (or three) of ever larger natural disasters, epidemics and wars we will be left with vast wildernesses of empty, decaying buildings.  The infrastructure will be, at best, worse than it is now, and nonexistent in some places.  The sprawling subdivisions of North America will be sparsely populated and most houses and buildings will be crumbling with nobody to keep them up, and no money or materials for the task, either.  Freeways will be useful for all kinds of traffic with very few or no cars left.  Fossil fuels will be scarce and too expensive for most people, and walking, cycling, and a revival of horse transportation will become the norm.  When the freeway overpasses crumble and fall people will just use the on and off ramps to go around them.

It is hard, from here, to imagine how the aftermath of the population explosion will play out, but times will certainly be hard.  And still there is no meaningful or constructive public discussion of how we can reduce the birthrate, and news media continue to trumpet big business’s line that growth is essential and that population decline is a thing to be avoided.  That is frightening.

Thanks for reading, and please help people understand how much more important overpopulation is than any of the problems we see daily, almost all of which result from it.  – Tim

Will the Cost of Overpopulation Bring Us Down?

Look at each of the world’s most threatening and pervasive problems and their cost projections.  Would a subset of them be able to bankrupt a major national (or regional) economy?  Will the coming population explosion cause major problems when those nations that still have funding for problem mitigation run out of money? Continue reading

Nation-scale Energy Sustainability May Be Closer Than It Appears

More and more often I am seeing articles like this one, describing how wind, solar, and hydropower are making fossil fuel-powered energy plants increasingly obsolete.  The long term survival of humanity and all life on the planet may hinge on how many humans we load onto the planet, how much energy we each use, and how much pollution is associated with that energy.  Sustainable sources have a lot less pollution associated with them than traditional sources, and this is largely a result of manufacturing processes rather than operating outcomes.  When whole countries start becoming self-sufficient on alternative, cleaner power sources, everyone benefits.  Our long term future depends on achieving complete, long term sustainability, and every country will have to invest in sustainable power if they are to support a clean (survivable) environment.

Thanks for reading — Tim

How Long Can We Afford Our Weather Disasters?

2017 was a record year for the cost of weather disasters, and this article reviews them in detail.  Infrastructure has become critically overdue for repairs during the last few years. Can we afford to fix the outcomes of weather disasters in the future?  When will we no longer be able to afford to cope with weather disasters or fix our infrastructure?  Can that time be far away?

I hope to stick around and watch, and hope that Americans will get smarter (and more principled) soon.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Agricultural Practices Can Mitigate Global Warming

This article from the Weather Underground folks pulls together several study results to show how farmers around the world are finding new methods that reduce the negative effects of climate change and provide sustainable, productive agriculture.  We need a LOT more of this kind of thinking, and hopefully it will help buy us time until we can see our way to controlling the population explosion.  We will never be safe and our civilization will never be sustainable in the long run without that.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Weather Disasters Appear to Be the Wave of the Future

As the planet warms, and as scientists have predicted for decades, weather events have become more severe, more quick to develop, and the costs have skyrocketed.  This past hurricane season included two with over a billion dollars in damage.  Our infrastructure is already in bad shape generally, and rising sea levels are compromising more and more of that infrastructure in the most populated areas of the planet.  What next? Continue reading