Not With a Bang, But With a Whimper


I fully believe that the world will find a new, sustainable situation within the next century or two, as we get over our big “high” on fossil fuels and things settle down again, possibly with a new energy source (fusion looks possible, eventually).  I have read so many predictions of cataclysms, the poisoning of the environment, worldwide epidemics, world wars, drought and famine … They all sound dire, and I can’t discount the possibility that some of them will occur to some extent, but, short of a major asteroid collision or similar cosmic-scale event, I have to believe change will generally come not with a bang, but a whimper.  Still, the challenges before us are many, and important.

Population still appears to be our biggest problem.  Like the birds in Northern Lower Michigan a couple of decades ago in the years after a major tent caterpillar infestation, our food and energy supply has been so abundant that we have been able to propagate like crazy, and have reached a population that, without question, can not be sustained without fossil fuels.  Since, before this big surge of growth, world human population never got much above a billion (as far as we know), that indicates that the population must go back to a billion or so as fossil fuels are exhausted, which appears to be highly probable over the next 50 to 100 years. 

Improved energy efficiency might permit a small percentage more, but, even with those improvements, it doesn’t look like we can have the standard of living prevalent in the developed countries and keep our current numbers.  Fusion power, if and when it comes about, may provide some incremental improvement, perhaps the biggest improvement in the situation in centuries, but I would guess our numbers must still get below 2 billion to achieve real sustainability.

Population reduction can be achieved the easy way, by a massive, worldwide educational effort focused especially on the developing countries, if it successfully convinces people to almost completely stop having children in the next decade, and to limit their family sizes thereafter.  The alternative is a set of frightening scenarios I won’t mention here, except to say that “the four horsemen” come to mind.  If we are smart, and public policy can be turned to address overpopulation in the near term as opposed to just symptoms such as climate change and pollution, we may be able to find an easier path to the future than the worst cases.  I don’t know how many major problems will have to crop up before the majority of people begin to understand the situation, though.

I, for one, continue to harangue my political representatives to make overpopulation a part of their thinking, their platforms, and the bills they propose and support, but this sort of action is needed from a lot more people than are apparently aware of the situation now.  I urge each and every one of you to communicate this demand to your political representatives immediately, that their action is needed at once.  We will need to continue to push this understanding into the political and public consciousness for the rest of our lives, I believe, so that our grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, will be able to live happy and comfortable lives as most of us in the developed countries have over the past century.  We can minimize the “whimpering”, but it requires concentrated and consistent action from here on.

I welcome your comments, as always.

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4 responses to “Not With a Bang, But With a Whimper

  1. Not to worry. The Green promoted biofuels scam looks like it may very well kill off at least a billion people.

    You done good.

    This is better. No need to kill any one:

    WB-7 First Plasma

  2. I took a look at M.Simon’s link and related information, but even the late Dr. Bussard, himself very excited about the potential in fusion-generated electricity, which he was working on, suggested that it will take one to two decades to create a practical fusion power source, and it will cost at least a couple of hundred million dollars (though that has been worth less of late – is that a discount?). It’s debatable whether, when, and how much a new power source such as this would mitigate the problems of overpopulation, which will have accrued significantly by then.

    Some people that commented on other sites have not read my items accurately, apparently, and think I am either some kind of radical “Green” or that I am suggesting that population be reduced by some kind of aggressive action.

    First, I think I am far too pragmatic to be a Green. I am not tied to any political group. Instead, I try to continually learn about everything I can, especially if it relates to the futures I write about here, and think critically about it all, applying a lot more than a “grain of salt” in the process.

    Second, I am pretty close to being a pacifist. I believe that no war has ever been won, as the human misery and loss associated with war are inevitable, and the economic and moral losses at the national or group level have long term, extremely negative consequences to the cultures and those within them. A culture obsessed with revenge and hatred from wars of the past is a sick culture with far too much potential to perpetuate and inflict misery. How a culture gets out of that rut is a subject I would like to see seriously researched, as such knowledge could be a big help in establishing a state of relative world peace that would be good for humanity in general, and would doubtless help us reach stability and sustainability.

    I appreciate your comments. – Tim

  3. Tim, great post, but you included no mention of the role of immigration in the continued overpopulating of the U.S. (And the U.S. is clearly overpopulated when it requires a trade deficit in every category of natural resources, including food, to sustain itself.) Immigration (legal and illegal) accounts for most of our population growth, and the high birth rate among the foreign-born population accounts for much of the rest.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, Five Short Blasts

  4. Thanks, Pete. I have addressed immigration in other posts, but neglected it in this one. Immigration will certainly become a much bigger problem if we don’t help the developing countries control their population growth with assistance in the areas of education, family planning, and efficient, ecologically-responsible ways of increasing standards of living.

    There is a lot of bang for the buck there, in education and family planning especially, and hopefully the next administration will take a much more proactive position (and action) in these areas.
    Thanks again for your comment. — Tim

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