How Can Civilization Avoid the Population Explosion?

Looking back on my handful of decades of observation, I agree with published experts who see the pace of change in technology and possibly in human civilization accelerating. Population charts also show a rapid upswing that will eventually exceed our resources and infrastructure, but a number of efforts to avoid disaster are ongoing, most relatively weak and some wrong-headed, but they are better than nothing. More importantly they may end up buying much needed time to cope with the negative consequences of the population explosion.  But will it be enough?  And how do we avoid enabling the population to continue to skyrocket-to-disaster?People around the world are beginning to understand.   Enough of us have been talking openly about our situation, and enough evidence is stacking up, that increasing numbers of people are recognizing we have a serious problem, and I’ve seen a great consciousness-raising going on, at least in the developed countries.  It seems logical to anyone who thinks about it, but any remedial measures we can come up with can be buried by the demands of the exploding population, leaving us with one option: we (all humans) absolutely MUST stop having children, at least in the numbers we are today, and the birthrate must be reduced as quickly as possible to a very low rate, perhaps ten percent of what we see in most places today, and held there indefinitely.  This will be a lot easier if it is done voluntarily, but that will require people be educated enough to understand the facts, and that the facts will get to them.  Both increased education and the dissemination of facts about the population explosion are frequently blocked by big business (especially media companies) and business-funded politicians, but their efforts are only increasing the global risk and worsening the catastrophes that will (hopefully not) accompany the population peak, which is expected before 2050.

Proof is all around: people are doing things that prove they understand.  More people than ever recycle, and solar panels and wind generators of all sizes are appearing with increasing frequency.  Hybrid cars are selling well.  Low flush toilets and highly efficient LED lighting are rapidly becoming standard.  This suggests that the majority of people are not only aware of our environmental and energy issues, but are actively working to mitigate them (and for many this is because they are saving money in the process.)

All that is very encouraging, but we’re putting more and more precious resources, time, and energy into these projects, yet we rarely discuss the most important question: Does that new alternative energy system or conservation method we’re using (for example) do enough to save the planet as to be worth the investment? Or does it just buy time for the population to grow even larger, worsening the resulting systemic collapses, until the scope of the disasters swamps whatever those projects did to mitigate the problems? We need to learn a lot more about this question, and apply that knowledge as quickly and effectively as possible.

Is a big crash, or a series of terrible crashes, inevitable?  I think so, as I see far too little change in birthrates.  Can we “invent our way out of this one?” Probably not.  Most inventions only make our lives easier, prompting our procreative impulses and resulting in more children.  The inventions that can truly help are those that, one way or another, decrease the birth rate, but it isn’t clear what those would be – possibly a meme that gets people thinking seriously about the coming population bomb, and how to escape or minimize it.  Technological change may help, of course, but it is definitely not the answer except as it reduces the human birth rate.  I believe the global human birth rate is the single factor defining our future over the rest of the century.  Can we transcend our instincts, especially if it is essential for our survival?

I have the old dreams, though.  In the 1930’s people dreamed about flying cars.  I dream that somebody will invent a Flash Gordon-like power source, possibly fusion power, that will cheaply and reliably power the farms, trains, factories, and ships that feed, clothe, and transport us.  I can’t imagine another way we can keep much of our current standard of living.

Alternative energy sources will be a key part of our infrastructure.  I dream of every possible technical device powering itself from solar, thermal, mechanical, chemical (potato battery?), or other low- or no-impact sources.  Given a really potent and cheap power source, we could revive space research and someday find a way off of the planet in large numbers.  Of course, neighbors in the galaxy might not view that so positively.  Without such an invention, however, space travel may be curtailed for decades or even centuries until a much more sustainable situation exists.

One invention that appeals to our inventive nature and that might be able to keep us from large scale cataclysms is a new source of electrical power, which will probably be either nuclear fusion or fusion-like, though I’m sure there are other concepts being researched.  There are currently a number of projects around the world to develop this capability, and perhaps several of them will come up with a successful system such that we will have extremely inexpensive, almost limitless electricity within 20 years.  (By then the grid will require replacement, however, so energy costs won’t drop as much as one might hope.)  Times will be tough unless and until something like fusion power lets us live in outer space and grow all the food we need away from the earth.  I’m not holding my breath on that one, though.

thanks for reading, and please discuss this and similar topics anywhere,


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