All my life, growing up in the capitalist United States economy, the success of the system has depended on growth. This is widely recognized, and growth is often invoked as a remedy for economic problems. “Growth ” has become a business (and, by extension, government) mantra – the panacea for all our ills. Unfortunately, this makes no sense at a very fundamental level. How big will we grow and how much resources will we devour reaching the point where population is completely unsustainable, and famine and disease roam the world killing millions? Can we stop worshipping growth now?
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If you’ve never been to a maker faire, especially a big regional one like the one at the Henry Ford, you have missed a lot of fun, not to mention the sight of a huge group of people of all ages having more fun than you’ve ever seen before.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to spend the afternoon with my friends of the Illuminatus Light Show demonstrating and explaining inexpensive laser light show equipment to people of all ages, which was a blast in itself, but the wild things going on everywhere inside and outside the museum were highly entertaining, too. Robots of every size and description, crazy looking multi-rider bicycles, and amazing costumes and contraptions were everywhere, being demonstrated and with their inner workings exposed to all. There were a lot of people learning how to solder and construct and program their ideas into a technological form. That was all great, but there was also a LOT of a most striking current-and-future technology: 3D printing. Continue reading
For years I have watched the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMO), predominantly food items, with interest but not been sure where the problem was. Recent news articles have given me some new thoughts on the matter and a real cause for concern, however. Current genetic modifications, predominantly created and promoted by Monsanto, make food crops resistant to weed-killing chemicals so that more of those chemicals can be used without harming the crops. The higher yield of those crops is offered as reason enough to use these genetically modified seeds. The GM crops are generally tougher to kill and that, while it has benefits, presents the real problems. Continue reading
Food systems are going to be of primary importance as population peaks. If, as the UN says, population will reach more than 9 billion in the 2040’s before beginning a steep decline, the causes of that decline are important to consider today. A historical review of population reductions shows that neither war nor the natural disasters we’ve seen so far make a noticeable difference, but suggests that famine and possibly disease have the potential to make major reductions in the population. Decades ago I expected that we might pollute our world so badly that average lifespans would fall, but there has been some progress on preserving the environment and it appears that energy and food shortages created by overpopulation are bigger concerns. (Of course, the primary concern SHOULD be overpopulation itself, as these other problems are results of it.) If organic food and farming methods are more costly than agribusiness’ methods now, why would they replace the hugely productive methods used to produce most food in the developed world today? Continue reading
Are the chickens of the population explosion coming home to roost? An Associated Press article today covered the employment situation in the United States, where the addition of 150,000 jobs in the last month barely matched the increase in the population. It occurred to me that these new people in the population will themselves have children someday, and that in the near future we may see the population growth consistently exceeding the addition of jobs by higher and higher margins. This suggests large and increasing numbers of people will be unemployed, and the middle class will be driven into poverty by the simple mathematics of the population explosion. In addition, conservative attacks on unions and public schools means the middle class will be less well educated and increasingly powerless before corporations larger and more powerful than most countries. Continue reading
Will the global economy improve for the average person? Or are we sinking into an age in which workers are more and more powerless before their corporate employers and 99% of us live as serfs, forced into poverty and submission to our corporate overlords? Almost everyone agrees that corporations have far too much influence on government, laws, and our lives today. This situation has evolved slowly, but today corporations, aided by corporate-dominated government, are pushing harder than ever to take control of our lives and economies, purely for profit. As a result, the direction of most economies is towards businesses increasing control of government and a decline in the power of the individual. This suggests political and economic turmoil could increase as unscrupulous corporations skew economies for profit and people react and organize to oppose them, but that it is unlikely the situation will get better. The big issues we all face, like the population explosion and dependence on fossil fuels, will continue to be mostly ignored, though some portions of the population understand and will fight back to keep their rights and protect society, with limited effect. So where might we be in a few decades, and how likely is it that change could favor the people?
How will we live when fossil fuel reserves have almost run out? Scientists and students of human history accept that human population will continue to explode until the energy sources fueling this incredible expansion start to run out. It is clear that a collapse of civilization will occur, probably over a period of decades in the mid-to-late 21st century. The change will be too rapid to cope with effectively, especially given skyrocketing energy costs and infrastructure breakdowns. The magnitude of the disasters involved will vary depending on how soon we wise up as a species, improve our long-range planning, and get serious about mitigating the coming challenges. While substitute energy sources will be developed quickly, the sheer numbers of humans being born onto the planet, day by day, may exceed our ability to build and deploy the replacement hardware and infrastructure, and the inability of most people to afford it may be an additional problem.
In the aftermath people will live quite differently from how we live today. After a period of decline that might last several decades, or perhaps a century, what remains will stabilize and coalesce into a new human civilization with some significant differences from what we know today. For instance, energy consumption per person will need to be a tenth or less of what people currently consume in North America. Here are a few ideas that might describe how we will live then. Continue reading