That the Bottleneck is Unavoidable
Allow me an indulgence. After more than a decade of searching for answers, and attending to the major trends in our world, I have come to certain conclusions about the future of humanity. I haven't made a secret of my now fairly firm belief that in the not-too-distant future humanity will suffer an evolutionary bottleneck event concurrent with a sixth major extinction. Ironically this extinction event is being brought on by humanity itself. Freed from the ordinary biological constraints that keep other species in check in normal ecological feedback loops, and bolstered by the discovery of incredible power stored in fossil fuels and nuclear fission, humans have used their cleverness to grow far beyond the natural carrying capacity afforded by real-time solar influx. And the problems caused by this fact have grown obvious to most. We are altering our climate. We are polluting our environment. We are diminishing the quality of soils and water. And we are behaving badly toward one another, as well as the rest of the biosphere.
Nor am I alone in this conclusion. In fact, increasingly, my company is becoming more respectable. For some time people like Paul Ehrlich, Dennis and Donella Meadows, and others have been warning of the dangers coming if humanity didn't take action (as far back as the 60's and 70'). Lately they are joined by William Catton, James Lovelock, and even the Astronomer Royal of England, Sir Martin Rees, in sounding alarm bells more loudly and more urgently. James Hansen (formerly of NASA), one of the most outspoken researchers on climate change, has gone radical in protesting the lack of any government action to prevent runaway warming. I suppose you could say I feel a bit vindicated, but that is not really a good feeling. I wish it were not the case.
If you want to know why I am so convinced of this outcome, I have put together a list of things that, from a systems perspective, seem to me to be necessary actions needed to minimize the negative impacts rapidly approaching. We cannot prevent all of those impacts, but in theory if these actions were taken immediately we would be able to salvage some portion of the population and preserve our species (which as long-time readers know I don't think is actually such a good idea in light of the foolishness we manifest). Note that the situation is entirely systemic. All of the items on this list interact in complex, nonlinear ways so that you can't just pick and choose the one or ones you think will do the job. All will have to be done, together, for there to be any positive effect. Once you see the list, and ponder the likelihood that our population will do any of them, let alone all, you will understand my conviction.
The list is of actions that are needed (in my hopefully informed estimation) and I derived it from the myriad problems that are growing in intensity and can be found to be caused by us. This list is of actions that would counter those problems. Since I have already written extensively about how this would be the case, I refer newer readers to past posts on topics related to Current Affairs, Political Economy, Evolution, Sapience, and the Human Condition (left sidebar). If you scroll down the page you will see a link to prior years Achieves. You can also do a search on some of the terms I use here to find prior articles on the subjects.
How We Could Save Humanity
Here is the list of minimal actions needed to salvage some semblance of humanity:
- Stop all reproduction
No new babies for twenty years at least and then only ten percent of the adult population should be allowed to reproduce afterward.
- Stop capitalistic profit taking
Forever. No more capitalism and profiting ever again. Freeze prices and wages (except for the overpaid executives; reduce theirs).
- Take back the wealth of the top 10%
It will be needed to support survival activities.
- Destroy the financial system
Revert banking to hold savings and eliminate securities and futures markets.
- Reallocate housing to handle the poor
Move those living in squalor and homeless into the mansions in the Hamptons (for example)
- Put all able-bodied men and women to work restoring soils and growing food for local consumption
Turn all arable and climate-viable land over to permaculture.
- Begin immediate mass migrations of peoples living in climate danger zones
For example all of the people of the MENA and central Africa regions are in danger from severe climate change. They will need to be relocated north as far as Russia and Europe.
- Eliminate all luxury product/service productions
Re- purpose the capital to producing absolute necessities such as plows! Besides, with some of the above actions there won't be anyone who could afford to buy luxuries.
- Redirect all fossil fuel production to supply energy for recycling materials, food production, and migration
Minimize energy consumption by the public to just that essential to support the above.
Our population size is probably the single most damaging aspect. Even in so-called developing regions that are not using a lot of technology, the damage done to the environment by the sheer overwhelming numbers as they struggle to make a living is tremendous. Those in the developed world enable the population growth in the developing and underdeveloped world through various aid packages and loans. The citizens of the developed world do damage indirectly by consuming huge amounts of resources in non-essential products and services. Collectively the human population of 7 billion people has been estimated to be in overshoot several time over. By one estimate (based on energy footprint analysis) it would take five Earths to support this population and not do damage to the environment. Meanwhile, one our only Earth, the damage accrues and is approaching a point where it can't be self-healing.
Capitalism and profit taking contribute directly to the consumption of non-renewable and cost-intensive recyclable resources. Indeed it has accelerated the rate of use of even technically renewable resources such as soils and water beyond the steady state so that even these resources are becoming essentially non-renewable in the time scale in which they are being degraded. The financial system employed around the world is totally dependent of growth in order to service the debt it creates in the name of profits. It leads to massive disparities in wealth distribution which in recent years has become truly excessive. Those possessing more wealth than the average are going to need to sacrifice the most.
If some of this sounds familiar that is because much of it is. Some of these actions were taken in the name of communism by Russian and Chinese (and other Asian satellites) communist parties. Undoubtedly this can be branded as socialism at best. And I agree. The communist experiment with socialism ended badly by comparison to the creature luxurious lifestyles of the capitalist west. There is certainly no argument about that. But the situation was entirely different, wasn't it? Humanity, by the beginning of the Cold War, for example, was just starting to exploit the power of fossil fuels in a super-industrial fashion. WWII had taught us how to maximize our rate of consumption in the west. There was plenty of energy to fund the expansion of the middle class. So the comparison between what happened in the west with what happened in the east is basically unfair. We won the war and so won control over the resources (Russia and China would only slowly understand that they needed to exploit their energy resources to build wealth). Communism/socialism failed to produce wealth because those countries did not have the energy to emulate the west. Well, and because the overseers were corrupt and stupid. That had something to do with the outcomes. But the point is that during that time it was, in principle, feasible to create more wealth over time - to grow. That time has passed. The rules are now quite different.
So please understand that I am not advocating socialism for the sake of an ideology. My point is that the above list represents the only feasible response to the pending disaster. Even with such a response, coordinated by truly wise, intelligent, and benevolent people, there will still be many lost. The situation now is entirely different from what it was after WWI and WWII. Today the whole world faces the crisis. Socialism may be seen as a political response to deprivations (real or imagined) and an economic response to keeping the lower classes from revolt. It may have been motivated by progressive sentiments for fairness and equality, but it had its practical effect when people were living a subsistence lifestyle. Unfortunately it was implemented by mere humans.
Many of you, in fact, may have reacted to items on this list with revulsion (and recognized the actions as having been tried before and failed). I fully expect to get all sorts of comments and e-mails pointing out to me how horrible the idea is. And that is exactly my point. These actions are abhorrent to the vast majority of people from all sorts of political and ideological perspectives. Most people could not even imagine these happening. Whether libertarian (get rid of the coordinators and let us do our own thing), or progressive (growth and abundance for all), the concept of a planned and managed shut down of international and even inter-regional commerce is unthinkable. And that very fact is why we are where we are now. We can't help it.
What is the Likelihood?
So there it is. I've written a lot over the years about these options, in one way or another. There are two critical parameters that are driving us to the brink of oblivion, and one critical cause. The parameters are the population size and total energy consumption (from fossil fuels). A side effect of the capitalistic approach resulting in the great disparity of energy per capita is exacerbating this parameter. The critical cause is our inherent lack of sufficient sapience throughout the population to see the errors of our greed and assumptions about what constitutes a good life, as well as how to best use our cleverness/technology. The two parameters are, in a sense, self correcting by virtue of the bottleneck event. Most of the population (possibly all) will die of starvation, exposure, disease, or conflicts if things continue in this way. Some of the future events may be triggered by the decline in availability of cheap fossil fuels which will surely trigger conflicts, but also translate into higher costs for food and other necessities.
Frankly I do not think there is anything to be done about the critical cause. Biology is at the root of it. Given the broken education system we have (globally) and that it actually is teaching our youth to not try to be wise (or even really intelligent), I cannot see how education will boost whatever native sapience people possess.
Thus I ask: What is the likelihood that humanity can be salvaged? What is the likelihood that leaders of the world will wake up some morning (soon) and realize that they had got it all wrong? How likely is it that the citizens of China will wake up and realize that their old agrarian lifestyle was really the best way to live and give up the idea of making wealth in the cities? How likely is it that the Lloyd Blankfeins and Jamie Dimons of the world will realize that their pursuit of raw profits from trading risks is stupid and killing the world? How likely is it that economists of all stripes will finally realize that their notions of growth and prosperity are actually leading us all to ruin? And how likely is it that people will, in general, come out of denial in time?
Do you see my point? No one will like the program of actions. No one will give up on the hope that we can restore our pursuit of wealth. No one will admit that they have to sacrifice a lot if we are to salvage humanity. At least not until it really is too late for even these actions to make a difference. Indeed, it may already be too late. The rate of glacier and polar ice melting, the anomalous weather patterns, the continued high price of non-conventional oil while the conventional (cheaper) production is in decline, and many other signs may be telling us it is too late. But if it isn't, if we haven't passed some hidden tipping point, then our only real hope for salvation lies in taking the actions I've outlined. Yet what are the chances we will?
What Other Conclusion Can One Draw?
The logic is certainly simple. Claim: it takes A, B, & C to succeed. Support: link cause and effect in evidence. Fact: No one wants or believes A, B, & C. Fact: nearly everyone needs to agree to act. Ergo: nothing will get done until it is too late.
When the proverbial fecal matter hits the proverbial rotating blades most people will react, of course. They will do what they think is best for them, even if it means robbing or killing. Some will seek shelter in remote areas and solitude as if we were under a zombie attack. My hope is that a few wiser groups will form and isolate themselves in regions that will be relatively stable climate-wise. They will focus on skills in producing the essentials of life based on real-time solar energy inputs. They might survive.
But you may have another conclusion. What is yours, and on what basis do you make it? What evidence do you have? Simply saying you just can't believe my conclusion is valid is not sufficient. You need to show where my evidence is wrong or that counter evidence exists to warrant another (possible) conclusion. I'm open to arguments with merit. In fact I hope someone can shoot me down on this, for obvious reasons.