Our society is doomed if…

6 10 2012

Just read an interesting article from James Kwak over at http://baselinescenario.com/


He proposes that we must do two things to continue being a great country:  Have great opportunities in the form of education, and have a safety net for people down on their luck.  I agree with both… except for one problem outlined in Atlas Shrugged:

In the abscense of consequences, people will continuously make babies and live forever.

Our society is doomed if we do not somehow stem the tide of people being born and an ever exponentially increasing population.  If you’re poor and you know every kid you have will be taken care of the state, and that every kid you have is going to have great opportunities to go to school, get ahead, and have a better life than you, why wouldn’t you have more kids?  The poor aren’t worried about sending their kids to private schools that cost as much as college.  Hell, some send their kids to school in the same clothes everyday (story from a personal finance blogger when they were a kid, I forget which blog though).

Hans Rosling did a great TED talk on education and how it lowers birth rates in countries.  He predicted that we would cap out at around 10 billion people given the trends he was looking at, essentially saying that our birth rates have stabilized and that each generation would be about the same size, but that the oldest generations currently alive have about 1/2 the people in their demographic vs the newest one being born to replace them, and that over the next few decades the old generation will die off losing 2 billion, but the next generation replacing them will be 4 billion, capping out at 10 billion.

Here’s the problem: there aren’t enough resources to allow 10 billion people to live at even lower middle class levels.  In fact, based on a report I read a while back, if we farmed every available acre of arable land without using fertilizer, AND everyone in the world was a vegetarian, Earth could support roughly 6 billion people.  If america still existed (aka there are lots of beef eaters), 4 billion.

In other words if Hans is right (and there are people who predict we’ll continuously grow to 15, 20, or even 25 billion), we are ALREADY going to be exceeding the carrying capacity of Earth by about 5 billion people, or twice as much.

The Collapse

There’s a great documentary called “The collapse” about oil and how society is boned.  Here are my two favorite points from it.

Population growth in nature

Do you remember in high school learning the dynamics of predator and prey populations in the wild?  I?t looks like this:

As the prey decreases, there is less food for the predator, so they die off.  The fewer predators stocking around, the easier it is for the prey to reproduce, so their population shoots up.  As more food is available, the predator population jumps, until they begin over eating their food supply and the prey decreases, beginning the cycle anew.

Now, if you graph the growth of the human population against time, it looks much like the graph of the gazelles in the absence of lions, right before a precipitous fall.  This pattern is seen all over nature.  There is simply no way a population can grow uncontrolled (hopefully this is true of the chinese stink bug which is growing and pestering our farmers more and more).  We are headed toward a cataclysm, most likely brought on by ourselves.  To me the two major problems are: our society now spans the earth and we have access to bigger and bigger WMDs every year.  When your people are starving, using your military to take resources from other countries seems like a better and better idea… no wonder the US maintains such a huge standing military.

Industrial food chains

Do you know where your food comes from?  Let me tell you a little story about how the modern industrial farm works.

It begins with a seed.  A genetically modified to resist pesticides seed, being delivered to the farm via truck.  The fields are plowed using tractors.  Seeds are planted, again using tractors, perhaps a different kind or with a different attachment.  To grow, the seeds are covered with fertilizer, derived from fossil fuels.  Seeds need sunlight and water of course.  The seed grows into a plant, most likely corn, and come harvest season, is harvested by another kind of tractor.  They are then put on trucks and driven to a place like a grain elevator, where they are collected and then sent via truck or train to processing factories.  These factories use all kinds of chemicals to tear down the plants, and then send those building blocks to another factory where processed foods are made from them.  The food is wrapped in plastic (derived from fossil fuel), and again shipped via truck to your regional distributor, followed by your local grocery store.

How many of those steps involved fossil fuel?  No need to count, the answer is all of them except for the water and sunshine step (although laying pipes to water crops would use fossil fuels).  With gas approaching 5 dollars a gallon in California, you should be asking yourself, what the ef?

My thoughts

This post ended up being much longer than I had anticipated.  The way I see it, with bickering politicians and no unifying belief system for population which spans the Earth, we are totally screwed.  Personally I see a few possibilities.

  • The most likely, a tumultous and devastating cataclysm that kills off huge swatchs of the human population, resulting in the overthrowing of governments and other crazy things, ideally ending with humans still alive with some of our knowledge of science preserved.
  • Mass starvation followed by rioting, leading to scenario A.  Over 50% of counties in the US are in drought.  The chinese stink bug, an aging water infrastructure, and many other factors are constantly attacking our ability to grow food.  Do the math.
  • Life continues as we know it til I die.  The best situation I could hope for and the number one reason I don’t want to have kids.  If I’m lucky society’s problems won’t bite us in the ass until I’m dead.  Good for me but not exactly a plesant outlook on life.


I wish I could say I had some solution, but I don’t.  I do have several ideas for things that might help.

  • Higher education with a focus on sciences for everyone.  Smarter people have fewer kids, it’s a fact.  Educate them and decrease the population, at least postponing the inevitible, at most producing an intelligent generation who can correct the massive faults we’ve built our society on top of.
  • People need to accept death.  It’s now possible to spend millions of dollars to prolong someone’s life.  Who’s going to foot that bill?
  • Mental health facilities and prison reform.  I’ve never seen a normal, well adjusted homeless person, only drug addicts or people who are mentallydeficient in some way, perhaps if they had easy access to help or early intervention they wouldn’t be on the streets.  I never understood the point of prison, all you’re doing is putting adults on timeout and paying for their room, board, and medical expenses.  They get out years later, mentally and emotionally still the same age as they were when they went in, and somehow they’re supposed to feed themselves?  It’s like a caged animal, most won’t readjust to nature.  Plus, with a surplus of people looking for work, who’s going to hire someone with a record?
  • Share, community, religion, philosophy.  There are many ways to expand people’s lives that don’t include buying an iPad.  Our society should teach these, embrace these, and spread these.  I really feel guilty having a $500 scanner that I plan to use once a week tops.  I wish I could loan it to people.  Someone needs to invent that.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  My next post will likely be an update on my life and why I haven’t posted anything in so long, lol.




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