World Population Will Grow 30% To 9.8 Billion by 2050

GR: By 2050, our global population will increase by more than 2 billion people. That’s if nothing gets in the way. The projected growth comes at a time when the Earth’s capacity to support us is in decline. Add the increasingly fierce storms of an unbalanced climate system to the problems of dwindling resources, and calamity becomes unavoidable. It’s too late to rebuild Earth’s food-producing ecosystems, prevent climate upheaval, or control our reproductive urges in time to avoid disaster, but we can prepare for the inevitable crash. Those of us who can’t stuff our pockets with oil money can use our minds instead and begin studying the options.

“The global population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050, up from 7.5 billion now, according to the 2017 World Population Data Sheet. This year’s edition includes a special focus on the world’s youth (ages 15-24), with indicators and analytical graphics that assess whether youth are poised to become productive adults.” –2017 World Population Data Sheet (Population Reference Bureau)

GR:  I just ran across another good discussion by Richard Heinberg (http://www.postcarbon.org/why-climate-change-isnt-our-biggest-environmental-problem-and-why-technology-wont-save-us). It’s certainly worth a read.

When and How Will Growth Cease?

GR:  The three ways that Jason Brent (article introduced below) believes our unsustainable economic and population growth will end make sense, but choosing between the two methods of population control (as opposed to lethal disasters, the first method) requires rational behavior. Nothing in our history suggests that humanity makes rational decisions at global scales. That leaves only Brent’s first way, “Wars, most likely with weapons of mass destruction, disease, starvation, civil strife and other horrors beyond the imagination.” Let’s think about that.

Among the many scientists studying climate, even the most conservative are beginning to accept that global temperature will rise by 4-degrees Celsius by 2100. The accelerated weather extremes that come with the warming will add to the pressure of limited resources on economic growth, even growth at realistic rates of 2% or 1.5%.

The greatest short-term climate change effects on growth will be reductions of agricultural productivity, marine fisheries, and freshwater supplies. These will force migrations and resource conflicts that will begin to trim population and economic growth well before the end of the century. Several uncertain events could further shorten the period of economic growth. Pandemic disease, loss of arctic ice, methane release, and power failure leading to nuclear reactor meltdown are just a few of the possibilities.

As others have pointed out, reducing population will not stop economic growth before current resource limitations and the compounding effect of climate change cause a crash. Disaster preparations at national and local levels are essential. Richard Heinberg recently offered two approaches to preparing for the crash. I recommend reading my and Heinberg’s comments along with Brent’s in the article below.

Jason G. Brent– “Only with knowledge will humanity survive. Our search for knowledge will encounter uncertainties and unknowns, but search we must. The search must persist and adapt as humanity’s present knowledge is expanded and changed. Continued allegiance to the false belief that human population and our current economic system can grow indefinitely, runs directly counter to this search for knowledge. Those that espouse this belief hinder our search for the knowledge critical to humanity’s survival.

“Since Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, both population and economic growth must cease sometime in the future. To use ridiculous examples to prove a point– Earth could not support 1 trillion people for even one moment and Earth could not support an economy 1 trillion times as large as the current economy for even one moment. Therefore, the following questions arise:

  1. When will growth cease? and
  2. How will growth cease?

“We can debate when growth will cease, but we cannot debate the fact that it will cease. Those who take the position that growth in the number of people, the resources they use, and the waste they create can continue on a finite Earth are, again, arrogant fools. While new technologies, recycling and any other actions taken by humanity can reduce the amount of resources used per unit of economic activity/output, neither new technologies, recycling nor any other actions taken by humanity can convert the finite and limited resources Earth provides humanity into infinite resources that will permit economic activity and population to grow forever.

“Almost every resource Earth provides humanity is finite. The more we use today the less we have for tomorrow. Theoretically, Earth provides humanity with two types of resources: renewable resources and nonrenewable resources. Nonrenewable resources include fossil fuels and minerals. Renewable resources include soil, water, forest growth, fish in the ocean, and similar items. In reality, humanity is using almost every theoretically renewable resource faster than it can be naturally replaced and, therefore, for all practical purposes, renewable resources have become nonrenewable. Well before these resources are exhausted, we will find them harder to exploit. Humanity in the past has used those resources which were the easiest to obtain, had the highest concentrations of the minerals desired, the easiest to process, and closest to the place where they would be used. In the future humanity will be forced to use resources which are harder to obtain, have lower concentrations, are harder to process, and further from the place of usage. We will therefore face the challenges of higher prices, reduced returns, and greater processing waste well before the resources are exhausted. In many cases we already are.

“Yet many economists, politicians, and even environmentalists will have you believe that the economy can continue to grow in spite of the fact that resources and sinks are limited. The recent budget proposal from the Trump administration relies on the assumption of 3% growth of the U.S. economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[1]. Since the economy will grow in a compound manner, a 3% annual growth rate would cause the economy of the USA to double about every 23.33 years. In 233 years there would be 10 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1,000 and in 466 years there would be 20 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1 million. In under 100 years at the same annual growth rate, there would be over 4 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 16–2,4,8,16. The resources that will be available to the USA in under 100 years will not permit the economy of the USA to be 16 times as large as the current economy.  Do you have any facts that would support the position that the economy of the USA could become 16 times as large as the current economy in under 100 years?

“Instead, the evidence suggests that attempting to maintain an annual compound economic growth rate of 3% which would result in four doublings in 100 years, or a growth factor of sixteen, would result in the collapse of civilization. Why? Economic growth requires the use of physical resources. Without the use of physical resources, economic growth cannot and will not continue. It is almost certain that the earth cannot supply humanity, on an overall basis, with four times the resources it presently supplies. History suggests that resource constraints are more likely to lead to wars and disease than previously unseen economic flourishing and wellbeing.

“It is not my intent to pick on Donald Trump in this essay, as the majority of candidates and major political parties, across levels of politics, have taken the position that growth is the solution to all or almost all of the problems faced today by humanity. Anyone who believes growth is a solution to any of the problems presently faced by humanity ignores the fact that Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, the power of compound growth and the fact that the human population is exploding.  Almost all of the problems faced by humanity today were caused, in whole or in part, by the combined impact of economic and population growth.” –Jason G. Brent (Continue: When and How Will Growth Cease? | MAHB).

Are We Doomed or Can We Survive the Coming Crash?

GR: I read an interesting article by Richard Heinberg published on the Post Carbon Institute website on Thursday. The article offers two responses to the coming crash that improve our chances for surviving The solutions are quite clearly presented and I think you will agree with me that they make sense.

The crash will occur because our energy-dependent industrialized societies cannot sustain their current level of energy consumption. As Heinberg points out, it is possible to live a good life on a smaller energy budget. And this means that our civilization can survive a major reset without total failure. My only quibble with the article is that Heinberg seems to assume that carbon emissions have begun to fall. We just learned that this isn’t true. This is a problem we need to deal with now.

Heinberg explains that the reason the coming crash threatens our survival is that our society is too dependent on growth. If growth fails, we crash. Growth is going to fail because of climate change, energy resource limits, the increase in the food required by our growing population, soil erosion, deforestation, species extinctions, declining fresh water, ocean acidification, and our fragile economic system.

Heinberg’s crash responses control the crash so that civilization can recover at lower population and consumption levels. Clearly, there is no certainty that civilization will survive. Nevertheless, planning ahead for the post-crash recovery is a rational response that delivers a valid hope for our future.

“Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.”

Here’s a bit more of Heinberg’s article:

Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation.

“Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

“First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

“The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in an essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

“Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

“There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming. Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

“But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization will still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

“If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.” –Richard Heinberg (Continue reading: Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation. Post Carbon Institute).

Here’s an earlier discussion of things we need to do to prepare for the crash. 

Background for World Conservation Day

Nature Conservation Background

World Conservation Day is just around the corner. Here’s a series of background reports on global carrying capacity and human impact from the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB). Stock your neurons with useful information. I haven’t finished reading these reports, but the bits I’ve scanned indicate they are important contributions. My pieces on conservation here and here cover some of the ideas. My ideas are less focused on humanity than on the plants and animals of the natural world, but all approaches to conservation have merit. We need them all now.

Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee (Country Living)

More articles from MAHB.