TED Conversations

Mitch SMith


This conversation is closed.

What are our true global economics?

I recently saw an estimate that human population is currently consuming 1.5 times the carrying capacity of the Earth.

This suggests that the resources we use - the plants and animals and energy required to keep us alive are generated by the planet ecology.
It suggests that the system, if left to itself, has a capital represented by sunshine, air, water, plants and animals.

It suggests that the carrying capacity for humans is like the "interest" on the global "capital"
The inference is that we are harvesting more than the interest and are well into the capital - harvesting at an exponential growth rate.
In other words, having eaten everything on the farm, we are now eating the farm. And there will be no more "interest" becasue there will be no more capital.
Like our global bank account is in free-fall.
One dimension of the assertion is that, by mass, the nitrogen in human beings is 1.5 the available nitrogen in the at-rest ecology.

Firstly, is this a valid assertion?
Are Earth resources truly finite as assumed?
Are the available resources measurable? If so - who has a good set of data we can use for modelling?

Secondly, if resources are finite and measured - and we are consuming capital exponentially - what are our options?
What lattitude do we have for increasing carrying capacity?
How far can carrying capacity be pushed?
Can we survive in a no-growth, or contracting economic model?
What are the options for population modification?
How long do we have?

These questions are not formulated to "troll" world views. I am asking questions that a lot of people should have rational answers for.
Please reply in the spirit of the questions. Data would be good, as well as well considered models that can be tested.
Also welcome are weblinks that have rational foundations - no ratbag theory please.


Closing Statement from Mitch SMith


I have digested available metrics and known models.

Like everyone else, I am finding that the non-linear factors render the numbers functionally useless. The modeling methods themselves seem to yield more information - but all models admit to not representing any comprehensive claim.

However, one thing is clear - the window of opportunity for business-as-usual closed sometime mid 1900's, the balance of carrying capacity against draw-down of fossil energy is well under way - capital is definitely being exponentially consumed and has a terminal point at around 2050 - at which point all life on planet earth will cease.

But this assumes business as usual based on what we think we know - as it turns out, we know very little.

So .. in this scenario - ignorance is bliss.

I the analogy of our common understanding, we are screwing the planet and the value it represents. So .. to stay within the things we understand - are we rape/murdering the panet - Or are we mating with it?
This distincion is the critical facto determining if a single human will occupy the universe past 2050.

2050 is a conservative estimate - I would recommend you start answering it now.
It might be too late for you, but you might have children.
If you value hope ..
Remember - hope is not required in the universe outside of your own skull.
What you do is important - to you.
I couldn't care less. _ I've made my choice.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 14 2012: This BBC documentary gives quite a good overview on your topic:


    'BBC documentary on 'World Population'. It explains the problems humanity will face if the world population grows out of control.'
    • thumb
      Nov 14 2012: Hi Lejan, Thanks for the link!

      Here's a point though: A lot of this stuff is coming through traditional media - BBC etc.
      I turned off my television a few years ago becasue I got sick of all the lies.
      I've identified broadcast media as being vulnerable to capture by propagandists.
      In fact, any "one-to many and nothing back" communication is, by nature, propaganda.
      This includes radio, television, youtube and classroom education.

      Mostly I view all the catastrophe theory as entertainment-only .. ghost stories.
      In fact, I have my own catastrophe theory.

      What I'm trying to do with this topic is to flush-out the truth under the stories - on a peer-to-peer basis.

      We have the link to Hans Rosling's wonderfully optimistic statistical analysis. I'm not buying it, but at least he has some numbers.

      What we need is a rough algabra that describes the dynamics that we observe - we need testable models for:
      1. Biosphere carrying capacity - including some idea of sustainable mineral contribution.
      2. Individual requirements - something like Maslow's pyramid - but with numbers.
      3. A formula to represent diminished returns on technological efficiency gains.
      4. A formula to represent diminished returns on technologically forced carrying capacity.
      5. An educated understanding of the "invisible hand" of economy - the models given us by Adam Smith and his ilk demonstrate that the economic "invisible hand" is attached to a moron. What would happen if that hand was attached to something smarter than a supply/demand simpleton?

      And we need start-off numbers
      • thumb
        Nov 15 2012: Hi Mitch,

        I understand your view on traditional media and share your concerns on 'all the lies'. In fact, no source of information is trustworthy as we usually don't get to know the people, the agenda behind it.

        This BBC documentary on 'World Population' I liked, because it resonates with my view on this topic. It did not sketch an 'everything is going to be fine' picture and conclusions made seem reasonable to me. You can take it as another 'catastrophe theory', of course, yet I am afraid this is not done on 'entertaining purpose' as the tendency is intrinsic to the nature of the given topic.

        The problem with 'numbers' is another story all by itself, as the best anyone could do is guesswork here in any case. Due to the complexity of the given world and the involved mechanisms of exponential growth, any result of a testable model can only be as good as its choosen boundary conditions are. And because those are guessed, so would be the calculated result.

        There are predator-prey relationship models already available to simulate their interdependency, yet they are very basic and only use a view beginning parameters.

        Even a Maslow's pyramid with numbers is only as good as the numbers you choose, because motivation is highly individual.

        My personal favourite is the 'invisible hand', because in my view even an educated understanding of it will return to the very same 'moron' on which it is based on.

        All our models in 'gambling theory' are useless, as none of them is able to predict any booms and 'melt downs' in our reality.

        So as the complexity of your model rises, so do all assumtions within it, and the calculated result would be even less correct as a one year weather forecast on its daily match would be.

        And what would such a model tell us what common sense not already did?

        In my understandning, our lack in taking final actions in changing our 'course' is not due to a lack of precise data or a general understanding. It is due to our custom and denial.
        • thumb
          Nov 15 2012: Hi Lejan,

          Many thanks - great observations.
          in fact, I have seen this BBC documentary .. a few months ago I think. I actually like it somewhat because it's David Attenborough being very appologetic and humble - as well as demonstrating that he's willing to have iron in the fire through personal effort beyond the doccumentary..
          There is a problem with mentioning population because of propaganda circulating that anything that dares to mention population control is "eugenics" .. the ignoramusses in churches and fear-locked desperation have no idea what eugenics really was and why it does nto equate with responsible fertility. It is an inevitability unless we get some clean understanding of the population factor. Personally, it frighhtens the crap out of me - here is the basic formula of the affect of fertility on a population: X[this] = r times (1 minus X[last]).
          This simplified version of fertility Vs. attrition produces chaos result very quickly. Fiddling with fertility via standard of living is guaranteed to produce total chaos within tiny fractions of values over r=3.56 - if you further modulate attrition by medical science, it gets even more sensitive resulting in probable extinction within just a few generations. It is totally unpredictable, but the onset of chaos values is very predicatable. The reduced attrition model suports stable high populations with fertility below 3. Getting to 3 as a maxium would be a good idea - no matter how we get there. Then there remains the task of determining a "standard of living" consumption number to determine if the at-rest carrying capcity can support it. If it over-shoots, the standard of living number must be reduced. If reductions in standard of living go beneeath tollerable poverty, then the fertility must be reduced or the attrition-rate increased. If none of these adjustments can be made then a cull will be needed.
          If a cull is indicated, then it's best done by suspending the notion of empathy.
          This has already started
      • thumb
        Nov 15 2012: Hi Mitch,

        as much as I remember, chaos in population dynamics is controversial, as the underlying process is purely deterministic and it is difficult to separate chaotic dynamics from stochastic noise within a given model. Nevertheless even the turbulence of a non-chaotic system in non-equilibrium dynamic is messy and powerful enough to detroy civilisations as we know them.

        Whoever confuses 'population control' with 'eugenics' did not look closely into this matter and can be easily updated by education. If this does not help, then there is a different, a hidden agenda behind.

        We already know, that the 'standard of living' in 'first world countries' can not be shared by the whole world population. So every day 'we' are using more of 'our' share, there are others who have to use less to support 'us'. And even in 'first world countries', the concentration of resources and wealth moves bottom up, so in a not to far future we'll see rising riots worldwide claiming 'their' share and a better 'standard of living'.

        In my view, the given dependency in food production on 'fossile fuels' will have the first impact on world popolation which will also start mass migration and 'food/water wars' on global scale. So if we do not start to rethink the basic pillars of our consumption and population we won't be able to avoid any 'corrective dynamics' which won't be positive to all of us.

        And I agree with you, that '... suspending the notion of empathy ... has already started'

        • thumb
          Nov 15 2012: Hi Lejan,

          Outside of the rare period or stability,there is no stochastic - there is only chaos.
          What we see as noise is our error to percieve the openness of the system - that chaos-es resonate - and can resonate on frequencies higher than any physical sensor can detect.
          I spent a good long time as a forecasting systems consultant - even in the chaos, there is enough certainty to make decisions. And in the network of phenomenology we are living proof of it (for now ;)
          I have an advantage - a few years ago, I just walked away .. just following a smell .. or a joke maybe .. a revenge on all the things that my effort was used for.
          And I walked right into the middle of life - reborn, no "god" required, no hierophant charging pennance for the rattle of his Keys.
          And here I sit, reading all the great works and listennign to the great "opinion-makers".
          Where once I was in awe of my own ignorance, now I am in frustration of how they just don't get it.
          I find great happiness and "homeness" in not earning the money I do not need - and not spending it.
          So here is this raggedy man shouting from rooftops about the nourishment of poverty. Few will listen, and I don't care if no one does - it just makes me feel good to not have bushels al over my lamp - no matter how dim it may seem to some.
      • thumb
        Nov 16 2012: Hi Mitch,

        in population dynamics this is what I remember back in the years and shortly before I fell asleep in biology class, so I better trust your experience as a forecasting consultant... :o)

        Unfortunately the process of decision making does not require to have a minimum of logic build into it, that's why I am concerned and quite pessimistic about the future of our species.

        Just today I was watching a documentary about lifestyles in the city of Tokyo, which, on several levels, is widely seen to many as the icon of style, trends and hi-tech. While watching I was thinking how difficult it would be to many of this people to step back from their artificial habits and to be 'degraded' or 'decelerated' towards a modest and simple life on just a tiny fraction of the resources they access today. Tokyo is just an example and it applies to may of our 'first nations'.

        The change in your life you described is to some degree familiar to me. Just recently I pulled myself off the 'fast lane' for a simple question which popped up in my mind one day and to which I could not find a satisfying answer: 'Where am I going?'

        Even though I was not hunting for wealth before and did not plan for any 'career', I realized, that within the given system there was no 'meaning' anymore which was worth to work for.

        By all this high standards of living we created, we lost sight of ourselfs on the way getting there.

        So before I was hitting my 'brakes' I asked colleagues, customers and business partners if they had found what they were looking for in their lifes, and not as single soul did answer with 'yes'!

        Since I slowed down, I see much clearer which helps to define and to set course on what I consider anew and worth to look for myself.

        'Shouting from rooftops' is not part of my personal mission, as it was as effective as to 'cry wolf' to a pack of wolves.

        But whatever 'makes me feel good', as you said, is worth pursuing and sometimes it becomes the key for making a difference
        • thumb
          Nov 16 2012: If you asked that question of those around you now, I intuit that you would hear more "yes".

          There's 2 ways-in - you detoxify yourself, or you amputate all contact with toxic people.
          Everyone is so afraid to do that - but why? There's 7 billion people on this planet .. there must be enough for a handful of decent companions .. how much would anyone pay to be released from the assholes around them?
          If you paid every penny you had - I guarantee it would feel like the best bargain you ever found. The only real investment in town - is you. And until you invest, you will never know who you are..

          One day, I got in my head to walk down the high street and ask random strangers "Are you someone?" .. guess what - out of 10 people, only one said no.
          It was a great risk to do such a confronting thing, but the result was some of the best conversations I've had for years. And no van full of dustcoated men tackled me, no one punched out my lights, no cops came screeming round the corner, sirens blaring, and I wasn't assasinated by mind-zombie-snipers.
          Freedom is right there on the street - with only 1 poor bastard in 10, I think we have a good chance.
      • thumb
        Nov 16 2012: Before I forget, I like to thank you very much for sharing the link to Catherine Austin Fitts and her talk 'The Looting Of America' on youtube. Those views are not often heared and I enjoy them whenever I get to find them. Thanks!

        Actually, I did not have many assholes around me, on the contrary, but those who where, mostly got the lead.

        But almost all of the 'good people', the 'normal people', who did not seek to boost their careers ruthless, have resigned and this throughout all age groups. They could not imagine anymore to change anything which was imposed on them from 'top down'. They lost all their inspiration, courage and defense reflexes as if they were all cheep herded to the slaughtering block.

        They would have answered 'yes' to your question yet remained the puppet with strings attached.

        As long just a view people look outside 'the box' there will be no 'van full of dustcoated men' to tackle you, yet if the number of those who 'awakened' rises, they become more likely to turn 'around the corner'.

        With high interest I am watching the riots in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy to see what their democratic governments is willing to force on them and if the people will keep up standing for their believes. If they do, it may spead signals to others to join in, which could lead to the beginning of the fall of our corrupt system. We'll see if our changes are as good as you found them ... :o)
        • thumb
          Nov 16 2012: Hi Lejan,

          It's probably off topic - but it at the root of why I started this conversation:
          You are in Germany - there's a while before the Riots come your way.
          2 Years ago I was advising my friends in Greece to start a new neighbourhood currency.
          Get some friends together, pool all the euros for exchange, issue new Deuschmarks to the group (equivalent 1 month income). For trade within the group, usle only new Deuschmarks, for trade outside the group make all purchases jointly using the pool. For services/goods sold to outsiders, Euros go into the pool, equivalent Deuschmarks are issued to the group equally after converting from Euros at 1UE=0.5DM. Recruit more to the group with strict rules of inter-group trade in DM only. The core group gradually becomes the new Germany. Do it all as secretly as possible, and have an escape route - the old Germany will attack you if they find out.
          The new DM is a transitionary device. When the Eural collapses, just deal goods/services free. You may be able to record goods/services as just a description - we have computers, and no longer need currency as a value token. But a functional society requires no currency at all. If you issue a currency, it is vital to eliminate it at ealiest opportunity. The reason is that the issuer of currency becomes the king - instantly. A functioning society needs no king.
          I have been working on the causes and cures of the suicide of humanity for a while. Here are the causes/cures: (continued next)

          (edit) Over the period of the coming violence and grief - the absolute strategy to survive is only one thing - do not get blood on your hands.
          Do not participate in the riots. Watch carefully to detect them coming - and be somewhere else. This will teach you the art of the nomad. Become ghostly and move in the spaces in-between. Resist the desire to fight.
          I tell you now - all those who get blood on their hands will not survive. Sadly, many innocents will also die. Be sad for that, not enraged.
        • thumb
          Nov 16 2012: 1. Carnivours.
          Humans are not carnivours. Our bodies are toxified by any form of meat. The animals are our brothers and friends. Respect the predator, but do not fear him - and do not copy him.
          2. Farming.
          This is laziness. For every seed and fruit you find - honour the seed and plant it back near to the place you find it. If the beast wants to give you his wool for fibre - he will let you sheer him, do not force him. This requires you treat the wool-animals as brothers - otherwise they will give you nothing.
          3. Property.
          You own only your effort(agency) nothing else. Respect the ground under the feet of others, respect the things in the hands of others. Respect the tools of others. Respect the diginity of others. Take no food from another's mouth.
          4. Slaves.
          Ask for help. Never force it. This includes our human friends and animal friends. If they are truly friends, ask and the answer will sometimes be yes, not always. If they are not your friends, the answer will always be no. In this way, you will find many friends of all species.
          If you are answered no, then the time is not yet for what you want.
          5. Money.
          Money is a lie. It is a device by which people are made slaves. It is the first drug of adiction - from which all other drugs arise.
          6. Respect elders.
          The elders of the society contain the wisdom of history. All decisions concerning the society must be discussed first with the elders. They are frail and often cannot make goods or services apart from their wisdom - be kind to them.
          7. Transgression.
          There is no punishment - only decision. Punishment/revenge creates intractable mental harm that accumulates over the generations. Never confine a living creature - the result is perpetual harm to the society.
          Transgression is part of leaning - the task of forgiveness is for the elders - keeping learning in mind.
          There is only 1 remedy for habitual transgression - death. This is sad and must be conducted as if a funeral - with dignified ritual to heal the harm.
      • thumb
        Nov 17 2012: Thank you Mitch for sharing your interesting ideas and guidelines!

        According to National Geographic, the most successful 'regional currency' in Germany is within the Chiemgau area in southeast Bavaria with a total of 5 million in annual turnover. It was installed 10 years ago to enforce the local economy by keeping the exchange value cycling within. A bill of this currency is only three month valid, to avoid 'concentration' of wealth and long term savings to keep the cash flow going.

        Many other yet smaller regional exchange systems are on the rise, some of them internet based, but in general most Germans still don't have any urge for a change, as the 'bubble of bliss and ignorance' has not burst yet here.

        Personally I was thinking worst case scenarios through as well for the collapse of the european and world economy and I mostly agree with your non-violent approach on this. What I don't know though is, if it can and should be done in any situations.

        If the majority of people in East-Germany in 1989/90 would not have protested as 'a whole' in a non-violent riot, history may have turned out differently.

        If we ever wan't to free ourselfs from a system which only protects 'wealth' and which does not care for all of its people, we need to set out on the barricades one day. As a whole nation, a whole Europe, a whole world. So if no other change than this would be possible, at least at that 'turning point' it would not be helpful if most of the people were striding through the woods as nomads.

        On this, Germany can learn a lot by its French neighbours, who, as a nation, is quite experienced to free themselves from despotic regimes. Not always 'bloodless' like Ghandi's idea, yet still disciplined enough not to drown in anarchy.

        Nevertheless, 'the system' did prepare itself already by setting up the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF), a militarised police intervention force, to avoid 'national' police to deal with 'national' riots on large scale scenarios ...
        • thumb
          Nov 17 2012: The time of the psychopath is done.
          Do not walk in his way - or you will be him.

          For millenia, we have done our best to heal him to contain him and outwit him, but inso doing, he infected us and we became sociopath.

          Now is the time of fire.

          There is no fighting left now except in the psychopath excoriating himself in his own flame.

          Stay afar, or be burned with him.

          Now is the time of the nomad.
      • thumb
        Nov 17 2012: I see your point, Mitch, but I don't wish myself to walk away from injustice and violence if it is done to people who can't defend themselves.

        Who will I become, straying alone in the forests, on the planes and just feel sorry for those I see falling, yet intentionally avoid to help for sheer survival reasons?

        I see your point, Mitch, but for myself I hope to find the courage to stick to my core believes in time of need or die trying.

        By the way, compared to Australia, Europe is to crowdy for this conflict avoiding strategy to work anyway, so even if I was a nomad, there would be thousands surrounding me in the woods at any given time of the day... :o)
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2012: The default human is pretty cool. There is no need for law - in fact, law is only ever changed(if ever) after it has harmed someone.
          We've been sold a pup.
          Anarchy is the absolute pinacle of human expression - don't believe anyone who says different - they have vested interests.

          I will do the numbers anyway - at the very least, it reveals the issues, and knowing them, you cannot be lied-to.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.