TED Conversations

Mark Hurych


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Imagine a scenario this century that is very bleak for agriculture. What do you think we should do to address humanity's thrivability?

Suppose two things:
Suppose that the food producing carrying capacity (the number of people that can be fed from arable land) of the Earth within this century becomes less than one billion due to climate change, what do you think we should do to address thrivability? Suppose that you had all the necessary resources to act. For full credit, apply empathy, logic, and self-integrating system properties. Yes, this might be on the final exam.

Jeremy Rifkin,

Paul Gilding,

Ray Kurzweil,

Michelle Holliday,


Closing Statement from Mark Hurych

Thanks to everyone that participated. I apologize to anyone who might have felt slighted.

The answer I got here is that people are on many different islands of being about humanity's current reality. We all have hopes and fears but our paradigms I've found are unexpectedly different. Our perspectives and priorities sometimes don't even seem to have common ground.

I very much want to find that common ground, across cultures, across the globe, across everything that separates and isolates us. One way I plan to address this yearning is by tuning my questions to be more inclusive and collective.

I feel that art does this, pulls us together and gives us common ground, even across language barriers and across time. I want to be good. This sounds so strange but I want to be a good ancestor. I don't see myself as an artist but I would very much like to do something for the greater good the way a composer or an artist might leave behind an inspiring artifact.


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    Dec 31 2012: To so many of these comments and ideas I'd want to add my original question: And what do you think we should do? I didn't ask "why do you think we are already doing everything right?" Nor did I ask "why do you think we're doomed." So to iterate: What do you think we should do? How do you think we can make this planet a better place, while considering the supposition that certain predictions may be accurate, as scary as they are?
    • Jan 1 2013: Easy answer Mark, hard to practice. If you want to have enough food for everyone, you need less everyones. No politician will admit that though, and individuals all want to do whatever they want, and have as many children as they want, so really, what can you do about it? Look at our reactions to China's one child policy. Many Americans I talk to think it is barbaric and horrible that a society would dare try to control the population. So, if populations just keep increasing, while resources keep diminishing, a lot more people are going to starve, simple as that. Last year, the world grew less food than it consumed. That can't go on forever obviously. What we COULD do, is to think about sustainability not in terms of buying shade tree grown coffee, but as not having too many children for the resources we have. But again, most people think it is in the constitution somewhere that they should have as many kids as they want. So, the real question is how to change peoples' minds.
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        Jan 1 2013: Everyone is seven billion.
        And I still want to know what you think we should do now. Getting more food might help. Having a lower birthrate might help. Reversing CO2 venting to the atmosphere might help. Geo-engineering to lower global temperature might help. Finding ways to bond as a species team might help. Alternate sources of energy might help.
        And education, particularly zero to five-years-old creativity and such might help change people's minds together.
        What other possibilities are there?
        There are political solutions, educational solutions, empathic solutions, collective intelligence solutions, technical solutions, business solutions, economic solutions...

        But again, there are 7 billion of us with each a different perspective about what can most effectively be done first.

        So the real question is: what do you have to bring to the table? Easy answers? Ain't no free lunch!
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        Jan 2 2013: I would be interested to hear your explanation on the fact that we produce the most per capita food now than ever before. And more energy per capita than ever.
        Far from diminishing resources, more people mean more resources available per person. Practically all resources are more affordable now than ever, thus less scarce. (In fact the only resource that has consistently become more expensive (and thus scarcer) are people)

        It is not ' if populations just keep increasing, while resources keep diminishing, a lot more people are going to starve, simple as that', That's lazy thinking, dogmatic and with no scientific justification whatsoever. The more people we are, the more we all have, and you lot never seem to understand why.

        And you should be ashamed hailing a policy that invoked the Chinese (poor) people to throw millions of baby girls into the dustbin, only seconds after their births, with mothers screaming for their new born; with hardly any noticable difference in birthrates in comparison with other Asian countries that did not have a 1 child policy (see Hans Rosling).
        It is perhaps the greatest genocide in recent history. And you defend it, because you are (erroneously) under the impression that those babies will take a piece of your pie. Sickening.
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          Jan 2 2013: We produce more food per capita now than ever. Check. True. We provide more energy per capita now than ever. Check. True.

          All that increase in energy use comes with the price everyone pays: the unpredictable tipping points of global warming. This includes a reduced carrying capacity of the planet.

          Also true that a reduction in population would slow the approach of these unknowable tipping points or positive feedback dangers. It is one very cruel but possible means of avoiding the dangers. As drastic as it is, I would compare it to the need to diet in order to lose weight by eating 3 fewer donuts from your daily dozen.

          See http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html for more on balancing a zero carbon equation.

          CO2 = P x S x E x C

          He didn't consider negative carbon footprints for biochar soil enrichment and reforestation.
        • Jan 4 2013: Victor, have you also noticed there was a huge drought and that the world actually produced less food than it consumed this year? How long do you think that can go on? Also, I ask you to read about peak oil. Our entire economic system is based on oil and sorry to say, it is a limited resource. The North Sea, Alaska, and even some of the gulf states production is sinking and they are having to pump a lot more water just to get those numbers (water, another limited resource). People in China and India are wanting to live like Americans, so where is all that oil going to come from? Also, if there is such a glut of energy, why is oil 5 times the cost of what it was 10 years ago?

          You illustrate the problem perfectly. No one wants to think about controlling the population and say it is evil to even think of such a thing. So, that is why nothing will ever be solved. By the way, actually read about the one child policy in China. It is not about killing girls, or killing anyone.

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