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Is there a realistic approach to provide a "comfortable" way of life to every human being on the word? Can the Earth support it?

I'm sure you have, at one time or another, asked yourself how many earths would we need to satisfy the needs of everyone.
Or a matrix like infinite world will be the solution?
Science fiction has come up with a lot of ideas, but are we really getting closer or further away from eradicating poverty? and I don't mean just to ease the suffering, but to actually make it disappear.
Is money part of the solution or part of the problem?

Or maybe the world can handle us all and more!

What do you think?

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    Mar 1 2011: At the risk of being a one-note piano, the actual underlying problem is the idea of validation - how we judge our value in the eyes of others.

    As long as "success" is defined as "having what others do not" rather than being personally fulfilled, we will have inequity. End of story.

    Until we shift that, there's no amount of earths/resources/food/water/whatever in the universe that can be equitably distributed. Someone is always going to hoard.
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    Mar 1 2011: Humans are individually wired for survival, to Colgan's point below. But the same wiring is probably not suited to human societies and so the physical answer to Javier's question is different from the social answer. But it's easier to come by, so a decent place to start.

    We can't say whether a comfortable way of life is possible until we've defined "a comfortable way of life." I like Jack Canty's overview. And to put some framing around the scope of things, we should posit that "comfortable" is not private jets, mansions and butlers for everyone, nor is it starving naked in the bushes. It's somewhere in the middle, probably the lower-middle (which leaves me some explaining to do to my beloved spouse). Health support, good food, water, access to move-around space, soccer fields, cellos, and decent wine and stuff.

    We also need a definition of "everyone." Let's assume the current population; if we have a methodology to answer the question for that, we can scale up and down as the social issues change.

    With that, I suspect that the planet could support who we have without much more damage, if we approached it in a rational way. There's enough power via solar and wind, there's enough physical space. Yes, that's a guess, but an analytical answer is possible once we have a clear definition (I'll bet someone's done it, actually).

    So, oops - we're right back to social. Will we approach it in a rational way? The physical answer tells where we need to go; what is still needed is an answer to the question: how do we go there?
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    Feb 18 2011: Too much of the human experience is still about power and control. Money is a big part of the problem. We need new kinds of money. It doesn't make sense that the same money that is used to take financial risks in the speculative markets is the same money we use to buy food, shelter and health related services.

    If humanity continues to act like an unchecked biological creature then we will consume all the available resources and eventually have a massive die back. I believe we are transforming into creatures of consciousness who can mitigate our primal biological urges. If so, the carrying capacity of the planet won't be an issue.

    The key I believe is unlimited clean energy. The development of an energy source of that type will change the power/control structure of the planet and enable human beings to live rich live in the duality of the physical world and virtual worlds. Quantum computing and unlimited energy will give us the opportunity to create a vast virtual universe. The physical world then can be cultivated to meet our physical/biological needs while the virtual Universe will be cultivated to meet and cultivate our non-physical needs and desires.

    There may be a cascading problem. Who's to say that this world isn't a virtual world from a different perspective.
    • Feb 25 2011: New kinds of Money? That's interesting. How would that work? How would we define the scope of the different kinds of money? How can we get the whole world, or at least a good chunk of it, to trust the new money? Will there be exchange between the different monies (like foreign exchange)?

      It seems like an interesting idea. If a large population of people got together and rejected the current form of money, and then established an economy with a different kind of money, then they could assign value to different things differently in this new economy. But would junk food be more expensive than organic food in that economy? Can we use the new monetary system to make sure that it is, if, say, a majority of the population in that economy wants do do so?
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        Feb 27 2011: Sadish, you may enjoy following the work of Bernard Lietaer and complementary currency.
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        • Mar 1 2011: This is beautiful!

          But how to pursue it?
          2nd 'reading' pushed back arbitrarily to March 2012... and you know the ones PRINTING the money (profiting off it coming into existence, let alone lending money they've yet to print/back) are behind the bill's current condition.
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    Feb 16 2011: I'm of the opinion that there is enough and to spare of the earth's abundance for whatever we as a human society need. this I say as it relates to physical materials and such but we must be willing to do the work to get it and disperse it without greed or avarice. we must also be wise with our stewardship and to use all we have to the best advantage.

    I would worry more about helping all people develop a desire to help all other people before we wonder if there is enough for everyone. that's like saying, "I'm not going to work until all the lights are green!"
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    Mar 2 2011: Plant enough forest gardens and you can feed a lot more people than we currently have.

    Energy sources for everyone to have the lifestyle of the top5% do not exist though
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    Feb 17 2011: The earth certainly has no unlimited carrying capacity. Nobody knows what it really is. Some say we already passed it others estimate it of up to 12 Billion. There are many different models trying to estimate the capacity, mostly taking into account the capacity of food production.
    Also, did you ever grow plants from seeds ? What happens when you put too much of them into too little space ?
    Most of them will germinate right ? But eventually they will overcrowd the place and some will just perish making place for the fittest and strongest plants.
    Maybe that's how nature will deal with a human overpopulation ?
  • Feb 17 2011: As Yoga Berra said, "Making predictions is fraught with difficulties, especially about the future." Could anyone have predicted even ten years ago that social media would allow a peaceful transition of power in Egypt. I will predict that the world human society in which we live will have changed in twenty years time beyond all recognition. And being an optimist for the better.
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    Mar 2 2011: I think that it is time that more and more people began to live in virtual reality. With the street view from Google and the world wide collection of pictures, people could live and work in communities of their choice mentally while living in smaller spaces physically thereby putting a smaller dent in the planet. I think they'd be happier too. Not only that- they could have the thrill of teleporting without carbon emmissions!
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    Mar 2 2011: I have two comments…

    1. There is enough resources in this world to end poverty forever. The problem is that most of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of only a small percentage of the population. For instance, in the US, 25% of the population owns 87% of the wealth. This amounts to approximately 54 trillion dollars. Do the very wealthy need that much? The situation is far worse in other countries around the world. If this excess wealth were to be divided more equally, say 50% for the top 25% and the other 37% used to fund job creating and technology producing enterprises. We could accomplish this in this country, not by confiscating the wealth, but rather by forcing the wealthiest to invest in the kind of enterprises I mentioned above. We would simply be forcing the very rich to do what they should already be doing since in the long run it will be most beneficial to them.
    2. We could do much toward alleviating our problems and poorness in this country by the elimination crime, which can be accomplished quite painlessly by simply eliminating traceless paper currency and going to an all-electronic system as the many Americans have already done. No criminal is going to take something that can be traced directly to him or her as any money transfer in an all-electronic would be traceable. Do you think any drug dealer is going to take plastic on the street corner in exchange for his drugs? Do you think that a street mugger would rip off a little old lady for a worthless piece (to him) of plastic? If you are worried about hackers and security, forget it. If the all-electronic monetary system were not as secure as humanly possible, the present world financial system would collapse tomorrow, as almost 100% of international money transfers are made electronically. The present cost of crime in America is approaching 1 trillion dollars a year. Can you imagine what half of that amount would accomplish toward improving our educational system?
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        Mar 2 2011: Hi Richard,

        I am not sure what you mean. Do you mean that eliminating cash from society would not prevent most crime; or do you mean than eliminating crime is a bad idea?

        Money which does not circulate in the economy cannot be used to invest in job or technology producing enterprises. What you suggest is the current situation which must be changed if mankind is to solve the intractable problems we face.
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    J B

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    Mar 1 2011: Interesting question, I've been thinking about the same notion lately as I have seen a lot more people becoming greedier and greedier when it comes to business deals - almost with reckless regard for others financial well being. I'm not sure if it will ever be possible due to man's ego and greed.
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    Mar 1 2011: Sir Ken Robinson has "touched the heart" of millions with his speech's great climax, hitting home the message of how the outdated mind set of standard education could be wasting immense talent by forcing children into its concept of proper learning behavior. I want to stand up there and assert that our business mind set is perpetrating an even greater waste of talent as it seeks to force adults into an ever narrower concept of employee and manager.

    The world's ecosystems are declining not purely because of human population, but largely due to corporate power utilizing every tool at its disposal to increase its financial and political power. The imperatives of the business model are to increase profit by reducing cost and maintaining or increasing price. Price is typically euphemized by the term "value." These imperatives result in reducing employee numbers and compensation, distorting public discourse with manipulative public relations and influencing government against the greater good.

    As the middle and lower classes get driven down in economic prosperity, broader concerns about the future of the ecosystem and social concerns are abandoned for the near term goal of survival. A boat that tips too far one way tends to sink. Education, talent, skill ... all the things that could build a better future, rot. There is a growing need for many endeavors that will not provide a sizable profit margin.
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    Feb 28 2011: The problem is not money, resources, technology, population. The complexity and power of these mental constructs overwhelm our thinking and make it difficult to see the essence of things. Money is a symbol. We are conditioned to treat it as "liquid wealth." Transferable for anything from lacy underwear to medical treatment. For the powers that "print" money, or rather control this symbol, it is a tool for controlling human behavior. Our knowledge can vastly increase resource production and control birth; technologically we can do anything we seriously want to do.

    The core of the problem is ethics. Enlightened self-interest can be an equivalent substitute. The corporate irresponsibility, the government corruption, the petty, selfish, wasteful behavior of the first world upper, middle and lower classes all stem from an ignorance of the big picture. Look at Wikipedia. Volunteers working together have amassed the greatest encyclopedia in history by far in just ten years. Imperfect you say? It lives and grows every second of the day, if you have a thousand hours to dig deeply into the various cultures, behaviors and operations involved, it is truly astounding.

    In the current competitive market model of economics, the rapidly advancing technology is reducing the relative value of human labor. We're not just talking about digging holes and planting crops here. IBM's teams have beat the world's chess champ and beat the televised Jeopardy game. We've seen robots play violin and tell jokes, build cars and serve food.

    How can we begin to help the struggling third world when the members of the first world are being rendered obsolete? Without rethinking the competitive market system, none of our societies will be able to hold together. If brilliant first world designers and innovators continue to supply powerful tools to the already power mad capitalists, without looking down at the crumbling society beneath them, we are heading for uglier times than ever.
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    Feb 27 2011: The answer is yes. The [reasonable] needs of everyone can be met. After everyone has the basic needs met, we can keep going and work all the way to include a substantial amount of unreasonable desires. Such power exists, it just needs to be organized and applied. I cannot do this alone though, I need help. A good deal of help.
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    Feb 27 2011: Most of the comments seem to be discussing maximum population and food production. I think your actual question is more interesting: can we sustain a moderate level of comfort for everyone?

    There's currently enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, the problem is distribution. Enough produce is thrown away in American supermarkets to feed great quantities of hungry people.

    But can we construct social, legal, and architectural system to provide comfort to everyone? That's tricker. To spur some conversation, I'll outline a first draft of what I'd say 'comfort' should look like:

    - access to clean water
    - reliable source of (a minimum amount of) food
    - architecture to protect people from the hazards of their environment (e.g. air conditioning in Texas, insulation in Siberia)
    - reliable legal rights, especially property rights and the protection of women

    Most of the discussion so far is about the first two points. I think most of our work is in the last one. Even were there to be massive food surpluses (as there are every few years) there is no comfort to be had if a population of women fear for their safety or if citizens cannot rely on a court system to enforce equal protection.
  • Feb 24 2011: For sure, EARTH has all the capacity to sustain us, in much more than an abundant life, for all of us.
    The problem is not that.
    The first issue is how we define the life we want to live.
    The second issue is how we obtain that abundance from the available resources.
    So, if we do apply the same actual definitions and way of doing things in order to build a future, we have no chance, but not because of limited resources.
    We have to reinvent a lot...
  • P C

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    Feb 22 2011: The main reason there are economic differences in the world has to do with geography. America became the world's largest industrialized economy while it was still isolated. America's greatest advantage is that it has more arable and productive farmland than most other countries and that it worked hard to develop its industries and infrastructure. Nations outside of temperate zones will not have the same advantages.

    Can we attain a "comfortable" standard of living for everyone on the planet? Sure. So long as we respect the Malthusian Limit of every ecosystem we inhabit and maintain population levels below that level. Thomas Malthus said that "every population will reproduce beyond the limits of its food supply." Economic wealth comes from having a margin below that limit. The US is fat and wealthy because we don't have more people than food. Reach that limit and there won't be enough food, the people will starve, and no amount of money will be enough to feed all people.
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      Feb 24 2011: It seems to me that it has more to do with colonialism, slavery and the nature of profit based economy that America enjoys far greater wealth. I haven't seen too many property owners who inherited wealth give away their property even though it has come about through violence and slave labour. America has land mass that rivals Europe with temperate conditions to grow food as you mentioned. But it seems to me that American won over that land by pillaging and exstensive use of slave labor, that truly results in the unfair distribution of wealth.
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    E G

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    Feb 17 2011: The earth haven't enough resources to provide a "comfortable" way of life to everyone ........... in fact , if the earth will sustain us for a comfortable life no end , who'll give at his wealthy life up for someone needs ? ...........and we can't live without poor people . we destroy ourselvs by our selfishness.
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    Feb 17 2011: I denote an element of pessimism there Javier.

    Humans will pollute some more rivers and destroy some more rain forests and perhaps create a catastrophe which destroys a major portion of the population.

    But humans are wired for survival. And eventually will figure out a way to do it (survive that is). Perhaps greed will actually work to it's advantage. Fearing an overpopulation problem the "developed" world may come to realize that making it possible for the "undeveloped" world to develope will become a priority. This due to the simple fact that once societies reach a minimal standard of living, their population stops growing.

    Meanwhile reducing consumption and creating sustainable means of producing what is necessary will occur.
  • Feb 17 2011: Earth has enough capacity to provide plenty for each and every human being/need.

    To make it sustainable, we need to shift away from the eastern (read: american) standard of living. A houseful of appliances in the suburbs, a gas guzzling SUV in the garage and a fridge full of HFCS laden frozen tv dinners is not what constitutes a "comfortable" way of living.
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      Feb 17 2011: -> USA has 5% of the wold's Population but consumes 35% of it's resources.
      This ain't sustainable at all! Rachel Botsman's talk on collaborative consuption might be the answer to this.
      -> The poorest 5% of Americans are Richer than 68% of World's Inhabitants.
      This means that poverty is relative? There always will be people with more money and people with less money and the later will be consider poor. Even if they could be cosidered rich somewhere else.
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      E G

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      Feb 21 2011: oh that never happen , once what people have tasted the comfort , the money .... they never give up to get more
  • Feb 17 2011: I don't think there's any reason to believe that the world can support infinite desires. If humanity grows and spends more and more and more, some day we will run out of resources. Maybe not soon but some day. I think the world can handle us all but I'm not sure about "more".

    I have no good idea of a solution, I don't think we can stop the system. Overthrowing capitalism and the monetary system will probably lead to even worse or at least equally bad outcomes. I can be very pessimistic about this, but I fear war, genocide and starvation is coming. :(

    When it comes to science fiction solutions however, the sea of ideas is rich! Maybe robots, AI and fusion will save us. Maybe we'll live in a virtual-reality. Maybe we'll be super duper eco-friendly! There's always hope... A small, small hope..
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      Feb 17 2011: I'm also worried that only what's profitable gets researched. If some company discovers a material or chemical or process that is great for something, is cheap and Eco friendly and they cannot get a patent on it, then they dump it and probably keep using the mediocre material, chemical or process that pollutes but is very profitable. This also applies to the health system! And even to countries. If fusion is found, will every country on earth be allowed to have it or they'll have to buy the electricity?
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    Feb 16 2011: The idea that the only part of the universe that we live in is on the planet earth is too restrictive a notion. We have effectively limitless space and physical resources in this solar system alone. At the moment its all a bit hard to utilise but I suppose that's what primitive man thought as he froze to death on an open bed of coal for want of a flint and a shovel.