Rami Diab

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What do you think will help our species survive in a space-limited world with a constantly growing population?

Considering the projeced figures of human population growth for the coming years, several scenarios have been proposed by various institutions and persons.

Some of them say that the vast development will stop the more educated we become. Others say that the global fights for resources will increase dramatically as an ultimate result.

Do you think it is possible for us to find a non-violent way out of this situation?And how could we realistically achieve to go this way considering the small amount of time we have left?

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    Mar 4 2012: I am surprised that no comments point out an underlying fallacy of the question posed. The acceleration of global population growth has already slowed dramatically. It is not "constant" growth. It is as Linda Taylor points out non-"linear" although not in the direction she implies. http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1180743010001?bckey=AQ~~,AAABDH-R__E~,dB4S9tmhdOrgQJ-vz7N_KM-Fn5lQ8FIH&bctid=1250260448001

    Still, taking off the table the quite real possibility of war causing us to reach a lower human population peak sooner, we have 38 years or so of residual growth in real numbers up to somewhere around 9 billion. So what that really means is: do we have the smarts to become 30% more efficient globally than we are today by 2050? By 2050 we will peak at a number of humans something less than 30% above where we are today, 7+billion. I think 30% is quite do-able - and my wife calls me a pessimist.

    I think there has always been a spectrum of belief in the survival of the species. Humans are unique that we even contemplate these things. But a little more than 1000 years ago, there were religious believers who thought the end was near on one end of the spectrum, and those who thought there was absolutely nothing to worry about, be it plague, war, famine, etc. on the other. It was the balanced minds in the middle, who did the work, solved famine, found diplomacy, solved the problems of the day, and survived. Today, in a more secular world we still have those who take on faith that the world is doomed, and the others who take on faith that there is nothing to worry over. The truth is still in the middle. There are serious problems, but not problems we are failing to work on, not problems we are failing to solve. The world today is not worse than the one I was born into.

    I would encourage today's youth to not be lured in by either fringe. Stay balanced - learn to solve problems, not complain about them or ignore them. And be a survivor.
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      Mar 4 2012: Thank you Jack, very nice contribution. Yes you are right, 'constantly' might be the wrong word I have chosen. When we reached the 7 billion last year I had a look at the BBC website where one can find all kinds of info about our population and collected and projected data. The global population curve (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15391515) just seems to be so incredible. Even though I always had the strong opinion that humans can achieve everything (just as the evolution of other organisms that are forced to change) I started to rather worry if we have enough time to change, considering this fast growth.
      • Mar 5 2012: The United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, revised the projected numbers upwards so late as last year, in their 2010 revision.

        And in response to that both Fred Pearce and Robert Wyman, argued in Nature that the situation is not so straightforward or simple.

        "Dubious assumptions prime population bomb", Fred Pearce, Nature 473, 125, (2011)

        "Population decline is a long way off", Robert Wyman Nature 474, 284-285, (16 June 2011)

        The 9 billion figure for 2050, (and that the total population will start to fall back is actually only seen in the lowest of 4 estimates that UN makes projection for), in the other 3, no reduction in population is seen before 2100 (which maybe is what you have seen as well).

        These projections are based (if i understand correctly) to some degree on data from what happened in East Asia, during the rapid economic development phase there, and the following rapid decline in fertility rate these countries experienced.

        It is not given, that the same pattern will repeat itself in Africa, and I did read an article some time back (but can't find it right now), that argued that early data do not seem to conform well to that, which might put the whole basis for the UN estimate into question. (Which could be something to look out for).

        I think one interesting starting point could also be, Garrett Hardin, and his famous 1968 article "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science 162 (3859): 1243–1248. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243.
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    Mar 7 2012: Two areas of public policy if changed that by themselves would completely change the course of human history for the sustainable better and allow for the proper stewardship of the planet. They are monetary reform and tax reform. The needed monetary reform already well thought out and under consideration is the move to debt free creation of money by sovereign governments. (Google "Steven Zarlenga"). The needed tax reform in existence in its modern form for over a century (Google "Henry George") and well thought out and tried in enough places to verify the validity of the theory is the shift of taxation off of earned incomes from labor and real capital investment in the real economy onto community created land and natural resource values. It is this tax reform that is especially crucial to create the economic context wherein all other human progress and in particular technological progress can benefit all people instead of being siphoned away by economic elites and monopoly owners of the earth. These two pieces of social/political/economic technology will allow what is workable about free markets/free enterprise to work as promised. Without these two public policy changes and especially the shift of taxes to community created land values it will be very difficult for humanity to share the earth and benefit from all other forms of progress. The survival of humanity from this vantage point is now dependent on sharing the earth and the establishment of an honest monetary system. Mere technological fixes as wonderful and exciting as they promise to and no doubt will be cannot resolve issues of economic justice. What is necessary is a paradigm shift in our relationship to the earth so that we no longer pay a small percentage of our own kind for the right to have a place to be on our own planet. The earth belongs to all of us, we all create its value and thus the rental value of the earth rightfully belongs to all of us as an equal inheritance.
  • Mar 6 2012: The Royal Society has also placed the issue of the size and growth of the human population and its possible implications, high on the agenda and intiated a Policy Working Group already in July 2010.

    The study is planned to be completed in early 2012.

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    Mar 6 2012: We tend to forget, that 9 billion is just the tip of the iceberg. Immortality is just a few years away and then what? But then again, we also tend to forget that modern life is just a few years old. More change occurred in the lifetime of a modern human, then in the last 5000 years combined (if not all of humans existence). The real drama here is that no matter how many people smart-talk the situation, 98% of humans are ignorant to all the facts and even less understand the relations between them. 4 billion people still believe in magic (whether it's a magic man in the sky or voodoo) and even more would neither neither know of, or understand the coming changes, nor would they know what to do with it.

    The truth is, we are just following a pattern. We rise and then fall a little, to rise again. And no matter how much I would like to see us overcome the (already happening) crisis with intelligence, dignity, humanistic ideals and most of all in peace, I do not think it is possible.

    The reason is that we are not in control anymore. We are not navigating ourselves anymore. Nobody is. A name- and faceless entity we could call "the system" does and we've long lost control over it. Conjured out of colonialism, greed for power, we have created a self-serving bureaucratic creature that is driven by net-growth.
    How about abolishing "the system"? Well... just think on how hard it is to convince people/consumers/governments/corporations/ourself to stop using plastic bottles. Think how hard it is to find consent over the smallest political issues. Think how badly wealth is distributed. No chance!

    We are a species able to harvest asteroids, but we dig into our own home. While plenty of energy is freely available, we burn the one resource that really is limited in this solar system - KNOWINGLY! We (a mere 2%) oppose the 5% that owns 95% of the planet and serves "the system". Do you really thinks we can get out of this situation without a mess? I don't.
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    Mar 4 2012: I agree with Xavier point by point (which is kinda weird) but I would like to add the social implications of what I call 'rats in a box' based on the experiments conducted by John B. Calhoun in the 1950s. When population density and forced social interactions cause a breakdown in social behavior. Posits some ideas about hyperagression, failure to nurture children, fertility, withdrawal from community. Hmm.

    Also remember that population growth is seldom as linear as future projections.
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    Mar 4 2012: Two things that have consistently demonstrated positives to fixing such issues are providing a wider and higher standard of Education and subsidising areas of Scientific technology that deal with what ever subject is at hand.

    The former makes people less inclined to have large numbers of children and/or removes the hold of a culture that expects it, and the latter, as always, are able to provide efficient and practical opportunities and alternatives to help stem the issue.

    'Some of them say that the vast development will stop the more educated we become. '
    These particular people don't take into account that:
    (1) You cannot have infinite growth with finite resources
    (2) Development is caused mainly by needs, wants and sometimes necessities and therefore:
    (b) Development will oneday end
    (c) Development cannot exist without people, which wont exist if we don't address certain issues.
    (d) The resources needed to provide development opportunities will need to be undertaken by educated people due to their impending scarcity. Essentially, You need intelligent people to come up with intelligent ways to collect a resource that is no longer available at arms length. Think Planetary
    (e) Putting development infront of an impending war-torn idiocracy is absurd.

    ' Others say that the global fights for resources will increase dramatically as an ultimate result.'
    They will increase, no doubt; But only through the general (governing) populous' inability to adapt before its too late.
    For example, the Sun provides literally enough energy to supply the world, but subsidies for such research remain the lowest in all energy budgets for almost every country that has them. Just one example among many.

    The reality is that it may not be an issue that can be prevented before it happens, rather, we may need to be hit in the face with reality before people feel the need to make the social-evolutionary jump.
    Essentially, Most people won't get out of their chairs until its on fire
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    Mar 6 2012: I had to add this as a reply, to my own post earlier:

    There is hope!
    Why? Because we are a very very tenacious species! Because it is the nature of Nature to be tenacious and even if most of us forget, or never have realized, WE ARE Nature. We are direct decedents of Earth. We are a intricate part of a self-replicating universe that tends to refine energy (seemingly) ad infinitum. And it creates systems that do so. Like suns; or in the case of a somewhat more abstract form of energy - usually referred to as Information - it creates self-aware bio robots, that even understand what they really are (q. e. d.).

    In this fractal universe, there is self-inflicted purpose in any system. In that of nature & humans, it is growth. Growth in all shapes and forms, abstract and tangible. Maybe it is all but an inherit massive inferiority-complex that drives our species to be shaped in the likings of the Almighties we created to bathe in our self-glorification with the least amount of self-loathing? Or is that too just a deluded way to perceive the deeply rooted and very natural need to overcome obstacles, to learn and refine and rebuild and grow...!?

    We are what nature does when faced with an obstacle. It learns to overcome it. 85% of life extinguished by a small rock coming from outside? Create something to advert that! Need polymers that need more complex creation processes than basic planetary physics, create something that can and provide it with the base materials in form of re-used energy, because FU asteroids!? And lets not forget reproduction! Earth already sent several children to other planets...
    Why does that give hope? Because no matter how far we will drive this - and I personally would still prefer a peaceful drift into utopia - we as a species will prevail and do all the inevitable things we are supposed to do!
    We will survive. Maybe not as individuals, but as a species we will survive and learn and refine and rebuild and grow...

    We are fractals after all.
  • Mar 5 2012: It is time--way past time--for a one-child generation. Maybe more than one. The young people of the world, especially the young women, must decide to ignore governments and politicians and do what is necessary for their children and grandchildren, and that is to limit them. We do not have to keep on growing and growing and growing.
    Then, as the older generation begins to pass, we must realize and act on the fact that there simply won't be the resources to take care of us as our elders have been. We must take the responsibility for our own declining years and refrain from dumping it on our children. We must take care of each other.
    The birth rate of Brazil has dropped below replacement rate in one generation, largely due to improved education -- and television, which depicts very small families living sucessfully, and this has popularized the idea of having small families. Why not propagandize a reducation in the birthrate deliberately? It would help avoid so much pain and suffering in the future. And really, people, why should we have to wait for the government or the scientists or anybody else to tell us what we need to do? We can do this ourselves if we try.
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    Mar 4 2012: Either the Iron Law of Wages or a Malthusian Catastrophe will naturally correct the disparity between production capacity and total demand. Unless of course we Earthlings wake-up first and deal with it in a less invasive way.
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    Mar 4 2012: I personally don't believe in "tipping points". I think our time has passed, and that we are just waiting for a series of feedbacks to start demonstrating the seriousness of our collective inertia.

    In terms of non-violence, I think Homo sapiens is very capable of choosing to act very peacefully. I see it each day. I don't pick up on too much violent negativity directed at me or others in my local community. However, I do find myself linked to very violent ways of behaving just through the ways in which I consume. It's not me doing the violent things from my own hands, it's my own vicarious dealings. For example, I just found out that it is acceptable practice to crush the skulls of female kangaroos' joeys when they're harvested for consumers to eat. Joeys that are out of pouch but still under the care of the mother are also killed and/or left to die in the wild alone. Another one: palm oil (why say more?!?). Chicken from a chinese take-away. Monoculture vegetable farming = loads of maimed animals, habitat, and massive biodiversity losses. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So there's plenty of violence on everyday consumers hands. And then you live in a house, with an exotic dominated, largely lawn covered alien habitat. Flood, fire, and other ecological goods and services are viewed as "evil" or something that is not to be mixed within human habitats. Or, in the case of fire, are overly used in the name of asset protection. Anyway, I don't want to go on anymore. I could talk more about ocean acidification, and biodiversity loss because of weeds. Really, there are a lot of problems that have been spiraling out of control for quite a while.

    In summary:Homo sapiens has its head so far it's own arse that there is no way that these very large issues are going to be averted without some kind of huge cost. The four horse men never rest, and they are working on their master piece. They do it in the name of nature, and they couldn't give a rats about one meagre specie
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      Mar 4 2012: Thank you, I agree with you to a certain degree. But don't you think that it is likely that nations increasingly turn against each other in the near future to fight for resources?

      I too do believe that Homo sapiens is a species that will choose peace over war. However, looking back on what history has told us about the majority of reasons for war, I think a global war scenario between the nations is not unlikely. I am not indicating that violence is the only possible reaction to scarcity of resources but I fear that just in other parts of our nature 'the survival of the fittest' principle will cause to drift developed and less developed nations even more apart.
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        Mar 5 2012: Countries are already fighting wars because of scarcity, and demand. And I do think this will increase in the future. Humanity will still try and save itself from its darker side, which is a good thing. So whether it will be absolute war, well, probably not. But it would seem like that if the big kahunas are the ones doing the raging and hating etc. Terrible things to consider really )-;

        The hope is, that enough people will survive to drag what little dignity will remain towards a genuine future for Homo sapiens.
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    Mar 4 2012: science