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Sustainability and Population Control

By Nanook - Posted on 12 December 2010

The book starts from the conclusion that “quality of life” is the correct guiding factor for the organization of society. In this discussion, Nanook ( italics) is talking with Father Vincent ( + cross symbol), George ( % yin yang symbol), and Ben ( & ). The text shows paragraph headings from the teaching version of the books.

Quality of life - for societies - the Jacksonville Index

& “The Quality of Life for societies is similar, but group things in a different way. Here is a list from the city of Jacksonville Florida: 1. Achieving Educational Excellence, 2. Growing a Vibrant Economy, 3. Preserving the Natural Environment, 4. Promoting Social Wellbeing and Harmony, 5. Enjoying Arts, Culture, and Recreation, 6. Sustaining a Healthy Community, 7. Maintaining Responsive Government, 8. Moving Around Efficiently, 9. Keeping the Community Safe.”

"OK. Makes sense. These are all good things.”

& "Sure. But for the Quality of Life to be good, using a system approach, they have to get good scores in ALL of these boxes. I’m glad to see someone down in Jacksonville is working on these issues. But, they have one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. So, their quality of life is seriously damaged. Put New York City in that boat as well. Sure, world class art galleries, best performing arts, great baseball team, fantastic food. But you take your life in your hands if you walk down the wrong street. And with the concentration of wealth in the banks and investment firms living right next to people in the streets, the city is a tragedy.

Here’s another list published by The Economist Magazine. It is geared for nations: 1. Material wellbeing, 2. Health, 3. Political stability and security, 4. Family life, 5. Community life, 6. Climate and geography, 7. Job security, 8. Political freedom, 9. Gender equality.”

Need for optimization to survive

"OK. We have the lists. Now what?”

& "Well, let’s say we have SOME lists. Even with all these factors, we haven’t covered the waterfront yet. If we stopped with just these, then we’ve fallen into the non-system thinking trap that society generally does fall into.”

"But, if we tried to list out all the relevant factors, there would be hundreds! Maybe even thousands.”

& "Yeah? So? What’s the value to society for getting the right answer?”

"Hmmm… “

& "That’s the point I’m driving at. There are hundreds of organizations like the City of Jacksonville that have smart people who realize that something like a Quality of Life study is needed to understand what’s happening in their environment. But our society is still living in the dark ages. They are still looking at the world as if it’s a backwoods pioneering operation with everyone in their own cabin. Why does every city in the U.S. have to figure this out from scratch on their own? Isn’t there a role for the Federal government to organize an effort like this, put the needed money into it, DO IT ONCE and DO IT RIGHT?”

"But, that’s got to be a big job.”

& "Duh! I’m talking to an idiot. So, you’re saying it’s more efficient and has a lower impact on the whole country for all the little guys with their little budgets to do half assed jobs one at a time?”

**Club of Rome report (System approach)

"OK! OK! I’m an idiot. Because I do know something about this. I just didn’t make the connection. Some rich cats recently got together at the Academy dei Lincei in Rome to discuss exactly this problem. They already understood that the major problems facing mankind are too complex and interrelated for analysis by traditional methods. That is, traditional institutions, like governments, using traditional policies and analytical methods, are no longer able to understand and cope with current problems. They formed a group called the Club of Rome to find a solution.”

& "And how do you know about this?”

"Because they brought in Professor Jay Forrester from the real MIT to create a computer program to model the WHOLE WORLD. And because I follow leading edge computer stuff, I found out about it. They got a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation to support the effort.”

& "So, have they done anything?”

"Oh yeah. They developed a huge computer simulation of the major factors that limit growth in the world. This included, if I remember right, population, agriculture, natural resources, industrial production and pollution.”

& "Yeah. So?”

"So? We’re doomed! There was an amazing thing about the study. They didn’t try to guess whether we’d run out of oil or natural gas. They didn’t try to figure out if we could develop new crops to feed the hungry. They essentially assumed that somehow technology would provide solutions to most of those issues. What they found out was, no matter what assumptions they made, society as we know it will crash sometime in the early to mid twenty first century.”

& "WHAT? Do you guys know anything about this?”

+ "Hey. Don’t look at me. You’re supposed to be the ‘ears at the top of the world’.”

& "So, Nanook. Did they publish a paper on this or something?”

"Sure. That’s how I know about the details. They said they were also going to write a book about it - The Limits to Growth I think they were going to call it. But the reason I brought it up was what you said about the complexity of the factors related to the Quality of Life. Despite how dumb I am at getting the concept of systems as applied to social situations, I do know systems from an engineering standpoint. And feedback control is really bizarre. I remember one of the issues they talked about.

In the population model, they tried some runs where they played around with food production. Remember, they didn’t try to guess how we could develop the technology. Just that it would somehow happen. So they assumed that advanced technology would increase food by a factor of 2 and reduce hunger in the world. From previous runs, they knew that pollution would be a problem, so they also assumed that technology would cut back pollution by a factor of 4. The result was still a massive pollution kill. The small increase in food resulted in a small increase in people. They in turn produced more food and more people. Industrial production rapidly increased, making everyone on Wall Street happy until a growing world pollution crisis happen in about 2010, which melted the polar ice caps and changed the weather. That constrained the food supply, leading to mass starvations.”

& "Did they try any other changes? How about birth control?”

"Yeah. They tried every change they could think of. For example, they then added birth control to the previous run starting in 1975. That did reduce the population growth rate. But the improved farming technology allowed people to move into cities, become wealthier and become mass consumers. They also started eating more food and the whole society got fatter. That caught up with food production. But the city population kept growing and production of consumer products kept growing. Eventually pollution got so high they had to shift to bio-fuels. Too late. That wiped out the food supply and the pollution still caused the crops to fail. So, again, the population got killed. That happened around 2040.”

& "So, what if . . .”

"Hang on. I told you they tried everything. In another run, they let land yield double. They allowed every remote resource to be mined. They made birth control perfect. They switched to all nuclear power to cut pollution. 75% of goods were recycled. That is, they employed technology improvements for every possible factor. By 2070, all the key natural resources were depleted, food crashed, pollution went high and the population crashed again.”

& "So, wasn’t there any way for the planet to achieve sustainable growth?”

Limits to Growth - Limits to industry

"Very important word - GROWTH. The answer is NO. They kept playing with the numbers to find a SUSTAINABLE world. They did find one. The model they found needed the following interventions: population growth had to be stopped in 1975 at 5 billion; industrial growth had to be stopped by 1990; jobs were largely shifted to services; pollution across all industries, including agriculture had to be cut by 75%; food production was subsidized extensively using expensive organic sustainable methods; capital equipment had to be designed for a minimum of 50 years depreciation. But, still, long term depletion of natural resources was not solved.

The Club of Rome people believed that once society saw that their modeling approach was correct, the governments of the world would pay attention and accept tougher requirements.”

& "So, you’re saying, to achieve this model, we only have 10 years from now to establish ALL of these controls?”


& "Hey! Stop stealing my word!”

"All of these things need to be done by 1975! If not, then we are stuck with one of the catastrophe scenarios.”

% "These are pretty radical changes. I’m sure there isn’t even one university in the country ready to roll out a ZERO growth economy model? And, you said the Club of Rome model doesn’t only have the 4 parameters in it that you’ve been talking about. It has hundreds. And every one of them has to be implemented the right way at the right time. To avoid a social catastrophe, according to this model, you said by 1990, we already have to have a stable population, stable food production at about 3 times today’s level, zero pollution growth and zero industrial output growth. Given what I know about human nature, this is a pipe dream.”

"Hey. I agree. We’re DOOMED.”

+ "This is a pretty amazing story. But you do realize the social disruption that would occur implementing any plan like this? I mean, let’s follow the system thinking. If population is stable, then what about the construction industry? No new people means no new houses; no new roads. The focus shifts to replacement only. You also said manufacturing would have to be capped as well. The whole focus of business would have to move away from finding new consumers to sell to.”

& "Sure Father. But the point is SOCIETY DOESN’T HAVE A CHOICE. If they don’t make radical changes, they’ll be like a herd of lemmings going over a cliff.”

+ "I know. It’s just so hard to accept. In his book Travels in Hyper Reality, Umberto Eco already discussed how this disruption is likely to go. He made a very strong case that modern society will fall back into a ‘dark ages’. He compared our future with the stages of the collapse of Rome. The scary part is we can already see the symptoms he talked about unfolding. We’ll surely know in the next 50 years or so. Let me read a few paragraphs. Page 74.”

“What is required to make a good Middle Ages? First of all, a great peace that is breaking down, a great international power that has unified the world in language, customs, ideologies, religions, art, and technology, and then at a certain point, thanks to its own ungovernable complexity, collapses. It collapses because the "barbarians" are pressing at its borders; these barbarians are not necessarily uncultivated, but they are bringing new customs, new views of the world. These barbarians may burst in with violence, because they want to seize a wealth that has been denied them, or they may steal into the social and cultural body of the reigning Pax, spreading new faiths and new perspectives of life..
At the beginning of its fall, the Roman empire is not undermined by the Christian ethic; it has already undermined itself by syncretically welcoming Alexandrian culture and the Oriental cult of Mithra or Astarte, toying with magic, new sexual ethics, various hopes and images of salvation. It has received new racial components… it has retained its division of wealth but has watered down the distinctions among social roles, nor could it do otherwise. It has witnessed phenomena of rapid acculturations, has raised to government men of races that two hundred years earlier would have been considered inferior, has relaxed the dogmata of many theologies. In the same period the government can worship the classical gods, the soldiers can worship Mithra, and the slaves, Jesus. Instinctively the faith that, in a remote way, seems most lethal to the system is persecuted, but as a rule a great repressive tolerance allows everything to be accepted..
The collapse of the Great Pax (at once military, civil, social, and cultural) initiates a period of economic crisis and power vacuum… It is a commonplace of present-day historiography that we are living through the crisis of the Pax Americana. It would be childish to fix in a precise image the ‘new barbarians,’... It would be hard to say whether they are the Chinese or the peoples of the Third World or the young protest generation or the Puerto Rican immigrants who are turning New York into a Spanish-speaking city. For that matter, who were the barbarians in the centuries of the decline of the empire: the Huns, the Goths, or the Asiatic and African peoples, who involved the hub of the empire in their trade and their religions? The only specific thing that was disappearing was the Roman, just as the Liberal is disappearing today…
In the homes of suburbia the average crew-cut executive still personifies the Roman of ancient virtues; but in the '60's … his son let his hair grow in Indian style, wore a Mexican poncho, played the sitar, read Buddhist texts or Leninist pamphlets… A series of minorities, rejecting integration, form clans, and each clan picks a neighborhood that becomes its own center, often inaccessible… the well-to-do classes who, pursuing the myth of nature, withdraw from the city to the garden suburbs with their own shopping malls, bringing other types of microsocieties into existence…
In this framework of permanent civil war, marked by the clash of opposing minorities, without a center, the cities will tend more and more to become what we already find in certain Latin American localities, inured to guerrilla warfare, where the fragmentation of the social body is appropriately symbolized by the fact that the doorman of an apartment is customarily armed with a submachine gun. In these same cities public buildings look like fortresses, and some, the presidential residences, for instance, are surrounded by a kind of earthwork to protect them against bazooka attack’... The city is filled with immigrants, but is drained of its old inhabitants, who use it to work in then run off to the fortified suburbs. Manhattan is approaching the point where nearly all its inhabitants will be nonwhite… while on the surrounding hills and in the plains patrician castles spring up…
The early Middle Ages are characterized also by a marked technological decline and by the impoverishment of the rural areas…the consumer society at its maximum level does not produce perfect objects, but rather little machines that are highly perishable… in the countryside we see deforestation, abandonment of cultivation, pollution of water, atmosphere, and vegetation, the extinction of animal species… the semi-nomad medieval society was a society of unsafe journeys; setting out meant making your will … and traveling meant encountering bandits, vagabond hordes, and wild animals. But the concept of the modem journey as a masterpiece of comfort and safety has long since come to grief, and boarding a jet through the various electronic checkpoints and searches to avoid hijacking restores perfectly the ancient sense of adventurous insecurity… ‘Insecurity’ is a key word… As for our own time, the recurrent themes of atomic and ecological catastrophe suffice to indicate vigorous apocalyptic currents… In the Middle Ages a wanderer in the woods at night saw them peopled with maleficent presences; one did not lightly venture beyond the town; men went armed. This condition is close to that of the white middle-class inhabitant of New York, who doesn't set foot in Central Park after five in the afternoon or who makes sure not to get off the subway in Harlem by mistake, nor does he take the subway alone after midnight…”

& "Scary. He’s obviously talking about the U.S. Recall, this will NOT be the first major society to crash in modern times. Each of the countries of Europe had their time on the stage. They were warned. But because of the Seven Deadly Sins, and the current political structures, the leaders and politicians will never accept the responsibility to institute such changes. So, due to the ‘LEGACY PROBLEM’, society is always forced to change through collapse and rebirth.”

Population - Lily pad model

% "I’ve heard your discussion about that before. I wondered if their might be a basic human psychology to support it. There is. The trap is TIME. As the Club of Rome report said, we only have so much time to act. A2 human nature doesn’t understand how to project FEAR very far into the future. This has been proven in many studies. If a plane crashes, and it’s reported by the media, people panic. They panic even if the total number of fatalities is small, like 50 people. But they get in their cars and hit the roads where over 50,000 people die every year without a second thought. As soon as an earthquake hits the media, the plane crash is forgotten. This is how Grim learned to respond to danger over the last 2 million years. The problem is it doesn’t match today’s high speed world. It’s the old Lily Pad model. Do you know what that is?”

"No. Never heard of it.”

% "It’s the problem of compound growth. Let’s say that some Water Lilies start invading a pond. And, every week they send out shoots and double their number. In the beginning, it doesn’t look like much is happening. Just a few Lily plants down at the end of the pond. Before humans are going to notice this, the Lilies are going to have to cover a substantial part of the pond. Let’s say that’s about one eighth of the surface. And let’s say it took about 4 months to get to that point. How long do people have to react before the whole pond is covered?”

"Whoa! I see what you mean. If the Lily cover is one eighth of the pond, then it would take only three more doublings to cover the whole pond. In one week, it would cover a quarter; in two weeks it would cover half; in three weeks - Bingo! The pond is history.”

& "Hey! Seal muncher! Hands off my word!”

% "This may be fun to joke about, but what happens when the human race acts this way about things that can destroy billions of people? They wait until the bad effects start to become visible in significant proportion. Only then do they decide to take action. That doesn’t mean they’ve already figured out what to do. It only means they are finally paying attention. Then they fight among each other about what to do until someone gets the upper hand and rams a solution down the other’s throats. What the Club of Rome told us is that, if we don’t figure this out in a very precise way NOW, then we won’t be able to control it. The scary part is that these are not just POSSIBLE events. They are unavoidable events. They will come because the planet has finite limits, and the dynamics are controlled by natural processes.”

"Are there any obvious examples of this already in our country?”

% "Sure. Our roadways for one. There are no longer any major cities in the U.S. where gridlock doesn’t occur every day during commute hours.”

& "Do the math, seal muncher. What happens if people lose one hour during each commute? That’s two hours a day? The impact is not two hours divided by twenty four. They work 8 hours; they sleep 8 hours. They wash, eat, pay bills and buy groceries for two hours. So two hours is 33% of their free time.”

"Sure. Plus all the aggravation. And if they add more roads, it’s only a short time before the same gridlock shows up again. And now that you mention roads, what about crowds to get driver’s licenses or at movie theaters. I guess the lily pads are already around us.”

& "Don’t make light of this. Remember, by the time of the Roman empire, all the forests of Europe had been wiped out. By today, the Buffalo are gone; 80% of the wildlife in the U.S. are gone; the California sardines are gone and the Grand Banks off New England are about to be closed. The lily pads are surely all around us.”

Population - Malthus dismal theorem

+ "So, what the Club of Rome study is saying is that we are ultimately faced with what Ken Boulding described as Malthus’ Dismal Theorem and the Utterly Dismal Theorem. Let me read that.”

“The dismal theorem of economics says if the only check on the growth of population is STARVATION and MISERY, then no matter how favorable the environment or how advanced the technology, the population will grow until it is miserable and starves. The utterly dismal theorem says if the only check on the growth of population is starvation and misery, then any technological or medical improvement will have the ultimate effect of increasing the sum of human misery, as it permits a larger population to live in precisely the same state of misery and starvation.”

"Whoa! This is horrible. It essentially says, if society does not figure out a scientific and moral approach to stop population growth, then most of the population of the world WILL end in misery and starvation. Which is also what the Club of Rome model predicted.”

& "Bingo! That’s precisely what this is saying. If society doesn’t figure this out, then any improvements we make which allow more people to live, will just result in misery for more people.”

"IRONIC! The greatest HARM for the greatest number! But this is all so obvious. Why can’t society understand it?”

& "Because of everything we’ve been telling you. Society, including the people they elect as leaders, are A2s. They live by Single Sentence Logic and the Seven Deadly Sins. Father. Do you have that article by F. A. Cotton.”

“Not too long ago there was a great and horrible flood in Bangladesh, which killed thousands of people. Nearly everyone would consider the question, ‘What killed these people?’ a trivial one: the flood obviously. That answer, however, illustrates the widespread, ostrich-like attitude about the population bomb. It was over-population that killed them. Because if the country weren’t so overpopulated, that millions of people are forced to live in an unsuitable and intermittently lethal area, practically no one would voluntarily do so.”

& "Cotton’s report also says that over 30,000 people a year in the same area die from drinking arsenic contaminated water. Do you see? There are many examples of the Lily pad model already in play?”

Population - moral implications of uncontrolled growth

+ "And then there are the moral implications of this. I’ll let John Stuart Mill do the honors. Page 137”

“The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life. To undertake this responsibility … unless the being on whom it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary chance of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being. And in a country either over-peopled, or threatened with being so, to produce children, beyond a very small number, with the effect of reducing the reward of labor by their competition, is a serious offense against all who live by the remuneration of their labor.”

Population - Birth control

+ "Which brings us to the whole issue of birth control. Unrestrained by social pressure, humans will just keep increasing the population. We can’t turn to the Catholic Church for any guidance in this regard. Since they expect God to resolve the whole issue of the future of the human race, they are content to keep preaching the dogma ‘be fruitful and multiply’ from their view of the creation. But since we know their creation story is false, we should also treat the morality of unrestrained procreation as false.”

& "Precisely!”

+ "Hey! That’s my word!”

They broke up laughing again.

& "So, the needed action is for every country in the world to run a system analysis to determine the sustainable carrying capacity of its land. They should then set population policy for their country against those results.”

% "Correct. Which should bring us back to the limit of two billion people on the planet. Then we can all stand down from being in crisis mode. Because we are already in crisis mode; we are ALREADY LIVING UNDER THE MALTHUSIAN DISMAL THEORM.”