Thursday, November 27, 2014

Human Population and the Antropogenic Extinction Event

Regardless of things we don't fully know, such as wherever the tipping points in global temperature rise are, however fast global warming may occur...

AGW and numerous other resource/pollution/land-use/extraction-effect problems can be addressed addressed, generally speaking, by population reductions.  A general assumption: half as many people, half as many such problems.  But actually problems tend to rise at least exponentially because of network effects, additionally with basic limits, self-sustaining tipping points, and so on.  So we could be more than twice as worse off with twice as many people, and so on.

Anyway, in the great Crooked Timber blog on AGW (op was the China/USA agreement, preliminary thoughts) the point was well made that voluntary population reductions (by forgoing pregnancy, etc) cannot solve the impending AGW tipping point to global civilizational collapse problem (aka 3 degrees Celsius and above).  We need 97% reduction by 2050 to stay below 2 degrees (not exactly a balmy afternoon either, expect melting ice sheets and desertification, see the book on 3 degrees, and for all we know 2 degrees might be the aforementioned tipping point, and some would prefer to stay below 1 degree…aka the ultimate effect 350ppm when we are now already 400ppm).  Meanwhile, business as usual is headed straight to hell (aka 6 degrees) by 2100, which we hope isn't the end of human history.  And once we get to 6 degrees, who knows how much more will be induced by further tipping points.  A previous episode of 6 degree warming resulted in one of the largest extinction events ever.

The problem is, to stay below the comparatively-safe-but-who-knows 2 degrees, we need 97% reduction in human net CO2 by 2050, from 36GtC to 1GtC per year.

No voluntary reduction in population control through restriction of birthing is going to decrease population that much that fast.

But this misses two key points.  First, changes in climate from increased CO2 tend to have a lifetime of 100,000 years or more.  Meanwhile we do not want human history to end at 2050, 2100, or whatever.  And presuming it doesn't, and assuming no rapid die-offs or miraculous changes, the climate goes on. (As does the environment generally.)  If net carbon production is still going on at 2050 or even 2100, it will likely continue the next year, and so on.  Changes in human population through voluntary control are slow but could continue indefinitely, ultimately reducing human population to a level that has both advanced technology and sustainability.  There is limited research on what this might be, and of course nobody knows what ultimate population might be, nor the technological infrastructure that will be available to sustain it (unfortunately, we are not building enough sustainable infrastructure now, which would be 100% renewable systems).  (I have often guessed at about 1 billion humans with a highly eco-conscious society, and the benefit of a sustained-mass-command-effort to build sustainable energy and transportation that starts real soon now.  Sadly it could be lower, much lower if we don't build out the required systems or do so well, we could suffer a huge involuntary loss through collapse of civilization's ability to organize food and energy production, leaving only pockets of survivors--which looks pretty likely within a few hundred years, and that is not the ultimate worst case possible which is planetary Venusification at unknown but presumed very low risk.)

Second: CO2 isn't the only problem, by far.

So even if it won't solve the immediate problem, global population restriction through control of birthing will be necessary for long term sustainability and should begin now at the fastest politically acceptable rate.  I am fine with a one-child policy, enforced by post-birth sterilization and humane administrative means (i.e., no forced abortions, and no harm to children) for violators.  And the usual freely available education and opportunity for women, birth control, and abortion on a voluntary basis.

If we don't control population through reasonable controls on birthing, more extreme measures will be forced on us by necessity.

The environmental footprint of humans in the not-so-far-off future will have to be at current subsistence indigenous levels.  Meanwhile, industrial society cranks away, promising to industrialize globally and raise all the world to lucky wage-slave status of western society workers.  If in fact consumer society is replicated everywhere it will be the greatest disaster ever.

And meanwhile economists, even in the IPCC report, blithely project 4 times greater average human income in 2100, for which environmental loss can be calculated as some fraction.  Well that is because of the "income bias" of economists.  If instead you look at the well being of the global commons, of eviscerating wildlife, of decimating ocean life, melting ice sheets, deserts, rising sea level, greater storms, declining water levels and land productivity, you would see epochal catastrophe, from which sustaining mass human income is improbable and mass loss of human lives inevitable.  Some "4 times greater income per capita".  Markets are not somehow going to save the commons because the commons have only been the dumping grounds for markets.  Nor will commons-saving innovation be driven by markets, see above.  The only hope for humanity is collective solutions to preserving the commons and providing social insurance, and possibly much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment