Sunday, July 22, 2007

Some New Visuals On the Human Prospect

Wondering what the human prospect is these days? You might get some factual insights on that by visiting Trinifar this week.

Trinifar has put together some beautiful graphs showing major ecological, demographic and economic trends in a post on "visualizing sustainability". He then briefly explains each graph in clear, non-technical terms.

Especially worth noting I think are the estimates that the world population of humans will reach 9 billion by 2050, while the maximum sustainable population is estimated between one and three billion. If anything even remotely like that occurs (and something remotely like that seems very likely) some environmental resources will be exhausted by the excess population, perhaps leading to a reduction in the number of people who can live on the earth in a sustainable fashion. That's just about the mildest effect such a disaster will have on the human prospect.

The effect of too many people and too few resources that concerns me most is political and spiritual. Huge numbers of people competing for diminishing resources is quite likely to lead to repressive societies. Then what happens? Will humanities' potential for authentic happiness ever be realized? Will most of us be able to appreciably develop our talents and skills, or stay true to ourselves? Or will only the tiny elite that controls the world's resources have decent lives?

I am reasonably confident that in the long run, the human spirit will rebound. But the long run could take centuries to be realized.


amuirin said...

This is kinda interesting. While I don't neccessarily think it's going to help that much, because of the way the population in existence treats it's environment, I've been reading lately how a number of countries are experiencing or about to experience tremendous decline in population.

The reasons vary, but it is a trend among educated western civilizations that education lowers the number of offspring. But in places you wouldn't expect like areas of India, this is also happening: People aren't reproducing at a rate sufficient to replace themselves.

In China, they're on the brink of a sort of crisis between the one child maximum that was put into place for awhile, and all the infanticide and suicide of females; there's this huge disparity between the number of available woman and the men who are coming of age.

So populations do not look to be increasing exponentially without internal regulations built in. That's sort of keeping with patterns of evolution, I think, and as much as we seem to have bucked the natural order, maybe we haven't really.

But even 1 billion people can't expect to treat their habitat like a junkyard and live indefinitely.

Trinifar said...


I'm not proposing that populations are increasing exponentially. In fact, I've written they are not doing so, at least not in the mathematical sense of "exponential." (A link to that essay is in the post Paul links to above.)

However, world population is increasing by more than 70 million per year, a huge amount which only adds to the pressure of climate change, resource consumption, land use change, etc. Most demongraphers project a figure of 8.5 to 10 billion people by 2050. As you note, we aren't doing a very good job now with 6.5 billion people on the planet. Adding another 50% isn't going to help.

Any compassionate action to lower the peak future population would be a good thing. Things like you mention (education, women's rights, anti-poverty measures) all help. So does making family planning and contraception available to as many women as possible so they can control their own bodies.

India and China are crowded by any measure, and while their may be pockets in those countries that are experiencing declining population (although I'm not aware of any) overall their population is still increasing.

Some European nations are experiencing population decline if you ignore immigration. South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia however are still growing rather quickly and suffering for it. One consequence is that every year more people are living in poverty, more people struggle to get clean water, more people lack decent santitary living conditions, etc.