Human Population Increase – How Are We Doing?

Population is a critically important variable in the quest for a sustainable and healthy world. Population dynamics of natural populations is relatively well-understood. Introducing an exotic species into a new habitat where it faces little competition and has rich resources results in a steeply rising curve usually with pronounced exponential rates of increase. Here is the curve for human population increase (I used world bank and UN data) which looks more-or-less identical to a normal natural population of an introduced species with little competition and rich resources.
human-pop-growth

Over time the resource level and/or competitive factors or disease from overly dense populations begin to tip the curve so that the slope of population increase is decreased. Here is a chart of the recent changes in human population growth and a projection to 2050.

worldpop

There is a gentle inflection somewhere about 5 billion people. In the normal course of events in a natural population, there is an “overshoot” beyond the natural inflection point that rises to an amount that depends on a wide range of factors. The inflection point is essentially where the population just begins to react to declining resources, or increased competition, or disease. It can be a large or a small overshoot. However, the normal pre-existing carrying capacity of an area is roughly equal to where the inflection point occurs.

As the pressures on the population increase, the curve slows down completely and then begins to tip over and head into a declining population. The population decline has been caused by stress on the resources and/or increased competition, and disease. This stress normally damages the resource base which lowers the previous carrying capacity of the area.
overshoot carrying cap

Depending on the severity of the overshoot, the damage to the resources will be roughly proportional. In some cases the damage is so great that the population can never recover. If the damage is not too severe, the species will recover to the lower carrying capacity. Often it takes a number of such overshoots, crashes, and recoveries to reach a relatively stable equilibrium.

At least in terms of fit to the natural population curves, humans are not demonstrating anything other than being particularly adept at using up resources through consumption, waste, pollution, and failure to recycle. Global warming will of course put further stress on resource levels and existing coastal regions where population is high. On the above graph, humans (we) are just over the carrying capacity for comfortable living. The potential for severe overshoot is very real. According to the Global Footprint Network, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste annually. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one planet. Needless to say, if the overshoot is allowed to reach dramatic levels, the inevitable decline will be a horrible experience for billions of people. Suggested estimates of 11 to 14 billion have been made by demographers. Such levels would be very uncomfortable for most people. If this were the case and the decline were to begin, it would be devastating.

People certainly have the potential to be smart about the ecological management of the world. The science is not lacking in this field. Competent management would absolutely not call for continued increase in population levels. Population growth however, is encouraged in many countries by offering tax breaks for children, rewards for more than two children, and baby bonuses. Countries that desire increased populations tend to deny education to women and discourage family planning or birth control. Economic growth is politically and corporately seen to be necessary. One way to achieve economic growth is to increase the demand – have more babies. This is not true of all countries of course and many discourage having too many babies. The net result today is that population continues to increase, but at a slightly slower pace than previously. In a few cases the actual fertility rate is lower than the replacement rate. China has experimented with coercive population control with some success accompanied by much unhappiness and a degree of cheating the system. One disturbing trend is aborting female children in favour of male children, such that the country now has a potential problem of many young men (30 million by 2030) who will not have a potential mate. We need to find and implement a wide range of non-coercive means of introducing human population management. Stabilizing or reducing absolute population size will make solving other problems easier both because there are fewer of us and also because many of the solutions to birth control involve education which spills over into other relevant topics.

The conservative predictions for population growth by the time kids today are in their mid-40s is about 9 billion people on this planet. This will place the human global footprint at just about 2.0 – that is we will have overshot our planet’s ability to renew the resources we have used in one year by a factor of two. For developed countries this is much greater (the US today is at about a factor of 10 on a per capita basis if US lifestyle were extended to the entire world population). If the prediction of growth to 2100 is maintained, it could be 11 billion people.

If we consider the implications of a planetary carrying capacity of 5 billion people that means the population must fall at some point to 5 billion people or fewer to be sustainable – recognizing that the resource base of the planet will be considerably diminished by then and developing countries will want to experience improved lifestyles. Unless we drastically change our reproductive patterns, demographers predict that the peak will be about 11 billion people by approximately the year 2100. That will mean the time from inflection on the growth curve to peak population will be about 110 years. The declining side of the growth curve is usually pretty symmetrical to the increase implying that the rate of decline in population will be roughly equal to the negative of the rate of increase. So by 2200 the population will diminish to about 5 million people. That cannot happen without misery.

It would be far better to stabilize the population of the world well below these figures. The key is to empower women to make their own reproductive choices. The Worldwatch Institute suggests nine non-coercive strategies to stop short of 9 billion people and reverse the trend before 2050. I imagine we can add to that list. The immediate challenge, however, is to implement these strategies quickly enough to make the difference. With that goal met, the decline to 5 billion people would be much more manageable and while difficult it would not create uncontrollable human disasters. Here are the Worldwatch strategies:

  1. Provide universal access to safe and effective contraceptive options for both sexes. With nearly two in five pregnancies reported as mistimed or never wanted, lack of access to good family planning services is among the biggest gaps in assuring that each baby will be wanted and welcomed in advance by its parents.
  2. Guarantee education through secondary school for all, especially girls. In every culture surveyed to date, women who have completed at least some secondary school have fewer children on average, and have children later in life, than do women who have less education.
  3. Eradicate gender bias from law, economic opportunity, health, and culture. Women who can own, inherit, and manage property; divorce; obtain credit; and participate in civic and political affairs on equal terms with men are more likely to postpone childbearing and to have fewer children compared to women who are deprived of these rights.
  4. Offer age-appropriate sexuality education for all students. Data from the United States indicate that exposure to comprehensive programs that detail puberty, intercourse, options of abstinence and birth control, and respecting the sexual rights and decisions of individuals, can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and hence reduce birth rates.
  5. End all policies that reward parents financially based on the number of children they have. Governments can preserve and even increase tax and other financial benefits aimed at helping parents by linking these not to the number of children they have, but to parenthood status itself.
  6. Integrate lessons on population, environment, and development into school curricula at multiple levels. Refraining from advocacy or propaganda, schools should educate students to make well-informed choices about the impacts of their behavior, including childbearing, on the environment.
  7. Put prices on environmental costs and impacts. In quantifying the cost of an additional family member by calculating taxes and increased food costs, couples may decide that the cost of having an additional child is too high, compared to the benefits of a smaller family that might receive government rebates and have a lower cost of living. Such decisions, freely made by women and couples, can decrease birth rates without any involvement by non-parents in reproduction.
  8. Adjust to an aging population instead of boosting childbearing through government incentives and programs. Population aging must be met with the needed societal adjustments, such as increased labor participation, rather than by offering incentives to women to have more children.
  9. Convince leaders to commit to stabilizing population growth through the exercise of human rights and human development. By educating themselves on rights-based population policies, policymakers can ethically and effectively address population-related challenges by empowering women to make their reproductive choices.

Ecomodernist Manifesto

The idea of an ecomodern view point makes eminent good sense. Take the best of modern technology combined with modern understanding of global ecology, human societies, human needs and desires and put them all together in a winning package. The purpose of this Ecomodernist Manifesto, authored by some 26 scholars is essentially to propose an economic strategy (although the authors categorize it as a strategy to improve ecological and human well-being):

“We offer this statement in the belief that both human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet are not only possible, but also inseparable. By committing to the real processes, already underway, that have begun to decouple human well-being from environmental destruction, we believe that such a future might be achieved. As such, we embrace an optimistic view toward human capacities and the future.”

WOW! That is to say, they believe that continuing on the path we currently have embarked on will save the day if we emphasize technological innovation to provide limitless energy and intensive primary production that will not limit the population growth of humans for the foreseeable future (centuries or thousands of years).
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More on Ecomodernist Snakeoil

The Ecomodernist Manifesto is, in my opinion, a cleverly designed marketing tool to allow continued exploitation of extractive energy and mineral resources while encouraging damaging intensive agricultural practices that ignore the limits of soil recovery. There are many messages about how technology will save us all, but on climate change and global ecological challenges, they espouse the following: “Climate change and other global ecological challenges are not the most important immediate concerns for the majority of the world’s people. Nor should they be. A new coal-fired power station in Bangladesh may bring air pollution and rising carbon dioxide emissions but will also save lives

At least some of the authors of the manifesto have serious doubts that the current scientific conclusions from climate studies are accurate enough to warrant spending money on mitigation. They base this uncertainty on a variety of ideas, but primarily that the variability of observations combined with the probability predictions in climate models suggest the sensitivity of the planet is much lower than most climate scientists claim. In addition, they argue that the various scenarios of catastrophic melting or increased temperatures are either unlikely or in the distant future when new innovative technology will come to the rescue – just as it always has in the past.
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The Eco-Modernist Paradox: Snakeoil?

Introduction

An Ecomodernist Manifestodemands that humans use their growing social, economic, and technological powers to make life better for people, stabilize the climate, and protect the natural world.” The eco-modernists argue that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while human societies must not harmonize with nature because in their opinion that will not avoid economic or ecological collapse. They claim that as a general rule, natural systems will not be be protected or enhanced by the expansion of humankind’s dependence upon them for sustenance and well-being.

Instead they claim that “intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts. These socioeconomic and technological processes are central to economic modernization and environmental protection. Together they allow people to mitigate climate change, to spare nature, and to alleviate global poverty.” I am not certain how you can intensify forestry without being extractive unless you turn the forests into wood farms. Nor am I certain how one can extract fuels more intensely without extracting them…
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Anthropocene

The Holocene began about 11,700 years ago, after the end of the ice age. The term is a geological term. That happened to be just about the same time that people began to shift from a nomadic hunter-gatherer society to one that investigated and eventually established agriculture. In that brief 12,000 years since then people have made an enormous impact on the planet. Nobel laureate and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen popularized the term Anthropocene in 2000 and it now has appeared in some 200 scientific articles. Geologists tend to object to the term and remark that the taxonomy is geological and there is no obvious geological evidence as to the start of a new era. Because this is a nebulous term and not yet completely established in the scientific literature, the exact beginning is unclear.

Whatever is the actual case, the term has caught on and in a new study by Will Steffen and others, 16 Jan 2015, Science, on planetary boundaries, the scope of the human impact is illustrated in a graphic that depicts the outer limits of a number of potentially limiting factors on human survival.
Planetary boundaries

Increasingly the accelerated growth we are currently undergoing in a wide range of variables adds to the concept that the Anthropocene is an era of human dimensions that hare having a singularly strong impact on the resource base of the human civilization. This slideshow is from the IGBP Secretariat and depicts a series of changes since 1750.

The long-term implications of these changes in an economic and ecological environment are ominous. For more information, this site is intriguing:

Capitalism Without Employees

As John Locke pointed out centuries ago, capitalism is a self-initiating strategic response to the possibility of becoming independently wealthy once the state lost or diminished its ability to arbitrarily assume ownership of individual wealth. The idea is simple enough: combine the assets of several people into a single corporate body so that each contributes capital making it more possible for the single corporation to control production and distribution to dominate the market and thus maximize the amount of wealth that can be shared amongst the owners of capital (so-called capitalists) within the corporation. Because it is an economic system, not a social system, the corporations (thus the capitalists in the system) are nothing more than strategic constructs. They have no inherent mechanism of exhibiting social consciousness or social responsibility for people beyond the ownership of the corporation. Many corporations require employees, but many do not, they can be operated completely with owners and no one else. Employees in a capitalist corporation are really just packages of energy and skills. If the “person” part of the employee can be more inexpensively replaced by a machine, the corporation “feels” no compunction about making that replacement.
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Developing Anthropogenic Global Warming Policy Options

Background of Policy Development for Anthropogenic Global Warming

Policies are rules of laws imposed to ensure the implementations of tactics chosen to fulfill the needs of a strategy that is support of a goal or objective. A goal or objective is often part of a project or a solution to a problem. A suite of policies or tactics comprise the means by which the strategy will be carried out. Single policies rarely are sufficient to cover the entire scope of a strategy. Finally it may also take several strategies to achieve the goals need to solve a particularly difficult problem or complex project.

In this case the problem we are going to tackle is the not-so-recent rise in greenhouse gas concentrations (especially CO2 from human activities) that appears to be causing significant imbalance in the heat flux of the planet resulting in a net warming of the atmosphere, ocean, and ultimately of the earth. This warming is a problem because it is insidious. The warming is very slow on a human time scale, so slow that most people who are younger than about 50 years old really are unable to say they have any experience of a warming trend. This means that the understanding of global warming is essentially from being told that it is happening, not from being able to personally say that it has been obvious in their lifetimes. Furthermore, the defined danger from global warming is a creeping danger that will last generations if not brought under control fairly quickly. So the danger for most people is not personal and certainly not perceived to be personally life-threatening. This makes it easy to stand by and debate what should or should not be done. For our children and grandchildren, who have not yet really felt the effects, it is not going to be so impersonal.

Most of the children being born today will see well into the 2100s and will be strongly affected by the social upheaval that will result from rising sea level causing human migrations on a grand scale, increased disease vectors, increased loss of agricultural and forest crops from pests, more extremes of storms, rainfall and droughts depending on where you happen to live, salt intrusion into coastal water supplies, melting ice off mountains that normally supply water to millions of people, and many more effects. These will be combined with other problems the world faces from increased pollution, overuse of many resources, increased burden of population increase and dwindling agricultural land areas. Finally, although many animals and plants will be able to adapt to the changes, still many more will not be able to do so, and the continuing drop of biodiversity which lessens our resilience to natural disasters will accelerate. Resource wars are already starting to become apparent and may be linked to rising ethnic intolerance in areas short of water and food. These are likely to increase in intensity. So while most adults today won’t be that much affected, their grandchildren certainly will have to face serious problems of our making if we do not act to control the anthropogenically caused global warming.
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Global Warming Policy Formulation

Global Warming Policy Concepts

Strategies flow from goals, and tactics flow from strategies. Policies are essentially political implementations of tactics by setting up rules. The political agents setting the rules in the policies can be government, corporate, or organizational.

Think about how the goals set the stage for the strategies. For example, if the goal is to understand the causes of global warming, the strategy will be different than if the goal is to avoid global warming, and different again if the goal is to reduce the effects on humans of global warming.
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Red Flag Review – Social Norms and Global Environmental Challenges: The Complex Interaction of Behaviors, Values, and Policy. Kinzig et al

When learned people publish a serious proposal to gain special access to public policy makers to promote their specific perspective, they have a responsibility to establish proper rationale and safeguards in their proposal. This is especially true in today’s digital world where anyone with a computer linked to the Internet – not just the intended specialist experts – can read at least part of the paper free of charge. Authors Kinzig, Ehrlich, Alston, Arrow, Barrow, Buchman, Daily, B. Levin, S. Levin, Oppenheimer, Ostrom, and Saari present a case for narrowing the gap between science, scientific discoveries and insights, and the development and delivery of public policies (policies created and implemented by government). They offer no mechanism for their accountability as scientific advisers in the proposed special committee to advise non-scientist policy makers. They make a bland statement that their proposed improvements in modification of social norms and the messages they wish to promote can be carried out in a transparent, fair, and representative democracy, while at the same time acknowledging that some of the recommendations will carry a burden that even a majority of society would not want.
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Terminology

For my Twitter conversations to clarify my use of terms.

OBSERVATIONS. Examples for climate change include temperature, temperature changes, circulation patterns of atmosphere and ocean, energy input from sun, energy losses, back radiation, energy distribution, changes in atmospheric and ocean chemistry and heat content, etc.

DATA. Any series of observations or measurements that are used to create descriptions of trends, relationships, models, cause and effect relationships, or test hypotheses. This example is a series of CO2 atmospheric concentration data from the Mauna Loa observatory shown plotted over time.

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Criminals Don’t Obey the Law

The US is struggling to find the moral compass needed to reduce the horrific gun violence and death rates. Ideological, financial/business, political, and practical interests all seem to be competing and advocating for specific positions with regard to gun policy. Virtually none are interested in addressing the actual problem of gun violence. Some advocate ramping up the presence of guns as if stepping backwards in time to the days of the US wild wild west as depicted in cartoons and movies where everyone walked around with a gun strapped to their hip ready to take on anyone who challenged them. Here is one perhaps not-so-surprising comment that arises from this warrior macho attitude:

“Criminals don’t obey the law so there is no point to passing more laws!”

What an asinine comment. What on earth could they be thinking? One becomes a criminal by intentionally breaking the law. Are they suggesting no laws? Are they thinking that if there are no laws there would be no criminals? Do they want a society where anything goes? Are they advocating anarchy in which everyone is on their own? What madness runs through their minds when they suggest we don’t need laws because criminals don’t obey them anyway? Continue reading

Guns, Crime, Homicide, Gun Ownership: Statistical Trends

Introduction

Some surprising results from a seat-of-the-pants statistical analysis on a global basis of guns, gun ownership, gun-related deaths, overall crime rate, and the effect of being in a rich or poor country on the likelihood of being involved in a crime or homicide, whether as a perpetrator or victim. I also offer a couple of workable steps to significantly reduce homicides and gun deaths backed up by the results of the surveys.
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Caribbean Reef Sharks Posing for the Movies

I was scanning some slides to preserve the images and found some nice shots of Caribbean Reef sharks.

In the first two, the shark is a lady and she was feeling a bit grumpy so would swim right at us then slide by quite close to us testing our reactions. The place was off Nassau and we were doing a TV show about sharks and their behaviour for the Canadian Discovery Channel.


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The One Percent Syndrome

The 1% syndrome — the concentration of wealth in a mere 1% of the population. Why does that happen in essentially every economic system from dictatorships, to communism, to capitalism? It happens because all organisms including people need energy and water to survive. So all organisms including people develop strategies to ensure that energy and water is constantly available. The “requirement” to have such a strategy means that on an evolutionary basis, there is a drive to access or control energy and water either by remaining close to the sources, or by defending a territory around or to the sources. In economic terms such a strategy also applies to energy and key resources. The concept of controlling production and distribution of products so that wealth can be distributed among a select group is derived directly and spontaneously from the inner drive that organisms have to ensure a safe and secure future. By controlling production, or the source of production, and how it is to be shared or distributed leads, willy-nilly, to the potential for acquiring more than individual need and spills over to broader support for families and extended families in many species and certainly among people. In an economic system, the concept of an extended family can reach out to favoured friends or in capitalist systems to corporate shareholders. The more successfully the strategy of control is implemented, the more production and sharing is limited to that individual’s or corporation’s influence.
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