So I made a lot of people very angry with my last post—understandable. The facts are scary and the truth uncomfortable. That said, a great many of my new fans have managed to skew what I wrote into incredibly peculiar directions. For error correction purposes, I’m going to devote my next few posts to different aspects of this topic.
I want to start by reiterating what I'm saying and not saying. What I suggested was that we VOLUNTARILY stop having children for five years. I don't mean forever. I am not suggesting euthanasia or genocide or forced sterilization or top-down government mandates.
I simply think we can give the planet a five year break.
Those five years would not solve the problem, but they would lower the current population numbers by a little less than a billion people and it would do so in a way that doesn’t require culling the herd through violence of any kind. In the choice between birth control and mass devastation, I'm picking birth control.
Furthermore, for those who feel I’m a misanthrope, I would argue just the opposite. A misanthrope would want to see the human race disappear. I’m a pretty big fan of our species and would really like to prevent such a cataclysm. What I am suggesting is an easier (not in terms of emotional sacrifice, rather in terms of cost and method) way of giving us a chance to better our situation.
While I did point out that most experts feel the earth has 4.4 billion too many people —I want to see humanity survive. I don't suggest killing off these people. I merely am pointing out what scientists have been pointing out for quite a while: that there are way too many of us.
My idea is a way to give these 4.4 billion extra folks a fighting chance in the years ahead. What do I mean by a fighting chance? Well, let’s first look at why we need that chance.
Let’s start off by briefly examining some of the resource issues currently facing humanity. Peak oil is the one that gets the most attention, so I’ll begin there.
The term itself refers to the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which begins a long slow decline. It was coined by Shell Oil geoscientist M. King Hubbert in 1956. He then predicted that American oil production (mainly the big Texas fields) would peak between 1965-1970 and, well, he was right.
In fact, his model, now called the Hubbert peak theory, has predicted—with a fair level of accuracy—the peak and decline in production of most of the oil fields around the globe.
According to a recent paper by Kjell Alklett, president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and physics professor at the Uppsala University in Sweden: “We have all been enjoying the greatest party the world has ever seen: the great oil party. After the climax comes the decline, when we have to sober up and face the fact that the party is coming to an end.”
So maybe the Swedes got it wrong? Well, in the past few months everyone from the rather conservative former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan to scientists at MIT have concurred. The point is this: While people have gone back and forth about the when on the matter, the if is no longer in question.
The pessimists say we already peaked back in the early 90s, Hubbert himself believed the year 2000 was the date, while the optimists feel we still have about ten to fifteen years until that happens. Meanwhile, a consortium of global geologists believe we’ve already tapped 94 percent of the world’s available oil.
Maybe they're wrong. Maybe the optimists are correct and we still have a few years to party. Even so, it’s worth remembering that the oil that was floating closer to the surface of the earth (what we’ve already finished off) is far easier to access than the stuff that’s much deeper. Meaning the oil shocks of last summer and the five dollar a gallon price-at-the-pump was merely the warm up round. Backing this point up is the 2007 Joint Association Survey of Drilling Costs which found that the oil industry spent 106 percent more to drill and equip wells in the US than they did in 2006, along the way setting all time record highs for production costs.
And while running out of oil would put a huge dent in our drive-time habits (to say nothing of what it would do to industry), water is a much graver concern.
Currently, water scarcity now effects four out of every ten people on the planet according to the World Health Organization. 1.2 billion people do not have access to clean water. 5 to 10 million people, mostly children, mostly in the third world, die each year because of this.
Here, in America, scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego have forecast that Lake Mead and Lake Powell—the two largest reservoirs in the southwest United States could become “dead pools” within 13 years. The Ogallala Aquifer, the largest in the United States, contained more water than Lake Huron before electric pumping began. Since then, we have dropped those levels by 12 billion cubic meters a year—roughly 18 times the annual flow of the Colorado River.
Here’s an even larger concern: less oil and less water means less food. A lot of my readers pointed out that Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich was drastically wrong in predicting that millions of people would starve to death in 1970s and 80s. While I will address this more completely in future posts, for now let’s examine the shorthand version of why he was wrong.
Ehrlich failed to foresee a massive innovation, specifically Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” which raised food production levels higher than they’ve ever before been lifted. But how that happened is the more important concern. We achieved this food bounty by pouring massive amounts of oil (and water actually since a lot of that oil was used in pumping water out of aquifers to grow more crops) on our farm land.
Modern agriculture is built around petrochemicals. Petrochemicals run our tractors, provide our pest control, ship our foods, power our big box supermarkets and do thousands of other little things along the way—so running out of oil and water also means we could start running out of food.
And we’ve already started. 786 million people currently don't have enough to eat. In six of the last eight years world grain production has fallen short of consumption rates. And this is only going to get worse as global warming continues to take hold. In a July 2004 study done by the US National Academy of Sciences a team of researchers concluded—and this conclusion has since been accepted as a global rule of thumb—that for every 1 degree the planet’s temperature rises above normal levels, we will see a ten percent reduction in rice, corn and wheat yields.
And the above constitutes a very, very, very abridged look at potential coming shortages. For a better overview, check out “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” prepared by the US National Intelligence Council which drew upon the input of hundreds of specialists from dozens of countries—including (for those who think this is just liberal fear mongering) mainstream think tanks like the Brookings Institution, the RAND Corporation and the American Enterprise Institute.
All of these experts agreed that in 25 years the world will likely face greater shortages of water for drinking and farming, insufficient food to meet demand and serious competition for diminishing energy resources. For those who still think this is progressive claptrap, it’s worth pointing out that this report can be found here—on the CIA’s website.
So what does all of this have to do with my proposed 5 Year Ban? Simply put, I’m a big believer in human innovation and our ability to think and work our way out of this mess. But that thinking and that working is going to take time. So giving the earth a five year population break is a way of buying us some more time. Rather than being a vote for misanthropy, it’s a vote for humanity.
All I’m proposing is that humanity take a short rest period while we try to solve the most dire threat to our species in the history of the world. Five years of breathing room to jumpstart an alternative energy revolution. Five years to stave off resource wars. Five years to help us help ourselves.
Really, is that too much to ask?