Do You Feel Lucky?

(and feel free to comment! My older posts are certainly no less relevant to the burning concerns of the day.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

In Depth Questions #4: The Population! What's Going to Happen??

The population of earth is out of control in a manner that can only be described as gonzo bonkers. What's going to happen??

The population is going to be like, fifty billion at some point if nobody does something. What's going to happen then?? What's going to happen at fifty-two billion? How are all those people going to eat and if they starve to death, what will we do with all the bodies? It's going to be a huge environmental and logistics issue. Death isn't just a health threat in itself, it's also a brand-new threat the moment you've got bodies to deal with. From a legal standpoint, bodies qualify as biomedical waste. You can look it up on Wikipedia if you doubt it. Check under "bodies."

In fact, I'm not sure how they fudge around that even now, at this late date. The funeral industry has been playing a shady game for a long, long time and my guess is the check's in the mail, if it isn't already. The special exemption can't go on forever with so much health at stake - once we hit fifty billion, we're talking up to fifty billion lives. That's what's going to be at stake. Think of the precautions we already know how to do! Why is this proven knowledge not being used? Does a biomedical waste dump that's professionally run, according to all the standards and up to code as far as the FDA, or FTC or USAMRID or whoever's responsible - would they permit an outfit like that to just dump the stuff in a six-foot hole and claim the smell from a one-time or at best, yearly flower-bouquet makes it alright?

This is a clear case of deregulation-by-de-facto. And worse, the regulations in this area were never in compliance in the first place, if you think about it in terms of requirements we see today for responsible getting-rid-of of these kinds of materials. You need to have six people initial the form and go through a locked gate to safely dump a bucket of tonsils. Yet for the funeral industry? Loophole city! Any claim to be "grandfathered in" - that grandpa has to have long since expired by this point. No way.

The only excuse for this ongoing sweetheart deal is favoritism, pure and simple. Favoritism, and a superstitious and offensive regard for tradition over cold, hard science.

Think about the kind of bits and pieces they tag and secure for quarantine in a proper and adequate biomedical disposal facility - whatever THAT is. A dead body has way more organs in it than that, and many of those organs are potentially fatal if the right disease hits them! How long can we remain struthious on this? Struthious means be like an ostrich. How long can we be like an ostrich? It sounds like it would be a pretty fun contest, for company retreats and picnics and such! How long can we stick our head and part of our neck underground, and keep it there? But there's nothing fun about it once people start to asphyxiate! We need to face up to the facts here: we can no longer keep our head underground, and expect an unimpeded supply of oxygen. However, some encouraging news: "struthious" is almost always used in a metaphorical sense, so most people weren't doing that anyway.

How could a company picnic or retreat like that justify such potentially-deadly contests? A potato-sack contest is one thing - or a dunk tank! And then somebody drowns, and a fun day ruined. Who bears the responsibility? Who will bear it in the future? What sort of world are we leaving our children? Or if we are childless - can that in itself be a sign of responsible parenting?

In a world where the population is going to be like fifty billion or something at some point, sometimes the best thing you can do is take it straight to the worst case scenario - only then, maybe, will it be clear to see where to go from here to not get there. So suppose the population hits fifty billion. Where do all those people fit? Let's suppose they do fit. What do they eat? Let's assume they starve. What do we do with all the dead bodies? How can we consider the current regulatory climate adequate on a question like this? Let's suppose it is adequate. How does that help the situation?

Sometimes, an adequate regulatory climate is not enough. You also need the public will to demand enforcement. And a little thing I like to call good old fashioned team spirit and rah rah morale. Can that alone save us from the worst that could happen, when the population skyrocket hits the inevitable fucked-up point? And if not, what can? What's going to happen??


Mel said...

I was at the Lifeline Bookfest this morning (a overwhelmingly huge second-hand book sale held in the exhibition centre here) and came across Thomas Robert Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population which I had never heard of before and I was very surprised to see it was first published in 1798.

An Essay on the Principle of Population

Have you read it? What surprised me is that the notion of the earth's ability to sustain a rapidly increasing population was cause for concern as early as the 1700s. I just assumed it was a relatively new conundrum for the human race.

From what I can gather, Malthus' vibe seems to be that we (mostly) breed more than we can feed, albeit he's way more nuanced than that.

"The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world".

However, despite the term "Malthusian catastrophe" being coined, my further digging came up with this...

Malthusian catastrophe

"Notwithstanding the apocalyptic image ... Malthus himself did not subscribe to the notion that mankind was fated for a "catastrophe" due to population overshooting resources. Rather, he believed that population growth was generally restricted by available resources.

Mel said...

Then there’s these bits …

"On the assumption that the demographic transition is now spreading from the developed countries to less developed countries, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that human population may peak in the late 21st century rather than continue to grow until it has exhausted available resources.

"However, some contend that the Malthusian catastrophe is not imminent. A 2002 study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that world food production will be in excess of the needs of the human population by the year 2030; however, that source also states that hundreds of millions will remain hungry (presumably due to economic realities and political issues)."

The criticism section was interesting too...

"The economist Henry George argued that Malthus didn't provide any evidence of a natural tendency for a population to overwhelm its ability to provide for itself. George wrote that even the main body of Malthus' work refuted this theory; that examples given show social causes for misery, such as "ignorance and greed... bad government, unjust laws, or war," rather than insufficient food production.

Engels also states that the calculation that Malthus made with the difference in population and productive power is incorrect because Malthus does not take into consideration a third element, science. Scientific “progress is as unlimited and at least as rapid as that of population”.On the other hand, Joseph Tainter argues that science has diminishing marginal returns and scientific progress is becoming more difficult, harder to achieve and more costly.

I think my favourite quote I came across in all of my browsing was this ..

"American land-economist Henry George observed with characteristic piquancy in dismissing Malthus: "Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens; but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens."

Apologies for a very long comment (so long, blogger needed me to carve it into two), particularly if you've come across this before. It's just all very interesting though hey. Like, I've always believed we have the knowledge and resources to feed everyone, we just don't have the will and the compassion to do so.

dogimo said...

I've never read that essay (Malthus), but I've heard it cited often as a key influence on Darwin's thought: the tendency of population to increase to exceed available resources and force competition for limited resources being, essentially, the main engine driving natural selection. Darwin got that from Malthus, and also from economist Adam Smith, whose ideas about limited resources in the field of economics inspired Malthus to apply them to elsewhere. I've never seen the Malthus in a bookstore.

I have seen (and picked up) a little book by Smith - part of the Penguin "Great Ideas" Series, itself a great idea! They come out with all these teeny little books from the past, each of which has some claim to a formative influence on later thought. I picked up a bunch of those, Trotsky's An Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed and Exhausted Peoples of Europe; The Sickness Unto Death, by Soren Fucking Kierkegaard; Days of Reading by Marcel Proust; and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Grand Inquisitor. I just saw the rack of all these little books and had to get a few. They were all well-designed with attractive covers and cried out to be purchased. They were practically stocking-stuffers! How neat for them to be made available in this bite-sized way, to the average reader who probably had heard reference made to them, but had no interest in seeking out or purchasing some huge omnibus tome in which this or that piece had been collected.

I wonder if the one you saw was part of the same series?

dogimo said...

Population growth. Many remedies have been postulated and bruited about in the realm of theory, but as far as I know, only one is proven to work: education. Higher average education level always equals lower population growth, in every country where this is measured. In a rural, unschooled dirt-farm setting, a large number of children can be a resource if there's labor for them to do, but every step up the ladder of development children are far more a burden than a resource - and each child you have cuts what you can give to each child, in terms of material advantage, for a better life for that child.

Education is the only thing that can break a person out of the subsistence mindset. Material opportunity is, of course, also necessary - a person whose mind has broken free and who sees what opportunities exist in the world, but who sees that none of these are available in their own land, their own society - such a person is dangerous, apt to become a revolutionary! In fact, the educated are always the troublemakers, the fire-starters, who rouse up the rabble. Education is dangerous to the country that has nothing but dirt and gruel to offer masses of its people.

So perhaps, a prerequisite to a mounting a major population education push is to be running a not abominably shitty country. To be running one's country steady on a road to development and progress that the people can see, and a commitment to liberty and justice and rights that the people can believe in. This is the surest guard against revolution - or perhaps better put, in the case of a country lifting itself from past squalor, to be already running a successful top-down revolution is the surest guard against revolution from below.

Assuming your country doesn't out-and-out suck to the point where education will make your population dangerous to you, though, education is the ticket to population control. Education gives a person a sense of the past, and a stake in the future, and makes it clear to them that a better life is achievable - for one's children, even more than for one's self. Something to sacrifice and strive for, that one can expect to see the benefit and be proud of it in one's own life time. To an educated parent, it's plain each child you have cuts what each child can receive from you. You naturally come to want fewer children and a greater benefit to each.

At least, I'd assume that's something of the reason behind it. The correlation between average higher education completed and lower rate of growth is there, statistically. The reasons why are, I'm sure, more complex than I make them - but given the strength and clarity of the correlation, the reasons why may not matter so much.