Jack Alpert: Rapid Population Decline or Bust

* Jack Alpert [skil.org]: Rapid Population Decline or Bust:

Rapid Population Decline or Bust

by Jack Alpert; skil.org, 20 Jan 2018.


[1] Whats the problem: We cant foresee civilization collapse.

I’d like to introduce you to Phil and Grace. They are responsible people. They read the paper and watch the news. Phil is a scoutmaster and Grace is on the PTA. However neither thinks their world is going to go bust if they don’t implement Rapid Population Decline. They don’t see their children dying from social violence or starvation. They don’t see children being forced to kill to survive. They don’t see a child’s success making him or her into a killer. They don’t see driving to McDonalds for a burger as a killing behaviour. They don’t see starving people fighting to eat and they don’t see this fighting as powerful enough to collapse civilization.

If these are true statements, Phil and Grace are blind to them. They see no bust bad enough to require them to implement population decline.  In these videos I’ll try to repair some of that blindness.

Let me begin by describing the meaning of too much scarcity. Thats when not enough food is grown, not enough food gets to market. What does get there is bought by the rich, the poor can’t afford even a small part, they don’t eat, they get desperate and they fight to eat. The owners and the rich defend themselves. The attacking and defending diverts resources. Increasing scarcity increases conflict, which increases scarcity, and increases conflict. The chain of events forms a feedback loop. With constant scarcity and conflict, the loop does nothing. When civilizations are prospering the loop runs backwards: a decrease in scarcity decreases conflict, which decreases scarcity and further decreases conflict. However a single failed harvest increases scarcity and triggers the spiral. Even a good harvest the next year does not stop the spiral, expanding conflict. still expands scarcity which still expands conflict. This feedback loop is called civilization death spiral. This death spiral was embedded in the Mayan, the Mongol, the Inca and Roman civilizations and they are all gone. Civilization death spirals are still with us today. Somalia contained one and it collapsed. Bad as that was I am not worried about a single nation collapse; instead I am worried about global civilization collapse, because markets tie everything together. When the rich purchase their needs they unintentionally leave nothing for the poor to buy. Because of global markets a harvest failure in Russia results in starving people in Egypt. Food riots in the ghetto’s spill over into the suburbs. Revolutions spill over borders and every slum in the world people are very close to being pushed off the plate of global support. Soon they will be fighting to eat. The conflict will trip a global civilization death spiral. Most nations will collapse, billions will die. Unfortunately for their children, Phil and Grace just don’t see it.


[2] How civilizations collapse.

Phil and Grace have more to learn about their future.

Here’s a model that describes how civilizations collapse. It has three layers. The death spiral is embedded in the bottom layer. Mechanisms that create load on the earth’s resources on in the top layer. Mechanisms that shows how the earth carries that load are in the middle layer. Anytime the load on the earth created by human activity gets close to the ability of the earth to carry that load, someone experiences increasing scarcity. In the top layer, the loads humans place on earth is called the total human footprint. Total human footprint is population times per capita footprint. The earths ability to carry that footprint has three components. Non renewable resources like oil and coal. Renewable production like fisheries and forests and recycling absorption capacities like atmosphere and oceans. When the total human footprint begins to approach the limits of these supporting resources, for example using fossil fuels to exhaustion, fishing above replenishment, exceeding recycling capabilities of the ocean and atmosphere, scarcity takes a big jump. The civilization death spiral trips, people die.


[3] Behaviour that drives collapse.

Phil and Grace’s human behaviours can trip the death spiral and collapse civilization.  For example the act of raising oneself above one’s peers can take resources from others and create scarcity. Since as leaders catch up and others sprint forward, hierarchy behaviours are self reinforcing. They continually contribute to scarcity. The natural propensity to ever expand one’s wellbeing expands one’s per capita footprint. It too is a self reinforcing behaviour. Third procreation driven by genes and culture further expands population. These three self reinforcing behaviours show which human behaviours increase or decrease scarcity and encourage or discourage collapse. The actual influence of these processes on collapse, depends on the human load, relative to the earth’s ability to carry such load. .Lets take the easiest case first. In this wonderful green condition the total human load is small relative to a big earths ability to carry.  Each person can increase her or his relative wellbeing causing per capita  footprint to go up, yet because of the excess resources, little scarcity is created. Also population can go up without increasing scarcity. If there was any local scarcity migration could reduce it. Even hierarchy could go up without increasing scarcity, because the rich could take their gain from the earth and not from the wellbeing of others. In fact when the human footprint is small relative to the earths capacity to carry, all these processes operating together don’t create the kind of scarcity that brings down civilization. This analysis changes when human consumption equals the worlds production. Then any one of these expansion processes acting alone could increase scarcity and trip a civilization death spiral. If we don’t want civilization collapse we need to shut down all three of these expansion processes: reduce population, reduce consumption and reduce income inequality. However, even if we did, it would not be enough to prevent collapse. Today this footprint = carrying capacity does not exist. This condition footprint > carrying capacity exists. Today human demands already exceed the earths production. Species are already being crowded out and going extinct. Farmland is already being turned into housing. Every person riding an aeroplane is already diverting time and resources to protect themselves against terrorism. We are already tripping the civilization death spiral.  If this overshoot of human load relative to the earths carrying capacity  was not already tripping the death spiral, one more mechanism is driving us towards collapse. The earths ability to carry us is getting smaller.  Our consumption of non-renewable resources, for example oil, is leading to their exhaustion. Our fishing fleets are lowering ocean fish production. Our farming practices are diminishing soil  productivity and our waste’s are changing our weather and poisoning our ecosystem. With these supports diminishing, to not trip the death spiral, we have to run one or more of these processes backwards: reduce population, consumption and income inequality. One process will have to create a contraction in its variable that is enough to reduce scarcity even though the other two continue to expand. For example, we could try lowering per capita footprint.  if everyone in the world lived smaller, total footprint would decrease, but the cutback in consumption will kill billions of already starving people. The additional scarcity and conflict will collapse civilization. Consider the alternative of lowering the hierarchy of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. This would cut back on scarcity. Phil and Grace did you catch the nuance. The plan is for you to share your home and car with 50 to a 100 boarders. This kind of downsizing is a little more than changing lightbulbs and turning down the thermostat and hoping the energy savings trickle down to the poor. Contracting hierarchy using redistribution may have Phil and Grace causing the conflict that causes collapse. Alternatively hierarchy can be reduced by pushing the poor up in wellbeing and this at first glance does reduce conflict and does in the short term prevent civilization collapse, but it also increases the per capita footprint, which increases total footprint, which increases scarcity  and that collapses civilization. Our last population behaviour change implements a process that contracts population, contracts total footprint and contracts scarcity and prevents the death spiral. While contracting population may appear as an impossible task it might be the only behaviour capable of giving your children the future we want for them.


[4] How much population decline prevents civilization collapse?

Species extinction is caused by too many people. Depleted fisheries is caused by too many people. Starvation: too many people. In fact overpopulation causes genocide, migration and probably climate change. What number is too many? My estimate: Below 100 million.  How did I arrive at this number. We know that rich people consume allot, poor people consume very little. Most of us fall somewhere in between. All of us create a burden of lets say 20 footprint units. The richets 20% create 16 of these footprint units. The remaining billions create only 4 footprint units. …… Summary: As long as people year for eco-sustainability, peace through social justice and ever increasing wellbeing, the global population will have to decrease to below 100 million.


[5] How robust is the solution: What if rich/poor gap is bigger?

The video I just showed you that preventing our sons from living like Somali war orphans we have to reduce the worlds population to below 100 million. Every group of 100 people existing today would be in the future reduced to one.

Lets check my assumptions. I assumed a stratification of wealth between the rich and the poor. I assumed a sustainable use of resources, and I assumed that people would continue to try to improve their well-being. .


[6] How robust is the solution: What if soil regenerates faster?

The second assumption in the video described the time of soil quality lost in a year of farming. I assumed 16 years to regenerate soil. Is that too long? Well not according to David Montgomery, professor at the University of Washingt, author of Dirt: The Erosion of civilizaitons and certainly not for Peter Selonius from Natural Resources Canada. These two respected soil scientists both think that 16 years for regeneration is too short. They could be wrong. Suppose soil could regenerate twice as fast. That would mean you could use 1/8th of the arable land instead of 1/16th. This would double the soil available for growing food. It would double the amount of people who could sustainably be supported to 200 million. To keep our reference, a world of 100 million is 30-40 times too big for peace and sustainability.


[7] How robust is the solution: What if we underestimated life improvement.

The third part of the below 100 million estimate is that people were allowed to improve their wellbeing. I showed that increased longevity by just one year expanded individual footprints enough to lower the sustainable population by a million. Well Phil and Grace are you feeling pretty healthy? My analysis left out other things Phil and Grace might like: camping more days, eating more meat, driving, more baseball games or the extra rounds of golf that come with an extra year of life. Had I included these preferences the sustainable peaceful population would have to have been driven down below 50 million people and that is without any contributions from hierarchy between the rich and poor. Letting Phil and Grace constantly improve their wellbeing means that there are currently 125 times too many people, instead of the video’s 64.


[8] How robust is the solution: How fast can the rich take from the poor?

Hey Phil and Grace how big of a raise did you get this year? How much did your home increase in value? How much did you make in your 401k plan. Doesn’t sound like you made a killing, however a 3% increase in your spending, does kill. Did you spend the 3%? Most people in your group did. Where did the additional goods and services come from? Well if the total human footprint is already equal to the carrying capacity; then the goods and services come from the poor’s share. How long will it take for the rich people to purchase in the open market all of the poors four units of resources? This is not higher math, 0.03 x 16 units = 0.48 units. To absorb all four units, at half a unit a year, will take only 8 years. [4units / 0.5 units per year = 8 years]. In 8 short years the rich would have taken it all. The poor will have nothing in their market to buy. For example: a billion chinese and indians in the developing worlds middle class are beginning to eat a little more meat and drive their own cars. The poorest land would have been purchased to grow food or flowers or corn to make fuel for their cars. The poor will not eat. When the worlds poor hear a great sucking sound in their meagre markets, conflict and civilization collapse will soon follow.

Well Phil and Grace I guess you felt your miserly 3% didn’t make much difference. Now you know it could mean civilization collapse.


[9] How robust is the solution: What if technology advances faster?

Phil and Grace: do you think technology will find new resources make substitutions for exhaused resources and get more product from the same resources? For example: Phil you know the Green Revolution almost tripled the amount of food produced on an acre of land. Lets assume that future technology can double that success. New technology can cause a six fold increase in earths production. Six times non renewable, six times renewable production and six times recycling and absorption capacities. How would that affect the proposed reduction that would produce peace and stability and prevent civilization collapse. Well 6 x 50 million is 300 million. The model tells us that with six times the production from earths existing resources, we don’t have to reduce the earths population to 50 million to avoid my son being turned into a Somali child soldier killler, we only have to reduce it to 300 million. At 300 million, Phil and Grace, todays popujlation is only 23 times too big to deliver peace and sustainability.


[10] Civilization collapse is averted by Rapid Population Decline.

In summary, Phil and Grace are underestimating the human predicament. Its pretty clear that no matter how we juggle the numbers, the world is overloaded with too many people. The dangers of riding on earth are higher than Phil and Grace think. The people on earth and the people on this truck have much in common. The vehicle they are riding on can break down in a hostile environment. Walking out is impossible. Most will die. If someone proposed solutions for the truck drivers predicament, like implementing women’s rights, access to birth control, zero population growth, better environmental protection, consumption caps or better conflict resolution, we’d laugh. These solutions fully implemented wouldn’t resolve the human predicament either, giving the expected exhaustion of supporting resources, given the unlickely possibility that a technological rescue will arrive in time to prevent civilization collapse, its pretty clear, rapid populaton decline is the most powerful way to address the predicament. Its pretty clear that if we don’t implement rapid population decline we will break everything we like about the human experiment. It would be most gratifying if you my listener now understood its rapid population decline or bust.