Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Malthus Revisited

The most important problem humanity faces is addressing loss of knowledge and resources with each succeeding generation. As each generation dies, knowledge and experience is lost. Each succeeding generation will become progressively poorer as commons are lost or degraded, species are extinguished, agricultural lands are degraded, and the necessities become more and more scarce. Each succeeding generation will also forget how much poorer it is compared to the previous generation since much of that experience and knowledge is lost. And, until some limiting factor is reached, the population will continue to double within a human lifetime. The oceans are almost fished out now ( who would have thought? ). The cod of today are puny and rare compared to the cod of 50-100 years ago. There will come a point where water, food, and energy will become limiting unless desalination and energy generation become cheaper. The environment will degrade and civilization will collapse as people fight over what remains. Economists have a poor track record of assigning proper value to commons and resources. Economics is also an incredibly shortsighted discipline. The future could be different assuming we can limit population and mine outer space since the resources of the solar system dwarf the resources of our planet, but that assumes we have cheap power sources since leaving the planetary gravity well is very expensive. Population growth and society depend upon plentiful energy, water, food, and materials. But, current trends will prove Malthus correct within 50-100 years or so, unless people focus on the long term rather than the short term. If you think times are bad now, just wait another 25-50 years.

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But the Malthusian effect of limiting population growth may be a good thing.

One of the oddest things is charities promoting huge water and food projects in Africa to accelerate the already high population growth, hence boosting overuse and desertification - just making things worse.
 
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