Thursday, 19 January 2012

Party on Dudes

i've often wondered if the peak of population looms
and our time is bright but short - just like a fleeting flower blooms
and maybe there's no going back - the tipping point's been crossed
'cause we're all of us the most we'll be - peak people

It’s pretty well known that populations can have a lifetime that looks like this:

What Figure 1a depicts is the population over time. It starts with just a few individuals then, as they breed in response to highly available resources and lack of predators, their population grows. Eventually, they become a resource for predators and/or resources deplete and their population falls.

As I progress in this article I would like you to consider the following statement:

The area under the population curve represents the total number of individuals of the species that will ever live.

If the statement was true of humans then statistically it is most likely that I am alive at the same time as the largest number of humans that ever lived:

Whatever might be true of reindeer, rabbits and bacteria etc, there are many people who would argue that humans are different.

For example there’s the idea of a sustainable population:

It’s interesting that the total area under the curve of a sustainable population might be the same area as the normal curve. If this is so then what is the difference if we live now or somewhere else under the curve? In the end the total population would have been the same.

There are also plenty of economists who believe absolutely (or at least assert) that human population growth can continue forever:

That’s an attractive idea though I leave the problem of the really far distant future to the philosophers – the current cosmological model suggests the universe is not infinite.

Assuming that we can grow exponentially forever, the goal then, of all human activity, is to keep us on that curve. Population, resource use, energy use etc must all follow in lock-step the exponential growth curve that leads us to our infinite future.

But every now and then one important curve or another shows a deviation from exponential growth and threatens us with the dark future of the population profile outlined in figure 1a. These I will call the “uh oh” moments:

(And note that there are a few who keep pointing this out eg Declining Economic Growth due to Low Oil Supply Growth)

The “uh oh” moments, economics tell us, will lead to new resources being exploited to bring everything back on track to our infinite future. I call these rescues “phewww” moments:

Of course, those who are strong believers in the idea that we should try and achieve sustainability will see “uh oh” moments differently:

The “doomers” will have a darker view:

I wonder where we are really? I wonder where I am (and you are) on the curve. I certainly hope I’m where Figure 4e suggests I am:

It might be a worry though if I'm actually here:

Where do you think you and I are and on what curve?

Party on dudes.


(a short story on resource depletion: The Land of Skinny People)