Peak Population

We’ve all seen the curve showing human population growth over time. Some suggest it looks like a hockey stick. Pundits say the population will exceed 8 billion by the end of this year. But they say also that we are approaching peak population. With this, the population will peak near about 10billion people some time later this century and decline. This population decline may be the first in over 10,000 years.

I don’t expect to be around to see this decline, but it is relatively soon. In fewer than 80 years or within the lifetime of a human in developed countries, this decline will occur.

What does this decline say about world economics? Perhaps with the shrinking population, we will have less need to add infrastructure. Though perhaps there will be a greater need to maintain existing infrastructure. And, with less emphasis on production, then there will be a greater emphasis on the service economy. In any case, we can expect and probably demand a change in the world economics of the future.

As 80 years is not that far away, what type of Earth do you plan for your children and grandchildren? Or, what will remain of Earth for them to enjoy?
Ponder

Heat

We describe planet Earth as being in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for life. What does this mean? It means that Earth’s orbit about the sun is at just the correct distance for life to exist. In particular, Earth’s surface maintains water in a liquid state. If the Earth were colder, the water would be solid, i.e. a snowball Earth. If the Earth were warmer, the water would quickly vaporize, making Earth unsuitable for life. Today, neither of these conditions exists, so life on Earth flourishes.

However, the Earth’s surface is a system that balances heat. Heat comes from the Sun and from the Earth’s core. Heat gets emitted as radiation. If these balance, then the Earth’s temperature remains constant. Obviously, if it doesn’t balance, then the Earth’s surface gets either hotter or cooler. We are now seeing an imbalance as temperatures are increasing.

The Earth’s oceans have heated by 337 zettajoules (3.37×1023 J) since 1955. The Arctic ice and mountain glaciers are melting. Indications are that human actions have caused this change; this imbalance. In corollary, we are changing the temperature of our bowl of porridge. Goldilocks will no longer be content with it. Nor will life flourish with it. Is this our future?
Desert Sky

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promote equality. They also promote economic growth together with the preservation of the Earth’s ecosystem. The goals are admirable. Are they achievable? Let’s consider.

People who are rich consciously act to maintain their status. Certainly they’d be OK with everyone else being rich as long as they remained rich. This all inclusiveness wouldn’t be likely for two reasons. One, many people don’t care to be materially wealthy. Two, the Earth’s ecosystem can’t support an infinite number of wealthy people. Thus, we expect to always have a wealth disparity between people.

People who are poor don’t want to be poor. They may not realize that they are poor, as with some indigenous people who maintain a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. But, there’s a global expectation on child survivability, education and security. These expectations promote fairness. Achieving this requires the continual application of significant resources, such as energy. However, the Earth’s ecosystem can’t support the advancement of an infinite number of poor people.

Last, our current economic system could enable all the poor to be rich. The system enables us to transfer resources to any location on Earth and perhaps even off of Earth. But the Earth has finite resources. Also, our utilization of resources, such as fossil fuels, comes with detrimental pollution. Hence, while the system is capable, the result is unattainable.

Yet, the SDGs are our only blueprint for the future. And it is a good blueprint. So, what’s the best future? Do we control the number of rich? How many poor can the Earth accommodate? How do we preserve the Earth’s ecosystem while continually drawing down its capital? Perhaps most of all, what degree of achievement is optimal for each goal?
Chipping sparrow

Transportation

Henry Ford built cars. Many cars. And these cars needed roads so roads were built. And these cars needed petrol so petrol was refined. Presently, the Earth has over 64 million kilometres of roads. Transportation uses energy; over a third of all energy consumed or about 1.7e20Joules annually. By design, roads stop natural processes; roadways have no vegetation, no natural capturing of solar energy by plants. Almost all fuel comes from non-renewable fossil fuels. We know Henry Ford’s world of cars is not sustainable.

We have learned much from the Covid pandemic. One important piece of knowledge is that we can undertake beneficial work, even when working remotely. We don’t need to commute every day to an office. At least we learned this is possible if we have competent managers.

We have also learned that there’s much to enjoy in our local environment. We don’t need to travel halfway around the globe for a vacation. Rather, simply spending an hour walking in a natural environment of woods and glades recharges our spirits.

From an overarching view, today’s service economy is replacing the production economy emphasized by Henry Ford. The Internet is the backbone of the service economy. As showcased during the pandemic, we don’t need ready, personal transportation for each of the 8 billion people on Earth. Isn’t it time to reduce the unnecessary energy spent on transportation? And return roads to nature?

Tipping Points

Let’s view life as consisting of many systems. A system gathers inputs, processes them and emits outputs. A stable system continues unabated. A stable system can also accommodate occasional, small, acute divergences. That is, a momentary disruption of inputs, some stoppage of processes or a slight prevention of emissions will disrupt the system but not remove the system from its stable state. The system will overcome the glitch and continue.

However, most stable systems do not accommodate large, acute divergences or chronic divergences. These push the system to a tipping point. That is, the system tips from its stable state. Churns for a bit. Then, returns to a new stable state that does accommodate the divergences. If you know all about a system, all its inputs, processes and outputs, then you can predict its future state after the divergences.

We do not know all about our Earth system. However, we have identified 9 critical boundaries that correlate to processes of the Earth system. We know that we have passed 6 of these. We expect that their passages will tip processes toward a new, unknown stable state. In consequence, no amount of available energy returns the Earth system back to its current stable state. Are you ready as life plunges into this new Earth system?
Lizard