Monday, June 26, 2006

A Planetary Experiment

Suppose you were approached with the idea of performing an incredible experiment, to study population growth? Suppose the experiment went like this...

1. Take a large stadium and place in it a dozen children.
2. Seal the exits, never let them leave.
3. Drop in food an water daily. As much as is needed to keep them healthy.
4. Watch the population build over the years.
5. When the stadium is full, cut back on the food and water per one ration daily.
6. When there is a dozen people left, the experiment is done.

Would you participate in such an experiment?
Would you donate your own children or grandchildren as subjects for the experiment?

What if the experiment were done on a larger scale and you knew that your children would live out their lives before the experiment went stale, only your grandchildren would suffer, would that be better? How about your great grand children?

How about doing on a planetary scale? Let's say you do the same thing for a planet. You open up vast but finite resources to a stable population, and watch them swell in numbers and then run out of resources and drop back to a small population again from famine, pestilence and disease. Would you participate in this experiment?

Would you like your children to participate?

Would you feel better, if the bad stuff only happens to your descendants after you've passed on?

What if the those in the experiment knew about the experiment, and continued to outbreed their resource base? Would they be more or less culpable for continuing the experiment than you for setting it up?

Well the experiment is real. We're in it. We've been given a bounty of 100 million years worth of fossil energy. We've used it to build a vast civilization and to feed billions of people in an ever growing population. We still work to increase our population even as we watch our resource base disappear. We still work to increase our consumption of finite resources as fossil fuels, fresh water, clean air, fish an oceans and our ecosystems on land are exhausted and run out.

And there's nothing left that can replace these things. We can argue and discuss subsidy driven alternatives, but even the energy positive ones are like shaking out sofas for lose change compared to the bounty we've enjoyed in fossil fuels.

We're running low on so many resources that now our world grain stocks are running periously low. We're approaching the exciting part of the experiment now. We now produce less food than we eat. Over the coming years, we'll produce less and less food.

Long ago, we were told what would happen. Malthus worked it out and described population crashes. The Club of Rome was remarkably accurate in their timing, even with incomplete data. As they argued, the models were the real key. They showed that the timing of the crash was only loosely effected by the quality of the data.

So all along, we knew what was coming, and we denied it. Now, it's our generation that will pay the piper. Do our ancestors bear any responsibility? Do we? Are we responsible for our children, grand children and maybe great grand children as this grand planetary experiment winds down.

I say we do, if we truely believe we are more than animals. We are the first creatures on this planet that we know of, that can consciously shape our own destinies, and we used it to be as unknowing animals, and propagate into overshoot.

And perhaps, that's our only excuse. We've just come out of the jungle. We've made our first faltering steps toward higher noble goals, yet we brought the jungles and plains with us, expressed in our subconcious and our instincts. Our brains are still tuned to watching for tigers and leopards, while our glands tells us we must outbreed the predators. No one ever told our genes that the predators are banished. We never evolved, past the point where our animal drives stand on equal footing with our intellect.

Perhaps, we're due to go back to nature and take another spin along the evolutionary roller coaster.

And we are on a roller coaster, going over the top. It's a little late to get off, so hang on and enjoy the ride!

But isn't it exciting, to be here? To be where we are now? To sit at the very apex of the greatest civilization mankind will likely ever know? We are the stuff of dreams and of future legends.

Enjoy the ride!

Take your place on the Great Mandela!

This our time to live, to shine! Revel in it!

Someone had to be here, it may as well be us!


At 8:59 AM, Anonymous JungleWoods said...

Weasedog writes:
"But isn't it exciting, to be here? To be where we are now? To sit at the very apex of the greatest civilization mankind will likely ever know? We are the stuff of dreams and of future legends."

WTSHTF and things get hard, if I'm still around, I'm going to remember this quote.

Thought provoking post Wease.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger BrunotheBear said...


I enjoy your posts over at Kuntsler's. I especially like your notes on Malthus and population overshoot. Donella Meadows was one of my favorite columnists. Have you ever read Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons"? The original from 1968, published in Science? Lots of profound stuff in there. You are edging into the same territory- problems with no technical solutions that must still be solved.

Good job here, I'll check back regularly.

At 9:30 AM, Anonymous donna said...

Tell it, brother.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Weaseldog said...

Yes, I've read those works.

It's amazing how simple and logical the overshoot arguments are. Yet because they carry a negative message, we are ill equipped to trust the logic behind them. We want to believe they are wrong, and so we do. And we live as if they are false and there are no limits.

Essentially, the argument for growth and sprawl and the destruction of nature is that, "We have to build, because we breed without constraint." the question of 'why do we breed without constraint?' is off limits in polite company.

We believe we have an inalianable right to have as many children as we want. We find it difficult to examine this in a moral context. I believe it's clear that having too many children is fundamentally immoral, as each child becomes diminished by the quantity of humans competing with that child for time, attention and resources.

But the notion that there should be self imposed limits to our growth, is reprehensible to most. As is the thought that there are consequences to unconstrained breeding. But nature has always been ready to demonstrate that there are consequences to everything. We just choose to ignore these lessons.

On the other side of the crash, I have small hopes that our descendants can learn to do better. I hope that the faith that God is going to clean up after us, once we've trashed the planet will fade away. Sometime after the crash, it should be obvious that the new golden age following the rapture hasn't come, and won't. But that belief will probably just morph into soemthing else.

A part of me wants to know how it will all work out. Another knows I'll see enough to fill anyone's life.

At 1:06 AM, Blogger BrunotheBear said...


It's obvious Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons has influenced you. And you express your interpretations of his essay very clearly, which is much appreciated because so many garble them up and make such a hash of them. They are not easy concepts to grasp. There is no technical solution...that took me awhile to get.

The "negative message" you mention is that we are not gods and goddesses, but animals, mammals specifically. And still the only animal that knows its going to die. As soon as another animal picks up a branch set fire by lightning and uses it to scare other animals, they're in business.

I never thought I would see anything tougher than seeing my parents die of old age. Now we seem to be staring down the barrel of our own extinction! Life is sure interesting.

You said something on the Kunstler blog that resonated with me. On dealing with what we're facing, something about being informed then dodging or deflecting whatever is thrown at you, planning to survive is not depressing but interesting. I'm passing that sentiment on and it's resonating. I told a friend tonight that I would do anything I could to help her because "we have to cooperate and help each other- we need friends...that's the only way we are going to survive!" I saw by her expression that a light went on. Of course she's doing what I think is essential, which is to work for the environment and habitat restoration, but nevertheless we are hard-wired to cooperate. That's what's brought our species this far. I'm counting on it.


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