Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Question of Human Survival vs. Human Die-Off

I think I may fairly make two postulata.

First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.

Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state. _Thomas Malthus Essay pub. 1798
From those postulates, Malthus argues that population grows exponentially while food production can only grow in a linear fashion.
Keith Montgomery
Our first indication that something may be wrong with Malthus' argument lies in the colours in the map above.

If population growth were necessarily exponential as Malthus argues, the colors on the map above would be uniformly pink to red, indicating high fertility and likely geometric population growth -- as in Sub Saharan Africa. The fact that several relatively prosperous countries exhibit either very low -- and even negative -- population growth suggests that the Malthusian and neo-Malthusian thesis may be in error.
Edward Morgan 5 Stage Demographic Transition

And indeed, if we look at the 5 stage demographic transition graphic above (extended from Warren Thompson's 4 stage demographic transition graphic seen below), we see what happens when Malthusian man meets post-Malthusian woman, and very low fertility rates appear to reverse the earlier Malthusian exponential growth.
Some current trends lead to some fascinating projections of the future demographic make-up of the most technologically advanced factions of our global society. The low birth rate, especially in Europe, has allowed for an empowerment of women unseen before in history. Many are essentially swapping children for careers. _NewGeography
Keith Montgomery: Warren Thompson's 4 Stage Demographic Transition
Warren Thompson's 4 stage demographic transition model, seen above, was devised in 1929 -- long before the invention of modern contraception, and the modern demographic collapse. Thompson's model suggests that as societies move through industrialisation and into a post-industrial state, that death rates and birth rates will converge, leading to a stable population.

Despite modern contraceptive methods, and the ongoing demographic collapse of Russia, Japan, and the greater part of Europe, neo-Malthusian doomsterism is alive and well. Mish's Global Economic Analysis presents an extremely coherent and up to date version of the neo-Malthusian vision only today. As you can see from Mish's piece, peak oil (and many other forms of) doomerism is closely tied to the neo-Malthusian vision.
Each of the global problems we face today is the result of too many people using too much of our planet's finite, non-renewable resources and filling its waste repositories of land, water and air to overflowing. The true danger posed by our exploding population is not our absolute numbers but the inability of our environment to cope with so many of us doing what we do... _Mish
Such thoughts must have occurred to melancholic misanthropes since the coming of Australopithecus, although not in so many words (modern human language not having originated yet).

The neo-Malthusian website of Paul Chefurka is an abbreviated version of what you can find in much more detail at Wherever you look, such doomerism is solidly based upon Thomas Malthus' kindly but jaundiced vision. Such authors appear not to have noticed the rapid fall in fertility across the developed world. Not having noticed the demographic transition, they are not forced to confront the implications.

We should also mention the anti-Malthusians, who feel that the growth of human populations can be a good thing, rather than an unmitigated evil -- as the neo-Malthusians appear to view population growth.
population is not just a factor in consumption. It is the basis for “human capital.” No humans, no human capital. Humans are not just mouths, but also hands and brains. As famously noted by Julian Simon, they are the Ultimate Resource. This is something Neo-Malthusians have difficulty in comprehending. _Indur Goklany
But at this point in time, both the neo-Malthusian doomers and the anti-Malthusian cornucopians may be overlooking important details. Human populations are not uniform in their history of invention, innovative progress, and the creation of widespread health and prosperity. And judging by the map above, it is the populations that have failed most dismally to create prosperity and progress which are reproducing the most rapidly. Given the critical dependency of these rapidly reproducing populations upon the largesse and technological savvy of other populations which are in fact decreasing in fertility, some of the glow could easily pass from the anti-Malthusian rose very rapidly.
In fact, anti-Malthusian cornucopianism applies largely to higher-IQ societies which have the human capital to create prosperity in the first place. Neo-Malthusian doomerism applies largely to lower-IQ societies which are dependent upon other, higher IQ populations for their own ability to reproduce beyond their own ability to feed, energise, and otherwise support themselves.

Here is the crux of the matter: The elite within several advanced societies have uncritically adopted the dismal neo-Malthusian vision -- including peak oil doom, carbon hysteria, overpopulation doom etc. -- despite its many failings when applied to intelligent and advanced populations. The neo-Malthusian policy prescriptions which are being progressively loaded onto the backs of the citizens of these advanced societies are creating a situation of self-fulfilling doom prediction. In other words, neo-Malthusian "solutions" are worse than the original problem would have been, had it been left to human ingenuity to solve.

The anti-nuclear (and anti-coal, anti-oil, anti-oil sands, anti-shale) policies currently in vogue in much of Europe, in Japan, and popular among many pseudo-intellectuals of North America and Oceania, cause government policy-makers to pursue unreliable, exorbitantly expensive, and ultimately destructive power sources such as big wind and big solar. With government policies such as that, there is no need for actual peak oil from resource depletion. "Political peak oil" will do just as well or better in terms of destroying a society's prosperity, competitiveness, and morale, as the real thing would have done, had it existed.

When government policy is based upon models which are not good at matching the realities in the outside world, the end result is likely to be disastrous.

The map is not the territory. The model is not the reality. Your solutions are likely to be worse than the problem. Everything you think you know, just ain't so.

But there is still time for certain enclaves within the more developed world to innovate their way into long-term prosperity, riding the current wave of rapid scientific and technological advances. For these enclaves to escape the destructiveness of the more likely occurrences of neo-Malthusian doom (the coming anarchy), they will need to be areas of relatively high average population IQ and high trust among citizens, which requires relative homogeneity of culture and language. They will also need abundant reliable affordable energy supplies. And those are only a few of the crucial things to consider, if you are thinking about relocating.

Things can go very badly for most of the planet -- largely due to political ineptness and corruption -- and yet things can turn out well for humanity in the end.

Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

Originally published on Al Fin blog