Monday, March 03, 2014

asimov: the future of humanity - crunch time


asimovonline |  Well, here we are. We have just come through a thirty year period of mankind's maximum prosperity, on the whole. We've done very well since World War Two. We have...the world as a whole has eaten better, has lived better, has had a higher standard of living than it has ever had before. Now, you might tell me that through this entire thirty years there have been millions...hundreds of millions of people always hungry, always starving, with very little, and I'll say yes; it's been rotten. My point is that before now, it's always been rotten-ER. And we haven't really appreciated how temporary this is.

For one thing, we've had ample supplies of food, and part of the reason for that was that we've had an extremely good spell of weather for the last thirty years. In fact, there are some people who say that this last thirty years was the best thirty year spell of weather that we have had in the last thousand years. Now you may remember cold spells, and floods, and droughts, and all the rest of this stuff. But there has been less of it the world over than usual. In addition, just as we've had this good weather, we've also been applying energy at a far greater rate than ever before to farm machinery, to irrigation machinery. In addition, we've been using insecticides and pesticides of various sorts, to sort of clobber those little beasties and those weeds who think they're going to get some of our food. And in addition to that we've also developed new strains of grain, so-called "green revolution", that grow a lot of protein very fast. And what with all these things put together, our food supply has been going up.

But now, look what happens.

The very thing that makes it possible for us to use more and more energy is our industrial technologized world. And another thing that our industry produces is dust. And the air is dustier now than its ever been before in human history. Except perhaps very temporarily after a large volcanic eruption.

This means that the Earth's albedo, the percentage of light from the sun that it reflects back into space before it hits the ground, has been going up slightly because dusty air reflects more light than clear air does. And...well, not very much more, but enough. It has been making the temperature of the Earth drop since 1940. It's been going down steadily. Again, not very much. You're probably not aware that the summers are cold, or that the winters are extraordinarily icy, they're not. The drop in temperature may be one degree. But it's enough to cut down on the growing season in the northern climates. It makes the weather a little bit worse. It sends the storm tracts further south, so that the Sahara Desert creeps southward, so that the monsoon rains in India fail a little bit. Just enough so that the harvests aren't as good as they used to be, and the Earth's reserve supply of food sinks to it's lowest in recent history.

And just as this is happening...and it's going to continue happening because the air isn't going to get un-dusty unless we stop our industrial activity. And if we stop our industrial activity, that's going to be because we've suffered some complete disaster.

So, the weather isn't going to turn better. The air is going to stay dusty, and it's going to continue getting a little colder. And at the same time, it's getting hard to get energy. Energy is much more expensive than it used to be; oil prices are up. And that means that fertilizer is more expensive than it used to be. And it turns out that the green revolution depends on strains of grain that require...yes, they do what they're supposed to do...but they require a lot of irrigation; a lot of water, and a lot of fertilizer. And the fertilizer isn't there. And the irrigation machinery is hard to run now with expensive oil. And, of course, the pesticides are produced in high-energy chemical factories; their price goes up. Everything is combining to cut down on the food supply. And to arrange it so that in years to come, we may have trouble keeping our present level of food, let alone increasing it.
Of course you might say: "Well, heck! Mankind got along thirty years ago, before the good weather spell came, when there were droughts in the midwest, and dust bowls, and when there was comparatively much less farm machinery in use, and irrigation machinery, and there was no green revolution, and we weren't using pesticides...except Paris Green and other tasty things like that. And when we weren't worrying, we weren't worrying about all the other means of improving the food supply either, so we'll go back to what it was then, and we'll live the simple life."

There are always people who think that all we have to do, after all is abandoned, all this foolish technology that we've made ourselves slave to, and go back like our ancestors and live close to the soil with the good things of nature. That would be great if we could do it. If we could go back to the way it was before World War II, technologically, we could support all the people that lived on Earth before World War II. The catch is that in these last thirty years one billion and a half people have been added to the population of the Earth. And we have been feeding them largely because of all these things that we have done in these last thirty years, the good weather, the fertilizers, and the pesticides, and the irrigation, and the green revolution, and all the rest of it. If we abandon that, we also have to abandon a billion and a half people; and there are going to be very few volunteers for the job.

Alas, this goes in general. We are in a situation where we cannot go back. We cannot abandon technology. We can't say "Well, heck! We'll go back to the good old fireplace with wooden logs! We don't need this damned central heating!" There's two things about the fireplace with those good old natural wooden logs. In the first place, it's a rotten system for heating the house, which is why everyone switched to first the coal furnace, and then the oil furnace. They didn't do that because they hated nature. They didn't do that because they turned their backs on things that were nice, and just wanted filthy modern stuff, no.

[group quietly chuckles]
The wood fire doesn't work! That's what it doesn't!

And in the second thing, if all of us decide to have wood fires the way our pioneering ancestors did, we'd better remember that there were maybe three million of our pioneering ancestors, and there are two hundred million of us. And there ain't enough wood. And the price will go up instantly. And there will be a black market. And the forests will be destroyed.

And the same will be if you substitute for electric lights, candles. There's something very romantic about studying by candlelight unless you try it.

[group laughs mildly]
And if you think studying by candlelight is bad, wait until you try to run a television set by candlelight.

[group laughs mildly]
Well then, what are we going to do in the future? Population is still going up. Population right now is higher than it's ever been in the world's history; it stands at just under four billion. And the increase, the rate of increase is higher that it's ever been in world history; two percent a year. Never been anywhere near that high. Right now, the world's population is going up by two hundred thousand hungry mouths every day. By the year 2000, barring catastrophe, the Earth's population is going to be seven billion. Nobody thinks the Earth's food supply is going to nearly double by the year 2000. It may be that our food supply won't go up much at all. There's going to be terrific amounts of famine. What can we do about it?

Well, throughout the history of life on Earth, there have been periods where a given species has, for one reason or another, spurted it's numbers upward temporarily. There's been a surprisingly good supply of food, the weather has been just right, somehow there have been no predators...something has happened, and the numbers went up. They always went down again, and always the same way; by an increase in the death rate. The large numbers of the species starved when the food ran short. They fell victim to some disease, when as a result of being on short rations they were weaker. They made good marks for predators. It always went down. And the same thing will happen to mankind, we don't have to worry. The death rate will go up, and we will die off through violence, through disease, through famine.

The only thing is, must we have our numbers controlled in the same way that all other species have them controlled? We have something others don't; we have brains. We can foresee. We can plan. We can see solutions that are humane. And there is a solution that is humane, and that is to lower the birth rate.

No species in the history of the Earth has ever voluntarily lowered it's birth rate in order to control it's population, because they didn't know what birth rate was, how to control it, that there was a population problem. We're the only species in the history of the Earth.

There is no need to decide whether to stop the population increase or not. There is no need to decide whether the population will be lowered or not. It will, it will!

28 comments:

CNu said...

uighurs go medieval in xinjiang rail station killing 33 with knives www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/world/asia/china.html

BigDonOne said...

The advocacy for eugenics and sterilization was just a hundred years or so ahead of its time. Paying the cognitively-challenged to go forth and breed its useless degenerative EeeBeeTee-swiping parasitic self into a politically-significant force has been a major mistake....

CNu said...

Paying for the decaying to sit around in their offal and wrinkles and watch the world go by - remains an exponentially greater drain on irreplaceable natural material resources.

BigDonOne said...

Us more cognitively-advanced Geezers provide an extremely useful function:-- Much-needed advising the short-sighted and cognitively-challenged younger generation of the errors in their ways. If all the resources squandered on useless parasites had been devoted to productive research, you would have a Mr. Fusion next to the furnace and hot-water heater in your basement...Ob-Asimov: energy limits were one his talking points....

CNu said...

lol, c'mon BD - surely if you're going to profess white-haired wisdom, your offerings gotta be a whole lot more sage than that. If actual production fission had been focused on compact nuclear systems instead of light water reactors, if thorium had been ramped up for production instead of the unspeakable's beloved U-235/Plutonium, if need we continue with the schooling?

Now, what you refer to as "parasites" can't hold a candle to the military industrial, unspeakable, (Westinghouse/General Electric) combine which proliferated all the dirty, wasteful, unsustainable nuclear generation systems to feed the nuclear weapons business. Those are the parasites for real and for certain. Matter fact, if that Columbia river dam breaks and floods your way via Hanford, you'll be one Fuckushima's fricasee of old irradiated gristle.

You worried about a resource hangnail, when there's a resource draining 300lb tumor dragging us into the abyss. Step up your game and earn your eminence gris dap. Otherwise, it's time for that long walk out on the tundra, two go out, one comes back.

Vic78 said...

The world's future is Black and brown. This education trend has been going on for some time now. The solutions are obvious but the leaders don't want to implement them.

Tom said...

With all due respect CNu, you can only try to wipe the crap off of a turd for so long. At some point you're not trying to clean it anymore you're just rubbing it and enjoying the smell.

CNu said...

rotflmbao...., lip all poked out cause you don't have one in your coprolite collection!

Tom said...

We lost a lot of cats this year, I have slots. But the cats are quiet, they use the box, I dunno.

CNu said...

You can't polish a cat http://www.howtocleanstuff.net/how-to-polish-a-turd/

John Kurman said...

Gee, you don't suppose Mr. Better Angels Steven Pinker might want to re-evalute his wretched scholarship? Taking into account our 40-some years long Good Times Anomaly? I used to think 1926 was the apex of western civilization, what with the triply convergent manifestation of the cheeseburger, french fries, and chocolate malted shake (yes, that was the year they came together! at the Walgreen's lunch counter no less!), but now I think it was the 1950s with massive hallucinogen consumption and plans for an entire Mars colony to be delivered by nuclear fission rocket that was our swan song, and everything after that just a disappointing wind-down and/or drain-circling color TV/internet distractive resolution of the Fermi Paradox in 2022. Bartender! Soylent Green for everyone!

John Kurman said...

Of course not, they completely dismantled their social institutions and spent all the money on trinkets.

CNu said...

Watson and Crick didn't become usefully applied until Venter. That's an unanticipated 40 year delay. With the Moore's law pace of computational genomics, wholesale cross species plug and play, and even the unintended and unanticipated benefits of epigenetics and microbiomics, these deuterostems are fast approaching the knowledge required to survivably make use of the ion-drive, and to survive the harsh Martian environment. Hell, I speck we'll even be able to secrete our own entheogenic neurochemicals before too terribly long.

Patience Kurman-San, we have ample time to master biology. Mastery of biology is the unanticipated nevertheless indispensable prerequisite for all that other Kardashev goodness - still in store.

Tom said...

That method looks like it would work on a cat.

John Kurman said...

True enough, but in a different reality, think of how many cigarette butts and steel PBR cans litter the Martian landscape right now.

umbrarchist said...

So the population was 5 billion then and it is beyond 7 billion now.

This was broadcast in 2005:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8RyNSzQDaU

umbrarchist said...

Asimov isn't talking about eugenics there. He is talking about the limitations of the planet which some people still don't believe in 25 years later.

Vic78 said...

Count me in when it happens. It'll be pretty neat to be a real life Captain America that's a little smarter than Saul Kripke. I worry about the people that'll be priced out.

umbrarchist said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mz_kn45qIvI

CNu said...

Think about what you'd have to be able to do to boost your survivability in the extreme conditions and privation of long distance space travel and planetary exploration. I don't think Roy Batty is in the cards. But perhaps something like Satprem and The Mother purported to be? http://www.aurobindo.ru/workings/satprem/mind_of_cells_e.htm

woodensplinter said...

Of course, Giger saw it too. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-yr8muc3Fp1c/Ty9vgKKEk-I/AAAAAAAACR4/xfSj0DaDWrA/s1600/HR+Giger+Trumpets+of+Jericho.JPG

John Kurman said...

One thing's for sure, canned ape won't cut it.

BigDonOne said...

When dealing with overpopulation, the last thing you need is a large minimal Eye-Cue sub-group with zero future-time-orientation, that doesn't know how to limit it's reproduction or envision the consequences, e.g., like rabbits or sewer rats that can't think beyond the next copulation. Practicing eugenics tends to counter that dysfunction....


Unless you want to die in the street riots fighting over the last scrap of food....

umbrarchist said...

So the "lower classes" in the US should be using these tablets and saying to hell with the school system designed by the upper classes to maintain the class structure.

rembom said...

BD, if one of your children provided you a genetic grandchild that turned out to be below IQ-70, would you advocate that child's euthanisia? How would Mrs. BD view that? How would your children view that? How about your other grandchildren, or any of your close personal friends?

BigDonOne said...

@rembom -- You show ignorance of how modern eugenics works. It's *NOT* about killing living people. It's about preventing the birth of defectives, either via sterilization, abortion following pre-natal testing, or via pre-implantation embryo selection. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/273415-overview The latter two methods are currently on-going with embryo selection ramping up as genetic testing improvements permit identification of more defects. Even aborting for sex selectiion. You cannot stop this. It's happening *NOW*. LowEyeCue is a target on the horizon. Of course, PC types just hate it, especially even talking about it.....


BD would have no problem with sterilization of an Eye-Cue-Seventy, even if that person was a relative. You want to donate your entire net worth to support, including institutionalization, of the genetic train wrecks that would most often otherwise result?? ... Didn't think so.......


Dealing with Overpopulation is not going to be easy. You can minimize it now, via methods with least negative impact to society, or face much more draconian action down the road: food wars, water wars, lottery, decimation, increased crime. The ideal method would be licensing reproduction, after all, most other activities which seriously harm society if performed irresponsibly, require a license (e.g., driver, pilot, physician, dentist, nurse, accountant, firearms dealer, etc.).....

makheru bradley said...

Trying to keep his real brothers in power.

$1 billion for the neo-Nazis of Ukraine. Not one thin dime for an “issue of national importance.”

[Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Ukraine today to show support for the country’s new government amid mounting tension from Russia — and he showed up with a pretty big gift, too. Kerry brought news of a $1 billion aid package the U.S. is giving Ukraine to help it get through the next few months of turmoil, according to U.S. Treasury Department. The aid is made up of a $1 billion loan guarantee as well as technical and financial experts to help the Ukraine’s bank and finance ministry with its financial affairs and help prepare the country for national elections in May.]

http://abcn.ws/1fGl9TO

BigDonOne said...

Here ya go...Today, Mar 5, 2014...CBS News...---> http://www.cbsnews.com/news/designer-babies-on-the-way-in-china-scientists-attempt-to-unravel-human-intelligence/

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