Global Warming and SF

Seems like the Malthusian argument never goes away, every generation restates it to conjure the same visions of doom.

If MTF were here he would no doubt mention the exponential expansion of human knowledge as opposed to mere growth of population. The same under-estimation of technological progress has been going on ever since the original argument began.

I think Skeptical had a point about humanity and its need to constantly horrify itself with potential calamity. It's in our nature it seems to contemplate mega death, in the same way we contemplate individual extinction.

I'm not sure how much it helps to stand atop Masada and shout doom, doom, doom at the masses below. It can seem at times as though one wants the worse to be true. I'm not sure what the opposite of wishful thinking is, baleful thinking perhaps; it seems to me that on occasion we're terribly guilty of it.
 
Crying "doom" is not my position. What I am saying is that we can avoid a lot of the forthcoming problems caused by climate change, but only if we take appropriate action to do so. The three survey posts I have included in this thread are all about different practical ways of tackling the problems that are facing us.

Having said that, the population problem is a lot more intractable than technological solutions to climate change.
 
If MTF were here he would no doubt mention the exponential expansion of human knowledge as opposed to mere growth of population. The same under-estimation of technological progress has been going on ever since the original argument began.

maybe, in the future, we will have the technology to repair the damage done to the environment, but that technology will arrive quicker if there is research and there is more chance of that if it is seen as the solution to a problem and that means the acknowledgement of the problem in the first place.
maybe there isn't a problem at all, but that still needs research which will only happen if people see it as important enough.

I think Skeptical had a point about humanity and its need to constantly horrify itself with potential calamity. It's in our nature it seems to contemplate mega death, in the same way we contemplate individual extinction.

I think any rational person would rather plan for the worst and be proved wrong than hope for the best and come unstuck.
by seeing potential calamity we can avoid it. this is a good thing and one of the reasons we have survived as long as we have, individually and as a species.
 
Urlik,

Oddly humans don't typically plan for the worst. On an individual basis our behaviourial biases are inherently (on average) optimistic, we expect the worst to not happen. If we expected the worse we wouldn't travel in cars, cross the road or take lifts. It's for this reason that I haven't fortified a farm house, bought guns or stocked up on cans of tuna. It's also the reason why most people don't have a significant level of savings. There are distinct blind spots in our rationality.

It tends to be at a macro level where we contemplate the worst, hence the existence of a health service and an army. The worst is a depersonalised entity. And as a depersonalised entity it can be subject to the psychology of mass human action, which in of itself can be hysterical, prone to panic, exaggeration, wishful thinking, baleful thinking, group think and error. Fortunately and confusingly it can also be at times logical and correct.

Hence like the judgement to cross the road many things ultimately come down to a formal or informal probabilty weighted cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately we're very weak at sorting important strands of debate from unimportant ones, classically we are not good at weighting an argument.

Humans have a long history of been wrong en masse or as individuals; an appeal to rationality is perhaps an appeal to something that isn't really there.

Bring on the benign AIs.
 
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Hi, I'm not crying 'DOOM'-- I'm just pointing out that a lot of popular assumptions are flawed.

After the chaos of those African famines, aid-agencies got *much* better at organising relief supplies. Snag is that system-slack has been removed, stock-piles are reduced, populations have increased, more people are living on vulnerable margins, we need those 'biblical' SevenGoodYears to build reserves...

Perhaps an exaggeration, but I've read that Mt StHelens blasting sideways instead up was very, very fortunate. Had much of that ash fallen across MidWest croplands, they would have collected toxic levels of fluoride etc, been off-line for a decade, might even now be fit only for bio-ethanol...

There are some seriously scary 'global' failure modes, and little can be done about most except hope they happen on some-one else's watch...
 
To Urlik
Re Ottoman Empire.

Humanity has predicted all kinds of disasters, and my point about the Ottomans was simply that, even in the best of times, there are lots of people who love to predict disaster. That trend continues today.

Nor have I said that problems can be solved by ignoring them. Rachel Carson's pesticide disaster was fixed by the invention of biodegradable pesticides. Paul Ehrlich's famine disaster was prevented by the green revolution, and high yielding hybrid crops. Ozone layer disaster was prevented by the Montreal Accord, and the banning of CFC's. In the same way, humanity will deal with global warming through action on greenhouse gases.

To Anthony
Re population explosion. The fact that the explosion is over is very relevent. That is what makes it possible to predict, as the UN has, the slowing of population growth.

On the carrying capacity of the globe. Your references simply make my point that estimates depend drastically on the assumptions you put in. If youa re assuming that we retain high wilderness values and limited technology, then the carrying capacity will be no more than (perhaps) one billion. However, we already know that wilderness values have been compromised and will probably be compromised much further (I am NOT suggesting this is a good thing) meaning more humans are possible. Also we know that technology is increasing its abilities all the time, and what humanity will be capable of in 50 years will be far greater than today.

Just as a f'rinstance. Lots of arguments talk of reducing soil fertility as a limiting factor for the world's carrying capacity. Did you know that, it is possible to make the most fertile soil ever recorded by grinding granite to dust and blending that dust with composted leaf litter? This is an expensive process, but fully within our capabilities today. Within 50 years, it will be far easier and cheaper. The concept of reducing soil fertility as a limiting factor may be ancient history by then.

In addition, modern hydroponics means massive increases in food production per hectare compared to growing in soil. Combine modern, and futuristic forms of agriculture, and food production will be something fantastic.

Disasters can happen, and do. However, humanity does learn from experience, and our technology does improves. If we track the trends in social poverty/wealth over the past 150 years, we see a steadily increasing level. Numbers of sick and hungry going down, and even the number killed in wars each year diminishing (though Bush tried to reverse that!). I think this is a sufficiently long historic trend to be likely to continue.
 
No population explosion? Well, bearing in mind that the world's population is increasing by 80 million per year - that's like adding a country the size of Germany every year, but without any additional resources to cope with them - it is at least an out-of-control wildfire!

Hydroponics uses lots of fresh water, and that's likely to prove the biggest natural resource problem in the future. In many places, ground water is being "mined" like oil, and the aquifers are being used up. Then what? And that's even before taking into account the predicted effects of climate change in reducing the rainfall to many agricultural areas, or the increased demands resulting from the projected world population increase.

The carrying capacity of the earth in terms of the maximum population depends heavily on what standard of living you expect people to have. Bluntly, the fact that billions of people are extremely poor and use up very few resources - with hundreds of millions of them on a starvation diet - is fundamental to the fact that we can keep going now. The 32% rise in population over the next three decades is going to put even more pressure on resources. And advanced technological fixes cannot be afforded by the peoples who most need them.
 
The population explosion was a consequence of large average fertility. 50 years ago in the third world, it was 5.5. Today it is only 2.5. Thus the explosion is over. That does not mean there is no increase in population. Just that it is not explosive growth.

All the predictions we have seen earlier in this thread show a reducing growth rate. My quote from the United Nation's 'medium scenario' shows that the population will peak by 2075 and then start to reduce. Other scenarios indicate a different peak. No matter. All show reducing growth rates, and this means the explosive growth is finished.

If you think we should be concentrating resources on reducing growth even further, that can be done. George Bush had an idiotic policy of preventing foreign aid dedicated to birth control. Under a new president, that has changed. Surveys in third world countries show that most women do NOT want lots of kids, and the only reason why women still sometimes have too many is because they have no way of preventing pregnancy.

If the tools of birth control are made available to all women everywhere, the growth rate will reduce much more quickly. Lobby your local politicians to dedicate more foreign aid to birth control.

On fresh water.
Yes, there is a major problem. However, this problem, too can be and will be reduced. The biggest use of fresh water by people is inefficient irrigation of agricultural land. The worst is the very common practise of flooding fields to irrigate them. This wastes enormous amounts of water. By switching to such technologies as trickle field irrigation, the effective quantity of water will double, or even triple.

Believe it or not, hydroponics uses a hell of a lot less water than most forms of irrigation of fields. That is because the water is controlled, and can be recycled. In most crude irrigation methods, vast amounts of water evaporate, or flow into streams rather than go into plants. Hydroponics maximises the efficient use of water, by preventing such losses.

Carrying capacity depending on standard of living?
Yes, but only up to a point. There are far more variables affecting carrying capacity than just this. There is, in fact, no reason at all why we cannot have 10 billion people on planet Earth, all having a standard of living equivalent to a year 2009 millionaire. It takes better economics and better technology than we have right now, but is eminently do-able. Sadly, it is not likely to happen any time soon, mainly due to human stupidity and corruption.

This is something well understood by all wealthy people. Wealth is generated mainly by human ingenuity. It does not need vast amounts of natural resources. Ask Bill Gates, who became a multi-billionaire based purely on ideas.

When I was younger, I calculated that I could become a millionaire by a process of postponing material gratification, thus saving money, and careful investment. It took me 25 years. In fact, anyone in the wealthy west can do it, if they rise above the standard tendency to blow their earnings.

For those in the impoverished African nations, and other poor areas, it can be done also. Except that here, it has to start by getting non corrupt and smart leaders. I am often heartened by the example of Singapore (and a few other places) which lifted themselves by their own bootstraps. Singapore was occupied by Japan in WWII, and when the occupiers left, they left the place an economic disaster area, with total poverty. Under good leadership, and due to the hard work and savings of the people, Singapore rose to the point where its average income is higher than that for the OECD average, in just 50 years. All things are possible if human ingenuity and hard work is permitted to operate without corruption based, or stupidity based restrictions.
 
The population explosion was a consequence of large average fertility. 50 years ago in the third world, it was 5.5. Today it is only 2.5. Thus the explosion is over. That does not mean there is no increase in population. Just that it is not explosive growth.

Can we get away from your phrase "explosive growth"? It is unscientific and emotive. Let's just stick with the undisputed figures - that the world's population is increasing by 80 million every year (that's more than the population of the USA every four years), that on current trends it will hit 9 billion before the middle of this century (that's a 32% increase) and that long-term estimates have it stabilising in the 8 to 10 billion range (that's 1.2 to 3.2 billion more than today). And that no more land, fresh water or other resources are being provided to cope with these increased numbers.

Surveys in third world countries show that most women do NOT want lots of kids, and the only reason why women still sometimes have too many is because they have no way of preventing pregnancy.

If the tools of birth control are made available to all women everywhere, the growth rate will reduce much more quickly. Lobby your local politicians to dedicate more foreign aid to birth control.

I agree with that, but more is needed than just the technology of birth control. You can provide as much of that as you like in a highly male-dominated society like the Taleban's and it will make little or no difference. What really matters most to women is social change, especially education, and the opportunity to take control of their own lives. This is being provided in some developing countries by giving small business loans just to women, so they can make themselves financially independent.

However, even that doesn't help the poorest countries where people are barely surviving - or not even that. There has to be some sort of economy functioning for women to become a part of. Large parts of Africa are just disaster areas, with entire populations dependent on international aid.

On fresh water.
Yes, there is a major problem. However, this problem, too can be and will be reduced. The biggest use of fresh water by people is inefficient irrigation of agricultural land. The worst is the very common practise of flooding fields to irrigate them. This wastes enormous amounts of water. By switching to such technologies as trickle field irrigation, the effective quantity of water will double, or even triple.

Believe it or not, hydroponics uses a hell of a lot less water than most forms of irrigation of fields. That is because the water is controlled, and can be recycled. In most crude irrigation methods, vast amounts of water evaporate, or flow into streams rather than go into plants. Hydroponics maximises the efficient use of water, by preventing such losses.

Hydroponics is an extremely expensive way of growing crops. Feasible for a first-world country perhaps; although farmers in the USA and EU are already subsidised, making our food cheaper than its economic price, without taking on the higher costs of hydroponics. It's just out of the question for the poorest countries.

Carrying capacity depending on standard of living?
Yes, but only up to a point. There are far more variables affecting carrying capacity than just this. There is, in fact, no reason at all why we cannot have 10 billion people on planet Earth, all having a standard of living equivalent to a year 2009 millionaire. It takes better economics and better technology than we have right now, but is eminently do-able. Sadly, it is not likely to happen any time soon, mainly due to human stupidity and corruption.

You are fond of making sweeping claims without posting any evidence to back them up - I have been posting lots of references and links to sites with more information. In particular, the Wiki summaries on overpopulation and sustainability which I posted links to before make it clear that the prevailing view among professionals in this field is that you are wrong.

This is something well understood by all wealthy people. Wealth is generated mainly by human ingenuity. It does not need vast amounts of natural resources. Ask Bill Gates, who became a multi-billionaire based purely on ideas.

Bill Gates started work in what was already the richest and most advanced economy on the planet, where people had relatively huge sums to spend on non-essentials, and where their per-capital use of resources is many times the global average (and hundreds of times that of the poorest countries). You don't have to be a genius to siphon off a little of that surplus income for yourself. The problems of the poorest countries will not be solved by clever technical ideas.

For those in the impoverished African nations, and other poor areas, it can be done also. Except that here, it has to start by getting non corrupt and smart leaders....All things are possible if human ingenuity and hard work is permitted to operate without corruption based, or stupidity based restrictions.

Sure, but as I said, if nobody behaved dishonestly or stupidly we'd have no crime, no wars, need no armies or even any laws. But that isn't the way the world is - that isn't the way people are made. As I've quoted before:

Planning a world for highly cooperative, antimaterialistic, ecologically sensitive vegetarians would be of little value in correcting today's situation. Indeed, a statement by demographer Nathan Keyfitz (1991) puts into perspective the view that behavioral changes will keep H. sapiens below social carrying capacity:

"If we have one point of empirically backed knowledge, it is that bad policies are widespread and persistent. Social science has to take account of them/" [our emphasis]
In short, it seems prudent to evaluate the problem of sustainability for selfish, myopic people who are poorly organized politically, socially, and economically.

We seem just to be repeating ourselves now, so I'll bow out on that note unless any new points are made.
 
Anthony
The reason we are repeating ourselves is due to the fact that there is misunderstanding. I know you are misunderstanding some of my points, and it may be that I misunderstand some of yours.

First : explosive population growth. The whole point I was making is that the big growth was in the past, and we are now experiencing lesser growth as a result of the earlier growth. We both agree that growth rates are reducing and population growth will in time plateau out.

Yes, in many places social change and education are essential. They are needed just as birth control is needed. It is all coming, and it can come faster with the right effort by western nations.

Hydroponics too expensive? Everything is too expensive when first set up, and becomes cheaper as it is used more, and in larger quantities. In fact, I eat a lot of hydroponically grown food. It is, indeed, more expensive than seasonal food of the same type, but can be grown pretty much all year round. The price is not excessive - more expensive than seasonal, but not too much more. The key to getting hydroponically grown food down in price is to grow more. Large scale agriculture is always cheaper than small scale.

The reason I am not posting references on carrying capacity is because it is meaningless. You can get estimates that vary by orders of magnitude. As I said before, it all depends on your basic assumptions. This is not something that can be called an exact science, and cannot be measured or calculated to three decimal points. It is simply someone's guesstimate based on the assumptions at the time. And I do not want to get into an argument over whether your so-called expert is better than my so-called expert. The people who make these guesses are less accurate than economists. And I was recently told that God invented economists in order to make weather forecasters look good!

Even something more apparently exact such as estimating how long a natural resource will last has been shown over the years to be utterly inaccurate. The Club of Rome in 1973 published their study called Limits to Growth. In it, for example, they predicted no oil left by the year 2000. Clearly they were wrong. And anyone who claims to know how many people the world can support are also just making guesses.

The usual reason such people are proven wrong is that they utterly underestimate human progress. Dr. Paul Ehrlich in 1968 predicted a billion dead from malnutrition before 1980. He was wrong because he did not take into account improvements in agricultural productivity. All kinds of neo-Malthusians have made similar errors. Those who claim limits on the Earth's carrying capacity are generally also failing to take into account human progress. Personally, I have no doubt that, in 50 years, the new technology will permit things that current would-be prophets simply do not dream of.

Your last point seems to imply that people cannot change, and that Africa will always be saddled with corrupt and incompetent leaders. I need to point out that European leaders 200 years ago were just as corrupt and incompetent as African leaders are today. And we do get good African leaders. Obviously Nelson Mandela is a shining example. But he is not alone, and there are many Africans that are caring and competent. Given time, there is no reason why they cannot lead their people into real prosperity. South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, for example, are better off than most of Africa, and indeed, many non African nations.
SA leads continent in prosperity - South Africa - The Good News

Since you want a reference, try reading the following.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon_pr.html

And I quote :

These, he says, are the actual and empirical facts of the matter, information available to any inquirer. Simon first got a taste of those facts while studying the data amassed by the economic demographer Simon Kuznets (winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize in economics) and by economist Richard Easterlin, in the mid-1960s. Kuznets had followed population growth trends that went back 100 years and compared them against standard of living, while Easterlin analyzed the same data for selected countries since World War II. The studies showed that while population growth rates varied from country to country and from year to year, there was no general negative correlation with living standards. People did not become poorer as the population expanded; rather, as their numbers multiplied, they produced what they needed to support themselves, and they prospered.
The trends were the same for food supply. Rising population did not mean less food, just the opposite: instead of skyrocketing as predicted by the Malthusian theory, food prices, relative to wages, had declined historically. In the United States, for example, between 1800 and 1980, the price of wheat plummeted while the population grew from 5 million to 226 million. Accord-ing to Malthus, all those people should have been long dead, the country reduced to a handful of fur trappers on the brink of starvation. In fact, there was a booming and flourishing populace, one that was better-fed, taller, healthier, more disease-free, with far less infant mortality and longer life expectancy than ever before in human history. Obesity, not starvation, was the major American food problem in 1980. Those were the facts.
 
We must be careful when arguing about population growth/expansion that we take into account useful land area (housing) and arable land to non-arable land ratio. The reason why "population explosion" is curtailing is exactly because housing is starting to become a problem world-wide. We can only house so many people when building in "strictly" two dimensions.

So in a general sense Malthus is correct. Any time population exceeds the various mitigating constraints such as useful land area, maximum arable land area, maximum volume of sanitation, etc then some form of backlash is going to start retarding human population growth until a technology comes about to shore up that limit in some way.


MTF
 
Okay, so The topic was "Global Warming and SF", Right? I think Anthony's original point was that any current SF being written (assuming it includes Earth's future) should take into account the issue and what resulting effects/challenges and/or solutions occured once the situation became internecine, etc. I would agree that it could certainly be included in the backstory or "world-building" sections of the writing, and that it would also serve the purpose of getting that many more readers "on board" with the issue, and stir up new concern, or better yet - preventative action.

Even those nay-sayers who don't believe the scientific findings are real, or that the whole idea of Global Warming is somehow "alarmist", must agree that the air is getting polluted. What few people understand, and doesn't seem to have been mentioned in this thread is that there is really a double threat. I cannot post the link because I'm new, but here it is if you want to cut and paste: "www-dot-ess-home-dot-com/news/global-warming/ozone-depletion-dot-asp" The atmosphere is made of 3 layers - many know that. What they may not realize is that when heat is trapped in the lower layer (the troposphere) it isn't radiating back through the stratosphere where the ozone is. Because global warming traps heat in the troposphere, less heat returns through the stratosphere which ultimately cools the stratosphere. Ironically, this doesn't help, it hurts. A colder stratoshpere equals less ozone. The ozone layer protects all life from harmful Ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation. So, now you have a runaway system where one problem actually enhances (worsens) the other one. Eventually, food crops will die from over exposure to this harmful radiation, and people will starve. The Earths climactic system is extremely complex, and just because it gets colder where you live doesn't mean global warming isn't real. In fact, sometimes the effects of global warming are actually moving cold air to places where it has not normally gone, and once it gets warmed up, there will be less and less cool air to replace it.

My argument is that all pollution is bad anyway. Chemicals that had never filled the air, the lakes, the rivers, the dirt are being produced by companies whose only aim is to make profit. Not only are they greedy, but they are incredibly short-sighted. Science must be tempered with wisdom, and as was stated in the documentary An Inconvienient Truth - (paraphrased) "A man will tell the truth, as long as it doesn't affect his paycheck."
 
Okay, so The topic was "Global Warming and SF", Right? I think Anthony's original point was that any current SF being written (assuming it includes Earth's future) should take into account the issue and what resulting effects/challenges and/or solutions occured once the situation became internecine, etc. I would agree that it could certainly be included in the backstory or "world-building" sections of the writing.

in the preface of an anthology of SF short stories, the editor describes SF as "stories set in the worlds of if". given that, it makes sense for authors to use it in one way or another
 

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