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Life for humans has been very good for the last four hundred years. Many people will choke at that statement, but the simple proof is that world population was half a billion in 1625, one billion in 1825, two billion in 1925, four billion in 1975, six billion in 2000 and seven billion now. No other population of any species can claim that growth except for those somehow dependent upon humans such as our domestic animals, and those things which prey upon humans. File:World population growth (lin-log scale).png

The geneticists claim there were approximately ten thousand humans 70,000 years ago when a super volcano now called Toba erupted and almost exterminated our species. So if we start with that population and that date and have a twenty year reproductive cycle the rate of growth is invisible in any person’s lifetime until recently. In other words the number of people in any community is nearly identical at the end of a person’s life as it was at their beginning. That stability of population wasn’t because of careful control of reproduction; it was because natural conditions killed off any people beyond what the environment would support. Most people lived a good and plentiful life most of the time but went hungry part of the year, and about once every twenty years there would be a famine. Humanity hasn’t had a serious population collapse since the Black Death of 1346 plus a few decades. There have been many ugly famines but they have been relatively local and not worldwide.

The point is that we have been very lucky to have been born into the best of times and so far we have lived lives other people could only dream about. We have exploited the Earth’s resources in ways unimaginable even a few years ago, and will probably continue to do so for a while. However, we do live in a closed system and explosive growth, especially exponential growth such as we have been experiencing, soon hits a limiting factor. If the growth isn’t stopped by some factor before the limits are reached there will be an inevitable collapse back to a vastly smaller number. Many humans realize these limiting factors, but until there is some way of balancing humanity with the permanently available resources that Earth can provide, the collapse is inevitable.

The probable precipitating factor of population collapse which will be foreseeable by a few months (major wars might be instantaneous) will be a major disease hitting one of our major food crops. That happened in 1846 with the potato famine in Ireland. There may be a major crop failure in progress in the United States at this moment because of the heat and drought of this summer. The heat and drought by themselves will only impact the quantity of the crop, but the unusual conditions will set up the possibility of unusual diseases. If there is a major shortfall here in the US there will be major problems throughout the world. The price of all food will suddenly go up everywhere and in those places where food cost is half the income of the local people there will be famine.

In the near term The Global Economic Prospects June 2012 look good, for the average human, but that article doesn’t seem to be taking into account our over-hot summer. From my long term perspective of over-reaching limits and collapsing, it appears that things are wonderful at the moment, but that translates into more consumption and more babies. Of course that means more mouths to feed and more people to accelerate the human population. So, except for the current, possibly one time, heat/drought event here in the US:

“Life for humans has been very good for the last four hundred years.”

However, I remember going to a lecture at Stanford where Ray Kurzweil and other futurists were speaking so positively of the future. I had spent a lot of time the previous year with stock investments, and left the conference feeling really good about my continued prosperity. The next day the high tech investments started going really bad. The same thing happened to Winston Churchill, who in 1929 was England’s minister of finance; he was personally all-in with his personal investments. He just happened to be visiting New York’s Wall Street the day the markets collapsed. This is important, because he was one of the most savvy insiders and even Churchill didn’t foresee the future until it had overwhelmed him. Following in the footsteps of Nasim Taleb’s The Black Swan, it is a good idea to be prepared for rare events. That usually doesn’t cost much in the present but can save everything when it happens.

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