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COSMOS magazine issue #27 page 32-39 has an excellent general-public article on the real long term problems facing the world. It acknowledges the obvious fact that physical things, like population, cannot grow exponentially forever in a finite world and the Earth is a finite world. That is obvious mathematical fact but rarely, it seems, does anyone mention it or actually make any effort to behave reasonably considering that inevitable collision of natural facts with human reality.

The former head of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan said, “That is the unquenchable capability of human beings when confronted with long periods of prosperity to presume that it will continue and they begin to take speculative excesses with the consequences that have dotted the history of the globe basically since the beginning of the 18 and 19th century. Go back to the South Sea Bubble, go back to the Tullip Bubble even before. It’s human nature. Unless somebody can find a way to change human nature we will have more crisis and none of them will look like this because no two crisis have anything in common, except human nature.”.

He was referring to highly motivated financial investment people who are paying close attention to an economy not ordinary people involved with many other things. “I fear too many of them thought they would be able to spot the actual trigger point of the crisis in time to get out.” But, I think, no one is going to be able to time the bursting point of the much bigger issue, the population bomb, even though anyone who looks will see it looming
This author claims to be coping with the future problems by having founded an Australian organization called Centre for Disaster Control for Planet Earth (CDCPE) which has the following five core functions:

To manage information by assessing resource data and their uncertainties, and assessing trends; set the agenda for, and stimulate research and development

To set, validate, monitor and pursue the proper implementation of norms and standards

To catalyse change through technical and policy support that stimulates cooperation and action and helps to build sustainable global capacity

To negotiate and sustain national and global partnerships

To articulate consistent, ethical and evidence-based policy and advocacy positions

The COSMOS author’s plan sounds a like committee outline to me, because it doesn’t say anything solid, practical or workable, just generalizations. The article concludes with, “But we’re in a new reality: the past may no longer hold the key to our future, and the present could be a stealth disaster in the making. It’s imperative we take action, but not delude ourselves with small or half-hearted measures.”  This article was  by Susan W. Kieffer, professor of geology at Urbana-Champaign, was based on an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago. The article seems to understand the problem well enough and gives various proofs of understanding. But in a vague and distant way it reminds me of the first American pioneers out on the plains hearing a distant thunder and not realize that it ment thousands of buffalo were charging towards them. These scientists hear rumbling, I do to, but to me it is not so distant. To me it seems that very soon the problems will be stomping through our front door.

There was a beautiful graph in the article which visually demonstrated the massive growth of the top ten urban centers of the world for 1,000 AD, 1800, 1900 and 2015. The biggest city in the world in the year 1000 was Cordova, Spain .45 Million, in 1800 it was Peking at 1.30 Million, in 1900 it was London at 6.50 Million and in 2015 it will be Tokyo at 28.90 Million. The tenth largest city was even more extreme going from Anhilvada at .30 in 1000, Kyoto .38 in 1800, Philadelphia at 1.40 to Calcutta with 17.30 in 2015. So, the biggest city in now 64 times bigger than it was a thousand years ago and the tenth biggest city is 58 times bigger. The other top ten are about the same at approximately 60 times bigger. And they are all about 12 times bigger than they were only one hundred years ago. That is explosive growth! It occurred within the lifetime of really old people still living in those cities. It can’t continue and yet there is nothing to prevent the continuing population explosion except … — … some sort of mega disaster. Humans have no natural predators to keep their population in check (except perhaps other humans) and people will refuse to limit their child bearing voluntarily so the only thing that will work will be a disaster. As horrible as a really serious disease would be it probably wouldn’t bring the population back to 100 million without going to zero. As bad as a really bad famine would be it probably wouldn’t bring the population back to 100 million at least not quickly but what it would do would trigger a major war. An atomic war will bring the population back to 100 million in a few months. First by killing lots of people outright and secondly by the nuclear winter destroying the Northern Hemispheres crops and then  with a really poor crop world wide a really bad famine would ensue.

So there you have it. Either you reduce population quickly to some number the planet will support, which is socially impossible or you do a lot of feckless complaining about how bad things are going to get and we should do something about it. Or the third possibility, you work on plans for a post event recovery period which will move the world into a social structure which will limit population to some agreed upon number and work out ways of staying within that number. The recovery would be better if based on The EarthArk Project  to regain a partial resemblance of today’s wonderful world.