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If there were no humans there would be no human happiness to be had but if the Earth had seventy billion people there wouldn’t be any happiness either. With that enormous population there would be more than ten times as many people everywhere and nobody would have space to move about without tripping over another body. The pollution problems would be terrific from human waste alone and very few people could have energy consuming gadgets like refrigerators, stoves or computers, and travel would have to be considered criminally wasteful of natural resources.

My new conception is to maximize the total amount of human happiness in the long run but limit some parts of it in the short run. I have discussed this before in terms of total years of human life because without that there is no possibility for happiness. But now it is necessary to present the things which would permit 12,000 more years of civilization. I state that exact number because it is clearer to be specific than to use the more common generalized word like sustainable. Numerical statements can then be made which helps to make the things being discussed much clearer. For example, the current government often talks about sustainable energy and oil consumption at the same time but if you replace the word sustainable with 12,000 years it instantly becomes obvious that what the politicians mean by sustainable is just until the next election or two. Sustainable to politicians apparently means a couple of years. If you think in the longer terms and are presently a student in university and you can reasonably hope to live for another sixty years. When thought of in that period of time these politicians’ words about sustainable are clearly hopelessly shortsighted and foolish. The world will run short of oil in fifteen years according to the pessimists but the optimists say it will be thirty years. The word sustainable should mean in dynamic balance with natural processes and not until the next election. What I might ask are you going to do for the last thirty years of your life without oil? Thirty years without personal cars like you see everywhere now days is endurable. They probably won’t exist, at least not in large numbers and there may be large numbers of battery driven automobiles to replace them. But when oil becomes too expensive to burn it will be used for farming to make food but the price of food will go way up.Why should you concern yourself with other people or with the future when you can’t even be sure there will be a future? For the very simple reason, you have no choice. It is your future. Some things are fixed and they won’t be changing. The past isn’t going to change although your relationship to it will change. The past and future of the Universe in the grander scheme isn’t going to be influenced much by anything you do or what all of humanity does, for that matter. That’s okay, it’s the universe we live in and the world we live in. But our personal happiness is greatly influenced by our personal behavior and humanity’s happiness is greatly influenced by our species’ group behavior. If humanity could think about itself, in total way in the long run, it would first want to survive, second to maximize its existence and third to be happy. For people to have a chance at happiness there are some minimal conditions which must be met.

First survival must mean the environment is unpolluted with things which injure health. Such things as air, water and food are obvious necessities for life itself and when considering the long run, 12,000 years, the input of our needs and the output of waste must be provided for and cleaned up by the Earth. We can not keep dumping garbage into the atmosphere and ocean forever. With the overburden of the last 200 years of human pollution there would have to be about 200 years for the environment to return to where it was at the beginning of the industrial revolution. That is if there was absolutely no further input of human pollution and the burning of fossil fuels, which is impossible. As beautiful as the world is today it was probably much more beautiful back then but we will never be able to experience that.

The second point before we can maximize total human happiness is to maximize the total number of years of human life. It might be possible to have ten times as many people as we have today, although highly unlikely, and therefore ten times the potential for human happiness but it would be clearly unsustainable even for a single lifetime before some total collapse of the Earth’s ability to sustain that number. Thus a 12,000 year life expectancy of civilization with a peak of 70 billion followed by near total collapse would not yield much potential of total years of human life and little happiness. The pollution problems would be a limit to healthy survival and probably limit the lives of most people in that situation. It seems there could be more people live in the flow of 12,000 years if we had 100,000,000 people living 100 years each (for easy calculation) 12,000 years / 100 years = 120 life cycles. Then 120 life cycles times the number of people living at any given time  of 100,000,000 = 12,000,000,000. That gives approximately the same number of people who will have lived during the next thirty years. So rather than burning up the planet in thirty years of frenzy we would have the same number of people-years to have been lived, it is just stretched out over a much longer period of time. These  distant future people of a smaller population would be living in a much better environment and at least have the opportunity to be much happier and healthier than near future people living in squalor.

The third point is human happiness which is dependent upon survival and then time of survival  and now the quality of life. Happiness, pleasure and contentment are personal things and hard to measure but I like the definitions on the Happiness Scale: “Happiness is a belief that a hoped-for state of affairs is coming into existence. Pleasure is limited to the positive feelings of the moment. and Contentment is the feeling that a hoped for state actually exists.” No one can make another person happy but we can do quite a lot to set up the basic conditions where they might be happy. Basically, that is to provide a place where there are good laws fairly enforced which produces a reliable physical and social environment where everyone can pursue their own interests without harming others.

If we had 100 million people on Earth it would be about the same as the population of 1 AD. That number would be able to live much of the high tech life style which modern humans seem to enjoy but with that number the Earth would be able to recycle all of our waste in a permanently sustainable way. If we were able to discover really low energy ways of doing things we could have more people but that would have to be decided at that future time, after the Earth had recovered from the disruptions of current civilization. The current civilization with its population explosion will almost certainly reach a bursting point within the time of people now living.

I don’t think modern humans are ready for the limitations which would have to be imposed on everyone. And yet, the limitations are few and mild, like limiting your number of children to two and not producing more pollution than some agreed upon limit. Daily life would probably be with fewer restrictions than at present. Part of the reason we now have so many laws and other restrictions is because of the necessity of getting all one can with the minimum expenditure of personal energy. If there were fewer people who each had access to everything they needed there would be far less exploitation of people by other people.

There can be a beautiful Earth with a few people living happily upon it for a very long time.

See also:

Population pendulum will soon swing to well below a billion people

What is the ultimate good for human behavior?