As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871
Where do our social obligations lie?
I am as eager for social and technological progress as anyone, but there is a problem looming over humanity. There isn’t any external control on human population functioning at the moment except potential famine, and we humans must ourselves take control of population or we will soon suffer Mother Nature’s harsh reminder that we must eat to live. Absolutely no one wants to submit to any limitations on our freedoms, and next to protecting our life and liberty, nothing is a more fundamental freedom than the right to have children.
A century earlier than Darwin’s statement, in 1776, Jefferson’s proclamation in the opening of the US Declaration of Independence, of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” might well have included within the term life, the right to continue one’s life into the indefinite future via children. Or, he might have under the term liberty included having children as the end goal of that freedom to life; Or, he might have said, as many have said, that one’s children are their greatest happiness. Perhaps he felt the right to have children to be so fundamental that it didn’t need stating, but that doesn’t seem likely because he was dealing with absolutes and the founding of a nation of people that was intended to continue on into the unlimited future. It seems likely that Jefferson simply wanted to keep this opening statement condensed to a memorable seven words.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is arguably the most powerful assemblage of seven words that has ever been created, and, three of those seven words are “function words,” that is, non-meaningful words only used in our language to hold the meaningful words in proper relative position.
Jefferson lived at a time when nearly all people were farmers, which means that most of the efforts of humanity were devoted to producing the food which kept them alive. It was a time before humans had discovered how to put the latent power of nature, in the form of coal and oil, to human use, and man lived by the sweat of his brow and the sweat of his horses. Quite wasteful is the modern person driving a hundred horsepower car to the grocery store to pick up already existing food. Our technology and the food it produces is based on a huge but limited supply of one-time-use stored power and when that is gone, or in short supply, the inevitable result is no more cheap food, and the majority of humanity will once again be forced to cultivate the land or not eat.
How soon humanity will run out of stored energy can be estimated but not known with precision. The consumption of power is determined by how many people are living a high energy consumption life style. If all 7 billion people were living as the 0.3 billion Americans presently live, the resources would get used up 23 times faster. At current rates of consumption the energy people say things like we have fifty years of energy available, and so not to worry. There isn’t much need to quote sources because they vary so widely, but it is easy to see that if everyone lived like Americans it would only take 2 years, and everyone would then be forced to return to creating food by plowing fields by human effort. Obviously that is absurd, because the earth was only supporting 1 billion people by the sweat of their brow technology back in 1625, and that implies that 6 billion people would have to go.
But wait! There’s more! A favorite saying of salesmen, but in this case the more is more people and each of them consuming more energy. The population is currently doubling in about 40 years and energy consumption per person is going up with increasing expectations. The United States fifty years ago produced more cars than the whole world combined, then Japan began supplying the world with cars, but now China produces more cars than the US and Japan combined. They are more fuel efficient than the previous cars, but there are so very many of them. The existing cars of the world will be able to burn up the available fuel, and do that within the lifetime of the young adults now driving them. That fuel will soon be desperately needed by tractors to till the fields to produce humanity’s food, but the fuel won’t be available; instead it will be in the atmosphere in the form of burned-up resources creating pollution problems instead of creating food.
All of this gloomy post is common knowledge; even the obvious conclusions are known but not acknowledged. The current population explosion will come to an end when the already existing people consume the readily accessible one-time-use energy resources and start scrambling for the marginal ones. It will probably happen suddenly when people realize there is an impending shortage of essentials, and everyone starts stockpiling everything they can. That will create a positive feedback loop quickly making the existing shortages worse. Then the inexorable decline will begin as trade between distant places becomes dangerous and difficult and products become much more expensive. Most people will have an abundance of physical things, and a glorious internet access to information, but no food. These people of the not too distant future will ask, what happened to our food? The answer is:
We burned it up.