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Every decade or so I pick up The Next Million Years by Charles Galton Darwin. The underlying premise of his book is that food is the foundation of human life, just as it is for all other living species. The second premise is that the food supply fluctuates over time, and therefore sometimes there will be famines and people will die back to the level where there is enough food to maintain the still living. A third point, perhaps not a premise, is that food is not equally divided between all the population, and the result is that those with the most skill in preparing for the famine will be the most likely to survive and reproduce. And, if there is a trace of heritability in this propensity to prepare for the shortage, that self-prepared portion of the species will most likely survive and pass on that trait of preparation. In the very long period of a million years of food shortages recurring once per generation, that cycle would be repeated ten thousand times, and that is plenty of cycles to make a survival trait become genetically embedded. We don’t have that situation now, but it is built into the setup of our economy in that personal wealth is passed on to children.

There are several qualities that will make for probable longevity in this social layering which we loathe to think about. First, some of the survivors during a famine would know about starving people without being directly confronted by their suffering. There would be a tendency to isolate oneself from those tragedies and rationalize that there wasn’t anything that they could do personally to help those unfortunate people. There would arise among the community of survivors the belief that those starving people were to blame for their own misfortunes because they didn’t prepare properly. This will morph over into a legal system of isolating people into layers of castes to determine who will get the most food and those who will get the least, based on wealth. When necessary, those who live in protected enclaves will sortie out, military fashion, to  collect food and other necessary resources, and those homeless living hand to mouth will be the first to starve. What little they have will be taken away.

Darwin maintains that as populations eventually expand to the carrying capacity of the food supply there will always be, after a few years of abundance, a margin of people who are at the limits of starvation. Presently, we have been living in the longest period of expansion of our food supply in history, but as predicted the population is still expanding and will eventually find a natural limit. Our abundant food is derived from technology for creating food, but that is made possible by machinery using fossil fuel, like coal, oil, and gas. Because those are single-use energy sources, when they are gone we will be forced to resort to human labor to create food, and the human population will lurch back to the 0.2 billion people of Classical Roman times of 1AD or fewer for a while.

We now have 7.7 billion people aware of the internet and many are eager to live the energy consumptive life of the 0.3 billion modern Americans they see there. The point is that the society we now enjoy can’t be sustained for very long at our level of consumption.

What is the reasonable course of action for you?