A Question Of Sustainability

…For A Sustainable Future

I write this piece to highlight a very important piece of information about the world population which can be found on the Population Matters website titled: for a sustainable future.

It is the population counter which you can watch ticking over second by second on that web page and if you are concerned about such matters it is a very sobering pass-time to sit and watch it for a while.

I noticed that this site, which I think does some admirable work by the way, along with many others tends to rather liberally use the word sustainable or sustainability in its releases. This is not necessarily a good thing and, when people and organisations do this, I am not sure if they really have any clear grasp or understanding of just what that term means.

There is no way that we can expect to operate in a sustainable way with a constantly growing population or even one that is stabilised at any where near current levels.

There are over seven and a quarter billion people in the world today  …and counting. Three people for every one that was alive when I was born.

At my birth the population stood at around two and a quarter billion persons.

It had taken many tens of thousands of years to get to that point, having maintained a stable level of under 1 billion from the time that homo-sapiens first appeared until the start of the Industrial Revolution and the later Oil Age.

The growth from 1 to 2 billion took 123 years as a result of what we can loosely refer to as the period of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1960 the world population reached 3 billion, having taken 33 years to get there from the 2 billion level as the age of Oil was gaining momentum.

From 1960 it took 14 years to add the next billion in 1974. That was 4 billion.
From 1974 it took 13 years to add the next billion in 1987. That was 5 billion.
From 1988 it took 12 years to add the next billion in 2000. That was 6 billion.
From 2000 it took 11 years to add the next billion in 2011. That was 7 billion.

At a quarter of a billion added in just over 2.5 years since the end of 2011 we are on track to reach the next billion in just another 7.5 years (a total of 10 years) ie. 2021. That will be 8 billion.  At this rate of increase the next level will be reached around 2030. That will be 9 billion.  So sometime in the mid ’30s, when I am turning ninety (if I am so lucky) another billion will have been added. That will be ten billion.

The world population will have quadrupled in my lifetime. 

This sudden rate of increase in human presence on this planet can only be attributed to both the Industrial Revolution and especially the age of Oil.  Without those two events we would still be looking at around one and a half billion living souls.  The success of both of these modern periods in raising population levels is based totally on the energy lift provided by utilising and consuming the Earth’s store of fossil fuels, coal, gas, and oil.  We are now reaching the point when we can no longer expect or afford to maintain the energy production levels that we have become used to enjoying throughout the last century or so.  Consequently we can not expect or afford to maintain population at levels seen in that same period.  Logically, with declining energy availability, population level will fall to roughly pre-industrial levels.  Whether that is achieved smoothly by natural means or rather rudely by some catastrophic event or events arising directly or indirectly from the current situation of resource usage or over-population, remains to be seen.

Of course if you know how I think, you will also know that I don’t believe that population can possibly increase to the levels that I have suggested above.  Within the next six or seven years I expect the population to begin to crash for one reason or another, ultimately down to somewhere between its pre-industrial sustainable level of around 1.5 billion persons and its pre-oil level of around 2 billion.  How long that downturn will take is anybody’s guess.  It could be a century or so.  It could equally be sudden and cataclysmic.  And it could be soon.

That, if looked at with unbiased expectations is what sustainability is all about.  Anything else is just pie-in-the-sky illusion.

This is the only way that any of us can possibly survive on this beautiful planet.

Personally I don’t think any of us can plan to be one of the survivors who make it through that downturn but we can plan to be as knowledgeable and equipped to take care of ourselves, as we are able to do, in a cleaner, simpler, leaner, less organised world, where those who are able to operate in a level of self-reliance will best prosper.

My best wishes to anyone who reads this, in their endeavours to get there.

Note added after publication

Please don’t think that I am preaching here when I mention such things.  I am not a person who is in any position to do that as I have been responsible for bringing six children into this world with two separate women.  I have therefore doubled my personal presence on the planet rather than simply doing what could be taken, if the circumstances were different ie. as in times past, as continuing only sustainable reproduction at a level of replacement for myself and partners, or less.

So, I am not preaching  …just stating the inescapable facts.

Unless we can look at this issue objectively and without emotion, we are headed for destruction and doom.  If you and I cannot see that, then we are lost, because our governments will never act on, or even agree with, that position.  Our blinkered leaders can only see the way forward as one in which they must encourage and indeed ensure continued economic growth, even when they must be able to see that such a course is ultimately impossible to achieve and will certainly fail.  And what does continued growth mean?  It means more and more people.  More working units (sorry, people) to produce more stuff.  More consuming units (sorry, people) to keep buying stuff.  More reproducing units (sorry, people) to keep generating more of the above units (sorry, people).

We are mice trapped inside a treadmill and we need to get off.  We must get off.

 

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One thought on “A Question Of Sustainability

  1. Paralysing figures indeed! The trick is to consider them and not become paralysed. Not a trick I’ve mastered as yet.

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