The Problem with the World and the Future of Mankind

According to Brian Hill, resident Speculation Engineer and Pseudo Scientist

Well, after a long time, I decided to post this up, as this is the culmination of a bunch of thoughts that have been running through my head for a great many years now.

First, let’s tackle the initial premise of this article, “The problem with the world”. What I mean to discuss with this title is not the problems of the world (though I’ll get to those), but rather, the problem with the world. First, let me say that I am no tree-loving, eco-terrorist who thinks that anything but grass skirts and flower-power is the work of the devil. Quite the opposite, in fact, I think most of those people are naïve and kind of sadly ignorant for the most part. However, the fact remains that the environment is going to hell, and is not going to get any better anytime soon. However, most people who are seriously worried about the environment are those types of people, which is unfortunate, as hardly anybody takes anyone who proposes we live with the critters in the woods very seriously. The really sad thing, however, is that almost everyone is approaching the environmental troubles in the wrong way. Everyone is worried about “what we are doing” to the environment. Well, here’s your wake up call…. It has nothing to do with what we are doing, and everything to do with what we are. Human beings, in small numbers, are no big deal for the world’s ecosystems. Any damage we could do, the environment would undo, given enough time. The real problem is that there are just too damn many of us on this rock. And it’s getting worse.

Of course, no one is going to listen to anyone proposing that we eradicate ¾ of the species, either, but that’s probably the best solution. Instead, everyone is going to run around like fools, trying to heal bloody stumps with band-aids. Trying to treat the symptoms, and not the disease. The truth is, an eradication of a large portion of this planet’s population would probably be about the best thing for the Earth, in the long run. But we, of course, as a species, are too arrogant and self-centered to do it ourselves. We will just go on, for years to come, chanting “Save the whales”, and “Save the rain forest”, and “Save the planet” until something solves the problem for us. And it will, I predict.

You see, here’s the issue. Human population grows logarithmically. This is mainly due to two factors: First, higher population (usually) leads to higher reproduction, and our quality of life and medical care is on the rise.

For the first reason, take, for example, 1000 people. Those people sire 4 children per couple, on average, during their lives. Generation two therefore consists of 2000 people, for a grand total of 3000 people (generations 1 and 2). Generation 2 sires the same average number of children, making 4000 people in generation 3, and 7000 people total. Generation 3 sires 8000 people, but generation 1 dies, leaving a total of 13,000 people. You see, nasty, isn’t it?

For the second reason, take the average life expectancy. It typically increases each year or two, with the current average (well, as of 1998, anyhow) being about 77 years of age. This means the average person could live to see four generations of their family, and this number is rising. Some scientists speculate that a child born in 2000 will live to see 2150. I will take that a step further. I say a child born in 2000 with either A) Live forever, or B) Die before 2030, but I digress.

To show you how out of control the population is getting, lets run through some numbers. In 1900, there were around 1.5 billion people on Earth. In 1950, there were almost 3 billion. Think about that for a minute. It took nearly 200,000 years to reach 1.5 billion people, and 50 to add another 1.5 billion. In 1999, we hit 6 billion. Right now, we stand at about 6.2 billion, with a growth of about 3 people per second (100 million per year). If you look at the past, from 198,000 BC until 1900 AD, we grew at the rate of about 7500 per year (that’s an averaged out figure, and not scientifically sound, but illustrative none the less). From 1900 to 1950, we grew at about 30 million per year. From 1950 to 2000, we grew at about 60 million per year. And now, JUST TWO YEARS LATER, we are growing at 100 million per year! At this rate of increase (a 66% increase in growth rate every 2 years), we will break the 7 billion mark in 2008, and at that point, will be growing by about 457 million per year. At the same rate of growth (and increase in growth), we will hit 12 billion in 2014, and by then, we will be growing at over 2 billion per year! If this doesn’t scare the shit out of you, it should, but it gets worse.

First, imagine all of the effects that increased numbers of human beings create. We require a number of things: Land, shelter, food, water, and oxygen are the basics, but to keep up this modern life, we also require electricity, fuel, plastics, wood, metals, and tons upon tons of other various crap. Our needs for these things all have side effects…The need for land causes us to clear land, in the process destroying entire ecosystems, endangering large numbers of plants and animals. Now most people go, “Who cares, screw the mosquito fern and spider monkeys”, but that is a bit short sighted. Personally, for just the animals, I could care less as well. But eliminating species has some very real and potentially very nasty side effects. The most alarming of these is the possibility of killing the natural hosts of ever more deadly viruses, exposing ourselves to those hosts, and having the viruses “jump species” and infecting humans. More on that later, however.

Our need for shelter just increases our need for land and raw materials. Our need for food increases our need for land, but to reduce this need, we work on ways of improving the efficiency of crop production, using pesticides and now, genetic means. These efficiency increases cost us too. For pesticides, at the very least, we reduce the number of insects which feed on our crops, which in turn reduces the numbers of every animal that depends upon those insects in the food chain. At the worst, pesticides can poison water supplies, killing much more than insects. For genetic measures, it’s even worse. We have this minimal level of understanding of genetics to start with, and in most cases, have absolutely no idea how genetic changes to one species can or will affect other species in the ecosystem. We just go out and randomly screw up hundreds of thousands of years of evolution without the wisdom to understand what we are doing.

Our need for water is actually worse, because there is a very finite level of clean water on the planet, and almost EVERYTHING (not just us) needs it. To grow more food, we need more water. So, when we begin to run out of water, we build treatment plants to treat waste water, and desalinization plants to treat seawater. As the population grows, our only real choice will be to build more and more desalinization plants to treat the seawater, which is likely to cause all kinds of nasty environmental effects.

This goes on and on, but it won’t go on for much longer. Here’s the crux of things, in the next 30 years, I predict that one of the following will happen:

1. Governmental, controlled population reduction (almost inconceivable, less than 1% chance)
2. Some form of weapon of mass destruction (most likely biological, but possibly nuclear) will reduce the population (5% chance)
3. Eradication of ecosystems will result in a disease that will wipe out a large portion of the world’s population (20% chance)
4. Famine, and shortly thereafter, war, will reduce the world’s population to a manageable level (15% chance)
5. Environmental catastrophe (global flooding, etc.) will reduce the population (5% chance)
6. People will choose to have less kids, leading to zero, and possibly negative population growth (Some European countries have already done this, so 15% chance)
7. We will colonize another planet or satellite, allowing us to shoot ourselves in the foot again (15% chance)
8. We will research technology allowing use to merge with computing systems, reducing our biological needs in favor of electrical needs (not as far fetched as it sounds, but the subject of another article; 15% chance)
9. We will be replaced by our own creations (could mean many things, from the elimination of humanity by a man-made virus, to “forced evolution”, to a sentient computer deciding we are unnecessary, 9% chance)
10. Nothing will happen, and we will continue on as stupid, ignorant creatures, destroying all life for transient pleasures for a few more years (almost inconceivable, less than 1% chance)

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps we are smarter than I think we are. But history says we are very short-sighted, egotistical creatures, believing in amusing notions about our “right” to rule all things, and secure that we are the center of the universe. I hope humanity can solve the problems we are in, but I don’t think it’s very likely. Instead, I see us plowing ahead for the conceivable future asleep at the wheel, unaware of the wall until we hit it.

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