Tag: population growth

Transitions, pt Two

Reflections on these present times, concluding part.

I closed yesterday with, So maybe there’s a blindness with humans, and then set out the characteristics of that blindness.  One of those characteristics being,

Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.

Let’s move this on a little.  The arguments from a wide range of scientists are overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition that mankind is using vastly more resources from the planet than the planet can provide.  Take oil.  This graph show past and projected oil production for the whole Earth out to 2050, less than 40 years away.

Here’s an extract from that website which I encourage you to read in full,

The part before 2007 is historical fact. The part that comes afterward is an ASPO extrapolation.

This graph is worth careful attention as a lot of world history is written into it. Note the steep rise in oil production after World War II. Note that 1971 was the peak in oil production in the United States lower 48. There is a sliver of white labled Arctic oil. That is mostly Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oil, which peaked in 1990. Prudhoe Bay was almost big enough to counteract the lower 48 peak of 1971. The sliver is very narrow now. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 is very visible. The oil produced by non-OPEC countries stayed nearly constant while OPEC production nearly halved. The embargo caused the world economy to slow. But the high cost of energy spurred the development of energy efficient automobiles and refrigerators and a lot of other things. Note the effect of the collapse of the Russian economy in 1990 on Russian oil production. Note the rapid increase in oil production when the world economy boomed near the end of the twentieth century. Oil was $12 a barrel at that time. Note that European (North Sea) oil peaked in 2000. Note especially what would have happened if the 1973 embargo had not occurred. It is possible that the world would now be on the steep part of the right side of the Hubbert curve.

Take population growth. Here’s a graph that shows that going through seven billion, which is due shortly, is likely to be way short of the eventual peak.  Likely peak might be in the range of  eight to ten billion!  Just take a look at that graph,

Take global warming.  Here’s a graph from NASA, from which I quote,

The five warmest years since the late 1880s, according to NASA scientists, are in descending order 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2006. (reported in the year 2007!)

No apologies for bashing you around the head with these graphs and figures – most people have a good sense about these aspects of our life on this planet.  But, in a very real sense, that’s the point.

The point that despite powerful and obvious evidence, mankind has great difficulty accepting obvious trends and understanding that whatever ‘today’ feels like, ‘tomorrow’ is almost certainly not going to be more of the same.

At the risk of hammering this point to death, here are two pictures and some text to show how quickly ‘today’ changes and becomes ‘tomorrow’.

Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water

by Helen Turner, Western Mail

THESE images show the astonishing rate of break-up of an enormous glacier in north Greenland – from ice to water in just two years.

The before and after photographs, which left a Welsh scientist who led the 24-month project “speechless”, reveal the worrying effects of climate change in an area previously thought too cold to be much affected.

The Petermann glacier pictured August, 5th, 2009
Petermann glacier, pictured from same position, July 24th, 2011

Dr Alun Hubbard, a reader at Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Glaciology, returned from the Petermann Glacier in north-west Greenland a month ago, but did not see the stark images documenting the changes until this week.

He said: “Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the break-up, which rendered me speechless.  It was just incredible to see. This glacier is huge, 20km across, 1,000m high.”

“It’s like looking into the Grand Canyon full of ice and coming back two years later to find it’s full of water.”

“It’s quite hard to get your head around the scale of the change.  To be able to see that, everything changed in such a short period of time, I was speechless.”

Do read the full article on the Wales Online website here.

Stay with me a little longer, if you will.

Yves Smith in her wonderfully broad and addictive Blog, Naked Capitalism, had the first part of a powerful interview with Satyajit Das published on the 7th.  Here are a couple of extracts,

 It’s amazing how much money you can make just shuffling paper backwards and forwards. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece praising John Paulson who made a killing from the subprime disaster as an entrepreneur. But what did he make? What did he leave behind? Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, argued: “I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth — one shred of evidence. US financial services increased its share of value added from 2% to 6.5% but is that a reflection of your financial innovation, or just a reflection of what you’re paid?”

Just let that quote from Paul Volcker stay with you for a while.  Satyajit goes on to say,

Management and directors of financial institutions cannot really understand what is going on – it’s simply not practical. They cannot be across all the products. For example, Robert Rubin, the former head of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, encouraged increased risk taking at CitiGroup. He was guided by a consultant’s report and famously stated that risk was the only underpriced asset. He encouraged investment in AAA securities assuming that they were ‘money good’. He seemed not to be aware of the liquidity puts that Citi had written which meant that toxic off-balance sheet assets would come back to the mother ship in the case of a crisis. Now, if he didn’t understand, others would find it near impossible. And I’m talking about executive management.

Non executives are even further removed. Upon joining the Salomon Brothers Board, Henry Kaufman, the original Dr. Doom found that most non-executive directors had little experience or understanding of banking. They relied on board reports that were, “neither comprehensive … nor detailed enough … about the diversity and complexity of our operations.” Non-executive directors were reliant “on the veracity and competency of senior managers, who in turn … are beholden to the veracity of middle managers, who are themselves motivated to take risks through a variety of profit compensation formulas.”

Kaufman later joined the board of Lehman Brothers. Nine out of ten members of the Lehman board were retired, four were 75 years or more in age, only two had banking experience, but in a different era. The octogenarian Kaufman sat on the Lehman Risk Committee with a Broadway producer, a former Navy admiral, a former CEO of a Spanish-language TV station and the former chairman of IBM. The Committee only had two meetings in 2006 and 2007. AIG’s board included several heavyweight diplomats and admirals; even though Richard Breeden, former head of the SEC told a reporter, “AIG, as far as I know, didn’t own any aircraft carriers and didn’t have a seat in the United Nations.”

In other words, there is no shortage of information from all corners of the world to show, with very little doubt, that the last few decades have seen unprecedented mistakes by national governments, mistakes in corporate governance, a lack of understanding of economic fundamentals, poor financial and social management, and on and on and on.

But practically all of us, and I mean all of us, didn’t see it at the time, didn’t see where it was heading and only now, when it is full in our faces, do we get it and see it for what it has really been, a long period of over two decades where the ‘me‘ has been more important than the ‘us‘.

That me versus us even being promoted, if that’s the right word, by a British Prime Minister twenty-five years ago.  That quote from Margaret Thatcher back in 1987,  “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” (Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987)

Let me draw this all together, yesterday’s part and this concluding part.

There is significant evidence, real hard evidence, that the patterns of mankind’s behaviours of the last few decades cannot continue.  Simply because mankind will go over the edge of self-extinction.  Darwin’s evidence and all that!  We have to accept that humans will see the bleedin’ obvious before it is too late.  We have to keep the faith that our species homo sapiens is capable of huge and rapid change when that tipping point is reached, so eloquently written by Paul Gilding in his book, The Great Disruption, reviewed by me here.  We have to embrace the fact that just because the world and his wife appears to be living in total denial, the seedlings of change, powerful change, are already sprouting, everywhere, all over the world.

So let’s welcome those changes. Let’s nurture those seedlings, encourage them to grow and engulf our society with a new richness, a new fertile landscape.

Let’s embrace the power of now, the beauty of making today much better and letting go of tomorrow.

For today, I am in charge of my life,

Today, I choose my thoughts,

Today, I choose my attitudes,

Today, I choose my actions and behaviours.

With these, I create my life and my destiny.

It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially when they involve the future!

Still on the theme of this Blog

More on why this Blog gets written.

Last Wednesday, I set out to explain why the blog is called Learning from Dogs.  If you missed that then it is here.  The focus was on the very special relationship between man and dog that goes back thousands of years.  It has been a critically important relationship for both species.

But there is another aspect to this Blog, as follows: The relationship between dogs and man goes back thousands of years. The theory is that dogs were domesticated between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago although DNA evidence suggests dogs split away from the grey wolf around 100,000 years ago.  Certainly, the dog was the first animal to be domesticated by man. In fact, some archaeologists speculate that man could not have been a successful ‘hunter-gatherer’ without his relationship with the dog and thus been able to progress to farming the earth for food.

The relationship between Planet Earth and man, as in H. sapiens, goes back around 200,000 years. There is little doubt that most people, even with a minimum of awareness about the world that we live in, are deeply worried. On so many fronts there are forbidding and scary views. It feels as though all the certainty of past times has gone; as if all the trusted models of society are now broken. Whether we are talking politics, economics, employment or the environment, nothing seems to be working.

Why is this? What’s the cause?

It would be easy to condemn man’s drive for progress and an insatiable self-centredness as root causes. But it’s not the case.

The root cause is clear. It is this. How mankind has developed is the result of mankind’s behaviours. All of us behave in many ways that are hugely damaging to the survival of our species. It is likely that these behaviours are little unchanged over thousands of years.

But 2000 years ago, the global population of man was just 300 million.

Twelve-hundred years later, in 1800, it was 1 billion. In 1927, just 127 years later, the two-billionth baby was born. In 1960, only 33 years on, the three-billionth baby. (Remember the moon landing in 1969?  Well, of course you do!  There were about three and a half billion people on the planet!)

Just 16 years on, in 1974, the four-billionth baby was born. In 1987, 13 years later, five billion. Around October 1999, the sixth-billionth baby was born!

It’s trending to a billion every decade. 100 million population growth every year, or about 270,000 every single day!

Combine man’s behaviours with this growth of population and we have the present situation. A totally unsustainable situation disconnected from the planet that supports us.

The only viable solution is to amend our behaviours. To tap into the powers of integrity, self-awareness and mindfulness and change our game.

We all have to work with the fundamental, primary relationships we have with each other and with the planet upon which we all depend. We need a level of consciousness with each other and with the living, breathing planet that will empower change. We need spiritual enlightenment on a grand scale.

That’s why we have so much to learn from dogs. They are man’s best friend. They are man’s oldest friend. They have a relationship with us that is very special; almost certainly telepathic. They can show us how we need to live our lives.

Man's oldest, and wisest, friend.

That’s the real reason why this Blog gets written.  Phew! Glad that’s off my chest!

Earth Policy Institute

An organisation that deserves wide support.

Read it!

My copy of Lester Brown’s book World on the Edge arrived on Tuesday and already it’s opening my eyes big time.  I do recommend that you think about purchasing the book, or you may download the entire book for free – details here.

Regular visitors to Learning from Dogs will remember that there was mention in a recent Post, Group Human Insanity about Lester Brown’s new book.  I have subscribed to regular updates from the EPI and recently received the following; it’s worth reproducing in full, with the permission of the EPI.

Restoring Food Security for All
Takes Action on Many Fronts

www.earth-policy.org/book_bytes/2011/wotech12_ss5

By Lester R. Brown

Today there are three sources of growing demand for food: population growth; rising affluence and the associated jump in meat, milk, and egg consumption; and the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.

Population growth is as old as agriculture itself. But the world is now adding close to 80 million people per year. Even worse, the overwhelming majority of these people are being added in countries where cropland is scarce, soils are eroding, and irrigation wells are going dry.

Even as we are multiplying in number, some 3 billion of us are trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock products. As incomes rise, annual grain consumption per person climbs from less than 400 pounds, as in India today, to roughly 1,600 pounds, as among those living high on the food chain in the United States, where diets tend to be heavy with meat and dairy products.

When the United States attempted to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into ethanol, the growth in world grain demand, traditionally around 20 million tons per year, suddenly jumped to over 50 million tons in 2007. Roughly 119 million tons of the 2009 U.S. grain harvest of 416 million tons went to ethanol distilleries, an amount that exceeds the grain harvests of Canada and Australia combined. This massive ethanol distillery investment in the United States launched an epic competition between cars and people for grain.

On the supply side of the food equation, several trends are making it more difficult to expand production rapidly enough to keep up with demand. These include soil erosion, aquifer depletion, more frequent crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets, melting mountain glaciers, and the diversion of irrigation water to cities.

Farmers are also losing cropland to nonfarm uses. Cars compete with people not only for the grain supply but also for the cropland itself. The United States, for example, has paved an area for cars larger than the state of Georgia. Every five cars added to the U.S. fleet means another acre of land will be paved over—the equivalent of a football field.

The implications for China of this relationship between cars and cropland are startling. In 2009, for the first time, more cars were sold in China than in the United States. If China were to reach the U.S. ownership rate of three cars for every four people, it would have over a billion cars, more than the entire world has today. The land that would have to be paved to accommodate these cars would be two thirds the area China currently has in rice.

This pressure on cropland worldwide is running up against increased demand for soybeans, which are the key to expanding the production of meat, milk, and eggs. Adding soybean meal to livestock and poultry feed sharply boosts the efficiency with which grain is converted into animal protein. This is why world soybean use climbed from 17 million tons in 1950 to 252 million tons in 2010, a 15-fold jump.

Nowhere is the soaring demand for soybeans more evident than in China, where the crop originated. As recently as 1995, China produced 14 million tons of soybeans and consumed 14 million tons. In 2010, it still produced 14 million tons, but it consumed a staggering 64 million tons. In fact, over half of the world’s soybean exports now go to China.

Demand is climbing, but since scientists have failed to increase yields rapidly, the world gets more soybeans largely by planting more soybeans. The soybean is devouring land in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, which together account for four fifths of world soybean production and 90 percent of exports.

Ensuring future food security was once the exclusive responsibility of the ministry of agriculture, but this is changing. The minister of agriculture alone, no matter how competent, can no longer be expected to secure food supplies. Indeed, efforts by the minister of health and family planning to lower human fertility may have a greater effect on future food security than efforts in the ministry of agriculture to raise land fertility.

Similarly, if ministries of energy cannot quickly cut carbon emissions, the world will face crop-shrinking heat waves that can massively and unpredictably reduce harvests. Saving the mountain glaciers whose ice melt irrigates much of the cropland in China and India during the dry season is the responsibility of the ministry of energy, not solely the ministry of agriculture.

If the ministries of forestry and agriculture cannot work together to restore tree cover and reduce floods and soil erosion, grain harvests will shrink not only in smaller countries like Haiti and Mongolia, as they are doing, but also in larger countries, such as Russia and Argentina—both wheat exporters.

And where water shortages restrict food output, it will be up to ministries of water resources to do everything possible to raise national water productivity. With water, as with energy, the principal potential now is in increasing efficiency, not expanding supply.

In a world where cropland is scarce and becoming more so, decisions made in ministries of transportation on whether to develop land-consuming, auto-centered transport systems or more-diversified systems that are much less land-intensive will directly affect world food security.

In the end, it is up to ministries of finance to reallocate resources in a way that recognizes the new threats to security posed by agriculture’s deteriorating natural support systems, continuing population growth, human-driven climate change, and spreading water shortages. Since many ministries of government are involved, it is the head of state who must redefine security.

At the international level, we need to address the threat posed by growing climate volatility and the associated rise in food price volatility. The tripling of wheat, rice, corn, and soybean prices between 2007 and 2008 put enormous stresses on governments and low-income consumers. This price volatility also affects producers, since price uncertainty discourages investment by farmers.

In this unstable situation, a new mechanism to stabilize world grain prices is needed—in effect, a World Food Bank (WFB). This body would establish a support price and a ceiling price for wheat, rice, and corn. The WFB would buy grain when prices fell to the support level and return it to the market when prices reached the ceiling level, thus moderating price fluctuations in a way that would benefit both consumers and producers.

One simple way to improve food security is for the United States to eliminate the fuel ethanol subsidy and abolish the mandates that are driving the conversion of grain into fuel. This would help stabilize grain prices and buy some time in which to reverse the environmental and demographic trends that are undermining our future. It would also help relax the political tensions over food security that have emerged within importing countries.

And finally, we all have a role to play as individuals. Whether we decide to bike, bus, or drive to work will affect carbon emissions, climate change, and food security. The size of the car we drive to the supermarket and its effect on climate may indirectly affect the size of the bill at the supermarket checkout counter. At the family level, we need to hold the line at two children. And if we are living high on the food chain, we can eat less grain-intensive livestock products, improving our health while helping to stabilize climate. Food security is something in which we all have a stake—and a responsibility.

#   #   #

Adapted from Chapter 5, “The Emerging Politics of Food Scarcity” and Chapter 12, “Feeding Eight Billion” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote

Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org

Feel free to pass this information along to friends, family members, and colleagues!

Not much I can add to that!

UPDATE:  Just a few hours after completing the Post, I saw this on the BBC News website.

The global consumption of fish has hit a record high, reaching an average of 17kg per person, a UN report has shown.

Fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 145m tonnes in 2009, providing about 16% of the population’s animal protein intake.

The findings published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also stressed that the status of global fish stocks had not improved.

It said that about 32% were overexploited, depleted or recovering.

“That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is a matter of great concern,” said Richard Grainger, one of the report’s authors and FAO senior fish expert.

Full article on the BBC is here.

 

Copenhagen – the unspoken issue

It’s getting crowded down here!

For those readers who are not regular BBC television viewers, the Beeb has for many years run an excellent factual/science & nature series under the name of Horizon.  Just recently there was a programme with the title of How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

Sir David Attenborough

It was presented by that familiar face on the BBC in terms of the natural world, Sir David Attenborough.  It was an appropriate and worthy person to present the information.

But before getting into some of the details underpinning the programme, there seems to been an enormous and unspoken omission at Copenhagen – why no debate about global population trends?

Luckily the media noticed the rather obvious exclusion.  Here’s the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper (online version) of the 8th December, 2009. An extract:

Population growth is the one issue accused of causing driving climate change that no one at the Copenhagen climate summit dares to talk about.

The argument is that more people consume more resources, therefore producing more greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

The global population is currently at 6 billion and could rise to 11 billion by 2050 if fertility rates continue, not only threatening the climate, but food shortages and conflict as well.

Organisations like the Optimum Population Trust, that is backed by Sir Jonathan Porritt, Dame Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough, advocate birth control as a way of slowing climate change.

As Sir David has said: “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.”

A study by the London School of Economics found contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green solutions such as investing in green technology.

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