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You can pretty much reduce all of the big problems and predicaments facing the human race down to resources.
The over-indebted global economy? We’ve been living beyond the means of our current resources, stealing prosperity from the future to fund today’s demands and desires.
Society’s addiction to fossil fuel? Nothing will come close in our lifetime to replacing the energy we get from hydrocarbons. And as they deplete further over the coming two decades, higher prices, supply shortages and wars will result.
Accelerating ecological destruction? Vanishing species, topsoils, aquifers, canopies and ores are an alarm bell screaming that we are consuming our essential resources way faster than the planet can replenish them.
And the single greatest factor, by far, affecting consumption of the resources we humans depend on is the size and growth of our population.
This is a highly emotionally-charged topic; one that frequently triggers outbursts from any/every side. We’re taking a risk facing it head-on here, but we think to ignore it equates with sealing an unhappy fate for our species. In order to improve our destiny, society first needs to start having an adult-sized discussion on the matter. We have confidence the Peak Prosperity audience can do that better than most.
Too Many Of Us
As humans multiply on the Earth, our demands on the planet increase in proportion. And as new technologies enable us to harvest/mine/drill faster and more efficiently, our per capita impact on the planet increases, too.
When my Peak Prosperity co-founder Chris Martenson was born back in the early 1960s, human population on Earth was 3 billion people. Today it’s 7.8 billion. By the time he’s an old man, it will likely be over 9 billion souls.
That’s a 3x increase in humans on the planet during a single person’s lifetime(!). An infestation of humans, mind you, who are consuming more per capita with each passing year:
To truly get a sense for how fast the human race is multiplying, watch this short video from the American Museum of Natural History. As it notes, it took over 200,000 years for there to be 1 billion homo sapiens living on the planet. It only took 200 years more to exceed 7 billion. The jump from 7 to 8 billion is happening over the span of a single decade.
As you watch the video, notice how the clicks denoting the frequency of another million souls added resembles the sound of a Geiger counter detecting maximum radioactivity. It simply becomes a continuous droning hum when the present century arrives:
How much longer can the ferocious consumption demands of the human race continue before the last tuna is fished? The last tree in the Amazon is chopped down? The last freshwater aquifer is sucked dry?
And what will we do then?
Growth Is The Enemy
Nature is clear on what happens to organisms that exceed the carrying capacity of their environment: they experience mass die-offs. Always.
Be it amoebas in a petri dish, deer in a forest — excess population collapses when essential resources do.
Over the past few centuries, humans have succeeded in far extending their population limit by tapping the dense power embedded within fossil fuels while simultaneously expanding into new resource-rich territories.
But that era of limit extension has ended. There are no undiscovered continents left and the remaining deposits of fossil fuels are much harder to find and expensive to extract. And yet, the human population continues to grow.
So here we are, on a planet of finite and diminishing means, with too many people and more on the way.
Complicating matters further is the extreme imbalance of ownership of the resources that yet remain. As we’ve been pointing out for years, the deeply unfair nature of our elite-captured economy results in just a very few controlling the majority of the pie:
The results we’re currently seeing from of all this?
Unsustainable overall demand and acute shortages among the dispossessed. Growing hunger, homelessness, oppression and conflict — and pandemic risk, too — across the globe. An increasing race to find, extract and consume the resources that are left. And a lack of investment in and maintenance of our existing world infrastructure, as that’s increasingly seen as ‘competition’ for the dwindling surpluses.
Our blind pursuit of ever more “growth” served our interests as a species as we evolved from nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers and manufacturers. But it no longer does. In fact, it’s now an existential threat.
There are too many of us chasing too little. And it’s only going to get worse as we first exhaust what’s left and then succumb to the inevitable culling.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In fact, we have the ability — right now — to create a PERFECT future for the human race. One in which our progeny will enjoy a higher average per capita lifestyle. Forever.
A global society of nearly 8 billion people, primarily powered by non-renewable energy sources, is simply too much for this planet.
But the Earth is a big place. And while, yes, a growing list of key resources are beginning to “run out” given current overwhelming demand, what remains could be an inexhaustible supply if managed correctly.
Current science estimates that at a population of 1.5 to 2 billion people, the planet can guarantee ‘the minimal physical ingredients of a decent life’ to every person.
Let’s set a loftier goal, though. Let’s give everyone a great quality of life.
Assume for the moment, we could provide that to 750 million people, a population only 10% of the world today and yet twice that of the United States.
We’re talking excellent infrastructure: roadways, railways, ports, cities and towns built to last for hundreds of years with minimal maintenance.
100% organic food production, done sustainably and at scale within an ecologically closed system without the need for outside inputs like chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
This world would be powered by renewable energy which, given the much smaller density of cities, is much more realistic than today. Fossil fuels would be strategically tapped, but at rates far lower than today’s and only for investments that will increase society’s future self-sufficiency.
The unused infrastructure left vacant by the billions no longer using it can become a salvage source, reducing the need for mining for a long time. Centuries?
And stressed ecosystems can be allowed to recover and restored to their previous glory. Imagine the cod fisheries of the Grand Banks or the bison herds of the Great Plains back to pre-1900s levels.
It’s all possible. And we can do it all with existing technology. We don’t need to wait for cold fusion. Or for humans to start colonizing other planets.
It sounds amazing — no, unbelievable. Doesn’t it?
But it’s actually extremely achievable and simple. In concept.
If we were to work in concert as a global society, we can humanely create a gentle glide path to bring the world human population down to this 750 million level over just a few generations. Certainly within 150 years.
It can be done without a single person being euthanized, or being forced to live a diminished lifestyle (resource-wise).
It’s all about managing the birth rate. Mathematically-speaking, if we brought world births per woman down from its current ratio of 2.43 to 1, we’d halve the human population within 50 years or sooner.
Do this just a few more times and we’re at our 750 million target. At which point, we’d want to raise it again (but not too much!) in order to stay at that level.
In this way, we can create a global human society living in balance with natural resources, in which everyone participates in the resulting perpetual high degree of prosperity and comfort. Food, shelter, health care — all basic needs can be affordably met, sustainably.
Of course, this sounds so easy and yet it’s likely to never happen. Why? Because of our human nature.
I’ll bet nearly everyone reading this already has several questions/objections erupting in their minds:
Who gets to decide who can procreate and who can’t? Will certain ethnic/religious/socio-economic groups get preferred treatment at the expense of others? How will this be enforced? What will the penalties of non-compliance be? Is this just a veiled form of genocide?
Forgetting for a moment about the practicalities of getting all 7.8 billion people bought into this plan (40% of whom live in such poverty that they don’t have clean fuel to cook with), our human instinct for survival is our biggest obstacle here.
Our very reason to exist, evolutionarily-speaking, is to procreate. It’s hard-wired into our programming, just like breathing and eating. Convincing a single human to sacrifice their biological directive is a herculean challenge. Convincing billions seems an exercise in futility.
Humans can be extremely distrustful. And authorities these days only give us more scandal, fraud and abuse of power to be distrustful about. In a world full of victims of economic injustice, racial prejudice, class warfare, religious intolerance, ethnic conflict, and worse — how many will put their faith in authorities directing them to intentionally prune their future family tree, especially without any offer of an immediate benefit in return?
The fascinating field of behavioral economics helps us understand that humans are poorly-wired to face large, faceless future threats like overpopulation. As a species, we’re wired the same way our hunter-gatherer forebears were: for the visible immediate threat. The snarling tiger, crouched and ready to spring. Do we flee? Or fight?
Amorphous threats that will arrive at a future date, that we can’t directly observe worsening, and don’t feel any personal agency in (i.e., I could kill myself and the world will still have 7.8 billion people on it) — these we discount highly. Maybe the day of reckoning will never arrive. Maybe ‘someone’ will fix it. Maybe I’ll be gone by then and this will be someone else’s problem. Our brains are constantly looking to rationalize why we don’t need to pay attention to these indirect kinds of threats — even if the expected outcome is really severe.
So, the concept of planned humane depopulation is exceptionally simple. But the path to get from here to there is so filled with practical, ethical and behavioral minefields that it’s pretty much a guaranteed impossibility.
Given this impasse, what do we do? Simply resign humanity to a Mad Max future and pray it arrives after we’re dead?
Here at Peak Prosperity, we are realists. We know our own efforts won’t be enough to turn the tide of humanity’s fate.
But we’re also optimists. We think that by becoming part of the solution, by bringing into existence the change we wish to see, we improve the future for ourselves, our families, and — if enough others take similar action — just maybe society at large, too.
Absolutely, humans have a tremendous capacity for resource consumption and destruction. But we also have the ability to be agents of tremendous regeneration and restoration. We can enable ecological recovery and production at a remarkable pace, oftentimes much faster than natural forces alone can achieve (watch this short video on soil building by Singing Frogs Farms as just one example).
Peak Prosperity’s focus on resilient living is rooted in this directive. Through this website, we do our best to educate and empower our readers to take informed action in their own lives to act regeneratively. And in the process, reducing their vulnerability to risk while simultaneously boosting their quality of life.
Chris Martenson has been very busy of late serving as a living model as he works to get his new property converted into a productive family homestead. His recent video detailing the specific projects and installations he’s implementing offers valuable and inspiring “how to” steps for those interesting in becoming more regernative to consider. (If you’re not yet a premium subscriber to PeakProsperity.com, enroll here to view it)
We get contacted all the time by readers who are desperate to start living differently, who feel trapped in a system they don’t believe in and crave a way of life better aligned to their values.
In Part 2: Breaking Free: Escaping the old system for a more meaningful life, we revisit a report Chris issued last year that has become even more important in the aftermath of covid-19 for those looking to change their trajectory for the better.
The virus has triggered an acceleration of the failure of the economic and social systems we depend on. Time is running out to decide whether you’re going to cast your lot with the failing order or become part of the solution.