Most of their social performance indicators aren't inherently resource-intensive. Education, social support, democratic quality and equality have no direct ties to environmental resources. Life satisfaction and healthy life expectancy are only weakly tied to resource use - Cubans live about as long as Americans, the Bhutanese are more satisfied with their lives.
Good sanitation and nutrition can easily be achieved at a very low resource cost; in the case of nutrition, excess intake of high-calorie and high-carbon foods is now an equal or greater cause of mortality than malnutrition. Reducing meat consumption in the developed world would massively reduce resource use while also increasing life expectancy. Britons have never eaten a healthier diet than during wartime rationing.
That leaves us with income and access to energy. I can't really address the issue of income; I have no idea if it's possible to maintain current levels of economic growth while reducing resource use. The issue of access to energy is more straightforward. We know that we can produce close to our current levels of energy with entirely sustainable means. Energy consumption has diminishing marginal utility - getting an electric light in your house makes a huge difference to your quality of life, but trading up from a subcompact to an SUV doesn't. There are some big outliers on the plot of social progress vs energy use.
I think that this research has taken a really elaborate route to arguing "countries with high living standards tend to use lots of natural resources, ∴ high living standards require lots of natural resources". I don't dispute the correlation, but I think that the causal relationship is almost entirely illusory.
Tl;dr I guess, "no direct ties to environmental resources" != "no significant environmental resource requirements."
On the other hand, of course, the whole article is observational based on existing societies with present-day technology; change society or the available technology, and resource requirements would presumably also change (also in ways we don't know.)
EX: Education does not actually need separate buildings and transportation. It could operate completely online.
Further, most of we think of as nature exists in fairly narrow bands. We could for example have a city going 10 miles into the earth with a fairly normal ecosystem existing above it.
“X sounds roughly possible, so we can count on X”-type thinking doesn’t answer any questions or solve any problems, it just conceals how little humanity actually knows about this predicament we’re all in.
You can make arguments that solar power must be lower than X efficiency from Quantum mechanics, but something as nebulous as education is more a goal than a specific approach.
PS: As to your specific objection, Alaska already does a lot of distance education and it works fairly well though not necessarily cheaper.
The one thing not mentioned is that only actual solution: managing populations. The number of people on the planet has nearly doubled just in my lifetime! Also on HN today
But making more people is not a problem the human race has.
We're already at or very close to "peak child". There are about two billion children in the world, a figure we don't expect to ever significantly increase. We expect the population to grow to between 9 and 11 billion by the end of the century, but the cause of that growth is simply survival. Increasing life expectancy means that the population is turning over more slowly - there's no increase in the number of children being born, but people are surviving longer.
Most of the developed world is already at or below a replacement fertility rate. The developing world is catching up very quickly. The birth rate in India has fallen from 5.91 per woman in 1960 to 2.4 today. Bangladesh has done even better, with their birth rate falling from 6.95 in 1970 to 2.14 today.
If you're proposing that we reduce the global population, you have two options. Option one is to reduce the global fertility rate to well below replacement and accept an increasingly ageing society. With current trends in life expectancy, this option would leave us completely unable to care for the elderly. At best, this means millions of elderly people being warehoused in robotic care facilities; at worst, it means leaving people to die, especially in middle-income countries. Option two is some kind of genocide.
Unless you're willing to volunteer yourself or your child as a sacrifice, I suggest we all figure out how to share our resources more equitably and use them more efficiency.
Who's "we" in this context? Because every time someone makes one of these predictions the human race blows through it and keeps going. I wouldn't be surprised if we reach 20Bn. I expect it only to be curtailed by environmental catastrophe.
Unless you're willing to volunteer yourself or your child as a sacrifice
I'm child-free, so I can look at this objectively.
Homo sapiens. The global fertility rate has more than halved over the last 50 years. The developed world now has a birth rate substantially below replacement. Birth rate in the developing world is falling precipitously, matching the rate of decline that happened in the developed world 50 years ago.
This isn't a blip. It isn't speculation. It's an undeniable and epoch-defining change in how our species reproduces. The age of Malthus is over.
Overpopulation is already a problem, everywhere you look: pollution, climate change, depleted marine stocks, loss of biodiversity, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, melting ice caps, resource wars, all have one single root cause: too many people fighting over too little planet.
No, there is not one single problem. I can just as easily blame incorrect market structures which enable negative externalities. A carbon tax corrects one such market distortion, for instance.
The Earth can support many more humans than are currently living if our production methods didn't allow for negative externalities.
With 7.6 billion humans already on the planet, the idea that "depopulation" could become a problem is utterly laughable. Four billion people could die tomorrow and the world population would only be set back 50 years. 90% of the human population could be wiped out, and there would still be 760m people in the world; hardly a crisis, unless you think that depopulation was a risk in 1760. Remember that Malthus first sounded the alarm on overpopulation in 1799, when there were "only" 1 billion people.
I feel like you're misinterpreting my words just to be disagreeable. "Rate" is a velocity term, and the first derivative of the population count. "Deceleration" is the second derivative of the population, and the first derivative of the rate. Therefore, what you said is exactly what I said: population growth is decelerating.
> With 7.6 billion humans already on the planet, the idea that "depopulation" could become a problem is utterly laughable.
All of our social programs are based on the assumption that the subsequent generation will be larger than the previous one, and so can support them in their old age. This likely will no longer be the case within our lifetime. That's no laughing matter.
Your arguments that eliminating a large fraction of the population would still leave plenty of people around are a complete red herring. What exactly is the fact that 760 million people would still be alive after 90% of the population is eliminated supposed to prove exactly? Are you even remotely aware of the problems this would cause? How supply chains for critical goods would simply collapse? How our rate of progress would grind to a halt? There are all sorts of metrics, like the rate of scientific progress, that are directly tied to population growth. Depopulation is a huge problem for many reasons.
Indeed the population is still increasing, but population growth is decelerating. Population will likely plateau within the next 70-80 years, and then possibly decline.
I remember reading something that said the population will peak around 10 to 10.5 billion, and not really grow beyond that. So when it comes to housing for that many people there is plenty of land.
That mainly leaves food. I have heard some people say meat is quite inefficient, but how much land do we need to feed 10.5 billion people?
It would be interesting to see other resource like copper plotted as how much is needed per person vs world supply. I do know aluminum is 3rd most abundant element in earths crust and iron is the 4th most abundant.
Really, for energy we should just be using renewable, and nuclear. Also when reading about how much the fuel for nuclear is actual used only like a few percent we need better reactors.
Concrete is staggeringly carbon-intensive. You need to burn a lot of fuel to produce cement, which itself emits carbon during the calcination process. Every ton of cement produces about 900kg of CO2, making up about 5% of global carbon emissions.
The CO2 emitted by the calcination process is reabsorbed when the Portland cement sets. You won't get back the CO2 expended in the heating process, but the calcination itself is more or less CO2-neutral.
It's roughly this:
Making cement: CaCO3 (limestone) + (some other stuff, varying with the type of cement) + lots of heat -> CaO + CO2.
Setting cement: CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2 ("portlandite").
Ca(OH)2 + CO2 (from atmosphere) -> CaCO3 +
H20 (chemically much the same as the original limestone, but now set into a useful form).
I'm too lazy to balance all the equations, and there are a lot of other things mixed into modern cements, but that's the basic idea.
It seems unfair to charge cement with the CO2 driven off during manufacture, while ignoring the fact that an equal amount of CO2 is absorbed during setting.
Actually we have been depleting the planets sand resources for a good while now, and could be facing a "sand crisis" in the not distant future, largely thanks to concrete:
We could just grind rocks instead of causing erosion in water ways. However, we would need a good energy source to run a grinder/crusher. We are improving along those lines of energy production. Natural, sand is made by wind and hydro power. So if we keep it that way we should fine.
Also it seems to more of we are collecting sand and other aggregate in haphazard way. I am not sure I would call that running out? Unless sources with low environmental impact are running out?
For particular demanding applications all sand is sifted and structure/shape of the sand checked.
For evening more demanding application sand may be produced via crushing to get long flat sand grains.
Also the checking of the quality of sand is called sieve analysis.
Greed, corruption, and willful ignorance/incuriousness however are a cancer on the system that makes for a race condition that keeps us from actively investing in that balance. It's hard not to be apocalyptic, but it's even crazier to think that our collective consciousness can't figure out a way to arrest that cancer before we all end up eating jellyfish out of acidified plastic oceans supplemented with snowpiercer cockroach bricks.
The corruption rife ganges river sanitation project is a great example of a massive opportunity to increase quality of life for a staggering amount of people sucked dry financially by said cancer. There are ways to NOT do that. We have the ability to figure out how. We also at this moment, still might have enough time.
I like the study of permaculture in part because it treats human beings as part of the solution, not the problem. Get more people moving in the right direction for positive change. It is a way of love, not fear.
Consider: what is the likelihood that we can reach a global consensus on population control which will have any significant impact in the next 25 years? What social structure will suddenly appear which will change our value system? Who among us is going to be willing to give up our automobiles? And so forth. How can we have a future when we have a President who does not believe what scientists are telling him? How can we support leaders who have no understanding of the physical world? These are existential questions that need to be resolved quickly or all is lost. And they are being ignored.
I see a future where we get our food directly from the sun and with most animals and plants destroyed- pets and house plants will likely be the survivors we pick.
Is the problem that we've got too many people, or is it that the resources we have are being distributed completely unequally?
Also, Canada uses even more energy per capita than the United States, for pretty much the same reasons.
People only moved to the really hot parts of America in significant numbers because of the invention of air conditioning. They abandoned vernacular architectural techniques that kept buildings comfortable using passive cooling.
The entire population of the US could comfortably fit into the climatically mild parts. Vast areas of the US never get particularly cold in winter or particularly warm in summer.
As with suburban sprawl, the human geography of the US is built around wasteful energy use. Those trends were established over time and they can be reversed over time.
Yeah, well, the entire population of the US could be put in giant warehouses, eating in cafeterias and hotbunking the beds in three shifts.
But that's no way to live.
"Vast areas of the US never get particularly cold in winter or particularly warm in summer."
Where are these "vast areas"? Outside of maybe the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii, I can't think of any.
Making assumptions about what people are entitled to, or what standard of living is possible would be a big mistake because it could lead to far worse outcomes than simply forcing the market to provide the solution.
Getting impatient for people to actually try markets rather than continue the petro-gangster status quo though.
Why doesn't anybody ever think about the needs of CEOs ?
Seriously - market aside- its obviously a lot of humans need companys and hierarchical structured society to upkeep there ego- so what solution is there to keep those afloat, while ending the ecological suicide that is capitalism?
> Abstract: Humanity faces the challenge of how to achieve a high quality of life for over 7 billion people without destabilizing critical planetary processes. Using indicators designed to measure a ‘safe and just’ development space, we quantify the resource use associated with meeting basic human needs, and compare this to downscaled planetary boundaries for over 150 nations. We find that no country meets basic needs for its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. Physical needs such as nutrition, sanitation, access to electricity and the elimination of extreme poverty could likely be met for all people without transgressing planetary boundaries. However, the universal achievement of more qualitative goals (for example, high life satisfaction) would require a level of resource use that is 2–6 times the sustainable level, based on current relationships. Strategies to improve physical and social provisioning systems, with a focus on sufficiency and equity, have the potential to move nations towards sustainability, but the challenge remains substantial.
> "Radical changes are needed if all people are to live well within the limits of the planet," [...]
> "These include moving beyond the pursuit of economic growth in wealthy nations, shifting rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and significantly reducing inequality.
> "Our physical infrastructure and the way we distribute resources are both part of what we call provisioning systems. If all people are to lead a good life within the planet's limits then these provisioning systems need to be fundamentally restructured to allow for basic needs to be met at a much lower level of resource use."
Perhaps ironically, our developments in service of sustainability (resource efficiency) needs for a civilization on Mars are directly relevant to solving these problems on Earth.
Survive without soil, steel, hydrocarbons, animals, oxygen.
Convert CO2, sunlight, H20, and geothermal energy to forms necessary for life.
Algae, carbon capture, carbon sequestration, lab grown plants, water purification, solar power, [...]
Mars requires a geomagnetic field in order to sustain an atmosphere in order to [...].
"The Limits to Growth" (1972, 2004)  very clearly forecasts these same unsustainable patterns of resource consumption: 'needs' which exceed and transgress our planetary biophysical boundaries.
The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (#GlobalGoals)  outline our worthwhile international objectives (Goals, Targets, and Indicators). The Paris Agreement  sets targets and asks for commitments from nation states (and businesses) to help achieve these goals most efficiently and most sustainably.
In the US, the Clean Power Plan  was intended to redirect our national resources toward renewable energy with far less external costs. Direct and indirect subsidies for nonrenewables are irrational. Are subsidies helpful or necessary to reach production volumes of renewable energy products and services?
There are certainly financial incentives for anyone who chooses to invest in solving for the Global Goals; and everyone can!