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Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds (theguardian.com)
511 points by ryan_j_naughton 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 356 comments



When I was a child about 20 years ago, I remember going snorkelling near my home in the North Adriatic Sea quite often. I could see crabs, starfish, sea urchins, sea horses, octopuses under rocks and loads of fish.

I went back there recently and was shocked to find the water looked clear but there were no animals left inside except for a few fish and a crab here and there.

This makes me really sad and pessimistic about the future of the planet and its living conditions for all living beings on it.


My equivalent of this is frogs. Frogs and the rhythmic noises they made at night were the "white noise" of my childhood.


My equivalent of this is insects. My family and I made a lot of trips with our car in the 90th. The front of the car was full of squashed insects when we arrived. There was a constant knocking on the windshield. The amount of insects that I find on my car today is far less. I think it's about 10-20% of what it was in the 90th. I'm worried.


You guys can come take some of our frogs and insects :)

My car (sports car, low to the ground) doesn't really get many bugs these days. My pickup, on the other hand, is a hot mess every couple days.


This has to be one of the funniest takes I've seen



I don't doubt that bug populations are dropping.

The idea of lamenting climate change by having nostalgia for the days when piling into a car and driving across the countryside would guarantee a handful of smashed insects on the windscreen is funny to me.


Me too- I remember catching frogs in the water by my parents house and listening to the peepers at night. Now, the frogs are gone. I don't know where they went..


Butterflies in my case. There used to be lots of them around here when I was a child. Luckily, there still seems to be enough bumblebees around to keep plants pollinated. I hope it lasts.


My version is lightning bugs. Growing up I used to go out to catch lightning bugs all the time and there would be hundreds of them in nearly any field. Now I'm surprised and delighted just to see a dozen or so of them.


Did you move, by chance? I ask because I haven't seen lightening bugs in years. Not because of environmental disaster, but because I moved from Indiana to the West Coast. I kinda figured lightening bugs were everywhere. Turns out...


Eagles in my case. About 17-18 years ago, West India, I would see huge eagles and ask my dad silly questions. Now we hardly see any crow and sparrow here.


It's sad because we really don't appreciate these small things in our lives until they are gone.

I think humans are naturally receptive to nature, but we take nature for granted when it's always there, until one day it isn't.


For those who grew up in the Pacific Northwest: Seagulls.

30 years ago if you went to the coast you would have hundreds of seagulls on every beach. If you go there today you are lucky to see more than 5 in an entire day.


Remarkably, the same in Los Angeles


There's a ton here in cold fucking Alberta


Ladybugs in my case, the gardens were full. Now they are a very rare encounter as the plants don't have aphids anymore.


If this headline feels overwhelming to you, I highly recommend this article by Stewart Brand: https://aeon.co/essays/we-are-not-edging-up-to-a-mass-extinc...

Note that it’s animal populations that are decreasing rapidly, not species.


> Note that it’s animal populations that are decreasing rapidly, not species.

Really?

"Scientists estimate we're now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate ... as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century"[1].

I'm sure estimates vary widely, but that sounds rapid to me.

[1] https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/el...


I believe the point was that number in the title (60%) referred to animal populations not species.


Stewart Brand recently hosted Chris D. Thomas to talk at the Long Now Seminar about anthropocene speciation [0].

The premise is that current wild species are under severe duress due to changing environments, however nature is thriving in the age of extinction.

0. http://longnow.org/seminars/02018/jun/19/are-we-initiating-g...


There's some recent discussion here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6393/1080.2

I don't know if the citations therein are cherry-picked, but oddly enough it seemed like mostly what you might call "public intellectuals" on the "it's not so bad" side and lower-profile ordinary lab/field scientists on the "doom and gloom" side - a bit of a reversal from the usual trope


> it’s animal populations that are decreasing rapidly, not species.

Should this really console me? If there are only trace amounts of each species left, isn't that practically the same as extinction?


Human Population has more than doubled in the same timespan (from 3.7 billion to 7.7 billion today).

This is not sustainable. We only have one small planet to live on, and we are destroying it. We are overfishing the oceans, cutting down entire forests to make way for pastures, warming up the planet and acidifying the plastic-filled ocean. Even insect populations are plummeting.

The consequences of this will not be felt by your grandchildren. They will be felt by me and you. They are starting to appear already.

What can we do to change this? This cannot be fixed by individual action. Buying an electric car and using recyclable shopping bags is not enough.

I implore you to be politically active, to consider support for candidates that at least acknowledge that there is a problem. Consider a carbon tax. Consider big, international efforts to clean up our oceans. Consider sexual education efforts in developing nations. Consider carbon re-capture efforts. There's a ton of things we can do, but we have to start doing


Human behavior is vastly more impactful on the planet than human numerosity. We are not feeling the consequences of simply people - it is our gross behavior.

  impact = people * behavior
To make people reduction the target in this situation would be systematically misanthropic.

Behavior can improve by orders of magnitude and even reverse polarity amicably and rapidly, through culture, inspiration, technological potential, historic renaissance - this is the solution to envisage - not come on... you know... people ~reductions.


Your evidence that behaviour can improve? The whole of human existence shows we're pretty consistent about choosing easiest every time. That leaves blind optimism or restrictions.

Since WW2 the developed nations have been systematically throwing away sustainable approaches to literally everything. Where once the shopkeeper measured out your purchase now we get single use coffee pods and single use plastic around 4 slices of meat. Even paper often comes in a plastic pack.

If all humanity were to approach a developed Western lifestyle the planet simply couldn't cope with the current global population. We need an entirely different approach.


> The whole of human existence shows we're pretty consistent about choosing easiest every time.

This isn't the case across the globe. Japan's recycling and Singapore's trash policies come to mind immediately but there are sure to be better.

Probably the most common though. Will certainly require a shift in culture for most people on this planet.

> Where once the shopkeeper measured out your purchase now we get single use coffee pods and single use plastic around 4 slices of meat.

The EU has recently voted to remove the use of single use plastics. I do wonder what the overall effect will be but I think policy could change this as well as affect behavior around it.


> Will certainly require a shift in culture for most people on this planet.

And that's the issue we run into with human behavior. Developed nations have adapted to a convenience mentality, and tend to use more because they consume more. Changing behavior takes more than awareness, it takes some sort of proxy for force or compulsion. With Singapore for example, they have heavy fines for littering and improper trash disposal. They have achieved cleanliness by mandating it upon their citizens.

Western nations aren't always as amenable to that form of governance as it impedes on someone's impression of their own free will to do as they please. In the case of American politics, I bet we will encounter "I don't want to go through the effort to recycle, and nobody can make me." This is why cultural attitudes and shifts take so damn long to change. Getting everybody on board is a hell of a lot harder than saying "This is what we are doing now because it is good for the planet even though it adds a bit more inconvenience to your life." People go apeshit when the government tells them what to do, even if it's something positive. There's just that much resentment to change that people will choose irrational, illogical action over changing behavior even slightly that would benefit them in the long-run. Only when shit hits the fan do people look around and wonder "So what do we do now?". There are things that must be done, even when the desire to do them is not that high. It's like people have a basic understanding that they could be doing something good, but they still don't do it, because they don't have to.


How about the following:

* We set up consumption targets.

* We set up laws that define the following rule:

If consumption targets are exceeded, any non-first child is taxed at $1000/month until the consumption targets are met again.


$1000/month is peanuts for anyone who's moderately wealthy, and if that tax breaks the bank, what is someone supposed to do, get rid of their children?

It makes more sense to tax things that are polluting (eg. plastic packaging).


Mao Tse Dong, is that you?

Sorry, but the idea that everything can be fixed by draconian regulations imposing arbitrary limits is simply evil. And if implemented (China's one child policy comes to mind), produces more unintended than intended effects. The obvious side effect of your ridiculous idea is that only poor people will have more than one child, because you cannot tax what isn't there.


This is why legislation is necessary!


I think the problem with this is plausibility. I have much more faith in humanity culling itself, by whatever misanthropic means, than behaving "amicably and rapidly."

The possible solution might not be the pleasant one.


Basically stop eating beef and using internal-combustion cars, and the situation is vastly improved. Not impossible. A bunch of tax law changes would do it.

And that's a lot more passable than killing a bunch of people.


>Basically stop eating beef and using internal-combustion cars, and the situation is vastly improved. Not impossible.

For one, beef's not that much of a problem: https://theconversation.com/yes-eating-meat-affects-the-envi...

But second, all kinds of systems we have have been premised on economic growth year after year. When we hit some harder limits, we'll hit them hard.


Many sources would beg to differ about meat not being a problem.

https://youtu.be/NxvQPzrg2Wg

(Sources: https://sites.google.com/view/kgssourcesmeat/startseite)

So even if FAO got it wrong, I just don't see beef not being a problem.


>Many sources would beg to differ about meat not being a problem.

The "sources" in the link either reference to mistaken FAO stats, or give some numbers out of context and with no argument (e.g. "One kilogram of steak needs up to 25 kilos of grain and 15,000 liters of water" -- ok, but what's that compared to other consumers of such resources? Or "Meat just makes up 18% of our calories humans eat", ok so?)


> "One kilogram of steak needs up to 25 kilos of grain and 15,000 liters of water"

The argument is that in order to produce 1000 calories worth of meat, more resources (e.g. land, water, greenhouse emissions) are needed than to produce 1000 calories worth of plant-based food.

> "Meat just makes up 18% of our calories humans eat"

Same argument: even though meat makes up only 18% of calories in our diets, it produces 58% of agriculture-produced greenhouse gases and takes up a whopping 83% of currently farmed land, compared to overall agriculture [1][2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_p... [2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding...


>The argument is that in order to produce 1000 calories worth of meat, more resources (e.g. land, water, greenhouse emissions) are needed than to produce 1000 calories worth of plant-based food.

Sure, but either quantity might not be the real issue on the grand scheme of things, if it's just eg. 5% of resource use or pollution.


Unfortunately, this is not the case:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/02/un-repor...

Note that the year of publication is 2010.


Meat is not inherently bad, but there is clear scientific consensus that the world's current meat consumption is unsustainable.

Here's a list of problems with 105 sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_meat_p...

At this point, denial is willful ignorance of evidence... falling in the same vein as antivaxxers and climate change denialists.


Meat is not inherently bad

I'm not sure in what sense you mean this. It sure seems 'inherently bad' in just about every sense you could mean, to me. I think often it doesn't seem 'bad' to humans, mainly because we're humans and animals aren't. As if only human life has any value whatever. The very word meat sounds grotesque to me - imagine if some other species had a nondescript word for human meat.


> I'm not sure in what sense you mean this. It sure seems 'inherently bad' in just about every sense you could mean, to me.

I mean it in the most fundamental sense: there are sustainable levels of meat consumption that do not negatively impact the diversity and longevity of our biome.

> I think often it doesn't seem 'bad' to humans, mainly because we're humans and animals aren't. As if only human life has any value whatever.

Don't fool yourself mate, we're all just organisms - existing to feed and breed. What's wrong with bears eating fish? What's wrong with men eating fish? Why is commercial chicken "worse" than commercialized corn? What form of value does any life take?


Hi. I don't see how that's 'the most fundamental sense' at all, to say the least.

"Fooling myself" meaning not agreeing with your opinions? That's not a nice or useful way to talk to people. "We're all just organisms" - I hear that and I think "ah, next comes the faulty argument that was a premise of".

What's wrong with men eating fish. Ah, good question. I don't think you're really asking it, it's rhetorical. But there's a serious vegan/vegetarian literature (I mean, in ethics, written by philosophers) if you really want to learn about the subject. I don't think me talking about that here will be any use to anyone, human or fish.


Buddy, I'm already a vegetarian. I was hoping rhetoric would lead to some critical introspection, rather than perpetuating the buck passing stereotype...

Ethics is completely subjective. Slaughter isn't for me, but there are other ethical axioms that lead to rational support of the practice. It is not inherently bad.

You cannot sway people's opinions by starting with complete disregard for their opinions, or without a thorough understanding of your own rationale.


I find almost your every sentence is snarky, unpleasantly put in some way, ie not civil at all. The only exceptions assert as facts things that don't seem to me to be true.

I don't agree at all that Ethics is completely subjective. You say that like it's an uncontroversial fact. Just restating It is not inherently bad doesn't add anything, unless you're trying to say Nothing is inherently bad. Whatever inherently means in that sense. I think your last sentence is saying I have complete disregard for your opinions? I don't think anyone has a 'thorough understanding' of their 'rationale', whatever that means exactly.

I get a very strong passive/aggressive vibe from you, like you have no idea how hostile you sound. I really don't like engaging with it, so I'll stop now. Good luck.


Freshwater habitats are the worst hit according to the article with populations having collapsed by 83%. To that we have several major causes with one being acidification from CO2, eutrophication, fresh water usage/water treatment, waste management and electrical dams. Beef and internal-combustion are part of the issue of C02, but we need to also start addressing the other issues if we want to see the trend change.


The problem with that is people are really attached to their cars and beef.


Except that my diet and car have absolutely nothing to do with the problem. You're fixating on CO2 when the problem the article talks about is clearly environmental destruction. Canada and the US produce all of our own beef. There is no environmental destruction happening here for beef production. We can in fact produce much more beef using the existing idle grasslands we have now. And the only relevant problem from cars here is the mining, which is worse with an electric vehicle. Nothing you suggested even attempts to address the issue at all.


The energy, land, and water required to produce 1 lb of beef is several times greater than the resources required to produce 1 lb of chicken, which in turn is several times greater than the resources required to produce 1 lb of the average vegetable.

Not only that, but methane emissions from cattle contribute to climate change. About a third of anthropogenic methane emissions in the US are from livestock.

Not saying we need to stop eating beef completely, but if diets shifted away from beef it would have a number of positive environmental impacts.


You should be comparing calories, not pounds. Also, it really depends on what vegetables you're comparing (there is a 50x range in the amount of calories provided per input for plants as a class). Beef is generally less resource intensive than leafy green vegetables, but more resource intensive than most starchy vegetables. Chicken is less resource intensive than basically all plant food sources except for peanuts, potatoes, oils, and grains.

A brief glance at what most vegetarians and vegans are eating leads me to believe that their diets are probably not that much more environmentally friendly than your average meat eater. The real key is shifting toward inexpensive cheeses, milk, and oils for protein and fats and then consuming a lot more carbohydrates in the form of potatoes and grains.

And, really, the biggest impact environmental impact that most people can effect with their diet is not eating out as much.


Yes if you want to get into detail, one should compare environmental cost per calorie. Even then, beef still is worse than chicken and most vegetables.

I recognize that some vegetables are far more resource intensive than others, which is why I stated 'the average' vegetable. If we wanted to shift diets towards being more environmentally friendly, we'd have to be selective and deliberate about how we do it.

I would argue that shifting diets rather than trying to get everyone to become vegetarians (that don't eat lettuce) is the most sensible path. It would be hard to convince everyone never to eat a steak again, but if you can get people to go from eating 50 lbs of beef a year to 30 or 40 lbs and shifting to chicken and legumes it could make a sizable difference. Would be even better if the developing world went straight to sustainable diets rather than roaring towards beef-heavy diets.


None of those things have anything to do with the discussion though, which is developing nations torching natural ecosystems. Neither my beef nor my car is in any way a factor in this. Also, your comparison is disingenuous. A pound of beef or chicken contains far more calories and protein than a pound of any vegetable. And grass fed beef actually requires less energy to produce than vegetables.


Beef is a product made from cows. Cows require land, food, water, and infrastructure. Producing beef leads to the destruction of ecosystems, like the Amazon Rainforest [1]. By consuming beef, you are contributing to this phenomenon the article discusses. The emissions from your car, similarly, contribute to climate change and the destruction that goes with it as well. The lifestyle one chooses to lead, the products one consumes, and the decisions a person makes are all very much factors in the reduction of animal populations.

I'm starting to believe that you aren't arguing in good faith, in part because your statements are just thrown out there without any evidence or citation. Sure, a pound of beef or chicken contains more protein or calories than a pound of vegetables. But that's a nonsensical and misleading claim - many more pounds of vegetables went into producing that pound of beef and chicken. Many of those calories, by the way, were exhausted by the metabolic processes of those animals too. A much more efficient utilization of resources would involve just using those vegetable calories directly.

[1] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/194008291300600...


for the beef : https://slate.com/technology/2010/12/is-grass-fed-beef-bette...

for the car : just stop using a car, that'll be better for the environment.


I do not understand the relevance of that tabloid article. It has absolutely nothing to do with what I said. I live in Canada. All my beef comes from Canada. The fact that people in other countries burn forests to graze cattle does not mean that Canadians consuming Canadian beef cause those other countries to burn forests. My beef consumption is 100% irrelevant, they will burn the same amount of forest regardless of what I eat, because they are not burning it to feed me.


If you stop eating beef, others can eat Canadian beef and not brazilian beef. Your consumption has an effect.


> The energy, land, and water required to produce 1 lb of beef is several times greater than

It also tastes several times greater, and in exchange is several times more expensive.

> Not saying we need to stop eating beef completely, but...

Funny, every time an activist says "we", I understand "everybody else". Pro tip: you do not make friends by telling people how to live their lives.


I think you may be wrong here. Firstly, most cattle is not grazed on open pastures:

"[…] the current pastureland grass resource can support only 27% of the current beef supply" [1]

Rather, they are kept on feed imported most likely from South America, and "Agriculture is the direct driver for worldwide deforestation" [2].

So how does attempting to minimize deforestation not address the issue?

[1] http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aad401 [2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120925091608.h...


Literally all beef in Canada and the US is grazed on open pastures. The majority of it is sent to feed lots for the last couple of months of their life to be fattened on grain, but they spend the first year in pasture no matter what. Second, absolutely none of the feed is imported from South America. It is from Nebraska and Iowa in the US, and Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. Both nations produce massive amounts of grain, far more than needed to feed all the livestock we raise, much less just the cattle. Third, this is the point, it isn't attempting to minimize deforestation. My eating beef or not eating beef does absolutely nothing, as my beef did not cause any deforestation. My habits do not cause people half way around the world to change their behavior.

And just as a note of interest, your first link is quite incorrect. It uses the lowest production pasture figure for its math rather than the average, it does not consider the idea that grass fed beef becoming a major industry might involve people switching to more productive grazing systems which we know produce at least double the calories per acre. It ignores the huge quantity of idle grassland we currently have which could be used for cattle production. And it neglects to factor in the millions of acres of corn and soy fields that would no longer be needed for cattle feed and can be converted to pasture.

https://bovinepracticum.blogspot.com/2018/03/another-land-us...


to be fattened on grain

...and chicken shit, feathers etc

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poultry_litter#Use_as_cattle_f...


Thanks. I'm inclined to believe you on this as it seems reasonable, although I have to say that a blogpost is not the most trustworthy source of information :)


> You're fixating on CO2 when the problem the article talks about is clearly environmental destruction. Canada and the US produce all of our own beef.

Exactly, environmental destruction caused by the beef industry, an incredibly inefficient process if you compare the land and water requirements vs other types of protein.

> There is no environmental destruction happening here for beef production.

This is a huge blanket statement to make as well as being factually inaccurate.


That's a story that's often repeated here on HN. But it doesn't hold up much under scrutiny. American pasture lands, for instance, are not normally arable lands (cannot be used for cropland). And meat animals use less resources per pound of protein that vegetable sources. Certainly less plowing.

I'm always stunned by the idea that somehow raising millions of cattle is destroying the planet, yet the millions of buffalo that roamed the prairie before we arrived were natural and therefor good.


> And meat animals use less resources per pound of protein that vegetable sources.

What? There's literally hundreds of scientific articles out there that establish the opposite, e.g. [1]

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding...

Edit: Where do you think the protein in cattle comes from? Isn't it… plants? That the cattle eat? Once eaten, the cattle expend some energy to live and then we kill them for meat.

By not eating animals, you cut out the middleman and waste less energy.


That premise is only accurate if you are planning to have everyone consume livestock feed. If that is the plan, then you shouldn't be fixating on beef, you should be going after almost all crops we grow, which produce just as few calories per acre as beef, and even lower protein per acre. Depending on where you draw the line, your argument effectively requires all farms to only grow a small number of very high calorie crops like field corn and potatoes.


I'm sorry, but you are completely wrong. There are many plants that produce much more protein per acre than beef: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_protein_per_unit_area_o...

Edit: I can't reply to child anymore, max comment depth reached. Anyway, I think my work here is done :) I am not demanding we stop growing lettuce, I am demanding we stop raising cattle for proteins. We can keep growing lettuce for vitamins / minerals. As for the so-called "absurd fake figure" for protein/meat land utilization, that figure is from 1970's. I'm willing to concede that number may have risen slightly with the use of antibiotics as growth stimulator ;)

P.S.: Legumes are a whole family of plants, divided into 11 major types.


You can't say "you are completely wrong" and then support that by showing I am right. You showed 5 crops that produce more protein per acre than an absurdly low fake figure for beef. That's precisely what I said, that we would have to cut down to just a small handful of highest value crops. 5 is a small handful, we currently grow thousands. You know full well lettuce produces fewer calories and less protein per acre than beef. But you are not demanding that we stop growing lettuce, just beef. Your demands are inconsistent with the premise you use to support them.


> American pasture lands, for instance, are not normally arable lands (cannot be used for cropland).

This is a fair point but unfortunately intensive animal agriculture (in feedlots) dominates US and world beef production which requires the growing of corn and other grains to feed entirely or supplement grass-fed beef, introducing further environmental impacts.


feedlots do not dominate US beef ranching. It is regularly used but the average head of cattle spends less than six months in a feedlot per it's average 1.5-2 year lifecycle. Even so advocating that feedlots are replaced by grass fed cattle is much more likely to happen and the growth of the grass fed beef industry shows that it is/can happen.


>Exactly, environmental destruction caused by the beef industry

Not in Canada or the US. We have vast prairies that used to be inhabited by millions of bison. Now a fraction of it is inhabited by cattle instead.

>water requirements vs other types of protein.

How is temporarily using local water in the US, which is returned to the natural water cycle, causing deforestation in South America or Africa or Asia?

>This is a huge blanket statement to make as well as being factually inaccurate.

Then provide contradictory evidence. I can not exhaustively prove every single ranch in the US isn't clear cutting forests. You only need to provide a single example to disprove me. Please do.


I wasn't sure about this so I did a quick google. There may have been an estimated 20-30 million bison at one point across North America. And currently something close to 80-90 million cattle today in the US alone. To answer why this is bad and bison were fine you have to remember how these creatures are being used. The cattle will be concentrated today in ways the bison never were, so the impact will be less diffuse. Second, the industrial processes around cattle production will use fuel to grow feed, pump water, and transport the beef product that previously would have stayed in the ecosystem when the bison died. These externalities are what cause the problem apparently.

No one single ranch is necessarily causing problems. It's a collective issue. No single person needs to withdraw enough water from the well to run it dry, a town can do it one cup at a time without anyone intending to cause his neighbor to go thirsty.


None of that has anything to do with the subject of discussion though. How are those US ranchers burning down the amazon? US beef consumption and production are completely irrelevant to the developing world burning forests to produce their beef, which again is what the article we're discussing is talking about.


We have a much better record of cleaning up the environment than we do have in human culling.

Compare the US of today with that of 50 - 100 years ago. The tree cover is almost back to pre-contact levels, lakes & rivers are potable, smog doesn't kill 10's of thousands of people per year, et cetera.

IOW, local environmental problems have been solved. And we know how to solve them elsewhere in the world: economic growth. Once people have their basic needs secure, they start caring about this stuff. Internalize the externalities and let the market sort it out.

The challenge is global problems; climate change is a fairly classic tragedy of the commons. The solution here is similar: internalize the externalities and let the market sort it out. A global carbon tax, for example.

We used to be able to do this stuff. We banned CFC's world-wide, for example.

Our track record in culling is much worse. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot only managed to kill about 1% of the population, and the instability they created actually increased birth rates. Mao had an impact with the one child policy, but...


>The tree cover is almost back to pre-contact levels

The number of trees is not the issue. The ecosystem is. Huge plantations of SPF in rows that are all the same age and size does not make a natural ecosystem, and biodiversity is very low.

>lakes & rivers are potable

Public drinking water isn't even potable in many places, nevermind lakes and rivers. This is pure fantasy talk.

>IOW, local environmental problems have been solved

No, they have been relocated overseas so they are out of sight and out of mind.

>The challenge is global problems; climate change is a fairly classic tragedy of the commons.

Yes, I am sure the animals going extinct really just wish we could come together and tax people for breathing. Of course they don't care about their ecosystem being destroyed to grow corn for 5 years before exhausting the land and burning down another 1000 acres of forest for another 5 years of corn.

>Our track record in culling is much worse. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot only managed to kill about 1% of the population

None of them were trying to lower the population. Funny how you want to equate "lowering global population" with "mass murder" even though you clearly are aware that limiting births is the actual strategy, which actually works.


If you look at the report, generally things are getting better in developed counties.

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/09/1409030-ani...

All the hit is coming in developing nations.


Or more accurately, destruction is slower in developed countries, largely because there's so little left to destroy. It is pretty hard to deforest Scotland any more than it already is.


What destruction? On most metrics, they are improving.


Well, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot were actually trying to lower their target populations pretty explicitly. But grandparent is way off about the numbers.

The populations Hitler targeted lost about 50%; if he won the war they'd have done much worse.

Pol Pot killed 25% of Cambodians, not 1%.

Stalin also had a greater impact on his targets. When he created the Holodomor in Ukraine, he killed 10 million, which is much more than 1% of that population.


He didn't say anything about targets though, he was talking about total population. Which is exactly the thing, none of them were trying to reduce the global population, so their lack of success in that endeavor is meaningless. The fact that the non-violent solution actually worked is very important, but is slipped in at the end after the red herrings about mass murder.


> Behavior can improve by orders of magnitude and even reverse polarity amicably and rapidly, through culture, inspiration, technological potential, historic renaissance

I think, without the right economic incentives, people do not change their behaviours substantially. I think the GP comment is right about political engagement being necessary. However, I don't think electoral politics will cut it since it is so corrupt. The best chance is for mass collective action in the form of worker strikes and other acts of civil disobedience to force the governments of the world to act in our favour, rather than in the favour of the elites.


There is no evidence that any acceptable behavioral alteration will help. The kind of behavioral modification needed is horrifying dystopian nightmare stuff, people naturally resist things like that. The population is going to be reduced no matter what. The question is purely "are we going to do it by lowering birth rates, or are we going to wait until India or Africa unleashes an antibiotic resistant super plague on the world that kills a few billion people?"


Rethinking our property system need not be draconian. The economic solutions to a steady state economy have been on the shelf for years. The ideology of growth will need a humiliating defeat, and then folks will be ready to accept alternatives.


The ideology of growth being dealt a genuinely humiliating defeat would involve massive depopulation event anyway. It seems far better to shift away from growth-dependent economics before any humiliating defeat rather than hope the people who survive it happen to be well-versed in regenerative economics.

I've started a meetup group for the purpose of discussing how a grassroots effort could shift some of the resources of the growth-economy to a steady-state economy while the former is still in place, but interest has been miniscule in my midsized college town.


That's stopping growth, that's what I am suggesting we do. The alternative which I think can only be draconian is "modifying our behavior" to accommodate a huge population. This means eliminating almost all food in favor of the half dozen highest producing crops. It means eliminating all natural spaces and consuming all resources for ourselves and leaving nothing for non-humans. I can't see any reason why a high population is a good thing, much less so good that it warrants making all those lives as miserable as possible. A billion people with high quality of life and a diverse planet full of billions of creatures beats the hell out of a hundred billion people living like factory farmed chickens on a planet virtually devoid of non-human life.


"We only have one small planet to live on, and we are destroying it."

We're not destroying the planet, we're destroying our habitat, and the habitat of those animals unfortunate enough to live at the same time as us. The planet is going to be just fine, it's us who's going to suffer.

I love this quote from George Carlin:

"The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas."


OK, I'll say it. That is a stupid statement. I've seen that "planet will be fine" line too many times. Here is the truth: the main purpose of that line is to hide the wrongdoing.

The planet is not just a rock in space. It includes the environment and everything that is there. When we destroy that, we are destroying the planet itself.


"the main purpose of that line is to hide the wrongdoing"

I think by focusing in on that line you're missing the bigger picture. What I'm trying to say is that we're primarily a threat to ourselves, not to the 'planet'.

I think people would be much more engaged if it weren't "save the planet" but rather "save the human race".


> The planet is not just a rock in space. It includes the environment and everything that is there. When we destroy that, we are destroying the planet itself.

Except... not? Altering, or even completely destroying the biosphere is not nearly the same thing as destroying the planet. Mass extinction events have occurred in the past, in terms of history on a planetary scale the anthropecene's mass extinction is nothing new.


Except yes? Who cares about a planet without the biosphere? There are literally billions of such rocks. There is something different between Earth and other planet and that's what people are taking about destroying.

Extinctions happened were natural, nobody could stop it. This time it's because of greed and selfishness. It could have been stopped but not and still going on even though we know it. Don't justify this time with before.

Also we are not debating whether that happened before or not. Some (mostly american from what I've seen) people will take any excuse to justify it.


> The planet is not just a rock in space. It includes the environment and everything that is there. When we destroy that, we are destroying the planet itself.

I include my hair, but if I shave my head I haven't destroyed myself.

What is really going on is that “We’re killing the planet” is a hyperbolic way to express “We are destroying the things I personally value about the planet” or perhaps “We are making the planet unsuitable for ourselves”; trying to defend it as something else is not only usually wrong on its own terms, but missing the point of what people actually mean when they say it.


Another stupid argument. Your hair and environment are two completely different things. It's dishonest to make these kind of comparisons, but because you did I will too. Someone just by pure greed and money removes your eyes, rips away your skin, cuts your nose. Then he says stop complaining that you are destroyed, you are still alive, saying such thing is wrong.


It's always bothered me too, obviously when people say "we're killing the planet!" they refer to the biosphere, not the hunk of rock floating around in space.


Honestly though, even if it isn't a stupid statement, it doesn't change anything.

The planet WILL be fine, the solar system, universe, existence.. Yea, in the big scheme of things it WILL be fine. Conservation is about conservation of the human species, and there is no reason we shouldn't talk about it like that.

Honestly, more right wing / anti-environmentalists would probably respond better if they understood how dire the threat to humanity is.


Recent article reported: “So many animals will go extinct in the next 50 years that it will take Earth at least 3 million years to recover”

Add to that the impacts of the technosphere (the artifacts of humanity which would not have existed in our absence) which was reported to be 30 trillion tons in 2016. Our impact to climate. Our impact to geography.

Sure, in all likelihood there will be a big round ball hanging around in our solar system despite humanity’s best efforts. But that seems like a distinction without a difference. To say the argument is disingenuous would be generous.


99.9% of all creatures who have existed on earth are extinct. [1] The world will continue to move on just as it always has, humans maybe not, but it would just be nature taking it's course.

[1] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/extinction/massext/statem...


What’s not sustainable? The human population doubling again? Or maintaining the current population?

Clearly we have to address climate change but it’s not a growing population that is unsustainable, if anything the progress over the past 50 years has indicated the exact opposite.


The earth definitely has a carrying capacity. Our ability to push our food production further doesn’t change this fact. I’ve seen around 10 billion people floated as a food production limit in several places.

Crossing this with climate change, particularly our love of beef and pork, is not easy to disentangle.

We may also never hit that carrying capacity if something else other than food supply limits our population growth—war, disease, artificial barriers to food (wealth inequality).


Assuming that life expectancy will remain the same and that the number of children will also not change Hans Rosling predicted our world population never will exceed 11 billion people.

He was a very passionate and entertaining public speaker.

https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_...


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_overpopulation

Carrying capacity is estimated at 7.7 billion. And I have seen that Hans Roslings predictions have been revised upwards. Doesn't look good either way.


carrying capacity keeps getting revised upward also.


Sure, but what's the end goal? That we all end up like caged chickens? We could probably cram in lots of people that way.


IMHO the idea of a goal is an attractive illusion.


Does anything in his talk refute the UN projection of over 11 billion people by 2100? https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world...


Most countries are already below the replacement rate. America fell below 2 children per couple in the 1970s, and it's only through immigration that our population bubble continues to inflate.


Thank you! “Overpopulation” is a canard. Humans didn’t eradicate these animals: a specific group of rich people who’re able to deploy capital without the consent of the people did that.


What? This was done overwhelmingly by very poor people in an effort to make themselves slightly less poor. How do you figure they didn't consent?


> if anything the progress over the past 50 years has indicated the exact opposite.

Which progress are you referring to? The original article is claiming that 60% of animals have been wiped out in the last 50 years. Does that not at least call your claim into question?


Human population by itself is not the measure we should worry about. With enough technological progress, the earth could reasonably sustain 100+ billion people.

The problem lies in the doubling of human population in little more than a generation. The problem lies in that we are not being sustainable with this. We are depleting resources whilst polluting and rapidly changing our environment.

For the moment, we only have one small rock in which to live and breathe. If we have to shit where we eat, then let's at least try to shit cleanly.


There is no scientific basis for the claim that the earth could sustain 100+ billion people. These types of unsubstantiated claims are not just false but dangerous, as they suggest there is no need for significant action and change.


IMO, the claims that population is the problem is far more dangerous. Population growth is mostly a solved problem. All population growth models have the growth being much slower over the next 50 years than it was over the past 50. Most viable models actually show the growth reversing, and some even show it peaking near current levels.

Does that mean we've fixed the problems? Far from it.

The number of people is only a really small factor in the damage that people do. One jet-setting westerner does many orders of magnitude more damage than the typical subsistence farmer; and the damage done by subsistence farmers varies quite widely. (Some are causing desertification and chopping down trees)

And of course there are some people doing more good than harm, reducing the population reduces those people too.

No matter what the population is, we have a lot of work to do. Greenhouse gases are the most visible problem; there are lots of others.


I didn’t make the claim that population is the biggest problem. I responded to the incorrect suggestion that population size is not a problem (which you repeat without offering any evidence that we could sustain ourselves). Growth is by no means a “solved” problem. Growth is expected to slow, but even at our current population size we are consuming an unsustainable amount of resources. And growth will slow as a result of increased wealth > higher consumption. Given that we live within the finite ecosystem of of our planet, this means we need to make significant changes and we need to make them now.


The size of the worlds livestock is around 100 billion. If all humans turned vegetarian, the human population could easily be of the that size.


I think that's making the assumption that having 100 billion livestock + the current human population is sustainable. Even if that were the case, humans consume a lot more resources than animals living on factory farms.


I think the point was that if humans were vegetarians we wouldn't need 100B livestock. And since a cow needs quite a lot more food than humans do, if we could transition 1:1 to a human-edible crop then we have plenty of food to support humans.

Other resources are a separate issue, of course.


Whether or not the earth can sustain 100 billion humans was the scope of the statement, so I don't think resources other than food is a separate issue.

I agree with the assertion that humanity is more sustainable (all other things being equal) vegan or vegetarian rather than omnivorous, but it's going to far to suggest we could just swap in humans for livestock.


Where is the logic in your statement? That makes absolutely no sense. You honestly think the world can support the same number of humans as it can chickens? And even if it did, do you want to live the way those chickens live?


Quick calculus :

TLDR : 100+ billions is a hard reach today, but 50+ billions might not impossible

There is approximately 63,824,448 km² or liveable land on earth today.[1]

Let's cut that in half to account for farms/land lost due to global warming/industries/etc... We get 31,912,224km² of land usable for habitation.

Let's assume we cover the remaining with a huge city with the density of Hong Kong (6,690 people/km²). This is for the whole city, not the most populated quarters.

We arrive at a population of 213,492,778,560 people, so twice as much as the parent's estimate, with half of the remaining liveable land usable for farms/industries/wildlife parcs/inefficiencies of repartition...

Would that be enough ? According to a Sweden study [2], we use 1.6 billion hectares (16,000,000 km²) of farmland today, for approximately 7 billions people. It means that for 200 billions, we need 486,857,142 km². That's a huge increase, and currently the Earth can only sustain 44,000,000km² (same source as earlier, FAO), so an order of magnitude lower. According to a study on the effect of diets on land [3], switching to a vegetarian/vegan (not much change in the result) diet allows to cut the land use by ~4. So we're left with 121,714,285 km² of required land : a bit better, but we still fall way short. That's going to be our actual bottleneck.

Let's cut population by 3, and we arrive at ~40,000,000 km² of required land for 66 billions people.

It would be a pretty grim dystopia, that's for sure. Most of nature would be erased, there would be a lot of natural catastrophes, and clearly the Earth would be way less welcoming than it is now.

But 66 billions people on Earth, given 'sufficient' technological (and most notably political) advancements is not completely out of whack, especially if we manage to produce clean energy (or at least clean on Earth) and to radically improve our crops (with genetic engineering, hydroponic culture, exploitation of oceans maybe ?)

Bottom line : this is napkin calculation, a lot of factors have been left out (water to give a main one)

[1] : https://www.quora.com/If-every-person-on-earth-was-to-be-giv... (I know, Quora is not the most reputable source, but it seems decently sourced)

[2] : http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/docs/en-so...

[3] : https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.el...


Since you nerded out on this enough to do the math, you might actually be interested in this video. The only real bottlenecks to getting to these numbers are first, power and second the elevator conundrum. Solve for those and you can have quite a substantial population. Go big enough and the only bottleneck, if you want to stay a single planet species, becomes black body radiation. Check it out

Archologies - Isaac Arther (28:43) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqKQ94DtS54&vl=en


> elevator conundrum

Interesting, I've never heard about this before! But isn't it basically just the question of private vs public transport (cars vs underground), but in vertical dimension?


Science fiction is not a good argument here.


I don't remember making an argument, I simply stated that the parent might enjoy this video based on the napkin math they did above...


Not only is it not a good argument. It is a dangerous argument. We need innovation and maybe it will come in the form of “whacky” ideas, but please don’t replace the work that climate scientists have been doing for decades with a few “back of the napkin” calculations.


Please tell me who and how I put anyone in danger by suggesting the parent to my comment might enjoy a video?


At those levels of scarcity, the economics of farming will likely change enough that hydroponics could (would?) become far more commonplace. That drastically cuts down on the amount of land needed, as you're no longer limited to ground surface area for growing crops.

In fact, there's a growing trend of combining fish farming with hydroponic vegetable farming; circulating water between the plants and fish tanks, monitoring nutrient and bacteria levels, can allow for a non-vegetarian diet.

Granted, they're not going to be the tastiest fish- think tilapia, not salmon. There's a CSA farm doing exactly that in a relatively densely populated suburb not too far from me.


Have you had the fish from well run systems like this? I think it is fantastic. Data point of one.


I'm not normally a picky eater, but seafood in general is one thing I have a really hard time bringing myself to enjoy. Also, from my very limited understanding, tilapia is fairly delicate to begin with, so it's more about making sure your cut doesn't include much of the grey fat.

With all of that said, I'm sure that for people who do enjoy seafood, it'd be quite tasty. The business near me was put together with eco-conscious people in mind, so the care they put into farming- nutrients, food for the fish, etc. I'm sure the difference between their fish and wild fish is a good deal smaller than stereotypical farm-vs-wild-caught salmon or what have you.


That's correct. The concept of overpopulation is quite misleading because it blames the sheer number of people regardless of the extreme inequality in consumption and pollution.

"World’s richest 10% produce half of carbon emissions while poorest 3.5 billion account for just a tenth"

Source: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-12-02/...


With ‘enough’ technological progress, anything is possible since that’s the definition of enough.


No, technology is constrained by physical and logical laws. No amount of technological progress can make 1+1 = 2. Similarly, it can reasonably be stated that no amount of technological progress will make earth be able to sustain X population


> No amount of technological progress can make 1+1 = 2.

I agree, 1+1=2 will forever remain in the realm of science fiction. But what would humanity be without its hopes and dreams?


I don’t find those examples persuasive. One is a very simple logical impossibility because 1+1=2 is a very basic assumption of our system of mathematics. The other is a very complex issue, and I also disageee with your conclusion. That with ‘enough’ technical progress the earth can support a given amount of life makes sense to me.


Once that technological progress has been made, and we have implemented those new technologies on a global scale, then sure.

Right here and right now, we're still largely relying on fossil fuels and machinery up to several decades old in order to produce food and considering it seems to be hard to even get up to modern standards, hoping for future tech to save the day seems far fetched.


What if part of the reason is the fact that the new tech isn't better enough to justify switching - yet?


Sure. Do you believe we will be able to develop this new tech AND deploy it on a global scale within the next 10-15 years? Because that's how long we've got to turn this around before it turns really ugly.

I don't think we can do that (although it is arguable that any drastic measures taken now doesn't have to be permanent, and that things can change again once we do have all that new fancy tech)


> The human population doubling again? Or maintaining the current population?

Both


Oh jeez. I thought we moved on from the Population Bomb hysteria.


Was it ever proven wrong? Or just delayed by a bunch of last-minute technological breakthroughs?

Also, the problem is still here even if we maintain current population levels. It's here even if we do nothing, and in reality, we have 2/3 of the world desperately trying to grow their quality of life, which involves growing their energy use.


Proven wrong? Yes! ehrlich said the human lifespan in 1981 would be 42. He assured us that, if we didn’t do something, there would be mass famine and billions dead and all manner of horror that never came to pass.

It is not all that impressive to note that more consumers than producers creates a scarcity problem. That’s the entire driver behind Malthusian fear-mongering. But over and over and over those that stoke the fears of overpopulation (and it’s been going on for thousands of years) are especially terrible at estimating the capacity for supply. As you call it, “last-minute technological breakthroughs”, dismissing centuries of human progress as some sort of accidental stroke of luck.

You say we “do nothing” but every something I see proposed has to, by necessity, damage the quality of life of lots of people. The majority of people. If we are honest with ourselves, that’s effectively what is being proposed when we pontificate over how the wizards of smart will dole out resources according to their flawed definition of sustainability.

That will, inevitably, result in war.

The fact is, if you want to improve the state of humanity on the Earth, your only effective means of doing so is technology.


Actually, I'm wrong about one thing: Ehrlich didn't warn us that catastrophe was inevitable if we didn't do something. He said catastrophe was inevitable period:

  The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate...


> At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate...

Well, technically that's not wrong. Bigger population = more deaths.


> The fact is, if you want to improve the state of humanity on the Earth, your only effective means of doing so is technology.

This I agree with to some extent. We need the tech to save us, but I'm not convinced that we can get to that tech in time, without reducing our quality of life now, or having it reduced by the climate degradation in the next decades.

> As you call it, “last-minute technological breakthroughs”, dismissing centuries of human progress as some sort of accidental stroke of luck.

I'm trying not to, but looking back, how many more tricks like Haber–Bosch process can we find? We've always somehow risen to the challenge, but then again, almost all fields of science and technology were severely underexplored back then. We've fixed that now, we know the general landscape in which we're moving. I fully expect we can pull some more rabbits out of a hat, but will we be able to do that in time?

And the flip side of this is that we need those new miracle technologies to continue growing. Which means we need to actually fund and encourage them, and that seems to become a problem lately. Insert anything from "best minds of our generation wasted on getting people clicking on ads" to Bret Victor's musings on cleantech funding[0].

--

[0] - http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/#funding


A single prediction being wrong does not mean the concept is wrong. Especially a single prediction that was not based on evidence and that the scientific community said was nonsense. Al Gore said there would be no snow on any mountains by 2012. Since that was wrong, climate change is debunked right? Science is all wrong because one guy said something dumb one time!

Technology can not magic you up some more land. The earth is finite. When people say "technology will save us" they actually mean one of two things. Either "I don't want to think about this so star trek will come true!" or "we can develop the technology to completely eliminate all non-human life on earth and live in pods being fed an industrial slurry that has the highest % return of solar energy to chemical energy so stop worrying!". Both are dumb. Our standard of living is already going down. It does not make sense to choose to have more people living worse lives rather than fewer people living better lives. There is no benefit to increasing our population.


You can never prove it wrong.

It has to be wrong in perpetuity, because even if it is correct just once, it results in a wasted/depleted planet.

And honestly, considering how much non-renewable resources we are using and the rate of warming, worrying about the population bomb is sort of like trying to get enough cardio exercise while you have acute appendicitis.


Those are connected, though. Energy use is a lagging indicator of population - which is why we're screwed even if population growth were 0, as we have a large part of the world still going through industrialization/development.


It’s neither hysteria nor something you can “move on” from. Please either provide facts or other evidence for your opinion or don’t comment. There is no basis for the suggestion that we can sustain a growing population on this planet, even with technology and science continuing to progress.


What evidence is there that we can't? The issue again isn't the number of people on the planet, its the number of people combined with our current usage of planetary resources. But between the fact that the vast majority of those resources are being used by a small amount of the population, and the fact that people have been claiming the "population bomb" will be going off imminently for hundreds of years and it not actually happening, seems to imply that the issue isn't the number of people on the planet, and way in which those people use planetary resources.


There are two reasons why we can’t: We live within a finite ecosystem of resources and finite systems can by definition not sustain infinite consumption. And we are currently consuming an unsustainable and growing rate of resources. Maybe at some point our aggregate consumption will slow, but all credible models of population growth (leveling off around 11B) and associated consumption suggest that it would be far too late.


> There are two reasons why we can’t: We live within a finite ecosystem of resources and finite systems can by definition not sustain infinite consumption

Yeah this gets thrown around a lot, but people clearly misunderstand what it actually means. It just means that there is _some_ amount of people we can't feed, but it says _nothing_ about what the amount is. It can be 10 billion, it can be 10^27. You just "proved" nothing of substance.

> And we are currently consuming an _unsustainable_ and growing rate of resources. (emphasis mine)

[citation needed]

I am serious, it does not matter how many times people say this, it still is not obvious truth.

> And we are currently consuming an unsustainable and growing rate of resources.

And when you finally claim something that would be easy (I guess, you seem confident in it) to back up by links, you don't do that.

This reads like unfounded hysteria.


The concept of carrying capacity estimates human consumption versus the planet’s ability to regenerate resources. Have a look at the reports and data cited on the Wikipedia page.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint

I think you are suggesting that earth can carry many more people than 10B. I’d like to understand how you think that is possible.

Furthermore, even at the current population size human activity is causing potentially irreversible climate change. The scientific consensus is that even a small increase of 1.5C will have severe consequences on the planet. Limiting the increase to 1.5 C will require significant action by all of us. Addding many more people makes this much harder.

http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

I hope the links can help convince you that we are facing a serious crisis that is causally related to the size of the human population.


Carrying capacity of Earth is frequently revised upwards, but I am not paying much attention to research around it, that is why I would appreciate some concrete links / citations.

> I think you are suggesting that earth can carry many more people than 10B. I’d like to understand how you think that is possible.

Because I have not seen anyone argue for the limits in convincing ways, it's all FUD from my PoV.

Intuitively - energy is not (very big) problem, we can make dense nuclear sources, solar & offshore wind is viable in many places, and gas peaker plants / limited enetgy storage should cover the rest.

Hydroponics and similar advanced agricultural methods are showing nice gains in effectivity of produce per sq km, at the cost of (IIRC) energy (see above). EVs are finally starting to be viable. Etc. Etc.

And that's before we get to really long-term solutions like colonizing space.

Where are the real limits?

> Furthermore, even at the current population size human activity is causing potentially irreversible climate change ...

Yeah, we are making a lot of externalities. This is not impossible to solve, see above.

Extrapolating from our past failures is extremely shortsighted and has been proven wrong numerous times, see e.g. WW3 and end-of-humanity scare in 50's/60's. We can learn from our mistakes, and we seem to actually do that a lot! Spreading hysteria is not helping I think.


I'm afraid the problem will fix itself soon enough. WW3 could be around the corner according to the people behind the Doomsday Clock. Climate change will cause famine, natural disasters and mass migrations. Poverty, overpriced health care and a lack of common social structure (every man for himself) will lower the life expectancy again after decades of increase.


> Poverty, overpriced health care and a lack of common social structure (every man for himself) will lower the life expectancy again after decades of increase.

This seems to be a very US specific outlook on things that most western countries have long since figured out. Extreme poverty, lack of health care, lack of social safety nets - all self-inflicted in the US. Take for example the recent closings of hospitals in rural areas of red states that have refused Medicaid expansion due to extreme political polarization [1]. It doesn't have to be that way, especially in a country as wealthy as the US.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/29/upshot/a-sense-of-alarm-a...


The problem is that western countries will not be the first ones to experience the consequences of climate change. Most likely the first victims will be in places where such social safety nets barely exist. Arguably, this is already happening, which is why we are seeing civil unrest and mass migration from North Africa and the Middle East, where droughts and famine were a factor in many of the instabilities.


> I'm afraid the problem will fix itself soon enough. WW3 could be around the corner according to the people behind the Doomsday Clock[...]

I wouldn't call WW3 a fix (short term anyway).

Even a small nuclear exchange would have devastating ecological consequences [0]

[0] "Radioactive fallout from these weapons’ debris clouds would reach the stratosphere, where it would travel worldwide, potentially contaminating crops and livestock as well as causing radiation sickness and cancer directly. Later, this fallout would cause genetic mutations in plants, animals and human beings, as it has in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear accident."

From: https://medium.com/freeman-spogli-institute-for-internationa...


This has been tested and disproven by the very large nuclear exchanges that have already taken place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=856fWEltiXo


I think the idea is that the massive depopulation caused by what you describe would function as a ‘fix’.


A fix or an end. It is said that without enough population to watch and repair the current nuclear systems, the problem would quickly scalate in a few years when nuclear plants in the planet would deteriorate, get out of control and explode one after one.


That would be devastating for individual organisms, but what would the large scale ecological impact be? Chernobyl is home to quite a bit of wildlife as I understand it.

Also, if we're talking about a world after the exchange of thousands of ICBM's I'm not sure how much relative impact the melting down of the world's nuclear power plants would have.

The problem has been considered before, though probably as a general safety issue rather than trying not to further irradiate a barren world. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_nuclear_safety


Wildlife thrive near Chernobyl because normal human activity is more destructive than that radiological disaster has been.


And because there is a replacement outside. Chernobil is acting as a sink for some species with individuals inside being killed faster but replaced with immigrants constantly.


I thought studies said that mortality wasn’t significantly increased, though some deformities were?


Dark. I can see the immediate consequences would be atrocious. How would nuclear fallout affect wider gene pools and extinction rates? I’ve always envisioned the “apocalyptic” scenario to be a nuclear winter. Is that accurate?


The fallout myth isn't true. And chernobyl is a perfect example. It caused the accidental creation of a huge nature preserve where species thought to be locally extinct are now thriving. Most wild animals don't live long enough for the slightly increased cancer rates to matter. The lack of humans destroying everything makes a huge difference on the other hand.


> I'm afraid the problem will fix itself soon enough. WW3 could be around the corner according to the people behind the Doomsday Clock.

Nah, I doubt it. War is bad for business, and the global economy needs peace in order to extract maximum profit. Best to keep those wars to little backwater countries so we can keep spending trillions on mega-high-tech weapons without really disrupting the flow of money to bigcorp.


War is good for business - 34th Rule of Acquisition (Ferengi, Star Trek)


Well, war is good for the war racket, but generally not good for trade in the vast majority of other goods.


Globalization is in full swing drastically more than it was during large-scale wartime. Hard to imagine a world war happening in that context


Right before world war I, globalization was peaking and people also thought that large scale war was impossible because of it.


Not in the current context, but imagine darker world, people pushed into poverty, starvation, desperation. Dictatorships, people like Trump would be fondly remembered for their friendly and kind policies. There are no limits how dark things can potentially get.


You're thinking of the 35th Rule of Acquisition - Peace is good for business.


But does that fix it? Isn't it a vicious cycle once methane is released from the melting ice. And a collapsed civilisation won't have the budget to fix it.


from a sufficiently misanthropic perspective that global human over-population is "the problem" , both methane release, civilisation collapse, and lack of budget to maintain or build infrastructure and systems like healthcare all sound like they are part of the "fix".

I don't really think it's helpful to talk about "the" problem, there's a big mess of coupled systems and most "moves" available to us have unpleasant side effects or unknown side effects on global or long-term time scales. we have a limited time and resource window where moves are still available.


No it doesn't unfortunately. Even with no 1% pop going forward we would still have to remove the cco2 and find a way to regulate our temp. The time line makes it sound like those evil hippies were right but lost so we all have.


To be fair, the Doomsday Clock is updated once a year in January. With recent political affairs in NK, we may have just bought ourselves another minute.


War is one of the most environmentally destructive things we do, and it's usually followed by a period of expansion.


Sadly, I think this is right. The "fix" involves one group of people telling another group of people what to do. That never goes over without a fight. Especially when it will involve land, life and death, and reproductive rights.

I think what we're seeing with government's moving more right wing is the first step of this. These people are already operating on this assumption and plan on being the ones doing the telling.


It's a shame you've been downvoted on this point, and it's more evidence Hacker News is becoming more like Ars: upvotes are votes of agreement as opposed to votes that you providing insight.

And your comment is not only extremely insightful, it is exactly right - the current global political climate is a populist reaction by people tiring of being told by elites what they should and should not have and what they should and should not believe.

All of the fixes being proposed are, if we are honest, some form of rationing or another. That will necessarily reduce the quality of life of a large group of people, and they won't accept that no matter how strongly bureaucrats insist they should.

So such insistence will need to be backed by force, because it will be resisted by force.


> All of the fixes being proposed are, if we are honest, some form of rationing or another. That will necessarily reduce the quality of life of a large group of people, and they won't accept that no matter how strongly bureaucrats insist they should.

I'm not sure this is true. It used to be socially acceptable to smoke in offices and inside, but attitudes changed. Now fewer and fewer people smoke tobacco in the UK at least. Even drinking is seen as uncool, with around 20% of 18-24 year olds saying they don't drink at all IIRC. I think a similar change in attitude could occur so people make ecologically-minded decisions.

A few ideas I've heard that I agree with are also:

* The Earth and ecosystem should have legal rights and be legally represented & defended in courts to oppose industries like e.g. fracking/mining/deforestation, etc., not as an after thought, but in terms that the Earth is its own legal entity and therefore ultimately owns itself and major industry would require approval from a group of trustees acting on behalf of the Earth.

* Companies should be legally responsible for putting the environment before shareholder profits (i.e. not be run for the benefit of shareholder, but for the benefit of the environment)

* Governments should pay people to keep trees on their land - not just landowners, but people who would fell the land. Maybe this would be some combination based on land ownership/licencing rights (e.g. tenancy) and universal basic income. This would probably need to be an international effort because e.g. we all benefit from the South American rainforests, not just people who live in close proximity to them.

It won't be simple to decide how to implement the above ideas, but we need to value the environment far more instead of just unsustainably stripping resources so a few people can make a fast buck. The idea that just because you own some land (or it's the commons) that you can do whatever you want with it needs to end. But whatever we decide, it is clear we need widespread, dramatic, global changes in our behaviour now.


There is one tree that owns itself:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_That_Owns_Itself


> more evidence Hacker News is becoming more like Ars: upvotes are votes of agreement as opposed to votes that you providing insight

At the time I'm reading this comment, the parent is not downvoted. The guidelines ask you not to obsess about downvoting in comments, because it's boring/repetitive, and often turns about to be moot, when the comment ends up being voted back into the black, which is often the case.


This is why people should support popular movements that are resisting the right wing and resisting unsustainable practices. Unions and social justice activists are our best hope for a decent future without extreme repression. But they get labeled as antifa or eco-terrorists and arrested or otherwise silenced.


> I implore you to be politically active, to consider support for candidates that at least acknowledge that there is a problem. Consider a carbon tax. Consider big, international efforts to clean up our oceans. Consider sexual education efforts in developing nations. Consider carbon re-capture efforts. There's a ton of things we can do, but we have to start doing

It has all been said before.

None of this is going to be easy when we have our governments frittering away money on the arms trade. It is violence and the threat of violence that enforces the current economic order. Therefore it is the trade in arms that needs to be addressed if there is going to be progress in other areas. The arms trade isn't just bullets, the business is also about 'cyber warfare' which means planting the post-truth news stories in the media that enforces the status quo for the arms trade.

People laughed at Martin Luther King for wanting to combine the rights he wanted for all people at home with the anti-Vietnam War, pro-peace ideas. They thought he would set back both causes and confuse people. History was not kind to those critics, we only know of Martin Luther King, the others were just shills anyway.

It may seem a bit of a stretch of the imagination to think that the acidification of the oceans or the fact that there are less than 7000 cheetahs left is going to be solved with things like nuclear disarmament and global treaties to abolish the arms trade. There will be those that think these issues shouldn't be confused and that things will not get better for the likes of the cheetah if focus is shifted over to the steps needed for a more peaceful planet. But why not give peace a chance? Every one of those billions of single use bullets could have been made into a reusable and recyclable rechargeable battery and you could have an extremely large wind farm instead of the F35 programme. We could go fully carbon neutral in a generation to make this planet a beautiful garden for all. But, for this to happen the arms trade has to be made extinct first.


Great points. I believe the best way to change these arms deals is to engage in political action on a social-movement based level, just as MLK did, rather than on an electoral level, as the GP suggests.

History has shown us that threats of mass strikes by coalitions of large industrial unions have the power to force the hand of the elites. This is what people who really care about these issues should be working towards. I think tech workers in particular have a lot of power, if only they would engage in collective action.


For that, humanity needs spiritual process — people like Putin trump , NK, China etc will not let that happen unless we provide them with a tool for inner transformation of their experience of living


The largest arms dealers sit on the UN security council. One of them is currently wanting to abolish the INF treaty and they aren't in Asia.

I would say that spiritual mumbo jumbo ain't going to cut it, a business case needs to be made that green energy is going to offer better profit and more security than more nukes.


ok let me rephrase 'spiritual mumbojumbo'! I'm not saying people need to wear safron robes and chant kumbaaya. moreso that th ehuman body is the most advanced chemical factory / technology on the planet, we need people to read the user manual and get a sense of all-inclusive life that is not human centric, that we are all together on this planet. People who are making the business case for anything won't make the right case unless they have the proper fundamental system put in place in their body,mind,spirit. An example of a place to start (Think a child learning the difference between big 'A' and little 'a' in the alphabet.. not even spelling words yet) is having everyone on the planet think "I am going to die, I came from the earth, and will return to the earth" and become ultra-sensitive to their impermanence.


Most of the environmental damage so far has been done by the wealthy developed countries to maintain a high standard of living. Most of the population growth is in the underdeveloper world that hope to be developed.

What's really worrying is that the 5.5 billion people in underdeveloped countries want the high living standards of 1.5 billion people in the developed countries. This will put incredible strain on the environment and resources.

Technological advancements will help but technology can only do so much. We already see this with china. They are developing and getting richer and they want to drive cars, have AC/refigerators/computers, eat more meat, etc like americans or europeans. And who can blame them. Why shouldn't they have the same living standards? Soon, ASEAN, india, africa, etc will want the high living standards as well.

Can 7 billion people ( soon to be 9 billion ) live like americans or europeans? Also, as the chinese, indians, africans, etc get higher living standards, wouldn't we want even higher living standards? Will we reach any resource limits?


I agree, large scale political action is the only sustainable fix. Included in this needs to be an effort to switch to a renewable energy economy. This would potentially transform both our environment and the incomes of lower class people. Wind already employs double the number of people as coal in the US.

We need to end the use of coal and natural gas, thereby eliminating mountain top removal mining and fracking both of which destroy their surrounding environment and dump massive amounts of waste into the water supply harming the species that live there. Initiate a gradual tax on petroleum based cars and then use that tax to fund the adoption of electric ones. Provide tax incentives for switching to electric vehicles.

Add a gradual tax to beef and pork while slowly using that to subsidize organic farming startups. Widespread pesticide use in farming is decimating the insect population. Government subsidized closed system farm startups would help as they limit waste and encourage the reuse of water and soil.

Attempting to limit population via government mandate at this stage can only lead to a dystopian bitter society and IMO is not the route to go as it attempts to override natures prime directive driving discord and civil unrest unless we are willing to also accept enforcement along the lines of the Chinese model; which personally I am not.

Dumping chemical waste into streams and rivers should be politically removed as an option.

If all of this took place only in the US it would have a massive affect as we are essentially tied with China as the worlds largest polluters. Our scientific advances in attaining the green economy would trickle down into the developing nations, especially if we stopped exporting coal.


> What can we do to change this?

Get people out of poverty. Educate people. https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_...


You can't get people out of poverty, you can create opportunities for them to get themselves out of poverty.

But what if some never do, for whatever reason?

Even if 99% of humans climb out of poverty and stop overpopulating, there must be a few on the end of the bell curve who never will, and that group will multiply exponentially until it eventually dominates the global population.

It doesn't matter why. Could be religion, or culture, or genes. But someone is on the end of that fertility curve. It only takes one man breeder and one woman breeder and they will, in a world of non-breeders, soon dominate the world population because of the explosive power of exponential math. So what then?

(As an example, Amish in America double their population every 20 years or so. We can calculate that they'll number >250 million within maybe 150 years.)


I agree that the consequences of us trashing the planet will be felt more by us, but I think that our future kids and grandchildren will have to suffer through it, if we don't take actions fast. It's true, we should support someone who acknowledges climate change and tries to find ways to stop it, but we could also help by starting in our own homes. Change must come from within. Also, tech companies should help solve this problem. They have the resources, they can find a way to stop or alleviate climate change from worsening.


> This is not sustainable.

This is a longstanding concern going back to at least the 70s [1]. The argument is essentially twofold:

1. Population growth will continue at or near present rates indefinitely; and

2. We will exceed population N where N is the number of people the planet can support.

For (1) the rate of growth has slowed and is projected to continue slowing over the next century [2] such that many of these estimates have been way off.

For (2), we have a pretty narrow-minded view of how many people this planet can actually support but with sufficient automation hydroponic yield depending on crop can be 10x+ per unit of land area (eg [3]). Automation here is important for both constructing greenhouses and maintaining the crop. This could well increase food capacity to 50-100B people depending on diet, possibly much higher.

What's more of a factor are resources and in particular energy costs. Commercial fusion power with deuterium would solve a whole bunch of problems at once (eg if the cost is below hydrocarbon based fuels then you can extract CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into fuel, which also largely solves your greenhouse gas problem too). If we ever figure out commercial fusion based on normal hydrogen well that's basically unlimited energy.

Fusion isn't a requirement though. Solar gets ever cheaper. At some point it will become economic to put solar collectors in orbit and I've seen estimates for the yield of this to be about 7x the energy production of the same panel on the ground since there's essentially no night and there's definitely no weather.

Don't get me wrong: people are screwing up the planet and a lot of the larger animals seem doomed but that's more an issue of human vanity (eg wanting rhino horns, ivory, fish bladders and the like) rather than being driven by any actual need.

Deforestation is an issue but more-so in the developing world and more of an issue for ecosystems rather than, say, the atmosphere (IIRC ~80% of the CO2 is produced by the oceans). Overfishing too is a problem but mainly for us because at some point there just won't be any fish to eat.

People like to make alarmist predictions. In some cases I'm sure they truly believe them. This to me is largely a folly of youth as experience teaches you the poor track record of such prognostications. In other cases I suspect people are trying to prompt action from the complacent. The problem with this is that alarmist rhetoric about the environment tends to turn a lot of people off. And a history of bad predictions doesn't help your cause (whatever that cause is).

People do and will continue to make short-term decisions based largely on self-interest. That's just human nature. In a lot of cases its based on need rather than want. It's hard to tell a poor family in a developing country not to chop down the forest when the alternative is not heating their homes (with the wood) and/or not feeding their families (with the farmland created) In others, it's not.

But the notion that this planet can only support 5, 7 or 10 or 15B people is patently false.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projections_of_population_grow...

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4483736/


> Commercial fusion power with deuterium would solve a whole bunch of problems at once

Would it? You're still using "fossil fuel" which means that you're heating up the planet... The only sustainable solution is solar, either on Earth, or in space in front of Earth (so that you're not introducing extra energy to Earth).


>But the notion that this planet can only support 5, 7 or 10 or 15B people is patently false.

It is also a strawman. People don't say that, they say that the world can only support X many people with our current lifestyle. I do not want to make my life, and the life of every other person on the planet worse, simply to increase the population of humans. We are not endangered. We have more than enough humans. There is no need to breed even more replacements, we're covered. Why cause every single person on the planet to have a worse life simply to pack more people onto this rock?


I pondered raising this issue in my above comment but decided not to since the comment was already long enough but the issue has been raised nonetheless.

I agree that "the planet can't support X" is code for "I don't want to change my lifestyle" or, by extension, "I want my children to have the same lifestyle".

Lots of animals return to the point where they were born to breed. Some cross vast distances. The human version of this is a mix of normalcy and nostalgia.

By normalcy I mean however the world was when we were in our formative years we view as "normal". I really wonder what life was like 500 or 1000 years ago when politics may well have changed but largely there were few if any substantial everyday technological and societal differences from one generation to the next.

The problem with this is that ew can easily start seeing everything through this lens such that things that diverge from our view of normal are (more likely) "bad" and those that don't are (more likely) "good". This I feel is a big part of conservativism/traditionalism.

The nostalgia is obvious. The time when we were young is often romanticized, even fetishized.

So as to maintaining lifestyle, let me put it this way: assume you're fo middle or upper class in the US. Could everyone in the world live as you do now? No. So by some measures we're already living beyond our (collective) means. And as hard as you may have worked, as smart as you are the biggest difference between you and a resident of some far less well off country is just plain old dumb luck that you were (probably?) born "here" (wherever here is).

Granted some people from more disadvantaged backgrounds do better their lot in life but the odds are stacked against them in a way that just isn't true for someone born in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Western Europe and a handful of other places.

Fun fact: the population density of Tennessee is 160/mi2. The land area of the US is 3.8m mi2. If you populated the entire US at the same density as TN you'd fit 6 billion people there.

Would you consider TN overly dense?

You may not have ever been there but it doesn't matter. No one is piled on top of each other (like, say, Hong Kong at ~7000/mi2). People live on large lots in big houses and there's still wilderness.

We only live on a tiny fraction of available land. The vast majority of it is farmland but if farmland can produce 10 times as much per unit area then we need an awful lot less of it to support a much bigger population.

Unfortunately preserving one's way of life is so often just code for NIMBYism, excluding certain groups (eg segregation in the US) and maintaining the status quo just because you were lucky enough to be born in the right place.


I'm afraid the incentives are not there - and we won't do any of those things - but at some point the system will bounce back, and hopefully it will self-regulate, rather than spiraling out of control. You can already see it happening, the hurricanes are getting worse and more frequent in USA, Italy and parts of Europe are hit by floods; An occasional reactor melts down. I'd say just enjoy the next decade as much as possible, who knows, maybe it won't last even that long.


At least in the U.S., politics is a football game complete with cheerleaders and game stats. It's my side vs their side. Even the most intelligent people get locked up in this battle. They don't bother looking at the candidates themselves, they just vote for their team.

I mean, I look around and so many people who voted for certain people to get rid of certain programs are the one's who would actually benefit from those programs. It boggles the mind.


Given that the candidates tend to hew pretty closely to their party platform, it is perfectly sensible to vote for a team instead of an individual. It is a completely valid choice.

The people voting against their own self-interest clearly disagree, there must be some overriding element of their ideology that is more important.


> Human Population has more than doubled... This is not sustainable

Hans Rosling had some interesting findings on population growth: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnexjTCBksw


Rosling’s arguments overlook the point that gains have been won with unsustainable use of the planets resources. Like the farmer who eats his seed corn, he lives well whilst it’s there, but has nothing to sow come planting time.


This does not cut it as a response. The earth does not have capacity for us and all the living plants and animals. A healthy future should include biodiversity and not 9 billion people. Things are not getting better for most of the planet.


Huh. I've heard carrying capacity estimates range from 10 to 150 billion.

http://outsideinradio.org/shows/2018/10/11/so-over-populatio...

Maybe population theorists are wrong and you are right it's more like 5, or whatever your number is.

It's just hard to know, since Malthusianism has such a terrible track record, adamantly predicting apocalypse for two hundred years. They continue to make failing predictions:

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2013/12/31/258687278/a-be...

There are real challenges to confront about the environment, but I do worry about maintaining credibility while endorsing some of the more tenuous extrapolations.


Carrying capacity is related to quality of life and technology. With very poor quality of life, Earth could probably carry quite a large number of people.

But why build such a world? Why is 100 billion people packed in tenements, living off hydroponic slop better than 2 billion experiencing nature, breathing free and having the option of traditional or modern lifestyles?


Looking back at human history, QoL is correlated with increased hands and minds available to do useful work. QoL is not generally highest during population crashes.

I'd rather live now than during the black death, or in ancient times when 90% of humanity had to devote their entire lives to food production. In contrast, 90% of the phds who have ever lived are alive right now. We have freed people to do great things.

I can't speak for a society with 100 billion. I know that its inventiveness would be so far beyond our comprehension that such a society might not lack any particular experience. As long as we're talking about science fiction level hypotheticals of population, maybe it would build a Dyson sphere, maybe they would master human photosynthesis, who knows.


I hate to say it, but you've got it exactly backwards. QoL is much better after population crashes. I'll give two examples and explain the simple reasons.

For example, life in the early 1300s in Europe was awful. Life in the middle 1400s was much better. Reason: The Black Death killed a huge number of people, opening up quality land for people to live a bit more easily.

You don't want to live during the black death, you want to live after the black death. Because the black death can only happen above a certain population density.

Micro-example: Pitcairn island. A handful of men and women shipwrecked there in the 1700s. Life was good - go where you want, lots of space, pick wild fruit as desired. Then they multiplied. Soon the population is 10x as much, and they hit the carrying capacity of the island. Now you MUST use every awful marginal source of food.

The simple reason is: People exploit the best resources first. The first person in an ecosystem lives in the best spot, eating the best food from the easiest tree, pulling fish casually out of packed rivers. Paradise. Increase the population, and now most people MUST live on marginal land, eating marginal food sources, scraping every bit of sustenance out of the environment. QoL falls until it is just barely above what's necessary not to die - and then you're at carrying capacity and the population stabilizes because it can't grow because people die as fast as they multiply. This is how human life worked for almost all of history; it's how animal life works too.

It explains why QoL was the same in 1800 for most people as in 2000BC, despite great increases in technology. The technology increased QoL, but that gets consumes in one generation as the population increases to hit the subsistence limit again. So you get more people, but not better life.


Much respect for your clear and thoughtful response on a very emotional issue for many.

I think we just have a different take on the underlying facts.

> QoL was the same in 1800 for most people as in 2000BC

An interesting claim. Googling the history of meaningful corollaries to QoL raised some concerns for me though.

Infant mortality was over 40% in 1800.

The average work week in the Us was over 70 hours.

https://eh.net/encyclopedia/hours-of-work-in-u-s-history/

The deaths from flu and tuberculosis have been massively reduced, those diseases are still awful, but their impact is unrecognizable.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article...

They are still really deadly diseases for vulnerable populations, but I can't even imagine what it was like when they ravaged populations.

You reduce child mortality (and improve other measures) by freeing up minds from menial labor through economies of scale. Those free minds invent processes that ease human endeavors and lower humanity's impact on the environment in drastic ways.

These aren't small gains. The history of artificial light is an example, showing improvements in efficiency in magnitudes of tens of thousands.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/04/25/306862378/epis...

For example, those free minds discover things like kerosene, which nearly resolves humanity's obsessive quest to murder every whale for oil.

https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality

https://ourworldindata.org/light

We still have a lot of work to do to protect whales, but there's a reason Moby Dick resonated when it was written, everyone knew about the significance of that then major industry.

I'm not a transhumanist, but I am awestruck by the pace of human progress. Solar adoption looks glacial while we're waiting for price parity, but is there any doubt it will displace fossils over the next few decades?

Human inventiveness seems the best way to lower impacts while also obtaining other human goals. For all that I want the highest MIPS per gram ratio in the solar system as possible.


Who cares if they acknowledge the problem but take no meaningful action? I give no credit for that. Anybody who can do math can see that the only solution is to manage the population but that will never happen outside authoritarian states like China.


The argument really comes down to whether to curtail the liberty and veneration of independence that defines this century.


> Consider sexual education efforts in developing nations

Is this a joke? Do you really think people in poor(!) nations don't know how children are made? They do. They want 10+ children, because that's their retirement fund.

If you want to make a difference, educate women about everything but sexuality. That drops the fertility rate to below replacement and raises the generation time from 20 years to 35.


Stop having kids.


Don't worry, that's exactly what the developed countries have been doing!


"Stop having kids,

said the elder people.

Die faster,

said the younger people..."


We could use both to be honest.


It's clear that this rate of growth is not sustainable. Everyone knows that, though not everyone acknowledges it. Population growth must top out somewhere. The most likely mechanism is the same one that's driven birth rate decline in developed nations: affluence. The end of huge scale population growth doesn't mean human extinction or even significant population decline, though it may mean financial crisis and a major re-invention of modern finance around models that do not depend on eternal massive GDP growth.

Wars of course will happen. People fight wars. Modern wars don't have body counts like they used to. A war between the USA and Russia or the USA and China would -- unless nukes come out in force -- be largely fought by machines with body counts far lower than WWI and WWII. (USxChina would be a full-on cyberpunk mech battle.) Wars also tend to be followed by periods of expansion, so don't pin your "hope" on war to reduce human population or environmental effects in the long term.

I've simply come to terms with the fact that we have entered the Anthropocene. The holocene geological epoch has ended.

If you want to slap a date on the anthropocene, I'd go with July 16th, 1945, the date of the Trinity atomic test. That was the point at which the evolutionary ratchet clicked and regression to a pre-industrial state became game-theoretically impossible. Subsequent atomic testing also furnishes a nice neat line in geological strata that will be clearly visible to any geologists of the far distant future.

We are in the early anthropocene, which seems characterized by increased CO2 and methane concentrations, increased temperatures, and plummeting biodiversity. The latter is a common characteristic of geological boundary events. The fact that this one was caused by the emergence of large scale industrialized intelligence instead of a meteorite or volcanism doesn't much matter. When the environment drastically changes a lot of species die off.

What happens next is debatable. It's likely that intelligence will soon figure out massively scalable renewable energy (it's close) and/or fusion. That combined with depletion of fossil fuels will mean CO2 emissions will probably fall off a cliff by mid-century. The big CO2 pump is probably a H-A (Holocene-Anthropocene) boundary event like the line of radioisotopes from early atomic testing. CO2 has a long half-life in the atmosphere but we don't know what biology is going to do as the planet warms and all that CO2 is hanging around. There could be a huge burst in photosynthesis. The Cretaceous period, the last epoch with similarly high CO2 concentrations, also had about 150% today's oxygen concentration in the atmosphere. Maybe that will happen by a few hundred years from now. I'm thinking the Anthropocene is going to look a bit like the Cretaceous.

The loss of biodiversity here on Earth is depressing, but on the positive side it's likely that the Anthropocene will see the spread of organic life from Earth to its Moon, Mars, and possibly other locations in the solar system. It may also see the birth of self-replicating machine intelligences, an entirely new offshoot of life adapted for large-scale growth beyond the planet's biosphere. A moderate number of humans and associated symbiotic plants and animals might colonize other worlds, but I'd predict that post-biological life will make the big leap from atmosphere to space (analogous to the leap from the oceans to land). Us with our clunky space suits are like lungfish.


This is a very interesting perspective and it's too bad it's being downvoted.

I think there are three schools of thought around this:

* Environmental conservatives who think change in ecosystem, populations... is bad.

* Environmental objectivists who acknowledge that change is constant, species are still participating in evolution and that there is no such thing as "good" or "bad" as far as nature is concerned.

* Normal people who haven't satisfied all levels of Maslow's hierarchy and are thus focused on living their lives with little to no thought to the environment.

We hear a lot from that first group. I'd put your comment in the second and it's quite refreshing. I suspect the third group fits more with the second than the first when pushed.


I'm closer to the middle position. An alien watching Earth would not be making value judgements. It would be observing geological change. Moralistic value judgements like "we are destroying the Earth" are anthropocentric, even when they are self-condemnatory. Species self-hatred is historically pretty big with humans and it hasn't stopped us from doing what we're doing. If anything it contributes. Aggressive self-criticism is part of the psychology of an aggressive creature. When we look in the mirror we do so with forward facing eyes.

Don't get me wrong... I think it would be a very good thing if we could stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere so much. I'm less concerned with the Earth than I am with presently-living and soon-to-be-living human beings. As George Carlin said: "Stop talking about saving the Earth! The Earth will be fine! We're fXXked!"

The reason I've "stopped worrying and learned to love the Anthropocene" is that I see dramatic short term cuts to CO2 emissions as a political impossibility. The best strategy is probably to plan for CO2-driven climate change as a certainty, but also to explore potential geo-engineering approaches. It's possible that we could at least blunt the impact by pulling some CO2 from the air using phytoplankton, desert irrigation, etc. I like the ocean phytoplankton ideas because this would pull CO2 out of the ocean and ocean acidification is potentially worse than climate change.

Developed nations actually have cut CO2 emissions a bit on a per-capita and per-dollar-GDP basis (e.g. USA carbon emissions peaked around 2000 I think), but the problem is that there are billions of people in the world climbing out of poverty and CO2-emitting power sources are still by far the cheapest and easiest energy sources to deploy. This is doubly true for developing nations that don't have the expertise to do nuclear or large scale renewable energy. "Burn crap, boil water, make wheel spin" is pretty simple, old, commodity tech.

The problem is both social and game-theoretic. Game-theoretically global CO2 emission cuts would require an all-cooperate scenario that seems unlikely given the massive economic benefit of defecting. The social problem comes when rich developed nations try to finger-wag at developing nations for emitting more CO2. The response is along the lines of "screw you, we're poor, fXXk off." It comes off sounding hypocritical and elitist because it sort of is... we got where we are by burning a lot of fossil fuel, so who are we to tell Asians or Africans they can't do the same thing? The recent election in Brazil was in part a rejection of environmental restrictions in favor of populist growth policies.

Now toss in the fact that the world is presently going through its globalization trough of disillusionment. Nationalism is rising everywhere. This makes all-cooperate game theoretic scenarios even more hopeless.

The only -- and I mean the only -- hope is that we will develop a very low or zero carbon energy source that is cheaper than coal and gas on a levelized 24-hour basis and that can be deployed just about as easily. I think we'll probably get there eventually, but I doubt Mr. Fusion will arrive in time to keep CO2 under 600-800ppm at a minimum. I wouldn't be surprised at all if it hits 1000ppm.

Africa today is where China was in the 90s... brace yourself for another billion people industrializing and modernizing. Better start researching geo-engineering and preparing to move Miami. I do like to look at the plus side too though. I'm looking forward to more African cultural exports.


I agree with all of that.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18107194 :)


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> but it also gets you labelled an evil racist nazi klansman

But you are a racist [1].

I wonder how common it is to do these brief checks through the comments of users that seems just a bit off. Too often there's a pattern.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18331992


yiiiiiiiiiikes


[flagged]


We've banned this account for turning two unrelated threads into massive racial flamewars in the last 24 hours.


You plainly said that black people are genetically incapable of being held to the same ethical standards of white people. Come on dude, get out of here.


[flagged]


Again, this is plain racism. This is the precise definition of judging a group of people solely based on their race. Refuse to see that things like IQs and crime rate can be affected by so much factors than race if you must. Say "black people exhibit higher crime rate, so it must be genetic" while overlook the mere spurious correlation behind it, but at least acknowledge it. You are racist.


[flagged]


Fair enough. Have your motte and bailey.

You said (verbatim) : "Holding black people to the same standard as white people when they are genetically incapable of meeting that standard seems like a much bigger problem"

True, you did not define "standard". Then you attack people when they infer you're talking about ethics, or crime rate, or whatever other interpretation. Sure, but you were definitely not talking about the ability to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. If you do not want your writings to be open to interpretation, then be specific.

> When someone states the objective fact that black people have lower IQs than whites or Asians, that is not racism.

No, but saying that this is because of their genetic is. Because you have no reasoning backing that other than "they're black, so there could not be any other reason explaining the lower IQ". Same thing for crime rate. Crime rate is a fact, not racist in itself. But facts do not make discussions. No one brings a fact just to leave it there. You bring it to back up an opinion. And this opinion can definitely be racist.


[flagged]


try to assume good faith

That is something you conspicuously failed to do dozens of times on this page. The other person is always missing the point, didn't read what you said, falling victim to one myth or another, disingenuous, irrelevant, fixating, making absolutely no sense, slipping in thing at the end after the red herrings, seem eager to put words in your mouth ...

It makes for super-tiresome reading. This is not a productive method of communication. (That was you complaining about the other guy yet again.)

Please consider that you are just one person among many on here, and that you may seem as ignorant, misguided, irrational, unfair, impossible-to-argue-with, prejudiced to them as they apparently seem to you. And please be more considerate in future. Be civil. Don't be snarky.


Here is just one of your incorrect inference :

> Black crime rate being high explains black arrest rate being high.

Where is the causality here? Sure, there is a correlation and sure, it may be seen as a reasonable argument, but like your point before about CO2 not being a problem, you completely overlook that there could be many causes for the same event.

How is your fact about crime rates invalidating the position "there is racism amongst police forces"? The effect of the higher crime rates _and_ racism are not mutually exclusive.

But you choose to rather adopt a point of view where every situation can apparently be 100% explained by a single cause. And that cause is that black people are not "up the standard" -- whatever standard you are talking about.

Yup, that's racism.


"Ethical" was added as a clarification, since you were talking about crime.


> Could you direct me to the organization responsible for selecting which facts go on the list of "you are racist for stating these facts"?

Kindergarden.

> It is very concerning to me that I am now a thought criminal and therefore anything I say is incorrect.

And rightly so after that comment.


Kindergarden is not an organization. If you want to decree that people who commit wrongthink offenses are by definition incorrect in everything they ever say, you need to provide a list of wrongthink offenses. I don't even know what you think is racist about that comment, much less how anyone could logically extrapolate that everything I say is wrong as a result.


Since what you call facts are clearly bullshit I think it's perfectly reasonable to "logically extrapolate" that henceforth everything you write should be assumed to be bullshit unless proven otherwise.


From what I can tell, people have a problem with the fact that you said that "blacks are genetically incapable". Why do you think it's genetic? Why not cultural, social, economic?


Because none of the factors you list explain the difference. There is 100% scientific certainty that there is a genetic basis for the racial IQ divide. This was never a real debate, it was always reality being attacked by ideologues. But modern technology has simply side stepped the ideologues shouting "racist pseudo-science" at facts they don't like. Over a dozen specific genes have been isolated that affect IQ, both positively and negatively. The distribution of these genes in racial groups is as would be expected based on the measured IQs of those racial groups. Many people were conned by the "IQ isn't real it is racist pseudo-science" lie. I do not believe "DNA isn't real it is racist pseudo-science" will be as effective.


Well, to be more specific: literally any handbook about statistics will explain the difference between correlation and causation.


And what does that have to do with anything I said?


Because again, there is a difference between stating a fact and wrongly inferring from it.


This is not a productive method of communication. You need to clearly state what you mean instead of expecting me to spend 5 comments asking questions to try to extract an actual meaning from your post. I have no idea what you think I inferred. I did not confuse correlation with causation, so you need to explain clearly what you think I mean, since it is not what I said.


> That won't do anything. CO2 is not the problem, too many people is.

CO2 is a problem.

This year's Nobel prize in economics was awarded to Bill Nordhaus [1] for figuring out the economic impact of carbon based emissions. He, along with many climate scientists and economists, think that this is the most market-aligned way to reduce the impact of climate change.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Nordhaus#Nobel_Memoria...


>CO2 is a problem.

Not the problem the article is talking about.


Overpopulation is not the problem at all, it's only the symptom of the problem. It's the natural result of poverty and poor living conditions. A rise in standards of living is directly correlated with lower birth rates. Improve life for the poor and birth rates will drop to a sustainable 2 kids per couple. We need to work on bringing everyone up to a point where sustainability is even possible. We can't just exploit the world and then blame those who live in systems that offer no alternative.


>A rise in standards of living is directly correlated with lower birth rates.

No it isn't. That is based on a single observation, increasing standards of living in the 20th century in western nations. Living standards in western nations were increasing before that and birth rates were not declining. Living standards stopped increasing decades ago, and birth rates have not gone back up. So the evidence that this is even true in western nations is quite poor, but there is no evidence at all that it holds true in other cultures.

>We can't just exploit the world and then blame those who live in systems that offer no alternative.

It isn't about blame, it is about solving the problem. You can not give 5 billion Africans a western standard of living, that is not a physical possibility. So we need to prevent the 5 billion Africans from happening while there's still only 1 billion Africans. We're not trying to prevent 5 billion Europeans from happening because the European population is falling, not rising.


It's true in East Asia as well.

In fact, where is it not true?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_and_fertility


>It's true in East Asia as well.

No it isn't.

>In fact, where is it not true?

Everywhere? Nothing in your link contradicts what I said already. You can only make the correlation if you cherry pick start and end dates, and cherry pick western nations or nations that had coincidental birth rate declines like China. If the correlation is real and not spurious, then why doesn't it hold now? Why didn't it hold before the 1930s? Why has it never existed in Africa?


How is it not true in East Asia? The rich countries (Japan, South Korea) have super low fertility rates; the poor ones have higher (North Korea). Can you point out some clear violators?

The inverse relationship is obvious in South Korea:

https://tradingeconomics.com/south-korea/gdp-per-capita

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/SPDYNTFRTINKOR

Before the 1930s, every country was "developing" my modern definitions. (US real GDP/capita was ~$9k in 1929 just before the recession). Also, other factors are necessary for this to happen (e.g. women empowerment)


Logged in to downvote this. What bullshit.

CO2 is absolutely a problem, and promoting birth control does not get you called a nazi klansmen.

What are you going on about?


Please explain how CO2 is causing people to burn forests, wiping out ecosystems and killing millions of animals. You know, the subject of discussion.


Well, to keep things simple :

- CO2, as a greenhouse gas, increase the Earth surface temperature

- This temperature increase causes droughts/floods/other extreme meteorological events

- Lands that used to be arable aren't anymore, because of these events.

- People need to feed themselves, so they need new lands.

- They burn forests, wipe out ecosystems, and kill millions of animals in the process.


But that hasn't happened. These people did not lose land from "extreme meteorological events". They simply exhausted the stored fertility in the soil, and it is cheaper to burn another chunk of forest than it is to purchase fertilizer. A hypothetical scenario that could happen in the future does not explain the actual scenario that the article we're discussing is about.


False dilemma. Of course over exploiting arable lands contribute to this problem. But it does not mean it is the only cause.

You'll have a hard time in this world if you believe that every problem has a single source...


> CO2 is not the problem, too many people is.

Proximate vs. root cause nitpickery isn't a solution either.

It's entirely possible to get carbon output down to sustainable levels without genocide. You're simply wrong here.


Getting carbon output down will not do anything about the massive ecological destruction this article is about. That's the point. And where on earth does genocide come into this from?


Are people still trotting out these Malthusean ideas? It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now. Global standards of living have never been higher.


Let's pretend the human population stopped growing 30 years ago. No new children. The USA and other rich nations use SO MUCH energy and resources we would still have seen this drop and still see global warming. Let's not make it about them, it's about us.


Extant hyper-fertile populations haven't caused the existing problem in the past. That's not what people are saying so there's no such blaming going on. The point is that they'll cause the impossible-to-solve exponentially-growing problem in the future.

USA population of 350m can cut down usage. It is at least possible without mass death. When there are 7 billion+ Africans at the end of this century, it'll be rather a much more brutal challenge.


I like how you think they won't follow the same growth curve as USA or Europe. It's insanely stupid. Also we don't have until end of century for the brutal challenge. We have it now and it's ridiculous to ploace the burden on the developing world. We have to act now, in USA, Europe and SE Asia NOW. It's not even worth entertaining the population issue of Africa in 2100 when we have more urgent problems at home RIGHT NOW.

To put that in perspective, the current billion Europeans and north americans is worth about 15-20 billion africans in terms of energy consumption.


It's well-acknowledged that they're not following the same curve as USA or Europe. This isn't a matter of the future; it's already happened.

That's why the UN has increased it's estimate for peak African population 5 years in a row.


I firmly look toward the end of humankind. Extinction events are full of opportunities.


At one point, there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of horses in the world, owned as transportation vehicles. Then the horseless carriage was invented, and now horses are somewhat rare.

The same could happen to humanity, if AI and general purpose robots become viably robust.


There has to be political will to completely ban all fishing, hunting and deforestation. Allow rangers and coast guard to kill on sight all violators.

At the moment I see no other option to restore wildlife on this planet.


Hunting is not what is wiping out animal populations. In fact, for many commonly hunted animals, like deer and many forms of fowl, human hunters are a necessary part of maintaining ecological balance.

Fishing and deforestation are another story.


...and animal farming. It's completely unsustainable as well.


Do be careful with that, whilst I agree that we need to drastically reduce our meat consumption, getting rid of all meat consumption with out some kind of super advancement in other fields will be far worse for the environment. In some place plant based food is more sustainable, in other animal based is.


getting rid of all meat consumption with out some kind of super advancement in other fields will be far worse for the environment

How so?


The Chicken + Talapia conversion to protein is the most efficient animal protein to build.

If only people knew how to cook and flavor foods, then people wouldnt be reliant on beef to make their foods tasty.


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