The Conundrum – do we really have to give up a high energy lifestyle?
I received an invitation by email to read and review a post on a blog called “TXCHNOLOGIST”. The invitation was well worded and inviting, most likely composed by a trained expert in public relations.
The subject post, titled Your Prius Won’t Save You: Questions for David Owen, Author of The Conundrum intrigued me. It was an interview of a New York Times journalist who has lived a jet setting lifestyle for many years. However, Mr. Owen has apparently realized that he and his pious, Prius-buying friends are not really doing much to forestall a coming economic collapse as fossil fuels become more and more scarce.
I have not yet read the book, but apparently his conclusion is that the only way we can survive is to learn to use a lot less energy. Here is the final exchange in the interview:
Txch: You end with a list of prescriptions for actually effecting change. Most them involve reducing consumption, but there’s little evidence we can do that. Do you have hope?
DO: The problem is so huge that it requires coordinated action by everybody. Say Americans decided we’re going to impose these really high taxes on fossil fuels. Unless the rest of the world does it too, we just make energy cheaper for somebody else. The Chinese or the French or the Germans. Somebody else will burn the stuff you decide not to burn.
How good would the human race being at leaving several centuries worth of coal in the ground while we shiver in our solar powered, very small houses. It’s hard to believe it would actually happen. There’s some point in the argument that I don’t know what the logical next step would be.
The post just begged for a comment. It seemed so hopeless and so apparently misinformed about the incredible store of energy in uranium and thorium that is just waiting to be more effectively put to use. Here is my contribution to the conversation:
If it were not for the fact that I have a deep understanding of nuclear fission energy and the politics that have surrounded nuclear energy since its discovery in the 1930s, proof in the 1940s and widening application from the 1950s-1980s, I would be a very depressed man.
Like David, I have lived a high energy consumption American lifestyle for more than half a century. I am well aware of the limitations of fossil fuel. I have studied every non-nuclear alternative sufficiently to realize that none of them have the potential to change anything regarding our access to energy.
My advantage, however, is that I spent most of the 1980s going to sea in submarines that ran for more than a decade on a mass of fuel that is just slightly more than my own body weight.
Pound for pound, uranium contains 2 million times as much heat energy as the best hydrocarbon, yet releasing that heat does not produce any SOx, NOx, fine particulate, mercury, CO, or CO2. The waste from fission is just as compact and concentrated as the fuel. Fission is not limited to using uranium; thorium is also available and is four times as abundant as uranium.
The primary reason we are not using fission more is that the people who hawk hydrocarbons LIKE their business. It is the source of massive wealth and political power, so they work very hard in many ways to keep the barriers to entry as high as possible for nuclear energy projects.
My message is that we really can have our wealth and spread it to many who do not have it today. We will get there by consuming a lot less material because fission gives us access to material with 6 orders of magnitude more energy for each unit mass. That energy density can sustain a substantial improvement in human prosperity for thousands of years.
We really can do more with less, but only if the less is a lot better at what it is supposed to do. The capability gap between hydrocarbons and fissionable material is analogous to the difference between vacuum tubes and modern microprocessors.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
PS – As I was getting ready to post this, I noticed that this site is sponsored by GE. It is hard for me to believe that a company that has been involved in nuclear energy since its inception would employ a writer who allowed an interviewee to be so doomy and gloomy about energy supplies without even asking about nuclear fission.
I think my postscript identifies an important challenge and why I continue to believe that it is worth my time to “preach to the choir.” I am fairly confident that the interviewer and even Mr. Owen would not consider themselves to be opposed to nuclear energy. However, they have been conditioned to believe that it is not even worth discussing, perhaps because it is too “controversial.”
The real challenge for those of us who want to develop nuclear energy projects is not to figure out how to overcome the strong opponents, but to figure out how to fire up the vast armies of lukewarm supporters.
“The real challenge for those of us who want to develop nuclear energy projects is not to figure out how to overcome the strong opponents, but to figure out how to fire up the vast armies of lukewarm supporters.”
Point well taken.
There’s a difference between energy conservation that is
a) trying to live within the means of sustainable energy sources (really getting ALL energy solar/wind)
b) trying to consume a finite resource a bit slower, so it lasts a bit longer (oil, coal, gasoline conservation)
I fully agree with a) but nuclear should be considered sustainable, since nuclear fuel is virtually infinite (if not on earth then on other planets/moons within our reach).
b) is a hoax to put off an ineviable doomsday, and assumes there is no human ingenuity to solve problems and discover new sources of energy. It eventually always leads to calls for depopulation, the easiest and most convenient way to conserve without sacrificing our lifestyle
Regarding overpopulation – I’m bullish on nuclear power, but I also think the world needs to work on voluntary population control. I think even with nuclear power, trying to sustain 8-10 Billion people on earth will be a great strain on natural ecosystems.
I think we need nuclear power *and* to reduce population to a more reasonable level (I’m not sure what that level is, but the evidence, to me, indicates we are currently passed that level, whatever it is).
The idea of overpopulation assumes that every human consumes a bit of a finite resource. But this is the thinking of central planners. My thinking is that food and fuel are things that we work hard to earn, and as long as we work for them, we will get them. More people means more work done, so there’s no problem. The only potential limit is land and limitied resources such as crude oil. Nuclear is virtually unlimited once we take outer space into account (something environmentalists never never do). Land is still plentyful, all one has to do is take a look at a globe and consider the size of Russia and of Antarctica. All the world’s population would fit into the land of Texas and still live a comfortable, suburban life.
I get what you’re saying, but I look at it not as a “finite resource”, but as a lot of resources which renew at a finite rate. In addition to land use for people to have their homes, you also have to think about land use for agriculture, mining, forestry, etc. There’s also the issue of needing land to store our trash. It’s also important, for air and water quality as well as biodiversity, that there’s plenty of “wild” undeveloped land.
Mankind simply cannot develop every square meter of land.
That said, I don’t think you’re completely wrong – I do think that with sufficient energy, we can sustain a large population while not overstraining the planet. The biggest resource limitation concern is energy, and nuclear can provide that energy.
Jerry, I fully agree. I concluded that the evidence shows that at least 20 billion people could live in appreciable comfort, if not 50 or 100 billion. It’s more a matter of good governance than of limiting the amount of persons.
I also think it is important to realise that there is no limit to human desire. So long as this desire is regulated and channeled with intelligence, great things can be achieved by each individual and community.
I am interested in seeing any “evidence” that demonstrates even 20 billion humans could live on our already collapsing planet.
Additionally, it seems foolish to have 20 billion humans living on “survivability” wages, rather than have 2 billion living like kings.
As to methodologies of control; humans can either implement some sensible ones themselves, and gradually bring things into line, or mother nature will certainly do so for us – as she has on many occasions.
Saying there’s nothing we can do is defeatest, and rather amazing given the patrons of this site. Use your intellect to come up with something that can work!
I approved your comment, but do not have much that is good to say about sources with names like “deep-ecology-hub, animalrights, overpopulation, and sevenworlds”
Those are not exactly evidence of anything other than a firmly fixed, pre-existing, misanthropic ideology.
Don’t forget that increases in wealth and energy consumption lead to slower population growth. If you concentrate on increasing people’s access to cheap clean energy, you will slow population growth.
As much as I’d like to gripe about people’s ignorance in regards to exponential growth, it is my belief that population concerns are a symptom of our stagnated energy system, not a disease all of its own.
All of the byproducts of population concerns are easily solved when you have access to abundant clean dense energy sources like nuclear (I don’t know of any others, but I’m leaving room for the possibility). Land use concerns can be solved with hydroponics, water shortages can be solved with desalination, the list goes on, but it’s only possible if you have massive amounts of cheap energy.
Joris, unless your last name is Duggar why would you want 20 billion people? Once on Supernanny there was a woman who wanted 12 kids – she was just being absolutely greedy and selfish for no reason at all. Nuclear power or no there is no reason for so many people. It is also a problem that is very easy to solve, simply Stop Having Kids!
Take a look at Why Population Policy will Not Solve Climate Change on the Brave New Climate website, to learn why population control can only be an answer in the long term.
Even if a global one-child policy was imposed by 2030, the world’s population in 2050 would still be larger than today.
I’m not saying we *should* have so many people, just that saying that the size of the human population is not the fundamental problem. Besides, the most intense per capita resource consumption and ecological destruction is caused mostly in countries with stagnant populations (i.e. the developed countries).
Population control is like weather control – easy to talk about, impossible to implement. It is non-productive to talk about reducing population (or stopping population growth)directly simply because there are no real tools to do so in a manner that would have the support of the majority. It is quite simply a dead end.
Tautological statements like: Stop Having Kids! will never get any traction and looks more like one is washing one’s hands saying it’s someone else’s problem, not mine.
Simeon is quite right: increasing the standard of living for all is the only way to deal with population growth.
China has been successful with population control at the statistical point of view.
After years of ‘one child per family, hopefully a boy’ China has aggregate population control with a truck load of men. What pressures this will cause on chinese women or society remain to be seen, but we know China invades North Korea villages every now and then to literally kidnap women.
Tautological statements like: Stop Having Kids! will never get any traction and looks more like one is washing one’s hands saying it’s someone else’s problem, not mine.
That is the part that is frustrating. I could live for another 50 years and what will the world be like then? I know it will be more crowded. I do not have any children and never will so I am doing my part for the Earth but then some woman who needs Supernanny wants 12 kids and undoes all the progress any of us who are responsible have made. A large American family uses more energy than a small one and it shows.
A good example of this is Jon and Kate + 8: J and K had 2 girls already and could have had a small 3 bedroom house or apartment and 1 small car but Kate became child greedy and used a method that resulted in 6 more kids at once. Now they had multiple freezers, washers, dryers, a huge van, plastic toys everywhere and lots of garbage.
The only good part here is that they lived in the area supplied by Three Mile Island. But how many kilowatts could have been saved if Jon just told Kate that 2 was enough?
On thing that could be done is to somehow stop glamorizing large families and promote child free lives.
Look, you have to understand that attempts to restrict the birthrate is pushing the wrong end of the problem. If China has been successful with population control it has been at a terrible cost and only with draconian measures that almost no one thought were acceptable. We have to see that the solution lies in making sure that the general standard of living in places with elevated birth rates rises to the point where it is no longer necessary to make kids to protect the parent’s future.
The thing is that all kids everywhere are the ones that have to replace the productive class when the incumbents get too old. It is just as true here as it is in the Third World. However in the West we enjoy a very high standard of living and thus we can be relatively sure our replacement will live long enough to take care of us, (directly or indirectly) and that there is an advantage to investing more in each individual child as well. Educated children make for a well off country because productivity per worker is high, so this means that each replacement worker will produce a large enough surplus to support the generation before in its dotage.
Thus small families are better off (and thus the better economic choice) in the developed world but in the Third World, where quantity is needed to make up for the small surpluses that each member can provide, larger families must be the rule.
By the way, don’t expect to be patted on the head because you don’t or won’t have kids. You are now just an extra mouth my kids have to feed when you get old.
I view human beings as creative resources with incredible value, not as burdens that simply consume material. With the power of the human mind combined with the material and energy resource with which the earth is endowed, there is no limit to the number of people that can be sustained and no reason to work to limit that number.
That said, raising human beings from birth to being productive is hard work. The initial productive effort should not be done casually and without realization of the long lasting effort that will be required. It is a long term investment that offers incredible rewards (along with a few challenging moments). I can imagine what life would be like without my family, but I like what I have now so much better.
Societies that allow freedom and creative enterprise will achieve a naturally sustainable population level.
Well, Rod, it’s nice that you “feel” that way, but that viewpoint is simple denial of the facts regarding actual consumption of (finite) resources. Perhaps you could cite some authority for your conclusions? You will pardon me if I voice my own opinion – which is that your view is complete pie-in-the-sky.
Rod, I thought that perhaps you have never been in a crowded place but then remember that you would spend 6 months in a long metal tube with the same 125 guys all the time. After that, how can you think all those people are “incredible value”? It were me I would be running for the forest as soon as the hatch opened!. What I am saying is that being reponsible about population issues is not that hard if people would only talk about it and it would solve a lot of energy and resource problems. We would still need nuclear energy to start to replace coal-fired plants.
@Bob – my experience in submarines helped to reinforce my love of humanity and my respect for the value of having people nearby. I have spent some time in the wilderness – often days at a time on the Appalachian Trail when the only other person I saw was my hiking partner. I love creation, but I also can testify to the joy of returning to civilization with all of its warts.
I have a hard time believing that you think people do not talk enough about population control. It has been a huge topic of conversation for many decades.
For the record, my wife and I chose to have two children, but we love and respect friends who have chosen to have many more than that, each one of whom is doing good things to make the world a better place.
Here is a link for consideration by Bob and Spook:
That’s very limiting of you Craig. Nice straw man.
The argument (at least for me) against human overpopulation has nothing to do with trying to “solve” global warming. It has to do with personal responsibility, simple degradation of the environment, and the misery index for those of us living on the planet (how many people really want to argue that we should be crowded into giant cities cheeck to jowl?).
The person who wrote the report you link to also wrote two other very good reports that you should read:
Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore. Brook, B.W., Sodhi, N.S., & Ng, P.K.L. Nature (2003) 424
Southeast Asian Biodiversity in Crisis, Sodhi, N.S., Brook, B.W. (2006) Cambridge University Press, London, UK
What specifically is incorrect in the case made by Professor Brook?
The error was in the logical fallacy of your use of his work to defeat a straw man of your own creation (as I said above.)
Here you go:
The article specifically deals with the demographic trajectory we are on, and what impact population control measures are likely to have over this century. Since you and Bob are such avid depopulationists, I thought it would be good for you to know just how effective and relevent such a position is in reality. Ignore it if you want, but everyone else can clearly see the implications. You are a tedious, irrelevent ideologue, contributing nothing of value to this dialogue.
Ahh, I see. So since I actually READ the article, which talks at some length about the problems of human population by the way, and I point out to you that it is not relevant to any claims I made since I never said global warming, or the energy “crisis” could be solved only by population control (as plotted in the most likely scenario graph, I agree), I am the “idealogue”.
There is nothing in that article that argues that controlling and reducing human population would not have benefits to the planet, and our societies, either.
What’s really happened here is that you are plainly just used to running roughshod over the hoi polloi, and can’t stand it when someone catches you engaging in intellectual dishonesty. Obversely, if you really can’t see your mistake, then I would have to say that it is you who have not “contributed to the conversation” since it must have passed over your head.
Regardless, if speaking with me is “tedious”, please feel free to stop doing so.
So Spook, what do you consider to be the optimal human population for the earth?
According to the complexity ethic (or my understanding of it), the value of an interacting community of elements is maximised by maintaining their population at the maximum sustainable level consistent with the full exercise of the powers of those elements. The more interacting units you have present at a given time, the greater the complexity achievable by them. This can be seen on the human level with the increasing power and complexoty of human civilisation allowed by the division of labour. I know of no in-principle upper bound to this return on value.
Obviously, it should be 500 million. Don’t argue with that.
Spook here appears to like references to sources, so I shall give mine: the Georgia Guidestones.
Who dares not believe a bunch of rocks with Babylonian cuneiform script written on them? Anyone who does not agree is obviously part of the intellectually dishonest, selfish, and self-justifying bottom 50% of the current population that has resulted from the failure to breed for positive traits. They should be eliminated at once, before they can breed, because breeders are bad, unless they are breeding for excellence. 😉
Obviously, it should be 500 million. Don’t argue with that.
That’s much too high, and Brian Mays has clearly been drinking the agriculturalist kool-aid! Such absurd population levels could only be maintained by the highly artificial practice of farming, a blasphemous art which chokes off the great varieties of natural vegetation in favour of hideously deformed, inbred cereal crops and improperly boosts the carrying capacity of the land far beyond the natural levels the gods intended for us. The maximum human population should be at least ten times lower, enabling us to live in balance with the migratory herds of grazing beasts which are our proper prey and sustainance.
Again, Jerry, I am puzzled as to why you think we need to have so many people in the world? Do you love people so much you want 20 billion of us? Yes, while we need nuclear power and not use so much fossil fuel, what is wrong with being responsible with family planning? Doing so is the “easiest and most convenient way to conserve” although I am finding on television at least (ex. Duggars, Supernanny with 10 kids) it does not seem an easy thing to do.
Some natalists in the West are motivated by fear of being outbred by non-Westerners (especially Muslims). Having said that though, the Norwegian Islamophobic terrorist Anders Breivik explicitly advocated population reduction on page 1202 of his manifesto:
Other natalists believe that Westerners have lost some of their humanity by prioritizing material possessions over children — Germaine Greer alluded to this in her 1985 book Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility.
Myself, I’m particularly interested in how things will pan out in Iran – although that country has an explicitly religious regime which one might expect to be strongly natalist (and was indeed strongly natalist back in the Khomeini era), it now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the Middle East (1.8 TFR).
I wonder whether that low fertility rate (if it does not increase again) will end up destroying the Islamic Republic from within, or whether Iran will have found away to reduce birth rates without fatally compromising traditional values?
@Bob – there is absolutely nothing wrong with responsible family planning done with the free choice of the specific people involved. It should never be something imposed by the government and really should not be something imposed by peer pressure.
That’s simply an opinion, Rod. The same “logic” could apply to any evironmental regulation.
Humans are generally pretty stupid. They have a long history of destroying their own civilizations.
“Creative resources”? of “incredible value”? I don’t know where you know all these wonderful people but how do you explain all the criminals, bullies, drug dealers, sociopaths, lazy parents and bratty kids? Lets face it, Most people are losers. Why would we need any more of them?
Please don’t have kids, the other 7 billion of us thank you!
“Most people are losers. Why would we need any more of them?”
Oh my word! What breathtaking arrogance. Exceeded in this case only by your narrow-minded ignorance.
The sub-text here is that you think of your self as some Nietzschen Übermensch, while the rest are Untermensch that shouldn’t exist. This sort of pathetic sophomoric rubbish that comes only from the immature, or the desperately ignorant. It has no place in this sort of discussion.
“Do you love people so much you want 20 billion of us?”
We’re not heading for 20 billion. We appear to be heading for a peak around 9-10 billion and shortly after that, very low fertility rates with a rapidly imploding population.
The limiting resources are good ideas and energy, not lebensraum or the rarer elements in the periodic table. The latter are substitutes when the former is insufficient.
More people means more human capital, more people hooking up and producing more good ideas.
You seem to be under the impression that if you can only get people to stop fucking, there will be less people, so we can just continue partying up the remaining fossil fuels and live like kings.
No, when you get to be an old fart there will be too few young people tasked with supporting the lot of you; it’s unlikely you will even get to retire, and don’t even think about getting timely and proper medical care. You can probably forget about innovation and technological progress too; that’s something predominantly young people do and they will be very highly taxed(literally and figuratively) doing everything else, having neither time or resources for R&D.
That’s not a world I want to live in. I don’t know what the “right” population level is, but I’m more worried about ~1 child per woman come 2100 than “overpopulation”.
I’ve been wondering if I’d see a post about “The Conundrum” from you. I was recently at my local library’s website, seeing if they were getting a copy of “Plentiful Energy” by Till, Chang. When I searched for it, I got a link about “The Conundrum”, so I tried to find more info about it.
The ‘summary/promotional’ material I found about it led me to strongly believe it was a book about the “need to reduce energy usage”, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find many reviews that were more useful than, “What a great book. Must read!” out on the Internet, and it didn’t seem it had been reviewed by any of the usual suspects (New York Times, L.A. Times, WaPo, ALA, etc).
Interesting to see my hunch confirmed. However, I might still spend some time reading this book. Why? Because, if the author makes a compelling case that, if you reject nuclear energy, the only other option is massive, painful cutbacks in energy use, then it seems to me that we might be able to use material from his book to MAKE THE CASE for nuclear energy.
But is it the way you use energy that matters? It does not help much to build a nuclear plant if it ends up powering a Chuck E. Cheeze – what a waste of energy just so kids can run around and eat greasy pizza. Or to power Kate’s freezers and washers because she just HAD to have 6 kids at once. Or to power a Dunkin Donuts – yeah lets use electricity and gas to make a junk food for fat people!
What are you, the lifestyle police?
..or to provide power to the computer of the likes of Bob Connor to run his mouth on subject he doesn’t have a clue about in a forum of his betters.
Watch what you wish for son, if they ever start to come for the those deemed worthless to society, you might just find yourself on the list.
lol! The irony of that comment after looking at a bowlful of unsubstantiated opinions masquerading as argument is a choker!
Here’s your own words back at you, too:
“Oh my word! What breathtaking arrogance. Exceeded in this case only by your narrow-minded ignorance. The sub-text here is that you think of your self as some Nietzschen Übermensch, while the rest are Untermensch that shouldn’t exist. This sort of pathetic sophomoric rubbish that comes only from the immature, or the desperately ignorant. It has no place in this sort of discussion.”
Thanks for the laugh 🙂
But hey – here’s some data to back up what he says:
Clearly, from a purely rational point of view, it would do the human species nothing but good to eliminate the bottom 50% of the current popultions so as to encourage positive traits.
I have always found it interesting (well, stupid is probably a better term) that humans breed everything else on the planet for excellence, but fail to do so for themselves.
After Spook’s last comment there seems little point in engaging him/her further. Spook is doing such an excellent job of self-undermining, efforts are better invested elsewhere.
I agree Craig. Pointless to argue with a troll.
Clearly you are incapable of any actual “argument”. So good riddance to you, laddie.
Although I cannot be sure’ I will hazard a guess that the owner of these pages is not going to entertain further discussion of benefits of eugenics and the “[elimination]of the bottom 50% of the current popultions so as to encourage positive traits.” This position is so morally reprehensible that it needs no debate.
Sorry for the third post, but I have a number of thoughts I’ve been thinking about this book the past few days.
In the linked interview on the Txchnologist website, DO talks about the Jevons Paradox – that as energy use becomes more efficient due to advances in technology, we increase our use of energy.
I wonder if he ever wrestles with the problem that, when you look at the whole world, even if “first world nations” reduce their energy use, we CAN’T realistically reduce energy consumption. Why not? Because people in parts of africa and asia are already using vanishingly small amounts of energy, and given the chance, they will want to increase their usage of energy.
The only way they are able to have such small energy usage isn’t because they are so concerned about the environment – it’s because they are living in abject poverty and facing starvation, exposure, and have no health care.
If it is our humanitarian goal to see everyone, everywhere, have a chance to be adequately fed, clothed, housed, and have access to medicine, we MUST increase energy usage. There’s no way around that.
That’s right, we do need energy for people to be adequately clothed, fed and housed. But I also agree with Jeff that there must be population control which would not be hard to do at all if at least American society was not so child greedy. For example, as long as there are shows promoting large families and people who get more welfare money because they have more kids then there will always be too many people.
Yes DV, I do think I should get a pat on my head for not having kids and I should actually get a foot massage for being responsible. I am paying for your kids’ schooling when I don’t have any and I will be paying for my personal care home where I will always have something to eat and because I was able to save, I don’t need your kids to pay for me.
“Yes DV, I do think I should get a pat on my head for not having kids and I should actually get a foot massage for being responsible. I am paying for your kids’ schooling when I don’t have any and I will be paying for my personal care home where I will always have something to eat and because I was able to save, I don’t need your kids to pay for me.”
You and others that think the same just don’t get it. Its not that the next generation need pay for you – they need to be manning the services and the production that you are going to buy. All of the money in the world isn’t going to help you, if there is no one to exchange it for your needs.
What little you pay to educate the next generation is paltry compared to what you are going to receive. Furthermore, I suspect that you also live in a First World country with a falling birthrate, so you are not contributing to your own upkeep when you are old by not providing a replacement for your lost productivity.
I almost choke when some childless person states that they are paying for my kids’ schooling, and think that they are hard done by, or are contributing enough. They have no idea the costs of raising children and would freak if they were assessed the real costs of the benefits that they themselves are going to get from the next generation. Because it is that generation that be running the concerns your investments and savings will getting earnings from. They are the ones that will be staffing the hospitals that you will need. In fact they will be providing you with everything that you will need.
The world is not overpopulated by any means, and this is particularly true in the First World. As for the rest, it is largely a matter of poor management and poor distribution of resources. We are a very long way from any sort of Malthusian crises.
Here yet again is another, presumably educated poster, making completely unsupported claims about cost/benefit.
The part about paying for the breeders is spot on. Breeders get “child tax credits” – a government subsidy to have kids, and inflict higher property taxes on childless households to pay for schools, bussing, etc (as opposed to a “per kid” user tax, for example), while THEY are the ones consuming most of the resources and using most of the facilities (very often exclusively.)
While it is true that SOME people need to have children to maintain function, the number does not need to continue to grow, nor would any harm come about from careful manipulation of the birthrate.
A good example is the unemployment rate. Obviously societies can still operate with as high as 20% unemployment, so it is reasonable to assume you could remove that many from the population with no ill effects, and in fact, less people means more full employment, less debt, and so on.
To say that humanity is not overpopulated on the earth is laughable, since we clearly meet that definition as applied to any other living thing we manage on the planet (a quick Google has many thousands of hits with great statistics and other data.) To think ourselves exempt from the laws of nature is the ultimate hubris.
The fact that Spook here (who sounds suspiciously like KitP) seems to think that the tax credits one gets for having a child is anything more than a drop in the bucket against the expense, demonstrates that they know almost nothing about the subject.
As for the other points, it is a huge error in thinking to see population as a global issue when the impacts are overwhelmingly local.
Poverty due to poor resource allocation is not the case in well-to-do countries despite the fact that some of those same countries have greater population densities than those where this is the case. Thus claiming that not having a child if you live in a First World nation somehow is helping to alleviate population pressure in some Third world nation is pure hubris.
Nor does the argument that the level of employment reflect a true surplus of labor have any traction. Any study of labor policy in capitalist economies clearly shows that some unemployment is maintained to keep the growth in wages in check as there is a proven link between full employment and inflation. This has been something that has been known in political economic theory for over a century.
Overpopulation concern is currently an ideological position; real overpopulation by any organism follows Malthusian principles. A simple calculation of the amount of calories and quantity of protein produced, the amount of fresh water available, and the potential living space on the planet clearly proves the issue is solely one of distribution. To claim that we have met any rational biological definition of overpopulation is what is laughably ignorant.
Finally, the argument that there can be some careful manipulation of the birthrate, demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the problem this idea seeks to solve. This is an area so fraught with so many sociopolitical, economic and practical issues that it is a virtual minefield. Anything less than the most Draconian government imaginable, pursuing policies that would have to be enforced by the threat of death could come close. Even the Chinese were less successful than they hoped with their one child policy, and God knows they weren’t squeamish about enforcement.
However to reiterate yet again: the best way to lower the birthrate in those places where it is deemed too high, is to raise the standard of living. This is the only action that has been proven effective in this matter. It should go without saying on this blog that the way to accomplish that is to first provide cheap, abundant energy from which all else can follow.
It is typical of a selfish, self-justifying individual to not believe that a contrary point of view can be had by a plurality of citizens.
Clearly when one is speaking about purely local population issues (e.g. particular tax schemes), one is not talking about affecting global population pressures. Still, just as polluting and destruction of the planet rest with each individual to some extent, so to to the opposities. Responsible behavior should be encouraged in each locality.
Humans, and the other species of animals on this planet (all of which have at least equal value to humans), are not bacteria in a petri dish, so your bare calculations of calories and water intake are not all that can be or should be considered.
As to the costs you incur in giving birth and raising a child – my point is that you, and you alone, having chosen to breed, should bear all costs associated with that choice, and not expect the rest of the political subdivision you live in to do so. Once again I point out that your various claims of meeting a social duty are unsupported by any factual data, and so are highly suspect.
The fact that you claim the problem is to complex for you to grasp, and thus too difficult for you to solve is the only readily agreeable statement you have made. Fortunately, you do not speak for the rest of us in that regard.
It is typical of a selfish, self-justifying individual to not believe that a contrary point of view can be had by a plurality of citizens.
This is exactly the kind of comment that will get you voted off of the island. Having children and raising them to be contributing members of society is far from a selfish act. It is a huge vote of confidence in the future and an investment in the proper functioning of human society for generations to come.
You made a comment somewhere else that indicated that you think that all other creatures on earth are equally as valuable as humans. That is an opinion that is not substantiated by any evidence whatsoever. Only humans have the ability to reason, to make tools, and to improve upon their shared store of knowledge. Those characteristics add substantially to their value.
Spook, everything I have written is simple basic economics, and simple truths that have been known for a very long time.
I have had this discussion on several other occasions and eventually someone someone arguing against always makes the same mistake that you just did, because they really haven’t given the subject much thought.
“As to the costs you incur in giving birth and raising a child – my point is that you, and you alone, having chosen to breed, should bear all costs associated with that choice, and not expect the rest of the political subdivision you live in to do so. Once again I point out that your various claims of meeting a social duty are unsupported by any factual data, and so are highly suspect.”
The first statement is exactly what is happening in the same less developed economies where there is indeed a greater than optimum birthrate. There is no broad support for the next generation, or support for those in old age. Consequently the only rational option for these parents is to have more children both to exploit the labor these kids represent and to create a people that will care for them directly in their old age.
In developed economies on the other hand it is recognized that the next generation is an investment of the whole society – that is why things like public schools came into being in the first place. In exchange, we have also created a system whereby responsibly for the non-productive old is spread somewhat equally among members of the following generation. This is how the system works, and yes those that do not have there own children are expected to contribute, as are those like myself despite the fact that my kids are in their late twenties, and haven’t been a financial burden to me for over a decade.
This is the way the system works, and at this point you need only open your eyes and look around to see the truth of it. In fact you have presented absolutely no arguments what soever to counter what I have wrote here and above, only vague ideological positions which do not address what is happening on the ground. Tautological statements like: “Responsible behavior should be encouraged in each locality.” and, “…humans, are not bacteria in a petri dish,” simply do not offer any counter argument at all.
But what is in your words, “…typical of a selfish, self-justifying individual” is sanctimoniously defending their unwillingness to have children on one hand in the name of population control, and simultaneously declaring they should not contribute to the next generation on the other while fully expecting to enjoy the advantages of living in a society where that same group of people will care for them when they are old and infirm.
Because this is the way things are, the burden of proof is on you if you expect to justify change, not me.
Since it is so “simple” and “basic”, then you shouldn’t have any problem at all posting some citation for your assertions – since that’s what your statements so far have been for the most part, although you seem to think the rest of us will mistake them for facts.
I understand your propositions – which you have the duty to demonstrate proof for, by the way ([www]nizkor.org/features/fallacies/burden-of-proof.html), but you also fail to address any of the points of argument raised concerning the rather obvious flaws in your thinking regarding populations and the minimal numbers required for function.
You have also repeatedly failed to answer the direct question put to you which was essentially: “Why should there be more people than there needs to be to get things done?”
You also seem adept at putting words into other people’s mouths, and attributing beliefs and motivations to them without any evidence – unsurprising since you seem loathe to work with actual facts and data. For example, I do not mind supporting society in general – I DO mind that you receive a government subsidy for breeding, and that you are not being directly taxed on each kid for your choices, which impose upon, and limit resources for the rest of us.
By the way, the system clearly does not “work” – in case you haven’t been paying attention to the world financial crisis – due in no small part to the fallacies inherent in your simplistic analysis. You don’t even have a firm number of how many people you claim it will take to “care for [me] when [I] am old and infirm”, or what education levels they need, much less any rational analysis of how you reach any such conclusions.
Here is some further reading on the topic of human overpopulation – it’s clear you could benefit from it:
Generally I would leave the above alone as it shows you making a proper fool of yourself, and neatly demolishes your own argument.
However you also chose to invoke the rhetorical concept of Burden of Proof as it applies to the Appeal to Ignorance, and I always get a didactic urge to correct those that fling about the concepts of formal debate without knowing what they mean.
Proof in this case falls to the premise major, which is that you pay taxes to support the children of others, and the premise minor that you receive no benefit from this. In a purely formal sense then the burden of proof properly belongs to you, since you asserted them.
Since the premise minor includes a term such that the statement is false if the term has no instances, (that is if I can show there is some benefit accrued) therefore all I have to do is provide one example where this is the case. To wit: future generations will provide for you by their very existence through maintaining the continuity of society. Which in fact you agreed with in your Jan 16, 4:26 PM reply.
As well I did provide a rational analysis, with examples, and again since this is a debate, the onus is now on you to demonstrate that my examples are false by providing counterexamples. Thus I need not prove my argument since it was framed to falsify yours.
Furthermore your call for hard facts and data are premature in this instance since you have not yet established a logical argument to support your initial contentions.
In other words it is improper to demand that I provide proof of my counterargument until you have established proof of yours (if indeed the argument hinges on fact, rather than logic)
Proof in this case does not consist of links to a collection of pages reasserting opinions similar to your own, but indeed hard data that is free of ideological bias.
Wow…an actually advocate of ‘genocide’. Never thought I’d see one on the list.
““Why should there be more people than there needs to be to get things done?”
And who decides what is more people and what is the criteria for “needs to get things done?” What does that even mean?
Interestingly, it is not Africa that is ‘overpopulated’ but, the UK, which has to import most of it’s food. Who exactly is ‘getting something done’…the subsistance farmer in Kenya who, *through their own labor* is feeding the family, or, as *I personally consider it* the Harvard MBA whose only job it is for the shuffling of paper, the buying companies to dismantle and sell for profit? Who is the real “parasite”? The Harvard MBA is likely to have *fewer children* but who will like grow up to also contribute *nothing* (I’m using my own selfish, subjective and irrelevant criteria here as Spook does) to “get things done”.
The Negative Population Growth group is a faith-based organization who believes if there are fewer people, “all that wealth goes to me” kind of selfish stupidity.
Without massive amounts of clean energy, population will outgrow resources. More energy, more democracy, higher energy output, lower population growth. This happens almost everywhere.
We at least have to start with this understanding before things like ‘population growth’ truly effect resources (the majority of which we don’t know the extent of but could, if we had…more energy to employ in prospecting for resources and deploying new techniques for utilization of atomic energy technologies).
This advocate of genocide brings to mind a line from E.E ‘Doc’ Smith’s Second Stage Lensmen
“There speaks the sheer folly of callow youth; the rashness of an ignorance so abysmal as to be possible only to one of your ephemeral race…”
— Gharlane of Eddore
since clearly this posts by Spook are the ravings someone not far beyond the stage of childhood, if indeed he has even reached this stage as yet.
@Bob – I wonder about your choices for entertainment.
Your choice not to have children was yours to make, but I wonder who you would be paying to take care of you if some of us did not make a different choice. I would hope that you can understand that the care would be pretty poor if we did not have a reasonably good public education system that offered the opportunity for all people to develop skills that could be useful in medicine, food production, food distribution, construction, law enforcement, emergency responders, and countless of other professions that allow our society to function reasonable comfortably (though there is obviously much room for improvement.)
People are resources. Their creative efforts are what make our time on earth as comfortable as it is. Try going out and living in the “natural” world with access to abundant raw materials for a while.
Didn’t Japan become the robotics capital of the world partly because the Japanese were worried about how they’d care for all their elderly without an ample supply of young workers (as Japanese birth rates are low, and Japanese culture doesn’t tolerate immigration)?
That’s about the size of it George.
You can have no child and have as many as you want that may not be your own ultimately. This is a personal life decision and there are no right or wrong answer.
And all this wealth that the Northern hemisphere has accumulated has also made way for international adoption which is a sign of detachment and enlightenment. Humanity has made a step forward by having the wealthy adopt the needy.
Yes it is a personal life decision and there are no right or wrong answer. If you can’t afford to have children, or you are suffering some health problem you don’t want to pass on, or some other rational reason, so be it. But it is a decision that has clear social and economic impacts and those cannot be waved away by claiming that you are doing the overpopulated world a favor by not having kids.
Adoption is a more than acceptable alternative, but strangely enough, few that expect kudos for not breeding do. Mostly adoption is done by those that can’t have their own children. But I take it, having invoked this idea, you are planning to be adopting soon.
Symmetry is a phenomenon seldom witnessed in nature. And so it is with the world’s population.
In Liban and Chile, and many other countries, 50% of the population is below 25. Except for the US, all the ‘civilized’ countries will be hit by the retirement wave.
The cure for these countries will be immigration and adoption. Most have adopted these avenues, except for Japan and Germany, who wish to remain ‘pure’ all the way to extinction.
One clarification: the US has plenty of young talent lined up to take over the retirees. This is not the case in the other ‘northern’ countries.
I still think us people without the kids are doing the world a lot of good. I heard that when a parent has a child, the carbon footprint of that parent increases by a factor of 6. How can that not be a lot of damage? Now Kate had 6 kids at once so her carbon score went up by x36 in one day! Along with the 2 girls they had and themselves, Jon and Kate use as much carbon as 50 people! How is that something to celebrate and be happy about? Maybe its me and I don’t like a crowded store or airport but how are we not overpopulated? Nuclear power will help with all the washers and freezers J and K use but what about the vans these families drive to soocer, piano lessons, the school musical, the school bus that all run on oil? Save the planet, learn to live without the kids.
I think your numbers could do with a bit of unpacking there, Bob. Perhaps examining the assumptions which go into them could shine some light. Anyway, the ‘carbon footprint’ will only remain relevent so long as carbon dioxide is a major by-product of energy production. It doesn’t have to be.
Except that since there are only a few electric cars out there and most will run on petroleum in the future, a large family with kids will use up a lot more hydrocarbons than for example a senior adult. They travel a lot more. Not to mention all the plastic toys (Playskool) kids today have. Actually, Nuclear power might help the senior more because they use more lighting in their personal care home they spend more time in. Hopefully, Jon and Kate don’t cook, heat, or dry clothes electrically as I think that is a terrible waste, much better to use natural gas. There is still a lot of carbon dioxide when you have a lot of kids.
Bob, you need to provide some credible numbers, otherwise it’s just hearsay. As for cooking and heating with natgas being less CO2 intensive than electricity from a nuclear plant, you’re deluding yourself.
Craig you are right. I am thinking more if electricity came from a natural gas fired plant it would be a terrible waste of gas. Correct me if I am wrong but if they burn gas in a power plant for electricity, about 50% of the heat from the gas goes up the chimney. So to run an electric range it would take twice as much gas as to run a gas range. Since the most energy consuming appliances in a house are the furnace, water heater, range and dryer if you have gas it would make sense to use gas. As for the carbon score, it seems to make sense. I also know that 2/3 of a nuclear plant’s heat goes in the river (because there is no chimney). How can that not be a waste?
Bob, your thinking on this is hopelessly confused. For instance, who cares if nuclear plant waste heat ends up in the river? The fuel supply is vast beyond ordinary conception, and the CO2 emissions miniscule. #0-40% efficiency is stock standard for thermal plants, and if you’re burning the gas at home, it’s still being burned, still adding CO2. I’m not sure if I want to spend the time it would take to untangle these matters. Others may be of more assistance here.
January 16, 2012 | 1:22 AM
“Bob, your thinking on this is hopelessly confused. For instance, who cares if nuclear plant waste heat ends up in the river?”
The creatures who live in, and/or depend on that river, as well as those people who live along it.
That’s an oversimplification anyway, since you gloss over the processes that allow that to happen, which are often themselves harmful.
Spoken like someone who doesn’t have kids.
Believe me, my father and his wife (two retired “senior adults”) travel a lot more than my family does. My wife’s father and his wife (two more retired “senior adults”) travel a lot more than my family does.
See, they have plenty of money and relatively few expenses, so the spend it on travel.
Bob should get out more instead of spending so much time alone watching bad reality TV shows.
Spook, the heating of river water by a couple of degrees along a small stretch is not a major environmental issue, certainly not when compared to the pollution resulting from coal. In fact as often as not, it likely boosts the biological productivity of that stretch of water.
What processes am I glossing over here? if you have a specific complaint, make it.
Mostly the pumping stations and exchanges tend to cause fishkill, and I do not agree that a rise of 14′ is trivial at the volume used by power plants. I do agree that many issues can be addressed by engineering, but I do not agree that companies and corporations can be trusted to implement the best polices (since their track record is dismal).
Got Water? Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Water Needs (Union of Concerned Scientists – [www] ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_technology/got-water-nuclear-power.html )
Download: Got Water? Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Water Needs
For every three units of energy produced by the reactor core of a U.S. nuclear power plants, two units are discharged to the environment as waste heat. Nuclear plants are built on the shores of lakes, rivers, and oceans because these bodies provide the large quantities of cooling water needed to handle the waste heat discharge.
“Got Water? explains the cooling water needs of nuclear power plants and describes the various methods used to meet those needs. In addition, this 14-page illustrated backgrounder summarizes some of the problems nuclear power plants have encountered when the insatiable cooling water needs were unmet.”
Additionally, I found this article germane
(forgive me – I noticed when I directly post links that the post disappears):
I thought you might be alluding to this alleged fish kill business. They’re talking about minute crustaceans, roe, and microorganisms. The tiny amounts involved are not a relevent factor for the ecology of rivers. Frankly, any alternative will be much more harmful. By attempting to block nuclear power, the anti-nuclear side is promoting worse, more damaging options.
So what you are saying – without specifying a particular ecology, I notice – is that it is perfectly OK to kill whatever living creatures (including “minute crusteceans” which are food, and “roe” which are baby fishes) exist in a volume of 2,000,000 gpm while the plant is running? That’s a position that I think is fairly unsympathetic.
The fact that a fossil-fuel plant might do the same or worse does not sound like a forward-moving argument to me.
@Spook – You are quickly making yourself unwelcome here, but for the time being I will simply warn you against taking too aggressive a pose or dismissing the arguments of knowledgable people merely because they do not provide a wealth of links to that kind of ideologically oriented reference material that you seem to favor. Arguments that rest on logic and observation of the real world tend to be quite welcome here.
Comparing alternatives is also welcome because there is no decision that comes without consequences. If you fight to shut down Indian Point because you want to protect minute crustaceans and roe, you have to recognize that something else is going to have to provide the 16 billion kilowatt hours per year that the plant provides and that those kilowatt hours need to be produced exactly when the customer wants them, not at some weather imposed schedule.
That means that the replacement power for Indian Point will be either coal, natural gas, or oil or some combination of the three. Hydro resources in New York are already fully used and there is no other “renewable” that can provide reliable electricity.
Therefore, shutting down Indian Point without a replace nuclear plant means that not only will you still need just as much cooling water and kill just as many crustaceans and roe, but you will also exacerbate the air pollution issues that have a detrimental effect on the health of people and the environment downwind of the plant. You will also have to accept the injection of another 10-20 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year depending on the balance of the fossil fuel sources that are burned to replace the fission that you have eliminated.
Spook, have you ever disinfected your kitchen bench, or washed your hands after a visit to the toilet? I should hope you have on occasion done both these things… although it does reveal a somewhat unsympathetic stance toward the numberless microscopic victims of your casual massacres.
Indeed I have.
Then again, I do not use the rivers and streams of my State as a toilet, which is apparently a novel concept.
Really? So where does your waste stream end up? Anyway, water is not an essential heat sink for nuclear plants. It’s just the most economical one at the moment. Air-cooled reactors are possible, and at least one major company is presently working on an air-cooled variant of its new design.
This is not being done to address the minute effects caused by raising the temperature of a river a degree or two (a much more accurate estimate than your previous 14 degrees). It is being done so nuclear power can be provided to regions without abundant water supplies.
Brian, even if your parents travel a lot I do not see that a senior uses as much resources as a parent. For example, across the street from me are a family with a teen and 3 young kids. They have 2 SUVs and a minivan they are always driving the to lessons, McDonalds, Chuck E. Cheeze (talk about a place that is a waste of energy),dates, always shopping, using wasteful things like Pampers and their front yard is furnished by Playskool (all that plastic). If you add up all the miles I wonder if your parents have less. And they are having a lot more fun with their miles than the parents are.
As I previously mentioned, I agree that many issues can be addressed via good engineering, and I support those efforts.
However, it is clear you are not paying proper attention since the water temperature values are not “mine”, but are factual as directly cited to in my post above (as opposed to your completely hypothetical ones.)
If you have some factual data in support of your claims relative to temperatures, please post the links. I realize each situs will have a large number of variables.
The UCS article is refering to the water temperature when first discharged. I refer to the overall temperature increase along a river or in a lake, and I’ve likely overestimated it.
Is it just me or is anyone else wondering what the hell Bob Connor has against Chuck E. Cheese?
I’m guessing that some sort of traumatic event during childhood is involved, but I’m no psychiatrist.
Obviously, he harbors some sort of unnatural animosity against his neighbors, and there are hints of additional antisocial tendencies.
Bob, I suggest that you seek some counseling.
Brian, I was trying to think of some ways that people waste energy that don’t really have any benefit and the first thing I could think of was powering a Chuck E. Cheeze because all they are is a playground that makes grease on a crust they call a pizza. Oh, and by the way, I do go to counseling for something else and I told the counselor about your response. Turns out there is a CEC a block from her office and she agrees with me and can’t stand the place either. No, there was no trauma, as we did not get a CEC until I was a teen and would not be caught dead in one. Now I guess if you and your kids enjoy CEC I have nothing against that but you could probably save a lot of energy and have better food if you made your own pizza at home. But I thought people here were smart enough to do something more enjoyable than to be around a bunch of screaming brats eating grease and now I am disappointed in you, Brian.
In many ways Rod’s essay is the crux of all energy problems we are as a species are confronted with.
The anti-nukes/pro-renewable crowd have convinced themselves that “we use too much”.
I’m looking at the converse of what Rods states. I look at the 2.5 billion people with NO electricity; who cook over cow dung, who heat their homes with charcoal. If you look at the world, the amount of energy we use…all of us, is too little not too much. We need more not less energy.
By buying into the ‘conundrum’ thesis of “we used too much”is not an answer to climate change and sustainability, it’s a race to join those burning the cow dung and charcoal. It’s a race to poverty and certainly condemns those who are already there to living in it for the rest of their lives.
Actually, it’s an argument for genocide, as the Haber-Bosch process would most likely be a thing of the past in a renewables-only world!
That depends who you mean by “we”. The nations which created our current energy-using technologies have enough. Those which lagged behind (and often failed even to properly operate plants built with development aid) are the ones in deep poverty, both energy and otherwise. They lack energy mostly because they lack human capital (with a few exceptions which prove the rule, like North Korea).
The nations which created our current technologies have enough for the moment, but nowhere near enough for a post-fossil fuel industrial economy, when water, nitrate fertilisers and liquid fuels will have to be synthesised using baseload electricity.
I was being more cautious in terminology. Essentially it’s the same thing now: poverty leads to genocide.
We cannot ignore the high correlation between energy consumption (electricity) and wealth of a civilisation.
Electricity allows for comfort, better health care, security, food preservation etc. All Maslow’s bottom of the pyramide type of needs that must be fulfilled before we get to higher preoccupations and ultimately to pursuing the betterment of ourselves.
As civilisations get more cheap energy to have their basic ‘hygiene factors’ needs fulfilled, maybe we could move on and get away from wars based on race, religions or resources.
Are the huge biological entities, mightiest of all on this planet, known as nation-states, willing to give up their high-energy metabolisms and resume reliance on natural energy flows? Perhaps some are, but if one is not, that one will succeed and expand until it has reshaped the world in its image, and we’ll be back here again.
Unless of course, the state(s) in question make one exception to their eschewing of non-renewable energy, by retaining nuclear weapons to prevent conquest.
And even without anti-nuclear-power countries making an exception for nuclear weapons, there’s a problem with your logic, as it would suggest that the countries of Africa (and of other regions where little energy is used) would still be under colonial rule. 😉
The African countries went from being European colonies to superpower playthings. The colonies were lost in the wake of the Second World War, which reduced European nations to penury for many years and stripped them of Great Power status. This transformation supports my contention. The superpowers led the affairs of the continent after the old European powers lost the ability to project overwhelming force.
Merkel’s party has not won an election (regional – municipal) in ages in Germany.
Now, to attract public sympathies, Poland and Netherlands have been warned as immediate neighbours that nuclear plants are not to be built so close to the ‘pure country’.
However, the same german companies whose plants are being shut down at home are still allowed to push nuclear projects in countries that are ‘reasonably’ far away.
Sometimes I wonder how our leaders can keep a straight face. Surely Merket is not that stupid. Yet ….
If I were in charge in Poland I’d build a nuke plant right on the German border just to shove their folderol back in their ugly faces. Germany has no jurisdiction over Polish territory or energy policy, unless they want to go the 1939 Hitler route again. We know how well that turned out for them.
In Taiwan, incumbent Ma just won the presidential race with 51% of the vote.
The main opposition got 45% of the votes, stood against nuclear energy and for the tearing down all nuclear plants immediately.
Nobody is reporting this last piece of information and I thought it is important.
Kirk Sorensen just made it to TED.com
Not a bad place to be.
Here is the link:
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