DeVita Saves The World Complete

A Better Scenario for a Sustainable Earth

Analysis, prediction, and propositions from DeVita

Part 1

There are pharmaceuticals in the ground water, and what water there is disappearing; the oceans are clogged with plastic which is killing sea life great and small; the easy oil has been gone since the 1970s and we’re petroleum dependent on a thinning supply; amphibians are dying everywhere; if everyone on earth lived as Americans do we would need 50 Earths to supply them.  OK, we get it, there are too many of us; we’ve pooped in our own bed too long and something has to be done.

But what?

Currently, the inheritors of the Enlightenment are working on the problem, but it should give us pause that much of our misery stems from Enlightenment values and perspectives.  Science is a product of the Enlightenment; the idea that every human life is sacred is; the notion that the collective has an interest in the life of the individual is.

These themes carried us through the Industrial, Post Industrial and Post-Postmodern periods to today.  They are responsible for medical miracles, humans on the moon, facebook.  They are also responsible for the rapid spread of disease, deep rooted pollution of the ecosystem and the depletion of soil and degradation of water, the totally wired human, government databanks of our DNA.  The vision of the Enlightenment, science in all life’s quarters and government as god on earth caring for the souls of the flock, hasn’t been an unqualified success.  Letting the approach that caused the problem design the fix the problem might not be prudent.

Still, things are going to hell; we can’t just do nothing, can we?

As any bureaucrat or doctor can tell you, doing nothing might be the best thing when everything else either has failed or will certainly fail.  The system we have, even under the code of laws, even with Nanny Government, is social stratification and exploitation of the least by the greatest.  Say what you like, global corporations might no longer slaughter like the East India Company did, nor frequently make war on each other as the capitalist nations did in their early history, but this is still the same world it was before humans.  The great eat the small, the strong inform the weak, and in many places one earns one’s right even to live by negotiating the opportunities created and controlled by those with more power.  Human history is a story of conflict and alliance, disease and warfare, famine and slavery, and as a result, we are cunning, resilient, exquisitely adaptable animals.

Continuing with the system we have now has a couple of quick advantages:

1.  The problem is self-limiting.  When the oil is gone the system will die back.  We can perhaps replace oil as an energy source, with fusion or wind/solar/renewable energy but completely replacing it as a source of plastic and other compounds would be very difficult.  Non-petroleum sources of plastic require petroleum to grow, harvest and process.  Oil provides a very concentrated amount of energy or large amount of raw materials very readily; solar, wind, and biomass won’t easily replace it.  That doesn’t mean don’t try, it means be realistic about the outcome. Eventually the fuels and lubricants which powered the Industrial and Space Ages will diminish.

2. It comes easy, fitting both our history and our propensities.

3. It got us where we are, which is everywhere.

4. Doing anything else will be difficult and probably foolhardy, since no one has ever successfully brought about the future as they choose it; some change happens, but not what we thought.

5.  Doing nothing already keeps us busy full time.

There are some disadvantages to nothing, though, such as aperiodic but increasingly frequent mass killings through war or disease or famine or natural disasters.  The environment also suffers, (relative to the needs of life on Earth right now, though of course new species will arise that like breathing hydrocarbons and munching on Roundup.)

The alternative proposed by the U.N. and “environmentalists” and public servants everywhere, is to reshape humans, reframe our relationship to the land, change expectations in terms of housing, transportation, employment.  To be clear, corporations continue to have their influence, but profit is what they need, it doesn’t matter how it comes.  Don’t like cheap, heat producing light bulbs?  We’ll happily sell expensive, high tech LED lights.  Outlaw one thing and something else will become available.  We enjoy viewing government as controlling or opposing corporations, and sometimes they do, but more often corporations use government regulation to reduce competition. Always, in every nation except perhaps North Korea, government and business are old fellows.

Here, very briefly, is the agenda of the New Enlightenment:

Sustainability through a complex system of distribution, carbon trade-offs and technology

A reduction in negative environmental impacts

Reduced resource extraction but increased processing

Renewable, “bio-cycled” or recyclable goods

Energy efficiency

Reduction in violence and war

Equitable distribution of food and water

Human equality

A dandy list, to be sure.  Accomplishing these goals, whether with the cooperation or the opposition, of global corporations, is a formidable task.  In the real world, though, we tend to want what others have.  There have long been cell phones and satellite TV in very poor and remote places.  Those are relatively energy efficient; indoor cooking, sanitary waste disposal, tractors, a family car; the energy cost increases swiftly.  Besides, the problem, honestly, isn’t the lowest rung on the global class, it’s the upper middle; Americans, Europeans, the 2nd world nations like Brazil.  The farther your food supply is from where you live, the more likely you are to be dependent on the very practices which deplete the environment.  The farther from 20-60 degrees north you live, the farther from seas, lakes and large rivers, rivers, the more expensive your lifestyle likely is.  Techno-food has increased productivity, but at heavy price and we increasingly struggle to keep our monocrops from infestation as we struggle to keep toxic metals from building up in the soil and ground water.  The Earth is so torn in many places it is impossible to live through traditional, subsistence means.  Ultimately, it is the environment that pays the cost.  Our trick as humans used to be to cope with nature, and hope she didn’t kill us through starvation or pestilence.   Our skill was to live in a way that was benefited by the normal working of the natural systems.  After the Enlightenment, nature worked for humankind.  We enjoyed a brief, few hundred year burst of growth, but at a very heavy price, the value of which we still fail to learn.

In human groups, populations are controlled a number of ways.  Very likely there have always been humans who weren’t allowed, or weren’t successful enough, to reproduce.  War and even genocide is always a popular way of controlling the ratio of productive land to the population of your group.  People need food, shelter, and clean water.  Increasingly it is seen that they need basic medical care to prevent unnecessary death or disability due to simple things: a lack of iodine; lack of vitamin C; chronic infection, and reproductive choice.  Without these things, people die who otherwise would have lived.

The current wisdom suggests a way out: increase technology to reduce energy use; restrict humans to population zones and structure human cities and buildings to minimize negative impacts; provide basic life needs and basic education to everyone; foster a pro-community approach so people learn to share and the wealthy nations properly reimburse the resource rich but economically poor nations.  Population is controlled through choice and education.  Eventually, everything is recyclable or renewable; buildings make their own power; people use mass transportation.  Resources are distributed fairly; governments are democratic and pluralistic.

global population growth estimates

Global population growth estimates Chart: Population Growth Projects from the U.N. (Wiki) It might go up, it might stay the same, it might go down.  Not unlike the product of a Magic 8 Ball; ask again later.

Very little of that is purely in the nature of people.  Left alone, people will cooperate and dispute and at some point, when there conditions are right, make war.  The weak will perish and the strong will have children who survive.  The powerful don’t care to share; the wealthy want the best for the least; people distinguish among themselves on the social algebra of in group/out group and some people are more valued than others, and when the conditions are right, well, of course they make war.  It’s just possible that people won’t cooperate with a grand scheme.

Clearly, curbing humankind’s basest proclivities of greed, dominance and discrimination, not to mention the propensities to breed like rabbits, when the conditions are right, is going to take some mighty power indeed.  In the gospel of Post Enlightenment liberals, that power comes from bureaucrats, people schooled in the appropriate techniques and the approved methods.  There has been a consistent creep towards government intervention around the globe, made possible by the computer chip and the ease with which information is gathered and stored. An enormous army of professionals, all trained in the appropriate perspective, pries into our water usage, our treatment of our children and our spouse, our use of land and sea resources, and on and on thoroughly webbing our lives, and “sustainability” will only mean more of such bureaucrats.

Hunter-gatherers lived a grand life for several hundred thousand years (hunter gatherers still work less than any other life type) but eventually gave in to the siren song of stationary life and agriculture, which made food surpluses possible and bureaucrats necessary and the city was born.  There are conflicting thoughts as to how keen the transition from wandering to staying put as a way to get food, but a clear distinction between hunter gatherer people, even those who do some farming, is ownership.  Staying put allows accumulation.  As human organization proceeds the bureaucracy, measuring, monitoring, registering, reporting, managing, grows with the effort.

It’s hard to imagine the New Enlightenment response to overpopulation and the shrinking planet without a massive, highly indoctrinated and certified, army of bureaucrats and literally millions of laws and codes and rules and regulations for them to administer as humankind moves toward maxing out the thin crust and precious water of our home planet.

The rise of the city gave us war; we fought before that, but the city gave us the professional soldier, the bureaucrat, the priest, the whore.  Cities have been killing themselves off by exhausting the resources in their radius of influence and polluting their resources since cities began.  Wealth and political power are concentrated in the city, and cities construct elaborate lines of supply and distribution to manage their populations.  Cities drain distal lands of water and food, and often, the young, of rural places.  The current proposal would see the city grow in population as services are centralized, transportation is reduced, energy is supposedly saved.  The current proposal would have twelve or more billion of us living in cities and population areas, hopefully leaving enough natural earth to filter water and clean air.   Some believe the global population rate will level off, partly because of widely available birth control, partly because of education, and party because people typically have fewer children when they are well enough off to support themselves in old age, instead of relying on children.  Others believe there is no natural population control built in to humans, and we are going to have to take some steps to force the population to level off.

No innate population control mechanism is indicated; like most critters, humans reproduce whenever and as much as context dictates.  Social context often dictates that some people can’t afford to reproduce; environmental and external factors dictate birth rate much more.  Human populations fluctuate constantly; sometimes a decade of good weather increases the population; sometimes a global plague reduces it by 50%, as has happened a couple of times in history.  When children die young, women have more children.  When there is a war, births drop.  Global management of population, as was noted, will require a global program with lots of cops.

We need only turn to China, whose 33 year old 1 child policy has been generally successful.  Originally applying only to ethnic Han Chinese who live in urban areas but now in practice everywhere, the program rewards families for having only one child, and essentially taxes them for more.  There does seem to be a certain amount of female infanticide and abandonment, but in general the people of China continue to support the program, which some suggest have curtailed China’s growth rate about 200 million, though there is reason to believe that is not true.  It is possible that the 1 child rule hasn’t made that much of a difference over all.  The population growth rate is determined by many complex factors, and even something as significant as government mandate doesn’t always impact the rate in the way intended.

So, the environment is in the dumper; inequality and human misery are wide spread; we consume far more energy than we can replace; our population is growing in fits and starts, but it continues to grow.  The bureaucrats at the UN are using the same witchcraft and value system to fix the problem as created the problem.  Doesn’t anyone have a better idea?

Part 2

The discussion so far has modeled the larger global discussion in which we are coming to the realization that we have to manage our population and our resource use.  The current view holds that it is not too late if we begin now.  There is another view, which I more closely share, which says it is already too late, our resource use in the last 300 years and our blooming population have already swamped Earth’s resilience.

world energy consuption tverberg

Fossil fuel use since 1820 from here: http://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/03/12/world-energy-consumption-since-1820-in-charts/

Our dilemma is clear even to the most avid television viewer.  The problem of population and resource use is very old; Plato discussed the problem; Malthus gave us the language to talk about the problems in 1798; in 1968, Garrett Hardin gave us “The Tragedy of the Commons”.

The current proposal for the next five hundred years of human inhabitation of Earth calls for humans to live in hives, take public transportation, eat only plants, recycle everything and buy new, buy less and set “nature” aside to clean air and water and remind us of how free humans once lived.  Population growth rate would gradually be reduced until a sustainable maximum has been reached; it would be reached through a combination of social values, individual education, and government incentives.  Most people will be monitored and medicated and live a long productive life.

What?  Population growth rate will be zeroed out but people will live long lives?  Then few will be born.  Or, if few are born many will die or be discarded before maturity.  There is no magic in science that can change population; the population at time “b” is the population at time “a” plus those who were born, minus those who died.

We might, using technology, laws and cultural change, reduce how many resources each uses, but not that simple equation.  Indeed, what technology is telling us is that even the “plus births minus deaths” equation isn’t very predictive.  During the reproductive life-span of about 30 years for women and 45 for men each couple in the world would need to limit their reproduction to two, plus a percentage of a child which would represent those who failed to produce their offspring, or to replace children who die before reproductive maturation (about 14 years old).

The problem is, populations are difficult to accurately measure even when the central government keeps careful records of births and deaths.  There are many, many factors which control population, and some, like China’s famines, dramatically reduce population (deaths are estimated at 10-43 million) but populations quickly come back.  “Population” refers to a rolling number which is produced from complex factors, some of which are attributable, but many of which are not at all apparent.  Even when the cause of a change in population can be identified, there is often no action which can be taken to effectively compensate, and so population drops and rises.

In short, actually maintaining a steady sustainable equilibrium of human population and resource use is an astonishingly complex task.  In nature, human populations reach equilibriums that require aperiodic but relatively frequent deaths due famine, disease, or climate change.  The populations fluctuated, sometimes broadly, always relying on a tension with the environment to achieve a broadly steady state.  Even then, no system worked forever, and forever is how long we’re talking about.  We’re reaching the point of collapse on several measures; if we remedy some and others aren’t as bad as we feared, the remainder will profoundly change our world and millions or billions will suffer.  A steady state system controlled by laws and governments will necessarily have to contend with more internal forces on reproduction than external, given the hypothesis that we can achieve sustainable levels.  “Sustainable” means forever.  That’s quite a boast.

Further, Europe and, increasingly, the rest of the world has been practicing population control for several hundred years.  Encouraging more live births, preventing childhood diseases, widespread sanitation infrastructure, medical care for the elderly; all of these have been population control strategies, and they’ve worked great; we are overpopulated perhaps to the point of no return.

“Natural” methods of reducing and maintaining population are typically very cruel.  One might think that a lack of food would mean that people would have fewer children, but frequently fertility rates are high during long duration famines.  It’s been suggested that the Black Death, most specifically the global plague of the 14th Century, reduced the population of Europe by a half to a third, with some places being cleared of people completely. Asia and the Middle East suffered similarly. Whole families were lost; in some cities people died at the rate of more than a thousand a day.  With European populations so dramatically reduced, it took between 150 and 250 years for it to recover.  Forest once again covered much of Europe and bears wolves returned.  In short, though terribly hard on humans, nature knew what to do about human overpopulation, and it was very good for the environment.

The Great Plague (there have been many great plagues in history) arrived by ship at a time when hunger was wide spread due a prolonged change in weather, and populations were high.  It hit the shipping centers first, then proceeded to the major cities where it was devastating.  Attempts to prevent contamination were thwarted by the cities’ dependence on imported food.  People fled infected areas, bringing the disease with them and hastening its spread.

Now, fast forward seven hundred years.  Ships are bigger, travel faster, and go to more places.  Cars, trucks, buses and trains have improved on the donkey cart.  Airplanes span the globe in hours, not weeks or months.  Further, medical science attacked disease at the most basic level, and for about a hundred years people have lived who would have died of disease before.  More and broader movement of people mean wider outbreak; swifter travel means a more sudden rise in infection rates.  The widespread use of antibiotics have given us super bugs, and tuberculosis, which once spread and killed quickly, that is resistant to most common antibiotics.  New antibiotics are slow in coming because the low hanging fruit, like penicillin, is gone.  New techniques, such as using viruses to kill bacteria or introducing genetically altered organisms into the pathogen gene pool, push our attack against microbial killers even further into the essence of disease-host relationship and likely prepare us for a new and even worse reaction from the little killers, who, after all, have millions of lifetimes to our one; millions of lifetimes to change and adapt to our methods.

In short, a pandemic is inevitable; nature knows how to deal with human overpopulation.  Unless we do something drastic, death will again be common, and as before, we will not have the tools to deal with it.

We’ll pause in the effort to turn history into the future to note that many good things came from the plague of the 14th century, including, eventually, the Enlightenment itself.  The life of the common person improved in most places after the plague, and the idea of the common man as his own master was returned, eventually, as a result of the increased value each worker had in the market.  It improved to the point that the government had to pass laws so commoners wouldn’t dress above their station.  See, a silver lining, life got better after the population plummeted; a silver lining, and a lesson, too.  Yet another downside: the labor shortage after the plague and the resulting increase in the cost of workers drove early industrial design of machines to replace humans.

Plagues change history; they are unavoidable. Still, some factors favor plague and some discourage it.  Swift and distant travel; densely populated areas.  Clearly, there is only one way to reduce our burden on the environment and avoid a global pandemic.  We have to dramatically reduce global population and decentralize power and political influence.  In short, we have to reverse the trend of the last 11,000 years.  But, we can’t go backward for several reasons.

The extreme degradation of the environment means that now even many, remote, self-staining hunter gatherer and nomadic groups can’t survive in the old way.  Even if our population were suddenly reduced to 3 billion, the global population in 1970 when Garrett Hardin described our crisis, we couldn’t sustain it at the current level of resource use.  If we reduced the population to 1 billion, what it was in 1804 when Malthus shared his alarm over human population growth, we might be able to find a sustainable way of being.

But, we can’t simply go back; a second important reason: we would end up here again.

What will the world look like in 2050?

There many possible scenarios; the most likely is it will look like 2013 but with fewer people owning cars, their own homes, or other large durable things and more owning electronics, bling and cosmetic enhancements like peircings, and gewgaws for the apartment.  By 2050 we will have solved diabetes and Alzheimer’s but will be struggling with untreatable, rapidly spreading tuberculosis; designer “facewear” masks would be popular.  By 2050 affluent young women will eschew seeking father for children and simply clone their own eggs.  By 2050 there will be wars over fresh water.  By 2050 the standard of living of the U.S.,  mired in several distant regional wars and consuming billions of dollars annually to monitor the health and whereabouts of 440 million people, will have slipped below the middle class of Brazil.  The UN will find itself in competition with a second international governing body.

Other scenarios include the magic of technology.  The secrets of fusion will be unlocked; digitalized electricity will skip over the power lines; each home will be carefully controlled by its own brain to use the least electricity possible.  People in places with sun will live off solar energy and eat in restaurants that cook using solar heat.  Using satellites and lasers and computers we will somehow bring the ocean back and completely replace oil for energy and plastic and so on in a techie’s wet dream of future technology.  We’re trained to think that way as a culture; science has always been there.

A globalist might see a new kind of social structure emerge as a result of the internet connecting the world in a new kind of brain, and social networks webbing the world to create a global being, a new level of social structure which is comparable to the rise of the city-state and the empire or nation, each of which showed “emergent” features, features quantifiably different from previous forms and unpredictable from the behavior of lower level systems.  These new features would allow the globe to reach an equilibrium, stable population using sustainable levels of resources.  Think U.N., which is the first international “person” with standing in court.

 The last scenario, the all-encompassing central bureaucracy with huge information streams and global structure is the most interesting, because of the idea of “emergence”.  There is an “evolution” of social forms, which some see as driven by technology (agriculture allowed accumulation and a division of labor; writing and mathematics allowed trade and ownership; roads and ships allow cities, and so on), but others consider a rise in population to power change by itself to give rise to the need, and therefore invention, of technology.  Most likely, the effects are mutually organizing, as when a flame heats material to release gases which in turn create flames which releases gases.  The new level of social structure would have its own ecology in which to operate, and, like the weather, it would operate in a completely closed system, which means it would need to control all the complexly linked features of the subsystems and balance them against each other in a fluid manner, or the global system would become unstable and fragment.  Further, there is the likelihood that the “emergent” features are actually not unpredictable by consideration from lower level forms.  “Emergence” turns out to be a black box and “emergent features” are simply the rules for continuance and growth of the new, higher level organization, which represent the relationship between the system and its ecology, which, since it would be a global, closed system, would be itself.

social emergence

Emergence: magic from self-organization.  An emergent feature tends to arise with population and the complexity of inter-population interactions.

The system would have to organize energy and so information, which might be possible given innovations in linked pair technology, which would theoretically allow virtual, instant transmission of great amounts of data.  Transmission time is a real consideration even in individual computer systems; speeding information transmission beyond the speed of light would make astonishingly fine adjustments of the energy flow, and make maintaining the balance in such a large system possible.  A quick example is the Segway, the popular two wheeled people mover, which accomplishes something never before possible because it has computers which calculate and adjust wheel motion and upright position, allowing it to balance in a way not possible for inanimate objects.  It is possible that developments in information technology in the next 35 years will allow that.  Population requires it; will technology provide it?  What will the unintended consequences be?  If we make the final connections which place the UN or other central government in charge of subordinate states, and there is no emergence, no new technology or culture which can change reality on the ground, where people live.  What will the consequences be then?  I’ll propose tyrants and war lords and bandit thieves at the state level.

A likely scenario, if we do nothing, is that we will populated, and depopulate the Earth, rising and collapsing every few thousand years, building on old technology or learning new ways to make use of what there is, our populations would, in times of good weather, rise and we would fill all the niches of the world, and then when weather and disease and technological excess and most of all population rise too high, the population would fall again, over and over until the sun swelled and swallowed the planet.  That is the most likely scenario, the one that history has shown us.

Or, perhaps we’ll build rockets and terraform Mars, or maybe a wonderful alien race will appear and solve all our food and energy needs.  Likely, not, though.

Whichever scenario we choose, and whatever means we use to achieve them, unintended consequences are almost unavoidable.  Much human progress is achieved due unintended consequences.  The consequences might be unintended, but not unprecedented.  We might know of an unintended consequence, but be willing to accept it socially.  (An increase in female infanticide seems to be an unintended but not unforeseeable consequence of China’s 1 Child policy.  The problem is mediated as much as possible, but there is the tacit understanding that some unwanted persons are going to have unfortunately short lives under the policy, and those lives are going to be the least valued: those with birth defects and obvious disabilities, and females.)

If we reject the above scenarios as either being likely but with unacceptable consequences, or magical scenarios which require conjecture to achieve, we guess, acceptable consequence, then we can explore others.  Some will consider this the fun part.

So I’ll leave that for Part 3, to tantalize intrigued readers to check in next week.  In preparation, we can consider the elements which might allow a “forever” kind of sustainability.  In preparation, we can consider the tools to at our disposal, keeping in mind that each tool can also do the opposite of our intended outcome.  Laws make criminals, for example, and increasing the cost of something past a certain point will create a market for something else.  Every tool, every cleaver strategy, will have outcomes which we find difficult to predict.

In fact, every tool ultimately depends on convincing, cajoling or drubbing people in to behaving a certain way.  About 80% of the population will likely do so willingly; the other 20% are more problematic; and 20% of that number will be game changers, organized crime leaders, opposition leaders, and others who use the system to reap benefits outside the system.

We can use the relationships discerned by social science regarding cooperation and communal maintenance of the commons.  These relationships are a reflection of the way people make decisions, and consider things such as social networks, culture, and emotional needs.  Managing 9 billion people in a way that prevents the environment from “cycling” to a new weather pattern and killing us all, and in a way to prevents (or at least manages) epidemics, and a way that doesn’t give way to local and regional robber barons who trade scarce but necessary resources, is going to require some thought.

Tools with which to sculpt a “sustainable” human population:

Law and government  Most people think of laws and government when it comes to controlling the behavior of people, especially other people, but government always has its price; government constraints give rise to new illegal markets.

Control of vital commodities Controlling fresh water or electrical power or the extraction, processing and distribution of fossil fuels would allow control over resource use and to a great extent, population.  Indeed, a strong case can be made that the population and growth rate are dependent on oil, and when oil diminishes even fusion won’t replace it.  There are already wars over water; by 2050 such wars will rival today’s war over oil.

Control over reproduction  Every girl could have one ovary cauterized and every boy could have one testicle isolated.  It’s cheap, easy, would reduce later life pregnancy but would not reduce early life pregnancies shortening the reproductive life span.  A reproductive permit might be required, or people could be taxed on extra children.  All of these means have unintended, and foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences.

Geographic control Moving people from crowded areas to food producing areas hasn’t worked well for Rome or China, but it’s one way of controlling population and food production.

Control over culture  In theory, a central government has the power to control media content including news.  Most nations attempt to change culture by influencing media and changing values.  Does it work?  The war on drugs: no; tobacco use: somewhat; domestic violence: somewhat; 1 Child: somewhat; The Old Soviet Union: somewhat; North Korea: perhaps, at least it seems so, but at great cost.  Certainly controlling culture is one way of crafting the expectations of people.

Part 3

*The world is going to hell in a hand basket.

*Our frantic attempts to continue our unsustainable lifestyle and population will become more and more destructive as “frack for crack” in an attempt to continue our petroleum dependency (if your electric car plugs into a coal or natural gas powered generator, that still counts).

*Using the world view that got us in to this mess to get ourselves out is simply madness. Our view of the world gave us diseases we have no resistance to and can’t cure, a planet that is nearly or completely used up, and a population which, even if it stopped growing or slightly declined, is unsustainable under current circumstances.

*The weather is changing.  Some might like to debate whether it humans contribute to it or not; I’m convinced we do but it doesn’t matter.  Our population swelled because Earth had an atypically mellow period; human populations have risen and fallen, and migrations have been driven (think “Mongol Horde”) by changes in weather.  Indeed, dramatic changes in both the size and distribution of humans have been driven by weather.

*Current strategies toward sustainability focus on maintaining current strategies of using technology to solve the problems technology caused, reducing population voluntarily, minimizing the per-person resource use.

*There is no pretty way to deal with the problem using our current world view.

*There are material, or system constraints on what can be changed and how.

*Human propensities can be used to structure a more humane, realistic, and sustainable life, but that structure would have to allow for all human propensities, or it would have to restructure humans.  I favor the first.

*We can’t go back, since going back will mean we’ll be here again; we have to move forward.

We are impacting people in all kinds of ways, some beneficial, others not, in an attempt to turn back the environmental clock, and to stop the world’s population from gutting the finite resources of the planet only to die, like maggots in a garbage bag which reproduce to the limits of their closed environment and, after eating each other, vanish.  I would also like to reduce human suffering, or at least spread it about more equitably.

There is no evidence at all that saving the Yellow Legged frog or returning the salmon to the sierra is going to do anything whatever to reverse the trend; instead such attempts are an almost ghoulish attempt to pretend what is happening isn’t happening, like getting grandma’s makeup just right so no one can tell she’s dead at dinner.  These endeavors, even if we worked at them like an army of ants, aren’t going to address the basic problem, and the politics of doing these projects eventually means even more water and more development and more people, so they are worse than a fix.  We can’t rebuild what is lost, we don’t have the technology, and we can’t put the jinn back in the bottle.

Our problem is truly global, which is frightening not only because the globe is a closed system, but also because any response to overpopulation would have to involve every person.  Any two people are theoretically capable of upsetting the population apple cart.

What we mean by “sustainable society” is a human population which will maintain a perfect balance of population and resource use to insure humans on the Earth FOREVER.  Forget forever; in this discussion I’ll intend to provide a structure for humans to inhabit the planet for another thousand years without pushing the environment back to the Cretaceous.  If we were to manage a steady state intentionally, and not simply because some persistently virulent virus appears, such a state would be known as a “utopia”.  Interestingly, the root of “utopia” means “no-where-land”, an insight which will haunt us.  One person’s utopia, it seems, is another person’s dystopia.

Let’s ponder how history and literature have dealt with this problem.  Literature is important because fiction in particular has allowed thinkers to try different approaches to an ideal state.

In literature, Plato gives us the first basic model for an ideal society, and a model for talking about the elements of a model people.  In The Republic, a conversational thesis written 2400 years ago and about which more has been written than the Bible, Plato discusses a number of possible forms or structures for an ideal society.  Plato set the tone for discussions of the city and central government from that time to this.  In the Republic, Plato is seeking a just society, but a broader discussion of the human condition arises.  Even so, Plato did not have a functional blueprint for a sustainable society, just a set of scenarios which allow us to see how justice functions.

Plato was followed by hundreds of writers particularly in Europe who struggled with achieving some kind of perfectly controlled or balanced society.  Thomas More wrote about an island Utopia in 1516, setting a trend for ideal societies to exist on islands or other inaccessible places, free from the hustle and bustle of real places.  The globe is our island.  More described the political structure of the land; the lowest unit is the household of about 15 adults.  Thirty households make a unit who elect a leader; these leaders elect a higher level of leader; the units culminate in an over all ruler who rules for life unless he goes crazy or gets on everyone’s nerves.  Cities are limited to 6000 households, or about 78,000 people- about the size of London at that time.  The population experiences forced moves, and colonies on the mainland serve to absorb population overflow, or to provide new citizens if the population drops; the island is therefore not a closed system after all.  In addition to forced moves, there is no private property, and there are slaves (it’s OK, though, because the slaves cheated on their spouses).  Crafts are kept simple and conspicuous consumption is heavily frowned on.  There is no crime, hospital care is free, and though premarital and extramarital sex are outlawed, a variety of wacky religions are practiced, including a scorned but tolerated form of agnoticism.  Everyone must work, but nobody must work very hard.  Everyone’s primary skill is agriculture: food production can draw on every citizen if possible.  Elsewhere in the book More draws attention to the plight of the poor rural farmers of Britain due the Inclosure laws, raising of sheep on factory level farms over what was once common use land; the worst was yet to come at More’s writing.  More, statesman, lawyer, philosopher, loving father and foster father, canonized martyr, slightly predated the Enlightenment, but he already shows the humanism which began in the Renaissance.  He did a stunning job of laying out groundwork for utopias both literary and real, and though five hundred years have given us 20-20 hindsight which reveal the flaws in More’s utopia, it continues to capture the essence of what might make an ideal, and for our modern problem, sustainable, society.

Not all utopian and dystopian approaches address the problem of population, but most after 1880 do, some by directly addressing the environment, others imply the environment when discussing how food supply effects the population (think Soylent Green).  Some of the best such works, like Orwell’s 1984, predict dystopias, totally controlled societies which have become unlivable for humans.  We are heading for such a dystopia now, I believe, in our first attempts to reconcile our desires for humankind with the reality of the closeness of the globe.

Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1887 foreshadows the attempts at socialist utopias.  It also does an astonishingly good job of collecting the new ideas of his time and drawing each out to an ideal conclusion, giving us the belief that what we are doing now will sow the seeds for a more bountiful and just tomorrow, a lovely late-Enlightenment idea.

The brilliant Aldous Huxley struggled with the idea of a utopia, starting with the dystopia Brave New World and finishing with Island, a hopefully sustainable, conscious civilization which is unfortunately over-run by less sophisticated types.  Drugs and sex figure prominently into Huxley’s formulation, as he struggles with the human drive for affection and reproduction and the human need for innovation and mental distraction.

Several dystopian works address the problem of human nature in attempting to reach a steady state society.  One readily accessible example is THX1138, an early George Lucas work which considers the problem of the human spirit.  This is not an inconsequential problem; indeed, the reflexivity, drive, innovation that have always typified Homo Sapiens Sapiens are particularly present in Homo Urbanis, the modern city dwelling entrepreneur, a product of the centralization of government and wealth and the growth of the city since Athens.  Any attempt at controlling humans in a steady state has to consider this curse/blessing of humankind. In literature this is handled with drugs and socialization, and in our country now, too.

“You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy.”  THX1138

A steady state population, like those in control of total government in utopian and especially dystopian literature, is achieved by careful control over birth and death.  In some very high tech scenarios fetuses are incubated scientifically so no woman has to risk pregnancy.  In some, notably GATTACA, medical science, thanks to complete sequencing of the genetic code, one’s role in life is determined by one’s genes.  Total control of reproduction and death are possible, particularly if every person on the planet relied on the central government for food and shelter.  Otherwise, any fertile couple can upset your plans and eventually will.

Real world utopias have had several shortcomings.  Notable are those of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.  The Soviet Union, some claim, is not an example of socialism or communism, since early on the government lost track of the primary goals of the people and invested in war.  It may or may not have failed to properly demonstrate a socialist utopia, but it certainly does demonstrate every single problem of utopias from More onward.  Both the Soviet Union and the PRC attempted to ruralize population to further food supply.  Both failed at maintaining communal ownership.  To their credit, though, both ended long periods of serfdom and significantly empowered local agents and spread technology.  Many of the Soviet states and certainly China technologically and socially pulled their populations from the 17th Century into the 20th in only 50 to 75 years.  It is unclear if any other system besides a totalitarian system, can care for so many people.  The Soviet system and especially the Chinese system of bureaucrats, which has a long history, were divided in ways not unlike More’s Utopia, with various subunits which facilitate information to and from the central government.

However, neither has managed to create a utopia, or even control population and though both China and modern Russia use far less oil per capita each year than the U.S., both struggle toward a standard of living that, even with the advantages of new technology, will be unsustainable.  In the Soviet Union, communism has fallen by the wayside.  In China the leaders find themselves negotiating with a newly emerging middle class.  Neither utopia seems to have taken root, though China continues to move toward a balance of state power and citizen response.  Part of that negotiation has been a recent weakening of the One Child policy.

A grand example of a failed utopia, built on the idea that population control and agriculture could be the basis of a society is the self-named Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia who, realizing that urban people were upsetting his vision in a number of ways, sent urban dwellers and intellectuals to the countryside where, denied proper rations and medical care, they died a thousand at a time, about a quarter of the population was killed.  Since poverty and death were commonplace, the per capita oil usage was very low, and population control was not a concern.  Even so, Pol Pot is a terrifying reminder of the cost social engineering could have.  Unfortunately, death at that rate, on a global scale, is nearly a given if nothing is done.

Part 4

It turns out heaven on Earth isn’t easy to find.  Even hell on Earth isn’t so easy to do sustainably.

To be clear, I don’t expect humankind to suddenly snap out of its torpor and save its own life. One person in a hundred understands how really dire our situation is; most people are just on the bus until it gets where it’s going, so to speak.  Of those who know something is horribly wrong, the great majority have no idea what to do, and do what they can, which is to save whales or stock up on ammo.  Those activities are like saying the Rosary; it gives us comfort and occupies us, but only God knows if anything will come of it.

There are thousands of good writers and social scientists struggling to define and rectify the problem.  Hardt and Negri wrote a trilogy concluding in Commonwealth, which they believe provide the philosophy, culture, and potential social structure to allow humans to live harmoniously.  In such a future, the self is subsumed for the common good, and selfishness is redefined.  Edwards and McKiben, Thriving Beyond Sustainability, which describes local efforts to live sustainability and seeks to link such efforts into a global transformation.  Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth describes strategies for surviving the coming hard times and perhaps preparing for a better world. Lester R. Brown has been making suggestions for immediate steps for sustainability for some time.

Simply do an internet search for “sustainability” and choose from among a number of different approaches and hopeful and uplifting examples, people who can point to self-sustaining buildings, auto-less cities, vertical gardens creating food and oxygen for inhabitants, examples of families and schools and corporations and governments who have made a difference toward sustainability.  Even the Pentagon intends to move to renewable fuels for airplanes, ships and tanks, and green installations that recycle nearly everything and produce at least part of their electrical needs.  Solar power is cheaper than ever and can be made wearable.  Wind power has remade Portugal.  New products are completely recyclable, reducing the need for more oil or metals.  The environment is being protected by tens of thousands of environmental groups; watersheds are being restored; species once thought extinct have a new toehold.  The good news is nearly endless, if you look for it.

I’m personally disappointed that it is far too late for all that, and most of these thinkers and writers, even the best, are hopelessly optimistic.  Self-sustaining buildings are a great idea; completely recycling water is smart and it’s been done on and off for thousands of years.  But, it’s too late for that.  Earth, meaning the three miles from far above the surface to a few hundred feet below the surface, is a complex system of heat and cold, light and dark, land and water.  Even when the climate was very stable it wasn’t very stable, it’s an equilibrium like a top, and even when it runs smoothly there are harmonics of energy which play across it and periodically cause it to shiver. The climate is no where near as steady as a top; its gyrations typically take decades or hundreds or thousands of years, so it’s difficult to perceive in one human life, unless one looks at climate records, how much it does wobble.  One can trace its wobbles in the migrations of humans.

It does share other features with the top, including how it shifts from one stage to the next.  As a top slows it goes through a series of minor equilibriums before it finds the most stable equilibrium, lying on its side.  Our climate won’t lay on its side, but it will go through periods where it looks somewhat stable, only to suddenly shift to another kind of spin.

When you do triage in emergency medical work on a sick or injured person, you don’t look at blood first, unless it’s spurting, and you don’t look necessarily at the person who’s moaning the loudest, and you don’t even look at the people who are laying down first.  Sometimes the person who is about to die at an accident is standing up and talking.  You evaluate the scene and then individual victims according to criteria which asses a number of systems, breathing, pulse, blood pressure, responsiveness.

When I look at our planet, I see a dead guy looking for a place to lie down.

Our breathing, the atmosphere, is labored and rapid; our circulation, the oceans, are unsteady, and the planet’s temperature is high and rising.  Our population is crowded and seventy years of modern medicine have created a number of single celled monsters, waiting to find their feet.

The wave hasn’t completely hit yet, but we’re bracing for a bitch of a blow, folks, and this time when it happens, thanks to air travel and open European borders, there won’t be any place to hide.

I’m known for being a pessimist; I disagree.  I look at the worst that can happen, and plan for that, and consider the best that can happen, and try to make that possible.  In this instance, In my estimation, if every person living in a city of more than 7,000 would volunteer to have one night of food, sex and drugs and then die at first light, I think those left standing might make it.  Nobody’s written a book about that, yet.

I don’t expect any concerted effort to deal with our current problems, regardless Agenda 21 and the UN, regardless the climate talks, regardless the local food movement.  Some of those efforts are hopelessly bureaucratic; others are squabbles over the right to develop; most happen on a small scale for a few who can afford it and live in proximity to distribution.  I predict nature will take its pitiless course.

There will be natural disasters both spectacular and creeping.  The narrow middle of the planet where food really grows well will shrink, because places that were cold but become warmer will also become drier, because sea levels will rise, and because the weather will be too undependable.  We can learn to live with lousy weather, but it has to be lousy weather we can count on.

There will be more and more mistakes as we try to wring the last fossil fuels from the ground, more Fukashimas and other nuclear misfortunes, and more and more wars over energy.  There will be more wars over water.  Cities will become increasingly unlivable, people will riot, governments will maintain control.  The population will rise, level, drop due some disaster, slightly recover, drop a great deal due some disaster which might have been mitigated in better times, slowly decrease as oil becomes more scarce, drop suddenly over a period of sixty to seventy years due a pandemic, level below five billion for a little while, drop again as a result of war, which will bring accelerated epidemic and dramatic environmental degradation and finally collapse.

As the population shrinks and the use of fossil fuels diminish there will be a reduction in some kinds of environmental degradation, but impacts on local environments will be devastating as too many people are too far from food and the infrastructure for transportation is damaged.  Our mistakes with saltation of our arable soils, paving arable land for cities, tinkering with the genetic code, and monoculture agriculture will gang up to bite us in the stomach.  People will gladly eat dogs and cats and rats.  The population will drop to perhaps as few as two billion.  Parts of the planet which were once fertile will be inhabited by thistles and scrub.  Ports and highways will become haunting and pointless structures, cities will be looted and abandoned to ghosts.

There is very little of the prophet in me, this scenario has played out over and over as empires have risen and collapsed.  Always in the past these collapses have been local or regional.  Now, as with everything else, they are global.  This description is so certain it can scarcely be called a guess.

So, I doubt there will be sufficient response by everyone, or even enough people.  I think we are doomed to a few centuries of misery, and not the brave world of cyber connection and instant information.  The cyber world where we pay bills and get news really is as ethereal is it seems; it’s built on a vast neural network with a great deal of resilience and robustness, within limits.  The limits are the fragility of the system of towers and satellites and grids, all of which are, according to the pentagon (and who am I to argue with Uncle Sam) are extremely vulnerable to, among other things the uncommon but not unheard of Electro Magnetic Pulse, from the sun, or perhaps from our own magnetosphere.  It is vulnerable to other threats only the government knows.

However, if you elect me your dictator, I can save us.  I have a plan.

You need to know, there is a limit to personal freedom on Earth, it’s a feature of living on a finite planet.  You can have many people with few freedoms, or few people with many freedoms, and the one freedom that determines all other freedoms is the freedom to reproduce.

We can really only sustain Earth within a narrow ideal range, I estimate between 1 and 3 billion, dependent on fusion and how swiftly we act.  The globe had about one billion people in 1800 and 3 billion in 1960.

There is a significant correlation between the use of fossil fuels and the human population.  Energy as an element of human population isn’t going to disappear, and in most instances we are going to use energy in increasingly efficient ways, and produce it in more sustainable ways, but even if we maximize there is a practical limit.  People die for all kinds of reasons related to energy, starvation, thirst, war, to name a few obvious ones.  Oil is not only an energy source, it also provides for fractional distillates, only some of which can be derived readily from other sources. The citizen of the world living fifteen stories above the ground and doing everything by smart phone is perched atop a fragile structure which is completely energy dependent.

A game-changer might be fusion-thermal electricity.  Let’s let our minds run wild, because very small fusion-thermal units are possible.  Fusion could desalinize and purify water, solving one of the world’s looming crises.  Fusion is not magic, it does have some concerns, and if petroleum sources of heat and energy were suddenly to go fusion powered, we would suddenly be very concerned about long term exposure to short life radioactive products.  There is not an inexhaustible supply of copper, though there is a large supply and there is a significant amount of recyclable copper above ground, though the recycle cost of copper is already fairly high.  If fusion were to replace oil over night the value of copper would rise significantly as the demand for electric products increased over fuel. If we simultaneously dramatically reduce our population, there might be a sustainable supply in our dumps. Fusion would certainly be the next big thing we’d learn to live with, but it isn’t magic.

Likewise, an efficient means of gathering hydrogen from water might power vehicles which would be light and not pollute.  It isn’t clear how efficient such a process could become.  Though it’s hard to believe in our current paradigm, not all problems have a solution.

Even if small scale fusion is possible and happens really quickly, it won’t end all our problems.  Fusion might power electric cars, but what will roads be built from?  Fusion might power trucks and even power blast furnaces for concrete, but fusion won’t provide all the benefits to transportation that petroleum distillates do.  Even with the brilliant glow of fusion in the mix (if it is actually possible) global population will likely remain tied to fossil fuels.

With fusion widely available in the next 30 years or so, I would move my ideal human population to 3 billion.  Without fusion, I limit optimal human population to less than 1 billion, the population of 1800.

Without fusion, and regardless fracking and other extremes of getting more oil, energy needs will continue, shifting to natural gas, then likely pollution standards will be dropped for coal.  The 20th Century saw nations with black markets in gasoline.  If oil depletes as it is projected to, there will be a 21st Century black market in vegetable oils.

Without oil, and without replacement strategies, the cities will begin to die.  The city is what our discussion is really about.  Cities, historically, have been a mixed blessing.  Cities invite capital, they attract participation.  Having important things centrally located has typically meant life was easier closer to the city.  Much of human history can be written as waves of people moving to cities.  China, the agrarian socialist utopia now sees more than half her people living in cities.

Cities arise around social structure, social belief and habit, made tangible.  In antiquity, when the city was in its infancy, there were different kinds of cites, some specifically to trade on certain rivers, others as religious centers.  Humans have a strong tendency to do what others do; hence the tendency for people to look up in the sky when seeing someone looking up, or the term “bandwagon”, or the ability of a population of nearly 350 million people to divide itself nearly in half over a presidential choice.  The city makes everything humans like about being social proximal, meaning close.  It also focuses human activity.  If you want a complicated surgery or a good deal on a high end car you’ll likely go to the city, which is why rural doctors have a hard time and have to take MediCal, and car dealers in small towns are just a memory.  Cities, through various manipulations of resources, grow themselves.

Most cities have arisen around passes, crossroads, rivers and natural bays.  For small gatherings of humans, up to a couple of thousand, place is a big contributor to how they view the world; for urban dwellers, other humans contribute most to their view.

As we’ve learned from fiction and experience, a truly steady state population is a nightmare to manage, and creates a nightmare to live in.  Indeed, the first step I’ll take in formulating my sustainable earth is to avoid seeking a steady state.  I will expect the population not to remain steady, but to swing aperiodically around a desirable median, hopefully plus or minus 50 million people.

I also intend that humans be “free range” meaning they not be designed and bred for the purposes of the system.  Being free will mean few people, and it will mean less freedom on reproduction.   Humans cooperate best when they have the means to conflict.  In short, I will eschew the strictly communalist nature of the majority of current schemes to save the world, since humans typically act on a continuum from selfish to altruistic, and because your view of my selfishness is a manifestation of your sense of entitlement and so selfishness.  Instead, we’ll assume that people are selfish and generous both, depending on the situation.  We are not angels, not brutes fashioning ourselves into gods, we are clever, busy, very chatty monkeys.  Heaven on Earth, if it did exist, would be no place for us.

I will also take into account in my model that nature intended a broad variation in genotypes and broad latitude in the phenotypic expression of the genes, so I will plan on all kinds of people, not simply those who work and play well with others.  To be clear, I find everything about humans and the planet they live on to be perfect, except there are too darn many humans and they individually and especially collectively tend to use more resources than they should.

I further don’t assume that we humans have traits which were useful in the old days, but which are no longer useful today.  Turns out the adenoids and appendix actually do things, nothing about us is “vestigial”, that is just Enlightenment hubris, that we had somehow become godlike and no longer needed our animal instincts.  Totally not so: the tougher things get, the more we need those vital emotions the decent despise so much: anger, hunger, lust.  Our goal is to reach a state of sufficient comfort for all residents of Earth that those emotions aren’t called on much, and our tendency to cooperate and bond is called on more.

To that end, I’ll construct my sustainable Earth on the foundations of what make people happy; the circumstances that make people happy at different times in their lives, circumstances that naturally foster acceptance, encourage mastery and sufficient to meet physical needs.  I won’t construct an egalitarian society, rich with mutual respect and pluralism and free from bias, because that description is driven by idealism and is not represented in the data.

Data would include the lesson of the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, a dignified, cooperative people who refused to renounce their belief in peace and mediation and so in the mid-1800s gave no resistance and were literally slaughtered like sheep, killed and eaten by their Maori cousins, and so were completely eradicated as a people, though descendants with Maori and Europeans blood do survive.   We are reminded of the determinedly pacifist people of Huxley’s Island.

What the data shows is that our species benefits from conflict and hardship, that the elaborate ballet of cooperation and competition has pushed us around the globe.  If you look for war in our history and our makeup, you’ll find war galore; if you look for cooperation you’ll find we can’t help but interact and construct ways to get along.  I would seek to preserve conflict and cooperation in my sustainable human Earth.

As you have made me your dictator in the interest of a sustainable world, I will use the propensities of humans to make humans happy.

We have a formidable challenge in this endeavor: human nature.  We humans are not very unique in most ways.  We follow the very same algorithms of decision making that any intelligent animal does, but just as every animal uses those algorithms differently according to their form and environment, humans regard mostly other humans, and our decision making is most refined, most complex, dealing with other humans.  Cooperation and conflict have formed us into an exquisitely precocious teen of an animal.

Humans take care of their environment best when they have skin in the game, when they directly benefit from its continuation, and perish with it.  There are numerous schemes through human history to protect the commons, none are foolproof and none have lasted FOREVER.  However, we can learn from those instances where people formed sustainable, long lasting communities.

We also have to consider what sociologists call “structural factors”.  A social structure is a pattern of behavior with surprising durability which arises from the continued, habitual, concert of human actors.  In this instance, I’m referring to the fact that the way we array ourselves socially and the roles which arise from that can have a significant impact in the outcome of our project to save the world from and for humans.

I suggest we find a new global model.  After 4300 years of kings and dictators, from Sargon of Akkad to Hitler of Germany, who have tried to unite the world under one leader and a central bureaucracy, I suggest we decentralize.  Centralization, by which we mean the stacking of authorities and purviews from a broad base at the level of human interface to a singular point of authority, has been efficient at achieving all the things we suffer from, and a great deal of personal misery that is not the concern of the discussion.

Watchers of history know that where war goes, bureaucrats follow, and the bureaucrats are finally inheriting the earth.  The United Nations literally creates a ruling bureaucracy without a king.  Currently the UN has few warriors but many lawyers, and while unable to stop individual wars to any appreciable degree, has thoroughly webbed the world with projects and programs, and might yet demonstrate the final victory of the pen over the sword, extinguishing armed conflict beneath meetings and treaties and piles and piles of expenses.

Will I use the UN to fashion my utopia?  No, the UN is a clear lesson in how not to create an efficient and sustainable world.    I would use central government to do just two things: monitor population and report that information to the general population, and report significant resource changes in any homeland, also to the general population.

All other functions would be handled as locally as possible. Like More and virtually everyone who’s ever tried to establish control over humans, I would have to use layers of authority and that means trouble, if any decision makers are involved.

Humans are mentally agile, and they can assume various social roles by inhabiting the social expectations of that role: title, dress, location and so on (a “priest” is not just a man, in church, with his robes on, he’s something else now, a “priest”).    Problem is, once a human is in the role, they belong to a new group.  A hometown boy who is elected to the legislature isn’t the same person anymore, he’s part of a new group with a new culture and shared problems in a ritual environment.  Further, he’s not the same person at home, either, people go to him now, to try to influence things.  That kind of power should be diffused across the population.

The more layers of bureaucracy, the more distance between the representative and any given constituent, the greater the effect.  Further every bureaucrat, if they are intelligent and diligent, will ceaselessly try to refine and expand their purview.  Every bureaucrat is a minor king, with a tiny kingdom to protect and expand.  Likewise, the priesthood, which is another very similar kind of bureaucracy.  Likewise any of the guilds which would, if it is possible, do two things: 1. Protect the integrity of the guild system and all other guilds; 2. Attempt to transgress on other guilds when possible.  Experts of all kinds limit the field of who can play, and then compete within the field according to often very complex rules.

As your dictator, I decree that large bureaucracies and specialized priesthood are bad.  Anything that collects authority or wealth is bad.  When we construct these complex bureaucracies, they take on a life and a life course of their own.  That way lies the madness and death of the middle 21st Century.

In the world of 1billion people, there will still be war.  War is unavoidable.  There will still be kings who overthrow neighbors.  But, because the basic unit is small, and because neighboring units benefit from peace, large wars will probably not be common.  Cities cause war, and they provide for and encourage the accumulation of wealth and the social stratification people call “class” or “socio-economic status.”  Smaller groups of people also follow similar strategies, but scale is what gives problematic bureaucracies their devastating efficiency.

Not that tribes don’t fight, they certainly do, sometimes for generations.  Tribes do rise up and suddenly gain power and sweep neighboring areas, gathering soldiers as they go.  Consider the Maori devastated the 2000 peaceful residents of the Chathams with 500 thugs armed with clubs and axes.  But typically their populations crowd out existing populations.  We aren’t creating a perfect world, we’re simply trying to find a point at which the number of humans and the amount of resources they use are not only balanced, they are sustainable in a way that will allow oceans and skies to clear.  What kind of world future humans live in is their affair; we’re simply trying to lay out a sustainable framework which will enable and encourage humans to keep their population and resource use in check.  Against this plan, as dictator I have no objection to war, so long as the population does not exceed the determined carrying capacity.

I have chosen a social structure which will encourage individuals to be selfish in a communal way, and be communal in a selfish way.   This structure encourages small entrepreneurs and discourages large ones.  It encourages people to take a graduated interest in neighbors by distance, making use of the three determiners of social interaction: similarity, familiarity and proximity.  It encourages a broad range of locally produced products and discourages monopolies.  Using conflict and cooperation constructively should provide nearly all of Earth’s 1 billion inhabitants the opportunity to live lives of reasonable duration and productiveness in reasonable comfort and health.  It combines the salient ingredients of our utopias from More forward and attempts to avoid the excesses and concentrated power of dystopias.  It increases the imperative to live according to what the Earth can provide and still allow the planet to be healthy in a way that benefits us: a relatively stable climate, relatively clean and bountiful seas, healthy carbon dioxide sinks, clean air.

There are some details left to work out, like how to deal with the 6.1 billion people who don’t fit in the plan, and how to deal with the inevitable unintended consequences any such project entails, but I’ll leave those for part 5.

For now, here is the social structure I’ve decided on.  I’ve structured our global village on the work of Elinor Ostrom, and others, who sought communities which displayed resilience and which shared resources in a sustainable way. Ostrom’s work doesn’t rule out urban commons cooperation, nor does she present a cohesive plan to manage population.

To that end, here is the structure of our new society:

The primary occupation of everyone is growing, catching, and processing food.

One to fifteen people are a household.  A household owns enough land to survive on, plus 15% extra for hard times or luxury, plus 15% for market goods.  A fifteen-person household would likely contain three generations.

A commons is a place, watercourse, facility, idea, skill base or other tangible or intangible asset that the general community supports and benefits from.  For example, if a homeland supports a student to become a doctor, the skills that student gains must either be used by the members of the homeland, or paid back.

A household is owned by all members equally; members over 15 vote in household decisions; children under 15 are represented by their parents; female children by a male parent or surrogate, and male children by a female.  Equal ownership means an increased likelihood of pluralistic decision making.  The structure seeks to disarm past patterns of exploitation in family groups, and copy those which have been most successful.  Unoccupied households would probably be rare.

There are estimated to be about 7 billion acres of agricultural land on the planet; some is rich and grows many crops well; other land is suitable for nomadic or pastoral use.  One billion people allows an average of seven acres per person, or 1050 per homeland.  However, part of every homeland is commons for grazing, gathering, and the regeneration of water and air.  Even good land needs water, and new and old technologies would need to conspire to save our ground and surface water.  Each household would own 20 acres; every homeland would have about 3000 acres of commons. Land ownership encourages responsible land use; a commons encourages community cohesion.  That should allow plenty for growing food, fuel, something in the larder for hard times, and something to take to market, and allow land to heal from the ravages of the middle 21st Century.

In many locations, an acre will support 1-5 people.  All homelands should have enough for every person to have a comfortable life.  The excess land would be used to provide specialty foods like cheese, yogurt, tofu, honey, a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, specialty woods, or other products which enrich the lives of others and the wellbeing of the households.  The abundance of land but the limited market would provide the opportunity for households to produce risky products that wouldn’t produce every year.  Excess also means wine, vinegar, fruit sugar, smoked meats, and a varied, healthy diet.

Nineteen households equals one homeland, or 150 people.  Homelands are six sided parcels containing 7500 acres of arable land or the equivalent. Most homelands would be from 11 to 22 square miles.  Some would be much larger; some contain portions of coast and tide lands, some would be smaller, depending on the value and sustainability of the resources of the homeland.

Each homeland makes its own laws and answers disputes between households.  Every person over 15 is allowed to vote and obligated to serve on the homeland council of six people.  Service on the council is for six months, it is mandatory, a person won’t be in the lottery to serve again until everyone else has served.

Minor issues are solved by a simple majority vote; issues with implications for greater long term or widespread impacts require a 2/3 vote.  Issues of life and death as execution or land use change requires a unanimous vote.

Slavery is allowed in a homeland, so long as the slave is born into and has remained legally in the homeland.  Slaves who travel legally to another homeland (are invited to another homeland) are automatically free.

Marriage is not regulated except by the homeland.  However, there is an advantage to marrying into a neighboring homeland.  A portion of the homeland taxes will be used to provide small incentives to people who marry outside the homeland; husbands who travel to their new wife’s homeland bring a small husband price.  This is to achieve two ends: first, males are nearly always in surplus; a male in good health can have children with a dozen or more wives, so it pays to send males out of the homeland to reduce current population, but retain females should disaster strike and the population drop.  In addition anthropology has shown that when the wife goes to the husband’s tribe, warfare is common, but when the husband moves, warfare is reduced.  Homosexuality is also encouraged as a way for people to be emotionally and sexually satisfied without the risk of population growth.  Nothing prevents homosexual households and families.

Households which overpopulate, that is have more than 15 members at a time when homeland population is at or above 150 people, pay an additional 5% tax, and lose half their share of the commons.  When households are overpopulated members should be encouraged to move to households which are less than 15 people, and take the sterilization benefit.

Homelands pay suicide benefits to survivors and sterilization benefits to people age 15 to 35 who opt for sterilization; the amount is double if the person has no children.  These benefits are paid from the taxes gathered and from income from the commons.

To leave a homeland, another homeland must accept a person, or they must flee to a savage area.  A homeland can, by vote, execute a member and pay suicide benefits to the family.  If the executed was guilty of harming or killing someone, the benefits go to the victims.  If convicted of making accusations to collect victim’s benefits, the penalty is execution, with the benefit going to the falsely accused.

Households and homelands will have neighbors with which they share large resources such as lakes and rivers, tidelands and estuaries, forest and watershed environments.  Such resources where boundaries of homelands do not touch will be considered part of the commons of all homelands adjacent.  Those commons will be administered by council members from those homelands.

Cities will likely have to be abandoned due to environmental degradation, lack of energy, plague or even nuclear radiation for generations.  The wealth of each city will be distributed among the outlying lands that for years fed the cities, gave them clean water and food and timber, accepted their trash.  The resources of those homelands will include the resources of the cities but nothing more; conservation and recycling would be the watchword for the children and grandchildren to survive.

There will also be nomad homelands, people willing to live in the harsher climates.  Nomad homelands will have 7 square miles per person, but only annual agriculture is allowed.

Homelands are responsible for controlling their own population.  They control the movement of goods through the commons and can charge for water, roads, and other utilities serving other homelands, with income produced going to the households who are directly effected.  There is a 5% per year tax on household goods, collected twice a year, which supports the homeland and 10% tax on market outside the homeland, collectable by the homeland.  Because each homeland collects 10%, the cost of moving goods across homelands would be considerable; 10% the first transaction; 18% the next, and so on.  This would make moving goods long distances very expensive.  This would encourage local markets, reduce the spread of plague, discourage distant tyrants.  Homelands could vote to allow “emergency tax waivers” on some goods.  It is assumed households would defect through neighbor relationships and thwart the tax.  It’s an acceptable loss considering the resilience dependence on out of homeland neighbors give the system.

There will also be “savage areas” which are not part of the homeland system.  The savage areas would be very difficult to live in, and would harbor criminals and “onetoo”s, people who were one kid too many for the family and fled the homeland.  Savage areas provide two important features.  First, they provide the opportunity for resilience in our population numbers.  Some hardy souls can escape to the savage areas, and when populations in homelands drop, people could immigrate.  Second, they provide added opportunities for conflict and cooperation.  People from the savage zones would periodically populate to the point they would raid neighboring homelands, causing homelands to react together.  The savage areas also provide opportunity for longer distance trade, since there is no homeland tax on the savage area.  Portions of the savage areas which can demonstrate population and resource control can apply to villages for homeland status.

Every homeland has one doctor, one dentist, two midwives, a blacksmith, a mechanic, an electrician, a health specialist, a librarian/historian.  Primary care providers in those categories are given a stipend and can trade office hours for household work hours or goods with clients; secondary medical professionals are volunteers.  These skills can be gained by sending a citizen to a university, or by inviting someone to the homeland.  Every person is expected to attend basic medical, hygiene and self and homeland defense classes.  Classes would be part of the normal social life of the homeland.  The primary occupation of everyone is growing, catching, and processing food.  Doctors and mechanics are household members and their sustenance and profit is tied to the household.

Homelands are gathered into neighbor groups of 19, about 2800 people, called villages.  Villages have surgeons and higher medical care.  Villages do not tax, and there is a 19 member council which hears issues effecting all homelands, but only a tally of votes from all homelands can effect changes.  Villages provide for mail and other services to homelands.

Disputes between homelands are resolved by a council of four other homelands, two of which are adjacent to two; two of which are connected only to one of the two.  If the dispute can not be resolved, two more neighboring homelands are drafted to the council.  In the end, if the disputing homelands do not adhere to the decisions of the resolving councils, all the neighboring homelands will make war on the defecting homeland.

This is exclusive of the village, and constitutes part of the strong association between homelands who do not share the same village.  Every homeland is connected with six other homelands.  Most homelands will have neighbors outside their village.  Dividing allegiances of homelands between neighbors and villages prevents villages from becoming too powerful.

Nineteen neighbor villages form a common area called a university.  A university is a common area as large as a homeland.  These are common areas and common facilities and every person over 15 owns a portion of the university, which includes higher education, factories to recycle materials and provide important products such as computers, medicine and weapons.  A university has no power over the villages and serves the people.  It receives the support the 54,000 people it serves choose to give it.

A village is typically about fifteen to thirty miles by fifteen to thirty miles, in a hexagon.  A university would be about 75 to 150 miles in each direction, in a hexagon.  It would be nice if the lay of the land and the needs of people allowed a standard honeycomb shape to be laid across the land; that can’t happen.  However, each homeland will border six other homelands.

The universities would probably have a common area population of about 2,000 all directly dependent on the consent and support of the rest of the population.  University common areas can be located anywhere in the university, but practically it would reside in a special common homeland which would be governed by the residents of the villages constituting the university.

There can be no copyright or patents; knowledge is for everyone.  Only effort and production can be rewarded.

There is no need for a unit of social organization higher than university except for the population counters, which gather information from homelands and report back twice yearly to all the globe’s 1 billion citizens on how each homeland is faring.  It would also provide a clearinghouse for homelands looking for immigrants.  Data comes from homeland reports, which are probably inaccurate, and homelands pay for the data, to see if their neighbors are cheating.  It will serve as a reminder and a voice to control population.

Part 5

Better scenario for a sustainable Earth 5

Let’s start with some assumptions; we are all familiar with them, but we need to keep them in mind for this discussion.

First, at some point, we’ll have to limit population.  We can have 4 billion people clinging to existence; or we can have 1 billion living well.

Second, we are all going to die at some point, it is unavoidable.

Third, there is a limit to the usefulness of technology.  Past a certain point the human is just an interface point for technology; there is a reasonable limit to what we can wring from nature (which is what technology is, wringing effects from electrons and photons).

Fourth, we humans, individually and collectively, want things that aren’t good for us.

Fifth, and probably should have been first, There is No Free Lunch.  It is a finite planet, we are finite beings, sooner or later someone pays the fee.

Having laid a grid of six sided homelands across the earth, some problems remain.  Some are difficult; some are unavoidable and unfortunate.  First the easy questions:

Why erase what is now?  Why not work within the system as so many other authors have sought to do.  Isn’t the doomsday scenario just drama?

We run into the same problem as tyrants and other authors who have tried for a global or sustainable society: the current system has structures which simply won’t translate.  Further, the average person does what she or he does; when things get hard, they do what they do harder, it’s what they know.  It’s a kind of behavioral stubbornness which balances our wanderlust and interest in the new.  Only a significant change in the infrastructure and social structures will do; it could take place over a century, or it could happen in a decade or two.  Realistically, even with global cooperation and will, the current structures (how we order our money; where we place authority; how we get our sustenance and social interaction) can only do what they do; if things get hard, they’ll just do it harder.  If we rely on the slow unwinding of our habits, customs, and structures of authority, the environment will continue to decline, times for the common person will get harder.  People will die in dribs and drabs, a million or so at a time.

In any case, we don’t have to start now, we simply have to begin displaying the understanding of what needs to be done, and start to put in to place the structures to accomplish that.

I jest about being a dictator now.  It is my fervent personal hope that the system as it is will play out in my remaining years, and I spend my golden years lofted by the last of the oil and the handiwork of underpaid people in the third world.  I only suggest that someday, some despot, or council of despots, or union of despots or united nations of despots will have to make changes which will allow 1-3 billion humans on Earth, living comfortable, busy lives, and not destroying our planet.

Which brings the discussion to the elephant in the room: the extra 6.1 billion souls alive now.  Here I, as your dictator, fail you.  I can’t bring myself to bear the burden of so many deaths.  There are great studies out there about how we decide to save people; most of us won’t push one person in front of a bus to save five people down the road, but we can make more abstracted decisions, like diverting food from one group that seems doomed to a group that has a chance.  I can’t even do that, not even in rhetoric.  I can’t dwarf Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and murder six of every seven people, even though I know that over the next hundred years it is likely that billions will die terribly of disease, hunger, war.

I can’t even bear to write in a magic button that will painlessly, magically dispose of 80 million tons of human biomass, because I lack the wisdom nature does to decide who lives and who dies.  Would I kill 6/7ths of the population generally, everyone, old and young, sick and well, rich and poor?  That would be leaving 1/7 of the old and sick; does the new world need sick old people?  Should we just kill off the old and very ill, and those who fall below a certain IQ level?  If life were linear, that would be an easy answer, but it isn’t.  There are many better ways to judge a person than IQ, or age, or the ability to walk.  The ignorance of Hitler’s approach to “purifying” the race is obvious.  Nor could I, as Pol Pot was content to do, kill everyone in cities for the sin of being urban.  The cities have created sucking whirlpools of wealth and opportunity, they arise to the maintenance and convenience of wealth and power.

I can’t simply refuse to allow reproduction for a few generations, until the population is down to 1 billion, since there would be no young.

I lack the wisdom to approach killing so many, and rather than simply selecting one in seven to live and swiftly killing the rest, I have abandoned them to the traditional foes of humankind: starvation, sickness, hardship, and so I have failed you.

But, though I have failed you, I have not forgotten my prime directive: a sustain population on Earth which allows the planet to heal, and provides everyone with the opportunity for plenty.  So, I have a backup plan.  It’s not as effective, nor, really, as humane, but it makes me feel better.

The past has shown us that, during times of hardship, births increase.  It has shown us that after plague or war has depopulated an area, those who remain relatively swiftly regain the material wealth and assume the lifestyle of those before the plague, and as swiftly regain population.

I leave it to God, or Nature, or luck, to decide who dies.  In the meantime, I will prepare my grid of homelands, and I will undertake a series of decrees which will result in increased mortality.

For many people, very little will change in regards to where they live and what they own.  I will use my power to turn the mighty bureaucracy of the UN to reveal the relative resources, both physical resources like arable land and rivers, and above ground resources like garbage dumps and quarries.  In a move that would make Stalin proud, I’d depose absentee landlords and set up homelands accepting applications for citizenship and households for ownership.  When disaster hit an area and brought the population down to target levels, I would incorporate them into the grid.  As I get old and approach death (since I’m dictator of this scenario, I dictate that won’t be for a long time), I would allow the excess population of homelands to immigrate and claim depopulated areas, and once again the young of human groups would explore and open new lands.

To speed the process, I would seize all petroleum products in the name of preserving them for the future.  I would shut down the most dangerous and technology dependent producers first: no fracking, no oil platforms at sea with thin pipes five miles long though ocean and rock.  Eventually, I would shut down nearly all oil and coal resources, and would limit natural gas.  I would scrap the fossil fuel installations and turn the parts into small factories to produce solar-electric Units.  Petroleum based vehicles would stutter and stop, food distribution would be crippled. People would flee the cities if they could and I would set them up in grids.

In freezing fossil fuel reserves, I increase the likelihood of death by starvation and local plagues, but decrease the likelihood of pandemic.

I also offer suicide benefits and sterilization benefits, free abortion and free contraception.  It is unfortunate that the poor of the planet will disproportionately take advantage of these opportunities.  However, freezing land ownership in the food producing areas and providing a chance for citizenship in a homeland and ownership in a household, we encourage people of all social classes who want to survive to leave the crumbling infrastructure and move to places that are more survivable.

This would all be very cruel, but it has sufficient benefit that I’ll allow it.   Eventually, as better data became available from the UN, I would step up my program of encouraging the young and the courageous to take up household ownership.

I would enforce my restrictions on homelands: a certain portion as renewable commons and a portion of citizen owned households; taxes between homelands; the homeland council to resolve internal issues, the council of neighboring homelands for inter homeland disputes, and above all, the limiting of homeland populations to 150.

What about cities, don’t we need them?  It turns out, we only need cities if we want a certain level of technology and sophistication.  Because authority in the model is diffuse, and because there is a mix of commons and private ownership, and a broad variation in law and culture between the homelands, cities and the problems, and benefits, of cities are not necessary.  It turns out that 1 billion people the world of 1800 had more than enough people to have empires and industry and technological advances.  The Industrial Revolution fell smack into the era.  Sailing ships were crowding the seas, busy gathering slaves, trading around the world.  Even without oil, even with only a billion people, and even locked into cellular units of 150 people, things will happen.  The problem is never going to be that people aren’t resourceful or creative enough to find a way to get business done, to interact, to exchange and trade.

Cities have the best of everything because it is economically easier to trade where there are many people.  As a result, the areas surrounding cities are often stripped of the best of things because they are siphoned to the city.  Areas far from cities do have good local cuisine, involved community theater, a responsive merchant environment.

In my grand scheme, a university serves 54,000 people. It uses no more space or energy than a city of 54,000, including the distal workers who feed a city and accept its waste.  It is a city spread out, a city in which every person can support her or his basic needs.  Time is slowed down because the city is widely spread and transportation is slow.  This is not by accident.  Capitalism and fossil fuels have redefined time for us.  Changing the patterns of social interaction to the pace of humans, not machines, will reduce medical costs and increase happiness and health.  How?  Stress.  Google “stress”.

In an over populated world, we don’t need to save everyone, we don’t need to create genetically modified monstrosities to feed a hungry planet.  We need to limit population, and turn our wisdom and knowledge to something deeper and more lasting than expensive bling.  That being the case, we don’t need long and energy expensive supply lines; we don’t need concentrated wealth, waste and pollution; we don’t need cities.

interconnectednessarrows

Graphic: How power and personal investment is diffused through homelands instead of being centralized.

What about the internet and the space program?

Why wouldn’t there be internet?  The infrastructure for computers is very petroleum intensive, but solar power should be readily available, and there would be many salvaged computers and servers, and perhaps even renewable biological computers.   The internet has taught us a great deal; it has given us Wiki, a homeland and commons for the world.

Take out the petroleum and they could be made in a university.  Regards the space program, that is very petroleum intensive.  It remains to be seen what innovation people demonstrate.  We aren’t starting from 1800.

What about primary education?

The homelands are structured to include on-going training and education for all citizens.  It is assumed every university would have an educational component.  Age and gender segregated education where the pedagogy is determined by experts produces one kind of education.  Integrated education where all kinds of people work together on subjects and skills of interest produce a different kind of education.  It’s up to the homelands to educate their 30 or so children, or several contiguous homelands might set aside a commons for education.  We can be free of the power of the old religion: all people know things, not just “experts”.    Knowledge is available to everyone; there will be books and likely the internet or perhaps something faster and more inclusive than the internet.

What about medicine?  Today, we are obsessed with treating ever more rare diseases, and stretching the life span of every person.  It’s a terrible thing to do in an over-populated world.

Such specialist driven medical care is also not the sole or even most important cause of our increased health and life span.  Hygiene and sanitation saved millions of lives.  Most of the best tricks of medicine and surgery can be accomplished in very small facilities.

Further, with no abundant corn, no high fructose corn syrup, no corn fed pork and beef, many of the illnesses which plague old age today would be eliminated.  Futurists boast we will one day live forever; in a crowded world, if their dystopian dream does come true, the old will feed off the young in a tragic inversion of nature.   Already in the West we keep the old alive at the cost of the young; the past at the cost of the future.

We need medicine which will give us healthy mothers and babies, treat trauma and illness with basic medical treatment, and give the very sick and dying a celebrated and honorable departure among family and friends.  We need to relinquish death as an adversary, as many other cultures have done.  Death is an essential part of birth.  Those who die are heroes who make way for the next 1 billion.

In past plagues, so many died, there weren’t enough people to bury them, let alone mourn them.  In the future plagues, a single death will mean no more than a beetle hitting the windshield now.  Our perspective on death, and the sacred preservation of life above all costs, is a luxury we lose in desperate times, and regain when death again becomes uncommon.  Considering things like quality of life, the limits of resources, and the distribution of medical care, we realize we can always mourn the loss of a single life, but we have to make pragmatic choices about who we treat, and how we treat them.

What about law and justice?

Big corporations require big law.  Homelands require small law.  The average person is more likely to get a swift trial and some measure of justice from neighbors than from complex, sluggish, top heavy jurisprudence.  As far as law making, the laws we care about are those preserving the household and homeland system, and controlling population.  Otherwise, the laws and rules of daily life are the concern of the 120 or so voters of the homeland.

disputes between homelands

Graphic: Dispute resolution and mutual aid among neighbors of different villages.

It would quickly return to the way things were.

The world of 1800 went bad for a couple of reasons.  First, even the wisest people thought the world was very big.  Second, it was an era when capitalism was expanding from raping far away lands to making things.  Capitalism and technology have been firmly wed since trade required record keeping and sailing required landmarks in the stars.  Third, it was a time when Man, particularly White Male Man, was dislodging God as the explainer, and arbitrator, and eventually creator, and absolutely the savior.  The term “salvation” means to be made whole; science makes us whole today, in our bodies, and in our minds.

We now know the Earth is small; we understand how our wants and needs drive us to the marriage of capitalism and technology and the very mixed bag that has turned out to be for us; we need finally to come to understand we are not gods.

We struggled to relieve ourselves of our old gods, or relegate them to the realm of the unexplainable.  Perhaps it is time to relinquish the mystical hold of our current god, science, and his child made flesh, technology.  Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s better. The greatest lesson about technology is that it literally changes us.  It changes us individually, partly because our neural network rewires itself to our ecology, we are so wonderfully resilient.  Collectively, our gene pool, in ways we can’t yet discuss, ways we might yet have to consider and admit.  When considering a new technology, instead of assuming the priests of science touch a truth that is beyond each of us, we should hold it in the same doubt we employ on someone who knocks at our door with a pamphlet promising salvation in the next world.

Having considered, as the Pentagon considers, the fragility of this abstracted structure we’ve created, can we ask ourselves, is this necessary for happy, healthy lives?

Besides, we aren’t turning the clock back to 1800; we still retain what we’ve learned during the time of over population, specialization, and excess.  Learning and philosophy won’t diminish; we might easily find a kind of knowledge and wisdom which escapes us in consumer-culture nations now.

Indeed, I have fashioned the grid system to ensure an inefficiency of mechanical, administrative and financial systems, with a corresponding increase in human interaction and human capital.

People always want to have more.

Undeniably true.  Humans have a high propensity toward accumulation.  Humans are inevitably creative and innovative.  The desire to trade goods and ideas has overcome deserts and oceans, it would make a fair assault against the rule of “10% tax across homeland borders”.   Even so, the system isn’t such a burden; throughout much of history a transportation fee of 100% has been common.  Can you fly?  If so, you can transport goods by air and pay no taxes.  The savage zones would become free trade zones.  I have tried to build the system with all the gray areas and flexibility needed to make life possible, but still retain local control of the commons and responsible use of private property.

What if some homelands over-populate, over run nearby homelands, and run amok towards an empire?  As long as the over all population and resource use stays within sustainable limits, the system will eventually prevail. Small, strong independent homelands capable of mutual aid have always been the most difficult to swamp in war.  If someone uses nuclear weapons, the population and resource use will drop, and eventually, population will recover.

Further, though cultural changes did sometimes sweep across the globe, there are many memes which continue for hundreds or thousands of years. The endless creativity of humans is matched only by their willingness to become dogmatic and exclusionary.  We consider that Islam’s conversions by the sword remained converted even when the threat of the sword is lifted.  The Catholic church has lost a great deal of influence, for but for many centuries its basic memes provided resilience.  If the proper memes of population and resource control, of the inviolability of the homeland system, of the importance of both private lands and commons, are established firmly, they should see humankind through the thousand years it will take for Earth to recover her oceans and skies.

You can’t stop change

Technology caught fire in the world, changing the meaning of time and distance, and spreading its gospel in a way Jesus and Mohammed would envy.  I expect technology to continue to grow.  A lot of knowledge has been gained by small labs.  A homeland could afford a small lab, if it chose.  A village could afford to support a very large lab.  Because ideas can’t be owned, there is no direct profit motive to the developer, the power of ideas and the beauty of logic and learning will motivate our investigations.  Individuals living in the homelands, who collectively own the university, will determine what direction research and development take.  Change won’t be stopped, it will be directed to the interests of households.

What if people don’t cooperate?

Well, in this scenario, I, as dictator, will cut off their links to survival and the community and plenty of the homelands will soon seem like a great idea.

In the real world, they will die of starvation or cold or plague, or their children or grandchildren will.

Many good ideas have spread through the common person.  In many parts of the world, the homeland idea won’t even seem new.  In other parts, the lives of people would be dramatically improved with direct access to food, water, and shelter, and to a doctor or dentist.  In many places in the world, people could take care of themselves if large landowners and corrupt government systems didn’t prevent it; they would benefit at once from a homeland and a sustainable life.

How is this not socialism?

I wouldn’t have ruled out any form of governance, but this isn’t socialism.  The residents of a household own it and the land that goes with it.  They can use it anyway they like, as long as neighbors aren’t negatively impacted.  The commons of a homeland are owned by the households.  There is, perhaps, something of socialism there, but it is the socialism of tribes and clans.  Transgression on a homeland’s commons by an outsider feels a lot like trespass on private property, and with the same result.

It’ll never happen.

True, but that’s not my fault, everyone forgot to make me dictator.

Many things might happen; there are nested complex systems involved.  New low power technology and unexpected power sources are unknowable variables.  There might be disasters no one has foreseen.  It’s possible that population will stabilize at 5 billion, fusion and water hydrogen will fill the gap between decreasing oil and increasing energy demand.  Maybe genetically modified food won’t be a terrible idea, and maybe genetic engineering will rid us of disease and make us all super humans.  Maybe we’ll find ways to harvest micro bits of plastic from the food column in the sea.  Maybe we’ll solve the problems of violence and war.  Maybe we’ll undo the last five hundred years of habitat and subsistence lifestyles.  Maybe six in seven of us will simply stop reproducing.

Maxims for the new world:

How far are you from the table; how far is your table from the field?

If hunger stalks the neighbors, the neighbors stalk the fat.

We open our eyes to a world without definition; we close our eye on a world which saturates us: more than guts and bones we are wisdom, heart, and knowledge.  Never stop learning.

We are owned by the things in our possession.  How free are you?  A free person has a bowl, a blanket, a book, a household, and a homeland.  A free person’s wealth is in their neighbor’s heart.

Anything that collects authority or wealth is lunacy.  That way lies the madness and death of the middle 21st Century.

Enough for today and enough for tomorrow, but far too much brings all of us sorrow.

The commons will give us tomorrow what we leave today, and give us next winter what we leave tomorrow.

A Better Scenario for a Sustainable Earth

Analysis, prediction, and propositions from DeVita

Part 1

There are pharmaceuticals in the ground water, and what water there is disappearing; the oceans are clogged with plastic which is killing sea life great and small; the easy oil has been gone since the 1970s and we’re petroleum dependent on a thinning supply; amphibians are dying everywhere; if everyone on earth lived as Americans do we would need 50 Earths to supply them.  OK, we get it, there are too many of us; we’ve pooped in our own bed too long and something has to be done.

But what?

Currently, the inheritors of the Enlightenment are working on the problem, but it should give us pause that much of our misery stems from Enlightenment values and perspectives.  Science is a product of the Enlightenment; the idea that every human life is sacred is; the notion that the collective has an interest in the life of the individual is.

These themes carried us through the Industrial, Post Industrial and Post-Postmodern periods to today.  They are responsible for medical miracles, humans on the moon, facebook.  They are also responsible for the rapid spread of disease, deep rooted pollution of the ecosystem and the depletion of soil and degradation of water, the totally wired human, government databanks of our DNA.  The vision of the Enlightenment, science in all life’s quarters and government as god on earth caring for the souls of the flock, hasn’t been an unqualified success.  Letting the approach that caused the problem design the fix the problem might not be prudent.

Still, things are going to hell; we can’t just do nothing, can we?

As any bureaucrat or doctor can tell you, doing nothing might be the best thing when everything else either has failed or will certainly fail.  The system we have, even under the code of laws, even with Nanny Government, is social stratification and exploitation of the least by the greatest.  Say what you like, global corporations might no longer slaughter like the East India Company did, nor frequently make war on each other as the capitalist nations did in their early history, but this is still the same world it was before humans.  The great eat the small, the strong inform the weak, and in many places one earns one’s right even to live by negotiating the opportunities created and controlled by those with more power.  Human history is a story of conflict and alliance, disease and warfare, famine and slavery, and as a result, we are cunning, resilient, exquisitely adaptable animals.

Continuing with the system we have now has a couple of quick advantages:

1.  The problem is self-limiting.  When the oil is gone the system will die back.  We can perhaps replace oil as an energy source, with fusion or wind/solar/renewable energy but completely replacing it as a source of plastic and other compounds would be very difficult.  Non-petroleum sources of plastic require petroleum to grow, harvest and process.  Oil provides a very concentrated amount of energy or large amount of raw materials very readily; solar, wind, and biomass won’t easily replace it.  That doesn’t mean don’t try, it means be realistic about the outcome. Eventually the fuels and lubricants which powered the Industrial and Space Ages will diminish.

2. It comes easy, fitting both our history and our propensities.

3. It got us where we are, which is everywhere.

4. Doing anything else will be difficult and probably foolhardy, since no one has ever successfully brought about the future as they choose it; some change happens, but not what we thought.

5.  Doing nothing already keeps us busy full time.

There are some disadvantages to nothing, though, such as aperiodic but increasingly frequent mass killings through war or disease or famine or natural disasters.  The environment also suffers, (relative to the needs of life on Earth right now, though of course new species will arise that like breathing hydrocarbons and munching on Roundup.)

The alternative proposed by the U.N. and “environmentalists” and public servants everywhere, is to reshape humans, reframe our relationship to the land, change expectations in terms of housing, transportation, employment.  To be clear, corporations continue to have their influence, but profit is what they need, it doesn’t matter how it comes.  Don’t like cheap, heat producing light bulbs?  We’ll happily sell expensive, high tech LED lights.  Outlaw one thing and something else will become available.  We enjoy viewing government as controlling or opposing corporations, and sometimes they do, but more often corporations use government regulation to reduce competition. Always, in every nation except perhaps North Korea, government and business are old fellows.

Here, very briefly, is the agenda of the New Enlightenment:

Sustainability through a complex system of distribution, carbon trade-offs and technology

A reduction in negative environmental impacts

Reduced resource extraction but increased processing

Renewable, “bio-cycled” or recyclable goods

Energy efficiency

Reduction in violence and war

Equitable distribution of food and water

Human equality

A dandy list, to be sure.  Accomplishing these goals, whether with the cooperation or the opposition, of global corporations, is a formidable task.  In the real world, though, we tend to want what others have.  There have long been cell phones and satellite TV in very poor and remote places.  Those are relatively energy efficient; indoor cooking, sanitary waste disposal, tractors, a family car; the energy cost increases swiftly.  Besides, the problem, honestly, isn’t the lowest rung on the global class, it’s the upper middle; Americans, Europeans, the 2nd world nations like Brazil.  The farther your food supply is from where you live, the more likely you are to be dependent on the very practices which deplete the environment.  The farther from 20-60 degrees north you live, the farther from seas, lakes and large rivers, rivers, the more expensive your lifestyle likely is.  Techno-food has increased productivity, but at heavy price and we increasingly struggle to keep our monocrops from infestation as we struggle to keep toxic metals from building up in the soil and ground water.  The Earth is so torn in many places it is impossible to live through traditional, subsistence means.  Ultimately, it is the environment that pays the cost.  Our trick as humans used to be to cope with nature, and hope she didn’t kill us through starvation or pestilence.   Our skill was to live in a way that was benefited by the normal working of the natural systems.  After the Enlightenment, nature worked for humankind.  We enjoyed a brief, few hundred year burst of growth, but at a very heavy price, the value of which we still fail to learn.

In human groups, populations are controlled a number of ways.  Very likely there have always been humans who weren’t allowed, or weren’t successful enough, to reproduce.  War and even genocide is always a popular way of controlling the ratio of productive land to the population of your group.  People need food, shelter, and clean water.  Increasingly it is seen that they need basic medical care to prevent unnecessary death or disability due to simple things: a lack of iodine; lack of vitamin C; chronic infection, and reproductive choice.  Without these things, people die who otherwise would have lived.

The current wisdom suggests a way out: increase technology to reduce energy use; restrict humans to population zones and structure human cities and buildings to minimize negative impacts; provide basic life needs and basic education to everyone; foster a pro-community approach so people learn to share and the wealthy nations properly reimburse the resource rich but economically poor nations.  Population is controlled through choice and education.  Eventually, everything is recyclable or renewable; buildings make their own power; people use mass transportation.  Resources are distributed fairly; governments are democratic and pluralistic.

global population growth estimates

Global population growth estimates Chart: Population Growth Projects from the U.N. (Wiki) It might go up, it might stay the same, it might go down.  Not unlike the product of a Magic 8 Ball; ask again later.

Very little of that is purely in the nature of people.  Left alone, people will cooperate and dispute and at some point, when there conditions are right, make war.  The weak will perish and the strong will have children who survive.  The powerful don’t care to share; the wealthy want the best for the least; people distinguish among themselves on the social algebra of in group/out group and some people are more valued than others, and when the conditions are right, well, of course they make war.  It’s just possible that people won’t cooperate with a grand scheme.

Clearly, curbing humankind’s basest proclivities of greed, dominance and discrimination, not to mention the propensities to breed like rabbits, when the conditions are right, is going to take some mighty power indeed.  In the gospel of Post Enlightenment liberals, that power comes from bureaucrats, people schooled in the appropriate techniques and the approved methods.  There has been a consistent creep towards government intervention around the globe, made possible by the computer chip and the ease with which information is gathered and stored. An enormous army of professionals, all trained in the appropriate perspective, pries into our water usage, our treatment of our children and our spouse, our use of land and sea resources, and on and on thoroughly webbing our lives, and “sustainability” will only mean more of such bureaucrats.

Hunter-gatherers lived a grand life for several hundred thousand years (hunter gatherers still work less than any other life type) but eventually gave in to the siren song of stationary life and agriculture, which made food surpluses possible and bureaucrats necessary and the city was born.  There are conflicting thoughts as to how keen the transition from wandering to staying put as a way to get food, but a clear distinction between hunter gatherer people, even those who do some farming, is ownership.  Staying put allows accumulation.  As human organization proceeds the bureaucracy, measuring, monitoring, registering, reporting, managing, grows with the effort.

It’s hard to imagine the New Enlightenment response to overpopulation and the shrinking planet without a massive, highly indoctrinated and certified, army of bureaucrats and literally millions of laws and codes and rules and regulations for them to administer as humankind moves toward maxing out the thin crust and precious water of our home planet.

The rise of the city gave us war; we fought before that, but the city gave us the professional soldier, the bureaucrat, the priest, the whore.  Cities have been killing themselves off by exhausting the resources in their radius of influence and polluting their resources since cities began.  Wealth and political power are concentrated in the city, and cities construct elaborate lines of supply and distribution to manage their populations.  Cities drain distal lands of water and food, and often, the young, of rural places.  The current proposal would see the city grow in population as services are centralized, transportation is reduced, energy is supposedly saved.  The current proposal would have twelve or more billion of us living in cities and population areas, hopefully leaving enough natural earth to filter water and clean air.   Some believe the global population rate will level off, partly because of widely available birth control, partly because of education, and party because people typically have fewer children when they are well enough off to support themselves in old age, instead of relying on children.  Others believe there is no natural population control built in to humans, and we are going to have to take some steps to force the population to level off.

No innate population control mechanism is indicated; like most critters, humans reproduce whenever and as much as context dictates.  Social context often dictates that some people can’t afford to reproduce; environmental and external factors dictate birth rate much more.  Human populations fluctuate constantly; sometimes a decade of good weather increases the population; sometimes a global plague reduces it by 50%, as has happened a couple of times in history.  When children die young, women have more children.  When there is a war, births drop.  Global management of population, as was noted, will require a global program with lots of cops.

We need only turn to China, whose 33 year old 1 child policy has been generally successful.  Originally applying only to ethnic Han Chinese who live in urban areas but now in practice everywhere, the program rewards families for having only one child, and essentially taxes them for more.  There does seem to be a certain amount of female infanticide and abandonment, but in general the people of China continue to support the program, which some suggest have curtailed China’s growth rate about 200 million, though there is reason to believe that is not true.  It is possible that the 1 child rule hasn’t made that much of a difference over all.  The population growth rate is determined by many complex factors, and even something as significant as government mandate doesn’t always impact the rate in the way intended.

So, the environment is in the dumper; inequality and human misery are wide spread; we consume far more energy than we can replace; our population is growing in fits and starts, but it continues to grow.  The bureaucrats at the UN are using the same witchcraft and value system to fix the problem as created the problem.  Doesn’t anyone have a better idea?

Part 2

The discussion so far has modeled the larger global discussion in which we are coming to the realization that we have to manage our population and our resource use.  The current view holds that it is not too late if we begin now.  There is another view, which I more closely share, which says it is already too late, our resource use in the last 300 years and our blooming population have already swamped Earth’s resilience.

world energy consuption tverberg

Fossil fuel use since 1820 from here: http://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/03/12/world-energy-consumption-since-1820-in-charts/

Our dilemma is clear even to the most avid television viewer.  The problem of population and resource use is very old; Plato discussed the problem; Malthus gave us the language to talk about the problems in 1798; in 1968, Garrett Hardin gave us “The Tragedy of the Commons”.

The current proposal for the next five hundred years of human inhabitation of Earth calls for humans to live in hives, take public transportation, eat only plants, recycle everything and buy new, buy less and set “nature” aside to clean air and water and remind us of how free humans once lived.  Population growth rate would gradually be reduced until a sustainable maximum has been reached; it would be reached through a combination of social values, individual education, and government incentives.  Most people will be monitored and medicated and live a long productive life.

What?  Population growth rate will be zeroed out but people will live long lives?  Then few will be born.  Or, if few are born many will die or be discarded before maturity.  There is no magic in science that can change population; the population at time “b” is the population at time “a” plus those who were born, minus those who died.

We might, using technology, laws and cultural change, reduce how many resources each uses, but not that simple equation.  Indeed, what technology is telling us is that even the “plus births minus deaths” equation isn’t very predictive.  During the reproductive life-span of about 30 years for women and 45 for men each couple in the world would need to limit their reproduction to two, plus a percentage of a child which would represent those who failed to produce their offspring, or to replace children who die before reproductive maturation (about 14 years old).

The problem is, populations are difficult to accurately measure even when the central government keeps careful records of births and deaths.  There are many, many factors which control population, and some, like China’s famines, dramatically reduce population (deaths are estimated at 10-43 million) but populations quickly come back.  “Population” refers to a rolling number which is produced from complex factors, some of which are attributable, but many of which are not at all apparent.  Even when the cause of a change in population can be identified, there is often no action which can be taken to effectively compensate, and so population drops and rises.

In short, actually maintaining a steady sustainable equilibrium of human population and resource use is an astonishingly complex task.  In nature, human populations reach equilibriums that require aperiodic but relatively frequent deaths due famine, disease, or climate change.  The populations fluctuated, sometimes broadly, always relying on a tension with the environment to achieve a broadly steady state.  Even then, no system worked forever, and forever is how long we’re talking about.  We’re reaching the point of collapse on several measures; if we remedy some and others aren’t as bad as we feared, the remainder will profoundly change our world and millions or billions will suffer.  A steady state system controlled by laws and governments will necessarily have to contend with more internal forces on reproduction than external, given the hypothesis that we can achieve sustainable levels.  “Sustainable” means forever.  That’s quite a boast.

Further, Europe and, increasingly, the rest of the world has been practicing population control for several hundred years.  Encouraging more live births, preventing childhood diseases, widespread sanitation infrastructure, medical care for the elderly; all of these have been population control strategies, and they’ve worked great; we are overpopulated perhaps to the point of no return.

“Natural” methods of reducing and maintaining population are typically very cruel.  One might think that a lack of food would mean that people would have fewer children, but frequently fertility rates are high during long duration famines.  It’s been suggested that the Black Death, most specifically the global plague of the 14th Century, reduced the population of Europe by a half to a third, with some places being cleared of people completely. Asia and the Middle East suffered similarly. Whole families were lost; in some cities people died at the rate of more than a thousand a day.  With European populations so dramatically reduced, it took between 150 and 250 years for it to recover.  Forest once again covered much of Europe and bears wolves returned.  In short, though terribly hard on humans, nature knew what to do about human overpopulation, and it was very good for the environment.

The Great Plague (there have been many great plagues in history) arrived by ship at a time when hunger was wide spread due a prolonged change in weather, and populations were high.  It hit the shipping centers first, then proceeded to the major cities where it was devastating.  Attempts to prevent contamination were thwarted by the cities’ dependence on imported food.  People fled infected areas, bringing the disease with them and hastening its spread.

Now, fast forward seven hundred years.  Ships are bigger, travel faster, and go to more places.  Cars, trucks, buses and trains have improved on the donkey cart.  Airplanes span the globe in hours, not weeks or months.  Further, medical science attacked disease at the most basic level, and for about a hundred years people have lived who would have died of disease before.  More and broader movement of people mean wider outbreak; swifter travel means a more sudden rise in infection rates.  The widespread use of antibiotics have given us super bugs, and tuberculosis, which once spread and killed quickly, that is resistant to most common antibiotics.  New antibiotics are slow in coming because the low hanging fruit, like penicillin, is gone.  New techniques, such as using viruses to kill bacteria or introducing genetically altered organisms into the pathogen gene pool, push our attack against microbial killers even further into the essence of disease-host relationship and likely prepare us for a new and even worse reaction from the little killers, who, after all, have millions of lifetimes to our one; millions of lifetimes to change and adapt to our methods.

In short, a pandemic is inevitable; nature knows how to deal with human overpopulation.  Unless we do something drastic, death will again be common, and as before, we will not have the tools to deal with it.

We’ll pause in the effort to turn history into the future to note that many good things came from the plague of the 14th century, including, eventually, the Enlightenment itself.  The life of the common person improved in most places after the plague, and the idea of the common man as his own master was returned, eventually, as a result of the increased value each worker had in the market.  It improved to the point that the government had to pass laws so commoners wouldn’t dress above their station.  See, a silver lining, life got better after the population plummeted; a silver lining, and a lesson, too.  Yet another downside: the labor shortage after the plague and the resulting increase in the cost of workers drove early industrial design of machines to replace humans.

Plagues change history; they are unavoidable. Still, some factors favor plague and some discourage it.  Swift and distant travel; densely populated areas.  Clearly, there is only one way to reduce our burden on the environment and avoid a global pandemic.  We have to dramatically reduce global population and decentralize power and political influence.  In short, we have to reverse the trend of the last 11,000 years.  But, we can’t go backward for several reasons.

The extreme degradation of the environment means that now even many, remote, self-staining hunter gatherer and nomadic groups can’t survive in the old way.  Even if our population were suddenly reduced to 3 billion, the global population in 1970 when Garrett Hardin described our crisis, we couldn’t sustain it at the current level of resource use.  If we reduced the population to 1 billion, what it was in 1804 when Malthus shared his alarm over human population growth, we might be able to find a sustainable way of being.

But, we can’t simply go back; a second important reason: we would end up here again.

What will the world look like in 2050?

There many possible scenarios; the most likely is it will look like 2013 but with fewer people owning cars, their own homes, or other large durable things and more owning electronics, bling and cosmetic enhancements like peircings, and gewgaws for the apartment.  By 2050 we will have solved diabetes and Alzheimer’s but will be struggling with untreatable, rapidly spreading tuberculosis; designer “facewear” masks would be popular.  By 2050 affluent young women will eschew seeking father for children and simply clone their own eggs.  By 2050 there will be wars over fresh water.  By 2050 the standard of living of the U.S.,  mired in several distant regional wars and consuming billions of dollars annually to monitor the health and whereabouts of 440 million people, will have slipped below the middle class of Brazil.  The UN will find itself in competition with a second international governing body.

Other scenarios include the magic of technology.  The secrets of fusion will be unlocked; digitalized electricity will skip over the power lines; each home will be carefully controlled by its own brain to use the least electricity possible.  People in places with sun will live off solar energy and eat in restaurants that cook using solar heat.  Using satellites and lasers and computers we will somehow bring the ocean back and completely replace oil for energy and plastic and so on in a techie’s wet dream of future technology.  We’re trained to think that way as a culture; science has always been there.

A globalist might see a new kind of social structure emerge as a result of the internet connecting the world in a new kind of brain, and social networks webbing the world to create a global being, a new level of social structure which is comparable to the rise of the city-state and the empire or nation, each of which showed “emergent” features, features quantifiably different from previous forms and unpredictable from the behavior of lower level systems.  These new features would allow the globe to reach an equilibrium, stable population using sustainable levels of resources.  Think U.N., which is the first international “person” with standing in court.

 The last scenario, the all-encompassing central bureaucracy with huge information streams and global structure is the most interesting, because of the idea of “emergence”.  There is an “evolution” of social forms, which some see as driven by technology (agriculture allowed accumulation and a division of labor; writing and mathematics allowed trade and ownership; roads and ships allow cities, and so on), but others consider a rise in population to power change by itself to give rise to the need, and therefore invention, of technology.  Most likely, the effects are mutually organizing, as when a flame heats material to release gases which in turn create flames which releases gases.  The new level of social structure would have its own ecology in which to operate, and, like the weather, it would operate in a completely closed system, which means it would need to control all the complexly linked features of the subsystems and balance them against each other in a fluid manner, or the global system would become unstable and fragment.  Further, there is the likelihood that the “emergent” features are actually not unpredictable by consideration from lower level forms.  “Emergence” turns out to be a black box and “emergent features” are simply the rules for continuance and growth of the new, higher level organization, which represent the relationship between the system and its ecology, which, since it would be a global, closed system, would be itself.

social emergence

Emergence: magic from self-organization.  An emergent feature tends to arise with population and the complexity of inter-population interactions.

The system would have to organize energy and so information, which might be possible given innovations in linked pair technology, which would theoretically allow virtual, instant transmission of great amounts of data.  Transmission time is a real consideration even in individual computer systems; speeding information transmission beyond the speed of light would make astonishingly fine adjustments of the energy flow, and make maintaining the balance in such a large system possible.  A quick example is the Segway, the popular two wheeled people mover, which accomplishes something never before possible because it has computers which calculate and adjust wheel motion and upright position, allowing it to balance in a way not possible for inanimate objects.  It is possible that developments in information technology in the next 35 years will allow that.  Population requires it; will technology provide it?  What will the unintended consequences be?  If we make the final connections which place the UN or other central government in charge of subordinate states, and there is no emergence, no new technology or culture which can change reality on the ground, where people live.  What will the consequences be then?  I’ll propose tyrants and war lords and bandit thieves at the state level.

A likely scenario, if we do nothing, is that we will populated, and depopulate the Earth, rising and collapsing every few thousand years, building on old technology or learning new ways to make use of what there is, our populations would, in times of good weather, rise and we would fill all the niches of the world, and then when weather and disease and technological excess and most of all population rise too high, the population would fall again, over and over until the sun swelled and swallowed the planet.  That is the most likely scenario, the one that history has shown us.

Or, perhaps we’ll build rockets and terraform Mars, or maybe a wonderful alien race will appear and solve all our food and energy needs.  Likely, not, though.

Whichever scenario we choose, and whatever means we use to achieve them, unintended consequences are almost unavoidable.  Much human progress is achieved due unintended consequences.  The consequences might be unintended, but not unprecedented.  We might know of an unintended consequence, but be willing to accept it socially.  (An increase in female infanticide seems to be an unintended but not unforeseeable consequence of China’s 1 Child policy.  The problem is mediated as much as possible, but there is the tacit understanding that some unwanted persons are going to have unfortunately short lives under the policy, and those lives are going to be the least valued: those with birth defects and obvious disabilities, and females.)

If we reject the above scenarios as either being likely but with unacceptable consequences, or magical scenarios which require conjecture to achieve, we guess, acceptable consequence, then we can explore others.  Some will consider this the fun part.

So I’ll leave that for Part 3, to tantalize intrigued readers to check in next week.  In preparation, we can consider the elements which might allow a “forever” kind of sustainability.  In preparation, we can consider the tools to at our disposal, keeping in mind that each tool can also do the opposite of our intended outcome.  Laws make criminals, for example, and increasing the cost of something past a certain point will create a market for something else.  Every tool, every cleaver strategy, will have outcomes which we find difficult to predict.

In fact, every tool ultimately depends on convincing, cajoling or drubbing people in to behaving a certain way.  About 80% of the population will likely do so willingly; the other 20% are more problematic; and 20% of that number will be game changers, organized crime leaders, opposition leaders, and others who use the system to reap benefits outside the system.

We can use the relationships discerned by social science regarding cooperation and communal maintenance of the commons.  These relationships are a reflection of the way people make decisions, and consider things such as social networks, culture, and emotional needs.  Managing 9 billion people in a way that prevents the environment from “cycling” to a new weather pattern and killing us all, and in a way to prevents (or at least manages) epidemics, and a way that doesn’t give way to local and regional robber barons who trade scarce but necessary resources, is going to require some thought.

Tools with which to sculpt a “sustainable” human population:

Law and government  Most people think of laws and government when it comes to controlling the behavior of people, especially other people, but government always has its price; government constraints give rise to new illegal markets.

Control of vital commodities Controlling fresh water or electrical power or the extraction, processing and distribution of fossil fuels would allow control over resource use and to a great extent, population.  Indeed, a strong case can be made that the population and growth rate are dependent on oil, and when oil diminishes even fusion won’t replace it.  There are already wars over water; by 2050 such wars will rival today’s war over oil.

Control over reproduction  Every girl could have one ovary cauterized and every boy could have one testicle isolated.  It’s cheap, easy, would reduce later life pregnancy but would not reduce early life pregnancies shortening the reproductive life span.  A reproductive permit might be required, or people could be taxed on extra children.  All of these means have unintended, and foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences.

Geographic control Moving people from crowded areas to food producing areas hasn’t worked well for Rome or China, but it’s one way of controlling population and food production.

Control over culture  In theory, a central government has the power to control media content including news.  Most nations attempt to change culture by influencing media and changing values.  Does it work?  The war on drugs: no; tobacco use: somewhat; domestic violence: somewhat; 1 Child: somewhat; The Old Soviet Union: somewhat; North Korea: perhaps, at least it seems so, but at great cost.  Certainly controlling culture is one way of crafting the expectations of people.

Part 3

*The world is going to hell in a hand basket.

*Our frantic attempts to continue our unsustainable lifestyle and population will become more and more destructive as “frack for crack” in an attempt to continue our petroleum dependency (if your electric car plugs into a coal or natural gas powered generator, that still counts).

*Using the world view that got us in to this mess to get ourselves out is simply madness. Our view of the world gave us diseases we have no resistance to and can’t cure, a planet that is nearly or completely used up, and a population which, even if it stopped growing or slightly declined, is unsustainable under current circumstances.

*The weather is changing.  Some might like to debate whether it humans contribute to it or not; I’m convinced we do but it doesn’t matter.  Our population swelled because Earth had an atypically mellow period; human populations have risen and fallen, and migrations have been driven (think “Mongol Horde”) by changes in weather.  Indeed, dramatic changes in both the size and distribution of humans have been driven by weather.

*Current strategies toward sustainability focus on maintaining current strategies of using technology to solve the problems technology caused, reducing population voluntarily, minimizing the per-person resource use.

*There is no pretty way to deal with the problem using our current world view.

*There are material, or system constraints on what can be changed and how.

*Human propensities can be used to structure a more humane, realistic, and sustainable life, but that structure would have to allow for all human propensities, or it would have to restructure humans.  I favor the first.

*We can’t go back, since going back will mean we’ll be here again; we have to move forward.

We are impacting people in all kinds of ways, some beneficial, others not, in an attempt to turn back the environmental clock, and to stop the world’s population from gutting the finite resources of the planet only to die, like maggots in a garbage bag which reproduce to the limits of their closed environment and, after eating each other, vanish.  I would also like to reduce human suffering, or at least spread it about more equitably.

There is no evidence at all that saving the Yellow Legged frog or returning the salmon to the sierra is going to do anything whatever to reverse the trend; instead such attempts are an almost ghoulish attempt to pretend what is happening isn’t happening, like getting grandma’s makeup just right so no one can tell she’s dead at dinner.  These endeavors, even if we worked at them like an army of ants, aren’t going to address the basic problem, and the politics of doing these projects eventually means even more water and more development and more people, so they are worse than a fix.  We can’t rebuild what is lost, we don’t have the technology, and we can’t put the jinn back in the bottle.

Our problem is truly global, which is frightening not only because the globe is a closed system, but also because any response to overpopulation would have to involve every person.  Any two people are theoretically capable of upsetting the population apple cart.

What we mean by “sustainable society” is a human population which will maintain a perfect balance of population and resource use to insure humans on the Earth FOREVER.  Forget forever; in this discussion I’ll intend to provide a structure for humans to inhabit the planet for another thousand years without pushing the environment back to the Cretaceous.  If we were to manage a steady state intentionally, and not simply because some persistently virulent virus appears, such a state would be known as a “utopia”.  Interestingly, the root of “utopia” means “no-where-land”, an insight which will haunt us.  One person’s utopia, it seems, is another person’s dystopia.

Let’s ponder how history and literature have dealt with this problem.  Literature is important because fiction in particular has allowed thinkers to try different approaches to an ideal state.

In literature, Plato gives us the first basic model for an ideal society, and a model for talking about the elements of a model people.  In The Republic, a conversational thesis written 2400 years ago and about which more has been written than the Bible, Plato discusses a number of possible forms or structures for an ideal society.  Plato set the tone for discussions of the city and central government from that time to this.  In the Republic, Plato is seeking a just society, but a broader discussion of the human condition arises.  Even so, Plato did not have a functional blueprint for a sustainable society, just a set of scenarios which allow us to see how justice functions.

Plato was followed by hundreds of writers particularly in Europe who struggled with achieving some kind of perfectly controlled or balanced society.  Thomas More wrote about an island Utopia in 1516, setting a trend for ideal societies to exist on islands or other inaccessible places, free from the hustle and bustle of real places.  The globe is our island.  More described the political structure of the land; the lowest unit is the household of about 15 adults.  Thirty households make a unit who elect a leader; these leaders elect a higher level of leader; the units culminate in an over all ruler who rules for life unless he goes crazy or gets on everyone’s nerves.  Cities are limited to 6000 households, or about 78,000 people- about the size of London at that time.  The population experiences forced moves, and colonies on the mainland serve to absorb population overflow, or to provide new citizens if the population drops; the island is therefore not a closed system after all.  In addition to forced moves, there is no private property, and there are slaves (it’s OK, though, because the slaves cheated on their spouses).  Crafts are kept simple and conspicuous consumption is heavily frowned on.  There is no crime, hospital care is free, and though premarital and extramarital sex are outlawed, a variety of wacky religions are practiced, including a scorned but tolerated form of agnoticism.  Everyone must work, but nobody must work very hard.  Everyone’s primary skill is agriculture: food production can draw on every citizen if possible.  Elsewhere in the book More draws attention to the plight of the poor rural farmers of Britain due the Inclosure laws, raising of sheep on factory level farms over what was once common use land; the worst was yet to come at More’s writing.  More, statesman, lawyer, philosopher, loving father and foster father, canonized martyr, slightly predated the Enlightenment, but he already shows the humanism which began in the Renaissance.  He did a stunning job of laying out groundwork for utopias both literary and real, and though five hundred years have given us 20-20 hindsight which reveal the flaws in More’s utopia, it continues to capture the essence of what might make an ideal, and for our modern problem, sustainable, society.

Not all utopian and dystopian approaches address the problem of population, but most after 1880 do, some by directly addressing the environment, others imply the environment when discussing how food supply effects the population (think Soylent Green).  Some of the best such works, like Orwell’s 1984, predict dystopias, totally controlled societies which have become unlivable for humans.  We are heading for such a dystopia now, I believe, in our first attempts to reconcile our desires for humankind with the reality of the closeness of the globe.

Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1887 foreshadows the attempts at socialist utopias.  It also does an astonishingly good job of collecting the new ideas of his time and drawing each out to an ideal conclusion, giving us the belief that what we are doing now will sow the seeds for a more bountiful and just tomorrow, a lovely late-Enlightenment idea.

The brilliant Aldous Huxley struggled with the idea of a utopia, starting with the dystopia Brave New World and finishing with Island, a hopefully sustainable, conscious civilization which is unfortunately over-run by less sophisticated types.  Drugs and sex figure prominently into Huxley’s formulation, as he struggles with the human drive for affection and reproduction and the human need for innovation and mental distraction.

Several dystopian works address the problem of human nature in attempting to reach a steady state society.  One readily accessible example is THX1138, an early George Lucas work which considers the problem of the human spirit.  This is not an inconsequential problem; indeed, the reflexivity, drive, innovation that have always typified Homo Sapiens Sapiens are particularly present in Homo Urbanis, the modern city dwelling entrepreneur, a product of the centralization of government and wealth and the growth of the city since Athens.  Any attempt at controlling humans in a steady state has to consider this curse/blessing of humankind. In literature this is handled with drugs and socialization, and in our country now, too.

“You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy.”  THX1138

A steady state population, like those in control of total government in utopian and especially dystopian literature, is achieved by careful control over birth and death.  In some very high tech scenarios fetuses are incubated scientifically so no woman has to risk pregnancy.  In some, notably GATTACA, medical science, thanks to complete sequencing of the genetic code, one’s role in life is determined by one’s genes.  Total control of reproduction and death are possible, particularly if every person on the planet relied on the central government for food and shelter.  Otherwise, any fertile couple can upset your plans and eventually will.

Real world utopias have had several shortcomings.  Notable are those of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.  The Soviet Union, some claim, is not an example of socialism or communism, since early on the government lost track of the primary goals of the people and invested in war.  It may or may not have failed to properly demonstrate a socialist utopia, but it certainly does demonstrate every single problem of utopias from More onward.  Both the Soviet Union and the PRC attempted to ruralize population to further food supply.  Both failed at maintaining communal ownership.  To their credit, though, both ended long periods of serfdom and significantly empowered local agents and spread technology.  Many of the Soviet states and certainly China technologically and socially pulled their populations from the 17th Century into the 20th in only 50 to 75 years.  It is unclear if any other system besides a totalitarian system, can care for so many people.  The Soviet system and especially the Chinese system of bureaucrats, which has a long history, were divided in ways not unlike More’s Utopia, with various subunits which facilitate information to and from the central government.

However, neither has managed to create a utopia, or even control population and though both China and modern Russia use far less oil per capita each year than the U.S., both struggle toward a standard of living that, even with the advantages of new technology, will be unsustainable.  In the Soviet Union, communism has fallen by the wayside.  In China the leaders find themselves negotiating with a newly emerging middle class.  Neither utopia seems to have taken root, though China continues to move toward a balance of state power and citizen response.  Part of that negotiation has been a recent weakening of the One Child policy.

A grand example of a failed utopia, built on the idea that population control and agriculture could be the basis of a society is the self-named Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia who, realizing that urban people were upsetting his vision in a number of ways, sent urban dwellers and intellectuals to the countryside where, denied proper rations and medical care, they died a thousand at a time, about a quarter of the population was killed.  Since poverty and death were commonplace, the per capita oil usage was very low, and population control was not a concern.  Even so, Pol Pot is a terrifying reminder of the cost social engineering could have.  Unfortunately, death at that rate, on a global scale, is nearly a given if nothing is done.

Part 4

It turns out heaven on Earth isn’t easy to find.  Even hell on Earth isn’t so easy to do sustainably.

To be clear, I don’t expect humankind to suddenly snap out of its torpor and save its own life. One person in a hundred understands how really dire our situation is; most people are just on the bus until it gets where it’s going, so to speak.  Of those who know something is horribly wrong, the great majority have no idea what to do, and do what they can, which is to save whales or stock up on ammo.  Those activities are like saying the Rosary; it gives us comfort and occupies us, but only God knows if anything will come of it.

There are thousands of good writers and social scientists struggling to define and rectify the problem.  Hardt and Negri wrote a trilogy concluding in Commonwealth, which they believe provide the philosophy, culture, and potential social structure to allow humans to live harmoniously.  In such a future, the self is subsumed for the common good, and selfishness is redefined.  Edwards and McKiben, Thriving Beyond Sustainability, which describes local efforts to live sustainability and seeks to link such efforts into a global transformation.  Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth describes strategies for surviving the coming hard times and perhaps preparing for a better world. Lester R. Brown has been making suggestions for immediate steps for sustainability for some time.

Simply do an internet search for “sustainability” and choose from among a number of different approaches and hopeful and uplifting examples, people who can point to self-sustaining buildings, auto-less cities, vertical gardens creating food and oxygen for inhabitants, examples of families and schools and corporations and governments who have made a difference toward sustainability.  Even the Pentagon intends to move to renewable fuels for airplanes, ships and tanks, and green installations that recycle nearly everything and produce at least part of their electrical needs.  Solar power is cheaper than ever and can be made wearable.  Wind power has remade Portugal.  New products are completely recyclable, reducing the need for more oil or metals.  The environment is being protected by tens of thousands of environmental groups; watersheds are being restored; species once thought extinct have a new toehold.  The good news is nearly endless, if you look for it.

I’m personally disappointed that it is far too late for all that, and most of these thinkers and writers, even the best, are hopelessly optimistic.  Self-sustaining buildings are a great idea; completely recycling water is smart and it’s been done on and off for thousands of years.  But, it’s too late for that.  Earth, meaning the three miles from far above the surface to a few hundred feet below the surface, is a complex system of heat and cold, light and dark, land and water.  Even when the climate was very stable it wasn’t very stable, it’s an equilibrium like a top, and even when it runs smoothly there are harmonics of energy which play across it and periodically cause it to shiver. The climate is no where near as steady as a top; its gyrations typically take decades or hundreds or thousands of years, so it’s difficult to perceive in one human life, unless one looks at climate records, how much it does wobble.  One can trace its wobbles in the migrations of humans.

It does share other features with the top, including how it shifts from one stage to the next.  As a top slows it goes through a series of minor equilibriums before it finds the most stable equilibrium, lying on its side.  Our climate won’t lay on its side, but it will go through periods where it looks somewhat stable, only to suddenly shift to another kind of spin.

When you do triage in emergency medical work on a sick or injured person, you don’t look at blood first, unless it’s spurting, and you don’t look necessarily at the person who’s moaning the loudest, and you don’t even look at the people who are laying down first.  Sometimes the person who is about to die at an accident is standing up and talking.  You evaluate the scene and then individual victims according to criteria which asses a number of systems, breathing, pulse, blood pressure, responsiveness.

When I look at our planet, I see a dead guy looking for a place to lie down.

Our breathing, the atmosphere, is labored and rapid; our circulation, the oceans, are unsteady, and the planet’s temperature is high and rising.  Our population is crowded and seventy years of modern medicine have created a number of single celled monsters, waiting to find their feet.

The wave hasn’t completely hit yet, but we’re bracing for a bitch of a blow, folks, and this time when it happens, thanks to air travel and open European borders, there won’t be any place to hide.

I’m known for being a pessimist; I disagree.  I look at the worst that can happen, and plan for that, and consider the best that can happen, and try to make that possible.  In this instance, In my estimation, if every person living in a city of more than 7,000 would volunteer to have one night of food, sex and drugs and then die at first light, I think those left standing might make it.  Nobody’s written a book about that, yet.

I don’t expect any concerted effort to deal with our current problems, regardless Agenda 21 and the UN, regardless the climate talks, regardless the local food movement.  Some of those efforts are hopelessly bureaucratic; others are squabbles over the right to develop; most happen on a small scale for a few who can afford it and live in proximity to distribution.  I predict nature will take its pitiless course.

There will be natural disasters both spectacular and creeping.  The narrow middle of the planet where food really grows well will shrink, because places that were cold but become warmer will also become drier, because sea levels will rise, and because the weather will be too undependable.  We can learn to live with lousy weather, but it has to be lousy weather we can count on.

There will be more and more mistakes as we try to wring the last fossil fuels from the ground, more Fukashimas and other nuclear misfortunes, and more and more wars over energy.  There will be more wars over water.  Cities will become increasingly unlivable, people will riot, governments will maintain control.  The population will rise, level, drop due some disaster, slightly recover, drop a great deal due some disaster which might have been mitigated in better times, slowly decrease as oil becomes more scarce, drop suddenly over a period of sixty to seventy years due a pandemic, level below five billion for a little while, drop again as a result of war, which will bring accelerated epidemic and dramatic environmental degradation and finally collapse.

As the population shrinks and the use of fossil fuels diminish there will be a reduction in some kinds of environmental degradation, but impacts on local environments will be devastating as too many people are too far from food and the infrastructure for transportation is damaged.  Our mistakes with saltation of our arable soils, paving arable land for cities, tinkering with the genetic code, and monoculture agriculture will gang up to bite us in the stomach.  People will gladly eat dogs and cats and rats.  The population will drop to perhaps as few as two billion.  Parts of the planet which were once fertile will be inhabited by thistles and scrub.  Ports and highways will become haunting and pointless structures, cities will be looted and abandoned to ghosts.

There is very little of the prophet in me, this scenario has played out over and over as empires have risen and collapsed.  Always in the past these collapses have been local or regional.  Now, as with everything else, they are global.  This description is so certain it can scarcely be called a guess.

So, I doubt there will be sufficient response by everyone, or even enough people.  I think we are doomed to a few centuries of misery, and not the brave world of cyber connection and instant information.  The cyber world where we pay bills and get news really is as ethereal is it seems; it’s built on a vast neural network with a great deal of resilience and robustness, within limits.  The limits are the fragility of the system of towers and satellites and grids, all of which are, according to the pentagon (and who am I to argue with Uncle Sam) are extremely vulnerable to, among other things the uncommon but not unheard of Electro Magnetic Pulse, from the sun, or perhaps from our own magnetosphere.  It is vulnerable to other threats only the government knows.

However, if you elect me your dictator, I can save us.  I have a plan.

You need to know, there is a limit to personal freedom on Earth, it’s a feature of living on a finite planet.  You can have many people with few freedoms, or few people with many freedoms, and the one freedom that determines all other freedoms is the freedom to reproduce.

We can really only sustain Earth within a narrow ideal range, I estimate between 1 and 3 billion, dependent on fusion and how swiftly we act.  The globe had about one billion people in 1800 and 3 billion in 1960.

There is a significant correlation between the use of fossil fuels and the human population.  Energy as an element of human population isn’t going to disappear, and in most instances we are going to use energy in increasingly efficient ways, and produce it in more sustainable ways, but even if we maximize there is a practical limit.  People die for all kinds of reasons related to energy, starvation, thirst, war, to name a few obvious ones.  Oil is not only an energy source, it also provides for fractional distillates, only some of which can be derived readily from other sources. The citizen of the world living fifteen stories above the ground and doing everything by smart phone is perched atop a fragile structure which is completely energy dependent.

A game-changer might be fusion-thermal electricity.  Let’s let our minds run wild, because very small fusion-thermal units are possible.  Fusion could desalinize and purify water, solving one of the world’s looming crises.  Fusion is not magic, it does have some concerns, and if petroleum sources of heat and energy were suddenly to go fusion powered, we would suddenly be very concerned about long term exposure to short life radioactive products.  There is not an inexhaustible supply of copper, though there is a large supply and there is a significant amount of recyclable copper above ground, though the recycle cost of copper is already fairly high.  If fusion were to replace oil over night the value of copper would rise significantly as the demand for electric products increased over fuel. If we simultaneously dramatically reduce our population, there might be a sustainable supply in our dumps. Fusion would certainly be the next big thing we’d learn to live with, but it isn’t magic.

Likewise, an efficient means of gathering hydrogen from water might power vehicles which would be light and not pollute.  It isn’t clear how efficient such a process could become.  Though it’s hard to believe in our current paradigm, not all problems have a solution.

Even if small scale fusion is possible and happens really quickly, it won’t end all our problems.  Fusion might power electric cars, but what will roads be built from?  Fusion might power trucks and even power blast furnaces for concrete, but fusion won’t provide all the benefits to transportation that petroleum distillates do.  Even with the brilliant glow of fusion in the mix (if it is actually possible) global population will likely remain tied to fossil fuels.

With fusion widely available in the next 30 years or so, I would move my ideal human population to 3 billion.  Without fusion, I limit optimal human population to less than 1 billion, the population of 1800.

Without fusion, and regardless fracking and other extremes of getting more oil, energy needs will continue, shifting to natural gas, then likely pollution standards will be dropped for coal.  The 20th Century saw nations with black markets in gasoline.  If oil depletes as it is projected to, there will be a 21st Century black market in vegetable oils.

Without oil, and without replacement strategies, the cities will begin to die.  The city is what our discussion is really about.  Cities, historically, have been a mixed blessing.  Cities invite capital, they attract participation.  Having important things centrally located has typically meant life was easier closer to the city.  Much of human history can be written as waves of people moving to cities.  China, the agrarian socialist utopia now sees more than half her people living in cities.

Cities arise around social structure, social belief and habit, made tangible.  In antiquity, when the city was in its infancy, there were different kinds of cites, some specifically to trade on certain rivers, others as religious centers.  Humans have a strong tendency to do what others do; hence the tendency for people to look up in the sky when seeing someone looking up, or the term “bandwagon”, or the ability of a population of nearly 350 million people to divide itself nearly in half over a presidential choice.  The city makes everything humans like about being social proximal, meaning close.  It also focuses human activity.  If you want a complicated surgery or a good deal on a high end car you’ll likely go to the city, which is why rural doctors have a hard time and have to take MediCal, and car dealers in small towns are just a memory.  Cities, through various manipulations of resources, grow themselves.

Most cities have arisen around passes, crossroads, rivers and natural bays.  For small gatherings of humans, up to a couple of thousand, place is a big contributor to how they view the world; for urban dwellers, other humans contribute most to their view.

As we’ve learned from fiction and experience, a truly steady state population is a nightmare to manage, and creates a nightmare to live in.  Indeed, the first step I’ll take in formulating my sustainable earth is to avoid seeking a steady state.  I will expect the population not to remain steady, but to swing aperiodically around a desirable median, hopefully plus or minus 50 million people.

I also intend that humans be “free range” meaning they not be designed and bred for the purposes of the system.  Being free will mean few people, and it will mean less freedom on reproduction.   Humans cooperate best when they have the means to conflict.  In short, I will eschew the strictly communalist nature of the majority of current schemes to save the world, since humans typically act on a continuum from selfish to altruistic, and because your view of my selfishness is a manifestation of your sense of entitlement and so selfishness.  Instead, we’ll assume that people are selfish and generous both, depending on the situation.  We are not angels, not brutes fashioning ourselves into gods, we are clever, busy, very chatty monkeys.  Heaven on Earth, if it did exist, would be no place for us.

I will also take into account in my model that nature intended a broad variation in genotypes and broad latitude in the phenotypic expression of the genes, so I will plan on all kinds of people, not simply those who work and play well with others.  To be clear, I find everything about humans and the planet they live on to be perfect, except there are too darn many humans and they individually and especially collectively tend to use more resources than they should.

I further don’t assume that we humans have traits which were useful in the old days, but which are no longer useful today.  Turns out the adenoids and appendix actually do things, nothing about us is “vestigial”, that is just Enlightenment hubris, that we had somehow become godlike and no longer needed our animal instincts.  Totally not so: the tougher things get, the more we need those vital emotions the decent despise so much: anger, hunger, lust.  Our goal is to reach a state of sufficient comfort for all residents of Earth that those emotions aren’t called on much, and our tendency to cooperate and bond is called on more.

To that end, I’ll construct my sustainable Earth on the foundations of what make people happy; the circumstances that make people happy at different times in their lives, circumstances that naturally foster acceptance, encourage mastery and sufficient to meet physical needs.  I won’t construct an egalitarian society, rich with mutual respect and pluralism and free from bias, because that description is driven by idealism and is not represented in the data.

Data would include the lesson of the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, a dignified, cooperative people who refused to renounce their belief in peace and mediation and so in the mid-1800s gave no resistance and were literally slaughtered like sheep, killed and eaten by their Maori cousins, and so were completely eradicated as a people, though descendants with Maori and Europeans blood do survive.   We are reminded of the determinedly pacifist people of Huxley’s Island.

What the data shows is that our species benefits from conflict and hardship, that the elaborate ballet of cooperation and competition has pushed us around the globe.  If you look for war in our history and our makeup, you’ll find war galore; if you look for cooperation you’ll find we can’t help but interact and construct ways to get along.  I would seek to preserve conflict and cooperation in my sustainable human Earth.

As you have made me your dictator in the interest of a sustainable world, I will use the propensities of humans to make humans happy.

We have a formidable challenge in this endeavor: human nature.  We humans are not very unique in most ways.  We follow the very same algorithms of decision making that any intelligent animal does, but just as every animal uses those algorithms differently according to their form and environment, humans regard mostly other humans, and our decision making is most refined, most complex, dealing with other humans.  Cooperation and conflict have formed us into an exquisitely precocious teen of an animal.

Humans take care of their environment best when they have skin in the game, when they directly benefit from its continuation, and perish with it.  There are numerous schemes through human history to protect the commons, none are foolproof and none have lasted FOREVER.  However, we can learn from those instances where people formed sustainable, long lasting communities.

We also have to consider what sociologists call “structural factors”.  A social structure is a pattern of behavior with surprising durability which arises from the continued, habitual, concert of human actors.  In this instance, I’m referring to the fact that the way we array ourselves socially and the roles which arise from that can have a significant impact in the outcome of our project to save the world from and for humans.

I suggest we find a new global model.  After 4300 years of kings and dictators, from Sargon of Akkad to Hitler of Germany, who have tried to unite the world under one leader and a central bureaucracy, I suggest we decentralize.  Centralization, by which we mean the stacking of authorities and purviews from a broad base at the level of human interface to a singular point of authority, has been efficient at achieving all the things we suffer from, and a great deal of personal misery that is not the concern of the discussion.

Watchers of history know that where war goes, bureaucrats follow, and the bureaucrats are finally inheriting the earth.  The United Nations literally creates a ruling bureaucracy without a king.  Currently the UN has few warriors but many lawyers, and while unable to stop individual wars to any appreciable degree, has thoroughly webbed the world with projects and programs, and might yet demonstrate the final victory of the pen over the sword, extinguishing armed conflict beneath meetings and treaties and piles and piles of expenses.

Will I use the UN to fashion my utopia?  No, the UN is a clear lesson in how not to create an efficient and sustainable world.    I would use central government to do just two things: monitor population and report that information to the general population, and report significant resource changes in any homeland, also to the general population.

All other functions would be handled as locally as possible. Like More and virtually everyone who’s ever tried to establish control over humans, I would have to use layers of authority and that means trouble, if any decision makers are involved.

Humans are mentally agile, and they can assume various social roles by inhabiting the social expectations of that role: title, dress, location and so on (a “priest” is not just a man, in church, with his robes on, he’s something else now, a “priest”).    Problem is, once a human is in the role, they belong to a new group.  A hometown boy who is elected to the legislature isn’t the same person anymore, he’s part of a new group with a new culture and shared problems in a ritual environment.  Further, he’s not the same person at home, either, people go to him now, to try to influence things.  That kind of power should be diffused across the population.

The more layers of bureaucracy, the more distance between the representative and any given constituent, the greater the effect.  Further every bureaucrat, if they are intelligent and diligent, will ceaselessly try to refine and expand their purview.  Every bureaucrat is a minor king, with a tiny kingdom to protect and expand.  Likewise, the priesthood, which is another very similar kind of bureaucracy.  Likewise any of the guilds which would, if it is possible, do two things: 1. Protect the integrity of the guild system and all other guilds; 2. Attempt to transgress on other guilds when possible.  Experts of all kinds limit the field of who can play, and then compete within the field according to often very complex rules.

As your dictator, I decree that large bureaucracies and specialized priesthood are bad.  Anything that collects authority or wealth is bad.  When we construct these complex bureaucracies, they take on a life and a life course of their own.  That way lies the madness and death of the middle 21st Century.

In the world of 1billion people, there will still be war.  War is unavoidable.  There will still be kings who overthrow neighbors.  But, because the basic unit is small, and because neighboring units benefit from peace, large wars will probably not be common.  Cities cause war, and they provide for and encourage the accumulation of wealth and the social stratification people call “class” or “socio-economic status.”  Smaller groups of people also follow similar strategies, but scale is what gives problematic bureaucracies their devastating efficiency.

Not that tribes don’t fight, they certainly do, sometimes for generations.  Tribes do rise up and suddenly gain power and sweep neighboring areas, gathering soldiers as they go.  Consider the Maori devastated the 2000 peaceful residents of the Chathams with 500 thugs armed with clubs and axes.  But typically their populations crowd out existing populations.  We aren’t creating a perfect world, we’re simply trying to find a point at which the number of humans and the amount of resources they use are not only balanced, they are sustainable in a way that will allow oceans and skies to clear.  What kind of world future humans live in is their affair; we’re simply trying to lay out a sustainable framework which will enable and encourage humans to keep their population and resource use in check.  Against this plan, as dictator I have no objection to war, so long as the population does not exceed the determined carrying capacity.

I have chosen a social structure which will encourage individuals to be selfish in a communal way, and be communal in a selfish way.   This structure encourages small entrepreneurs and discourages large ones.  It encourages people to take a graduated interest in neighbors by distance, making use of the three determiners of social interaction: similarity, familiarity and proximity.  It encourages a broad range of locally produced products and discourages monopolies.  Using conflict and cooperation constructively should provide nearly all of Earth’s 1 billion inhabitants the opportunity to live lives of reasonable duration and productiveness in reasonable comfort and health.  It combines the salient ingredients of our utopias from More forward and attempts to avoid the excesses and concentrated power of dystopias.  It increases the imperative to live according to what the Earth can provide and still allow the planet to be healthy in a way that benefits us: a relatively stable climate, relatively clean and bountiful seas, healthy carbon dioxide sinks, clean air.

There are some details left to work out, like how to deal with the 6.1 billion people who don’t fit in the plan, and how to deal with the inevitable unintended consequences any such project entails, but I’ll leave those for part 5.

For now, here is the social structure I’ve decided on.  I’ve structured our global village on the work of Elinor Ostrom, and others, who sought communities which displayed resilience and which shared resources in a sustainable way. Ostrom’s work doesn’t rule out urban commons cooperation, nor does she present a cohesive plan to manage population.

To that end, here is the structure of our new society:

The primary occupation of everyone is growing, catching, and processing food.

One to fifteen people are a household.  A household owns enough land to survive on, plus 15% extra for hard times or luxury, plus 15% for market goods.  A fifteen-person household would likely contain three generations.

A commons is a place, watercourse, facility, idea, skill base or other tangible or intangible asset that the general community supports and benefits from.  For example, if a homeland supports a student to become a doctor, the skills that student gains must either be used by the members of the homeland, or paid back.

A household is owned by all members equally; members over 15 vote in household decisions; children under 15 are represented by their parents; female children by a male parent or surrogate, and male children by a female.  Equal ownership means an increased likelihood of pluralistic decision making.  The structure seeks to disarm past patterns of exploitation in family groups, and copy those which have been most successful.  Unoccupied households would probably be rare.

There are estimated to be about 7 billion acres of agricultural land on the planet; some is rich and grows many crops well; other land is suitable for nomadic or pastoral use.  One billion people allows an average of seven acres per person, or 1050 per homeland.  However, part of every homeland is commons for grazing, gathering, and the regeneration of water and air.  Even good land needs water, and new and old technologies would need to conspire to save our ground and surface water.  Each household would own 20 acres; every homeland would have about 3000 acres of commons. Land ownership encourages responsible land use; a commons encourages community cohesion.  That should allow plenty for growing food, fuel, something in the larder for hard times, and something to take to market, and allow land to heal from the ravages of the middle 21st Century.

In many locations, an acre will support 1-5 people.  All homelands should have enough for every person to have a comfortable life.  The excess land would be used to provide specialty foods like cheese, yogurt, tofu, honey, a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, specialty woods, or other products which enrich the lives of others and the wellbeing of the households.  The abundance of land but the limited market would provide the opportunity for households to produce risky products that wouldn’t produce every year.  Excess also means wine, vinegar, fruit sugar, smoked meats, and a varied, healthy diet.

Nineteen households equals one homeland, or 150 people.  Homelands are six sided parcels containing 7500 acres of arable land or the equivalent. Most homelands would be from 11 to 22 square miles.  Some would be much larger; some contain portions of coast and tide lands, some would be smaller, depending on the value and sustainability of the resources of the homeland.

Each homeland makes its own laws and answers disputes between households.  Every person over 15 is allowed to vote and obligated to serve on the homeland council of six people.  Service on the council is for six months, it is mandatory, a person won’t be in the lottery to serve again until everyone else has served.

Minor issues are solved by a simple majority vote; issues with implications for greater long term or widespread impacts require a 2/3 vote.  Issues of life and death as execution or land use change requires a unanimous vote.

Slavery is allowed in a homeland, so long as the slave is born into and has remained legally in the homeland.  Slaves who travel legally to another homeland (are invited to another homeland) are automatically free.

Marriage is not regulated except by the homeland.  However, there is an advantage to marrying into a neighboring homeland.  A portion of the homeland taxes will be used to provide small incentives to people who marry outside the homeland; husbands who travel to their new wife’s homeland bring a small husband price.  This is to achieve two ends: first, males are nearly always in surplus; a male in good health can have children with a dozen or more wives, so it pays to send males out of the homeland to reduce current population, but retain females should disaster strike and the population drop.  In addition anthropology has shown that when the wife goes to the husband’s tribe, warfare is common, but when the husband moves, warfare is reduced.  Homosexuality is also encouraged as a way for people to be emotionally and sexually satisfied without the risk of population growth.  Nothing prevents homosexual households and families.

Households which overpopulate, that is have more than 15 members at a time when homeland population is at or above 150 people, pay an additional 5% tax, and lose half their share of the commons.  When households are overpopulated members should be encouraged to move to households which are less than 15 people, and take the sterilization benefit.

Homelands pay suicide benefits to survivors and sterilization benefits to people age 15 to 35 who opt for sterilization; the amount is double if the person has no children.  These benefits are paid from the taxes gathered and from income from the commons.

To leave a homeland, another homeland must accept a person, or they must flee to a savage area.  A homeland can, by vote, execute a member and pay suicide benefits to the family.  If the executed was guilty of harming or killing someone, the benefits go to the victims.  If convicted of making accusations to collect victim’s benefits, the penalty is execution, with the benefit going to the falsely accused.

Households and homelands will have neighbors with which they share large resources such as lakes and rivers, tidelands and estuaries, forest and watershed environments.  Such resources where boundaries of homelands do not touch will be considered part of the commons of all homelands adjacent.  Those commons will be administered by council members from those homelands.

Cities will likely have to be abandoned due to environmental degradation, lack of energy, plague or even nuclear radiation for generations.  The wealth of each city will be distributed among the outlying lands that for years fed the cities, gave them clean water and food and timber, accepted their trash.  The resources of those homelands will include the resources of the cities but nothing more; conservation and recycling would be the watchword for the children and grandchildren to survive.

There will also be nomad homelands, people willing to live in the harsher climates.  Nomad homelands will have 7 square miles per person, but only annual agriculture is allowed.

Homelands are responsible for controlling their own population.  They control the movement of goods through the commons and can charge for water, roads, and other utilities serving other homelands, with income produced going to the households who are directly effected.  There is a 5% per year tax on household goods, collected twice a year, which supports the homeland and 10% tax on market outside the homeland, collectable by the homeland.  Because each homeland collects 10%, the cost of moving goods across homelands would be considerable; 10% the first transaction; 18% the next, and so on.  This would make moving goods long distances very expensive.  This would encourage local markets, reduce the spread of plague, discourage distant tyrants.  Homelands could vote to allow “emergency tax waivers” on some goods.  It is assumed households would defect through neighbor relationships and thwart the tax.  It’s an acceptable loss considering the resilience dependence on out of homeland neighbors give the system.

There will also be “savage areas” which are not part of the homeland system.  The savage areas would be very difficult to live in, and would harbor criminals and “onetoo”s, people who were one kid too many for the family and fled the homeland.  Savage areas provide two important features.  First, they provide the opportunity for resilience in our population numbers.  Some hardy souls can escape to the savage areas, and when populations in homelands drop, people could immigrate.  Second, they provide added opportunities for conflict and cooperation.  People from the savage zones would periodically populate to the point they would raid neighboring homelands, causing homelands to react together.  The savage areas also provide opportunity for longer distance trade, since there is no homeland tax on the savage area.  Portions of the savage areas which can demonstrate population and resource control can apply to villages for homeland status.

Every homeland has one doctor, one dentist, two midwives, a blacksmith, a mechanic, an electrician, a health specialist, a librarian/historian.  Primary care providers in those categories are given a stipend and can trade office hours for household work hours or goods with clients; secondary medical professionals are volunteers.  These skills can be gained by sending a citizen to a university, or by inviting someone to the homeland.  Every person is expected to attend basic medical, hygiene and self and homeland defense classes.  Classes would be part of the normal social life of the homeland.  The primary occupation of everyone is growing, catching, and processing food.  Doctors and mechanics are household members and their sustenance and profit is tied to the household.

Homelands are gathered into neighbor groups of 19, about 2800 people, called villages.  Villages have surgeons and higher medical care.  Villages do not tax, and there is a 19 member council which hears issues effecting all homelands, but only a tally of votes from all homelands can effect changes.  Villages provide for mail and other services to homelands.

Disputes between homelands are resolved by a council of four other homelands, two of which are adjacent to two; two of which are connected only to one of the two.  If the dispute can not be resolved, two more neighboring homelands are drafted to the council.  In the end, if the disputing homelands do not adhere to the decisions of the resolving councils, all the neighboring homelands will make war on the defecting homeland.

This is exclusive of the village, and constitutes part of the strong association between homelands who do not share the same village.  Every homeland is connected with six other homelands.  Most homelands will have neighbors outside their village.  Dividing allegiances of homelands between neighbors and villages prevents villages from becoming too powerful.

Nineteen neighbor villages form a common area called a university.  A university is a common area as large as a homeland.  These are common areas and common facilities and every person over 15 owns a portion of the university, which includes higher education, factories to recycle materials and provide important products such as computers, medicine and weapons.  A university has no power over the villages and serves the people.  It receives the support the 54,000 people it serves choose to give it.

A village is typically about fifteen to thirty miles by fifteen to thirty miles, in a hexagon.  A university would be about 75 to 150 miles in each direction, in a hexagon.  It would be nice if the lay of the land and the needs of people allowed a standard honeycomb shape to be laid across the land; that can’t happen.  However, each homeland will border six other homelands.

The universities would probably have a common area population of about 2,000 all directly dependent on the consent and support of the rest of the population.  University common areas can be located anywhere in the university, but practically it would reside in a special common homeland which would be governed by the residents of the villages constituting the university.

There can be no copyright or patents; knowledge is for everyone.  Only effort and production can be rewarded.

There is no need for a unit of social organization higher than university except for the population counters, which gather information from homelands and report back twice yearly to all the globe’s 1 billion citizens on how each homeland is faring.  It would also provide a clearinghouse for homelands looking for immigrants.  Data comes from homeland reports, which are probably inaccurate, and homelands pay for the data, to see if their neighbors are cheating.  It will serve as a reminder and a voice to control population.

Part 5

Better scenario for a sustainable Earth 5 

Let’s start with some assumptions; we are all familiar with them, but we need to keep them in mind for this discussion.

First, at some point, we’ll have to limit population.  We can have 4 billion people clinging to existence; or we can have 1 billion living well.

Second, we are all going to die at some point, it is unavoidable.

Third, there is a limit to the usefulness of technology.  Past a certain point the human is just an interface point for technology; there is a reasonable limit to what we can wring from nature (which is what technology is, wringing effects from electrons and photons).

Fourth, we humans, individually and collectively, want things that aren’t good for us.

Fifth, and probably should have been first, There is No Free Lunch.  It is a finite planet, we are finite beings, sooner or later someone pays the fee.

Having laid a grid of six sided homelands across the earth, some problems remain.  Some are difficult; some are unavoidable and unfortunate.  First the easy questions:

Why erase what is now?  Why not work within the system as so many other authors have sought to do.  Isn’t the doomsday scenario just drama?

We run into the same problem as tyrants and other authors who have tried for a global or sustainable society: the current system has structures which simply won’t translate.  Further, the average person does what she or he does; when things get hard, they do what they do harder, it’s what they know.  It’s a kind of behavioral stubbornness which balances our wanderlust and interest in the new.  Only a significant change in the infrastructure and social structures will do; it could take place over a century, or it could happen in a decade or two.  Realistically, even with global cooperation and will, the current structures (how we order our money; where we place authority; how we get our sustenance and social interaction) can only do what they do; if things get hard, they’ll just do it harder.  If we rely on the slow unwinding of our habits, customs, and structures of authority, the environment will continue to decline, times for the common person will get harder.  People will die in dribs and drabs, a million or so at a time.

In any case, we don’t have to start now, we simply have to begin displaying the understanding of what needs to be done, and start to put in to place the structures to accomplish that.

I jest about being a dictator now.  It is my fervent personal hope that the system as it is will play out in my remaining years, and I spend my golden years lofted by the last of the oil and the handiwork of underpaid people in the third world.  I only suggest that someday, some despot, or council of despots, or union of despots or united nations of despots will have to make changes which will allow 1-3 billion humans on Earth, living comfortable, busy lives, and not destroying our planet.

Which brings the discussion to the elephant in the room: the extra 6.1 billion souls alive now.  Here I, as your dictator, fail you.  I can’t bring myself to bear the burden of so many deaths.  There are great studies out there about how we decide to save people; most of us won’t push one person in front of a bus to save five people down the road, but we can make more abstracted decisions, like diverting food from one group that seems doomed to a group that has a chance.  I can’t even do that, not even in rhetoric.  I can’t dwarf Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and murder six of every seven people, even though I know that over the next hundred years it is likely that billions will die terribly of disease, hunger, war.

I can’t even bear to write in a magic button that will painlessly, magically dispose of 80 million tons of human biomass, because I lack the wisdom nature does to decide who lives and who dies.  Would I kill 6/7ths of the population generally, everyone, old and young, sick and well, rich and poor?  That would be leaving 1/7 of the old and sick; does the new world need sick old people?  Should we just kill off the old and very ill, and those who fall below a certain IQ level?  If life were linear, that would be an easy answer, but it isn’t.  There are many better ways to judge a person than IQ, or age, or the ability to walk.  The ignorance of Hitler’s approach to “purifying” the race is obvious.  Nor could I, as Pol Pot was content to do, kill everyone in cities for the sin of being urban.  The cities have created sucking whirlpools of wealth and opportunity, they arise to the maintenance and convenience of wealth and power.

I can’t simply refuse to allow reproduction for a few generations, until the population is down to 1 billion, since there would be no young.

I lack the wisdom to approach killing so many, and rather than simply selecting one in seven to live and swiftly killing the rest, I have abandoned them to the traditional foes of humankind: starvation, sickness, hardship, and so I have failed you.

But, though I have failed you, I have not forgotten my prime directive: a sustain population on Earth which allows the planet to heal, and provides everyone with the opportunity for plenty.  So, I have a backup plan.  It’s not as effective, nor, really, as humane, but it makes me feel better.

The past has shown us that, during times of hardship, births increase.  It has shown us that after plague or war has depopulated an area, those who remain relatively swiftly regain the material wealth and assume the lifestyle of those before the plague, and as swiftly regain population.

I leave it to God, or Nature, or luck, to decide who dies.  In the meantime, I will prepare my grid of homelands, and I will undertake a series of decrees which will result in increased mortality.

For many people, very little will change in regards to where they live and what they own.  I will use my power to turn the mighty bureaucracy of the UN to reveal the relative resources, both physical resources like arable land and rivers, and above ground resources like garbage dumps and quarries.  In a move that would make Stalin proud, I’d depose absentee landlords and set up homelands accepting applications for citizenship and households for ownership.  When disaster hit an area and brought the population down to target levels, I would incorporate them into the grid.  As I get old and approach death (since I’m dictator of this scenario, I dictate that won’t be for a long time), I would allow the excess population of homelands to immigrate and claim depopulated areas, and once again the young of human groups would explore and open new lands.

To speed the process, I would seize all petroleum products in the name of preserving them for the future.  I would shut down the most dangerous and technology dependent producers first: no fracking, no oil platforms at sea with thin pipes five miles long though ocean and rock.  Eventually, I would shut down nearly all oil and coal resources, and would limit natural gas.  I would scrap the fossil fuel installations and turn the parts into small factories to produce solar-electric Units.  Petroleum based vehicles would stutter and stop, food distribution would be crippled. People would flee the cities if they could and I would set them up in grids.

In freezing fossil fuel reserves, I increase the likelihood of death by starvation and local plagues, but decrease the likelihood of pandemic.

I also offer suicide benefits and sterilization benefits, free abortion and free contraception.  It is unfortunate that the poor of the planet will disproportionately take advantage of these opportunities.  However, freezing land ownership in the food producing areas and providing a chance for citizenship in a homeland and ownership in a household, we encourage people of all social classes who want to survive to leave the crumbling infrastructure and move to places that are more survivable.

This would all be very cruel, but it has sufficient benefit that I’ll allow it.   Eventually, as better data became available from the UN, I would step up my program of encouraging the young and the courageous to take up household ownership.

I would enforce my restrictions on homelands: a certain portion as renewable commons and a portion of citizen owned households; taxes between homelands; the homeland council to resolve internal issues, the council of neighboring homelands for inter homeland disputes, and above all, the limiting of homeland populations to 150.

What about cities, don’t we need them?  It turns out, we only need cities if we want a certain level of technology and sophistication.  Because authority in the model is diffuse, and because there is a mix of commons and private ownership, and a broad variation in law and culture between the homelands, cities and the problems, and benefits, of cities are not necessary.  It turns out that 1 billion people the world of 1800 had more than enough people to have empires and industry and technological advances.  The Industrial Revolution fell smack into the era.  Sailing ships were crowding the seas, busy gathering slaves, trading around the world.  Even without oil, even with only a billion people, and even locked into cellular units of 150 people, things will happen.  The problem is never going to be that people aren’t resourceful or creative enough to find a way to get business done, to interact, to exchange and trade.

Cities have the best of everything because it is economically easier to trade where there are many people.  As a result, the areas surrounding cities are often stripped of the best of things because they are siphoned to the city.  Areas far from cities do have good local cuisine, involved community theater, a responsive merchant environment.

In my grand scheme, a university serves 54,000 people. It uses no more space or energy than a city of 54,000, including the distal workers who feed a city and accept its waste.  It is a city spread out, a city in which every person can support her or his basic needs.  Time is slowed down because the city is widely spread and transportation is slow.  This is not by accident.  Capitalism and fossil fuels have redefined time for us.  Changing the patterns of social interaction to the pace of humans, not machines, will reduce medical costs and increase happiness and health.  How?  Stress.  Google “stress”.

In an over populated world, we don’t need to save everyone, we don’t need to create genetically modified monstrosities to feed a hungry planet.  We need to limit population, and turn our wisdom and knowledge to something deeper and more lasting than expensive bling.  That being the case, we don’t need long and energy expensive supply lines; we don’t need concentrated wealth, waste and pollution; we don’t need cities.

Graphic: How power and personal investment is diffused through homelands instead of being centralized.

disputes between homelands

What about the internet and the space program?

Why wouldn’t there be internet?  The infrastructure for computers is very petroleum intensive, but solar power should be readily available, and there would be many salvaged computers and servers, and perhaps even renewable biological computers.   The internet has taught us a great deal; it has given us Wiki, a homeland and commons for the world.

Take out the petroleum and they could be made in a university.  Regards the space program, that is very petroleum intensive.  It remains to be seen what innovation people demonstrate.  We aren’t starting from 1800.

What about primary education?

The homelands are structured to include on-going training and education for all citizens.  It is assumed every university would have an educational component.  Age and gender segregated education where the pedagogy is determined by experts produces one kind of education.  Integrated education where all kinds of people work together on subjects and skills of interest produce a different kind of education.  It’s up to the homelands to educate their 30 or so children, or several contiguous homelands might set aside a commons for education.  We can be free of the power of the old religion: all people know things, not just “experts”.    Knowledge is available to everyone; there will be books and likely the internet or perhaps something faster and more inclusive than the internet.

What about medicine?  Today, we are obsessed with treating ever more rare diseases, and stretching the life span of every person.  It’s a terrible thing to do in an over-populated world.

Such specialist driven medical care is also not the sole or even most important cause of our increased health and life span.  Hygiene and sanitation saved millions of lives.  Most of the best tricks of medicine and surgery can be accomplished in very small facilities.

Further, with no abundant corn, no high fructose corn syrup, no corn fed pork and beef, many of the illnesses which plague old age today would be eliminated.  Futurists boast we will one day live forever; in a crowded world, if their dystopian dream does come true, the old will feed off the young in a tragic inversion of nature.   Already in the West we keep the old alive at the cost of the young; the past at the cost of the future.

We need medicine which will give us healthy mothers and babies, treat trauma and illness with basic medical treatment, and give the very sick and dying a celebrated and honorable departure among family and friends.  We need to relinquish death as an adversary, as many other cultures have done.  Death is an essential part of birth.  Those who die are heroes who make way for the next 1 billion.

In past plagues, so many died, there weren’t enough people to bury them, let alone mourn them.  In the future plagues, a single death will mean no more than a beetle hitting the windshield now.  Our perspective on death, and the sacred preservation of life above all costs, is a luxury we lose in desperate times, and regain when death again becomes uncommon.  Considering things like quality of life, the limits of resources, and the distribution of medical care, we realize we can always mourn the loss of a single life, but we have to make pragmatic choices about who we treat, and how we treat them.

What about law and justice?

Big corporations require big law.  Homelands require small law.  The average person is more likely to get a swift trial and some measure of justice from neighbors than from complex, sluggish, top heavy jurisprudence.  As far as law making, the laws we care about are those preserving the household and homeland system, and controlling population.  Otherwise, the laws and rules of daily life are the concern of the 120 or so voters of the homeland.

Graphic: Dispute resolution and mutual aid among neighbors of different villages.

interconnectednessarrows

It would quickly return to the way things were.

The world of 1800 went bad for a couple of reasons.  First, even the wisest people thought the world was very big.  Second, it was an era when capitalism was expanding from raping far away lands to making things.  Capitalism and technology have been firmly wed since trade required record keeping and sailing required landmarks in the stars.  Third, it was a time when Man, particularly White Male Man, was dislodging God as the explainer, and arbitrator, and eventually creator, and absolutely the savior.  The term “salvation” means to be made whole; science makes us whole today, in our bodies, and in our minds.

We now know the Earth is small; we understand how our wants and needs drive us to the marriage of capitalism and technology and the very mixed bag that has turned out to be for us; we need finally to come to understand we are not gods.

We struggled to relieve ourselves of our old gods, or relegate them to the realm of the unexplainable.  Perhaps it is time to relinquish the mystical hold of our current god, science, and his child made flesh, technology.  Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s better. The greatest lesson about technology is that it literally changes us.  It changes us individually, partly because our neural network rewires itself to our ecology, we are so wonderfully resilient.  Collectively, our gene pool, in ways we can’t yet discuss, ways we might yet have to consider and admit.  When considering a new technology, instead of assuming the priests of science touch a truth that is beyond each of us, we should hold it in the same doubt we employ on someone who knocks at our door with a pamphlet promising salvation in the next world.

Having considered, as the Pentagon considers, the fragility of this abstracted structure we’ve created, can we ask ourselves, is this necessary for happy, healthy lives?

Besides, we aren’t turning the clock back to 1800; we still retain what we’ve learned during the time of over population, specialization, and excess.  Learning and philosophy won’t diminish; we might easily find a kind of knowledge and wisdom which escapes us in consumer-culture nations now.

Indeed, I have fashioned the grid system to ensure an inefficiency of mechanical, administrative and financial systems, with a corresponding increase in human interaction and human capital.

People always want to have more.

Undeniably true.  Humans have a high propensity toward accumulation.  Humans are inevitably creative and innovative.  The desire to trade goods and ideas has overcome deserts and oceans, it would make a fair assault against the rule of “10% tax across homeland borders”.   Even so, the system isn’t such a burden; throughout much of history a transportation fee of 100% has been common.  Can you fly?  If so, you can transport goods by air and pay no taxes.  The savage zones would become free trade zones.  I have tried to build the system with all the gray areas and flexibility needed to make life possible, but still retain local control of the commons and responsible use of private property.

What if some homelands over-populate, over run nearby homelands, and run amok towards an empire?  As long as the over all population and resource use stays within sustainable limits, the system will eventually prevail. Small, strong independent homelands capable of mutual aid have always been the most difficult to swamp in war.  If someone uses nuclear weapons, the population and resource use will drop, and eventually, population will recover.

Further, though cultural changes did sometimes sweep across the globe, there are many memes which continue for hundreds or thousands of years. The endless creativity of humans is matched only by their willingness to become dogmatic and exclusionary.  We consider that Islam’s conversions by the sword remained converted even when the threat of the sword is lifted.  The Catholic church has lost a great deal of influence, for but for many centuries its basic memes provided resilience.  If the proper memes of population and resource control, of the inviolability of the homeland system, of the importance of both private lands and commons, are established firmly, they should see humankind through the thousand years it will take for Earth to recover her oceans and skies.

You can’t stop change

Technology caught fire in the world, changing the meaning of time and distance, and spreading its gospel in a way Jesus and Mohammed would envy.  I expect technology to continue to grow.  A lot of knowledge has been gained by small labs.  A homeland could afford a small lab, if it chose.  A village could afford to support a very large lab.  Because ideas can’t be owned, there is no direct profit motive to the developer, the power of ideas and the beauty of logic and learning will motivate our investigations.  Individuals living in the homelands, who collectively own the university, will determine what direction research and development take.  Change won’t be stopped, it will be directed to the interests of households.

What if people don’t cooperate?

Well, in this scenario, I, as dictator, will cut off their links to survival and the community and plenty of the homelands will soon seem like a great idea.

In the real world, they will die of starvation or cold or plague, or their children or grandchildren will.

Many good ideas have spread through the common person.  In many parts of the world, the homeland idea won’t even seem new.  In other parts, the lives of people would be dramatically improved with direct access to food, water, and shelter, and to a doctor or dentist.  In many places in the world, people could take care of themselves if large landowners and corrupt government systems didn’t prevent it; they would benefit at once from a homeland and a sustainable life.

How is this not socialism?

I wouldn’t have ruled out any form of governance, but this isn’t socialism.  The residents of a household own it and the land that goes with it.  They can use it anyway they like, as long as neighbors aren’t negatively impacted.  The commons of a homeland are owned by the households.  There is, perhaps, something of socialism there, but it is the socialism of tribes and clans.  Transgression on a homeland’s commons by an outsider feels a lot like trespass on private property, and with the same result.

It’ll never happen.

True, but that’s not my fault, everyone forgot to make me dictator.

Many things might happen; there are nested complex systems involved.  New low power technology and unexpected power sources are unknowable variables.  There might be disasters no one has foreseen.  It’s possible that population will stabilize at 5 billion, fusion and water hydrogen will fill the gap between decreasing oil and increasing energy demand.  Maybe genetically modified food won’t be a terrible idea, and maybe genetic engineering will rid us of disease and make us all super humans.  Maybe we’ll find ways to harvest micro bits of plastic from the food column in the sea.  Maybe we’ll solve the problems of violence and war.  Maybe we’ll undo the last five hundred years of habitat and subsistence lifestyles.  Maybe six in seven of us will simply stop reproducing.

Maxims for the new world:

How far are you from the table; how far is your table from the field?

If hunger stalks the neighbors, the neighbors stalk the fat.

We open our eyes to a world without definition; we close our eye on a world which saturates us: more than guts and bones we are wisdom, heart, and knowledge.  Never stop learning.

We are owned by the things in our possession.  How free are you?  A free person has a bowl, a blanket, a book, a household, and a homeland.  A free person’s wealth is in their neighbor’s heart.

Anything that collects authority or wealth is lunacy.  That way lies the madness and death of the middle 21st Century.

Enough for today and enough for tomorrow, but far too much brings all of us sorrow.

The commons will give us tomorrow what we leave today, and give us next winter what we leave tomorrow.

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