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What is the fair value of human population?

How many people can our planet naturally sustain without the need for us to resort to unnatural means to satisfy our demand levels of natural resources, including food, energy, real estate, etc.
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  • Ola (Official Rep) June 08, 2016 09:07
    I think the question can not be answered. 
    1. First of all , the input required for any human consumption, depends on the efficiency and technology used. If cars used 1% of the current energy, then the calculation would look different. Energy Efficiency has definitely changed a lot over history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficient_energy_use
    2. I doubt this can be well defined in a way that all people agree with "unnatural means to satisfy our demand levels of natural resources, including food, energy, real estate" What is "unnatural" ?

    So the question is un-answerable. But is that a problem? But imagine we knew the answer to your question. How would that change our actions? Creating more people? Reducing the number of people? Reducing the number of people is un-ethical. Even if we knew the maximum number, we couldn't act and also keep our moral compass.

    We know the richest billion is definitely over-consuming. Even, without knowing how far the richest have passed the limit, we can still do everything in our power to reduce the over-consumption among the richest.
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  • Thanks for the detailed reply, Ola. I agree with many of your points.

    I certainly agree with you that if everyone on the planet was to consume energy, food, water & land at the same level/rate as a developed/rich country, such as the USA, we would have by now already depleted all of our natural resources.

    Energy efficiency might be something that we could improve. But, the overall equation would not change, if the number of consumers increases. E.g. if today, we have a 100 machines consuming 100 kWh at 50% efficiency. An increase in efficiency to say 90% could improve the situation, assuming the number of machines remains constant. The reality, however, is that even though the efficiency is increasing, the number of consumers is increasing at a faster pace. Overall, there is not going to be major improvement. I agree with you on the argument for energy efficiency, if the multiple for consumers remains constant.

    Also, what about our need for food, water & real estate? Either, we will soon resort to new super food categories, which contain all the necessary nutrients our body needs in a condensed synthetic capsule or pill, or we regulate our consumption of food which we can naturally produce. The same goes for our water consumption and our need for land/real estate.

    I think of "natural" as not interfering with the natural life cycle, i.e. if a chicken can lay 10 eggs a day or a pig can recreate at a certain unforced natural rate, we should not artificially force the production output.

    I do believe the answer to this question is important, because it would give us guidance on how we should regulate our population growth.

    If I understood Dr. Rosling's argument about "peak child" correctly, the underlying reason is that overall the number of children has reached peak level of 2B, because the bottom 40% have less than 2 children per woman, which balances out the top 18% which have more than 2.

    Now, Dr. Rosling used this argument to model the population pyramid over the next century and showed how it would reach an asymptotic level of around 11B.

    The underlying assumption in the model is that the 2B new children will not change over time.

    But, if through family planning and other ethical means, which by no means should impose on people's freedom of will & choice, we reduce the number to 1B new children, the overall population would drop down to 5B over the next century.

    Now, it is unclear to me if 5B is too high or too low, because I don't know what the fair value of human population should be. But, I think there are very ethical, moral and human actions that we can take today, to save our future.

    I fundamentally don't believe that we should start invading other planets, because we're running out of resources on Earth. We are humans and we have the ability to control ourselves.
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  • Ola (Official Rep) June 09, 2016 16:38
    Thanks for good reply! 
    But how on earth would you achieve this: 
    "we reduce the number to 1B new children"
    There's no ethical way. Families seem to want roughly 2 children... And that is a fortunate circumstance. The preferred number of children could have been three, or one ... and humanity would have been in a very difficult situation. But people with a choice tend to choose,... roughly 2 ( I have three)
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  • Totally agree with you on a finding an ethical way, Ola.

    I don't think we should resort to unethical means of population control, nor should we take away the freedom of choice from each individual.

    Building on top of Dr. Rosling's model, we would only need to control population growth for a period of 15 years, i.e. only for 15 years would we need to limit the number of children per woman to 1.

    After 15 years this "new 1B" would move up the age scale, and assuming a 50/50 distribution between men & women, they could continue to have 2 children per woman without affecting the model.
    (I've attached a screen shot of the modified model, please let me know if I made any mistakes)

    I believe controlling population growth should primarily be through education. The work that organizations such as Gapminder are doing through the "ignorance" project is great!

    In addition to the knowledge people will gain, which will hopefully lead them to make a conscious decision about family planning, governments could support the process.

    • Before we talk about population, and how many of us can live on the planet sustainably, we need to eliminate all the glaring inefficiencies in our human ecosystem.

      We should also take into account all the ways things are very likely to change dramatically, eg energy, transport, food production, housing and much more. Not to mention that 70% of the earth is uninhabited simply because of it's under water.

      Population control is the last thing we need to pay attention to now.
    • Interesting points.

      Could you please elaborate on the inefficiencies you speak about in our ecosystem?

      What dramatic changes do you foresee in things?

      Are you suggesting that land mass will appear from beneath water and we could live on it? Or we'll find ways to live under water?

      Why is population control the last thing we need to pay attention to? Why would that be wrong? What should we pay attention to now?
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