Sustainability is perhaps the most misused and misunderstood word in the human vocabulary. Most people who advocate sustainability have good intentions but no idea what they’re talking about.
Jack Alpert is an exception. He’s spent a lifetime thinking about the human overshoot predicament and what we could and must do for our species to continue with comfortable lives in a technologically advanced civilization.
Today Alpert released a new video that I think is his best work to date.
In summary, we must reduce our population to a level that does not consume energy and other renewable resources faster than nature generates them, and we must recycle 100% of non-renewable resources, and we must not excrete wastes faster than nature can absorb them.
Once a sustainable population of about 50 million people by 2100 is achieved, they can continue to enjoy our current level of technology despite fossil energy being mostly depleted, in a climate still compatible with civilization, provided they constrain their birth rate to equal their death rate from natural causes.
Alpert believes that both the initial population reduction, and the long-term constraint on population growth, can be achieved in a democratic, voluntary, and humane manner, provided we can get a majority of humans to understand that there is no alternative other than unimaginable suffering.
This awareness needs to occur soon because we are very close to triggering a scarcity-conflict death spiral, probably caused by low-cost oil depletion and/or climate change, where scarcity causes war and other antisocial behavior that in turn worsens scarcity, which will kill the majority of humans and will prevent the survivors from rebuilding a technologically advanced civilization, because the non-renewable energy and other natural resources needed to prepare a sustainable civilization will be depleted by the conflict.
Alpert calls this awareness and willingness to act “anticipatory behavior”. It’s anticipatory because it must be learned from understanding and prediction, rather than experience.
Although Alpert does not get into the details here, the method (I think) he proposes for reducing and constraining the population is a law voted for by the majority that creates a system where a sustainable number of birth permits would be calculated each year and distributed by random lottery.
I’ve heard Alpert argue elsewhere that the best method for building political momentum might be to mobilize grandmothers as a single issue voting block since they are motivated to protect their grandchildren and no longer feel biological pressure to breed. There is one historic precedent that provides some cause for optimism. It was a highly motivated block of women voters fed up with alcoholic males that spearheaded the 1919 constitutional prohibition of alcohol in the U.S..
There will of course be many challenges to passing a population reduction law such as:
- Genetic denial of reality behavior which makes it difficult for most to understand what’s going on.
- The biological drive to have children.
- Economic forces pushing for growth to avoid debt defaults and a deflationary collapse.
- Opposing cultural forces like religion.
- Widespread misunderstanding that renewable energy can substitute for the 20 TW of depleting non-renewable fossil energy that 7 billion lives depend on.
- Enforcement of a population reduction law.
But what’s the alternative?
There is no alternative other than unimaginable suffering and the permanent loss of scientific knowledge and technologies that have improved the quality of our lives.
What we’ve achieved as a species is amazing, extremely rare in the universe, and worth fighting to preserve.
There is one and only one good path available: rapid voluntary population reduction.
You can find other work by Jack Alpert that I’ve posted here.
Here’s the new video Alpert released today: