Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jeremy Grantham — The Race of Our LIves


Jeremy Grantham continues to sound the alarm.
The bottom line is that if we put our minds to it we can overcome normal inertia and abnormally powerful vested interests that oppose necessary change. Our population is likely to start declining in a few decades, slowly but surely, and the fertility rate of 1.8% or less would allow global population to fall back more or less gracefully by 2200 to a probably sustainable level of 4 billion, particularly if we sensibly encourage its decline. Important progress in alternatives is certain. Other scientific progress, especially in computing power will also help. Whether we can move fast enough on these fronts and at the same time reduce the output of greenhouse gases to avoid going off the cliff is simply not knowable for certain, but every minute saved and improvement made, betters our odds. Let the race begin.
GMO Quarterly Newsletter
The Race of Our Lives
Jeremy Grantham


20 comments:

The Rombach Report said...

I find it somewhat dispiriting that such an intelligent man like Jeremy Grantham is such an unabashed Malthusian who thinks the world population needs to drop to 4 billion people. Amid all the talk of alternative energy sources, not one mention of developing thermonuclear fusion energy.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/13bn-iter-project-makes-breakthrough-in-the-quest-for-nuclear-fusion-an-unlimited-supply-of-cheap-clean-energy-29227629.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/one-giant-leap-for-mankind-13bn-iter-project-makes-breakthrough-in-the-quest-for-nuclear-fusion-a-solution-to-climate-change-and-an-age-of-clean-cheap-energy-8590480.html

Matt Franko said...

Energy expert Dan Nocera asserts that one way to reduce the population going forward (globally) is to "educate women"...

Not saying that I agree with this but it is perhaps an interesting observation from Nocera....

Some latest from Nocera's work:

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/an-artificial-leaf-can-heal-itself

rsp,

The Rombach Report said...

Matt - What possible purpose would be served by reducing the global population going forward?

Dan Kervick said...
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Tom Hickey said...

IIRC, the fastest proven way to reduce the fertility rate is to improve the standard of living. The evidence was gleaned over fifty years ago and reported by Bucky Fuller wrt studies of rural electrification. He said that the other effective way is to raise the general level of education through universal education.

Tom Hickey said...

Raises the standard of living, Ed. It's a reason that number of children per household drops with increasing living standard. In places of lower living standards, families produced more children to obtain more working hands and also has security in old age. As those needs are shifted to other resources, then the need for large families is correspondingly reduced and spontaneously falls.

Contrary to expectations, in good time people is areas with a high standard of living do not produce more children but rather increase their living standard. And, in accord with expectations, in bad time have fewer children in order to maintain the standard they have.

The Rombach Report said...

Yes, Tom I'm aware that the transition from underdeveloped to developed economies places a growing premium on education resulting in a rational choice for families to have fewer children due to the expense and economic sacrifice involved. That said, zero population growth or worse declining population is a blueprint for extinction or at least a major set back to global living standards. Growing complexity in an exponentially expanding economic growth will require more rather than fewer people.

vimothy said...

Liberals don't reproduce, hence the future will be dominated by those who are not liberal.

Dan Kervick said...

Look, here is something obvious: the human population on Earth can't expand indefinitely. So rather than hold that human progress depends on an impossible commitment to permanent complexification and permanent population growth, we need to begin thinking of ways of sustaining human well-being and progress in the context of population stability.

Tom Hickey said...

All I am saying, Ed, is that the trend is toward smaller families with rising living standards worldwide. I don't think that this is necessarily good or bad, because trends are fickle and the future is uncertain.

There are plenty of resources to go around if conserved and distributed intelligently, and innovation is always increasing the key ratios.

As Roger says, what's in the way is adaptability rate and coordination ability. I relate that to the level of collective consciousness. The solution is raise the level of collective consciousness as quickly as possible by applying all available means, on one hand, and removing the obstacles, on the other, e.g., vested interest that are standing the way.

y said...

Vimothy, are you saying all liberals have liberal parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great grandparents, etc, etc, going all the way back in an unbroken line to the Paleolithic First Liberal Man?

Ignacio said...

Electrification is the best way to reduce population growth as Tom said. Developed nations are already naturally reducing their population (excluding immigration), this trend will continue 2nd half of the century.

I'm not sure if this is a joke or serious "Liberals don't reproduce ..." but in any case is false, more correctly 'liberals' reproduce less would be more correct. Even so, the majority of the western population, and the youngest the more, it's 'liberal' in that sense. Growth ratios of some extremely radical religious groups are an order of magnitude higher than the average population, yet in absolute terms it would take them thousands of years to achieve dominance in absolute ratios, that's without taking into account other variables like social assimilation from the 'liberal' population or economic tensions and self-regulation it would create over time.

Neither is a bottleneck to manage a increasing complexity and economic growth (again, growth in nominal terms does NOT matter in the slightness, is technological advancement, production and access to that production what matters). Humans tend to have a perspective of a lifetime at most when analysing things (in our case, the exponential growth in 20th century corresponding to exploitation of fossil fuels since late 19th century), however both humans and other species have had periods of population stabilization (and even decay) but increasing complexity (which is not necessarily always the best btw, we need more resilience right now that increasing complexity) and 'evolution' (and of that we have had plenty fo examples in the last decades of the last century). And you could say it the other way: population growth in some periods have caused consequent extinctions of both other species and humans.

Nature does not not work in such binary system, as any complex system never does.

Matt Franko said...

Ed, I'm with 'ya....

I am not endorsing Nocera's assertion there nor do I support "population reduction" per se... I just "reported" this here...

I met Nocera last year by chance and have followed what he has been doing since then...

I dont consider myself a Malthusian and am generally suspicious of those who advocate population reduction... if it happens "on it's own" so to speak then so be it...

rsp,

vimothy said...

Y,

Political orientation is inherited. This paper puts hte contribution of genetic factors at about 60% of the variation: http://ussc.edu.au/ussc/assets/media/docs/publications/44_Hatemi_Trends.pdf

Ignacio,

Obviously, "liberals don't reproduce," is short-hand for "liberals don't reproduce at the replacement rate."

Tom Hickey said...

Political orientation is inherited.

Tell that to a lot of disappointed parents whose children are in reaction mode. Not only politics, of course. Religion is another.

And as children become better educated and more widely exposed to other influences, divergence increases. Which many parents know and try to avoid buy controlling the influences to which their children are exposed. That often has the opposite effect.

The Rombach Report said...

"Look, here is something obvious: the human population on Earth can't expand indefinitely. So rather than hold that human progress depends on an impossible commitment to permanent complexification and permanent population growth, we need to begin thinking of ways of sustaining human well-being and progress in the context of population stability."

Dan - Long before the human race runs out of terra firma on planet earth, we will have already begun colonizing other planets and transforming their atmospheres and climates to sustain human life. That's why Stephen Hawking is saying that space exploration is the key to saving humanity. Of course that means that we will have to develop fusion energy because I don't think windmills and solar panels in outer space will be sufficient to power the Starship Enterprise into warp drive.

Ignacio said...

If we have to go by the facts over the last decades, the contrary of what vimothy has said is happening, as a move towards the 'left' (at least in social issues like natality) has been going on over time.

Though is pretty useless to approach this in terms of political ideology affinity; these trends are mostly general regardless of political compass. In fact, to anyone should be obvious that humanity has been 'moving to the left' (I don't think it's appropriate to classify things in these terms, as the same definition of conservative/progressive has been moving over time;) in social issues since centuries ago (but again this is not absolute, for example regarding immigration, depending on the historical period society is more conservative or more liberal), and as natality becomes an ideological issue subject to ideological discussion (it wasn't during period of growth) the trend there seems also moving towards the 'left'.

Dan Kervick said...
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Dan Kervick said...

Dan - Long before the human race runs out of terra firma on planet earth, we will have already begun colonizing other planets and transforming their atmospheres and climates to sustain human life.

Ed, there is no basis for a confident prediction that viable colonization of space will ever come to pass. The extraterrestrial environments that we know about and are accessible within a human time scale to human beings are spectacularly inhospitable to human life, and just to visit them for brief times we have to pack vast amounts of expensive resources. The costs and prospects of "terraforming" even a single relatively close world like Mars would be astronomical, and success is not certain.

It is grossly irresponsible to make plans for a sustainable human and global future that depend on pie-in-the-sky science fiction scenarios transpiring. It's like saying that we don't have to worry about the food and water supply because space angels will land on Earth and deliver space manna to us.


We're already destroying our planet rapidly and inflicting genocide on one unfortunate non-human species after another in our lust for for Homo Sapiens lebensraum, and out-of control expansion and reproduction. The responsible path is to accept as a working hypothesis that the Earth is a finite habitable box in which we and every other species on this planet are confined to live, and to devise a sustainable system for living in that box.

Clonal said...

Ed,

To understand the issues, you really have to look at the series of video lectures by Al Bartlett.

The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See

As soon as you see that exponential growth is impossible, then the number 4 billion or 2 billion (a number I espouse - primarily because of the human impact on the ecosphere, and our affect on the other species that not only coexist with us, but are absolutely essential for our continued existence on this planet)

See also Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility Theorem