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The Age of Sustainability - Issue #13 - The Good Life

The Age of Sustainability - Issue #13 - The Good Life
By Denis Pombriant • Issue #12 • View online
Damned if you do damned if you don’t, it’s a classic description of a no-good-alternatives decision and it’s an apt descriptor of the outlook on world Population trends. On one hand the UN did a metaanalysis of population estimates and concluded that earth’s carrying capacity or the number of people who can inhabit the planet at one time is about 10 billion. To be clear this amounts to the demand on available resources like food, water, energy and manmade ones like housing, all of which top out at 10 billion.
To be sure we’ve heard this before. Even before the Industrial Revolution English philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Malthus were warning of population outstripping things like the food supply and they were always proved wrong. Why?
The usual answer has to do with science and technology and invention. They’ve enabled us to optimize many of life’s processes and technology, especially, has enabled us to offload much of the backbreaking work of life to make difficult to obtain things commodities. Nowhere is this truer than in food production.
But the Thomases weren’t wrong. Resources are finite and while things like farmland can be extended by clearing forests, irrigation, and applying fertilizers resulting in greater crop production, these are one-time gains. So the Thomases weren’t so much wrong as they were premature in their forecasts.
But ten billion is a population number that will take a lot to exceed. As the Matt Damon character in 2015’s “The Martian” said when he discovered he was marooned, to survive, we’re going to have to science the hell out of this.
That means irrigating deserts, producing freshwater from the oceans, relying on renewable energy, and removing CO2 from the environment. As I wrote in my last book, “The Age of Sustainability” all of the technology we need to do all of that already exists. No Manhattan project is needed to invent things. It’ll just cost a lot of money.
That’s good news and we may be catching a break here. Several articles have recently highlighted a population decline in places like China and the US. Some attribute this to the pandemic but others see a long term trend that could significantly reduce earth’s population by the end of the century.
On the flip side, people worry about what happens in a world where population is aging and creating a group of people dependent on government services and pensions. What happens to industries and economies when, each year, demand drops just a little instead of rising?
Of the two scenarios, I’d welcome the former. Throughout history when confronted with population growth humanity has faced the four horsemen of the apocalypse–famine, disease, war and premature death, so unchecked growth, especially in a world with nuclear weapons, is not a viable strategy.
What to do? It’ll require a rethink of what the good life is supposed to be. How we live and what we strive for at topics that Millennial have been embracing for some time and they’ve moved to the center in the last year. How many people do you know who don’t want to go back to the office? How many are starting businesses to give themselves their dream jobs? How many are deferring marriage and childbearing?
What a good life is, is a perennial question but one that we as a society have not asked for a long time. The ancients were constantly in search of an answer and that search reached a highpoint in The Enlightenment when philosophers throughout Europe offered the ideas that Thomas Jefferson consolidated into “life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness.”
We’re at that point again so periodically I’ll publish a letter that jumps off from sustainability into the elements of what a changed world looks like.

Population growth
Long Slide Looms for World Population, With Sweeping Ramifications - The New York Times
How America’s ‘places to be’ have shifted over the past 100 years - Anchorage Daily News
This State Had The Biggest Population Drop In The Last 10 Years – 24/7 Wall St.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Denis Pombriant

Starting with root causes a full discussion of what's ailing climate and what we can and are doing to fix it. There is so much news about solutions every day that this will give hope to even the most cynical.

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