[ExI] The bright side of Gigadeath.

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Fri Oct 5 05:01:31 UTC 2007

Before expounding on the down side of populations in the billions, 
large populations definitely have some positive points.

First is the advantage of large markets.  A lot of products, drugs, 
computer chips, software, movies and cars have high development 
costs.  The cost have to be spread over large production runs to make 
the cost per unit reasonable.  This is an application of extreme 
specialization (see Adam Smith's description of pin makers).

And large populations make for larger number of those 3-6 SD geniuses 
that drag the rest of the population along in their wake.

But large populations are the direct or indirect cause of virtually 
every problem we have today from global warming and lose of 
biodiversity to terrorism and wars.  Engineering in the broad sense 
has stayed just ahead of population growth for some decades, but 
business as usual can't continue on the down slope of peak oil.

What we have been doing in the last 4 generations is converting oil 
into people through food.  Running out of oil is the same as running 
out of food.  You can see the leading edge as corn ethanol drives up 
the price of tortillas in Mexico.  Unless something replaces oil in a 
really big way, the human population will fall along with the available energy.

This isn't the first time human populations have been cut way back or 
even wiped out.  Jarrad Diamond in _Collapse_ discusses the Greenland 
Norse (wiped out), the Easter Island Polynesians and the Mayans. 
Steven Lablank describes the near total destruction of the southwest 
corn farmers.

It is true that history repeats itself (though never exactly).  The 
reason is that the stone-age mechanisms that lead to war and the 
death of up to half the adults in some tribal societies still 
exist.  They just don't get turned on as often in places with slow 
population growth below economic growth.

Terrorism is a stunted version of war that occurs when conventional 
war is inhibited by wide gaps between the ability of a stressed 
population to wage war and the inhibition (at present) of technically 
advanced societies to impose "biblical" solutions.  The German 
extermination of the Jews, the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the 
use of nuclear weapons on Japan shows that this inhabitation by 
advanced societies is a chancy thing.

Given how dependant economic activity is on energy, you can see how 
this couples.  It has always been self correcting.  With a fall to 
about 1 billion people, energy problems would go away for a considerable time.

Keith Henson

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