No 2311 Posted by fw, June 22, 2018
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“When we think about the carbon pulse – the amount of energy that’s going to go up and come down over the next couple of hundred years – we immediately think – “Oh, there’s going to be fewer people; there’s going to be a big die-off.” And while that’s possible, it’s not likely. … the issue is consumption. The developed world, including the United States, is going to have to use less, whether we choose to or not. … The average American uses 38 times the energy of the average Filipino and yet on subjective wellbeing studies were equally happy.” —Nate Hagens
In the previous post, Pt. 27, continuum 26, Dr. Hagens pointed out that the developed world has much more energy and resources than we need. More to the point, those surplus resources give us numerous pathways to pursue “meaningful, great, fulfilled balanced lives.”
In this post, Pt. 28, continuum 27, Hagens suggests that decreasing the developing world’s consumption is a more daunting challenge than expecting to face large population die-offs caused by resource constraints. The good news is that there’s lots of room for consumption cuts in developed countries without affecting our wellbeing.
Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ 60-minute address, followed by an 18-minute Q&A session. My transcript of Pt. 28, continuum 27, runs from 39:05 to 40:24.
Alternatively, a video of Hagens’ talk, along with a “loosely related” essay on the talk, are available by clicking on the following linked title. This version, published by Resilience.org, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.
TRANSCRIPT (from 39:05 to 40:24)
[OUR CULTURE] –
39:05 — [Continuum 27: Population vs Consumption] – Population vs Consumption. When we think about the carbon pulse – the amount of energy that’s going to go up and come down over the next couple of hundred years – we immediately think – “Oh, there’s going to be fewer people; there’s going to be a big die-off.” And while that’s possible, it’s not likely. In fact, just about any trajectory that you have, unless some of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse [Conquest, War, Famine, Death] arrive, is going to have 6, 7, 8 billion people, or more, alive 50, 60 years from now.
39:36 – So the issue isn’t so much population – the issue is consumption. The developed world, including the United States, is going to have to use less, whether we choose to or not. It’s more a story of consumption – and there are many, many examples on this planet right now of countries and communities living on under $10,000 a year that are totally happy and healthy in many, many regards. And the reason they’re that way is because the people around them are also in that same boat.
40:12 – The average American uses 38 times the energy of the average Filipino and yet on subjective wellbeing studies were equally happy.
[Resilience.org Supplement] — Population vs Consumption – We are 7.6 billion en route to 9-10 billion. UN (and other international institutions) misunderstand the energy primacy underlying human economies. Does a carbon pulse informed synthesis imply substantially lower populations this century? No. Unless some of the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up, by far the more likely scenario is a maintained high population level, with less resources per capita (maybe considerably less). Malthus was “right” but missed the ‘vertical revolution’ of fossil carbon. Ehrlich was “right” but missed globalization and the birth of credit markets, pulling resources forward in time. Perhaps someone today hearing this story immediately expecting large population die-offs based on resource constraints will also be ‘right’ but miss the more obvious trajectory of consumption decline rather than population decline. In the developed world, where people consume 50-100x their food consumption for other things, there is a lot of room to go down without affecting wellbeing. So less consumption is still viable, and even desirable. With 350,000 new babies born each day globally but 350,000 people/families per day also entering the global middle class, with about 5:1 higher throughput than the average, the ‘population’ issue takes on a different flavor.
About Dr. Nathan John Hagens – Hagens, 51, worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers for 10 years before closing his own hedge fund in 2003 to develop a systems synthesis approach to the human predicament. At present, Dr. Hagens is a professor at the University of Minnesota where he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar called Reality 101, A Survey of Human Predicament. The readings and lectures cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole.
Visit Nate Hagens’ personal website at The Monkey Trap.
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