Population, Oil and Global Warming

Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.
—M. King Hubbert (1903-1989)

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This article is identical to:

Oil, Population And Global Warming
15 March 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci10.html

The only change is the addition of the graphs (below), which I made today (30 May 2019).

Numbers beyond the year 2020 are speculative (by the sources cited). Numbers for oil used to date (globally) are less certain than the numbers for population and average global temperature. The temperature history has been simplified (you can find very detailed data if you wish). Oil extraction by fracking since ~2000 (and since this article was originally published, in 2004), has drastically changed the numbers for oil production in the United States.

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Future historians will look back on the 200 years of the 20th and 21st centuries as the Oil Period in world history. During this time, the latent heat of buried petroleum will have been mined and released into a dramatically warmed and crowded planetary surface. In the century from 1950 to 2050, the world will have shifted from one with 2.7 billion people, 96% of its petroleum reserves intact, and insignificant global warming, to one with perhaps over 9 billion people, less than 10% of its petroleum reserves left and a 2 °C average global temperature rise. For perspective, during the last Ice Age — about 16,000 years ago — the average global temperature was 4 °C (7 °F) below the 1860 to 1920 average of 14.7 °C (58.5 °F).

What will be the politics of a hot, crowded world without oil, and possibly on the brink of abrupt climate change?

Oil

Within the sixty years from 1970 to 2030, we will have used up about 80% of the world’s oil, the peak rate of production occurring now, during these few years about the turn from 20th to 21st century. Half of the world’s oil endowment has already been used. Efforts at conservation and improved extraction technology may extend till the years 2007 to 2013 when the oil production rate will peak (at about 26 billion barrels/year, or 70 million barrels/day). Inevitably, beyond this time the rate of oil extraction will diminish.

The bell-shaped curve of oil production rate variation over time is called the Hubbert Peak, in honor of the late geophysicist who — in 1949 — first predicted the brevity of the fossil fuel era. Hubbert’s 1956 prediction that US oil production would peak in 1970 and then decline was scoffed at, but he was proven exactly correct. (1), (2)

Today [15 March 2004], over 87% of the oil endowment in the continental U.S., and over 95% of that in Alaska have been consumed. America uses 28% of the world’s yearly oil production, producing 12% domestically, and importing the remaining 16%. Americans consume oil at six times the rate of the world average (25 versus 4 barrels/person/year). America imports oil to supply 29% of the energy it consumes, domestic oil supplying another 12%, so that 41% of our energy comes from oil. This fact is fundamental to national planning. (3), (4)

Oil used (accumulated giga-barrels, GB) by a given year (estimated)

People

World population increased at an accelerating rate until 1990 (when 85 million people joined us), and has continued increasing at a diminishing pace since. The world family was 2 billion people in 1930, 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, and 6 billion in 1999. Estimates published by the US Census Bureau show a potential world population of 7 billion by 2013, 8 billion by 2028, and 9 billion by 2048. The future US population is estimated to be 4.5% of the world total, as it is today. (5)

World population (billions, B) vs. year

Temperature

Instrumental records of global surface temperature begin in 1860. The average global surface temperature for the period between 1961 and 1990 was 15 °C (59 °F). The deviations of global surface temperature, relative to the reference temperature of 15 °C, are — very generally! — as follows: -0.4 °C prior to 1920, a rise to 0 °C by 1940 (being at 15 °C), a plateau at +0.1 °C during 1940-1945, a lower plateau at -0.05 °C during 1945-1975, a rise to +0.6 °C by 2000. The actual year-to-year variations within each of these five periods are within a swing of 0.2 °C either way. (6), (7)

The temperature rise after 1975 is unprecedented (averaging +0.03 °C/year). The temperature today is 1°C (1.8 °F) warmer than in the late 19th century. The initial 40% of this temperature rise took 55 years, while the final 60% only required 25 years.

It is interesting to view the finely-detailed temperature history presented by the United Nations Environment Programme, and to imagine the warming trend beginning in 1920 as reflective of the oil boom then underway, as the industrialized nations moved from coal to petroleum for their energy; and to the warmth during WWII, which was not equaled until the 1980s.

Predictions of global warming above the early 20th century temperature of 14.7 °C are +2.3 °C in 2050 (between +1.5 °C and +3 °C), and +3.3 °C in 2100 (between +2.1 °C and +6.5 °C). (8)

Average global temperature (degrees Centigrade, C) vs. year (simplified)

Is it possible to directly relate temperature rise with human activity? For example, linking fossil energy, greenhouse gases, and global warming? What about fossil energy, industrialized agriculture, energy-intensive social systems and human population? Finding causal links to global warming is a scientific problem of great complexity, and one that has engaged many scientists for at least two decades. (9), (10)

However, without appealing to causal arguments, it is sometimes possible to show that trends for two phenomena coincide. If so, some limited insight might be found by contemplating this.

Proportionality, people and oil

The growth of human population, the depletion of oil resources and the rise of global temperature each mirror one another to a remarkable degree, a result that can be arrived at from the data and projections already described.

The world population of 2.7 billion by 1953 can be taken as a base that required negligible petroleum energy to produce. The addition of people beyond this level is fueled at a rate of 264 barrels of oil per person.

So, population minus the base equals cumulative oil production in barrels divided by 264 (equation 1).

For example, today’s population of 6 billion required the expenditure of 871 Gb (Gb is for Giga-barrel, or 1 billion barrels); the actual consumption by January 1999 was 857 Gb. Similarly, a projected population in 2050 of 9 billion would coincide with an accumulated depletion of 1,663 Gb, or 95% of the estimated 1,750 Gb of the world’s oil endowment.

The actual population and cumulative oil production data between 1950 and 2000 correlate startlingly well with the proportionality and offset (base population) given here. The projections to 2050 also correlate extremely well, but of necessity they contain uncertainties only time can clarify.

Proportionality, people and temperature

By direct comparison, the trends of temperature rise above 14.7 °C (the pre-1920 plateau) and population growth mirror each other after 1975 with a proportionality of 3.3 billion people per °C.

So, the difference of population minus base, divided by 3.3 billion equals the temperature difference above 14.7 °C (equation 2).

For example, the 6 billion people of today coincide with a rise of 1 °C to 15.7 °C (60.3 °F), and the projected 9 billion people of 2050 would coincide with a rise of 1.9 °C to 16.6 °C (61.9 °F).

Proportionality, temperature and oil

By a ratio of the previous two proportionalities, one finds that for each 870 Gb of oil produced, the global surface temperature rises by 1 °C.

So, cumulative oil production in barrels divided by 870 Gb equals temperature rise above 14.7 °C (equation 3).

It has already been noted that today we have a global warming of about 1 °C above the 19th century level of 14.7 °C, and that just over 857 Gb of oil have been extracted; this matches the proportionality of 870 Gb/°C. The anticipated global warming in 2050, with 1663 Gb of oil having been extracted, would be 1.9 °C, for a temperature of 16.6 °C (61.9 °F).

Summary of proportionalities

Three proportionalities: 264 barrels/person, 3.3 billion people/°C, and 870 Gb/°C, correlate the data and projected trends in world population (above a base of 2.7 billion), cumulative oil production and global warming (above 14.7 °C). Population and oil production are correlated from 1950, while all three quantities are correlated after 1975.

Population (blue), oil (brown) scaled to match temperature rise (red) above 14.7 C, 1850-2050, (see text, proportionalities)

Population (blue), oil (brown) scaled to match temperature rise (red) above 14.7 C, 1950-2050, (see text, proportionalities)

Population (blue), oil (brown) scaled to match temperature rise (red) above 14.7 C, 1950-2020, (see text, proportionalities)

What’s Next?

Are we to believe that these correlations will remain intact until the world’s oil is exhausted? Will we really age to 2050 with an accumulation of 9 billion people, no petroleum, and unchanged climate despite a heating of unprecedented magnitude, comparable to the cooling of the Ice Ages?

Many find it easy to fantasize from this point: ice caps melt, oceans swell, shorelines recede so that countries like the Netherlands and Bangladesh disappear; jungles and deserts expand but in different locations than at present, waves of extinction and population-drop sweep the animal kingdom, equatorial zone agriculture collapses, massive migrations spark wars; America, Europe and Japan militarize heavily, including space, to capture foreign resources and repel invaders and refugees; America invades Canada because the ‘corn belt’ has moved north to the former tundra; the exploding price of oil spurs a frenzy of invention into synthetic fuels and alternate forms of energy, as well as a return to coal and a depletion of timber; sunny territory is invaded and conquered by foreign armies, and used for solar energy plantations by a colonial elite who export the accumulated energy to their imperial homelands.

Politics (finally!)

In fact, we don’t know what will happen, or when. But, we can “use what we know” to begin rational planning now for a transition to a new method of powering our society (particularly transportation systems), and of weaning ourselves from imported energy and the imperialism it seems to require. It would also be wise to rearrange our politics, that is to say remove the inequities between economic classes, so that our nation can retain its integrity while facing the environmental, economic and political pressures to be expected with a shift to a post-petroleum world. The added stress of a civil war during such a time would be tragically cruel.

Such planning is unlikely — at best very difficult — in America, because business has a quarterly-profits myopia, and the electorate in the suburban American “heartland” is thoroughly indoctrinated in capitalist ideology, with an anti-socialist “every man for himself (and women too)” attitude. The world’s revenge for our past imperialism may well be realized by our lack of social planning for the inevitable shocks of the collapse of the oil-powered economy, accompanied by a climate shift.

There are no physical reasons, no “laws of nature” that prevent us from devising an alternative way of organizing and powering our American society. There would certainly be many technical problems and intellectual challenges, but we have the means to prepare for what we can predict is likely to unfold. An enduring society would do this on a continuing basis. To me, that is socialism. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing that everyone is in the boat, and they’re all rowing in the same direction.

In looking at our political figures, which ones seem to concern themselves with just the self-interest of one or another faction, and which ones seem to concern themselves with the good of the “whole boat?” We need leadership that can draw our involvement into long-term, democratic, social planning that achieves dependable commitments. We need such a process to bear fruit this decade, and we need a well-understood general plan for embarking on an intentional social transformation. If not, we will be the witless victims of a foreseeable catastrophe of our own making.

Notes

1.  “Hubbert Peak of Oil Production” – http://www.hubbertpeak.com (as of 29 February 2004).

2.  James M. MacKenzie, “Oil as a finite resource: When is global production likely to peak?” World Resources Institute, 1996 & 2000 – http://www.wri.org/climate/jm_oil_000.html (as of 24 February 2004).

3.  Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy – http://www.eia.doe.gov (as of 28 February 2004).
“Energy in the United States: 1635-2000” – http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/eh/frame.htm
“25th Anniversary of the 1973 Oil Embargo” – http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/25opec/anniversary.htm
“U.S. Total Petroleum Consumption” – http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/25opec/sld007.htm
“Imported Oil as a Percent of Total U.S. Consumption” – http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/25opec/sld002.htm

4.  U.S. Department of Interior, Press Release, 19 March 2003 – http://www.doi.gov/news/030319.htm (as of 28 February 2004).

5.  Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce “Population Clock,” – http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html (as of 28 February 2004).
“World Population Information” – http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/world.html
“Total Midyear Population for the World: 1950-2050” (table) – http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/worldpop.html
“World Population: 1950-2050” (graph) – http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/img/worldpop.gif
“Historical Estimates of World Population” – http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/worldhis.html
“Annual World Population Change: 1950-2050” – http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/img/worldpch.gif
“Methodology and Assumptions for the Population Projections of the United States: 1999 to 2100” – http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0038.html

6.  “Trend in global average surface temperature,” United Nations Environment Programme / GRID-Arendal – http://www.grida.no/climate/vital/17.htm (as of 24 February 2004).

7.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – http://www.unep.ch/ipcc (as of 28 February 2004).
“Variations of Earth’s surface temperature for the past 140 years (global), and the past 1000 years (Northern Hemisphere)” – http://www.unep.ch/ipcc/present/graphics/2001syr/large/05.16.jpg
“Variations of the Earth’s surface temperature: years 1000 to 2100” – http://www.unep.ch/ipcc/present/graphics/2001syr/large/05.24.jpg

8.  The reference temperature in [6] is 15.08 °C (the 1961-1990 average), while in [7] it is 15.43 °C (the 1990 value). This article uses the 1860-1920 plateau (estimated average) of 14.7 °C as the reference for global warming. So, the data and projections of temperature “deviations” and “variations,” from [6] and [7], have been adjusted to ensure consistency in describing global warming.

9.  “Global Warming,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html (as of 24 February 2004)

10.  “What is Climate Change,” Government of Canada – http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/english/issues/what_is/index.shtml (as of 24 February 2004).

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The Latent Heat of Climate Change, Redux

The equations for the chemical-hydrodynamics and chemical-thermodynamics of global warming/climate change are non-linear. For this type of physics, the independent variables are (usually) time (t) and energy (h, enthalpy). So, a physical quantity like average global temperature (T) can be taken as related to average CO2 concentration (Xco2) as:

T(Xco2),

but it is not known if this is a single valued function (i.e., has a unique value of T for a unique value of Xco2). The graphs in the article below show examples of functions (curves) that are not single valued. Such multi-valued functions are non-linear. Non-linear functions (in math, and non-linear effects in physics) can exhibit “delays” and abrupt accelerations beyond some threshold value of the driving independent variable.

Now, in the case of our Earth’s climate, CO2 average concentration is a function of time; over time Nature and humanity release more CO2 into the atmosphere:

Xco2(t).

The rate at which these releases occur can vary (some sequence of decreases and increases) over time:

d(Xco2)/dt is itself a function of t.

So, T can be seen to be a nonlinear function explicitly of Xco2 and implicitly of t:

T(Xco2(t)).

Now, realizing that there are hundreds (thousands?, more?) of “variables” that affect the momentary numerical value of T; and with many similar multi-variable — and nonlinear — dependencies of other significant physical and chemical quantities, it is easy to see that simple single-valued (and single independent variable) functional predictability just doesn’t exist for global warming. This is why the popular literature on global warming talks about “thresholds” and “tipping points” — unknown values of a driving independent variable, like Xco2, above which all hell breaks loose.

The purpose of The Latent Heat of Climate Change, is to give an inkling of the unpredictability of nonlinear, multi-variable phenomena, by describing a much simpler and well-known physical phenomena: the liquid-to-vapor phase change of water.

The Latent Heat of Climate Change
29 July 2013

Why is Global Warming stagnating? (1) I do not know the exact answer to this question. However, I do not see the lag of global warming relative to the increase in atmospheric CO2 during the last fifteen years as such a mysterious effect.

Why? Because the entire system of global heat balance and the chemical thermodynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere is extremely complicated, and multiply intertwined.

It is simple-minded to expect such a natural system (organism?, as in Gaia?) to behave mechanically and linearly. That is to say, it is naïve to expect that because data of climate history show that for a lower range of CO2 concentrations in the past the injection of X amount of CO2 into the atmosphere in any given brief period (a year or less) correlated with a parallel increase of Y amount of average temperature, that such a correlation will obtain at any higher level of CO2 concentration now and in the future.

There are so many possible feedback mechanisms and interconnections of chemistry, physics, and heat flow (chemical thermodynamics) in this earth atmosphere system that it is entirely possible for added heat energy to be stored, without temperature change, for a period of time while CO2 concentration increases above some threshold level, TL, until some higher level, TL + XX, at which point a new concentration-temperature correlation would exhibit itself.

I will give one example. When you heat ice water (but not solid ice, let us say liquid at 0 degrees Celsius) to boiling, there is a steady correlation of heat energy into the water (say in joules of energy per gram of H2O) with resultant water temperature: for every degree Celsius rise of water temperature, an amount of energy equal to 4.184 joules has infused each gram of the mass of liquid water. We know that water boils at a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius (at sea level), so we expect our (initially 0 degree C) water to boil — issue steam — once we have infused it with an amount of energy equal to its mass in grams times 418.4 joules (e.g., 418,400 joules for every kilogram). However, this is not the case.

Boiling is the condition where steam, vaporized water, can form and escape from the liquid mass because the vapor bubbles have sufficient energy to exert a comparable pressure to the liquid water from which they bubble out of, and against the atmosphere in which the heating takes place. (And, since atmospheric pressure is less at higher elevations as on the peak of Mount Blanc, the heat input required for boiling — and the resultant boiling temperature — are less than at sea level.)

A great deal of heat energy must be absorbed by the H2O molecules in liquid water that has just reached 100 degrees C, to agitate those molecules (speed up their kinetic motions) sufficiently so they separate widely (in localized spots) to make the “phase transition” from liquid to gas — steam — and then bubble out. This phase transition happens without an increase in temperature because the added energy is being absorbed into breaking the weak molecule-to-molecule attractive electromagnetic forces that make a liquid, and to agitate the molecular bonds of individual H2O molecules (which one can think of as springs between “billiard ball” atomic nuclei, and those springs are set into rotary and vibratory motions by the heat energy they absorb). The energy required to effect the phase transition of vaporization in water is 2260 joules per gram (this is called the “latent heat of vaporization”).

So, vaporizing our sample of water will require an additional 2260 joules of energy for each gram of liquid water that has just reached 100 degrees C. When we “boil water,” we take the first appearance of bubbling and steam emission as a sure sign that the liquid mass has reached 100 degrees C. Our water sample will be fully vaporized after every gram of the liquid (already at 100 C) has absorbed an additional 2260 joules of heat energy.

If we continue to heat our fully vaporized water mass, which is confined within an expanding balloon so its pressure remains constant (as its volume expands), then the steam will increase in temperature in a nearly proportional manner with respect to heat energy input, though not strictly linear (not exactly proportional).

Thus, a graph of water and/or steam temperature (at fixed pressure) with respect to energy input (per gram) would be a rising curve from ice water (0 C at 0 joules/gram of added heat) to the beginning of boiling (100 C at 418.4 joules/gram), then a flat line at 100 C from 418.4 joules/gram to 2678.4 joules/gram, and then a return to a rising trend of steam temperature with added heat energy. The following is a diagram of this process. (2)

Another representation of the thermodynamic data for water is the diagram of pressure-enthalpy at constant temperature. (3)

Note the line labeled “100 C” in the pressure-enthalpy diagram. You can see the flat part over the range of energy-per-gram during which water undergoes its phase transition from liquid to gas (vapor, dry steam). In this flat region, the mass of water is a mixture of liquid water and water vapor. At the left extreme of the flat line (418.4 J/g at 100 C) the sample is 100% liquid, while at the right extreme (2678.4 J/g at 100 C) it is 100% vapor (dry steam).

To keep water in a purely liquid state (no vapor) at a constant temperature requires a drastic increase of the pressure placed upon it (compression). Conversely, to keep water vapor (dry steam, that is to say without liquid droplets) at a constant temperature requires a drastic reduction of the pressure placed upon it (expansion, no condensation).

Each of the constant temperature lines in the pressure-enthalpy diagram shows a correlation of water pressure versus energy input (heating, energy-per-gram). For temperatures below 374.15 degrees C, there is a range of energy-per-gram in which a mixture of two phases of water — liquid and vapor — can coexist (the two phase “vapor dome”). Above 374.15 C, water exists only as vapor (gas) at any pressure.

Perhaps more than you want to know, but the example of a lag in temperature rise with heat input/content over a range of energy-per-mass in a “simple” single substance (a “pure substance” in thermodynamic parlance) like water should make us cautious about expecting an unvarying trend of any correlation between two variables, like CO2 concentration and global average surface temperature (indicative of tropospheric energy-per-mass), in a system (or substance) as incredibly complicated as the atmosphere (in its natural state, influenced by solar radiation and orbital effects).

Also, it is important to realize that global warming and the earth’s average temperature (particularly of the biosphere) is really an effect of the combined atmosphere-ocean system. The oceans are both chemical and heat sinks (they absorb gases, like CO2, and store heat, which is why polar ice shelves are melting). It is very likely that the energy-per-gram of the ocean-atmosphere system has reached some threshold that has triggered one or more unrecognized thermo-chemical cycles that are now absorbing heat and causing the lag we (i.e., climate scientists) observe between continuing CO2 emissions and global average temperature. Imagine an analogy to the vaporization of liquid water.

What is “fundamentally wrong” with climate models is that there is just too much going on in the natural system (Gaia, for romantics) for all of it to be known, or all the knowns-to-exist to be fully understood and mathematically abstracted and included in the computer simulations of the integrated reality of the atmosphere-ocean (and landmass surface) system. One hopes anomalies between theoretical results and measurements in the field, like those discussed by Hans von Storch (1), will enlighten scientists on the unrecognized phenomena and feedback mechanisms, so these processes can be included into new and improved climate models.

The models will never be “perfect” because the idea of being able to abstract all of nature in its expression as the earth’s biosphere, and simulate it computationally and exactly, is pure illusion. The full extent of natural reality is beyond the bounds of human intellect because human intellect is only a small subset of the full extent of natural reality: “Man is something nature is doing” (Alan Watts). However, the models could be refined to the point of being “good enough” — and probably already are — to guide us in making intelligent decisions about the conduct of globalized human social and economic activities. If and how we will are the real questions challenging us today.

Notes

1. Hans von Storch, Why Is Global Warming Stagnating?, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-hans-von-storch-on-problems-with-climate-change-models-a-906721.html

Also, previous difficulties in gathering geophysical data of climate history, and initial confusion in processing and analyzing it, could have made it seem that there was a “delay” in temperature rise for continuing CO2 input, until after resolution of such unrecognized errors would allow seeing a clear picture of the actual T-versus-CO2 relationship.

2. Temperature-Enthalpy at Constant Pressure
http://en.citizendium.org/images/8/8b/Steam_Temperature-Enthalpy_Diagram.png

3. Pressure-Enthalpy at Constant Temperature
https://www.ohio.edu/mechanical/thermo/property_tables/H2O/ph_water.html

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Originally published at Swans.com on 29 July 2013, as:

Why Is Global Warming Stagnating?
Manuel García, Jr.
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci68.html

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The context behind the argument made in The Latent Heat of Climate Change, Redux is given by the following two articles. The first is an outline of the scientific phenomena producing global warming, and the second describes, in general, how those phenomena are abstracted into computer codes, for the numerical simulation of the dynamics of Earth’s climate system.

Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change
25 January 2014
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/01/25/closing-the-cycle-energy-and-climate-change/

Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
18 September 2017, (4 June 2007)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/18/climate-and-carbon-consensus-and-contention/

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The equivalent of “my book,” explaining global warming and climate change science, would be the totality of articles and blog posts collected here, under the title The Latent Heat of Climate Change, Redux. That collection (“my book”) including:

Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
8 June 2015 (27 February 2012)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing
12 April 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/04/12/the-atlantic-overturning-current-is-slowing/

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Too Many People, or Too Much Greed?

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Too Many People, or Too Much Greed?

During the dark early morning hours of a September 27 a few years after the Second World War, a passenger ship cruising calm South Atlantic waters struck a drifting forgotten mine, was violently breached, and quickly sank before any distress signal could be broadcast. Daylight found 26 survivors massed in, or floating in the sea around, a small lifeboat built for 12. This is the opening scenario to the 1957 British film Abandon Ship! (also called Seven Waves Away, or Seven Days From Now); and is succinctly presented in this brief clip (https://youtu.be/xVm2dbMdXRs).

The weight of those on board along with the weight of the survivors in the water clinging to the sides lowered the boat in the water and put it in grave danger of swamping and capsizing with any wave action, and certainly in the event of a storm. There were only small stores of food and fresh water in the boat, scant medical supplies, no communications gear, no sailing tackle, and only oars. Many of the survivors were injured, weak, frail and old. What were they to do?

They could sit tight and drift to conserve their strength and minimize food consumption, and hope for a chance meeting with a rescue ship before succumbing to their wounds and infections, exposure, thirst and starvation. However, with the first increase of wind and wave action, and any turn in the weather, they would surely all be dumped into the sea and soon drowned.

They could try rowing to the nearest shore, Africa 1,500 miles away, but the bodily energy reserves of the hardy people who would have to provide the propulsion by rowing would be drained away long before reaching land, because of the drag of the total weight of humanity massed about the boat. Also, the boat would still be at risk of swamping should the weather turn for the worse.

The only remaining alternative was to abandon those people least able to contribute to propulsion, so a smaller number of the fittest people would have the water and food stores to themselves, and amount to a lower weight to be transported with a boat that was higher in the water and much more stably seaworthy. But, how many and who would be cast adrift, and who would make those choices?

The officer in charge, Alec Holmes, reluctantly comes to accept the logic of the third alternative. He ensures that he and the seamen under his command are in possession of the sole firearm on board, and sequentially set the weakest among them adrift as their voyage proceeds, as the sick and injured worsen, and as their supplies dwindle. One woman reflects on the cruelty of the powerful in their sacrificing of the weak by saying: “Why are the wicked always so strong?,” and that “an atomic scientist, a brilliant playwright, and a famous former opera singer have been sacrificed to save two ‘apemen’, a racketeer, and a devout coward.”

We could think of this lifeboat as a microcosm of our Planet Earth, and its overcrowding with desperate survivors as representative of a world population explosion facing the combined biological and geophysical catastrophe of collapsing habitability brought on by the global warming climate emergency, and a rapidly shriveling biodiversity.

It took over 200,000 years of human history for the world’s population to reach 1 billion, and only 200 years more to reach 7 billion; world population was estimated to be at 7.7 billion by April 2019.

 

World population estimates from 1800 to 2100, based on “high”, “medium” and “low” United Nations projections in 2015 and UN historical estimates for pre-1950 data.

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population#/media/File:World_population_v3.svg]

World population is estimated to have reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It was another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to reach three billion in 1960. The global population reached four billion in 1974 (14 years later), five billion in 1987 (13 years later), six billion in 1999 (12 years later), and seven billion in October 2011 (12 years later), according to the United Nations, or in March 2012 (13 years later), according to the United States Census Bureau.

I have heard from several of my critics that Earth “needs to” be quickly depopulated down to, say, its 1974 population size of 4 billion, in order to preserve its “carrying capacity” by leaving half of Earth’s area “wild” to both solve our global warming and biodiversity depletion problems, and thus maintain our prosperous nations’ current styles of inequitable capitalist societies within the larger context of a continuing human civilization. Just how this depopulation is to be carried out, and by who, is not mentioned by these critics, hence this essay.

Many factors affect population growth and the magnitude of the Earth’s carrying capacity over time, among them is a positive feedback loop between demographic growth and technological development. Human knowledge (e.g., science) and technological development (e.g., machines, drugs) improve over time and boost human survival, which helps accelerate population growth. Talented individuals, who can devise intellectual and technological improvements, are statistically more likely to arise from and survive to maturity in larger populations living at more advanced levels of development. The intellectual and technological innovations of inventive individuals make it possible to amplify the Earth’s carrying capacity as the population grows, for example by tamping down the incidence and virulence of diseases, and by increasing agricultural yields. However, there is no guarantee that such a positive feedback can cycle forever, and current trends would seem to indicate that this feedback loop is losing its momentum.

What are humanity’s options for forestalling its own extinction at least into the next century? Given human nature, and our many many tribal rivalries, ideologies, fears, superstitions, bigotries, and diversities of moral courage and of moral weakness, what are likely to be the dominant choices for collective actions for societal survival?

We homo sapiens could as a species choose to cooperate globally to simultaneously raise the living standards of the most impoverished — and majority — of Earth’s people, and reformulate our civilization’s manner of energy generation and economic operation, from its highly inequitable feudal capitalism to a highly equalized world eco-socialism: to halt the poisoning of our global environment with waste heat and carbon dioxide from combustion; waste methane from industrialized meat consumption and a melting degradation of the biosphere; and waste chemicals and plastics from industrialized farming and the detritus of industrialized consumerism. In other words, we could unite to share out the Earth equitably while also maximizing the efficiency of the global use of natural resources by quickly reforming our civilization — our methods of finding, extracting and using energy, and the forms and purposes of our economics — so as to be in sustainable balance with natural processes and cycles, all for the purpose of allowing Lifeboat Earth to row or drift for as long as possible with a minimal sacrifice of human decency and human life.

Such a course would obviously include fully subsidized healthcare for everybody, with every form of contraception including abortion on demand, and with all forms of maternity care; also subsidized and universal quality education from preschool through trade schools and university, guaranteed minimum livable income, and fully subsidized elder care and for end-of-life choices. It would be a crime to be a billionaire in such a society, and the capitalism of today — the factional and privatized exploitation of the public — would be extinct since the essence of this society would be the overlapping of relationships of mutual help and consideration on many scales. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites. The people of such an idealized world eco-socialist society would be morally committed individuals who would take it as a given that if human extinction were imminent and unavoidable, they would all share the same fate in solidarity: honor till the end, whenever that would be whether sooner or later.

Human history up to the present suggests that this “all in till the end” type of world socialism is a very unlikely future for us globally, though small isolated pockets of it might develop within the much larger drama of human civilization. While there is always a real chance that a ship at sea would happen upon a lifeboat and rescue its shipwrecked survivors, there is no chance for a rescue of humanity drifting toward extinction aboard Lifeboat Earth, through a massive intervention by fantastically powerful Space Aliens. Our salvation like our damnation is up to us and only us.

So, we can reasonably suppose that the management of Lifeboat Earth will proceed as the wickedness of the powerful in sacrificing the weak to lonesome and fatal abandonment so that the capitalistically fittest can maximize their span of prosperous and even luxuriant survival. Such management of Lifeboat Earth would be (and is) very fractious because greed as a fundamental motivation intrinsically creates dissension, disunity and conflict. Many scales of exclusion would be evident: the impoverishment of a national public and its exclusion from political decision-making by a wealthy and narrowing oligarchy; the oppression by a dominant racial or ethnic population of the weaker ethnic populations and minority-type people it has dominion over; and the exploitation of weaker countries and less-developed economies by strong, advanced and domineering nations. We need only mention the white supremacy domestic policy, and militaristic economic and foreign policy of the United States, the Han supremacy policy being applied by the ruling Chinese on the Uyghurs and in Tibet, the pitiless grinding down of the Palestinians by Zionist Israel, and the migrant streams erupting out of Central America and Africa to escape from starvation and death squads, to stimulate the recollection of numerous other examples of the wickedness of the strong in the management of other regional compartments of Lifeboat Earth. We might even live to see American and European navies shelling refugee ships at sea, and troops of their militarized police summarily executing undocumented aliens breaching their borders, to thwart the arrival of waves of destitute and desperate migrants. Such atrocities would be manifestations of extreme “them or us” end-times panic by the power-clinging wicked.

What can the concerned, morally oriented, largely disorganized and politically marginalized citizens of the world do to help Lifeboat Earth complete its journey — however long or short that may be — in a more humane manner than is occurring today, and certainly than might be its most horrible dénouement? My best and least presumptuous answer is: care enough about the situation to become aware of it, and then do whatever you are willing to do, and have the opportunity to do, to inject greater degrees of awareness, decency and compassion into the small cells of world society that sense your presence. The details of this — whether political, economic, social, intellectual, action-oriented or artistic — depend on the individual, it’s not for me to prescribe.

It is entirely possible that the all-inclusive utopian world of eco-socialist solidarity would have a shorter lifespan than a wicked world for just a few wealthy minorities who pitilessly exclude large segments of humanity, which they disfavor with racial, ethnic and materialistic (anti-poverty) bigotries. If the geophysical gear-train of climate alteration has now been irrevocably set to destroy habitability for humans (and who really knows?), then the eco-socialist world will ultimately fail despite its best efforts. But, it would have been the most enlightened and honorable of possible human civilizations during its lifetime. The wicked world of exclusionary wealthy minorities could extend its lifetime under the same geophysical conditions by culling the human population through combinations of cruel neglect and malicious assault — with no human solidarity and no honor. The partisans for the wicked world of exclusionary wealth justify themselves by claiming “there are too many people,” while the partisans for eco-socialist world solidarity justify themselves by declaring “there is too much greed.” I recognize that the population explosion is a fundamental driver of our combined climate, biodiversity and carrying capacity emergency, and I also agree with the eco-socialists: Earth has too many greedy people.

Today, our Lifeboat Earth is drifting toward becoming a more wicked world of exclusionary survival for exclusionary wealth, but this drift is being resisted by many forms of spirited, morally-based and eco-socially oriented activism. That activism is where the soul and the honor of humanity are to be found.

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The Melting of the Fortress of Solitude

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The Melting of the Fortress of Solitude

The American dream is the eternal one: wealth by luck, power by wealth, and freedom from responsibility by power. The American nightmare is our most democratized experience: impoverishment by design, powerlessness by impoverishment, and the shackling of the powerless to responsibility for the crimes of wealth.

We live in a mediocracy, the mark of failure is success. To be fully human is to fail at being a successfully commodified robot.

The orgy of gun violence we live with daily is the product of a complete failure to craft and make universally available systems of genuine education. It is because minds are depreciated and discarded en masse to facilitate the obsession for accumulation that our mass consumption and massive violence are so pervasively mindless. We are drowning in the blood of our own unacknowledged denial, our own decapitated awareness of responsibility.

Genius for social uplift and human enlightenment are quarantined as diseased, as deadly infectious threats to the barbaric insanity of our approved nationalist ideology — as they rightly are. Ours is a society of blithe mad mediocrity, which is only confused by the continuing urge of the excluded to resist their impoverishment and disappearance. The ploughing under from public visibility of the exploited disfavored and the powerless meritorious is our greatest and most assiduously censored tragedy; but the coincident creeping destruction of a species that lusts for its viral affliction to sociopathic degeneracy, and its own ultimate extinction, is not. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Character is fate.

Some would say it has always been so throughout human history, and others would say that today’s American societal rot is of recent origin: since Trump?, since Bush?, since Reagan?, since Nixon?, since the defeat of Henry Wallace?, since the end of World War I and the death of Eugene V. Debs?, since the betrayal of Lincoln’s last hopes by the tawdry Grant administration and in the fatal corruption of Reconstruction after the Civil War? Regardless, it is our tolerance for that rot today and our obliviousness to history before yesterday that is our fundamental civic sin. The scrawny weed poking through the cracks in that blanketing obliviousness is hope.

Hope is a delusion that makes it possible to get through life day by day, and so it is immensely valuable. Perhaps by the unpredictable quantum fluctuations of the physical universe, and the unknowable future emergent variants of genetic succession, hope will percolate through the obstacles of our times to decisively kill off the obdurate fearful bigotries that collectively imprison us, and to miraculously deliver us — more likely our descendants, should we have any — into a humane form of advanced civilization.

And while the despairingly idealistic and fearfully materialistic will mock the popular yearnings for liberation as stupid millennialist naïveté, those yearnings will persist as long as they are denied realization, whether that end-of-history is the improbable and transcendent enlightenment of our species, or the implacable iron socialism of extinction brought about by Nature’s indifferent abandonment of us all.

Our compulsions are willed, not pre-ordained. Our particular isolations are the triumph of mediocrity over the potential of humanity. It is our coldness of heart that is melting our finest dreams.

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