If You’d Been On Top of WTC-1 When It Dropped

You’d have experienced exponential growth for 9.3 seconds.

Unfortunately, unless you’d been wearing bat-wings or a parachute to work and managed to get outside, nobody would ever hear your story (about how breathtakingly fast it went).

Actually, that is kind of how I’m feeling right now—not that I’m falling, but that the things I want to talk about are happening breathtakingly fast. I have reasons to believe that almost nobody will hear my story, even though it’s their story as well.

Maybe a graphic will help.

Look for the little blip in the black line, at 1953, the year I was born. That was when the exponential human population went wildly exponential, meaning that two people became three, who became 5, then 8, 13, 21 . . . 24,157,817 (24 million).

This is the classical Fibonacci problem, which used rabbits as an example. But it also applies to yeasts, rats and humans.

We’re happy enough when the rabbits, yeasts, and rats inevitably die off. It’s what is called a collapse or crash, which are just other words for a massive die-off or extinction.

As I write this on July 21, 2020, we happen to be celebrating our human overshoot day for this year. Starting tomorrow we’ll be using resources beyond the carrying capacity of our world, and for the next five months we’ll be sealing our fate. (It doesn’t exactly really work that way: it’s a continuous, self-compounding process. But the date of the of the overshoot should be pretty close to July 21 when it gets calculated later.)

An important point to consider is that people are bothered by issues that are caused by overpopulation, things like extreme weather or climate changes. For our ancient ancestors this meant moving somewhere without those problems. But for our city-dwelling populace there is no place to go, or know-how about primal living. Then there’s the issue of rampant denial. It’s preventing people from acknowledging the dire straits they’re in. They blame others, and think ‘they,’ the government, should do something. Oh, the government is doing a lot of somethings, all right . . .

Then there are about 8 issues that we needn’t even think about at all, like rampant pandemics — because yes, they’re caused by overpopulation. Sometimes you have to stand back and look at the big picture.

Ahem — sorry. I get worked up. Moving on now.

Thank goodness I had a wonderful and rigorous kindergarten education (cutting and pasting). Let’s try the next graphic.

We can thank Wikipedia for these graphics I’m using.

This one is a good visual for the exponential nature of human population on Earth. Note that 1953 still shows the blip that marks the steepest increase. Also take a glance at the population that served humanity so well back in 10,000 BC. Probably 5 million people total, globally. We’ve screwed up by avoiding birth control and/or preventing death.

This second graph tells the tale of where the population has exploded on Earth. Don’t worry about the 29.8% ‘other.’ It’s just a poorly thought-out graphic. I liked the colors . . .

We’ll need to take a look at India, China and parts of Africa. More than 80% of human population is found in Asia, Africa and Europe. But India and China together play the biggest part by far.

Let’s now take a closer look at costs — to the environment. It’s a scary picture. I won’t say much about costs myself: the picture really does the job, if you think about it.

Motorcycles. Helmets. Clothing.

I see plastic cups, straws, bags. A city and vehicles that run on the same product that makes the plastics: oil. And nowadays it takes a lot of oil to obtain and transport the oil, clothes and plastics. Oil on oil in oil. Go solar? I say forget it, and solar is my field. Why? Forget it because it’s too late, and because solar uses too much oil to get started and keep going. Same with biofuels. But irrelevant anyway in this exponentially deteriorating world.

Anywhere in the world you look and see the same. Multiply by 7.9 billion to grasp the scale of clothing and food alone. The math ends at that point — it just couldn’t get worse, and physically can’t get better. Resources have limits, and as they’re depleted it takes, yes, more oil to compensate. But oil’s a rapidly depleting resource as well. Maybe natural gas is the exception, and a great alternative if you really want to make the world hotter.

You know what I said about solar, my field? I do have a solution for thousands or perhaps millions of people, but not billions. I’ll keep working on this project, because it’s a tiny bit of hope. I’m not in denial — things are pretty damn hopeless. But if a sliver of the human race can survive while the rest die off — well, that’s my good news.



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Fred Ermlich

Fred Ermlich

Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages.