Sunday, 14 September 2008

Neo-Malthusians on the Roll Again

A few years of increasing commodity prices and again the Neo-Malthusian Crowd is coming out of it's caves and preaching ecological doomsday. The other day I found a a new website on the topic: Approaching the Limits: which obviously is in good faith and based on facts and logical reasoning tries to show that the End is at Hand .

I have posted below comment on the website:

" I respectfully and completely disagree with your views.

However, the best way of getting to be wiser is to seek out contrary views instead of preaching for the choir.

Basically, I like your number crunching approach. I more or less use the same numbers. What amazes me is that the same data can lead to complete opposite conclusions. I see a world with great potential for growth, you see a need for a world where we all live in small self sustaining villages.

I basically think your reasoning is biased and faulty, and I believe I can factually and logically refute all your points, and would be happy to discuss with you later on.

Let me give you one example.

I live in Denmark where renewable energy already supplies 15% af the total energy consumption. The plans are to increase that to 30% in 2025. The Danish Society of Civil Engineers has already shown how we can achieve a 60% reduction of CO2 in 2030.

The opposition has proposed zero-emission of CO2 in 2030. So this is "Realpolitik".

Anyway, the only reason for not doing this quicker is financial as a quick transition would destroy valuable infrastructure and be very expensive as renewable energy is still (a lot) more expensive than fossile fuels.

Furthermore, Denmark has one of the highest Energy Intensities (GNP/Energy Units) in the world.

There is no reason to believe that the rest of the world could not do the same.

So why this depressingly alarmist approach?"

Monday, 19 February 2007

Human Beings Are not Bacteria

The Neo-Malthusian crowd is fond of biologism: that is the idea of comparing human beings to simplistic biological systems with the aim of forecasting the fate of humans from the fate of bacteria. That’s why this crowd see doomsdays and collapses all over the place.

It is of course correct, that if you put bacteria into a closed container with a limited amount of food, the bacteria will grow fast and exponentially in the start and after some time level of and finally crash by starving to death. But it is not correct to use this as an analogy to human population growth.

First of all the world is not a closed system. We receive a staggering amount of energy from the sun: 120.000 TW or 8.000 times the total existing energy demand of all industrious human beings. The Earth is not even a closed system from a material point of view, as we receive about 100 tons material pr. day as cosmic dust. This means, that in the Earth-Based first stage of human population growth, population is not limited by some finite “food” quantity on the earth, but only by our ability to use as much of the incoming energy as possible.

Furthermore, human beings are contrary to bacteria sentient creatures, which can plan and forecast and see their way around short term limitations. Collapse and sudden die out can happen for human populations, but only if stupidity and fundamentalist orthodoxy rules.

A second false analogy is the comparison of human population growth with the S-shaped logistic growth curve, which describes an initial exponential growth stage following by a leveling of to zero growth according to the limits caused by the carrying capacity of the biological system.

This is true for biological systems, but manifestly not for human beings, who can consciously change the carrying capacity by introducing technological change. The first two great technological revolutions: agriculture and industry changed the human population capacity two decades from less than 100 million in a gatherer/hunter society over 1 billion in pre-industrial agriculture to 10 billion in the industrial society. The knowledge technologies: bio, IT and nano is in the process of changing the capacity another decade to 100 billion people on Earth. And subsequently of course, space travel will ultimately increase the human population capacity many decades more.

The logistic growth analogy is additionally false, because it predicts zero-growth by mortality increasing to the level of reproduction. This is definitely not true for human beings. The modern zero-population-growth societies have obtained equilibrium state by decreasing reproduction rates as a consequence of rapidly decreasing mortality caused by increasing wealth.

The great demographic transition taking place in increasingly wealthy and enlightened countries is the consequence of rational decisions by thinking people, not of some primitive automated biological process.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Copenhagen-on-the-Sound: A 10 million+ MegaCity

The Danish environmental minister released January 18-07 a development plan for Greater Copenhagen with the aim of extending the city further out on the island of Zealand. The plan is based on the famous Finger Plan from 1947. It will make it possible to construct housing for a several hundreds of thousands more people in the region and to make traffic smoother and environmental conditions better, among other reducing the CO2 discharge with 100.000 tons /yr. In that sense, it is a well thought out, constructive plan, facilitating a gradual increase in the business-as-usual activities of the region.

However, seen from a growth oriented and futuristic perspective, this new plan is not all ambitious. Let me propose a development of a Greater-Copenhagen-on-the-Sound to a level of 10 million+ people: a Nordic MegaCity, including the Swedish cities located at the coast of Øresund.

Sure, I am not expecting this increase in population to happen by a sudden increase in fertility of the nice Danes and Swedes living in the region. However, an ambitious development plan would produce a centre of gravity, which can attract people from all over the world and particularly from Copenhagen’s traditional hinterland, which is the Baltic area.

The increase could be made up by a million Danes from our western provinces, a million Swedes & Norwegians & Fins, 3 million East Europeans from Russia, the Baltic States and Poland and a million people from Asia, Africa etc.

Of course, such an ambitious plan would have several preconditions. First of all, the mindset in Denmark has to get used to the fact, that growth of population is a very good thing, if done in the right manner. Furthermore, Denmark has produced laws, which strictly limits immigration. This is understandable, as the rather homogenous Danish tribe for a while was being overrun by galloping immigration, particularly from cultures, who are hard to integrate with Danish values. However, globalisation without giving people access to move freely from one country to the other is not real globalisation. So the Danes need for many good reasons to change their ways in this regard, and we at the very least should start by discarding the “East Agreement”, which limits the free movement to Denmark of even the newly appointed East European members of EC.

The new Copenhagen MegaCity will be a cross-boundary city. For this reason it is important as quickly as possible to fully harmonise the Danish & Swedish Rules and Regulations for the region, for the inhabitants to be able to freely move to and from and to work on one side or the other of the Øresund.

Many citizens in the region would worry about such a MegaCity to be crowded, stressful , full of crime, noisy and polluted. This does not at all have to be case. In many respects, the big modern city will be much better on those matters than the existing cities. And it will simply be extended to a somewhat bigger area: About half of Zealand and further into the spacious Swedish province of Skaane.

Quick developments of powerful new technologies will make the new city into a very attractive place. Cars will become silent, hydrogen driven and intelligent. They will not need human drivers and will combine the efficiency of collective transport of trains of cars on the thruways with the comfort of door-to-door transport. Of course, at least one more connection will be constructed over the Sound for cars and trains. The trains will have the critical mass of passengers to run often, efficiently and economically. Air pollution and noise will be a thing of the past, a further development of the trend, which have seen bathing facilities being established in the centre of Copenhagen harbour. We will see a full merging of the physical city with a Virtual Copenhagen, to make on-line networking of people, houses, businesses, cars and trains possible at all times.

Water will be treated locally, rainwater be allowed to seep to the ground or run through the numerous (reconstructed) streams, lakes and ponds, resulting in a gradual de-sewerage of the city. Copenhagen will no longer suck half of Zealand dry for drinking water. By dividing its water supply into very high quality drinking and food preparation water supply originating from groundwater, and a less high-quality supply for washing, toilet flushing etc. obtained from cheap[1] desalination of the brackish[2] harbour water, Copenhagen will easily supply it’s citizens will all their water needs without harming the aquatic ecosystems in the region.

The advantages, challenges and opportunities of this modern MegaCity are enormous. It’s is obvious, that the economic clout of such a big city, which will have a GNP more than the double of Denmark now, will increase opportunities for all kinds of businesses, jobs and education. The cultural diversity can produce a thriving environment for arts, music, movies and restaurants. We will see all kinds of people from the Muslim fundamentalist to the gay agnostic living their life tolerantly in concert and as they see fit.

The soccer loving Copenhageners will see a constant presence of FCK and Brøndby in the Champion League endgames with Real Madrid and Liverpool. Denmark will be a main contender to the World Championship in soccer. Our grand new opera house will have an ensemble, which can match “The Met” and “La Scala”. Our original and well crafted movies and TV-shows will catch even more prizes.

The national economy of Denmark and it’s neighbours will greatly benefit from such a development. We will get the work force necessary for Danish businesses to continue their expansion on their world market. This implies an increase in GNP / Capita higher than the usual 2% / yr. Combined with increased Danish population we could have a Real GNP in Denmark more than 3 times the existing in 25 years. The many young people immigrating would lessen the burden of the top-heavy age distribution.

Finally, the economic system in Denmark is well regarded and efficient. However, most economists agree, that the public sector and the taxation is somewhat too high for Denmark to release all the productive energy of it’s industrious Danes. The proposed population increase in Copenhagen would make it possible in a painless manner to reduce taxation and the relative significance of the public sector and still be able to deliver high quality public services in infrastructure, education, health care and social needs.

A Greater-Copenhagen-on-the-Sound with 10 million+ people is a win-win proposition. Let’s get on with it.

[1] Less than 1.5 kwh/m3
[2] 15 ppt

Thursday, 18 January 2007

High Speed Urbanization

In these Amazing Zeroes, where the global economic growth is as high as ever, delivering hundreds of millions of people from poverty into middle class life styles, another very important transition is taking place: Urbanization. The urban population is now passing the rural population. In the years ahead we will see a rapid increase in urban population and a resulting decline in rural population. Eventually more than 90% of all people will be living in cities and the countryside will be reserved for the few and the very rich.

This development is taking place so quickly, that it is amply called High Speed Urbanization. Some Megacities like Shanghai in China is increasing with more than one million people pr. yr. And Chinese Universities are working with Danish Architects to design beautiful and functional Ecocities for millions of people. See about the project: CO-EVOLUTION, which won The Golden Lion in Venice.

The enemies of growth condemn this development. They have a very sentimental idea of the quality of living from subsistence agriculture. The truth is, that the poorest, least educated people with the lowest life expectancies are living in rural communities subjected to the whims of nature in form of droughts, floods and numerous other natural disasters. The enemies furthermore have completely forgotten that the transition from rural life to urban life already has taken place in the developed countries. It was exactly the increase in agricultural productivity, which released people from backbreaking labor and made them move to cities, where they could get an education and higher paid jobs. This is what the Chinese and Indians and Africans are doing now. How can we blame those people? We did the same ourselves for three generations ago.

The challenge is not to try make people live against their will in poor rural communities. It is to develop big cities into nice ecofriendly havens with an abundance of challenges and opportunities.

Monday, 15 January 2007

There Are not too Many People, but too Little Wealth

One of the most durable misconceptions about development issues is the idea of “overpopulation” stating that many people and high population densities by themselves are reasons for missing development, poverty and degradation of the environment.

The Danish Sociologist Esther Boserup argued in 1981, that population increase is the main factor driving technological change creating a better world for many more people. In a location where everybody is well supplied by food, which can be hunted or gathered in a few hours pr. day, and where the climate is manageable by simple clothing and housing, it takes some pressure e.g. increasing population to get things going. In the early Stone Age in Denmark before year 4000 BC most of the Danes where living by the beach in a rather warm climate eating oysters all day. To some it may seem like living in Paradise. However, the life expectancy was less than 30 years, superstition ruled and there were no Rolling Stones. Then development of agriculture started and in a short period from BC4000-3900 Denmark was changed into an agricultural country will all its implications.

However, population increase is still seen by many people as a problem, which is eating up any economic progress. What actually happens is, that economic progress limits population through the “demographic transition”, which means, that the richer people are, the fewer children they want. This transition has been working in the developed countries and is now with some exceptions influencing the population in large part of the developing countries to the effect, that each consecutive UN population forecast is now lower than the former.

It leaves the question about the relative rates of population growth and economic growth. If the economy can not outgrow the population, there is a risk of a poverty trap, where the demographic transition does not kick in. Fortunately, economy can easily outgrow population. It’s very rare to see persistent population growth of more than 4 %, where as an economic growth over long periods of about 10 % is perfectly feasible. It means that in a wellgoverned country economy can easily outgrow population by a factor 2.

This implies that the only countries where population maybe a problem is countries with bad self-serving governments. These countries need all kinds of pressures from the international community to make them change their ways and not keep their people suffering from extreme poverty.

Sunday, 31 December 2006

A Wonderful World with 100 Billion People

Our Earth can support a population of 100 billion people with higher material living standards than the developed countries have now, and be a much better place to live in for all. Some of you may find this an outrageous statement. However, bear with me, I will presently in the GrowthUnlimited blog document the reasoning behind the statement.

Area is of course an important limiting factor for population density and wellbeing. But considering that the total area of the Earth is 510 million and that in a 100 G world 99,9% of all people would most likely be living in cities with a average population density of 2.000-10.000 persons /, we would need about 10-50 million, which is from 2-10 % of the total Earth area, for city areas, which would leave ample space for food production, pristine nature and recreation (golf courses, cultural landscapes). Yes, I am consciously including sea areas too, as we already now are seeing artificial islands being built, and we can foresee a possible future, where big floating islands are being constructed on the oceans as centers for mariculture, solar farms and mining industries.

Many people may dislike the thought of megacities as housing places for a high number of people. Sure, I am not talking about slum city sprawl in poor developing countries, even if this may be a good first step in leapfrogging from an agricultural economy to a post-industrial economy. What I expect to see, are modern clean and green cities with good conditions for all. Think about greater Copenhagen (my home city), with all its opportunities and pleasures, expanding on both sides of the Øresund to about 10-20 million people.

The great advantage of a bigger population is the increased knowledge being shared between more people. People is the Ultimate Resource (as put by the late Julian Simon). The likelihood of small innovations and groundbreaking innovations on the level of an Einstein or a Mozart increase proportionally to the number of people living good lives, and these innovations are shared by all and increase everybody’s productivity and enjoyment of life.

Economy wise, think about a 100 G world with a GNP/Cap like Denmark. That would make for 3.000 Trillion USD global GNP. It ‘s hard to see what the World cannot do with that kind of human and financial resources.

Happy New Year

Karl Iver Dahl-Madsen

Sunday, 24 December 2006

A Happy Christmas Message: The World is Getting Better

The world continues to be a better and better place for human beings. It may happen in fits and starts, and it may not occur at the same time all over the world. However, the long-term trends are obvious: The human population is increasing and at the same time we are living longer, getter richer and being better educated. The world economic growth is now at its highest (about 4%) since the heady 1950’is and the decade we are in now: The Amazing Zeroes, will probably break all human records on enriching people and getting people out of poverty.

Yes, I know, what about nature & environment? Sure there are a lot of stressful impacts to the environment, most of those are well known though and being solved in due time in the rich developed World. And the NIC’s and the developing world will do the same as soon as basic human needs (food, health, education) are covered. Even the CO2 problem has numerous technological solutions in the pipeline, which can be implemented at an appropriate time, without destroying valuable infrastructure and downgrading other and more important needs.

I fully understand the worries and concerns of the Neo-Malthusian crowd. However, I assert that this crowd is unmistakably wrong. And its misguided thoughts about “stopping the world I want to get off” are harmful to the endeavor of making the world a better place for everyone.

Let me finish with an endorsement quote:

By contrast (to the doomsday prophets) the prophets of abundance, who insist that no crisis is looming, get little media coverage. They are irrepressibly, sometimes irritatingly, optimistic. So far, they have also almost always been right.
The Economist, Dirt Poor, March 21st 1998.

Merry Christmas

Karl Iver Dahl-Madsen