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.