Reducing human population

Reducing human population would be effective.

  • Yes, of course.

    Votes: 28 50.9%
  • Probably.

    Votes: 8 14.5%
  • Maybe, maybe not.

    Votes: 10 18.2%
  • Probably not.

    Votes: 2 3.6%
  • No, of course not.

    Votes: 7 12.7%

  • Total voters
    55
  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Here is the full question:

Reducing human population, disregarding the difficulty, would be the most effective way to:
- reduce pollution (air, water, soil, noise...) and
- avoid depleting natural resources (fish stocks, oil, forests...) and
- prevent extinction of living species, as well as
- control world hunger, and on top of that
- increase average standard of living.

Let's see what a typical, forumist, poll-participating physicist would think...


EDIT: I meant to post this in "Social Science" and goofed. Can someone more it please? Thanks!
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
russ_watters
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"Effective" is such a vague word in this context, the question isn't very precise, and the answers to the different criteria aren't necessarily the same or necessarily directly related either.

Heck, from a practical standpoint, if we disposed of all of our nuclear weapons by spreading them out over Africa, we'd see a marked improvment in global statistics on many of these issues, but then if a meteor wiped-out north america, we'd see a marked worsening of most of those stats.

So it doesn't seem like all that meaningful of a question to me.
 
  • #3
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To clarify then:

- "Effective" means that it would have the mentioned effects. It also means all of them, from the use of "and" everywhere. You can strongly agree that it would obviously do all that (or fail to do so), possibly do all that (or fail to do so), or be undecided.

- The concept of reducing human population is meant to be general. It is not about one continent over another. It is not about catastrophic or abrupt events. It is nothing more than the opposite of population growth.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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- The concept of reducing human population is meant to be general. It is not about one continent over another. It is not about catastrophic or abrupt events. It is nothing more than the opposite of population growth.
Well, that's exactly the problem. The opposite of population growth where? Everywhere equally? Population isn't currently growing equally everywhere. In proportion to population (ie, big countries lose more)? Based on economic development level? And do we base the comparison on every other variable staying the same? Is that even possible? The scenario is still too ill-defined to have a meaningful answer.
 
  • #5
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The scenario is still too ill-defined to have a meaningful answer.
Unfortunately you require a level of details that is well beyond what my little poll intended to provide. That's ok, not everyone needs to answer every opinion poll. I hope you did not put in any answer if you find the question meaningless because that would not be meaningful either. Those who can relate to the question will hopefully contribute so I can get an idea of the overall sentiment.
 
  • #6
Pythagorean
Gold Member
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like said, it would depend on where, how and how many. It's not a linear problem like you're treating it to be. You can't see how y changes with x in this case, because y is a function of more than just x.
 
  • #7
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It's not a linear problem like you're treating it to be. You can't see how y changes with x in this case, because y is a function of more than just x.
Values don't have to be linearly related to be related. They can also be related even though other factors also apply.

---

The question is not about specific reductions here but not there. Obviously, reducing the population of a western nation would not do much to relieve hunger where it is not a problem. But it should slow down depletion of natural resources. Conversely, reducing the population of a starving nation will not help much with air pollution. But it can leave more available food per capita to reduce hunger. Think globally.

The idea of reversing the trend in human growth seems unpopular. Some people react like they're being told to give up smoking or their car. Maybe it's because people love children and the more the merrier. Maybe it's because every group hopes to dominate every other group. I don't really know. Yet aiming for a smaller population could be a practical long term strategy to improve human condition. At least, the topic should be discussed more than it is.

Consider two opposite scenarios: a hundred years from now, would we be better off if our population was evenly doubled to 12 billion or halved to 3 billion? I was hoping that this would be the meat of this thread. It should be more interesting to discuss problems associated with a reduction or increase in human population instead of the wording of the poll (sorry for the semantic shortcomings).
 
  • #8
Moonbear
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I think all you need to do is look at how segments of the population can be incredibly wasteful, and such poor stewards of the environment in spite of having very small families (i.e., 1 or no children per couple), and you'll see why such a broad proposal isn't likely to hold up as a solution. You can also look at countries where restrictions on population growth are mandated by law and see the social conditions of the people there to note that it is not a cure-all for everything wrong in their society.

As for things like famine, without outside interference, it is nature's solution to overpopulation in an area where the environment is poorly suited to sustaining large human populations. So, the problem becomes more complex as we pick and choose when to interfere when to stand back and allow things to happen naturally. Do we send aid to a place that is facing famine and then tell them we will make their reproductive choices for them and allow them to only have one baby per couple? Or do we not provide aid and say, "It's your choice; you can choose to have only one or two children and put all your energy into ensuring they survive, or you can have many, many children, and roll the dice that one of them survives on the limited food available."

Anyway, the answer is that there is no simple answer. Meddling with one thing doesn't fix everything else.
 
  • #9
arildno
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What CAN be said with certainty is that if we reduce the human population to 0, then most of the man-made environment-damaging mechanisms will not be put in motion any longer.
 
  • #10
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What CAN be said with certainty is that if we reduce the human population to 0, then most of the man-made environment-damaging mechanisms will not be put in motion any longer.
Ha, there's the proof! :smile:


I think all you need to do is look at how segments of the population can be incredibly wasteful, and such poor stewards of the environment in spite of having very small families (i.e., 1 or no children per couple), and you'll see why such a broad proposal isn't likely to hold up as a solution.
Of course there is no reason to exempt the incredibly wasteful groups you mention. Wouldn't waste be reduced by reducing the population of wasteful members along with the rest? If this had no effect on waste reduction then we would have to conclude that the remaining individuals would pick up the slack by wasting even more to fill the natural "waste vacuum". I see no reason to assume this, on the contrary: the spirit of moderation and conservation necessary to reduce the population would more likely discourage waste instead of encouraging it.


You can also look at countries where restrictions on population growth are mandated by law and see the social conditions of the people there to note that it is not a cure-all for everything wrong in their society.
China springs to mind. A government policy on child limits has been instituted there, I think it started 20—25 years ago. It is difficult to estimate the impact that this policy alone has had because capitalistic policies have also been implemented, Hong Kong was repatriated and various modernization measures happened concurrently. However, it would appear that the overall policies have been quite successful in that country. The quality of life has increased considerably, if not evenly (as can be expected). My wife was born in mainland China. She grew up there and in Hong Kong. She visits relatives in both places on occasion and can see notable improvements in all places: housing, electricity, transportation, personal freedoms have greatly improved from twenty years ago. Obviously China is not the ideal place to live and it still seems far from western society in all aspects, but the gap is slowly closing. If we have Chinese participants reading this, it would be interesting to hear more opinions.

As I said, it does not prove that this advance is due to population control alone. Yet consider a country of comparable size, say the USA. But now, quadruple the population. Count your neighbours; you now have four times as many. This is what China is facing. If you think there is a water shortage in the US, or that oil is pricy, or housing is unaffordable, or the air stinks, or Starbucks' coffee is overpriced, or there is too much traffic in your morning commute, you may get a good feel for the benefits of limiting the population.


As for things like famine, without outside interference, it is nature's solution to overpopulation in an area where the environment is poorly suited to sustaining large human populations.
Here, I have to agree. Where there are too many people for the amount of food, people die of hunger, which indeed limits population growth. It is natural. It may not reflect all that humans can be, but it is natural nonetheless.


So, the problem becomes more complex as we pick and choose when to interfere when to stand back and allow things to happen naturally. Do we send aid to a place that is facing famine and then tell them we will make their reproductive choices for them and allow them to only have one baby per couple? Or do we not provide aid and say, "It's your choice; you can choose to have only one or two children and put all your energy into ensuring they survive, or you can have many, many children, and roll the dice that one of them survives on the limited food available."
This is the challenge. Do we, can we teach family planning to an uneducated starving population? If we feel a responsibility to preserve nature's balance and endangered species, do we also feel a responsibility towards vulnerable human populations? There is a moral question. Rich countries already provide food relief to the starving masses. It becomes debatable if it is morally acceptable to impose conditions on this relief. Is it morally acceptable to make food contingent on family planning? Or is it morally reprehensible not to do so? Has anyone asked these starving people what they think?


Anyway, the answer is that there is no simple answer. Meddling with one thing doesn't fix everything else.
It is true that as a rule, meddling with just one thing does not fix everything. The exception to this rule is if it happens to be the main cause of the problem. If overpopulation is at the root of so many problems, trying to fix other effects while ignoring the cause is just rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
 
  • #11
russ_watters
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As I said, it does not prove that this advance is due to population control alone.
It can be said with absolute certainty that population control was not the largest factor in China's advancement over the past 20 years. China's economy has been growing by double-digit percentages for most of that time, while population growth wouldn't ever have been above 2% without population control.
Consider two opposite scenarios: a hundred years from now, would we be better off if our population was evenly doubled to 12 billion or halved to 3 billion? I was hoping that this would be the meat of this thread.
Again, too broad. Where the reduction or increase happens is critical for answering whether it would help or hurt. It is important to remember that humans are a resource like any other and that population growth is part of economic growth. Right now the average human condition is improving despite the fact that most of the population growth is in the low-end of the scale. If population growth were even across all countries, the average human condition in the world would be improving much, much faster.
It is true that as a rule, meddling with just one thing does not fix everything. The exception to this rule is if it happens to be the main cause of the problem. If overpopulation is at the root of so many problems, trying to fix other effects while ignoring the cause is just rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
Overpopulation is not a root cause of any of the world's problems today. Population (notice I didn't say overpopulation..) is a secondary influence on many things, but a secondary influence only. That's the whole point of what people are telling you - it's the whole reason why your questions are ill-conceived. There is quite simply no direct correlation to be drawn between population and the human condition in the world today.

For example, your example of China. Despite what Kyoto proponents will tell you, China is the world's worst air polluter. Nowhere else in the world do people regularly wear masks outside so they can breathe and the statistics people use are based on CO2 alone, which is a flawed way of looking at air pollution. But is the air pollution problem because of the population or is it because of the fact that China makes it's electricity from the crappiest coal in the crappiest power plants on the planet? The US makes more electricity, but our plants are orders of magnitude cleaner in every sense except total CO2 production (and it needs to be understood that CO2 is the primary and most desirable product of combustion of coal).
 
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  • #12
380
0
It can be said with absolute certainty that population control was not the largest factor in China's advancement over the past 20 years. China's economy has been growing by double-digit percentages for most of that time, while population growth wouldn't ever have been above 2% without population control.
I don't have hard data on this. You must have some since you are absolutely certain, so I will accept this on your word. It is certainly interesting to witness how an economy can grow by double-digit percentages without relying on population growth.


Where the reduction or increase happens is critical for answering whether it would help or hurt.
Reducing the size of wasteful groups would reduce waste. Reducing the size of starving groups would reduce starvation. Reducing the size of polluting groups would reduce pollution. There would be little benefit in reducing the human group that does not consume natural resources, does not waste, does not pollute anything but is not starving either. But do we have those?


It is important to remember that humans are a resource like any other and that population growth is part of economic growth.
Evidently not an essential part based on your China figures. An economy that relies on population growth is a pyramid scheme, eventually the pyramid collapses. You can have a stable economy based on a stable population, and you have shown that you can even have a growing economy that does not rely on population growth.


Right now the average human condition is improving despite the fact that most of the population growth is in the low-end of the scale.
That's good. Let's make it stable at least if we cannot make it smaller. It's a reasonable first step.


Overpopulation is not a root cause of any of the world's problems today.
I think you must admit that man is definitely the root cause of man-made problems, by definition. Regarding overpopulation, you don't see any causal relationship between the number of humans and the intensity of man-made problems. I do.


Population (notice I didn't say overpopulation..) is a secondary influence on many things, but a secondary influence only.
What then is the primary influence if not people?


China is the world's worst air polluter.
Yes.


But is the air pollution problem because of the population or is it because of the fact that China makes it's electricity from the crappiest coal in the crappiest power plants on the planet?
Why do you think this is, stupidity? Or are they going through the she same natural steps as the Western world while it was developping its industrial base and its economy?


The US makes more electricity, but our plants are orders of magnitude cleaner in every sense except total CO2 production (and it needs to be understood that CO2 is the primary and most desirable product of combustion of coal).
That's good, but I don't know if the situation would remain as rosy as you make it sound if you had to produce power for four times as many people.
 
  • #13
23
0
It is important to remember that humans are a resource like any other and that population growth is part of economic growth.
That's the rub. The problem is a decreasing labor force. In order to compete sucessfully in a global market, nations must have sufficient production capacity, which is dependent on having sufficient workers. I would argue that China's and India's rapid economic growth is due in large part to their huge population, i.e. availability of labor.

In Japan and Russia, a decreasing population is portending severe economic troubles in the coming generation. Russia's Putin is struggling to devise and implement a plan that would increase his country's population, not only for economic reasons but for national defense as well. Siberia is so sparsely populated that China could roll right in.

In addition to global competition, the U.S. has the near term problem of Social Security. There isn't enough of the generation now entering the work force to pay for the Greatest Baby Booming Generation when it retires. More retirees than employees is not sustainable. This is one reason why the Federales are now willing to allow employed illegal aliens to remain and become citizens, so they can pay into Social Security.

Perhaps some sort of new global economic model is necessary before we can seriously attempt to reduce human population to a level that would be both good for the planet and good for the world.
 
  • #14
An excellent site for this subject is:

http://www.vhemt.org/

It is the website of the The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. It has been very well put together, is very well written, and very interesting, in my opinion.
 
  • #15
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2
I wish those whiners on vhemt.org would quietly phase their illogical selves out, but I do not support there vision of "life on earth".

Everything they describe as 'excorable horrors' commited by humans are things which have happened many times on a much larger scale then we are now facing.

Everyone should know that that website is spewing falsehoods and rhetoric. They are no better then doomsaying mystics, motivated by genuine delusion rather then profit.
 
  • #16
Everyone should know that that website is spewing falsehoods and rhetoric.
Such as? That is a rather general comment to make, especially considering the size of their site.

I gladly introduce people to their site, and I do maintain that it is a good site. However, I have likely not seen all of the material published by the VHEMT, and it has been a little while since I spent any real time on their site. So if there is anything on that site that you truly feel is bunk, then maybe you could post of it here? And if there truly is fallacious material on the VHEMT site, I would bet the genuine, worthy, and accurate information greatly outnumbers it.
 
  • #17
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Such as? That is a rather general comment to make, especially considering the size of their site.

I gladly introduce people to their site, and I do maintain that it is a good site. However, I have likely not seen all of the material published by the VHEMT, and it has been a little while since I spent any real time on their site. So if there is anything on that site that you truly feel is bunk, then maybe you could post of it here? And if there truly is fallacious material on the VHEMT site, I would bet the genuine, worthy, and accurate information greatly outnumbers it.
The problem is the mixing of two ideas:

1) That the human race should voluntarily phase into extinction by not reproducing.

2) That a reason for doing so is that the planet would be better off.

Now (1) is a deep idea that everyone should consider, but (2) is an extreme recommendation based on a under-informed opinion that the earth would be better off without us. For that matter, would the universe be better off without us?

In other words, I would have liked a more careful discussion of pros and cons of (1) and less of a blatantly uneducated enviromentalist tirade in support of (2).

I submit no examples because I don't want to fight over nonsense, and anyone who is open to what I am saying can check how my comments apply to the site.

Actually, I submit the following page which is so pathetic is speaks loudly and clearly for itself:

http://www.vhemt.org/ecology.htm#parenthood

Main problem: The website is a narrow tirade.
 
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  • #18
1,250
2
Okay, I couldn't resist the sheer badness of this site. This text is included in a context that is every bit as serious and superficially straightforward as everything on the site:

Sounds like paradise, doesn't it? Gaia completely cured of pox humanus. Without us meddlesome humans, all other species would get their fair chance at survival.

Naturally, it's not that simple, but just for fun, let's envision an impossible dream: all human sperm suddenly and permanently loses viability - no impregnated human egg begins meiosis to form a zygote - none transforms from embryo into the sacred fetus, is carried to term and sentenced to life. Zero conceptions, wanted nor un.

A wonderful fantasy. Phones in crisis pregnancy centers would fall mysteriously silent. Sperm banks would go bankrupt after fraudulently milking the infertile. Adoption agencies would fruitlessly increase baby bounties, and charge an arm and a leg for whoever's in stock, damaged or not. Needless panic would be hilarious. Like people frantically searching for their oars after the boat has beached.

Benefits would begin immediately for both biosphere and humanity. Resources wasted on redundant breeding could be redirected to existing members of the human family in need. Loving care and nurturing now expended raising superfluous heirs could be given over to stopping the killing and beginning the healing. A sweet dream.

However, an alternative birthless future is also possible. One where people see no need to preserve Earth's biosphere since none of our kind will be around to enjoy cartoons of it. Nature's destruction could just as easily continue unabated as we pass into extinction. It doesn't take billions of humans to destroy massive ecosystems, as shown by the exploits of empires from ancient times through the present.

No, human extinction alone won't stop destruction of Earth's biosphere. Our collective consciousness must evolve from homocentric to ecocentric: to where Earth has first priority. Then, finally, our efforts will shift from desperate, often futile, damage control to a hopeful restoration of natural balance in Earth's ecosystems.
:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
 
  • #19
The problem is the mixing of two ideas:

1) That the human race should voluntarily phase into extinction by not reproducing.

2) That a reason for doing so is that the planet would be better off.

Now (1) is a deep idea that everyone should consider, but (2) is an extreme recommendation based on a under-informed opinion that the earth would be better off without us.
I think that by ‘the Earth’, VHEMT actually means nature and all other creatures that live in balance with it. What, I feel, is actually meant is that humans are ravenous creatures with an insatiable appetitive for destructive activities under the pernicious guise of ‘progress’ and convenience. The activities of the human race cause widespread harm; everything in the path of the dominant race suffers. The entire planet has changed, for the worse, and continues to do so.

But, what also could be meant is perhaps (although I admit to not having studied it) in line with the Gaia Hypothesis. Maybe the Earth is a spiritual entity unto itself and is adversely affected by the despicable ways of its human residents? Many people, of some considerable academic and social standing, support this notion. But perhaps I should say no more of that here as I know how enthusiastic the moderators are when it comes to closing threads and claiming almost everything to be ‘crackpot’!

For that matter, would the universe be better off without us?
Maybe it would:

http://www.spikedhumor.com/articles/103345/Earth_is_Down_With_a_Case_of_the_Humans.html?rh=3 [Broken]

In other words, I would have liked a more careful discussion of pros and cons of (1) and less of a blatantly uneducated enviromentalist tirade in support of (2).
Maybe that site is designed more in line with what the common person is willing and able to read and understand. If you join one of the VHEMT e-groups (linked to from the site. Or, if not and anyone is interested, let me know and I will find a direct link) I am sure the VHEMT founder, Les U. Knight, will engage in the most eloquent, erudite, rational, scientific, and in-depth discussion with you.

Actually, I submit the following page which is so pathetic is speaks loudly and clearly for itself:

http://www.vhemt.org/ecology.htm#parenthood
Perhaps what is written on the VHEMT site, and the portion you linked to, is at odds with your personal belief system? I am not saying this is the case, but one must always be aware and try to always maintain an open mind and remain objective.

I disagree with you over that page, but there you go!

So, I see your link and I raise you:

http://www.vhemt.org/biobreed.htm#instinct

(scroll down a little to the table)

The website is a narrow tirade.
It is hardly that.
 
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  • #20
1,250
2
Maybe it would:

http://www.spikedhumor.com/articles/...mans.html?rh=3 [Broken]
This cartoon protects 'deep environmentalists' from facing the fact that without us the solar system would be an unconcious pile of rocks, and moving gooey rocks.

Maybe that site is designed more in line with what the common person is willing and able to read and understand. If you join one of the VHEMT e-groups (linked to from the site. Or, if not and anyone is interested, let me know and I will find a direct link) I am sure the VHEMT founder, Les U. Knight, will engage in the most eloquent, erudite, rational, scientific, and in-depth discussion with you.
Your right, rationality is too uncommon and in my case it prevents me from understanding the website. Following your advice, I will try to have a dialogue with the originator of these views.
 
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  • #21
russ_watters
Mentor
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What animal doesn't destroy it's environment? And why do we care - why is it better not to? Why would we want not to? That site is just trash - it is utterly devoid of logic. It's conclusions are all just baseless assumptions.
 
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  • #22
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This is the letter I sent to les@vhemt.org

I tried to give the benefit of the doubt about the website, and discuss one of the core aspects of the philosophy.

Hi Les,

I certainly wish for less human births, and I find it interesting to consider the possibility of total extinction of concious life on earth by gradual reproductive cessation. Like you my world view is less anthropomorphic then most of the people to whom vhemt.org is targeted; in my case it is because I study philosophy.

It seems like your organization considers total extinction of the 'human species' the only way to solve the environmental problem. My disagreement is this:

The notion of 'human species' is only one possible way to categorize the set of eco-antagonist organisms. The idea of a 'species' used to be based on characteristics (phenotypes) and now it is based DNA (genotypes). The modern idea of species was formed only a few hundred years ago, and the contemporary discovery of DNA has greatly increased the exactness of species. My objection is on the ground that conciosness allows for major variations in phenotype (thinking over the course of life) with correspondingly little variations in genotype. As this becomes understood quantitatively we will see that human beings are not a single species, that there is much differentiation (not according to race or sex or any such brute thing) varying from consumer-breeder to those who can contribute beautiful new thoughts and experiences. That is why we want all life to flourish, so that the experiences are had by the universe, that it may become more complete.

Now if this is the case, what should be done? I don't know, and I think your organization does a pretty good job of heading in the right direction.

-Crosson
 
  • #23
380
0
VHEMT?

Oh dear. I didn't even get passed the title. Voluntary extinction of our own species? Puhhleeze! What a ludicrous goal.

Hopefully you all realize that this thread is not about human eradication. It is about self-control. We know that excess in any population within a finite environment is detrimental to any species. If factors are in place to control said population then you can achieve sustainability. We want to protect all species, and this obviously includes our own. The idea here is to reach a better balance so that all can live better, not become extinct.
 
  • #24
nabuco
Here is the full question:

Reducing human population, disregarding the difficulty, would be the most effective way to:
Here's my take:

- reduce pollution (air, water, soil, noise...)
Pollution is linked to urban concentration, not population. It's not a new problem at all, it was actually a lot worse in the past when they didn't have sewage systems and horse dropings in the streets were as common as cigarette butts today.

- avoid depleting natural resources (fish stocks, oil, forests...)
Actually, if we shrank the world population to half of what it is today but they all lived as Americans do, they'd be in a far worse situation than we are.

- prevent extinction of living species
Where can you find a good evolutionist when you need one? Adapt or die, it's a natural law. It's been going on for ages, why is it suddenly a problem?

- control world hunger
World hunger is and has always been a political problem. We are nowhere near the limit of agricultural production.

- increase average standard of living.
Ah, that is the tough one. All the problems you are worried about are actually a consequence of our "increased standard of living", which consists of consuming a ridiculous amount of resources and energy, leaving most people with a feeling of emptiness as they struggle to find meaning in a life dedicated to the mindless pursuit of wealth.

I could easily give up 80% of what I own, 50% of what I eat, and 90% of the energy I use, and I suspect my life would be better than it is now. But of course I won't do that.
 
  • #25
Pythagorean
Gold Member
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I could easily give up 80% of what I own, 50% of what I eat, and 90% of the energy I use, and I suspect my life would be better than it is now. But of course I won't do that.
An alternative that is practical for some is to get off the grid, buy a couple acres of cheap, remote land: cure it, build your own sewage system and power sources, grow and hunt your own food. It's actually even a fun idea to some people.
 

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