The Great Thinning?

Anyone want to attempt some big-picture speculation about what the numbers presented by Jeff Wise in Slate Magazine imply for a society that has baked the assumption of a growing population into its institutions and basic perceptions of the future…

Instead of skyrocketing toward uncountable Malthusian multitudes, researchers at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis foresee the global population maxing out at 9 billion some time around 2070. On the bright side, the long-dreaded resource shortage may turn out not to be a problem at all. On the not-so-bright side, the demographic shift toward more retirees and fewer workers could throw the rest of the world into the kind of interminable economic stagnation that Japan is experiencing right now.
And in the long term—on the order of centuries—we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity.
That might sound like an outrageous claim, but it comes down to simple math. According to a 2008 IIASA report, if the world stabilizes at a total fertility rate of 1.5—where Europe is today—then by 2200 the global population will fall to half of what it is today. By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion. (The authors of the report tell me that in the years since the initial publication, some details have changed—Europe’s population is falling faster than was previously anticipated, while Africa’s birthrate is declining more slowly—but the overall outlook is the same.)

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Dan
Dan
8 years ago

It’s important to think about such scenarios as intellectual exercise in the abstract sense. When reports start calling them forecasts, predictions, or even calculations, it becomes a bit silly. Long-term forecasts (more than a couple of years – and even that’s pushing it) are always wrong. Compounding error rates very quickly overwhelm any statistical analysis. If we look at forecasts from a century ago, virtually all of them aren’t even in the ballpark of where we are today.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

There must always be a crsis. If we can’t make the “population outstripping resources” model work, the let’s have human extinction.

Mike
Mike
8 years ago

It’s simplistic to assign basic cause and effect to a complex adaptive system.

mangeek
mangeek
8 years ago

I think a world population of 300 million to 1 billion might actually be really nice.
I think the likelihood of humanity disappearing on account of pollution, resource starvation, or war is much higher than the entire race deciding to just not procreate.
We’ll find a balance, and right now we probably really do have Too Many People.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Population growth has been historically associated with a growing standard of living. A world population of 14 billion would have twice as many scientists, engineers, musicians, artists, and doctors as a population of 7 billion. Even more important, a doubled population would have twice as many extraordinary individuals – twice as many Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawkings. It’s difficult to argue that we’d better off with 1/7 or 1/14 of these individuals to lead human innovation. It’s not coincidence that technology has been advancing at an exponentially faster pace than in past decades. There will be, of course, limits to the benefits of population growth and at some point the process that cannot continue indefinitely will stop.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
8 years ago

To stray a little from Andrew’s question, I recall thirty years ago, lots of experts were panicked because the population trend was up and they were convinced that the planet was going to become over-populated.
Fascinating that this is no longer the concern. In fact, now someone is mentioning the possibility, centuries from now, of “the literal extinction of humanity”.
Anthropologists (genealogists?) determined that, at one point in the last 100,000 years, Homo Sapien Sapien (us!) was probably down to as few as 2,000 individuals. Yet we rebounded from that.
It seems far more likely that man will go extinct from the catastrophic effects of a geologic or a cosmic disaster (a super-volcano or an asteroid strike) than from simply dwindling down.

mangeek
mangeek
8 years ago

“…twice as many Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawkings”
And an increasingly likely chance that they live and die in some impoverished slum, never having had a chance to contribute.
I’d gladly trade some ‘rate of progress’ in exchange for relief on exhausting the hard limits of our limited resources. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

David S
David S
8 years ago

Dan, I agree with your last post. Not only would there be more of the extraordinary individuals- there would also be many more of the faceless unnoticed people that move our human endeavor to better places.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

“And an increasingly likely chance that they live and die in some impoverished slum, never having had a chance to contribute.”
Population growth in itself doesn’t cause slums – there are slums in low-population and high-population areas. Bad economic policy causes slums. Nor are consumable resources fixed. People have been predicting mass starvation for the past four centuries, and exactly the opposite has occurred as food production methods have continuously improved through stochastic tinkering on the globalized scale.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

Posted by mangeek: “right now we probably really do have Too Many People.”
well, I can think of a few which I believe are surplus.
I think this is just part of the hue and cry necessary to create a “crisis”. Remember just a few months ago, all of the talk was of “human trafficking”. Now, the crisis has been reached and the desired law has been passed; little is heard of “human trafficking” anymore. Has the new law instantly cured the problem?

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
8 years ago

Remember just a few months ago, all of the talk was of “human trafficking”. Now, the crisis has been reached and the desired law has been passed; little is heard of “human trafficking” anymore. Has the new law instantly cured the problem?
Posted by Warrington Faust at January 10, 2013 10:38 PM
There was no problem to begin with. It was and is the same old very willing “whores” of both sexes doing what they’ve been doing for millenia.
All just an excuse for some arrogant leftist do-gooders to try to impose their own morality on the rest of us and simultaneously living large off government funded non-profits seeking to “solve the problem”.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
8 years ago

Fear (and greed) always rule the day. Yet another fear. “Dr.” Paul Ehrlich and Carl Sagan used to go on Johnny Carson and scare the masses with their doomsday scenarios. Surprise!!…It never happened.
From Ehrlich:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
Sagan had his political theory of “Nuclear Winter”.
The were the black comedy team of the 70’s.
scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2009/08/04/science-is-conservative/

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

Tommy Cranston: “It was and is the same old very willing “whores” of both sexes doing what they’ve been doing for millenia.”
During the “human trafficking” crisis, the Journal directed me to a site on the web (sorry I didn’t bookmark that one)where men describing themselves as “whore mongers” discussed the street walkers in Providence.
It was truly sickening, “I saw Annie today, her teeth still aren’t green from cocaine”. They discussed the women by name and the streets and times they could be found. Lot’s of interesting tips to avoid the cops. Still, there was no talk of coercion. It seemed like much to do about nothing.

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