Saturday, October 6, 2018

Growing world population and the right attitude to deal with it

It is early October, I am out in one of my favorite places of the world – below Canmore’s Ha Lin Peak in a snow-covered land (we had an unexpected snow dump yesterday that covered a large portion of Southern Alberta). Looking at the surrounding snow-covered mountain tops and a partial frozen water fall coming down from Grassi Lakes and the Spray River, I realized how here we look into the bones of the planet’s crust. The deformation associated with some massive thrust faults is impressive where old Cambrian (500 million-year-old) rocks are pushed over much younger Jurassic rocks and some kilometers back over even younger Upper Cretaceous rocks barely 60 million years old. The Rocky Mountains are young with the last thrust faults even active today and the landscape sculpted by ice ages as little as 10 thousand years ago. 

The Bow River springs from the Bow River glacier. The latter according to climatologists already should have completely melted away (but isn’t). The river carries with its water tonnes of sediments eastwards to the prairies. The sediment is transported by water and stored in the inner portions of the foreland basin until it is ultimately carried all the way to the Hudson Bay. A similar river system, Southern Alberta’s Milk River carries its sediments all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. All the terranes along these gigantic transport systems are exploited by humans for generations to benefit from its resources to the utmost. We humans are at the top of the food chain – there is no other predator that governs above us, except of course the Donald – that deluded man.

We are in charge of the planet to use it for our own good and of course to take care of our planet as many other species have done before us. The Anthropocene or the era of men as some call this youngest part of the planet’s history represents a few millionths of the total age of our planet. Surrounded by mountains, standing in the snow, I sense our blessings and our responsibilities. We are not evil as some believe we are. We are from this world where life feeds on each other and where species compete to be at the top of the heap until their extinction. Unless we’re invaded by aliens, we, humans, are in charge and we are this planet’s custodians.

With our population projected to grow to 11 billion by 2100, the question undeniably arises as to how this affects our planet. The Anthropocene is an era where we have affected our planet significantly. If you fly across Alberta and you see the enormous stretches of agricultural lands it is hard to deny that we don’t affect the world around us. Irrigation is affecting (salinating) our soils. There is a continuous battle for the use of fresh water.  If you think that the urban sprawl of Calgary raises the temperatures in and around the city, what about cities such as Jakarta counting over 10 million people? The Netherlands fits between Calgary and Edmonton and counts today, including illegal immigrants, between 17 and 20 million people.

 Then there are the projections of Africa’s population growing to close to 3 billion people and in Asia the population is projected to count 5 billion in the last quarter of this century. The populations in Europe and North America are projected to remain at 1 billion each. Mankind is not evil but yes, we are responsible – little specks of cosmic dust that happen to be aware, that happen to be at the top of the food chain and in charge of this planet for now. We must make the best of it; we are responsible, but we are just part of this planet’s evolution. Are we the only species that is aware and that is at the top of the heap? Philosophically or religiously you may say no but for all practical purposes we are.

Personally, I see myself more as a global citizen than one from a specific country, although I am fiercely Albertan-Canadian, yet proud of my Dutch heritage.  These population numbers are somewhat daunting yet they beg questions. First of all, some may say that birth control is population control and that if we would just better educate Africans then their child birth numbers should decline and thus their population.  That is not correct. Child birth numbers in Africa have fallen drastically as well and globally we are nearly at two children per parent-couple or better per female. What really increases our world population is our success in extending life expectancy. You see, if the number of children born globally does not change (and currently it is stable) but the number of deaths declines then every year there are more people living on this planet.

If you take the investors rule of 72 and today there are 6 billion people on this planet, what population growth rate does it take to double it in 100 years?  Answer 0.72%.  Compound growth rates are not always benign. Neither is our blind pursuit of happiness and prosperity.
Secondly, why wouldn’t the populations in Europe and North America decline?   There the birth rate is less than 2, it is typically 1.6 or 1.7 children per woman. If it wasn’t for emigration and a decreasing mortality Europe and North America are headed for human extinction.  This raises the question: Why should the population on these two continents remain the same during the next century while the rest of the world becomes increasingly crowded?
Third, world extreme poverty has decreased dramatically since the 1800s. Look at the graph below:

The world is getting a better place. But for many people in Africa and Asia the wait for a middle-class lifestyle takes too long – who can blame them? They want to have a better life ASAP. That is why illegal immigration into Europe and North America is such a problem.  The desire of the world population to achieve a middle-class lifestyle (or better) is what increases the demands for resources on our planet so dramatically and that is likely to be for decades to come.  To me, a more even population distribution across the planet is a no-brainer. It is not only good for baby boomer retirees counting on a viable Canada Pension plan. It is also good for the planet.

It is not about fighting climate change by reducing our CO2 foot print. Instead it is about reducing our entire material foot print. 

As explained on this blog many times, our climate is a function of numerous factors and it is unlikely that it can be controlled by just reducing CO2 emissions. We barely understand the role mankind plays in climate change or the factors that changes climate overall. Instead, we should focus on how to deal with the coming flood of new middle-class lifestyle desiring people. Reducing oil and gas pipeline capacity and transporting these materials by rail is utter insanity!  Denying oil and gas production to the rest of the global population and fighting the necessary expansion of our energy production, is as pointed out on this blog many times, utter madness!  

Blocking worldwide emigration patterns is also lunacy. Globally, despite our increased size of population, our levels of prosperity are improving. Compared to a century ago, the division of wealth inequality has improved, although somewhat stagnated since the 1970s. There is a limit to what affirmative action and progressive taxation can achieve. We all should learn how to be self-accountable, to manage our personal finances and how to live more prosperous by accumulating money producing assets!  I have stated this over and over again. We MUST become ‘financial adults’ especially with automation dramatically changing the requirements for traditional labor. We must learn to SAVE and ACCUMULATE while consuming less and/or become more efficient. We must become more self-reliable rather than expect society to take care of us from cradle to grave.

Over the last century, we have progressed on this path tremendously. I highly recommend you read the book: Factfullness by Hans Rosling who shows much of this data. It may provide eye-opening insights but still your conclusions are in the eyes of the beholder – you! The world is a lot better than many of us think. I do not think that the solution to population growth would be a 3rd world war over resources or emissions. I do not think that the solution to our population growth is large scale euthanasia or worse, as Hitler and Stalin did, race, religious, or ideological based euthanasia.  In today’s world we can and must do better. 

Simplistic answers such as blaming CO2 emissions and taxing the crap out of it; or implementing CO2 emission caps won’t work. Political ideological solutions by Trump or by those on the Left won’t do. That is just demagoguery and populism from right or left, i.e. looking for a simple scapegoat.

Europe is turning lately to the right. In the Netherlands, it is becoming increasingly difficult for political parties to agree on an annual climate change plan. Canada’s provinces are kicking out socialists and liberals with a vengeance. Ontario, Quebec and next year Alberta. I am sure British Columbia is not far behind. On the Federal level there is great disdain for Trudeau in many parts of the country and now C69 will cause even more disruption and anger.  This is temporarily hidden because nearly the entire country stood behind Justin and Chrystia in their opposition to the great bully of the South. Right now, I am more concerned about the division of the Conservatives caused by Maxime Bernier. A division that may damage our country more than even Justin already has done to date. Maxime is the root cause for extending the life of a liberal populist government.  We also have a tradition of having provincial governments opposing ideologically the federal government. 
But this time I think many Canadians realize how detrimental voting for ideology rather than for pragmatism is. I sure thought Justin was on the way out until… Maxime.  Maxime’s ideas are not necessarily wrong. I like many of them and I blame Andrew Scheer for not providing room for these ideas in the Conservative Party. Yet, most of the blame goes to Maxime who gave up and decided to go his own way.  As said, it is not that the conservatives are so much better than the liberals – but they tend to be more fiscally responsible, less bureaucratic and more accountable both individually and as a government.
I think it is right for the provinces to oppose Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax plans. We need a more sustainable plan rather than the pipeline and CO2 boogeymen. Most of the Anthropocene issues are not just for Canada to solve – we are a small portion of this world’s population.  We cannot be so naïve to think that blocking our pipelines and restricting energy supplies to the rest of the world is the solution. The end result will be bad and probably violent.
I know that immigration is a hot button issue. But letting in people from other cultures and with other religions or ideologies is a necessity. We cannot insist that our Canadian values will remain unchanged. These values have helped to build a great country but now we’re part of a much larger problem. Letting more people live in Canada will relieve a lot of environmental pressures in other parts of the world. We cannot deny aspirations of prosperity to the rest of the world and letting in more people into this country is beneficial to us as well.  Yes, there are security risks and there are cultural behaviors that are not acceptable to us. Yet a cramped attitude to stay uniquely Canadian whatever that may entail that should not be our priority.
We should fight to force all industries to look at reducing their environmental impact rather than high lighting one industry and blaming it for all evil on this planet. That leads to great social damage; besides we all work in this economy and we can all ensure that our businesses look at sustainability rather than the short term thinking that is imposed by amongst others, the players of the stock market. I call it the 'curse of the quarterly report'. We cannot only blame CO2. We must also blame our resistance to innovation and strive for sustainable productivity in order to solve the issues caused by dramatic population growth. BTW, you may have noticed that many corporations have already acknowledged that environmentally sustainable practise often contributes to the bottom line.
The good news is that our global population is projected to peak around the 3rd quarter of this century. After that our CO2 and other emissions as well as our demands for resources are likely to decline one way or another. Aspiring a sustainable economy, adjusting to the changes of this planet and openness to emigrants are much more powerful tools in addressing our survival on this planet than just focussing on a simplistic CO2 boogey man and blaming others for our problems.
Our political system is having trouble to address debt, because we the people are often apathic and don’t want to be confronted with the issues. We nearly always choose politicians that follow the easiest path no matter how nasty the consequences. This is also true for many other issues. If you only elect leaders who are popular and pretty and sell us simplicity and cuteness rather than real concepts then we get the governments that we deserve not necessarily the ones we need. 
I firmly believe that openness to emigration will also help overcome (over time) our bigoted behavior towards races and cultures that now we are not used to seeing around us. Racism and also the inequality amongst the sexes in respect to rights, duties, wages, or social and corporate positions are often our reaction to things we are not used too and afraid of. Seeing more black people around us in a predominantly white or yellow society makes us realize that we are all similar people aspiring happiness and a good life on a wonderful planet. Just like our world is adjusting to the different roles man and woman play in our society compared to say 100 or just 40 years ago. But we must stop playing the blame game, we must stop being guided by fear for the unknown and oust politicians who only aspire to be in power. Rather be prepared to address and adjust to the numerous changes that are undoubtedly to come. In such a world there is no room for ideological or religious dogmas.  We must learn that we all want to achieve something very similar: prosperity and happiness and that the only way to get there is to deal with each other respectfully and with an open, pragmatic mind. Not as easy as it sounds.

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