Arithmetic, Population and Energy, Part 8
For the love of the human race.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
We believe that Dr. Bartlett’s work is unfinished: it must be continued; newer, creative solutions, which may not have been apparent a few years ago, when Dr. Bartlett did his primary investigations, need to be uncovered. The single human mind is always limited in its abilities: this work needs the contribution of every mind. New solutions must be found.
Arithmetic, Population and Energy, Part 8
http://www.albartlett.org/presentations/arithmetic_population_energy_video1.html Better results were achieved by playing the video clip directly from this site, rather than by linking through YouTube. Click on the arrow in the middle of the picture, rather than on the black bar at the top. This is Part 8.
Part 8 begins with a terse series of quotes and remarks:
“So to be successful with this experiment of human life on earth, we have to understand the laws of nature as we encounter them in the study of science and mathematics.”
Cartoon: “Thinking is very upsetting. It tells you things you’d rather not know.”
Galileo (1584-1642): “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect, has intended us to forego their use.”
We should remember the words of Aldous Huxley, “Facts do not cease to exist because they're ignored.”
H. L Mencken believed, “It is in the nature of the human species to reject what is true but unpleasant and to embrace what is obviously false but comforting.”
We should remember the words of Eric Sevareid; he observed, “The chief source of problems is solutions.”
Dr. Bartlett then observes that the story of the Aswan Dam is an excellent example of how our solutions to problems frequently make things worse. The Nile flooding, for thousands of years, produced a sustainable agriculture, but was a nuisance for the cities. The high dam at Aswan was built. The silt is building up behind the dam, limiting its life to a few hundred years. The effluent is clear, so the fertile Nile soils are no longer renewed. The delta is being washed into the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean fishery is in serious decline. Fertilizer must be purchased to sustain agriculture. Agricultural workers are subject to Schistosomiasis.
“This is what we encounter every day: solutions to problems just make the problems worse.”1
Dr. Bartlett throws down this gauntlet:
“So here’s a challenge. Can you think of any problem, on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long term solution is in any demonstratable way, aided, assisted, or advanced by having larger populations in our local levels, state levels, national level, or global level? Can you think of anything that can get better if we crowd more people into our cities, our towns, into our state, our nation, or on this earth?”
Our answer is, “Yes, we can think of at least one problem that might be resolved by an increase of population.”
The key operative word is crowding. We agree that crowding is a bad thing. However, crowding is a pejorative term that assumes the conclusion. Since crowding has, very possibly, extreme negative consequences, perhaps we should consider distributing as a possible alternative.
The problem is this. An automobile is roughly equivalent to between two and five hundred horses in its capacity to do work; perhaps two to five thousand men in terms of work capacity. It may be desirable to maintain the work output after the demise of fossil fuels. At least one of three things must happen: 1. We will need a lot more horses and men to sustain the existing workload. 2. We will need to be a lot more efficient in our use of horses and men to sustain the existing workload. 3. We will be forced to reduce our work output, and tighten our belts.
That being said, what will we give up? Water? Sewer? Police? Fire?
We return to the idea of distribution to suggest that a well distributed population is a more efficient and productive population. This suggests a return to the family farm, the use of septic tanks that require less maintenance, and hand or wind pumped water wells that function without grandiose treatment plants and massive plumbing systems. This suggests an attempted return to sustainable agriculture.
What the age of fossil fuels has done for humanity is introduce an illusory bubble of wealth and prosperity that will come crashing down to the ground when the fossil fuels are gone. We are suggesting that now is the time to find ways to soften the blow. The age of fossil fuels has been like living in a dream; it is not a long-term reality.
Dr. Bartlett closes:
“And I'll close with these words from the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He said, ‘Unlike the plagues of the dark ages, or contemporary diseases which we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble with means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution, but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions who are its victims.’ ”
This returns us to a modernized version of the Malthusian Catastrophe. We certainly agree that this is a grave problem and that education lies at the core of its solution. However, the utopian delusion created by the age of fossil fuels, greatly clouds our perception of reality. The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) voiced his concerns long before fossil fuels, except perhaps for coal, became a dominant source of world power. Malthus has the advantage of observation unobscured by fossil fuel smoke. On the other hand, he lived on a rather constricted and overpopulated island. That being said, it is impossible for us to know until we have resolved the fossil fuel riddle, and developed a complete set of necessary conditions.
Dr. Bartlett has certainly “made a reasonable case for my opening statement, that I think the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand this very simple arithmetic.” Along the way, he exposed some, but not all of the necessary conditions for a practical analysis and solution. These necessary conditions must be ferreted out and employed to good use. The absence of a complete set of necessary conditions throws Dr. Bartlett’s concerns back upon a new version of the Malthusian Catastrophe, into partial league with thinkers like Kenneth Arrow and Paul Ehrlich, and into conflict with the likes of Julian Simon. We have dismissed Dr. Simon as a bit of a utopian fool: but, all of his objections are not so easily dismissed. That being said, the idea that science can solve every problem, is a silly myth; a myth that needs to be unmasked before it causes more damage. Unrestrained science lies behind the Aswan Dam fiasco, and other modern solutions that have only made matters worse.
Finally, how will we produce the level of work output that we have grown to expect when fossil fuels are gone? Will external combustion engines return to use? Will we be able to master the necessary skills, efficiencies, and quantities of horse and man power to take up the bulk of the slack in a satisfactory way? The time to learn the answers to these and other pressing, life and death questions is now, not ten years from now.
 Dr. Bartlett
 Brickman, the small society
 CBS News, December 29, 1970
 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusian_catastrophe.