False economic narratives

Grimwood's article on interest.co.nz suggests a false economic narrative as a primary culprit for our civilisations current missteps. I couldn't agree more. Alas, like many environmentalists, he ropes in population; inferring that there are too many of us, but leaving the solution to high birth rates is unmentioned. This bothers me, as the thought that 'there are too many humans on the planet' leads us to deduce that we can't or shouldn't help each other, that we shouldn't strive to improve the efficiency or practicality of how we live: because...there's just WAY too many of us. Why bother? I disagree with this sentiment and commented, explaining why:


It's great to see an article like this published on a finance website of all places.

My reservations with Grimwood's article are twofold:

1.) Grimwood takes a Planet of the Humans type outlook on population, inferring that there are too many of us and we need a 'plan' to reduce our numbers. Population planning is not needed, not when we have the answers as to how to naturally lower the birth rate: In his 1980s published book *Nutrition Against Disease*, Roger J Williams, amongst myriad other topics, suggests and charts a strong correlation between adequate nutrition (quality protein consumption) and birthrate. The better that people can feed themselves, the fewer children they will have.

Further, explaining that that the fundamental building blocks of biological life are shared commonly, he draws comparison between the stress response of fruit trees (place them under stress and they will produce a bumper crop before dying) and the mammalian sexual response, using post WW2 'baby-boomer' numbers as an example: simply put, place us humans under a great deal of stress, and we seem to produce more children.

The solution then? Counter-intuitively, is to house, feed, and water everyone well and to stabilise our societies such that people are placed under less extreme stress.

I know what you will say now: if only we could 'house, feed and water' everyone well: there's not enough to go around!!! I beg to differ: read on.

2.) In his 1981 publication, Critical Path, Buckminster Fuller puts forth his theory of everything and more. A fundamental theme in the book though is that 'Humanity can make it', the 20th century, marking in his opinion, the first time in human history that our technological know-how is such that the basic needs of all humans can be met. Mass produced highly efficient housing, highly efficient cities, aerodynamic vehicles, dry-waste-packaging (intended for composting) toilets: he covered it all. Being a numbers man, he invented the 'world game', a simulation where people can play with numbers and inventories, and see how we can make life on Earth work for all.

Some interesting facts that come out of Critical Path are that:

a.) The amount of scrap metals in circulation means that no more mining is necessary (p. 205)

b.) That the technology existed, even then in 1981, such that advanced scrubbers could be fitted to the inside of industrial smoke stacks, such that all components of the 'waste' (just resources as Fuller rightly points out) can be captured and reused.

An interesting idea put forth by Fuller - in line with Grimwood's comment that 'Energy will be the new gold' - is a global energy currency and a interconnected global energy grid. When one hemisphere of the Earth is bathed in solar energy, it can supply the other, and vice versa...


One parting thought: do we have a disproportionate conception of what basic needs are? Here in Australia the average new freestanding house size is roughly 235 meters squared. Back in 1985 it was roughly 160 meters squared (Stats from Commsec). I'd wager in that time that the average number of occupants per household has dropped. Yet the homes have gotten bigger and more opulent...

Perhaps we are in trouble if more humans don't realise that they're better off with less. Not out of self-deprivation, simply because small is beautiful: less energy (material use, construction effort and heating), less stress (less to clean and maintain) and more time for what's important (family, fun and personal pursuits).


Update 1st October 2021

Grimwood responded to my comment on interest.co.nz. His response is worth sharing, and the references he makes I will have to look into and consider:

Great post. Fuller is one of my heroes, for his lateral thinking capability. But he got a lot wrong (and I don't decry him for that, quite the contrary; better to think than to chant mantra).

The problem is the energy required to do the collating and the scrubbing and the solar-collection. At the level we're running, that is impossible with renewables. See: https://ourfiniteworld.com/2007/07/02/speech-from-1957-predicting-peak-…  for someone who got the physics. Also the Mearns link: http://euanmearns.com/eroei-for-beginners/

And population-wise, we levered our muscles with fossil energy, and used it to lever the biosphere. That rendered our overshottedness not just local numbers overrunning local habitat, but global numbers drawing-down global habitat, including underground acreage (never before done). That was a collection of full bank-accounts, natural-capital-wise. We have drawn them down at exponentially-increasing rates. Only one way that ends; overshoot and collapse.

This is the discussion we are overdue having - go well (while you can :)

Damien

Damien

Oceania