Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

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Brussky
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Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Brussky » Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:21 am UTC

Now, it's fairly accepted in the scientific community that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that human civilization is an active contributor towards this. If anyone can convincingly prove that this is not the case, I will gladly cede my position, but as it currently stands, I do not see this happening.

Note: the below scenarios are not doomsday ramblings, I'm merely presenting one of several potential outcomes and going from there to develop my broader point. If you dismiss this as merely 'sky is falling run' type junk, you're missing the point.

Recent research reports are increasingly alarming, with some suggesting that we are either close to, at or past the point of no return where serious ecological catastrophe will ravage the planet. The worst case scenario is that the resulting climate change will either cause almost near environmental collapse, effectively wiping out almost all multi-cell life forms (and us with them). Less severe versions point to large scale extinctions and serious degradation of areas which are well suited towards human survival, which will certainly cause serious economic, population and social catastrophes. Basically, either we all die, or a bunch of us die and the rest live in vastly inferior climates, or a ton of us die and modern industry collapses and we all end up living in vastly inferior habitats or some combination of the these.

Now, the best way to stop climate change is to reduce the output of industry and civilization. The best way to do that is to reduce demand. The best way to reduce demand is to eliminate the source: us. Now, you might suggest that we could also reduce demand by merely not using the resources, but that logic is flawed. First, there is no evidence that if given the facts people will stop consuming at any reasonable level - there is more than enough information out there about global warming right now and emissions rates continue to rise. People either do not believe, do not care, or do minimal things (myself included) which have at best a negligible effect. In addition, the carrying capacity of the planet is already being exceeded; without heavy industry we would not be able to sustain population levels or growth. If we try to minimize our global footprint (I mean actually minimize, as in pre-industrial levels) large amounts of people will not be able to grow the food they need to survive and end up starving to death.

Given that the options amount to either: large amounts of people die if we don't do anything, or large amounts of people die if we do something, what argument do we currently have against forcibly reducing our population, either via stuff like the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (http://www.vhemt.org/), one or zero child laws (yes, draconian China, etc) or similar measures. While these are obviously restrictions on personal freedom and fundamental human rights, when given the choice between not having kids and not causing the human race to go extinct, the moral argument lies with the latter. Now I do agree that there is a fairly strong objection along the vein that the exact scenario is not yet certain and we cannot accurately calculate how future technological process will develop, but by that time, it might be too late. Certainly by the time that we are able to definitively prove the extent of climate deterioration, we will likely be too far gone.

Given all that, is there any convincing reason against severely limiting the human population?

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby poxic » Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:26 am UTC

So, what are YOU willing to do? Die? Send your family to die? Tell all your friends, and the members of your family and extended family, that they can't have kids (or have to kill any that are born after the first)?

Anything you think might be a good idea, first imagine being the one in charge of delivering that solution to the people you love. That's what it comes down to. You can decide, yourself, not to have kids, but are you going to report your sister to the authorities if she gets pregnant? Or your best friend?

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Brussky » Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:38 am UTC

Well the whole point is to foster intelligent debate about whether or not people should be having kids to begin with.

I'm going to assume that if my sister got pregnant it's because she wanted to and not by accident. If you imagine a society where restrictions on childbearing are actually enforced, you'll have to also imagine strong social conditioning to the contrary, at which point it's fairly conceivable that someone would report his or her sibling for that. I mean if my hypothetical sister were a serial rapist and murderer, I'd certainly report her if I knew. I'm sure you wouldn't object to me saving you from potentially meeting someone who wants to end your life in a grotesque way. In a sense, my childbearing sister would be doing the same thing by helping propel us all to our eventual extinction. Under that scenario, prohibitions against having kids would have a similar level of social conditioning (it would have to be to be that effective). I'm well aware of the fact that this gives rise to the image of some draconian dystopia, but considering the alternative to a benevolent no-topia, I'll take my chances.

A stronger version of your objection would have been to ask what I'd do if my parents thought the same way as I do and decided not to have children, thus avoiding my existence. I'll probably put that one aside because it raises too many philosophical questions which really aren't relevant to the discussion at hand.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:47 am UTC

Killing off 50% of the population because 50% of the population is under risk of dying is stupid, and we don't know nearly enough to figure out if that's what the choice would actually be. And violating someone's rights (the right to procreate) to protect an imaginary future person's rights--when we can't even hammer out the actual scenario that will threaten their life--is silly.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:10 am UTC

This is wrong on many levels.

First of all, your assertion that the entire human species will inevitably go extinct soon is entirely without support. While it is true that this is possible, the idea that it is inevitable requires substantial evidence, and I have not seen this. I mean, I participate in a debate event in which nearly every scenario impacts to extinction, and was just in a round where the other team gave seven reasons why extinction was inevitable, and I am still not in the least convinced that this claim is certain, or even likely. But even if we grant that if we continue current trends exactly, the human species will go extinct due to global warming, we are assuming that we will never be able to act. It may be true that we won't, but you don't know that; we may discover new technology to reverse the effects of warming. Many such technologies are being discussed now. Don't try to label this as try-or-die, either, because none of these extinction scenarios take place soon; most of them are centuries away.

Second, you are treating the symptoms while ignoring the disease. When the problem is "humans do not live sustainably," the solution should not be "kill them all and start over," but "start living sustainably." We know this is possible, but that it doesn't happen on its own. Killing billions of people or creating hard population controls might buy us time, but we will be confronted with the same problem in a few thousand years. Either we continue to kill off our population every few millennia, in which case your one-time scenario has turned into a sustainability policy, and this brings a host of other problems, or we succumb to the same fate we were trying to avoid, just later. Is it worth killing billions to buy a few some more time to survive?

And this brings me to the third reason your policy is wrong: Extinction is not the worst thing that could happen. Without even getting into the issue of utilitarian vs. deontological ethics, you have to realize that extinction is a finite impact. Your assertion that the dystopia you have presented is better than extinction is unfounded, because while if we go extinct we die, if we live in your world we live with the constant prospect of death, alongside death, and even perpetrating murder, simply to sustain our own existence. Even if you win that we could somehow control population growth simply with birth control policies, we have sacrificed control over our own bodies for the sake of an uncertain future generation. We are all going to die--maybe not all at once, but eventually. Not only that, humanity will eventually go extinct--the universe is not eternal. It is better that we live in a world where we do not fear our death to the point where we will do literally anything to maintain our life just a little longer.


I hope this answers your question.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby guyy » Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:13 am UTC

The main problem with any "kill a whole bunch of people to save the future" kind of idea is that someone has to decide who lives and who dies; no one person or group of people can possibly be so incredibly knowledgeable and so morally flawless that they could make such a decision correctly. There's just no way to know whether killing some group of people or some other group of people is going to be worth it in the long run. What if one of those people knew how to solve your problems peacefully, but they didn't get to because you killed them? What if the mass killing starts a global revolution (who could blame them), or a nuclear war?

Whoever makes the life-or-death decision for a huge mass of people just can't predict what the consequences of something like that might be, and even if they could, we could never know what their intentions were; maybe they secretly want to kill off some race or political group, or maybe they just want to destroy the whole world. You can't trust people to intentionally thin their own populations; war causes enough problems. And this is all ignoring the question of whether genocide now is ever worth improved life later; the people you kill sure aren't going to benefit from it.

Forced birth control isn't really much different, in a long-term sense; it just kills off parts of the next generation instead of the current one. In the same way, no one can really be trusted to decide who gets to reproduce and who doesn't. You could try to put the same birth limits on everyone, but it's a short step from there to reducing certain people's birth limits because they aren't "good enough," or being forced to add imbalances because you need the maximum births per woman to be a non-integer on average.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:26 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:Second, you are treating the symptoms while ignoring the disease. When the problem is "humans do not live sustainably," the solution should not be "kill them all and start over," but "start living sustainably." We know this is possible, but that it doesn't happen on its own.
Untrue, actually. It is perfectly feasible that we've already passed the threshold for any number of extinction events. Of course, if we have, making changes would be futile and silly (though we might invest more in a space program in some no-doubt futile attempt to colonize Mars or the moon).
Eebster the Great wrote:And this brings me to the third reason your policy is wrong: Extinction is not the worst thing that could happen. Without even getting into the issue of utilitarian vs. deontological ethics, you have to realize that extinction is a finite impact. Your assertion that the dystopia you have presented is better than extinction is unfounded, because while if we go extinct we die, if we live in your world we live with the constant prospect of death, alongside death, and even perpetrating murder, simply to sustain our own existence.
Uh, we already do. We kill people all the time to sustain our own lifestyles. We also kill animals for meat--and for recreation. Also, if you give me the choice between living in some hellish dystopian wasteland where people are regularly killed via The Lottery or having every human die right now, I'll be the first person to pick up that rock and step in line. Because at least in the former situation we can imagine a future might come where we don't need to stone people to death.
guyy wrote:The main problem with any "kill a whole bunch of people to save the future" kind of idea is that someone has to decide who lives and who dies; no one person or group of people can possibly be so incredibly knowledgeable and so morally flawless that they could make such a decision correctly. There's just no way to know whether killing some group of people or some other group of people is going to be worth it in the long run. What if one of those people knew how to solve your problems peacefully, but they didn't get to because you killed them? What if the mass killing starts a global revolution (who could blame them), or a nuclear war?
Decide who lives and who dies via randomized selection.
guyy wrote:Forced birth control isn't really much different, in a long-term sense; it just kills off parts of the next generation instead of the current one. In the same way, no one can really be trusted to decide who gets to reproduce and who doesn't. You could try to put the same birth limits on everyone, but it's a short step from there to reducing certain people's birth limits because they aren't "good enough," or being forced to add imbalances because you need the maximum births per woman to be a non-integer on average.
I agree that this is a fundamental problem with forced sterilization, but I think that a more valid criticism against it is that it's a violation of our fundamental rights, and that the only reason you may violate my fundamental rights is for the sake of protecting another fundamental right (and such a protection must be immediate and clear, not distant and probable).

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Brussky » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:25 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:I agree that this is a fundamental problem with forced sterilization, but I think that a more valid criticism against it is that it's a violation of our fundamental rights, and that the only reason you may violate my fundamental rights is for the sake of protecting another fundamental right (and such a protection must be immediate and clear, not distant and probable).


You managed to cover the other points fairly well, and so I'll only touch on them briefly.

Eebster the Great wrote:
Don't try to label this as try-or-die, either, because none of these extinction scenarios take place soon; most of them are centuries away.


The "new technology" idea is fairly absurd, certainly more absurd than the most unlikely total extinction global warming scenario. This is not Civ4, technological process is a fairly slow affair, and even 'rapid' progress by modern means still has a fairly slow lag time in terms of implementation. Even with something like Manhattan-project level government investment and scientific recruitment, it is unlikely that emission levels will hit zero, much less go negative within the next twenty years or so. There are simply no precursor technologies to what you suggest would be required (which would certainly be some sort of large scale atmospheric filtering system) which would be even conceptually possible, much less likely to become commercially viable. Though technology is a viable long term solution, there is little hope for a short term fix, and if we get over the tipping point, there may well be nothing we can do, future tech or not. In terms of time horizon, while the actual event may be centuries away, because of the complex interaction with the ecosystem, the time to actually do something might very well be now. I've intentionally refrained from citing sources to support any sort of urgency argument in order to pre-empt a literature war, but your assertion that we have tons of time to do something is fairly weak in light of the general scientific consensus. The central issue to the debate is probably going to be the severity of the event and not the time horizon, which is fairly narrow in light of what we're dealing with.

On a side note, both deontological and utilitarian approaches probably have survival of the human race outweight any individual personal suffering (utilitarianism certainly, deontology would take some time to develop an argument based on).

The argument raised by Hippo is probably the strongest which I've heard so far (it is fairly easy to refute the 'who gets to choose who dies', 'dying for the sake of the planet is unfair', etc lines). Limiting reproduction would certainly violate the right to free choice and self-determination towards your body (though in executing criminals we already do this to an extent, but not nearly on the same level). The contention is whether this is worth it in terms of protecting some future, more fundamental right (such as the right to life). I'd disagree that this protection need only be immediate and clear. Certain levels of distant and probable would probably also work; 99% chance of dying within 20 years is roughly approximate to 100% chance of dying, right now. It does of course depend on life-expectancy and other factors, but most people will trade certain 'fundamental' rights in order to secure protection for more fundamental ones at some time in the future. The issue then becomes how distant and how probable, and it becomes increasingly muddled in the very likely scenario where you'd be making a sacrifice now in order to /not/ have the collective descendants of humanity go extinct or live in sub-marginal levels, since there you don't get the reward and they don't pay the price.

Again, I'll reiterate. This is a fairly contentious argument. People are exceedingly reluctant, for good reason, to relinquish any right in order to serve the 'common good'. I don't expect you to agree with all of these points (I do not agree with all of them); I'm merely raising the possibility that it might happen and what, if anything we should do about it.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Cobramaster » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:47 am UTC

Well my thing is your argument is based on accepting Anthropogenic Global Warming theory (AGW) and that in and of itself has been wrong far more often than it has been right. Not to mention that the CRU based out of the East Anglian University which supply most of the "data" and "reports" have been caught up in a controversy over the fact that they outright lied about a lot of what they did, if you want more info google "CLIMATEGATE ".

But other than that killing large portions of the human population is just wrong there is no greater good that can outweigh that act of unspeakable evil, I cannot think of a single ethical theory that would allow for such a thing, even if you believe that the ends justify the means typically the means are not worse than the ends.
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Brussky » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:52 am UTC

Utilitarianism would certainly fit the bill for "sacrafice to the common good".

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:57 am UTC

Cobramaster wrote:Well my thing is your argument is based on accepting Anthropogenic Global Warming theory (AGW) and that in and of itself has been wrong far more often than it has been right. Not to mention that the CRU based out of the East Anglian University which supply most of the "data" and "reports" have been caught up in a controversy over the fact that they outright lied about a lot of what they did, if you want more info google "CLIMATEGATE ".
Nope, sorry. Come back when you've actually read a little on the subject.
Cobramaster wrote:But other than that killing large portions of the human population is just wrong there is no greater good that can outweigh that act of unspeakable evil, I cannot think of a single ethical theory that would allow for such a thing, even if you believe that the ends justify the means typically the means are not worse than the ends.
"Press this button and one million people chosen at random will die. Press no button and one million and one people chosen at random will die."

Hello, ethical situation that justifies mass murder! How are you doing?

Jesus, that was easy. I'm going to go treat myself to a coke. Drop me a line if anyone in the thread wants one, too.

__________________

Edit: Back, with coke. You folks didn't want one? Oh well:
Brussky wrote:The contention is whether this is worth it in terms of protecting some future, more fundamental right (such as the right to life). I'd disagree that this protection need only be immediate and clear.
Consider: If it's fairly probable that you're going to kill me (let's say you've tried before, and there's excellent evidence that you'll try again), am I within my rights to seek you out and kill you first? Or do I have to wait until you put my life in actual danger?

We only allow for the killing of our fellow human beings when our choice is clearly kill or be killed (or severely harmed, or otherwise violated). If I think you're going to kill me tomorrow, I have plenty of non-lethal options to ponder--similarly, if I think the world is going to end in thirty years, I have plenty of responses to ponder that don't involve slaughtering half the population to avoid it.

That isn't to say that, should we be confronted with a situation where the choice is clear ("Decrease your carbon output by 75% in 10 years or fucking DIE!" - "Uh, the only way that's ever happening is if half the population croaks."), we can't make a frightfully murderous decision. But that's the thing--the choice must be clear.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Waylah » Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:43 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Killing off 50% of the population because 50% of the population is under risk of dying is stupid, and we don't know nearly enough to figure out if that's what the choice would actually be. And violating someone's rights (the right to procreate) to protect an imaginary future person's rights--when we can't even hammer out the actual scenario that will threaten their life--is silly.


Here here. Well said.

In answer to the question,
Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?
Because that would make a large percentage of the [population of the] Earth unhappy.
I don't want to be unhappy. The only person I know who does is Oscar the Grouch.

Overpopulation -will- become a problem if people keep producing a next generation of more people than their own, and the only happy solution I can see besides "violating someone's rights (the right to procreate)" is getting off this planet. That would be fun.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby somebody already took it » Mon Nov 30, 2009 11:59 am UTC

Brussky wrote:Now, the best way to stop climate change is to reduce the output of industry and civilization. The best way to do that is to reduce demand. The best way to reduce demand is to eliminate the source: us. Now, you might suggest that we could also reduce demand by merely not using the resources, but that logic is flawed. First, there is no evidence that if given the facts people will stop consuming at any reasonable level - there is more than enough information out there about global warming right now and emissions rates continue to rise. People either do not believe, do not care, or do minimal things (myself included) which have at best a negligible effect.

Why would trying to get people to vote for the death lottery be any more successful than trying to get them to stop consuming?

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Sharlos » Mon Nov 30, 2009 12:44 pm UTC

Why should we kill off a large percentage of the Earth's population? Even if humanity does nothing about climate change for the next 50 years, no where near a 'large' percentage of people will die, even if it runs its course with humanity doing nothing about it, our species isn't in danger of extinction, our civilisation may possibly collapse at most.

Earth isn't going to have a population problem soon enough, most of the developed world already has a shrinking population, once China and India industrialize and most of Africa, their population will start to fall as well.

But I have trouble seeing how killing billions of people is going to solve any problems at all.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Goplat » Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:24 pm UTC

guyy wrote:Forced birth control isn't really much different, in a long-term sense; it just kills off parts of the next generation instead of the current one.
Preventing a birth from taking place is the same as killing an existing person? I don't intend to have any children, ever, even though I'm physically capable of it. So if you actually believe what you're saying, you'd better call the police, because you just saw someone confess to murder.

Waylah wrote:Overpopulation -will- become a problem if people keep producing a next generation of more people than their own, and the only happy solution I can see besides "violating someone's rights (the right to procreate)" is getting off this planet. That would be fun.
Getting off this planet is not a long-term solution. After a time t, we could only have colonized the area within a distance of c*t from Earth (where c is the speed of light), which has a volume of 4/3π(ct)³. That's a polynomial in t, whereas unrestricted population growth is exponential in t, therefore "violating someone's rights" is necessary regardless of space expansion. (And any public policy that gambles the fate of humanity on some extremely well-tested physics being wrong would be the height of idiocy.)

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby mister k » Mon Nov 30, 2009 4:57 pm UTC

Climate change isn't going to kill of the human race. Its going to submerge many populated areas, change climates, starve millions, possibly billions. Indeed, there is evidence that this is already happening. How many do we need to kill off to ensure that we can protect those remaining? Are we assuming that the remaining left alive are going to restrain themselves? If it was as simple as pressing a button and chaning things most would make that choice, but we don't have perfect information, and even if the button existed, we wouldn't know how many to kill.

How are you proposing to do this change, by the way? Population limitation. I am sympathetic to that, only its kind of already happening. In countries where they can afford to, people tend to be having less children- most of Europe only grows from immigration these days. Financial incentives tend to make people less likely to have large families. In some countries larger families are still economically viable, perhaps even necessary. Are we to cut them out, because its not those nations that are actually doing damage to the world.

Truth is, while our population is dangerously large, if you look at the way energy is distributed you'll see that a much easier solution to killing a whole bunch of people is to detonate lots of emp pulses over the world, and send us back to the stone age. Richer countries use disproportionally large amounts of energy in terms of lifestyle and consumption, and that is the major problem. So what do we need to do about that? Welll... what people are already suggesting- changing our energy sources, switching over to sustainable options where possible. Now we need to do this on a much grander scale than we are already doing, I admit, but if you posess the power to dramatically alter people's breeding habits, you'd be better off dramatically altering their energy habits.
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:25 pm UTC

Brussky wrote:Recent research reports are increasingly alarming, with some suggesting that we are either close to, at or past the point of no return where serious ecological catastrophe will ravage the planet. The worst case scenario is that the resulting climate change will either cause almost near environmental collapse, effectively wiping out almost all multi-cell life forms (and us with them). Less severe versions point to large scale extinctions and serious degradation of areas which are well suited towards human survival, which will certainly cause serious economic, population and social catastrophes. Basically, either we all die, or a bunch of us die and the rest live in vastly inferior climates, or a ton of us die and modern industry collapses and we all end up living in vastly inferior habitats or some combination of the these.


I have not seen any indication to suggest that any of such scenarios have any more than negligible probabilities to occur. Frankly, the idea that a relatively minor increase in the mean global temperature will result in the same effect as, say a massive asteroid impact seems pretty dubious to me. In the long-term, increases temperatures are generally correlated with increase biodiversity anyway. While we might see a short-term extinction event resulting from anthropogenic global warming, over a longish timescale the effect will probably be generally positive. Not much consolation for those who become extinct, though.

Brussky wrote:Now, the best way to stop climate change is to reduce the output of industry and civilization. The best way to do that is to reduce demand. The best way to reduce demand is to eliminate the source: us. Now, you might suggest that we could also reduce demand by merely not using the resources, but that logic is flawed. First, there is no evidence that if given the facts people will stop consuming at any reasonable level - there is more than enough information out there about global warming right now and emissions rates continue to rise. People either do not believe, do not care, or do minimal things (myself included) which have at best a negligible effect. In addition, the carrying capacity of the planet is already being exceeded; without heavy industry we would not be able to sustain population levels or growth. If we try to minimize our global footprint (I mean actually minimize, as in pre-industrial levels) large amounts of people will not be able to grow the food they need to survive and end up starving to death.

Given that the options amount to either: large amounts of people die if we don't do anything, or large amounts of people die if we do something, what argument do we currently have against forcibly reducing our population, either via stuff like the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (http://www.vhemt.org/), one or zero child laws (yes, draconian China, etc) or similar measures. While these are obviously restrictions on personal freedom and fundamental human rights, when given the choice between not having kids and not causing the human race to go extinct, the moral argument lies with the latter. Now I do agree that there is a fairly strong objection along the vein that the exact scenario is not yet certain and we cannot accurately calculate how future technological process will develop, but by that time, it might be too late. Certainly by the time that we are able to definitively prove the extent of climate deterioration, we will likely be too far gone.

Given all that, is there any convincing reason against severely limiting the human population?


A few thoughts:

First, on a practical level, population control of the system you describe is, on the most fundamental level, impossible given any reasonable democratic state. The reason that a country like China is able to implement and even remotely enforce the one child policy is that it operates under an essentially fascist, totalitarian regime that gives the government a wide leeway with the controls they have over the populace. In a democratic regime, the government is fundamentally bound by the laws of the land and whatever constitutional powers it is entitled, and such programs would probably be impossible. Thus, your arguably is not only predicated on a hypothetical mass extinction event, but also on a hypothetical simultaneous collapse of all the world's democracies to be replaced by totalitarian regimes.

The second point worth noting is that fertility rates in virtually all developed countries are already well below replacement, including in China and the United States (India is still a bit above, at present), and yet we are still experiencing a massive increase in global GHG and net population increase (increased life expectancy, etc.). That is, even if we had worldwide population control of one-child per couple, we would still expect to see large increases of GHG in the short term as billions of people work to industrialize in the developing world. Even a zero population growth, if we wish to have an acceptable standard of living for 7 billion people, CO2 emissions may be significantly above the threshold for significant global temperature increase. That is, population growth certainly compounds the problem, but if you accept a global catastrophe situation under current conditions, then simply reducing population over a timescale of hundreds of years is probably not fast enough. We would probably need to aggressively decrease population by culling the present human population if we wanted to see any significant gains in the short term. I can't even imagine the scope of genocide that would be required. Nuclear war, maybe? Trade one apocalypse for another.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Mon Nov 30, 2009 6:03 pm UTC

Why do we need to actively start killing people off when it's already happening? Look to Africa for die-off. A society that lives beyond its means ecologically is doomed to suffer high mortality until the energy afforded by the environment is level with that of the species within it. The issues are only vaguely apparent to most in the First World, whenever you turn the news on and see Darfur or Rwanda etc. But these issues will become more apparent in more developed nations as energy, and soon after, food and water output drop precipitously in some areas, gentler in others. With around six billion people being alive today solely down to the abundance of cheap fossil fuels, how on Earth does anyone not see die-off upping the ante?

Personally, climate change is far less an immediate concern to me than peak oil and later, gas and coal. Energy is the limiting factor for us all today, and without that great enabler, we return to a agrarian society for all intents and purposes.

So in answer to the OP, we don't need to worry about this issue, because it's already decided for us by virtue of our own stupidity and the laws of nature. It doesn't matter whether you want to commit genocide or not. It's going to happen, and propping up an ecological niche that is in overshoot is a losing game. For the first time in the history of this planet, a species is cogent enough to be aware of this fact.

Too bad we ignored it.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby stevey_frac » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:27 pm UTC

If global warming is so dangerous that it is about to cause massive imminent destruction... why can't we like... throw something small and reflective into the atmosphere? Put it in jet fuel. Commercial jets that hang out at 40k feet spread the stuff by virtue of their daily flying. We only need to reflect a tiny portion of sunlight back out into space to cool the planet down. It's not ideal... but it should work as a stop-gap measure while we reduce emissions, and grow some trees (then cut the trees down, bury them in some deep spot, and grow more).

Why aren't we taking proactive measures like that? If it's so terrible, let's stop with the eco-hippy prius nonsense and DO something on a large scale.
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Vaniver » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:30 pm UTC

The only necessary response:

Who the hell do you think you are?
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:38 pm UTC

stevey_frac wrote:If global warming is so dangerous that it is about to cause massive imminent destruction... why can't we like... throw something small and reflective into the atmosphere? Put it in jet fuel. Commercial jets that hang out at 40k feet spread the stuff by virtue of their daily flying. We only need to reflect a tiny portion of sunlight back out into space to cool the planet down. It's not ideal... but it should work as a stop-gap measure while we reduce emissions, and grow some trees (then cut the trees down, bury them in some deep spot, and grow more).

Why aren't we taking proactive measures like that? If it's so terrible, let's stop with the eco-hippy prius nonsense and DO something on a large scale.


What goes up, must come down, right? If you think about the sheer mass needed to cause this effect on any real scale, you're looking at Krakatoa like eruptions of this material all over the place, unless you have some amazing compound that can stay aloft and reflect light in the necessary spectrum sufficiently. We have enough crap in the atmosphere as it is without putting more in. It's not a good idea to go into geoengineering when we're still trying to grasp the complexities of climate.

Anyway, none of this addresses resource depletion, which will hit far harder and sooner than climate change. The answer to that is less people, using less.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby stevey_frac » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:54 pm UTC

Admiral Valdemar wrote:
Anyway, none of this addresses resource depletion, which will hit far harder and sooner than climate change. The answer to that is less people, using less.


I agree with the resource depletion issue. However, not your broad spectrum killing off of the population.

Current mainstream technology exists that can reduce consumption by an order of magnitude. My house is an Energy-Star Certified house. My last electricity bill was $36. The average consumption for houses in Ontario is closer to $140 (based on what the hydro company wanted to charge me for equal billing).

My house does this despite being a fairly average new home. CFL lights, energy-star appliances. Nothing super fancy. Now, if you actually built the house with nothing but energy efficiency in mind, including using LED lights in most used areas, like the kitchen and family room, where we spend the most time. Higher efficiency motors for the air handler, etc. i have no doubt you could drop my energy consumption down to the $15 range. I still use an electric dryer for example. If you convince or mandate this for the majority of the worlds population, bingo, global warming stops in it's tracts. The world keeps spinning.

Attacking it from the other side, wind power is increasingly competitive and will cross over at some point soon. Coal and natural gas electricity is increasing it's cost at a rate of roughly 3% per year. Wind power gets cheaper at a rate of 20% every time it's installed base doubles. Wind is a low carbon source, and there are many off-shore cites available in nice windy areas.

Solar power is increasingly less expensive as well, especially things like solar water heating and space heating.

There is no need for what your describing.
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:01 pm UTC

stevey_frac wrote:
I agree with the resource depletion issue. However, not your broad spectrum killing off of the population.

Current mainstream technology exists that can reduce consumption by an order of magnitude. My house is an Energy-Star Certified house. My last electricity bill was $36. The average consumption for houses in Ontario is closer to $140 (based on what the hydro company wanted to charge me for equal billing).

My house does this despite being a fairly average new home. CFL lights, energy-star appliances. Nothing super fancy. Now, if you actually built the house with nothing but energy efficiency in mind, including using LED lights in most used areas, like the kitchen and family room, where we spend the most time. Higher efficiency motors for the air handler, etc. i have no doubt you could drop my energy consumption down to the $15 range. I still use an electric dryer for example. If you convince or mandate this for the majority of the worlds population, bingo, global warming stops in it's tracts. The world keeps spinning.

Attacking it from the other side, wind power is increasingly competitive and will cross over at some point soon. Coal and natural gas electricity is increasing it's cost at a rate of roughly 3% per year. Wind power gets cheaper at a rate of 20% every time it's installed base doubles. Wind is a low carbon source, and there are many off-shore cites available in nice windy areas.

Solar power is increasingly less expensive as well, especially things like solar water heating and space heating.

There is no need for what your describing.


Technology isn't the issue, we've had more efficient tech for decades than what we're using mainstream now. The problem is the time and money. For instance, the Hirsch Report details how it'd take an Apollo programme and at least a decade to get all cars to become either fuel efficient to the highest standard today, or PHEVs. We don't have that money nor that time. Likewise, I could get solar panels and PV cells and a turbine for my home, perhaps a CHP too. Problem is, I can't find that spare £20k+ needed for such things, and that's putting it conservatively. I don't earn megabucks as a scientist, but I'd like to be able to live sustainably. Sucks that I can't. And I know millions more who can't afford it either.

So, either we find a way to bring everyone up to spec, or we cast them off and let them enjoy energy poverty, because there is no magic wand here that will make even a good chunk of the First World energy efficient, to say nothing of the hundreds of millions in the developing nations.

Besides, this, again, doesn't address the issue of resource depletion. Efficiency makes the problem worse. The only way to avert these issues in future generations is to curb population and consumption growth to aim for a stable-state economy. As long as capitalism is a force in this world, that is a total pipedream.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby stevey_frac » Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:13 pm UTC

What are you calling resource depletion exactly? I'm getting the distinct impression it's something more to you then it is to me...

And if it would take the equivalent of an apollo space program to get us efficient... then why not? We've done it before! And last time it was about who could get to the moon first instead of saving our own butts.

Your suggesting that instead of launching a massive energy conservation program, we kill off a big chunk of people to stop their consumption. That is inherently ludicrous. We have enough food to feed the world. We can produce orders of magnitude more clean energy then the world needs even without conservation (See last month's issue of Scientific America's article on renewable energy). What exactly is going to deplete?

I've yet to see you justify your abhorrently terrible plan as being the only choice, only that it is a choice.
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:38 pm UTC

stevey_frac wrote:What are you calling resource depletion exactly? I'm getting the distinct impression it's something more to you then it is to me...


The three main fossil fuels, water, top soil, NPK, rare earth metals, ecospheres etc. Basically, a lot of stuff where technology cannot replace it. You can't invent something that gives you more of a resource you don't have, just like you can't make more land for people to conquer.

And if it would take the equivalent of an apollo space program to get us efficient... then why not? We've done it before! And last time it was about who could get to the moon first instead of saving our own butts.


No political will and no cash. The US is essentially bankrupt, and the likes of China and India are focusing on cheap coal and matching the expansion we had during the Industrial Revolution, rather than bringing what they have now up to green spec. Another 1.5 billion people want to live like Americans and Europeans, which means cheap living in a throwaway world. You do not sate the people you've promised to pull from rural poverty by increasing costs on consumer goods to make them more efficient and raising taxes. The majority of Westerners can't afford these kinds of improvements like a hybrid car, or their own wind turbine (most people don't even bother getting loft insulation until they really have to). Any politico who comes out and seriously brings in a legal mandate where everyone has to meet such and such a criteria will get shot down in flames. Look at the hilarious CAFE standards the US has now, and how hard the Big Auto clan fought even those pathetic standards. Now apply that to various other industries. Big Oil and coal will not leave the gloves on in that fight, no matter how much they may make you think they're going green.

Your suggesting that instead of launching a massive energy conservation program, we kill off a big chunk of people to stop their consumption. That is inherently ludicrous. We have enough food to feed the world. We can produce orders of magnitude more clean energy then the world needs even without conservation (See last month's issue of Scientific America's article on renewable energy). What exactly is going to deplete?

I've yet to see you justify your abhorrently terrible plan as being the only choice, only that it is a choice.


Point out where I proposed we kill off a good chunk of the world's population, please. You can't, because I never made that proposal. I stated a fact you construed as some sort of tacit approval of a plan to commit genocide.

We can produce enough food for everyone, eh? Then explain why the lakes of milk and mountains of bread in Europe are now no more after decades of food being overproduced? Why have grain yields fallen continually for the last several years after hitting a peak? Why is malnourishment still such a prominent killer around the globe? We can't produce enough food for everyone, and we never have given the total mismanagement of the likes of Africa, where starvation is a fact of life. What does it matter if we used to have huge abundance in the basic foods that just never got dished out evenly?

Why do you confuse "can" with "will"? I "can" try and learn to flamenco dance. Doesn't mean I will. Likewise, the world having the potential to produce oodles of clean energy is utterly meaningless. You may as well handwave away any problem we have by saying "But ideally we COULD solve this problem". Great. This isn't maths, this is reality. The starving children huddled around a dying fire don't give a shit about what we could do, only what we can do. And I'm sorry, but replacing even a fraction of oil usage isn't happening any time soon, to say nothing of coal and gas. It would require a huge (and I mean phenomenal) investment in nuclear to act as a base loader to replace the dirty non-renewables out there. Like I say, there is no such major push. Additionally, I'd be wary of SciAm when it comes to energy issues. They seem to have come down with the cornucopian disease as of late, and dragged their journalism down to Popular Mechanics level because of it. I've seen plenty of people harp on about algal fuels replacing our oil usage. Sorry, but that isn't going to happen so long as reality has something to say about it (and I mean physics AND geo-politics).

Again, you've shown nothing that is going to avert any of what I, and the Club of Rome among others, foresee. Unless someone is going to magically replace all fossil fuels in the next decade, we will have energy crises that lead to various other ones that exacerbate already endemic issues such as poverty and political instability. Want a glimpse of the future? Look to Pakistan and the fun they're having with keeping the lights on and enough diesel to run their own meagre facsimile of the West's just-in-time delivery model.

And, as I've already repeated, a population in overshoot has to return to sustainable levels. That means billions of people are disappearing regardless of what plan of action you produce, because at the end of the day, the energy we're replacing is a once off; a gift from nature to us. It's very much like inheriting a fortune off a dead relative. Eventually you'll squander that cash on pointless extravagance. Then, and only then, you'll have to rely on what you can bring in annually to survive. The millions of years of stored solar in the ground is going to run out soon, which leaves us with the solar we get on Earth annually. There will be a deficit, and that will have consequences (I'm aware that if we covered part of the Sahara in even 20% efficient PVs and used HVDC lines, we could power the whole world, but I'm being realistic here). Once you solve energy, you run into the next limiting factor, which will be either food or water or something similar. The problem is growth, and you're basically throwing more fuel on to the fire by proposing more ways we can live like we are now and even improve and grow from it.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby stevey_frac » Mon Nov 30, 2009 11:42 pm UTC

Your thread title is 'Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?'... That's where you made that claim, and i took it from there.

And my mistake. We DO produce enough food to feed the world. REF: http://www.foodfirst.org/12myths

"Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,200 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - ­vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs - enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most "hungry countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products."

So... running out of food? No.

Fuels, yes we are running out of. But how does improving efficiency HURT how long our fuels will last? You should also look up the various methods of artificially producing most fuels. Yes, they aren't perfect, they aren't cheap, but they work. Battery Electric vehicles will eventually replace most of what we drive day to day. Don't believe me? Most major car manufactures have an electric vehicle program these days. So yes, technology can, will, and currently IS replacing this one.

Metals? Metal exploration is based hugely on metal prices. As supply dwindles, and the cost of a metal rises all of a sudden you will see a flurry of exploration, and a lot of known deposits become readily available for mining. Also most of the metals and other substances are recyclable. So metals aren't a problem.

Not sure what how we run out of ecospheres unless your advocating colonizing another world?? Defined in Wikipedia as:
"relates to the division of the Earth into broadly four interacting spheres, sometimes referred to as an ecosphere:
Hydrosphere
Biosphere
Lithosphere
Atmosphere"

Your talking about a lack of political will and no cash to make an energy efficiency program. That makes zero sense. Killing off 'a large percentage' of the world would require a LOT more political will. Orders of magnitude.

And i was not proposing everyone get a hybrid car. Get yourself a cobalt, or a civic, or corolla instead of your F-150, Suburban, or Navigator. Much better fuel economy at a fraction of the price. Use the savings to buy yourself a more efficient air conditioner. Or something like that.
Neither was I proposing everyone get their own wind turbine. I specifically mentioned off-shore development. And yes, the CAFE standards are kinda crappy, but they are better then nothing, and at least a step in the right direction. Realistically though, the ever increasing price of gas will do more to stimulate efficient behavior then fuel economy standards ever will.

Studies have shown that when rent is high, people will live in less space, and get roommates to cover the cost. Similarly, as energy prices increase people will make an effort to offset it with increasing efficiency. That is already starting to happen. And it will continue to happen. If we had to ration energy, and therefore energy was expensive, instead of dirt cheap as it is currently we could afford to put up massive windmill farms and solar arrays, and use nuclear energy as our base load. If energy prices were just a few cents more per KW/hr wind becomes competitive very quickly, and as i've already mentioned, wind power costs are falling. It won't be long until wind farms compete with coal. Put any kind of carbon tax, and wind deployment will increase by orders of magnitude. So, no problems with energy really.

With cheap and abundant energy, one can start desalinating water. There is a hell of a lot of water out there, it's just that a lot of it is salty. And as with most things, people are aware that water is a useful resource and are developing ways to extract clean water from sea-water. So water may be expensive, but it's doable.

Most of the civilized world is already under 2 children per couple. China is really pushing the 1 child per couple thing. If it gets bad enough, India might follow that route. So, growth is already being contained.

My summary basically is: There is already enough food to go around, Stuff will be recycled if it needs to be, costs effect consumer behavior and that is already starting to happen, energy really isn't a problem, and neither is water, and Growth is slowing.

So basically...
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby PowPit » Mon Nov 30, 2009 11:47 pm UTC

I completely agree on the point that a smaller population would be far better. Just imagine how many problems would be solved if there were less people. Because less people means less needed space, energy, water and food, means less waste, nuclear waste, pollution, greenhouse gases, environmental exploitation, clearing of the rain forests, overfishing, famines, epidemics and so on. That's why I'm in favor of a one-child policy as in China. In contrast to western civilizations they managed to realize that a too large population would cause much bigger problems (imagine a China with 250 mio. inhabitants more) than the few social ones resulting from the restriction.

But of course it also has a lot to do with the consciousness of the people. Unfortunatley it seems as if technology just increased the needs of the people, instead of fulfilling them. Because as soon as a desire is fulfilled, the next one appears. But surely this can't go on forever.

It's a simple calculation that in a limited space (i.e. the Earth) it's impossible to obtain endless growth. And except for Europe the populations will most probably rise over the next decades (source). So I'm just asking the question: Why push the population up to the ultimate limit instead of trying already now to keep it lower? Someday we will realize that the population has become indeed too large. And that suddenly it has become too late for birth control. So we will have to extinct the people that are already born. OK, most probably nature will gladly take that part. And I hope nobody believes that on this planet more than 10 billion people can live a decent live at the same time, that's absolutely utopian. This will only be possible for the elite of a few 100 millions. Or the other possibility: if there will be a total ecological collapse, no one will have that honor.

I don't like this "everything will work out, don't worry" philosophy."Everything worked quite nice until now, didn't it?" Well, Icarus probably said the same thing on his flight. At least up to that certain point where the blinding light of the sun suddenly turned into water coming closer.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:33 am UTC

Although this has been pretty well covered by the other posters, a few things leap to mind.

First of all, if it is true that we are facing an imminent resource crisis, we are also presumably facing an imminent decline in CO2 outputs. Thus in the worst case scenario, the global economy collapses, making people unable to pollute at large scales, avoiding eco catastrophe. If it is not true, I find it difficult to believe there is no way humanity could combat GW better than mass extinction.

Second, you still haven't presented a single legitimate study that suggests GW is very likely to kill a large portion of the global population. Seriously, I find this incredibly unlikely, and the major assessment reports seem to back me up here. Yes, GW is very bad, and many people will die, but probably not billions, as you are suggesting.

Third, I don't think you ever adequately addressed the points I brought up in my first post. I don't understand, for example, your justification for why, after killing billions of people, the same problem will not eventually occur. This is a big deal, because it proves quick fixes like your plan won't really solve anything, and that a more overall mindset shift is essential. As other people have pointed out, while this might seem unlikely, it is certainly far more likely than somebody killing off large portions of the global population, or even instituting strict population control throughout the world. Who exactly can do this?

I also don't think you adequately addressed my critique of your fear of death. The fact that people are already engaging in horrific life-preserving actions does not justify continuing this. This is much like saying that it is not wrong to kill millions of Africans to drive them out of their homes, because it is already happening in Darfur. Killing to save does not create a world we would want to live in. You say this is preferable to extinction, and perhaps it is, but how can you prove the only alternative is extinction, especially when we have presented some ideas that at least have a chance of solving without major human rights abuses? Besides, there are more impacts than killing to save. In a world where everybody is willing to do whatever it takes to preserve their own lives a little longer (and face it, that is what you are doing, especially when you concede we will eventually go extinct anyways), the government has nearly unlimited biopolitical control over its citizens. I think you can see why this is bad.

For what it's worth, there are other possibilities than the ones we have presented for solving the problem. For example, transitioning away from global capitalism might completely change the way we look at the economy and sustainability, and should theoretically allow us to reverse market trends. Just a thought.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:58 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:Your thread title is 'Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?'... That's where you made that claim, and i took it from there.


Might want to recheck the thread author first.

And my mistake. We DO produce enough food to feed the world. REF: http://www.foodfirst.org/12myths


Which doesn't address my points of i) yields going down along with stocks, ii) distribution. Incidentally, that article is nearly four years old. It was written before the EU stockpiles became practically nothing and the recent food riots.

So... running out of food? No.


You're not looking at the bigger picture. Check the water table situation and the topsoil one, then look at how much of our food is reliant on the green revolution. When cheap fossils fuels become expensive, so too does food. We've already had a dry run on this situation last year, where bidding up food prices caused mass hoarding and exports to be stopped, especially when some buyers were low on credit and where high energy costs factored into less return on investment.

Fuels, yes we are running out of. But how does improving efficiency HURT how long our fuels will last? You should also look up the various methods of artificially producing most fuels. Yes, they aren't perfect, they aren't cheap, but they work. Battery Electric vehicles will eventually replace most of what we drive day to day. Don't believe me? Most major car manufactures have an electric vehicle program these days. So yes, technology can, will, and currently IS replacing this one.


None of these is an energy source. Producing bio-fuels takes far too much energy from an already in place fossil fuel infrastructure, and batteries? They solve nothing. If anything, they won't even help produce EV fleets like expected. Yes, most major car makers today have an EV programme. But they also had hydrogen programmes too, and hydrogen is a huge boondoggle, which is why it has silently faded off into the night along with the ridiculous hydrogen economy. There's going to be a major bottleneck regarding lithium and neodymium from current producers long before everyone has a little PHEV on their drive (and I'm really not fond of promoting more of the stupid suburbia idea from America, which further enforces the grip of the car on our lives).

Metals? Metal exploration is based hugely on metal prices. As supply dwindles, and the cost of a metal rises all of a sudden you will see a flurry of exploration, and a lot of known deposits become readily available for mining. Also most of the metals and other substances are recyclable. So metals aren't a problem.


Return on investment relies on the law of receding horizons too. See the example of the billions of tonnes of gold in the ocean that no one is extracting to make themselves rich. As with oilsands, certain metal deposits will stay in the ground forever. Canada has more oil than the entire Middle-East, but I guarantee you, not even a fraction will get produced by virtue of cost and EROEI. You can't cheat thermodynamics.

Not sure what how we run out of ecospheres unless your advocating colonizing another world?? Defined in Wikipedia as:
"relates to the division of the Earth into broadly four interacting spheres, sometimes referred to as an ecosphere:
Hydrosphere
Biosphere
Lithosphere
Atmosphere"


I mean with respect to the interaction between species, especially keystone ones, within our biosphere. It's quite common for humans to think they are above such things thanks to technology. Witness the collapse of fishing stocks and see how that can soon change, for instance.

Your talking about a lack of political will and no cash to make an energy efficiency program. That makes zero sense. Killing off 'a large percentage' of the world would require a LOT more political will. Orders of magnitude.


Aside from me not advocating that, it doesn't even properly describe reality. We quite happily kill people for the dumbest reasons. I hear religion is a boon for this business.

And i was not proposing everyone get a hybrid car. Get yourself a cobalt, or a civic, or corolla instead of your F-150, Suburban, or Navigator. Much better fuel economy at a fraction of the price. Use the savings to buy yourself a more efficient air conditioner. Or something like that.
Neither was I proposing everyone get their own wind turbine. I specifically mentioned off-shore development. And yes, the CAFE standards are kinda crappy, but they are better then nothing, and at least a step in the right direction. Realistically though, the ever increasing price of gas will do more to stimulate efficient behavior then fuel economy standards ever will.


I've no problem with people doing this, just so long as they don't expect it to do anything but delay the inevitable. Jevons' paradox shows that increasing efficiency actually exacerbates the problem. If you can drive twice as much on half the fuel, are you going to start cutting down on your mileage annually, or take advantage of this benefit to your finances and freedom?

Studies have shown that when rent is high, people will live in less space, and get roommates to cover the cost. Similarly, as energy prices increase people will make an effort to offset it with increasing efficiency. That is already starting to happen. And it will continue to happen. If we had to ration energy, and therefore energy was expensive, instead of dirt cheap as it is currently we could afford to put up massive windmill farms and solar arrays, and use nuclear energy as our base load. If energy prices were just a few cents more per KW/hr wind becomes competitive very quickly, and as i've already mentioned, wind power costs are falling. It won't be long until wind farms compete with coal. Put any kind of carbon tax, and wind deployment will increase by orders of magnitude. So, no problems with energy really.


Quite. The Great Depression is testament to this. That was, however, another age, and the people of today will find acclimatising to that idea a damn sight more difficult than they did in the '20s/'30s.

With cheap and abundant energy, one can start desalinating water. There is a hell of a lot of water out there, it's just that a lot of it is salty. And as with most things, people are aware that water is a useful resource and are developing ways to extract clean water from sea-water. So water may be expensive, but it's doable.


It is, though you need that energy infrastructure first. Witness Australia's NIMBYism to desalination plants powered by solar. Their reasoning? They don't want to drink recycled water, because that's human pee! I wish I was making this up. These are the same people who killed the wind farm in Bedfordshire over here based solely on aesthetics, then have the fucking audacity to say they care about climate change and alternative energy.

Most of the civilized world is already under 2 children per couple. China is really pushing the 1 child per couple thing. If it gets bad enough, India might follow that route. So, growth is already being contained.


Not enough, though. Human growth is exponential, so even a falling rate can still take a long time to create a stable population. I question the UN figure of nine billion by 2050 or so, based on the problems we're facing in the near term. Still, if it comes to pass, it will not be a particularly good thing for those few billion more to arrive. You can have a billion living like Americans do today, or several billion living like your average Ugandan. I know which I'd prefer.

My summary basically is: There is already enough food to go around, Stuff will be recycled if it needs to be, costs effect consumer behavior and that is already starting to happen, energy really isn't a problem, and neither is water, and Growth is slowing.

So basically...


Much as I would like to share your optimism, reading up on geo-politics and how slow the advances in technology or culture change fills me with cynical bile. Look at how reticent people are when it comes to change regarding AGW. A threat that could cause the world to become practically uninhabitable to modern man, and people still whine about their package holidays by plane?! You, literally, can't threaten the end of the world to change the population. The number of people I have debated over the last three years who baulk at peak oil and resource depletion because they can cite an article they read or heard about once, talking about some technology saving us, are too numerous to mention. It's always "Scientists will think of something" or "you're just doomsaying. They said all this in the past and nothing happened. Malthus was full of it", as if technology can put more oil in the ground, or past results are indicative of future performance. This is a topic important enough to warrant its own module in schools, along with AGW.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Vaniver » Tue Dec 01, 2009 1:36 am UTC

Admiral Valdemar wrote:Anyway, none of this addresses resource depletion, which will hit far harder and sooner than climate change. The answer to that is less people, using less.
"Resource depletion" is a problem of imagination, not a problem of fact. Or are the predictions people make today magically different from the predictions people have been making for centuries about how we're about to run out of all sorts of things, and we better get rid of people they don't like to prevent that?
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Brussky » Tue Dec 01, 2009 3:14 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Cobramaster wrote:Well my thing is your argument is based on accepting Anthropogenic Global Warming theory (AGW) and that in and of itself has been wrong far more often than it has been right. Not to mention that the CRU based out of the East Anglian University which supply most of the "data" and "reports" have been caught up in a controversy over the fact that they outright lied about a lot of what they did, if you want more info google "CLIMATEGATE ".
Nope, sorry. Come back when you've actually read a little on the subject.
Cobramaster wrote:But other than that killing large portions of the human population is just wrong there is no greater good that can outweigh that act of unspeakable evil, I cannot think of a single ethical theory that would allow for such a thing, even if you believe that the ends justify the means typically the means are not worse than the ends.
"Press this button and one million people chosen at random will die. Press no button and one million and one people chosen at random will die."

Hello, ethical situation that justifies mass murder! How are you doing?

Jesus, that was easy. I'm going to go treat myself to a coke. Drop me a line if anyone in the thread wants one, too.

__________________

Edit: Back, with coke. You folks didn't want one? Oh well:
Brussky wrote:The contention is whether this is worth it in terms of protecting some future, more fundamental right (such as the right to life). I'd disagree that this protection need only be immediate and clear.
Consider: If it's fairly probable that you're going to kill me (let's say you've tried before, and there's excellent evidence that you'll try again), am I within my rights to seek you out and kill you first? Or do I have to wait until you put my life in actual danger?

We only allow for the killing of our fellow human beings when our choice is clearly kill or be killed (or severely harmed, or otherwise violated). If I think you're going to kill me tomorrow, I have plenty of non-lethal options to ponder--similarly, if I think the world is going to end in thirty years, I have plenty of responses to ponder that don't involve slaughtering half the population to avoid it.

That isn't to say that, should we be confronted with a situation where the choice is clear ("Decrease your carbon output by 75% in 10 years or fucking DIE!" - "Uh, the only way that's ever happening is if half the population croaks."), we can't make a frightfully murderous decision. But that's the thing--the choice must be clear.



I'm inclined to accept the latter point, but I'll probably quibble with your example.

For instance, take the death penalty as it currently exists in the United States. Those people are being removed from society in order to prevent them from doing whatever it is that they got sentenced for in the first place. This is a scenario where you kill someone because they are likely to hurt or harm or whatever some segment of the population in the future. However there is no assurance of this fact, so you're only going by probably cause. How would you rationalize that in light of this argument?

Also, in regards to the thread title: I was not able to write a clearer title because it ran into length limits on these forums. I don't see this as a problem, since anyone who read my argument would see what I mean anyways. So my apologies to those of you who didn't read the rest of the thread and are replying solely based on the title.

House is on in 5 minutes, so I'll finish off the rest of this later, but some basic replies:

- Africa has a net population growth, even with all the epidemic disease, substandard living conditions, etc. Problem is clearly not fixing itself.
- Cost of avoiding the catastrophe is relative. Sure it might be a significant set back now, but compared to the prospect of not having a marketplace for your goods because 90% of your customer and production base are no longer alive, the amortized cost is much smaller.
- To those of you who are so skeptical about the actual effect of climate change. The difference between the last ice age and the modern period was a mean temperature change of how many degrees? The expected mean increase in temperature is expected to be what over the next century? Answer those two questions and you might be more sympathetic to that position, even though temperature change probably does not correlate linearly to broad ecological climate change. Yes biodiversity might increase, but several billion species of heat tolerant bacteria, while scientifically fascinating, will do nothing for your expected chance of survival.
Last edited by Brussky on Tue Dec 01, 2009 3:20 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Brussky » Tue Dec 01, 2009 3:18 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Admiral Valdemar wrote:Anyway, none of this addresses resource depletion, which will hit far harder and sooner than climate change. The answer to that is less people, using less.
"Resource depletion" is a problem of imagination, not a problem of fact. Or are the predictions people make today magically different from the predictions people have been making for centuries about how we're about to run out of all sorts of things, and we better get rid of people they don't like to prevent that?


Uhh. Closed system. Finite energy income from the sun. Unless you can violate the basic laws of thermodynamics, we will eventually run out of resources. The question is how rapidly. And yeah, I'd wager that predictions made today using modern scientific methods are uhh at least somewhat more credible than those made say...even a hundred years ago, much less 'several centuries'. A lot of the resource shortages in the past (ie. coal) were circumvented by using a new source of power (oil, nuclear), which shifted the expected consumption forecasts (ignoring the effect that modern data collection methods, which are at least 10x more accurate might have on expectancy figures). What method of circumvention do you foresee for an atmosphere?

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Dec 01, 2009 3:22 am UTC

Brussky wrote:Uhh. Closed system. Finite energy income from the sun. Unless you can violate the basic laws of thermodynamics, we will eventually run out of resources.
In millions, perhaps billions of years, yes. I'm betting by then (if we're still around), we'll have the means to create an artificial sun, or reduce our energy dependency to such a point to where it won't matter.
Brussky wrote:For instance, take the death penalty as it currently exists in the United States. Those people are being removed from society in order to prevent them from doing whatever it is that they got sentenced for in the first place. This is a scenario where you kill someone because they are likely to hurt or harm or whatever some segment of the population in the future. However there is no assurance of this fact, so you're only going by probably cause. How would you rationalize that in light of this argument?
I wouldn't; the death penalty is probably an abomination. People are killed more for the sake of political expediency than as a means of deterrence or because there are no available cheap alternatives. However, I could imagine the death penalty being applied in such a way that aimed to try and deter crime--in which case we are violating your right to life for the sake of protecting others (by convincing murderers not to murder).

In which case we encounter a special exemption for the 'immediate and clear' rule as it pertains to violating rights--if a policy clearly protects a majority of us from a violation of our rights (Example: A policy of violating the rights of those who violate our rights), it's sensible to follow through with that policy (if you don't violate the rights of those who violate our rights, those who violate our rights will realize you're just faking it and proceed to violate our rights despite the threat). The reason we don't violate rights except when it's a clear choice is because of the consequences--but in cases of widespread policy, the potential consequences become diffused statistically (the likelihood is immense that imprisoning murderers has prevented more murders than not imprisoning them would).
Last edited by The Great Hippo on Tue Dec 01, 2009 4:01 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby folkhero » Tue Dec 01, 2009 3:46 am UTC

Brussky wrote:Uhh. Closed system. Finite energy income from the sun. Unless you can violate the basic laws of thermodynamics, we will eventually run out of resources. The question is how rapidly. And yeah, I'd wager that predictions made today using modern scientific methods are uhh at least somewhat more credible than those made say...even a hundred years ago, much less 'several centuries'. A lot of the resource shortages in the past (ie. coal) were circumvented by using a new source of power (oil, nuclear), which shifted the expected consumption forecasts (ignoring the effect that modern data collection methods, which are at least 10x more accurate might have on expectancy figures). What method of circumvention do you foresee for an atmosphere?

For an interesting exercise you might want to calculate the energy the earth gets from the sun per second and compare it to the amount of energy used by humans in a year. For extra credit calculate the energy the moon provides to the tides each year and compare it to the energy used by all humans in a year.
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Goplat » Tue Dec 01, 2009 4:37 am UTC

folkhero wrote:For an interesting exercise you might want to calculate the energy the earth gets from the sun per second and compare it to the amount of energy used by humans in a year. For extra credit calculate the energy the moon provides to the tides each year and compare it to the energy used by all humans in a year.
Here's a better exercise: calculate how many more years of unrestricted population growth it will take before even 100% of all that energy isn't sufficient any more. (Hint: the answer is not infinity, despite what almost everybody seems to think.)

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Dec 01, 2009 4:47 am UTC

Goplat wrote:Here's a better exercise: calculate how many more years of unrestricted population growth it will take before even 100% of all that energy isn't sufficient any more. (Hint: the answer is not infinity, despite what almost everybody seems to think.)
Assuming 100% of that energy can be harvested? An awful, awful, awful fucking long time. We're not even harvesting one-one-thousandth of a single percent of the energy that's available.

We'll run out of space long before we run out of potential energy.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Dec 01, 2009 4:58 am UTC

Brussky wrote:
Vaniver wrote:
Admiral Valdemar wrote:Anyway, none of this addresses resource depletion, which will hit far harder and sooner than climate change. The answer to that is less people, using less.
"Resource depletion" is a problem of imagination, not a problem of fact. Or are the predictions people make today magically different from the predictions people have been making for centuries about how we're about to run out of all sorts of things, and we better get rid of people they don't like to prevent that?


Uhh. Closed system. Finite energy income from the sun. Unless you can violate the basic laws of thermodynamics, we will eventually run out of resources. The question is how rapidly. And yeah, I'd wager that predictions made today using modern scientific methods are uhh at least somewhat more credible than those made say...even a hundred years ago, much less 'several centuries'. A lot of the resource shortages in the past (ie. coal) were circumvented by using a new source of power (oil, nuclear), which shifted the expected consumption forecasts (ignoring the effect that modern data collection methods, which are at least 10x more accurate might have on expectancy figures). What method of circumvention do you foresee for an atmosphere?


What closed system?
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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby roflwaffle » Tue Dec 01, 2009 7:20 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:It is perfectly feasible that we've already passed the threshold for any number of extinction events.
Such as?

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Dec 01, 2009 7:24 am UTC

roflwaffle wrote:Such as?
Who knows? I was just pointing out that the idea that we can't feasibly go extinct is silly. It's quite possible that we've fucked up and we're all doomed (or we were all doomed in the first place). Since there'd be nothing we could do to avert this, I don't think we should worry, but it certainly merits mentioning.

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Re: Why shouldn't we kill off a large percentage of the Earth?

Postby Dangermouse » Tue Dec 01, 2009 7:27 am UTC

Brussky wrote:
Spoiler:
Now, it's fairly accepted in the scientific community that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that human civilization is an active contributor towards this. If anyone can convincingly prove that this is not the case, I will gladly cede my position, but as it currently stands, I do not see this happening.

Note: the below scenarios are not doomsday ramblings, I'm merely presenting one of several potential outcomes and going from there to develop my broader point. If you dismiss this as merely 'sky is falling run' type junk, you're missing the point.

Recent research reports are increasingly alarming, with some suggesting that we are either close to, at or past the point of no return where serious ecological catastrophe will ravage the planet. The worst case scenario is that the resulting climate change will either cause almost near environmental collapse, effectively wiping out almost all multi-cell life forms (and us with them). Less severe versions point to large scale extinctions and serious degradation of areas which are well suited towards human survival, which will certainly cause serious economic, population and social catastrophes. Basically, either we all die, or a bunch of us die and the rest live in vastly inferior climates, or a ton of us die and modern industry collapses and we all end up living in vastly inferior habitats or some combination of the these.

Now, the best way to stop climate change is to reduce the output of industry and civilization. The best way to do that is to reduce demand. The best way to reduce demand is to eliminate the source: us. Now, you might suggest that we could also reduce demand by merely not using the resources, but that logic is flawed. First, there is no evidence that if given the facts people will stop consuming at any reasonable level - there is more than enough information out there about global warming right now and emissions rates continue to rise. People either do not believe, do not care, or do minimal things (myself included) which have at best a negligible effect. In addition, the carrying capacity of the planet is already being exceeded; without heavy industry we would not be able to sustain population levels or growth. If we try to minimize our global footprint (I mean actually minimize, as in pre-industrial levels) large amounts of people will not be able to grow the food they need to survive and end up starving to death.

Given that the options amount to either: large amounts of people die if we don't do anything, or large amounts of people die if we do something, what argument do we currently have against forcibly reducing our population, either via stuff like the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (http://www.vhemt.org/), one or zero child laws (yes, draconian China, etc) or similar measures. While these are obviously restrictions on personal freedom and fundamental human rights, when given the choice between not having kids and not causing the human race to go extinct, the moral argument lies with the latter. Now I do agree that there is a fairly strong objection along the vein that the exact scenario is not yet certain and we cannot accurately calculate how future technological process will develop, but by that time, it might be too late. Certainly by the time that we are able to definitively prove the extent of climate deterioration, we will likely be too far gone.

Given all that, is there any convincing reason against severely limiting the human population?


You have me convinced.

Will you and your family being among the first to die for the greater good?


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