8 Surprising, Depressing, and Hopeful Findings From Global Survey of Environmental Attitudes

Sep 29, 2014

Photograph by Diane Cooke and Len Jenshel, National Geographic

By Andrea Stone

You tote your own bag to the store, bicycle to work, switched from burgers to quinoa, and replaced the cracked screen on your smartphone rather than buy a new one. You are a green machine.

Now do better.

The latest Greendex survey, conducted by theNational Geographic Society (NGS) and the research consulting firmGlobeScan, shows that although consumers in many countries are adopting environmentally friendly behaviors, others live in wasteful cultures of consumption.

“There’s a sort of stagnation,” says GlobeScan’s Eric Whan. “There’s a planetary revolution that needs to happen.”

The 2014 online survey of 18,000 people in 18 countries gauged environmental attitudes and habits—and their sustainability—when it came to housing, transportation, food, and consumer goods. The first survey, released in 2008, included 14 countries. The latest survey, the fifth, includes consumers in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, the United States and, for the first time, South Africa.


 

Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

204 comments on “8 Surprising, Depressing, and Hopeful Findings From Global Survey of Environmental Attitudes

  • A useful survey with an interesting global analysis.

    We still need to get on with green conversions a lot quicker!

    We also need some new public attitudes to wastrels demonstrating conspicuous consumption as a point of status!



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  • Consumers in India and China repeated their first- and second-place rankings from 2012. Indians topped every category except the one that included the types of products they buy, coming in second after South Koreans, who scored third highest overall. Two other emerging economies, Brazil and Argentina, rounded out the top five countries whose consumers had the greenest behaviors.

    This is an embarrassment to the affluent west. We in the west are the worst offenders, yet we have the capital and technology to make the greatest difference. Yet we choose to live for today and to hell with tomorrow.

    The universe has a simple rule. Closed systems have limits. The earth is a closed system. We can’t have exponential growth forever. We must stop. But to stop growing requires free market capitalism to be replaced with a “Steady State” economic model, that hasn’t even been invented yet.

    For shame.



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  • “The earth is a closed system.”

    Careful, David… the creationists will be back with their “Second Law of Thermodynamics” argument!

    Of course, you are right about the impossibility of unlimited exponential growth because the earth is a closed system with respect to surface properties (arable/inhabitable land, potable water) and many raw materials (just not energy as long as the sun shines).

    I’m pretty sure the “steady state” economic model is going to require a steady state population model as part of it. No help expected from the “breed like rabbits” schools of various religions.

    Steve



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  • As a community of consumers I don’t think Australians can take the moral high ground in many areas, but I do think we possess some thrifty habits as part of mainstream thinking. Firstly, our quaint practice of hanging the washing out to dry! This has been the cause for amusement when our North American relatives have come to visit. Putting clothes in the dryer on any day capable of natural drying would cause raised eyebrows around these parts as would flagrant use of air conditioning.

    I hope I’m not voicing a minority opinion as attitudes change, especially with those living in apartments, but living in a house in the suburbs does allow us to limit our energy use to a certain extent.



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  • Firstly, our quaint practice of hanging the washing out to dry!

    This was such a shock when I started traveling around the world that people use clothes dryers.. Ever yard in Australia has a clothes line and the clothes are all air dried. I understand in apartment living why this might be a problem, but if you’ve got a back yard, get a clothes line.



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  • I know what you mean. On a reciprocal visit, I couldn’t bring myself to use the dryer on a 72°F day! And… To add insult to injury the air conditioner was in action! We were told that hanging washing outdoors was against a local ordinance. It felt as if we’d been forced to waste water! Local authorities need to be on board with green measures.



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  • Yeah, my sister lives in the US she was informed that local council (or whatever is the US equivalent) would not allow outdoor clothes lines because they were considered white trash and would bring down house values in the area.

    Still, we are I think the worlds second biggest exporter of coal. My local opposition member (ousted in the last election) dropped by to have a chat about issues. Front line and centre were carbon and our reliance on it in Queensland, particularly or desire to export as much as possible before the world stops wanting it. He informed me that over 70% of politicians in both houses of parliament feel the same way as me but enough of the population feels strongly enough in the other direction and the leadership of the party (again not a majority) that nothing is going to happen yet. I got the distinct feeling that we will be rail-roaded into a sudden loss of exports when no-one wants our toxic atmosphere pollutants any-more. They will be screaming about their jobs (the coal industry) while our farmers will be screaming for drought and or flood relief as global warming settles in. I’ve had a few wines tonight (on holidays) so I’m probably ranting. I’d better sign off before I gear up to full rant! Cheers!



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  • It’s hard to believe that Indians are Greener than people in the West. I wish Indians the best, by the way, but their country is staggeringly filthy. This survey seems to be at odds with what I have seen there with my own eyes.

    *

    I’ve had the opportunity to visit the subcontinent a few times and I was, on occasion, taken aback by some sights … and not in a good way.

    *

    It is depressing to see what India’s own citizens are doing to their land. To provide an example, I was in a car going through the middle of a small city (I don’t want to say which) when we were able to look out across an urban expanse of perhaps a square kilometre. There was litter all around, from directly in front of the vehicle to as far as I could see. Plastic, glass, paper and organic stuff everywhere, among which there must have been human waste too. In Britain I’ve seen cleaner landfill sites. OK, I exaggerate here but not much.

    *

    If Indians do live more sustainably than everyone else surveyed in this study, then it’s only because the underdevelopment of their country has put the likes of tablet computers and washing machines out of reach of many there if not most. The packaging of these goods, their transportation, and the chemicals and water used in their production are all avoided simply because fewer people in India are able to buy these things than can in the West.

    *

    I find the survey more than surprising. It’s actually hard to believe. Are Sweden and France really less green than India? How can a country be considered green when the evening air in its urban parts is always heavy with the smoke of burning paper and plastic, vehicle exhaust and god knows what else? Where every bus appears to belch out more brown fog from its rear end than coal-burning power stations used to in East Germany during the era of the Communist bloc?

    *

    If India is a nation whose citizens live sustainably it’s not by choice. What I’ve seen of it makes me fear for its future and that of the rest of the world. What if a more industrialised India and its billion-plus citizens, who are already trashing their environment and have done so for decades, start causing problems for everyone else too?

    *

    Indian attitudes to waste seem to me to be attrocious. I’ve watched people there throw rubbish out of a car window at a beauty spot even though a bin was nearby. What waste did end up in the wire basket the authorities had provided was simply later burned in place anyway. I’ve seen houses where the owners throw their domestic waste onto a heap in the garden. The pile is just set alight when it gets too large, packaging and all.

    *

    Someone please tell me I’ve missed the point, I’d be happy to hear it.



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  • Atheezilla makes some excellent points about India using graphic examples which stand in grim contrast to the picture of the nice lady watering her gentrified urban cabbage patch.

    While we think locally about reducing the carbon footprint of our pet hamster, we lose sight of the big picture of Global Warming. Global warming increased 2.1% last year and 61% since 1990. We are losing the battle to stop atmospheric temperatures from rising 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit this century.

    The main culprit has been economic and population growth worldwide, notably China with its heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants. The hope of reducing carbon emissions by converting to cleaner natural gas is fading with studies which show that consumers will just make up the difference by burning more of the “cleaner” but also cheaper form of energy.

    In my view the possibly fatal dilemma is that Science, Technology, Government and Business, the only institutions we humans can rely on, have failed over the last 25 years to develop alternative sources of energy to the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas which remain relatively abundant, accessible, and affordable throughout the international energy infrastructure. Wind and solar “alternatives” at their present stage of technological development and dissemination are not alternatives at all. These over-touted panaceas are laughably insufficient to supply even a tiny fraction of the monstrous and growing demand worldwide for mechanical and electrical energy.

    Maybe we’ll turn it around. Or not. Let us pray.



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  • Hi Reckless.
    We’re no saints. I hope I made that clear before I started railing against the use of dryers etc. this is one tiny area in which I think we have the moral advantage. It’s just a different mindset, and for some inexplicable reason we perceive the use of electrify for a job that could be done by the sun for nothing, a dreadful waste of resources.
    As the article suggests, some countries have made tremendous advances in the acceptability of public transport, and in generating clean power. I suspect we’ll be left with no takers for our dirty coal.



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  • Melvin Sep 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    The hope of reducing carbon emissions by converting to cleaner natural gas is fading with studies which show that consumers will just make up the difference by burning more of the “cleaner” but also cheaper form of energy.

    Gas is cleaner than coal, but still has a considerable carbon footprint.

    In my view the possibly fatal dilemma is that Science, Technology, Government and Business, the only institutions we humans can rely on, have failed over the last 25 years to develop alternative sources of energy to the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas which remain relatively abundant, accessible, and affordable throughout the international energy infrastructure.

    It is worse than that! Many of them have been developed, but governments have fiddled about and not backed them.

    http://atlantisresourcesltd.com/marine-power/tidal-current-power.html

    http://atlantisresourcesltd.com/marine-power/technology-comparison.html

    Wind and solar “alternatives” at their present stage of technological development and dissemination are not alternatives at all.

    I’m not sure which aspects of these you are referring to, but green energies are usually geography specific.
    There are certainly very effective solar thermal systems which can be extensively deployed in sunny desert areas, and tidal turbines which can be used in strong currents.
    Wind is 70% productive in suitable off-shore locations, while tidal barrages and hydro-electrical systems have worked effectively for years.

    There is also Thorium nuclear which we could have had generating electricity for years, if warmongers had not decided the use of uranium was needed to make bombs!

    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012

    These over-touted panaceas are laughably insufficient to supply even a tiny fraction of the monstrous and growing demand worldwide for mechanical and electrical energy.

    The monstrous demand for energy does need to be reduced. Some methods such as more efficient buildings with less waste of energy and heat can make significant improvements. Insulating buildings, ground storage of heat, less wasteful electrical devices and so on.

    Major Japanese companies, are currently developing hydrogen powered cars.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/06/japan-plans-ample-support-for-fuel-cell-car-technology/

    It is however quite possible to meet present levels of demand using an assortment of low-carbon systems, but that will not address the elephant in the room of the human population explosion, unsustainable system, or aspirations for increased consumption.



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  • Reckless Monkey Sep 30, 2014 at 6:40 am

    I got the distinct feeling that we will be rail-roaded into a sudden loss of exports when no-one wants our toxic atmosphere pollutants any-more. They will be screaming about their jobs (the coal industry)

    It could start to happen quite quickly!

    http://www.worldcoal.com/news/coal/articles/Japanese-firms-to-divest-from-Australian-coal-sector-1132.aspx#.VCs8w1d27PU

    http://www.sherritt.com/press-releases/sherritt-to-divest-of-coal-assets-for-946-million-and-focus-on-core-businesses-tsx-s-201312240919539001

    http://www.smithschool.ox.ac.uk/research/stranded-assets/SAP-divestment-report-final.pdf



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  • David R Allen Sep 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    The universe has a simple rule. Closed systems have limits. The earth is a closed system.

    The Earth is at present a closed system of biological organisms, but it is not a closed system for energy. There is a massive energy input from the Sun which is varied by various global conditions!

    We can’t have exponential growth forever. We must stop. But to stop growing requires free market capitalism to be replaced with a

    You have identified the key issue here!

    “Steady State” economic model, that hasn’t even been invented yet.

    There are examples of epidemic/plague population explosions V steady state economies, in natural ecosystems. Population explosions are normally followed by mass emigrations, population crashes, or both, as resources are depleted and competition increases.



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  • Yeah, well I suspect that was brought in by some busybody local council or similar group of “concerned residents”, i.e. horrible snobs, to avoid the impression that poor people might be living in the area. Property values!

    I guess one shouldn’t single out the US in this too much (though the history of racist housing legislation there is pretty, uh, exceptional– Ferguson was notably in the vanguard of this and the consequences are still with us today). Twitching curtains are a global phenomenon.



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  • Last week’s climate change demonstration (NYC?) looked to be a tour de force and successful, on one level.

    To wit – the media focused mainly on RFK jr’s brief run-in with a reporter. I think he works best behind the scenes. Also, I fear the general population can’t grasp the gravity of CC due to too much info from all directions. Hello, SEP.

    Conservation efforts work best when it’s personal and tangible, not abstract. That’s a tall order to achieve, tho.

    Kudos to California and the governor for recent plastic bag ban. Someone once said, a person can’t go a mile without seeing a bag snagged somewhere!



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  • Alan, thanks for the useful observations about Thorium and Marine Current Power. Thorium may eventually provide a clean(er) source of nuclear energy if proponent claims about its implementation prove feasible.
    For now the Fukushima disaster has pretty much stopped the growth of nuclear power in its tracks.

    Turbines and Turbine Dams that generate electricity from wave or tidal movement must be anchored to the ocean floor. Start-up and maintenance costs are exorbitant and therefore depend on heavy government subsidies. Taxpayers and business must take big hits on their the wallets waiting for the power to come online and then pay premium rates for that power once it starts lighting and heating their homes and offices. Added to the costs are reservations about the failure of tidal installations to meet supply-and-demand requirements. Together the concerns might well generate political opposition that is impossible to overcome in the short to mid term. As you point out, Alan, tidal turbines are restricted for obvious reasons to inland areas close to oceans. The island United Kingdom seems plausibly located. Other places – not so much.

    For the record I fully support conservation, recycling, fuel efficiency, and pollution- including greenhouse gas- reduction measures. All the “good ideas” for achieving these goals that are acted upon are helpful. Beyond the limitations of “good ideas” and “good intentions,” I truly hope that we can “harness” the energy of the sun, the wind, and the tides but to date the prospects are disheartening. Be assured that I am not predicting that Science and Technology cannot or will not breach the wall. Meanwhile climate scientists warn that the eleventh hour approaches.

    The appalling truth is that fossil fuels constitute the staples of our energy infrastructure with no encouraging signs of reversal on the horizon. We are bombarded with a schizophrenic mix of statistics that report some progress here and some setbacks there. It’s time to recognize the substantive challenge.
    Global energy studies project fossil fuel energy production and consumption (even coal!) to GROW for
    decades. Global energy demand is projected to increase by 50% by mid century. Meeting modest goals for carbon dioxide emission reductions in OECD nations will not begin to address the challenge. If humankind cannot develop carbon-neutral fuels to replace oil, gas and coal, then, if the worse scenarios play out, hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters are doomed.

    As Alan underscores the intractable origin of the problem is overpopulation. We should try to effect a global consensus to stabilize world population at 8 billion by 2050 with steady decline thereafter. Politicians, activists and even environmentalists are terrified of touching the third rail of anything that hints at “population control.” If business as usual continues, our species is on course to dump almost 10 billion specimens on the planet by century’s end. An ant heap writhing and frying in the sun.



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  • Melvin Oct 1, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks for a thoughtful response.

    Alan, thanks for the useful observations about Thorium and Marine Current Power. Thorium may eventually provide a clean(er) source of nuclear energy if proponent claims about its implementation prove feasible.
    For now the Fukushima disaster has pretty much stopped the growth of nuclear power in its tracks.

    It is ironic that low-carbon nuclear power is being held up by the worries about Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl etc, because Thorium reactors cannot melt down or blow up, and they not only produce much shorter half-life waste, but they can be used to consume some of the earlier uranium waste products. Advanced gas-cooled reactors are also resistant to melting down. This was discussed earlier back in 2011. http://old.www.richarddawkins.net/discussions/643310-water-cooled-nuclear-power-plants-aren-t-the-only-option

    Turbines and Turbine Dams that generate electricity from wave or tidal movement must be anchored to the ocean floor.

    For tidal barrages a good viable example is La Rance Tidal Power Plant with its 40-year operation feedback – http://www.british-hydro.org/downloads/La%20Rance-BHA-Oct%202009.pdf built between 1961 and 1966, and in continuously operation since,

    Start-up and maintenance costs are exorbitant and therefore depend on heavy government subsidies.

    So we are told, but both the marine industries and the subsidies are similar to those given to off-shore oil explorers and rig developers.

    These tidal farms ARE being built – but not in great enough numbers!

    http://www.cleanbiz.asia/news/india-partners-uk%E2%80%99s-atlantis-build-asia%E2%80%99s-first-tidal-power-plant#.VC2JZVd27PU

    Asia’s first commercial-scale tidal power plant has been given the nod with signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Indian state of Gujarat and UK-based marine energy developer Atlantis Resources Corporation.

    A total of 250-MW of future tidal power development was agreed under the terms of the MoU which authorizes Atlantis to partner with Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL) to build an initial 50-MW tidal power project in the Gulf of Kutch, work on which could commence later this year.

    Atlantis recently conducted an economic and technical study of prime sites in the Gulf of Kutch where as much as 300-MW of economically extractable tidal power resource was discovered. The project company will also conduct investigations into the ability to combine the offshore wind resource in the Gulf with the proven tidal current resource to assess the feasibility of a mega marine power project.

    The project team will now begin work on the initial 50-MW project which could be scaled-up to more than 200-MW of installed capacity. Projections indicate that the cost of the initial 50MW farm – to consist of 50 1MW turbines – will come in at about USD 150 million.

    .. . . . . . .. .

    Melvin – The appalling truth is that fossil fuels constitute the staples of our energy infrastructure with no encouraging signs of reversal on the horizon.

    Quite recently there have been some promising signs that the smart investors are pulling their money out of coal and oil as I linked here – and reinvesting it in green technologies. Once the bankers realise that loans for coal and oil exploration are being secured against “stranded assets” which cannot be safely extracted, the funding of disinformation and political opposition, could collapse quite quickly as the worst polluters go bust!

    As I pointed out in an earlier comment, many green systems are geography dependent, so new industries may spring up in viable locations.

    As you point out, the UK is well placed to exploit tidal power.

    There are also interesting figures around: –

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-01/norway-may-boost-hydro-output-12-by-2020-survey-shows.html

    The Nordic country gets 99 percent of its electricity consumption by running water through turbines. Increases in power production are subject to permits from Norway’s Water Resources and Energy Directorate.

    Norway could double installed capacity in its hydropower plants if it builds new cross-border links to ship the surplus electricity abroad, Christian Rynning-Toennesen, chief executive officer of Statkraft SF, Norway’s biggest power producer, said on Jan. 11.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2012/06/18/88-8-brazilian-electricity-2011-renewable-sources/

    88.8% of Brazilian Electricity in 2011 from Renewable Sources



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  • Alan is right about the encouraging hydro power growth in Norway and Brazil, but as we both agree green energies are strictly limited by geography. All nations use a mix of sources dependent on international energy markets. When we examine the role that Norway and Brazil (or any other country) play in the global supply-demand interactions between and among nations, we get a realistic big picture which considerably deflates the optimism derived from local events.

    While it is true that hydro power supplies Norway with virtually 100% of its electricity, it is also the case that Norway is the largest producer of oil in Europe, the third largest exporter of natural gas in the world, and a significant supplier of oil and natural gas to western Europe. (In good humor we might note that the entire population of the Nordic country could fit into a suburb of Beijing.)

    Brazil is probably the greenest nation on earth relative to population and land mass. The hydro power supplying almost 90% of the country’s electricity, comes from old fashioned monster dams thrown up across monster rivers flowing from the rain forests in the Amazon (and other) regions. Biofuels, notably ethanol, have been squeezed from surplus sugar cane fields since 1970. (I was surprised to learn that Brazil is second in the world in ethanol production…yes… behind the United States)

    Brazil is also the number two producer of oil in South America behind Venezuela. But wait. There is more.
    Exploration in the deep-sea basins off Brazil’s southeastern coast have discovered oil reserves on a scale that defies belief. Estimated at 50 billion barrels, Brazil has invested 147.5 billion dollars in a 2013 – 2017 plan to extract 8 billion barrels and expects to double exports by 2020.

    When we start to see the matrix of interactive measurements in global energy investment, exploration, production and trade, then we are well served by the rule for solving crime mysteries -follow the money. The Big Money is in oil and natural gas even as we note a significant investor minority willing to pony up considerable pocket change for renewables.

    Finally I would observe the deception inherent in looking at relative “share” of the pie while failing to notice that the size of the pie is growing. Thus renewables can claim a growing share of the pie beginning from a tiny base while other shares – say the hated coal – appear to be shrinking but in absolute numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. Coal increased by only 3% in 2013 but the co2 emissions from burning it will increase global warming on the side of approaching disaster.

    If oil, natural gas, and coal are not replaced with carbon neutral fuels, the world’s people, half of whom live in poverty, will be more than willing to use fossils fuels that run their factories and trasnsportation; that heat their homes and cook their meals.



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  • @Alan and Melvin

    We don’t and won’t do anything because money is the only decision making paradigm in play. Short termism. We have a problem of such magnitude with Global Warming that it could potentially (note the world potentially) bring our civilization to collapse. This is the only deciding paradigm. How much it will cost or how much money some company will loose are irrelevancies.

    (BTW It’s not climate change. This was a term dreamed up by big oil and injected into the media by spin doctors. Don’t use it. You are just being manipulated. It makes it sound as though this is a very natural thing. It’s GLOBAL WARMING)



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  • David R Allen Oct 3, 2014 at 2:41 am

    We have a problem of such magnitude with Global Warming that it could potentially (note the world potentially) bring our civilization to collapse. This is the only deciding paradigm. How much it will cost or how much money some company will lose are irrelevancies.

    Once governments factor in the costs of the environmental and infrastructure damage and start to belatedly hold the coal and oil companies responsible ( as happened with the tobacco industry whose disreputable tactics they employ), the “cheap energy” claims will be gone! The principle of “the polluter must pay”, needs to be effectively applied for economic forces to take effect.
    We are already going to have to cope with these because of past pollution, but it without urgent reductions they can be sooner and worse!

    While they denialists continue screaming “alarmism”, the recorded changes are happening much faster than earlier predictions suggested. – Especially in polar regions and dry climates.

    (BTW It’s not climate change. This was a term dreamed up by big oil and injected into the media by spin doctors.

    I don’t think they invented it, but they certainly are trying to pervert the public understanding of it.

    Don’t use it. You are just being manipulated. It makes it sound as though this is a very natural thing. It’s GLOBAL WARMING)

    “Global Warming” is the term for the increasing heat input to Earth, but “Climate Change” is the environmental consequence with which we will have to cope. – rising sea-levels, increases in the power of storms, more intense floods, heat-waves, forest and tundra fires, blizzards, and droughts, less predictability of harvests, and loss of dry-season water supply from ice-caps as the global climate belts migrate toward the poles.

    The more frequent flooding of river floodplains, and loss to the sea of coastal flood plains, is very significant, as these include major coastal port-cites and most of the productive agricultural land.



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  • Melvin Oct 3, 2014 at 12:43 am

    If oil, natural gas, and coal are not replaced with carbon neutral fuels, the world’s people, half of whom live in poverty, will be more than willing to use fossils fuels that run their factories and trasnsportation; that heat their homes and cook their meals.

    The industrial primitive carbonaceous Luddites, are trying to sell Africans their coal generation and heavy infrastructure systems, when photovoltaics and solar thermal systems are much more appropriate – right down to the solar panel on a hut providing INTERNET and light, with solar cookers providing clean water and replacing the deforestation and demands for firewood.
    http://www.aidforafrica.org/member-charities/solar-cookers-international/



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  • Alan. Do we have enough time. If the whole world went onto a war time economy footing and we all worked for the next 10 to 15 years, we might just make it. But we, the homo sapiens of this world can’t solve simply problems, let alone stuff like this. But as recent reports show, not only haven’t we reduced CO2 output, the rate is actually increasing. Sorry. My glass is half empty and I’m fearful and mighty angry.



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  • Working in eco-tech my glass is half full. In lighting the potential achieved within the last few months putting the latest light sources and control techniques together can reduce the energy consumed to only 33% of what was the best previous technology, and lighting in air conditioned spaces matches every watt saved with 2 watts of its own. (The new LED light sources, thanks to TV development, are 1600% more efficient than the old 60W lightbulb and last 80 times as long and sold at a cost to LED lamp manufacturers at about £1 for the same light level.)

    Eco-tech has the technology answers pretty much ready. My next car will be 88mpg (my current one 60mpg and ten years old). Houses are cheaply built carbon-use-neutral. It just needs the true costs, as Alan lays them out, addressing honestly. I also believe that adjusting the market through taxation, legislation and standards, we can favour long term investments over short term and thereby get investments into much smarter infrastructure. The cash streams, so generated by the inexhaustable wealth engines that renewables and their smart interconnections with smart users will bring, can create a hugely productive economic stability.

    A new venture for me, along with many others, is into the circular economy. Designing products that by virtue of their modular construction are re-engineerable, re-manufacturable, easily re-cyclable, customisable and lovable. Again reflecting the true cost of waste and waste of the depleting material resources must ultimately be visited upon the purchaser and much more need be done politically here. The amount manufactured needs to be slashed drastically. This is a technology that can do that, redistributing jobs to more local economies.

    Added cost to the user of all this is only a short term glitch and reasonably born when you realise current manufacturers had to nick the materials from your kids to sell it to you cheap.



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  • Despite the energy-saving technologies coming on line that Phil cites, the foreboding reality that Allen affirms, and the general outcry for corporate, government, and public action – the viewpoints remain mired in Euro-Centrism.

    Natural population growth in the affluent West and in the affluent East [EXCLUDING IMMIGRATION] has ended for the United States, Europe including Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and soon China, et. al.. All population growth will take place in developing countries – adding some 3 to 4 billion souls this century.

    The majority of the world’s current residents are poor and most newcomers will also be born into poverty. Some green technology is in fact cheap like energy-efficient lighting. Some of it is not cheap and much of it cannot be produced and installed on economies of scale for decades if ever – like solar panels, wind turbines and marine current turbines. Phil admirably points to his 10-year old car that gets 60 mpg and plans to purchase a new one that gets 88 mpg. Hybrid cars (which burn gasoline too) come with a premium purchase price while the cost and limitations of all-electric vehicles put them off the radar screen in terms of market share. Car buyers worldwide will continue to buy ICE (internal-combustion-engine) cars, usually used, for the coming decades. Cash and credit poor, the vast majority cannot afford anything else.

    The concept of making corporations and the public pay for carbon pollution is better served by wish fulfillment than actual practice. Certainly cap and trade systems, carbon taxes, government subsidies for fuel efficiency and green energy, are helping to slow global rates of acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions. But absolute numbers remain on the side of annual increases. It is not realistic or reasonable to expect growing populations living on one to ten dollars a day to “pay” for burning coal or oil; firewood or cooking oil which spews black carbon into the atmosphere. These folks will be desperate to build factories and infrastructure to raise standards of living. Environmental costs, except for local amelioration, will be shunted to the back burner (pun noted but not intended). Ironically the poor will be the first to be devastated by global warming over the next 50 years, but for the next 10 to 20 years they will probably be running more for cover from economic deprivation and misery than from western “concerns” and rhetorical “toughness” given lip service in global warming resolutions



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  • Melvin Oct 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    The majority of the world’s current residents are poor and most newcomers will also be born into poverty. Some green technology is in fact cheap like energy-efficient lighting. Some of it is not cheap and much of it cannot be produced and installed on economies of scale for decades if ever – like solar panels, wind turbines

    The whole concept of third world countries requiring technologies with “economies of scale” is flawed. They do not, in many instances, need the capital intensive heavy infrastructure of obsolete industries transporting coal and oil.

    It is not realistic or reasonable to expect growing populations living on one to ten dollars a day to “pay” for burning coal or oil; firewood or cooking oil which spews black carbon into the atmosphere.

    The solar cookers (mentioned in my earlier comment) which provide Pasteurisation of water and carbon-free cooking cost about £6 – $10 each, avoid CO2 pollution, and require no payments for, or transport of, fuel in their operation.
    Also solar panels are not beyond the reach of remote village communities, and are being made widely available to them for light, TV. and communications etc. which allow them get information on weather and local markets.
    http://www.planete-energies.com/en/everyday-energy/new-uses/solar-energy-why-and-how-/use-of-photovoltaic-worldwide-176.html

    Access to energy in emerging and developing countries

    1.3 billion people in emerging and developing countries have no access to a power grid. Stand-alone photovoltaic systems and solar systems providing decentralized rural electricity are one way of providing access to electricity for these people.

    In African countries such as Morocco and South Africa, and in Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh, these systems supply energy to isolated villages, thus providing them with new systems and facilities:

    Lighting;
    Telecommunications systems (radio, television and telephone booths);
    Cooling systems (refrigerators);
    Solar pumping of underground water (for drinking water and irrigation);
    Electrical devices (cell phones and sewing machines).
    >

    In India, the number of households with photovoltaic panels practically tripled between 2000 and 2012, growing from 500,000 to 1.4 million. Over 3,000 villages use only this form of energy for their electricity supply and Indian businesses are making substantial investments in photovoltaic research.

    http://www.gizmag.com/student-develops-wind-turbine-for-the-developing-world/9835/

    His prototype was built using scrap found on roadsides and in front gardens. It cost the 22 year old student just £20 (around USD$37) to build the prototype, but he says it would cost must less to construct in the developing world.



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  • My whole point is that eco-tech is cheap now. Sometimes not yet in products. These are being created as we speak.

    The 88mpg is not hybrid. Much as I like hybrid technology it isn’t there yet, nor is it the top performer. One of the best is one of the cheapest.

    Solar lighting is astonishingly cheap now, 600 lumen hours for $5 allowing every home on one dollar a day street to study and work into the evening. Very cheap solar PV is just around the corner and buying sunshine from poor hot countries will explode once schemes like Desertec start delivering from 2016 onwards. This is the start of continual cash streams flowing into poor countries. We have to stop thinking this is difficult.

    We now know that population growth curbing will be the result of concerted work on child mortality figures, and this more than anything will deal with population concerns. This is where major investment is needed. Nor will it be that expensive.

    Nets and solar stoves work…and are cheap. (I’ve worked in intermediate technology. Most of this is easier than it ever was.)

    Our knowledge and capacities have changed dramatically in the last 10 years and we haven’t collectively put this together and realised the fact.

    THE problem is how money and investment works. It currently favours the lazy and it favours old capitalism and old wealth. If the general public realised that new businesses are straining at the leash to have at it, that changing the market to favour sustainable economics, will re-engage old businesses in the new despite their whinging, then we might dare to vote against conservative and self centred forces…(Oops there, its slipped out.)

    I don’t accept that euro-centric is much of a problem except in the mind of selfish voters. On the hunt for new markets under developed countries are keenly targetted by big business now. China is well ahead of us in this.



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  • @Phil and Melvin

    I concur with all of the examples you cite to reduce fossil fuel usage. Phil’s LED lights and car choices are what we need for the planet, but the responsible “Phil’s” on this planet are a tiny minority. The Green vote in Australia is around 7% which I would equate to responsible humans. We need what Phil is doing, multiplied by around 4.5billion people.

    Melvin sets out the things we need to do and the obvious reasons why those things won’t ever get done.

    If, as the reports report, we’ve got 10 – 15 years to turn this carbon juggernaut around, design me a political system that could achieve this world wide. It is a political problem. It can only be solved through voluntary measures enacted by the world’s disparate political systems. You need to design a political system that will have oil / gas usage capped at 10% by 2025. Every oil / gas producing country must voluntarily limited its production to 10% of today’s figure. Same with coal. Australia is one of the major coal exporting countries in the world. How can our political system shut down the coal mines, or get the free enterprise companies to voluntarily limit their output to 10% of today’s output. Because money is the only decider today, who compensates the companies and share holders?

    Who’s going to tell Saudi Arabia that it’s back to nomadic goat farming for them.

    How do we get all of the people in the G20 countries to sell their carbon powered cars and adopt electric personal transport. Or the Managing Director of KPMG use the tube to commute to work.

    If there was a “Second Coming” and David R Allen got the celestial nod, I could do it, but I would be crucified in the first week.

    There is no political solution that will deliver a solution within the required time frame. We may limp along and tinker around the edges with LED lights and the odd solar farm, but given the lag time of around 100 years for fossil fuel dispersion and the potential for “Tipping Point” events like the tundra methane exponentially boiling off, we’re urinating around the edges.

    What we need is the video of the “Ozone Hole’ that got an international treaty to ban CFC’s in 5 years. The world needs a massive slap in the face before it will act. Hurricane Katrina et al won’t do it. We need half of the Greenland ice sheet to slip into the North Atlantic with all of the consequences that will ensue. We need something of that magnitude before complacent humanity will wake up. And even then, there will be deniers.

    It’s Pascal’s wager for the environment. There is no down side in believing in global warming and there is no down side in taking action to stop it. If we happen to be wrong, so what. We’ve converted the planet to renewable energy. That can’t be bad. Half empty Dave.



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  • Who’s going to tell Saudi Arabia that it’s back to nomadic goat farming for them.

    That isn’t where they are going at all. The current Saudi Oil minister (not the exact link I wanted but close enough) has declared the intention that SA will sell as much solar power as oil power. They aren’t dumb about oil either.

    Australia is indeed one of the biggest disappointments. The coal exporting is a selfish disgrace.

    We have possible solutions to methane clathrates. These are being tackled by a number of countries including Japan. I have proposed a differential carbon tax based on antiquity of reserves. Long term fossil carbon (tens to hundreds of millions of years should have the very highest taxation rate.) Clathrates build up in the hundred to thousand year time scales and should attract a lower rate.

    By collecting clathrates from continental shelves rather than fracking for dinosaur farts, we get the double whammy of credible replacement rates and a diminution of methane release (20 to 25 times worse greenhouse effect than when it it burnt.)

    And no, I don’t need multiplying up by 4.5billion. Eco-tech is big and working quite nicely. The problem is not where people keep saying it is. Not any longer. If we fix the market so long-term investment is most rewarded then I claim the bulk of the job is done. Market forces will do the bulk of the heavy lifting.



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  • Sorry, a little more clarity. This all looks too cut and dried and easy from me. I don’t think that my new imperative any easier than the old one of turning people to being climate change zealots and expecting personal sacrifice as the number one task. The task now is unlocking the palpable real value in current technology by effecting a transition in the market economy, a move to the long termism of German and Scandiwegian lending institutions.

    Persuading people this is an imperative would appear to be a much bigger challenge than I thought.



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  • phil rimmer Oct 3, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    If we fix the market so long-term investment is most rewarded then I claim the bulk of the job is done. Market forces will do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

    The deniers can no longer claim big investors think going green “will ruin the economy” – though will no doubt try to maintain the disinformation streams!

    Major investment funds are making the smart moves out of carbon!

    Heirs to the Rockefeller family, which made its vast fortune from oil, are to sell investments in fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy, reports say.

    The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is joining a coalition of philanthropists pledging to rid themselves of more than $50bn (£31bn) in fossil fuel assets.

    The announcement was made on Monday, a day before the UN climate change summit opens on Tuesday.

    Some 650 individuals and 180 institutions have joined the coalition.

    It is part of a growing global initiative called Global Divest-Invest, which began on university campuses several years ago, the New York Times reports.

    Pledges from pension funds, religious groups and big universities have reportedly doubled since the start of 2014.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29310475



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  • David R Allen Oct 3, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Alan. Do we have enough time. If the whole world went onto a war time economy footing and we all worked for the next 10 to 15 years, we might just make it.

    There are certainly many ignorant, reckless, and selfish people, working at determined long-term failure.

    All I can do about it is promote knowledge of the solutions to these global climate problems, and hope that interest and expertise will spread.

    You will no doubt have noticed, that I also debunk the false claims from denialists and carbon industry stooges.



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  • Interesting item. Thanks Alan. This does even more need to push through from the feel-good few to the investment mainstream.

    A switch into long-term investment in infrastructure and cash-stream businesses is still not seen as sexy enough for the great bulk, imagining themselves the high rollers producing spectacular breakthrough returns.

    These infrastructure businesses (eg extending the smart grid all the way up to the final service requirement) create very simple integrated offerings e.g. selling a controlled building ecosystem rather than say just HVAC equipment or lighting.

    Rolling electricity purchase, efficient energy use, reliable service provision, equipment maintenance and re-use/disposal into a one signature service dramatically extends the capacity for technology to improve matters. If energy use affects your service price you will always favour the most energy efficient services. If you are responsible for maintenance you will use reliable equipment to minimise repair and site calls. If you are responsible for disposal, longevity will be maximised.

    This is now high performance infrastructure, which in the usual model would not happen in the world of separate budgets mostly decoupled and each pared back in spurious ways. Singular broad infrastructure based systems afforded by a singular service purchase (a reliable cash stream for the infrastructure owner) can now exploit all the capabilities of technology in one place.

    In the current model more efficient products are not afforded because they are more burdensome on the capital budget. More reliable easy maintenance products are not afforded for the same reason and no facilities management charges were ever reduced by clients insisting on more reliable components. End of life costs are simply never considered. Technology is most directed at reducing capital costs, efficiency is nowhere near the be all and end all and ROIs are still pitched at two or three years. Technology can make all these attributes better not just make a product cheaper. Much of its capabilities are not engaged.

    With long term investments favoured in the market, very high value infrastructure can be created, cash streams created and technology can work on more cylinders, more fully solving all the problems, every one of which has a beneficial eco-impact.

    Next- mortgages for the modular family car using an F1 carbon fibre chassis, that you can bequeath in your will….



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  • Melvin Oct 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Car buyers worldwide will continue to buy ICE (internal-combustion-engine) cars, usually used, for the coming decades.

    They may do, but they could be running them on biofuel – or perhaps this project will take over, as the Toyota Motor Corp. and the Honda Motor Co. prepare to launch hydrogen-powered cars in 2015.
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/06/japan-plans-ample-support-for-fuel-cell-car-technology/

    With plans to manufacture 1.000 vehicles by 2015 and 10.000 more the following soon after, our sights are set firmly on bringing fuel cell technology to the mass market.
    http://www.hyundai.co.uk/about-us/environment/hydrogen-fuel-cell?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Hydrogen%20Cars_BRD_EXT-BMM&utm_term=%20+hydrogen%20+engines

    Hydrogen, can of course be produced, using water and green-generated electricity with no significant carbon footprint.



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  • Melvin Oct 3, 2014 at 12:43 am

    If oil, natural gas, and coal are not replaced with carbon neutral fuels, the world’s people, half of whom live in poverty, will be more than willing to use fossils fuels that run their factories and trasnsportation;

    The obvious megawatt sources of electricity in sunny climates, are molten salt solar thermal systems with heat storage, which can run through the night, powering factories, cities, and electric trains, with trams, and trolleybus systems providing public transport in compact city areas.

    http://www.power-technology.com/projects/crescent-dunes-solar-energy-project-nevada/
    The project entered commissioning phase in February 2014 following completion of construction. It is expected to generate about half a million megawatt hours annually of emission-free electricity enough to meet the needs of approximately 75,000 households. It will eliminate 290,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. The estimated cost of the project is $1bn..

    The hot molten salt from the insulated tank is passed through a series of heat exchangers to produce highly-pressurised superheated steam. The steam is used to run a conventional turbine to generate electricity.

    Surplus thermal energy is stored in the molten salt and can be utilised to produce additional power for up to ten hours. (After dark)

    Tidal turbines can be used near ports with large tidal flows. Commercial wind turbines also work well near coasts, on islands and on windswept hills and mountains.

    Melvin – Exploration in the deep-sea basins off Brazil’s southeastern coast have discovered oil reserves on a scale that defies belief. Estimated at 50 billion barrels, Brazil has invested 147.5 billion dollars in a 2013 – 2017 plan to extract 8 billion barrels and expects to double exports by 2020.

    Just think how many of these solar thermal plants could be built if the multi-billions spent on oil exploration was diverted to producing low-carbon electricity!



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  • Phil’s clarification is spot on for the most part. “The task now is unlocking the palpable real value in current technology…” Purposely and well said. I join Phil and others in urging that SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY participate in a concerted alliance with government, academia, business and finance, manufacturing and marketing. I would add that at the end of the day, these efforts must virtually replace global consumption of carbon emitting fossil fuels – namely coil, oil and natural gas – reducing carbon/greenhouse emissions by 90% of 1990 levels. The man or woman on the street will embrace alternative fuels that are plentiful, efficient, affordable on an international scale of economy when he or she sees them demonstrated in everyday life. Therein lies the pragmatic value.

    Where I diverge from the discussion derives from the sources I have looked at and the divergent conclusions I draw. Phil and Alan concur that “current technology” has already discovered or invented alternative carbon-neutral energy that could uproot the fossil fuel infrastructure and replace it with clean energy cleansed of greenhouse gas emissions. We could start today and finish the job in several decades at most. My mainstream sources take a much more ominous view. Assorted “current technologies” are acknowledged along with their beneficial effects but their contributions to global supply-and-demand fossil fuel energy are projected in quantitative terms of SUPPLEMENT rather than SUBSTITUTE for the foreseeable future.

    The United States EIA (Energy Information Agency) reports: EIA estimates that about 11% of world marketed energy consumption is from renewable energy sources (hydropower, biomass, biofuels, wind, geothermal, and solar), with a projection for 15% by 2040.

    EIA estimates that about 21% of world electricity generation was from renewable energy in 2011, with a projection for nearly 25% in 2040.

    Such projections may motivate optimists to hold out hope that the glass is half full but the growing pie chart principle pretty much squashes enthusiasm. Implications for growing or shrinking share values of the circular pie over time actually show a net increase for fossil fuel consumption (and presumably emissions) if the size of the pie increases sufficiently to reflect growing demand. For example, the share of global energy from coal as a percent of the pie decreases over time while increasing demand grows the circle so that the amount of coal consumed in absolute quantity actually increases.

    I would touch on one more major development that enhances the trend for growing global fossil fuel demand this century: the discovery of huge new reserves of oil and natural gas in shale and sand beds and in deep-sea deposits (significant quantities sadly located under melting arctic ice) along with new “super” technologies (fracking) to extract them. The “peak-oil” prophecies so celebrated in the 1990s have disappeared from public discourse although humankind must certainly confront the issue again as the new reserves are themselves consumed.

    I appreciate the information that Phil and Alan supplied on projects I am only peripherally interested in. I too hold out hope that scientists and engineers will increase the energy outputs of solar, wind and marine current technology so that buying a gallon of gas (petrol) would be as unthinkable as looking for buggy whips on Amazon. Sorry…but we’re just not there.



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  • My mainstream sources take a much more ominous view. Assorted “current technologies” are acknowledged along with their beneficial effects but their contributions to global supply-and-demand fossil fuel energy are projected in quantitative terms of SUPPLEMENT rather than SUBSTITUTE for the foreseeable future.

    But they are not saying this for technological reasons…

    Sorry…but we’re just not there.

    But which bits aren’t there? The technology, the politics, the economic structures, or the popular opinion?

    All this concern with energy supply totally ignores where all the big immediate wins I have been detailing are. Negawatts, the creation of capacity through energy efficiency. Twenty percent of all electricity is spent on lighting. Within the last two years we have the low cost technology (super efficient sources able to be cheaply controlled) to drop this to 5%. The average US citizen uses 4.5MW/hrs of electricity, the average German 1.7MW/hrs. US fleet vehicles average 9.4L/100km. European 5.2L/100km. My car next year (available since 2011) hits 3.2L/100km. Technology is not the roadblock to very, very large additions to energy capacity through negawatts and negabarrels. The problems, the immediate problems lie elsewhere.



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  • It seems to me that future energy providers such as solar, wind and geothermal etc will only be able to contribute piecemeal solutions to our energy needs. Am I right in thinking that Thorium and liquid salt are our best hopes for large scale production? If so, we should get cracking now because these things are going to take time to build.
    Where are our politicians with vision? The population need to be given a vision of the future that is positive and forward thinking. instead we’re stuck with leaders who can readily provide funds to invade other countries but cry poor when infrastructure needs to be built.



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  • I think the bulk of our energy needs will be met by wind and solar. A study of Ireland’s wind resources believed that 60% of its energy needs could be met by wind. Wind power, averaged over a wide enough area, becomes increasingly reliable and with the advent of smart grids and HVDC links efficient long distance links (including underwater) are possible. These constitute effectively a big storage battery The link ups proposed in programs like Desertec reduce and reduce the size of base provision needed, mixing solar PV and stored solar thermal. Stored solar thermal from the Sahara and the Middle East could provide entirely for Europe, ME, and Africa with topical wind, solar PV and biogas embedded generation. Always available Icelandic Geothermal underwrites the base requirement also. Using French nuclear and British and other natural gas helps feed base requirement but the bulk of the rest, as coal fired plants are turned off can come from distributed/embedded Combined Heat and Power schemes based on natural gas (the efficiencies can be very high for these) perhaps transitioning to biogas and biogas supplements as the sewage works and farms are co-opted into schemes.

    These complex businesses based on CHP and say biogas will see the need for new planning arrangements and rolled up financing to manage agribusiness, horticulture, biomass, husbandry, electricity and heat production, and manufacturing, meeting in symbiotic arrangements. No new technology, only new financial and new market partnerships and protocols needing to be facilitated.

    We need plans B, C and D implementing also. Thorium is a middle term process of very great promise. Perhaps surprisingly we need to back small very high tec inherently safe CHP schemes above others. Distributed/embedded generation creates huge robustness



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  • phil rimmer Oct 5, 2014 at 7:09 am

    We need plans B, C and D implementing also. Thorium is a middle term process of very great promise. Perhaps surprisingly we need to back small very high tec inherently safe CHP schemes above others. Distributed/embedded generation creates huge robustness.

    … . . and in the very long term, we could be looking at deuterium fusion generation.



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  • True. For me I will always tend to favour those sources of (high grade!) solar energy flux (radiation and wind) over injecting more energy onto the planet surface from any fossil origin. Where fusion will win is in the creation of awesome energy fluxes from fuel.

    I think it will be best that its major waste product (from electrical loads), heat, goes somewhere harmless or beneficial. (Slips into fully crazy mode…) Mars and other inhospitably low solar flux areas will be the perfect places to use fusion. Space ships, chilly Langrange points, the dark side of the moon.

    Ideally, back on the planet, all fossil energy and waste heat adders will be stepping stones to fully efficient solar flux energy gatherng sources. All fossils are finite and our precarious thermal equilibrium needs watching if we are getting into super high energy requirement processes. I see thorium as a mid term stepping stone, though our current use of thorium sourced energy at the moment is fully exempt, free and far from fully tapped. I speak, of course of geo-thermal. Though still only 0.03% of the solar flux on the planet it is still an awesome 47 TerraWatts. The average rate of energy consumption of the planet is currently 2TW.



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  • phil rimmer Oct 5, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I speak, of course of geo-thermal. Though still only 0.03% of the solar flux on the planet is still an awesome 47 TerraWatts. The average rate of energy consumption of the planet is currently 2TW.

    As with all the methods of tapping global energy sources, large-scale geothermal will need to geographically distributed and care taken not to seriously disrupt sub-plate convention currents by over-concentrating heat extraction in one place.

    Mars and other inhospitably low solar flux areas will be the perfect places to use fusion. Space ships, chilly Langrange points, the dark side of the moon.

    Asteroid mining and the dark sides of Lunar polar craters sound like places where fusion power would be useful. http://www.space.com/15391-asteroid-mining-space-planetary-resources-infographic.html



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  • As with all the methods of tapping global energy sources, large-scale geothermal will need to geographically distributed and care taken not to seriously disrupt sub-plate convention currents by over-concentrating heat extraction in one place.

    Most of the heat comes out at the mid-ocean ridges where the mathmos,…er…, upwells. Placed here the frozen area of extraction will tend to be just carried away from the heat source, perhaps?

    I remember a discussion from a few years ago on this. I had been asked by an Italian entrepreneur, in a bar room commission, to find a way to tap the energy of Stromboli etc. I came up with 600C capable drilling scheme with bore foamed lining extrusion in place for thermal insulation to extract the highest grade heat. (Even now someone may be conning millions on the trength of those scribbled placemats.) I proposed that Yellowstone could be frozen in place to avert future catastrophes, totally failing to see that as the cap was frozen, the last unfrozen bit must be subject to even huger pressures precipitating the unwanted blast….



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  • I recall listening to a Podcast – Radiolab 7/24/14 (check it out on iTunes. )
    In an expensive conservation effort to save whooping cranes, a group swayed into a development in which they were being killed by vandals… a woman was feeding the cranes attracting them. Upon asking her to refrain, she refused to stop feeding them. What to do now? Listen to find out the kicker. It’s a heartfelt reason why we are in such a dilemma over environmental issues and why we will possibly fail to change. Her husband of over 50 years dying of Alzheimers had momentary glimpses of himself when he would see these majestic birds. On the occasion that they would see the birds…her grief would be lifted.

    Making environmental changes is like this. People will put some sort of deep personal issue over all else. It’s tough to blame them when they are moving through life like anyone else. Some of us may put priority on the use of certain products that give us an advantage for prosperity in life or fill a very very deep emotional need. You work all day and have limited number of hours to keep your house in order, so you use harsh chemicals rather than vinegar and water. You buy carry out, packed in several styrofoam boxes. Giving this up will likely inconvenience you in ways that can impact your entire free time which will limit social interactions and other aspects of your life. Preventing someone from developing a large area of forested land that they own is protected by their personal rights of freedom.

    Massive change will not be made by individuals vainly carrying canvas tote bags to the grocery store thinking they are making a significant impact. Change will forced upon us in the eleven thirtieth hour unless visionaries with power to impact step up and show us CONVENIENT ways to do so now. Pressure needs to be placed on business and industry. We need readily available information on which businesses to support and avoid.

    If we continue with our current mindset, heartfelt as it is in many cases….I think future generations are headed for significant hardships.



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  • What we should do is the thing that will solve many problems at once so many people can be motivated by their different reasons to do the right thing. So-

    Our financial infrastructure needs fixing to stop its short term gambling habits. We need to calm markets and not reward people who try to trick others out of some value by rapid trading. This isn’t capital in the interest of generating wealth through investment this is carpet pulling, something slightly worse than zero sum. We should encourage investments in continual wealth generation (like sustainable energy, sutainable agriculture, manufacture). We should encourage investment in things with underwritten value, like high performance infrastructure (roads with a 50 year lifespan not ten years as in the US or twenty years as in the UK), smart grids power and coms with redundancy built in, their value underwritten by the fact of actually existing unlike the financial “instruments” trading at levels a hundred fold above real global GDPs. Lets favour longterm investment and long term investors.

    Manufacturing industries need to keep up with world leaders. Nearly all solar PV production in US hands has ceased. Manufacturing in the US is retreating from all staple requirements and its trade deficit no longer increasing only thanks to a bubble in oil exports. A transition to business models that demand higher sustainability eg through open platform modularity for products purchased in the US will reduce manufactured imports and increase local business opportunities with local recycling, customisation and value added reselling. These service add ons will be facilitated by new standards requirements and favouring longterm investments.

    High technical performance products, systems, infrastructure netting, say, good reliability, lower energy costs are often not implemented because capital so used doesn’t give a fast enough return on investment and despite its secure prospect. Favour secure longterm investments. Tie traders more securely to the consequences of their actions…

    Find things to support, not just to save the planet but to make it more sustainable and less volatile for your kids. Not sure about Anthropogenic Global Warming? Who cares. This is the right thing to do anyhow….

    As for the cranes. They would make a sweet memorial for her husband, if they lived. Its what he would have once wanted…



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  • “I think the bulk of our energy needs will be met by wind and solar…” Phil nobly represents the immersion of the scientist in the visionary. I confess shamefully and without an once of sarcasm that my inability to understand him may be attributed 100% to my own ignorance.

    My problem is that I can’t find anyone else who talks like Phil in reports about energy consumption by type. What I’m able to cull from the reports is that renewables will continue to grow their share within the energy mix while oil, coal and natural gas will also continue to grow in absolute quantity while their “share value” will continue to shrink. It is important for anyone taking part in the discussion to understand that we implicitly limit our projections to a fifty year window from 2000 to 2050. The consequences of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – especially carbon dioxide – at current levels or even with some reductions was given a 100-year window to do its worse to humanity marking 1990 as the base year. Well here we are, ladies and gentlemen nearing 2015 and sure enough things have become worse. That leaves 75 years for us to do something “soon” on the scale of the D-Day invasion multiplied by [365 X 75 =] 27,375.

    Some general impressions I gleaned from wading through the welter of statistics.:

    Hydro power remains the renewable heavy hitter in generating electricity. More than 99% of hydro comes from dams or locks thrown up across rivers or other bodies of water.

    Wind shows modest localized inputs, especially in coastal areas of western and northern Europe that catch strong winds coming ashore from the North Atlantic or the Baltic.

    Sorry Phil but Solar comes across as the sick man of renewables. Desertec, a scheme to build huge solar plantations in the Moroccan desert and “export” electricity to the European market has died in its sleep like the uncle who has been found dead the morning of his big marathon.

    Conservation measures combined with energy efficiency improvements in all sectors are indispensable to the goal of sustainability. By themselves, however, they will only slow the acceleration of global fossil fuel consumption.

    Finally a thought on the fundamental cause:

    Our collective over-breeding has pushed us humans into a trap whose outcomes we cannot predict. Instead of stabilizing world population at 3 billion in 1960, then dealing with global warming effectively as it came over the horizon in 1990, we find ourselves today running around like screeching children trying to put out brush fires with a squirt gun while the holocaust, which we irresponsibly procreate, blazes ever higher into the night sky.

    Regrettably I have to leave the conversation now for other projects. My thanks to Phil, Allen, Alan4, Nitya and QuestioningKat for the information, vision, and inspiration.



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  • Finally a thought on the fundamental cause:
    Our collective over-breeding has pushed us humans into a trap whose outcomes we cannot predict. Instead of stabilizing world population at 3 billion in 1960

    This is the elephant in the room and we’re too scared to say its name out loud. Is the cause of global warming burning too much carbon, or is it that too many humans are burning some carbon. If this is a true statement then the actions we are taking are not going to solve the problem. Dot point out a solution to get the earth’s population down from 9-12 billion to 1 billion by the year 2100. We will have solved global warming and we will still have a full carbon economy.

    Every environmental problem on this planet is either cause directly, or indirectly from over population.



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  • Sorry Phil but Solar comes across as the sick man of renewables. Desertec, a scheme to build huge solar plantations in the Moroccan desert and “export” electricity to the European market has died in its sleep

    But not because of the technology! The problem is the financing.

    If only once you would address this point rather than default to passivity in the face of the banks and the market… I have never argued that current implementation strategies will achieve anything useful only extrapolated what reports like the 2009 Credit Suisse levelised cost of energy imply report, what renewable resources are reported, what are the limits of stability reported for erratic inputs. If you don’t address the issue of promoting long term investments then indeed the market will do as you say. I’m sorry to have failed to interest you in the issue of financing…



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  • Melvin Oct 5, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Sorry Phil but Solar comes across as the sick man of renewables. Desertec, a scheme to build huge solar plantations in the Moroccan desert and “export” electricity to the European market has died in its sleep like the uncle who has been found dead the morning of his big marathon.

    Perhaps California – (where their desert areas seem to be increasing with climate change), would have been a better example.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_thermal_power_stations

    They are at present limited, and there does need to be a big shift in financial priorities, with a political clear out of denialists and disinformation campaigns.

    Hydro power remains the renewable heavy hitter in generating electricity. More than 99% of hydro comes from dams or locks thrown up across rivers or other bodies of water.

    Tidal power has a similar, if not greater potential than hydro, and also has beneficial rather than detrimental environmental effects, but it is limited to (very extensive ocean linked areas) where there are strong tides and currents. (Tides in areas like the Med and the Red Sea are almost non-existent.)



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  • Alan

    The list of the solar power stations was interesting. America and Spain by far the dominant players. Do you know how much power Spain sources from Solar thermal.

    Sadly, Australia with most of the continent being in the clear sky sunny desert climes, has only one tiny toy power station built by a coal company as a media “Ain’t we green” stunt.



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  • Every environmental problem on this planet is either cause directly, or indirectly from over population.

    I no longer believe this to be a functionally useful statement. I think the explosive growth in population is always within the poorest least carbon intense societies. I think the problems and the solutions lie with the fully developed societies remaining carbon intense thoughtlessly. I think the rate of problem solving has rocketed on the back of market growth in developing nations and the wealth it has created for developed nations (a clear wealth indicator being the relative cost of food.). Population growth has brought us this boon. Population growth dies very quickly with sufficient equality and low infant mortality rates, and…well wealth . Each nation’s industrial revolution costs less and less in terms of total carbon used to achieve a post industrial state. Britains Industrial revolution was first and fantastically carbon intense, but first in, first out, we now lead the planet in GDP per Joule of energy consumed.

    If I were to find a root of our problem it would be the libertarian mind set that believes our wealth was got by our personal, singular (and otherwise inconsequential) efforts.

    What we need are pullable levers with a very clear view of how they are connected.



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  • David R Allen Oct 6, 2014 at 5:23 am

    Sadly, Australia with most of the continent being in the clear sky sunny desert climes, has only one tiny toy power station built by a coal company as a media “Ain’t we green” stunt.

    Some fence sitters are at least looking to the future!

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-03/alinta-moves-closer-to-solar-thermal-power-plant-for-port-augus/5568476

    Alinta Energy has decided a stand-alone solar-thermal power plant is a technically feasible option to redevelop Port Augusta’s coal-fired power station.

    Alinta says it has assessed the technological risks of hybrid plants and considers them too risky, and is confident a solar-thermal plant can have a longer operating life.

    The plant might be able to store up to 15 hours of power supply.

    Beyond Zero Emissions’ 2012 study on Port Augusta complements the research organisation’s series of Zero Carbon Australia plans, published in conjunction with The University of Melbourne, that shows how Australia can move to 100% renewable energy in ten years with the political will to do so. http://bze.org.au/category/keywords/renewable-energy/solar-energy/concentrated-solar-thermal



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  • Britains Industrial revolution was first and fantastically carbon
    intense, but first in, first out, we now lead the planet in GDP per
    Joule of energy consumed.

    Wish I felt as confident as that sounds Phil. Our gas stations are closing because they are too old and expensive to run but new ones are on the way albeit they will be more efficient but we have been fitting condensing boilers in dwellings for years now and have always wondered what the effects of all that water vapour coming out of the exhaust will do eventually. It seems we might be robbing Peter to pay Paul to me? Those levers always link up some how?



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  • Wish I felt as confident as that sounds Phil.

    I don’t feel confident at all. And even less now. People trot out the same problems, technology and population. All I’m trying to point out is this is wrong/simplistic. I’m saying those are nowhere near the problem we think they are. The problems are these other things, the financial workings of free markets and moral/political responsibility, or if you will the myopia of our enlightened self interest…..our problems really are their problems.

    People though always want a technological silver bullet and a nice clean target.

    We know about water vapour. Anyway simple CHP additions to these stations would trick more energy out of them and generate clean water for re-use. We should create financial incentives for co-siting of manufacturing businesses to use the exhaust heat.



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  • David R Allen Oct 6, 2014 at 5:23 am

    The list of the solar power stations was interesting. America and Spain by far the dominant players. Do you know how much power Spain sources from Solar thermal.

    It seems the political will in Spain is faltering a bit, but they are the fourth largest manufacturer of solar power. The figures seem to combine photovoltaic and solar thermal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_by_country#Spain

    Since molten salt heat-storage systems were developed, some of their earlier plants are now a bit dated.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Spain



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  • People though always want a technological silver bullet and a nice clean target.

    Nicely put. Let’s bomb ISIS.

    I have no confidence in the free market. They’ve fallen at every hurdle as highlighted in Merchants of Doubt. Only evidence based and informed regulation will force big money to change. While they are making a profit, today, now, this month’s balance sheet, they will not change. The free market has a very limited radar and doesn’t think much further ahead than next quarter’s earnings or a few years in strategic terms. They can’t and don’t think in blocks of one hundred years, which given the half life of carbon in our atmosphere, this is what is needed. That is why the free market can not assistance with global warming. Yeah sure there will be some neat technology along the way and some will get fabulously wealthy but that can’t close, permanently, 90% of the coal mines on the planet.

    I agree that the “Moral / Political Responsibility” has a major role to play, but those who control the moral / political decision today, are not evidence based rationalist, but ideologues. How do you get into positions of power, people who can assimilate rational evidence and turn it into public policy that will be implemented. The very nature of democracy is that it cannot make tough decisions because the great unwashed masses won’t vote for it, or worse, they believe Fox News and don’t think it is a problem. Democracy can’t deliver hard decisions.

    The very nature of the problem of AGW is one that has never been encountered before and the solutions of the past won’t work. It needs nothing less than a united global effort over the next 10 to 15 years by enforced regulation. That’s not possible. Ergo. We’re stuffed.

    Closed systems have limits. A fundamental rule of the universe. Farmer’s have known this for centuries. If you put too many sheep in the paddock, you loose all the grass and the sheep die. Bacteria in a Petri dish. Ditto. Every living system on the planet is governed by this rule. A population expands to meet available resources, then flat lines. A good season sees a blip up. A bad season sees starvation. Sub Saharan Africa is an example of a human population on the limit of its resources. Every three years there is a humanitarian crisis famine.

    The mistake we make as a species, is that we think we’re immune to the rules. That somehow we’re special and we live “Outside” of the environment. The environment is that stuff we see outside our windows. The religious makes this mistake constantly thinking we’re somehow special. But the rules apply to us and the rules don’t care. As long as we keep increasing food production, population will grow. Closed systems have limits. When we reach that limit, the entire planet a farm. Every drop of ocean an aquaculture project. All the mining dug up. We’ll all stand there shoulder to shoulder, in a eerie silence, looking around and thinking ‘What now.” No more tech solutions. No more forest to cut down. No animals except us and flies. We’ve reached the limit of our closed system, planet Earth.

    Or we could choose through an act of rational self sacrifice, to limit the number of sheep in the paddock, and live forever. But we won’t, because the free market requires growth, on top of last years growth ad infinitum. Exponential growth is impossible in a closed system. This statement is obvious true, therefore, free market capitalism is a failed ideology and must be scrapped.



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  • Sorry I need a fix real bad, so I came back. “People trot out the same problems, technology and population..this is wrong and simplistic.” Anything less than writing ten volumes on any of the topics under discussion here would be “simplistic,” but I’m convinced that the phrase “problems of technology and population” pretty much identify the polluted ground of the subject in a phrase. Seven billion people and counting consume energy by using machines and devices -trains, planes and automobiles- appliances and electronics to meet their needs and fulfill their purposes. That’s pretty much “problems of technology and population.” You may be flirting with the concept of “DECOUPLING” population growth from energy consumption growth, but the concept does not calculate against the reality of adding between 3 and 4 billion people to the planet in 50 years, most of whom live in energy poverty.

    I get it that you believe that wind and solar technology can drastically reduce carbon emissions in the next 10 to 30 years; and that the main obstacles to their installation are unenlightened governments, unenlightened economies, unenlightened financial institutions (and practices) and unenlightened publics.

    We differ chiefly in our view about the potential of wind and solar (in their current stage of technological development) to displace oil, natural gas and coal as primary energy in world markets. Wind and solar can supplement and continue to edge up their share value in the global energy mix but fossil fuels are on course to do the heavy lifting by virtue of their power to provide vast mechanical energy at a distance from their source -at least until 2040. Discoveries of huge new reserves of oil and natural gas, vanquishing the scarcity scenario of dwindling reserves, will only accelerate enthusiastic exploitation until mid-century. (As stated we will have to revisit this scenario with hell to pay in the future).

    When I used the term “euro-centric” to characterize false extrapolations beyond homeland borders of clean energy use and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, I was only trying to remind you that the UK, Germany, and France are not the world. Western Europeans live in small homogenous countries with stable or declining populations, great public transportation traversing small distances, mature economies which have outsourced their dirty manufacturing to the “Chinas” of the world, and, yes, admirably efficient energy consumption and clean energy innovation. Still unlike the other 95% of the world your energy requirements are virtually “fixed.” Indeed the unpleasant surprise to Desertec in the sudden announcement to downsize the venture, came about when Siemens and other investors realized how absurd “importing” electricity to Europe was in the face of surplus supplies already saturating stabilized European markets.

    If you would seek a current omen, look to solar energy production in China. China installed 50% more solar power in 2013 that any other country had ever accomplished in a year. China is the world leader in solar power and likely to remain so. (China accounts for 35% of global employment in wind and especially solar industries). Curiously the energy profligate U.S. is number 2. China is number one in greenhouse gas emissions with the U.S. placing second. A country can beat the world in clean energy consumption and still stay filthy in emissions. Wind and solar are supplements not substitutes.

    Returning to my first comment: Science and Technology must come up with revolutionary new energy sources that can do the heavy lifting required by mechanical (not just “electrical”) energy demand on a global scale or step up the energy outputs of existing forms of wind and solar and/or other renewables.

    Oh..and don’t get me started on overpopulation -my obsessive hobbyhorse!



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  • Melvin Oct 6, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    Wind and solar can supplement and continue to edge up their share value in the global energy mix but fossil fuels are on course to do the heavy lifting by virtue of their power to provide vast mechanical energy at a distance from their source -at least until 2040.

    That is one of their great inefficiencies. A coal fired power-station requires heavy transport infrastructure to regularly transport thousands of tonnes of coal. A local solar panel, or a solar thermal plant requires none of this.

    There is also wasteful and unnecessary transport of goods, in the internet age of data communication.

    I would anticipate, that 3D printing will greatly reduce the global transport of physical components, as has happened on-line with music, paper documents etc.

    We have discussed this topic several times on RDFS.
    Here is one of my earlier comments with its links:- https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/04/the-disruptive-power-of-3d-printing/#li-comment-135999

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/04/microscale-3-d-printing/#li-comment-135038



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  • phil rimmer Oct 4, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    All this concern with energy supply totally ignores where all the big immediate wins I have been detailing are. Negawatts, the creation of capacity through energy efficiency. Twenty percent of all electricity is spent on lighting. Within the last two years we have the low cost technology (super efficient sources able to be cheaply controlled) to drop this to 5%.

    I see a Nobel prize has been awarded for the invention of blue LED lights which together with red and green LEDs have given us the low energy white light!

    http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2014/popular-physicsprize2014.pdf
    Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura are rewarded for inventing a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the spirit of Alfred Nobel, the Prize awards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; by using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources.

    Red and green light-emitting diodes have been with us for almost half a century, but blue light was needed to really revolutionize lighting technology. Only the triad of red, green and blue can produce the white light that illuminates the world for us. Despite the high stakes and great efforts undertaken in the research community as well as in industry, blue light remained a challenge for three decades.

    Thus, the new LEDs require less energy in order to emit light compared to older light sources. Moreover, they are constantly improved, getting more efficient with higher luminous flux (measured in lumen) per unit electrical input power (measured in watt). The most recent record is just over 300 lumen/watt, which can be compared to 16 for regular light bulbs and close to 70 for fluorescent lamps. As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the highly energy-efficient LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources.



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  • Its fantastic news for the industry. Nakamura is the nearest thing to God for me, feebly rewarded by his employers at the time and now working or consulting for several of the key players.

    He will be responsible for directly or indirectly taking 15% of the CO2 out of our entire electricity supply. I don’t believe any single person can claim this from an invention and deliver such results within say a thirty decade time span.

    White LEDs used for general lighting, phones and TVs only use blue (Nakamura’s) chips. The blue light excites a big broad spectrum orangey phosphor which two combined give a good white light. (Adding some red phosphor in can lift the colour quality very near to indandescent lamps.)

    The boy done good. He’s been doing work of late to lift the power handling capability of each chip. Some are boasting a lift of five to ten fold in light output. The compound semiconductor he championed GaN has tumbled in cost and his pioneering use has built the volume to open it up to huge potential big smart power apps-

    Today’s world includes numerous suitable power applications for GaN in several application segments, such as power distribution systems, industrial systems, heavy electrical systems, turbines, heavy machinery, advanced industrial control systems, electro-mechanical computing systems, and so on; also inclusive of several new power applications (clean-tech) such as High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC), Smart Grid Power Systems, Wind Turbines, Wind Power Systems, Solar Power Systems, Electric & Hybrid Electric Vehicles. Another application sector is ICT, with several communication application segments such as RF, RADAR, and Satellite communication offering huge revenue potentials owing to the unbeatable ability of GaN to operate at high-frequency ranges, including microwave frequencies. The potential market size of these massive applications is currently in trillions, making the total addressable market for the GaN power semiconductors worth billions.

    From marketsandmarkets.com. HVDC inverters to feed the powerlines are huge investments at present ($100m per end.) GaN could take substantial costs out of this and enable much smarter local switching.



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  • Alan4 I read your referenced comment. The future of 3d printers sounds fascinating but highly speculative for at least 20 to 30 years. As always new technology may present unpleasant surprises including some that boost fossil fuel use in its implementation.

    Addressing your comment above, you make relevant and helpful observations. For every action there is an equal – usually greater – but opposite reaction from today’s energy infrastructure. Solar and wind farms must be built relatively close to the predominantly urban centers which use most of their output. Transmission cables, especially those laid underwater, are expensive. The further the distance the greater the loss of electricity. Integration of generated electricity into existing grids incurs more problems and expense. Storage in batteries increases the amount of toxic materials wind and solar systems incorporate in their manufacture.

    Ivanpah, a solar thermal system built in California’s Mohave desert, is the largest solar thermal plant in the world covering 14.2 square kilometers and generating enough electricity to serve 140,000 homes. Based on 2.9 people per average household, the plant provides electricity for 546,000 people. This
    aggregate represent 1% of California population – not much on an economy of scale.

    Offering a throw-way aesthetic judgement about wind and solar plantations. Because they must cover huge swaths of land to be cost effective, wherever they spring up, they create eyesores of panoramic dimensions. They are morbidly ugly and depressing.

    By way of clarification (apologies for not being specific), my emphasis on fossil fuel mechanical energy used at a distance from its source largely encompassed the transportation and construction sectors (Sorry to say, it’s also true for much of the world’s electricity and industry sectors for different reasons): passenger cars, vans, SUVs and especially medium and heavy trucking and commercial aviation and shipping. Heavy equipment like bulldozers, cranes, etc. working on construction projects -roads, bridges, airports, harbors urban and residential buildings, anything that requires earth moving, excavation and heavy lifting capacity will need petroleum-based fuels. Wired electricity can also supply a share of the mechanical energy. Batteries alone are not at a stage of development to be of much use in these sectors.

    I’m not skeptical about the potential of future production processes like 3D printing to cut energy demand but once more I must bring up population growth. Most of the countries adding 3 to 4 billion people (or more) to the world this century on top of the 3 or 4 billion already living in poverty will not have a prayer of paying for visionary high-priced technology still in its infancy or find the capital to implement it on an economy of scale when their first three priorities for the rest of the 21st century will be production now, consumption now, and, above all, jobs now.



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  • atheezilla Sep 30, 2014 at 11:06 am

    It is depressing to see what India’s own citizens are doing to their land. To provide an example, I was in a car going through the middle of a small city (I don’t want to say which) when we were able to look out across an urban expanse of perhaps a square kilometre. There was litter all around, from directly in front of the vehicle to as far as I could see. Plastic, glass, paper and organic stuff everywhere, among which there must have been human waste too. In Britain I’ve seen cleaner landfill sites. OK, I exaggerate here but not much.

    Greener in terms of a smaller carbon footprint, does not mean “more environmentally friendly”.
    Brazilians are also good at avoiding a high carbon footprint, but their hydro-dams and deforestations are not good for the environment or bio-diversity.



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  • Melvin Oct 7, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I’m not skeptical about the potential of future production processes like 3D printing to cut energy demand but once more I must bring up population growth. Most of the countries adding 3 to 4 billion people (or more) to the world this century on top of the 3 or 4 billion already living in poverty will not have a prayer of paying for visionary high-priced technology still in its infancy or find the capital to implement it on an economy of scale when their first three priorities for the rest of the 21st century will be production now, consumption now, and, above all, jobs now.

    As with Phil’s improved LED lighting, you are missing the point about 3D printing. For many components it will not only eliminate long-distance transport costs, but will be more efficient, simplify the manufacture, produce a higher quality product, and be cheaper.

    Integration of generated electricity into existing grids incurs more problems and expense. Storage in batteries increases the amount of toxic materials wind and solar systems incorporate in their manufacture.

    That is the point in liquid-salt solar thermal generation. The operation continues into the night using stored heat – not batteries.

    Ivanpah, a solar thermal system built in California’s Mohave desert, is the largest solar thermal plant in the world covering 14.2 square kilometers and generating enough electricity to serve 140,000 homes.

    The Mojave Desert has an area of 25,000 square miles (65,000 square km) and plenty of sunshine! Space for another hundred (or thousand) plants should not be a problem!

    Based on 2.9 people per average household, the plant provides electricity for 546,000 people. This aggregate represent 1% of California population – not much on an economy of scale.

    Green systems work on geographical distribution. The economies of scale are in the mass production of standardised components such as heliostats.

    By way of clarification (apologies for not being specific), my emphasis on fossil fuel mechanical energy used at a distance from its source largely encompassed the transportation and construction sectors : passenger cars, vans, SUVs and especially medium and heavy trucking and commercial aviation

    I have pointed out 3D printing and the internet as means of reducing the volume of materials transported, and the use of mains electrically powered public transport. The links to hydrogen powered cars are earlier in this discussion and while in the early stages of development, hydrogen powered super-fast aircraft are also under development. Biofuels and liquid gas may be needed for some other vehicles.



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  • Alan4discussion Oct 7, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    you are missing the point about 3D printing. For many components it will not only eliminate long-distance transport costs, but will be more efficient, simplify the manufacture, produce a higher quality product, and be cheaper.

    Here are some links to an earlier discussion of 3D printing:-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/04/the-disruptive-power-of-3d-printing/#li-comment-135999

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/04/the-disruptive-power-of-3d-printing/#li-comment-136017

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/04/the-disruptive-power-of-3d-printing/#li-comment-136005



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  • If we enact legislation to differentially tax old carbon…. If we legislate purchase tax, value added tax or create duties that dis-favour diposable products… If we create schemes for underwriting very long term investments and create banking structures like the German and Scandinavian banks with real technical savvy… If we require much higher due diligences before lending money so that longer term projects are more likely to be the ones to make a profit…. If we require those trading with others money to remaining liable for the quality of their trades for two to five years depending on the nature of the trade… If we tax more financial instruments and less investments in substance and less still in infrastructure…If we insist before anything in financial aid to poor countries that resources are spent first and foremost on childrens health and infant mortality rates and next on education for women and understand that it will take a little time for the low birthrates we see in the likes of China (India falling like a stone) to win out over rapidly increasing health and longevity, but win it will… If we see it as our duty to get people through their industrial revolution as quickly and as carbon painlessly as possible (each one drops and each one catapults a country hugely forward technologically because there is no technological drag…If we can see that the high value infrastructure is needed by the developed countries to cross link renewable resources, but that undeveloped/developing countries need standalone CHP/biogas and topical renewable systems requiring much less investment density to get to a pretty good state of affairs…

    If we can see in lighting say things are academically good (light bulb 4% to LED 65% energy efficiency) and that investors simply need to wake up now. The train arrived well ahead of schedule… If we can see that this has brought us cheap GaN production very suddenly and that multijunction InGaN solar PV that can hit 60% EQE over a temperature range of 60C to 120C, perfect for solar concentrators and water “cooling” that produces steam…more power…If only funds weren’t being used up in virtual markets…At least 20% of European and American financial capital lies idle. If only we pulled the levers we can pull. If only investors could keep pace with the real world…[loop]



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  • Enact circular economy and open modular standards for products to disfavour the huges volumes we now consume from China. This will ignite local businesses, favour small innovative companies too much in thrall to the closed complex products of Apple, Sony, Ford, Tesla.

    China is still going through its industrial revolution. It will have put substantially less into the air per person lifted to $20k/pa say than the US. Wind and solar just may be the dominant power sources (over 50%) in the end game profile in China, but it is particularly poor in reliability. Investing in Mongolia resources lifts its chances here. Most other continents are good to go. China’s birthrate (children per woman) is 1.66 below US levels at 1.88. As its health dividend runs through society its population will continue to grow but the shrink will follow



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  • We use 3D printing about every week or so, but we will be buying a machine for production of real parts very soon. Bottom end machines are in the range $500 to $2500 some with feedstocks as low as $18/kg. The $2500 has the resolution of $50k machines from a little while ago.

    We can dramatically shrink our demand for biofuels by implementing negabarrel tactics. (Obama makes Detroit another offer it can’t refuse on fuel efficiency in exchange for a bail out… we shoot people getting out of SUVs or simple laugh at say US car owners pointing out that their vehicle could be 250% more efficient using 2011 technology) Biofuels are now approved for Jets and are the ideal complementary agribusiness to use the CO2 and heat in CHP installations along with the pig farm.



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  • phil rimmer Oct 7, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Biofuels are now approved for Jets and are the ideal complementary agribusiness to use the CO2 and heat in CHP installations along with the pig farm.

    Supplies can also be boosted by using solar hydrogen gas.

    http://www.gizmag.com/hypersolar-hydrogen-fuel/21228/

    HyperSolar harnesses sunlight to produce cleaner-than-clean hydrogen fuel

    http://scitechdaily.com/engineers-develop-water-splitting-solar-thermal-system-to-produce-hydrogen-fuel/

    Engineers Develop Water Splitting Solar-Thermal System to Produce Hydrogen Fuel



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  • Before I make my vague and murky conclusions suited to the subject we are mulling over, I will give several updates to pertinent references based on my internet reading.

    The Ivanpah Solar Thermal Plant: The consensus emerged that the plant has largely failed as an alternative model for electricity generation for southern California. Heavily financed with government subsidies – final cost 3 billion dollars -, new reports project that natural gas-powered plants coming on line will provide electricity at a fraction of the cost of Ivanpah. Solar energy planners have calculated that in-site (rooftop) PV panels are far cheaper and more efficient than the Ivanpah megaplant model. Advocates will focus efforts on consumers and businesses to increase the use of solar power by installing rooftop panels.

    Thorium Reactors: In “a report titled “Comparison of Thorium and Uranium Fuel Cycles”…”prepared for and on behalf of [The United Kingdom] Department of Energy and Climate Change,” the [UK] National Nuclear Laboratory concluded that Thorium has virtually no commercial potential and that the UK government should continue to invest virtually nil in research and development. Hedging provisional findings consistent with sound science, the report recommended monitoring R & D throughout the world and added the caveat that Thorium might become worthy of consideration in 20 to 30 years. The report is quite technical but the conclusions are easily comprehended by the layman. I urge Alan4 to read it whether he is versed in the science or not.

    Miles per Gallon Light Vehicle Factor: Phil was observant to celebrate the fuel efficiency afforded by diesel. 55% of cars in Europe use it while less than 1% in the U.S. The U.S. hopes to decrease average fuel consumption for total miles traveled from 21 mpg to 32 mpg by 2040. With energy efficiency impacting all sectors of use, the U. S. hopes to reduce total carbon emmissions by 11% or more.

    Biofuels: The main global biofuel for the transportation sector is ethanol. Ethanol emissions like those from diesel are significantly lower than refined petrol. Often we tend to forget that ethanol is a mix that includes gasoline. Ethanol and diesel should be assessed in the category of oil-based fuels and their limited use does not eliminate a significant amount of carbon emissions on a worldwide scale.

    Hydrogen Powered Trains, Planes and Automobiles: If this carbon-neutral fuel proves viable on a large scale..well, let me just say I’d be the first to buy a hydrogen-powered car and the first to book a hydrogen-powered flight on British Airways.

    I never set out in this forum to “miss anyone’s point.” My goal has always been to find a consensus that ushers in pragmatic solutions that must be achieved on a global scale within a limited time frame while serving the per capita needs and wants of the 7 billion people already here as well as the 2 to 3 billion humans waiting to join us over the next 35 years.

    If global warming predictions prove accurate, the grim problem we face today is that of scientific consensus about how to discover, invent, produce, market and supply carbon-neutral fuels to growing world populations that eliminates or radically reduces current emissions from oil, natural gas and coal. Phil appears the best versed in the science but his optimism strikes a discordant note with reports compiled by other scientists and engineers whose competence and vision I have no reason to question. I can cull out this or that optimistic explanation and claim for reassurance, but the holistic reports do not bode well for our global warming future.



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  • Hi Melvin.
    What am I to make of your post? You appear to have poured cold water on all the methods of clean energy proposed. I wish you had elaborated on the reasons behind lack of suitability of thorium, though admittedly I would probably not understand the jargon.
    I agree that the future population is a big concern. How would you address that? My thinking is that contraception should be well publicised and freely available to all! I can see this being very difficult to implement however, because it means that major religions will have to admit that they’ve been wrong and the ethical solution is to limit the population not increase it.
    What methods of clean energy seem to be the most viable in your opinion?( I hope you have not already given suggestions as I have no wish to re-read all the posts.)



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  • This is mostly skimming stuff, Melvin. My advocacy was for a petrol vehicle (88.3mpg) over my current (60mpg) diesel. The Ivanpah plant works and hits its ambitious targets but it is not what was needed from solar thermal it has no storage which would increase its energy value considerably and its 12 cent/kWh lunch has been eaten by fracked gas and for that matter Solar PV storming in. The Thorium report (a familiar one here) sez not right for the UK now. These people were set the challenge of what should UK nuclear do next? To which the report concludes stick with what we know come back in 20-30 years. I agree on that timescale for powerstation building in the UK. Whats needed now is more research investment. (Incidentally the report is self confessed partial and underfunded, the most disgraceful aspect for me was its misleading Radiotoxicity Data model based on Th-Pu. The BNFL report on Thorium shows a sustained 5 fold radiotoxicity advantage in the 100 to 10,000 year region.) I don’t unnderstand your biofuels argument, I’m sorry.

    Personally I am not a fan of neat hydrogen. I’ve stopped reading my Jennifer Gangi Fuel Cell reports. I’m intrigued by ammonia though….

    I think otherwise you make my case for what we need to do next…



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  • Hi Phil. In a past comment you used the success of wind (?) in Ireland. At the time I meant to reply that Ireland is a very small country and would probably be served well by less efficient measures. What of China for example, and it’s huge requirement for energy?
    When looking at global ranking for renewables, small countries seem to boast a quicker uptake. Does this seem to be the case to your mind as well, or have I missed something? I know that China is investing in solar as well as other non-fossil fuels, but will this be adequate for its future needs?



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  • Melvin Oct 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Thorium Reactors: In “a report titled “Comparison of Thorium and Uranium Fuel Cycles”…”prepared for and on behalf of [The United Kingdom] Department of Energy and Climate Change,” the [UK] National Nuclear Laboratory concluded that Thorium has virtually no commercial potential and that the UK government should continue to invest virtually nil in research and development.

    They ‘ve been investing virtually nil in Thorium research since 1947, so these slow learners will probably end up buying thorium technology from the Chinese, just like these political dead-heads are now buying their next new uranium power-station from the French company EDF, having abandoned further development of the successful British advanced gas cooled reactors years ago!

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/19/china-uranium-nuclear-plants-smog-thorium

    An advanced research centre was set up in January by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with the aim of developing an industrial reactor using thorium molten salt technology, the newspaper reported.

    According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), China has 20 nuclear plants in operation and another 28 under construction, all uranium-fuelled reactors. China has been importing large quantities of uranium as it attempts to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. However, according to the WNA, thorium is much more abundant.

    The researchers on the project said they had come under considerable pressure from the government for it to be successful. Li said nuclear power was the “only solution” to replace coal, and thorium “carries much hope”.

    “The problem of coal has become clear,” he said: “if the average energy consumption per person doubles, this country will be choked to death by polluted air.”

    The vastly shorter half life of the radioactive waste, vastly reduced cost in the long term waste management of this, and the much greater safety factors, should be enough to swing the choice.
    Short-termists would of course have no interest in such practicalities.



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  • Ireland has tremendous wind resources, China very few except at its southwestern border. The 60% figure I quoted was how high Ireland could take their wind resources as a fraction of total requirement and still remain stable as reported in a study from (I think) 2008. This is a reflection of how variable wind can be and if it doesn’t blow up north how much can it be relied upon to blow down south etc.

    Here are some global maps of the two resources wind and solar. Though China is not hitting the spectacular solar levels of Africa and the Middle East it is good enough and as as China manufactures most of the worlds solar PV, they’ll do much better with it than northern Europeans. (China dominates PV because it has all the now defunct equipment used to make last decades computer chips. New machines are needed for these now so the solar panels get made with “free” machines. In five to tens years time the machines that once made todays lighting chips in GaN in S. Korea and China will be turning out new super efficient Solar PV at twice the efficiency with a tenth of the material when used with mirror concentrators.)



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  • Melvin Oct 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Miles per Gallon Light Vehicle Factor: Phil was observant to celebrate the fuel efficiency afforded by diesel. 55% of cars in Europe use it while less than 1% in the U.S. The U.S. hopes to decrease average fuel consumption for total miles traveled from 21 mpg to 32 mpg by 2040.

    I had a 1.7 litre diesel engined Vauxhall/ Opel car which did over 50 miles to the gallon 20 years ago. (Vauxhall is part of the US General Motors group!)



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  • On the strength of the British nuclear industry’s last twenty years worth of achievement, any comment from them must surely rate of little authority. Cowed and risk averse they have, at least, made few errors by the clever expedient of mostly ceasing to exist.



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  • Melvin Oct 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Biofuels: The main global biofuel for the transportation sector is ethanol. Ethanol emissions like those from diesel are significantly lower than refined petrol. Often we tend to forget that ethanol is a mix that includes gasoline.

    It is true that the present use of ethanol is as a mixture with fossil oil derivatives, so it only gives a partial reduction in added CO2 emissions.

    Ethanol and diesel should be assessed in the category of oil-based fuels and their limited use does not eliminate a significant amount of carbon emissions on a worldwide scale.

    The point about biodiesel and ethanol emissions, is that they are simply recycling CO2 taken from the atmosphere by the crops which were used to produce them, so they are not adding fossil carbon to the atmosphere.



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  • Hi Nitya.

    For the full report on Thorium just enter: comparison of thorium and uranium fuel cyclesin your search engine (Google?) box. There is a 31 page PDF report which is elf-explanatory, if you know the science. I majored in English lit 38 years ago, so not surprisingly the technical stuff might just as well have been written in Urdu. Actually using conscientiously applied logic and arithmetic you can probably get more out of the technical passages. The authors emphasize that the information serves as a summary for much more complex research. The layman can understand the conclusions easily. What disturbed me most is that the study is part and parcel of the effort to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gases in a nation which is already a contender for the championship.

    Throwing cold water is not my goal. Like Will Rogers, “all I know is what I read in the papers.” In my view, the problem with traditional renewables is their failure to satisfy demands for incredible amounts of mechanical (including electrical) energy for industry, manufacturing, transportation, construction, etc. along with skyrocketing demand for residential and business lighting, heating and cooling. Exponential per capita and total energy growth will be required by developing economies adding billions of people throughout the 21st century. I fear we may have to tough up and take the bullet if carbon neutral fuels do not meet most of this demand within one or two generations. In the meantime, I fully support every conservation and energy efficiency measure we can effectively implement.

    Addressing overpopulation will take concerted national and coordinated international efforts. There should be zero tolerance for coercive action taken by authorities to reduce fertility. Governments must announce and promote total fertility rate [TFR] reduction targets; provide free or appropriately subsidized universal contraception backed up by abortifacients and early elective abortion. The burden on individual women (and men) is minimal. With many countries in the world at or below replacement level fertility, women will close in on having the actual number of children they “really” want. With global fertility holding steady at a small sub-replacemet level (say 1.7 to 1.8 children per woman), world population will gradually decline over several centuries to between 3 and 4 billion people. You are right when you identify religious beliefs as a major obstacle to universal contraception backed up by abortion. There will be huffing and puffing from the religion quarter against bringing human fertility under control – and sadly some violence from anti-contraception/anti-abortion zealots. Collectively human animals must start talking about population reduction and take actions which tirelessly bring it about. (Obviously the EU and other countries would be exempt and might need to raise fertility slightly as needed.) The project should be given top priority if we are to survive as a species on this planet.



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  • phil rimmer Oct 8, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Personally I am not a fan of neat hydrogen.

    There have been suggestions of adding it to natural gas to boost the energy on combustion and reduce the overall gas consumption, but I would suspect that there could be leakage problems if they try to use old existing pipe networks.

    Hydrogen to be a green fuel for fuel cells etc, must NOT be extracted from natural gas with the CO2 released as some cheap processes suggest.



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  • Melvin Oct 8, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    For the full report on Thorium just enter: comparison of thorium and uranium fuel cycles in your search engine (Google?) box. There is a 31 page PDF report which is elf-explanatory, if you know the science. I majored in English lit 38 years ago, so not surprisingly the technical stuff might just as well have been written in Urdu.

    For those wishing a translation from Urdu :-
    http://www.itheo.org/articles/government-india-statement-thorium

    Thorium plays a pivotal role in Indian Nuclear power programme. In fact, right at the beginning, a 3-stage Indian nuclear power programme has been chalked out and use of Thorium as an energy source has been contemplated during the third stage. Right from the inception of Indian nuclear power programme, work has been carried out on various aspects of thorium utilisation- including mining and extraction of thorium, fuel fabrication, irradiation in reactors, reprocessing and refabrication. Internationally too, certain new designs have been proposed to use Thorium.

    The third stage of Indian nuclear power programme contemplates making use of Uranium-233 (obtained from irradiated thorium) to fuel Uranium-233 – Thorium based reactors, which can provide energy independence to the country for several centuries. This will avoid the dependency on coal and natural gas.

    So if you want alternativee views from various countries which are doing research and development rather than the underfunded waffling UK dummies who have done next to nothing for the last 20 years, here is a whole string of explanatory videos and articles, which were on my earlier link to The Chinese Academy of Science Thorium Energy Conference.
    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012



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  • phil rimmer Oct 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    They have been sitting on their hands so long that they can only project the future as sitting on their hands while the rest of the world moves on.

    Meanwhile:-
    http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v6/n6/full/nchem.1952.html?WT.ec_id=NCHEM-201406

    Although most of the current research is focused on its chemical characteristics, perhaps thorium’s most revolutionary potential use involves its nuclear chemistry. The theoretical feasibility of a thorium-based nuclear reactor has long been recognized. However, technical difficulties as well as prioritized interest in uranium reactors (which some posit stems from uranium reactors’ greater ability to breed plutonium for fission bombs) have prevented the development of commercial thorium reactors.
    Natural thorium is almost exclusively 232Th, thus no costly isotopic enrichment process would be necessary, and this would present a significant potential benefit over today’s uranium-based reactors.

    Perhaps the biggest advantages of thorium reactors are their safety and their relatively reduced environmental impact. Unlike uranium-based reactors, which produce waste that remains harmful for thousands of years, 83% of waste from a proposed liquid fluoride thorium reactor will become safe within 10 years, and the remaining 17% after 300 years. Thorium reactors aren’t just an abstract concept either: the Indian government has a strong interest in thorium power because India has approximately a third of the world’s thorium reserves, and in 2002 the government issued approval to start construction of a prototype thorium fast-breeder plant.

    Thorium has proved itself as a catalyst and a great refractive material. With the effects of global climate change increasing with every passing year, hopefully more research and allocated resources will help thorium realize its great untapped potential and become a truly revolutionary material in our energy economy.



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  • Melvin Oct 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Department of Energy and Climate Change,” the [UK] National Nuclear Laboratory concluded that Thorium has virtually no commercial potential and that the UK government should continue to invest virtually nil in research and development.

    It sounds like the climate duffer government ministers, have picked people of the same calibre as those who recommended the cancelling of funding and scrapping the successful UK Black Knight / Black Arrow rockets, “BECAUSE THERE WAS NO COMMERCIAL FUTURE FOR SMALL SATELLITE LAUNCH VEHICLES”, consequently requiring the UK to pay the Russians, the French and the USA to launch its satellites!

    Cameron has also stopped funding for research into tidal systems in and around the Severn Estuary! They are happy to juggle short term emission figures with cheap quick fixes, but have no scientific long term vision at all! – Hence are buying French nuclear technology for the belated decision to start to build another nuclear power-station.
    Hardly surprising from a party of climate change deniers and quackology promoters, which is still subsidising oil-drilling in deep dangerous waters of key fishing areas.

    These are the clowns who graphically illustrated recently how to utterly mismanage flood defences.



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  • Volkswagen’s 140/310mpg (long journeys/short journeys) two seater VWL1 costs $146k, 0-60 in 11.5 seconds, limited to 99mph, is the car you keep. Safe as an F1 its carbon fibre and plastic construction will last very many decdes. Its otherwise now mundane technology is by virtue of its particular hybrid topology entirely suited to modular upgrading as batteries improve or a new fuel variant engine becomes available.

    Depreciation will beome greatly reduced. Car makers need to be encouraged to become banks to finance these extraordinary vehicles, mortgaging or lease hiring as their adoption will greatly reduce the need for manufacturing, their main source of income currently, but it will also increase the need for maintenance/upgrading at the normal selling times and other services.

    Governements could favour this spactacularly low carbon business model, by differentially taxing short life products. This kind of approach dramatically reduce carbon use in both running and manufacture. Clever business thinking not new technology. Still think it expensive? Well this is made at the moment for try outs in a few hundred off. In volume it may stiil be twice the price of your steel sedan but it will easily last three times as long with very very low fuel bills. Wiki for more…



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  • Phil, everyone should know that the VWL1 is an experimental car with no commercial value and mortal limitations making it the ideal car only for the few thousand enthusiasts who can get their hands on one. The thing is a two-seater costing enough lettuce to bankrupt the salad industry. It is a “fun” novelty car for eccentric fat cats with money to burn.

    Alan4 amends the discussion by bringing up his former Vauxhall/Opel whose diesel delivered 50 miles to the gallon. The U.S. has a shameful record for preferring gas guzzlers to fuel efficient vehicles because of cultural-economic factors also shared with Canada and Australia. Fortunately the trend is starting to reverse slowly. We are simply forgetting that per [1000 people] capita most people in countries throughout the world don’t own or drive cars. As the car poor, energy-poor populations of the world start to catch up, fuel efficiency for UK light vehicles at even 40 to 50 miles per gallon, if distributed proportionately throughout 8 to 9 billion people will burn more petrol and diesel.

    Hydrogen powered cars and commercial aircraft: Outside of Japan which heavily subsidizes hydrogen-powered vehicles, there is no significant future for hydrogen fuel in the transportation sector. The hybrid battery+ diesel/petrol model is far cheaper. For commercial airliners, the cost of producing hydrogen from hydro power is exorbitant. Hydrogen extracted from natural gas entails fracking and other prohibitive environmental costs.

    The controversy surrounding the role of thorium reactors to reduce carbon emissions by mid-century presents the best object lesson for our discussion. The tendency for science and technology buffs is to go chasing multiple will-o-the-wisps certainly locates conservation and fuel efficiency measures that can be helpful but the enterprise leaves us mired in promotional videos, overstated claims, dead ends, and charades that leave the core challenge intact. We have 50 to 70 years to uproot the carbon fossil fuel infrastructure that dominates economies and determines the standard of living of every soul on this planet. If science and technology allied with aggressive government and private action can accomplish the task we are home free. The only other alternative is population reduction from around 10+ billion people to around 3 billion. While we must endure the pain that global warming inflicts on us for the + – 200 years for the process to take place -unless we seize the opportunity now starting in 2015 we might well suffer far harsher consequences to our viability as a species.



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  • Nonesense. I have no time for governement phobia in a democratic society. They are not all the same. Choose someone different and vote for them. Food has become astonishingly cheap and has stayed that way because it greatly improves the health and equality of our society. Besides there will ever be a need for taxes from some wealth generator.

    I am of course sorry that Osborne has taken the pressure off vehicle fuel tax. It had gone some way to changing Britains buying habits with regards to fuel efficient cars. Increasing road tax differentials though modest has been working well in guiding vehicle choice.

    With vehicles of such astonishing efficiency as the VWL1 we transform our ability to find and afford fully sustainable fuel, perhaps using gm algae using the waste heat from power stations and scrubbing the CO2 from the air and packing it in to hydrocarbons, or turning human waste into biogas, the slightly more pungent version of natural gas. Doing the many doable efficiency gains first, makes the sustainable energy sources far more viable.

    A gas running global fleet of VWL1-type vehicles would run off those deadly methane clathrates removed safely from continental shelves before they go off and kill us. Though they are fossil fuel they are replaced in hundreds and thousands of years not hundreds of millions like NG oil and coal. At the very small rates of usage we may find these resources turn out indeed to be sustainable. No source of energy may be entirely clean for some hundreds of years as residual embodied energy in things like concrete, for instance, are worked through. But taxation on the basis of the relative fossil (unsustainable) content should punish classical fossil fuels, favour short term fossils like clathrates so they are harvested at a sensible rate and positively favour fuels with the best eco sustainable credentials.

    Spurious taxation is idiotic and ditch the first MP to suggest it. We need taxes to pay for great services, like matching Germany in its free education (lets invest in us!) If we have to have them, and we do, lets choose to have them such that they hurt the poorest least (we need consumers ! Its the service the state offers to business people in return for taxation….a thriving market.) and apply them most fiercely to change behaviours of those for instance that steal from our kids heritage fund.



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  • The thing is a two-seater costing enough lettuce to bankrupt the salad industry. It is a “fun” novelty car for eccentric fat cats with money to burn.

    If you are unprepared to even respond to my central points about unlocking the value technology can bring by creating long lived but superb cars and matching them with a new business model then I will stop here.

    Houses in the UK are insanely expensive but many of us ordinary folk manage to live in them. How did that happen?



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  • Melvin Oct 9, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Hydrogen powered cars and commercial aircraft: Outside of Japan which heavily subsidizes hydrogen-powered vehicles, there is no significant future for hydrogen fuel in the transportation sector.

    At this stage in development, there is no basis for such a claim. To say hydrogen cannot be a viable commercial fuel in the future is pure speculation. It is already the fuel of choice for space launches.

    It’s a funny thing, but I recall the 1960’s European and US “fossil” motorcycle industry saying “no significant market share”, about those flashy new high revving super efficient Honda and Suzuki motorcycles, while they continued making obsolete 1930’s type models until they went out of business!

    History is littered with the “Can’t do – Won’t trys”, clinging to the obsolete technology they know.

    As for the longer term future of high-speed air and near-Earth space transport, here is the way forward:- http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/space_access.html

    Initially it will be primarily used for transport to orbit, but has potential to power high speed aircraft as well. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27591432 – (if it can get backing from the UK government – which does not have much of a record for backing winners in this sector.)



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  • My concern is if the fuel stays as it is Phil. If we go into other sources then I see the change being made more easily of course.

    I still wish I had your optimism or strength to believe that I can change who I vote for and expect massive change. The way I saw shadow minister for transport, Susan Kramer (Lib Dems) shifting uncomfortably in her seat when asked where the money was going to come from for the changes they planned, and knowing there is no easy answer for the ten billion deficit. I just can’t get away from the fact they will use any easy target they can.



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  • Melvin. A reduction in population growth is a laudable aim and efforts should be made for this to come about, but this is a long term project as well. Unless we kill off vast swathes of consumers and gas guzzlers we’re still stuck with the problem for many years to come. In a comment made many months ago, it was pointed out that the planet could probably sustain a population of about 1billion if they consumed at the rate we’ve come to expect in the developed world. To reduce the population to this extent ( without the use of gas chambers) would mean that only 1 in 17 women could reproduce. Who is going to tell the remaining 16 that motherhood is not for them. This is completely unworkable.

    The truth of the situation is that these ‘will-o-the-wisp’ ideas will have to be implemented as they give us the best solution both in the short term and in the longer term as well ( when the population does begin its decline).



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  • I still wish I had your optimism or strength to believe that I can change who I vote for and expect massive change.

    Well thats not going to happen is it! The electorate have never been so feeble. But if I can get two people to vote and they can get two each…, politicians might start to think their electorate actually give a damn this time.

    If its an easy target it might be the right target. Politicians may make lots of difficult decisions. I don’t particularly think they are spurious.



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  • Olgun Oct 9, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    My concern is if the fuel stays as it is Phil. If we go into other sources then I see the change being made more easily of course.

    The way I saw shadow minister for transport, Susan Kramer (Lib Dems) shifting uncomfortably in her seat when asked where the money was going to come from for the changes they planned, and knowing there is no easy answer for the ten billion deficit.

    One of the problems is politicians with no vision of scientific possibilities, obstructing opportunities to make real efficiencies, avoid costly mistakes and achieve big returns on public investments.

    You may recall the Somerset flooding, where the government and treasury were insisting on making large cuts to budgets for environmental research, dredging rivers, and maintaining flood defences – and a few weeks later – with people up to their necks in water, Cameron was shouting, “Money is no object” and then the government and insurance companies spent vastly greater sums patching up the damage which had arisen from the earlier neglect and lack of preparation.



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  • If its an easy target it might be the right target. Politicians may
    make lots of difficult decisions. I don’t particularly think they are
    spurious

    I don’t get that phil? We are all screaming for government to do this and invest there, like education and uni fees, one party pulling one way and the other another way but still we pay.

    BTW… Have you read this? Hope it works!!

    .



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  • The truth of the situation is that these ‘will-o-the-wisp’ ideas will have to be implemented as they give us the best solution both in the short term and in the longer term as well ( when the population does begin its decline).

    The kicker for me is that several of the will-o-the wisp ideas have now delivered and we will start to see the results over the next few years. We could accelerate this delivered set of capabilities with revised business models. Most kicky though is the fact that the efficiency deliveries run straight through to lifting immediately (if funded) the living standards of the very poorest. Usable lights in the home for five dollars, so learning and trades can continue beyond sundown. The cost of their industrial revolution in terms of capital and carbon will be low and lead them into a world of much lower carbon. They’ve not had it and won’t waste it.

    But this very process of lifting people out of poverty IS the mechanism for triggering the change in birthrates to low levels. A little wealth and improved child mortality. The statistics are conclusive. No poor society has been coerced out of high birthrates accept by force, war or plague, after which there is always a correcting boom. Because of the lifespan dividend enjoyed by a little wealth and health there is a two generation overshoot in population numbers before they actually start to decline, but looking at the deltas of the deltas, slowing growth clearly marks the onset of the change.

    We have to lift everyone up enough to get to the other side of the population peak, and that will reflect in a carbon peak also, but the endgame is clear, a world of sustainably wealthy enough people will slowly shrink to a comfortable level.

    Having quite so many clever brains on the planet helps more than a little too…..



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  • You may recall the Somerset flooding,

    Remember it! We spent ten hours in traffic, coming home from Taunton, in it. Most of these places are now uninsurable. Scandalous.



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  • I hope you are right Phil and I am wrong, but I suspect Rule 1 rules.

    Closed systems have limits.

    Our ancestors, the nomadic hunter / gatherer followed this rule. Move on when resources get depleted. Every farmer on the planet knows this rule. You go broke or starve is you over stock. Every biologist and ecologist knows this rule. Populations reach stasis and are ruled by the available resources. Research the maths of mouse plagues and you will see our future.

    Why do you think we are any different from the rest of nature. Independent of the environment. Why don’t humans have to follow this rule. And if your answer is technology, then that just delays the reckoning. Produced more food. Produce more people. Sooner (My preferred option) or later (Technology fills in for a while) we hit stasis. That’s what rules do. Breaking a rule has consequences.

    Wouldn’t it be better if we the homo sapiens of the planet entered into voluntary limits and we all can live happily ever after for centuries. And if we can’t voluntarily, then regulation is the only answer.

    Free markets don’t do regulation. Free market capitalism has parallels with psychopathy. No conscience (unless regulated). Short termism. Do whatever it takes. Denial of consequences. No empathy. So how can this free market save us from ourselves.



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  • 100
    Olgun says:

    But this very process of lifting people out of poverty IS the
    mechanism for triggering the change in birthrates

    I saw this in action, albeit small scale, on Aljazeera the other night. Skip to 10:40 (if you don’t want to watch the whole thing) and you will see a lady, who is “going up in the world” by running a charcoal factory, that is about to be closed, and wants to open a shop. Her prosperity has caused her to reassess the number of children she has and she questions a young girl, that works for her, on her mothers constant pregnancies…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltBIHXyKi0I



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  • Closed systems have limits.

    Its good we don’t live in one then. A trillion and a half oil barrels worth of energy falls on the earth each day. Thats a lot of work. Thats a lot of wealth…. for the next two billion years say….

    For the umpteenth time my answer is not simply technology, it is not laissez faire capitalism, it is about amending laissez faire capitalism to constrain it to better do our bidding.

    Given the wealth cascading down on us and its ability to do our work we have to marshall all our other resources. I have talked about how we can do that by further constraining and redirecting laissez faire capitalism.

    I am at a loss to understand why our clear needs can supposedly be achieved by mere wish thinking rather than by inventing the mechanisms to facilitate and deliver them.

    Come on, David, man or a wee tim’rous beasty?



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  • Produced more food. Produce more people.

    Childbirth, having been present at a couple of grisly ones, I know fucking hurts and is dangerous even in spiffy western hospitals.

    Most women don’t want to do it more than they have to. Given choices, money, one or two healthy sprogs with prospects, they are happy to stop…..even Italian, especially Spanish women (1.4, 1.3 kids) ignore the blandishments of Papa Frank. US, UK, UAE, Iran all 1.9 kids per woman. The correlation of poverty with high numbers of children is very strong see Hans Roslings graphs.

    Show me evidence for your assertion where women are educated and have healthy kids and choices. No one has ever done this before. We are in new territory.



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  • “If you are unprepared to even respond to my central points about unlocking the value technology can bring by creating long lived but superb cars and matching them with a new business model then I will stop here.

    Houses in the UK are insanely expensive but many of us ordinary folk manage to live in them. How did that happen?”

    Phil, my answer is that I don’t know how to respond to questions like “how to unlock the value technology can bring” or your related question “how to harness the power of the sun.” My approach is to look at the world holistically and the myriad ways energy is produced, distributed marketed and consumed. My presupposition is that the world has an abundance of brilliant scientists, engineers, academics, economists -you name it. As a layperson interested in making coherent sense of global energy and global warming, all I can do is look around me and see what folks are doing. Wind and solar are not cutting it, hydrogen is not cutting it, thorium is not cutting it, and the cramped VW two-seater trying to accelerate onto the freeway 0 to 60 in 11.5 seconds just became road-kill under the tires of a roaring semi. (You admirably validate hope with developments in low energy lighting, but you can’t run a bulldozer by turning on a reading lamp.)

    I can take a shot at answering, “how does an ordinary Englishman manage to live in an insanely expensive house?” Of course the answer is complex, but I’ll cut to the pertinent chase: Because you and other residents living in the UK are energy rich relative to developing poor countries. Yes, you drive a fuel efficient diesel, you may have a wind turbine in your back yard and solar panels on the roof, but out of view are the great sinews of western industrialization whose wheels are turned by fossil fuels. Yes, a per-capita-carbon-emissions-by-country table shows that the U.S. emits twice as much as EU countries on average but the same table shows that per capita the UK emits 6.27 times more greenhouse gases than Pakistan. While UK population is projected to rise from the current 64.5 million to 77 million by 2050 (due to immigration rather than natural growth), Pakistan population is projected to rise from 194 million to 348 million. Nobody can predict what the next 35 years will bring but anyway you look at it in proportion to the progress of global warming…it ain’t much time.



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  • If the limit for this closed system is 1 billion people (best estimate from multiple studies) , and we’re heading for 9-12 billion before we hit stasis, what’s the planet going to look like. Humans, a planet farms and technology. And with no theological connotations intended, is this the meaning of life. No orangutans in the wild? Surely we can do better.



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  • PHIL. My sincere apologies for the joke about the VW and the semi. It’s “my” sense of humor unfiltered by the common sense realization that you do not know me and might take it the wrong way. Seriously, I appreciate the ingenuity that went into designing and build this amazing vehicle. Sorry if I sounded flippant.

    NITYA: The simple math of population growth or reduction will show how any stable population will change significantly in either direction over a short period of time. The average number of children that women in a given population will have over their reproductive lifetime is called the total fertility rate or TFR.

    Since world fertility rates are converging on replacement level- an average of 2 children per woman (actually it is slightly higher because about 105 boys are born for every 100 girls and a slight per cent of girls do not survive to reproductive age -hence the 2.1 children per woman replacement fertility roughly posited by demographers. We will keep it at an even 2 for mathematical simplicity. Simply put, a woman must replace herself and her partner = 2 children on average to keep the population stable.)

    Consider a stable population of 1,000 – 500 women and 500 men at replacement level:

    1,000 / 2 = 500 women X 2 children (lifetime average per woman) = 1,000 (a stable population)

    Drop the lifetime fertility rate modestly below replacement. Make it 1.7 children per woman with a generation interval of 30 years.

    A stable population of 1,000 will yield a next generation of 850 30 YEAR MARK
    (1,000 / 2 = 500 women X 1.7 lifetime children per woman = 500 X 1.77 or 850)

    850 / 2 = 425 425 X 1.7 = 722.5 60 YEAR MARK

    722.5 / 2 = 361 X 1.7 = 614 90 YEAR MARK

    614 / 2 = 307 X 1.7 = 522 120 YEAR MARK

    522 / 2 = 261 X 1.7 = 444 150 YEAR MARK

    444 / 2 = 222 X 1.7 = 377 180 YEAR MARK (POPULATION HAS DECLINED ALMOST TWO THIRDS)

    In one sense the process is long term if you think in terms of a decade or two as being a “long time.” In a pragmatic sense the reduction in population from the stable index of 1,000 is significant for each 30 year generation . We may presuppose that each 30 year period will also be complemented by conservation and fuel efficiency numbers and allow for carbon neutral fuels to be developed in a demographic scenario where per capita consumption is also declining at an accelerating rate.



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  • I can take a shot at answering, “how does an ordinary Englishman manage to live in an insanely expensive house?” Of course the answer is complex,

    No the answer is simple. Mortgages or rental. I really am going to stop now. I wish to talk about economic frameworks and you delight in ignoring my points at every single turn. I’ll get back to my day job (along with millions of others in the eco sector) of stacking up carbon reducing and resource preserving technologies in the collective hope that we may speed their adoption through improved investment regimes and service business models.

    but out of view are the great sinews of western industrialization whose wheels are turned by fossil fuels.

    I really, really give up. Keep stating the current known facts of the case and running around claiming we must treat these projections as a given and I can see we really are doomed.



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  • The VWL1 illustrates whats possible. It gives us an idea of what current conventional technology can achieve. The only expensive part is its use of carbon fibre to get the weight down. If we keep it long enough its cost is amortised. Our biggest carbon problem is what rich nations do, those earning over $20k per year. (And just a reminder the cheapest car I will have bought runs 88mpg. Taxation and standards needs to favour it and its kind more, or much more to the point, others less.)

    And your maths needs to be contrasted with Nitya’s about the political and personal import of an engineered, more rapid decline.

    I fully expect the journey to the other side of the peak will be the horridest hell.



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  • Americans will say a billion based on their behaviours. Europeans may say two billion based on theirs. I would say we could possibly support 4 or 5 if we implemented all the latest technological capacities, but three would be more comfortable and leave the margin we must always build in to handle catastrophes better.

    I favour the higher number (3) because I favour the intellectual clout that comes with numbers and diversity of brains. Our current level of creativity is astonishing and unparalleled.

    12 billion or possibly worse will be unmitigated hell and destructive for many generations. What we need is to impose artificial fences where we can. We cannot stray into here or do anything to affect those there. We must add to the sense of constricted urgency whilst pointing to all the real pullable levers we have at our disposal. The fact of us going through a real hell needs us to be very, very clear about what we can do to mitigate damage and quickly get to truly sustainable living.

    No orangutan? Biggest of fails if we lose them. I wrote on another occasion how when rich and stable I would set up (unnatural!) health centres for them. I don’t see why such sentience shouldn’t have its misery assuaged like ours if they wished. Its elephants for me. That and wilderness.



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  • Melvin. Do you think 180 years is a short time for the population to be reduced by 2/3? Remember that it’s still climbing and is likely to do so for a good few years yet. These are years in which the population will still be contributing substantial amounts to the carbon output. Do we have these years with which to experiment?
    Truth to tell, it makes no difference what figure is inserted into the equation, population reduction alone is not going to be enough even when added to the measures you’ve suggested. Infrastructure is going to take energy to produce; I get that. At some stage machines need building and modernising. apparently there are untapped supplies of oil. No doubt they’re going to be exploited before we give up on our fossil fuel dependence.



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  • My own view is it might take up to ten generations to get to some kind of optimum. And this will be a higher number than 1970’s optimum or 2000’s optimum as capabilities continuously increase towards their theoretical limits

    I can’t see any political mechanism for achieving this faster that doesn’t risk huge instability. Going up is the worst part. Coming down will be a psychological win and may bring greater cohesion and the capacity for more concerted action speeding things along….who knows? All this leads me to get to the turning point as soon as we can and that involves lifting all out of poverty and fixing infant mortality for all.



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  • Olgun Oct 9, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Remember it! We spent ten hours in traffic, coming home from Taunton, in it. Most of these places are now uninsurable. Scandalous.

    My house is on the 500ft contour and on a slope because I understand environmental sciences and think about major decisions: – But the wish-thinkers are still building on floodplains in England, and the developers are rebuilding the areas wiped out by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.
    The gullible purchasers are still ignoring, or not bothering with, “wasting money” on surveys and research, before buying or going elsewhere for a better site.



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  • Olgun Oct 9, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    The way I saw shadow minister for transport, Susan Kramer (Lib Dems) shifting uncomfortably in her seat when asked where the money was going to come from for the changes they planned, and knowing there is no easy answer for the ten billion deficit.

    There was an easy answer to the deficit, but thick war-mongers had other plans!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War#U.K._war_costs

    As of 2013, UK Afghanistan war alone cost have been calculated as £37bn.[21] In June 2010, UK costs exceeded £20bn for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.



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  • phil rimmer Oct 10, 2014 at 4:38 am

    I can’t see any political mechanism for achieving this faster that doesn’t risk huge instability.

    Nature has its own methods of stopping population explosions and reducing populations to stable or cycling rebound levels – after initially reducing them to below these levels until ecosystems and food-chains recover.

    Crowding and malnutrition spreads disease, weakens and reduces populations – particularly during seasonal climate variations.
    Transporting diseases around the planet along with the invasive species (as with rats, fleas and the Black Plague) helps to facilitate this for longer lived populations like humans.

    Many insects of course have massive population explosions each summer, followed by die-off in autumn.

    Ecologists have graphs of these effects for various animal populations in their ecosystems, including some where well-meaning or meddling human interventions, made things more unstable and worse!
    (Bankers’ inflationary price bubbles follow similar boom and bust patterns.)



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  • Please excuse me if this sounds flippant but…….

    If America uses twice as much as the EU and there is already waste there and we have seven billion already, if we have better management, future technology, limit our spread (fences as Phil has said) level out the entire world and maybe, at a push, encourage vegetarianism, can we not sustain a few more? The three million Phil is saying sounds (and I will use the words that first came into my head but not to offend) hippie-fied and Davids one billion a veritable commune.

    The continuing uncertainty about how many people Earth can sustain for
    the indefinite future brings to mind the story of a little boy who
    wanted to know the sum of one plus one. First he asked a physicist,
    who said, If one is matter, and the other is antimatter, then the
    answer is zero. But if one is a critical mass of uranium and the other
    is a critical mass of uranium, then that’s an explosive question.
    Unenlightened, the boy asked a biologist. She said, Are we talking
    bacteria, mice, or whales? And for how long? In desperation, the boy
    hired an accountant, who peered closely at him and said, Hmmm. One
    plus one? Tell me, how much do you want it to be?

    http://discovermagazine.com/1992/nov/howmanypeoplecan152

    No orangutan? Biggest of fails if we lose them. I wrote on another
    occasion how when rich and stable I would set up (unnatural!) health
    centres for them. I don’t see why such sentience shouldn’t have its
    misery assuaged like ours if they wished.

    Like



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  • No orangutan? Biggest of fails if we lose them. I wrote on another occasion how when rich and stable I would set up (unnatural!) health centres for them. I don’t see why such sentience shouldn’t have its misery assuaged like ours if they wished. Its elephants for me. That and wilderness.

    LIKE.



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  • phil rimmer Oct 9, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    The truth of the situation is that these ‘will-o-the-wisp’ ideas will have to be implemented as they give us the best solution both in the short term and in the longer term as well ( when the population does begin its decline).

    I have been studying developing space technologies for decades, along with the obstructive denials, refusal of funding, fallacious arguments, and stunt-diversions, from those with no vision of future developments, or their applications

    The kicker for me is that several of the will-o-the wisp ideas have now delivered and we will start to see the results over the next few years. We could accelerate this delivered set of capabilities with revised business models.

    Over the years, how many times have we heard ” We should not waste money on space and spend the money feeding the starving”!? .. . . . while GPS, satellite phones, satellite TV, and monitoring by weather satellites, have quickly and effectively, been giving warnings, and co-ordinating disaster relief efforts!



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  • Nature has its own methods of stopping population explosions and reducing populations to stable or cycling rebound levels

    So true, but our concerns are for political stability and concerted action.

    Weakened, impoverished populations become politically (and understandably…forgiveably) parasitised. This is the very essence of our problem on this site, the snake oil remedies. Visible inequity is like handing over millions of minds to the basest con artist who point out their neglected status and exploit them for their own ends.

    (The dreadful inequalities of the US and Brazil confirm the reality of this mechanism.)



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  • Melvin Oct 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    [The United Kingdom] Department of Energy and Climate Change,” the [UK] National Nuclear Laboratory concluded that Thorium has virtually no commercial potential and that the UK government should continue to invest virtually nil in research and development.

    I am reminded of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster when solid rocket seals failed.

    The engineers had warned that there was a serious risk of failure when temperatures dropped below 12°c, so the launch at well below freezing after de-icing the rocket was against their advice.

    However:- Administrators in Morton-Thiokol told NASA that there was no evidence the seals would fail!

    They did not tell NASA that there was no evidence BECAUSE THE ENGINEERS WORKING ON THE SEALS HAD BEEN DENIED FUNDING TO TEST THEIR CLAIM THE SEALS WERE LIKELY TO FAIL!

    Climate-change deniers also regularly try to incite the denial of research grants for those who tell them things carbonaceous Luddites don’t like to hear!

    One of the problems for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, is that while the minister who heads it is a Liberal, who says many very constructive things about moving to low carbon systems, the majority party in the coalition government, is Tory, with a goodly proportion of carbonaceous Luddites and AGW deniers among its MPs.

    Count me as unimpressed, that those trailing years behind the world’s leading countries, are still pondering what to do about thorium and nuclear power generally, and have now, after years of waffling, belatedly decided not to invest in research, while those years ahead of them, are both building several present technology nuclear power stations, AND planning a move to thorium as soon as properly funded research and development permits.



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  • I would urge everyone to read the current UN report on projections for world population that includes information on birth rates, infant mortality, age structure, etc. If you can entertain the idea that projections
    contain hard news about anything, the UN projects world population to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. The “good news” is that birth rates are projected to reach replacement level (1.99) around 2100. India but mostly Africa will add the bulk of the growth. Africa could have around 2 billion people by 2050 and 3 billion by 2100. We dare not imagine what that continent will look like if it is still awash in the blood from the atrocious internecine warfare we’ve seen for decades.

    Alan4’s Malthusian belief the Nature will regulate population probably will not come to pass within the century. Modern medicine and increasing food supplies have brought down infant mortality and general mortality dramatically. Infant mortality in the least developed world remains high -and here Phil has a good point. Religious and cultural opposition to contraception, limited access to education and many other factors, we could name, play significant roles. Reducing the dilemma inadequately to a generalization, the absence or ineffectiveness of civil institutions established by viable central governments seems to lie at the heart of the problem. If governments cannot provide their citizens with clean water, education, security and the rule of law, coordinated financial investment and economic growth that provides employment opportunities, then how can they be expected to provide family planning services? It’s a double bind. How do you lead an animal that is defecating on everyone from both ends.

    The benefit of establishing an official proclaimed consensus to maintain sub-replacement global total fertility rates, however diversely calculated, over time against the starting base of stabilized world population the UN predicts for around 2100 is that sub-replacement rates will work continuously to reduce global population over any period of time -year by year; decade by decade. The endpoint of the process 200 or 300 years down the road need not dismay anyone. We are adrift in a world of dwindling resources and growing populations held captive under an atmosphere that becomes ever more toxic.



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  • Melvin Oct 10, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Alan4′s Malthusian belief the Nature will regulate population probably will not come to pass within the century.

    That’ a very bland unevidenced assertion!
    Nature is already regulating the human populations in many refugee camps all over the world.
    It is how ecology works on populations which are out of balance with their food-chains and life support systems.

    It is not nice, and it is not pretty, so it could, and should, be avoided.

    It works on aggressive competition for diminishing resources, (such as wars, genocides, banditry and elimination of competing species), famine, starvation, disease, and habitat destruction.
    Have you noticed any of these things happening around the world lately?

    Nature WILL regulate the human population if we don’t!



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  • Melvin.
    the UN projects world population to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. The “good news” is that birth rates are projected to reach replacement level (1.99) around 2100. India but mostly Africa will add the bulk of the growth. Africa could have around 2 billion people by 2050 and 3 billion by 2100.

    The effects of climate change are predicted to kick in before the end of the century, perhaps within decades. We don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the population to peak and then begin its inevitable decline. Our profligate use of fossil fuels needs to be addressed ‘yesterday’ .

    I’ll explain the rationale used by the government of my country. We have the highest carbon footprint per capita I believe; big country/small population. Our Prime Minister conveniently twists the statistics to his advantage by pointing out that our total contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere is very small. He states that a reduction in CO2 output by us would have minimal impact on a global scale. Needless to say his rhetoric appeals to more than half the population who grab on to any excuse not to curtail their own use or to fund clean energy projects.

    As a consequence of this thinking, our roads are choked and priority is given to expenditure on new motorways. Our major export is coal, which provides the fuel for other countries to pollute the air and to contribute to global warming.



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  • The effects of climate change are predicted to kick in before the end of the century, perhaps within decades. We don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the population to peak and then begin its inevitable decline. Our profligate use of fossil fuels needs to be addressed ‘yesterday’ .

    Like.

    Phil, this is what I was trying to say, but Nitya distilled down to a succinct paragraph. We don’t have time for market forces (which I believe act in self interest and don’t work) to kick in. This requires immediate regulation.

    If I was the second coming, the first edict I would issue is:- “Guys, you’ve had a good run burning fossil fuel, but you’re about to go extinct if you continue to use it, so in 10 years time, I’m going to turn all the fossil fuel on the planet into granite. You’re a smart species. You’ve got ten years to change.”

    And we would. In 10 years time, life would be like it is today, except the energy source would be renewable.



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  • Alan4: Any reasonable person would recognize the risk that catastrophe, on a scale heretofore unrealized, might propel human mortality rates into territory that could annihilate large swaths of humankind. Epidemics, rising sea levels, drought, flooding, crop failures (GMCs?) could bring on the scourge of the Four Horseman with Global Warming riding piggyback. Such visions furnish the stuff of dystopian novels, though most authors prefer the generic landscape of cataclysmic post-nuclear war.

    Dreadful, sickening numbers of people die in natural disasters, famines, epidemics and wars worldwide each year but these numbers looked at mathematically are seen to be localized and way too small to affect population growth significantly. Despite the devastating 12-year war in Afghanistan, the total fertility rate stands at 5.1 children per woman. Alan4 reminds us that the risks still haunt us.

    Political leaders and policy makers focus narrowly with some justification on how these catastrophes and deaths could have been easily prevented with western medicine, technology, intervention and financial aid. What I am arguing for is that world leaders speak to the priority of distributing contraception to every woman and man on earth “free” as needed in connection with an articulated policy of reducing global fertility to sub-replacement within 50 years. Voices at the national and international levels of leadership; indeed all levels of leadership, must be loud and clear – proactive and enthusiastic.

    Nitya brings the discussion full circle. It may be too late to do anything Each one of us can contribute our suggestions but no one can “demand” that anything actually be done. At the end of the day we are left with the vague impotent observation: The state of the world is what it is.



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  • Nature has its own methods of stopping population explosions and reducing populations to stable or cycling rebound levels – after initially reducing them to below these levels until ecosystems and food-chains recover.

    The graphs of mouse plague population increase and crash exactly mirror human population growth. I don’t want live on the downside of this graph.

    http://www.nobabies.net/Mouse%20Plague.html

    I concur with Alan. It is going to be very uncivilized and ugly. I’d rather a rational planet enters into voluntary measures to get back to a sustainable population, but they can’t, because the only criteria for decisions at this time is money. It will cost too much. Who is going to pay.



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  • This is deeply frustrating. My whole point is that we have to do something now. My proposal is that we have to lift people out of poverty now so we bring forward the peak and therefore reduce its amplitude. My proposal is that we need to intervene in financial markets and by fiat change them to something more conducive to investment in eco (and incidentally make then more stable… we have, with this, a legitimate reason for the intervention….its because they were naughty before). These are levers we can just about pull and there will be howls of dissention from the market.

    Have I ever argued against governments trying to limit their population by other means? No.
    Make a proposal for how to do that and we can discuss it. The intention is only admirable and deserves support and figuring out.

    My desire is always to find solutions of identified problems, but there is a grumpy elephant here with us, the problem of achieving the population reduction behaviours we want either through mass consensus or by totalitarian imposition. As I’ve hinted I believe that the former is far more likely to be available on the down swing of the population peak. I think mass consensus is doubly facilitated by my proposal to lift people out of deep poverty because they feel good/rewarded/grateful(? I’ll take anything here) and they have kids they can keep this time.

    Personally, I think this is a problem that needs solutions A through Z. I think the virtue of my two plans, B (fix abject poverty) and C (fix short-termism in the market) are both doable and necessary anyway.

    Nature WILL regulate the human population if we don’t!



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  • Melvin Oct 10, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Alan4: Any reasonable person would recognize the risk that catastrophe, on a scale heretofore unrealized, might propel human mortality rates into territory that could annihilate large swaths of humankind. Epidemics, rising sea levels, drought, flooding, crop failures

    While “any reasonable person”, might spot the large obvious issues, it is environmental scientists like myself, who point out the mechanisms and the details of how these systems work, and where changes need to be made.

    Nitya brings the discussion full circle. It may be too late to do anything Each one of us can contribute our suggestions but no one can “demand” that anything actually be done.

    I don’t know about others, but over the years I have worked on political campaigns for people in fairly high positions in national government, and actively participated in promoting education in local government.

    At the end of the day we are left with the vague impotent observation: The state of the world is what it is.

    I would simply reject that sort of fatalism.
    Nothing can be done by those who have an agenda of doing nothing.
    Those who have well thought out plans for the future, are the ones driving progress, even though there are seldom enough of them making the effort to move the apathetic masses, or the obstructive die-hards, fast enough.



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  • Of course I sometimes feel despair, a very human emotion. Inexplicably it just creeps up on me when I watch news footage of villages in Africa inhabited by hunger-emaciated children, or empty streets in Bejing under a suffocating cloud of poison gas, or young men kneeling before their ISIS captors waiting for a bullet in the back of the head. For God’s sake, do SOMETHING!

    None of us has all the answers, but I tried to propose what I believe could be a central pragmatic policy while recognizing the value of efforts to use fuel efficient technologies – materials and fuels-
    to reduce CO2 emissions, combined with suggestions for new business models to grow a greener economy and create jobs. Unfortunately I have read that there have been too many dead ends with developments in hydrogen and thorium fuels, or too many feeble applications of solar and wind. I hold out hope that future developments will reverse the disappointing trends, but “hope” is not a policy.

    What is “wrong” about governments proclaiming a national-public-community policy to distribute contraception to all citizens of reproductive age with the PROACTIVE STATED goal of lowering fertility to 1.7 to 1.9 children per woman on average per lifetime? China with over a billion people did more with their one-child policy embraced voluntarily by the majority though cases of coercive measures like forced abortions and sterilizations repulsed civilized society. The same objective can be accomplished without coercion but only if governments proactively support and advance family planning programs. Admittedly there is a chicken-or-egg problem here. Countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America roiled in civil war, ethnic-sectarian violence, [drug] crime, poverty and illiteracy must first establish strong central governments and civil institutions before population policies can be implemented against ignorant religious opposition to birth control.

    Around 1970, environmental organizations largely divorced population discussion from their agendas. Perhaps they foresaw the reaction building in third world countries (notably India) against the crude intrusive “population control” programs backed then by western finance and policy…Most unwelcome and even more counter-productive.

    My own sense is that human nature took the path of least resistance while indulging in an instinctive repugnance to discuss the intimate issue of “how many babies a woman should have.”

    Today we have reaped the whirlwind. Environmentalists have a significant though typically niche following mocked, satirized, and distrusted by large segments of the public obsessed with growing the economy, creating jobs; increasing consumption and standards of living. From this perspective environmentalists diverge by focusing efforts on preserving habitat, wilderness or open land, “stopping” oil or natural gas pipeline construction, advocating lumbering wind and solar alternatives, closing coal-fired plants, etc. These projects have delivered environmental improvements for localities and regions and cumulatively for the world, but the larger threats loom larger than ever.

    The problem remains the Elephant in the Room that Allen cites – overpopulation. Simply put, population growth pushes back against the piecemeal approach of environmentalism. The wildlife preserve of today will become the housing tract or industrial park of tomorrow under the political mantra of accommodating population growth, raising the tax base, and “serving” the needs of people in the community.

    Between 1990 and 2000 a hopeful consensus developed that the world was headed toward a stable population of about 9.3 billion people by 2050. The public need not worry. The population problem would be solved on auto pilot in the natural course of events. Today the UN has upped the number to 9.6 billion by 2050 while further projecting 10.9 billion by 2100. The expectation that world population will stabilize is credible given the current trend of global fertility converging toward 2 children per woman. What we are not seeing is the camel’s nose sticking further into the tent. World population will stabilize but when and at what number… 9 billion, 10 billion, 11 billion…12 billion?

    World governments down to community counsels and the man and woman on the street need to open a robust discussion and create universal family planning programs (diversely implemented) which address the problem effectively and at a cost of pennies on the dollar compared with providing for and cleaning up after 4 billion more people.



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  • Why is Africa projected to be so late in its birthrate peak (2090) compared with everywhere else (most projected to be done and dusted by 2050)?

    Should the answer to it affect your policy?



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  • Phil, it’s a mix, a very complicated mix because demographers are making projections based on analyzing data gathered from every country in the world. Some of the data are incomplete or inaccurate. Notwithstanding, the overwhelming evidence shows that geographical regions are converging on zero population growth. Europe with a fertility of 1.6 is poised for population decline along with East Asia at 1.5 – China leading the trend.

    The continent of Africa, especially the countries in sub-Sahara, is the obvious Frankenstein of global population growth with an overall fertility of 4.7 and 5.1 for sub-Saharan. It’s also important to measure fertility of many other countries outside of Africa which are still driving rapid increase. Pakistan at 3.8 is projected to grow from 194 million to 348 million by 2050; India at 2.4 is projected to grow from 1.296 billion to 1.657 billion; Egypt at 3.5 is projected to grow from 88 million to 146 million.

    The UN revised their global projections upward when new data from sub-Saharan Africa showed that fertility was falling 5% slower than previously calculated. The continent is expected to have 2.428 billion by 2050 and 3 billion by 2100. Some day, one out of three people walking on the Earth could be African!

    I’m sorry that I can’t answer your question more precisely. I just don’t have all the pertinent bean jars. The UN projects that fertility in Africa will decrease to around replacement between 2050 and 2100.

    48% of world population is now at or below replacement level, suggesting that “natural” fertility for educated women (and men) living in modern societies is somewhere under replacement. (Steps will obviously have to be taken to raise fertility in Europe and parts of developed Asia if de facto genocidal decline towards zero is to be averted). The trend toward “natural” sub replacement fertility in populations led me to see the opportunity for global population decline articulated as policy and funded by governments and embraced by the public.

    As for “my” policy, the only power it wields comes from a puny comment on a blog site. I do join the consensus that failing to reduce population from 9, 10 or upwards of 11 billion downwards to around 3 billion (more or less) will leave the world in a condition tinder-dry for incineration.



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  • Pakistan’s replacement rate falls below two per woman in 2035, India in 2025. The population peaks happen up to a generation later as the health dividend plays out.

    The latest figures for Africa are 4.2billion in 2100 and probably peaking in 2130 Its replacement rate drops below two per in 2105.

    Melinda Gates talking of the Gates Foundation promotion of contraception in Africa said bluntly that contraception will not be embraced by families until child survival rates make it safe to do so (children are pension schemes). Every single statistic over the past century demonstrates this correlation. The only other factor, religion, even falls under its sway with raised enough standards, (if you remember the rates I showed for Iran and UAE. It falls through the floor in rapidly secularising modern RCC countries.)

    Take people with you. Don’t prepare to coerce them first. Fix abject poverty and fix child healthcare. A generation and 50 billion a year of direct health care injection over and above what is currently planned will transform all our prospects. Fix education especially for girls. And don’t be afraid of socialism as a transformative societal structure.

    (I misstated the timing of the peak before it is later than even I said….)



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  • Melvin. 48% of world population is now at or below replacement level, suggesting that “natural” fertility for educated women (and men) living in modern societies is somewhere under replacement.

    The educated men and women in modern societies have the MEANS of limiting their family size. I strongly suspect that most of the families in sub-Saharan Africa would avail themselves of contraception if they could. That is, as long as their church of choice does not provide obstacles.



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  • Phil. I’ve always seen family size and the likelihood that children survive to adulthood as a spurious correlation. The maternal mortality rate in undeveloped countries is huge! A mother is putting her life on the line with every pregnancy.
    Perhaps all other things being equal, we could come to valid conclusions about family size and the ‘retirement plan’ of parents. As an example, I suggest you look at China. The offspring of Chinese families are obliged to take care of their parents once they can no longer manage themselves. City dwelling Chinese families have one child! Do you see the anomaly?
    Like you I want to see the wealth of the world distributed fairly and I want to see health care for all, but I don’t agree with the conclusions drawn re family size in undeveloped countries.



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  • Hi Olgun. I intend watching it when I have time. I noticed that it had a running time of 50 mins approx, so I didnt watch immediately.

    Talking about videos ( going OT here), I tried to play your clip on the first recorded song. It wouldn’t respond to my clicking but I see the association from the picture. Good one!



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  • Yes, it will need more time but if you skip to the 10:40 mins it is only a few seconds of the topic here that might help your problem of accepting the link between mortality rates and number of children. It is not just about old age but of survival whilst still young. I can even offer up personal evidence from the island of Cyprus. The whole idea of number of children has changed dramatically because people are more affluent then when I was born there. The price of education and moratality rates are the buzzwords when I go back to visit.

    Thanks for comment on the other clip.



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  • Olgun. While on a Mediterranean theme, I have it on good authority that the young women of Malta used to make the trip to mainland Europe in order to get the contraceptives that were prohibited in their country at the time. They were not ‘hedging their bets’ by having a large family; they simply had no alternative.
    I don’t wish to equate Malta with sub-Saharan Africa, but the whole issue of family size is not as straight forward as it seems.



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  • China is exceptional as Hans Roslings animations of the data shows. You need a very compliant population to achieve what they did. Nor was it just the “one child” policy that took the 2 to 400 million chunk out of the population growth. It was their preceding policy enactments also. These are very unlikely to work in Africa. It is hugely politically fragmented.

    The mechanisms between child mortality, female education and fertility are more complex than my pamphleteering allows. Major roles are played by increased time for female employment and, as you point out, maternal mortality and other health risks, but I still contend from all the data available at the UN population statistics site and the many papers I’ve viewed on the mechanisms involved there are no two better levers to pull than child health and female education.



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  • I don’t know the period you are talking about Nitya but maybe I should have said the poor in Cyprus. They would not have been able to travel anywhere but the more affluent would fit the model because they could afford care, education and travel. I have five other siblings all of which have two children since moving to UK. I am sure I would have been selling water melons in the streets at a young age, like my dad, had we stayed in Cyprus.



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  • While I enjoy the wit and repartee of these posts, you’re only really painting the toe nails of the elephant. We are billions of people over the sustainable limit and we are nearing the top of the mouse plague curve. There is nothing we can do, quickly enough, to avert the crash, which as Alan4D so succinctly explains, the earth will self correct.



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  • . David.
    you’re only really painting the toe nails of the elephant. We are billions of people over the sustainable limit and we are nearing the top of the mouse plague curve. There is nothing we can do, quickly enough, to avert the crash.

    Like



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  • Hi Olgun. Yes I knew you came from Cyprus, but I was trying to make a comparison, though rather ineptly it would seem.
    I was trying to demonstrate the lengths to which women will go in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.



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  • Phil quotes some statistics that might be in the speculative ballpark. I’m a bit shocked by the 4.2 billion folks projected to crowd into the basket case of Africa by 2100. If world population should peak at the obscene estimate of 10 billion, this figure would mean that TOTAL world population growth over the course of 100 years between 2000 (6 billion) and 2100 will take place exclusively on the African continent. Africa will wind up with 42% of the world’s population!

    Based on credible current trends, it is reasonable to believe that global population will stabilize between 2050 and 2100 at between 9.5 and 10.5 billion (rounding off). Why can’t we get the ball rolling on universal family planning in coordination with education of girls, public medical care, cars that get 300 miles to the gallon and everything else on our wish list? Why not accept and proclaim the legitimate, desperately necessary project of population stabilization and reduction moving forward simultaneously with other long-range projects of social and economic progress?



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  • Again totally flummoxed by this. I want to do everything. I don’t see others with any credible plan. How will Africa be population controlled without substantial bargaining? Where’s the plan, where the points of political traction? And why after already blowing the planet up and still acting dirty, why do we get to put so much of the heavy lifting on Africa? The developed world is under replacing and is nearing its peak now in consequence. What did we get right?

    Thousands of Africans from the latest UN statistics…

    2070 3 195 254

    2075 3 386 538

    2080 3 569 537

    2085 3 742 346

    2090 3 903 239

    2095 4 051 019

    2100 4 184 577

    The point is Alan’s flat statement about Nature fixing things happens well before the end of this column.



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  • Those UN figures…

    World population thousands

    2070 10 277 339

    2075 10 409 149

    2080 10 524 161

    2085 10 626 467

    2090 10 717 401

    2095 10 794 252

    2100 10 853 849

    And still not quite there as Africa tops out…

    Over the next few days I will propose a population curbing plan as best I can, if no-one else is inclined, but frankly it will start with my plans B and C to help create points of leverage and some pull to complement the push.



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  • why do we get to put so much of the heavy lifting on Africa?

    This is where I think you are missing the point. This is not Africa’s problem, or almost any of the third world nations. The resource usage rate is the killer. The rate at which we are using tomorrows resources to live for today. One American uses 400 times more of the world’s resources to live than an African or a Bangladeshi. Ditto for most of the western world. Put another way, 400 Africans could live on what one America (Australia) consumes.

    Not only does Africa and the rest of the third world need to reduce their population replacement rate, (I concur with everything you’ve said about education et al,) but the first world needs to reverse its population growth into strongly negative, because our impact on the future of the planet way exceeds the Africans.

    Everybody needs to do some heavy lifting. All of your proposals have merit and I would support anything that will help. My concern is that population growth has passed the tipping point where anything that could be called civilized can be done, because we live in a world ruled by capital and ideology. You need a political system that can say that until the world achieves its target population, only 1 in 16 females can have one child. That is the level of action required. It is also impossible. Hence my pessimism and my painting the elephant’s toe nails analogy.



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  • Olgun. Thank you very much for the link. I enjoyed it very much and thought it extremely appropriate. I was motivated to watch episode 1, which I found even more appropriate. Link below.

    http://youtu.be/Uwo5rjiIEsQ

    It’s called Deliverance and is directly related to the people most at risk from the effects of climate change. The burgeoning population of slum dwellers in Manila is a group living on the edge. It would not take much to bring them to their knees and yet the birth rate continues to rise , not fall.



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  • @Phil

    Here’s your chance for a Nobel Prize Phil. We need a knew economic model. I call it Steady State economics but I don’t like the name because it links to Hubble’s failed universe model. Open to suggestions for names. In short dot point.

    There must be zero growth. Every resource must for a circular loop. Use, recycle, re-use. Once an atom of iron is mined, it never leaves the loop. Products must be made to last a life time. No growth. And I include fencing off large parts of the planet as no go areas, starting with the Amazon. Barter must be one of the agents. Free market competition exists, but within tight regulation, so you can improve your personal wealth, but only at the expense of another human being, not the planet. No tax evasion. If you out compete, you win. But this does not mean opening a new mine and employing third world labour to out compete your opponent. Universal education, health and contraception world wide. That will upset the opponents of Obama care. Women are free from all domination of any kind. Strict population limits. Zero sum economics, with a goal to have humanity live in a civilized high tech society with zero impact on the planet for the next 10,000 years, Scrap, Smith, Keynes and Friedman. Insert the Rimmer Economics.



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  • Hi Nitya,

    Not your fault. It was way past my bedtime and I did not make my point very well. Fully understood yours. I am sure that women would have travelled from Malta to get contraception but I was just questioning the status of those that did. If you watch the video, especially the part at 10:40 mins you will see the different needs of the two women involved. It just hits home because of MY mothers thoughts and needs coming from a poor uneducated family.



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  • Or………Some guy named Scotty from Africa discovers the Dilithium crystal.

    Apart from showing some distain for a few politicians….I know my cup is half full.



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  • Again apologies to Phil. Projections of population on the African continent reaching 4 billion+ by 2100 is mathematically credible. If the TOTAL of world population should decline to meet the UN “Low Variant” of 8.5 billion by 2100, 50% -one out of every two people on the planet- would be black African. Calls for “diversity” would become a laughable phrase of the past.

    The usual caveats apply variously to the validity of projections (see “demographic transition” below). Especially relevant here is the factor of carrying capacity. Many demographers, for example, believe that Pakistan will never reach 300 million people by mid-century up from 94 million today because the resources, land and infrastructure have nowhere near the capacity to support such an increase. The 3 to 4 billion projections for Africa might fall way short for the same reason.

    The concept of the demographic transition may be helpful in understanding why Africa remains a demographic anomaly. The demographic transition simplified is the process of nations moving from
    [high fertility – high mortality] to [low fertility – low mortality] over the last 50 years. China is the perfect example. In 1970 fertility stood at 5.5 then declined to 1.6 today. In 1970 infant mortality stood at 51 per thousand births dropping to 15 today while life expectancy rose from 64 to 76. Africa made some progress during the same transition period, then stagnated in the 90s, lagging far behind with fertility today at 4.7, infant mortality at 62 and life expectancy at 59.

    HIV AIDS variously affecting African nations has exacerbated mortality. Nitya is right that Phil overemphasizes the factor of infant mortality driving high birthrates because even in Africa rates have dropped precipitously. Africa is an ethnically and religiously diverse country whose factions fight tooth and nail over tremendous natural resources. Poverty, famine, under nutrition and malnutrition, illiteracy, disease and epidemics, all tied to unstable subsistence farming economies have created the perfect storm for the concentrated misery we see currently in sub-Saharan Africa. Phil more than provides correctives to infant mortality concerns by pointing out the absence of effective political, economic, medical and educational institutions necessary for creating family planning facilities which can remedy huge shortfalls in the need for universal access to birth control and reproductive medical care.

    My own view recognizes the necessity for decoupling family planning from sole dependence on investment and aid to spur economic growth or funding for charity and crisis intervention. Once governments and civil institutions can establish a semblance of law and order combined with minimum capacities to provide public services (education, medical care, etc.), family planning facilities providing access to contraception to all women and men of reproductive age should become the priority. Religious/cultural opposition will present daunting challenges but the people of Africa, I believe, have the common sense to see the handwriting on the wall. They either stabilize and reduce their populations in the coming decades or they surrender to a fate too harsh to imagine.

    I look forward to Phil’s plan.



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  • Melvin Oct 13, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Phil more than provides correctives to infant mortality concerns by pointing out the absence of effective political, economic, medical and educational institutions necessary for creating family planning facilities which can remedy huge shortfalls in the need for universal access to birth control and reproductive medical care.

    Not to mention religion “helping”!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-29594091

    Catholic priests have been telling their congregations to boycott a campaign that begins on Monday to vaccinate women against tetanus.

    “It’s a safe certified vaccine,” Health Minister James Macharia told the BBC.
    Mr Macharia said the vaccine had been approved by the World Health Organization and Unicef.

    According to Kenya’s health ministry, about 550 babies died of tetanus in Kenya last year.



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  • Not only does Africa and the rest of the third world need to reduce their population replacement rate, (I concur with everything you’ve said about education et al,) but the first world needs to reverse its population growth into strongly negative, because our impact on the future of the planet way exceeds the Africans.

    It does us no good to muddle these two distinct catastrophes together. They may seem related, but the poor have little impact on the planet. Their impact is on themselves as Alan suggests. There are two mostly separate solutions needed.

    (I owe Nitya some papers on the efficacy driving fertility rates down through child health. The simple studies with fewer variables more clearly demonstrate the principles.)

    Hurrying up the decline of replacement rates in the developed world is fatuous whilst the two generation run on of health premiums masks the real downturn happening now. The psychology won’t work. The sacrifices we need must net reward. If you are still intent on doing it drive female employment and pay. (This though will work a treat in Africa.)

    Meanwhile, my man celebrating his Nobel Prize in California last week has delivered 15% off electricity CO2 should anyone dare to tweek the market a little by driving standards a little harder. (They can take it.)



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  • I’ve never had a problem with “zero growth economics”. I don’t beieve it ever will be zero growth, because given our limitless ability to do work with over a trillion barrels a day pour down on us, so long as we are neat and tidy with any materials we use and put it back when we have finished with it, growth will continue.

    Stuff? We used to need such a lot once. Earlier we used a ton of coal to make some steel. We blackened the Black Country, positively painted it with the stuff. Increasingly we need less and less stuff for the things we find valuable.

    Wealth is created by finding and then solving problems. Their solution is the kerching moment. So long as we find ourselves problems we will continue to grow wealthy. Curiously the old markers of wealth, the problem of feeding ourselves, say, appear to fade imperceptibly in value with time (our food has never been so cheap) but that doesn’t mean the wealth has really gone. Empty supermarket shelves and starvation brings value zooming back. Our list of found and solved problem ever grows. Black tulips may have faded, but the wealth of the apps on our phone, the services that ease our lives grow apace and track our evolving new needs.

    The secret is new lamps for old, without using new stuff. I haven’t been around for a week or so, kicking off just such a business (long planned). The circular economy will be big and has the capacity save stuff and most of the embodied energy it has before it is squandered in landfill. My colleague is off to deliver a paper on our particular approach at a conference in the next two weeks.

    Inventing new economies? You bet. My Industrial Revolution hero (in truth the one who blackened the Black Country in the first place) is not James Watt but his business partner… Matthew Boulton realised that Watt’s brilliant technology was too expensive to sell, so he invented a new business model. He didn’t sell his engines. Inventing the idea of horse power, he sold nothing but contracted the ability to do a certain amount of work a day. He put the engines in for free and a live-in engineer and sourced the coal, and received in return a stream of cash. His investors were men of vision like himself and like the other genius technologists, scientists, poets and doctors of the Lunar Society, to which he belonged.

    Now Watts not only could use technology to make the machines more cheaply with benefit, but also better in every way, more reliable, more energy efficient and more reusable. Making the supplier so responsible for the totality of his product transforms and aligns all the commercial drivers in the most agreeable way.

    I have to invent nothing here, just give economists and politicians a history lesson. These people created enormous wealth by this means. Our new paradigms are equally well served by creating service economies now.



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  • even in Africa rates have dropped precipitously.

    Total nonsense. Its dropped sure but-

    1950-1955 6.59

    1955-1960 6.64

    1960-1965 6.70

    1965-1970 6.66

    1970-1975 6.66

    1975-1980 6.61

    1980-1985 6.46

    1985-1990 6.16

    1990-1995 5.71

    1995-2000 5.35

    2000-2005 5.08

    2005-2010 4.88

    2010-2015 4.67

    And male and female infant mortality per thousand live births (add ’em together folks)-

    1955-1960 180.2 160.1

    1960-1965 165.2 146.6

    1965-1970 152.8 135.0

    1970-1975 141.4 124.5

    1975-1980 128.4 112.8

    1980-1985 118.2 103.4

    1985-1990 111.3 97.0

    1990-1995 109.5 95.4

    1995-2000 100.3 87.7

    2000-2005 89.2 77.7

    2005-2010 78.2 67.7

    2010-2015 68.3 58.7



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  • Hi Phil. I’ve been looking forward to your return comments on population. I wondered if you’d been away for so long, crunching the numbers?? Ha!
    You are going to give me a rational explanation I’m sure and I’ll have that ‘aha!’ moment when everything clicks into place. Still, right now as always, I respond to comments linking family size with the level of education of the mother with a shrug, thinking ‘of course! Better educated woman marries better educated man. Better job. Higher income. Access to birth control. It all figures!’ The line of causation does not naturally stem from the education as such, but all that follows.

    Regarding your further comments, I know seemingly impossible feats can be pulled off with determination. I appreciated the example of the blackened English regions of old. I thought they were called the ‘blacklands’ but perhaps not because I couldn’t find them after a hasty search. I hope you’re right and a change in the wasteful practices of our community can be wrought.

    I think there are solutions out there, but we need to use some of the lateral thinking skills put to us by De Bono in order to bring them to light and put them into practice.



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  • Someone once wrote “Build it and they will come”. The Nobel bulbs are the only ones I’ll fit. Not only do they save on electricity CO2 but much much less chance of fires than those old halogen bulbs.



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  • Hi Olgun.

    build it and they will come

    Agreed! I Think that originated in the film “Field of Dreams” though it may pre-date that. I’m often reminded of the phrase, especially on these pages!

    It also occurs to me when we construct bigger and better highways. The volume of traffic seems to increase to fill the void.



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  • Better educated woman marries better educated man. Better job. Higher income. Access to birth control. It all figures!’

    Kids are wealth. When they are young they work for you. When your are decrepit they work for you. this benign slavery has been one of the singular advantages of the extended childhood of the fifth ape. Non competitive, biddable, non reproducing yet competent. Our kids are unique on the planet. The family is the economic unit.

    Educated women have autonomy, and independent access to wealth. They are not constrained to have breadwinners of any age. They are the users of microcredits. They have the insight into what others need. Men are disgraced and must step up their game. Educated women are busy. Educated women can see beyond their families and care about their business. Then they see more completely the virtues of contraception.

    Promotion of contraception will work only if you have a plan. You must convince people they will not be both poor and possibly childless. Mao was a tyrant with huge political power, but he also had a plan or rather he had five 5 year plans to lift people out of poverty. Starting from 1953 the plans lifted economic and agriculural output in concert. Infant mortality rates started falling from African type levels and by 1979 had hit the level Africa my achieve in 2035.

    The Great Leap Forward was seen to have delivered a disaster, though, when agricultural policies failed to keep pace with industrial, and were compounded by bizarre export policies. Famine may have killed 30million (18 to 48 possibly). These all appeared as sudden shocks to the people of China. Look at Hans Rosling’s first TED talk and you’ll see China doing a Rumba accross the mortality fertility graph.

    When the time came for the “One Child Program” in 1979, the conditions were right for it. Great wealth had been added to the economy. The food supply had been experienced in living memory to be fickle. Total fertility had already halved from six to three (about the same as the USA a decade earlier) and infant mortality had fallen by 70%.

    Whilst the contrivance of a mass starvation is a policy too far in the case of Africa, the conditions must be improved to achieve any traction with a “one child” program. And the politics will have to get simple minded. Communist regimes may be the answer. (I think they may be an option in the Middle East, only this time with international support.) That or those contraception promoting Imams Rosling talks of in his first TED talk.

    Me, instead of buying a big SUV, I’d buy a small efficient car and put the balance in a global fund, organised by nations, that put wealth creating investment into the hands of the very poorest people, and built health providing infrastructure bypassing existing governements until trained.

    I would create a new IMF reversing the sequence of its stated priorities.

    “working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”

    We’ll have to share things a bit better if we want to have people see things our low fertility way. Once we do they will anyway, but asking them to get a move on will be seen more as a quid pro quo worthy of paying out.



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  • But you won’t get it anywhere near as fast as you could get it. In economics the one who wins is the one who trashes the value of their own market first with the cheapest product. Cost is king and the cost of inefficiency is, even now, not sufficiently in the equation.

    Standards drive inefficiency cost expression. New market structures ameliorate capital cost barriers.

    Vote for longtermism in economic markets. Vote for standards driving so the market more fairly represents our common ownership of the planets resources.



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  • Sorry Nitya, I can’t buy into that. I don’t believe in penalties for improvement. It was a joyous place on earth when the gentry traveled and the masses doffed their caps to them at the side of the road. Build me roads that work and do least damage and build me cars the same. The problem is in short term thinking and quick fixes.



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  • Sorry, Melvin. You are right it has at least dropped precipitously in some African countries, but there are ever confounding local factors. These are very particular situations.

    Nitya is right that Phil overemphasizes the factor of infant mortality driving high birthrates

    But I also accept that the converse is true, which only multiplies up the strength of tackling the one most tractable to achieve a positive feedback effect. Selling contraception is easier when you’ve helped people not lose their children. Telling people to have fewer kids….and just you see….your kids will probably live longer… isn’t so persuasive.



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  • . Phil.
    Vote for longtermism in economic markets. Vote for standards driving so the market more fairly represents our common ownership of the planets resources.

    We should vote for longtermism but instead vote for short termism at the lowest possible cost. As a consequence workers are paid a pittance whenever supply of labour exceeds demand.
    I’ve been speaking to a couple working in an area in which competition is so fierce that the wage structure is pushed to the absolute minimum. The people depending on a wage from these sorts of industries are living in a very precarious position. Their jobs barely provide a living wage and they’re kept on their toes as automation looks set to make them redundant. I’m not saying that progress is a bad thing as such, but it’s a shame that there are no new openings for them.
    As I believe in a higher government presence in regulating the economy I see it as the duty of the state to provide alternative employment for people who find themselves in this situation. There are plenty of things that need to be done, after all.



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  • . Phil.
    Kids are wealth. When they are young they work for you. When your are decrepit they work for you. this benign slavery has been one of the singular advantages of the extended childhood of the fifth ape. Non competitive, biddable, non reproducing yet competent. Our kids are unique on the planet. The family is the economic unit.

    At times we see this play out in developed countries particularly in families that have recently migrated. Fortunately schooling is compulsory so they can move out of the poverty trap within a generation as a rule.

    Other countries do not always take kindly to advice on these matters, unless aid is provided and/or charities involved. I re-watched the TED talk featuring Bill and Melinda Gates earlier today. They have some excellent ideas and experience to bring to the table when it comes to Africa. It’s a shame that endeavors such as this are hampered by our well known adversaries in the area of family planning. Bill and Melinda stated that the demand is there, but stocks are low. They’re an inspiration for other would-be philanthropists looking for a worthy cause.



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  • Phil and I are talking past each other in a war of statistics when our real differences lie in conflicting views of population dynamics during what I summarily described above as the “demographic transition”. We both agree that sub-Saharan Africa presents diverse sometimes paradoxical cases. In that region, nonetheless mortality to age 5 has declined by 48% since 1990. I cited a statistic of 62 per 1,000 births for infant mortality which reflects an average for the continent (including North Africa). In sub-Saharan countries the average is about 98 and falling. Other special factors such as HIV-Aids and now the Ebola epidemic will increase mortality whose toll on national populations remain to be seen.

    Africa (along with other countries) is playing a paradoxical role throughout the process of transitioning from a high-mortality high-fertility to a low-mortality low-fertility regime. African nations are participating vigorously in the transition process but, their progress is so slow relative to most other developing nations that the “lag” has resulted in the justifiable conviction that they are failing to curb population growth. Infant/childhood mortality has also also fallen dramatically over the last 25 years but still remains so high that the numbers mask a sense of progress.

    In my view infant mortality independent of economic development, though bearing a relevant correlation, will continue to fall. Birth rates will also continue to fall but could remain above replacement level spiking population growth acting against a rapidly growing segment of women (and men) in their reproductive years.
    Nigeria, for example has an incredibly youthful age structure with some 44% of its people under age 15.
    Even if a wish to bring birthrates down to replacement (around 2 children per woman) were granted tomorrow, national population would continue to grow for another 50 to 60 years because of pent-up fertility in these young fertile cohorts.

    Phil apparently believes in the old argument still accepted by many as the conventional wisdom, that sub-Saharan women are having large families to “make up for” all the babies that die. In light of contemporary socio-economic realities, the presumption makes little sense. Infant /childhood mortality varies from country to country in the region. Choosing a high death rate of 100 out of every 1000 births for the sake of argument, the deficit could be made up by each 10 women procreating 1 or 2 extra children on average, an average that will continue to diminish with each passing decade. Average fertility of 5 or 6 children does not compute.

    The more plausible scenario addresses structural factors. Men and more so women have limited access to education while mired in poverty and subsistence farming economies. They have internalized cultural values and practices that favor large families that in turn reinforce cycles of poverty, ignorance and too often violent conflict with rival ethnic/religious groups for scarce resources. An especially dysfunctional factor in the cultural mindset is a superstitious taboo or communal resistance against the use of contraceptives and limiting family size.

    Yes, we have come full circle to the “as-soon-as” argument. As soon as there is economic growth and development, education, pensions, nourishing food and clean water, etc., population growth will subside and stabilize. In my view the outcome won’t be so felicitous. Unless women (and men) gain universal access to contraception and practice family planning at a level that coincides with stable and declining population, whatever else happens will deliver, at best, temporary mitigation. Like China, sub-Saharan Africa has no choice. Stop population growth or perish.



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  • Demographers, in contrast, have
    pointed out that in many countries mortality decline preceded fertility decline,
    which suggests a causal link from falling mortality to falling fertility
    This from-

    [Child mortality and fertility decline:
    Does the Barro-Becker model fit the facts? Journal of Population Economics 2005][1]

    The idea may be old, but it is far from worn out, still less, at odds with the facts.

    They point out that declining fertility doesn’t [immediately] reduce the number of children as the health dividend kicks in and defers it. But that has always been my point. Lift people out of the deepest poverty (not make them wealthy). Stop children so noticeably dying (this is an immediate win to be had, not a deferal) and educate women.

    I see no psychology in play from your side. Just dictat. Give ’em at least what the Chinese had before you insist they have 0 to 1 child(ren).

    [1] http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~mdo738/research/Doepke_JPopEc_05.pdf



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  • Phil. I have my family tree open in front of me and I’m looking at my line. When I survey the records of my great-grandparents ( born in 1861, 1883 etc, etc) I begin to see evidence of these really large families ( 7, 5, 5) and these lines were sometimes cut short by the death of the mother ( my great-grandmother). If I look at the documentation I have in a couple of cases, there are instances of child death as well.
    Moving on to the families of my grandparents and parents, they are growing appreciably smaller. I think that the families of my great grandparents would have been smaller too, if they had had the means ( any means). To the best of my knowledge they didn’t look on these large families as an asset in their old age.
    I don’t really know the mindset of my forebears though I do know how my grandparents thought.
    Apparently my maternal grandmother went to great lengths to end an unwanted pregnancy by jumping from chairs and taking very hot baths. Fortunately she was unsuccessful as this happened to result in the birth of my mother.
    Do you think people would have been appreciably different in those days to those in under-resourced African countries today?
    Edit: I’ve just begun to read the link and see that this area has been covered. Should have read first!



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  • Do you think people would have been appreciably different in those days to those in under-resourced African countries today?

    Yes. Hugely so. The moment you move from a marginal agrarian only lifetstyle to anything post agrarian the complexity of drivers skyrockets and those other drivers are pushed to the front. The moment a glimmer or smidgen of a safety net appears because there is a sniff of wealth in the family somewhere, the crushing fear you might starve if three bad things happen together shimmer out of existence, and choice becomes a real non-lethal possibility.

    I am not even talking about most Africans. I have only ever talked of those in the deepst poverty, living, as we always used to, on the edge of disaster.

    There are some excellent papers I have on a machine two laptops ago that I haven’t had time to dig out. They are excellent because when you get to simple cultures the drivers are clear. I really must make an effort to dig them out. Alas, I should be getting some quotations out….



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  • Phil. Okay, I’ll pay that, but the paper was using western families as an example…..I did read to the end, but it took a while.
    At no stage did I come across a section regarding the method of reducing family size! How were they they supposed to bring about the reduction? I know the methods employed by my grandparents (in one case it was a timely hysterectomy) but what of more distant generations? My great-grandparents would have welcomed the advice in much the same way that an African woman today would value a permanent solution. Bill and Melinda mentioned the fact that women were forced to walk all day for a long-lasting injection only to find the source ‘out of stock’. It’s not simply a matter of choosing to limit the family size, but also being able to bring this about.
    In 19th century Britain what were the methods of birth control available for my great-grandparents? My thinking is that infant mortality decreased at the same time as reduced family size due to medical advances of the times.
    This is the crux of my disagreement with that line of thinking.



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  • Phil,

    Can we even include the Royal family in this mortality equation ?

    We can take them out of the finance side of things but not the mortality rates.



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  • Olgun. I was going to mention Queen Victoria! Thought that maybe I was going a bit far to introduce royalty into the argument. She was not afraid to use the latest technology to reduce the pain of childbirth so I think she would have jumped at the chance to put an end to all that childbearing! If she couldn’t bring it about my family had no chance!



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  • It is crucial to recognize the role that the balance between mortality and fertility play in the evolutionary story of any species that procreates through sexual reproduction. Nitya and others are bringing up human “history” in the time frame of roughly 2 hundred years, understandably neglecting the fact that we are members of a mammal species which emerged between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, not including the evolution of our pre-human ancestors. During the rough temporal boundaries of homo sapiens evolution, the balance between births and deaths would determine survival or extinction. Until recent centuries, women had to bear at least 6 children on average to keep pace with high infant and general mortality. As late as the first century C.E., half of the children born in ancient Rome died before age 10. It was unusual for people in their twenties to have living parents. If women on average had failed then to bring more than 4 pregnancies to term, the human race would have probably gone extinct. The “problem” of limiting fertility was not on our collective radar screen. Societies had to be pro-natal or die out. Eighteen hundred years later Thomas Malthus proposed (wrongly) that population, soon to reach the one billion mark around 1805, was destined to grow exponentially out of control held in check by dreadful factors of mortality: famine, disease, and the rest -unless ordinary men and women could exercise “restraint’ or what we would call “abstinence” today.

    Population growth in the contemporary sense took off in nations around 1850 spurred by the industrial revolution, mechanized farming, and improvements in hygiene infrastructure and medical progress. Infant mortality though still high was more than compensated for by high fertility. Population with some dips continued to soar reaching 1.76 billion by 1900 and 2 billion by 1927. Curiously recent – the last major surge in Europe and the U.S. took place after WWII between 1946 and 1963 when in the U.S. alone, American women added 70 million babies to American homes during the “baby boom.” The boom went bust for multiple reasons but relevant to the discussion, a funny thing happened around 1955. The birth control pill ushered in the age of low fertility reinforced with a host of other safe and effective birth control devices (I.U.D.s, spermicidal sponges) along with the rapidly increasing practice of abortion internationally. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, safe effective, accessible birth control -contraception and abortion. Herein we will find the proximate instruments for low fertility regimes spreading throughout the world since 1965.

    Nitya is right that women then and more so now do not want so many children because of threats to life, health and sanity. Women, as Phil emphasizes, want children who survive but limited on average in number at or below replacement level.

    The desire on the part of women for smaller families in Africa, India, Central America -those trapped in high-fertility countries is frustrated by lack of access to contraception and the dysfunctional enforcement of cultural/ religious norms.

    Phil justifiably favors raising income and standards of living for those in abject poverty. Whatever the level of poverty, foreign capital, charitable foundations, NGOs and international organizations must gradually implement the goal over a time frame where the populations of the distressed regions will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. In my view it will do no good to stabilize global population at 9, 10 or 11 billion without uttering the phrase “contraception now,” telling folks what it means for the future of the planet, and, by God – putting it into practice.



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  • I am sorry Melvin but if you tried to tell those people in abject poverty about your concerns for the planet, they would just laugh in your face. I really don’t know where you are coming from in that respect. I can just see the free contraception being loaded into carts and sold on the cheap in more affluent areas.



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  • Melvin Oct 19, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Eighteen hundred years later Thomas Malthus proposed (wrongly) that population, soon to reach the one billion mark around 1805, was destined to grow exponentially out of control held in check by dreadful factors of mortality: famine, disease, and the rest -unless ordinary men and women could exercise “restraint’ or what we would call “abstinence” today.

    His error was using the wrong ecological model for his predictions.

    If he had been studying a population explosion of a species of herbivore, it would have destroyed its food plants as the vegetation progressed to more poisonous and thorny plant species, as a result of the feeding onslaught.

    Humans are however omnivorous, versatile, and destructive of competition, so when they have destroyed one food chain or resource, they move on to new food species, or new territory, thus continuing the population growth, unless restrained by encountering effective military resistance, or new diseases.



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  • . Melvin.
    Eighteen hundred years later Thomas Malthus proposed (wrongly) that population, soon to reach the one billion mark around 1805, was destined to grow exponentially out of control held in check by dreadful factors of mortality: famine, disease

    The predictions of Malthus may not have come to pass but he was right in comparing the geometric progression of unchecked population growth with the arithmetic progression of the growth in resources, ( unless things have changed since my high school days, and that’s always possible). He was not to know of the mitigating factors that were set to emerge. His dystopian view may still come to pass, given enough time. Or not. Perhaps there are factors as yet unknown to us. Maybe Ebola is destined to be our new ‘black death’ and wipe out one third of the population! Perhaps a new virus will spring up and render a good proportion of the world sterile! Space travel and colonisation may become a viable alternative and open up a whole new area for human habitation just like the New World of centuries past.
    In many overcrowded regions of the developing world they may well think that Malthus was dead right in the here and now. Scenes from the You Tube video ‘Slum’, set in Manila, show a desperate battle between a huge population and scarcity of resources.



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  • The predictions of Malthus

    The only thing Malthus got wrong was timings. Sub Saharan Africa is pure Malthus. This is an area in population stasis. Any slight change in year to year seasons either causes famine or a blip in the population. This is an example of the rule, Closed Systems Have Limits. When an aid agency imports food, it is just a delay until the next bad season. This is the model for planet earth, except there is no where else, to import aid from. No little green men with supplies marked United Milky Way Galaxy Relief Fund.

    We are surviving today, by using tomorrows resources. We are borrowing from the bank to live today, but the debt will eventually be required to be repaid. The debt collectors have no compassion. The repayment will be brutal.

    Every farmer on the planet knows what happens if you over stock the farm.

    @Melvin

    In my view it will do no good to stabilize global population at 9, 10 or 11 billion without uttering the phrase “contraception now,” telling folks what it means for the future of the planet, and, by God – putting it into practice.

    It’s too late if we reach 9-12 billion people. It’s too late at 7 billion. Phil’s technology and education just delay the day of Malthus. Noble sentiments. Excellent solutions, but 100 years too late. We are a flawed species. To achieve a sustainable future, we, everyone one of the 7 billion souls that exist today, must be prepared to make huge personal sacrifices. That won’t happen, because from an evolutionary point of view, we’re still stone age hunter gatherers that will only act in self interest, or near genetic relative self interest. We’re mostly a greedy selfish species that deserves what’s coming.

    Sadly, the future I see, is more likely to look like scenes from the movie “The Road” than any Eden like paradise on earth. My grandchildren may have to deal with this, which makes me very angry.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8RuQrhVBvo



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  • David. I always found it troubling to see Malthus treated with such disdain because he failed to have the foresight to envisage efficiencies in agricultural practice, opening up of new areas and the establishment of birth control measures by the average family. In the scheme of things, this was a short time ago.
    The aspect that stupefies me, is that we have the know how to remedy the situation right now and yet we do little! It’s okay for us to sit in our clean, urban sanctuaries and pay a tiny amount for our manufactured goods, while others live in squalor and are at the mercy of the seasons.



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  • The aspect that stupefies me, is that we have the know how to remedy the situation right now..

    Entirely agree. What to do is easy. How to get our species to do it is the hard bar. It’s like we’re choosing to commit species suicide.

    Everything that matters forms a pyramid. At the very bottom, that absolute foundation of our existence, is the unimpeachable requirement to live within our means. Once we are living within our means, then, and only then, can we consider the next layer of the pyramid. Somewhere up around layer 1237, we may consider permitting a little free market greed, conducted within very strict regulation, so it never again threatens layer 1.



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  • At subsisdence level the processes in play are quite different from say an affluent middle class Victorian household. Religion and alpha male prowess are re-licensed here.

    At rock bottom energy input level, recreational sex is too expensive and the driver for fecundity is more often the oytocin consolation of sex and subsequent sooner birth. (It is significant that oxytocin is strung all the way through the reproductive process to well after birth.) It is most often the sporadic transience of food supply at this marginal existence level that in the slightly better times over-fuels viable infant replacement and creates a phase delayed mini-Malthusian (family scale) catastrophe. Regularising food expectations is the key to smoothing this bottom end problem. Lift people out of abject poverty and educate women to kibosh any sense of patriarchy.

    Whilst musing about a marxist political solution here, I am coming to see a matriarchal marxism as a particularly useful stepping stone. Oo-er.



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  • Nitya and Allen, I’m on board with many of your observations about Malthusian theory. Malthus got the math right when he calculated the geometric growth of population exponentially. For example a growth rate of only 1% will double a population every 70 years. A base population of 10 billion will double to 20 billion in 70 years, 40 billion at 140 years… and at the 490 year mark will hit 1.28 trillion (one trillion two hundred eighty billion).

    My clumsy “wrongly” referred to several developments, Malthus, bound by the conditions of his own time, could not foresee.

    Malthus believed that food supply collapse was imminent under population pressure. Overpopulation could be mitigated the hard way by famine, disease, and disaster or the easy way by “moral restraint” but either way subsistence poverty would remain the abiding condition of humankind. (His principle reference was to Europeans). He failed to see the rapid expansion of food supply with the opening up of huge virgin farmlands in the New World and globally; and later, increased-yield agricultural revolutions everywhere. He failed to foresee the growth of the global economy, and middle class living standards in the 19th and 20th centuries brought about by science and technology. Europe and America, contrary to his predictions, were not doomed to grinding, starving poverty. Instead, in the decades following WWII, these regions became what John Kenneth Galbraith put under the rubric, “The Affluent Society.”

    Beyond theory Malthus was historically right about the geometric exponential growth of world population from one billion in 1805, to two billion in1927, to three billion in 1960, to six billion in 2000, to 7.2 billion today. But he all but threw up his hands over the possibility of controlling the natural urge of human beings to reproduce. As a Christian minister, he accepted the conventional wisdom that artificial birth control methods were immoral (and in his time ineffective) and not to be recommended. He could not foresee the widely accepted innovations of simple, safe, effective birth control and clinical abortion in the 20th century – distributed on a global scale to women (and men) spurring rapid drops in birthrates since 1965. Today most demographers predict birthrates falling to zero growth around 2100 or within several decades thereafter.

    David correctly addresses the ambiguities of stabilizing population at 10 to 12 billion. Unchanged since Malthus wrote his essay, the question of carrying capacity with its potentially mortal impact on resource depletion, pollution and global warming still exercises our foreboding. With over half of the world’s people living in poverty, the ghost of Malthus still haunts us.



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  • The aspect that stupefies me, is that we have the know how to remedy the situation right now..

    I prefer to understand what I believe Nitya intends to say rather than reading her comment literally. While our knowledge of family planning, contraception, safe elective abortion and family planning has been put into practice throughout the world dropping fertility down to replacement or sub-replacement levels in 48 countries, unmet need for birth control in 80% of the world categorized as “less or least developed [excluding China]” has put global population on course to grow roughly between by 2.5 and 3.5 billion by 2100.

    Some have expressed incredulity at the time frame required for bringing runaway population, or global warming for that matter, under control. Trends can turn around quickly but momentum is not on our side today. Whatever the pain and misery, the numbers lock in a gradual process requiring several hundred years.

    Sudden miraculous invention and dissemination of carbon neutral power on a global scale could manage climate change within this century but that outcome, to put it mildly, is unlikely.

    Human population would continue to explode even if every women bore no more than 2 children on average starting tomorrow. (more precisely replacement fertility varies roughly between 2.1 and 2.3 children factoring in country-specific under-15 female mortality). Today 26% of world population is under 15 with countries like Nigeria boasting 44% under 15. Population growth will be propelled not by fewer women having more children but paradoxically by more women, entering their reproductive years, having fewer children. After topping off around 2100, only then can sub-replacement fertility kick in over consecutive generations to reduce population.

    Our dilemma is reflected in a paraphrase of an old Mel Brooks joke: Stop the car! Stop,! she screamed….I can’t! I can’t,! he shouted… I have to slow down first.



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  • Perhaps remedy was overly ambitious. Perhaps, were there not forces set to undermine the best intentions of family planning advocates across the globe, the situation would be improved? I get a little carried away with my own wild imaginings.
    Is it safe to say that the situation ( population pressure) is going to get worse before it gets better? Is it also safe to say that things could be ‘less worse’ if all interested parties were pulling in the same direction?



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  • I’m with you all the way, Nitya: “Things could be “less worse” if all interested parties are pulling in the same direction.” No coercion…No diktat, just international support for poor nations trying to build a family planning infrastructure serving every city and tenement slum and reaching out to every village in the countryside and every farm – every woman; every man. The ultimate responsibility rests with sovereign governments and the consent of the governed at every level. Over time, birth control can only become effective when the consensus of the “interested” people openly proclaims its value and practice.

    Diverging from a flippant scenario evoked by Olgun depicting the poor selling contraceptives rather than using them, I can foresee far more grim outcomes. If some native and foreign personnel staffing clinics and reproductive health centers should be murdered by mobs or terrorists hyped on conspiracy theories and superstition then the job will become that much harder. Once more the responsibility for making fertility-reduction policies work successfully will reside with the people. If the human right to reproductive freedom and access to the means for achieving it continue to advance apace, then the generic woman who wants 2 or 3 children instead of 5 or 10 will at last find her voice.

    Little will happen overnight. We are an animal species who confront problems thousands of years in the making. Impatiently wishing for an invisible silver bullet – we must instead adopt a pragmatic vision for the centuries ahead. Homo Sapiens, like any other species, are in it for the long run.



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  • Melvin,

    It might seem flippant to you but I have seen eight year olds in South Africa, Istanbul and Indonesia selling oranges, paper tissues, nuts etc, on busy highways in slow and fast lanes. I saw a young boy grimacing and crying in pain with a broken arm trying to sell tissues in Istanbul in 40 degrees. I knew that I could give him his takings for the day but he would be beaten and sent out again. I can only imagine the difference between us is that I come from near these circumstances and know what it takes to survive. If it can be sold for food, it will be.



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  • Olgun. That’s probably why a long acting injection of Depo Provera is the better option. A barrier method is protection against AIDS but they can be sold, as you stated. It’s hard to imagine a life lived at survival level.



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  • It solves one problem Nitya but creates ten. The cost either to country or to those that have to travel to get the clinics etc. The problem has to be tackled as a one for all policy or its a waste of time. It will fall apart if one family has advantage over another in the mortality stakes. My policy has always been that education and wealth bring responsibility.



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  • Olgun, I don’t intend to degrade the ruminations flippancy may add to the broader discussion. However, you did suggest that the “abject poor” would sell the contraceptive products they received from clinics to solvent customers at a profit. The Family Planning campaign envisioned here would provide contraception -the pill, IUDs, Depo Provera injections as well as abortion and reproductive health services under a regime of free public service. Birth control pharmaceuticals and devices would have no market value in such a system because anyone regardless of income could obtain them at no cost. Socially responsible people of means could be expected to pay de facto voluntary nominal fees on a sliding scale indexed to income (something like a small tax). Anyone who wanted to beat the safe, low-cost, regulated system, could proceed to buy ostensibly “pure” birth control pills on the black market. Let customers foolish enough to purchase pills from miscreants ingest them at their own risk.

    I mourn the lot of the little boy, and millions like him, selling oranges and tissues in the street. I sympathize with your reluctance to give him a days earnings only to see him beaten and sent out again. But what magic wand can you wave to transform him into a wealthy and educated citizen?

    Of course adequate nutrition and fundamental education are indispensable to anyone born into various levels of poverty who wish to achieve a minimally decent standard standard of living. Why assume that simple uneducated people cannot also learn simultaneously how to use birth control conscientiously to prevent the birth of children they will abuse or simply do not want?

    I get the various exercise-in-futility, cycle-of-poverty, chicken-or-egg objections. But we have to start somewhere. Why not make it a “both-and” project by limiting family size even as we facilitate nutrition, education and economic growth. A mother (and father) with 2 or 3 children are more likely (subsidized with government/international/charitable aid) to nurture the bodies and minds of their children than parents with 5 or 7 children overwhelmed by privation, inertia and dysfunction.



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  • Melvin,

    I can see where we differ in that you have already waved the magic wand and gone way ahead of me. You have found the finances and the agreement from governments, skipped the corruption and the need for these families to produce wage earning children. I have to start much before your scenario and think of food and shelter first. We do have to start somewhere and that is where I think we should start. Finding the money just for that seems hard enough without worrying about how we are going to supply entire populations, rich and poor, with contraception. In my scenario, only the poor will be eligible purely on economic terms. We can’t even find enough money to convert the relatively rich west into changing its ways on global warming so I really can’t see a sudden cash flow into the developing world on the scale needed. Not only drugs but people to administer them effectively. I am not sure if people understand the organisation needed for people who have more important things like survival in mind. Just popping down to the clinic is not in their vocabulary.



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  • Hi, Olgun. I remember seeing billboards in Mexico in the 1980s that read, “Small Families Live Better.” Today fertility has dropped to 2.2 very near replacement. Iran of all places has achieved a sub-replacement rate of 1.8.

    Contrary to what some believe, contraceptives: the pill, IUDs, injections and the rest are not expensive. About $600 to $800 a year in the U.S.

    I appreciate what you are saying. Men and women living in absolute poverty under governments which provide little or no public services, could well find themselves indifferent or even hostile to suggestions to limit family size. Today however no one lives in an information vacuum. Sooner rather than later they will get the message and do a turn around if nations and the world find the will to articulate goals, educate and supply the means.

    Despite over a billion people living under these harrowing “least-developed” conditions, elsewhere poverty exacerbated by cultural and religious opposition, have generally not thrown up barriers to declining fertility. Family planning projects subsidized at the national level and financed additionally with foreign and international aid, have a proven track record in bringing down birthrates in what were very recently poor, high fertility nations.



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  • @Melvin and others.

    If the planets carrying capacity is 1 billion people, and we’re at 7 billion, heading for 9-12 billion, while all of your solutions are commendable, none or all of them together can’t reduced the population of earth fast enough to stave off hitting the wall. To get it back to a 10,000 year sustainable civilization. Which is my point. We don’t have the time to allow any of your solutions to work. The population bomb is insoluble politically and the fuse is lit. Nero fiddling while Rome burns??

    Just as the earth resets the population of sub Saharan Africa every few years with a drought, so the planet will reset the earth’s total population when we hit the wall. And this folks, is an avoidable yet inevitable outcome.



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  • Hi David. I understand your concerns. I don’t pretend to know what the carrying capacity is though I agree it is limited. I’ve heard the one billion figure before but if it’s accurate we better kiss our buttocks goodbye now. I’m “hoping” that the planet can support optimally between 3 and 3.5 billion because that number back in the 60s and early 70s seemed to allow for reasonable urbanization and economic development. If I’m wrong then cutting back to around 2 to 2.5 billion may be feasible. The crucial provision for 3.5 billion would assume advances in resource conservation, recycling, pollution reduction and innovations in cleaner efficient fuels.

    I appreciate your observation about how overpopulation may have already doomed our species without allowing enough time for remedy. My view is that population growth is currently driving misery and conflict more than it signals extinction. Poverty, drought, natural disasters, famine, infant-childhood mortality and general mortality, civil sectarian warfare and the other Malthusian “checks” have not put a dent in world population growth. National and international infrastructure can supply enough food and basic medical care to offset the losses while fertility remains significantly (but not hugely) above replacement levels on a global scale.

    Though it may seem cold comfort, if the world’s people can average between 1.6 and 1.7 children per woman indexed against a stable population of 10 billion by 2100, world population would fall to around 3 billion in 150 to 200 years. Understandably some will think it’s already too late and “waiting” over a century under such a fertility regime is ludicrous. A global one-child policy producing a net fertility of 1.5 could achieve the goal in 120 years but realistically I would allow up to 200 years.

    Though I may be indulging in wish-fulfillment, I believe there are signs of hope if we can get people to start talking about sub-replacement fertility that can implement population reductions to a sustainable level. I’ve said before that we’re in this for the long run whatever the unpredictable outcome.



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