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Why the U.N. newest U.N.

s world population projections

This one

should be viewed as an emergency

Why the U.N.'s newest world population 's projections should be viewed as an emergency
Caution - If you notice or experience J J-curve symptoms while reading this article, contact your local physicist immediately.

** May 5, 2011

This J-curve
is an unfolding disaster

This one,
like the trajectory of a near-earth earth asteroid, threatens global obliteration

Many have already read the newest world population projections released by the United Nations in early est May 2011 which .raised. their previous worldwide medium-fertility assessments so that they are now projecting that earth's worldwide population will not only reach NINE billion in just three decades (by about 2041), but also that we are heading toward more than TEN billion by the close of this century (see graph de( picted upper left). In the past, most of us would simply have focused on the newest medium-fertility promedium jections. This new case is different, however, because: (1) The newest projections (May, 2011) have just informed us that not only will our ninth billion likely arrive ) 2011 .sooner. than previously expected (2041) but also that the newest U.N. medium-fertility projections show us fertility headed toward .even higher number than contemplated by their previous medium numbers. medium-fertility projections (ten billion instead of nine billion).

(2) In addition, the U.N.s newest high-fertility projections, which contemplate an average fertility that ) high fertility is just child per woman higher than the medium-fertility projections, threaten to become, like a fertility near-earth asteroid, a potential real earth real-world possibility with a trajectory that could carry us to a collision ssibility between our planet and more than NFIFTEEN BILLIONN of us (15.8 billion) by centurys end. ) (3) Thirdly, not only do we still have the twin problems of populapopula
tion growth (an additional billion added every 12-to-15 years) and ed 12 overpopulation, but a quite serious matter of MPOPULATION MOMENTUMM is now emerging as a third dangerous, highly unforgiving, and nearly inescapable factor that is threatening to slam into our civilizations, our planet, and the oonlyy planetary life-support nly machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe.
(What is this thing called population momentum?) What momentum?

It is a directional momentum that, like an aircraft carrier, takes a long time to slow down or reverse even with all engines full full-astern. And one classical recipe for population momentum is an enormously large portion of a population that is less than 20 20-years-old (which means their childbearing years lie just ahead), combined with high fertility rates, which factors, when combined, produce a cascade of births that can carry a nation (or a planet) into nearly unstoppable demographic destinies.

Firstly, right now, literally hundreds of millions of earths Under-20s generation around the world, 20s

including enormous portions of their number in the worlds poorest and highest numbers highest-fertility LDCs, are beginning to enter their childbearing years right now. And, all other factors held equal, their demographic decisions and family-size decisions, non non-decisions, and events in the immediate future (right now) (and over the next 20-30 years) can unleash or impart a demographic momentum to humankinds num 30 numbers that can become nearly inescapable short of catastrophe. If their quite powerful generation makes hat exactly the same (or largely-similar) fertility and family-size decisions that already prevail in their counsimilar) tries right now (say 4, 5, or more children per w woman), humankinds worldwide demographic future will nds enter a powerful trajectory toward the U.N.s higher-end population numbers. higher
[This is not hyperbole. In the months immediately following the U.N.s May 2011 population projections, two of the worlds foreThis most demographers (Joseph Chamie, former Director of the U.N.s population division, and Carl Haub, a 30 30-year-veteran demographer with the PRB) separately wrote three articles warning exactly of such high-end trajectories. Links to their articles are as high end t follows]:

Chamie, J. 2011. As Africa Multiplies (11 July 2011) Chamie, J. 2011. Africas Demographic Multiplication
( 13 June 2011)

Haub, C. 2011. What If Experts Are Wrong On World Population Growth?

As a second example, suppose that d demographic projections (guesstimates) envision an estimated one jections billion child-bearing couples 20-to 30 years from now, but then their expected or hoped to-30 hoped-for declines in fertility rates ddo not occurd at all or do not occur as rapidly as imagined. If those near-term intervening years result in 1.5 billion child child-bearing couples (instead of the projected one billion) then applying billion), the same fertility rates to either future group (1.5 billion couples versus one billion couples) will result in the 1.5 billion couples adding 50% more offspring to the next generation, with the effects of these nearn, near

term higher numbers strongly tending to cascade subsequent and succeeding generations into still-more higher-than-expected numbers.

(1) So how close is t this near earth object to the obliterating collision trajectory? This object and its obliterating collision are so close that the only thing that worldwide fertility rates have to do is to average just child per woman higher than the U.N.s medium-fertility estimates for the fertility calamitous 15.8 billions impacts to emerge. If a near-earth asteroid were on a path towar the earth, astronomers, NASA, and international space earth toward agencies would launch attempts to "nudge" the object out of its collision orbit
but that nudging would have to BEGIN when the object is still far enough away for the nudging to have an effect.

Given our demographics, this object that is about to hit us is FIFTEEN to 15.8 BILLION humans on a planet whose machinery already started to break at populations of five and six billion

so that the emergency "nudging" that we have to accomplish is to ensure that the world's highest birth rates start nudging lower beginning TODAY, because EVERY hour, day, and instant that we delay has the effect of increasingly locking in the potential collision trajectory so that the momentum toward the collision itself becomes more and more inescapable
Below are three links that outline threats to the United States, humanity, civilization, and vast, vast, portions of earth's biota and planetary life support machinery.

First there is this NY TIMES U.N. Population news story from May 3, 2011 (2) In addition, the U.N.s complete country-by-country. world, and regional population country country. projections are accessible at
For interesting first readings select the U.N.'s "all population variants" teresting displays for the World, and for India, Nigeria, and Pakistan

(3) In addition, a collection of freely freely-downloadable population-environment environmentsustainability resources are accessible at
(What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet)

Thus, EMERGENCY preventative efforts are an imperative immediately - RIGHT NOW

for this emergency is .not. about an emergency that can be addressed later, toward the close of this century,
because the necessary preventive actions must begin .NOW. - immediately
because unless fertility rates in the highest-fertility LDCs .BEGIN. coming down NOW, (and then continue to decline by universal access to ethical and voluntary means of birth control) we could be headed toward billion by the close of this century


Speaking as a biologist with special interests in biospherics and whole-systems ecology, earth's carrying capacity for an industrialized humanity at a US / Western European standard of living is on the order of TWO billion or less, and biospheric things are breaking now.

(2) What small variations and changes could shift us directly into the 15.8 billion obliteration trajectory?

First, for most of the past decade, demographers have projected (medium variants) that world population would reach a peak of about nine billion by 2050, but now, as of May, 2011, humankinds estimated peak numbers have not only been increased but the arrival of our ninth billion is now projected to arrive more quickly than previously projected which mean that the previous numbers that the world has been working with may very well turn out to have been underestimates of the actual real-world numbers that eventually emerge. So not only do we still have the twin problems of population growth and overpopulation, but a quite serious unfolding threat of population momentum has also emerged (Just suppositions or human error alone, for example, could result in underestimates, but in this case, accidental underestimates risk humanitarian, biospheric, and civilizational calamity.) Secondly, as a quick example, sscientists have already extended life-span in laboratory organismsm SIX-FOLD so that even a tiny 10-15 year fractional extension in humans would toss current U.N. projections right out the window. (See our discussion at the close of this note for further information on this) There are also OTHER policies and factors that could tilt us into the high-fertility collision trajectories such as:

Brilliant and well-funded work in medicine and mortality reductions China back-tracking from its one-child policies

Fertility numbers in the most populous high-fertility nations (India and Nigeria, ertility high for example) that do not decline at all or do not decline as much as expected If a significant number of regions persist in current fertility (constant fertility scenarios) f (constant If some governments pay people to have more children If economic interests continue to selfishly promote population growth erests because it fuels the economics of their population-growth Ponzi scheme.

In addition, demographic theorists have traditionally tended to mographic envision the demographic tr transition as a classical "onetime" event, when in real-world conditions, one new medical world advance and mortality reduction after another have the effect of postponing the expected transition over and over again so transition, that the transition with its period of skyrocketing populations is never allowed to proceed to completion. completion
(See our addenda for additional discussion of this.) l this.

Footnote: Each of our billions is a truly enormous number, so that we are actually asking much, much more of our socie societies and our planet than we generally imagine, because each of our billions is a truly enormous number
(How enormous? Imagine a student whose school district requires compleent require tion of one billion homework questions in order to graduate. Next assume that one conscientious student decides to complete this requirement at a rate of 100 questions per night, five nights per week, 52 weeks per year. How long would it take to complete such an assignment?

Hint: The answer is 38,461 years, so that if a cave student began this task 20,000 years ago when ice was one mile thick over Michigan, Ohio and rs, cave-student Wisconsin, and worked conscientiously from then until now, he or she would only have 18,461 years to go before finishing their assignment - and finis

that is how many additional people we are adding to our planet every twelve to fifteen years.

Footnote: Data sets that produce J-curves are signals of excurves traordinarily powerful, dangerous, counterintuitive, and potenpoten tially calamitous events, progressions, and phenomena phenomena. .
(Consult your local physicist for classical examples examples).

Footnote: Although the U.N.'s high-fertil fertility estimates project a worldwide human population of 15.8 billion by century's end, the real-world is unlikely to allow such numbers to emerge, as number the impacts, damage, and price that will be demanded for such numbers will likely be billions of deaths.
(Does anyone actually imagine, for example, that it will be the 18-to-30 year-old young male militia members who are the first to die of starvation? Or will it be starvation the women, the children, the babies, the ill, and the elderly and any edible animal , weighing more than ten or twenty kilograms?

Four reasons why world population numbers that actually emerge may be closer to the U.N.'s high-fertility projections
(or could be even higher)

I. ..Life-extension..
Over the past fifteen years, researchers have succeeded in extending life-span in laboratory organisms SIX-FOLD (an equivalent extension in humans would be 500 years) Note that a similar achievement in humans would necessitate replacement level fertility rates of 2/10ths of a child per woman per century, and that even a tiny fractional such extension in humans (say 10-20 years) would have the effect of tossing current U.N. and demographic projecttions right out the window. For a useful review paper, see Kenyon, C., 2005. The plasticity of aging: insights from long-lived mutants. Cell 120 (25 Feb 2005): 449-460.
And, in a 2005 interview with BBC, Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey recently suggested that "the first 1000-year-old human may have already been born."

And perhaps some fractional portions of such extensions are not so unlikely or impossible as we might initially imagine. Over the past one hundred years, for example, civilization has followed a repeated pattern following new discoveries and technical advances. First there is an initial achievement or discovery that is quickly followed by rapid advances, proliferation, and wide and novel applications. A good example of this is illustrated by the development of aeronautics: At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew a heavier-than-air vehicle for twelve seconds and a distance of 120 feet. Less than seven decades later, U.S. astronauts traveled to the moon, landed on its surface, and returned safely to earth again in just over one week. And similar patterns have also characterized the development of computers, DNA technologies, communications, and molecular biology each beginning with technical advances, followed by quick proliferation and progression to today's capabilities with breathtaking speed. All of this suggests that today's advances in medicine, biotechnology, and molecular genetics (including early work like that seen with Caenorhabditis) may have far-reaching impacts on life-span, mortality rates, and demographics in the decades ahead. As E. O. Wilson once noted, for example, genetic engineers will certainly aim for greater longevity" and, if such engineering proves even "...partly successful, it will create vast social and economic dislocations (Wilson, 1998). And, as we suggest here, such advances may well cause humanity to further overshoot calamitous demographic and ecological thresholds.

II. ..Demographic Transition Theory New Questions..

Suppose that unexpected medical and technical advances and rapid implementation bring about a sudden reduction in mortality. Quite often, the benefits of each such advance can begin to be realized relatively quickly by immediately beginning to save lives and reduce mortality (imagine anti-malarial projects, for example). At the same time, however, lengthy lag-times or delays occur when traditions, social customs, and fertility adjustments do not occur for decades, if at all. In this circumstance, prevailing demographic theory envisions a period of demographic transition during which there is a time-delay before fertility reductions occur to reflect the reduced mortality and during this lag-time, populations skyrocket as births greatly exceed the lowered death rates. Finally, however (perhaps after one or more generations), transition theory postulates a gradual decline in fertility rates that slowly reduces them to levels commensurate with mortality rates, at which time the size of the population stabilizes. Thus, demographers commonly envision our time of soaring populations as a transition period during which fertility rates have not yet caught up to our falling mortality rates. And they hope, imagine, and suppose that as development takes place, the transition will complete itself any decade now.

A significant difficulty with such hopes and expectations, however, is that they may be largely or entirely subverted as science, medicine, and technology lower mortality rates not just once, but over and over and over again, repeatedly so that we live in a perpetual state of transition. In other words, we repeatedly extend and perpetuate the period of demographic transition (with its skyrocketing populations) so that its completion never occurs or is repeatedly postponed.
In effect, each of our breakthroughs in medicine and longevity re-initiate the transition period, delaying its completion and extending its duration more and more - so that our falling fertility rates are never allowed to catch up.

Notice, then, that dramatic, unexpected, and repeated reductions in mortality can offset or cancel-out gains that we might otherwise anticipate based on declining fertility. As fertility rates slowly and gradually adjust to an initial mortality reduction, todays genetics, technologies, and medical advances institute a second, third, fourth, and fifth mortality reduction in increasingly quick succession. As a result, falling fertility never catches up to the multiple new reductions in mortality and the interim stage of the transition (with its period of soaring population) is never completed. (It will be completed eventually, of course, but with each delay in the transition, the completion is increasingly likely to occur as a collapse.) What current demographic transition theory does not fully articulate, therefore, is the rapidity with which science, technology, and medicine currently reduce death rates so quickly (and repeatedly) that offsetting fertility reductions do not (or cannot) occur in the short times available. In effect, falling fertility is never able to completely catch-up and conclude the transition, because science and medicine keep perpetually extending the transition over and over again. In the meantime, of course, our already exploding populations continue to rise dangerously higher. And finally, the coup de grace of all this is that the emerging advances in medicine and life-extension seem set to perhaps amplify and worsen our current overshoot and carry us calamitously past natural thresholds and tipping points that should not be transgressed. Each such advance, therefore, acts to postpone, cancel out or neutralize a key expectation of the demographic transition theory and repeatedly delays completion of the expected transition so that it never occurs or it never ends until our degree of overshoot is so great that complete collapse can no longer be avoided.

III. ..Wastes and Eradication of Natural Systems..

By supposing that "running-out-of" food, water or other resources or "remaining amounts of open-space" are the key dangers posed by overpopulation, we may be allowing ourselves to be distracted from two other factors that may be equallly critical, or may even bring us down first: Our daily worldwide production and release of .WASTES. as well as our massive degree of worldwide .sheer physical damage to. and .eradication of immense portions of earth's biospheric life-support machinery. Population complacency not only contributes to current crises in hunger, poverty, and governance, but invites such factors to persist and worsen, while simultaneously ignoring other potentially-calamitous factors such as: (1) Our exploding avalanches of societal and industrial wastes, and (2) Our sheer levels of worldwide physical damage to and eradication of ever-larger portions of earth's biospheric life support machinery.
Regarding this latter point (eradication and physical damage), imagine a team of astronauts in a space vehicle if they were to cannibalize 95% of their guidance and propulsion systems, degrade 87% of their CO2 scrubbers, and destroy 93% of their heat shields, computer codes, and other lifesupport systems. In a similar way, try to imagine the owner of a new and pristine automobile who begins to systematically degrade its multiple operating systems, degrading 50% of its steering system, 75% of its tires, and then destroying its carburetor, most of its spark plugs, half of its axles and brake shoes, and 93% of its ignition and electrical systems, while simultaneously pouring contaminants into its gasoline, oil, radiator, battery, transmission fluid, and brake fluid. And then suppose that this individual can't understand why his automobile, which "has always worked in the past," doesn't function anymore. Not so bright, is he?

Do we know anyone who seems to treat the only planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe in a similar way?

No rational astronauts, of course, would ever dream of inflicting such damage upon the vehicle that sustains their lives in space, and the rest of us would never dream of inflicting such damage upon our automobiles. Amazingly, however, we seem to suppose that we can systematically destroy, eradicate, and dismantle the only planetary lifesupport machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe and to presume that it will nevertheless continue to function as it has always done in the past. Notice especially that the above has nothing to do with "running-out-of" food or resources or anything else but instead suggests the enormity of our policy errors when it comes to the degree of sheer physical damage that we are inflicting today on earth's biospheric life-support machinery. Since Earth's carrying capacity for an industrialized humanity with a high standard of living for all is on the order of two billion or less, our policymakers should become immediately familiar with the topics outlined in this article as well as classical scientific studies of "climb-and-collapse" population outcomes in real-world populations.

IV. ..Technology? Or hunter-gatherers with machine guns?..

There are economic entities who profit from never-ending population growth or others who ask us to suppose that technology will save us or human ingenuity and cleverness will save us, or free markets will save us, or that all the additional Einsteins per billion will save us. Note, however, that no amount of technology, additional Einsteins, nor free-markets, ingenuity, cleverness, nor inventiveness managed to save the passenger liner Titanic from a decision-maker who: (a) ignored six specific and repeated warnings, (b) was incautious and made wrong assessments and decisions, (c) proceeded as though things such as icebergs (limits) did not exist, and (d) mistakenly imagined that his vessel (which, after all, had never sunk in the past) was unsinkable. And in planetary terms, we dont have just one "decision-maker-in-chief" who can make mistakes, blunders, and wrong decisions, we have at least hundreds of them. It might be wise to be wary, therefore, of those who ask us to drink the assorted flavors of assertions and suppositions that comprise their complacency kool-aid. In the real-world, our technologies act as a double-edged sword that can cut both ways in that they are NOT always beneficial, but can also often be decidedly harmful, or have unforeseen or unintended deleterious effects.
Earlier in this article, for example, we have seen that even life-extension advances could have profound implications for demographics and world population, or might someday necessitate replacement fertility rates of just 2/10ths of a child per woman (per century), or even tip us so sharply into overshoot that we experience die-off and collapse.

(A) Many technological advances, for example can be used in ways, or directed toward ends, that are decidedly harmful to ourselves or our planet. DDT and CFCs for instance, are two early examples that come to mind. Similarly, chain saws and earth-moving machinery now amplify our ability to cut more forests, more completely, more quickly, and more efficiently than ever before, so that we can now eliminate in a single year hundreds of thousands of hectares that in all of previous history could have: (a) been exploited in tiny, sustainable amounts over long periods of time, and (b) could continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere and generate both rain and oxygen.
And while converting the world's forests into toothpicks, cardboard, and teak decks for yachts, these same chain saws and earth-moving efficiencies also permit us to deforest tropical rainforests, eradicate millions of years of biodiversity and genetic information, and weaken or obliterate the forest transpiration processes that help generate and maintain the rainfall that the forests need. Notice then, that these technologies do not save our planet from shortsightedness or greed, but only amplify the speed, power, and efficiency with which we convert humanity's planetary legacy of ecological services and natural systems into CEO bonuses.

(B) As another example, industrialized fishing fleets now employ drift nets, sonar, helicopters, and GPS technologies that permit the fleets to find and catch more fish, more quickly, more completely, and more efficiently than ever, so

that the simple existence of "technology" now empowers us to find and catch fish more efficiently than the fish themselves are at reproducing - raising the prospects of multiple collapses or the extinction of some or even many species, or even the prospect of, in the words of Meadows, Meadows, and Randers, "catching every last fish."
Meadows, D., D. Meadows, and J. Randers. 1991. Beyond the Limits. Chelsea Green Publishing, Post Mills, VT.

In short, we are a rapacious species, and one effect of our wondrous technologies has been to turn us into a species of "hunter-gatherers with machine guns."
Memorable phrase is after Sachs, J. 2008. Common Wealth: Economy for a Crowded Planet. The Penguin Press, NY.

(C) Next imagine all of our other "technologies" which can be luxurious on an individual basis: Computers, televisions, automobiles, air-conditioning, cell-phones, international travel, clothes-driers, motor boats, lawn mowers. The downside of these many luxuries or necessities, as desirable as they may be, is that each one, when it is manufactured, delivered, and used adds to each user's environmental footprint on our planet - to the point that our collective impacts become so damaging as to threaten our planet's worldwide life-support systems. (D) Additional Einsteins? Some "population-deniers" (serving economic entities, perhaps?) seem to ask us to imagine that, like a movie script, we can always count on science, ingenuity, technology, free-markets, or additional Einsteins to ride in at the last minute to save us and our entire planet from the consequences of our blunders, inaction, denial, and greed in order to preserve "business-as-usual" for just a few years more. In their efforts to induce complacency they offer up the sweet supposition that each of our additional billions will simply somehow result in more Einsteins to help save us. There are, of course, immediate problems with the "additional Einsteins" hypothesis. The first of these is the existence of at least a one-generation-long lag-time before any of those envisioned Einsteins will have reached an age (in their 20s at best) and acquired an educational level (if they are fortunate enough to be born into a nation with a quality educational infrastructure) capable of exerting any political, academic, or planet-wide influence whatsoever. Thus those who offer us the sweetly alluring "additional Einsteins" suppositions show NO COGNITION of whole-system collapse outcomes that can result from slow-responses, non-responses, lag-times, and delayed feedbacks. Secondly, such suppositions also fail to factor thresholds, tipping points, and unintended consequences into their calculations.
Secondly, of course, many mainstream economists and governing elites appear to pay insufficient attention to the Einsteins that we already have Nearly two decades ago, for example, the world's top scientific bodies warned humanity that "...if current predictions of population growth prove accurate and the pattern of human activity on the planet remains unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent ... irreversible degradation of the environment." Joint statement, officers of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Britains Royal Society, 1992

We thus see that we have a pronounced tendency to employ our cleverness in ways that hasten and deepen the damage that we cause, so that we routinely use our technologies, cleverness, and ingenuity in ways that amplify our adverse impacts (or that serve private greed as opposed to the public and biospheric good) and end up enabling us to make things worse at even faster rates. Even highly-desirable and seemingly-beneficial technologies that save lives, extend human life span, and/or reduce mortality can offset declining fertility and result in populations that were expected to stabilize to instead continue to grow - and sometimes faster than ever. Given that earth's carrying capacity for an industrialized humanity at a U.S. / Western European standard of living is on the order of two billion or less, policymakers and todays young people should, at a minimum, begin nudging our species, by voluntary and ethical means, away from the humanitarian, civilizational, and biospheric calamities that even nine or ten billion may elicit, much less the obliterating catastrophes embedded in projections of 15.8 billion just nine decades out.

Biospheric Literacy 101

Five PowerPoints / Five Days?

Imagine a "Five-days / Five PowerPoints" open-courseware pathway to population-environment and Biospherics 101 literacy that is downloadable and entirely free for use by scientists, students, and educators anywhere in the world - and that is achievable by any person, policymaker, or student over an easy period of one or two weeks SCRIBD HOME PAGE RESOURCES

Other factors to consider:

These and other freely-downloadable resources are accessible at hese downloadable and assorted freely downloadable graphs, data sets, and images are freely-downloadable accessible at www (dot) flickr (dot) com/photos/pali_nalu

Courtesy of The Wecskaop Project What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet Used with permission
Copyright 2011, Randolph Femmer. This article is entirely free for non-commercial use by scientists, students, and educators anywhere in the world.