Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: The Population Conundrum continued...

In last weeks MUSING I talked about the population aspect of sustainability. The point I tried to make was that the global population growth rate has already dropped, and the population is already headed to a stable state of about 10-11 billion people by the end of the century. In any case, whatever new measures we may put in place for further bringing the population down (if we feel it necessary), they will not show immediate results, whereas in order to achieve sustainability in the near future we need to act NOW. Therefore, although sustainability is a function of both population and the lifestyle choice, we have to take the population as it is, and focus on identified the lifestyle choice(s) that make our existing or future population sustainable. 

However, in order to make the right choice that will remain relevant for the future, we need to be able to accurately predict the future population trend. In the last MUSING, I focused on the 'business as usual' scenario. But if you look in history you can discern that the human population, both global and local, is influenced by a number of external factors, and some of these are also related to environmental changes. So, this 'equation' is not as simple as it looks! Our lifestyle choice will impact the environment, which in turn will impact the availability of resources AND population size, which in turn will impact the sustainability of our lifestyle choice! If we make wrong assumptions and wrong choices, this feedback loop can make the situation spiral out of control very fast! 

There are 'doomsday' scenarios which predict that by the middle of this century the tolerance limits of the earth's ecosystem within which humanity can safely survive and thrive will be breached, leading to a catastrophic civilisational collapse. It is predicted that this catastrophic collapse will kill off about half of the human population, bringing our numbers down to about 3 billion people. That in itself will ease the pressure on the natural resources and there will be a sort of a recovery. So the good news in this scenario is that humanity as a whole will survive the crisis and emerge with a new civilisation, and another chance of achieving sustainability. The bad news is that the chance of survival for each of our children and grandchildren individually would be only 50%. 

As far as this scenario is concerned, there isn't much that we can do once the catastrophic collapse sets in. We can try to delay this, but till we reach a stage where there is a drastic reduction in our numbers, we are not going to get back on track with sustainability. We can only hope to increase the chance of survival for ourselves, and our future generations by learning to adapt to the rapid changes around us. Learning to live comfortably on minimum resources would be a very very useful skill indeed in such difficult times, if this comes to pass! 

What is the likelihood of such a scenario? Well, even the best statistical models cannot predict anything with 100% probability, so nobody knows for sure. Under such circumstances, it is always prudent to prepare for the worst case scenario. It would therefore be wiser to live within the tolerance limits of the earth, as they are identified now, while we also keep working on stretching the limits through innovation and invention. However, it would be dangerous to just assume that solutions will be found in time and continue to exploit resources indiscriminately. 

For those interested in collapse scenarios, a very realistic and clear discussion can be found on http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2011/05/11/transition-and-the-collapse-scenario/

Please do compare the predicted world view of 2015, with the current situation around us. There are enough similarities between prediction and reality to make this scenario very very probable. 


While the MUSINGS are my thoughts on sustainability, I am going to break away from this particular thread for the next week, to answer a question that has been raised by several people on various occasions. I was once again asked this question recently, and so I thought I might as well use this platform to put down my answer. 

The question is: What is our best bet to meet our escalating energy requirement - renewables or nuclear energy?

Priyadarshini Karve
Director, Samuchit Enviro Tech


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