Spaceship Earth

Over six billion human passengers and no free launch.

[Darwin fish]

 

 

OVERVIEW

The Family Tree of Life

Ecology - Society - Polity - Economy

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. ... The white man ... is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother but his enemy. ... Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

—Alleged to be from a letter written in 1855 to U.S. President Franklin Pierce by Chief Seattle of the Duwanish tribe of American Indians. [see myth]

The framework in which a forward-looking investor evaluates long-term investment opportunities can vary unexpectedly and significantly, thereby rendering any or all historical relationships null and void. This is why the theory of investment value is crucial to understand. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Some of the potential changes may result from activism by large institutional investors, the socially responsible investing movement, and the environmentally responsible investing movement. Therefore, it behooves the prudent investor concerned with building wealth for retirement, posterity and society to expect the unexpected.

Societal expenditures or investments generally are constrained by a limited budget at the local, regional and global levels. Not all public projects can be funded. For budgeting purposes, individual projects can be classified into three categories: emergency (imperative), necessity (determinative), and convenience (deliberative). Emergency projects are done without question in prudent haste. Necessary projects are done without question in a timely manner consistent with the overall vision without there being one right way. Convenient projects may or may not ever be done and can be debated at leisure. Unfortunately, what may be classified as an emergency at the global level may be categorized as only a necessity at a regional level and merely a convenience at a local level. What decision-taking process exists at these levels? Who decides?

In addition, the criteria of investment selection differ between private financial investments by individuals and businesses on one hand and public physical investments by governments on the other hand. In the case of public expenditures in support of a consensus long-term life-enhancing vision as opposed to stop-gap life-destroying short-term programs, the criteria do not include cost-benefit analyses, return on investment, or the time value of money. Rather, the overriding criteria is what most and best advances the vision. A realistic vision will be grounded in the physical limits to growth.

The social welfare function applies to all human beings in its most valid formulation. Impoverished nations can be characterized by a low gross or domestic national product per capita (GNP or DNP per capita). A poor nation with its population growing proportionately faster than its national economy is on a declining trajectory in the short term. Wealthy nations can be characterized by a high GNP or DNP per capita. An affluent nation with its national economy growing proportionately faster than its population is on an ascending trajectory in the short term. The history of the world reveals a long-term pattern of the wealthy haves being overrun by the impoverished have-nots, the so-called barbarians at the gates. These two trajectories are on a collision course, and this explosive dynamic will recur repeatedly until there is a worldwide classless society of the rich, achieved through technology, population control and a balance between materialistic and non-materialistic values..

A useful place to begin a study of the ecosphere and any limits to growth is the ecological concept of carrying capacity. It has been defined in different ways from simple human population to human load adjusted for variable consumption per capita. If every person in the world experienced a standard of living equal to the average citizen of the U.S., it would be a greater load than if everyone had a standard of living equal to the average citizen of the least developed country in the world.

A useful economic concept is market externality. An externality results in imperfect pricing because true costs and benefits are not fully reflected in market prices. This is more relevant to product markets (stuff) than to capital markets (paper claims on stuff). Some externalities are the result of open-access systems often referred to as commons.

The systems concept of a commons illustrates the difference between individual behavior and the collective behavior of a group of individuals. The game theoretic Prisoner's Dilemma is another way to illustrate the same concept as the Tragedy of the Commons. A related biological concept is Evolutionarily Stable Strategy. The ultimate metaphor of individual behavior in an organizational setting is the parable of the Emperor's New Clothes.

No monetized market is without externalities, if for no other reason, because true full costs are exceedingly difficult to identify and measure and are always based on a somewhat arbitrary allocation of costs that are shared by several products or by-products derived from the same production process. Taxes and regulations are instituted by governments to offset the undesirable aspects of some extreme externalities, and they in turn further distort the market pricing mechanism. The "invisible hand" of Adam Smith works well in theory but with all thumbs in some actual markets.

Thinking in terms of systems that are dynamic with feedback loops with long delayed and far displaced effects and that are complex with many variables and many more interactions seems to be a productive way to approach the population question. The issue of global human population growth seems to be a Rorschach test with responses ranging from ostrich-like head-in-the-sand oblivion at one extreme to doom-and-gloom alarmism at the other. It appears that most people agree on the basic facts but differ in their sense of urgency about the situation. "
Forecasts tell you something about the forecaster, but nothing about the future."

The population question is part of a larger problem that can be called the earth question. A simple model of the earth question that may be useful includes the following interrelated four factors and two sub-factors:

Land — Population — Resources — Distribution

Distribution — Power — Justice

A broad view of the land incorporates all resources and all populations; it includes soils, waters, flora, fauna, atmosphere, etc. Those resources and populations that constitute food for humans and food for the animals that supply food for humans are crucial to human survival. But all living things are interconnected in the so-called food web which is an inextricably intertwined congeries of changing convoluted food chains. The first three factors always exist, but distribution appears to be operative only when population exceeds the resources. When and where this occurs locally, the dynamic balance or unstable equilibrium extends to two additional factors: power and justice. In this context, justice refers to systemic, distributive justice as opposed to individual, retributive justice. Power is curtailed by justice at the point where societal unrest becomes unmanageable.

The central issues for all evolutionary biological entities (EBEs) are nourishment and reproduction, the critical heart of resources and populations, respectively. And for human beings and other creatures that reproduce sexually, these central preoccupations are food and sex. In the context of the food web, all EBEs are food for other EBEs. Historically, human sexual fecundity has been consciously limited in different cultures and eras by various practices including infanticide, euthanasia, cannibalism, warfare and birth control techniques. In addition, human populations were limited by natural disasters and competition with other EBEs from the multitudinous microscopic bacters to the large mammals. In spite of these limiting factors, human beings since their origin continue to collectively increase as a percentage of the world's biomass.

In an article in The Wall Street Journal, 28 December 1999, page A19, entitled "The Central Economic Lesson of This Century" by George Melloan, it is asserted that European politics is focused on achieving justice through income and wealth redistribution but has created welfare states which stifle individual initiative. This assertion goes to the heart of the problem of the individual and society.

In the
books section are cited some books and articles that may help to gain familiarity with the debate about the size, growth, and growth rate of the human population on Earth. In addition, there is a section of selected links. The number of human passengers on Spaceship Earth reached six billion in October 1999, and the last billion were added in the past 12 years alone. The total biomass of the species Homo sapiens sapiens as a percentage of the total planet biomass has been increasing from zero to ever larger proportions at an accelerating rate that is approaching life-threatening levels. Very non-sapient behavior.

Paradoxically, it appears that biodiversity in ecology, pluralism in society, and mixed systems in political economy jointly contribute to the survival of all life.

The Canon and the Great Conversation

controversy, n. A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the injurious cannonball and the inconsiderate bayonet. conversation, n. A fair for the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor. discussion, n. A method of confirming others in their errors. eloquence, n. The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white. faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel. mythology, n. The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later. non-combatant, n. A dead Quaker. oratory, n. A conspiracy between speech and action to cheat the understanding. A tyranny tempered by stenography. philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing. scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based. talk, v.t. To commit an indiscretion without temptation, from an impulse without purpose. truth, n. an ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time. Selected entries from The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Check out the full text of the master misanthrope's lexicon.

"When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything—you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him." — Robert A. Heinlein.


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