Sunday, April 10, 2005

If We Open The Seacocks, Is The Ship Unseaworthy?

Looking at my referrers lately, it's becoming increasingly clear that peak oil awareness has spread, and I'm getting search terms like "peak oil skeptic", "positive views on oil peak", and the like. It's little wonder; there's hardly anybody out there who recognizes the problems ahead who isn't going into full paranoia, head-for-the-hills mode (viz, Matt Savinar).

I sometimes wonder that a good part of this is that the millennialists aren't all that interested in doing the numbers, unless of course you count the number of dead. One recent Malthusian to try yet again to model the grim equasions of death is Russell Hopfenberg at Duke University, as quoted in (and hosted by) Anthropik. This latter blog is a self-described primitivist, of the same stripe I wrote about in January. Interestingly enough, he does make an attempt to comprehend why the Malthusians have lost debate after debate. Ceding the point that humans are capable of rational thought,

Humans are different from other animals. We can think. We can rationally observe the situation, and decide for ourselves how many children to have. While this is certainly true of individuals, groups are governed by much more deterministic criteria. For every individual who decides to be responsible and only have 2.1 children, another will take advantage of the space that individual has opened by having seven.
Which, of course, explains the fact that the average family size in the US is declining. Ah, but wait, he's got an argument to deal with that, too:
If population is a function of food supply, why is the most significant growth taking place in those areas producing the least food?

The answer, I think, lies in globalization. How much of what you ate today came from your own bioregion? Unless you do a significant amount of your grocery shopping at Farmers' Markets or eat only USDA-certified organic food, probably not a lot. Interestingly, those same countries which produce so much food but don't see it translate into their population, are also the heaviest exporters, and the impoverished countries with significantly rising growth rates are often the recipients.

But as usual, the author (unidentified from several contributors) doesn't bother asking the really primo, bonus question for $64,000 that needs asking: why are women procreating less? Looking at a national birthrate map, it's plainly clear: living in rich countries causes declines in birthrates; living in poor countries causes increases in birthrates. Now, I note exceptions for countries like China that have taken draconian steps to reduce birthrates, or Russia, where other factors have led to birthrate declines, but in the main, food supply has nothing to do with population. Once again, it comes down to technology. Conveniently enough, he gets himself out of this obvious jam with this choice bit of circular reasoning:
My thesis is that the "population problem," as conventionally conceived, is a member of this class [of insoluable problems]. How it is conventionally conceived needs some comment. It is fair to say that most people who anguish over the population problem are trying to find a way to avoid the evils of overpopulation without relinquishing any of the privileges they now enjoy. They think that farming the seas or developing new strains of wheat will solve the problem -- technologically. I try to show here that the solution they seek cannot be found. The population problem cannot be solved in a technical way, any more than can the problem of winning the game of tick-tack-toe.
In other words, get on the cart, you, a morbid and Procrustean solution if ever there were one. Do advances in migrating cyanobacteria to live in sugarcane not count? Or practical trials of cyanobacteria-innoculated wheat? As one poster on a recent thread on The Ergosphere cried in exasperation,
... a lot of these Peak Oil types seem similarly misanthropic, gleefully rubbing their hands together at the thought of the coming apocalypse. They are at the bow of the Titanic and not only see the danger but are cheering on the iceberg.
What's worse, they're cheering on the iceberg just so they can say they were right at last. At this point I repeat my offer for any millennialists so inclined, knowing they're unlikely to take me up on it.