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Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already?

George Monbiot, Guardian
A powerful novel’s vision of a dystopian future shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, “their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl”. McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do? The only remaining resource is human. It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity’s time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. Civilisation is just a russeting on the skin of the biosphere, never immune from being rubbed against the sleeve of environmental change. Six weeks after finishing The Road, I remain haunted by it.

So when I read the UN’s new report on the state of the planet over the weekend, my mind kept snagging on a handful of figures.
(30 October 2007)

The Fat Man, The Population Bomb And The Green Revolution

Big Gav, Peak Energy (Australia)
…an exploration of some more of the history around The Limits To Growth and related memes.

…I’m fond of quoting Stewart Brand’s “4 environmental heresies”, one of which is that concern about population growth is unfounded now that it seems likely that it will stall at a level that can be sustainable, with the global population surge into cities driving the drop in growth rates (one of the reasons for my “cities are the future” slogan, even though some people don’t seem to be in favour of the idea or misinterpret what is going on).
(29 October 2007)
After a few paragraphs on other subjects, Big Gav launches into one of his mammoth round-ups — this time on population, food supply, die-off, “Limits to Growth” and thinktanker Herman Kahn.

Big Gav is a co-editor of the newly launched site: The Oil Drum: Australia / New Zealand.

Peak Oil And Famine: Four Billion Deaths

Peter Goodchild, Countercurrents
At some point in the early years of the 21st century, there will be a clash of two giant forces: overpopulation and oil depletion. That much has been known for a long time. It is also well known that population must eventually decline in order to match the decline in oil production.

A further problem, however, is that it will be impossible to get those two giant forces into equilibrium in any gentle fashion, because of a matter that is rarely considered: that in every year that has gone by – and every year that will arrive – the population of the earth is automatically adjusted so that it is almost exactly equal to its carrying capacity. We are always barely surviving.

Population growth is soaring, whereas oil production is plunging. If, at the start of any year, the world’s population is greater than its carrying capacity, only simple arithmetic is needed to see that the difference between the two numbers means that mortality will be above the normal by the end of that year. In fact, over the course of the 21st century there will be about 4 billion deaths (probably about 3.6, to be more precise) above normal.
(29 October 2007)
Criticism and comments at today’s Drum Beat at The Oil Drum. The discussion was kicked off by GliderGuider (“GliderGuider”) who wrote a recent article on population and energy (World Energy and Population: Trends to 2100).

Big Gav posted today a long round-up of thinking on the subject: The Fat Man, The Population Bomb And The Green Revolution.