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ESSAYS & OBSERVATIONS


POPULATION ISSUES


Issue 2697: Earth 2099: Earth's Plan B & Surviving in a warmer world. (Not published)

I can understand why growth obsessed politicians and business leaders driven by  consumerist values and a reverence for market forces continue to evade the population issue but I hoped  scientists would highlight it above all else as the primary subject that must be confronted for both the short and long term survival of our  civilisation. 

Most of our social and environmental problems are clearly secondary to the pressures of a population size that has far exceeded its healthy ideal, yet much of  the information coming from planners suggests they and the people they work for  see the finite size of the Earth as some kind of competitive challenge rather than a limitation, analogous to one of those absurd record breaking efforts to squeeze as many people as possible into a small space.  In Australia, a land already struggling with water issues the government would rather spend money on planning for further population growth than confront the urgent need to stop it.  In the report "Surviving in a warmer world" there is the "optimistic" suggestion that it will be possible for a  very unhealthy planet to accommodate a population of 9 billion despite the obvious fact of our current world being unable to support a significantly lesser number.  

Anyone who values a decent  quality of life must reject this tolerance of ongoing population growth. An end to growth is inevitable, only the timing and the means are negotiable. Every year we delay intervention makes the world a grimmer place and leaving the decision to market forces virtually guarantees a holocaust of global war, famine and disease.  Humanity as a whole needs to fully appreciate the link between unrestrained breeding and the growing mess around us -  the pollution, violence, disease,  depletion of  finite resources, the loss of  wilderness areas, species extinctions, the reduction our own personal space & living standards, declining freedom  and disappearing opportunities for home ownership.  

Education in all its forms will need to be backed by incentives  and appropriate action but if we as a species really are more intelligent than rabbits defining an environmentally sustainable global population and managing our own numbers accordingly  in a humane manner should be achievable.  Given that we seem to have reached the point where highly skilled and knowledgeable  people  think it is possible to work through the political minefield  that will impede efforts to  geoengineer  the global environment  or move whole nations  to more hospitable regions it must surely be no less possible  to design  an international campaign to swiftly cut the human birth rate. Through this method alone our  carbon emissions could be massively reduced within a few decades.  

Offered a choice between being packed battery hen style into polar megacities or exercising some reproductive restraint will most of us really be so stupid as to choose the former? If so humanity truly is doomed and there'll be one less vehicle for consciousness in the universe. 

6 March 2009

I added the following comment to New Scientist's website following their Sept 26 report "Ingenuity wins every time" by Jesse Ausubel.

How about quality of Life?

Technology of Star Trek proportions, if it's acquired in time, might help us to pack 20 billion humans onto this planet but why would any sane person want to do this? We all know the world we call home isn't getting any bigger. At some point we must adapt to a stable population - does anyone believe that adjustment will be easier to deal with when our absolute maximum population is reached? How will technology preserve the essential green space and wilderness areas required for our sanity and the planet's biodiversity? Exploiting the resources of other worlds and asteroids would help, but if the plan involves concentrating and expanding our cities upwards and underground what consideration is being given to the social issues resulting from such high density living conditions? Personally I can't imagine anything worse than living in the crowded human equivalent of a termite mound. A lot of us today treasure a personal space that includes the opportunity to own a home with a private garden to connect us to the world of Nature. To preserve that and so much more for the future all we need to do is to exercise some reproductive restraint - why is that so difficult?

27 Sept 2009

I added the following comment to New Scientist's website following their Sept 26 report "The Greedy Few" (P40).

The conclusion of this argument is that the world can sustain our current population level if rich countries reduce their consumption of resources. In other words the Earth can support 6.8 billion people if we all live like subsistence African villagers. Perhaps, but who really wants to live that way? Do subsistence African villagers not aspire to a higher standard of living? How many people in the "first world" are willing to sacrifice their living standards to the extent required? It won't be a case of two extremes meeting halfway, but more likely close to the current lowest level. In the end the issues of reproductive freedom and what constitutes an ideal global population will still have to be confronted - even if the Earth can support 6.8 billion of us living poorly any rise beyond that number will necessitate a further decline in living standards for all. Better, surely, to work now for the goal of a world with a much smaller population living very well.

28 Sept 2009.

I added the following comment to New Scientist's website following their Sept 26 report "Era of Decline" (P41).

Delaying or giving up the idea of retirement could prove more of a benefit than a sacrifice for a lot of people who currently lose their sense of purpose when they stop working. Hopefully we can afford to work fewer hours as we age but shouldn't plan to stop until health makes it necessary. At 48 I don't expect or want to stop working to support myself. Surely most people don't want to be looked after by others, we don't want to become a burden to family or society and we don't want to be forced to sell our hard won assets to sustain a handful of extra but increasingly miserable years of existence - we want to pass on those assets to a deserving younger generation.

Though not mentioned by Reiner Klingholz legalising voluntary euthanasia needs to be on the agenda in a world where there aren't enough young people or other options to support the elderly. What I expect to want most of all in my final years is a dignified and painless end at the time of my own choosing. It is more than just the most compassionate option for people who face terminal illness or can't look after themselves. With declining financial resources to draw on the health care system will face a long overdue reality check and that should cause it to focus on life quality rather than life extension. As individuals we are mortal and society can't afford to go on fighting that reality.

As our population reaches a sustainable level that will be a lot smaller than Reiner Klingholz appears to envisage, the environment can only benefit and our social conditions should too - imagine high density cities being substantially emptied and progressively demolished, the concrete and bitumen clutter replaced by farms, forests, and low density towns, while any labour shortages may be filled by machines. Now that sounds like a future to look forward to - clean, green and plenty of space for everyone.

28 Sept 2009.

 


Letter to "Cosmos" magazine responding to "The Population Bomb" report in issue 25 Feb/Mar 2009, P 60. (letter published in the June/July 2009 issue)

I hope 'The Population Bomb" serves to remind some influential people that our excessive and growing population is the cause of most of our environmental and social problems. Current political and scientific efforts to repair the effects without attending to the cause don't make a lot of sense. Humanity must embrace reproductive restraint at some point - better now than when most of the planet looks like a Mumbai-Manhattan hybrid.

Science can help us to appreciate what we as individuals need in the way of personal space and resources and what the planet needs in terms of green space and wilderness. Planners and scientists must stop approaching the population issue as if it were just another technological challenge. Quality of life for all and a healthy environment must be our primary concerns as no civilisation can survive without both. The appropriate challenge is not how to squeeze more people into an overcrowded, finite space, but rather how to humanely reduce our numbers to a sustainable level and maintain a decent quality of life in the process.

Contrary to Peter Costello's disturbing advice couples who produce more than 2 children should be viewed as socially and environmentally irresponsible. Those who limit themselves to one child should be rewarded - perhaps with home ownership and land privileges.

Economic and social concerns around a temporarily aging population following a birthrate reduction are solvable and insignificant compared to the incalculable human misery and environmental holocaust that will result from continued efforts to sustain a high and growing population.

20 March 2009.

12 Dec 2009. My response to news in the "Otago Daily Times" of 43 year old American Michelle Duggar giving birth to her 19th child:-

Carbon Tax on Big Families

It was good timing for Michelle Duggar's 19th birth to coincide with the Copenhagen climate talks. A reasonable case could be made for prosecuting this couple in an environmental court yet the media has afforded them celebrity status and their own reality show. Perhaps that says a lot about the state of popular opinion and knowledge in relation to environmental issues. Any serious attempt to address the world's environmental woes must confront it's basic cause - too many people consuming and polluting more than the Earth can handle. Our options here should be clear: a big global population living very simply or a much smaller population living very well. I'd be voting for the second of those options. Offering tax benefits to people who have just one child or none at all could be one positive step in reducing our population to a sustainable level. Imposing a carbon tax that rises exponentially for each child a person produces beyond 2 might also be helpful by providing a substantial financial incentive for people like the Duggars to think before they breed.

4 April 2010. My response to an "Otago Daily Times" report suggesting Dunedin needs population growth to solve economic problems:-

Population Growth versus Quality of Life (added to the website's comments page).

More people might be good for business in the short term but so much else will be lost. More people will mean more pressure on already strained infrastructure. It will mean increased consumption of limited resources and a consequent increase in pollution. Even if technology can rescue us from those problems there will be issues of diminished personal and green space as trees & gardens disappear in favour of backyard subdivisions and higher density housing. Nor should we forget that population growth decreases the affordability of home ownership and that is a contributor to major social problems.

One of the best things about Dunedin is its size. Have we learn't nothing from the examples of other countries? The pursuit of growth for its own sake is as insatiable as any drug addiction and it has badly damaged most of the world. We occupy a finite space and that means our economic system must at some point learn to work with the limitations imposed by a stable population. That can happen now when we have an easily measurable quality of life or sometime in the not too distant future when all the available space on Earth is filled with humanity and hostility.

 


ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE


Letter to Cosmos Feedback: commenting on "A New World Order" P46, Issue 26
(not published)

The economist's view of civilisation as primarily a machine for maximising profits into the hands of a selfish and greedy minority goes some way to explaining the current state of the world and promises a grim future. Important human values and environmental concerns are fully ignored. It would be socially preferable to view civilisation as a collective contract between all participating individuals that requires cooperation in exchange for enriching the lives of all citizens. Full employment needs to be a part of this contract so if the role of machines is not restricted social problems are guaranteed.

While the creation of sentient, intelligent robots will be an extraordinary scientific achievement there can be no practical work applications for them beyond doing the jobs we can't do and even then a self aware robot may say no. We must expect that all conscious beings, artificial or organic, will value their existence and their freedom as much as we value ours.

11 May 2009

 


METRIC SYSTEM


Commenting on "Lose Inches, NASA", New Scientist, Issue No. 2713 P.5, 20 June 2009 (not published)

Aside from beauty of design and ease of use the Metric System has been something of a test case for global cooperation, and global cooperation on many projects will be vital for our future survival and prosperity. Depending on how they wish to be perceived on the world stage NASA and other Imperial defenders might do well to give special consideration to that last point. With regard to cost, a progressive government might fund metric conversion as part of a job creation scheme and a special tax on multinational companies could help pay for it. Some other groups might also been keen to contribute  to the cause - Star Trek fans are the first to come to mind.

26 June 2009.

16 APRIL 2010 - FRIDAY. I ordered canvas for the house painting - the art shop still works with imperial measurements and I had to restrain my desire to point out the stupidity and  illegality of that. Yet again I ponder the rationale of governments spending millions to establish the metric system as the one and only measurement standard for national and international trade when they seem to have no intention of enforcing it? Sure, it’s not the biggest issue in the world but it seriously annoys me in 2010 to see 2 unrelated systems of measurement constantly competing for my attention. And what a mess it is: mountain heights  in metres, aircraft height in feet, land vehicle & wind speed in km/hr, air & sea vehicle/wind speed in knots, land distances in metric, ocean & air distances in nautical miles, most weight  in kilograms (unless you talk to someone over 50, then they'll be thinking of their own weight in "stones"), new born babies announced to the world in pounds and ounces, TV & computer screens, tyres  and penis sizes in inches,  male clothes and most other products in centimetres, land area in square metres or both acres & hectares, air pressure in hectopascals but tyre pressures in pounds per square inch. This is absurd! Life is being unnecessarily complicated and confused some 40 years after my generation made the appropriate effort to learn what we were assured would be the “one and only” system of measurement we’d need to know. I guess it really is hopelessly idealistic to ever expect the whole of humanity to agree on anything, but at least I can say I  haven't contributed to this  failure of cooperation, reason and good sense. The blame for that rests solidly on the USA, Britain, other stubborn Anglo traditionalists, lazy minds and a dysfunctional local education system. (Added to MySpace blog, 26 Apr 2010)

 


CONSCIOUSNESS & IMMORTALITY

An email responding to the Internet Archive's question "How would you use an internet library?"

I'd like to see high value personal websites archived as libraries of the past have collected autobiographies. By high value I mean  websites that individuals have thoughtfully and honestly created for themselves  to document the course of   their own lives, highlighting critical life decisions, actions and outcomes (good, bad and indifferent). In this way the achievements of many  lifetimes might be preserved   in a way that is accessible and useful to future generations.  Imagine being able to look back in time to see someone like yourself - you might be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes. 

An internet library might have a role in promoting and hosting such personal websites, in which case  living subscribers would assist with income. 

12 July 2009.


Consciousness is a flexible net linking memories and sensory inputs. A thought is like a memory train. (30 Oct 2010)

 


HUMANISM


On 27 Oct 2009 "The Sydney Morning Herald" published the article "Atheists are good humans, too" by James Richmond. I added the following comment to their website's message board:-

It was a pleasure to read this article. Humanism is an established but undervalued ethical alternative to religion and I hope anyone unfamiliar with this approach to life will be motivated to do some internet research and explore humanist websites. While some noble values have been long enshrined within fairy tales of one variety or another they can be derived independently of those tales by logical thought processes. Empathy, compassion, reason, cooperation, peace, freedom, opportunity for happiness, non-violence, honesty, fairness and truth are all essential to the creation and maintenance of a sustainable and desirable long term civilisation. There doesn't need to be a moral authority beyond humanity - it is enough that all who live within a civilisation are dependent on and responsible to each other. Nor does a unifying goal need to stand on the shifting sands of supernatural mysticism. Self improvement in both the individual and collective senses provides big enough challenges to keep us occupied - consider the need to give all people access to a decent quality of life free of avoidable suffering and compatible with environmental limitations.

Why does anyone want to be a plaything of one or more invisible, authoritarian, voyeuristic, omnipotent but needy superbeings? Personally I consider it far more inspiring to see humans as early examples of matter in the universe becoming sufficiently organised to begin the very long journey towards complete self understanding. The undeniable desire for immortality might even be satisfied by identifying more with the state of consciousness, less with the body in which it arises. There can be no stopping bodies from dying but so long as consciousness exists and knowledge is recorded the sense of "I" that begins the same in all of us will continue to evolve and improve.


On 4 Nov 2009 "The Sydney Morning Herald" published an article titled "A plague of atheists has descended and Catholics are the target" by Greg Craven. I added the following comment to their website:-

From the humanist branch of atheism concerns about Catholicism are certainly not limited to it. The most troubling aspects of religions are that many view outsiders as inferior, they seek to influence governments, and they encourage people to believe unquestioningly in the words of a book or other tradition as preached by a person or institution without any basis of testable evidence. If we are to survive and prosper our behaviour and supporting values must change. Intolerance of differences, blind acceptance of leaders perceived to be divinely sanctioned, belief in the superiority of oneself and one's allies over others, belief in the God given right of humanity to exploit other species & the environment as we see fit, belief in a superior after-life, and the desire for an apocalyptic "judgement day" are prime examples of socially dangerous religious doctrines that need to disappear. No humanist seeks to take away your right to believe that you are part of a designed universe under the ever watchful eye of a paternalistic superbeing if that's important to you, but without proof it is just one belief system among the many followed by people who need to live alongside each other within the same broad social framework. For the sake of peace no-one should view his or her beliefs too seriously and all religions must be excluded from matters of government and law.

 


ANIMAL ISSUES

On 30 Oct 2009 "The Otago Daily Times" reported on a proposed seal cull designed to boost the wild Mutton Bird population for the people who like to hunt them. I added the following comment to their message board:-

"Managing" other species and ecosystems creates a dependency on human interference for their continued existence. Unless we have a genuine survival need to interfere wild species should be left alone to evolve as natural selection dictates.

In the case of mutton birds no-one needs to eat them and there other sources of income for the people affected.

The most out of control and most damaging species on Earth is humanity - it's time we shifted the focus of our environmental concerns to address the issue of our own population problem.

 


EUTHANASIA


17 OCT 2010 - SUNDAY. The news tonight reported the latest medical horror story being paraded as some kind of medical miracle. When a girl was born 4yrs ago with a rare genetic condition that prevented her from extracting nutrients from food the doctors recommended their crudest version of euthanasia - that she be left to die by starvation. The parents couldn’t accept that because they thought it cruel and they didn’t want to lose their child. And certainly it is cruel when you consider that a doctor could administer a lethal dose of anesthetic to mercifully terminate a hopeless existence in minutes! Nevertheless, one does need to remember that at birth our consciousness is virtually non-existent so suffering is not really an issue for a new born baby. But even if it were it pales to insignificance compared to the miserable fate they and the medical system have subsequently imposed upon that child. An intravenous nutrient supply caused other complications resulting in four years of medical interventions and over $4 million worth of tax funded organ transplant surgery. Medical researchers have scored a human guinea pig, the parents avoided a difficult decision, and the girl got the chance to live just long enough to become conscious of an existence dominated by pain. There is nothing for society to celebrate in this. If she’s lucky she won’t survive much longer, but for as long as she does survive she’ll always need expensive medical assistance. Shame on the parents for giving into their understandable but selfish fears of loss and failing to give proper rational consideration for the quality of their child’s life. In a universe where all life is transient its quality must be the most important point to consider. Shame on the medical system that rejects active, painless euthanasia and values life extension at almost any cost above quality of life. Shame too on the government that also evades the voluntary euthanasia issue and penny pinches in the face of so many more rational financial requests. And shame on the media for presenting such pathetic and cruel extensions of human suffering as self congratulatory heart warming tales of heroic human triumph over adversity - the “miracle of modern medicine survival story”.

We need to learn to identify less with our memories and bodies and more with the continuum of consciousness that rises all around us and through time like fleeting bubbles within transient wave crests on a vast moving body of water. Each personality may be seen as a bubble that grows around an increasingly complex web of stored memories derived from sensory inputs that give the illusion of individuality. While all these bubbles are fated to burst new ones are constantly forming as new wave crests rise from the flowing water - as universally same fundamental particles combine into the atoms and molecules that form our brains and bodies, then disperse back into those same basic varieties of atoms, molecules & fundamental particles. In this sense each of us will live again as a point of consciousness arises within a concentration of matter that shapes itself out of the infinite expanse of less organised atoms and molecules, a point that will swell into a new & unique but transient bubble of intricately connected memories. Those memories should be predominantly pleasing ones. There is no point in clinging to a miserable existence that must end no matter how hard we cling - if it is terminally failing, or if it starts off in bad shape with no realistic hope of attaining good health the sanest option is to accept the reset to zero via the gentlest means possible. This view of existence provides a good reason to strive to minimize suffering for all the conscious entities that are to arise in the future - they will be us. Good reason to strive to make the future a desirable place to live in for everyone. It’s like reincarnation without the transmigration of souls.

 


LIFE OBSERVATIONS


A successful business must be self supporting and socially beneficial - improving some aspect of the world as well as providing a secure and comfortable lifestyle for those involved. (23 Aug 2010)

Personalities, individuals, species all die, but ideas can be relatively immortal. Ideas, good and otherwise, can survive, spread, prosper and shape the universe for as long as consciousness exists. All who contribute to the pool of thoughts, both fiction and non-fiction, need to be keenly aware of this. Popularizing violence, greed, stupidity, selfishness, and cruelty has become common practice in the "entertainment" industry and will do nothing to improve our civilisation. (28 Aug 2010)

Recurring features in my dreams: can't take photos (desired image changes before I can photograph it); all dreams involve some kind of social interraction with other people - I'm never alone; I can never fly higher than birds, usually struggle to fly much above tree tops. (13 Oct 2010)

We are all replaceable. A good personalilty can be immortalized by serving as a role model to young people. (13 Oct 2010).

Some people worry about dying alone. Yet death for a single person is likely to be easier process for this inevitable event. Marriage or a similar partnership where someone is likely to be on hand to "rescue" you "just in the nick of time" during an otherwise fatal heart attack ensures you are much more likely to face years of meaningless misery in a nursing home. (29 Oct 2010)

Closetted gay and bisexual men treat other men as nothing more than cock ports. (30 Oct 2010)


Competitive sport and sex clubs are an urban invention for frustrated hunters. (30 Oct 2010)

The 3 most popular names given by gay/bi married closet cases: John, Mike, and Steve. (30 Oct 2010)

 


DUNEDIN

Wrong Location, Uninspired Design (comment on a proposed 28 storey hotel for Dunedin's waterfront, submitted to the Otago Daily Times website on 5 Dec 2012.

SO much against this proposal. The choice of location is shortsighted. Others have noted the inappropriate scale of the building. The land itself is at risk from earthquake liquefaction and the forecast sea level rise. Even if the foundations are secure the land around it will turn into a swamp in an earthquake. If sea level rises as forecast there'll be waves breaking against it's ground floor by the end of the century. The design is very much a 1960's glass box. None of Dunedin's high rise buildings has contributed value to the cityscape - I'd love to see the day when they are all demolished. This new hotel promises to be the worst offender of all. How can anyone suggest it would make "a strong contribution to the architecture and amenity of the city" when it is practically indistinguishable from the thousands of similar structures that dominate every other city skyline on earth? There are two ways to make a strong contribution to this city's architecture. One is to build something so unique and amazing it becomes an international tourist attraction. Very expensive! For a city the size of Dunedin the more realistic approach may be to encourage renovation of the characterful but deteriorating architectural heritage.