Saturday, November 18, 2023

Thinking About Peak Humanity Following A Prediction Dud

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Global Change, Population, Health, Science & Society, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

In the Minneapolis Tribune for October 5, 2023 was published an essay by science writer F. D. Flam that is important reading for while it is about human population growth, it is also a splendid essay on uncertainty. The title is "Population bomb was a dud. What follows 'peak humanity'?"  It is behind a subscription paywall.  At the end I link to it from another outlet. Thank you, Google! 
Here are a few points.

--Projections on when "peak humanity" will be reached coalesce around the 21st century.
--And as usual this decline and leveling leads to a new alarm: slower economic growth and less of the innovation to which we are used to.

--Enter the "B" word: But.... Demographers to whom Flam has spoken "say this concern is based more on speculation than science.  This reminded me of two words to describe such speculations: "doomsters" and "gloomsters". 

--And in another entry is found the "U" word: uncertainty *** as part of the measurement prediction. It may be at least 2% and this "adds up to about 160 million people."

--Pessimistic thinking about population growth began with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Malthus, who assumed a "doubling in the population every 25 years."  This  was made more popular by the Ehrlich's in their book, The Population Bomb" The end was a global catastrophe by starvation.

--Flam discusses changes in two population models used today. The UN model's peak is about 11 billion by 2100 which has a way of feeling "in only a few years." The other was published in the British journal , The Lancet of less high peak: 9.7 billion by 2024.

--We all know that Malthus and others didn't and couldn't account for innovations in agriculture but, there is always a but this has led to massive environmental problems. We have greatl expanded our physical niche and therefore our impact on the planet. Paul Ehrlich is among the co-authors of a 2021 paper mentioned in Flam's essay about our "ghastly future," a phrase used by Flam. It is described in a UCLA press release.

--Some of the problems accompanying innovation included pesticide pollution, a rapid and large increase in carbon dioxide leading to deep concerns about climate change and again populations worldwide.

--Flam wrote a great line about those who look to increasing population sizes with the idea that there will be more innovation (more = more?). She says that there is a better, more immediate solution: "Taking better care of the (babies) we have." "While it won't solve all our environmental and economic problems, it's a start.

The full article may be read at the St. Louis Dispatch, October 2, 2023 but thanks to the Star Tribune for publishing it and to the Dispatch for making it fully accessible.

*** I chose this link and am not completely satisfied which I think you will note if you extend the search using "uncertainty demographic models" which leads to more papers, books, popular articles than one could hope for. However, scanning the list will at least demonstrate its importance and use, e.g., social security projections.

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