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We are the last humans
A mass extinction is NOT the result of extraterrestrial agents, volcanism, nuclear war or disease. A mass extinction occurs when the ecological pyramid overturns.
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The modern priests
Will Man live forever? Can humans address any problem that stands in their way?
Ask a relativist, and he'll answer that there is no problem Man cannot solve. Unlike other species, we have the ability to foresee events and avail ourselves of the necessary technology to overcome any obstacle thrown in our path. Man is certain to populate the galaxies.
This yearning for eternity is a holdover from traditional religion. In the old days, when priests and pastors still had the upper hand in the intellectual world, the flocks were told that they would live forever... that is… after they died. The mathematicians have now taken over the pulpits (Fig. 1). They are the new priests, the charlatans of the contemporary world. We changed the habit, but the bishops and the doctrines are the same. You no longer go to heaven after you die. Now the promise is that you will go to a distant galaxy once we make a few adjustments to our spaceships.
The global economy is not cyclical, but linear
However, there is something terribly wrong with this starry-eyed mathematical vision of eternity, something that simply doesn't jive. For over 100,000 years Man was just like any other predator: a hunter-gatherer. If he made a kill, he lived to see another day. The ecological pyramid maintained a healthy 10 to 1 ratio between trophic levels. Man was living in a true biblical Paradise.
About 10,000 years ago, we discovered and developed agriculture and husbandry. Nomadic hunters finally planted their roots and formed tiny villages. Agriculture would remain the dominant mode of production until it was overtaken by Manufacturing in the industrial nations of the19th Century. The Manufacturing phase lasted perhaps 200 years, and has for some time now been displaced at breakneck speed by the Service Economy. Let's put these back-of-the-napkin numbers down to see the Big Picture:
Hunter/Gathering: > 100,000 years
Agriculture: 10,000 years
Manufacturing: 200 years
Services: 50 years?
What an ominous exponential trend!
Manufacturing is now dying day by day as blue collar workers are slaughtered by machines. In the 16th Century, sheep were eating men...
"your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I heard say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up, and swallow down the very men themselves" Utopia, Thomas More
Today it is computers which are eating men! Like Agriculture before it, Manufacturing is becoming ever more efficient. And like farmers before them, blue collar workers will inevitably be pushed towards the next major category in the global economy: Services.
We never went back from Agriculture to Hunter-Gathering. We never went back from Manufacturing to Agriculture. And we sure as hell will never go back from Services to Manufacturing. The long term business cycle is NOT cyclical as the mathematical economists lead you to believe. It is linear (Fig. 2).
The last economic category
So? Why should this linear trend concern us?
It is alarming for two reasons:
1. Services are becoming efficient as well. Airlines are replacing check-in agents with check-in machines. Banks are replacing tellers with automatic tellers. And major outlets such as Walmart and Home Depot are replacing cashiers with self-checkout. Wherever a company can cut costs to boost profits for its stockholders, it will do so.
2. There is no major category other than Hunter-Gathering, Farming, Manufacturing, and Services THAT YOU CAN IMAGINE!!!
So here is the challenge for you. You either come up with a new major category that doesn't fit under any of the foregoing or you tell me where billions of people will be working in the future. Deal?
Today, Services constitute about 65% of GLOBAL GDP a number that is growing at the expense of both Agriculture (5%) and Manufacturing (30%). Once Services hover around 90% of Global GDP as in the US, will we simply be adjusting the percentages of the labor force that works in different subcategories of Services for the next million years?
I think not. I think that this megatrend shows that we are about to suffer the LAST economic collapse!
Why ‘the last’?
Because if you are reading this, chances are that you live in a city or town as most people in the world do. Where do you get your food? Do you plant potatoes in your living room carpet? Do you hunt wildebeest from your 10th floor balcony?
No! Most people get their food from supermarkets and smaller distributors. Even the employees of the agricultural corporations, people who plant, dust, irrigate, and harvest, get their food in a store. The farmers of today do not travel in buggies or on horsies. They drive cars.
Why do agricultural corporations produce and distribute food? To ensure you are well fed?
I don’t think so! They produce and distribute food to make profits. The argument for the imminent extinction of Man is simple. The day our Global Economy collapses, there will be no profits, and the day that there are no profits, there will be no incentive for corporations to produce or distribute food. Since the days of CroMagnon, Man has gradually distanced himself from the only thing he needs to stay alive: food. We don’t go out there with spears and knives to catch our food directly. We are spoon-fed by corporations that are not particularly concerned about our vital interests. Whether we are aware or not, our Doomsday Clock is ticking its final hours (Fig. 3).
And to make our position even more fragile, the proportion of food to the number of consumers has gone from the healthy 10 to 1 of hunter-gatherer fame to a sickly 1 to 1 ratio. We don’t store food for 7 years like the biblical pharaohs allegedly did. Corporations produce food practically upon demand. Prices would otherwise deflate in our super-efficient economy. Doubling the amount of food in circulation will nevertheless not induce people to eat twice as much.
The global population is grinding down to ZPG
But let’s throw another bucket of cold water on sustainability. Let’s now superimpose the demographic dilemma on this bleak picture. Most people would like to see a world where there are fewer people. We seem to be too many. We pollute and destroy our environment, so much so that many claim that the global climate is changing. We cover plants with asphalt and compress the struggling wild animals into ever smaller reservations. The solution is simple: women simply have got to cut down on sin and reproduction!
Actually, that’s somewhat unnecessary. The ‘green’ fanatics might be happy to hear that since 1963 the growth rate has trended downwards (Fig. 4). The global birth rate has dropped from 2.3 to 1.2 and is continuing to fall. The world population is still increasing, but at an ever slower rate. If things continue as they are, UN demographers predict that we might reach Zero Population Growth (ZPG) as early as 2060.
So what’s ominous about that? Sounds like good news!
Well, what is a little troubling is that the ideal situation for a corporation is to have zero costs and an ever growing stream of consumers, if possible, growing exponentially (Fig. 5). Businessmen and managers are certainly taking care of the cost side of this ideal by liquidating workers. It is the consumer part that is not quite within their control. If as the projections say, we are approaching ZPG, where will the exponential demand necessary to keep the corporate world running come from?
The bottom line is that Man has worked his way to a catch-22 socio-economic system. Damned if you increase costs by hiring workers and damned if reduce revenue by laying them off! You cannot throw technology at this predicament or wish it away.
What can we do?
And now there can be no excuse. We are clearly aware of what’s coming. We are foreseeing that population (and thus demand) will level off asymptotically while corporations continue to cut costs (layoff employees). We WILL reach an insurmountable crisis!
What can we do about it? Will we solve these gargantuan economic problems as a result that we have foresight (Fig. 6 and 7)? Will technology induce women to reproduce like our great grannies again – 10 children per couple – in order to stimulate demand?
The answer is clear and most people never get it. There is NOTHING we can do about extinction. Technology, foresight, and intelligence are not antidotes to extinction.
Let’s now throw in one final discomforting clue. It has been estimated that over 99% of the species that ever lived, are no longer around. Is our intelligent species an exception? Why? If neither foresight nor technology can solve the problems discussed here?
So again I humbly ask...“Will Man live forever?”
Paper presented at the
International Conference on Biology, Environment and Chemistry
(ICBEC 2010, Hong Kong, China):
Paper presented at the
Apocalypse Conference, Oxford University
May 8, 2016, Prague, Czech Republic
The Extinction Series...
We are the last generation of humans