Monday, April 16, 2007

A Thought Experiment

Stories like this always remind me of just how hard it is going to get, and how quickly, on this planet in the next decade:
OSLO (Reuters) - Droughts, floods and rising seas linked to global warming could spur conflicts in coming decades, experts said on Monday, the eve of a first U.N. Security Council debate on climate change.

And the poor in tropical regions of Africa and Asia are likely to suffer most, perhaps creating tensions with rich nations in the temperate north which are likely to escape the worst effects of warming widely blamed on use of fossil fuels.

"Global warming increases the potential for conflict," said Janos Bogardi, head of the U.N. University's Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn.

"The most imminent effect is probably desertification and land degradation," he told Reuters. His group has projected that climate change might force hundreds of millions of people from their homes in the long term.
Estimates are that planet Earth can sustain roughly one-third to one-half the current population. The cynic in me says maybe this current attitude of "sustainable growth" is merely a way to commit planetary genocide.

Why do I say this? Here's a thought experiment (with apologies to David Suzuki):
Take a bacteria, one single cell, and put it in a vial that's filled to the brim with food. Let's say this cell divides every minute, creating an exponential growth: in one minute, there are two cells; after two minutes, four cells; after three, eight cells, and so on.

Now let's assume that this closed system (important point) is just big enough to support this kind of growth for one hour. When is the vial half full?

At 59 minutes, of course. At 58 minutes, it's one-fourth full. At 57 minutes, it's one-eighth full. At 56, one-sixteenth, and at 55 minutes, it's 1/32nd, or roughly three percent, full.
If one of the bacteria was prescient enough at 55 minutes to say, "Hey, in like five generations, we'll be out of food!" most of the Republican bacteria in the vial would say, "Why, you're nuts! 97% of the world is still full of food!" and go on driving their food-guzzling SUVs.

Notice something else, tho: in a closed system, no matter how efficiently you were to recycle food, you will eventually reach a limit where you can no longer sustain growth, and in fact, will kill the world.

Now, you could make the case that the bacteria should just build new worlds. OK, let's give them the technology to do just that. Let's say that by the 59th minute, they've built three new vials (quite the accomplishment), and so in minute sixty, just in the nick of time, they send half their people to one of the new "worlds".

In just two further minutes, all four of the vials will be full.

Resources are a zero-sum game. Yes, the universe is infinite, but there are constraints on what we can do, so effectively, the universe is not infinite, and certainly, certainly, our planet is not.

Given recent news about our oceans particularly our coral reefs, about our polar ice packs and caps, our honeybees and about fish, we are in the fifty-ninth minute.

But hey, let's be worried about gay marriage and the hateful words of an idiot, shall we?