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Slow Motion Apocalypse v. Wonderful World of One Billion
August 26, 2022
by William P. Meyers

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Headed towards Apocalypse

A few years back I tried to put a positive spin on the current global situation with my essay The Wonderful World of One Billion. I hoped to start a campaign to get people to adopt a U.S. and global one-child policy. This was against the background of what I call the Slow Motion Apocalypse, what is really happening, which is most obvious in the recent heat waves, droughts, and famines. I now believe that humans, as a global group, are too screwed up to do anything other than plunge into the Apocalypse, a global ecological meltdown. Even most environmentalists are too culturally ill to focus on persuading people to do what would actually be effective. Instead they look to magic wands, like renewable energy and electric cars, so they to not have to confront the storm that is barrelling towards all of us.

It helps to take a historical perspective. I was born in the 1950s and much of my original learning curve was as a child in a very conservative family in the 1960s. The main end-of-the world scenario of my youth was atomic war. I lived in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was terrified by it. My father had fought against Japan and served in the U.S. occupation of that country. I learned about the atomic bombs used against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I heard about human overpopulation, which was sometimes a topic of conversation, as when The Population Bomb was published in 1968. But despite a peripheral awareness of population and ecology issues when I was in high school and college (taking this time line up to 1976), the main issue became the Vietnam War, the then-current chapter of the endless U.S. War Against Asia.

The environmental movement was pretty well solidified by 1980. It failed to focus on human population. Nuclear power plants, local development, air and water polution, whales, forests being cut; everything was on the table but human population. And so the global population kept growing. It was about 1 billion when the Industrial Revolution got well underway in 1800. In 1960 it was 3 billion. In 1974 it hit 4 billion. 1999 saw 6 billion. And we hit 8 billion this year. Brilliant history, humans.

There is famine this year, most notably in Somalia, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. But there are food shortages in many other nations. A meme I hear a lot is this is only a distribution problem. There is plenty of food on a global scale, it just does not get to the poorest nations. But I often hear the same people say "buy local," because then you don't have to burn fossil fuel to move food around. People believe in magic wands. While the first modern magic wand was Adam Smith's free markets theory, the main magic wand I hear from my friends is the magic wand of socialism. Socialism isn't feeding people in Venezuela, so those that care to go to that level of detail blame the United States for the situation there. The problem with magic wand theories is that they prevent people from gaining a fact-based view of the world, and that in turn makes for bad decisions. This era's favorite ecology magic wand theory is that if we just change to renewable energy, we can support 8 or even 10 or 12 billion people without doing too much more further harm to the environment. [Disclaimer: I like socialism, I just do not believe it is magic.]

We are already seeing serious effects of global warming, with enough carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere to guarantee much more. These are being added on top of over 200 years of replacing natural habitats with agriculture. Solar cells do not generate food. Heat and drought kill crops. By historic standards 2022 is shaping up to be a pretty bad ag year. Drought in the American west, drought in China, drought in Afghanistan, even drought over wide areas of Europe are not just cutting this year's food supply, they are showing us the future. The Opening Act of the Future. One year soon too many of the major food production areas are going to have heat domes sit over them for long enough during summer to destroy the food that is necessary to feed some currently unimaginable number of people. Perhaps the first of these events will destroy the food intended for some sub-billion number. Food reserves, which are already at a global minimum, will be drawn down to minimize the death toll. Perhaps the following year will be a good one, and people will wave their magic wands and pretend it did not happen. But soon enough a 2 billion person shortage year will arrive. And a 3 billion, and 4 billion and 5 billion year. Likely nations will fight over good, adding to the chaos.

The Slow Motion Apocalypse is upon us. We could have prevented it with a one-child policy, but we did not. We waved magic wands in our collective minds. The exact pace of the Slow Motion Apocalypse is not possible to predict. Perhaps 2022 will just turn out to be an early bad year, and will be followed by a few good years. I don't know. But I know the world is getting warmer, I know forests are still being destroyed to plant crops, and I know places where crops have been harvested for decades or centuries or even millennia are turning to dust.

So go ahead, keep your heads in the sand, let people have all the babies they want. Somewhere, some of them are bound to survive. We will take down most species of animals and plants with us, but some will survive. Something will evolve out of the mess we will be leaving. If the world is lucky, it will never evolve another tool-using, language speaking animal again.

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