The collapse of the “HUMANITY” project. Chapter 1.
In spring, there was soil rain in one of the towns in Western Georgia. Black rain fell from the skies and turned into dirty streams on pavements and roads, earthy deposits appeared on cars, disgusting spots were left on clothes… Somewhere far, possibly in Iran, the storm lifted several centimeters of soil into the air and hopes of farmers for harvest with it as well as food in winter, next land mortgage payments and payments for children’s education… This would not have happened had there been forest wind-protection belts left on the fields that had amounted to 20% of the cultivated soil. But the owners of the land decided to take a risk in pursuit of bigger harvests… The “developed” Kazakhstan virgin lands flew into the air as black storms approximately in the same way.
We have already lost more lands than cultivated now. And we’ll lose the rest very soon.
Research and development
WHAT THE MODERNITY STARTED FROM…
The Limits to Growth was the book based on the report to the Club of Rome under the same title, the one that staged a coup in futurology. Then, approximately the same group of authors wrote Beyond the Limits to Growth and The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (the figures quoted in this chapter are mostly from the latter book). If the authors gave 50 years (up to 2022) for the change of the human civilization development course in their first work, there is a conclusion in the last one: the limits to growth have already been passed, and a modern civilization catastrophe is inevitable in the next two or three decades. Is it so? Let’s think together.
The first to speak about the resource catastrophe (Malthusian catastrophe) was Thomas Malthus. And he was absolutely right – really, if resources are limited, they will end sooner or later. In the opinion of critics, he just did not take into account one thing – resources are replaced by other resources. For example, it’s possible to use renewable energy sources instead of mineral (fossil) fuel – biofuel, sun, wind, tidal energy, geothermal energy, etc. Some people still use this argument to disprove the Malthusian theory. And they are wrong. Because there are actually infinite numbers of development limits in the complex system of our planet, and a new one originates to replace the one passed. We can find a way to produce as much energy as we want on the globe but we won’t be able to use it.
In the end, all the produced energy turns into heat and heats atmosphere. How can we assess the limit of energy production that humanity can allow itself in order not to damage its living space? Suppose, it’s possible to allow increase of the average planet’s temperature by 0.1° C per year, though many scholars will say that it’s too much. But even then people will be able to produce only 0.175x1015 Joules/second. It is approximately 15 times more than produced now. Will this energy be enough for us?
Currently, the United States consume about 25% of the global energy, with their population making 4.5% of the global population. In order for the whole population of the globe to equal the United States energy supply, we have to produce about 20 times more energy than now, i.e. go beyond the atmosphere overheating limits. But we’ll need even more energy because while we increase energy production, population will grow as well. So, Malthus was absolutely right. Another limit appears after the first one, and it’s impossible to infinitely overcome them by technological methods. We find ourselves in the first reviewed by us dead-end – the atmosphere heating limit dead-end. This is the first humanity’s evolutional dead-end but not the only one.
WHY THERE IS ALWAYS NOT ENOUGH EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE
Economist Herman Daly suggested simple rules that allow to determine the sustainability limits for raw materials and energy flows.
In case of renewable resources the sustainable speed of their use cannot exceed the speed of the said resources self-renewal. And in case of non-renewable resources the sustainable speed of consumption cannot exceed the speed of technological innovations’ introduction, i.e. the speed of a renewable resource coming to replace a non-renewable one. In case of pollutions the safe speed of their entering the environment can’t exceed the speed of the said pollution’s neutralizing by the environment.
There were many attempts to disprove the three Daly’s rules but with no success yet. It could seem that it is enough to add a “human factor” to Daly’s rules, to transfer nature’s functions to machines created by people – and the resource infinity will be achieved. But one limit will be replaced by another. We’ll review this variant below.
Trying to express human development limits in figures, scholars introduced the concept of the planet Earth’s environmental capacity and human “ecological footprint”.
Environmental capacity is the quantitatively expressed ability of the habitat (number of specimen per one unit of area, limits of the environment’s capabilities in case of the area’s economic development, etc.) allowing the ecosystem to exist without damaging its components. Overcoming the said limits leads to disrupting sustainability and destroying the ecosystem.
The human “ecological footprint” term was introduced in 1992 by William Rees, Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and former Director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC. The phrase “ecological footprint” is used to depict the amount of biologically productive land and water area a human population would hypothetically need to provide the resources required to support them and absorb or store their wastes.
The ecological footprint is measured in universal standard units – global hectares (gha). The global hectare is a measurement unit meaning a hectare of biologically productive land or water area with an average world’s annual amount of biological production for a certain year. This indicator allows to understand how quickly humans consume the natural capital available to them.
According to various calculations by scholars analyzing the Earth’s environmental capacity, only two billion people can live on the globe, producing the maximum possible amount of energy not destroying the biosphere, consuming resources at the worthy average European level and at the same time not going beyond the limits of environmental capacity.
Actually, we can also provide jobs for these two billions. Surely, the rest can live on the “universal basic income” engaging in various kinds of creativity – from embroidery to poetry. And it is not necessary for it to be worthless or mediocre creativity (in 2018, already the second contest in picture creation by robots was held, and we see that machine creativity practically does not differ from human mediocre creativity). So, it will be accepted by the masses.
Addressing history, we see how privileged classes lived having their universal basic income from their estates, enterprises or bank accounts.
Recently, we often hear that the “universal basic income” will not only eradicate poverty but will also serve development of arts and inventiveness… My life experience tells that there will be much more people wishing to buy an extra bottle of liquor or bet, or gamble with extra money than those who will spend it on modest life filled with working on the land plot by their country house or playing the flute.
All characters from the ruling class in War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy have their “universal basic income” (UBI) and according to the Order “On Nobility’s Freedoms”, they even did not have to serve in the Army or be employed in some civil service. And what are they doing? Embroidery? No. They satisfy one basic, constant and never fully satisfied passion – to dominate. To be in power. To become better. More important. To write a book better than the others, to fence better than the others, to fire, love women more than the others, to dance better, ride a horse better, wage war more actively, kill more successfully… To become better, stronger, more successful… That’s the true individual’s aim, that’s the key to human nature. And if an individual is given money, i.e. accumulated human energy, he will spend it in order to surpass the others either in real life or in his dreams, increasing either his opportunities or needs. It’s easier to do the latter. A creative person rises in creativity; others will buy either drinks or a knife. Later, reviewing ways to overcome crisis, we’ll come back to the UBI idea.
We and our needs are more than the Earth can endure. This is an unquestionable fact. And at the same time, our global ecological footprint is constantly growing. It increased twice in comparison with the middle of the previous century. Currently, the human race consumes 50% more than the biosphere is capable to replenish (according to other calculations, “only” 30% more).
People in Russia consume more than average on the globe. Had the whole global population consumed the same amounts, we would have needed 2.5 planets. It’s interesting if residents of Russia are ready to reduce their consumption 2.5 times for “saving the world”. Or not?
Possibly, it’s not absolutely clear what limits in production are. That’s when the cost of produced goods equals or becomes less that the cost of production.
Here is an illustrative example. We can infinitely get synthetic fuel from waste, by the pyrolysis method for example. But we have to burn other fuel for pyrolysis in order to heat the pyrolysis furnace. After quick treatment of organic waste, we’ll throw all the rest into the furnace. And finally, a moment comes when the quality of waste is such that fuel from it is fully used to produce a new lot of fuel. The limit is achieved.
An example with soils is even more vivid. In 1950, there were 0.6 ha of cultivated lands per capita. There were only 0.25 ha by 2000. However, the yield (average for all crops) increased 1.5 times. But the global population doubled during the same time! So, the results of the “green revolution” (rapid increase of crop yield because of introduction of new varieties in the early 1980s) only temporarily saved people from hunger. Production of practically all kinds of food per capita has been going down on the globe as a whole in the recent two decades.
At the same time, the dynamics of annual food resources increase on the globe in absolute terms also decreased and will decrease rapidly from 1950 to 2030: thus, in 1950-1985 increase amounted to 30 mln tons, in 1985-1995 – 12 mln tons, and about 9 mln tons are forecasted for 1995-2030.
There is another danger that seemed unimportant in the past but is coming to the forefront now. All bees may disappear on the Earth by 2035. Without them it will be impossible to cultivate about one third of the most important crops. Bees pollinate up to 80% of plants on the globe, but the number of bees in Russia decreased by 40% from 2008. 90% of wild bees and 80% of domestic bees died in the United States, bees disappeared completely in China and they have to pollinate plants there by hand. Scientists explain extinction of bees by the impact of mobile frequencies.
Death of bees will be an additional blow for exactly the poor strata and increase food prices on global scales.
Assessments of lands suitable for cultivation on the globe differ between 2 and 4 billion ha, depending on what lands are considered suitable. Approximately 1.5 billon hectares are already used for cultivating grain crops. This area was more or less constant over the last 30 years, the rest are taken by forests. But exactly forests are in danger.
According to assessments of 1986 as a part of the United Nations Environment Programme, over the last millennium people turned about 2 billion ha of fertile lands into waste lands where agriculture is impossible. That’s more than all today’s cultivated lands taken together.
Starting from 1800, when 0.8 billion ha of forests were lost, the cutting speed increased all the time. By 2015, already 2.2 billion ha (or 22 mln km2) were eliminated. We remind you that on the whole there are 40 mln km2 of forests on the globe. According to woodcutting statistics, about 200 thousand km2 of forest areas are lost on the globe per year (or 20 mln ha) – that’s approximately the area of Byelorussia.
This is not woodcutting by lumber enterprises when forest restoration is supposed in equal amounts. These are forest areas used for agricultural or construction purposes. If the speed of deforestation does not increase, there will be enough forests for 200 years. But the speed of irreversibly destroyed forests increases every year. In 2000-2005, the speed of deforestation on the globe as a whole (6 mln ha per year) increased in comparison with 1990-2000 (3 mln ha per year) and by now has come up to 20 mln ha per year. Approximately 400 trees grow on one hectare, surely there are more in tropical climate. At the same time, they use 45 billion food sticks per year in China only. In order to make them, 25 mln trees are required, that’s forest on 62,500 ha of taiga.
WE ARE THE CREATORS OF OUR UNHAPPINESS
The human race ALWAYS destroyed the Earth and NEVER comprehended that en masse. Only now this process accelerated rapidly, and we already do not have enough time to replace one exhausted resource by another, the land soil by chlorella plantations in shallow waters of the ocean. And what is more, the ocean turns out to be more polluted and exhausted than we thought.
The global fish catching has equaled fish productivity of the World Ocean and amounts to 129 mln tons per year. About 70 mln tons are provided by fish farms that are very vulnerable to outside impacts and are very dependant on the condition of the environment. By 2040-45, fishery will become unprofitable.
An example with the World Ocean resources is illustrative for “optimists” – the Left who think that there are enough resources in the world to feed any population, it’s just necessary “to take everything and divide”.
If all eatable fish in the World Ocean is caught, all fish we can grow in fish hatcheries proceeding from the maximum fodder we can provide, added to it and divided between all the inhabitants of the globe, we get 500 mln tons of fish or 170 grams per person per day (with scales, bones and intestines – or per 30 grams fillet). However, there will be nothing to catch in the World Ocean next year.
The resource limits of the Earth are an objective reality and not consequences of capitalist economy. And impossibility for humankind to survive in present-day numbers is a no less objective reality.
About 100 mln ha of arable lands were lost in the last fifty years because of salinization, and yielding ability of 110 mln ha is rapidly reducing.
The speed of losing humus, a fertile layer, is constantly increasing. Before the industrial revolution, it amounted to about 25 mln tons per year, it was about 300 mln tons per year in the several previous centuries, and it was 760 mln tons per year in the last 50 years. It is also clear why – people plow mountain slopes because of hunger, there is no time for anti-erosion measures, etc. – though they manage to have more children.
The first comparative research of soil loss by hundreds of regional experts was published in 1994. There is a conclusion in it that 38% (562 mln ha) of agricultural lands used currently have already degraded (as well as 21% of permanent grasslands and 18% of forests). The degradation degree varies from average to heavy.
The city of Jakarta gradually occupies all the surrounding lands at the speed of 20,000 ha per year. 20,000 ha of rice fields are lost in Vietnam every year – they are used to build cities.
From 1989 to 1994, 34,000 ha of agricultural lands were turned into golf courses in Thailand.
From 1987 to 1992, 6.5 mln ha of arable lands were used for construction in China, and at the same time they had to turn 3.8 mln ha of forests and grassland into plowed fields. Over 170,000 ha of agricultural lands are used to build motor roads in the United States every year.
The limit of common cultures’ yielding ability has already been reached. Now it’s up to genetically modified crops. But many scholars are against their use.
It could seem that the biosphere balance can be restored by human efforts, for example, by waste processing. But any human activities, even waste processing, in their turn produce new waste, the amounts of which are always bigger than useful products – 2.5 times on the average. To say it differently, if we increase our “ecological footprint” by over-the-limit consumption of fresh water and start making fresh water (not waiting for rains but turning sea water into fresh water), we’ll spend so much energy that we won’t lessen out “ecological footprint” but increase it. It’s the same with foresting. Millions of people on the globe are engaged in foresting and planting trees, and there is a lot of handwork in it. Paying wages and providing people with other resources required for life nullifies all advantages from foresting to nature. That is, those who forest bring more harm to nature by their existence than help it.
Think about it. Even those who are engaged in nature restoration, bring nature more harm by their very existence than good – by their activities! This is a particular consequence of the so-called law of the Ahriya mainyus’ arrow about which we’ll speak in the last part of this book. If we use a chess term, we live in the Zugzwang world, where any our move worsens our positions. Why does it happen? You’ll read about it in the next chapters of the book.
There is a rule based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics: there is always more waste than final products. In 1997, a computer weighed 25 kg on the average, and when it was made over 60 kg of materials turned into waste (not counting waste from power production and mining). Currently, computers weigh less, but the product – waste ratio has not changed, only waste has become more toxic. Theoretically, we can treat and process all waste into a useful product, but in practice not every country can find money for that. Or the product made from waste will be so expensive that no one will buy it.
The limit in harmful substances’ emissions into the atmosphere has been reached as well. According to the World Health Organization, 90% of the people on our Earth breath in the air not satisfying the WHO requirements. Pay attention, we’re not speaking about greenhouse gases like CO2 but exactly about harmful, dangerous for human health foreign matters and contaminants in the air.
And finally, the main limit – the time we have for changes. We’ll tell about that in detail in the chapter dedicated to water resources but now we’ll speak about yield of crops. Let’s take Georgia as an example. This country imports approximately 80% of food it requires, and they grow only corn in their climate comparable to the American one. Only in the Unites States its yield is 120 hundredweights per ha, and only 20 in Georgia. Approximately the same low yield is in case of beans – about 7 hundredweights. They are grown separately, mostly on fields belonging to small landowners. Low yield does not allow to use corn and beans as fodder for cattle, there is not enough for people.
It could seem that they in Georgia are vitally interested to catch up with the United States in their yields. And there is a simple way to increase yielding capacity. If all climbing beans are planted together with corn (two seeds in one hole), nitrogen-containing fertilizes won’t be needed, and actually the low corn yield is explained exactly by their insufficiency – bacteria growing on bean roots will provide corn roots with nitrogen. And corn will serve as a natural support for beans that won’t need supporting poles, and that will considerably simplify harvesting. Thus, it’s possible to increase the intensity of one hectare use twice. And the obtained mixture from two plants will be the ideal fodder for cattle, i.e. exactly what the country needs very much.
Surely, it’s nothing new, joint plantings have been known for a fairly long time but are not employed en masse in Georgia. Why? For the same reason progressive biodynamic farming methods are not used all over the world.
Why are Rudolf Steiner’s ideas supported by only a small group of enthusiasts? Probably, the readers are ready to answer this question. Is human stupidity the reason of all human troubles? That’s an absolutely true conclusion but it’s too superficial or perfunctory. Can mankind become wiser? Are there limits here? We’ll try to give an answer with arguments to this question in the course of the following discussion.
We’re used, when we’re thinking, to put the cart after the horse because we think that the cart’s movement is the consequence of its being pulled by the horse. But if the road is going down a slope, the cart’s movement will become the reason of the horse’s running. The cause and consequence will change places.
Nature is the cause or reason of everything, or according to creationists, that’s God, Lord, Creator, the Great Architect of the Universe. All the rest is only consequences, consequences of consequences, consequences of consequences of consequences, etc. There is only one cause or reason of everything, after we understand it, we start comprehending the consequences of someone’s wrong choice…
As you’ll see later, inability of the majority of people, ethnic groups and states to quickly master new things, caused by natural (environmental) factors, to put it differently, inability for progress is the main reason of future death of humanity that will come soon, it’s the main resource dead-end. Sure, currently increase of crop yielding ability is not the solution of the problem, it will be very soon nullified by global birth rate.
It could seem that birth rate is already decreasing in the world. But this is temporary. Yes, according to forecasts, birth rate will decrease on the globe when the mankind size amounts to 8 billion by 2050, and the coefficient will equal 2.1 children per one woman. This is called demographic transfer. But it turned out that in case of 0.9 children per one woman there is a reverse demographic transfer, and birth rate increases, and that is already witnessed now in Northern countries.
As you see, we should not even expect decrease of birth rate. And decrease of birth rate won’t help to avoid resource exhaustion. Human needs will go on growing, one common consumer can destruct globe’s resources as a thousand people spending money only on food. Second, will we manage to come to the “plateau of birth rate” before the catastrophe, forecasted by Dennis Meadows to take place in the middle of this century?
So, we showed several limits for humanity, to which we have already come and some of which we have already skipped over: the tolerable amount of energy produced on the globe; the area of lands that can be used for farming, which is reducing all the time; yield of the main crops, the limits of which have already been reached as well, if we do not take GMO into account. We’ll speak below about limits of the human immunity system and limits of water contamination. And now we’ll return to the main in our opinion limit – the humanity’s time limit.
People adapt to changes differently. Some people need more time than the others. And what is more, people often start actively resisting changes because consequences of changes, though created by themselves, are antihuman in their essence. Not many will be able and will want to live in the world of total global economy – saving everything from water to food. And in our opinion, they will be right because survival associated with insult to human dignity it not worth its aim.
Limitation of expenses exclusively by survival and providing only the necessities, i.e. minimum comfort, deprives making money over the limits of its meaning, and consequently the wish to create something absolutely new, for which billions will be paid. But mankind required exactly such innovations over its whole history. Finally, this is just humiliating – to live according to the principle “norm from everyone, ration to everyone”.
Only the possibility of infinite expansion is the basis of progress. This is the reason of eternal argument between economists and ecologists. If the first think that human opportunities growth is infinite, the second speak about some limits, not understanding that if limits are set for growth, it will just stop, and governments will have to satisfy even the minimum human needs by requisitioning agricultural products. There was such an experiment in Soviet Russia – and it turned out that people stop working without the hope to become rich.
But may it be that science, technologies, industries should be stopped for survival and all efforts focused on distribution of the products of labour over the globe? No, this measure will not lead to survival, at least because bacteria evolution will not stop, and soon we’ll get some “superbacterium”, not affected by developed medicines and it won’t be possible to create new ones without science and technology development.
Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of the books on the limits of growth, supposes that the world (all of it, entirely, notwithstanding cultural and other differences) will be sustainable if it accepts two descriptions of sufficiency and acts in accordance with them: one refers to material needs, the other to the family size. As a result, according to his plan, there will be about 8 billion people on the globe, with two children per family on the average, with small incomes like in the lowest class of European countries in the end of the 20th century. At the same time, he thinks that the efficiency of technologies will increase, people will still create and invent, otherwise it will be impossible to compensate for increasing the cost of production because of mining becoming more expensive.
What stimuli will be offered for people to work in this system, create, invent? It’s evident that only totalitarian, and it’s not important if they are left-wing or right-wing – there will be no others left.
Herman Daly, whom we mentioned already, said once that sustainable condition would require less consumption of natural resources but much higher moral qualities. But he did not explain how these high moral qualities would originate, and in all people on the globe at the same time. Each of us with his/her experience of living in Russia knows that deficit does not serve origination of higher moral qualities – more likely the opposite…
However, there is another variant – the globe’s system will be balanced as a result of a “feedback”, its reaction to human activities. The only apprehension is that mankind may not survive it…
So, we have probably convinced the readers that there will be no development growth in case of humanity, and according to many indicators, stagnation has already started – e.g., more and more countries on the globe can’t feed themselves, more and more people leave their homes because they are swallowed by deserts, there are more and more rivers from which water can’t be used for watering fields, etc. The question is how much time do we have for changes? Twenty years, two hundred years, or as Dennis Meadows thinks, it is already too late and catastrophe is inevitable?
Let’s continue our investigation of the issue…
THE PROBLEM OF PRECIPICE
The statement that we’re slipping down into the global crises has already become commonplace. There are all signs of that. Political aggravation is growing and leads to conflicts not only between small countries but also between world powers, chaos areas (spontaneous military actions) are expanding and currently encompass giant regions. Financial markets are convulsing, jumping either up or down.
No one understands what to do with that.
However, currently probably the most dangerous and, no matter how strange it seems, the least known is the global environmental crisis about which Yuri Shevchuk wrote. We have run across “the limits to growth”. Exhaustion of the planet Earth’s environmental capacity is approaching, and that threatens the existence of the entire mankind.
The main thing is that this threat is not comprehended. Rich countries increase superconsumption thinking that they have the full right to that. And poor countries do not pay any attention to ecology, destroying the environment as the problem of primitive survival comes first to them pushing ecology to the background.
It seems that there is no hope.
We are steadily slipping down into precipice.
At the same time, we can recall history lessons.
About 20,000 years ago, there was a great environmental crisis in the Upper Paleolithic Age. Bow and arrows, spears, spear-throwers, javelins, trap hole, drive hunting were invented in that period… And as researchers write, “real hunting Bacchanalia” was launched in Africa and on Eurasia expanses. And while natural beasts of prey catch, first of all, sick and weakened animals because of established natural balances, well-equipped hunters could (and wished) to kill the strongest and most beautiful animals and in numbers much exceeding biological requirements. “Anthropogenic” cemeteries of wild animals were discovered, with most of their meat not used by people. As a result, nearly all big beasts (megafauna) were exterminated in a short period, large-scale hunger followed, and mankind was on the threshold of death.
The size of the global population decreased many times.
Probably, it also seemed then that mankind won’t manage to survive.
And now, let’s see what happened next.
The so-called Neolithic revolution broke out: agriculture appeared – producing economy that was more effective than appropriating economy (hunting and picking), and a whole complex of strict environmental limitations together with it: no hunting when animals are breeding; pregnant female beasts, young animals should not be killed; bird nests should not be ravaged…
That is, humane technologies appeared limiting aggression.
And we survived.
With big difficulties, with giant numbers of victims, but mankind went on living.
Or we can recall an example from recent history. The late 1950s and the early 1960s. Opposition of the two great powers – the USA and the USSR. Unrestrained arms race, increase of nuclear missile arsenals, aggressive statements, threats from both sides. The Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The world was in five minutes from nuclear Armageddon threatening to destroy everything live on the Earth.
And what next?
And a whole complex of humane technologies again limiting aggression appears immediately (on historical scales). Direct talks by the Presidents of the USSR and the USA, warnings about military exercises and trial launches, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems and finally, the Helsinki Accords.
This fully corresponds to the concept of the technological and humanitarian balance presented by A.P. Nazaretyan in his time. If technological development outruns humanitarian, there is a crisis that can be overcome by new humane technologies. By the way, a similar “balance theorem” was worded at approximately the same time by the Future Constructing Group (Sergey Pereslegin, Andrey Stolyarov, Nikolay Yutanov) with producing and managing technologies as examples.
And on the whole, if we review the history of global crises from the ancient times to the present day, we’ll be convinced that every time mankind found itself of the edge of some precipice, it, probably guided by instincts, started building a reliable bridge across this precipice, the bridge that allowed to cross it.
Let’s hope that the same instinct will save us another time.