April 6, 2013
to be posted on nobabies.net

Professor Jorgen Randers
Accounting-Auditing and Law
BI Norwegian Business School

Dear Jorgen Randers:
There is much to like about your book (Jorgen Randers 2052 Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont 2012) which outlines your expectations for the year 2052, but I shall concentrate on two things. 

You point out that there is no possibility of the rest of the world on present numbers achieving the standard of living now enjoyed (or being squandered if you like) by the rich world.  Earth simply cannot supply that much environment to be exploited.  Then, refreshingly, you go on to state the obvious; human progress will have to stop being measured by material gains and progress to increased well being through non physical means gains.  This is a momentous statement for someone who has made such a deep study of physical gains. 

So what do people want?  We want to think well of ourselves.  Take away my money and I shall scrimp, beg and try to get a job again even at my advanced age.  Take away my health and I shall try to recover.  Take away my loved ones and I shall grieve but eventually I shall try to find others to care for.  But take away my self esteem (fat chance of that) and I shall start thinking suicide.  That is true of just about anybody. 

So where do we learn how to think well of ourselves?  It comes right down to religion.  Beyond the mist of the past people have sought self esteem by seeking to establish a proper relationship to divine power.  That is the point of the exercise.  Skeptics may remark that religion leads to good social behavior; I should not have to elaborate on the remark that this is hardly the universal experience. 

And behold, faith in and of itself is non polluting, consumes no resources, takes no space.  So anybody with a social conscience should be shouting from the rooftops: “Cling to the faith of your ancestors.  Embrace it and yield it never.  If you have objections to that faith then you are a blessing to it; make it better but in such gentle wise that none is offended, none driven from the flock.”  The environmental footprint of faith is like that of each foot of hosts of angels dancing on the head of a pin.  However, this is not exactly the message I get from social activists.  I get rather evangelical atheism to the point that I now have ceased to think atheism is a philosophy and begun to think that it is just another in-your-face Protestant denomination; the worship of That Which Is Not. 

Yes, I know people who practice religion have more babies than those that don’t.  But for the agnostic world there simply are not enough babies to survive.  Recruitment is only a temporary relief and the result of drawing the discontent away from their religions must in the long run harden the conviction of those who remain, and of their babies as well.

The second point I liked so much was on page 57 where you diagram the cause and effect relationships that create the network that produces economic activity.  Each element is affected by at least one other element except for health services and urbanization.  I trust you will not be dismayed if I suggest that the health services a society can offer must be limited by the gross domestic product of that society – how much money there is, so to speak.  So that leaves urbanization as the only independent variable, and it’s only significant effect is that of reducing fertility.

Bingo.  You hit the nail on the head.  Urbanization and its attendant infertility drive all else.  I stand here flat footed.  What happens is what people do; environmental limitations have not caught up with us quite yet.  All people come from babies.  Seems pretty obvious.

Of course there will be economic decline.  The market is inexorable whether managed fairly or unfairly.  When the people are gone the market value of Earth will be zero.  Maybe nobody sees it, but the market sees it.  The handwriting is on the wall.  The current value of a bond that will be worthless in a hundred years is already zero.  Any other value is simply a matter of market inefficiency. 

Ah, one might exclaim, but that is a matter of choice.  If people choose to have babies then there will be a future.  Alas no.  Babies are not chosen. Babies are not bought.  Babies result from mating strategy.  If the strategy is a world of tiny villages then the birth rate will be very high and the nightmare of Malthus will return and we are doomed.  If the mating strategy is random mating in urban populations then the birth rate will never recover and we are doomed.  The only hope is that we understand what is going on and make decisions appropriately. 

I can’t tell you just what a viable strategy would be but I can help, I think a bit, with the understanding.  Here is a link
And I and another doctor have published a paper showing the effect in fruit flies: M. L. Herbert and M. G. Lewis Fluctuation of fertility with number in a real insect population and a virtual population African Entomology 21(1): 119–125 (2013)

For nigh unto fifteen years I have looked to our leaders to attend to this.  You have spent forty years trying to get an appropriate reaction regarding the environment.  So far you are doing better than I.  Of course a politician cannot see past the next election even if the market can.  I think the best hope is the kind of person who will assume a mortgage that will take decades to retire.  That’s a whole generation.  This process will take an attention span of multiple generations.  (Urban infertility accumulates over multiple generations.  In a single generation it has a fairly weak effect although an evident one and once you get past some ten generations of separation it doesn’t matter whom you marry.) 

Your expert Karl Wagner starting on page 38 lays out a grim picture some ten to fifteen years from now or the social unrest he expects.  (Hooray for mortality.  I trust I shall not live to see it.)  It’s a pretty good description of the kind of regime change that generally accompanies the fall of a society.  I prefer your more optimistic future, and your time scale just happens to approximate that of Isaac Newton and of Edward O. Wilson in Sociobiology.  When I look at the numbers that seems like a reasonable guess for when everyone will know the kind of demographic crisis we have prepared for ourselves and our progeny.

Thanks for a good book.  Have at least a glance at the data I have on the link.  With your engineering background you should have no trouble with the graphs.  And from the graphs in your book you seem to be very comfortable with that way of looking at historical trends.  Let me know what you think.  If you have any difficulty getting to the African Entomology paper I should be able to help. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

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