How to Reduce Resource Consumption, OR: Welcome to Coruscant

Humans are a problem. Especially when there’s too many of them…

…fine, when there’s too many of us.

I admit it is a little odd writing about overpopulation. Normally my proposals have a sharp reduction in human population merely as a side-effect instead of the main goal. Oh well.

In fact, having fewer people would essentially solve some of the stuff I’ve written about, like global warming and the upcoming extinction of tigers.

Beyond that overpopulation creates a few other problems that i haven’t bothered to write about yet:

*More people means a greater use of natural resources. This is especially important when we consider that things like oil (which is also responsible for our current level of food production,) are running out.

*Increased resource use means increased pollution and greenhouse gases.

*More humans means we need more space to live and make food. We’re already very good at destroying the habitats of nearly everything else on Earth.

*Increasing competition for a shrinking amount of stuff is what wars are made of.

*Because higher income and education tend to have a negative effect on population growth, the countries that will have the worst problem with overpopulation will be the ones least able to deal with it.

And the population is growing crazy fast. Even if none of this sounds like it is a problem in today’s world, we should look at how screwed tomorrow is. Back when Kennedy talked about hitting golf balls on the moon, the world population was half what it is today. The UN puts the population of 2050 at around 10 billion. Here’s a graph to frighten you:

I just wish I had Al Gore’s cherry picker. Thanks to Wikipeida Commons.

But that graph isn’t the problem. The UN did a study in 2005 that says the population will probably peak by 2050. Almost all of the growth will be in so-called developing countries (with the US as a big exception). The reason for this is that as health standards and education increase, people put more thought into if and when they really want kids. Sex education really helps, as does having access to birth control. Even in the US, 40% of pregnancies are unintended.

Another big thing is treating women like human beings. Women with the ability to make choices about where their lives are going tend to have fewer children. Or to delay having kids in order to peruse other aspects of their lives.

I really hope this is enough. We live in a world where 40% of the land is already dedicated to producing food. And while humans have a long and successful track record of sitting on our asses until a new technology comes along to save us, I”m not sure that’s the best long-term planning we can make. Food production now accounts for 30 percent of global energy use and intensive farming is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for everything from fixing nitrogen to driving tractors.

I’d like to solve these issues now and have a gradual shift, rather than a sudden, terrifying, cannibalistic population change in a few decades.

Obviously, the solution is that we all live together.

Higher population density is often touted as a good way to reduce resource consumption. If planned right, this means that people take up less space, need to travel less, need fewer roads, fewer sewage pipes and less infrastructure in general. High population density allows us to build cost-efficient public transit systems. Additionally, mixed-use neighborhoods can reduce travel distance even further for most workers.

Now, even though on most days I don’t care to see all of your smiling faces, let’s take this to its logical conclusion. Let’s put everyone in the same city to try to cut down on the 70% of the energy everything but food uses. And having everyone in the same spot will cut down on the food bit too, since all the food is shipped to more or less the same place.

First let’s figure out how much space we’d need. Wikipedia has a list of high density cities. I’m going to base this model off of Paris since most of us have been there or at least have a good idea of what it looks like. It’s also the first large city on that list in the West, which is where most of my readers are from. And, aside from the people (désolé, Parisiens,) it has a good reputation as the City of Love or whatever.

There are about 21,000 Parisians per square kilometer. The world population is about 7 billion, so if we all lived like Parisians, we could fit into about 330,000 square kilometers. About the size of Germany. (For us Americans that means a little bit more than New Mexico or a lot less than Montana, but I’m from Montana, so, it means a lot less than Montana,).

Smaller than Montana but with 80 times as many people. Europe feels tiny.

I’m pretending that the world is flat. That is to say that people can build skyscrapers on the sides of the alps and stuff. And that all land is equally arable in order to cut down on the numbers of things I have to think about. Furthermore, it makes drawing maps with Paint a lot easier.

So, great. Problem solved. Resource use is way, way down. The rest of the world can be dedicated as a place to get resources, a wildlife sanctuary and places to go on vacation.

Oh except that 30% energy consumption for food.

Nearly 40% of the world’s land area is used for food production. That’s… well, that’s a lot.

Screw you, Nature.

This is… well, we can overcome this.Sure, Africa and Europe’s ecosystems will be completely gone, but If we generate all of our electricity in green ways and shoot food hundreds of miles through pneumatic tubes to the city, we can totally still ship fresh fruit at hundreds of miles an hour into the mouths of hungry consumers in a green way.

Not to mention water. I’m envisaging giant aquifers in the style of the old Roman ones, though, so it’s still cool. Oh, oh, or we can recycle all of our drinking water. No, don’t worry, astronauts do it. Drinking your own pee is cool, then. I guess. Ahem. Oh, and there’s no washing machine up on the space station either so astronauts tend to wear the same dirty clothes over and over. Like I’ve said before, space is awesome.

Also, no matter how well we try to reduce travel distance for workers, some neighborhoods of our Germany-sized city will specialize. Which means some poor sap is going to have to commute a few hundred miles in each direction everyday. Living downtown might not be an option unless you’re amazingly rich. Monaco already has the worst rent in the world at over $10,000 a month. I, uh, can’t really afford that.

If you decide to get there by driving you’ll have to deal with the worst traffic jams in history. I’ve already experienced rush hour in Germany, it’s not fun and there’s only about 80 million people there now. I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how bad it would be with 7 billion–probably much worse than the current record set in Beijing, where a traffic jam lasted for 12 days.

Okay, so let’s take the metro. The busiest metro system serves Greater Tokyo’s 33 million people. The people refer to using the metro as “commuter hell,” cars commonly run at 200% capacity and women are groped so often that they began introducing women-only cars.

I’m not sure we could get along either. Income disparity is already terrible around the world, but being one metro ride away from seeing the richest people on the planet while you live in a shoe box in the middle of the street won’t help global strife. At least major war would probably go down. Nobody is gonna say “Bye, honey, I’m gonna go down the block to bomb the Russians,” since the nuclear fallout is even more guaranteed to kill everyone.

Everybody would want to leave. We’d have to ration vacations outside of the city. The most desirable jobs would be living outside of the city in tourist resorts. Eventually some people would escape into the Alaskan wilderness and we’d have to send in future techno-soldiers after them. You’re welcome, science fiction writers.

I guess what I’m saying is that living on Coruscant* would suck. But that’s still totally easier than cutting down our resource use. Or even simple things like eating less meat. Or being honest to kids about sex.

*Nerd interlude: Places like Wookieepedia say that Coruscant has 1 trillion people. That is so wrong: if Earth’s land area were covered like Paris, we’d have 3 trillion. The buildings in Paris are a lot shorter than the ones on Coruscant… you can still see he sun at ground level.

Ending Global Warming with Giant Explosions

Yes, yes, I know that you already know all about global warming. How it will inevitably kill a good portion of the human race, how very boring. Evan, you’re thinking right now–or yelling at your monitor depending on your current state of mental health–this is all somebody else’s problem.

While my entirely justified misanthropy salutes any sort of attitude that effectively dooms the human race, I’m a little perturbed at the vast number of animals we’re taking out with us. This, among other things, completely negates my plans to save the tiger. It also will probably have somewhat of a negative impact upon my own personal well-being. So today I figured I’d single-handedly end global warming so I can go back to playing StarCraft and humanity can find a method of self-harm with less collateral damage.

I’m also not here to discuss who or what is responsible (hint: it’s humans,) since fighting the corporate attitude of we’re all going to die but I’m going to die rich, isn’t productive. Let’s just focus on solutions.

The only issue for me is finding a solution that is even more absurd than some of the ideas already floating around out there. Let’s see what we’ve got here, giant mirrors to deflect some sunlight,


Pictured: Not enough absurdity.

Futurama did an episode where farting robots push the Earth further away from the sun, we tried solving the issue with porn, and a scientist has brought up the possibility of spraying the atmosphere with sulfuric acid, which we’ll probably end up doing. The most absurd solution of all has to be asking people to be just a smidgen more reasonable about energy consumption and use renewable technologies, la dee da dee da.

That last option seems a little boring. There are no giant explosions. And anything without giant explosions is, frankly, un-American.

A good example of when a giant freaking explosion led to rapid global cooling is right before non-avian dinosaurs went away. Now, we all know the leading theory is that the extinction event was caused by aliens, mammalian time travelers, dinosaurs trying to end global warming, a giant rock from outer space (so, still totally aliens). But the exact mechanics of how one big impact destroys countless species isn’t well understood. What we do know is that this space rock kicked up enough dust into the air to bring on global cooling.

Alright, problem solved! Let’s steer a giant asteroid into the Earth.

The asteroid that destroyed a good chunk of what would become Mexico hit with 100 million megatons of force and ultimately ended up killing off some 3/4s of all plant and animal species by blocking out the sun for decades–a situation I’d like to avoid repeating.

Unsurprisingly I’m having a little trouble finding data on the exact amount of force we’d need to end global warming but not end life as we know it on planet Earth. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a mathematician or physicist so we’re just going to hope that the giant rock we fling into the Earth will be big enough to counter act the global warming we already have and not so big as to kick up enough dust to cover the land in enough darkness to make Sauron blush.

So first we need to find an asteroid to steer into the Earth. Good thing there’s something like 10,000 of them.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We can always just wait a few million years and the problem will solve itself.

Unfortunately most are like Apophis (scheduled to make a close pass in 2029) in that they’d destroy a town or a state or country or whatever, but wouldn’t hit hard enough to cause an impact winter. What I’m learning from writing this article is that life is a lot less exciting than I thought: most large asteroids have an absurdly low chance of hitting us.

That’s okay though. We can increase those odds. All we have to do is wait until the media freaks out about the next big asteroid that will hit us, then the scientists will calm them down and say that it is much less likely than winning the lottery. Then we alter the asteroid’s course through the heavens.

Now, various space agencies have landed probes on the moon, Mars, Venus, Titan, and yes, even an asteroid when NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker touched down on Eros in 2001. So the technology to navigate there is fine.

The real problem is fuel. A fundamental problem with rocket launches, and one of the reasons we need the space elevator already, is that the heavier the load, the more fuel a rocket has to carry. But the more fuel a rocket carries, the heavier it is, so we need more fuel to carry… etc. (A more sciency explanation, here,). One of the many reasons launching probes is cheaper than launching humans is that because we don’t really give a crap if they die alone out in the cold cosmos; we don’t have to pack them a ride home.

Anyway, we need enough power to move a giant rock through space and to counteract its considerable inertia. Eros, for example, has a mass of 6.69×1015 kg, which is a fancy way to say that it weighs more than 1.02 trillion bull elephants. The Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever put into use, could have brought a mere 39 bull elephants into Low Earth Orbit.

One trillion: a number slightly larger than forty.

Which is not exactly the same thing, since altering an object’s orbit and bringing elephants into near Earth orbit isn’t entirely comparable. Again: I’m not a physicist, and solving these sorts of problems is why the phrase “well it’s not rocket science!” exists.

The other thing is that 39 elephants worth of mass can pack a hell of a punch if that mass is put to use as nuclear bombs. America put men on the moon six times at a cost of only about 4% of its GDP. We can bump this number up to seven if we figure that we won’t make the same mistakes we made during Apollo 13 (the mission, not the movie, you know that movie is flawless,).

Placing bombs directly on the surface of the asteroid would probably be better than shooting them from some outer-space silo because we can time the explosion and make sure that it is positioned exactly where it needs to be on the asteroid to have the desired impact.

The largest nuclear bomb ever detonated was Tsar Bomba by the Soviets in 1961. We’d be able to lift about 150 of these things if we had seven Saturn Rockets and somebody managed to miniaturize them (totally not a dangerous precedent, to have suitcase-sized bombs,) to fit on board. Given enough time, that is actually plausible.

Also, we could also strap a rocket to the asteroid and push it in our direction. Again, this would require a large amount of advance knowledge since acting earlier has bigger effects over the long term.

Longest term, we could have a probe orbit the asteroid, which due to the fact that it would slightly attract the asteroid thanks to the intricacies of gravity, would change its course.

Unfortunately the exact math at this stage is impossible to calculate, since astronomers aren’t 100% certain of where asteroids will be over the next 86 years and I am, again, not a mathematician.

The other issue is that in order for this to kick up dust, we have to hit land, which usually means people. Siberia, Antarctica and Greenland, watch out, I’m looking at you as possible asteroid impact sites.

Just as an estimate, the Apollo Program cost 145 billion in today’s dollars, which, actually, sounds a little cheap. China can add a bit to our debt right? Just so we can watch two giant explosions, devastate a large portion of Antarctica and probably kill off 75% of animals and plants on Earth.

But damn, that would be a cool way to go.

How to Save the United Kingdom

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is in danger of having his heart broken if Scotland votes to be independent. He said this, of course, in Scotland, and later went to attend the naming ceremony of what will be the UK’s next carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, also in Scotland, where the carrier was partially built.

Just to be sure that the message was absolutely clear that some Ministry of Defense money flows North, the Queen forewent the traditional bottle of champagne for a bottle of Scottish Whiskey to smash against the ship while listening to bagpipes. Reporters didn’t say if she also wore a kilt and ate haggis before christening the ship after an English Queen known for imprisoning and beheading Mary, Queen of Scots.

What a change since the times when no one broke away from the Empire without a major war. Or when the other side has Gandhi. Of all people, this leads Russia, who is no stranger to putting down revolts, to not take the UK very seriously. “Britain?” Russian diplomats say, “It’s just a small island no one pays attention to.” The BBC didn’t take kindly to this. They responded with an article explaining how Great Britain is really, in fact, a big island. And besides, the word great is right there, before Britain. That counts for something, right?

It is a bit hard, going from the world’s largest Empire, spreading English around the globe, and having one fourth of the world’s population as subjects, to playing second fiddle to the United States.

The UK’s GDP has slipped from being the foremost in the world to number 9, just behind Brazil (not to mention their former arch-enemies, the French). In terms of GDP per person, the average Briton now makes about $11,000 less per year than the average American, a trend that used to go in the opposite direction until just a few years ago.

So, what would you like to do, UK? How about cozying up to the rest of the EU. Eh, no? Full of Euroskeptics? You really did just give a plurality of the vote to freaking UKIP? Okay. No go there. Reestablishing the Empire is probably not a good idea. The Western world can hardly stabilize individual countries like Iraq or Afghanistan much less take over and hold large parts of India. Well, what about accepting your place in the world and just trying to be a great country without being a great power? I mean, the average Briton is still much better off than the vast majority of the world.

No? Okay, I have another solution. You’re not gonna like it, but hear me out.

You’re really not gonna like it.

Lately it may have struck some Britons that they misplaced a few soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly a decade. They may have even noticed that Iraq was entirely America’s idea and we didn’t even bother giving the world any sort of reason (at least, not any sort of reason that stood up to more than two minutes thought). Or, the first Gulf War. Or all that time in Kosovo. Americans are grateful for your support of course, but I’m not sure what we were doing when Argentina decided it owned the Falklands.

If the Special Relationship means giving over important foreign policy decisions to the US, you may as well have a say in it.

And of course, joining the US is the only way to have a vote in Congress.

What could be the possible downsides?

*You’d have to adopt the ugliest currency in the world, the US Dollar. The US dollar is so boring it doesn’t even have naked ladies riding sharks.

*You’d have to replace uninspired, bland leadership that forgets every promise immediately after the election with uninspired, bland leadership that forgets every promise immediately after the election with an American accent.

*A certain rich, unelected, German-descended family, while not having to give up any practical powers of influencing government, is going to have to come up with new titles to put before their names.

*It will put the final nail in the coffin of the Empire. Britain tried so hard to rule the world that it has at one time or another invaded 90% of all the countries on Earth. After joining the US, this effort will no longer be orchestrated from London. Instead that process will be organized from Washington.

*While you’d have representation in the democratic process, this would mean an end to complete self-determination. The British would also lose a certain something that comes with being free and independent. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, ask the Scots.

*It’s a little embarrassing to be absorbed by your former colonies–although you would be able to play on a less embarrassing World Cup team to make up for this.

*If you join, we’ll update the flag, but still arrange the stars as boringly as possible,

but at least we’d freaking represent Wales.

Wow, those are some cons. Let’s get to the pros.

First of all, there’s this:

81 Votes of Electoral Dominance

That right there is a reallocation of the U.S. Electoral College if Britain were to join the Union. (The process of redistribution can be found here). Because each state is guaranteed to have two senators it would make the most sense to join as four separate states if you want to maximize representation in Washington. 81 votes would suddenly be British.

The US House of Representatives is set by law to 435 voting members but the Senate can expand, and would, to 108. There are additionally 3 votes given to the District of Columbia, even though the government has found them not worthy of having a voice in the Legislature. This brings the new total up to 546. This website would have to change its name to 274 to Win.

Because of the vast size of the UK voting block, and how close recent US elections have been, US Presidents will be pretty much whoever the UK votes for. Having a 15% share in the Electoral College could have swung every election for the past 26 years. If you’re liberally minded, this means no George W. Bush. For conservatives (although Conservative and conservative don’t necessarily mean the same thing) that means losses for Clinton and Obama.

There are some other advantages:

*So long as states have a republican form of government the Constitution is cool with it. So the Brits can keep parliamentary democracy to decide state affairs.

*English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments would have the best of both worlds as part of the bigger government and retaining the ability to make decisions on local issues. The US Constitution includes what we called Reserved Powers just for the states. The Federal government has never, ever figured out a way around this. Not even once.

*The US and the UK have a long history of cooperation. Starting near the beginning of the 20th century they’ve cooperated in peace and war. Before then, not so much, what with plenty of border disputes in Alaska, Maine and New Brunswick, and the Oregon Territory. And how the US supported Irish Independence. And the Empire didn’t exactly help the Confederates, but they didn’t hurt them either. During the war American sailors violated British neutrality to capture some Confederates and the UK considered an invasion of the Union. Oh,  and two major wars we actually did fight. But all that stuff from before the two countries got along doesn’t count.

*British citizens could be part of the largest single-nation market in the world providing stability for its economic interests. The US has never, ever blundered economically.

*These are uncertain times. Sure, the UK has a nuclear deterrent, is on some islands that haven’t been successfully invaded since 1066. But wouldn’t they feel more secure being protected by the US Military? You know, besides already being part of NATO. We know you’re jealous of our aircraft carriers.

*Plenty of Brits live in the States and plenty of Yanks have crossed the Pond to live in Britain. We’re also huge trading partners and are deeply interconnected. It’s obvious we’re better together.

Sounds like a pretty good deal. Just remember that if the UK became the next four states, their taxes wouldn’t go to subsidizing a pillar of Western culture and democracy like Greece. Nope, that money is going straight to Arkansas.