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.