I=PAT

I have written for other forums brief essays on the future of humanity in the light of what we know about human evolution (including evolutionary psychology) and the human situation in the 21st century. A list of all the essays is at the foot of the page.

V wrote on 7 November 2008:
>
> Hi nr, and group,
>
> No offense, but we cannot conserve our way out of the dieoff.
> To understand this look at [Paul Ehrlich's] IPAT equation: I=PAT.
> I = Impact. P=total population. A=affluence. T=technology.
>
> You want to reduce A, per capita consumption, but your
> christan philosophy increases population. Therefore, I does
> not go down because population increases geometrically
> while conservation decreases at a snail pace, arithmetic rate.
> Malthus had most of this worked out in the late 1700's.
>
> V

This is where we need to separate in our minds the difference between "solutions", of which there are many proposed, and the reality of how the human mind operates.

If, for example, we went rapidly into a full-blown Permaculture type society, by definition this reduces "A" (affluence) and "T" (technology). It does not reduce "P" (population) by definition - but who can say what the impact might be on breeding by the species?

Would our breeding culture focus on the opportunities presented by the smaller ecological footprint and rush to fill the gap with more children? Or would the Permaculture ethos of sufficiency and the understanding of natural limits, the Earth as a system etc., + the examples of failure of non-Permaculture cultures, feed back into human behaviour of all kinds? [1]

We just don’t know.

Perhaps even after dieoff, when the human population is down to Lovelock’s “few breeding pairs” in the mosquito infested Arctic, they will still follow what turns out to be an unalterable genetic propensity to breed up to a level from which a crash is the only outcome, just like the deer on St Matthew’s Island (unless the population growth is managed by disease or other environmental constraints).

I am not advocating Permaculture as such, but my imagination tells me that something like Permaculture (in terms of its approach to the human impacts on Earth systems) is the only way our species will EVER be able to live sustainably. It will require our species to override its propensity to strive for Affluence and comfort provided by Technology and so succumb to the Tragedy of the Commons. Low/soft- technology solutions to the human dilemma are easy to think up, but it is hard to imagine our lizard brains adopting them in practice and holding down “P” at the same time. I=PAT is a good place to start, but it may be too simplistic to treat it as an axiom. Hope so.

Keith

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Notes

1. A note on the maximum sustainable human population can be found here.

List of the essays on the future of humanity:

Essay 1: Human = reindeer
Essay 2: Hope
Essay 3: I=PAT (this page)
Essay 4: Evolutionary psychology and climate change
Essay 5: Conservation - the passing of the word and the idea
Essay 6: The 2008 economic crisis and evolutionary psychology
Essay 7: The purpose of life and evolutionary psychology

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Page up-dated 18 December 2008