The Incomputable Math of Capitalism
The impact humans are having on the planet has always been the result of a very simple equation, with two basic multiplier components: 1) how much impact the average human has on the planet (emissions, habitat destruction, pollution etc.) and 2) how many humans are on the planet at a given time. Over the past millennia, and especially over the past two centuries, both of these parameters have increased dramatically, sometimes exponentially. It is a consequence of pure and simple math therefore that, in order to keep our impact on the planet the same, if one of these parameters is increasing, the other one should be decreasing. If one is increasing exponentially, the other one should be decreasing by a similar amount: exponentially. Sorry, but this is not a debate. Numbers are numbers.
Given how our consumption, energy use and pollution, on a per capita basis, have increased exponentially, there is already an unfulfilled “negative exponential debt” on the other part of the equation, which we still haven’t paid: decreasing our population. We are seeing the disastrous effects of not taking action in this area: CO2 emissions and climate change, plastic and other pollution, and the 6thMass Extinction. All of these are a result of exponentially increasing multipliers. It should therefore not be a surprise to anyone that all of these crises, without exception, are accelerating in an exponential manner.
So, in comes the savior: The Green New Deal, whose countless iterations have failed to address the need for population control. Instead, they have had us foolishly believe that their solar panels and electric cars can achieve such a dramatic reduction in the energy emissions, pollution and other impact of humans on the planet, that we could actually get away with having even more humans on Earth, increasing the numbers of the very species which is responsible for all of these calamities. Wow. Can we at least have the “Green New Deal – The Movie” Hollywood version first. I guess no one has yet attempted to tackle sci-fi dark comedy. I imagine the closing scene would have the Earth glistening from space with solar panels sprayed like glitter all over its surface. On the ground, busy wind turbines almost conceal the orange sunset of yet another successful day wrapped up. And high up on a corporate tower, the original architects of the Green New Deal, now diabetic fat cats, have a late day board meeting: they have received the final calculated carbon footprint bill that all of their “creations” cost them, and the Earth. As the shock hits them, they look at each other speechless. The movie titles begin to roll, as the planet sails into the dark space like a ship of fools, more lonely, more lost than ever before. Game over.
Yet this is not a fucking movie but the most likely scenario. Because it almost appears as if no one has really done the simple, but impossible math of this disastrously naive “green growth” approach that lacks any pragmatism or foresight whatsoever. Because the real goal is not only to maintain our impact on the planet as it is. Given how late we already are in the lesson of climate physics and climate gymnastics, we know that we need to actually dramatically decrease our impact to account for the last couple of hundred years of frenetic capitalism and “emissions gone wild”. We need to scale down everything, to reduce the size of entire economies, if we are to have any hope of effectively slowing down climate change and the ecological extinction apocalypse. With a population increasing at the same time, only “exponentially negative emissions” can save us. Can we get some new script writers in for the movie sequel please? We need more imagination, more fantasy, more green illusion pizzazz. Just tell them to go nuts, chicken on the house from me.
“Scale down” and “reduce” are of course words that the capitalist machine does not understand. But without any population controls in our arsenal, we would be up against a double challenge: not only having to decrease our overall, total impact on the planet, but on top of this having to decrease the average human impact (per capita) so much more additionally, to account for all the new humans parading every day into our global population tally. Some may call this goal over-ambitious, I call it ludicrously impossible. The fantastical absurdity of current Green New Deal mathematical models (if any of them actually exist?) is a fairy tale of Alice in Wonderland proportions. If the Wonderland can’t get any bigger to accommodate a chain-smoking Alice high on her fossil-fuel tea, then Alice will shrink. She’ll just drink the magic potion and downsize herself, so that she can keep having kids and expensive tea parties with the rest of the bunch. From zero emissions to negative emissions, the architects of the Green New Deal have the blood of the planet and the next human generation on their hands.
So how can it be that I, George Tsakraklides, a scientist with no substantial publications, not even a couple of Nobel prizes above my CO2-producing fireplace, have suddenly done the simple math no one else did? Well, actually many others have done the math. But few want to admit that they have, as the math didn’t give them the answer that they wanted. Yes, many environmental activists are not great with math, and they may indeed believe that a Green Investment and Growth Revolution alone can save us. I still have respect for those, naive ones. At least they think they are right. Not all of us need to be talented mathematicians.
But I have zero respect for the other ones. The ones that have done our grim math correctly, and know for a fact that a population reduction approach with plant parenthood policies at the helm should be an essential element of any approach. Their silence on the matter is dangerous, and criminal. They are giving people false hopes, green illusions, that “we can do it”, and still keep on bringing up new children. They will have a lot to answer to the children that will be born into this collapsing world. I urge them to reconsider their position. To take the risk of being truthful to their audience, and come into conflict with those who think that humans’ right to family should go above the rights of 150 species that go extinct every day, including the 1 species lost while you were reading this article. Because with 8 billion humans on the Earth, being pro-life is essentially being pro-extinction. Our traditional views on family need to be addressed, and so does the capitalist system that actually depends on “farming us”, so that more consumers are “bred”, which means more wallets that spend, more products being sold, more electric cars with toxic batteries, more environmentally destructive solar panels, more overall carbon footprint. Our goal should not be cleaner emissions but fewer emissions, and de-growth, scaling down, reduction, all the words that send shivers through the monster of Capitalism.
Capitalism doesn’t simply get an F on Math. Capitalism has burned down the algebra classroom and shot everyone in sight.
An increasing human population does not compute on a finite planet, as well as any type of balanced ecosystem, however one tries to look at it and justify it. The minute humans ceased to have any predators, they became responsible for controlling their own population: this duty is yet to be fulfilled.
Let’s stop the fantasies: that we will grow our own salads in zero-emissions vertical farms so that the land can be returned to CO2-absorbing forest. That we ourselves will expand vertically into luxury high rises so that our wastelands can re-wild back into beautiful natural habitats. Yes, all these things are possible, and as a scientist I know they are. But only on a planet without greed. A planet without humans.
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books