November 18, 2004

SHOULDN'T WE BE IN EQUILIBRIUM BY NOW?:

Empty Maternity Wards Imperil a Dwindling Germany (MARK LANDLER, 11/18/04, NY Times)

It is a typical night in the maternity ward of this city's second biggest hospital and the loneliest place is the nursery. Empty baby beds are lined up against a wall like rental cars in an airport parking lot. A colorful mobile hangs hopefully over the still room.

With more than 1,000 beds, a team of doctors and midwives but only a few births a day, the Frankfurt-Höchst hospital has an abundance of everything except babies.

Germany's falling birthrate, like that in much of Western Europe, is entering its second generation. This means not only that mothers continue to have one or at most two children - too few to reproduce the population - but also that the number of potential mothers has dwindled.

The reunification with eastern Germany, where the birthrate is even lower than in the west, has made matters worse. Dresden, the capital of depopulated Saxony, closed 43 schools this summer because of a lack of children. Elsewhere in the country, there are too many hospitals and even too many roads.

Germany, like several of its neighbors, is running out of the people it needs to sustain its advanced social systems and public infrastructure.

"There will be 10 million fewer young people in my lifetime," observed Frank Schirrmacher, an editor at the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who has written a best-selling book about population trends in Germany. "Our whole infrastructure is designed for a bigger population."

Mr. Schirrmacher and other commentators conjure up a sort of reverse Malthusian nightmare: Germany as a land of predominantly geriatric towns and cities set in a deserted, creeping countryside.


If you're just now figuring out that Malthus used his rectum for a hat your society doesn't deserve to make it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2004 5:46 PM
Comments

You're both too harsh on Malthus, and a slight hypocrite.

Malthus pointed out a problem, and, given the knowledge that he had of the world at the time, was completely correct in his assumptions.

You claim not to believe in "science", yet it was science that made Malthus a liar.
Advanced farming methods, agricultural technology, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizer, advanced well drilling techniques, and mechanical water pumps have kept crop yields ahead of population growth. Even if Malthus had been a science fiction visionary like Michelangelo or H.G. Wells, he certainly couldn't have counted on nebulous future technological advances to bail humanity out, any more than we can claim that some future Mars colony will save Earth someday.

Go to Africa, where some populations still utilize "sharp-stick" agriculture, and see where your disbelief* in science ultimately leads.

Malthus was thankfully not correct in his vision of the future, but saying that his insight was foolish is the exact same sort of disjointed post-hoc reasoning that leads some to call Bush a "liar" for believing that Saddam possessed WMD.

--

* I am aware that you divide "science" into nuts-n-bolts technology, which you admit works, and an attitude or mindset, the "religion" of science; however, you oppose implementing many new technologies, and also support rolling back the applications of others.

Posted by: Michael "Mars or Bust" Herdegen at November 18, 2004 7:06 PM

You're both too harsh on Malthus, and a slight hypocrite.

Malthus pointed out a problem, and, given the knowledge that he had of the world at the time, was completely correct in his assumptions.

You claim not to believe in "science", yet it was science that made Malthus a liar.
Advanced farming methods, agricultural technology, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizer, advanced well drilling techniques, and mechanical water pumps have kept crop yields ahead of population growth. Even if Malthus had been a science fiction visionary like Michelangelo or H.G. Wells, he certainly couldn't have counted on nebulous future technological advances to bail humanity out, any more than we can claim that some future Mars colony will save Earth someday.

Go to Africa, where some populations still utilize "sharp-stick" agriculture, and see where your disbelief* in science ultimately leads.

Malthus was thankfully not correct in his vision of the future, but saying that his insight was foolish is the exact same sort of disjointed post-hoc reasoning that leads some to call Bush a "liar" for believing that Saddam possessed WMD.

--

* I am aware that you divide "science" into nuts-n-bolts technology, which you admit works, and an attitude or mindset, the "religion" of science; however, you oppose implementing many new technologies, and also support rolling back the applications of others.

Posted by: Michael "Mars or Bust" Herdegen at November 18, 2004 7:07 PM

Michael:

Well said. Malthus couldn't have known about fossil fuels, either.

Without which, there would be one heck of a lot fewer humans around.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 18, 2004 7:34 PM

Michael:

No, he simply wasn't right.

Yes, technology is scientific, science isn't. that we can develop technology does not mean we should use it.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2004 7:36 PM

In recent travels to southern Mexico and Asia, I was struck by the number of young single German women cruising around. No wonder Germany's birthrate is cratering; can't keep the child-bearing women down on the farm.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at November 18, 2004 9:16 PM

Norman Borlaug has probably saved more lives than anyone else in human history.

Science is useful, it's the philosphy of science that is often bogus.

Posted by: Gideon at November 19, 2004 1:39 AM

I was just telling my wife about this article after our visit to the Obstetrician. We tried to visit the maternity ward of the hospital as well - but they wouldn't take us around as all the delivery rooms were full. Just a typical night in American Fork, Utah. SOMEONE has to reproduce. Might as well be us.

Oh - and our county went 86% for Bush.

Posted by: Jason Johnson at November 19, 2004 1:51 AM

Our planet needs fewer people, not more. The notion that a Germany with 60 million instead of 90 million will somehow be empty is laughable. First of all, the retirement age should increase reflecting current realities of how we live. Secondly, there is the time value of money to consider. The Social Security issue anywhere is merely an actuarial one. Crunch the numbers and change the formula. It's just that simple. Third, Germany has significant unemployment issues of its own especially in the East. Increasing the population will not alleviate this. What the Germans need to do is end the sclerosis of their economic thinking. Not only big stodgy corporations or the public sector can create jobs. Finally, European nations aren't going to war anytime soon, so they don't need that many young males with an excess of testosterone and a shortage of ways to work it off.

Where Germany creates problems is by importing Turks and other Muslims, the wrong kind of immigrants. It should be importing Eastern European Christians, who suffer from vast underemployment and unemployment, and would be willing to do those jobs the Germans shun.

Posted by: Bart at November 19, 2004 6:49 AM

Bart:

There's never been a rising nation nor a growing economy with a declining population and there likely won't be. We need a culture of life.

Posted by: oj at November 19, 2004 8:31 AM

More people might be undesirable for aesthetic reasons, but the Earth doesn't "need" fewer people.

Properly managed, supporting 60 billion people wouldn't be much harder than the 6 billion that we have now.

Six trillion people isn't out of the question...

"Overpopulation" problems are really just issues of poor management.

Posted by: Michael "Soylent Green" Herdegen at November 19, 2004 9:16 AM

Mr. Herdegen;

Actually, that's almost certainly an impossible to support population. Where you get in to trouble ultimately is waste heat. Once global energy use becomes a significant fraction of incident solar energy, you really will have global warming.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at November 19, 2004 10:42 AM

Bart -

People are resources as well as problems.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at November 19, 2004 12:21 PM

Don't worry, Deuschtland. You won't be depopulated.

While the ethnic Deuscthe will be "predominantly geriatric towns and cities set in a deserted, creeping countryside", your Muslims are breeding little Mohammeds like crazy.

And if they're not enough, there are always those future Jihadis coming out of the breeding harems in France's Muslim slums.

And their brand of Islam is al-Qaeda's and Taliban's.

Posted by: Ken at November 19, 2004 2:09 PM

Michael,

The fouling of the water table in India and Africa is a serious problem, which is the direct result of overuse of the land for agricultural purposes due to population pressures. I also dare you to walk around, go to the post office, the supermarket, the movie theatre and not come to the conclusion that if the vast majority of the hoi polloi were to merely disappear that the world wouldn't be a better place.

OJ,

Managed population growth in places like Japan, South Korea and Thailand preceded economic growth.

Posted by: Bart at November 19, 2004 5:45 PM

AOG:

We don't use energy particularly efficiently now; there's every reason to believe that 60 billion people could survive on exactly the same amount of energy that is currently used, if it were correctly directed.

Having said that, I agree that the challenges would be enormous.
They're just not impossible to overcome.

Bart:

The fouling of the water table in Africa and India is the direct result of them not caring about agricultural runoff. They value current survival above future, due to their poverty, which is a result of their incompetent past choices.
Their cultures are obsolete, and need some mind-adjustment.

I agree that I'd be much happier if most ignorant, and especially all rude people were translated, but I also recognize that there are quite a few people who find me insufferable, as well.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 19, 2004 8:58 PM

Bart:

And population decline will be accompanied by economic and geopolitical decline--it takes a few years for an entire society to commit suicide.

Posted by: oj at November 19, 2004 9:45 PM

"Once global energy use becomes a significant fraction of incident solar energy, you really will have global warming."

True, but that's part of the design for a densely populated planet. For instance the Atomic Powered Condensers on the top level of Trantor heat the air to double the average Kelvin temeperature here, dissipating eight times the heat Earth can.

Posted by: Ripper at November 19, 2004 11:25 PM

Michael:

AOG is, as usual, exactly right.

Humans need both energy and fresh water to survive. I doubt very much whether there is enough fresh water on the planet to support 60 billion people, no matter how efficiently used.

Similarly, the energy 60 billion people need to survive may well exceed the energy flux from the sun, and almost certainly does when throwing those pesky Thermodynamics considerations into the mix.

There are, at least in the medium term, sufficient energy sources to create fresh water and supply the energy required to keep all those human machines running. Even in the very long term, should fusion ever become reality.

But that's where Thermodynamics refuses to lay down. All those activities absolutely will generate lots of waste heat which will inevitably warm the planet, no matter the degree of carbon dioxide-driven global warming.

Never mind most people would have a tough time envisioning what about life on Earth with 6 billion people could be made better by having 60 billion.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 20, 2004 9:32 AM

Jeff:

Have children?

Posted by: oj at November 20, 2004 9:45 AM

"enough fresh water on the planet to support 60 billion people"

Antartic Icecap- Thrity million cubic km
or Thirty Thousand Trillon cubic meters
US. Consumption 2000 cubic meters per year
--
Enough water for 250 years use by 60 billion people.

------

"energy flux from the sun" We can create our own suns, prompt fusion reactors are 52 years old.

Posted by: at November 20, 2004 11:00 AM

Anonymous:

You drove right by the point. It wasn't whether there is enough, only the consequences of producing it.

Turning that ice into water requires a lot of heat, every bit of which, and probably five times more (thanks to Thermodynamics) would directly warm the earth's climate.

AOG will probably set me straight if I am way off here, but the result would dwarf anything even the most radical global warming zealots predict.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 21, 2004 8:14 AM

That was me, my previous response about global warming was that a higher average temature is part of the plan to alow the planet to dissapate more heat. If we want to envison a maximally populated Eath we need to consider our extreme options for each parameter.

Here's a few to tweak

Average effective surface temperature- If we can run this up to 600 degress the total global energy budget is about 16 times higher than the mostly "wasted" natural rate. Right now Antartica is an isolated cold zone, operating it as an isolated hot radiator could bring the effective average up while allowing us to lower the temperature of other regions.

Imports- One obvious option to increase density would be food imports.

Oceans- The heat from melting the ice cap could freeze a big chunk of Ocean, opening building space.
.....
-----
Remember if your remodeling plans aren't radical you haven't stretched the planet yet.

Posted by: Ripper at November 21, 2004 9:54 AM

Ripper:

600 degrees? Surely you meant 60.

Food imports from where? Grown with what water?

"Oceans- The heat from melting the ice cap could freeze a big chunk of Ocean ..."

Huh?

You simultaneously want to raise the global average temperature whilst freezing--permanently--a goodly part of the ocean surface because putting energy into the system to melt the ice cap will make the higher global temperature colder.

Huh?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 21, 2004 3:30 PM

"600 degrees? Surely you meant 60."- No, 60 wouldn't dissipate as much waste heat.

"Food imports from where?" How about comet irrigated Mars; for a start? I don't see a reason for urealistic limitations if we're looking for a maximum population number.

"raise the global average temperature"- The heat transfer from a section of the Earth is proportional to the fourth power of the absolute temperature. So the effective average temperature is sensitive to the maximum temperature. We could calculate the exact numbers, but roughly, Earth with Antarctica  heated to 700 degrees and the rest at normal tempertures might radiate waste heat as well as the whole planet at 600.

Posted by: Ripper at November 21, 2004 8:56 PM

And just precisely do you intend to keep 700 degree Antarctic air in Antarctica and 60 degree air everywhere else?

The resulting torrent of air rushing in to replace the rising air (both hot and wet) over the Antarctic would make Hurrican Andrew seem a mere zephyr.

Never mind with what energy you hope to do that in the first place.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 22, 2004 7:49 PM

http://www.ace.mmu.ac.uk/eae/Ozone_Depletion/Older/Polar_Vortex.html

"The topography and circular shape of Antarctica is
such that a stagnant whirlpool of extremely cold
stratospheric air forms over the region during the
long polar night. The air circulates within this polar
vortex all winter, ... Such a
vortex also exists in the Arctic region, but to a
lesser degree. The Arctic region consists of many
distinct landmasses and islands spread out around the
North Pole, and so the air cannot circulate quite as easily."

The rough idea would be to set up a similar hot air pattern using air heated by an atomic powered heat pump. The cold working fluid produced would be used to cool down other continents as needed.

Posted by: Ripper at November 23, 2004 8:33 AM

Ripper:

Wonderful, but that isn't what I was talking about.

A hot, wet airmass is a heat engine dying to happen. All that energy you pumped into it is dying to get out. As that air rises, pressure decreases, and water vapor condenses, releasing latent heat that further drives the engine.

Hurricanes form over 90-ish degree water, resulting in storm systems sometimes hundreds of miles across.

One can only imagine the effect of a 500-600 degree differential.

And all that heat pump stuff is not 100% efficient, or anywhere close. There will be lots of excess heat, and it can only radiate faster by making the entire system hotter.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 23, 2004 8:38 PM
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