The End of Doom

The Coming Century of Environmental Renewal

A new article in BioScience vindicates The End of Doom.

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BiodiversityRobertAdrianHillmanDreamstime
Robert Adrian Hillman/Dreamstime

Modern environmentalism preaches unrelenting gloom and doom both for people and for the planet. A typical example is this Guardian headline last month: "Collapse of civilization is a near certainty within decades." The article reported the reliably wrong population doomster Paul Ehrlich's latest predictions of global ecological disaster.

But while doom remains the dominant worldview among environmentalists, some vanguard thinkers are beginning to take notice of the strong trends toward environmental renewal that the increasing wealth produced by markets and technological innovation are making possible. In the latest issue of the journal BioScience, three researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society argue that over the course of this century increasing wealth and urbanization will enable the global restoration of wild nature.

From the article:

For the first time in the Anthropocene, the global demographic and economic trends that have resulted in unprecedented destruction of the environment are now creating the necessary conditions for a possible renaissance of nature. Drawing reasonable inferences from current patterns, we can predict that 100 years from now, the Earth could be inhabited by between 6 and 8 billion people, with very few remaining in extreme poverty, most living in towns and cities, and nearly all participating in a technologically driven, interconnected market economy. Building on the scholarship of others in demography, economics, sociology, and conservation biology, here, we articulate a theory of social–environmental change that describes the simultaneous and interacting effects of urban lifestyles on fertility, poverty alleviation, and ideation. By recognizing the shifting dynamics of these macrodrivers, conservation practice has the potential to transform itself from a discipline managing declines ("bottleneck") to a transformative movement of recovery ("breakthrough").

These predictions are nearly identical those I made in my 2015 book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century:

THE END OF THE WORLD IS NOT NIGH. Far from it. Humanity does face big environmental challenges over the course of the coming century, but the bulk of the scientific and economic evidence shows that most of the trends are positive or can be turned in a positive direction by further enhancing human ingenuity. Let's briefly review that evidence and those trends.

Human population growth is slowing and will very likely peak at around 8 to 9 billion in this century and begin falling. This virtuous trajectory is the result of a combination of happy developments, not the least of which is expanding education and oppportunities for girls and women around the world. The process of economic growth reduces child mortality, which in turn encourages parents to have fewer children and invest more in their health and education. Increasing agricultural productivity ameliorates hunger and liberates people from the fields to seek better opportunities in cities. Rising agricultural yields that result from the application and spread of modern farming technologies, most especially including biotechnology, also means that the amount of land devoted to crops and pasturage is shrinking. Humanity has already likely reached "peak farmland," which means that huge swaths of land will be restored to wild nature over the course of this century. …

Assuming that world population grows to 9 billion by 2050 and that 80 percent do live in cities, that would mean that only 1.8 billion would be on the landscape, as compared to 3.6 billion today. If world population tops out at 8 billion, then only 1.6 billion people would live in the countryside—2 billion fewer people than live there now. …

As people abandon the landscape, this greatly enhances the prospects for protecting and preserving the planet's biodiversity.

People at the end of the century will be much wealthier than we are today….Average income per person globally will have increased from around $10,000 today to $60,000 by 2100. US annual incomes would average just over $100,000. That amount of wealth enables people to buy a lot in the way of health, education, and wild nature. …

New technologies and wealth produced by human creativity will spark a vast environmental renewal in this century. Most global trends suggest that by the end of this century, the world will be populated with fewer and much wealthier people living mostly in cities fueled by cheap no-carbon energy sources. As the amount of land and sea needed to supply human needs decreases, both cities and wild nature will expand, with nature occupying or reoccupying the bulk of the land and sea freed up by human ingenuity. Nature will become chiefly an arena for human pleasure and instruction, not a source of raw materials. I don't fear for future generations; instead, I rejoice for them.

I am delighted that folks from the Wildlife Conservation Society now recognize that global ecological restoration depends upon alleviating poverty by spurring economic growth and technological innovation through markets. I hope that they will be able to persuade the broader environmentalist movement to abandon its attachment to counterproductive policies that slow growth, perpetuate poverty, and ultimately fail to protect and preserve wild nature.

For more background, see also my article "The Invisible Hand of Population Control" and my review of biologist Chris Thomas' superb book Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. In addition, you may want to view my 11-minute talk on the subject at Voice & Exit:

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  1. The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century:

    Fine, I will buy it. I bought Tucille’s mystery novel. I’ll buy this.

    1. Book = successfully pimped

    2. Does 2-chilli’s novel involve a federal agent disappearing in the Arizona desert?

      1. So far, it involves a guy who lives as a wild-man on federal lands, and a set of Park Rangers who burned him out of his home, and burned down the forest around him in a pursuit to get more funding for their department.

        1. Also, a cult involved with removing all humans so nature goes back to nature.

          So, it’s super fucking Tucille libertarian types.

      2. It rolls right along, very satisfying and fun. We need to #him for a sequel.

  2. THE END OF THE WORLD IS NOT NIGH.

    Stop it, Ron. How are we gonna get people to vote for us if they’re not afraid?

    1. Earth is nigh-vulnerable.

  3. Anthropocene

    Ouch. My eyes rolled so hard it hurt.

  4. Good luck with that. With Environmentalist working towards banning anything besides organic farming, we’ll see the future they warned about because of their own ludditism.

  5. :05 TAKE YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR POCKETS! THAT’S NO WAY TO GIVE A SPEECH!

    1. :10 Thank you.

  6. He makes some very good points. However, he is basically agreeing that overpopulations is a huge problem. He is simply saying we don’t need to worry so much because fertility rates in the future will “probably” take the lower demographic projections, not the higher. I sure hope he is right. If not, more doom and gloom.

    1. Nature has a way of keeping animal populations in check over the long run. No reason to think she would treat humans any differently.

    2. He is actually making a whole bunch of assumptions to come to his conclusions. 1. That the decline in fertility rates will accelerate. 2. Humans will get much better at reusing, and recycling resources. 3. Alternative energy technology will improve dramatically. 4. We find better ways to combat invasive species. 5. We grow most of our food in high tech green houses in the future. And so on.

  7. Dude, all humanity’s proven so far is that if it finds a source of easy energy, it breeds like flies in shit until it exhausts the load, often choking on it’s own poop (as we globally warming seem to be). Unless we can get off of oil, we’ll die like yeast in a beer bottle. If we can’t make the switch now, if civilization falters, the reachable oil is only reachable by a full on tech civilization and we’ll never be able to bloom back up. Keep your pollyanna face on that humanity is somehow different than yeast in beer. I’m at best 50-50.

    1. The only thing that’s actually been proven so far is that every single prediction made by the Malthusians, the “peak oil” crowd, the global warming apocalypse squealers, etc. etc. has been flat out wrong.

      1. Not just wrong, way the fuck off in the other direction wrong. Humanity has been doing a damn fine job of innovating and adapting. “Modern” humans breed less. After the boomer generation dies off, we’ll consume a lot less energy/stuff too. When VR catches fire, I think the world economies are going to have one hell of a time adapting, but they will. After the mass adoption of VR, consumption and energy demands will plummet. I see the automation of food and manufacturing having a massive effect on energy consumption in those markets too. We’re becoming far more efficient and we’re consuming less. Now if we could just stop throwing bombs at each other…

  8. Of course Malthus, and Ehrlich’s projections aren’t happening the way they predicted. Because fertility rates, and food production changed dramatically. Even so, we are still heading to a future with 11+ billion people, when we already have 1 billion that can’t find enough water. Water wars are a reality right now. Syria’s civil war was triggered by rapid population growth, and drought. When the population of Africa doubles in the next 50 years, we can kiss most of the continents iconic wildlife good bye as well. The refugee crisis of the future will make current refugee populations look small by comparison. Bottom line, one needs to ignore the effects of 7.5 billion people on the environment to believe there isn’t a population problem.

    1. Except that’s all wrong, or just one possibility.

      We’re probably going to peak at 9 billion people at most. Possibly lower, but not likely higher.

      Africa wouldn’t double in population if we stopped subsidizing their breeding. They can’t even feed themselves, so we feed them, enabling them to breed beyond their own carrying capacity. We also don’t have to allow starving morons from third world toilets to move into our functional societies. We’re fools for doing it. We need to NOT act as an escape valve for shitty running countries, but make them suffer the consequences of their mistakes so they fix them. If we let in refugees they’ll simply destroy our societies too. See Asia for countries that handle this shit correctly.

  9. I would have hope for the future if not for the dire political situation.

    We could totally deal with every problem thrown at us as a species if they socialists are kept at bay.

    And the globalists too. Reason is big on delusional internationalist utopianism, but it just doesn’t work in the real world.

    Nation states are the way to go. Doesn’t mean we can’t be nice to each other, and trade, etc but the dream of the borderless world will only do one thing: make sure the problems from shitty countries drag down better ones. Being that I live in a better one, I don’t want to see that happen either.

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