Sunday, November 27, 2022

Path to extinction? Sperm count accelerates its decline

For the second time in five years, scientists are warning about declining human sperm counts. (I wrote about this issue in "Declining sperm counts: Nature's answer to overpopulation?" early last year.)

Besides confirming the results of an important 2017 study, the authors now note an acceleration in the decline of sperm counts. In other words, whatever is causing that decline is getting worse. The rate of decline has doubled since 2000.

It's important to remember that when the fertility rate declines below replacement—currently 2.1 births per woman in so-called developed countries—populations shrink. This may not be a bad thing at first since overpopulation and overconsumption are huge barriers to building sustainable societies. But there comes a point when if fertility rates don't level off and then rise to replacement, extinction become a possibility.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Taking a short break - no post this week

I'm taking a short break this week and expect to post again on Sunday, November 27.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

What I learned from steady-state economist Herman Daly

Herman Daly, the dean of the steady-state economists, died recently at age 84. His view that the Earth could only support a steady-state economy in the long run—rather than the perpetual growth economy imagined by most of those alive today—was based on an understanding he came to early in his career. As a doctoral student Daly became convinced that the economy was a system like any other in the universe and therefore governed by physical laws.

So here are three important things I learned from reading Herman Daly and hearing him once at a conference long ago:

  1. The economy is a subset of the natural world and as such is governed by the laws of the natural world. Daly was particularly focused on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Entropy Law, which establishes that we live a universe in which the distribution of energy and matter are becoming more and more disordered. That is the meaning of entropy, and this disorder will ultimately lead to the heat death of the universe. (Don't worry; this scary-sounding heat death is theorized to be 10100 years away.)

    The practical significance of this realization is that human society is "using up" Earth's nonrenewable resources in the sense that resources:

    • Are being made into objects or products which erode and deteriorate over time thus scattering nonrenewable resources unintentionally.

    • Are scattered intentionally (think: phosphate rock fertilizers).

    • Are burned (think: fossil fuels).

    Once scattered or burned, they cannot be economically retrieved for reuse. That is, these processes cannot be reversed (except locally by creating more entropy).

    To build a civilization that could remain functioning indefinitely, we humans would have to 1) live in a way that does not exploit renewable resources faster than they can be replenished (think: trees and fish), 2) use nonrenewable resources at a rate that does not surpass our ability to find renewable substitutes before these nonrenewable resources become prohibitively expensive or inaccessible altogether, and therefore 3) limit consumption (and thus ultimately population) to a level that will allow this balance. This would be the steady-state economy.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Life (sort of) imitates art: Russian provocations in Norway

The 2015 Norwegian television series "Occupied" has what will strike viewers today as an upside down premise. In the fictional series Russia invades Norway on behalf of the European Union to restore oil and gas production shut down by Norway's new environmentally conscious government. Despite its odd premise, I found the series to be a gripping drama when I watched it a few years ago.

At that time the real Russian government was outraged by the suggestion that Russia would ever have any designs on Norwegian sovereignty. In a statement the Russian government said: "It is certainly regretful that in the year when the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Second World War is celebrated, the series’s creators decided to scare Norwegian viewers with a non-existing threat from the East in the worst Cold War traditions."

Fast forward to today and there is plenty for Norwegians to worry about. As the largest supplier of natural gas to an energy-starved Europe, the Norwegians now consider themselves a prime target for Russian sabotage of the country's oil and gas infrastructure as drones presumed to be Russian visit Norwegian offshore production platforms.