Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Progress and Concern

Today WICO released report on the world’s progress in implementing the global strategy. It includes updates of fundamental statistics and expectations for the future based on experience and lessons learned.

There were several surprises. The biggest surprise was a much larger drop in population projected for the transition, in part due to a much lower birthrate than projected for this year. Another surprise, related to the first, was higher per-capita consumption after the transition. 

Following WICO’s companion announcement that catastrophic climate change remains an imminent existential threat, even with 60% more habitat freed up by the transition, WICO’s Widely Dispersed Pollutants team revealed that it is ready for full scale use of genetically engineered microbes (GEMs) to remove excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and the oceans. A declassified summary it released discussing capability, design, and test results had another surprise: GEM populations are doomed to crash if concentrations of gases in each medium fall to unsafe levels.

Based on our test experience, my team was tasked with helping to monitor local effects of the initial GEM deployment while continuing our search for safer alternatives to that and other approaches included in the global strategy. We share an especially strong concern about this technology, mainly because its deployment is necessarily pervasive and potentially adaptable (by evolution or otherwise) to causing population crashes in other species such as ours.

Reality Check

Upgrades to the Timelines model have enabled more insight into its potential real-life manifestation. Incorporation of climate change variables and simulations to reduce its magnitude and effects have converged on an alternate future that does not include reduction of population as was chosen for the simulated world Hikeyay. That, and practical considerations related to personal survival, have limited efforts that could be made to update fiction like this blog and its related book series BIOME. 

This update remains true to the history of Hikeyay, with alterations to its trajectory that serve as a valuable contrast to other possibilities. The following graph shows projected values of global variables referred to in the blog text. Note that “catastrophic climate change” is assumed to be associated with a global temperature anomaly of 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level.

Annual changes in some of those variables are shown below.

Changes by phase are among the new insights. They are presented below for the years 2019-2021.

A summary of the state of the world at the end of the transition is shown below.

The GEMs are based on my own ideas. Any similarities to existing technologies are purely coincidental - and scary.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Population Crisis

A recent spike in births similar to the baby boom of the early 1950s now threatens to derail the world’s efforts to reduce the risk of imminent extinction. “Clearly the mechanisms put in place by the global strategy have failed,” WICO admitted in a recent statement. “A task force has been convened to study the problem and provide both an explanation and a solution as soon as possible.”

Maura is a member of the task force, and has made its mission the top priority of our team at Colorado Holistic University. Sociologists and biologists at other research organizations around the world are also collaborating, with Ambassador Lazlo leading the task force from London and personally directing WICO’s resources in the effort.

Our investigation focused on clues from history and observations from simulated “worlds” that Sally developed in parallel with her work on the global strategy. The AI herself was surprisingly reticent about suggesting an explanation, which in a human might have been interpreted as a sign of embarrassment. She has, however, devoted considerable bandwidth to helping us come up with one on our own.

The most promising hypothesis so far came from one of the simulated worlds, whose history diverged significantly from ours just after World War Two. Its population was wary of unknown threats to civilization, including consequences of ravaging the natural world. Instead of pursuing unlimited growth, they sought to create a healthy world that would maximize how long people could live and thrive. They set a sustainable limit to their standard of living and achieved it by deliberate, careful development of technology while maintaining a slow increase in population marked by both a low birth rate and a low death rate.

“It was their caution that saved them,” Maura concluded after intense study of the simulation using her ability to experience the simulation as if it was a real world. “They knew what they wanted and what they could have, and stopped when they had it. Change was a transition only, which they would be completing right about now.” She paused, considering the implications for our current situation. “We, on the other hand, have been anything but deliberate. We’re in a panic, and we’re going too fast. I suspect that our overly-aggressive reduction of consumption this early in the transition has triggered a natural human response to having more resources available: people are procreating to fill up the space, no matter what anyone says.”

I noted that Sally would have known all that, and should have planned for it. “Maybe she did,” Maura suggested excitedly. “The most obvious consequence of this baby bubble is a sudden increase in the number of young people in the population. What would that do for us?” She did a quick calculation. “That’s what I thought. I’ll bet Sally either made an oversight or she didn’t think we’d go along with this part of the plan.” I was confused. “We need enough people capable of having children after the transition to maintain our starting population, which they’ll be old enough to do.”

Reality Check

The trajectories of global variables have been adjusted to replace natural losses of older people with youth who can sustain the population. This is done by exponential decreases in total consumption (4.25%) and the ratio of needs to remaining resources (3.51%) until total consumption can be sustainably supplied by naturally replenishable resources (total consumption less than 0.8 Earth per year). Final per-capita consumption is 1.4 times basic needs per person.

The condition of the world in mid-2020 looks like this:

An interesting coincidence emerged from my study of the impact of our coronavirus pandemic on population: the projected change in age this year is equivalent to the same number of people as in Hikeyay Prime (126 million). Old people dying in our world cause the same age change as additional births in Will Jackson’s world.

Simulation Maria has the following trajectories.

In mid-2020, that world has the following characteristics:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Phased Leadership

Since my last entry, Maura and I have finished moving into a new home and been busy analyzing all of the information collected by WICO relating to the preparation and implementation of the global strategy to delay extinction. Sally, who has since adopted the surname Sanda (her name until she came out as a sentient artificial lifeform), spared enough bandwidth to help us with much of the data collection and analysis.

We’ve made several discoveries, among them the relationship between social leadership characteristics and the changing distribution of population between activity phases. This naturally required an historical perspective that Maura was happy to provide: 

“To be effective, leaders must address the range of life experiences in their community or else the community loses cohesiveness. Our biology has prepared us to live as colonizers, the first phase, but cultural and technological innovations have enabled us to inhabit the other six phases. 

“One if the most significant of the cultural innovations was a response to most people having become developers, in the second phase. The creation of a government where every person has equal value, and is responsible only for what they do instead of who they are, provided a way for developers to peaceably coexist with the remaining colonizers and coordinate their actions to potentially benefit everyone. 

“As the world entered the adaptation phase in the 1800s, roles and experiences diversified with the use of technology to convert natural environments into artificial environments, and a growing number of governments extended their main tools for regulating behavior, laws, along with new ways to enforce them, to deal with the changing range of interactions people could have with those environments and each other. 

“The number of people increases exponentially with increasing phase, so there is typically a net loss of people in the lower phases even as the total population gets larger, with the greatest rates of loss when new phases start being populated. Such transitions are therefore the most fraught with danger, which the world found out a century later when the fourth phase was breached with twice the population at stake. It took two world wars to set the stage for a truly global community whose scale would be necessary to manage the consequences.

“It’s lucky for us that the WICO framework was chosen for the design of that community. The magnitude of the changes underway and the threat of misjudging them that the last war exposed was enough to convince the world’s leaders to be cautious and provide a means of sharing knowledge and coordinating activities that could have potentially global impact. While national autonomy was still prized, having too much presented an unacceptable risk to everyone; and so, monitoring and control mechanisms were adopted following a vigorous debate about basic values to be adopted on a core level by every organization on the planet.

“Unluckily for us, the risks of developing fossil fuels and their derivatives were not considered as thoroughly as they should have been. Leaders were too fixated on its promise of quickly achieving the ultimate goal of maximum happiness, population, and life expectancy. They also failed to also consider that the goal itself might be a trigger for catastrophic consequences involving variables they didn’t even know existed. 

“The combination of those two oversights led to a series of what we now know as transitions to higher phases over the following 70 years. Despite not understanding their cause, WICO was able to reduce the most disruptive aspects of each, such as radical flipping of ideological dominance within component governments, by tracking and anticipating effects while initiating coping protocols through local agents such as the Extinction Response Units. Understanding their causes and switching governance to ecologically-defined regions and sub-regions will make those efforts more effective and efficient as we intentionally move through transitions into lower phases.”

Along with the majority of other nations, the United States is holding its last major election this year. The winners, most of whom have already been identified, will be responsible for decommissioning of government infrastructure and functions along with any remaining handoffs to the Extinction Response Unit and relevant sub-regions.

Reality Check

History matches ours up to the end of the second world war and only approximates it after that.

The annual change in the number of people within each phase over the period 1950-2050 is shown below for the simulated world of Hikeyay Prime, as a fraction of people in each previous year.

For reference, the following is the annual change for simulation Green (matching historical data) for the period 1950-2040:

Note each pair of peaks, where a large peak is closely followed by a smaller one (such as the pair for Exploiters consisting of a peak in 1973 and the smaller one in 1976).
The large peak marks the transition of people into its phase which appears to be correlated to the dominance of politically right-leaning leadership. The smaller peak appears to be correlated to dominance of politically left-leaning leadership.
This is in stark contrast to the peaks in Hikeyay Prime, a difference that is explained away by Maura as a consequence of WICO’s organization but is actually due to the more well-behaved function used for the underlying ratio of remaining resources to human needs. If the political correlation does hold up for Hikeyay Prime, it is likely with the decay portion of the larger peak.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

New Year

Last Friday’s anniversary of the Global Emergency declaration also marked six months since the execution of the global strategy that resulted from the declaration. 

In a report to WICO yesterday, Maura summarized the world’s progress in terms of our work on developing historical context and guidance. Following is an excerpt. 

“The most useful measure of the state of a population continues to be the ratio of ecological resources consumed by people for basic needs to the resources consumed by, and comprising, other species. Expressed in terms of activity phases, it is predictive of, or strongly correlated to, the range of global variables we care most about at regional and global scales, since the phases define relationships of people to their natural environments and, by extension, each other.

“Applying the phase model to history, we have observed what would be expected from the merging of groups of populations and environments with larger ones that consume more per person: growth of a global population that is expanding through each of seven phases with regard to the world’s total environment. 

“The merging is done in the first phase, colonization, and continues until there are no more new groups to merge with. Converting merged groups into integrated larger groups is done in the development phase, which includes a workforce dedicated to managing and converting resources so they can more efficiently meet people’s needs and wants while continuing to grow the population. In the third phase, adaptation, a growing sense of identity with the combined group orients its population toward common goals such as the customization of people’s environments in order to maximize happiness. A maximum in happiness and consumption of renewable ecological resources is achieved in the climax phase, which would be the final phase if the means and will didn’t exist to consume more than ecosystems produce. 

“Using more requires consuming the sources of what is already being consumed. In this exploitation phase, people gain both a new maximum in happiness and a maximum in life expectancy which is short-lived because they are depleting resources that cannot be replenished. Continued efforts by colonizers to search for more resources, and any success drives the depletion that forces those in the climax phase into a new phase, decline, where they experience a precipitous drop in happiness and life expectancy. When life expectancy reaches zero, there are no more children and the people in the resulting phase, decline, will soon face the final phase: death. When total resources are low enough that the entire population as one group is statistically in the termination phase, then it is facing near-term extinction.

“The Global Emergency declaration was issued as the global population was less than six years from entering the termination phase. In terms of phase, it is where it was a half-year before the declaration, still in the exploitation phase. The preferred outcome of the global strategy adopted in response is expected at the end of a 20-year transition that was started in July. The closest historical analogue to that outcome is in 1999 when the world was in the climax phase and people were about to enter the exploitation phase; but with key differences that per-capita consumption will be held constant at the level it was in 1909 and there will be no population growth.

“What happens after 2040 depends on our success in stopping the external impacts from reducing the total amount of resources. Failure could result in a spike in deaths equivalent to the whole population being suddenly treated for the bubonic plague, with the effect of reducing overall consumption to a level that might be sustained for no more than another 20 years. Projected spikes in phase and zero birth rates lead us to believe that it is most realistic to expect extinction by that time.”

Reality Check

Global variables in the simulated world as a function of phase are shown below:

The range of phases experienced over time is shown below:

This is unique to the simulated world of Hikeyay (simulation Hikeyay'). Following is what the phases for our world would look like if we attempted a similar strategy starting in a year later.