Tikopia IV or how to save civilization

Jan 24, 2017

How could a industrial based civilization become sustainable on a small rocky planet like Earth.

Tikopia is a small island in the southwestern Pacific that has been successfully inhabited for millennia without environmental degradation or population overshoot by its inhabitants. Unlike the larger planet Earth which is now suffering from population overshoot and total ecological system collapse Tikopia is a real symbol for sustainability. However, for the purposes of this blog we shall call Earth Tikopia II.

There are scientists who are now saying industrial civilization is not only unsustainable but that our civilization in eminent danger of collapse because of Abrupt Climate Change. If the planet warms up 5 C in thirteen years like it has done before (as seen in the Greenland ice core record 113,000 years ago) we are toast.

Regardless of how many years or decades we have left I find it to be a very interesting question as to just how could we have developed an industrial civilization without it leading to an ecological dead end and our demise?

Let’s say just for grins that we had developed the technological capability to emigrate to another rocky planet in a nearby star system because of the collapse of the ecological support systems on our Earth, what lessons would we have learned, what would we do different knowing that we had destroyed our only current home in the Universe?

First of all to transport a sizable number (100 K to 250K people) of people and other flora and fauna to a new star system would take vast ship, at least a thousand years at the pedestrian speed of 8 million MPH, and that is if we were lucky and found one nearby. Regardless of how we went about it this Ark Spaceship/Colony would have be a real Tikopia III just too successfully make the interstellar journey.

Tau Ceti is a likely candidate for such an odyssey given it is star similar (a G star) to our Sun, so let’s say our astronomers find a rocky planet similar to Earth there orbiting its parent star in the Goldilocks Zone. Knowing Abrupt Climate Change is kicking in with a vengeance and human life at any kind of scale that matters is just not sustainable our elites decide to pool the remaining Earth resources to build just such an Ark and set out for Tau Ceti with an quarter million people. The target planet there we shall call Tikopia IV.

For the purposes of this essay you need not concern yourself with the science fiction aspects of my story here. If you like just imagine a peculiar madness infected a large percentage of the Earth’s people and they collectively decide to remake the Earth into a one world government that will by instituting draconian laws and rule reduce the world population to sustainable levels and begin using only sustainable technology. I will leave it to you dear readers which of the two scenarios are more of the science fiction challenge.

After a thousand year odyssey the human race makes it to its new home in the Universe. They form a One World Government and decide on the rules for successfully inhabiting the new world without causing systemic ecological damage, the ability to sustain habitat without abandoning technology and civilization (abandoning technology would be one of the options seriously discussed.) What would such a plan even look like? Is it even possible to use technology and the form of civilization without destroying your host planet over the long term?

It is decided to hang on to what brought us to the dance and give (a wisely used) technology another shot. We are after all the tool using ape. Tools are just extensions of the body and not having fang and claw left to us in anything but a vestigial fashion is rather inconvenient for any thinking animal to attempt a reversion. They decide that they simply must control the human species baser nature to simply multiply and fill every ecological niche, step in where nature is incapable of regulating in the short term, and regulate ourselves. This would be a novel development in and of itself.

The major points would be as follows.

1: This government would have to be declared to be a secular government run by science and data and not religion. In point of fact religious based views would have to be kept out of any law or rule making and all laws and rules would have to be peer reviewed.

2: The total population of the planet must be controlled and not be allowed to grow beyond a certain preset number (500 to 750 million people) assuming the new planet is much like Earth (similar land and ocean areas, and resources). All corporations are limited to 80 year terms and must behave or have their charters revoked.

3: All energy sources as much a practical must come from renewable sources. Material resources, metals, minerals, and elements must be recycled as much as is possible. Machinery and instrumentality shall be so constructed as to be durable, repairable, and recyclable. All energy using technology must be designed for minimum entropy. All energy consumption is centrally monitored and regulated. Night and day shall be connected by one electrical power transmission grid.

4: Food and meat production shall be set up to use natural cycles as much as is practical. Cost shall not be the primary concern but rather only a secondary concern after limiting ecological damage as much as possible. Large land areas used for said production shall be cycled and allowed to remain fallow for prescribed periods (decades).

5: Fractional reserve banking shall be closely controlled and the monetary system shall be based upon units of primary energy. The total money in the system shall be regulated to certain limits and not be allowed to grow beyond a point based upon per capita needs. Because of these limits the total amount of wealth accumulated by any one individual or entity shall be also regulated so that a basic guaranteed livable income is available to all regardless of their status.

6: High speed electric rail and maglev transportation shall be available to all around the planet. Personal transportation and trucking is to electric drive also. Airplane travel shall be reduced to the minimum necessary. Any liquid fuels shall be derived from biomass. ICE, turbines, and jet technology can only be used in limited application run with biomass fuels. Cars, trucks, bikes, motorcycles shall be electric drive in so far as practical. Some hybrid electric applications shall be allowed for range in certain situations.

7: Aerodynamic forms shall be mandated (Cd .14 plus or minus .02). Mass per brake horsepower shall be similarly regulated. After market add on that alter CD in a negative fashion will be forbidden. Higher speed ground transport (100 mph or 161 kph) can be allowed with lower Cd (Cd = to .12 or less) body forms.

8: Everybody votes, in person, electronically, or otherwise. Fines shall be levied against anyone not voting without a valid reason (medical or other incapacity). Elections are funding from public sources and limited to a six week period.

9: Healthcare and insurance shall be a right. A single payer system and automatic coverage from birth shall pertain. Insurance companies, the medical community, and the drug companies shall be tightly regulated so they can make a reasonable profit and no more.

I am sure anyone of you can think of dozens of other principles or clauses to include in with list. I just wanted to cover the highlights here. Things like adoption, birth control, abortion, and individual rights come to mind. Military service, the size of the military (small) and the construction of the government I have left suitably vague so you can fill in your own blanks.

Some of the Near Term Human Extinction (NTHE) groups I have been seeing seem to argue that all technology is bad, and any human civilization is doomed to fail. I disagree as you can see. I think the sinks in nature have some recuperative powers and as long as our numbers are limited and our impacts kept at low rate I think it might be possible for a human technological civilization to persist on a rocky planet like ours. In the example I have just outlined the population is 1/10th or less then current figures and carbon emissions are at least 1/100th of current practices per capita. This would mean the sinks would have to absorb at 1/1000th the rate they do now. The exact rates the sinks can deal with need to be determined scientifically.

It may just be too late for the current version of human civilization (as we know it) on this planet to save itself? I think the position that all technology is bad, unsustainable, and doomed to fail is not particularly helpful or useful. A real discussion is needed as to what form of technological human civilization could be viable over the long term is needed, and it just is not taking place. I would like to see more of this discussion about what would constitute a viable technological human civilization taking place. Population limits, energy sources, energy use rates, monetary constraints (energy is wealth), form of governance, laws, and philosophical outlooks are all grist for the mill.

This is the reason for this blog. I would love to hear from anyone (please post your comments here) who has some ideas that might materially enhance this discussion. You can call me a communist, a liberal tree hugger, or totalitarian dictator want to be, if you want, but it won’t be helpful. I say there is nothing like our imminent extinction to focus the mind. Our extinction is certainly in the cards and the stakes could not be any higher. If any of my readers have focused thoughts on this subject please all means contribute them. Thanks in advance, see you on the other side.

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