How will we survive when the population hits 10 billion? | Charles C. Mann


How are we doing? No, no, no, by that, I meant, how are we, homo sapiens “we” … (Laughter) doing as a species? (Laughter) Now the typical way
to answer that question is this. You choose some measure
of human physical well-being: average longevity,
average calories per day, average income, overall population,
that sort of thing, and draw a graph of its value over time. In almost every case,
you get the same result. The line skitters along
at a low level for millennia, then rockets up exponentially
in the 19th and 20th century. Or choose a measure of consumption: consumption of energy,
consumption of fresh water, consumption of the world’s photosynthesis, and draw a graph of its value over time. In the same way, the line skitters along
at a low level for millennia, then rockets up exponentially
in the 19th and 20th century. Biologists have a word for this: outbreak. An outbreak is when
a population or species exceeds the bounds of natural selection. Natural selection ordinarily
keeps populations and species within roughly defined limits. Pests, parasites, lack of resources
prevent them from expanding too much. But every now and then,
a species escapes its bounds. Crown-of-thorns starfish
in the Indian Ocean, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes,
spruce budworm here in Canada. Populations explode,
a hundredfold, a thousandfold, a millionfold. So here’s a fundamental
lesson from biology: outbreaks in nature don’t end well. (Laughter) Put a couple of protozoa
into a petri dish full of nutrient goo. In their natural habitat, soil or water,
their environment constrains them. In the petri dish, they have
an ocean of breakfast and no natural enemies. They eat and reproduce, eat and reproduce, until bang, they hit
the edge of the petri dish, at which point they either
drown in their own waste, starve from lack of resources, or both. The outbreak ends, always, badly. Now, from the viewpoint of biology, you and I are not fundamentally different
than the protozoa in the petri dish. We’re not special. All the things that we, in our vanity,
think make us different — art, science, technology, and so forth,
they don’t matter. We’re an outbreak species, we’re going to hit the edge
of the petri dish, simple as that. Well, the obvious question:
Is this actually true? Are we in fact doomed
to hit the edge of the petri dish? I’d like to set aside
this question for a moment and ask you guys another one. If we are going to escape biology,
how are we going to do it? In the year 2050, there will be almost
10 billion people in the world, and all of those people will want
the things that you and I want: nice cars, nice clothes, nice homes, the odd chunk of Toblerone. I mean, think of it:
Toblerone for 10 billion people. How are we going to do this? How are we going to feed everybody,
get water to everybody, provide power to everybody,
avoid the worst impacts of climate change? I’m a science journalist, and I’ve been asking these questions
to researchers for years, and in my experience, their answers
fall into two broad categories, which I call “wizards” and “prophets.” Wizards, techno-whizzes, believe that science and technology,
properly applied, will let us produce
our way out of our dilemmas. “Be smart, make more,” they say. “That way, everyone can win.” Prophets believe close to the opposite. They see the world as governed
by fundamental ecological processes with limits that we
transgress to our peril. “Use less, conserve,” they say. “Otherwise, everybody’s going to lose.” Wizards and prophets have been
butting their heads together for decades, but they both believe that technology
is key to a successful future. The trouble is, they envision
different types of technology and different types of futures. Wizards envision a world of glittering,
hyperefficient megacities surrounded by vast tracts
of untouched nature, economies that have
transitioned from atoms to bits, dematerialized capitalist societies that no longer depend
on exploiting nature. Energy, to wizards,
comes from compact nuclear plants; food from low-footprint farms
with ultraproductive, genetically modified crops
tended by robots; water from high-throughput
desalination plants, which means we no longer
exploit rivers and aquifers. Wizards envision all 10 billion of us packed into ultradense
but walkable megacities, an urbanized world
of maximum human aspiration and maximum human liberty. Now, prophets object to every bit of this. You can’t dematerialize
food and water, they point out. They say, you can’t eat bits, and industrial agriculture has already
given us massive soil erosion, huge coastal dead zones
and ruined soil microbiomes. And you wizards, you want more of this? And those giant desalination plants? You know they generate
equally giant piles of toxic salt that are basically
impossible to dispose of. And those megacities you like? Can you name me
an actually existing megacity that really exists in the world today,
except for possibly Tokyo, that isn’t a cesspool
of corruption and inequality? Instead, prophets pray for a world
of smaller, interconnected communities, closer to the earth, a more agrarian world
of maximum human connection and reduced corporate control. More people live
in the countryside in this vision, with power provided by neighborhood-scale
solar and wind installations that disappear into the background. Prophets don’t generate water
from giant desalination plants. They capture it from rainfall, and they reuse and recycle it endlessly. And the food comes
from small-scale networks of farms that focus on trees and tubers rather than less productive cereals
like wheat and rice. Above all, though, prophets envision
people changing their habits. They don’t drive to work,
they take their renewable-powered train. They don’t take 30-minute
hot showers every morning. They eat, you know,
like Michael Pollan says, real food, mostly plants, not too much. Above all, prophets say
submitting to nature’s restraints leads to a freer, more democratic,
healthier way of life. Now, wizards regard all this as hooey. They see it as a recipe for narrowness,
regression, and global poverty. Prophet-style agriculture, they say,
only extends the human footprint and shunts more people
into low-wage agricultural labor. Those neighborhood-run solar facilities, they sound great, but they depend on a technology
that doesn’t exist yet. They’re a fantasy. And recycling water? It’s a brake
on growth and development. Above all, though, wizards object
to the prophets’ emphasis on wide-scale social engineering, which they see as deeply anti-democratic. If the history of the last two centuries
was one of unbridled growth, the history of the coming century
may well be the choice we make as a species between these two paths. These are the arguments that will be
resolved, in one way or another, by our children’s generation, the generation that will come
into the world of 10 billion. Now, but wait, by this point,
biologists should be rolling their eyes so loud you can barely hear me speak. They should be saying,
all of this, wizards, prophets, it’s a pipe dream. It doesn’t matter which illusory path
you think you’re taking. Outbreaks in nature don’t end well. I mean, you think the protozoa
see the edge of the petri dish approaching and say, “Hey guys,
time to change society”? No. They just let her rip. That’s what life does,
and we’re part of life. We’ll do the same thing. Deal with it. Well, if you’re a follower of Darwin,
you have to take this into consideration. I mean, the basic counterargument
boils down to: “We’re special.” How lame is that? (Laughter) I mean, we can accumulate
and share knowledge and use it to guide our future. Well, are we actually doing this? Is there any evidence that we’re actually
using our accumulated, shared knowledge to guarantee our long-term prosperity? It’s pretty easy to say no. If you’re a wizard, and you believe that hyperproductive,
genetically engineered crops are key to feeding everyone
in tomorrow’s world, you have to worry that 20 years of scientists demonstrating
that they are safe to consume has failed to convince the public
to embrace this technology. If you’re a prophet and you believe that key to solving
today’s growing shortage of fresh water is to stop wasting it, you have to worry
that cities around the world, in rich places as well as poor, routinely lose a quarter
or more of their water to leaky and contaminated pipes. I mean, Cape Town, just a little
while ago, almost ran out of water. Cape Town loses a third
of its water to leaky pipes. This problem has been
getting worse for decades, and remarkably little
has been done about it. If you’re a wizard, and you think
that clean, abundant, carbon-free nuclear power
is key to fighting climate change, then you have to worry that the public willingness
to build nukes is going down. If you’re a prophet, and you think
that the solution to the same problem is these neighborhood-run solar facilities
shuttling power back and forth, you have to worry that no nation
anywhere in the world has devoted anything like the resources
necessary to develop this technology and deploy it in the time that we need it. And if you’re on either side,
wizard or prophet, you have to worry that, despite
the massive alarm about climate change, the amount of energy generated every year
from fossil fuels has gone up by about 30 percent
since the beginning of this century. So, still think we’re different
than the protozoa? Still think we’re special? Actually, it’s even worse than that. (Laughter) We’re not in the streets. No seriously, if there’s a difference
between us and the protozoa, a difference that matters, it’s not just our art and science
and technology and so forth — it’s that we can yell and scream,
we can go out into the streets, and, over time,
change the way society works, but we’re not doing it. Wizards have been arguing
literally for decades that nuclear power is key
to resolving climate change. But the first pro-nuke march in history
occurred less than two years ago, and it was dwarfed by the anti-nuke
marches of the past. Prophets have been arguing,
again literally for decades, that conservation is key
to keeping freshwater supplies without destroying the ecosystems
that generate those freshwater supplies. But in the history of humankind,
there has never been a street full of angry protesters
waving signs about leaky pipes. In fact, most of the political
activity in this sphere has been wizards and prophets
fighting each other, protesting each other rather than recognizing that they are,
fundamentally, on the same side. After all, these people are concerned
about the same thing: How are we going to make our way
in the world of 10 billion? The first step towards generating
that necessary social movement, creating that critical mass and getting
that yelling and screaming going seems obvious:
wizards and prophets join together. But how are you going to do this,
given the decades of hostility? One way might be this: Each side agrees to accept
the fundamental premises of the other. Accept that nuclear power
is safe and carbon-free, and that uranium mines
can be hideously dirty and that putting large volumes
of toxic waste on rickety trains and shuttling them around
the countryside is a terrible idea. To me, this leads rather quickly
to a vision of small, neighborhood scale, temporary nukes, nuclear power as a bridge technology
while we develop and deploy renewables. Or accept that genetically
modified crops are safe and that industrial agriculture
has caused huge environmental problems. To me, this leads rather quickly
to a vision of plant scientists devoting much more of their attention
to tree and tuber crops, which can be much more
productive than cereals, use much less water than cereals,
and cause much less erosion than cereals. These are just ideas
from a random journalist. I’m sure there’s a hundred better ones
right here in this room. The main point is, wizards and prophets working together
have many paths to success. And success would mean
much more than mere survival, important though that is. I mean, if humankind somehow
survives its own outbreak, if we get food to everybody,
get water to everybody, get power to everybody, if we avoid the worst effects
of climate change, if we somehow safeguard the biome, it would be amazing. It would say, I think, even to a hardened cynic like me, maybe we really are special. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How will we survive when the population hits 10 billion? | Charles C. Mann

  1. The premise of his idea of nuclear is antiquated and out of touch. LFTR and MSR technology that has been proven and is being developed by Canada, US, France, India and China have none of the negatives that he addresses when talking about nuclear energy. Hope he does some research on next gen systems so he can be informed on the issue.

  2. Develop, grow ,think about not only about yourself be free ( more freedom for society it's always a good think)less government the so called world population is the last thing we all should be concerned about period.This is a big lie to put into our minds so we becoming artificial "green ecology puppets zealots" when we should be caring for people around us and the closest environment THAT s IT

  3. The more you have of anything – the less value is attached to same. ECON 101 – More Africans? …like we need more disposable human debris….Western Civilization must stem this if we are to have giraffes, or any of the animals we VALUE ….. there is diminishing value in breeding black and brown populations…. again Econ 101 … feel good empathy will diminish as these people burst their fouled nests and threaten ours. I vote GIRAFFES. and someone with a funny mustache.

  4. We won't. The next Bond event will kill as many as the diminished harvests cannot feed. There will be wars and democides (murders of groups).

  5. Spay neuter all humans over the age of 7. Black ppl have the most kids and white ppl have most kids too .I'm Chinese .u wouldn't dare in my China

  6. The illuminati have convinced us that we need to buy all this technology they have produced. We need a car. We need expensive holidays we need to own property. We need to have lots and lots money in the bank. It’s all a load of rubbish.
    We don’t need these material things. We can work less and have more time to enjoy our lives spending time with our family or enjoying our hobbies and pastimes. We will be happier. Life will be better.
    The only thing stopping us is the taxes that are taken from us. This leaves us in poverty. Whilst the establishment and its friends are all living a luxurious and privileged lifestyle at our expense from our tax money. Meaning we have to stay on that treadmill and keep them in the life of Riley. I reckon we should all become self employed and fiddle our books and give them no taxes. Don’t tell these greedy bastards how much you really earn. Don’t fund these evil establishment terrorists anymore. That’s the way to destroy them in no time.

  7. Could a country isolate it's self from other nations that "hit the edge of the petri dish"? I doubt it.

  8. When people can acknowledge their neighbor or even a coworker, we'll get there. Forget a text message and smart phones, people still need to share ideas verbally

  9. Actually, we are special. We don’t adapt to changes in our environment, we adapt our tools to changes in our environment.

  10. Hate to disappoint you. BUT! World land area 140 000 000 km/ Square divided by 10 billion people = 1 person every 0.014km/ sqr only half of that land is usable so 0.007km/square is not enough for everyone to farm…
    There is only one option…. Less people!!!

  11. Another concern-troll sounding alarm about overpopulation…the problem is we do not have much population. Look at russia, canada and australia severely underpopulated. Even usa is severely underpopulated. If anything, we have demographic crisis because not many people have children.

  12. Not sure how you can say humans aren’t special. We are the only creature that can distinguish what is morally right or wrong by our own conscience. Other creatures go by instinct and learned behaviors.

  13. I can sympathize with the idea that "people are the pollution". It goes right along with the adage not to value "quantity over quality". The human race is still figuring out how to elevate all of humanity to the highest potential. If a human walks, talks and breathes, but has little or no education and cannot support or sustain himself or the offspring he brings into the world, he is still part of the human race but adds very little to the community at large. These human beings still want equality. This is a big challenge and it really has nothing to do with race. An individual is either productive or relatively useless. As the relatively useless outnumber the productive, the relatively useless will need to be satisfied with a lesser equality because there will never be equality.

  14. I'm 43 years old now… never married … No kids …. You're welcome

    oh and the main reason? Brace yourselves …. Cuz I've never felt that I could honestly afford to have kids

  15. Don’t get it wrong idiots, first world country residents need to keep breeding, only 3rd world countries with explosive birth rates need to be regulated. China has been dealt with, it’s India and Nigeria’s turn

  16. That's why sacrifices are necessary because I am a useless person. I am a too lazy person because of my parents. I am a full term slacker too. It's irresponsible to overpopulate Earth. We all have to agree to start on that just to delay the overpopulation effect. Sucide booths will delay slowly, and the Purging delays way much more. I know volcano sacrifices are currently dead, but we are dealing with the consequences right now because of this Law. I deserve a citizenship sacrifice for myself unless if something changed me for the best.

    I don't think an anti-sucidal therapy would help because of my parents. I'm an autistic without any true friends nor jobs! I am too irresponsible for myself! I am ready for my own sacrifice, but I can't do it myself. An anti-sucidal therapy would make me feel like back to the things I've felt were. My stable aspect used to have a true female friend by my side just to help with my "responsibility" personality but it just faded away. I am feeling too unstable. That's why I'm saying that now. My new stable aspect I feel like being with innocent aliens with the same condition, but I highly doubt that there's nothing you can do to save me. I won't go to any sucide missions.

  17. Women are forced by males to CREATE WITHIN themselves as many babies as
    possible, as the Bible and the Koran does insist, that `GOD creates humans`,
    that a child is `a present from GOD`, and that every person got one single human
    life only, thus abortion is a SIN: Alike refusing to get pregnant again once more …

  18. Only people who think overpopulation is a huge problem types overpopulation and watch this video. The videos needs to go viral..

  19. so are those buttons functional or just purely decorative? his shirt is not opening but it doesn't look like the its the buttons making that happen

  20. Or we accelerate the destruction, enjoy the last decade partying and die. Nevertheless a new better civilisation will flourish out of our ashes like phenix, needless of possessions, greed, pollution. I guess the only thing we can do by now is think where would I like to be when the whole world falls into fire, and which feather of the phenix did I paint, if any at all?

  21. First, it doesn't seem we will hit 10M ever. Shame the most populous country in the world by 2100 is Nigeria… Africa IS the problem, population growth without economic output.

  22. I have a quick solution to this overpopulation problem. To everyone that agrees that overpopulation is upon us, please go to the top floor of the tallest building in your respective area and jump off the roof. Works for me. Overpop is a cruel myth…Tards!

  23. Im not having kids so Im helping this world out somehow I got to experience this beautiful world but I do not want other humans fucking up this planet, so I will not be having kids

  24. The world is not overpopulated. We could fit the world's population into the USA. Everyone with a house. We simply live in the same place: Mexico City, Tokyo, London (huge metropolis) leaving huge areas of land unpopulated (Siberia, Alaska, Australia).

  25. The problem comes from Africa, Asia, S America, and the Middle East…and allowing them to emigrate here. Europeans have long been shrinking in population, and it isn't helping. Making things worse, actually.

  26. I will make you all happy .. we never hit 10B .. we start collapsing at 8 in 40 years, enter full scale destruction at 9 and drop to 3 B in the 100 years after .. we don´t need special tech but we will have it , we don´t need more space etc. all the issues will be simply solved by baby limits and less population needing less of everything .. the answer to all of this is not thinking we should build a system to provide for 10 B but to build a system that will lead to sustainable 3 B 🙂 Less is more!

  27. Europeans went through their own massive population explosion spreading themselves across the planet, genociding others (America mostly) in the process.

    Now they want to claim the world is overpopulated, obstensibly pointing at developing & emerging countries

    Fucking rich

  28. You do realize that in more developed countries while people are being told to limit reproduction, in Africa (mainly the lowest educated villages) are reproducing at high rates on purpose, right? The stop reproducing message is pushed on the wrong people.

  29. How are we doing? A little too well.If humans can't learn
    to unlearn the competitive and acquisitive urges, we've had it.
    Tokyo a model? Nothing but concrete and stress and you might
    like to find out who REALLY runs the place before making sweeping assertions.
    Radiation from the Fukushima disaster has washed all the way over to California.
    The sea near Fukushima is highly toxic.Think again.

  30. The issue of over population cannot be discussed freely. It is contrary to the UN's design of re-colonization. The re-colonization of the free open lands of North America will exacerbate this issue by supplying the elevated lifestyle necessary for accelerated population growth beyond current projections. In other words, Charles petri dish just got a little bigger, and an accelerant was added, but the life support system shrunk. Bigger threat than warming; more controllable in comparison, but very unpopular.

  31. Great talk! However, you neglected to mention the biggest problem. Lack of willingness to engage in population control. Without Draconian measures, the world you envisioned will happen. Is happening…

  32. I like what he says as a topic that will not be handled until its too late. Do you want the fantasy answer solution or the cold dark underbelly….the truth? The truth makes you nauseous.

  33. Not to worry about 10 billion people in 2050. Business as usual in the face of the climate crisis will take care of the problem before either of those figures are reached.

  34. It’s crazy the world our kids will grow up in. I was indoctrinated in religion as a teen and young adult, got married and had 5 kids. Religion teaches that we are in the end times so we didn’t need to worry about having too many kids and that if you do they are a blessing from God. I was scientifically illiterate as well because I didn’t accept evolution. I finally woke up and questioned religion and de-converted. I can’t go back and change the fact that I had kids but I will do my best to educate mine on why it’s not the best choice for their future and also on how to be mindful about consumption. We are working towards becoming a minimalist, low waste family.

  35. Generally speaking, people don't change unless it hurts too much not to change, thus humanity is destined to hit the wall before 10 billion. Bank on it! All existing evidence points to this outcome.

    What we should to do first and foremost: at the U.N. level, mandate one-child-per-couple followed by sterilisation of both parents after a successful birth event. This is relatively cheap and totally doable. Nations that violate this protocol should be on the receiving end of tough trade sanctions until they do a 180.* If we adopt such a scheme, global population could return to less than 2 billion within one hundred years time.

    *Nations with a population of 10 million or less could be exempted from the one-child-per-couple limited, and allowed to have proper population replacement, which I believe is around 2 children max per couple, but no more!

  36. Birth control! Just don't hit 10 billion. Stop having so damn many kids. Kill religion as this is the biggest barrier to free, pervasive birth control. Teach every kid how reproduction works and how to stop it. And, by the way, this is exactly what is happening in the world. This video doesn't even hit the most important solution.

  37. I believe Charles C. Mann is referring to Earth as humanity's petri dish, and currently I agree with him on that. I disagree with him because we can grow our petri dish. I believe that our solar system will become our larger petri dish within a matter of decades, supplying many precious metals from asteroid. Then, after we use all of those new resources, we will again seek out new ways to grow our petri dish even further.
    With that said, we do need to reduce, reuse, and recycle, I just do not believe it is as urgent as Charles C. Mann believes.

  38. Religion is the stupidity that promotes the "go forth and multiply" concept with zero concern for contraception, abortion, diseases entering the gene pool & the wars they cause for fighting for resources. It is completely irresponsible for our closed finite system. We have to do better.
    China was right with the one child policy. But did it far too long. We have to do that intermittently world wide.
    There is only so much phosphorus to grow food. And it is not a renewable resource. There is only a finite amount of farmable land. Destroying the rain forests to make more is beyond stupid. While climate change will hurt agriculture. The UN has these studies. And Hydroponics can only do so much. We run out of oil in less than 50 years if if the population stays steady. And the US uses it like it'll never run out. They also waste more fresh water on watering their lawns than drinking and farming which is insane. While other countries like India and China are becoming more developed. Transporting food costs will become a major problem to major urban areas. This will cause more fighting. A rise in more authoritarianism thus more war and suffering.
    Unless we use crispr gene editing world wide to make people need less food, water & health services, we're going to have even more horrific wars and needless suffering. So pick your poison u bunch of inbred morons because your gods are morons too.

  39. Lovely talk and we need to start rain water harvesting on individual home and society basis by building inverted Wells.

    Turning as much of the arid land into forest will also help but water infrastructure is the basis of everything.

  40. So… eating a bowl of oats and fruit in the morning will encourage democracy? I’d like to know how my diet is going to foster more robust elections.

  41. More people use more of EVERYTHING the earth has to offer.
    Eternal Growth using less is a minor slow down not a solution.

  42. Over 3 billion living in poverty today.
    Thats the world's population of the 1960s.
    The planet can let more exist but that's not the same as living.

  43. The biggest problem is that the majorly of those 10 billion people will be low IQ third world parasites. High functioning scientists, engineers and enlightened citizens are being eliminated by diversity police.

  44. Elon musk is already addressing distributed generation. Energy storage at each household is the way forward. Melting polar ice caps will provide a windfall of fresh water but we need better collection and diversion systems to harness this gift. Sodium gel fission reactors extend nuclear fuel life 900 percent. It’s societal problems that won’t be solved. The west continues its suicidal mission of importing educational failure and poverty from third world countries. Many of these invaders have an actual agenda to install their own culture and harsh religious doctrines that are incompatible with western values. These people breed like roaches, consume much and contribute little. That’s what will doom humanity.

  45. started exponentially then just an straight year on year growth / we are very different because we reproduce differently and there must eventually be a limit(11 Billion) to our species.toblerone is toblerOWN – not some sort of italian chocolate!

  46. I know, let's build a colony ship, load it up with hairdressers, managers, consultants, & the like, then send them into deep deep space as our advanced party.

  47. Two technologies are on the cusp of a huge game changer. many of ourconcerns overpopulation, the homeless, health care ,

  48. Fusion and graphing will be the two huge game changers, with those two techs fully developed this planet can comfortably be home to …. wait for it … wait for it …… with a “T” trillions , 10 billion is insignificant, a nothing number. Without them and the coming sci-fi technologies around the corner …… yeh we got serious problems that need addressing.

  49. Not a charming guy. We are feeding 7 billion people better than we fed half that number 30 years ago. Population statisticians say the population explosion is slowing, and will top out at 11 billion. Daunting, but we might be able to manage it. We are not protozoa. There is still hope.

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