What if a billion people were suddenly removed from our Planet? I had a conversation recently at a family gathering in which it was suggested that this was our only hope if we were to avoid an upcoming environmental and economic collapse.
I'm not going to even consider the residual environmental effects of what would be a massively unbalancing event. Let's assume that one billion people in Asia (only because that's where it's most densely populated) were removed in a magical way without any radiation, toxicity, or similar side-effect. Because our global economy is so interconnected I would contend that such an occurrence would probably wipe out at least another billion people and probably more in other parts of the world. Think of how many industries rely on products, parts or services made in China, Japan and India. Most global industries would grind to a halt. Food production would be affected, trade routes would be disrupted and the resulting starvation and geopolitical chaos would likely sink the world into another dark age. It would probably take at least a generation to recover from such a radical depopulating of the Earth.
I've heard some others say that things are probably not as bad as it seems. Citing historical situations in which it seemed hopeless until things changed in ways that were not anticipated. They seem to have immense faith in our capacity for technological innovation and count on these kinds of developments to save us.
I believe that the solution to the upcoming environmental and economic crisis does not require us to radically and rapidly depopulate the Earth. Nor must it rely on future technological innovations to save us. It requires another kind of innovation to help us to make necessary decisions in a way that overcomes our paralysis. I feel strongly that we already have all of the technological tools necessary to avert the collapse and that we are already aware of what needs to be done. The problem is that we are stuck in a kind of Prisoner's Dilemma.
1. If we all fail to do the right thing then we all suffer economic and environmental collapse in the future.
2. If you do the right thing but others don't then you end up suffering the collapse in the future anyway, but worse, you have the added indignity of losing out economically to your competitors and being poor until the collapse arrives.
3. If we all act to do the right thing then the worst of the collapse could be avoided.
But nobody is inclined to be the first to voluntarily take the appropriate steps to avoid collapse because they can't rely on the others to do the same. This applies inter-personally as well as internationally. Why should I sacrifice or why should Canada sacrifice when others with whom we are competing won't do the same? This is why it becomes much like what's called a Mexican Stand-Off in gangster films. Imagine a scene in which several people have guns pointed at someone else in the room. If any one of them shoots their gun then it will likely trigger a cascade of bullets and all of them will probably die. If one of them does the right thing and lowers his gun then he risks being killed by the person pointing at him who may not act as honourably. So they're all frozen in indecision until someone takes the initiative to fire or somehow convince everyone to lower their guns simultaneously.
The social innovation required is to find a way in which we can all lower the gun at the same time. The Prisoner's Dilemma is only a dilemma because each prisoner is not allowed to consult the other and to act in concert. If they were allowed to collaborate and cooperate they would arrive at the best result for both of them. We can perhaps subvert the prisoner's dilemma by communicating to each other that we will simultaneously do the right thing in order to arrive at the best possible result for everyone. The innovation which is required is social innovation and effective cooperation. Perhaps our ever-expanding access to ubiquitous media could help us to achieve this.