A Lateral View on Overpopulation

I recently finished reading the best book I’ve ever read: Dan Brown’s Inferno. The plot revolves around Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon waking up in a hospital without any information on how he got there. Long story short, he has to stop a plague from being released and killing most of the population. This plague has been created by a scientist who knows that if the population growth is not controlled, the human species will go extinct by 2100.

This got me thinking about overpopulation. First of all, is it real? You would say: “Of course it is! We’re being taught about it in school!” Let’s assume for a moment that it is real. Please keep an open mind as you read my views. Human population is increasing exponentially, and by the end of this century we will run out of resources. But that is only if our technology hasn’t advanced in tandem by that time. I mean, 2100 is a long way ahead. We already have the technology to 3D print houses!(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ultratravel/the-next-big-thing/10110195/The-worlds-first-3D-printed-house.html http://www.wimp.com/printerhouse/) It’s hard to believe that we will still be dependent on fossil fuels in the next 40 years, let alone 80 or 90 years. We will probably have managed to harvest the sun’s energy much more efficiently, and maybe use anti matter for electricity. But for the sake assume that we will still be dependent on fossil fuels for electricity (note that mining uranium also requires fuel so nuclear fission is still dependent on fossil fuels) then yes, we will die out, or at least scientifically go down the evolutionary ladder. But humans have a way of pulling through, and I strongly believe that due to our mental superiority we will eventually go back to our current status, and maybe even to a more advanced stage of civilization. Of course, this may take hundreds or maybe even a thousand years more than if we found an alternate source of energy. And we will need to find a budget friendly way to convert salt water to fresh water. But this is only if the risk of overpopulation is real.

Sure, it may seem like that now, and the last time there was a risk of overpopulation, the plague struck. But because of the plague, the Renaissance started. Humans don’t pay attention until a serious and grave catastrophe strikes. This is an element of Darwinism and nature’s way of keeping the population under control. Another disease like the plague will show up, except this time it won’t be quarantined so quickly. In any case, another world war is imminent and if the superpowers play a major hand, there will be a nuclear winter. If the U.S and Russia launch enough nukes then we will go into nuclear darkness. (http://www.nucleardarkness.org/warconsequences/deadlyglobalclimatechange/), and we will go into an extreme ice age, which will surely cause the consequences I have explained above, if not total annihilation of the human race.  Say that a miracle occurs and there is no war, but even then there would be widespread panic owing to depleting resources. Fuels will be expensive, and countries with a large population will pass strict laws in favor of population control, so as to support their citizens. A similar thing is happening in India now. With a population of over 1,000,000,000 (I put the number for effect), you can’t throw a stone without it hitting a corrupt cop or politician. This is causing the rupee to fall to Rs.60=$1. In 2008 it was 40 to 1. As the population increased, the economy crashed. As a result, commodities are more expensive to import and the country needs a smaller population to support or it will go bankrupt. There is another barrier for population: as prices of food, water and electricity go up, jobs will be harder and harder to find, and people will realize that having kids is too expensive, and this will affect population growth negatively.

These are two valid arguments, they both have an equal chance of occurring. In the end, is overpopulation a real threat or a myth taught to us in schools? It is too early to say, but if you ask me I think that there is a really small chance that we will go extinct, or run out of resources.

A Lateral View on Formal Education.

My tests have just gotten over, and I’ve been thinking about formal education, specifically about its necessity in today’s day and age. Formal education in the olden days was only provided to the higher classes and the lower classes had to be educated by their parents. Not much has changed today. The best education is given by big private schools, while the poorer people have to make do with whatever education the government provides them in the government aided public schools. That being said, what is the benefit of a school as an institutionalized education provider? As members of the privileged classes, we have access to the internet, and all the knowledge in the world. Yet we children are still sent to a private or public school as soon as we learn to utter our first sound. I am referring to the standardized K-12 education, especially in India. Everything we learn during this period, can be taught to us by our parent/s and/or the internet. Universities like Harvard and Yale also accept home schooled students, and they also get more scholarships. So why isn’t that a mainstream choice? Sometimes this type of education is better than institutionalised education. There is no stress of exams, there is no standardized curriculum, and we can focus on our strengths and interests. For example, I am interested in Theoretical Physics and Math but I hate Biology. I want to become a Physicist and can’t stop wondering how will the knowledge of asexual reproduction in plants help me later in life? I will memorise the chapter for the exams, but I will forget it soon after.  With homeschooling , I can focus on Physics, Math and other subjects that I find interesting, some of which are not in the standard curriculum, e.g., Quantum Physics. I may also focus on topics which I may need later in life, whether I like them or not.

But on the other hand, the discipline and pressure of schools give us the initiative to study and exams give us something to strive for. We get to meet new friends, share experiences and expand our horizons. It is good for developing all round skills, but we can start honing our skills after the 10th grade. We get occasional endorsements from teachers (as rare as getting a Master Ball in Pokemon), access to equipment in the labs and certain practices of application to the theories we study in books (although this is more of a feature of the international curriculums and not practised in the national curriculum). I went to a school called Singapore International School and I remember doing Science experiments in third and fourth grade which I should be doing now in eighth (and which I’m still not getting to do because now I’m in a national curriculum). That is all that comes to mind as to the benefits of an institutionalised education system. These don’t seem like a big enough returns to offset the amount of money and energy we spend on private schools. So why do parents do it? Is it because they themselves went to school? Is it because other parents do it? Or is it out of fear that their kids won’t get into good colleges? My best guess is that social convention dictates it, and laws like RTE carve it in stone.

So why can’t we all be like Sheldon?

Social Convention is Stupid

A Lateral View on Nuclear Energy.

I read an article in the paper about Greenpeace members breaking into a nuclear power plant. That got me thinking. I had always thought that nuclear power plants were the greenest and most economical source of energy we had.  I indulged in the details of the incident. Greenpeace members had broken into a nuclear facility to demonstrate the flaws in it’s security.  “Footage released by Greenpeace shows anti-nuclear slogans projected onto the walls of the Tricastin nuclear power plant in south-east France. More than 20 activists broke into the site at dusk on Sunday; one of the most important nuclear sites in France. EDF says the protesters did not get access to the site’s two nuclear reactors and had no impact on safety” source: Guardian. I was immediately puzzled by this. I had never thought people would have problems with nuclear facilities. You are probably like,”What about Chernobyl? How can we expect to be safe around anything remotely nuclear?” Well, I like to think that safety standards have gotten higher since 1986. And no, I haven’t forgotten about the meltdown in Japan in 2011. I realized that another fear is weapons. Governments with power plants can use them as guises to manufacture nuclear weapons. Or, as demonstrated by the Greenpeace activists, be broken into by terrorists, the uranium stolen, and used for nuclear weapons.

But let’s rise above all of that, and think about it. The only pollution such energy needs to expel is during the time when uranium is mined, and nothing given out (except heat) during the actual fission itself. The radioactive waste is stored in steel lined containers in which they won’t see the light of day for another 10,000 years. It produces more power than wind or solar farms. Those are the good things. The bad things (other than the ones stated above) are the requirement of a skilled workforce, the uncertainty of the amount of energy a plant can produce which depends on the amount of uranium it gets which in turn depends on the availability of uranium either in the country or as a commodity on the market. If uranium prices are up, the country can buy less, and thus limited energy is produced by the plant. Uranium is just another resource like coal or oil, the prices can fluctuate without any warning, and this can cause power shortages in areas relying on nuclear power, and I’ve played enough Simcity to know what happens in such a scenario. Back to the former problem: Workforce. Nuclear Power Plants require workers with knowledge in Physics and Chemistry, among others. Just muscle will not suffice. This is a problem in locations which doesn’t have a higher education index. Now lets talk about radiation leaks and fallouts in detail. The Chernobyl Disaster was caused by an unexpected power surge during a test shutdown. The exact number of casualties is unknown. If you ask 10 different people, you will get 10 different answers. The Fukushima disaster was caused by a series of earthquakes which caused equipment failure, nuclear meltdown and release of radioactive metals. Despite how serious all of that sounds, the official death toll is: 0. Yes, you read it right. 0, zero, zip, none. 37 people were physically injured, while only two actually had radiation burns. The deaths caused by the tsunami and earthquake which triggered this event is 18,500.

So all things considered, are Nuclear power plants really that bad, or in the end, cloud factories, harmless victims of propaganda?

Cloud factories.

Cloud factories.