Notes

SUSTAINABILITY oF PROGRESS

Human material progress is desirable and sustainable. People have worried about many problems. These pages discuss energy in general, nuclear energy, solar energy, food supply, population, fresh water supply, forests and wood supply, global engineering, pollution, biodiversity, various menaces to human survival, the role of ideology in discussing these matters, useful references. Other problems are discussed in the main text including minerals and pollution.

The sustainability pages are essentially done, although I plan to improve them and respond to inadequacies people find. Having done my best to show that material progress is sustainable, I can justifiably turn my attention to the future and present ideas about what progress people will want and what can be achieved. The emphasis is on opportunities rather than on inevitabilities.

Most of the contentions of these pages are supported by simple calculations based on readily available numbers. Here’s an illustration. Slogan: He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

With the development of nuclear energy, it became possible to show that there are no apparent obstacles even to billion year sustainability.(1) . A billion years is unimaginably far in the future.

Humanity has progressed over hundreds of thousands of years, but until about the seventeenth century, progress was a rare event. There were novelties, but a person would not expect a whole sequence of improvements in his lifetime. Since then scientific progress has been continual, and in the advanced parts of the world, there has also been continued technological progress. Therefore, people no longer expect the world to remain the same as it is. [Very likely, the greatest rate of progress for the average person occurred around the end of the 19th century when safe water supplies, telephones, automobiles, electric lighting, and home refrigeration came in short order.] Thirty years ago, historian of science Derek J. De Solla Price wrote that “Using any reasonable definition of a scientist, we can say that 80 to 90 percent of all the scientists that have ever lived are alive now. Alternatively, any young scientist, starting now and looking back at the end of his career upon a normal life span, will find that 80 to 90 percent of all scientific work achieved by the end of the period will have taken place before his very eyes, and that only 10 to 20 percent will antedate his experience.“ (1963, pp. 1-2)

This page and its satellites will contain references to articles, my own and by others, explaining how humanity is likely to advance in the near future. In particular, we argue that the whole world can reach and maintain American standards of living with a population of even 15 billion. We also argue that maintaining material progress is the highest priority and the best way to ensure that population eventually stabilizes at a sustainable level with a standard of living above the present American level and continues to improve thereafter. These opinions are old-fashioned according to some people, but they have a lot of support. For example, the biologist E. O. Wilson writes in his excellent book Consilience.