CAPITAL RIOT. Population, Farming and Technology.

Coalition Week Zero.

Lifeboat economics.

Read-through version.
Press Conference #1
Limited local technology, Economic Relations, euthanasia, ecosystem science, economics, climate change, managed retreat.

Placard 65 YEARS EARLIER. A press conference room. There is optionally a podium, with one lectern or music stand facing the audience, and a flag as backdrop. Microphones and teleprompters can be used if available.

FOGEY and LIEUTENANT, wearing civilian attire, are already seated among audience, either at the front, or in an opera box, where they can face the audience, preferably on opposite sides of the auditorium. They use microphones if possible. Security personnel are also evident.

(PROFESSOR enters from stage left, followed by MAIA, who is wearing military-style outfit, with hair inside cap, and with visible pistol in a holster, without makeup. MAIA never smiles throughout this scene. The two move to the lectern. The longer speeches can be read in the same way as at a press conference in real life, looking up and pausing naturally; alternatively, if possible, MAIA and PROFESSOR move around the stage, using a microphone.)

Good morning. I am the Coalition's Chief Scientific Advisor, and Maia, our Press Secretary, is here, standing in for Tamara, the Director of Information.

Our first topic is lifeboat economics, which is based on the idea that this planet is our lifeboat in space. The planet has two sources of energy: the sun, and geothermal energy. (FOGEY waves hand.) Apart from that, humans rely on thirty centimeters of topsoil, and on a layer of atmosphere a few kilometers high for survival; and also on the earth's magnetic field for protection from solar radiation.


I don't need a lecture on the obvious, Doctor.

This is a briefing on the background to Coalition policy. The underlying thinking of the Coalition needs to be explained to the public.

On our lifeboat, water is limited, and so is the food supply, and the lifeboat has a limited carrying capacity. There's no mother ship; and no-one's coming to rescue us, though. The term 'lifeboat economics' refers to all these aspects of human survival.

(FOGEY waves hand wildly.)

Currently, there are eight billion humans crowded onto one lifeboat.

Your question?

This is all nonsense.

It's a briefing, not a debate.

Ordinary economics concerns itself with what happens inside the lifeboat: who gets what, who sits where; and how we humans squabble among ourselves. (FOGEY waves hand.) But classic economics does not deal with keeping the lifeboat afloat; that is, keeping the ecosystem functioning properly.


Environmental economics gives us the idea that the human impact on the natural world is a function of population, affluence, and technology. Why not just use those concepts?

Because those concepts are formulaic, and only go so far. An understanding of the factors involved in population changes, changes in food supply, and changes to living standards and agriculture is crucial.

For example, if one looks at agriculture a thousand years ago, the wheat yield was two-to-one, whereas today the yield is six-to-one. So it sounds as if the technology has improved. But in fact, soil fertility is being depleted three times quicker. So, it is critical to measure the environmental impacts of technology accurately over the long term.

(PROFESSOR looks at MAIA enquiringly.)

You are quite correct. But the human population aspect is usually ignored. As the UN has acknowledged, it is impossible to deal with climate chaos without simultaneously managing the total headcount of humans on the planet. It's like a farmer trying to avoid overgrazing, without keeping tabs on the number of sheep and cattle vis-à-vis the acreage and pasture growth.


Originally, our species migrated out of Africa, that is, out of our original habitat niche, into more temperate latitudes. Why? In order to escape those tropical diseases, pests, parasites, and predators which are restricted to the tropics. (FOGEY waves hand.) The same is true today.


In the modern world, there're special vaccinations for people in the tropics: against malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, and so on, the tropical diseases. But why is this relevant to Coalition policy?

Because this in part explains the ever-expanding human population, and because in classic economics, the population is an assumption sans explanation.

As with most species that escape diseases and pests, the human population living in temperate areas was able to expand slowly. Then, after the last ice-age, the world climate became stabilized, and our distant ancestors developed agriculture and civilizations in temperate lands. With agriculture providing a more reliable food supply, the human population grew, and grew. ...

(PROFESSOR looks at MAIA.)

Population only expands if the food supply supports the growth. But there was often a long-term cost in terms of declining soil fertility and soil erosion. And agriculture was often playing catch-up, trying to keep up with population growth.

And eventually, intensive arable farming was developed, and then in the nineteen sixties came the switch to mechanized farming with chemical fertilizers and high-yielding crop varieties, and that enabled the human population to keep on rising toward today's eight billion.

(FOGEY waves hand.)


The Coalition is proposing population control? That's unacceptable.
Many people consider population control is ethically unacceptable, but it makes sense to an ecologist.

The second factor in mainstream environmental economics is living-standards or affluence. This is where one blames the rich and wealthy people in the global North for pollution of the natural world. After all, it is not goat-herders in the Hindu Kush who are driving climate chaos, is it.

But it's not enough just to see our situation just in terms of human population, human affluence, and human technology: there is a whole ecosystem out there that provides our habitat niche, and it's a geographical issue too.

(FOGEY waves hand.)

For instance, there are countries, comparable to ours in terms of size and population, which rely on methane and oil exports for over ninety percent of their economy, and where most of their homeland is desert. For them, there is no foreseeable economic future which does not involve fossil-fuels and food imports.


(Waving hand) Follow-up question: there must be some alternative to population control, Ma'am.
Not really. Some countries, such as India and Niger, still have high birth rates and rising populations. The question is: can the situation there be turned around in time by relying merely on women's education and trickle-down economics?
From an ecological standpoint, population is usually controlled either by predators or disease, or lack of food supply, but there are also a few species that influence their own population count: fetal resorption is common in rats, for example.

(FOGEY raises hand)


The GDP of our homeland is a tiny percentage of the world economy and world pollution, so nothing that happens here can of itself save the planet. So, why should we put ourselves at a disadvantage on world markets compared to our competitors?

Because climate is not the only issue. It's also about the industrialisation of food production and agriculture, and about the consequences of producing food which is 'never out of season'.

(MAIA looks questioningly to PROFESSOR.)

Yes, for example, there's the story of potato blight, and of the Great Irish Famine. It's a long story, but it is ultimately a chilling tale about loss of biodiversity and human stupidity and how humans just do not learn from their mistakes. One shouldn't even think about eating a potato without knowing the truth. It is a standard ecology tale of woe.

What's more, if late potato blight has still not been fixed after nearly a century (and no-one is even on the right track) then the chances of fixing climate chaos are not good either.

And also the clock is ticking: climate chaos has set in faster than anticipated. The time for talk and promises has passed; people need to act now and prepare for what is to come, while they still can. Neoliberal thinking, which permeates world institutions, is flawed (after all, that is how humans landed in our current shit in the first place) and the financialization of everything is not helping; but it is too late to overturn the world order and find something better.

World institutions only think about return on investment: they talk of sustainable development and so on: and seek a balance or compromise between financial returns and damage to the habitat.

(FOGEY raises hand)

But now our habitat is the number one priority. Habitat, habitat, habitat: nothing else matters now.


But, Ma'am, all these worries about our habitat could be resolved using the current economic system, couldn't they? There's no need for any system change at all.

On the contrary. In the nineteen-nineties, the opportunity to slow climate chaos via traditional economics definitely existed, but no effective action was taken, and emissions were allowed to grow year on year.

At that time, there was no political will: that is, the post-war generation was too busy enjoying life, while at the same time constantly and knowingly shitting on the next generation.

Thanks to your shit and to El Niño, average global temperatures will rise by one-point-five Celsius, seventy years earlier than planned.

And then there's deforestation and overfishing, which are symptomatic of overpopulation.

Climate chaos is different to many other human issues, insofar as there are long time-lags between cause and effect: it takes at least ten years for vehicle emissions to make any impact on climate, (FOGEY and LIEUTENANT raise a hand.) and the emissions linger in the natural world for a long time.


I agree. Climate chaos is of our own making, and it stems from technology, and the only way to fix it is via comprehensive international cooperation.

But even if our generation of humans succeeded, the next generation could undo all our good efforts. There is no way of ensuring good and wise governance or widespread compliance for generations to come.

It is simply beyond the capabilities of human social psychology and social structures.

(Interrupting.) But where is the evidence for all this, Doctor?

It is impossible to provide hard evidence about the future, just the balance of probability.

(FOGEY waves hand.)


So where is the evidence that the situation as bad as you paint it?

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is no longer normal: it has risen by fifty percent over the last sixty-five years. The other GHG gases also show increases. Do wake up, Colonel!

As for the underlying reasons, well, it has to do with market economics. Nothing happens without finance these days, and world-wide, human society has got to the point where the big decisions, the big investments that shape our world, and shape the environment, all depend on the support of financial decision-makers. And those financial people always think in terms of money, or return on investment, or capital accumulation. So, essentially, the world is being run as a business, for the benefit of investors.

One might think that the world is run by elected governments, but many governments have sold out to big business ... No, that's putting it too strongly ... One can say that there is a lot of business lobbying, governments bear the responsibility for GDP, and a market-based approach to government effectively means running the homeland as a business. That would be my first proposition. It is called the financialization of life.

Do you accept that proposition, Colonel?


Absolutely not, Ma'am. Business is business. It's been like that ever since our ancestors climbed down out of the trees and set off across the savannah chasing dinosaurs for breakfast.

Dinosaurs died out long before humans arrived on the scene. We don't need your fantasy, Colonel.

Money (or the economic system) does not take the natural world or the ecosystem into account properly. One cannot, for instance, put a fifty dollar bill in front of a cow, and thereby incentivise the cow to produce more milk. It will not succeed.

(loudly and triumphantly.)

Of course not! The cow will just eat the banknote!

Exactly, Colonel. Money is no incentive to any animal, plant, mushroom, or insect: money is purely a means of communication among human beings, a way of organising human society. There are, in fact, some small, isolated societies and tribes where money is not used at all.

(FOGEY waves hand.)


But societies on a large scale won't operate successfully without using money to oil the mechanisms of trade. And surely the economic system does, on occasion, take the habitat into account indirectly? That is, economic markets do automatically respond to changes in demand. If consumers demanded more organic milk, or A2 milk, then markets, including finance markets and investors, would respond accordingly.

If consumers were all well-informed ecologists and environmentalists, and consumers insisted on green products and nothing else, then, and only then, the finance system might function better, although, to be fair, there would still be cartels and monopolies.


But that would need everyone to be green-minded, and market information to be perfect!

(MAIA looks across to PROFESSOR.)

Exactly, Colonel.

Also, by and large, the green option is more expensive, so there is an incentive for suppliers to cheat, and claim that a product is eco-friendly, when sometimes it isn't. It is often genuinely hard to check what is green, and what isn't. Certification helps, but many products are very complex indeed, and every component (subcomponent, and supplier) would need to be certified. That process, checking Value Chain Emissions, is little used at present. So, consumers and businesses often do not even have the necessary information on which to base their decisions.

In principle, our habitat, limitations on resources, climate, and the natural world put constraints around the human economy, in much the same way that the number of bison on the prairie limits the number of bison-dependent predators.

(LIEUTENANT raises hand.)


Surely, in time, technology will solve these issues?

Yes, Lieutenant, on occasion, technology does provide solutions. But that does not automatically mean that technology will be able to solve everything: of course it won't.

The other thing, of course, is that poorer people cannot afford the green option. ... So, my second proposition would be that the present economic system often comes up with the wrong answers.

But let us now move on to the main announcements.

(Optionally reads from music stand or teleprompter; pauses and/or looks up between points.)

Firstly, a full Climate Chaos Emergency, and national emergency has been declared, and the Director has issued the following edict.

This edict applies to all personnel commenting, reporting, interviewing, or otherwise engaged in public media such as newspapers, online publishing, TV, radio, hosts and participants in live talk-back shows, newscasts, podcasts, videos, or similar.

All comment and reporting must be evidence-based. This includes speculation as to future events; that, too, will need some evidentiary backing.

Relevant evidence must be cited and traceable.

(LIEUTENANT raises hand. )


What about officials speaking on condition of anonymity?

That won't happen.

(FOGEY waves papers. MAIA, and ASSISTANT PROFESSOR exchange glances: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR nods.)

Colonel Fogey.

This is an intrusion on our right to free speech! The press association will fight all this in court.

Indeed, the association will, Colonel Fogey. But that was not a question.

Coalition policy is constrained by public opinion. (FOGEY waves hand.) Propaganda, and the way environmental issues are socially constructed, must therefore be controlled.


Define propaganda, Ma'am.

Propaganda is characterized by:

  • manipulative, deceitful intent,
  • a systematic campaign, and
  • failure to engage with evidence.
  • (FOGEY waves hand, waving papers.)

    Propaganda changes history. Propaganda started the Crusades, and the doctrine of discovery underpinned colonialism. Propaganda feeds current international conflicts.

    (FOGEY waves hand.)

    At the same time, climate chaos itself challenges many people's world-view, because any climate mitigation regime will have economic and political implications that are incompatible with libertarian ideals of unregulated free markets.


    Where is the evidence, Doctor?

    You will need, Colonel, to perform an internet search for Lewandowsky, and climate chaos disinformation.

    (Standing to speak, interrupting.)

    Climate chaos has never been proven in court. Doesn't that undermine your entire argument, Ma'am?

    (ASSISTANT PROFESSOR waves FOGEY to sit down, and waits until FOGEY is seated.)

    No, it does not, Colonel. But as a matter of fact, there have been over two thousand cases worldwide where climate chaos has been acknowledged in court. You need to do your homework, Colonel, your assertion is totally untrue. It is pure propaganda, and disinformation.

    Have you personally read the latest IPCC report, Colonel?

    I don't recall exactly, Ma'am.

    Then, Colonel, you are hardly in a position to have an opinion; and in no position to disprove or question the evidence.

    (FOGEY waves hand.)


    Further question: what is the position with regard to religious activities? Surely, preaching falls within your definition of propaganda, Ma'am ! Does the government intend to close down all religious meeting-places? Won't that just drive religion underground? Will we have martyrs all over again? Will pious martyrs be fed to the lions?

    Colonel, the Coalition intends to disallow the registration of religious societies as charities, wherever their charitable work is, in part, proselytising, and constitutes anti-government propaganda.

    (FOGEY raises hand.)

    Publishing by any organisation, religious or not, will be subject to the same guidelines as mainstream journalism.


    Follow-up question: so what would happen to those who failed to comply, Ma'am?

    On a lifeboat, what would you do, Colonel, with those who would continually foment unrest? Would you toss them overboard, Colonel?

    So, back to the Coalition program.

    Firstly, the Coalition will seek to facilitate the development of locally manufactured batteries and electronic chips. This would make our homeland less dependent on the global supply chain.

    (LIEUTENANT raises hand)


    Won't locally-produced batteries be more expensive, Doctor?

    Yes, but in lifeboat economics, resilience and independence take priority.

    The second leg of the initiative relates to electronic chips, and comes under the umbrella term of limited local technology. The aim is to produce essential items locally using sustainable technology.

    For instance, electronic chips manufactured in our homeland might use medium-scale, rather than large-scale, integration; but they would be much simpler to produce.

    (LIEUTENANT raises hand)

    It is important to have a local and secure manufacturing capacity for drones and military hardware. One of the Coalition's aims is to be able to produce drones locally, which are good enough to perform maritime surveillance and battlefield reconnaissance.


    How will you ensure that this local limited technology is economically viable, Ma'am?

    (Nodding wryly)

    With some difficulty. That's why the Coalition has to look at our trade agreements with our neighbours again. Fledgling industry will need protection.

    (Pause; LIEUTENANT raises hand; ASSISTANT PROFESSOR shakes head in negative)

    There're discussions under way right now to rewrite our trade and migration agreement with our neighbour.

    While these talks are in progress, there'll be a partial moratorium on further immigration.

    (FOGEY waves hand)

    Colonel Fogey?

    Is the government once again abandoning our citizens who live in neighbouring countries, Doctor?

    Absolutely not. The government is looking for agreement on how best to manage migration flows into the future, especially with the prospect of substantial numbers of climate chaos refugees wishing to resettle here.

    At present, over ten percent of our citizens live in neighbouring countries, and a further seven percent in other countries around the globe.

    (LIEUTENANT raises hand)

    These are all people who have the right to return to our homeland in the event of some climate-related or other series of regional disasters.


    Why worry about it before it happens, Ma'am?

    We need to prepare: that is the job of governments. And so the Coalition will be setting an annual quota on returnees from neighbouring countries.

    The Coalition is also looking to determine a sustainable target population range for our homeland refuge. This does not necessarily mean the maximum population. The calculation might be something closer to a minimum, plus a factor for contingencies.

    (FOGEY stands and raises a hand in a stop gesture, interrupting)

    Isn't such a policy inherently racist and fascist, Ma'am? Doesn't it smack of genetic engineering? Isn't it simply undemocratic?

    Stop trying to sidetrack the briefing, Colonel!

    (Sighs, looks meaningfully at ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, who nods.)

    Colonel Fogey, please sit down.

    (Waiting until FOGEY is reseated)

    This is about survival. That's all. Nothing else. In some ways, the situation's somewhat akin to being in a lifeboat; the Coalition has to be careful not to overload the lifeboat. If there're too many people, the Coalition will give priority to young women and children, and provide enough trained crew as required. The Coalition would not let the situation become like the Titanic, where priority seats were simply given to upper-class women regardless of age: instead, the Coalition'll aim to ensure a good diverse gene pool going forward, so that our homeland has a viable survival group.

    (FOGEY waves hand.)


    Follow-up question. Why's the Coalition characterising the situation as being all about survival, Doctor? Where's the evidence to support that stance?

    Thank you, Colonel.

    First, the Coalition's policies are not extremist. For instance, one United Nations Under-Secretary-General said: We cannot confront the massive challenges of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental destruction whilst ignoring population and reproductive health.

    Second, it's not just about climate chaos. There're several major threats, some long-term, some more immediate; that is, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, pandemics, plastics and pollution, and so forth.

    Moving on, if the total human-induced impact on the natural world is regarded as some function of population, affluence, and technology, then the Coalition proposes to manage all three factors: that is, to manage the demographics of our homeland, the level of resource consumption, and the type of technology used.

    There're two constraints: resilience (because it's important not to become over-reliant on the current global supply chain), and, in relation to technology, the up- and down-stream sustainability and implications.

    (Audible hubbub and shouts from outside the rear entry to the auditorium: FREEDOM! DEMOCRACY!)

    One example would be where crop or livestock yields are improved, whether by breeding or artificially. The point here is that improved yields often imply that more nutrients are being removed from the soil, and therefore that soil fertility is being degraded faster than before.

    A second example would be where the technology relies on some finite resource, such as fossil-fuel based fertilizer, or where, for instance, manufacturing hydrogen for use as a fuel implies upstream consumption of finite resources. In essence, very few energy resources are totally free of impacts on the natural world.

    (More shouts from outside: 'FREEDOM!' 'DEMOCRACY!". Colonel FOGEY stands, waving papers excitedly)

    Please sit down, Colonel, and I shall take your question.

    (After sitting)

    Why do we need to be ruled by technocrats, Ma'am? What happened to democracy and freedom?

    We still have democracy and freedom, Colonel. It's just that they are restricted for the duration of the climate emergency.

    (Security guards put hand to earpiece: one steps forward to ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, and whispers in ASSISTANT PROFESSOR's ear.)

    Follow-up question, Ma'am: when will the restrictions be lifted?

    (Banging from without on rear door to auditorium. Security personnel move quickly toward rear door of auditorium.)

    (Unholstering the pistol.)

    At the end of the climate emergency, Colonel.

    Follow-up, Ma'am: when will the climate emergency be over?

    Not in your lifetime, Colonel, nor even in the lifetime of your great-great-great grandchildren. Maybe in twenty or thirty generations.

    (Standing: then loudly and clearly)

    I just don't care!

    (Standing: then loudly and clearly, and rudely)

    Shut your gob, you pile of shit!

    (A mob of protesters burst through rear doors to the auditorium. ASSISTANT PROFESSOR quickly exits, but MAIA joins security personnel. There are shouts of "Freedom!", "Democracy". Protesters are confronted with line of security personnel. FOGEY retreats to stage. LIEUTENANT joins MAIA. Pause in stand-off.)



    The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed here are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.