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What Every Citizen Should

Know About Our Planet

100 key understandings for

the half-century that lies ahead

A handbook and syllabus for

Biospheric Literacy and Sustainability 101

Light years better than Beyond Six Billion

A courtesy of
The Wecskaop Project
and Biospheric Literacy and Sustainability 101

The continued functioning of natural systems? Somewhere during
the 90% eradication that current policy envisions and may permit, a
catastrophic threshold or tipping point with global repercussions
will almost certainly be crossed.

Dinoflagellates such as Karenia brevis, which produce catastrophic

outbreaks of red-tide in marine environments, constitute quintessen-
tial real-world examples of organisms that induce calamity by their
production of wastes. And they manage to inflict such population
disasters even as they physically-occupy less than 2/1000ths of one
percent of seemingly "vast amounts of open space" that appear to
remain theoretically available to them (a set of conditions perhaps
worth noting since our own species exhibits an extraordinarily sim-
ilar pattern of behavior). Unfortunately, however, our own species
does not confine itself to releasing only our biological, cellular, and
metabolic wastes into our surroundings. Instead, we supplement our
biological wastes, in a way that is utterly unprecedented in the his-
tory of life on Earth, with billions of tons of societal and industrial
wastes, so that we may be embarked upon a trajectory that is not
only worse than that of red-tide dinoflagellates - but is multiple or-
ders of magnitude worse at that.

Featuring the population numbers and realities that today's rising

generations of under-20s have a need and a right to know about the
crowded, damaged, and obliterated life-support machinery that to-
ay’s ruling elites are about to hand them.

This book and this syllabus is a courtesy of The Wecskaop Project and is offered as
an open-courseware resource which is entirely free for academic use by scientists,
students, and educators anywhere in the world.

ISBN 978-0-933078-18-5

Pont Royale

Throughout history, we have always been able to count on the
functioning of Earth's natural systems as a given. As this book
will show, however, today humankind’s world population has
already become so large, and is growing larger so rapidly,
that such presumptions are no longer warranted.

A continuation of today’s demographic tidal wave may con-

stitute the greatest single risk that our species has ever un-
dertaken, and anything even remotely resembling recent high-
end U.N. projections of 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.6 billions by
the end of this century constitute the demographic equivalent
of a collision trajectory with a near-earth asteroid.

Imagine the first domino in a row of adjacent dominos being

toppled, thereby causing all the others to fall in quick suc-
cession. In such an event, even an accidental instability im-
parted to a single domino can unexpectedly topple a far wider
and interconnected system. We are living at a time when each
of humanity’s added billions is impacting one natural system
after another, incrementally, and in most cases, repeatedly –
again, and again, and again. And a disconcerting amount of
accumulating evidence suggests that some of Earth’s most
important dominos may already be toppling.

We submit that there exists a specific and fundamental reper-

toire of scientific information that every citizen should know
about our planet and that this information includes thresholds,
tipping points, and unintended consequences; carrying capa-
cities, limiting factors, delayed feedbacks, and overshoot; ex-
ponential mathematics and J-curves; as well as, among other
things, demographics and world population levels, past, pre-
sent, and future.

“If current predictions of population growth prove accurate and pat-
terns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged, science
and technology may not be able to prevent... irreversible degra-
dation of the environment.”
Joint statement, officers of the U.S. National Academy
of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society, 1992

"The Earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive ef-
fluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its
ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we
are fast approaching many of the Earth's limits."
An urgent warning to humanity (1992)
Signed by 1500 top scientists, including
99 recipients of the Nobel Prize

“Any population-economy-environment system that has feedback

delays and slow physical responses, that has thresholds and erosion
mechanisms, is literally unmanageable. No matter how brilliant its
technologies, no matter how efficient its economy, no matter how
wise its decision-makers, it simply can't steer itself away from ha-
zards unless it tests its limits very, very slowly. If it constantly tries
to accelerate, it is bound to overshoot."
Beyond the Limits
Meadows, Meadows, and Randers, 1992

Speaking a half century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once add-
ressed “the modern plague of overpopulation. What is lacking,” he
said, “is… universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem
and the education of billions of people who are its victims.” Today
his insights are more applicable than ever.

Light years better than BEYOND SIX BILLION

The most important data sets in the history of our species

Medium projections
projections to 2100
to 2100

in billions

Notice that BOTH of these graphs of human population growth are.

J-CURVES and that in both cases, our numbers are skyrocketing up-
ward along the obliterating y-axis. Also notice that essentially all of
our growth has taken place in the last two hundred years, with the
bulk of that growth having occurred since our population milestone
of two billion in 1930. United Nations medium projections (May
2015) estimate that our numbers will reach NINE BILLION by 2041
with high-fertility projections carrying us to 16.6 BILLION by 2100.
(Previously the two most famous J-curves in all of human history
were the two atomic detonations at the end of World War II –
Today, however, the J-curves depicted above are global in scale.)

We begin this book with what may be the most important da-
ta sets in the history of our species. In the graphs shown left
notice that beginning with a world population of two billion
in 1930, we reach seven billion in late 2011 – meaning that
we have just ADDED FIVE MORE BILLIONS to our numbers
in less than a single human lifetime, with billions numbers
EIGHT and NINE on-track to arrive by 2040.

Given that Earth’s planetary carrying capacity for a modern

industrialized humanity (with all persons living at a Western
European standard of living) is on the order of two billion or
less, along with the worldwide damage that we are already in-
flicting on Earth’s planetary life-support machinery, together
with the massive degrees of poverty and hunger that already
exist, plus the impending arrival of our 8th and 9th billions be-
fore 2045, as well as the degrees of over-population and en-
vironmental impacts that we already exhibit, a continuation of
today’s worldwide demographic tidal wave

may constitute the greatest single

risk that our species has ever undertaken.

While the numbers in the smaller of our two graphs would re-
sult in a worldwide population of more than 11 billion by the
end of this century are dangerous enough, the numbers in the
larger of the two graphs are even more dangerous. According
to the same U.N. projections (2015 revision), if world fertility
rates average just ½ child per woman higher than assumed by
the medium-fertility guesstimates, we will find our totals on a
collision trajectory with 16.6 BILLION by century’s end.

Notice especially that the years since 1830 and 1930 differ ra-
dically from all earlier eras of human history as we began to
skyrocket upward over the past 180 years, and that since then
our growth has been (and continues to be) so exponential, so
rapid, and so extreme that some have described this pattern as
“hyper-exponential.” For readers already familiar with expo-
nential mathematics, our two graphs argue that we are living
in the closing and catastrophic late-phase conditions of an ex-
ponential progression whose shape bears a disquieting simil-
arity to a graph of the fission events that destroyed Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II.
If the previous information is not already worrisome enough,
however, there are at least three factors that suggest that the
higher of the two U.N. outcomes may be the one to unfold.
1. It seems, for example, that U.N. population projections too
often fail to contemplate, comment on, or even consider actu-
al planetary limits, or carrying capacities, or limiting factors,
or tipping points, or thresholds, nor to contemplate the real-
world human, biospheric, and civilizational implications if
humankind’s numbers and impacts overshoot such limits (ev-
en though multiple independent lines of evidence argue that
we have moved into overshoot mode already).
2. The world demographic projections that have prompted this
discussion, including those of the U.N., appear to allocate no
contemplation whatsoever of recent life-extension studies de-
spite the fact that over the past two decades, scientists have
already achieved SIX-FOLD extensions of life in laboratory or-
ganisms (and achievement of an equivalent extension in hu-
mans would result in healthy, active 500-year-olds) (e.g.,
Kenyon, 2005). And in an interview, Cambridge University
geneticist Aubrey de Grey (2005) recently suggested that “the
first 1000-year-old human may have already been born.”

If even a tiny fraction of such changes occur in humans, the U.N’s current popula-
tion projections, as worrisome as they already are, would be tossed right out the
window, and young people alive today might actually experience the calamitous un-
folding of the U.N.’s 16.6 BILLION trajectory. It is interesting to note that if six-fold
life-extensions were to ever be widely achieved in humans, worldwide replacement-
level fertility rates would have to decline to just TWO-TENTHS of a child per woman

3. Among policymakers and non-biologists in general, there

is little, if any, attention to population limits and carrying ca-
pacities, and too many assessments, even if they occur, still
focus largely on various “running-out-of” suppositions such
as ‘running-out-of’ food, or water, or oil, or other resources.
There are, however, other limiting factors that could end up
inducing calamity even sooner, such as: (a) The sheer global
extent of our non-stop, ever-growing, and ever-accumulating
damage, degradations, and eradications that we are inflicting
on Earth’s biospheric life-support machinery, and (b) Our
endless and worsening daily worldwide avalanche of societal
and industrial wastes.

We will see that over the past four decades, we have been re-
peatedly assaulting Earth’s life-support machinery with one
BILLION additional persons every twelve years, so that our
numbers invite storms of humanitarian and biospheric calami-
ties over the decades ahead. For example, given the impacts
that our collective numbers, damage, consumption, eradica-
tions and wastes have already induced (when only half of us
are industrialized), it is hard to imagine how things are going
to improve as billions numbers 9, 10, and 11 (and quite poss-
ibly numbers 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.6) join us before this cen-
tury is out. And when it comes to our demographic and physi-
cal impacts on Earth's biospheric life-support systems (which
produce, for example, the foods that we eat and the oxygen
that we breathe) no planetary “do-overs" will be available if
we fail to get things right this first time around.

In the past, we have always been able to count on the func-
tioning of Earth's natural systems as a given. As this book
will show, however, today our population has already become
so large, and is growing larger so rapidly, that such presump-
tions are no longer warranted. Try to imagine, for example, a
team of astronauts in a space vehicle if they were to cannibal-
ize 95% of their guidance and propulsion systems, annihilate
93% of their heat shields, destroy 87% of their CO2 scrubbers
degrade 77% of their oxygen production systems and eviscer-
ate the computers and life-support systems of their spacecraft.
In a similar way, try to imagine the owner of a new and pristine automobile who
begins to systematically degrade its multiple operating systems, degrading 50% of its
steering system, 75% of its tires, and then destroying its carburetor, most of its spark
plugs, half of its axles and brake shoes, and 93% of its ignition and electrical sys-
tems, while simultaneously pouring additional contaminants each day into its gaso-
line, oil, radiator, battery, transmission fluid, and brake fluid. And then suppose that
this individual can't understand why his automobile, which "has always worked in
the past," doesn't function anymore. Not so bright, is he?

Do we know anyone who seems to treat the only planetary life-support

machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe in a similar way?

No rational astronauts would ever dream of inflicting such damage upon the vehicle
that sustains their lives in space, and the rest of us would never dream of inflicting
such damage upon our automobiles. Amazingly, however, we seem to suppose that
we can systematically destroy, eradicate and dismantle the only planetary life-sup-
port machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe and to presume that it
will nevertheless continue to function as it has always done in the past.

Notice that the above is not solely limited to "running-out-of” food or resources sup-
positions, but instead counsels urgent caution when it comes to the sheer extent and
degrees of physical damage, wastes, and eradications that we inflict.

While civilizations today consist of endless and diverse philo-

sophies and perspectives, we must not try to shoe-horn the nat-
ural world to fit into any of our economic or political ideol-
ogies, for Earth’s natural systems do not know, nor care (in
any sentient way) about economic theory, celebrities, political
systems, markets, conferences, GDP, or the World Economic
Forum. Given the abuses inflicted by each of our multiple bill-

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ions, either Earth’s natural systems will continue to function
and carry out essential life functions of self-maintenance,
self-perpetuation, and self-repair, or they will not.

In this book we will sample “miles” of evidence (multiple in-

dependent lines of evidence) that argue that the carrying ca-
pacity of Earth’s natural systems and life-support machinery
that would permit everyone on Earth to live comfortably and
sustainably at a modern Western European standard of living
is on the order of TWO billion or less. Notice, then, from our
graph on page six, that we passed that numerical milestone
many decades ago, so that we have already exceeded our pla-
net’s carrying capacity for a modern and sustainable human-
ity by FIVE billions in less than a single human lifetime.

So our situation has now become this: If the U.N.’s 2015

“high-fertility” population projections actually emerge (and
they are only .½ child per woman higherr.than their “medium-
fertility” projections), then they become, like the trajectory of
a “near-Earth asteroid,” an exceedingly-dangerous real-world
trajectory propelling us toward obliterating collision condi-
tions by a “16.6 billion demographic object” by 2100.

So .how close. is this ‘near-Earth demographic object’ to the

obliterating collision trajectory? This object and its inescap-
able collision are so close that life-extension or worldwide
fertility rates which average just ½ child per woman higher
than the U.N.’s 2015 “medium-fertility” estimates may allow
the calamitous 16.6 billion impacts to emerge. If a near-Earth
asteroid were on a path toward the Earth, astrophysicists, en-
gineers, NASA, astronomers, and international space agen-
cies would launch attempts to ‘nudge’ the object out of its
collision trajectory - but that nudging would have to BEGIN
while the object is still far enough away for the nudging to

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have an effect. Yet, we know that an ever-greater portion of
those who will make up world population in 2050 have al-
ready been born, so that, with each passing day, more and
more of the trajectory becomes locked into place and due to
the resulting population momentum, threatens to become in-

Thus, given the demographics we introduce in our early chap-

ters, this object that threatens to hit us is 11-to-17 BILLION hu-
mans on a planet whose machinery already started to break at
populations of five and six billion, so that the emergency nud-
ging that we have to accomplish is to ensure that the world’s
highest birth rates start nudging lower beginning TODAY, be-
cause every hour, day, and instant that we delay has the effect
of increasingly locking-in the potential collision trajectory so
that the collision becomes more and more inescapable.

It has become common for those who profit from complacen-

cy to assure us that “technology will save us” (or that human
ingenuity, cleverness, or additional Einsteins will save us), or
that development, economic expansion, and/or free-markets
will save us and our planet’s life-support machinery from our
unending and ever-widening numbers, eradications, damage,
consumption, and wastes. We should remind ourselves and
our policymakers, however, that NO AMOUNT of technology,
cleverness, additional Einsteins, inventiveness, innovations,
ingénuity, free-markets, nor exceptionalism were able to save
the passenger liner TITANIC and its passengers from a ‘Deci-
sion-Maker-in-Chief’ who: (a) Ignored six specific and re-
peated warnings; (b) Was incautious and made incorrect as-
sessments and decisions; (c) Proceeded as though things such
as icebergs (limits) were overblown or did not exist, and (d)
Mistakenly assumed that the wonderful and resplendent ves-

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sel which he captained, (and which, after all, had never sunk
in the past) was unsinkable.
We might further note that our planet does not have a lone in-
dividual who acts as Earth’s planetary decision-maker-in-chief
who can make mistaken and incautious decisions – we have
at least hundreds of them. (And even if they might decide
something correctly, there is a lengthy delay or lag-time be-
tween each year’s annual meeting, and then, even if the ne-
cessary votes to adopt a meaningful and effective resolution
(or a watered-down compromise) happen to be present, there
remain futher delays in following through with sufficient
funding and implementation. (Finally, we should note that we
often end up employing our technologies, cleverness, and in-
genuity in ways that amplify the damage that we cause, or
that magnify our adverse impacts, or that serve private greed
as opposed to the public good, so that rather than serving to
save us, they can just as often enable us to make things worse
more completely, efficiently, and at faster rates than ever.)
So what, exactly, should EVERY person, student, educator,
policymaker, and citizen know about our planet? We submit
that there exists a precise and specific repertoire of biospheric
and demographic information that includes understandings,
concepts, and data sets such as, among other things: carrying
capacities, thresholds, ecosystem services, and tipping points;
delayed feedbacks and unintended consequences; limiting
factors and overshoot; hotspots and conservation biology; the
power and behavior of exponential mathematics; and demo-
graphics and world population levels past, present, and future.
Whether one is dealing with poverty, hunger, failed states, the
environment, governance, foreign affairs, or terrorism, bios-
pheric understandings are crucial as world population growth
roils the environmental and geopolitical oceans in which to-
day’s nations and foreign policies must swim. While civiliza-

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tion should have begun a Roosevelt/Churchillian level of re-
sponse two decades ago, too many of today's books, articles,
broadcasts, and even scholarly venues continue to ignore the
existence of the population elephant in the room. Thus, we
seek to assemble here the key data sets, concepts, understand-
ings, and demographics that constitute a quick overview of
the essentials that comprise Biospheric Literacy 101 (also see
our appendices for links to executive-briefing pdfs “for aca-
demia and policymakers,” as well as an open-courseware col-
lection of six Biospheric Literacy 101 PowerPoint presenta-
tions for half-day workshops, distance-learning programs, and
all first-year undergraduates of every major). And lastly, for a
full appreciation of the scale of our danger, we must all ap-
preciate the enormous size of EACH of the BILLIONS that we
have been adding to our planet every twelve to fifteen years.
(In a few pages hence – How Large is a Billlion – we will see that that understanding
will involve 38,461 years – so that if we began a momentous project 20,000 years
ago and worked from then until now, we would have to continue working on that
same project for 18,461 additional years into the future in order to finish.)

The above pdf and PowerPoint collections are, therefore, in-

tended as quick, easy, and freely-downloadable open-course-
ware resources that can help the whole of humankind to avert
or minimize some portion of the humanitarian, civilizational,
and biospheric crises that our current trajectories invite.
Alarmed by the atomic detonations that ended World War II,
Nobelist Harold Urey and three other Chicago scientists who
worked on the Manhattan Project formed an “emergency com-
mittee of atomic scientists” – leading quickly to the founding
of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Something similar is need-
ed now addressing the calamitous implications of human dem-
ographics in the decades that are unfolding right now.
Note that this book’s intent is educational: It is a collation of
biospheric concepts, data sets, and demographics unique to

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this moment in history. It does not advocate policy and is
most emphatically not a policy document. It does, however,
view our present demographic and environmental trajectories
with alarm, so that this book argues in behalf of knowledge,
and counsels us to proceed entirely voluntarily and ethically
in addressing the demographic maelstrom in which we live.

Because books alone cannot achieve the rapid universaliza-

tion that is needed, this book must be teamed with a speedy
assortment of wide-audience and educational initiatives such
as emergency workshops for policymakers and academia,
and films, documentaries, foreign-language broadcasts, radio,
and multiple digital and internet open-courseware presenta-
tions and pdfs for educators and their students.
If we do not find a way to quickly universalize these under-
standings within the next three years and choose instead to
proceed upon our current trajectories of “business as usual,”
then the near-future for civilization, science, human well-
being, and the only planetary life-support machinery so far

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known to exist anywhere in the universe are likely to be cal-
amitous - if not worse.

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Table of Contents
00 Preface 08
01 Why Wecskaop? 15
02 Numeric Literacy – A Million and a Billion 1 34
03 Civilization's Demographic Journey 1 41
04 Carrying Capacity and Limiting Factors 49
05 Ecological Services and Ecological Release 1 65
06 Fragile Films – Earth's Atmosphere and Seas 78
07 Exponential Mathematics 89
8 A Mathematical Fire Alarm 0 99
09 Riddles of the Dinoflagellates 111
10 Other Planets 119
11 The Open-space Delusion 126
12 Limits, Feedbacks, Overshoot and Collapse 135
13 Thresholds, Tipping Points and Unintended
Consequences . .148
14 The Big Question: Carrying Capacity 168
15 Projections, Comments and Critiques 178
16 Sri Lanka and Caenorhabditis elegans 193
17 Biodiversity and Human Impacts 205
18 The Paleolithic, the Neolithic and Now 217
19 A Conservation Roadmap 225
20 Humanitarian Snapshots: A Descent into Chaos. 236
21 Frequently Asked Questions . .- .. . .251
22 What We Can Do . 272
23 "Floorspace" and the Cornucopians . . 299

24 Nine Assumptions that Invite Calamity . 311

00 Appendix 1 – Wecskaop Checklist 322

00 Appendix 2 – Key Concepts Checklist 326
Appendix 3 - Supporting Mathematics 331
Appendix 4 - The Open-space Hypothesis II 335
00 Sources and Cited References 337

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Figure 11.1 - The dot below denotes three classical, real-world
“too-late” / “already waited-too-long” population conditions that re-
sulted in 99%-plus die-offs (and/or even worse mass mortalities)
that either began, or were already well-underway, in seemingly
“vast-open-space” conditions that were just two one-thousandths of
one percent occupied (and which remained 99.998% unoccupied).
Two of these occurred in mammalian populations and our third ex-
ample reflects classical outbreaks of dinoflagellate red-tide in mar-
ine systems.

To envision the above dot in more familiar terms, imagine a circle

that is roughly twice the diameter of a baseball on an otherwide
empty basketball court, and let that represent peak (‘too-late’) vast-
open-space conditions at which all three real-world classical die-
offseither began or were already well underway.

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From pages 138-140
Example 1
The Rise and fall of a Reindeer Herd
on St. Paul Island, Alaska

Graph is after Scheffer, V.B. 1951. The rise and fall of a reindeer herd.
Scientific Monthly 73: 356-362.

In chapters four and eight we reference V.B. Scheffer’s clas-

sic study (above) of The Rise and Fall of a Reindeer Herd
(1951). Scheffer's study took place over a period of four dec-
ades between 1911 and 1950, generating the graph depicted
above. The reindeer population in Scheffer’s study underwent
a population explosion followed by a catastrophic die-off,
even with vast amounts of open-space remaining. As a sec-
ond example in mammals, in 1968 D.R. Klein completed a
similar reindeer study with similar results.

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Scheffer’s 40 square mile island had no wolves, predators, or
major competitors for the reindeer in the study. Notice the J-
shape of the curve produced as the population grew over the
years. Secondly, .notice the collapse. denoted by its last data
point which concluded a 99% die-off. Thirdly, the reindeer
occupied less than 2 /1000ths of one percent of the area theo-
retically available to them at the time of the collapse so that
the die-off took place even as vast “amounts of open space”
appeared to remain seemingly available.

Readers will encounter this and similar patterns in this syllabus and
in the book. (No data were able to be collected during World War II.)

The Scheffer study began in 1911 when scientists introduced

a small herd of twenty-five reindeer to forty-one square-mile
St. Paul Island, Alaska. The island had no timber wolves or
other predators, and no major competitors. Thus, at the outset,
with the island all to itself, the reindeer population increased
its numbers exponentially in a classical example of ecological
release. On the previous page, part one of the graph depicts
the reindeer numbers in the initial exponential phases of the

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study. By 1938, however, reindeer numbers peaked at more
than two thousand individuals. Notice that the data over these
first 28 years produce a classical J-curve as the herd exhibits
an exponential increase in numbers. Notice also, however,
that 99%-plus of the herd died over the next twelve years in
the calamitous die-off or collapse that followed.

Part two of the preceding graph depicts the die-off that took
place during the last twelve years of the study. Notice that
following the peak numbers in 1938 (when the population oc-
cupied less than 2/1000ths of one percent of the “open space”
that appeared to remain seemingly available), reindeer num-
bers fell repeatedly and precipitously. During its collapse, the
herd experienced a 99% die-off, so that as the study ended in
1950, only eight reindeer remained.

Shortly afterward, in a similar study, a second reindeer popu-

lation underwent a similar 99% die-off (Klein, 1968). We
thus see that mammalian populations are not immune to over-
shoot and collapse.

In the last one hundred years, humankind has been so suc-

cessful at conquering pathogenic microbes and hunger (at
least temporarily), that we have escaped the natural controls
that once held our numbers in check. With each new advance
in medicine, our population has extended its temporary re-
lease. As a result, our worldwide numbers began rocketing
sharply upward in the mid-1800s exhibiting a pronounced
and extreme J-curve as shown on the next page. Let’s put it
this way: Up until now the two most famous J-curves in all
of human history occurred in the closing days of World War
II, but as devastating as they were (flattening and obliterating
everything around themselves in every direction) those two J-
curves were at least comparatively brief and localized. The

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extreme J-curve explosion shown below, however, is neither
brief nor localized in extent, but is unfolding on a global
scale for one decade after another and another and another
and in the middle of the only planetary life-support machi-
nery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe.

Notice that humankind’s explosibe billions culminating in 10

or 16 above are, if anything, far steeper and far more extreme
than the curve that preceded the collapse in either reindeer
herd (and that 16.6 billion is far, far worse).

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We do not yet know the Earth's precise carrying capacity for
our species, but it would have been wise to address that topic
two decades ago. As it is, many, if not most, scientists sur-
mise that we are already well beyond Earth's carrying capa-
city for our species, in a classic case of overshoot.

From pages 138-1xyz

Example 3

Deadly population explosions of red-tide

dinoflagellates in marine environments

In the marine environment, real-world dinoflagellate popula-

tions such as Karenia brevis produce red-tides and their as-
sociated fish-kills when their populations reach concentra-
tions of 100,000 to 1,000,000 or more K. brevis cells per li-
ter. Because each cell releases, on an ongoing basis, small
amounts of poisonous “brevetoxins,” the accumulation of
toxins reaches calamitous levels within the aqueous environ-
ment in which the population resides. Thus, Karenia brevis
and similar red-tide dinoflagellates constitute prototypical ex-
amples of population calamities that arise even as seemingly
enormous amounts of "open-space" appear to remain theoret-
ically-available in surrounding environments that visually ap-

In our tiny-white-dot 2/1000ths of 1% illustration several pages

ago, in an outbreak of red-tide, roughly one million dinofla-
gellate cells per liter could fit into the tiny white dot in the
image. Yet, despite a seemingly empty environment and

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seemingly vast amounts of open space, and despite the fact
that the Karenia brevis population occupies a volumetrically-
insignificant portion of the area or volume that appears to
remain available, they nevertheless, by their combined over-
population (and their production of wastes), manage to cal-
amitously-alter the environment in which they reside (a set of
conditions worth noting, perhaps, since our own species ap-
pears to exhibit an extraordinarily similar pattern of behavior).

Supporting math for both of our referenced mammalian studies and for
outbreaks of dinoflagellate red-tide are outlined at presentation slides 127-
130 of the following link: PPT 2 –REAL-WORLD POPULATION CALAMITIES in

Notice then, that in each of our population growth/population

calamity examples (two reindeer herds and red-tides), real-
world population disasters can classically take place in envir-
onments that appear to remain (99.9%) almost entirely empty.

Why should we imagine that

our own species is invulnerable?

We have thus seen that volumetrically-insignificant numbers

of individual dinoflagellates, surrounded on all sides by “vast
amounts of open space,” routinely manage to calamitously-
alter the aqueous environment in which they live. And speci-
fically, that, in a one-liter sample of water from a red-tide, the
dinoflagellate cells themselves collectively occupy a total ar-
ea equivalent to (or less than) the area proportionally repre-
sented by the tiny dot in our illustration.

This, of course, is not to necessarily suggest a direct applica-

bility of dinoflagellate impacts and trajectories to humanity’s
own global trajectories and impacts today. It is, however, at

- 24 -
least provocative to consider that today our own species, sur-
rounded by a seemingly enormous atmosphere and seemingly
“vast amounts of open space” also appears to be well on its
way, via an ongoing release of industrial and societal wastes,
to a significant alteration of the entire atmosphere.

From pages 131-133

Invoking sobriety, however, we may actually be following a

trajectory that is provocatively similar to that of the dinofla-
gellates, because our own species, like the red-tide dinofla-
gellates of marine habitats, releases chemical wastes and tox-
ins into our surroundings. Worse still, from at least one point
of view, we may actually be on a trajectory that is consider-
ably worse than that of the dinoflagellates* .
* (and multiple orders of magnitude worse, at that)

for each dinoflagellate cell releases only its metabolic, cellu-

lar, and biological wastes into its surroundings. In the case of
humankind, however, we release not only our biological and
metabolic wastes, but also an unprecedented daily, non-stop,
decades-long, and ever-accumulating worldwide avalanche of
societal and industrial wastes that are being increasingly-amp-
lified by our growing numbers and increasing industrializa-

No Other Animals Do This

Thus, although our own pollution is in some ways reminis-

cent of that produced by population explosions of dinoflagel-
lates in a marine environment, there is a disturbing exception-
ality to our own pollution because it consists of far more than
our biological and metabolic wastes. .

- 25 -
Recall our earlier assessment of an ordinary human being liv-
ing in an industrialized country. One's daily body wastes are
again present, of course, but humanity's collective biological
wastes are natural products that have little impact on global
systems. Next, however, we envisioned this same person in
an automobile, backed up in crowded traffic on a busy eight-
lane highway, surrounded in every direction by hundreds of
cars and trucks and buses, each spewing exhaust from an in-
ternal combustion engine.

We thus see that we are individually contributing much more

than our body wastes to our surroundings. And the pollutants
that we emit, of course (about a pound of CO2 per mile), are
not rare or occasional wastes, but are daily, ongoing wastes
that we generate virtually every day throughout our lives. .

We are the only animals on Earth that do this and we repeat

this behavior again and again, every day, in Los Angeles,
Beijing, Mumbai, Tokyo, Karachi, Jakarta, Marseilles, New
York City, Cairo, Sydney, Nairobi, Rome, and Rio de Jani-
ero, releasing multiple billions of tons of wastes relentlessly
into the thin layer of air that makes up Earth's atmosphere. .

We are the only animals on Earth that do this - and we have-

n’t even finished a sample listing of our ongoing demands:
We also switch on our heating or air-conditioning systems, run our dishwashers and
clothes dryers, operate lawnmowers and weed-trimmers, refrigerators and freezers,
our street lights, fluorescent lights, toaster-ovens, microwaves, hair-dryers, steel-
mills, shopping malls, bowling lanes, televisions, and hot-water heaters. And we re-
peat these and similar activities every day, so that in serving us, our power plants re-
lease tons upon tons of additional wastes, relentlessly and endlessly, into the onion-
skin-thin layer of air that comprises the atmosphere. We are the only animals that
do this (or that have ever done this) - and to these we have yet to add wastes gen-
erated by unwanted catalogue mailings, throwaway containers, and millions of items
that have been shipped halfway around the world. (And our outbreak is global in
scale and not a localized phenomenon - plus we have chain-saws and machine guns.)

- 26 -
No other animals on Earth supplement their biological and
metabolic wastes in this way. No other animals on Earth
have EVER supplemented their biological wastes in this way.
And even dinoflagellates, in the worst red tide outbreaks in
history have never supplemented their cellular and metabolic
wastes in this way. And our exceptionality in this behavior is
not an incidental or minimal footnote to our biology – in-
stead, it is one of our most-pronounced and all-encompassing
characteristics. How can we imagine that endless billions of
us can endlessly behave in this way without calamitous re-
percussions? If we intend to enjoy such extravagance,

.If we intend to enjoy such extravagance, our populations must be smaller. .


From Chapter two:

The truly enormous size of a “billion”

While it took all of human history until approximately 1800-
1830 for humankind to reach a worldwide population of one
billion, and just 100 years to reach our second billion (1930),
just since 1930 we have added FIVE billion ADDITIONAL
persons to our planet in less than one human lifetime (1930 –
two billion; 1960 – three billion; 1975 – four billion; 1987 – five
billion; 1999 - six billion; and 2011 – seven billion).

(And now the most recent U.N. projections show us to be on potential trajectories
toward 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.6 billion by century’s end, with two prominent
demographers raising the possibility that the U.N.’s “higher-end” numbers may be
the numbers that actually emerge.)

Notice also that recently, we have been adding one additional

billion after another and another and another to our planet at a
rate of one billion additional persons every twelve years. But

- 27 -
what does all of this mean? Unfortunately, fully-appreciating
the enormity and the immense implications of the above num-
bers is not possible unless our minds fully and completely ap-
preciate the truly enormous size of each of our billions.

Let us therefore imagine a simple thought-experiment invol-

ving publishing a ONE-BILLION-PAGE Encyclopedia of The-
oretical Physics. Imagine, then, that you have been chosen
for a well-remunerated position as the peer-review and proof-
reading Editor and you decide to both review and publish 500
pages of the encyclopedia each week (100 pages per day, five
days a week) until the entire project is completed. If you
work at your project for 52 weeks a year, without interruption
for each and every year, how long will you need to complete
your project?
Hint: The answer is 38,461 years, which means that if you ac-
cepted the position and began to faithfully work on it be-
ginning 20,000 years ago (when ice was one-mile thick over
Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, when wooly mammoths and
saber-toothed tigers still roamed the Earth, and when humans
were still living in caves), and you continued to publish 500
pages per week for each and every week from then until now,
you would have to continue work on your project at the same
pace for 18,461 ADDITIONAL YEARS into the future in or-
der to complete your encyclopedia.
Which enables our minds to better-appreciate how
ENORMOUSLY LARGE each one of our added billions actually is.

Next, therefore, imagine converting each and every one of

those pages (500 pages per week from each and every week
for all 38,461 years) into a human being and then adding all
of those one billion individuals as additional persons to our
planet EVERY TWELVE YEARS over and over and over again.

- 28 -
One reason that this book has been written, and that this wri-
ter and other natural scientists are extremely worried is be-
cause, although our planet’s “carrying capacity” for a mod-
ern, industrialized humanity (with a Western European stan-
dard-of-living for all) is on the order of two billion or less, we
are now headed toward 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16.6 billion by
the end of this century, even though Earth’s biospheric life-
support machinery was already being damaged by 1987’s pop-
ulation of FIVE billion, only one-third of whom were indus-

(For pre-college audiences, the same understandings might explore, for example, a
thought-experiment that imagines a school district that decides to require its students
to complete one billion homework questions in order to graduate.) (In either case, of
course, the answers remain the same: 38,461 years, beginning 20,000 years ago, and
requiring18,461 additional years into the future.)

From pages 141-142

Stoplights and Twisting Mountain Roads

We are able to successfully navigate dangerous curves on a

twisting mountain road, or negotiate a stoplight at a busy
highway intersection because of feedbacks that allow us to re-
spond to conditions as they change. In their book BEYOND
THE LIMITS, Meadows, et al. (1992) offered insights into the
dynamics of delayed feedbacks, overshoot, and collapse. .

Suppose that you are in an automobile that is traveling at a

high rate of speed on a twisting mountain road. If you and/or
your vehicle fail to make necessary adjustments in an ongo-
ing and timely manner, the needed response will occur too
late and a dangerous and deadly overshoot will result – per-
haps sending your vehicle and its passengers off a precipice. .

- 29 -
Or suppose that this same automobile is approaching a red
stoplight in the near distance. Normally, a driver will take his
or her foot off the accelerator and press on the brake pedal in
a way that slows the vehicle to a safer speed, or which brings
the vehicle to a gentle stop as it nears the red light.

Lag Times, Uncertainties, and Delayed Feedbacks

Meadows, et al. (ibid) ask us to imagine what happens if there

are delayed feedbacks or lag times in such a system: What if
your side of the window is fogged up so that a passenger
must inform you about the stoplight's condition and its dis-
tance? What if the passenger lies to you? What if the passen-
ger tells you the truth, but you do not believe his or her re-
port? What if the brakes, when touched, require two minutes
before exerting their influence? What if the speed and mass
of the vehicle produces so much momentum that hundreds of
yards are needed to stop – as in the case of an aircraft carrier
that must slow from its maximal speed?

Delays of these sorts can cause a driver to shoot past a stop-

light or go off a cliff on a mountain road, destroying the ve-
hicle and its passengers. In an automobile, delayed feedbacks
and slow response times can prevent a driver from adjusting
quickly and accurately enough to changing conditions, result-
ing in an overshoot and its accompanying disaster for the ve-
hicle and its occupants.

In society, where our governments and social institutions are

cumbersome and lumber along, such delays are the rule ra-
ther than the exception. And just like the perils facing passen-
gers in our imaginary vehicle, slow responses, non-responses,
inadequate responses, lag times, and delayed feedbacks can
lead to disaster.

- 30 -
From beginning of Chapter 13

Thresholds, Tipping Points,
and Unintended Consequences
Imagine the first domino in a row of adjacent dominos being
toppled, thereby causing all the others to fall in quick suc-
cession. In such an event, even an accidental instability im-
parted to a single domino can unexpectedly topple a far wider
and interconnected system. We are living at a time when each
of humanity’s added billions is impacting one natural system
after another, incrementally, and in most cases, repeatedly –
again, and again, and again. And a disconcerting amount of
accumulating evidence suggests that some of Earth’s most im-
portant dominos may already be toppling. In this chapter we
will consider thresholds, tipping points, and unintended conse-
While an engineering firm may build a bridge to support a
particular tonnage, if that threshold is breached, the integrity
of the structure is compromised, leading to potential collapse
or failure. In a similar way, elevators and aircraft have char-
acteristic weight thresholds which, for safe operation, should
not be transgressed.
Examples of known thresholds also occur in physical, chemi-
cal, biological, and environmental systems, along with a host
of unanticipated thresholds and/or thresholds whose precise
values have not yet been quantified. Such thresholds are
points that denote a limit or a boundary, whether known or

- 31 -
unknown, that result in dramatic changes when transgressed.
The boiling point of water is an example of such a boundary.
If we imagine a pan of hot water at 211o F under conditions of
standard pressure, the system persists in its liquid state. If,
however, we increase the temperature by just one added de-
gree, the system is carried past a critical and, in this case, an
unmarked tipping point, and transforms abruptly to a gaseous
system of billowing steam (after Kluger, 2006).
As an example of thresholds in a biological system, pH buf-
fers in our blood maintain blood pH at a mildly alkaline 7.4.
Seemingly small transgressions, however, beyond 7.35 (lower
threshold) and 7.45 (upper threshold), result in acidosis or al-
kalosis which are both potentially fatal. As a third example, a
nerve cell will not fire unless a critical number of neurotrans-
mitters bind to its cell-surface receptors. Only if that thresh-
old number of neurotransmitters is reached or exceeded, will
the nerve cell “fire” and transmit a message onward. Each of
these instances illustrates a threshold with implications for es-
sential life-functions. An increasing number of scientists worry
that our population and our impacts may soon exceed one or
more of Earth’s ecological thresholds, known or unknown, or
even that some such thresholds may have been exceeded al-

- 32 -
From pages 199-200:

Sri Lanka, Life-extension, and Caenorhabditis

In the decades following World War II the nation of Sri Lan-

ka generated a set of data that illustrates the interactive role of
birth rates and death rates in a human population. Here is its
graph for the years 1939-1984: .

Births per 1000

Deaths per 1000

Sri Lanka: Falling birth rates and falling death rates

Upper line: Births per 1000 Lower line: Deaths per 1000

Life-extension? And what on Earth does a graph of the popu-

lation of Sri Lanka in the mid-twentieth century have to do
with a tiny roundworm known to science as Caenorhabditis
elegans? And how are two such disparate topics related to
life-extension and demographic transition suppositions and
the future of our planet? As this chapter will demonstrate,
many of today's population projections may turn out to be un-

- 33 -
derestimating humankind’s planet-wide population numbers
that may be unfolding or about to emerge.
The data used to generate the graph are displayed in the table
Births Deaths Extra
Year per 1000 per 1000 per 1000

Campbell, Mitchell, and Reese, 1997.

1939 35 21 .14 .
1940 34 20 14
1945 38 20 18
1947 36 19 17
1950 39 11 28
1955 35 09 26
1960 32 08 24
1965 33 09 24
1970 30 08 22
1975 28 06 22
1980 25 06 19
1984 27 06 .21.

Examining the data for 1939, we notice that for every thou-
sand residents of Sri Lanka that year, there were 35 births and
21 deaths. Thus, by the end of 1939, each person who died
had been physically replaced, and then - fourteen extra babies
were born per 1000.
Forty-five years later, however, Sri Lanka's rate of population
growth in 1984 was fifty percent faster than it was originally
(1984: 21 extra births/1000 versus only 14 extra births/1000
back in 1939). Thus, even though there was a 25% reduction
in birth rates, in 1984 the number of extra babies born/1000
was 50% greater than it had been in 1939. .
What we see, then, in Sri Lanka's data above mirrors events
around the world over the past two centuries - and may fore-
shadow worldwide events in the decades just ahead): Advan-
ces in medicine, for example (and/or breakthroughs in life-ex-
tension), may offset or entirely cancel-out population stabili-

- 34 -
zations presently expected to arise from birth rate reductions -
(and send us toward high-end projections of 15 or 16 billion).
From pages 202-204

Aeronautics, DNA, and Caenorhabditis

Over the past one hundred years, humankind has followed a

repeated pattern following new discoveries and technical ad-
vances. First there is an initial achievement or discovery that
is quickly followed by rapid advances, proliferation, and wide
and novel applications.

A good example of this is illustrated by the development of

aeronautics: At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, Orville
and Wilbur Wright flew a heavier-than-air vehicle for twelve
seconds and a distance of 120 feet. Less than seven decades
later, U.S. astronauts traveled to the moon, landed on its sur-
face, and returned safely to Earth again in just over one week.

Similar patterns have also characterized the development of

computers, DNA technologies, communications, and molecu-
lar biology – each beginning with technical advances, follow-
ed by quick proliferation and progression to today's capabili-
ties with breathtaking speed.

All of this suggests that today's advances in medicine, molec-

ular genetics, and biotechnologies (including early life-exten-
sion work like that seen with Caenorhabditis) may have far-
reaching impacts on death rates and demographics in the half-
century just ahead.

Some writers note that genetic engineers will “certainly aim

for greater longevity" and, if such engineering proves even

- 35 -
"...partly successful, it will create vast social and economic
dislocations” (Wilson, 1998).

Inadequacies in Demographic Transition Suppositions

Suppose that unexpected medical advances bring about a sud-
den reduction in mortality. In this circumstance, demographic
transition suppositions envision a period of gradual transition
during which there is a time-delay before reductions in fertil-
ity occur to reflect the reduced mortality – and during this
lag-time, populations skyrocket as births greatly exceed the
lowered death rates. Finally, however (perhaps after one or
more generations), transition suppositions imagine, hope-for,
or postulate a gradual decline in fertility rates that slowly re-
duces them to levels commensurate with mortality rates, per-
mitting the population to gradually stabilize.
Thus, some demographers try to portray our time of soaring
populations as a transition period during which fertility rates
have not yet caught up to our falling mortality rates. And they
hope, assume, imagine, and suppose that the transition will
complete itself any decade now. One worrisome problem is,
however, that such hopes and expectations may well be sub-
verted by an unexpected limitation within the theory.

Because science, medicine, and technology repeatedly lower

mortality rates not just once, but over and over and over again
– so that we live in a perpetual state of transition. In other
words, we repeatedly extend and perpetuate the transition
period (with its skyrocketing populations) so that its comple-
tion never occurs or is repeatedly postponed.
In effect, each of our breakthroughs in medicine and longevity re-initiate the
transition period, delaying its completion and extending its duration more
and more - so that our falling fertility rates are never allowed to catch up.

- 36 -
As fertility rates slowly and gradually adjust to an initial mor-
tality reduction, today’s genetics, technologies, and medical
advances institute a second, third, fourth, and fifth mortality
reduction in increasingly quick succession. As a result, fall-
ing fertility never catches up to the multiple new reductions
in mortality and the interim stage of the transition (with its
period of skyrocketing population) is never completed.
(It will be completed eventually, of course, but with each delay in the
transition, the completion is increasingly likely to occur as a collapse.)

What current theory does not adequately articulate, therefore,

is that advances in science, technology, and medicine are cur-
rently making reductions in death rates so quickly and re-
peatedly that offsetting fertility reductions do not (or cannot)
occur in the short times available. Thus, there is a glaring
problem within those hopeful suggestions, assertions, wishes,
assurances, and assumptions that somehow-or-other ingenu-
ity, cleverness, inventiveness, and/or additional Einsteins will
ride in at the last minute to save us and our planet from our
exploding numbers.

Many species undergo a population explosion when they un-

dergo or experience an ecological release such as removal of
a key predator, competitor, or disease. What we are seeing in
our own species, however, is not one ecological release, but
one ecological release followed by another and another and
another. And during each of our resulting lag-times, social-
delays, and delayed-responses, slow-responses, inadequate-
responses, failed-responses, and/or non-responses we end up
extending and/or exacerbating the dangerous period involving
explosions in population numbers, together with accompany-
ing damages, impacts, wastes, potential collapse and ever-
accumulating dismantlements and eradications.

- 37 -
From pages 324-325

This syllabus suggests that a continuation of today’s unfold-

ing demographic tidal wave may constitute the greatest single
risk that our species has ever undertaken and propose that our
species must ensure that we err on the side of demographic
caution. If we choose the path of caution and if biospheric lit-
eracy appraisals and planetary life-support machinery precau-
tions are implemented, the consequences would not be so bad
at all, for the world might then, for instance,
simply end up with a stable population
like that seen in Spain as this is written.
What are the consequences for humanity and Earth’s natural
systems if this book’s assessments should happen to be cor-
rect? If we heed its concerns, we will stabilize our popula-
tions, educate all citizens about our planet, ensure that vast
regions of Earth's biosphere are set aside and protected from
roads and human intrusion, and we will direct our monies and
our efforts toward making life, education, health care, cities,
and opportunities better for populations existing today – in-
stead of attempting to frantically keep up with an avalanche
of infrastructure and social needs generated by more and
more and more billions one after another in the decades just

On the other hand, if humanity should decide to rely upon

Roger Revelle's or similar sky-high estimates, or to follow the
pedal-to-the-metal, the-more-the-merrier, and the rosy scenar-
ios directions that are urged upon us by assorted corporate,
Wall Street, and economic Ponzi scheme interests, and should
it then turn out that their rosy (and specious) suppositions are
in error, the results may include biospheric, humanitarian, and
civilizational nightmares of an existential scale.

- 38 -
A half-century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of “the
modern plague of overpopulation. What is lacking,” he said,
"is universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and
the education of billions of people who are its victims” (see
King, 1966; Bartlett, 2000; Wooldridge, 2007; Ehrlich and
Ehrlich, 2004). Today, Dr. King’s insights are more applica-
ble than ever. If we continue to proceed complacently, as we
have already done for far too long, it may be that civiliza-
tion’s prevailing philosophy will also become its last words
and its epitaph: business-as-usual, (or perhaps “Too-late” /
“They waited too long”).
As Thomas Friedman once noted (2008), “there is a line be-
tween can-do optimism and a keen awareness that the hour is
late and the scale of the problems practically overwhelm-
ing.” To quickly achieve the universal scale of demographic
and biospheric literacy envisioned in this book will necessi-
tate a Roosevelt /Churchillian degree of mobilization and re-
sponse that should have begun two decades ago. As it is, we
close by offering two questions that will carry us toward one
or another of two very different destinies:

(1) Unlike dinoflagellates, WE all understand limits and lim-

iting factors, the enormous size of a billion, carrying capaci-
ties, thresholds, tipping points, and delayed feedbacks, along
with the powerful, deceptive, and counterintuitive behavior of
exponential mathematics - don't we?
(2) In addition, we can be sure that our own species will man-
age to avoid demographic catastrophe because, after all is
said and done, presumably, we (and our leaders?) must hope-
fully be smarter than a herd of reindeer or a population of
mindless, one-celled dinoflagellates – (aren’t we)?

- 39 -
Our species is a J-curve going off in the middle of the only
planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist any-
where in the universe,
and 30 or 40 essential biospheric literacy under-
standings must be universalized two decades ago.

- 40 -
OCW links, ppts, pdfs, and other resources
Biospheric Literacy 101 - Six PowerPoints / Six Days!powerpoints/c24vq

Priority population-environment collection-
for Academia and Policymakers

99% die-offs in environments that remain 99.998% unoccupied?

(2/1000ths of 1% occupied conditions as a too-late / waited-too-long threshold?)
THREE quintessential real-world “too late" examples

90% ERADICATIONS of the only planetary life-support

machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe?
(Why 10% conservation goals invite collapse)

(Space vehicles, automobiles, and other complex systems such as an airplane or the human
body do not continue to function with 70-80-90% eradications, wastes, and damage)

Our graph is a J-curve:

Why 16.6 billion should be viewed as an emergency
(the demographic equivalent of a collision trajectory with a near-earth asteroid)

Biospheric Literacy and Sustainability 101 –

Open-courseware Presentations and PDFs
(What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet)





- 41 -



Executive Summaries and PDF resources






HOW LARGE IS A BILLION? (A billion pages of theoretical physics?)

(Hint: The answer is 38,461 years)

- 42 -