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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Billionaires form club to fight overpopulation (Page 4)

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Author Topic: Billionaires form club to fight overpopulation
rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by The Reader:
The future doesn't have to be a science fiction novel. [Wink]

HERETIC!
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Rakeesh
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Let's not also forget, that while it's foolish to rely on unknown future technological advances...unexpected things can happen. (For better or worse.) So it's not inevitable at all.
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Dogbreath
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quote:
Originally posted by The Reader:
The future doesn't have to be a science fiction novel. [Wink]

This is one thing I can really agree on - it seems the future always turns out much differently and infinitely weirder than science fiction predicts. For all we know, the solution to the overpopulation problem is something so strange and simple that nobody has thought of it yet.

For example, we could suddenly become a colony of space aliens that harvest human beings like cattle, and we'd actually have to take fertility drugs, to up the number of kids being born.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by The Reader:
If you don't like it and think it's wrong, then don't accept it as inevitable. I don't believe it is.

Whether or not I think it is ethically troubling has no bearing on my analysis of its probability, nor should it. It's extraordinarily illogical.

If there's technical dislike for my wording, i could replace inevitable with 'the extraordinarily, vastly likely outcome.'

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katharina
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quote:
phosphorous famine
I don't know what that is. I could google it, but it amuses me more to wonder what, exactly, you eat every day and think other people eat.
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MrSquicky
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I imagine he thinks they eat vegetables, grains, and meat, the production of which is highly dependent on phosphorus.
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Puffy Treat
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Phosphorus is an important component of most modern fertilizers.

Some scientists predict we will use it up in a few decades. Others are more optimistic, saying there are ways we can develop to preserve, extend, and cease waste of it.

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katharina
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I do not wish to converse with you, Squick.
--------------
How sad, Puffy, that there is a prosaic explanation. There were visions of Dune in my head.

The phosphorous must roll!!

Anyway, I suspect it will be fine. Not that it is okay to ignore it, but there will not be a worldwide "phosphorous famine."

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scifibum
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"I do not wish to converse with you, Squick."

*chuckle* Obviously you wish to address him, and respond to his posts, though. The distinction you're making is quite fine.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
there will not be a worldwide "phosphorous famine."
Actually, my wife works in ag, and this IS a major concern.

Population is increasing very, very rapidly, and food production has plateaued. Without the ability to cheaply and easily supplement crop production with standard fertilizers (which are phosphorus dependent), food production will further fall behind.

We have since the '40s, as a planet, enjoyed the ability to produce far, far more food than we're capable of eating. In the last couple of years, the population has caught up and passed production. Within another decade, unless technology somehow fills the void, people in developed countries are going to feel the pinch; the third world is already feeling it.

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King of Men
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Where does the phosphorus in fertiliser go after it's done its work?
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TomDavidson
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The nitrate in it generally leeches into the water table, where ultimately it does more damage to the oceans. There's a massive hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico due mainly to nitrified fertilizer runoff.

We're dumping all our nitrate into the oceans, basically, to kill the fish.

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sarcasticmuppet
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From the first google page I found on "phosphorus fertilizer":

"Organic P fertilizers have been used for centuries as the P source for crops. Even with the advent of P fertilizer technology processes, organic P sources from animal manures—including composts—and sewage sludge are still very important. From a fertilizer/nutrient management perspective, the major differentiating factor is the availability of P. As with any of the fertilizer products, especially those with varying analysis, chemical analysis should be done on these products. Then an availability coefficient should be used to determine the available P as a portion of the reported total P.

Phosphorus from manure or sludge should be comparable to P from inorganic fertilizer. Therefore, if a producer has a P recommendation for 30 lbs/A of P 2 O 5 , applying approximately 65 lbs of 18-46-0 (DAP) or 6 tons of 11-6-9 (manure, 80% available P coefficient) should provide equivalent results."

So phosphorus fertilizer can come from organic sources, such as people, animals, compost heaps, etc. If there are more people producing more waste, that seems to be an okay solution to the shortage of phosphorus from other sources. The important thing is that there is a decent level of resource management to get fertilizer A to farm B.

Not that I know much about it, but that's my theory from googling it.

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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Where does the phosphorus in fertiliser go after it's done its work?

Based on my extensive ability to read Wikipedia, much of it runs off, seeps into the water table, or is otherwise introduced into the hydro-system, creating algal blooms.

Some of it goes into the food, is consumed, and ends up in sewage treatment plants. I'm not sure to what degree human waste is recycled as fertilizer. But the sewer system probably further contributes to the phosphorus leakage into the water supply.

Also, the damming of major rivers has further exacerbated the problem, as phosphorus that traditionally would have been reintroduced from silt during annual floods is now prevented from ever making it downstream.

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King of Men
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So then, if we were able to reclaim it from the processes that currently dump it into the oceans, we'd have a major environmental benefit on top of more phosphorus. This seems to me like exactly the sort of thing that free markets are good at solving: As the stuff becomes more expensive, which will presumably be a gradual process, recycling operations become economically viable.
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TomDavidson
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Except that African farmers can't afford to pay more for their phosphorus. They can't pay what we're charging for it now.

And, of course, there's the other problem: that all the fish in the Gulf won't necessarily hang on until reclamation becomes affordable.

There's money to be made in the corners here, sure, but the rest of it's a big ol' chunk of externality.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
Where does the phosphorus in fertiliser go after it's done its work?

quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
The nitrate in it

>_<

I know what you meant, but as written that violates scientific laws. [Razz]

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
quote:
phosphorous famine
I don't know what that is. I could google it, but it amuses me more to wonder what, exactly, you eat every day and think other people eat.
We eat food. If you don't know how the production of that food for six billion people on the arable land available on earth is dependent on available phosphorus supplies, then you should educate yourself before making this sort of comment.
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katharina
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*sigh*

Take the stick out, Samp.

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Samprimary
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No, I'm serious. Go read up on it!
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katharina
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So am I.
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Samprimary
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Ok, pick a fight with me first. Then go read up on it. Deal?
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BlackBlade
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quote:
...or is otherwise introduced into the hydro-system, creating algal blooms.
Algal bloom you say?

*warning language, and it's a bit gory.*

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Parkour
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The upcoming phosphorous famine will be a byproduct of the "green revolution". We created a system that produces more food at the expense of water tables and fertilizer supply allowing the Earth to sustain larger populations for a shorter timeframe by more rapidly exhausting natural resources in an even more unsustainable fashion.

We did it to try to solve hunger problems but without a population control aspect it just meant that we were not actually fixing anything so we ended up here today. Even if we stop total population growth and manage to keep the Earth's population at where it is at today, the end of readily available phosphorous will be what combines with our exceeded production limits and set off a massive world population reduction.

We could come up with a viable population reduction policy between now and then, but it is not very likely. We seem to act like any other organism that opens up a niche that allows population explosion. We boom, overconsume, and the next step is to bust. A bust in the animal world is a massive die-off.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
The upcoming phosphorous famine will be a byproduct of the "green revolution".
I just want to clarify that the "Green Revolution" that Parkour's referring to here isn't an environmentalist thing, in that sense of "Green," but rather a reference to a number of agricultural technologies that sprang into being from 1950-1980 and revolutionized the way crops are grown in developed countries.
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Parkour
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Yes. The green revolution could have been the turning point in sustainability. It averted famine by increasing the efficiency of production. The response in developing countries was that of an unconstrained organism. More efficient production only led to us to more extreme depletion of natural resources as our population zoomed upwards to fill the presently available production. Now, we're capping out again at the new, more extreme, more unsustainable limits. It's depressing. We never accomplished anything that would have prevented us from assuredly ending up in the same situation again, overlooking an even taller and more insurmountable precipice. We just blobbed like a fungus.
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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
[QB] Except that African farmers can't afford to pay more for their phosphorus. They can't pay what we're charging for it now.

If that's true, then presumably Africa is not currently an important source of the world's food supplies, no? So, in effect, Africa can continue to produce coffee or whatever at a much lower level, with our worth-their-weight-in-gold blessings. What's important for whether or not we have a world famine is whether the huge American farms that are the actual major supplier can afford such reclamation or not.
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Parkour
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Africa can't feed itself on coffee and in the face of a growing food crisis, we would certainly start keeping more (and then all) of our produced food at home. We would be able to afford reclamation by necessity, but there is no way to be able to supply the same amount of phosphorous that we are reliant upon today if we are dependent on reclamation methods instead of just being able to mine massive quantities of phosphorous out of the earth. There will be less total phosphorous available. Significantly less.

At worst in countries like America where farmland was maintained through subsidy, all it entails is a significant reduction in quality of life as food costs begin to dominate domestic concerns.

But in Africa, India, even possibly China? They are left with heavily leeched land, they no longer have readily available fertilizer, and their water tables are massively exhausted. The still-productive nations are not sparing their food in trade. Billions of people will begin, very simply, to starve to death.

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King of Men
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You assume that the equilibrium solution is a disaster. This is not obvious. Clearly, if phosphorus makes food cheaper, and phosphorus gets more expensive, then food gets more expensive and someone who now has access to it will become too poor to buy. This is basic economics. But it does not follow that the someones will number in the billions! You have argued convincingly that the eventual equilibrium will involved more expensive food and therefore more starvation; this is as much as you can do from qualitative arguments. To find how many people will starve, you must run the numbers; claims of billions are as unconvincing as claims of "not a problem".
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Samprimary
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Um, it's not about phosphorus making food cheaper. It's about making it so that the production of our current output of food is possible at all.

Our population is still going up, we already cannot produce enough food to feed the entire world's population currently with readily minable phosphorous, and that supply is going to end. It is an essentially unavoidable situation. One way or another the earth's population has to drop pretty significantly between now and then, or we will be 'adjusted' by the forces of nature.

We ain't gonna do it the easy way, most likely.

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Sterling
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Ah, the joys of repurposing the World War II munitions business. NPK: making more, less nutritious food at high cost to humans, soil, and water alike.

Humanity has been coasting on an unsustainable system for some time. It's hard to see that system coming to a happy ending.

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King of Men
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quote:
Um, it's not about phosphorus making food cheaper. It's about making it so that the production of our current output of food is possible at all.
The statements are not different. Larger production of food = cheaper food = food produced with less labour and machinery. Three ways to say the same thing.
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Samprimary
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Not all avaialability is determined by price.
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0Megabyte
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So... what's the closest source of extraplanetary phosphorous again?
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Parkour
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Well, hell. It's been a while since I got through mass effect, but I think there was a planet just chock-full of it somewhere near the Perseus Veil.
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Samprimary
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Ahahahahahahaha.

Its Therumlon in the Fortuna system.

Now if only we can get a shipping lane through the terminus systems, our approaching organic collapse can be yet again averted!

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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
Not all avaialability is determined by price.

If there is less food available, then some people who formerly could get it will now go hungry. The way this will happen is that prices will go up. Do you disagree with this scenario? If not, how does it differ from what I originally said?
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0Megabyte
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Well, yes, guys, that would be nice.

Any other planets, moons, etc, in the solar system with some nice phosphorus in noticeable amounts?

I don't recall much about that. Though a planet/moon in the solar system would certainly be faster than something in the Fortuna system.

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Samprimary
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quote:
If there is less food available, then some people who formerly could get it will now go hungry. The way this will happen is that prices will go up. Do you disagree with this scenario?
One of the ways this can happen. Not all of the ways this can happen. Plenty of people in plenty of nations can be unable to eat just due to a lack of availability. There's no food coming in to your area, or currency has no bearing on the ability to procure food, etc.
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King of Men
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And why is food not coming in? Because there is greater profit in delivering it elsewhere. Why does your currency buy no food? Because it can't buy anything else, either. These are all manifestations of the market. Short of a complete breakdown of order, scarce resources will be delivered to those able to pay the highest price. And if order does break down completely, that will still be true, but the price will be measured in bullets and loyal soldiers.
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fugu13
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No, most of the reasons food doesn't arrive have little to do with "the market"; there are typically major externalities (wars, dictators intentionally starving sub-populations, all sorts of fun things).

The sense you are using "the market" in isn't consistent with the things you've tried to say about it. Efficiently allocating markets only exist under certain conditions, not any situation under the sun where people are contesting for resources.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
And why is food not coming in? Because there is greater profit in delivering it elsewhere. Why does your currency buy no food? Because it can't buy anything else, either. These are all manifestations of the market. Short of a complete breakdown of order, scarce resources will be delivered to those able to pay the highest price. And if order does break down completely, that will still be true, but the price will be measured in bullets and loyal soldiers.
That's just not true, KoM. It's not all market forces. There's a great deal of politics involved, which involves economics but is not quite the same thing.
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King of Men
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If you want to call this something other than market forces, fine. The point remains: If less food is produced, then some people will go hungry who formerly had food. In the nature of things these people will almost certainly be poor, in money, in political influence, and in military power. It does not follow that they will number in the billions.
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Samprimary
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Roughly one in seven people on earth go hungry right now. It approaches a billion people as-is. They live a life perpetually on the brink of starvation. They manage, but it is not easy. They are buoyed on the barest of margins given by the current food production system's output.

Even given a stable situation (i.e., no further depletion of water tables, an indefinite supply of today's minable phosphate rock, global warming end up not doing anything prickish to the world's productive land areas) we are already in a situation that sees this 900+ million people eventually starving to death. We already cannot produce enough food worldwide to feed the number of people we have.

And world population is still on the rise.

Soon, that food production output will not exist. It will have begun to contract rapidly, in a way which can no longer physically provide for six to seven billion people. A system that is fully forced to convert to phosphorus recovery rather than mass mining can support about four billion people.

That's a few billion shy of our current and our projected population over the timeframe of phosphorus depletion. Any major upheaval due to supply concerns can suddenly cut off supply from phosphorus producing nations. You will then have your billions hungry.

World population has to go down, one way or another. Whether we engineer it ourselves, or end up having it done for us by biological realities.

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King of Men
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quote:
A system that is fully forced to convert to phosphorus recovery rather than mass mining can support about four billion people.
Now we are getting somewhere; this appears to imply that you have some actual data. Where are you getting your numbers?

quote:
we are already in a situation that sees this 900+ million people eventually starving to death.
Woah, now. There's a difference between going hungry and starving to death.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Now we are getting somewhere; this appears to imply that you have some actual data. Where are you getting your numbers?
I'm .. very glad you finally see some suggestion that we're not just making this all up. Very charitable. Most of the hard data is available in USGS factsheets as well as various scholarly articles on the subject.

quote:
Woah, now. There's a difference between going hungry and starving to death.
And? Today, they are the world's hungry. In any situation where you see the hunger situation get so severe that populations begin starving to death in very very large numbers, hunger, too, has increased.
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scifibum
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How much additional human feeding capacity if we all stop eating meat? Do the scholarly articles explore the situation if we repurpose all rainforest land? (I know that would be potentially disastrous in its own right, but I'm curious whether the human food production models try to mesh in with deforestation and warming and ocean levels and everything else.)
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King of Men
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quote:
I'm .. very glad you finally see some suggestion that we're not just making this all up.
When you make assertions of the form "Unless we do X, billions will die", a request for sources is not unreasonable. You might have supplied those links to start with instead of quibbling on what is or is not a price mechanism.

Edit: Further, I don't see where your link supports your assertion. Perhaps you'd like to quote something and say where you found it? There are lots of PDFs in that link.

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The Pixiest
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We could stop sending aid to any country with a reproduction rate above replacement. We wouldn't even have to do anything. In fact, it would be easier than what we're doing now. (and better in the long run.)

Until populations reach equilibrium, though, we'd have to guard our borders VERY carefully.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
quote:
I'm .. very glad you finally see some suggestion that we're not just making this all up.
When you make assertions of the form "Unless we do X, billions will die", a request for sources is not unreasonable.
Nor do I suggest so. You just had a very weird way of transitioning into your request for data. [Smile]

And there's always plenty of reason to quibble over an incorrect assertion; this is the internet, of course.

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