The Peak Human

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the peakiest of times.

Amid the list of “peaks” (peak oil, peak medical costs, peak bad TV, etc.) is peak population. The population is going up now, but it won’t go up forever. Assuming nothing catastrophic happens in the next 40 years, the population will top out on or before 2050. Of course, if catastrophe strikes, we’ll start the downward slide rather more abruptly. Either way, it’s one of the most momentous transitions in the planet’s history, and it’s going to happen when many of the people reading this blog are still alive. Every generation tends to think of themselves as special, but it occurs to me that it’s not mere chauvinism to say big things are afoot and we have a front row seat. “May you live in interesting times,” goes the apocryphal Chinese curse.

All this made me realize something terribly obvious that hadn’t occurred to me before: there’s going to be a peak person. And when this peakster passes, that summit of humanity will never again be surpassed. Not on this planet, anyway. Furthermore, I’m in the right demographic to be the Sir Edmund Hillary of the population curve. The view from the top is bracing. It’s a long way down.

Here’s a talk by Phillip Longman on what depopulation might look like. It’s long, but he makes a number of interesting points. Hearing someone talk about the problems associated with a shrinking population reminds me of how economists manage to see the bright side of any story: “Interest rates are up… bad news!” vs. “Interest rates are down… bad news!”

2 thoughts on “The Peak Human”

  1. Assuming no catastrophy or disruptive technological advance. Probably safe to assume no more doubling though IMO.

    –JMike on my new Droid

  2. I’m convinced that one or several disruptive technological advances might happen and they might well be wonderful for those of us around to enjoy them, but they are still unlikely to promote population growth. Every big technological leap so far has ultimately served to slow population growth.

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