Re: Longevity & Population

Robin Hanson (
Fri, 17 Sep 1999 14:45:51 -0400

Robert B. wrote:
>This *isn't* news. Going back to Malthus and probably before there
>have always been concerns about this.
>Dyson's 1960 paper that invented Dyson Shells pointed out the problem:
>| At present ... 5x10^19 grams. 10^20 ergs per second. ...
>| within the solar system are 2x10^30 grams ... 4x10^33 ergs per sec ...
>| time required for an expansion of population and industry by a factor
>| of 0^12 is quite short, say 3000 years if an average growth rate of
>| 1 percent per year is maintained. ...
>So, the "growth" of "civilized" humanity is at *least* half-way complete.
>There are numerous articles that state quite clearly that the use of
>interstellar travel as an escape valve on population growth is
>*impossible* using known laws of physics.
>So, sooner or later, we *will* hit the limits.
>So, the proper response to the longevity/population problem is
> -- Well we are going to hit the limits sooner or later, which would
> you prefer, hitting it alive and (relatively) immortal, or dead?

I agree that exponential growth can't go on for 10,000 years. But on simple economic grounds, it is not clear there is any "problem". If growth rates can't keep up, the cost of resources to grow with gets higher and higher, and people then forgo more and more growth, relative to other things. Growth slows to a halt, but life goes on.

If people can consume their star, rather than just collecting its light, they have to choose whether their civilization will burn bright but fast, or burn slow but long. But again, it is not clear there is any "problem." If those who want to burn fast pay for it, then those who wanted to burn slow will remain with what the fast-burners couldn't buy.

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323