Countering collapse

Countering the risk that Competitive Overuse leads to system-collapses

Overpopulation side-effects such as overfishing and water-depletion cannot be solved even by full representation of those involved – but systems reinforcing such actions can be changed


AVOIDING POPULATION CRISES is a deeply-systemic challenge. In a failing country, for example, aid-workers may focus on healthcare to reduce mortality, and vaccination programs may seem the most cost-effective form of positive intervention. But, as explained earlier, without also addressing the complex system that determines birth rates (including female education-levels) a resultant population explosion can later lead to widespread famine. At the global level, addressing Population Crises is even harder. Direct actions such as education programs on birth-control, or governments no longer ‘subsidizing’ more than two children per family, may certainly be necessary and valuable but realistically they only tackle the visible portion of the Population iceberg. Far more difficult are the more-hidden side-effects. Overfishing of international waters, over-depletion of communal water-tables, shifting to an unsustainable Western lifestyle, all occur – just as population explosions in failing countries do – because the behaviour that leads to the sudden collapse that follows Competitive Overuse nevertheless at the individual level makes perfect sense to each of the people involved.

Despite what many have suggested, these are problems that could not even be solved by a fully-democratic World Government with everyone on Earth voting on referenda for what they wanted to happen. Most individuals would still tend to vote for more food, more water, more consumer products in the near-term – even though everyone’s collective demands were in the long-run unsustainable. This aspect of world-governance requires a far more sophisticated solution than merely ‘better representation’. To address these sorts of problems, those industries most tightly involved (especially Fishing and Agriculture but also Retail generally) must reframe their strategies so as to sponsor a principle of Collective Sustainability that counteracts the system-dynamics of Competitive Overuse that otherwise risk eventual catastrophic collapse. All the guidelines for fulfilling Collective Sustainability are based on the fact that, at the level of a village all the way up to the whole Earth, there are basically only four approaches that potential-rivals can jointly adopt to overcome issues relating to Competitive Overuse. And often, success requires a combination of all four approaches.

The first approach is to ‘hold a mirror up’ and bring the unintended side-effects of the collective behavior to everyone’s attention – which is an important role for Fishing, Agriculture and Retail if they are not to become the lightning conductor of a popular backlash against the industries deemed responsible for unnecessary destruction of the ecosystem. The second approach is to reduce the risk of a crash by regulating depletion rates or even blocking access completely in order to give time for the resource to replenish – such as by setting appropriate fishing quotas or creating a marine reserve. The third approach is to replenish a resource directly – say, by reintroducing endangered species back into the wild. And the fourth approach is to use High-Tech (or some other innovative means) to increase the tolerance of the resource being overexploited – for instance by using new strains of crops that need less water or provide greater yields.

It is by using a combination of all these approaches that in the past it has often proved quite possible to avoid the Malthusian Collapse that can otherwise occur if a population grows too large to sustain. More precisely, it has proved possible provided that everything remains well managed. The problem is that failing countries are often not well managed. And, in the absence of effective world-governance, neither is the complex collection of around two-hundred states that have recently coalesced to form a tightly-integrated global economy. It is for that reason that encouraging nations nevertheless to live up to a shared standard of Collective Sustainability is so crucial. Here are some specifics.