The Proposition that Conservation Is a Bad Thing as an Example of  Reductio ad Absurdum

Prefatory Note (12-23-04).  Assuming that we continue with an American-style capitalist economy with markets for everything and business as usual, conservation measures within that framework will allow circumstances to get worse for a larger population such that the Die-Off will be more catastrophic when it does come than if we had made no effort whatsoever to conserve and, therefore, precipitated a collapse earlier.  Thus, conservation is the greater evil.

This counter-intuitive deduction, i.e., that conservation is a bad thing, is a classic example of reductio ad absurdum.  But, what was the false premise that has been disproved?  It is simply what I and many others on this forum have been trying to get the rest of you not to believe, namely, that society can continue to support capitalist-style market economies.  Let me say it again:  Since the conclusion that conservation is harmful is absurd, the (tacit) premise that we can continue to support capitalism and market-style economies is false.  This is discussed in my book On the Preservation of Species <> where all such economies are treated simultaneously under the rubric materialism.

Materialism is responsible for (1) environmental destruction, including overpopulation, urbanization, and industrialism, (2) tyranny, and (3) authoritarian falsity such as the 60-year-old mass propaganda attack upon communism and anarchy that has most of us still believing that we cannot replace the failed status quo with libertarian communism – even though revolutions have been achieved frequently in the past with much less provocation and much poorer alternatives offered by the revolutionaries.  In my book, totalitarian communism is just as unacceptable as libertarian capitalism.

I claimed that the unspoken premise that logically precedes this deduction is that materialism<> as defined by me (and others, I hope) continues indefinitely into the post-Peak-Oil future.  Currently, materialism manifests itself in American-style capitalism.  Bruce Stephenson presented us with two realistic cases:  The first was the no-conservation case.  That ended in disaster.  The second case was essentially the conservation-within-capitalism model wherein population continues to grow for materialistic reasons as outlined in a new draft of Chapter 9 of On the Preservation of Species<>.  Let me excise the relevant portion of that chapter and post it below.  Thus, the retention of materialism led to disaster in either case.

The following section is excised from Chapter 9 of On the Preservation of Species

Violations of the Freedom Axiom are termed simply tyranny.  Even excessive procreation, i.e., more than one child per person, is taken to be a form of tyranny (T) because in Chapter 3 we proved that usurping an unfair share of the carrying capacity of the earth with one’s own progeny imposes upon the freedom of human social links that do not increase the population unfairly; but the term is supposed to refer primarily to man's domination of man.

Five motives for excessive procreation are (i) narcissism, (ii) fear that not all will live, (iii) cheap labor to promote family wealth, (iv) hope for support in old age, and (v) to spread rapidly a racial plurality, a religion, ideology, culture, or general system of “family values”, often superstitions and myths, to which the violator of the Token Theorem<> is committed, dedicated, or enthralled – or at least wishes others to be committed, dedicated, or enthralled.  Accidental pregnancies will be treated as though they were simply another form of inadvertent environmental destruction.  Presumably, inadvertent pregnancies can be eliminated by a combination of education, indoctrination, and science all unfettered by superstition.  [Note.  When a beloved child dies the parent’s grief is not diminished by the survival of another child, therefore the motive for having more children to ensure against such a tragedy may be assumed to be narcissistic.]

A good case can be made that multiple pregnancies in women can be traced to the traditional domination of women by men that gave rise to the Feminist Movement.  This is precisely the sort of domination that would not have arisen in a non-materialistic world, however many people will claim that materialism follows from competition for desirable sex partners rather than the reverse.  Even though women very recently began to play more prominent roles in the societies of “developed” countries, this should not be construed as the triumph of Feminism in its earlier manifestations.  It is easy to see that the roles played by dominant women nowadays are indicative of exactly the same trends toward materialism that (true) Feminism opposed.  Likewise, many of the excess pregnancies, including accidental pregnancies, identified as geophagy and tyranny above may still be laid at the feet of man’s traditional domination of women and, in turn, materialism.  Although, in some cases, women themselves may be convinced of the advisability of multiple pregnancies, the incentive to so convince them against their best interests could not exist and be effective outside of  a materialistic setting.  This can be discussed on a case-by-case basis.  [End of material from Chapter 9 of On the Preservation of Species]

Note.  In a non-materialistic world, women who do not wish to enjoy more than one pregnancy cannot be forced or cajoled into multiple pregnancies.  Since materialism is truly the only thing preventing women from being free, especially free from economic constraints, women's liberation can be achieved only by dematerialism – no matter what else it's called. 

Narcissism and superstition play a role that they would not play except for the intrusion of vast energetically-costly, technologically-sophisticated systems of propaganda machinery, supported by tyranny, the purpose of which is to inculcate the general acceptance of domination and hierarchy in the minds of almost all people.  This sort of manufactured consent could not exist without materialism nor would it be necessary.  None of the other causes of excessive procreation would be necessary in a non-materialistic world nor could they be effective.

Since our difficulties have come from consuming resources faster than they can be renewed, the notion that conservation is bad is patently absurd.  [Admittedly, this is the only sentence that addresses Bruce Stephenson’s complaint directly, but I wish to resolve my personal doubts as to whether the tacit premise was indeed continued materialism; and, presumably, if I can show that, in a non-materialistic setting, conservation, along with appropriate educational propaganda concerning childbirth, can achieve a soft landing, the absurdity of the notion that conservation is bad will have been corroborated.]  Bruce’s two cases bear that out.  But, is it possible to negotiate a soft landing in the dematerialist scenario< 11 - _toc83264848>?

Today I looked up some data on worldwide per capita birth rates (b = 0.02024) and death rates (d = 0.00886).  Also, I found that the average number of births per woman, called the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), is 2.62 worldwide.  I  wish to determine the best we can do to avoid Die-Off, therefore I am assuming that the TFR is reduced to one birth per woman.  I used Excel to simulate the US population under the following assumptions: (i) no migration, (ii) from now on everyone dies precisely on his or her 100th birthday, (iii) every woman has her only child in her fifteenth year, which accounts for all childbirth from now on, and (iv) precisely half the people are female (not 51%).  I found the population reduced to just below one-half of today’s population of 295.733 million in 2093.  The longevity and early childbirth conditions give an upper bound on the rationality condition of one live birth per woman and the humanitarian condition of zero infant mortality.  After 25 years, the population reaches 321.517 million due to the low death rates initially; but, after 50 years, the population has diminished to 276.823 million as one child per female begins to be felt and the 95-99-year-old cohort approaches parity with younger cohorts.

Note.  In a non-materialistic world, women who do not wish to enjoy more than one pregnancy cannot be forced or cajoled into multiple pregnancies.  Since materialism is truly the only thing preventing women from being free, especially free from economic constraints, women's liberation can be achieved only by dematerialism – no matter what else it's called.  Other causes of excessive (genocidal) procreation are discussed in Chapter 9 of On the Preservation of Species.

To reduce the population by half would take 88 years, whereas, if the production of oil should be 3% less each year in the wake of Peak Oil as estimated by some Peak Oil experts whose identities escape me, the production rate would be cut in half in only n = ln{0.5}/ ln{0.97} = 22.757 years.  Leaving coal out of our calculations, it seems clear that population reduction without serious conservation will not prevent Die-Off.  It is time to revisit my earlier RunningOnEmpty2 calculation at

The problem with the estimates I made there is that much of our textile industry, for example, has gone overseas.  Thus, employment in manufacturing must rise to account for new domestic production.  Also, the manufacture and maintenance of textile factory equipment must return to the US if it ever left.  (I dare say that the Chinese must purchase at least some machine tools from us.)  On the other hand, in a world without sales, marketing, parasitic management, authoritarian propaganda, mass-market media, high-profile professional sports and their absurd, over-priced venues, and in a world without wasteful, cruel, and unnecessary war machines, and vast, authoritarian governments many things that are manufactured and maintained nowadays will not be needed.  (In the wake of materialism there will be no one to spy on, regulate, prosecute, punish, persecute, or tax.)  Also, in a non-materialistic world there need be no business or recreational transportation nor anyone commuting to a useless, boring job.  Just think of all the energy savings that can be effected in a world with no monetary system, no banks, no financial services of any kind, no money, debts, bonds, stocks, or liens.  Finally, with the developed world using ~90% less energy, the infrastructure to provide energy can be reduced proportionately.

Meanwhile, speaking of a world with no government, I have taken advantage of some things that the government does well and that should be done by someone even in a non-materialistic world – at least for a while.  I have written the Bureau of Labor Statistics for employment data by sector for 1949 or 1950, the first year in which they gathered comprehensive data such as that in the table in the article “Energy in a Natural Economy”<>.  This corresponds to a time when the US was still self-supporting (more or less).

I will repeat this exercise when I am in the possession of that data.  However, I wish to place this before you much sooner than I can expect to finish my estimate of how much energy can be saved by dematerialism.  Please remember I am thinking about a smaller, but much better tasting, pie for my children’s children and for yours.

Note.  The BLS has informed that they will not make available data from 1949, 1950, nor any year earlier than 2001.  I am disappointed but not defeated.

Thomas L. Wayburn, PhD in chemical engineering (not political science)

Houston, Texas

December 12, 2004