The Penalties of an Ecolate Education

To know or not to know



One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. ― Aldo Leopold 1949

TUCSON (A-P) —In 1949 the world was bruised, had cuts, sores, bumps, abrasions, scrapes, and burns. In the twenty-first century, the world is in the ICU facing multiple system failures. What are the penalties of an ecolate education? Well, given that the word ‘ecolacy’, short for systems science literate, was coined by the ecolate Garrett Hardin (UCSB human ecologist), perhaps he has some clues to offer about our spaceship.

Chapter 20: End of an Orgy by Garrett Hardin

[The book, Exploring New Ethics for Survival: The Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle should be read, but for those who think they have better things to do than read a book from 1972, maybe some can find time to consider one chapter:]

“From time immemorial” means for three generations. If it was so in my father’s time, as well as my grandfather’s, and if it is so now – then it has been true always. And will be true forever. . . . So works the human mind. [i.e. temporal blindness is ‘normal’]

Most men, having only an imperfect feeling for the inflections of history, thoughtlessly think that population growth is normal. It was true in our father’s time, and our grandfather’s; and it is true now. It must be an eternal truth. Growth is normal.

Only history and reasoning can correct the error. Let us look backward first to see how fast the human population has grown in the past. (see table 9.)

Table 9

Population Growth in Times Past

World population estimates from Deevey (1960), Carr-Sanders (1936), and United Nations Time reckoned with reference to year 1970 A.D.

Years in Past




Population in Millions

Average Growth Rate in Interval, Percent per Year

Doubling Time in Years















































































The biologist Edward Deevey reckons that there were 125,000 human beings on earth a million years ago. Obviously there are great uncertainties in this estimate. First there is the question “What is a human being?” At which stage in the evolution of man do we say our ancestors crossed over the line into humanity? Should our ancestors of a million years ago be called “men” or “proto-men”? Only an arbitrary decision is possible. That made, there arises the problem of taking a census nearly a million years before anyone knew how to count. Or write. There is much guesswork here.

Fortunately, these uncertainties don’t much matter. The properties of exponential growth are such that the figures in the last two columns of Table 9 are not much affected if the “beginning” is set at a million years or twice that or half that, or if the “initial” population is assumed to be ten times as great or only a tenth as much. The quantitative conclusions are affected very little by these variations, and the qualitative conclusions (developed below) are affected not at all.

First of all, what was the average rate of growth of the human population for the past million years? It averages out to almost exactly one thousandth of 1 percent per year. Put another way, at this average rate of growth the length of time it takes a population to double is 67,447 years.

At the present time—”present” being assumed to be the year 1970 throughout this discussion—world population is growing at approximately 2 percent per year, with a doubling time of only 35 years. If we compare 35 with 67,447 it is obvious that we live in exceptional times.

The matter can be put another way. A million years ago it was the 998,026 B.C. (Christ, paradoxically, was born in the year 4 B.C.) If the eighth of a million people then living had multiplied steadily at the present rate of 2.03 percent per year, how long would it have taken them to produce the present population of some three and a half billion? The answer is startling:



998,026 B.C.


997,514 B.C.


It would have taken just 512 years to reach the present population—and the time would still have been nearly 1,000,000 B.C.

Obviously population increase has not been the major accomplishment of humanity during most of its existence on earth. From the table we see that in the first 700,000 years the doubling time was23,333 years. Doubling time fell rapidly until it reached a low point of 994 years during of 10,000 to 6,000 years ago, then rose again. This low point corresponds to the beginnings of agriculture, one of the three great cultural revolutions in man’s history. (The other two were the earlier tool-making revolution, and the industrial-scientific revolution in which we are still living.) Agriculture, in effect, increased the capacity of man’s world, hence the sudden spurt. Once the revolution had been assimilated, the doubling period lengthened for a while, then began falling again.

The low point for the doubling was reached in the decade between 1950 to 1960–33 years, corresponding to the worldwide growth rate of 2.14 percent per year. This was undoubtedly the fastest growth rate the world population will ever experience. From here on out, population growth will diminish—not steadily, perhaps, but inexorably—until it reaches zero. It is even possible that it will swing below zero for some time until until the total population reaches a lower level, more commensurate with Spaceship Earth’s ability to sustain life in dignity. Or, if the worst happens, population may reach zero, at which point all talk of growth rates and doubling times stops.

From the figures given in the table we can safely infer that, during most of his existence on earth, man must have had no realization that the population was increasing in numbers. During the time from 4036 B.C. (6,000 years ago) up to 1650 A.D.—i.e., from about the time of the invention of writing and record keeping to just shortly after the birth of Issac Newton—the world population increased at an average rate of just slightly in excess of 0.032 percent per year, with a doubling time of 2,136 years. When change takes place that slowly, how can anyone know that there is any change at all?

Suppose you were born into an “average village” during that period, a village of just 100 people, and

that you lived your allotted Biblical three score and ten years. (Lucky you! Three-quarters of your siblings, in those days, died before they could walk.) In the last year of your life you looked around and noted (if you were very observant) that your village had grown—to a grand total of 102 people. From 100 to 102, in 70 years. Talk about runaway population growth! That was the average rate of change during all the time man was writing histories—until the modern era.

But the average is a dangerous abstraction. The “average village” may have increased from 100 to 102 in a man’s lifetime, but it was probably ravaged down to 70 or so several times by disease, and it may have been burgeoned to 150 a time or two and been cut back to 50 within a short time by war

and pillage. Fluctuations were the order of the day: a 2 percent per lifetime rate of change would be imperceptible. No wonder that the cyclical theory of history was the predominate view of most men; and that no one conceived of the idea of Progress.

There were great variations from region to region. Significant population growth in one area would be offset by depopulation in another. Looking at evidences of depopulation, an intelligent man would quite understandably generalize from a particular region to the entire world, ending up with a mistaken conclusion. In 1721 the great political philosopher the Baron de Montesquieu wrote in his Persian Letters:

How is the world so thinly peopled in comparison to what it was once? How has nature lost the wonderful fruitfulness of the first ages? Can it be that she is already old and fallen into decline?

I dwelt for more than a year in Italy, where I saw nothing but the ruins of that ancient Italy, so famous in former times. Although all the people live in the towns, they are quite deserted and empty. . . .

In short I have reviewed the whole world, and found nothing but decay. . . .

This was written only 77 years before Malthus was to conclude that the gravest danger for the world was not the shrinkage of population but the growth of it.

Today our mythical average village would increase from 100 to 407 in a man’s lifetime. Anyone can notice a change that great.

So much for the past: What about the future? What would happen if the world population continued to increase at the rate that characterized the decade 1960-1970, beginning with the 1970 population?

Table 10 shows what would happen if the world would continue its 2 percent growth rate indefinately. In only 615 there would be literally “standing room only” [SRO] on all the land areas of the world. Or, if you wish to assume we could pave over the oceans, it would be SRO over the entire world in only 677 years.

Table 10

Hypothetical Future Populations of the World
ASSUMED: indefinite continuation of 1960-1970 rate
of population growth, starting with 1970 base.

Terminal Condition Assumed


Time Taken to Reach Condition

Date Reached

Backward Time, Equivalent Date

Standing room only, land areas only.

8.27 x 1014

615 years

2595 A.D.

1355 A.D.

Standing room only, total earth surface.

28.34 x 1014

677 years

2647 A.D.

1293 A.D.

All earth converted to human flesh.

1.33 x 1023

1557 years

3527 A.D.

413 A.D.

It is hard to think of dates in the future, so suppose we imagine this population growth taking place with a reversal of time. By the time we reached SRO conditions on the land areas we would be back to the seventh year of the Black Plague, the year 1355 A.D. Only a little later, in 1293 A.D., the oceans would also be covered with people (and Dante would be enjoying this second year of married life—but not with Beatrice).

But let us not be niggardly in our imaginations, we don’t all have to stand up on the same plane. We can build buildings, up into the sky. We can burrow into the earth. How far can we go? Who knows? In the limit, we could convert all the materials of the earth into human flesh. (There are serious chemical problems in converting iron, for instance, into glycogen—but let us be generous in our assumptions.)

(And don’t ask about the confort of the people in the center of this squirming, writhering ball of human flesh, with four thousand miles of bodies piled above them. People adjust, you know; or so the infinitely flexible apologists for the status quo tell us.)

If we assume an average weight of 45 kilograms for each human being (men, women, and children), the 5.983 x 1024 kilogram mass of the earth could (hypothetically) be converted to 1.33 x 1032 people. At the present rate of growth this would be achieved in only 1557 years. Measuring it in backward time, the Goths and Vandals would be happily sacking Rome. We wouldn’t even be back to the birth of Christ.

On the day the earth was finally converted into human flesh more than 7,300,000,000,000,000,000 people would be born. (Just how many more depends on the death rate assumed.)

On the next day, there would be a net increase of only 2,200,000 people. This would be “financed” by the daily rain of some 10,000,000 kilograms of meteoritic dust on the earth. On that “next” day the rate of increase in the human population would abruptly drop from 2 percent per year to 0.0000000000006 percent. Such a sudden adjustment just might be a bit difficult to make.

Ridiculous? Of course. So what’s the point of this mathematical caper? If the point is not understood, irrelevant conclusions will be extracted from the exercise.

Every once in a while the editor of a magazine that has not previously concerned itself with population problems decides he should really do a “special” on the subject. Typically, he calls in a sports reporter, art reporter, drama reporter, or a civil rights reporter and tells him to find out what it is all about and write the lead article. Just as typically, the twenty-one day specialist blows his top when he comes across of the sort given here. If he is a witty fellow he has a field with the forebodings of the population kooks. Divested of wit and rhetoric, his treatment boils down to the following set of propositions:

  1. The kooks are trying to scare the bejesus out of us so that we will abandon our tried-and-true policy of perpetual growth.
  2. They say that the population will eventually be so dense that we will . . . . (then follows one of the abhorrent mathematical conclusions).
  3. They’ve apparently never heard of Scientific Progress . . .
  4. . . . or Space.
  5. Since it is ridiculous to say that people would ever allow themselves to be packed together like sardines, everything the population kooks say is false.
  6. Ergo there is no population problem.

The real point of the mathematical exercise (so often missed) is to compel choice. People adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards population because they they refuse to face the hard choices of population control.

What is the optimum level of population?
What standard of living is that decision based on?
How do we choose from among alternative standards?
How do we deal with differences of opinion?
How can we control breeding?
How can we justify coercion?
Who decides?
And so on.

If there is no population problem, then there is no need to face these fearsome questions.

Population kooks cite their curious mathematical conclusions in the hope that they can convince the complacent that choice is necessary, either now or in the very near future. The hypothetical conclusions are intended as a reductio ad absurdum, which has the following explicit form: [emphasis added]

  1. Let us assume that there is no need for decision, no need for change, and no reason to think that change will be forced on us.
  2. Let us calculate the consequences of continuing present trends into the indefinite future. (And let us grant the most unbelievable technological possibilities, e.g., turning granite into food.)
  3. When we do this we discover that at some point in the future, perhaps as early as six hundred years and certainly no later than sixteen hundred years, an abrupt change of a very nasty sort will be forced upon us.
  4. Ergo refusing to change voluntarily will result in change being forced upon us.

Lemma: a change of our own choosing can be pleasanter than the unavoidable change that will be forced upon if we refuse to make a choice. Loss of freedom to breed is less horrible than massive death by starvation, epidemics, social chaos, and insanity.

Though rigorous proof is far from possible, the all but universal belief of those who have studied population deeply is that the time for revolutionary change in human behavior is much closer than six hundred years in the future. It may be tomorrow.

In fact, when the smoke has cleared, we will likely discover that we really should have changed yesterday.

It’s later than you think.

From here on out no intelligent broad-gauge decisions can be made in economics, politics, or anything else that touches on human welfare unless the decision-makers feel deeply in their bones the following truths: [emphasis added]

  1. We are on a spaceship. Men may escape it, but mankind cannot.
  2. The past two hundred years have been an absolutely exceptional period in the million-year history of Homo sapiens. It has been an orgy of expansion and exploitation of irreplaceable environmental riches.
  3. We are only a few moments away from the end of the orgy . . .
  4. . . . which will never be repeated. The rich mineral deposits lying near the surface, the apparently boundless virgin forests, the incredible concentrations of marine fishes—all, all will be gone, never to return. The openness of the world will be gone.

The loss of openness will be experienced in changing to a steady-state economy is no small loss and was foreseen by Adam Smith in 1776. In his Wealth of Nations he spoke movingly of his fears:

It is the progressive state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition, rather than when it has acquired its full compliment of riches, that the condition of the laboring poor, of the great body of people, seems to be the happiest and most comfortable. It is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state. The progressive state is in reality the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different orders of the society. The stationary is dull, the declining melancholy.

Much more can be, and indeed has been, said in the past two centuries about the disadvantages of living in a steady-state world. To what extent are these disadvantages “of the essence” of the steady state (to use Aristotelian language), and to what extent are they merely “accidental”? That is for us to find out, perhaps to determine. But there is no escape for us, on this our spaceship.

The orgy is nearly over. [46 years pass. It is now more nearly over.]

[Read the book, bitches.]

The penalty of an ecolate education is that one lives alone in a world of pathology. There are other “ecolate” humans, but once some degree of ecolacy is awakened to, why would I want to waste their time by associating with them? So alone it is. I have spent three years typing of my concerns. My intent was to leave something of my fifty years of education as a legacy to my out-of-town son. I told him such, but while I suspect he read one or more offerings, and perhaps shared bits with his one-percenter colleagues working in Chicago to serve the SYSTEM (with six digit rewards), there is zero indication that he did.

Some years ago, shortly after he had left home, I thought to redress my failure to educate him by sending him a copy of Limits to Growth: The Thirty-year Update. No indication he read it. In the past year I sent him a copy of Hardin’s Exploring New Ethics for Survival and per phone call last week, first time he has spoken to me in a year, I confirmed my suspicion that reading the book was still on his list, where it will likely remain until his death. I remain alone in what was once a world of wounds before it came to the ICU with multiple pending system failures. Those who once saw the world of wounds as Progress, now see the supporting technology as sustainable progress. I remain alone.

My wife of twenty-five years became alienated when I started typing my 'legacy' three years ago. She had read an early offering as evidenced by offering to correct some errors, but one essay was her limit. What I was thinking didn’t feel good. She could not force herself to read any more. I did share bits and pieces of my research as the months ticked on, so she had clues, and she finally left me a year ago after turning to the consolidation of political activism. I did not become political and my failure became increasingly intolerable. I failed to vet her Facebook and YouTube informants as sources of information. They were perhaps sources of ‘entertainment’, though I was not in the least amused. She created a dozen or so Facebook pages and followed many more. The claims made came rapid fire. Those she liked, she shared. I never once observed any hesitation or time wasted vetting claims.

Some claims that would matter if true, I had spent an hour or two vetting each, but not one panned out. Some were merely misinformation. Other claims were clearly post-truth disinformation. I had learned early on, had in fact been explicitly told, that she did not want to hear anything ‘negative’ I might have to say, so I mostly said nothing and so was alone with my concerns. Towards the end I did vet a single 55 minute video ‘rant’ because she actually did ask me to. We were separated with occasional email contact and I spent five days, pretty much full days, researching the rapid fire claims. I sent results as emails with no reply. I sent copies to the person who had spent 55 minutes informing her thousands of viewers on YouTube in multiple comments due to length limits and she deleted 70 percent, the bits that were disconfirming.

After living out of her car and with Facebook friends for six months, she came back to Tucson, but not to see me. She had no place to stay after our daughter, who lives in Tucson, told her that sleeping on her couch was a time-limited offer. I indirectly heard she was back and was planning to camp out somewhere. I was living in my shop and renting the single bedroom in the small shared kitchen/bathroom house. The renter agreed she could sleep on the couch in the living room. I made an offer she didn’t refuse. For the first time in six months, we spoke. We had been de facto divorced, the legal divorce was delayed as I had no way to serve papers since she was either on the move or out of the country.

I had not divorced her, but it became obvious I had been divorced. She didn’t feel married and had lived accordingly. But actual communication had lead to reconciliation. The renter moved out, I moved back in. For a time she allowed me to read to her what I had written over the prior two years. I read articles in chronological order out loud and she read along to help spot errors as proofreader. I was in need of that service and for a time she was willing to help. We got through the first year’s worth, but were still two years behind. I repeatedly invited and encouraged her to express criticism or disagreement. Every correction or suggested change was made, she was batting a thousand as invited co-author.

But she came to feel that I wasn’t giving her political sources/views due “respect”. I assured her that if she had put her concerns in writing or cited sources in print that I would read and reread, or if she wanted me to watch video sources, I confessed I’d prefer a transcript, as I can’t consider rapid fire claims without a transcript or taking extensive notes during frequent pauses. But I could and would consider video sources.

She mentioned the Gini coefficient (on 1/3/2018) as basis for the coming revolution in America and started to play a video by Lee Camp of RT’s Redacted Tonight. I emitted an involuntary sigh and confessed I considered him an entertainer, not a source, would prefer that she cite other sources, but would watch it. My sigh was an unforgivable show of disrespect, however. Days passed and I remained unforgiven. I’ll count the sigh as the end of our remarriage or long pause. I did spend several hours reading about the Gini coefficient and reading the original Washington State University paper the claim of pending revolution in the USA was based on as well as the sources Camp had likely used, but I didn’t watch his video initially.

The original paper, an archaeological study of over 40 historical sites worldwide in which house size was used to suggest social/economic/power inequalities, was considered. All evidence is that Camp or staff get information only for popular websites and social media. So I informed myself before watching the Camp video, or rather before trying to watch it. I got about four minutes into it before I physically couldn’t take anymore delusional certitudes. If someone with a gun insisted I watch an hour of Rush Limbaugh or Lee Camp, I'd immediately pick Rush as I haven't been forced to listen to him in years (for years my parents had him on during visits, but eventually stopped listening to his certitudes). I clearly disrespected him by closing his window, but he’ll never know nor care.

The original study included claims amounting to academic fraud or incompetence (that a gini coefficeint can be derived from house sizes is questionable, but citing a German insurance company's claim that the USA has a gini coefeicent of 0.81, higher than any country on the planet, far higher than the guestimated 0.53 for ancient Rome, making revolution in the USA all but certain in the near future, is junk scholarship), but sharing disconfirming information would only be viewed as further disrespect. I view her information sources as pathological. My son’s coworkers are happily living the pathological life, as is he. To repeat, I live alone in a world of pathologies. For days all she’s done is play solitare while listening to Lee Camp videos, fortunately for me, with earbuds in place.

I’m guessing I’d be better off alone, but her prior life as a ‘revolutionary’ hadn’t worked out for her and she has increasing health issues. I’m thinking I’ll hold her, watch Lee Camp videos, and say nothing other than to say something positive. It is impossible for anyone to speak at length without making a point, however trivial, that is possibly true. It is not possible to be 100 percent wrong all the time. I’ll still see what is in front of my face, but I’ll try to be ‘respectful’ and not beg to differ. I can type this knowing she’ll never read it. But I could be wrong, unlike Lee Camp and other social media pundits.

So there may still be a few mountain tops left to occupy. Or perhaps I could inspire a small but determined movement of high-functioning revolutionaries to work to destroy industrial society, to mutany, to through a few bastards overboard and turn the Spaceship Earth around. Perhaps I could tend my garden in this best of all possible worlds. I could create a Facebook page and surround myself with the like-minded. I could make several YouTube videos a day and form a Twiddle-Dee-Dumb-Tribe. I could serve the SYSTEM with or without enthusiasm, though with enthusiasm I can pull more levers faster and make at least six figures. I could run for office as a Growthbuster.

But excluding the pathological options, what’s left? I suppose I could accept the universe. Not the Universe as I envision it, not the one I think is real due to my ignorance, but the What-is one I know not. I could believe in the ignorance of experts, starting with myself. I could iterate towards loving and understanding that which doesn’t go away when I do. I could love Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders—even the Pope, though Joel Olsteen would be a stretch. To know them is to love them—pathetic prattling primates all, self-taught five-year olds with machetes, cars, atom bombs, and solar panels laying waste to a planet. Children behaving badly must be loved and when a teachable moment arises, educated. But who will educate the educators? Those who listen to Nature loose interest in the prattle, there own and that of others. They listen to Nature who has all the answers. Or at least they endeavor to listen, to think well, which is the only morality. To think is to listen. Listen.



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