Isaac Asimov Saw It All

Joseph George Caldwell

The thesis of my book  Can America Survive? is that when fossil fuels deplete (over the next few decades), the global human population of Earth will drop to the number of people that can be supported on solar energy, which is less than 500 million. The actual number will depend on the level of living. At a high level of living, the number will be far less than 500 million (e.g., five or ten million).

Winston Churchill once remarked, “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.” The world´s human population will be less than 200-300 million in a few decades (after fossil fuels are gone), because that is the most that the recurrent “budget” of solar energy can support. The only real issue is whether the global human population is reduced to that level very soon (i.e., in the next few years), thereby saving the environment and the planet’s biodiversity, or is reduced to that level (or less, perhaps zero) after mankind destroys the planet and most if not all other living species.

Back in the 1950s, the science and science-fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote a book entitled, The Thousand Year Plan.  This book was later renamed Foundation and, together with two sequels, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, formed part of what became known as the Foundation Trilogy.  The plot for this popular series was that the galactic empire was in danger of falling apart, and a group of men committed themselves to ìsaving” it.  Without intervention, it was estimated that galactic civilization would disintegrate into a primitive ìinterregnum” or “dark age” period of 40,000 years.  By setting up an organization to preserve galactic technology, however, the period of anarchy could be reduced from 40,000 years to 1,000 years.  That, in essence, was the ìthousand year plan.”  The group formed to implement the plan was the ìFoundation.”  The planet on which the Foundation was established was called Terminus.  The architect of the thousand year plan was the psychohistorian, Hari Seldon.

Because of human overpopulation and runaway industrial activity, Earth faces a problem analogous to that faced by galactic civilization in The Thousand Year Plan.  If an immediate and massive reduction in industrial activity does not occur, the likelihood of a catastrophic breakdown in the planet´s biosphere appears to be very great.  If this happens, and if the human species continues at all, it could indeed be thousands of years before human civilization arises again.

What has caused mankind to get into such a predicament?  The problem would appear to be that mankind does not have the foggiest idea about why it exists and what its purpose is.  If the minimal-regret war succeeds, large-scale industrial activity will come to an immediate halt, and the planet´s biosphere will be able to continue as it has for millions of years.  Without the minimal-regret war, it would appear that mankind will exterminate itself rather soon, and we shall never have the answer to the question, “What Are People For?”  With the war, and with a thousand years of meditation, it is perhaps possible that mankind will have some time to reflect and may be able to figure out what it is all about.  Was mankind created simply to destroy the planet and itself?  Or does it have a higher purpose?  All civilizations come to an end, and the civilization that results from a minimal-regret war will come to an end as well.  Current civilization is madly racing to destroy the planet for no reason at all.  A minimal-regret population will give mankind time to figure out what its purpose is, before all of nature is gone.

In his writings, Asimov also addressed the energy problem.  In The Gods Themselves, he addressed the problem imposed by the second law of thermodynamics, or the ìentropy” problem.  The second law of thermodynamics states that the level of disorder (or entropy) of a closed system cannot increase – the universe is gradually running down and will end up in what is called ìheat death.”  In The Gods Themselves, Asimov conjectures a ìparallel universe” solution to the entropy problem, by which our universe and a parallel universe trade energy – in effect, our universe ceases to be a closed system.

Asimov was very concerned about the poisoning of the planet by industrial activity.  He and Frederik Pohl wrote the book, Our Angry Earth, in an attempt to call attention to the pending disaster.  That book was written a year before the Rio de Janeiro Conference on the global environment.  As observed by Frederik Pohl in the chapter, ìAfterword: One Year Later” (following Asimov´s death), nothing changed as a result of that conference.  Pohl notes that money and politics are the problem.  The march to disaster continues.  Perhaps it is time to implement Asimov´s thousand year plan.

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