REALgnd advocates for both a top-down and bottom-up approach to the energy descent transformation.
Here we focus predominantly on policy recommendations for government since systemic change – a complete transformation of how society functions – is needed. A few caveats:
These recommendations are aimed primarily at the U.S. but can certainly have analogues elsewhere.
We recognize that the capture of government by powerful, monied interests is a fundamental barrier to enacting any sort of sane legislation. But we think it’s still valuable to get these ideas out there while advocating for getting money out of politics and pressuring politicians using the many tools at our disposal.
We suggest this initial set of recommendations, along with how to pay for them, to be pursued now, ahead of the more radically transformative recommendations contained in our Energy Transformation Plan. Some echo those that have grown in recent popularity while others are less common or perhaps novel.
The “new world,” however it unfolds, will undoubtedly look and function differently than the world we know today. As such, these recommendations are aimed at the current political-economic system to create immediate change that can serve as a bridge into that new world.
We end with some suggestions for individual action since it us as individuals who shape the collective trajectory and since it will be those with the skills to navigate the new world who will carry the human project forward if the collective trajectory doesn't rise to the occasion.
"It is intellectually dishonest to talk about saving the environment without stressing the obvious fact that stopping population growth is a necessary condition for sustainability.” - Dr. Albert Bartlett
"Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases which we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution, but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions who are victims." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. The more people there are, the less one individual matters." - Isaac Asimov
"Once it was necessary that the people should multiply and be fruitful if the race was to survive. But now to preserve the race it is necessary that people hold back the power of propagation." - Hellen Keller
"If we don't halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature, brutally and without pity - and will leave a ravaged world." - Nobel Laureate Henry W. Kendall
Humans have controlled population sizes since time immemorial. As sociologist Jack Parsons said, “population control is an ancient institution.” Even cornucopian economist Julian Simon noted that “every tribe known to anthropologists, no matter how ‘primitive,’ has some effective social scheme for controlling the birth rate.”
Some of our oldest literary documents, the Babylonian “Atra Hasis” circa 1750 B.C. and the Philippine Code of Sumakwel from 1250 B.C., contain population control policies.
Confucius, Plato, the “first city planner” Hippodamus in Greece, the Indian sage Kautilya, the influential Catholic Church figure Tertullian, and even Benjamin Franklin, all spoke of the dangers of overpopulation and the need to manage our numbers – before Malthus ever entered the scene.
Today’s population sizes – unprecedented in human history – have only been made possible by the unprecedented energy supply from fossil fuels. Two main factors drive the need to reduce our size: 1) the inability of a reduced future energy regime to support our current numbers, and 2) the destructive impact our bloated presence is having on the planet, its non-human inhabitants, and us.
A sustainable global population size of roughly one billion or less indicates that populations virtually everywhere need to be reduced. Given our sheer size of eight billion, reductions will take a very long time. A global one-child fertility standard enacted by around 2045 would get us down to roughly 3.5 billion by the end of the century. On the other hand, business as usual will leave us with over 10 billion people by 2100. Our recommendations are made in light of this daunting reality and out of a commitment to reduce suffering.
A final note on context and language. It can be a common knee-jerk reaction to associate "one-child policy" exclusively with the Chinese policy and its negative aspects. It's important to step away from that singular association and consider the words in their truest, trans-contextual sense. A policy is an overarching plan or goal. Think of a medicare-for-all policy, a minimum wage policy, or an air quality policy. A one-child policy is simply a goal to achieve a one-child fertility standard. What differentiates policies on the same topic is how, exactly, the goal is realized. The world can and should learn from how China implemented their one-child policy in order to do things better – just as it can learn from the dozens of population reduction policies, some very successful, adopted by countries all over the world during the latter half of the 20th century.
Enact a national one-child policy, encouraging the global community to do the same
Make all forms of birth control, including those for men, free and easily accessible (for example, in the case of non-surgical forms, available over the counter without a prescription)
Make abortion free and easily accessible
Pay women/couples a significant financial incentive to have one child or none
Educate the public about the harmful impacts of overpopulation and its central role in our overshoot crisis, shifting from a human-centric view of the world to an inclusive view that honors and respects all life
Replace the taboo surrounding population with a moral imperative to make it a front-and-center social topic
Provide financial assistance to countries who seek it in order to help enact similar policies
Close all overseas military bases
Cease all overseas military operations
Stop military funding and arms sales to foreign countries
Close unnecessary domestic military bases
Reduce the size of our armed forces
Abandon the use of Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) in exchange for official declarations of war by Congress, as is its constitutional responsibility
End contracting of military and defense-related products and services to private companies
GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS and establish 100% publicly funded elections at all levels of government
End voter discrimination laws and constitutional eviscerations
Increase voting access (e.g. Automatic Voter Registration in every state, mail-in ballots in every state, national holidays for elections)
Ban electronic voting machines
Eliminate the Electoral College
Establish 100% public funding for the media
EQUALITY OF TREATMENT
Make corporations actually pay their taxes, potentially increasing their rates
Shut down overseas tax havens
End subsidies to harmful industries
Break up monopolies
Enact a fairer tax code in which average people pay less and the very wealthy pay more
Increase the minimum wage to $25/hour
Forgive all student loans and make higher education free
End the war on drugs, pardon all drug-related offenders in prison, and decriminalize low-level possession of all illegal drugs
Issue financial reparations to the African American and Native American communities
MONEY & FINANCE
Put an end to interest-bearing debt
Ban the financial markets that “Wall Street” has become a symbol for, allowing instead for community-level capital raising
Abolish the Federal Reserve (a private corporation accountable to no one) and absorb its functions back into Congress, as dictated by the Constitution
Place a moratorium on major infrastructure projects in light of:
The significant drawbacks of so-called renewable technologies
The need to re-design infrastructure in a highly decentralized, self-sufficient way with all life cycle needs (energy production, water acquisition, and waste treatment) handled on-site
The likelihood that many technologies and conveniences we enjoy today will not be possible in the energy and resource constrained future we imminently face
Nationalize fossil fuel companies and establish a plan for phase-out
Ban the exploration of new fossil fuel reserves (i.e. oil, shale, gas) and the development of new extraction sites
Fine heavily toxic industrial processes
Ban factory farming
Offer significant financial incentives for the conversion of monoculture operations to polyculture regimes that are small-scale, humane, free of fossil fuel inputs, and implement rigorous water conservation methods
Provide legal and financial incentives to ensure seed conservation and ban activities that threaten it
Offer financial incentives for the expansion of hemp farming
Offer financial incentives to businesses that source local products
Fine major businesses that don’t make easily repairable products
Place a tax on companies that extract metals and water
Terminate so-called free trade agreements
Invest in sailing ship companies and financially incentivize their use for international transportation
Endorse and begin implementing the Nature Needs Half proposal, which calls for protecting 50% of the planet by 2030 using an ecoregion approach
Significantly increase funding for ecosystem restoration projects
Engage in the inner transformation that goes hand-in-hand with transforming the outer world, for example:
Cultivate critical, independent thinking that inoculates against propaganda and manufactured consent
Question and examine your mental models and change them when confronted with compelling information
Spend as much time in Nature and connecting with the non-human world as possible
Develop practices that help you slow down, relax, and connect with the stillness and wisdom within
If you're considering starting a family, choose to have one child or none
Learn as many self-sufficiency skills as possible and do whatever you can to be as fossil fuel free as possible, whether on a household or community level
Engage with actors and institutions within the current system to try to impel change, whether local or national, and/or try to build new systems that can replace them
Speak openly and honestly with others about the nature of our predicament and what it will take to avert catastrophic collapse