6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

Home   >   Publications   >   Books of N.M.Amosov   >   The book about happiness and unhappiness. Book One   >   Digression. Global problems and models

Digression. Global problems and models

The planet, or to be more precise, mankind, is threatened by nuclear war and a resulting impoverishment of the biosphere, incompatible with the maintenance of life for the ever-increasing population. Attention has been focused on these problems over the last few years. To study this, models have been used.

In 1972, D. Meadows, et al. published the book The Limits of Growth which described their models. The idea was simple: they selected five indicators — population growth, food production, industrial growth, exhaustion of non-renewable natural resources, and environmental pollution. They followed the dynamics of these indicators for the last 70 years and established that they all (both good and bad) were increasing exponentially when a certain percentage was added to the previous year. Then they tried to analyse direct and inverse dependences between these five indicators and came up with about two hundred equations. No doubt, the majority of them were rather tentative. Using these equations, they developed a computer programme and analysed many variants. At the beginning they analysed everything "as it was." And got dreadful results.

The book The Limits of Growth has caused a storm of indignation the world over. It was severely criticized, particularly with respect to the impending onset of total crisis.

Later complete and realistic models that did not require "zero growth" and which did not frighten people with doomsday, but did not console them on the other hand, were developed at several research centres.

But first about war.

Is it possible to measure the value of life? With money, other lives, or physical and moral sufferings?

Nevertheless, they are measured and assessed for us: who and what will remain after the first strike. We doctors know better than other people what would be, and therefore we say that there will be nobody to count.

Is it possible to assess the destruction of almost the whole population of the country and some continents? Only madman can be responsible for fanning military psychosis and the arms race. Nevertheless, there are such people. There are even assumptions that if you do not want war, but have a potential enemy, then to preserve peace, you have to be stronger than your enemy to be able to intimidate him. And when the instruments of war lie in combat readiness, a war may begin by itself. If a fanatic comes to power or some crucial development takes place, that will be the end of everything. Man has not raised himself to the level of the weapon he has created. He had sufficient brains to create it, but he may not have enough sobermindedness to abstain from using it.

Could it be that science can help with its models? It is possible, in principle, to create an artificial intellect to be used for management. But can we confide in a computer? In any case, a computer will not begin a total nuclear war, since nobody will dare introduce into it a system of criteria which rank higher than the very existence of the country. This can occur only in human fantasies.

Many foreign specialists see the main danger for mankind not in war, but in the destruction of the biosphere. Thoughtlessly reproducing greedy people will consume all that is living, as much as they can, then poison the rest, spoil the climate and die in the lifeless deserts of the planet of famine and genetic diseases.

Apparently, such a prognosis is unrealistic. It calls only for wisdom, but at the same time, we cannot say that it was made to scare us.

A number of factors endanger humankind, including the demographic explosion; the impoverishment of the biosphere resulting from poisoning by chemicals and soil erosion. The exhaustion of natural resources, including energy resources. Environmental pollution with radioactive substances. Climatic changes as a result of anthropogenic activity: an increase in the temperature by an increase in the content of carbon dioxide and melting ice. Oceans will rise and flood the land. Ultraviolet radiation will increase due to the destruction of the ozone layer in the atmosphere. The oxygen content in the atmosphere will be reduced due to the felling of forests and destruction of all that lives in the oceans. Diseases and genetic disorders will result from the interaction of these processes; half or more of the population of the planet will die of famine in the end.

All these sensations are generated by scientists and disseminated by the press. How should we treat them? Should we raise a panic? I don't think so. But people should know the house they live in and think of their future. All that (and this list is incomplete) can happen if measures are not taken. What measures could they be? Technical, economic, psychological? Is a man capable of taking a sensible decision to prevent a catastrophe? Is he psychologically capable of doing it?

All these questions should be answered by models that include assessments of human psychology.

I shall try to make hypotheses suitable for a heuristic model of the planet.

Population growth is an important index. It is a very stable function, and according to UN projections, by the end of the century, there will be about 6,5 billion people. Then growth will decelerate somewhat, and by the year 2050, there will be about 10 billion people. There are several factors capable of halting population growth (first of all we mean in developing countries): the threat of famine, the spread of culture and increase in the information level, health measures, etc. They enhance each other. Human psychology and behaviour remain, to a great extent, an unknown parameter. And it is namely this parameter that should be studied in models.

The situation is not hopeless, providing environmental pollution does not lead to such extensive destruction of the biosphere which will markedly lower fertility and exert a fatal impact on human health.

But environmental pollution is directly related to consumption. That's where we have to introduce limits.

Once again a psychological problem.

Hot many things does a man need to be happy?

It is even surprising how people could be happy half a century ago... Were they happy then?

A lot of things were manufactured to rid man of unpleasant stimulants, hard labour and unnecessary concerns. But the further growth of wealth does not promise an increase of happiness. This increase can take place as a result of culture, interesting work, and communications.

What else does a man need apart from work - and an interesting job? Good housing conditions. A limited number of possessions, and simple food. But at the same time he needs "public benefits" — education, science, theatres and television, health services, leisure, museums and libraries, stadiums, means of transportation, and cheap hotels for tourism.

There are several factors limiting production in this epoch of scientific progress, among them limited raw materials resources, an energy shortage, and environmental protection measures. All this taken together leads to an increase in the cost of goods and, therefore, to the reduction of demand and deceleration of production. We should not fear the halting of progress due to the exhaustion of natural resources. It will be more difficult and costlier to excavate them, but there are still many resources, particularly if we go deep into the earth and cultivate the ocean beds. The same is true of energy. Oil and gas, coal and nuclear energy allow us to wait until the development of thermonuclear fusion which will solve the energy problem radically.

If the biosphere is preserved, that is. Man will not survive if the plant and animal world are destroyed. At present there is no alternative to the strategy of saving each and every living being. With this end in view, the monitoring of nature has been developed. (This resembles the monitoring of a patient in an intensive care unit.)

There are two trends in nature protection: local and global. The first is protection of nature in the territory of a country. The second is protection of the World Ocean, the atmosphere and outer space, which are the property of none and all at the same time. It is necessary constantly to emphasize the egoistic nature of man — his and not his.

It is mine, so I take care of it. Common or public property is almost like other people's property, so let it be saved by others. Moreover, it will not diminish if I pocket part of this common property.

This is also true of the behaviour of an individual in a collective and of any individual country within the world community.

It is quite possible to keep the level of water and soil pollution on the country below the threshold — this does not require stringent limitations on production which cannot be sustained by the economy. The animal kingdom is more vulnerable; therefore, it is difficult to preserve all biological species.

It is more difficult to take care of public or common property: oceans, the atmosphere, or climate. For instance, what is the cost of unlimited fishing, pollution of oceans with oil spills and the wastes resulting from off-shore drilling? And in the future mineral resources will be excavated from the ocean bed. It is difficult to say whether the processes of self-purification will compensate for these losses, and whether we shall manage to agree on limitations. The atmosphere is also in trouble: sulphur oxides emitted from industrial enterprises pollute the atmosphere for hundreds of kilometres around, and acid rain falls in neighbouring countries, destroying all living things in water reservoirs and killing forests. In the future, we expect an accumulation of carbon dioxide, a reduction of oxygen content. Dust will accumulate in the upper layers of the atmosphere, and the climate will deteriorate...

It happens then that in the most important area — nature protection — we must deal with human psychology once again. But to what limitations are people prepared to resort to preserve nature for the future?

We know of the collectivist psychology of the Soviet people and the private property psychology as well. Using the example of the represen­tatives of big capital and those who are dependent on them, we derive a concept of the psychology of this small, but, regrettably, influential group of people...

Class differences and national interests both unite and divide. How many different factors which depend on people themselves must we have to introduce into the model to study the evolution of the planet with different human psychological properties.

The movel cannot be very accurate, since it includes components for which we do not have precise information or a generally accepted hypothesis on the process of functioning. It concerns the vulnerability of the biosphere and human psychology. According to preliminary estimates, the dimension of the model will be normal. However, these are still only assumptions. It is obvious that no "model of the planet" can claim accuracy of projections for more than 70 or 100 years ahead. During this time, there may be new scientific discoveries with technological possibilities that will influence society. But I will not let my imagination run away with me, although the thought is rather tempting.

Thinking about all these problems, and in fact, about the future of society, I realize quite well that it cannot be visualized in detail. New scientific discoveries and new technologies are capable of introducing corrections into the most daring projections. However, there are the hard truths and facts, and there are moments of principle in the life of the society and people which — and I am deeply convinced of this — will not be altered even in the distant future.

And in the society of the remote future, labour will be not only a realized necessity, but will be compulsory. People with strong characters will work for the sake of pleasure and from conviction, but others will not be able to do so. Let's assume that the society will meet their needs, but this will not save them from psychological degradation.

Now about freedom to meet one's needs. Alas, primitively speaking, this means that each person meets his needs as best he can. Such freedom is impossible. It would be good if we could add, "but not at the expense of others" to this formula.

This means that in the future, we shall limit ourselves in con­sumption of various goods, we shall recognize labour as compulsory and the necessity of limiting our behaviour.

You may ask — what will be left?

Material comfort will remain. Pleasure derived from interesting work, creative activity and well-balanced leisure. Pleasure derived from information — science, art, travel. Pleasure derived from self-expression, communication, and altruism. A family may give unlimited happiness. If all these needs are met via education, won't they be sufficient for a happy life? I do not think that egoism, possession, love of power, vanity, and hatred can contribute essentially to the concept of happiness...