An Actuary’s Look at Our Predicament

Gail Tverberg is both a professional actuary and a frequent poster over at The Oil Drum. Having previously written up an analysis of the peak oil problem for the insurance industry, she now follows that up with an excellent article looking at the challenges that face us as we reach the limits of Earth’s ability to sustain the human population.

The article is pretty short but covers a lot of different topics including resource issues with soil, fresh water and the like. It’s good stuff and worth your time to read it if you haven’t already.

With more grim news coming out of Australia about the worsening drought down there (links to many stories about it here), we may get to see the effects of resource shortages on a first-world economy much sooner than most people anticipated. Australia is usually a food exporter, so the fact that farmers there may not be able to get enough of a crop to satisfy internal needs let alone exports could have major ramifications across the Pacific Rim.

People scoffed at “Limits to Growth” when it was first released, but as Ms. Tverberg points out, we may be hitting those limits soon, and the effects will be chaotic if not necessarily catastrophic.

4 Responses to An Actuary’s Look at Our Predicament

  1. Rebecca says:

    Hey Bart,
    I definitely agree that we are approaching the Limits and that we will probably see their affects sooner than later. What disturbs me however, is that in conjunction with us nearing the wall, the “no limits” culture seems to be rising. What I mean by that is things like The Secret that claim there are no limits to what we can have or do. I even heard a presentation on NPR last weekend were someone was discussing the idea of “false limits” and how this is “negatively impacting our society and our personal potential”. The false limits he was referring to included things like money for our education, environmental problems, etc. This meme seems to be spreading like wildfire and seems to be increasing the liklihood that we’ll slam into the wall head on instead of turning the wheel. Or at least I think so. What do you think?

  2. Thanks for your endorsement!

    Gail Tverberg

  3. Bart says:


    I think there’s a couple of things going on. First, those people who are currently on the top of the financial pyramid have a very vested interest in maintaining their position, and they’ll happily dispense whatever dreck they need to in order to keep the game going. Concentrated ownership of major mediamakes this fairly easy.

    Second, I think we’re seeing an accentuation of the ‘get something for nothing/free lunch’ meme in our culture. Whether it’s stuff like ‘The Secret’ or some of the silly MLM commercials out there promising thousands of dollars a month for working part-time, people are becoming more susceptible to anything that promises easy money. I think this is a sign of how financial stress is playing on more and more Americans.

    Frankly, I think that we’re going to hit the wall at full speed no matter what. The changes we will need to make to avoid doing so are so drastic that most people will just act like ostriches and then be totally flabbergasted when the fecal matter hits the fan.

  4. Rebecca says:

    I think you’re right Bart. Which is why I’m doing my best to “jump ship” before we hit that wall…

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