Friday, 29 February 2008

What is dieoff?

What is dieoff?

Dieoff is a biology term. It comes from the study of populations of fast growing pond scum or algae as they are most commonly known. It is a provable and demonstrable fact that algae placed into a petri dish will eat up all the nutrients in the dish, the population will correspondingly increase exponentially and then all of a sudden all the nutrients will be all gone. The population then crashes. The same type of thing happens with for example reindeer inroduced to an isolated island with no natural predators. The population rises dramatically, hit a limit called the carrying capacity then plummets. The following is an example of this.

Why do we care?

Well there is a theory floating around called "peak oil" theory which states that basically the world's oil supplies will gradually build up production to a high level and due to technical and geological constraints will reach a maximum of production. After that maximum level of production is reached, production will subsequently fall off. This theory has a lot of data to back it up and it appears to be validated by what we're seeing in the real world. The following is an idealized version of this curve.

Some people believe that human population is linked to this growth and subsequent depletion curve in oil.
They base their theory on the fact that human population has exhibited almost exponential growth in the last 100 years and given that we are animals living in an ecology at some point we must hit the finite limits (called "carrying capacity") of the earth and the population must crash. The two theories link together via the observation that the population growth curve seems to correspond more or less in time to the increased use in oil.

Is this valid science?
It could be, but in order to show a correlation, we need to prove that it's the only viable correlation.
In addition to increased use of oil, there is also increased wealth, decreased mortality rate and vastly increased knowledge.
So up to this point we have seen that, in aggregate, yes we cannot deny it: we have as a species being growing exponentially.

It is important to note, however that there is a further population growth curve called an S-curve that looks like the following:

And here is the population of england, which seems to have followed an s-curve rather than a boom and bust:

Thus first of all, unlike the position of dieoff, in the science of ecology we have two possible options: Boom and Bust or Boom and Level off.
According to the dieoff theory we have only one choice: population will rise along with oil production and then crash. In England it has indeed risen along with oil production but then partway it stopped rising. Perhaps the correlation is not with oil?

While it's true that we certainly are animals in an ecology, it's also true that we are the only animal capable of adapting to entirely new environments simply by examining them and figuring out what to do to survive in them.
Likewise, we have already gone through a carrying capacity bottleneck thirty thousand years ago when our hunter gatherer ancestors were too successful and due to over hunting started to run out of food. The solution was that they invented agriculture. Prior to that our apelike ancestors who split off from the very successful great apes were forced due to their success in breeding out into the savannah where they were forced to develop large brains in order to compete against the much more ferocious predators out there. This led to the development of fire and from then on we have been evolving along with technology. I will thus in this blog argue that we are not limited to being animals in an ecology ever since we invented fire and are unlike both algae and reindeer on an island since we are able to understand our predicament and look for alternatives and that while peak oil is true I will debunk the theory that we are doomed to dieoff like some algae in a petridish and we cannot fight this because we are as stupid as algae.