John Verdon, CACOR member, recently in an email conversation on population with Gabriela Gref Innes, said:
As Geoffrey West’s book makes very clear – cities not only provide a 25% energy/material savings with a doubling of size – they provide a 15% increase in opportunity with each doubling.
Urbanization by increasing the density (not just the overall size) of population. Increases in population density enables an exponential increase in the types of activity – specializations of a human society. Urban settings enable a huge increase in economic and social ‘niches’ – new roles, new types of work, new services, new institutions, new forms of collective action – emerge with increases of population density.
This is vital – simply providing education (to both men and women) and birth control to men and women – may enable people to engage in more sex with less social consequences – but by themselves don’t increase the availability to use freedom from biological consequences of sex – because in rural settings the cultural constraints and the lack of opportunity to use the freedom to create new work-service niches is not there. In rural settings – children remain the source of old age pensions (cultural constraints to care for aging parents).
Cities provide huge affordances to change cultures, create new institutions (day cares, elder care, social security, access to wide ranges of new types of work and roles to fulfill, etc.). Without cities – the ability to find a proliferation of uses of one’s education, and freedom from birthing children would be much much smaller.
Today the challenge is not going back to the ‘land’ – but rather to re-imagine how to design better cities to take advantage of energy savings (25% with each doubling) and opportunity increases (15% with each doubling) – to mitigate the potential harms (crime, disease, etc – also a 15% increase with each doubling).
With the advent of good city infrastructure – clean water, sewage control, police-fire-medical-social, education and more – we have already learned to mitigate a great amount of the harmful 15%. Better design and enabling different business models (e.g. cooperatives, for benefit corporations, etc) we can enhance the positive increases in opportunity.
In short – education (for all) and birth control (for all) – are necessary – but insufficient to manage population stabilization – with better design, better political-economic paradigms – we can enable both the flourish of human biome and the planet.