Following on from Shannon’s last post about the drop in US fertility (below the French now!) here is a piece by Foxnews along similar lines. It doesn’t say anything new in particular, but it does show that details of this worrying trend is getting out into the mainstream and may cause people to sit up and take note: demography does matter. (But is it our destiny…?)

Now though I’d like to leave the land of the free for a moment and look at some truly remarkable building ideas that have been reported in the UK’s Daily Telegraph.  These structures are being looked at to house people (the worry of over-populated super cities looms large) and to reduce pollution.  One idea is to build “superskyscrapers” – buildings that are much larger than current high rise apartment buildings.  This would increase urban density which according to some is a good thing:

“Eric Howeler, the author of Skyscraper: Vertical Now cites Hong Kong, where most people live in 50-storey buildings, in the city centre, as a blueprint for the future.

‘It’s a great model,’ he says. ‘It has the lowest per capita consumption of gasoline [and] the highest per capita use of public transport. People will have to shed this idea that they deserve their own car and their own lawn.’”

Interestingly enough, one of the things that appealed to me about New Zealand when we arrived home from Italy a few weeks ago was the fact that everyone has a backyard. Everyone has living space. While I realise that this is not the norm throughout the world I certainly understand why people like to have their own section. I certainly would not like to live in a city like Hong Kong! However, because it is seen as greener living, architects are designing taller and bigger apartment buildings. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world’s tallest building – it is 2,723 feet tall and holds 900 apartments and 144 “Armani Residences”.  However, there are plans for a 7,900 foot tall Dubai City Tower and the X-Seed 4000 in Tokyo which will be 2.5 miles tall and will house one million people! Whether these designs ever reach these lofty heights is not clear.  The cost would be staggering and there are other problems to take account of:

“’Buildings move, although we don’t like to talk about it,’ says Dr. John Roberts, the principal engineer of the London Eye. For every height rise, there is an exponential increase in a skyscraper’s tendency to sway, and, even with 100-ton dampers as stabilizers, the swaying eventually becomes intolerable. Which, in Roberts’ opinion, makes some of the tallest projects nothing more than pies in the sky.”

*Shudder* I do not care what the environmental impact is, there is no way you would get me living in an apartment 2 miles into the sky! An idea that seems more appealing and interesting is that of “vertical farms”.  For a start I don’t have to live in them: they are for crops not people.  A 30-storey tower consisting of greenhouses stacked on top of each other could theoretically produce the same amount of food as 2,400 acres of land! 

“Last year, Dickson Despommier, the American microbiologist who devised the concept, visited Manchester to endorse Alpha Farm, a prototype vertical farm planned for an unused office block in Wythenshaw. High upfront costs have stalled the Alpha Farm project…”

That unfortunately is the problem – money – but if food demand increases then presumably the profitability of such ventures will increase, making the high upfront costs less daunting.

Other ideas being looked at are the floating city – the Seastanding Institute based in San Francisco has the objective of raising funds to research and to build a network of seasteads around the globe and to “experiment with diverse social, political, and legal systems”.  Interesting, a hippie commune out to sea?  A NWO above the ocean?  But baby steps first, the institute is aiming to start with a floating holiday resort – 20,000 tons, 90,000 square feet of open recreational space, a casino and luxury hotel and thrusters to move location! And it plans to be launched by the end of this decade! This sounds more enjoyable than the permanent residence seasteads the Institute is also planning:

“What’s more, a seastead for 200 people would cost around $220 million to build, so residents would have to be rich, but not care about luxuries like personal space and unrationed water.

‘The ocean is expensive to build on, so we must economize on space,’ says Friedman. ‘Early seastead adopters will care more about a new society than [having] as much water as they want.’”

Hmmm, maybe you have to count me out of this option as well.  I like my showers. And that is the problem with all of these quick fix solutions to our problems – we want science to fix problems arising from our behaviour.  It is great to think that there are new ways to live if we require it, or if we desire it. My children could very well grow up to be moon or Mars residents.  But if we have a problem caused by our own actions – too much consumption and pollution perhaps – then the best most “sustainable” (terrible word) solution is to change attitudes and practises.  As the Telegraph says:

“When it comes to shaping the future, it seems, science may prove capable of solving technical problems, but controlling human nature may prove more difficult.”

As long as people continue to remember that only people can control human actions – let us not turn to science to “control” people! After all, being free necessarily includes the freedom to go wrong!


Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...