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Demographic Instability, PeakX, Constraint-Storming and Other Short Items
Alex Steffen, 30 Aug 10

Reaching peak population as quickly as humanely possible is a pressing Worldchanging concern, but on the ground in poor countries, the concern is less about peak population than the demographic transition it takes to produce stable societies in an age of resource constraints. In a fascinating article, Richard P. Cincotta argues that for the 45 (out of 46) Sub-Saharan African nations with median ages under 25, that demographic transition appears to be stalling, for a variety of reasons, with implications for these nations, and the planet:

These age structures cut a familiar pyramidal-shaped profile of a population with a large proportion of young adults in the working-age population (greater than or equal to 42 percent), a rapidly growing school-age population, and high rates of workforce growth, typically exceeding 3 percent per year. These qualities tend to be associated with rampant unemployment, institutional failures, and political instability.

And here’s the bad news. Unless African governments and their development partners can stimulate quick reversals in fertility trends, the passing of two decades will only slightly modify this situation. According to the UN medium-variant projection, by 2030, only Botswana, South Africa, Cape Verde, and Djibouti are expected to have matured significantly beyond this conflict-vulnerable stage of the age-structural transition, leaving sub-Saharan Africa as the remaining epicenter of the “demographic arc of instability” (see map above for 2010, and below for 2030).


Figure 2. UN demographic projections (medium fertility variant, 2009) suggest that the demographic arc of instability will narrow dramatically during the next two decades. By 2030, sub-Saharan African countries will comprise about three-quarters of all countries in the arc (in red and pink). (via New Security Beat)


Matt Jones flies off on a riff about various things, including peak everything and the need to reconceptualize resource "peaks" themselves:

Going beyond PeakX: as a way of thinking = throw up hands and say hey-ho, that’s that then, isn’t everything complicated and terrible! Aren’t we wicked! There’s nothing to be done. How about ‘precious X’? ‘Resilient X’? ‘Chronodynamic design’ was something prententious that I wrote down a while back on a post-it, suggesting a Loewy-esque aesthetic celebration of an object’s resilience through time. Although at first blush, this might just be vernacular design – it might have legs as a more spectacular-vernacular. The High-Viridian Aesthetic. Moving beyond “Resource Constraints = design”, to source of ornament, cultural-invention, semantic-wealth. Charles & Ray Eames’s definition of the act of design still rings like a bell: do the best, for the most, with the least. Rhys, Raph and others work on Homegrown remains inspiring. I like Adaptive Path’s (at least that’s where I heard it first) conceit of ‘constraint-storming‘. Of course, most of the 1st-world isn’t even thinking about PeakX yet, and we don’t feel the pinch until we feel the pinch, so yeah. Anyway. I probably need to re-read “In The Bubble", and wear a “John Thackara Was Right” (hair)t-shirt…

Buzzword: Constraint-storming.

Alexis Madrigal makes some great points about mobile technologies, driving and the ways in which wireless communication actually undercuts the viability of car commuting:

This might seem like a trite bonus of city life. But I think it's more than that. Car time is wasted time, but commuting time doesn't have to be. Look at well-heeled Silicon Valley companies. They offer their employees cushy, WiFi-enabled buses for commuting. That first hour of the day, Apple and Google employees are banging out emails and getting ready for the day, not sitting in traffic carrying out a set of repetitive, low-level, and occasionally dangerous tasks to maneuver their exoskeletons southward.

We've covered a lot of this ground before, but Alexis nails it on the commute.



Image of World population density via Flickr / arenamontanus

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