There are now twice as many people as 50 years ago, and they are already concentrating into cities anyway. Therefore, they say, doing more of that, until we all live in Caves of Steel leaving the planet “empty” could be the best thing we may ever do. Maybe, but only if it happens in the right way

In case you missed it, Asimov’s Caves of Steel is a 1953 novel in which all humans live in cities like this:

The Caves of Steel are coming, and this may be good. As long as... /img/the_caves_of_steel_by_jrmalone-d32grla.jpg
Image Credit: JR Malone (click for larger version and info)

“underground, comfortably enclosed away from the open air [with] the present day’s underground transit connected to malls and apartment blocks, until no one ever exits the domes”.

The proposal to go all living in a better version of those Caves of Steel is explained in “Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet”.

Its main points are:

  • There are now twice as many humans alive now than they were 50 years ago. The consequent pressure on the planet can continue “for years, perhaps, but NOT decades.”
  • but people tend to like cities, and have been congregating in them for millennia.
  • If we managed urbanisation properly, we could nearly remove ourselves from a considerable percentage of the the planet’s surface.
  • That would be good for many of the threatened species we share this planet with, which in turn would be good for us, because we are completely enmeshed in Earth’s web of life. In a loose sense, this is the same issue I rambled about in 2005: save forests, not tigers or wolves). On the same topic, but just published, see also “The last of the wildlife”
  • and this move to the cities is already happening anyway: “big regions are emptier of humans than they were a century ago, and getting emptier still.”

To sum it up, “emptying half the Earth of its humans” may be very good, especially because it would not have to be imposed: “it would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind”.

How to do it right (digitally speaking)

Turning that proposal into reality, without (many)more positive consequences than negative ones, means getting a lot of very different things right. Living all the time inside cities without any regular “excape” in the outdoors, for example, may depress people, coontributing in some cases to real bad outcomes. But the main focus of this website, and my work in general, is the impacts of software and digital technologies on quality of life. From that point of view, let me say that some of the main things we’d surely need to “empty half the Earth of its humans” in a way that IS good for everybody surely include: