It’s the year 2022.
World population exceeds ten billion. It would be more, save for the massive famines and plagues striking malnutrition-weakened populations. Overall, however, population continues to grow, if more slowly than before.
Global warming is advanced. Agriculture production has dwindled in many areas ravaged by drought, and in others (such as the interior of East Africa) devastated by floods. And then there are the industrial chemicals, the radioactivity, the acid rain, the ozone hole, the mutated insects…
Two major cultural trends of OTL were not duplicated. Environmentalism never really gained momentum until too late: the oil embargo never took place, and in an environment in which it was assumed “continued growth” was the solution to all ills, what was a bit more pollution or a bit more CO2 in the air? Feminism also failed to get much traction in a world where there was less need for a second income bringer and the pill and other forms of birth control suppressed as “promoting sexual license.” Betty Friedan perished tragically, run over by a truckload of drunken fratboys. The move to demographic transition was slowed, and corporations busied themselves with increasingly sophisticated ways for consumers to clean and filter their air, water, etc. rather than cutting back on pollutants.
Growth took place in the Third World as well, where heavy investment in third-world countries led a thousand malodorous industrial centers to bloom (and large Soviet expenditures to create heavy-industrial Worker’s Paradises to match what the West was doing soon was outperforming them, at least in pollution). As for China, where Neo-Maoism so-called (after the Supreme Leader’s mysterious-but-certainly-not-coup-related-we-assure-you death) mobilized the population to build shit on a level never before seen, heavy industry surged forwards at astonishing rates, and before long a filter mask was as much a part of the revolutionary outfit as the blue Mao suit. The anti-revolutionary “one child” policy was never adopted.
Strange chemical changes took place in the atmosphere as industrial fumes of all types combined and produced molecules never seen before on earth, which in turn came down with the rain, into the soil, into the rivers, into the sea.
The Good Times (so to speak) continued into the 80s, only coming to an end in 1988, when the Last Arab-Israeli War led to the nuking of the Middle Eastern oil fields, and the bottom fell out of the world economy. The Communist nations laughed at the failure of the Decadent West, and continued to build huge toxin-spouting factories and load of unnecessary Big Metal things, although the laughter stopped in the 90s when the first of the climate-changed induced droughts combined with mass vegetation die-off from airborne toxins brought famine from Pinsk to Peking.
Outside of a few resource-poor nations short of options, oil was replaced by coal (until the theoretical time some clean source such as fusion or solar satellites could take over), nuclear power having disgraced itself (the Ventana nuclear power plant’s melt-down and contamination of Los Angeles having somewhat peeved people), and for a couple decades governments assured their populations that renewed prosperity was right around the corner.
They had largely given up on trying to convince people by the end of the 2000s.
Frogs are largely extinct, and the last whales were lucky enough to be eaten before they could slowly starve. Polar bears are going blind in the ozone-depleted far north.
The icecaps are busily melting, and the north Pole is usually open water in the summer, but thermal inertia is such that the rise in sea level is so far gradual, and is mostly noticeable when storm surges push further inland than ever before, and coastal cities temporarily do a Venice. Things have become very bad in Bangladesh, and the Maldives are being evacuated save for a few stubborn stay-behinds in houses with new steel and concrete stilts. Ragged fleets of refugees from low-lying islands and coasts of lands too poor to resettle them sail about, looking desperately for a port that will accept them: due to overfishing, it's rarely feasible to survive at sea very long, so it's a race for survival.
Western governments have generally shifted to the socialistic, technocratic, and undemocratic side since the 90s, the need for heavy government management to keep the population from dying or exploding in rage having been impressed on everyone after the British Troubles (order was eventually established, and it is still widely rumored that they Saved Thatcher’s Brain: however, the Tory party is extinct, as is the Country Manse as intensive agriculture has spread across the British isles to feed a desert Mediterranean).
The Soviet Union meanwhile doubled down on repression to survive, and found a convenient scapegoat in rebellion-torn China, which was accused of using biological weapons against Soviet crops: a war would unify the people behind the state, and once depopulated, northern China would provide new sources of raw materials and agricultural production.
The war has so far gone on for 15 years with no signs of stopping.
The exhaustion of oil sources has forced the Soviets to expand their nuclear program, but given current conditions, what’s the occasional meltdown? Outside complaints about radiation drifting over the border are ignored, radiation sickness is blamed on the Chinese, and some of the nuttier members of the Politburo think radiation will eventually strengthen the USSR by bringing about useful mutations and adapting people to more toxic conditions. The conquered area of North China, savaged by global-warming induced drought and radioactive from nuclear strategic exchanges, is a bit of a booby prize, but to the Soviet leadership, the war has become an end in itself, providing an excuse for draconian controls not seen since the Stalin era, and a handy way of disposing of the population surplus. Both men and women are recruited into the army, and current death tolls run around three million a year, which nicely keeps the population stable. Now if only the Chinese would stop trying to win.
The Chinese turmoil of the late 90s began to come to an end when the Soviet invasion provided a rallying point. Some 400 million deaths and brutally efficient control of resources and population have so far prevented any further mass famines after 2012, but things are rather grim for China’s 1.7 billions. They are however determined to regain the north, and the technological balance has begun to swung their way as oil shortages cripple the Soviet air force and heavy armor (the Soviets are trying to rebuild their military on a hydrogen-fuel basis, but limited resources and Soviet engineering means progress has been slow.) Underground and dispersed factories are rebuilding their nuclear infrastructure, and if most of the Chinese army are foot soldiers, they are well equipped and well trained foot soldiers: nowadays only about 4 Chinese die for every Soviet soldier, and the government plans to better those odds.
The Formosan (Taiwan in our timeline) effort to take advantage of the Soviet invasion to conquer the south (initially poor performance by the People’s Army influenced the Formosan Generals decision in much the way the Finnish debacle impressed Hitler) was even less wise than the Soviet decision. There is no such place as Formosa, and nobody claims to be Formosan, save refugees in the USA.
North Korea collapsed messily a while back, and the country was split by the South and the USSR about halfway between the old border and the Yalu. The South Koreans complain about this, and bitch about the radiation and toxins floating east (the whole world is more toxic and radioactive as a result of the Red War), and are ignored.
Faith and fatalism, plus less severe impacts from global warming and industrial toxins, means that India has remained relatively stable, although its 1.6 billion hard-scrabbling inhabitants barely keep body and soul together through a combination of intensive farming and sea-harvesting and there’s always famine _somewhere_. The end of the current cosmic cycle is seen as nigh, and the Thuggees have reappeared in an even more sinister format. With the Ganges and Indus shrinking as the Himalayan glaciers diminish, they may have a point.
SE Asia struggles along with drought, overpopulation, Chinese refugees, etc., but is generally pretty “average” in unpleasantness unless you happen to be Cambodian (the Vietnamese and Thai agreed at one point that the Cambodians weren’t making anywhere _near_ full productivity of their agricultural assets). Bangkok is better known for frequent coups than for prostitution. The long-run prospects are grim: continued population growth and soil erosion plus worsening climate are predicted to bring mass starvation in another decade or two.
Indonesia, chokingly dense as its population is, still has some oil, and has been lightly hit by climate change: it is one of the few areas of actual economic growth, it’s streets crowded with coal-dust burning “steamers” (an Indian design): industry is increasingly concentrated in the less agriculturally productive (and less populous/politically influential) parts of the country, so the pollution won’t destroy too much of the food supply. Other powers grumble about its contributions to the ongoing atmospheric debacle, but its leaders ask, what the hell do you want us to do? Make the people poorer still and have them hang us from lampposts?
Boosters of Australia OTL point out that wisely managed, it’s water supplies could irrigate and feed several times its current population: good thing that there is some truth in it, since global-warming scorched Australia currently just manages to feed its population without dealing with, say, the Soylent corporation. As it is crippling oil shortages mean that much of the interior has essentially been abandoned by the government: rumors that half of the northern territory is currently under the control of a warlord known only as “Lord Humongous” are dismissed by the government as wild exaggerations circulated by the foreign press. New Zealand isn’t doing too badly, although the general population lives in fear of being overrun by hordes of refugees in various shades of brown (given its geographical isolation, presumably refugees skilled at walking on water).
150 million inhabitants of tightly regulated Japan starve very slowly and politely, expect when it comes to their fish: the waters to the east and south of Japan have been claimed as a protein source by the Japanese, and other countries arguing that this is not the way that the law of the sea works have been introduced to the sharp edge of the Japanese navy. Due to ferociously enforced quotas, these remain almost the only seas on the ocean where fish more than three inches long are regularly caught, but the continued acidification of the ocean waters may put paid to this.
The old EC has seen much of its Mediterranean regions turn to desert, although things have been alleviated a little by expansion of agriculture in the north (at least to the edges of the High Ultraviolet area from Norway on north)and the relative slowness of European population growth. Denmark, which is still a major food producer, occasionally threatens to build a wall across Jutland and make of a go of it on its own, but is too aware that it’s hardly up to holding off the rest of Europe at gunpoint. Currently the increasingly undemocratic and centralized governing body of the United States of Europe (motto: “Hang together or hang separately”) is feeling a bit under siege, what with millions and millions of refugees from dying NW Africa attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the face of European navies increasingly taking the “kill them all and let God sort them out” approach, and more immigrants from Eastern Europe, which cannot be treated quite as roughly, since their nations have, after all, a lot of military hardware left from the Soviet era. “No more room in the boat” is the chant of the day. The French complain a great deal about the general crappiness of British and Danish wine. The British have their own issues, (the 15 million Londoners tend to take rioting as their favorite outdoor sport) but at least the coal miners have full employment and as much coal dust as they can eat.
Eastern Europe was allowed to go to hell its own way by a USSR with too many commitments at home and to the east. It remains a place apart, the West being unable to pay for repairs and unwilling to take on any further commitments. With the Capitalist world going down the toilet around the same time as the Communist one in this world, the nations of the former Warsaw pact have in many cases gone down the path of fanatical religio-nationalism, which doesn’t really help but provides some rationale for existence. At the same time, Eastern Europe has become the heartland of a “new humanist” movement, that seeks to rebuild human society in a way that follows actual needs of both humanity and the natural realm rather than the pursuit of infinite growth. They are of course violently persecuted, but they have become a powerful force speaking Truth to Power in not only Eastern Europe but much of what still calls itself the “industrialized world”: New Humanist government s have actually come to power in Czechoslovakia and, of all places, East Germany (reunification failed: the Germans in 1999 felt they couldn’t afford all those poor relatives) and are currently struggling with almost intolerable burdens (including their own tendency to drift in more authoritarian directions once actually in positions of power. By God, we’ll beat niceness into people if needed).
Israel, although it lost nearly half its population to Arab nukes in the Last War, survives. Most of its population lives underground, often deep underground, and it is one of the few nations that employ nuclear power, most importantly for desalination of sea water. What exactly the Israelis are eating down there underground nobody is sure, and the Israelis are too paranoid to let people in to see. Antisemitic conspiracy theories flourish. (Antisemitism was not reduced by the suffering of the Israelis in the last war: they killed a hell of a lot more Muslims, and then there was that whole “collapse the world economy” thing: Israeli paranoia is really rather understandable).
Egypt and its immediate neighbors are slowly re-coalescing, fragmented warlord states: the Nile still produces enough water that the remnants of Egypt (the largest of which is run by the PLO, forced into exile along with all Arabs on Israeli-occupied soil) don’t starve much, but the Arabian Peninsula as a whole is a mess. A Hejazi state living off the pilgrimage trade (and there are a lot of people who pray very hard nowadays) has reemerged: the Israelis were polite enough to confine their retaliatory bombs to enemy capitals and oil fields (they do confess themselves a bit shamed about the Aswan dam) and Mecca was spared.
The new fundamentalist movement that has arisen in the ruins of south Iraq makes the Wahabbim and the Taliban of OTL look like good old Father O’Malley. Such spiritual reactions aren’t entirely surprising: with frequent drought and a world too short on food to sell any, the area between Morocco and Iran is a busy place for all Four Horsemen, and those areas where agriculture, in spite of the drought and toxins, etc. still supports large populations tend to be rather shooty towards refugees from elsewhere. Severe drought had led the Turkish government, like the Australian one, to largely pull out of much of the interior of the country: they never managed to get into the EU and lack any large-scale support system. Tens of millions are on the move, much to other people’s annoyance.
Soviet central Asia has also dried out, but surplus Turks and such can always be resettled in greener Siberia - and then drafted into front-line combat.
The People’s Republic of Azania recently pushed the last of its white oppressors into the sea (at the overrunning of the Cape Town docks, in some cases literally), but there is not much to celebrate in the plague and drought stricken land, much of which lies in ruin after decades of civil war, which dragged on long after the rest of the world found too much on their plate at home to pay much attention. (The Soviets sent a congratulation note, as did the Chinese). Africa, a huge continent, is a bit of a mixed bag: some places too dry, others too wet (notably the interior of East Africa in the lake region), some just unpredictable. A number of countries now only exist as polite fictions on the map. A few climate-change-blessed countries have been largely taken over by foreign agribusiness interested in their potential: some of these see violent revolutions after it became clear the new farming industry was meant to feed people in the richer nations, not at home. Apocalyptic Islam and Christianity are at war in West Africa, Neo-Marxists rule the Congo, and people are selling themselves into slavery in Ethiopia. Much of the continent, due to the expense of importing it and the shortage of local resources, is desperately short on energy: the vultures gather as the Second Biafran Republic begins to run short of its (very highly priced and profitable) oil. In spite of war and disease and famine, populations continue to grow: over 300 million inhabit what used to be Nigeria alone, and there are 100 million Congolese.
Brazil, like China, has suffered from drought and desertification in the north, but at least it wasn’t compounded by the world’s filthiest industrial plant. The worsening climate and immigration southwards has slowed the destruction of the Brazilian bits of the shrunken Amazon, (crops tend to fry after the protective canopy is taken down) but drought is still killing it, albeit slowly. The 300 million Brazilians live under an openly fascist government, which has, like the Indonesians, managed to keep the economy growing, at least partially due to all the catching up they still have to do to get even to impoverished-US standards. The government media assures the people that the people circulating pernicious lies about pacifying drugs in the drinking water will be shot for frightening the good citizens of Brazil in the midst of the current Extended Crisis.
With the exception of drought-ravaged Chile and Venezuela (and Venezuela at least still has oil money to buy Soylent Green and other foreign munchies: Chile? Let’s just say Bolivia has a coast again), Latin America south of Mexico is generally scraping along from day to day, if more crowded, more politically repressive, and more surreal than ever: jokers in the increasingly suicide/drugs/suicide by drugs ridden Andean nations speak of taking time off for “La Gran Siesta”. “El Nino” has been replaced by “El Tio Viejo” – there certainly isn’t any more herring to be had in Pacific waters, no matter which way the wind blows.
Mexico, hit by desertification rather harder than Brazil, and about out of oil revenue, is in poor shape: the government has lost control of much of the outlying bits of the nation to warlords and revolutionary groups, and millions are fleeing south (much to the annoyance of the Central American Christian Collectivists) and north (where they add to the increasingly unstable situation in the American southwest).
The US currently is delicately balanced on the edge. With over 500 million people, and with serious climate-related damage to its agricultural potential (and, as old-style capitalists would point out before they were purged from the grand coalition currently running things, half-assed government controls and interference), food supplies are short: not only is it no longer able to serve as larder to the world, it’s ability to feed itself is increasingly in question. The old intensive agricultural system was based on oil, and the lack of cheap substitutes badly impacted productivity even before the real climate damage began. The southwest, including California, is now locked in an almost permanent drought cycle, devastating floods wreck the south, and the agriculture of the plains is increasingly looking to be up fewmets creek as the aquifers dry up. The NE is a bit better off, and it’s current hot-humid spring and summer climate would be pretty productive, if it weren’t for the southern plant diseases that have moved north, and the acids and other toxins that precipitate out in every rainstorm. (Then there are the new insect mutations that have become a global problem. Some suggest they are escapees from Soviet labs, bio-weapons accidentally released when the few Chinese nukes to be missed in the first strike hit). Forced labor is currently cutting down NE wilderness and breaking up paved-over areas to increase available farmland. The universal food ration right now keeps people from dying, but that’s about it for the many who cannot afford anything more.
The suburbs, already badly wounded by soaring gas prices, have been essentially priced (taxed) out of existence in much of the country by government degree, paying an “agriculture penalty” for every square foot of potentially cultivatable land they cover. (In deserts and wastes there is no legal impediment to sprawl, but there remains the petrol shortage: the US has been slow to adopt the unreliable and sometimes explosive coal-dust steamer cars, not just for safety considerations but also embarrassment over adopting the technologies of “backwards” nations). As well as pushing, the government also pulls: rent controls keep the masses from being priced out of the cities, which grow gigantic and ever more crowded: riots and disturbances are common, whether it’s angry old people forced into retirement to open jobs for younger people or young people angry at the delay in repairing a local water source or religious apocalyptics hoping for some sort of martyrdom. The Police are equipped with Memory Wire (barbed wire which when dropped from helicopters in bundles usefully unrolls itself and forms barriers with only a little chivvying), a variety of chemical agents both nastier and nicer than old-style tear gas (if the cops are feeling sympathetic, they can leave a crowd stoned rather than vomiting), and in worst-case scenarios, the armored, fire-proof “people scoopers”, giant shovel trucks which are just What It Says On the Can. And if the worst come to the worst – well, this is a world where the apartments of the wealthy are usually guarded by men with machine guns and few legal blocks to using them on intruders.
New York, now almost a country in itself, has become the last hope of the indigent looking for somewhere, anywhere to go, and some 40 million people somehow squeeze into the now six boroughs. With steady improvements in automation and the “permanent recession” (occasionally enlivened by a bout of stagflation), half the working-age population is now unemployed, although the government always massages statistics to make things seem not quite so bad. Streets are jammed with pedcabs and bikes in the narrow space between the crowds. The city park was filled in with cheap apartments a while ago, although one large and remarkably tough (to survive the pollution levels) tree survives as a sort of memorial to what used to be there. Crimes rates are bad, but not as much as one might expect: on a _per capita_ basis, at least, it’s no worse than OTL Chicago. The crowded buildings and the pollution are such that the light is murky almost permanently at street level: some long-time residents have become so acclimated to this that they are driven indoors by the rare days of bright sunshine like vampires fleeing the dawn. In some Asian cities there are whole populations which only come out at night, when it is cooler and the air not quite so bad, and rarely if ever expose their pale skins to the sun.
Los Angeles, seemingly poised to challenge New York as Number One City a while back, has been badly stressed by water shortages, and the city government’s decision to essentially “triage” some parts of the sprawling metropolis has led to social breakdown and even warlordism in the abandoned areas. On a larger scale, attempts to commander more of the southwest’s dwindling water resources has led to actually exchanges of shots between south Californian forces and neighboring states, and the bombing of pipelines.
The US federal government is struggling to keep the conflict from expanding.
The status of women, both in the US and abroad, has dropped since the early 70s: although the pill has been legal again in the US since the turn of the century (the Moral Majority held on like grim death for an astonishingly long time) and in other places rather earlier, women are likely to be stay at home (or stay-in-large-box) moms due to the males tending to hog what jobs exist in the high-unemployment situation, and under crisis conditions the Powers That Be (mostly old rich dudes) have generally considered the case for women’s rights to be a distraction from “real” problems, and unemployed, hungry, unempowered masses of men generally have shown an unfortunate tendency to strengthen their self-respect by bossing women around. Prostitution and worse is common, and many apartments for rich single men come with a woman as part of the “furniture.” (Rules on this vary in different states and different countries: the Chinese dictatorship is actually pretty progressive on sex worker’s rights, at least when nookie involves people outside the inner Party). Some US women have said screw it entirely and retreated to armed compounds in the desert west, reproducing themselves with stored sperm.
Meat, aside from a few unusual cases such as New Zealand, is expensive, most governments having taken steps to limit the amount of land used for pasturage rather than essential (and less resource-wasteful) foodstuffs. Buying meat is now illegal in the US save on a few holidays, although the rich always have access to the black market and the very rich usually have their own farms somewhere, free of government meddling. Similarly such “luxuries” as tea, tobacco, coffee, (the legal wake up pills are already stronger than caffeine) and chocolate are rare and pricey, although in some of the shoddier countries governments and powerful magnates make enough cash off growing them to allow them to ignore a few more starving landless peasants (although barbed wire and machine guns have become an increasingly important part of tropical plantation life).
Alcohol is simple enough to produce that rot-gut of one sort or another generally remains fairly cheap.
At least with all the crap in the air, the sunsets are lovely.
Technological progress has slowed since the early 80s, and in various ways this world’s 2022 is less developed technologically than OTL 2014. Although there are stand-alone computers more powerful than OTL, the whole internet thing was scotched through security concerns, biotech is only a little ahead of OTL (save in some ways related to killing people), and although there are superior designer drugs, medical progress has stalled in various areas (partly due to government views on allocation of resources: who wants methods for keeping yet _more_ poor people alive?). Consumer electronics are at least a decade and a half behind OTL, although automated control systems and robotics (of the factory production sort) are somewhat superior. High quality solar cells remain undeveloped. The Moon base was abandoned in 1990 and although they still put up communications and climate monitoring satellites, nobody has been in orbit in years.
Zero or Negative Population Growth initiatives are widely supported by governments nowadays, and increasingly there’s interest in cutting things off at the other end of the process: suicide has been widely legalized, and some paranoid types claim to see pro-suicide “messaging” in government and major-network TV programs. What is quite undeniable is that a number of nations, including the US, now provide free death services, including a pleasant musical and visual dying experience, painless death through drugs, and cremation afterwards. That such services have expanded almost in parallel with the marketing of Soylent Green is a connection few have made.
The Soylent Corporation is somewhat confusingly named: it originally was the main producer of the soy-lentil “steaks” that began to replace meat in the 90s, and retained the name after it branched out into junk fish/seaweed/plankton based foodstuffs. Nowadays, soy and lentils are no longer that cheap, and the Soylent corporation’s products are mainly from the sea, or so they say. Having merged with several other food companies, Soylent, International, is a corporate goliath producing most of the sea-derived foods that are consumed in North America, Africa, south Asia, and various other locations. (For some reason, European and Japanese governing bodies ban Soylent on vague reasons of food purity or similar excuses. Oddly enough for a company, Soylent doesn’t complain about this much). Soylent works very closely with the US government, and reported has close ties with the Indian government as well. Of late Soylent has been putting out a new product, “Soylent Green”, supposedly mostly algae-based but heavily processed for reasons of flavor. The general public reaction has been quite favorable.
It might have been possible to move from the temporary expedient of coal to a new petroleum era based on the extraction of the black gold from shale, coal tars, etc. The technology exists, and the Brazilians are now working, at great human and material cost, on some such development. (For export to energy-hungry nations, mostly. Their own skies are poisonous enough). The money for the massive infrastructure required is less easily available, and as for will – well, nobody in a position of power nowadays really denies climate change, as hard as so many people tried to right up through the 90s. Things are bad and getting worse, and if even if current CO2 production were to remain fixed, in another 20-30 years concentrations will reach levels which will take humanity into quite uncharted territory. Many models indicate a planet no longer able to support human life - at least, above ground – by the 22nd century.
(One reason for the power shortages major US cities suffer from – aside from people stealing parts of the electrical infrastructure -is that the government is reluctant to spend money to build more coal-burning plants, making the plant-killing pollution and global warming issues worse. The market certainly isn’t going to do the job when so few people can _afford_ electricity and so many leech on the system with illegal hookups of one sort or another. Also, there is money in exporting the coal instead to those countries with no fossil fuels at all).
Already, the seas are suffering from an extinction that begins to look like the end-Permian die-off. The larger species, already devastated by overfishing, are finished off by the collapse of the base of the food pyramid, as algae and plankton dwindle, and seawater acidification kills indifferently. The brief flourishing of the jellyfish is over: they too have been harvested. The seas are dying, and the harvesting fleets must cease to ply their trade if anything is to survive: already many ships simply sail on fixed courses through already empty waters and return empty to port, while Soylent Corporation boasts of new products.
Soylent Green is, of course, made of people, as the US and Indian and European and Soviet and various other governments – at least at the very highest levels – know all too well. (The Japanese were reprocessing their dead years before the Soylent Corporation got into the corpse-grinding business. They’re certainly not going to pay good money for inferior gaijin corpses). It is of course a stop-gap measure, like the European use of French nuclear power to produce organic slurries from coal and tree trunks. A human being, no matter how efficiently processed, can only feed another human being for a small fraction of his or her lifespan. Eating the dead is only an efficient diet if the death rate is much, much higher than the birth rate. Even in India (a major “product” supplier, if often requiring extra processing) it’s not workable.
The governments have plans for that, too.
The .001% has come to the clear realization that even their privileges are starting to corrode under the circumstances, and Something Must Be Done.
Most estimates hold that at least 50% of the world population has to go for the climate and environmental situation to stabilize without further decline. Balancing the numbers for what is needed to maintain a civilization at its present tech level and a respectable safety margin, a triage of 80-90% seems ideal. The top leadership of the major powers is generally either in on the gag or will follow the orders of the .001% without asking too many questions. The Soviet oligarchy would prefer to keep their losses below 50%, which has been a point of contention, but they’re too important a contributor to the necessary technical means – and too capable of seeking revenge if steps are taken against them – to argue the point. They are, after all, planning to move into a mostly emptied –out China, so they feel they don’t need to dispose of so much of their “surplus.” (China, alas, will have to be given the heave-ho: the new leadership has not yet settled into a proper oligarchy, and may be unrealistic about the fate of the bottom 80% or so, plus they might just be crazy to give the plan away to the rest of the world. That’s certainly what the Soviets and the Japanese claim).
Of course, there are always the fools and silly dreamers: some scientists argue that population growth is current slowing, as more contraception is used and as a byproduct of the effect of all the toxic environmental chemicals on human fertility: one alarmist report holds that the trend levels of failed pregnancies and damaged sperm may lead to a massive “birth deficit” within a generation. Others claim that with sufficient will, a large-scale restructuring of the way people live and work, along with massive investment in “alternate energy sources”, could within a decade or two take the human race to a point where even the current 10 billion could survive without killing the planet. (Such people are clearly some form of Crazy Commies – oops, sorry, Premier Strugatsky). No, it’s always pie tomorrow, never pie today: Tough Problems require Tough Solutions, and it’s up to the .001% to make the painful choices (sure, its other people who will die, but they won’t have to carry the moral burden for generations to come). The planet, after all, must be saved.
Many of the biological tools needed are already in place, but as a certain green-skinned western autocrat once noted, these things must be done delicately: much else must be arranged for over the next few years. There is some worry about the “underground” which seems to have formed out of nowhere in New York, where the news that Soylent Green was actually made of homo sapiens sapiens has spread by rumor to all neighborhoods; although all official media laughed at it as a ridiculous rumor (good thing that whole “internet” thing never got anywhere), after an attempt by a group of police officers to break into a Soylent plant was stopped only with military force brought in from outside the city, it has proven impossible to squelch, in spite of an official tour being given of a Soylent plant (one outside New York, and one of the few still actually processing sea products). The government suspects that the East Europeans are helping keep things stirred up, although there is no clear proof to be had. Current opinion is divided on what to do: some feel vigorous repression and silencing is the only safe path: others feel that a Soylent Green scandal growing “out of control” over the next few years might actually make a useful distraction…