By Nicholas Haberling
In Avengers: Infinity War all of Earth’s mightiest heroes unite in an attempt to defeat the titan Thanos. Since pretty much everyone on the planet (except Lexor) has seen Infinity War, I think it is safe to say we all understand Thanos’ motivation. He believes that overpopulation will lead to the destruction of resources at a rate the universe can’t replace thus leading to the death of all sentient life. With this frame of mind he sets out to kill 50% of the universe’s inhabitants. Because genocide is bad, the strongest, smartest and bravest heroes try to stop Thanos, but ultimately fail. Which leads me to ask, “Why didn’t Iron Man bring me along?” I’m no Tony Stark, but I think I would have been able to have a simple conversation with Thanos on how innovation not only allows us to expand our use of current resources but access new ones as well. On top of that, increases in technology and wealth can actually lower populations and carbon emissions. In fact, I imagine our conversation would go like this:
Thanos teleports to Titan. Nick is casually waiting for his arrival.
Nick: Is this your home?
Thanos: It was. And it was beautiful. Are you with the Avengers?
Nick: Not quite, I sent Iron Man back to Earth since I forgot some of my graphs at home. But Thanos, we need to talk. I need to be frank with you. Your idea about killing half the universe to save everyone from overpopulation is ignorant.
Thanos is visibly confused.
Nick: Have you ever read about England’s wood shortage during the 16th Century?
Nick: I thought not. Anyway, there was once a time when wood was used to heat peoples’ homes and was harnessed to generate heat for metalworking. Well wood is not very efficient so eventually there was a shortage in England and they had to import wood from mainland Europe and the Americas.
Thanos: And then eventually those places also ran out of wood and the civilization went into decline.
Nick: Not at all. They realized coal was more efficient, made the switch and jump started the Industrial Revolution which led to even greater technological growth.
Thanos: And the trap was set. How is climate change treating you?
Nick: It definitely presents its challenges but we are finding that at a certain point a nation’s carbon emissions go down as they switch to more environmentally friendly technologies. We can look at Europe and even the United States as examples. I’m not saying these civilization growing pains are easy, just that individual countries are moving in the right direction and if progress is already being made maybe we postpone killing half of humanity.
Thanos: Sentient life is like a plague. You may overcome an energy crisis and climate change but overpopulation will get you in the end.
Nick: Have you ever read The Population Bomb?
Nick: Well I haven’t either since its junk science. But it was a prediction that thirty years ago famine was going to sweep the globe and kill people off since our population would exceed our ability to support it through agricultural production.
Thanos: And millions died a needlessly horrific death.
Nick: Nope. Actually, outside of major warzones we haven’t seen any major famines. Our population has kept going along.
Thanos: Ah so your population is still growing so there is still a chance it will exceed your planet’s capacity.
Nick: Well you’re right in that our population is still growing and it is theoretically possible that our population could exceed the benefits technological innovation brings, but our models show that we may actually experience an eventual population decline.
Thanos: What do you mean by population decline?
Nick: Well, according to the UN, in some countries they are experiencing fertility rates below the number necessary to replace existing members of the society and with low immigration they actually see population decline.
Thanos: How? Sentient beings are like a plague!
Nick: On Earth it appears most people are rational actors. There are a number of theories on why population in some countries are declining: modern birth control, the cost of children exceeding the benefits of having extra help around the house, etc. But in summary it seems that increases in economic wellbeing lead to declining fertility rates.
Thanos: But my people! We destroyed ourselves…
Nick: Well if your people are anything like you then they were pretty thick skulled. They likely would have benefitted from an immigration policy of some sort in order to encourage an exchange of ideas. I’ve only been watching this movie for an hour and I’ve seen crazy stuff like spaceships and artificial gravity. You should be able to mine asteroids and terraform agriculture worlds from now to the end of time with technology like this.
Thanos: I never had the thought…
Nick: Clearly. Now time to hand over the Infinity Gauntlet. Someone who believes in centralized decision making as disastrous as killing off half the universe doesn’t deserve this power.
Thanos in a state of visible confusion and disappointment, hands Nick the Gauntlet.
Nick: Well it’s not every day that common sense saves the universe. Someone buy me a beer.