Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Demise of Porsche

Ignore the date just above. It is June 2 as I start this. Also, be forewarned that there are some harsh invectives used in this post.

The commentary I'm going to present in this post has to do with unlimited growth: of Porsche sales, of world population (mainly), of resulting consumption, of the economy, of Porsche sales, of everything. It's about the disquieting human occupancy of the planet Earth, because there are simply far too many of us. When we reach a critical mass in the very near future and possibly collapse, Porsche goes with us, but not in total innocence. There has got to be a way to continue to enjoy the Porsche experience.  

In a nut shell and more to the point, the human race is going to fornicate itself out of existence, because, like any other species that makes the reproductive mistake of boundless expansion, it's numbers will soon exceed the Earth's capacity to provide for it in any manner whatsoever - never mind supporting nonessential sillinesses like Porsches.

Porsche goes off into the sunset. From flickr, © = ?.
Yet, there is much talk of 'Green Growth', or a 'Green Economy' which increase agriculture, and industry, and every form of 'progress' in a way that is respectful toward and even advantageous for the planet. It is a vision of benevolent perpetual growth, in a limited environment (!?), that will see to the needs and wants of humans, while keeping nature pure and intact. Regrettably, this is a fiction, because we want and demand too much, and nature has unequivocal limits. In the words of the brilliant thinker Kenneth Boulding, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” Surprise, among multiple things, Boulding was an economist, but he frequently spoke memorably against infinite growth and its probable disasters. He was right.

But sadly, many with little imagination believe that we humans are somehow immune to the tragedies that befall other species when they overpopulate themselves into fatal bloat. Nature is US, not the 'Other', and we're in trouble.

In 1779, T. Robert Malthus wrote:
Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
— Malthus T.R. Pub. in 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61

Malthus' position may seem severe, and we could be tempted to have faith that our advanced technology will certainly save us. I submit that technology isn't the answer, either, it's part of the problem with its putrifying detritus, because we here on Earth will simply run out of everything and destroy ourselves and our environment with our astounding contaminations well before we have any chance to exit the place to ruin another planet elsewhere. I have to admit upfront that I am not a scientist able to provide authoritative facts of my own to support what I am saying here, but this doesn't mean that my remarks are incorrect, and I will provide good sources of evidence for what I say. 

Plus, I am very sad to see the beauty of our planet erode - as we endanger ourselves - and it's our own fault. While traveling a fair amount around the world over the years my response to what I have seen on every continent I visited was very much the same.  There are way, way too many of  us, and our numbers are growing at a frightening rate. For humans to survive - and I'm only talking about a time frame involving a couple score of years - our numbers must decrease dramatically. We are almost a plague on the Earth, crawling over the poor thing like bacteria and in comparable numbers. Were Adam and Eve a big mistake?
These are brash remarks and possibly disagreeable to some, but while my presentation may be flammable and histrionic, it ain't wrong. Something has to give, if we haven't totally blown it already. Is this about Porsche? Of course it is, very pointedly so, as we shall see.

Earlier, I said that I've been thinking about the above issues for years, and this is rigidly true. Perhaps I thought a bit too long, because on June 18, 2015, in Rome, Pope Francis released his encyclical letter LAUDATO SI’ [Praise Be to You], on the care of our common home, which receives ongoing worldwide review. That teaching letter considers the state and health of the Earth, and measures that should be taken to preserve, restore, and polish this tragically damaged world. As a result, much of what I intended to discuss in this post he covers in well annotated detail. I think he has a larger staff of scholars at his disposal. Admittedly, his global influence is almost unparalleled, so good thing he did it.

Pope Francis' heraldic crest
I'm not a papist, nor even a believer, but I do have to openly admit that the Pope has covered a large swath of what is asunder on this planet, and he does so with admirable depth and sobriety. So, he has done me a great favor, because now I don't have to examine so many subjects anymore in this post, and this allows me to focus on my main subject, overpopulation.

Don't misunderstand the paragraphs below, because they aren't meant to be negative. This Pope, Francis, is authentic and helpful, and his efforts with the encyclical under discussion already have positive world-wide influence; we all owe him deeply for this. I'm being a stickler for details, a character flaw of mine.

That said, to me there are two grave mistakes in the encyclical, one a bit more grave than the other. I plan to delve into what's right more fully further on. 

Francis makes a forceful case that avarice in the form of capitalism critically disadvantages the poor, robbing them, in extensive parts of the planet, of their resources and production in order to fuel the whims and thoughtless 'needs' of the First World's privileged minority. This happens; it's obvious and ongoing. Capitalism is flawed. While capitalism isn't central to the main subject at hand, it plays a hand.

At the same time, capitalism has raised far more people from their rags than any other economic system experimented with at any other time. According to Winston Churchill, "It has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried." Substitute Capitalism into that thought and you will concoct a similar truth. Capitalism may be reprobate and amoral on numerous fronts, but never has there been a superior system put into place throughout our common history. The high-minded believe in world-wide egalitarianism; good luck with that. Human interaction on this front will not evolve gracefully any time soon. Francis must joust at other windmills, rather than capitalism as he sees it. But, Francis doesn't support Marxism either - another subject. His ideas about Capitalism make up the Pope's lesser error. 

More importantly, as the New York Times says, "Many conservatives will be pleased with the encyclical’s strong criticism of abortion, and its dismissal of arguments that population control can be an answer to poverty." Possibly in very basic terms the Pope's arguments on these points make sense if the Times were wholly accurate, until the concepts of 'control' and 'poverty' be expanded to cover more than what is typically thought of them - for example, what does control mean, exactly? My view is that on this subject the Pope may be grievously wrong, and that's dangerous. It could make much of what he says otherwise meaningless and irrelevant. A number of semantic arguments need attention, though. Francis' exact words are, "To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues." Sorry, that's an incomplete thought with a short view, which has its roots in the church's intransigent position on birth control (which is an immense impediment standing in the way of women's empowerment over the control of their own bodies), and important related issues.

Here is a link to the encyclical:  Laudato Si'   To be clear, I have only skimmed the full document, but have not examined every bit of it in detail, and that is why my remarks above are equivocal. It is a comprehensive treatise and I'll get through all of it momentarily, even the parts that quote scriptures (which I tend to dismiss out of hand), because the references are pragmatic and grounded, as is the bulk of what is presented. It is not a lightweight letter, as is this flippant blog post, but I do intend to make solid and reasoned points before I'm finished. 

So, this blog post has morphed into a critique of the thinking of Pope Francis; who would have thought. . . I'll take my best shot below. 


Of course, we humans are the 'Grand Experiment', and that experiment may not be a success, because everything that is demonstrably wrong with this planet is clearly our fault. It seems questionable that this is what the experiment was aiming for. Yes, I know of the philosophical/religious arguments about our free will and related concepts, but they don't work for me in this context. I didn't invent this 'experiment' hypothesis; plus, naturally, it is implied that the experiment is the act of another power, and this notion, to me, is problematic. There are individuals who claim that without a supernatural 'being' out there, who is all-knowing, omnipotent, Just-in-the-absolute, etc., there can be no meaning to our existence. I do not accept this claim and find no logic in it. We are a fully, self-responsible accident of natural selection. 

I recall a paper some years ago, in a scientific journal, that argued via massive equations and the like, that if the correct conditions are present in an environment - here, or elsewhere -  then life must occur, and no experiment is implied, anywhere. The author of that article is a research physician, as well as a PhD physicist.

There is an organization called Global Population Speak Out that offers many substantive reflections on the question of rampant human population growth. Link to their website here. Among the most arresting arguments found via their site is the notion that anyone would be hard-pressed to find cultures where very large families are the result of women's thinking on the subject. In fact, worldwide, women typically want two children, at most (see link, above). It is predominately men who need to prove their image of manhood by demanding that women produce multiple offspring for them. Personally, I have heard the boast, "He is a Man!" on diverse continents, when the speaker considered the fact that an individual had fathered an abundance of children. Being a responsible and real man on this planet is not measured by sperm count.

By the way, I find that there are too many fascinating quotes, facts, and perspectives to be found on the Population Speak Out website for me to link to all of them here. Better that you go to that site and read what they have to say. You can examine and read their whole recent book online, free.

Sadly, as I read further into the Pope's encyclical it has become evident to me that nearly all of the points he addresses can be put down to our massive population and the pressures that it puts on the planet's resources. Therefore, this single fact, overpopulation, must be placed front and center.

The opening sentences of paragraph 50 of Laudato Si' are, "Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of 'reproductive health'. Yet 'while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development'." 

Excuse me Mr. Pope, but that is nonsense. Some can "only" propose a reduction in the birth rate? Maybe that's true of some, but all of those who are not saddled with uncompromising dictates about contraception, as is your burden, constitute a very large number. Failure of the rich countries to provide for 'reproductive health' in less wealthy countries is irresponsible, but the Catholic church would not allow it. Failure of the rich to offer contraception to the less advantaged, and where sadly necessary, abortion, is irresponsible. These derelictions on the part of the developed countries ill serve women and help to keep them in a position of servitude, unable to participate substantively in the evolution of the cultures in which they exist. The result is disastrous population expansion at the expense of the planet, and all of us.

The Catholic insistence that birth control never be allowed is an example of a policy that potentially could kill us all, unless significant changes are made, and soon. And, by the way, in developed countries, such as the USA, a very important percentage of births are unplanned 'mistakes', for whatever reason. Since the population of the USA is one of the greatest per-capita consumers of all forms of the Earth's resources, rational control of population should start there first. 

Not all of this frightening reality can be blamed on the Pope and the Catholic church, of course, and the Pope is well intended with his environmental efforts and is accomplishing something on that front. I'm only superficially familiar with what other large religions have to say about producing offspring, except to the extent that most do not in any way promote limiting progeny. But no matter the religious or cultural belief, everyone in every stratum must address the issue, or see their children's children die in pitiful circumstances (a strong statement, but I truly believe it to be true). Yes, it is that important, and yes most religions need to change their views. Not an easy task.  


In 1964 there were 13 prototype model 901 Porsche cars built (later to be re-identified as the 911), and in 1965 there were around 3350 total examples constructed when the 911 went on sale. Some examples of the 356 model were also assembled during this time-frame, but the numbers were small, because the 356 was being phased out and production of it ceased in April of 1965.

50 years later, Porsche anticipates sales of 200,000 cars maybe before the fourth quarter of 2015 appears, a record that was not expected to occur until 2018. Why is this good news relative to my experience of my elderly 911? These sales figures are nearly worshiped in most Porsche blogs and newsletters, but to me this is merely tribal - like football team fandom - and has no substance in any tangible, seat-of-the-pants form, except for money in the pockets of VW shareholders. So 2015 is a milestone year for Porsche, but let's look more closely at the larger picture. What does this represent?

Some of you, dear readers, will be annoyed, or disappointed, or surprised, etc., at what I am about to say, but I think it needs saying. Porsche epitomizes much of the problem that the world faces. Not that Porsche itself is responsible for vast regions of devastation, or slavery, or widespread theft, but outright innocence isn't part of the equation, either.

Of course you already know that Ferdinand Porsche designed the world's first petroleum-electric hybrid car in 1901 when he was in his early 20s, as an employee of Jakob Lohner & Company, an Austrian maker of carriages and automobiles. That was a very significant achievement. It was his job; that's how he made his living. He was a brilliant engineer, and although at a later point he built race cars even though he had no customers for them, he was in it for the money, of course. There is nothing wrong with that; it's normal and nearly inescapable, and it's how we do things on this planet. 

A bit of light comic relief: An early Porsche marketing effort (King Tut's tomb). Web photo © = ?

Today, with Porsche under Volkswagen ownership really big money is involved, and making massive profits is job number one. Sure, today's Porsche automobiles are fantastically capable; they are also fantastically profitable. Porsche's profit margins are beyond most any other automobile maker, save perhaps some ultra rare and bespoke marque that doesn't matter. Why is this?

People in the developed world want luxury. They want luxury clothing, luxury homes, luxury food, luxury skin, luxury cars, luxury hair, and luxury everything else. Much of what they get is junk, but they want luxury, and that actually means objects and services that they don't need at all. Marketers are the evil geniuses at work behind nearly all of this and they are extraordinarily accomplished at it.

Cars that offer extreme power/performance are wholly unnecessary, and frankly absurd. They can't be used to their lofty potentials on public roads, so along with their ├╝ber performance, and to make the package complete, they have become luxury-sports cars. The whole idea of them is a luxury, necessary for nothing but the delusion of the monied masses who wish to immerse themselves in high-speed opulence while they imagine that they are capable of actually using their car to its potentials. Total fiction at its finest. This statement won't win me any accolades from Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, but it's true.

(That said, I enjoy my engaging 41.5 year old 911; it let's me know who's boss. Please look at, "A Case for the Neo-Luddite Porsche," a post in this blog dated January, 2015. See the links in the sidebar. My car is a do-it-yourself project. It is uncomfortable in the extreme to drive; fun, but not at all luxury in today's view. That concept hadn't been marketed yet.)

Porsche of today, to me, is a supreme paradigm of indulgence gone over the top. The cars employ near wizardry in their conception and execution, and absolute witchery in the craft of charging obscene prices for 'must-have' options that should already be included in the stunning base prices of every model. Does this viewpoint on my part make me a true Luddite, complaining about 'them fancy cars'? Frankly, yes, it does, in a way. But not for the reasons some might expect. Nevertheless, a new Porsche = inescapable indulgence. The biggest selling model, the large and heavy Cayenne, is frankly a gas-hog. The planet Earth cannot afford this.

I use Porsche here as a broad example, but an excellent one, of consumer "need" for extravagant self-gratification, a disease that affects way too many in developed countries, causing them to lay waste to the resources of this planet - for no justifiable reason at all. And, the rest of the world's population (a large number of them at least) are increasingly guilty of such wants, too, since they suffer from the same weaknesses and are not blind to what the privileged possess. As a result, demands on the planet may increase at a rate exceeding the population's expansion.

The issue of over-population of the planet Earth is its greatest challenge. ISIS and similar filthy ilk come and go, politicians come and go, languages and countries come and go, economic systems come and go, political systems and dictates come and go, religions come and go. But the population keeps relentlessly growing, and the Earth is not growing. This cannot go on forever.

If we put a stop to it, and make rational use of what we have - instead of what we foolishly 'need' - maybe we will survive. If women are placed in charge of population density and subsequent retraction, we might just be able to operate Porsche automobiles that are fun to drive around, even as they are cleverly and responsibly concocted from dwindling, recycled leftovers of past fantasy growth and waste. It's possible. Or, Porsche just vanishes.    

Maybe that's enough.


In a paragraph in the beginning of Chapter Three I briefly allude to the fact that Porsche isn't responsible for ruining the planet completely by itself. However, since I am more familiar with all things Porsche than I am with many other comparable species, automotive and otherwise, I use Porsche, as I have said, as an example of a broad trend that is dangerous. This does not absolve Porsche and I do question some of its recent corporate ambitions, but don't confuse this with a fuming, Porsche-bashing diatribe. That's not what it is.

This post is, I hope it's clear, a lament about dire possibilities if our population continues to inflate and consume the Earth voraciously. We can drive Porsches, or not, but when our numbers, especially, and our manifold obsessions reach a critical mass it will be game over. 

We're lucky to be living now, rather than at some decaying time in the future when all of the problems of today have mightily inflated into unfathomable chaos and pain. Science, politics, religions - none of them will stave off the inevitable collapse caused by gigantic population growth. Stopping population buildup by empowering women to make more meaningful decisions over numbers and timing of children is the only realistic hope for the continuation of the "Human Experiment" and the marvels that it has the potential to produce.  It's time for new values, new ethics, new enlightenment, new cultures, and new restraints.

Not a simple task.


Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to this post, Jerome! I keep checking in to see if you posted it. Don't be too brutal - they just released the Cayman GT4!


J911 said...

Would that be the GT4 I'm going to win in the PCA raffle, Michel?

As I say in the subtitle up on top, "This blog offers essays on life as seen from that Porsche. . . " So, it will be a broad observation about the state of the planet and the consequences of human meddling with it, and how Porsche will be pulled along with the ebb and flow of the remainder of this century.

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I will be much more free to write in a couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to it, Jerome!

Good luck with the raffle,

Anonymous said...

Did you know:
In recent times,Malthus has been "debunked" by the scientific community.Seems he
did'nt take into account our astonishing ability to produce more and,
energy and population... How wonderful! Science has provided us with the ability
make 'old Tom,s estimates and calculations irrelevant! Population is free to grow
unrestrained... Apparently,our best minds feel that our destiny is to populate the entire galaxy, one ( or more ) planets at a time. Of course,this may lead to some
unimaginably large wars. Oh, wait. I've forgotten about SCIENCE again. Re-engineering
our genome is the answer! we'll re-engineer our basic instincts! I can sense the
frenzied excitement on Wall Street at the profits to be made from an entire galaxy!
So you see, controlling our manly desire to reproduce without limit is ultimatly
anti-business! Betcha did't think of that!

George G
I really enjoyed your thoughts on this.

J911 said...

Thanks, George. I was worried at first by your remarks until you sailed out into the galaxy, far, far away. I don't want to get Wall Street upset. . .