Vol. 5 No. 1 (2020)

The fractal biology of plague and the future of civilization

William Rees
University of British Columbia
This image of the cover of this issue of The Journal of Population and Sustainability has the title in block letters on a grey-green background.

Published 2020-12-01


  • pandemics,
  • CoViD-19,
  • SARS-CoV-2,
  • fractal geometric growth,
  • overshoot,
  • plague,
  • human population collapse
  • ...More

How to Cite

Rees, W. (2020). The fractal biology of plague and the future of civilization. Journal of Population and Sustainability, 5(1), 15–30. https://doi.org/10.3197/jps.2020.5.1.15


At the time of writing, the CoViD-19 pandemic was in its second wave with infections doubling every several days to two weeks in many parts of the world. Such geometric (or exponential) expansion is the hallmark of unconstrained population growth in all species ranging from submicroscopic viral particles through bacteria to whales and humans; this suggests a kind of ‘fractal geometry’ in bio-reproductive patterns. In nature, population outbreaks are invariably reversed by the onset of both endogenous and exogenous negative feedback – reduced fecundity, resource shortages, spatial competition, disease, etc., serve to restore the reference population to below carrying capacity, sometimes by dramatic collapse. H. sapiens is no exception – our species is nearing the peak of a fossil-fueled ~200 year plague-like population outbreak that is beginning to trigger serious manifestations of negative feedback, including climate change and CoViD-19 itself. The human population will decline dramatically; theoretically, we can choose between a chaotic collapse imposed by nature or international cooperation to plan a managed, equitable contraction of the human enterprise.


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