Sunday, May 20, 2007

Too Many People, Not Enough Earth.

I found this article at

In the days of sailing ships, sailors used to leave goats on islands for fresh meat on return trips. The animals bred fast, ate all the vegetation and began to starve. They also screwed up the environment so that native species couldn't survive. The lesson of the goats applies to humans and point out how our "island" has suffered. There is pollution, falling water tables, climate change and extinction of wild plants and animals. We've created this problem because we've had virtually free energy in the form of fossil fuels. Climate change is a sign that we are exceeding the number of people Earth can sustain. Every year, at least 91 million humans are born in excess of those who die. Earth's carrying capacity is thought to be somewhere in the range of 4 billion to 5 billion people. There are 6.5 billion of us. No one is sure what the magic number is. You might have 50 billion, but the quality of life might not be pleasing. If the 1.3 million residents of Franklin County had to live on the resources the county could provide, only about 100,000 would live here. We happily import the vast majority of our needs. The US has the resources to sustain less than half of its current population of 300 million. Americans, who make up 5% of the world's population, use 25% of its resources. If all 6 billion people were to share the world's resources equally, Americans would have to reduce consumption by 80% for each of us. Carrying capacity is tied to the global economy, which has quadrupled since the world's population doubled. That leads to a fear that slowing population growth might not curb greenhouse gas production if more people achieve Western lifestyles. People ask how many people the Earth can sustain. It depends on whether you want to live like an Indian or an American. For example, farmers worldwide grow about 2 billion tons of grain every year. Each American consumes an average of 1,760 pounds annually, mainly because of the grains used to feed farm animals. If everyone on the planet consumed that much grain, Brown said, Earth would support about 2.5 billion people. In India, people consume about 440 pounds each. If everyone else in the world did likewise, the world's grain would support about 10 billion people. Growing 1 ton of grain requires 1,000 tons of water. There are water shortages in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. As water is diverted from agriculture to support growing urban populations. Soybeans are in demand for biodiesel and ethanol production vies with food for corn. By 2008, half of the U.S. corn crop may go to ethanol. 70% of all corn imports in the world come from the U.S. This competition for energy and food will change the landscape. We don't have enough land worldwide to meet those demands for food, fuel and materials that already consumes more trees and crops than are being grown worldwide. Humans are drawing on capital rather than interest, and once that is exhausted, they will find Mother Nature reluctant to make a loan.


Anonymous Bonita said...

Well said.

October 27, 2008 2:20 PM  

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