By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Energy
The United Nations predicts a global population of seven billion before 2012. It's a ticking time bomb, Robert Engelman writes.
The United Nations population division recently predicted that the global population of humans would reach seven billion by Halloween.
We have every reason to be concerned about that figure, Worldwatch Institute executive director Robert Engelman says.
Writing in Yale's Environment 360, Engelman notes that humanity has tacked on an additional one billion people in a mere 12 years. (In the last 60 years, we've added a breathtaking 4.5 billion people.) Meanwhile, our food supply and energy reserve has not expanded to keep pace.
In a lengthy essay, Engelman outlines several reasons why the trend spells trouble.
Here are seven of them:
- The sheer size of our population requires us to care about our impact on the rest of the world's ecosystems. "We must care, ever more with each generation, how much we as individuals are out of sync with environmental sustainability," he writes.
- Counter to the hype, it's not your fault directly. "Our diets, our modes of moving, and our urge to keep interior temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what is happening outside — none of these make us awful people. It's just that collectively, these behaviors are moving basic planetary systems into danger zones."
- Density may boost sustainability, but that won't solve the real problem. "Space, of course, has never been the issue. The impacts of our needs, greeds, and wants are. We should bemoan — and aggressively address — the gross inequity that characterizes individual consumption around the world."
- Get real: you can't green yourself out of existence. "We should also acknowledge that over the decades-long span of most human lifetimes, most of us are likely to consume a fair amount, regardless of where and how we live; no human being, no matter how poor, can escape interacting with the environment, which is one reason population matters so much."
- China's growth is just one piece of the puzzle. "More immediately worrisome from an environmental perspective, of course, is that the United States and the industrialized world as a whole still have growing populations, despite recent slowdowns in the growth rate, while already living high up on the per-capita consumption ladder."
- Water scarcity is the canary in the coal mine. "Fresh water is now shared so thinly that the United Nations Environment Program projects that in just 14 years two thirds of the world's population will be living in countries facing water scarcity or stress."
- The bottom line: we're out-of-balance with our surroundings. "We appropriate anywhere from 24 percent to nearly 40 percent of the photosynthetic output of the planet for our food and other purposes, and more than half of its accessible renewable freshwater runoff."
Sobering words, indeed. But anyone can criticize. Who will be bold enough to suggest -- and enact -- solutions?
Engelman rightly notes that fear won't help anyone, and we can't stop inevitable global population growth in the short term. What we can do, however, is "put in place conditions that will support an early end to growth."
His two suggestions:
- Lower birth rates simply by letting women decide to become pregnant for themselves.
- Reduce energy, water, and materials consumption through conservation, efficiency, and green technologies.
The problem as I see it is economic; that is, where's the leverage? This is a long-term economic strategy that comes at the expense of short-term economic gains -- a hard sell when nations are competing against each other to their own apparent long-term detriment.
In the age of globalization, can we work toward a common goal? First we may need a global organization that has the teeth to enforce it.
The World at 7 Billion: Can We Stop Growing Now? [Yale E360]
Illustration: Anders Sandberg/Flickr
Jul 19, 2011
I am sorry to say that there is no solution. We do not have the capability or even the will to do anything about it even if we want to. We are not designed to live in a balance and harmony with anything. We are living (for some of us) the best of the last few hundred years, so those that can, enjoy what you got or not and just wait patienly for the end...
What are You Doing? If we all ~ Do One Thing... Be the Solution, not the Problem.... It would make a world of difference....
Read 'Plan B' or 'World on the Edge' by Lester Brown. The author corroborates the conclusions of this article and gives great detail, and the 2nd half of the book offers what may be our best hope for a plan to save the planet and civilization. Although time is running short and from where we sit today things look quite grim ... it is possible to make historic change of the magnitude, and at the speed, required. Brown sites the American miracle of 1942 & 1943 when we were an incredibly strong industrial power and the World's premier manufacturer entering WWII; it was nothing short of miraculous how we turned our industrial base ON A DIME to stop manufacturing EVERYTHING we'd previously made to retool all our factories to produce war necessities. The change of our energy systems & lifestyles needed today CAN be done, but we need to change the paradigm, get folks informed on the science, and defeat this evil iteration of the Republican party that is so dedicated to lying about the facts. If we can mobilize to do this .... an incredibly BRIGHT future is possible. The key to success: this change must happen at wartime speed! http://www.earth-policy.org/
Firstly, I think we could convince the giant agribusiness corporations under elite control to somehow inundate global agriculture with genetically engineered food crops that cause sterility and increased infant mortality. Of course, we wouldn't tell the public about the plan. Oops. Already been done. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-smith/genetically-modified-soy_b_544575.html http://www.truthistreason.net/children-of-the-corn-gmo-sterility-and-spermicides Well, we could always have the giant petrochemical corporations under elite control add to nearly every single plastic consumer product a hormone-like chemical that causes infertility. Of course, we wouldn't tell the public about the plan. Oops. That's already been going on for more than 50 years. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8093585/Bisphenol-A-now-linked-to-male-infertility.html I suppose we could persuade the giant pharmaceutical corporations and international agencies under elite control to develop and deploy birth control vaccines that are disguised as "normal" and helpful vaccines, such as the tetanus vaccine. Of course, we wouldn't tell the public about the plan. Oops. Turns out someone's already been there, done that. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12346214 http://www.thinktwice.com/birthcon.htm Perhaps we should encourage the giant military/industrial complex under elite control to develop and deploy munitions that are made out of radioactive uranium (with a 4 billion-year half-life) so that, whenever there's a war, there'd be a good opportunity to spread across entire regions of the globe an eternal legacy of cancer, infertility, and horrific birth defects. Of course, we'd tell the public it was safe. Oops. Already being done. http://www.warchildren.org/hidden_killer.html http://ruthgordonmcgillmd.com/Home/InterviewRokke.pdf Boy, I thought I was just brimming with novel solutions to the overpopulation "problem," but it seems like in every case I've been beaten to the punch by the oligarchic super-elite of the world. Oh wait, has anyone thought of this idea? Let's just dismantle the global system of feudalistic, fractional-reserve, debt-based, central bank slavery; and allow the poor countries to develop. Their birthrate would quickly fall to below replacement, just as it has in every developed country on the planet... ...but that just doesn't seem to be deliciously evil enough, am I right?
Once upon a time women have been in charge of birthcontrol. They had the herbs, the knowledge to do it in secret, do it themselve. Than those women been burned, tortured for their knowledge. In Millions. Called witches. Today still women are burned and tortured for having the knowledge of healing and birthcontrol. This is the source of all population problems in the world. Once upon a time if a woman gave birth to 8 children only 2 would get 20 years. Today we get 100 years. All of us! The question is what do we want? Live 200 years? Medical treatments to make live longer. Making infertale women unnatural pregnant? We have played a stupid game and now we pay for it!
There is room enough and resources enough for more than 7 billion people on this planet. Simple human greed is the problem. In the US we throw away more food than is consumed in some countries. We are corpulent and obese due to our society encouraging over-consumption. Food-eating contests? Where else but here. We use more oil, coal and electricity than everywhere else. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways in which we could live comfortably without being piggish. The fault lies not in our loins but in ourselves.
This serves as a wake up call to all of us, and I suggest we do just that! Wake UP! All the debating and fussing is really unnecessary and very unproductive. It would be nice if we would use this information in making more responsible and sustainable choices individually. I have children and grandchildren and my biggest fear is for them, as to what they will be dealing with long after I'm gone. What are we leaving them? It's not about how many children we should have or not, It's about making strong solutions and getting a handle on our environment issues and resources. Our focus should be on Solutions, and the Future and what we can do now for the betterment of the world! Wake Up, the clock is ticking and won't stop for us to argue or make decisions!
I also blame Catholicism, Mormonism and all of the others that go forth and preach to "be fruitful and multiply". Follow the money trail. Preaching to increase the population of your cult will also increase the membership and it's far cheaper to breed new members than it is to convert or recruit them. Why do you think the Pope is so involved in sub-Sahara Africa? The least educated and most superstitious are the feeding ground of the church. A population that has a high incidence of HIV and they are being told not to use condoms. That is the disconnect. You want to solve the population crisis? Improve education. It has been proven statistically that the better educated the population the lower the birth rate. (especially when those educated are women). Or we'll just have to wait for the next pandemic.
Did you know if you took all the people in the world - all 7 billion. They would fit in the state of Texas with a population density the same as the city of San Francisco. It is a myth that we are running out of space and resources
Our infrastructure is very fragile now. It's getting weaker, and the load on it is getting heavier. I can't conceive of any way the world will decide to limit population growth and reduce the load on its resources, short of aliens or divine intervention. So we go the way of the rats... We've had major plaques and collapse of civilization before, just this next one will be of much greater magnitude... We aren't even close to a sustainable lifestyle, and in fact, going away from it at an accelerating pace. An economy based on infinite expansion/profit for success, has to crash eventually, as all resources are finite, and all systems break down eventually with increasing loads.
Firstly, if we were to move the entire population to South Africa and give the entire world population 30mX30m square property, there would be room left in South Africa while the rest of the planet is empty. Secondly, with the advances in the 80s with Gene Spinning and more recent cloning techniques, the only consideration on available food is the desire not quantity even for a growing population. Water? We have the technology to purify water of all pollutants...all, through Ozonation and Black Mica all drinking water can be purified. With the use of large dehumidifiers we can create enough water to supply water for large populations in areas where water is harder to come by. Everything they tell us is an excuse to convince people that we need to "cull" the population, with everything at our finger tips and all it takes is the desire...I think the problem is "Who is conning the population to believe there is a problem, and why?". Not "how do we cull the population in the most humane way?".
If anyone thinks that the Earth can provide for unbridled human procreation, then they are wrong and read a very good analysis of what has happened to past civilizations in "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
"Fresh water is now shared so thinly that the United Nations Environment Program projects that in just 14 years two thirds of the world's population will be living in countries facing water scarcity or stress." The UN is to blame for most of this problem. If they did not artificially support population growth in Africa there would not be food and water shortages in a part of the world that cannot support 1 billion people.
People are not like rats. Rats generally do not start killing each other when the going gets rough. What will happen when there are too many people and not enough food is war. If the war is nuclear, it will be the end of life as we know it on this planet. If it is "conventional" warfare, it will be disastrous but will cull the population to mare sustainable levels. There is not much that can be done about third world overgrowth. There may be a plague, mass starvation, or other disasters. When Europe was relatively overpopulated for their technology in the middle ages, bubonic plague corrected it by killing off 25% of the human population. What we have coming will make that pale in comparasion. Enjoy the time you have left, and be ever watchful, because armageddon is inevetible. Our fate is not really in our hands.
Nice to see you again Mr. Malthus. I'd thought you had been debunked almost 200 years ago, but here we are again. Every time world population approaches an arbitrary milestone, the doomsayers trot out the same tired predictions of imminent catastrophe. The reason they have been wrong, repeatedly, for 200 years is that none of their oh-so-scientific calculations ever seem to account for the remarkable ingenuity of the very people they would prefer did not exist. And here the "chicken little" folks are again, this time clothed as climate change / environmental worriers. Well, they were wrong in Malthus' day -- food did not run out. And they are wrong today. Of course, holier-than-thou armageddon-tromping is irresistible to a certain sort of meddler. So carry on. The rest of us will be ok.
The problem with dealing with human population is that to make a difference would entail either making the situation worse by being nice or doing those things that are morally reprehensible that would let people die. I have a feeling that nature will handle the overpopulation.
London discovered that city density living could not be scaled up because the infrastructure could not cope. Admittedly that was before the motor car (but after the railways). The problem wasn't the housing density; it was shifting all the horse manure. Put 7 billion people in Texas and you will have problems getting everything they need in, and all their waste out.
Is what you are talking about. Also, every physical resource that our civilzation uses has a short timeline showing when we will run out of it...
Except that I'm not convinced that the aim is to encourage a humane culling. I'm sure the problem is very real in the minds of those promoting it simply because they're thinking linearly about multiple non-linear data points. We just need to better educate people on the matter, promote understanding of building a more complete model than simply 'the population is still rising!'
I have heard this argument before, but it discounts what was stated in the original article- the human-life footprint has to take into account energy inputs from a much greater land area than 30 x 30 meters. That means the photosynthetic footprint; the watershed area used to collect your water; even the plants and sea organisms required to supply breathable air. As far as a technological fix, one must consider the present and proximal future, within the timeframe of a population growth crisis. We'll hit a crisis figure pretty damn soon, and I'm afraid LONG before cloning and filtering our food and water are readily available. Cloning a food source will still require heavy inputs of raw materials, filtering water will still require massive infrastructure to keep pace with population, and as others have stated, these inputs require ENERGY. I simply don't believe we'll get past the "crunch" where our population curve intersects the limits of our resources. I would love it if we switched from an oil-dependent society to a thorium reactor/wind/solar-based one...but we need the oil NOW to get us there - you can't mine thorium (yet) with electric equipment; you can't forge the alloys (yet) required for alternative energy source equipment without petroleum hydrocarbons; you can't (yet) make nitrogen fertilizer without a natural gas feedstock. In reference to Diamond's "Collapse" book, we're like the Easter Islanders building fires and statue-carts with the remaining trees, instead of crafting canoes with them which would provide another food source from the sea. As resources, whether oil, water, or food become scarcer, you can bet that they'll also be hoarded as symbols of societal status.
The United Nations and other agencies are increasing Africa's population by decreasing childhood deaths from common and preventable diseases and conditions. The Gates Foundation has put big bucks into this as well. If Africa had the transportation infrastructure it would have developed had it not been divided and held by European countries for their own benefit, it would be much more like the US. China is moving aggressively (and US corporations through China) to buy up and combine land that was divided and subdivided by the tribal structure to be given to the ever-expanding families. Unfortunately, they want the land to grow what they want, not what Africans want - or need. Land in the Sahel is not very usable, and there is already a shortage of water in much of Africa. None of this was caused by the UN.
...of the self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. They demand money be extracted from us to create a problem, and then demand money be extracted by us to solve the problem they create while blaming the problem upon us in the first place. Again, it is our fault, but not because we're"already living high up on the per-capita consumption ladder." It's because we subsidize, then tolerate the cycle. If it weren't for our success and affluence, the UN wouldn't even exist.
Technology has pushed the problem into the future but there is a limit to how much technology can do. Malthus based his beliefs on the farm production methods of his time, we were able to use mechanical power to replace the animals used to plow and cultivate crops. Currently, corn is being used to make fuel at the cost of increasing grain prices. The Arab Spring rebellion was started by the poor who could not get enough food. Currently, oil is heavily used in farming. Oil runs the tractors and trucks, oil is used to make the tires that the tractors and trucks use, oil is used to make the fertilizers that helped increase crop yields and oil is used to transport the crops to population centers. If oil was plentiful then this use of technology could last another century or so; but oil is getting harder to extract and the cost of oil goes higher. Higher oil costs increases the cost of food. Malthus has not been disproved, only delayed.
Not long after I first evaluating this problem, I came to the same conclusion. Historically, there have been 3 ways that this problem has been addressed. The most common, at least in recent centuries, unfortunately, has been war. (Wars are usually conflicts over access to natural resources) Wars have been terribly effective at thinning out populations. Then there is nature, which does it through disease or natural disaster, or both. Of course, the least likely is a "managed" approach. Generally, history has not viewed those responsible for the best known "managed" approaches very favorably outside of certain extremist circles. Personally, I find it disturbing to have to consider Stalin or Mao as ecological heroes.
When someone comes to me who has not informed himself properly about the truth in this world that we live in, it seems rather ignorant and inappropriate to come onto me in such a manner. The "we" I so gallantly refer to is myself and those whom are with me. The "they" I so gallantly refer to are those whom are at the top of the food chain, from Illuminati to Jesuits, freemasons, mormons and all of the groups where at the higher levels they know things that no one knows but them. The Illuminati are the elite who own all world banks (and the World Bank, IMF, United Nations, CFR, etc, not to mention 7/8ths of the worlds wealth). I realize that you will scoff...but before you make too big a fool out of yourself, why don't you ask yourself one simple question. "who is Benjemine Creme?"
We use magnetic energy to power our home and businesses, we produce our own water out of the humidity in the air (under $5000 investment), solar and wind is way too expensive and unreliable. So many people have been murdered for coming out with technology that will elevate most of mans woes, they deliberately feed us garbage and make it illegal to sell "clean" food. It is not that hard or expensive on resources if one is willing to look...As far as breathable air goes, if humankind is all in South Africa, let's fill the rest of Africa with rain forest...that will handle the breathable air problem. And my stated 30mX30m was very understated, we could fit 10 times seven billion people and still have room left over in the country of South America.
After this burst of independence most of Africa broke down into civil wars. From 1960 to the late 1980s Africa saw more than 70 military coups and over a dozen national leaders assassinated. With few exceptions, most African nations have taken steps backwards in development since the colonial powers pulled out after WW II. Poorly managed trillion of dollars in humanitarian aid pumped into Africa has funded much of the fighting. Many nations in Africa have stopped operating as normal societies having become dependent on the necessities of life being given to them. Locals will not buy locally grown food when free food is available. When the food aid is shut off by the many warring factions you have people starve because the local farmers have quit selling food and grow just enough for subsistence. That brings out more violence when starving people start murdering the farmers for food and then fighting over the food. With fewer farmers the vicious cycle accelerates.
...when the UN is so capable of demonstrating its silliness on its very own: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/20/un-green-helmets_n_904503.html They're currently debating trading in the traditional blue helmets for their peeacekeeping forces for green ones to "send a strong signal" about the threats of "climate change". I assure you, that if you are living somewhere that is such a hell-hole that UN "peacekeepers" are your only hope, you've got far bigger problems than "climate change". This has been my point from the beginning of the "global warming" political agenda; People who are poor, starving, and living under oppressive and corrupt governments don't give a rats ass about "climate change". Only affluent societies who have traveled up the Maslow curve have the luxury of doing so. As we start sliding back down that curve and becoming "poor" again, the environment will suffer as much as we do.
Technology can solve some things, but it can not advance fast enough for the third world countries without severe birth control measures, which most people would not willingly submit to or vote to use... at least, not until the rate of death from starvation and dehydration starts affecting some first world countries.
It's always the same ... some new problem (for example, your oil / farming link) presents itself and the doom and gloom chorus once again trots out the tired old refrain that THIS TIME catastrophe is imminent. And don't you know, THIS TIME, the chorus is wrong again and human ingenuity comes through. It is always a mistake to bet against the innovation and creativity possible when mankind is unleashed. Of course, we could instead trust to some man-made rules or a feel-good institution (the UN, perhaps). But bureaucrats and committees -- local, national or global -- have a pretty poor track record compared with free men unleashed to create and invent and problem-solve. Of course, you don't get to pass any feel good laws ... you just get solutions ... every time.
The human population growth recovers very quickly. This we recognize as a problem. The fix is way beyond us. The complexity is in fact way beyond our primative minds. (The homosapien brain is only about 80,000 years in developement . Which is a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms.) In chaos theory the 80:20 rule shows that 79.68% of the Universe is chaotic and only 20.32% is order out of the chaos. We can grasp only +-20%. We are totally unaware of the other +-80% of reality. We can only do the best we can. Sorry to have to put the human condition in such a negative reality.
A small scale version of controlling population vs resources is the movie "Life Boat". A ship sinks and the passengers and crew are lost at sea in a life boat. The captain maintains order until the resources become too little to support the group; he starts eliminating people according to his criteria. At the end there is a face off that ends with rescue, the captain observes that if they had to survive another day that the survivors would have thanked him. That is the dilemma with having such a huge human population. Most of the natural ecological niches have a balance between predators and prey; humans do not have that balance.
It was also unfortunate that as the various African colonies (with borders artificially created by the occupying colonial powers) were set free by their western overseers, Marxism was emerging as the ideology du jour in elite western universities where most of the future leaders of these liberated countries were being educated. As for farming: The recent "economic justice" perpetrated in Zimbabwe (formerly a net-exporter of food) where the successful farmers were run out or murdered to be replaced with farmers representing "the people" should be enough of a textbook example of how not to manage an economy.
The biggest thing to do about water is to move excess (flooding) to the areas that need it (drought areas). When we can economically do that then we have solved some of the problem. Just this year Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico go wanting for rain/water, yet the upper midwest has flooding problems due to rain and winter precipitation melt runoff. We have had flooding problems here in Oklahoma as well. One could probably turn the Arizona desert into a fertile area with enough water. Another idea from Scince Fiction is to populate habitable worlds, or at least set up colonies on the moon, Mars...
But I fear there can be no master plan. Remember. All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely
But I fear there can be no master plan. Remember. All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely
@AlanLaRue, You have it. Add to that what futurists suggest and predict that for the human species to survive, we must ultimately emigrate to the skies (where else) and beyond ... and then the show will go on and on and on ... ad infinitum.
there is more than enough for a long time yet in the sun and the gravitational energy of the moon to keep solar, wind, tidal and geothermal sources going. If we're clever enough we don't need nuclear. The problems are food, space, quality of life and systems resilience. Envisage 7 billion, 70 billion, 700 billion - somewhere the solution becomes so technologically complex that long term it cannot work. There has to be a stable and sustainable master plan. Once we have that we can manage our growth. Without it, however clever we think we are, we are passengers on nature's train. And nature's solutions to these problems are ruthlessly unattractive.
I'm going to have to agree to an extent. Before the hand-wringing was finished over the dung in the streets of New York City, the automobile eliminated the problem. Now, the automobile IS the problem. But what makes people think this problem will not be overcome by technology? In 50 years we may be completely powered by Thorium reactor power plants. In 10 years, we may have electric automobiles with a range of 1000 miles, and we'll look back at the old days when we had to fill our gasoline tanks every week and talk about how primitive life was by comparison. Solution to the fresh water problem? I have no idea, but that doesn't mean we won't find one. Perhaps 25 years from now the Rio Grande will be grand once again, due to mankind's ingenuity. Maybe right now all of the food sent to poor countries preserves lives, but dooms those people to lives of poverty; in the future we'll have figured out ways to improve the quality of life, as well. Is this not Bill Gates' goal, to raise the standard of living everywhere? And part of that goal entails reducing consumption of natural resources. How can it be done? We don't know yet, but we're working on it.
We have always escaped, so are we immortal? Many things that have not yet happened are inevitable. One day our planet might be as barren as all the others. I would like to think we have a choice ...
Optimism is good and a better way to think than pessimism. The entire human race is betting large on human ingenuity and engineering to solve all our problems. Our most intractable problems have layers of politics and a lack of agreement on the desired outcome. My point about oil is that it was a large factor in the agricultural expansion. Oil is in everything. Two years ago there was an economic shock when oil prices shot up to $140 per barrel; this year the prices soared almost as high. The future of oil is that it will go much higher and that will make food production costs go higher and the cost of food will go higher. Oil is still abundant but it is a finite resource that is being used at a faster rate. Oil has helped raise the human population to 7 billion and without oil or a substitute, the 7 + billion population will be unsustainable. I am optimistic that there can be a high level of civilization without oil; mankind lived that way more than a century ago. We can be intelligent and use oil only for the most important reasons, to grow and distribute food.
Is there anyplace on Earth, where the reference to "Soylent Green is people" will go over people's heads?
Somewhere someone is eating it and turning it into human protein. Maybe this is part of the sixth mass extinction.
...how many folks actually understood that particular reference (and I ain't talking about the "Lifeboat"). :-)
Although I'm not sure we're at the "lifeboat" stage yet, unless the exponential growth of population does not slow at some point, we may find ourselves there. But look at the bright side: Soylent Green IS people.