Accelerating to What Exactly?

Richard (Rick) Mills

Ahead of the Herd

Page 1 of 2

 

As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information

 

We humans have been changing the world around us for tens of thousands of years. It’s pretty much what we do, we shape and we change the existing environment through design and then indifference to the results of our actions.

 

The sheer scale and lightning fast speed of change since the 1950s has been almost unbelievable. So incredible and so sweeping are the changes scientists call the last 65 or so years the ‘Great Acceleration’.

 

Our exploding population, our accelerating demand for the world’s treasures (it’s natural resources) our ‘who cares’ attitude towards pollution and habitat destruction are all increasing what were once tolerable pressures towards, and sometimes already beyond, the breaking point in ecosystems all over the world.

 

Just a mere 114 years ago the world’s human population stood at 1.6 billion people. Today it’s over 7.2 billion and on the way, according to the U.N., to 9.6 billion Earthlings by 2050 – that’s 68.5 million people expected to be born every year between 2015 and 2050.

 

 

 

The UN’s low variant for 2100 is 6.7 billion people, its high variant is 16.6 billion, the median is 11 billion.

 

“The basic trouble with all long-range population projections is that they are driven by assumptions about birth levels—and there is still no reliable method for predicting fertility levels a generation from now, to say nothing of a century hence.” Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute

 

Population growth is slowing down, but it isn’t stopping and it isn’t going to reverse over the next 35 years.

 

“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.” Thomas Malthus, 1798. An essay on the principle of population

 

Taking the opposite position is Ester Boserup, an agricultural economist who says population growth is the driver of land productivity - our planet’s human-carrying capacity is based on the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than environmental limits.

 

One, two or 7 billion people on a planet with a human carrying capacity of say Borland’s, the father of the Green Revolution, ten billion should have plenty of room to be productive.

 

Dismissing environmental limits to second place doesn’t give me much comfort moving forward. It seems a little shortsighted. The earth might be big enough for one billion people, four billion maybe even eight or nine. But there is a number where we will demand more than the earth can supply. Some say that number has long since been surpassed…

 

Ecological Overshoot

 

For most of human history there is no doubt we were consuming resources at a rate far lower than what the planet was able to regenerate.

 

Unfortunately we have crossed a critical threshold. The demand we are now placing on our planets resources appears to have begun to outpace the rate at which nature can replenish them.

 

The gap between human demand and supply is known as ecological overshoot. To better understand the concept think of your bank account – in it you have $5000.00 paying monthly interest. Month after month you take the interest plus $100. That $100 is your financial, or for our purposes, your ecological overshoot and its withdrawal is obviously unsustainable.

 

Humans are currently withdrawing more natural resources then our Earth bank is able to provide on a sustainable basis. How much more? At today’s rate of withdrawal we need another half earth. We’re on track to require the resources of two planets by 2050.

 

If today, everyone on earth were to start consuming the same amount of natural  resources as the average American we’d need 3.9 planets.

 

Source: WWF/Global Footprint Network, 2014

WWF/Global Footprint Network


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