Can We Feed 9 Billion People?

The world’s population is projected to pass 9 billion in 2050. An important new study asks the question: Can nine billion people be fed sustainably?


The Agrimonde project, organized by France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and International Agricultural Research for Development Center (CIRAD) has been researching this question for several years. The final report, Scenarios and Challenges for Feeding the World in 2050, was released this week.

The researchers compared two scenarios.

  • Agrimonde GO is based on the “Global Orchestration” framework of the UN’s Millenium Ecosystem Assessment:  agriculture would continue to develop as it has in past decades.
  • Agrimonde 1 involves “increasing yields by using the ecological and biological functionalities of ecosystems to the greatest possible extent.”

A complex model examined the year-by-year impact of these approaches to 2050, in six regions: Middle East-North Africa; sub-Saharan Africa; Latin America; Asia; former Soviet Union; and OECD countries.

The project aimed not only to see if agriculture could  provide the minimum number of calories to support life, but also ensure that each person has access to a healthy and balanced diet produced by systems that respect the environment, bearing in mind the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels, and taking social needs into account.

The report concludes that both scenarios would produce enough food, but that the Agrimonde GO scenario would lead to significant environmental degradation. Agrimonde 1 would allow production to expand sustainably, if three conditions are met:

  • The food model that now prevails in industrialized countries must be changed, and not extended elsewhere. Changes required include reducing excessive food consumption, eliminating food loss and wastage, which currently amounts to 25% in the OECD countries.
  • Agricultural production must become ecologically sound.  Changes required include the implementation of more ecologically friendly production processes, and more efficient use of  fossil fuels. Agricultural must take advantage both of the latest scientific advances and of traditional agricultural knowledge.
  • The international trade in agricultural and food products must become more reliable. Trade between the OECD countries, the former USSR, and Latin America on one hand, and Africa, Asia and the Middle East, needs to be regulated for greater stability.

The full report will be published in English and French next month. It can be ordered from the publisher, Editions Quae. Price: 50 euros.

Posted in Books & Reports, Food and Farming, Population
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Jeff White
5 years 7 months ago

That’s right, Christine.

A world based on capitalism can’t even feed the population we have now, nor could it feed a quarter of the population we have now (as we know historically it didn’t back when we only had 1.5 billion people – in 1900 – and half a billion of them were starving), and it’s not just because of the limits of physics or technology, but because of the way capitalism impoverishes the many for the benefit of the few. It’s simply the way capitalism works.

Unless you’re among the tiny privileged minority of the world’s population, you definitely don’t want to live in a world of 9 billion people if capitalism still has the earth in its deadly grasp.

This is why the urgency is not just to fight against climate change, but to fight for climate justice – which in my view can only mean ecosocialism.

Christine Rodgers
5 years 7 months ago

Just at a quick glance, it seems that we are facing the turning point here. If we continue on as we are, we WON’T feed 9 billion people.

Or if the people of the world wake up, take power away from the few at the top and use the newest discoveries from science to develop a system for living on the planet that respects all life and nurtures planetary health while quickly transforming our whole infrastructure, not to mention transforming the world view of most humans on the planet within a decade or two, then we will be OK if not great. There isn’t much in between.

It is not that we DON’T have the knowledge or ability, it is that the chances are good we won’t pull it off. It will have to be from the bottom up and it will have to happen soon. (I include the middle class in the “bottom” which includes the scientists, artist, scholars, intellectuals, technicians, tradespeople, workers, craftspeople and the poor.) This COULD happen and it is the ONLY thing that will feed even the population that we have today. I’ll work for it and believe in it but I’m not going to bet on it.

Jeff White
5 years 7 months ago

Prof. Wiseman might want to take a look at the WWF’s 2010 Living Planet Report. At page 37 it shows ecological footprint numbers for most countries. The USA and Canada are around 7 or 8 ha (hectares) per person while the vast majority of other countries are well below 3 ha.

The “population terrorists” like to scare us by asking us to imagine a world of 9 billion people all having a North American-style ecological footprint. It seems that somehow between now and 2100 not only is the world to become a place of complete equality of wealth and lifestyle (the populationists never explain how this will come about, but it never seems to involve a worldwide movement away from capitalist inequality and exploitation) but also the current North American high levels of resource consumption and waste will become the worldwide standard for everyone. It’s a bizarre fantasy that would make the most crass utopian blush.

It never occurs to the population terrorists that by 2100 the majority of the world’s people might be living somewhat as do the Cubans tiday, for example, with their per capita footprint of less than 2 ha, without having to suffer mass dieoffs and widespread starvation and misery, or having to lay waste to their environment in the process. And it never seems to occur to them that North America (and here I exclude Mexico) is only able to maintain its absurdly high environmental footprint at the expense of the rest of the world, and that to continue it would be impossible without keeping much of the world in poverty and exploitation.

Nor does it seem to occur to them that another kind of society – different from capitalism – could function with a much lower ecological footprint, while providing for the well-being of all its members. It would be a society where more than half of agricultural produce did not go to waste, as it does in ours, or where solar and wind energy provided almost all our energy needs, or where production of goods and services was geared to meeting human needs, rather than enriching the few who are owners of capital. The environmental footprint of such a society would be quite different from what we see today.

We are not prisoners of our biology. We are not slaves to the laws of physics, as “GM” would have us believe. We are capable of living good lives while at the same time treading lightly upon the earth. As the Bard said, “Men at some time are masters of their fates”.

D. Reid Wiseman
5 years 8 months ago

The earth’s surface area = 510 million square kilometers … 30% land = 150 million sqaure kilometers …. 100 hectares-per-square-km = 150 X 10-to-the-eighth-hectares …. assume “ecological footprint” per-inhabitant-of-a- industrial and/or post-industrial society of 24 acres = 10 hectares per-person …. divide this into the land surface of our planet of 150 X 10-to-the-eighth-hectares = 1500 million people = 1.5 billion global population! Area includes the dry valleys of Antarctica, Death Valley, Namib desert, et cetera. What may we conclude? Does not James Lovelock project a human population of 500 million in a 100 years? Only 50? The Bard: we “as foolishly compounded clay.” We suffer from an untreatable case of struthianism.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Christine Rodgers on January 29th, 2011 5:18 pm
I’m thinking GM doesn’t get upset because people DISAGREE with him. He gets upset because people don’t UNDERSTAND what he is trying to get across. It seems they respond to something they thought he MEANT. I bet he is fine with someone disagreeing AFTER they understand. Usually they respond in ways that show they didn’t see what he was saying in the first place. I could be wrong but….

Thanks!

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Christine Rodgers on January 29th, 2011 5:04 pm
A few more tips:
-Winning points in a discussion or argument will never fix the problems we are up against. Got any other ideas?

There isn’t anything that can be done at this point. The only way change of the type that would make a difference can be implemented on time is from on top. In the same time, there is no way a sufficient amount of both power and understanding can be concentrated “on top” to make that happen. So we will never get past debating these things.

-Let’s agree that attacking an organized religion is OK. Let’s agree not to take it personally but agree not to attack anyones personal spirituality itself. That IS personal. Organized religion has surely caused a great many of mankind’s problems. However many “spiritual” individuals have lived lives of sacrifice, dedicated to curing the world’s ills. And there is scientific evidence that many of us have genes for spiritual states which make us healthy and happy, but which fact does NOT prove or disprove the existence of God. (Sorry, can’t cite any sources at the moment and to be fair should probably go find one.)

I think you refer to SLC18A2/VMAT2. That’s a gene a variant for which is weakly (and the evidence for that is very suspect) correlated with religiosity. I would personally never use that as an argument for anything since it’s probably not even true, the methodology wasn’t sound at all and the effect is small.

Personal or not, religion is doing too much damage on the collective sanity of humanity to be allowed to continue its existence. Some people can barely balance religion with rationality (a lot of those usually given as examples for that actually fail to do so in a very spectacular manner), but the vast majority are firmly and irreversibly into la-la land.

If religion is not attacked, it will never disappear, simple as that. And it has to be exposed as the falsehood it is from an early age, preferably even before kid go to school., but definitely in school too, all of that strongly coupled with a lot of effort invested in the development of critical thinking abilities in children. Communists tried to eradicate religion but they forgot about the critical thinking part (you don’t want to raise the next generation to be critical thinkers if you are trying to run an oppressive regime; even though raising a generation of critical thinkers and rationally explaining to them why the system you try to develop is good for them may well have been the better approach) and as soon as communism collapsed, religion came back strong.

GM
5 years 8 months ago
But nature produces systems that function very differently. Through trial and error, nature discovered that variation, diversity and even ambiguity create more resilient and functional systems. Not only is it better to have as many diversified species/organisms in a system as possible, nature went on to invent sexual reproduction so that there could be variety WITHIN any one species producing lots of options in case the first one doesn’t work or some change in the environment makes one option dysfunctional. And though extra options mean many versions are disposed of when they don’t work in a given situation, in the case of the social animals, some species found that variation within a group can provide more options for the group in the form of various types of behavior, skills, intelligence, social interaction. The sum of the whole can then exceed the sum of the parts. I heavily stress that I am not responding to this for the sake of arguing, I just think it needs some clarification (perhaps I am reading it wrong too). Nature doesn’t “try” to do anything, the system may eventually reach some sort of dynamic equilibrium for a while, but there is no goal behind that process, it just happens. There is nothing that’s “better’ or worse, there are genomes that survive and genomes that don’t and it doesn’t even have much to do with fitness a lot of the time. You may use such language in metaphoric way which is perfectly fine but many people (especially those influence by New Age thinking that you mention later) will take it literally, so the inferred teleological meaning of these words has to be dispelled. Humans seem to be the most variable of species and each is blessed with an individual personality, a characteristic that is hard to define. Our society has tried standardizing minds and personalities and seldom succeeded. The problem is that Human Beings end up with such varied types of intelligence, insight, intuition, and emotional response that it is often very difficult if not impossible for two to imagine how reality is experience by the other. Statements made by one are often completely misread by the other. That’s actually not true. We think we are very diverse because we have developed into a social species with very complex behavior so we have to be able to see the differences between each other, but we are not able to do the same with other species and this makes us overemphasize those differences to an extreme. Two human being probably differ at 1 in each 1300 base pairs in their genome (copy number variants aside), we obviously don’t have that kind of information for all specie, but for the ones that have been sequenced/studies in depth, the best counterexample is the sea urchin (S. purpuratus) where two individuals can differ by as much as 5% of their DNA. Now that’s some diversity! Humans are quite inbred in comparison, after all, our last common ancestor was some 100,000 years ago and we have a very long generation period. For example, GM, you present an elitist persona to many readers when discussing third world or indigenous peoples. Yet I find your statements to be simple facts that should not cause so much misunderstanding. I’m sure you are shocked at the response as well. This is what I see happening: FIRST- GM is communicating with people who are morally outraged with Western Industrialized society because it has held the mistaken belief that third world or indigenous peoples were less worthy of consideration or respect and then used this outlook to justify to taking their lands, ruling, enslaving, “training” and killing them, and possesing their resources while remaining blind to their culture, technology, science, art and accumulated history and information, thus destroying whole ways of life that took centuries to create. We react with moral outrage when we imagine we see this kind of elitism. Correct, I am just as outraged by what Western civilization has done in the past and I hate it just as much as the people who accuse me of being apologetic about it. I don’t even exactly belong to what is usually referred to as “Western civilization”. But just because Western civilization was “bad” does not mean that “indigenous” people are some sort of ideal that we have to follow, quite the opposite. Ironically, it is the same failure to treat them as equal by Westerners that caused us to erase/not record/not read their history (in the cases where they themselves preserved it to begin with) but “indigenous people” did the same things that Europeans have been doing for centuries – they built empires, they enslaved each other, they committed unspeakable atrocities, the full program. So it happened that due to certain environmental and historical factors, it was Europe that ended up dominating the world, but had it not been Europe but some other civilization, it would not have behaved much differently. Because that’s what humans do. Humans are tribal animals and they fight against what is perceived as “other” tribes. All humans do it, chimps do it too, it is “in the genes”. And the more “indigenous” people are, the more their life is dominated by violence – hunter-gatherer societies are engaged in constant warfare with each other, and that’s the case even today in the Western Amazon and New Guinea. The reason that the failure to appreciate this so fundamental part of human nature is so dangerous is that if you substitute it with what someone called “the Bambi view of human nature”, it will eventually catch up with you in a very nasty way. That’s the reason why all social engineering experiments have failed so far. This may be also hard to understand, but the reason Western civilization must not fail is not because there is anything inherently good about it, the reason is that it has accumulated a large amount of knowledge about the world around us that if the current civilization… Read more »
Christine Rodgers
5 years 8 months ago

I’m thinking GM doesn’t get upset because people DISAGREE with him. He gets upset because people don’t UNDERSTAND what he is trying to get across. It seems they respond to something they thought he MEANT. I bet he is fine with someone disagreeing AFTER they understand. Usually they respond in ways that show they didn’t see what he was saying in the first place. I could be wrong but….

Christine Rodgers
5 years 8 months ago

A few more tips:
-Winning points in a discussion or argument will never fix the problems we are up against. Got any other ideas?
-Let’s agree that attacking an organized religion is OK. Let’s agree not to take it personally but agree not to attack anyones personal spirituality itself. That IS personal. Organized religion has surely caused a great many of mankind’s problems. However many “spiritual” individuals have lived lives of sacrifice, dedicated to curing the world’s ills. And there is scientific evidence that many of us have genes for spiritual states which make us healthy and happy, but which fact does NOT prove or disprove the existence of God. (Sorry, can’t cite any sources at the moment and to be fair should probably go find one.) But we should agree not to cite any religious dogma as a valid argument for anything except in a discussion about organized religion. That can’t be too hard for intelligent people.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Ian Angus on January 29th, 2011 7:50 am
GM’s response confirms every one of my points. With the addition that we now know for certain that he admires the far-right ideologue Garrett Hardin.
Case closed.

Hmmm, for some strange reason I haven’t seen many people belonging to what is usually called the “far right” embrace Hardin’s views. You are missing the forest (sustainability) for the trees (immigration) because, as I regret to say, has been confirmed yet again, you refuse to accept the simple fact of reality that it is physics that determines what happens in this world, with what happens within the social system of humanity being subordinate to the laws of physics.

Christine Rodgers
5 years 8 months ago
OK guys, lighten up. I don’t know where to start. I see a major problem that keeps coming up between intelligent humans while trying to communicate complex and complicated ideas and opinions put forth from equally varied, complex, complicated and amazing minds/personalities. If we can solve this problem, surely we can solve the rest of humanities problems with little effort. A characteristic of industrialized, western Culture is a belief that if everything including human minds could be standardized by organizing, shaping and training, everything would function more efficiently. People within this culture tend to see things similarly and they don’t tend to be very open to ambiguity. We choose one best way to look at an issue, one solution, one set of facts, one answer, and one best kind of intelligence. But nature produces systems that function very differently. Through trial and error, nature discovered that variation, diversity and even ambiguity create more resilient and functional systems. Not only is it better to have as many diversified species/organisms in a system as possible, nature went on to invent sexual reproduction so that there could be variety WITHIN any one species producing lots of options in case the first one doesn’t work or some change in the environment makes one option dysfunctional. And though extra options mean many versions are disposed of when they don’t work in a given situation, in the case of the social animals, some species found that variation within a group can provide more options for the group in the form of various types of behavior, skills, intelligence, social interaction. The sum of the whole can then exceed the sum of the parts. The result is that animals such as wolves vary in all characteristics including some not so obvious such as interpersonal skills, behavior and hormone response to stress, and levels of oxitosyn produced when cubs are born to the alpha female. No two lions are exactly the same nor any two elephants, whales or human beings. (We won’t go into variation in species of plants, fungus or bacteria for this example though many have more genes than we do.) Diversity is where it’s at. Humans seem to be the most variable of species and each is blessed with an individual personality, a characteristic that is hard to define. Our society has tried standardizing minds and personalities and seldom succeeded. The problem is that Human Beings end up with such varied types of intelligence, insight, intuition, and emotional response that it is often very difficult if not impossible for two to imagine how reality is experience by the other. Statements made by one are often completely misread by the other. It would seem that adhering to easily understood rules of logic would solve the problem. But we find, for example that some people are coolly analytical while others use a more intuitive logic colored by emotion and sensual experience. Both may be extremely insightful and intelligent but they may not understand a word the other says. Those are extremes and thankfully we have personality types that can communicate more easily. With lots of discussion including insight, clarification, sympathy and even translation, as a group we should able to figure out solutions to mankind’s problems that none of us could think of alone. Many of us find ourselves nervous about letting trolls into our conversations and I don’t deny that there are people with a compulsion to disrupt any healthy process they see developing. I don’t get that feeling from GM. GM seems to be a type of thinker that is often hard for the majority of us to warm up to. The manner in which GM states ideas and facts often elicit strong emotional responses which are a surprise to GM. They weren’t foreseen and seem irrational. For example, GM, you present an elitist persona to many readers when discussing third world or indigenous peoples. Yet I find your statements to be simple facts that should not cause so much misunderstanding. I’m sure you are shocked at the response as well. This is what I see happening: FIRST- GM is communicating with people who are morally outraged with Western Industrialized society because it has held the mistaken belief that third world or indigenous peoples were less worthy of consideration or respect and then used this outlook to justify to taking their lands, ruling, enslaving, “training” and killing them, and possesing their resources while remaining blind to their culture, technology, science, art and accumulated history and information, thus destroying whole ways of life that took centuries to create. We react with moral outrage when we imagine we see this kind of elitism. I am betting that GM is aware of all the facts about mistreatment of indigenous peoples but has many times faced people of the “New Age” persuasion that have glorified indigenous or “native” people to the point of ignorant cultism. GM recognizes that these people aren’t helping solve any problems either because they are reactionary and irrational and unable to deal with the facts of reality any more than “ethnocentric capitalists.” They seldom understand the dry, unemotional “fact” based logic of a personality like GM anymore than GM can fathom New Age, “magical” thinking which also has its place. One senses GM getting frustrated and more intensely logical when fellow commenters seem to him to be insisting on a past golden age of the “noble” savage which is definitely a silly and illogical idea. At this point, perfectly sensible commenters including GM start getting confused. None of us can figure out why we are getting such a weird emotional reaction from another to what we have explained in good faith. No matter how logical and intelligent we are and how hard we try, we sometimes “freak” each other out. Nature found it good that we be extremely diverse. There must be good reasons so try not to react without careful consideration, be kind, have some trust and try, try, try to imagine a different view… Read more »
GM
5 years 8 months ago
Here you go again, GM. People who disagree didn’t understand what you wrote, probably haven’t even read what you wrote. If that happens once, maybe it’s true. When it happens repeatedly, you should consider the possibility that (a) you aren’t being clear; or (b) you don’t have clear ideas; or (c) people have actually read and understood what you said and think you are wrong. Perhaps all three. But the fact is, you are very clear. And wrong. If I am unclear, it is because I sometimes assume that other people have thought over the things I consider obvious. Which is unfortunately not always the case, if it was, people would not have been saying again and again that there is no problem with overpopulation because we can build a house for everyone within the limits of Texas and other such silly things. That’s a flaw, I admit, however, the assumption that people have thought about the issues just as much as you have is a sign of respect you have for them, quite the opposite of what your impression may be. You are a philosophical idealist. You think ideas determine reality, that “Abrahamic religions and their rampant anthropocentrism” are responsible for capitalism’s anti-ecological behaviour. Where did this come from? I state three times that reality always beats ideology, then you say this? That Abrahamic religions are responsible (by no means solely responsible, but nevertheless responsible) for us being in overshoot does not follow from my ideas about Abrahamic religions, it follows from real life data – things like what Abrahamic religions teach and what people do as a result of that. You are an elitist — worse, an arrogant elitist. You think there is “no hope for humanity,” by which you mean no hope for other people, of course. You think the world hasn’t accepted your brilliant insights because almost everyone else is “completely ignorant,” or “uneducated,” or committed “to pronatalist religious orthodoxies.” How is it elitist to say that we will only have stable society when everyone achieves a minimal level of scientific literacy and awareness of the way the world works and humanity’s place in it?? I don’t aim at oppressing anyone. And even if you mean elitism in the sense of “thinking he’s right and everyone should listen to him”, then it by no means does it follow that I am wrong, simply because whether some is “elitist” or not is irrelevant to whether he is right or not. After all scientists are elitists in that sense. (In my own case, the fact that I questioned your use of the dubious concept “carrying capacity” proved to you that I was denying the laws of physics in general and the laws of thermodynamics in particular – and that allowed you to draw “sad conclusions” about my sanity.) Yes, because, as I explained rejecting the existence of maximal carrying capacity and limits to growth is equivalent to rejecting the laws of conservation of energy and matter and the laws of thermodynamics. And you are a genetic reductionist/determinist. You think that overpopulation is caused by our genes, which make us into “animals whose behavior is governed by one objective – maximize the number of copies of your genes in the next generation.” Except (back to elitism) somehow that isn’t true of you — since you do don’t think unlimited breeding is a good idea, you must have better genes than the rest of us. The above is exactly what humans do. It is a very philosophically unpleasant result of modern biology that all living organisms exist with the sole purpose of propagating their genetic material (the organism exists so that the genes can be propagated, not the other way around), but that is existentially disturbing does not make it less true. People like me who are very concerned about the crash of civilization do so exactly for the same reason, it is just that they look a little bit further into the future than most – it does me no good to have 12 kids now if the species is extinct 200 years from now. In fact, for each individual, it is better not to reproduce if the species as a whole survives because each of us shares the majority of their genetic material with other humans (that needs more population genetics to be properly explained than I have time and space for here, but anyway). I understand that, most people don’t. Again, it doesn’t become less true just because of that. And of course you are a Malthusian – albeit one who has been informed by the latter-day visions of gross reactionaries like Garrett Hardin. But Hardin only wanted to stop sending food to a few million starving people in India. You want us not to try feeding the 9 BILLION people who will be on the earth in a few years! Again, slapping a label to something with the intention of using the negative connotations of that label as a way of refuting your opponent is by no means a proper argumentative approach. Whether certain view is considered extreme is irrelevant to whether that view is true or not. In Saudi Arabia, it is probably considered and extreme thing to say that Islam is a collection of fairy tales, yet that’s precisely what it is. It is the same with Hardin when he said those things – they sound extreme, they are not pleasant, yet they are correct. The catch is that as inhumane as they seem, they are the most humane position in the whole debate. The more food you grow, the more population rises. Eventually you hit the limits of how much food you can grow (not only that, you have destroyed a lot of your capacity to grow food in the process) and what then happens is a mass die off. A mass die off looks like quite an inhumane thing to me, but by trying to feed 9 billion people instead of trying… Read more »
GM
5 years 8 months ago
Jeff White on January 28th, 2011 3:44 pm GM’s only purpose in being here, it seems, is to present apologetics for capitalism and point the finger of blame at the ignorant masses who accept religion over science. He thinks that religion is responsible for capitalism’s drive for continual growth at any cost. It’s a view that has nothing in common with a socialist or materialist analysis. In fact it’s based on a crass form of idealism – ironic for someone who claims to value “science” so highly. It simply blows my mind that someone can read what I have posted so far and accuse me of capitalist apologetics. And I also mentioned something about physical reality beating ideology 100% of the time, but nobody is reading. The reason why religion comes before capitalism in the list of factors responsible for the global ecological crisis is that religion explicitly states the subordinate position of the rest of the world relative to humans and it glorifies humans as special creation of God. That’s where it starts and it is in the Bible, not in Adam Smith’s writings. Stating it has absolutely nothing to do with capitalism, it is a impartial analysis of the facts. Now, anthropocentrism in religion is a consequences of anthropocentrism in the human species in general, and that’s not even the deepest reason, the deepest reason is that we are animals whose behavior is governed by one objective – maximize the number of copies of your genes in the next generation. That objective extends more than a single generation in the future but the nature of the evolutionary process is such that individuals will not think about maximizing the number of copies of their genes 10,000 years in the future, they think on a much shorter time scale. Couple that with sufficiently large brain power and you have a recipe for disaster. But anthropocentrism makes it possible for us not to even think about that we can destroy ourselves, as we think that the purpose of the world’s existence is to provide for us, and those sentiments are especially strong among most modern religions. He thinks that the reason our society doesn’t live in harmony with nature is “widespread scientific illiteracy and anti-intellectualism” among the population, and our “Western worldview”. We just need to change the way we think: embrace science and ditch religion. Recognize that the iron laws of physics – and not the class nature of society – is what dictates human survival and wellbeing; it’s “insane” to think otherwise, he opines. Precisely. The class nature of society is the natural result of human being trying to maximize the number of copies of their genes in the next generation. Reproductive success in humans is all about social status. Which is why people fight for social status. As with pretty much everything else in such discussions, the class nature of society is consequence of deeper factors and it is very counterproductive to ignore the deeper factors and focus on their superficial consequences. Evidently it has never occurred to him that capitalists may be atheists and science majors and understand quite well that they are destroying the environment – both at home and in faraway lands – with their “externalities”, but that they just don’t care because it doesn’t affect their bottom line; and besides, they have the means to insulate themselves personally from the worst effects of their own predations. 90% of the population in the US is religious, and there is a very good correlation between being right wing and being religious. This doesn’t quite fit with what you said above. And, it is extremely hypocritical to claim that just because someone was a science major and went to Wall Street, science is married to capitalism. With the current state of higher education, the vast majority of science graduates should never have been given diplomas, let alone claim to be scientists. Or maybe GM hasn’t considered that the rest of us who are not owners of capital may in fact be as scientifically literate and intellectual as he obviously considers himself to be, but that we are not yet in a position of sufficient power and influence to control the destructive rampage of capitalism. That those who don’t have capital are scientifically illiterate anti-intellactualists is irrelevant to whether those who have capital are scientifically illiterate anti-intellactualists. The world isn’t tow dimensional and black and white, with all possible oppositions falling on the sides of the same line. He dismisses out of hand the idea that traditional methods of agriculture practised for millennia could have been sustainable – methods like rotation of crops, feeding cattle on grass instead of grain, intercropping, seed saving, mulching, composting, genetic diversity and hybridization, low-wastage harvesting and storage methods, shade manipulation, and natural methods of pest control. In actual fact, our Western “mature ecological science” that GM touts as the cure for the ignorance of the masses recognizes the importance of restoring those traditional methods as an integral part of agricultural sustainability. Education about ecologically sound practices and methods is not anywhere near the one-way street he imagines it to be. Again, it simply does not follow that because those practices have been in use for a long time and they happen to work, what a scientific approach would recommend has to be completely different. I talked about the difference between science and technology above, nobody seems to have read or understood. Science is understanding, technology is the consequences of that understanding. In reality, the distinction isn’t so clear-cut as you often achieve the understanding while developing the technology, but on a philosophical level, it is very clear. We build airplanes based on our understanding of the laws of physics. But it is scientists who develop and deepen that understanding and engineers who build the planes. Knowledge and understanding is a double-edged sword, however. Science has given us the knowledge and understanding that has allowed us to develop industrialized agriculture to feed 7… Read more »
GM
5 years 8 months ago

I very much respect people who have basic reading comprehension and intellectual honesty.

People who lack one or both of them (can’t say which one it is here) and misrepresent what I have said in such an egregious manner I have nothing positive to say about

Jeff White
5 years 8 months ago

GM’s only purpose in being here, it seems, is to present apologetics for capitalism and point the finger of blame at the ignorant masses who accept religion over science. He thinks that religion is responsible for capitalism’s drive for continual growth at any cost. It’s a view that has nothing in common with a socialist or materialist analysis. In fact it’s based on a crass form of idealism – ironic for someone who claims to value “science” so highly.

He thinks that the reason our society doesn’t live in harmony with nature is “widespread scientific illiteracy and anti-intellectualism” among the population, and our “Western worldview”. We just need to change the way we think: embrace science and ditch religion. Recognize that the iron laws of physics – and not the class nature of society – is what dictates human survival and wellbeing; it’s “insane” to think otherwise, he opines.

Evidently it has never occurred to him that capitalists may be atheists and science majors and understand quite well that they are destroying the environment – both at home and in faraway lands – with their “externalities”, but that they just don’t care because it doesn’t affect their bottom line; and besides, they have the means to insulate themselves personally from the worst effects of their own predations.

Or maybe GM hasn’t considered that the rest of us who are not owners of capital may in fact be as scientifically literate and intellectual as he obviously considers himself to be, but that we are not yet in a position of sufficient power and influence to control the destructive rampage of capitalism.

He dismisses out of hand the idea that traditional methods of agriculture practised for millennia could have been sustainable – methods like rotation of crops, feeding cattle on grass instead of grain, intercropping, seed saving, mulching, composting, genetic diversity and hybridization, low-wastage harvesting and storage methods, shade manipulation, and natural methods of pest control. In actual fact, our Western “mature ecological science” that GM touts as the cure for the ignorance of the masses recognizes the importance of restoring those traditional methods as an integral part of agricultural sustainability. Education about ecologically sound practices and methods is not anywhere near the one-way street he imagines it to be.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

It is not capitalism itself that denies the limits to growth, that capitalism denies them is a consequences of capitalism being born out of society that was dominated by the Abrahamic religions and their rampant anthropocentrism (which is by no means exclusive to Abrahamic religions and has even deeper roots, just so it happens that they are responsible in this particular case for propagating it). But that’s another, very long discussion.

To say that science hasn’t helped us do a good job of keeping ourselves within the limits of the environment is incorrect to say the least. Science can not do that job, it can only tell us what the situations is and what we should do do deal with it. Which it has done, that we have not followed the advice is not a failure of science, it is a failure of society as a whole to listen to it. Which has a lot to do with the profound and very widespread scientific illiteracy and anti-intellectualism in that society.

There are indigenous societies that have realized that they live in finite environments and they have to exercise restraint to the their reproduction and behavior. But those are outnumbered by those who don’t. What maintains the illusion that indigenous societies were sustainable is the fact that the ecosystem limits to their uncontrolled reproduction that are typically in place for other species were still in place for them too, in the case of hunter-gatherer societies, or, in the cases where agriculture has persisted for sufficiently long, there is always some source of soil replenishment around in the form either of volcano ash or a river that carries a lot of sediments from a large scale orogeny nearby.

That doesn’t mean those societies were sustainable, it is just that they didn’t collapse fast enough for that unsustainability to become evident (some of them still did, BTW). Yes, 200-300 million Indians may have been doing fine for a long time (that is, if you call the kind of existence that the vast majority of them enjoyed “doing fine”). It doesn’t mean 1.5 billion of them can do the same with the same resources; they can’t.

And, I have to repeat once again, those are not even “indigenous” people, there aren’t almost any indigenous people left in the world at this point, the majority of people in the third world have embraced the kind of Western worldview that destroys the environment a long time ago (those of them that had a different one to begin with). The indigenous people of Latin America are all catholics, Africa is split between muslims and christians, etc.

Christine Rodgers
5 years 8 months ago

In answer to GM. (Actually surprised and glad to see you back.)
Truthfully, I agree with you completely. I don’t believe the earth can sustain anywhere near the population it has now. But I do resent the idea that our science means that we are so much more capable than third world people. Yes, they usually deplete their soils too and have population crashes. Yes, agriculture is inherently unsustainable. But human cultures without modern science did seem to come up with systems over time that lasted hundreds of years, much longer than our comparatively instantaneous fossil fuel driven rape of the soil.
Without fossil fuels, humans are on a more equal footing with the rest of life on the planet and an occasional civilization crash seems to fit right in, is only fair and doesn’t bother me.
And I confess, our newest scientific understanding of sustainable systems may make it possible, to design systems that mimic nature’s sustainability, thereby making it possible to achieve an optimum human population in the future provided we avoid Capitalism’s built in destructive nature. But I insist that less industrialized cultures did a better job of it than we have. Possibly because they weren’t working under Capitalism’s irrational ignorance (denial?) of nature’s limited resources.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Christine Rodgers on January 18th, 2011 6:55 pm
GM has been banned but I would like to respond to his comment…
“Remove the industrialized world from the scene, the third word will continue growing and collapse in much the same way as the industrialized world will.”
It is not that certain educated people in the industrialized world are so brilliant and superior that we were able to over-populate (multiply and spread our genes) by exploiting the environment so intensely. It is because western culture discovered and exploited a condensed form of stored sun energy in the forms of petroleum, natural gas and coal. We couldn’t have done it without these strange almost magical substances that were created as a result of certain geological circumstances in ancient times.

Correct.

No other opportunity for such an explosion of knowledge, technology, exploitation, manipulation, waste and expansion will most likely ever happen again. The stores are now declining while our use of them increases and the damaging effects on our environment increases as well.
So to say that third world peoples would collapse as we have done is basically impossible. They wouldn’t have access to the energy stores we have wasted with no thought.

Correct. The problem is that there are on average between 5 and 15 times more of them now than there were before fossil fuels were discovered. Remove fossil fuels and watch what happens to India without the pumps working to suck out water from the aquifers and water the fields. You don’t even need to remove fossil fuels for the water will disappear sooner or later anyway as it is depleted much faster than the rate of recharge.

They would be lucky if they didn’t acquire the knowledge to continue trying. The agricultural people of India had an ancient culture that had discovered and developed techniques (technology) for healthily feeding a fairly dense population while maintaining the fertility of the soil.

History shows that they weren’t always so successful as you suggest. And they weren’t 1.1 billion (and adding 17 millions every year) back then

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine_in_India

They did it without the “knowledge” or science of industrialized countries. Countries which have NOT been able to sustain the health of their own soils, relying instead on a steady input of petroleum to force large industrialized crops from infertile soil.

Completely false. A number of ancient civilizations have collapsed due to soil degradation. What people fail to understand is that agriculture is an inherently unsustainable activity. It may take thousands of years to exhaust the soil, but eventually it will be exhausted because you can never close the nutrient cycle once cities (i.e. civilization) appear. Irrigation makes things a lot worse due to the soil build up. There are regions that are fortunate to have rivers carrying a lot of sediments and replenish the soil but those aren’t that many. Civilizational collapse due to soil degradation has happened numerous times in the past.

When the petroleum is gone, hopefully the third world peoples will still have their ancient cultural knowledge to share with us if we haven’t destroyed that as well. Take away our oil, coal, and natural gas and we would fail immediately. The third world peoples that hadn’t forgotten the technology of their grandparents, would have a fighting chance.

As I said above, this is an extremely naive fantasy. The majority of people in the third world currently live in slums in the big cities. Those people have irreversibly lost whatever connection they had to the land. When the situation becomes really bad, those people are much more likely to resort to trying to obtain food by force than to revive the “ancient knowledge” they don’t have and start growing. There isn’t enough land and water to grow that food anyway.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

It has never been my intention to provoke or offend anyone. I happen to have a lot of sympathy for socialist ideas, in fact the way I imagine a sustainable future shares a lot in common with the socialistic ideals (problem is there is no way we can get from here to there)

But one should never put ideology before reality. Reality always wins, you can not beat the laws of physics.

From the comments I saw, including the ones that aren’t here anymore, I get the impression that I wasn’t understood at all. What I said above is how I see the situation based on the facts and data I have. It doesn’t mean that I like it, it doesn’t mean that I like the conclusions that follow from it. I don’t, I am just as horrified by them as anyone else. But it doesn’t mean that one has to close his eyes and pretend that there is no problem when there is in fact, a huge problem.

Roger Brown
5 years 8 months ago

Ian,

Socialism is a belief about how economic production and social relationships should be organized. Carrying capacity is is physical concept, though it is admittedly hard to calculate a hard number because of the complexity of the factors involved. However, claiming that someone must be opposed to socialism because they believe that the carrying capacity of the earth is less than its current population is not a logical conclusion.

ecomurph
5 years 8 months ago

@John Atkinson
To distil what GM said without being so provocative: Since both anthropogenic environmental impact and human population are increasing, which implies the world’s carrying capacity for humans is decreasing; a painful population crash appears inevitable. So I am sceptical that 9 billion can be fed sustainably, although I am also not fully confident to proclaim this an impossible task.

@Christine Rodgers
But since the industrial population increase is based on unsustainable fossil carbon technologies should we not expect the sustainable global population to be at pre-industrial levels of below 2 billion?

Christine Rodgers
5 years 8 months ago

GM has been banned but I would like to respond to his comment…
“Remove the industrialized world from the scene, the third word will continue growing and collapse in much the same way as the industrialized world will.”

It is not that certain educated people in the industrialized world are so brilliant and superior that we were able to over-populate (multiply and spread our genes) by exploiting the environment so intensely. It is because western culture discovered and exploited a condensed form of stored sun energy in the forms of petroleum, natural gas and coal. We couldn’t have done it without these strange almost magical substances that were created as a result of certain geological circumstances in ancient times.

No other opportunity for such an explosion of knowledge, technology, exploitation, manipulation, waste and expansion will most likely ever happen again. The stores are now declining while our use of them increases and the damaging effects on our environment increases as well.

So to say that third world peoples would collapse as we have done is basically impossible. They wouldn’t have access to the energy stores we have wasted with no thought. They would be lucky if they didn’t acquire the knowledge to continue trying. The agricultural people of India had an ancient culture that had discovered and developed techniques (technology) for healthily feeding a fairly dense population while maintaining the fertility of the soil. They did it without the “knowledge” or science of industrialized countries. Countries which have NOT been able to sustain the health of their own soils, relying instead on a steady input of petroleum to force large industrialized crops from infertile soil. When the petroleum is gone, hopefully the third world peoples will still have their ancient cultural knowledge to share with us if we haven’t destroyed that as well. Take away our oil, coal, and natural gas and we would fail immediately. The third world peoples that hadn’t forgotten the technology of their grandparents, would have a fighting chance.

5 years 8 months ago

We need to address the population control problem with some better version of the Chinese one-child policy; perhaps licenced child-rearing families, with associated childless aunts and uncles. The one-child solution is problematic, and this is becoming evident in Chinese experience.

We also need to address the fertiliser problem by designing our urban systems so as to recycle all biomass waste, including offal, bones, sewage etc, to generate feriliser. This would be easier with a larg number of small towns, practising urban horticulture; cities can become virtual networks of common-interest towns.

The problem is how to adapt local and national politics to such policies. Localising food production can be healthy and fun, enabling complex productive processes to be embedded in a food-producing background. We can do with less meat, and only eat herbivores, saving grain for human consumption. This will imply some cultural management.

5 years 8 months ago

Those infatuated with population growth are not really ecologists (in the political or scientific sense) but misanthropes. The world can support a much higher number of people, as long as people live sustainably, share things and eat less (or no) meat. It is the current, barbaric, unjust capitalist system that can not support itself, so those worried about population growth are actually worrying about their priviledges…

GM
5 years 8 months ago

And just to add, it also typically requires abandonment of one’s religious beliefs as those typically directly interfere with accurate understanding of the world around you for the simple reason that they teach you a whole lot of falsehoods about it. Many of them directly having to do with the root causes of the global sustainability crisis.

That’s also something that’s highly unlikely to happen if you live in a traditional society with little access to modern education.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Jeff White on January 17th, 2011 1:10 pm
What an elitist point of view – we in the industrialized world know how to save it, but it’s all those ignorant peasants in the third world who don’t know how to stop destroying the planet.

I don’t think you understood anything of what I wrote. Of course it isn’t just the ignorant peasants that are destroying the world, it is the ignorant peasants and the ignorant McDonalds eaters and iPod buyers in the West. See next

In actuality, the reverse is true. The residents of the global North are alienated from nature, and only have a vague idea of what it means to live in harmony with the environment. The people of the global South – in particular the indigenous populations whose ancient cultures have been preserved – are leading the planet in (a) awareness of the fact that we are part of nature, and (b) knowledge of how to live and produce goods in truly sustainable ways.

Actually it is absolutely not true that indigenous people know how to live in harmony with nature. Some of them may, but the majority appear to be in harmony simply because the environment they live imposes limits on their numbers. However, this doesn’t mean that they have a complete ecological understanding of their environment and their place in it. Some of them do but those are a very tiny majority of what you would call “indigenous people”. And certainly, there aren’t almost any indigenous people left in the Third world, the majority of the Third world population will soon be slum dwellers in 10-million cities just as removed from nature as people in the West are, only even more ignorant. The overshoot and collapse cycle has played out many many times in history, the majority of them in cases where the population would be described as “indigenous”.

It’s the height of imperialist arrogance to suggest that they need our technology and our birth control advice in order “to restrain their natural biological instincts” to destroy the planet. This is the blinkered viewpoint of someone who simplistically equates humans to bacteria growing in a petri dish.

Once again, you didn’t understand anything of what I said. To begin with, you don’t need much technology to control population – abortion and infanticide have been practiced for that purpose for millenia in various societies. Neither is the condom such a modern invention. What the current civilization has and no other civilization has had in the past is mature ecological science, awareness of the interrelatedness of all systems of the planets, and understanding of the limitations to the growth of human environmental impact which that interrelatedness and the finiteness of natural systems impose. Science is not technology, science is a way to understand the world around us, and we have been doing too much confusing of science with technology and too little understanding of the world around us for too long. That understanding is not something that the vast majority of people in the industrialized world have, however, it is an even tinier fraction of people outside of it that have it. Because, as I said above, it is not something you can achieve without the advancements of modern science and a means through which they can be communicated to you. That can’t happen if you live in a shack in Kibera or Dharavi and you don’t even know how to read.

Jeff White
5 years 8 months ago

What an elitist point of view – we in the industrialized world know how to save it, but it’s all those ignorant peasants in the third world who don’t know how to stop destroying the planet.

In actuality, the reverse is true. The residents of the global North are alienated from nature, and only have a vague idea of what it means to live in harmony with the environment. The people of the global South – in particular the indigenous populations whose ancient cultures have been preserved – are leading the planet in (a) awareness of the fact that we are part of nature, and (b) knowledge of how to live and produce goods in truly sustainable ways.

It’s the height of imperialist arrogance to suggest that they need our technology and our birth control advice in order “to restrain their natural biological instincts” to destroy the planet. This is the blinkered viewpoint of someone who simplistically equates humans to bacteria growing in a petri dish.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

I agree that first we should decrease the destructive activity of industrialized populations before we even begin to worry about third world populations because we would still be destroying life systems if the people of the third world disappeared tomorrow. Third world populations would do much better if WE disappeared tomorrow. Those who have made a much smaller demand on our planet might make it without us. I firmly believe there to be little chance the human race will survive since the industrialized countries have no intension of giving up their way of life or of trying to solve humanities problems with the same kind of thinking that got us in this fix to begin with.

Actually that’s too simplistic, dangerously simplistic in fact, on its own. The root cause behind the current crisis is the natural biological imperative of maximizing the copies of one’s genes in the next generation. That’s how life has operated since it began and this is not hardly the first time a species has been so successful in increasing its numbers that it has ruined the whole global ecosystem by doing so.

The difference is that we know enough not to make the same mistake. However, while it is “we” as the totality of human knowledge that understand the situation, the vast majority of human beings are completely clueless and behave just as the yeast in culture we so much like to use as a metaphor for the current state of humanity. And those few who understand the situation tend to be technical experts in the industrialized world which is expected as that’s where the knowledge is.

That’s why it is vitally important to preserve that expertise and the “industrialized world can go away, the third world can carry on fine” approach is very misguided. Remove the industrialized world from the scene, the third word will continue growing and collapse in much the same way as the industrialized world will. The only solution is a population where each and every individual is educated enough to understand the complexity and limitations of the world we live in, at a level that will allow people to restrain their natural biological instinct to maximize progeny in the short term in favor of the long term. Because of the very high entropic investment in education that has to be made and because a very high minimal material level is needed for that to be achieved and for the knowledge to be maintained, this means a very small population at a high level of lifestyle. To make it clear, I don’t mean high level of lifestyle as in excessive unnecessary consumption, but it will still be something much higher than a third-world lifestyle today. That’s why the long-term sustainable number is probably below a billion, possibly below 100 million. Clearly, the “Third world” as we know it today is out of the equation – it will be people originating from Third world countries, but much fewer of them.

Christine Rodgers
5 years 8 months ago

One aspect of life on this planet that is often not considered when discussing mankind’s ability to feed itself, is the concept of biological systems. It is not simply a matter of, whether there are enough needed material or resources on the planet for humans to survive. Life, including human life, exists in a very complex web of interdependence, recycling and reuse of finite resources that is so complex we are only beginning to recognize how these systems function. Western culture developed a linear way of thinking with which it studies, computes, makes plans and tries solve problems. This type of logic has a hard time considering and perceiving the web of life we are embedded in and how it functions. The result is that we believe we “know” enough to “fix” any problem or limit we come up against. We believe technology can deal with the horrible results of the previous actions we have taken in total ignorance of how the planet functions. And yet, time and again we continue to destroy systems we have no understanding of, much to the detriment of all life on the planet.

We cut down a rain forest in order to obtain land on which to grow palm oil plants. Replace certain types of trees for another type of tree. This seems to be a simple solution. But the water drains out of the soil which sinks and becomes useless for holding rain which also ruins the watershed and life in the surrounding ocean. We add vitamin A to rice through the transfer of genetic material. Simple, right? But it is not simple. We don’t know the details of the system which includes the relationship between weather, soil, insects, other plants, human custom as well as energy use. Without these details we cannot predict what the results will be or protect ourselves from unforeseen desasters.

I would say that we do not yet have the understanding or enough data to make any predictions about how many humans the planet can support since we truly do not understand much of what the planet does to support any life.

One thing is certain. The earth’s life systems have developed slowly through ages and ages, with each small change causing an answering response throughout the biosphere. Some large and speedy changes have occurred in the past which some life managed to survive to rebuild the biosphere because there was great biodiversity. There were more chances that some life could survive and interact. The human animal with its rapid population expansion, exploitive use of resources, and huge amounts of waste and destruction enabled by a lucky discovery of stores of accumulated, extremely dense energy, has caused large and speedy changes in the environment, biodiversity and complexity of life systems of the planet. We have become as destructive as a large meteor or an ice age. And we are not finished.

Until we have most of the facts and can program computers with programs as complex and multi-layered as the bio-systems of this planet, we should minimize the actions we take on any small part of these bio-systems. Chances are good that what we have done already will cause many large systems to crash in the future, especially under the inevitable increases in human population. We might feed people until lack of water makes it impossible to grow food. We might eat until disease takes us or until the ocean currents stop moving or oxygen creating organisms die off. But food won’t be enough.

I agree that first we should decrease the destructive activity of industrialized populations before we even begin to worry about third world populations because we would still be destroying life systems if the people of the third world disappeared tomorrow. Third world populations would do much better if WE disappeared tomorrow. Those who have made a much smaller demand on our planet might make it without us. I firmly believe there to be little chance the human race will survive since the industrialized countries have no intension of giving up their way of life or of trying to solve humanities problems with the same kind of thinking that got us in this fix to begin with.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

First, it should be fairly obvious that asking the question “How Many People Can the Earth Support” is equivalent to acknowledging that there is such a thing called “carrying capacity”

Second, to deny the existence of “carrying capacity” is equivalent to denying the existence of the laws of conservation of energy and matter. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that.

Third, carrying capacity is a very well established ecological concept (maximum number of individuals times per individual resource consumption that can be sustained indefinitely without eroding the capacity of the environment to support them; the per capita consumption doesn’t vary for other organisms but it is obviously very important in the case of humans), and the overshoot and collapse cycle has been observed thousands of times in the wild and in the lab (microbiologists see it every day when they toss out the overgrown petri dishes in the autoclave bag). To think it does not apply to humans is the height of anthropocentric arrogance and stupidity. And it is also very well established that the maximum carrying capacity is determined by the limiting factor in the environment that is of least abundance. And here you have it right – most estimates are unreliable but that’s because it is not so easy to establish which is the limiting factor of least abundance. What that means though is that the most informative estimate of the carrying capacity is the lowest one, not that the concept is useless.

Finally, that we are in deep overshoot should be painfully obvious by where the trends are going in terms of climate stability, health of the ecosystems, the rapid depletion of vitally important non-renewable resources, etc. Or you’re going to deny all of those too?

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Ian Angus on January 15th, 2011 6:51 am
“What of the above are you going to deny?”
All 3. For over two centuries populationism has failed as an explanation of social, economic and ecological problems. You are repeating overpopulation myths that have been made repeatedly and which have failed every time — saying them again doesn’t make them true.

Well, just because humans happen to be born, live and die in the span of 60-80 years on average, and are incapable of grasping what happens in very complex systems, does not mean that significant events do not happen on time scales longer in systems much larger and more complicated than that.

BTW, of the three points I made, only the first one is open to debate as it depends on actual data (so it happens that the data clearly shows it is true, but that’s not the point). And even it is a matter of “when” not “if”. The second and third point essentially follow directly from the laws of physics and no sane person can argue against them. From which certain very sad conclusions about the sanity of the people who do so inevitably follow. Unfortunately, that happens to be the majority of people on the planet, which is why there is pretty much no hope for the human species at this point…

GM
5 years 8 months ago

Ian Angus on January 14th, 2011 9:48 pm
GM:
Yes I know the calculation is wrong. Can you spell “sarcasm”? And thank you for confirming that populationists don’t have a “humane” plan. Didn’t think so.

Well, simply saying “I don’t like the solution to the problem therefore I am against doing anything about it” is hardly equivalent to actually demonstrating that there is no problem

Here are the indisputable facts:

1. Humanity is in deep overshoot, much deeper than even most attempts to calculate how deep exactly show as they ignore things like Peak Oil

2. Populations in overshoot eventually crash, destroying carrying capacity in the process. An extremely undesirable outcome for us, because as I said, there is a non-zero chance that we will carry on the destruction all the way to making the planet completely uninhabitable for humans. In any case, civilization as we know is unlikely to survive

3. Therefore we have to bring ourselves safely within carrying capacity BEFORE we have crashed. You can do that by some combination of increasing death rates and decreasing birth rates. Since the former is very unpleasant, the best possible solution involves none of it and a lot of the latter

What of the above are you going to deny?

ron vandamme
5 years 8 months ago

The world can support 9 billion people. we may not be able to eat red meat everyday and we may not be able to watch play off hockey in ice rinks in june or fly 2000 km for a week on the beach in the middle of winter but surely if we have the will we can figure out how to feed ourselves.
How naive about the food supply and where the energy is consumed are you people. i grow food for a living. there are alot of things that can be done to improve the food system but because the consumer wants to buy a jar of pickles for 10 cents less we bring those pickles in from india because thats where they are the cheapest. Not the most envirmentally or sustainable way but the cheapest. we closed down all our local butcheres so now we ship cattle 500 mile to get killed and then ship the meat back to 1 mile from where the old abatoir was. Why ?because it is cheaper. Lets not kid ourselves . Its us first and we still think we will be making the rules when push come to shove but north america peaked to soon. we canot expect developing nations to change their ways when we arent going to change ours.

GM
5 years 8 months ago

The article is indeed out of touch with reality because there is absolutely no point in trying to calculate how many people can be fed, what matters is how many people can the planet support indefinitely and at what level of lifestyle. Once you remove the fossil fuel and fertilizer inputs, you account for the fossil aquifer depletion, climate change, topsoil loss, general ecosystem collapse, it becomes very clear that it will be a miracle if 9 billion people are alive in 2050, the majority of them are not starving and global civilizational collapse is not well under way by then.

We can probably feed even 15 or 20 billion people for a few decades while being in drastic overshoot. But the long-term carrying capacity of the planet a per capita environmental footprint that doesn’t reduce people to primitive animal-like existence is unlikely to even be 2 billion, it may well be in the low hundreds of millions or even less. Unless you completely close the nutrients cycle, agriculture combined with civilization as we know it is an inherently unsustainable activity, and is guaranteed to collapse sooner or later. It may take many millenia, but eventually the soil will become unproductive except for those lucky places that happen to have a major sediment-carrying river or many active volcanoes around to constantly replenish its fertility. That it may take many millenia in many regions, more than have passed since agriculture was introduced in many regions means that we are generally not aware of that fact; but it is still true and there are still numerous historical examples of this happening. On top of the food requirements, there are all the other physical inputs necessary for civilization to continue.

9 billions is an absolute physical impossibility, and the sooner we recognize it and act accordingly the less painful the future will be. “Painful” to be read in the sense of “catastrophic”, at this point we’re so deep in overshoot that there is pretty much no way to avert a catastrophe.

Unless we actually do what was mentioned above – an almost complete moratorium on births (allow some 4-5 million a year to keep some young people around but not more than that). BTW, the calculation above is entirely incorrect. Death rates will increase as population ages – almost nobody alive in 2011 will be alive in 2100. If 5 million people are born each year between then and now, population in 2100 will be at most 450 million (actually significantly less than that as few people will live to 90 years). There isn’t any other way – population MUST be brought within the carrying capacity of the planet in an organized manner, or it will be brought within it in a chaotic and much more unpleasant one. This can happen in two ways – decrease in birth rates or increase in death rates. Since it’s the latter we’re trying to avoid, it will have to be the former.

Of course, it isn’t going to happen, because given how hard it turns to to be to explain these very simple truths to literate and well educated people in the West, it is going to be absolutely impossible to do so with the majority of the world population, which happens to be largely illiterate, uneducated, completely ignorant of these issues and under the influence of various pronatalist religious orthodoxies.

So population will be brought within carrying capacity by the forces of nature. It will be much uglier and it’s going to be a much lower carrying capacity when it’s all over (there’s a non-zero chance the carrying capacity will be zero) but there’s little to suggest such an outcome can be prevented at this point

5 years 8 months ago

Yup. All this insane energy going into fantasies of feeding the X billion. Can the earth be squeezed that hard? Maybe. Should it be? No.

Put the research dollars into figuring out how to distribute properly the land and food that exists, while providing incentives to breed less! (Which would mean opening up a can of worms all those food and ag scientists do not wish to open.)

5 years 8 months ago

I agree with David Veale.

What we need are strategies for a humane reduction in population to sustainable levels — which some think are two billion or less — rather than fantasies about how to deal with more people.

And these “projections” of nine billion — why do they ignore such seminal works as the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth?” One of the first attempts to apply computer modelling to global ecological issues, the WORLD3 program the Club of Rome’s team developed predicts rapidly increasing death rates as non-renewable natural resources go into decline, and hints that global population could crash to two billion or less.

I keep seeing this “nine billion by 2050” number floating around. What is the source reference for this? What assumptions does it make? Does it assume ongoing growth rates in fossil fuel, for example?

My prediction: no more than four billion will be around in 2050 — and many of them will be starving.

5 years 8 months ago

The whole premise of this article is nonsense. Whether we can or cannot feed 9 billion people is irrelevant. It’s quite clear that we already cannot handle the carbon emissions of 6 or 7 billion without destroying our life support systems.

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