“We must alert and organize the world's people to pressure world leaders to take specific steps to solve the two root causes of our environmental crises - exploding population growth and wasteful consumption of irreplaceable resources. Over-consumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.”
In 1950, Bangladesh grew toward 100 million people. Today, it overflows with 144 million people—expecting to double its population by mid century. That might not be so bad, except for one thing: Bangladesh endures those numbers in a landmass less than the size of Iowa!
Dr. Alan Kuper, deceased 12/08, a man I admired and respected, illustrated our accelerating dilemma with metaphors that make sense. He reported from his web site using the research of John Wenzel, director the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity. Wenzel said, “In the days of sailing ships, sailors used to leave goats on islands as they passed to ensure fresh meat on return trips. It worked too well. The animals bred faster than the sailors could eat them, and from the Channel Islands off California to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, goats ate all the vegetation and starved. The goats also screwed up the environment so that native species couldn’t survive, either. For example, the goats stripped away the plants’ low-growing leaves so that tortoises couldn’t find enough to eat.”
“The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change released its report blaming humans for increased temperatures, melting glaciers and rising seas,” Kuper’s website reported. “Too many people burn too many fossil fuels at 84 million barrels daily.”
That doesn’t account for millions of tons of coal, natural gas and wood burned every day by 6.7 billion humans.
"With global warming, we’ve been able to create this problem in the first place because we’ve had virtually free energy in the form of fossil fuels," said Ohio State University ecologist Tom Waite.
Kuper reported, “Climate change, Waite and others say, is a sign that we are exceeding the number of people Earth can sustain. Every year, at least 77 million humans are born in excess of those who die. That’s 1 billion people every 11 years. Some, however, argue that we are adept at adapting, and point to increased agricultural production and medical advances that fend off disease.”
Right now, Earth’s carrying capacity is thought to be somewhere in the range of 1.5 billion to 2.0 billion people with a Western standard of living. We sport 6.72 billion today and grow by 240,000 every 24 hours as we add 77 million annually. See www.populationmedia.org to see the population meter.
You might be curious about the above paragraph. In other words, we’re already out on a hazardous limb as we have overshot the world’s carrying capacity in a short 100 years. Michael Brownlee of www.transitionus.ning.com , said, “We face a perfect storm with ‘Peak Oil’, ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Economic Instability’. China and India want what we have but they won’t be able to obtain it. We want to keep what we have but it won’t be possible with oil’s decline.”
At some point, the human race must lower its population on this planet by birth control and family planning—gracefully—or nature will bring its own brutal methods to the table with a greater vengeance than the 18 million who starve to death currently on this planet each year.
That might lead you to ask the carrying capacity for humans in the United States. If we would like to continue our current standard of living, Cornell Professor David Pimentel projected 150 million. If we lowered our energy usage, resource usage and cut in half our ‘ecological footprint’ to 6.3 acres—obviously we could support more people. But then, what’s the point? Why push the envelope with so much damage and consequences guaranteed with larger human numbers?
“In biology, the carrying capacity usually refers to the number of animals a given area can support with adequate food, shelter and territory or the space to reproduce,” Kuper reported. “Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm said half of the world’s population has little access to medicine, electricity, safe water and reliable food supplies.”
"When you get to the nitty-gritty of the term, some animals are more equal than others. Some countries are a lot more equal than others," Pimm said. "You might have 50 billion, but the quality of life might not be terribly pleasing. Rabbits are the same way. The key word is support."
“The United States possesses resources to sustain less than half of its current population of 306 million, according to ecologist Paul Ehrlich, who first called attention to potential population problems in 1968 with his book, The Population Bomb, Kuper reported. “Waite and other ecologists increasingly think of the idea of carrying capacity in terms of an “ecological footprint," the amount of land on Earth that it takes to support a group of people.”
Americans, who make up 4.8 percent of the world’s population, use 25 percent of its resources and cast a large footprint.
"Ohio’s footprint is like 11 times the state of Ohio," Waite said. “The average American’s footprint is about 12.6 acres. By far, the largest component is energy. In contrast, the average citizen of India has a footprint one-sixteenth that size.”
Kuper reported, “If all 6.7 billion people were to share the world’s resources equally, Americans would have to reduce consumption by 80 percent for each of us to have a footprint of about 4.4 acres.”
“Waite rides a bicycle most days. However, Waite’s footprint grows when he arrives on campus or has to rent a car to attend a meeting out of town,” Kuper reported.
"The moment I show up at work, I suddenly violate the fair Earth share and I become unsustainable,” Waite said. “Carrying capacity and footprint are tied to the global economy, which has quadrupled since the world’s population doubled.”
“That leads to a fear that slowing population growth might not ultimately curb greenhouse gas production if more people achieve Western lifestyles,” said Barry Rabe, a University of Michigan political scientist who studies environmental issues. “India and China are developing rapidly and have already affected climate change. China is opening an average of one coal-fired power plant a week to meet electricity demand. The power plants emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.”
"Everyone in China wants two things: their own apartment and their own car," Pimm said. "That change is going to have a massive effect on the planet."
Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, said the sustainability question is a loaded one, “People ask me how many people the Earth can sustain. I usually respond that it depends on whether you want to live like an Indian or an American."
“For example, farmers worldwide grow about two billion tons of grain every year. Each American consumes an average of 1,760 pounds annually, mainly because of the grains used to feed farm animals. If everyone on the planet consumed that much grain,” Brown said. “Earth would support about 2.5 billion people. But in India, people consume about 440 pounds each. If everyone else in the world did likewise, the world’s grain would support about 10 billion people.”
Population, water and food lock horns. Growing one ton of grain requires 1,000 tons of water. Water shortages already occur in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. For a sobering reality check, water shortages already occur in the United States of America! As water flows from agriculture to support growing urban populations, more grain must be imported.
“Alternative energy, touted as a possible solution to burning fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases, also adds a factor to the food equation,” Kuper reported. “Soybeans are increasingly in demand for biodiesel. And ethanol production now vies with food for corn. Brown estimates that half of the U.S. corn crop will go to ethanol.”
"Seventy percent of all corn imports in the world come from the U.S., so what happens to U.S. corn crops affects a lot of countries," Brown said.
Waite said this competition for energy and food will change the landscape, “If we were to replace our reliance on fossil fuels and instead grow fuel plants, which would require setting aside lots of land to produce ethanol. We don’t have enough land worldwide to meet those demands. Demand for food, fuel and materials already consumes more trees and crops than are grown worldwide.”
Waite compares the issue to a bank account, “Humans are already drawing on capital rather than interest, and once that is exhausted, they will find Mother Nature reluctant to make a loan.”