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1 b_sharp  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 2:23:25pm

This guy is seriously comparing the technological improvements humans have historically used to increase food availability with the impact humans have on the environment now? The demands of 7.2 billion people far surpasses the demands of several millions when humans developed farming 15000 years ago. Those demands also dwarf those of the 200 million humans on Earth when synthetic fertilizer was developed in 1903.

Every technological breakthrough that allowed us to feed the growing population was made when the population was far less than the 7 billion now alive.

His article also ignores the environmental affects above the quantity of food available resulting from having the population as high as it is. Growing food requires we physically modify the ecosystem which produces some predictable and some not so predictable changes - eg. AGW/CC

2 Randall Gross  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 2:36:31pm

There’s a lot of food for thought in this article. That said, I agree with his principle statement - that overpopulation by itself is not the problem. Managing human effects on the environment and each other is the real problem.

3 b_sharp  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 2:46:21pm

re: #2 Randall Gross

There’s a lot of food for thought in this article. That said, I agree with his principle statement - that overpopulation by itself is not the problem. Managing human effects on the environment and each other is the real problem.

The more users there are changing the environment the more difficult it becomes to manage. I agree that while the human population is below the carry capacity of the land the management is fairly straight forward, but to rely on some, at this point, imaginary technological improvement to increase the carry capacity as the population grows is dangerous.

Humans don’t just consume food, we consume energy. That consumption leaves a footprint even when not talking about carbon.

In a science fiction utopia where we all lived off food made of plankton and used energy supplied by solar panels that were grown not manufactured, his points would be valid.

But those points aren’t valid for the world we live in right now, which just happens to be the only world we know anything about.

4 Jack Burton  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 3:43:43pm

re: #3 b_sharp

The more users there are changing the environment the more difficult it becomes to manage. I agree that while the human population is below the carry capacity of the land the management is fairly straight forward, but to rely on some, at this point, imaginary technological improvement to increase the carry capacity as the population grows is dangerous.

Humans don’t just consume food, we consume energy. That consumption leaves a footprint even when not talking about carbon.

In a science fiction utopia where we all lived off food made of plankton and used energy supplied by solar panels that were grown not manufactured, his points would be valid.

But those points aren’t valid for the world we live in right now, which just happens to be the only world we know anything about.

Perhaps I have an overly optimistic view of the situation, (and I don’t have references to go on here so take it as such) but I’ve read that current “carrying capacity” of Earth is 16 billion people. I’ve also read that scientists are estimating that population growth will level off at a number well below that, around 10-12 billion. Climate change is likely to reduce the carrying capacity for sure, but science isn’t stopping. If we can fight off the anti-science luddites and their fear of GMO/Tech Agro and their AGW denialism… I think we will be fine.

Then again… it’s humans and money we are talking about here.

5 Decatur Deb  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 3:54:38pm

The equation isn’t just ‘environment transformed by technology’. It has other terms, including ‘energy’. We are not overpopulated now as long as we are happy to have billions of people subsisting on an energy diet that is a fraction of the US/Europe. If they begin to access the available energy, or that energy runs out, we are overpopulated. If we don’t find new sources (looking at you, fusion), we better learn to soft-land our culture.

6 ProTARDISLiberal  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 4:57:18pm

re: #5 Decatur Deb

The US is particularly bad at this, with our car-based culture.

However, I expect this to change over the coming decades.

7 Decatur Deb  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 5:02:03pm

re: #6 ProTARDISLiberal

The US is particularly bad at this, with our car-based culture.

However, I expect this to change over the coming decades.

Oh, it’ll change. It will be ‘directed’ change or spontaneous, but change it will.

8 Randall Gross  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 5:15:18pm

re: #3 b_sharp

You missed the point of the article — feeding even a hundred million was not possible at one point, now it’s nothing to do that. Here’s a hint: if we can farm at least as well as 16th century Japanese peasants did, then we will have enough food for 12 billion people or more. The truth is that we can farm much better than that already, that tale is told by the fact that farmland is overall decreasing in most countries, not increasing. Once a country achieves a certain modicum of wealth the population starts to become self limiting - you’ve seen that over the past 30 years in China, India, and Bangladesh.

Our tech is high energy now, but each year we are able to do more with less - right now we are at the verge of the micro machine revolution, and a hop skip and a jump away from the nano machine revolution. What used to take tons of energy now takes a trickle. (Compare the energy consumed by an old Western Electric / Bell stepper switch that served a small branch exchange to a modern voice portal server that’s a thousand times more capable and you might have a scintilla of an idea of the power reductions that will come with just the micro machine revolution we are undergoing.)

9 Skip Intro  Sat, Sep 14, 2013 5:38:40pm

Did I miss the part about drinkable water? Where I live that’s becoming a major issue as the population increases and aquifers are being pumped dry.

10 freetoken  Sun, Sep 15, 2013 11:44:24am
The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been.

That’s simply an absurd claim.

And, of course, Homo sapiens went much further, learning over generations, once their preferred big game became rare or extinct, to make use of a far broader spectrum of species.

Extinct - yes, and often at the hands of humans, or at least abetted by the hands of humans.

The writer is a geographer. Not a biologist. The word “water” never is mentioned in the essay. The word “disease” is never used in the essay. The word “energy” is never used in the essay.

The author has cherry-picked a few periods in modern human development, especially the current time. Yes, today in 2013 we can produce enough food to feed everybody. We’ll probably do that in 2014 too. The big picture that is often raised by some of those “MANY scientists” which are the anonymous targets of this essay have to do with coming centuries and millennia. Today we make extensive use of fossil fuels, but the highest quality coal production peaked some time ago, and we’re probably past peak of producing the highest quality petroleum. Yes, there remains large resources of lower quality stored carbon, which we no doubt will exploit climate-change be damned. Come the 22nd century these resources will be increasingly depleted. Perhaps mankind will transition to nuclear energy, perhaps not. Yet comparing the very high per-capita energy expenditure countries which happen to also be the mega-food exporting countries (US, Canada, Australia) should warn us that there is a relationship between being a bread-basket and energy use.

I have no doubt that many of the doom-is-near crowd overplay their hands. A person’s life is so short that we lose sight of the fact that other of the Earth’s systems work on time scales different than us. Rushing doomsday-by-overpopulation scenarios is not uncommon but that does not mean the larger issue - of humans so radically altering the biome that future life will be much more difficult for humans - has ceased being a serious concern.

11 freetoken  Sun, Sep 15, 2013 11:58:17am

re: #8 Randall Gross

Here’s a hint: if we can farm at least as well as 16th century Japanese peasants did, then we will have enough food for 12 billion people or more.

Japanese peasants often lived a marginal lifestyle. They were quite a bit smaller than we in the West are today. They were even smaller than the average Japanese today. Many Japanese diets were supplemented by sea food. On top of all of that, the Japanese islands have abundant fresh water supplies because of generous year round rains.

The population of Japan in the 16th century was around 15 million. The northern regions were fairly wild and outside the control of the central government, and these areas depended upon harvesting the sea. The intense farming that came to the Edo region from western Japan helped grow the population in that area when the capitol was moved there. But even then it was a peasant’s life, and again the people were much smaller on average.

This brings up another topic skipped completely by Ellis: dependence upon ocean resources. Many of the most popular sea foods are under serious stress. Most people, like Ellis, ignore the oceans. Yet you raised Japan as an example and here is a case where sea food was an important supplement to the agricultural lifestyle. A diet of rice alone is a very poor one, nutritionally. If we continue to rely on collecting protein from the sea to supplement our diets at the rate we are today we will definitely have an effect on the sea biome, and that is demonstrated today in stocks of our favorite sea food.

So I challenge Ellis to stop fighting the boogeymen of “many scientists” and to describe a timeline of human development over the coming centuries and show how in parallel the ocean and land surfaces will change.

12 Decatur Deb  Sun, Sep 15, 2013 12:05:17pm

re: #11 freetoken

Those who wish to live like 16th Cent. Japanese farmers please park your SUV and wait at the nearest Park n’ Ride. Leave the keys, all plastic items, medications and your laptop in the vehicle.


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