Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist, wrote his book The Population Bomb in 1968. In it he warned of doom and gloom – resource depletion, species extinction and a human population so large that as a species we would face mass poverty, famine, starvation and death. According to Ehrlich, the Earth had reached its carrying capacity long ago and we were living on borrowed time.__ http://www.oswego.edu/~schneidr/CHE300/envinv/EnvInv08.html
What is Earth’s “Carrying Capacity?”
“Earth’s Carrying Capacity” is a term used to specify a planetary population limit, beyond which people begin to die off from starvation, disease, and resource limits. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, environmentalists believed that Earth had already passed its “carrying capacity.”
Check out some predictions from 1970, gleaned from the Earth Day celebrations of that year:
“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” — Harvard biologist George Wald
“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner
“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.” — New York Times editorial
“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich
“Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich
“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day
“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter
“In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine
“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich
“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
“[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.” — Newsweek magazine
“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt __ http://reason.com/archives/2000/05/01/earth-day-then-and-now/print _ via _ http://www.freedomworks.org/content/13-worst-predictions-made-earth-day-1970
According to those 1960s and 1970s thinkers, we should all be dead by now. But now, they have conveniently forgotten those predictions of doom, and have updated them so that modern societies will now collapse in the late 2010s or 2020s — instead of the 1970s or 1980s. Doomers are like that, somehow. Their predictions are certain to come true, sometime in the future. Modern environmentalists have updated Earth’s Carrying Capacity to between 7 billion and 10 billion humans. Beyond that, they say we are doomed.
Other thinkers believe that there is no such thing as “Earth’s Carrying Capacity.” They believe that humans create their own limits. Also see Ultimate Resource II
How should we approach this question?
First of all, we must remember that until recently, humans have always been starving and dying of plagues en masse. Whether the global population of humans was 1 million, 10 million, 100 million, or into the billions, large-scale death from famine and starvation has always been widespread — until recently. So those 1970 Earth Day predictions of doom would have been true for just about any time period in the past, before the scientific, technological, and industrial revolutions. But something happened when human ingenuity was empowered by those revolutions, plus capitalism.
Suddenly Malthusian die-off logic was intercepted by a new layer of human ingenuity and problem-solving. More food appeared, human populations rose sharply, and it appeared to many that humans would soon overwhelm Earth’s meagre resources, resulting in a sharp die-off.
Instead, scientists, technologists, and capitalists developed new resources — and at the same time, women in advanced countries were given more options for voluntary contraception. Population growth in advanced countries leveled off, and actually declined in many. The same leveling of population growth is now beginning to take hold in many less developed countries.
Can the Earth Accommodate 100 billion Humans Comfortably?
It depends upon the people. If the human population of Earth had high average levels of intelligence, ingenuity, and conscientiousness, the problems posed by such large population sizes could be solved into the indefinite future.
Large structures such as X-Seed 4000 and similarly sized projects, could each house 1 million people in comfort, with a minimal footprint of land area and ecological impact, with proper design.
Placing one such self-sufficient and eco-friendly structure in the centre of each square mile, one could accomodate 100 billion people comfortably in an area the size of Germany. The rest of the planet could be designated a wildlife refuge.
In one sense, it is an engineering problem. In another sense, it is a human quality problem. If all humans were as obtuse, warped, and personally incompetent as Barack Obama, Albert Gore Jr., or Paul Ehrlich, the planetary carrying capacity might be less than 1,000,000. Even at that, widespread starvation and eventual human extinction would be likely.
If, on the other hand, all humans were as competent and creative as Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Ben Carson, Burt Rutan, Leon Chua, and Richard Feynman, the planet and its immediate environs could sustainably accommodate human populations into the trillions, in safe and luxurious conditions.
Intelligent, competent, creative, and conscientious people do not just grow on trees. They must be cultivated and carefully groomed to the point that their own independence and competence can take over. Modern societies — on the other hand — are geared toward raising generations of incompetent life-long adolescents, mired in groupthink and mass-delusion.
We are not likely to achieve the kind of expansive and abundant future we want, working through existing conventional governments, academia, media, or other cultural institutions and organisations.
An abundant, open-ended future is possible. But it is not what most people see when they look into their private crystal balls.
IN the modern world-at-large, a certain pessimistic neo-Malthusianism has taken hold, and is reluctant to let go. We must always be mindful of this pessimistic background in the cultural milieu, but we must also see past it to the many pathways to better possibilities.
It is not cornucopia, it is hard thinking and hard working. It is swimming against the defeatist tide through the inevitable waves of exhaustion. It is our choice whether to “go with the flow” or choose to create a more positive vision, and discover ways to make it real.
Shale oil & gas are just beginning to impact the global energy world. Along with an abundance of other new sources of oil & gas, coal, gas hydrates, bitumens, kerogens, etc., these hydrocarbons will comprise the perfect “energy bridge” to the age of advanced, clean, safe, affordable, abundant nuclear energy.
And that is when the human world will truly begin to grow interesting.