Spaceship Earth has exceeded its carrying capacity. Its human inhabitants are talking of limiting carbon emissions, refraining from dumping environmental toxins, eating lower on the food chain, and wasting less water. These are all good ideas, but none of them is going to save us, not even all of them together. There is an elephant in the room that is being ignored. All of these Climate Change Conferences and no one says the obvious: There are too many people. OK, I will open the bidding: If we are extraordinarily careful Spaceship Earth can sustain 1 billion people, and “by extraordinarily careful” I mean, no burning coal, no petroleum, ground the jetliners, restore the 75% of forest we have destroyed, take down the dams and let the rivers live free again, no more Consumer growth economy.
Renewable power should easily be enough to power the internet and intercontinental transportation, so I don’t mean live in the 8th Century, I mean, walk lightly on the Earth. Keeping the place clean is not the only issue though–some people seem to think we could turn the whole place into a nice clean 12 billion person strip mall, but we became who we are because we were engaged with nature. We saw other beings living freely in the world—beings including not only all the other animals, but also rivers, trees, mountains, snow, rain, air, oceans. But now, we are not only poisoning the planet for everyone but we are crowding out everyone else by destroying their habitat to make room for more humans. There is not enough space for that many people and a healthy bio-diverse natural environment. What will it be like when there are no other beings who exist in their own right anymore? When there are no more elephants? When there are no more wild animals or wild rivers? When our cousin great apes, the gorillas, chimps, bonobos, and orangutans are all extinct in the wild. When the whole place is just a zoo? This is not to say that the incremental fixes such as lowering carbon emissions are not worth the trouble, of course. They are, because they may buy us some time until the human race comes to its senses or nature does what she does to over-crowded species.
Bob Dylan – License to Kill
One thought on “Spaceship Earth has exceeded its carrying capacity”
Did you know that if you take the number of acres in Australia, and divide it by the total number of people in the world, you could fit all of the people in the world in Australia with a quarter of an acre of land?
The example used to work better when it was 6 billion people, because then everybody could live in Australia with a third of an acre of land.
Of course, the point isn’t that we should actually all move to Australia. It’s just to show that the number of people in the world seems a lot because 7 billion is such a big number, but it’s not so much when you compare it to the size of the Earth. You could literally move everyone to Australia with land to spare, and have the entire rest of the world for fishing and farming and landfills.
To me, the real problem isn’t that there are too many people, but the resources aren’t being managed responsibly. Corporate trawlers overfishing the oceans, unnecessary pollution damaging our health, millions of tonnes of food rotting in silos while people in developing nations starve… you get the idea.
Really, when you think about it, saying there’s too many people in the world is the perfect rationalization for all sorts of terrible evil. Genocide? Ah, there’s too many people in the world anyway. Starvation? It’s good for the planet!
So, I personally think that not only is the issue way overblown, but it’s a dangerous line of thinking as well.