Carrying Capacity, Demographics and Easter Island's Die-Off (June 6, 2009)
Recent posts elicited thoughtful replies on resource and demographic overreach.
Readers responded to Booms, Manias, Windfalls and Die-Offs and Why the Present Depression Will Be Deeper than the Great Crash of 1929 with comments on resource and demographic overreach.
Simply put, every environment has a sustainable carrying capacity. In the past hudnred years or so, humanity has boosted food production by devoting vast quantities of non-renewable inputs like oil and phosphorus (chemical fertizilers) to agriculture. Once those inputs are depleted then production will revert to pre-fossil fuel/chemical fertilizer levels.
Yes, even the minerals used in chemical fertilizers are in the depletion phase: Phosphorus Famine: The Threat to Our Food Supply (Scientific American)
As population has risen then the pressure on carrying capacity increases. Add in staggering energy consumption of depleting fossil fuels and you get a scenario with startling parallels to the die-off of the human population on Easter Island.
Various policy decisions such as suburban sprawl and a growing dependence on consumption have also raised the demands on irreplaceable productive assets such as arable land. How much "air" is left in a global economy careening down a path of resource/windfall exploitation is an open question; one oft-overlooked reality is that all the "alternative energy" sources in the entire world provide perhaps 3% of the global energy consumption.
Double that, triple that, scale it up tenfold (a very costly project) and it would still supply less than a third of current global energy consumption, never mind future demand, which is set to skyrocket as another billion (or two) people reach for a middle-class level of energy consumption.
I follow up these readers' comments with a short list of suggested "further reading" on these topics.
Another good one. But, you left out one large, important pressure facing the world today which was not present in 1929 - population.
In support of what you wrote, I'd like to offer a perspective on what I've seen living in the Atlanta area since the early 1990s.
I caught your blog today on why the depression will be worse than the 1930s. I think one other factor that is seldom mentioned or even recognized is that the 77 million baby boom from 1946-1964 was followed by a 44 million baby bust from 1965-1995.
Reading Michael Goodfellow's comments this morning turned a light on in my head. A couple days ago a young (35) friend of mine who has a small metal fabricating business came over to my shop to ask if I might give him some comments on a weld fixture he was building. On walking back across the street to his shop he says to me, " ...Yeah... last night my wife and the kids and I watched this cool show about how humans are effecting the ecology and environment of the planet. I mean...what do you think the guy that cut down the last tree on Easter Island was thinking?..."
Jeff R. suggested this piece by Eliot Spitzer:
Here is a popular metaphor of hubris/false confidence, circa 1912:
The first chapter of The Future of Life is the best short piece written on China in the past decade. Academic studies loaded with statistics on China's GDP, etc. miss the point: China is facing environmental collapse, sooner rather than later. Quantitative financial data cannot possibly capture this as the environmental data points are lacking/massaged for political purposes. The economy is not some free-floating entity disengaged from the rivers running dry.
On Peak Oil:
Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak
Our Stolen Future: How We Are Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival
Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Jared Diamond)
A realistic appraisal of alternative energy:
Of Two Minds reader forum (hosted offsite, reader moderated)
"This guy is THE leading visionary on reality.
He routinely discusses things which no one else has talked about, yet,
turn out to be quite relevant months later."
NOTE: contributions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Deonisio N. ($10), for your most generous contribution to this
I am greatly honored by your support and readership.
Your readership is greatly appreciated with or without a donation.
For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit
All content, HTML coding, format design, design elements and images copyright © 2009 Charles Hugh Smith, All rights reserved in all media, unless otherwise credited or noted.
I would be honored if you linked this wEssay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.
|consulting||blog fiction/novels articles my hidden history books/films what's for dinner||home email me|