Sustainable Population

The WealthCycles Staff

Is the earth’s human population outstripping its resources? And exactly how many people is too many? Assuming the human population responds like other organisms in nature, the outlook is none too rosy.

A recent article on Mike “Mish” Shedlock’s Global Economic Trend Analysis cites an essay by Paul Chefurka, Population: The Elephant in the Room, which looks at the correlation between global population and oil use, which is near-exact. While no one knows precisely when “peak oil”—the point at which most of the oil supplies on earth have been exhausted and supply is in decline—will occur, demand for oil currently is outstripping new oil discoveries five-to-one, Chefurka writes.

Oil first entered general use around 1900 when the global population was about 1.6 billion. Since then the population has quadrupled….
The true danger posed by our exploding population is not our absolute numbers but the inability of our environment to cope with so many of us doing what we do.
It is becoming clearer every day, as crises like global warming, water, soil and food depletion, biodiversity loss and the degradation of our oceans constantly worsen, that the human situation is not sustainable. Bringing about a sustainable balance between ourselves and the planet we depend on will require us, in very short order, to reduce our population, our level of activity, or both. One of the questions that comes up repeatedly in discussions of population is, "What level of human population is sustainable?”

Ah, you say, but as oil declines there will be different, new sources of energy—wind, sun, oxygen, cooking oil—that humanity will learn to harvest to fuel prosperity and growth.

Problem is, Chefurka continues, that’s not the case with other populations in nature. As populations grow to outstrip available resources, they enter a condition called “overshoot,” “when a population's consumption exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment.” At the point the human population enters overshoot, Chefurka writes, it may decline to a level at which it does not have the capacity to extract new sources of energy—nor even to clean up its waste.

Populations in serious overshoot always decline. This is seen in wine vats when the yeast cells die after consuming all the sugar from the grapes and bathing themselves in their own poisonous alcoholic wastes. It's seen in predator-prey relations in the animal world, where the depletion of the prey species results in a die-back of the predators. Actually, it's a bit worse than that. The population may actually fall to a lower level than was sustainable before the overshoot. The reason is that unsustainable consumption while in overshoot allowed the species to use more non-renewable resources and to further poison their environment with excessive wastes.
In the case of humanity, our use of oil has allowed us to perform prodigious feats of resource extraction and waste production that would simply have been inconceivable before the oil age. If our oil supply declined, the lower available energy might be insufficient to let us extract and use the lower grade resources that remain. A similar case can be made for a lessened ability to deal with wastes in our environment

In the case of humanity, our use of oil has allowed us to perform prodigious feats of resource extraction and waste production that would simply have been inconceivable before the oil age. If our oil supply declined, the lower available energy might be insufficient to let us extract and use the lower grade resources that remain. A similar case can be made for a lessened ability to deal with wastes in our environment

The human cost of such an involuntary population rebalancing is, of course, horrific. Based on this model we would experience an average excess death rate of 100 million per year every year for the next 75 years to achieve our target population of one billion by 2082. The peak excess death rate would happen in about 20 years, and would be about 200 million that year. To put this in perspective, WWII caused an excess death rate of only 10 million per year for only six years.

Chefurka’s opinions hearken back to the theories of 18th century economist Thomas Malthus, the topic of the article, The Last Supercycle:

By definition, the world’s natural resources are in finite supply. The last supercycle will be an epic cycle where the human race finally goes up against resource constraints when human ingenuity and technological advances can't bail humanity out. Rising prices, once again, remind us about Thomas Malthus’ theories. While technology has given us greater efficiency, human population growth has meant that vast amounts of finite resources are consumed year after year. Malthus didn’t create his theories to be an alarmist, but to illuminate the problem of resource constraints, which exist today and will always exist.

As the Industrial Age and modern agriculture advances increased the planetary food supply and led to life-enhancing technological advances, Malthus’ ideas were discredited. But with the human population doubling every 40 years, humans are once again approaching the point at which it will outstrip the availability. The Mish’s article postulates fights over oil, with China ending up the winner. An even more desperate fight may be for clean, safe water, already a scarcity in many parts of the world.      

The issue of overpopulation and the potential for a “human die-off,” as Chefurka puts it, is more than an existential one. As advanced technology pushes death rates down, the population automatically rises. Falling birth rates mean fewer people to pay for social services such as Social Security and Medicare. And instead of thinking ahead to how we will cope with the coming challenges to humanity’s future, our current political leaders and financial elites continue sticking the yet unborn generation with the check from today’s overspending.

The word “cycle” comes from the Greek word kyklos, meaning cycle or circle. One common definition of cycle is “a periodically repeated sequence of events.”

The idea of a cycle is symbolized by a circle, which, because there is no beginning or end, represents recurrence. The symbolic circle is often divided into segments—often two, such as the Chinese yin and yang or day/night, but more often four segments, like the seasons.

A recognition and understanding of cycles is one way human beings are able to recognize patterns in data. As early humans learned that events in nature recur over and over again with regularity, they developed the ability to plan for the future, which ultimately led to advanced civilizations.

There is no way out of the trap that we are in. People seem to think that there is a way out of this problem. There isn't. They may say that resources are wasted or they are not distributed evenly throughout they human population. But even if we were perfectly efficient and were able to produce resources at many multiples of what we do now the problem will not be solved. The population will always grow until it can't be sustained. So even if we were able to double production on farmland or efficiently harness renewable energy sources at some point the earth will not sustain us any longer. Maybe we will make it to 10 billion and die off to 8, or 7 billion and die off to 1 billion. I guess time will tell.

Over population is a myth, and as a human race we have more than enough resources. The problem is that we waste them and we don't use them effectively. I could go on but I think the website below does a far better job than my mere statement above.

Population issues are really a war on brown people, translated the 'Too Many People' mantra should read 'Too Many Brown People Sitting on Resources'.

The issue is one of greed and consumption, the so called industrialised 'West' consumes far more that the rest of the world, their 25% of the worlds population consume 75% of the resources, leaving 75% to scrabble for 25% of the resources.

How about cutting some of the profligate western population first? At their resource consumption rates far more impact on depletion of resources would be felt if there were less Europeans or Americans.

Not buying any of this anti-human propaganda. Mr Chefurka should take his own advice and help himself to the grave if he's so concerned.

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