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.
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.
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 WealthCycles.com article, The Last Supercycle:
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.