Population


how large can we grow?

The industrialization of food production has allowed global population to grow exponentially, from 1.3 billion in 1850 to nearly seven billion today. With this comes exponential growth in the consumption of non-renewable resources like minerals, metals and fossil fuels, as well as the destructive overconsumption of renewable resources like topsoil and freshwater. Our current levels of consumption and population are so high that we are already drawing down the resources that future populations will need; put another way, we would need 1.6 Earths to maintain current levels indefinitely.

Contrary to popular belief, the warnings about overconsumption and overpopulation given by Thomas Malthus in 1798 and the "Limits to Growth" in 1972 were largely correct — we simply cannot keep growing forever on a finite planet. Barring a massive disaster, it is estimated that the world will have nine billion people by 2040. How will we feed so many of us at the same time that fossil fuels, potash, and other materials essential to industrial agriculture are in decline? How can we manage an equitable transition to a more stable global population?

videos

J. David Hughes: The Energy Sustainability Dilemma

length: 1:16:55   credit: Shale Shock Media

A fascinating talk by J. David Hughes given at Cornell: "The Energy Sustainability Dilemma : Powering the Future in a Finite World." Most of the easy energy is gone. This was from oil which was plentiful, and easy to get, with a very high net Energy Return on Investment (EROI). Now we are pursuing Deep Ocean Drilling, Tar Sands, Fracked Shale Gas, etc. Are we heading for a dead end? What about Wind and Solar? Can they make up the difference? This talk is somewhat technical, but essential if we are to understand our energy options as our society pushes for more energy. The slides are here.

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latest related publications

Unchecked Growth Is a Path to Poverty

William Ryerson    Jan 18, 2013   

Endless growth is not possible because of constraints of renewable resources like fresh water, clean air and biodiversity. Also, much of our industrial system depends on nonrenewable resources … >>

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The Peak Oil Crisis: The Middle East in Context

Tom Whipple    Sep 05, 2013   

While awaiting further developments in the Syrian poison gas crisis, it is a good time to review the general deterioration going on across the Middle East and the outlook for oil production from … >>

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POPULATION: The Multiplier of Everything Else

William Ryerson

EXCERPT: When it comes to controversial issues, population is in a class by itself. Advocates and activists working to reduce global population growth and size are attacked by the Left for … >>

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