Saturday, October 15, 2011
How Many People Can Earth Support?
Here we go again. Once again, it is put out that our population will be unsustainable at 10 billion for all sorts of Malthusian reasons.
Some time ago I went through a number of scenarios and came to the conclusion that we may feel a little crowded when our population reached 100 billion or so.
To make it a little simpler, just three things need to be done differently. First we adopt the biochar protocol allowing tropical agriculture to flourish and for us to manufacture soil anywhere we provide moisture. Secondly we adopt methods in conjunction with the Eden Machine to water all arid zones throughout the Globe to ensure availability of moisture and to augment natural rainfall. Thirdly, we have a protocol that allows us to conduct agriculture in the boreal forest.
That takes care of the land and we have not even touched the oceans in order to enhance their productivity.
My point is that every more or less flat piece of land can be made productive. The output will include animal protein and a wide range of plant products beyond our present experience.
How Many People Can Earth Support?
By Natalie Wolchover | LiveScience.com – 14 hours ago
LiveScience.com - Wed, 31 Aug, 2011
"The power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race."
The late-18th century philosopher Thomas Malthus wrote these ominous words in an essay on what he saw as the dire future of humanity. Humans' unquenchable urge to reproduce, Malthus argued, would ultimately lead us to overpopulate the planet, eat up all its resources and die in a mass famine.
But what is the maximum "power of the Earth to produce subsistence," and when will our numbers push the planet to its limit? More importantly, was Malthus' vision of the future correct?
Many scientists think Earth has a maximum carrying capacity of 9 billion to 10 billion people. [How Do You Count 7 Billion People?]
One such scientist, the eminent
sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, bases his estimate on calculations of the
Earth's available resources. As Harvard University
pointed out in his book "The Future of Life" (Knopf, 2002), "The
constraints of the biosphere are fixed." Wilson
Aside from the limited availability of freshwater, there are indeed constraints on the amount of food that Earth can produce, just as Malthus argued more than 200 years ago. Even in the case of maximum efficiency, in which all the grains grown are dedicated to feeding humans (instead of livestock, which is an inefficient way to convert plant energy into food energy), there's still a limit to how far the available quantities can stretch. "If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people,"
The 3.5 billion acres would produce approximately 2 billion tons of grains annually, he explained. That's enough to feed 10 billion vegetarians, but would only feed 2.5 billion
omnivores, because so much vegetation is dedicated to livestock and poultry in
the . United States
So 10 billion people is the uppermost population limit where food is concerned. Because it's extremely unlikely that everyone will agree to stop eating meat,
thinks the maximum carrying capacity of the Earth based on food resources will
most likely fall short of 10 billion. [When
Will Earth Run Out of Food?] Wilson
According to population biologist Joel Cohen of Columbia University, other environmental factors that limit the Earth's carrying capacity are the nitrogen cycle, available quantities of phosphorus, and atmospheric carbon concentrations, but there is a great amount of uncertainty in the impact of all of these factors. "In truth, no one knows when or at what level peak population will be reached," Cohen told Life's Little Mysteries.
Fortunately, we may be spared from entering the end-times phase of overpopulation and starvation envisioned by Malthus. According to the United Nations Population Division, the human population will hit 7 billion on or around Oct. 31, and, if its projections are correct, we're en route to a population of 9 billion by 2050, and 10 billion by 2100. However, somewhere on the road between those milestones, scientists think we'll make a U-turn.
UN estimates of global population trends show that families are getting smaller. "Empirical data from 230 countries since 1950 shows that the great majority have fertility declines," said Gerhard Heilig, chief of population estimates and projections section at the UN.
Globally, the fertility rate is falling to the "replacement level" — 2.1 children per woman, the rate at which children replace their parents (and make up for those who die young). If the global fertility rate does indeed reach replacement level by the end of the century, then the human population will stabilize between 9 billion and 10 billion. As far as Earth's capacity is concerned, we'll have gone about as far as we can go, but no farther.