How much food can the Earth supply to us humans and when will the population exceed the carrying capacity of the planet and collapse? Way back in 1679 the inventor of the microscope Leeuwenhoek estimated the maximum carrying capacity of the Earth to be 13.4 billion people. Many others since that time have made estimates and they are reviewed in What will be the Earth’s maximum population? He didn’t say just how he came up with that number but if you look at that list you will soon see that the current estimates are about that same number. Back in his time there were closer to 0.5 billion so his estimates had a much more speculative quality about them than current ones.
If at present everyone was a farmer using modern knowledge about crops and everything was done by hand without any outside fertilizer or power equipment then that estimate of 13.4 billion might be sustainable. But that is not the way things are at present and it is unlikely they ever will be in the next hundred years. But, think a long time in the future and imagine a huge population of gardeners with a tiny ruling class of high tech masters, much higher tech than we are at present. Well, don’t imagine it. Modern Americans would probably not be capable of that kind of existence and it would take a generation or more to adapt to that type of life. However, if one looks a thousand years ahead, when mineral oil is totally exhausted and even coal has been consumed and perhaps even the air is so low on its health giving powers, then the question would arise, how do we create food and maintain a society?
I don’t know! We will have to leave it up to those people to find solutions to their problems. We have our own problems. Few people look at the real problems in the thousand year or ten thousand year perspective, but I do sometimes. When viewed in that time frame a lot of modern society it impossible to imagine being sustained for that time without some form of total collapse. How can you maintain a healthy world where there are 20,000 atomic weapons lying around for 10,000 years and many tons of Plutonium which can be made into vastly more weapons than that at a moments notice. In a world where the population is exploding right on past the carrying capacity there will be political stresses which will call for war, no matter what the risk and no matter what the consequences of failure. If absolute famine is upon the possessors of those weapons those weapons will be used. It will simply be a question of do or die, trying. Right now we have an overabundance of food but if the population doubles in 39 years as it is projected to do then the obvious question to be asked, is where is all of that food going to come from. And how are farmers going to maintain our current high productivity when the oil to operate the farming equipment runs out, and there is no fertilizer and the atmosphere is worse in many new ways.
Well the population might peek at 13.4 billion as Leeuwenhoek estimated but it is very unlikely that it will stay there for more than a very short time because even now it is unlikely the Earth could sustain us the way we are living for long and with that many more people the collapse will be brought on much sooner. So when I think about the collision between population expansion and resource contraction it appears that the good times will end before that population number is reached.
Now is the time to live in a happy state—it has ever been thus.