Human population has expanded fantastically, more or less continuously for the last 50,000 years, and from a human perspective that is a very good thing. Humans were living in ecological balance with the non-living ecology up until 1625 when our population hit a half billion. Our balance with the living sector has always been heavily in favor of human survival at the expense of other species. When humans entered Australia, North America and New Zealand there was a sudden die off of major sections of those continents species. Over time the wild land was converted to farms and cities and we are now at seven billion humans. Because the Earth is a closed system and there is only a finite supply of energy and space to be used, the food and other resources that sustained humans came directly at the loss to other species well-being and lives.
I am a human and I am in favor of maximizing human contentment, but when considering humanity as a whole I must think not only of this moment in time but also of the long term vigor and survival of humanity. For humanity to be surviving for a long time requires that we consume no more on a daily basis than is being provided, or soon the resources the Earth provides will run out and unsolvable problems will occur.
The obvious way for humanity to live for a long time in peace and abundance if for us to live at a level that nature can easily support and continue to provide. If we live a very low energy life style, such as a world of gardeners, there can be a large population, but if we as individuals want to live with a high energy life style, like a typical modern American, then there must be fewer people in the long run. In the long run it’s a trade off between many people living a low energy life style and and a few people living a high energy consumptive life style.
If you as an individual want to live as a typical American now does, you should support population reduction, especially population reduction of those other people using lots of energy. That way the resources will last longer. Or if you chose to permit unlimited population increase it would be rationally prudent to replace your car and vacation abroad with working at home and virtual travel. It may be possible in the not too distant future to see most humans living a very high-tech home life, using only a little locally generated electricity, working on line but doing quite a lot of human input type of farming. Humm?
The alternative for humanity seems to be a boom and bust cycle typical of an unconstrained species. When an unconstrained species runs out of some critical resource, while the population is high, there is typically a sudden collapse because everyone is dedicated to consuming every last available thing. Then for a brief moment there is a high population with nothing to eat. For modern human society, which is an unconstrained species at present, the critical resource may be energy such as oil, gas and coal, or resources used to control energy such as copper, or a natural common resource like air, land, top soil, fertilizer, water and a clear sky. The list could go on, but probably the forcing factor which will aggravate all of humanities problems is too many people for the Earth to support. That last factor, clear sky, which you rarely see discussed any more, and which was once called Nuclear Winter problem, may be the factor which trims more humans from the Earth’s population than any of the others, including the current bugaboo global warming.
The problem is that when any of the factors becomes critical there will probably be a war, and what seems stupid and unthinkable at the moment will instantly become a humanity threatening problem. That begins when any one of the thousands of existing H-bombs explodes over a city. These weapons are presently independently controlled by at least ten separate entities, each with their own necessities for survival and each with the usual number of crazy people. The hope that one of these existing weapons will never be used even in ten thousand years seems extremely unlikely, and even a hundred years, the potential life of a newborn baby, seems overly optimistic. A simple calculation: suppose each of the ten national holders of weapons has a single person with final say of deployment and they are in office for five years. That would mean 20 holders of the atomic bombs power, for five years, in each of 10 countries or 200 individuals with the power to destroy a city at the push of a button – and probably set off a massive retaliation.
Now consider what will happen when the population doubles in 50 years, from the current 7 billion to 14 billion as it is currently doing, and the one billion hungry people now living turns into a to 13 billion hungry people. If just one of those individuals with A-bombs or H-bombs thinks he is about to be attacked he will attack first, and because he knows that if he attacks there will be massive retaliation, he will attack with everything he has. Thus not just one bomb and one city but many bombs and many cities will be destroyed almost instantly. That is ugly and unthinkable but on our current course it is also inevitable, because of too many people and too few resources and the instant availability of super weapons. It’s only a question of timing, because the problems are already there. But the worst is yet to come, because the cloud of dust and smoke, created by that war, will lower the amount of sunshine reaching the crop lands of the world and next years food supply will be vastly reduced and the marginal famine before the war will become a vast and very deep famine after the war.
What would the world population be if back in 1625 when the world population was half a billion if the growth had been negative at the same rate that it was positive. The positive growth was from: 1625 – .5 Billion, 1825 – 1 B, 1925 – 2 B, 1975 – 4 B, 2025 – 8 B. The same numbers but in reverse growth at the same rate would be: 1625 – .5 B, 1825 – .25 B, 1925 – .125 B, 1975 – .062, 2025 – .031 B. That is in the year 2025 instead of having a projected population of 8 Billion humans there would be a speculated .031 Billion. Or 8 B divided by .031 B or 258 times.
What those rather startling numbers mean is that things were were so good for us that our population has grown sixteen times larger by 2025. However, if things had equally as bad as they were good for us the population would have shrunk by a similar figure, sixteen times smaller, and that is just how bad it has been for our companion species. Many of those natural species were thriving in 1625 but are now extinct – forever.
The saddest part of this grim scenario is there is no acceptable way into the distant future, say a hundred years from now, the potential life of a baby, and something very unpleasant will create a whole new world. It will probably be a, cold, dark, and empty world, a much reduced world from today’s utopia, but we can hope that our failing to solve these problems will provide instruction to the few remaining future people to try harder to solve these problems. We can give them a chance at recreating our world by storing seeds in the EarthArk in Antarctica.
Eventually humans will live again in balance with what the Earth provides.