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The world seems to be at some kind of tipping point. A tipping point is usually defined as an ongoing change that at some seemingly gradual change it suddenly moves over into a totally new state of relationships.

For the last two hundred years, every living adult existed in a new world that was in hindsight clearly changing. It began so slowly that even a keen observer like Thomas Malthus missed its importance in 1803 when he was in the throes of population theory. Behind his mathematical theory, which was faulty, was a principle that was clearly true. Populations of living things reproduce to the carrying capacity of their food supply. The food supply is variable, and as the population is always approaching the carrying capacity, occasionally the population will exceed the food supply and some will starve to death. When the population goes below the carrying capacity, there is apparent abundance for everyone and happy times return and babies are adored as gifts rather than burdens. We have been in that blissful state for over two centuries, actually since about 1625, when the population swooped past half a billion humans.

World population from 3000 BCE to 2020 CE

World population history estimates from the United Nations, Hyde, McEvedy, and Probaway (in black line).

In 1803 Malthus saw the rapid increase in population but couldn’t believe it would last very long and thought there would soon be a collapse. What he didn’t foresee was the fabulous power that fossil fuel would grant to humanity to grow more food. Without fossil fuel to support agriculture, the population would fall back to the level that human-powered and animal-powered farming could supply. That was approximately the population that humanity lived with from 1,000 AD to 1500 AD, and it is the population that humanity will live with again after the end of the fossil-fuel economy. It will probably fall much lower for a while because of the degradation of the soil caused by overuse and by war.

The fossil-fuel economy as we know it will slump over soon. When that soon will be is impossible to predict because it could end today if there is a major war; it could dwindle more slowly as fuel prices slowly rise and supplies become scarcer and people haven’t the means to consume; it could end even more slowly if people somehow break out of nature’s policy of quickly reproducing to the limits of the food supply.

Only when the world population is in stable libration with the food supply will the natural struggle end.