Peak Population

seven billion miracles are enough

can we feed nine billion people after fossil fuels?

"Two views are vying for the allegiance of humankind. One is the status quo -- more industrialized growth, leading to a computerized world of 12 billion people surviving as a global ant heap.  The other is a transformed civilization based on wisdom, restraint and caring."
-- Jerry Brown, Earth Island Journal, Winter 1997

The cheap oil age created an artificial bubble of plentitude for a period not much longer than a human lifetime, a hundred years. … So, I hazard to assert that as oil ceases to be cheap and the world reserves are toward depletion, we will indeed suddenly be left with an enormous surplus population … that the ecology of the earth will not support. No political program of birth control will avail. The people are already here. The journey back to non-oil population homeostasis will not be pretty. We will discover the hard way that population hypergrowth was simply a side effect of the oil age. It was a condition, not a problem with a solution. That is what happened and we are stuck with it.
-- James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency (2005)

related page: Peak Grain: Feeding Nine Billion after Peak Oil and Climate Change
Three million years of human history were possible only because of cooperation (humans are remarkably interdependent)

Peak Oil, depletion of other resources, climate change and overpopulation are tests -- will we evolve or perish?

how will we feed nine billion people without petroleum (to power the tractors and food delivery trucks) and natural gas (which makes synthetic fertilizer)? relocalize production, compost humanure, ban factory farming, protect and revitalize soils

bridging the gap between increasing population and decreasing fossil energy resources is the most important issue facing humanity

nine billion people is the OPTIMISTIC scenario, assuming a "powerdown" approach to coping with Peak Oil and other limits, followed by a gentle decline in human population through largely voluntary cooperative approaches (women's equality, birth control, adequate health care and nutrition, etc) This best-case scenario would require converting the military budgets to the collective survival of humanity ...

less pleasant scenarios could involve a much higher population peak followed by a faster, nasty decline - leading to collapse and dieoff - that horrible outcome would likely exterminate many of the other species as groups engage in widespread warfare (possibly including nuclear)



"[In response to this question by Bill Moyers: What do you see happening to the idea of dignity to human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?] "It's going to destroy it all. I use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have what I call freedom of the bathroom, go to the bathroom any time you want, and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And this to my way is ideal. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up, you have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, aren't you through yet, and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies."
-- Issac Asimov

Joe Bageant | February 8, 2008 | Category: Essays
Nine Billion Little Feet
On the Highway of the Damned, Are We There Yet, Pa?

Overshoot, crash and dieoff is a typical response in nature when species exhaust their carrying capacity

By David R. Klein

Without doubt, our civilization is about to end.  We have a decade or two at most.  Don’t waste any tears on this false economy and false culture.  It was based upon a one-time glut of cheap energy and psychotic exploitation of our neighbors and it did more harm to us than good, socially and spiritually speaking.  We can only look to the future.  This particular correction will take everything we have and more just to survive.  It is a good time to believe in miracles.

by Walter Youngquist

Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
Volume 20, Number 4, March 1999 © 1999 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
Walter Youngquist, Consulting Geologist
Dr. Youngquist, P.O. Box 5501, Eugene, OR 97405.

The use of oil has changed world economies, social and political structures, and lifestyles beyond the effect of any other substance in such a short time. But oil supplies are limited. The peak of world oil production and the beginning of the irreversible decline of oil availability is clearly in sight. This paper examines the role of oil in two contexts: Its importance in countries almost entirely dependent on oil income, and the role of oil in world agricultural productivity. Possible alternatives to oil and its close associate, natural gas, are also examined. Countries almost solely dependent on oil income are chiefly those of the Persian Gulf region. The prosperity which oil has brought to these nations has resulted in a rapidly growing population which is not sustainable without oil revenues. World agriculture is now highly dependent on oil and natural gas for fertilizers and pesticides. Without these, agricultural productivity would markedly decline. As a base for the production of these materials, oil and natural gas are irreplaceable. Lifestyles and affluence in the post-petroleum paradigm will be quite different from today. World population will have to be reduced if it is to exist at any reasonable standard of living. At that time concern will be much more centered on obtaining basic resources, especially agricultural, by which to survive.
Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot:
Population, the Elephant in the Room

These definitions are from Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by William J. Catton, Jr.. Do not read this book if your dream in life is to sit on as much money as Billy Boy Gates #3.

Age of Exuberance: the centuries of growth and progress that followed the sudden enlargement of habitat available to Europeans as a result of voyages of discovery; a period of expansion when a species takes exuberant advantage of the abundant opportunities in a eminently suitable but previously inaccessible habitat. [Imagine a doe and a buck deer placed upon an island covered with forage and where there are no predators. They will happily be fat and multiply as fast as they can. That was what it was like when the Europeans came from over the sea to the new world, the Americas. Their superior weapons and method of social organization allowed them to largely ignore the fact that the Indians were already there.]

Ecological Exuberance: the lavish use of resources by members of a freely expanding population who are, at a given time, significantly fewer in number than the maximum permitted by the carrying capacity of their habitat. [The catfish are jumping, the corn is high; your daddy's rich and your mammy's good lookin'.]

Culture of Exuberance: the total complex of beliefs and practices associated with the opportunities for expansive life in the Age of Exuberance; a culture founded upon the myth of limitlessness. [The American Dream; there will always be more tomorrow of that which we now perceive as wealth than there is today, no matter how many more people there are.]

Myth of Limitlessness: the belief (more implicit than explicit, perhaps) that the world's resources are sufficient to support any conceivable human population engaged in any conceivable way of life for any conceivable duration; derivatively, the belief either that a given resource is inexhaustible or that substitutes can always be found. [The belief that there is enough material and energy for everybody on the Earth to have a car, and a house with three garages, that it's just a matter of working for it. That way, driving a guzzler has absolutely nothing to do with somebody else's poverty.]

Cornucopian Paradigm: a view of past and future human progress that disregards the carrying capacity concept, pays no attention to the finiteness of the world or to differences between takeover and drawdown, and accepts uncritically the myth of limitlessness. [This is the way TV urges most people to think, because the big boys are always after more money, no matter what. There will never be too many people or gasoline guzzlers, too much carbon dioxide, or enough stuff to spend money on.]

Cosmeticism: faith that relatively superficial adjustments in our activities will keep the New World new and will perpetuate the Age of Exuberance.[Thinking that nuclear and wind power, smaller cars, and better light bulbs will allow everything to just keep on truckin' the way it is.]

Ostrichism: obstinately persistent belief in the myth of limitlessness; the unrealistic supposition that nothing basic has changed; refusal to face facts. [Thinking that it doesn't matter if species are increasingly going extinct, the climate getting worse, the poor more desperate, the people more numerous, the moneyed increasingly blind and isolated swamped in their things and power —that is the way the world has always been and always shall be.]

Realism: recognition that the Age of Exuberance is over and that overpopulation and resource depletion must inexorably change human organization and human behavior. [Realizing that the only thing that is going to get us to the other shore beyond the darkness is a great change.]Paradigm: an underlying shared idea of the fundamental nature of whatever it is that a collectivity of minds seeks to understand: an idea that guides inquiry and thought by defining what seems real, how things are presumed to work, and how additional facts about this reality and these processes may presumably be obtained. [The habit of understanding the world that lies even deeper than our awareness. Now, it is belief in the fairness of money and its ability to lead us into the future.]

Ecological Paradigm: in general, a view of the web of life that recognizes a common chemical basis for all types of organisms (including man), emphasizes the dependence of all life processes upon flows of energy and exchanges of chemical substance between organism and environment, and expects living forms inevitably to have effects upon each other by these exchanges; in this book, rejection of the notion of human exemption for ecological principles and affirmation of the view that ecological concepts are essential for understanding human experience. [A way of understanding the world that is only in its beginning; in which we understand our actions upon the ecological systems to have global consequence and our destiny becomes that of a species dependent upon our relations with one another and the biosphere, rather than this current concept fostered by our economic system of isolated individuals, each getting his own.]

Human Exemptionalism: the notion that human beings are so fundamentally unlike other living creatures that principles of ecology (and perhaps many of the principles of other branches of biology, too) are inapplicable to us. [Thinking that the possession of consciousness somehow exempts us from the cycles and consequences of nature, such as being able to overpopulate our planet beyond its long term capacity to support us.]

Drawdown Method of Extending Carrying Capacity: an inherently temporary expedient by which life opportunities for a species are temporarily increased by extracting from the environment for use by that species some significant fraction of an accumulated resource that is not being replaced as fast as it is drawn down. [Creating the possibility for more people to be alive by exhausting resources faster than they are being replaced.]

Detritus Ecosystem: an ecosystem in which detritivores play a major part. As organic detritus accumulates in a given habitat, there is a temporary increase in carrying capacity for detritus consumers. Insofar as these are capable of increasing much faster that the detritus accumulates, however, their introduction to the community after detritus has already accumulated, or their release from some constraint that had earlier held back their use of the accumulation, tends to result in a cycle of bloom and crash. They irrupt and then as the detritus supply is exhausted, they die off. [Species can evolve that learn to feast off of accumulated dead remains, increase their exhaustion of that stored energy rapidly while it exists, run into the peak, and then die off.]

Detritovore: an organism that subsists by consuming detritus; by extension, any organism that uses the accumulated remains of long-dead organisms, including industrial human communities which are "detritovorous" insofar as they depend on massive consumption of the transformed organic remains from the Carboniferous period known as fossil fuels. [We are living off of the supply of dinosaur blood which can only run out because they are no longer walking the Earth, as well as off the other hydrocarbons, all of which are accumulations of dead organic matter.]

Takeover Method of Extending Carrying Capacity: increasing opportunities for one species by reducing opportunities for competing species. [Creating the possibility for more people to be alive by extinguishing other species.]

Carrying Capacity: the maximum population of a given species which a particular habitat can support indefinitely (under specified technology and organization in the case of the human species. [In the case at the beginning of the deer, if there was some way that they could learn to stop increasing their population at a number where the forage grew back as quickly as it was being eaten, then they would have a lifestyle in harmony with the environment, capable of continuing into the future without end. That number would be the carrying capacity of the island. For humans, the carrying capacity can be enlarged within limits with changes in technology and organization. What is important is to see the limits before one runs into them like a brick wall, and to realize which of the two ways of change best promises to fulfill any need to adapt —technology has been given the credit for everything, but it has been upon the back of the dinosaurs. If technology can no longer carry the ball then we are forced toward a different organization, and in all probability, a much smaller population.]

Phantom Carrying Capacity: illusory or extremely precarious capacity of an environment to support a life form or a way of life; that portion of a population that cannot be permanently supported when temporarily available resources become unavailable. [The millions and millions of houses that have been built around the idea of always having automobiles, and which will be almost worthless without them.]

Redundancy Anxiety: a morbid apprehension arising from population pressure, based on the more or less conscious realization that if there is an excess of population in relation to carrying capacity, the population may include oneself, not just others. [Realizing that if there are too many people in the world, then one's own goose might be cooked.]

Carrying Capacity Deficit, Overshoot: the condition wherein the permanent ability of a given habitat to support a given form of life is less than the quantity of that form already in existence. [The deer multiply beyond the number where the forage can grow back. In their hunger they devour it down to the roots where it grows back even more slowly, and almost all the deer then die off. This happened at St. Matthew Island. It also happened with people at Easter Island.
The way to understand overshoot in terms of human being is to give up for a minute the fantasy that there is nothing that science cannot do. Look around at the degree to which our society is based upon the current supply of dinosaur blood, and imagine that supply declining every year after year from now until forever. Then, reflect upon the attitudes that so many people have and that are so encouraged by the profit seekers: "I've got the money to buy an SUV and to fill the gas tank, and if that's what I want to do that's what I'm going to do";"If they don't have enough money to have a life, it's because they are either lazy or their government is rotten";"If the world is going to run out of oil, then I had better hurry up and use what I can while it's still here";"We can't let jobs and growth be taken away to save some silly endangered specie";"It is God's Will that brings children into the world";"The End of the World is coming and we at least are going to go to heaven, so why worry?" Even if somehow the reality of dinosaur blood exhaustion does not leave us beyond the capacity of the Earth to sustain us, our attitudes surely will. This is overshoot.]

Diachronic Competition: a relationship between generations in which living organisms satisfy their wants at the expense of their descendants.[This is where people don't know what to do with themselves other than want what the TV pushes them toward, such as retiring on golf curses in the desert watered with drinking water. They have to enjoy now the money they've got, regardless of the trashed out world that they leave behind.]