Posts Tagged ‘overpopulation’

I saw the few raisins left behind, in their original Whole Foods plastic bag. Flashed to Green Guru, and imagined him going through the pain of retrieving each one, so that none would go to waste. Nah! Why bother? A few raisins in the garbage, did not measure up with the inconvenience of separating the plastic folds, unsticking the raisins, one at a time, and sliding them from the bag, into the jar. Out of sight, out of mind. The little raisins went into garbage oblivion.

The next day, I watched without saying a word, as Green Guru pulled out the dirty bag, and collected every single one of the five raisins I had forsaken, and sprinkled them on top of his breakfast.

I have been thinking about the five little raisins. Green Guru and I have different value sets, when it comes to managing resources.

My values: resources are abundant, my time is precious

Green Guru’s values: resources are scarce, someone else is hungry who could be eating those raisins

His come from being raised in India, a poverty stricken country. I, on the other hand come from France where food supply was never an issue.

As more and more people in the world, start competing for limited resources, it is clear that we, the folks in developed countries need to align more with Green Guru‘s values. Next, comes the question of how to make that shift?

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Gary Peters was first introduced to me by Jeff Huggins. Since then, I have had the opportunity to read Gary’s comments on DotEarth, and to appreciate his perspective as a geography expert, and someone with informed views about the complex issues facing our planet, including climate change and an exploding world population. For many years, Gary taught geography in the California State University system, first at Long Beach, and then at Chico. He has authored or co-authored ten books, including textbooks on population geography and the geography of California. I asked Gary to share some of his thoughts with us:

Testifying at a meeting of the U. S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on March 21, 2007, Vice President Al Gore described global warming as “A true planetary emergency”. Neither I nor a majority of Americans agree with that, though I do not for a minute deny that Earth has been warming up.

I do agree, however, with Richard Heinberg, who wrote recently that “It’s not just climate change that threatens us, but depletion of resources including oil, natural gas, coal, fresh water, fish, topsoil, and minerals (ranging from antimony to zinc, and including, significantly, uranium; as well as destruction of habitat and accelerating biodiversity loss–which is exacerbated by climate change, but is also happening for other anthropogenic reasons. In essence, there are just too many of us using too much too fast.

“I would like to offer some perspective on how we have gotten to this point and what it might mean for our future, though I agree with Nassim Taleb that we are incapable of actually predicting the future. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that modern humans, Homo sapiens, can be traced back to an African origin around 160,000 years ago.

For most of those 160,000 years our ancestors lived in small groups as hunters and gatherers. Life expectancies were short and populations grew only very slowly. About 10,000 years ago humans started to practice rudimentary agriculture, mainly because global warming was already occurring as the most recent Ice Age was ending. As Jack Weatherford noted, “Around the world, humans seem to have switched from foraging to farming because of the whole set of changes produced by global warming.” Agriculture increased Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, and as crops and domesticated animals were improved and diffused around the world, population growth accelerated somewhat, but it was still, by modern standards, slow, and it was also sporadic. Populations grew when times were good, then declined when times were bad. Famines, diseases, and wars would take heavy tolls from time to time.By about one thousand years ago the human population had only grown to around 300 million, give or take perhaps 50 million. That is about the current population of the United States, but it represented the end result of 159,000 years of human population growth. Slow growth continued until the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, raised Earth’s carrying capacity again and set in motion a period of modern population growth that continues today, though at a rate that has slowed considerably from that in the late 1960s.

Around 1830, after 159,830 years, the human population reached its first billion. Since then, however, our growth has been unprecedented. During the 20th century the world’s population nearly quadrupled, from 1.6 to 6.1 billion, and since 2000 we’ve added another half billion or so to planet Earth, bringing our numbers to around 6.63 billion. Currently, we add close to another 80 million people each year.

We might describe this sudden and vast increase in human numbers as “irrational exuberance.” After tens of thousands of years, we suddenly, in less than two centuries, have increased our numbers more than six-fold. As Russell Hopfenberg (among others) has noted, “Increases in the population of the human species, like increases in all other species, is a function of increases in food availability.” As Descartes could have noted, “I eat, therefore I am.”

This rapid growth in our population could only have occurred with a vast and rapid improvement in productivity in agriculture. In turn those productivity increases have come almost entirely from our use of fossil fuels, primarily petroleum. If you looked at graphs of population growth and crude oil production side by side over the last 200 years, you would see enough similarity to convince you that it is not coincidence.

Our rapidly expanding numbers and use of fossil fuels have brought us to where we are today, and leave us wondering about the future. Even as we’ve substantially increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including CO2 and CH4, we seem to have reached a broader threshold. Global warming; acidification of the oceans; overfishing; fresh water scarcity; accelerated species extinctions; disappearing wetlands, tropical forests, and other habitats; the growing possibility that we are at or close to a peak in world crude oil production–these may all be signs that humans have now reached or exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity for our species. As eminent ecologist Garrett Hardin warned us, “The universe may or may not be infinite, but prudence demands that we assume that the portion practically available to humankind is finite.” Iconoclastic economist Kenneth Boulding put it this way, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” It may be time to see that our numbers, combined with our expanding affluence and constant need to consume more of everything, have become Earth’s real problem.

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The Daily Footprint Project has taken me to the micro level of my personal footprint, down to the most minute details. I am only one out of six billion people, however. How do I fit within the larger picture? I wanted to know. I found this world map of environmental footprint on the Footprint Network:

Learning From Environmental Footprint Statistics

The map tells me I am in the largest red zone, along with 300 millions other Americans. Together, we have succeeded at becoming the largest offenders against the environment, both in terms of our per capita and combined environmental footprint (from Living Planet Report):



I am left wondering where does the nine point six come from? What is it about the way we live in this country that makes us such outrageous consumers of the world’s resources? Here is what came to my mind, in random order:

  1. round the clock services

  2. big cars

  3. big houses

  4. master bedrooms

  5. hot tubs

  6. pools

  7. large food servings

  8. big appliances

  9. big everything

  10. driving everywhere

  11. love of electronics

  12. waste, throw away culture

  13. malls as meccas

  14. online shopping

  15. suburbia

  16. credit cards

  17. advertising

  18. red meat

  19. processed foods

  20. cheap gas

  21. cheap water

  22. cheap electricity

If only things were not so big, and cheap, and convenient, we would not be so tempted to consume as much. I know I wouldn’t. I don’t whenever I go back to France. And the statistics are here to prove it.

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Just received in the mail. An appeal for a donation to the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center, in New York. The letter starts off by celebrating the agency’s success in convincing 24 out of 26 women to keep their babies. ‘We know we are doing God’s work in the city, bringing hope and life to the women and families of New York City.’ These people may be sweet souls, but I can’t support what they do. Overpopulation is about to kill us. I wish birth control would become more of a priority on the environmental agenda.

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