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Have We Reached Maximum Sustainable Population Size? 1070

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-little-elbow-room dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Pulitzer prize winning writer Thomas Friedman writes that in few years we may be looking back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? 'We're currently caught in two loops,' writes Friedman. 'One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability.' According to the Global Footprint Network we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth's resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. 'Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem,' says Paul Gilding. 'We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we're not stupid.'"
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Have We Reached Maximum Sustainable Population Size?

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  • Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:20PM (#36380912)

    No.

    • Re:Answer: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by countertrolling (1585477) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:23PM (#36380954) Journal

      Yes! It's right there in the summary.. We need a new economic model... Resources are more than abundant.. Mismanagement and desire for control is the problem..

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by chispito (1870390)
        The title of this summary is "Have We Reached Maximum Sustainable Population Size." That is the question to which he is answering "No," and his is the correct answer.
        • A better question is "have we reached the maximum sustainable resource consumption/conversion rate per person times population".

          A US citizen is responsible for 10 to 20 times more resource and energy consumption than a Chinese or Indian citizen, for example.

        • by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:27PM (#36381754)
          e.g. will we start letting the excess die in a gutter? The question isn't, can we feed these people? It's: Will we? We don't need these people. There's no jobs for them. Should we just let them starve? Capitalism says yes, socialism says no. I don't know of a third answer (that doesn't boil down to one or the other in practical terms).
          • by jlar (584848)

            "The question isn't, can we feed these people? It's: Will we? We don't need these people. There's no jobs for them. Should we just let them starve? Capitalism says yes, socialism says no."

            So please tell me: Has starvation historically been most prevalent in socialist or market economies?

      • Re:Answer: (Score:4, Insightful)

        by fatphil (181876) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:41PM (#36381232) Homepage
        We need more contraception.

        We need to recognise that people like Mother Theresa and the Pope are the cause of more suffering in the world, through encouraging people to breed offspring who can't be fed properly, than either Uncle Joe or Uncle Mao.
      • I, for one, am partial to energy accounting. Given that we can recycle much or most of the components in today's products, the only resource we consume irreversibly is power. By measuring an item's price in terms of power needed to produce a set quantity, we can have true, effective competition, unskewed by 'creative accounting', bailouts, and other practices. Then, by dividing a country's productive capacity among its population, we can prevent overspending by any one institution or individual: end of debt

      • Re:Answer: (Score:4, Interesting)

        by queazocotal (915608) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @12:01AM (#36383686)

        Anyone that claims 'we are running out of resources' - without specifying 'as we currently use them' - is a complete failure.

        Almost nobody at all wants to use more resources.
        They want certain things, and don't care how they're provided.

        For example - lighting.
        If you take current lighting levels in homes, and compute it out, you end up with the figure that you'd need 15 tons of candles a year to light the average home as well as it now is.

        Consider how much it would cost in 1700 to have the countries leading musicians play one 'track' each as background music at a dinner.

        Heating/cooling of houses in the best and average homes worldwide is another huge component of energy use that could be improved without anyone caring.

        Technology can help enormously with energy use.
        It's plausible that as LED lighting hits, it's going to reduce energy use of even the best current technology by a factor of 2ish.
        Aerogel insulation for homes is not intrinsically expensive, and yet could improve dramatically over the normal today, as are many energy saving technologies - air exchange ventilation.

        Cars are energy hogs. But even there, it's possible to improve the performance and reduce energy usage - see the various projects in progress to let cars automatically form closely spaced 'road trains' - which will reduce drag.

        in short - go and look at a breakdown of resource usage by task, and compare the best plausible or cutting-edge now tech in 20 years, as it could be implemented.
        There are _huge_ savings to be made.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by knotprawn (1935752)
      Does this mean that we may never get to see the year of the Linux Desktop?
    • No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Spazmania (174582) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:38PM (#36381174) Homepage

      In 1971, Paul Ehrlich predicted a maximum sustainable world population of 1.2 billion people. By 1994 Ehrlich raised his estimate to 2 billion saying, "the present population of 5.5 billion [..] has clearly exceeded the capacity of Earth to sustain it." Two decades later we're closing in on 7 billion souls the overwhelming majority of which are not expected to starve to death or otherwise suffer a Malthusian catastrophe.

      Overpopulation alarmism has become trite and hackneyed.

      • by Spazmania (174582)

        But my personal favorite is Fremlin's 1964 observation that the heat dissipation limit requires us to keep the Earth's human population under 10^18 souls.

        http://probaway.wordpress.com/2008/12/12/what-will-be-the-earths-maximum-population/ [wordpress.com]

      • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Surt (22457) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:47PM (#36381300) Homepage Journal

        Of course, the problem with that attitude is that just because a bunch of people cried wolf before you doesn't make you wrong.

      • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kittenman (971447) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:01PM (#36381478)

        Overpopulation alarmism has become trite and hackneyed.

        Yeah, but it sells papers.

        • Re:No (Score:4, Interesting)

          by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb AT phy DOT duke DOT edu> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:52PM (#36382432) Homepage
          As does global warming alarmism, nuclear meltdown alarmism, alarmism over the horrors of oil pipelines across the pristine Alaskan wilderness, nuclear/bio/neurotoxic terrorism alarmism, economic alarmism, alarmism concerning the inevitable collapse of Christian Society should same-sex persons be permitted to marry, taxation alarmism, economic depression alarmism, and recently, alarmism concerning the rapture and following apocalypse and still more alarmism about how a coronal mass ejection that is apparently inevitable in 2013 will bring about the collapse of civilization as we know it.

          Why, without alarmism the daily news would be so boring that we might even get some work done and end global poverty, cure HIV, wake up and smack our foreheads with our hands and say "What was I thinking" regarding religion (a.k.a. "mythology that governs people's lives"), invent thermonuclear fusion engines the size of outboard motors that run for a decade on a thimbleful of fuel that is not mined from the moon, and establish world peace.

          This is in and of itself an alarming prospect!

          rgb

          (P. S. -- in addition to selling papers, all this alarmism allows politicians to remain in power -- d'ya think?)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gad_zuki! (70830)

        So infinite humans, no problem? Your incredibly naive if you think human life is sustainable at any comfortable levels past a certain amount of people.

        Here's an example. Ehrlich's time was the 60s and 70s. Back then an American could work ONE JOB and OWN A HOME AND AFFORD TWO CARS AND A FAMILY.

        Fast forward to today and myself and everyone I know is a working couple who can barely afford the things people in the 60s and 70s middle class people had. We've cut back on driving because gas is so expensive. Our f

        • Re:No (Score:4, Informative)

          by Charcharodon (611187) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:43PM (#36381908)
          In the sixties and seventies people could afford 1 car not 2. Cars were death traps back then.

          Gas was completely unregulated back then. I for one don't miss the smog and the lead.

          Food is still relatively inexpensive if you actually make your own. No one in the 60/70's bought large quantites of pre-made food and ate out for 3 meals a day of fast food.

          None of the things that people consider necessities now existed back then, and what did was insanely expensive.

          2-4 cars per family - absolutley fuck no!
          Tv's bigger than 24" no, color TV no, cheap Tv's - no
          Home computers - no.
          Home entertainment systems - no
          Video game consoles - no
          Internet or cable tv - no
          Digital phones, cheap long distance (video/global calls unavailable) - no
          Cell phones - hell no
          Designer/label clothes - yes did everyone wear them - no
          Cheap airfare - no
          Houses bigger than 2000sq ft - rarely
          Cheap electronics - hell no - stereos/record players/tvs were very expensive
          Digital photography - no - just very expensive film based
          Modern medical treatments - no - you lived (or not) with most ailements that are trivial to treat now
          Advanced education nearly universally available - no

          What most people take for granted today as a mediocre lifestyle is beyond what even the wealthy had access to in the 60's and 70's

          If you want to live that dream lifestyle just strip all the things above from you and your family and you'll find today's pay quite easy to get by on

          • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

            by walshy007 (906710) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:46PM (#36382396)

            The problem with your argument, is that all of the advanced unnecessary accessories are now comparatively cheap, whereas the basic necessities of life are increasing in cost dramatically.

            A standard size house block of land 50km away from the nearest cbd here costs approximately $300k-400k AUD (about $330k-440k USD) _without_ even a house on it.

            You are looking at closer to a million dollars simply for a typical house.

            Food is still relatively inexpensive if you actually make your own. No one in the 60/70's bought large quantites of pre-made food and ate out for 3 meals a day of fast food.

            The costs of the land to grow your own food costs far more than the produce you would create. If you mean going to the shopping centre and getting ingredients, fast food can work out cheaper.. that is how expensive normal food is these days. It only makes sense to go normal food shopping if you have 3+ people and buy in bulk to create big meals.

            What most people take for granted today as a mediocre lifestyle is beyond what even the wealthy had access to in the 60's and 70's

            Depends on what you want from life, financial independence, owning your own home, not having food bills eat most of your income? Something many now cannot achieve which was easily doable back then.

            Basically, all the luxuries are now cheap, and all the basic necessities of life are now expensive, nice work there.

      • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:16PM (#36381616) Homepage

        As P. J. O'Rourke once pointed out that (at the time of writing), Freemont, CA has the same population density as Bangladesh, yet NGO's aren't sending swarms of people there to try and convince the residents to stop having families.

        Fretting about overpopulation is just the politically correct way to be racist. Far too many of you; not enough of me.

        • Re:No (Score:4, Interesting)

          by shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:50PM (#36381990) Journal

          As P. J. O'Rourke once pointed out that (at the time of writing), Freemont, CA has the same population density as Bangladesh, yet NGO's aren't sending swarms of people there to try and convince the residents to stop having families.

          Maybe that's because the relevant number here is not population density, but rather population growth rate?

        • by AK Marc (707885)

          As P. J. O'Rourke once pointed out that (at the time of writing), Freemont, CA has the same population density as Bangladesh, yet NGO's aren't sending swarms of people there to try and convince the residents to stop having families.

          That's stupid. You are comparing a city to a country. The population density of Dhaka is about 60,000 people per square mile. The population density of Fremont is about 2700 people per square mile. You are arguing that an area of more than 20 times the population density of some random American town is not overpopulated because people could just wander out into the surrounding countryside and evenly distribute themselves and might be able to get the rural population density to barely match some random A

        • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

          by F34nor (321515) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @10:18PM (#36383060)

          Think of it this way....

          Imagine a test tube filled with sugar and water. It represents all the resources and space on earth. Or just think of the earth, it works either way.

          Now place one bacteria in the test tube. For the sake of the though experiment we will say that the bacteria doubles every minute and at 60 minutes the test tube will be full of bacteria and all space and resources are exhausted. Here's the question.... at how many minutes is the tube 1/2 full? Wait... wait... if you thought 30 minutes you're not smart enough to be involved in any type of conversation relating to math. The answer is 59. 1/2 full at 59 minutes. So how many bacteria look around a 1/16 full and realize that they are well and truly fucked? Not you obviously. Even if we invent a quantum earth duplicator and make 3 more earths, at 61 the second earth is exhausted and at 62 all four are. Your basic math illiteracy is the real reason you think that we are all ok.

          The depth of your wrongness is staggering. Math is not racist.

          http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=video&cd=1&ved=0CDYQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DF-QA2rkpBSY&ei=IC3wTb3oO4GisAO239yuDg&usg=AFQjCNHmFV-da9Oy6becHtac7KffjWsTsQ&sig2=hocy8suakk6IR0w5233hFg [google.com]

          • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

            by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @02:53AM (#36384582) Homepage Journal

            >>Imagine a test tube filled with sugar and water. It represents all the resources and space on earth. Or just think of the earth, it works either way.
            >>Now place one bacteria in the test tube.

            Now replace the bacteria with farmo-bacteria that actively cultivate new food sources. Your analogy begins to fail.

            Now replace the farmo-bacteria with birth-control-farmo-bacteria that can limit their population growth. Your analogy then totally fails.

            >>The depth of your wrongness is staggering.

            The fact that you support Malthus's error even after he was proven wrong over hundreds of years is even more staggering. Malthus was an idiot, you're a fucking moron.

            Food prices have not been growing "as the result of global warming" as TFA says. They've been growing due to idiot policies try are using our food supply for fuel - corn ethanol being the biggest culprit. Which even China has banned as being detrimental to human health and happiness. China.

            Well, I guess indirectly it is AGW causing the problem, but as the result of shortsighted fucktards like yourself that can't think anything through all the way. The Law of Unintended Consequences always tends to bite hippie policies in the ass, but since their "sustainable" lifestyle is mainly subsidized by their parents, they don't ever feel the pain.

      • Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TiggertheMad (556308) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:21PM (#36381670) Homepage Journal
        Overpopulation alarmism has become trite and hackneyed.

        Yes, you are correct. We should continue on our present course without considering the consequences. We will never run out of anything.

        I personally think that unless some steps are taken to bring world population growth to zero fairly quickly that there are going to be some truly horrible wars in fifty to one hundred years. First world countries will be very reluctant to give up all their modern amenities, and developing countries will be unwilling to curb their population growth to keep competition for resources to a minimum. At some point, there are going to be some very serious shortages, and the wars that result will not be conducted around the traditional goal of military conquest for resources, but rather the goal of making the world population much smaller in a very short time. I certainlly hope that doesn't happen, but there are enough despotic people in power around the world that I think it might.

        The fact is that there are not infinite resources. If there are too many people using those resources, you will run out. The problem is that when this happens, it will basically be like an inflection point on a graph, where change will happen very quickly.
        • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb AT phy DOT duke DOT edu> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @09:18PM (#36382622) Homepage

          I personally think that unless some steps are taken to bring world population growth to zero fairly quickly that there are going to be some truly horrible wars in fifty to one hundred years.

          You mean sort of like the truly horrible wars of the twentieth century, the nineteenth century, the eighteenth century, the seventeenth century, the... (iterate back to where human ancestors were mostly peaceable primates with 24 chromosomes instead of 23).

          Why do you think that world population growth has anything to do with having truly horrible wars? We've done just fine killing one another when the world's population was far smaller, and if anything we are continuing some forty of the most peaceful years the world has ever known combined with the highest population the world has ever known.

          Besides, there is only one "fundamental" scarcity -- energy. Bite the bullet, build massive solar energy facilities worldwide and/or invent sustainable thermonuclear fusion generators, make energy cheap and plentiful "forever", and we can address all the other scarcities. The catch will be to manage this before we kill one another off not because of scarcity or overpopulation per se, but because of human lust for political power, wealth, reproductive success, and control.

          Not that I really disagree. If, for example, the Holocene cranks to its inevitable end starting tomorrow, the solar minimum that appears to be starting turns out to be a grand minimum, a couple of big volcano blow to give the next ice age a healthy head start, and we have a "Year without a summer" such as the one that occurred last in 1816, it would very likely kill a billion or more people. Midsummer frost in the world's breadbaskets would bring about starvation on a truly unprecedented scale, and the very northerly our southerly countries that have been temperate and prosperous during the Holocene would be the ones begging from or warring with their equatorial neighbors as the glaciers once again begin their slow descent across Siberia, Canada, China, and northern Europe.

          The advent of thermonuclear fusion could have a very similar effect as it completely breaks the economies of all of the oil and coal producing countries and companies overnight.

          See? We don't really have to wait! We could have a truly horrible war right now!

          rgb

      • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rrohbeck (944847) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:30PM (#36381782)

        So how much of that population is fed by oil?
        The "Green Revolution" was a fossil fuel revolution. Take away the fossil fuel and you're back to the 1-2 billion baseline.

        • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

          by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb AT phy DOT duke DOT edu> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @09:30PM (#36382714) Homepage
          Evidence for this claim? My father worked to help make the green revolution happen in India and Southeast Asia, and he had absolutely nothing to do with oil (nor did the work done by e.g. Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller foundation, US AID, and so on have anything to do with oil). The bulk of the effort associated with the green revolution was the development of far better crop hybrids -- e.g. advanced rice hybrids developed in Louisiana -- with much higher yields and resistances, modern crop rotation methodologies, the development of a sustainable economic model from the farmer to the table, and much more. "Oil" played a (relatively minor) role in only two ways that I can think of or remember -- replacing bullock carts to some extent with e.g. trucks and rail for transporting crops to more distant locations, and as one of many sources of energy used to make fertilizers. The predominant fuels used by the farmers he worked with before, after, and during the revolution were dried cow dung and charcoal.

          As a consequence of the green revolution and education and a very energetic population, fossil fuel consumption in India has steadily risen along with the gross domestic product as it has moved towards being a modern society, but oil had almost nothing to do with the revolution per se and has nothing at all to do with the "1-2 billion baseline". At least as far as I know (and I probably know a lot more than most people, having lived in India and watched the green revolution happen). If you have evidence to the contrary, feel free to enlighten me -- with references.

          rgb
      • Re:No (Score:5, Funny)

        by Fractal Dice (696349) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:33PM (#36381810) Journal
        At our current rate of population growth, I calculate that in 5425 years, humanity will be a solid ball of flesh expanding at the speed of light in all directions. I'm drawing the line on exponential growth there.
      • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:35PM (#36381842)

        Over population is definitely something that we need to be concerned with. But in practice that problem tends to take care of itself when the population gets adequate, food, education and support in old age. Few people genuinely want to have more than 3 kids, the number is small enough that if a few people choose to have more it's probably not even worth worrying about.

        The bigger issue is in parts of the world where parents have to depend upon their children to care for them in old age. Parents have no way of knowing how many children will survive to adulthood and as such tend to have a lot more children in order to make sure that they're cared for. These kids then tend to make a similar choice and over time the population just keeps on growing.

        But, rather than disasters, the bigger thing we need to be concerned with is how much of the planet's surface we're dedicating to agriculture and living space. We definitely could grow the population quite a bit and still be able to sustain ourselves, it's just the cost would be extraordinary and we'd have to give up our wild spaces.

        • Re:No (Score:4, Interesting)

          by trout007 (975317) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @11:38PM (#36383578)

          These are all still just technical challenges. I'll throw some game changing technologies out there.

          Plentiful nuclear power. When we finally get good and making reactors and have lplenty of energy available we can solve most of these problems.

          With nanotube filters you can filter any type of water to make pure water much more efficiently than RO filters today. With enough power you could filter sea water and pipe it as far as you need it. We already do it on a smaller scale with oil products.

          With enough power you can grow plants indoors or underground. LED lights can be fine tuned to the wavelengths that plants crave. Also indoors you can control the weather and temperature so you can get multiple crops. You may be able to automate the entire process. This removes pressure for land to be used for agriculture.

          If you have a small enough high power source and light enough building materials you can get flying cars. This will eliminate roads returning those to nature.

          So advances in technology can cure almost any problem.

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      And who knows, but the headline reminded me of this Onion article [theonion.com]
  • by cortesoft (1150075) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:21PM (#36380922)

    The Earth wasn't supposed to be able to support half the current global population.

    Then Norman Borlaug came along, and turns out we could support more. Who knows this time around?

    • by fatphil (181876) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:45PM (#36381286) Homepage
      That's an empty argument. The earth wasn't supposed to do anything.
      Spin, perhaps, but even that's debatable.
    • by rhook (943951)

      You could fit the entire world population into the state of Texas with a population density roughly the same as NYC. The world is not in danger of overpopulation anytime soon.

  • by Daetrin (576516) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:22PM (#36380942)
    It's a little early to include the tornadoes as part of a discussion on global climate change. Just like one hot summer doesn't prove it and one cold winter doesn't disprove it (even ignoring the false notion that global climate change != getting warmer everywhere all the time) we'd need to see evidence of increased storm activity for multiple years in close succession before we could draw any conclusions. In general i'm a "believer" in global climate change, but i'm not in favor of using incorrect data to try and prop up the idea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Climate change wasn't mentioned at all. Maybe the author meant that there's more people living in tornado prone areas.
      • by Nikkos (544004)
        Or maybe there's no connection at all and the author is overreaching for the benefit of sales. Seriously, Just because we as a people are stupid when it comes to where/how we build (places prone to flooding, wildfire, mudslides, hurricanes, severe storms/tornados) doesn't mean there is somehow a connection to what is essentially "the beginning of the end" in the author's mind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pclminion (145572)

      Just like one hot summer doesn't prove it and one cold winter doesn't disprove it (even ignoring the false notion that global climate change != getting warmer everywhere all the time) we'd need to see evidence of increased storm activity for multiple years in close succession before we could draw any conclusions. In general i'm a "believer" in global climate change, but i'm not in favor of using incorrect data to try and prop up the idea.

      It's not hard to prove that the Earth's temperature is increasing. M

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:25PM (#36380986)

    He has a 9.6 million dollar, 11,400 square foot home.

    Oh and his wife used to own a company developing mall properties, those high square foot, poorly insulated buildings surrounded by heat absorbing asphalt.

    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @09:17PM (#36382612)

      He has a 9.6 million dollar, 11,400 square foot home.

      Well, that's proof enough for me that he must be wrong, and the carrying capacity of the earth must indeed be infinite.

  • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gd[ ]aud.net ['arg' in gap]> on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:25PM (#36380990) Homepage
    See: tragedy of the commons [wikimedia.org]...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:28PM (#36381034)

    is the cause of the higher prices.

  • by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:29PM (#36381062)

    This gets me wondering how long we can cheat Malthus, until we have a big population die-off?

    When it happens, it will be a chain reaction. Famine, disease, and wars tend to go hand in hand, and if a population of an otherwise stable country starts starving essentially in toto, they will be doing desperate means to find a food source, even if it means overrunning a neighbor.

    • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:23PM (#36381700) Homepage Journal

      The UN estimates of world population now indicate an increase until around 2075 (9.2 billion), and then a decrease after that.

      Birth rates in all developed nations are falling fast, many are under replacement rate already. The US population would be lower than the replacement rate right now if it weren't for immigration.

      The problem with Malthus is not the math, it's the model. Anyone can pick assumptions and make a model, and from there make predictions. Mathus erred in assuming that things would not change. An exponential curve is indistinguishable from a bell curve at the long tail beginning, so the evidence seemed to support his prediction.

      What's changing is the demographics. Once raised out of poverty, people naturally start having fewer children. There are a variety of proposed reasons for this, and the evidence is very strong.

      The prediction now is that once everyone is reasonably above the poverty line (mostly Africa, with some contribution from SE Asia) population growth will reverse.

      Interestingly enough, in 75 years time there may be the reverse problem - population *shrinkage*.

  • Collapse? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by osvenskan (1446645) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:30PM (#36381066)

    We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter.

    I wish I could be as sure. Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed does a nice job of documenting societies that, when faced with the same choice, picked collapse. Granted, they didn't have Jared Diamond's book to read beforehand, but neither did they have our capacity for self-immolation.

    • Re:Collapse? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by xMrFishx (1956084) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:34PM (#36381124)
      I also think Collapse is more likely. Some major part of the world will destroy itself, either by having a War on Resources (hm, oil rings a bell), secondary major economic collapse, such as government destabilisation in a major western country or some stupendous natural disaster caused by the human desire to obtain more resources to survive (go drill in Yellowstone or something). War is probably most likely, paired with an economic collapse tied to the cause of the war.
  • lots of nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:32PM (#36381100) Homepage Journal

    . 'One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability.'

    - well that's plenty of nonsense.

    Prices today are pushed up by artificial demand, created by the inflated currencies of the world. US Fed is printing like a maniac, buying up its own debt and is giving the US dollars to all the banks (and likely central banks) around the world, so that they would also buy US debt - this is an attempt to trick the bond market into believing there is an actual demand for US bonds, but all of this is designed to prolong the day of reckoning - when the US bonds are no longer bought and US dollar plunges ahead of all currencies and US is in hyper inflation, because Fed will likely buy out all the debt and default that way, rather than let the market restructure US debt and rebuild the economy.

    The prices for food and energy around the world are going up as US is creating inflation around the world, but for now US is still shielding itself from the ultimate catastrophe - currency crisis, but who knows how much longer it can do this? Of-course the oil production will continue declining, as OPEC cannot actually bring more and more production on line, even though it pretends to say that it can, but it can't.

    Cartels do not work, because the members have only incentives to cheat. They agree on quotas, and then they produce as much as they can, since they see high prices (even though in reality, the oil and gas are lowest price ever in history if counted in gold.)

    As to the population size - the only problem with population size today, is that the governments of the world are distorting the free market and not letting the businesses provide everything the growing populations need in real competitive market. There are a small number of largest companies, that work with government to make sure they keep their monopolies, but of-course monopolies have about as much incentive to maximize their efficiency and compete on price/quality, as any government, which means zilch.

    Do not lose the sight of what is really going on: globally the world's central banks are engaged in destruction of currencies in order to maintain the US currency high relative to their own, since there is likely political and personal profit in it for them. This is causing the massive inflation and then prices rise around the world, only so that they stay relatively stable in USA. Do not be fooled by the so called economists, that the government calls 'main stream' and who work for the governments - they are no different than the shamans and witch doctors of yesteryear, who also worked for their kings.

    As to the global warming, etc. - how about getting government hands off the energy policy of the world, allowing the businesses to compete on best ways to provide energy, be it nuclear or whatever it is? And how about getting rid of the subsidies to the auto-industries via government sponsored infrastructure, which create the energy policy that we are observing around the world today, complete with wars and pollution?

    I am sure this opinion will be highly popular on this site.

    Good night.

  • When you get past the big, scary headlines to the inside of the Times article, you see statements like this:

    "We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.” (Emphasis added)

    Wait, we're gonna have to come up some new technologies to lessen our environmental footprint?! Help!

  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:37PM (#36381148)

    "Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in."

  • by biodata (1981610) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:37PM (#36381152)
    we need to let go of. Most of the so called economic growth of the last few hundred years has been entirely based on digging things out of the ground and consuming them. Nothing grew, we just reduced the value of our asset base in favour of revenue to spend. Yes we could find other assets to strip that would keep us 'growing' a while longer but really, can we keep pretending?
  • by MetricT (128876) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:37PM (#36381160) Homepage

    I was forced to read "The Earth is Round" as part of my MBA. When it comes to amazing him, the bar is set pretty low. He could probably write a column on how the sun rises in the east

    "Empire of Debt" has a delicious and well-deserved excoriation of Friedman. If it wasn't such a great book in and of itself, it would be worth reading just for that.

  • by Homburg (213427) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:40PM (#36381206) Homepage

    I think any post referencing Thomas Friedman requires a link to Matt Taibbi's classic article [nypress.com]:

    Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses....

    According to the mathematics of the book, if you add an IPac to your offshoring, you go from running to sprinting with gazelles and from eating with lions to devouring with them.

  • Again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hartree (191324) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:51PM (#36381346)

    Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, peak oil, etc, etc. Now Friedman.

    A succession of people saying all will be disaster unless you immediately do X that, by the way they consider wise to do for other reasons.

    In the reign of Emperor Augustus, historian Livey claimed that if Rome did not return to its founding values (which didn't really exist during its founding by a pretty savage lot) it would surely fall.

    He was right. 500 years later for the western part of the empire, and 1000 for the eastern part.

    One day such doomsayers will be right. But thus far they have been wrong so many times.

    Has anyone noticed how similar this is to the preacher that was saying the world would end on May 22nd?

    Like him, when the world fails to end, they say they didn't account for something and set a new date. Now in October, I think?

    Similarly, it's now not 1975 or 1980 when it falls apart and we all starve. It's 20xx and we've really got it right this time. We think...

    Yeah. Uh huh.

    (Note I don't think wasting resources, unending population increase or not conserving energy is wise. I'm highly in favor of efficiency increases. But the claim the gas tank is empty hasn't agreed with what actually happened.)

    And what if those claims of how cheap and plentiful solar/renewables are really work?

    The same shining lights of this game, Ehrlich, Lovins etc. have stated that a truly cheap clean, plentiful energy source/sources would be a disaster for the world. Mankind would use it to further destroy nature and thus should be limited in energy availability.

  • by Jiro (131519) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @07:34PM (#36381822)

    First world countries all have below zero population growth rates, or would if it wasn't for immigration. In a rich country, children cost more to raise, and increased women's rights mean that women don't get used as baby factories to increase the status of men.

    This is a non-issue for just about anyone who would actually be reading this.

  • by Brian_Ellenberger (308720) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:04PM (#36382096)

    I noticed that this website is in English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian--meaning it is mostly directed to the west. The fact that it doesn't even have Mandarin or Cantonese despite China's 1.3 Billion tells you that he is more interested in extracting money from guilt-laden westerners than solving any problems. French! Less than 2% of the earth speak French as their native language. Heck, more people speak Bengali or Telugu or even Marathi than the entire population of France!

    Most of the western countries are stable or have declining populations. The United States is an exception, however much of that is due to immigration. Yet you have India with 1.2 Billion and growing, Indonesia with 237 million and growing, Nigeria with 158 million and growing, Bangladesh with 150 million and growing---and the site is dedicated to telling Westerners why it is all their fault. Solving the real problem, 3rd world population growth, isn't going to get done by telling Westerners to reduce their "footprint".

  • by Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @08:14PM (#36382174)

    It's meaningless to ask if we have reached maximum sustainable population size unless you also specify what standard of living you are talking about. I can recall reading about 20 years ago that we had already passed the point where it was possible to give everyone on Earth the same standard of living as the average American.

    But standard of living really is a proxy for resource consumption and not a very good one because as technology advances it can produce more from less. Eventually you reach a wall though. Pick a resource utilization number and multiply by population. Is it greater than the available resources? If yes then we have passed the sustainable population. OTOH divide available resources by population and you have the allowed resource utilization to maintain that population.

    Of course that all becomes more complicated when you treat resources as finite.

    Of course that all becomes more complicated when you try to factor in the effects of growing technological capabilities.

    Of course that all becomes more complicated when you try to factor in the effects of human nature.

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