Is There Enough Food Out There For Nine Billion People ?

Science has a paper on the changes to the current global food system required to support the expanded global population we'll see in a couple of decades time, noting that radical changes to agriculture will be required to support 9 billion people - "Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People". The full text of the article is available here.

A threefold challenge now faces the world: Match the rapidly changing demand for food from a larger and more affluent population to its supply; do so in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable; and ensure that the world’s poorest people are no longer hungry. This challenge requires changes in the way food is produced, stored, processed, distributed, and accessed that are as radical as those that occurred during the 18th- and 19th-century Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions and the 20th-century Green Revolution. Increases in production will have an important part to play, but they will be constrained as never before by the finite resources provided by Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere. ...

Recent studies suggest that the world will need 70 to 100% more food by 2050. In this article, major strategies for contributing to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people, including the most disadvantaged, are explored. Particular emphasis is given to sustainability, as well as to the combined role of the natural and social sciences in analyzing and addressing the challenge.

The following is a scenario from the Limits to Growth (not from the Food Security report introduced above) It illustrates what may happen, if the goal of producing adequate food for 9 million people is attained.

The Food Security report notes that while global food prices (a good indicator of food availability for those who can afford it and have access to world markets) have generally fallen over past decades they have been punctuated by price spikes like that caused by the 1970s oil crisis and the 2008 price spike (which subsided when the world went into recession).

Given that the amount of new land that could be brought under cultivation is limited (especially when competition for other uses already poses a threat to some existing agricultural land, as do losses of land due to desertification, salinisation, soil erosion, and other consequences of unsustainable land management), the report focuses on ways of increasing food production from existing land (and the oceans).

The primary recommendations of the report are:

* "Closing the Yield Gap" (achieving "best practice" results everywhere)

The yield gap is not static. Maintaining, let alone increasing, productivity depends on continued innovation to control weeds, diseases, insects, and other pests as they evolve resistance to different control measures, or as new species emerge or are dispersed to new regions. Innovation involves both traditional and advanced crop and livestock breeding, as well as the continuing development of better chemical, agronomic, and agro-ecological control measures. The maximum attainable yield in different regions will also shift as the effects of climate change are felt. Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels can directly stimulate crop growth, though within the context of real agricultural production systems, the magnitude of this effect is not clear. More important will be the ability to grow crops in places that are currently unsuitable, particularly the northern temperate regions (though expansion of agriculture at the expense of boreal forest would lead to major greenhouse gas emissions), and the loss of currently productive regions because of excessively high temperatures and drought.

* Increasing Production Limits

The Green Revolution succeeded by using conventional breeding to develop F1 hybrid varieties of maize and semi-dwarf, disease-resistant varieties of wheat and rice. These varieties could be provided with more irrigation and fertilizer without the risk of major crop losses due to lodging (falling over) or severe rust epidemics. Increased yield is still a major goal, but the importance of greater water- and nutrient-use efficiency, as well as tolerance of abiotic stress, is also likely to increase. Modern genetic techniques and a better understanding of crop physiology allow for a more directed approach to selection across multiple traits. The speed and costs at which genomes today can be sequenced or resequenced now means that these techniques can be more easily applied to develop varieties of crop species that will yield well in challenging environments. These include crops such as sorghum, millet, cassava, and banana, species that are staple foods for many of the world’s poorest communities.

Currently, the major commercialized genetically modified (GM) crops involve relatively simple manipulations, such as the insertion of a gene for herbicide resistance or another for a pest-insect toxin. The next decade will see the development of combinations of desirable traits and the introduction of new traits such as drought tolerance. By mid-century, much more radical options involving highly polygenic traits may be feasible. Production of cloned animals with engineered innate immunity to diseases that reduce production efficiency has the potential to reduce substantial losses arising from mortality and subclinical infections. Biotechnology could also produce plants for animal feed with modified composition that increase the efficiency of meat production and lower methane emissions.

* Reducing Waste of Food

Roughly 30 to 40% of food in both the developed and developing worlds is lost to waste, though the causes behind this are very different. In the developing world, losses are mainly attributable to the absence of food-chain infrastructure and the lack of knowledge or investment in storage technologies on the farm, although data are scarce. For example, in India, it is estimated that 35 to 40% of fresh produce is lost because neither wholesale nor retail outlets have cold storage. Even with rice grain, which can be stored more readily, as much as one-third of the harvest in Southeast Asia can be lost after harvest to pests and spoilage. But the picture is more complex than a simple lack of storage facilities: Although storage after harvest when there is a glut of food would seem to make economic sense, the farmer often has to sell immediately to raise cash.

In contrast, in the developed world, pre-retail losses are much lower, but those arising at the retail, food service, and home stages of the food chain have grown dramatically in recent years, for a variety of reasons (41). At present, food is relatively cheap, at least for these consumers, which reduces the incentives to avoid waste. Consumers have become accustomed to purchasing foods of the highest cosmetic standards; hence, retailers discard many edible, yet only slightly blemished products. Commercial pressures can encourage waste: The food service industry frequently uses "super-sized" portions as a competitive lever, whereas "buy one get one free" offers have the same function for retailers. Litigation and lack of education on food safety have lead to a reliance on "use by" dates, whose safety margins often mean that food fit for consumption is thrown away. In some developed countries, unwanted food goes to a landfill instead of being used as animal feed or compost because of legislation to control prion diseases.

* Changing Diets (primarily eating less meat)

The conversion efficiency of plant into animal matter is ~10%; thus, there is a prima facie case that more people could be supported from the same amount of land if they were vegetarians. About one-third of global cereal production is fed to animals. But currently, one of the major challenges to the food system is the rapidly increasing demand for meat and dairy products that has led, over the past 50 years, to a ~1.5-fold increase in the global numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats, with equivalent increases of ~2.5- and ~4.5-fold for pigs and chickens, respectively. This is largely attributable to the increased wealth of consumers everywhere and most recently in countries such as China and India.

* Expanding Aquaculture

Aquatic products (mainly fish, aquatic molluscs, and crustaceans) have a critical role in the food system, providing nearly 3 billion people with at least 15% of their animal protein intake.

In many regions, aquaculture has been sufficiently profitable to permit strong growth; replicating this growth in areas such as Africa where it has not occurred could bring major benefits. Technical advances in hatchery systems, feeds and feed-delivery systems, and disease management could all increase output. Future gains may also come from better stock selection, larger-scale production technologies, aquaculture in open seas and larger inland water bodies, and the culture of a wider range of species. The long production cycle of many species (typically 6 to 24 months) requires a financing system that is capable of providing working capital as well as offsetting risk. Wider production options (such as temperature and salinity tolerance and disease resistance) and cheaper feed substrates (for instance, plant material with enhanced nutritional features) might also be accessed with the use of GM technologies.

Right Room, Wrong Elephant

Looking at the issue from an Australian viewpoint, The New Matilda has a related article by James Arvanitakis on the debate prompted by the 2010 Intergenerational Report. The article points out that it is not the size of our population that matters, it's how we structure our economy to support the population in a sustainable way - Right Room, Wrong Elephant.

In a parliamentary speech on global environmental issues delivered late last year, ALP MP Kelvin Thomson said it was time to discuss the environmental elephant in the room. At the time, you'd have been forgiven for assuming he was fed up with the shortcomings of Kevin Rudd's climate policy as the Government focused all its attention on outmanoeuvring Malcolm Turnbull, rather than addressing the problems with its ETS.

Actually, the elephant Thomson wanted to talk about was population growth, both here and globally. Thomson read out a long list of global issues, from traffic congestion and waste, to global warming and terrorism, and explained how the population explosion was at the base of each of these problems.

Now, a couple of months later, the issue of population as a so-called "elephant in the room" is front and centre. Driven by the release of the 2010 Intergenerational Report — as well as by a Prime Minister who seems genuinely excited by the prospect of an Australian population of 35 million — everyone is talking about this particular elephant. Buying into the debate, entrepreneur Dick Smith and former NSW premier, Bob Carr, have both warned that this level of growth will lead to ecological disaster and that Australia is unlikely to be able to handle many more people.

For myself and many of my colleagues, however, this issue is far from being a new one. Population and sustainability are concerns that we see raised constantly in our work and we have seen that, while the motivations of those raising the concerns may vary significantly, the way the population question plays out is very specific. There's just one question we are asked again and again: "What is the right population number for Australia?"

Is it a valid question? Well, perhaps, but before we even try to answer it, we need to understand that there is another elephant in the room. This one has been pointed out by British social commentator George Monbiot, and it's one that Kelvin Thomson and his contemporaries have chosen to ignore: that those worrying most about population seem to be post-reproductive middle aged, comfortable white men who have reached a certain level of material success. Further, Monbiot reminds us, the population explosion is the one environmental problem that this high energy consuming sub-section of the population can not actually be blamed for.

In other words, to ask questions about an ideal population size completely misses the point.

Photo courtesy flickr/photonquantique

Related posts :

* The Fat Man, The Population Bomb And The Green Revolution
* Norman Borlaug: Saint Or Sinner ? (TOD version)

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

It is sad that the Pollyannas of our time can't understand exponential growth,can't understand limits to growth,can't understand environmental degradation,can't understand that human activity does upset the delicate balance of the global(and local) natural systems which we depend on for our very survival,can't understand that their delusury solutions are a dog which won't hunt.

It is sad that some of the Pollyannas of our time are also technocopians with the ability to muster all sorts of technical arguments,which,when examined closely,with reality as a measuring stick,just don't cut it.None is so blind as will not see.

Dream on,boys and girls,it is sad that one day not too far away you are in for a rude awakening.

Well - its certainly true a lot of people don't understand the limits to growth - have you considered the possibility that you might be one of them ?

I don't see anything in the above that was inconsistent with what "Limits" actually said (as opposed to doomer myths about it).

I can't see that the reports quoted above are examples of Pollyannaism

...A person regarded as being foolishly or blindly optimistic. - After the heroine of the novel Pollyanna, by Eleanor Hodgman Porter.

In my opinion the world faces big, but not insurmountable, problems. (In any case we'll still be here to deal with whatever does happen, so we should put our efforts into trying to forecast it and avoid the bad options.)

Scenario 9, in Limits to Growth, make a lot of assumptions about what societies choose to do and invest in. It assumes that all the right things are done from 2002 (such as 2 children per family and no recession to pour capital into). By 2020, apparently, the world's ecological footprint has levelled off and starts to decline.

It seems to me that the assumptions for scenario 9 are now shot and the scenario will have to be run again, with a different starting set of conditions. If that is the most optimistic scenario, then we are left with only collapse staring us in the face.

It was just a scenario - there are plenty of other optimistic scenarios that could be constructed.

Population growth rates have dropped since 2002 (look at countries like Iran, for example, let alone Japan and Western Europe) so i don't see why you think scenario 9's assumptions are shot anyway...

Hi Big Gav,

Population growth rates have dropped

I really don't understand how we can take any comfort in the fact that a few countries have negative growth rates when the world growth rate is about 1.17% and this could lead to the 9 or 10 billion level in 50 years or so.

Even the US is projected (with a 1% growth rate) to rise from 300+ million to nearly 500 million by 2050. IMHO, we should be advocating strong family planning to actually get a global population growth rate into the negative range - long before 2050 or there abouts.

Hi Dave,

The fact is that the population will grow to 9 odd billion people in 50 years (as you say) so my interest is in how do we support this many people (the alternatives all being unpleasant). The point of the post is that there are ways to feed this many people.

The overall trend in the growth rate for population is declining, and the UN models show a plateau at 9 odd million people, so I think things look hopeful.

US population growth is probably the highest in the OECD (with the possible exception of Australia) - it should certainly be looking at reducing its population growth rate (by the "good" means - better education, economic opportunities and access to birth control for women) - unfortunately it seems to have been going in the wrong direction for a while...

Daniel Quinn (in Ishmael pointed out that if you plan to feed 9 billion, you'll get 9 billion. But you really need to be able to feed more than that (i.e. storage), because of possible future shortages, so the push will be to feed, say 10 billion. If we do, we'll probably get 10 billion.

Alternatively, what if the UN projections are wrong (after all, they are about 10 years out of date, now)? With the way population growth has gone in the last 7 or 8 years, we could have 10 billion by 2050, and still growing.

Although trying to give everyone a full stomach is laudable, it's the wrong approach. Can we afford to let the demographic transition do the work? It hasn't for all countries, notably the US.

Well, yes, it's just a scenario but it is the scenario that you've played up at least twice in the last couple of years. Why mention it again, if it is completely shot, at this point? And what other scenarios have been modelled that fill you with optimism?

You're right, population growth rates have dropped since 2002, though that's not the same thing as assumed in the scenario. However, the world population growth rate estimates levelled out in 2004 (1.4%, down from 1.23% in 2002) and 2005, before rising for the next two years, dropping slightly last year and now estimated at 1.13%. It's almost like an undulating plateau. I don't think there are grounds for optimism that the growth rate will hit zero any time soon.

"so i don't see why you think scenario 9's assumptions are shot anyway"

Then read the scenario again, paying particular attention to its base assumptions.

The latest UN population model (2008) :

The LTG model isn't shot at all - it shows population increasing up to 9 odd billion people in 2050, just like the latest UN model does.

Actually, going to the link you get a better sense of the article, which is essentially cut off in the middle of a thought above. The sentence following:

"In other words, to ask questions about an ideal population size completely misses the point" is:

"Given the way we currently manage our environment — and our economy for that matter — we have way too many people as it is. In fact, it's probably possible to mount an argument that the way we waste water, brutally exploit old-growth forests, build highways and dig holes for big dirty coal plants, even 5 million people in Australia is too many".

The discussion there following is also very good; I think as a general rule island nations necessarily have a more pragmatic and open approach to population issues.

The question: "Is there enough food out there?" - requires a lot of qualifying questions and answers before it can be sensibly approached.
What quality of food? And over what time frame? and at what cost to the rest of the millions of species on Earth (of which our 9 billion still only counts as one)?

Sure, using one last heroic spasm of effort we could feed 9 billion people for a few years but with each passing year the effort would become more difficult as the EROEI of our energy sources declined and the pillaging of the remaining wilderness areas intensified, until there was nothing further left to pillage or burn, then what?
One vast salt-capped eroded desert?

The long term truly sustainable carrying capacity of this planet for humans, without adversely impacting on other species may be as few as 5 million. If we compare the human with other large omnivorous creatures, such as other primates or pigs or wolves, the natural carrying capacity of the Earth may well be far less than this.
Everything we are doing at the moment is deeply unsustainable. The catch phrase "sustainable development" of which politicians are so fond, is an oxymoron and a lie.
Australia, as a case in point may have had an Aboriginal population of perhaps half a million prior to European settlement and even this was unsustainable in the longrun. The extinction of the mega-fauna and the slow but steady damaging of the soils by the policy of constant burning for hunting purposes would have resulted in the degradation of the land over a period of tens of thousands of years.
We have managed to accelerate that process and compress it into a couple of hundred years. Modern Australia is not sustainable even with 1/10th of the present population.
Unfortunately governments only listen to 'Growth Economists'who believe that constant exponential growth is always 'the way forward'.
Thus dooming us to be like the yeast in the Petri dish.- And effectively answering Bob Shaw's rhetorical question " Are humans smarter than yeast?"
Individually yes, but collectively we behave in exactly the same manner.

While I agree that growth as usual is moronic... and it may be true that Australia has too many people, and your comments about quality of food (and I guess of human life) resonate, your definition of sustainable is not clear other than to say 'other things are dying'. AND?

The extinction of the mega-fauna and the slow but steady damaging of the soils by the policy of constant burning for hunting purposes would have resulted in the degradation of the land over a period of tens of thousands of years.

Lets get something clear right from the start.
Unlike Europe, or North America we did not have a wonderful "recent" glaciation period grinding up rock to produce deep fertile soils.
We do not have many regions of active mountain building with subsequent erosion depositing rich alluvial silt on the floodplains.
We do not have that many recent volcanic regions.

Our soil is OLD and leached of a lot of nutrient.. especially phosphorus.

You are right to use the word "would" in your statements as you have not shown any proof here.
While burning most probably did change the species of flora and therefore fauna... did it "damage the soils" as you claim?

And while this practice dramatically changed the large fauna, the bulk of ecosystem nutrient processes are dominated by bacteria. Did they change?

The assumption seems to be that because the mega fauna where killed off that the system is now "unsustainable" or "terminal".
Maybe. Especially if you were a megafauna... but not if you were a nitrogen fixer (ie bacteria).

And please do not assume that I am unconcerned about the environment by being so blunt in my statement.

There is no pure state of nature to which we can return.

And yes we are smarter than yeast IF WE WANT TO BE. We can change our behaviors if we so choose. And that is where we are at.
To argue otherwise is to, I guess, use "argument by inevitability".

IE You are essentially saying: no we aren't smarter than yeast, we are going to eat and destroy everything, therefore don't try, ESPECIALLY if you can't get back to the state that I have defined as ideal.

The yeast in the petri dish is not the only model of microbial growth.
Most microbial growth in nautre occurs as biofilms, a group of communicating, interdependent, frequently symbiotic organisms cooperating - and this may in fact be a better model for humans and the cohort of species that we maintain and that maintain us.

We can not just hit "reload".

You make some very good points SP.
My idea of sustainability is that we are able to carry on our human activities without detectable deterioration in the quality of the Earth's ecosystems until serious changes occur naturally - such as the next ice age which may be another 20,000 years away- and arguably for much longer. Where the rate at which we destroy can be equally compensated for by the rate of the ability of the Earth to replenish itself.
We have not been living in such a sustainable way for a very long time and our current state is leading to such a rapid decline in the health of the Earth's ecosystems that it beggars believe that anyone would even dare to utter the phrase 'sustainable development' without shame.

Yes, Australia had poor soils for millions of years before we came along. But the burn, then burn then burn again approach for 60,000 years does slowly deplete the soils of carbon, bacteria and other living things. What The Bush likes is for stuff to fall to the ground and rot and turn into humus and topsoil. Not to be stripped each year by burning which creates an easy living for the burner with a free mixed grill for dinner every night.
The sorry state of our soils is precisely why we need to be very careful about deliberately increasing the human load. ( And it is deliberate, coming entirely from government selected immigration quotas)

The extinction of the mega-fauna is an important issue, repeated in several parts of the world when humans have arrived on the scene. It shows what a powerful impact even a relatively small bunch of people armed with simple stone and wooden weapons can have on the environment.- leading in turn in some cases to a human die off once the easy meat is gone ( as in New Zealand).

"The yeast in the petri dish is not the only model of microbial growth.
Most microbial growth in nautre occurs as biofilms, a group of communicating, interdependent, frequently symbiotic organisms cooperating - and this may in fact be a better model for humans and the cohort of species that we maintain and that maintain us."

Well, this is exactly my point. We tend to simplify ecosystems, destroying the complexity, turning them into oligo-cultures and monocultures or desert and concrete.

We have chosen the agar plate over the the forest and it is in the over-heated crucible of the Petri dish therefore that our future lies.

My guess is that we cannot easily change this course now.
Look on Copenhagen ye Mighty and despair!

Thank you fingolfin for this discussion.

I tend to agree with most of what you say. We have modified (and generally to the detriment) the environment drastically... and your more clearly stated description of aboriginal burning sounds more accurate. OF course I know that it does change the bacterial community - though the function my remain intact/unaffected for some time.

I guess we might also be looking at things on a slightly different timescale...
I think we still have a chance to learn from nature and modify some of our systems to mimic and fit in better. This is not to say that we can continue to expand either population OR resource consumption (even if population falls). BUT our transition (if achievable) will not be easy and will not return us to some, as I said pure state of nature that is frequently (I think) imagined.

Neither do I think there is any point being a Hanrahan and "wishing" for or anticipating some terrible collapse of the human population and think that that is a solution. A revolutionary/radical collapse I believe would be worse (not only for us) but potentially in the short term for the planet as well. The societal stresses could release even worse environmental destruction - eg Nuclear War is still a possibility.

I'm not so sure that we have chosen the agar plate, or even that everything we do is so simplistic. We are making some attempts to reverse these trends... and instead of only highlighting the failures, highlighting the successful incremental changes should be a priority... and that is what I have been trying to get at (in recent posts). The all or nothing approach of "my favourite solution" is not how it is going to happen. Yes KRudd and the ETS is less than optimal, yes Copenhagen, yes so many things but ... if we don't shrug our shoulders, learn a lesson and try again... we will be left with nothing more than self indulgent black mood mantras of no use to anyone.

Blame the immigrants. Blame the Greenies. Blame the ignorant 'sheeple' for not liking nuclear. POINTLESS. And boring.

re: 'Hanrahan'
If you read the poem ( see below)
You will see that it is structured around the idea of the pessimistic doubter in the face of the eternal and inevitable cycle of the seasons courtesy of the sky deity.

In this poem, Hanrahan always turns out to be wrong which makes him look foolish. But in the real world he was often right with many farmers being literally 'rooned' by drought both then and now.
And that was before the serious impacts of Climate Change or Peak Oil!

While the poem is a wonderful and amusing evocation, it is just as dangerously misleading as the commonly expressed meme that 'Malthus was wrong and therefore will always be wrong'.


"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
"Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
"It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

"The crops are done; ye'll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
They're singin' out for rain.

"They're singin' out for rain," he said,
"And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

"There won't be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place
As I came down to Mass."

"If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

"We want an inch of rain, we do,"
O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
To put the danger past.

"If we don't get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If this rain doesn't stop."

And stop it did, in God's good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921

"Don't worry", said he,
of stories past, "I have me plenty of doubts",
"But pessimism, you see, it eats e up;
Ne'er do well with that dog about!"

Now, wheres me piece of bark?

Lets get something clear right from the start.

Sorry. Shouting doesn't make it true.

Soils are created by time, not destroyed by time.

The implications of admitting that Australia's soils are a result of thousands of years of burning is that the Aborigines are not the doyens of Ancient Wisdom that they are portrayed to be.

Aborigines are human. They cock things up.
The difference is that they have had a lot of time to learn to live with their mistakes.

Plants need phosphorus to store their energy as ATP. They send down roots and extract it from the soils. Humans come along and burn the plants. Phosphorus gets wafted into the ocean. Repeat 50 thousand times and what have you got?
Soils with low phosphorus.

Plants need phosphorus to store their energy as ATP.

Really?! Ever heard of starch? That is the storage molecule. ATP is recycled very rapidly... it is a carrier.
There are exceptions but I believe the main pool of P in cells is as the backbone on DNA, and RNA. At least according to my copy of Ecological Stoichiometry.

I don't think I said Aborigines were "good" or "bad" land managers... just that they changed the environment.

You claim that P has been lost from the landscape due to burning, for what, a hundred thousand years at best.
Australia hasn't had a good erosional event of the scale of the glaciation of North America or Europe for millions of years. Our soils are "old". In that time water has slowly but surely leached a lot of available P from the landscape. Yes, I know P is a bit sticky to certain minerals, but over a million years water slowly carries it away. Where are the large eroding mountain regions of Australia on the scale found elsewhere? The "Great Dividing Range" does not really compare to The Rockies, The Alps, The Himalayas or The Andes. There are no great fault lines pushing up material to erode. Ours is a flat stable land.

The best patches of soil I know of are around the Volcanoes of South West Vic and SA. And I think there is a similar region in Queensland.

Plants (bacteria, fungi etc) can't break the laws of thermodynamics. IE that is to say, just as we are not perfect recyclers, neither are they. Fresh delivery of nutrients from erosion of mountains to the floodplain is a key concept.

Generally our soils are poor and shallow.

Soils can only be "created by time" if the material exists in situ for them to be "created" it's not ex nihilo you know...

Soils ain't soils!


This is one of the reasons tropical soils are not always that great. They are leached from the heavy rainfall.
Indonesia to the north of us has some areas with exceptional soils. Eg Apparently Java has always supported a high population density - explaining why this Island is the "King Maker". But for some reason the soils produced by the volcanoes (etc) on Sumatra are just not as fertile.

NOTE this lack of good soils (ie nutrients) was one of the themes/speculations of The Future Eaters. Flannery also wondered if this explained why our mega fauna was ~1/3 smaller than the mega fauna of other continents.

The tropical soils of northern Australia have been leached for millennia. That is why those irrigation schemes are troublesome. It will require heavy inputs of fertilizer... especially if the goal is for export oriented production.

Although "inefficient" (from a certain perspective), the old system of collecting the night soil, composting it and putting it back on the farm was probably much more "sustainable".

Agreed. Phosphate is essential to life.

Agreed. Australia has poor soils.

Assumption. We agree that Australia cannot support 55 million. (Where did Rudd get that number? Was he outing his controllers by provoking us to outrage?)

Not agreed. How did it happen? I say that trees bring phosphate to the surface. They get burned. The phosphate goes up in smoke and is lost to the ocean. Repeat 50 thousand times.
We have got to stop the fires.(Shock. Horror. Eucalyptus is bad for the soil)

I shall provoke you further. Nature is not a museum. Stasis is not normal.
We can and must improve the soils by whatever means.
I anticipate that we will have to replace the ecology with something kinder to the soil.
Genetic engineering is good and necessary. How about nitrogen fixing, perennial wheat?
(Horizontal gene-flow is Business as Usual for the ecology)

Are we going to make mistakes? You betcha.
Are we going to survive?
Not in our present form. We are a work in progress.

Further, we need excess energy to mine sea water for Phosphates. Either that or kiss Gadaffi's arse for his dilute phosphate.

We have to recycle phosphates from shit. see

Nice book cover, by the way.

I have to apologize if my capitals came across as "shouting" - I intended attention grabbing.
I also should clear up that I am just back in Oz after a little stint OS. So Im not up on Rudds 55 million remarks.

I doubt that we can support that number. Well at least not supporting people in the land whale nation we seem to have become!
And even if we could, one thing is certain, there would be no export $ from Ag sales. You could argue that the rest of the world should encourage us not to expand our population or there goes our food surplus - to them.

Not agreed. How did it happen? I say that trees bring phosphate to the surface. They get burned. The phosphate goes up in smoke and is lost to the ocean. Repeat 50 thousand times.

Ok, It must have an impact. Maybe part smoke, part runoff. I know that after the big fires 4-5(?) years ago in the Vic highlands that water quality downstream was bit woeful.

Has anybody attempted to quantify the amounts that you know of? The only "diffuse source" research I know of is from people looking at elemental ratios to determine the source rocks in the catchment from which P was derived (with appropriate qualifier - of course).

I shall provoke you further. Nature is not a museum. Stasis is not normal.
We can and must improve the soils by whatever means.
I anticipate that we will have to replace the ecology with something kinder to the soil.

I totally agree.

Genetic engineering is good and necessary. How about nitrogen fixing, perennial wheat?
(Horizontal gene-flow is Business as Usual for the ecology)

I'm not so sure about the genetic engineering perogative. How about intercropping or fallowing? I have seen (worked briefly with) mixed plantings of Lucerne and Wheat.

Having been exposed to some "gene jockies" I am skeptical of A/. their understanding and B/. their motivation to understand.
Those few I have known seem to think of genes purely as "switches"... not as a new node in a network (which evolves). And labeling the non coding stuff they don't understand as "junk DNA" doesn't inspire me. But I am sure we will try it. I wonder who will end up "owning" the nif gene set?

Of course to fix N some of the plants energy must be diverted. Maybe this is why symbiosis was the better strategy. Let the bacteria fix it... the plant gives them a sugar fix... and a home. Division of labor.

We need to close the loop.
We need to get the industrial waste stream of cities separated from the purely organic sewage.

Just on the horizontal gene flow thing. I think we need to be careful when looking at nature and drawing ethical or moral conclusions or even as a guide to practical issues. Yes it (HGT) happens in nature - and it can produce virulent versions of otherwise harmless ailments. We do not condone rape because those nice dolphins do it, or murder because chimps do it.

"And labeling the non coding stuff they don't understand as "junk DNA" doesn't inspire me."

Yes, it's funny how the organisms which have all the 'junk' DNA are the ones which have survived.

Or, more to the point, the 'proper' genes may change but the junk just goes on reproducing itself and surviving over hundreds of millions of years.

'Junk DNA' may be annoying to biologists but maybe it isn't so useless after-all!

I think that the "junk" can affect the shape of the DNA and therefore ease of expression... maybe.
They should just call it what it is. Non coding DNA.

I think it's like saying that the ink is more important than the paper.

I thought it was funny when the first draft human genome showed that we didn't have that many more genes than a flatworm (I think it was the flatworm)... and some in the gene-bio-informatics world wondered (aghast) how this could be. Surely we were more "advanced" than that!

And then there is Epigenetics.

Go LaMark.

Thinks.. A spider has a wide repertoire of behavior.
To wit, one Portia.

All that behavior is hardwired in the gene code of a single zygote?
Skinner has a lot to answer for.

"I think that the "junk" can affect the shape of the DNA and therefore ease of expression... maybe."

It is recognized that intergenic sequences can affect histone packing, expression, gene regulation, and themselves often code for regulatory RNAs and so on.

"They should just call it what it is. Non coding DNA."

It is referred to as non-coding or intergenic DNA. You won't see the phrase "junk DNA" in a publication.

"I thought it was funny when the first draft human genome showed that we didn't have that many more genes than a flatworm (I think it was the flatworm)... and some in the gene-bio-informatics world wondered (aghast) how this could be. Surely we were more "advanced" than that!"

You're thinking of C. elegans. It was indeed a huge surprise that our genomes were comparable - we lose more blood cells in an hour than an entire C. elegans has. We are vastly more complex than C. elegans by orders of magnitude- both in terms of numbers and types of cells, interactions between those cells, the complexity of our nervous system, etc etc. It was thought by some that having the human genome sequenced would shed light on this complexity (others were skeptical). This was largely a function of the central dogma being drilled into the heads of molecular biologists everywhere - one gene, one transcript, one protein (with obvious exceptions like alternative splicing etc etc). For more complexity, you need more genes, more transcripts, and more proteins, right? The human genome taught us that was all wrong, and set us down the path we're on now, and was in that respect an enormous advance and a huge paradigm shift in the way we think about biological complexity.

How can it be that we have the same sized genome as a humble worm? How can we be so much more complex? Well, it turns out that if you have 20-30k different parts (genes, proteins, however you like to think of it), you can arrange them in simple ways, or you can reuse some of those parts in multiple different constructions of vastly increased complexity. Evolution can take all the bits and pieces that make one cell type, rearrange them, and come up with something completely different. The real lesson for us was that sequencing the genome was just the beginning- the really hard part is figuring out how the hell all this complexity arose with all the same parts as C. elegans!! It's a bit like being given a space shuttle and the Wright flyer and having to figure out how you get from the Wright brothers to NASA. Oh, and both the shuttle and the flyer are made of components which are too small to see... and there aren't any blueprints!!

A couple of comments from a "gene jockey"..

"Those few I have known seem to think of genes purely as "switches"... not as a new node in a network (which evolves)."

No geneticist today would ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER think of a gene as merely a "switch", without placing it into the context of its system. No geneticist would ever think of a gene as being a single element unembedded in an evolving network. If you've known geneticists that don't think of systems and network effects when considering genetics, they're not very good geneticists- if you've known ones that don't think about evolution, they're not geneticists at all. Perhaps the people you knew were particularly narrow-minded synthetic biologists or something, but modern genetics is all about emergent network effects and evolving systems.

"And labeling the non coding stuff they don't understand as "junk DNA" doesn't inspire me. But I am sure we will try it. I wonder who will end up "owning" the nif gene set?"

"Junk DNA" is not a term that is widely used outside of undergraduate molecular biology classes without the prefix "So-called". It is widely understood by everyone working in the field that intergenic DNA performs important functions (promoters, miRNAs, trans-regulatory regions, raw material for new genes, etc etc etc).

I think you'll find if you spend any time talking to systems geneticists or evolutionary biologists that your conceptions of the way we think about genomes are wildly inaccurate- the conceptual frames you're talking about were mostly abandoned a decade ago.

Thanks for that explanation Paper Mac. I do love this site, where else but on TOD can you get such a wide range of knowledge from so many disciplines to help us weave a better understanding of the complex tapestry of our reality. On most other sites you get commentary on par with the intellectual stature of your average Hermissenda crassicornis. with the requisite number of functioning neurons.

Look, I'm sorry if I offended you (or your proffession).
And yes, the few "gene jockeys" I knew was an event 10 years ago... or rather some immature PhD candidates whose motivation seemed to be more about the $ than the? Wow, 10 years. Is that a long time? I guess in a field that moves as fast as genetics it sounds like an eternity...

But the phrase is still heard in the popular media, though not (usually) by serious researchers. The interesting subtlties are frequently lost in the drive for a good story. We still read about the "gene for X" stripped of the neccessary context. So while it might be true that

It is widely understood by everyone working in the field that intergenic DNA performs important functions (promoters, miRNAs, trans-regulatory regions, raw material for new genes, etc etc etc).

it is not widely understood outside. The meme has stuck.

I am not really questioning the degree of understanding in/of the field... but there has been some poor PR that will be hard to undo.

AND even at the time the phrase "junk DNA" was a poor choice of GATTACA.

But even your language is somewhat abosolute. I thought I was appropriately circumspect.

Compare "seem to think" to "No geneticist today would ever". Well, some did.
And some are adament that there are no dangers.

If you look at my posts in this thread... I think you will see that my theme has been against black and white convicton where people should know better.

I am all for understanding "emergent network effects and evolving systems" and wish there was more of it - in more fields.

Soils are created by time, not destroyed by time.

Arthur, from the pedologist's perspective, this is absolutely true. However -- and I think this was SP's point -- time, or more precisely, the weathering processes that occur over time, work to reduce the nutrient exchange capacity of soil. Absent processes which reset this clock -- alluviation, glaciation, aeolian inputs -- soils trend toward a low energy state where they are dominated by relatively inert silica, iron and aluminum oxides.

"Old soils," BTW, dominate in the planet's humid regions. Not conincidentally, the world's breadbaskets occur in humid regions reworked by glaciers during the Pleistocence. These soils are a gift that will not be recreated in human time. Hence, we'd better care for what's left of them.

Burning can be a good thing if done correctly. This is how the inhabitants of South America improved their poor tropical soils. Terra Preta:


On the left, poor soil. On the right, terra preta.
Same soil, charcoal added.

Ah, soil pits! I haven't worked in soils in over a decade but I still get excited when I see a tape draped on a freshly-cut pedon.

Ghung, my understanding is that the heat of the fire is critical. Too hot, and you oxidize your organic matter (and release nutrients which are then prone to leaching).

The biochar is made by covering the fire pit or trench with a layer of soil to reduce available oxygen. The color of the smoke is an indicator of the rate of burn. The color should "tin" or be white. Brown smoke means it's too hot and your minerals are going up in smoke. If it gets too hot add more soil or spray with water. There's a lot about this online. It has an amazing effect on poor soils:

It can be done on an industrial scale, with most any biomass input. In some parts of the world they use bamboo or wheat straw. I till the ashes and left over coals from my woodstove into my soils. A little goes a long way.

Hi Ghung,
I only throw the left over coals into my compost. Dont you find the ashes sweeten the soil too much?

Apply sparingly in the fall after harvest. Of course, too much of a good thing isn't. For new raised beds I sift the coals out of the ashes with a piece of hardware cloth and use only the "char". We'll see. I've only been using biochar for a few years, but it seems to stabilize the soil.

Soils are created by time, not destroyed by time.

In as much as this post originates in OZ, it would be timely to remember PA Yeomans who 'invented' permaculture.
He disproved that it took hundreds of years to make fertile soil and with proper methods and technology, contrary to the usual wisdom at TOD, such as the Peak Soil post.

The fertility of good soil can be destroyed before a line of fence posts will rot. A poor soil can be changed into a highly fertile soil in about a tenth of this time.

He disproved that it took hundreds of years to make fertile soil and with proper methods and technology, contrary to the usual wisdom at TOD, such as the Peak Soil post.

True, majorian. The quickest way to invigorate a poor soil is to add composted organic material to it. The response is amazing and immediate. However, like those who advocate for energy conservation as the best way to "find" new energy sources, I have to advocate for conserving the soil resources that we have been given as the best way to increase our food production capacity.

It takes me about 5 years to get a garden soil in good shape with hand tools and soil amendments that I mostly gather in the form of yard waste discarded by neighbors. I don't feel a whole lot safer as my soil gets richer and my neighbors' poorer.

Five years and a lot of hard work sounds about right to this old farmer.

Common sense says that this is not an easily scalable process-as a matter of fact, given the realities of time, energy, labor, and capital, not to mention suitable materials suitably located nearby to be used as soil amendments in most cases, it isn't going to scale.
Depleted soils could be revived on the grand scale-but they won't be, for the most part.

Recovery from river sediments, We did ourselves a disservice when we limited river flooding of river bottom lands.

Erosion puts soils and minerals and stuff in the water, then floods return it. There are dredging operations that can reclaim land in old deltas that have been damaged by man's actions elsewhere.

We have the ability to use natural systems to restore land's fertility by many methods. Several species of plants draw from deep mineral sources making them available through leaf litter. We know how soils should be, and we have the means to make them better when they are depleted, and to stop the process of the depletion that is currently going on, by changing our habits.

We know that we have a ground water problem, so we stop watering our driveways and cars, We stop wasting the water in the down stream sewage that is just toilet tank flush and showers, moving them to recovery areas that are similar to wetlands in nature, but controlled by us.

We stop the use of heavy chemicals, or at least move their sewage waste stream to a different reclaimation processing area.

We stop thinking that we can waste till the end of time and get away with it.

We have to have a cultural revolution the likes that this planet has not seen in ages. We can do this, can't we? We see the problems, we know the solutions are there? Aren't we smart enough to fix this?

I know I have had this same discussion elsewhere, after all we are 8 billion people all out for themselves, blah blah blah... Fix it or die, that is our choice.

If people are given the information in a clear and understanding way, more will want to change things for the better. Leaders and bankers and TPTB might not want this, but revolutions have been formed around needs for change, why can't this one?

getting older as he speaks, thinking younger as he types.

There is no pure state of nature to which we can return.

And of course the other good one,

We can not just hit "reload".

Bravo!! SP, Bravo!!

We have been doing this for years, telling ourselves that we are the problem and that there was this great perfect place on earth before man got here and we have screwed it up.

I am a Christian, and at times It sounds like others think that Man showed up in Eden and messed it up and we should all just go and die, so Eden can get back to being Eden. Shakes his head and laughs.

Nothing is sustainable, it is a concept we have coined to mean something that it can't. The word Oxymoron comes to mind,( I read it above in a post, yay to whomever that was, thanks for reminding me of it).

Humans are here, and I can't make my health sustainable for more than about 80 years, then darn it, I die, there goes my sustainablity.

My BioWebScape Project needs to add a section on Planet wide sub-systems, the single cell guys and gals out there, that make everything work well together.

Think about a global fix-it modeling software, You get to see where you can help your new plot of land along toward a better living condition.

Plant one of the Acacia species, They hunt for deep ground water. Give the ground around them a heavy mulch. This will aid in humid water retention (any humidity exchange at dew point levels, will soak into the layers and wick to the ground). There is a pond building method, where you dig a hole, slope the sides and place a starw mulch all over the surface. In a little while, you will have a pond just from the morning dew.

Mankind has damaged it's living area. But mankind is also smart enough to know that we have done so, so we are smart enough to repair the damage.

We chould stop whining that the job is going to be to hard, and get doing the job. Whining never got anyone anywhere.

SP, we should talk off board, I like your thinking, and need help with my project.

cheers for a better future.

We could feed 9 billion people today very well. We could feed 14 billion, in fact.

According to the FAO, it was expected that in 2009/10 the world would produce 2,128.8 million tonnes of grain.

If this were distributed to 9,000 million people, they'd receive 237kg each annually. or 650g a day. This is 2,275kcal.

From the same World Food Outlook, the world also produces some 400 million tonnes of oilseeds - 44kg annually or about a litre a week per person of the 9 billion. And about 160 million tonnes of sugar - 340g a week each. These add 600kcal or so daily.

Then we produce 100 million tonnes of citrus fruit, 320 million tonnes of potatoes, and so on and so forth. This easily takes it all over 3,000kcal without eating a single fish or cow. Around half this food is produced with little or no fossil fuel inputs - though heavy labour inputs.

The average adult diet in Australia is about 2,000kcal. People doing manual labour will need more energy, sedentary people, elderly and children less.

We have enough food today to feed 14 billion people, so 9 billion certainly wouldn't be difficult. Yet we have people going hungry today with our 6.8 billion. Why? The problems are storage or waste - as mentioned earlier, around a third the rice crop in Asia perishes in storage, here in the West we discard 25-40% our food uneaten - and distribution.

Distribution is key. Of our 2,200Mt grains, some 775Mt - about a third - go to livestock to help give us 285Mt meat and 690Mt milk products, and some 410Mt - about a fifth - goes to biofuels. And while there are some 1,000 million obese people in the West and upper classes of the Third World, there are 800 million or so hungry people.

The problem is not how to produce enough food to feed everyone. We do that now, and could feed twice the number we have today. The problem is ensuring that everyone gets a fair share. As Gandhi said, the world has enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed.

None of this takes account of likely effects of climate change, which could alter food production significantly. But at this stage it's unclear exactly what those effects are likely to be, or whether we'll get our shit together enough to stop the worst of it, or what. And certainly it's beyond the scope of a comment on an article ;)

But as it stands, the problem is distribution, not production.

I think the increased temperatures have already affected rice yields.
I vaguely remember an article about how for a given level of light increased temperatures increase the toxic byproducts of photosynthesis.
As the tropics have warmed, rice (and others crops) is affected. I thought yields had dropped recently... ?

There is some evidence for this.

Here we report that annual mean maximum and minimum temperatures have increased by 0.35°C and 1.13°C, respectively, for the period 1979–2003 and a close linkage between rice grain yield and mean minimum temperature during the dry cropping season (January to April). Grain yield declined by 10% for each 1°C increase in growing-season minimum temperature in the dry season...

Kaishu and Big Gav.... Thanks for the article and insight. I am currently living on the Island of Mindinao Republic of the Philippines. I have been busy studying some of these very issues and to reach conclusions related to the problems of food production and the increase thereof is exceedingly difficult. Here in Northern Mindinao my concerted opinion is that doubling the current yeild of rice is within the short term ...attainable. Current avg. crop yeilds with little mech. and NPK are around 5mt per Ha. Half of what they could be with a little better management..... As an aside.... I was in a "poor farmers" nipa hut a while back.... stored inside about 40 sacks of Palay (unshelled rice)total rice weight about 1 ton....anyway thanks Big Gav for the article....

You couldn't solve the distribution problem until you resolve the issue of income discrepancies between rich and poor. Since the entire economic system is geared towards ever more consumption and profits, food is channeled to those that can afford it. Of course the more you can afford, the more you eat, which begets an even greater distribution of food, and exotic varieties of food, to the wealthiest. Which is one reason why we have so many fat people in the affluent world today.

Not that this makes a wad of difference as the system can never be reformed, since to do so would only get in the way of profits for those who gain from the status quo and wealthy people with a sweet tooth and a taste for hamburger everywhere.

So what you are saying is that humans tend toward being to greedy to change to help their fellow human?

Why does it have to stay that way? If there are enough people who want to change, where do we go from there to the change we can see working in the future?

I'd love to just slice the planet into 2 camps, all those willing to work for a better outcome for their fellow man( and there are a lot of them out there ) and all those that want to be greedy and have the biggest pie slice for themselves get to move over on 2 equal spaces.

Okay there is no practical way of doing that, but you get my point. How do we seperate the wheat from the chaff?

Cheers for a better future,
BioWebScape Project,

"I'd love to just slice the planet into 2 camps, all those willing to work for a better outcome for their fellow man( and there are a lot of them out there ) and all those that want to be greedy and have the biggest pie slice for themselves get to move over on 2 equal spaces."

How about those who want to limit themselves and their fellow men and women in order that there might be a better outcome for some of God's other critters?

I am a critter keeper, I can understand that. I just spoke(typed) in a human only terms, but was not thinking in human only terms.

I get frustrated when I think about all the things that I see wrong our reality, and all the things I can cure in my fictional writings with the stroke of the pen. Wouldn't it be neat if one day you woke up and there was peace and harmony all over the world?

Cheers for a better future,

If you go back and read some basic Marxism, its all about equitable distribution, fair compensation, equal value for individuals of varying skills and capacities. Then during the most abusive era of early industrialism, in several large countries movements were able to divest the wealthy elite and actually attempted to construct their egalitarian utopias of peaceful prosperity. Of course we all know how that turned out, demonstrating yet another side of human nature...but come to think of it, actually I don't know much about it, as I was taught little but the absolute despicable evil of it by my coincidentally wealthy elite leaders...

I think it is fairly clear that sooner or later the 25% of the population who hold 90% of the worlds wealth, resources, and land will have to give it up. The end of growth makes this certain.

This can happen in a somewhat orderly, well managed way, or it happens in a very ugly way.

The longer the 25%er hold out, the greater the risk for Total Ugliness Globally. (TUG)

Cheers! La la la

I've been thinking about this a good bit recently. Do you think the dissolution of the British Empire in the first half of the last century could be a model for a new scaling back in resource imperialism?

(Of course, in the case of the UK, they were able to retain a huge amount of control of the resources of many of their former colonies by keeping a large amount of control over global finance, control they are now loosing.)

By the way, are you familiar with Andrew Simms' book "Ecological Debt" that deals nicely with these issues.

I am now pessimistic, however that we can have leisure to redistribute much of these resources, both because they will be shrinking so rapidly, and because unfolding AGW dictates that we reduce total output of CO2 at a much more rapid pace.

"But as it stands, the problem is distribution, not production."

This in my mind will be the real problem with peak oil. As the road transport infrastructure declines the distribution of food to areas too far from other meothods of transport, such as rail or even ship, will not be able to cope if the population of that region is beyond the carrying capcity.

Rome grew enough grain to feed the Empire but still experienced famines inland because the costs of transporting food to affected regions by cart was too expensive. Transport by ship was cheaper and so coastal regions could be supplied if they suffered locally from drought for example.

As has been mentioned many times, there is enough food produced (on paper) to feed 9 million. But there is always waste, and always has been waste...the text's focus seems to be on technological solutions. That is, perfecting production everywhere according to the best proven methods, ideal soil amendments, efficient mechanization, only the most productive strains, and many many pest and weed controls. This would, on paper, lead to the largest harvests.

On the other hand, you wind up with one extremely complex, interconnected and fragile solution, with supply chains and dependencies stretched around the globe. I would rather see the opposite: with local production of local foods using local pest and weed solutions, oriented to local self-sufficiency. Total yields will be smaller, but you wind up on the whole with a more robust, resilient and diverse solution, the most skilled farmers, and the best overall systemic survivability.

Think of a global system which can be crippled by the breaking of one link, versus thousands of loosely connected systems capable of independent self-sufficiency. Its not a matter of feeding the largest population, but of avoiding a world where 99% of people have no idea how the food gets to their table, and will be utterly helpless when a system designed for overshoot inevitably collapses.

I didn't bother to read this article because there isn't even enough food to feed the current 6-7 billion people.

What makes you think that ?

As kiashu pointed out above, we produce more than enough food to feed 9 billion people today - we just waste a lot of it...

I think the long term goal (100 years) should be to reduce population by half or more. I would assume there are plans/methods to make this happen. The world doesn't need/can't support 9 billion without cheap and easy energy. Do we really want to mow down the remaining tropical rainforests to plant soy?

What is the issue is the way we monoculture or growing methods, those that we currently call farming.

Rake the soil over hot coals, plant seeds, cover, spray this, spray that, hope for the best, harvest and see the wastefulness start.

Now instead you could.

Throw out a bunch of seeds (using seedballs to protect them and grow when conditions are right), plant some trees, or just tree seeds. Wait for the biodeversity to pop up in a more naturalistic way. Or a method simular to this.

Grown on a local planned scale, we could easily feed 9 billion people on a lot less land than we do now.

What we are forgetting at times is, early man did not know what we know. They did what they did and we kept up their mistakes, but we also learned some things along the way.

Now we find ourselves at a crossroads, we can't keep doing things the way we have, we are running out of that stored energy we have been wasting all these years. But we also have a bit more information than we used to have. WE should use that information for the best results, not keep wasting away like we are now.

Maybe the balance is 6 billion in 500 years, but there is a balance that is more than most people have been spouting, because they fail to stop using our BAU mindset, and have not looked at what would be possible if we changed our bad habits.

Cheers for a better future,
BioWebScape Project,

I doubt that it is possible to waste much less food. We have engineered plants to disease resistance, we apply millions of tons of insecticides and weed killers to everything, produce is bred and engineered to have the longest possible shelf life and the best appearance, refrigeration is present at all stages of spoilable produce from the time its picked to the time its prepared, transport is as fast as it is likely to get, inventories are largely on a "just in time" structure, storage is optimized...and so forth. The one area we could improve on is reducing meat from diets, but short of Orwellian controls that's unlikely to happen. People eat meat because they like it.

In spite of the technical arguments about unnecessary food waste, the nature of the beast remains. The more you look at the "waste", the more you see that its hardly practical to do much about it. All the waste in my kitchen and my garden goes back into the soil, composted for next year. That's about the best we can expect, I think.

There is indeed a lot of waste. But let's quantify it. The waste, if not wasted, will not compensate for the shortfall encountered in the most overpopulated and undernourished parts of the world. Furthermore, our economic systems fare poorly in the distribution of food, and this is unlikely to change with further growth. And finally, more food simply means a further increase in the population, which leads again to food shortages. Malthus had it right. There's no point increasing food if the population growth cancels it out and places greater demands.

Harsh as it sounds, we need to decrease food production and thus bring about depopulation, even if this means deliberately inducing mass death by starvation. It's surely better than leaving it all to nature, which deals out death chaotically and indiscriminately.

It's surely better than leaving it all to nature, which deals out death chaotically and indiscriminately

That's one of those doomed arguments...nature is indiscriminate, but we can bring on depopulation but starvation somehow fairly and with order. One of the reasons population discussions get derailed so easily is that people quickly start to think about which population is better than another, which one has more than its share, and which one should survive. There's no way forward, at that point.

Leaving it to nature is what will happen, and we will do our best, as a species or as every local population for itself, to get through it. I would say that the best we can do is work toward local self-sufficiency, each region of workable size in itself a differentiated unit with all the tools of survival, including a notion of how many people it can sustain.

You are absolutely right. No group, race or nation will opt to sacrifice itself so that another group may live. People everywhere will battle for survival, regardless of who they are.

But I refuse to relent to this. I believe that the problem has become so severe at this point in time, and will become so much more severe, that a method will have to be devised by which a select group of human beings are set apart for survival while the rest are deprived of the necessities of life.

Who shall the select group be?
The strong willed; the intelligent; the sound of character; those who possess the spirit, the knowledge and the skills to repair the planet; those who do not need to be compelled by man-made laws to behave in certain ways, but who always act in good faith towards their fellow human beings and towards all life; those who are most capable of preserving and transmitting the human cultural heritage to future generations; those who are most fit to have children; those who are spiritually rich.

Fortunately, such people comprise a small minority of the total population, and therefore will not strain the remaining resources of the planet.

No group, race or nation will opt to sacrifice itself so that another group may live.

Err - given that we can feed 9 billion people, no one needs to sacrifice themselves.

But don't let me interrupt your fascist fantasy...

If there's enough food for 9 billion, then the population will again increase. If there's enough food for 12 billion, then the population will again increase. Where does it stop?

Food is just one aspect of the problem. What about other resources, such as water, medicine, fuel and other basic necessities.

Fascism, or some variant of it, is no fantasy. It will probably happen whether we like it or not.

If there's enough food for 9 billion, then the population will again increase.

That is not what population models show - they show it leveling out around 9.5 billion people.

ALL models project this? Are models always right?

Over a billion people are now chronically malnourished. Yes, if we all became vegans, and all the saved grain was fairly distributed, all would have an adequate diet. But that is not the direction we are headed. More and more people are eating more and more meat and dairy.

We can make all sorts of rosy scenarios, but they aren't very helpful if they have essentially no chance of coming about.

I wonder why a high population level should be a goal? Shouldn't our goal be to minimize our impacts on the ecosystem?

We can make all sorts of rosy scenarios, but they aren't very helpful if they have essentially no chance of coming about.


"You wouldn't treat like this if I wasn't in this wheelchair."

"But you are in that wheelchair, Blanche, you are!"

My own vague model is China, from about 1600-1800. Transportation was poor, population was high, agriculture involved most but there was a huge manufacturing sector as well, the government was weak but immensely wealthy. Naturally Europeans surveyed the territory with an eye to conquest, and had the same balance-of-trade issues as we have today.

China was viewed as strategically impenetrable, however; where you might sever supply lines in a modern country, starving the population or its armies, cut roads or rails to cripple industries sector by sector for low cost, none of that worked in China. It was viewed more as a set of loosely connected self-sufficient units of production, where there were no vital arteries to cut and no essential heart to strike. In essence, as every part of the country was robust enough to stand on its own, every city and village would have to be conquered, one at a time, before one could say they had "conquered China". That's one reason colonialism never really got past the ports there.They had a name for that whole theory, but I don't recall it at the moment.

Military strategies are not automatically relevant to agriculture, but in this case it was the local self-sufficiencies of the agricultural and productive systems that gave them strength, and the same strength that would, in theory, provide for a robust, resilient and diverse set of local economies best suited to managing their own population pressures and climatic variations.

Looked at in another way, if you have a country built of a set of regions each with their own capacities to provide and need to be provided for, the more regions you could class as "net providers", or self-sufficient+, the healthier and more resilient the country as a whole would be, in any conditions. Too much of modern globalism is building complex and fragile interdependencies for the sake of optimizing costs and capacities everywhere, which can all collapse in a heap if even one link becomes less than optimal.

With out knowing it I modeled a scenario around them then. When I thought about taking 10 acre plots in a big grid pattern made from a 100 sq mile chunk of land.

If the design were to include roadways (nothing fancy) the interconnected each small land holding. We could see if our BioWebScape models would work or not, and get a good idea of how to repeat it all.

How much could the old Chinese model you are talking about have been expanded, taking it all over the globe?

Cheers for a better future,
BioWebScape design project,

How much could the old Chinese model you are talking about have been expanded, taking it all over the globe?

I think we do have the Chinese model expanded and taken all over the globe, except that cheap and efficient transportation has made shipping things around the globe cheaper and more profitable than self-sufficiency. In essence, everyone has traded their local freedoms for cash and dependency in the global marketplace.

End cheap and easy transport (an easy prediction) and you eventually wind up with a similar system of loosely connected self-sufficient local economies, resilient and differentiated according to the resources and capacities of each region. Before gasoline the "western" model only supported large population centers close to navigable water (yesteryear's mode of cheap and easy transport); with gasoline we have large population centers everywhere, and after gasoline these will have to be be more and more self-reliant, thrown back upon their own resources.

If plentiful food automatically leads to rising population, then that obviously explains why the USA has more people than China and India, and why the Netherlands have a higher birth rate than Afghanistan.

Or, you know, maybe that's just bollocks.

Poverty, female illiteracy, tyranny and civil conflict lead to high birth rates. Prosperity, female literacy, a more or less free country and peace lead to lower birth rates.

People respond rationally to their circumstances: if they are unsure their children will survive to adulthood, they have several; if they are sure they'll survive, they have 1 or 2.

If plentiful food automatically leads to rising population, then that obviously explains why the USA has more people than China and India, and why the Netherlands have a higher birth rate than Afghanistan.


Firstly you misquote shox. He stated 'enough', not plentiful. Secondly you list 5 counties, all of which have enough food and rising populations, thereby supporting shox's case.

You might be better served by concentrating your argument on Japan and Germany.

The waste, if not wasted, will not compensate for the shortfall encountered in the most overpopulated and undernourished parts of the world.

Yes it will - the exactly the point kiashu made.

Population is expected to level out around 9.5 billion people (as per scenario 9 in "Limits") and it has been shown (in the paper the post references) that we can feed that many people.

Therefore your talk about depopulation is simply misanthropic nonsense.

Therefore your talk about depopulation is simply misanthropic nonsense.

The bottomline is that a population of close to 10 billion cannot be sustained indefinitely. Either we control it or nature does it for us.

Nature, the final arbitrator, does not care about philanthropy or misanthropy. Nature, indifferent to all our hopes and aspirations, is the harshest judge of all. We have to answer first and foremost to the laws of nature, and only afterwards to the laws of men.

Is it misanthropy for one to suggest that our affairs must be settled by the more lenient judge before we are forcibly summoned to the harshest judge of all?

Is it misanthropy for one to suggest that our affairs must be settled by the more lenient judge before we are forcibly summoned to the harshest judge of all?

Yes - as you have failed to put any evidence forward showing the paper the post quoted is incorrect in its assertion we can feed 9 billion people.

Big Gav says the paper quoted 'asserts that we can feed 9 billion people'. Does it? The paper's conclusion says ..."no simple solution...any optimism must be tempered by the enormous challenges...together these challenges amount to perfect storm"

I would say the authors desperately hope that we can navigate the storm, but this is hardly an assertion that we can!


The bottomline is that a population of close to 10 billion cannot be sustained indefinitely.

That much is correct, but the conclusions that Shox reaches don't follow. A hint can be seen when looking at Japan, where the population has been dropping for a couple of years now, and will drop further. South Korea will follow suit soon. And the only reason the populations of southern European countries aren't dropping like stones is immigration. I'm not including Russia & its near neighbours, since I want to focus on the fact that population declines are actually occurring in several countries unaffected by the economic catastrophe that followed the collapse of the USSR.

It has been my belief for some time that we have not one population problem, but two. The population problem that most people see is actually not one of population at all, but a social one. It is a matter of how we organise society. The waste that people talk about above is a large part of it, but its roots go further into a system called capitalism, which cannot survive without endless growth. If we re-organise our society (a big if, so see below), we can support 9-10 billion people. Not indefinitely, but for a while. For long enough for us to make some rational decisions about how to deal with the longer-term problem.

The second population problem really is about population. We're over the carrying capacity of the Earth and are running down the bank of ecological and geological resources with which the planet is endowed. In the long term, we have to convert totally to renewable energy, while our use of metals & minerals has to be limited to whatever we can get out of the sea-water. I'm talking about the very long term here, since we don't have to go to the sea-water until it's easier to go there than to mine stuff from the ground, and a thorough re-cycling regime can keep existing metals in circulation for ages after it's mined. It's also important that we don't kill off most of the species on Earth in the course of feeding ourselves while we have so many people.

The argument of Shox seems to be that it is necessary for an enlightened minority to kill off the rest of us. Big Gav seems to have noticed that the minority willing to implement that solution wouldn't be deemed "enlightened" by any recognisable system of ethics currently in use - and I would agree. I disagree, however, that the necessary population reduction has to be rapid.

At the moment, it is projected that the population of Japan will decrease from 127.3m in 2008 to 64 million by 2100. This is a little under 1% per year. For the sake of simplicity, therefore, let's assume that the world population maxes out at 9b people in 2050, and then starts decreasing at 1% per year. The results are that we'd have 5.5b in 2100, 3.3b in 2150, 2b in 2200, 1.2b in 2250, 730m in 2300, 440m in 2350, and 267m in 2400. If you insist on getting down to a Neolithic, pre-agricultural 5m (which I think is completely un-necessary - I think we'd be able to cope with 500m - 1b), that would be by 2800. In the meantime, we'll be living on the bank of non-renewable resources we have.

An intelligent society would be able to manage a 1% annual decrease in population without any draconian measures at all, let alone the genocidal ones that Shox envisages. Even at the moment, the mediaeval Asian principle of "seven to be born for one to inherit" is going by the wayside in a growing number of countries. Introduce a reliable and dignified old age pension and you'll be surprised at the effect that has on the birth rate, wherever you look.

If we solve our social problem (i.e. capitalism), we'll have the time to manage our population problem down till it disappears. My worry is that the longer we let our social problem continue, the worse the state of our resources bank will be when we start the long road back to sustainability. My big hope is that Peak Oil will result in people waking up to the unsustainability of our current path in relation to all non-renewable resources.

Just a minor point.

A hint can be seen when looking at Japan, where the population has been dropping for a couple of years now, and will drop further.

I think closer to 2 decades now. I lived there for two years and in that time, nearly overnight the graduating high school student population plummeted as the average number of children went from 4+ for the Japanese equivalent of the boomers to 2.

Marriage was delayed during the Japanese bubble economy period as all those OLs took their holidays down under.

Education is a good contraceptive.

Or is it the result of abnormal socialization resulting from Hentai Manga?

I think closer to 2 decades now.

I suggest you don't think about these things and just look them up.

Peak is 2006/7

This is another great resource to look at the population growth rate of any country:

We could have an immediate and fairly rapid reduction in population if we could successfully implement a universal policy of no children before the age of thirty or so (ideally through a variety of incentives, education, empowerment of women...), then one child per couple.

Few are looking at the importance of increasing the age of childbirth, but it is the only way to get the rapid turn around from pop growth to pop shrinkage.

Trends are already moving slowly in this direction, but very slowly.

This may not be likely to happen, but it should be pointed out what a large affect it could have. The difference between a couple having their first child at fifteen versus thirty is the difference of having an entire extra generation on earth at the same time.

And that idea makes you hard.....doesn't it.....

After reading through this whole thread, I somehow get the sense that people are out of touch with reality. Many believe we can sustain 9 billion. Many believe that we can have an orderly descent down the curve in a world with diminishing resources and greater impoverishment.

Many don't seem to have considered how important it is to ensure what kind of people make up the majority of people on the earth, because this seems too racist. Well I ask you: Would you like to live in a democracy in which the uneducated, badly bred, ill-natured, depraved and insensitive far out-number the finest and most refined human beings? We currently live in a world where the majority are in favor of razing down the natural world and spreading asphalt, concrete and slums over as much of the dryland surface as possible. The minority, who cry out "global warming, peak oil, resource depletion, loss of nature etc etc" are ignored. In our world, acquisitiveness, competition and greed are the in-fashion virtues; MBA's, CEO's, financiers and marketers are our heroes; growth is our religion and the 9-to-5 work ethic is our obligation. Is the human condition not oppressive enough?

Has anyone taken note that, by far, most of the population growth in the world is in Asia, Africa and the Middle East? The German Government said some time ago that by mid century, Germany could become an Islamic state because of the enormous growth rate in the Muslim community. With all due respect to Islam, I ask, would anyone like to live in a democracy which could vote at any time to revert to Sharia law? Should we not also be asking ourselves how large the population of each race and culture should be, in order that one does not outnumber and overwhelm the other?

In conclusion, I ask you all to ponder: In addition to reducing population, what kind of ideal human beings would we want to be the ruling force in the affairs of mankind? Surely they should be in favor of a small population, abundant nature, ecological sustainability and a meaningful and spiritually enriching life for everyone. We make a huge deal about quality control in the breeding of our animals and the manufacture of our goods and services. Is the same care not needed in ensuring the quality of our people and our lives?

All this being said, I think nature and reality will overrule all our hopes and visions, and proceed forward as chaotically and indifferently as it always has.

I don't think immigration will continue indefinitely, so I don't believe Germany will turn into an Islamic state.

We're not going to all become vegetarians, the third world will have to reduce their population.

Right on! Better a mass die off of "Third Worlders" than us first worlders having to scale back one bit on our three-big-macs-a-day diet!


By the way, vegetarianism is probably not enough. Latest studies show that eating eggs and dairy is nearly as resource intense as eating the chickens and cows they come from.

It's not our fault we were endowed with a large amount of arable land, I never asked for world population to grow how it has.

There has not been an earthly leader that has been able to control things to the extent that you are talking about, but there are fictional ones.

IF it were up to me, I'd not harm anyone.

Would you like to live in a democracy in which the uneducated, badly bred, ill-natured, depraved and insensitive far out-number the finest and most refined human beings?

This statement will get you into hot water. It is posed as a question, I realize that, but it has negative energy bleeding off of it.

Uneducated..... Meaning what? Those that can't read Plato in the original Language?

Badly bred.... What do you mean by that? We are all mutts, we are all homo sapien sapian as far as I know. So we can all breed one among another, so again what do you mean by badly bred?

Ill natured..... You mean when I get mad and fuss and fume? Or rant and rave at the sorry state of affairs? Or What?

If you are depraved, or what I take you to mean a criminal, I have a solution to that one. But it is a radical idea from one of my fictional stories, ask and I'll tell you.

Insensitive.... Just about everyone is that way a time or two in their lives, do you have a threshold level that you don't want us to exceed?

Answer me those.

BioWebScape Design Project for a better future.

Charles, Shox did use a poor choice of words but your words are even poorer.

Uneducated..... Meaning what? Those that can't read Plato in the original Language?

Your Christian sanctimonious attitude is not helping Charles. No, obviously he did not mean not being able to read Plato in the original Greek and I think you know that. I think he meant illiterate, not able to read at all. Remember that in much of the Muslim world women are refused the right to an education. But of course they cannot vote either so there is no need to worry about this segment of the population.

Badly bred.... What do you mean by that? We are all mutts, we are all homo sapien sapian as far as I know. So we can all breed one among another, so again what do you mean by badly bred?

Yes, Shox used a poor choice of words here but I think he meant that many are born to people who know nothing about raising children and really don't give a dame either. I have witnessed hundreds of homeless children, many pre school age, in the streets of Guatemala City. They will never get an education and will only learn to hate the rest of the world because most blame them for their predicament. The same can be said about many other places in the world. And even in the US many kids grow up in the streets and know nothing other than drugs and violence. Children born to drug addicts and prostitutes will grow up to be drug addicts and prostitutes themselves.

Ron P.

As a reader of Plato in the original Greek, I would like to protest the notion that such a wonderful goal should be set outside the realm of possibility for the many. It is a wonderful experience indeed, as is reading Herodotus, Homer, Sophocles and many others in their original idiom.

(Sorry, but I get tired of Greek jokes "It's Greek to me" and so forth. It is just another language, as learn-able/difficult as many others.)

Sorry, I can't read greek, but I can hack a bit through latin, it being the language of Plant breeds. I did not mean to slight the Greek readers out there. I did not even think about the "its all greek to me" cliche. I don't use it.

Greek is what some of the Bible was written in and I would not want to malign it any.

I had to learn a lot of things when reading Maps, Not all them are in English.


Ps, We all need to learn to read the writings of the ones that went before us.

I was not acting holier than thou, I am far from holy.

I wanted to know what he meant by uneducated, so I used something that I can not do myself. I should have mentioned that I guess.

In some people's eyes I am uneducated, I don't have a paper telling of my years in college.

Death by smoking, there are people who want all the smokers to just drop dead so they won't have to smell that nasty habit.

Making up of lists of people to get rid of because the world will be a better place without them is it's own brand of holier than thou, in my opinion.

And the blanket statement of being a child of a bad person makes you always likely to be a bad person yourself, is umm can't think of the term, but its wrong.

I do not have all the answers, I wish I did, then we could just get it done.

I just get my hackles up when I think about what could happen if people started picking and choosing who is better off dead.

I would say let God sort them out, but I am almost sure that would raise the confrontation up a bit. That is counter productive.

So what do we do next?

Tag line saved for space and ease of typing without it....

When I used these words, I meant the lowest of the low, not people who have an adequate amount of education, culture, good nature, sensitivity, but differ only slightly from one another on small matters.

Uneducated - illiterate; absolutely no penchant for the arts, sciences and the humanities; no appreciation for the importance of the natural world; no appreciation for the human cultural heritage
Badly Bred - coming from a deprived or coarsening environment, brought up in bad habits, toxic influence on others, totally unfit to have and rear children
Insensitive - putting self-interest ahead of everyone and everything, regardless of cost; little emotional depth
Ill Natured - total disregard for the welfare of mankind; excessively combative; again, unfit to rear children

Are these not the likely descriptions of most people living in a destabilized, impoverished, overpopulated and soul-cramping world? Do we expect starving Haitians to save their forests and animals? Do we expect 20 warlords in war-torn Somalia to pool together their resources and give one of their sons a good education and culture, so that he may come back and create an ideal state? Do we expect a gangster minded dictator such as Robert Mugabe to steer a people towards some lofty vision of the future of mankind? Do we expect a poor peasant from rural India, pitted up against 1.4 billion others in a fierce competition for survival, to develop a taste for fine culture and preserve what is most precious for future generations?

You have over-exaggerated the things I said. The current state of the world is that most people are barely surviving. And yet we have supposedly reached the peak of our material wealth. What will the world look like when the death rate shoots up and people start destroying everything just to survive? It is not a pleasant future. This is why we need people who possess good traits to be numerous and powerful in all regions of the world, people who will do what needs to be done, despite being in pain and despite living amidst chaos.

Criminals get to be put on little islands, to live out their lives without being able to escape until they have learned their lession.

Do your self a favor, make sure you collect the DNA pattern of all those people you don't ever want to breed, because you don't want to limit yourself by limiting their DNA pattern's possible cures that you won't know they had in them until after they have lived out their lives.

Are we all bred from a common Master DNA pattern? One Totally pure pattern that could live 1,000 years and never suffer the harms that we have now? Or are we all a mixed breed that is shaking itself out toward a Pure Pattern, but you don't dare think you have the puzzle in just one "" stock line "". Evolution might be trying to grow toward this pure pattern and we don't see it, because we don't fully understand the process only seeing the process from the point of the rear view mirror.

Thoughts to consider when you are planning on culling the herd.

I was a tropical fish breeder, and I had to make careful choices in my breed lines, because of the way the genes for some traits hid under layers of other genes for the same traits. When you have 6 genes that have to be followed to get a pure strain of color in a fish, you do a lot of juggling with others that are not prefect to find the ones you want.

I never killed my culls, I put them in happy homes in ponds and let them have fun. One of my favorite fish, was found swimming in the waste water pond( place where I threw all the old bred tanks water), he had the best blue color I had seen in all my stock.

Betta splendens Siamese fighting fish. Fish breeder for 15 years.


I wouldn't worry too much about humanity genetically degenerating due to the crudest among us breeding the fastest -- that's already happened countless times in history and here we are. If we can hold advanced civilization together for a little longer, our technologies will soon allow us to start making changes at the genetic level which will address this problem at its source. We clearly need to reprogram homo sapiens away from the violent, rapacious instincts that got us here if we want technological civilization to survive.

I do agree that the global demographic inversion going on makes no evolutionary sense -- perhaps artificial wombs and surrogate motherhood can offset the suicidal trajectory of the wealthy populations somewhat. "Progressives" seem to suffer from a suicidal impulse, and no one seems able to reconcile modern ideas like feminism and abortion with the harsh biological fact that progressive societies which embrace such ideas are going extinct.

A Dark Age is approaching in any case, so the post-Enlightenment scientific folks need to work fast if they want this project to survive. As Terence McKenna said, quoting H.G. Wells: "history is a race between education and catastrophe, and it's gonna be a photo finish".

Progressivism is funny, it'll be dead because those who practice it abort themselves.

In conclusion, I ask you all to ponder: In addition to reducing population, what kind of ideal human beings would we want to be the ruling force in the affairs of mankind?

You don't get to choose, and that's about that. Seriously, the last hundred years of good intentions and opportunities to do something about human population was both completely wasted and turned into a chamber of horrors with the kind of thinking you ask us to engage in. Its not an original thought, its more that that well trodden road leads nowhere, and most people already know it.

"Education for women works" is the one universally accepted lesson in population management that was learned over the past hundred years or so. Most other things were pretty dubious or ineffective. "Mind your own business" is also a good mantra that I apply, meaning that before you start meddling in someone else's business, get your own straightened out. Speaking from the US, for instance, we spent way too much time and money telling other people what to do, while hardly lifting a finger toward a domestic policy (which we still don't have).

As usual, scratch the surface of the "I'm terribly concerned about population" Westerner and you find a genocidal racist underneath.


Perhaps usual, but not necessary. I'm all for a bit of healthy misanthropy, as long as it is doled out equally regardless of race, income, color, education, language, etc. "Nature" has a definition of fitness quite different from ours, and she gets to decide in any case.

The key to an effective approach to population issues is to keep it local. I'd rather see my county assess its various resources and say "this is how many people we can sustain", than talk about too many poor people in Yemen or where ever. The thing is, managing one's own business is often harder than meddling in someone else's, and certainly easier to strike up a conversation about.

After reading through this whole thread, I somehow get the sense that people are out of touch with reality.

After spending a lot of time here and elsewhere worrying about Peak Oil and the like I've firmly come to the conclusion that there is plenty of convenient energy in all sorts of different places. Technology to efficiently harness that energy is advancing in the OECD countries and the emerging economies. Technology that works will be harnessed where ever it is effective.

I'm firmly in the camp that technology can save this civilization just as it has for past 250 years since Adam Smith wrote about the invisible hand. Of course there are many ways humans can stuff up but I'm an optimist at heart and being that way has served me well in my life.

I continue to be an optimist and I certainly hope humans resist your fascist ideas.

Did this get republished? It's now above more recent articles, with a new date.

Yes - it got moved to the front page, with an updated date...

Very complicated, but of course relevant, question. Too many factors play a many calories per person? how is food distributed? what types of food? what is the cost of food? lifespan of people? etc. etc. All of these play a role, peak oil or not.

Bottom line, the answer is no. Even with our amazing oil based production today, people still starve. And, no the problem is not political, as we are a political species. Might as well just say the problem is that we have such a thing as society. Good luck abolishing society to try to feed people.

As long as human beings are on this planet, there will be those human beings who have affluence and gorge, and those who starve. Always.


Feeding billions indefinately: Is that "the plan"? How will the vast majority of those billions be spending their time, I wonder? Will the energy they consume be well spent? Or are we destined for playstations and potato-chip-diets for all? (Now, there's a good use for potatoes!)

I wonder how long unchecked growth remains a "moral issue", a right of passage; or whether mother nature simply plays her hand some day and says, "Hey you humans, enough's enough".

Again, how the hell would I know, but I do think HOW we live our lives (generally) is pretty damn ridiculous.

Regards, Matt B
Still a concerned dad

As I just got through with an email to two people concerning my world view of this very same problem. I have been trying to grapple with a full systems approach to solving this conundrum.

I coined a term recently in my blog, and in a post to a DB thread here at TOD.


Biodeversity is what we want to preserve. We have a world wide information gathering and transfer device called The Web, to use in this effort. And I am a trained Landscape Architect, and like to think we can design a better growing system that also uses what we already have had all along, Nature.

This would be for me a total systems approach project. More like a clearing house of ideas, solutions, networking and and data sets that are out there in the halls of dust filled stacks, and in people's heads.

Other's have done similar things, Like Ken Fern, has a list of about 7,000 plant species that he has gathered information on to use in forest gardens, I don't know if it is only for the UK or not. That site is, Plants for a future.

I don't know how many species of plants are edible to humans? Or how many we can use for medicine, or fodder, or fuel, or in a companion planting system, or other useful things.

We live on a very biodiverse world. But it has kind of shaken out so that plants growing in SA did not occur in India. Until man showed up on the scene.

Now we are thinking creatures. We have after all gone to the bottom of the Ocean, and the top of World, and Even to the Moon. Nothing else that we know of has done that.

We have a problem, and we all can see the that it is of our own making. So What do we do to fix it, and how do we go about doing so?

I say, that we can not depend on just the world leaders to solve it for us. I say that we start taking matters into our own hands, and work first on a local level, then in a networked level, then in a global level and hopefully by then enough people are involved that it becomes a total cultural change.

High sounding words, but where in the prood of the pudding? Well we go back to people like Ken Fern, and Masanobu Fukuoka and Marvin Crawford, and other's whose names I don't know. Look at what they have done, and see if we can repeat it in different places.

We Know that deserts happen to be getting bigger. We know we can't rely on the stored energy from the past for very much longer at the rates to which we are using it. We know that not everyone has clean drinking water, and the problems are getting worse. And the list goes on and on.

I would hope that we could first see if we could repeat the yeilds that have been shown by the guys I mentioned above, elsewhere in the areas which can grow food still.

Take a plot of land, and just use Masanobu Fukuoka's One Straw method on it. Test plots, in different countries that have climates like his on his farm.

Take plots of land elsewhere in the world and apply Marvin Crawford's methods of Young Forest Gardening. His is a human doing the plant placement design work, plant selection for his needs, and letting nature do most of the work.

Assemble a global data base of all the known plants that humans can eat, and seeing where they all grow and seeing where we can grow them (human moving of plants to new locations that they did not occur in before we came along)( not a new idea, potatoes are not native to Ireland).

We know we have a native fauna and flora dataset, now we need to see where we can move at least the flora to better use those plants in our BioWebScape design.

We have to get away from the idea of monocultures, that is not something you see in the natural world. The natural world is a chaos mix of things all working together and seemingly always changing, we call that evolution.

We can use our own skills at change to move evolution into a new level of change. Growing on small and in some cases ever widening swathes of land a man made biodeverse web again.

We are good at controling nature we think, and nature is good at limiting us in our actions. Why don't we stop trying to design nature's chaos into our straight line thinking and work with nature's chaotic systems approach and just move some plants around so we get what we want out of the system, without changing how the system works normally.

Go into a great forest in your area, and plant a few seeds of things that might grow there too, but don't. Now you have the forest there, and a new jicama plant there for food.

We have been saying for years that we can't go into Zonal-land-area x-y-z, because there is a fish that is not anywhere else in the world. Okay, then we try to preserve that bit of one of a kindness. But if you have trashed 50,000 acres in area Z or country Y, use that piece of land to make into new biodeverse landscapes.

If I had money, I'd do this. Take 100 square miles of land, plot it out into 6,400 smallholdings and have 6,400 familes live on it, each family has the help of a mentor, that has been trained in permaculture/ forest gardeing/ One Straw design techniques. Seeds are provided, Plants are provided. Homes are built in the best Earth shelter and sustainable techs we have, there are loads of different ways and they can all be mixed and matched to not be so cookie cutter plain.

The goal is to see in a few years time what we can do to change yeilds, We would want to see how much less FF inputs we use.

But remember the only way to totally disconnect ourselves from FF inputs, is to drop everyone there, naked and alone, and let them fend for themselves. And that is not what we want to try to work around, we aren't going back to just getting out of Eden with the new clothes on our backs.( Christian humor).

I hope by my own efforts to start collecting datasets of plants, and where they can grow, and seeing about available stocks of plant materials, so that I could if given the time make a global model of where everything would fit into the big picture puzzle.

I love puzzles, It made me good at several jobs I have had in the past.

Think about this picture.

You buy a bit of land. You turn on the BioWebScape program, plug in your Long Lat, from the upper right and lower left of you plat plan. A data set shows up. A list of all the plants that your bit of world can support, or has been able to support over the last 5 years.

You get to pick and choose which ones you want to plant on your new land. You might also have a Systems inspector come to your plot of land and give you a run down on everything that is living there and what you might want to keep and might want to replace.

This plot of land, has not been changed by the new system your world is living within, where most people have sustainable food production on their bits of land. And there are great swathes of land that is nature preserves where we go and don't mess with much.

If you got the maximum food yields out of say 5,000,000 square miles of land, using the BioWebScape design methods, I feel that you would be able to feed all 7 billion of us, plus some.

Right now, we barely feed them all. I don't know how many square miles of land is in use growing food. And we really can't know that, unless you can count every garden, every farm, and every bit of nature that we eat from.

There are methods to restore land that we humans and the results of our actions have made barren. We just have to make an effort to do so.

I might have made some typos, I am finding myself dyslexic these days, more so than normal( numbers i have fits with)

Cheers for a better future,
BioWebScape founder,

Do you know the biblical story of the "shibboleth?" In Judges 12, whenever a Ephraimite tried to cross the Jordan into the Gileadite stronghold, a Gileadite would ask the Ephraimite to say "shibboleth" in order to test his identity. An Ephraimite would mispronounce it "sibboleth," and so be killed.

"Shibboleth" now means any word that is associated with an ideological identity.

"Sustainability" is a contemporary shibboleth. It no longer has any meaning.

In short, rather than getting stuck on this reductive debate about numbers, it is time for the Government and the Opposition to put petty squabbling behind them and start planning a real sustainable future.

Such things are now said with a straight face. The failure of meaning is appalling.

That "shibboleth" is Hebrew for "an ear of grain" is just a terrific irony.

I have to agree, mike. I wince every time I use the word "sustainable" but continue to do so because I don't have a better term. The problem, in part, is that we really don't have an good understanding of what is "sustainable." Conditions change and so what is sustainable today might not be tomorrow. Further, our understanding of living systems dynamics is just poor. The scientific community is still in the "comic book" phase. The average citizen -- well, he/she doesn't give a rip.

That is one of the issues that I was thinking about when I was writing about what I am calling my BioWebScape design project. A method to understand the whole systems approach to fixing our "sustainability issues" (( Living in harmony with all, level of minimum needs to continue for an over all extended time period without failure ))

I come from an edible landscaping mindset. As a Christian I have always felt that we could deal with the issues at hand if we took the time to work on them. Going forward is how we live Our lives, but we use knowledge of past mistakes to push for fewer ones in the future.

There are people out there that are trying to work within the living system dynamics that they see in their local areas. Just not nearly enough of them.

Being able to stop the distruction as soon as possible would be a good step. But barring that, then hoping you can save enough other living critters and flora to have enough left over to survive.

BioWebScape design project for a better future.

Let's face it, Charles. Along with the industrial age, came an attitude that forests/mountains/streams/soil would just have to be sacrificed for a "greater" economic purpose. We had enough land -- particularly in North America -- that, for a while anyway, it seemed that we could get away with this childish practice. If we don't always know what "sustainable" is, at least we are beginning to understand what it is not.

I never could understand people, some of them fellow Christians, that went out of their way to distroy planet Earth. I was always a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle kind of person. My parents are that way, My main influences coming from them and My dad's sister and her husband. Uncle Richard was always collecting other people's trash and recycling it, I have a record player that he found in the trash, the rubber belt that turned the table, was broke, and my dad fixed it. It still works and I still have it, going on 23 years.

As I have said elsewhere I was a tree hugger a long time ago. I saw it as a major Christian ideal, do not destroy your world, it is the only thing you have.

I would have loved to have seen the garden of eden, the ideal garden. I have always called my own gardens at least in my own head, as the best copies of that place as I can design them. In gardening, I never did like to weed, killing weeds even though they competed with my food crops seemed like a waste of growing things. So I can understand the angst people feel when they see barren mine pits.


So the prescription to overshoot is to go even deeper into overshoot? Much like our financial and political elites trying to cure the problem of too much debt with even more of the same. At no time is it discussed where all the energy is going to come from to feed an additional 3+ billion people, let alone fuel the rest of their material consumption. Nor does it explain what will happen to greenhouse gas emissions if this scenario ever played out. Not that there will be any problem, since the terminal decline in fossil fuels will also terminate the economy and by extension harebrained schemes to perpetuate the status quo by other means, like this.

SaturnV, my sentiments exactly. The article in Science blew me away, especially the conclusions:

There is no simple solution to sustainably feeding 9 billion people, especially as many become increasingly better off and converge on rich-country consumption patterns.

Just who is getting better off? Even in the US the gap between rich and poor is growing. In India 1,500 Indian Farmers Commit Mass Suicide. They are doing this because their crops are failing and they are losing even the tiny partials of land they farm. All over the world the water tables are dropping, in many places by meters per year.

Rivers are running dry, many lakes and inland seas are drying up or becoming so polluted that they cannot support life. The rain forests are disappearing like no one cares, deserts are expanding by miles per year and species are going extinct at the greatest rate in 65 million years. And of course the biggie is not even mentioned, fossil fuel depletion. We are going to feed nine billion people as oil supplies dwindle?

In other words we are going to feed a lot more people, who are becoming better off every day, as the world becomes barren, able to support only Homo sapiens and damn few other species?

That whole article is a joke and anyone who believes the world will ever support nine billion people are totally blind to what is actually happening in the world. We are deep, deep into overshoot. The earth cannot support, long term, half its current population even if we had enough fossil fuel to last forever. But when we reach the serious downside of peak oil the population must collapse, perhaps to below one billion people.

Ron Patterson

Honestly, shoddy articles like this are best left to the likes of JD and peakoildebunked, or Hannity or something.

I know doomers don't like having their mindset (which seems to be based totally on dogma - and some of the unpleasant "master race" sentiments expressed further above) challenged in any way but if you want to show feeding 9 billion people isn't possible please try to do so rather than just moaning this doesn't fit your gloomy vision of the future.

And for the comment further above, I'll think you find living standards in India have risen in many ways in recent decades - they haven't had a famine there in decades, for example - and when the last one occurred the world's population was half what it is today...

Big Gav, I have one question. Have you read any of the posts posted by me or other doomers on this site? Apparently not because we have posted hundreds of times why the world is in deep overshoot. We have explained in great detail how the water tables all over the world are dropping, how rivers are running dry, how the rain forest as well as the dry forest are disappearing, how thousands of species go extinct every year, how deserts are expanding, how such great seas as the Aral Sea and Lake Chad have gone almost dry, and on and on and on. And you have the audacity to say we only say it doesn't fit our gloomy vision of the future.

As for India, they are in the news almost every day and the news is seldom good.
1,500 Farmers in India Commit Suicide: A Wake-Up Call for Humanity

Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today. The agricultural state of Chattisgarh was hit by falling water levels. "The water level has gone down below 250 feet here. It used to be at 40 feet a few years ago."

So you think living standards in India are rising. Well you think wrong. Do a little research Gav, before you start writing bull crap that has not word of truth in it.

The falling standard of Living across India

India has failed in ensuring better life for Indians and the saddest part of the story is that life is worsening year after year...
But standard of living of largest chunk (95%) of Indian population has not improved despite all big talks of development and improvement in the country. It is the conclusion arrived at by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Human Development Index and it is sad that India is ranked 134 out of 182 countries.

Things are not just getting worse in India, things are getting desperate. Bangladesh however is a bit worse, and so is Sri Lanka. But some Sub-Sahara African nations are far, far worse than even India. Want to read about how bad things were in Africa 16 years ago? Well if you read this essay you will know but remember, they are far worse today.

The Coming Anarchy by Robert Kaplan

In Sierra Leone, as in Guinea, as in the Ivory Coast, as in Ghana, most of the primary rain forest and the secondary bush is being destroyed at an alarming rate. I saw convoys of trucks bearing majestic hardwood trunks to coastal ports. When Sierra Leone achieved its independence, in 1961, as much as 60 percent of the country was primary rain forest. Now six percent is. In the Ivory Coast the proportion has fallen from 38 percent to eight percent. The deforestation has led to soil erosion, which has led to more flooding and more mosquitoes. Virtually everyone in the West African interior has some form of malaria.

I back up everything I write Gav, with data and links. You seem to be nothing but mouth.

Ron P.

You go, Ron!

It is apparent that "Big Gav" is attacking doomers not because of their arguments, but because they're "doomers."

No - I'm complaining that doomers fail to back up their unfounded assertions with anything other than relentlessly chanting their dogma.

I've made my arguments - see the paper cited and the 2 posts I linked to (about the green revolution and about Norman Borlaug) then try to refute them.

You don't because you have no case and you know it.

You don't because you have no case and you know it.

You don't know what my "case" is because I haven't even stated it, and now you also pretend to be able to know what I "know?"

You are a basket case.

Norman Borlaug happens to be one of my heroes--but the human race has proven that it doesn't deserve to tie his sandal straps. We've merely pissed away his advances and turned the planet into a human incubator and a sewer.

If you want to rail, rail against Catton, Bartlett, and Tainter.

Your belligerence only undermines your credibility.

You don't know what my "case" is because I haven't even stated it

Exactly my point.


Cut the abuse out or your comments will be deleted - there is a code of conduct you are failing to abide by.

Indians used to starve in the tens of millions in the past (admittedly British colonial policies had something to do with that in some cases, but it happened during other periods as well).

This hasn't happened in recent decades, in spite of the population booming - which shows your arguments are complete nonsense.

Telling me some Indian farmers are committing suicide (rather than starving) when their crop fails and they find themselves endebted to shonky moneylenders is just a red herring - its menaingless in the grand scheme of things (although tragic for the individuals involved and their families).

Quoting a comment on a forum saying life in india has not improved for many isn't a useful fact either - why don't you link to the UNDP study itself ?

As for deforestation in the developing world, yes, its a problem - but the population hasn't crashed as a result - why don't you prove it will ?

All talk, no substance...


Cut the abuse out or your comments will be deleted - there is a code of conduct you are failing to abide by.

And neither are you! Your earlier comments, like the one below, were inflammatory and you know damn well they were. Some people can dish it out but they simply cannot take it.

I know doomers don't like having their mindset (which seems to be based totally on dogma -

I took strong exception to that remark, which is why I responded in kind. I have studied this issue for over 40 years and read almost every book published on the subject. I have posted links, hundreds of them, in the past, and you simply calling my position dogma really is a pisser.

You believe that simply because there hasn't been a major famine in the last few years, in India that things must be getting better. Wow! What logic? Talk about dogma! I have been to India. I have been to Pakistan and to Africa. I know what it is like. People are starving today! Things are getting worse, much worse, as the population increases. Sub-Sahara Africa is a basket case. There have been massive famines in Africa. Do you believe things are getting better there? No they are not.

Read the Kaplan essay. That was written in 1996 and since then things have gotten much worse. Do a little research for a change and perhaps then you will not be so damn Pollyannaish. The world is going to hell in a hand basket trying to feed 6.9 billion people and you think we can easily add 2.1 billion more, even long after peak oil?

Hell, I don't feel like wasting any more time on someone as uninformed as you. I am going to bed.

Ron P.

Feel free not to waste your (and my) time - I for one won't miss you.

I've read the Kaplan essay - I've read thousands of articles and books and written hundreds of posts on this and related topics - so I couldn't care less what you say when I can see clearly it's incorrect.

Why don't you try and describe where the Science article this post was about was wrong ? None of you doomers even try, you just repeat the same litany of (perceived) misery, again and again and again...

Do I believe things are getting better ? On many fronts, yes - the world is much better placed to deal with many environmental issues now than it was 30 years ago. We no longer have world wars. We no longer have massive famines where millions die. Why do you think its worse ?

I've been to Africa and Asia and South America too - and I don't see that things there are worse than they were 30 years ago - in fact they are mostly better - people aren't starving in the same numbers they once did, and we produce enough food to feed everyone - it just needs to be better distributed.

As for deforestation in the developing world, yes, its a problem - but the population hasn't crashed as a result - why don't you prove it will?

This sounds a bit like the standard CPSR (Cornucopian Primal Scream Response) position: "X hasn't happened therefore X won't happen".

X might not happen because of Y, but X might happen because Y cascades into B, which itself causes F, which then causes X, in conjunction with N.


Truth is suicide is a personal choice, as is procreation (unless there is rape, then there is abortion so still a personal choice). They did not have to kill themselves, that was a personal choice of feeling defeated.

Feeling defeated.

Ron and I, do not agree on one simple issue, that I only state to make it known, not to issue fighting words. I am just voicing from wence I come to this issue.

I believe that GOD is in charge for GOD's own Glory. I do not understand beyond my simple faith why things happen. But that is my opinion.

Ron has his own opinion, as do others.

I do not claim to know what will happen tomorrow. I only can do what I think is right today, and Hope that tomorrow takes care of itself.

Today I am planting seeds of change in my own life.

Peace to you all.

Well Big Gav nothing seriously is being done to address any of the problems besetting us today - it's flat out strength through exhaustion. Oil, and by extension, energy, is peaking, or soon about to. The people are already here, bred and fed by the Green Revolution you consider such a good thing, held hostage by same said finite oil. So I would curb your enthusiasm mate, as well as ham-fisted attempts to tar those of us who see things as they are, not as what we might want them to be, with the brush of fascism, barbarism or racism.

Would you like to argue that the comment above that I termed a fascist fantasy isn't one ?

Please try - I'd love to see it...

Finite oil does not mean we can't feed 9 billion people. If you'd like to show this is true, please try that too (see my Norman Borlaug article first for some pointers).

Your general tone is to ascribe some malevolent intent behind the viewpoints of realists, irrespective of the evidence they present, or to dismiss them offhand as some childish ranting. For example;

Therefore your talk about depopulation is simply misanthropic nonsense.

Now I'm sure misanthropes, racists and evildoers exist on the happy smiley side of life too.

The world could do a lot of things to ameliorate the ruinous situation we find ourselves in. But the truth is that we are not serious about addressing the problems we face. Problems we should have started dealing with 20 years ago or more.

I'd like to know exactly how we will be able to feed 7 billion, let alone 9+ billion people when the world economy is in the toilet because of peak oil and other limits to growth, like climate change.

Really Big Gav, the onus of proof is with you, not us doomers to show how industrial civilisation MK II will come about under such onerous circumstances, without resorting to pie in the sky nonsense please.

Again - please make some sort of argument to support your beliefs.

You aren't even trying, you just keep whinging and moaning and saying population is the problem - when it clearly isn't.

I've produced several long posts outlining my case, you just babble away like a broken record saying we're all doomed.

Again - explain why the piece I called a fascist fantasy isn't.

If you don't address this in your next comment I'm assuming you agree with me - so why don't you criticise the misanthrope who made it ? Because you agree with him ? Are you a fascist misanthrope too ?

Honestly Big Gav, you are losing it lashing out that way. Reality getting the better of you?

Finite oil does not mean we can't feed 9 billion people. If you'd like to show this is true, please try that too (see my Norman Borlaug article first for some pointers).

Borlaug's remarks about renewables is absolutely laughable. Replacing even a fraction of the world's current electricity production with renewables will take decades. Even that presumes that we have a functioning economy in which to develop these so-called "alternative energy" systems. As most of the posters to this thread are Americans, let's use Texas as an example of how time, scale, and cost all factor in as challenges to significant penetration of new energy technology.

Texas has three times the wind turbine penetration of any other state in the US (~8,000 MW) as of 2009, but wind power still only provides just under 1% of that states energy needs. The state's electricity regulatory body (ERCOT), despite plans to roll out many more turbines in the future still only forecasts this to increase its share of Texas' electricity production to just over 1% by 2014.

The reality is that Texas, as with all other US states and countries will be relying overwhelmingly on fossil fuels to deliver economic growth, which is ruining the planet and sending your dreams of a Viridian future to the dustbin.

Big Gav, if we were really serious we would have been doing something to control our numbers by now, since population is a principal driver of global stress, the other being over-consumption by the affluent world.

Crash programs of energy conservation and efficiency should already be in operation. Economic growth put on stop until we had decarbonised our way of life. Yes, Big Gav, there are technologies which can help with all of these things, given sufficient political will. But this is entirely the problem, since to do these things would get in the way of economic growth blah, blah, blah, blah blah.

Entirely predictable our response to the greatest challenge facing mankind since forever. The world today is sort of like that Abbot and Costello classic sketch "who's on first", only much funnier!

How about you combine the idea of "exponential growth" and extrapolate the growth rate of renewable energy over the past 5 years over the next 30 years ?

Where does that get us ?

Then please explain why you think this is impossible.

Just calling things "absolutely laughable" doesn't make it so - it just demonstrates the weakness of your case.

And your refusal to reject the fascist fantasy outlined earlier says a lot about you, not me.

No, you lashing out at other people's views the way you do says it all about you, Big Gav.

And did you even read that bit about Texas in my post? Even Texans', known for hyperbole as they are (no offence to all you Texans out there ;)), nevertheless understand that even strong political support for renewables still means it will take several decades to penetrate such a large market. Except we pretty much all know, although some clearly don't accept, that we don't have the luxury of that much time any more.

Come on - don't be shy - let us know if you advocate genocide or not.

You seem to be supporting it - but you refuse to acknowledge this directly.

So answer the question which I've asked several times now - do you subscribe to the fascist fantasy I criticised or not ?

Your the one who's always ascribing genocidal intentions to anyone who states the bleeding obvious about the predicaments we find ourselves in. Really mate, your behaviour on this thread has been absolutely disgraceful, I expected better.

My sentiments exactly SaturnV. Gav, below, says aquaculture is the solution to the oceans becoming devoid of fish. I would expect better from a 12 year old schoolgirl.

Ron P.


Just as I described in my opening post, it seems the only solution posited by the techno-optimists is more of the same. More growth to alleviate the problems generated by too much growth. Technofixes, as a way of staving off the inevitable ecological day of reckoning. They will never accept that technofixes are futile in an economic environment that requires exponential growth in debt, consumption and customers! Fortunately perhaps, for future generations and the other species, this mad experiment will be terminated soon, before the entire planet is trashed.


SaturnV and Ron,

While you are both ill-mannered halfwits, even you must understand that this comment by shox above which I have been referring to (and which you are both defending, albeit obliquely) is recommending genocide.

I find this - and both of you - utterly offensive.

I believe that the problem has become so severe at this point in time, and will become so much more severe, that a method will have to be devised by which a select group of human beings are set apart for survival while the rest are deprived of the necessities of life.

Who shall the select group be?
The strong willed; the intelligent; the sound of character; those who possess the spirit, the knowledge and the skills to repair the planet; those who do not need to be compelled by man-made laws to behave in certain ways, but who always act in good faith towards their fellow human beings and towards all life; those who are most capable of preserving and transmitting the human cultural heritage to future generations; those who are most fit to have children; those who are spiritually rich.

Fortunately, such people comprise a small minority of the total population, and therefore will not strain the remaining resources of the planet.

You can hurl as many insults as you like - it is like watching angry chimps throwing their own poo about - but all you are doing is increasing my contempt for you.

Why not go and watch "Triumph of the will" one more time and get your kicks that way...

Big Gav,

You are a funny, funny guy. My views have nothing in common with any concept of a Master Race, if that's what you think. Nature, as agent to our destruction, will soon enough winnow out "the standing crop of humans" in the old familiar ways, or to put in more biblical terms; "Make the sun shine on the good and the evil and cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust". The idea of Shox's Übermensch is as abhorrent to me as your notion that there will be 9+ billion people to support, (doing God knows what and to whom?) well into the indeterminate future, when by all indication it will be a much lower figure than that - perhaps even in our lifetimes.

Oh, and by the way, you forgot to insult my mother whilst you were at it.

Big Gav is being intemperate, but he has been sorely provoked. Shox has exposed the utterly obscene political policies which flow from the doomer analysis - and, like Big Gav, I've noticed that none of the doomers here have as yet distanced themselves from them. I can handle a doomer saying "We'll all be rooned" and then working on a plan for the survival of their family & friends when TSHTF. They're wrong, but they're harmless. When it's translated into a political program which is equivalent to "The Third Reich Meets Soylent Green", I object. In fact, I object with a vigour which would probably surprise the average doomer (off-line, I'm politically active).

What I have noticed is that the doomer mindset is one that cannot imagine any civilisation which does not match modern US suburbia, nor can they imagine any change in the dysfunctional current US political system. From the quite reasonable observation that US suburbia is unsustainable, they reach the conclusion that nothing meaningful can be done and that a massive die-off is inevitable.

While reaching this conclusion, evidence is interpreted in the most negative possible way. As an example, Daxr posted a link above to a graph of population growth rates for individual countries and the world. The doomer response has been to say that the world can't sustain an indefinite increase in population of 1.17% per year. Anyone with a grasp of mathematics would agree with that, but what has been missed, however, is the trajectory. There has been an amazingly smooth downward trajectory ever since 1963, when the global rate of increase in population was 2.1%. And this has been occurring during a time when life expectancies have been steadily increasing.

To the extent that there has been any response to the argument about these facts, it has been to minimise the significance of them, or to raise the bogey of Islam. People who worry about Islam should take a look at Iran, the country with the earliest Islamic Revolution. Daxr's link shows how the rate of population increase rose pretty steadily from 2.53% in 1960 to 3.94% in 1985. Note that the Iranian Revolution was in 1979. The population growth rate then plummeted to 1.61% in 1991 and has since fallen further to 1.31%. And the Ayatollahs are still in charge.

The world is now experiencing an Islamic Reformation, in the same way that Christianity in Europe experienced a Reformation in the 16th & 17th Centuries. The early phases are quite fundamentalist, because the authority of the religious text is required to overcome the weight of tradition (Luther & Calvin were actually pretty scary fundmentalists in their day, as a history of Geneva would attest). What it sets in motion, however, is a comprehensive process of secularisation, the results of which can already be seen in Iran. Although the Ayatollahs still run the country, the clergy are detested and nobody goes to the mosque any more. And this has taken roughly 30 years, much less time than the 100-200 years required in Europe.

What is required to have the same process occur in other Muslim countries? Basically, it is the fall of the House of Saud, probably the most despicable regime on Earth (and yes, I know there's some tough competition for the title). They're worse than the Taliban, and their major difference from Al Qaida is on foreign policy. And fortunately, the House of Saud will fall when Gahwar dries up. The revolution which overthrows them will establish an Islamic Republic of Arabia, and will overturn the traditional social structures which the Saudi princes have been keeping in place since Britain installed them in power after World War I. By overturning these traditional social structures, they will unwillingly set in motion the same process of secularisation which Iran has seen, with the same effect on the birth rate. And, since a revolution in Arabia would mean a changing of the guard in Mecca, the ramifications would spread through all Muslim countries.

In the meantime, I suggest that getting currently industrialised countries to adopt more sustainable economic structures would buy a lot of time for the world's population to turn the corner and for the Islamic Reformation to run its course.

While I might well be classified as a Doomer, I'd prefer realist, I find it difficult to agree with Shox that people are just allowed to starve to death, as mentioned earlier. Perhaps I've misread what he wrote earlier?!

However, Big Gav, I think you're struggling we a case that we can support 9+ billion without significant FF input. If FF go into a marked decline, one would expect nations to withhold reserves for their own benefit, both for their own use and trade.

So a way to fix birth rates is to overthrow the Saudi royal family? I'm sure that would do wonders for their oil extraction in the near term, especially considering how they possess a number of U.S. manufactured military aircraft.

The House of Saud will be overthrown when the money runs out (much the same can be said for other nation-states dependent on mineral/primary productivity One the money for social wealth. Like Australia. Once the Money for the expected programs runs out (Ghawar goes into steep decline), all hell break loose. We can even see the beginnings of the same hapenning in Western nation-states, where the 'underclass' are getting increasingly agressive and lashing out (one only has to work in Retail to see the effects).

Overthrowing a Regieme does not require expensive military hardware. Ultimately, all Governments takes their legitimacy from The People, although some Governments are able to temporarily leverage legitimacy through the use of automatic weapons, random assaults, and killings.

Interesting Big Gav,
Would I classify as a doomer because I tend to agree with SaturnV

I agree, the article does miss out many of the interdependent problems that human population already faces in feeding the world.
A significant proportion of the world population is already going hungry. The world may well be able to feed more than adequately the population we have, but we don't.
There is serious concern about fossil aquafiers necessary for present agricultural production.
The book Spirit in the Gene talks a great deal about the ecological degradation in Australia and questions the ability of agriculture to support the output with the over extraction of fossil aquifers. The author puts in plenty of references if you want to take issue with that.

As for George Monbiot being an authority on population and carrying capacity deficit, a more accurate description than Overshoot, I had the opportunity to debate it with him as a member of the audience. At that time he did not seem well informed about what population load was. GM spoke of the usual stuff such as rich nations being the problem, educating women to reduce population. Nature doesn't care about our policies, the question is how serious the problem is and what is the time frame. Both appear a lot more urgent than this article or others acknowledge.

As for there being no ideal population size, Paul Erlich et al does speak on this, i.e., it is a function of the resource standard we can likely achieve in a sustainable way. As to what sustainable is, can I suggest you look up Albert Bartlett who thinks that should be looking at more than a few generations ahead. I assume that if you have children, you're keen that at the very least your grandchildren can eat and live beyond a third world subsistence level.

Not to get side tracked, but, Go back to say 100,000 years ago, and put a thinking (caring for the good of all life) population there.

Could the world of back them have supported a population of 9 billion people, if they live as totally low impact of a lifestyle as possible.

Which is What I promote in my BioWebScape projects design scheme (permaculture and other like minded methods, without using very many resources from the Fossil past).


Our foot print now is such that each and everyone of us has a balance of Fossil Fuels that have been used in our upkeep from birth to present, and we can't disconnect ourselves from that legacy but we can limit it's expansion in the future.

Cheers for a better future,
BioWebScape Project,

Go back to say 100,000 years ago, and put a thinking (caring for the good of all life) population there.

Could the world of back them have supported a population of 9 billion people, if they live as totally low impact of a lifestyle as possible.

No, absolutely, positively not! If they lived as hunter-gatherers then the world could possibly support ten million people at most. A population much higher than that, living mostly off wild animals, would likely soon denude the earth of wild animals.

However if they domesticated the horse and the cow and turned to agriculture the world could support perhaps 200 million people. During the middle ages the world population reached just over 100 million people but with famines every few years and plagues killing off a huge percentage of the population every few hundred years. However in those days the New World was sparsely populated. Today the would, without the aid of chemical fertilizers, produced from and with the aid of fossil fuels, the entire world could possibly support 200 million people continually.

Ron P.

"New World was sparsely populated"

That's what I was taught in school, but apparently there now seems to be some scholarly dispute on that subject:

"The population figures for Native Americans in the New World prior to the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus have proven difficult to establish, relying on archaeological data and written records from European settlers. Most scholars writing at the end of the 19th century estimated the pre-Columbian population at about 10 million; by the end of the 20th century the scholarly consensus had shifted to about 50 million, with some arguing for 100 million or more."

Go read up on Masanobu Fukuoka, and marvin Crawford and Ken Fern. If there is a combination of these mindsets, where we have growing areas where we use the more than 10,000 food plants in a design that works with natures chaos method, lets call it * enhanced chaos growth method * We work with nature's systems and tweak it with our knowledge base and plant things that would give us a better range of foods than the old hunter gatherers. We could have limited chickens and fish and rabbits and other animals, just being mindful to keep them in small nice living conditions methods.

I don't see what is so limiting in that.

We could keep areas off limits, no man encroachment.

Of course this is a rosy what if we could go there to fictional world X.

But it helps illustrate what I am trying to think about when I formulate the BioWebScape design project guidelines.

Thanks for your help in this.

As it stands, we have done a lot of damage and getting back to a more user friendly balance might take centuries of work.

BioWebScape design project for a better future.

"We could keep areas off limits, no man encroachment."

While it may sound like a reasonable strategy, this approach to wildlife ecology has not been found to be very effective. Much better to leave populations in place that have lived in sensitive areas and empower and educate them to be stewards and protectors of the areas.

There is a large literature on this, but it illustrates that ideas one comes up with in front of ones computer, even the best intentioned ones, might no be the best ones to follow.

As it stands, we have done a lot of damage and getting back to a more user friendly balance might take centuries of work.

Wrong! It will likely take about half a century, give or take. That is from the point the die-off begins until it finally bottoms out. Of course there will not be much left of the natural world by then, the starving will have eaten even the songbirds out of the trees.

By the way people have been writing about how to create Utopia for centuries. What people could do, if they were all of one mind, and what they will do are two different things. People are not of one mind and no great percentage of the population will ever agree on anything much less agreeing on what we could do, or what we must do, to save the world.

The world is of about six point seven billion different opinions. Got a plan to save the world Charles. Then just convince them and have at it.

Ron P.

Laughs, Yeah I know, I can hope can't I?

And while I am hoping, I can go about doing something that might help others down the dark road you see us traveling.

You know Ron, I did use the word "Might" in that sentence. Your guess is as good as mine, We only see what we see, do we see the whole picture? It is a mighty big picture, lots of added complexity rolled into it, given the X number of humans doing the thinking and doing.

Can you say for certain that all of your dreaded images will be the our future?

I don't think we can! But that is a matter of opinion.

If say the Island of XYZ has a die off of all the humans on it, then the humans that live 500 miles away won't know if there is any live birds on it or not, and might leave them alone.

How far can you travel if you are already starving?

There will be pockets of life left, if the world goes crashing like you(Ron) seem to think. It might be a moot point though, I don't have all the answers, I just try to do the best at not going down that long road.

Humans are a distructive race.

Still hoping for a better future.

So the prescription to overshoot is to go even deeper into overshoot? Much like our financial and political elites trying to cure the problem of too much debt with even more of the same.

My two favorite areas of study are literature and skepticism. This quote captures the essence of perhaps the best piece of literature ever written, Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex."

The play has nothing to do with debunked Freudian psychodynamics: it's about the massive human delusion that we have control over our own destiny.

The people of Thebes appeal to Oedipus as their "savior" when the gods begin punishing the city with famine for failing to expel the murderer of the former king, Laios. Little do they (or Oedipus) realize that the new king Oedipus himself is the murderer and thus the cause of their ruin!

TEIRESIAS [the prophet, to Oedipus]: YOU are the land's pollution!

The response, of course, is disbelief, denial--and even conspiracy theory.

OEDIPUS [to Teiresias]: And now
you would expel me,
because you think you will find a place
by [the usurper] Creon's throne. . . .

Is it endurable that I should hear
such words from him? Go and a curse go with you!
Quick, home with you! Out of my house!

I want to slice up the land and give everyone a nice piece of fertile, and the means to live on it. No need to waste a lot of extra energy with things like Towers in the skies of a desert sanddune.

I know it all seems kind of pie in the sky. But moving toward a place like the once hunter gatherers. Where we all live in harmony and brother does not want to kill brother.

Can't we work toward a stable nice future, I am sure I am not the only one that wishes for peace and harmony to all mankind.

Cheers for a better future,

Is There Enough Food Out There For Nine Billion People ?

Like this, probably not.

Like this, maybe.

IF you were to get the big eaters going on the bug diet, you might experience Peak bugs.

Just warning you.


Yum. think I am going to stick with my veggies, nuts and tofu thank you. Most humans eat too much protein anyway.

Smil seems to agree with Big Gav on this one. His book "Feeding the World" covers all of this very well.....except for the bugs.

Yum. think I am going to stick with my veggies, nuts and tofu thank you.

Sure, I guess Monsanto will be real happy! I guess you don't eat shrimp, crabs or lobster either, do you?

I try to stay away from most of that but my cousins are lobster and crab fishermen on Cape Breton Island, NS so have an occasional lobster or crab when visiting them. I will confess to eating an occasional wild Salmon or Halibut too. Have forgotten what a hamburger or steak tastes like. How are they these days?

Just like in Ireland during the famine, starvation results from lack of money, not lack of food.

In 40 years, with 50% more people and 50% less energy, an economy based on dry cleaning each other's business suits will be history. The obvious trend is less fossil energy labor and ever cheaper human labor.

So the question for most won't be 'is there food' the question will be, 'is there money?'.

It amazes me how many people I encounter who say 'there will always be enough... all we have to do is a, b, or c and all will be well'. It really shocks me however to see how many cornucopians are reading and contributing to TOD. Even people of the calibre of George Monbiot are blind to the population problem. If we could just distribute eveything fairly.... You can have all the money and energy in the world but if your soil is exhausted and your aquifers are dry, there will be no food. The hungry and oppressed can no longer simply move en masse to America.

There are problems that can be solved, and there are predicaments, which are problems that cannot be solved. Nobody likes predicaments, but that does not make them less real.

57,000,000 square miles of land surface area. At todays density that is 122 per SqMile. Or a bit over 5 acres per person.

Now, we have this mess, we are at the edge of falling off a cliff in several venues.

Can we eat off of less than 5 acres per person, and in a manner which will not use FF inputs (more than what is already in use in the system ie all the junk that we have right this second, and this second no more mining drilling burning making etc)?

I don't have that answer, I have some educated guesses, but those can't be proven with any validity.

BioWebScape design project for a better future.

There is a head shrinker term for the tension of holding two opposing thoughts at the same time - cognitive dissonance or something.

If one believes their situation might change for the worse but does nothing about it, I'd think they would feel that tension. The easy solution of course it to tell oneself "They" will come up with a solution and go on tapping happy thoughts (or doomer thoughts for that matter) into the aether.

I don't know what others here have done but I'm pretty sure I've got hungry covered, money and energy are another matter.

I don't say "there'll always be enough", or that we will all live in an ecoptian paradise with sun-driven electric trams and organic gardens while we telecommute, or zap around in our flying cars.

Nor do I say there will be no famines. After all, we have food enough today for 14 billion people, yet some of our 6.8 billion starve to death. So certainly there will be famines when we have 9 billion people.

But it need not be so. People will starve in the future, as they starve today, because someone chooses for them to starve. What happens is in our power, there is no natural or inevitable process which means mass famine and misery.

The crux is human greed. If we were able to live in harmony then when a famine in one part of the happened, others from elsewhere, would feed their fellow man.

If you have ten thinking caring people and 10,000 unthinking callus people, what do you do?

What do you do if there is a 50-50 split?

Cheers for a better future,
BioWebScape Design Project,

(the name is in flux, Next week it might say, BioWebScape pizza party gathering.)

As I recall, the British, who were in control, were exporting food OUT of Ireland even at the height of the famine.

Who is in control determines who gets fed.

Damn, all this talk about food has made me hungry. I'm gone to to Ihop. Don't worry about the future. War will take care of it at an appropriate time. All the pancakes I can eat for $4.99.

Yes, it is theoretically possible to produce enough food to feed 9 billion, or maybe even 14 billion. It is theoretically possible to produce enough food to feed 7 billion. Yet, we've got some people starving. Actually, we've ALWAYS had some people starving, somewhere, no matter what the population or food production figures were. There were bands of hunter-gatherers starving to death hundreds of thousands of years ago.

This suggests to me that the underlying assumption that food supply is the decisive limiting factor on human population may need some modification. Yes, it is true that food supply does set an absolute upper limit. However, it appears to be the case that we usually have some people starving somewhere even when our population is below that limit. Thus, this would suggest to me that starvation is not an absolutely reliable indicator that a human population has exceeded its food supply. Other factors might be involved. Waste has been mentioned, and inequitable distribution, and poverty.

This in turn, suggests to me that the assumption "grow it and they will come" may not necessarily be completely correct. Whether the global population ever actually makes it to 9 billion, or stays there, just might end up having nothing to do with the amount of food we actually manage to produce. Stuff happens, and things unrelated to the actual production of food may well intervene to keep the global human population well below whatever the theoretical maximum might be.

A better approach, it would seem to me, is to ask ourselves: "How do we go about being good stewards, and making the best use of our limited land and other resources for the long-haul?" Shouldn't our concern be on production for the maximum number of generations, rather than for the maximum number of people right now? In other words, what would a truly sustainable agriculture look like, how much food could that agriculture produce on a sustainable basis, and what is the maximum population (allowing for the inevitable lack of absolute perfection when it comes to equitable distribution and waste) that that food supply could sustain?

A good place to begin in approaching these questions is King's Farmers of Forty Centuries. King documents how the cultures of East Asia were able to sustain very dense populations on a long-term, sustainable basis by practicing intensive, organic-style agriculture. While modern industrial agriculture might have registered some higher yields per acre, this is not sustainable. These methods are too energy intensive, too water intensive, and do too much damage to the soil. Even if we can somehow manage to produce enough food using these methods to feed 9 billion by the end of this century, it is highly doubtful whether we will be able to continue to do so by the end of the next century. IMHO, we would be better off placing our bets with what has been proven to work over thousands of years. I don't know what the maximum globabl population might be that could be fed were the traditional East Asian agricultural practices to be universally adopted; maybe not 9 billion, but certainly several billion.

What I am coming around to, then, is a difficult question: Do we get on with the task of developing a sustainable agriculture, one that will feed the maximum number of people for untold thousands of years to come - and maybe risk not being able to feed everyone now and over the next few decades? Or do we try to go all out with techno-farming in order to keep today's hungry mouths fed - and maybe risk having a future earth that can feed very few people?

Hard question. IMHO, I'd suggest biting the bullet and going with the first choice. That's difficult to do, though, because the hungry person now is visible, while the hundreds and hundreds of generations of hungry people in the future are not.

Yes, those Asian farmers were pretty amazing. But they weren't particularly interested in preserving diversity. I can't find a source for it now, but I once saw a map of ecological regions before agricultural impact. There was a big blank spot over much of eastern China because the region had been so intensely farmed for so many millennia that there was no trace left of the original biology of the place.

The Baltic area (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), on the other hand (and unlike most of the rest of Europe) showed an increase in soil tilth from the time of the first agriculture in the area, while preserving much of the local flora and fauna. (Note that these were some of the last areas in Europe to be Christianized. Coincidence?)

Of course, the recent Soviet and capitalist history of the region has not been as kind to the environs there.

They did a lot right, but they were not perfect, and of course they didn't know then what we know now. We now understand the "services" that intact ecosystems like wetlands provide, and thus should now understand that preserving them is worthwhile.

Not perfect by a long shot -- just a mite bit better. One contentious issue for Estonia's entry into the EU was the Lynx hunt. Estonia has a very healthy population of Lynx. The EU considered any hunt unacceptable since they hadn't many. Took a while to 'teach' that this hunt was in fact sustainable. High licence fee but the crucial point was the required guide.... all eligible guides were rather old. Very few Lynx are ever killed by hunters. Lots of money to the state in fees for a 'chance' and some decent livelihood to the 70+ aged guides.

Fix now and deal with the future as it happens.

As my dad said earlier today, he does not plan for projects in the future, because something always comes up, he just does them now and deals with the future as it comes into being.

I say fix the broken system now, and as we walk forward we will learn what to do better in the future, by working with the issues at hand while moving forward.

You can't cross the street till you cross the street.

BioWebScape design project for a better future now.

(heh, had to change my tag line to fit my preaching)

The data (available at suggests that the more food we have, the fewer babies we have. Definitely counter-intuitive but there are lots of things about this old world that are counter-intuitive.


ET, you write:

The data [...] suggests that the more food we have, the fewer babies we have.

I'm not so sure about the scientific utility of this kind of aggregated data. The chain of causality is also questionable: it may be that on the whole smart, secularised societies have higher incomes, while lacking hangups about the practice of birth control. They have fewer children because they don't believe that using condoms will get up God's nose -- not because they have more food.

And what about most Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia? They have more food AND more surviving kids than ever before.

The devil here is in the details. A breakdown of the data by individual countries/societies/religions would be more revealing.

It seems like perfectly sound data to me. From the same site (probably the same data sources used by the UN in their projections) one can see that both fertility rates and raw birthrates are falling in virtually all countries in the world, even Middle East and African.

I'm always a bit amused at how negatively people react to data like this, especially those who might be considered committed doomers. This graph, after all, is nothing more than one view of the 'benign demographic transition.' Food certainly represents an important type of wealth and the general description of the BDT is that as people/societies grow wealthier, birthrates go down.

EDIT: The fertility rates and birthrates are falling even in countries that are hardly growing wealthier. I find this fact also very interesting.

The trick here is the selection of those years and those categories. The better selection for comparison with available calories is total population, not rate of increase in births.

Increased food availability overall has mapped well with increased population (though medical advances and access to health care also play important roles).

But it is quite true that when people think that their future food security is going to be secure, many feel less of a need to have a large number of children to support them in old age and to survive die offs from famines.

The significant thing to me is the trends and the fact that this gives lie to the notion that 'people are just like yeast.' I doubt if yeast rein in their reproductive rate with addition of more food.

The population is still rising because of the simple mathematics of the demographic transition. In countries that have reached the turning point (e.g. Italy, Japan) the population is decreasing. I see no reason for the trends not to continue until the world's population is shrinking. If food and environmental degradation, and maybe war become bigger problems, the trend toward fewer people will likely accelerate for both positive and negative reasons.

Don't overlook the importance of access to birth control (yes, including abortion) and the general rise in levels of control women have over their lives, including education.

Few women want to have ten kids, especially if they see that they can pursue a career and get an education.

I have used yeast to make bread, They grow and grow and grow until they stop. Lack of food, Lack of good growing conditions (high heat kills)(Low temp slows growth to a stop, but potential is still there)(toxin build up killing) are thier limits.

Are we like yeast? I guess so.


Am not knowledgable enough to ask yeast how smart they are, we could form a committee to give Yeast an IQ test and find out, but am not smart enough to serve on said committee.

I searched the article for the word 'exponential'.
Zero hits.
Ditto for Malthus, Hardin, Georgescu-Roegen, Catton, Daly, etc.

This is the ideological status quo at its finest flower. In other words, these guys at Science are just out of their depth. They don't even seem to be aware of the existence of a different world view.

Carry on partying.

People are made out of the food available, not the other way around. We don't suddenly arrive at any number of people ex nihilo and then wonder how they're going to be fed. If there exists any number of people, there was sufficient food to get them to that population. This fact is missing from nearly every discussion about food and population.

So, the question really is, can we create enough food so that there are 9 billion people that can be fed with it?

Except that the ideas of growth, collapse, creation, and destruction are valid only in local perspectives, since matter is always conserved. (Conservation of mass, like thermodynamics, applies to biological systems.) So, the question really is, can we usurp even more of the arable land, ecology, and environment to make the food necessary to increase the population?

Even if we didn't have the energy and infrastructure problems, the most important question, I think, is "yes, but why would we want to?"

Why would we want to have such a large population?

"Why would we want to have such a large population?"

I have read all of the comments, hoping someone would bring this up and here it is right at the very end!

Yes WHY? What is the point of this vast population? What are we trying to prove? To get into the Guinness Book of Records?

Why try to reach the maximal carrying capacity of humans?
Is this some kind of crazy suicidal game of brinkmanship?
And of course, we can only ever know when we have got there after we have gone too far. This is like a blind-folded man walking towards a cliff. He only knows when he has reached the cliff after he has fallen off.

Economists and the 'business leaders' to whom our governments listen will always say we need more people no matter what the population size.
My brother who makes washing machines says we need more people in Oz so he can make and sell more washing machines.
More is more. Simple!
Most people seem to think like this and probably always will until our collective intellectual thraldom under the spell of Growth Economics is broken .

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, for we never know what is enough, until we know what is too much.

But will it be too late to turn back? I think probably so.


Your question answered by Charles Galton Darwin:

If I may be permitted so to put it, by the invention of contraception, the species Homo sapiens has discovered that he can become the new variety "Homo contracipiens," and many take advantage of this to produce a much reduced fraction of the next generation. We have found out how to cheat Nature. However, it would seem likely that in the very long run Nature cannot be cheated, and it is easy to see the revenge it might take. Some people do have a wish for children before they are conceived, though for most of them it has not the strong compulsion of the two instincts. There will be a tendency for such people to have rather more children than the rest, and these children will tend to inherit a similar wish and so again to have larger families than do others. In succeeding generations there will be some who inherit the wish to an enhanced extent, and these will contribute a still greater proportion of the population. Thus, the direct wish for children is likely to become stronger in more and more of the race and in the end it could attain the quality of an instinct as strong as the other two. It may well be that it would take hundreds of generations for the progenitive instinct to develop in this way, but if it should do so, Nature would have taken its revenge, and the variety Homo contracipiens would become extinct and would be replaced by the variety Homo progenetivus.

Full text here:

I don't say we need more, I just say we could do better with the ones we have, in an altruistic way I would not want anyone to be the lowest of the low. The is of course not in my power to make a possible outcome to this.

China did see that Population would be hard on them and did what they did to stem the flow of new humans.

Africa is not a one nation state, and can't be controled that way.

Europe is not a one nation state even if they think they are.

Heck even the USA is not a one nation state that can control it's population that way either.

We Have different needs on a personal level. I suppose I would of had kids if I could have, I did want a family of children when I grew up, I always thought of having several, more than replacement level. Mumps when I was 12ish ended that forever.

On my mom's side, the 6 siblings had a total of 4 children, those 4 children have a total of Zero children. On my dad's side, the 5 (one died at age 5,otherwise it'd be 6) siblings had 16 total and I don't know beyond that side( could but not going to ask). So in my family tree there is more than replacement numbers going on.

Again, the issue comes down to control. Up thread someone sponsers a controled decline with some kind of labeling this person or that person unfit to pass their genes on. Jay Hanson of fame has talked about this issue in thousands of discussions, I am sure he can tell you all you need to know about what he thinks is going on.

Me thinks, that unless you get out your gun and goes out to end the problem yourself, you will have to let the problem solve itself on its own terms. Or make some other grand gesture on a local level and gain fame and fortune as you move into a national arena to help solve this global issue.

But while we are thinking of what we can not ourselves control, we can think of what we can control.

Doing whatever you think is best in your own personal life to either, limit growth, or to help those that are here have a better life, or do nothing and let it go and just walk around forgetting there is a problem, or whatever you feel is best for you.

As for me...... I'll let you know in 50 years.


The powers that be ,that control governments, want as many people as possible without having them revolt.

So as long as the masses don't start breaking windows etc. ,those powers will encourage pop. growth.

I come from a family of 8, and now us 8 have....ahh...16...and i think that is it... The grandkids are just hitting their early 20' kids yet.

I was thinking. Chinese like to have boy children (kill off the girls?). Boys can't have kids. So that country is going to have a population with more replacement (and a one child min) should help even more? I could see them doing OK in the long run if they can keep food production up (and with all the pollution, they should be able to kill off a lot that way too).

edit: From NYT
[quote]BEIJING — A bias in favor of male offspring has left China with 32 million more boys under the age of 20 than girls, creating “an imminent generation of excess men,” a study released Friday said.[/quote]

and more

[quote]They attributed the imbalance almost entirely to couples’ decisions to abort female fetuses. [/quote]

"Yes WHY? What is the point of this vast population? What are we trying to prove? To get into the Guinness Book of Records?"

You make it sound as though we're the Borg or something. There is no collective answer to that question other than that we are prisoners of every living person's decision to have kids or not have kids. This is part and parcel of "Tragedy of the Commons".

By and large, those who have kids do so without thinking about the greater consequences. They do not really think about the global ecological ramifications. The same could be said of consumption in general (which people are also not thinking much about), but the difference is this. You can STOP driving a Hummer or buying Big Macs instantly, and the impact stops, but if you bring a life into the world, you've committed to adding 75 years of total human consumption to the planet's carrying load (unless shortened by one of the 4 horsemen).

So we're not thinking about this collectively and we're not able to impose limits collectively without it being interpreted as dystopian.

And so the only "ethical" avenue left is to continue to erect the house of cards via technofix, just hoping that individual people will "do the right thing" via demographic shift and a lot of preaching-to about the merits of birth-control.

Now, as we know, peak oil is set to undo demographic shift, plunging us into more and more austere conditions. If anything, this is likely to increase birth rates closer to what we see in poor countries. What this will do is amplify the stress on the food supply that will already be occuring due to peak oil's challenge to the Green Revolution and the economy.

So all this demographic shift stuff is nonsense because it assumes continued industrialization and urbanization of the 3rd world when we will see the reverse.

Ultimately our problems are psychological because they originate with individual choices that people make. The wrong individual choice scaled up large enough sinks everybody. For instance, with the credit crisis, the mania that swept over most of the US to buy real estate with ARMs. The compounding greed through the ratings agencies and investment bankers. All that conspired to crash the system that has punished savers who did not participate in the bubble. The virtuous will always be held hostage by the madness of crowds.

Wherever we end up is basically a litmus test on the average human condition. I am not wishing humans go extinct, but if we do fail (as it looks likely) then I think it's fair for people to be a little bitter that we weren't smarter than yeast.

I agree, I believe the industrialization and urbanization of the third world which has decreased birth rates will halt, causing birth rates to further increase there.

I don't see how humans will go extinct, a drop in population is not the end of the world or an extinction event.

Its a complicated bunch of factors involved, but the best current theory (built on 100 years or so of efforts and analysis) is that industrialization and urbanization are not significantly involved in lowering population growth rates. The correlation is generally weak, and even negative in enough cases to lead to looking at other factors instead.

What correlates most strongly and consistently to lowering population growth rates is education for women. The next factor in line would be the quality of health care.

I'd recommend "Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population" by Connelly for a good overview.

Here's the World Population Clock for readers' edification:

Courtesy of the Optimum Population Trust.

This far down in the thread, I don't expect alot of interest but I'll say it anyway.

The problem with trying to feed everyone is that once hunger is satisfied, people start to think about what else they can do with their time. One things leads to another and before too long you have industrial society and all the attendant problems we know and love so well here.It may be a worthy humanitarian goal to feed the hungry and it feels good to go to those liveAid and Make Poverty History concerts but ultimatley every mouth that gets food put inot it, becomes an enormous drain on other resources to fulfil soem of Maslows higher order needs.

The problem with trying to feed everyone is that once hunger is satisfied, people start to think about what else they can do with their time.

Really Termoil, everyone should have that problem. What you fail to understand is that time is just another form of capital. Capital is what is left over after the basic needs of an individual, or society, has been satisfied. Then that capital can be invested to do other things, like make more capital.

It is the same pricniple with time. After the basic needs of an individual, or society, has been satisfied then the time left over can be used to write great books, compose symphonies, paint pictures, build great public works or carry forward scientific inquiry. Time left over is the asset that makes life worth living, not a problem.

Nevertheless I remember this quote about a time when people will be too busy to have any time to do those things.

Even if world population could be held constant, in balance with "renewable" resources, the creative impulse that has been responsible for human achievements during the period of growth would come to an end. And the spiraling collapse that is far more likely will leave, at best, a handfull of survivors. These people might get by, for a while, by picking through the wreckage of civilization, but soon they would have to lead simpler lives, like the hunters and subsistence farmers of the past. They would not have the resources to build great public works or carry forward scientific inquiry. They could not let individuals remain unproductive as they wrote novels or composed symphonies. After a few generations, they might come to believe that the rubble amid which they live is the remains of cities built by gods.
Energy and Human Evolution

Ron P.

Word comes today that we have reached Peak Tuna. Push bluefin off the menu or go without for good.

It turns out that I’m not the only one with a soft spot for raw tuna. You’ve heard of peak oil, that theoretical point when the world can no longer produce enough oil to keep up with demand? We have hit peak tuna.

Well, that is only a tiny part of the story of the oceans, we have actually hit Peak Fish

SYDNEY - Southeast Asia's oceans are fast running out of fish, putting the livelihoods of up to 100 million people at risk and increasing the need for governments to support the maintenance of fish stocks, an Australian expert said.

Or here: Peak Fish: The Beginning of the End of Ocean Seafood

In recent years, numerous scientific studies of the oceans have clearly indicated they are in trouble. A major study published last fall in Science magazine projected that every commercial fishery in the world will be wiped out before 2050 and that the oceans may never recover without significant reform of the fisheries industry.

And of course I could post thousands of other such articles telling us the sad story of dwindling fish stocks. In just a few years the fish will all be gone due to overfishing. And overfishing is a direct result of overpopulation.

How can we feed 9 billion people when all the seafood disappears? Well hell, let them eat cake.

Seriously, the problem is that we Homo sapiens are destroying the world and it will take millions of years to undo the damage we have done. We are literally destroying the ecosystem, the ecosystem that we depend on for our very survival. That should be obvious to any literate person who bothers to follow the news from day to day.

Ron P.

As the Science article the post was about said - aquaculture is the solution to this...

Yes I fully realize that Gav. To the cornucopian everything has a solution, a simplistic solution that is always, always, always anthropocentric. The oceans will soon be devoid of fish. No problem we can build fish farms. The land will soon be devoid of wild animals. No problem we can eat cows and pigs. And so it goes.

Ron P.

Aquacuture is a possible, probably only a partial solution, to the stock problem. It doesnt address aquatic ecosystem services that wild fish participate in and concidering the environment many of these services we're probably currently unaware of.