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Nov
12

So what is your take on this?

Overpopulation or overconsumption?

Now, lets address the same situation (we are at the brink of running out!) but instead focus on overconsumption as the problem rather than overpopulation. Lets say that right now, altogether the people on this planet are over-consuming resources at a rate making us in danger of running out of resources. We can look at and attack issues of waste and resource misuse to address this problem. The richest among us would be required to clean up their acts.

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Notes on Why I Think “Overpopulation” Should Become an Abandoned Term
I really, really, vehemently hate the term “overpopulation”. Other people are often shocked by this notion, particularly those who know me as an outspoken environmentalist. “Are you not concerned w…

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5 comments

  1. laurie corzett
    laurie corzett says:

    it's not overpopulation or overconsumption
    it's ignorant distribution and waste

  2. John Poteet
    John Poteet says:

    I still think the actual, long-term, carrying capacity of the planet is under 1 billion humans. Remove the ability to smooth over rough spots by shipping massive tonnes of food rapidly with fossil fuels and the population drops dramatically.

  3. Edward Morbius
    Edward Morbius says:

    Let's switch it up a bit further:  in what era would you most prefer to live?

    There's a lot about modern industrialized-world lifestyles I like.  Hot and cold running water, sewage systems, lights, cat videos on the Internet.

    That takes a certain level of energy and resource delivery.  2000-3000 calories of food energy per day, another 12 kWh or so in electrical energy (all-electric kitchen kicks that up a bit), direct fuel usage is pretty minimal, plus whatever my support infrastructure accounts for.  It's a fairly light footprint by Western standards.

    I'd prefer a world in which those who did survive had something roughly comparable to that sort of energy and resource availability.

    Which means that what matters is what I've taken to calling the population-consumption nexus.  You can vary either parameter:  total population, or per-capita consumption.  The long-term total can be less than the Earth's carrying capacity, but it cannot exceed that, at least not for long.  And it means that you can trade one for the other.  More consumption is possible, but only if you allow for fewer people.  Or you can address equity and allow some to consume more but require that others have less.

    It's a bit late in the day to figure out what the biomass-equivalent energy provision capacity might be.  Some mix of wind, solar, and fuel oils, say.  An earlier exercise suggested that canola oil (which can produce biodiesel) does so at the rate of about 100 gallons/acre/year.  That's 2.38 barrels of oil, or 4046 kWh per acre.  Turns out that acre would almost about satisfy my electrical energy needs for a year, though if you include generating and T&D losses, you'd need about 3 acres per person.

    There are roughly 400 million arable acres in the US.  If energy needs per person are served by 3 acres, you're down to about 133 million people in the US.  That doesn't leave much to eat.  The same acre of canola is providing about 9530 food calories/day (converting from barrel of oil equivalent to kilocalories), which another source suggests is a bit high, this farmer produces roughly 6060 cal/acre/day using nonindustrial methods:
    http://www.localharvest.org/blog/15945/entry/calories_produced_per_acre

    … and it costs him half the output (in energy) to do it, for a net surplus of 3000 cal/day.  Which is close enough to the daily consumption (remember you've got to account for food wastage) that we get a net of 4 acres per person for food and energy.  On a 100% vegetarian diet.  So, with 400 million acres, the US could support a maximum sustainable population based on present plant productivity alone of around 100 million.  If you wanted to add dairy, poultry, and some meat to the diet, you're likely down markedly from that — and it makes the pre-Columbian population of North America of around 40 million (various estimates) look fairly plausible.  Though that was at a pre-industrial level of civilization.

    Rinse, wash, repeat for the other landmasses.

    For a few other crops/livestock (wheat, corn, potatoes, soybeans, beef, pork, chicken) using industrial methods of agriculture, the yields are generally much higher:
    http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Calories_per_acre_for_various_foods/

    Crop | Millions of calories/acre | people supproted (at 2500 cal/person)
    Wheat:  6.4, 7
    Corn:  12.3, 14
    Potatoes: 17.8, 20
    Soybeans: 2.1, 2.3
    Beef:  1.1, 1.2
    Pork: 3.5: 3.8
    Chicken: 1.4, 1.5

    Makes you understand why the Irish were nuts on potatoes (and why the blight hit them so hard).

  4. John Poteet
    John Poteet says:

    I've done 3kwh per day measured with an electric kitchen in a two bedroom duplex including air conditioning but not gas heat. So a total of 6-8 Kwh/day in solar/wind plus biomass seems doable. 

    My wild ass guess is that still gets us to maybe 80 million for the whole U.S. with strict conservation. It's a whole other equation for the half of humanity that lives within 1,000 miles of Shanghai though.

  5. Edward Morbius
    Edward Morbius says:

    +John Poteet Interesting.  My 12 kW seems a bit high to me, frankly, though on a quick sanity check it seems to match what's on the bill.  Wouldn't surprise me if it could be knocked down considerably more, though I wouldn't mind figuring out where the extra draw's coming from.

    Asia is indeed an interesting case.

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