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June 25, 2008

Population growth unsustainable

The story that the human global population will hit 7 billion by 2012 (6/20, A-1) only hints at the predicament we are in. The population has mushroomed since the start of the industrial revolution, when humans began consuming fossil fuels at a furious rate.

Humans in 2008 are super-sized in comparison with their pre-industrial ancestors. Annual human energy consumption has been estimated to be about 13 trillion watts. Divide by a world population of 6.7 billion, and you come up with an average human energy diet of about 2,000 watts-per-person annually. Since a 2,000-calorie-per-day human would use 100 watts of energy annually, each one of us is the equivalent of 20 hunter-gatherers. This suggests that if humans were energy-equivalent over time, the current global population is actually 130 billion.

Human reliance on dead organisms that lived millions of years ago (fossil fuels) is an example of a detritus ecosystem. There are many other examples of detritus ecosystems in nature, and they exhibit a cycle of bloom-and-crash. Like algae in a pond, which flourishes in the spring on the organic remains from the previous fall, humans can probably expect a crash after the current population bloom.

Gordon Risk
Kansas City



eng: I appreciate and understand what you are making fun of. I also think there is an underlying important issue here.

IMO we'd damned well better be worried about future generations. The number of humans on this planet is going up so fast it must be unsustainable. One way or the other, population will stabilize.

There is a religious myth in many native american cultures. The animal changes, but the basic story remains the same. Whatever the animal is that supports the culture (bison, antelope, reign deer, whatever) has a herd that is sick and diminishing. The people pray to mother earth to save them. Mama earth gives them the wolf. The wolf takes the sick, old and weak. The herd prospers and the people are saved. The only question to me is what our "wolf" is going to be. I am also thankful that I will be dead before this must happen.

At the same time, I see one way to avoid the "wolf". That is for the human race to expand to other planets. I hope this happens. I am sorry that I will also undoubtably be dead before that can happen.


Nothing to worry about. One of the early prophets of Global Warming, who was one of the early prophets of "The Coming Ice Age" once said that due to over population we would all starve by 1980. But these people have a fifty-fifty chance of being right in the long run. Either we will eventually die of over population or we will be done in by the sun flaming out.


We will figure out a way to live within the means of mama earth to provide, or she will do it for us.


mike d

So the solution?
Outlaw bike helmets, seat belts and antibiotics, give away free guns and bullets and promote smoking. That oughta do it. Glad I could help


"With great power comes great responsibility"-Stan Lee

T. Hanson

:) "The world will not end with a Bang, but a wimper." -The Hollow Man, T.S. Eliot


After not considering Malthus for 30 years thats three mentions of him in the past few months.

i predict the world will end one millisecond after I die.


At the risk of my seeming pedantic, in 1798 Thomas Malthus published an essay which, in essence, said that population tends to out run subsistence.

Another economist claimed that three events control population: pestilence, war, & famine.

Worldwide, we have not been successful in controlling population. Populations grow much faster as surpluses in foods are created -- through industrial & agricultural revolutions. War-related genocides such as the Holocaust, Darfur, & Rwanda, have not been an acceptable or effective means of populations control. Efforts to control diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, aids, typhoid, cholera, et al have been more effective.

Anyone interested in these theories at work shold read or watch the DVD of Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond.


Gordon, thanks for your bit of optimism. Do you have a specific date in mind for the apocalypse?

You are from the 'sky is falling' school of Global Warming. Do you have any recommendations other than putting our head between our legs and kissing our 'behind' goodbye?

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