Smart Planet recently published an article titled “The 21st Century Population Crash” by Chris Nelder. In it he paints a doomsday scenario in which “peak oil” causes drastic shortages, resulting in a catastrophic decline in population by 2050. In good Malthusian form, he proposes that governments take drastic measures to reduce individual consumption and “restrict fertility rates”. He then goes on to imply that if they do not, then they are dumber than yeast.
This was my response:
Contrary to popular myth, human beings are not YEAST or BACTERIA and the Earth is not a TEST TUBE. But just for argument sake, lets say we were to create a scale model using bacteria in a test tube. If one bacterium represents a human being, then the test-tube would have to be 10 feet across and 30 feet high…and all 10 billion bacteria would fit into a 5 inch cube.
NOTE Calculations based on bacteria being 1 TRILLION times smaller than a human, and the liveable atmosphere extending one mile from the surface of the earth.
The earth may be limited, but it is VAST. Our problem is not a lack of RESOURCES, but inadequate technology. For example, for thousands of years all of our energy came from the biosphere–we burned wood, dung, and animal fats. Then we discovered FOSSIL FUELS, which allowed us to tap an energy source several orders of magnitude greater than before. Today we are learning to harness the power of the sun–which provides more energy in one year than is stored in all the fossil fuels in the world.
The only limitation we have is our technology. If we rely on the BIOSPHERE for our support, then we will be severely limited in what we can do. For example, if we continue to grow our food in the dirt, we will eventually run out of farmland–but if we grow our food in large VERTICAL FARMS, we could support a population an order of magnitude greater than today using LESS land. Eventually, we could move food production into space and use no land at all.
As technology advances we tend stop using limited resources and shift to those that are more abundant. We move from the BIOSPHERE, to the LITHOSPHERE, to the ASTRO-SPHERE. We also strive to use what we have more efficiently–making things smaller, cheaper, and more powerful with every generation. The trend is for technology to first grow BIG, then become SMALL, and then DISAPPEAR altogether.
This article does not take into account any of these trends. It does not look at the fact that Solar technology is advancing EXPONENTIALLY–doubling every two years. Nor does it consider advances in other sources of energy. It ignores that energy efficiency is increasing at every level of the supply chain. Plus, it does not account for advances in manufacturing that will make these new technologies cheaper than maintaining the old ones.
This article forgets that humans are NOT BACTERIA. We have the ability to understand and bend the laws of nature to our needs. We KNOW which resources are limited and have already identified better alternatives. We KNOW what our challenges are, and are working on solutions. At our current rate of development, we could replace all fossil fuels and cut our geographic footprint in half by 2030–without reducing the population or implementing draconian measures.
Don’t buy into the Malthusian Myth–educate yourself about the heroic efforts and incredible advances being made toward solving the world’s problems:
Stop wringing your hands and become part of the solution. Share this knowledge with others so that they can use it. We stand at the edge of a Third Industrial Revolution–get ready, the future is brighter than you think