Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Malthusian Collapse

I heard a Christian on the radio the other day going on about how it was right and proper that we all should be having lots of children. I sat there in amazement, wondering how a person like this could justify this position in the face of the current global situation. The population of the world is now approaching 9 billion people. Our food reserves are down to record lows: In 2007 the carryover stocks were down to a 61 day supply, the lowest on record. As a result food prices have skyrocketed and there are more poor people than ever. Ever increasing populations are consuming ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels, resulting in global warming. This world of ours is being pushed to a breaking point.

Decades ago agricultural scientists came up with a “Green Revolution” involving monocultures, fertilizers and industrial type farming. This increased yields alright, giving many the impression that the crisis was over. What actually happened is that we ended up driving water tables down, pushing water resources to all time lows and leaving many rivers and bodies of water polluted with chemical runoff. Monoculture crops took everything out of the soil and put nothing back in, leaving soils depleted and eventually driving crop yields down. Much of our grain, instead of going to feed people, is going to feed animals and produce bio-fuels. The grain that it takes to feed one animal for food can feed 5 people. As Thomas Robert Malthus, in his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, pointed out that human population increases at a geometric rate, doubling about every 25 years if unchecked. On the other hand, agricultural production increases arithmetically. Thus unchecked population will always outstrip agricultural production. And if the population just keeps on growing, taking up more and more land, where exactly do you figure we are going to be able to grow this food?

It is time for a change, people. We have to abandon the current idea that we are “rulers of the earth” and replace it with the idea that we are “stewards of the earth”. We need to switch to sustainable farming, involving interplanting with plants like legumes to put things back into the earth. We need to compost and reduce our reliance on pesticides and fertilizer. We need to engage in smarter irrigation practices and use mulching and cover crops. We need to come up with alternative, clean sources of energy. And I really think that we need to start paying attention to the concept of zero population growth. We’ve reached the point of Malthusian collapse. We need to do this now, before we push our dear Mother Earth past the point of no return.

BB Kerr


Johnny MoonOwl said...

I haven't been able to make up my mind as to whether or not we will push our Mother past the point of no return in general or just temporarily, resulting in the demise of western civilization. Either way, toward the cliff we run.

John Steele

Gaelan said...

This right here is why if I ever have children, I'm going to adopt. Only way I know of having children without actually contributing to population growth, and I don't particularly want to contribute to population growth.

I am trying to live with the earth as much as possible, but there is one problem. I'm certainly not alone in this...I'd like to buy organic food and have less of an environmental impact, but there is no way I can afford it. Organic food is more expensive, largely because organic farming methods produce less food per acre. What we need to do is figure out some way to grow organic foods more efficiently. Eating less meat would be a start, since as you put it the grain that feeds one animal could feed several people, though some people do fail to thrive on a vegetarian diet.

Personally, I think if we're going to have any hope in this sense, we need to work on individual farming, even if it's something as small as growing a vegetable garden in your backyard and canning things for the winter, or having a few pots of tomatoes and peas growing in your apartment. We also need to examine the possibility of vertical farming, which would allow large scale harvesting on a very small amount of land. it might not be workable yet, but with work there might be hope. In terms of meat, I know of at least one company that produces feed for pigs and chicken from food plant waste. For example, if a batch of bread at a big factory somehow goes awry, or for some reason some grains aren't usable to make cereal, it goes into a big canister, which this processor takes away, and makes the waste products into healthy and high-quality feed with a minimum of environmental impact. To me, that's hope for the future right there, and if it makes pork and chicken cheaper and healthier, then so much the better.

Angela ~ Askani ~ said...

I agree with this on each and every count!

I also agree with Gaelan in that, when I come to decide if I'm going to have children, I am very very likely to adopt a child that already exists on this planet, instead of creating another one to increase the population.

I also believe we (globally) should actively encourage negative population growth. Perhaps making contraceptives free or extremely cheap, so the "default" in a financial crunch is not to get pregnant but instead to NOT get pregnant. Or abolishing "child tax credit" because many poor people have children JUST to get more free money from government programs. We need to stop pressuring our children and peers to "give us grandchildren" and "don't be selfish, have kids like you're supposed to". We need to make zero/negative population growth the "norm", not continuing to breed uncontrollably and mindlessly.

And no more of this "in the future" and "our kids' generation", it's NOW, TODAY, OUR generation. We can't keep living like there's no tomorrow, or that someone else who comes along tomorrow will be able to clean up our mess. We as a planet have run amuck and it's time we gave our heads a shake and realized that our actions come with hefty consequences.

For example, the reason we're getting more cancers is due to the processed foods we're consuming, as opposed to our grandparents who lived off the fresh produce, grains, and meats on their farms.

And the reason we're getting more skin cancers and extreme sunburns is because we no longer have an effective ozone layer to shield us from the sun's RADIATION. And why is that? We destroyed our ozone in the 80s and 90s. How? Pollution that was excessive and uncontrolled and mindless of any consequence. Commercialism, Industrial Revolution: finding ways to produce consumables quickly, cheaply, and on a large enough scale to accommodate our growing population.

We need the Powers That Be to aggressively pursue a change, and to educate the people. The planet needs to pull its collective head out of the sand.

Wildevine (Janet) said...

I agree with everything everyone has said here. We desperately need to do what needs to be done now, and we need to spread the word and teach as much as we can. I am taking a permaculture course this summer and I will be teaching what I learn to anyone that will listen. I'm also learning about transition towns. If we have a hope of feeding the masses this is the way to do it. All towns need to be fully self sustaining just as every house needs to create it's own power and produce it's own food. When the "oil highway" closes down for good, these systems had better already be in place or people, lots of people, are going to die.
Permaculture systems work in urban centers as well. Every landscape tree should be producing fruit or nuts. Every water hogging lawn should be growing vegetables. Every highrise building should have solar panels and a grey water system. No drinking water should ever be flushed down a toilet. Energy production needs to be taken out of the economic system. Governments need to get on board with supplying and subsidizing energy systems on the individual housing level and should never, ever be involved in corporate greed schemes. And yes, zero population growth should be the norm. There is so much to be done and so little time to do it.

Gaelan said...


Permaculture! Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Learn it, spread it around with a big shovel! I'll listen, so there's at least ONE person.

Hell, handled correctly, permaculture could even work to a lesser degree in less hospitable places like Nunavut. You'll never be able to raise a crop in the Nunavut soil (well, I *say* soil, but it's mainly rock), but if soil and seeds and pots were shipped north, it would at least be possible to grow a few things indoors....it isn't much, but it's something.

Glenda said...

I just read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond. It's definitely a must-read.

He goes into detail about a number of societies that collapsed because of damage to the ecosystem. The parallels with our society are striking.

He also looks at societies that have survived in difficult environments, ans what we can learn from them. Yes, overpopulation is definitely a problem.