September 19, 2019

Is Earth Overpopulated?

“With most animal populations, the niches that encase the populations are of constant size. Animal societies growing in a given niche have dynamics neatly fitted by equations with a constant limit or ceiling. In short, from a niche point of view, resources are the limits to numbers. But access to resources depends on technologies. When the animals can invent new technologies, such as when bacteria produce a new enzyme to dismantle a sleepy component of their broth, then we face a problem. New growth pulses suddenly pop up, growing from the prior.

Homo faber, the toolmaker, keeps inventing all the time, so that our limits are fleeting. These moving edges confound forecasting the long-run size of humanity. Expansion of the niche, the accessing and redefinition of resources, keeps happening with humans.

Through the invention and diffusion of technology, humans alter and expand their niche, redefine resources, and violate population forecasts. In the 1920’s, the leading demographer, Raymond Pearl, estimated the globe could support two billion people, while today about 7.7 billion dwell here. Today, many Earth observers seem stuck in their mental petri dishes. The resources around us are elastic.

The greatest threat to future well–being is the rejection of science. Having come this far, the 7.7 billion cannot take the road back. Without science, the elastic band will snap back.”

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